Luffy watched me with the curiosity of a child, his eyes glued to the work at my hands. I wished he wouldn't stare at me with those glass-like eyes, fearing that he could see into my very soul with them. I didn't truly understand his innocence then. His face turned as my hands moved, and he finally asked "What are you doing?"
I turned to look at him, sighing. There was a long razorblade in my right hand, and a soapy sponge in the other. One leg was propped up on the edge of a crate. "I'm shaving. How do you think women have such smooth legs?"
Realization obviously dawned. "Oh! That makes sense!"
I didn't expect him to come onto the deck so late at night after everyone else had gone to sleep, but once he had arrived, there was no getting rid of him. My little secret routine had piqued his interest, and I knew he'd be watching until I was finished. Not that there was any shame in what I was doing, it was purely a necessity for a girl who often depends on her looks to get her out of trouble. I simply didn't feel very comfortable with Luffy staring at my legs so intently, my skirt pulled up to nearly my waist.
"What's wrong? Can't you sleep?" I asked him, hurrying to finish.
His eyes never shifted. "I woke up hungry, but Sanji's still asleep. Then I saw you."
"And? Do you need something?"
"No," he answered simply.
I wondered how I could nicely tell him to give me some privacy, and how any attempt could possibly be successful. Luffy was amazingly stubborn, not to mention naïve. I imagined with horror trying to explain exactly why I didn't want him to watch.
I finally finished and poured water from a bucket over my legs and hands to rinse them off. I reached for a towel and began drying off, thankful that Luffy's curiosity had seemed to be satisfied, as he was looking at my face now.
"That seems like a lot of trouble."
I smiled. Such a typical male comment. "You wouldn't want to see me if I didn't go to all this trouble."
Luffy looked confused. "Why not? I always want to see you."
I blinked. What did he just say? I could feel a blush creeping into my cheeks. Surely he didn't mean it the way it sounded. Surely he didn't think of me as anything more than a friend and comrade. Surely he would say the same thing to Zoro or Sanji or even Usopp. Surely the quiet feelings that had been brewing in the back of my mind for the past few days were unreturned.
I laughed nervously. "Oh no. I don't look so great if I don't put in a little effort."
His expression didn't change. "But you always look great."
My heart was pounding then, and I reflexively placed a hand on my chest. I had to be imagining this. I told myself that I was simply misinterpreting his words. I couldn't let myself fall in love with him. Having a secret adoration of him was fine, but falling in love? That was way too far. Luffy already had his future planned out. He would be the Pirate King, and that was that.
"Luffy… you're just being nice. Why don't you go back to bed? Sanji will have breakfast ready by the time you wake up again."
He grinned. "Good, I hope we have plenty of meat left!"
He walked past me, and something inside me ached. A part of me wanted to reach out to him, to make him understand my feelings and take a chance on him returning them. I wondered when I'd ever have the chance to be alone with him again. But he opened the door to climb below deck, and a feeling of loss swept through me.
I whirled around, and he was peering at me from beneath the rim of his hat. "What?" I asked.
"I wasn't just being nice. I was being honest."
I gazed at him, completely overwhelmed. Did he even understand what he was saying? I didn't care then. I couldn't hold back any longer. "Luffy, I want to tell you something… but I don't know how…"
He walked back to me and leaned against the railing. "What is it?"
I couldn't bear to look him in the eyes, so I looked up at the moon. I took a breath. "For the past eight years, one face has haunted me day and night. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see Arlong sneering at me. It was like he was watching me, and I felt like I couldn't escape."
I turned to look at him then. "But you defeated him. He doesn't have a hold on my anymore. I'm free. I shouldn't see his face anymore, but I do. I still see those eyes watching me. I… I don't know what to do."
Luffy listened intently, barely even blinking. He said nothing to that, obviously because he had no solution to my problem, at least at the moment.
"You helped me so much. I have no idea how to thank you."
He smiled then. "All you have to do is be my navigator. Come with me to the Grand Line. Stay with me."
"What happens after that?"
Luffy looked surprised. "After that?" he asked, unsure of my question.
"After you find the One Piece and become the Pirate King. What happens after that?"
Luffy looked positively dumbfounded then. He apparently hadn't even considered the idea before. "I don't know. I guess I'll figure that out when I get there."
I sighed. I really didn't know how to explain how I felt, or to find out how he felt about me. All I could do was lay it all out for him, and let him draw his own conclusions. He was more perceptive than we gave him credit for, especially in regards to the feelings of others.
I stepped closer to him, and hesitantly placed a hand on his arm. "Luffy, I don't want to see Arlong's face anymore. Can you understand? You're the one I want to see when I close my eyes."
Luffy's face was blank as the words began to tie themselves together in his mind. He was thinking about what I said. I wondered what his response would be, what he would say or do. How would he react?
He grinned broadly, an expression I had seen him wear so often. "The Pirate King needs a great Pirate Queen."
My heart nearly stopped. I hadn't anticipated that. In fact, I hadn't even imagined it. I wasn't entirely sure of my feelings in the first place, but the idea of a long-term relationship in the future seemed almost like a fantasy. "… What?"
"You're a great pirate. You're smart and cute and you know so much about everything. Wanna be my Pirate Queen?"
I shook my head. "Luffy, you don't understand what you're asking."
He stopped smiling then. "I like being with you. Why not be together forever?"
I looked up at him, completely shocked by how easily he had simplified the situation. I smiled. "You know… you're right. We enjoy each others' company. Maybe I will then. Maybe I'll be your Pirate Queen. But for now, let's be companions."
Luffy smiled back, turning to leave.
I took hold of his arm, causing him to turn around. "Have you ever been kissed, Luffy?"
He shook his head. I leaned close to him and kissed his lips. He looked at me curiously for a few seconds before grinning again. "Yeah, you'll be a great Pirate Queen."
I watched him climb below deck to go back to sleep, then I looked out over the sea. I felt warm and safe. No matter what happened, as long as Luffy was with us, everything would be alright.
I closed my eyes, and I could see Luffy's grinning face.