HOT WATER

Outside the baths there was shouting. This was annoying. It spoiled the whole effect of detachment from the world that Tashigi had been carefully cultivating for the last hour of hot bath. It was difficult to pretend that there was a world where heroic Marines always got their man (and their bounty-hunting swordsman in particular) when people outside the baths were yelling about catching the pirate.

Devil Fruit powers were really badly organised, she reflected drowsily. There ought to be one that allowed the eater to provide hot steamy baths at a moment's notice.

Sadly, the town itself had been a disappointment. There had been no trace of Straw Hat Luffy and his disreputable crew here. Colonel Smoker had cleared out several of the local bars on general principles, arrested everyone who tried attacking him, and was currently conducting an interrogation upstairs in the hotel which they were occupying. Apparently he'd said something about it being ace, which should mean that he'd be in a good mood next morning.

Tashigi sat bolt upright in her bath. That shout had been from somewhere in the hotel and -- and -- yes, they had said Zoro, they had definitely been yelling about Roronoa Zoro!

Life was good. A hot bath and Roronoa Zoro all in the same night.

With one hand she grabbed her glasses. With the other hand she grabbed her sword. Equipped for all eventualities, she charged out into the corridor.


She padded down the corridor like a hunting cheetah, leaving a trail of wet footprints behind her. The sound of shouting had come, no, was still coming from round the corner just there, and with the delighted anticipation of finally being able to duel that bastard as he deserved, she rounded the corner to see Roronoa Zoro himself, together with Sanji the cook (reported technique heir to Red Foot Zeff, definitely falling into the Guilt By Association, Arrest Now And Sort Out Later category). They were currently cornered by a knot of servers, but by the way that Roronoa Zoro was chewing on his sword hilt, the servers were about to regret the cornering.

"Roronoa Zoro!" she shouted. "I have you at last!"

All eyes shifted to her direction. The cook developed a rapid nosebleed, clasped his hands to his heart, and fell to the ground moaning.

The servers looked at her, looked at Roronoa, and backed away, leaving her a clear field of attack.

Roronoa Zoro was perspiring in his usual cowardly way. "I told you before," he yelled, "I can't look at your face! Get a new one!"

"Then don't look at my face!" she shouted back. "Making excuses again! Wimp!"

"Impersonator!"

"Bounty hunter!"

Suddenly a look of low and malignant cunning crept across his piratical face. "If I can't look at your face," he snarled, "I'll find something else to look at!"

His eyes fixed themselves on her chest.

Oh yes. The towel. Or rather, the absence of towel. But it wasn't as if a towel was necessary while chasing pirates in the same way that a sword was. She raised her sword with a snarl of her own.

Sanji the cook came back to life like a jack-in-the-box, and catapulted himself from the floor into a blazing kick at Roronoa, screaming something indecipherable about how dare he look at her. (Or was that at women in general? The way he was foaming at the mouth made it hard to understand his words.)

Tashigi chewed her lip, and paused for a moment, not wanting to attack Roronoa when he was at a disadvantage from temporarily insane crewmates.

With a growl of fury, Roronoa grasped his swords and slammed Sanji through the wall, then chased after him.

This was quite simply unfair. Was she to be done out of her rightful claim on Roronoa's sword? Tashigi stalked after him.


Men's baths. Somewhat steamy. She would have wiped her glasses if she'd had anything to wipe them with.

Long-nosed character cowering in far bath with tip of nose protruding above water, pointing at hole in wall. "They went that way!"

Tentative identification of long-nosed character as Usopp, also member of Straw Hat Luffy's crew, back of head visible on one of the wanted posters.

Small fluffy object in overly large towel attempting to hide behind corner of bath tentatively identified as Tony Tony Chopper, aka What The Fuck Is That, aka No Really, aka Oh Well I Suppose He's No Weirder Than The Rest Of Them, according to Colonel Smoker's annotations on the Alabasta report.

Both lower priority than Roronoa Zoro. Right.

Tashigi charged through the inviting new hole in the opposite side of the room.


The next room was also part of the men's baths, and was also occupied, though by nobody she knew. She had one steam-blurred glimpse of two men in the corner, one giving the other a massage of some sort, when a long unidentified object viciously tangled itself with her ankles and sent her to the floor. Her glasses bounced off across the room in a succession of musical pings. Once again she was grateful for the fact that she'd paid for the Anything Up To And Including Cannonfire, And We Guarantee It lenses and frame.

"Is something the matter, miss?" enquired the red-haired blob in the corner.

"Nothing at all," Tashigi said hastily, groping across the floor for her glasses. She touched something. No, that wasn't her glasses. It seemed to be a long gun of some sort.

"I'm afraid that's mine, miss," said the dark-haired blob, making his way across to take it off her. "Are you chasing those men who just came through?"

"I am! The scum! The pirates!" Tashigi began a hopeful diagonal sweep across the floor.

"I'm fairly sure this never used to happen to -- um, anyone we know," Red-Haired Blob commented over her head. There was something odd about his silhouette. He seemed to be missing part of the right side of his body. Perhaps it was the way the towel draped.

"Here you are, miss," said Dark-Haired Blob, passing the glasses to her. "Don't let us delay you."

Tashigi took the glasses with a murmur of thanks, hastily jammed them back onto her face, and returned to the pursuit.


She paused to look up the stairwell towards Colonel Smoker's suite. Perhaps she should ask for his help? It looked as if the whole of Straw Hat Luffy's crew was here, after all . . .

As she hesitated, a gout of flame nearly made it from the bedroom doors to the stairwell before being restrained and pulled back by a long coil of white smoke.

Oh well. Clearly Colonel Smoker was still busy with interrogations. She'd just have to sort things out herself.


This was the kitchen. Tashigi deduced this from a thousand tiny points; the odours, the kitchen equipment, the screaming cooks running past her, the dozing figure with the straw hat sprawled across the centre table and surrounded by empty plates. Straw Hat Luffy was apparently so fast asleep that he hadn't been woken up by the vigorous argument taking place approximately six inches above his head.

"Grass-brained moron!"

"Useless cook!"

This was a nuisance. Perhaps a stronger-minded Marine would have charged in and knocked both Roronoa and Sanji over their heads while they were busy fighting each other, but she couldn't bring herself to do that to a swordsman like Roronoa, however much he perverted the beauty of his blades.

While trying to work out what to do, she walked forward and grabbed one of Straw Hat Luffy's ankles, hauling him out of the way. He came with a stretch and a bounce, rebounding to crash off the wall before landing at her feet and looking up at her blearily.

"Where are the others?" she demanded.

"They said something about wanting a peaceful night and that meaning not staying where we were." Straw Hat Luffy gawped, eyes wide and round, as he developed a nosebleed. "Did you know you aren't . . . wearing . . . any . . . clothes . . ."

Tashigi hit him over the head with the pommel of her sword. He went back to sleep.

This wasn't working. "Roronoa Zoro!" she yelled. "Turn and face me!"

That didn't work either.

"Excuse me." She turned to see an unfortunately far too familiar Nico Robin, in cowboy hat, flanked by the navigator Nami. "Do you mind if we take these nuisances out of the hotel?"

Tashigi briefly thought about kicking Straw Hat Luffy in the head, just for a fleeting moment of satisfaction. "He's under arrest," she said stubbornly. "So are you. In fact, so is everyone in this room."

"Right. That makes things nice and straightforward," Nico Robin said pleasantly. "Now why don't the two of us have a little talk in private while those two," she nodded over her shoulder at the still-fighting Roronoa and Sanji, "get sweaty together."

Tashigi considered her options. There was such a thing as a cause which was not only totally lost, it was sunk in the deepest trench of the Grand Line and picked over by big toothy sea monsters. "All right," she conceded.

"We'll be in the women's baths, Nami," Nico Robin commented as she led Tashigi away. "Haul Luffy back to the ship, will you?"


The next morning, the hotel was empty of all except Marines. (And hotel staff, but they didn't count.) Colonel Smoker was brooding, doubtless over his failure to obtain information from whichever pirate he'd been interrogating the night before. This didn't stop him from drinking five large mugs of black coffee and two jugs of freshly squeezed orange juice, and eating three whole grapefruit raw. Combined with the oysters, it might even have made a suspicious person suspect a hangover.

Tashigi was not a suspicious person. She knew it was a hangover. She made a mental note as to what seemed to work, with intentions of trying it herself later.

"On the positive side," Smoker grunted as he shoved away the plate of empty oyster shells, "they can't be far off. We're only a day behind them."

"Yes, colonel!" Tashigi declared enthusiastically. Next time, she would not be distracted by steam and hot water and alcohol and other, well, distracting things.

"To the ship!" Smoker stated.

"Yes, sir!" the Marines bellowed in unison.

"And bring some more black coffee," Smoker ordered Tashigi. "It's going to be one of those days."

It was, Tashigi reflected through the little starbursts going off at the back of her head. On the other hand, it had definitely been one of those nights before.