“Am I the only one who thinks this is a bad idea?”
The island is in sight now, sitting on the horizon and growing steadily larger. It’s hard to see anything other than tall trees at this distance. So far, it looks like an ordinary island. Nothing that suggests it is a mysterious place holding gemstones that are worth five hundred million beli a piece. Much to the witch’s delight. She’s been dancing around the deck like the cook when a woman compliments his tie for the past three hours.
Usopp’s legs haven’t stopped shaking since the locals mentioned that it’s a very strange island and that sometimes dangerous strangers come looking for the gemstones. The sniper cowers beside Zoro, staring at the distant mass of land.
“No,” Zoro answers Usopp’s question around a small yawn. This whole “journey to the mysterious gemstone island” has really gotten in the way of his post midafternoon training nap. “You’re just the only one who cares.”
Usopp lets out a squeaking protest. “How can you not care? We’re in the New World now! And you heard what that shopkeeper said! Dangerous people come looking for gemstones that were stolen from the island!”
“That’s how we know they’re valuable,” Nami says from behind them, dancing to the railing with beli signs flashing in her eyes.
“That’s what’s going to get us killed!”
“Oi, don’t yell at Nami-san, you shitty long nose!” the cook shouts from somewhere behind them.
Zoro rolls his eye. Leave it to the cook to get all hot and bothered over someone speaking to Nami. At this point, Zoro considers it a miracle that the bastard doesn’t try to fight anyone who tries to look at either of the women. Man, is he going to be pissed when he realizes that Franky and Robin are fucking. His head might actually explode when he finds out. Which would be fucking hilarious. And slightly disappointing. Not that Zoro will ever admit it outloud, but he’d actually miss the bastard.
He has missed the bastard. For two years. Strange, that it took him so long to realize it. The cook brings a strange comfort. The annoying voice. The soft tap of dress shoes on the floor. Golden hair that glows under the sun. Long legs and handsome face and -
Stop. Zoro needs to stop that right now. The cook is straight. And, Zoro doesn’t actually give a shit about him. He just thinks the cook is kind of attractive. Okay, really attractive. Really, really fuckable. And flexible as fuck.
Nope. No. Stop that.
They dock with surprising and unnerving ease. Zoro rolls his shoulders uncomfortably, keeping hold of the back of Luffy’s vest as he looks around at the thick forests before them. There’s something wrong with this island. Something that sends a chill through Zoro’s bones.
“Zoro,” Luffy whines. “Let go. I wanna explore! This island feels like it’s gonna be so much fun!”
Fun isn’t the word Zoro would use to describe the paranoia snaking through his muscles. Out of the corner of his eye, he watches the cook’s back straight and the blond inches closer to Nami. Apparently, he feels the “fun” of the island too.
“Alright, let’s get going,” Nami says, ushering them toward Sunny’s ladder. “We need to find the treasure before we lose the light!”
“What if we don’t find any treasure?” Usopp asks. “The shopkeeper said it’s a hit or miss.”
“Oh, we’re going to find some of the gemstones.” Nami grins. “I can smell them from here.”
Zoro doesn’t actually doubt it. Their greedy weather witch probably developed a nose for treasure years ago and she probably senses it the same way Luffy senses danger. He tightens his grip on Luffy again as the captain tries to wriggle loose, rolling his eye as Usopp lets out a long spiel about his “dangerous treasure” allergies.
“Zo-ro!” Luffy whines. “Lemme go! I wanna go exploring!”
Absolutely not. Sure, Luffy’s definitely gotten stronger. Even if Zoro couldn’t feel it - which he can. Luffy radiates strength and danger more than every now -, Fishman Island confirms that this crew’s captain is once again a force to be reckoned with. But, Luffy hasn’t quite lost his inability to take the world around them seriously. And the dark aura on this island demands to be taken seriously.
“Luffy!” Nami rounds on the captain, slamming a fist into his head. “You aren’t running off like an idiot! We’re here to search for treasure, not to look for your dumbass after you rocket off into the forest and get lost. Which reminds me.” Nami turns her attention to Zoro, eyes narrowing in a glare. “If you wander off by yourself and get lost, I’m upping your debt.”
“I don’t get lost!” Zoro snarls. Because he fucking doesn’t ! The world just likes to move around on him when he isn’t paying attention.
Nami’s glare doesn’t fade. “Usopp, you keep an eye on him.”
“What? I can’t. I have to stay on Sunny. It’s the only way to cure my deadly “can’t-step-foot-on-mystery-islands” disease.”
“Don’t argue with Nami-san, shithead.” The cook’s shoe slams into Usopp’s back, throwing him off of the ship. “Don’t let this idiot get lost.”
“Tch.” Zoro sneers at the cook. “You’re the one who gets lost, Number Seven.”
“Will you fucking quit that?” The cook’s entire body tenses.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Zoro would fucking love a fight right now. He missed this. More than he wants to admit. Sure, he’d gotten to spar with Mihawk and those annoying monkeys, but that was different. Sparring with the cook, it’s fun. It’s comforting. It’s home. And, sure, maybe he’s picking fights because of that. Not that he will ever admit that. Because he isn’t soft. And the cook would mock him mercilessly for missing him.
“Oi!” Luffy whines. “Let’s go! Let’s go! It’s time to go adventuring.”
Rubber limbs wrap around Zoro before he can protest and the hard forest floor slams into him without warning. Really, Zoro should have been expecting that. He is back home, afterall.
Luffy’s wild laughter fills the air as the captain releases him and bounds away. Up on the deck, he hears Robin giggling madly while Nami bemoans their child of a captain.
“Sorry, Zoro!” Luffy calls, diving behind Usopp as Zoro shoots to his feet.
“Luffy! I’m gonna cut you in half!”
“Will you idiots focus? We have treasure to find!”
Usopp bemoans the cruelty of life as they start into the forest. Chopper waves at them from atop Franky’s head while Brook calls for them to be safe on their journey. Colorful plants surround them, moving in the breeze. The paths they wander through are barely visible. Overgrown and disappearing beneath Any tree roots that dare poke through the ground tangle together, reaching out to trip them.
It takes them a few hours of wandering to find the river Nami’s been so intent on finding. According to Nami, the gemstones she’s looking for will fall from a waterfall and then float down the river. Which seems ridiculously farfetched. But, it is the New World, so what the fuck does Zoro know?
They follow the river upstream, walking against the current. Zoro keeps his eye sharp, searching for the strange presence he can feel lingering on this island. There’s something wrong with this place. Something unnatural. Judging by the slight tension in the cook’s back, he can feel it as well.
Luffy freezes suddenly and Usopp nearly knocks into the captain, stumbling into Zoro instead. It takes little effort to right the sniper and Zoro turns his attention back to Luffy as Nami turns to yell at him. The words seem to die in her throat and when Luffy turns to look at Zoro, he knows why. Luffy’s eyebrows furrow, his lips turned down in a confused and concerned frown. The fun and excitement seem to have left Luffy and Zoro’s stomach churns uncomfortably.
A rubber hand pokes Zoro in the forehead. He blinks, staring at Luffy as his captain’s hand snaps back.
“Luffy?” Nami asks. Her voice shakes slightly.
“Is something wrong, Sencho?” Robin asks, her own brow furrowing slightly.
“Zoro’s here,” Luffy says.
“Of course he is.” Usopp sounds hesitant and he inches away from Zoro as though he’s afraid the swordsman has some contagious disease.
“But, Zoro’s there too.” Luffy turns to point ahead of them.
In the distance, Zoro spots what appears to be a large cave. The river flows within it, leaving a small strip of ground between the cave walls and the steady stream of water.
“Luffy.” Nami frowns. “Don’t be ridiculous. Zoro’s right there.”
“No, he’s right, Nami-san.” Confusion fills the cook’s face as well, that stupid swirly eyebrow raising as he looks between Zoro and the cavern. “I can feel it too.”
Zoro can’t feel anything except the creeping unease of paranoia. It scuttles up his back like an oversized spider, biting into his spine and sending shivers through him.
“Okay, time to head back now.” Usopp turns to shove Zoro back the way they’d come. “If Luffy and Sanji are scared-”
The cook scowls. “Oi, oi. We aren’t scared.”
“Shishishi. What’s there to be scared off? It’s just two Zoros.”
There is not two Zoros. There is one Zoro. Luffy and the cook clearly just haven’t mastered their Observation Haki as well as Zoro has. Afterall, if there was another him, surely Zoro would have felt himself.
“Suge!” Luffy shouts. “Suge! Suge! Two Zoros.”
“There aren’t two-” Zoro starts to snarl, shaking himself loose of their sniper. And then, his brain catches up to his captain’s train of thought. “Oi, Luffy, wait!”
Too late. Luffy rockets off toward the cave.
“Luffy!” Nami screeches.
Robin lets out a giggle. “Well, I suppose we should go see if there really is another swordsman waiting for us.”
The cook frowns. “There has to be.” A narrowed blue eye moves to Zoro again, sizing him up carefully.
Every snarky comment dies in Zoro’s throat. The usual sparkle of excitement that lights up the cook’s gaze when he insults Zoro is missing. Now, there’s only confusion and slight concern. As though the idiot thinks that Zoro is going to vanish on the spot and they’ll find him wandering around that shitty cave. The look unnerves him more than he cares to admit.
A gemstone floats in the river just outside the cave’s entrance. Nami squeals with excitement as Usopp finishes it out with one of his weird plant monsters. It’s smaller than Zoro expected it to be, only about the side of a bird’s egg. The color is a brilliant green. A marimo green. Which everyone seems to find hilarious. Usopp makes a point of holding the stone beside Zoro’s head so they can compare the glittering stone to Zoro’s hair.
“Get that away from me,” Zoro snarls, slapping Usopp’s hand away.
“Zoro!” Nami lunges to take the gemstone from Usopp, cradling it close to her chest. Only she would hold onto a piece of stone like it was a fucking baby. “Be careful, you idiots! If you lose me five hundred million beli, I’m adding it to all your debts!”
Zoro shoots her a glare. His debt must already be up into the hundreds of billions by now. He’s never going to pay her back in this lifetime and they both know that. So, why does she have to keep poking at it? Because it stings. Zoro’s a man of his word. Promises are the most important thing in the word and his pride demands that he keep every promise he makes. Debts are promises. A promise that Zoro is destined to break. And he fucking hates it.
“Zoro!” Luffy’s voice calls from within the cave, bouncing off the rock walls. “Oi! Zo-ro!”
Zoro grits his teeth. Why does he follow this moron? Of all the people to sell his soul to, he picked Luffy.
“Sencho?” A voice calls back.
Everyone stiffens. The voice is young, like Chopper’s, and still deep. Familiar for a reason that Zoro can’t quite place.
“Zoro!” Luffy shouts again.
“Sencho? This isn’t funny! Where are you? Dad? Papa?”
God, that voice sounds so fucking familiar. Why can’t he place it?
“Is someone else in there?” Usopp whimpers.
“Sounds like it,” the cook answers. “Nami-san, Robin-chan, stay behind me. I’ll protect you!”
Rolling his eye, Zoro shoves past them and starts into the cave. A round of protests shoot up behind him, Nami and Usopp shouting about him getting lost. But, Zoro ignores them. The paranoia squeezes at his ribs, the uncomfortable presence of someone else growing stronger as he moves along the river’s edge, into the depth of the cave. Vaguely, he knows it should be getting darker. The sun’s light has long since abandoned him, waiting back at the cave’s entrance. But, he can still see easily.
The river, he realizes after a moment, has a light glow about it. Zoro pauses, glancing into the deep rushing water. More of Nami’s gemstones litter the river’s bottom, all glowing a brilliant white.
“Don’t touch them,” Robin orders sharply from behind him as he moves to reach for one.
Zoro freezes at the sudden order, glancing back at the wide eyed historian.
“R-Robin?” Usopp asks around a shaking voice.
“Don’t touch anything,” Robin says, voice calm though Zoro doesn’t miss the unease in her gaze. “There’s something strange about this cave. And I would hate for you to get lost, Zoro.”
Well, no shit there’s something strange about this cave. “I don’t get lost,” he tells her, but stands anyway.
“Daddy! Daddy!” a young child cries.
Zoro senses the tension that shoots through the crew. They all turn to look around the cavern, searching for the source of the voice. So small and innocent.
“Daddy, there’s a man in a straw hat yelling your name. Daddy, get up!”
The river. Zoro turns back to look at the rushing water. Despite bouncing around the cavern walls, something in his gut tells him that the voice comes from the river. The cook seems to have a similar thought, inching toward the water as well.
“Zoro!” Luffy calls in the distance.
“Sencho?” the mystery voice calls back.
Right, his captain. He needs to go get his captain. Because the idiot has wandered into this strange cave, where the water fucking talks, without any thought for the consequences.
“Taika!” The water uses Zoro’s voice and all thoughts of Luffy vanish. He can hear the fear in his own voice. It feels like a punch in the gut. “Get down from there before you hurt yourself!”
“So protective, Marimo.” The cook’s voice follows his, full of surprisingly kind amusement.
Zoro’s gaze snaps to the cook, whose jaw clenches tightly as he glares at the water. The water that’s stolen both their voices. Taika. Who the fuck is Taika? How is the water stealing their voices?
“Shut it, you shit cook. He’s up too high. Taika!”
“Oi, come on, little brussel sprout. You’re going to give your mossy father a heart attack.”
“Who’s Taika?” Usopp mutters from behind him.
“Zoro!” Luffy’s voice becomes a little more unsettled.
“Daddy! Daddy! Look what Franky made me!” The little boy’s voice is older now. Gone from sounding like he’s four to sounding at least nine or ten. “Now, I can learn Santoryu too!”
Santoryu. That’s Zoro’s style. He’s spent his whole life perfecting that swords style. Whoever that kid’s father is, he can’t know Santoryu. Let alone teach it. Zoro isn’t completely confident that he can teach it. And has no plans of teaching it to anyone. Especially not some snot nosed kid.
“Robin,” Nami whispers. “What the hell is going on?”
“I’m not sure.” There’s a genuine curiosity in Robin’s voice. “I’ve never read about anything like this.”
“Taika.” The river takes Zoro’s voice again. “What the hell were you thinking? You could have been killed!”
“Papa was in trouble. What was I supposed to do?” That voice. It’s the same voice that they’ve been hearing respond to Luffy. The one calling for his Sencho and his parents.
“You’re supposed to let me take care of it! Papa can take care of himself. Stay out of the way.”
“Oi,” Zoro snarls, glaring at the water. “Quit it.”
The river ignores him, using the cook’s voice again. “Zoro, for the love of God, he’s sixteen. Stop acting like he’s a child.”
“He is a child,” Zoro hears himself snarl in return. “ My child.”
“Is that really something you want to have said to me ?” There’s a mix of challenge and betrayal in the cook’s voice.
“Zo-ro! Oi! Where are you?”
“Daddy, that light's too bright. Tell them to turn it off.”
“That's not a light, Taika,” Zoro's voice responds. Slurred and heavy with sleep. “That's the sun.”
“What's a sun?”
“It's a big star. It lights up the whole world.”
“The whole world?”
“Zoro!” Luffy’s cry echoes around them. “I found you!”
Finally, Zoro manages to tear himself away from the river. Found him? Luffy is nowhere in sight. How the fuck could he have found Zoro when Luffy is nowhere in sight. Shit. What has that idiot got himself into now?
“Zoro, wait a minute!” Nami calls. “You’ll get lost.”
Zoro ignores her and shoots off after his captain’s voice. The pounding of his nakama’s feet follow him.
“What happened?” Luffy demands. “Why are you so tiny? Did somebody hurt you? I’ll kick their ass?”
“S-Sencho?” the voice stutters back.
Taika. If the river tells the truth, this kid’s name is Taika. So why in the hell does Luffy think that he’s Zoro?
“I knew it,” Luffy cheers. “Two Zoros. Suge! Suge!”
“What? Z-Zoro? I’m not Zoro!”
“Of course you are!”
The river leads Zoro around a corner and to his captain. He freezes immediately, eye widening as he stares at the person standing across from Luffy. A boy of maybe sixteen, wearing a pair of black slacks, tucked into black boots, and a white buttoned down shirt with the collar popped to hug his neck. Three katana sit on the boy’s right hip. His eyes, a solid steel gray, are wide as he stares at Luffy.
The swords are unsettling. Zoro can’t, for the life of him, think of anyone besides himself that carries three swords. Though, the katana are far from the most disturbing factor.
No, the most disturbing factor is the kid's face. The sun kissed tanned skin and hardened cheekbones with thin eyebrows. Short green hair - marimo green hair - that stands up as though his hands have been run through it a thousand times.
Zoro’s face. This kid has Zoro's face.
“No.” The kid shakes his head, gaze traveling to Zoro, and swallows thickly. He raises a hand, fingers surprisingly sturdy for the amount of unease Zoro feels rolling off of him. “He’s Zoro. I’m Taika.”
Luffy turns to look at him as the rest of the crew stumble to a stop behind him. His captain blinks, brow furrowing in annoyed confusion once again. Zoro’s hands drop to his swords, teeth clenching as he fights to keep himself from lunging at the young boy. He’s the cause, Zoro realizes. The reason Zoro’s been feeling this strange, paranoid presence that refuses to allow him to relax.
“What the hell is going on?” Nami mutters from behind him.
“Who are you?” Zoro demands.
The kid blinks at him. “Taika.”
Zoro feels his sneer grow. To his credit, Taika doesn’t seem rattled. Simply cocks his head and raises an eyebrow.
“I think what Zoro meant to ask,” Robin begins gently.
“Why the hell do you have Zoro's face?” Usopp yelps.
“Don't cut off Robin-chan when she’s speaking!” the cook snarls. Zoro hears the soft thud of the blond kicking their sniper’s leg.
For whatever reason, that seems to relax this copycat kid, most of the tension draining from his stance. Zoro rolls his eye at the shenanigans and takes a few steps forward. Again, Taika doesn’t back down. Simply looks up at Zoro with a slightly bemused expression.
“Who. Are. You?” Zoro repeats
The fucker smirks. “I'm Taika.”
“Again,” Robin props gently.
Before she can get the rest of the sentence out, Luffy leaps forward, half an inch from Taika’s face with a firm frown. “No, that’s not right. You're Zoro.”
The bemused smirk fades a bit into an uncomfortable frown. The kid takes a step back.
“Sen-Luffy, not so close. I don’t like it when you do that.”
Tension snaps through Zoro and his hands tighten around his katana. He senses the crew shift uncomfortable behind him and knows all eyes have locked onto the teenager. Taika seems to recognize the slight slip easily, eyes widening and lips twisting in a grimace.
“You are Zoro.” Luffy gives him a short and serious nod.
“No,” Taika’s voice lowers with firm annoyance. Suddenly, he sounds all too much like Zoro. Their voices close to the same pitch and sound nearly identical when dropped into the dangerous growl. “I'm Taika.”
“It’s complicated,” Taika offers, voice relaxing slightly.
Complicated. This fucking kid has stolen Zoro’s face and his voice and he thinks he can explain it away by calling it “complicated”? Hell fucking no.
“Uncomplicate it,” Zoro growls.
Taika turns to frown at him. “Don't make it sound so simple.”
“It is simple,” Luffy says. “Taika is Zoro.”
“I. It’s not. Ugh.” The younger man shakes his head desperately. “Look, I don’t know how to explain it. But, I'm Taika, alright?”
“Not alright,” the cook snaps, appearing in Zoro’s field of vision as he moves forward, tense and ready to fight. “Explain.”
Taika blinks. Then, amazingly, his lips twitch. That bemused look returns. “Elaborate.”
The cook's anger fills the air. “The face.”
Taika blinks. “Face?”
“ Your face.”
The amusement fades to genuine confusion. “My face?”
“Yes, your face. Why is it like that?”
Luffy lets out an exasperated sigh. “Because Taika is Zoro.”
“Taika isn’t Zoro,” Taika snaps. “Zoro is Zoro and Taika is Taika.”
“But Taika looks like Zoro.”
“That doesn't make me Zoro, you shitty captain.”
“Shishishi.” Luffy throws his head back in a laugh. “See? Taika knows I'm captain. Just like Zoro!”
The kid looks like he’s about two seconds away from losing his mind. Zoro understands the sentiment. He’s about one second from losing his.
“Taika,” Robin takes advantage of the quiet to speak. “How is it that you got here? We didn’t see any other ships.”
Attention pulled from Luffy’s insistence that this kid and Zoro are the same person, Taika seems to relax. His hand moves to rub through his hair in a sheepish look. “Oh, well. It’s - um.”
“Don’t say complicated,” Zoro orders, because he can already tell that the kid wants to use that damn word.
Taika uses Zoro’s face to fucking pout. “Fine. Take away the best word I have for it.”
“Perhaps,” Robin prodes gently. “You could just tell us what happened.”
Taika shifts from foot to foot. “Well. Um. My nakama and I came to this island looking for these gemstones. My - uh - my aunt,” he says the word like he’s not sure if it’s the correct one, “really wanted them. She likes treasure, so Sencho agreed to come look for them. We all split up to look n’ I was supposed to stay with Papa but I got kind of turned around. The paths moved when I wasn’t looking and I ended up at this cave.” He gestures toward the glowing river. “There’s a bunch of those gems in the water, so I grabbed one, but I fell in and ended up falling down the waterfall. Which is really, really weird, because it was following up when I found it. When I managed to get out of the water, the gem had turned green - like my hair. I lost it when I was getting out. Which sucks, because I’m already going to be in deep shit when Dad finds out. But.” Taika pauses to frown and collect his thoughts. “I think. I think I might be more lost than usual because now, the water is flowing the other way. And I can’t feel anyone. My. My family isn’t here.”
There’s a sadness and fear in the boy’s voice. Something in Zoro’s chest aches for him, though he doesn’t want it to. If this kid is going to wear his face, he can at least have the backbone to support it. And, the kid wasn’t using names. He seemed to be making a conscious effort to avoid names. Which Zoro suspects is a really bad thing. The rest of the crew stand silently, all staring at the young man as he rests his arm on his katana and stares thoughtfully at his boots.
“Yosh!” Luffy says after a moment, grinning. “We’ll help Taika find his family.”
“Luffy,” Nami protests immediately. “Wait just one minute.”
Taika’s gaze snaps to the captain as well, blinking for a moment before he gives Luffy a forced smile. “That’s nice of you. But, don’t you guys have to get going?”
“Nope!” Luffy grins. “Nakama help nakama.”
“Oi, Luffy,” Usopp shouts. “We don’t even know who this kid is.”
Luffy laughs, glancing back at their crew. “Taika’s nakama!”
Robin giggles. Zoro wants to fucking punch his captain. Just because this little copycat bastard wears Zoro’s face, it doesn’t make him nakama. The kid seems to sense Zoro’s annoyed rage, nervous gray eyes flickering to him before back to Luffy.
“Luffy, we know nothing about him!” Nami screeches. “He could be a murderer for all we know!”
Which is true. Not that it really matters. The kid feels strong, but certainly not strong enough to get through Zoro, Luffy, and the cook. Taika seems to have lost interest in their conversation, his gaze wandering around the cavern instead. He holds himself strangely. A mix of relaxed but on edge. Gaze soft for the crew - a crew he can't possibly know - but angry for anything around them.
“Oi, Taika.” Luffy spins back to the young swordsman. “Are you a crazy murderer?”
“Eh?” Taika turns back to him, brow furrowed. “No.”
“Yosh!” Luffy beams. “Then -”
“Taika!” The river shouts with Zoro’s voice again, echoing from further down the way.
Taika starts, spinning around to look down the cavern. “Dad?” he calls back.
Zoro’s mind skids to a halt. Dad? No. No way in fucking hell can this kid hear Zoro’s voice and call him “Dad”. That’s just not possible. Sure, the kid has Zoro’s face. But that stupid Marine woman has Kuina’s face and as far as Zoro can tell, there’s no actually relation. Copycats can copy without needing a relation to do it.
“Oi! Taika! Where the fuck did you go?”
“Shishishi!” Luffy’s laugh erupts from the river. “Zoro worries too much. Taika’s a pirate!”
“Luffy’s right, Zoro.” Nami lets out a small whine at the sound of her voice from within the water. “It’s not like he’s helpless. Taika can take care of himself.”
“Dad?” Taika calls back, hesitation clear in his voice. “Sencho? Nami-san?”
“No one asked you, Witch. No one asked either of you. I swear to God, he’s grounded for the rest of his fucking life. Taika!”
Taika tenses, taking a few hesitant steps in the direction of the voices. “Dad!”
“Taika’s a grown up now.”
The fucking kid bolts down the thin path. “Sencho!”
“He’s sixteen. That's not a grown up.”
The water uses Nami’s voice to t’sk impatiently. “Zoro, you did much more dangerous stuff when you were his age.”
“Yeah, well I didn't have a family worried about me on the ship that I was ordered not to leave without my parents. Taika!”
“Oi!” Luffy shoots down the path after the kid. “Taika, wait up!”
“Luffy!” Nami shouts, running up a few steps before stumbling to a stop. She spins to glare at Zoro like he’s behind all of this. “What the hell is going on?”
“How the fuck am I supposed to know that?” Zoro growls.
“Taika! Fucking answer me!”
Nami gestures to the river as it uses his voice to call for the kid again.
“It’s using your voice too,” Zoro tells her, pushing by to follow Luffy.
“Oi! Don’t shove Nami-san, you shit swordsman!”
“Well, when is Taika going to be grown up then?” Nami snaps.
“When I’m dead.”
In the water, Luffy lets out an exasperated sigh. “That's dumb.”
“Is this why the fucking cook sent you two with me? To badger me about how I raise my fucking kid?”
“Taika isn't just Zoro's. And it's not nice to say he is.”
“Well, you know Luffy, how’s this sound: you spend four fucking years with the Marines and then you can decide who's fucking kid it is!”
“Dad!” Taika's voice floats back to them. “Da-ad!”
“Watch your tone, Zoro.”
“I'll - wait, what was that?” The voices pause for a moment. “Taika? Taika!”
The water rushes by them. In the distance, Zoro can hear the defining roar of a waterfall. Ahead, he can barely see the red of Luffy’s jacket, flapping behind him as the captain sprints after this kid. Completely ridiculous. This is the New World. They shouldn’t be chasing down some weird kid in a crazy ass cave.
“Do you hear that?” Usopp asks. “Is that a waterfall?”
“It sounds like it,” Robin hums. “Didn’t Taika mention something about a waterfall?”
The path finally widens, giving way to a large room with a thundering waterfall. Taika has thrown himself into the river, treading water as he spins in every direction, searching for the source of the voices.
“Oi! Dad?” the kid yells desperately, trying to swim closer to the waterfall. The current continues to shove him back. “Sencho? Nam-sani? Somebody answer me!”
“Oi, kid,” the cook snaps from behind Zoro. “Get out of there before you drown yourself.”
“Taika! Oi, this isn’t a fucking game. Where are you?”
“Oi, that's Sanji,” Luffy’s voice says.
“We left Sanji back at the ship. Taika!”
Now, Zoro knows the water is messing with him. He doesn’t use the cook’s name. This is wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
“Taika,” Robin calls. “Get out of the water.”
The rippling reflection in the waterfall begin to shift. Zoro’s hands drop to his side. Dark shapes begin to emerge.
“Oi, kid,” Zoro says. “Get out of there.”
Taika ignores him, still trying to not to be swept away in the current. Frowning deeply, Luffy finally wraps a rubbery limb around Taika’s arm to haul him out. Cursing wildly, the teenager flails as he’s dragged out of the water.
“Get off me. That’s how I got here. It’s how I’ll get back. Dad!”
The dark shapes stop and see to turn on their direction. Zoro's hand wraps Wado, tense and ready as one of them lunges forward. Confusion fills him as the shape takes form. A tan face, slightly distorted by the water, a scar down his left eye, three earrings dangling from his left ear. He looks to be at least ten years Zoro's senior, but still, unmistakably Zoro's face.
“How many marimos are we going to find down here?” the cook growls.
Taika shoves himself free of Luffy’s grip and scrambles to the edge of the path, directly beside the waterfall. “Dad!”
“ Taika ,” the older version of Zoro breathes. “ What the hell did you do?”
“I didn’t do it on purpose. I fell into the river when I was trying to get one of Nami’s gemstones.”
Jaw clenched, Taika's father looks around the water. Danger radiates from the glare, as though he can make out the shapes of the crew but not who they are. “Taika, what's behind you?”
“Taika's in there?” An older version of Luffy appears beside older Zoro, hair slicked away from his face and pressing into older Zoro’s side to look into the water. “Oi! Taika, you aren't supposed to go anywhere unless I say!”
Taika sighs. “I know, Sencho. I'm sorry. But, will you please go find Robin so I can come home? I don't like it here.”
“Luffy, out of the damn way. Oi, where are you?”
“I dunno.” Taika's nervous glance moves back to the crew.
“Taika, who's there with you?” Taika's father demands.
“You,” Taika says hesitantly. “N’ Sencho. Usopp and Robin-”
“But we left Usopp and Robin on the ship,” older Luffy protests.
“Well, they aren't really you. They're young, Dad. Like, when I was little.”
“Taika.” Both the older captain and first mate are pulled back to be replaced by Nami, orange hair cut shorter than she wears it now, her face pinched with a mixture of annoyance and worry. “Are you telling me that you traveled back in time?”
“I-I don’t know, Nami-san.”
“Oi, get out of the fucking way, Nami. Go get, Robin and Sanji.”
“Go! Before I lose my fucking temper. We just had to go look for treasure.”
“I’m not the one who lost him!”
“Yameru!” Taika shouts. “Dad, stop fighting!”
The ground beneath Zoro’s feet trembles suddenly. Small rocks tumble down the walls. Zoro throws an arm up to guard his head. The others dance around to avoid the other small stones tumbling down.
“Shit,” Taika gasps, dodging out of the way of a particularly large rock.
“Taika!” Fear rings in Zoro's older self's voice.
“The tunnel must be collapsing,” Robin calls. “We need to go.”
Zoro nods, hauling Usopp out of the way of more debris.
“Dad,” Taika says, sticking a hand into the water again, as though it will pull him back to his father. “I learned my lesson. This isn’t funny anymore. I wanna come home!”
“Oi, oi, breathe.”
“Don't tell me to breathe! I wanna come home!”
A resounding rumble shakes the room. Through the water, the older Strawhats let out a collective round of swearing.
“Zoro, ours is collapsing too. We gotta get out.”
“No. Not without Taika.”
“Zoro, now !”
“Oi, Luffy,” Zoro calls to his own captain.
The others are already filling out, away from the falling tunnel. His captain, however, stands in the middle of the cave, watching Taika reach desperately into the waterfall. A large chunk of ceiling falls beside Taika, who doesn’t so much as flinch.
“Luffy,” Zoro shouts again.
His captain finally moves. He bounds forward, rubbery hand wrapping around Taika's arm.
“Time to go, Taika,” Luffy says.
“No.” The kid tears his arm free. “I'm going home. Dad, tell him I'm coming home.”
Desperate uncertainty fills the older Zoro's face. Taika’s voice mixes with the two Luffy’s, each demanding a different thing. Just before Zoro opens his mouth, demanding that they leave, his older counterpart’s face scrunches with frustrated rage.
“Oi, all of you shut it!” He doesn't move as a piece of ceiling falls beside him. His dark gaze locks on Taika, self loathing clear in his eyes, even from a distance. “Taika, go with Luffy.”
“Taika, look at me. I'm going to find you, alright? But I can't do that if one of us ends up dead. Go with Sencho.”
Again, Luffy's hand closes around Taika's arm.
“Oi, Luffy!” A hard edge steals the older Zoro's voice. “You take care of him. Don't let anything happen to him!”
Luffy nods, pulling Taika to his feet. “Of course. Taika's safe with me. I promise.”
A small smile, full of relief, graces his lips. “Yosh. Don't worry, Taika-Tiger. I'll find you.”
“Yeah,” Taika breathes.
Luffy drags the younger man away from the waterfall and back down the tunnels. Zoro glances back in time to see his older self being dragged back as well before he follows. Debris continues to rain down around them as the cave collapses. Luffy's hand stays wrapped tightly around Taika's arm, as though the captain is afraid the boy will vanish if he eases up. Taika himself stumbles along behind Luffy, one hand placed carefully over the three swords at his side. The others wait for them outside, a fair distance from the cave, all looking a mixture of surprised and relieved when they tumble out.
Taika yanks himself free of Luffy, turning to watch the cave walls collapse into the river. Water splashes up in waves, drenching the grass and trees around them. The crew follows his lead, staring at the pile of rubble. The river continues to flow, moving along the smaller pieces of cavern walls. Around them, the air seems strangely light and quiet.
“Dad?” Taika whispers, his knees hitting the ground.
“W-what the hell just happened?” Usopp stutters.
“Taika got stuck here,” Luffy tells him.
Zoro eyes the kid carefully, watching his fists clench as he pulls in a deep breath and seems to try and center himself. It feels familiar, the way Taika’s fingers tug at the grass beside his knees. Searching for the soft feeling of real grass on his fingertips. Because the smell and feel of reality make things real. Zoro does this, he realizes after a moment. This is how he centers himself when the world becomes overwhelming, by running his fingers through the grass.
“We got that much,” the cook growls.
“Robin?” Nami turns to look at their historian and Zoro glances her way as well.
Robin’s gaze remains on Taika, the kid rolling his shoulders and tilting his head upward with his eyes closed to listen to the sound of the wind. Shit. Zoro does that too.
“I’m not quite sure what’s happened,” Robin admits after a moment. “I’ll need to do a bit more research into it. Do you still have the gemstone?”
Nami nods, pulling it from her pocket.
“What are we doing with the kid until then?” the cook asks, pulling at his lighter.
“Taika’s coming with us!” Luffy says, as though it should be obvious, grinning widely.
“Luffy!” Usopp yelps, turning to look at him. “Are you insane? We still don’t know anything about this kid!”
Luffy frowns. “He’s Zoro.”
Taika moans, finally pulled from his calming motions to look back at Luffy. “I’m not Zoro.”
The captain continues as though Taika hadn’t spoken. “Besides, I promised Zoro-ossan I’d take care of him. So, he’s gotta come with us.”
He did promise.
“I don’t need you to protect me,” Taika says, pushing himself to his feet and turning to frown at Luffy. “I can take care of myself.”
“Of course you can!” Luffy beams at the fucking kid. “You’re Zoro. N’ Zoro’s really strong. But, I promised Zoro-ossan that I’d keep you safe. So, I gotta.”
Taika stares at him for a long moment, as though weighing the pros and cons of once against reminding Luffy that he is not Zoro. Finally the kid sighs. “Just, don’t let Dad catch you calling him that. He’ll slice you into ribbons, Sencho.”
“Shishishi! Zoro’d never cut me.” Luffy reaches out to wrap an arm around Taika’s waist and pull him closer. “Let’s go back to Sunny for lunch. Oi! Sanji! Meat!”
“Oi, let go!” Taika shouts, trying to wriggle loose. “If you fling me back to the ship, I’ll cut you!”
“Luffy,” Usopp moans. “This is a terrible idea.”
“Oh, quit your whining, Usopp,” the cook orders, letting out a stream of smoke. “Luffy’s made up his mind. There’s no talking him out of it.”
“But, but, but.”
Taika manages to successfully wiggle himself from Luffy’s grasp before the captain flings himself toward the ship. A surprisingly fond smile crosses Taika’s face as he watches Luffy vanish. The cook sighs, shaking his head and waits for Nami and Robin to start back to the ship before he turns toward the kid, stupid eyebrows narrowed. Zoro lingers behind as well, letting Usopp rush after the girls.
It’s not that Zoro doesn’t think the cook can handle this kid. He knows the cook can kick the young boy into the ground with ease. But, it makes his stomach churn uncomfortable: the idea of leaving the two alone. After two long years, the idea of leaving any of his nakama alone with a stranger makes him want to cut his other eye out. Even if it is the damn cook.
“I know,” Taika says before the cook can talk.
The cook blinks. “Excuse me?”
“If I hurt Robin-san or Nami-san, you’ll kick my ass.” Taika smiles. “I know. N’, I won’t. Don’t think I could, even if I wanted to. Nami-san punches really hard. I don’t like being on her bad side.”
Zoro’s brow furrows as the cook gaps at the kid. Had he just called her “Nami-san”? This kid wants to pretend to be Zoro ’s son and call the psycho weather witch “Nami-san”? What the fuck?
After a long pause, the cook seems to come back to himself. Clearly his throat, he takes another long drag of his cigarette.
“As long as you remember that, I suppose I can handle another marimo on the ship. Any allergies?”
“Strawberries and peanuts.”
Zoro stares at the kid. If he notices, he gives no indication, staring at the slightly surprised cook instead. Blue eyes flicker to Zoro for a moment before moving back.
Taika shrugs. “That’s it for allergies. I don’t like sweet stuff either, but I’ll eat it if that’s what you’re making.”
The cook nods slowly, pulling his cigarette from his lips. “So, you’re a little marimo, huh?”
For a moment, Taika’s eyebrows furrow with confusion. Then, he smiles. “Oh, right, I forgot about that nickname. You haven't called me that in a long time.”
“I - what?”
Taika grins, resting a hand on his katana. “Marimo. You don’t call me that anymore.” He glances back down the path the rest of the crew had vanished down. “We should go, don’t you think? Sencho’ll eat through the fridge.”
“He’s identical!” Chopper cries, dancing around Taika.
“Well, I don’t know about identical.” Taika turns his head with the small doctor, trying to keep an eye on him.
“I believe Chopper-san is correct, Taika-san.” Brook pulls Zoro’s poster from the kitchen wall and holds it up to the kid’s face.
Taika’s face is only slightly more round, eyes a little softer. But otherwise, the kid’s a dead ringer for Zoro’s picture. Even the solid, muscular build matches the picture of Zoro at nineteen. Taika blinks in surprise, gently taking the poster from Brook’s hand and staring down at the picture.
“Oh, I guess we kind of are.” His lips twist, not quite pleased but no upset either. “I’ve never seen Dad with both eyes before.”
“So.” Usopp presses, leaning against the table to look at the kid. “You are Zoro’s kid?”
Pots and pans clack together as the cook moves, the warm smell of meat filling the air. The rest of the crew sit around the table. Taika had taken the seat two down from Zoro without thought, screwing up the rest of the crew’s seating arrangements. If he notices, he doesn’t seem to care, too busy studying the photo in his hand.
“Huh?” Taika looks up at the sniper. “Oh, yeah.”
“How old are you?” Luffy asks, stretching his neck to study the boy carefully. “You’re a lot smaller than Zoro.”
“Well, duh.” Taika smirks at him. “I’m a lot younger than him, Sencho. I’m only sixteen.”
Zoro glares at the kid.
“That’s only five years,” Usopp mutters.
“You had a son at five-years-old?” Chopper demands, turning to look at Zoro. “I thought humans couldn’t do that!”
Robin bursts into a fit of giggles. “We can’t. I believe Taika was speaking of his father, not our Zoro.”
“But Zoro is Taika’s father,” Luffy whines.
The rest of the crew burst into discussion, trying to explain to Luffy that Zoro and Taika’s father are technically the same person. And yet, not the same person. The whole thing gives Zoro a fucking headache. Taika blinks between them all with a scrunched nose and a frown, looking like he has a headache coming on as well.
Then, he turns his attention back to the cook. “Is that ginger?” he asks, sniffing loudly, face breaking into a grin. “Are you making ginger Sea King stir fry?”
The cook freezes and turns to stare at the boy, lips parted in surprise. Taika’s smile grows and he leans forward a little, closing his eyes to smell the air again.
“And Katsuobushi? Oh! Onigiri too!”
Around them, the rest of the crew falls quiet. Some of Taika’s excitement dims and he turns to glance around at them.
“You’ve got a suuuuuper nose, little bro,” Franky says.
“Not really. Pa-Sanji says my palate sucks too. But, he says that’s Dad’s fault. And I’ve been getting a lot better. Sanji always makes Onigiri with katsuobushi. It’s Dad’s favorite. And Nami-san likes the ginger in Sea King stir fry, so I just kind of assumed. And, if he cooks Onigiri and stir fry, he can use up any extra soy sauce before it goes bad. That way, we aren’t wasting any food.”
Silence. Zoro stares at the fucking kid. He sounds… happy? Content. Proud of himself for knowing all of that. And he says the cook’s name fucking weird. Like it's an unnatural word for him to use.
“Are you sure you’re Zoro’s son?” Usopp presses.
“So, Robin-san,” Brook says, turning his attention to the archaeologist. “Do you have any ideas?”
“I suspect the water in the cave is a gateway between our world and Taikia’s. I’ve read stories like it before, but never one about it.” She hums thoughtfully. “Though, since the cave collapsed, it’s entirely possible that Taika will be stuck here forever.”
The news doesn’t seem to upset the young teen too much. He shrugs as all eyes turn to him. “You always say stuff like that,” he tells her. “But, in the end, you always figure something out. Besides, Dad promised he’d find me. So, he will.”
“You’re pretty calm about this all,” Nami tells him.
“No use in whining about things I can’t change,” Taika replies, setting back in his seat. “Besides, Dad and I get lost all the time. Our nakama always find us. That’s what nakama are for.”
It’s strange. The kid can go from sounding like the cook to Zoro to Luffy with relative ease.
“Wait a minute,” Usopp says. “Did you just admit you get lost?”
Oh, no. Not this fucking shit again.
“Yeah. Papa says I get it from Dad. He gets lost all the time.”
“Shishishi! So, Taika’s an idiot, just like Zoro.”
“I don’t wanna hear that from you , Sencho.”
The damn kid calls Luffy “Sencho” like it’s second nature. It’s unnerving, how easily he’s already beginning to slip into - wait a minute.
“Papa?” Zoro blurts out the question before he can stop himself.
Taika’s gray eyes meet his. The kid grins. “Yeah, Papa.”
The rest of the crew seem to take a moment to realize what’s being said. This little bastard calls Zoro “Dad”. And says that his “Papa” says he gets lost because of Zoro - which is bullshit because Zoro does not get lost. But, that means that Taika’s dad and papa are two different people. Which means. Which means.
“You have two dads?” Usopp yelps.
“Zoro has a boyfriend?” Nami demands.
Zoro wants to strangle them both.
Taika just fucking laughs again. “Yeah, Dad and Papa. And they’re not boyfriends. They’re married.”
Married. Fucking married. Zoro can’t be fucking married with a goddamned kid. He’s got more important stuff to do than worry about some snot nosed brat and a husband. Family gets in the way of important things. Like fighting. Like his dream. There is no way in fucking hell that Zoro is married .
Questions begin to spill out of his nakama’s mouths and Taika’s head turns from side to side as he tries to place all of them.
“Zoro’s married ?”
“What? To who?”
“Does that mean we get another crew member?”
“Who is it?”
“Did we ever find Raftel?”
“What about One Piece?”
“Does Jinbe actually join the crew, like Luffy asked?”
“How many nakama do we have?”
Fuck, Luffy’s going to fucking murder these idiots. He can sense Luffy’s annoyance slowly turning to anger as their overzealous crew begins to try and ruin the adventure laying ahead of them.
“I can’t tell you guys any of that.” Taika’s simple response pauses the onslaught of questions. After a minute, he gives them a sheepish grin. “I probably should have told you as much as I did. Sorry, Sencho.”
Luffy blinks at Taika, taken aback by the apology. Zoro can’t manage to pull his gaze from the boy either. He’d known, without Luffy having to snap. The kid knew without being told that Luffy doesn't want answers. This kid can read Luffy just like Zoro can.
“Wait, what?” Usopp looks between their baffled captain and the copycat.
“Sencho doesn’t like boring adventures,” Taika tells him. “So, I can’t tell you anything. You gotta be surprised, just like my nakama were.”
All eyes remain on the young teen, everyone’s surprise and confusion filling the air. He knew. Against his will, Zoro’s suspicions begin to fade. No one can read Luffy that easily. No one except for Zoro himself.
“Shishishi!” Luffy bursts into laughter. “I told you. Taika is Zoro!”