theremedy: (Zoro)
[personal profile] theremedy
Chapter Thirteen


Present:
Can’t Anybody Find Me…

Zoro sat on one side of the stuffy couch as he sipped a beer he’d brought with him and stared with raised eyebrows at the collection of Disney knicknacks towering around the flat screen TV. He’d seen it every year but it never failed to surprise him, both that Sanji displayed it so proudly or that Zeff never had anything to say about it. He didn’t think that anyone really believed the: ‘It’s all for Chimney’ line, especially since, last he checked she was more into glam rock and Quentin Tarentino movies. There was nothing more startling than a girl he’d known since she was in pigtails asking if him if someone ‘looked like a bitch’.

A car seemed to slow outside and Zoro raised his head, listening to see it if parked, if someone got out. But no luck. The car rushed on, hushing through the puddles outside and the room was once again filled with stuffy silence. He sighed through his nose and took another sip, leaning back against the couch, then wincing and shifting his weight. Thinking of obnoxious and curly, he was the one who had insisted that Zoro come stay here instead of sleeping in his shitty car. Which, for one thing, it wasn’t a shitty car, but a classic—as Usopp had said and that was one area in which he never lied. Secondly, it wasn’t as if Zoro hadn’t slept in his car before. Almost died in it once or twice when he’d found himself stuck up in Quebec in below freezing temperatures, but it didn’t get that cold in Seattle so he would be fine. But the last thing he wanted was that damn fussy cook…fussing at him the entire time… he’d have plenty of that when they were actually traveling together.

Zoro drained the rest of the beer. He didn’t really want to think about it. Had to give the cook something to do before he burst a blood vessel, though. And…anyway, he deserve to be there. Get a chance to kick some ass. No matter what Nami had to say about it. It wasn’t her damn choice, now, was it? Anyway—

Anyway—he’d made the offer and he wouldn’t take it back, but that didn’t mean he wanted to be stuck alone in this house like a damn bump on a log, waiting for someone to get home. He could have found his own way, thank you very damn much. It might have taken him a few hours arguing with the damn GPS but that was beside the point. He threw the beer bottle away into the fussy little trashcan and then rooted in his duffel bag for another before realizing he was out. All Sanji had in his dainty little cook kitchen was wine, he knew that, and maybe some cooking sake, but Zoro wasn’t in the mood to defend himself from a cook who would be happy to vent his frustrations over a drink or two of sake. Maybe he’d do that later.

For right now, though. Zoro drummed his fingers against his legs. Shifted his weight. Boggled at the Disney collection again and then…since there was nothing better to do, leaned his head back and took a nap. He woke what felt like not a few minutes later to find a yeti scowling down at him. Zoro blinked up at him, sniffed and shifted his weight.

“Get Luffy back okay?”

“Yeah I did,” Chopper said with a fierce frown and Zoro watched his shoulders straighten as if he was gearing himself up. “Take off your shirt.”

“What?”

“You heard me,” Chopper said, jabbing a finger in his direction. “Off.” And then he tromped off somewhere to get…that. So soon on a first date? Ace voice said in his head, a fragment of a distant memory. Zoro told it to shut the hell up, waited until Chopper had disappeared into another room before he got swiftly to his feet and headed for the door.

“If you run away,” Chopper called. “You’ll only be less of a man.”

Damnit. Well he wasn’t taking off his damn shirt. He sat back on the couch, folding his arms. After a moment, Chopper came back out, holding that damn little blue med bag.

“I don’t need a doctor,” Zoro said.

“Have you seen one?” Chopper said, blandly, pulling out a box of rubber gloves and a clipboard. Zoro thought of lying but didn’t think it would work.

“No,” he muttered.

“Then shut up and put this under your tongue.”

Zoro sighed and took the offered thermometer, sticking it under his tongue. This was such a pain in the ass. It wasn’t like he could see a doctor even if he wanted to, without money or much in any way of IDs but it didn’t matter. He didn’t need that kind of thing. He was born with two states of being, healthy or dead. Spring allergies didn’t count no matter what anyone said and Benedryl made him loopy as shit.

“I’m going to ask you a few questions,” Chopper said, holding up the clipboard. “Just nod yes or no. Have you gotten in any fights in the past six months?”

Yes.

“Did you fight and get cut with anything rusted or dirty or otherwise requiring a tetanus shot?”
No. He made sure of that. The less Chopper had to stick him with shit, the happier he’d be.

“Any new wounds that you’re currently trying to hide because they’re not a big deal and you don’t want me to fuss over them?”

Yes. …No wait damnit he hadn’t meant to acknowledge that. Jerk had used his professional voice and Zoro had been taken unaware.

“Have you had sex in the past six months, protected or otherwise?”

He hated that question. Why the hell did Chopper always have to ask it? He felt his face heat and glowered at the med student. Chopper stared calmly back under his thick eyebrows, waiting for an answer. Zoro sighed. Shook his head. No.

“Hmm.” Chopper made a few notes on his clipboard and took out the thermometer, peering at it before taking a note. “Slight fever. Probably due to the infection from the wound which I can smell from here, you bastard. I’m going to kick your ass for not taking care of yourself.”

“Don’t say things like that in your professional tone.” It was just too weird. “Anyway I’m fine.”

“Uh huh. Shirt off. I need to take a look. Also tomorrow we’re going for your flu shot.”

“Like hell I am. I never get the flu, damnit. I never even get a head cold.”

“That’s because you get inoculated and I’m a miracle worker.” Chopper took out a gleaming pair of scissors and Zoro tried not to flinch back. The hell was he planning to do with those?

“Your shirt is coming off one way or another,” he said, snipping the scissors twice. Damn yeti. Zoro took off his shirt, wishing again his haramaki hadn’t gotten slashed all to hell. He hadn’t had the time to make a new one.

“Stand up,” Chopper said and Zoro did. Really no reason to argue at this point. He kept his expression perfectly neutral even as the man poked and prodded pinched at the wound that would just heal up on its own if people stopped playing with it. But it didn’t hurt. He didn’t feel it. Instead he focused on three different dolls— no ‘display pieces’ of the redheaded mermaid one, set up on the high shelf. After a moment, he felt a gusty warm sigh against his side.

“You’re going to need stitches. I’m going to sterilize a needle so stay put.”

Zoro stayed put and gazed at the collection. It was all so much stuff. Boxes of movies and smiling plastic faces. He’d never have pinned the Curly brow as a collector of so much stuff outside of cooking…stuff or his fussy clothes. Granted there hadn’t been room for much but— he hadn’t collected anything that Zoro had been aware of. As for this… Other than the few pictures of Sanji hung on the wall, and maybe the chef bobblehead that Luffy got him when they went to that one place with the rides which had seemed like every other place with the rides, the collection could belong to anyone. Maybe he just didn’t get it.

“I’m glad you’re back,” Chopper said, making his way back to the livingroom and digging a stethoscope out of his bag. “We’ve all been really worried.”

“Nothing to worry about.” At least not from him. He watched grateful as Chopper breathed on the metal disk, though it was still pretty chilly as the yeti pressed it against his skin.

“We do anyway. We’re worriers. Usopp just hides it well.”

Zoro snorted. Usopp couldn’t hide a…a…something easily hidden well. At least not as far as emotions went. He was pretty good at hiding himself. Or he had been. The guy could be running right by your shoulder one second and then the next yelling at him to do his best from some hidden corner.

“You have to keep coming back, though. At least once a year. Cough.”

He complied. After a moment the stethoscope moved.

“I know you don’t think it’s a big deal but it’s important to me. Deep breath.”

He took one, his side itching a little.

“So promise me, Zoro,” Chopper said, removing the stethoscope and looking down at him with a concerned frown.

“I promise,” Zoro said. Provided he lived through this. Which he wasn’t holding out much hopes for, given what he’d heard. Hopefully he’d at least get enough information to Sanji who could either continue the rest of the way or set more people on this guy—whoever he was. Chopper was still frowning at him as if he’d heard that somehow. Zoro hoped not. It was bad enough with the guy being a mind reader as well. Though probably it was something different as he marked the sheet and then fiddled with the cords of his stethoscope.

“If he…if Usopp doesn’t come back tonight… will you help me get him?”

Zoro thought about that for a moment. Normally he’d let Usopp come back on his own. The fight between him and Sanji had been stupid and petty and not something Zoro had any interest in getting in the middle of. Except…Usopp on his own could take weeks or longer to turn around. Luffy didn’t have weeks or longer. Zoro had felt it as he held him. His spirit ebbing bit by bit. Tired of fighting. Tired of the long swim through dark water. He would want them all there before the end and all there they would be, even if Zoro had to burn a few bridges to do it. Afterwords would take care of itself.

“Yeah I’ll help. But give him a day.” Tonight was too soon. Zoro had to get himself settled first and anyway, he’d promised Bon Clay a beer when he got into town and that was tonight. Chopper nodded.
After what seemed like an eternity of being poked, prodded, examined and stitched, Chopper finished and Zoro felt more than ready to sit down again. It was always like this and logically, didn’t make much sense. All he’d been doing was standing there while Chopper worked…but the yeti’s attentions were tiring. Soon though his shirt was back on and Chopper had brought a blanket to wrap around his waist as well as a glass of carrot juice instead of the beer Zoro had asked him to check for.

“Do I look like a rabbit to you?”

“It aids in photosynthesis.”

“Oh…” He took a sip. It wasn’t bad but… Wait a second. Wasn’t that photo-whatever for plants? That little— “Oi, oi,” Zoro started.

“Mario Kart or Smash Brothers?” Chopper asked as if he could just make Zoro forget.

“Smash Brothers,” he said. He liked the elf guy with the sword and anyway, it was bad enough when the GPS told him to turn around—he didn’t need that grief from a game with roads that were designed to be confusing.

They played a bit in quiet. Zoro died a lot. He always did at the beginning because he was still trying to get used to the controls, and again a little later on because he took too many, as Usopp said: ‘suicidal risks’. But occasionally he won and that was always a good feeling.

“Hey, Zoro…” Chopper said after a while and then fell silent again.

“Mm?” he prompted.

“Um…ho-how do you tell someone you like them?”

What? Zoro blinked at him, so caught off guard his elf guy fell off the screen.

“I mean um, there’s this girl,” Chopper said, cheeks going red. “And I like her. Well I don’t know if I like her. I mean I do. She’s nice and everything and smart and I want to see if I like like her but I have to tell her I like her first.”

“…Okay…” That was entirely too many likes to fit in one breath. Aside from that, if Chopper was asking what Zoro thought he was asking, wouldn’t Sanji or—anyone else be the better person to ask?

“I mean I guess I thought she was cute for a while but I didn’t want to say anything…so I thought I’d invite her to the Halloween Party and she could be Belle and I brought the costume and everything but Robin said that asking her and already having a costume was a little creepy and just a shade away from Norman Rockwell. …No wait, Norman Bates. The screamy shower guy. And…you know, when Robin says it’s creepy it’s pretty creepy and I just—”

“Just ask her,” Zoro said in an effort to stem the tide before he got completely washed over. “Worst she can say is no.” He hesitated, then added. “And you should probably let her choose her own costume.”

“Yeah…I mean I know the costume bit but…I just…thought a theme would be good since she’s a little obsessive compulsive and really into matched sets.” Chopper kept playing, washed in blue. A vibration in the controller meant Zoro died again and he looked back at the screen. “…also I’m a yeti,” Chopper said quietly.

“So?”

“So I mean, if I’m not careful one day she’s going to think I’m a wolfman or something.”

“Maybe she likes wolves.”

“Yeah but who’d want to date one.”

That was the crux of the problem right there. Zoro had never dated. Had never even wanted to. He’d hung out and things had happened, but that didn’t really qualify as anything other than—hanging out and deciding to screw for a while. Chopper seemed to be aiming for the whole hearts and flowers thing—more noodly love cook territory.

“If she doesn’t want to date you because of that, she’s not worth dating. Find someone you don’t have to change for.”

“That’s easy to say coming from someone who looks like you.”

What did that mean? He wasn’t as…hairy but apart from that, they looked pretty much the same as far as he could tell. He rubbed the back of his neck and watched the elf guy get hit by a bomb and plummet over the side again. He wasn’t sure what to say about it, though, so didn’t.

“I’m sorry,” Chopper said. “You’re right. I guess… I’m just kind of worried that I’ll never find someone who…treats me like you guys do.”

“You will.” There was no way he wouldn’t. Excessive hair was nothing compared to everything he had going for him. Still if it was something Zoro could trade Chopper for, he would. He wasn’t sure if he looked much better than Chopper did on the outside but he wasn’t really interested in anything that would matter if he had hair or not. It might even help him camouflage some… Not that that would matter in a few weeks.

“Thanks… and…the funny thing is…I didn’t…really think about that kind of stuff…until Luffy…until…recently. But…life passes so quickly, you know? A-and anything can happen so…I just…wanted to carpe diem, I guess.”

Zoro wasn’t entirely sure what a fish had to do with anything—but it must be some kind of weird phrase. Anyway he knew what Chopper meant.

“It’s quick but there’s no need to rush.” He wasn’t the one dying, after all. Yeah he might die suddenly for one reason or another but until then there was no point in throwing himself into things he wasn’t ready for because he was afraid he’d miss them. “Just enjoy yourself.” Because in the end, that’s what Luffy wanted for them more than anything. Always had. To have just as much fun as he had. Zoro wasn’t quite sure if he’d ever measured up to that standard.

“I’m having fun kicking your butt,” Chopper said with a giggle as Zoro was knocked off the platform again. Zoro breathed a laugh.

“For now.” Though he went in without the illusion of winning. Video games had never been his thing and his mind kept drifting, but never quite finding shore.



The Bull and the Bear hadn’t changed in the handful of times Zoro had been here. It was still dimly lit, seedy, and filled with sweaty men and country music. The last part always struck him as kind of ironic if he thought about it too much, but he generally tried not to. At least the beer was good and people tended to mind their own business.

“Good to see you back again,”the bartender said with a grin and a wink. “Waiting for a friend?”

“Something like that.” He wasn’t sure where Bon Clay really fit into the spectrum. They had been on opposite sides of the ring, so there had been that bond for a while—however you would classify it. And the cross-dresser had helped them along the way once or twice. Though he’d always seemed more Luffy, Usopp and Nami’s friend more than anyone else. For a short while he’d been Nami’s ‘girlfriend’, though in a different sense then what girlfriend usually meant—or at least Zoro was pretty sure. Because then Vivi filled that role and they were girlfriends as in friends except for that one incident which—Zoro wasn’t sure he should have seen but they didn’t mention and he didn’t bring up since he wanted to keep all his parts intact. Anyway, relationships were confusing.

“Well if he doesn’t show…” the bartender said.

“Yeah thanks,” Zoro said absently, paying for the beer and moving to a recently vacated booth. He’d never been able to deal with the whole hitting on thing and he wasn’t about to start now when there was no point. Even if there was a point he’d long since gotten over one night stands or…stands altogether. It was just too much work to keep up with. He’d just about finished his beer and was wondering if he should go up for another when the door banged open and the talking dimmed to a dull roar.

Bon Clay had arrived and Zoro didn’t even have to see him to know. He did see him soon, though, the crowd of men parting as the drag queen strutted through their midst, looking like he’d gotten stuck in the bottom half of a disco ball and hadn’t bothered to take it off. Someone in the crowd whistled and Bon Clay laughed, blowing them a kiss before giving a little wave. Then he spotted Zoro and a wide grin split his face.

“Zozo! Tall dark and brooding as ever, I see,” Bon Clay said, leaning down to give him an air kiss, though not without kicking one leg up. “Well dark and brooding anyway. I’m so happy to see you I just want to spin!” and he did a few times to the cheers of others. Zoro finished his beer and wondered why every table had a basket of peanuts except his. He moved his empty beer bottle a moment before Bon Clay spread backward on the table, cocking one foot up on the edge, his skirt riding dangerously high.

“I don’t suppose you’ll give me a screaming orgasm,” he said, fluttering his jeweled eyelashes.

“No way in hell,” Zoro said. He wasn’t even going to say it out loud. Bon Clay pouted at him but was all smiles again as someone else offered to order it for him. Good for them.

“Make that two,” Bon Clay called, before slipping into the seat properly and sitting—well—like a man. Zoro was too used to it to be bothered—or even look. He raised his hand for another beer.

“It feels like it’s been ages. I’d ask how things are but I’m afraid I already know.” Bon Clay passed his fingers over his neck, roughly where the claw marks were on Zoro’s. Yeah that had been a little stupid but… he couldn’t be assed to care. He grunted and grunted a thanks at the second beer before popping the cap and taking a sip. Bon Clay smiled and rested his chin on the backs of his fingers.

“So instead I’ll ask about the others. Usoso? Nami-chan? That handsome Prince? Any chance of finding him under my tree?”

“Only if you bound and gagged him first,” Zoro said. Bon Clay flicked his hands at him.

“Oh, don’t tempt me. He beat me only once and it’s been ingrained in my soul forever! I am a lady enough to appreciate the charm and a man enough to feel a rival’s warmth deep within my bosom! Would that he felt the same, my Romeo!”

Zoro wondered if Sanji was somewhere feeling faintly queasy. But it was nothing. Just words. If anything Bon Clay was less romantic and more devoted—which was why they were…whatever it was they were.

“I’ve yet to see our little Straw-chan this month,” Bon Clay said. “And I probably won’t, alas. A tournament in Sacramento is just pulling me away! Training new recruits, you know. Teaching boys how to kick in high heels is not a mission for the faint of heart.” Two Screaming Orgasms arrived, both with a toothpick that impaled two cherries and the round of a banana. Bon Clay took one and Zoro peered at the other which he assumed was for him. It wasn’t a good idea to mix beer and liquor, but, the hell with it.

“How is he?” Bon Clay asked.

“Dying,” Zoro said, taking a sip. That…was a lot of vodka. It slammed straight into his gut and felt like it kept on going.

“Oh…” Bon Clay said. “…Is…there anything I can do?”

“Don’t worry about it.” He didn’t want to talk about it, or take place in the sympathy fest that was bound to happen. There was enough like that going on with his nakama. Bon Clay sucked the cherry banana sandwich off his toothpick and regarded Zoro, looking serious despite his faint smile.

“And you plan to join him.”

Well he couldn’t deny it. Not exactly. He shrugged and sat back, drinking deeply from the…screaming org…mixed drink as he idly watched the bartender.

“I mean, I’m not nosy, but I hear things and who you are going after.”

“What do you know about him?” Zoro asked, cutting a look at Bon Clay.

“Well, not much. I would tell you if I did, ZoZo, you know that, but not many people in my circle do know much. He’s not even an upandcomer. Hasn’t hit the circuits as far as I know and I know. Anyone with his…well…rumored skill would be bound to cause ripples, even in the most obscure circuits.”

“Highroller fighter maybe?”

“You would know more than I.”

He’d only been on a highroller fight once and that was something completely different. Anyway, he didn’t follow the circuits like Bon Clay did or—at all really. That’s what Nami did. He just went where he was pointed.

“I do know, that is, I’ve heard that he’s looking to expand his domain—whatever that is. He’s absorbed the Priests already. Even Gedatsu.”

“How careless,” Zoro muttered. Though that was going to make the fight that much harder if they had to go through them. Four priests, two each. Plus the Eneru guy. Unless he just sent Sanji after the priests and hope he got out okay… Or just got as much information as they could before actually going in so he could leave Sanji behind and fight himself.

“Anyway, listen to me, before you charge nobly but uselessly into that good night, let me hook you up.”

Zoro choked on his vodka.

“I don’t…” he wheezed. Coughed. Tried to clear his throat. “I don’t—”

“Need that kind of thing. I know. I’ve heard it. But I also know you used to.”

Zoro glared at him. He was not getting into that discussion. Not with Bon Clay. Not with anyone.

“Didn’t need it then either,” he said. Which was true. He’d had plenty of other things to occupy his time with. And after… other…things… He hadn’t really deserved it anyway. He only regretted that he hadn’t kept close enough watch. That Luffy had gotten hurt. No…killed. A death that had been stretched out for five years but the end result was the same.

“If you say so,” Bon Clay said, sounding frustrated. “I just don’t understand why you feel the need to be dead before you’ve even died.”

Luffy was like that now, so it was only fair. If anything it should be Zoro in that bed right now, trapped in darkness. Living only to remind people of what used to be and what they couldn’t have. What they’d lost. Except if it was different, if Luffy were the one with his eyes open right now, everyone would thrive. The world would move and change, tilt on the whims of that bright-eyed idiot. There would be color in the world again.

“Well if you change your mind, call me. You have my number.”

“Yeah,” Zoro said. And then: “Thanks.” Because whatever Bon Clay was, he was a kind of friend and at least deserved being thanked for everything he done. Everything he’d put up with. But after that, there wasn’t much more he could say. Bon Clay, for once, didn’t seem to want to fill the silence either, just sipped at his drink and scanned the room as if trying not to look directly at Zoro. Finally he sighed, putting down the empty cup.

“It’s been wonderful, ZoZo, but I think one or two young men owe me a screaming orgasm.”

“Sure.”

Bon Clay stood. Paused. And patted the table beside Zoro’s hand.

“I’ll miss you,” he said, before clicking off, welcoming his young men with open arms. He’d miss Bon Clay too, in a way. The man didn’t let anything get in his way and had gotten laid more times than a bed. Heh. He should introduce him to Chopper sometime. If Bon Clay could do it, Chopper wasn’t going to have a problem.

Zoro finished his own drink, switched to beer then decided that he’d gotten the taste of vodka behind his teeth and ordered more of it, straight up. Nami should be here. They’d have a contest. Brooding and drinking. He’d win at one and lose at the other and he wished it was the drinking he’d win at. She was brighter than he was. Stronger. More determined to live despite everything that life had thrown at her. A sister. A family. A town. She wold be okay in the end.

It was a consolation. Everyone would be okay in the end. There was the triangle of Chopper, Usopp and Sanji. Nami and her family, but also Franky and Vivi. Robin and Brook and Franky, but he made careful to separate them in his head because for some reason, as he understood things, Robin and Franky hadn’t been on speaking terms for a while now. They would be okay, though. They would all…pull together…and maybe the dreams that Luffy promised wouldn’t come true but as long as they were alive they could keep dreaming. As long as they could open their eyes at the start of a day, their dreams were still waiting. Maybe not the same, but ones that they didn’t know existed.

It was funny, he thought on his…fourth or fifth…something mixed but mostly vodka and maybe a little rum. Luffy…had asked everyone where they wanted to go. What they wanted to do but…when Zoro had first seen him, walking along the highway and slowed down— Luffy had just climbed in and said:

‘Let’s go.’

And when Zoro had asked where had said:

‘Wherever.’

And so they’d gone. All over the country. Across the sea. Everywhere that Luffy went, people followed. Found themselves. Realized their own dreams. And those dreams were still with them. That was his legacy more important than any picture in the world. Even when…things ended, things changed…his name would be remembered. Spread. Damn. He rubbed the heel of his hand against he side of his head. Now he knew why Ray drank so damn much.

After a while even those thoughts smudged out into a blurry haze of booze and country music which—actually wasn’t half bad if he didn’t listen to it. Maybe because there were fewer people in here to enjoy it. They should come back. It looked like they were having a good time and…they should have a good time. Having a good time was really good. Luffy would like them to have a good time so they should do it for Luffy.

“D’t’fer Luffy,” he said. Muttered. No one heard him, though and he still didn’t have any damn peanuts. The bartender came over to him with a smile and Zoro wanted to tell him to have more fun like that.

“Time to get going,” the bartender said and Zoro couldn’t help but admire his beard from this angle.
“Do you need me to call you a cab?”
Cab? No…no, he had no money and Nami would kill him but he did…have a car? Oh he hadn’t taken it. That was fine. He was tough. This was training. He stood up, and gave the guy a level look.

“I’ll walk,” he said, and made his way—carefully-to the door. It was…a cold and windy night. Only without the wind and he stood on the curb, blinking at the deserted parking lot. Bus stop. Down the street. Right. He could…wait for a bus and…follow that back. Because there was a bus stop near Sanji’s house so…they’d go to the same place eventually.

But then again, he thought, as he sat at the bus stop. Maybe…maybe he should just…do some winter training and sleep …here? The snow was crunchy but it wasn’t snowing and…even if it was glass retained heat. His butt buzzed again like it had been doing on and off for the past few hours. Oh…no it was his phone. Damn phone. He squinted at it a bit, trying to make out who called but…fuck it. He pressed talk.

“I’m goin’ to bed.”

“Where the fuck are you?” Sanji’s voice, a low snakey hiss but tight with rage. Damn curly cook, he already told him.

“I said, I’m goin’ to bed.” He patted the metal bench. “Shoulda broughta ‘nother coat.”

“I repeat. Where the fuck are you,” Sanji said. “Give me a name. A building nearby. Something.”

“I’ll be fine. It’s training.”

“You’re drunk.”

“Psshh.” He wasn’t drunk. He never got drunk. Ever. The bench was looking pretty damn narrow however.
“I need to find a bigger bench.” There was a long sigh on the the other end.

“Of course you do, shitty mosshead. That’s a loser’s bench.”

“It’s dented.”

“Yeah, see? Don’t want to sleep on that shit. Tell you what, though, I know where there’s a really big bench to sleep on. Strong guys only.”

“You…You’re pat…partonsizing me, bastard.” There was no such thing as a strong guy bench unless it was a bench press and that you really couldn’t sleep on.

“Come here and say that to my face.”

“Don’t know where you are. Bus hasn’t come yet.”

“Then I’ll come to you and kick your ass that way. Give me a name.”

“Zoro.”

“The name of the street, you dipshit!”

Zoro winced. Why was he always so screechy? He was like a parrot that never got fed.

“Parkside something.” He should have just walked.

“Okay. I bet you’re too much of a shitty wuss to do… fifteen hundred push ups before I get there.”

“I’ll do more then that.”

“Yeah right.”

He had done exactly fifteen hundred and two by the time the car rolled up near his face. His arms ached and he didn’t feel like moving his nose from the ground but it was two more than Sanji’d asked for so the man could kindly bite his ass. There was another long sigh, enough to fill a hot air balloon and Sanji grabbed his arm.

“Come on, you idiot.” Zoro stumbled to his feet because there was no way pasta arms could pull him anywhere close to vertical and let himself be pushed in the car. It was warm. Much warmer then the bench.

“Where’s th’ other bench,” he murmured, leaning his head on Sanji’s shoulder. He wouldn’t have asked but…he was pretty damn tired.

“At my house.”

“Good. I’ll train there.”

“You do that.”

“You go on,” he murmured. Because that was important. Because Sanji had to understand that. Maybe he didn’t. But maybe he did…because he always went on no matter what on his stick legs. It was always impressive. He would carry everyone with him. Pull them alongside no matter what because…because they always came home to his bench.

“Fine but you’re coming with me,” Sanji said. “Or who knows where the hell you’ll end up.”
He would go as far as he could. Would fight as hard as he could and in the end… with Sanji’s help …maybe he would be able to make things up to his captain…and everyone who’d ever believed in him.


Past:
You can still be free…

Zoro has no idea what the hell is going on. He hasn’t for the past few days, in fact. He remembers passing out from the trip, waking up to a sense of danger and goons in orange jumpsuits trying to get the jump on him… Fought them. Or tried as they kept shooting him with those damn darts. Pesky stings everywhere, like the time he stepped on that fire ant nest—only this time he actually had passed out like a heavy anvil being dropped on his head from a height.

He remembers waking up again and feeling like he’s chugged fifteen espressos while taking heroin on the side— Following Nami through halls were crawling with fog and he’d half been convinced he’d been stuck in a horror movie—sure he felt the walls moving in and had battled a smoke monster until Nami had screeched ‘what the hell are you doing’ at him and he’d realized it was just smoke and he was probably mostly high as fuck.

He’d fought Hachi well—had almost killed him which he felt a slight distaste in the back of his mouth for. In the end he’d been a flailing opponent, serious but distracted by other things, worried and guilty. Zoro had been able to see every pore of his skin and, he could have sworn, the blood rushing underneath. He’d spent a while just trying to find the right blood stream, aware that everyone was staring at him until Nami kicked him in the shin. Damn woman.

At the end of all that, he helped Luffy and some of the townspeople haul every body out of said building. Though it was a while before he could stop hearing voices in the walls long enough to help set it on fire… Nearly burning himself down as he looked at the fire and tried to make shapes out of it. Remembers thinking he wanted to roast marshmallows on the open flames like he used to want to do when he was a kid but they’d never gotten around to it—and then that time when they’d been going through the store and he’d tried to hide marshmallows in his puffy blue frog coat and Father made him apologize and then knocked him down the stairs. If Luffy hadn’t grabbed his arm, yelled at him, pulled him out with his face smeared with soot and blood— it would have hurt a lot.

And now he is safe, he supposes. He can tell because of the soft bed and the bandages, but mostly because he can hear Usopp speaking and the boy’s voice is high with excitement rather than the bone-shaking terror over little things that it usually is.

“You really mean it?” Usopp is saying. “Sanji…”

“Yeah. Just this once, okay? Just for a few months.” That annoying Dartboard brow. So he’d be sticking around, too, would he? That isn’t so bad. Zoro had felt the strength in his kick that one time and felt bad about the sucker punch despite the fact that the curly q had been the one distracted. Still, he doesn’t mind setting up with the guy for a rematch or two, really see how he can kick. At least he won’t go for the shin, repeatedly, in some kind of worked up fury no matter how many times he tried to explain that he was trying to see the other edge of the universe.

“Awesome! Okay, I’ll use this time to perfect my no hands kung fu! Known in some circles as the deadliest martial arts ever,” Usopp says. Zoro wonders if it includes making idiots choke on sweet and sour chicken.

“Eh? Really?” says said idiot, duly impressed and impressionable.

“Well yeah! Actually, while you were asleep, I used this secret technique to save Nami from sixteen ninjas!”

“Ninja,” Zoro mutters, his voice sounding like rust which isn’t surprising since his tongue feels like an old sock. And maybe since they don’t understand adds: “It isn’t plu—”

“I’d save her from a thousand ninjas,” Dartboard brow says, and if Zoro didn’t think he was an idiot before, now he’s pretty much thoroughly convinced.

“Ye…yeah right. Anyway so this technique—”

“To travel just the two of us on an adventure of love!”

“I was armed with just an orange and a spoon—”

“Paris! Rome! Wrapped together forever!”

“—And then I peeled the orange but then this giant beetle flew up out of nowhere.”

“Don’t talk about your shitty ugly beetles when I’m thinking about my sweet Nami!”

“When aren’t you? Anyway, this one wasn’t ugly.”

“What kind of beetle was it?” Luffy asks, eager.

“Atlas. I used to have a collection of them back home.”

“Hoh really? I want to go see them!”

“Sorry, they all escaped into Sanji’s sock drawer.”

“DON’T LIE LIKE THAT, YOU ASSHOLE!”

“Ahh! Don’t kick me! Look there’s one crawling out of your sock now!”

“Shit! Usopp!”

“You guys are really funny!” Luffy says with a laugh. Zoro can only wonder if he’s still high. He opens his eyes to check but everyone is blurry but real enough, except the blond is shaking his socks out like he’s trying to fly and Luffy and Usopp are rolling on the bed before the blond snarls and kicks under the edge of the bed, sending it and them flat against a wall. Yeah okay. What the hell did they put in him?

“Anyway,” Luffy says, pushing back the bed with a crash. “We should definitely get something to eat.”

“My nose,” Usopp groans. “It’s broken beyond repair.”

“You just ate two hours ago,” Sanji says.

“I’m still hungry.”

“I think a few teeth are loose, too,” Usopp says.

“Alright, what do you want? But remember this isn’t our shitty house.”

“Meat on a bone!”

“I’ll see what I can do. Come on, shitty longnose, I’ll make you hot chocolate.”

“I think I’m going to di— Oh okay! With marshmallows?”

“If I can find them.”

Hey…he wants a marshmallow. Not…necessarily in hot chocolate unless it is also mixed with whiskey. He tries to say as much but his mouth doesn’t seem to want to cooperate and then Usopp shuts off the lights, darkness flooding the room. That’s fine. He’ll just…go down and see if he can filch some. Now just to get out of bed. Sitting up seems to be a bad idea right now so he’ll just get out from the legs up. He slides one leg out, curling his toes against the cold floor, and then the other. Twinges work their way all up his body, twitching under bandages that are too damn tight. He scratches at them idly, or tries, but his hands feel like lead. Everything does. But that’s not a deterrent. It’s training.

Somehow he manages to stand, leaning against the wall for a moment before straightening and forcing himself to walk a more or less steady pace, cursing as he nearly trips over a shoe. At least it’s not as bad as busting his toe on a weight. He comes to the top of the stairs and makes his way down, hearing voices in another part of the house. He pokes through a few darkened rooms until—he inexplicably finds himself outside. Zoro sighs and rubs the back of his head. They really need to mark their back doors better.

Ah, well, it’s not as if it’s a bad problem. The night is cool, the grass feels good under his feet and the sky is speckled with stars, smudged out a bit by the steady glow of street lamps just over the tall hedge. He can hear cars rushing by just beyond and see the flick of their lights sometimes through the tightly packed branches. There is something like a porch light on just around the corner and he follows it, hoping he’ll find the kitchen.

It’s not the kitchen or even a porch light. Instead it’s a yard swing, lit by two ground lamps by either side. Nami is sitting on it, barefoot, idly swinging back and forth with her toes in the damp earth as she clutches a half empty bottle of Four Roses Bourbon. She looks dressed for a funeral, all in black and white. There is an orange in her lap, which she’s rolling back and forth with her fingertips. He’s not sure whether to go or stay but she senses him, jerking upright, the pinwheel falling on the grass. Her face is pale but her eyes narrow. Fight or flight. Zoro moves out of the shadow of the house and into the light.

She relaxes, then sits back, a different sort of tension settling in her shoulders as her face becomes a mask.

“So you’re finally awake,” she says, her voice hard. “How many fingers am I holding up? And don’t you dare say octopus.” It’s annoying when she’s bossy like this but he brushes it mostly aside since he wonders if she’s overcompensating for something else. Though ‘octopus’? What the hell?

“Four,” he says, moving to sit beside her for companionship’s sake and not because he feels another wave of dizziness crashing over him. He does, of course, but he can handle it. She makes a noise kind of like a laugh and he pushes the swing for her since his feet are closer to the ground. Just beyond the light, fireflies wink on and off in the tall grass.

“So that’s that,” Nami says, taking a sip of Bourbon. “One big fight and then it’s all over.”
He grunts to say that he’s heard. He isn’t sure what to say to exactly. He’s still not sure what it is they were fighting for other than for Nami’s sake. He doesn’t even know if Luffy knows the full story but that kind of thing has never seemed to matter to him. Anyway, had she been expecting more? What usually happens after a fight? She doesn’t go on, staring at the bottle, lost in thought. As if the world has just run her over. That’s what it does. It’s callus like that. As long as you’re standing the world will find a way to knock you down so you just have to find a way to haul yourself upward again, hand over hand.

She lets out a breath and then gives him a wry smile over the glass lipped bottle, sipping at it and then offering it to him.

“Where are you from? No, let me guess, Sapporo? Hokkaido? Little Tokyo?”
He’s heard that all before and he’s never gotten why. It’s partly his heritage, he supposes, but he’s never considered himself to look the part. Maybe it was the katana.

“Texas,” he says mildly, taking a sip of Burbon. It’s smooth. Sweeter than he normally likes his booze. But good quality. “About ten miles from the border.”

“What really?” she laughs a little. “Somehow I can’t picture you in a stetson.”
He can’t either, though mostly because he isn’t sure what a stetson is. Probably something stereotypically Texan, though he’s never felt Texan. Never felt much of anything other than occasionally alive.

“How did you get to be a swordsman?”

“Practice.” Every day. For hours. Until his arms ached and sweat raked trails down his forehead. Wanting to be the best. To prove himself as—as worth something, he supposes. In the end he’s not entirely sure if it really worked out how he thought it would.

‘We’ll be the strongest together,’ Kuina had said, her eyes fierce and dark…and he’d agreed, caught up in her fire. Wanting to best her. Wanting to rise with her and take on the world somehow.

‘Worthless,’ the old man had said until Zoro could taste blood in his mouth and it’s strange how that word more than any other has stayed with him. It’s because in a way the old man is right. What did the strongest swordsman mean when swords no longer mattered?

“What do you want?” Nami asks, taking the bottle from him and Zoro blinks at her. Her cheeks redden a little and she looks away. “I mean…why are you…you know…traveling with Luffy?”
To be the strongest. Even now it was still the answer that came to his lips. Oddly, he’d never told Luffy that. It hadn’t seemed to matter. Nothing did except the open road and having fun. Though he always got the sense that the kid was waiting for that answer.

“Don’t know.” He looks at her. “Are you coming?”

“Hmm.” She smirks. “That’s a question.” After a moment she takes a pull from the bottle, hands it back. The wind whispers through the hedges. She’s annoying and she changes things that don’t need to be changed and he’ll never see the bathroom first if she comes along—but Luffy wants her to and that’s a good enough reason to want the same. Well— at least he isn’t actively against her coming, so that’s something right? The rest of it will take some getting used to.

“Oii! Namii!” Luffy’s voice splinters the night like a shot. “Are you out here?”

“Maybe she was kidnapped by aliens,” Usopp’s voice floats along behind.

“She’d better not be, I’ll kick their asses.”

“How can he be so ridiculous twenty-four/seven,” Nami says, but she sounds amused. Is he? It’s a reasonable response to alien abductions as far as Zoro is concerned. You could never trust those damn things to not get weird with pointy bits. After a moment more of calling, Luffy’s head, with Usopp’s just under it, poke around the side of the building.

“There you are…” Luffy says. “Oh, Zoro you’re awake.”

“How did you get down here without ending up in another county?” Usopp asks, flatly.

“Oi,” Zoro says. Even he would notice something was wrong if he’d walked that far. What kind of idiot did they take him for?

“Mystery of the ages,” Nami says and Zoro is rapidly changing his mind about being okay with her coming along. Usopp straightens at something he seems to notice and then looks down, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“Um…by the way Nami…sorry…for your um…about your mom…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Nami says quickly, her voice bright. “Did you want something?”

“Yeah,” Luffy says. “Sanji wanted to know if you wanted hot chocolate and he won’t let us have any until we ask you.” Normally, Zoro knows, he’d be pouting about it. But he’d spoken calmly and is just watching her, curling his toes in the damp earth and matching Usopp with his hands in his pockets only his shoulders are straight and his head is up. “We can go wait for you if you want.”

“It’ll get cold if you do that.”

“That’s okay,” Luffy says with a grin. “It’ll taste better with you.”

“Yeah and Sanji probably won’t let us have it otherwise,” Usopp mutters.

“Oh yeah, that too.”

“Well I can’t argue with that logic,” Nami says, standing. “I could use some hot chocolate.”
“Ask him about meat on a bone, too,” Luffy says as they disappear in a group back around the building and are soon out of sight.

“Don’t push your luck,” Nami says. Zoro figures he’s alone and is contemplating about whether he wants marshmallows enough to move to get them or if he’s decided to sleep here for the night. Either option seems reasonable. He drops a hand to the bench and blinks in surprise and picks up a pinwheel which must have been sitting beside her in her shadow. He twirls it between his fingers with a faint smile and watches the light slip around its glossy surface. He blows it, listening to it tick, then looks up when Usopp says:

“Oi, you coming?”

The guy is looking around the building, lead by his long nose.

“Yeah.” Zoro stands to follow Usopp, leaving the pinwheel behind him on the gently swaying swing.
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The Remedy

March 2017

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