AN: Set sometime after Enies Lobby. Implied Shanks/Makino because my shipping heart has no shame.
Disclaimer: One Piece belongs to Eichiiro Oda.
by Miss Mungoe
"What d'you think about retiring, Ben?"
The question was asked quite out of the blue one cold, grey morning, true to the man's unpredictable nature, and Ben actually had to stop to consider the thought before answering, wondering briefly how he had managed to be caught so off guard. You'd think his years as the man's first mate would have long since prepared him to such unexpected remarks, so it surprised him when he had no immediate answer to his captain's query.
"If you're referring to the act of enjoying one's old age on remote little islands, I would say it's what we've been stealthily doing these past few years, Captain," he answered at length. Glancing up at the snowflakes slowly drifting down from the overcast sky, he also found himself wondering why the aforementioned islands always had to be so bloody cold.
"That's not what I asked, Benny."
Ben made no effort to disguise the smirk on his face, knowing full well the reason behind the sudden question. "Does this have anything to do with that grey hair you found yesterday?"
And as predicted, the cheeky grin on Shanks' face melted into a grimace, as though he had just taken a bite out of a particularly sour apple. "You just had to bring it up," he declared with a dramatic sigh, dark eyes shifting to gaze gloomily out across the frozen water. Ben rolled his eyes. Here we go.
"One grey hair, Captain."
"One or one hundred, Benny, it doesn't matter. It's graying."
"On the contrary, Ben, I am not. I'll have you know, the colour of my hair is of vital importance to this crew!"
Ben sighed. "Please enlighten me," he retorted dryly, although he had his suspicions about the resulting answer even before it was given.
"What will The Red-Haired Pirates be if my hair turns grey?"
"...the Grey-Haired Pirates?" Ben smirked.
Shanks, however, was not quite so entertained.
"You're hilarious," the redhead drawled, shaking his head as he heaved another dramatic sigh. "Whitebeard will never let me live it down."
"He'll still call you a brat."
"He'll always call me a brat, Ben. That's not the point. The point is that I'm getting old."
Ben looked doubtful. "You act like a child," he pointed out.
"I meant older physically."
"You shouldn't be that surprised, Captain. How old are you now?" Ben asked, lips quirking upwards.
"You find this is amusing," Shanks accused.
Shanks ran a hand through his fiery mane. "For someone who handles everythingwith a straight face, why can't you take this seriously?"
Ben gave his captain a wry look. "Because I think you're overreacting. Yet, for some strange reason, you are still the captain of this crew, and if you wish to retire early, then nothing I say or do will change your mind," he reasoned.
It was Shank's turn to raise a brow. "I didn't say I was going to retire early, Ben, or even at all. I just asked for your opinion on the matter of retiring in general."
Ben smirked. "And what brought such thoughts to your mind, Captain, if not your hair?"
"What are you implying, you conniving man?"
He shrugged. "I'd make a guess on Fuschia," he remarked, a smirk tugging at his lips. "And I'd be right, too."
Shanks grinned. "You've always been far too perceptive for your own good, Benny. I knew there was a reason you were first mate!"
Ben shook his head in exasperation. "You tell us all of your troubles when you're drunk, Captain. It's not so much about being perceptive as it is about having ears."
The grin never left his captain's lips. "Do I?" he mused. "I always was bad at holding my tongue whilst inebriated. You should stop me when I do. A good first mate would."
"…remind me why you're my first mate again?"
Ben shook his head, equal parts exasperated and amused. "You were on a roll, Captain. I didn't have the heart to stop you," he deadpanned. "And I'm first mate because someone has to keep you in line," he added.
Shanks' reply to that was another sheepish grin, before he turned his gaze back to the frozen water. There was a laden silence between them – a rare occurrence, Ben noted with a frown, and concluded that perhaps this wasn't just one of his captain's many whims, but something that was truly troubling him, however rare of an occurance.
"Do you think she's faring well?" he asked suddenly. Ben shrugged, not needing to be told who she was.
"Perhaps. It's a peaceful village," he said, a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. "And she's still young, unlike some of us," he added, giving his captain a sideways glance. For once, Shanks ignored the jibe.
"Married, you think?"
At this, Ben's smirk widened. "She's stubborn," he stated, knowingly, and, in a lightly accusing tone, added, "And if I remember correctly, she seemed adamant on waiting."
Shanks was silent for a moment, brows furrowed as he gazed upon the distant horizon. "She hopes I'll come back."
"Did you give her reason to?"
A pause. "Maybe?" He shook his head, a wry smile on his lips. "A mistake, you think?"
"I don't think I should be the one answering that, Captain," Ben replied. "But, if your talk of retiring is not just empty words, you might look at it as an investment," he added with a smile. "The younger generation is destroying judiciary islands and waging wars on the World Government – we're as good as old news now," he added. Shanks smirked.
"Aa. The kid wasn't joking when he said he'd surpass us one day," he said. "Did you see the new bounty posters? A few months of mischief and the government ads a whole zero!"
Ben smirked. "Jealous?"
"Damn straight! Took me a whole lot longer to get my bounty that high. And he's still just a kid."
"What is he, eighteen now?"
"Seventeen, I think."
"And you, Captain?"
"Ignoring the fact that you already know the answer to that, I'm going to remind you that a good first mate wouldn't be asking about my age, but would be reassuring me that I'm still very much in my prime."
"I'd be lying."
"…you're gloating, aren't you? About the hair-thing?"
Shanks shook his head. "It's good to know that you find my approaching senility amusing, Benny. What am I, chopped liver to you?"
"Call it payback, Captain. If I remember correctly, you've had much fun at my expense in regards to my hair," he retorted. Shanks's grin was too innocent.
"Have I? Must have slipped my mind."
"Like so many other things," Ben muttered with a shake of his head. Another moment of silence passed between them.
"Do you think I should go back?" Shanks asked then, gaze once again on the horizon, grey and dark and looming in the distance. "One day, I mean. I'm not getting any younger."
Ben shrugged. "If your suspicions about the future turn out to be true, old news or not, we are still needed."
Shanks sighed. "So it seems. Such a shame, too. I was hoping for some peace and quiet, but I fear whatever is brewing on the horizon is going to be everything but." His frown turned suddenly severe. "Which reminds me; we need to restock on booze. I think we're running low. And that's a dangerous thing to be low on in these dark times."
"There's enough alcohol in the storage to knock out a small army, Captain."
Shanks didn't miss a beat, "My point exactly. So make sure we restock at the next island; you know I'm going to forget it."
Ben only shook his head, raising his eyes to the sky, still heavily overcast. Snow was falling rapidly now, and the temperature was dropping by the minute. "I'm going to head inside," he announced, sparing a glance at the horizon once more before turning towards the galley. "I advise you to do the same, Captain, unless you've forgotten who has to take care of you when you get sick. You'll get no sympathy this time," he warned as he turned to leave. Shanks merely grinned, not minding the snow at all, but then again, the man had always had a strange fascination with cold weather.
Mindful of the icy planks beneath him, Ben found he couldn't help himself. "Don't fall and break your hip on your way in, Captain. It's slippery," he added over his shoulder with a smirk.
He'd just barely taken another step before a ball of soggy snow hit the back of his head, only to slide down the neck of his shirt. When he turned to his captain, there was a mischievous smile on his lips befitting a boy two decades younger, not a man nearing his early forties.
"Mind your words, Benny, or you're going overboard, and believe me when I say I'm a horrible nurse," he warned.
Ben smirked, choosing to ignore the icy substance running down his neck, knowing he was going to pay him back when he wasn't expecting it, anyway, and glad his friend was over his previous drama and back to his carefree self. Of course, with a man like Shanks there wasn't a day without a little drama, but so long as it settled down to a manageable degree, Ben was content. Anything else was just disconcerting, not to mention a hassle. It's like traveling with a hormonal teenager.
Placing his hand on the doorknob, he pulled the door to the galley open. Before stepping inside, he paused. "Captain." Shanks made a non-committal sound of acknowledgement.
"Would you still like to know my opinion on retirement?"
Shanks didn't turn around as he replied. "Aa." Ben smiled to himself, before stepping inside, the warmth of the galley enveloping him.
"Fuschia has really good ale."
The door to the galley slipped shut behind him.
Left alone on deck, Shanks snorted to himself, eyes still on the horizon. Ben had always had an odd way of going about things, but despite his hidden approval, he was right when he'd said it wouldn't have mattered much in the end. He always had his way, anyway, even if the crew disagreed with him. Whitebeard had always called him a persistent little bastard, and perhaps there was some truth in those words. Red-Haired Shanks was not a man who surrendered to anything easily, after all. His long-time handicap, The World Government and the cocksure rookies having recently descended upon the Grand Line were no exceptions. Age would just have to get in line.
But to be honest with himself – and as he had told Ben – although a child at heart, he wasn't getting any younger physically. Which was why he had decided, perhaps even before finding that first grey strand in his otherwise fiery mane, that Red-Haired Shanks the pirate would only live as long as the colour of his hair did. Of course, he had no idea how long that would be. It was still a vibrant red, after all; freaking out now might be a bit too early, even for his penchant for drama. And he wasn't throwing in the proverbial towel just yet anyway; grey hair or not. He'd give the cheeky new brats a good, long run for their money before that happened, especially one brat in particular. Retiring permanently on some peaceful little isle was still a good way away in an already uncertain future, and it wasn't in his nature to plan too much, anyway. He was a spontaneous creature at heart, after all. But one thing was certain.
Fuschia did have really good ale.
AN: I'm not seeing Shanks retiring any time soon. Probably never, but I'm a hopeless romantic, and this is fanfiction, and when the two mix, you get these unrealistic, hopeful things, *dramatic sigh*.