Last time: Luffy goes ahead on St. Charlus' orders, as he waits outside, he and Law briefly cross paths when the surgeon steps out for air. Still inside the auction, Kidd is recognized and ignored by Kizaru, and as the Celestial Dragon arrives, an explosion is heard.
Coby doesn't know what has his blood so hot today.
He's been itching for this trial since his squad first arrived in Sabaody, has been briefed time and time again about how crucial this moment in time is. Promotion was dangled in front of him several times, not the first attempt to get him out from under Luffy. Coby knows that amongst his colorful crewmates, he sticks out a little.
Maybe that's why.
Or maybe it's hearing about Nami taking down Bonnie, maybe Coby's the tiniest bit jealous. He knows all jobs in a marine base are important, servants all in their worship and promulgation of Justice, but when Coby had dreamt of being a marine when he was little it'd just look... different than what he does now.
(There was a lot more punching involved.)
Maybe it's that he got a letter yesterday, and he can still feel the softened royal paper it was written on.
Coby's never dissatisfied with his life or his job. He's not unhappy with his strength or his accomplishments. He just wishes there was more to him than there is, maybe then...
Coby's more frustrated than he'd thought because there's too much offense in his grip as he makes his way down the groves in search of a fight.
"THIS IS ABSOLUTELY INEXCUSABLE!" Luffy shields himself off from the flying snot and spit, and Nami's stomach twists in revulsion and fear. She figured St. Charlus would be upset, he always is when he has his eye on something and doesn't get it. This isn't his first visit where he expects a mermaid and doesn't get one. This, the rage that has pulled him down from his chariot as he points directly at Luffy, is not what they'd been expecting. Her commanding officer does his best to avoid the spit balls, brows drawn and ticked off. Nami prays for Luffy's continued patience. "Why did I even send you here in the first place?! If they don't have the mermaid?!"
"They said they're having difficulties, Saint Charlus," Nami repeats Luffy's report. Her own face is distressed, Camie is supposed to be long gone. Why is she still here? Or is she not and is the auction trying to appease the Celestial Dragon? Or, maybe Luffy never asked.
"This is a slave house!" the Celestial Dragon screams, "what type of technical difficulties could they have?! Didn't they know I was coming?! They don't get to have technical difficulties with me here!"
Yes, of course, let me tell them right away.
"And you good-for-nothing...!" As St. Charlus turns around to spit at Nami, Luffy explodes.
"AHHHHHHHHH, sh- silence!" Luffy switches mid sentence, throwing a self-regulatory 'dammit!' under his breath before he continues. "Either the mermaid will be there or she won't be. We can't do anything about it."
"I refuse," St. Charlus' eyes narrow, increasingly more irate. "I want the mermaid now, get me someone from the action!"
"S-saint Charlus, the thing is-" Nami attempts to intervene, seeing the way Luffy's eyes widen. Is Camie still here?
"I already told you," Luffy grounds out, deviating the attention again and doing his best to glare out while he smiles politely. "They don't have a mermaid anymore, goddammit!" St. Charlus raises his fist and Nami knows what's coming. The punch does nothing to Luffy's rubber skin, but he swings his face around anyway. When a Celestial Dragon wants to hurt you, it's better to give them what they want, otherwise, they start getting creative about it. Nami knows the blow is inconsequential, even without Luffy's Devil Fruit, how hard can the gloved-fist of that wimp hurt?
It's the principle though, that someone is trying to hurt Luffy and Nami has to stand by. An unlikely savior interrupts them.
"Is that how you speak to the Celestial Dragon, Rear-Admiral?" The hairs in Nami's nape all stand on end, and she gets a chill in the middle of the sunny afternoon.
"Ad-Admiral Kizaru?" Nami goes unacknowledged.
"I will have words with my subordinate, St. Charlus. If it is to your will, please proceed to the Auction House so that you may begin enjoying the show."
"Hmph!" is the only response the Admiral gets, but the Celestial Dragon does make a show of harboring his white robes and entering the house, escorted by the same two slaves that carried him through the Archipelago. The tense silence between the remaining marines makes it hard to breathe. Nami's beyond exhausted, hair face hurts, her fingers hurt, but she feels wide awake as she stands in between Kizaru and Luffy.
"A word, Rear Admiral."
It is not a request. Luffy's eyes narrow, they remain on his superior officer when he orders:
He's serious, as in infiltrating-Big-Mom-Territory serious, seeing him like that again stops Nami's protests in the back of her throat. She nods, waits for the men to walk ten paces ahead, off to the shadow of the Auction House, and immediately pursues them in a crouch that belonged to a very different Nami, who used it for a very different purpose. She's sure both men notice her, but they'd have to admit it out loud to fix it and neither do. Luffy stops at the same time as the Admiral who whirls on him and, without so much as a greeting, raises him up by the neck. Luffy chokes and coughs, but gives nothing away except narrowing his eyes down from where he looks down on his superior.
"What do you think you're doing brat?" Kizaru hisses, "the Celestial Dragon is throwing a tantrum! You had one job."
"My job isn't to get slaves," Luffy grumbles, hands taking a grip on Kizaru's wrist.
"Your job is whatever that pot-bellied pig says, Monkey D. Luffy, and it's high time you stop skirting your duties! Don't think your shenanigans in this archipelago have gone unnoticed. Something here is fishy, I don't care what Sakazuki's report had to say." It's not the first time that Nami thinks Kizaru really hates Luffy, but it's the first time she fears that he really does. The Admiral gives Luffy a shake for good-measure. "Where's the mermaid?"
Nami has seen Luffy lie before.
"I don't know," the Rear-Admiral shrugs, eyes wide in innocence. The ruse is better than usual, but Nami's not sure it'll be enough to fool Admiral Kizaru, who only grows incensed. Luffy, stuffing his pinky up his nose does not help, he looks up at the sky, as if thinking about it. "Maybe they bought her?"
"Why would I know?" Luffy may mean to sound indignant, but he only sounds childish. As he tries to wrestle out of the hold, legs kicking the air. He lets out a strangled sound and Nami knows something's changed, because before Luffy's squirming had been almost for show, and now, there's desperation in every twitchy movement.
"Don't take me for one of those marines you've got wrapped around your little finger," the admiral drawls. "I know exactly who you are." The grass muffles whatever sound Luffy makes when he hits the ground, but it echoes in her brain, hollow and painful. He slips right down to the floor with almost no resistance, where he catches himself in hands and knees. His chest expands in hurried breaths and for one cowardly moment, Nami turns around and hides away her gaze as she rests her back against the tree. It only lasts a second, and Luffy's voice has her hurrying to keep watching the scene.
"You can't expect me to give a damn about that guy's slaves!" he explodes, and Nami can see blood coming out from his nose and the pale grip as he grabs onto his neck, not quite touching the tattoo as it glows. There's an odd smell, something Nami vaguely recognizes and can't place as Luffy hunches over, almost looking like he'll retch right there at the Admiral's feet. It's like the world coming apart by coming together, Nami suddenly remembers that that's no tattoo at all.
"Where is the mermaid?"
"I don't know!" If Nami didn't know Luffy like she does, she'd consider it a real answer, because the agony in the hoarse response makes her sick. Nami's going to be sick, because the collar lightens, ebony black ending to a murky grey, Kizaru brings down Luffy with a careless gesture and dead eyes, and-
We can't just take her, she needs to be bought. The slave collar on her neck explodes.
Shit, shit, shit, shit. Nami takes a step back, and then another and then she's in clear view of the pair and she's flat on her ass but she cannot care because there's just.
She's shaking her head, trying to erase the realization from her mind, scrub her mind clean from injustice. Neither marine spares her a glance.
"Are you going back on your deal?" The man says, and Nami doesn't know if he really expects an answer with the way Luffy's gasping for breath. His eyes turn in her direction, but Nami knows he's not seeing her. He bites down on the lip and must chew clean through if the amount of blood is anything to go by.
"This..." He pants. "Has nothing... to do with that" He screams.
"Where's the mermaid?" The scream that escapes Luffy as the collar starts to glow is something Nami can hear in her nightmare, it's the scream of Bellemere dying, of Arlong Park collapsing, of another parent dead because their tribute could not be met. It's everything Nami thought she left behind years ago but now it's followed her, all the way to the present and she feels just as powerless as ever. The Admiral kicks Luffy, laying him out on his back, where he jerks and twists but doesn't seem to get any relief. Admiral Kizaru's brows are furrowed and Nami realizes distantly that he's truly worried.
"I don't know!" Luffy yells back, and his eyes seem more focused even though Nami's placing the smell. It's rubber, burning rubber. Nami thinks about Camie and watches Luffy and something sour and rotten is filling her mouth, salt tasting like the tears she cannot pinpoint the start of. Her shoulders shake and she feels like there's no air in her lungs. She takes one step towards Luffy and then two, Kizaru watches her with interest, probably hoping she'll give them up. Nami's already ran through that possibility, but Luffy would never forgive her.
Seagods, Nami knew this day wouldn't... She can't. She can't even think with Luffy's restless crying and she's finally close enough to drop to her knees.
"Luffy..." she whimpers.
Luffy thinks that Nami's hand might burn more than the collar. It's a feeling Luffy has always left unacknowledged but is now knocking down the doors of awareness. Shame.
He wants to reassure her, tries to bring the world into focus and say it's going to be okay but he can only try to keep himself from hitting her by accident. He slams on the ground and his neck burns, and for a single moment he thinks that's going to be it because it's burning hot and he can't breathe.
His screams are pierced by the stillness of the world exploding and the collar stops.
On this fine day, Sanji had dreams. He'd gotten rid of Bege, as Robin-chwan had asked. Nami-chwan had won her own battle. And now, Sanji gets to rescue the beautiful Camie.
He flies over the archipelago more on the high of his love for the ladies than by his talent in skywalk, something he'd swear is true. He catches sight of the Auction House, going the long way around to the back. Miss Shakky is supposed to meet him there, and together they'll take Camie to the sea where she can safely return to Fishman Island, far away from these beasts with the audacity to call themselves men.
Except when he gets there, there's no opportunity to do so. He jumps back at the last minute, haki blaring at him, barely avoiding being blown away by a giant breaking open the back entrance of the action, bare fist first. It bleeds, and the first thing visible through the dust cloud is the man shaking off the ache.
"Freedom is rarely simple," he voices whimsically. Behind him erupts a chuckle. The dust settles, sinking into the rubble and Sanji cannot quiet believe his eyes. The alarms of the auction house are at full volume. Camie is being carried out already in the hands of a man.
He's old but limber, Sanji can tell the ease of his movements despite carrying Camie's weight (not that the lady would be too heavy, of course). He takes one look at him and his coat, and before Sanji can say anything, the man takes off.
"Ara... Curly guy, where you our escort?" Sanji's feet itch to go after Camie, but he stays rooted to the spot trying to understand what happened.
"Miss Shakky, what happened to Camie?
"Ray has her."
"That's Dark King Rayleigh?" Sanji's astonishment takes the forefront of his mind only for a second before the reality of what just happened hits home. "But Camie needs to be bought! Admiral Kizaru is here on the island!" Shakky's cigaretter almost falls from her grip, her expression remains unreadable. She lets out the smoke she'd held in her lungs, and Sanji's own burn for a cigarette of his own.
"That's not good."