First of all, please, please, check out my profile. I know most people ignore it and you can skip most of it, but please at least take a look at the section dedicated to any story you like because I might share things or ask for input there sometimes.
Second, I'm posting this chapter without proofreading it, so sorry for any mistakes there are and I'll try to read it in the morning and correct them, but right now I just want to deliver to you all this new chapter and go to sleep.
Thank you so much to all those of you who followed and favourited this story, I hope you'll enjoy it. And a very special thanks to those of you who bothered to write a review. You don't know how happy I get whenever I get one, especially when the content's great (and with that I don't mean that it was someone saying they liked it or so, constructive criticism is highly appreciated and welcome).
So I'm going to address the people who left a review next, if you're not interested in it, feel free to skip to 'Chapter 2' and enjoy yourself!
ShadowEmperor2031: Hi! Well sorry to have made you cry with this story, but since I was going for a first chapter that inspired sadness, is it too cruel to say that I'm happy it worked? (*laughs awkwardly*) Anyway, I'm glad you like the plot, it's an idea that I've had for a while but couldn't find written anywhere, so I had to try my hand at it. Hope it turns out well and doesn't end up disappointing. Thanks so much for your review and for reading this story!
Akuma no Hono: Oh, my, when I read your review I was like… are they reading my mind? (I was also cackling by the time I finished reading it). Of course Kairyuu would be furious if something like that happened and, let's be honest, the way I'm setting it up, I'm hoping his mere existence is going to make the world fall into Beautiful Utter Chaos. Hope you enjoy the next chapter and thank you so much for you review!
Tempest S: Oh, I'm so glad you love this story. I wasn't actually sure of how it would be received when I first posted it, so I'm glad to see people are enjoying it. As for your concerns regarding Kairyuu's possible atrophy and lack of physical strength, well let me assure you I've kept that in mind and have plans to deal with that. He's not going to suddenly buff up for no reason and become invincible, but he's not going to be a weakling either. I've got a few aces up my sleeve. I hope they won't turn up to be disappointing, though. Anyway, I'll let you get on with the next chapter. Thanks so much for reading and reviewing!
Kaito Echizen: Okay, so… Mmmm… Truly, I have no idea what to tell you because I've no idea what you meant by that… So… Onto the next chapter...
Impel Down was widely known to the world as the most secure and terrifying prison in the world. It was an impregnable fortress in the middle of the sea that no one ever knowingly approached. Also known as the Underwater Prison or the Great Prison, Impel Down's five levels featured in the nightmares of any Grand Line pirate.
Unknown to everyone save a select few, a sixth level existed within the prison. Most would think it was actually the most mundane of all, since the prisoners there were rarely tortured in contrast to the other five level's occupants. However, most would be wrong, for Level 6 held the most dangerous of all criminals.
Known as the Eternal Hell, it held the prisoners that fit into at least one of three categories: they were extremely powerful, they had committed the most atrocious of crimes or their existence itself is a threat to the World Government.
These criminals were usually killed or held there until they died, being basically 'erased' from history.
Prisoner 731 was one such prisoner: extremely powerful and having committed heinous crimes against humanity itself.
It was also the reason why Sengoku himself was putting a foot in the infamous prison for the first time in well over five years. He'd wanted, no, needed to make sure that he was locked down with no mishaps.
The Admiral, soon to be ascended to Fleet Admiral, hated setting foot on that place, but it couldn't be helped. Luckily, everything went without a hitch and he was soon free to leave.
He hadn't abandoned Level 6 when something caught his attention.
A tiny shape huddled in on itself against a corner of its cell. Not much of them was visible in the shadowed prison except a shaggy mane and a shackled foot.
Shiliew noticed his attention and smirked in amusement, cigar clenched between his teeth.
"Ah, Prisoner 686. A tiny thing, eh?"
Sengoku stopped and stared a moment before taking a few steps towards the dark damp cell. Prisoner 686. He remembered that one better than he'd like.
The kid lifted his head, bright green eyes peering up at him from a pale dirty face. Yes, he definitely remembered him.
"I see you're still alive."
"Don't let his age fool you." Snorted Shiliew. "This piece of trash is tough. I've seen feared criminals waste away in less time than he's lasted. All without a fucking word."
The Admiral thought he detected a note of disgruntlement on the Chief Jailer's voice at the last part and he threw the man a sharp look. He didn't say anything, but made a note to speak to his superior.
The child just stared, but it was clear he'd recognised the Admiral from the look in his eyes. Those eyes were what he remembered most vividly, but watching them now, five years later and still with that same light… his memory made them no justice.
He looked older, thirteen now if he remembered correctly ―still a child, truly―, more gaunt and sickly pale. Left there, in the place widely considered as hell on earth, to waste away in a cold damp cell in the depths of the sea, forgotten.
He still thought death would've been more merciful, but those green eyes seemed set on denying it.
"When was the last time you ate?" he asked.
The boy shrugged.
Sengoku pursed his lips and looked at Shiliew out of the corner of his eye. Withdrawing a packet from his pocket, he saw the man frown. He would definitely speak with his superior.
The marine offered the packet of cookies, courtesy of Garp's last visit. But the child, despite his obvious hunger, didn't move and even pushed further into the wall, away from him.
He refused to show any outward reaction at the obvious withdrawal, or the small flinch of pain that accompanied it. Inwardly, though, he could feel the bitter sting of guilt and pity.
He knew this child posed one of the biggest dangers to the world and he understood that he couldn't have been left free. That didn't change his belief that he would've been better off dead than trapped in this hell.
It was a damn pity.
"They're cookies." He insisted, his face still blank. "You must be hungry."
Slowly, the child crawled a bit closer until he could catch the packet and retreated back into his corner much faster. The sound of plastic ripping reached his ears as he watched the boy get a taste of the cookies.
Sengoku straightened, ignoring his frowning companion, and gestured for him to lead the way, but just as he'd taken a step to do so, a small whisper stopped him.
The voice was rough, scratchy, whether from being unused for a long time or from being too used to screaming, he wasn't sure. He looked back to the boy still huddling in a corner, barely making out anything apart from the dark mane of hair, the torn prisoner garb and a small smile that stuck out on that sickly pale face.
Sengoku nodded slightly and resumed his walking, more eager than ever to leave that Prison.
But even as he rode the lift to the top and spoke to Magellan and boarded his own ship and left the cursed place behind… Even as he finally returned to the outside world, his mind was still trapped in that other hellish world where no one should be able to smile and on the child that had.
He didn't know why he did it ―and if he did, the reason would never be spoken out loud― but Sengoku did speak with Shiliew's superior. Or well, not superior per se, but co-warden?
Magellan had been Chief Warden of the prison for a few years already and Sengoku had treated with him on more than one occasion.
Once inside Magellan's office, he went straight to the point, explaining that whilst the Government was happy with the way the prison was run, he felt there was a need to make a few changes in regards to one of the prisoners.
He didn't ask for anything too outlandish, of course, just a change to another cell ―the current one was almost completely damp from water filtering through the wall―, more regularity on meals and a better fit on clothes ―nothing to outlandish, just a uniform that would mostly fit him.
Magellan had been particularly offended at the idea of someone on Level 6 being entitled to such things ―despite them not being too much of an upgrade of their conditions― until the prisoner in question was mentioned.
"Prisoner 686? He's an exemplar prisoner, never gives any trouble, at least to my knowledge. It's a pity, someone so young… but he is after all a criminal."
"That he is." And Sengoku didn't know why the words left such a bad taste in his mouth.
"I guess it wouldn't be too much, and it's the Government asking so… I'll inform the Chief Jailer."
"Good. Thank you, that will be all for today." Said Sengoku, standing up from the chair and making to leave the office.
"Sengoku-sama." Stopped him Magellan, voice unusually curious. "I wasn't in charge yet when Prisoner 686 was brought in. A lot of speculation went on thereafter about his identity, but it was left out even from his file. If I may ask, with how dangerous he is listed as and being so young… what was his crime?"
Sengoku stared at Magellan for a while. What was his crime? It was a question he'd asked himself five years ago and even now had only the one answer:
"Existing. His crime was existing."
Since that first time, Sengoku visited Impel Down at least twice a year. He told himself he was only doing as his new job as Fleet Admiral demanded and making routine visits to check their main prison, but he would always stop by the same prisoner when all was said and done.
The truth was that he didn't know why he kept coming.
But slowly, his visits went from bringing a young prisoner a packet of cookies and receiving a quiet thanks to having brief and awkward conversations about their respective 'lives'.
All of it culminated on a memorable conversation four years after his first visit.
The boy was leaning against the right stone wall of his cell, hands drawn up to his chest and thin arms surrounding them. His head was thrown back against the wall, the dark dirty mane dragging over his shoulders, cut in uneven chunks. His skin was sickly pale, a result of the lack of sunlight for near on a decade. But his green eyes were as alive as always and his lips tilted up into a very small smile at the sight of him standing on the other side of the bars.
Sengoku stayed silent. As the silence dragged on and on, the marine making no move to speak or to leave, the boy's smile disappeared slowly.
"What happened?" he asked, tilting his head slightly.
Sengoku's eyes narrowed, his hands clenching into fists on either side of his body. He took a deep breath.
The curiosity in those green eyes had now been replaced by wariness, but he didn't much care for that at the moment.
"Why?" he bit out.
The weariness in that green gaze only increased, but the boy seemed confused too.
"Why what?" he whispered unsurely.
"What is it that pushes people to piracy? Even good people? What is the allure of being a lawless criminal? What pushes a good man, a good man with everything within reach, to turn his back on the law? Why would he betray the government? Why would he betray me?"
At the end of his rant, Sengoku pressed the pads of his fingers to his closed eyes, stabbing off the angry and frustrated tears that dwelt there.
With a huff, he gritted his teeth and turned.
He shouldn't have come. He was behaving completely irrationally!
But a familiar scratchy voice stopped him before he could even take a step.
"I don't who you're talking about, or the circumstances of whatever happened." Said the young man. "But I've known my fair share of pirates, or criminals. Sometimes there is no satisfying answer to why they are like that. But good men don't become bad out of nowhere. Sometimes… sometimes good men see that the law is not infallible, that the world is not always black and white, that there are things that aren't fair. And good men, real good men, cannot stay put and let injustice go on in front of their faces, even if it means they will be labelled a criminal. That doesn't mean they aren't good either."
With that, the youth fell silent, wordlessly bringing a hand up to his throat and coughing as if to clear it. He didn't remember him ever saying so many words to him.
Sengoku thought about it. He thought about his son and his sense of justice, not always like his, but no less noble for that. He thought of his determination to stop his brother's cruelty. He thought of his body buried under the snow, like a discarded toy riddled with holes. The image was burned into his mind, the pain fresh with only a few weeks having passed.
Sengoku thought of him and how good a man he'd been. And how his betrayal, whatever the reason that brought it, didn't erase that fact.
A weight fell off his shoulders, one he hadn't been aware of carrying.
With a sigh, he threw his cloak off to the side and flopped down onto the cold stone floor.
"I have- I had a son. His name was Rosinante…"
And Sengoku told the boy of Donquixote Rosinante; he talked about the kind-hearted child he'd taken in, the happy if clumsy young teen he'd grown into and the strong man he'd turned out to be.
His companion listened attentively, humming sometimes, asking a question here or there when he got lost in memories, but never speaking more than a couple words with his scratchy throat.
After that day, he still wondered why Rosinante had betrayed them in Minion Island, he still wished to find out the truth one day, but there was a small niggling of hope at the back of his head. Hope that his son had done it for a reason he could, if not support, at least respect.
When Shanks walked through the door of Shakky's bar more than a decade after Roger's execution, Rayleigh couldn't honestly say he hadn't been expecting it. The young redhead had been making a name for himself since his old days as a simple cabin boy, so it wasn't at all unexpected when their paths crossed again.
Meeting the Red-Hair Pirates had been interesting. Shanks had gathered a good crew and the old man told him so. He also didn't miss that all of them were older than Shanks by a few years.
Hearing about how Shanks had lost his arm and given away his straw-hat to a child was even more interesting.
"It was real shocking, Rayleigh-san! There was a kid in East Blue who said the same things Captain Roger did. The same words as our captain." He had said.
Rayleigh hoped he'd have a chance to meet this kid someday and see with his own eyes what Shanks spoke of.
On the last night of their stay at Sabaody, Shanks and Rayleigh were sat together in a corner, watching the merry crew party and drink, when the red-head took a small metallic box out of a pocket in his cloak and settled it in front of the ex-pirate.
"You mentioned you lost your photographs in a shipwright. There's not many there and they're probably not the same as yours, but… I was hoping you'd keep them safe for me."
Rayleigh cleared his throat as he reached out with a shaky hand and opened the box. Slowly, he went through the small stack of photographs. Shanks had been right, they were not the same, they held different memories than his had, but the people in them was the same and that was enough for him.
"Are you sure you don't want to take them with you?"
"We're going to the New World and nothing's certain there. I'd hate to see them get ruined." Answered the pirate with a shake of his head.
Rayleigh's eyes stilled on a particular photo, his fingers tracing the small figure of a small black-haired child whose features he had once known better than his own name. They had begun to go hazy in his mind, time trying to steal them from his memories, he realised with a start.
And even more startling was realising that the little boy would've been eighteen by then; a little boy no more, but a man grown. They'd never get a chance to learn what kind of man he would've been, though, and he shook his head to dispel those thoughts before they could take root in his mind and torment him.
"I see. I'll keep them safe until you come back for them, then."
"Thanks." Muttered Shanks before visibly hesitating, which didn't happen all that often, his hand coming up as if to grab the hem of his straw-hat before remembering it wasn't there anymore. "I tried to find him." He confessed quietly. "After the captain's death. But I couldn't and then I heard…"
"So did I, kid." Sighed Rayleigh, feeling suddenly as old as he was.
"I'll never forget." Said Shanks, the heat in his voice fierce. "And I'll never forgive what they did. They'll pay for it someday." He swore, hand closed in a fist. For a second, Rayleigh worried that the then twenty-seven years-old pirate planned something utterly stupid, but his worries vanished when the redhead relaxed and reached for his cup of sake. "Now's not the right time, though, and it won't necessarily be by my hand. I have another role to play."
Rayleigh didn't ask what it was, because he knew that was something even Shanks himself had yet to discover. He focused on enjoying the last few hours he would spend with Shanks in what was sure to be a long while.
When Shanks made it back to his cabin in the Red Force, in the early hours of the morning, he looked at his small desk. Giving into the temptation, he dug out a small piece of paper from the depths of its drawers, wrinkled and faded from all the years he'd worn it on the inside of his old straw-hat. Even after deciding to leave them in Rayleigh's keeping, this had been the only photograph he had refused to part with.
He was staring at it again. At the poster kept hidden on one of his desk's drawer, the one that was now out of circulation.
It had been a year since Donquixote Doflamingo had been awarded the status of Shichibukai, much to his inner displeasure.
But the Gorosei had spoken and there was nothing he ―even as Fleet Admiral― could do about it. Quite a few of his contemporaries felt the same, but their hands were bound.
He did have to wonder, though, what it was that Doflamingo had to give him the power to sway the Five Elders. He was the one with the most freedom out of all the Sichibukai, as far as he knew.
He was startled ―and closing the small drawer with more strength than necessary, suddenly feeling guilty at his distraction― by the door being thrown open and one of his subordinates rushing inside, panting and clearly frazzled as the man saluted shortly and hurried to place a message on top of his desk.
"What is it now?" he asked, annoyed.
He'd been looking forward to finishing with all the paperwork and taking a stroll with his pet goat, maybe even tracking down that idiot Garp who was sure to have some rice crackers. But looking at his subordinate, he had a feeling that wasn't going to happen anytime soon.
"It's an urgent message from Impel Down, sir. From Chief Warden Magellan."
Sengoku frowned, a bad feeling beginning to grow in his mind even as he nodded and dismissed the younger marine.
Once alone, he opened the missive and started to read. With each word, his face turned more and more serious and his frown grew.
The message didn't explain everything and he knew why. Magellan would never risk Impel Down's reputation being tarnished, but neither could he just hide what had happened. Despite the fact that the prison was the worst nightmare of most criminals, it still needed to remain within certain limits in the eyes of the general public.
And the Chief Jailor having gotten drunk off his power and abusing his authority, leading to a massacre of not innocent but defenceless prisoners wouldn't be well received by the public.
Nor would the government see it acceptable that the prison hadn't been capable of keeping their own staff under control.
Jaw clenched, he read the letter one more time to make sure he hadn't missed anything and called for another of his subordinates, giving orders to have his ship and crew ready to set sail by nightfall.
Then he turned his attention back to the paperwork on top of his desk, prioritising what needed to be done before he left and what could wait a few days until his return. The poster in his drawer was totally forgotten.
In the end, it took a few more weeks before Sengoku was able to visit the prison again. He'd had to deal with the worrying reports of a Kingdom being wiped out in a civil war before they had even had time to intervene.
Kuraigana Island, home of the now extinct Shikkearu Kingdom, was now just another uninhabited island. Except for the fact that, upon arriving to check what the conflict had been about, the marines in charge of the mission had been attacked. By sword wielding mandrills.
'Humandrills' they had been dubbed.
And here he was now, finally back in Impel Down after having dealt with the mess ―not that there had been anything they could truly do once they confirmed the whole Kingdom had really perished and the current inhabitants of the island were totally aggressive and apparently on a skill level far above most of their swordsmen.
Standing in front of the cell, his eyes swept all over the laid out and seemingly asleep form of the twenty-one year old prisoner.
He had a new uniform on ―the older one probably torn beyond repair if what Magellan told him was true― and his arms and chest were covered in bandages. His hair was clean, but still messy as hell, and his skin was as pale as ever, making the bruises visible on his cheek and his neck stand out even more. His breathing was slow and light, not laboured.
The wave of relief he felt still caught Sengoku by surprise, the small knot of worry he'd been carrying around in his belly since the Chief Warden's message easing a bit.
Consternated, he run a hand over his face and sighed.
'What am I doing? Why am I behaving like this? Why do I keep coming back?'
When he opened his eyes again it was to be met with an intense green gaze and a small smile.
'Maybe because I still don't understand how he can smile in this place…'
"Hey." Coughed the younger man, wincing slightly as he sat up on his cot. "Back again?"
"Are you sure you should be moving?" he asked, ignoring the rhetorical question. "Chief Magellan says Shiliew did a number on you."
The prisoner waved his worry away, the smile still in place although tinged with a bit of bitterness.
"Could've been worse. I'm alive, so I'm one of the lucky ones."
Sengoku couldn't hold in a derisive snort at that. 'Lucky'. That was debatable.
The smile became more genuine at his reaction.
"Not that I'm actually complaining, but… to what do I owe your visit? Surely not to S-Shiliew's rampage?"
Sengoku hummed, taking in the small strain visible on the young man's face as he turned on his cot so he was facing him from his seat and the almost unnoticeable stutter at the ex-Chief Jailor's name.
"Shiliew is part of the reason, yes. His actions couldn't go unanswered. But worry not, although he is kept in this level, his cell is far from yours. He should not bother you from there."
Even though the dark-haired boy said nothing, the grateful nod and slow untightening of his fists on the edge of his cot gave away his relief.
"So the rest of the reason?"
Sengoku frowned, confused.
"For you to come all the way here." Explained the young man, his eyes lit up with amusement.
Sengoku's frown just deepened. He wasn't going to tell him he'd been worried. No way was he going down that road. And he couldn't give him a satisfactory answer when he didn't have one himself.
He rummaged through his coat and brought something out, throwing it towards the boy.
"Just eat some cookies." He grumbled.
When Ivankov was captured by the bloody marines, he wasn't overly worried. Okay, maybe he'd been in the beginning. But that changed soon as he escaped the ―frankly disgusting― cell they'd thought would be enough to keep him in.
Slowly, more and more people disappeared ―first on Level 5, then extending to other levels― and stories of ghost surged as he freed those who'd been captured with him and a few other interesting ones too.
Slowly and steadily they built their own heaven inside the prison: the Okama Paradise.
Ivankov also knew that it wasn't yet time to escape the place. Her partner Dragon had yet to make a move after their capture and if she knew him well enough ―which she thought she did, despite the man's overly silent nature― he wouldn't be making a move to free them any time soon.
It wasn't the right time. Breaking into ―or out of― Impel Down, a feat that was thought impossible to accomplish needed a bigger reason than simply freeing a few revolutionaries, no matter how high up the were in the organization.
So she took the time in her new in-prison Queendom to gather more people, have fun and throw raucous parties.
And in between that, she stole from the marines, listened and prepared a plan to get out in case it was needed when Dragon made his move.
Until he heard something very interesting about a prisoner in Level 6 that the government was utterly terrified of. Someone so dangerous that not even the wardens of Impel Down knew their name or their crimes.
That information was exactly the kind that a revolutionary was always happy to come across and Ivankov set himself a mission: to learn more about whoever this Prisoner 686 was and see if he could be of any help to the Revolution.
Unfortunately, getting to Level 6 wasn't going to be so easy, even for him.
That red-haired brat was now recognized by the world as a Yonko, one of the Four Emperors reigning over the New World.
Roger must be laughing it up on the other side, watching the greatness he'd predicted when he brought that scruffy brat aboard the Oro Jackson the first time.
Rayleigh stared at the paper in front of him and exchanged a smile with his wife. Hers was mischievous and mirthful, his was a bit smug and just as amused.
But there was a small part of him that stared at the photograph of the young hard-eyed redhead and wondered, remembering a similar instance so long ago when the bounty had held a different name and title.
Not many were left who remembered the man behind that one pirate, even less who remembered the little boy he had fathered.
And he couldn't help but wonder if it would be the same for Shanks, for that young man who was so easy to laugh and getting drunk, who held his friends close to his chest and never hesitated to raise his sword in their defence. Would people someday forget about him, about Shanks, and everything he achieved? Would his title as a Yonko shadow him in legend until that was all that was left?
Ace looked up at the wooden ceiling with a slight smile, his hands folded behind his head and his silly little brother sleeping soundly next to him. The following day he would be leaving Foosha and setting out to sea, so he needed the rest. And yet… he couldn't sleep.
He was excited to be leaving as his brothers and he had promised, but he was a bit worried about leaving Luffy alone. He'd promised Sabo to take care of him and he'd held onto that promise, but now that the time had come to leave he couldn't help wondering how his cry-baby of a brother would deal with his absence.
'I can't always be holding his hand.' He told himself with a firm shake of his head. 'Luffy will have to find his own path and stop depending on me.'
The creaking of the door as it opened a bit made him tense before recognising Dadan. Throwing a look at Luffy to make sure he hadn't woken, Ace stood up and followed the woman, closing the bedroom's door behind himself.
"What are you doing still up, you little brat?"
"Shut up, old hag."
They both glared at each other for a few seconds before a small but heavy old bag was thrown at him. Thanks to years honing his reflexes, he caught it easily.
"What's this?" he asked peering inside the bag, his eyes bugging out at the sight of the contents. "Dadan, this-!"
"Is rightfully yours. You can do whatever you want with it, brat, but I won't take it back. Someone long ago entrusted it to me; they seemed to think you might want to buy a ship with it or something like that. Do whatever you want with it."
Ace stayed stunned for all of three seconds, but snapped back into himself before Dadan could fully leave the room.
"Wait, Dadan! Who's this money from?"
The bandit stopped and turned to look at him, but Ace had a feeling that she wasn't really seeing him.
Indeed, Dadan was thinking of another boy whom she had met seventeen years before. A selfless child much too wise for his age and with the ambition to see his brother safe.
She found it curious how Ace had grown so set on becoming a pirate as that little boy had predicted he might and wondered if there really was something true to that 'call of the sea', but he guessed she wouldn't understand. She was a mountain bandit, not a pirate.
Dadan did not agree with Garp on not telling Ace about his older brother, not after what the boy had done to keep him safe, but that was one choice she did not believe herself with the right to make. Or perhaps she just wanted to avoid the mess that revelation would leave behind.
Either way, she wouldn't be the one to break that silence and Ace. Besides, he would be setting out to sea in a few hours, so there was no doubt he'd hear something.
"Dadan." Called Ace, impatient. "Who gave you this?"
The woman pressed her lips into a fine line and Ace frowned, thinking he wouldn't get an answer.
"That money is from someone… someone who loved you more than life."
Ace didn't get any more out of her, no matter how he asked.
Garp would be the first to admit he'd never been what people would call a conventional grandfather. His position in the marina had kept him away from home for long stretches of time and he'd spent what little time he had training his grandsons to be marines. Not that they had ever wanted to be so.
Piracy called to those two ruffians like… well, he didn't even know what to compare it with.
He blamed Akagami for Luffy's desire.
Ace, though… he didn't know who to blame for that one. He'd like to say Roger, but he'd never believed those things could be passed through blood alone. Neither had Roger, for that matter.
Still, Garp had never considered giving up. To him, that was not an option.
Whichever the cost, even if it meant being hated by them, Luffy and Ace must become marines. And not just any marines: the best.
It wasn't a matter of family honour either, as some thought. No, it was a matter of survival.
Ace and Luffy carried the blood of the two criminals who'd given the biggest trouble to the government. Someday that would be discovered and the uniform was the only thing that may save their lives at that point.
He had promised to keep them safe; to keep them alive.
But it was so damn hard to do when they seemed so set on throwing their lives away for a bit of rebellion.
When he read in the Newscoo about the Spade Pirates and specifically their captain, Portgas D. Ace, the Hero of the Marina wracked his office. He knew then that it was a matter of time before the truth was discovered.
There was no if anymore, now there was only the question of when.
He wondered for a second whether it would've made a difference if he'd told Ace about Kairyuu, about the sacrifice that had kept him alive, a sacrifice that he couldn't stand the thought of having been in vain, but dismissed the thought. He'd intended to tell him, in the beginning, but had balked off in the last moment. He'd known that it would beg the question of what had happened to him.
How could he tell Ace that he'd been the one to turn Kairyuu in? He might as well have killed the boy himself after all. Could he have lied about it? Maybe. Somehow, that had felt like an even worse crime than hiding his existence already was.
As he stared at Ace's smirking face in the newly issued bounty poster, Garp knew he'd failed him as much as Kairyuu's memory.
The two pieces of paper hidden in his breast pocket had never felt heavier.
One day, Sengoku brought a Newscoo on his visit to Impel Down.
Usually, prisoners weren't allowed any contact with the outside world, being denied even the news of what went on outside. But he'd already broken that rule a few times, despite how careful he'd been with the information he revealed.
Now, though, he couldn't afford to be subtle. He needed answers, needed a confirmation or a blatant denial.
Standing to his full height in front of the cell, he drew a deep breath and pinned the young man inside with intense black eyes.
"I'm going to ask you a question and you're going to answer me truthfully, understood?"
He ignored the small confused frown directed at him from the cell's occupant, waiting only a second until he got a small nod before continuing.
"Did Gold Roger have a second son?"
Green eyes widened in response, the man tensing in surprise. Sengoku noticed all this as he kept a careful watch on all his reactions.
"Why would you ask that?" asked warily the prisoner.
"Answer the question."
"I am the only son my mother bore him." answered the man, a hint of defiance in his voice that the marine had never heard before.
Sengoku narrowed his eyes slightly. He didn't feel like he was being lied to, yet… his suspicions remained. Slowly, he unfolded the Newscoo and revealed the image taking up the front-page whilst explaining.
"A rookie set out to sea a year ago. He formed a crew in no time at all and is advancing through the seas at an unprecedented rate. I have reason to suspect he is related to your line. Are you denying this?"
The green-eyed twenty-six year old man perused the image of the grinning teen on the paper with lips slightly pursed and an arched eyebrow.
"I am. My mother and dad never had another child." He said firmly. "And how old is that rookie anyway? He looks young."
Sengoku pursed his lips slightly and focused on folding up the paper.
Yes, Portgas D. Ace was young. Too young, by all logic, to be Roger's. He was barely eighteen now and the Pirate King had been executed twenty years ago. The times didn't match up, after all.
His theory would be put aside for now, but not completely forgotten. Maybe the rookie's luck would run out like so many others' had before him and he would turn out to have been worrying over nothing. Or maybe something else would rise up as proof of his suspicions.
There was something niggling at him from the back of his mind, his instincts restless, and the feeling that he hadn't been lied to but not told the whole truth wouldn't go away.
"You're right." He nodded slowly, visibly dropping the matter. "He's actually too young; he was born roughly two years after Roger's execution."
His eyes softened at the small flinch and tightening of the jaw displayed by the young man. He usually tried not to mention that time, not needing any more awkwardness in their conversations.
"So what's their name?" asked the young man, obviously trying to distract himself from the painful topic and fixing his eyes on the opposite wall.
"The rookie's?" he asked more to himself than anyone else, his mind already thinking about a safer topic or an excuse to leave. "Portgas D. Ace."
He grimaced as he remembered that he had a meeting upon his return and that he had to wrangle Garp there before he tried to make a run for it. Suddenly, he wasn't so eager to leave.
"I've brought cookies." He announced.
"Well, damn, I'm surprised. I always thought the rumours referred to Kairyuu. I had no idea. Though to be honest, you don't take after old Roger much."
"He was your enemy. Don't you want to kick me out?" demanded to know Ace.
"By the look on your face I thought it would be something important. I can't think of anything more trivial." Ace's head snapped up at hearing those dismissive words. "I don't care where the hell you come from: we're all children of the sea."
A mix of emotions invaded the young pirate, who looked away and breathed deeply. His mind latched onto a small detail, trying to distract himself before he showed everything he was feeling at Shirohige's words.
Shirohige looked pensive as he took a swig of his sake.
"After Roger's death, the World Government hunted down everyone who'd had contact with him. They started a manhunt for his son, but the Blues took it as rumours. Kairyuu's existence wasn't all that known outside the Grand Line, so I always assumed that's what caused the rumours. I never thought they meant there was a second child."
"Wait- what? Second child? What the hell are you talking about?" exclaimed Ace jumping up from where he'd been sat at the end of the bed.
Shirohige frowned at him, his mouth pursing under his moustache. He seemed almost as confused as the younger man.
"You say Garp raised you?" Ace nodded a confirmation and Shirohige's frown deepened. "How can you not know, then?"
"Will you just tell me what you meant by that?" pressed Ace.
Shirohige gestured for him to take a seat again before setting the gourd of sake on the bedside table.
"It's strange that you don't know because everyone who travelled the Grand Line at the time, like Garp and I, knew that Roger had a son. Not you. Going by what you've told me, you were born almost two years after Roger's death. Your brother must have been around seven at the time, if I'm not wrong."
It was as if the world stopped for a moment, his breath hitching at the word.
If Shirohige's words were right, he had a brother. An older brother, to be more exact. It meant there was another person out there in the world who shared his same cursed existence.
He wanted to scoff at the idea, brush it off as if he didn't care. He probably would've done so if not for Luffy. His little brother had taught him how wonderful having a brother could be. Luffy… Luffy had wanted him. And that had made all the pain, even the one at losing their brother Sabo, worth every minute.
"Why did jiji never tell me?" muttered Ace, his breath short as his mind run in circles around the unbelievable thought that he had another brother.
"He's dead, Ace."
Shirohige's words were not without their own kindness, yet Ace still felt as though he'd been brought back to reality by a slap.
"What happened to him?" he asked.
"It was after Roger's execution: the Government started a manhunt for him, but they couldn't find Kairyuu. Until one day, suddenly, they stopped looking for him. You must have been barely a few months then; most people didn't notice because it was at the time of Ohara's incident, but any pirate worth their flag did. We all knew what it meant."
Ace swallowed. He didn't need the actual words to be spoken to understand. Dadan had already explained what the government would do to him if his heritage was ever discovered. She'd been very clear on that point, stressing out the importance of keeping it secret.
"When you told me that Garp hid you, I thought perhaps he'd done the same with Kairyuu. But he didn't tell you anything about him and, no matter how high up he is, it wouldn't have been enough to call off the search."
"I don't… understand why he didn't tell me."
"That's something only he can answer." Replied Shirohige, eyeing him critically. "Now go get some rest."
"Ace." Cut him off the pirate captain. "If you have more questions, I'll answer them, but not now. You need to rest and think for a while."
The young man frowned, but he had spent long enough with this crew to know that whenever the captain took on that tone of voice there was no sense in arguing. You'd only manage to look like a petulant child and still wouldn't get your way.
Also, even if he wouldn't say it out loud, Oyaji was right. When he'd come in, he'd been sure he was going to be kicked out of the crew, but not only didn't that happen, he'd learnt something that he was beginning to think Garp had purposefully kept from him. Shirohige had given him a lot to think about.
So Ace bid his captain goodnight and left the room.
Sengoku stood unperturbed as the Five Elders argued amongst themselves. Or at least, gave the appearance of being unperturbed.
"…he is not a child anymore. I say we use him as bait to lure his brother out and execute them both."
"For that to work, we'd have to acknowledge that he is alive."
"Impossible! The public thinks him dead, to admit otherwise would be madness! The public outcry alone…"
"People would panic."
"I still think we should've executed him as soon as he was captured."
"Executing a child would've given a poor image of the World Government, no matter its identity."
"But as I said, the brat's not a child anymore. Let's be done with this!"
"And I'm telling you we cannot allow the public to know of him."
"Then execute him privately. We'll have his brother for a public event."
"Executing him now would serve no purpose. We kept him alive in case he could be of use, we made sure nobody knew of his existence, there has been no trouble during the time he has been imprisoned. And we don't have his brother."
Sengoku cleared his throat, very much uncomfortable at the direction the meeting was taking, but knowing better than to show it. The Celestial Dragons turned to him, some displaying a bit of respect, some just outright frowning.
"If I may… Prisoner 686 poses no more danger now than he did the past two decades. I agree that there would be mass panic if his identity were to be revealed to the public, but there is no danger of that as long as things stay as they have until now-"
"What are you saying?" asked one of the elders, impatient.
"Merely that there is no need to act in regards to Prisoner 686, someone who for all intents and purposed doesn't exist. Any change in the way he is handled, be it to execute him or not, will always pose the danger of his identity and status slipping out to the world and that would be disastrous."
The Gorosei exchanged a look, but after a few heavy grumbles and half-hearted protest, it was agreed that they would let him handle the matter in the same way it had been since the very day they ordered him to escort the child to Impel Down.
"That still leaves the issue of Portgas D. Ace to be resolved."
Sengoku grimaced at that, knowing he couldn't pull off informing them any longer, and one of them noticed it.
"Yes, Fleet Admiral Sengoku?"
"In regards to that… Shirohige has taken Portgas D. Ace into his crew."
"…Why are we only now hearing this?"
"We just received confirmation of it." Answered Sengoku without missing a beat, despite the expression on the faces of the Gorosei.
It's not like he was any happier about it than them. The fact that the possible ―and from their new information, more than likely― son of the late Pirate King Gold Roger was now under the protection of Yonko Shirohige was a big problem. It was going to mean a lot of headaches and sleepless night for him.
So no, he wasn't any happier than them about it.
But they couldn't do anything at the moment without upsetting the delicate balance of the world and they didn't have an ace ―no pun intended― under their metaphorical sleeve.
"Does Shirohige know of the boy's heritage?"
"It's a possibility; he could've noticed the same things we have. Or it could merely be a coincidence. In any case, we have no way of knowing the answer to that question." Relayed the marine.
"We must keep things this way for now, then. If his heritage is made public before we are ready, it would be disastrous." Said an elder.
"We'll have to monitor the situation closely. And we need to confirm whether the boy is really Roger's." said another staring pointedly at the Fleet Admiral.
"Quit being so stubborn. It's not helping anyone, least of all you."
The marine and the twenty-seven year old stared at each other, both stubbornly refusing to give into the other.
Sengoku had known even before he arrived that the topic would bring an argument, no matter the approach he took. What he hadn't expected was for the man to outright refuse to speak to him when he broached the subject.
There were no more grounds onto which the accusation could be denied and so he just refused to give into the only other option left and confess.
"We are sure of it, we know it's the truth. And so must Shirohige: he snapped him up for his own too fast for that not to be the reason." He explained impatiently for what felt like the hundredth time. "You've kept the truth about Portgas D. Ace's heritage ―his existence, even! ―a secret until now. There is no sense in denying it further."
But he still got nothing. No answer, verbal or not, no guilty body language, not even a twitch! He was being completely ignored.
Sengoku let out a tired sigh, rubbing his face.
"If you insist on being uncooperative, I cannot protect you."
That finally got a reaction, even though it wasn't the one he expected.
"I never asked you to."
The man clenched his jaw, not knowing what to say. How to explain himself. This was all a complicated mess that he didn't know how to put into words.
So he tried the only other venue he had left, the one theory ―unlikely as it seemed in his mind, because he knew this boy, had watched him grow, even as twisted as the circumstances had been― that he could work with.
"Did you not know? Were you unaware that your father had another son? That Portgas D. Ace was your brother?"
Again, there was no answer of any kind. No matter how he worded the question: even this he refused to confirm.
Finally giving up, his allotted time for the official visit being over, he shook his head and looked at the man inside the cell one last time, his disappointment and pain obvious, and turned to leave.
"Sengoku." He stopped in his tracks at the whisper of his name and half-turned so he could look at the speaker.
His face was shadowed by his long messy black hair, his hands grabbing tightly onto the edge of the cot and every muscle in his body tense.
"You really believe that this… Portgas D. Ace is my brother, don't you?" he nodded slightly, taking in the tension obvious even in his voice. "Then you must know that, if he were really my brother, and something happened to him… there would be consequences."
Sengoku caught a glimpse of green eyes peaking at him from behind a curtain of black and he knew the man wasn't joking. As he'd said, he knew him. And the tone of his voice suggested this… warning, wasn't to be taken lightly.
For what was perhaps the first time since he started visiting, he really saw a man instead of a child in that cell.
"So this is where you were hiding, yoi."
"I'm not hiding." Growled Ace directing a glare at Marco.
The Commander of the First Division smiled, folding his hands behind his head as he leant on the ship's railing next to the younger pirate.
"If you say so…"
Silence fell over them and, slowly, Ace relaxed and went back to staring up at the stars. It was something he had taken to doing after Sabo's death, when he was feeling particularly bothered, usually because of his little brother's latest stunt. This time, though, it was another brother who kept him from joining his nakamas in partying, a brother that he hadn't known he had.
The blond turned sideways, seeing Ace watching him from the corner of his eye. He didn't press him to speak, already used from long ago to waiting for his brothers to approach him with their troubles in their own time.
"You've been with Oyaji for a long time, haven't you?"
"Almost since the very beginning, yoi." Nodded Marco, curious of where he was going with this conversation.
"And did you know Gold Roger had a son?"
Alright, this certainly wasn't anywhere near what Marco had been expecting.
"Gold Roger. A son?" he repeated slowly. "You speak of Kairyuu."
Ace's eyes sharpened at the name and he nodded.
"Kairyuu. I remember him." Hummed Marco, his eyes gazing up at the night sky but his mind further away. "Oyaji had us all keep an eye out after the Pirate King's execution, just in case we actually came across him before the marines."
"You met him, then?"
"A couple times, when Oyaji and Roger met for one of their drinking contests."
"What was he like?"
"Ano… from what I remember he was quiet and polite… curious too…" Marco rubbed the back of his head, appearing uncomfortably. "He was a good kid, I think. I'm not the best to ask about this, Ace. Truth is, I had little contact with him directly: Roger and his crew were very protective. Oyaji knew him a little more." Shrugged the blond Devil Fruit user.
"Why would Roger allow Oyaji near if he was so protective? Weren't they enemies?" he asked, trying not to show too much disappointment.
"Yes, of course, but Roger knew Oyaji had enough honour not to use his family against him. I think it's actually one of the reasons why Oyaji respected Roger so much, that he managed to be both a father and a captain at the same time. Oyaji knows better than most how hard that is to do." Marco frowned a little, staring at his fellow Commander. "Why the sudden interest, though? Kairyuu has been dead since before you were born, yoi."
"A little afterwards, actually, and no particular reason." Shrugged Ace trying to appear indifferent as he looked back up at the sky. "Just curious since nobody knew he'd existed back in East Blue."
"Right, the Blues aren't the most reliable for that kind of information." Acknowledged Marco. "They don't even know about Devil Fruits, though that's mostly the Government's fault, I guess." The pirate straightened, pushing away from the railing, and sighed. "If you want to know more, you'll have to ask Oyaji. Unless you manage to come across one of the important figures from back then, but that's doubtful, yoi."
With that, the blond Devil Fruit user left the new Commander of the Second Division alone with his thoughts, seeing Thatch gesturing at him from a nearby window.
Ace clenched his hands on the railing as he wondered once more why Garp had never spoken of this to him.
Next is a fragment that I cut off from Chapter 1 because I felt deviated a bit too much of the mood I wanted to set and also didn't truly add in anything, but I didn't feel happy leaving it out completely so I'm posting it here as an omake or just some extra scene for you.
It takes place during Chapter 1, right after Kairyuu asks Garp where he's truly taking him and Akainu shows up to ruin everything.
Omake: Garp's intentions before Akainu shows up
"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…
"I'm taking you to your godfather."
"Rayleigh?" exclaimed the boy, surprised at his answer.
"There's only rumours of him, a few whispers here and there if you know how to listen. He seems to be keeping his head down somewhere in the Grand Line-"
"That wasn't our deal." Protested Kairyuu.
It wasn't that Kairyuu didn't want to go. He missed Rayleigh a lot; it had been too long since he had last seen him, when the crew all went their own ways, and getting separated after having known him all his short life had been hard. However, Rayleigh was also wanted by the World Government and taking Kairyuu in would only put him at more risk. He didn't want to be the reason his godfather got caught.
"No, we had a deal. You have to keep your part. You have to turn me in!"
"Tough luck, brat. I'm dropping you off with your godfather and that's it. Whatever you two decide to do afterwards is your problem."
That was probably the point of all this, but he knew for sure that Rayleigh would not let him go along with his plan.
"But they won't stop looking then!"
"They won't find him; there will be nothing to connect you with him-"
"Oh, but a baby popping out of the blue and being your charge won't be suspicious?"
"I'll deal with it."
"Fine, then, I'll start shouting."
Two minutes later, Garp sat with a new teacup and drank calmly as the child glared daggers at him from where he laid tied up and gagged. He wouldn't keep him like that too long, of course, just until he got some sense back.
Which taking into account who his family were… well, it might take a while.
Now he just needed to find the infamous 'Dark King'. Easy, right?