Blue skies overhead, and a cool breeze about their faces. Both these wanted Pirates, Franky and Usopp, well aware of the huge looming shape just over the trees at the center of this island. Domed top, with turrets, and a long pole stabbing up towards the heavens. A Marines' flag raised there; white field with the crossed symbol of the World's Government stitched in black. Blue Navy gull-wings behind it.
They're aware. Sure. That it's there.
“Luffy making tea... I still can't believe it.” Cyborg Franky could care less about a hundred soldiers- or even a hundred-thousand soldiers.
“Hahaha- Aye, but ya'know- now I think about it- Ha-! I clean forgot! Man, it was years ago...” Taken the effort to put on dark glasses, Usopp adjusts the straps on his empty backpack. Thing fits better when it's full. “We were a smaller crew, then. There were only five of us. Sailing across East Blue on the way to the Grand Line~ Sanji had only been with us a couple o' days, and he almost had a heart attack coming into Merry's Galley late at night. Finding Luffy standing there. Scorch marks all over his best kettle. Haha-!” The Gunner remembers now... He had been packing Pepper Stars on his workshop platform. In full view of their Cook's mouth falling right open. “Haha-! heh- Nearly swallowed his cigarette, and then ya'shoulda heard what Luffy said. When Sanji asked him what he thought he was doing in his shitty kitchen?-” Voice pitched as close to his blonde nakama's as he can.
“Haha- Aye-? And what was that, then?”
Usopp pauses on this dirt road they're following towards a decent-sized town they can see in the distance. A hand on Franky's thick metal arm, and he motions the man to lean in closer. “Said – in that way he's got, Ne? -'m making tea for Zoro.” The man's long nose, and thrilling words. He really was born to be a Story-teller.
“Eh-? Ha! You're pullin' my leg.”
“I swear it on my mother's grave.” Which would have been a great lie, if it were one. Franky happens to know Usopp's mother died while he was young. Left all alone, because his father had always been a Pirate on the Great Seas- He raised himself. One of the most resourceful young men the Shipwright thinks he's ever met, or had the privilege to work with.
“Oi, Nose-bro. I feel like I'm not gettin' all the Story.” A gate entrance come into view. Township of Adel'ell painted on an elegant sign hung on wide, lovely ironwork. Two sprawling doors standing open that could be closed, only-
-it's possible those hinges don't hinge anymore, Usopp thinks. Glaring at them. Even from this distance he can see old iron flaking. Caked all over with orangey-red globs of rust. “Aye, well. I guess it didn't seem odd. At the time. Zoro...” The young man shivers, all the way down to his boots. “You've heard Nami talk about our big battle at Arlong Park.”
“Well, you've also heard Sanji talk about Zoro's very first fight with Mihawk?”
“Aye- 's when he got that wicked-long scar on his chest- Haha-! Bro's a beast-”
“Aye- and what would you say, if I told you both of those events happened on the same day?”
Wind in the nearby trees, like rumors. Jumping from leaf to leaf. Skittering away across the grass. “Ha.. ha- haha-...- That- That's a lie?”
Usopp's sturdy boots, and Franky's metal soled feet make so little sound on the dirt. “We'd crossed paths with a couple Bounty Hunters, who turned out to be friends of Zoro's. Ha! and ya'know, it was only on their recommendation of a great place to eat that we met Sanji at all. Cook of the Sea! Haha-! ...” He can't keep the smile on his face up for long, however. The Sniper's mind wandering back. To those first couple of weeks he'd been a real Pirate, sailing around East Blue. So much happened... to Zoro. “He'd been stabbed a couple of times, even before I met him. After the Battle on the Slope, he kept getting paler. Looked like a ghost. Staggering around, and sleeping all the time.” Shaking his head. There were times he'd seen Luffy, watching over Zoro. Waking him up to eat, or to force him to drink something before passing-out again. Barely breathing. Those times, particularly in the two or three days out from Syrup Village, their Swordsman had looked like he was about to die. “Zoro had just started to Train again, ya'know? After spending a whole week at the Baratie, getting regular meals made by people who knew anything about how food worked... Then the TOP guy on his List shows up? The Shichibukai, Dracule Mikawk... out of nowhere...” That guy wasn't the only Big Name that surfaced that afternoon, on clear blue waters in the Weakest of Seas- Though he was the Biggest. And Nami stole their ship right out from under them in the chaos...
“Eh- Not even made it onto the Grand Line, and Zoro-bro thought he'd fight 'im. Just like that.” A lift in Franky's three-clefted chin. He looks up, light glinting off the dark sheen of his sunglasses.
“Haha- Aye, I think- back then- he really did think he was the Best.” Their Swordsman had certainly been humbled by the experience. Not that Zoro has ever been pompous. “After he got cut up... bad, Luffy- He looked ready to kill, but he got his head stuck instead. Haha-”
They've all heard the story before. A few dozen times. How Mihawk had challenged Zoro not to die, but to grow stronger, and to one day defeat him.
“Yosaku stitched up Zoro's chest as- as best he could...” Usopp had been holding his green-haired nakama's hands away, all that time. Letting the Swordsman squeeze with each sink of the needle. Over and over, being sewn back together from right hip up to left shoulder. Nearly broke all the Gunner's fingers, but all he could think of at the time was there's so much blood!! “He didn't complain once.” Voice shivering a little, Usopp swallows. “Sat himself up, and put his back to the cabin wall on Jonny's skiff. Telling Luffy he'll go find Nami, and bring her back.”
Picking up the pieces from there, Franky already knows Zoro was taken prisoner by the Arlong Pirates, and that he fought and defeated one of the Fishman's ranking Officers. So- he did it all with that massive wound on the- on the very same day he received it?! “Aah- 's like I said a'fore... Man's a beast.”
They say the sound of the Blue is like tens of thousands of swirling voices, all speaking at once. That Fishmen, who are born close to the Sea's Heart, are able to hear all these voices. To pick them apart, and thus learn all the secrets of the water. Jimbe listens, and he can hear them. Speaking, off and anon into the distance across grey sand under the surface. Finding out all the secrets of the water, however, he's never found to be true. Mostly, he can hear where the big schools are, and will go. Chop from indredibly loud Marine Brigs making wide turns on shallow waves. Engines, and props- things that do not belong under the Blue. He can hear those like foghorns in the deep. Throbbing against his ears as he searches these corral beds surrounding the island they're visiting.
The Thousand Sunny's hull not far away from him, broad belly visible beneath the surf. “Ah?” propelling hismself forward with a kick, and direction from his arms. Jimbe's lifted a stone disc from the sand. A thing all by itself, but perfectly round. Strange symbols engraved upon it, over the likeness of a Dragon.
As an Officer within the ranks of Revolution for most of her life, Koala has almost always woken up in places unfamiliar to her. She's gotten so used to it that there's no surprise she's never seen these green painted walls before- Or the pictures that hang upon them, of colorful fruits in golden bowls. Long maroon curtains drawn open, letting in stunning yellow light from outside. Noises from a town drifting over her, also- and which town is it? Where is she? Ne...? does it matter?
“Good morning, Sleepy-head.” No, it doesn't matter– not at all. Sabo's heat coming over her. Not the raging inferno of his Devil, but the gentle very-human warmth of him that she reaches for. Kissing softly, before they've consented- each; in using their tongues.
“Mmm.” She licks her Lover's teeth. Sucking his tongue, and nipping at Sabo's bottom lip. “You taste like cigarettes.” Said with a wry smile. “Did you and Sanji come to an understanding?”
“Heh-” Black-leg Sanji was pretty hammered when Sabo had taken that kiss out of him. Spent the next hour and a half swapping stories about Ace, and Luffy. They didn't go further than that one kiss, however. After a while the Cook got up. Said he was going to take a walk, and Sabo's guess is that he's trying to sober himself some before he goes to meet that Chef at the bar they were at last night. “You'll have to ask him about it, when he gets back.”
“Back?” They kiss again. Deeply.
“He left on an errand.” Speaking into her mouth, Sabo moves down Koala's chin. The woman wriggling into sleep-warm sheets.
“Ahha-!” Biting a little, into the sweeter spots on her neck. He raises a red hickey on her skin. Suckling, until he can taste it.
Admiring the work he's done, after... “Probably won't be back for hours.” ..telling her.
“Lie back.” Hands on the woman's stomach move steadily up under the clothes she's been wearing since last night. Pushing them up so he can foundle her breasts. Fingertips pressing over round, hard nipples.
Cradling her in his arms, Sabo uses his tongue to lav sensually down Koala's soft belly. Getting his knees down onto the carpeted floor at the edge of the bed, secreting two digits in between the crying red lips of her wet slit as he does. Spreading them.
“Ahhh~ y-ye-” Gasping, she reaches for him. Fingers combing through the waves of the man's gold-blonde hair. “Y- aah- ye-s- naaha- ...” Head back on the pillow, exposing the girl's pale throat with her back arching off this mattress. “-aaahaa-” Soft coos. Being touched inside. Her Lover's nimble fingers curling, applying gentle pressure to places she... “-ahhaa- S-Sabo~”
“Haha-” Laughing, or is he gasping? He isn't sure. Licking his lips, Sabo swallows all this saliva that's pooled up in his mouth. Making room on his tongue for his own juice-soaked fingers. He cleans them, taking possession of Koala's mouth, afterward. Sharing the woman's sweet taste between them. Sabo's dick swollen and pulsing, trapped between their bellies.
“Tell me, Ne...?” Breathing against him. Koala's hands wander down to stroke her Lover's straining girth. “What was he like?”
“Haah- that- Pirate-?” Connecting thoughts becoming rapidly difficult, the edges of deft fingernails tickling at the base of his shaft. “Haaah- He...”
“Tell me-?” Teeth playfully bite at Sabo's chin, and she licks exotically down the line of his neck.
“He- Haah- -'s hot...” He can't say anything else. Just that. Almost blind, in this moment Koala has grasped him. “Gah- haaah-” Hips jerking, he puts his arms around her. Lifting, so that he may aline them and-
“-aah~ Sabo~” She feels him inside of her. All of him! Hot, forced breaths close to her ear, and he shakily kisses her neck.
Beginning to move, bathed in this pool of blankets and sunshine. Pleasured-hazed to breathless, on some Island- somewhere in the New World.
How long has it been? Three years? Three and a half? Or is it really four? Time behaves a lot differently in front of Sanji now, then it had ever when he was learning how to make soup under Zeff in East Blue. Even before that, when he had run away from home. Time is acting a lot different today – like it did that time- years ago on the Island of Alabasta.
Every presence in candle-light....
“Hahaha- Sanji, you and me? We're gonna do that again someday, just the two of us.”
“hehe- Aye? Don't count on it.” Naked, and Ace had lit that cigarette he was smoking. Nami's head on the Strawhat Cook's hip, under a blanket and clutched to Vivi's shoulders. Koza, asleep against his fiancé. Chaka, also worn out, he had his head on that man's still-bandaged stomach. Two lovely palace maids supported in the Zoan's thick, muscular arms.
“Hahaha- We will. Count on it-” Smiling. Bite marks standing out all over the Whitebeard Pirates' Second Division Commander's tanned neck.
Count on it.... Like they had counted on being alive to meet again. Later... somewhere on the Ocean. The Strawhat's blonde Chef listens to his own steel soles shoes making soft taps against a cobbled road beneath him. Walking along this small, quiet Harbor. Letting tears fall quietly down his face. On his seventh soothing cigarette, reminiscing on all that had happened that last night he spent in the Alubarna Palace. The bulk of the partying over, and some of them had spilled into a secluded corner Bath. Koza locking a set of golden doors, and Chaka swearing no one would overhear them-
What had been one of the best nights he's ever had, his entire- shitty- life-. “Haaaah-” A long sigh, and smoke comes out with it. The Cook watches it drift out over the water, and gently disburse.
“Eh? So he does wanna?” Luffy's turned around with his chest against the back of the couch to speak to Zoro, who is bent-over. His Swordsman rooting around in the boys' great big communal dresser.
“Che- I don't know if I wanna...” More that he has a nag and a need to provide at least some explanation to Sanji. Dick that the man is, his nakama will be giving up smoking- and he never thought he'd live to see that day...
“Nnnmmm- but Sanji isn't here right now.”
“Huh? What do you mean isn't here? Where'd he go?”
“Ashore. Looking for Treasure.” Chin come down onto rubber forearms, Luffy wiggles his knees into the sofa cushions. “Shishi-shi- Went with Sabo and Koala. Nami said so.”
“Aye- Did she...?” He must have been asleep for that. He's been sleeping a lot more recently, to the point of noticing it himself. Zoro extracting a shirt from all this loose fabric in front of him. They've kept everything over the years. Crammed it all in here. Mixed together. Articles the Swordsman remembers buying in Loguetown. Most of it doesn't fit him anymore. Being much broader in the chest than he had been. His arms are thicker, by several inches. But there are still some things he can wear. All the Crimin merchandise fits him. Choosing a black Tee marked with the Starfish's white endorsement, and pulled it over his head.
“Eh-? Zoro's gonna wear a shirt?”
“Aye...” Maybe he will, if it will- come- down.... No. Zoro rips it back off, looking for another. “-So what?”
“Shishi-” Luffy hops off the couch, watching his green-haired nakama digging around for something that'll fit. “He hasn't worn a shirt on the ship in a long time.” Not since they'd entered the New World.
“Aye.” Internally cursing the fact that neither he or Luffy liked to shop, their clothes are ultimately purchased for them by other members of the crew... Finally finding something, a burgundy tank. Getting it on. “Never heard any Order I'm to be shirtless while onboard.”
“Shishishi-” Come up close behind, Luffy puts all his fingers into his First Mate's currently sword-less sash-loops. Pulling back on him, until they're flat against one another. “Could Order Zoro be naked. He could fight Marines that way, shishishi-” whispering into his Lover's ear. “-that'd be so hot.”
H-hot... Y-yea, Sencho- i-it would be, wouldn't it...? “Haha- probably cut my own dick off.”
Luffy holds onto Zoro's hips. Thumbs pressing into his Swordsman's thick lower flanks, to make him groan and relax back into him. “That'd be bad. So Zoro should keep wearing clothes.”
“Hahaha-! Aye-aye, Sencho.” Green head resting on his Captain's shoulder, Zoro has to admit he really doesn't mind this. Luffy's hands beginning to wander. Pressing heat into his sore back, and shoulders. Across his chest. It's only when his Lover's caressed Zoro's stomach, gently, and with such reverant tenderness- That's when the moments slow, until he's forced to a stop. Splitting Zoro, somewhere- in him. His chest-plate fracturing. Caving his lungs, and it's as if he's bleeding out. Aware of his heart rate that increases?! He's shot through with silent alarms, and so suddenly he wants push Luffy back? To get away!?! maybe throw himself off the rail into the ocean...? The First Mate's skin crawling, and he's cold? Sweat breaking out all over him, he feels a slick drop go down his face. “Haaaah-” Closing his eye. He feels likes he's going to pass out. What the hell? “Haaaah-” Struggling to maintain his feet, and keep standing. Com'mon! He's been through wor-... worse-? ...
Well, actually... no. “Haaaah-” Long breaths, and Zoro covers Luffy's hand with one of his own. Both of them remaining this way. “Haaaaah-” Held together.
As much as the infamous Pirate Swordsman would like to say he's been through worse! That he's tough as meito-steel, and he can stand up to anybody! he... can't-? Mostly, because he isn't fighting some idiot with a knife thinking they can cut him in some dirty bar....
“Shishishi-” Luffy's giggles against Zoro's neck. “Ne- He wants'ta go find Sanji? and tell 'im?”
“Haaaah-” Find the damn Cook? Right, that's... “A-aye- And- and you can tell Sabo.”
“Eh?! Really?! Zoro doesn't mind?”
“Aye, Sencho.” If he's going to come out, he might as well come all out. Something as bizarre as this won't be kept quiet long. Shouted echos will make ripples on the Ocean... They know so many people. Zoro takes another deep breath. Filling his lungs, and trying to ignore a fresh spin behind his green eye as he's led the way out of the Men's Quarters. Onto an empty landing. Nobody around, except for Brook. The Skeleton sitting crossed-legged just above the doorway, playing harmonies on an ornate wooden flute.
“Yohohohoho- Good morning~” The man's music fading on the air, but Zoro can still hear it shiver along the water. Very breifly, before it's gone.
“Morning!” Luffy smiling up at his Musician.
*SPL-ASH--! A gout of water, all of them splashed with salty spray.
“Eh-?” Blinking water from his eyes, the Fishman sees his Captain and First Mate standing there. Zoro looks very- wary, doesn't he? “Good morning.”
“Jimbe's been out in the Ocean! What's he found?” Luffy doesn't snatch the object away from his nakama, a thing he might have done a few weeks ago....
A thing Zoro notices.
“It seems to be a Record of some sort. Robin may know more of these symbols.” Jimbe can't recognize them. Not that their Historian has not tried to educate him on the written languages found in different Blues. He just hasn't studied long, and can't understand which ones are which.
*clack! “....just a few things we'll need-” Nami's mid-sentence, coming out of the Women's Room to find Luffy, Zoro, and Jimbe standing right there. Brook begun to play again. Languid notes drifting away over their heads on their way out to Sea. “-ah- Hi! Good morning-” Gold eyes darting at everyone, while she tries not to look at Zoro. Don't look at him! “-ah- We-we're going ashore! Shopping!” Their Navigator indicating herself, and their Historian. Both women with bags over their shoulders.
“Shishishi- Aye!” Luffy showing off all his teeth. Straw hat on top of his head.
Nico Robin has a lavender scarf pulled around her black hair. Wearing a set of wire glasses, and a long skirt. She nods her head, following Nami. A path that takes her right in front of their Swordsman, and she cannot keep herself from looking at him. Meeting the man's one remaining eye. She's always thought him wise. Wiser, maybe, in his discipline; than any of her other nakama. But... to become a mother? Because by all definition that is exactly what he will be, and she can't help but wonder what sort of a mother he will make. Raising a thoughtful expression that undoes her dark eyebrows, and she's smiled. Just a little.
Tongue cleved to the top of his mouth, Roronoa Zoro watches those two take the stairs, then the ladder down to land. Counting each painful thud of his heart trying to beat itself to death against the wall of his chest.