Set between Loguetown and Reverse Mountain. If the anime can fit an entire arc in there, then darn it, so can I.
I blame this on all the great writers out there who aren't writing me ridiculous One Piece angst, thus forcing me to write it myself.
The setting sun turned the smooth sea to plains of gold and scarlet. If one crossed enough of that expanse, eventually on the horizon the keen-eyed might spot a ship, cleaving through the waters with a sheep-shaped figurehead, broad sail emblazoned with a distinctive Jolly Roger just starting to gain notoriety around the world.
It was evening, and all was well on the Going Merry. Sanji did dishes, humming tunelessly, while Zoro took an after-dinner nap on the deck, the boards still warm from the sunny day. Usopp had been fishing but was presently distracted by the elaborate yarn he was spinning to an audience of sleepy seagulls, who seemed no more inclined to believe him than anyone on the ship. Luffy, sitting cross-legged on the sheep's wooden head, was the only one watching the gory shades of sunset spread across the sky.
Nami, poring over their maps, wrinkled her nose as she squinted at the tiny text in the sunset's dimming light. Shoving errant bangs out of her eyes, she looked up from the charts and rubbed her neck, glancing at their erstwhile captain on his perch, one hand clapped to his straw hat to keep the wind from blowing it off. She wondered if she should warn him not to stare directly at the sun, shrugged and decided it was a lost cause. "Sanji-kun," she called instead, "would you mind bringing me a lamp?"
"Right away, Nami-san!" Sanji caroled. Dishes and drawers clattered, and a moment later he was there, brightly burning lamp in hand. "Shall I hold it for you? Is this good?"
"Little higher, " she requested, gesturing until the circle of light was cast on the charts. "Great. Thank you." While Sanji stood as rigid as an iron lamppost to keep the light steady, she studied the illuminated text, making out the crabbed handwriting with difficulty. The man who had sold her these charts had sworn up the East Blue and down the South that they were true, but his cartographer apparently didn't believe in neatness to match the accuracy. She looked forward to producing a legible map of this area, but until she had seen for herself that this one could be believed she didn't want to spare the effort. If she were reading it correctly, however...
"Oi, Nami?" Luffy's tousled head dropped between lamp and chart, the rest of him hanging from one of the mandarin trees.
Before she could shove him out of the light, Sanji had whapped him with a ladle. "Off! You'll break the branches!"
"Eh, I haven't before," Luffy remarked, nimbly swinging down onto the table and bending his legs into a knot. "So what's on the map, Nami?"
"Not much," Nami said. "But this current--"
"Any islands? 'Cause Sanji was saying we're almost out of meat."
"How can we be out of meat? We stocked up with a month's worth!"
"Don't look at me, Nami-san--"
"I'm not, Sanji-kun," Nami assured him, glaring at their captain.
Luffy stared back, wide-eyed as always, idly tapping his sandal soles together. "It wasn't a month's worth. It's only been a week. What's the current?"
Nami, posed with her hand spread for smacking, paused and looked back down at the maps. "The current. Yes. We're on it now. It's called the Far North, and it flows directly down from the arctic. If you looked at the water today you'd have seen it's a different color--it's a lot colder, which is--"
"Not good for swimming?"
"You can't swim anyway," Sanji reminded Luffy, then eagerly continued, "But if it's a cold-water current, it might carry cold-water fish. A nice salmon--"
"As I was saying," Nami continued, and Sanji ducked his head apologetically, "the current's useful, because it's helping us along the route we want, but the temperature is a problem, since it brings a cold front with it."
She waited, but Luffy only cocked his head curiously, while Sanji was closed-mouth as a clam, hanging on her every word. Nami sighed and shook her head. "Cold front. Hitting tropical climate." They still were silent, so she spelled it out. "There's typhoons here. Big ones. A lot."
"Can't be as big as the one I saw," Usopp called from the stern. "I remember it like it was yesterday, there was this towering--wait, did you say typhoon? Here?"
Luffy laughed. "Ooh! A typhoon!"
Zoro cracked an eye open. "What the hell are you so excited about, moron? We've been through storms before."
"Eh? What about a storm?"
"You mean it's not food?"
"There probably isn't one coming now," Usopp remarked as he ambled over. "The gulls don't think so."
"Usopp, you talk to birds?"
"Of course! When I was still a baby, a finch flew in the window and perched on my cradle and told me I was to be--"
"He's right," Zoro said, getting up and stretching with spine-popping thoroughness. "The seagulls would've gotten out of here if a storm were coming."
"Oh. You mean like that?" Luffy inquired, pointing to the angular silhouettes of the birds diving through the navy sky, back the way they had come. A sharp, chill gust of wind blew the gulls on their way and ripped at the sails, the lines whipping and cracking against the cloth. Nami shivered, rubbing the sudden goosebumps on her bare arms.
"Here, Nami-san." Sanji draped his jacket over her shoulders.
"Thanks," Nami said distractedly, her eyes on the gulls. The first stars were beginning to twinkle behind them. Slowly she turned, peered past the bow at the horizon. The last glow of the sun shimmered on the waves, but the thick clouds gathering above them swallowed that light. "Guys," she said, and had to raise her voice over the sail flapping in the wind, "We should get ready for that storm..."
The rain started just as Zoro and Usopp were drawing the tarp over the mandarin grove. Usopp hurried around it, hammering in the pegs to secure it against the wind as fat drops splattered against the oiled cloth. Sanji and Luffy were finishing tying up the sails, while Nami fought to keep the Going Merry on an even keel. Zoro, ducking under a stray line, saw her brace herself to haul on the helm with all her weight, and the hull creaked as they slowly turned into the wind.
The Going Merry tilted wildly as a wave rocked them; Nami yelped a curse as she slipped and fell, and the helm tore out of her hands. Zoro swore, too, and lunged for it, grabbing the stick with both hands and wrenching it back, his arms straining. Nami picked herself up off the floor, balancing against the rocking as she wrung water from her shirt--a futile effort, as the wind dashed what felt like buckets of rain through the door to match the ocean's spray. Shoulders hunched under Sanji's jacket against the piercing drops, she pushed Zoro out of the way and took firm hold of the helm. "I've got it," she yelled over the shrieking wind. "Help Sanji and Luffy!"
Back on deck, Zoro could just barely make them out through the rain and darkness, Sanji precariously hanging on the mast, trying to secure the sails with his blond hair whipping in his eyes, while Luffy below held the lowered boom still. The rope had snapped, its unraveling ends whipping in the wind, so Luffy had braced it by wrapping a rubber leg around the quarterdeck rail and his arms around the wooden shaft. But as the wind caught the bundled sails it slammed the boom back, and Luffy stretched with it, protesting with a high-pitched, "Stop stop stop!!"
And that was why tackle wasn't made of elastic. Zoro put his back to the wooden beam and shoved, swinging the boom back in place and restoring Luffy to some semblance of a normal shape. "Thank you!" Luffy hollered.
"Go get more rope!" Zoro shouted back, fighting to find purchase on the water-slick boards. The deck dipped, leveled again as the sea drew back, calm before the worst of the storm. "I can't hold this!"
He saw the wave coming, a giant slope of water sliding toward them with deceptive pace, and braced himself.
Only to lose his footing entirely when the ship rocked crazily in the opposite direction, bouncing up as if it had been served like a volley ball and crashing down again into the stormy waters. His feet slid out from under him, sending him thudding to the deck with a splash, and the boom swooped over his head like a massive scythe.
"What was that!!?" he heard Nami shriek, beating him to it. Above him Sanji shouted something he couldn't understand, clinging to the mast for dear life. Then Luffy's elongated arms shot past him, grabbing the boom and using the rubber rebound to haul it back.
"INCOMING!" Sanji's cry resolved into words, and Zoro, scrambling up, whirled around to see the tsunami upon them.
"Wow!" Luffy shouted, staring up at the rippling black mountain of water tumbling toward them.
Zoro had just enough time to grab the stray end of the line formerly securing the boom, and the wave crashed down, a wall of water sweeping over them. He squeezed his eyes shut and locked his fists around the rope, as the water pounded and tore at him like a deranged liquid lion.
Then the wave had passed, leaving the quarterdeck puddled with seawater.
And entirely Luffy-free.
"Luffy!!" Zoro bellowed, and charged for the rail, staring through the night at the dark, roiling sea. So intent was he on those swirling waves that he didn't notice the boom, released from Luffy's grasp, swinging around, until the moment it connected with the back of his head.
It would have been all right if he had been braced for it; it would have been better still if that hadn't been the exact spot where that damn bounty hunter with the chain mace had tried to crack open his skull last week. Shit, he thought as light exploded in the darkness, that hurts--
He was dreaming, a wild sort of nightmare, loud with howling wind, cold and dark but for a slice of yellow light, swinging back and forth like a slashing sword. He tried to grab it, but the light passed through his fingers.
He heard voices, but they were as hard to grasp as the light, comprehension slipping in and out of focus so that he only got fragments through the noise. "Dammit, Sanji--" "He's not--" "breathe, please, just--"
The lamp swung away to cast its gold on a tableau just out of reach. There was Sanji, lying on the cabin floor, and Nami, of all things, was bent over him, lips pressed to his. Definitely a dream. Especially since Sanji didn't look happy about this turn of events, lying still with his eyes closed and his face so pale it was gray even in the golden light. One would think he would be slightly more interested in Nami's kiss. Maybe the way Usopp was beating on his chest was dampening his enthusiasm. Or how Nami seemed to be crying. But that could just be the rain, though only her cheeks were wet.
The light swung back toward him, throwing them into shadow, so except for their voices they might not be there at all. Something clattered behind him, and then wind ripped into the room, pelting him with rain and extinguishing the lamp, plunging everything back into the void.
He still couldn't see a damned thing, but gradually he realized he could again make sense of the voices he was hearing, when he tried. The wind was muted, and there was something scratchy weighing him down. A blanket, he realized, and since it was also keeping him warm he decided not to throw it off.
"If I'd gone in right away--"
"Then you and Sanji both might've--"
"But I should've tried, I should've done something--"
"You did, Usopp. If you hadn't gotten Sanji, he would have drowned, t-too."
"He'll be all right, Nami. He's warming up now, he's gonna be fine. No lie."
It's more convincing if you sound like you believe it yourself, idiot, Zoro would have muttered, though who was he to give advice to the champion liar? Besides, when he tried to speak his tongue got tangled up in the words and what came out sounded more like a groan than sarcasm.
"Zoro?" Nami's voice, but it was strangely unsteady. One of her hands wrapped around his, squeezing his fingers. "Zoro, you're awake? Thank goodness..."
"Mmm." He would have been more inclined to agree if his stomach hadn't been heaving like the stormy waves outside. Seasickness was a new and unwelcome experience. With effort he quashed that annoyance, drew in enough air to mumble, "'m fine."
He tried to sit up, but in the darkness couldn't tell if he were managing it, and besides Nami was pushing him flat again--and when the hell had she gotten so strong? "No, you just keep lying down--you got banged pretty hard there. The storm's dying down, and Usopp and I have things covered. Everything's--everything's fine."
Something about what she was saying didn't quite make sense, but he couldn't put together what was wrong. Nami's slender fingers were crushing his own between them, almost painfully. "So you just take it easy, okay, Zoro?"
There was a forced calm in her voice that made him think if he could see her eyes, he might find that look in them, that same drawn, haunted anger he had seen there in Arlong Park. He strained to see, but could make out nothing. "Why's it so damn dark?"
"The lamp blew out," Nami said, "and we can't find any dry matches to relight it."
Well, at least it wasn't from the clout to the head. Going blind would have made becoming the world's greatest swordsman slightly more difficult. "Ask Sanji. He's always got a light."
He heard a strange, high giggle, but Nami still sounded calm when she replied, "That's a good idea. We'll ask him."
The wind's howling outside picked up and then fell away, so he could hear the waves crashing against the hull, but not anywhere near as fierce as they had been. And Nami said it was passing. She was good at reading storms; he could believe her in that. If only there were light, so he could see for himself..."If everything's okay..."
"You take it easy," she said again. For a moment her hand rested across his forehead, a touch light as a moth's, and then it withdrew.
The storm was ending, the ship was still afloat, there was nothing to fight. He closed his eyes, was drifting off when he realized what had been bothering him. "...Where's Luffy, anyway?"
But he was asleep before he heard Nami's reply.
to be continued...