“Garp, I’m sorry,” Sengoku says the moment the door latches behind Garp and he just knows, somewhere deep in his heart--he doesn’t even need observation haki to tell him--that one of his boys has finally been captured. It’s only a matter of which one’s name will leave Sengoku’s lips, but already Garp feels numb and too old. Sengoku is silent for a long time.
“Which one is it?” Garp asks, not even bothering to hide his resigned, futile anger. No doubt telling Garp is the final step before one of his boys is hauled up before the executioner; decked in seastone and Garp far, far too late to pull any strings.
No wonder he’d been stationed in the East Blue for so long. Garp had assumed it was punishment for the Water 7 debacle. Betrayal, suffocating and ugly, licks up his spine. He’d thought… well, he didn’t think this and he should have.
“Portgas D. Ace will face the executioners’ swords at Marineford in eight hours’ time. The World Government council has asked that you stand with me on the block, as a sign of continuity.” Sengoku sighs and closes his eyes. “Nobody knows that you raised him. I made sure no one else found out, Garp. Bad enough the situation with Dragon, but you can’t choose your blood, you can be forgiven for that. Adopting the son of Gol D. Rogers? That’s different, and you know it.” Sengoku massages his forehead and Garp hopes that it doesn’t help a single bit.
And Garp has never been a good man--no doubt a good man wouldn’t have stood by and let thousands die to protect one little baby and his mother--and he hasn’t always been a good father either, even though he tried to be better than his old man. But for Sengoku, someone who Garp thought was his friend, to ask this of him? “Don’t ask this of me, Sengoku. Don’t do it.” It’s a warning and a plea, all in one.
His boy, for all that Ace is Whitebeard’s and Rogers’ and Rouge’s more, Garp loves him.
Sengoku visibly steels himself and opens his eyes in a glare. “Vice Admiral Monkey D. Garp, I order you to appear on the executioners’ block in eight hours and to do nothing to hinder or stop the proceedings either then or in the time between now and then.”
Garp can feel his lip curl from the sheer hatred and helplessness he feels. His back straightens and he snaps into a salute. This is not his friend he’s speaking to. This will never be his friend again. “I understand my orders, Fleet Admiral Sengoku the Buddha.” He’s toeing the line of disrespect with his tone, but what can they do to him that would be worse than this?
Something like pain passes over Sengoku’s face and Garp hopes it kills him. “Dismissed, Vice Admiral,” he says and he sounds as tired as Garp feels. Garp turns and exits the office, feeling even more cornered the more he steps away.
If he acts, he could lose his rank, his very head. Solely on his own merits, Garp wouldn’t care, he’d act in a heartbeat.
But… there’s Dragon--his baby boy, his son, who made pissing off the World Government into such a dangerous game that Garp can barely cover for him sometimes--and there’s Luffy--who took his father’s game and made it high stakes, all without an iota of his father’s genius and a double helping of Monkey family stubbornness. So, no, it was never just about Garp, it still isn’t.
And Ace--always so canny and clever, such a loyal brother--Garp knows that if he could explain it to him that Ace would understand all too well.
It breaks his heart to think that Ace values Luffy’s life above his own, but he thinks it’s right too.
Not because Luffy is Garp’s by blood and Ace isn’t, but because Luffy is the youngest, the most trouble. What kind of big brother would Ace be if he didn’t look out for his little brother?
What kind of grandfather is Garp that he can’t look out for them both, that he’s being forced to choose?
Garp doesn’t even realize he’s back at the Bulldog in his quarters until Bogard opens the door. “Is everything okay?” he asks, and of course Bogard wouldn’t know either, but Garp feels slightly better that his second hasn’t betrayed him too.
“Ace will be executed in eight hours,” he says and even saying the words out loud doesn’t make it easier or better.
Bogard has been with him for twenty-seven years, has refused nearly as many promotions as Garp has, so of course he knows about Garp’s family. Garp didn’t even bother trying to keep it from the man, he knew he’d fail. He’s grateful for that, now, when Garp isn’t sure that he could bear to explain. Bogard is quiet for a moment, and then he asks, “what are you planning on doing?”
Garp can’t muster more than a bitter chuckle. He wishes he had a few more pictures of his family, but… he doesn’t. “I have my orders,” he says, and repeats Sengoku’s words verbatim. He can’t help the way it comes out, scornful and vile, but he knows Bogard has heard worse from him.
“Sir,” Bogard says after a moment, his hand clawed on his sword hilt. “It seems to me that the order ends at that eight hour and one minute mark. After which you could perhaps do whatever you wish without having explicitly disobeyed a direct order? Sir.” Garp stares.
“It seems to me that you are correct, Bogard,” Garp says, a bit wondering. It would still be treason. Even worse, it would be in front of the entire world and there’s no guarantee that he’ll even succeed. If Garp does this, if he and Ace survive it, they’ll be hunted like feral, rabid dogs and Garp won’t be able to protect Dragon and Luffy anymore.
Except… do those two of his boys really need Garp’s protection? They’re grown, now, and grabbing for what they want with both hands just like he’s always wanted for them. Dragon has his army, and Luffy has his crew. Maybe Luffy’s crew isn’t quite up to Grand Line snuff, but they have potential, they’ll get there.
Right now, it seems like Ace is the one who needs him most.
Only… “I suppose that would mean goodbye, then, Bogard?” Garp asks a lot of his crew, but he would never ask this.
“Sir,” Bogard says without a moment’s hesitation, “I believe I speak for many of the crew when I say that you cannot get rid of us that easily.” He adjusts his grip on his sword and Garp knows he’s probably broadcasting feelings all over his crew and he’s definitely crying, but he can’t help it, he loves them almost as much as he loves his family. “Shall I go make some preparations for a long voyage then, Sir?”
“Yes, yes, and if anyone wants shore leave or reassignment grant it, please, without question. I trust your judgement on who wants to be here and who doesn’t.” Making plans like he’s going to come out of this alive. Well, he’d better come out of this alive, if only for Ace’s sake. Clandestine operations aren’t Garp’s strong suit by any means but he’s not planning on facing down the entire Marine Corp by himself, not even with his far too loyal crew.
Garp wonders if that old DenDen number Rogers gave him for Whitebeard still works? Can’t hurt to try and Ace is as much Newgate’s as he is Garp’s, more even.
And really, a simple conversation with an old rival, how could that be hindering the proceedings? Too bad Luffy never really learned how to work a DenDen Mushi, and that Dragon knows how to block Garp’s calls, but he’s fairly sure they’ll figure it out soon enough.
If this is as much as Garp can offer his boys, then it has to be enough.
Ace can barely lift his head, he’s so weak from the seastone cuffs, but it drops even further when he feels Garp step onto the platform next to Sengoku.
He’d wondered if Gramps would be there, had been wondering where the old man was for days and days. Ever since they threw him in Impel Down, Ace has been expecting a visit, and a conversation, about how Garp never meant for this to happen, but he can’t do anything about it.
Not that Ace expected him to. No, Ace got himself into this mess, and he doesn’t expect to get out of it. He hopes that Luffy’s nakama will take care of his brother, they seemed like good people, and he hopes Luffy doesn’t see this.
“Five minutes early, Garp, would you like to say a few final words to the prisoner?” Sengoku asks, not even using Ace’s name. It’s like he doesn’t even exist.
“No, thank you, Fleet Admiral,” Garp says and he sounds cold. Ace holds the sob that wants to come out deep in his chest.
Yeah, he knew he wasn’t really Garp’s grandson, but Gramps had never treated him or Sabo any differently than he’d treated Luffy, and the words hurt. He wishes they didn’t, wishes he could summon up the same level of hate for Garp that he can for Rogers, but instead he just feels hollow and sick like he had right after Sabo died and he realized his last words to Sabo had been a fight.
Ace can’t remember his last words to Garp. His last words to Luffy had been a promise to see him later. Ace really hopes his little brother won’t hold it against him for breaking that.
“Listen, Garp, you’re doing the right thing,” Sengoku says. It’s like Ace is not even there for the man.
“I know, Fleet Admiral,” Garp says, still cold, still not talking to Ace.
It’s the cruelest thing the man could have done.
“I asked them to make it quick, as a favor. It’ll be practically painless.” Except, Ace has been dying ever since Teach delivered him into the Marine’s not at all loving arms. It’s been anything but quick and painless.
“Thank you. Fleet Commander.” Garp sounds mechanical now, and it’s a bit of a relief. Maybe his gramps does care, just a little bit, but it’s not enough. Maybe Ace is just greedy, but he wishes the man had cared a little bit more.
“Right. You’re welcome.” There’s a pause as Sengoku checks his watch. Ace wonders if they’ll give him a proper sea burial or if they’ll bury him in the ground, forever spurned by the ocean. He’s a fruit user, he should be used to the idea, but Ace wishes he could sail the ocean once more. “Showtime, I guess.”
Sengoku makes a speech, all about Rogers and tainted blood, but Ace can’t be bothered to listen. He’s heard it all before.
Instead, he waits for the sound of falling swords.
A horn sounds from the plaza below, and a ship splashes up. It’s the Moby Dick, Ace would recognize that sound anywhere, and this time he does actually sob. Sengoku pauses, astonished, and the whole of Marineford seems to pause with him.
Except for Garp, who steps forward, his heavy gait loud on the wood of the platform. “I told you, Sengoku, that you shouldn’t have asked this of me,” he says and it rings loud through the DenDen Mushi. Everyone can hear it.
Ace doesn’t understand.
“Garp--” Sengoku is abruptly cut off when Garp--it has to be Garp, who else is there up here except for Ace himself, not even the executioners are there yet--punches the man and he goes flying off the scaffolding.
The Moby Dick is just there, waiting, and a Navy ship with a dog head on the mast sidles up alongside her.
No one breathes.
“I let you and the rest of the Marines destroy an entire generation to keep this boy safe,” Garp screams after Sengoku, not even needing a DenDen to be heard. The words carry on his conqueror’s haki, which should be smothering Ace like it’s clearly doing to many of the Marines, but instead it feels like Garp’s brand of love. “What made you think I would stand by and watch! Eight hours you asked of me and eight hours you got but no more.”
Ace is suddenly free, but he’s a sobbing, starving mess. All he wants is for this not to be a dream, for Garp to really love him this much, and then Garp’s broad hand covers the back of Ace’s neck and he’s flying.
When they were young, Sabo, Luffy, and him, Garp would train them whenever he could get vacation and occasionally he would fling them deep into the forests like little cannonballs and they would have to find their way home. Except, they knew those forests better than Dandan even, and the flying part was fun, and they were idiots. So sometimes they would poke at Garp until he got mad and then he would fling them and then they would go back and do it again.
It’s like that, only Ace is a grown man, a devil fruit user, and he’s probably going to land in the ocean. So, y’know… less fun.
Also, he was seconds away from execution previously.
Marco flares into existence above him and swoops. He’s as gentle as he can be with his claws, but Ace is still going to have scratches later. “So you’ll have to tell me when you gave Garp the Fist father’s old DenDen number, but it’s probably a good thing you did.”
“Why isn’t anyone moving?” Ace has to ask, not because he’s trying to deflect but because the Moby Dick is literally surrounded on all sides by Marine’s, but no one is moving a single muscle.
Garp’s conqueror haki is terrifying and intense, but even he can’t cover an entire island.
“Father is coordinating, along with some of Garp’s crew. They worked it out. Hey, are you okay?”
No, no he is not. He twists around, just in time to see Garp launch himself into the air after Marco and Ace through tear-blurred eyes. “Hey,” he yells, waving, “hey, Gramps! I love you too!” Then he’s just sobbing, entirely too grateful that Marco doesn’t need him to do anything, that he might actually get to live, that his father and his crew came for him, and that apparently Garp loves him more than his entire career.
“Brat!” Garp yells back, cannoning into the water hard enough to rock even the Moby Dick, spitting out some water as a couple of people drag him on board his ship. “Don’t say things like that! You’ll ruin my reputation!”
Ace laughs at him through the tears as Marco sets them both down on the deck of the Moby, “you did that yourself, old man!”
“Wahahaha,” Garp laughs as both ships burst into activity and the pressure of conqueror’s haki all around starts to ease.
All around them, Marine’s start to snap into salutes, tears streaming down faces like they’re watching a funeral. Maybe they are. Garp will never be a Marine again.
Sengoku transforms into a giant Buddha, looking for all the world like he’s going to try something, anything, to stop them, but… he doesn’t do anything. Just nods, salutes as well, face hard.
Ace knew that Garp was a hero, that he was widely respected by the Marines, but he never realized what that meant before today. His family, his crew, pile around him, yelling at him, telling him that he’s never to do that again, but Ace won’t. There’s no way he’ll get this lucky a second time.
And if someone like Garp, who raised him--not very well, but he tried, he was there whenever he could be--could throw away his entire life’s work for Ace, well, he better prove worthy of that.
They’re just about out, with no resistance--and who knows what that’ll mean for the Marines when it gets out--when Luffy drops out of the sky on what looks suspiciously like the door to Impel Down with what looks like fifty different prisoners and Jinbei.
“Oh,” his amazing, brave, dumb as fuck little brother says when everyone just looks at him. “Am I late?”