Benn trusted Shanks. He never would have followed the redhead into the Grand Line otherwise, much less put up with Shanks' various stunts over the years.
Sometimes though, Benn wondered if Shanks had taken one too many hits to the head.
"She's going to throw that in your face if you use that wrapping paper," Benn told his crazy captain. It was awful wrapping paper, as garish as some of Shanks' favorite pairs of pants over the years.
Shanks grinned, expertly taping one side shut. He'd gotten a lot better at wrapping gifts with only one hand - Benn remembered when Shanks' wrapping attempts involved more tape than paper. The stubborn man had refused any help following the loss of his arm, driving Benn up the wall with worry. But the look of joy and satisfaction on his face when he finally managed to wrap a simple box was so bright that Benn reluctantly told the rest of the crew to back off and give their captain space to figure things out for himself.
"That's why I'm not going to give her the chance," Shanks said.
Meaning he would either throw it at her as they escaped or hide it somewhere on the Akatokuro for her to find later. "Noir's going to go after your head again." She always did when Shanks showed up with a gift. It was like the Kiss of 1511 every time - and yes, that incident deserved capital letters.
Shanks only laughed, "Riling up Noir is half the fun!"
Still a few screws loose in his captain's head. Good to know. Benn shook his head and climbed up to the deck to check on the rest of the crew. They had the curiosity of cats, all of them. They'd flown into a frenzy of whispers when Shanks came back with wrapping paper and a gift box. They were still at it two hours later.
Noir's birthday wasn't for another four months. Either Shanks had found the perfect gift and couldn't wait to buy it or Noir had finally received another promotion. Everyone hoped it was the latter - any occasion to throw another party was a good occasion.
Well, Benn mused, he had good news for them.
All eyes turned to him as soon as he stepped out on deck. Benn rolled his eyes. No subtlety with this crew, that was certain. "Rear Admiral Noir is now officially Vice Admiral Noir."
The following cheers were deafening.
The party that night was as wild and merry as ever. Songs were sung, jokes and stories told, and laughter and sake flowed forth.
Benn found a small pocket of peace near the bow of the ship, content to watch the rest of the crew. He wouldn't be here for long, Shanks would notice his absence soon and drag him into the thick of things, but for now the relative quiet was appreciated.
It also gave their newest gunner the courage to come up to him and finally ask whatever question had been bothering the boy since Benn announced Noir's promotion earlier.
"Why are we celebrating?" The rookie Fung asked. "Doesn't it mean she's more dangerous now?"
Benn huffed in amusement. The Red Force hadn't clashed with the Akatokuro since they picked the kid up two months back. Fung had heard plenty about the blonde woman, but hadn't actually seen her or her crew in action to give evidence to those stories. His confusion was understandable, if no less amusing.
"Normally, yes," Benn said. "Vice Admirals are more dangerous because they're specifically trained to use Haki."
Fung's brow furrowed, recalling stories likely discarded as tall tales meant to scare the rookie. "But I thought the Queen of Cards could already use Haki… oh."
Realization dawned on Fung's face. He liked this rookie, Benn decided, lighting up a cigarette. This one actually used his brain. "Noir's been using all three kinds of Haki since her first fight with Shanks." He confirmed. Fung paled. Benn didn't blame him.
In Benn's opinion, Noir was one of the most dangerous Marines, on par or greater than the Admirals themselves. An opinion most of the New World pirates shared. Sure, the Admirals were powerful Logias, and Noir didn't have a Devil Fruit. But Noir didn't need a Devil Fruit. She could still kill a man before anyone knew she was there, and walk away without being detected no matter how many people looked for her.
A unique application of Conqueror's Haki, according to Shanks. Apparently passed down through her family. Benn didn't know for certain, but if he had to, he'd guess that Noir imposed her Will on others to overlook her presence. As opposed to Shanks overpowering a person's Will to stay conscious. Which brought up the question of what kind of training Noir had as a child. She sure as hell wasn't trained to be a Marine.
Seeing Noir and Shanks clash? That was interesting. Shanks' Conqueror's Haki was the strongest Benn had ever seen. He could knock out thousands of people without a problem. Noir struggled with even a hundred. Common sense stated that Shanks should overpower Noir's Haki every single time, similar to Armament Haki.
Benn would not have believed it had he not seen it himself. Numerous times. Shanks had tried to overpower Noir and her crew, only for Noir to respond with her own Haki. None of the crew had felt even a touch of Haki, but neither Noir nor her crew keeled over from Shanks' Haki.
Benn still couldn't figure out how she did that.
"Why are we celebrating then?" Fung asked. Benn sighed. He took it back. If Fung hadn't noticed the crew's eagerness to party in two months he wasn't using his brain that much after all. "If she died then- mmphf!"
Benn was already checking for eavesdroppers. Shanks was across deck laughing his head off, and the rest of the crew were halfway to passing out. He leveled a glare at Fung as he withdrew his hand. "Don't even imply something like that unless you want to lose your head." He warned. "The captain rather likes Noir." Most of the crew did, but Shanks was most likely to kill the idiot. Benn would rather not need to find another aft gunner so soon.
Fung had at least caught on to that. "Why the hell is Red Hair so fond of this woman?" He demanded after Benn's hand no longer covered his mouth.
"The captain loves her." Yasopp answered. Fung choked on air at the grinning sniper's sudden appearance and swore.
"You're shitting me."
"Nope." Yasopp laughed. "Has been as long as I can remember."
Benn's brow rose. He knew Shanks and Noir went way back, but Yasopp was the first to join Shanks' crew. Not long after Roger's execution, if Benn remembered right. Just when did Shanks meet Noir?
"Why?" Fung asked, flabbergasted. Benn could relate. He remembered when he first figured out Shanks' infatuation of the then-captain. He hadn't been able to wrap his brain around it then, and still couldn't now.
That wasn't completely true. Noir wasn't someone who'd let Shanks steamroll over her. A real possibility, with Shanks' personality. No, Noir could go toe to toe with Shanks - had done so many times - and look him in the eye as an equal. She didn't let fear or awe cloud her judgement of his character. To Noir, Shanks was simply Shanks, not the Yonko Red Hair the rest of the world saw.
If Noir had been anything but a Marine, it would have made perfect sense. But... she was a Marine.
Yasopp shrugged, not looking confused in the least. "Shanks sees Noir as home." He said. As if that made any sense at all. Yasopp clapped Fung on the shoulder cheerfully. "You ever meet someone like that, lad, don't let them go in a hurry."
Yasopp wandered off to refill his drink. Fung turned an utterly lost expression on Benn. "Don't look at me," Benn said, "Yasopp's the married one."