One Piece, it's characters and settings, belongs to Oda Eiichirou and Shonen Jump, and are being used here without permission
This story follows the comic, taking place after the Crocodile arc and before Skypiea. It stars mostly Zoro, but everyone gets the limelight for a while. Rated PG-13 for language and violence, nothing more than One Piece usually has. C&C welcomed and greatly appreciated.
This story has recently been re-edited. All the chapters have been replaced, though nothing changed beyond typos and a few sentence structures.
Zoro was so involved in his late afternoon nap that he didn't realize Going Merry had stopped until he heard the splash of the anchor. Only then did he peel open one lazy eye, watching his comrades scurry about. Luffy especially was grinning and eager, already up on the deck rail with Usopp close behind. Puzzled, Zoro yawned mightily and pushed to his feet. "What's going on?" he asked lazily, adjusting the swords at his hip.
"An island." Zoro started at the voice so close; he hadn't noticed Robin standing at the rail next to him. Though she hadn't been in their crew for very long, she seemed to have a way of sneaking up on him that was already getting on his nerves. "It's called Bluebell—it's a tiny island, and the Logue Pose will have reset by tomorrow morning."
Zoro snorted quietly, by now fully awake as he took a look for himself. The beach they'd anchored the ship at was indeed small, and surrounded by only sparse forestry, but there was no sign of inhabitants. He scratched the back of his head. "Not much, is it? Doesn't even look like we'll be able to stock up on food from this place."
Robin smiled knowingly, for a moment looking her age as she watched Luffy, Usopp, and Chopper scuttle along the beach. He wasn't sure what to make of the expression. "You might be right," she admitted. "They're simple people, which is why we didn't go to the harbor. A pirate ship would have been a huge deal to them."
"You've been here before," Zoro surmised, but he suspected from the nostalgic gleam in her eye that there was something more than that. "It's not your homeland or something, is it?"
To this Robin chuckled, shaking her head. "No, it's nothing like that. I've been here before, yes, but…" She trailed off—mysterious as always, and Zoro gave up being curious until she jumped the railing and proceeded towards his captain. With a snort he followed.
By the time Robin approached Luffy he had calmed somewhat, and appeared to be listening intently to what she had to say. Zoro only caught the tail end of the conversation—something about an errand, not taking more than a few hours while the sun was still up. He waited until Luffy nodded his consent—and Robin started off with Chopper in tow—before questioning. "What was that all about?"
"She knows someone near here that she wants to visit," Luffy explained, placing his hands on his hips as if proud of himself for having made some kind of captain-like decision. "Usopp, you stay and keep an eye on the ship."
"You're going with her?" Usopp asked curiously.
"Yeah. I'm counting on you."
"Oh…sure. You can count on me!"
Ignoring Usopp's brief tirade at the responsibility—Sanji and Nami were still on the ship, anyway—Zoro fell easily into step beside his captain as they set out after Robin and Chopper. "So what's this really about?" he asked. Luffy's demeanor had changed subtly in that short exchange, and he couldn't help but wonder why. It certainly wasn't because Luffy felt the same suspicion of Robin that he did.
"She asked me and Chopper to come with her," Luffy answered easily enough. "And I wanted to see more of the island anyway. You can go back, if you want," he teased.
Zoro rolled his eyes and rested a hand casually on the handle of his sword. He wasn't going to say he didn't trust Robin—if Luffy had chosen her as a crewmate, that was good enough for him. All he could respond with was, "I could use some earth under my feet for a while."
Luffy shrugged. "Okay."
They didn't end up traveling very far—only a few minutes later a small shack appeared among the low foliage, partially hidden from view by a pair of thick-trunked fir trees. There was something about the smell of it that set Zoro instantly on guard; Luffy and Chopper must have felt it, too, as both fell silent as they approached. Robin didn't seem to notice. Zoro's hand tightened over his sword—anything that could make Luffy careful warranted his attention. But Luffy's hand came down on his shoulder, as if calling him off. Though he was still wary he relaxed a little, letting his hand fall.
Robin reached the shack first, and she opened the front door without hesitation nor flourish. "Doctor?" She disappeared inside, Chopper just behind, but Luffy hesitated. There was a look of seriousness on his face that Zoro didn't like, but before he could question Luffy followed the others inside. Zoro had no choice but to do the same.
"Doctor? Ah, there you are." When Zoro entered Robin was shaking the hand of an elderly man with both of hers, her face as genuinely pleased as ever he'd seen it. "I know it's been a while, but I hope you don't mind the guests," she said warmly. He'd almost thought she didn't have such sentiments in her.
"It's…no problem," the gray-haired man replied, looking a little confused, as if not sure what to make of the two young men, let along their reindeer companion. He turned abruptly away to smother a hacking cough in his handkerchief. Zoro flinched—it sounded like he could have shook himself apart.
The swordsman paused then, glancing about the shack's modest innards, tasting its bitter cleanliness at the back of his throat. This wasn't a dwelling; it was a clinic. Or, more appropriately, a tomb. The warning Zoro's senses had detected earlier started to make sense; people had died here, and it was making him more uncomfortable than a usual clinic would have. "What's going on?" he asked abruptly, ignoring the stares it earned him. "Does this really concern us?"
Robin's eyes darkened slightly, but before she could respond a quiet voice interrupted them from the next room. "Aunt Nella?" There was a pause, followed by a weak cough not unlike that of the doctor a moment ago. Zoro swore under his breath—it was a goddamned kid. "Who is that?"
Robin met Zoro's gaze briefly, but firmly, and then she was gone. They could hear her voice float back through the open doorway, kind and reassuring. That bothered him even more, and he turned away, scratching the back of his neck. "Hey, Luffy," he said lowly. "Let's just go back—we can't do anything here."
"Not yet," Luffy replied. Somehow he knew he'd say that. "You don't have to stay."
As if he was just going to walk out. He was beginning to understand, and though it should have given him a little more sympathy for Robin, he just had a vaguely sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He blamed the foul air.
"Doctor." Clinging faintly to Zoro's pant leg Chopper watched the elderly man from under his hat. "Can I…help, sir?"
Zoro held his breath, wary as to what the man's reaction to Chopper would be. To their surprise and relief he merely blinked down at the reindeer. "Oh, hello there little fellow. You'd like…to help?" He coughed again, more violently than before.
"Geez. Keep it together, doc," Zoro said. "Can you really treat patients like this?"
The doctor shook his head doggedly. "Not well, son, but I can look after the two of us well enough." There was only one chair in the small foyer, and he lowered himself into it with all the shaky awkwardness of a man twenty years older than him. "And I'm the only one willing to take care of him."
"Is it…Pallera?" Chopper asked shyly.
Zoro cocked an eye. "Is that contagious?"
"No. But it attacks the bones, weakening the joints and immune system. It's…." Chopper lowered his head. "…without cure."
The doctor hummed thoughtfully. "A good diagnosis, little fellow. You're a doctor, are you?" When Chopper nodded in embarrassment he smiled. "Must be easier for the little ones if you treat them looking like that. I never had the imagination for it, myself." He waved vaguely at the next room, where a pair of indistinct voices could be heard. "If you're here to see him, you might as well go in. It's probably a good thing you came when you did."
The doctor then picked himself up and shuffled into one of the other rooms, leaving the trio to themselves. Chopper tugged at Zoro's pant leg. "What did he mean, about not having imagination?"
"He thinks you're in a costume," Zoro said with a wry smirk. The expression quickly faded as they at last entered the room with Robin. She was seated on the edge of the small bed occupied by a single young boy; he looked to be a mere eleven years old, with shaggy brown hair that was left somewhat long to disguise his sunken cheeks. His eyes, though bright with childish curiosity, were burdened and weary. Zoro could have encircled both the boy's thin arms with one hand. It only took one glance to know the kid was dying—if not simply by the state of him, then the heavy weight that seemed to have settled between Robin's shoulder blades. They shouldn't have come here.
"Tobi, this is Luffy, Zoro, and TonyTony Chopper," Robin introduced, her smile thin but sincere. "They're pirates."
The boy's face lit up, and for a moment it looked as if his illness had lifted a little. "Pirates? Really?" He glanced between Luffy and Zoro, awed, before his gaze landed on Chopper. "Him, too?"
"Of course!" Luffy replied immediately. He was suddenly back to himself once more, all grins and exuberance. "Chopper is our ship's doctor. He's pretty cool, isn't he?" Without hesitation he plunked himself down on the other side of the bed. "We're really strong, too. The rest of us are on the ship."
"Ship?" Tobi echoed, growing even more interested. "You have a real pirate ship with a flag? And a skull?"
"This is the Grand Line," Zoro muttered. "There are pirates everywhere."
The boy glanced away briefly. "I've…never seen one."
Chopper tugged himself onto the bed as well. "You've been here for a long time, huh?"
Though Tobi obviously hadn't seen a talking reindeer before, he took the surprise well, laughing as he poked Chopper's nose. "Yeah. I've been sick for a long time." His voice remained light despite the answers he was giving. "I haven't left this shack in over a year. I haven't…left this bed in weeks. But…." He turned his gaze on Robin, who almost flinched beneath it. "Aunt Nella comes to visit. She tells me all about the other islands, about the pirates. And I have Dr. Icole, so I'm not lonely."
"Hmm. Sounds like a familiar story," Zoro murmured to himself.
"Hey." Luffy's face lit up the way it did when he was planning something. "Do you want to see it? Our pirate ship."
Tobi sat up straighter, and would have responded immediately if not for the cough that racked his frail body. Chopper steadied him until he'd caught his breath once more. "Yes," the boy at last croaked. "Yes, can I? Aunt Nella, can I?"
Robin nodded slightly. "If the captain says it's okay."
"Good! Then it's settled." Luffy turned around to offer his back. "I'll take you there, so just hold on, okay? Then you can see a group of real pirates!"
Zoro stood back as Tobi hooked his arms around Luffy's neck. The boy could barely do it by himself, he was so weak, and his legs were so spindly that they probably couldn't have supported even his slight weight. It was chilling to watch him, so emaciated and frail; to think that a human body could be reduced to such a state. He glanced uncomfortably away until Luffy had lifted his charge out of the bed and the room with Chopper just behind. Robin hesitated, as he figured she might, and he took the opportunity. "Hey."
Robin stood, her face calm and unreadable as always. "You don't have to worry," she told him easily as she headed for the door. "Didn't the doctor tell you? It's not contagious."
"Then what are they doing out here?" Zoro retorted. "Just the two of them, so far away from any village? The doctor's got it as bad as the kid. Neither of them is gonna last."
She swept idly at her hair. "Isn't it obvious? Who else would take care of them?" Her expression softened. "There aren't many islands like this on the Grand Line, you know. It's so small that some Logue Poses don't even register it. There isn't anything here that a pirate could want, and the people that do live here have everything they need. So…they're simple."
She folded her arms, moving to the door even though the trio had left already. "They don't understand an illness like this, and they're afraid. No one wants to risk their own children for the sake of some orphan. But for someone like me it's easy to stop by, tell him a story and be a hero. I could probably do more for him, but…."
"I didn't come here for your family history," Zoro interrupted. "I just want to know why you brought us here."
Robin lifted and eyebrow. "No one invited you."
Rolling his eyes, Zoro started to leave. "Whatever."
"I wanted him to meet a real pirate."
Zoro paused. He hadn't expected her to give him a straight answer, and now he wasn't sure he wanted it. "I never told him the kind of work I really do," she continued anyway. "And he always wanted to meet a real pirate, so…." She chuckled. "I'm sure you'll agree that if that's anyone, it's our captain." She winked as she at last followed their companions.
By now mildly baffled and thoroughly annoyed, Zoro followed as well. He had to remind himself again that he trusted Luffy's judgment in accepting Robin, whatever mysteries she held. This was just a selfish whim of hers; it couldn't hurt.
When they returned to the ship everyone was curious as to the thin little boy Luffy carried. He explained only briefly, asking that they take the ship out just so that they could get on to open ocean. "Tobi wants to see what it's really like as a pirate," he said. "So we're gonna take a short trip."
The rest of the crew exchanged glances, but agreed without question. A few short minutes later the anchor was lifted, and Going Merry was heading out to sea with the orange glow of sunset against her starboard hull. Luffy treated their guest to his favorite spot on the ship's headpiece. Zoro and the rest of the crew kept their distance, and it was only then that he found a chance to give them the details. "The kid's a friend of Robin's, and he's probably dying," he told them, casting an eye at Robin herself on the other side of the deck. "It's kind of like…a last request, I guess." He scratched the back of his head awkwardly. "Damn unfair if you ask me, dragging us into her guilt trip."
"It's not so bad, is it?" Nami asked quietly. She folded her arms as if chilled by the evening wind. "The poor thing…."
"Yeah, but Luffy…" Usopp started to say. He pursed his lips worriedly, and they all glanced briefly to the figure of their captain. He looked the same as he always did, and every once in a while a bony arm would appear around him to point at a freshly borne star on the horizon.
"Don't worry about Luffy," Zoro assured, gathering their attention back. "Just watch Robin and the ship, so we can get this over with."
Sanji exhaled a thin trail of smoke. "That's awfully sympathetic of you," he replied dryly.
Zoro glared at him sharply, but Nami stepped between them before they could start an argument. "Come on, guys, let's just do what we can, okay? We just have to go out a little ways and come back and he'll be happy. Sanji, how about you make us something for dessert? I'm sure Tobi would like that."
His focus immediately diverted, Sanji was quick to agree. "Of course, Miss Nami. I'd be more than happy to." With one last glare at Zoro he disappeared into the kitchen.
The rest of them dispersed, trying to look casual and uninterested as they went about their business. Zoro stayed near the cabin door, arms folded and face grim. He hated to admit how much this entire situation was bothering him, even if it was obvious to everyone else by now. He wasn't sure exactly why; they'd helped people like this before. It was Luffy's nature. And it wasn't as if he'd never been around sick people before, either. He just didn't like how quiet everything seemed. Luffy was sitting so comfortably that from this angle no one would have noticed the boy in his lap. And yet…with what remained of the day slipping beneath the skyline, the faint lap of the waves, and Luffy so quiet where he was usually his most lively, the effect was eerie. He wasn't sure to make of it, other than that it disturbed him.
An hour later Zoro crossed the deck. He wasn't sure what had made him realize, as Luffy hadn't made any indication, but a moment later he was leaning against the railing next to Going Merry's headpiece. "Hey." He kept his gaze forward, toward the sea. "He's dead, isn't he."
"Yeah." Luffy shifted slightly, and when Zoro glanced over he caught a glimpse of the boy's face, calm and quiet, as if asleep. "A little while ago."
Zoro sighed softly. Maybe it had been his own intuition warning him all along. "Well, it was kind of inevitable—we all saw what bad shape he was in." He paused; he still didn't like the quiet. "You okay?"
"Hm?" Luffy glanced back. "Where's Robin?"
"I'm here." This time Zoro heard the woman's approach; her footfalls were a little heavier than before, and the rest of their companions were a few steps behind. She slipped up beside Zoro, and a hand bloomed from Luffy's knee so she could check Tobi's wrist. After a still and silent moment the hand vanished. "Thank you, Luffy," she said quietly, her smile rueful but sincere. "For taking care of him."
"Sure." Luffy turned only his head back, as if shielding the dead boy from the others' view. "He told me to thank everyone—especially Robin—for looking out for him. He wanted you to know he didn't regret anything."
Robin lowered her head, though she couldn't hide the slight movement that scrubbed at her eyes. "Thank you."
Nami took a step closer to put a hand on Robin's shoulder in sympathy. "He would have been a good pirate."
There was a brief silence as everyone bowed their heads a little, respectful towards the loss of life. Zoro turned his eyes back to the sea. Maybe it had been worth stopping, to give Robin and her young friend a little peace. This crew had been through much worse, after all, and soon enough everything would be back to normal. Or at least, he thought so until he heard a dull splash along the ship's hull.
"H…Hey Luffy," Usopp's voice spoke up just after, exasperated. "How could you drop him like—"
Zoro hid a quiet curse as he turned back; Luffy was now, as he'd feared, alone on the head piece, and the object of several disbelieving stares. He should have known better than to expect Luffy could handle all this gracefully. "Hey…."
"He said he wanted to die out at sea," Luffy explained as if it were the most obvious and natural thing in the world. "Like a pirate."
"So you just dump him overboard?" Nami retorted angrily. "How could you? Don't you feel sorry for him at all?"
"You could have at least waited for us to get back to the island," Sanji agreed around a cigarette. "So we could give him a proper burial."
But Luffy regarded them with a blank, easy expression. "It doesn't really make a difference, does it? He's already dead, and it's not like we could come back to visit a grave anyway."
"Hey Luffy—" Zoro started to protest again.
Nami beat him to it by a long shot. "So you think it's okay to throw him out anywhere?" she snapped, her fists curling stiffly at her sides. Usopp and Chopper each took a small step away from her. "Like a piece of trash to be eaten by sharks, or sink alone to the bottom?"
"No." Luffy frowned at her slightly. "Like a pirate."
She ground her teeth, and if he hadn't been out of range she looked as if she would have struck him. "You—"
"Besides, he won't be lonely," Luffy interrupted as he turned back around. "That old man won't be alive much longer, either."
This time nearly everyone started to object, appalled by their captain's seemingly callous response. Zoro remained silent, unnerved by the entire situation. They shouldn't be fighting over something like this. But just when he was about to intervene Nami caught their attention again.
"And what about us?" she demanded, and the rest of the crew immediately quieted. Luffy sat up a bit straighter but didn't speak. "When we die, will you just throw us overboard, too?"
"Nami." Robin set a hand on the girl's shoulder, silencing her and whatever reply Luffy might have given. "It's all right." She lifted her chin slightly. "Thank you, Luffy. If it's what Tobi wanted it's enough for me, and I'm sure Dr. Icole would agree."
Nami's expression hardened, and with a sudden growl of frustration she jerked away from Robin's hand. "Luffy…you idiot! You don't know anything!" And with that she stormed off, disappearing into her workroom with the door slamming shut behind her.
The rest of them exchanged glances, and it was Robin who spoke first. "We'll be back at Bluebell in a little while," she told them, uncharacteristically subdued. "I'll keep an eye on the ship until then in case you all wanted to get some rest. Sanji?"
He blinked, standing upright. "Um, yes?"
"There's still some of that dessert left, isn't there? I think we could all use some."
"Oh, sure. In the kitchen." Sanji glanced between her and Luffy, and with a snort tossed the remains of his cigarette overboard. "Whatever," he muttered, stepping away from the scene. And then back to Robin, "There's plenty, Miss Robin, and I'd be more than happy to make you and some fruit tea along with it."
"Thank you, Sanji. I'd appreciate it."
The pair moved off, and after a hesitant moment Usopp rubbed at his nose and followed. Chopper looked like he might question the remaining two, but then thought better of it, and with a frown hurried after Usopp, leaving Luffy and Zoro alone at the front of the ship.
Zoro sighed, scratching the back of his head as he leaned against the railing. "Shit, what a mess." He fell abruptly silent as he thought back through the short exchange and the events preceding it. He would have liked to disappear below deck and sleep the rest of the night away, but it didn't seem right to leave Luffy there by himself. Not that he knew what to say. He couldn't say he disagreed with Luffy's logic, but it still left a bitter taste at the back of his throat. "Hey, Luffy."
"Are you mad, too?"
Zoro frowned. "No, I'm not."
"Well, good." Luffy rubbed idly at his ankle. "It's not like she knew him."
Zoro's frown deepened; though it was an obvious answer, he still didn't like hearing Luffy talk like that. "She's just worked up," he offered, assuming he meant Nami. He wasn't good at this kind of thing. The truth was he didn't really care what happened to one dead kid—it wasn't their business or their responsibility. But he couldn't help imagining himself kneeling before a wide, white tombstone, his head bowed respectfully…it was simply the way he'd been taught. The more he thought about it, the more he had to admit that it might have even been important to him. "Besides, Nami's lost important people in her life," he added. "Having a grave is a way of showing respect to the dead—of remembering them."
"That doesn't make sense," Luffy retorted lightly. "If you need something like that to remember someone, that's not very respectful. It means you're already forgetting."
"That…." Zoro scowled faintly when he couldn't think of a suitable counterargument. "It's not like that." He could never forget—was almost insulted by the accusation—and he thought hard to come up with something to retort. "What about your hat?" he asked sharply. "It belonged to someone important to you, right? How is that any different?"
He knew it was the wrong thing to say long before the words left him; any of the others would have known better than to bring the hat into things. He was already wincing as Luffy sat up straighter, his eyes thinning. "Because the man who it belongs to isn't dead."
"I didn't want to bury him," Luffy said abruptly, the tone in his voice indicating he was putting the matter to rest. "He's dead, and it won't do anyone any good to put him in the ground. Because people don't go to graves to remember happy things. If Robin wants to remember her friend happily, she should do it telling stories to other kids."
Zoro stared up at him, startled and a little awed. Luffy had sounded older just then, even if his logic was childishly simple as always. He hadn't expected it, and he felt almost guilty for doubting him earlier. "If you'd said that to Nami," he said with a thoughtful smile, "she wouldn't have been so upset."
"I would have, if she hadn't left."
"Yeah." Zoro released a heavy breath, feeling a little relieved, even if he didn't quite agree with all of Luffy's reasoning. The bottom of the ocean wasn't any better than a hole in the ground. But he wanted that issue over, which was why he was surprised when he found himself asking, "What about…what she said? About us?"
"No one's gonna die," Luffy answered immediately. "I'll protect ya."
Zoro rolled his eyes. Leave it to Luffy to bypass a perfectly serious question. Though in truth maybe he was better off not knowing. "Now Luffy," he told him knowingly. "That's not how it works. A pirate crew is only as strong as its captain—it's our job to protect you with our lives, you know."
He'd meant it half in jest to lift Luffy's spirits a little, but when Zoro glanced up to find his captain's eyes heavily on him he paused. Luffy's face was serious, with all that mysterious maturity from a moment ago. "Don't die for me, Zoro."
Zoro took a step away from the railing, one hand lingering on the wood as he speechlessly met the boy's gaze. Even as his eyebrows drew together, his lips parting to respond, he could find no words. The night was strange, and there was something in the wind that suspended him, until…
The last sliver of daylight extinguished in the sea, and with a smile Luffy jumped off Going Merry's head. "Well," he declared brightly, "I'm gonna go see if there's any dessert left." Adjusting his hat more firmly on his head he started back towards the cabin.
"H…hey, Luffy," Zoro called him back, and when the boy turned his face was just as boyish and lively as ever, making him feel foolish for having taken him so seriously. With a sigh he dragged a hand over his face, trying to force away all the evening's oddities. It wasn't like them to brood like this.
"Don't worry about the others," Zoro assured as he came forward, patting Luffy on the shoulder. "By tomorrow everything will be back to normal." He smiled slightly as they headed inside. "You did good tonight, Luffy."
"Yeah." He ducked his head so that Zoro could only see the faint grin curling his lips. "Thanks, Zoro."
"Sure." Zoro glanced back only briefly, taking one last look at the head of the ship. He frowned when he realized with a dull ache that the image of Luffy seated so quietly against the sunset wouldn't leave him for a long time.