Disclaimer: Not mine, obviously.
Warnings: Likely to be future romances/relationships including het, slash and possibly femslash; these won't be the focus of the story. Odd pairings will likely abound, as well as OCs. Swearing, violence, AU, and eventual character deaths (including major characters). The plot is not set in stone, and is liable to change at a moment's notice on the basis of 'I realised there was a plothole' or 'I got bored and thought of something more interesting'. That's probably all.
Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
PROLOGUE: When duty whispers low, Thou must, The youth replies, I can.
"So you want your life to be worthwhile?"
Ace glared up, fists bunched by his sides, trying not to cry in front of the man, no matter how imposing the office was. "Yes!"
"Well, then," the Fleet Admiral mused, leaning back in his chair and almost smiling at the eight year old. "I'm sure we can come to an arrangement. One that will prove to you your life is truly worth living, and wipe away the memory of that man forever."
For the first time in a year, Ace felt a smile of sheer hope curve onto his face as he gazed gratefully up at his saviour, hands relaxing.
Worth. Value. The unimportance of his tainted blood. Portgas D. Ace would wash his father's sins out of his veins, and he would forever thank the Fleet Admiral for the chance.
The passing-out parade is uneventful – boring, Garp thinks, with a disappointment he tries to crush. He'd expected... no, hoped is the better word, that something would happen, but Ace has no sudden revelation, makes no great announcement, is not kidnapped by ex-crewmates of Rogers, dragging him off with promises of a kingship.
Instead, Ace makes a brief but well-received speech as the tradition of the top graduate calls for, humbly (humbly!) accepts his promotion to Ensign, and moves with practised, military ease back into the formation of his now ex-compatriots.
Garp congratulates him, of course, with a hearty slap to the back that sends the kid sprawling and the other new Ensigns wincing in sympathy, but Ace neither yells or slaps his hand away; he's aloof, as cold as he's been to the man since the Vice-Admiral first told him who his father was, and Garp doesn't think that will ever change, much as he wishes otherwise.
Five years groomed carefully in Mariejois, all eyes watching him, and nearly a year at the Academy in Marineford; they've left their marks, and Garp can no longer see the young, furious, alive boy that he'd left in Dadan's care for so long. Sengoku's occasional talks with the boy ('just talks', Sengoku calls them casually, though they both know that 'subtle brainwashing' would be a better term, as consummate and convincing a talker the Fleet Admiral is) have directed the boy's thought patterns, his manner of speech and opinions, and Ace is – by the textbook, at least – if not the perfect Marine, than certainly the perfect framework for one.
Thirteen years old, and even as Garp makes as much chaos of the after-ceremony celebrations as he can (which is a lot, even with Bogart and several dozen flustered Marines attempting damage-control), the Vice-Admiral can see little soul in the boy, only the hints of one when a fellow Ensign moves in to greet or tease him, faces flushed with success and the alcohol that for months now they were only able to smuggle in with difficulty and in no great amount.
That Akainu has already requested and received permission for the Ensign to serve on his ship only makes the situation worse. So Garp does the only thing he can do; takes the request of an old enemy, and places the burden on the shoulders of one person whom he has never seen truly fail.
He corners the boy, slaps his back again, pretending not to notice the tenseness of Ace's jaw, or the disdain in his eyes, and announces that for the time between graduation and his ship assignment, Ace will be coming to East Blue with him for 'special training'.
If Luffy can't work his deranged, senseless magic on Portgas D. Ace, then no-one can.
It takes nearly a month to get to East Blue, sailing through the Grand Line and Calm Belt, and if not for drills and sparring, coupled with the occasional chase and running-down of pirate ships, illegal slavers and the like, Ace would have snapped and thrown himself overboard simply to get away from his former 'grandfather'.
Bogart and other men were mostly sane and helpful – his navigation had improved further, and there was nothing like actual practise in dealing with the rigging and supplies, even if he was technically an off-duty 'guest' for now. Always try to understand the men under you, and what they're capable of, Sengoku had told him in a variety of ways until the message was ingrained into his skull; you couldn't control what you didn't comprehend, and under- or over-estimating led to failure. A simple fact, and Ace wouldn't let it be neglected or ignored through the potential arrogance or laziness that Sengoku had warned him of.
Garp, however, made it... difficult. If he wasn't dragging Ace in for TEA or ridiculous discussions about a bizarre range of subjects, from the legal limits on slavery to the balance between the numbers of Marines and pirates, wasn't enough, he was obviously trying to form some kind of bond with Ace; something he'd immediately rejected upon discovering his so-called grandfather and Dadan had been lying to him for years.
They were lucky they'd got off so lightly, Ace considered, continuing studying the map of East Blue as he attempted to work out their course. If he'd been in charge, Garp would have been demoted at least, and Dadan – as a far less useful member of society – would have received execution rather than a mere life imprisonment in Impel Down. Still, it was Sengoku who'd recommended the sentences, and Ace was sure he had good reasons; the teen knew with absolute certainty that the only way Sengoku could make a bad decision would be if he were working off false information, which was obviously not the case.
"Too smart for that," he muttered lazily, ducking his head sharply as one of the men glanced curiously at him, and making sure his face was something approaching the almost-expressionless countenance that experience had taught him was the mark of many of the higher-ranked Marines.
He'd go along with this ridiculous trip of Garp's for now, and count down the days until he could put himself under the command of Admiral Akainu who was both competent and sane.
Fuchsia Village was a ridiculous name, anyway.