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


Present:

Is this the real life
Is this just fantasy


Zoro sat on one end of the stuffy couch and sipped a beer. Sanji was gone for the day after a sparring session that didn’t happen for lack of a place to go. Sanji had wanted one, Zoro could tell. In the caged lines of his body and the way he’d ground his teeth against the cigarette. But there had been no time to look for a place before his shift and so the cook had shrugged it off, flicked the scarf over his shoulder and stalked out on stiff black legs. It was because Usopp hadn’t called, Zoro guessed. Or maybe because Chopper had stayed behind at that house, coming only for his things and giving Zoro a pained glance and a stern warning to call him if he should start bleeding again. The house was still without even the yeti’s presence. A clock in the kitchen beat a muffled heartbeat. The heat rushed through the vents. Ice clattered to life in the freezer. It was a house that wasn’t expecting people. He wanted to go back to the bar.

He shifted his weight, finishing the beer and looking at the time on the DVD player. Wondering why it was still 12:00, then realized and checked his phone instead. 2:30. He wasn’t going to meet Nami until 4. He could go early, he supposed. Though that place would be even quieter with even less to do. You were supposed to talk to people in comas. Zoro had heard that much. The staff had told him that once with an encouraging smile like he was doing a good thing being there. That was the first time he’d seen the Home in fact. He remembered walking down the long white hall to the unmarked door, finding every room but Luffy’s and wondered if he was in the wrong place. It had been disturbing in a way. All those still faces ready for death except for the tubing that was keeping their bodies going. A living mausoleum. He’d just about been ready to give up when he finally found…Luffy.

That had been three years ago and Zoro was sure he’d looked different than he did now, but he couldn’t remember how it had been. All he’d remembered was standing beside his bed, knowing he should say something but finding nothing to say at all. Not even to beg him to come out of it. Not even the truth about his brother. Well it didn’t really matter in the end. Even if Luffy could understand it— there was nothing anyone could do to change what had happened. So he’d just sat there and stared until the staff chased him out again so they could close up for the night.

He finished the beer and licked his lips. Set it down and got another from his bag. The house phone rang a few times and the answering machine caught it. Someone asking if Sanji could come over because they needed advice about creeps. Zoro wasn’t sure what kind of food a creep was. Maybe something you served at Halloween or something. He popped the cap and took a sip. That hadn’t been the first call either. People called here a lot, it seemed, and Zoro found himself looking forward to it in a twisted way. This was getting kind of pathetic.

He thumbed through the address book on his phone, wondering if he could call someone. But who would he call? And what would he say? He had nothing to say, that was the problem. Phone calls had to be about things—even checking up on people But everyone already here was too distracted and he knew how they were already… and anyone not here…the conversation would go along the lines of: ‘how are you’ ‘fine’ ‘you?’ ‘fine’ Maybe interspersed with awkward talk about Luffy or awkward avoiding of it and then silence. He wished he had Usopp’s gift for chatter. Or Chopper or Sanji’s gift to inspire chatter. Really he just wanted to hear someone talk at him. Or around him. He could go to Usopp’s he supposed but—he wasn’t sure if the guy really wanted him around at the moment. He took another sip of beer and put the phone away.

The heater clunked off. Ice rattled to life. The clock ticked. Zoro stood and poked the cook bobblehead to see it move. Stared at the plastic smiling faces. Disney… In retrospect he knew why Sanji liked it. It was a fairy tale, a romance, presentation. Like food. It looked good and, supposedly, felt good and left you wanting more, he guessed. He wasn’t sure. He’d never been able to stay awake during the damn things. Or most movies for that matter.

He paced to look out the window onto the still unfamiliar street, the glittering bay. Maybe he should go back to the bar. Maybe green eyes would be there. Sasha. Maybe Zoro could sit at the bar and the man would talk to him. Talk at him. Maybe even tease him a little. No… He was off today… right. And how would that end anyway? More sex? He liked sex but more than once and things got tangled. He couldn’t tangle it up for someone else. It wouldn’t be right. Maybe he could go to the Baratie and just sit and listen. He had some cash on him. That would pay for some drinks. Maybe an appetizer… But it might make Sanji anxious him being there and the crap cook was already on edge enough.

Zoro sipped his beer and took out his phone again, thumbing through the address book that Nami had put in for him. He still wasn’t sure why she’d taken the time. He saw a number, paused and then feeling more pathetic than ever, pressed talk. The phone rang a few times before finally clicking over.

“Yo!”

“Yo,” he murmured, leaning his forehead against the window.

“Oh right. Umm. I’m Monkey D. Luffy but I’m not here and I really don’t like phones anyway so if you wanna call me just call someone else. But if you really wanna talk to me you should just come say hi.”

“I’m going to do something stupid. Sanji, too, but I don’t think he’s ready.” Or could get ready. Even if they had a month. He had fire but could he get the skill if he didn’t practice? If he was worried about Usopp or Chopper or Nami or the creep guy?

“He wants to but this isn’t a fight that—” the beep at the end of the message startled him and he pressed end, sliding the phone back into his pocket. It wasn’t a fight that mattered. In the end, all it would be was someone dead. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe he should leave ahead of time and just not tell him. Maybe all Sanji needed right now was the dream of going to fight. The illusion of reaching for something outside this place. Because would he really be even ready to leave by Christmas? Or would he want to stay behind till the last?

Maybe it was better that way after all. Zoro went back to the couch and finished his beer. Sanji was the heart of everything. The center. Everyone came here to his house or to this town to see Luffy and when—when he was gone, everyone would come here again to remember him. They would move on because that damn curly brow was here. The center of it all. The pivot around which everyone turned. Luffy would prefer it that way and maybe—Zoro could even convince Sanji to leave a food offering on his headstone once in a while like they did in Japanese tradition. It would only be a waste of food in the sense that Luffy wouldn’t eat it himself, but birds would and other animals and maybe somewhere else—if there was a somewhere else, Luffy would appreciate it.

Zoro set the bottle aside and leaned his head back against the couch, listening to the clock tick.



Nami was waiting in the room when he got there. Or, she was there at least, fiddling with stringing some garland on the windowsill, her back to him. There was still a chance to leave. He had been tempted to on the way over. Just pull onto the interstate and go. He had the address for the Eneru guy and a surprise attack would give him a head start. But maybe she had some information he hadn’t heard. Not to mention she’d be pissed at him if he just blew her off. Might as well deal with it now.

“What,” he said to get her attention. She clicked her tongue, looking over her shoulder at him.

“Don’t just say ‘what’ like that. It’s rude. Close the door, come here and hold up this side.” She waved the end of the garland at him. She wanted him to come in just to help her decorate? Couldn’t she bring in Vivi for that? Or Usopp? Or hell even Sanji? Nami gave him a steady ‘get over here’ look and he repressed a sigh and did as she wanted, holding up the silver and red garland and watching it catch the light.

“Is it about Eneru?” he murmured, wondering if he should tell her the decision he made about Sanji. He quickly decided against it. To tell her she’d first have to know he’d asked the guy to be involved and Zoro wasn’t sure how she’d take that.

“No,” Nami said, seeming to be surprised that he’d think that. “Why have you heard more?”

“No.” But if it wasn’t like that…and he refused to think she’d had him over just to decorate because she could have just asked him to do it without resorting to manipulating him— but he’d give her the benefit of the doubt about that for some reason.

“What did you want?” he asked, since he had the feeling she wouldn’t tell him otherwise. Nami didn’t look at him, focusing on stapling the garland to the wall. He wondered if they were allowed to do that and then realized with a kind of twisting in his gut that in a few weeks it wouldn’t matter.

“Just to spend time with you,” she murmured and he couldn’t help feel a little chastened. But still a little suspicious. Why would she want to spend time with him if she didn’t want anything from him? What was her game? Her ulterior motive?

“You can stop it with the suspicious look,” she said, straightening and brushing her bangs out of her face. “I just want to make sure—” She stopped. Pressed her lips together. Then sighed, patting his arm. “Just trust me, okay? We’re nakama, right?” She smiled.

D-damnit. Cheating— They were but— He hated when she did that. He shouldn’t fall for it after all this time, but damn him he did it every time. Zoro ground his back teeth, not acknowledging it, but judging by Nami’s expression, she knew she had won— again— like she did every damn time.

Well fine. Whatever she wanted him to do would be a moot point after Christmas. Though it seemed mostly, for the moment at least, what she wanted him for was to decorate. He helped her frame the window in garlands and then stood on the rickety chair, holding his breath as he taped the strings of paper snowflakes to the ceiling. He survived that somehow without breaking his neck and when he was safely on the ground again, couldn’t help but be a little proud of his handiwork. It was…cheerful.

“Alright,” Nami said when he was done. “Sit here a moment.” He turned and saw her patting the edge of Luffy’s bed. He sat obediently, though he wasn’t sure what she was aiming for. He raised his eyebrows at her but she just smiled— a softer expression this time.

“Hold on to him for a minute, would you? While I put on a movie” she said. Hold on? That seemed easy enough. He gently gathered Luffy into his arms, careful of the tubes, remembering how Sanji said to hold him. It was a bit awkward to hold him doll like so Zoro pulled his legs onto the bed, holding Luffy between them with his arms loosely around is thin, soft, waist. There used to be muscle there. Zoro sighed and rested his chin on Luffy’s sleep warmed hair. Nami finished fiddling with the tv and slipped onto the bed beside him, also careful of the tubes. He looked at her, wondering what she wanted next but she said nothing, just squinted at the remote.

“What next?” he said, mildly annoyed.

“Hmm?” she blinked at him with too innocent a smile for someone so manipulative. “Nothing next. Just enjoy the movie.”

Nothing next? Then why was he— Oh. He looked down at Luffy’s bony shoulder, thin arm, ending in a pale hand with fingers curled. Yeah…he got it. Evil woman… He took that pale hand in his, running his thumb over the too smooth palm, wondering if it had always been so small against his in comparison. Luffy had always been a short— shorter than him anyway, but now he seemed tiny, like a pill bug about to roll away.

The movie started with a burst of music and he looked up to see a golden animated sun, brightening a red sky as the singers changed in some foreign language that probably only Luffy would understand. Then the guy who sounded a little like Elton John started singing while animals looked up like something had grabbed their attention.

“The hell is this?” he murmured.

“The Lion King?” Nami said, swatting his arm lightly. “Swear to God you live under a rock sometimes.”

“Oi.” He’d heard of it. He’d just never seen it. Or couldn’t remember seeing it anyway. See and if he’d just waited a bit to ask he wouldn’t have had to because he would have known. There were some lions in it. And weirdly, a monkey. The hell was the monkey doing there? Why weren’t the lions eating it? Where they bound by some kind of honor debt? And why were the other animals so happy that there was a new creature born that was bound to eat them one day?

“Disney is weird,” Zoro said. No wonder Luffy and Sanji liked it so much.

“You’re the weird one,” she said dryly. “Shut up and watch the movie.”

He did. Why was everything the light touches the kid’s inheritance? The whole world was a pretty damn bold move as far as Zoro was concerned. And how did that place stay in shadow? What about noon time? And did that apply to all shadowy places or was it just that one in particular? The kid would go, of course he would, because he’d been told not to and it looked a hell of a lot more interesting then the surrounding area.

“You’re really not coming back, are you?” Nami said softly as the kid talked to his uncle with the attitude problem. What the hell kind of question was that to spring on a guy in the middle of watching a kid’s movie? He shrugged and adjusted Luffy against his chest, tugged away a loose string from the neck of Luffy’s ‘Bears be’ shirt. It had never made any sense to Zoro. Bears be what? And that didn’t sound like good grammar to him.

“I could kill, you, you know,” Nami said. “That’s a coward’s way out. You don’t see any of us deciding to just give up.”

Considering what she was talking about, shouldn’t she sound a little angrier? But Nami was like that sometimes and he could sense something seething just under the surface. He didn’t blame her. If he was going to admit anything to himself, it would be that he knew she was like any of them—concerned for her nakama’s well-being. She wouldn’t have followed Luffy if she didn’t. He wouldn’t have asked her to come.

“And here I thought you were better than that. You really need to grow a pair.”

Grow a pair and do—what? He had finally found what being a swordsman meant and now that that was fading away, what was he supposed to do? But it wasn’t just that. It was more than that. It always had been. Just going on after this was fine for them. They were the ones who had listened to Zoro. That he’d pushed into it. For himself it didn’t feel right that he should keep going on. But maybe in a way—she was right. They were right.

‘You don’t deserve to die,’ Phoenix Marco had said, thin and bitter, as he uncurled his claws from around Zoro’s neck. Zoro swallowed and felt Luffy’s breath puff warm against the scars. What was better? What was just? He wasn’t sure anymore. Who to ask. What to be. He focused on the movie instead before it all could crash around him. Before he drowned in it. It wasn’t the time. It wasn’t the place and maybe Luffy could sense tension.

The kid was clambering down a small rock, squeaking at a lizard a few times before he finally got a small roar which echoed over the canyon walls. The ground trembled and rattled like there was an earthquake. Did they even have those in Africa? But no, it was something else. A hell of a lot of huge antelope things, boiling down the sheer cliff face right toward the kid. Zoro found himself clutching Luffy’s shirt and forced his hand to relax, pulling Luffy closer against him.

“Idiot,” Nami murmured, hitting him in the arm, though he had a feeling it was more due to whatever was going on in her head. The movie went on. He listened to the dramatic music, occasionally looking up to see the kid caught on a tree in the middle of the sharp horned herd, clinging for life. The sneaky uncle acted sneakily, knocking out the butler bird who had been trying to go for help and Zoro was sucked into the story.

The father struggling to save his son but getting knocked around, finally succeeding only to get carried away himself. He’d get out of it, of course he would because this was a kid’s movie and they always did. Then there he was, leaping from the stampede, a dark shape against the sunlight, scrabbling up the cliff—asking his suspicious brother for help—who would of course betray him. It happened. The sneaky uncle looking down into the father’s face.

‘Long live the King’ and threw him off. Down into the blackness. The one he’d trusted. The only one who could save him. Throwing him back. Destroying him. Zoro stared at nothing, the words replaying in his head. Everything seemed to slip away except for those words. The room. Luffy’s slight weight. Nami calling his name at some distant door. Long live the king… Lying broken on the ground. His precious hat torn to shreds. Long live the king…

A sharp burst of pain brought him back. Sort of. It was bright. The movie was rattling on. Nami was pinching his ear asking him something and there was wet on his face. Some part of himself outside of himself wiped it away and said:

“Sorry.”

Nami kept talking but he couldn’t understand and it didn’t matter. The part that seemed to exist made the noises that were the necessary ones. Reacted to what was going on on the screen. Maybe even had a conversation as far as he knew. Everything was dull gray and fuzzy around the edges. Time slipped by. And soon he was sitting in the car in the dark with no idea how he’d gotten there. Still in the parking lot. That was good. Nami was gone. A light snow had begun to fall. It was eleven o’clock. There was only one place he knew to go.



“Hey, buddy.” Someone was shaking him. Zoro lifted his head and somehow peeled his eyes open. The bartender…wasn’t green eyes.

“Mm?” he said, blinking blearily at the guy. There seemed to be two of them. Zoro was tempted to poke one of them to see what the faces would do.

“We’re closing. Do you need me to call you a cab?”

“No.” He had…nowhere to tell the guy really. Sanji’s house didn’t seem to be advis...advisabl...a good idea. He hauled himself to his feet, stumbling a bit and knocking over a bottle that smashed on the floor in glittering shards. Who drank all that tequila? Musta been him.

“Alright. If you want your keys you can pick them up tomorrow.”

“Sure—thanks.” That was generous. But they…were closing so…he had to get out. He started to walk. The floor was tilting, trying to roll him back into the bar, sending his stomach spinning. Why were the floors like that. It was just damned obnoxious. He would get out of here. Had to. They were closing.
He finally made it to the door and opened it, bracing a hand on the doorway as the cold sucker punched him and tried not to hurl right there. Stumbled a few steps. Falling hands and knees on the gravel before getting up and making it to the scrubby bushes that lined the parking lot before puking his guts out. Ow. Couldn’t move. Guts were weak. Everything was weak. He should sleep. Wanted to sleep. Good training. Winter training, right? For what. Eneru could be beaten by a guy who could survive the winter naked. Ha.

He sat back in the gravel. Mostly snow. Stared at it as the world spun. Tried not to throw up again. He jerked out of warm sleep once. Twice. The third time only because his phone was buzzing. Obnoxiously loud. Vibrating through him. He fumbled for it. Dropped it twice through numbed fingers. Peered at the screen. Sanji. It was always Sanji. Always him. Wanting him back. Fuck him.

He slammed the phone into the ground. Three times. Four times. Feeling it buckle and splinter in his hands. The gravel tearing the skin from his knuckles. Blood searing through his veins so hot he thought it would burn the ground. Didn’t matter. None of it mattered. The phone was dead. He’d killed it. Long live the phone… Fuck he needed a whiskey. Had to get up first. Should probably get up since he’d die if he fell asleep out here.

‘You don’t deserve to die’ Phoenix Marco said again, turning away, blue flames crawling around him. But what did he deserve then? What was the deservation? Another voice. An ancient memory. Crabbed and snarling.

‘I’ll show you what you deserve, you little punk! Get over here!’

And again. Lined face. White hair. Same voice cracked with age.

‘You’ll ruin that brat’s life just like you ruined yours.’

Not really an answer but truth anyway. Everyone—seemed to know that but him. Maybe he should listen harder. He did but all he heard was the snow and the faint music from the closing bar. There was a rush of tires somewhere close and after a while a car crunched onto the gravel of the parking lot, lights in his face making him squint. Black car. Not Sanji’s. ‘You missed,’ Zoro wanted to say, but he wasn’t that pathetic yet. If he was going to die it would be by the sword.

The car door opened. Hands draped a warm narrow coat over his shoulders that smelled like flowers and then she was there, gripping his arms lightly, long dark hair brushing against his face.

“Let’s go somewhere warm, hmm?” she said, pulling at him. He stood because she wasn’t strong enough to lift him. Where are we going? He wanted to ask. But he could only get the rising sound of the question as she led him to the car, pressing down lightly on his head so he wouldn’t crack it into the door. Delicate hands slid the seatbelt around him and she got in the other side. Well—didn’t matter where they were going. She would take them…somewhere nice. Somewhere warm. There was— a more important question at hand than any of that.

“What do I deserve?”

She breathed a soft single laugh and brushed butterfly warm fingertips over his cheek. Her voice was warm and dark and completely different from Luffy’s—but it was still an echo of their captain when she said:

“Whatever you want.”


Past:

Lookin’ for somethin’ I’ve never seen

“A little to the left. … My left. My— Just follow the direction of my hand,” Nami says. Zoro scowls as Luffy tugs him over. It’s not as if he doesn’t know what left is; Nami’s directions are just confusing. He rests a hand on the katana that hang out his waist, trying to to strike a pose, but Luffy’s surprisingly strong arm hooks around his neck and drags him down, making a peace sign over his shoulder. Oh well that’s close enough. Nami fiddles with something on the expensive looking camera on its tripod and then scoots around to join them.

“On three, ready? Say cheese,” Nami says.

“Oh, Nami— I’d rather say meat instead,” Luffy says. She huffs.

“Fine, say whatever you want.”

He isn’t going to say anything, but smirks at the camera as Nami counts down and everyone says cheese. The shutter clicks. He tries to straighten but before he can, Nami says.

“No one go anywhere.” And hurries back to the camera, looking at the picture and sucking on her lower lip. “Looks good,” she says, giving them the thumbs up. “Pack that up for me, would you, Sanji?”

“Right away, my heart!” Sanji says and Zoro’s getting too used to that kind of thing to even roll his eyes.

“Alright,” Nami says, opening a map. “Where do we want to go?”

Zoro joins the others in clustering around her. He had been against this kind of thing at first. They hadn't needed maps of any kind as far as he was concerned. Especially if they were just going to look at stuff. Not that they did that much when it had been just the two of them, but it made it all the more special when they found somewhere interesting along the side of the road. Like the dinosaur place or the big rock with the faces on it. Going to a place without getting surprised by it seemed...cheating somehow.

But, it got them here and, huddling together, shoulder to shoulder with Usopp as he peers over Luffy's shoulder now, Luffy having pressed close to Nami to hold up the other end of the map as they stare at the complex squiggles of roads--he feels-- as sense of belonging almost. Like something is settled somehow. Like he doesn't have to worry about things. He absently rubs a thumb along the stiff fabric that crisscrossed Wado's hilt, faintly feeling the sword's stillness. He watches Luffy from the corner of his eye, expression open and eager, surrounded by people-- It's good. This is good.

“The wax museum looks cool,” Usopp says. “We went to one in ninth grade, remember?”

“Ugh, how can I forget?” Sanji says with a shudder. "All those glass eyes staring at you… Freaky as shit.”

“I want to go,” Luffy says and Zoro does, too. He’s never been to one before, only seen it in that weird cartoon Luffy watched once with the talking dog thing. Nami frowns.

“I don’t know, Luffy. It’s a little expensive.” She glances at him. “Are you sure your friend is coming tomorrow?”

Luffy nods. “Yeah she said so.”

“Hmm.”

He wants her to say yes. She’d better. Though if she says no there’s not much he can do. That’s one drawback to this whole thing. He reluctantly agrees that in some circumstances hotels are better than alligator infested campsites and the curly cook’s food is better than a lot of the bars and fast food places that he and Luffy used to eat at—even better than kind of burnt catfish on a stick which had been their favorite up until recently. To do all that takes money and she has all the money but…having to hinge on that…

“Alright,” she says finally. “But we’re not going to be able to go anywhere else that isn’t free. The Nashville Circuit starts soon and I want to build up to that so we can stop living hand to mouth.”

“We still have a tarp,” Zoro tells her.

“Shut up.” Nami says and he sticks out his jaw. There’s nothing damned wrong with it and there aren’t any alligators in this state. He’s about to point that out but Usopp interrupts him.

“Well we’re not going to be able to get in anywhere if he’s carrying those around,” he says and all of a sudden everyone is looking at Zoro’s swords. He slid back a pace, setting a protective hand over Wado’s hilt. What? What? He doesn’t like those looks. Well most of those looks.

“Come on, Zoro. Let’s go put them in the car,” Nami says. “I don’t know what you were thinking.”

Like hell, he wants to say. Or wants to argue the point at least—but they’re right. Damn. He rubs his thumb against Wado’s hilt and trains his face to be impassive. He’s half tempted to just say screw it and tell them he’s going to hang out in the park until they get back—but that seems even more pathetic somehow. Anyway, he really does want to see the wax museum. He tries to brush off the criticism with a shrug and starts back to the car, only to be sighed at and turned around by a weary looking Usopp. Tch. Well it’s not his fault. All directions look the same in a park and it’s not as if there are any signs.

They get to the car quicker than Zoro expects and he pulls his swords from his belt, missing their weight, the lightness on one side like a gapped tooth. It’s ridiculous. It’s not even as if he even wears them around much—not until very recently anyway—but they had felt good there. They had belonged there. He’s a swordsman, so of course they do. But he has to pack that part of himself away anyway. He’s pretty sure that yellow eyed guy never has to. His aura had been so strong. So edged. He’d found the truth of something somewhere along the line. Does he carry his sword around? Has he grown past it mattering? Zoro wants to know. His fingers itch to find the guy again—but not to ask him— he wouldn’t have the words— but fight him maybe and find them out for himself. Steel against steel. Life or death. He closes the trunk and sees Luffy frowning at him. Sanji studiously looking away. They understand on some level, Zoro knows. They are fighters. They’re fighters without having to hide any part of it. He can’t help but envy it a little.

“Is it okay?” Luffy asks. Zoro looks at him. Luffy will not go if he has to, Zoro knows. He’ll cancel something he wants to see for Zoro’s sake because he’s too soft hearted like that. But Zoro won’t do that to him. It’s just a few hours and—it’s unusual for him to be carrying around the weapons all day anyway.

“It’s fine,” he says. Luffy watches him a moment longer before nodding. Though not at him, Zoro has the feeling. At something else going inside his screwy little brain. It could be relating to Zoro or something completely different that they won’t know about until it’s dropped on their head like an anvil, but that was always the way with him.

“Ready?” Nami asks and Luffy nods again.

“Let’s go.”



Zoro grunts awake as something pinches his leg. He yawns and scratches at his hair as he blinks blearily at a row of faces looking back at him, frowning. The woman at the front of the trolley is frowning, too, foot tapping. Had he been snoring? The pinch comes again and he looks down to see Luffy looking up at him in the too bright sunshine, the others standing behind him in various shades of annoyed. Luffy is smiling, though, eyes shaded by his hat.

“We’re here,” he says. Oh. Zoro yawns again and hops down off the trolley, squinting in the light as the bell dings and it pulls away from the curb.

“I should kick your ass for sleeping through sweet Miss Sarah’s tour,” Sanji says in typical Sanji fashion, though he’s standing kind of wilted, probably because of the heat. They are right in front of Diego’s Wax House, which looks like an old building that used to be something else once upon a time. A theater maybe.There was a woman posing in the window dressed in enough sequins to make Bon Clay cry and it takes him a moment to realize she’s not real.

“Let’s get in before my hair curls even more,” Usopp says, heading for the door, the glass blacked out by some cloth and holding it open for them.

“I’ll be right behind you,” Sanji says, waving them on. Zoro follows Nami and Luffy into the cool dimness of the museum proper, the sudden air conditioning sending chills down his neck and having to blink to adjust. There are only a few wax people here. A creepy looking kid riding an old timey bike. A creepy looking shaggy dog about to piss on a creepy plastic fire hydrant and a creepy looking old man with thick glasses standing in the center of the room. There are other halls that lead out from the open room and various old timey movie posters in the room and it’s all pretty cool looking.

“Woah they look really real, don’t they?” Usopp says.

“It’s so cool!” Luffy says, creeping closer to the old man figure. “Hey do you have a pen? I wanna give him a mustache.”

No touching the exhibits!” the old man says, making them all jump and Nami and Usopp shriek.

“Say something next time, damnit!” Nami snaps, hands balled into fists. Usopp is clutching his chest.

“I think I just lost a year of my life,” he says over the sound of Luffy laughing.

“That was hilarious, old man! Do it again! Hey, let me do it!”

“You couldn’t stand still if your feet were glued to the floor,” Usopp mutters.

“Could so! Watch!”

“I heard a scream!” Sanji bursts in from behind him. “Nami-san are you alright?!”

“Oi, oi, what about me?” Usopp says while Luffy tries to remain perfectly still on one foot. Zoro shakes his head. He's surrounded by idiots. He feels a wuffling near his foot and looks down to see the dog sniffing at it. What the hell?! He cringes away from it. What the hell kind of wax house was this?!

“Mosshead afraid of a little terrier?” Sanji says, assumably assured of Nami’s safety as he’s sticking his ugly mug right up in Zoro’s face. “Watch out! It might lick you!”

“It wasn’t alive before, asshole!” Zoro snaps.

“Looks pretty alive to me,” Sanji says crouching to look at the dog who leans out as if to lick his hand and freezes in mid gesture. Sanji blinks, moves to pet it and the dog falls over, as stiff is it was before. “Oh, shit! I didn’t mean—!” The dog sneezes “What the hell is that about, you shitty dog?!” Sanji says, looking a hair’s breadth from field kicking the dog into oblivion. Luffy laughs.

“That dog’s hilarious. Maybe he can be our nakama.”

“Don’t just use that word so casually!” Zoro snaps at him. He’s not having a damn dog for nakama, living wax or otherwise.

“Oh my god we haven’t even been here for ten minutes,” Nami mutters, massaging her temple. Well it’s not his fault. Everyone else is the one acting like an idiot. He’s just standing here. She pays the cover price of fifteen dollars a head, after having to wheedle the old man down a bit and then be stopped from hitting him after five minutes of wheedling he remained frozen and then asked what she said. Crazy ass place. Finally, though, they are wandering through the exhibits.

Movie stars whose names he doesn’t know. Musicians whose names he doesn’t know. He recognizes the really popular ones like Elvis and such and there seems to be a whole gallery of just him—tracing the decline from young man into man with a beer gut and haggard looking expression barely hidden behind sunglasses. It’s a kind of future that reminds him of his home town in a way and he doesn’t dwell on it too long, turning back to the stars and a figure of that girl from the movie with the tornado and the monkeys which had scared the piss out of him when he was five. She’s carrying a little basket with a little dog in it and he eyes the dog until he’s sure that the dog is wax and isn’t actually eying him back.

They move from there into a kind of history set up where there’s Egypt and China and some Aztec stuff or the like dressed in turquoise and silver and on the other side is the women in poofy dresses section. He hangs back and yawns and idly watches his …well his nakama looking at the figures and he has… a lot of them now. More than he’d ever thought he’d have. It’s kind of overwhelming if he thinks about it. He watches Nami lean in close as if to examine the jewelry of one of the figures. Sanji, Usopp and Luffy are clustered around a woman with tall white hair, a low cut dress and a skirt that’s poofier than all the rest. Usopp is explaining to Luffy how women back then all were really bell shaped down there and just hopped around from place to place which is why the skirts were so wide. Which was stupid. Zoro was willing to bet they all just had really fat legs. Not that he really cares but he does lean forward with curiosity as Luffy reaches out to grab the skirt and lift it to check. That is until Nami smacks his hand and all three look away guiltily.

Usopp and Sanji switch to the other side of the hall, seeming to focus on the Egyptian woman who has the opposite problem of the poofy skirt woman. Luffy seems ready to follow but then something in the other room catches his attention. But more than that. Zoro doesn’t really have the words to explain it but Luffy suddenly seems entranced by whatever it is he sees, standing straight as if a metal pole has replaced his spine. He wanders off and Zoro follows him. The plaque above the room reads heroes and criminals. It’s a darkened room, lit only by lights along the walls. Right away Zoro can see what Luffy is going for.

Gold Roger. Zoro has only seen his picture once and he can recognize him. He dominates one corner of the room. Not much taller than Zoro is, but filling it. His long red pirate’s coat falling around his still form. Hands bound in handcuffs. Shaggy black hair, sweeping mustache and…the grin. It’s from his execution photo Zoro knows. That hard half-moon of a smile. He was a strong guy whatever else he might have been and just staring at him is enough to send chills up Zoro’s spine. Luffy is watching, too, pushing his hat off his head and just staring up at him. He doesn’t look very impressive next to his idol but Zoro’s seen the weight that he’s carried. That he’s willing to carry. Luffy is something even higher than gold. Even stronger than diamond. Zoro wants to see his place here, his red coat, but his head up, eyes unshadowed and bright, grin wild on his face.

He looks away then, giving Luffy his moment and glances at the others. Some faces he knows faintly. Others he doesn’t. And then…something in him jerks. That…that guy. The yellow eyed guy. Standing unobtrusively in more shadow than light, the black sword rising above his feathered hat. Zoro stares at him a moment. Swallows. Even in glass and wax he’s intense. Zoro moves closer to read the plaque at his feet, half expecting the figure’s chest to rise and fall. The eyes center on him. Piercing him to the spot. The plaque underneath reads: “Hawkeyes” Mihawk. Bounty hunter. Swordsman.

Swordsman.

The word sends a tight chill down the back of his neck and he stares at the figure. At the lines of bone under the wax skin of his hands. The steady intense look. The sword. The cross. Everything about him. He looks over to Luffy who he finds is looking over at him. He stares into his captain’s dark eyes and tries to tell him without words that this—this is what he wants. Somehow. And somehow— somehow it’s them that will be in this room one day. Monkey D. Luffy. Pirate King of the World. Roronoa Zoro. Swordsman. No. Strongest Swordsman. Luffy grins, hard and sure, raising a fist. Let’s fight for it. Zoro raises a fist as well. Let’s make it. Together. Finding a way to something beyond anyone has ever reached before.

“This room is awesome.” Usopp’s voice filters in, not breaking the moment or even disrupting it but letting it sink back to an undercurrent in a slow river. Swift and fast, tugging at their guts. Zoro shoves his hands into his pockets because the chill is settling in now. The others are peering around the room, only mildly impressed and Zoro wonders if they get it. Maybe not. Maybe they will one day. Usopp chafes his arms and sniffs.

“How can you tell whose a hero and whose a criminal?” Usopp asks. Luffy laughs. It should be out of place in a room like this but Roger’s own grin seems to get wider. Mihawk’s gaze more intense. Everything becomes vibrant and he can taste life in the air.

“Who cares?” Luffy says. And for once Usopp seems to have nothing to say.
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The Remedy

March 2017

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