Disclaimer: I don't own anything but the plot of this story. Neither do you (unless you're secretly Oda) so ha!
Warning: Very slight spoilers to the manga, bigger if you haven't read/watched the Marinford arc, though nothing that gives away the new story line.
A One Piece Fanfic
It was an odd feeling. Being together with his nakama again that is, but to Zoro, it was strange being near any large group of people. If he'd been a loner at heart before he was even more antisocial now. Though, his natural preference of being alone was overcome by the excitement of reuniting with his crewmates.
They had all changed during their two years apart. Some were blaringly obvious and others… quietly subtle. It wasn't merely appearances and the swordsman wasn't sure what to expect. This wariness was a byproduct of constantly fighting enemies and being trained to always be battle ready by Mihawk. But slowly and surely those feeling were leaking away in the presence of friends and as the differences he noticed melded into the same atmosphere before their separation.
Well… it was almost the same.
Yet, here they were. Eating together, drinking together, dancing together, singing together and laughing together just like old times.
There was Usopp, telling stories even more outrageous than the last, then Chopper, squealing over the tales as usual, though Zoro saw him jump only occasionally at scary parts. Of course there was Franky, bigger and greatly modified, yet as inclined to dance to Brook's music in exaggerated fashion. The musician had become a pop icon since they'd last seen each other, yet his laugh held the unique merriment he recognized well.
Nami was still fiery and quick tempered as ever, but Zoro caught her smiling more often than scowling at the boys' antics. As usual, Robin was the quiet and mysterious one, with the faint smile that seemed to hint she knew something others didn't. Then again… her inner strength was stronger and her emotions worn openly, she was taking part in the celebration as much as everyone else.
That left Luffy.
At first glance, Zoro would say he had changed the least, or not at all. He was as full of energy and reckless as he was a couple years younger. There wasn't a clue that he'd gone through a tremendous amount of grief and pain, until you saw the X-shaped scar branded on his chest.
The first time the first mate noticed the new scar he winced and Luffy's grin faltered for a second, concern for his nakama clear on his face. Even now, Zoro cringed inwardly at what it meant. However he didn't say a word, because the rubbery captain wore it in plain sight, unashamed, and as if to tell the world no matter how many swings it took and landed he would always come back fighting.
This left him at an impasse. There were so many differences that appeared to fade into routine, only to return as careful reminders not to be so deluded. Two years really had passed. It had not been a dream, or nightmare, depending on how Zoro looked at it.
"Oi, Zoro!" Luffy called. "You coming over here or what?" The others waved wildly in encouragement.
He glanced at his nakama that had burst into half-drunken song and shook his head, smirking. They could never hold their liquor well. He'd show them. Shrugging his troubled observations to the deepest crevices of his mind, he joined the idiots he knew and trusted.
It was later that night, with the moon high in the sky reflecting on the rolling sea when those concerns of Zoro's came back to bite him. Was he becoming paranoid? No, just careful, but he hated the feeling of unease anyways.
One by one, the Straw Hats had excused themselves and retired to their beds, filled with food, alcohol and the warm content feeling that came with it. Finally, the last of their "good nights" was muffled by the dark and only the swordsman and the captain were left on the deck of the Sunny.
Zoro was downing another bottle of sake, not the least bit drunk, but he finished it almost thoughtfully, staring up past the mast he leaned with his back against. Past the rigging, past the billowing white sails, past the stars… to what?
What lay beyond the stars? He didn't believe in an afterlife, good or bad. Maybe there was a limit to how far you could go or how high you could reach. And when you did, then what?
"Hmph," the swordsman sighed. He was too philosophical tonight. It was unlike him, yet he couldn't help it. His life absorbed with fighting, surviving, and clawing to come out on top normally didn't have time for deep reflections.
He heard a nearly identical sigh carried by a breeze. His head turned to glimpse a straw-hat clad figure arms lying on the railing on the side of the ship. Luffy had been oddly silent, staring into the distant horizon as if waiting for the sun to rise once more.
The fact his first mate had forgotten he was there was a testament to his unnatural stillness. Uncrossing his legs, Zoro took the few short steps to stand beside him. He propped his elbows on the ledge and watched the ocean as well before speaking, "What are you doing, Luffy?"
Luffy jolted, clapping his hand to his hat, startled by the swordsman's appearance.
"Oh, it's just you Zoro," he smiled, laughing a little at his reaction. "I didn't see you there."
That smile… he glanced sideways at the rubber boy. It had been bothering him for a while, much like his scar. The captain was chuckling when he realized his first mate had yet to say anything.
A curious gleam came to his eyes. "Oi, Zoro, are you okay? You look-"
"How can you still smile, Luffy?"
That made his carefree air fade somewhat. The swordsman was serious, his brow was furrowed and he seemed genuinely perplexed. It was no time to joke with him and Luffy's intuition told him as much.
Yet he wasn't sure how to reply. "What do you mean?"
Zoro turned from gazing at Luffy back to the panorama of the evening.
"I mean… that you fought so hard and almost died alone to get your brother back, but…" he knew he was standing on fragile ground and skirted the thin ice. "We should've been there for you, I should have been by your side fighting with you, Luffy." Anger passed across Zoro's face, a stormy cloud of bottled emotion seen by Luffy though he didn't turn to look at him fiercely until now.
Luffy tried to put a hand on his shoulder, but he shook it off. "Zoro…"
"No," the swordsman retorted bitterly. "I'll never be able to forgive myself for that."
To Zoro's surprise, his captain sighed, looking older than his age, and, then for once he was the one explaining things.
"I did all that, but it was all for nothing…" Luffy frowned. "That's what you were going to say, wasn't it Zoro?"
There was no reply as the other man glared at his hands. The hands that had been useless in keeping his nakama together and in one piece in the end because Luffy had lost a piece of himself when he lost someone he loved. He could easily pierce through the happy façade to the truth, as much as the captain could with him.
"Ace died…" Luffy's eyes glazed over in undiminished sorrow. "But it wasn't for nothing."
Disbelieving, Zoro watched the rubber boy closely. He remembered, and would probably never forget, the way his brother, Fire-Fist Ace, was killed in the act of protecting him and died in his arms. Luffy would still have nightmares about the blood on his hands when they pulled away from the fatal wound straight through his chest to his back. It would glisten ghostly and, no matter how hard he tried, it wouldn't wash off.
He recalled the jeers of celebration from the Marines, the sneer from Admiral Akainu, and the grief-filled sobs of Ace's former comrades. Sometimes, Luffy would freeze and stare at his own crossed scar, much like his body refused to move as he stared at the lifeless body of his brother as he fell from his grasp.
Yet, most of all, Luffy cherished Ace's last words, because they reminded him he had to move on, if only to fulfill his dream.
"Luffy, I'm sorry… I couldn't keep my promise…"
"I only have one regret and that is… not living to see you fulfill your dream… You can do it… you're my little brother…"
"Even though I'm worthless… that I carry the blood of a demon… thank you for loving me!"
Maybe Luffy couldn't communicate all his feelings into words. But even so they were there and it made him look vulnerable in the pale moonlight.
Fingering the hilts of katana, Zoro growled, "You suffered because we weren't there. No person should be alive after what you went through, Luffy, no person should be sane and no person should be smiling,"
The swordsman gritted his teeth so hard his jaw ached, frustration seeping from him in steady waves. Here he was, trying to tell his moronic captain how he felt about his escapades two years prior and Luffy was trying to ease his guilt, his regret for being unable to fight as if it were something to be made light of.
"The reason it wasn't all for nothing is because…" Luffy traced the ribbon of his hat as he sat it on the wooden rail. "Now I have to live and dream for not just one person, but two. It isn't only mine, but Ace's too. And then I have you guys…"
He raised an eyebrow at Luffy. "We couldn't help you. We weren't there," he repeated dully, bluntly. The concept couldn't seem to pass through the boy's thick skull.
This time Luffy lost his patience.
"No!" he insisted. "You did help! You were there! Every time I thought there was no way I could win or something was impossible I thought of all of you! Because you're my nakama, I couldn't leave you. I couldn't give up like I couldn't with saving Ace. It's nothing because I'm alive for two reasons. That I knew Ace believed in me and that you, Nami, Usopp, Franky and everyone believed in me."
Zoro didn't say a word, but this time it wasn't of his own volition. He was stunned speechless by the carefree Luffy's sincerity. When the captain was this adamant, he had to be taken seriously and the swordsman didn't doubt he meant what he said.
More calmly, Luffy offered an unusually timid smile. "Does that answer your question, Zoro? You just being are enough for me."
Running his hand through his longer hair, Zoro shook his head.
Confusion clouded the boy's expression and his first mate smirked. That was a Luffy he could deal with.
"No, I don't get it completely. I would want revenge more than anything."
Luffy crossed his arms and pouted, but it wasn't long before his lips curved up again. He was never good at looking pitiful. "Fine. I smile because there's nothing worth not smiling about. Ace wouldn't want me to stop smiling and I'm here with every one of my nakama, together and sailing for as long as it takes to reach our dreams."
Reach the stars… Zoro thought back to the concept. So, that was what Luffy had always been trying to do. Except, he did it for reasons that dumbfounded the ordinary person, reasons like his brother's wish and an old friend and the funny thing was… Zoro thought he might actually make it past those tiny specks of light to what lays beyond.
"I guess I can't argue with that," Zoro conceded ungracefully, but on the inside he was satisfied with Luffy's answer.
He would have returned to watching the waved when Luffy thrust his face right in front of his so their noses were almost touching. The swordsman instinctively moved back, pushing the boy away, when his next question unarmed him.
"How can you not smile, Zoro?" Luffy wondered with a curious tilt of his head.
"Well, I… er…" the swordsman searched for an answer, but came up blank. It was a question he hadn't asked himself in a long time.
Luffy laughed. "See? You can't think of a reason! So stop being a grump!"
"Wipe that grin off your face!" Zoro snapped back.
He swiped the straw hat off the ledge and dangled in out of Luffy's reach. The rubber boy struggled to get it back, but his first mate continued to knock him down easily. He couldn't keep the chuckles from escaping his lips and didn't stop until Luffy snickered and pulled back his arm.
Before it could stretch, and hit Zoro with a punch that would probably land both him and the hat off the Sunny, he plopped the mangy headwear back on Luffy's black hair.
"Now leave me alone or be quiet," he ordered.
Obligingly, Luffy stopped laughing, patted his hat to make sure it was okay and joined Zoro in gazing at the night itself while perched on the railing.
Zoro was thinking about their conversation, the lull of the ship moving and stars overhead creating an ideal setting. Luffy may have convinced him that his pain and suffering wasn't the swordsman's fault, however it left him wondering what could be said for those who smiled in the face of misfortune and those who didn't. And which one was he really?
"Oi, Zoro, you're smiling," Luffy pointed out.
More than his characteristic smirk had made it on his tanned face when he hadn't realized and he didn't attempt to change it; not at all.
He leaned forward, glanced at Luffy and kept his smile. Sure, he hadn't figured out how he couldn't smile all the time or what drove him if it wasn't necessarily happiness from events. But there was plenty of time for waxing philosophical and Zoro guessed the stars would stay just as they were until then.
Author's Note: Smile is the third and final mystery story promoting Bizarre Scenarios, which is finally completed. I'm a little disappointed in the lack of support in the end, but hopefully my shameless advertising will amend that. Anyways, this is more of a short story than anything. My ideas of a chat between Zoro and Luffy after the two- year skip about how Luffy could smile and how Zoro couldn't. I thought it was sweet and interesting enough to follow though with what was born to be this.
I'll probably go back and change some things later, but for now, please enjoy the pure, nakamaship fluff between first mate and captain. It even made me realize that those two really are like brothers themselves. Thanks for reading and please review!