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a reflection of magnificence hidden in you

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The first time Shanks sees him, he thinks he’s looking at an angel.

He realises how stupid he sounds a few seconds later, alright, stop laughing Buggy. It’s just that Shanks has never seen anything like it in his brief years at sea — and he’s seen lots of amazing things sailing with Captain Roger. 

Yet this bird in the sky, alight with blue flames, impossibly graceful and quick in the air… no, Shanks has never seen anything like it at all. 

And when the bird transforms into a person — a teenager, to be more precise, not that much older than him from the looks of it — Shanks can’t help but go back to his initial impression. An angel, for sure.

He doesn’t say this out loud, not then anyway. Instead, he goes up to the other boy, shoves his hand in front of him and yells, “I’m Shanks, who are you?”

The teenager looks at him like he can’t quite decide if he wants to fight him or throw him overboard. It’s a look that will become a constant over the years. A clap on the back from Whitebeard, strong enough to break most people’s bones, makes him relent.

“I’m Marco,” he says, his voice much deeper than Shanks expected. 

Marco is not yet known to the world as Marco the Phoenix, though truth be told he would never be so crass as to introduce himself like that anyway. Back then he’s just Marco, who smiles at Whitebeard like he thinks the sun shines out of the man’s ass, and ignores Shanks for the rest of the crew’s time together.

Shanks tries to stay close to Marco during his time on their ship, but Rogers sends him off on an errand when Whitebeard comments that the kiddies seem to be getting restless. Shanks bristles at that, but there’s nothing he can do. An order from the Captain is an order he has to follow. By the time he gets back, Marco and the rest of the Whitebeard pirates are long gone.

He ends up storing the ‘angel’ comment in a quiet part of his brain, his memory bringing it up again whenever he runs into Marco. Over the years, the Whitebeard and the Pirate King’s crews meet often. After Shanks sails out on his own and starts making a name for himself, it’s him who Whitebeard hosts on the ship.

He doesn’t bring up the angel thing again until nearly a decade later, saving it for a rowdy night when he gets Marco alone at a party.

“Do you know what I thought the first time I saw you?” He asks, fuelled by alcohol and the silly, childish part of him that’s just happy to have Marco’s attention.

He’s leaning against an inside wall in Whitebeard’s ship, having managed to make Marco follow him after he started ranting about raiding the ship's stores. He wasn’t actually planning on raiding anything, obviously, but he knew the vague threat would be all it took to get Marco to follow him. Now it’s just the two of them, lit by a lonely lamp near the commanders’ quarters, and Shanks delights in having Marco so close.

“What are you talking about, Red-Hair?” Marco asks him, crossing his arms and leaning against the opposite wall like he’s sizing Shanks up. Maybe he is. 

Shanks doesn’t resist the urge to preen, stretching out his chest in a way that he knows makes his abs stand out.

“I’m asking you if you know what I thought when I saw you for the first time, back when we were both little boys running after our captains.” A pause. “Although I guess you still do a lot of that.”

Marco scoffs, glaring at Shanks in a way that promises he’s gonna live to regret his comment. Fun. “And how the hell would I know that?”

“Coulda guessed. You’re plenty of smart,” Shanks says with a careless shrug. He knows he’s tethering to a fine line here. Push any further and he’ll risk driving Marco away permanently, at least for the night, which is the last thing he wants.

No, what Shanks wants is for Marco to come closer, to let Shanks touch him like he deserves to be touched. What he wants is to devour Marco whole. All that temper, strength, and wonder. It’s been so long since the first time they met, and in all the islands and seas Shanks has visited, he’s never met anyone that comes even close to his phoenix.

“I thought…” he pauses, for dramatic effect. “That you had to be an angel, because there’s no way someone so stunning could be human.”

Marco does kick Shanks then, lifting his leg high up in the air and hitting Shanks with enough force that he would have been blown away if he hadn’t seen it coming. As it is, he’s able to stand his ground and admire Marco’s beautiful strength up close before Marco gives him a final glare and storms off, feisty as always. 

“You’re an idiot,” Marco yells as he marches away, making Shanks burst into laughter that doesn’t stop until the tears start coming from his eyes.

At the end of the day, Marco’s reaction does nothing to dissuade him from his belief. After Shanks comes back to the main deck, he sees Marco circling the skies, his arms shaped into long wings, his body lit in blue flames. A halo of light seems to surround him, blurring the edge of his movements and making him look all the more ethereal.

If he’s not an angel, then Shanks doesn’t know who could ever be.

— — —

It is sheer stubbornness that has Marco falling in bed with Shanks, or at least that’s what Marco says.

Shanks thinks he’s full of shit. It’s Marco who kisses him first, after all.

The night has been branded on Shanks’ memory with a scalding iron. He remembers nearly everything about it, down to the weather — warm, a little balmy even — and how the sky looked — clear, except for a few misty clouds.

They’re on a quiet, uninhabited island. More precisely, they are in a forest with some of the tallest and oldest pine trees Shanks has ever seen, their crews a few hundred metres away.

It’s a night like many others in which the Red-Hair and Whitebeard crews meet. Sake flows maybe a wee bit too freely and the crews get louder by the minute, their combined energies making a party burst from thin air. Shanks laughs and dances with dozens of different people before the urge to pester Marco gets the best of him.

He has a hard time denying himself on an average day. With Marco strolling around in his unbuttoned shirt and those ridiculous tight shorts of his, well, that’s just pushing it. It’s only ever a matter of time with him before he seeks out the mighty phoenix.

This time he doesn’t even need to come up with a lie to get Marco to follow him. He just announces to the people around him — Thatch and Izo, although they’re hardly paying attention to him, truth be told — that he’s in the mood for some quiet time. A few minutes later, he has Marco trailing after him into the forest.

Shanks is talking when it happens. What he’s talking about, precisely, he can’t for the life of him recall. It was probably something stupid anyway, just another dumb joke to see if he could make Marco laugh. But he knows he was in the middle of a sentence because he remembers how it felt to have the words choke in his mouth when Marco grabbed him by the shoulders and plopped a big wet one on him. Not that he’s complaining, obviously, surprise vanishing in the fraction of a second it took to grip Marco’s shirt and pull him even closer.

There’s no hesitation in Marco’s movements. Not a trace of doubt or uncertainty. There’s frustration, yes, and a deep want so hot Shanks is surprised nothing caught on fire that night.

Marco grabs him and does not let go until they’re both shaking and gasping for air, the whole world gone except for them.

Later, Shanks decides to push his luck and voice the question that’s started knocking about in his mind.

“Is there anything special about tonight? I have been pursuing you for many years, after all.”

Marco laughs against his skin and presses a kiss to his neck.

“It was to shut you up,” he says, but even an idiot could tell he was lying. For starters, Shanks can feel Marco smiling against his skin and oh, what a wonderful experience that is.

“Really? Does that mean you won’t join my crew?” Shanks asks, definitely pushing it now. Marco bites him in return.

“It’s just physical, anyway,” Marco says, ignoring the comment about joining Shanks.

Afterwards they cuddle, as in, properly cuddle, with Marco spooning him from behind and giving Shanks his arm to use as a pillow. The whole thing is sweet , which is fairly down on the list of imagined scenarios Shanks has come up with for their first time. They sleep on the forest floor together, away from everyone and everything, and it is arguably one of the best nights in Shanks’ life.

The next time they meet, they do it on a bed, and Marco tells him he’s the most frustrating human being he’s ever met while he’s sucking his dick.

All in all, he takes it as a compliment.

— — —

When Ace dies, Shanks feels a part of himself crumble. His death is a crushing blow to all who fought so hard to save him. Shanks feels grief reaching for him and pushes it down, knowing now is not the time. He has failed Ace, failed Luffy, and, most importantly, he failed Captain Roger. There will be time to cry later, after the dead are buried and the last fires are put out.

When Whitebeard dies… Shanks can’t describe it. He always thought the old man would live forever, as ridiculous as that sounded. Whitebeard was always so confident, so resolute. He’d always been around too. For as long as Shanks could remember, Whitebeard was a known name throughout all the seas.

It’s rather impossible to imagine a world without him, so Shanks avoids thinking altogether and acts instead.

When he steps into the battle fray and brings the fighting to a halt, he’s hardly aware of what he’s doing. He moves on instinct, haki flowing through him as easy as breathing. His natural power grinds those around him to a long enough pause for people to escape. 

He knows it’s neither enough nor the right thing to do. No, the right thing to do would be to hunt down Blackbeard and the Mad Dog, strike them down himself, but Shanks is not a fool. He knows now is neither the time and place.

He won’t make the mistakes of others.

“Thank you,” Marco tells him, later, when it’s just the two of them.

It’s been a few months since the two saw each other and Shanks misses him more than he misses his left arm.

“It was nothing,” he says. Marco shakes his head, disbelieving but not willing to argue.

He looks exhausted, the weight on his shoulders so heavy it seems to be dragging him down. Shanks has been resisting himself for hours now but he can’t hold back any longer. He reaches for Marco with his remaining arm and pulls him in for a hug.

“I’m sorry,” he says, knowing neither words nor actions are enough, but it’s all he can do right now. He would promise Marco Blackbeard’s head if he thought that would make anything better, but he knows this isn’t his fight.

“Shanks,” Marco replies, the rest of the words getting lost in a quiet sob he lets out against Shanks' shoulder.

It’s one of the few times Marco has called him by his real name and it takes him by surprise, making him clutch the other even tighter. “It’s okay. It’s okay, Marco. Anything you need, I’m here for you.”

“You’ve done enough,” Marco whispers, the words pressed against the curve where Shanks’ neck meets his shoulders. He doesn’t make any indication that he’s uncomfortable or wants Shanks to release him, so Shanks doesn’t, keeping him close for as long as Marco will have him.

He doesn’t know when will be the next time they see each other again. If their encounters before were sporadic at best, in the future they might be non-existent altogether.

The thought is excruciating, to say the least. Shanks hasn’t gotten used to having Marco in his bed yet, the two of them having not shared nearly enough nights to satisfy his growing hunger. He would have Marco with him every night and day if he could. He would give his other arm if that is what it took, but he knew he couldn’t ask this of Marco, not now, not in the same jokey tone he’d used so many times in the past.

Many years ago, he had come to terms with the fact that he would ever only take what Marco gave him. He knew that made him a bad pirate in the eyes of many, but Shanks couldn’t give less of a flying fuck what others thought of him.

“Will you be all right?” He asks. It’s a stupid question, he knows, but he won’t feel settled until he hears it from Marco himself.

“I’ll be fine, Shanks. I always am.”

And that’s — that’s not true. Marco, right now, is as far from fine as one could be. He looks like he’s two seconds away from a total collapse and all Shanks wants to do is bundle him up and steal him to his ship. Marco looks burdened and tired beyond his years, shoulders sagged and blonde hair in disarray. His shirt is ripped at the hems and his hands are bloody from cuts he’s yet to heal.

“I’ll always be here. If you ever need anything, you know how to find me.”

Marco nods as he takes a steadying breath. “That reminds me, I have something for you.”

“Oh?” Shanks asks, curiosity making him blink a few times.

And there’s nothing in the world that can prepare Shanks for the sight of Marco reaching into his pockets and pulling out a small vivre card. “It’s mine,” he says, as if Shanks imagined it could be anyone else’s. “Figured it was time you had it.”

“Thank you,” Shanks says, so quiet his voice gets lost in the wind, barely a whisper to his own ears.

Marco already has a bit of Shanks’ card after Shanks gave it to him the night of their first encounter. He hadn’t even thought twice about it, pulled up the paper in one of his pockets and ripped out a sizable chunk before giving it to Marco, who took it without a word, as if he didn’t know what to say.

Now it’s Shanks’ turn to be speechless. There’s nothing for him to do but put the card in his pocket, carefully, but not before he spends a few seconds examining the tiny, scrambled ‘Marco’ written on the paper’s edge.

“Do you know where you’ll go?” He asks.

Marco looks away from him then and shrugs. He’s trying to look all faux-casual but his body is shaking, fine little tremors that threaten to rip out Shanks’ heart straight from his chest. 

“We’ll have to go after Blackbeard,” Marco whispers.

“You don’t have to do anything,” Shanks hisses. He doesn’t mean to sound so angry, but he can’t help the venom in his voice. Too much frustration coming out like a punch, startling Marco, who blinks at him a few times before he looks away again.

“I would never forgive myself if I didn’t go after him. He needs to be stopped.”

Shanks gets what Marco is feeling better than anyone else, but that doesn’t mean he likes it or approves, honour be damned. Marco is talking like a man on death row, like this is his final mission. Shanks wants to grab him by the shoulder and fucking scream.

Goddamn the marines. Goddamn Blackbeard. Goddamn everything.

“Whitebeard wouldn’t want this,” he says, which, yeah okay, he knows it’s a low blow, but he needs to make Marco see reality.

Marco winces as if physically wounded and takes a step back. Fucking hell.

“Thank you for everything, Red-Hair. We’ll be going now,” he says, already walking away.

“Marco…” Shanks starts to say, but he doesn’t know how to finish. Don’t go? Don’t die? It all seems so pointless, so meaningless. His and Marco’s relationship isn’t like that. Shanks isn’t quite sure what it is, if he’s honest. He and Marco have never talked about it. He knows his own feelings, but Marco is a rather hard man to read.

Marco turns around to look at him.

“Be careful,” Shanks chooses to say, not at all the words he wishes to profess, but all he can give, all he knows Marco will accept.

“Thank you. Goodbye,” he says. Not a ‘see you later’, not a ‘until next time’, not a ‘be careful yourself, idiot’ which had become their normal over the years. 

As he leaves, Shanks wonders how it was possible for him to bury another person he loves without saying farewell.

The Whitebeard pirates have, for all intents and purposes, been brought down to their knees. Shanks is horrified at himself when he thinks Marco has never looked more like an angel than now, fallen from the heavens themselves. His head is bowed but his shoulders lift with every step until his chest is high with confidence, every bit of him the captain his crew needs right now. 

“Fucking hell,” Shanks murmurs. For the hundredth time that week, he wishes there was more he could do besides watching Marco walk away.

— — —

When he hears about Marco and Blackbeard, the first thing Shanks does is run back to his cabin.

He nearly destroys his bedside table with the force he uses to pull it open, urge and desperation making him move faster than light itself.

The sound he makes when he sees Marco’s vivre card is still intact is inhumane, relief and agony ripping through his body. He hasn’t seen Marco in the year that’s passed since the war and not a day has gone by where he hasn’t thought about him. He checked the papers every single morning, sometimes ripping it out of Benn's hands in his anxiety over Marco’s fate.

Marco wasn’t easy to kill, that much was quite obvious, but he wasn’t immortal either. Not to mention his power must be immensely interesting to Blackbeard, who’s been making a name for himself since the war.

The newspaper speaks about the defeat of the Whitebeard pirates but doesn’t give any specific details. What happened to the crew, Shanks does not know. It’s a consolation to know Marco still lives, but in what conditions and where, Shanks will now despair over.

He goes back to the mess hall, where Yasopp and Benn are waiting for him while pretending to be busy doing something else.

“He’s alive,” Shanks says. He doesn’t miss the sigh of relief from the surrounding crewmen, which does a funny thing to Shanks’ chest. He’s sure most of his men have never personally met Marco, but it’s nice to see they still care.

“That’s good news,” Benn says. He’s staring at Shanks a bit too hard, almost as if he can read his friend’s thoughts. He probably can, the sneaky bastard. He knows Shanks well enough at least.

“What now?” Yasopp asks, another person who knows Shanks far too well. “We going after him?”

Shanks bites down on his bottom lip and does not answer. He doesn’t know what they should do, if he’s honest. Every bit of him is screaming to go after Marco, but he can’t be selfish, not with something like this. He has men and women to look after, people who’ve sworn themselves to him as he has to them.

He can’t drag them into a war that might tear them apart, but he can’t abandon Marco to the world’s fate either.

“No, but let’s get closer to an island, one with a big enough marine post. They’re bound to have more information than they let out.”

His men nod. Yasopp goes back to his breakfast while Benn leaves to give new orders to their navigators. 

Shanks needs to know the truth, for all the good that might do him.

Later, he’ll wonder when it happened, when his infatuation changed from affection to love. It must have been a subtle change because he doesn’t remember any concrete moment. Maybe the love had always been there, from the first moment they met, and it’s just more noticeable now.

He already knew it was love during the Marineford war, but what about before? The one moment that stands out the most in Shanks memory was after Roger’s death, when Shanks hadn’t formed his crew yet and happened upon a small group of the Whitebeard pirates on a calm island.

They’d all gone out for drinks, because it was the pirate thing to do, and Shanks had laughed and danced seemingly without a care in the world. He’d clapped men on the back and sang all the sea shanties he knew, making up lyrics for those he didn’t. He was sure he looked quite happy, for no one else questioned him that night, no one except Marco, who pulled him to the side after the men left to get more drinks and asked, quite straight to the point, if he was okay.

“Been better,” Shanks replies because damn, what the hell was he supposed to say? His captain was dead and though they all knew it was coming, it didn’t mean it hurt any less.

Marco nodded at him, seeming content enough with Shanks’ answer.

“You thinking of going out on your own?” He asked, making Shanks smile. He was glad that although they weren’t friends, weren’t anything except Shanks annoying him and Marco shoving him off, Marco still seemed to know him as well as any of Shanks’ closest friends.

“Yeah, I promised Roger I would only waste three months to boozing and bingeing before I got my own crew and sailed out to conquer the seas.” Shanks pretends to think something over, rubbing his chin before he points at Marco. “Oh, and I also promised him I’d be keeping you guys on your toes.”

“Did you now?” Marco asked, a soft smile on his face, as if for once he’s actually amused by Shanks’ antics.

“Oh, definitely. Just you wait. You’ll be seeing a lot more of me from now on.”

Shanks didn’t know if it was the alcohol or if Marco was feeling particularly generous that night, but he was amazed nonetheless when Marco laughed at his joke, head thrown back with all his chest and neck gloriously exposed. Shanks stared, transfixed and full of wonder at the fact that he did that. He made Marco laugh.

There truly was a first for everything.

Marco looked beautiful when he laughed, relaxed and carefree, and he looked even more beautiful when he smiled at Shanks with a kind glow to his eyes. Shanks stared for what felt like hours that night, devouring every little detail. The freckles, present only on his nose. The sides of his head, shaved and not bald like many thought. The smoothness of his chest, disturbed only by the inky blue tattoo and the pale blonde hair near the navel. The long line of his neck, perfect ivory skin just begging to be bit.

They spent the rest of the evening together not doing anything but talking. There was no bickering, for once. No Shanks making stupid jokes and Marco punching him through the door.

Shanks already knew he liked Marco before then, but that night… Well, the point he’s trying to make is that maybe it was then, maybe it was some other time, and maybe there never was a special moment to begin with. He can’t say for sure. What he does know is that he cares, so much so that it chokes him sometimes. If he wasn’t the captain, he doesn’t doubt that he would be running after Marco right now, consequences be damned.

He can’t do it, though, so instead he decides to attack a marine base in the hopes of finding a speckle of information.

He takes down anyone who dares to defy him, which, to be fair, aren’t that many people once they realise who he is. As part of the plan, his crew free all the prisoners at the base and blow up the whole fort afterwards. A little mystery for the marines to ponder upon.

It wouldn’t do anyone any good if the world government figured out the true purpose of their trip, which is to learn that none of the Whitebeard pirates have been taken captive. After losing the fight to Blackbeard, the remaining commanders were last seen heading out on five different ships. They dispersed near Dressrosa and their current whereabouts were unknown.

“Vista died,” Shanks says, quietly. By his side, Benn murmurs a low curse before he leaves the room. Lucky goes after him, leaving Shanks alone in the communications cabinet.

Shanks isn’t sure what he was expecting. He always knew Marco would face Blackbeard one day. Naturally, he hoped that he would win, though deep in his heart he knew it wouldn’t be a straight fight. Maybe before, with Whitebeard at their side and their spirits high, they could have won. 

It didn’t matter, though. Maybe’ s and could have’ s never mattered, not at sea. What mattered was that the Whitebeard pirates had lost and, according to the Marines, disbanded.

Knowing Marco, he would be by himself. Where, exactly, even Shanks couldn’t say. He had some ideas, but even if he could persuade his crew to go on a wild goose chase, he wasn’t sure how welcome he would be.

A couple of years ago he wouldn’t have hesitated to go, Marco’s reactions be damned. He could toss Shanks to the very ocean, for all he would have cared.

But that was before. Before they got together. Before Shanks realised he cared so much more than he could ever imagine. Before the old man died and left Marco with all that weight on his shoulders.

Shanks wrecks the entire communications cabinet before he leaves and it doesn’t even make him feel the slightest bit better, how pitiful is his mood.

“So?” Benn asks when Shanks joins him.

The captain shakes his head.

“If they need us, they know where to find us.”

— — —

It is not Marco or one of the other Whitebeard pirates who finds him, but Nekomamushi.

Shanks may or may not squeal.

“Neko! Old friend! It’s been so long!”

Nekomamushi smiles at him, his big cat mouth stretching to show enough razor-sharp teeth that half the crew back away while Shanks rushes in for a hug.

“Red-Hair! It’s good to see you. And look at us, we have matching arms,” he says, bursting into laughter as Shanks hugs his soft fur.

They have drinks that night but there’s no party, alas, for Neko is in a hurry. “I have an important mission to complete in Wano,” he explains, and that’s how Shanks hears about the Ninja-Mink-Samurai-Pirate alliance for the first time. It sounds… absolute bonkers, and just the kind of madness Luffy would rush headlong to.

“Kaidou?” He asks because that, well, to say that is not an easy enemy doesn’t begin to cover it. Although, then again, if anyone has a chance against him, Shanks wouldn’t hesitate to put his money on Luffy.

“It is inevitable,” Neko says, puffing out his chest like the big strong cat he is. Shanks laughs and pats him on the belly. 

“Sounds like it.” He takes another sip of his beer. Weak moonlight gleams across the night sky. With most of his crew already safely inside their cabins, all Shanks has to do is lower his voice a bit to make sure no one else hears them. “If you don’t mind me asking, why are you here, old friend? I assume you’re not gonna ask me to join your fight, will you?”

“No, no, nothing like that. Truth be told, I didn’t plan to come here, but when my minks told me whose ship this was, I couldn’t resist coming over to say hello. No, the person I sought out was another one you might know. Someone from Whitebeard’s crew.”

“Ah,” Shanks says, ever so eloquent. “Marco?”

Neko nods.

“And did you find him?” Shanks asks, his calm voice masking the way his hand clenches with such strength it draws blood to the surface of his skin. He hasn’t had news of Marco in nearly a year. Not a hint of him on any of the papers or in their spies network. His vivre card is the only thing Shanks has to prove he’s alive.

For a long time, Shanks told himself that this is enough. That knowing Marco is alive is all he needs. He’s tried to will it true with every fibre of his being, but with each passing day he grows to doubt it further and further.

“Yes, he’s alive, although I hesitate to say he’s well. Physically, yes, of course. But...“

Shanks is on the very edge of his seat. “But?”

“But he was not the Marco I remembered. He looked much older and sadder. He told me he would not come to Wano, which I do not blame him for, but I don’t believe he did it for the right reasons.”

“No?” Shanks asks, desperate to know more. He wonders why Neko is telling him so many things about Marco in the first place. Does he know about them? How? Did Marco tell him?

Nekomamushi sighs. “No, but I won’t burden you with these worries of mine. Let’s drink instead, to friendship and long life!”

Shanks doesn’t push him for more information, though he does spend the whole night thinking about it. So Marco isn’t doing so well. It’s hardly a surprise, but somehow hearing it from someone he trusts hit much closer to home than a report from the marines ever could. The itch to seek him out returns in full force.

Before he even knows it, he’s making plans to find Marco.

He will go by himself. It wouldn’t be fair to drag his crew into his personal issues. Benn will watch over the ship on his behalf and he will be gone for a week, maybe two tops. If Nekomamushi has just seen Marco it means he has to be close by, and Shanks remembers a story from the old man about an island he used to be fond of.

Shanks could be there in two days if he sailed through the night. He’ll feel more reassured seeing Marco in person and he can use some of his skills to make him  feel better. Shanks has a lot of skills, not that he’s bragging.

The next day, Nekomamushi with a big hug, shared tears and the promise of meeting up in Zou soon. 

It takes Shanks a couple of days to cement his plan. Leaving to go find Marco isn’t that complicated, but making sure his crew won’t miss him is. He’s a dutiful captain, for all he may seem careless at times, and he needs to be sure they’ll be fine before he can contemplate going away.

It is then, of course, that his scout ships send back a report of a blue phoenix flying through the skies headed their way.

“He’s coming over,” Benn says.

Shanks, who is in a literal state of shock, nods. “Seems so,” he says, the words coming out mostly out of reflex.

It is another day before Marco boards their ship in the dead of night. Shanks senses him coming while he’s still a few miles away and he’s waiting for him by the stern by the time he reaches them. The sky is quiet, not a breeze in the air, and the ocean is as calm as if they were on the dead sea.

The look-out on the crow’s nest doesn’t yell when Marco becomes visible in the skies, evidently knowing that Shanks is there and already aware of the situation.

It must be acknowledged that seeing Marco in his phoenix form is just as impressive now as it was the first time they met, so many years ago. He’s still as stunning, beautiful and, yes, Shanks would dare say as angelic as he used to be. If anything, he’s gotten more graceful with time, landing with a beat of his wings so soft Shanks feels only the lightest gust of wind on his face.

It takes Marco a couple of seconds to transform. Shanks waits for him in silence, not wanting to be the first to speak. He doesn’t know why. It would hardly matter if he were to say ‘hello’ right now, but for whatever reason, he wants to hear Marco first.

When he’s back to his human form, the first thing Marco says is, “Hey,” after a few seconds of watching Shanks watching him.

Neko was right. Physically, he looks fine. If anything, his shoulders seem a bit more filled out than they used to be, his chest more defined. But his voice is flat and he’s not even meeting Shanks eyes, his gaze shifting from Shanks to the ship and back again numerous times before they settle on something in the distance. 

“Hello. It’s good to see you,” Shanks says, dropping his voice like he would when speaking to a scared animal.

He’s not lying, of course. It’s been two years since he last saw Marco and even longer since he’s had him all to himself. To say Shanks is excited is an understatement, but he’s also worried, and right now that takes precedence.

Marco nods, lowering his gaze to the floor before he looks back up and stares right into Shanks’ eyes. “Can I come inside?”

“Yes, yes, of course. We can go to my cabin.”

Shanks tries not to stare at Marco as the two of them walk inside, but it’s rather impossible to avoid it. He knows he’s not being subtle either, spending far too much time studying Marco for any and all signs of change.

Marco, for his part, doesn’t say anything, nor does he look back at him. He looks at the Shanks’ ship instead, glancing inside the rooms they pass as if he’s trying to catalogue all the additions and modifications since the last time he was aboard. There’s not much, maybe a few new wooden planks and gadgets from places where his crew got rowdy and broke Shanks’ beloved ship. Nothing worth paying attention to, anyhow, but Marco seems interested enough.

They don’t say a word as they walk. It’s only when they get to his cabin that Shanks realises he’s being a terrible host. “You want anything to eat or drink? Kitchen is closed but I’m sure I can get something for you. A sandwich, maybe?”

Marco settles down on Shanks’ bed before he answers. And yes, it takes a lot of brainpower for Shanks to focus on what he’s saying and not on Marco being on his bed.

“Some tea would be great, actually.”

“Tea, alright, got it. I’ll be back in a minute. Don’t go anywhere.”

Marco chuckles as if Shanks has just said something particularly amusing. “Wasn’t planning on it.”

As soon as he closes the door to his room, Shanks sprints to the kitchen like the devil is on his ass, scaring the living daylights out of Yasopp in the process.

“Did you just see a ghost?” his friend asks. He’s carrying an absurd amount of chips, which Shanks would give him grief for at any other time. 

“Kind of,” he says and doesn’t explain any further. He brings the water to boil and grabs a few different tea bags, having no clue what Marco prefers. Chamomile seems like a good option, given the hour, but does Shanks want them to be sleepy? Probably not. He’ll get green and black tea as well.

He does not sprint back to his cabin because he’s not a complete moron, thank you very much. He does, however, power walk.

He’s not sure why he’s surprised to find Marco in the same exact spot he left him when he comes back. If it weren’t for the droop of his shoulders, Shanks would have dared guess he hadn’t moved a muscle.

“I’m back,” he announces for lack of anything more interesting to say. “I wasn’t sure what you type of tea you like, so I brought a few different kinds.”

Marco glances up at him and grins. When’s the last time he’d done that? Shanks tries to scour up a memory, but they’re all fuzzy enough that he knows it’s been a while. Sometime before Ace left, maybe.

“Anything is fine. Are you nervous?” Marco asks.

Shanks puffs out an annoyed breath and glares at him, though the effect is rather ruined once he starts talking.

“No, well, yes. Maybe. It’s just…” And here he hesitates, unsure of how honest is too honest. In the end, he decides he’s skirted around the truth so far and it’s gotten him nowhere he likes. “It’s been two years. I was starting to think I would never see you again.”

“I’m sorry.” Marco says with a sigh. “I should have written.”

Shanks sits down on the bed next to him, leaving the tea on the bedside table. He hesitates before he puts his hand on Marco’s thigh, but decides that if Marco is here with him, in his cabin, odds are he won’t oppose a little physical contact.

“It’s fine. I understand.” He gives Marco’s leg a squeeze. It’s a silent I’m here, I got you and it’s not enough, but it’s a good place to start. “I heard about Vista.”

Marco lays his head on Shanks’ shoulder, his fists clenched by his side. “I fucked up. I fucked up so bad. I shouldn’t have been the one to lead them. I’m nowhere near the man Whitebeard was.”

“Hey, now you’re just talking nonsense. No one could ever be the same was Whitebeard. The old man was one of a kind, you know that better than anyone else.”

“Yes, and he was a captain. A true captain. I’m nothing but a failure,” Marco whispers.

Shanks thinks something like that is as far from the truth as possible, but before he gets the chance to reply Marco moves away from him and lays back on the bed, letting out another sigh. Maybe a change of topic would be better than.

“You spending the night?” he asks.

“If you’ll have me.”

Shanks moves so he can kiss him on the forehead. “I’ll always have you.”

Marco makes a distressed noise from the back of his throat, though Shanks can’t tell if it’s angry or sad. “You shouldn’t. You can do better than me, you know?”

And that — that Shanks can not accept, no matter how shitty Marco might feel, he doesn’t get to talk like that.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Shanks says. He doesn’t even bother pretending he’s not angry, his voice rising in tone and sound until it’s close to a yell. Marco doesn’t acknowledge the shift, though, too busy staring at the ceiling like it contains all the answers to the mysteries of the world.

“It means I’m a failure and you’re — you’re a great man who deserves to be with someone at your level,” Marco says and yup, it’s official. Shanks is done with his bullshit, grief be damned.

He crawls across his bed until he’s straddling Marco, grabbing his shirt and forcing the other man to blink up at him.

“Marco, I must say, for a smart man, you’ve got to be one of the stupidest people I know,” he says, ending his words with a sharp bite to Marco’s shoulder that goes deep enough to draw blood.

“What the hell,” Marco hisses. It’s the first display of real emotion Shanks has seen all night. Good.

“You are the most amazing, stunning person I’ve ever met. You always have been,” Shanks says, kissing the wound he’s made. He notices Marco doesn’t use his powers to heal it and catalogues that in his mind. “You’re not a failure, but someone who’s been handed the worst possible hand. You’re someone I care for, deeply, and when I say I’ll always have you, I mean it. I want you around, now and always.”

This time, the noise Marco makes is definitely one of anger.

“I can’t,” he spits out. “I have a target on my back. Blackbeard is still looking after me and now I’ve heard there’s someone else, some kid pretending to be Whitebeard’s son.”

Shanks bites him again, this time on the neck, and again Marco does nothing to push him off or heal the wound. “Do I look like a man who can’t defend himself?” he asks.

“That’s not what I meant,” Marco replies, meeting Shanks’ eyes for the first time since they started this conversation. Finally.

“If you don’t want to stay with me, that’s fine. I respect whatever decisions you make, but don’t lie about your motives. You don’t get to make choices on my behalf, Marco. I want you here, on my ship, with me. I have always wanted you to be with me, since the very first day I saw you. And if anyone comes after your head, I’ll tear them apart.”

Shanks doesn’t mean to exert pressure on the room, but he can feel the haki flowing through him uninhibited, anger and power rolling into one. The air is thick with his anger at the world, anger at Blackbeard, angry at Marco for being such a fool and not coming to him sooner.

“You trying to make me pass out?” Marco asks, sounding of breath.

“I’m trying to get you to see reason.” And then he kisses Marco, just because he can. “Stay with me. Just for a while. What’s the point of you being all by yourself anyway?”

Marco kisses him back and seems to relax in Shanks’ arms, melting against the bed.

“Izo called it an idiot’s penance.”

Shanks snorts, nuzzling Marco’s jaw. By gods, he had missed it. “He’s always been the smartest of us. You’re an idiot.”

“Takes one to know one,” Marco replies. Shanks is hardly a poet, but his heart seems to sing with every snappy comment Marco makes at him. He can’t quite believe yet that he gets to have this, but he’s happy to take as many days as Marco will give him to learn.

“We gonna talk all evening or we gonna get to the action at some point?” he asks, pressing small kisses to Marco’s neck as the other man laughs, the quiet reverberations shaking them both. 

“You’re the one on top. Come on, do some work for once.”

Oh, Shanks is gonna wreck him, he’s gonna enjoy it, and then he’s going to do it all again, as many times as he can, not a moment to be wasted.