Zoro has been lost for about five days now, or so he thinks. It’s hard to tell when the sun is high and the winds keep changing with the tide. Time melds together out on the waves, and everyone knows the sea is a cruel mistress.
Many love her.
Few can say she loves them back.
(And even then, they are often lost to the sway of the tides.)
Once he realizes he no longer knows the time or the place, he gives up keeping count of the times the sun has passed overhead, or the times the stars have winked at him in the night. He merely focuses on his growling stomach and broken swords, and tries to keep Wado sharp as all she is used for is a kind of spear fishing.
He’s thirsty, but he won’t die out here.
Not in this desert full of saltwater.
(Zoro’s smart, but in the kind of way that doesn’t get you killed. He knows how to survive, even if he doesn’t know how to live, so he will get through this.)
He has a promise to keep.
(His thoughts, like time in an hourglass, are melding and slipping together. He’s tired. Men were not made to be in the seas embrace without company this long. It’s dangerous.
Those that were made for this suffering isolation aren’t really men at all, and Zoro may be more than mortal but he is not of the sea. He is not meant for blue solitude.)
He won’t die.
His head turns slowly to the front of his small, small dinghy.
Zoro doesn’t think that was a normal wave. Was it?
Was he hallucinating?
(Kuina had told him to quit his moaning yesterday…)
Fine. He’ll get up.
Zoro pushes himself up from his relaxed (half dead) position and, using the sides of the boat and Wadi Ichimonji, crawls his way to the front of the boat.
The sea is calmer than it has been, but his actions still tilt the boat from left to right. He doesn’t trust it, but he doesn’t capsize, which is enough for him.
Oh. He was definitely hallucinating if he was hearing laughter out at sea.
(Has he heard it before?)
Eh. He was already up. Might as well look.
Zoro’s earrings chime in his ear as he looks over the side of the boat, to deep, dark blue waters and small, foamy waves and…
And… to where…
A human- like face, smiling, sharp fanged and brilliant, stares back.
There’s a face in the water. After Zoro didn’t stumble backwards, he had gone back for another look, and there it was again, smiling and scaled.
(There’s a scar under this mysterious person’s eye, sloping like ocean waves, and black hair drifting about their face. Handsome, in a youthful, drowning kind of way, but scales drift across their face and their eyes are so wide, so they cannot possibly be human.
Perhaps they were, once. Just not now.)
A hand, sharp tipped and surprisingly not webbed (or was it? it might have changed -), had sunk its hands into the soft wood of the dinghy. Something silver and sunset scaled and long had been making soft waves, something else spinning about the creature’s waist.
Whatever the creature was, it wasn’t leaving. Just pulling Zoro along with the ocean currents.
They haven’t spoken to him. Not at all, unless one counts the laughter.
Usually, his hallucinations yell at him, or at least Kuina does.
Zoro’s trembling and weak from hunger, and doesn’t know what he’ll do if this thing is real and attacks him.
But honestly? Honestly, as the day wears on and the sun starts to set and his eyes adjust to the darkness instead of the blinding light – Zoro finds he is starting to not care.
It’s something different.
Something that is not monotonous ocean spray and hunger.
Zoro moves to the front of the boat instead of the back, and casually lays his head down at the bow, face looking towards the sky.
“Hey,” He says, to nothing at all, expecting splashing in return.
SHISHISHI! He gets in response, accompanied with a giant splash of water on his head.
“WHAT THE FUCK!” He shouts, and turns to his right, and there, grinning, is the face from the waters.
They’re leaning towards him, entire torso pulled out of the water, eyes bright and close in the dimming light, and they are smiling.
It’s like their face is fixed into it – that grinning D shaped smile. Frozen in a smile for eternity.
The creature pauses there, indescribable eyes glinting at Zoro as he slowly settles down in the dinghy when it is clear the creature isn’t doing anything.
Well, I did speak to them, is all Zoro thinks as he stares back.
The world seems to hang still in that moment, and Zoro can’t help but think that if this were any other creature, he would be terrified right now. Paralyzed.
(Or angry, slashing, in the way that his terror manifests – in demonic rage and sword.)
And he is, but in the same way he knows the darkness in his chest and the gleam of Wado’s blade despite the red covering her. It’s a familiar terror, one that he knows he can grasp in his hand or mouth or soul and conquer.
Zoro moves once more, and determines that he will never flinch again.
“Hey,” He slowly repeats, shifting upright in the dinghy.
The creature slides down in response, until their head is resting on crossed arms, settling on the rim of the dinghy. The dinghy lilts dangerously to the side but with a quick balancing act, Zoro slides to the other side and manages not to get dropped in the ocean.
Shishishi! the creature says, and it’s a hey, back to Zoro.
“Do you… want something?” He asks cautiously.
Nah! You gave me food, so I’m just bringing you to the Away Place!
To the shore! Its away.
“Ah. Wait – when did I give you – actually, never mind. So, you know how to get there?”
Shishishi! The creature’s grin widens if that’s physically possible and they laugh. Yeah! I think!
Zoro gives a nod and relaxes then in the center of the dinghy. The creature, sensing Zoro’s tiredness, if not the way the sun is now almost fully below the horizon, turns back to the front of the dinghy and slips into the water. A hand grips the front of the dinghy, rocking it a bit, but Zoro finds it soothing.
A lullaby by the water, rocked by a creature of the sea…
Sleep takes him fiercer than it has any other day on this voyage, and he does not spare a thought to think that possibly, possibly it could be because this sea creature makes him feel safe.
Zoro wakes to a hand shoving at his shoulder and the lack of rocking waves beneath his back.
He opens his eyes and oh – it’s the creature, again.
Damn, he needs a better name than creature.
Shishishi! We’re here! The away place!
“Land,” Zoro says, absentmindedly, and looks around the white sandy beaches.
Finally, he thinks, jumping out of the dinghy to bury his feet in the sand.
It’s hot, but it’s land.
Huh. He wiggles his toes, feeling sand slip between the cracks. He lost his shoes at some point. And its day time – midday really. How long did he sleep?
He makes sure Wado is secure by his side, checks the shattered pieces of the other, unnamed blades to see if they are salvageable, then turns inland.
Zoro turns around, kicking up sand and letting it stick to his wet, salty skin. Damn. He needs a shower. But first…
“You going to be good here?” He asks the gentle waves.
Shishishi! Yeah! The creature splashes whatever they have for a lower body beneath the water, a grin adorning their face still. (Their teeth are sharper, now, Zoro thinks.) They slide slowly back down into the waves till they are near completely submerged. Their bright eyes hairs, sea crusted and inky, float above the water, the ocean wave scar beneath their cheek splashing above the waterline.
Hidden, unless you were looking for them.
“Alright then. Be back soon.”
And with that, Zoro goes in search of booze and maybe food under the blazing sun of a strange island.
It is walking to some sort of civilization that Zoro realizes the creature did not actually speak – that their mouth, shaped in that sharp toothed smile, never moved, never changed, never spoke.
Zoro just knew, in the same way he heard Wado sing when he dueled, what the creature was saying.
He thinks he should be more worried about this.
Huh, Zoro thinks, and wonders if the creature has a name.
Then he realizes that the creature is also waiting for him back at the dinghy, even though they don’t have to, and also that the creature probably ate his boots and the scraps of bone and fish heads Zoro wasn’t able to eat and tossed overboard in his journey on the dinghy.
He’s so lost in thought that he barely registers knocking into the signpost for the island town’s tavern and blacking out either to dehydration, starvation, or the hit to the head.
It’s probably all three, to be honest.
Zoro was called a Sea Child once. He’s sure he still is back home, with the way Koushirou and the others watched his back as he set out in his boat.
Lost boy, they, the old ladies in the village, said in pitying tones, as he wandered around the island, he keeps looking for the sea.
The sea calls him, they would say, ushering Zoro away from the shore, we can’t let him close, not yet.
It’s why he can’t make sense of the land, they say, worrying over Zoro coming back with broken teeth and moss in his hair, he belongs to Her. The Sea.
Zoro knew it was bullshit. Is still bullshit, really.
(He doesn’t mention how ever since he was nine, every time he has gotten lost he has ended up by the shore, answering some unknown siren call.
It sounded like a laugh in his mind, sometimes.)
He’s no Sea Child. He’s heard the stories.
Sea Child, lost child, dancing by the waves…
The kids who go out to the shore and never come back, the women who sing to the sea and hear its call, the men who die at sea and smile in the ocean’s embrace.
There were people who didn’t belong to the land. Whose hearts were the Ocean’s from the second they breath the sea salt air.
Zoro belongs to nothing but the destiny he creates.
Sea child, siren woman, singing to the waters…
Suspicious, though, the way the stories never mention what happens to the Sea Children after they embrace the sea. What is like, to become one with the ocean? What is it like, after a not quite death?
Questioning this, Zoro finds he does not care – for answers or for gods, whatever the choice.
He was here now, a sword in hand. His dream is what truly matters, not the sea or the voice of the wind.
Sea child, fishing man, heading to the depths…
He’s not a Sea Child, no matter what the old ladies say, or the way he ends up by the water and feels less lonely or the way the sea is a comfort.
(As he sets out to sea for the first time and doesn’t feel the urge to jump in the ocean, he worries that something greater has its control over him.
After all, how can he explain the laughter of the sea breeze?)
Sea child, Sea Child, Sea Child lost…
The old lady he wakes up to is pretty nice, despite all her ramblings about him being sea-shook and the strange tides in the bay.
She gives him a bit of money for the bar and sends him on his way, so in thanks he drinks out the bar and eats half the food without spending a penny. A sword with the intent to use it will get you that kind of reputation.
He does, however, bring a bit of pie back to the lady’s house next to the bar.
The actual coins he trades for two steel blades that should hold up to all the bastards in the East. Its good enough till he can get his hands on some real blades.
He’ll need them, if he wants to be able to stand up against Mihawk and his Great Blade Yoru.
(Zoro is perfecting the three-sword style for a reason after all.)
He’s now walking back to the shore, belly sated and a pleasant buzz in his head, with a bag of meat over his shoulder. The old lady also made him take some water jugs with him, complaining about how dehydrated he was, so that’s on a rope over his other shoulder as well.
The sound of splashing and laughter reaches his ears as he draws closer to the shore, a Shishishi! ringing out amongst growls.
It all sounds happy. Still, Zoro quickens his pace and for once, meets his destination on the first try.
(Like a compass, like a Sea Child, he can always find his way to the shore, but it’s not the shore he’s drawn to, not at all.
It’s the horizon.
(It’s the laughter))
He arrives at the waves to a strange sight.
A sea king, golden scaled and small, playing with the creature a little way out in the bay. Both of them are splashing, looking so out of place amidst the calm waters. It’s almost funny, in a way. The creature is practically dwarfed by the sea king – who looks oddly puppy like – yet the sea king seems to defer to them as the bigger, stronger creature.
Then again, Zoro has no idea what half the creature looks like, so they may actually be longer than the sea king under the waves.
Shishishi! The creature seems to call out, laughter echoing across the ways and lilting in time with the waves, Shishishi!
Zoro can’t hear the sea king, but he assumes by the way the creature’s smile seems slightly wider that it is laughing in turn.
He walks closer to the shore, where his dinghy is still digging into the shore, and slings the food off his shoulder.
“Hey!” He calls, hand casually resting on his swords to keep them above the waves. “You! I brought meat!”
MEAT! The creature shouts, face still never changing, and they leave the sea king in a second to come barreling on to shore.
Literally, actually. They nearly miss Zoro, slamming head and shoulders first into the sand in their haste to reach the food in the bag.
“Hey! Chill out! I don’t want any, it’s all for you, dumbass.” Zoro maybe should not have called the sharp toothed sea creature a dumbass but if they haven’t eaten him now they won’t later.
(They never would in the first place, really.)
The sea creature takes it in stride anyway with that laugh again. Shishishi!
Zoro spares a smile, and tosses one big piece of meat to the sea king out in the waves. Hopefully that will stop the kicked puppy look it’s giving him.
It’s peaceful, for a moment, as Zoro settles into the sand. He didn’t get a shower at the village, but this is nowhere near the longest time he’s gone without, so he’s pretty sure he’s okay. He’s not dead at least, and now that he’s dry the sand doesn’t stick to his clothes, only to the feet still buried in the waves.
The creature shuffles for a moment, and pulls themself up out of the water almost entirely – all in order to drag the bag of meat even closer to them.
The shine of scales almost blinds Zoro, and he has to blink a few times to truly look at this creature.
Their torso is shorter than he’d thought, bare and toned in the light with scales the color of fire and silver drifting up from the back. (And drifting, drifting, scales never in the same place for more than a moment.) A fin, vibrant and color shifting, sits folded upon their back and is disappearing into their skin the longer Zoro looks. Clawed web hands, dripping with salt water and red juices, retract into tanning, brown skin – the claw tips remaining, sharp and deadly.
A tail, long, slender, and powerful drifts from the creature’s body and out into the waves, melding into the waves as they crash over them.
Zoro spares a thought to think mermaid? Before realizing what ever this creature is it is more than myth or legend, or the very real people from under the sea.
It’s in the danger, this creature should be emanating, their tail is spiked and deadly, barbed, beautiful fins fading into the sand and waves in colors of the sun. It is nothing sweet or calm or safe – just fatal shine, drifting out to the waves.
(Every time Zoro blinks, it is as if the color of the scales has shifted – like the sea, ever changing, ever more dangerous, dark as ocean deep or green as tropic waves in the same moments.)
Yet – his eyes flash three times and there is no tail, just two legs, covered by shorts and a sash, torn, like from some sunken sailor.
A mirage – a hallucination, still? – but nothing is right about this creature.
Zoro can’t make sense of it all. Everything changes –
Except for that smile and that ocean sloped scar.
Even as the creature devours the food and opens their maw bigger than thought possible, it is still in the shape of that smile.
(Zoro wonders why.)
Saltwater drips off limbs and makes little splats into dry sand, marking where fins were and weren’t. The creature shakes their head and more water flies, hitting Zoro in the face yet – in the same motion, something more obvious, more important, more constant that the smile and ocean scar.
A straw hat, as glowing as a crown, draped across their back with a ribbon like blood wrapped around it.
(So human and alive, unlike everything else about them. This hat was not pulled from a drowning man. This hat was pulled from a dream on fire.)
The creature pauses for a second, as if sensing Zoro’s unwavering stare.
Their head drifts to look at Zoro, slow, the sun highlighting the points of their face and the wave of their hair. In an instant, they make eye-contact with Zoro, and it is as if the breath is pulled out of him by a siren.
He’s seen their eyes of course, before, in the moments the face smiled at him from the waters.
Just not like this.
This creature –
(Webbed hands drifting between human and sea, a smile like ocean depths and fear-)
This sea creature –
(Have you heard the tales? Of those that belong to the sea and no one else? Of those that hear the legends of the waves and know that they are real, like death and life?)
Isn’t a sea creature, not entirely, no -
(Zoro was called lost to the waves, once.)
They’re a Sea Child.
(And Zoro is lost to their pull – to their human-not-human body and ocean soul.)
He’s never quite wondered before, what Sea Children look like.
All that ever has come to mind is people with lost faces setting out to sea. Not what came after. Not what it looks like when the Ocean claims you.
(Koushirou, with a firm line to his lip, had mentioned the Drowned once. Bloated bodies of dead men and women and children – dead bodies of sailors swallowed up by the sea, that still reach up towards the light.
Run, he had said, if you see them.
Koushirou didn’t believe in legends, but he had an old boat from a distant country by the shore. There were scratches in hull made by gouging hands.
They weren’t Sea Children, not even close, but the stories said they were Claimed.
When a dead body from the sea washed up on the shores one day, Zoro had wondered if that was the fate of Sea Children.)
Now, he knows.
This Sea Child changes with the flow and ebb of the waves. A human drowned alive and still breathing, still loving, still dancing with the tide. Saltwater veins and coral eyes, skin breaking apart in scales and the way of tides.
The Ocean born again – that is what a Sea Child is. A child born to land of the waters.
Zoro will never forget the Ocean’s claim – not now.
Shishishi! The Sea Child laughs, scales drifting across their face like sundrops on waves. You see now!
“Yeah…” Zoro says, and passes the sea king another stick of meat. “I see. The Ocean nice?”
The best! The Sea Child wiggles further up on the beach, tail seemingly gone leaving them to dig bare feet into the wet sand. You should listen to her sometimes.
“No thanks,” Zoro says to the Sea Child, and lays back on the shore. With four limbs, the Sea Child seems only a little younger than him, a little shorter, but power comes in waves off of them, like the shore in a storm.
Zoro shakes his head, and tries to distract himself from the thoughts of ocean, ocean, ocean – if he’s not careful, he’ll be wrapped in her sway eventually. He’s already wrapped in this Sea Child’s sway, if he can hear their voice.
The Sea Child chomps on the bone in their hands and swallows it whole with an odd slurping noise. Zoro raises an eyebrow, and is met with that laugh - Shishishi! - again.
(He’s gotten used to it, like he’s used to the chime of earrings in his ear and the swish of a sword. Constant, natural, and loved.)
Belatedly, he realizes he still hasn’t gotten the name of this Sea Child. Names are important, especially those of those lost to the sea, if they still remember them. It is better than calling them Sea Child forever, at least.
Well, it’s polite to introduce yourself first, isn’t it?
“Hey. My name’s Roronoa Zoro. I’m going to be the World’s greatest swordsman.”
(His name will echo across the heavens, but even children know that the sea only hears the will of men.
After all – what is a name, to a dream?)
The Sea Child stares at him, grin ever wider, and does not laugh. Instead, they reach behind their back and pull the straw hat up upon their head.
(How? Zoro wants to ask but it doesn’t even matter, does it?)
My name is Monkey D. Luffy! they say, loud and victorious and sure, and I’m the man who will be KING OF THE PIRATES!
The way he says it is like a promise and the way the unsaid words echo across the world is like a golden bell.
Zoro looks at this Sea Child who will be king, and feels something settle in his chest.
(This is the call of the sea – to dreams, to life, to adventure, to crew. Nothing less is equal, and nothing more is greater. It simply is, and it is a call that sings in every heart and every soul.
This is call of the sea.
And it will not be ignored any longer.)
“A pirate, huh?” Zoro’s own smile turns feral. “Where’s your crew?”
Shishishi! You’re the first! Luffy’s smile is kind but his eyes look into Zoro’s and take.
Zoro has no objection.
He stands, hand steady on his blades, and lets the wind chime through his earrings. “Then know this, Pirate King. If you ever stand in the way of my dreams, I will cut you open and leave you to the earth.”
He knows it won’t happen. The sea does not stand in the way of the dreams of the strong, and Luffy is the sea, or a small portion of it.
Still, Luffy does not falter.
Shishishi! He says, a Fine with me! Ringing loud in Zoro’s head. The Pirate King should have the world’s greatest swordsman by his side.
He stands to face Zoro head on, and he’s smaller than Zoro but his presence is just like the sea. Bright, giant, and everything. He reaches out a hand and Zoro clasps it in his own.
A crew of two, formed in an instant.
(It’s how legends start, anyway.
What’d’ya say to turning the world upside down with me?)
The sun shines brighter, the sea splashes higher, and the sea king lets out a victorious howl.
When Zoro lets go of Luffy’s hand, he knows he’s found his place.
“So,” he says, as Luffy turns back to the sea they will soon conquer, “Where to now, Pirate King?”
Where else? To the Grand Line! To Adventure! Shishishi!
Luffy steps forward into the sea then, laughing and changing all at once, and Zoro has no choice but to follow the man who will be king.
He climbs in the dinghy, slinging the water and remnants of food into the bottom, and shoves off into the water. Luffy grips the edge of the dinghy and drags Zoro forward, other hand gripping the edge of the sea king’s fur.
Starving, Zoro did not think he would end up being pulled by a Sea Child and a sea king into the unknown, but now…
Now, Zoro looks to the sun and dreams of victory.
(Zoro is not a Sea Child. He does not belong to the waves and he does not answer the Ocean’s call. He belongs to Luffy, and the cry of the king is the only one he will bow too.
It’s the way of the world, after all.)
“The sea’s happy today, isn’t it Makino?”
“Aye, captain…. I think Luffy might be happy today.”
(A tear trails down a cheek, not hidden by a straw hat.)
“Perhaps he found his dream, aye?”
(The sea splashes at the feet along the beach, as a pirate’s memorial is held for a boy who never set out to sea.
For Luffy, the small jolly roger on the beach seems to say, for the King.)