"People die," Franky yells at his captain, fists clenched in the fabric of his shirt. "For once in your life just face the truth!"
Usopp shoves him away roughly and Sanji grabs him by the arm when it looks like he might go at Luffy again. The shipwright snaps it away, seething with anger that in no way is Luffy's fault. And the rubber boy is staring at him from behind Usopp with round eyes, from a poker face that makes it impossible to tell what he's thinking, and shame is already starting to burn up Franky's throat like a hot iron poker.
"He's not dead," Luffy says again, and everyone but Franky leans toward the unshaken faith like a flower unfolding to sunlight, scrabbling to hold onto the bone-deep belief in their nakama instead of the evidence of their eyes.
And it was easy to do it; Zoro was strong. And he was there from the very beginning, Luffy's right hand before any of the others had come home under his flag. A constant in their world the same way Luffy was, the same way the sea was blue.
But Franky's shaking, Franky was the one who didn't catch Zoro in time to save him, Franky was the one who had to look Luffy and Sanji and Nami in the eye and tell him the storm swept Zoro overboard.
It's been almost a week, and they're docked at the only island for miles, waiting for their wayward swordsman. Hope is beginning to flicker out, but not Luffy's.
"You're not magic," Franky mutters. "You can't just change the way the world works because he's your friend."
Luffy tilts his head to the side slowly, and asks, "Why can't I?" Usopp wraps an arm around his shoulders, Chopper wraps little hooves around his leg, an insane skeleton laughs from somewhere behind them, Nami and Robin and Sanji come to stand closer; and Franky is standing there facing the rest of them the way he hasn't since Water 7.
And the cyborg has to admit, with Luffy's track record, he has a solid point.
"Zoro's not dead," his captain says very clearly. "It's impossible for him to die. I thought you understood that, Franky."
He thinks of sea trains and says, "It's not impossible-"
"It's impossible," Luffy repeats patiently. "Until he becomes the best swordsman in the world, he won't die. He said so himself." Franky is unprepared for the smile that gets sent his way, and the approval in Luffy's voice when he says, "It's okay to be scared for him Franky. But no matter how scared you are, just believe in him anyway- Zoro always comes through."
Sanji takes a long drag from his cigarette, smiling behind his hand. "That idiot's probably swimming around in circles somewhere."
"But if there's one thing I've learned, these two are like a homing beacon for each other," Nami says briskly, pinching Luffy's cheek and stretching it. Luffy is unfazed. "He'll find his way back."
"Even if it might take him awhile," Usopp agrees, grinning.
"We should have a nice welcome prepared for him when he does," Robin says gently, smiling fondly at Luffy when he lights up at the idea.
"Yeah! We'll have a barbeque, and lots of beer and music!"
"Emphasis on the lots of beer!"
Franky's staring in disbelief as they laugh, and there's a tickling warmth in his chest; somehow, despite himself, the fear is falling away. He shakes his head, trying not to smile at how hard it is to keep a grasp on reality when you sail with the Strawhats, and it's not a moment later that they hear the crunch of footsteps and glance up as one when an achingly familiar voice calls out,
"Did somebody say lots of beer?"
And he looks exhausted but otherwise just fine, somehow he'd made it out of the storm, somehow he'd made it to land; and he grins when his crew converges upon him all at once. Luffy's the first one there and he jams his worn straw hat on Zoro's head, and then the swordsman disappears under the captain, sniper, doctor and cartographer as they pile onto him in a hug that looks more like a mugging.
Brook stands at Franky's shoulder, the two newest nakama, and strums his guitar a few times before saying softly, "They've been through everything with him. I think they'd sooner believe the ocean was pink lemonade than they would believe he was gone."
Franky blinks a couple times, mutters, "That's not normal."
"Yohohoho, no I suppose not." The skeleton tips his hat. "But then, we don't claim to be."
And that, Franky has to concede, is the truth.