Luffy cried exactly the same way he did everything else, Ben thought as he watched the boy sob emphatically into the captain's shirt: loudly, gracelessly and with utmost sincerity. It was a little boy cry; Luffy's face was contorted with grief, streaked with tears and snot and dirt. He looked as if he had been crying forever and would never stop. Shanks just held onto him as if the child would fall off the face of the Earth if he should ever let go, his remaining arm wrapped around Luffy's back the best he could from the awkward angle. Considering that the captain was lying prone on the tiny bed that his room at the inn attached to Makino's bar provided, and that Luffy was kneeling beside it, Shanks was making a valiant effort. The captain's expression was grim, but that was all right. Luffy couldn't see it from where his face was pressed to the older man's shoulder.
I didn't mean to cause him this much pain, Shanks said, without actually speaking, as he looked gravely up at his first mate.
I know, Ben replied with a nod, and took another drag from his cigarette. The doctor had specifically warned against smoking in the presence of the healing captain, but Shanks had simply winked behind the old physician's back and grinned, and Ben had taken that as permission. It wasn't as if anything was going to kill Shanks before he was good and ready to go, anyway.
The captain had spoken easily of the injury when he was alone with Ben and the other pirates, making it understood that the loss of an arm would in no way hold him back. But when Luffy had showed up, tearful with regret and responsibility, it had been a different matter.
"Hey, I told you it's no big deal!" Shanks had said, grinning widely. "It's just an arm. What does it matter as long as you're okay?"
"B-but," Luffy had protested, sniffling helplessly, "It was my fault!"
And then he had broken down, bursting into frenzied tears and crashing onto Shank's chest and clinging, much to the captain's shock. But Shanks had recovered quickly and enfolded the boy in his only arm, clearly at a loss for words.
"He was just so insistent," Makino had fretted to Ben, apologetically, outside the room. "I had to let him in; how could I not?"
And really, how could she not? Ben sat quietly on the stool in the corner and beheld the one-armed man and the boy the arm was lost for. Really, when it got right down to it, Shanks loved Luffy. Not like a father loves a son so much as the way a mother bear loves her cub; caring but tough, knowing that life's lessons must be learned first through example and then the hard way. Also, there was a sense of fierce protectiveness that Ben saw both now and out on the water as he had watched from the shore. Even the sea monster must have seen it; all creatures know not to mess with maternal instinct.
And of course, Luffy loved Shanks as well. It was really the most obvious thing in the world, and Ben couldn't help but smirk a little at that. The captain saw the hint of humor on his first mate's face, and despite the situation, grinned.
"Hey Luffy," Shanks announced, cheerful as cheerful knew how to be. "You know, it's actually a lot better this way."
At that, Luffy had no choice but to stop crying and look up. "It is?" he asked in wonderment.
"Yeah!" Shanks continued, and then stopped, the grin frozen awkwardly to his face. Clearly he had not planned beyond that point. Ben was about to leap in when the spark returned to the captain's eyes and he blurted "I can do one-handed cartwheels now!"
"Really? Cool!" Luffy shouted, ecstatic, bouncing on his toes. "Show me, show me!"
Another awkward pause ensued. Shanks scratched the side of his head and mentally grasped at straws. This time, Ben's assistance was clearly needed. The first mate rolled his eyes at his leader's typical lack of foresight and pitched in.
"The captain's lost a lot of blood," he said, careful to make the statement as light as possible. "He needs some time to recover before he can give acrobat demonstrations."
"Oh," Luffy said, crestfallen, but no longer anguished.
"Maybe later," Shanks offered, and followed the statement with a wink. Luffy grinned, genuinely happy through the leftover evidence of tears.
"C'mon," Ben prompted, patting the boy's shoulder as he made to leave the room. "Let's see if we can get Makino to feed you something, eh?" Luffy bounded down the stairs ahead of him, and Ben glanced back into the room in time to catch Shank's look of gratitude for his first mate's quick excuse.
"Hey Makino!" Ben called, flicking some hair out of his eyes as he lit another cigarette. "Get this kid some food, will you? He's wasting away over here."
The bar owner responded by bringing out a plate of food, already prepared, and watching with overwhelming relief as Luffy attacked it. She glanced over at Ben, still seated near the stairs, and raised an eyebrow. Ben jerked his head in the direction of Shank's room and smirked slightly, to which Makino replied with a brilliant smile.
Ben watched Luffy devour his food with faint amusement for several minutes, now understanding why this boy was worth losing an arm. He was exactly the way Shanks had been as a child and he would be exactly like Shanks was now when he grew up. There was potential there; not yet honed, but evident and shining. His musing was interrupted by a sound from somewhere in the vicinity of Shank's room: thunk. The first mate glanced over his shoulder up the stairs, perplexed. The noise came again: thunk. Beginning to worry, Ben stood and climbed the staircase. THUNK. He looked into Shank's room to see the pirate captain sprawled artlessly on the floor, straw hat still spinning like a dropped coin after having rolled away from his head. Ben simply stood over the captain and glared down at him with a raised eyebrow.
"You know," Shanks said thoughtfully, gazing at his dislodged hat. He looked up at Ben and smiled, weary but authentic. "I never could cartwheel even with two hands."
Ben scoffed and delivered a sharp, but not hard, kick to the side of the captain's head. Shanks laughed as if this were the funniest situation to have ever occurred. Ben rolled his eyes, bit back a smile, and reached down to help his captain up.