It was a really strange island that they had found, but Zoro could only smirk. These people didn't have devil fruit, but they had something just as interesting – and this was the place where Zoro had been born. People here, on their fourth birthday, were led to the cursed springs in the mountain ranges and told the names of all the different pools, and then were required to choose one to jump into. Zoro had left his home here shortly after he had chosen his 'curse,' and he could only grin as Usopp and Luffy stared at a small black pig walking over to a permanently running hot shower on the side of the street and turning into a naked man, who quickly wrapped himself around with one of the many towels left nearby, and everybody else in the street didn't even turn – it was the most normal thing in the world to them after all.
"W-what's going on here?" Nami demanded quietly.
Zoro chuckled. "It's the way of the island, that's all," he explained, quickly arresting the attention of every member of the crew.
"Swordsman-san, you know this place?" Robin asked.
Zoro nodded. "It's home," he answered. "I left a little after my fourth birthday."
"UWAH!" Luffy exclaimed. "You're home town was in the Grand Line and you never said!"
Zoro shrugged. "No one ever asked," he answered simply before looking over to Sanji. "Oi, ero-cook, don't romance anybody unless you want a kick in the pants. Around here, people get promised at five."
"So you left before you could get promised," Nami chuckled.
"That's right," he answered firmly, frowning. "If people from this island want to escape arranged marriages, they have to leave quickly. Most of the kids don't mind much though."
"But I don't understand about these hot showers," Usopp said, walking up to one, scratching his chin. "Are they magic or something?" he asked.
Chopper, following close behind Usopp, held out a hoof under the flow.
"Do the waters here change animals into people Zoro? Like the devil fruit that I ate?" the reindeer asked.
"Not the showers," he answered. "They just return everyone to their real form."
"Real form?" Sanji asked.
Zoro nodded and walked down the street with a gesture for them all to follow him. "This island is called Jusenkyo, and up these mountains are the springs the island is named for," he said, then began the explanation of the springs and the 'curse' of the people of the island as he led them up the mountain. "So don't go anywhere near those pools," he said as a final warning before knocking on the door of a hut located only a short way from the springs.
"Who's knocking?" a voice grumbled from within before the door was opened. A wizened, wrinkled old woman opened the door and peered up at Zoro.
"Hello Father," Zoro said.
Everybody behind him – even Robin – flinched in surprise at the address.
"Well well, if it isn't the prodigal child," the woman said. "Don't tell me you came back because you have a child who needs a dunking. That lot behind you are all too old to be yours, unless the reindeer -"
"No father. The reindeer is a reindeer. May we come in?" Zoro asked.
"Hmph," the woman grumbled, but opened the door wider and let Zoro and the crew into her hut.
"I-it's an honour to meet you," Nami said, bowing to the old woman.
The old woman nodded and moved to the kettle over the fire. "When was the last time you had a hot bath?" she demanded of Zoro.
The green-haired man frowned. "Before I left," he answered. "You use that water on yourself."
Luffy, Usopp and Sanji looked at each other in surprise. Hadn't Zoro been with them in the bathhouse? All the steam – Oh, but he had only used the cold baths. They all mentally just shrugged it off.
"Hmph," the old woman said, and poured the kettle of water over her shrivelled form. Suddenly she was a little taller, and her hair wasn't red laced with white, but black streaked with grey. "My name is Ranma," the man said. "I am one of those who chose the pool of the drowned maiden."
Several jaws had dropped and pretty much everyone was staring.
"Mother always said it was because, even as a child, father was a pervert," Zoro said, causing his father to grin and cackle softly. "Fascinated with breasts," the moss-head added with a deep scowl.
"Now now," Ranma scolded as he wagged a finger. "Just because you dislike them doesn't mean that everybody does."
All eyes moved from Ranma to Zoro, and as he returned their looks their jaws all abruptly snapped shut.
"I just came to see if you and Mother were still alive," Zoro said, folding his arms and looking away from his crew and his father. "Since we were in the area. So, do I have siblings I've never met, or are you having to give the guardianship away to another couple?"
Ranma sighed, shaking his head. "Yes," he answered. "Yes, your little brother Taro chose the pool of the drowned yeti riding an ox and holding an eel, and his betrothed, Yumi, who chose the pool of the drowned duck. Though it should go to you as the eldest of my children."
Zoro narrowed his eyes. "Except that I left, and I have no intention of staying, and even if I did I have no betrothed to continue the line with anyway. This has happened before. Don't get so upset about it," he growled. "Is Taro here?"
"No, he's with his betrothed on the island of preparation right now. How long are you staying?" Ranma asked, turning from them to attend to the fire.
"Until the log-pose sets again," Zoro answered, looking towards Nami.
"About two days," she answered, still in a bit of shock at the name of the pool the unknown 'Taro' had chosen to curse himself with.
"Well, your mother is down in the town. Hopefully she's buying dinner from one of the inns, rather than buying ingredients from the markets. She still can't cook after all these years," Ranma said.
"Would any of your friends care for a dip in the cursed springs?" Ranma offered with a sly smile, rubbing his hands together surreptitiously at the prospect.
"Three of them can't go into the water," Zoro answered sharply. "And the other three aren't that stupid Father."
"Oh? That's a shame," Ranma said, shaking his head.
"What's a shame you jerk?" a voice yelled from just beyond the door, before a woman came stomping in, a basket over her arm.
"That our child and his friends can't stay for more than two days," Ranma answered smoothly, gesturing to Zoro with a smile. "They're only staying until their log-pose resets."
The woman – also old, with grey wisps through her short, ebony-blue hair – halted suddenly and turned to look at the guests in the house, her large brown eyes landing on Zoro.
He rubbed the back of his neck and smiled sheepishly. "Hello Mother," he said quietly.
"Oh my baby!" the woman yelled happily, dropping the basket and throwing her arms around Zoro, crying into his chest. "How I've missed you all these years," she said as she wept.
"Akane, you're making a scene and an embarrassment of yourself," Ranma said, offering a tissue to Zoro so that he could wipe up his mother's tears.
"Mother, if you keep crying you will change into your other form," Zoro said, wiping her face and gently prying her off of him.
"Yes, I'm sorry dear," Akane said, taking the tissue and wiping her own face, stepping back from Zoro. "Oh, excuse me, would your friend like a hot shower?" she asked, indicating Chopper.
"I'm sure they would all like a hot shower, but Chopper is actually a reindeer," Zoro answered. "We aren't going to stay that long though, we'll check into the inn back in town. Is cousin Ryoga still running it?"
Ranma and Akane both nodded.
"It was an honour to meet you both," Robin said politely, bowing to the elderly couple before she stepped out of the door. Chopper followed behind her, bowing at the door before he exited as well – slowly, the others followed the archaeologist and the doctor's examples and left the small hut.
"Would you mind if we see you off when you leave?" Akane asked, grabbing Zoro's wrist before he too could leave the hut, as well as shoving her hand into his pocket and leaving a rather heavy pouch there, a fierce look in her eyes.
"No, I don't mind," he answered. "I'd actually like that very much," he added before leaving his parents behind and rejoining the rest of the crew who had waited outside for him.
"You won't get lost on the way back down will you Zoro?" Nami asked as they set off.
"I haven't been here since I was four, and I still knew the path up to my parent's hut," Zoro retorted with a slight huff. "No Nami, I won't get lost."
He didn't either, and even pointed out which streets had what kind of shops on them, and said which had been the best ones when he had been small, before he came to a halt outside a yellow building called 'pigs bladder inn' and pushed the door open.
"Oi, Ryoga! You in here?" he called out as he headed towards the bar.
A middle-aged man – younger than Ranma and Akane, but older than most of the straw-hat crew – with a yellow bandanna keeping his black hair out of his brown eyes stuck his head out from a storage room, looking around until he spotted Zoro.
"Well I never! You've come back!" Ryoga cried happily, putting down whatever it was he was carrying in the other room and moving to hug Zoro.
"Ryoga, this is my Captain, Monkey D. Luffy," Zoro said, introducing the crew one at a time. "Our navigator, Nami, Doctor Tony Tony Chopper, chef Sanji, the sharpshooter Usopp – don't believe a word he says unless it's that he's hungry – and last but not least, this is Robin, who makes sure the levels of insanity on our ship don't get too high."
Ryoga bowed politely to all of them before turning back to his cousin. "And what name are you going by these days? I somehow doubt it's Saotome."
Zoro shook his head. "No, I abandoned Father's name when I left the island. I'm Roronoa Zoro now."
Ryoga nodded with a sceptical smile. "That's got even more O's in it that you used to have," he commented, though he made no mention of the famed bounty on the heads of each of the straw-hat crew.
Zoro shrugged. "Think we can stay here a couple of days while the log pose resets and we stock up on food?"
"Of course! And your beds are on the house – if I get to hear what adventures you've been up to that is," Ryoga said, smiling broadly, slapping Zoro on the back. "Food isn't free though, I remember you had a bottomless pit where your stomach was supposed to be when you were a kid, and I bet you still do!"
Zoro laughed. "You just watch Luffy pack it away!" he retorted.
Ryoga sat beside his cousin and listened to the stories the crew of the Going Merry had to tell, fascinated by all of their tales, and very determinedly biting his lip to keep from laughing at all of Usopp's ridiculous adventures. It was an hour into this feast of stories that Ryoga's daughter came up to the table – his wife, Yume, had come and gone several times with food, for them and other customers, and enjoyed a few of the stories herself. Nearly everyone in the inn was edging closer to hear what Zoro had been up to since he'd disappeared when he was four.
"Ah, Jenny," Ryoga said, picking up his little brown-haired girl and settling her on his knee. "This is my cousin Zoro. Say hello."
"Hello Uh... Uncle Zoro?" Jenny said around her thumb, her big doe-eyes fixed on Zoro's face.
Zoro smiled. "Hello Jenny," he answered, leaning down slightly so that he was on level with her face. "How old are you now?"
Jenny smiled hugely around the thumb still lodged in her mouth. "I turn four tomorrow!" she answered brightly. "Daddy says that tomorrow I get to go up to the cursed pools," Jenny frowned then. "But I don't know which one to pick. My friend Naoko picked the drowned duck, and my friend Chichi picked the drowned cat, and my friend Jonny picked the drowned horse! There are so many different pools, and I don't know what one to pick!"
Zoro looked up at Ryoga, his arms held out slightly to take the child if he didn't mind. Ryoga shook his head and handed the little girl over to his cousin.
"There's nothing to stop you from picking the same one as your friends, or you could pick one of the pools your parents chose," Zoro suggested.
"But Daddy's is a pig, and Mama is a dog. I don't want to be either of those ones! An' I can't pick the same one as my friends, cause then I'd get teased for copying," Jenny insisted.
"What about the pool of the drowned panda?" Zoro suggested. "Panda's are nice aren't they?"
Jenny shook her head. "Panda's a fat and stupid," she answered with a pout.
Zoro chuckled and leant down to the little girl's ear, whispering to her.
"Thank you Uncle Zoro!" Jenny said with a bright smile. "I know which one to pick now! No one will ever tease me for my choice!" she said, then stretched up to give Zoro a kiss on his cheek before she hopped off his lap and skipped away.
Ryoga raised an eyebrow at Zoro.
"I told her about my pick when I turned four," Zoro answered to the look.
The straw-hat crew all paused in their eating, their eyes sliding to look at Zoro. They hadn't realised that he had also done this thing which caused people to become cats and dogs and pigs. After all, he'd dived into the ocean so often, and it was cold even on the nicest days. They would have seen a different form if he had one by now, surely!
"So Zoro, will you go with her tomorrow up to the cursed springs?" Ryoga asked. "I've got the inn to run. Yume can show your friends around the shops to help stock your ship," he offered.
Zoro shook his head. "I couldn't let your wife deal with these guys. They're terrible," Zoro answered, jerking his thumb in Luffy and Usopp's direction before he turned to Nami who was sitting opposite Ryoga. "Aren't they Nami-san?"
Nami rolled her eyes and nodded.
"Besides, I'd scare off her friends who want to go with her to see what she picks," Zoro added.
Robin chuckled. "Swordsman-san, you have been almost uncharacteristically pleasant since we arrived on this island. Do you really believe you would scare off Jenny-chan's friends?"
"Of course he would," Sanji slipped in. "Marimo's got that kind of face. No one likes to look at him except for his family."
Ryoga growled and made to lunge at the blonde, but Zoro held his cousin back. "Don't worry about it Ryoga," Zoro said calmly. "Sanji and I have been fighting almost since the day we met," he added with a chuckle. "He doesn't mean it."
"Like hell I don't, Marimo," Sanji growled.
Zoro stood. "Just like I don't mean it when I call his cooking shit," he added. "It's just more interesting to fight than it is to be friends. Now, you said something about beds?"
Sanji's shock was clear on his face as he stared after the swordsman as he was led up some stairs by Ryoga. "He just ..."
"Cook-san? You've gone pale," Robin observed.
"Forgive me, Robin-chan for being distracted from your radiance!" Sanji gushed, wiggling a little closer to her.
Zoro was already awake when the rest of the crew came down from the rooms that Ryoga had given them. Even Sanji, who was usually the first one awake, descended to find the moss-head already up and talking to Jenny over rice and bacon.
"So you left instead of getting betrothed?" Jenny was asking.
Zoro nodded. "I didn't like any of the boys or girls who were my age, so after I'd been to the cursed springs, I snuck onto a pirate ship and ran away from the Grand Line altogether – though I didn't know that the pirate ship I was on was leaving the Grand Line at the time," Zoro said with a chuckle.
"But how could you not have liked anyone who was your age?" Jenny asked, eyes wide.
Zoro chuckled. "I blame it on my parents," he answered. "Who do you want to be betrothed to?"
Jenny smiled widely. "Jonny's always pulling my hair, and Mama told me that's what little boys do when they like someone. He's really funny too!"
Zoro laughed. "Well, as long as you're happy with your life," he said, patting her on the head fondly. It was then he noticed that most Sanji had come down. The others would probably not be far behind him. "Now, shouldn't you go and get ready for the walk up the mountain to visit my parents at the springs?" he asked the little girl, getting her down from his lap and turning her around to head back to her room.
"See you later Uncle Zoro!" Jenny said with a wave as she skipped away.
"You're actually capable of being something other than a complete bastard," Sanji observed, almost pleasantly. "I never would have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. Hell, I'm still not sure I believe it."
"Your choice," Zoro said with a shrug, standing up. "Come on, I'll show you where the markets are before the day starts to get too warm."
Sanji blinked in surprise. "You got up early so that you could help me do the shopping?" he asked.
Zoro smirked and nodded, standing up from his chair. "Don't worry about getting money from Nami either," he added. "My mother slipped me some yesterday."
Sanji scoffed. "Then you should use it to pay off your debt to Nami-swan," he said, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"Nami-san likes having people in her debt. It's a pain, but she owes her free bed to me this time," Zoro said with a smirk, then chuckled. "It's interesting how much Ryoga usually charges for his rooms," he added. "Come on baka-cook."
The name was, for all that Sanji hated it, almost said with affection. This was weird and wrong to him. Zoro wasn't like this. He was never like this. Just being in his home town couldn't do this to the sword-toting moss-headed hard-ass. Could it?
"Well, if it isn't Saotome's eldest, come back to us!" a butcher called, waving them over. "It's been a long time! Have you changed your name?" It was the very first shop in the street.
"Roronoa Zoro now, Archie," Zoro answered. "Your beef still the best in town?"
Archie laughed. "You know it kid!" the man laughed. "But since when do you care or cook?"
"I don't. Archie, this is Sanji, our ship's cook," Zoro said, clapping a hand on Sanji's shoulder and drawing him over to the small shop – there were several whole animals hanging up behind the man, as well as various cuts of meat and processed things like sausages and patties. "And don't believe me for a second when I say he's shit."
Archie grabbed his rather large stomach and laughed. "That's quite a compliment," the butcher said, wiping the tears from his eyes. "And I do miss talking to you. So, what can I do for you today?"
"Our captain has an impossible craving for meat at all hours," Zoro explained. "I'd guess two whole carcasses might last us a week and a half."
"Che," Sanji said, biting on the filter of his cigarette to hide his confusion at the whole conversation. "I'd make sure it lasted a week per carcass at the very least Marimo."
"I'll give you three of my biggest then, that should last you until your next harbour surely?" Archie offered. "I'll even give you a good price if you tell me a story of what you've been up to since you left us."
Zoro obliged, giving the story of how they had secured Nami as their navigator – with particularly heavy emphasis and detail on the battle against Arlong, though Sanji was surprised to notice that Zoro didn't exaggerate even a little bit, recounting it exactly as Sanji remembered it as well, and sometimes asking for input for bits of the fight he hadn't seen.
"Now that's a great story," Archie said. "I'll throw in an extra rope of sausages for that, and have my boy take it all to your ship packed up in dry ice so it will stay fresh until you can get it put away in your cold store."
Zoro counted out beli into Archie's hand until Archie closed his fist and wouldn't take any more from the moss-head. Sanji almost gaped at how little they were paying for three whole carcasses of beef and a rope of sausages.
"You come and visit again later, alright?" Archie said. "Padma will want to hear that story as well."
"Ah, but you're a much better story teller than me Archie," Zoro said, with a grin. "I remember you telling all the kids stories when I was little."
Archie laughed and shooed them out of his shop.
"Do you want poultry next? Eggs? Fresh fruit?" Zoro asked, a genuinely companionable smile on his face as he looked at Sanji.
"Fruit, then poultry, then spices and eggs," Sanji managed to say, though he felt like he might have been stumbling over his tongue.
Zoro nodded. "We can get the herbs and spices from the place right next to the fruit," he said. "Do you want to come back to that or just grab them while you're there?"
"Eh, it would be quicker I suppose," Sanji conceded.
"Oi! Marishka?" Zoro called out as he stepped into a shop filled with fresh fruit. "You still here?"
"I must be getting old, I could have sworn I just heard -" an older woman, probably about forty-five as far as Sanji could tell, stepped out into the main shop from behind a counter. "I don't believe it. You brat! You scared me half to death when you just ran off all those years ago!"
"Sorry Marishka," Zoro said, slightly cowed. "I just had my own dreams to follow, and I couldn't do it here."
"I remember Saotome," Marishka said with a frown. "You'd better start talking. I want a full recount of what you've been up to without me or your mother to keep an eye on you."
"Is it alright if my friend picks out a few barrels of fruit for our ship while I do that?" Zoro asked.
Marishka's eyes – they were blue – fixed onto Sanji for the first time then. "Sure. The dried fruit is in the third aisle, the rest is so fresh that some of it isn't quite ripe yet."
"That is perfect, thank you," Sanji said, ducking his head respectfully to the older woman as he moved away to let them talk. His amazement at Zoro's popularity on an island he had left when he was just four left him in favour of being amazed at the quality and variety of fresh fruit that Marishka stocked her shop with. When he got back to them at last, Marishka seemed to have calmed down and was even smiling at Zoro. Sanji almost didn't want to interrupt, but he had to if they were going to get all the shopping done.
"Done baka-cook?" Zoro asked.
Sanji scowled at the nickname, but nodded.
Marishka cast an assessing eye over the barrels of fruit – fresh and dried – that he wanted to buy, and said fiercely "One-hundred beli."
"Fifty-five," Zoro answered.
Sanji was shocked. For all that he'd picked, one hundred would have been a fantastic price, and Zoro was haggling?
Sanji moved a shaky hand to his unlit cigarette – he liked to have it there, but he knew he couldn't smoke while shopping, it interfered with his other senses – and used the motion to hide that he was physically holding his jaw shut. Seventy beli for two barrels each of five different fresh fruits and another one each of three different dried ones!
Marishka chuckled and accepted the seventy beli from Zoro. "You won't forget to visit Lau, will you Zoro? If he finds out that you're a swordsman now, and didn't come to see him, he'll feel the need to hunt you down."
Zoro laughed. "I'll go and see him after dinner at the very latest, I promise Marishka," he said.
"Good, now give me a kiss and get on with your shopping," the woman demanded. "My assistant can deliver that stuff to your boat. He needs the exercise."
Zoro smiled and nodded, bending slightly to kiss her on her cheek before he waved and left the shop, dragging Sanji behind him.
"Zoro, how could you rob her like that?" Sanji asked with a hiss. "That much food for only seventy beli!"
Zoro raised an eyebrow. "That much food and several extremely probing questions that I never wanted to answer, and she knew it. Marishka gets to be the complete authority on everyone's private life on this island. That's what she really wants, more than beli."
Sanji shut up. He knew how much Zoro valued his privacy, but that he had been willing to give answers to that woman – told her things he probably hadn't even shared with the rest of the crew – showed Sanji just how far Zoro was going to get them a good deal while he could.
The spices were also not expensive, and the poultry, eggs, flour and so on, came at a good deal as well. All thanks to Zoro. If Sanji had done this on his own, he didn't doubt that it would have easily cost him twice as much – not to mention taken three times as long, as he would have had to carry it all back to the ship himself on any other normal shopping trip – or had to send Usopp and Chopper back and forth with piles of food, which wouldn't have really helped with the time it took.
"Oi Sanji," Zoro said drawing the cook out of his introspection. "Anything else you want?"
"Not that I can think of," Sanji answered, surprised by the question.
"Great. Then you can come with me and we'll go and see Lau before we head back to find the rest of the crew. Unless they're already there," Zoro said, turning and heading down another street.
"Do you know everyone in this town Marimo?"
Zoro laughed. "Of course not. I've been gone for fifteen years," he pointed out. "I just remember the older people."
"Che. So who is this 'Lau' person?" Sanji asked, following behind Zoro as they left the street with all the food shops on it to enter another one.
Zoro grinned. "You'll see," he said.
They walked in silence for a few minutes before Zoro turned to a door and pushed it open. Sanji followed him inside, and stopped dead. There was a wall of swords, and another wall of hand guns, and another wall had bombs lined up along its shelves.
Sanji quickly found that he was being attacked by a small man with a tape measure.
"Such wonderful proportions!" the little man exclaimed happily. "Tell me, what sort of weapon do you use? I'm sure I can make something for you in just a week that will be better than anything else you have ever handled!"
Zoro chuckled. "Sanji doesn't use weapons to fight with Lau," Zoro said. "Unless you bug him when he's in the kitchen. He's not bad with a cleaver."
Lau deflated slightly at that news, but then saw Zoro and scampered up to him, his face glowing in delight. "Oh, how beautiful you have become! Such fine musculature, such precise control over your body! And three swords! Tell me you use all of them at once!" Lau exclaimed in joy.
Zoro chuckled and nodded.
"Excellent! Oh child you must allow me to gift you at least one new sword! Oh! I know just the one that you truly will not be permitted to leave my shop without. I wouldn't dream of charging you! Oh please!" Lau begged.
Zoro laughed. "Of course Lau, what ever you would like," Zoro answered. "I will even buy a set of knives from you for my friend, even if he only uses them on food."
Lau took a deep breath and relaxed a little before he nodded and scampered back to the rear of his shop.
"Just what happened to him?" Sanji asked quietly.
Zoro chuckled. "He chose the pool of the drowned crocodile when he was four, but as he was coming out, he fell into the pool of the drowned chipmunk as well. It happens sometimes, but it meant that he spent a week as a hyperactive creature with lots of dangerous teeth at his disposal before anyone could herd him beneath a hot shower. It had an impact on his personality," Zoro answered. "Everyone loves him though."
"Marishka said you're calling yourself Roronoa Zoro now," Lau said when he reappeared, pushing a small cart with several items laying on it.
"Yes Lau, I am."
"Well then Zoro, I hope you will take these! They're not as good as if I had made them just for you, but I think you will find them excellent swords all the same! The knives also, for you sir!" Lau said, turning to Sanji, gesturing for him to come and take a closer look at the blades.
Zoro respectfully drew the two swords presented to him from their sheaths and examined them, took note of how they felt in his hand, then returned them to their sheaths.
"They are beautiful creations Lau," Zoro said.
"Emma and Shinshi," Lau said, telling Zoro the names of the swords. "I am very pleased with them."
"I'll buy a whetstone as well," Zoro said with a fond smile.
Sanji watched again as Zoro paid beli to a man, counting the money into his palm until Lau closed his fist and would accept no more. Again, Sanji noticed that for what they were taking from him, they were paying ridiculously little.
After that, they sat a while, Lau begging stories of fights from Zoro and Sanji both, and eventually admitting that yes, a boy with a long nose, a boy with a straw hat, and a reindeer had already been into the shop and spent a fair bit of time, only the long-nosed one spending a lot of money, though the reindeer did buy a few surgical knives when he spotted them.
"So this is where you are Zoro, Sanji," a familiar female voice said.
The two turned to the door to see Nami standing there with a scowl on her face. "I suppose you haven't even thought of getting supplies for the ship!" she demanded.
"It's all done Nami-san," Zoro said placidly.
"It can't be done. Sanji always has to borrow money from me to do the shopping, and when I counted my beli it was all there!" Nami objected.
Zoro shrugged. "I paid for it," he said.
"With what?" Nami nearly screeched.
"Calm down Navigator-san," Robin said, laying a hand on the younger woman's shoulders. "I'm sure Swordsman-san has an answer."
"Mama held back all the pocket money I would have gotten if I had stayed rather than running away, as well as my betrothal money, and gave it to me before I left their hut yesterday," Zoro said plainly. "Oh, by the way, how much do I still have on my tab with you, Nami-san?"
"Seven-thousand, four-hundred and seventy-six beli," she answered promptly.
"Have you subtracted from that sum what you would have paid for a room at the inn if it weren't for me?" he asked shrewdly.
Nami's eyes narrowed. "Seven-thousand, two-hundred and thirty-eight beli."
"And everyone else? As they would have borrowed from you as well if it hadn't been free. I've saved you a lot of money Nami-san," Zoro said, cheekily.
"Six-thousand and forty-eight beli."
"I also got receipts for the food shopping," he said, handing them over. "I think you can agree those are rather good savings on what you would normally have to loan Sanji for the food."
Nami went pale as the words tumbled from her lips. "T-two hundred b-beli..." It still wasn't a small sum, but to be so suddenly and heavily reduced all at once was something of a dent in her pocket and her pride.
Zoro smiled "Will you be staying at the inn again tonight? If you are, then I believe that I am in the clear, and actually with you owing me money, Nami-san," he said with a smirk. "Especially if everybody else will be as well."
Nami fainted dead away, Sanji just being quick enough to catch her before she landed on the floor.
Robin chuckled and clapped quietly. "Well done Swordsman-san," she said with a laugh. "I don't believe any of us knew you could be so shrewd."
Zoro chuckled and stood. "Are you going to buy something from Lau?" he asked pleasantly.
Robin looked around the shop. "No, I think I won't be," she answered. "I think it would be best if we got Navigator-san back to her room."
When they got back to the inn, Ryoga was there laughing himself silly as a little girl with red hair stood before him. Luffy, Usopp and Chopper arrived just after them.
"What's going on?" Luffy asked, scratching his head in confusion. "I don't get what's so funny about a little girl with red hair."
Zoro smiled. "The pool of the drowned maiden," he said. "That's Jenny. The maiden who drowned had red hair – she drowned herself because everyone teased her for the colour, and she couldn't take it any more. These days, the island has a lot of girls with red hair," he chuckled and shook his head. "Most of them began as little boys who want to have their own breasts to play with when they grow up, like my father, though some of them are little girls who didn't know what animal to pick, like Jenny. The number of people with naturally red hair is low, but growing, according to Marishka."
"I just thought that a lot of people on the island were related," Usopp said.
"Nah," Zoro said, shaking his head, "not really."
"Uncle Zoro said he chose the pool of the drowned man when he was little, so I thought I could choose the pool of the drowned maiden!" Jenny said happily.
"That explains why we haven't seen any transformations I suppose," Sanji said quietly.
"No, the reason you haven't seen any transformations is because I haven't gone near hot water, except to drink it, since I left here," Zoro snapped, a frown on his face. He slapped his palm to his forehead, shaking it in mild despair. "I did not mean to tell you all that."
The many eyes of the straw-hat crew blinked at him, and Jenny's along with them since Nami was out of it.
"Uncle Zoro, will you go under the hot shower with me?" Jenny asked. "I want to see what you look like without the curse of the water!"
Zoro shook his head. "No Jenny, I'm sorry, but I don't want to do that."
Jenny pouted. "Please?" she begged, clasping her hands in front of her.
Zoro shook his head again.
Neither of them realised that this little exchange had planted, fertilized, watered and tended the seed of curiosity in the straw-hat crew so well that they were all now determined to see what Zoro looked like after a soaking of hot water.
When the log-pose finally set, Nami paid Zoro immediately for the cost of the rooms he had saved her from having to spend, but when she tried to put that amount on everyone else's debts to her, Zoro said that she couldn't, because it had been because of him, rather than her, that they all had rooms to stay in – and he hadn't charged her any interest either, so she had no reason to be stingy about it. Nami had ground her teeth at that, but had to concede that she had been out manoeuvred by Zoro this time.
Also, Zoro had managed to avoid the heated water the rest of the crew were trying to catch him with, so their curiosity went unsatisfied.
A week had gone by with no success and no land in sight, and Zoro was sitting in the galley sharpening every blade he could get his hands on.
"Hey Marimo," Sanji said as he stirred the soup he was cooking. "Why have you been dodging all the hot water that Luffy and Usopp have been throwing at you? If you let them do it once they'll stop."
"Why do you have your hair over one eye all the time?" Zoro countered. "I don't want them to see. It's as simple as that. I haven't seen it myself since I was four."
Sanji nodded. "I suppose. If you saw it by yourself first, would you think about letting the rest of us see it?"
"No," Zoro answered firmly, putting down the whetstone and the blade he was working on and standing up. "After a week of dodging hot water, with no one even asking first. No, ero-cook," he said. Zoro moved towards the door, and opened it from the side with the butt of his sword's sheath.
If he had been standing right in front of the door when he opened it, he would be drenched, but as it was, Luffy and Usopp stuck their heads in looking for him after they had thrown their hot water, and he slammed both of them into the ceiling before walking out.
"He has a point," Sanji murmured, turning away from Luffy and Usopp, back to the soup.
"Who does Cook-san?" Robin asked.
"Zoro. Those two have just been throwing water at him for a week, hoping to get him wet. No one ever asked him," Sanji answered with a frown. "Much as I hate to admit to the Marimo being right about anything."
Robin smiled. "Then why don't you ask him?"
Sanji shrugged. "He probably looks the same but with black hair anyway, nothing special," he answered. "Was there anything you needed me for Robin-chan?"
Robin shook her head. "Not really Cook-san. Nami just wanted to know how long until lunch was ready."
"It is but two precious heartbeats away from perfection," he answered with a smile.
They reached the next island, an almost uninhabited place with many fruit trees growing wild and a few meaty-looking animals wandering about, two-and-a-half weeks after leaving Jusenkyo. There were three huts and a jetty where the Going Merry landed on the island, and a young couple came out to greet them. It seemed that though there were three huts, only one of them was occupied.
"Welcome to the island. I am Saotome Taro, and this is my betrothed, Akimichi Yumi," the young man said.
"So you're my little brother," Zoro said. "I had wondered why I couldn't find you on Jusenkyo."
The young man's eyes grew large and his jaw dropped. "I-it's the time of preparation," Taro stuttered. "We go back next week."
Zoro nodded. "Are the springs on this island safe to bathe in and drink from? It's never been something I had to think about, so I don't remember."
"Yes," Yumi said. "And you are welcome to help yourselves to the foods of the island."
"Everyone is," Taro said, regaining his composure. "How long until your log-pose will set?"
Nami was staring at the bauble on her wrist. "It looks like it's nearly set already," she answered in surprise.
"We're not staying long then," Robin observed. "We'd best move quickly to restock the ship."
Empty barrels were unloaded from the ship and filled up with fresh fruits and clean water, and Zoro killed a cantankerous boar, and loaded it into the cold store as well.
"Sorry to run out on you like this little brother," Zoro said. "But our captain wants to be the Pirate King, so we've got to keep going."
"That's alright," he said. "I got to meet you, that's more than I ever thought I would."
The next island was only a couple of days away, which explained why the log-pose had set so quickly.
"Ah!" Nami cried with delight when she saw it. "Roma Island! It's famous for it's bathhouse! Oh, I would just love to soak in a hot bath!"
"I'll stay on the ship and keep watch," Zoro stated, not interested in going anywhere near a bathhouse when Luffy and Usopp were so curious about what happened if he got splashed with hot water. "I think I saw a tower of a Marine base further up the island too. I'm staying out of this one," he added.
"That's a good idea," Nami said, then turned to Luffy. "And you stay out of trouble as well! Sanji, go and buy some more food, the log-pose is going to take a few days to reset, so the next island is probably a fair way off," she said, taking some beli from her purse and laying it in his hand.
"Of course Nami-shwan!"
"Oi Shit-head!" Sanji yelled up to the ship. "Get off your lazy ass and help me load this lot on board!"
"Would it kill you to ask baka-cook?" Zoro said, appearing at the rail. Regardless of what he said, he still tossed a rope over the side so that he could haul the crates and barrels up.
Sanji shrugged. "No, but since when have we ever been nice or polite to each other?"
"Hn," Zoro agreed with a smirk. "Then what was that I did back on Jusenkyo?" he asked, lifting a crate over the rail and tossing the rope down again.
Sanji looked up at Zoro sharply, but couldn't find any hint of scorn or Zoro's usual superior attitude in his face at all. "I suppose," he conceded warily as he tied the rope around the next crate. "Don't expect me to give you larger helpings though."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Zoro answered, moving to pull the crate up.
Ever since Jusenkyo Island, Zoro just seemed to be full of surprises for Sanji. Rather than possibly being further surprised, Sanji tied the crates to the rope in silence after that, and when the last one was hauled over the rail, Sanji went up as well to make sure everything got put into its proper place in the galley and store room.
"Marimo," Sanji said as he put the meat into the freezer. "Would you let me see what you look like?"
"Your eyes work," Zoro answered quietly. "This is what I look like."
"I meant -"
"I know what you meant Sanji," Zoro cut off. He sighed deeply.
"Please?" Sanji said, though it grated on his nerves to use that word when speaking to the swordsman.
"I don't understand the fascination," Zoro said, setting a barrel down by the stove. "But alright, since you actually asked, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone."
Sanji nodded. "I can boil some water now," he offered. "The others won't be back here until tomorrow at the earliest unless there's trouble."
Zoro nodded and tipped the fruit from one of the nearly-empty barrels into the top of another and headed to the galley door.
"Where are you going?" Sanji asked.
"Cold water. I've agreed to show you. I have no intention of staying that way," Zoro answered before he opened the galley door and went out to the deck.
Sanji nodded his understanding and set a pot of water to boil, and had the pot ready when Zoro came back with his barrel of cold seawater. The galley door was shut and bolted, and a dish cloth was pinned over the window with a pair of the knives Zoro had bought for Sanji from Lau.
Zoro grabbed the pot of hot water and dumped it over himself without hesitation.
"I haven't seen myself since I was four," Zoro said quietly, looking down at his body. "Looks like it's made some changes without me noticing. I expected that of course."
Sanji's jaw had dropped, unfortunately for him, Zoro noticed.
"You're staring," Zoro said. "Che, Love-cook."
"Z-Zoro..." Sanji said quietly, his visible eye wide.
Zoro smirked and slid a little closer to the cook, catching his chin with a finger the way he had seen Nami do. "That's right Sanji. Zoro. Mustn't forget that little detail," he said, a mere breath away from his friend's face.
Sanji swooned, and Zoro stepped back quickly, letting the cook fall a bit before he caught him, so that Sanji wasn't anywhere near his face or chest. Zoro gently lowered Sanji to the floor and sighed, grabbing the barrel of cold water and dousing himself – and Sanji.
"Oi, Sanji," he said. "Are you alright?"
"You- Zoro you're -" Sanji spluttered.
Zoro smirked. "And you'll keep it to yourself, or I'll beat the shit out of you," he said.
Sanji nearly broke down crying. "I can't fight you any more! What kind of man have I been to be fighting you all this time!"
Zoro raised an eyebrow in frustration. "Oi, baka-cook. Snap out of it. Nothing has changed."
"Except that I know the truth now!" Sanji wailed. "I can never live with myself for-"
Zoro rolled his eyes and grabbed Sanji by the front of his shit. "Snap out of it I said. Nothing has changed. I'm Roronoa Zoro and you're Black-leg Sanji, and if I have to beat you up every day to get you thinking straight again, then I will. Now, call me a Shit-head Swordsman and we can move past this."
"Sh-sh-shi..." Sanji stuttered, then collapsed. "Sweet Melloraine!" he sobbed. "Trapped in a man's body!"
Zoro sighed and dropped the cook. "By choice, Baka-cook."
Sanji sobbed for a while longer, and Zoro went back out to the deck to train and make sure that no unwanted guests came. He wasn't interested in taking care of a weepy chef. Besides, hanging around him right now would probably just make him worse.
Zoro was on watch in the crows nest of the Thousand Sunny. It had been a long time since they had stopped at Jusenkyo Island, Usopp and Luffy had forgotten why they tried to get Zoro wet – the swordsman owed Shanks a favour for showing up when he did, he'd been just about ready to gut his captain and the long-nose. Of course, a great deal had happened between then and now aside from that.
"Oi, Zoro," Sanji called, opening the door of the crow's nest.
"What are you doing up here Sanji?" Zoro asked, putting down the weights he was training with while he was on watch. "Shouldn't you be asleep? You're up first to make breakfast after all."
"I was asleep," Sanji answered with a shrug. "I woke up again."
"So you decided to bother me rather than do something in the galley?" Zoro asked, surprised. Sanji could always think of something to do in the kitchen, no matter what time it was. "I'm touched," he joked.
"Feh," Sanji said, a smirk on his own face.
"Have a nightmare?" Zoro asked.
"Just that you turned into a girl and nearly kissed me," Sanji said easily.
Zoro narrowed his eyes at the cook, the only one of the crew that knew the truth about his Jusenkyo heritage. "Sounds like a nightmare to me," he said. "Like I'd ever kiss someone who smokes," he added, turning away.
"I know," Sanji said easily, even chuckling, sitting down beside Zoro. "I have been cutting down though. Chopper's been after me about the health issues."
Zoro laughed softly. "I thought I was telling you that since we met, but you listen to the reindeer? And just in this last few months since -" Zoro cut himself off.
"Since the Roma Island stop. Don't look too deeply into it Marimo," Sanji said plainly. "Chopper gave me a lecture about the dangers of 'second hand' smoke, and I wouldn't want your dream to get screwed up because of my habit. Even I'm not that much of a bastard."
Zoro sighed. "I may have to actually like you if you keep up this being nice shit," he said. "Even if it was my idea to start with."
They both laughed at that.
"Likewise," Sanji said.
"Well, isn't that just interesting. What, Love-cook, given up on Nami ever returning your affections?" Zoro asked with a chuckle. "I think she's in love with our idiot captain anyway."
Sanji sighed. "I was hoping I was imagining that," he said. "Guess not. And Robin-chan adores our doctor. I don't understand it at all."
"Che, don't worry about it Love-cook. You're still nakama," Zoro said easily.
Sanjii nodded and closed his eyes. "Hey Zoro? Back on Jusenkyo, everyone asked if you changed your name. What did it used to be? You don't have to answer, I'm just curious."
Zoro was silent for a while, but Sanji didn't make any movement to interrupt the peace between them, even if it was a little tense.
"Saotome Haru," he said at last. "Mother decided that my green hair reminded her of spring."
"It's a nice name," Sanji said. "Did you give it up because it wasn't tough enough?"
Zoro laughed. "In part," he admitted. "I also didn't want anyone who might recognise the name to be able to link it with me. It would screw me over if people knew that much about me."
Sanji straightened up, blinking as he turned to Zoro. "Then why tell me?"
"You're my nakama. You're not going to tell anybody," Zoro answered with a shrug.
"Oi Zoro! Everyone's going to some natural hot springs on the island," Sanji called.
"I'll stay and watch the ship," he called back.
"No way Bro!" Franky yelled back. "You've been on guard for every stop since I've joined the crew. You're over-due some R'n'R land-leave Bro."
"Che. Natural hot springs always stink of sulphur," Zoro complained.
"Tough Bro," Franky said, grinning and picking Zoro up, throwing him over the side of the boat to where Sanji was standing. "Cook-Bro, you take care of our first mate, alright?"
"Everyone else has gone already, and he'd just get lost if he went off on his own," Sanji said. "Of course I'll take care of him!"
"Oi Baka-cook! I said I'm not interested in going!" Zoro protested.
"Calm down Marimo. A hot soak will do you good, and I'm sure we can find one where no one will bother you," Sanji said, heading off. "One that's got a cold spring or river nearby as well."
"Baka-love-cook," Zoro said, shaking his head and following. "Fine, just don't fall to pieces on me again like you did last time."
Apart from that, their walk was silent as they headed towards a rocky outcrop that held a set of hot springs and cold running rivers.
"See, privacy," Sanji said, stopping by the edge of a steaming pool. "And cold water," he added, looking at a stream that ran just beside.
"So you get in," Zoro said, taking off his swords and boots and moving to lie down in the cold flowing water.
Sanji grabbed Zoro's collar and pushed him into the hot water. "Just, for once, enjoy the hot water Marimo," he said.
Zoro gasped as he surfaced and glared at Sanji as the water dripped down him. "And will you be joining me?" he demanded, crossing his arms over his chest – and the white shirt which had become slightly transparent thanks to the water.
Sanji swallowed heavily at the sight before taking off his shoes and jacket, loosening his tie and carefully slipping into the water, still mostly dressed, just like Zoro was.
"Well, this is friendly," Zoro observed with a dry chuckle and a slight sneer. "How are you holding up over there Love-cook?"
"I swear, I am this far away from bowing at your feet and begging you to be mine," Sanji answered, holding his finger and thumb only an inch apart. "How is it that you're so beautiful like this?"
"Hehe, my bad luck," Zoro answered with a cruel chuckle. "Maybe you just need a smoke and you'll be alright again? Eh?"
Sanji shook his head. "I've nearly quit," he answered, looking away. "I'm down to one every other day now. I feel healthier."
Zoro raised an eyebrow at this and slid a little closer in the water, slightly concerned for his nakama. "Oi, would it help if I called you a shit-head?" he asked gently.
Sanji chuckled, hiding his face behind one of his large and expressive hands. "Probably not," he admitted as a red tint slowly crept up his neck towards his face. "Thanks for the thought."
"Sanji..." Zoro said quietly, firmly. "Original form or not, I'm Roronoa Zoro now. Ignore the ridiculous chest and the tiny waist. I'm Roronoa Zoro, and you don't like men, which is what you would get with me."
"I can't help it," he answered in a tiny, breathy voice. "Hell, I'm beginning to not care."
"Really?" Zoro asked, moving away from the cook sharply in surprise, his eyes wide.
"Are you offended?" Sanji asked. "I knew I shouldn't have said anything."
Zoro sighed. "No, I'm not offended," he said. "I chose the pool of the drowned man because I don't like girls much. I respect them and their abilities, but I didn't and don't want to be stuck in the body of one all my life, but I still wanted a normal life without having to turn into a pig or a panda or a duck or anything."
"You're talking like you aren't one at all," Sanji said softly.
Zoro shook his head. "Apart from this body, I'm not," he answered. "And I never want to look down and see these again," he added, poking his breasts. "So if you don't mind, I'm going to get doused with cold water now."
Sanji grabbed Zoro's wrist quickly before he could leave the water and pulled him close, kissing him firmly on the lips. "I think I'm going to need to join you," he said, his voice strained and husky.
Zoro narrowed his eyes and jerked himself free. "Do what you want," he said and quickly lay in the shallow, cold water, returning suddenly to the form that Sanji was used to seeing. The one with chorded muscles and a less delicate frame.
Sanji stepped over Zoro into a slightly deeper part of the stream and lay down beside him. Silently, he threaded his fingers into Zoro's hand. "Oi," he said quietly. "Can I do that again?" he asked, looking over at his nakama.
Zoro snorted a chuckle and sat up. "Love-cook, I just said you could do what you want," he answered.
Sanji smiled and tackled the moss-head, landing them on the stony bank of the stream where it was slightly drier, and pressing his lips to Zoro's hungrily. "Your lips taste more salty when you're like this," Sanji observed when they parted.
"I'm throwing out whatever is left of your smokes when we get back to the ship," Zoro said flatly.
The cook nodded. "As long as I get to kiss you every day, I think I'll be able to live with that," he answered with a broad smile plastered across his face.