Chapter VII: Smoke and Mirrors

So, so sorry for the wait! There was crap this, and crap that. And I had a bit of writer's block with this on. Have no fear! After catching up on some One Piece manga my inspiration has returned! Please enjoy! If I missed any mistakes, forgive my haste! It tends to make waste.

Song of the day: The Price of Love by Bad English. You'll figure it out later(;

Zoro: ...

Britt: ...

Me: ...

Luffy: ...

Zoro: Ok, what the hell is going on?

Me: Silly Zoro, it's copycat day!

Zoro: *twitches*

Britt: *twitch-* Oof!

Luffy & Me: *giggles*

Disclaimer: Do not own. *sigh*

I have always felt that violence was the last refuge of the incompetent, and empty threats the last sanctuary of the terminally inept. -Neil Gaiman

Zoro made plans to meet Luffy after school. It was officially the third day of their relationship(not that he was counting), since their totally abnormal cliche hook up in the hallway.

Since then, the expected taunts were fool hardy and weak at best, and he dealt with them the usual way. Smashing Sanji and his kissy faces into the wall. Even if it was all in good jest, it gave him the excuse to do it with meaning for once.

Funny, how this kind of reaction was completely expected and welcome(Sanji being the asshole best friend he was). While the others, freaked him out more so than anything.

Nami was downright giddy and and squealed something along the lines of "Told you so!" Usopp proceeded to grumble and fish out a ten dollar bill for the ginger. Apparently, there had been a bet running; Nami had put money on this week, Usopp the next. Usopp said that next time to keep it in my pants so he could save ten dollars. The two then immediately broke out into hysterical laughter while I threatened to murder them in their sleep.

Robin just smiled, like she knew it all along(Won't lie, kind of creepy.) Franky's was the usual sing of "Super!" but the proceeded to tell us about how relationships bring children and the responsibility of this and I bailed when Luffy began asking about the making of a baby and birthing process, to which our teacher started to answer.

Brook burst out into a fit of congratulations and laughter. Before he broke out into singing, "The Price of Love" by Bad English. I grabbed Luffy and hauled him away before the lighters went up and students started gathering for a concert. Chopper was as happy and gushy as a kid got, hugging them both. Zoro did not mind their youngest friend's affections, but was a bit weirded out when he started lecturing us on safe sex and the correct use of condoms and all the other medical crap Kureha was drilling into his brain.

Yeah, that's about when he left. He had bushido after school, so Luffy told him to meet up at his house later.

Ignoring the possible traumatizing from the varied insane experiences all in one day, Zoro cut his losses and just went with the flow. It certainly worked for Luffy, since the whole time he had been laughing his heart out. Maybe he was insane already. Which meant Zoro couldn't be too far off.

"The question that sometimes leaves me hazy: Am I, or the others crazy?" Albert Einstein quote he remembered from English. The thing is: it doesn't leave him hazy. Same for Luffy. They just didn't care. And he thinks that is what makes life so fun sometimes.

The D. brothers' humble abode was no where near extravagant and located on the edge of the Pit. The Pit, is the nickname everyone has for the lower side of town, the slums; basically, slang term for the worst place of residence.

Sad, but yeah. Ace tries and tries his hardest, but times are tougher than they've ever been. Geez, they were just getting by before and Zoro has no clue how much cancer treatment costs, but fuck, he can almost imagine the zeroes in that medical bill and it makes him sick. Who knew you could put a price on healing?

Ace won't take hand outs though. Never once asked for help or money. Neither has Luffy. People have offered, most with good intentions, but it was just a matter of pride, of family, of something. Zoro can't judge, he will admit, he would probably be the exact same way.

Anyways, Zoro just can't help but be a little cautious on this side of town. He is by no means prejudice, it is just that, the urge to protect Luffy was so intense and he couldn't help but worry. Damn, he knew Luffy could absolutely take care of himself, but...he just worried, okay?

Zoro never shows weakness; it's what he was taught since childhood. Showing it only allows others to see your opening, the point in which to strike and strike the hardest. And ever since the day Luffy was shot, he won't admit it, but he felt the gaping weakness deep within. He had even let a bit of it show.

Ever since, he won't say a word, but he has the occasional nightmare here and there. Any shrink or counselor would tell him it's normal, tell him it is the mind's natural reaction to facing such fear and that he shouldn't be ashamed. But it is just what he does, he represses, and that is that.

But his dream is something else. He is back in the hallway, except now it is entirely empty. Eerie, like a cliche horror flick climax. Then all the lockers in the long, unending hall open up at the same time and thousands upon thousands of bullets fall out. Clinking and clanking and falling.

He'll hear Luffy's voice then, calling his name and he'll turn and see him there. Yet he's not. He's pale as a ghost and translucent like one too. Fading from view. Disappearing. Leaving him.

He yells after him, screams, tries so desperately to reach him. In the end, all he can do in sink in the puddle of blood that opens up to swallow him. In the end, all he can do is watch as the one he loves most slip away.

Could there be a deeper psychological reason for the dream? Hell, yes. Is he going to spend meaningless hours analyzing it when he could be spending time working so nothing of the sort ever happens for real?

He won't even dignify that with a mental response.

"Yo, it's Zoro," he calls, just to give them a heads up as he knocked. Just so they know he's not a burglar or something and they don't need to take his head off.

By the look he is given when the oldest D answers the door, he might as well have been there to rob them.

"Uh..." he clears his throat, tries not to look nervous. "Hi, Ace."

Silence is the only greeting he receives. Well, that, and a death glare, but he is trying to ignore that. "Luffy and me are meeting up here-"

"Yeah, he told me." Ace interrupted. With a curt shake of his head, he gestures Zoro to come inside. It's small, small as hell, but the poverty never bothered him before. Suddenly though, he feels a tad claustrophobic in the small space and the only other occupant.

"Uh...yeah, okay. 'Course." The quiet is tense and awkward. Zoro is by no means a coward. But this Fire Fucking Fist Ace. Who would not hesitate to tear him apart if he knew of the dirty thoughts that came in contact with Zoro's easily compromised brain function...

...and let's not contemplate this with him in the room.

"So," Ace says simply. It's only one syllable, but Zoro feels his skin crawl. He is not a coward, so he's not sure why he is so anxious. Maybe because he knows what he would do to anyone who touched Luffy and well...All that came to mind was, Ow.

"You and Luffy are dating, huh?" Blunt. Blunt he could work with. So, while they were grabbing the bull by the horns..

"Yep." Smooth. His inner voice snarks. But, Ace only nods.

"Yes, well, I heard. Seems my brother is very happy with you. And you two have been friends quite a long time, and we've known each other a good chunk of that, ne Zoro?" I half shrugged, half nodded. Didn't really want to open my mouth at this point, since it looked like I was getting off easy...

"Just know, that if you doing anything to hinder that happiness in the slightest, hurt him mentally and/or physically, or even think about touching him in the ways I know you know I know you were thinking about touching him, I will cut off your hands and proceed to choke you with them." His smile is all backwards and just plain wrong. "We clear?"

Dumb blink. Gape. Close mouth. Nod. Nod.

The grin widened, "Good."

Zoro let out a long sigh of relief, and reveled in the fact that the next moment the door swung open and Luffy appeared, loud and noticeable as always. He found himself smiling, until he noted Ace glaring at him, so he quickly wiped the smirk off his face.

"Hey, Zoro!" Luffy greeted, hopping a top their kitchen table and patting the seat next to him. Shrugging, Zoro figured there was no harm(not like Ace was murdering him with Luffy in the room, right?) and jumped up next to him. Luffy was chewing contently on a candy bar he must have picked up.

Behind him, Officer Smoker from the police station strolled in. Zoro knew the cop was indeed Ace's lover and his appearence here must not have been uncommon due to this fact. However, Ace looked genuinely surprised to see his boyfriend at this time.

"Saw him on my way home," Luffy said around a mouth full of Kit Kat. "Said he was on his way here and gave me a ride."

"What's up, Smokey?" Ace asked, playfully, but also with cursory hint to it. Smoker ran a resigned hand through his hair stating he had some news to tell us.

"The guy who shot your brother," Smoker starts. Instantly, the air in the room grows thick and Zoro feels all the muscles in his body tense up. "You remember?"

"A bit hard to forget," Ace snarls. Zoro nods in silent agreement. So help him, if he ever sees that blond bastard again he'll take his swords and-

"Bellamy?" Luffy exclaims. "Oh yeah! I kicked that guys ass a while back! Yeah, him." -and leave it to Luffy to turn his blood-thirsty fantasies into exasperation.

"Yes, numbskull. And also the guy who popped you full of lead not too long ago!" Ace grit out, fuming. "Smoker, I swear, if you've found him you give me five minutes with him and I'll-"

"Oh, we found him all right," Smoker declared, lighting up his cigar with ease. "Face down in the river, if you catch my drift."

The shock of his statement left the brothers and himself momentarily silent. Until, Luffy, blinked like he had heard that straw hats had gone out of style. "He's dead?"

"Yep," the cop announced, blowing out a cloud of smoke into the air. The smell was bitter, but being friend's with Sanji so long, he was used to it. "Early today. Morgue said he'd been dead since two nights ago. Only now is he turning up."

"Weird," Zoro muttered from his perch atop the table. "I mean, why would they store the body away? Unless they didn't want it found so soon after the it might infer something."

"Exactly," Smoker agreed. Zoro blew up at the top his bangs in dull annoyance.

"Shit, well." This royally sucked. "There go my plans of ripping him limb from limb." Hair by hair, eyelash by eyelash. He was thorough man, if anything.

"The feeling is mutual," came the rumble from Ace. He cracked one eye open to glower at the swordsman, "But older brothers get first dibs on that privelage, I'll have you know."

He opened his mouth to argue, thought better of it, and shut his damn mouth. Smoker glanced between the two, a question lurking in his gaze. Luffy, delightfully oblivious as he is, ignored the entire thing. His mind was currently focused elsewhere anyway.

"So you mean...they killed him, but didn't want the police to find out so soon after the shooting. Because then they might connect it, right?" The three of them stared at the raven-haired boy in disbelief. "Well, why else would you be here then?"

Smoker scoffed, "To see your overprotective brother." Zoro noticed how this was directed towards bother Ace and himself. Way to kill to birds with one stone, Smokey. "Essentially, yes though. It's a theory."

"Oh." Luffy blinked, thinking face on. "Well then...connect the dots, right? Why would the shooting have to do with Bellamy's death?"

"Bellamy's murder," Zoro corrected. The others looked at him, before Smoker nodded his head. He shrugged, "What else could it have been?"

Ace nodded, then said, "I think the more astute question should be, why was he off to shoot that girl in the first place?"

"Oh yeah!" Luffy exclaimed, as if he had totally forgotten. Probably had, Zoro thought wryly. "Camie! How is Camie?"

"Just fine," Zoro assured. At least that is what Nami and Kaya told him. Their green-haired friend was a little shaken, and was currently out of school until further notice. There were rumors she was being put into protective custody. He suddenly wanted to know why.

"According to the girl, when we questioned her," Smoker began retelling her account, "She had been on her way home from a friend's house - that Kaya girl to be exact - when she heard a noise. And not your average everyday city noise, no, a loud noise. Stupidly, she ventured into the alley to see what it was. Peeking out from behind the wall, she saw a deal of sorts. They were dealing a powdery substance in some bags, she said. We're thinking cocaine, maybe some new experimental acid."

"That shits crazy," Ace mumbled. Zoro, for once, could agree with his new in-law. That stuff is bad news, for reasons he knew the police officer was about to explain.

"And you know, dealing drugs and shit is never all they do. Always the other crimes, just a step away - murder, burglary, rape, illegal dealings, gang violence." He took a deep inhale of the nicotine stick and let it simmer in his lungs a little. "Point is, all the stuff my guys at the station are working their asses off to nail."

"As a former gang member, I feel I should be kind of almost slight offended," Ace quips. Luffy, a current gang member, looks dubiously towards his boyfriend who shrugs.

"You know what I mean," Smoker shot back irately. "With you off the street, trust me, it takes a load off. But you? And your gang and stuff?" He gestures towards Zoro and Luffy. "Sure, we'd love to get you punk ass kids in for something. Truthfully, though? Mostly petty crimes is all you guys commit. Nothing serious- well, nothing seriously serious."

Zoro raised an eye ridge, while Luffy giggled, and Ace glared.

"Don't get me wrong! Your all major pains in the asses, if that's what you were trying to accomplish," he grumbled through his smoke. "Your all criminals, who by all rights, should be in some correctional institution." Zoro finds it funny how that comment brings a grin to both brothers' and his own face.

"When your a cop, though," he sighs, "You learn the different kinds of criminals out there. And you make priorities. Right now, gangs like that, who are murdering and selling drugs to people who might as well have been lab rats? Yeah, I think we know who we have to bring in first."

"Duh," Luffy deadpans. Zoro can't help but smirk and droop an arm around the obnoxious runt. Seriously, he loves this idiot. Luffy leans into his grip, smiling, thoroughly enjoying the contact from what he can tell. And ignoring the obvious glare from his older brother-

Yikes. Zoro can feel the burn from here. Quickly - or as quickly as he could without making it awkward - he nonchalantly retracted his arm, half-annoyed, half-scared. Well, whatever, he thinks grumpily. Ace couldn't be everywhere.

Luffy is at the time, either decisively ignorant or too busy with the topic at hand. Really, he was an idiot. But when he put his mind to something, he didn't stop. "Ne, Smoke-guy! What did Camie see that made the bad guys want to get her?"

It was such a simple-minded question, so child-like in it's nature. Zoro had to remind himself this was a man, Luffy had proven that time and time again. But also, he was just a kid. So was Zoro. But not so naive as to assume there are no bad people in the world. Damn, he hated adolescence.

"Not much, just the dealings and such. A few murmured words here and there, and Bellamy, he was there. She recognized him and then there was another man she didn't know. However...if we caught a guy matching the description, and took him to court..."

"Camie would be a witness and could point him out," Ace finished. His nose twitched. "And you really don't care about that one guy. Neither did they when they spotted her, or so I am guessing. But, whoever the guys is working for, now that guy is who you want bad."

"Hey, that is pretty smart!" Luffy states. "It means the bad guys thought of this, too! That must be why they went after Camie-chan!"

The pieces were coming together. Making the gaps stand out all the more.

You know, for such a successful pessimist, he sucks at being an optimist.

"Bigs guys like that, they don't like loose ends," says Smoker knowingly. "If someone would get rid of her over the slightest connection she could give, they must have plenty to hide. This is how we know it's someone big."

"Bellamy was a hustler, dealer, a stupid lackey." Ace supplied ruefully. "Probably just another fucking lab rat himself." He shook his head, disgusted.

Ace may have been a gang leader, and a damn good one at that. But he wasn't a cold-hearted, intentional killer. He didn't treat people like dirt or experimentation devices. If anything, he spat on such ethnics. He was human, even as powerful as he was, and it gave Zoro some cold comfort to see that. He respected Ace, if nothing else.

And he guesses that is what he would have to remind himself every time the hot-head might try to interfere or get on his nerves. He was only human; and just looking out for his brother. Like Zoro has said, he has never known the devotion of a sibling before. But he has known the need to protect being so potent, like how it was for Luffy. Maybe that's how they could get by; the mutual affection they felt for his brother. Guess that would have to be enough.

That or Ace flaring him alive. ...Or maybe Zoro slitting his throat in his sleep...Nah, too messy.

Moving away from his tendency towards homicial thoughts...

"Ok, so we know this guy is big, we know he has got some major power here, and if you guys don't catch him soon, you've got a real nasty feeling something bad if going to be going down."


"Uh, yeah." Smoker confirmed, stupefied, "Thank you for the recap, Ace."

Ace leaned back on the chair comfortably, "No problem, sweet cheeks."

Zoro cringed, Smoker glared lethally, and Luffy, well. As expected, he just made little exaggerated gagging sounds next to me. For the soul purpose of annoying his brother.

Zoro could get used to this.

"Why are you telling us all this?" Zoro asked, more curious than he let on. "Not that I'm not grateful for the information. But as you previously pointed out, we're criminals. Why tell us secret investigation facts?"

Luffy nods, shifting towards the cop expectantly. Even Ace cracks an eye open to hear.

"Point taken," Smoker sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "My reasoning is, there's no way around it I suppose. Your all involved now, like it or not - especially you, Strawhat. I could waste time not telling you and searching for other sources. Which would just piss off some and plain hinder the whole investigation!"

"And I'd withhold sex," Ace adds, shutting his eyes again. Right before Smoker kicks out the chairs legs underneath him, sending Ace clambering to the ground. Luffy laughs his ass off from the table top, and Zoro quirked a mighty smirk of his own. Ace grumbled as he climbed his way back atop the chair, Smoker ignoring him the entire time.

"What I'm saying is, I'm not one for wasting time. It kills me to admit, but you and your resources would be more of an asset than adversary on this case." His cigar is down to the nub. He lights it back up anyway. "What I'm saying is...Bellamy did the shooting, but he was just a puppet. I want to find the puppeteer. And you do, too."

No doubt, he was referring to the three of us, maybe more. Cunning, Smoker-san, he must admit. He specifically knew they would want to find the person responsible for the shooting and bring him to justice. Knowing that the man who held the gun was in fact, dead as a doornail already, left Zoro with insatiable, cold fury and perking curiosity. Oh yeah, he wanted this so-called puppeteer. Right at the end of the justice of his sword.

He imagines similar thoughts going through Luffy's head. Actually, Zoro knew for a fact that while Luffy might not carry any animosity towards his shooter, the reality was that his friend's - like Camie and Kaya - were threatened, and who knows who'd be next? Plus, one can only guess at innocent civilian casualties.

Zoro figures that is what Smoker meant when he said there were categories of wrong doers. Sure, they were criminals; but not even they could stand idly by while innocent people were hurt in the process. He was evil, but more kick your dog off the pier evil. Not kill your family evil.

"Sounds good," Luffy says suddenly. Ace's chair's legs land swiftly on the floor and Zoro turned to stare. Luffy had this peculiar, determined smirk on his face. Immediately, a part of him rang, danger. Another cheered out with, fun.

"Which part?" Ace inquired carefully.

"All of it," Luffy stated casually. He hopped off the table with ease, and I felt the tumble of the decent from underneath my own ass. For a second, I thought I might fall but Luffy's firm hand on the top would never allow it. "Except, you got to understand Smoke-guy." He paused, his grin growing wider. "Me and my gang? We do our own thing. So, what we know might not exactly be what you know, ok?"

Smoker raised an albino eyebrow at the fresh declaration, "Really now, punk?"

"Uh huh," he laughed. "I mean, seriously? We're a gang. We don't assist cops. Sure, if there's danger and maybe something we think you should know, yeah, we will give you a heads up. And you can tell us all you want, just do not expect it in return. In the end, it's our call what we help with or not. Like you said, we are criminals, remember?"

Smoker's gaping look was enough to bring a full blown smile to his face. Even Ace, the sinner he is, gazed at his younger brother proudly with a matching smirk to boot.

"Do not worry, though," he assured. "We will catch this guy. One was or another." Here, he shoved his hands in his pockets and began walking towards the door. Confused, I stood to follow him with Ace calling after Luffy,"Yo, where are you going?"

He grinned again. It was becoming as mundane as their friend's ridiculous outbursts. "To see a teacher."

With that, he left. Zoro following, the last thing he heard was Smoker's curse and sound of a burnt out cigar nub falling to ground.

Okay, well, at first I had no idea where the hell this chapter was going to go. Now that I've written it, I must say, I'm honestly pretty pleased. Love it? Needs improvement? Tell me what you think! Reviews feed my fingers! Burger King just doesn't work anymore!