Quiet Perception

The mikan sat on a partially completed chart on Nami's desk in the observation room. Perfectly shaped, fully ripe, with a bright orange peel that reminded her of the sun. She'd normally be pissed that someone had been in her small grove on the Sunny's aft deck - even Sanji had to ask permission to pick mikans for a meal - but today it brought her nostalgia. It was the anniversary of the day Luffy freed her and her sister from Arlong. The day Luffy gave Nami her life back.

Nami picked up the mikan and inhaled its bright, sweet scent. Her eyes closed as she was transported back to that day. She'd stolen Luffy's ship, the Going Merry - before she knew how wonderful and important the Merry would be to her - to give to Arlong. Luffy had chased after her, but not for revenge as any other pirate would have done for stealing his property. No, Luffy came after Nami because he wanted her on his crew. He wanted her to be his navigator.

He wanted her to be nakama.

Warmth from the memories filled Nami's chest, and with a smile, she flopped into one of the wing-backed reading chairs and peeled into the mikan.

Brook found the picture in his locker in the men's cabin. It was a clipping from the Pure Lock newspaper, of the celebratory dinner that was held after the Straw Hats freed the island from its captors. Brook sat gathered with his new nakama, everyone laughing and wearing smiles - even the normally stoic Zoro. Written in the margin in messy, block print were the words: "In addition, not replacement."

Brook burst out crying, his non-existent heart exploding with love. His lingering fear that joining the Straw Hat crew meant leaving his old crew behind - even though they were long gone, resting in endless sleep with Davey Jones - was washed away in a flood of tears. Brook had never said a word, yet here was a picture of proof that he was still heard and understood.

The love and acceptance he felt seeped deep into his bones, the only place it could seep - because he was a skeleton! Yo-ho-ho-ho!

Brook carefully folded the clipping into quarters, lifted his skullcap, and added it to his keepsake spot with the final song of his former crew.

Franky was constantly improving himself. Better weapons. Better hydraulics. Better metal beneath his skin. He wanted to be better than he was - because he never felt good enough, even after the all the upgrades he'd made in the two years the crew had been apart. In the back of his mind, he was always thinking: just one more change. Just one more modification and he'd reach perfection.

But perfection never came, leaving him with a hollow feeling next to the soda bottle in his chest. He didn't bring it up, didn't let his nakama know his struggle. To them, he was always SUPER!

Franky found the metal tag on his workbench in the bowels of the ship. The back of the metal was stamped with a portion of Dr. Vegapunk's name, likely a piece of a former cyborg from Punk Hazard. Etched crudely by knife on its front surface was a poor version of the Straw Hat skull and crossbones of their flag. It was badly done, barely recognizable, as if the creator wasn't skilled but still determined.

It was perfect.

Franky wasted no time in riveting it to the inside of his metal chest, where his heart would be.

Zoro stepped through the trap door, his gaze alighting on the thin black column of Sanji's suited back. The crows nest smelled of cigarettes and rain coming in on the breeze from the partially open window.

"My watch, Cook," Zoro said, setting his bottle of sake on the curved bench beneath the windows.

Sanji took a final drag off the cigarette held between his long fingers and flinched the spent butt out the window. He wore a contemplative expression, appearing deep in his own thoughts. He barely grunted in Zoro's direction as he headed for the trap door. He'd been like this for the past few days, ever since they'd left Fishman Island. Ever since they'd likely found All Blue.

Zoro watched Sanji as he lifted the hatch. "Luffy says you might leave."

Sanji paused with one foot out the door. He didn't look up. "What's it to you?"

A tense silence filled the crows nest. It stretched on an uncomfortable length of time before Zoro's rough voice broke it. "Don't go."

Sanji nodded once, shortly. "All right."

Zoro released the breath he'd been holding. "All right."

The hatched door closed behind Sanji as he descended into the night.

Luffy sat cross-legged on Merry's head. His elbows rested on his knees and his chin was propped on his fists. His straw hat was pushed back far on his dark head as he stared at the curved bow where the horizon would be if he were on deck.

Luffy did this often, for hours at a time. The channel lock where the Mini Merry II was kept held no real interest. Yet time and again Luffy came below to sit on the figurehead for no apparent reason.

When his stomach eventually rumbled, Luffy slid to the ground and patted Merry on the side of the neck. He wandered out without saying a word.

Merry heard him anyway.