"I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;"
Perched unassumingly along a stretch of towering coastline cliffs, the small town of Case Ridge was happily bustling with life. Street vendors were noisily proclaiming their wares, each trying to be louder than the last; children were laughing and chasing each other with carefree abandon as their mothers gossiped and tried half-heartedly to restrain their rambunctious play; young, teenage girls were giggling and casting coy glances beneath their lashes at the young, teenage boys who were clumsily flirting with them. And, at a certain tavern situated right in the middle of Third Street, a girl was slowly and methodically wiping the large front windows that looked out onto the busy street in front.
She was a young girl, probably not yet into her teens, and pretty in an uninteresting way that easily was lost in a crowd. Quiet brown hair tickled her shoulders as she worked, and the soft features of her face framed a pair of quiet, troubled brown eyes.
Behind her, the happy hum of the lunch crowd buzzed cheerfully through the sunlit room, at harsh odds with her worried face. Her eyes stared unseeingly at the glass as she slowly wiped, distracted by her thoughts. Absently, her ears picked up the faint chime of the bell as the door swung open and a few content customers spilled out onto the bright street. She paid no heed to them, lost in thought as she was.
Her hand, already wiping at a lazy pace, slowed even further until it stopped altogether. She let it drop limply to her side. Just beyond her glass barrier, out on the lively street, happy townspeople passed by her unfocused gaze.
Her hollow peace was interrupted, however, when a trio of familiar, giggling children dashed inside the tavern, throwing open the front door with a loud bang and a clanging of bell, startling the girl out of her distracted thoughts.
"Asuka!" The lead child, a happy young girl with a round, childish face and long black braids that whipped behind her as she ran called out as she nearly crashed into the girl at the window. "Guess what, guess what!" she yelled excitedly, completely unconcerned that she had nearly knocked the older girl through the glass. "Last night-"
Her sidekicks, two gangly twin boys with copious amounts of freckles splattered across their faces, caught up with her and each jammed a quick hand across her mouth, stopping her jumbled words.
"Shh!" the twin on the left hissed at her, though he had a wide, eager grin stretched across his speckled face.
"We want to tell her, too!" the one on the right insisted with a matching grin of his own.
The older girl, her task at the window now completely abandoned, smiled at the younger children despite herself, relieved at the interruption.
"Alright," she asked, quietly indulgent. "What's going on, guys?"
Glaring sternly at her two friends, the younger girl pushed their hands away from her mouth and placed her own on her hips. "I get to tell," she firmly declared, "because I was the one who found out first." Her fierce, determined voice held no room for argument.
Grumbling, her partners-in-crime exchanged frustrated glances, but their excitement was too impatient for them to argue further.
"Fine," the boy on the left agreed, rolling his eyes. "Just hurry up and tell her!"
"Right!" she yelled happily, bouncing up and down on her heels in barely suppressed energy. "Guess what, Asuka!"
A quick, barely-there smile answered, accompanied by a breath of laughter at the children's excitement. "What?"
"Last night, guess who arrived in town! Guess! Guess!"
"Well-" Asuka began, but the younger girl quickly cut her off impatiently.
"Pirates!" she yelled loudly, her eyes bright with childish delight. "But guess which pirates!"
"Pirates?" Asuka gasped, and her soft brown eyes filled with slight, involuntary fear. Pirates weren't necessarily rare visitors along the Grand Line, but they usually didn't bring anything but bad news with them, sometimes attacking the townspeople and raiding their supplies. "Does your father know about them?" she asked urgently.
"Of course," the small girl scoffed. "He's the mayor, he knows everything! And don't worry, he met some of them, and they're nice pirates, and aren't going to steal anything! So it's okay. But guess which pirates they are!"
"Nice pirates?" Asuka repeated, feeling herself starting to relax. 'Nice pirates' was how the tiny mayor's daughter referred to the occasional crews that were just in port to quietly stock up their ship, not wishing to draw unwanted notice to themselves. They were usually either relatively unknown pirates or pirates that had so much attention at the moment that they couldn't afford any more. Personally, Asuka thought the term 'nice pirates' contradicted itself; in her mind, there was only 'attacking pirates' and 'uninterested pirates'.
"So they're just passing through, then?"
"Yep," the brother on the right confirmed excitedly, bobbing his head quickly, causing his curly dark locks to bounce around erratically. His twin eagerly bobbed his head as well, but his decidedly less curly, though equally dark hair merely flopped down into eyes.
"But guess which pirates they are!" the girl in the middle interrupted impatiently.
"The Strawhat pirates!" she cut in happily.
"Mei!" her curly-haired friend reprimanded sternly. "Don't ask her to guess if you're just going to tell her anyway!"
"It's annoying," the other boy agreed, more mildly.
Asuka stared at the trio in surprise. The Strawhat pirates had become quite famous recently, after their unbelievable stunt at Enies Lobby just a couple of weeks ago. The news had caused quite a stir among the townspeople, and for a few days afterwards it was all people talked about. Asuka herself had studied the eight wanted posters carefully, curious about the bold faces that made up such a small yet audacious crew. For them to take on Enies Lobby and actually make out alive… it seemed like a miracle to her, an outrageous miracle, something that only happened in stories.
But they were still pirates, and therefore not to be admired.
"Guess what else!" Mei continued, tugging at Asuka's attention once more. "One of them came into town last night, and then he drank a lot at that bar that smells kinda funny, and then he walked around a bit, and now he's right over there!" she finished breathlessly, pointing an excited finger out the window.
There, it turned out, was on the other side of the street. There, just a stone's throw away, Asuka could easily see the man in question, though he had escaped her attention before. He was seated on the ground, lounging against the crumbling brick wall behind him, his legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles. His powerful arms were folded tightly across his chest. Nothing could be seen of his face, as his chin was dropped to his chest and keeping his features obscured.
There was no doubt as to his identity, however, and Asuka could tell, from the way they were careful to give him a wide berth as they passed by, that the other townspeople had recognized him as well. If the three deadly swords resting across his lap didn't instantly tip off who it was, then the head of abnormally green hair did.
That, without a doubt, was Roronoa Zoro.
Asuka felt a shiver of fear race up her spine. That man was worth 120 million beli – an amount unusually large, even for these waters. She had heard he fought like a demon, a man possessed. Definitely a dangerous man, and there he was, sleeping obliviously on their own little street.
She glanced down at the three children beside her. They all had their noses pressed against the newly-cleaned glass, staring intently at the dozing pirate. She could tell from their faces that they didn't have the same healthy aversion to pirates that she did.
"He's so cool," the curly twin whispered, almost reverently. "I wonder how he fights with three swords… Does he use all of 'em at once?"
"I heard he does, sometimes," his twin whispered back, his eyes also trained unwaveringly on the swordsman. "I heard he actually puts one in his mouth."
"Mei…" Asuka was struck by a sudden thought. "Did your father tell them about Miser's gang? A few of them could be on this side of the island right now. You know how they like to go after pirates with high bounties, and the gang is so strong… It could cause trouble if there was a confrontation in town."
Mei twisted her head away from the window to smile happily up at Asuka, her eyes bright and cheerful. "Yep, he told them. And guess what one of them said! He said they didn't care about any shitty bounty hunter bastards!"
The two boys burst into peals of delighted laughter, and Asuka's mouth twitched slightly despite her chagrin.
"Don't cuss, Mei. It isn't ladylike."
"But that's what Dad told me he said!"
"And I'm sure the pirate isn't trying to become a lady, unlike you. And in any case, that wasn't what I was worried about. What if there's a fight in town?" she finished, somewhat anxiously.
"Yeah right," Mei dismissed the idea as clearly ridiculous. "Nothing exciting ever happens around here. And anyway, wouldn't that be good? Maybe they'd get rid of Miser for us!"
"Look!" the left twin interrupted suddenly before Asuka could reply doubtfully (Miser's gang was much too strong, and who'd ever heard of a bunch of pirates actually fighting for a town, anyway?). He was staring a little farther down the dusty street. "That man over there looks like he's headed straight for Roronoa!"
The others quickly pressed closer to the glass, peering farther down the road.
"He looks…angry," Mei whispered.
The blond stranger did indeed look angry. He was striding down the street swiftly, his hands stuffed deep into the pockets of his black suit, his long legs easily stretching to carry him along at a purposeful pace. His otherwise pleasant face was scrunched up in irritation, and he was chewing agitatedly on a thin cigarette bobbing up and down between his lips. And he was certainly headed straight for the sleeping swordsman.
"He's not from Miser's gang, though…" Asuka mused, and her mind hurriedly ran through the faces from the recent wanted posters. "I don't think he's a Strawhat, either. I don't recognize him at all – he must just be another stranger traveling along the Grand Line. I hope he doesn't try to start anything with Roronoa. He might get killed…" She gnawed on her bottom lip in worry, and noticed with dismay that the younger children all looked excited at the possibility.
Mei particularly was watching the stranger with avid fascination.
"Maybe there'll be a fight." She bounced a little, impatient and excited.
"Do you think he's going to attack Roronoa while he's sleeping?" one of the boys asked, frowning.
"Looks like it," the other boy frowned as well. "That's not very fair. But it doesn't look like he has any weapons, so I don't know what he could really do…" he trailed off, and they all – along with quite a few anxious people from the street who had also noticed the angry blond – stared as the stranger at last reached the green-haired pirate's side.
Under numerous apprehensive eyes, a long black leg suddenly extended straight up in front of the unknown man, pausing for a moment in a perfect, vertical split. Then it sliced downwards, directly towards the drooping, green head.
"Ahhh! Watch out!" Mei yelled, and the other three watchers at the window sucked their breath in sharply.
But suddenly, there was a long, black scabbard clenched in a tight fist, blocking the shoe from following through and connecting. Both men froze for a moment, Roronoa still with his head dropped to his chest despite his extended arm and scabbard. Then, slowly, the green head raised and tilted up to meet the other man's angry gaze, revealing his grinning features at last.
Asuka's breath caught in her throat, and icy fear tingled in her veins. The pirate looked exactly like his wanted poster, though right now his face was twisted into a taunting, dangerous smirk. He exuded an air of deadly strength, and Asuka suddenly felt very frightened for the other man who had dared attack Roronoa Zoro as he slept.
However, when she glanced at him, she found the blond was glaring daggers down at the swordsman, radiating a dangerous aura of his own. He leaned forward slightly, his chest going to his thigh and the knee bending as he pressed more of his weight into his raised leg, but the scabbard and smirk stayed where they were. Asuka could see the blond's mouth moving quickly, angrily, and the mouth of the other man moving in smirking reply, but she couldn't hear what they were saying.
There was a tense minute or so as the two men exchanged unheard words, and all watching waited with bated breath. Then the blond man suddenly smirked as well and lifted his leg to let it drop lightly back down to the ground. They could see him rolling his cigarette around between his fingers, followed by him throwing some more words down at the swordsman, along with a devilish grin.
Roronoa did not seem to appreciate whatever it was the blond man said, because his smirk instantly disappeared and was replaced by an irritated scowl, the kind of scowl that made Asuka very glad it wasn't pointed at her, and the tension in the street kicked up another notch. Discretely, the nearest townspeople began backing away from the tense pair, mothers pulling their children closer to their sides. It seemed evident that a major confrontation was about to occur, and the townspeople clearly did not want to be caught in the middle of it.
Asuka couldn't say she blamed them – especially since one of the infamous Strawhat pirates was involved. And if she were in the blond man's shoes, she would be wasting no time in running away as fast as possible, or maybe getting down on her knees and pleading for mercy. She definitely wouldn't be antagonizing the pirate, as it appeared the handsome stranger was determined to do.
Yet it seemed the blond had not yet reached the peak of his stupidity, and Asuka could only stare in disbelief at his new act of foolishness.
"What's he thinking?" she whispered, her eyes wide.
The blond man had actually turned his back on Roronoa, the man known as the demon swordsman, after provoking him into a state of anger. But instead of shaking in fear, as seemed reasonable to Asuka, he was standing there, coolly smoking his cigarette and tapping his foot as though waiting for a slow child.
It appeared to her as though, with that simple yet arrogant motion, the man had stamped his own death warrant.
"Do you think Roronoa'll use all three swords?" she heard one twin whisper to the other.
"Hope so," was the breathless reply.
She noticed Mei was just staring with wide eyes, a mixture of fear and excitement swirling within their depths.
The world seemed to freeze as everyone in the vicinity anxiously watched the green-haired pirate for his reaction. For a moment, all he did was glare fiercely up at the other man's back. Then, in one smooth motion he rose effortlessly to his feet and tied his three swords to their place at his right hip.
The blond man turned and drew the cigarette out of his mouth to blow a bold stream of smoke at the pirate. He spoke once more, the swordsman rolled his eyes, his scowl receding slightly, and they both started together down the street.
It took a moment for Asuka's brain to process what had just happened. One minute she was expecting to see the blond man slashed to bloody ribbons by the swordsman, the next the two were strolling down the street together like they'd known each other for years, hurling words and taunting looks back and forth.
A collective sigh of relief passed through the entire street as the two men disappeared down the dirt road. The four young people at the window all sighed as well, one in relief and the rest in disappointment.
"Looks like they aren't going to fight," Mei said sadly.
"Don't sound so unhappy about it." Asuka took a deep, steadying breath as she felt her racing heart begin to slow and her body begin to calm down after the spike of adrenaline. "What if either of them had died?" Despite her dislike of pirates, she had no desire to see one killed before her eyes.
The three children regarded her with identically pitying, patronizing expressions.
"Asuka," Mei said condescendingly, "that was Roronoa Zoro. A pirate. He's not going to die."
"Yeah," the curly-haired twin added, his voice suddenly tight and excited. "Did you see how quick he blocked that kick? One second he's sleeping, then BAM!" He slapped his hands together loudly, startling the older girl. "He's so cool! And that other guy looked pretty strong, too, I guess. I wonder who he was…" he added as an afterthought.
"Well, if he got hurt it would be his own fault, 'cause he tried to attack a dangerous pirate," Mei sniffed dismissingly.
"Oi," the twin with straight hair jumped in suddenly, brushing his hair out of his eyes as he peered out the window once more. "Mei, your dad's coming up the street. Does he know you're out of the house?"
"Nope," Mei giggled, pressing her face into the glass as well to get better look. "But it's okay, 'cause he's not looking for me."
As the mayor of the small town passed by, looking preoccupied and worried, the three small children ducked their heads down quickly, until he had passed the small tavern by.
Mei's head popped back up, and she nudged her friends, smiling cheerfully. "Clear!" she said happily. "Daddy's been distracted all morning anyway. Mayorish stuff," she added importantly. "Oh! Asuka, where's Asher? We want to tell him about the pirates too!"
"He's in the kitchen, peeling potatoes. Be careful, though…he's in a bad mood." Her face fell as she remembered why he was in a bad mood – the same reason for her own troubled feelings, which had been forgotten in the recent excitement.
The children shared knowing glances with each other, before Mei spoke up carefully.
"Is he still upset about your cousin?"
She nodded. "But I bet hearing about the pirates will cheer him up, so go tell him!" He always did have a ridiculous love of pirates, ever since he was very young.
The trio nodded enthusiastically. "Okay!" Mei shouted, eager once more to spread the exciting news. "C'mon, you guys! And remember, I get to tell!" The three took off, weaving through the tables and headed to the door in the back leading to the kitchen, laughing and arguing all the while.
The girl at the window once again returned to her task, and even the thought of the famous pirates anchored near their town couldn't stop her from becoming distracted and dejected once more.
Meanwhile, the two men who had caused such a stir earlier among the quiet townspeople were presently standing at the top of the steep, twisting path that hugged the face of the cliffs and led to the ocean below.
"Alright, dumbass, listen carefully. The ship is right there, at the bottom of the cliffs. The same cliffs we saw last night. You know, the really big ones…? Next time you get lost, just jump off these, and you'll find the ship. Got it, marimo?"
"Shut up, shit-cook. I told you it was dark last night."
"Whatever." The blond flicked his cigarette over the edge of the cliff and started carefully down the winding trail to the waiting ship below, picking his cautious way around the worst of the rubble that was strewn across the narrow path, pressing close to the sheer rock wall. "I swear, you're like a damn kid. We can't let you out on your own. Next time you want to go get plastered, make sure you know how to get back to the ship so you don't end up sleeping on the street like some shitty bum."
"I told you to shut up," the swordsman growled irritably and stomped down after the blond, considerably less carefully. However, his glowering expression quickly morphed into a smirk. "What, were you worried about me or something, cook? Heh. Didn't know you cared."
"Like hell. You missed breakfast and lunch, and of course I'm the one who has to chase after your lost ass. You're such a pain." The blond slipped slightly on some loose stubble, and automatically the swordsman grabbed his arm in a tight grip to steady him.
"Don't slip, dumbass."
The blond smirked. "What, were you worried about me or something?"
Rolling his eyes, the other man just brushed past him roughly to continue down towards their ship. "Like you said, I missed breakfast and lunch. You gonna make me food, or you gonna fall off the cliff like an idiot?"
A growl of annoyance slipped out of the cook's mouth as he stalked angrily, carefully, after the other. "Gah, you're so infuriating. You think you can miss meals, then expect me to cater to your whims? Well it's not happening, shitty marimo – I'm not making you any more food today."
The swordsman paused to throw a taunting, calculating look back at the blond. "Are you saying you won't give me food? When I'm hungry?"
Another growl. "Shut up. I'm saying I'm not making you more food. I already put a plate for you in the fridge, so you better be damn grateful."
"Che." The pirate started tramping down the trail again. "I probably would have been better off picking up something from that tavern back in town, anyway."
A swift, black leg from behind threw the unsuspecting swordsman off his feet and tumbling down the narrow, rocky path, where he landed in a painful heap at one of the trail's tight switchback corners. A few moments later the blond cook sauntered past, smirking around a fresh cigarette as he rounded the corner and slipped past the other man, who was slowly rising to his feet and pointing a deadly glare at him.
"Don't slip, dumbass."
"What the hell was that for, asshole?"
The blond continued casually but still carefully downwards, not bothering to turn around and acknowledge the fuming man at his back. "Unless you want a one-kick ride directly down to the ship, I suggest you shut your mouth and be grateful I even bothered saving you any food. I should've just given it to the captain."
"Right. Like your pansy-ass kicks could manage that." But the swordsman kept silent after that anyway.
For quite a few minutes, the only sounds that could be heard were the quiet shuffle of boots sliding on loose dirt and the plunk, plunk of small stones becoming dislodged and sent tumbling down the mountainside, and the distant sound of waves colliding with shore. The gentle shush of the waves grew louder and harsher as the men went farther and farther down, and when they reached the base of the cliffs the crunch of dirt and stones became the crunch of sand underfoot.
There, at the foot of the cliffs, a narrow, empty stretch of beach stood as a buffer between the rocks and the sea. Beyond it, anchored just off the sandy shoreline, a pirate ship bearing a flag that had become rather infamous of late was being lightly rocked by the waves.
"SANJI! ZORO!" An excited call sprang from the ship, and the two men on shore could see their captain seated on the figurehead and waving at them furiously. Then two rubbery arms shot towards them, one wrapping ominously around each of their waists before either of them could blink.
In the split second before the elastic appendages could rebound, snapping back to their owner, the two pirates' eyes connected.
And then they were launched through air, unable to hold on to anything as they were yanked back to their ship, finally landing in a tangle of limbs and groans.
A certain Monkey D. Luffy, a pirate whose name was already causing ripples of interest and fear along all the Grand Line, wiggled happily out of the heap of bodies and beamed down at his two nakama.
"You found him, Sanji! Now you can make me more food!"
With a glare at his captain, Sanji roughly extracted himself from his equally glaring crewmate. "Warn us next time, idiot!" He stood and straightened his rumpled suit, dusting his knees and smoothing his tie. "And I'm not giving you any more food right now."
"No, you can't have mine," Zoro cut in before Luffy could even finish the first word, already up and headed towards the galley, ignoring the captain's disappointed whine. "So, where's my food, cook?"
Sanji turned his glare so it was fixed on the back of the green head. "I told you, it's in the fridge. Do you need a map or something?"
"The thing's got a lock, remember? How am I supposed to get in, smartass?"
Sanji had forgotten the brilliant addition to the Sunny's fridge, courtesy their newest nakama and shipwright. Normally he was grateful beyond words for the lock, what with the food-sneaking tendencies of their captain, but for some reason he wasn't feeling very pleased with it at the moment.
"Fine, I'll get it for you," he grumbled, hating that the marimo was right. He flicked the remains of his useless cigarette overboard, which had been crushed in the rough landing after his quick jaunt across the water, and followed after the swordsman to the galley.
When he entered he found Zoro already seated at the counter and drumming his thumb against its smooth surface. He crossed over to the fridge and, after jabbing in the code for the lock a little harder than was probably necessary, tugged it open to pull out the plate with Zoro's large chilled sandwich.
"It's got the rest of that fish you caught two days ago, and a sauce I won't bother telling you the ingredients of because you wouldn't understand anyway. Enjoy." He tossed the plate carelessly at Zoro, who caught it easily and gave a grunt Sanji chose to interpret as gratitude.
The sound of quiet munching filled the kitchen as Sanji let the fridge swing shut with a soft click of the lock.
"And wash your plate when you're done."
Zoro grunted again. Sanji chose to interpret it as an agreement.
Leaning his hips against the stove, Sanji stood across from Zoro and watched him go about devouring the sandwich quickly and efficiently. Crumbs fell from mouth to countertop, missing the half-empty plate, and Zoro swept them to the floor with a cupped hand. Sanji crossed his arms and raised an expectant eyebrow.
Oblivious, Zoro finished the rest of the sandwich in three large, swift bites, the last bite squishing out a gooey drop of sauce that fell to the counter. He swiped it up with a finger, leaving behind a messy smear, then shoved the finger in his mouth, already full with the rest of the sandwich, and sucked the sauce off with a loud pop as the finger left.
Sanji let his other eyebrow join its fellow at the top of his hairline, not that anyone could have seen it behind the fall of hair. One finger began tapping quietly against his arm as he regarded the swordsman with mild disgust.
Zoro wiped his finger absently on his shirt, still chewing. Picking up the empty plate he stood, but he paused halfway up when he finally noticed the cook's unamused expression.
"Wha'?" A few more crumbs tumbled from his mouth to the floor. He finished swallowing and straightened up all the way. "I'm going to clear the plate," he said, slightly defensively and glaring at the cook.
Sanji sighed wearily. He shoved away from the stove and, leaning across the counter towards Zoro, yanked the plate out of his hands.
"I'll wash this. You get the broom and clean up the mess you made all over my kitchen." A damp rag was flung at Zoro's head, which he barely caught in time to keep from smacking into his face. "And wipe up the counter while you're at it." He flipped the hot water on in the sink and dipped the plate into the stream.
"Why should I?" Zoro demanded of his back. "I bet most of that mess is from Luffy, anyway."
Sanji didn't answer or turn away from the sink, but continued washing the plate unhurriedly.
"You probably didn't make anyone else clean up, did you?"
Sanji fished in a drawer and pulled out a clean towel, then began wiping the clean plate.
"Don't try to make me into your busboy, shit-cook," Zoro growled threateningly.
Three and a half minutes later, Robin entered the galley and couldn't help but smile a little at the scene. Zoro, broom in hand and a fierce scowl on his face, was grumbling under his breath as he viciously attacked the floor with his sweeping, while Sanji smoked serenely against the counter.
"Is everything alright in here?" she asked with the smallest bit of laughter dancing in her eyes.
"Robin-chan!" Sanji turned to her, delight spreading across the revealed half of his face. "Everything's fine, the marimo is just learning the consequences of disappearing overnight and missing two meals in a row."
"Are you supposed to be the cook or the mother on this ship?" the angry sweeper griped under his breath.
"Is there anything I can get you, Robin-chan?" Sanji asked, magnanimously ignoring Zoro's comment as he ground out his cigarette. "Coffee, tea, some juice…?"
"Coffee would be wonderful; thank you cook-san." The tall woman slipped gracefully into one of the seats at the table as Sanji flurried into action, and Zoro snorted derisively at the cook's fluttering about.
With a quick rush of air, the galley door was flung open and the ship's navigator strode in, the sniper right on her heels.
"Nami-san! Would you like some coffee?" Sanji called happily as he set a pot of water on the stove to boil.
"Not right now, Sanji-kun," the navigator answered briskly, sliding into the chair next to Robin and glaring sternly at Zoro, who had now finished sweeping and was trying to slink out the door. "Not so fast, Zoro. How much did you spend last night, hmm?"
Zoro groaned and turned around to face the accusatory frown pointed his way with a scowl of his own.
"I don't see how that's any of your business," he grumbled. "Or am I not allowed to go drinking when I want anymore?"
"Not with the current amount of money you owe me. And that was really stupid to just stroll into town like that, before we knew anything about the island. There could have been marines there! You would've gotten us all in trouble!"
"Well, there weren't any, so it was fine, wasn't it? And it's my money so I can spend it how I like!"
As the shouting match began to escalate, Usopp ambled over to the kitchen area where Sanji had pulled out two huge slabs of meat and begun rubbing spices into them with his usual swift, precise motions.
"Oi, Sanji. What's the meat for?"
Sanji didn't even bother looking up from his task. "We're all going into town for dinner tonight, right?" he said, dropping the seasoned meat into a waiting pan. "That means unless we want Luffy to eat every scrap of food at the poor place where we choose to eat, he's going to need something to take the edge off before we leave." Flame flared to life underneath the pan, and the quiet sound of sizzling meat filled the air, accompaniment to Nami's and Zoro's shouting. "That's what one is for. The other's for whoever stays with the ship tonight."
Usopp blinked. "Oh…that makes sense."
Leaving the meat to slowly brown, Sanji flicked off the burner for the now boiling water and went about preparing Robin's coffee, using a special blend he had picked up in Arabasta. He cupped the steaming mug carefully in his hands and, stepping around the counter to the table, placed it gently in front of the older woman with a charming smile.
Meanwhile, it seemed the war between the swordsman and navigator was over, as Nami had that particularly satisfied smirk that usually meant Zoro's interest rate had increased again.
"Now then," Nami began in a business-like tone, ignoring Zoro's irritated mutters ("Damn witch."). "Could someone find the rest of the crew? There's something important we need to talk about before we go up to the town tonight."
Sanji, back at his post at the stove, called cheerfully over his shoulder, "Nami-san! Chopper was mixing medicine in the infirmary before I left; he's probably still there!"
"Right. Usopp, you go find Luffy and Franky."
"Why do I have- Ah! R-right away, Nami!"
As Usopp dashed out the door as fast as he could, away from the navigator's stormy glare, Nami had already trotted over the infirmary door and knocked on it smartly.
"Chopper? You in there?"
Faint crashes and muffled yelps answered her, before the door swung open to reveal a blushing Chopper.
"D-did you need something, Nami?"
Nami grinned down at the embarrassed doctor. "Sorry for startling you, Chopper. Can you come out for a minute? We're going to tell them about what you found out last night."
"Oh! Of course-"
The main door flew open and a red-colored blur shot into the room, headed straight for the stove.
"Not yet!" A black shoe came crashing down on the blur's head and sent it sprawling to the floor.
Luffy rubbed the back of his head and pouted. "Stingy…"
"It's not even cooked yet!"
A rush of air and squeak of hinges announced the opening of the galley door once more.
"Alright, Zoro-bro! You're back! Did you have a super time in town?"
"Nami! I found Franky, but I'm not sure where Luffy… Oh, he's already here! I mean, I, the Great Captain Usopp already knew he was in here, using super powers of deduction and-"
"Get off the floor, and stop drooling on my shoes!"
"EVERYONE BE QUIET!
"…thank you. So now that we have everyone back at the ship," Nami paused to cast a dark glance at the unconcerned swordsman, "I'll tell you what Sanji-kun and Chopper found out last night."
"Why are you telling us then?" Usopp cut in, raising a hand and a dark eyebrow at the navigator.
"Just shut up and listen! Anyway, while they were exploring the beach, looking for an easier way up the cliff than that little trail-"
"We didn't find one," Sanji added helpfully from the stove.
"-they ran into the mayor of Case Ridge."
"Wait a minute." Zoro was frowning in confusion and suspicion. "What was the mayor doing wandering around the beach that late at night? Sounds fishy," he grunted.
"He told me he was taking a walk," Sanji answered, "trying to clear his thoughts – Luffy! Hands off! – and honestly, he looked like he could use some good thought-clearing. Right, Chopper?"
Chopper nodded faithfully up at the cook, his tiny face drawn and serious. "I'm worried he'll give himself stomach ulcers if he doesn't deal with whatever is causing him stress."
"Anyway," Nami drew the attention back to the matter at hand by rapping loudly on the table, "it turns out that as long as we're just stocking up, we don't have to worry about the townspeople sending the marines after us. They're not very fond of the marines, so as long as we don't cause any trouble we don't have to hide."
"Super!" Franky grinned and flicked his sunglasses up to the top of his head, then turned to the sniper leaning against the counter. "Oi, long-nose, bet we can find any good parts for the cannon we're modifying?"
Usopp scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Maybe… It's a small town, but it seems-"
"I'M NOT FINISHED YET!"
"Ah…! Th-that's a scary face, Nami!"
"As I was saying, we don't have to worry about the townspeople. However, the mayor told Sanji-kun there is a gang of sorts that wanders around the island, and they tend to go after large bounties that pass through the town. However, there are only a few members of the gang floating around town right now – LUFFY! LEAVE THE MEAT ALONE AND LISTEN TO ME! – with the majority being on the other side of the island with the boss. So we should be fine. But I want you all to keep your heads down and not cause any trouble… Am I clear?"
"Clear!" Chopper and Usopp jumped to a stiff salute.
Sanji, his hands busy with the meat and his feet busy with Luffy, tossed a smile over his shoulder. "Right, Nami-san! We'll keep out of trouble!"
Zoro just grunted.
"Meeaat…" Luffy moaned around the foot currently shoved in his mouth.
Chuckling, Robin took a quiet sip of coffee. "I'm sure we'll try, but trouble seems to have a tendency of finding this crew no matter what."
Nami gave a weary sigh and sank back into the chair next to the other woman. "I know. But the log pose sets in two days, so there's a chance we can make it without drawing too much attention to ourselves." She stiffened suddenly and, with a frown, snapped, "Zoro! If anything happens I'm adding it to your debt!"
"Don't shout at Nami-san!"
"Shut up, stupid ero-cook!"
"WHAT WAS THAT, SHITTY MARIMO?"
"BOTH OF YOU SHUT UP! Zoro, I'm adding it to your debt because I know it'll be your fault! You'll probably pick a fight with someone and bring every bounty hunter on the island crashing down on us!"
"She's right, you know."
"I told you to shut up, shit-cook!"
"Don't tell me what to – LUFFY! I SAID NO! Keep your damn grabby hands away from the food!"
The captain sulked and stuck his red hands into his mouth, sucking where Sanji had trapped them on the hot stove with his foot.
"Um…Nami?" Chopper spoke up quietly, timidly. "I need a few medical supplies…mostly just bandages…is it okay if I buy some here?"
Nami nodded quickly at the little doctor. "We'll use tomorrow to shop and pick up supplies, then we can be gone by the next morning. Just save your receipts."
"Nami-san…" Sanji frowned thoughtfully and turned away slightly from his work. "How are we going to get all the supplies down the cliff? There isn't much room on the trail."
"We'll just have to be careful and carry them. Make sure you take Zoro with you tomorrow when you do the food shopping."
"Don't volunteer me for things, witch!"
"Don't call Nami-san a witch!"
"What are you gonna do about it, curly-brow?"
"How 'bout I-" Sanji stopped suddenly, staring down at the conspicuously empty pan that had remained in his hand as he whirled away from the stove to shout at Zoro. Slowly, his gaze rose to the bulging cheeks of his cheerful captain.
"Mmm… Tasty, Sanji!"
"Luffy…" he said in a carefully even tone. "Did you swipe the meat while I wasn't looking?"
The captain laughed happily around the meat in his mouth, its juice trickling down his chin. "Yep! It's tasty!"
The rest of the crew hardly batted an eye as their captain was sent crashing into the far wall of the galley, except for the shipwright who winced violently, though he immediately relaxed when he saw there was no damage done.
"Alright, cook-bro! Thanks for not tearing up the walls!"
Sanji paused, lighter already to a cigarette in his mouth, and smiled. "No problem, Franky." Click. He let the lighter flicker on and kissed the flame to his cigarette, then snapped it shut.
"Anyway," Nami continued as though there had been no interruption, "does everyone understand the rules? No bothering the townspeople and no drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves. And everybody help keep Luffy in check, you know how he is."
"Got it, mom."
"Do you want your interest raised?"
"Alright!" Luffy jumped to his feet. "I understand!"
Nami looked at him in surprise. "You do?"
"Yep!" The captain chuckled, a broad grin across his face. "We're going to get food! Let's go, guys! Food! And then an adventure!"
"NO! No adventures on this island!"
"C'mon! Let's go!"
"We're not ready to leave yet! Listen to me!"
The first mate sighed and began resignedly following after their captain. "Let's go. We might as well follow him and make sure he doesn't get into trouble. Besides, I'm hungry. That shitty sandwich barely even filled me."
"WHAT WAS THAT, MARIMO?"