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“Pardon me,” Fujitora said, and heard a bang as the young marine startled so badly that he knocked his knees against his desk.

“Ah!” the boy yelped. “A-Admiral Fujitora. Sir. Can I help you? If you’re here to see the Vice Admiral, he’s out right now.“

“As it happens,” Fujitora said, finding the chair in front of the desk with his cane and dropping himself down into it, “I’m here to speak to you, if you have a moment.”

There was a very long pause before the boy said, voice high with bafflement, “Me?

“Yes,” Fujitora said. “You’re Captain Coby, are you not?”

“Yeeees…” Coby confirmed hesitantly, before correcting, “I-I mean, yes, sir!”

“Garp recommended I talk to you,” Fujitora said. “About Strawhat Luffy.”

Coby’s heartbeat immediately picked up. “Oh! I, um! I- don’t think I can help you, sir,” he stammered. “I don’t, um. I don’t… know him.”

Fujitora chuckled. “You’re a very honest young man, aren’t you, Captain?” he said, and didn’t wait for an answer. “It’s alright. You’re not going to get into trouble, I promise you. I just want to know your honest opinion. Strawhat Luffy… left quite an impression on me. I’d like to know more about him, and Garp told me you had a rather unique perspective.”

Coby laughed a little, soft and quickly muffled. “He does that, doesn’t he,” he muttered, quiet enough that it clearly wasn’t meant to be heard. And then, louder, “U-um… it’s kind of a long story, sir. Can I get you some tea?”

“Please,” Fujitora said, settling back into his seat with a nod and listening as Coby stood and hurried over to another corner of the room.

For someone who’d raced up through the ranks so quickly and made such a name for himself at the Paramount War, and then again at Rocky Port, Coby’s humble demeanor came as a surprise. Until now, Fujitora had only known him by reputation, but he’d assumed that a student of Garp with the fortitude to throw himself in front of a rampaging Akainu would be… well, louder, for one.

Instead, Coby was unassuming and meek- and at the same time, one of the brightest rising stars in the marines. 

Coby crossed the room again and set two small cups on the desk. “About six inches in front of your right hand, sir,” he said.

Fujitora smiled. “Thank you,” he said, lifting the tea, bowing slightly in gratitude, and taking a long sip. It was delicious. “How old are you, Captain?”

“Ah… eighteen, sir,” Coby answered. “I met Luffy-sa- um- Luffy, when I was sixteen.” He was quiet for a moment, then, “He’s the reason I became a marine.”

Fujitora raised his eyebrows, abruptly intrigued, and leaned forward slightly. He had met marines who had joined up to capture a specific pirate before, but Coby’s tone and the aborted honorific told him that this situation was rather different. “Is that so?”

“Yes. Um…” Coby hesitated, then said, rushed and quiet, “I… used to be a cabin boy. On a pirate ship, I mean. I-I didn’t want to! I got on the wrong boat by mistake, and then I had to work for them or they would’ve killed me!” He sounded nearly desperate in his insistence, and Fujitora nodded in understanding, gesturing for him to go on. He did, after a moment.

“I always dreamed of running away and becoming a marine, and helping people, but I… wasn’t brave enough. I was always too scared. By the time I met him, I’d… basically given up. Like a coward-

Coby paused, breaking off his story for a moment, and Fujitora wished he could read his expression. He waited patiently until the boy continued.

“And then one day… um. The pirates fished a barrel out of the ocean, from a shipwreck. And when they went to open it, to see if there was treasure or something inside… there was a person, instead. I thought for sure they were just going to kill him, but then right in front of my eyes, he knocked them all out like it was nothing! People who I’d been too scared to even look at wrong for years, and he just… and then he told me his name was Luffy, and he was going to be Pirate King.”

Coby laughed a little. “I told him he was crazy,” he admitted. “I found out later that it was only his first day at sea, too. Can you imagine? But… it was just, something about the way he said it, like he knew exactly who he was and who he was going to be and he was going to see his stupid, crazy dream to the end even if it killed him… I guess it kind of made me think, why am I not doing that?”

There was a soft tap-tap of fingers drumming thoughtfully against a desk. “It was only because of him that I was ever able to get the courage together to stand up for myself to the pirate who’d captured me,” Coby said. “I was sure she was going to kill me- and she tried to! But- Luffy-san saved my life, and then took me to the nearest marine base to join up- even though that would make us enemies. Because it was my dream.”

“If not for him… I’d still be a cleaning boy on a pirate ship in East Blue. Or I’d be dead.”

“Hmm,” Fujitora hummed thoughtfully. He could see the scene so clearly, even though he didn’t even know what either boy looked like. “I must wonder just how many people Strawhat Luffy has saved.”

“Sir?” Coby asked.

“I encountered the Strawhat Pirates on Dressrosa,” Fujitora explained. “You have heard of what happened there, yes? As they fled the island, I was prepared to sink their ship with a bombardment of rubble… but before I could, the citizens threw themselves into the line of fire, to protect the pirates. And I had a very enlightening conversation with Vice Admiral Smoker some time ago regarding their actions in Alabasta.”

He took a drink of his tea. “How strange,” he said, “to have a pirate doing our jobs for us.”

Coby was quiet for a moment. “Well,” he eventually said, “that just means we need to do better, then, right? Sir?”

Fujitora smiled. “Indeed,” he agreed.

He would be very interested to see where this young marine went next.

"Thank you for your time, Captain," he said as he pushed himself to his feet, "and for your honesty. If I may say... I think the marines could very well use more men like you. I think you'll go far." 

Coby made a startled noise, and then started stuttering. "Oh, s-sir, I don't, um, I don't think- I'm not... even that strong, or anything, or brave, I just..." He trailed off, then said, "I just... want to help as many people as I can, sir." 

"Yes," Fujitora agreed with a smile, as he picked his cane up and made his way to the door. "That's precisely why." 

You choose your friends well, don't you, Strawhat Luffy?

Yes, he would be very interested indeed to see where Captain Coby went next.