You have voted, and your winner(s) have been chosen! I view any choice in the top three places as fair game (though I will put more effort in completing the top voted choice as soon as possible, don't worry). For now, here is your first runner-up!
To those of you new readers, the poll is still up, so do drop by and vote! Back up the winner, or turn the tide, it's completely up to you! ;)
Now, on to the story! Enjoy!
Can you believe this? A child is about to be born… my child. Unfortunately, I'll have left this world by the time that happens. The government is sure to figure out where I've been this past year. Any woman associated with me... they'll find her, and then they'll kill her. But a newborn child bears no sin.
Protect him for me.
A cloaked figure, his face shadowed by the hood, strode purposefully down the street, unnoticed by the other residents of the area.
The man finally stepped into the building, a cloth-wrapped bundle tucked safely into the crook of one arm.
The dark-haired woman looked up from where she was wiping the bar-top. Her eyes were sad as she took in his solitary return. "Rouge… She did not survive?"
Silvers Rayleigh sighed and shook his head, shifting aside some of the cloth to look at the sleeping infant inside. The baby squirmed a little but did not awaken.
Quietly, Shakky came up to him to peer into the bundle as well. She smiled at the child, though still sorrowful about his mother's death. "What did she name him?" she whispered.
"Gol D. Ace."
"It's a good name."
Rayleigh smiled. "It is."
And the child slept on peacefully, knowing that he was safe in the arms of the man who would give him the love that his father could not.
Marco the Phoenix, First Division Commander and unofficial first mate of the Whitebeard Pirates, does not panic. In battle, he is focused; when dealing with the regular mishaps on the Moby Dick, he is stern; when it comes to Whitebeard's deteriorating health, he worries a bit. Clearly, in no circumstance did his emotions reach anything near panicking.
He was Marco the freaking Phoenix, even the Marines were extremely wary of him. He had endless regenerative abilities, couldn't be hurt by anything but seastone, and was generally not known to panic.
But when the tiny little thing in his arms scrunched up his tiny freckled nose and opened his tiny mouth to utter a wail louder than anything that size should be allowed to make…
"OYAJI! What do I do, yoi!?"
"Hmm? Did you say something, Ace?" Shanks lazily opened one eye to look at the infant who was happily crawling around the deck.
"Bem," the baby repeated more clearly, shifting so that he was sitting and holding his chubby arms out to Benn Beckman, wordlessly demanding to be carried.
Shanks gasped in indignation when he realized what Ace had said, or at least was trying to say. "No fair! Why is he saying your name first!?"
Benn smirked as he picked up the giggling infant.
"Shakky? Did you hear something?"
She had heard the crash and muffled yell, but continued to calmly wipe the glasses behind the bar. "Hmm? Was there a sound? I wasn't paying attention." She spotted the curious child slipping off his chair to peek outside and hurried to stop him. "Don't go outside, Ace. Rayleigh will be back soon and he'll want to see you."
The boy looked torn between wanting to find out what had caused the noise and obeying Shakky.
At that moment, the door opened and a blond man stepped in. Shakky breathed a sigh of relief at his appearance. Not noticing her reaction, the boy immediately ran up to him.
"Uncle Rayleigh! Are there people outside? Customers? I heard some noise."
Rayleigh reached down a hand to ruffle the child's hair. Ace squirmed away and he laughed. "Just a wild bear, I chased it away. Come on, tell me what you've been up to for the last few days."
Rayleigh sat down at the bar and Ace clambered onto a stool next to him. He began to eagerly tell his adopted father about his adventures and the food Shakky had made for him. Looking at the boy's messy black hair, Rayleigh felt a wave of tenderness.
He wouldn't allow any Marines to report any information to the main base. The Marines could never know. Never.
He would willingly stain his hands to protect this child's innocence.
"Ace, it's time for your check-up."
The boy pouted. "Can I not?"
Crocus frowned sternly at his charge. "Ace." His tone left no room for argument.
"Fine, fine," the boy obediently plopped down on his usual chair. The doctor began to take his pulse.
Halfway through the medical check-up, the boy fell asleep. Crocus looked at him in fond exasperation as he propped the boy up against the back of the chair and continued the routine.
Finally finishing, the doctor sat back, satisfied. Aside from the narcolepsy, the child was perfectly healthy.
But he would continue to monitor Ace's health. Because first-degree relatives always had that marginally higher chance of contracting the same disease.
He refused to let the boy who he had long since viewed as a son suffer the way his father had.
He refused to let him die.
"…And then he approached me and said, 'Hey, kid, do you love the sea?' Isn't that just the coolest?" Shanks grinned at the boy who was gazing at him with rapt attention. The child's eyes were shining as he nodded in agreement. "So, just with that, he took me in as a member of his crew."
"And Shanks here as learnt well from his captain in terms of recruiting crew members," Benn commented drily as he walked past. "Practically the first word he said to me was-"
"'Benn, be my nakama.'" Shanks quoted with a laugh. "Well, it got me a fine first mate and a good crew, didn't it? So I would say that it's a reliable strategy," he teased.
Benn rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "Only you, Shanks. Only you," he walked off to resume his duties.
Shanks turned back to the boy in his lap. "Speaking of first mates, I want to bring you to see Master Rayleigh one of these days. Would you like that?"
Ace had heard much about Rayleigh through Shanks' tales and was naturally eager to meet the man in person. He nodded vigorously. "Yeah!"
"Dahahaha! We'll set out for Sabaody tomorrow, then! Now, where was I?"
"Dad invited you to join his crew," Ace supplied helpfully.
"Ah! So the captain brought me back to the ship, and pretty much dumped me on Master Rayleigh. And Master Rayleigh…"
"Come here, Ace."
The crew watched in amusement as the boy clambered with effort onto their captain's enormous knee. His mission finally accomplished, Ace gave Whitebeard a toothy grin from his perch on the great man's thigh. Whitebeard smiled back and gently ran a finger over the boy's hair. He was growing to be a strong, intelligent boy, and had the entire crew wrapped around his little finger.
"Have you been a good boy?"
Ace nodded. He didn't mention how he had snuck some food out of the kitchen (he was really hungry!), drew a picture of a blue chicken and told Marco that it was of him (it really did look like Marco, in his defense, Thatch had even agreed between bouts of crazy laughter) and put an egg in Marco's bed (Thatch was the one who had suggested it to him, so he was innocent!).
Oyaji didn't need to know that.
Whitebeard smirked inwardly. He knew all about the pranks that Ace regularly got up to, and had requested a report from Marco just before, which the younger had given to him with uncharacteristic agitation. But for now, he would let the boy be. No great harm was caused, except to the First Division Commander's nerves.
"Ne, Oyaji…" the young voice jolted him out of his thoughts.
"Hmm? What is it, Ace?"
"Oyaji, can you tell me the story about your first fight with the Pirate King?"
"Gurarara! Don't you get tired of hearing that story, child?"
Ace shook his head.
Whitebeard smiled. "Alright then. Settle down, boy." The boy grinned in triumph and leant back against the captain's strong arm. "It was just another day out at sea…"
Ace lazily lay flat on the whale's enormous back, soaking up the sun rays.
"I'm hungry." Ace commented to no one in particular.
"Buoohhh," Laboon agreed. The whale's back rumbled with the sound and Ace giggled at the sensation.
"I wonder where Crocus-san went," the boy continued after a short while.
"Buuuooohhh," was the reply. The whale didn't know either.
"Buoh," The whale sighed. There was no doubt. The boy had fallen asleep again.
"Ace! Laboon! Lunch time!" Crocus called from the shore. Food had been arranged on a table at the water's edge. Laboon swam over, careful not to dislodge the boy with his movement.
"Fell asleep again?" Crocus asked with a sigh. But there was a fond smile on his face.
"So… let me get this straight. If I want to learn swordplay, Shanks will teach me. If it's gunmanship, Benn will teach me."
"Yeah, that's pretty much it."
A short silence as the boy pondered over the options given. "What weapon did Dad use?"
Shanks smiled. "Both. What, do you want to do the same?"
The boy grinned. "Yeah. Can I?"
"Dahahaha! Why not?"
Rayleigh used the flat of his sword to shift Ace's posture into a better position. He noted with approval how Ace concentrated on the changes, filing them away for later use. He nodded at his pupil, and the boy immediately lunged forward again, his stance now more stable and smooth. But his defense was still full of holes. With a swift motion, Rayleigh slapped the flat of his blade into the boy's side, knocking him over.
Ace went sprawling onto the ground, but soon leapt up.
The look in the boy's eyes was a good one that spoke of fierce determination and unwavering perseverance. Rayleigh smirked, cocked an eyebrow and motioned for Ace to attack again.
Soon, they would begin the lessons on Haki.
"Now, Ace, you know that I see you as my son, right?"
"Of course, Oyaji…" Ace wasn't sure where this conversation was going.
Whitebeard cleared his throat. "Well, it's still a little early yet, but I thought that I might as well give you a bit of information about how to go about getting me grandchildren-"
Ace ran away.
Crocus stared at Ace thoughtfully. Ace returned his gaze, perplexed at the regard.
"I suppose that it's time for me to tell you about the birds and the bees..."
Ace turned beet red. "Crocus-san!"
"Here you go!" the baker's daughter handed him the loaves of bread that he had ordered with a bright smile.
He smiled back charmingly, "Thank you."
To his surprise, the girl's cheeks turned slightly pink. "T-Thank you, and come b-back again!" she stammered.
"Benn, what shall we do? Our Ace is all grown up!" an all-too-familiar voice wailed dramatically. Ace turned with a irritated glare, and sure enough, the red-haired captain stood outside the bakery, attracting no little attention.
The first mate rolled his eyes and said something that Ace couldn't hear, to which the reply was "That's mean, Benn!"
Ace exited the bakery with a small wave and smile that made the girl blush even more and tentatively wave back.
Once he was out of the shop, Shanks cheerfully slung an arm over his shoulders. Ace noted with satisfaction that he was finally catching up in height with the captain after his latest growth spurt.
"What a lady-killer our Ace is growing up to be, huh, Benn?" Shanks said with a wink at Benn over Ace's head.
Ace gave a derisive snort at that, attempting to squirm out of the older man's grasp, but to no avail. Shanks continued his teasing gleefully, having the boy trapped securely at his side.
"Now as a good, responsible adult-to-be you must take responsibility and practice safe- GAH!"
Ace had executed a crafty manoeuvre that enabled him to jab his elbow painfully into Shanks midriff, forcing the captain to let him go. As Shanks stood there nursing his sore side, Ace stuck his tongue out at him before taking off into the crowd, soon out of side.
Watching the teen dash off, Shanks smiled. "The utter childishness of that last action aside, he really is growing up fast, isn't he?"
Benn chuckled. "That he is."
Shanks finally straightened and turned to return to the ship, his smile now holding a rather wistful air. "I'm beginning to understand why Master Rayleigh still calls me a boy, even after so many years. Put into his position, I would do the same."
"Now listen here, Ace. Falling ill out at sea, without a doctor at hand and the next island a week away, is no laughing matter…"
Crocus smiled inwardly at the expression of rapt attention the boy – no, the youth – had on his face. He knew that Ace was itching to set sail, having an insatiable thirst for adventure, just like his father. But he had told his adopted son that he was by no means leaving before he had mastered what Crocus was going to teach him.
Ace hadn't shown much interest in the finer aspects of medicine while growing up, but Crocus was determined to drill at least some basic medicinal knowledge into the boy before he left. Roger never had the patience for this, but there was enough of his mother in the child to make him a tolerably diligent student. And Crocus had another reason for this desire to teach, a more selfish one. He didn't want him to leave.
Yet that was an impossible wish. So he would keep him by his side, safe and sound, for just one more year. After that… well, he was Roger's son, after all.
But he was Crocus' son as well, so he hoped that once in a while, Ace would come back to visit him.
"I'm off, then, Oyaji, everyone!" The freckled teen waved cheerfully as he set off in the small boat on his own. The sails caught wind and soon the boat and its sole occupant was nothing more than a speck on the horizon.
"You're really going to just let him leave like that, yoi?"
"Gurarara, these youngsters need to experience some adventure on their own to be happy. But I know that he'll be back one day, and bring more children with him! And then our family will expand even more! Gurarara!"
Rayleigh watched at Ace's boat left the shores of Sabaody Archipelago. It was dangerous to sail the Grand Line alone, even in Paradise, but Rayleigh had faith that the boy would be able to fend for himself. Rayleigh had taught him all he knew personally, after all.
The next time Ace arrived at Sabaody, he would have found a good crew and doubtlessly made a name for himself.
Rayleigh stood on the shore watching the boat move further and further away, and was forcibly reminded of a memory of watching a ship sail away into the horizon, never to return. But this time, he was secure in the knowledge that Ace will definitely come back to this island, that this was his first voyage, not his last.
Because for all that Ace was Roger's son, Ace was not Roger. And so he would return.
"…Dang, I miss that kid," Shanks grumbled. A day had barely passed since Ace had left, and the Red Force was just…so quiet.
Yasopp gave no reply, moping just like his captain. The rest of the crew was equally depressed, dragging their feet across the deck as they went about their regular tasks much more sluggishly than usual.
Benn shot them all exasperated looks.
Shanks looked back at him balefully. "What I want to know is how you can be so calm about this."
Benn rolled his eyes. "We all knew this day was coming, didn't we? There was no way we could keep that kid here forever. He has always craved adventure and the chance to stretch his wings. And now he can."
Shanks sighed, plopping down flat on the deck, but had to acknowledge the truth in the first mate's words. He looked up at the clear skies, imagining his captain smiling down at him from the heavens.
"Did I do well, Captain?" he whispered to the sky. "I think that you would be proud of him." He smiled. "I know I am."
At Marine Headquarters, a grey-haired Marine stared at the bounty poster that his superior had passed to him with an unreadable expression on his face.
"What do you think, Garp?" Sengoku asked in a low, serious voice.
"With a starting bounty that high, we would usually invite him to join the Shichibukai to keep an eye on him and his crew."
"But this is no normal case." Both senior Marines knew that, and regarded each other gravely.
"How long has it been? 20 years?" Garp sighed. "Should a child take the blame for his father's sins?"
Sengoku's gaze was sharp and unwavering. "He took his father's name, Garp. This is no clueless child, but a young man that has made his choice. By doing so, he declared the Marines as his enemy, more so than any other pirate. You know what must be done."
Garp still wasn't completely happy about it, but he understood the importance of that decision. The discussion was thus concluded, and he left the Fleet Admiral's office.
"Gol D. Ace, is it?" Garp looked out the window at the sea, the bounty poster held crumpled in his hands. "Are you proud of the man your father was, I wonder?"
"Land ho!" The crew member in the crow's-nest yelled out.
Ace grinned. "Finally, we've reached Sabaody!"
"How do we get to the New World from here? The Red Line is in the way, isn't it?" Someone piped up.
The navigator answered that question. "We'll be going through Fishman Island, which is under the sea. The ship will have to be coated before we can make that journey though. It's really important to find a reliable coating mechanic. A shoddy job may backfire halfway and leave us without air thousands of feet under."
"Don't worry. I know a good coating mechanic. He'll settle everything for us. Just don't be too surprised about who it is."
The navigator snorted. "You're the son of the Pirate King. We wouldn't even bat an eyelid if your coating mechanic turns out to be Dark King Rayleigh himself."
Ace's mouth curved into a mischievous smirk and he met his friend's eyes, willing him to get the joke. The navigator didn't disappoint, his jaw dropping almost to the ground. So much for not batting an eyelid.
"Wait, you're kidding, right!? Ace!"
Ace ignored the spluttering man with a laugh, turning to look at the Spade Pirates, who were all watching him eagerly. "To the New World, men! Full speed ahead!"
They cheered. "Aye, Captain!"
The sands of time may shift and bend… but some bonds will never break.
Three figures, two dark-haired and one blond, dashed through the auction house and skid to a stop just short of the entrance.
"Why did you punch that Tenryuubito? Aren't you afraid of the fact that an Admiral will come to chase you down?" This question was curiously voiced out by the blond towards the youngest of the trio.
"He hurt my friend."
"And that's more important than anything else?"
The blond, his face cast into shade by his blue top hat, grinned. "You're a good man, Monkey D. Luffy."
"You know who I am?" Luffy was surprised.
"Sure I do. You're one of the Supernovas, after all. Straw Hat Monkey D. Luffy, captain of the Straw Hat Pirates, wanted for 300 million beri, the most recent increase in value is reportedly for invading and destroying Enies Lobby." He turned to nod at the third person in their little group. "And you're Fire Fist Gol D. Ace, Captain of the Spade Pirates, son of Pirate King Gol D. Roger, bounty 550 million-"
"Eh? 550 million!? No fair! Why is your bounty so much higher?" Luffy exclaimed, carelessly interrupting. Rather than taking offense, the speaker just laughed softly.
Ace stuck his tongue out childishly. "Because I'm stronger than you, of course." He glanced at the blond. "How about you? You seem to know an awful lot about the two of us but the reverse can't be said, stranger."
The blond youth grinned, his face cast in shadow by his blue top hat. "The name's Sabo. Bounty value is zero, I'm afraid."
"Why don't you have a bounty?" Luffy asked, confused. "You're strong, aren't you?"
Sabo grinned and raised a finger to his lips. "That's a secret."
"Hnn…" Luffy tilted his head to one side, not comprehending why another would not want to have a bounty. After a short while, he gave up that thought, opting to focus on a more important matter. "Hey, Ace, I don't care how high your bounty is, I'm going to be the Pirate King!"
Ace's eyes widened, surprised at the bold declaration. "In your dreams, brat! That's going to be me!"
Luffy was suddenly distracted by another thought. "Say, are you really the son of the old Pirate King?"
"…I don't care, I'm still going to be the one to become the Pirate King!"
A tick formed on Ace's forehead. "We'll see about that! This makes us rivals, Straw Hat Luffy!"
"Shishishishi! That's a deal!"
Smiling a little at the spirited exchange, Sabo took a peek out of the building. The Marines were getting restless, wondering why no one had come out yet. Soon, they would be rushing in. Time to go, then. "Well, it was nice to finally meet you, Luffy. I've heard some interesting stories about you."
Luffy tilted his head to one side in confusion. "Eh? From who?"
Sabo pulled his hat further to cover his eyes, leaving only a white grin visible. "Your father." And then he was off, knocking down a small group of Marines with nothing more than a simple bo staff. He turned, whipped the weapon around and downed another group who was charging him from behind.
Ace whistled, rather impressed at the display, and joined the fray, pulling out his sword. He slashed his sword to one side to ward off some officers and fired off a barrage of flaming punches at the group of Marines rushing at him from the front. "Heheh." He smirked, confident in his ability to get out of this situation – as long as he was gone by the time the Admiral arrived, that is.
Luffy was left alone, still perplexed. "My father? You mean-" He then noticed that the other two were already in the thick of battle and promptly forgot the other youth's words. "Hey! Don't just start without me! Gomu Gomu no Gatling!" he yelled out as he charged forward, scattering Marines right and left.
The three individuals, two followed by their respective pirate crews, left in different directions. But the same thought rose in the minds of all three.
"Let's meet again, someday!" Three identical smirks bloomed on their faces. "At the top!"
Shameless advertising: Interested in the story of Shanks' past as told in his story to Ace, about how he first met Roger and Rayleigh, and Benn? Check out my fic "Red Hair and a Straw Hat", a collection of one-shots with Shanks as the main character! Specific chapters in question are Chapters 2-5 (Roger Pirates) and Chapters 14-15 (Benn). Do remember to leave reviews while you're at it, I really appreciate it. :)
Of course, hope you enjoyed this story, and please review! I would love to know what you think of it.
This story will remain a one-shot for now, but I may expand one of the four scenarios subject to popular demand and inspiration.