Author's notes: For eiliem's September '10 One Piece Chaos thread at Livejournal, story 1 of 2 for that thread, a one-shot for the prompt "Missing". (Really, ffnet. No hearts? They're integral to Perona's character!) Also found at Livejournal and Deviant Art; please see my profile for those links.
One Piece © Oda Eiichiro, etc.
That morning when Hawk-Eyes and Perona woke up, Zoro was nowhere to be found. He wasn't in his room or in any of the sitting rooms; he wasn't in the dinning hall or in the kitchen (or pantry); he wasn't even training in the courtyard, or anywhere else that he might normally be. That morning, Zoro just simply could not be found. And with his abysmal sense of direction... well, Perona was more worried than Hawk-Eyes was. If Zoro got lost on the island (or, more pathetically, inside the castle), it meant he wasn't cut out to be his pupil (or anything else in the world), she was sure that's what Hawk-Eyes would think. But Perona, though failingly trying to hide it, had grown fond of the grassy-headed guy... and she missed his company. (He was much easier to boss around than Hawk-Eyes.)
All morning she played like she didn't mind, but finally after lunch Perona decided to go find Zoro (under the guise Hawk-Eyes was too boring and she had nothing better to do) and thought it best to start within the castle. She floated room after room, her umbrella on her shoulder and her ghosties at her sides; from bedrooms to bathrooms to the library and kitchen, from closets and cabinets, "And mummified kittens," she sang softly to herself to a tune Hawk-Eyes (whose room she had just passed) was pretty sure those weren't the words for. Upstairs and downstairs, and down in the basement, through the wine cellar, "And all limbs adjacent."
"If you can't sing it right, you shouldn't sing it at all," came from the other end of the cellar. "Besides, you've been singing it for hours. Give it up."
"Shut up, Hawk-Eyes!" Perona snapped. "This is my version of it and it's long."
Mihawk made his way back up the stairs while Perona continued to float around in the cellar, absentminded and content in her song and the dark, dankness of it all—before snapping-to and remembering she was looking for someone.
Even with her ghostly floating abilities, as well as the ability to produce 'ghosts', it had still taken Perona almost three hours to sweep through the castle (plus fifteen minutes or so of singing to herself down in the wine cellar); it was another hour searching through the remains of the courtyards and gardens, but still no sign could be found of Zoro. All that remained was the surrounding forests and shores. Since Zoro defeated all the Humandrills, Perona often enjoyed a nice, leisurely glide through the forests, but she still multiplied her ghosts further to aide in the search. Evening would be wearing on soon and there were patches in the forest you where couldn't even see your own hand when night had fallen: there was no chance you could see someone else.
While she knew she should be more diligent in her observations, Perona couldn't help but, well, for all intents and purposes, frolic through the trees; weaving around their bases and dancing through the branches above. By then she had pretty much passed on all her searching duties to her ghosties, and it wasn't until one bobbled its way back to her did she start applying more attention. It had found her playmate, "I mean, Zoro," by the shore. "Of course. Lead the way."
For several minutes Perona and her guide continued to frolic, I mean, weave through the forest until they reached the beach. For several more minutes they glided playfully along the ocean, like truly swimming on the air to match the waves, until a blob of floating green came into view through the mist and Perona eagerly picked up speed.
Zoro was sitting cross-legged in the sand, just out of reach of the waves that were rolling onto the shore. That in itself wasn't too unusual, but even for all that could be said about the atmosphere of the island they were on, there was a melancholy on the air that wasn't quite natural. It was a very somber feeling and Perona stopped. Zoro hadn't even noticed her yet, and while she felt it may have had something to do with the fact she herself was nothing more than a projection... it was the way in which he was looking out towards the ocean. He was quiet, but it wasn't his usual quiet. His whole demeanor was different. Instead of secured to his waist, Zoro had laid his swords beside himself; instead of alert to his surroundings, or even now grabbing for his swords, he paid no attention to what was around him but was seeming to hold his hands together out in front of himself. He genuinely did not seem to notice she was there; instead, his thoughts had his full attention.
She had meant to be sympathetic in asking Zoro if something was wrong, only what fell out of Perona's mouth was, "Got lost and couldn't find your way back? Are you sulking about it now? Such an idiot! horo horo horo horo horo" (Inside, she kicked herself for that.)
"Oh, it's you," Zoro said, looking both surprised and a little disappointed at her. He turned his head back to the ocean.
"Well, who else would it be?" Perona asked, but Zoro didn't answer. After a moment, "You're more downcast than the air," she joked. But still Zoro didn't respond. (She then dropped her head and felt like an idiot.)
Taking a deep breath (or, well, acting like it), Perona floated over to Zoro. Looking down over his shoulder, she could see now that he didn't have his hands clasped together, but instead he was holding a small piece of paper in his fingers, and it started to sink in.
"That paper, it's that Vivre Card, right?"
Zoro didn't answer.
"It's been almost a year, hasn't it?" She asked.
He still didn't answer.
"Well—," She began, but Zoro interrupted. "It has been a year," he started. "It's been one year since I met Luffy and joined his crew. The Straw Hat Pirates."
Perona could tell he said that last part more to himself than her, and she looked out towards the ocean, too. In that direction, towards Sabaody Archipelago, the Straw Hat Pirates are to meet in one year; in that direction, at Sabaody Archipelago, the Straw Hat Pirates were completely eradicated almost one year earlier. None of them, absolutely none of them, were going to suffer a similar defeat again.
Having lost against Kuma herself, Perona could sympathize, and yet again wanted to say something sympathetic. Only what fell out of her mouth this time was, "You followed the Card out here this morning and then you couldn't find your way back, huh?"
Zoro twitched and made a funny squelching sound. While she was mentally kicking herself over her inability to say something nice, she still took that as, 'Yep.'