Title: Swordsman to swordsman
Theme: Sword
Claim: Shanks
Words: 5216
Rating: K+
Warnings: Some blood. Possibly one-sided Perona-Zoro. Spoilers for the beginning of the post-timeskip arc.
Characters: Shanks, Beckman, Mihawk, Zoro, Perona, Rayleigh, Shakky
Disclaimer(s): I do not own One Piece. Besides the characters and setting, there are also a couple of lines included here that are lifted from the manga/anime, for continuity's sake - they don't belong to me either.

"Geez, Zoro, you're no fun at all!"

Zoro barely spared Perona an annoyed glance. She ought to know better by now. "Go away, witch, you can see I'm practising," he grunted, the epithet slipping out well-worn, familiar, as if he'd been talking to Nami or Robin. And no wonder - he'd spent more time now with Perona than he had with Luffy, even. Two years, minus a month. It had felt like an eternity, and yet he had to wonder where the time had gone.

His apprenticeship with Mihawk had already come to an end, a week ago. "I've taught you all I intend to teach you," the older swordsman had curtly informed him. That he had kept some ultimate skill in reserve for their eventual duel, was left unsaid. Which was why Zoro was determined to extend the last skill Mihawk had taught him to Santoryuu style before he left the island, to show him that he was going to continue to learn, to innovate, to show him that the sword-stroke that would one day sever Mihawk's claim to the title of greatest swordsman would come not from a borrowed skill, but would be entirely, wholly Roronoa Zoro's.

"But there are visitors at the castle!" Perona persisted. "And they're not Marines, either! Don't you want to know what's going on?"

Sandai hummed in angry protest when he paused mid-swing. "My crew?" Maybe someone had come by to pick him up for the return to Sabaõdy...

Perona pondered. "No, I didn't recognise them."

"Then I'm not interested." Zoro returned to his experimental katas.

"You wanna get hit with a Hollow?" Perona threatened.

Zoro made a dismissive noise in his throat. "You don't need me to spy on them. Just go through a wall or something."

"Don't tell me what to do! Negative Nerve-shatt-"

"Roronoa, Perona, stop quarrelling." Perona's incantation was interrupted by the commanding voice of Mihawk. He was just coming into view, threading through the trees towards them. Perona subsided into disgruntled murmurs, which ceased altogether with a sharp look from the World's Greatest Swordsman as he stepped into the clearing. He wasn't alone. "Roronoa, you have a visitor," Mihawk announced.

A visitor for him? Zoro cast a quick, appraising glance at the man by Mihawk's side. Weapon: sabre, hanging at waist, worn on the right. Right arm: slung around Mihawk's shoulder. Slung – around – Mihawk's – shoulder. Left arm: none. Scars: three across left eye. Expression: cheerful grin. Mihawk's expression: barely tolerant. Summary: dangerous as hell.

"So you're Roronoa Zoro," the man was hailing him chirpily, disengaging his arm from around Mihawk. "I've been wanting to meet Luffy's first mate."

"You know Luffy?" Zoro asked, a smile coming to his face at the sound of that name.

The man seemed to find his question hilarious. "Do I know Luffy!" he guffawed.

"This is Shanks," Mihawk introduced him, looking rigidly disapproving at the man's lack of manners. "One of the three Yonkou. He has an offer to make you."

"Offer? What offer?" Zoro asked immediately, as he racked his brains for why the man's name sounded so familiar.

"I'm here on behalf of Silvers Rayleigh," Shanks announced. The name of the old first mate of the Roger Pirates triggered the connection. Shanks – the man who had given Luffy his straw hat. Who had been one of Gold Roger's crew and made him the Pirate King. "He'd like to pass on a certain sword technique to you. He would have come himself, but I'm afraid your captain's worn him out, rather." He grinned at Zoro's look of confusion, but then his expression turned serious. "This isn't an offer that's made lightly, nor should you accept it too readily. It's not a skill that will make you the World's Greatest Swordsman, merely one that your crew may find useful in future. And it is not easily learned. You could lose your life trying to master it."

"I think you sold him with that last sentence," Mihawk said to Shanks.

His expression must have betrayed just a touch too much enthusiasm.

"But why me?" Zoro asked. Swordmasters didn't go around offering to teach their most secret sword skills to any random swordsman. And Silvers Rayleigh knew him only as the weakling who had fallen before Admiral Kizaru, too weary to lift a sword or even a finger to save himself.

"Ask Rayleigh-san that when you get back to Sabaõdy. If you get back."

"But..." Zoro hesitated, shooting a look at Mihawk. The rigid code of swordsmanship dictated that the master had absolute control over the training of the apprentice, and though he was nominally no longer under Mihawk's tutelage, neither could he presume to the role of guest. Mihawk could make him refuse Shanks' offer, no matter how badly he wanted to learn a new technique.

Mihawk caught the look and snorted. "Do you think I would have let him make the offer if I hadn't agreed? I've taught you all I intend to teach you. Go ahead and get yourself killed if you so desire. Come, Perona. We'll leave them to it."

"But he hasn't even accepted yet! Besides, you didn't introduce me! This is the first visitor we've had in two years that you haven't made me hide from, and I don't even get an intro..."

"Ah, by your leave, Hawkeye." Mihawk turned, and Perona with him.

"I'd like to borrow Miss Perona for a moment," Shanks said, nodding towards the witch.

"Eh? I'm not something that can be borrowed!" Perona protested, her ghosts making angry faces at Shanks.

Mihawk's eyes narrowed for a moment at the pirate's request, then relaxed again in understanding. "Of course. You'll be needing a scapegoat, won't you?"

"A scapegoat? What are you going to do to me?"

"Perona, stay here. Roronoa..."

Zoro nodded. "I'll look after her." Mihawk acknowledged the nod and left without a further word.

"Sounds like you know each other pretty well by now," Shanks said, amused eyes following Mihawk out of the grove. "I've always wondered what kind of teacher Hawkeye would make."

"Try me and see," Zoro challenged, shrugging off the shoulders of his robe, letting the folds gather round his waist.

Shanks grinned back and unsheathed his sabre. "You know, I rather think I will."

Mihawk returned to the castle and the refuge of his library to find that Benn Beckman had already made himself at home in his absence. Beckman had dragged the only comfortable chair – his chair – into what light passed through the thick, ancient windows, and sat there leafing through a book taken from his shelves, long legs propped up on the ottoman.

Beckman looked up when Mihawk entered. "He accepted, then," he observed in lieu of a word of welcome.

"Was there ever any doubt?" Mihawk crossed the room to the chair that Roronoa claimed on his infrequent visits – usually made under extreme duress – to this room. Despite Beckman's unfortunate choice of captain and his own propensity to look down on the rest of the world, he liked the man. Beckman was a well-bred, courteous fellow – save when in another man's library. He possessed an O Wazamono-grade mind, which made him a fount of interesting conversation. And when they had exhausted the wellspring of scholarship, there was always Shanks' latest shenanigan to commiserate over.

"I suppose not," Beckman agreed. "You didn't stay to watch?"

"I have no interest in a skill that serves only to protect others." Mihawk was staring at what looked like space, but was in fact a particular spot on the carpet where a brash young man had once knelt before him, begging to be made stronger. But he would.

A thunderous, metallic clash ripped through the air, sending a shudder through the castle's stone walls. Mihawk frowned.

"I did make it clear to Shanks what would happen if he lost me another rival, did I not?" he asked.

"Repeatedly," Beckman said, a smile etching its way across his care-lined face. "But something tells me I should be more worried for my captain."

"One way or another, you should be," Mihawk said grimly.

"That's all?"

Shanks chuckled at the barely-concealed note of petulance in Zoro's voice. The kid's blood must be up, after so many months of endless training without the thrill of a real duel to interrupt it. "Yes, that's enough. I can see now where Hawkeye got all those white hairs from," he joked, but the smile he gave Zoro was approving. The lad was absolutely fearless, which was just what he needed.

"You're not so bad yourself," Zoro returned the compliment. There was a look of respect in the younger man's eyes now. Obviously he was beginning to understand just how dangerous a Yonkou could be. He would need that knowledge in the New World, Shanks reflected. Kaidou would be painting a giant target on the Strawhats the instant they entered his territory. "So who cut off your arm?"

"Can someone tell me what I'm doing here?" the pink-haired girl cut in, before Shanks could decide just how to respond to that question. The pout on her face was mirrored on those ghosts behind her. Benn would know what Devil's Fruit that was.

"You have the most important role in our play, Miss Perona," Shanks said, with his usual air of gallantry. "Would you mind coming down to the ground for a moment? I shouldn't like for you to get hurt."

The glance she gave him was filled with suspicion, understandably enough, but she approached him all the same. Behind her, Zoro had relaxed his posture, but his katana remained at the ready all the same, eyes fixed on Shanks.

Shanks dug into his pocket and pulled out the handy chunk of seastone he carried around for emergencies. "Take this, please, and hold onto it."

Perona reached out and took the stone. Her ghosts disappeared in an instant, and she thumped down onto the ground rather heavily. "Seastone!" she gasped, and made as if to drop it, but Shanks quickly closed his fist over hers.

"It'll only be a few minutes. I'm sorry to inconvenience you, but it does help to have a 'victim' who can actually be cut by a sword. When Rayleigh-san taught me this move, we used Buggy, and it took forever for us – well, me – to get serious."

"I don't need any help getting serious," Zoro said, his frown deepening still further.

Really, he was too much like Benn.

"Maybe not," Shanks agreed. "But this is how this move has always been handed down. So, if you wouldn't mind attacking Miss Perona..."

"What!" the girl shrieked. "Zoro would never..."

"Don't worry, I'll be protecting you. You do want to help Zoro learn this move, don't you?" Before she could answer yes or no, Shanks took up his position in front of her. "Be sure to watch carefully," he told his student. "You have only two chances to get this right."

"Two chances?" Zoro scoffed. "Aren't you supposed to say I only have one chance?"

"You have two eyes," Shanks pointed out, and saw them widen in startled understanding. "Now" - he took a deep breath – "come."

The young man's expression changed again, this time to resolution. His jaw snapped shut around the katana between his teeth, and he sprang forward in attack. Shanks readied his sabre.

The second clash of swords came as something of a relief. The tension in the room – and in Mihawk's shoulders – had become almost unbearable. But Beckman had acquired plenty of experience dealing with difficult swordsmen, not least Mihawk himself, over the years, and wasn't fazed by the black aura that clouded the library.

Nor was he overly worried about Mihawk's warning, though he knew it was serious. Mihawk wasn't one to indulge in idle threats, and Beckman still remembered his reaction from more than ten years ago upon noticing Shanks' newly-empty sleeve. He'd taken the loss of Shanks' arm worse than Shanks himself.

Beckman had been mildly concerned about one thing: that this would be the first time Shanks had ever attempted to transmit this skill to someone else. He occasionally tutored some of their crewmen in the art of the sword, but never this particular one. Shanks saw defending the crew as his responsibility, and he would never delegate it to someone else. Especially where swords were involved.

Shanks, predictably, hadn't shared his concern. "He'll get it, don't worry," he had said in his usual insouciant manner, when Beckman raised the question.

"Is that confidence in Mihawk's teaching I spy?"

"Haha. Actually, it's not a matter of sword skill at all," his captain had explained. "It's all about self-control. You need to have mastered your body's involuntary reactions, so you can keep your eyes open even while a sword's coming straight at them, until the very, very last moment, and maybe not even then."

"And what makes you think he has that capability?"

"If you can walk into a giant ball of pain when every muscle in your body is screaming at you not to..." Shanks' voice trailed off into a shrug. "Besides, he's the only one Hawkeye's ever acknowledged since..." Another one-armed shrug. "He'll get it," Shanks concluded, with an air of finality, and Beckman hadn't questioned him further.

"Well? Did you see it?" Shanks asked, shouting to be heard over Perona's high-pitched babbling. Something about them both being idiots, and how she was so going to hit them with the biggest hollow ever...

"Yeah, I saw it," Zoro answered, sheathing his swords. He felt giddy, almost exultant at having met Shanks' challenge. Or maybe it was just the blood loss. He put out his tongue and gave an experimental lick. The steely tang confirmed what the pain was telling him – that was going to be some scar. He grinned. "This how you got those?" He pointed to the three across Shanks' left eye.

Shanks put a hand to his eye. "Only one of them," he answered. "The person who gave me the others was kind enough to make them parallel." He spoke as if it was a joke, but there was a grim undertone to his voice, and Zoro knew that whoever had done that would someday be hunted down.

"Exchange places?" Zoro offered.

"Of course," Shanks said. "I want to see how much you've learned."

"You're going to fight again?" Perona screeched. "Are you crazy? Zoro's hurt!"

"'S nothing," Zoro said dismissively. "Just get down behind me, and keep quiet."

"What? What if you – wait, what if I get killed?"

"I'll protect you. I promised, didn't I?"

Perona stared at him for a moment, then flounced down behind him. "Fine. But I'm sending my ghosts back to haunt you if you let me get killed!"

Zoro smirked, then turned back to face his opponent, mentally rehearsing the intricate sequence of movements he'd just seen for the first time. "So what's the name of this move, anyway?"

"It's an ancient sword style from the country of Wano," Shanks answered. "Paladin's Shield, they called it there."

"Paladin's Shield," Zoro repeated to himself. He laid a hand on the hilts of his katana, considering for a moment before drawing Shuusui.

"Ready?" Shanks asked. His own sword was back in its sheath, but he had a finger hooked under the hilt, ready to draw and strike in one fluid, powerful movement.

Zoro took a deep breath, nodded, and let Shuusui dance.

"Ready?" the nasty red-haired swordsman asked.

Zoro gave a barely perceptible nod, and almost immediately Perona was engulfed in a wave of – she didn't know what it was, but it was drowning her, sending her to the bottom of an ocean of fear, from which there was no escape.

She let out a squeak of horror, too overwhelmed to even cry out. It was cold here, so cold...one tiny corner of her mind was desperately trying to reason that this was just the sort of thing she was supposed to like, but it was just too much.

This was what death felt like. She was going to die here, die at the hands of that nasty swordsman, and so would Zoro, and what had Mihawk been thinking, letting that man come here and kill them all...

That was when the second wave hit her, warm and welcoming. She gasped for air as if she'd just broken the surface, and found herself staring at Zoro's broad, unscarred back, the very picture of strength. His arms were a whirl of motion, weaving a protective cocoon around her.

How could she have been so stupid? He'd promised. "I'll look after her," he'd said. Zoro might be an idiot, but at least he was a reliable idiot.

Funny how up until now, she hadn't realised just how lucky the Strawhats were.

Or how much she was going to miss him.

All at once, it was over, and he was looking down at her, a faint air of concern in his eye. The one that didn't have blood all over it. "Oi. You okay?" he asked gruffly.

"No, I am not okay! That was so scary!"

Zoro mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like "taste of your own medicine".

"What did you say?" she demanded.

"Well, what did you expect?" he shrugged. "You were being attacked by a powerful swordsman."

"I'm sorry if I startled you, Miss Perona," the nasty swordsman said apologetically. Perona noted with satisfaction that he was bleeding from the arm – though nowhere near enough, to make up for what he'd done to Zoro or to her.

"Sorry doesn't even begin to cover it! I'll teach you what it's like to feel sorry! Horo horo hollow!" she bellowed.

There was an anticlimactic moment of silence. No ghosts appeared. The swordsmen stared at her in confusion.

Then she realised why.

She'd totally forgotten to let go of the seastone.

"An eye." Ever since Shanks, Zoro and that pink-haired girl had returned to the castle, the barrier of ice that shielded Dracule Mihawk's emotions from the surface had begun to crack. Now it looked like it was set to shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. "You took his eye."

"I'm sorry I was ever born," Shanks sobbed.

The Hollow-Hollow Fruit, Beckman concluded with a sigh, looking down at the sad sight of his captain. Saving haki for emergencies he could understand, but surely maintaining one's dignity was a shade more important.

"If I'm ever reincarnated, I wanna be reborn as a gnat," Shanks added. Of course, his captain had never been very big on the concept of dignity.

"Perona, let him speak for himself!" Mihawk said, fists clenched.

"But he deserves it! They both deserve it!" Perona protested.

"I wanna be reborn as a fungus," Beckman's patient piped up from the bed he'd been forcibly consigned to.

"Hush, and let me see that eye," Beckman said.

The haki – or maybe it was just Shanks' usual ebullience – finally seemed to be reasserting itself. Shanks shook off his despondent air and got to his feet. But the usual carefree smile was gone as he faced Mihawk.

"Well?" Mihawk demanded.

Shanks remained silent. There was nothing he could say, Beckman knew. He couldn't apologise for not restraining himself against the lad - the code of the swordsman precluded that.

That same damn idiotic code that dictated that Mihawk couldn't fight against a one-armed man. Or, it seemed, a one-eyed one.

"Can't he just tie one hand behind his back and fight the cap'n anyway?" Lucky Roo had once asked during that fateful meeting, when Mihawk first realised what he and Shanks had just lost. He'd been promptly blasted with a wave of sword ki for his pains. Beckman knew the offer of an eyepatch would be equally unwelcome now.

Honestly, these swordsmen were all idiots.

"It mayn't be as bad as all that," he contributed, concluding his examination. Everyone turned their attention to him. "It's mostly a surface wound. The eyeball's intact. But the levator palpebrae superioris was severed...that's the muscle that controls the raising of the eyelid," he explained, seeing their lost looks. "But it isn't necessarily permanent. A skilled surgeon may be able to correct it."

His assessment didn't seem to mollify Mihawk. "And if it can't be corrected?" he asked coldly.

"Then nothing." Zoro pushed Beckman's hand aside and sat up. "This changes nothing."

"It changes everything," Mihawk snapped. "I'm not going to fight a cripple."

"You heard him," Zoro said confidently. "Chopper'll fix it. And if he can't fix it, Franky'll do something about it. And even if they can't do anything about it..." Zoro fixed a gaze on Mihawk so piercing, the older swordsman was probably lucky it came from only one eye. "You're not getting away without fighting me so easily."

"But..." It was the first time Beckman had ever seen Mihawk hesitate.

"The only way you're getting out of fighting me is if I'm dead," Zoro told him flatly. "I've made too many promises to too many people to lose to an eye."

There was a long silence. Then the faintest suggestion of a smile appeared in Mihawk's pale eyes. "Ah yes, of course. The Pirate King would be in trouble without the World's Greatest Swordsman by his side, wouldn't he?"

Zoro grinned suddenly. "Damn straight."

And they believe he'll do it, too, Beckman realised, looking from Mihawk to Shanks, marvelling at the young man's infectious self-confidence.

"Well! Sounds like it's time for a party!" Shanks announced cheerily.

Mihawk turned his glare back on Shanks. "Don't think you're off the hook yet. We still have a score to settle."

"I know, I know," Shanks said. "But don't worry, I brought loads of booze. C'mon, you can help me carry it."

"That's not what I – I am not going to be your pack-mule!" Mihawk hissed through clenched teeth.

Ah, they were back to normal once more.

"Hey, you want the booze or not? I'm a bit injured here, if you haven't noticed." Shanks waved his bloody arm.

Speaking of which... "Cap'n, let me see that before you do anything rash," Beckman said.

"It's fine, Benn! Hawkeye here will be doing most of the carrying, anyway, seeing as he has two whole arms. Eh, Dracule?" Shanks nudged Mihawk in the ribs.

"Why, you..." Mihawk paused, a grin that Beckman could only call malicious spreading across his face. "Very well, but we'll have Perona come along and fix you up along the way. She has acquired quite a talent in the past two years for bandaging up wounds."

"I'll be happy to, horo horo horo!" the girl chortled, grabbing Beckman's spare roll of bandage and flying over to Shanks. From his own patient's reflexive wince, Beckman guessed that this was an event best left unexperienced.

So did Shanks, who turned tail and ran. "Hawkeye, race you to the docks! Last one there is a rotten Devil's Fruit!"

"I am not playing such a childish game," Mihawk responded, but his lope was slightly less than dignified as he hurried after Shanks.

"Hey, wait for me! You're not getting away from these bandages! Horo horo horo!" Perona floated after the two swordsmen.

Zoro followed their messy exit from the room with his good eye. "So that's where Luffy gets it from," he murmured.

"I am so sorry," Beckman said, and meant it.

"'S okay." Zoro slumped back into the pillows with a sigh, but a faint smile was tugging at his lips. "Wouldn't have it any other way."

"I've developed some stratagems for dealing with crazy captains over the years that I could share with you," Beckman offered. "Might save you a few grey hairs."

Zoro turned to eye him quizzically, and for a moment Beckman saw a flicker of the boy in this solemn, serious young man. "No offence, ossan, but you don't exactly look like an authority on the subject."

"Impertinent youngster," Beckman growled comfortably. "Well, here's my first piece of advice, whether you want it or not. First of all, you need a hobby. Something nice and quiet. Something like fishing..."

Shanks stood on the deck of the small boat, enjoying the feeling of the waves beneath his feet for the first time in more than a week.

"We're ready to leave, cap'n," Benn reported, coming up next to him, wiping his hands on a greasy cloth.

"Yeah, but they're not," Shanks replied, nodding towards where Hawkeye, Perona and Zoro were making their farewells.

"If we don't leave soon, we won't catch the tide," Benn clucked, ever the mother hen. He was clearly itching to get back to their crew. Through their efficient communications network, they'd had frequent updates from Yasopp assuring them that all was going well and that the Red-Haired Pirates were having a great time without them. But they were ready to go home.

"Don't you think he'll be rather too early for their reunion?" Benn asked.

Shanks shrugged. "Beats setting sail in a coffin." The sound of three swords slicing through the air caught his attention, and he watched for a while as the young swordsman performed one last demonstration for his old friend. He thought he recognised the essence of that move. "He's surpassed me, you know," he commented to his first mate.

"What, the lad?" Benn's tone was disbelieving.

"As a swordsman."

"Maybe in Mihawk's view, but in objective terms..."

"Oh, I may have more tricks up my sleeve, but he was the one who persuaded Dracule that it wouldn't be beneath his pride to fight a crippled man," Shanks said, slightly wistfully.

"A one-eyed man is very different from a one-armed man," Benn said with asperity, "and besides, you might've persuaded him if you'd tried. You just never cared enough for the title. You never were interested in swordsmanship for the sake of swordsmanship. Just as Mihawk's never been interested in swordsmanship for the sake of protecting others."

Shanks laughed. "That's just it, Benn. But that young man over there? He cares about both. And that's why he'll become greater than either of us, someday."

Benn relaxed at that. "Well, I can't deny that Zoro probably saved your life back there," he remarked dryly.

"Aye, that he did," Shanks chuckled.

"Though if Mihawk ever finds out that Silvers Rayleigh didn't send you here to teach Zoro, not even he would be able to save you then."

"Which is why neither of us is ever going to tell him," Shanks grinned.

"Here they come," Benn said suddenly, and Shanks turned to see the trio walking towards the boat. Zoro and Perona appeared to be arguing hotly about something.

"I'm coming with you! I know how you are with directions! You'll get lost without me!" Perona was saying, in an insistent tone.

"I'm not bad with directions, it's the scenery that keeps moving! Besides, Shanks and Beckman are going to be with me," Zoro argued in response.

"Only part of the way, they said, and then how're you going to find Sabaõdy?"

"I have that Vivrecard thing, remember? All I have to do is follow it!"

"You've gotten lost following the path from the beach to the castle which, I'd like to add, is practically a straight line! Don't you dare deny it, I've seen you do it thousands of times..." Perona lectured a very red-faced Zoro. She whirled around to face Shanks, recognising that he had the final say. "I get to come, don't I?" she asked.

There was a threatening tone if he'd ever heard one – and yet there was a pleading note to it too. Shanks remembered the episode with the bandages, and decided against denying Perona her will. "Have teddy-bear, will travel. Welcome aboard."

Perona stuck her tongue out at Zoro and marched onto the boat.

"Can we set sail now?" Benn asked plaintively.

Zoro took one step onto the boat, then seemed to remember something. He turned to Mihawk and made a deep obeisance. "I'll be back one day," he promised, "in my strongest form."

"I look forward to it, Roronoa Zoro."

"Ooh, remember to invite me too! I wanna watch!" Shanks said.

Dracule rolled his eyes in response, put a boot to the prow and shoved them into the water. Benn got busy with the oars, and Zoro scrambled forward to give him a hand.

"Bye, Hawkeye!" Shanks waved energetically. "Stop by for another party when you have the chance!"

The swordsman raised a hand in farewell. Shanks watched for a while as his friend's figure receded into the distance, looking lonelier by the second, and suddenly found himself hoping the promised day would come soon, when Dracule would be set free of the isolation of his title.

Perona's complaining voice intruded onto his thoughts. "We're not going to row all the way to Sabaõdy, are we? We're moving so slowly, this is gonna take forever!"

Shanks and Benn exchanged glances, Benn's glare saying something like "well, you're the one who let her come on board."

Shanks chuckled to himself as he gazed out over the prow at the horizon. Looked like this was going to be a fun voyage.

The door to Shakky's Rip-off Bar swung open.

Rayleigh recognised the aura even before Shakky's mouth made that little "o" of surprise. "You're the first to arrive," he informed Luffy's swordsman, turning on his bar stool to look at the newcomer, a hulking silhouette in the doorway, three katana in sharp outline against the sun.

"What, nobody's arrived yet? They never change." Roronoa Zoro shook his head, his voice tinged with dry amusement.

"Good timing, though," Rayleigh began, an old resolution coming to mind. Then Zoro stepped closer and out of the light, and Rayleigh noticed with some surprise the scar that ran across the young man's eye, twin to his own. The skin was still puffy around the edges of the wound, so it was only a few days old, but it was healing fast, and soon it would look as if it had been there always.

A scar of that kind could be obtained in any number of ways, but Rayleigh had seen enough of the world not to believe in coincidences. "I see you've met Shanks," he said.

"Yeah," Zoro replied. "He taught me a lot."

Rayleigh smiled at the audacity – and foresight – of his former pupil. "Then he's saved an old man a lot of trouble."

"Rayleigh-san..." Zoro pulled himself to his full height, like a Marine recruit reporting for duty, and fingered the hilt of his white katana like a talisman. "I'm ready for the New World now."

"Yes," Rayleigh nodded, "I daresay you are."


"So, lemme get this straight." Zoro intercepted the mug of sake Shakky had slid over the counter. "Rayleigh-san was first mate of Gold Roger, and Gold Roger had the Hat."

"That's right," Shakky confirmed.

Zoro took a long draught before continuing. "And Benn Beckman is first mate of Shanks, and Shanks had the Hat."

"Yes, and now Monkey-chan has the Hat, and you're his first mate," Shakky said, wondering why Zoro-chan was running his hand through his hair with such a vexed expression. "Oh? Where are you going, all of a sudden?"


A/N: Thought it was better to get this out now before the real story behind Zoro's eye is revealed. :-)

That's all I have for now! Feedback of any kind, including concrit, is very welcome.