Disclaimer: Everyone and everything you recognize is the intellectual property of Eiichiro Oda, with additional rights owned by Shonen Jump, Toei, and probably others. Dirk, Dagger, and Dart (an homage to "The Court Jester" which I also do not own) are mine, as is the Glue Glue Fruit. At least, as far as I know...
Spoilers: Through Arabasta. Barely anything in this part, though.
Warnings: Lo, she did continue to use foul language and extremely mild violence. There will probably also be abundant OOC, but hey, it's fanfic. No one but Oda can truly write them IC. Robin especially may be off, as I am least familiar with her, which is why she is frequently and conspicuously absent. Also, I firmly believe in recycling. So, if you skipped certain parts of certain chapters for certain reasons, it could certainly seem new. Worry not, though! I promise it's very tame!
Dedications: To everyone who stuck with this story all the way through. Many, many thanks! Especially to all who reviewed!
Part 6- Return to What Passes for Normal
Sanji smiled and took a deep breath, holding it in and savoring the silence of the galley. Yep, quiet was great! He didn't miss having constant company at all. No, sir.
It was all of five minutes before he started humming to himself to fill the void.
He tasted the stew and contemplated what flavors were missing. Did he want to add a little kick, or go for subtle, but well-rounded? He opened his mouth to ask for an opinion but realized, yet again, that he was voluntarily alone. Since when did he ask for help with his cooking anyway?
He put a hand to his chin in thought, leaned backward, and almost fell unceremoniously on his rear. Oh yeah, he didn't have a belligerent mass of muscle glued to his back anymore.
What was wrong with him? The small group had only been attached to each other for one day! It shouldn't be this hard to go back to the way things used to be. The way things should be.
Sanji heard the galley door open and whipped his head around, simultaneously dreading and hoping it was one of a certain three crew mates. No such luck. It was the captain.
"What's for dinner, Sanji?" The inevitable food question. Normally, the chef would kick the rubber man in the head, tell him to wait and see, and then toss him back out the door. Normally.
"Stew," he answered the question. Then, he hooked a heel behind one of Luffy's knees and tugged, causing the bewildered pirate to fall back into a nearby chair. "I'm going to finish preparing it right now. You are going to sit here and talk to me. If you try to get up, steal food, or bug me, I'm going to kick you. Hard. More than once. Do you understand?"
Luffy blinked for a few seconds before his characteristic wide grin spread across his face once more. "Yes."
"Good." Sanji turned back to the stove. Hopefully, this act of desperation would take it's own sweet time to come back and bite him on the ass...
"Why do they call it 'stew?'" Luffy asked, his face blankly innocent.
Before Chopper would let Zoro wander off to take a nap, he dragged the swordsman down to the bunk room to put his left arm in a proper sling. He also made the first mate promise to take it easy and not put any unnecessary strain on the joint. It wasn't that he didn't believe Zoro was a man of his word, but he also sprinkled a special powder on the clasp of the sling. It would react with the acidity of skin, staining the fingers of anyone who tried to remove the sling before he felt sufficient time had passed. Zoro rolled his eyes at his small and overly melodramatic shipmate and left, muttering under his breath.
Chopper decided to stay below deck and compound some medical supplies and work on a few rumble balls. He would never admit as much to anyone, but the ship's doctor was feeling a little useless.
He couldn't help but think that if he had just been braver at the bounty hunter's office, he wouldn't have gotten stuck to Zoro. If he had been free to move around, he might have been able to devise a way to unstick the glue sooner. He would at least have been able to help with the several fights they had gotten in that day. Instead, he could do nothing but observe. He had helped the others figure out how to break through the cave wall, but that accomplishment seemed rather paltry in the grand scheme of things.
He had worked himself into a splendid, depressive funk by the time Usopp came below deck to work on restocking his ammunition.
"Oh, hey, Chopper," his friend greeted him cheerily. "Are you okay? You seem a little down..."
"If I hadn't been such a coward earlier today, things could have gone so differently. I wish I could be a brave warrior of the sea like you, Usopp!" Chopper's lower lip quivered.
Usopp was tempted to follow this with swift agreement and a dramatic tale, but contrary to popular belief, he did know when it was truly important to be honest.
"Being brave isn't easy." He patted the reindeer on his fuzzy back. "I get scared a lot of the time, too. Like when that bounty hunter lady had a knife at my throat. You always come through for us when it's really important, and that's all that matters!"
"Really?" Chopper didn't seem quite convinced.
"Really. With half our crew being crazy reckless like they are, we'd never get anywhere without an amazing doctor like you!"
"Thanks, Usopp!" Chopper gave his friend a thousand-watt grin, complete with large, sparkling eyes. "It doesn't make me happy at all, though!"
"Any time." They both went about their tasks in a companionable silence broken only by the sound of their respective tools.
Nami's first act of business after escaping the glue situation was to remove the piece of cauliflower from her bra. She tossed it over the rail. Forget not wasting food, nobody was eating that!
Afterwards, she headed to the girls' room to change. She tossed her torn shirt into a basket of clothes set aside for mending and alterations and picked out a new top. Of course, as long as she was changing that, she might as well change the whole outfit! She saw the rolled up parchment slipped into her Clima-Tact holster as she was slipping on a new skirt.
"That's right," she realized, unrolling the paper, "I stole this from the bounty hunters' trophy stash! I wonder if it's a treasure map?"
She took a brief moment to fantasize about what sort of long-buried riches lay in store at the spot marked by an "X." The map was obviously old-the edges were torn and curling and the ink had begun to fade. The writing was all in some language she couldn't readily decipher, but that's what good friends who just happened to be archaeologists were for, right?
"Say, Robin," she asked once she found the older woman exactly where she expected-in her deck chair, reading a book by lantern light, "can you help me with something?" Without further introduction, she handed the map to Robin. The archaeologist made a contemplative sound and tapped her lips with her index finger. Nami watched Zoro head up to the aft deck and a short while later, Luffy amble past toward the galley as Robin continued to study the old chart.
"Is it a treasure map?"
"Of sorts, I suppose."
"What does that mean?" Nami's brow furrowed. She had a sneaking suspicion she wasn't going to like Robin's answer very much.
"This map leads to a particular field of huckleberry bushes on a certain summer island. See this text in the corner?" Robin pointed to the column of writing. "These are recipes for jam and pie filling."
"Are you serious?" Nami looked thoroughly disgusted.
"Quite, I'm afraid. Perhaps it may be of some interest to Cook-san?"
Nami glanced surreptitiously toward the galley door. "Maybe. I'll talk to him about it later, I guess."
"Spending some much needed time apart, are we?" Robin carefully studied the younger woman's face. The least she could do, she decided, was offer a sympathetic ear. "Was the day really so awful?"
Nami plunked down in her own deck chair with a sigh. "Where should I even start?"
After finally escaping the ministrations of Chopper, Zoro checked to be certain that the captain was safely ensconced on the figurehead before making his way to the aft deck. After receiving a rather pointed glare, Usopp scurried off elsewhere, and Zoro settled himself against the railing for a long awaited nap. True, it was almost time to be heading to bed for the night, but he hadn't napped all day, and that was just unfair!
He closed his eyes and waited for unconsciousness to overtake him. And waited. Zoro was shocked. He couldn't sleep! What the hell?
He took mental stock of the situation. Despite the sling, he wasn't uncomfortable, so that wasn't it. There wasn't any bright light shining in his face or anything. Plus, it was nice and quiet. Wait...
He realized that was it. It was never completely quiet with this crew unless something was seriously wrong. Looking back on the day, even being stuck to other crew members had only been really awkward when no one was talking.
"This is stupid," Zoro voiced his thought aloud. "We're stupid! We're around each other all the time even if we aren't glued that way..."
He wasn't going to be the first to say anything, though. He knew they'd all work through this at their own pace. In the meantime, he listened carefully for the nearest source of noise. Nami's mildly exasperated voice drifted to him on the breeze, but he couldn't make out any words.
He needed to get closer. Unlike Luffy, Zoro could be stealthy if he chose. He slipped off his boots and tiptoed back down toward the deck chairs. Robin's eyes glanced over him briefly, a slight quirk of the lips her only acknowledgement. Nami didn't see him at all, as she was too swept up in telling Robin about her harrowing ordeal.
"So you know what he did then? He put the shoulder back by himself! Well, Sanji helped... It was so gross!"
He sprawled out a few paces away from the two women and pillowed his face on his right arm. Within moments, he was out like a light.
The Straw Hats, for the most part, had never been very big on dinner conversation. With Luffy around, it was crucial to finish your food as soon as possible. Nami and Robin occasionally chatted, since Sanji was there to protect their portions from Luffy the Black Hole. Thus, the awkwardness between certain members of the crew was slightly less glaring during the meal.
After dinner, everyone carried their dishes to the sink and left quietly to go to bed, except for Usopp, whom Sanji snared to help him with the dishes, and Robin, who was on watch.
The dishes were done in almost record time, and Sanji and Usopp headed below deck. The lights were already out and the others were in their respective hammocks when they entered. Luffy usually sat up and babbled for a while, but the morose mood had managed to dampen his exuberant spirit. That, and with no one else talking, he soon became bored and fell asleep.
"Well, good night, Sanji," Usopp whispered, before climbing into his hammock. The chef replied with a dismissive grunt, and the room lapsed into silence again.
Nami lay awake and stared at the ceiling. She would never admit it, but before Robin had joined the crew, she often felt lonely at night. The navigator had not felt those feelings in some time, but after a day of close contact, she was suddenly feeling very, very alone.
She clenched and unclenched her fists in frustration as she tried, unsuccessfully, to find a comfortable spot on the mattress. She growled and pulled the pillow from beneath her head. She folded it over lengthwise and hugged it to her chest.
"It's not the right size," a little voice in the back of her head protested, "and it's too soft."
"Shut up," she thought back. "I'm just getting more comfortable!" And she was more comfortable. She nuzzled her face into the pillow and finally caught the sleep that been evading her.
Chopper sat up in his hammock with a muffled gasp. He had just awoken from a terrible nightmare! A horrible monster had eaten his friends one by one and he had only watched, frozen in terror. He expected the beast to eat him as well, but it had only laughed at him and told him it was all his fault.
The reindeer's pounding heart slowed fractionally when he counted the breathing sounds of four others in the room with him. They were safe! It was only a bad dream! This truth should have been all the comfort he needed, but he was still frightened. He needed to really know the others were okay.
He hopped down from his hammock with a soft thunk and considered whom he should approach. Luffy was apt to chew on him in his sleep, Usopp was prone to violent nightmares of his own, and Sanji, especially recently, was very particular about his personal space. This left Zoro. The swordsman was often cranky when roused from sleep, but he was also meaner than any monster that could ever be dreamed up by Chopper's sleeping brain. He crept cautiously toward the green-haired man's hammock in small, fitful spurts of motion.
"Chopper." The doctor jumped at the sudden, low rumble. "If you're coming over here, just do it."
"Y-you're awake?" Chopper stammered.
"I am now..." Zoro could practically taste the fear coming off the reindeer in waves. "Nightmare?"
"Yeah." Chopper gulped audibly. "B-but I'm fine now." Both parties knew this was a lie. Zoro had been around the doctor long enough to recognize comfort-seeking behavior when he saw it. What he couldn't figure out was why Chopper had come to him.
"I think it's nice. You make everybody feel safe and we can always count on you if we need you."
Zoro groaned as he remembered the conversation from earlier that day. Why not? He was already way too emotionally invested in this crew anyway... Stupid reindeer and his unreasonable adorableness!
"Come here." Zoro scooted over and patted the now empty spot on his hammock. "This is just for tonight though, okay?"
"I understand," Chopper acknowledged solemnly.
When Sanji rose first the next morning, he found the ship's doctor once again latched to the side of Zoro's head, his high, whistling snore a counterpoint to the other's bass rumbling. He simply shook his head and headed up to begin breakfast.
At breakfast, Nami decided to act upon the personal trainer plan. She announced as much and everyone stared at her. Zoro shrugged.
"Okay. Meet me on the aft deck in an hour."
"Zoro," Chopper frowned, "you promised me you'd take it easy!"
"I will! Nami's the one who's going to be working out, not me!"
"Are you sure I don't need to supervise?"
"I'll make sure he doesn't do anything too stupid, Chopper," Nami reassured him.
"Besides," Zoro smirked over at Sanji, "I thought chaperoning us was supposed to be the love cook's job."
Sanji bristled and turned away, saying nothing. The tension level in the room rose dramatically. Nami, Robin, and Usopp made a quick exit. Luffy was oblivious; he was busy cleaning the remaining breakfast scraps off of everyone else's plates. Chopper was torn between an urge to flee and a desire to keep Sanji and Zoro from killing each other because Zoro clearly was not happy that his baiting was being ignored. The doctor finally decided it would be best to get Luffy out of the line of fire.
"Hey, Luffy! Come out on deck with me and I'll teach you a new game I learned from Nami."
"Ooh! What's it called?" Good, he had the captain's attention.
"It's called 'I Spy.'"
"Do you spy on people?" He was slowly being coaxed toward the door.
"No, one person spies an object and the other person has to guess what it is."
Zoro waited until they were gone before he continued to try picking a fight.
"What's the matter with you, dartboard brows?"
Sanji continued to ignore him and went about pulling together ingredients for cookies and preheating the oven. Insults usually worked. Zoro was determined not to leave the galley until he got a rise out of his argument partner. Life on the Going Merry just wasn't the same without a good, snarky fight every now and then. Hmm...
"You know, everyone else is already back to life as usual. What makes you so damn special? I'm not gonna walk on eggshells around you just because you like to wallow in self-pity."
That got a growl. Sanji stirred his cookie dough rather violently. Aha! Hit him where it hurt-right in the pride... Time to change tactics while he was still reeling!
"I guess nobody's going to be there to keep Nami and I from giving in to sudden, random urges to bump uglies..."
Sanji's eye twitched. "'Bump uglies?' Could you be any more crude?" He dropped spoonfuls of dough onto a cookie sheet.
"Absolutely! I kinda like that one though. I find it nicely descriptive."
He was getting the silent treatment again. The first batch of cookies went into the oven.
"So, can I expect to see you later, or are you gonna sit in here all day and pout?"
"I am not pouting." Zoro thought the cook's protruding lower lip begged to differ. Zoro grinned evilly. That gave him an idea... His right hand shot forward and squished the cook's face.
"Nobody likes a fish face!" Then he was out the door in a flash of black, white, and green.
Sanji was stunned for about three seconds. "Get back here, you shitty bastard! You're just lucky I need to keep these cookies from burning!"
He heard an amused chuckle drift back through the door. He hated to admit it, but he felt better after yelling at the seaweed head. Mostly. He rubbed his jaw. That had better not leave a bruise! People, especially inhumanly strong swordsmen, should not grab other people's faces.
"Just you wait." He narrowed his eyes at the door. "I'll get you for that!"
After the last of the cookies were set on the rack to cool, Sanji sat and stared at the door. He wasn't really being unreasonably sulky, was he? So he didn't feel like swapping petty insults! So what? He wasn't hiding in here or anything.
He took a deep breath and slammed the door open. Robin glanced over at the sound, smiled slightly, and returned to her reading. Usopp's face peeked over the edge of the crow's nest to yell at him for abusing the door before disappearing again. Chopper was apparently still trying to drum the rules of "I Spy" into Luffy's abnormally thick skull.
"I spy Robin's hat." He looked expectantly at Chopper.
"No, you're supposed to say the color, remember?"
"Oh, right! I spy Robin's purple hat!"
"Don't tell me what it is! Look, I'll go again, okay? I spy something green."
Sanji didn't see either Zoro or Nami, so he turned toward the aft deck. He paused on the stairs and listened. He desperately hoped he wouldn't walk in on anything that would crush all his hopes and dreams...
"I... hate... you!" Nami panted.
"No complaining; this was your idea. Three more. You can do it."
"What happened to one more set?"
"We're still on it! Three more, let's go!"
Sanji peeked over the top of the stairs. Nami was doing sit-ups in a pair of sweatpants and a tee shirt while Zoro held her feet down with his knees.
"Well, look who it is!" Zoro poked Nami's knee. "I told you he'd show up, if only to try and kick the crap out of me."
"Hey, Sanji-kun." Nami tried to smile, but gave up. "Zoro's a mean trainer!"
"He made cookies, you know," Zoro informed her. "Three more and we'll be done, and you can go have some."
"What kind of personal trainer motivates people with cookies?" She did another sit-up anyway.
"One who wants to stay employed?" She sat up again and punched his arm. "Ow... One more!"
If Nami was abusing Zoro, all was still right with the world! Sanji twirled and clasped his hands.
"I'll prepare you a nice, cool drink, Nami-swan! I'm also willing to massage your tired muscles!"
"I'll pass," Nami grunted out as she finished her last sit-up and collapsed to the deck. Sanji appeared to be back to normal.
As the three headed bak to the main deck, Nami made an announcement.
"Listen up, everybody! The log pose is set, so right after I take a shower and have some cookies we're setting sail!" Most of the crew acknowledged this in a normal fashion. However...
"That's what she said!" Luffy crowed. He blinked when his only response was stunned silence. "Well, she did..."
Zoro and Sanji hurriedly scooted away from an irate Nami.
"It wasn't me!" Sanji insisted. "I've been holed up in the galley, remember?"
"It wasn't me, either." Zoro gulped. "Besides, he's not even using it right!"
Nami's eyes slid over to a certain reindeer who was not quite hiding behind the mast.
The ship had finally returned to its normal, relatively speaking, state of madness.