Author's Note: Technical difficulties fixed! Sorry for those that came and couldn't reach Chapter 2 for some reason. (Silly ) It seems to be OK now, though. Anyway, sorry for the delay! I meant to update this story once a week, but I've had a pretty bad deadline at work, so it was delayed a bit. Also, apologies if it seems a bit clunky. I'm still getting the hang of these characters, and I hope to get a more casual flow in the future chapters. Expect longer chapters too! -Mo
Tit for Tat
Chapter 2: In Which Zoro Wonders What the Hell Just Happened
Sweat. Smoke. The coppery tang of blood. The air was full of these things as Zoro swept across the deck of the massive galleon, blades flashing in the sunlight. He parried, thrust and danced through an ever-increasing crowd of foes. The muscles in his shoulders began to burn with the long-familiar feel of sweet exertion. He grinned, savoring the deep vibrations in his arms as he met blade after blade.
Overhead he could hear Luffy careening through the sails like some mad, distended monkey. The stretch and snap of his rubber limbs and hoots of laughter as pirates were bowled over or tossed off the ship added a cheerful beat to the afternoon's activities. As far as things on the Grand Line were concerned, this was a completely normal, blissful day, and Zoro settled into a contented rhythm as he worked.
Another bearded pirate fell under the graceful arc of Yubashiri and Zoro paused to wipe the katana on the man's tatty shirt. Generally he didn't draw much blood during these kinds of fights because Zoro relegated weaker enemies to the flat or back of his blade, but sometimes it was hard to avoid. Part of him was annoyed that any of his blades should have to be touched by such obviously unskilled foes, but in the end it was good practice for him and honestly the only way he could get a challenge from these kinds of raids. Avoiding killing a man (a must since he didn't honestly believe anyone deserved to die for Luffy's bottomless stomach or boredom) was much harder than just removing the offending head, and Zoro liked these opportunities to hone the precision of his strikes. A shame then that certain loud-mouthed idiots always had to ruin the zen of the moment.
Zoro instinctively ducked as something large flew at him. He got a quick view of a scarred face full of broken teeth before the lumpy pirate sailed past him and went through the wall of the galleon's wheel house. The swordsman straightened with an annoyed look towards the foredeck. As expected, he saw the blond cook idly lighting up another of his foul-smelling cigarettes while casually punting a big-bellied man over the side of the ship.
"Watch what you're doing, shitty cook!"
His blond crewmate gave no sign that he had heard, but sure enough another body came flying at him propelled by the power of a rather forceful kick. Zoro side-stepped the human missile with a curse.
"Dammit, you curly eyebrow! I said watch where you're sending those guys!"
He got a response this time, but it only amounted to a rather haughty blue glare from under the other man's ridiculously long bangs. Zoro's teeth began to grind. Two could play at that game.
Never taking his eyes off the lean, black-suited figure, Zoro thrust Kitetsu behind him and heard the expected, satisfying, crunch of a nose collapsing under the hilted blow. Reaching back he grabbed a fist full of bloody shirt, hefted the moaning pirate and thought, this one's heavy enough. He took aim, then tossed.
Watching the slow arc of his fleshy projectile with satisfaction, his mind idled briefly on the question of whether or not lunch had been completed before the fight, and whether his actions now might affect his portion size later on. The dumbass cook liked to hold grudges and was not shy in serving only tofu for a week if you happened to piss him off enough (which Zoro did on a regular basis). It was a fleeting thought, though, because seeing the other man get ruffled was worth a week's worth of food. His satisfaction quickly vanished, however, as the blond pervert somehow turned in time to both see and kick the pirate back at him. The cook also shouted something, but Zoro was sure it was probably stupid and not worth hearing. Plus, having to duck again was really not doing much for his mood. The nice day of beating on one's fellow man was this close to being spoiled. And then he looked up and saw the mast falling towards him. Things began looking exciting again.
The central mast of a double-sailed galleon was nothing to sneer at. It probably would have taken perhaps four Zoros, hand-in-hand to circle to whole damn thing. A falling, massive pillar of wood, therefore, called for some aggressive defensive moves. He noted with satisfaction then, a second before his own powerful somersault, that the cook easily got out of the way and both were well clear of the destruction before it crashed down with an earsplitting boom. A moment's hail of debris pelted the deck. Zoro (and most of the galleon's crew) took a moment to appreciate this fine piece of destruction.
From the top of the remaining mast Zoro spied Luffy, eyes wide and delighted with his own work. The swordsman threw his head back and laughed appreciatively while the rubberman pounded his chest like a gorilla and waved his straw hat in the air.
As he grinned up at his captain, Zoro gradually noticed that everything was eerily silent. The sound of fighting had stopped, the creaks of the damaged ship… even the agitated caws of the seagulls had gone quiet. He could see Luffy's mouth moving in response to something, but the words didn't reach him. There was a muffled thrumming between his ears, an annoying background buzz that drowned out everything else. It was no concern, of course. Sound was often an unwelcome distraction when he really got down to fighting, and he tended to block it all out anyway. It also conveniently silenced certain loud-mouthed perverts. Maybe he ought to fight with earplugs in from here on out? The thought cheered him as he launched himself forward once again.
One… Two… Parry, strike… The rhythm was back. There were very few pirates left to face him now, most having taken one look at his eager, easy skill in motion and deciding that they did not, in fact, wish to defend the honor of their ship against this green-haired devil. Some still had more bravado than caution, however, and he greeted them with all the respect he could offer using the flat of his blades. It was just as he was leaning back from a clean finishing blow then, that he sensed rather than saw movement behind and to the right of him. Instinctively he whirled around and let his training take over.
First he saw the gun. His focus narrowed down to a laser point and all he knew was the glint of metal and smoke rising from a somewhat obscured barrel. Things around that singular point of black were dismissed as unimportant. Zoro almost never acknowledged the wielder of the weapons he faced unless they were a truly worthy opponent. In the case of small fries like these pirates, swords, muskets and spears were the only thing that concerned him. As he turned he was already sweeping the clean line of his blade up to dispatch the gun, but in that adrenaline slowed arc something tugged at his attention.
His focus widened. He saw the man holding the gun. The pirate's face was creased with anger and frustration, his gap-toothed mouth open in enraged surprise. Zoro imagined many people had this expression on their faces when going up against the strawhat pirates, but he barely spared a thought for this, some part of his brain still nagging at him that this was not the problem.
Yubashiri continued its trajectory… then swerved a bit and instead of slicing clean through the barrel of the gun like originally intended, the flat of the blade took the furious pirate in the temple. This deviation of plan took the swordsman by surprise. Usually when he saw guns he liked to slice them in half. He was quite good at slicing them into useless pieces of metal and enjoyed proving to their owners the superiority of swords in matters of battle. As he pondered this change of direction (only in a mildly interested sort of way, because Zoro had learned to trust his instincts to act appropriately when his brain had no time to catch up) he finally noticed the blackened and bleeding hand attached to the barrel of said gun. Again the green-haired man had to raise a mental eyebrow of surprise, because he also personally had nothing against slicing hands off either if they happened to be in some proximity to a weapon being aimed at him. As the pirate began his slow fall of defeat, the owner of the hand stumbled too. Zoro's eyes trailed up the length of those smoking fingers to the arm, to the perfectly tailored shoulders of the suit, and then to the blond head, somewhat hazy behind the cloud of gun smoke. He blinked and the elongated sense of time that fighting tended to draw out ended. And then he understood.
The swarthy pirate hit the ruined deck and lay motionless, his eyes comically bugged out and his now empty hands twitching. Zoro caught the cook's shoulder and shoved him back upright before he could fully fall over. He then absently kicked the gun into the pile of men holding onto Sanji's legs and it struck one of them a glancing blow between the eyes.
The two men stood still for a time, one shaking slightly, the other momentarily at a loss. The remaining pirates clinging to the cook's legs took the hint and scuttled away. When Zoro finally looked up, Sanji's eyes were masked by the long fringe of bangs, unreadable. A waft of salty air passed between them and carried away the last of the smoke.
"I could have handled that on my own." Zoro said finally.
The cook's shoulders stiffened visibly, and without a word the blond man turned on his heel and strode quickly back to the railing, both hands jammed deep into the pockets of his suit. He stepped over the balustrade and leaped back down to the Merry in one swift movement. Zoro stared after him and suddenly felt all the adrenaline drain out of his muscles. The deck was quiet once again, but this time it wasn't momentary deafness. Even the crowding seagulls kept their thoughts to themselves.
"Awwww… Is the fun all over?" Luffy whined from above.
As he continued to stare at the spot where the other man had disappeared from view, Zoro thought that probably it was.
To be continued in Chapter 3: In Which Zoro Feels Awkward