Ace grimaced as Garp sat outside his cell. Neither of them speaking anymore. What had to be said was out, nothing else could be said, nothing that mattered.
Ace admitted that he never had the best of childhoods, but considering how he'd found his brothers and how he was happy, Garp did the best he could, which was nice. Even though his methods were the shittiest.
Damnit. He didn't want this.
Somewhere in his heart, a boy was crying for his grandfather's pain.
Garp's shadow concealed an old man stricken with grief, broken between choice of family and lifelong duty.
Neither of them acknowledged each others tears. Instead they sat in silence, separated by just a few metres and a few prison bars. A final companionship.
The gap between had never felt bigger.
Ace slipped into a monotonous haze, an unbroken reverie, near the edge of sleep, taking bittersweet comfort from the old marines presence. Something which had once meant staunch protection. Something which still felt like safety.
When he woke, the old man was gone. His lack of presence like a cold abyss, all the safety and warmth gone. Like hazy memories of pleasant summer sunshine. Something he missed so very terrible, in the confined dark cell.
He ignored the passing time, slipping into unhealthy uncaring state.
Until, the door opened and a new silhouette came into view.
A familiar face.
"Jinbei." Ace spoke, softly.
The shark man nodded at him, speaking reassuring words that frightened him and gave him hope.
Pops was coming.
Jinbei's presence lightened the darkness on Ace's mind somewhat. The friendly, loyal presence, acting as a balm.
Yet, with the reassurance came bursts of startling clarity. He couldn't ignore anything and everything now. His friends weren't mythical or imaginary, as they had sort of become due to long days in the cold, dark cell, but actual people. Foolish, wonderful people, who would die for him. Die trying to free him.
No. It was too dangerous. Marineford was going to be a prepared hell. No, he didn't want them to come. To start a war, to fight by endangering their lives, he wasn't worth it.
Yet, moments of stupid optimism spurted randomly from his heart. He knew what it meant, he wasn't going to acknowledge that want. Not when it wasn't ever going to come true.
"Ace you deserve to live." Jinbei broke in, one day suddenly, when both were quiet.
He looked at Jinbei. The fierce protectiveness. The sheer sacrifice. A righteous warlord, suffering due to following righteous principles.
No. It was his fault. His fault alone that he was in the cell, that Jinbei was trapped with him, that everyone was in danger.
As the days flew past and his execution came near, the suffering and pain increased. His heart going weak at the thought of the almost-certain terrible future that awaited him, more importantly, his friends, his crew. The fate that awaited his family. How Garp and Luffy would take the event. His brother, the one he would no longer be able to protect.
'Im sorry Sabo.'
Ace shook awake from an uneasy rest, as the ceiling gave a sudden rumble. Loud noises echoing through the prison.
"Whats going on?" He asked Jinbei, who was wide awake and upright.
"There have been loud noises and explosions coming from the higher levels since the past few hours. Impossible as it may seem, appears to me as if someone or some event has destabilised the prison." Jinbei continued, stating the conclusion he could draw.
"What?" Ace questioned groggily. This was Impel Down, the world's most secure prison. It was The Prison. How the heck could it be destabilised. Could it be his crew? Surely not. The navy would have long intercepted the Whiteboard Fleet before it could cross the red line from the New World.
It could only be possible if-
If not the fleet, it could only mean, that a few crew members were here. Yet, something didn't feel right. It wasn't like his crew, to make a move like this. Ace was almost positive that Pops would never have allowed it.
Then who, or what could it be?
Ace and Jinbei waited anxiously, for something, some clue of what was happening.
The noises and rumblings grew louder, distant sirens wailing with vengeance.
It wasn't plausible that Impel Down suddenly underwent an event or problem in maintenance. Such kind of large scale panic shouldn't have been possible. It could only mean, someone was actually trying to infiltrate the prison. Freaking Hell. That was a different kind of crazy.
After some more time, the noises reduced and disappeared.
Ace and Jinbei stared at each other. If the noise was dying down, it could only mean that the intruder was caught.
Something cold settled in his stomach again. He knew it probably wasn't an action of his crew, or any ally, because pops wouldn't have allowed it. Heck, it was probably presumptuous to think of the break in as something done for him, there were thousands of prisoners here.
Still, if Ace was frank with himself, he knew it wasn't for anyone from the upper layers of Impel Down. They wouldn't have allies that were strong enough. If logic was to be applied, it was most certainly a break in for someone in level 6, and the only new additions to level 6 recently, were him and Jinbei.
Ace tried to curb the growing dread rising in his throat, choking him. 'Please, don't let it be any of my family, please, no.' Ace hoped furiously.
An hour more passed by. No new prisoners arrived. The guards didn't change. He didn't know anything. Damnit.
Then the entrance to level 6 exploded. The alarms kicked into action, the guards scattering to deal with the intrusion.
"ACEEEE!" A voice bellowed. It was a familiar voice, something he knew very well, but Ace couldn't place it!
What in the world was going on?
He shared a look with Jinbei. Something really dangerous, really similar to hope was stirring in his heart. Jinbei nodded at him, steady and relieved.
This couldn't be happening. How had someone broken into impel down?
Just who in the world was he? How did he get all the way to level 6?
Ace felt that his heartbeat was loud enough to be audible, as sounds of pattering feet became louder.
A boy emerged from the distance, sprinting towards his cell, coming to a stop with a screech of his sandals.
"ACE!" He yelled, eyes blown, expression frantic.
A familiar bright face, bright red vest, lanky build and fucking sandals. With a bright straw hat as well.
Luffy? Was it hi- no.
Luffy wasn't that tall. Nor was Luffy that...old. He'd seen him a few months prior, he couldn't have grown that much. His voice didn't match the one he remembered.
He didn't have such a huge...scar.
Someone was posing as Luffy. It was a good effort, but he saw through it. Rage exploded through Ace. What was this? A fucking attempt to destabilise him? To manipulate him with a doppelganger of his little brother? HIS LITTLE BROTHER?
Ace's face grew stonier as the moron looked at him and grinned, eyes suspiciously bright, acting relieved, as if he actually cared, as if he was the real deal.
"WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU TRYING TO IMPERSONATE?!" Ace exploded.
The grin slid of the guy's face. Ace ignored the sudden pang at the disappearance of the bright smile.
"Ace?" He questioned, warily.
"Who put you up to this? The world elders? Sengoku? Spit it out already." Ace hissed dangerously.
"What are talking about? Sheeeesh, this is ridiculous, you're even moodier than I thought you'd be." The fake Luffy muttered, hands on his hips.
This little piece of shit, he was still continuing with his act. Not to mention he was infuriatingly good at it as well.
Ace opened his mouth to spit out some choice foul words, to let the guy know what he thought of him, but stopped as a voice cut across.
"Strawhat-boy, it'll take too long for you to explain this, lets get out first. Before Magellan arrives. Inazuma, could you cut the prison bars?" A man spoke, coming to stand beside the impersonator. Another weird guy followed him. Ace was so taken aback their weird clothes and gigantic head of the one who spoke, that he almost missed what the fake pile of shit said.
"Yeah you're right. Ace's too dumb to get it now." The turd spoke normally, looking at the newcomer.
"What the fuck did you say?!" Ace growled. The three looked at each other, as if confirming Ace's perception.
"Well whatever, you're coming with me. Im your brother, its me Luffy! Trust me okay?" The brat told him seriously. Just like Luffy would have. Goddamn actor.
"What the fuck are you trying to pull?" Ace growled. This wasn't Luffy, no way in hell was he falling for this cheap trick.
"What do you mean?! We don't have time for this Ace, jeez you're as dumb as ever." The fake Luffy scowled at him, picking his nose.
"PAY ATTENTION!" Ace yelled at the Luffy-like brat, who was clearly ignoring him.
"I am!" He whined. Scrunching his face adorably. No, he reminded himself to keep control, it was a trap.
Fake Luffy whined some more, pout in full force. Oh no. Ace cursed his heart.
"God fucking damn it! Fine! Ill come with you! Stop pouting!" Ace bellowed.
The next he knew, he was out of the cage, along with Jinbei. Courtesy of the freak with scissor hands.
"Jinbei you're coming too! You're my crew member, I won't leave you behind." The doppelganger spoke, grinning at the confused to hell former warlord.
Ace yanked at his hands futilely, still in shackles which were made of sea prism stone, the guy called Inazuma could only cut the things which weren't made of sea stone.
Ace was furiously thinking about what in the hell he agreed to, most probably a navy-orchestrated premature execution plan, when someone tackled him.
He immediately felt defensive, ready to growl at the attacker, when he realised fake Luffy was hugging him. Clutching him hard enough to push the air out of his lungs.
He stopped squirming when he felt something drip into his neck. What in the world?
The fake Luffy pulled back, stared at him with sudden tears in his eyes and clenched his mouth, trying not to release despairing noises. Ace stared at him, at a loss for words, when the tears overflowed down his cheeks.
Ace couldn't prevent the pang in his heart as he looked at the face, so much like Luffy's.
"Dont cry now." He muttered out.
"Oh dear, strawhat-boy, you did it, you got to him in time! Its not like last time!" The guys with the gigantic head soothed, speaking to the suddenly emotional fake-Luffy.
Wait, what did he say? Last time?
Ace stared at the boy. Seeing things not as if they were wrong, but as if they were different. There was no reason for this to be an attack at his emotional state, the navy wouldn't have allowed him to actually get out of the cell. Neither did they need a stupid plan to execute him prematurely.
"Last time, he left before Sabo could find us!" The boy spoke painfully, voice low, tears streaming down his face as he grabbed Ace again.
Sabo. No one knew about him. No one except the people from Dadans family, Makino and gramps. No one else except Luffy.
A sick feeling rose in his chest. His poisonous words from before flashing in his mind.
What if, but how?
"Strawhat!" Inazuma murmured urgently.
The boy moved, following Inazuma and the weird giant-face guy, dragging Ace along, not letting him go. Muffled hiccups escaping.
Ace didn't try to escape his grip, examining the boy, looking at the manner of movement, familiar presence. He lost his voice, as a strange feeling gripped his heart.
The boy finally let go of him when they reached the stairs, leaving Ace alone to lead the charge, wiping his face, going utterly silent.
Ace didn't stop staring at him as he gripped his hat, from where it was hanging around his neck and put in on.
Ace tried to speak, to ask the burning question he had, but his voice wouldn't work.
The group around them backed off, giving them space, waiting for Ace to speak, as they ran up the stairs to level 5.
"Luffy?" He questioned softly.
The boy went still. Stopping in his tracks. Everyone stopped as well.
He turned his head around slightly, looking at him with one side of his face. Ace almost felt burnt at the intensity of his eye.
"Don't you worry Ace. This time around, I won't let anyone touch you." He spoke, voice burning, air going still with heavy haki.
Ace followed him, in a state of shock, as he started running again.
It had to be.
It made perfect sense, everything like Luffy, just different, older. Their conversation, the hints towards a second chance. The thing he said to Jinbei. The reaction he had in seeing Ace, as if he was a ghost. Like he had died.
What in the fuck. How did his brother even do this?
"You're right you know. It is time travel." The giant headed man spoke, smirking at him.
Ace looked at him, speechless. He laughed.
The moment they reached the next level, Luffy stopped.
Ace stopped behind him, gritting his teeth, staring at Magellan, who was blocking his path.
This wasn't good. Magellan was as strong as some of the strongest vice-admirals of the navy. Maybe even as powerful or more, in comparison to some warlords. He had a tremendously powerful devilfruit. Poison. Jinbei wouldn't be able to deal with this. Luffy definitely wouldn't be able to deal with this, he had to protect him.
As he was about to tell Luffy to find his keys, so that he could fight, Magellan growled.
"I do not know who you are, but I do know that this is as far as your suicide attempt goes. Im not going to allo-
he was cut off, as he went flying through the air. Ace saw as he disappeared from view entirely, flung so quick and far that they lost track of him.
The sound from a distant loud explosion reached them with a boom.
Ace stared at Luffy, who was standing at the place where Magellan was a second ago, steam circling his body, which had a shiny hue, which quickly went back to normal, the steam dissipating quickly. He didn't even see when or how Luffy had moved. It was like he teleported.
Ace was positive that he looked like a moron, eyes wide open and mouth totally agape. Yet, he couldn't care less. Everyone had pretty much the same dumbstruck reaction.
"Straw-boy!" The giant-head gaped, mouth flapping like a fish.
"Incredible!" Inazuma managed, even his face showing dead shock.
Jinbei had an expression so hilarious Ace didn't know how he wasn't laughing. Or, well he did. He was too shocked to do anything.
"I don't give a crap about what he says, lets go!" Luffy muttered, charging ahead, as if nothing happened.
Now, Ace had always known his brother was special, yet he hadn't realised, or gotten a chance to actually see his true strength. If this was what Luffy's future held for him. Ace couldn't wait to see, see for himself, maybe the journey of the new pirate king. His brother had grown... really strong.
They were soon joined by a group of ridiculously dressed morons and the former warlord Crocodile as they crossed level 5.
Crocodile, who was supposed to be in prison. Crocodile, who also hated Whiteboard. Crocodile who snarled at him, which was why he was pissed off.
"Why the heck did you release him Luffy?! Im going to kill this moron as soon as I get my cuffs off!" Ace yelled at Luffy, who just laughed.
Same old, idiotic moron.
They made a few more break ins, to release a few specific prisoners. Ace didnt know why Luffy did it, and judging from their dumbstruck expressions, they didn't either. Especially the weird moronic clown. At least one of them was quite useful, he made a wax key, allowing Ace to remove his shackles. After which Ace took great initiative in leading the charge.
Ace learned who the weird group was, a bunch of missing prisoners, lead by revolutionary commander Emporio Ivankov. What a strange fact, to live secretly in a prison like Impel Down. Nothing more could ever surprise him, Ace was almost sure.
They escaped easily, due to the lack of management, caused by Magellan's defeat, which Ace could still, scarcely believe.
They hijacked a couple of marine ships and scattered into different groups, Ivankov leading a group to his island, Crocodile leaving on another, followed by a bunch of avid followers, while he, Luffy and Jinbei took a small, short distance high speed boat, rushing towards Sabaody, where they planned to find a better vessel from fisherman island, and find the Whitebeard fleet.
Ace tackled Luffy into a hug, pulling the still lanky boy close. "Sorry Luffy, never expected you to suddenly show up in your new, grown up form." Ace spoke, grinning.
Luffy clutched him desperately, half crying, half laughing.
"Still a crybaby I see." Ace spoke wryly.
Luffy hardened his fist with armament haki and punched him in the head, and it actually hurt.
"Ow." He groaned, unfair.
Then he remembered the line about Sabo.
"WAIT, IS SABO ALIVE?!" He yelled, losing his shit.
Ace grinned as the Whiteboard fleet came into view, a majestic battalion of numerous, countless ships. A fearsome force.
"Hey, I'm hungry, hope you're crew has good food." Luffy grinned.
"Don't be rude." Ace grinned back, and tried to punch him, which he dodged, cheeky brat. He settled on ruffling his hair affectionately.
Spending the past day with Luffy all but proved he was the same icky little brother he always had, just grown up and annoyingly strong. He sighed, missing how he used to be the strongest brother.
Of course, he refused to let out a single detail of anything from the future, except that Sabo was alive. That piece of shit moron. Losing his fucking memory.
He also told him that he managed to get back with the help of some devil fruit power, and that he had a time limit, in which he had to go back.
"Wont everything change for you? When you go back? Since you'll change the timeline here?" Ace had asked.
"Doesn't matter, it'll be worth it." Luffy shrugged.
Ace wasn't a sap, but he seriously wanted to wrap his adorable, not so little brother in a blanket, and stuff him away, for himself.
Ace waited as their small boat approached the fleet, coming into notable distance, before shooting a flare of fire. The flare erupted, shifting shape to resemble Whitebeards Jolly Roger.
He saw the ships erupt into chaos, crew members scrambling left and right, screaming unintelligible things.
Ace grinned at Luffy, as they both climbed onto the deck of the Moby Dick, Ace with his flame flame fruit powers, and Luffy with his gum gum ones.
Ace was squashed under the onslaught of his crew members, who were yelling in delight.
"What the Fuck! Its actually him!"
"Ace is back!"
"Oh my god!"
Ace laughed, allowing his crew mates to get used to him before emerging from the pile to see Marco and his pops.
Both of them were standing still, surprised and at a loss for words.
"We heard something happened at Impel Down, but for this to happen..." Whitebeard spoke, trailing off. Ace scrunched his face, letting his tears of happiness flow.
"Im sorry pops. Im sorry I didn't listen, sorry that I put you all through that, sorry for almost staring a war, sorry for endangering you al-
he was cut off as Whiteboard swept him up like a child. Laughing.
"All children make mistakes." He chuckled softly.
Ace bawled. Marco joined in too, clutching at Ace's back, fingers grabbing him in relief.
"Here I thought you said I was the crybaby." Luffy laughed.
Most of the Whitebeards froze, not expecting a foreign presence. Staring at Luffy, who was casually sitting on their whale figurehead. They immediately moved to attack.
"Guys, thats him, thats my-uh-friend, stop!" Ace hollered. Everyone froze again.
Luffy chuckled and jumped close.
"Hey old man, thanks for taking care of Ace, also, Im going to beat you one day, and I'm going to be the King of The Pirates." He spoke cheerfully. Everyone gasped. Well, it was Luffy, what did he expect.
Pops stared at him, unsmiling for a whole two seconds.
"We'll see about that brat but you're welcome!" Pops laughed.
"Stop trying to act older than me!" Ace yelled. His brother was younger damnit.
Luffy laughed again.
Everyone regarded him curiously. No wonder too, they probably wanted the details.
"Id rather have eaten before going, but I don't I have time." Luffy groaned, as he stared at his hands.
Ace startled at the tone and looked at Luffy, whose hands turned pale, like they were losing colour, before they went back to normal.
"Luffy, is it time?" He questioned anxiously.
Luffy just gave him a wide smile.
Even though he knew this was how it must be, he couldn't help it. Luffy was Luffy, separation from him was heartbreaking. Just a side effect of his miraculous persona.
"You know I know you, so does he. They all do too." Luffy spoke quickly, staring at him, serious for once. He knew, he knew now, better than ever, and he was going to learn. He finally seemed closer to the answer of his question. Whether or not he should live, because he'd seen the pain in his eyes. Had known it was him who had caused it. The first time around.
Ace hugged him, solid and strong, bawling again.
"Live Ace! You also owe me meat!" Luffy laughed again.
He disappeared from Ace's arms, laughter tinkling in the wind.
"Ace?" Marco questioned, bewildered.
Ace wiped his face, letting out a wet laugh, in the midst of his cries.
"Don't worry guys, we'll meet him again. He wasn't from here anyway." He replied. It was true, his Luffy was still here, striving to reach his goal, still breathing, alive, with a tremendous future lying in front of him. He won't have to suffer this time around. Not if he could have anything to do with it. He wasn't going to waste this opportunity.
"So, the whole story is a bit complicated, but here it is..." Ace began, talking quietly to Marco and pops. He was afraid, the details would have to remain a secret, from the rest of the world. Some things, were better left unknown.
"Hey Luffy!" Ace yelled.
His brother turned around, face bursting into a grin at seeing Ace, who was riding his speed boat.
It'd been three years since he last saw him, two years in which he'd disappeared, one year in which he'd taken down Doflamingo, followed by Kaido. Soon to be followed by Big Mom.
"Hey Ace! You owe me meat! For saving you from Impel Down! Im hungry, you jerk!" Luffy yelled from his ship.
Ace startled. He remembered?
Luffy met his eye and grinned.
"How long since you got back?" Ace questioned fondly as he climbed aboard their ship.
"A month, I suppose." Luffy laughed. What ridiculously amazing timing.
Goddamn lucky bastard. Seemed like even fate was going to let him have his way.
Not that he was complaining. He was the future pirate king after all. (Well pops never wanted to be one anyway. Thank god, he'd really, rather not have to choose.)