Smoker stared after that damned pirate ship with a frown on his face. "We'll get you, you bastards."
"Smoker Taisa! Permission to fire!"
"Denied. We're nowhere near close enough yet. Don't do anything stupid." Smoker turned around and headed back inside. "But more importantly," He mumbled to himself as he absentmindedly stroked Zoro's back and scratched behind his ears, "I need to put you somewhere safe." He made the journey down into the brig and placed Zoro inside one of the temporary holding cells, putting a kairouseki collar around his neck. "I know it seems over the top, but if you're turning back soon, I'm not taking any chances." He laid Zoro down on his side and stared at the limp body for a moment before heading back up the stairs.
'If Sanji's pocket had been this 'safe' you wouldn't be in this situation.' Zoro thought, the bitterness in his inner mind's tone so strong that it almost made his mouth want to pucker.
'Shut up. They'll find me.'
'Not if you're lying about in a cell like a sack of rice! Get up, dammit, this isn't the time to be a pussy!'
Zoro ignored the pun, whether it had been intended or not. 'But…'
Zoro – begrudgingly admitting that his inner reason just may have a point – used all his strength to stand up. The collar was incredibly heavy, and he had a hard time holding up his head. He bowed his head down; the weight was too great for his weak neck to support. But, oh! What was this? Zoro used his paw to help keep the collar in place as he twisted his head. If he could just twist it a little more, he could slide right out of his binds! Haha, Smoker hadn't anticipated this; Zoro was sure. He felt incredibly clever.
After finally being able to free his alarmingly flexible cranium from the collar, slipping through the gaps in the cell door was child's play. Zoro couldn't help but chuckle to himself; it was like the excitement of such an easy escape had elated him to the point of a substance-free high. He ran down the corridor and slinked up the stairs in complete silence. He barely felt the painful tugs of his stomach cramps as he peeked around the corner. His cat eyes caught every little bit of movement; his ears caught even the tiniest of sounds. When he finally made it to the deck, he was able to find an amazing hiding spot, where he figured he could wait until his Nakama made their appearance.
Well, this would have been a perfect idea, except for one, minute detail. The barrel that Zoro had taken refuge in wasn't, in any way whatsoever, anchored to the deck. And with the storm blowing in, everything was shifting and sliding about, and that included empty, lightweight, wooden barrels with helpless, clueless, human-turned-kitten creatures inside of them. Zoro's barrel began to slide and he could feel that he was being tipped as the boat pitched violently. Thus, his barrel knocked over and his weakened body slid out from its hiding spot. He tried to get his footing, but, as the rain started to fall, the deck became slick and his paws slid out from under him, comically splaying his legs to make him look like an odd sort of kitten ninja star. 'God dammit...' After struggling a minute, and overcoming the tears of pain that ripped through his stomach, he was finally able to get up onto his feet.
"Oi!" Smoker's authoritative voice seemed to just travel above all else, and Zoro's highly sensitive ears were able to pick it up and identify it instantly. "Someone catch that cat! Don't allow it to escape!"
"But sir, the Straw Hat Pirates..."
"We'll be able to get them soon enough! I'm ordering you to contain that creature!" The marine soldiers looked amongst one another, confused by the unusual order. "Do you expect it to catch itself? Get him!"
Of course Zoro wasn't standing still throughout this entire exchange. What, and waste a perfect opportunity to find a new hiding place? Never. He had bolted the second he'd heard Smoker's order and had clamored up a flight of stairs. He was now at the bow of the ship, not sure where he should turn next. The ship he was on was steadily approaching another one of the marine ships. Perhaps he could jump across if he got high enough. Cats could fall incredible distances and still turn out okay...right? Yes, he'd heard that at some point, it must be true! He flashed back to when he'd climbed up the support beam on the Merry and his confidence wavered for a second. This time there'd be no Sanji to save him; he'd be all by his lonesome. Plus, the mast he was about to ascend was many times higher than Merry's. He let out a nervous meow and flattened his ears against his head.
"Heeeere kitty, kitty, kitty~" Several marines were calling. Zoro huffed at the way they were calling out to him. Did they honestly think he'd come when called? Who did they think he was? His smug confidence was restored and he quickly began to scramble up the foremast. He clung desperately to his spot, daring a peek down at the deck that was about 15 meters below him. He mewled pitifully before diverting his gaze out at the sea. He stared for a moment. Was something there? No, his eyes were playing tricks on him. Or maybe...
He stared a moment more until everything came into focus. He could see a ship! Not just another Marine ship, this was his ship! The Merry! He started to meow excitedly, unable to contain it. They'd managed to get back to him! He was going home!
"Oi! There it is! Up on the mast!"
"Climb up there and get him!"
'Shit!' He looked around, desperately trying to find an escape route. He scrambled to get onto the top yard, where he could stand more comfortably. He looked down and saw that the mindless drones had already made it about half way up the foremast. 'Damn, those buggers are fast...' He looked down the yard, and saw the mast of another ship. It was a long shot, but he figured he could make it. Lightening flashed overhead and an incredibly boom of thunder sounded immediately after. The intensity of the rain increased 10 fold, and Zoro was practically drowned in it. He let out an incredibly forlorn meow, a meow so pitiful that it matched his woebegone appearance.
"Don't worry little guy!" The marine closest to where Zoro was perched called. "We'll get you down! Don't be sc—" His consoling words were blocked out by another shockwave of sound. Zoro dug his claws into the wood and glared ahead at the edge of the top yard. There was an expanse of about 10 meters, hopefully less, to the deck of the ship parallel to the one he was currently on. If he could somehow, magically leap over that massive gap, then all would be well and good. He was growing desperate. With the incoming threat of the marines and the thought of successfully escaping them weighed heavily against his rationality. He shut his eyes tight. 'God, I just want this to be over!' When he opened his eyes again, he was only a foot away from the end of the top yard. He'd been slowly creeping along and had finally reached the point of no return. He turned around and saw that the marines were slinking along the top yard towards him. He turned back, looking at the expanse of water between himself and the deck of the other ship. Zoro took a deep breath and...
The Mugiwara Kaizokudan had all gone into a frenzy when they'd caught a glimpse of the fast approaching fleet behind the solitary Marine ship. They weren't concerned about the number of ships they were to do battle with – Usopp was, but he's an exception – what they were worried about was the fact that there were now about 20 ships, and they didn't know which one Zoro was on. That had been the issue that had thrown them into a panic. Plus, with the thunder already booming overhead signaling the arrival of the storm like a band of trumpeters for their king, anxiety was rising. Rain would only make this hell worse.
"Robin, m-maybe you could sprout eyes on all the ships! And search for him that way! You can do that right?" Usopp begged, wanting an easy solution to this unfortunate situation. Rain started to pour down in buckets and Nami had emerged from inside to deliver raincoats.
"Nagahana-kun, please be reasonable. There are perhaps over a hundred rooms on each ship. If it had been possible, I would have already begun to do so, but my abilities do have a limit."
"Ahhh…sh-shit!" Usopp, after grabbing his coat from Nami, climbed to the crows nest and vainly searched for Zoro, though he knew that it wouldn't be as easy as if he'd been sitting out in the open with a huge, neon sign directing them to him. Everyone else was remaining fairly calm, Nami was clearly worried, but she kept her composure well. Usopp tried to see what was going on those other ships, but the heavy rain made it difficult for him to see anything more than 100 feet away.
"Oi, Usopp!" Sanji called up from right by the base of the mast. "Tell me," Usopp looked down at Sanji's horribly forlorn face: the dark circles, the overgrown facial scruff, and the unkempt hair. They all added to his pitiable presence. "if you see anything!"
Sanji's voice was so sad that Usopp suddenly felt that his not spotting Zoro amidst this storm was completely unacceptable. The rain was heavy, but he continued to try his damnedest for Zoro, who he knew was out there somewhere. He gave up on using his goggles and brought out the telescope, scanning the ships. He could see that a bunch of Marines had climbed up one of the masts and he was wondering to himself why they would do such a thing? The sails were already up, and they certainly couldn't be thinking of unfurling them in this weather. They appeared to be chasing something...something...something...
Usopp screamed bloody murder. Everyone stopped what they were doing to look up at Usopp, who'd gone ridiculously pale. "I—" He was shaking so bad he could barely get his words out. "Z—Neko-Marimo!" Everyone flew to the front of the ship, trying to see him. The marine ships were now only about 200 feet away, within firing range, and had launched their attack.
"Usopp! Where is he? I can't see him!"
"Tell us where he is! We need to find him!"
"I gotta save Floofy from that Smokey bastard!"
"Usopp, tell us!"
The verbal assault was almost too much for his already weak, little heart to manage. "He—He jumped!" Usopp got down as fast as he could. "He just jumped right into the ocean!" Everyone froze in their places, their minds unable to compute what Usopp had just told them. "He was on the top yard of the foremast," Usopp continued to explain, "and then he just jumped! I think he was trying to get to the next ship, but..." Usopp's shoulder slumped as he delivered the bad news.
"C'mon everyone! If we hurry we can make it!" Suddenly a huge wave picked up and swept the Merry backwards. The waves were climbing in height, further separating the Straw Hats from their prized pet. Nami had taken control as she barked orders at the frazzled crewmembers. "Sanji-kun! I need you to—" She looked all over the deck, but there was no sign of Sanji anywhere. Fear for another one of her crewmates slowly sunk into her, but she suppressed her concern for the moment. She'd beat him up when she found him for making her worry, but for now she had a ship to manage. He couldn't have gotten far, not in this storm.
Zoro flailed his little legs, gasping in air whenever he could. He hadn't made it to the next ship, not by a long shot. His legs weren't strong enough to cover the distance. He'd been lucky when he'd missed the deck of the ship he'd been trying to escape from. He looked around and saw the Going Merry off in the distance. There was no way he could swim there, but he vainly tried to make some sort of progress. He paddled forwards with all his strength; it was all he could to keep from going under. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a huge wave overcame him and he was submersed instantly. His little body was suspended within the crystal clear, icy ocean water. Salt water was going up his nose and was running down into his lungs. It burned horribly. His body was going numb from the cold of the water. 'Stupid! You stupid moron!' He was sinking slowly into the dark abyss, and now his Nakama would never find him. If only he'd stayed put in that cell! They would've definitely found him there.
Suddenly, a strong tide seemed to wrap around him, pulling him upwards towards the surface. His head broke the surface and a strong, beating force slapped him on the back, forcing all that water out of his lungs. He gulped down breath after breath of that delicious air, thankful to be able to breathe again. His nose still stung like a bitch, but he had no right to complain. He was pressed against a semi-warm surface, but that surface was quickly losing heat, much like his own body was at the moment. Zoro's body was wracked with shivers, but a reassuring hand and a comforting voice was there for him as began to breathe.
"Shh, it's ok. Don't you worry. I've got you. You're going to be ok. You're safe, you're with me now." Sanji petted the little body that he'd been so worried about the past day or so. He couldn't help but kiss the top of Zoro's head, and after he'd one it once it was like he couldn't stop. He kissed Zoro's fuzzy head again and again, trying to communicate how worried he'd been for the little guy.
Zoro mewled lethargically, though happily, that he'd finally been reunited with Sanji. He would've nuzzled his savior right then and there if he hadn't been falling unconscious. When Zoro's happy mews died down, Sanji became worried, and he quickly began to swim back. He, his Neko-Marimo as well, was in serious danger of hypothermia. He'd known that his sudden, brash, impulsive move had been a serious gamble with his life, but it was all worth it to have his little bundle of joy back home where he belonged. As he swam, he could feel his muscles start to give out on him. His heart was beating more slowly and it was getting harder and harder to keep moving forward, but he couldn't stop. He couldn't give up on his nakama. He felt himself start to sink and he panicked, but something grabbed hold of him and yanked him out of the water. And before he knew it, he'd managed to make it back to the Merry, much thanks to Luffy's last minute grapple, and climbed on board to cries of anger filled worry and relieved embraces. When everyone saw that he had a shaking kitten in his arms they were all overjoyed. Nami began guiding the crew out of this mess as Sanji and Chopper hurried to the bathroom, where both Sanji and Zoro were to warm themselves back up to a normal body temperature.
Sanji sat comfortably in the bath with Zoro, who happily floated around in his own mini-bathtub. The cook looked down at his pet, a little bit of a frown setting in. "You stupid baka-marimo. You should have just waited for us to come get you! There's no point in trying to be valiant if you're just gonna cause more trouble in the back end." He berated.
Zoro looked up at him, his eyes clearly saying 'and whose fault was it that I got separated in the first place? I didn't ask to be placed in your pocket.'
Sanji sighed. That look made a point. He reached out and ran his fingers down Zoro's spine to where his back became his tail. He scratched his hips and Zoro began to purr. "I'm sorry. It really is all my fault when I think about it." He pulled the plug and took Zoro out of his personalized bathing unit, wrapping first himself and then Zoro in a towel. This was always Sanji's favorite part of giving Zoro a bath, as Zoro would always wind up looking like a real life marimo, and not just a figurative one. He wrapped Zoro up in the towel completely; rubbing his fur until he was sure he was completely dry. He sat on the floor placed Zoro down on the wooden surface. The towel was still for a moment before it started twitching. Eventually, a slightly frazzled head popped out from under one of the folds.
'I thought I'd never get out of there.'
"You know, Neko-Marimo. A test of an animal's intelligence is based off of how fast an animal can get a towel off their head." Sanji smirked as the kitten looked up and him and hissed. "It's interesting how you can always tell when I'm making fun of you." Sanji unwrapped the towel and just sat there staring for a moment. "You've gotten quite a bit bigger...it's a pity." Sanji stood up and grabbed the pajamas Chopper had been nice enough to deliver. Even though it really wasn't late enough for bed, Chopper had insisted that he rest his fatigued muscles at least for the night. So once he was dressed he picked up Zoro and made his way downstairs. Once settled on the couch, he pulled up the covers and placed Zoro on top. Instantly, Zoro got up and climbed in under the covers, creating a little bump right over Sanji's stomach. It made him look like he was pregnant with an oddly shaped baby. He could feel the little circle of warmth that Zoro was creating start to vibrate and he smiled. Things were right again...or so it seemed.
Yanno, I was asked to do a version of this fic with Franky and Brooke.