Rogue held her son in her arms, finally… finally… after so long, her babe was there but the world was dark and dangerous for him, for someone who carried his father’s blood. Rogue held him tighter as the scenes of the massacre replayed in her mind, of the women and children killed by the marines in the name of ‘Absolute Justice’. But her son would live, even should she die. A glance at the room (difficult, so difficult to take her eyes off of her baby and his silver-grey eyes) showed her red-haired best friend and her (unknowing) father-in-law.
Garp stood to the side, quiet and grim, already knowing that she wasn’t going to make it. Rogue didn't care that she was dying because it meant her son lived (but she regretted that she wouldn’t be there for him as he grew). “We agreed, Anne for a girl and Ace for a boy.” She said as she brought him closer to her face, breathing in his scent and trying to commit it to memory as if she could bring the scent and feel of him to the afterlife.
“My Ace, you are so loved, even by your father though he’s never laid eyes on you. Our little prince, live your life and find your other.” She whispered to him as she eyed his little wrist and the mark on it. She knew what it was, had even recognized the symbol within it from the storybook her best friend had once allowed her to read. ‘Your name was well chosen, little one.’
On his wrist was a small crowned spade with the symbol of House Peverell on it, one of the ancestral lines that made up Lily’s family. Yes, her son’s other would come from Lily’s family and by extension from Shanks and Rayleigh’s as well. ‘Your fate has been chosen by the Gods themselves, my sweet. But will you be the king or will you be the consort?’ Rogue wondered.
She hummed a lullaby with a content smile on her face as she thought of Roger, of how he’d made his choice to die earlier to throw them off their child’s scent. Already she could feel herself slipping but she held on, ‘just a little longer, just a little longer.’ She chanted over and over in her mind, wanting more time with her child. She didn’t cry foul or curse the world for her end, why would she? Her decision to have him later, to hold off the delivery, had been the reason her son was still alive. But that didn’t mean she didn’t want every single moment she could have with him.
She pressed a kiss on his forehead and murmured a soft ‘I love you, little one’ as she passed on, his eyes being her last sight and a smile on her face. (And when she opened her eyes later on, it was to her lover’s silvery-grey eyes so similar to their child’s but more experienced, more knowledgeable).
Ace had many crappy birthdays in the years between his birth and his tenth year of life. The only people with him had always been the Bandits who threw him some pilfered clothing or a piece of sweet as a ‘gift’, and later on Sabo, though the other boy had no idea that it was even his birthday. His self-proclaimed grandfather was never there, often appearing months later to spend time with him (which often ended with Ace being black and blue from the training sessions).
His eleventh birthday was different, Lucy had arrived with a basket filled with treats while he and Sabo had hunted some meat that had been roasted later on and then she’d dragged them to watch the fireworks from their perch before she and Sabo had given him their gifts. She and Sabo had worked together with Sabo creating the frame and Lucy finding pictures of his mother. He didn’t think he’d cried as much as when they’d given it to him. The picture was the only image he had of his mother, and it was coincidentally the only picture that she was able to take with Ace.
And Ace couldn’t doubt his existence whenever he looked at it, at the tired and proud woman who smiled so lovingly at the swaddled baby in her arms, her eyes gentle and tender. And then… and then Lucy brought out his mother’s journal and Ace really did cry (though he would deny it forever and he had even sworn the two to secrecy). The diary was unopened and unread and some of the words flew over Ace’s head, her beautiful calligraphic writing forever preserved in the pages of the red book (and Ace silently vowed to do better in his studies so that he could understand everything his mother wrote). And there, trapped in the pages were images of his father and his crew but he couldn’t burn it, couldn’t desecrate his mother’s precious journal by tearing out the pictures and he was forced to read about his father from the eyes of the woman who had loved him for so long. And he understood his father better but he still couldn’t bring himself to truly care for the man, couldn’t put himself in his place. And he read about his mother’s last days. Of the days when she sat on a rocking chair in front of the window willing him to wait just a little longer, of how much she loved him.
His next birthday was just as wonderful. But his thirteenth had been heartbreaking, even though Lucy tried to make it a happy occasion, the broken bond was too raw, too new for him to even be able to really want to celebrate. That year, he spent most of the day alone just talking to Sabo’s empty grave and cursing the world, questioning his existence once again and it was already dark when he’d made it to Lucy.
She just led him down to Fuusha and she brought him around the festival, ate the food and cake that Makino had prepared and then he was given a picture of the three of them, a picture of ASL when they were whole. Later, much later, Lucy had brought out three lanterns (and Ace recognized it from the memorial festival that Fuusha held), there was something different about it though. A name was written on each. Roger, Rogue, and Sabo; in the end, instead of flying high in the sky, Lucy told him to set the lighted lanterns on the water and they watched as it sailed away from them (they found their freedom in the sea). And once the lanterns were far away (probably already sank under the tides), Ace turned to look at Lucy, really look at her, for the first time since they’d lost Sabo at the end of autumn (Garp’s hatred for the Tenryuubito strengthened and would remain for the rest of his life but he still served the World Government) and he could see how tired she was, how much she was still grieving, still broken and raw too but she still smiled, still lived life without regret because that’s what Sabo would have wanted (and it’s what he and Sabo had always promised, to protect the smile of their own personal sun) so Ace said his goodbye to his lifemate and carried Lucy on his back up the mountain and into their tree house determined to help her heal (and maybe he’d feel whole again one day?).
The years that followed were happier (but the ache from their lifemate’s broken bond was still there) and he counted down the days till he could set sail. Lucy was at his side practically every day, their bond singing of contentment and happiness and then he turned seventeen and he was saying goodbye to his other who waved him off with a happy smile and an orange hat (because she couldn’t find a red one for him). The next one was spent with his crew, loyal, brave, and so very drunk (drunk enough to invade a Marine base and turn it upside down). And the next two spent with his new brothers and sister under the loving and watchful (not to mention drunk) eyes of their Pops.
And yes, he might have missed a birthday or two after Lucy set sail but one of his favorite birthdays would always be when he’d celebrated his first birthday as a father (and he’d even declined to drink with Pops that day to hold his babe) with his two bonded right beside him and his months old daughter on his lap (and he would always remember the day she was born and how he’d finally understood his parents, their sacrifices just for him to have a chance to live, and most importantly why). ‘My Ace, you are so loved. And I’m so happy you’ve lived your life.’ He heard the whispered words of a woman’s voice say that day. And every birthday after that was even more special as their family (and crews grew).