Summary: What if the Straw Hats had of been together when they got the news that Ace was imprisoned and due to be executed? With the whole crew, and all their specialties, how might the rescue of Portgas D. Ace been different?
Kenbunshoku Haki - is a form of Haki that allows the user to sense the presence of others
Yonkou – the four Pirate Leaders to rule over the New World
Shichibukai – the Royal Pirates, a group of 7 Pirates sanctioned by the World Government and used to attempt to persuade people not to become pirates.
Gomu Gomu Fruit – the Devil Fruit that Luffy ate, the fruit that gives him his rubber ability.
Thank you to Sokka's Fan-Lawyer, Amaxing and BonclaysFan for the excellent beta-ing job they have done. One Piece beta's are far far more talkative than other areas!
Author: Jade Tatsu
Title: You Are (Not) Alone
"Luffy," Nami said, whacking him lightly with the newspaper that had brought them the news about Ace's forthcoming execution. "There's absolutely no question that we are going to rescue Ace but unlike Ernies Lobby we can't just charge in there. The Marines are expecting Whitebeard, so they'd be all over us."
Luffy didn't look pleased. Nami knew that she had to convince him to think things through, or else they'd be rushing headlong into something that, this time, really would be too big for them. The crew showed various forms of agreement. They wanted to rescue Ace, but they wanted to do it the smart way. "Luffy," Nami pleaded. "All I'm saying is let's make a plan and do this in a way that the Marines do not see coming. Marines may rush head long into things, but we're pirates! We do things better than they do."
"Okay what's your plan?" Luffy challenged her.
Thankfully, Robin answered their captain. "Luffy-san, I know this is painful, but let's look at the schedule of events." The dark haired woman pulled out a small map of the area. It showed the islands of Impel Down and Marineford, as well as the Gates of Judgement. "Currently the Marines have Ace-san imprisoned at Impel Down. They plan on moving him through the Gates of Judgement to Marineford on the morning of his execution, which is nine days from now. They have scheduled his execution for five p.m. that day."
"So we only have nine days to save him," Luffy declared. "We shouldn't be wasting time."
Robin nodded at her Captain. "And that is why we should be planning," she said softly, "So that we don't waste time and, more importantly, so that we can rescue Ace-san."
"What plan?" Luffy repeated.
Robin smiled. "Without a doubt, Whitebeard will make an appearance to rescue Ace..."
"I'll rescue Ace!" Luffy exclaimed.
"I wasn't suggesting that we wait for Whitebeard, Luffy-san, rather that we should be prepared if they appear." Robin smiled. A way of convincing her captain had occurred to her. "Whitebeard is a great pirate."
"Of course he is; my brother likes him."
"Yes," she agreed. "But what better way to show you are a great pirate than to show up with your brother rescued?"
"That's what I'm saying! I'll rescue Ace!"
"Idiot!" the rest of the crew cried.
"We all want to rescue Ace," Zoro cut in. "And because we all want to help, that means we need a plan."
Luffy blinked, as if hearing them for the first time.
"You all want to... Everyone..." he trailed off, his voice thick with tears.
The Straw Hats smiled kindly at their Captain. Sometimes he was dense, and sometimes he ran into more problems than should be humanly possible, but his heart was as large as the ocean and they would follow him into hell itself.
"Yes Luffy... all of us," Chopper said.
"So let's use all our skills and show the Marines what the Usopp Pirates can do!"
Sanji whacked Usopp on the back of the head, but smiled. Robin looked back at Luffy, her eyes saying what she could not voice. 'You've helped us all so much Luffy. It's time for you to us to help you.'
Brooke strummed his guitar. "Yo ho ho! Freedom on the seas! A pirate's life for me!"
"Luffy, I've never met Ace," Franky began. "But I've been captured by the Marines and that's why we gotta do this the smart way. We don't have any distractions with us now, no Galley La company to help us, but we can do this. The marines aren't going to get their execution day." Franky made a fist and banged it down on the table. "I'm in~!"
Fists clenched around the table and the rest of the crew thumped them down, chanting the words "I'm in~!" until finally Luffy slammed both fists on the table just gently enough so that he didn't break it. "I'm in!"
Robin smiled again. The situation was deadly serious, but the crew she had chosen, the companions that Saul had promised her long ago, were all good people and were all devoted. She would die for any of them if she had to, but she would more gladly live for them all. "So," she led, gesturing to her forgotten map diagram. "Let's plan this!" they all chorused.
Sengoku stood on the execution platform. So far, things had been quiet – too quiet. He both dreaded and anticipated the clash of arms that would happen today. The men would certainly appreciate the chance to relax tomorrow. They'd been on high alert for days.
No one had attacked Impel Down to rescue Fire Fist. They hadn't been expecting anyone to, but with Whitebeard there still remained a possibility. The prison had reported that everything was quiet. Boa Hancock had visited to see Portgas D. Ace though she had termed him 'the man she had to go to war for.' Many had thought this would lead to betrayal it appeared that she had done exactly what she said she would do - visit and then leave peacefully. No secret plans were enacted, no devices or people smuggled in, and the small break in security caused by her presence was not exploited. Of course, she had said something to Ace which they were unsure of, but it was probably nothing more than a denigration.
The fleet had then escorted the prisoner through the Gates of Justice and had arrived at Marineford on schedule, reporting no problem of any sort. There had been a slight delay at the Gate, caused by a whirlpool that had persisted once it had been opened, but it had dissipated after a few minutes and nothing was thought of it. The time had been made up with expert sailing.
And now the Whitebeard Pirate's Second Division Commander was being led up the steps to face his execution. Sengoku could hear the footfalls and the sounds of scuffling. From the sound of things, the guards had to drag Fire Fist up the stairs. Ace wasn't calmly coming along, but appeared to be struggling for all he was worth, not that it was doing much good with the sea stone handcuffs. It appeared, after all, that all men feared death and Sengoku couldn't help but raise one eyebrow at the thought. The D.'s were meant to be fearless.
Today was more than a bit of a spectacle, though, it was a full blown circus as far as Sengoku was concerned. The execution of such a notorious pirate could not be unaccompanied by fanfare.
Whitebeard had to respond. If he didn't his reputation was lost. If he did and won, the Marines were in for trouble, which was why fully half the upper echelons were here, and all the Admirals and as many Vice and Rear Admirals and Commodores as could be gathered. There were plenty of regular troops and junior officers and he hoped most of them would survive the day. They were the future, after all. They could not afford to lose today and if things went according to plan, the World would see the death of the Pirate Age today.
That was the World Government's optimistic outlook, anyway, but Sengoku was a little more realistic. He hoped to oversee the execution of Portgas D. Ace and Edward Newgate today, and to show off the new weapon: the Pacifistas that had been developed. The combination would severely affect the pirates, but he doubted that those two alone would mean the end of the Pirate Age, though he hoped it would signal the beginning of the end.
Vice Admiral Monkey D. Garp was on the platform with him. It was a breach in protocol, but the Vice Admiral was in an ambiguous position and the Fleet Admiral was one of the few who knew it. Most of the Admirals didn't, and had assumed Garp was there simply because he had experience fighting Whitebeard and was there to advise Sengoku. If they knew the truth, that Garp was the adoptive Grandfather of their prisoner then, well, Sengoku rather thought that Aokiji wouldn't care, so long as Garp did his duty. Akainu would call for his execution to purify the world and Kizaru... Kizaru could go either way. Even after working with him for so long Sengoku couldn't predict Kizaru.
It was the same with Garp; he wasn't quite sure where the Vice Admiral's loyalty would be today, which was another reason for keeping him here, even if Whitebeard came...When Whitebeard came. He wasn't going to get past the Admirals, which would ensure that Garp never had to face that question.
Garp frowned, and Sengoku felt a stab of worry as the prisoner was dragged, kicking at least, on to the platform. He was hooded, and from the lack of noise Sengoku assumed gagged. In addition to the sea stone handcuffs, there were chains around his ankles and chains attached to the cuffs as well as a collar. It seemed a bit excessive for a twenty year old, no matter their skills, and Sengoku hadn't been expecting all of it, but if it was needed, it was needed.
Garp, though, continued to frown, and that stab of worry would not go away. Garp did not frown unless something was terribly wrong. Before the guards could stop him, the Vice Admiral grabbed the hood and pulled it off.
Sengoku's heart froze.
Things had been too quiet.
Garp started laughing. The laughter brought the attention of the Admiral's and the rest of the marines. The chained man before them was not the Second Division Commander of the Whitebeard Pirates, Fire Fist Portgus D. Ace.
He had Ace's physique, Ace's tattoos; he even had Ace's clothes, but the face was not Ace's. Nor were the eyes that glared at them, nor the teeth that were bared in a grimace around the gag.
All of that explained why Garp was laughing, but did nothing to deal with the real issue: where was Fire Fist Ace?
There were two options, both equally ludicrous. The first was that they had captured the wrong man. Even as Sengoku thought that he dismissed it. Garp, for all his faults, would not have kept quiet about that when he visited Ace in prison. No, they had been holding Fire Fist Ace. The second option was that he had been rescued. And at that thought, Sengoku's brain rebelled, but he forced it to keep examining the option. If Ace had been rescued, then it had been done quietly and expertly, and it had been accomplished whenever Ace had been hooded. That was not usual procedure, but he had overlooked that.
Sengoku looked at the Captain who had escorted Ace and the executioners to the platform. The man was white as a sheet, and was trembling. The reaction was well earned all things considered. "When was Ace hooded?" the Fleet Admiral demanded.
With wide frantic eyes the Captain shook his head. "He was like that when he came off the ship," the man said, valiantly keeping any stutter from his voice. He had accompanied Fire Fist from the transport ship to the holding cell and had watched him the entire time. Then he had accompanied him to the execution platform.
Sengoku noticed Garp looking out over Marineford, as if searching for the ship. The transport flotilla was currently contributing to the cordon around the island. Picking out the single ship that was the transport vessel was almost impossible. "Get me the ship's captain on a den den mushi now!" the Fleet Admiral ordered. One of the executioners nodded at him and fled down the stairs, grateful for a reason to escape.
The man who was supposed to be Ace was still glaring at them, but Sengoku didn't care. He didn't know who it was and it didn't matter. That could be sorted out later. The odds were that the Fire Fist had been rescued in transit; Impel Down would followed procedure to the letter. Hooding a prisoner was against regulations, so it simply would not have been done. If Ace had been rescued in transit then there was a chance that the rescuers were still close... More worrying than that, however, was while Sengoku could foresee Whitebeard rescuing Ace during transportation he could never see Whitebeard or his crew doing it without fanfare. They would have gone in guns blazing and the entire Marine Corps would have known.
Which meant that whoever had done it was smart and skilled, and wanted Ace free more than they wanted recognition. And that meant that Whitebeard and his crew probably didn't know that their Second Division Commander was not still standing on the execution platform...
As if summoned by his thoughts there was a loud whoosh in the centre of the bay. Sengoku turned, as did most of the gathered marines, and saw the Moby Dick surface.
This was not going to go well.
Aboard the Moby Dick, the Whitebeard Pirates were assembled, armed and ready to attack as they surfaced. Whitebeard himself was on the prow, his bisento by his side. They had looked at all their options, and had concluded that the best point to do it was at Marineford. Attacking Impel down was just asking for trouble even with their entire strength, as there were too many prisoners who would not support them. Attacking in transit had been an option, but was iffy. They didn't know which ship Ace would be on.
That left Marineford. It was risky, but if they timed it right they would be able to rescue Ace and withdraw. The might of the Marines meant nothing before them, 1600 men all ready to fight for the Second Division Commander.
The Second Division was arrayed on the rails; they would lead the charge to free their commander. After this, they would show that traitor Blackbeard what it meant to go against them.
There was a moment of silence as they surfaced, and with a smile they imagined the surprise of the marines. They had an entire cordon set up to blockade the island, a cordon that meant nothing to the Moby Dick. She was a coated ship, but unlike other ships where the coating eventually wore off and popped, the coating on the Moby Dick was permanent. It was not used often, as it was the ship's hidden weapon.
The crew stood, moving with the waves as the ship rocked slightly. Those of them who could, would have already been on the attack, but their Captain had given orders that he would personally lead the charge today. They squinted towards the execution platform and took in the marines. They were everywhere! Troops ringed the plaza and there was even a troop of Giants. Sprinkled liberally throughout the forces were Commanders, Commodores, Vice and Rear Admirals even the three Admirals were there, on the level down from the execution platform, seated almost royally as they watched the others. Sengoku was on the platform, as was Garp, and they were accompanied by a few troopers and Ace. Most of the crew smiled as they took in the Second Division Commander. He was chained but otherwise he was fine.
While most of the crew grinned in relief, a few, those who could use Kenbunshoku Haki frowned. They saw what their Captain saw.
"WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS, SENGOKU?!" Whitebeard roared.
Marco stood at his side looking grim as did the other Division Commanders.
All the Whitebeard pirates turned towards their Captain. There was genuine anger in his voice, something they rarely heard, and it was accompanied by something dark that the Commanders all appeared to share.
On the execution platform Garp turned to Sengoku. "Well, we may not have Ace, but we've definitely got Whitebeard," he said, resisting the urge to laugh again. He knew, as did the Fleet Admiral, that the only explanation that would appease Whitebeard was the one they could not give.
Though if Whitebeard was here, then he and his crew had had nothing to do with Ace's rescue, which left only one crew that might possibly have done it. Garp was not sure though. He didn't think they had the skills... They had the courage, they more than had the courage and they would have had the desire, but he truly did not think they had the skill... and if they had rescued Ace, then this rescue would just make the orders to capture them all the more imperative.
"SENGOKU!" Whitebeard roared again, and the entire island felt his anger. It carried on his voice and through the haki that the old pirate was liberally letting flow out of him. "WHERE IS HE?" He thumped the hilt of his bisento on the deck, causing a small shock wave.
Garp looked over towards Sengoku. "We either fight, or we answer him. We don't have much choice."
Sengoku did not look pleased, and Garp, despite his usual nature, could understand. Neither option was a good one. At that moment, the executioner returned, panting from his run up the stairs carrying a den den mushi. "He was hooded about an hour before they arrived at Marineford," the man said, holding the den den mushi towards the Fleet Admiral.
Sengoku's eyes narrowed. An hour meant that the rescuers were potentially still in range... but the presence of Whitebeard in the harbour destroyed any hope that the marines may be able to pursue. He would need all his forces, including the cordon ships here to fight Whitebeard. No matter what he told the old Pirate, he could not just let the man leave, and the man would not go without a fight.
Aboard the Thousand Sunny, the cheer reverberated and beers were raised high as the crew toasted themselves and their guest. They had done what most would think impossible and rescued a prisoner without the Marines noticing. While the Marines would eventually know, they would only figure it out once they had a good lead.
"Congratulations!" There was laughter and smiles all round as the ship sailed stealthily away from Marineford and the dangers it represented.
"Quiet! Quiet, quiet, quiet!" Nami shouted to be heard above the laughter. "It's starting," she added when attention turned towards her.
Surprisingly, that silenced the crew, and they all turned their heads to the small screen they had managed to acquire. The Marines planned to televise Ace's execution and their breaking of Whitebeard's power, so the crew wanted to see what the reaction would be. There was a little bit of jostling as everyone settled in to watch.
The screen showed the centre of the Marineford plaza and in the back ground they could see the masts of ships rising thick. There was no hiding just how many marines were present.
"Wow, Ace..." Luffy said, almost unable to put it into words. He knew his brother was strong, but for his brother to rate that many marines at his execution...
"Yeah, that's a lot of marines," Sanji muttered before taking a long drag of his cigarette.
Ace laughed. "If I hadn't been the guest of honour, I'd be flattered."
The Straw Hats smiled. Rescuing Ace had been difficult and expensive, but it was worth it. Difficult was actually an understatement. It had been stressful, it had stretched all their abilities and knowledge to the limit, and sailing away from the Marine ship trying to keep their cheers inaudible had been one of the most nerve-wracking moments of all their lives.
"Look, there's Grandpa!"
The shot showed a close up of the execution platform where Garp and Sengoku stood. They were quickly accompanied by the fake Ace and the executioners.
"Oh boy, he's struggling."
Usopp snorted. "I would too."
There had been a bit of an argument about using a live double for Ace. There was always the chance that the Marines would execute the fake Ace anyway. In the end reality had won out; while it was not a great choice, it was the only choice. They'd used a marine from the ship that had been transporting Ace, someone who had a medium build and was muscular. Usopp had painted on Ace's tattoos in a special paint he'd made for this, and they'd dressed him in Ace's clothes and chained him up. The gag and hood had been necessary.
The group gave a small sigh of relief when Garp pulled off the hood, revealing the man's face. While some people wouldn't know it wasn't Ace, Sengoku would, and Garp would most definitely recognise that the man before him was not his adoptive grandson.
The visual den den mushi couldn't capture the words, but Ace, who looked a little odd in a marine uniform, could tell that Sengoku was angry... really angry.
The Fleet Admiral would just have to get over it. There was one small thing that was worrying him, though. While he hadn't been free for that long, he had been trying to find the Moby Dick and the others. He couldn't sense them at all, however, and Luffy's crew had already confirmed that they had not been in contact with Whitebeard or anyone about their plans. That was one of the reasons they were skimming a little close to Marineford. The Old Man would not let him be executed, so where were the Whitebeard pirates? Ace had been hoping to run into them on the Thousand Sunny so that they could all turn around and leave the Marine army cursing his unknown rescuers, but he had caught not so much as a whisper of their presence.
He was now hoping against hope that they hadn't used 'that', but if he was honest with himself, his hope was fading fast. It seemed to be the only way they could have entered Marineford.
As if to affirm his fears the picture shown by the den den mushi screen changed, focusing now on a large bubbling in the middle of the harbour.
They had used it.
Ace watched as the Moby Dick surfaced and the Whitebeard pirates arranged themselves for battle. Hopefully, the Old Man would keep them on the ship once he realised that Ace was not present.
There was a confused welter of images on the visual den den mushi and Ace ignored the looks of some of the Straw Hats who had just figured out what this meant. It wasn't really their fault. They had no way of contacting Whitebeard or any of his men, but they should have expected it.
"Ace," Sanji said quietly. "Can you send fire into the air?"
"Of course!" the black haired Second Division Commander snorted.
"Then get up to the crow's nest and send up the biggest signal you can. We're close enough to Marineford that if it's high enough and bright enough they will see it."
"But that will bring everyone here!" Usopp exclaimed.
Zoro laughed. "Open water, pirates versus marines. Pirates win," he said easily, unconcerned.
The matter wasn't open to discussion, and the visual den den mushi only showed the tension building in Marineford. Whitebeard and his commanders had noticed the substitute, though only those marines close enough to see the execution platform or those who could reliably feel haki, and knew what Ace felt like, knew that there was something very wrong.
With a light step, Ace jumped towards the railing and darted up the ropes to the crow's nest. Just before he reached it he swung around and leapt onto the roof of it. He quickly tested the wind. It really wouldn't do to send up the signal and have it come back down straight on them. His brother's ship was strong but there was no need to set it on fire.
With a shout he turned his hands into fire and sent the signal, Whitebeard's symbol, high into the air.
As Sengoku and Garp were facing Whitebeard, they were amongst the first to see it. High in the sky, but at a bit of a distance from Marineford, rose fire. But not just any fire, it was fire shaped into a symbol. Four balls formed a cross, upon which a familiar jolly roger was displayed; the grin by the moustache was almost too much.
Unfortunately, Sengoku and Garp were not the only ones looking at Whitebeard, a good number of the marines were facing him head on, and those who were saw the rising fire out of the corner of their eyes and turned to see this new development.
The shift in the attention of the Marines was not lost upon the Whitebeard pirates, most of whom turned to look. Whitebeard himself did not turn, he would not show his back to an enemy, but to those with an experienced eye, he did angle the blade of his bisento so that he could see what was happening. His face split into a grin as he realised what had happened.
Whitebeard laughed. It held the same note of relief as Garp's laughter. "Keep the watch up, and submerge," he ordered. "New heading towards my idiot son!"
The crew roared their assent, a new note of happiness in their voices. They didn't know how Ace had gotten to the waters outside of Marineford, but they knew he'd either escaped or been freed. If it was the later, then they owed someone a very big favour.
"Fire on Whitebeard!" Sengoku ordered once he realised what the pirates would do. His plan, his carefully considered and well-orchestrated plan, was now useless, but he wasn't the Leader of the Marines for nothing. He could adapt. "Turn ships aft! After that signal!" With the den den mushi in hand, he gave the order to all the cordon ships, and he hoped it would reach the transport vessels who were returning to Impel Down. This would now be a water battle, not a harbour one, but they could work with that.
With the fleet and troops on the move, Sengoku turned back to the man who was supposedly Ace and ripped out the gag. "Who are you?" he demanded.
The man took a moment to answer. "Warrant Officer Isui, assigned to the Tallangatta. Serial number one, seven..."
"Enough!" Sengoku ordered. "Who substituted you?"
"I don't know!"
"Did you hear any names?" Garp asked, perhaps breaking protocol but Sengoku didn't care at this point.
"Some," Warrant Officer Isui admitted before he continued, recalling the names he had heard after he'd come too. "Nami, Usopp, Zoro..."
The man dressed as Ace became silent at Sengoku's look towards Garp. "Garp!" the Fleet Admiral said warningly as it appeared the Vice Admiral would laugh again. "The Straw Hats..." Sengoku finally muttered as Garp got himself under control. Unfortunately though, the den den mushi was still active and the mutter was broadcast to the entire fleet.
On the Thousand Sunny the Straw Hats began taking position. Usopp joined Ace on the top of the crow's nest. Franky took the helm with Nami beside him. The rest of them spread out around the ship, ready to defend it. Ace's signal would bring Whitebeard and his crew, but it would also bring every Marine ship in range down upon them. That didn't matter though, it was just another battle. And there would be a lot of help coming.
Luffy was grinning happily on the prow, for him, very little mattered now that Ace was safe. They would fight the marines and then would be on their way. That was how the day would end.
There was a shout from Usopp and he pointed to the east, along the horizon away from Marineford. There were sails coming in quickly. They were not the white of the marines but were instead many different colours. They bore the crests of many pirates and it was Ace who whooped his happiness. He shouted down to the rest of the crew that the flags were those loyal to Whitebeard and his announcement was met with a general feeling of glee. It would not just be one ship against the Marines but many. Not that it would have made much of a difference, but it never hurt to have company.
The Marine ships turned slowly. Some had fired on the Moby Dick, but it had already sunk back into the waters of the bay. While there were ways of stopping it, none would be effective. They could freeze the water but Whitebeard or Marco or other pirates would get them out. Now all that remained was to pursue and hope that they still had the superior fire power. There was no doubt in Sengoku's mind they would not be alone for long. This was not how the day was meant to go.
Things with the Straw Hats never went according to plan. It seemed to be their gift. Somehow, no matter how well laid the plans, how fool proof, and how much information they had, the Straw Hats always found the small holes, the ways in that you thought were closed. Sengoku really wished he knew how they did it.
He and Garp were running down the stairs towards one of the ships. He supposed they could have jumped but they weren't as young as they once had been. Already the Admirals had boarded the front most ships making their way towards the fire signal. They had just jumped towards the fastest ships. They knew what to do and they would, if possible, see that the main orders of the day were carried out.
One thing that was overlooked in the rush of marines was the Shichibukai. They had been gathered to fight. Even the new one, Blackbeard had been present to fight, but with the battle moving away from Marineford they had, for the most part, not moved off the island. Hawkeye had unobtrusively jumped on to a marine vessel. He was curious to see how things would play out. Boa Hancock had small love hearts playing around her from the small group of marines she had enthralled. Don Flamingo had attacked and taken out Gekko Moria in accordance with his orders from the World Government and Blackbeard and his crew had vanished. Bartholomew Kuma had been absent from the beginning, apparently with Marine knowledge, and he did not put in an appearance now. Jimbei was in Impel Down, still holding his title but obviously not expected to fight, this time.
"Luffy," Ace called to his little brother. "When Pops gets here, I gotta go to him."
"Ya," Luffy replied unconcerned.
"It's not too late, you know," Ace continued though his voice was somewhat shadowed.
"The answer is no," Luffy said with an uncharacteristic note of finality in his tone. "He may be a great Pirate, Ace, but I will be the Pirate King."
Ace suddenly grinned at Luffy. It seemed he had been saying that forever, but his grin faded slightly as a more serious concern took over. "Luffy, try not to come against us. If you do I will have to fight you... and I won't see you as my brother then."
"I know," Luffy said, apparently unconcerned, both at the prospect of fighting Ace and at the fact that they were having this conversation, shouting at each other, prow to crow's nest, while other pirate ships gathered around them. Together they waited for the Marines to catch up to them.
"Luffy knows the cost of his dream," Usopp said softly to Ace. "And if he dies in the attempt to obtain it, your brother will die happy," the sharp shooter added as he continued to scan the horizon. Any minute now he expected to see a forest of marine masts. He was hoping that the Moby Dick would get there first; though he had no idea if that was possible. Nami would know the tides and winds better.
As if to answer his question, Nami spoke. "We're going to have to fight the Marines," she said. "The current is against the Moby Dick, but the wind is with the Marines. Pass it on."
The other ships had gathered around them so closely that it was a simple thing to shout Nami's concern to them all. The other Pirates had born down on them earlier, but when they saw that Ace was on board and the signal was for real, they had all cheered and raised a tankard. Only one, though, as they all knew the Marines were coming. No one bothered to try to form a battle group or anything like that. They were pirates, and it was every ship for itself, though they would try to avoid destroying or damaging each other. By unspoken consensus though, Whitebeard's pirate allies did fan out around the Thousand Sunny and they had left a largish gap for the Moby Dick to surface in. One or two ships swung out far to the left or right, but Ace just grinned as he saw that. He knew why they needed the distance.
Everyone was in place.
All that was left to do was wait.
"Ship ho!" Usopp screamed as he saw the first of the Marine masts. They were spread out a little as the faster ships made better time, but even as he'd spotted the first ship, the others crested the horizon, almost as far as his eyes could see.
Franky stood at the Thousand Sunny's wheel, holding their course. Nami was beside him, looking around as she sensed the weather. Luffy was on the prow, with Sanji and Zoro taking port and starboard respectively. Robin stood in front of the main mast, her hands already crossed, ready to summon her devil fruit's power while little Chopper was standing a bit further back, near the rail. He would attack if he had to, but he was also ready to take on patients. Brooke was on the other side, ready to attack. For the moment, however, he was playing a cheerful tune on his violin, much to the enjoyment of that side of the ship. Nami squinted, raising her hand to shade her eyes as she took in the Marine ships that were gathering against them. There were… a lot, to say the least.
"Usopp!" Franky shouted. "Man the fore cannon!" he instructed as he saw the line of Marine ships. It was one thing to see them on the visual den den mushi, it was another to see them on the horizon.
"What!" the dreadlocked boy shouted back, but he did start climbing down. The shipwright had told him about some of the ship's new abilities, but not everything. The fore cannon was something Usopp was curious about.
Franky sighed. "I didn't really want to show it to the public this early, but there's no alternative."
"Ships, ho!" The shout echoed around the Marine ships. The Admirals had conferred briefly, and had instructed their ships to form a half moon pattern to surround the pirates. With so many commanders here the chain of command could be tricky, but there was still only one best way of fighting with this many ships. Complicated manoeuvres would wait until Sengoku caught up, but even then they were likely to be dangerous. The crescent moon formation would allow them to utilize their superior numbers.
"List names!" The command came.
"The Moby Dick is not sighted," the men in the crow's nest reported. It was relayed around the fleet, but did not bring much relief to the marines. Most had seen the Moby Dick surface in the centre of Marineford's bay; they knew that the ship could be present, just lurking beneath the surface.
"I see Squardo! And Whitey Bay!"
"I see Delacuaji and Julius."
"Ramba and Vitan."
"Colscon, Zodia and Palms."
The names of the pirates went on and on, as each Jolly Roger was spotted and identified. All the names were known to be allies of Whitebeard. None of them were pirates to be taken lightly.
"The Straw Hats!" The cry came from more than one of the watchers. They were not New World pirates, but their name and symbol were known by most Marines.
"Front and centre."
"Converge on them," all three Admirals ordered. "Capture any pirates you can. If they resist, authorisation is given to use lethal force." Lethal force was often used in battle, but was not often authorised straight off. All the marines knew that this time, this battle was to the death, and more than just their lives were riding on the outcome. The future of the world was literally staked on this battle; the end or the continuation of the Pirate Age.
While each Admiral was on a different ship and they were roughly spread throughout the fleet, they had each taken the precaution of carrying a den den mushi that was linked to the other two Admirals. This way they could co-ordinate their movements efficiently.
"Keep converging," Aokiji gave the order. "Try to remain as even as possible."
"Fire as soon as we are in range." Predictably it was Akainu who gave that order.
Kizaru remained silent, though he was paying attention.
The marine ships spread out, and for a manoeuvre that they had not practiced, they were remarkably smooth in forming the crescent moon shape that would converge on the pirates. Slowly they began advancing, more ships from Marineford joining the back of the formation as they sailed from the far side of the island or cleared out of the bay.
Ahead of them the Pirate ships were spread out but content to wait.
Closer and closer the fleets sailed, each holding off firing until the most optimal time. Swords were drawn; guns were readied as the start of the battle of the age began.
There was a flash of light from the centre pirate ship. It was seen by all on the Marine ships and caused Admiral Kizaru to narrow his eyes speculatively. A moment later there was a loud explosion, followed by another, and another and another. They came so fast that by the time the watching marines turned, several ships were burning. More and more ships succumbed to the light and the watching marine eyes tracked the beam back to its source.
The Straw Hat's ship! The lion's mouth was open, and the barrel of a cannon could be seen by those with exceptionally sharp eyes. The somewhat pinkish light was coming from there. After a moment it faded, and the ships mouth closed again. A ragged cheer could be heard from the pirate ships while the Marines assessed the damage.
Aokiji's part of the fleet was the least affected. He had raised a shield of ice in front of the ships, a shield he was now shattering. A few ships had been hit as he hadn't been able to form the ice fast enough to save them all, but most of his section were safe. Kizaru's section of the fleet was the least damaged, as the beam weapon the Straw Hat's had used had not reached his section. He had been ready for it but his tactic was uncalled for. Akainu's section was hard hit and several ships were already lost, their burning hulks sinking into the ocean already. The Admirals smiled grimly; with a bit of luck maybe one of them would hit the Moby Dick. The smell of smoke mixed with the salt of the sea.
It was Kizaru that gave the next order, but it was one all the Admirals agreed upon. "Pacifistas to the front."
"WOW!" Ace was officially impressed. He'd seen damage on a massive scale before, but it was usually caused by a Devil Fruit user. To think that a mechanical device could cause similar damage... He was suddenly glad that the weapon's designer was with his little Brother. At least then the cannon would only be used as necessary.
The other pirates shouted their agreement with Ace, but they knew they weren't safe yet. They had all seen the shield of ice Aokiji had raised, and the red hot shield that Akainu had eventually gotten into place. The blast from the Thousand Sunny had not been wasted, but another would not get through. Now the battle of cannon balls and swords began.
"Robin, Nami, Brook, Franky and Usopp, protect the Thousand Sunny," Luffy ordered. "Chopper do what you can, but treat those who need it. Zoro, Sanji, if you don't bag at least ten ships each, I'll be disappointed."
"Ten?" Zoro seemed offended. "If I don't get at least thirty then I'll have to hang up my swords."
"Humph," Sanji replied. "If he gets thirty, then I'll be getting forty."
Zoro's eye twitched; the cook had laid down a challenge.
Ace laughed. This was what a Pirate ship was meant to be like! His brother had found a good crew. He deserved a crew like this. It reminded him of times on the Moby Dick.
Usopp was still sitting at the cannons controls, stunned. To think that ... he had... Oh wow. He grinned suddenly and hugged the cannon, not caring that it was still hot from firing. Then he looked up at the ship and smiled. The Going Merry's memory lived strong in the Thousand Sunny. Almost reluctantly he packed up the gun, putting it back into its inactive position since he knew, as did the others, that another shot would not be as effective. He needed to return to the crow's nest to see how things were going.
Though the Thousand Sunny was a pirate ship, it was not one designed primarily to fight. It could fight, and it did fight, but it was not a galleon with banks of cannons like the ships with their sides to the Marines, firing as fast as their gunner crews could load the cannons. The Thousand Sunny was primarily their transport ship; it was designed to go anywhere and to survive in any conditions, which was why the ice layer that Aokiji had summoned was not a great hindrance to them. Another ship from Whitebeard's allies was also unencumbered, Whitey Bay's ship, and it was currently sailing around the other ships to free them from the ice.
Ace was still on top of the crow's nest, shooting fire in all directions at the marine ships. Usopp thought he could see Luffy, Zoro and Sanji jumping and leaping like mad men on the marine ships. The occasional flash certainly seemed to be the arc caused by Zoro's swords and the random detonation of ships suited both Luffy and Sanji's styles. Usopp took up position and began firing off his little stars, though already he knew he had to find some way of making them more powerful. This battle had shown him that much. They weren't great for mass destruction but they were good enough to deflect and to knock out the Marines who were approaching over the ice. His hands were a blur as he fired, and he didn't even hear the calls of admiration from the surrounding pirates who had noticed his accuracy and were impressed.
Nami and Franky were at the Thousand Sunny's wheel, and Franky was spinning it back and forth with a vengeance, making the ship seem to dance on the water. In a battle most overlooked this aspect: but if the ship did not dodge, then the ship was destroyed, and the Thousand Sunny was proving it was nimble.
That being said not everything was going their way. Some of Whitebeard's Allies had been destroyed, though most of the crews had made it to the ice safely and were fighting hand to hand with the marines. It was an unspoken agreement between them all that even those who lost their ships would be taken in by the others when the Marines were defeated. They would find new homes in new pirate crews.
The Pacifistas were particularly problematic, and many pirates were left unsure of their skill when faced with their overwhelming might. The Thousand Sunny bore the scorch marks left by Pacifista lasers but it fought on, and Luffy, Sanji and Zoro teamed up with each other and with whoever was available to take out several of the hulking brutes. Robin watched her captain and the other pirate captains with pride as they fought, but she had seen many battles and with the Pacifistas she could tell how this one would end. It mattered little to her now, but she hoped she was wrong.
Nami kept her balance by bracing herself with her staff and Franky was braced against the wheel. The Thousand Sunny was tossed in the water as ships around them exploded. There were screams of pain and shouts of defiance as smoke billowed all around them. They'd both seen many things in their lives, but even for them this was ghastly. They would not run though. They were pirates, and beneath her breath Nami was keeping up a time count. It had to be soon. Unless she was completely wrong about the underwater currents, then the Moby Dick would have to be here soon. They needed the reinforcements. Whitebeard's allies were strong, as were the Straw Hats, but they were up against almost the full might of the Marines. Against so many Captains, Commanders, Commodores, Vice Admirals, Rear Admirals and the three Admirals themselves, there was only so much they could do.
Nami could see the potential in everyone though. She could see that Luffy and Zoro and Sanji would become monster fighters, capable of taking on the Admirals with every chance of victory, but if she was honest they were all still young. They needed time to develop themselves and their skills... time they would not have if Whitebeard didn't show up soon. Even Ace was feeling pressed, and Nami could see why Luffy had never defeated him, even with the Gomu Gomu Fruit. The young man seemed to be the devil, with his smiling face and lightning fast fire balls.
It might have been ten minutes, it might have been half an hour; it might even have been half a lifetime, but just as some of the pirates were tiring, there was a burbling sound. Ace screamed his happiness to the world and, perhaps it was an illusion, but it seemed that the Marines drew back almost as majestically and slowly as the Moby Dick rose out of the water, the spread sail glistening as the water slid off it.
The three Admirals were relatively happy with how the battle was going. The Pacifistas weren't as effective on the water as they would have been in Marineford's bay, but they were proving to be strong enough that most of the pirates had felt the stab of despair. All three Admirals would have suggestions on how to make the Pacifistas stronger, since a determined enough team of pirates seemed to be enough to take them out. Each Admiral was defending their ship group but not advancing. Predictably, the pirates tended to avoid direct confrontation with them, and any that did were dealt with swiftly.
Each Admiral was resisting the urge to surge ahead to fight Fire Fist himself, who was lit up like a human torch on the crow's nest of the Straw Hat's ship, the Thousand Sunny. They didn't fear that battle, but they would be foolish to extend themselves that much when the main party had yet to appear. None of them would be as foolish as to race into battle to potentially be cut off. Even though they were each capable of taking out thousands of men, they had studied the basics of strategy. They could not and would not commit themselves to battle until all enemy forces were also committed. Strong as they were, cut off and alone against the entire Whitebeard crew... Each Admiral knew they were not that strong.
As soon as a Marine ship was destroyed, another surged forward to take its place. All the Marines had noticed this, and it gave them hope. Many of them, even though their ships were destroyed, continued to fight on the ice. All the marines had noticed though, much to their delight, that the pirate ships were not being replaced; though some of the more astute had also noticed that it took much more effort to destroy one of the pirate ships than one of their own. The pirates were outnumbered, outgunned and against the Admirals outclassed but they usually did outfight the marines.
The saviours of the day were the Pacifistas. Most of the marines had seen them for the first time this morning and had not known what they were. Some of the marines had thought they were Kuma and had wondered exactly what the Bear Shichibukai was doing on their insignificant ship. That misconception was quickly quashed as a Pacifista came forth from every ship.
Despite the seemingly hopeless ratio of marine ships sunk to pirate ships, the marines knew it was simply a matter of time. Five of the pirate ships had disappeared beneath the waves, others were burning and several listed rather badly. They would probably never sail the New World again. Other ships looked intact and bore very little damage. The defenders fought on bravely, but time was against them and slowly the marines began rounding up the pirates, pushing them back to their ships with their superior numbers and relatively fresh men who were still arriving from Marineford.
The fighters of the Straw Hats were the hardest to contain. They seemed not to fight, but to jump and leap wherever they wanted. Their captain, Monkey D. Luffy, had cleared many ships with long sweeps of his rubber arms, while the swordsman and the cook seemed to be running a commentary between themselves as they fought. Each announced a number, only to be topped by the other. Between the three of them, they had taken out many of the downed marine ships and the watching Admirals knew the bounties were wrong. They would not be updated though. The Straw Hat's ship was also proving to be difficult to hit and, begrudgingly, the marines were impressed. The Thousand Sunny was one of the ships that still appeared whole; whose sail bore the unmarked jolly roger of her crew. It laughed at the marines but even it would not laugh forever.
Whitey Bay drew her ship in beside the Thousand Sunny before she shouted up at Ace. "This does not look good," she said, gesturing towards the gap between the pirate fleet and the marines. It was easy to see that the pirates were slowly being pushed back, step by step, though it was a costly business for the marines.
"Just a bit longer," Nami yelled back, though her voice showed her concern.
"Until what?" the new world pirate returned.
Ace chose that moment to laugh. "Until that!" he shouted happily pointing towards the prow of the Thousand Sunny.
Around the Straw Hat's ship the water was relatively clear. There were a few bodies floating there but they had managed to draw back from the ice and create a patch of ocean they could sail in. At the front of this patch, between them and the converging marine ships, there were bubbles. Just a few at first, hardly enough to catch anyone's attention, but the bubbles were getting larger. Having seen it earlier, Nami knew exactly what it was and already her mind was at work calculating distances. Whitebeard's crew was cutting it close but they would miss the Thousand Sunny.
The Moby Dick's mast appeared first, its sail fully unfurled. The jolly roger of the Whitebeard pirates displayed for all to see. The ship towered over the Thousand Sunny but Luffy and the other Straw Hat's didn't care. Ace looked towards his brother, who was making his way back to the ship and threw him a small salute as the jumped from the crow's nest to the Moby Dick as the coating on the ship faded. He had best report in to the Old Man.
There was a roar from the Whitebeard pirates and they began to spread out to drive back the marines. There was an answering shout from the other pirates and they seemed to take on new energy. The Whitebeard division commanders lead the way, though Marco stayed with Whitebeard himself. Ace landed near them. Marco looked towards him, one eyebrow raised.
"I'm back," Ace stated, his voice happy.
"So you are," Marco replied.
They would have spoken further, but Luffy and Zoro landed on the Moby Dick's prow at that point. Luffy, Zoro and Sanji had all been on their way back to the Thousand Sunny when the Moby Dick had arrived but Luffy had indicated that Sanji should continue to their ship while he and his First Mate spoke to Whitebeard.
"Permission to come aboard?" Zoro asked rather nonchalantly, given they were already aboard.
Whitebeard snorted at the presumption. "Granted," Marco said after a moment. It would be beneath the old man to reply to anything less than the captain.
Ace watched as Luffy and Whitebeard stared at each other. He wanted the two of them to get along but he couldn't force it. They were both temperamental in their own way.
"I knew a brat with a hat like that," Whitebeard rumbled finally.
"You know Shanks, Old Man? He gave me the hat."
Whitebeards face was unreadable. Despite sailing with him for years, Marco truly had no idea if his captain liked or loathed this upstart pirate before him and he had to give the kid credit.
Around them, the marines were being pushed back and the Admirals themselves were beginning to fight. "So you screwed up our plans to rescue Ace," Whitebeard accused.
"No," Luffy objected without the slightest trace of fear in his voice. "I said I would rescue Ace, and I rescued Ace."
Zoro snorted holding back his comments. He had much the same attitude as his Captain, but there were times when he was just that little bit more abrasive. Then again, he'd have probably replied that the Whitebeards Pirates had screwed up the Straw Hat's plans, so perhaps Luffy did have a miniscule amount of tact. Ace just watched, occasionally firing pot shots into the distance.
"Brat," Whitebeard growled, unable to find fault in Luffy's logic. "And now the world is against you."
Luffy frowned. Ace had said that Whitebeard was a great pirate but he wasn't making much sense. "So?" His voice was genuinely confused.
It began as a slow rumble but became louder until it was an avalanche. Around the Moby Dick pirates and marines alike turned to look at the sound of Whitebeard's laughter.
"Marco," Whitebeard called, looking towards the marine ships. "Make sure nothing happens to the brat," he ordered before swinging his bisento in a wide arc. The air seemed to crack around the blade as Whitebeard's devil fruit power activated. A few moments later several of the marine ships exploded.
Zoro whistled in admiration. Marco, though, was paying attention to the flash of light that had come from one of the marine ships to their left and with a burst of blue flame he launched himself into the air, taking the form of the phoenix to almost instantly clash with Admiral Kizaru. There was a shower of sparks as the two of them collided.
Ace chuckled but his attention was quickly diverted by a brown flash of light and he too leapt into action to face Akainu. Whitebeard swung his spear again targeting more marine ships and the ice that Aokiji had created. It might have been a mistake, since it kept the marine ships at a distance from the pirates, but with the extra numbers it was probably a valid tactic to keep the marines from damaging themselves with friendly fire. Tactics... Whitebeard snorted. They were useful only when they went your way. He took up his place on the prow of the Moby Dick again and watched.
Ace was doing well against the magma Admiral, though he had almost burst out laughing at the self-righteous nonsense the marine had spouted off earlier in their battle. Did the Admiral truly believe that he would care about a declaration that magma was supposedly hotter than fire? The two of them had already melted a rather impressive portion of the ice and seemed intent on melting it all. Pirates and marines both cleared out of their way. There was steam around them and both were as sure footed as cats. Marco and Kizaru were engaged in a more aerial battle with Marco slipping in and out of phoenix form easily. The light Admiral was also changing form and they danced back and forth, ignoring all others around them.
It came as no surprise to Whitebeard when Aokiji entered the battle. All it meant to him was that Sengoku had arrived and he didn't even turn when the ice user appeared in front of him, only to be intercepted by a rubbery fist. Luffy and Aokiji disappeared quickly as they began trading blows, and Zoro gave Whitebeard a salute before he too jumped off the ship back into the fray.
Sengoku looked out at the battle. Aokiji's now broken ice had ensured that the pirates couldn't slip between Marine ships but already the Fleet Admiral could see how this battle would end. Despite the numbers the difference between land and sea was just too vast. It was close, but the battle would end as a stalemate.
In the distance, he could see Whitebeard standing on the prow of the Moby Dick swatting at Marines as if they were flies. Sengoku wondered if Whitebeard saw the situation as well. The Fleet Admiral suspected that the Yonkou had, but he equally suspected that the Pirate Captain did not care. The question now was how to save as many of his forces as possible without letting the pirates run wild. Privately, he admitted that they had been outmanoeuvred. He had never considered the possibility that someone else would rescue Ace, or that they would do so during transportation. He would be sending word to the world government the bounty on the straw hat pirates needed to be increased significantly.
Garp had left him earlier and was no doubt wreaking havoc somewhere in the middle of battle. It may have been a vain hope, but Sengoku would reward anyone who took out one of the major players. The battle may be a stalemate, but he did not wish it to be a complete waste of resources. He gave a few orders to reorganise the fleet so as to optimise the effects of the Pacifistas. They now formed a dual role, to attack the pirates and to defend the Marines and their ships from the effects of the three major battles being waged.
Akainu was fighting evenly with Fire Fist Ace, and the last remains of the ice was grinding up on the hulls of the marine ships. This had greatly reduced the combatants footing, but they were compensating by using the detritus of the battle in an intricate dance. Straw Hat Luffy was still engaged in a running battle against Aokiji, and the two were leaping between the pirate and marine fleets as one then the other gained the upper hand. Marco and Kizaru had not yet landed but streaks of light formed a dazzling crosshatch above the fleets. Unless something happened, it appeared that all three battles would continue for quite some time.
Sengoku finally spotted Garp. The vice Admiral was locked in combat against diamond Jozu. Blamenco, Curiel, Rakuyo and Fossa were also attacking. Garp was fending them off and Sengoku was sure that they were remembering that Garp was one who could fight the Pirate King Gol D. Roger equally. The Fleet Admiral cast his eyes around, looking for the other Straw Hat Pirates and Whitebeard Division Commanders. Most were easily spotted locked in combat against other Marine Vice Admirals or Officers, but Sengoku made a mental note to himself to discover why Mihawk was standing on the prow of one ship, apparently staring at Roronoa Zoro.
There was a crack overhead and the Fleet Admiral looked up to see Kizaru and Marco separate in their battle. Even Marco seemed surprised that Kizaru was holding his arm as if in pain. Almost instinctively Sengoku glanced towards Whitebeard to see the pirate captain's bisento return to his side. It may have been a trick of the light but Sengoku could almost feel Whitebeard's smirk and could hear in his ear the almost innocent whisper asking if he had been expecting the Yonkou not to fight.
Sengoku rubbed the bridge of his nose as an explosion came from the left and one of the marine ships was instantly engulfed in twin fires. Off to his right, there was the sound of fighting, and Sengoku could see that Monkey D. Luffy was not that impaired by the freezing of one arm. He seemed to be compensating rather well for a rookie, and was using his arm as a club to smack around the marines who thought they could be helpful to Aokiji. Disengaging from battle was going to be a challenge.
Whitebeard himself did not care about the battle. He did not hate the Marines for attempting to execute his baka Son. They had a job to do after all, and he had learned a long time ago that hate got you nothing. However, he was slightly concerned about how this battle would turn out in the long run. His forces were having a grand time now that the immediate danger of Ace's execution was passed, but if nothing happened, the battle would take a toll on them and his allies. The thought to order a retreat was not even one he entertained. Still, something needed to be done. Everyone was getting tired and that would lead to stupid mistakes that would kill people.
That was partially why he had taken the shot at Kizaru. Marco was not in any danger, but the Admiral had forgotten about him and they needed to be reminded that the Captain was standing before them.
They had to find some way of ending this battle.
The one thing Whitebeard knew was that Sengoku probably felt the same way. The Fleet Admiral was a sensible man, for a marine. Military victory was not Whitebeard's concern. He wanted his family back together and he had the chance to do that now. For the pirates, the battle had been won before they even arrived due to the actions of the Straw Hats, but it might be lost if it continued.
Aokiji and Luffy landed on a Marine ship, panting. The Admiral had to admit that the rookie had improved almost exponentially since the last time they had fought. He wasn't quite on Admiral level yet, but he was fast approaching it. One on one, Aokiji would have finished this already but Straw Hat had been able to use the other marines and pirates to keep the battle somewhat even.
They both leapt as the ship disintegrated beneath them. By chance Aokiji jumped towards the marines and Luffy towards the pirates and they both looked for the ship that had fired on them. They were in the middle of a war and there had been friendly fire from both sides at them during their fight, but this had felt targeted. Not intended to kill but to give them a warning. Looking around Aokiji could see that a similar warning had been given to Akainu, Kizaru, Garp and various others in their battles and he let his eyes follow the path back to the ship that had fired upon them.
The Red Force.
The Ice Admiral resisted the urge to chuckle. Today's battle was over.
There were a few more shots fired from Marine and Pirate ships but as The Red Force sailed majestically between the lines the cannons fell silent and the fights stopped as everyone turned to stare at the imposing ship.
"This war is OVER!" The shout came from the prow of The Red Force, reinforced with the power of haki. "Anyone who still wants to fight can fight US!"
From the corner of his eye Aokiji watched as Straw Hat Luffy met up with Roronoa Zoro and the two of them began jumping back towards the centre of the pirate fleet. Even without Red-Haired Shanks' interference, it appeared this battle was a draw, though most would consider it a loss for the Marines since they had not been able to execute Ace.
Aokiji didn't, though, since Ace had never been in Marineford. That particular act of piracy still had to be investigated but Aokiji thought he knew how it had been done. Nico Robin had enough knowledge of marine techniques to have worked out how transportation from Impel Down would be achieved. The Straw Hat's navigator was also a thief who would have been able to get them on and off the Marine Transport ship. Their doctor could have easily mixed together a drug which would have knocked out the guards, one of them was obviously artist enough to duplicate Portgas D. Ace's tattoos to make the double, and the rest of them had enough hitting power to ensure everything else went fine. The trickiest part would have been the timing and knowing which ship Ace was on.
No order was given by either side, but both Marines and Pirates began pulling back. Those pirates whose ships had been lost were welcomed on to the ships of others. Even the bodies were collected.
Ace grinned over at Akainu before he jumped backwards, his eyes never leaving the Admiral. He was aware of how dangerous the man could be. It appeared his caution was warranted and Ace watched as Shanks intercepted Akainu almost lazily. It was easy to underestimate Shanks with his laid back attitude and missing arm, but when he decided on something, he got his own way, much like the other Yonkou.
Luffy and Zoro landed on the Thousand Sunny. "Set sail," Luffy ordered after he made sure everyone was on board.
The others looked at him confused. Surely they weren't going to leave so soon after freeing Ace? Especially now that the battle was over, they had the time to talk and celebrate with the other pirates.
"Luffy, are you sure?" Robin asked unobtrusively.
"Yes, set sail," Luffy said shortly. He looked up at the Moby Dick and gave a small wave. His brother was on the rail looking down, as were most of the Whitebeard pirates. His wave was returned en-mass and the rest of the Straw Hat's smiled and waved. Even if the world never worked it out, every pirate here knew who had been responsible for Ace's rescue and that was enough.
"Are you sure you don't want to see Shanks?" Zoro asked his Captain softly.
"I'm sure," Luffy replied. "I haven't fulfilled our promise yet," he added in a ton of voice almost unrecognizable, as it was his most serious and thoughtful tone. It was the voice he only used when everything was on the line.
"Luffy!" Ace shouted as he watched Sanji, Chopper and Usopp drop the sails on the Thousand Sunny. Franky took the helm and set the little ship to Nami's course while Brook once again took up his violin to play a tune. "I'll see you in the New World."
Luffy grinned feeling the glow of achievement wash through him. "I'll see you there," he yelled back, feeling the smiles and good will from Whitebeard's crew. "But remember one thing, brother; I will be the Pirate King!"
I honestly wasn't sure where to go with this once I had the Straw Hat's free Ace but then I realised I couldn't avoid putting in the battle. So we have a happier battle than the canon but I'm not sure that leads to an overall happier universe in the long run. Whitebeard's death was a pivotal moment for One Piece while Ace's is one for Luffy. Now though the Straw Hat's will sail to the Sabaody Archipelago and there they will encounter PX-0 who separates them for their two years of training.
Anyway from now on, what happens here is up to you, though I'd love it if you reviewed :)