In a moment of weakness, he let his guard down. His Pops had fumbled. His Pops had been stabbed. His Pops was sick. And his Pops was almost his entire world.
Tossing and turning at night, Marco could still hear it. Hear his father coughing up blood and feel the panic all over again. That this was it, his worst fear was coming true before they could even meet their goal. And in that instant Marco always forgot everything. Forgot that he was facing three of the deadliest men in the world. Forgot about marine seastone and keeping his eyes ALWAYS on the enemy. In that instant he always reacted out of the concern, out of the worry, out of the fear. And in that instant he turned back to reassure himself that Pops was okay.
Seastone. Colder than ice. Colder than anything. Nothing ever hurt. "But you really do just bounce right back Phoenix Marco." Evil words from an evil man. The admiral Kizaru mocking Marco's moment of distraction. Normally, nothing did hurt. But then there was seastone because Marco got careless. Chaining him around the wrists. All the fear concentrated itself into aggravation. He was a bird. He was meant to fly, to be free, not chained like some common dog. He wanted to lash out, to frantically get back to his father who needed him, but there was still Kizaru there, piercing through Marco with those damn beams of light. And suddenly Marco's previously mocking tone, kidding about being mortally wounded dried on his tongue.
Jozu's arm was frozen and then shattered. That other admiral bastard shattered diamond. Fuck.
And above it all, there was Ace. Scared and worried for his friends and his brother. Chained in seastone just like Marco and helplessly watching. Marco had to save him. It was his job to protect them. He hadn't stopped Ace from leaving so now they had to rescue him. Had to. It was small consolation, but it was duty. It was life. It was everything.
And there was Pops dying from those marines. Stupid stupid marines. If Pops hadn't been sick, hadn't been getting old in ways Marco could barely understand, his old man would have mopped the floor with them in an instant.
The entire crew was worried. But Pops was proud, always proud. "These fools thinking that this might truly be enough to take my life? I need no help!" the giant man roared. It was for Marco's sake. For Marco and the other crew, so they wouldn't look back. Marco could do that. Trust his Pops? He could always do that.
Then Pops was there, avenging Marco against Kizaru and buying Marco time to get the cuffs free. And Ace's little bro, the one thing Marco promised everything he would protect, that idiot kid had more power than anyone. Even Shanks or Pops maybe. And he defeated Garp where Marco couldn't and rescued Ace. Nothing but pure relief flooded through Marco. They were free. They just had to get to the ships. He knew the next part would be the hardest in his life. He'd promised his old man that when they got Ace out, Marco would let Whitebeard stay there and get the rest of the crew to safety. Because that was his job. Whitebeard planned to go down with the island to buy his sons time to get free. That was just like Pops. That's how he was. Marco dreaded it, but knew he could do it. He had to. He had to keep as much of his family safe as he could.
At least he could get out of the handcuffs soon. Small consolation.
Everyone was shocked. The crew didn't want to leave Pops there, how could they? But it was a captain's order. They had to. Small consolation. But Luffy and Ace were free and Marco was going to protect them. He had to. It was his job, his everything. A lasting wish from his Pops.
Marco rallied his division and as much of the crew as he could, still couldn't find a key, but it was all right for now, as long as he could them the fuck out of there. In all the chaos he couldn't help keeping an eye on his Pops and Ace. So close. So close.
And out of nowhere was Red Dog Akainu. The bastard magma marine. Marco had already kicked him around a little, but they were too far away and he was still in handcuffs. Maybe he should have known. Maybe he should have seen it coming. Ace was like Pops. Neither could run away from any fight ever for any reason. All those times Ace tried to kill Pops, like a wild raging fire kitten. Reckless, it was cute both to Pops and Marco. Both Marco and Pops couldn't help but like guys like that. Ace and Luffy, both reckless fools. So maybe Marco should have known. Maybe he should have known that Ace wouldn't back down over insults. That was always his way. The bastard marine insulted Pops. None of them could have tolerated that, but it wasn't a good time. They needed to get away, Ace had to see that. He'd been in Impel Down, tortured, who knows what kind of condition he was in. They HAD to get him to a doctor.
And before Marco could move, Ace was gone. Protecting his little brother from the bastard marine, yelling at Akainu. "The name of this era is Whitebeard!"
How could they have let this happen?! THE WHOLE FUCKING GOAL WAS TO SAVE ACE! Marco wanted to scream. To cry. To MOVE. To kill Aikanu. To save Luffy. That was all they had left. He'd promised. Marco promised. He wouldn't let Luffy die. He still wouldn't. Especially not now.
Memories flooded the phoenix briefly. Like he was the one dying, but they were all memories of Ace. Of when Ace asked why Marco and the others called Whitebeard Pops. Explaining to him why he loved his Dad so much. The first time Ace came back with his Whitebeard tattoo and Marco had never been so proud of him. Then the soul-crushing despair. They'd all been betrayed. Ace loved Thatch as much as they all did. It was impossible not to love Thatch. But Marco was scared of losing another nakama. He couldn't go with Ace. He understood the rage, but someone had to stay with Pops. Someone had to keep the crew together. Pops was sick. Marco couldn't leave him, not even for vengeance and Pops didn't want them to go. Something was off about Teach, he warned and Marco believed him. Teach. Fucking bastard Blackbeard. How dare he? He murdered Thatch, beat up Ace and turned him over to the marines to be executed, all of which hurt Pops. How could he?
"JUST GET THESE HANDCUFFS OFF NOW!!" Marco roared. He could fly over there maybe. Maybe that hole through the entire middle of Ace wasn't all bad. How could magma burn fire? Was it really so much hotter than the sun that was Ace?
Ace was in pain. Again. And Marco couldn't stop it. Again.
He was free. Small consolation. Vista was by his side, just as angry and they were cutting through rows of marines... small consolation.
"Can't you see it's too late for Fire-Fist?" Akainu taunted them more.
Shut up bastard marine. Marco wasn't going to listen to him. Marco was the king of cool, and he wasn't going to get rattled. Just get over there and do what he could to fix it. "How could we let this happen??!" He couldn't afford to panic. Just worry. Ace...
Doctors were running over there as Ace fell to his knees and still Marco couldn't get there. The freckled kid's voice cut through the chaos of the battle and Marco could hear the last words. "Even though I've been good for nothing my whole life..." Stupid stupid Ace. He still couldn't see he was wrong? They wouldn't risk their lives to rescue someone worthless. They loved him. Every last one of them did. Ace... "Even though I carry the blood of a demon..." What was so bad about Gol D. Roger anyway? He was annoying and a bit insane, but hell, so was most of the Grand Line. And Ace wasn't anything like him. He shouldn't have been executed just for being his son. Stupid stupid marines. "You guys still loved me. Thank you so much!"
AAAACE! They were all screaming.
He died with a smile.
He went down the way he would have wanted to -- protecting the people he loved.
He finally knew he was loved.
Pops was still alive.
Small consolation given what was to come.