Suffocating, drenching cold. His body was numb instantly. The water and the sky were so black that he couldn't tell one from the other. Tall waves crashed over his head and filled his mouth and eyes with bitter salt. He struggled but he hadn't enough strength left to resist the raging dark. The waves forced him under into an unseeing, unhearing void.


Here's my story

It's sad but true

The faint melody was a familiar one. He'd lost track of how long he'd been sitting there on the park bench, alone except for the unwelcome company of his thoughts. One thing was certain, and that was the numb feeling in his ass. He contemplated moving and going somewhere else.

'Bout a girl that

I once knew

But there was nowhere else to go. So why not sit here in the dark, aimlessly watching the moths gather around a nearby street lamp? The streets were empty, and no one would come to move him on. He could just sit there all night on that bench and wait for the morning to come. And when it came, he'd decide what to do then.

She took my love

And ran around

He pushed back his black short-brimmed hat so it covered less of his face, and looked around. This area of town was dead. All the buildings were boarded up, and lined the pavements like hollowed, forgotten shells. The only signs of life were him (and he doubted for a moment whether to even count himself), the moths and the tired-looking swing-bar just down the street.

With every single

Guy in town

He'd been sitting there for a fair while and not seen a soul coming or going from the place, but once it had gotten dark he'd been able to catch faint strains of music drifting from it. A drink suddenly seemed like a very good idea.

He rose from his seated position for the first time in hours, and was unsurprisingly stiff even for a man of his youth. He flexed his back and shoulders, working out the kinks in his muscles and slipped a hand beneath his long black jacket to encourage some feeling back into his ass. He picked up the long, matt-black metal cylinder he always carried with him, slinging it over his shoulder by the strap, and made down the street to where the light was coming from.

He peered up at the bar's forlorn exterior. Its front would have been gaily painted at one time before sun-aging and peeling took their toll, and outside it there was a red-and-white striped awning sheltering a number of unused tables and chairs. The place was named the "Going Merry". The man raised a sharp-angled eyebrow. Seemed like a stupid name to him, but there were no other bars open. Nothing else was open in this neighbourhood.

Inside, the place was as dead as the streets outside, though the room was large enough for a sizeable number of guests. There was only one other patron that he could see, and he'd already drunk himself into a snoring stupor at a table in the middle. At the opposite side of the room to the bar was a raised platform, on which a group of people were performing for the pleasure of the unconscious alcoholic. At least now he could place what he'd been hearing all evening.

He sidled up to the bar, setting down his cylinder and pulling up a stool. The barman eyed him warily as he dried a wine glass with great care.

"What can I get you?" He asked.

"Bourbon on the rocks" The man replied. He watched as the barman fetched his drink. He was one of the oddest-looking guys he'd ever seen, with his strangely long nose and huge afro, restrained at the back of his head with a tie, but he worked with effortless skill.

"Thanks." He said, as the glass of syrupy brown liquid was placed in front of him.

"I'll add it to your tab." The long-nosed man said, already writing. He supposed that was presumptuous, but wasn't in the mood to make a point. He took a deep swig from the glass, feeling the rich warmth from the liquor infiltrate his lifeless body. "What's your name?" The barman asked, looking at him with pen in hand.

"Zoro." He replied. The other man scribbled his name on the tab and tore it from the pad, placing it beside the cash register. Looking around, Zoro wondered why they had a need for bar tabs at all.

"Tuesdays are quiet." The man offered, as if in answer. He'd said it almost with a resigned sigh, and returned to his diligent glass-drying.

Zoro took another sip.

"Tuesdays aren't the only days though, Usopp." A female voice said, from behind him. He heard the sound of glass clinking, then the woman appeared beside him and passed an armful over the bar to the barman. She turned to Zoro and smiled.

"Things will pick up, Nami!" The barman said, suddenly puffing out his chest. She walked away, muttering, to pointlessly wipe down some already clean tables. He deflated again. "I'm sure of it…"

This was one of those moments, Zoro supposed, where you could either chose to strike up a conversation or sit quiet and say nothing. And he didn't have anything else planned that evening.

"Slow business?" He said.

The barman rolled his eyes and shook his head, placing a glass gently on a shelf above his head. "You've no idea." He said. Zoro thought he had a pretty good idea, though. Usopp came over and leaned on the bar in front of him. "Every night it's dead in here. Nothing but the odd drunkard. We've barely enough to pay the bills, let alone the staff."

"How come? I mean, you've got the liquor, the live music and the company…" Zoro said, motioning behind him at the sleeping man.

Usopp managed a grin, but it faded. "Who knows."

There was a sudden loud 'bang' somewhere in the building. Even the unconscious man stirred a little. A door flew open and out of it stumbled a suited man with a slight figure and jet-black hair. He was caught somewhere between laughing and coughing, wafting his hand through some grey smoke that had followed him.

"What did you do now?" The barmaid asked him through gritted teeth, hands on hips.

Over on the platform, the music had stopped and the man in sunglasses behind the piano was getting to his feet. Zoro stared for a moment at his bright-blue hair. A musician thing, he supposed. "Super, I guess that'll be me then," The man said reluctantly.

"Thanks Franky!" The man beamed. Then added: "Sanji! Make me a steak!"

"I'm in the middle of a fucking set you asshole!" Came the singer's response from across the room.

Zoro looked at Usopp. "Who the hell is that?"

"That would be our manager."

"Is he even old enough to be a manager?"

Usopp nodded. "Yeah," He said, then tapped the side of his temple with a finger. "In here, not so much."

Zoro laughed. The expression felt foreign, and faded quickly. "Is it always like this?"

The man folded his arms and sighed. "Aaaalways." He said, smiling.

~*~

The place was in a terrible state; wallpaper hung off the walls in great long strips, every room smelled of mould and rotten floorboards peered up forlornly between butchered carpet scraps. The couch was less something for sitting on and more a focus for pity, its misshapen brown form squatting impassively on the floor after years of abuse.

"I'll take it." Zoro told the landlord. The man had to stop himself from rubbing his hands with glee.

When the landlord had left - practically skipping - he stood alone in the front room and stared around. The dusty coffee table, dearly departed sofa, a wooden chair and a wire-framed bed upstairs were the only pieces of furniture in the whole dilapidated rental house. And that suited him fine.

He spent the rest of his afternoon buying new clothes. Two suits, both grey-pinstripe pants and waistcoat matched with a white shirt and black braces. Both identical. He bought a new black coat to go with them, and two throw-over sheets – one for the sofa (because there was no way he was sitting on that thing without one) and one for the bed.

Once home, he changed into one of his new suits and threw his old clothes away in a dustbin round the corner. The blood would only wash out so many times. He pulled off his short-brimmed hat and went to lay it on top of the others in the bin, but changed his mind and replaced it on his head.

The place was as complete as it was ever going to be. He'd cleaned the dust off the table and aired out all the rooms to release the suffocating smell, and the couch didn't look quite so bad now with the deep-blue throw covering it. He sat down to test it. It responded with a deep creaked complaint, and was so soft Zoro wondered if it had in fact eaten all the previous occupants of the building and that was why the place was in such a bad state of repair.

He leaned out of it and examined his new shoes, rubbing a dust-mark off at the toe of one foot.

Not bad.

It was getting late now, and the light was dimming. Then he realised he'd forgotten to get new lightbulbs, and cursed under his breath. He wasn't about to spend the evening alone in the dark again, this time without the moths for company.

He pulled on his new coat and old hat, and headed out with his metal cylinder slung over his shoulder as always.

He walked around for a couple of blocks, fairly certain he'd gotten lost somehow, then became aware that he knew where he was – exactly where he'd been the previous night. The lights were on in the Going Merry, and he could hear the sound of laughter.

He pushed his way into the bar to be met by the flowing refrains of Frank Sinatra.

"That's life,

That's what all the people say,"

The same collection of people from the previous night were on the stage again; the blue-haired pianist, a very tall and painfully thin guy playing the saxophone and the blond singer with curtained hair.

"You're riding high in April,

Shot down in May,"

The barman was laughing uproariously at the lot of them as they overplayed their parts, emphasising every movement and note they made.

"But I don't let it

Let it get me down,"

They were grinning at each other like idiots, and occasionally the singer would have trouble forming the lyrics or just forget them entirely from laughing too hard.

"I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,
A poet, a pawn and a king,"

But regardless, he was still very good. The manager and the barmaid were singing and clapping along with them.

"Each time I find myself laying flat on my face,
I just pick myself up and get back in the race,"

Zoro pulled up the same stool as he had done the previous evening, and turned to watch the rest of the performance.

"Many times I thought of cutting out
But my heart won't buy it,

But if there's nothing shakin' come this here July
I'm gonna roll myself up in a big ball and die"

The ending was a screaming melody of instruments and vocals, each jockeying for position to great effect and rapturous applause from the few people in the bar. Zoro surprised himself by being one of them.

"Bourbon on the rocks?" The barman asked him, with a grin. He nodded.

"I should settle my tab from yesterday," He said, pulling out his wallet.

Usopp waved a dismissive hand at him. "Do it later." He said, and handed Zoro his drink as he slid his wallet back into his pocket. The shot was more generous this time.

There was a scrape as someone pulled up a barstool beside him.

"Oi, Usopp, Bourbon no ice please."

"Coming right up."

There was a sound of rustling paper and cardboard followed by a sharp metallic click and a sort of hiss as the man lit a cigarette. He breathed in deeply and emptied his lungs with a satisfied sigh. "Ah, that feels good."

"You should be careful with those things, you don't want to ruin your voice." Usopp told him, sliding his drink across the bar.

The singer fixed his gaze. "Who are you, my mother?" He said flatly. The barman scowled at him.

"Don't go blaming me when your vocal cords fall out."

"Ah, the worst that'll happen is I'll end up with a rougher baritone." He tested out the bottom end of his range with a series of 'ee's, each lower than the last. "Wouldn't be so bad. Besides, doctors say these are medicinal."

Usopp raised an eyebrow at him.

"Sanji, you were great today!" The barmaid said, winking and stroking the man's chin as she passed.

"Thank you Nami!" He flustered, turning with her as she moved past him until he had his back to the bar. He tilted his head and watched her go, leaning on his elbows. He tapped Zoro on the arm with the back of his hand. "Perks of the job, eh?"

Zoro stared at him flatly for the unwarranted intrusion into his personal space. The man grinned, wiggling his strange curled eyebrow.

"My bad, I'm Sanji." The singer said, holding out his hand.

"Zoro." He replied, shaking it.

"Sanji!" Came a yell from the direction of the kitchen. The man's shoulders slumped.

"Does that bastard never tire of eating?" He muttered, sloping off.

"Hey, do you want anything to eat?" Usopp asked Zoro.

He suddenly remembered he hadn't eaten in days. "Yeah, sure."

"Oi Sanji! Make something for our customer as well!" The barman yelled, towelling another glass.

"Sure, whatever." Came the response as the man disappeared through a door.

When Sanji reappeared, it was with steak and mashed potatoes. Zoro's mouth watered like the Niagara Falls at the sight of it, but he restrained himself and ate it slowly, savouring each mouthful. When he was done, the man returned to collect his plate.

"How was it?" He asked.

"Awful." Zoro replied, taking a sip from his Bourbon on the rocks.

"What?" Sanji spat from around his cigarette. "But you fucking ate everything!"

"Of course." Zoro said coolly, fixing the blond man's gaze. "It may have tasted terrible, but I'm not ungrateful enough to leave any."

Sanji just looked at him for a second, then a thought seemed to occur to him.

"Luffy!" He yelled. "Did you do anything weird to this meat?"

The manager's head appeared from the kitchen door. The sight of his mouth moving appeared to grate with Sanji, as he bit down on his cigarette in annoyance.

"No!" He cried. "All I did was pour some Tabasco on it."

Sanji looked down at Zoro, who appeared rather flushed.

"What the hell did you do that for!?"

"He looked like the kind of guy to like it!"

"Don't decide things like that on your own!" He shouted, and the manager dove back into the kitchen. He turned back to Zoro. "I'm terribly sorry, allow me to make amends." He said, and was gone before Zoro could tell him that he didn't want anything else really. But when Sanji brought him another plate of food he dove into it immediately. This time, it was incredible.

When he was done, Zoro settled his tab, thanked the barman and left. The cold night air hit and he pulled his coat in around him, walking past the Going Merry's frosted window and through the light spilling from the bar into the dark street. He re-traced his steps home, thankful to have a belly full of food and veins full of liquor.

The house was dark and dank, and still smelled of mould. Worse still, he couldn't see and didn't know the lay-out of the house well enough yet to navigate it properly. He fumbled his way into the front room and aimed himself in what he thought was the general direction of the couch. The sharp stab in his shin from an impact with the coffee table told him he was close. He dropped himself onto the soft furnishing and closed his eyes.

~*~

A/N: I wanted this to be a 1960s AU, but I didn't want to carry over a lot of stuff from the 60s such as racism, sexism and homophobia. So I guess this is a 60s AU in more of an aesthetic than realistic quality.

All comments and reviews gratefully received.

~*~