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for all my life i’ve watched from afar, i’m too afraid to try

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It all starts with the party.

A consolation, ‘cheer-up, there’s always next time!’ type of party to get the morale up. It’s not what Alvida is used to; whenever things went wrong for her crew, she’d react by whipping her men into shape whilst demanding to hear the usual mantra of praise for her glowing, beautiful looks. Usually through brute force. All to instill discipline, of course.

Buggy does it slightly differently. She’s come to learn he’s a very emotional man for all his bluster. He often seeks out validation and a good pick-me-up - such an instance might be hosting a party in which he can feel good about himself and revitalize to his heart’s desire. Not at all like Alvida - to her, praise is less about personal feelings and more about ensuring the lessers know their place, and that her place is above them all.

The one wrinkle in the party occurs with the unexpected appearance of a Whitebeard Commander. Though it smooths itself out in no time (Alvida choosing to defer to Buggy’s wisdom on this, for at least he has experience on the Grand Line unlike the rest of their lot) and the party welcomes Firefist like a natural part of its course. Turns out Firefist is no slouch when it comes to feasting and drinking, soon he and Buggy warm up to each other like they’re long-lost brothers.

(Alvida wonders about the fact that Firefist mentioned he knew Luffy, and what that thread implies, but it seems everyone else has forgotten about the little tidbit already, too inebriated to chase it further.) Everything seemingly goes on without a hitch.

Until the next surprise appearance that drops in on their path.

Most of the crew are already well on their way to drunken obscurity, and don’t notice the incoming pirate ship until one crewmember asks aloud, “Who wields dual swords?”

“Cabaji here is trying it out,” replies another crewmember. “There are also spares in storage, if you want to make a set.”

“Two swords have gotta be better than one,” Cabaji puffs up with pride. “I’ve got two hands, why not hold one in each? That’s twice the deadliness, twice the likeliness I’ll hit something.”

“That’s pretty convincing. Shit, and I’ve been a sorry sucker all this time using just one sword.”

“No, I don’t mean among us,” says the first crewmember who spoke up. “I mean, among other pirates, who uses dual swords so much that they make it a part of their jolly roger?”

“Uh...I don’t know? The world’s greatest swordsman?”

“He only has the one huge sword, actually.”

“I think he carries around a small dagger in his pocket, so that’s almost like having two.”

“I knew he had a small dagger. A guy lugging around a sword that big has to be compensating for something.”

“And a scar” - again the crewmember who started the questions in the first place - “Like across their eye? Who wants to be recognized for their disfigurement?”

“I mean, Captain Buggy has his nose planted in the middle of our flag...”

Buggy’s fist materializes out of nowhere and slams down on the head of the crewmember who’d just spoken. “It’s not a disfigurement - and it’s not a big honking blemish or ugly stain on my face either!”

“A pirate whose epithet is dual-sword wielding scarface? Hm…I can’t think of any. Why do you ask?”

“Well, there’s a pirate flag over there. And it looks like it’s headed towards us.”

“Shit, I’m too wasted for a skirmish,” Mohji says, scratching his stubble. “I need at least an hour to sober up. Can’t you ask them to just pass us by, we’ll mind our own business and they’ll pretend they didn’t see us?”

“I guess it’s worth asking,” someone else says and stands up on wobbly legs that are weak from all the drinking and merrymaking.

“Yeah, give it a try,” adds Firefist. “Shanks will be reasonable as long as you’re polite about it.”

The crewmember who just got up barely manages to straighten up and walk a few steps when his mouth drops open as he processes Firefist’s words, and he promptly drops back down like a wet piece of seaweed on land. In a telepathic domino effect, the rest of the crew connects the pieces at the same time, realizes how the familiar name and the scar and the flag all put together conjure the same image of a specific person in their minds.

The reaction which follows can only be described as sheer pandemonium.

Alvida is witness to a storm of grown hardened pirates screaming and crying their lungs out, along with a few quiet ones who seem so shocked they’re unable to process all of it. Only Richie seems unaffected by what’s going on around him.

Shanks - you don’t mean, one of the Four Emperors, that Red-Haired Shanks. No, no, it’s gotta be another one, surely, we all know a guy named Shanks back home,” Mohji blabbers on nonsensically, sounding like he’s on the verge of losing his mind. “It can’t be possible.”

“No, yeah, that’s his ship, and his jolly roger,” says Firefist, munching on a stick of ham. “Strange to see him in these parts though.”

Cabaji’s face turns blue, looking ready to keel over. “What’s an Emperor doing all the way out here? They’re supposed to stay in the New World, that’s how progression mechanics work! It’s way too early in the journey for us to face off against an end-game boss!”

“Red-hair - that Red-hair is coming right at us -“ Men are chanting while rocking back and forth in a fetal position, as if they’re speaking of Davy Jones himself.

“That’s absurd!” Someone grabs a pair of binoculars and looks out at the sea. “Their jolly roger doesn’t even have red hair. That’s so misleading!”

“Captain Buggy - what should we do?”

With news of an Emperor’s ship making their way towards them on the horizon, Alvida expects the same sputtering, bug-eyed spit-take reaction she’s used to seeing from the clown. Instead, what she gets is Buggy blowing out a deep, aggravated sigh that drags out for a long period, wearing an incredibly sour-faced expression as he glares out at the incoming ship the same way one might glare at a dirty smudge on their glass.

Buggy simply grumbles under his breath, “How dare he show up like this and ruin the mood, that bastard.”

When Alvida first got to know Buggy, she pegged him for a simple man. Though it turns out there are many things about his past he has hidden away and leaves only hints about. She knows he has sailed the Grand Line before, but knows nothing of what his life was like before the seas. He does not have any loved ones or a home to go back to, or if he does, he doesn’t speak of them. He doesn’t seem to have any formal education or training in anything - though that’s not so strange, most pirates came from less fortunate backgrounds and piracy becoming the only path they could turn to.

Except Buggy is also strangely knowledgeable about the world and ways of piracy despite him not being very strong - which indicates he must have sailed under someone stronger than him, it explains how he survived the Grand Line and came to learn so much about it. While chatting with Firefist, he loosened up enough to bond over tales of their own adventures on the Grand Line. Hearing snatches of their talk, none of it rings familiar to her - something about an upside-down waterfall, a closed-off island nation, a shipwright island, and so forth.

The crew itself is too busy panicking their heads off to notice the lack of their Captain’s usual vocal fanfare. Buggy is a quiet, steady rock in a sea of hapless drowning prisoners.

Alvida asks beside him, “Another Emperor you happen to know?”

Buggy snorts derisively as a response.

“More like someone I didn’t want to run into.”

Well, that’s an understatement. Nobody wants to run into an Emperor, if they’re of a sane mind.

Captain Buggy,” his name is called again, and this time he gives them his attention. “What do you think they could want with us? Are we being head-hunted? Will they force us to work under them?”

“No, you fool, what would an Emperor want with a weak, nothing crew like us? It’s clear, they’re not here for us, they must want him!” Cabaji points a shaky accusing finger at Firefist.

Said culprit remains unbothered and finishes off the last of the figs while he waves off the crowd with a dismissive hand. “He couldn’t be here for me. I only met him once. We’re not that close.”

“He must be here to capture you. Since you’re the commander of a rival crew.”

“Hah, first of all - with all due respect - my old man would demolish him. Second, Red-Hair isn’t the type to start beef for no reason. He respects Whitebeard too much to try a stupid stunt like that.”

It becomes clear that the crew aren’t ready to believe entirely in his words. They mutter among themselves about how Cabaji is right and they ought to throw Firefist overboard to throw the Emperor off their trail.

“Get ahold of yourselves,” Buggy shouts at the rabble with authority, effectively fixing them in place. “Nobody is doing anything to Ace and that’s final. I don’t care if some jackass Emperor thinks he can take a cheap shot at Whitebeard. He can come here and try it, I dare him.”

A hushed awe falls over the crew. It’s reminiscent of the kind of inspiration invoked in an audience listening to a religious motivational speaker, except they’re godless pirates, and it’s Buggy, so they’re quick to recover and devolve back into hopeless shrieking about their imminent death sailing in towards them.

“Captain, this is not the time for bravado. We are facing an actual threat from an Emperor! The drills we practiced won’t help us here!

One crewmember is hastily writing a letter in hopes that it makes it back home to their families, while another is writing a will. As is expected of Buggy’s crew, everyone has a bit of a flair for the dramatics.

To Alvida, it feels a bit like a dream. Somewhat unreal. She only ever heard of the Four Emperors from the mouths of blowhard pirates who made it sound more like fairytales than actual real-life events.

Similarly, Red-Hair doesn’t feel real. He is an obscure figure in shadow. His hair is dyed bright red from the blood of his enemies soaking his crown. The tales they tell about him are likely to chill the spine of any regular man.

They say Red-Hair has an army. His empire is built on the corpses of lesser pirates. He has a strong foothold in the alcohol industry, and business is always booming for him.

“Listen up,” Buggy stands at the helm to address the crew, near Firefist’s prone body, who at some point fell asleep amidst the chaos. “We’ll divert our course. It might just be a coincidence that they’re on our path. We’ll avoid any unnecessary confrontation and pretend we didn’t see them, let them go on their merry way, avoid conflict.”

It’s the words they want to hear. Nobody joined Buggy’s crew for swashbuckling battles and thrilling near-death experiences, they just wanted a decent haul. For a brief moment, there is a collective sigh of relief.

Then the other ship follows when they change their course, and reality comes crashing down again.

Firefist wakes up from his nap just as the Red Force floats up next to them, looming close enough that Alvida can see the detailing in the wood grains of its hull.

The air is deathly quiet. “Party’s over already?” Firefist asks, far too cheery and casual for the mood.

The crew is already frothing at the mouth before they’ve even glimpsed a strand of red hair, overtaken by premature terror; they’re falling over themselves and quaking and trying to duck for cover on the exposed deck. Alvida herself feels slight tremors all over her body, frozen in place as she stares up at the Emperor’s ship. Buggy stands at the railing looking like he’s ready to receive the new party with mild annoyance, gaze tilted upwards to the elevated deck of the Red Force.

The deck across the water looks empty at first. Then a figure walks up to the side that faces them.

The majority of their crew is down in an instant. Mohji and Cabaji are knocked down to their asses and only barely retain consciousness. Alvida and Buggy are the only ones left standing.

“I come peacefully,” is the first thing she hears out of Red-Hair.

“Well, I can’t say the same for us,” Buggy shoots back haughtily.

Mohji and Cabaji are looking like they’re ready to commit mutiny by throwing their Captain overboard any second now.

Red-Hair stands tall at the railing with his long, black cloak and his hair red as blood, just like the stories say. The three slashes across one eye gives him the look of a wild beast. His face in shadow from the high sun worsens his appearance into something harsh and weathered, but he’s not as demonic-looking as he’s made out to be. Yet it is the pressure that exudes from his aura that is so much worse than anything she could imagine, feeling like an invisible hand is pulling her leagues under the ocean.

“We bring no threat,” he says. The sincerity and gentleness accompanying his tone surprises her. “I came to speak to Ace.”

Firefist looks up in mild surprise. “Me, really? I don’t mind since it’s you, Red-Hair, but to come out all this way - I can’t think of what you’d want to talk to me about.” Firefist gets to his feet with a stretch, arms bent above his head, ready to hop ship.

“Hold on just a darn minute,” Buggy injects loudly, startling even Red-Hair’s crew. “You think I’m going to fall for that so easily? Oh, you just happen to fancy a chat with the Second Division Commander of the Whitebeard Pirates, an enemy who also happens to be alone and far from his crew? O-ho, you think you’re slick, but you ain’t fooling me.”

“You best watch your mouth clown,” one of Red-Hair’s men spits out. “If our Captain wants to speak with someone, it’s got nothing to do with a low-rent pirate like you.”

“What’s that about my nose you rude lump?!” Buggy seethes. “I’m warning you, I’m not blatantly handing Ace over to an enemy ship. So I hope you’re sufficiently warned off right now, or else I don’t know what will happen to you.” He waves his arm back-and-forth in a wild arc to encompass the whole crew, as if he actually has the substance to back up his claim.

“Nah, it’s alright,” Firefist cuts in, tipping his hat with a grin. “I don’t want to cause trouble for you folks. Especially when you went out of your way to provide me with good food and company. Thank you all for your hospitality, by the way.” Firefist turns to the ship’s occupants and bows low at the waist. “I’ll get going and be out of your hair.”

Surprisingly, Buggy steps up and presses down on Firefist’s shoulder, stopping him from leaving, though his gaze focuses ahead on the opposite ship.

“No. I’m a Captain and I expected to be treated as such. Ace is a guest on my ship.” Buggy stands strong, unwavering. “If there’s something you have to ask of him, you’ll do it through me as any Captain would to another. I’m not going to act like your subordinate.”

Usually Buggy’s overblown acts of bravado are accompanied with a shaky uncertainty in the movement of his pupils or the goosebumps on his flesh. But in this moment (of all moments to suddenly grow a spine) he radiates nothing but uncharacteristic rationality and composure.

The slight smile that appears on Red-Hair’s face could be described as placating, or patient. Whether it’s the last thread of patience an Emperor has before completely losing it and taking it out on the source of annoyance, she’s not sure, and she’s not going to take any chances with it.

It’s a struggle to move underneath all the pressure, but Alvida soldiers through it, “Buggy, this is far above any level we can match. We should stay out of business that concerns these monsters.”

Then Red-Hair shocks her by saying, “Excuse my behavior, Captain. I know what it looks like and that it would be difficult to trust my intentions. I give my word that Ace is safe from me and anyone under my flag, but if you insist on making sure, you can decide the conditions under which we meet which will satisfy you, and I’ll go along with whatever you say.”

It’s an emboldening statement, but it’s not like there’s anything on their ship that could render Red-Hair any less of a threat. He doesn’t have a devil fruit, as far as she knows, and tying him up would only be a joke.

Alvida looks over at Buggy whose brain seems to be experiencing difficulties, his facial expressions stuttering between indignation and uncertainty; he clearly wasn’t expecting to actually get this far.

Alvida decides to intervene, “What if he comes alone onto our ship?”

Just the thought of it is enough to make the remaining conscious few roll their eyes to the back of their heads and pass out completely. Undisciplined idiots.

Buggy shakes his head in answer to Alvida, then says to Red-Hair, “You can’t stay on my ship when you’re constantly knocking everyone out, you inconsiderate bastard.”

“I’ll get on your ship,” Buggy declares.

Alvida knows Buggy can often act like a fool, but she’s not quite sure what’s come over him this time.

With the sun right above their heads, Red-Hair’s eyes are hooded in shadow; but there is an easy softness to them, imperceptible enough that it looks like a trick of the light. “You trust me like that?”

Buggy’s answering scoff sounds like he’s hacking up a spitball. “What other choice do I have?”

If Mohji and Cabaji were awake, they’d be crying about their Captain’s sacrifice while secretly rejoicing the fact that it meant they didn’t have to go near the terrifying Emperor.

Firefist has been watching the whole exchange as a bystander, eyes flickering between Red-Hair and Buggy. A grin flashes on his face as he slaps Buggy on the shoulder. “Oh, you’re coming with me, Bugs? Let’s have another party over at Red-Hair’s.”

“This isn’t a social call, you brat!” Buggy drags Firefist closer by the string of his hat and looms in furiously. “We’re going into enemy territory and you need to be a little more cautious about it.”

Firefist raises a skeptical brow. “Are you sure you’re enemies? Didn’t look like it to me.”

Buggy grinds his hand down on Firefist’s hat, as if trying to drill the thing into his head. “You brought this on all of us and I’ll be damned if I’m ruined because of you. Stupid fire-for-brains -“

“Would you consent to stay with us for a few days, Captain, if your crew is willing to spare you?” Red-Hair interjects between them, earning both Firefist’s and Buggy’s immediate attention. “I’d like to discuss something with you too.”

“You say that after my whole crew is knocked out because of you?” Buggy hollers back.

“I know a safe island your ship can dock at,” Red-Hair says, placatingly. “They can restock and recuperate while you’re with us.”

Buggy turns to Alvida, his expression severe like he sometimes got when he reminisced about some terrifying experience on the Grand Line. “I’m leaving the crew in your hands, Alvida.”

When Red-Hair shifts his attention to Alvida, his face seems too frank and easygoing for a pirate. She can’t believe she didn’t notice it before, how he’s been nothing but openly friendly this whole time, but she’s been too busy fighting off the instinctive fear his presence invokes. She doesn’t falter under his gaze. She is a Captain in her own right.

Red-Hair says to her reassuringly. “Don’t worry, I’ll get him back to you safe and sound.”

 


 

It does not escape Ace’s notice how thick the tension in the air is, the combined pressure of the crew’s subdued Haki intensifying at the arrival of two foreign presences in their midst, a purposeful display of power Ace is familiar with.

It surprises Ace how breezily Buggy boards the Red Force, not even seeming to notice that he’s surrounded by the kind of imposing pressure from a New-World level crew which would normally suffocate any pirate scrub. Maybe he hasn’t given Buggy enough credit. Turns out the clown isn’t just any pirate scrub.

And then there’s the whole thing he has with Red-Hair. He doesn’t know what it is, but something is there. He recognizes a personal spat when he sees one.

Buggy walks onto the middle of the deck where Red-Hair’s crew form a circle around him, ignoring their glaring and posturing as he brazenly addresses the onlookers, “So what’s this thing you want to talk about? Are you going to ask out in the open, or is it that all of you have got something to say to me?” Even on an Emperor’s ship, Buggy commands himself as the center of attention, even if that attention is negative and vaguely hostile. Ace, at the least, is recognizable to most of the crew, he’s met the top officers and greeted them personally; but Buggy is an unknown, and it does not help that Buggy was sassing their Captain just seconds ago.

“You’ve got some nerve showing such attitude to the Captain,” one crewmember says.

“Captain Shanks can be trusted not to break his honor, but we don’t know about you so we’ll be watching you, clown,” another jeers.

Red-Hair sweeps his gaze over his watchful crew, “These are my guests, and we’ll treat them like such.”

Benn Beckman steps forward to double enforce his Captain’s authority, “Disperse, all of you, back to your stations. Anyone who’s got time to loiter and gawk, I’ll give you something to do.”

The crew loyally scatters to different corners of the ship.

Red-Hair leads Ace and Buggy to his quarters below deck. “I have drinks in my office,” he says, because a negotiation is not complete without a show of hospitality. “If there’s anything you want from the kitchen, just ask and I’ll have it sent over.”

Ace perks up at the mention of more food, and Buggy gets in his face and exclaims, “You already had a whole banquet on my ship! How much of a bottomless pit are you?! I swear you’ll eat us all out of house and home.”

Red-Hair chuckles. Buggy reacts with a full-force glare as though he’s been cursed at.

“It’s no trouble, really,” Red-Hair says. “I did say you were my guests. So I’ll meet your needs to the best of my ability.”

The three of them travel below deck to enter one of the rooms, not very large in size with plain wooden walls and furniture, a desk sitting in the center and boxes of parchment stacked in the corners.

“This is the Captain’s office?” Buggy says in immediate reaction, clearly unimpressed.

“Benn has the nicer office, since he uses it more.” Red-Hair moves behind the desk to open up a cabinet. He carries out a pale green bottle along with three small shot glasses from the desk drawer. He places the glasses on the desk and fills each to the brim.

“West Blue quality,” says Red-Hair.

Ace downs his glass in one shot. Buggy eyes his distrustfully for a moment before sipping at it tentatively, then gulping it in three separate sips.

Shanks begins the conversation by saying to Ace, “I wanted to talk to you about Blackbeard.”

Ace doesn’t even bother sitting on the guest chair properly, he chooses to perch on the armrest instead.

“I’m hunting him,” Ace says casually. “Taking his corpse back to Pops as a prize. If you’ve got any last words to say to him, better do it before I get to him.”

“It’s too soon for you to face him,” Red-Hair speaks gravely, gentle yet stern. “Stop this pointless manhunt, Ace, before it’s too late.”

Ace grins. “Is that it? What you wanted to talk to me about so badly you traveled to Paradise for it? Could have saved yourself a trip by sending a carrier bird.”

Buggy is puttering about by the side window, seemingly realizing he has no place in the discussion and is wondering why he even insisted on tagging along, he doesn’t even know who Blackbeard is.

“I’ve faced him before, I should know the measure of his strength. And Ace, there are things about him that have not come to light yet.”

“So you got wounded by him,” Ace says. “Are you still that sore about it?”

Buggy stops shuffling around and decides on standing stock-still with one leg crossed over the other, arms crossed while he half-sits against the windowsill. It looks uncomfortable but he seems determined to bear it and keeps the position.

“I know the thought of a friend’s death must be fueling your thirst for vengeance, but there are things about this world you don’t know.”

“This isn’t just about vengeance. If I let a traitor off with no retribution, people will think we’ve become weak.”

“Do you have so little faith in Whitebeard? He’s not just a name. He is his family, his crew, his allies and all the people he’s helped. And I warn you, killing Blackbeard will not further protect your crew,” Shanks says. “It’s not all about starting fights in their name. Sometimes to protect what you love, you have to let some things go.”

Ace almost barks a laugh, but remembers his place. “Coming from the guy who’s known for eviscerating anyone who harms a hair on his friends?”

“Ace has got a point,” Buggy contributes to the conversation for the first time since they walked into the room, earning both of their attention. “Even Whitebeard can’t go around letting people think it’s okay to take advantage of him. You’ve got to clean up those kinds of messes, otherwise people will start to get ideas.”

Red-Hair locks eyes with Buggy.

Unwavering, Buggy adds, “He’ll bounce back only because it’s Whitebeard, but it’ll still be a trial to come back from this.”

“Is reputation important in the grander scheme of things?” Red-Hair says.

Buggy shrugs his whole upper body. “Who’s to say not going after Blackbeard is the wiser choice? Maybe Ace will prevent a greater tragedy by nipping Blackbeard in the bud. All I know is Ace here is looking for vengeance on a traitor, and he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’ll be stopped before reaching his goals.”

At least Buggy has his side on this. Ace faces Red-Hair - not forgetting his manners, remembering not to slouch or scowl - and says, respectfully, “I like you, Red-Hair, for an enemy. You saved my brother’s life and I owe you for that. But these are my family affairs, and you know nothing.”

Red-Hair is quiet for a moment. By all rights, Red-Hair has no sway in what an enemy pirate crew does with its own defector, and to do anything like physically try and stop Ace would be the start of a direct conflict. Ace is certain there isn’t anything with words that Red-Hair can use to persuade him from going after Blackbeard.

“I used to be a crewmember on Gol D. Roger’s ship.”

Ace is taken off guard by the sheer randomness of the statement. Of all the things Red-Hair could say, he couldn’t have predicted that. Neither could Buggy, who fell into an abrupt coughing fit.

“You idiot!” Buggy cries out once he recovers. “You’ll tell someone from an enemy ship about something I work so hard to keep a secret?!”

“Everyone on Whitebeard’s crew already knows about our time on Roger’s ship.”

“They could have forgotten! Or maybe they never would have connected a couple of scrubby cabin boys to us!”

“You were both on that guy’s ship?” Ace asks in disbelief.

“We were both pirate apprentices at the time,” Shanks says. “Younger than even when you started out.”

“The pay was shoddy. Captain was always leaving treasure behind,” Buggy grumbles with a deep, unforgotten resentment.

“So what does that have to do with…”

One look at Red-Hair’s face says it all.

He knows.

Ace gets to his feet so fast he knocks over the chair he was leaning on.

“That’s why you’re so fixated on me?” Ace nearly shouts in accusation, “Because I’m your dead Captain’s son?”

Ace thought Red-Hair only cared about him for his status as Luffy’s brother. And Ace was more than happy with it, to be known as Luffy’s big brother over anything else.

There is a crash and Ace turns to see Buggy on the floor like he’d been knocked back on his ass.

“Captain’s - what?”

Shit. Ace furiously turns on Red-Hair. “You planned this, you trapped me here, made me -”

“You’re free to leave whenever you want, Ace, since the beginning. I can’t control what comes out of your own mouth though.”

Ace wheels on Buggy next, grabbing him by his striped shirt. “Were you in on this? Did you lead your old crewmate to me?”

Excuse me?” Buggy screeches to the high heavens. “Who’s the one who jumped onto my ship and crashed a complete stranger’s party?”

Ace frowns. “Fair point.”

“Besides - isn’t it impossible for you to be Roger’s son? I thought the World Government slaughtered everyone linked to him.”

“I was kept in my mother’s womb for almost two years. She died trying to keep me from harm.”

“That’s messed up.” Buggy places a hand on his head like he’s nursing a headache. “I thought Marines were supposed to be the good guys.”

He’s not used to hearing such a sympathetic reaction, as if they’re talking about a normal bloodline and not his cursed one. It seems like everyone who knew Roger personally has a completely different opinion of him than what’s been popularized. Not that it changes anything. Red-Hair and Buggy have little connection to him personally - if he’s interested in any stories from them, it’s only the ones about Whitebeard he wants to know. If they suddenly decide to care about him because of whose blood runs in his veins, they can fuck right off.

“Both of us knew Teach when he was young, though he was nothing more than an apprentice like us at the time,” Shanks says. “I fear he’ll only grow larger with time.”

“Told you he was bad news, didn’t I?” Buggy makes a point to add. “Trust my gut always. I’m steering clear of him even more now, that’s for sure.”

“Believe me, Ace, when I say I’m trying to help you,” Shanks tries to placate.

Too bad, Red-Hair just dissolved any desire he has to stay on this ship. He hates it. How many more reminders of that man’s legacy are going to come after him and try to decide his life for him?

“I’m not a part of that man’s legacy, and all you did was piss me off by implying it,” Ace says with restrained anger, fists tight at his sides. Red-Hair looks neither guilty or unrepentant, he simply embodies a calm, authoritative presence, like a judge in a court. It’s so different from the man from their first meeting. He thinks he prefers Red-Hair when he’s drinking and partying.

Maybe Ace can swipe a few snacks off their stores for the road. He’s not above eating and running, less so now that it’s Red-Hair.

He flicks his eyes between the two of them. “I don’t care what you two were to him. I don’t care if he was someone important to you. That doesn’t make us anything. You got that?” The only family he’ll ever have is Luffy and Sabo (Dadan too), and the crew he sails with under Whitebeard’s flag.

Before Ace leaves them for good, he considers for a moment and says as an offhand comment, “Buggy, you coming with? I’ll drop you off as one last favor.”

“Stay with me, Buggy,” Red-Hair cuts in. It doesn’t sound like an order, more like a hopeful question. Ace shrugs and leaves them to it - it’s not his business what goes on between these two.

 


 

“So, I guess it’s my turn to be grilled now. Spit it out, Shanks, what do you want?”

Shanks' relaxes his face.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Since I heard you say my name like that.”

“I’m not going around calling your name in public, or else I’d be in danger of exposing my past,” Buggy says it like it’s obvious. “At least one of us has to keep a low profile. The only person I talked to about you was that Straw Hat brat, and that’s ‘cause I knew his straw hat looked familiar.”

“Luffy? What did you say?”

“I told him about the lifelong grudge I have against you. Then I trussed up his hat a little, taught him a wise lesson about the real world of pirates.”

“He beat you, didn’t he?”

“Stop reading into the details!”

Shanks laughs. It’s the same laugh Shanks always had whenever he played a prank on Buggy, or he thought the reaction he got from Buggy was funny. Reaching his eyes and pulling at the scar on his face.

Then he reaches into a desk drawer. “I have something for you.”

“What, you’ve got some information to share with me too?” Buggy asks.

He slips a piece of paper into Buggy’s gloved hand.

“My vivre card,” Shanks states.

Buggy stares at the piece of paper resting on his open palm, almost uncomprehending, as if he’s waiting for further clarification. Then when none comes, Buggy crumples the paper in his fist and flings it at Shanks’ head. “I don’t need some worthless piece of scrap.

“Keep it with you, even just to use as a handkerchief.”

“We’re not friends, Shanks!” Buggy tries to sound angry, but can’t muster up enough of it so he settles for contempt. “We’re long past the days of being fellow cabin boys” - on an old impulse he reaches forward to grab Shanks by the arm to shake him.

And his hand goes right through the cloak like a disappearing magic trick.

Buggy lets out a strangled sound. Then his voice reaches a roof-piercing decibel. “How? How?”

Shanks places his hand over the empty space on his left side. “You didn’t hear?”

“The bounty pictures don’t show your arm, and you’re always wearing that cloak - and not like we get that much news about the New World back in East Blue anyways -“ Buggy doesn’t know what to say to his former comrade missing his entire arm and him not noticing and he just realizes he admitted to looking at Shanks’ bounty pictures, every single one of them in fact. He barrels past his slip-up and remains on the offensive, “You idiot - always so careless. Which stupid stunt of yours finally did it?”

Shanks shakes his head, wearing a fond smile.

“I gave it up for Luffy.”

Shanks gave up his entire arm for that crazy idiot?

He can’t help the frustrated noise that escapes his throat. This is why he can’t stand Shanks, it feels like a headache is coming on every time he’s around him. “Look at you, why are you constantly sticking your nose into other people’s lives? What do you gain from it?”

“A peace of mind.”

“Always had to be the tough guy. Acting cool and not caring about your own self-preservation” - Buggy turns away with a disgusted scoff - “I’ll never understand your line of thinking.”

The sound of an engine roaring to life alerts them from outside, causing Buggy to jump to the side window and plaster his face to the glass. Ace on his Striker zooms past his view, flames pouring out of its tail end as it skips and soars over the waves away from the ship.

“That bastard,” Buggy roars, “he could have at least waited for me! Leaving me on an enemy ship by myself - not all of us can be our own combustible engine and escape freely, asshole!”

“You’re safe with me, Buggy.”

“Like hell I am! I’m stranded on your ship without my crew around for miles.”

“Always worrying. Is it that hard to trust me again?”

“Assuming I ever trusted you in the first place.” Buggy levels a deep scowl at him. “How do you know I didn’t only tolerate you out of respect for the Captain and crew?”

Shanks wears an infuriatingly disarming smile that makes his face look years younger. It’s smug and unguarded and it raises the hackles on his neck. “Because you would have taken my vivre card and sold it to my enemies if you really didn’t.”

“I still have my honor as a former Roger Pirate.” Buggy tries to stalk off with a dramatic guffaw, but before he reaches the threshold Shanks says,

“I saw your bounty posters too.”

Buggy refuses to take the words at anything more than face value as he fights down the flush threatening to rise above his neck. “Of course you did. I’m a famous terror in East Blue. I may not yet be a big name in the Grand Line, but just you wait, I’ll be a great star and have all the world’s treasures in my hands.”

“I’ll see you do it.” Shanks looks inexplicably pleased for no good reason.

Buggy becomes so distracted he forgets to get in the last word before he leaves.

 

 


 

When Buggy is out of the room, he’s not sure where he plans on going. Normally pirates don’t let outsiders just wander around unchecked but Shanks is as gullible a fool as ever. Ace pretty much abandoned him to his fate (never trust a pirate) and until he steals a boat he’s stuck here.

But he doesn’t have to wonder long because he runs into Benn Beckman leaning against the wall almost as soon as he left Shanks’ office.

“Care to have a smoke?” Benn asks.

Buggy tries to brush past as he gruffly responds, “Not my thing.”

Benn Beckman clearly has no intention of ending it there as he stops him by saying, “You’ve known Shanks for a long time then?”

“Why‘s it any of your business?”

“It’s kind of my job to parse these things out.”

“There is nothing to parse because we are not allies. If anything, I am a prisoner on this ship - and you better not lay a hand on me or else my crew will raze you all to the ground, so help me.” It’s a giant bluff, but the first mate can’t be certain of it.

Benn isn’t perturbed in the least by the threat. “He mentioned you, once,” he says instead. “I saw him one day looking at a bounty poster. I asked him about it, and he said it was an old comrade of his that he hadn’t seen in a long time.”

It’s an odd realization to find out Shanks did think of Buggy even while they’ve been apart. It isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary, but it still affects him in strange ways to hear it from someone else.

“He was laughing like crazy at your epithet being ‘the clown’.”

“As if Red-Hair is any better - it’s just a descriptor, absolutely no character behind it because the Marines probably found him so mundane they couldn’t think of anything else!” Buggy shouts in a single breath.

“Shanks doesn’t talk about his past much.” Benn gives Buggy a pointed look. “I guess everyone here is like that, we don’t like being reminded of what we’ve left behind. But it was the first time I saw him stare so long at someone’s picture.”

Buggy could retch at the idea of Shanks gazing wistfully at a picture of him. Sentimental bastard. Typical of him. (Buggy never lingered long over any of Shanks’ multitudes of increasing bounties, he usually got too angry and trashed the posters, gaining verification he’s still alive and kicking and wanting nothing more than that.)

As the numbers blew up, a needling thought began to sprout in Buggy’s mind at the time. Did Shanks even want anything to do with him now? Did he want to forget the grubby chore boy he used to get into scraps with? Too preoccupied with being an important pillar of the New World?

Then he gives Buggy his vivre card. It feels like a taunt.

Buggy remembers the look Alvida gave him, she knows he’s not the type to sass a powerful enemy when he’s in such a disadvantageous position. It must have looked strange to her. Buggy and Shanks' whole relationship is strange unless you know what they know.

When Buggy first caught sight of Shanks’ ship in the distance, he felt all the years of separation weighing on him, realizing he’s not the same little pirate apprentice anymore. But all the same it felt like this Shanks could only be the same one from his memories. Though Buggy is a Captain now with his own responsibilities and can’t be bothered to entertain some childhood fancies, as soon as he saw the same hair and eyes it pulled an age-old reaction out of him from when he was a boy.

Shanks is out of the little kiddie pond they used to share, so far up the ladder Buggy can’t even see him anymore. And now, when he thought it stopped being the same, Shanks is still the one who seeks him out, telling him to Come out and play. Excitedly asking him what he was up to, except this time he’s hauling a whole armada around to go with his free-loving spirit and playful gestures. Shanks is Shanks only now he’s carrying his own name as a deadly weapon. It’s like imagining the naive idiotic ten-year-old he knew waving around the sharpest sword in the world like it’s an extension of his body he can’t help but have, grinning obliviously as he destroys his surroundings and earns a terrifying reaction to his name.

It’s an unpleasant combination to think about.

Shanks basically brought a bomb to a wooden sword fight. And he did it all without changing who he was.

But Buggy doesn’t care if Shanks earned his spot at the top, or if his ideals of friendship and adventure are what helped him climb there. Shanks is just Shanks. He’s the guy who Buggy fought with so much yet bonded with, and through their time together came to learn to coexist with their differences. People were varied, and they were going to have varied ways of thinking and living.

Buggy knows there will always be guys like Shanks. Naive and sentimental and clumsy. But he knows the world is big enough to hold them both. They went over twenty years without seeing each other, and he was fine with that. Sometimes you never see the people you’ve become so close to again, the seas being as vast and unpredictable as they are. Him and Shanks, if there’s no reason for their paths to align there’s never reason for them to meet outside as enemies. The Captain and crew that used to connect them dissolved long ago.

Now he blames Ace for being the reason their paths so unfortunately aligned like this.

Buggy turns to Benn and says, “Why’d you let Ace leave, anyways?”

Benn shrugs. “He’s not a prisoner, he’s free to get off as he pleases.”

“Then I’ve got no reason to be here any longer.”

“Don’t you?” Benn arches a brow, almost taunting. “It’s a day and a half until the next island, you’ll reunite with your crew soon enough if you stick around.”

“My time is precious, I’m a very busy man, y’know. I can’t be dawdling around here.”

“By the way,” Benn begins deliberately, “you do know that Captain John’s treasure can’t be found on any treasure map?”

“How did you -“

“I talked to your crewmate about what an East Blue pirate crew was doing out on these seas.” Benn shrugs like it’s not important. “I actually have a rare book containing a passage about Captain John’s treasure mark in my collection. I can’t recall which one, but I’m sure if you took the time to look for it, you’d find it.” Benn turns away and walks off in the opposite direction, not glancing back at Buggy once.

Buggy can’t shake the feeling that he’s just been coerced into staying on the ship.

He doesn’t know how he should feel about that. But it works on him anyways.

Stupid know-it-all first mate.

 


 

Looking back at it now, it’s simply bad timing. It happens in the middle of a nasty storm. The entire skies around these parts have been nothing but cloudy, and suddenly it starts to look like night during midday.

He’s reminded of Sky Island. Nobody would believe him if he told them of what he saw - he’d be made a laughingstock - so it only exists in his memories now. He wonders if the golden bell is still there, collecting dust in silence. Roger told him to come back and get it when Buggy became a Captain. But Buggy remembers how dangerous it was, and he can’t risk it with the strength and resources he has now. The existence of Sky Island itself has been reduced to fiction and there’s no simple way of plotting the course to it.

He wonders if Shanks ever made it back to Sky Island.

“I haven’t been to Sky Island since then.”

Buggy has no idea how Shanks always manages to sneak up on him ever since they were kids. His torso detaches itself in surprise as he swivels around, his bottom half still facing the other way.

“Just didn’t feel the same.”

Shanks is leaning against the railing next to Buggy, staring out at the turbulent waters.

It’s just Shanks looking for company since he gets lonely easily. With resignation, Buggy breathes out a heavy sigh, falling into a familiar rhythm. “You could have taken that giant golden bell. It’s probably still sitting pretty there.”

“I don’t think I could carry it anyways. It was pretty big, remember?” Buggy could salivate just from remembering it. If it were him, he would have found a way no matter what.

“Water 7 wasn’t the same either,” Shanks says, a somber note to his voice. “It felt empty without Tom‘s presence to fill it up.”

He doesn’t want to think about Tom’s execution. The way he had to watch as the World Government tries to bury every remnant of the late Pirate King, Buggy hiding in terror constantly thinking they’ll be coming for him next. He hates to think of those early days, disenchanted with the freedom and independence he dreamed of as a trainee.

Buggy wonders how far down memory lane Shanks is going to go, even if it does pull at a wistfulness in Buggy’s own mind.

As a kid Buggy imagined that when they were grown-up they’d be the same quarreling rivals they always were, only their fights would be inflated to large scale skirmishes on the high seas. Not reminiscing on the side of a ship after having a talk with Roger’s son. (And honestly, wasn’t that the shock of a lifetime? Ace doesn’t even act much like Roger - although maybe there were similarities sometimes once he thinks back to the time they spent drinking together. He’s not going to get caught up in the kid’s bloodline though, Ace didn’t seem like he appreciated it.)

The last time Shanks and Buggy leaned on the same railing together was the last days they said their final partings to the crew.

“I always thought as long as I obtained my freedom, I could revisit everyone we met before,” Shanks says. “But it doesn’t really work out that way.”

Buggy is itching with curiosity to ask about all their old acquaintances; Shanks must have had ample opportunity to meet them with his freedom to move about in the New World. He almost gives in to the urge to ask, but then -

There’s the sound of a bell from far-off. It sounds like it’s coming from the skies.

It is incredibly faint, probably coming from miles across the sea and high above. If Buggy weren’t already thinking of Sky Island, he would have thought nothing of it. A bell in the sky. Hard to believe it’s coincidence.

They turn to look at each other at the exact same time.

Shanks is grinning like a madman. “You don’t think -“

Shanks leans his whole upper body over the railing, pointing his ear to the sky.

Buggy grabs the back of Shanks’ cloak and tries to haul him back. “Dumbass, you’re going to fall! I’m not jumping in after you.”

Shanks falling. On his own ship. Built to handle weather in the New World. Where he’s been sailing for nearly a decade. It’s ridiculous. But he still doesn’t let go.

“A fall into the water won’t kill me.”

“Except your crew will think I attempted murder by pushing their Captain off the ship,” Buggy retorts.

“You think of the craziest worst case scenarios.”

They listen to the ringing of the bell - it has to be the same one they saw on Sky Island. Does that mean someone made it up there using the same crazy method they did? Damn, that means someone else is getting their hands on all that gold. Buggy already hates whoever it is.

Shanks looks at him like he knows what Buggy is thinking. Except Shanks never cared for gold and treasure, he probably thinks the sentimentality of hearing the bell ring is worth more. Buggy is proven right as Shanks says, “I’m glad I got to hear it with you.”

Buggy won’t admit it aloud, but he’s stoked to hear it too - not necessarily with Shanks. “Now it feels like the old Grand Line I knew,” Buggy say as he can’t help feeling nostalgic. “There’s all the old places I want to see again.”

With Shanks staring at him like that, Buggy wishes, irrationally, that they could sail on to Water 7 together. See the old ship docks again. He wants to ask if anything came of Tom’s sea train design. He has his mouth parted, the words on the tip of his tongue.

Shanks doesn’t even blink, just continues to stare, waiting for the question he knows is being held back. As if he’s forgotten he’s an Emperor of the New World and he’s ready to shirk all his responsibilities to take Buggy on a trip down to see the canals and docks. Knowing the kind of lackadaisical boss he is, he probably would take time for a day trip. But Shanks has no business looking at him like that. As if he wants nothing more than Buggy’s attention on him. For Buggy to want for anything from him.

And Buggy knows how bad Shanks is at hiding his emotions from showing on his face.

Ask me to take you anywhere, Shanks face says, and I will.

“I’ll be -” Buggy spins around so fast his cape makes an actual whooshing sound. His shoulders hunch involuntarily as he walks off with his hands stuffed in his pants pockets looking every bit like he’s brooding. Thankfully Shanks doesn’t follow. Buggy quashes the feeling of disappointment that threatens to well up from a place he refuses to acknowledge.

The less they are around each other, the less likelihood for mistakes.

Buggy goes off in search of the library for the book in Benn Beckman’s collection. The ship’s archives are collectively stored together in one large room, with curving halls and little study rooms on the sides. Beckman told him where to find his personal collection on the shelves, and Buggy finds himself in a corner of the library. His collection takes up about ten floor-to-ceiling shelves - and he wants Buggy to sift through all of it to find one specific article. Beckman really is trying to manipulate Buggy into prolonging his stay. Well, Buggy isn’t going to let that stop him from finding information on Captain John’s treasure mark. He’s determined to find it in no time, no problem.

Buggy quickly realizes it is a problem.

Four hours later and he’s only gone through three-quarters of a shelf. Was Beckham a sadist? How did a man like that become first mate to Shanks of all people?

Buggy refuses to give up. He’s never given up when it comes to treasure. He just needs a break or else he’ll keel over from exhaustion.

He means to take a thirty-minute nap, but he’s not exactly sure how much time passes after he wakes up from it. He’s covered in research books when he wakes up; from a quick glance at the window, daylight is waning, so it’s coming onto evening. The library is empty except for someone in an alcoved study room.

Maybe some dinner and a bath, and then he’ll go to bed. He may be on an enemy ship but he’s still a guest, and he deserves to use some of their amenities.

Buggy is confident that as long as he avoids Shanks for the rest of his stay, he’ll avoid making any grievous mistakes.

Then he makes his first mistake by accidentally stumbling upon a Marine spy in the middle of making a phone call.

Buggy opens the wrong door and walks into a study room to see a person crouched over a Den Den Mushi. He knows the look of a spy caught in the act when he sees one. Dirty players know a dirty act when they see one.

The spy swivels his head back at Buggy, eyes wide.

“-damn, it’s the red-nose -”

“Who you callin’ red-nosed?!” Buggy immediately launches a flying fist at the spy’s face and knocks them out. There is a notebook beside the body with lines that resemble Marine codes. These Marines are getting sloppy if they’re operating so openly.

His second mistake is answering the Den Den Mushi still on the line.

Buggy the Clown -“ the snail moves its mouth - “So you took out our mole, how very perceptive of you. But now, we know all about your relationship with Red-Hair -

“What kind of relationship are you implying -”

- that you were both apprentices on Gol D. Roger’s ship.

“...Yeah, that.” It takes a second for the reality of the information to sink in. “Crap -”

To think you went under the radar for this long.

“I’ve been building up my rep in the flashiest ways possible, but clearly you lot weren’t paying attention, why is it only now that you bastards notice -”

We can only assume that you making contact now means you’re allied under the Red-Hair flag as his subordinate -

Buggy feels a nerve in him snap and he picks up the whole snail and leans in close to its face. “Listen here, you little shit. I have never been, and will not ever be, a subordinate to that Red-Hair! So jot that down in your little mole information notebook. Buggy the Clown is a fully fledged pirate in his own right. Are you writing it down?”

We cannot allow such a dangerous alliance to take place between two former crewmates who have sailed to Raftel together. We will be taking full measure to capture you and treat you as the threat that you are.

Buggy feels himself sweat. “Er - actually -“

I will personally see you captured if I have to chain you in sea stone myself.

“Now hold on a second, there is no alliance between us! Shanks has been my enemy for years.”

There is a contemplative pause.
Then, are you willing to sell the information you have on Red-Hair?

Buggy frowns consideringly. “What kind of information?”

I want what you know about Red-Hair’s weakness.

“He’s only got one arm. It’s right there in the open. Do I need to spell it out for you?”

We have yet to pin down a specific weakness on Red-Hair Shanks. It’s imperative we at least know, so as to have an advantage over these conquerors.

Buggy could laugh. Is that all these Marines wanted? He remembers the Marines having more sense back in Roger’s day.

Personal weaknesses are the most guarded for a reason. You don’t want to see what happens when you mess with a powerful person’s weakness, because there’s guaranteed to be a nasty fallout.

Shanks in particular is blind when it comes to his friends. He’d rather not think about trickery until it’s the last possibility left. Buggy also knows it’s the kind of behavior that makes everyone see him as the weakest Emperor, not just because of his young age.

When you have a reputation for defending your comrades to the death from external forces, it’s a given that you’ll attract certain slimy parasites with treacherous ideas. Like Whitebeard, Shanks would mercilessly cut down a traitor, but he also doesn’t build up his reputation enough, allows comers to attack him first and retaliates only then.

It becomes so easy to trap people like that. All it takes is one hostage. Isn’t that how he lost the arm?

It seems you aren’t so forthcoming -

“Stop needling me you damn Marines!” Buggy snaps. “I’ll tell you what I know when I want to tell you!”

His third mistake is being loud enough to attract the attention of a couple of passing crewmembers. They peer into the doorway and witness the incriminating scene of Buggy standing over an unconscious crewmate of theirs.

“Hey, did you hear that? He’s selling information to the Marines!” One of the pirates accuses him.

“I haven’t even gotten the chance to sell any information -”

There’s another clamor outside in the halls.

“There’s a Marine ship in the distance!” is the announcement from outside.

The eyes of the crewmen in the doorway laser in on Buggy.

“Marines? It must be because of him!”

One thing Buggy doesn’t do is form attachments. He knows his crew only gather around him because he provides them with the kind of lifestyle they want, and they wouldn’t hesitate to abandon each other. It’s the deal they made to obtain lots and lots of wealth.

Then Straw Hat comes along with his ideas of sentimentality and treasure, being the goddamn pirate whisperer - it was like seeing the Roger Pirates risen anew.

Oh, so Shanks saved your life.

And because of Straw Hat he has to be reminded of the way Shanks actually used to be - still is, despite how much Buggy only wants to fixate on the things he remembers hating about him. Shanks is a defender by nature.

Always telling him, Stay back, Buggy, I got this.

After the incident with Buggy eating the devil fruit and almost drowning, he remembers how by sheer coincidence they fished up the straw hat Shanks had lost in his attempt to save Buggy a few days later. Shanks was overjoyed - and Buggy told him if he valued his hat so much he shouldn’t have jumped into the ocean as recklessly as the way he did.

“A thing like this is worthless next to you, Buggy.”

It almost makes him sick. Because pirates are foremost of all self-serving scoundrels who defy the World Government and refuse to contribute to the greater good of the world. And that meant not ascribing yourself to domestic civilian ideals such as devotion unless you were one of the greats. Now that Shanks has somehow earned the acknowledgement of the other Emperors, he thinks he can sway Buggy to his cause of soft pacifism.

Shanks will be a defender to the point of recklessness. He knows, Shanks is everything he isn’t, that’s why they fight so much.

Buggy is foremost a skeevy, self-serving pirate. He couldn’t let himself feel anything positive towards a rival pirate, even if they used to be comrades as thick as thieves.

He’s a ruthless man who takes what he wants; fills in the gaps left behind by his scattered former crew with treasures and weapons and fanfare and everything he likes.

He has to pave his own path, that’s what he promised himself. He can’t be stuck longing for a past feeling that’s dead and buried in the ground.

That was all wrapped at Logue town. When Shanks brought him to watch their Captain’s execution, everything was resolved then, cut off cleanly and burned like a festering limb.

“We’ll do it with the two of us -“

“There is no ‘us’ anymore, moron!” Buggy remembers saying, crying out of rage and gut-wrenching sorrow in the aftermath of watching the only place they belonged get well and truly ripped to shambles.

He’ll manipulate and lie and use whatever he can to survive. The one thing he won’t do is seek out Shanks for help.

Buggy sneers at the hostile Red-Hair pirates in front of him, already knowing how he’s going to resolve this. “What did you think would happen, when an enemy pirate comes on board? There’s no such thing as fair or just when it comes to pirates. It’s everyone for themselves in this hellish world.”

“No-good clown, we should throw you overboard.”

Buggy chuckles darkly. “Sure, if you want to earn the wrath of my crew.” Buggy knows very well that Mohji, Cabaji, Alvida, and the rest of them won’t do a thing. They don’t stand a chance against this crazy New World crew. Time for a Buggy-esque escape plan.

He bursts into a whirlwind of scattered parts, catching them all by surprise. He blows past them and reassembles himself once he’s a good distance down and away from the baffled pirates.

“Don’t let him escape!”

Since Shanks is the type of numbnut to find a situation like this hilarious - and Buggy won’t trust anyone on this ship to be on his side, no matter what Shanks says - Buggy once again has to be the great escape artist and slip out of trouble. He runs around the ship looking for the scouting boat dockings. He’ll commandeer one of the scouting boats, loot a few weapons and bombs. Possibly cause an explosion as a distraction. The Marine ship will help with creating a big enough distraction to help him flee under the cover of fire - but he has to lose the pursuers on his tail before he can enact his plan -

“In here,” a voice calls. Someone yanks his arm to the side and he feels himself being pulled into a room with the door closing behind him. He hears the footsteps of his pursuers pass by and fade down the hall.

Buggy exhales a sigh of relief, “Oh, thanks for -”

Shanks beams back at him. “No problem.”

Buggy stares at him bug-eyed for a moment, before remembering to backpedal away. “What the hell, Shanks?”

“Bit of an uproar out there, huh?”

Buggy grabs the stupid upturned collar of his cloak. “It’s your fucking crew that’s gunning for my neck!”

Shanks is standing there smiling like he’s in on the secret and being chased the same as Buggy. “I’m sure you’ll clear things up with them somehow.”

Buggy doesn’t know if Shanks is unaware of the situation or if he’s being deliberately obtuse, looking far too relaxed.

“There’s your stupid optimism again - even if I do clear it up with your crew, there’s still the problem of the Marines painting me as a target now.”

“Weren’t you always a target? I mean, you had a bounty.”

“A bigger target! You jerk, it’s all because of you the Marines found out about our shared past! If you hadn’t shown up after all these years -”

Buggy shakes him furiously by the collar and Shanks just lets it happen, his head bobbing along with the motion.

“If the Marines already know, there’s nothing we can do about it. We’ll just work together then.”

“That’s not the point, I could have avoided this altogether!”

Shanks steps forward and presses Buggy back against the wall. For a second, Buggy’s mind goes in a different direction of where this could go and immediately hates himself for it. He blames Shanks and his slovenly state of dress entirely - you don’t see Buggy flaunting his toned chest out in the open because he has a sense of decency. “Alright, stay hidden here for now,” Shanks tells him.

“Hold it right there - what are you going to do?”

“I’ll sort out the misunderstanding with my crew. As for the Marines...I’ll see what I can do.”

As if he’s going to stick around long enough to see what he can do.

“Are you listening to me? I’m saying it’s your fault I’m in this situation in the first place, so I’m not going to give you the chance to mess it up further. I’m getting away from this whole mess. You can deal with it, but I’m not a part of it any longer, you hear?”

“But you can’t hide it anyways, they’ll see you connected to me either way.”

“And be dubbed a part of the Red-Hair fleet? Not a chance!” Buggy growls. “If I have to be counted as either your enemy or ally, I’ll be an enemy.”

“I don’t care where you stand,” Shanks retorts. “We might be sailing under different flags now, but you’re still my friend.” Shanks’ eyes darken with a familiar intensity - a look he used to get before charging into battle. “I don’t care what they do to me. I won’t let anyone hurt my friends.”

This is exactly the kind of behavior Buggy can’t stand. When supposed pirates take on qualities of heroism, acting like they’re somehow morally superior to the rest of the scum. Buggy needs to lead a life where he can run at a moment’s notice. But whenever he’s around Shanks, he loses some of his will to run. It’s a bad effect on him.

“You walk around like you’re trying to get yourself killed someday!” Buggy shakes Shanks some more. “Being careless with your own life won’t protect anyone, it’s just going to make you easier to get to.”

“It’s just the way I am, Buggy.”

Their argument will be neverending if it continues on like this. Except there’s no Rayleigh or any of the other adults from the Roger crew around to put an end to it. The two of them need to figure out a compromise on their own.

Or Buggy can turn on his heel and make a run for it.

He does what he does best and deserts Shanks, flying out of the room at a breakneck speed. Screw the Marines. Screw Shanks and his glorified martyrdom. He doesn’t need the burden of Shanks’ friendship pulling him down. Though he ponders the possibility of looping back to the library to find Beckman’s book on Captain John’s treasure mark.

Until he hears Shanks giving chase behind him - the bastard, he can’t believe it.

They end up on the deck of the bow where it’s raining buckets from the sudden storm.

When Buggy hits the railing he spins around and forcibly confronts Shanks, shaking a fist as he shouts, “Would you give it up already?”

“Only if you stop being a coward,” Shanks calls back. Buggy hasn’t seen Shanks snap over nothing like that since their juvenile spats as boys.

“I’ve always been like this. I can’t fight and risk my life like the rest of you. But that’s my freedom as a pirate, to choose when to run and when to fight.”

“I get it if you’re scared - just stop running from me.”

“Don’t act like you know how I feel! I’m terrified, I can’t live like this! Constantly looking over my shoulder, worrying about what’s going to happen, knowing you’re the type to throw yourself into danger without any regard for your well-being -”

“Are you worried about me?” Shanks asks.

Buggy suddenly wishes there was another treasure map he could throw himself off the ship for. This is exactly why they can’t stick around each other.

A number of crewmen notice them on the deck.

“Hey, the spy is trying to attack the Captain!”

Shanks and Buggy are standing close enough that it probably looks like Buggy is trying to their Captain overboard or something nefarious. That’s it, he’s not staying to deal with all of this.

Then as Buggy tries to slip away this time, he gets his footing all wrong under him and takes a literal slip-and-tumble to the floor of the deck.

 


 

Buggy wakes up in a wood-paneled room feeling groggy like he’s been put through a spin cycle.

“What happened to me?” Buggy groans waspishly into the air. Lit by a table lamp to his right, Benn Beckman watches him by his bedside.

“You slipped on the deck and knocked yourself out,” Benn says.

“That doesn’t sound like me,” Buggy mutters unconvincingly. He squints at Lucky Roo standing behind Benn eating and sorting through a medical kit at the same time.

“We’re used to stupid accidents happening around here all the time,” Benn says, not sounding the least bit consoling.

“Doc says you’ve mostly got a clean bill of health. He just needs to set a few bones. And he works best when his patients are asleep, so we’ll see you back topside in a few hours.”

Lucky Roo sidles up next to the bed, giggling madly with a piece of roast meat in hand.

Buggy stares up with dread. “I don’t like this.”

“Nobody does,” Benn says.

“Time to sleep now,” Lucky Roo sing-songs.

Buggy reluctantly obeys and goes to sleep.

 


 

Shanks chooses to keep vigil by Buggy’s side so he won’t wake up alone - although he can’t say for certain if he’ll appreciate waking up to Shanks’ face.

He sits on the bed flipping through a book - one which Benn said to give to Buggy - when Buggy stirs awake beside him. The green makeup he wore has washed off now, baring his natural scruffy face and the tired bags under his eyes.

“Where in the four great blues am I?” Buggy’s voice comes out deflated and reedy.

“My room,” Shanks replies.

“Why your room?!”

“We always used to share a room.”

Buggy makes a disgruntled face. “And I didn’t like it then either.”

It almost feels like nothing has changed. Being with Buggy is like returning to his plucky novice days, rekindling the old spark of a ridiculous dynamic.

He remembers the days it used to be as simple as seeking out Buggy for whatever petty reason or other, sitting with each other under the night sky.

“We got rid of the Marine spy you knocked out,” he decides to mention. Shanks doesn’t need to elaborate on what getting rid of them meant. “I don’t know if he was one from the start or if he turned over to the other side.”

Benn is the one who solved the misunderstanding about Buggy and the spy situation. He suspected the presence of a spy for a long time but couldn’t be certain until they found evidence.

“You were always terrible at spotting a threat,” Buggy says, with a sort of crooked grin. “You’d walk right into danger wearing a stupid oblivious grin.”

Buggy sits upright, rubbing his eyes. He’s been stripped of his cape and hat, gloves and shoes too. His hair is still tied into twin high pigtails he usually tucks into his hat. He wears his candy cane striped shirt and puffy pants, unadorned in a way Shanks hasn’t seen in years.

“This sort of thing happens because you trust too much,” Buggy mutters. “You’d never find a Marine spy on my ship, although the Marines never bothered…”

“But we caught them in the end,” Shanks says.

“You’re lucky I saw it. That spy could have targeted me next. He could have framed a crime on me and thrown my body overboard to make it look like I escaped.”

“I never thought about that.”

“It’s basic dirty tactics. A fool like you couldn’t come up with the idea.”

Buggy stands up from the bed, and Shanks wonders if he’s going to try and leave again. Shanks hasn’t given him the book yet - so he’ll have a reason to keep Buggy behind if he does. It’s not the best method, but it’s the one that works.

Except Buggy just paces and shuffles for a bit before sitting back down on the edge of the bed.

There’s a fresh distance created by time spent apart that Shanks can’t ignore, that can’t be so easily bridged by a prank and temptation.

The thing with Buggy though is that for all he complains and makes a big fuss, he’ll always respond to Shanks, no matter how much Shanks asks for his attention. When Shanks prods Buggy just to see his reaction - he would always deliver, he might call Buggy’s name ten different times for absolutely no reason and he would react every single time while getting angrier as he does it. He may refuse to admit it but he likes attention and would take it where he could get it.

But they aren’t kids anymore. He can’t prod Buggy and expect he’ll get the reaction he wants. They’re both part of a larger world now, they have their own respective responsibilities and journeys they need to think about.

This unresolved thing between them isn’t going to get anywhere unless Shanks acts on it.

Shanks places the book aside and shifts to sit next to Buggy on the edge, so he’s in a better position to see his face.

“I heard that when you were caught, you didn’t try to deny it,” Shanks says.

“Those Marines watching you - they wanted to know about your weakness,” Buggy says with a curt laugh. “Trying to prepare contingencies for all the Emperors. Anyway, they were going to assume things about us, so I’d rather set the record straight that I hate you.”

Shanks is pretty sure someone who really hates him wouldn’t knock out a spy and refuse to share information with the Marines. “I wouldn’t have stood by and done nothing if you needed help.”

Buggy grimaces and rubs the space between his eyes like he senses a headache coming. “I know you’d stake yourself on this, but I wasn’t going to be responsible for you losing another arm, or your crew would have my head.”

“And you wanted to prevent me from doing something self-sacrificial?”

“I only did it because - it’s because of that damned Straw Hat. His stupidity reminded me of you so much, and then he mentioned your name and reminded me - oh, so Shanks saved your life, in that mocking tone of his. As if I don’t know! You still pissed me off! And then - and then I was forced to realize I’ve been sitting on over twenty years of feelings that I never resolved.” There’s a deep grimace on his face as he finishes saying it.

“Is that your way of saying you missed me?” Shanks teases.

Shanks expects more of Buggy’s trademark indignation and denial - but to his surprise, he’s met with silence, and he turns to see Buggy scrunching up his face and his skin glowing a faint red. It makes something tighten in Shanks’ chest, like he’s fourteen years old with a crush again.

Buggy’s frown turns rueful. “Look at what you do to me. I can’t live this down. I’m a Captain, dammit, I won’t have you looking down on me.”

Buggy has his own staunch views on piracy. He seems to think any show of softness or sentimentality is weakness. While Shanks doesn’t care for it himself, he acknowledges it as another way to live. He’s not exactly a saint himself.

He remembers not caring about any of that when the Roger pirates disbanded. Who cares about the right or wrong way of piracy? He just wants to sail with Buggy.

He just didn’t know how to get Buggy to stay if their desires didn’t align. He wouldn’t want Buggy to stay if it’s not what he wanted. It would just cause discord between them. He doesn’t like conflict with the people he cares about, preferring to pretend everything is fine and dandy, always the first to concede to avoid a serious break. Benn scolds him for it. How Shanks will run and forget things that happened at any opportunity, taking all the good and leaving all the bad parts at the door. So he doesn’t do mundane and realistic, he doesn’t like putting in the work an actual relationship would require, preferring to just leave it.

Despite all their differences, Buggy also accepts Shanks as who he is - for all his naivety and carelessness. He doesn’t expect Shanks to change his ways, to be anything more than what he knows he’s willing to do. And that mutual acceptance is what kept them around each other.

He’s not going to ask for more than Buggy wants to give.

Though at the very least, he wants Buggy to keep him as an option to consider when things go bad.

“You’ll always be my friend, that’s just who I am. Even if I’m not yours.” In response Buggy grumbles something about okay, maybe Shanks is a little bit his friend. It makes him feel lighter, knowing he can still manage to chip away at Buggy’s defenses and obtain these little concessions from him.

“After we went our separate ways after Loguetown, I thought I lost the right to intrude on your life,” Shanks says. “What you do with your freedom is your business. And I would never get anywhere with my own adventure if I kept being mindful of you. So, I accepted that you weren’t a part of my life anymore, and you were a part of the world now. And even if I’m not there, the world keeps on spinning.”

Shanks has a predilection towards fate, he prefers to let things happen as they will. If things are meant to be, then they’ll happen somehow. Running into Rayleigh again at Shabody was also like one of those fateful exchanges that were meant to occur.

“I thought you were going to sail with Buggy,” Rayleigh says to him.

“He didn’t want to come with me.”

The smile Rayleigh gives him is almost regretful, pitying, as if Shanks is still the same old pirate apprentice.

“I’m sure you’ll run into him again. The good thing about the vastness of the world, is that you can reunite with people in the most impossible ways.”

He looks at Rayleigh with Shakky and wonders how that came about. Something about coincidences, a favor done and needs met. Would he and Buggy reunite in some way too, once they’re aged and done with their accomplishments?

Rayleigh tells him, “People don’t fade away just because they’re gone from sight. The effect they have lasts. Look at Roger, still living on in the most impossible way in the lives of everyone who heard his words. And though I haven’t seen Crocus since way back, I always remember to disinfect my wounds because I swear I hear that stubborn grump’s scolding from all the way across Paradise...”

What Shanks feels towards Buggy is unconditional, it’s become a treasured part of him. Even though nothing further came of it, he can journey on as if he’s still coexisting with Buggy somewhere in the world. Perhaps even apart there are ways they affect each other.

Maybe Shanks is the way he is because he’s kept in mind the existence of hotheaded scoundrels with hair-trigger tempers, and so he’s able to laugh off slights and let things slide; maybe Buggy is the way he is, ever cautious and realistic, because he’s kept in mind all this time what it’s like being with one reckless idiot with a penchant for throwing himself into danger.

Shanks thought that as time passes the right reason for their paths to cross would naturally come.

“Seeing you like this though,” Shanks says, “it’s not enough to just wait for a reason to see each other again.”

He takes a glance at Buggy, who wears a twisted frown that says he’s not unaffected by his words. Neither of them are going anywhere. Maybe now’s the time to reintroduce themselves into each other’s lives, like enemies turned strangers again.

Shanks brings out a bottle of booze from a stash underneath the bed. He and Buggy have both been through the Roger Pirates school of communication - and it’s usually done in the one way they know. Buggy spies the bottle and doesn’t question it, takes a gulp straight from the nozzle like it’ll flush out all his internal conflicts.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” Buggy says after a while, “when they started calling you an Emperor alongside big names like Whitebeard. It was like you were surviving in the shadows of giants and I didn’t understand it at all. Meanwhile I was wandering around East Blue trying not to die. So maybe the scope was a little different.”

Buggy waves a hand through the air.

“I’ll always be the same skeevy guy, but you - I can’t rest easy knowing you. It’s like you’re carrying around the sharpest sword in the world and you’re the same kid I remember.”

“But you can’t be cut anyways,” Shanks says. “So what have you got to worry about?”

Buggy hisses, sucks in a breath, makes tiny guttural noises and doesn’t come up with an answer.

Because Buggy won’t worry when the threat is Shanks himself. He’ll be terrified of any number of people and threats, but never Shanks.

Ten minutes of passing the bottle back and forth and neither of them are feeling even tipsy yet. Then, because of his typical impatience with keeping his words to himself, Buggy lets loose again with a resigned air,

“Sometimes - sometimes I just miss that stupidly positive rascal who’d laugh and chatter and fight side by side with me. I never thought of myself as brave or strong - but when I was surrounded by you people, it made me feel like I could at least pretend. And whenever that red-haired kid would look at me like I was his partner, or rival or whatever, it made me think, man, maybe I’m not so hopeless, maybe I could be worth something after all. So I wandered around East Blue being a big fish in a small pond, trying to get that same feeling.”

Buggy stares into the bottle a little morosely. “When we were nearing the last island, you started treating me differently even then. You kept looking at me like I was someone to take care of.”

The words take a moment to sink in. It leaves him feeling unmoored in more ways than one.

“I think,” Shanks says, “you’ve got the wrong idea.”

He pauses to work out the phrasing for what he wants to say next. He can’t do this lightly like he typically does with everything else. It goes against his natural instincts, but he has to stick with it.

“I want to protect you, that’s no lie,” Shanks says. “I get nervous because there’s barely any news of you in the papers, but then I realize that might be a good thing since you’ll go undetected better. I wish you’d let me help, but you were always too prideful for that.

“I’ve spent all this time wondering if I should have pushed harder, not knowing whether you were dead or alive, being filled with regret over all the things I didn’t say.

“It’s not that I started thinking you were unworthy as a rival,” Shanks says, hoping Buggy will understand, “It just stopped being all I wanted.”

“Yeah, because I stopped being enough for you -”

“It’s not that,” Shanks cuts in. “I asked you to come with me, but it wasn’t necessarily just to be my subordinate.”

The underlying meaning hangs in the following silence and Shanks is pretty sure he’s wearing the face of a nervous idiot right now, agitation written in his red cheeks and pursed lips.

Buggy snorts. “You’d thought we’d be sweethearts out at sea? Pirate sweethearts?”

Shanks doesn’t say anything. He’s a bit relieved with Buggy’s offhand response, but not entirely pleased about it either.

“That’s ridiculous,” Buggy says. “We’re pirates because we don’t do that sappy domestic crap.”

He wants to remind him of Oden with his family sailing on the Pirate King’s ship, but he knows it mostly has to do with Buggy’s personal ideas about what piracy means.

Neither of them touch the bottle of booze for a while.

“I probably wouldn’t have accepted your feelings back then,” Buggy admits eventually. “I was too restless and ambitious. There were too many other things I wanted from the world. Then, well, I got a few things I wanted - my own crew, a bounty, a bunch of treasure. By then, too much time had already passed. What could I do? I think, maybe, I got too used to you as a memory, I couldn’t imagine meeting the present you.”

Shanks can imagine the exact process, because he’s felt it too even if he doesn’t want to admit it. He sucks in a breath, shakes his head. “It’s weird how similar our thoughts were.”

There is a familiar camaraderie from long ago that hasn’t faded. Shanks feels content with it. At the very least, they have this implicit bond to fall back on and tether them.

Then Buggy turns to him with a crooked grin. “So, you still feel the same way? Still got a crush on me?”

It’s ridiculous to find such a thoughtless approach charming, but he does, only because it’s Buggy. The small smile that appears on Shanks’ face is almost secretive. “That’s not yet certain.”

“Hah? That sounds insulting somehow.” Buggy bunches a fist into the fabric of Shanks’ shirt. “Tell me you felt butterflies when you saw my face again.”

Shanks makes a show of thinking over it, and goes with, “When I first saw you again, all I felt was relief at seeing you were well, and overwhelming anxiety, because it’s been so long and I didn’t know how different things would be now. Any number of things could have happened in your life.”

“But now that you’re here,” Shanks continues simply, meeting Buggy’s eyes, “it’s stirring up all those past feelings again.”

The floor is suddenly of great interest to Buggy as he hastily looks away with a comical expression. But then he crosses his arms over his chest, feigning confidence as he smirks and says, “Yeah? What are you going to do about that?”

“I’d like to kiss you” - Buggy chokes - “but only if you want me to.”

“And if I don’t want it?”

“I’ll leave. Or we can keep drinking. Just tell me if I make you uncomfortable.”

For a few minutes, Shanks watches Buggy mull over it, anticipation rising in his heart with each passing second. Buggy makes a whole show of it. His forehead wrinkles as he seriously considers the pros and cons, the potential outcomes. Then his face glow bright red as he imagines the physical act in his head, mouth twisting up like he doesn’t know whether to be furious or giddy over it.

In a more restrained tone than usual, Buggy finally says, “If I start this with you, I’ll want more than just a kiss.”

Shanks stares with badly contained desire, flushing in embarrassment as he swallows hard. He feels a tight tension brewing inside him. Taking Buggy’s words as the cue he’s been waiting for, Shanks reaches out and takes Buggy’s hand, holding it in his. Some people might think he’s a soft pirate, but he’s just as self-serving as the rest of them. He wants what he wants and he guards it viciously. And he wants Buggy. In this moment, the space between them is like a thick substance waiting to be cut into, he can’t hide his own reactions, his breath ghosting over Buggy’s pallid skin.

Buggy’s free hand moves upwards to squeeze Shanks’ shoulder.

“Don’t make a mistake you’ll regret, Shanks. You’re in no position to be making attachments that can be used against you later. That’s the life of a pirate.”

Shanks’ face gets closer.

I’m warning you now, Shanks. If you move any closer it’s going to end badly for the both of us.”

“Actually, you’re the one leaning in,” Shanks tactfully points out.

Shanks watches Buggy do a full-body freeze as he realizes he’s been the one moving closer the whole time while Shanks hasn’t moved at all. Like a spring, Buggy quickly releases his hold and clambers backwards off the bed. Shanks closely follows his descent to the floor, keeping the same distance between their faces until Buggy’s back hits the wall. Buggy starts sweating like crazy.

“Can I say something?”

“I don’t see why not,” Buggy croaks back.

Shanks face turns serious. “I always thought sex with you would be really kinky because of your powers.”

“Bastard, how dare you sully the name of the Bara Bara no Mi. It’s a versatile, combative paramecia and not something for your dirty fantasies -“

Shanks leans in close enough that their noses are almost touching. “I won’t do anything you don’t want.”

“Maybe not using powers right now is for the best, that could lead into an accident,” Buggy trips over the words quickly. They’re still new with this part of each other, so best not to get too experimental so early in the journey. There’s still hope later on, so Shanks tucks away the thought in the back of his mind. “But the regular touching stuff. That’s - go ahead. I’m ready.”

Shanks places his hand right below Buggy’s jawline, where he can vaguely feel his pulse.

His own heartbeat thuds loudly in his ears, and he thinks Buggy’s is quickening to match his pace. A bunch of hilarious expressions cross Buggy’s face as Shanks moves in. Though Shanks is certain his own face is doing its best to make a fool out of him with his excitement getting the better of him, morphing his face into a happy duck’s.

He presses his mouth against Buggy’s, a flat and firm contact. He hold it there, a close study at first. Soft touches with nothing but lips. Gradually, it stirs up a light sensation in Shanks’ gut, like a hunger he neglected. It makes him open his mouth, carefully pry open Buggy’s own, and press in further.

Buggy makes a muffled squawk of surprise. Shanks sucks it all in - his tongue, his slick mouth and trembling lips.

His senses feel light and Shanks thinks he could melt from the heat of it. Buggy is hard and pushy as he responds, but Shanks moves against him well enough to match. Suddenly it isn’t enough skin contact at all - Shanks slides his hand under Buggy’s shirt and hikes it up to roam all over his chest and abs.

Buggy grunts and jumps a little. “Bastard,” he gasps when he gets a breather - which doesn’t last long when Shanks delves in again, eager for more.

Buggy’s skin is smooth while his muscles are hard and corded. He takes care to explore the bumps and planes, seeing which gets the best reaction, and as Shanks changes up his movements or rubs the right spot, Buggy arches into it, responding with little helpless sounds of pleasure. Shanks can’t contain his own sounds, desperate gasps and rumbles in his throat, as Buggy digs his feet into Shanks’ lower back to pull him closer.

They don’t part as Shanks presses his hips up almost on instinct and grinds his aching groin against Buggy’s. There’s a startled breath from both of them. With their clothes still on it’s not enough to relieve the pressure, but it burns pleasurably anyways.

Buggy’s got a death grip on the fabric of Shanks’ shirt, like he doesn’t know whether to shove Shanks back or pull him closer.

Then in a sudden, bold movement, Buggy slides his hands into the open front of Shanks’s shirt and roams down his stomach, down his sides.

Shanks pulls back and laughs. When Buggy gives him a disbelieving look, Shanks says, “Tickles.”

“You did all that to me and now you’re ticklish?!”

Now he can see the work he’s made of Buggy, and it’s a gratifying sight. Lips made red and puffy and spit-slick. Buggy looking like he can’t believe he felt such intensity with Shanks. And most of all - he’s looking at Shanks like he’ll beg for more if he has to.

Buggy glances down the length of Shanks’ body, and it makes his core tingle with excitement - even if Buggy is furrowing his brows and sticking out his chin like he’s doing calculations in his head. All the possibilities are coming alive with the newfound addition of physical intimacy to their relationship. It makes his heart beat all the more rapidly knowing Buggy is giving himself over willingly - that stubborn guy who would counter everything Shanks says just out of spite is moving in sync with him, showing he wants Shanks just as much as Shanks wants him.

Shanks’ eyes are half-lidded as he slides his hand around to cradle the back of Buggy’s neck.

“Spend the night with me?” he asks, almost pleading.

“You mean - you flashy bastard, I see what that look on your face means. You’re thinking of keeping me up the whole night, aren’t you? Trying to fulfill your every dirty fantasy in a short span of time.”

“Of course that’s what I want,” Shanks says brazenly, not even attempting to hide his raging want, prompting Buggy to splutter in offense.

With how flushed Buggy looks right now, his skin tone could give his nose a run for its money. Shanks is certain he’s not in any better state. His face feels hot and his breaths are short, but he can’t help the dopey grin on his face.

Shanks leans in to rest his head against Buggy’s forehead. “We don’t have to do anything more, if you don’t want to. Just sleep next to me? Please?”

“I’ve been sleeping this whole time.”

“I guess we’ll have to find some other way to pass the time,” Shanks muses in a conspiratorial tone.

Shanks’ hand wanders downwards, feeling the thickness of Buggy’s clothed thighs, the firmness of his backside - and gives into the temptation of squeezing it.

Buggy squirms and growls out, “What am I - a squeeze-toy to you?” His words trail off into a choked-off stutter as Shanks languidly strokes the crease between his cheeks, careful fingers mapping out the place with heated intent. He rubs and curls his fingers, and Buggy reacts with a shudder, eyes wide and flustered, hips moving into the touch as he’s unable to hide how much he wants to see those fingers go further.

“I wish I had both hands again for this.” Shanks can’t help but pout.

“You - you -“

“But then again, I can do everything with just my mouth and fingers.”

Buggy growls. “Alright, move your ass - I’m not doing this on the floor.”

Buggy gets to his feet and hauls Shanks up with him by the scruff of his collar, maneuvers him to the bed and tosses him flat on his back. Buggy crawls over his body, grinning insufferably down at him. “Don’t think you’re the only one who can make people melt like butter.”

Shanks grins back, throwing in a cheesy wink. “I can take as good as I give.”

Shanks wraps his arm around Buggy’s torso to pull him down onto his chest. Buggy goes down with a wheeze.

Shanks smiles into the side of Buggy’s neck, before latching onto the pale flesh, kissing and sucking at a chosen spot. Not hard enough to hurt, although Buggy shouts like it’s the killing blow.

Shanks isn’t a particularly dominating personality, but he has a bit of a possessive streak - comes with the territory of having a Conqueror’s disposition. The scent of Buggy’s skin invites a certain desire where Shanks wants nothing more than to mark it up.

Buggy seems to be on board as he leans his head to the side and allows Shanks more room. He doesn’t stay still either, he keeps moving and rolling his hips down, and it makes Shanks want to bite down hard. His movements are uncoordinated, causing just the right amount of friction but not enough, purely chasing his own pleasure by rubbing off on the hard body below him. Just the idea that Buggy is getting off on Shanks to the point he’s losing his mind - it feeds into the fire stoking inside his gut.

When Buggy sneaks in a hand between them that ends up being the tipping point. It’s slick and sweaty, heat spreads over them as Shanks works to draw out Buggy’s pleasure until he’s succumbing to a full-body shudder, nearly collapsing onto him.

When they’re both finished, Buggy rolls over to face him on his side.

“So that wasn’t so bad - maybe even good, I don’t know, don’t think you’ve exceeded my expectations yet. I haven’t seen enough to make a sound judgement,” Buggy says with an unconvincing scowl.

Buggy is contrary, overblown, possibly the most chaotic loudmouth he knows. And it suits Shanks just fine.

Shanks laughs and pulls Buggy in, knowing he can’t get enough of it.

 


 

Benn Beckman is the earliest to rise out of anyone on the crew, habits he developed in a former life before committing to piracy. Over the years, he has become attuned to Shanks’ schedule and sleeping habits. The man is not known to be bound by anything, and that includes things like the schedules Benn makes the crew follow. Shanks isn't a borderline insomniac like Benn, but does like to rise with the sun. So if Benn has to go find Shanks for the start of their daily routine, it usually means Shanks got distracted by some activity or fascinating pursuit.

Sometimes Shanks will oversleep, but usually only when they have a drinking party the night before.

The noises reach his ears before he’s even in front of the door, traveling through the wood. Benn senses a long day of solitary work ahead of him.

Benn distinctly hears something like a pleasurable shriek and mixture of moans.

“Right, that’s good -”

“Buggy, please -”

Lucky Roo happens to pass by at the moment with high-pitched giggles and Benn resists the urge to roll his eyes.

This is why you don’t spend twenty plus years ignoring your unresolved feelings and letting everything stack up. Then it all comes pouring out at once and suddenly you’re having a marathon for - god knows how long they’ve been at it, Benn isn’t wasting brain power trying to figure it out.

Benn waits for a lull in the noises before tapping lightly at the door, “If you’re going to be long, should I tell the crew not to bother you?”

There is silence.

The sound of Shanks clearing his throat, though it still comes out ragged despite his efforts. “That sounds good, Benn.”

“I assume Buggy is nodding as well,” Benn says, because he’s kind of an asshole.

“How does he know I’m here?” The frantic words are followed up by a shout and, “Dammit, Shanks, that doesn’t mean you can continue!”

Benn suppresses the urge to sigh. “We’ll be rendezvousing with the Buggy pirates in an hour.”

“Make it two,” he hears Shanks say.

“I’ll see to it,” Benn replies succinctly.

Benn only hopes they managed to work out some of the things between them. If not now - well, as long as the sea is vast and they remain pirates, there’s always another chance to resolve everything in due time.

 


 

Alvida is glad to see Buggy. (If she half-expected him not to return, well, she’s not the only one)

They ran into a little trouble on the island they docked at. A pirate crew who were thinking of making a quick buck by handing over Buggy the Clown for his modest bounty.

They laughed and jeered at finding such a low-rank crew without their Captain. They decided to wait for their Captain to return and jump him then.

Alvida watches as Buggy returns to find his ship occupied by a group of enemy pirates, pissed and unimpressed.

Then Red-Hair appears from behind Buggy, all cheer and grins, and things unravel quickly from there.

In the evening, the Buggy pirates host the Emperor in the mess hall, among shrinking crewmen who shakily serve Red-Hair as he asks to try whatever looks good on their plates.

“Don’t hold back for my sake,” Red-Hair says amicably.

Some of the Red-Hair pirates follow him down to join the feast on Buggy’s ship, and a joint party erupts.

Alvida spends the opening act of the evening being fawned over for her beauty by the lower Red-Hair grunts that come over to ask her to drink with them. She refuses them all brusquely and with no small amount of threat, which only seems to warm them to her even more. Even if they are part of an Emperor’s crew, they are the same sort of messy, noisy pirates she doesn’t like. Turns out they aren’t much different from the hoodlums back in East Blue who would need a good beating every now and then, though a separate class in every way.

On the other hand, Benn Beckman is sitting before her, drinking in peaceful silence. From what she’s seen of him, he has a neat and no-nonsense character, a perfect specimen of a man and exactly how she envisions her ideal subordinates to be like.

Somewhere else, Lucky Roo is feasting and cooing over Archie the lion. Yasopp is being intrigued by the crew’s collection of bombs and artillery and is studying the different makes and chemical compositions.

Red-Hair and Buggy are in the middle of a pointless quarrel over whether the sky is vaster than the ocean or the other way around. To think, when Buggy talked of being familiar with the Grand Line, he forgot to mention having a close history with one of the people who rules it.

She wonders vaguely what this will mean for the future of the alliance. If their little manhunt will take a sudden turn into consorting with Emperors and fighting battles on a scale larger than ever. She realizes she’s not a small-time gang leader anymore, she’s a small fish desperately trying to stay afloat in a big pond.

“We won’t be imposing long on you,” Benn says, catching her attention. “We have to return to our territories in the New World, and I doubt you’ll give up your own journey to come with us.”

If it were any other man, Alvida might want to see him under her boot. But there is a quality in Benn Beckman that alerts the sharp steel of her senses. A wolf recognizes a wolf. He may be perfectly disciplined, but he is also a man who would be extraordinarily difficult to tame.

“We aren’t so ambitious,” Alvida says. “We’re happy enough just to sit comfortably with what power we can claim.”

“That’s a smart move.” Benn lights a new cigarette with a flick of a match. “But who knows where fate will bring you? I didn’t exactly plan on being the first mate to an Emperor at first.”

She glances over at the table with Red-Hair and Buggy. One minute they’re quarreling over clams of all things, and the next Red-Hair is looking at Buggy like he’s the greatest treasure he could find. She can’t tell if they’re good for each other or not. But then again, does it matter? They’re pirates. All the social conventions of choosing a respectable partner flies out the window.

“It feels like a shame to keep them apart,” Alvida idly comments.

“With their idiocy and luck combined, they’ll probably encounter each other again in some major disaster, like moths to a flame.”

“Buggy isn’t one to jump carelessly into danger though.”

“And you?” Benn asks. “You’re a Captain who’s allied herself with another crew to achieve a common goal. Where do you align?”

“I’m not adverse to Buggy’s search for treasure,” she says. “I prefer to have the wealth and resources to achieve the results I want. So we align in some ways.”

The Buggy pirates didn’t do anything unless it brought them merit. Alvida herself will only stick with the Buggy pirates for as long as it benefits her.

But from what she hears about Red-Hair and his ideals, from the mouth of his own crew, he cares little for material wealth, doesn’t hoard power, or even crave an ideal to enforce upon others.

It makes Alvida wonder how their paths could align again when their ways are so different.

One of the Buggy pirates tries not to shrink as he starts inquiring to Red-Hair, “So, uh, Red-Hair - sir, does this mean we’re allied now, or -”

“We’ve drunk together, haven’t we? I like you guys, you’re a real funny group,” Shanks says jovially. It doesn’t answer the question.

“We aren’t allies,” Buggy clarifies for him. “But we aren’t exactly enemies either.”

Benn’s smile is slight, but still there.

“So...that means we aren’t joining an Emperor’s fleet?” The voice sounds a bit disappointed.

“You can join, but you’ll have to get off this ship first,” Buggy says with firm authority, successfully shutting up any further hoping from the rest of his crew. Red-Hair just laughs like it’s the funniest thing.

“We’re headed in the same direction anyways,” Shanks says. “I did say we would sail there together one day.”

“Where’s that?” Cabaji asks, already halfway drunk.

Red-Hair just smiles ambiguously. “To the top.”

Alvida assumes Red-Hair is talking about the title of Pirate King - for him, it’s probably a feasible goal.

“So when you feel like making the trip, come find me,” Shanks says, looking only at Buggy.

Buggy doesn’t respond immediately, drawing out an amused exhale. “Knowing you, I bet you’ll somehow come and find me first.”

Buggy says it with mild irritation, but Alvida wonders if he’s even aware of the pleased smile on his face giving him away. Red-Hair, grinning back, reaches over the table to lay his hand on Buggy’s wrist, a light touch of fingers on exposed skin.

Alvida tries to meet Benn’s eyes, but his gaze remains downcast with deliberate disinterest. It’s hard to believe there’s not some sense of allyship between the two crews when it already exists in their Captains.

Where is Alvida heading after all this? If she sticks with this alliance she has with Buggy, she’ll likely see another encounter with Red-Hair and his crew, only the stakes will be higher where they perch. It’s a path that promises chaos. Was she prepared to reach such heights?

For some reason, her mind wanders to Coby and that troublesome Straw Hat. She knows Coby dreamed of joining the Marines, and even went so far to declare he’d arrest Alvida himself. How far will those two go?

Alvida shrugs and takes a swig of her drink. “To the top of the world it is, then.”

When she sets her mug back down, Benn’s eyes are on her, and he’s smiling at her in a genuine way. She realizes then how terribly loyal of a first mate Benn Beckman must be, to prize his Captain’s heart so fiercely. She and Benn Beckman may both be tough and meticulous people, but there is a core difference. All her authoritarianism and ruthlessness could never inspire such loving loyalty; although Alvida has never cared for such sentiments, looking at Benn Beckman makes her feel like she is missing out on something profound.

There is a promise in the way Red-Hair touches Buggy. A bond that comes to light in the way they laugh and bicker. Looking at the two, they should be too difficult to align together, but at the same time it’s a gratifying contrast.

Alvida supposes that even a figure like Red-Hair can possess a sort of ridiculous, irrational side to him. A part of him that unconditionally loves someone who by all common sense should be an enemy. He’s just a man after all.