This has been sitting on my computer for some time, and I decided I might as well post it (after some serious editing, because I had a huge brainfart when I wrote it, and never noticed). I usually don't do fluff, and I don't even know if I'm any good at it. Please, bear with me.

A thousand thanks to my friend, Aevium, who agreed to beta this for me. Did I ever tell you she rocks? I think I did, but I'll say it again : Aevium rocks.

I don't own One Piece. All I own is a fat, black cat, with a white spot on his belly (which he flashes at me all the time, expecting attention) and an unhealthy TV addiction. Yeah, right.

ooo

It's been a long time, already, since I last saw your stupid face. A long time, since I last saw your silly smile. Or had the chance to hear you banter on random shit, like you usually do.

Two years. It's been two years. I can't believe it's already been two years since I last heard your annoying voice.

I can't believe it's taken me so long to realize.

We used to fight a lot. Everyday, for the smallest, most irrelevant things, we would fight. You'd insult my hair. I'd insult your cooking. You'd call me lazy and stupid. I'd retort that at least I wasn't a pervert. We'd bicker to no end, until swords were drawn and kicks were thrown. We'd be at each other's throats on a daily basis. We could never have a regular conversation, for what I used to think was the longest time – though I changed my mind about that, during these two long years. Maybe all that bickering was our way of communicating with each other, in the end. And maybe that's why I didn't realize earlier – it was misleading.

The only times we didn't argue about one thing or another was when we fought – against marines, pirates, or whatever creature would stand in the way. We were undeniably together, then. I had your back, and you had mine. I never admitted it, not even to myself, and certainly not out loud, but it was the only thing that mattered to me. We were friends, in that regard. As it turned out, it was pretty important that, even then, I felt this way about you.

I don't know if I'd have realized how I felt about you if it weren't for that reckless bullshit you pulled on me. Exchanging your life for mine – such a waste. My life isn't worth more than yours, and it was stupid of you to think so, even for a moment. For some time, I thought that stunt was dictated by pride, because, after all, there's always been some kind of rivalry, of competition between us. But after reflecting upon it and being utterly troubled by that thought for two years, I've changed my mind. Nowadays, I like to think that there was more to it than the simple urge to prove yourself. I like to think that, back then, you simply had my back, as usual.

Of course, I wouldn't let you.

Dumb, heroic shit-cook. Heroes rarely survive, you know. Of course, you are well aware that I'm speaking from experience here.

I thought you'd hate me for knocking you out, thus preventing you from making such a noble – and stupid – sacrifice. But you never did. Sure, you resented me. But what I saw in your eyes when you confronted me about it was so much more than pride.

Yeah, I like to think that.

But really, I thought you'd hate me. Just like you had always done, right from the first day we met. But that day, when you tried to shield me from an impending death, stumbling under the weight of a thousand wounds – you were in no better shape than I was – it was such a reckless thing to do. You knew perfectly you couldn't take it, and yet, you tried to protect me.

I never got to thank you. When you asked me why I hadn't let you take my place – like the stubborn shit-head I was, in your own words – that day, all I ended up telling you was how stupid you had been to even think of trying. After that, for a moment, you stood there silently, your hair obscuring your face, your shoulders slightly slumping, as if that red-haired witch had denied you the right to rub sunscreen on her back, on a sunny day. When you glanced up at me, I could see your eyes – and their striking color that fascinated me, even then – were glazed with an unnamed emotion. I didn't understand back then. I thought you were feeling betrayed for some reason, and actually, maybe you were.

And then, you were all taken away from me. I didn't think I'd miss you that much, to be honest. The break was too abrupt, and I never had the chance to reflect on it before it happened.

And yet, somehow, I missed you.

At first, I didn't understand why it was you I was thinking about the most while we all were apart. Of course, I missed the others, despite all their annoying antics and quirks. But when I woke up, after being sent flying away from you guys, my first thoughts were for you. I wondered why I wasn't dead, and, in a sudden rush of anxiety that twisted my already aching gut, I wondered if you had finally succeeded in wasting your life, trying to save mine. Such a useless sacrifice. Then, an overwhelming pain even I couldn't handle took over. I slid into a coma-like, dreamless sleep, wondering if you were fine.

I was still worried, afterwards, but I trusted that, if I was still alive – and it had seemed so unlikely that I'd survive when that huge hand hit me – then, there was a good chance that you would be, too. And when I stopped berating myself for being unable to save you all – though I barely even showed it, not my style – then, I started to miss you a lot more than I thought possible.

I really didn't understand at first. I didn't get why I would be missing the one person I couldn't stand, the one that used to perpetually nag at me, insult me, the person I got along with the least of all. But it was overwhelming. And before long, I started questioning these strange feelings I had, when I thought about you.

It was very destabilizing. All I could see when I closed my eyes were yours, blue and bright like a resounding summer sky. I thought about you all the time. Whenever I let my thoughts wander, whether I was meditating or drifting into sleep, inevitably, it's you I thought about.

And then, the dreams started. At first, they were innocent enough. You were just there. Sometimes, we'd exchange a few words. What mattered then was that, in my dreams, you were here with me. Soon enough, though, these turned out to be a lot less ingenuous than they started out as. You'd start ruffling my hair, stroking the skin on my arms with these talented hands of yours, sneaking careful fingers under my shirt. You'd let me hold you, clinging to me as if you'd never let go. These dreams were strikingly vivid, and I found myself instinctively indulging in them, even when we started getting much too close to each other for my own comfort.

I can't even remember how many times I woke up, your voice in my ears, your name on my lips, and the lingering sensation of soft skin and hair on my fingertips.

This was what unsettled me the most. Never in my life, before that time, had I ever even come close to wanting anyone like I wanted you. The fact you were a man yourself soon became irrelevant, though it prompted much questioning within me at first. But really, it didn't matter. What mattered were the feelings I had, and whether you would return them or not.

Of course, I didn't have much hope in that regard. And I wouldn't know, anyway. You weren't there, miles and miles away, for all I knew – if you were still alive, though I never really doubted that. I had no means of contacting you, of course, since I didn't know where you were. Nevertheless, after some time thinking about it all, I decided that if I had the chance, if we ever were to meet again, I'd let you know about these feelings I harbored for you. Even then, I wasn't sure I'd be able to voice it, but I'd make sure you knew, even if there was no hope that you'd ever feel the same.

The days went by, and my feelings didn't go away. Months passed, and they became stronger. After two years, I could tell this was no phase, no whim on my part – but come on, since when have I been known to have whims? That's Luffy's thing. I'm no romantic either, but as far as I could tell, these feelings were genuine. They were so strong I hesitated to put a name on them. It felt like my heart was ensnared, and I felt trapped, at first. But I knew, somehow, that I wasn't about to find myself freed from them.

When I left that island I was sent to, I was filled with expectancy, at the thought that I'd most likely see you again. But by the time I reached the Sabaody Archipelago, I was filled with a foreign apprehension. I'm not used to such feelings. And since I was the first to get there, I waited for you to join me.

When you finally did, when I saw your scowling face, heard your annoying voice, overcome by irritation at some random thing I did and for the first time in these two long years, I wanted to laugh. It was strangely exhilarating how I felt a heavy burden of worry I didn't even notice was there lift in a split second. You were even more handsome, after all this time. And, despite everything I'd been through, after all these musings and resolutions, I found myself ultimately unable to reach out and hold you. I couldn't to tell you all these things I had spent the past two years agonizing over, because I wasn't able to do so. Really, it was ridiculous. But I was paralyzed by a mix of fear, apprehension, anxiety at your reaction – a potential disaster – and my own insecurities. I didn't know how badly you'd take my confession, which effectively prevented me from saying anything.

I still wanted to tell you, though. I didn't want to regret it, later. But I felt lost. I didn't know if I'd be able to take rejection, after all this time longing for you.

We started walking away from the shore. You scoffed, insulted my hair and rambled about my lazy habits. And then, you did something I never expected from you.

I saw your ridiculous eyebrow scrunch into a pained knot, and suddenly, you turned around, looking as if you didn't want me to see your face. The air between us stood still for a moment. Your back was tense, and when I saw your shoulders shudder faintly, I had to know what was wrong. So, I crossed the few feet that stood between us, and placed a hand on your shoulder, making you turn around gently. Your eyes were glued to the floor, obscured by your long bang. I raised a hand, trying not to let it quiver too much, which was actually difficult – I'd never been so close to you, or touching you in such an intimate fashion – and I brushed that blond curtain aside.

Your face was twitching under restrained emotions, and I was a bit bewildered to see a reluctant tear, spilling from your left eye and slowly rolling down your cheek. Your lips trembled, tightly pursed in a thin, scowling line. Trying to be gentle, I lifted your chin between my fingers, so you would look at me. I don't know what kind of expression my face was displaying, at that same moment, but I'm sure you must have seen something there, because that's when you clenched your fists in my coat, and started talking.

"I..." You stopped, swallowing thickly, but soon resuming. "I wasn't worried, you dumbass. I knew you were fine, all this time."

Once again, you tried looking away, but I didn't let you. My hand cupped your face, and I stared into the infinite ocean of your eyes as they darted up, slightly widening, as if you weren't sure this was really happening. You soon got over the surprise, sniffled pitifully, and I barely restrained a faint snort. You said I was an idiot, and I kissed you.

I had kissed before, and I'd been kissed a few times as well. But at that time, when your hesitant lips met mine, that kiss we shared felt like it was the first I'd ever tasted.