"Never drink a shady merchant's booze."
Shanks moaned as he slowly came into awareness. It seemed like his head wanted to split in half, while his throat felt so dry that he barely managed to swallow the bile threatening to rise up. The redhead cracked open one eye. Once the light touched his retina, he immediately screwed it shut as it seemed like it had caught on fire.
For the life of him, Shanks couldn't remember anything from the moment he and his crew started to drink that strange, exotic rum they liberated from a merchant's ship. When did it happen? This morning? Yesterday? The day before yesterday?
A door creaked as it opened, and from the sound of it, Shanks knew that he was in the captain's quarters. That meant that there was only one person brave enough to disturb his rest when he nursed this mother of all hangovers. "Benn…" the redhead croaked and instantly regretted even saying one word, his own voice pierced his skull painfully.
"Oh, you're alive," a cheerful answer came from the door. "I came to check how you were doing."
"You're gonna kill me… Speak quieter," Shanks whispered, putting a forearm over his eyes. "Also, please breathe much quieter… Or even better – try to exist much quieter."
The first mate chuckled. "That bad, eh?"
"Well, then," Benn said. There was no sympathy in his voice for his captain's misery, only pure amusement. "It's good that a visiting doctor offered his help with our crew's hangovers."
"Wha..?" Shanks dared a peek, squinting at his friend. "Visiting doctor?"
"Yeah. Remember those guys who suddenly appeared out of nowhere yesterday? Lucky Roo said that the concoction the young doctor cooked was great. We just need to get you to the infirmary."
The redhead screwed his face up, willing his brains to recall the previous day, but he got nothing. "I don't remember anything…" he confessed.
"Really?" Benn smiled widely with a touch of mischief. "This ought to be interesting then."
"Who are they?" Shanks asked, ignoring the teasing note in his first mate's voice. "Why are strangers on my ship?"
"You invited them to stay. Captain's orders." The black-haired man shrugged, eliciting a frustrated groan from the captain. "But they turned out to be an extremely interesting bunch."
-Yesterday early afternoon-
Benn scowled at the crew, merrily partying without any care in the world. Some of the men were already snoring, sprawled on the deck; a bunch were singing some kind of a pirate song, totally off key, at the same time trying to outshout each other; the rest were drinking and laughing, not paying attention to anything beyond their mug of rum. And the captain sat among them, laughing the loudest of them all, with flushed cheeks and the drunken bliss glazing his eyes.
The first mate lifted his own mug that was full of the rum they got in their unexpected raid of the merchant ship and sniffed it. The smell was simply alluring, sweet and savory. Benn put the mug away with a sigh. They were still in the middle of the sea, and with the crew in this state he couldn't get drunk. Someone needed to stay sober to keep an eye open for any danger.
Benn glanced up at the crow's nest. At least the watcher was able to abstain from drinking on dut–
"A Sea King with a person on its head approaches off the port beam!"
Or not. The vice-captain heaved another sigh. "You shouldn't drink so much if you start seeing such ridiculous things!" he yelled to him.
"I'm not THAT drunk!" the watcher sulked. "Yet…" he added silently, looking at his almost empty mug with longing in his eyes.
Benn knitted his brow in worry, gripping tighter his rifle which rested at his side. People didn't simply ride Sea Kings, not in the East Blue at least. He made his way to the port side and stopped beside Shanks who apparently was still sober enough to take notice of watcher's warning shout.
And there really was a mid-sized Sea King approaching with a small figure standing on its muzzle. The first mate stared stunned, then squinted at the person. Was that a child?
"SHAAAAAAAAAAANKS!" a joyful cry came from the strange kid, once the beast drew closer.
The pirates stared dumbly at the Sea King, towering over their vessel. It didn't seem that it was inclined on attacking, so no one made a move against it.
Suddenly the little boy leaped from its muzzle and crash-landed on top of Shanks. Benn reacted on instincts – his rifle was pointed at his captain's assailant in a flash, but a deep growl from the Sea King made him halt.
"Shanks! I missed you so much!" the kid exclaimed, wrapping his small hands around the redhead's waist and snuggling to his chest.
"Huh?" Shanks gawked at the boy. "You know me, brat?"
"Of course!" The unexpected visitor beamed at him. "You're an amazing pirate! One of the strongest in the world!"
"Dahahahaha!" Shanks burst into laughter. All the seriousness and distrust instantly had been forgotten. He ruffled the child's black hair. "You sure know your stuff, boy!"
"Shishishishi! I'm Monkey D. Luffy, the Pirate King!"
"Oh, the Pirate King?"
"Yep!" the boy replied without any hesitation, like his declaration of being the Pirate King was the most common thing for him. All of a sudden, Luffy blinked at Shanks, his gaze flickering between his hands. Even bigger, wider grin stretched across his face. "Ah, that's right, you have two arms again!"
"Of course, I have two arms!" Shanks exclaimed. "And two legs! And two heads!" He frowned at his own words. "No, wait, I have only one head."
The kid's eyes grew wide, pure awe sparkling in them. "That's so cool!"
"Dahahahaha! I like you, kid!"
Benn heaved an amenable sigh. Whoever this boy was, he'd managed to befriend their captain in a blink of an eye. His name sounded familiar, though, but the first mate couldn't remember where he heard it. And there were more urgent matters to think about, like the Sea King, still lurking nearby. Luffy didn't seem older than six or seven. How the kid had tamed it was a mystery he genuinely wanted to unravel. "Luffy, right?" Benn spoke, getting the attention of their young visitor. "What's up with the Sea King?"
"Kinto-un is a friend," the kid deadpanned before turning to the redhead again. "Ne, Ne, Shanks, can my nakama come on board too?"
"Sure! Invite them all here!"
"Captain–" Benn wanted to object, but he was interrupted by Shanks jubilant cry, "The more, the merrier! Let's party, guys!"
And the crew roared to life once again. "Aye, aye, captain!"
That piqued Shanks' curiosity. Benn Beckman was a smart man, certainly the smartest one in the Red-Hair Pirates' crew, and there were not a lot of things that usually caught his attention. Words as 'extremely interesting' were rarely used in his vocabulary.
"Alright, let's go to get that miracle medicine," Shanks said as he slowly sat up, and then looked around. "Where is my hat?"
"I think it's up on the main deck," the first mate replied, that mischievous smile not dimming in a slightest.
The redhead stood up and crossed the room. "What is it doing there?"
Shanks frowned at that, opening the door to the passageway. "Hats don't slee–" he cut himself off, blinking at the sight before him.
A small white bear cub was just then passing the entrance to the captain's quarters, carrying a tray with several empty glasses. He glanced at the redhead human, nodded at him and muttered a polite, "Good morning," before disappearing around the corner.
Shanks stared at that spot, unable to comprehend what he just saw. A polar bear cub? A talking polar bear cub? A talking polar bear cub that walked on two and wore clothes?!
"What is it?" Benn inquired, standing beside his captain and observing him with an amused glint in his eyes.
"Is that..? Did you..?" Shanks stuttered incoherently, waving and pointing foolishly at the corner where the talking bear disappeared. "Have I..?"
The first mate's smile grew even wider. "You can start to make sense anytime now, captain."
"Ah, never mind," Shanks grumbled, starting to get annoyed by the other man's attitude. Benn had too much fun with his memory loss predicament. It didn't seem that his first mate noticed the talking bear, so it was probably just a hallucination created by the remnants of alcohol in his blood.
To reach the infirmary they had to go past the kitchen and food storage room. The door to the storage was opened, and Shanks glanced inside before continuing along the passageway. After couple steps he froze, frowned, and backtracked his steps to the food storage entrance. He gawked at the room for a while.
It was pretty much empty. There was only a couple of boxes and barrels left.
"Benn," Shanks said, "I thought we had filled the storage with food from those marines we met after the raid on that shady merchant's ship."
"We did," confirmed the first mate.
"So there is all that food? It can't be that the crew ate all of it!"
"Well, we do have Lucky Roo," Benn pointed out, "but yeah, the crew ate only half of it, the rest was eaten by Luffy."
The redhead looked at his friend. "Who's Luffy?"
"Oh, that's right, you don't remember him." A smug expression appeared on Benn's face. "He's one of our guests."
"Who the hell let him eat all our food?!"
"Of course, I did," Shanks muttered under his breath, dismissing the matter of food storage with a wave of his hand and starting to stroll to the infirmary again. "That Luffy guy must be really huge man to eat that much."
Benn hadn't corrected him, only snickered into his hand quietly. He couldn't destroy the opportunity to see his captain's reaction once he'd meet Luffy again. That should be priceless.
There were only two other men in the infirmary, nursing their hangover after the crazy party previous day. Shanks and Benn entered the room, and the little bear immediately approached them. He stopped right in front of the redhead captain who promptly stiffened from the sight of him.
"Did you come here for a drink too?" the hallucination asked.
Shanks simply stared at him with his mouth agape. He rubbed his eyes, but the bear was still there. "Benn, I keep seeing this little white bear that talks, walks on two, and wears clothes," the captain confessed. "I swear that booze gives me the strangest hallucination."
The hallucination dipped his head, muttering, "Sorry…"
Benn put a hand on the bear's head and gently petted him. "Don't mind him, Bepo. The captain has a terrible hangover. Can you ask Law to prepare him a glass of that concoction the rest of the crew drank?"
Bepo smiled at the black-haired man. "Okay," he said and quickly scurried to the back room.
"You can see him too?" Shanks asked, unable to believe that his hallucination actually was a real thing. "A talking bear?"
"His name is Bepo, one of our guests."
Before Shanks could retort, a boy with a spotted hat emerged from the back room with a glass full of green liquid. The bear followed him closely.
Benn smiled at the kid. "Law-kun, good morning."
"Good morning, Benn-ya," the preteen replied. He eyed Shanks, visibly unimpressed. "So, the captain of this ship finally decided to wake up, huh? Here, this is for you."
The redhead took the glass from the boy's hands, taking notice of the discolored patches on his skin and settling on asking about it later. He sniffed the concoction and scrunched his face in disgust. "What's that?"
Law rolled his eyes. "Don't be a child," he said in a scolding manner. "It's not that bad. Certainly not worse than that thing you all drank yesterday."
Benn coughed in his fist in an attempt to hide his laughter. The other two crewmembers weren't that subtle and burst out laughing, seeing their captain scolded by a young boy.
Shanks felt gobsmacked. "Wait a minute–" he started to bristle but was silenced when Law lifted a hand with one outstretched finger.
"No. You came here for it, so down it goes."
Shanks threw a pitiful glance at Benn who just shrugged. Damn, no help from that side. The captain scowled at the drink. Clearly, his first mate trusted this strange kid, and he trusted his first mate. Shanks took a deep breath, closed his eyes and downed the content of the glass in one quick motion.
Law smirked. "Good job," he commended. "Now, if you will excuse me, I want to finish reading those books your crew's doctors lend for me before we'd have to leave."
"I think," Bepo chimed in, "you're already very knowledgeable in medicine."
"There is always room for improvement," the preteen replied. "I remember you saying that you wanted to learn navigation. We could go ask the navigator of this ship for a book."
The bear's eyes lit up with excitement. "Aye, aye!"
"I'm sure Orman will gladly help you with that." Benn smiled at two kids. "When do you plan to leave?"
Law shrugged. "You should ask Luffy. He's the reason we're here in the first place."
"And where is that troublemaker?"
"Up on the deck, still sleeping probably. Just don't wake up Kinto-un before Luffy. That would be bad."
"Really bad," the bear added.
"Alright. Have fun, Law-kun, Bepo."
"See you later, Benn-ya," Law said. Bepo waved his paw, and both boys disappeared into the back room again.
The first mate looked at his captain and couldn't fight an amused smile. He might have even felt a bit of sympathy for Shanks now, seeing him so lost and stunned. "I told you that our guests were an extremely interesting bunch."
Shanks tore his eyes from the door of the back room and fixed them on Benn. "Law-kun? Benn-ya? …Pfft!"
Yep, Benn mused, that was Shanks' sulking expression. Ah, this guy. He always was proud of his ability to befriend children. Shanks was a carefree and childish person, and despite being a pirate, he loved kids. And now he was sulking because Benn was more acquainted with these two boys than he.
"Law is a smart kid," Benn said, nudging his captain to move out. "We had a nice chat yesterday."
"Speaking of," Shanks was serious all of a sudden, "what's wrong with the brat? Those white patches aren't normal."
"I was also curious. He was quite reluctant but told me that it was from an illness which he already cured himself. He said that discoloration of his skin should wear off with time."
"The topic was very sensitive for him, so I hadn't pushed for more information."
"And the talking bear?"
"Bepo is a minkman from the New World."
"What?!" Shanks exclaimed, shocked by this piece of information. "How's the minkman got so far from his home? And a child no less."
"Apparently, he was kidnapped by pirates. Luffy, Law and their guardian rescued him and took him with them. I guess that's the reason why Bepo is so attached to them."
Shanks didn't say anything to that. Those two kids went through a lot in their short life. It was a good thing that they now had each other to depend on. The redhead opened the door leading to the stern deck, and he froze in a doorway, every thought in his mind puffing out of existence in a flash.
There was a huge mast lying across the deck, broken at the base. White sails helplessly hung at the side, but Shanks could see a distinctive blue seagull sign and a word "MARINE" written on them.
"What the…?" he squeezed out, absolutely shocked.
Benn glanced over his shoulder outside. "Oh, that," he deadpanned.
Shanks looked at him incredulously. "'Oh, that'? 'Oh, that'!? Is that your reaction to this?!" He flailed his arms, trying to get a point to his first mate. "What the hell happened yesterday on my ship?!"
But the other man only grinned at him. "Luffy and his friends happened."
"YOHOHOHO~ YOHOHOHOO~" boomed a song through the Red-Hair Pirates' ship, making it vibrate from the deafening cacophony of voices.
"Going to deliver Binks' Sake~!
We are pirates sailing through the Sea~!"
Shanks' and Luffy's shouting echoed above all of the rest. How the little boy managed to sing that loudly with a mouth full of meat was a mystery.
"The waves are our pillows, the ship our roost~!
Flying the proud skull on our flags and our sails~!"
After Law succeeded in rescuing Bepo from being squashed by drunken pirates who just wanted to hug 'a cute fluffy bear', they settled on the stern deck together with Corazon. Soon Benn joined them with a sake bottle to share with the only adult between their unexpected guests. All four of them got into a friendly conversation, quickly switching between various topics, none of the sides revealing any crucial information about each other.
The peace was disturbed by several cannonballs, suddenly plummeting into the water around the ship. Everyone who still was able to jumped on their feet and piled up onto the stern deck once they noticed a marine ship approaching.
Benn stood up, musing how lucky they were that marines decided to engage in close combat and not bombard them from afar. With the crew in this state, he doubted that they would manage to give them a slip unscathed.
Luffy observed the marine ship nearing them while nonchalantly picking his nose. He knew that even as drunk as they were, the Red-Hair Pirates would not lose to the Government's dogs. The boy tuned out the pompous speech of the marine captain, thinking how lucky he was that he accidently met Shanks on the open sea. They almost passed each other as the pirates had just left Dawn Island, and actually hadn't planned to return to it soon.
Luffy was woken from his musings with a jolt. An alarm went off in his head when his Observation Haki picked up an overwhelming fear radiating from one of his nakama, and he snapped his attention to the three of them.
Law knew that he was relatively safe on this ship. There was no reason to be afraid, but long-buried memories from Flevance of soldiers of the World Government shooting, and slashing, all the while smiling with the blood dripping from their weapons, emerged from the darkness of his mind one after another. Overwhelming fear sunk its claws and teeth into his soul, and all the preteen could do was clench a fist into the fabric of Corazon's pants and try to anchor himself to the reality.
All of a sudden arms wrapped around Law as Luffy hugged him tightly. "Don't be afraid, Law," he said, lifting his head up and smiling brightly at the older boy. "I'm gonna protect you this time, that's why I came to find you. I'm gonna protect all of my nakama! That's my oath as the Pirate King!"
Law took a shaky breath as he peered right into Luffy's eyes and saw no lie in them. A hand landed on his head, and he glanced up. Corazon was smiling softly at him. The boy also felt Bepo clutching the back of his shirt. The tears started to gather in his eyes, and Law pulled his hat down, hiding it from everyone around. "Thank you…" he whispered finally.
Luffy grinned at his nakama, but when he turned around his happy expression melted away like it hadn't been there at all. He pursed his lips into a thin line, eyes darkening with fury. "Move!" he ordered the adults with such authority that no one even thought about disobeying it.
Benn noticed the youngest boy as he stopped by the railing. "Luffy, what are you doing? You should stay back. Let the adults take care of this."
"I can't do that, Benn," the kid replied, climbing up. "I'm sorry that I'm taking your target, but these marines are pissing me off." He straightened up on the top of the railing, glowering at the enemy vessel. "Oi, marine scum!" Luffy yelled while the black-haired pirate was rendered speechless by his not so childish tone and words. The marine captain sputtered from the insult, but the boy ignored that and continued, "Just go away! We had such a good time until you showed up."
"Oh, you lowly..! I don't care that you're just a child, you will die with these filthy pirates!"
"Or you can stay," Luffy said, not fazed by the threat at all. A smirk tugged his lips. "I prefer you staying anyways."
If anyone ever would had wanted to know how an evil smile looked like on a child's face, now they had a perfect example of that image.
"Men!" the marine captain bellowed. "Prepare for an attack!"
The soldiers roared a battle cry, surged forward and promptly fell flat on their faces with foams dripping from their mouths as a wave of power rolled throughout the area. The only one left standing was the pompous captain whose eyes almost jumped from their sockets in surprise.
"Wha..?! What happened?! Men?! Men!"
"That's for scaring my nakama, you jerks," Luffy muttered, glaring scornfully at the enemies.
The pirates gawked at the small child dumbfounded for a bit, before they burst into awed cheers.
Benn couldn't believe his eyes, but there it was – the unconscious marines littering their own deck. He nudged Shanks and asked, "Was that..?" He didn't finish his question, figuring that his captain would understand what he was asking.
"Yeah, that was…" Shanks nodded, before grinning like a madman and exclaiming, "That was amazing, Luffy!"
"Shishishishi!" the boy giggled from the praise. Then he cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted at the sea, "KINTO-UN!"
Yasopp sidled to Benn, leaned closer and silently asked, "Was that what I think it was?"
"I think so. And it was a controlled burst, not random." The first mate lit up a new cigarette and smiled. "How very interesting."
"I wonder why he hadn't knocked out that idiot," the sniper pointed at the marine captain, currently spewing curses and threats at them.
The surface of the ocean broke, and an all too familiar brown-grey Sea King emerged. It yawned, displaying all its sharp teeth for every human watching it, then smacked its lips several times before finally looking at the person who called it.
Luffy grinned at his friend. "Sorry for disturbing you, Kinto-un," he apologized, "but these marines are jerks. Can you cripple their ship so they won't bother us anymore?"
The Sea King dived back into the water; emerged a bit further from the enemy ship and suddenly rammed one of the masts with his head.
Corazon gasped as the pirate ship swayed and Luffy slipped from the railing. It was impossible to reach him in time, and being a Devil Fruit user himself meant that he couldn't just dive into the sea after him…
A blue dome stretched across the deck. "Shambles," Law muttered, using his powers to swap Luffy with a random barrel nearby. The boy popped into existence a bit confused but realizing what had just happened he simply started to giggle. "You idiot," the preteen scolded him, "be more careful next time."
The Sea King smashed into the mast again. Ropes of the yard arms snapped; the mast creaked, unable to withstand the power of the Sea King, and it broke at the base, falling down straight on the pirate ship.
Corazon reacted instantly: he grabbed all three kids and sprinted as far from the stern as possible. He hooked one arm over the stairs railing, with the other arm pulling his boys to his chest.
As the ship finally stopped violently jerking around, Corazon lifted his head and looked around. The broken mast crashed on the stern deck and lay there, slightly tilting the ship.
"Cora-san, you're squeezing us too hard," Law complained.
Corazon put the kids back on the floor with a heavy sigh. Their antics would definitely be a death of him one day.
"You'll pay for this, you little devil!" the marine captain screamed in fury from his wrecked ship. "I'll tell them about you! You'll not have a safe place to hide!"
"Sure! Tell them how a six years old kid kicked your ass!" Shanks yelled back to him and promptly burst into laughter, soon followed by the rest of his crew.
The marine's face reddened from anger and embarrassment when suddenly his ship jerked forward and kept moving. Everyone's eyes glued at the Sea King who rammed his head into the back of the ship and started to push it away.
"Hurray for Kinto-un!" someone shouted, and soon all the pirates were joyfully chanting, "Kin-to-un! Kin-to-un! Kin-to-un!"
"Dahahahaha!" Shanks laughed, clapping Luffy over his back. "That was amazing!"
The boy beamed at him. "No one messes with our nakama or friends and leaves unscathed, right, Shanks?"
"That's right, brat!" the redhead agreed. He stared at the boy, a contemplating expression on his face. Then he took his straw hat off his head and put it on Luffy's. The latter's eyes widened, and he stared at Shanks confused. The pirate captain smirked at him. "That's a gift from me. This hat is very important, so take good care of it."
Luffy's mouth formed a huge, face-splitting grin as he tugged the straw hat down and nodded. He had his hat back!
"And now," Shanks said, pulling a mug of rum from seemingly out of nowhere, "we celebrate Luffy's victory against the marines!"
"Lu-ffy! Lu-ffy! Lu-ffy!" the crew started to chant.
"Here, here," Shanks pushed a mug into Luffy's hands. "Even if you're still a kid, you deserve a drink of an adult after that kind of battle!"
"Oi!" Corazon suddenly cried out, snatching a mug from Luffy's grasp. "Don't you dare to give that to my boy!"
"Then you'll have to drink for him!"
"Sooo…" Shanks drawled after hearing a short version of what happened here yesterday and how the mast from the marine ship ended up on their ship. "This Luffy guy intimidated marines to run away, while his friend broke the mast?"
"Yep, sounds about right," Benn agreed.
"How did this man intimidate them? And who the hell is his friend?"
The first mate smiled while lighting up a new cigarette. "Luffy used his guts and willpower to do that. As for his friend… well, you need to meet him to get an opinion about him."
Shanks narrowed his eyes. Something was off here. Benn was certainly hiding something from him, or playing with him. Either way, he definitely needed to meet this mysterious Luffy.
Benn spotted Yasopp and waved him over. "Why haven't you moved this mast yet?" he asked once the sniper approached them.
"We can't," Yasopp answered, shrugging. "If we pushed it into the water, the ship would tilt and that would wake Kinto-un up. I heard that it's a really bad thing, and, quite frankly, I'm inclined to believe it."
"Why is everyone so scared of waking up that guy?" Shanks inquired, totally baffled.
Yassop raised an eyebrow. "A guy?"
"Yeah! And that man, Luffy? Who does he think he is by pushing my crew like that? No, that's it! I'm going to have a talk with him!" Shanks declared, turning around and stomping towards the amidship.
"The man?" the sniper echoed. He looked at Benn. "What's wrong with the captain?"
"He doesn't remember a thing."
"Oh, like some of the others in the crew." Yasopp smirked. "And I bet you haven't told him who Luffy or what his friend is."
Benn's smile widened. "That piece of information might have slipped my mind."
The sniper laughed. "You're a cruel man, Benn Beckman. Poor captain."
"C'mon, let's go enjoy the show," the first mate said, eliciting another laughter from Yasopp.
Shanks stomped forward, annoyed. Those strangers came out of nowhere and wreaked havoc on his ship, and he couldn't remember anything! That was the most frustrating thing for him.
Then he saw him. Luffy.
At least Shanks thought it was Luffy. Who else could have been this tall, bulky blonde man, casually leaning on the railing and smoking? Looking at him, the redhead could finally understand how this man was able to intimidate marines, or eat half of all their food supply. Yeah, this couldn't be anyone but Luffy.
The stranger heaved a sigh, threw finished cigarette into the sea and pulled a new one. While lighting it up, he set his own black feathered coat on fire.
What a weirdo, Shanks thought as 'Luffy' extinguished fire on his shoulder and pretty much collapsed on the railing again. "Oi!" he called out, drawing the man's attention. "You're Luffy, right?"
The blonde only blinked at him dumbly. Damn, he was tall! Shanks had to cock his head up to keep looking at the man's face. His make-up or tattoos, whatever it was, was really eccentric too.
"I'm sorry," the stranger finally spoke, "but I'm not Luffy."
This time, Shanks stared at him speechless for a full minute. Then, "…What?"
"I'm not Luffy."
The redhead scratched the back of his head awkwardly. "Oh!" he exclaimed. "You must be Kinto-un then! Let me tell you, the thing you did with that mast–!"
The blonde snorted. "I'm not Kinto-un either."
Two chuckles behind the dumbfounded Shanks announced Benn's and Yasopp's arrival.
"Then who are you?"
"He's the guardian of the kids," Benn supplied.
"Oh, those two," Shanks said, getting a confused look from Corazon.
"Luffy and Kinto-un are up ahead, captain," Yasopp informed, trying and failing to keep an amusement out of his voice.
"Right…" Shanks muttered. He felt like the whole world decided to conspire against him this morning. Together with his own crew nonetheless.
"Just try to be careful and not wake up Kinto-un before Luffy," Corazon warned. "That would be a problem you really don't want right now."
"I'm the captain of this ship… I can wake up anyone I want," Shanks mumbled under his breath, making his way to the amidship. He stopped dead in his track as soon as he rounded the corner, his eyes blown wide and his mind going blank.
A Sea King – a freaking Sea King – was sleeping on the deck of his ship. Not fully on, only its head and the tail lay on top of it, wrapping around the bow like some surreal scarf. A child was sprawled on its muzzle with his limbs stretched in all different directions and the straw hat covering his head. The boy was snoring peacefully without a care in a world.
"HOLY SHIT!" a surprisingly loud shout came from Shanks' mouth before he could bite it down.
Benn, Yasopp, and Corazon cringed as the Sea King stirred from its sleep. It lifted its head up, growling aggressively at whoever dared to wake it up. The sleeping kid slid off from his muzzle and smashed onto the deck. Kinto-un unwrapped his body, and the ship suddenly tilted backward causing everyone to grab onto walls or railings for support.
"Careful! It's sliding your way!" an alarmed yell came from the stern.
"It's coming down!"
There was a loud water splash, and after several violent jerks, the ship stopped swaying. Then a roar vibrated through it as the Sea King readied for an attack–
–and promptly froze mid-move, crimson eyes filling with fear from one word, uttered by a raven-haired boy.
Luffy glared at his friend, rubbing his head where he bumped into a wall after sliding across the deck. The Sea King dipped his head and whined.
"No, I don't want to hear you're sorry," the boy said. "I want to hear that you're not gonna do it again."
Kinto-un released a pathetically sounding trill, trying to look as innocent as possible. Luffy put the straw hat on his head and grinned. "Good boy! Now go and catch yourself something to eat." He turned to Corazon and the pirates as the Sea King dived down into the water, lifted one hand and said, "Yo!"
"Good morning, Luffy," Yasopp greeted him cheerfully. "How was your sleep?"
"Wait!" Shanks exclaimed. "This shrimp is Luffy?"
"I'm Luffy, and I'm not a shrimp!"
The redhead stared at him like he saw a child for the first time. Law and Bepo came from inside and all three kids fell into conversation. Shanks glanced at Benn. "The same Luffy who…" he waved a hand towards the stern "…did all that?"
"Yeah," Benn confirmed.
"How did this chibi manage to intimidate marines?!"
"I told you, captain," the first mate said with a smile, "he used his willpower to do it."
"You're not telling me that…"
"That's right," the sniper chimed in. "We all saw that. It was definitely Conqueror's Haki."
"And a controlled burst, too," Benn added. "This kid is strange. From the moment he arrived at our ship, it felt like he knew every each of us."
Shanks looked back at the boy, eyes sliding over the straw hat. "Oi, brat!" he called. "You know Haki?"
"Who taught you that?"
Luffy beamed at him before he replied with delight, "Rayleigh!"
"What?! Don't lie to me!"
"I'm not lying!"
"Where is no way that Ray-san taught a snot-nosed brat like you!"
"Well, he did! Even before I became the Pirate King!"
Shanks was taken aback by the boy's words. This sounded like… His eyes widened as an incredible theory sparked in his mind. It would certainly explain all the weirdness about the kid. "You used it, didn't you?"
Luffy clamped his mouth shut and stared at Shanks for a while. Then he lowered his head just enough for a brim of the straw hat shadow his eyes. "It wasn't me who used it." Slowly a huge, sunny grin stretched across his face. "It was Roger!"
The Red Hair pirates glanced between each other, their captain who apparently was rendered speechless, and the strangest guest they had ever had on their ship.
"Used what?" Yasopp wondered.
"No idea," Corazon answered.
"Title of the Pirate King, maybe?" someone suggested.
An awkward stillness fell on the crowd as Luffy and Shanks kept staring at each other without saying a word, a silent conversation exchanged between them. Eventually, Shanks grinned. "Dahahahaha!" he laughed mirthfully. "We need to share stories later, kid!"
With the silence broken, usual noise erupted on the ship. Shanks retreated to the corner, keeping a keen eye on the straw-hatted boy. "That straw hat suits him," he said to Benn who leaned on the wall next to him. "I gave it to him myself, didn't I?"
"Yeah, you did." Benn smiled. "He's a special kid."
"You have no idea." Shanks chuckled. "You know, there is a lesson in all this," he admitted after a pause.
"Oh? What kind of lesson?"
The Red-Haired captain grinned at his first mate. "Never drink a shady merchant's booze!"
When the sunset colored the sky and waters of the East Blue, Shanks found Luffy sitting alone on the ship's figurehead and fondly observing the palette of red, orange and yellow painted on the horizon.
"Red as my shirt, orange as Ace's fire and yellow as Sabo's hair…" Luffy whispered before giggling. "Roger said you were a smart brat and should figure it out on your own," he said to Shanks, not diverting his eyes from the faraway horizon. "But I'm surprised you did that so quickly, especially when I heard you don't remember anything from yesterday. Too much booze, eh?"
Shanks actually felt a bit embarrassed. He rested his back at the base of the figurehead and coughed into his fist. "I don't understand one thing, though," he said. "How Roger could have used it? He died a long time ago."
Luffy smirked. "Legends don't die. I met his ghost at Raftel."
"Strange island... That Raftel," Shanks noted thoughtfully.
"It sure is."
Two pirate captains fell into companionable silence. Shanks spoke first, "So, why did he do that?"
Luffy hummed. "I guess he liked my answer to his question."
"What kind of question?"
"If I had to choose, what I would save: the world or my nakama." The boy chuckled, but it sounded more bitter than happy. "A silly question really. There is no world for me without them."
Shanks smiled softly. That was something his old captain would ask, and he would definitely like that kind of answer. His smile faltered. But that kind of answer meant that Luffy hadn't had any nakama left. "What happened?" he put forward an indirect question, leaving an option for the kid to not respond at all.
There was a silence before Luffy replied, "A war."
A shudder ran up and down Shanks' spine from that one word, because Luffy's voice was raw with emotions, telling more than he would have ever wanted to know.
"But that's why I'm back," the boy remarked, sliding down from his spot to stand on the railing next to the redhead. He put a hand on top of the straw hat and grinned under it. "I'll protect them all this time! That's a promise, an oath and a dream of mine."
"Can you really do that?" the man challenged.
"Yeah!" Luffy peered right into his eyes, and Shanks was mesmerized by the fire of determination, stubbornness, and power burning fiercely in those obsidian orbs. He remembered seeing that kind of fire in another person's eyes – the former Pirate King Gol D. Roger. Shanks realized what he called his old captain with a jolt. Even though he was in the child's body, the person before him was undoubtedly the Pirate King and the legacy of his beloved captain.
Shanks' lips curled into a smile. He took the straw hat off the kid's head, startling Luffy. But the latter didn't make a move to take it back. If Shanks would decide that he wasn't worthy of it, he'd live with that.
The redhead juggled the straw hat several times, and then suddenly put it back on Luffy's head, fixing it firmly in place. "Alright, our chibi Pirate King, the Red-Hair Pirates will be your ally from now on."
Luffy scowled at him. "I'm not chibi! I'm even older than you!"
"Not anymore!" Shanks stuck his tongue out at him. "Now you're five years old!"
"Dahahahaha! See? You've said that yourself!"
Luffy gritted his teeth from frustration. "Shanks, you bastard!"
"Easy, kid, easy," the redhead said, grinning happily. "So, what's your plan?"
The boy's brows knitted into a contemplative frown. "First, I need to get my Devil Fruit back."
"What fruit is that?"
"A Gum-Gum Fruit."
"Eh? Rubber?" Shanks face fell from disappointment. "That's so lame."
"Don't call my powers lame! My punches are as powerful as a pistol with it!"
"A pistol, huh? Is that so…" Shanks seemed even more disappointed and uninterested, but all of a sudden Luffy burst into merry laughter. He remembered having the same conversation last time. Damn, he really needed to stop falling for Shanks' teasing.
"The Fruit is actually in the East Blue and I know where it is," Luffy said, ignoring a puzzled gaze from his friend. "Can you retrieve it for me?"
"It shouldn't be too hard."
"Thanks!" The straw-hatted boy beamed at the adult. "But can you first bring us back to Foosha Village? I want to see my brothers!"
Luffy waved lively at the Red-Hair Pirates' ship. The crew raised an anchor and unfurled the sails, preparing to leave Foosha Village.
"See you soon, everyone!" the boy cried out.
"We'll be back soon!" Shanks yelled back at him.
Corazon sighed, also looking at the sea and departing pirate vessel. "So, this is your village, Luffy?"
The smallest boy beamed at him. "Yep! I want you all to meet Makino, and then Ace and Sabo. Dadan and the rest of the gang too!"
Law and Bepo were already looking around at the small village. "Looks peaceful," the bear commented.
"Who's that creepy looking old man? I think he's coming our way," Law observed.
"Bwahahahaha!" an extremely loud laughter boomed across the pier. "So, you're back, Luffy?! Where have you been, eh?"
Luffy and Corazon cringed from the voice. They both swiveled around in unison, absolute horror etched on their faces.
"Oh?" The old man stopped right in front of their small group. "Aren't you Commander Rosinante, Sengoku's brat? Rosi-kun, what are you doing here?"