Title: A Wolf at the Door, Pt. II
Summary: After his adventure in the ocean, Luffy is in desperate need of a bath. Looks like a job for his first mate.
AN: Happy Easter, everyone! Here's the second part to my second two-shot arc. I hope you guys like it! It gave me so many feels to write. I've been trying to catch up with the manga, and wasn't intending to actually post anything—but then wham! That scene from ch. 678. Aurgh. And the scene from ch. 675 had my Sanji/Usopp brofeels exploding, too. But I digress. As usual, I love you all and would really appreciate feedback on how I'm doing!
The pair floated along in silence, Zoro watching Franky and Sanji and Usopp and everyone else, but not quite seeing them—it was his job to keep an eye on the crew when their captain wasn't thinking straight, after all—as he kept his attention focused first and foremost on the lazy boy floating along beside him. Luffy's eyes slowly flicked around, lethargically drinking in every bit of the whole experience while filled with a foggy mixture of excitement and—(was that fear?)—something the swordsman saw so infrequently in his captain's gaze that he couldn't quite place what the emotion really was. A loopy, drunken smile slipped halfhazardly across Luffy's lips as he continued to flick at the ocean with his fingertips, and Zoro almost smiled at the sight. Almost.
A calm Luffy was a rare spectacle, reserved for battles and those extraordinarily solemn situations in life that no one really liked to be part of. A quiet Luffy, in comparison, was even more uncommon. So, taking the time while he could, Zoro simply observed, soaking up the little things about the Straw Hat that he was always moving too fast to let anyone see. The sun-tanned lines on his perpetually-happy face, the cowlick poking through the messy hair above his left temple, the new scars he always managed to collect wherever they went—whether they fought in a battle or not. Everything that made up the boy who had become a man, and the man who would become the Pirate King.
Soon, however, Luffy's fingers slowed to a shuffle-splashing, and then stilled altogether. Not long after, his eyes wandered closed—but not before drifting to lock with Zoro's, the I'm going I' going I'm going message clear!—and whatever jellied muscles he'd been using to hold himself up on the inflatable slackened. Almost immediately, he slid downward, head submerging with an unnerving plop! But Zoro was ready; just as the sea finally clawed up to claim his captain, the swordsman had pinned both hands under the Hammer's arms, hauling him back up into the air while Sanji resurfaced at his side.
"Everything alright?" The cook asked, eyeing Luffy's limp body worriedly. Zoro sighed, wrapping his charge's limbs across his own shoulders—it would be easier to swim him ashore this way, he had decided, rather than hauling the stupid inner-tube.
"Yeah, I think we're done for today. Take the damn, floaty, would you?" With his one free hand—the one not keeping his captain's unresponsive arms held tight around his neck—Zoro snapped the rope connecting his bottoms to the plastic thing, before setting off. He didn't bother waiting for an answer, but his demand hadn't been laced with anything more violent than the man's usual gruffness. Sanji would comply; the shitty chef was loyal, despite being a pain in the ass most of the time. Now wasn't the time to fight.
It only took a few moments for Zoro to touch the seafloor in fordable water, and, as he approached the shoreline on foot, he pulled Luffy's own legs out of the water. Immediately, the shallow breathing in his ear hitched slightly, which brought a frown to the swordsman's face just long enough for it to settle back down into a normal, healthy rhythm. Nami glanced up as they reached the sand, peering at the pair—most pointedly Luffy—with a slightly worried glance over her sunglasses, before she decided that everything was alright. That meat-head was with him, after all.
Finally turf-bound, the swordsman shifted again, preparing to set his captain on the beach until the boy regained a bit of his strength, when a raspy, content voice hummed quietly in his ear, "Thanks, Zoro..." before drifting off into light snores.
They'd been in the water for less than twenty minutes, but that was enough.
"'M against this."
"I know you are."
"It's stupid and unnecessary."
"I agree—but you haven't got a choice."
"'M the captain; I can do whatever I want."
"You really want t'challange the Sea Witch? Captain or not, she's not goin' to let you walk around onboard like that."
"But it's just sand, Zoro." Luffy was whining now, staring up at his first mate with wide, overly-dramatic, pleading eyes. "She's never made me do it before. It's not fair."
"Yeah, well," he huffed, crossing his arms and resolving not to succumb. Nami would have his hide—and quite possibly his first born, so far in debt as he was—if he didn't put up with her demand. "You've never rolled around on a beach wet before. It's a whole new level of messy, that. And everyone else always has t'take a shower when they get back on the Sunny, so think of it as part of the experience... or somethin'."
"But I hate baths!" Realizing his friend wasn't going to budge on the issue, Luffy plopped himself back down on the shore, legs crossed and face thoroughly scrunched in a full-blown pout. They were the only two left on land, everyone else having already climbed aboard to clean up before dinner. Sanji had been first, needing a head start to the showers so that he could begin steaming up what he and Usopp had caught, and the girls hadn't been too far behind after the sun's disappearance behind a patch of particularly large clouds. One by one, the others had followed, until only the pair remained. Only moments before, Nami had called down her ultimatum in a flash of inspiration, just as the they were preparing to board.
Make sure that idiot gets himself clean before he goes and tracks sand everywhere! I want to be able to walk ondeck barefoot without worry for the next week—and I'm sure Franky would appreciate it if he kept scratches to the indoor flooring at a minimum. Zoro had opened his mouth to protest and Luffy had wailed, but all they'd gotten in return was a glare and a rather fierce Just shut up and do it!
The core problem remained, however: water was water, regardless of what form it took. The other Devil Fruit users had come up with their own solutions to the cleanliness problem—Chopper had Usopp to bathe him when absolutely necessary, and Robin made due with sponge-baths and Nami's help in regards to her hair—but Luffy remained adamant about keeping his aqua exposure to a minimum. The crew had nearly mutinied early on, back when Sanji had just come aboard, however; after a particularly long, unpleasant spell without some kind of hygiene, Nami had put her foot down and demanded the rubber boy keep a schedule or... something. (Her trees wilted every time he came near, dammit!) Even so, the ordeal hadn't become any less unpleasant—and, after several close calls, arguments, and debt-threatenings, Zoro had been permanently assigned to Bath Duty. They had tried shifts in the beginning, but the swordsman seemed to be the only one Luffy would listen to. All other routes had lead to an inevitable, soapy disaster.
"C'mon—the sooner we get you scrubbed, the sooner you can eat."
Luffy seemed torn at the obvious bribe, but squinted his eyes skeptically, regardless of the temptation. "You have t'clean, too."
"You first, Captain."
"Captain says you first."
"But you're just goin' to get me all sandy again when it's your turn." Zoro resited the uncharacteristic urge to roll his eye as Luffy just huffed, unable to think of a suitable comeback.
In the end, Zoro simply carried the boy to the men's quarters's bathroom, although Luffy didn't put up as much as fuss as he could have. He knew he had lost, fair and square. An angry Nami always seemed to know best, after all—and she did have a point. Contrary to popular belief, he was smart enough to know when to cut his losses and give in.
That didn't mean he couldn't sulk about the whole thing, though—and he wasn't about to waste the opportunity to make this as difficult as he could, even if it was Zoro.
And so, Luffy sat, glaring daggers at his first mate's back as he twisted the faucet on the tub (it had long ago been decided that showers were a bad idea, considering the fact that Hammers couldn't stand under water) and tested the temperature.
"Alright," came the green-haired man's gruff voice, "you know the drill. Strip, and let's get this over with." Not having many other options (aside from the horribly-obvious run away plan), Luffy did as he was told, and crossed over to stand by the basin with a heavy scowl and grumbled complaints.
"'M still against this."
"I still know."
And with that, Zoro gripped his forearms as the little captain stepped in, immediately sagging at the water's pull.
The whole ordeal passed quickly and efficiently from there, Zoro scrubbing his friend's hair and rinsing off his body with an odd, practiced ease. As usual, he marveled quietly at the scar on his captain's chest—the great, gruesome thing that they'd never quite gotten the story behind, but Zoro knew meant as much as his own, maybe more (because a mark over one's heart always holds importance)—that testified to Luffy's strength. A lesser man would have been killed by a wound so severe, he was sure. Working quickly, the swordsman, unable to dunk his Hammer's head under because the boy wouldn't know to hold his breath (they'd learned that early on), filled a small cup and emptied over Luffy's head, matting the mop of black down over his eyes. Combined with his droopy, half-lidded gaze, it seemed for a moment like he was some kind of half-conscious baby animal that Zoro suddenly—unnecessarily—felt the need to protect. More than usual. Sometimes the swordsman found it easy to forget that Luffy was two years younger than him, what with how much the his captain had aged in their time apart.
The world was an unpleasant, unfair place.
Gently, showing a care seen only when dealing with his blades or his captain, Zoro ruffled his hair and drenched him once again, before unstopping the drain and lifting Luffy out onto the rug. With one hand, he reached over for one of the overly-fluffy towels Sanji had managed to steal from the girls' bathroom weeks before, and bundled his dripping—now shivering—friend (brother?) up in the fabric. To bring back some of the feeling and warm him up to reality, the swordsman rubbed Luffy's sopping hair through the cloth and made sure he was swaddled up tight. Then, he propped him up against the tub and and crossed his own legs, sitting down in front of his captain to wait. Once Luffy was awake enough to dress himself, he would leave (or kick the boy out so he could shower), but not a moment before he was absolutely certain he'd be alright.
As usual, it took a few minutes, but soon the Straw Hat was speeding off to clothe himself and search for food—preferably not (though likely) at the same time.
Once his captain was out of earshot, Zoro let himself chuckle. His own front had already been thoroughly soaked when dealing with the teen, but he hadn't thought about taking his shirt off beforehand. Perhaps Robin's odd saying about hindsight had some merit, he thought as be began running the faucet.
Just as he was preparing to strip off his bottoms and step under the water, however, a head poked itself back through the door. "Zoro!"
"Eh?" He blinked, certain enough time had passed for Luffy to have fully engaged himself in fighting the shitty cook for first bites.
His hat? No, Zoro noted—the string was still around his neck. "You forgot?"
"Here!" Something small was tossed toward the swordsman's face, and, with a toothy grin, Luffy had disappeared once more, laughter following him out through the halls. Zoro's reflexes had caught whatever the object was while he'd been busy blinking after his captain. Looking down, he couldn't help but snort.
In his hand was a little shell, chipped in some places and a bit dull—but a rather striking green, despite the wear and tear.