Unlike his colleagues, Admiral Akainu was not one to complain about his assignment, even if it was one as trivial as investigating an island that, by all appearances, was a perfect picture of the peace that the Marines strived for. Dawn Island had shown no sign of unrest despite the Navy's weak presence there, a fact that Akainu grudgingly credits to Garp's odd attachment to the island.
Garp, however, was another mystery altogether.
His visits to the East were common knowledge. The Navy didn't deny their hero the occasional leave of duty, though only the top brass knew his exact whereabouts. His destination, Dawn Island, was so unremarkable that it didn't even register as a blip on the Navy's radar.
At least, that was how it was before Fire Fist Ace blazed through the Grand Line. It was a coincidental fact, a tidbit at a rowdy bar that was not intended to be overheard, but it was. Dawn Island was brought up once more, this time as the home of the most frightening rookie they had seen in years.
But it didn't end there. After the intelligence division reanalyzed their information on the tiny island and two more surprising names showed up.
The first was Red-Haired Shanks, one of the four emperors that sat at the top of the New World. He had been sighted around the island, though his activities there remained unknown since any ship that usually wandered too close to the Yonkou's crew didn't tend to come back.
If that coincidence alone wasn't enough to warrant an investigation, the other name on their list all but guaranteed it. The head of the Revolutionary Army, Dragon, had also been sighted around Dawn Island.
What any of these infamous outlaws had to do with Dawn Island or Garp was impossible to comprehend. Sengoku had advised not to even try guessing. When Garp was involved, logic was the first thing to be thrown out the window. The only thing that could be done is to get to the root of the issue with more direct methods.
It was a much more complicated task than it should have been.
Garp had blocked their every attempt to investigate. From stray cannonballs to almost outright abduction (Garp claimed he was "borrowing" the fleet for a good cause), not a single Marine fleet had managed to touch Dawn Island.
It was clear that only someone who could outrank Garp would manage to get by his medaling. Aokiji refused the idea out of loyalty to Garp before Sengoku could even propose it, claiming to be busy with other matters. Matters that probably involved sleeping.
Kizaru, likewise, was uninterested.
Their lazy mannerism towards their duties almost disgusted Akainu, but he would pick up their slack, again and again, as often as needed.
Dawn Island was only four days away through the calm belt. He would find the truth himself, because nothing should escape, and nothing would escape, his justice – the Absolute Justice of the World Government.
The animals of the forest were oddly quiet today. Luffy could feel it too – something akin to an animalistic instinct that told him a bigger predator was nearby. It almost made him want to hide as well.
The forest was his stomping ground, now that Ace had left for greener pastures. And what kind of Pirate King would he be if he backed down from a challenge in his own territory?
Luffy patted his hat, making sure it was secure around his neck.
"Shishishishi, yosh! Time to find breakfast!"
The few animals that remained in the forest didn't stay there for long.
He wasn't her regular sort of customer – the marine uniform that sat on his shoulder and his tall stature made him stick out like a sore thumb in the empty bar. It wasn't her position to question what a Marine official was doing in Fushia, but she was as weak to curiosity as anyone else. Perhaps he was one of Garp's friends.
His face was too stern, not cracking a single smile as he nursed his ale in small sips. He completely lacked the friendly openness that Garp always showed.
"Red-Haired Shanks, do you know him?" he spoke suddenly, finally looking up from his drink to gauge her reaction. The look in his eye brought a shiver down her spine – it was the look of a dog on a hunt, alert and ready to pounce at the slightest whiff of a trial.
"SHANKS?!" The door bursted open with a powerful kick. "Is Shanks here?!"
Dread pooled in Makino's stomach. There was only one person on the island with that voice and audacity. The one person she wanted as far away from this marine as possible.
There stood Luffy, the tail of a crocodile slung over his shoulder, grinning widely with no regard as to the danger his words would bring. He glanced back and forth around the small room trying to find Shanks.
"Aw, he's not here," Luffy pouted, visibly wilting.
The boy sprung right up at the familiar sound of Makino's voice. Like a cat presenting a dead mouse to its owner, he threw his catch in front of Makino and stepped on it proudly. "Oh! Makino! Look! I caught a crocodile, want some?"
Before she could even reply, the marine spoke. "Boy," he said, standing up from his seat to his full impressive height that towered over everyone in the room. "What is your relationship with Red-Haired Shanks?"
For the first time, Luffy noticed the marine in the room. He was big, even bigger than Garp in not just height, but presence. But even this didn't stop Luffy from blurting out, "Shanks? He's the one I'm going to surpass! Because I'm gonna be pirate king!"
On hindsight, it seemed to register on Luffy's mind that this was probably not something he should shout to a marine if his past experiences with Garp was anything to go by. He slapped a hand over his mouth, squeaking out a small "oops."
The room was thick with tension that didn't dissipate even with Makino's diplomatic chuckle. "Luffy always goes on about that, even though he's still just a kid."
And he really was, still full of childlike innocence and excitement, still not completely aware of all the dangers in the world, even when one of them was standing right in front of him. The boy was strong, but not strong enough to take on the world yet. She didn't need to be a trained fighter to notice that the power difference between Luffy and this marine was too vast.
But Luffy would have none of it. "I'm not a kid! I'm going to be 17 in two years! Then I'll go to sea like Ace and become a pirate!"
Luffy slapped both hands over his mouth this time, dropping his crocodile as he muttered yet another oops. He's just about ready to flee, finally picking up on the increasingly dangerous aura radiating from the man, but the marine is already in front of the door.
"And what is your relationship with Fire Fist Ace, boy?"
Something in Luffy screamed at him not to answer the question, that claiming to be the brother of a pirate in front of a marine was a horrible idea. He couldn't deny it though. They had made an oath, one made on stolen booze and worn out cups, but an oath he had taken to heart nonetheless.
And Ace was the only sibling he had left.
"Ace is…" Luffy paused to take a breath, the image of his smiling brother rising to the forefront of his mind. His resolve didn't waver. "ACE IS MY BROTHER!"
The room went silent.
"Vice-admiral Garp! We've finished securing the rebel base."
Garp crushed the Den Den Mushi behind his back at the sound of scurrying feet entering the room. His subordinates were none the wiser about what had transpired.
The vice admiral was carefree, but he wasn't stupid. He was a veteran, with years of experience under his belt that few others in the navy could match. The government wouldn't send someone of his caliber to crush a small rebellion in one of the World Government's allied nations. That was a job more suited for one of the CP divisions, not a vice admiral.
And the Navy's increasing interest in Dawn Island did not escape his attention. There were perks to being in the Navy for as long as he has been – he had eyes everywhere.
Acting casually, Garp let out his usual laugh. "Good, good. Prepare to set sail then. We've been stuck here for too long."
But even with all his resources and connections, this was the most he could do. He could only hope that his message had made it in time.
'I've done what I can for Luffy. He's your problem now, you useless son.'
Fushia was burning.
Luffy almost could not comprehend what was going on. He was vaguely aware of Makino's presence beside him, her slender hands nudging him to run far, far away, but his body felt rooted to the ground as memories from a time he thought he had put behind him flashed across his vision.
It was Gray Terminal all over again.
The smell of burning smoke, clogging his nostrils with a burning dryness, the screams of confusion and panic, the immense feeling of helplessness – it all came rushing back.
"WHY?!" He screamed. Why would anyone want to repeat the tragedy of Gray Terminal? Why would anyone do this to Fushia, a village that had done nothing wrong?
Akainu remained unmoved by Luffy's distress. "Because as an admiral, I cannot allow such a future threat to the Government continue to grow. Like a plant, evil must be removed from its roots."
"But he's just a child!" Makino shouted once more
"Don't play dumb with me woman," he retorted, his arms blazing once again into pools of magma. Unconsciously, Luffy inched in front of Makino protectively. "The straw hat is proof enough. This boy has been acknowledged by the Yonkou Red-Haired Shanks, and he claims to be the brother of the super rookie Fire Fist Ace. Given time, there is no doubt he will become a threat."
"He's Garp's grandson as well! Would you really kill the family of one of the Navy's heroes?"
Akainu paused at that statement, caught off guard by the idea that this audacious kid who declared to the world that he would be pirate king was also the grandson of one of the most decorated Marines. But then again, it made perfect sense. The Vice Admiral would have a lot to answer when he returned to headquarters.
For a moment, it seemed the admiral would stop, but then he raised his fist once more. "Garp was always a sentimental fool."
Luffy was ready to punch the admiral right back, outclassed or not, but at the last second, Makino pushed him away. Time slowed as he watched with wide eyes the molten fist that missed him by inches and dig into Makino's chest instead.
"MAKINO!" He screamed, his vision going blurry from the tears and smoke.
Akainu withdrew his fist, letting Makino fall to the ground. "So you would go as far as to throw away your life for this boy?"
"…Luffy," she gasped out softly with her last breaths. She knew she was going to die. The burning pain in her chest that threatened to consume her consciousness was proof enough. She didn't have an amazing natural resilience like Luffy did, and even if she did, she doubts that it would be enough to help her survive this blow. Her body was weak, frail, but even so, it had managed to serve a purpose.
Luffy was like a son to her, and his future was a bright one. If it were within her power, she would protect it at any cost, even with her life as the ultimate price. Makino smiled defiantly at Akianu's question and turned to the boy that had been like a ray of sunshine in her dull quiet life. "Run away Luffy, you still have a dream to live for, don't you, pirate king?"
"Makino! Makino!" Luffy shook her gently, refusing to leave as large tears wetted his cheeks. "Hang on! You have to hang on! How am I supposed to pay you back for all the meals you gave me if you're not here anymore?! Makino! Makino?"
"I'm sorry, Luffy…" Her voice was growing weaker and weaker, and her eyelids drooped half closed.
"Please…" Luffy slammed a fist into the ground, gritting his teeth. The tears wouldn't stop flowing. He could feel Makino's presence slowly dwindling away right in front of him, like a flame sizzling into smoke and escaping more and more through his useless grip on Makino's arm. "Please don't leave me too!"
The image of the small boy trembling in grief, clutching at the obviously now dead bar owner, was pitiable, but Akainu's expression remained stern as ever. He had not meant to kill the woman, but she had chosen to die to protect a seed of evil. A brave, foolish, and ultimately futile decision.
"You'll join her soon enough," he said, drawing his fist. Luffy turned, glaring at him with barely suppressed anger and looking more than ready to attack the admiral straight on.
And he would have, if not for the giant hands that grabbed him from behind at the last minute, moving him out of the way of yet another fatal blow.
"I'm sorry, but this boy will not die here today."
A/N: This fic started out as an Ace-don't-die-on-me-damn-it fic and evolved into a giant-ass AU idea because I want Ace to live while the strawhats still get power-up/character development. Sadly to do this my brain decided I needed to veer off from canon from a much earlier timepoint than I anticipated, so don't expect this AU to strictly follow canon timeline. If it isn't obvious, this is set about a year after Ace sets sail.
Since everyone asks about pairings when I write a new fic...The main pairing for this fic is everyone x friendship x adventure, best pairing ever right? LOL
Reviews/feedback is appreciated!
Also I would really like to know which japanese-(attack) terms you guys are familiar with or if you prefer them over english? I really don't mean basic phrases like "ohayou" and whatever because I'd rather not language mix too much in my fic (though I will throw in a few honorifics like -san and -chan, hopefully everyone is familiar with that?).
I'm mostly concerned for attack names. Like do you prefer "Gomu Gomu no Pistol" over "Rubber Pistol" or even more importantly, should I use "Conquerer's Haki" over "Haoshoku Haki"? Or some translators even translate it to the "Color of the Supreme King" or "King's Disposition" (which are technically correct english translations too I guess). Which version are you more familiar with and which would you prefer me to use in the fic?