First of all: Happy New Year!

I know, I know, starting a new story is the last thing I should be doing, but the first chapter to this one has been sitting on a notebook gathering dust for so long that I couldn't stand it anymore. So here it is. No promises of regular updates or anything, of course. And will be slash in the future.

I'm a big big big fan of One Piece, currently watching each new episode that comes out. I don't read the manga, but that's mostly because I'm still trying to find an affordable way of reading it. So there may be spoilers depending on what arc of the story you're still at.

I thought this chapter would be a perfect way to celebrate the New Year, Portgas D. Ace's birthday (because I just love Ace and this was too good a coincidence to pass up) and the 1000th chapter release that will be coming out in a few days.

I'm tired and in need of some sleep, so I'll leave you to this. I'll re-read it tomorrow in case I typed something wrong or something like that, but right now I just want to sleep.

Let me know if you like it, please! Bye!

Chapter 1

A small black-haired child rushed through the crowd of pressing bodies gathering in the square, taking advantage of his small stature to slip by unnoticed. He finally found some breathing room in a decently calm corner near the open mouth of a back-alley that he knew led into the labyrinth of streets that composed the market.

As a pair of marines armed with rifles passed by his side, the young boy ducked his head and fisted his hands on the wet fabric of his ragged coat.

He looked up as the sky protested with a clash of thunder and knew he did not have long, but he just had to come.

As silence slowly fell over the people, the young boy looked up to the platform in the middle of the square.

There he was, flanked by armed marines, his hands bound in front of him, black hair in disarray, infamous moustache and a blood red cloak thrown over his shoulders. Even kneeling and about to be executed, he still looked regal, as if he were a king doing the world a great service.

One of the officials listed off the crimes for which he had been sentenced, but the young boy didn't pay him any attention as a pair of black eyes found his own and held them.

It was only for a brief moment, but it was enough for him to read the anxiousness his presence had caused before his eyes were shadowed by his hair.

And then a wide smile, full of as many teeth as pride and mischief, a smile that anyone who knew the man had learnt meant trouble, lit what was visible of his face. A smile that was achingly familiar to the little boy standing alone in a corner.

The King's smile didn't disappear even as two swords were driven into his body and blood seeped from the wounds, staining the white fabric of his shirt.

The skies opened up then, as if they themselves were crying.

As most people celebrated the death of the Pirate King and the start of a new era, sparked by the words that promised the greatest treasure at the journey's end, the small boy slipped away unnoticed, weeping for the loss of his father.

HPOPHPOPHPOPHPOP

Portgas D. Rouge stood on the deck of the ship that would take them further into the Blues, watching as her husband's hometown turned resting placed grew smaller with each mile they travelled.

When Loguetown was no more than a speck in the horizon , she slowly but steadily made her way to the cabin they had been allotted, careful not to let her cloak slip. Her hand unconsciously went to her stomach, feeling a slight roundness, and a sad smile came to her lips. She was now five months along, even though it did not show.

But the smile disappeared as she entered the cabin to find a young child on the floor, his back against a corner of the room and his clothes and hair wet from the rain. He looked up at her entrance and her chocolate-brown eyes clashed with a set of teary emeralds set in a round pale face.

Leaving her wet cloak on a chair and, disregarding any discomfort she might feel later on, she slipped down to the floor next to him, her hand coming up to surround his small shoulders and bring him into her embrace.

She felt his small body tremble against her and knew instinctively that it wasn't from how cold he was, his clothes still soaking wet.

"Little dragon…"

And that was it. The use of the nickname his father had referred to him with since before he remembered had the child breaking down into loud uncontrollable sobs.

She didn't need to ask what had happened, for she knew where her son had gone before the ship's hasty departure. She knew he had been to the execution.

Rouge hadn't. She hadn't had the strength to face the reality of what would happen and she hadn't had the heart either to hold onto her tears when the bells announced the end of her lover's execution, refusing to let herself break down until they had got to safety. She would have time to cry, then, but now she needed to remain as strong as possible. If not for herself, for her children.

Still, with her little boy held securely on her arms and her unborn child in her belly, she could not help the silent tears that escaped her eyes now, easily hidden as they mixed with the rainwater that clung to her little boy's black hair.

Hair that he had inherited from his father along with his surname and a penchant for trouble. His features were too delicate to come from Roger, his chin more similar to Rouge's own than her lover's. The same could be said for his lean body, but that could be attributed to his age and change in the future. The slant of his eyes could remind you of Roger's, yet where the Pirate King had had eyes as black as coal, his son had eyes bright as the spring leaves, a reminder of a mother that he had never known.

But that was fine, because he had her. Rouge was his mother, the only one he needed, and she would look after him.

HPOPHPOPHPOP

Almost a year later, that same black-haired boy slipped unnoticed amongst the people at Baterilla. Nobody paid him any mind, used to the sight of the little child weighed down by bags of groceries for his mother.

Some had been curious in the beginning, but it had passed soon. As long as they didn't cause trouble, they wouldn't say anything.

Finally, the child reached his destination: a small house on the outskirts of the town, near the beach. It was a modest building, only one store with two bedrooms, a kitchen and a small sitting room. It wasn't much, but it was theirs, bought with part of the treasure his father had left for them.

Opening the door, he carried the bags to the kitchen and set everything in its place before wiping the sweat from his forehead.

"Mum? I'm back." He called walking into the sitting room.

She was gracefully sat on a chair next to the window, her legs crossed and her hands in her lap covering the bump of her still pregnant belly. The sun coming from outside made her strawberry-blond hair seem silver and her warm chocolate eyes shine.

He came to an abrupt halt when he noticed the man in the room. Very much tall, with black hair starting to go grey on the temples and an uncharacteristically grim face, the sight of him was a familiar one for anyone who ever travelled on the Oro Jackson.

The fresh hibiscus flower he had brought for Rouge fell from his numb fingers and, in a second, the little boy stood between her and the marine.

"What are you doing here? I won't let you hurt them!"

"Little dragon…"

"Calm down, brat." The man said, the grim expression on his face clearing and his right hand coming up to rub the back of his head. "I'm not here to hurt any of you."

After a moment where he seemed to be weighing the sincerity of his words, the boy relaxed his stance. Rouge placed a hand on his shoulder, understanding that his emotions were a terrible mix.

"How did you find us?"

"Your father told me where to find you." Answered Garp as he took a seat next to the door.

"Why?" he asked, still distrustful.

"He's here to help us." Explained Rouge, carding a hand through his hair in relaxing motions and making him lean against her legs.

"Help us?" muttered the child.

"Your father" Started the Vice-Admiral. "believed that a child should not be held accountable for its father's sins. And so do I." the man sighed and run a hand through his hair. "It is for that shared belief that he told me where to find you, so that I could help you hide from the World Government. What I didn't expect was to find this."

The boy looked confused as the marine gestured at his mother and turned to look at her. Rouge had lifted her chin, her face showing defiance.

"It's the safest route." Stated the beautiful woman. "I'll hold them for as long as I can."

'Oh, she's talking of my sibling.' The little boy thought.

"There will be consequences, you know that-"

At a warning look from the stubborn woman, the old man trailed off with a sigh.

"Fine; have it your way." He said looking disapproving.

"Mum?"

"It's fine, little dragon. We just disagree on what's necessary to keep you safe. Now, would you like some tea whilst we talk, Mr Garp? I think we've got some biscuits too."

"I'll go get them, mum." Muttered the child, not wanting her to bother getting up for something like that. Before leaving the room, the child stopped next to the marine, disregarding that he didn't even come up to his knees where he was sat in a wooden chair that looked ready to fall apart under his weight, and levelled a look at him that was too serious for one so young. "Don't try anything funny."

Garp arched an eyebrow, but a smile took over his face as soon as the child left.

"Children these days…" he chuckled.

"He's been through a lot." Defended Rouge casting a fond look at the wall behind which her boy was busy getting the tea. "But he's still only a child. He's scared that we will be found."

Garp's face turned grim at that.

"He's right to be scared. For now the Government hasn't cast its eyes to the other Blues, but they are looking for him. Every day, someone calls thinking they've got the son of the Pirate king, but it's only been street rats and orphans till now. How long will it be until someone does find him?"

Rouge clenched her hands into fists, her lips pressed together and her head down as if it could hide them from his words.

"Nobody knows of you and your child; that might keep you both safe for now. But Roger never hid his son's identity. Everyone knows that he had a son. And if he is discovered, you will be dragged into it. You can't protect him…"

Rouge suddenly looked up at him and Garp's eyes widened. Her eyes were on fire, her fisted hands trembling with fury and there was an oppressive presence around her that seemed to suck off all the air in the room.

"Don't you dare imply ever again that Kairyuu is not my son." She said and Garp actually gulped. "I might not have given birth to him, but he is my son as much as the babe inside me. Do you understand?"

Garp nodded, actually a little intimidated. Haki. Untrained haki, but still. He should have known Roger would fall for nothing but a formidable woman. And that she was. Portgas D. Rouge was formidable, in more ways than one.

"Mum?"

Her little boy was back, standing at the door and looking between them, suspicious.

"The tea will be ready soon." He said when she simply smiled at him, knowing she wouldn't explain it anytime soon.

Her smile fell as soon as he was out of sight and she levelled a hard look at the marine. The man didn't comment, but she got a feeling that he was strangely pleased at her words. And exasperated.

"There's not much I can do for now, then." He sighed. "Are you ready to leave this place when the time comes, though? You can't stay here forever."

Rouge nodded. She knew that.

"My children are all I have left. To keep them safe, I'll leave. But not yet."

"Then I'll look for a safe place for you. It might take a while befre I can come back, though. Roger sure did it this time: every rookie pirate is launching himself to the sea in search for his One Piece; it's been a headache dealing with it."

As Kairyuu came back with the tea and biscuits, to which Garp was fast to help himself, Rouge couldn't smother a small smile. Of course Roger was causing trouble even in death. It was so like him…

With that, the conversation turned to lighter topics. She wouldn't have thought it possible, taking into account just who Garp was, but he wasn't like she had been expecting. It was obvious Roger hadn't been exaggerating about his character the few times he spoke of him and it was also easy to see that her Kayryuu knew him well and even trusted him, to a certain degree.

Garp was standing at the door, ready to leave after saying his goodbyes to the pregnant lady, when he felt a tug at his trousers. Looking down, his eyes were trapped in an emerald gaze.

"I was wondering… have you heard of Rayleigh?" the child asked in a quiet voice, nervously playing with the hem of his shirt.

"Rayleigh? He hasn't been caught if that's what you're asking." The child nodded, his eyes on the floor, and Garp crouched down in front of him. "He is your godfather, isn't he?"

"Hai."

Garp sighed.

"He knows how to avoid getting caught; you shouldn't worry about him."

"I miss him."

"If they find a connexion between you, they'll soon know who you are. It's better this way. But… I'll keep an ear out."

"Arigato, Garp-jiji."

"Brat."

HPOPHPOPHPOP

The long awaited moment of his sibling's birth arrived during the first hours of January 1st. a new life to announce a new beginning. His mother had tried to put it off for as long as possible by pure willpower, but finally after two years pregnant she hadn't been able to stall it any longer.

Kairyuu stood next to her bed, his eyes big as he watched Rouge hold his baby brother tight to her chest. There was a sweet smile on her lips, one that Kairyuu had always thought made her the most beautiful being in the world, one that she always wore when she would tuck him in bed at night before her pregnancy became too hard on her body or when he came back from the town with a fresh hibiscus flower for her to wear, taking up the habit from his father after his premature death.

Garp was there too, his great bulk sitting at the end of the bed with a tired face, but the child paid him no mind, too busy looking at his small family.

"What's his name?" asked the little boy, raising on his tip toes to try and see the newborn better.

"Gol D. Ace. That's the name he liked most."

"Ace." Repeated the child almost as if tasting the name. "Ace. I like it."

"Come up here, little dragon." The child scrambled up onto the bed eagerly and she chuckled weakly. "You're a big brother now."

"Hai. I'll be the best big brother ever." He announced as he carefully reached a hand out and run a finger down his brother's soft cheek. "He's so small…"

"He is, but he'll grow. Like you." She said, shifting. "Would you like to hold him?"

"Me? Can I?"

"Of course you can. Here, I'll show you how to do it." As she helped him hold the baby for the first time, Rouge ruffled his hair, her smile turning slightly sad as she watched her little boys. "You'll take care of him, won't you, Kairyuu? Keep him safe?"

"Aha." Muttered the young child.

"I love you. Both of you, my precious boys. You won't forget, right, little dragon?"

There was something strange in his mum's voice. She sounded a bit out of breath, as if she had been running. Kairyuu looked up from his distracted perusal of his new little brother. Rouge was pale and her eyes looked sad, but she was smiling at them.

"Mum?"

"It's fine, little dragon, I'm just tired. Look at your brother. Isn't he beautiful?"

Kairyuu looked down at his baby brother and, at first, he couldn't see what she meant. Ace was small, his skin pink and full of wrinkles. But then he watched a small hand fist on the light blue fabric he was wrapped on and his head burrow further on his chest, little silky tufts of black hair coming out of it and the beginnings of freckles on his cheeks.

A smile lit up the now seven year old child's face and he gently run a hand over the back of that small fist, which was soon wrapped around his finger.

"Hai, mum; he is."

When there was no answer, Kairyuu looked up. Rouge was still smiling, but her eyes were closed, her hands splayed over her lap and her chest still.

"Mum?"

This time, there was no answer.

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

Kairyuu sat on the floor of the cabin, his back to the wall, hands around his legs and his head laid over his knees. His eyes were on the basket next to him where his baby brother could be found currently asleep.

They were in Garp's cabin, a week after the marine had managed to smuggle them onto his ship. And hadn't that been nerve-wrecking.

As much as he later thought his father would have found it funny, at the time he had been so nervous that they would get caught… when one of the marines on lookout had halted them, he had thought it was the end. Luckily, Garp was so big that his cloak easily hid them from the man's sight. A passing comment on him coming from pilfering some cookies from the kitchen and they didn't get a second look.

Garp had tried to brush off the incident, but it had only served to drive home just how precarious their situation really was. Their parents were both dead and the Government was looking for him. No matter what Garp did to hide them, sooner or later someone would find them.

Kairyuu clenched his hands on the fabric of his pants, helplessness flooding him.

Dad had turned himself in to give them a chance to vanish into the wider world and mum had died because she had spent herself holding onto her pregnancy for almost two years. His parents had died to give Ace a chance to live, to protect him, and yet Kairyuu couldn't do anything to help.

The Government knew that Kairyuu was Roger's son and they wouldn't stop looking for him. And if they found him, it wouldn't be hard to guess Ace's parentage.

His mere presence put Ace in danger.

The only way for his brother to be truly safe would be if the Government stopped looking for him.

And the only way for that to happen…

The door opened and Kairyuu jumped up, startled. Before he had time to realise what was going on, he had placed himself between his brother and the door.

"Sorry." Muttered Garp, sheepishly rubbing the back of his head.

Kairyuu frowned, but didn't say anything. Relaxing, he walked to the basket holding his brother and cradled him, humming softly a lullaby that Rouge had used to sing to him.

It was clear by the tears clinging to the baby's lashes that he had been about to start crying, but as soon as he heard Kairyuu's voice, he stopped.

His little brother was a quiet baby. Or as they had found, he was a quiet baby as long as his older brother was close, as they had discovered when Garp had taken him one morning and he had started to cry.

It had started with a little fussing, which soon turned into whimpers and sniffles before evolving into full out ear-splitting crying. Garp had been frantic until Kairyuu had stepped in. In his older brother's arms and with a short lullaby, the little demon ―in the marine's words― had gone back to being a little angel.

Even with Garp having ordered the cabins nearest to his be vacated by the marines under his command ―and there was a whole other story behind how he had achieved that― it had been a miracle that nobody heard.

"I've brought food." Announced Garp once it was clear they had avoided Ace crying.

"Garp, where are you taking us?"

"There's a small island in East Blue-"

"East Blue!? Garp-!"

"Calm down, brat, and let me explain. The Govrnment's finished scouring the East Blue looking for you. They think you might have managed to get onto a ship unnoticed and escaped so they've turned their eyes to the rest of the world. Right now, East Blue is the safest place for you. By the time they finish looking elsewhere, they will have directed most of their efforts to other matters."

Kairyuu pressed his lips together, but didn't protest again. What he was saying made sense. There was only one thing he didn't agree on: even if they got distracted by other matter, like the strong resurgence of piracy, the Government would still have an eye out for him until they captured him.

"The island happens to be my hometown, so even if they send someone to check, it'll be me."

Kairyuu nodded, thoughtful. He would have to wait and see. That wouldn't stop him from plotting in the meantime, though.

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

Foosha was, to put it kindly, boring.

And for someone who had travelled with the Roger Pirates and was used to finding thrilling adventures in the most unexpected places to say so… well, maybe it wasn't all that fair.

Still, the village was quiet, mostly unknown and out of the way, which made it an ideal place to hide.

They had docked at midday, but they still hadn't been able to leave the ship, having to wait until the cover of night for. Kairyuu had sat himself next to a small window and watched, safe in the knowledge that the marines had taken leave under Garp's orders.

Once it was dark outside, the Vide-Admiral had taken them both off the ship and brought them to a friend of his. Her name was Dadan.

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

"Garp-jiji?"

The old man sighed where he was reclined on a chair looking at the clear blue sky. Little Ace was wrapped up in a warm blanket to protect him from the slight chill in the air.

"Yes?"

"Do you really think we'll be safe here?"

"Why are you asking that now?"

Kairyuu sighed as he cleaned a bit of drool from the corner of his gurgling brother's mouth.

"The World Government won't stop looking for me, but they don't know anything about Ace. That means that he'll be safer if there's no way for them to connect him with me."

Garp frowned, slightly worried as to where this conversation was going, but he couldn't deny he was right when he himself was still trying to come up with a solution for that problem.

"What do you want me to do, brat? I have no control over that."

"If the Government gets what they want, they'll have no more reason to keep looking, right? My brother will be safe here then, because even if they find him they'll have no reason to suspect who he is."

"If they get what they- brat, don't be stupid!"

"I'm not! If I turn myself in-"

"You don't know what you're talking about!"

"Maybe." Replied the child, for the first time not paying attention to the baby starting to fuss. "But if I do it, Ace will be safe…"

"There's no guarantee of that-"

"There is if you're the one to turn me in."

Garp's hands clenched into fists at his sides, the man now standing with his shape dwarfing the already small child.

Suddenly, the man reached out and Kairyuu got a taste of his infamous 'Fist of Love'.

"Do you even know what you're asking me!? I've had enough of this pointless conversation-"

"No! You listen here!" shouted Kairyuu rubbing the top of his head.

For a second, both were shocked into silence, too stunned to speak. The silence was broken by the baby's wailing.

Kairyuu's eyes had held a mix of fury and surprise, but as they turned to Ace they only showed love and guilt. The child was so easy to read…

For that, Garp stayed silent as the child rocked and shushed him, but his eyes never left the form of that too mature child.

The baby quietened under his brother's attentions, but stayed fussy. Mayhap he was reading their mood or it could be something else; they'd never know.

"The World Government will never stop looking for me. But if you turn me in- no, wait! Please, listen! If you turn me in, not only will they stop looking: they'll never suspect you of hiding the son of the Pirate King!"

"Who will help you, then? Do you even know what you're offering to do?" croaked out the Vice-Admiral. "What you're asking me to do?"

"Ace is all I have." Said Kairyuu softly with his eyes on the baby. "Mum and Dad both sacrificed themselves so that he had a chance to grow up safe… If I can do anything to help, I must!"

"They sacrificed themselves so you would both live." Exclaimed the marine, mindful of his tone around the already unsettled baby.

"But that's not possible." Muttered Kairyuu. "My presence puts my brother in danger, but this… this would keep him safe."

"The things they'll do to you…"

But instead of discouraging him as the old man had hoped, the threat had the opposite effect because it meant he was actually getting through to him.

"Dad always said freedom is precious. So is family. I would never give up my freedom for my own life, but for the life of someone I love? I'll do it without a sliver of doubt."

Kairyuu's face was set in a familiar expression, one that spoke of pride without arrogance and a fierce stubbornness. The same expression that he had seen on Rouge's face a multitude of times.

His hands trembled with rage and helplessness and the man had to clench his eyes tightly shut and lower his head, because he knew right then that Kairyuu would not give up until he got what he wanted. And he wanted this… this craziness!

His thoughts were confirmed only a second later, when the child added:

"I'll still turn myself in even if you don't help me, but it'd be best if you did. They'd never distrust you, then."

Garp sagged then, the chair groaning under his weight when he let himself fall on it. It was as if all strength had been sucked out of him and he suddenly felt his years more keenly than ever.

"You're a brat, you know? A manipulative self-sacrificing brat, just like your parents." He whispered.

"Does that mean you'll do it?"

There was such sincere hope in his voice when he asked that, that Garp knew he would never be able to forget it. Hope for a hopeless future… no. hope for his brother's future.

"It's not just your freedom you'll be giving up, it's your life!" he protested, but it was feeble at this point.

"I know." Was the simple answer. "But I don't mind giving it up for my little brother."

Garp covered his already shut eyes with a hand.

"Will you help me?" repeated the child.

And Garp nodded.

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

"Tell me you're not really going to do it."

Garp didn't turn from where he was standing next to the window. From his position, he had a clear view of the brothers in the front yard. Kairyuu was once more singing to Ace whilst the baby just soaked up all the attention with a few waves of his hands and a happy gurgle.

Since their talk two days before, the six year old hadn't let go of the baby for a moment. Garp knew he was trying to engrave the memory of his brother into his very soul.

He shook his head to dispel the thought, because he knew it was pointless. If Kairyuu kept to his plan, and he knew he would, the child didn't have long to remember. He wondered for a moment if Ace would remember something of his brother, but it was doubtful. From experience he knew children rarely if ever remembered anything previous to being three years old. And Ace was only a few months old now.

It was an even more painful idea: that Ace would remember nothing of the brother who loved him enough to sacrifice everything for him.

"Garp!"

"Eh? What is it now, Dadan?"

The woman scowled furiously at him.

"The boy, Garp. Tell me you're not really going to turn him in."

So she had heard them speaking. Why wait till now, then…?

"You know we can't make him change his mind." He whispered to himself more than her.

"Garp, he's only seven."

"I know."

"He's not his father."

"I know."

"If you turn him in-"

"I know!"

They stood there, looking at each other, not another word spoken.

"Whatever you do, make sure it's something you can live with." Were her last words.

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

Kairyuu cooed at his brother, who he swore had just smiled at him. He had been telling him a story when the baby had let out a happy gurgle and his lips had curved upward in a gummy smile. Dadan would tell him it was only a reflex, but he refused to listen to her on that.

He sighed as the child waved his hands in the air as if trying to grab something only he could see.

His eyes never strayed from his form, though. He wanted to engrave in his memory all these moments he had left, so that he could tell everything about Ace to his parents when he…

Kairyuu swallowed.

"Mum and dad loved you very much. And so do I. I love you more than the sky and the sun and the stars. More than the wind and the rivers and the mountains. I love you… I love you more than the sea. You'll understand that when you're older, won't you? I bet you'll love the sea just as much, like our parents did." He told him softly. "And someday, when you're older, you'll sail the seas and be whatever you want to be. There's no limit, you know? Dad proved that to the whole world."

He ran a finger gently over Ace's forehead, parting the hair there, and between his eyes, which were just beginning to darken from the typical baby blue and making him wonder after who he would take, and over his small nose. There he stopped to trace the freckles that he got from their mum, a stark contrast to his still light skin. Come summer he might be as tanned as their father, but Kairyuu would never know it.

"Live free for both of us, little brother. That's all I ask of you, Ace; live with no regrets."

And even as tears fell from his green eyes and his body trembled with the sobs, Kairyuu smiled at his brother.

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

"Well, looks like it's time."

Kairyuu looked up at Garp's voice. The old man stood at the door next to Dadan, who was glaring daggers at him.

"Hai." Said the child quietly.

As the small seven year old looked down at his baby brother, the adults looked away. It was probably their way of giving him a semblance of privacy as he said goodbye, but he had already said everything he needed to

The seven year old then took out a small bag from between his meagre belongings and turned it over to Dadan.

"What's this?"

"Our father left money for us when he... passed. That's the last of it. It should pay for anything my brother might need."

Dadan scowled at him, looking almost offended.

"I know you'll take care of him," said Kairyuu before she could protest. "but it's also his inheritance. If you don't want to spend it on him, keep it till he's old enough to use it himself. Who knows? Maybe he'll use it to buy a ship and…" he trailed off for only a second. "…sail the seas."

He had a feeling that both adults understood what he had implied, that Ace might someday want to be a pirate. Therefore, he was surprised when his head didn't meet Garp's fist.

They didn't comment either on something else that was heavily implied: that Kairyuu himself wouldn't be needing it.

Handing over the money was so much easier than handing Ace over…

Finally, Kairyuu pressed a kiss to his nose and another to his forehead and let Dadan take him. Without another word and trying not to listen to his brother's whimpers, the little boy hurried out of the door with Garp hastily following.

Ace's wails were the last thing he heard as they left.

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

"Why do I have to hide?" asked Kairyuu, his little forehead creased in a frown.

"It would be a bit suspicious if I came here and suddenly left with you." Explained the old man. "We don't want anyone to come sniffing around here, do we?"

The little boy nodded, accepting the answer without a fuss. He didn't want to leave a trail that could potentially lead someone to Ace. That would defeat the purpose of this venture.

Garp sighed and absently messed up his hair.

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

"Why do I still need to hide?" asked the child a few weeks later.

The question had come out of the blue and Garp choked on his tea.

"I-It is safer… this way…" he explained rather weakly in the child's opinion.

"No, it's not." Replied Kairyuu. "We've docked at many places since Foosha. Nobody would know where exactly you picked me up from."

"I'd rather not risk it." Answered Garp tightly.

The child sighed and it was then the Vice-Admiral noticed how tired he looked.

"Where are you really taking me, Garp-jiji?"

The man's grip on the teacup tightened to the point that it snapped, the remaining liquid staining his fingers.

He should have expected the question, really. No matter how young, Kairyuu had already proved himself to be intelligent.

Intelligent and kind and overall too good for the cards he had been dealt in life, if you asked him. Garp had lost count of how many times he had cursed the boy's father in his mind. It was Roger's actions that now condemned him in the eyes of the world.

If only he could somehow find Rayleigh…

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

Garp's plan came to an end before it could truly be set into motion when, on a clear morning weeks after having crossed into the Grand Line, the door of his cabin was unexpectedly thrown open.

"I gave clear orders not to-"

Whatever furious reproaches had been about to leave his mouth died as soon as he realised just who was standing at his door.

'Of all the people it could've been, why did it have to be him?' lamented the Hero of the Marines.

Indeed their luck couldn't have been worse, for he realised a second later where Akainu's eyes were fixed. On Kairyuu.

"What is the meaning of this?"

That snapped Garp out of his mental ranting and he made an effort to regain his composure.

"What do you think?" retorted the man. "I found the brat and I'm escorting him to Headquarters."

"Why have you not informed yet, then? And what is the prisoner doing out of his cell?"

"There's too big a risk of this information being intercepted. I thought it best not to risk it." Replied Garp slowly taking a seat at his desk, effectively hiding his trembling hands.

"And he is not in a cell, why?" asked his fellow Vice-Admiral.

Garp looked at Kairyuu from the corner of his eye. The child was completely still, his body tense and his eyes wide. He was scared, very scared, the man noticed. And rightly so, for Akainu's rising reputation was anything but pretty. He was merciless in his defence of Absolute Justice and hated pirates.

This was the worst thing that could have happened to them.

"I can better keep an eye on him here. Headquarters would have a fit if he somehow got away when we finally got a hold of him."

"Yes, I imagine the consequences would be quiet… disastrous for you, if that were to happen." Said Akainu, his eyes narrowed but his voice mocking as he added: "It's a sad day for the Marines when a Vice-Admiral is needed to keep a child in check; in my ship, I'd whip them if they were to lose a prisoner, no less when it is only a child, but I guess discipline cannot be expected of everyone."

Garp wished he could punch the little upstart till he got some moral sense.

"I'll pass a message onto Sengoku for you. There's men wasting their time looking for the little rat."

"Wait, what did you come here for?"

"Oh, a Buster Call has been issued. I was curious when I saw you were near but hadn't answered to Headquarters."

Garp's eyes widened. A Buster Call? He had been ignoring all contact from Headquarters since he got to the Grand Line, but to think a Buster Call had been called… Why did it have to be when he was in the area?

"I'll leave you to it, then. Headquarters will be anxious for the prisoner to arrive." Said Akainu as goodbye.

Garp knew Akainu had not believed him. It was clear as daylight. As he left, his every word dared him to take one wrong step.

Looking at Kairyuu's scared face, he saw they both understood what had happened. The choice had been taken from him. There was only one path forward now if they wanted to keep Ace safe and it led them straight to Marineford.

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

"We'll reach Marineford in the morning." Whispered Garp taking a seat on the floor next to the seven year old.

Kairyuu nodded to show he had heard him, but didn't look away from the piece of paper in his hands. It was a photograph depicting a small family of three.

The man was smiling widely at the camera, looking as if he was barely refraining from breaking into a raucous laughter. His dark unruly hair framed his head and his dark eyes stared at the camera with an unnerving intensity, but there was something strangely… warm in them. His chin rested on a white-covered shoulder and one of his hands rested around the woman's waist, the other on a child's shoulder.

The woman had an arm wrapped over the man's and around her waist, her hand resting over her slightly swollen belly. She had long strawberry-blond hair, a red hibiscus flower tucked over her left ear. The freckles on her cheeks were a stark contrast to her pale skin and the radiant smile stretching her lips only added to her beauty. Her other hand rested on the child's other shoulder.

The child… it was quiet obviously a younger version of the child now sitting next to him, holding the photograph.

Garp would never admit it outloud, but his heart clenched at the sight of the obviously happy family. Familiar faces of people he had respected if not outright liked and would never see again.

"When dad turned himself in," spoke Kairyuu in a low voice. "mum and I had to get rid of most of his things so we wouldn't be related to him if we were found. There wasn't a lot; dad wasn't like that. We had to burn the photos, but… I couldn't burn this one. I told myself that Ace might want to see what he was like, when he was older, so I kept it hidden."

Garp listened without interrupting. The boy deserved much more for what he was about to do, but at the moment all he could do was listen and remember so that he would keep his memory alive.

"Dad felt better that day, so they took me to a small beach near home. Mum helped me build a sandcastle and then dad took me swimming. We ate there and that's when they told me I was going to have a brother. It had always been dad and me and Rayleigh and our nakamas, but now I had a mum and a sibling on the way, so I was very excited. We took the photo after that: our first family photograph."

There was a hint of wistfulness in the child's voice as he recalled the happy memory.

"A month after that, dad was gone. And, now, so is mum…"

Garp heard the unvoiced thought that he, too, would be gone soon; he closed his eyes.

"I can't keep it with me, but I don't want to destroy it either." Continued the child. "Could you keep it for me?"

The marine opened his eyes again at the small question to find the carefully folded photo thrust in front of him.

"You can do whatever you want with it, even burn it, just don't tell me, please. I'd rather remember it like this."

Gingerly, almost as if he was expecting an attack, Garp reached out and took it. They didn't mention it again.

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

Kairyuu was obviously scared, even as he tried to put up a brave face. The marine couldn't begrudge him.

They arrived at Marineford at midday, Garp having delayed it as much as possible without it being obvious. When an order to remain on the ship came, he wasn't sure whether to feel relief or worry.

It was only when night came that they were allowed to step on land, only for Sengoku and two of his trusted officers to personally receive them.

"We'll take custody of him, sir." Said one of the men stepping up and grabbing Kairyuu's upper arm.

Garp didn't let go of his shoulder, though, keeping the little boy in place next to him. He was looking at his colleague, Sengoku, and ignoring his officers for now.

"Do we really have to do this?" he asked, a plea hidden in his words.

"The boy is a disaster waiting to happen, Garp." Replied Sengoku, his stance unwavering. "You've done the right thing by handing him over; you need not be involved in the rest."

Garp gritted his teeth, his hand clenching on that small shoulder, feeling the child's shaking.

"And yet he is only a child." He insisted furiously. "He's seven, for Heaven's sake!"

"You know as well as I it does not matter."

"Well, it should!"

Sengoku rubbed his eyes under his glasses and sighed.

"There's no point to arguing between ourselves. I have orders and I will see them carried out. Hand him over."

For a wild moment, Garp toyed with the idea of refusing, but what would that achieve? He wasn't confident he would be able to get them both out of there alive and, even if he did, they would be hunted. He would be in no position to protect Ace and, wasn't that the whole point of this mad plan?

He could only play his part now so he would be in the perfect position in the future to make sure this sacrifice was not in vain.

Silently, he released the child's shoulder.

Immediately, the officer yanked the boy forward and he let out a strangled yelp.

"Careful with him." Hissed the Vice-Admiral, eyes narrowing at the man.

The officer looked at Sengoku, who nodded despite his eyes having never left his colleague, and his grip gentled.

"You'll never talk of this to anyone, Garp; this hasn't happened." Ordered Sengoku in a firm if low voice.

As the three men turned to leave with their captive, the Hero of the Marines stopped his fellow one last time.

"What will happen to him, Sengoku?"

"That is for the Elders to say." Answered the Admiral without turning.

"Please, he is only a child. He does not deserve to die. Try to reason with them."

"You know as well as I that sometimes death is a mercy. A fast death would be a far kinder fate than any other that may be reserved for him. But that is not for us to decide. Stop torturing yourself, Garp; this is for the best."

The Admiral resumed walking and the officers hurried after him, dragging an unresisting child with them. If said child had looked back over his shoulder just once, he would have seen the old man fall to his knees and punch the floor, alone in the wharf.

But he did not turn, and that was the last Garp saw of Kairyuu.

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

Since the day of Roger's execution, he had developed a new habit as a part of his daily routine. In between lovingly kissing Shakky's cheek and getting his coffee ready, he would ask if there were any interesting news and she would proceed to tell him about all the little inconsequential things they were writing about.

Rayleigh would pretend to be interested as her eyes glinted knowingly at him, but she wouldn't call him out on not paying her words proper attention.

It had all started the day after Roger's execution.

Rayleigh would always remember the day itself as a day of tears and laughter and alcohol, all mixed up together. Truly, he wasn't sure where he'd be now if Shakky hadn't been there for him, but he thought it might be better not to dwell too much on it.

The day afterwards, though, news spread of the Government's manhunt for Roger's son.

Rayleigh had wanted to board the first ship that would take him through Loguetown, despite Shakky's advice to wait, so he did just that.

He ended up almost dying as the ship he had been on sunk during a storm. He had survived purely through luck. He'd been in the cold dark water, unable to tell up from down as the sea raged.

'I can't die like this. Not now! Kairyuu! I must find Kairyuu!'

He'd fought to reach the surface, but it was becoming harder and harder to remain conscious. When he'd almost given up all hope, sure of the inevitability of his death, a young fishman called Hatchan rescued him.

By the time he was recovered enough and ready to leave again, Shakky had managed to talk some sense into him.

As much as he wanted to rush to the other end of the world and search for his godson, he had no leads as to his whereabouts. He couldn't be in Loguetown; the marines exhaustive search of the area had yielded nothing on him and he could be anywhere by then. His only hope was to wait for a clue of where the child was, or with whom, and hope the World Government didn't find him first.

Shaky had put her information gathering net to good use since then, but there hadn't been a whisper so far. Not a true one, at least.

'Why the hell didn't you contact me, Roger?' he wondered sometimes, angry, in the privacy of his mind. 'You knew I'd have kept an eye on him; he's my godson! Why didn't you? You must've anticipated this… Did you trust someone else with his wellbeing? But, who!?'

Who had he trusted so much and why hadn't he at least warned him?

It was a question that kept him awake at night, with his wife asleep next to him and guilt clouding his mind. Guilt because he should have made an effort to keep in touch with his godson, not waited with his head buried in the sand for Roger to make his move for the damn last time.

Maybe he should have kept the little boy until everything died down, but deep down he knew his friend would never have allowed it. Roger adored his son, would've chained the sun and moon to the earth if he had but hinted he wanted them. That's why it was so hard to believe he hadn't prevented this, that he would've so readily walked to his death without making sure Kairyuu was looked after.

In hindsight, he should've done so many things… but he hadn't known what Roger had planned.

And that's how his little habit started. He asked his wife for news, unable to voice the real question ―any word of Kairyuu? ―, and Shakky would tell him the little uninteresting news she had picked up, a silent answer ―no news that really interest you.

There'd be a moment, a beat between his question and her answer, where he'd be inundated by a mix of hope and dread and then another more drawn out, after her answer, where relief and helplessness would war to prevail. No news meant the Government hadn't found him. For Rayleigh, no news meant mostly good news.

Until one day, nearly two years after Roger's execution, when there were actually news worth mentioning.

The day had started out normal enough. He had woken up, showered and dressed, stopping for a second at the sight of a package in one of his drawers. His godson's birthday had come and gone ―the little boy now eight years old― and he had bought it on impulse before hastening to stash it there amongst a few of his trinkets, perhaps to chase away the questions that suddenly assaulted him. Would he ever get a chance to deliver it to the child? Did Kairyuu even have someone to acknowledge him turning a year older?

After pressing the heel of his hands to his eyes for a second, focus returning, Rayleigh finished getting ready and went down to the bar's main area.

His wife was sat with her elbows on the counter and a newscoo in front of her, as usual. The pirate leant down to kiss her cheek and turned to get a cup from a shelf with the familiarity of years doing so.

"Any interesting news?"

And there it was, that agonising moment before her answer when he would be torn between hope and fear, dragging on and on and… too long.

She hadn't said anything, but he left the still empty cup on the counter, his hands trembling.

"Shakky?"

He didn't miss how she jerked at the sound of her name, her hands gripping the edge of the counter so tightly her knuckles turned white. Her face was grim, unusually so, but her voice came out weak in the silent room.

"There had been a Buster Call." She explained and he held his breath. "At Ohara."

Ohara. The archaeologists. The ones trying to unearth the story behind the Void Century. The forbidden knowledge.

His eyes closed in grief because they had been good people and hadn't deserved that fate, but also in shame at the traitorous feeling of relief.

'No news means good news.'

The relief didn't last long, only until he opened his eyes and saw that Shakky's face hadn't changed.

"There is more." Croaked out the man.

Shaky pressed her lips into a fine line before averting her eyes to the newscoo. Finally, she slid it towards him and pointed to a small article ―so small it was only a paragraph― in one of the sections. Easy to miss if you weren't specifically looking for something, which most people wouldn't be doing with the Ohara incident being front-page news.

It was going to be bad, if she would make him read the words himself rather than tell him. His eyes scanned the short message, his breath hitching at their meaning.

"They've cancelled the search for him." Confirmed Shakky in a low voice, her hand coming up to cover his where it had gripped the paper so tightly it wrinkled. "That can only mean…"

"…they've found him."

Shakky wrapped her arms around his waist, her head resting on his chest in a bid for comfort ―if his or hers, he wasn't sure. He didn't even realise he was crying until he had his face pressed to her hair.

That was another day for tears in his life, but this time the only laughter he remembered was in his memories of an innocent child whose life had been cut too short for the crime of being born.

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

News of the incident at Ohara spread like fire across the world and soon, everyone was so focused on it that nobody but a few people could claim to have noticed the marines suddenly losing all interest in hunting down the Pirate King's child.

Crocus, Keeper of the lighthouse at Twin Capes, was one such person who understood its implications.

Across the Red Line, somewhere in East Blue, a mostly unknown pirate by the name of Buggy proceeded to get roaring drunk under his newly recruited First Mate's gaze.

Unknown to him, a rising pirate known for his startling red hair was no more than two islands away, his pain and rage at the world's unfairness manifesting in the way he threw himself into a fight with a certain criminal by the name of Teach. A fight that would leave him with more consequences that three son to be famous scars.

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

Meanwhile, Prisoner 686 was thrown into a small dark cell in the lowest level of the most secure prison in the world, a level barely known to exist bar to a few people. The prisoner's identity and crime would remain a mystery for a long time.