TITLE: Final Meeting
SUMMARY: It's the nature of adventures to end.
LENGTH: 870 words
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, no profit, yadda yadda yadda.
NOTES: Challenge fic for the op_fanforall on livejournal, written to the prompt of "Luffy and Coby, final meeting before Luffy is executed."
They're rebuilding the old platform for an execution. The hammering resonates even through to the jail from the town square. Within those echoing walls, a World Government Admiral strolls down to the end of a darkened corridor and dismisses a hundred-man guard detail of devil fruit users, generals, and shichibukai with the mild suggestion they take off for a cigarette break.
Seldom have rooms been cleared faster. Ignoring the last noises of their departure, the Admiral steps over to the object in the centre of the room; a box-like cage, not six foot by six foot square. It's only possible to see there's a man inside by a slice of bare foot and chained ankle cut out of the shadow.
"I'm here," he says, stopping within reach of the cage, ignoring the drawn line on the floor that the guard detail are instructed not to cross. "I sensed this would be the last time."
There have been narrow escapes before, of course, too many to count. It has been a long game. It could have been longer... for both of them, he imagines, it could gladly have been longer.
He watches an arm reach up through the bars. Battered, bloody, and slowed by the kairoseki chains trailing from the wrist, but the fingers curl into a loose fist to bump knuckles against his. "You beat me. See... I told you, you could do it, in the end."
The bright conviction in the voice isn't dulled by pain and exhaustion. The pirate in the box knows he's going to die, but hasn't given in to fear. He'll smile as he dies, just like the last one.
There's pride in his voice, too, and it's well-earned. There aren't many men who could say they put an Admiral where he is today, after all.
To show his gratitude, he'll do his duty. In the meantime, he uncurls the fist and grasps the other's hand lightly in both his own. "You did it, too. But it's over. Thank you... for choosing me."
"If it was a choice--" teeth flash in the dark "--I woulda picked a guy I could beat."
"Maybe," he returns, "But you were always kind of an idiot."
"Yeah." And the teeth flash again. The hand pulls from his and retreats through the bars. In the dim light, he catches a glimpse of the dark cavity formerly obscured by the lost eyepatch, and thinks he'll have to ensure the patch replaced before the morning. Even a pirate deserves his dignity.
"So tomorrow--" and the voice doesn't sound afraid, but excited. "It was a pretty great adventure, but tomorrow's where it ends."
It's the nature of adventures to end. They wouldn't mean anything, otherwise. Maybe that's how excitement is still possible, in the face of all of this.
And what will this one say, standing on that platform? Will the words send another thousand crews out to the seas? It's not for even an Admiral to ask. Besides, it's likely not even crossed the other's mind yet.
"They're planning a grand sendoff," he offers instead, sliding his hands into his pockets. He still feels the touch against his palms, and thinks he always might. Only right now, it's the very real stickiness of blood and sweat, and he brushes it between his fingers and thumb and doesn't want to wipe it off. "The grandest in thirty years."
The pirate in the cage laughs in pure glee, and after a moment, the Admiral chuckles with him. Here would be the point he's meant to offer empty promises of last-minute reprieve for the whereabouts of the crew -- a deal for Roronoa Zoro, in the particular. But he knows what the captive would say to that, and won't shame the moment with a token gesture so useless. He has a friend who wouldn't forgive him for infringing on the hunt for the latter, in any case. So instead, he merely does what he came here for and says, quietly, "Goodbye."
It will be noisy tomorrow. The moment would hardly be theirs, the way this one is. In truth, he doesn't want to lay claim to... to the moment of death, even if it's the moment of both their triumphs in a way. In truth, the idea makes him sick to his stomach.
But it's the nature of the competition, and it always has been. If not him, then someone else. This was the natural ending to the tale.
He's said what he came to say, so the Admiral, one of the highest men in all the world, turns and starts to walk away. He hears the pirate in the box shift position behind him, hears the cheerful call echoing back his final word; and he knows that if he turns back, he'll see again the familiar face, smile stretched wide, pressed to a square space between the bars, but he doesn't turn back. He won't, can't, be turned nor moved. Step sideways, stray even a little, and he'll tip the precarious balance that makes it work, that makes it right.
Tomorrow the Pirate King dies - again - and Coby knows that his opponent, his friend, wouldn't appreciate changing the rules on him now.