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“Are you sure you’ll be alright?” Makino questions, her head tilting to the side and her cheek resting on her hand as she looks straight at him. Shanks has to fight the urge to brush away her hair and flick her nose, like he always does when she gets this worried face, but that’ll invite Luffy to start flicking him and - well, they can’t have that.

“I’m sure, Makino” He says instead, carefully shifting Luffy from one arm to the other, deftly catching him when his wriggly body tries to clamber out of his arms to presumably run around and play in the grass. “It’s a Carnival  - he’ll be tuckered out before nine just by craning his head back to look at everything.”

“Will not!” Luffy shouts from Shanks’ back, his hands fisting inn the collar of Shanks’ shirt. “I can stay up all night! Just watch me! Sides we have to ride the Ferris wheel at midnight  - Usopp said that was the only way to see the moonfish!”

Ah, of course, the moonfish. Shanks has to wonder if Yasopp was the one to tell that to Usopp, or if Usopp made it up all on his own. Either way, Shanks is going to have to lie about moonfish tonight. The joys of parenting - uh, babysitting, yes that’s right - rambunctious six-year olds.

“Alright,” Makino finally says with a laugh, reaching over to give Luffy a gentle kiss to the forehead. “Be good for Shanks, Luffy. No running off or going out of sight, or we aren’t going to the beach tomorrow.”

“But Makino! We always go to the beach on Saturday!”

“Then you’ll just have to be good, won’t you Luffy?”

Luffy mumbles something into the back of Shanks shirt, hunkering down and shifting just enough that Shanks has to re loop his arms around the brat’s leg’s so he doesn’t fall over backwards. “He’ll be good,” Shanks promises instead of waiting for Luffy to agree. “It’ll be an easy night, you’ll see!”

“Okay then - have fun you two!”

“We will!” Luffy cheers, and then his feet are in Shanks’ side and he is urging him towards Roger’s old red Mustang, and off they go.

(They stop twice to force Luffy back into his booster seat, but then off they go.)

An easy night of fun and too-expensive too-fried carnival food awaits them.

-

It starts out as an easy night. Luffy grips tight to Shanks hand as he pulls him from attraction to attraction, each one making his eyes open more than the last. They get doughboys and funnel cakes, a small beer for Shanks and a small soda for Luffy, all of which are gone in a matter of minutes before Luffy pulls Shanks to an attraction ominously titled the Tornado of Doom, and the dinner of fried food they just ate exits their stomachs right after. Shanks puts a ban to twister rides like that, and Luffy, still queasy looking but no less excited, agrees.

They wander around for a bit after that, Luffy dancing around Shanks feet as they go. He chatters endlessly about school, about his friends, about how lonely his house is but that it’s all okay because he can visit Makino and Shanks and Benn and Lucky Roo and Yasopp and the rest of them, breaking Shanks’ heart into a thousand pieces but putting it together just as fast.

“Shanks! Shanks! Guess what!” Luffy says with a grin that hardly seems to stay on his face with how big it is. “Last week, me and Zoro snuck into Mrs. Nico’s classroom and stole all her glue and then we put it all - all of it!! Even the non-sticky bits! - into the bastard Morgan’s - “

“Luffy! Who taught you that word?!” Shanks panics, cutting in with wide eyes and glances to the folks around them.

“You did! And that’s what Mr. Franky calls him when he comes to fix up the bus - Anyway! Don’t interrupt! Me and Zoro poured all of the glue all over the bastard Morgan’s chair and his pens and even his baseball bat, and when he left school it was all sticking to him! It was so funny! Until Mrs. Ririka gave us detention, but Me and Zoro snuck out through the window so it was still funny!”

Shanks stares at the tiny child before him, and decides that since he is already the irresponsible guardian figure that teaches children the bastard type words and brings them on rides that make them sick - he can be the irresponsible guardian figure that laughs at this.

“Dahahahaha! Good work, Anchor! When Buggy and I were kids, we would always try to do stuff like that - Buggy would always mess it up though.”

“Shishishi! Boggy’s-

“Buggy-“

“Buggy’s funny! He’s always yelling like - “ And Luffy’s face contorts into a mimicry of Buggy’s angry snarl, and his voice drops as much as his six-year old vocal chords can manage, “Damn you brat! I’m gonna toss you out a window you hear me! I’m a clown! I’m a circus clown! I’m Boggy the most won- wunder- Wan- Der-“

“Wonderful?”

“Stupidful clown ever!” Luffy completely ignores Shanks gentle correction, but ah, it’s worth it.

“Dahahahaha! He sure is funny.”

Luffy’s about to agree again - or perhaps go into another spiraling story about he and Zoro’s - Mihawk’s second grader who Luffy has latched onto and who latched on right back - adventures when his eyes whip to the side. Shanks can see it. The moment where everything narrows in on one. Singular. Ride.

There, about 25 feet away and serenaded by the sound of old sea shanties over a crackling radio, is a pirate ship ride. The kind that swings up and down in a rocking motion, with spectacular lights along the sides and a teenager with a plastic eyepatch and a felt pirate hat as it’s attendant. Overhead, the sign reads Joyboy’s Pirate’s Escapades!

Luffy looks at the ride, then back at Shanks, then back at the ride then finally, finally back at Shanks. He opens his mouth but finds himself too excited, and starts flapping his hands in the direction of the ride.

It makes Shanks smile at his earnest joy, the stars in Luffy’s eyes at a simple ride just childish joy that Luffy seems to exude with every moment. “You want to go on the pirate ride anchor?”

“YES!” Luffy finally finds the voice to shout, and he is dashing over leaving Shanks to sprint after him.

“Dahahaha! Wait up, Anchor!”

“But the pirate ship Shanks! It’s a pirate ship!

He reaches the boy and in an easy motion swings him up on his shoulders. “Course it is, Anchor. Have I ever told you about the time I was a pirate captain?”

“You were?!” Luffy sounds absolutely delighted by the fact, angling his face down to look Shanks right in the eye. He’s heard this story before, from Yasopp and Benn and Lucky Roo, who always, like Shanks, leave out the part that it was a small-time stunt for their gang as a way to get some… stolen goods across the boarders in addition to being a ‘tourist attraction’ as a cover, but - Luffy always acts like it’s the first time.

“Sure was! I sailed across the seven seas, searching for every bit of adventure that I could find. I fought sea monsters -“

“And dragons?!”

“-Of course I fought dragons! And giants in the sky, and goldfish in the sea -“

“Goldfish aren’t fierce.”

“The one’s the size of houses are.”

“WOW!”

“I thought you’d be impressed - how ‘bout I tell you about the time me and Benn raided an old treasure spot, huh?”

And so they spend their time in line, Shanks regaling Luffy with stories that seem to fantastical to be real, all with a shred of truth, and by the time Luffy settles inn next to Shanks at the very top of the ride (So we can go the highest, Shanks, Duh!) Luffy’s eyes seem to be permanently transfixed into stars.

Then the ride starts moving, gentle at first, but slowly gaining in height. The carnival music is blared out by the pirate music, and Luffy slides into Shanks side with the sway of the boat. He carefully  shifts his hold around Luffy so he doesn’t go flying, and Luffy throws his hands up in joy.

Up and down they go, Luffy screaming with delight right in Shanks’ ear, but Shanks’ grin has never been bigger and neither has Luffy’s.

(When he looks down, at the very highest point, he feels his heart become overwhelmed with affection for this brat. His hair is streaming away from his face with the wind, his eyes wide and his mouth grinning. One hand is fisted in Shanks’ shirt, betraying the instincts of a child, and the other is flung high into the air with all the daringness of a child. He’s happy, so happy and free, so much more than the lonely boy Shanks met five months ago, who was sitting alone on the steps to the local bar.

Luffy is happy, and he has not so much wormed his way into as much as slammed the door down and made a home for himself in Shanks’ heart. Luffy is a boy who deserves to be free -  to experience the joys of childhood that his grandfather liked to take from him so often.

To see him happy - him, this boy who looks up to Shanks like he hung the stars in the sky and made the waves of the ocean move - it makes him want to never stop smiling.

He never wanted kids. But Luffy?

Even if it’s only to himself, he’ll admit - Luffy is his.)

Luffy demand to go again the moment the ride stops moving, and the ride attendant, clearly paid too little to fend off a little boy’s questions about which pirate ship are you on and have you met jack sparrow and do you think treasure is cool, just lets them stay in their seat.

(They go on three more times after that, before the teen kicks them off. Luffy, sated only by the promise of more fried hotdogs, agrees begrudgingly.)

 

-

The wander around for a bit longer after that, eating greasy carnival food and going on the few other rides that Luffy is tall enough for. Shanks dominates the field in bumper cars, especially with Captain Luffy by his side, and the small haunted house is something that they laugh through, even if the grabby animatronic causes Luffy to cling tight to Shanks’ cloak. 

They race down the mat slides, Shanks winning while teasing Luffy with an eyelid pulled down and a tongue stuck out until the manager yells at him to keep both hands on the Matt, and then quickly sprint over to the small kiddie-coaster which Luffy goes on a total of five times until he gets the front seat. Shanks snaps a few pictures of Luffy then, sending them to Makino as proof of Luffy’s joy, and then to Mihawk at Luffy’s request, so that ‘Zoro can see how cool I am!’ He sends one of him and Luffy as well to the Red Force chat, just to prove that yes, he can take care of a child for an entire night.

It is fitting, that just at that moment, Luffy decides to go missing.

Yes, decides, because Luffy will rarely do anything that he doesn’t want to do.

Shanks panics, running to and from across the carnival grounds, checking under every attraction and behind every trash can.

“Luffy?!” He calls out. “LUFFY!?!”

The people around him give him weird looks, but he’s barely noticeable over the blaring speakers.

“LUFFY! ANCHOR! WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU!”

No response.

Shit. Shitshitshitshit. He lost the kid. He lost Anchor. He lost Luffy.

Oh hell, what if he got kidnapped? What if he got hurt? What the hell is he going to tell the crew, or Garp, or Mihawk and Zoro, or Rayleigh or Makino, fuck, Makino is going to kill him.

Worry bubbles deep in his chest. Oh god, this is why he shouldn’t be allowed around children. He teaches them words like bastard and laughs at glue-detention stories and gets them lost.

Fuck. Fuck.

Luffy, where the hell are you?

He doesn’t think he’s ever been so worried.

He circles back to the pirate ship ride, hoping he’s there to no avail, and then heads right around back to the food trucks, to no sight of anchor either. Where the hell -

There.

Out of the corner of his eye, sandaled feet rushing back in the midst of a ground, with pirate themed band aids over the knees because Luffy is a rowdy child but will only accept his special band aids and would rather just bleed out otherwise.

“ANCHOR!” Shanks shouts, and the feet stop with a screech and start tumbling out of the crowd. And there he is - Luffy, teary eyed and rushing at Shanks with his arms outstretched. Shanks kneels down to meet him, opening his arms in invitation.

“SHANKS!” He cries, and his voice is wobbly even as he barrels into Shanks’ arms. “I WAS SO SCARED! THERE WAS THIS COOL GUY DOING TRICKS SO I STEPPED AWAY AND WHEN I LOOKED BACK YOU WERENN’T THERE AND I STARTED RUNNING AROUND BUT I COULDN’T FIND YOU AND I THOUGHHT YOU LEFT ME LIKE DRAGON-DAD DID AND GRAMPS AND -“

“Oh, Anchor,” Shanks shushes, cradling Luffy’s head to his shoulder and gripping tight to him. “I promised you, didn’t I? I’ll come back, and I’ll never leave for a trip without telling you, okay? It’s alright, Anchor, it’s alright.”

Luffy sniffles into his jacket and clings tighter, but he doesn’t start sobbing again so Shanks thanks small mercies and picks Luffy up in his arms, never letting go.  His knees creak a bit as he stands, but he makes sure his grip is steady and sure, swaying as he walks to soothe Luffy.

(Luffy doesn’t like being left alone. It hurts, he has told Shanks, and Shanks alone, and it’s evident in the way he looks out the window for hours whenever someone leaves the house, and it’s evident in the way he clings and clings and clings whenever his friends or the crew or his grandfather comes to stay. He’s been left behind far too many times, and with how secluded Garp’s house was, he didn’t have many friends until he was moved into Makino’s attic to be closer to the school. It causes something bitter to well up in Shanks’ heart sometimes, gentle reminders of how Roger saved him from a similar fate, but -

There’s nothing to be done for Luffy now, save to yell at Garp and make sure Shanks doesn’t ever leave Luffy without warning.

It figures that he would fail tonight out of all nights.)

Eventually, Luffy lifts his head frank Shanks’ shoulder, wiping his face with the back of his head and getting snot everywhere. Shanks snatches a napkin from a vendor, tells Luffy to blow,  and cleans his face off with one hand. BY the end of it, Luffy’s eyes are only slightly red, and he looks far cheerier than before. Still, his hands cling too tight too Shanks shirt, and no child (Especially Luffy) should have to be that close to tears at a carnival.

Shanks needs to find something. Something to distract him. Something -

Like a carnival game, just flashy enough, as Buggy would put it, to impress a child.

And with a prize big enough to match.

“Hey, Anchor,” Shanks starts conspiratorially, “Did I ever tell you how I won a Davy Back fight with some crew down by the equator.”

Luffy sniffles, but his eyes are wide. “Davy Back fight?”

“A fight between pirates, with fierce competition!” Shanks details with a grin, forcing fancy into his words that’s all too easy to do when he has all Luffy’s attention centered on him. “It’s a fight for crew members and a Pirate’s flag! They challenged me and my crew, to a game of my choosing, and that was their first and final mistake.”

“Really? What game?!”

“Why,” Shanks grins, spinning Luffy around and then placing him on the ground, facing the carnival stand. “Darts of course! Ours were, of course, on moving targets over the sea, and I was a bit drunk, but this shouldn’t be too much easier.”

Luffy squeals, and tugs Shanks arm toward the game. His grip is tight, but his eyes are brightening as he stares at the stand. It’s a simple one, with blown up balloons pinned to a board. A small scene of waves and shooting and sword fighting cardboard pirates lies in front of it, and overhead - overhead lies a row of prizes that Luffy hasn’t even noticed yet. Well, Shanks isn’t about to ruin the surprise.

“Five dollars per round,” The game attendant says, pointing to the sign, and with wink at Luffy Shanks hands over the money unhanded, Luffy still not letting go with his wrist. The attendant hands over the darts, and, staring right at Luffy, Shanks begins to roll them in his fingers with tricks and twirls.

Now, the Davy Back fight might have just been a game of darts in a seedier than usual bar, but Shanks was drunk and he did win two full rounds of booze for his crew, so -

Winning a rigged carnival game for Luffy will be no problem.

He has to make all five darts hit a target to get the jumbo prize. Nothing less for Luffy of course.

So, with a flourish, Shanks begins, one hand captured in Luffy’s and eyes trained on the target as Luffy focuses on his.

Pop! A blue balloon is hit.

Pop! A yellow balloon is hit.

Pop! A green balloon is hit.

 

Pop! A purple balloon is hit.

One more to go.

“Well, Anchor? Which balloon should be our last one?”

Luffy is smiling, all gum and teeth, but he schools his face into a comedic thinking face when Shanks nudges him.

“Ummmm… That one!” He declares, pointing at the red balloon dead in the center.

“You got it, Anchor.” And, with a flick of his wrist and the smuggest grin he can master - the red balloon goes pop!

Luffy gasps with delight, tugging on Shanks arms and pointing. “You did it! You did it! It’s popped you got all of them, Shanks!”

“Dahahaha! Sure did Anchor. Now-“ He gestures to the stuffed animals, at the top of the stand, all giant and larger than Luffy. “Which one do you want?”

Luffy’s eyes go round at the edges, his mouth opening in an O-shape. “Which one do I want?”

“Aye! All yours Anchor - I won this game for you, after all.”

Something in Luffy melts, his grip easing on Shanks’ hand but his whole body leaning closer. He peers over the stuffed animals closely, glancing over each one and determining which one suits whatever standards he has. Eventually, his arm snaps out and points to one hanging dead ahead. “That one!”

The attendant glances at Shanks, and Shanks nods back, and twenty seconds later, Luffy has let go of Shanks hands to bury his entire body into a stuffed lion as large as him.

Or at least, Shanks thinks it’s a lion. It looks a bit like a sunflower as well, with its curved mane and smiling face. Still, Luffy is overjoyed with it and won’t let go, even as he clings close to Shanks’ legs.

“That was so cool, Shanks!”

“Dahahaha! Told you I would do it, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but you hit them all! Even Usopp could only get four! You were like Pop-pop-pop-pop! And the you got the red one like POW! It was so cool!!!”

Shanks grins, every bit of it full of affection. “Glad you think so anchor. Maybe you can convince Makino to let me teach you someday.”

“Really!?”

Ah. Wait.

Last time Luffy held something sharp he stabbed himself. In the face.

Bad idea.

“Sure - say, what are you going to name him?” Shanks quickly distracts, guesting to the lion in Luffy’s arms.

“Sunny!” Luffy says without hesitation. “His name is Sunny, and he’s a super cool robot lion who can fly in the sky!”

“Sounds great, Anchor.” Shanks agrees easily, all too used to Luffy’s fancies. As Luffy chatters on about Sunny and his adventures and his lasers that come out of his mouth, Shanks takes a look at his phone. 8:30 pm - better hit the main attraction of the night then.

“And I think that Sunny also has a baby shark that goes underwater and -“

“Hey Anchor -“ Shanks stops him with a hand on his shoulder. “Look up.”

Luffy does, easily and without question, craning his neck to gaze past Sunny’s fluffy main.

Shanks can see it when he makes the connection. His mouth goes wide and into a smile, and he grips even tighter to Sunny’s neck. “THE FERRIS WHEEL!!!” He screeches with delight. “LETS GO LETS GO LETS GO!” This time he doesn’t run off, but he does grab on to Shanks and physically tugs him over to the line. Shanks goes easily, giving apologetic (but not too apologetic) glances to the people Luffy elbows away. “Usopp says there are moonfishes and Zoro says that the top is the highest place ever, and Nami says that you can see the sea from there, and Sanji hasn’t been up yet but he said that he heard that if you rock the um. The- the Carri- carry? Kart-“

“Carriage,”

“Carriage! That if you rock the mystery thingy it’s almost like being in a boat!”

“Guess we’ll just have to see then, right Anchor?”

Luffy grins and laughs and stomps his feet, jumping around and rocking in place in his excitement.  He has to be lifted up by Shanks to get on the bright red, rocking carriage, but he settles in easy enough, placing Sunny on the ground and sliding over the seats to look over the edges. Shanks quickly snatches a hand in his hoodie to make sure that he doesn’t fall, but Luffy hardly notices as they start moving.

Up, and up, and up, and up. The Ferris wheel moves steadily, orbiting up into the sky with ease, and the carnival below seems to disappear into a sea of blurry lights when Shanks looks down. 

Luffy, however - the moment they go above the tree line, his eyes are fixated on one thing and one thing alone - the sea, glancing in the horizon with the moon dazzling its waters. The shore is as dark as the water, but Luffy hardly seems to care.

“Wow….” He breathes out as the carriage comes to a stop at the very top, and Shanks has to bite back a laugh at his awe. It’s a sight he has seen hundreds of times, but for Luffy - this is the first.

Silently, Shanks scoots over so that his arm is in front of Luffy and he’s craning his neck over the side to glance at the same sight Luffy is.

“That’s all yours to explore, Anchor.” Shanks says softly, words coming unbidden. “When you’re older - you can explore every bit of that sea and adventure all over the place, with as many friends as you can gather.”

“Really?” Luffy asks, voice small.

“Really,” Shanks confirms, and the moment seems far too big for someone so small.

As the Ferris wheel begins to move again, Luffy turns away from the scenery and curls himself into Shanks’ side, not even murmuring about the moonfish he was so excited for. His eyes droop in the manner of all children who stay up far too late past their bed time, and his fingers curl once again in Shanks’ shirt and Sunny’s man. The carriage rocks back and forth, the summer breeze ghosting gently against their cheeks as the carnival moves on around them.

This, Shanks knows, burying his fingers in Luffy’s hair to gently comb through them, is peace. This boy who has captured his heart, holding him close forever, by his side and ocean before him - well, Shanks can think of nothing that would even improve this moment. Not even booze.

Their ride comes to a stop, and once again Shanks carries Luffy off, though this time it is because Luffy is too sleepy to place his feet right rather than him being far too tiny to make his way off the platform.

“Alright Anchor,” Shanks murmurs to the child in his arms. “Let’s get -“

“One more ride?” Luffy mumbles, surprisingly awake, his eyes looking far too reminiscent of a puppy dog to be resisted. Shanks bites back a sigh.

One. Only one Anchor, and choose wisely.”

It’s not even a moment before Luffy is pointing at the Merry-go-round. There’s no line for it, as this late most of the small children are heading home, and it’s a perfect, three-minute ride for one tuckered out child.

“Good choice, Lu,” Shanks agrees and with quick strides, dodging the crowds, they make their way to the Merry-go-round.

The attendant smiles at them as Shanks places a blearily blinking Luffy on the ground. He’s not going to last much longer - once Luffy even gets the slightest bit tired, he’s on his way to a crash.

“You wanna go on the Merry-go-round kiddo?” The woman asks, cheerfully. Luffy nods, clutching Sunny with his arm. “Then head on up - you can pick any animal you want, and one you’re ready I can start her up since you’re the only one here. Your own merry-go-round, just for you!” This gets a smile out of Luffy, and he’s quickly racing up the ramp in a bee-line towards a ship-seat with a lamb figure head.

Shanks gives a smile at him, before the attendant starts speaking again. “You can either wait here or go one with your son, sir.”

“Ah he’s not-“ Shanks startles, heart going all fuzzy and brain melting at the words your son before Luffy calls out to him.

“SHANKS! Come on!”

“Guess I’m going up,” he grins, covering up his bluster, and goes to join Luffy next to his spout on the Merry-go-round. He’s scooted up past the seat that’s placed on the figure, so that instead of sitting on the base he’s sitting on the head of the sheep-ship, precariously balanced with Sunny actually sitting in the ship. Shanks just sighs, and puts his hands on Luffy’s back to keep him steady as the ride begins.

Round and round they goo, Luffy moving up and down, giggling softly and looking at the whirling lights around him. By the second lap his eyes are drooping again, and by the fourth he’s sound asleep in Shanks’ arms, passed out for good this time. When the ride stops, Shanks nods at the attendant, giving her a soft thank you and five for not calling Luffy out on his choice of seating, and finally starts making his way out of the carnival.

Luffy is a solid weight in his arms, his snores ghosting up into Shanks’ ear and his breath steady against his throat. He grips tight out of instinct rather than any nervousness, and that’s all it takes for Shanks to start humming Bink's Sake, soft as a lullaby, into his ear.  Up and down the toon goes as the noise fades behind them and the gravel beneath his feet starts to turn to the grass of the make-shift parking lot.

The world is quiet around them as he settles Luffy into the Mustang, buckling him up in his booster seat, and gently, softly, pressing a kiss to his forehead as he goes to close down the top so that the wind doesn’t wake Luffy. Sunny finds himself as Luffy’s new pillow and his head lolls gently on the stuffed animal as Shanks starts the car.

As he pulls out of the parking lot, fireflies glinting in the fields and moon cool overhead, he can’t help but look at the rearview window at Luffy’s sleeping face, his heart melting, just a bit.

He doesn’t think he’ll ever call Luffy son, not aloud at least. But Luffy is his, his Anchor, his bright spot of joy in their little almost-seaside town, full of not-quite pirates trying to settle down for a bit.

And, if he can have more almost-easy nights like this one, well -

He won’t mind.

After a quick picture of a sleeping Luffy to send to Makino as a notice that they’re on their way home, Shanks pulls out of the parking lot and starts on the seaside journey home, quietly, gently, content.

(And in the back, if Luffy is smiling the smile of all children who trick their parents into carrying them into the car well - Shanks isn’t saying anything.)