Zoro reread the ad he'd torn out of the newspaper, wondering where the fuck, exactly, he had ended up. He had no real directions, just an address for a shitty tenement apartment in the East Village. Sort of pissed him off, really. He hated New York; all the traffic noises, pollution, high taxes, and just general bullshit. Not that he hadn't found that in every other city he'd ever lived in, but there seemed to be a higher concentration of it in New York. But it wasn't like he could go back to Philadelphia; no money meant no transportation, and it usually meant nowhere to stay, too, but Zoro figured the worse the neighborhood, the better his intimidating figure could bully the landlords into dropping the price. And if that didn't work, he had three swords slung over his shoulder that were pretty good with negotiations. People tended to take one look at them, and immediately assume that Zoro was crazy. Whatever, didn't bother him, as long as they gave him the discount. That was the plan, anyway. It had an oddly high rate of success, too.
At the moment, though, Zoro wasn't sure where he was. It wasn't too big of a deal, he usually never really knew where he was, but the sun was starting to set, and it'd be a good idea if he found the place before it got dark. He didn't feel like wasting his time with strung-out junkies spoiling for a fight the first day he hit town. Plus he was tired as shit. Maybe he ought to just ask someone directions?
He spotted a woman standing at a street corner waiting for the light to change and quickly jogged up to her, calling out "Hey!"
Oh, real smooth dumbass, that doesn't sound like I'm gonna attack her at all!
But she turned around, no more alarmed than if they'd been old friends. "Yes? Can I help you, sweetie?"
"Yeah, I'm looking for…" he trailed off, searched the ad for an address, and then thought better of it and just handed the paper to her, "I'm looking for this place."
She looked over the ad for a second, a grin slowly sliding up her freckled face. "Well you're lucky you found me, honey!" she said, flipping her dark, wavy hair that just barely touched her shoulders. "I know exactly where this place is. You aren't too far off, either. Why don't you follow me? I'm walking right past it."
None of Zoro's "this-person-is-a-dangerous-freak" senses were going off, so he shrugged and muttered something like a thank you to her, moving next to her as they continued waiting for the light. She just laughed at him, twirling her hair and batting abnormally long eyelashes.
"You aren't from around here, are you, deary?"
Zoro was trying to control the vein that throbbed with every new pet name she came up with. "No," was his curt reply.
She arched a thinly penciled eyebrow. "No where? You don't have a home? Where do you live?"
"Don't have a home, I'll be living at this apartment if I can afford it."
"You can, trust me."
Zoro cut her a glance, realizing she was really kinda tall for a chick, although she was probably sporting heels. There was something…kinda off about her. What, the swordsman couldn't quite put his finger on. She wasn't unattractive, she was just...well…
"Light changed!" she said, grinning at him before making her way across the street, Zoro tailing after her with scowl in place. She walked in front of him, swaying her bony hips in a tight skirt, incredibly long legs wrapped in black thigh-highs, her four inch heels clicking on the concrete as she walked. Some guys passing by hollered and whistled at her, and she just laughed and waved back. Vaguely, Zoro wondered if he'd just unwittingly employed the services of a hooker. Not those services, no, he just needed directions. Seriously.
"This is St. Marks Place," the possible whore said, once they stepped up on the sidewalk. "See how it curves at the end, about four blocks down? That's where it turns into Astor Place. There's a really good pizza joint at the corner, and further up, on 8th Street there's a NYU campus. And then Washington Square Park is just a few miles jog up, on…"
But Zoro stopped paying attention. Beyond the mention of a restaurant, which usually meant booze, he wasn't interested in anything else this shitty neighborhood had to offer. It's not like he was gonna settle down and raise a goddamn family, so why the hell did he need to know where the park was? He didn't see himself staying here any longer than five or six months, anyway; enough time to get a job and make enough money to get the fuck out of here. And go where, he still didn't know. But he'd find out soon enough, he was sure.
"Well, this is you!" the woman said suddenly, jerking Zoro from his thoughts. They'd stopped in front of a tall brick building, maybe four stories high. Graffiti sprawled across the ground level in colorful arcs and several of the windows were boarded up. The other floors looked to be in better condition, and the only thing remarkable about them was that, on the highest level, a stick had been duct-taped to the fire escape, with a pirate flag billowing at the end of it.
A pirate flag…with a straw hat..?
"Hope I didn't talk your ear off, darling!"
"Er, thanks," he said, frowning once at the flag before looking back at her.
"I think the room you're looking for is at the top of the stairs; the guy up there should give you a good deal."
Zoro nodded and held out his hand to her in a gruffly polite gesture. She looked at it, then at him, and giggled a little before taking a step forward, bypassing the outstretched hand, and pressing in close to lay a chaste kiss on his cheek. She pulled back a bit, eyebrow arched seductively.
"I'd wish you good luck in the big bad city," she whispered, hands planted on his firm chest, "but you look like the kinda guy who can take care of himself."
She backed up, mischief sparkling in her dark eyes, and Zoro realized two things from this encounter: the woman was about two inches taller than him, and she probably had the smallest breasts of any woman he'd ever come across. And he was feeling an irritating heat burn his cheeks just slightly. Okay, so three things.
"But just in case you need a little help getting the guy upstairs to be reasonable, tell him Diamond sent ya!" And with that, plus a wink, a blown kiss, and a "See ya, hottie!" the woman was off, sauntering and swaying with remarkably long strides down the street.
Zoro watched her for a second, before shaking his head roughly, trying to dispel the weirdness. The only thing that mattered was that he'd finally gotten to the shitty apartment building, it was still light out, and he was feeling pretty confident about getting a decent price for a place to stay. But that "Diamond"…something seemed kina off about her…in any event, he was tired, hungry, and in need of some form of alcohol. Without wasting another moment thinking about it, he shrugged his Army duffel higher on his shoulder, grumbling when it knocked his sword case and he had to adjust that too, and made his way up the front stoop and into the apartment building.
The trek up to the top floor didn't take too long, although the hallways were dark and more than once Zoro stumbled on a random rollerblade or stack of old newspapers that the tenants had dumped out on the landing. It didn't look rat-infested, which improved his opinion of the place about a half a notch, although he was still maintaining a firm belief that if one simply pulled the plaster off the wall, there would be massive colonies of cockroaches to be found. But, he had to admit this wasn't the shittiest place he'd ever lived; it was the Taj-fucking-Mahal compared to that one apartment in Salem. "Fucking shit-box" was a term that often came to mind, and although Zoro had never harbored any attachment to any of the places he'd ever stayed, he certainly had felt no love-loss when he ditched that scene for Philadelphia.
An empty pizza box snagged Zoro's foot just then, the swordsman stumbling forward, nearly face-planting into the staircase. He grumbled, hoisting himself back up and viciously kicking the cardboard to teach it some manners, and decided he'd better concentrate on making it to his new apartment alive. He wasn't too far from it; after rounding one more landing, there were just a few steps until the staircase finally dead-ended at the front door of the last room in the building. Zoro stepped up on the landing, shrugging at his duffel again, and knocked loudly on the metal sliding door. He hadn't even pulled his fist away before it sailed open, revealing a very young and very excited face that was soon invading Zoro's personal bubble.
"Hi! You got the ad, right!" the guy asked, grinning like it was the best day of his life.
"Uh…"Zoro said, feeling a bit bewildered, "yeah, the ad in The Village Voice? I got it."
"Sweet! Come in!" And then the boy grabbed his arm, all but yanking him into the spacious, studio apartment. The spacious studio apartment that looked suspiciously lived in; there was a large, orange rug in the middle of the room, marking the boundaries of the living room, with a TV and one of those video game machines, as well as a bean bag chair, a coffee table, and a short couch shoved up against the wall of large picture windows that looked out over the fire escape and a dingy street corner. The kitchen area was designated by a gas stove, a sink, and several stainless steel counters built into the wall to the left of the front door, just beside one of the bedrooms.
One of the bedrooms…?
Zoro had the strange feeling he'd made a huge mistake, and reached into his pocket to look at the ad again. He was definitely in the right place, but…
"Oh fuck," he mumbled, reading over a particular line of the ad that he'd managed to miss earlier. It wasn't an ad to rent an apartment. It was an ad to rent one of the rooms in an apartment. He had roommates. Roommates that would probably annoy the piss out if him. He sighed, despairing slightly; this was New York, after all. It fucking got on his nerves. Might as well live with a bunch of morons to encourage his conviction for leaving. And besides, where the hell else was he gonna find somewhere to stay?
Suddenly he became aware of a voice near him, and realized the guy who'd let him in had been talking all the while.
"…but you really can't eat that, I tried it one time, my stomach cramped up for like, a week, and Nami yelled at me that 'You can't eat electrical cords, Luffy,' but it looked just like that weird, noodly stuff Sanji made one time, but it was sooooo funny, and Nami was screaming, and Sanji started kicking everyone's ass, but we couldn't quit laughing, and Usopp snorted so hard he shot milk out his nose, and he wasn't even drinking milk, and then─"
Zoro blinked, watching in slight awe. Apparently this guy didn't need anyone else for a conversation; he seemed plenty amused by the sound of his own voice. "Oi," he said loudly, throwing the breaks on the random chatter, "who all lives here, anyway?"
The guy blinked for a second, as though he'd forgotten, and then broke out into another huge grin. "I live here!" he cried triumphantly.
"Yeah, I figured that. Anyone else? There're three rooms here."
"Oh yeah! There's um…well, Usopp used to live here, but he moved in with Kaya 'bout four months ago, and Sanji still lives here, but he's out of town a lot, 'cuz the Funny-Mustache-Man wants more restaurants, and I don't get that, 'cuz the one he's got is the best, anyway, but he just yells something about 'expansion' and hits me with a soup spoon, but I don't really care, he's funny, and Sanji feeds me, so it's not like ─"
"Two people!" Zoro shouted suddenly.
"Two people live here right now, right? You, and some guys who works for a restaurant?"
"Yep!" the dark-haired boy chirped. "Me and Sanji, that's it, and I really want another roomie, 'cuz Sanji's cool n' all, but he's pretty much never here, and─"
Zoro's hand shot out and he clamped it tightly around the boy's mouth. "If I'm gonna live here, you really need to do less of that."
The kid's dark eyes widened to the size of dinner platters, and Zoro swore he saw stars twinkling just overhead. The younger one gripped the swordsman's wrist, lips moving awkwardly against Zoro's palm as he continued to talk around the obstruction.
"What?" Zoro asked, yanking his hand away.
"You're really gonna live here!" the boy cried.
"Not like I've got anywhere better to go," he said, realizing with some amount of relief that having roommates meant he didn't have to pay all the rent. "Can't give you any two week's advance or anything, though, sorry. Flat broke."
"Aw, that's cool, I barely bring anything in anyway. I don't even have a job!"
The skinny boy crossed his arms, gazing stoutly at Zoro. "Don't want one!"
Zoro looked at him a moment, and just shrugged. "Whatever suits you, I guess. What do you do for money, though?"
It was the kid's turn to shrug. "Just stuff; whatever people'll pay me for, like carrying stuff for them." He shrugged again, signaling the end of what the kid seemed to deem as a particularly boring topic.
Zoro glanced around the apartment again; it wasn't a bad place, was actually pretty big, and the people who lived here seemed low-maintenance and easy-going, or so he assessed from the state of things in the room. There was definitely a sense of order to all the random, mish-mashed articles of clothes and belongings he saw littering the place, but nothing OCD, like all the cabinet drawers labeled or some shit. Pretty much his kind of place, minus the other two people living there.
"So, which room is mine?"
"Usopp's was the one on the right, over there," the kid said, pointing at the far side of the apartment room. "No one's used it since, unless someone gets too drunk and passes out. Usopp comes over a lot, but he doesn't stay the night. The one next to Usopp's is mine, and this one right here," he said, pointing to the door just beside the kitchen, "is Sanji's. You probably wanna stay clear of that room, Sanji can get kinda scary if he thinks someone's been messing with his stuff."
Zoro shrugged mentally. Whatever. He'd lived with just about every conceivable type of weirdo and personality quirk; he was sure he could handle these guys. Moving further into the room, he dumped his duffel and carefully laid his sword case beside it, near the kitchen counter, and went instantly for the fridge.
"Got any booze in this place?" he asked as the dark-haired kid bounded excitedly after him.
"Naw, just wine, water, and soda."
Well, fuck. That's something that's gonna change now that I'm living here. Zoro snagged a Coke and looked at the kid over his shoulder. "Want one?"
"Sure!" he cried, and Zoro had a feeling he'd regret giving that spaz any more sugar or (shudder) caffeine. But again, he simply shrugged off the sentiment, grabbed two cans, and closed the fridge, handing one of the cool drinks to the boy practically vibrating behind him.
Oh this is a bad, bad idea…
"Hee hee…" the younger one laughed, cracking the can open and taking a huge gulp, grabbing the straw hat on his head to keep it from falling off.
"Oi," Zoro said, watching the boy wrinkle his nose at the fizzy beverage. "Why do you have a pirate flag hanging from the fire escape?"
He was answered with another enormous grin and a confident little cackle. "'Cuz one day I'm gonna get a boat and go sailing all over the world, like a real pirate!"
Luffy continued to grin.
"Heehee! Yep! Just like my friend Shanks!"
"You have a friend who's a pirate?"
"Sorta." The boy shoved a finger in his nose. "He sails around the world n' stuff. Dunno what he actually does. He says it's a lot of fun. Lots of freedom, and stuff; no one telling you what to do, or how to live your life. And I'm gonna do that too!" He ended with another ear-to-ear grin that held nothing back.
Zoro just watched him a second, wondering if this kid was unbelievably confident, or certifiably insane. But there was something about that gleam in his eye. There was no doubt that what he planned do with his life was unrealistic, childish, and really just stupid. And there was also no doubt that kid meant every naïve, idiotic word of it. Serious without being serious. A very weird person, Zoro had to admit, and he probably would have laughed right in the kid's face, except that he knew for a fact that his eyes held the same, burning gleam whenever he talked about his own dream, which admittedly wasn't often. People didn't seem to have much interest in dreams anymore. Coincidentally, Zoro didn't have much interest in people. And he knew, somehow, that if he ever felt like telling this kid what his dream was ─ which at the moment he didn't really ─ the kid wouldn't laugh at him, either.
He'd probably just cackle his triumphant, little cackle, and grin some more.
"Sounds adventurous," Zoro said after a moment, taking a sip of Coke before heading towards the couch in the living room that had been tempting him since he walked in the door. He collapsed into the surprisingly soft cushions with a groan of pleasure, the kid flopping beside him, sloshing his soda and jabbering excitedly.
"It will be! I'll see all the islands, and hunt for buried treasure, and save countries! And I'm gonna take all my friends with me, 'cuz I'll need a crew and…hey!" the boy cried suddenly, face lunging into Zoro's. "Wanna come with? You live here now, so you're nakama! You can come with me when I become a pirate!"
He eyed the kid a moment, taking a measured sip of cola. "What's your name?"
The kid blinked, a little confused by the switch of topic, but forgot about it the next second. "I'm Luffy! Nice to meet ya!"
"Zoro," he said, offering his hand which Luffy grabbed and shook vigorously.
"Welcome to the Merry Sun Apartments, Zoro!"
Zoro and Luffy talked and drank soda well into the night, the solitary street lamp on their block pouring light feebly through the multitude of windows behind them. One window was cracked open to let in the cool, autumn air, the sound of the pirate flag flapping in the breeze outside and passing cars as their background music. Although, it was probably more accurate to say that they didn't talk for hours so much as Luffy jabbered endlessly about anything and everything that came to mind, while Zoro listened and answered the occasional question Luffy asked whenever he forgot what he'd been talking about.
"So, how long've you lived in New York?"
Zoro finished off his fifth Coke with a low belch, and said, "About five hours."
Luffy laughed, like he did pretty much any time Zoro said something. "Really? Where'd you live before?"
"I had a place in Philadelphia before this; old, dingy apartment less than half this size."
"Why'd you leave?"
"Felt like livin' somewhere else."
"So you came here 'cuz you like New York?"
"Nope, hate the place."
"So why move some place you hate?"
"'Cuz it's somewhere else."
Again Luffy laughed, slapping Zoro's arm and rocking slightly. "You're funny, Zoro! I'm glad you're gonna live here!"
"Hnnn…" Zoro lulled, debating whether the pain in his abdomen was enough to coax his lazing ass off the couch and find the toilet. After a few more minutes of being too distracted by the discomfort to pay attention to the hyper-active kid next to him ─ not that he'd been paying a hell of a lot of attention before ─ he cut in with, "Oi, where's the bathroom in this place?"
The dark-haired boy blinked owlishly again, and Zoro could practically hear the rusty gears sputtering in his unused brain. "Hm? The bathroom? It's over there, ta the right of your room."
Zoro nodded, stood, and turned right, heading towards the door beside the kitchen. He'd almost reached the handle when the boy called out, "Wait, where are you going, I said it was over there!" Zoro turned to see the kid pointing in the complete opposite direction. He about-faced, wordlessly walking to the other side of the apartment. He reached for the handle again, to be stopped by, "No, the right side, the right, not the left!" So, muttering only a little, Zoro shuffled to the right, opened the door, and stepped into what was ─ thankfully ─ the bathroom, without any more interruption, other than the sound of hysterical laughter at his back. He was determined not to give a shit.
But minutes later, when Zoro emerged from the bathroom, wiping his damp hands on the thighs of his pants, to see that the boy was rolling around on the couch, still laughing himself sick, he growled low and not-so-gently shoved the boy over for a spot on the sofa. "All right already, enough. It wasn't that funny."
"Yes it was!" Luffy gasped, dissolving into giggles the next second. "You're kinda dumb, aren't you?"
"Shut up!" Zoro yelled, nudging him roughly again, but the boy just laughed harder. He refused to admit that heat was creeping up his neck just then. And if it was, then it was infuriated heat, surely. A million miles away from embarrassed. Yeah.
"How─" broke off for more snickers, "How did you manage to find this building? You couldn't even find the bathroom!"
Zoro scowled further, not happy to be reminded of his strange encounter earlier that day. "Some weird girl I saw on the street. Showed her the ad and said I needed directions, so she walked me here. She was going this way anyhow."
"Weird girl?" Luffy asked.
"Yeah, she sounded like she might know you. Or know of you. Either way, she said if I needed help getting a good price to say that, 'Diamond' sent me."
It was a good thing Luffy'd already finished his Coke, because if he'd still been drinking, most of the beverage would have ended up on Zoro's face. The kid sputtered, half coughing and half laughing uncontrollably. He clutched his sides, legs flailing as he guffawed himself stupid. Again.
"Oi," Zoro said, "what the fuck's so funny now?"
"Y-you met 'Diamond'!?" Luffy cried.
The older man arched an eyebrow. "Yeah. So what?"
"Sh-she's ─ haha! ─ she's my brother Ace!"
For a moment the only sound in the apartment was Luffy's gasping shrieks of mirth, while a catatonic Zoro simply blinked at the spasming boy. The words sunk in slowly, followed by the memories of the woman's swaying hips in a tight mini-skirt, sharp spike heels making her taller than Zoro, the feel of her nonexistent breasts flush with Zoro's chest as she innocently kissed his cheek.
"That was a fucking guy!?" Zoro screamed in a shocked-but-manly way.
"Yeah!" Luffy laughed. "Fooled you, didn't he?"
He shivered slightly, frowning at the bizarre memories ─ that seemed even more bizarre now ─ plaguing his mind.
"So your bother's a cross-dresser?"
"Naw, not really," the boy said, a few more giggles still in him . "He just likes to see the look on guy's faces when they find out he's not actually a girl! Sort of a weird hobby."
"Really weird," Zoro muttered, again disappointed that there wasn't any beer in the apartment. "He doesn't stay here?"
"Nah, Ace has his own place over in Arizona. He shows up in New York kinda randomly; I think he hitch-hikes. He says he only comes to see me and my friends, but I think he's got somebody, 'cuz he doesn't spend all his time around here."
Despite his massive caffeine intake, Zoro couldn't seem to keep his eyes open for too much longer. The aftermath of that rather unpleasant surprise had brought back all the exhaustion of travelling with full force, and every time he blinked now, his eyes would cross in a valiant attempt to stay closed. It had been such a long, semi-shitty day, and Zoro's brain was tired of operating. And since there was no booze, he might as well not be awake. And sleep sounded like a really, really good idea…
"Oi, don't nod off!" the boy cried, realizing half-way through some bullshit monologue about sausage that he was losing his audience. "You just got here, you can't be tired yet! I still need to tell you about all the great places to eat, like that one place over on Avenue B, it's got steaks the size of two pumpkins, and it's─"
"─Luffy?" Zoro asked, closing his eyes and hunkering down in the couch cushions.
"How old are you?"
"Would you like to turn twenty some day?"
"Well, yeah. 'Cuz then I'd be one year closer to drinking, even though I don't really like beer too much. Or wine. Or really any of that stuff."
"If you're gonna turn twenty, I've got some advice."
There was a little squeak as the weight on the couch shifted, and a warm breath ghosting over Zoro's face, as the kid leaned in and asked excitedly, "Really? Like what?"
Zoro took a deep breath and arched his neck a little closer to him. "Like…SHUT THE HELL UP AND LET ME SLEEP, DAMMIT!" he yelled, and then Luffy yelled, "AAAAAAAAAAH!!" and flew backwards, flopping on the cushions.
"Ahhh, I'm death! I'm death, I'll never be able to hear again!! AAAH!"
"…you're not deaf. You're not death, either, you're fine."
"…really? Oh good, I got scared for a second that─hey! Zoro, you meanie! That freaked me out!"
"Can you shut up for two seconds!"
"But Zoro~~~~~!" the boy whined, and he could practically hear the pout, 'cuz like hell was he gonna bother opening his eyes again. "I wanna talk some more! Sanji doesn't get back for two days, and no one's talked with me for ages!"
I can't imagine why…
"Look," Zoro grunted. "I'll still be here tomorrow. I'll talk to you then. Just let me sleep."
And then, like a blessing straight from some faceless deity ─ that Zoro didn't believe in anyway ─ silence descended in the large room, and he could finally feel the tendrils of sweet unconsciousness wrapping around his mind, pulling him into a deep, warm abyss of rest and relaxation. Tense muscles uncoiled, and Zoro allowed himself to be carried off into that blissful sleep. This wasn't so bad. Living with this guy would probably be pretty easy. Yeah. This wasn't bad….this….
"Hey! You didn't even give me advice about turning twenty! You lied, Zoro! That's not nice, you don't lie to nakama, nakama always tell the truth, no matter what, you need to learn to be a better nakama, because nakama─"
"Where the fuck is your off-switch!"
This would take some getting used to.
Hey y'all! I'm back! This story isn't finished yet, and it gets long. I ain't shittin' you. Some of these chapter are nigh on twenty pages long, so says my Microsoft Word program. It'll get horrifying. Please Enjoy. :)