Disclaimer: I do not own One Piece.
Namé = Nami
Noj = Nojiko
Their names were too oriental for this story.
The landlady's door flew open in a violent bang. She stomped up the old, creaking staircase to the third floor, the highest in this flat. She had enough. She had let him slip three times. Three times meant three months of rent. She had been naïve, brainwashed by the young man's attractive looks. This time she was going to win, even if it required her to use her fists. When she reached the room, she balled her thin hands and knocked on the door as hard as she could.
The walls of the room crackled as the landlady slammed her fists against the door. The man in the decrepit bed rolled around and stuffed his face in the pillow. Realized that the intruder would not leave unless he showed up, he quickly got out of the bed, dragging the worn out and threadbare blanket with him. He stepped over papers, brushes, and oil pastels that were scattered all over the floor. He kicked a small tin pan under the bed before he reached the door. The knocking ceased when he unlocked it with a sharp click.
His weight leaned against the door frame and he gave one of his best smiles, "Good morning miss."
The landlady's eyes sharpened, "Sir, I think you know the reason why I am here."
The man scratched at his hair and the woman tried to ignore the flakes that covered his shoulders like powdered snow, "Well, you see miss, I'm working on a piece of work that's taking longer than I thought."
"I'm tired of your witty remarks Mir. Roronoa." The landlady lambasted, "You only have two choices: pay this months rent or get out."
The man crossed his arms silently over his chest and fell into a deep thought. Then he smiled, "Would you like me to paint your furniture or perhaps your room?"
"Sir, you have painted everything in the flat."
"Everything? But I don't recall painting Little Noj's-"
"Everything." She said flatly.
"I could watch over your children."
The landlady put her hands over her hips, "The last time you watched over my children, Little Namé almost choked on one of your paints. No, Mr. Roronoa, it's either you pay or leave."
The man surrendered up his hands, "Belle Meré, please. Wait a week. I'll swear to have the money by then." Belle Meré pulled down her frown as far as she could muster, but oh what sin. She had looked into those beautiful gray eyes. Her eyes took all of the man and she almost let out a pleasure sigh. Although he was horrible at keeping his flat clean and his clothes always smelled of old sweat he attracted many eyes of women, even wives with children. She turned away so that his dandy looks would not control her mind again.
She sighed, "...Little Namé wants her dresser to be painted with flowers."
She could feel the young man's radiant smiles glowing onto her back, "Thank you miss."
"It's a week this time and this is final!" she shouted, still daring not to look back.
"Yes and thank you."
"Oh, and one more thing," Belle Meré looked over her shoulder, "The people of the flat are complaining about the abundance of mice. Namé told me you were feeding them, but I hope that is just her little imagination." She eyed the space under the bed before Zoro moved so he blocked her view. Turning away, she descended the stairs, cursed herself that she had lost again.
Once the landlady disappeared, he relocked the door and scrambled to the floor. He pushed away thin wooden boards and dead paintbrushes. He clawed through heaps of valuable paper with pictures drawn halfway and was abandoned from the flaming inspiration burnt out. When he finally found the wooden floor, white from age, he cursed and rummaged through other places in his room. He found what he was looking for near his working area.
He blew on the surface and even brushed the dust off. It was a fairly large sketchbook with bits of wear creeping along the edges. He flipped through the yellowed pages and stopped at a page with a rough sketch of a person, except the face was blank. Zoro quickly searched for something to write and he resumed the search.
I have to hurry! Zoro snarled as he shoved the mess back into its original space. Finally, after another three minutes of grueling search, he had a brittle pieces of charcoal in his hand so he started scribbling. He massaged his temple to extract the image of the face he had dreamt. The first time he had dreamed this person was last spring, but when he awoke the dream had faded and was impossible to bring back. Since then, bits and pieces of the dream appeared and he abruptly woke in the middle of the night to scribble under the moonlight.
He pressed his temple harder, "He had this kind of eye..." he scrunched his own eyes closed to bring back that dream. It was clear when he was suddenly awoken by Belle Meré, but as their argument dragged, on, the image started to abate. After a painstaking thirty minutes, Zoro had completed his sketch. He gazed at the portrait with a distant, yet dreamy expression before flipping two pages of the sketchbook backwards. He had actually two completed sketches of the man, now a grand total of three. The first sketch was just the man standing, the second one had him slashing a projectile with a sword. Both of the portraits had him with a cold, hard expression. One look at the picture and one could almost feel that sword at their necks. The recent sketch was different, which was why Zoro was frantically sketched as if the world would end.
Zoro drew the eyes softer and gentler than the previous ones and the man's full lips quirked up in a handsome smirk. The artist absorbed his masterpiece with his eyes, giving himself a taste.
"What a handsome fellow." Zoro whispered, and reached for the charcoal, "He deserves some finer clothes." He attempted to draw clothes that aristocrats wore but it failed him, since he actually never met one before. His hand that held the charcoal ceased and he set it to the side, "...I should watch people often." Zoro closed the sketchbook, and placed it carefully on the bed. Baseball sized dust and thin sheets of dust fluttered around Zoro as he gathered his art supplies. Today was a fine day to spread a blanket in the main park walkway to display and hopefully to sell his artwork. He stuffed everything in a large worn down potato sack, which the lady a few stories down had crafty sewed a handle so he could carry it over his shoulders. Before he left, the tugged at his shirt and sniffed himself, "...I should take a bath."
His main job was an artist but to make a living, he worked at a small grocery stand a few buildings next to his flat. Zoro entered through the back door and dropped his bag down.
"Good morning Mr. Flam." He called out as he slipped an apron over his head.
"Oh! Zoro, is that you?" Zoro heard the loud roar from the far room.
"It is me." When he completed typing a knot behind his back, a tall muscular man greeted him with a stack of boxes.
"Be at the front and do your usual." The light blue haired man beamed Zoro a smile. The green haired man smiled and headed to the front. He brushed past Mr. Flam's wife, Robin Flam before he greeted the awaiting customers. Robin giggled to the sound of wives, young nubile ladies, and the occasional elderly women greeted the young painter with a pleasurable sigh, "He is a favorable one around these parts, but he has no interest it seems."
Her husband barked a laugh, "Yes, thanks to him our sells are the highest in town."
Robin placed her hand on her husband's shoulder, "Dear, why don't you give Zoro a full time job?"
The man raised his eyebrows, "He declines every time."
Robin sighed, "I see, but it's a shame..."
Zoro only worked at Franky's Grocery for two hours and then left to the main park with an extra luggage in his arms: a tall paper bag filled with tonight's dinner. He walked down the cobble stoned floor as he listened to the peaceful rustle of the trees that lined along the walkway. Many artists had taken much of the space, spreading many layers of blankets to place their artwork on. Craftier minds laid out accessories that were originally old metal altered into a beauty.
He stopped at a spot he liked but it was next to the great artist Usopp. Although the man had a loose mouth and rambled on endlessly about tales of princesses and dragons, his art was magnificent. High nobles and even kings requested his artwork.
Zoro set his bag down, "Hey Usopp, may I use this spot?"
Usopp glanced up from his painting and grinned, "Yes you can, but you give me something in that bag of yours." He eyed at the paper bag hugging tight in Zoro's arms.
Zoro frowned and groped his hand through the bag. He threw a loaf of bread and Usopp nodded; both at the food and the approval to use the space. Zoro quickly spread out his own artwork and felt embarrassed at the meager amount compared to Usopp's grand collections of rare artwork displayed down the walkway like a royal king's army. Once he was done setting it up, he used the potato bag as a cushion to sit on and waited. He glanced over at Usopp's workshop and his eyes caught a hold of a picture. It was a landscape of the sea.
"That is magnificent."
Usopp followed the man's eyes, "Oh this? This is requested by the princess in...what was it called...A-Arabasta?"
"Arabasta? Isn't that the kingdom our majesty is trying to negotiate with?" Zoro titled his head to the side, "But why the sea?"
"It seems the princess has a fascination toward the sea-and-" Suddenly, Usopp looked both ways before borrowing Zoro's ear. He whispered in a hoarse voice, "-and pirates."
"Pi-!" Zoro gasped and before the great artist pulled him down. He leaned closer, "Why those kinds of folks?"
"I have no clue. Maybe she loves to hear about of adventure."
Zoro narrowed his eyes, "You tell her about your tales?"
"That's why. You should stop-you'll influence her. Maybe she'll tell her father she wants to join a pirate crew."
"That is not going to happen!"
Zoro decided to change the subject and picked out another picture on Usopp's display area, "Is that your wife?"
Usopp cast a glance at the picture, "Oh no! Kaya is much prettier!" he then leaned over to Zoro, "How old are you going to be this year, Roronoa?"
"Erm, the twenty-first?"
"Twenty-first? And you do not have a wife yet?" Usopp frantically shook his arms, "Hurry before the flowers wilts! You're young and fine-you'll sure to get one quick!"
Zoro chuckled but shook his head, "Thank you, but I have no interest on getting married."
Usopp continued to call out to the painter, but Zoro settled into his own world. He pulled out the old sketchbook and flipped to a page with the portrait of the man. He scanned the people in the park to use their clothes as a model.
At first, the walkway was only filled with common folk in worn down, mud stained shirts and pants. In the afternoon, it started to fill up with men or maidens who had money and time to look at the artist's work. Crowds were forming around Usopp, but Zoro's spot was just like everybody else's: empty with only a few glancing over as they walked past. Zoro, however, was focused on finding the right outfit so it didn't bother him as much. He did cast a glance at Usopp's crowd to check on their clothes. Disappointed, his eyes returned to the walkway and then those eyes suddenly sparkled.
There were two aristocrats walking side by side, talking amongst each other. His friend had short orange hair hidden under a black beret. When Zoro's eyes caught the man's long nose, he first thought he was a brother of Usopp's-but then he suddenly remembered that Usopp had told him he was the only child. The man even had large beady eyes with long lashes. He really did resemble Usopp, if not for the hair.
The other man, who the orange head was talking to, was the one Zoro wanted to sketch out. The man's hair was slicked back into a long wavy ponytail. He had an interesting set of eyebrows and even an odd shaped beard. Zoro had heard recently that rich men trimmed their beards in their original, creative style, like their own signature, so he guessed the man was in that weird fad. He wore a black coat with silver buckles down the middle. His neck was covered in white fluffy ruffles. Zoro hastily drew his pen out and sketched the perfect outfit on the portrait. He glanced up for a millisecond and resumed drawing so that the man wouldn't be suspicious. It was only meant to be a rough anyways. But, Zoro found he was able to sketch out the fine patterns in the ruffles and the neat cursive on the silver buckles. Wondering why, he looked up and fell over. The man was right in front of him, towering over him. Zoro blinked and then tried to put away the sketchbook.
"Were you drawing me?" the man's voice was settling and quiet; no hint of anger whatsoever.
"Uh, yes but no sir. Just your clothes..." he felt many eyes on him.
"Let me see." Zoro tightened his hands on his sketchbook. At the corner of his eye, he saw Usopp giving him a signal: show him or get punished. He had no other choice. He humbly handed it over. The man flipped it over and examined the sketches. The orange haired man leaned in over the man's shoulder to see also. Zoro never felt his heart beat this fast in his life. The sketchbook was special to him and he never showed it to anyone, well one, but that was it. It was only meant for him, like a child with a diary. Zoro thought he saw the man's eyes widen but soon those predatory eyes were back on him, scrutinizing him from head to toe.
The man handed the sketchbook back, "None of your matter." He turned to his comrade, "Let's go Kaku." Zoro, Usopp, and the crowd watched as the two men silently left the park and then the jabbering returned. Zoro brought the sketchbook close to his chest and frowned. What was that all about?
Zoro stayed at the park until the sky turned orange. Many of the artists had left and the only a few were left sitting, waiting. Usopp had already begun to put away his merchandise into large baskets. Even though Usopp made quite an audience, his art did not sell today. Oh well, another day, the great artist of the park replied, his positive mood never faltering. Zoro nodded in agreement and began putting away his stuff.
It was already nightfall when Zoro returned to his apartment. He crept up the creaking staircase to keep all of his neighbors asleep and unlocked the door as quietly as a ghost. Zoro lit one candle and placed it on a small table, after he had shoved everything off of it. He placed the paper bag on the table also and began rummaging through the treasure sack to see what it contained. Two loaves of bread, a bottle of milk, and healthy slice of cheese. The painter snapped one loaf in half, but he sliced the cheese with a small pocket knife he found under his dusty bed. Remembering the small tin dish he had hidden under the bed, he pulled it out and left two pieces of bread and cheese.
Seconds did not pass and he heard the faint sounds of squeaking and rustling among the mountains of papers. He watched with a distant eye as a family of mice crowded around the dish and shared the bread and cheese equally.
He bent down to pick up some of the crumbs the mice had dropped and handed it to one of the baby mouse. The animals have gotten used to the painter and received the piece without any fear. Zoro sat up with the sketchbook in his hand and flipped open to the page with the smiling man in ruffles. Zoro grinned with it and trailed his cheese oil fingers around the picture, forming a transparent line.
Then Zoro's eyes widened in mild surprise and spoke to the portrait, "Hey, you have quite an interesting shaped beard on your face, too."
To Be Continued