When Luffy is afflicted with a genius intellect after an adventure, the crew start to wonder if he's still the captain they know at all. Gen. Challenge fic.
SUMMARY: When Luffy is afflicted with a genius intellect after an adventure, the crew start to wonder if he's still the captain they know at all.
LENGTH: 6000 words approx
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, no profit, yadda yadda yadda.
NOTES: Challenge fic for the op_fanforall anonymous meme on livejournal, written to the prompt "One of the Straw Hats have a complete personality change due to strange fruit, pollen, or drugs, whatever you can think of."
Luffy The Genius
When they finally find him and pull him out of the machine, Franky's big hands slamming at buttons on the control panels and Usopp panicking about the readings on the dials, it's obvious to everyone that he's already been in there too long to escape whatever its intended effects.
Luffy sags in Brook's grip while Nami and Chopper check over his limp body for injuries. Nami's fingers brush back the dark bangs at his temples to reveal circular marks left by the machine, each of them made up of myriad red pinpricks where the needles entered his brain.
"Luffy..." Nami turns his head to face her, brushing drool from his chin with her sleeve and barely even wincing. "Luffy, can you hear me?"
Chopper peels back an eyelid and freaks out when he finds nothing but white.
There is an awful lot of noise outside, which is easily explained by the knowledge that Zoro, Sanji and Robin are there. A moment later, Sanji bursts into the room with the clash of metal against metal and the shrieks of men on the wrong end of Robin's 'clutch' at his back, yelling, "We have to go! Now!"
Oblivious to Nami and Chopper's cries, Brook tucks Luffy hastily under one arm and charges out of the door after Sanji, leaving the others no choice but to follow. It's not the smoothest escape in the Strawhats' long record, with a dozen wrong turns leading to tedious exercises of backtracking through featurelessly alike corridors. They cause variable amounts of damage to the white-coated scientists they run into on the way, depending which crewmember gets to him or her first.
That's until they reach the obstacle of a vast, solid door with one of those number panels the scientists like so much on it. Zoro's swords just strike sparks off the unknown metal, Sanji ends up hopping around clutching his foot, and Franky almost blows them all up with the backlash. Usopp stares helplessly at the lock and shakes his head.
"Should we try random numbers?" Nami hesitates with her fingers poised above the keypad, and Luffy mumbles something against Brook's ribs.
Since nobody even realised Luffy was conscious and thus visibly not brain-dead, the stir this causes leaves the door happily forgotten for a while. But even as he struggles in Brook's grip and is let down onto the floor, his eyes are only half focused and it's clear he won't be able to stand unaided. He shakes off their attempts to help and crawls closer to the door, eyes blinking and trying to focus on the keypad.
Jerkily, haltingly, the numbers spill from his mouth. "Six... one... three... eight... five..." A long pause. "Six again... I think... four... seven..." His head jerks on his neck and his eyes scrunch closed. His hands claw at his head like it hurts. But the door clicks open.
"What the hell--?" Zoro begins, and Sanji looses a long string of soft curses beneath his breath.
"How did he do that?" Usopp quavers. "Did that thing give him psychic powers?"
"Not psychic," Luffy mumbles. "S'easy to work out... just look at the way the numbers've worn down..."
They stare at the keypad and stare at Luffy. Nobody's sure how many minutes tick by before Nami finally comes back to her senses and yells at everyone to get on with escaping.
On the World Government's science islands, they were told amid the gleeful chuckling of the head whitecoat, pirates that unknowingly reach those shores become fair game for experimentation. They all had wondered what kind of experiment might make that crazy scientist rub his hands together quite so keenly and hail Luffy as an ideal subject. Now they knew.
"Brain-enhancement," Robin echoes tiredly. She has a scrape on her arm that is being treated, but there really isn't any crewmember who hasn't been practically resident in Chopper's little infirmary aboard the Sunny the past hour, despite the need for everyone to focus upon getting them far away from the island.
On the narrow surgical bed, the captain lies still on his back, stares up at the ceiling and occasionally blinks.
"It's the only explanation," Chopper whispers. He doesn't know why he's whispering. Luffy hasn't reacted to any noise in any way, no matter how loud, no matter if it's his name or a yell of "Meat!", since the adrenaline of their escape wore off. Chopper doubts it was the mild sedative and analgesia he administered. Before that, he'd continued making those same kinds of impossible observations to facilitate getting them all out of that place, gradually trailing into less coherent mumblings until, finally, the current silence. "How else could he have really figured out all of those things?"
It is, nonetheless, the opinion of nearly every member of the crew that it would be easier to absorb the news that the captain is now psychic than smart. Let alone genius-level smart.
What they don't yet know is how permanent this change might be, or how much other damage might have been done along with it. Because if the World Government really had working and reliable machines that could make people into geniuses, every common marine would have an IQ of 200 and there'd be no point even considering a life of piracy.
Her arm cleaned and bandaged, Robin stands over Luffy and waves her hand back and forth in front of his face, intently watching his lack of reaction. "It this catatonia?" she wonders aloud.
Chopper, in heavy point, grasps Luffy under the arms and sits him up. His eyes blink, but their focus, or lack of, doesn't alter. "Luffy." The big furry hands shake him gently. "Luffy." He remains just as unresponsive. Chopper gives up and carefully lays him down again.
"I think -- I hope--" He clears his throat, and begins again. "Luffy's always been... fairly simple and direct in his thought processes..."
Robin nods. Anyone else among the crew might've had something to add to that, but she has never found any fault with Luffy's refreshing simpleness of mind.
"Well... now he can calculate what order numbers on a keypad have been punched based wholly on the angle and degree of the wear..." Chopper grimaces, and Robin nods again, understanding.
"The world must look very different, all of a sudden."
"I think," the reindeer doctor adds, "That even if nothing went wrong in the experiment itself..." And he hopes with all his heart that nothing went wrong, for there has to be a reason they chose to use that machine on unwilling subjects. "...I think it's going to take quite some period of adjustment."
They take turns of Luffy guard duty in the infirmary to ensure there's always someone watching over him and ready to call Chopper should he show any indication of normal consciousness or distress. Though it's Chopper himself who does the bulk of this, of course, it's impossible for him to be there all the time. Over the next two days little changes. They can guide him to eat, or take him to the bathroom, but he shows no sign of acting of his own accord.
Luffy with no interest in eating is so alien it's terrifying, in a way.
Nami, who has herself these few days been eating somewhat less than usual, her face strained and complexion pale with worry, is the one who finally falls asleep while watching over him and wakes up to find Luffy practically drowning in a sea of medical tomes pulled off the shelves and onto the infirmary floor.
"Luffy?" Her chair tips in shock and almost falls. She catches herself just in time, stumbling and setting the chair to rights, then drops to her knees at Luffy's side and pulls at his shoulders with her hands.
She expects the same blank gaze, and is caught by surprise when he turns quite naturally and looks directly at her.
His eyes are bright with an unaccustomed alert intelligence, daubed with dark smudges underneath -- because, while he hasn't moved of his own accord for two days, none of them have seen him sleeping either. He catches her wrist, and his expression flickers through a speedy mixture of thoughtfulness, calculation, and amusement as though the processes of a minute are condensed to a few seconds. Then he reads out her pulse and (accurately) tells her the last time she properly slept, which it's no coincidence was before the science island, before all of this began.
"I've been worried," she tells him. She looks down at the books. Five of them are open. Is he reading them all at once? She reclaims her hand. She can smell his scent, too strong -- Chopper was going to try giving him a bath today -- and his arms and legs look thinner and paler than she can ever remember, and from the way he's sprawled she's not entirely convinced that he could get up and walk, or even crawl, if he tried. "I'm still worried. Do you know what happened?"
"I know." He heaves himself up to sitting, crosses his legs and wraps his hands around his ankles. "I remember the machine."
"It's been as though you weren't at home in your own head." Hesitantly, she knocks on his forehead with her fist. The red marks of three days ago are now circles of pinprick white scars, though she's never before seen Luffy's rubber skin take a scar. But maybe those will fade too. "Are you back now? Or will you disappear inside there again if I go to fetch Chopper?"
He pauses, and for a moment she thinks he has reverted back. Then; "Don't go, Nami. I don't think that there's anything to worry about now." He speaks as though it's not just a reassurance, but something he's given serious thought. "I want you to stay. I want to talk."
"About what?" She wants Chopper here. Luffy's never looked at her that intently before; like she could say anything to him, and wouldn't then have to break out the flashcards and single-syllable words to explain it. This is all too weird.
He lifts up an open book. "These." His fingers grasp the thick wad of pages hard enough to leave indents, his knuckles white. "I never understood these before, with so many words. I mean, I understood the words. In little groups. If they weren't too long. But it was always so hard to try and follow so many of them all together, and I never knew why anyone would want to read them, all-after-one-another like that. But now... Nami, I read this while you were sleeping, and there are so many things about the human body I never knew! Why didn't I want to find those things out before? How many other cool things are there that I don't know?"
"You like books, now?" She laughs, and inside, struggles with the revelation. Luffy likes books. Is this still Luffy, as they know Luffy, if he acts so little like him?
"Don't worry, Nami," the clever stranger tells her, finger delving in to the oft-explored depths of his left nostril. "It's still me. And now that I can, I want to know everything -- everything in the world that I've missed!"
But she's unsettled. She thinks that that, just now, was an act of calculation... She doesn't know what she thinks.
It's no small leap to get used to a captain who's suddenly smarter than any of them. Luffy is no less insatiably curious than he always was without the intellect to understand all the finer details of every shiny thing that catches his eye. By the time they reach the next island, which is only another three more days, Luffy has read every book on the ship. This includes some belonging to Robin that Sanji turned a funny colour at the sight of, a bunch of weepy romance melodramas courtesy of Franky, and a weighty volume on the history of the katana from Zoro.
Carried away on the rush of his new intellect, at first he doesn't talk much except for the times someone catches him at the right moment, when he's so enthusiastic about a new nugget of knowledge that it's hard to get him to shut up. He remembers to eat mostly just when Sanji puts food in front of him. A couple of times, he's been seen slinking off to sleep for a few hours, but seldom for very long or at the same time as everyone else. It's as though there isn't enough time in the world for him now.
It is, they all agree, intensely disturbing.
The machine appears to have had a few other side effects not a possible manifestation of his increased intellect, which Chopper angrily declares as almost inevitable once you start playing with people's brains. His balance and motor functions seem screwy, and sometimes he'll lurch to one side for no reason at all, or his legs will fold underneath him without warning. His headaches, while they might be the result of obsessive reading and lack of sleep, are still focused in the spots at his temples where the needle marks remain.
He still occasionally blanks out and stares at nothing, and when those episodes are over he cannot tell them why. Chopper is convinced that this is actually a feature of his heightened brain, rather than a side effect.
"I think it's overloading him," he confides to the others. "He's processes too much information now. He... thinks too much."
The problems of having a captain who frequently just falls over, or stops, are obvious to all. Except the captain himself, as evidenced by Luffy's disinterest in applying his new intellect to helping Chopper with the problem. He just grins and shakes his head and says he's fine... and they can't read the odd look behind his eyes as he turns away.
But as they watch him stumble and catch himself, as they watch him scribble messy numbers across sheets of cartography paper for some project of mystery, it seems he's happy enough this way as the other. It's oddly like he'd consider it a fair exchange. Like he doesn't even want to be cured at all.
He's harder to talk to than he used to be. Franky suggests it a question of his balance being thrown off in more ways than one: He has no experience of interacting with people at his current level of intellect. He'll have to readjust before he has any chance of coming across as natural and normal.
Franky is a people person, a friendly guy. He's not afraid to confront the conversationally inept.
"I get it," he says, walking beside Luffy as they head off-ship and onto unfamiliar shores -- their expedition of import, a book-hunt, Robin and Chopper inevitably a few pages behind. "I do. Hey, you've suddenly got the biggest, freaking-awesomest piece of new machinery locked up in that skull, but the toolkit and instruction manual... let's face it, they're pretty basic, Strawhat never being any sort of a guy for the formal schooling and all."
Luffy blinks, pauses mid-step, and Franky has to grab for him to stop the inexplicable sideways keel. He says, as though nothing happened, "I'm still Strawhat."
Another beat, during which Luffy starts putting one foot in front of the other normally again. "I know - Luffy. Point is, you need the toolkit, right? It'd frustrate all heck outta me to have some sweet piece of gear and only a scatter of the stuff required to use it." Franky cautiously lets go, and pats the captain lightly on the shoulder for good measure. "And we all know you're still you. It's just... hard to remember, sometimes, that you're still you."
"Okay." Luffy turns his head away. "I'd really like some books on mathematics."
Franky isn't too sure how to take that one. He has the suspicion there are a dozen smart-ass and just damn straight smart replies floating in the ether that Luffy, for whatever reason, has decided he's not going to voice.
There's a wad of 500 berri notes clutched in Luffy's hand, and Franky can't even begin to imagine how he talked that much money out of Nami, a feat that's monstrous enough task even when the ship's falling apart on him or the cook's got an empty store.
And Franky doesn't want it to be this way, and he doesn't want to think it, but... it is like it's a stranger walking next to him. Yeah.
Chopper's conclusions are that he wouldn't dare try to change the alterations to the captain's brain even if Luffy wanted him to.
Luffy's reaction is more a non-reaction. When he runs out of books again he starts on people.
He learns navigation from Nami. He still can't create anything but a mess when he's let loose with pencil and paper, but within hours he can read the maps as though he's been doing so his whole life. He's interested in numbers, as if the whole world is made up of equations for him now, casual estimates of area and wind speed rolling off his tongue as mid-conversational non-sequiturs as he calculates the everyday.
He talks history with Robin. In this, it turns out, there's a lot to be said for subconscious learning, for though his schooling has been minimal and mostly synonymous with the terrors of "grandpa", the fragments of knowledge picked up over a normal lifetime come back to him now and form a coherent whole he's simply never tried to look at that way before. She starts teaching him the one thing only she can -- the language of the poneglyphs.
Chopper's medical books were the first thing he put into his new brain, and he picks Chopper's brain now for all the pieces he can't learn from books, though he won't be performing any surgeries anytime soon. The side effects of the machine have made him, if anything, more clumsy.
So neither does he have a sword in his hand when Zoro teaches him the basics of swordsmanship, but he still learns how to read his opponent's moves, learns the names of each stroke, and what he might do if he wasn't made as much of thumbs as of rubber. Zoro attempts, with less success, to teach him meditation to calm his overactive brain, but it seems that's one intellectual exercise he can't pick up. Clearing his mind, at the moment, is very much the problem.
He lurks around the kitchen for entirely different reasons from the normal. Between the additional irony of Sanji trying to urge food upon him, the chef tells him secrets of cooking and the correct mix of ingredients and spices just so. Though Sanji also makes clear that, should he ever find Luffy using his spices and ingredients, the response will be a swift, hard kick over the side of the ship.
Brook teaches him to read music, for all that his hands fumble discordantly if he tries to play. More, he teaches him to really listen to music, and there, in small part, it seems he succeeds where Zoro failed, lulling Luffy into relaxation as the sweet strains play over him. But then, the captain has always loved music. Brook is left carrying his sleeping form to bed in skeletal arms, and for whatever reason, Luffy seems to take pains to avoid him after that.
Franky shows him the workings of the ship, how the design fits together, even occasionally meandering into how cybernetic parts can meld with flesh. He details for the captain every inch of the Thousand Sunny, even the maintenance spaces below deck where none but Franky and rarely Usopp are ever allowed to go.
Usopp... has storybooks, and chemicals, and tricks, and knows things both more fun than everyone else and somehow less fun than they used to be.
When the sniper launches off into an epic tale and Luffy blinks back at his friend in puzzlement and says, with utter confusion, "But you're lying," they both know that, with everything he's gained, something important has also been lost.
The first battle since Luffy's transformation is an event they've all been dreading, and Luffy of course loses motor control mid-combat, and of course he ends up trussed hand and foot and in the clutches of the bemused marine captain, who yells threats and terms across between their ships in a vaguely confused manner while Luffy tries to discuss two hundred year old seafaring poetry, the storm the marines have recently weathered, and the relative competence of the shipwright who worked on their vessel.
When the marine captain kicks Luffy in the gut and tells him to order his crew's surrender, Luffy sing-song shouts out a rhyming couplet and receives a matching kick in the head. Robin smiles and speaks quietly to Zoro. There is no surrender.
Instead, the next cannonball that flies over is deflected unerringly into the enemy ship's mast, which splinters low down, falls just so... and the vessel splits cleanly from bow to stern, in quite poetic fashion.
Brook races across the surface of the water to grab and untie Luffy before the pieces sink, and he's still excitably quoting 'The Wreck of the Mary Leah' as he rockets the two of them back to the Sunny.
There and then on the deck, Zoro addresses it, though Nami's stolid presence with arms folded and lips tight, at his back, makes it quite clear who is the driving force of the initiative. "We think it's a bad idea to keep fighting when you know your body's going to keep giving out."
Luffy regards him with those large eyes that aren't blank or innocent anymore, but uncannily sharp, seeing straight through you and missing nothing. "But I can," he says. "Because if my body fails, I can fight with my brain." He doodles mathematical equations on the deck, using his own blood from a sword cut. "If it fails and I fall in the sea, my nakama will save me." Just like always, hangs unspoken in the unconfrontational shine of his smile.
Zoro shrugs and gives up and Nami glares daggers of outrage his way, and Luffy adds slowly, "And I'm the captain, so it's my decision. It's not like we can be pirates and keep out of danger."
Robin starts to speak, then pauses. He's already seen it, though, and she already knows there is no point in not going on. "Do you still want to be a pirate, Luffy? Perhaps your own goals have changed? You have abilities and options now that you never used to have."
His mouth abruptly draws a long, thin line. He tugs at his hair with fingers clawed. Avoiding their gaze, he says finally, "No, I still want to be a pirate, Robin. Because this isn't going to last. And while I don't know how long I've got like this, I've always wanted to be a pirate, so if I change now, I'm only gonna be mad at myself later."
Nobody knows what to say to that. Because they're not sure if he knows it's not going to last or if that's just his ongoing, new fatalism. Because every one of them would rather the old Luffy back. Because none of them had yet thought of this transformation shaking the rock-like belief and unshakeable drive of his dreams.
"It's... not going to last?" Zoro frowns at him, startled. That it might not last is what all of them hardly dare hope, and Luffy voices it like a certainty now, for the first time, like it's no hope at all, but a fear that snaps relentlessly at his heels. At the question, he shakes his head and looks away.
Zoro bites his tongue on Why the hell didn't you mention this before? and glares around the others to ensure they do the same.
"That's good, right?" the swordsman presses cautiously, ducking down onto one knee to address the other on the same level, and trying to see an expression beneath the shadow of Luffy's hair. "Your balance would probably stop being so screwed up, and we could all get back to normal. Normal would be okay, wouldn't it? We were doing great just as we were, before all this business. And you still want to fight and do crazy stuff..." His voice trails off. Something is wrong with this picture.
He sees Luffy's teeth sink into his lower lip; sees the convulsive jerks of his head, side to side. "Zoro... I don't want to be stupid again. I want it to last a long time." He breaks off, and gets up, and wavers but doesn't fall back down. "I'm gonna go read." With that, he weaves across the deck and disappears below.
A moment later, Chopper breaks the silence with a squeak of dismay, picks up his medical bag and charges after the captain, demanding he allow him to deal with that cut before Luffy locks himself away.
He doesn't make it. An hour or so later, Sanji bangs on the cabin door, calls out, then leaves the food outside, and Chopper's still camped on the threshold.
Hours later than that, both are still there.
It comes to the end that Luffy predicted. He's been smart for fifteen days when he wakes up from a few hours of snatched sleep to find he's actually slept for /five whole hours/. Furious with himself for wasting so much time, he picks up the book he was reading before he dozed and finds it naught but gibberish to him now.
Frantic, he scrabbles through the rest of his curtailed activities. The most complex are beyond him already. The rest, he triages, and starting from the most complex of /those/, sets himself to finishing at once. Soon -- it seems like it's soon -- Sanji is banging on the door yelling at him about how long it's been since he last ate. He might've banged on the door a few times already. Others might have too. This attempt sounds more determined than the rest.
"Go away," Luffy says, and predictably the door flies inwards off its hinges and makes a new door-shaped hole in the opposite wall.
"Shitty captain..." Sanji drags him up by the scruff of the neck and plants a meat pie in his mouth, then clamps his jaw shut on it. "If you don't fucking eat, I'm gonna start force-feeding you."
Luffy is logistically unable to point out that he already is. He chews and swallows, and realises it's good, and how has he possibly been thinking these past weeks that knowledge is so much more important than food?
He runs that thought across his mind again and his heart sinks.
He slumps down to the floor as Sanji lets go, and as he does, it occurs to him that it's the first time he's done that today, and this more voluntary than those episodes he's got so used to.
The alteration -- the damage -- to his brain is starting to heal. He predicted it, and though he can't remember all of the details of what he theorised now, he remembers that it's because he's made of rubber, and because of D. -- what else was it, that he figured out about that initial? It eludes him now as though he'd never thought it at all -- and anyway, the cells are springing back into their recognised pattern and place, and so he has his powers to thank for the fact he'll go back to being just the way he always was.
In that moment, he hates being a devil fruit user with a fury he never has before.
"Luffy..." A hand touches his forehead and Sanji drops down next to him. "Shit. Look, I'm sorry about the pie. I know you're not interested in food right now, but you still have to eat. You know a lot about what being deprived of nutrients does to the human body, right? Everyone's worried." Sanji's other hand touches his shoulder, trying to draw his attention. He's so gruff, Luffy thinks, so gruff all the time that it's easy to forget that Sanji is kind.
He doesn't want to tell Sanji what's the matter, because he knows that whatever he says on the outside, Sanji's reaction on the inside will be "good", and that goes for all of them. They don't know how to deal with him like this, and he's known it from the start. They see how it's changed him and hate it and the scientists for that. They look at him strangely when he talks for not being the Luffy they remember. They don't see how he might have been happy this way, too.
All those things about the world he's never understood, the details too complex that eluded his simpler comprehension, always so far out of his reach. They're retreating once more now, further from him with every passing second.
His nakama don't know what to make of him smart, but now that he really grasps how stupid he was... he can barely stand to think about them seeing him like that again. The thought of returning to being just that, such a smaller, darker piece of the world, with its only infrequent flashes into the realm of genius, tears at him. If they're truly his friends, how can they want that?
Oh, he knows they love the 'real' him. But why couldn't this be the 'real' him, too?
No. No... he tells himself. They want him back, philosophical arguments about what that means aside, and what they want is going to happen. There isn't anything he can do about it one way or the other. He's had over two weeks of a wholly different world; he may yet get a little more. But it's going to end. His choices are limited to how he deals with that -- and them.
He flops into Sanji's arms and buries his face against the cook's shoulder.
"My brain's healing itself," he tells him, muffled, and discards attempts to hide his distress. "Sanji, it's going away."
In the event, Sanji doesn't say anything, except for that initial grunt of surprise that probably doesn't count. Just curls his arms about Luffy in return and holds him close 'til he feels he can come out again to face a world where he's losing his mind but not, and nobody has to lie at all.
It's better that way, Luffy thinks.
Three days after he told them it was wearing off, they stop looking for signs that things are returning to normal when they realise that things simply are. It's such a gradual process it's barely noticeable, no lightning bolts of drastic change. He's eating more, and sleeping more, and talking more-- about normal, useless things, although the words are still more complex than the ones they're accustomed to hearing from his lips. But they're getting simpler. He's less moody, too, because the more it goes away, the less he cares about the fact that it's going away.
The less he cares, though, the more they find that they do. Sanji told them Luffy cried. And it's okay, he's back, it's Luffy, this is the way he started out and the way he's supposed to be... But he was happy, as that other. Happy in different ways. With all the curiosity that is in him, maybe it's not so wrong that he should have had a brain with the capacity to comprehend everything in the world.
They can't help but remember that he was afraid of being stupid again.
"You're not, you know," Nami says to him, where he's sprawled on the deck, picking with his fingernails at the numbers that were written on the boards in his own blood nearly two weeks ago. "You're not stupid."
Luffy blinks back at her, and she thinks again how much more empty and innocent are his eyes now, no longer calculating her thoughts from the involuntary twitch of an eyelid or drop of sweat, or the tenseness of the muscles in her jaw. In the end, he has neither agreement nor disagreement for her. He only says, "Why would I care about something like that?"
She sits next to him, looking out at the sea while his fingers /pick-pick-pick/, and the silence stretches. Eventually, she tries, "Do you remember any of things I told you about navigation?"
He looks up and shakes his head. "I don't need to know about navigating, Nami... I have you." He frowns, and looks distressed. "Are you thinking of going away because I'm not smart anymore?"
"/No/," she says, and hold back a sob. Instead she points at the numbers on the deck, and traces her fingers around the shapes of them. "This is an equation about wind velocity."
He doesn't even remember writing it, she thinks. He only keeps blinking back at her, and any minute now he's going to call them 'mystery numbers', and she knows it's useless.
In the days that follow, Sanji makes an unprecedented amount of food at the captain's constant commands, Chopper loses the near-permanent cloud of worry that's hung over him the past weeks, and Usopp tells tall tales that Luffy applauds again. On at least half a dozen separate occasions, Luffy is heard to loudly declare his intent to be Pirate King. And it is as if he never changed at all.
Except it's not.
Zoro stands thoughtful on the edge of the exercise deck, looking from his captain below to the sheath of papers in his hand. He remembers Luffy's words on handing them over. "This is the amount I can afford to use Gear Second in my lifetime! I calculated lots of different permutations, because it changes depending on the length of time of each instance. I know I won't understand it later and I might not have any choice about it anyway, but it could be important. It might help..."
Zoro can't make sense of the figures. Nami can't. Franky can't. Nor Robin, Chopper, Usopp, Sanji, Brook... And he could wave it away, because maybe some things are better remaining unknown, but all the same...
He thinks about the aspects of the captain that didn't change. His need for them all. His curiosity. His willingness to throw himself into danger. Being smart enough to know exactly what his crazy techniques might do to him didn't change one whit his intention to use them. His courage was never a matter of being too dumb to fear the consequences.
The paper is useless, but Zoro slips it inside his haramaki, and he will keep it, nonetheless.
Because Luffy doesn't remember any more, or care, what he's been and what he's lost.
And that just means the rest of them have to.