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


Present:
Nobody wants to hear you sing about tragedy

What…time was it? What day…? Zoro peeled his eyes open, wincing at the grey light that tumbled into the room from open windows. He was on a air mattress—which had deflated on one side—in a house that smelled like cigarettes and frying eggs. He could hear them sizzling now. Oh, right. Zoro ran a hand over his face and rolled back to lie spreadeagled on the mattress, trying to better distribute the air with his weight as he stared up at the ceiling. He had a mild headache and his tongue felt like sawdust, but he was grateful that was all it was. Last time he’d gotten that wasted he’d woke up in a coconut bra and mini dress with Ace’s hand on his thigh. He’d never quite believed the freckled bastard when he’d claimed that he was just as surprised as Zoro was. It had always been hard to believe Ace when he’d said anything with that shit eating grin.

He pushed that memory from his mind, instead yawning and rolling out of bed, faintly surprised at carpet between his toes. He had shoes on last night. Either Sanji had helped him kick them off or they were tied together and strung over telephone wires somewhere. He hoped not. Those were the only shoes he had. He found them, thankfully, resting by his swords and, more importantly at this moment, his duffel bag. Zoro gathered up a fresh change of clothes and went to the kitchen archway where Sanji seemed to be cooking enough food to feed a small army, his narrow shoulders tense. The ashtray on the island was full, too, which told Zoro more than anything that it was going to be a bad morning. Well— first thing was first.

“Shower?” he muttered.

“Upstairs, first door to the right,” Sanji said without turning around. “That means opposite your shitty earring side in moronese.”

“Tch.” Ass. Zoro knew his right from his left thank you so very damn much. And he hadn’t asked where the shower was but if it had been available. Trust Sanji to not know the difference between subtlety and a two-by-four. He was still grumbling about it by the time he found the shower, which was the same side as his earring side if he got turned around, but Sanji hadn’t said that, had he? Now who was so smart, pervert cook? He grumbled as he turned on the water and grumbled as he got under the spray, but soon the heated water soothed him—sliding over his back, drumming against his head, murmuring over his ears.

He tried to think of other things besides the annoying cook. Like the fact that, apparently, Eneru was amassing an army. It was small only in number. The Priests, when Zoro had last heard of them, were just on the edge of disappearing into the world of highrollers—with fights as expensive as they were secret. They were the elite of the elite and that they were working for a seeming nobody didn’t bode well. He didn’t like being under that Lucci guy either, but so far it was the only lead they had. Though he was starting to wonder if it really mattered. He went in the direction that Nami pointed but in the end, the only thing that really changed was that someone else was dead.

In the end, though, he thought as he shaved in the small brightly lit mirror— He’d promised to keep going forward, no matter what. Accept the consequences of what he’d started. The real challenge would be to make sure Sanji was ready for at least some of the fight. It would be enough for that guy even if they didn’t win. To get the chance. To get the fire out of his system and go back to life. To those that remained.All Zoro had to do was push him to that point. Give him something to feel good about.
The cook was already about to explode, Zoro saw, coming back downstairs and watching the kitchen in the periphery as he put his dirty clothes away. He was leaning against the counter, smoking and drilling holes into Chopper’s head with his eyes as the poor kid struggled to eat everything Sanji had set out. He moved himself into the cook’s baleful glare, taking some of the pressure off Chopper who hadn’t even gotten out of his sweats and taking some of the food. There was coffee there for him. Black coffee because Sanji somehow remembered everything that they’d ever drank, it felt like.

“Should we um…save some for Usopp?” Chopper asked, giving Zoro a significant look under his eyebrows. Hammering in the point with a mallet more like. Sanji snorted.

“Hell if I know. Hell if I even care. Let that shitty sniper stay wherever he wants. If he does call I’m going to kick his ass so he’d better hope he catches my shitty voice mail. It’s not like I’m not use to shitheads wandering off.” Sanji shot Zoro a glare and he didn’t rise to it or there would be a fight. Sanji wouldn’t forgive himself for losing it in Zeff’s kitchen or being late for work. So Zoro just shifted on his stool and pulled the newspaper closer, absently looking at the pictures of fires and stressed politicians. It looked like Wapol had landed on his feet again. Weird.

“What doesn’t get eaten put away,” Sanji said, tugging on his jacket. “And wash the shitty dishes while you’re at it.”

“Yes, Sanji,” Chopper murmured.

“Not you. The shitty mosshead who needs to earn his keep.”

‘You’re the one that wanted me to come here, jackass,’ he wanted to say, but bit the words back, not even looking at him as he sipped his coffee. The mug creaked under his hand and he set it down.

“We have plans tomorrow,” Zoro said as he heard the door open, felt the gust of cold air. “Don’t forget.”

“What shitty plans?” Sanji snapped. Zoro looked at him. Sometime before they were all popsicles, Sanji got it. Lit a cigarette. “Fine. Whatever.” And he went out and shut the door. The car outside thrummed to life and Chopper sniffed. Looking away from him, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand.

“It’s not worth crying over,” Zoro said, after a moment. “Where’s Usopp?”

“I…I don’t know we… we tried calling him a few times. Well I did… Sanji—was…” Chopper shrugged and muttered something that Zoro didn’t catch. Didn’t matter. Where was Usopp. Maybe ran off. Possibly kidnapped. Zoro wouldn’t rule that kind of thing out. But he also wouldn’t rule out Usopp hitching a flight back home or a car out somewhere other than here. Zoro wanted to have faith that the guy hadn’t skipped town, though. At least not voluntarily. He wasn’t here…he probably wasn’t at the hotel or Nami or Vivi would have snuck in a call or text—

“Where else would he be if he isn’t here?”

“Um…Oh! The Bannermans, maybe. But…well he hasn’t wanted to go there.”

“Do you know where they are?”

“I have the address. I can put it in the GPS.”

That thing. Zoro made a face. He was pretty sure it hated him at this point. The feeling was mutual. No wonder he got lost when the thing kept saying turn now, make a u-turn, go right, go left, make a u-turn. If Nami hadn’t paid for them he’d have chucked them out the window and backed up over them. Repeatedly.

“But even if he is there…I don’t think he’d want to see us.”

“Too bad.” Maybe Luffy would have given him a choice, but the time for that kind of thing was over. He could do this much, couldn’t he, before the end. Keep them all from falling apart. At least not until after the inevitable.



The Bannermans house was pretty big. Two stories, blue and white with a big oak tree in the back yard, branches like skeletons now. There was a hopeful tire swing hanging from one of the lower limbs. It looked like a place out of one of those children’s movies where the kids had everything they could want but—wanted adventure or fantasy or their parents to get married or something. Kids movies were damn weird.

“It’s pretty nice, isn’t it?” Chopper said. “Usopp took me here last year.”

“Yeah?”

“It was um…well his fam—uh—the Bannermans are really nice people…”

“Mm.” The question was how to get in there. He couldn’t tell if anyone was home and it was all in the approach anyway. Coming to Usopp like a guest would just let him sit Zoro down in a living room somewhere and awkwardly avoid everything while the Bannermans, whatever they were really like, smiled and asked inane questions. Zoro hated that bullshit.

“…a-and then I helped Mrs. Bannerman make a popcorn garland to put around the tree,” Chopper was saying. “It was fun but…kind of really Stepford Wives, too.”

“Which room is Usopp’s?” Zoro cut in.

“Um right there. See the window under the eaves?” Chopper pointed. Right next to the tree. Perfect. Zoro undid his seatbelt and opened the door.

“Want me to come with you?” Chopper said.

“Not right now.” He shut the door before the yeti could protest. Chopper would give Usopp another distraction. Anyway he didn’t want to have to worry about the kid falling out of the tree and breaking his neck.

--And actually it would be a lot easier to climb this thing if there were more branches…and if bark didn’t keep tugging at his shirt, and raining down in his eyes. Things like this always looked like the shit in movies. Why was real life always such a damn mess? He leapt for a higher branch, the one he was on snapping unexpectedly beneath him, throwing off his height. He managed to grab the upper branch with an arm, bruising his chin in the process as the lower one crashed down into the yard below.

The branch he was on started to creak, too, bending lower and lower. Zoro cursed. He was so close to the roof ledge. He kicked out lightly, trying to get it. If he could just…get a boot on it then…

“Zoro!” Chopper called. “Ahh! Be careful!”

“Shut up,” Zoro said through his teeth, sweat sliding down his face. Chopper’s voice might cause vibrations to make the branch break and anyway he had this. Just. Had to reach. A little more… The window above him squeaked open.

“And just what in the hell do you think you are doing?” said a smooth voice above him that— was definitely not Usopp. He looked up to see some guy with slicked back hair and glasses. Had the Bannermans moved? Or was this the wrong window? Zoro felt heat coming to his face, wondering whether he should ask or drop the ten or so feet and bolt for the safety of anonymity.

“Uh…” Before he could make any kind of decision the branch creaked again and he tried to shuffle back on it where it would hopefully bear his weight a little more.

“You’re possibly either a deranged squirrel or the worst criminal I’ve ever seen,” the man said, adjusting his glasses with the heel of his hand. “Hang around, will you? Perhaps the police can figure it out.”

Damn. Damn, damn, damn! He didn’t want to spend the rest of his time here skulking around and ducking away from windows.

“No! Wait, Khaladore!” Chopper called from below and out of the corner of his eye, Zoro could see the kid waving madly with both arms over his head. “He’s with us. I mean me! We came to see Usopp!”

“See him or kidnap him?” Khaladore said. Zoro didn’t bother to answer that as he moved closer to the trunk and tried to squirm around to catch another branch. “In any case, if you’d care to come in like civilized people rather than gorillas, you’ll find him where all good strays are kept. In the basement.” And the window shut with a click. Zoro found his footing finally, his heart setting to a normal rhythm—and decided he didn’t like that guy very much.



“So then— More soda, Chopper?”

“No I’m fine.”

“Okay.” Usopp flopped cross legged on the fold out couch, making the hinges squeak dangerously. “So then Mr. High and cultured comes back from his European Grand Tour like some kind of prince of darkness or whatever and kicks me out of my own room! And the Bannermans are like.” Usopp spoke in a high pitched voice. “Well he is going to inherit the house one day and you’re an adult now. It’s time for you to accept responsibility. Here have some want ads, I’m sure there’s a circus that’s missing a clown.”

“They didn’t say that, Usopp,” Chopper said.

“They might as well have,” Usopp said, drinking soda straight from the bottle. “I wanted to punch his perfect teeth in.”

Yeah, Zoro too— He stared at the sheep face mug that smiled back at him, not sure whether to feel vindicated or annoyed that things had turned out exactly as he’d thought they would. It had been an hour already and in that time Usopp and Chopper had gossiped like old women at a grocery store and the Khaladore thing had been brought up three times.

“Maybe you can just sit down and talk it through with him,” Chopper said. “Tell him how you feel.”

“Yeah right. And maybe then I’ll go base jumping from the moon. This is real life, not Oprah.”

“Yeah if it was we’d all be getting cars.”

“Haha right? I’d kill for a TTS Roadster. Or maybe even an A8 for the killer stereo system. That’s traveling in class. And much better then any damn Mercedes no matter how many seat warmers it has.”
Was there a flat surface he could beat his head against without attracting too much attention?

“I still want a PT Cruiser,” Chopper said.

“No way, Chopperman. I keep telling you that’s just one step away from soccermom caravan. What you really want is—”

“Will you call Sanji already, you ass?” Zoro said. Silence. It had…admittedly sounded a lot better in his head—and in his head he hadn’t sounded quite so annoyed but he didn’t really give a damn what an A8 Roadrunner or whatever it was.

“No way,” Usopp said into the stillness. It was unexpected and when Zoro looked up at him, saw the sniper’s face was hard.

“Usopp…” Chopper said.

“No, I mean it. No way. I was kind of an ass, okay, I admit it. But he was too! Blowing the Zeff thing out of proportion when he knew I’d never insult Pops like that!”

“M-maybe, but he was stressed and—” Chopper started.

“Yeah well so what? So am I! So is everyone! Why does he get a free pass just because he’s the one that chose to stick around the longest?”

That was true. Sanji had been here the longest. Keeping Luffy company while Zoro had tried to find some kind of remedy…and then some kind of something else. Something to hold on to.

“You don’t have to say ‘sorry’,” Chopper said, holding up his hands. “Just tell him you’re okay.”

“Then he can call me,” Usopp said.

“He did call,” Zoro pointed out. Usopp snorted and flicked through his phone.

“Only number I see on here is Chopper’s.”

“We-well he was using me but—”Chopper said.

“Of course he was.” Usopp tossed the phone on the bed. “Because he’s too much of a ‘manly man’ to check up on me himself. He doesn’t believe in emotions and you know what? Fine. Neither do I.”

“Maybe he is getting around to it,” Chopper said.

“Please, he doesn’t call guys.”

“He called me,” Zoro said. And he hadn’t even asked for it. Or expected it. Sanji had just called him to show he— because Zoro was— Because they were— Because he did.

“That’s because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon,” Usopp said. “You just piss him off not make him feel any wussy girly emotions.”

“I’m sure Sanji doesn’t feel like emotions that way,” Chopper said.

“Could have fooled me,” Usopp said, folding his arms.

Emotional range of a… What did that mean exactly? Did teaspoons have emotional range? And what kind of range did they have? What did Usopp…expect him to do exactly or be? Was that really why—? Not that it bothered him over much why Sanji called him. How the hell was he even supposed to deal with a statement like that? How was he supposed to take it? Emotional range of a teaspoon…

“I mean you guys can have fun in your stoic watch him die club but keep me the hell out of it,” Usopp said. Then twisted away. Shoulders stiff. Chopper wrapped a blanket around him and Zoro looked at his hands. He…wasn’t wrong… Since whether he faced it or not, it wasn’t as if anything would change. Everyone had to deal with this kind of thing in their own way so why did it feel like he was giving up to just let it go? Like Luffy would somehow be disappointed In him for not keeping his crew together. Then again, Zoro had gone off on his own from the start so maybe the troubles had happened there. Maybe he just didn’t know how to…feel enough to keep everyone together.

Well maybe the truth just was he wasn’t there to interfere with emotional stuff. Especially not between Sanji and Usopp who had a long past Zoro wasn’t even a part of. He was here to—help Sanji get stronger and say farewell to— to Luffy. That was it. He had no place here. He stood, gathering his keys.

“I’m…heading out. If you need a ride back…”

“We’ll be okay, thanks,” Chopper said. “Drive safe.”

“And don’t end up in Miami,” Usopp muttered. Zoro froze then let it go, slipping out the side door through the laundry room rather than going back up through the house. They would be fine in there he knew… But as for himself, now what? He got in the car and drummed his fingers on the wheel for a moment in indecision, before he turned on the damned GPS and put in the directions of the Home.



Maybe part of it, Zoro thought, as he pulled into the parking lot of the Bull and the Bear not too long after, was that Luffy didn’t look like Luffy—or anything like human for that matter. He had been so drawn and pale lying there that the more Zoro had looked at him, the more he looked like one of those blank faced corn husk dolls his abuela used to sell by the roadside when he was too young to see over even that short counter. Like he had already gone ahead. Except for the faint rise and fall of his chest which was more ribcage than anything.

He’d tried to drum up some kind of feeling. Sadness, fear, even longing for some bright eyed Luffy he’d known, it seemed, for most of his life. But there was only sawdust stillness. He’d felt the same kind of hollowness when he’d heard that Ace was dead. When he’d seen the picture. Even more recently when he’d met Phoenix Marco in a rare match. Wanting something he couldn’t define. It had been a kind of failed death match and the crowed had booed them out of the ring. Zoro touched his throat absently, feeling the slowly fading grooves there.

He had wanted an end, he hadn’t gotten it and in the end, he hadn’t cared—other than to realize how little of a thing that was to ask. The Phoenix still had his pride even despite all else. Maybe he was just broken. Well, in the end, either way didn’t matter. He sat at the bar and the bartender, the same one from last night, smiled at him.

“Starting a little early, are we?” he said. “Glad I decided to pull a double shift. Going same as last night? Start off slow before nosediving into the deep end?”

Sure he was about to say but then thought against it. After all, it wasn’t as if he had anything to do until tomorrow.

“Whiskey, Four Roses if you have it.” He spun a quarter on the table, watching it flash until it fell, rattling against the polished wooden surface of the bar. “And a burger,” he added, since he was a little hungry.

“Coming right up,” the bartender said and Zoro nodded, tracing the outline of a pinwheel with his finger.


Past: These are the days of our lives…

They are sitting in a little diner in the middle of a rest stop, still in Florida—or at least he’s pretty sure. And aside from getting out initially, it’s been the most relaxing drive Zoro’s had since Nami first decided to come with them. No one telling him where to go or where to turn or reaching over and flicking the turn signal like he can’t be trusted to do it his own damn self. Just miles and miles of highway going in a straight line with fields and trees on either side, bridges overhead. The dweeb squad behind him, laughing or singing or chatting, Nami reading a book or fiddling with the radio—and at least she had good taste in music. No smaltzy light rock or Celine Dion shit. He’d never listened to jazz before and it was kind of nice. Kind of smoky. Relaxing but in an attentive way. He’d found a kind of peace like that.

A kind of peace he was fairly sure was going to be ended as dinner wound down. Nami has her glasses on and her hair up, always a bad sign. On the table next to her elbow is all the money they have and in front of her is a notebook filled with numbers. He has a feeling he’s not going to like what’s coming—but he’ll deal with it. She’s going to be a more or less permanent fixture now, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to let himself get pushed around. He smacks Luffy’s hand away from his fries and dips one in the gravy, waiting for the shoe to drop.

“We’re going to have to make some choices, guys,” Nami says, straightening and smacking Luffy’s hand away from her mostly eaten sandwich. “We have three hundred dollars total and the next arena isn’t for two weeks yet.”

“Is that bad?” Luffy asks, deftly stealing the hamburger from between the slices of bun off Usopp’s plate as the longnose peers at the numbers.

“Yeah of course it is. Oi, oi! Stop that!” He chops Luffy’s hand and the meat breaks in half, one side flopping onto a ketchupy mess on the table and the other disappearing into the bottomless pit that is their captain. Sanji clicks his tongue.

“Don’t do that, shithead. You’re making a mess. Here.” And he slides his own plate over.

“Oh thanks!” Luffy says with a grin.

“Do that too often and you’ll starve to death,” Zoro says and Luffy laughs as if it isn’t his fault that the guy will be even more skin and bones than he already is.

“I can handle it,” Sanji says, lighting a cigarette.

“Anyway,” Nami says as Usopp, grumbling, scrapes his burger off the table. “Hotel rates are only going to go up the further south we get.”

“How can we be going south if we’re pointed forward?” Zoro says, because that makes literally no sense.

“It muf be a myfery fifay,” Luffy says and Zoro sighs and wipes the spray of meat bits from his face.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Sanji says. “Of food or stupid.”

Exactly. No. Wait just a damn minute—

“You got something to say, Dartboard brow?”

“I think I already said it, moss for brains.”

“You wanna take this outside, Curly?” and he would have risen and been on the process of getting in the bastard’s face only he’s crammed against the wall and would have to climb over Nami to get there. He didn’t trust her with that pencil.

“No one is going anywhere,” Nami says, before Sanji can speak. “Not until we figure this out. I swear it’s like herding cats with you guys.”

“I herded cats once,” Usopp says. “This one time—” he stops as Nami glares at him. “Yeah, sorry,” he mutters, folding his burger back into his bun, keeping a close eye on Luffy.

“Go on, sweet angel of my heart,” Sanji says in such a sweet voice that it turns Zoro’s stomach. He makes sure the cook is watching when he slides his plate of fries over to Luffy and smirks as he tenses, opening his mouth and then shutting it as Nami starts speaking again.

“Like I said, hotels are going to get more expensive, and with eating out every night—”

“Ah, we don’t have to,” Sanji says. With about a hundred I could feed us all in two weeks with a little left over, no problem.”

“Oh yeah, you still have Pops’ credit card right?” Usopp says and Zoro is sure if Nami had cat ears they’d be perked right now. Sanji seems to notice, too, because he gets a sheepish expression.

“He cut me off. I’m sorry, sweet Nami.”

“Forget it,” Nami says with a sigh, falling back. “A hundred is too much. Can you do fifty?”

“I really can’t.” Sanji spreads his hands. “On top of other things I need a good shitty cooler and steady supply of ice.”

“Alright,” Nami says with a sigh.

“Don’t know where we’re going to put it,” Usopp says. And Zoro agrees as he watches Nami count out the money. The trunk is stuffed with everyone’s bags. Including Luffy who had been fine with just having his clothes in a trash bag, and what is wrong with that? But Nami insisted that he get a little suitcase. Crazy woman.

“We’ll find room,” Nami says, sliding the cash over. “Unless.” She slants a gaze over to Zoro. “You want to trade in for a bigger model.”

“Like hell.” He isn’t giving up that car. Not even she can make him do that.

“It’s a classic,” Usopp says. “And in good shape. We could probably get a lot if we found the right dealer.”

“Really?” Nami says, her eyes seeming to glitter. Oi. Why the hell were they just talking so casually about selling his damn car?!

“We can’t,” Luffy says. “It’s important.”

“It’s just a car,” Nami says. It’s— It’s not just a car and even if it was it’s his car and he’s not going to--

“No it’s not,” Luffy says his voice serious and Zoro relaxes a little, moving to eat his fries only to remember he’d given them to the vacuum. Damn.

“Anyway, I don’t want to,” Luffy continues. “We don’t to stay at hotels. We can camp! That’s more fun.”

“For two shitty weeks?” Sanji says. “You guys don’t even have a tent.”

“We have a tarp,” Zoro says. “And sleeping bags.” Well only two of them but some people can sleep in the car. They can rotate. He and Luffy did fine camping their way along the roads when they ran out of money so he doesn’t see a damn problem.

“Oh two shitty sleeping bags and a tarp,” Sanji mutters. “Color me fucking convinced.”

Tch. What the hell was with the constant attitude? It worked, damnit.

“I’m not camping out for two weeks,” Nami says.

“Yeah it is a little much,” Usopp says. “Besides this is Florida. They have mosquitoes the size of small horses. You can ride them in some counties.”

“What, really?” Luffy says with a grin.

“Yeah! As a matter of fact—”

“As a matter of fact, we won’t be doing it,” Nami says. “We’ll just have to find some way to make a little cash between now and then.”

Hmph. They don’t need cash. There’s a simple pleasure to be had in roughing it. Luffy held out his hand for a thumb wrestle as the others brought up and disregarded plans and Zoro obliges him. It had been fine. It would be fine. Even if they run out of money they can hunt or fish or go to soup kitchens even if Luffy kept getting kicked out of them. That’s the way real men travel. The only money they really need are for gas and booze. He traps Luffy’s thumb. Traps his thumb again. Then Luffy starts getting wily and tricky, swooping his thumb under so he makes Zoro think he has him but pulling it out at the last second. Like Zoro will be so easily beaten like that.

“I’m telling you, shitty longnose, I can’t just set up a roadside stand,” Sanji says. “It takes money to do shit like that and he’d eat all the ingredients.”

“We need something smaller than that. Smaller but effective,” Nami says. Ha! Success. He grins as he traps Luffy’s thumb again. Determination settles in Luffy’s dark eyes and he drives forward, aggressive, trying to pin Zoro’s thumb having learned all his moves and now he’s on the defensive. Damn. No good.

“Oh,” Usopp says. “A car wash! I mean it’ll take some investment but if we can get a lot of cars it’ll pay for itself easy.”

“Don’t you need a permit for that kind of thing, though?” Sanji asks.

“Maybe,” Usopp says. “But if the cops come we can just clear off and go to another town, no problem.”

“That’s brilliant,” Nami says. “Usopp, you’re a genius.”

“Well my IQ scores are pretty out there,” Usopp says. “In fact I skipped three grades.”

And he goes on. Zoro tunes him out. Car wash. They can have their little car wash. But when they run out of money, he’s going to be the one setting up the tarp. Luffy grins and pins his thumb.



As it turns out, they are camping anyway. Mostly for want of a hotel under seventy-five dollars a night. And it’s fine, Zoro thinks as he shifts again. Usopp and Nami have the car since they are soft and whiny. Sanji has the one sleeping bag and Zoro has the other which he’s sharing with Luffy. That’s fine— he tugs Luffy’s arm away from his throat again —too. He’s used to it given the number of hotel beds he shares and Luffy’s ball python strangling a mouse and breaking its spine way of sleeping is almost comforting in a way and great training besides. He can do without the sleep ear chewing though. With a grunt he jams the pillow between their heads again, feeling the slobber cooling on the rim of his ear and wipes it off with a twist of his head.

It’s fine, though. It’s all fine. The air is cool and not too muggy. Frogs are croaking in the pond a yard or so away and a light rain not only means the tarp comes in handy— so the damn eyebrow could suck it— but it also keeps the bugs down. They will come to see it his way, too. He’s sure of it.
Luffy snorts and Zoro can feel him waking, mostly by the way his limbs relax. He always forgets how good it is to breathe freely. He sucks in a few breaths while he can —then moves the pillow just in case Luffy is suffocating. The boy smacks his lips and for a moment Zoro fears for the safety of his ears when Luffy murmurs:

“It’s raining.”

“Yeah a bit,” Zoro replies in a low voice. Is he cold? Is the tarp leaking somehow? He’s not shivering, though and he doesn’t feel cold. Luffy yawns and sits up, rubbing his eye with one hand.

“I gotta pee.”

Oh is that all?

“So go,” Zoro says. “Flashlight’s in the bag.”

And while he’s gone, maybe Zoro can get a nap in. He shifts the pillow under his head, closing his eyes and waiting for the warm weight of Luffy to go. It doesn’t. What the hell is he waiting for? Zoro opens one eye and what light there is, can just about make out Luffy sitting there with his arms folded.

“What?”

“Come with me,” Luffy says and Zoro stifles a groan. What the hell is this kid really? He can take down twenty guys with his bare hands and yet wants to be walked to go pee? On the other hand, it’s nothing he ever asked before.

“Why?”

“It’s dark.”

“So?”

“Something might try and bite my thing off.”

“Bite your—” Oh… Right. What Ace had told him. When Ace had told him Zoro doesn’t know and he still isn’t sure how the hell Luffy even knew him. But the point was he wanted to strangle the guy. “Nothing is going to bite your thing off.”

“It might try and I can’t pee and hold the flashlight and watch for it.”

“Alright, alright. Get the flashlight.” He stretches and sits up as Luffy moves. Might as well go himself so he won’t have to again in the morning when there would be less coverage. Luffy got the flashlight and Zoro held it as they made their way across the muddy grass.

“It’s pretty cool out here, though,” Luffy says. “We should get a real tent and go camping that way. And a really good cook stove so Sanji can make tasty stuff and we can have a bonfire with marshmallows.”

Marshmallows? No. He isn’t going to be swayed by that. He isn’t going to be taken in by the lure of shiny new things which didn’t make it any better than the way it used to be.

“We don’t need a tent. Just more sleeping bags.”

“Yeah but tents are fun. Sleeping bags are just when you have to, but it would be great if camping was just something to do.”

“Sleeping bags are good training,” Zoro says, not going to let it go.

“Maybe. But you don’t have to train all the time.”

He can kind of understand that, he guesses. A little. Though not training—or resting between training—what would that be like? Anyway he enjoys training. He likes feeling the burn and knowing his muscles are getting stronger. But a tent wouldn’t be so bad. It would make Nami happy—probably anyway. And it meant he could be in a sleeping bag whenever he wanted without having to listen to people complain about hotels.

They reach the edge of the pond and Zoro puts the flashlight in his mouth, adjusting it so it points down into the rushes so Luffy can see there’s nothing there. That done, he undoes his pants, takes himself out and has a good stream going when something lunges at them from the pond. Luffy yelps and jerks back, falling flat on his ass and Zoro stumbles back himself, the flashlight creaking between his teeth.

They stare at the alligator.

The alligator stares at them. Then bolts toward them.

Shit! Zoro grabs his pants in one hand and twists the other in Luffy’s collar as he races back toward the car. Swords. Swords swords swords.

“Wait wait I’m gonna kick it!” Luffy says, flailing.

“You’ll lose your foot, you moron!” Zoro snarls around the flashlight. As they get closer Zoro sees Sanji emerge from the tarp in the jouncing light.

“What the fuck are you guys being so loud about?”

“It’s a penis monster!” Luffy yells.

“What?”

“It’s an alligator,” Zoro says.

What?!

Zoro throws Luffy at Sanji to knock them both back against the car, grabs Wado from where it was resting beside the sleeping back and unsheathes it in a single movement, swinging low and twisting into a kneel as he slashes across the alligator’s open mouth. Blood sprays. The creature skids to a stop, rolls onto its back thrashing in the mud to right itself and then charges back to where it came from. The pond.

“Ow, damnit!” Sanji snaps. “What the hell?!” Zoro blocks the kick without thinking at is as he lifts his head toward the pond, the flashlight skimming across the surface and lighting a thousand yellow eyes like evil stars.

“Let’s get a hotel,” Zoro says. Sanji clears his throat and lowers his foot.

“Good idea.”



No. This is a bad idea. A very bad idea. Why the hell did he agree to go along with this in the first place? Zoro scowls at Nami, keeping his hands clenched so he won’t tug at the bottom of his shirt. Nami scowls right back up at him, her hands on her hips. The sun is high overhead and the heat that shimmers off the asphalt is the only thing making him sweat no matter what she might think.

“Just do it, Zoro,” she says.

“No.”

“It’s just a shirt.”

“Go to hell.”

“He’s right, sweet Nami,” Sanji says. “We wouldn’t want to scare away the customers.”

“Shut up.”

“So in his place, I kindly offer myself,” Sanji says, starting to unbutton his shirt.

“What do you want to do? Blind everyone with your pasty uncooked noodle skin?” Zoro mutters.

“You want to say that again?” Sanji snaps, getting right in his face. Zoro gets right back in his face because there’s no way he’s taking a step back around the curly q.

“Pasty. Uncooked. Noodle. Too many words for you?”

“Why, you… I’m going to kick your ass so hard—”

“Sanji!” Nami snaps.

“Yes, Nami-swan?” he says, his face getting that goofy melty look.

“Go man the cash table.”

“Yes, Nami-swan!” he says and practically twirls off. Zoro wonders what Sanji’d do if he said he reminded Zoro of Bon Clay. Nami turns back toward him, her eyes fierce. He’s not intimidated.

“Take it off,” she says.

“No.”

“Ugh.” She throws her hands up in the air. “Why not? It’s not as if you have any thing to be embarrassed about!”

“Who the hell says I was embarrassed?” And why would he be? Well normally he wouldn’t care but— “I’m not going to be used by you just to make a quick buck.” It had been different when they’d been fighting for her. They’d owed her the money then. Or at least so Luffy had said and he liked fighting anyway so as far as he was concerned, the money passing hands was incidental. But this is something different and there is no way in hell he’s giving in.

“To make us a quick buck.” She rubs her forehead. “Listen, do it, and I’ll get you a bottle of sake.”
…Damn. Evil woman. He wouldn’t sell his soul for sake …but…he won’t be fooled.

“A regular sized bottle?”

“Yes.”

“Full?”

“Yes! I’ll even let you pick it so long as it’s under ten dollars.”

So cheap sake. And if he didn’t go along with it now he wouldn’t have any for two weeks. He wouldn’t put it past her to deny him no matter how much he made. He sighs and takes off his shirt.

“Thank you~” Nami sings, taking the shirt from him. He feels kind of naked in this roiling heat and stuffs his hands in his pockets.

“Now what.”

“Hold this.” She presses a sign into his hands. “And keep looking grumpy and you’ll be fine. Luffy! Stop playing in traffic and get over here!” she snaps. Zoro decides he doesn’t want to know.

“I wasn’t playing,” Luffy says, his feet tapping as he jogs closer. “I was just asking that guy if I could have some beef jerky.”

Too late. Nami sighs.

“How is he even still alive?”

Who knew? And what did she mean ‘keep looking grumpy’? He isn’t looking grumpy. This is his normal face.

“Okay, Luffy,” Nami says. “You stay here and…I don’t know, do tricks or something. Help draw attention.”

“Okayy!” Luffy says and immediately hops up on one of the overturned buckets, trying to balance on one foot. Just what kind of image is she hoping will come of this exactly? She sighs heavily and then grips the bottom of her own shirt. Zoro leans back. Wh—what the hell is she doing? Is she—is she really going to—

She does—

But she’s wearing a bikini top underneath and Zoro feels his heart return to the regular rhythm. Did women usually act like this? He’s pretty damn sure Kuina never did but he isn’t sure she’d be able to fill out a bikini top anyway at least—not as much—as Nami does…

“Come into my arms, oh sweet goddess of love!” Sanji howls like an idiot as Nami approaches him.

“Siddown!” she snaps.


For a while, nothing happens. Zoro holds the sign. Scratches his nose. Luffy switches from balancing to walking on his hands on the asphalt. That only lasts for a second until he flops back, puts his sandals on his hands and does it again, his feet kicking in the air. In the distance by the street, Zoro can hear Usopp’s voice floating by.

“Come to the best Car Wash ever! We will shine your car to its extreme with our world renowned system! Be dazzled! Be amazed!”

And from a little to his left.

“Car wash! Ten dollars!”

It’s annoying standing here. Though he’s not looking forward to washing a car either. It could be some kind of training but…

“How can you have fun all the time?” he asks Luffy who is trying to manuver his hat onto his feet. Zoro helps him.

“Thank yoouuu,” Luffy says. “And I dunno. I just do.”

“Even now?”

“Sure!” Luffy looks up at him. “You’re not?”

“I hate being used,” he grumbles, wiping the sweat from the back of his neck.

“So don’t be used,” Luffy says, standing on one arm now and trying to hop around in place. “Just have fun. I’ll help.” He doesn’t really want to have fun. He wants to stop being used— but on the other hand, it’s not as if she’s not doing it herself and the money is for all of them. Luffy too. Probably most of all considering how he eats. Zoro smirks down at him.

“Alright, Captain,” he says in a low voice. “Thanks.” Luffy gives him a wide grin.

“No problem!” he says.



Zoro doesn’t really expect to have fun even then and he doesn’t, at least not directly. But it’s fun to watch Luffy have fun, washing more of himself then the cars it seems half the time. Five cars in and Luffy’s already soaking wet. He bounces around. Washing down things, occasionally running over it with a sponge, chatting to anyone nearby or occasionally sneaking bubbles onto Usopp’s hair to make weird shapes out of them.

Usopp himself is taking this more seriously than Zoro thought he would, pouring over every detail of the car with a strange professionalism. He’d talk as he worked, too, either happily chatting with the owner about the make and model and whatever the hell else that went into the car— or if the owner didn’t know, talking to himself about it.

For himself, even if it’s not exhilarating or anything— there’s something to methodically washing. One step after another. Almost like a kata. He washes the areas Usopp directs him to wash, finishes them and then moves elsewhere all in a smooth motion while all around him, listening and watching his friends…nakama… It’s easy to ignore the outside things. Like the gaggle of women that seem to be hanging around asking if they can wash him or the occasional belching of love from the overworked undersexed curly browed cook.

He barely even notices when they change location because the manager of an ice cream stand nearby invites them to come use his spigot. He only does notice when he looks up to see Luffy happily talking to a blue haired girl, ice cream smeared over his face and nose. Zoro isn’t sure how he got it but the ice cream vendor seems not to mind so maybe it doesn’t matter.

It’s in the middle of washing the soap off the trunk of a shiny red convertible that he feels it. A cold spot in the center of his chest, curling outward, making the hairs raise on the back of his neck. He looks up. Looks around. He can’t see who it might be. There’s a group of thugs hanging on the other side of the parking lot, the muscle bound leader sneering in their direction. But it’s not him. The feeling is cold but not a killing intent. Waiting. Letting itself be felt. But what? Who?

“Hey, Zoro,” Usopp says and then something else.

“Mm?” Zoro says turning toward him and abruptly the feeling is gone. Though the lingering of cold remains, kind of like an echo. Luffy and Usopp are standing side by side, grinning at him. The hose is hanging from Usopp’s hand.

“I said: we’re done,” Usopp says. “But there’s one of us who isn’t wet.” And he seems to point with his nose. Zoro follows his line of…nose and sees Sanji standing behind the table, wiggling his hips and calling to Nami who is spritzing herself and shaking her hair.

“He’s so weird,” Luffy says with a laugh. He is. And pathetic. It’s almost beneath Zoro to let him get pranked. The man who owns the convertible comes up to the table and Sanji stops mid wiggle, shifting his weight and splaying the fingers of one hand on the table like he’s the coolest bastard in the world.

“Forty dollars, shithead,” he says. When the hell did they get up to forty? Well, forget it. Zoro’s much more interested in hosing him down now.

“Would you care to do the honors?” Usopp says, holding the hose out to him but keeping a finger firmly over the hole. Zoro takes it from him, slipping his finger in place and feeling the water push up behind it and around it. He holds it behind him as best he can as he makes his way closer. Then waits until the customer leaves and the money is put away before saying:

“You look hot, Dartboard brow.”

Sanji scoffs and lights a cigarette. Turning to give him a heavy lidded glare.

“I don’t want to hear that shit from y—”

And Usopp must have turned the water pressure up because as soon as Zoro lifts his finger it slams the cook full in the face. Zoro laughs as the blond makes a wet duck sound, trying to flail away and backing over the metal chair, falling ass first on the ground. Then harder when the water drains away and Sanji gets up, bangs falling in both his eyes making him look like a sheepdog. It hurts. Ah it hurts but he can’t stop and he can hear the others laughing around him which doesn’t help.
Sanji is still, then puts the cigarette into the ashtray and tucks one side of his bangs back over his ears, while letting out a stream of smoke, head tilted down. Zoro has to give him points for the effect…and the challenge in his eyes. Zoro throws the hose down.

Sanji charges him, pushing against the ground. Zoro braces himself. Sanji throws a sweeping kick at his face which Zoro leans back from and is impressed as Sanji, twisting himself into a spin without even hitting the ground and using his own momentum to aim a kick at the side of Zoro’s head. Zoro blocks it, feeling the steel strength just in that one leg, pushing against Zoro’s arm. He grabs it, but Sanji arches back, hitting the ground with his hands and twisting the leg out of his grip, immediately starting into a wheel kick that Zoro has to dodge or it’ll probably splinter his knees. Zoro drops low to try to kick Sanji’s hands out from under him but the cook leaps to his feet lithe as a cat and aims a crushing heel drop for his skull that Zoro catches with both hands, grunting as it hits. Sanji doesn’t let up the pressure and Zoro keeps pushing against it.

“Not bad for a shithead,” Sanji says. Zoro smirks.

“Same to you.”

The sound of slow clapping tells him they have an audience and he looks up. They’ve been surrounded by the muscle guy’s group. There are more of them then there were before, all leering to one another except for the dark haired guy just by his left shoulder whose smirking.

Zoro stands. Over the heads of the guys he sees Nami is putting herself and the cash box in the car. Luffy and Usopp have been pulled into the inside ring of the men. Luffy is finishing off his ice cream while Usopp is trying to duck behind his shoulder. Zoro notices the ice cream vendor has shuttered his windows.

“Nice brawl,” says the muscle bound man, folding his arms and looking to Sanji. “You have potential, kid.”

“You think so?” Sanji says mildly, putting a cigarette in his mouth and striking the match against his shoe so that it flares to life. The guy’s grin doesn’t falter.

“I know so. To go up against Roronoa Zoro and not have a scratch. Pretty impressive.” The guy says and Sanji clicks his tongue. Zoro wonders if he knows this guy, put probably not. More people seem to know him than he does them. He folds his arms and regards the guy.

“The name’s Krieg, Don Krieg.” He offers Zoro a hand. “I run the premiere stable in Miami.”

“You have horses, old guy?” Luffy asks. Krieg’s smile twitches a bit.

“Fighters,” Zoro says.

“Oh.”

“Dahahaha! Cute kid!” Krieg says, folding his arms again. “A little dim upstairs. But cute.”
Sanji stiffens but Zoro says nothing. Krieg is not wrong in any case and it’s nothing to get offended over. Guys like this can smell insult and will just make it worse. Make them think they have an edge.

“I bet you’re here to enter the Dolphin Cup,” Krieg says, watching Zoro who isn’t sure if he is or not so says nothing. “That’s kind of a problem, y’see, because we’re the premiere stable, but also one of the only.” He spreads his hands. “Miami’s just gotten in on the circuit and it’s important for us to look good. You showing up and trashing everyone?” He sucked air through his teeth. “Doesn’t look so good.”

“So what are you suggesting, asshole?” Sanji says and this time Krieg’s smile disappears completely for a moment. The guys stir in an angry wave the the smirking guy’s smirk fades, his eyes darkening.

“S-Sanji, take it back,” Usopp whimpers. Krieg’s smile returns soon enough but seems tighter than before.

“It’s all right, kid. Crap words from a nobody just drip off my back.”

Sanji looks like he wants to start forward and Zoro hopes he does. He won’t start anything but he won’t mind finishing.

“Stop talking and get out of our way,” Luffy says.

“Excuse me?” Krieg says, voice lethal and someone calls:

“Don’t talk that way to Don Krieg.”

“We’ll kill you!” someone else shouts and Krieg holds up a hand.

“Who do you think you’re speaking to, boy?” Krieg says through his teeth. “I am the strongest—”

“Hey, Sanji, can we have porkchops tonight?” Luffy asks.

“Sure,” the cook says, head bowed as he lights another cigarette. “I’m going to buy a hotplate so it shouldn’t a problem.”

“Pay attention, you bastards! How dare you ignore me!” Krieg snarls. “I am the great Don Krieg!” Then he reigns himself in, a twisted smile settling over his features. “And I think you just lost your ice cream privileges.” He glances at one of his men, jerking his chin at the stand. “Burn it.”

“If you touch it I’ll kick your ass,” Luffy says, voice low and hot. “That’s old man cone head’s treasure!”

“Dahaha what? You think you can go against me?” He makes his way to the food stall, his men parting for him. “I guess you should have thought about the old man before you backtalked me.” Krieg reaches out and touches the side of the trailer with a single finger. “Burn it.”
Zoro pivots so he can watch Luffy dart forward, slipping under Krieg’s way too open guard to punch him three times in the stomach before grabbing the hand that was on the trailer and using it and Krieg’s arm to flip the man onto the ground before twisting it, wrenching it out of Krieg’s socket with an audible pop. Krieg howls.

“Bastaard!” the dark eyed guy snaps, charging Luffy and pulling tonfa from his sleeves, swinging one through the air and charging Luffy as if to crush his skull. Sanji moves, blocking the tonfa's downward stroke with a shoe with a sound that rings through the air.

“Touch my captain and die…,” Sanji says. The dark eyed guy scowls, starting to swing the matching tonfa when the sound of sirens fills the air and he looks up.

“We better get out of here!” a man says.

“Don Krieg!” says another.

“We’d better go, Don,” says the tonfa guy. Krieg's men surround him, hauling the man to his feet and he glares, spit and blood dripping from his mouth.

“You’ll pay for this brat. We’ll slaughter you,” he wheezed. The tonfa guy promises the same with a dark eyed look at Sanji. Good. It seems like everyone has an opponent. The blue haired girl that Luffy had been talking to brings up the rear, giving them an odd look over her shoulder before she hurries to join them. In the instant she turns, a pin flashes on her collar and Zoro only recognizes the detail because he’s seen it so often. Crossed swords and wings, BW probably somewhere underneath it. So Krieg just runs a satellite branch of the Baroque Works stable. Not so big after all. At least, not by himself.

“I think I’m going to die,” Usopp says, his legs shaking so hard Zoro can practically hear them. Luffy laughs.

“Don’t die yet. We’re having porkchops!”



Zoro lies on his stomach on the soft bed, full and content, twitching only a little as Usopp spreads the goop on his back which cools the searing sunburn. Luffy is lying on his stomach beside him, the white stuff already on his back and shoulders though he didn’t need as much, and is playing that weird Pokemon game. Zoro doesn’t really see the appeal. Across the room, Nami is humming appreciatively as she counts money and Sanji is lying on the other bed in a blissed out state from having to rub the goop on Nami’s shoulders—Zoro supposes. At least if the smoke hearts are any indication.

“How does he do that?” Zoro murmurs.

“It’s a Sanji thing,” Usopp says. “Incoming.” And Zoro flinches a little as more cold goop lands on his lower back, then relaxes again. Things have worked out oddly well as things did when Luffy is involved. The ice cream guy happened to be cousins with the woman who owned this pretty nice hotel and so they’d got a free stay. Moreover, the woman had been more than willing to let Sanji use her kitchen which meant…really a better dinner than he’d ever had it felt like. Everything tasted good and even Luffy was satisfied.

“Did you have fun today, Zoro?” Luffy says, not looking up from his game.

“Yeah… guess I did.” Luffy is currently fighting a rough cat looking thing with a tamer cat looking thing that has a coin on its head. “What are you fighting?”

“I’m getting a tiger for you.”

“Eh?” Usopp leans over. “That’s not a tiger. That’s a Growlith. It’s a puppy type Pokemon.”

“So it’s a puppy tiger,” Luffy says.

“No. Baby tigers are called cubs. Puppies are only dogs. Or sometimes seals. Maybe elephants?”

“Thank you, captain,” Zoro says in a low voice as Usopp goes on. Luffy just grins at him.

“Any time.”

“Oi are you even listening to me?” Usopp says. Zoro breathes a laugh and closes his eyes.

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The Remedy

March 2017

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