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The Sea and Sun

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Luffy hates that he can't enjoy a beach for all that it's worth.

It's swimming he wants the most. He wants to race the others out to the edge of the bay, because he likes to think he would be a fast swimmer, if only he didn't sink. He wants to go snorkeling with Usopp and see all the awesome colorful fish, not just when they're flopping desperately at the end of a fishing line and not just when he's hungry and Sanji is dicing them up in the kitchen. He wants to feel the cool water rushing against his skin, pulling at his limbs, and the wet sand giving way under his feet, without wondering if he's going to go under for good this time.

It doesn't worry him - there is always someone there to drag him back to the surface - but he remembers wanting to swim all the time when he was little, and now he can't even stand knee-deep in the ocean without it sucking out all of his energy.

It's kinda depressing.

Luffy sighs, sitting on the dry sand under the hot sun with his legs stretched out in front of him, his hands buried in the sand between his legs. His red shorts aren't even damp, but somehow the sand still manages to stick to them, and his straw-hat keeps the sun off his face and his bare shoulders as he stares at the green-blue waves sweeping lazily toward him, just a few feet away. He can smell and taste the salt, and if he's really still he can almost feel the sun moving; a warm current against his skin that matches the ocean's steady pace. He guesses this is what tanning is like and kinda gets why Nami does it so much, now.

The navigator is stretched out in one of her lounge chairs nearby, glossy with freshly-applied oil. She shifts slightly, one of her legs catching the sunlight and blinking bright white for a second, and Luffy glances over at her, and then at the others.

Zoro is sleeping, snoring, buried up to his neck in the sand. His face is going to be cherry red when he wakes up and he isn't going to be happy about it.

Sanji is firing up a stone grill, trying to get the coals to burn, first, and then boldly leaning in once he has to light his cigarette.

Robin is in the shade with a book and a cold drink, and Chopper is sprawled in the chair beside her, panting and sweating through his winter fur. One of the archaeologist's slender arms is fanning the reindeer with a shift of paper, wholly sympathetic to his plight.

He can't see Usopp, Luffy realizes, scanning the ocean's surface for the orange snorkel, the buoyed shorts, that would give his friend away.

The waves break, filling the quiet afternoon with the constant rush and roar, but there is no sign of the sharp-shooter among them. Luffy turns his head slowly, searching the shore. He spots the damp footprints in the sand, very close to him, but he doesn't have time to wonder if they might be Usopp's, or whether they're leaving the water or going back to it. Something presses down on him suddenly, from above, and it smashes his hat down over his eyes and traps his arms against his sides, squeezing him tight.

Luffy shouts in surprise, falling on his side, and tries to spread his arms against the restraints.

"Hey, pull your arms up the right way, you idiot! You're gonna bust it doing that!"

A hand falls on the crown of his hat and pushes it backwards, up off of his face, and there is Usopp, leaning over him and blocking the sun, grinning.

His hair is still damp and he smells like the sea.

"What's the big idea?" Luffy asks, frowning slightly. He realizes it's an inner-tube squeezed around his chest.

"You've been sitting here too long," Usopp says, pointing a finger in accusation. He hasn't lost the smile. "It's unsettling. Now, come on!"

"Come where?"

"Come on, don't ask questions!"

He says it with such assertiveness that it doesn't even occur to Luffy to decline. He's grinning, anyway. Usopp grabs the float and drags his captain to his feet; Luffy loses his footing once in the loose sand, but manages to pull his arms free after a lot of wobbling and a lot of pushing and pulling on Usopp's part. The inner-tube is striped, bright yellow and orange - easy to spot against the ocean. Luffy holds onto it with both hands as Usopp calls after Chopper,

"Are you comin', little man! We're gonna explore these rocks over here!"

He points down the shore, and Luffy, curious, turns his head to look. He spots the rocks, big and round and polished smooth by years of the waves crashing against them, stretching way out into the ocean. He grins in earnest, now. There are probably tons of fish over there.

Chopper can hardly bear to speak, let alone go exploring.

"No... no thanks!" he gasps, not even opening his eyes, "I'm good, you guys..."

Robin smiles affectionately as she turns a page of her book, and her free hand fans the air a little harder than before, trying to ease his discomfort. Sanji sets a full glass on the table in front of the tiny doctor, so he doesn't dehydrate, and looks over at Luffy and Usopp.

"Don't go too far, I'm about to start lunch."

"We're just goin' right down here," Usopp says, and sets off at a half-jog down the beach, over the more solid sand where the ocean has retreated.

Barefooted, grinning, Luffy follows him, "Make lots of meat!"

Nami lifts her head, briefly raising her sunglasses, to tell them not to drown each other, before she returns to basking in the golden sun; Zoro shifts underneath the weight of all that sand, his face reddening, and continues to snore. The ocean comes crashing back, sweeping away their newly-laid footprints, and the burst of cold water against Luffy's ankles feels amazing, right down to the bottoms of his feet. He wants to dive in, right there, and forsake the shore entirely.

But Usopp climbs over the rocks with him, splashing in the shallows while they're near the shore and avoiding the deeper ocean further out - as if he'll sink like an anchor, too, should either of them slip. They find tons and tons of fish. And Luffy thinks, on the return trip - when he and Usopp compare scraped knees and elbows, and who found the coolest fish, and when he can smell grilled meat and his stomach is grumbling - that maybe swimming could never be half as fun or filling as not swimming is, after all.

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-BobTAC