A One Piece Fanfic by Digitaldreamer
Chapter Thirteen: Yours and Mine
…Wow. This is really it, isn't it? The last chapter of Dominoes…I have so many things I'd like to say to you all, but I'll save it for the end.
I'm really worried about this chapter. Things besides angst are not really my forte, so I hope I did an okay job. Xx I'm so scared that everyone's horribly OOC this chapter and that this will derail the entire fic and just ruin it for you all!
But then, that's a bit pessimistic, so I'll stop thinking that way. If this chapter isn't very good, I apologize a thousand times over!
Right…here we go.
"How's he doing, Chopper?"
Chopper glanced up from his spot next to the squishy, beaten up green couch in the men's cabin to see Nami hopping gracefully from the last rung of the ladder. The navigator gave a small smile to the reindeer, whom smiled back in return.
"He's doing a lot better. I think the Hikemeia is finally leaving his system. His fever's been going down too, I think by tomorrow it may finally break." He said.
Nami's smile widened as she walked over to stand beside the doctor. "That's good. Three days is too long for him to actually be staying still." She murmured, gazing down at the boy lying under the sheets placed upon the couch.
He still looked rather gray and sweat still clung to his tiny frame, but it was far better than it had been three days prior. It was better than the pale form that had been pulled tightly against Zoro's chest, shivering in the chilly morning air, the soft light of sunrise revealing the sheen of dried sweat and blood covering his skin. It was so much better to see color finally returning to his skin, to see the bruises finally beginning to fade, to see a few less bandages than the day before.
And even though the silence and stillness that hung in the air felt so strange for Luffy, it was better than when he hadn't been silent. It was better than the few times when the last few attacks of Hikemeia finally ran their course, sending the boy thrashing and writhing in agony upon the couch until someone finally managed to hold him down so he wouldn't aggravate his wounds further. It was better than hearing Luffy let out bloodcurdling screams that would remain with his crew until their graves, better than hearing him plead in a broken tone.
"Please don't hurt them anymore! Stop…leave my nakama alone!" He would cry, tears coming to his eyes even though no one had ever seen Luffy cry before. It seemed no matter how much anyone would try to bring him back, try to make the boy see that he wasn't in that horrible room in the basement of the lighthouse, that he wasn't in the clock tower anymore and Kuro was gone, and everyone was okay…it was as if he couldn't hear them.
But even if he couldn't hear them, they had all stayed anyway. They had all stayed, laying their hands upon him and trying desperately to bring him back anyway.
He had always been there for them when they weren't strong, and now they would be there for him. That was what nakama were for, after all.
Zoro, whom had been so reluctant to release the boy from his arms when they had first brought him back, had for the most part refused to leave the room for the past for days and thus was the one there for every one of those attacks. He remained braced above him with arms stretched out to keep Luffy's arms pinned to the couch, fingers entwined with the boy's smaller ones, gritting his teeth as the boy thrashed beneath him and screamed.
When Luffy's energy finally drained and he remained there, shaking and whimpering in pain there was little the swordsman could do save for pull the boy close and run his thumb along the back of the boy's hand. He would murmur attempts at comfort into the boys ear that Luffy probably couldn't understand, though the soft rumble of the swordsman's voice seemed to sooth him in a way no one else's words seemed to be doing.
Nami hadn't been quite sure what to make of the sight. Amazing though it was to see Zoro actually comforting someone, it wasn't worth seeing Luffy suffer. It wasn't that she didn't think Luffy could be weak…if he ever needed to be, she was more than willing to be there for him…but it didn't feel right.
She was ready to see Luffy smiling for real, full force, not that weak exhausted smile she had seen as of late. She was ready to see him sitting tall and proud, silhouetted against the sunset up on Merry, humming quietly to the sea when he didn't think anyone was listening. She was ready to see him harassing everyone again, she was ready to see him become an endless ball of energy that bounced across the deck of the ship and drove everyone absolutely insane. She wanted these things back so she could try and replace the mental images the last week or so had built up.
And she knew that it would take a long time to finally erase the image of an unconscious, broken and bleeding Luffy silhouetted against the sunrise. A very long time.
After a few moments of silence Nami glanced back at Chopper. "Well…how's his back then?" She inquired. "Isn't it kind of bad for him to be laying on it?"
Chopper shook his head. "Not anymore…the wounds have at least healed enough for him to be able to sleep on his back without too much discomfort…of course, too much movement and they'll probably open again."
"Which means they definitely will once he wakes up." Nami commented dryly.
The reindeer giggled at this. "Yeah, probably. That's alright, I'll just have to bandage them up again..." He trailed off, smile fading a bit. "But no matter what I do, there's going to be scars…I can make them as small as possible, but they might not ever really fade…normally his powers would prevent this, but with the virus…" The reindeer shook his head, furry ears lowering sadly.
The navigator glanced back at the reindeer before reaching down to pat the reindeers head. "You're doing the best you can, right?"
"O-of course! Why wouldn't I?" Chopper exclaimed, looking up at her.
"Well, if you do your best, I don't think he'll mind." Nami said with a smile.
Chopper stared at her for a moment before smiling as well and looking back to Luffy. "Yeah…you're right."
Nami continued to smile as she looked back at Luffy. It faded as she glanced along the form under the pale sheets until they came to rest where the boy's hip was.
Where Kuro's mark was and where it would remain.
She sucked in a deep breath, feeling her heart sink. "Say…Chopper…I wanted to ask you—"
"About the brand?" Chopper cut her off, smile becoming a bit sad.
The reindeer shook his head. "I was going to remove it, but he told me not to."
Nami frowned. "He told you not to?" She repeated, brow furrowing.
"Yeah, I was about to remove it when he woke up and stopped me…" The doctor trailed off again, the memory still quite clear in his mind.
"B-but Luffy…you don't really want that thing on you forever, right? I can remove it, but you have to go back to sleep!" Chopper stuttered, trying to pull his hoof from Luffy's hold. Unfortunately, in spite of his bed-ridden state, the captain's grip was quite strong.
Luffy gazed up at Chopper with glazed eyes for a moment before shaking his head weakly. "You're right…I don't want his mark on me forever..." He murmured, eyes darkening a bit.
"Then let me remove it, Luffy." The reindeer said, a slightly pleading note in his tone. He didn't like seeing his captain like this…all he wanted to do was heal what he could, why wouldn't Luffy let him.
The boy shook his head again. "No. Even if it is Kuro's mark, it stands for a promise I made to my nakama. I took it for them and I want that there, always. Understand?"
Chopper gazed down at Luffy for a moment, eyes wide. "Luffy…" He finally turned away to put the instruments he'd prepared to get rid of the awful thing away, trying to ignore salty tears dampening his fur. Even looking away, he knew the boy was smiling as his grip finally weakened as his hand fell limply to his side once again.
"Thanks, Chopper." Luffy murmured before his eyes finally fluttered closed and he slipped into the realm of unconsciousness once again.
"…you jerk…you thanking me doesn't make me happy at all..." The doctor finally said, though there was no bite to the insult in his soft voice.
Nami frowned as she looked at Chopper, whom hadn't said anything else as his eyes took on a far away look. She looked back to the still unconscious Luffy, a small smile coming to her face.
It was alright that Chopper hadn't said anything. She already knew why the boy wouldn't get rid of it.
Sucking in a breath she reached down to gently brush away the dark bangs sticking to her captain's forehead. She then leaned in and planted a small kiss on his forehead, trying to ignore the tears pricking at the corners of her eyes.
"Thank you," she whispered, and for a second she thought she saw him smile.
With this done she stood up again, taking another deep breath to compose herself before speaking again. "You know…I figured…he wouldn't want to get rid of it. But I was thinking, well…that symbol is Kuro's. He may want it there for what it symbolizes to him, but I don't want it there." She declared, taking on a slightly stronger tone.
Chopper blinked. "B-but, Luffy says he doesn't want it removed!" He stuttered.
Nami nodded, smile coming into place again. "Yeah, I know. But it's Kuro's mark, and that symbolizes that he's that man's property. We can't have that, now can we? He can't go around claiming us for his crew and then just expect we'll let him do that. Do you want Luffy to be that jerk's property forever?"
"No!" Chopper exclaimed, his eyes wide. "Of course not!"
The ginger-haired woman's smile became a grin. "So let's make him ours instead."
The doctor stared up at Nami for a moment, his face becoming one of bewilderment. "Huh?"
Nami's grin widened. "You heard me. He's our captain, not Kuro's pet. Always has, and always will be. He got that thing proving that. So what if we change it to something else? Something that shows that he's ours?"
Chopper's mouth spread into a grin, his eyes widening. "That's a great idea! And it wouldn't be too hard either, I could just remove the brand and we could replace it with a tattoo! It would be really neat!" He cried, practically jumping up and down with excitement.
The navigator beamed. "I thought so! You think he'll like it?"
The younger of the two finally calmed down at bit as glanced back at the slumbering Luffy, smile still in place. "…Yeah, I think he will. I'll ask him when he wakes up."
"Alright. I'll ask Usopp to think of something to replace it with, then." Nami said, turned away and making her way towards the ladder again. She paused as she grabbed onto one of the rungs, looking back at her slumbering captain.
Come on Luffy…get well soon. You're ours, and we want you back.
The sunset was red. It wasn't the violent, awful red he'd seen for the past few mornings, the color of blood. No, this was a soft, soothing red, almost pink, mixing with the soft colors of orange and yellow like a blazing ball of fire sinking below the shimming waves. Its colors danced across the surface, changing its formations and patterns according to the soft song of the chilly wind.
"Red sky at night, sailors delight…" He recited quietly to himself before letting out a sardonic sort of chuckle and tipping back the bottle clenched in his fist. The alcohol burned its way down his throat, settling in a stomach well used to tolerating this sort of abuse. After a few seconds the bottle returned to the beaten wood of the deck with hardly a clink, a soft sigh passing through his lips.
He'd been drinking a lot the past few days. It was fortunate that they hadn't left port yet, or by now they would've run out, and Zoro wasn't so sure what he would do if they did.
Ordinarily he drank mainly for enjoyment. At first, long ago, it had been to dull the pain from his wounds, but as his tolerance built up for the stuff and he grew to like the taste he began to enjoy it. It did make the aftermath of the battle with Mihawk easier, even dulled the pain of losing just a little bit. It made those cold nights where he was stuck on watch when he'd rather be below deck sleeping seem a bit warmer.
It didn't seem to be doing much to help now, but he continued on in vain anyway. He'd stayed by Luffy's side every minute of the past few days, dark eyes watching the boy's chest as it rose and fell with each heavy breath. The alcohol hadn't helped this time. It did not dull the ache in his chest as his eyes roamed over blood-stained bandages, did nothing to drown away the sharp clench in his stomach that came with the occasional whimper from those chapped lips.
If it didn't help then, it definitely hadn't helped when the final waves of Hikemeia hit. It was then that the dull pain was replaced by the stabbing of a knife that twisted with every cry the boy gave. It hurt more than anything, to see his captain suffering when there was really nothing he could do. All he could do was somehow hold the boy down, keep him from thrashing even though he knew by all means Luffy was stronger than him and he shouldn't have been able to with such ease. He would hold him down and try to call out to him, try to bring him back somehow, the voices of the other crewmembers washing over him like so much white noise.
"STOP! Let me go!" Luffy's hoarse voice rang throughout the room as he thrashed beneath Zoro, trying to pull his wrists from the swordsman's grip. He lashed out with his feet until Sanji finally managed to catch hold of the boys ankles and try to keep them pinned to the couch, gritting his teeth.
"Damnit Marimo, you're supposed to be holding him down!" The cook had snarled. Ace muttered something Zoro didn't quite catch from in front of him where the older brother stood trying to hold down the boy's shoulders.
"I'm trying!" Zoro had grunted out as he finally managed to pin Luffy's wrists as well. "Goddamnit Luffy, snap out of it!" He was trying to yell over the boy, trying to make him see, trying to do something even when somewhere inside of him he was well aware there was nothing he could have done.
He was never going to forget this. Luffy's eyes, wide and bloodshot, pupils so dilated he couldn't even see the soft brown irises surrounding them. He was looking at Zoro but he wasn't really looking at him. It was as if he were staring right through him at something no one else could see, thrashing in an attempt to get away from a man that was no longer there.
"Let them go! Stop! They're my nakama, leave them alone!" Luffy had snarled, back arching up from the couch cushions as his eyes shut tight in agony , his skin so slick with sweat Zoro nearly lost his grip.
"Luffy, we're not being hurt! We're here right now, it's alright!" Nami cried, though her voice went unheard even though she was right next to him. They were all there, safe and sound, but it was like Luffy couldn't see them.
And then, after throwing his head back and giving a loud, keening wail, Luffy's strength finally drained completely and he slumped back against the couch cushions. His entire body was shaking as he tried to pull his knees up and curl inward, sharp spasms causing him to twitch erratically. "Please stop…please let them go…let me go…stop…" He whimpered, tears coming to his eyes.
Zoro hadn't even waited for Chopper to tell them what to do. He immediately scooped the boy up and pulled him close just as he had done with the attack a few hours prior. Once again he held Luffy to him, gently stroking the back of the head buried into his shoulder. Once again he was murmuring into the boy's ear, whispering reassurances and comforting nothings.
"Shhh…it's alright. It's over now, we're all alright. You're alright…shhhh…"
The rest of the crew had always backed away when this came along. They never said anything, Zoro never told them to leave, they just did. It was an unspoken agreement, one that they all simply followed. Sometimes Ace would stay and after the boy had calmed down a bit he would take his little brother into his own arms and rock him until he fell asleep, but somehow the job usually fell to Zoro.
That was his job as the first mate. Luffy was captain, it was his job to never falter, to always be there for his crew. His duty to be strong for them. And he did this amazingly well, but even so, he was human, and that was why Zoro was there. To be there when his captain needed it, to be Luffy's strength in those times when the boy couldn't find it. It wasn't as if someone had spoken up and said it was…it just was how things were…
And Zoro wouldn't have it any other way.
Yeah…the past few days had definitely hurt like hell, and the rum wasn't helping much. Oh well, at least it was all nearly over now. He'd heard Nami saying how the Log Post was supposed to be set by tomorrow, which meant Ace would have to leave since he was planning on taking a different route. Apparently his lead to Blackbeard on Vendetta had been false, but when anyone tried to apologize for keeping him here when he could be out searching he'd simply shook his head and laughed.
"Family, nakama, they're the same to me. Blackbeard murdered some of my nakama…but I had some here right now that needed my help. If helping them meant delaying my mission a few days, that's fine." He had said, waving them off. "Don't worry about it."
But he couldn't stay much longer…so tomorrow he'd be leaving. They'd all be leaving this island behind, and Zoro was damn grateful. He hadn't left the ship since they returned to port, he didn't want to go back into that nice, perfect city with its bustling shops and smiling people in spite of the cold autumn weather. He didn't want to see the faces that had been smiling while Luffy had been trapped in a dark, concrete room deep below the sea, crying out where no one could hear him.
Luffy was going to wake up tomorrow, hopefully before Ace left. Zoro wasn't sure how he knew this, as Chopper hadn't said anything, but he just did. It was this feeling in his gut that he knew the boy would rise soon, and the swordsman had learned to trust his gut long ago.
"Swordsman-san? What are you doing up here?"
Zoro sighed at the sound of the woman's voice, not even bothering to glance back at her. "What do you want?" He demanded, irritation at being disturbed from his brooding evident in his tone.
"Oh, nothing. I just wondered why our Swordsman-san suddenly gave up his vigilant post of watching Captain-san." The dark-haired woman commented as she walked past him. She finally came to a stop, leaning against the railing at the front of the ship, silken black hair shimmering in the sunset. "Especially with him finally recovering and all."
"Now, is that really any of your business?" The swordsman snorted as he took another swig from the bottle. Damn, the thing was half empty already.
"No, I suppose not." Robin murmured, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "Is it so wrong for me to be worried for one of my comrades?"
"When it's you, yes." Zoro grunted.
She chuckled, shaking her head. "Well then, you certainly are in a bad mood. Maybe it'd help if you stopped avoiding the object of your affections, hmm Swordsman-san?" She glanced back at him, deep blue eyes shining mischievously. "I think Captain-san would be very sad if he woke up only to find you were avoiding him."
The swordsman's eyes widened and he choked a bit on the rum. He slammed the bottle down on the deck once again and coughed before fixing a glare upon the Robin. "Does everyone on this damn ship know?" He demanded.
"Everyone but Captain-san." Robin drawled in reply.
Dark-hued eyes of obsidian darkened and after a few moments ticked by Zoro sighed, shoulders slumping. "Figures..." He muttered.
This was why he had gone up deck. He didn't want to talk to anyone, he didn't want to hear them questioning his sexuality or whatever. The only person he really wanted to see at the moment was Luffy…and at the same time he really, really didn't want to see the boy.
What was he supposed to say when the boy finally awoke? In a moment of desperation he'd spilled his soul out to the kid, something he had sworn to himself he would never do. Only weak people let others do that to them, only weak people let others get so close…
But damn it all, he had been weak and let Luffy in and now there was no way in hell he could just shut the boy out again.
What happened now? Would Luffy even remember? Even if he didn't, Zoro knew he wouldn't be able to act the same. And if he did…that prospect seemed even worse. What would Luffy think of him?
Maybe it was irrational, to worry about what Luffy thought…but again, curse it all, he had let the boy in and now his captain's opinion mattered. And of course, when that happened, a whole slew of "What If's" came with it. What if Luffy didn't understand? What if he had forgotten? What if he didn't like Zoro like that? Would he act any differently? Zoro didn't think Luffy would, but the boy was known to surprise him on occasion…
God, he hated this. "What If's" were not things Zoro dealt with. This was why he avoided the whole "emotions" thing, they brought a whole load of problems with them.
Zoro blinked, glancing up to see Robin now turned so she was facing him fully, leaning back against the railing. He gave her a confused sort of stare and she gave one of those rare, almost sad smiles.
"I do not believe you need to worry. Captain-san is…a very strange person. Be honest with him and he'll probably surprise you...he is known to do that often, right?"
The swordsman stared at her for a moment, thinking. She did have a point…maybe he was thinking over it to much? Luffy was known to surprise people after all…and it wasn't as if he could avoid Luffy very easily anyway.
And then…there had been what the boy had said when all hope seemed to have been lost. "I know." He had said that with that same damn smile he always had, even in the face of death, smiling as if he knew things Zoro didn't even know about himself.
Zoro closed his eyes, his lips twitching into a small smile in spite of himself. "Yeah…you're right." He didn't need to worry. Regardless of whether Luffy remembered his confession or not, Zoro trusted his captain. Maybe he should listen to what he'd been saying to Luffy the past few days, that things would be alright.
With that in mind he tipped the bottle of rum back again, feeling it burn its way down his throat. He wasn't so worried about the outcome anymore…but that didn't make waiting any easier.
Robin watched him for another moment before chuckling and shaking her head. "You shouldn't drink so much, Swordsman-san. It isn't good for your health."
Zoro scowled at her as he brought the bottle back down again. "Go read your Goddamn books already."
The woman actually threw back her head and gave a short laugh at that before heading down the stairs and off to the cabin she and Nami shared. "Good night, Swordsman-san." She called behind her.
Zoro grunted in acknowledgement as he held up the dark bottle to the last remaining rays of sunset, the bubbling liquid sloshing inside it. With that motion he downed it, fist clenching around the smooth glass.
He really hoped his gut was right and Luffy was going to wake up tomorrow. They were running out of rum.
Zoro's gut instinct was indeed right, and on the next day Luffy finally awoke, his fever having finally broken. There had been much excitement all around and everyone had their chance to properly yell at him. Now that the shock of him not really being dead had warn off, most everyone was rather "angry" that Luffy had gone and made them all think he was dead. Of course, there wasn't really much heart in these attempts at yelling, and Luffy had only just kind of grinned sheepishly while Chopper continued to look him over before finally mentioning how hungry he was. Then of course there'd been more annoyed yelling along the lines of "You nearly DIED and that's all you can think of? Idiot!" and Sanji had wandered off to make some food so no one could see the grin on his face.
It was good to see things were getting back to normal.
For the first bit of the day Luffy was confined to his room while Chopper changed his bandages and such. That was alright, because he was fine sitting there listening to Usopp's story of how they'd been attacked by a mutant sea king and he had fought it off with his bare hands while the boy had been asleep. Luffy had listened with wide eyes, gasping at appropriate moments and looking completely amazed. Chopper was, of course, also amazed, and seemed to have completely forgotten that nothing of the sort had transpired in the past three days.
Usopp had missed that.
Soon enough the sharpshooter got called up to the top deck by Nami, whom was trying to arrange everyone to get to work so they could leave. Luffy had pouted at this and Usopp had just laughed and promised he'd be back to tell more soon enough before heading up. Of course, with everything going on top deck there was no way the boy would be staying down there for long, but he had something to ask first.
"Where's Zoro?" He inquired as Chopper finally finished with the bandages on his back and glanced up at Luffy, frowning.
"I…don't know. Don't worry though; I'm sure he'll come to visit you soon!" The reindeer said with a slightly unsure smile.
It was strange. Zoro had been the only one to not come see Luffy, which Chopper didn't understand in the least. The swordsman had been by their captain's side the entire time he was sleeping…so why wasn't he there when the boy had finally awoken?
"Maybe he's training. You know how Zoro is…I'm sure he'll come soon, though! He never left when you were sleeping, after all…" Chopper murmured, more to himself than to Luffy.
Luffy blinked in confusion, brow furrowing. "Zoro was here?" He repeated. Chopper only nodded, and the boy smiled. So I was right…he was here…
"Well, looks like you finally woke up! It's about time!" Ace's voice came floating down into the cabin before the Mera Mera human himself hopped down from the deck, landing with a soft thump on the floor.
"Ace!" Luffy chirped, eyes widening and smile becoming a full on grin.
Ace chuckled, shaking his head. "And you're as energetic as ever, I see."
"Yup, you bet! I'm almost all healed, see?" Luffy made as if to rise, but was stopped as Chopper yelped and pushed him back down.
"Luffy! You may be awake but you still need your rest! There's no way you can walk in this condition!" The reindeer exclaimed.
"Awww…" Luffy fell back against the couch cushions and pouted.
Ace snorted. "Same old little brother…" He murmured, running a hand through his hair. "Geez, and I was planning on taking you outside before I left…"
"Really?" The boy's eyes widened and he nearly jumped up again. "Ohhh, can you? Please please PLEASE?" He pleaded.
His older brother chuckled, glancing at Chopper. "Well I guess I still could, I'd take care of you and make sure you didn't fall in the water or anything. You know…if it's alright with Chopper, you seem like you could really use the fresh air and all…"
The reindeer smiled as he looked up from putting away the extra bandages and things. "Yeah, I think that'd be good for him. Just make sure he puts on something and don't let him exert himself too much, okay? His powers should be coming back soon, but until then it's best that he rests until Hikemeia has completely left his system."
"Oh, don't worry doctor; I'll take good care of him." Ace said with a grin, a twinkle in his eyes. He glanced down at Luffy before suddenly scooping the boy into his arms without warning, blanket and all. Luffy let out a yelp of surprise before bursting into laughter, the jovial sound echoing throughout the entire ship as Ace took his brother up the ladder.
Chopper watched them go before letting out a giggle himself, smile still in place.
It was good to see things returning to normal.
The sea. It gently lapped against the hull in a gentle rhythm, shimmering in the afternoon sun, joining in with the song of the gulls crying overhead. These sounds were joined with the voices of the crew as they prepared to leave the port, combining with everything else to form a strange sort of music.
Luffy seemed to like it, as his own laughter joined in.
Zoro chuckled, shaking his head as he leaned against the railing of the stairs, watching as Luffy and Ace sat by themselves on the back deck of the ship. The blanket Ace had dragged with them had been placed around the boys shoulders, occasionally getting blown back by the wind only to be rescued and pulled back once again. It was a bit chilly out, but if either noticed they didn't seem bothered by it.
Or by his presence for that matter. This was good, as Zoro still wasn't entirely sure what he was going to say. So he was standing here watching them in the shadows, and the only thing his stupid brain could seem to think of was how great it was to see Luffy awake again.
"Haha! Come on Ace, set it up again!" Luffy exclaimed, a grin upon his face.
Ace snorted, shaking his head. "Alright, alright…" He murmured, once again picking up a few of the dominoes and placing them in rows once again.
Really, Zoro had no idea why they were playing dominoes of all things; he never really got what was so great about them. But hey, they seemed to be making Luffy happy, so who was he to say anything?
Once again a large line of dominoes was placed, and once Luffy flicked one and sent the entire stack down in a wave of black and white, which in turn sent the boy into a fit of laughter. Zoro snorted, shaking his head again. Really, that boy was so easily amused.
"One more time!" Luffy exclaimed excitedly, grabbing a few of the porcelain tiles once again. However, Ace shook his head, holding out his hand to politely decline.
"Sorry, 'Touto-chan. I have to get going. I have a job to do, you know? You guys are leaving soon anyway." He said with a slightly sad smile as he got to his feet.
Luffy stared at Ace with wide eyes. "But…'Niichan, you just got here!" He exclaimed, reaching out to grab the older boy's arm. "I haven't seen you in forever! Come on, one more game!" He pleaded.
For a moment he wasn't Straw Hat Luffy, captain of the Straw Hat Pirates. For a moment he was just Luffy, a kid who had hardly seen his brother for the past three years and wanted nothing more than to stay with him.
Ace sighed, staring down at Luffy for a moment before placing a hand on the boy's head and ruffling his hair gently. "I'm sorry, 'Touto-chan. But I've taken as much time as I can. I stuck around to make sure that you'd be safe, and you are now. That's enough for me. Don't worry, we'll see each other again." He murmured, lazy smile still upon his face. "You'll be alright."
"Ace…" Luffy trailed off for a moment before smiling sadly as well. "Yeah. I'll be alright."
The older of the two grinned, tossling the boys hair again before moving away. "Glad to hear that. Having a younger brother like you makes your older brother worry, you know?"
Luffy pouted, sticking out his tongue. "You don't need to worry about me! I'm a pirate!"
Ace chuckled warmly, shaking his head. "Maybe so, but I can still worry. That's alright though, I know you've got some nakama who worry just as much...isn't that right, Zoro-san?" He glanced over Luffy's shoulder at Zoro, amusement twinkling in his eyes.
Zoro flinched. Well, crap, he'd been found out! His eye twitched as he glared at Ace, whom simply grinned and waved.
Luffy blinked, turning around to see Zoro leaning against the railing of the stairs leading up to the deck. His eyes widened, a grin coming to his face. "ZORO!" He cried, immediately pushing himself to his feet and rushing over to the swordsman, blanket left forgotten on the deck. He flung himself onto Zoro, whom let out a small cry of surprise and stumbled back a bit. Fortunately for him, Luffy was a walking twig, so it wasn't too difficult to remain standing even with Luffy's arms draped around his neck. He let out a small chuckle before wrapping his arms around the boy, careful of the bandages on his back.
"Hello to you too." He murmured before pulling back slightly to look into Luffy's sparkling gaze.
Ace watched them for another moment before chuckling and shaking his head. "And with that, I leave my little brother to you." He said with a small wave. "Promise me you'll take good care of him for me?"
Zoro looked back at Ace for a moment, their eyes meeting in a clear understanding to the meaning of those words. There was no apprehension, no nervousness, and no doubts in the simple nod that Zoro gave in return.
Ace chuckled. "I'll see you guys later, then!" He said, turning towards the railing.
Luffy laughed out loud, pulling away from Zoro so he could give a wild, enthusiastic wave. "Bye Ace! Have fun! I'll see you later!"
The older of the two glanced back for a moment, looking at Luffy still encased in Zoro's arms. Then he nodded, lazy grin coming into place. "Goodbye, 'Touto-chan."
And with that, he hopped off of the railing, onto the docks and was gone.
Luffy and Zoro stood there in silence for a moment before Zoro glanced down at Luffy and smiled. "Alright, come on. Chopper says you're not supposed to be on your feet." He murmured, scooping the boy up like a child in his arms. The boy was already starting to shiver and Zoro could see why, this wasn't the kind of weather to be running around with only bandages covering your torso.
Once he returned to the spot where Luffy had been sitting he set the boy down gently, grabbing the blanket from where it had been left and draping it over his bandaged shoulders. The swordsman then plopped down next to the boy with a small sigh, glancing back at Luffy whom was beaming at him.
"Good to see you feeling better." He finally murmured after a moment of silence, reaching out to ruffle the boy's hair. Luffy yelped, batting the swordsman's hand away before bursting into laughter once again.
"Yeah...I'm glad to be better." He said when his laughs finally subsided. His face twisted into one of slight confusion. "I was sad when Zoro wasn't there when I woke up. Where were you?" He inquired.
Zoro winced, he had been dreading that question. "I was…well…" He looked away from the boy's face, out at the crystalline waves. "…Do you remember what I said? When…I thought you were dying?"
"Huh? Yeah, I remember." Luffy stared at Zoro's face, his still one of confusion. "Why?"
The swordsman let out a small laugh, closing his eyes. "I'm sorry about that. I should have gotten there faster. Hell, I shouldn't have let you be taken in the first place. I should have done better…if I had maybe this wouldn't have happened."
Zoro cut off whatever Luffy had been about to say. "Quiet. Just hear me out, alright? I'm sorry. So sorry that you had to suffer like that. Maybe if I had been faster, you wouldn't have gotten hurt. If I had been quicker, maybe I wouldn't have said what I did. I'm sorry I was so weak, I'm sorry I—"
"Stop apologizing!" Luffy finally cried, effectively grinding the swordsman's jumbled apologies to a halt. He glaring up at Zoro with the look, though after a few seconds it softened in a smile. "Why do you keep saying you're sorry? You have nothing to apologize for."
The swordsman stared at Luffy with wide eyes, those words effectively rendering him speechless for a moment. "But I—"
"You saved me. That's more than enough." Luffy said, allowing himself to lean against Zoro's shoulder and nuzzle his cheek against the swordsman's shirt as he stared out at the sea. "Why apologize for what you said? You were being honest, right?"
The swordsman gazed down at Luffy for a moment, eyes softening a bit. "…Yeah, I was."
Luffy grinned, though it was obscured a bit with his cheek pressed against Zoro's shoulder. "Then you were being the Zoro I love. That's all I wanted, everything else doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what happened then. I knew my Zoro would come save me, because he loves me just as much as I love him. I wasn't scared, because I knew my Zoro would be there for me. He doesn't need to say it; he doesn't need to worry, because I already know. He doesn't need to say anything…alright?" He lifted his head up and looked up at Zoro, soft eyes of dark chocolate meeting Zoro's own.
"Stop worrying about it. My Zoro doesn't worry about things."
Zoro stared at Luffy for a moment, eyes wide. Luffy was looking back at him with that gorgeous smile on his face and the wind was blowing through his hair, making that tousle of black spikes even messier than usual. He reached down to gently brush a strand away from Luffy's eyes, moving in a bit closer.
"Yeah…you're right about everything…except for one."
Luffy blinked as he leaned a bit upward, drawing closer to Zoro. "What's that?"
"I think I love you more, captain."
And that was all it took. The two met in a soft meshing of lips, everything but the two of them seeming to fade away in the heat of the moment. The sea, the sky, the gulls chirping in the air, it all seemed to fade away leaving just them.
It was the kind of feeling one could never find anywhere else, the way it seemed like electricity was dancing up their spines. Fingers entwined as warmth spread through their bodies, Zoro pulling Luffy up against his chest in a way that seemed to fit perfectly. There was something about Luffy's kiss that seemed to be baiting him almost, pulling back only to have Zoro drive forward in a way that seemed to be meant to satisfy his own whims as well as the younger teens.
Neither was pressing, so if the other wanted to move away they could…but neither wanted to. Neither wanted to lose this feeling of being so close, so completely and utterly understood, so alive.
But of course, it had to end eventually as the need for oxygen became critical. Both finally pulled away, breathless, staring into each others eyes.
Finally Luffy put his arms around Zoro's neck once again and pressed his forehead against Zoro's, sparkling brown eyes meeting Zoro's own as a grin danced across his lips. "Nah, I was right here too. I love you, so you have to love me just as much. Captain's orders."
The swordsman chuckled. "Well, who am I to deny that?"
Luffy let out a small laugh, pressing another chaste kiss against Zoro's lips before sliding down and leaning his head against the swordsman's chest. He giggled as he actually heard Zoro's heart skip a beat.
The swordsman snorted, holding the boy close with one arm as he used the other to grab Luffy's blanket and pull it over both of them. He couldn't have Luffy getting sick again on them, now could he? As he pulled the blanket over them he glanced down at the boy in his arms, brow suddenly furrowing in confusion.
"Hey, when did you get that?" He inquired; pointing to the boy's right hip, which was only just visible above the waistband of his shorts. Luffy blinked, glancing up at Zoro before glancing down at it. There sat a simple tattoo of the straw-hat wearing skull and crossbones that adorned their flag, no bigger than a teaspoon but there none-the-less.
The boy smiled. "It's a promise to the ones I really belong to." He explained simply, snuggling closer.
"Ah…" Zoro smiled as well, shaking his head. Well, it looked like Nami's plan had worked well enough. She had explained it to him first of all, about the brand and what it meant, and Zoro had been all too happy to agree to give it a go.
Luffy was never Kuro's toy, Luffy was his. Period.
"Oh! I almost forgot…" The swordsman turned and reached behind him, pulling a golden-yellow something that was only a bit beat up.
Luffy blinked as the rim of his straw hat suddenly filled his line of vision, the hat having been placed upon his head by Zoro's heavy hand. He peered up from under its rim at Zoro's smiling face before letting out a cry of happiness and flinging his arms around the swordsman's neck.
"HAT! You found it!" He cried into the crook on Zoro's neck.
Zoro chuckled. "Yeah…you don't look right without it, you should be more careful about losing it." He teased, patting the boy on the back.
The boy suddenly let out a soft hiss of pain, hiding his face against Zoro's chest. The swordsman frowned before his eyes suddenly widened in realization. He winced, quickly moving it to the uninjured small of Luffy's back.
"Sorry. Should I bring you back to Chopper?"
"No, don't." Luffy mumbled into Zoro's chest before moving his head away, giving a pained smile and gripping onto the edge of his straw hat. "I'm fine."
The swordsman stared into the boy's eyes for a moment, brushing away the bangs so he could see them properly. Though clear, the pain in them was obvious. Luffy was recovering, but Zoro could tell…healing everything, not just the physical injuries, was going to take awhile. What Luffy had been through wasn't something one could just bounce back from, whether he liked it or not.
"Luffy…could you…" Zoro trailed off as he stared into Luffy's eyes. He then brushed his hand through the boy's hair, letting the bangs fall back into place.
He was going to ask Luffy to tell him about what had happened. But he could tell the boy wasn't ready to revisit those memories, not when they were still so fresh. Especially not after the way that disease kept making him revisit them, Zoro couldn't seem to make himself do something like that. He didn't want to see those eyes so full of pain so soon.
Luffy would tell him when he was ready. But not now…and that was alright.
"Could I what? Zoro?" Luffy asked, blinking in confusion.
Zoro sighed, shaking his head. He couldn't believe what he'd been about to do! "Nevermind. Hey um…what were you doing with the dominoes earlier?" He asked, reaching over to slid the pile across the deck so it was in front of both of them. "Care to show me?"
Luffy blinked up at Zoro for a moment before beaming. "Alright!" He said, grabbing a few dominoes. "You see, Ace and I used to play with them when we were younger. See? You make a stack and then once they're all lined up…" He trailed off as he placed a stack, then flicked the first domino and watched them all fall down in a wave. "You hit one and they all fall down! Isn't that cool?"
The swordsman quirked an eyebrow before chuckling. Luffy was amused by such simple things. "Yeah, it is pretty cool."
The boy laughed and nodded. "Yeah! That's not all though! See…Ace taught me that a lot of things in life are like dominoes…"
"Things…in life?" Zoro repeated. Well, there was an analogy he hadn't heard of before.
Luffy nodded again, snatching up several dominoes. "Yeah! See? Take this for example. This domino is for when I got sick." He placed the single domino upon the deck. "This one was for when we landed on the island…and this one...shows when I got captured, remember?"
Zoro frowned as he felt Luffy stiffen a bit against him. "Luffy…"
"And this one is when Kuro…" The boy trailed off, his fingers shaking a bit as he placed three more dominoes upon the deck. After a few seconds he finally spoke again. "This one is where you guys finally come to rescue me, see?" He chirped as he placed a seventh domino down.
The swordsman gave a sad sort of smile as he gently stroked the boy's head. He decided not to mention that the boy had never given events for three of the tiles.
Luffy wasn't done, however. He held up one final tile up to the sunlight, looking at its black surface glisten in the sunlight. He then placed it at the end of the line, seeming to relax a bit. "And this one is where Zoro finally says he loves me." He said, glancing up at the swordsman.
"See? Ace always said one thing always leads to another. Maybe things get worse and worse, but sooner or later they start to get better and the whole thing ends. You can't tell how many dominos will be between the beginning and end…so that part's up to you."
Zoro gazed down at the boy for a moment, feeling his lips twitch into a smile once again. Luffy was too cute, he always had a way of making Zoro smile far more than he should.
"Yeah…well, I'm glad this stack ended the way it did." He murmured, reaching down to take one of the boys hands in his own. He then moved it over to the small stack of dominoes and gently tapped his and the boys twined hands against the first one. The stack of dominoes fell over in a small wave of black, hitting the deck in a clatter of glass tiles.
Luffy glanced up at Zoro and he finally gave a full-fledged grin, one even brighter than the sunlight dancing upon the waves. It was good to finally see that grin, one that the swordsman had sorely missed in the past week and a half. The boy then threw back his head and laughed a sweet, jovial sound that echoed across the sea with the sound of the waves. The sunlight was dancing in the boy's messy, raven-black hair, as if it were happy to see he was finally happy too.
Zoro had never seen anything more beautiful.
"Yeah. Me too."
…Wow. That's really it.
I finally finished my first chaptered fanfic since 2003. And it currently has…nearly four hundred reviews.
Wow. I'm at a loss for words.
Thank you so much, all of you. I thank each and every one of you reading this right now, because I'm flattered that anyone would want to read fourteen chapters worth of my crap. I'm especially flattered that it could somehow get nearly four hundred reviews. That's insane! This thing hardly deserves that many, so I am forever grateful to all of you who read and reviewed, and even to those who didn't. I know there are readers out there who don't even like ZoLu, yet they read this fic anyway. I thank those people quite a bit, and I apologize for what must have been a rather crappy ending for them.
When I first started this, I didn't think many people would read it. It was just meant to be something to keep people busy while I waited to start working on Tangled Web again. Yet…somehow this thing has gotten even more popular than TW! Wow! I'm tempted to ask exactly what all you people are on to want to read my crap, but from what I can tell most of you are sane so…
I don't know what I'm going to do now. If I can, I'd like to continue to work on Tangled Web. There's so much left to do with that, I think you all will really enjoy what it has in store for you all. If I can't work on that, I'm thinking of starting a new AU…
Well, whatever I do, it'd pretty much a guarantee that it'll be Zoro/Luffy. XD That makes most of you happy, right? Sorry to those of you who don't like ZoLu again…
Right, enough rambling. I could ramble my thanks for pages and pages, but this thing is long enough as it is. If you can, I'd be flattered if you all could leave one last review. Tell me what you thought of this chapter…and if you told me what you thought of this fic as a whole, I'd be very thankful.
So, with that all out of the way, I bid you all adieu! Until next time!
- T H A N K Y O U A L L S O M U C H ! -