A/N: I too am in need of a bath.
One of the many all-important jobs of being first mate to the captain was that said person took a share in the responsibility for the captain's health. At many times the difference between life and death for a ships captain was the quality of his partners and workmen, after all, a captain was only as good as his crew.
However, for one unlucky first mate, these duties of loyalty and trust could take on a turn for the ridiculous and the just plain weird.
Roronoa Zoro, standing quietly in front of a shallow bath and a very anxious captain who was covered head to toe in mud, blood and carrot juice, was far from contented. He knew that water was, despite how Luffy acted about it, a very frightening prospect for the other man but never in a thousand years had Zoro ever thought of himself as a hotel nursemaid.
How had he let Nami talk him into this stupidity?
It was a command muttered over crossed arms that bartered no excuses as, with an exaggerated pout only compounded by his beguilingly stretchy body, the captain followed orders for once.
A few minutes later and the boy had stripped down to his boxers, putting on display a myriad of interesting scars and lots of grime that seemed to grow on him like a fungus…like marimo….
Zoro raised an eyebrow at the sight of the others boxers, which for all intents and purposes, looked just like his pants; they were stitched back together in certain places and looked like they'd seen a few too many years but that wasn't his problem.
"All of it…" Rolling his eyes he pointed to the worn out boxers.
If he was going to have to get this fool clean he wasn't going to pander about for him; he was only going to do this once and then never again so he'd best do it right.
However, Zoro's entire world came to a screeching halt upon the fulfillment of his orders.
Why the kid wore a fundoshi under his boxers was a mystery to him, especially since the kid couldn't swim, but he did and it sure did favors for his ass…
His buttocks were round and supple, quite perky under the tight underwear, it was a perverted grab-ass dream come true and judging by the decent bulge at the front, Zoro may have had reason to feel a little small at the moment.
"…fuck…why…?" Zoro simply put his palm to his face and grimaced as he tried desperately to block out the sight before him and get to work.
The man smelled like a haphazard mix of burnt rubber, dirt and salt; a teary eyed concoction that caught him by surprise as he wondered just how he'd managed to tune out the garish quality before. There were thin hairline scars over and around his legs and feet that spoke of an unnaturally clumsy gait as his hands, feet and knees were nearly calloused over from far too many bumps and falls and hits. The dirty muck and mud seemed as if to congeal into an interesting yet odd pattern of cuts and divots and his hat hair was a messy tangle of bloody knots and dirt. His over all appearance was a rag-tag appeal that most people lost in their later years; he hoped the boy would never lose it.
Zoro began to wonder just how old his captain really was as he took in the others form; lanky but spirited and with a bounce back look too it that had more to do with his rubbery personality than his plasticity powers. Luffy was a boyish visage of grins and laughs that seemed to permeate his presence, it was an infectious aura of warm summer nights out catching fireflies and cool winter mornings playing out in the snow with friends.
Luffy stood stock still in front of the menacing little pool of water, a warm singing little siren that he'd long come to recognize as death. How many years had it been since he'd last taken a bath, he wondered.
The air was thick with steam and the smell of Nami's favorite soap, it caught in his lungs and agitated him, however, he knew not to be too impatient with the man. Zoro had no idea what it was like to be a devil fruit eater trapped in water; he had once asked Luffy about it but his answer had been less than informative.
He had said it was like being sinking driftwood.
He stared at the water like a man staring down the gallows and Zoro was tempted to get Ussop or Nami to help, or better yet he could get their doctor Chopper; he had experience with these things. Luffy seemed to let go of his never-ending fascination with the waters pristine, smooth as glass surface and he bent down to grip the sides of the tub, Zoro leaning patiently over him with a reassuring presence and an unspoken promise to catch all those who fall.
The moment the rubber mans body touched the water it was as if the world had suddenly jolted on its axis for the poor bastard. His grip on the sides of the tub slipped off and he panicked, flailing about like a fish out of water, ironic thought Zoro, as he tried to reach past the flailing limbs to help prop up the combative captain.
As soon as the flailing mans head broke through the waters surface a shrill pang of fear struck into Zoro's chest because, despite the earlier show, there was no great gasp for air as he knew there should be. Rather than gasping, Luffy, his body draining from his contact with the water, simply shuddered and breathed like a man lost in freezing sleep; Zoro wondered if the boy would fatigue and stop breathing even with his head above water.
Luffy's eyes were a dazed, half-lidded chocolate blur as he stared drunkenly at Zoro, a pink blush across his cheeks, giggling and seemingly lost in an absent-minded oblivion; the swordsman soon decided that it would be wise to hurry this up. The disturbing non-laughter quickly faded off to be replaced with an exhausted rasp and an occasional hiccupping twitch, as his very life seemed to leach out into the water, taking with it his sandstone pallor and spirit.
Grabbing a nearby brush he quickly set to work on the others limp body, his limbs a bizarrely relaxed jumble, completely uncoordinated. He was like dead weight as the man set about his job, hastily scrubbing out old wounds and scraping off dirt into the polluted water. To Zoro's surprise, Luffy's skin was a strange tactile treat that reminded the man of the many hours he had spent tending to his blades with the uchiko he'd once carried with him. He was soft like silk and smooth like the abura oils Zoro used, an odd concoction of velvet polymers that didn't fully inhibit a fleshy human like feel and the more he touched the pale cream, the more he longed to touch it again.
Zoro quickly shook his head at the thought, blaming cabin fever and saltwater, as his notoriously bouncy and energetic captain relaxed into the water despite the sickly chills that permeated his body.
It was a forced sense of relaxation; that much he could tell easily by the drugged and drunken expression the man wore, it was as if everything had suddenly fallen out from under him, into the sea, and even though it scared him, the water took the fear with it too. By far what disturbed him the most was his captain's vacant eyes, the once indomitable chocolate spark of will and spirit dwindling into an onyx black soup of cloudy grays that was down right blasphemous on him.
Drift wood, he thought; aimless, mindless drifting and sinking, it made sense to him now.
Whenever he so much as eased his hold on the other, the boy would sink almost lifelessly into the dirty water, it was as if the water was angry at the boy and wanted to have him for itself; a jealous lover. He soon decided it would be easier to drain the now muddy water from the bath and run a shower after he'd soaped the kid up again.
Grabbing the bar of soap he lathered up a wash towel again as the water drained, leaving a crust of dirt and sand at the bottom. He scrubbed down the mans side, tender over the still aching wound that was the bite he'd taken from Arlong; it was a wide crescent moon of angry dotted lines that hadn't healed as well as it should have, not with all of Luffy's constant moving around. He brushed along the others legs as he mentally tallied the many scars along them and rubbed cleansing oils into the bloody wounds that his hands and arms had eventually turned into.
Protecting his nakama with such a fierce devotion had taken its toll on their captain but by the feel of the steel hawsers that were his muscles and tendons, flexing and hard beneath the boy's silky skin, he was still quite strong. The rasp in the boys breathing, a remnant from Don Krieg's poison, the cat claws across his stomach courtesy of Kuro and the giant scorch mark that was the kids ass, courtesy of Pearl, may have said different but as far as Zoro was concerned nothing short of Armageddon could keep this guy down; he was proud to call him captain.
It was a rather amusing thought really, that so much power and spirit could all be wrapped up into such a deceptively thin form, though how the boy managed to stay so thin and eat so much was beyond him.
He trailed the sudsy washing cloth contentedly over the others back and across the vast unmarred yet slightly beaten peaks and valleys of muscle that formed it, as if he were back at home cleaning his sensei's swords. As a swordsman, he could feel a sense of awe and pride swell in his chest at the near pristine sight, massaging his fingers deep into the tissues with a pressure that could seriously harm a normal person. Luffy simply sighed and moaned near silently into his touch, a cock eyed smirk on the others face as he stared into the purple black bags of exhaustion that had formed under the mans eyes.
He looked into the others eyes but quickly looked away, unable to stand the perverse emptiness that pervaded them and with a scowl he turned his thoughts to the scar beneath Luffy's eye. No one quite knew how he'd gotten it and a small breath of panic lodged into the first mates throat at the thought of how close he'd come to losing his eye. Zoro found himself oddly grateful that the boy hadn't lost it; everyone on board the Merry Go would agree without hesitation that their captain had some damn fine eyes.
It was odd seeing the once vibrant captain so listless; Luffy tended to do things with a universally similar philosophy to it, he always put obscene amounts of energy into things even when he was just sleeping, snoring loudly and passed out on the floor. However, with the frightening loss of his tanned peach pallor into a pale ashen white and sickly soup, Zoro was beginning to become more and more anxious for his increasingly still friend as he felt for a pulse and checked his breathing.
Despite his deathly looks the man was indeed still alive, though regretfully fatigued; breath slow and near silent, his heartbeat frightfully light; his heart seemed as if to beat with the rise and fall of the ocean waves that rocked the seafaring hotel they'd taken up residence on.
He slapped Luffy's face a little with one soapy hand as he scrubbed him down with the other, eliciting a small drunken chuckle and his trade mark over-wide grin, if not a little loopy though.
Zoro turned on the shower setting and rinsed him off, the water seemed as if to put the boy into a coma and, finally free of dirt and soap, the first mate quickly shut off the water and hastily hauled the semi-conscious captain up and out of the tub. Quickly, he set about piling towels onto the man and fiercely rubbing him dry, as if the rough handling would help bring back the other mans spark of indignity for it.
A few minutes into the constant harsh drying the swordsman began to feel antsy again, the still weak responses beneath all of the cotton towels refusing to take back their usual life. Panic surged forward as the pile of wet towels that was his captain remained still and Zoro was forced to think back on all the times he'd dragged the poor bastard out of the water like a drowned rat.
When the man hit the water, it was as if a deadly race had begun, time was always against them as it only took a matter of minutes to drown and from what Zoro had seen, perhaps Luffy wouldn't even have the strength in him to hold his breath under the exposure.
Zoro thought back to the fight with Arlong and bile burned the back of his throat as the helplessness stung him; the man had been unconscious and not breathing for far too long, his first mate not even there to help. It had taken five minutes of CPR and relentlessly beating onto the mans chest to heave up the water from his lungs and bring him back to the living; he shuddered at how close his captain had come to death.
Reminiscing angrily on all the times he had and had not been there to resuscitate his captain, to give him the breath he needed, Zoro vowed to be far more vigilant in his position as first mate.
With a sputter and a few jerks Luffy was coming back to his old self, snatching away the offending wet cotton swaths with an indignant pout.
Tension forgotten, the swordsman settled with laughing at the others duck fluff hair and to never take his captains words for granted again, no matter how convoluted.
He also took that moment to watch the other preen himself and ruffle through his hair, like a waterlogged hamster, water splashing onto the swordsman as he lost himself in thought yet again.
He promised to himself that he would not soon forget again about what he was fighting for and who, that there were weaknesses and that the life and death of this strange man rested on his shoulders.
That, just as Kuina had taught him so long ago, life is fragile.