After about a year, things were finally getting to be...well, not routine, but the Red Hair Pirates could generally predict what sort of chaos their cabin boys were about to cause.
While everyone had been right that Luffy was pretty clearly Shanks’ favorite, Sabo pretty quickly became just as obviously Benn’s for no other reason than causing the first mate the least amount of trouble. Ace seemed perfectly happy without being the favorite of either, since he still seemed to consider adults tolerable at best excluding Lucky Roo if the man was showing him how to punch better.
Of course, Sabo causing the least amount of trouble was a strictly relative term.
“What’d he do?” Benn asked, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“Stole a half a keg of beer,” Yasopp said. He looked like he was trying not to laugh. This was going to hurt.
“Sabo why did you steal half a keg of beer?” Benn sighed.
“…What are beer balloons, Sabo?” Benn asked.
“Water balloons but smell cause it’s beer.”
“Okay, yeah, that’s actually kind of funny,” Benn admitted to Yasopp. “You use the cheap beer, Sabo?”
“I’m not stupid, of course!” Sabo said indignantly.
“Good, you only get double chores for a day then,” Benn said. “Go on, go see Cookie and ask what needs peeling or chopping.”
“Yes Benn,” Sabo sighed.
“And tell Ace and Luffy they finished mopping around the door ages ago and they’re not fooling anyone,” Benn added.
Yasopp and Sabo burst out laughing at the outraged squawks from outside the door.
“You’ve got a real way with the kids, Benn,” Yasopp said.
“Yes, well, Shanks keeps complaining about how I ‘dad’ better than him. You’d think after a damn year I’d get him to realize it’s not a verb,” Benn said.
“You’re still hung up on that?”
Benn folded his arms. Yasopp laughed harder.
“Still…still, man, you’re doing a pretty good job. Don’t know if I could do it…”
“Which is weird since you actually have a kid.”
“Yeah but…come on, what if I screw him up?”
“Go find Shanks. You can commiserate on that fact.”
“Captain’s in a drinking contest with Kincaid and Sven, I’m not going to get a straight answer out of him until tomorrow afternoon, at least.”
“Yasopp has a kid?”
Benn and Yasopp looked down. Sabo had apparently doubled back for something.
Yasopp rubbed his head, “Uh…yeah.”
“Cool, when do we meet him?” Sabo asked.
Benn smirked, “Yeah, Yasopp, when?”
“Oh, hell no, do not use the brats against me,” Yasopp said.
“What do you mean?”
And now Ace and Luffy were back. Of course.
Yasopp paled, seeing where this was going, “I…uh…I haven’t seen my son in years—ow!”
“ACE!” Benn snapped, restraining the kid as Ace hauled back for another punch.
“Asshole!” Ace yelled. “At least my shitty not there dad is a shitty not there dad because he’s dead!”
“Ace, watch your mouth!” Benn said sharply.
“Yeah, so Yasopp’s like Luffy’s shitty dad, who cares right?” Sabo asked sarcastically.
“We need to go find his kid,” Luffy said firmly. “Yasopp, we need to go find your kid.”
“It’s not that simple, Luffy,” Yasopp said, warily watching Ace thrash in Benn’s grip.
“Sure it is. Which Blue is he in? We can go there and you can see him and not be bad like my dad.”
Ooh, sucker punch from Luffy with that comment. Benn wasn’t even sure the kid meant for it to hurt as much as it had to have.
And Yasopp was gone. Benn would bet he’d be hiding in the crow’s nest for a few days. “Ace, double chores for a week for attacking a crew member.”
“But he’s an asshole,” Ace said like Yasopp hadn’t been one of his few liked adults just that morning.
“I’ll make it two weeks if you don’t start moving.”
“So…so what happened?” Shanks groaned through the hangover.
“Kids found out Yasopp never visits his son. Ace flipped out. Ace is being punished. Sabo and Luffy are no doubt planning on how to either guilt trip Yasopp into visiting his kid or just turning the ship around to do it.”
“They’re eight and eleven, Benn, they can’t turn this ship around on their own. Especially through the Calm Belt.”
“Yeah, but what happens next time we go to East Blue for an alcohol run?”
“…Okay that they might manage…” Shanks agreed. “How badly did you say Ace flipped?”
“I think he’d have managed to break bones if I hadn’t grabbed him after the first hit. Yasopp’s probably got one hell of a bruise though, it was a solid hit.”
“Shit. Still working on that damned temper of his.”
“Think it would be better or worse if you talked to him about Roger?”
“Right now? Worse…shit there’s never going to be a good time for that,” Shanks said. “Okay, go get someone to supervise Ace’s punishment. I’ll handle Luffy and Sabo once my head stops trying to kill me.”
“That’s why I’m the captain, I can plan even when hungover.”
“Keep telling yourself that.”
“But it’s not right!” Luffy insisted for the fifth time.
Thankfully Shanks was a bearer of Conqueror’s Haki and like all such people, could in fact take arguing for hours. It was why his crew was more worried he might one day debate Whitebeard instead of fight him.
“It’s Yasopp’s choice. His kid is in a safe place right now and Yasopp doesn’t want to jeopardize that via visiting-pirate-dad. You know, like making him a target?”
“Like what happened with us without parents visiting?” Sabo said.
Sometimes that one reminded Shanks way too much of Benn, “Yes but Yasopp’s no Gol D. Roger or Monkey D. Dragon. People aren’t looking for his relatives without him leading them to the kid.”
“No buts and no plotting Yasopp’s doom. I mean it,” Shanks said.
“Fine. We won’t do anything to Yasopp,” Sabo muttered.
“Luffy?” Shanks asked.
“…I won’t do anything to Yasopp.” Luffy agreed.
Shanks glared at Ace.
“I never said I wouldn’t do anything to Yasopp,” Ace said.
“And your brothers never promised not to give you ideas, I figured that out,” Shanks said.
“I’ll take a punishment. It’s worth it,” Ace said.
“Well then I’m not punishing you properly if you come out thinking that,” Shanks said.
“Then we’ve got an issue,” Ace said. “I’m not letting up. If I’d known Luffy’s dad was alive before we had to run I’d have tried to find a way to mess with him too. It’s not right.”
“I’ll say we’ve got an issue,” Yasopp muttered. Ace had taken some of their syrup and honey and mixed it with pepper and then dumped it on the guy for an itchy, sticky, sneezy mess.
“Ace, you aren’t changing anything,” Shanks said. “You’re just pissing off Yasopp and anyone else caught in the crossfire. And me because I don’t like this happening on my ship.”
“This isn’t about me.”
Shanks and Ace both looked at Yasopp.
“This is about your issues, kid,” Yasopp said. “Yeah, I’m a shit dad, I admit it. But you’re not flipping out this badly because I’m a shit dad. You’re flipping out over something else. So I’m going to make you a deal. Today? Never happened…if you talk with Shanks about it. Right now.”
Yasopp shot Shanks a look.
Oh. Apparently now was going to be the time to talk about it.
“All right, Ace, that sounds like one hell of a chance,” Shanks said. “One honest talk with me instead of what would be months of punishment?”
Ace grumbled before, “Fine.”
“Great. Going to go see if Cookie finished making that stuff he thinks will wash this off,” Yasopp said, leaving.
Shanks stood up and walked over to the window seat in his cabin, “Come here, Ace.”
Ace did so.
“I get that you are…really feeling affected by this,” Shanks said. “But you can’t go attacking people because you’re made at Gol D. Roger.”
Ace looked the tiniest bit ashamed of himself. “It’s just…he doesn’t even have a good reason.”
“And he doesn’t need one,” Shanks said. “Not everyone has good reasons for things, Ace, they’re still going to do them. This is between Yasopp and his kid, not you.”
Ace frowned but leaned into Shanks’ side.
Shanks really wished there was a better way to ease into this… “Do you know what ship I was a cabin boy on, Ace?”
“Gol D. Roger’s.”
And just like that Ace was tense. “You…you knew that asshole and never told me?”
“To be fair, the man I knew wasn’t an asshole,” Shanks said. “As for why I didn’t tell you…you’re kind of demonstrating.”
“Is that why you saved us?” Ace demanded.
“I saved you because Luffy is my friend and you are his brother,” Shanks said. “The fact that you’re Rouge and Roger’s boy matters, but I’d have saved you either way.”
“I’m not his boy!” Ace snapped. “He abandoned my mom!”
“Roger didn’t abandon anyone.”
“He was dying Ace.”
“What?” Ace asked.
“When they caught him. He was already dying. He probably wouldn’t have made it to see you born anyway.”
“Pretty sure it was one of the hits he took in the Battle of Edd War…but then he also had this incurable whatsit that Buggy and I found out about…Raleigh tanned our hides for eavesdropping…anyway, I don’t know everything, of course, hell, I didn’t even know Rouge was pregnant…no reason she’d have told me, though, I was a teenager and the crew had disbanded by then-”
“You knew my mom?” Ace asked.
“Yeah, she sailed with the crew a lot,” Shanks said. “Great with knives, taught the other cabin boy, Buggy, how to throw them like a real pro. You’ve got her freckles. Eyes too, Roger’s were lighter.”
“You knew her…you actually…Gramps didn’t know her!” Ace said.
“She was a private person, like Benn is, and she liked to take breaks to hang out in her hometown in South Blue. Also had to sit out the Edd War fight, busted ankle. Sulked on the ship like nobody’s business. You got her sulking ability all right…”
“Am I more like her than him?” Ace seemed almost elated at the idea that he sulked like his mother.
“…Little hard to tell, you’re still a kid. I respect my old captain but…he had a kid’s impulses. And pettiness…his morality sometimes worked like one’s too, not that it was necessarily a bad thing,” Shanks said. “Let’s check again when you’re older, okay?”
“Don’t want to be his son,” Ace muttered.
“Then you don’t have to be. Just be you, Firecracker.”
Ace looked at him, confused.
“Tell me you don’t go off like one and I won’t use the nickname.”
“…’S better than Anchor I guess.” Ace frowned pensively. “Shanks?”
“…Can you maybe tell me about my mom sometimes?”
“Sure. Ask whenever you want.”
“…Does anyone else know?”
“Ah, let me see…think it’s just Benn, Doc, Yasopp, and Lucky Roo,” Shanks said. “No, wait, Kincaid might too. Should be it. Doc’s only in case you get sick and he needs to know something.”
“Okay. Don’t tell anyone else. I’m not his son.”
“Got it. Now let’s go find your brothers before they cause some kind of chaos while everyone’s busy reeling from your chaos.”
“Sorry we gave Ace the idea,” Luffy said as he tried to help Yasopp salvage his dreads.
“Look, maybe if I explain this better to one of you, you’ll be able to let up guilt free,” Yasopp said. “You know how Ace hates Gold Roger?”
“I…think my son probably feels that way about me.”
“I left when he was a baby to become a pirate. His mother died while I was gone, I didn’t even know until after she passed…I wouldn’t forgive me,” Yasopp said. “And all I might do is put him in danger if I go. Sure most people in the Blues don’t know who the crew is but…I’d stll be taking a chance.”
“You know how I don’t know my dad?” Luffy asked.
“Yeah. Ace and Sabo have made it pretty clear how mad you all are at him.”
“Well, yeah. But if he showed up and gave me a reason, even a dumb one that only made sense to him, and told me he was sorry and he really was…I’d forgive him,” Luffy said. “People do dumb stuff. I do it all the time.”
“You’re eight. That’s why.”
“Well how old is he?”
“So I’m an expert!” Luffy said.
“…So you are,” Yasopp said. “Luffy…I’ll think about it. No promises kid. I won’t lie to you.”
“Okay,” Luffy agreed. “I’ll try and get Ace n’ Sabo to let up.”
Shanks blinked himself awake, “Luffy? Something wrong?”
“Ace keeps crying in his sleep and Sabo and I are worried and can you do something?”
Did he have pants on…no, no he did not. Shit. Well, was bound to happen eventually… “Luffy, go outside and give me a sec, okay?”
“What’s going on?” Benn asked as Luffy left.
“Ace is having issues,” Shanks said, finally finding his shorts. “Gonna check on him. Probably because we talked about Roger recently.”
“Sounds more like your area, yeah.”
“Mm-hm,” Shanks agreed, patting Benn on the shoulder before heading out.
Ace was curled into a sulky little ball on his bunk, “Luffy didn’t have to get you.”
“Well if my kids aren’t sleeping because of a problem, I think he did,” Shanks said. “What’s wrong, Firecracker?”
Ace didn’t say anything. Shanks sat down next to him and wrapped his arm around the boy. “It’s okay, just me and your brothers.”
“I shouldn’t have been born.”
No, no, nope. Holy shit was it really this bad? “Belay that crap, Ace.”
“I killed my mom-”
“Rouge made her choice to save you!”
“And everyone says I’ve got the fucking blood of a monster-”
“People who didn’t know him and don’t know you!” Shanks argued.
“Luffy and Sabo are in danger because of ME!”
“And my dad!” Luffy piped in.
“Like they’d have given a shit if I wasn’t involved too!” Ace snapped. “If it was just the two of you Gramps could have done something!”
“Ace, you’re not thinking straight,” Shanks said, pulling the kid closer. “This is just because it brought up recently and you don’t know what to do with it.”
“…Nothing I can do with it.”
“You can do whatever the hell you want with it,” Shanks said. “Ace, your brothers love you, I love you, Benn loves you, and Lucky Roo not only loves you but thinks you’re the cutest thing ever even when you’re a tiny ball of rage. You should exist. We want you here.”
Ace burst into tears.
Shanks maneuvered himself so he was leaning against the wall, Ace in his lap. Luffy and Sabo quickly flanked them, clinging to Ace and joining in on the crying.
“Let it out, kiddo,” Shanks said. “We’re right here.”
Four months later
“So…Captain,” Yasopp said. “I know the main plan was to swing by Foosha really fast for alcohol and Mirrorball Island for some trade but…can we swing by Syrup?”
“You sure?” Shanks asked.
“If we can be quiet about it. Maybe just me, Benn, and the brats.”
“Of course. We’ll find some place further from the village to dock in,” Shanks said.
After some cheering and then some arguing and finally an awkward attempt at getting Shanks with a bucket of water over the door for not going with them—that got Kincaid instead, followed by profuse apologies for missing their target—Sabo, Ace, and Luffy set out for Syrup Village.
Benn considered this pretty good. Just a small group, unassuming because of the presence of kids…this should be easy.
“So how do we find your kid? Just yell ‘Usopp’ really loudly?” Ace asked.
“How about no?” Yasopp suggested.
“Posters?” Sabo asked.
“Please tell me you’re kidding,” Yasopp groaned.
“Hey, what are you doing here?”
Benn turned to glance at a little boy with a slingshot, “Well-”
“We’re pirates!” Luffy announced. Benn groaned. “We’re looking for-”
“Usopp,” Yasopp said, eyes locked on the boy.
“…Dad?” the little boy asked.
Yasopp nodded slowly and then had to catch the kid as he flung himself at him. “Whoa! Easy!”
“I knew you’d come home!” Usopp cried.
“Ah…okay,” Benn said, deciding this needed to be private. “Boys, come on. We’re…going to go buy syrup.”
“But we just found-”
“We’re going now,” Benn said, herding them away.
After a lot of crying on both ends, Yasopp and managed to get Usopp to point him to where he lived. He was staying in the same house Yasopp had left, even without his mother there.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner. I didn’t know she was sick until it was too late,” Yasopp said, picking up a photo of her of the table.
“It’s okay. I guess being a pirate take a lot of time,” Usopp said. “…Can I come with you? There were those other kids…”
“Those kids are only with us for their own protection, trust me they would not be on the ship otherwise,” Yasopp said. “And I want you to have as normal a childhood as you can, okay?”
“Okay…but I can still be a pirate later, right?”
“Sure!” Yasopp agreed.
“Oh, come on,” Usopp said. “I want you to meet-”
There was a knock at the door. “Usopp? Kaya wanted me to bring you some food!”
“Oh, hey, Merry!” Usopp said, running over and opening the door for a man who looked like a sheep. “Merry, Merry, this is my dad!”
“…The…pirate?” Merry asked, cocking his head.
“Hi,” Yasopp said.
“A-hem, well, I am Merry,” Merry said. “Miss Kaya’s butler. She has me bring Usopp food sometimes.”
“He also throws me out of her house!” Usopp said. “If he can catch me!”
“Because sometimes you tell too many tall tales for one sitting!” Merry said, wagging a finger at him. “Honestly, your son needs to learn to reign it in sometimes, that mouth will get him into trouble…”
“Uh-huh,” Yasopp said slowly. “…Who is Kaya?”
“She lives in the fancy house on the hill,” Usopp said. “Her parents died not long after Mom. So I tell her stories!”
“Miss Kaya often worries herself into illness,” Merry said. “So I allow the distraction…unless he goes too far.”
“That Sea Kings story wasn’t so bad!”
“It was dreadful!”
“Usopp, maybe keep the tales…within the realm of possibility?” Yasopp suggested. “Or make it clear you’re telling a story when you don’t?”
“…Okay,” Usopp said.
“Thank you,” Merry said. “Ah…will you be staying long, Mr.…?”
“Yasopp, and no, I can’t. But I will write. And visit,” Yasopp said.
“I suppose I can keep an eye on him…assuming he behaves,” Merry said. “And stops trying to shoot me in the posterior with that slingshot of his.”
“A sniper’s duty is a turned back!” Usopp said.
“Hate to break it to you, Merry, but he’s got a point,” Yasopp admitted.
“…Well do it with something other than rocks! Like seeds!” Merry said.
“Deal!” Usopp said, holding out a hand for Merry to shake.
The butler seemed to think on it and added, “Also no fruit.”
“Just seeds and random stuff!” Usopp said. “Like buttons! Or wads of paper!”
“Deal!” Merry agreed. “I’ll try to keep an eye on him for you…bit hard to do it with him running all over hither and yon while I have Miss Kaya to worry about, but I’ll try.”
“Thank you, Merry,” Yasopp said as Luffy, Ace, and Sabo burst in the door.
“We want to meet Usopp before we leave!” Ace said stubbornly.
“How did you take that long to buy one crate of syrup?” Yasopp asked Benn as the boys swarmed Usopp.
“Sheer ingenuity,” Benn said. He glanced at Merry. “Benn Beckman, first mate.”
“Merry, butler,” Merry replied.
“Usopp, Usopp, you’ve got to be our sniper when we make our own crew!” Luffy said.
“Yeah, when we’re older! It’ll be awesome!” Sabo agreed.
“That sounds so cool!” Usopp said.
“Well boys, it sounds like we have a plan!” Yasopp said. He knelt down. “I’ll come see you in a year or so, okay Usopp?”
“Okay, Dad,” Usopp said. “Write?”
“Of course,” Yasopp said.
Merry dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief, “I love a happy ending.”
“You don’t know these kids,” Benn chuckled. “This is anything but an ending.”