Chopper stalled. "Hey, wait a minute. Why do I have to do the writing? YOU'RE the one who beat him up!"
Sanji took a long drag on his cigarette, "'However, we have the world's best doctor on our ship, so he will make a full recovery.'"
"Hey you shithead, don't think you can get out of this by greasing up to me!" Chopper yelled, grinning widely. "You're not flattering me at all!"
"You look pretty flattered from here," Zoro observed.
Chopper danced in place as he wrote, "'so he will make a full recovery.' What's next, Sanji?"
Nami finally tired of the blacked-out pages and set Robin's folder aside. "You know, for such a large file they sure don't know much about you."
Robin gave her an enigmatic smile before returning to her book.
There was only one folder left.
"'... doing well, and is continuing to try and become a brave warrior...' Hey, why is Zoro's file so big?" Sanji demanded irritatedly.
"'Hey, why is'..."
"Don't write that part down!"
"I have no idea," Nami said, perusing the first page. "Since again they don't have many details. 'Name: Roronoa Zoro, AKA Pirate Hunter Zoro. Age: 19.' That's almost it until you get to the details on his fighting style: 'swordsman, utilises a three-sword technique. School: unidentified. Rating...'" her eyes bugged out. "'Deadly?'." She flipped the page over. "What the hell? 'Confirmed Kills'? What is this?" She read from a page list at random, "'15 Hanuere 881, Moa Vale. Roronoa Zoro brought in the body of Gingachu the Cannibal. Bounty: 8 million berri. Kill confirmed by Lieutenant Heron and bounty paid out by same. Body exhibited for the required week and then burnt. See attached file.'"
She flipped past the attached pages and read the next entry. "'29 Pepuere 881, Kiwi Town. Roronoa Zoro brought in the body of Merci Coral, AKA Lord Mercy the Slaver. Bounty: 7 million berri. Kill confirmed...' they're all like this!"
By now everyone was paying attention. As one, they looked at Zoro, who stared back at them. "What? You knew I used to bounty hunt."
"Zoro, this list goes back nearly THREE YEARS! And... huh..." Nami flipped back through the entries. "The last entry is Whiskey Peak, they didn't credit you with Mr 1. Those jerk marines!"
Robin smothered a grin behind a hand.
"Do I look like I care?" Zoro asked in an annoyed tone. "It's not like I keep score or anything. I just needed money and bounty hunting was a way to get it, that's all."
Nami frowned as she leafed through the files. "Yeah, but you were bringing in a head almost every month. Oh, no wonder you had to do it so often. They're ALL listed as kills. The marines only pay out 70 per cent of the bounty if you bring them in dead. Didn't you know that?" She gave him a scornful look.
"OF COURSE I KNEW THAT!"
"THEN WHY DID YOU KILL THEM ALL, MORON?!"
"THAT'S MY BUSINESS!"
Sanji took the folder away from the steaming navigator and flipped back to the beginning. "He didn't kill this one."
Nami snatched it back and perused the file. "6 Tihema 879, Takahe Town. Roronoa Zoro, identified as a free-lance bounty hunter, brought in the criminal known as Evan LaHarre, convicted murderer.' Huh, pretty small time. Only a 5 million berri bounty." She paused and looked up, a rueful grin crossing her face. "You know, there was a time when I would have been impressed by a bounty of 5 million."
The 60-million, 79-million, and 100-million bounties in the room looked at her blankly.
"Never mind. 'Identity of criminal confirmed by Captain Elgar and bounty paid out by same. The legal execution of said criminal was carried out the next day, 7 Tihema 879. Body exhibited for the required week and then burnt. See attached file.' Huh. So you CAN hold back if you want to. Or did you just choke on your first time in real combat?" Nami looked up and recoiled at the look of hatred Zoro was directing at her. "Z-Zoro... hey, come on... I didn't mean it like that."
There was a tense moment as Zoro visibly struggled to hang onto his temper, before abruptly and silently turning his back on the others. Everyone exchanged slightly nervous glances. It was rare for Zoro to get that angry, especially with his own nakama.
The silence was broken by a muffled voice.
"Ring ring, ring ring."
"Huh?" The mood broke instantly as the crew looked around in bewilderment.
"Ring ring, ring ring."
"Aha!" Luffy stretched out an arm and yanked the phone-snail out from behind the desk. Picking up the receiver he smiled cheerfully. "Hello?"
"That's me!" Luffy proclaimed happily. There was a brief pause. "AAAAHHHHHH!!! It's SMOKER!!! SMOKER'S ON THE PHONE!!! Wait, he's only on the phone. He can't hurt me that way. Heehee. Hey Smoker, do you have Prince Albert in a can?"
The loud swearing was only cut off when Nami once again hung up on the infuriated marine colonel.
"Time to go," Sanji said with a grin, grabbing Usopp's nose with one hand. Nami quickly scooped the crew's files into her arms and there was a chaotic scramble as the crew raced for the Going Merry and the relative safety of the Grandline. In the confusion, only Chopper noticed Robin drop a mailtube in the slot as they ran past.
"Robin, you're sending a letter as well?" Chopper blinked as the tube slid out of sight. "Who to?"
"Se-cr-et," Robin smiled.
And then the Straw-Hat crew proceeded to leave town the same way they usually did.
At a run.
That evening, Zoro was on first watch when he noticed a hand stretching up to the crows nest. A second later, the rest of his Captain followed.
Zoro sighed. "I'm on watch, idiot, what do you think I'm doing?"
"Hmmm..." Luffy devoted himself to the consideration of this question. Zoro settled down to wait.
A few minutes later, Luffy either forgot or became bored with his conundrum. Switching his attention back to Zoro, he settled his hat more firmly on his head. "You didn't write a letter."
"Neither did you."
Luffy cast him a sly look and handed him a piece of paper. Zoro unfolded it, read the contents, and flushed darkly. Luffy grinned at his reaction. "Hee, like it?"
Zoro cleared his throat gruffly, "Your handwriting is terrible." He refolded the letter and tucked it carefully inside his haramaki.
Luffy smiled and wound an arm around one of Zoro's, leaning against the taller man in the cool air. "Sap."
"Do you WANT to die?"
Zoro growled quietly and then let the conversation lapse. The two men stood together in silence for a while, though not uncomfortably. Silences were never uncomfortable between them, Zoro mused. They didn't need to talk. They could just stand there. Luffy would never pester him with demands for information.
He'd never pry, he'd never question.
And that was why Zoro could tell him.
"Have you ever seen an execution?"
Luffy shook his head. "I've seen execution platforms."
Zoro's mouth quirked. "A little bit too closely."
Zoro paused and tried to think of what to say next. He wasn't very good with words, preferring to let his actions speak for him. He considered himself fortunate to have finally found a group of people who all more or less understood him most of the time.
Luffy, of course, understood him best of all.
"Executions are strange," he said finally. "Everything starts off quietly, but you get this sense of anticipation. And as the execution itself gets closer... as the prisoner... as the person gets closer to the platform, the crowd starts getting rowdier. By the time they're actually in position, the noise is incredible. Then you get this one moment of silence. And then the cheering starts." He swallowed tightly.
"That guy, LaHarre, he wasn't a good guy," Zoro forced the words out. "I bumped into him robbing some old man in the middle of the road at sword-point, and the next thing I knew we were fighting it out. He wasn't very good, and it was over fairly quickly. After I knocked him out I checked on the old guy and it turned out he was cut up pretty bad. In fact, he was hurt so badly I wound up having to carry him to the next town for medical attention. I was a little pissed about that, so I dragged LaHarre along as well, figuring I might as well turn him in for robbery and maybe they'd make him pay the doctor's fees or something." He laughed, a quick, sharp bark with no humour in it whatsoever.
"I didn't even know he was wanted. Remember how I told you I never called myself a Bounty Hunter? The whole thing was just a stupid coincidence. I walked into the local marine HQ with him and the next thing I know they're counting money into a bag, writing up my name in the ledger and giving me a receipt! I won't say I didn't appreciate the cash, but it was all kinda... surreal."
"The next day... the execution..." Zoro took a deep breath. "I didn't..." He stopped again. "I had no idea... I... shit."
He closed his eyes. "I don't even know why I hung around for it. I guess I thought I should see the whole thing through. And maybe I was a little curious. I almost wish I'd left first thing, but it didn't seem right. I brought the guy in after all, what was going to happen was partly due to me."
"Like I said before, executions start quiet. Everyone was just watching, and waiting. They marched him through the centre of town. Every eye was on him. The guy was pale, but he was walking... until he got within sight of the execution platform."
Zoro swallowed. "I was watching his face, his eyes, and something just... broke inside him. He started crying. Just tears at first, but then sobbing, louder and louder. People started murmuring. About ten metres from the platform he started screaming, and that's when the crowd really got into the act. They were yelling at him, calling him all sorts of names, some of them even threw stuff. He just collapsed. He was a lousy swordsman and a grade-A creep, but when we'd been fighting he was bantering and giving me shit like crazy, and then the next day he was crying like a baby, having hysterics, fucking yelling for his mother to save him."
"They had to physically drag him up the steps. He'd wet himself by that point, and the crowd just got louder. They were baying for his blood. I'd never seen anything like that before. They wanted him dead, really wanted it. You could see it in their eyes. They weren't people anymore Luffy... they were, I dunno, a mob I guess. But that's too small a word for what they were."
Luffy watched Zoro scrub his mouth nervously with the back of his hand. He leaned against the older man a little harder, and waited.
Hesitantly, Zoro continued. "They wanted him dead. They wanted him suffering. They wanted... they wanted him broken. Remember what it was like in Arabasta towards the end? When everyone wanted to fight, even though there was no reason, and everything was crazy? It was like that. Those people, that crowd, that atmosphere... they wanted blood. Lots of it. His."
"Then the marines raised their spears... and the noise just stopped. Silence. Complete and utter silence. Even he... even LaHarre shut up, just making little whimpering noises. They brought their spears down... and it was all over."
"And then the celebrations started."
Zoro eyes were glazed, lost in memory. "I got out of there. I had to. I think I threw up, even. I never do that. I don't GET sick. But the way they reacted, the whole thing, it just made me want to puke."
Images cascaded through his mind. Luffy in that position. Luffy broken, crying. Luffy begging and screaming as the crowd cheered the executioners on.
But Luffy hadn't cried or begged on the platform in Loguetown. He'd just apologised, and accepted it, with a grin of pure glee.
Slowly Zoro came back to the present. The air was chill, and although Luffy was too dim to realise it, he was shivering. Zoro was too, but not from the cold. He pressed against his captain, to share the warmth, and let out a long sigh.
"After that, I took heads again. I needed the cash, and my dream was too important. But I couldn't... I won't ever do that again." Zoro shook his head. "I'll kill someone, but I'll never break them. Never again."
Luffy smiled at him. "I know you won't. You wouldn't be Zoro if you did."
Zoro let himself be reassured by this, and the two men stood in peaceful quiet for a long moment.
"Zoro!" The hold door flew open and Nami stormed up onto the deck. "I just added up all the bounties you earned!"
"Shit," Zoro ducked down in the nest, yanking Luffy down with him. "I was hoping she wouldn't think to do that."
"There is no way you could possibly have drunk that much money away!" Nami waved a piece of paper in the air furiously. "Get the hell down here and pay back your debt!"
Luffy goggled at his friend, an amazed look on his face. "Zoro, you have money?"
"No!" Zoro denied emphatically. Then a guilty look crossed his face. "Actually, I'm not sure. Carrying around a lot of cash was a pain, so I used to just hang on to what I needed for my expenses that month and send the rest to my old sensei. I think he may have invested it for me."
"Invested it?" Luffy pointed an accusing finger. "ZORO! You're RICH!"
"Not if Nami gets involved, I won't be," Zoro muttered. "Now shush."
"ZOROOOOOO!" There were ominous climbing noises approaching. "You rat! You liar! You... you THIEF!"
"She's coming up here," Luffy observed.
Zoro sighed and stood up, accepting the inevitable. "Want to go for a swim?"
"I can't swim."
"Want to go for a jump, followed by me holding you up in the water until Nami cools off?"
Luffy shot him a bright-eyed look and bounced to his toes. "Okay."
"ZORO! DON'T YOU DARE TRY AND RUN!!"
They just made it.
it or not, this entire fic evolved out of musings regarding the
phone-snail system in One Piece. I started off thinking about how the
current system worked, who was likely to have them, and whether or not
there would be a mail system as well, considering that there are
newspapers, and then it just grew from then on. I was going to explain
my theories in the fic, but decided in the end that it was just slowing
down the action and left them out for the most part. The remainder of
the fic came from yet another theory I have about Zoro's past. Although
I doubt I'm anywhere near the truth, it's fun to speculate. :-)
Regarding the dating system used in the "reports", as I was unable to find any references to dates in the actual manga or anime, I just made it all up. :-) I did steal Oda-sensei's habit of using theme names for the places listed (Moa, Kiwi, and Takahe are all flightless New Zealand birds, although the Moa is extinct), and used the Maori transliterated names of English months for the months (Hanuere = January etc).
Anyway, hope you enjoyed it. Comments and criticism are welcome, as always.