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heartache nostalgia

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“Call me that one more time,” Marco says, smiling like something important hurts a lot. “Go on, yoi.”

Shanks smiles blindingly and takes a step forward. “Always glad to oblige, pretty bird.”

Marco smiles back, then punches him once in the stomach. When Shanks wheezes and curls around his fist, he grabs Shanks’ shoulders and tugs the man’s head into his rising knee. Shanks hits the ground sideways and groans.

“C’mon, pretty bird,” he says, and Marco hisses and draws back one foot to kick him again. “Hey now!” Shanks catches his hand around the back of the incoming foot, redirecting the angle and sweeping up and forwards, and Marco crashes to the deck right beside him.

Shanks pushes himself up to sitting and says, “Oh, pretty bird, was that really necessary?” and then he goes right back down with Marco on top of him, and there’s an endless moment of squirming and some hair pulling. And maybe there’s biting, okay, but only a little and no one can prove it.

“Boys,” comes the booming voice of Whitebeard, and Shanks huffs, goes limp, and falls back to lay flat on the deck. Marco makes a noise at him that he’s pretty sure human throats can’t make and gets in one last pinch.

He uses his nails. It hurts.

“You do like to play rough, don’t you?” Shanks murmurs up at him, letting his eyes slide to half-open, and Marco’s shoulders tense. He bristles and scrambles up, head tilting away and stepping clear the second he can.

It’s not like Shanks expected him to offer a hand up, but given Marco’s generally contentious nature, the lack of it really stands out. Shanks hauls himself up to his feet and grins; it’s nice to be special.

“He started it,” Marco says, hands twisting. Shanks beams at him. “See! Look! He’s doing it again, yoi!”

Whitebeard laughs, a loud, long sound that fills the entire deck. Shanks laughs with him. “It’s okay, son,” Whitebeard eventually says, and he catches Shanks’ eye and winks.

He thinks he’s subtle, and that’s just so adorable. “You’re the best,” Shanks tells Whitebeard. “Hey, I brought you sake!”

“No!” Marco says, immediately turning on him again. “No more sake! Do you have any idea what his latest tests showed, yoi?”

“Ah, he’ll live forever,” Shanks says easily, slinging an arm over Marco’s shoulders. Marco immediately sets himself on fire and Shanks obligingly lets go. “You know your old man! He’s gonna outlive us all!”

Marco rounds on him, still on fire, but he won’t deny that; he won’t deny Whitebeard’s strength and he can’t talk about the man’s death as inevitable, not out loud. “No sake,” he says instead, poking Shanks with one on-fire finger to make sure the message sticks.

“Fine, fine. I also brought fresh bellfruit juice from West Blue. And we can still have a party, right?”

“Of course we can!” Whitebeard says, laughing. “It’s okay, son. Don’t worry about me!”

Marco throws up his hands and stomps away. Shanks watches him go, watches how he rolls his shoulders back in one smooth motion, letting the blue fire go out in its wake. Marco’s control is phenomenal, really it is.

Shanks touches his chest where he is decidedly not burned, and then he turns to grin at the old man. “You doing okay, old friend?”

“Of course,” Whitebeard says, clapping him on the shoulder companionably. Shanks stumbles forward a step and Newgate laughs. “And you, Shanks? How’ve you been?”

“Oh, lots of adventures, plenty of things to see, new drinks to try—you know, the usual!”

The old man’s face goes soft and fond, and he says, “Shanks,” just the once.

Shanks closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and then puts his smile back on. “I really am fine,” he says and grins, a small, crooked thing. And Whitebeard, being the best like he is, accepts this and smiles back.

“I am glad for you, then.”

Shanks appreciates his letting the subject drop, and gestures for Whitebeard to lean in. “Hey,” he says, not quite a whisper, but definitely quiet enough not to travel. “Hey, that bellfruit juice? There’s rum in it.”

Whitebeard’s entire face lights up and they laugh together again, just like the good old days.

“You’re always welcome here,” Whitebeard tells him, and Shanks grins back.

“I’ll have Benn bring the drinks by in a bit,” he says, and tips a hat that isn’t there in a gesture as old as habit. “I’m going after your first mate; I’ve got me some pigtails to pull.”

“Be careful with that one; he’s…passionate.”

“I know,” Shanks says, and it’s only a little bit wistful. “That’s what I like about him.”

And Whitebeard gets it, in a way most people don’t; the old man was there. He knew Roger, he saw Shanks’ ascendance, and he knows, more than most, what it means to have all the power in the world and nothing to do with it. “Good luck,” is all he says, and Shanks gives him a smile and melts into the crowd.

It’s easy to find Marco on the Moby Dick. It’s easy to tell where he isn’t—where things are running smoothly, where people are relaxing—and to follow that to where he is, which is always wherever the biggest problems are.

“I don’t care who started it, yoi,” he saying as Shanks comes up behind him. There’s three Division Commanders in a line in front of him, and only two of them look ashamed. Marco props one hand on his hip and holds up a—is that a water balloon? It’s a water balloon—in his other.

Shanks doesn’t even try to stop his eyes from dipping, and when he looks up again, Division Commander Thatch meets his eyes over Marco’s shoulder.

Well, okay, kind of to the side of his shoulder. Marco’s taller than him, and he appreciates that.

Thatch’s eyebrows go up, and Shanks grins his biggest, widest, worst grin at him and makes a shhh gesture.

“—and that is why,” Marco is saying, “we do not prank our crewmates.”

“Sorry, Marco,” Ace and the Division Commander in green whose name Shanks can’t ever remember chorus, Thatch only a beat behind them.

“If you must play pranks, aim them elsewhere, yoi.” They all look up at that. “For example,” he says, turning with a step back and slapping the balloon on top of Shanks’ head, “try pranking rival crews.”

The balloon pops and a wave of liquid splatters around Shanks’ shoulders. It starts soaking down his back, and the smell tells him at once it isn’t water. He laughs, sharp and surprised, and catches himself a mouthful.

“Beer water balloons,” he says once he’s swallowed. “I love that idea!”

Marco’s got both hands on his hips now and there’s a small smirk on his wide mouth, just a little bit proud and a lot bit devious. Shanks grins back at him.

“My idea,” Thatch says immediately. “Beer water balloon fights. Just imagine it!”

“I am imagining it,” Marco says, closing his eyes and makes a brief pained face. “I’m thinking about the clean up , yoi.”

“Psh,” says the other Commander, the green one. “Clean up is someone else’s problem.”

“I can absolutely make it your problem,” Marco says but he’s lost them.

“Hey, Shanks!” Ace says, sidling sideways until he’s out of Marco’s vision. “Hey! Good to see you again!”

He grins and it’s staggeringly familiar. Shanks’ breath catches under his ribs and he smiles on instinct before he knows he means it. “Ace!” he crows, slapping the boy’s back. “Hey! How’s the New World treating you? I see you found Whitebeard!”

“Ha, yeah,” Ace says sheepishly, rubbing at his shoulder, and the tone and gesture are a one-two double punch of nostalgia and grief. “About that…”

“Speaking of clean up, yoi” Marco cuts in. “Shanks, you wanna get the beer out of that shirt before it sets?”

“Ah, yeah,” he says, plucking the wet fabric away from his skin. He does not give a good goddamn about the shirt, but the escape route he’ll take. “Thanks, that’d be great.”

Marco ushers him along, towards the door that leads under, and he gives the three trouble-makers one last warning look as he goes. Ace makes a face, Thatch gives him an unimpressed look back, and the green Commander has already disappeared. “C’mon,” Marco says, letting him go ahead but staying close enough to guide him.

Shanks huffs and lets him do it. He keeps his eyes ahead and asks lightly, “He looks just like his dad, doesn’t he?”

There’s a hitch in Marco’s step and Shanks pretends not to notice, because it’s a lot smaller than the hitch in his lungs. “Yeah,” Marco says, sad and small. “Yeah, he—he has his smile.”

Shanks closes his eyes for one endless moment, then he sighs. Marco reaches around him to open a door and ushers him into a small cabin.

He goes, reaching over his shoulder to grab the back of his shirt and tug it off. It gets hung a bit because he's still not quite used to doing it with only one arm, but careful hands reach up to help him. One of them settles low and warm on his hip, and Shanks sighs again, closes his eyes, and leans in until his head thunks into Marco's solid chest.

Marco is fiery, is temperamental and bristles easily, but he's also burningly, achingly loyal and endlessly patient. He says nothing, does nothing, and just lets Shanks have the moment.

"I miss him," Shanks finally says, and the noise Marco makes is low and awful.

"Yeah," Marco says, unmoving. "Yeah. I miss him too."

Shanks laughs, a terrible raw sound, and then he steps back. There's a tightness in his chest that he's ignoring and a warm hand on his hip that he leans into. He's sticky with beer, down and arm, and just spilled his trauma everywhere, but he still manages to draw up a leer. "Do you miss me too, pretty bird?"

Marco looks back at him, eyes drawing together, and he doesn't even twitch at the name. "Yes," he says simply, and the worst part is that he means it. "That's not fair," he complains, and sighs and takes another step back. "Come on; weren't you going to lend me a shirt?"

"I never said that, yoi."

"It was implied!"

"Was not."

"Ah," Shanks says and smiles, and it's an old practiced gesture but that doesn't mean it's not real. "But what if I want to wear your shirt?"

"Well then," Marco says, and he steps back too, his grin a small crooked thing. "Come and get it, yoi."

So Shanks does, because he's not about to pass up an invitation like that. He takes his time with it, and there's a lot of squirming, just enough hair-pulling, and plenty of biting, too, and Shanks has the marks to prove it.

That works out fine, though; Marco's shirt covers them perfectly.