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Already Forever

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Luffy's looking at the recruiter like he's grown a second head, and he speaks with all the authority of a king.


The man is practically plaintive in his wail of, "But she belongs on my stage!" He turns with gusto, giving Nami the most appreciative once-over, and she certainly doesn't mind the attention, though she has no intention of climbing onto the audition stage behind his table where several hopefuls are already lingering. She tosses her hair and smiles coyly, glad she decided to wear the blue cocktail dress out of the store despite the chill. A quick glance over his shoulder at the tasteful banner behind his stall has him gearing up to throw her the baited hook; she arranges a thoughtful and willing expression, because it's fun, and he'll never know just how good an actress he's not getting.

"She belongs on my ship." Her boy captain is getting annoyed now, and it's in the way his eyebrows furrow and his frown deepens, like some sort of wronged scholar. "I don't even know who you are."

At that, the stranger is more than happy to produce his card, and he gushes about the agency he's representing, and the modeling, theatre, and dance exhibitions it sponsors; the way he's talking to Luffy, he must think Nami's the big sister or babysitter. "Always looking for new talent," he gushes, eyes lingering on the curve of Nami's hips and shoulders. "always looking for new faces!"

Nami's face isn't as new as he might think; but if he hasn't seen their posters, she won't broadcast the fact that she's Wanted. If she were actually looking for a job with him, the prospect of a looming bounty would be daunting. As it is, she smiles.

Luffy takes the offered card and turns it over in his hands, the way Nami's seen him do with puzzles and letters. His hat tips over his eyes a little and he pushes it back.

"What do you do with the old ones?"

It proves to be apparently the one question the stranger isn't prepared to answer; he looks wrong-footed, and blinks at the short scarred kid, and then around the plaza, like maybe some harried mother will bustle along, scoop the kid away, and spare him.

But he's a professional, and he's smiling at Luffy again in the space of a single moment and insisting that it's hard to explain the intricacies of business policies, but rest assured, their people are well taken care of, and well compensated when their time with the company comes to an end.

"What does that mean? Comes to an end?" It's all lost on Luffy, whose people are his forever, who wouldn't even understand the concept of paying them off. He looks at Nami for help, and she knows he knows she's been following every word, now he's waiting for her to explain it better. She smiles at him sunnily because she's never minded explaining things better.

Before she can, the recruiter takes it upon himself.

"Hey, kiddo- could you do me a favor and run and find your parents? This young lady and I need to have an adult conversation, it'll only take a few minutes." It's good-natured, well-mannered, and the most insulting thing Nami's heard since the Luffy imposter on Sabaody.

How dare you, she wanted to say then, and wants to say now.

She shifts and folds her arms to get his attention back; when she has it, she sighs.

"You really are small-time, aren't you?" she says with eloquent diction, eyes narrowed into the kind of condescending glare only a scornful woman can muster. The cute, feigned interest fell away like lightning, and now he has to understand she would never have said yes. "I knew this island was out of the way, but with a shopping mecca like this, with all the tourists you must get from time to time, surely- surely- you know my captain's name."

Luffy still looks confused, holding the card upside down; he's in a sweatshirt of Sanji's the cook forced over his head- "don't need you getting sick, idiot"- that sort of swamps him, and he looks years younger than nineteen.

But the hat is ever-present, the sloping scar under his eye is iconic, and she knows his face has been on the front page a half a dozen times.

"Captain? He's- " The man falters, looks between her and Luffy like it must be a joke, and then his eyes catch- really catch- the worn straw hat. And it takes a minute, but it's funny, the way his face goes pale and all that oiled niceness and courtesy drops like a hat. "My god."

"Not quite," she almost purrs.

He'll be king very soon, she wants to tell him. Treat him with a little respect, she wants to demand. He's saved whole villages, whole countries. He saved eight people. He saved me.

More than anything, she wishes people could know him as she knows him. Wishes he wasn't always hated, or feared, or dismissed right on sight, always one of three evils and she hates it. She wishes people would see his face and, instead, think of the boy who brought rain back to a kingdom in the desert- or the boy who ended a war in the sky with a beautiful bell- or the one who went to hell and back for his brother, and for a moment lost absolutely everything he held close to his heart.

She knows Luffy will always be misunderstood that way; even hundreds of years from now, historians will never know what her captain was thinking, when he brought Enies Lobby to its knees with a declaration of war, when he attacked a Celestial Dragon on an island in an archipelago, and she won't be there to explain, "it was for a friend, you see?"

She isn't sure they would understand even then.

It's not until later, the two of them sitting outside an ice cream shop with waffle cones the size of their heads, waiting for their nakama, that Nami says, "That guy was an idiot."

Luffy's got chocolate and strawberry sauce on his face and he's way more interested in that, but he nods. "I think so too."

She grins when a glob of whipped cream lands on the cuff of Sanji's sleeve, and for some reason, even though she knows he knows, it's really important that she tell him, "I would never have gone with him."

"I know. You're my navigator and you're gonna draw a map of the world. You don't have time for all that tricky stuff that comes to an end."

About that time, Zoro- who can get lost on the Sunny but never seems to have a problem finding Luffy in any unfamiliar town- takes a seat on Luffy's right, shifting all his swords out of the way; and then Usopp, flushed and thrilled about something, slams into Luffy's left, and, like a magnetic pull none of them have ever thought to question and probably never will, like geese that find their way north, the others are showing up in ones and twos, dragging chairs over and squeezing to make room because they can't bear to leave a single friend out, ending up nine people crammed around a table meant for three with arms around each other and half-falling to the ground and laughing uproariously despite the storeowner's thunderously disapproving expression.

No, she thinks fondly, in complete agreement with the grinning boy across the table, I don't have time for that stuff that ends, do I?

They're pirates, and the adventure doesn't end until they die.

He's my captain, and his name is already forever.