Luffy is blinded. With the two of them lost and isolated, Zoro must help him to cope. Challenge fic. Light ZoLu.
SUMMARY: Luffy is blinded. With the two of them lost and isolated, Zoro must help him to cope.
LENGTH: 11,000 words approx
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, no profit, yadda yadda yadda.
NOTES: Set after Enies Lobby. Written for an op_fanforall prompt of 'ZoLu h/c', except I fail at h/c.
sybile drew a beautiful accompanying picture for this story, and it's here: http://-syb.deviantart.com/art/Can-I-touch-your-face-117941550
Looking back, the first warning sign had been Luffy's lack of reaction as Zoro had - well, all right, so the useless cook had been with him - as Zoro and Sanji, the nominated rescue party, had approached.
It wasn't often that Luffy's habit of rocketing himself at attacking marine vessels resulted in the need for a rescue, but on this occasion the next thing they knew, their captain was being drawn up by chains from the top of the mast and a demand was called across for their surrender.
"Shit," Zoro said, shielding his eyes against the sun and glowering up at the limply dangling figure. It jerked occasionally in an approximation of struggle, indicating Luffy was at least conscious. "Must be kairoseki."
"I'll climb up there and get him," Sanji said wearily.
"Wait--" Zoro had a better idea. 108 pound cannon splintered the mast and the fixings of the chains neatly. The ungrateful damn cook yelled at him and tried to kick him in the head. Since this was simultaneous to diving out of the path of the crashing debris, the kick missed.
"He's down, isn't he!" Zoro yelled back.
"Zoro! Sanji!" Luffy's shout was uncharacteristically desperate and hoarse, cutting through their argument with instant concern. They both switched their attention to the figure crouched on hands and knees amid the debris, head hanging low and hair straggling down over his eyes, the last of the chains sliding off him with a clumsy tug of his unsteady hand. "Look out for--"
Luffy broke off as one of the several marine crewmen running up reached him and, as he passed, casually kicked him in the face. Luffy made no effort to react to or stop the blow, and went down like a stone.
He clawed his way to all fours again an instant later, unhurt of course, mouth opening again -- only for another marine to drag him up onto his knees by the hair and set a blade to his throat.
The only reason that marine got to keep his head was because Sanji's foot got to it before Zoro's swords did.
"Luffy!" Their captain was in a heap again, dragging himself up and feeling his way unsteadily on shaking limbs. Zoro caught his shoulder. "What the hell did these bastards do?"
He wasn't expecting Luffy's flinch away from his touch.
"Zoro!" He watched in disbelief as his captain ceased struggling, sagged momentarily in his grasp, and then reached up with a hand that -- well, first missed, but then curled into a handful of his t-shirt on the second try and dragged his face down, close enough that he could feel Luffy's breath when he yelled, voice raw, "Watch out for their captain! He's a devil fruit user -- some kind of nasty light, and it burns."
Now he had chance to notice, Luffy's skin was reddened and had a melted, waxy sheen in places. Shit... burned rubber... probably hurt like hell to touch anything right now.
Meanwhile, the bastard cook was tossing marines around and stealing all the action. He hauled Luffy the rest of the way to his feet. Even when he released his hold, Luffy hung onto his shoulder as though he needed the support. It freaked him a bit. It didn't gel with his long experience of the captain's character, and he knew the contact had to hurt.
When he found this marine captain, he was going to have words with him. And he was going to let Wadou, Kitetsu and Shuusui do his speaking.
"Zoro," Luffy said sharply, sounding more like himself. "If you see him, shut your eyes."
Before he could press for elaboration on that, a chuckle sounded behind them, and abruptly Luffy's hand was over his face and he found himself shoved to the deck by desperately-mustered rubbery strength. At the same time, he could hear Luffy yelling -- no, shrieking almost -- "Sanji, get down! Cover your eyes!"
Eyes. The marines had -- God damn. He shoved at Luffy's hand. The marines had a few non-standard quirks of uniform, which he hadn't paid much attention to before because every commander had his own eccentricities and tended put their own stamp on things. But these, for instance, were every man of them very comprehensively wearing their uniforms, even down to gloves. Most notable were the black bandanas tied about their foreheads or loose around their necks, which they were dragging to cover their faces even now. Some of them had placed hands or arms over their eyes as well, ceasing whatever they were doing mid-blow as though Sanji's imminent oncoming foot was a comparatively minor concern.
Zoro clamped his eyes shut, bellowing "Sanji, you idiot, do it!" and only hoping that the love-cook would do as Luffy had said.
He felt the burn against his uncovered skin, painful enough to make him yell. Luffy, on top of him, protecting some of him, whimpered. He heard a curse from the love-cook.
Then, Luffy was shaking his shoulders, trying to shove him upright, and shit the pressure on his burned skin smarted. "Now, now, now!" Luffy was yelling. "Zoro, quick! He can't do two in a row! You've got -- maybe a minute to finish him. You gotta do it now!"
Luffy took a step and tripped up, landing on his face on the deck, but Zoro had other things to worry about. He held his swords ready, and glared around for that bastard with the captain's stripes.
There. Thin, pale-faced and weak-jawed, a man who relied on his devil fruit to do his fighting if ever he'd seen one. Zoro launched at him with a roar, catching up as the other man tried to back off, three swords slicing in their practiced pattern. Three arcs of blood painted the air. Discussion over.
Zoro spun back to his nakama. "Sanji! Damn it, are you -- can you still see?"
Sanji stood, swaying, and blinked at him from half a face the colour of overcooked salmon. "Uh--" He jabbed a finger hesitantly through the air. "These guys had blindfolds, so I..." His voice trailed away. He caught on, finally, and his thankfully still-functional eye zeroed in on their fallen captain. "What? No. ...Luffy?!"
"Ugh." Luffy shifted in the bottom of the small boat, squeezing his eyes closed and then widening them, and trying to force them to see, damn it. But it wasn't working. He managed to get balanced on his hands and knees. Not being able to see things while the waves were throwing them about like this didn't help, and even his knees and the palms of his hands hurt. "Zoro, shouldn't we have reached the Thousand Sunny by now? What's going on? Are we going back for Sanji?"
There was a silence in which he thought Zoro might've shaken his head, but then the response came before Luffy could tell him that wouldn't work. "Sanji's fine. He said to get you back to the ship."
"So what's happening?" He was confused, and hating how helpless it felt to be unable to see anything. "Tell me!" He managed to get both hands gripped on either side of the boat and to sit up and balance properly. His backside found the seat on the second try.
"I can't see the Thousand Sunny," Zoro mumbled. He had to say it again, louder, because Luffy could barely hear him above the crashing waves.
"WHAT? HE GOT YOU TOO?!" Damn it, he thought he'd avoided this! 'Save Zoro and Sanji', that had been the thing uppermost on his mind when he'd realised they'd come to his rescue. Hearing their voices had brought a conflicting rush of hope and fear.
"Wha-- no," Zoro responded sharply. Luffy felt fingers grip his shoulder - carefully - and ease him back down into his seat, and realised then that their little boat's sudden bout of rocking might've been down to him. "He didn't get me, Luffy. I'm not blind. It's just -- the Sunny's not there. I can't see a damn thing but sea. Where the hell did those assholes go?" His voice descended into a mutter as he spoke.
"You got us lost?" Luffy yelped. "I can't see anything and you got us lost?"
"How the hell could you get us lost when you could see the ship?!"
"Oi! Don't start carrying on like you'd have done any better," Zoro protested. "We'll just find an island and wait for them to catch up to us. We'll be back on the Sunny in no time."
"Arghhhhhh." Luffy sighed and flopped back. Zoro was probably right. Somehow the rest of his crew always seemed to figure out when either of them got lost, and find them just fine. But in the meantime, he had been hoping to get back to Chopper quickly. The sting in his eyes was nowhere near so inconvenient as the complete darkness. His skin smarted furiously all over, and particularly where he leaned against the rough wooden surfaces of the boat, but he'd burned his skin plenty of times before and knew the sting wouldn't last for more than a few days at most. Whereas not being able to see bothered him, and that was something he had no experience of dealing with before.
He'd never been afraid of the dark, but the idea of this personal dark that wouldn't go away was its own kind of scary. It was confusing, too - a black void with sudden interruptions of unexpected noise and touch. He couldn't judge where things were at all. He'd hung chained up on that ship for ages with the voices of the marines floating up to him, and lost all sense of up and down and left and right. He'd been too dizzy to even try applying his strength to break the chains.
It was also unbelievably boring. What was he supposed to do if he couldn't see? He couldn't look at things! He couldn't even see the expression on Zoro's face right now, though admittedly he could be pretty sure that it was grouchy.
"What are you doing?" Zoro's voice cut into the darkness presently, surprising him so much he almost fell over.
"Exploring. I'm bored, Zoro... and I can't see things with my eyes, so I'm exploring them like this." He ran his hands further along the edge of the boat, and the shift in movement tipped them. He put his hand down to catch his balance, and it landed on something soft and warm. He squeezed it.
"I thought your skin hurt," Zoro said, his voice closer than it had been before.
Luffy moved his hand along the soft, warm thing, feeling folds of cloth and finally hard metal. He laughed. "I get it now! I'm exploring Zoro!"
The swordsman made a disgusted noise. "You're so damn slow. Yeah. You're right. Can I have my knee back?"
"Awwww," Luffy whined. "I want to keep it!" It was odd how comforting it was to be touching the other man, reassuring himself that even if he couldn't see him, Zoro was still there. He hugged at the limb. "Let me keep your knee, Zoro!"
"Eh?" Zoro sighed and extended his leg, tugging it out of Luffy's grip at first. But then, he felt other hands take his and guide them back to the fabric that had the swordsman's warmth underneath. A directional shove between his shoulders made him catch his breath and he heard Zoro stop breathing for a moment too, but then Luffy found his balance.
"Sorry," Zoro said. "Sorry, I--" He jogged his leg slightly. "Follow it back to your side of the boat so you're not knocking us off balance, and go to sleep or something, eh, captain? Get your strength back... not like we know how long we'll be floating out here, besides. I'll keep a watch for any land or ships."
"Okay..." Luffy followed Zoro's leg obediently. It was rested across the seats. There was just enough space for him to curl up against the side of the boat and rest his head upon Zoro's knee. "Wake me up... when we get there."
In the event, a whole night and morning passed before they reached anywhere at all. In that time, Luffy had woken up of his own accord, ferociously hungry of course, and a lot of the duration had been spent trying to catch food. It was difficult to catch fish with swords. Since they had fled the marine ship with no supplies and couldn't drink the sea water, thirst was even more of a problem. It was a relief - and probably a near miracle, if he admitted the realistic chances of it - when Zoro finally sighted land.
He moved his foot to nudge Luffy awake again. This whole situation was too disconcerting. In a way, he was already used to the feeling of having to look after Luffy, who tended to have no practical sense ninety nine percent of the time and always had to be restrained from bursting off in ten different directions at once... but it was jarring to have to think of Luffy as helpless. In fact, it made him sick to his stomach to think about it too hard.
He remembered Sanji closing his eyes and running towards that damned devil fruit user who'd somehow got back up, the cook's echoing yell of "Get him the hell out of here!" He hadn't even bothered to call Zoro a 'shitty marimo'. Lousy last words, if he couldn't even get an insult in there. The idiot cook better be all right.
"Hey. Land," he told Luffy, who was looking confused and blinking his big, glazed eyes, hands waving about him in what bordered on panic. Zoro caught his shoulder and squeezed it familiarly. This had happened earlier, too. "You're blind. Remember? We'll sort it out later. Right now, we found an island. Food."
Well, he could see trees, and that hopefully meant there was at least fruit.
Luffy gripped his arm back. "Okay, Zoro." His face was calm and normal now that memory had flooded in. Zoro supposed it must be hellishly confusing in that first moment of consciousness - waking from darkness into darkness.
Closer to the shore, Zoro got out and pulled the boat up through the shallow waters with Luffy still in it. Inside the boat, his captain clambered about, scanning his hands over things in a peculiar, clumsy way that might've had something to do with it being the first time he'd had full run of their small territory of the last day and a half, but then again, with Luffy who knew?
Zoro got them up onto the shore, and Luffy obviously felt the change in the boat's movement as it scraped over sand. He reached out to pat his hand first on the surface of the beach to make sure (because even Luffy could be cautious where sea water was involved), leaped out, tripped, rolled, got up, and stumbled about the sand. Zoro ignored him in favour of ensuring the small boat was dragged far enough up the grassy rise to the island jungle that it wouldn't be swept away by the tides.
Hearing a yelp from Luffy, he turned around with a sigh to find him jumping about on one leg holding his other foot. "The ground bit me!"
"Be a bit more careful, then, dumbass. It's not like you can see what's in the way." Zoro kicked at the spiny little crab and sent it scurrying off, though it could just as easily have been the pointed chunk of driftwood a few feet away that Luffy had trod on.
Luffy flailed out with an arm, actually managed to find his shoulder, and said, in a pleading whimper, "Food?"
That was such typical Luffy for you, and if he'd been less damned hungry himself, or his mouth less dry and raw, his mirth might not have sounded so hollow. Zoro snorted, tucked an arm around the skinny waist and pulled the other man against him for support as he walked. "Come on, captain. Let's go feed ourselves."
They pretty quickly found some kind of monster coconuts, at least four times bigger than normal, which solved both their immediate problems and they weren't about to search any further to be choosy. Zoro shook the things down off the tree, then sliced them open with Kitetsu - who wanted blood, not coconut milk, and sulked at him for it. They drank the liquid and scraped the sweet white flesh from the shells, then Zoro lay back and listened to the steady crunching as Luffy sat, crosslegged, and methodically ate the remnant shells.
He'd had to do the looking-out for both of them while they'd been in the boat, and it was a long time since he'd had a decent nap...
"...Zoro. Zoro!" From the edge in Luffy's voice, that wasn't the first time, or probably even the fifth, his name had been spoken. He blinked himself fully awake again. "Huh? What, Luffy? Just go to sleep..."
"You were asleep?" Luffy exclaimed. "I thought you got lost again!"
"What do you mean, lost?" he snapped, irked. "How could I get lost sitting listening to you eat like a goat?"
"Because you're Zoro!" Luffy responded earnestly, and started crawling towards him, feeling his way across the ground on all fours.
"What the hell are you doing?!" Zoro yowled as Luffy reached him and caught him in an awkward bear hug that made a mockery of balance and rolled them both over till they were lying in the grass, Zoro on his back and his boneheaded damn captain face-down half on top of him.
Luffy curled his arm tight over Zoro's middle and arranged the rest of his body at the swordsman's side.
"We'll sleep this way," Luffy said, teeth bared and looking his way with unseeing eyes. "Then you can't wander off and get lost, 'cause if you did, you'd never find me again. And Zoro... like this, I'd never find you."
Zoro sighed. "Fine. We'll sleep this way. Just don't drool on me or start humping my leg."
Luffy snickered, though the laughter had an uncharacteristically grim edge to it. He drew his hat forward to shadow the visible angle of his face even though his eyes wouldn't notice the difference. The unusually taut lines of his body relaxed too quickly, and underneath the hat, he started to snore.
Times like this, Zoro sometimes wondered how oblivious or dense Luffy actually was. Though there never had been a time quite like this.
It took him a little longer to return to slumber, all too aware of the slighter body sprawled at his side and the problems still left for them to face up to in the morning.
In the morning they ventured further into the jungle in search of fresh water. Luffy made a big thing about being able to find the boat again, so Zoro hacked arrows into the trees as they went, points indicating the way home. Kitetsu was seething, but he wasn't going to blunt Wadou on shrubbery.
Luffy stumbled along behind him, one arm rested on his shoulder and the other periodically flailing about in a rubbery fashion - whether to try and 'see' their surroundings or check for obstacles, Zoro wasn't sure, since if Luffy found any obstacles he seemed to walk into them anyway, and it really wasn't as though they hurt him. Zoro had been hit a few times, but had given up complaining. Anyway, once they ran into the giant orange boar-creature, Luffy was dragging that along instead and the problem was solved. Except for the constant pleas that they stop to eat it.
By the time they finally did find fresh water, the sun was pretty high in the sky and Zoro had been stung in half a dozen places by some mean looking plant that Luffy, despite being blind, seemed to have entirely avoided. He struck some sparks to start a cooking fire, sliced up the boar-thing - Kitetsu singing in his hand again at the taste of blood, even if it wasn't human - and managed to keep Luffy from eating too much of it before it was actually cooked.
Sitting opposite his captain with the ashes of the fire between them, as they both crunched the last of the bones, Zoro sighed. There were things they needed to do, and talk about, now that their immediate survival needs were met.
"Luffy." His gaze not leaving his captain, he tossed the bone in his hand aside, stood up, and crossed the space between them to kneel in front of Luffy, who made an odd noise as he caught his shoulders then clasped his face. "Let me see your eyes."
"Okay..." In response, Luffy's eyes became enormous, stretching to twice their usual size.
"Damn it, don't do that!" Zoro almost fell backwards. But Luffy had already returned them to normal, and moreover he was squeezing them closed as though they stung. "Idiot! Do you want to make whatever damage has already been done worse?"
"No, Zoro," came the miserable reply. Luffy's eyes blinked open again to slits, and Zoro carefully peeled a lid back further with the pad of his thumb. He knew the trickle of moisture that slid down from the tear duct was likely a reaction to the sting, but it made his heart clench anyway. In between the crazy rocking of the boat on the rough waves and their exhaustion and need for food once they'd arrived at the island, it was the first time he'd made any attempt to assess the damage. "What is it, Zoro? What can you tell?"
He grunted, removed his thumb and let Luffy's eyelid slide closed, and sat back. "I dunno. I don't know anything about eyes."
Luffy made an outraged noise and hit him, not very accurately. "Stupid Zoro! What--" His voice choked and came back as a whisper. "--what am I supposed to do? I need Chopper!" He punched at Zoro's chest with both fists. Zoro caught his wrists, but didn't otherwise move. "I can't be blind..." This time, there was less possibility that those trails of moisture were just from the sting. "I'm too clumsy! I know that... And then I'd never be pirate king! I can't do anything like this, Zoro!"
"Shh." He let go his captain's wrists and caught his shoulders. This was the panic that had been bubbling under for the past two days. The only amazing thing was that it hadn't reared its head much earlier. Zoro didn't know a lot about eye injuries, but he did know that they weren't too often fixed. He pulled Luffy in against him, pressing the younger man's face to the crook of his neck. Luffy's hands opened and closed in the fabric of his t-shirt and he loosed a slow groan/whisper/hiss of "Zoro..."
"Hey, Luffy..." There was only one thing Zoro could think of that might work to take the edge off that panic. He pulled back and untied the bandana from his arm, refolded it to bare the cleanest edge, and gently reached over and wrapped it across Luffy's eyes, knotting it securely at the back of his head.
Luffy made a confused noise, raised his fingers to touch it, and loosed a short little laugh. "It tickles, Zoro." He played with the loose ends at his temple. "Like the marines... only it's too late. I don't understand..."
"Sensei would sometimes make us practice blind," Zoro said, resting his hands on Luffy's shoulders. "Once, he had us spend a full week blindfold as an exercise to improve our motor skills, balance, and sense of the world. That's what this is, Luffy. It's practice. Training. There's no need to be afraid, because you can take it off at any time."
"So it's a game." Luffy leaned in, uncharacteristic seriousness lining his visible face. It was odd how much not being able to see those wide, innocent eyes instantly changed him.
"That's right. You can take off the blindfold, but that would be admitting defeat. So.... what are you gonna do?" He clasped his hands on the tanned skin and prominent muscles of his captain's neck and shoulders.
"I ain't gonna lose!" Luffy yelled, breaking from his grip and stumbling upright, tightening his hands into fists and setting his shoulders back in a stance more suited for battle. "You did this for a week?"
Zoro winced and nodded, before a quick double-take. "Yes."
"Then I'll do two!"
"Hey, wait!" Zoro scrambled to his feet too late to catch him. "Don't just charge off and start falling over again! You need to start thinking about how you move." He paused, thinking about his own words, then folded his legs and sank down again. "Come back here."
With his eyes hidden by the bandana, Luffy's face seemed almost featureless, and a fraction disturbing. That... was going to take some getting used to. Luffy nodded jerkily and took halting steps; one, two, three... and half of a fourth. His toe jabbed Zoro's knee. The thin line of his mouth curled up ever so slightly into a smile. He put out his hand and brought it down, touching Zoro's hair and then scruffing it wildly with a laugh.
Zoro knocked his feet from under him and landed him on his ass. Luffy sat ramrod straight a moment, then hiccupped.
Zoro glowered, not that his captain was about to notice, and aggressively flattened his hair. "Damn idiot."
"Thanks, Zoro," Luffy responded, grinning.
He touched his fingers to the side of his head again, running them down the length of his face from temple to chin, fingertips sliding over the black fabric. "It's comfortable and soft, and it smells of Zoro. I like it. I'll... I'll do better, from now on. I promise."
The words were a faintly guilty little stab/. Zoro mostly remembered spending the best part of a week walking into things and falling on /his ass. He grimaced at the implied deception, caught Luffy's hand, and squeezed. "You're doing fine."
It was nice that they'd been able to clean up in the river, though Zoro had started yelling and pulling lots of slimy sharp things off both of them when they got out. Luffy stood quietly as Zoro re-tied the bandana around his still-damp head, re-covering the eyes he'd kept closed.
It was getting to the point where everything didn't hurt anymore. They weren't hungry or thirsty, everyone would be on their way to find them and soon they'd all be back together as a crew. In the meantime they had an exciting new island to explore, Zoro had given him his bandana and a challenge -- and if he really had been able to see if he took it off, everything would have been pretty good.
He sighed. Zoro patted his shoulder. Then, Zoro's hand and footsteps went away, and again he was left without knowing or what to do or which way to go. He'd got turned about while Zoro was helping him dress.
But... Zoro had a horrible sense of direction, much worse than even his. And he'd done this for a week. Luffy had promised to at least match him, and maybe his vision really would be back by that time. He'd never hurt his eyes before to know whether they healed as quickly as the rest of him.
He asked Zoro, "Which way's the river?"
"...Behind you. Bit to your left."
He knew better than to trust descriptions like 'left' from Zoro. But 'behind' was good enough. He took steps forward until he found a tree, then sideways until some more groping around found Zoro, who got mad at him again.
"Sit." The swordsman shoved Luffy down. He was getting more used to these touches that came out of nowhere, and managed to fold his body a little more gracefully. He was aware, somehow, of Zoro standing over him, as the faint huff of breath indicated the other man wasn't happy.
"You've got five senses," Zoro said.
"Really?" He wasn't sure what that meant, but it sounded exciting.
"--Shut up." The sharp response caught him off guard. "You've got five senses, Luffy. Your eyesight is only one of them." He heard Zoro sit down, and frowned because this was beginning to sound complicated. Luffy and Complicated weren't on speaking terms. "While you're--" Zoro's voice faltered. A moment later, he felt a touch upon the cloth at his temple. "While you're wearing this, you've still got other ways of sensing the world. Not all of them involve hitting things and sticking your fingers up my nose every two damn minutes."
That was more like his friend. Luffy blinked behind the blindfold, feeling his eyelashes scratch against the cloth. "How, Zoro?"
The swordsman made a strangled noise. "Okay... My sensei taught this to me when I was six, so let's give it a try."
Luffy nodded seriously, and even though he couldn't see, craned forward to pay attention.
"You've still got your ears," Zoro said. "So listen." They both sat quietly for a very boring interval, until Zoro broke the silence. "What did you hear?"
"Nothing. You said to be quiet."
The heel of a callused palm clunked him on the head. "I said to listen. Not just for me. Listen, Luffy. We'll try again. Tell me the first thing that you hear."
He tried to protest and Zoro clapped a hand over his mouth, so he sat there breathing through his nose and frustratedly tried, stretching his brain to understand what the swordsman could possibly want. The minutes stretched, silent and puzzling. He couldn't hear anything but stupid little sounds, the sort of things that didn't even count. But... Ah... He mumbled, and Zoro took his hand away.
"Leaves rustling," he said quietly, trying to keep listening still. "The water from the river, too. It's so noisy! Why didn't I hear that before? There's... birds, somewhere... and Zoro breathing... and I think... in the distance... the sea."
He heard Zoro's breath hitch. "All right, Luffy." A hand caught his own. "Hearing is directional. Can you follow where the sounds of the river are coming from? Can you point?"
Luffy concentrated, but then it wasn't even so difficult after all. He twisted, and pointed with his free hand.
There was a pause, and an oddness in Zoro's voice as he said, "Okay, listen again."
A sharp, small sound to the right startled him, because he'd been concentrating so hard. "There's--" It had gone, now. "There was something in the undergrowth, over there!" He'd half jumped up, and suddenly had the feeling he was being laughed at. He punched out towards the sound of the swordsman's breathing. "Dammit, Zoro, you threw a rock!"
His fist impacted with teeth and Zoro grunted. "Ow! Luffy. It's training. Sit back down."
He did, and listened to the sound of flesh sliding over flesh as Zoro rubbed his jaw.
"I don't know if I dare make you any better at this," the swordsman grumbled. "You were dangerous enough flailing around." But he huffed and audibly sat back again, and Luffy adjusted his own crosslegged stance. "So you can use your ears. I know you should be good at this next one... taste and smell..."
"Huh?" And he wasn't sure at all how that was supposed to work, seeing his way around by tasting things? But Zoro said, "A dog's primary sense is smell..." and in no time at all had him tasting and smelling the air. And he'd known, but he'd never fully known, that water had its own scent, and so did every different type of vegetation in a forest, and so did the mud, and the salt tang of the sea, and of course Zoro... He could turn his head and track the scents to the direction they were strongest. Expand his nostrils with his rubber powers and the world became ten times clearer, and he didn't have to remember where things were or wait until they made a sound at all...
Which it turned out still wouldn't stop him walking into trees in a forest, but Zoro had some other ideas for that, as well.
After a few hours they had begun to make more efficient progress, Luffy trailing after him through the jungle on his own rather than hanging from Zoro's shoulder, face half expressionless under the blindfold, and he only occasionally walked into a tree or hit Zoro with the stick he was carrying. But then, those hitches tended to coincide with him forgetting that listening informed a significant part of his view of the world right now and bursting into little snatches of song.
Luffy was happy again, now they'd stolen back for him a little bit of self-reliance. Okay, maybe the stick was a waste of time because he hadn't much co-ordination anyway and it didn't really hurt him to walk into trees, but it made Zoro feel better.
As for the rest... maybe he shouldn't be so surprised that his captain could adapt to functioning without vision. Luffy was such a creature of the senses and instincts to begin with.
Since the chances of the water, in rough jars sword-carved from segments of tree trunk, or the rest of the meat carcass surviving the journey being dragged along by Luffy were both pretty poor (albeit for different reasons), Zoro had opted to carry the water. At least if Luffy ate the meat he was still putting it to good use.
After a while, Luffy had gone quiet, until eventually he spoke up again with an edge to his voice. "Haven't we been walking a long time, just to get back to the shore?"
"Huh?" He glanced up at the sun. "It's not that long. Just we've not been hurrying this time. Don't worry about it."
"Zoro--" Luffy began running the heel of his hand over the trees that they passed, stick still awkwardly clutched in his fingers. "Show me a tree with an arrow on it."
"Huh?" Oh, right, he remembered those.
"Zoro," Luffy all but growled, "Did you get us lost?"
"What--? We're not lost, Luffy." Why did everyone always carry on like this? At least the captain was usually more easygoing than the rest. "We're just headed back to the coast. It's not a big island. We just took our time. You were learning to use the stick." Badly. "You're the one who can't see, damn it. Don't worry about it. I got this."
Luffy nodded unhappily and they continued, but another few hours later as they stopped again near an uncannily familiar odd-shaped tree, he had to admit that somehow, he'd managed to get turned about.
He scratched his head. "How the hell did this happen?"
Luffy sat on the dwindling carcass of the giant boar and muttered something Zoro wasn't going to ask him to audibly repeat. "...Lets just stay here," he said louder. "There's more meat and more water and they'll still find us. Nami will find us."
"They'll find us easier on the beach." Shit, was this ever a demonstration how much they needed the money-grubbing witch? Zoro grimaced. The sooner he got Luffy to Chopper's doctorly attentions the better. Even if there was nothing his intervention could do, at least then they should have reliable information, one way or the other, what chance Luffy had of regaining his sight. They could already have landed on the island and be looking for them. They'd find the boat... Chopper would be able to smell their scents on it... He considered. "Luffy, can you smell the ocean?"
They followed Luffy's nose for a while, until it led them to a totally unfamiliar stretch of beach and they were forced to concede that yes, they were on a small island. They followed the beach along, walking at the top of the tideline, Luffy's feet slapping obliviously near jellyfish and sharp shells. But his movements were more confident, here, away from the many scents and sounds of the jungle and with the surer markers of the sea on one side and the wind-whispered undergrowth on the other.
Eventually, they hit impassable rock cliffs and were forced to strike inland, into the jungles once again; and shortly after that it began to grow dark.
"Stop." Zoro put his hand on Luffy's shoulder. "We'll stay here to eat and sleep."
"Okay." Luffy dropped the blankly grinning boar's head that he'd been swinging around for the last hour, and started exploring their campsite. Zoro eyed the remnant meat and looked about for some fruit or anything that looked more edible.
It was colder than it had been the night before, and when Luffy flopped down beside him and curled an arm about his chest, it was almost automatic to gather him in a bit closer. Luffy sighed and struggled, and ended up half laying over him, draped like a rubber-human blanket across Zoro's chest with his arms and legs outsplayed, face against his breastbone.
Zoro reached for the bandana. He almost - almost - moved it aside, and just stopped himself in time, fingers twitching helplessly against air. He wanted to see his captain's face -- whole, properly. But however mentally strong Luffy was, he didn't want to destroy the illusory of peace of mind that the ploy of the blindfold had allowed them. If they could stay the panic and reaction until they got back to the others, where Chopper could tell them how bad the news really was...
Astonishing him, Luffy's hand moved in and caught the fingers that hadn't even made contact. Zoro couldn't quash a noise of surprise.
"Felt... movement... air..." Luffy murmured, voice dulled with tiredness. "Thought it was a bug. What're you doin', Zoro?" He propped his hand under his chin, and the blindfold stared into Zoro's face.
"Nothing," he hedged, cursing himself.
His captain gave a little half-shrug and reached in with his other hand, sliding it up the swordsman's t-shirt using the planes of his body as a guide and slowing at his collar and neck. "Can I touch your face?"
"Huh? Why?" Okay, Luffy was... frequently random, but this didn't have the feel of that.
"I want to see what you look like this way. Without eyes. I've been touching the rest of the world all day." He didn't wait for permission but took the silence and lack of any attempt to stop him as assent. Zoro froze as he felt the slightly clumsy touch land on his face, moving over his jaw, then upwards. He blinked down hard, because he certainly didn't want to lose an eye. Lack of depth perception would make it a lot harder to become the world's greatest swordsman.
But Luffy managed to be surprisingly gentle, and didn't poke fingers into anything important. The rubbery fingertips slid over his eyelids, brushing his lashes, travelled onward over the creases of his forehead and the ridge of his nose, and curled to a rest in his hair.
"Luffy..." It was instinctive. Eyes still closed, he reached out and cupped the younger man's face in his own hands, mapping it in return -- careful, so careful, when they wandered close, not to disturb the blindfold. But gently tracing, nonetheless, the bulge of closed eyes underneath. Luffy was still there, even if he didn't completely look like himself with his eyes hidden.
His captain chuckled at him. "Stupid Zoro... you don't need to do that to 'see'."
"Huh." He withdrew the gentler touch and smushed Luffy's rubber face against his chest again. "Just go to sleep."
"Oi." Luffy shifted, aware that noises from something prowling around nearby had awoken him. He prodded the warm closeness that was Zoro, but Zoro was hard to wake at the best of times and just grunted and took a swipe at him. He snarled and grit his teeth. A predator around meant there was more meat to be had, and he didn't want to miss out because stupid Zoro (who could actually see to kill it) wouldn't wake up!
He found the sleeping man's face with his searching hand, stuck his fingers up the swordsman's nostrils and pinched. "Oi! Zoro!"
Zoro woke up yelling and punched him off, and Luffy yelped too, landing on some of the spikier vegetation. "What the hell?"
"There's something out there." He crawled out of the spiky plant, feeling his way across the ground on hands and knees and aiming for the panting sounds of Zoro's breath. "I heard it! Meat for breakfast!" Why was he being so slow? "C'mon, Zoro, it'll get away!"
Zoro cursed, and he heard him get up and trip on something. "The fire's gone out. It's dark. Don't you remember a jungle night?" There was an impatient ring of metal as a sword tried to strike a spark, and then again.
After his initial excitement, Luffy had a gathering feeling of wrongness. He cocked his head, listening, and tried to pin it down. In the trees, there was more rustling, closer, and he could feel a curious vibration underfoot, growing stronger. But the two couldn't belong to the same thing; instead it was almost as if... as if other creatures were getting out of the area, fast...
He called out a warning to Zoro. He couldn't see it, but he knew there was something huge charging through the trees towards them.
He sank his teeth down on his lower lip. This wasn't like back on the marine ship, where he'd been hurting and confused and blind. This time, he could fight. He braced himself and clenched his fists at his sides. "Zoro, let's get him!"
The amount of noise the whateveritwas made with each footfall, there was no way it was hiding from either of them in the dark. Luffy drew back a fist then swung it forward in a bullet punch. Layers of thick fur swamped his hand, the soft stuff absorbing most of the force from the blow before it touched anything solid. "Damn!" He started to pull his fist back but had underestimated the speed the Hairy Thing was coming towards them. It was already well inside the long arc of his stretched arm.
He swung up his other arm, catching a branch overhead and trying to haul himself up into the trees while his extended limb was still wavering its way back to him. His head struck another branch that was in the way and then a big, fluffy, stinky wall smacked into him before he could get any further. Somewhere, Zoro yelled.
Luffy grabbed at fur as his body bounced off the wall, ricocheting back against it when his arms stretched then contracted, and getting a face full of the nasty stuff. He dug his hands into it, trying to hang on and climb up. From the smelly warm gusts of air and animal breathing noises close by, he must be clinging to the thing's face. A huge impact struck the creature from side-on, and Luffy was shaken about wildly. All around he could hear the noises of trees splintering and falling. Zoro...? He tried to find a more secure grip, but his head hit something again -- something that was hard, smooth and not fluffy at all, and he fell off, getting dragged beneath its charging body and trod on by at least two enormous hairy feet.
He struggled back upright with no idea, amid the splintering confusion of sounds, what was happening around him. As he finally stood on his feet again, the noise level seemed to have dropped unsettlingly, nothing much to listen for apart from the groaning of damaged trees, "Stupid hairy bastard!" he yelled, taunting the creature to reveal itself. "Come back and fight!" He bared his teeth as the sounds of heavy steps picked up anew, circling in the middle distance.
Wait... where was Zoro? "Zoro!"
No answer. He called again, and kept calling. Damn! If Zoro was lying around, hurt, unconscious, he wouldn't bounce back into shape if that stupid Hairy Thing trod on him.
Luffy expanded his nostrils, trying to catch Zoro's scent, and scrambled over the ground, searching. Fragments of trees were strewn everywhere like piles of giant firewood, broken edges stabbing splinters into his hands and knees. Somehow, he caught a trace of the scent and followed it. His hands touched cloth soaked with warm sickly-smelling blood. "Zoro!" He found Zoro's face and felt breath against his skin.
No time for relief. The Hairy Thing was coming at them again. He stood protectively over his nakama, raised his thumb to his mouth, bit down and blew hard and quickly. He barely had enough time to inflate the bone, squeeze the air into his backwards-flung arm and swing the giant punch forward.
As his fist slammed home, he felt something sharp puncture his hand, biting deep. Next moment, the Hairy Thing was staggering, dragging him forward and down with it. Luffy flailed wildly with his free arm and managed to catch a handful of hair. He kicked off against the furry bulk and tried to drag his impaled limb clear. Air escaped from the puncture as he struggled, the pressure flapping his body about, and as it did the limb began to shrink down and the horn only tore deeper into his flesh. If he didn't get his arm loose before all of the air was gone...
He dragged desperately back with all his strength and finally popped free. The force of the last spurt of air tossed him backwards hard and he broke a few more trees.
The Hairy Thing flopped over, shaking the ground when it landed.
Now he was shrunk, and everything felt different like that, objects too big against the planes of his hands, the scents and sounds strange in the new capacity of his nose and ears. He wanted to find Zoro again and make sure he was all right. But in the end he had to sit down, heaving breaths into his shrunken lungs, clutching his torn hand against his ribs to stem the blood, and wait out the long seconds until his body returned to normal.
"Zoro... What a stupid time to be asleep!" Luffy growled, shaking him by the shoulder again. He still wouldn't wake up.
However much Zoro had helped him adapt to the dark, he had already known there were things that bordered on impossible, blind. Apparently dressing wounds was one of them. He couldn't see the damage, all it smelled of was blood, and if he tried to feel out the shape of it then all his fingers felt, too, was blood -- plus it probably didn't help the wound much either.
Zoro had a cut on his head and a bleeding wound along his side that he couldn't be sure the severity of. Luffy had a hole in his hand. In the end, all he could do about either was to tear his shirt up and awkwardly tie the bits of it around the areas that bled.
He couldn't carry the massive meat carcass and Zoro and what was left of the water as well, but he needed the water, and at least some meat to feed Zoro when he woke up, and he definitely needed Zoro. Cautiously, he felt at Zoro's waist and drew a sword. A few inches from its sheath a shiver went through him -- Kitetsu -- and he hurriedly re-sheathed it. Kitetsu didn't like anyone but Zoro. He reached again and found Wadou this time, the blade's more serene loyalty thrumming under his fingers -- and yes, Zoro would hit him if he knew, but he had no choice.
He did wait a moment or two to see if Zoro got up and hit him, but there was no reaction from the swordsman at all. That was bad.
The Hairy Thing was still a little bit alive. As he ventured near, he felt again the warm brush of its nasty breath against his skin, much weaker than before. He clunked his head again and reached up with his good hand to feel the shape of a horn. There was another on the other side of its face. If he'd been able to see them, he could have aimed his punch so he wouldn't hurt himself on those rotten spikes. Stupid giant hairy cow. He raised Wadou and drove the sword home into its skull, between the horns. The bad-breath breeze that tugged at his hair stopped.
Meat. He managed to only cut himself a few times as he sliced off enough of the carcass first to gorge on, and then to take with them.
He returned Wadou and wrapped the meat up in vines for carrying, and wrapped Zoro up in vines too -- though one of the vines turned out to be a surprised snake, and he tossed that away when it hissed at him and he felt the tension shift in its body as it coiled to strike. Finally, he hefted the load; meat and water shifting on vine handles hooked over his shoulders and waist; set Zoro carefully on his shoulder last and held him on with the injured hand. He needed the other hand for swinging the stick.
It wasn't the one Zoro had cut and balanced for him, which was irretrievably lost. Just a branch that he hoped might stop him walking into things. His rubber body wouldn't mind, but Zoro could be injured more.
He had to be a lot more careful than he'd been before. He could remember Sanji's advice on Drum Island, where he'd carried first Nami and then both of them. If he couldn't afford to fight or take hits then, he probably couldn't afford to keep slamming into trees now.
He stepped cautiously forward. The things he carried were no trouble to his strength, but they were awkwardly shaped, and moved around when he walked. Things he didn't know the identity of crunched underfoot. The Hairy Thing and Zoro had destroyed a large area of trees in the fight. It was hard to work his way around obstructions that made no sound and had no smell in any way distinct from the carpet of others strewn about. But he could hear the sea, and it became even clearer when he pulled an ear out of shape with his rubber powers.
It was slow going, but not so difficult as it had been to climb the Drum Rockies. Not painful, only tedious. He kept breaking the stick against things and having to find another. He felt his way around what obstructions he could and climbed when he had no choice. By the time he found the ground levelling out and that he was walking though standing trees and normal jungle, he was covered in little cuts from contact with sharp edges he couldn't see to avoid. He hoped Zoro, who'd already been losing more blood, had escaped the same.
He followed the noises of the sea and the scent of salt again, feeling his way through the trees.
He almost missed it when his hand fell upon the mark deeply hacked into the bark of one particular tree. His touch actually left it before the memory of the shape he'd felt clicked and he scrabbled desperately back, trying to find it again. Thankfully, his fingers slid once more over the familiar sign, and he traced the shape of an arrow point.
Luffy's heart thudded. That way. They were on their way back at last! The Sunny could be waiting already on the beach. The Sunny, the others, Chopper... Zoro probably needed Chopper more than he did, now.
First he had to find the next arrow, and the next one after that... and so on for what felt like forever. Stumbling, exhausted, and probably feeling the wear more because he'd been forced to think so damn much, he carried on, each time afraid he might lose the trail entirely and never find the next mark.
Eventually, he began to feel the breeze more keenly as the trees thinned out, and the sound of the sea was loud and the salt smell strong. He stumbled from grass onto sand and almost dropped everything in sheer relief.
"Hey! Hey, Nami! Sanji! Chopper! Everyone!" he yelled, loud as his voice would go. The sound echoed and the waves crashed against the shore. He pulled back an ear and listened hard for any answering cries, for the slap of waves against the boards of a boat that could signal home.
But there was nothing.
They weren't here yet.
Only Zoro, unconscious and injured, and himself.
Zoro groaned his way to wakefulness, aware even while semi-conscious that pain was absolutely no reason to be lying around. Especially when it was ample proof he'd been weak enough to get hurt, meaning what he needed most was to be up and about, getting stronger.
His head ached a bit and his chest a lot. Felt like at least half a dozen ribs had gone. He was pretty sure he'd been cut, too, but when his fingers twitched down to check there was some kind of horribly inept bandaging job in the way.
He cursed as he rolled his head to the side and, with more effort than the simple act ought to merit, blinked hard and long enough to finally un-gum his eyes.
How the hell had they got back to the beach? Last he remembered... that was right, they'd been in the jungle. Somehow, they'd got lost and had to spend the night again. Then there'd been a creature that looked like a woolly mammoth... He remembered a close encounter with one of its huge horns, his body glancing off the sharp white point, skin tearing, the ground rushing at him, and then nothing more.
But with his eyes now starting to adjust to the dazzle of the daylight and pick out details, he could see that Luffy was right there. About six feet away, he sat with his back curled and thin shoulders hunched, arms wrapped around knees, face pointed out to sea.
Zoro could see other things too. Like one of those amphibian seakings, left slain at the waterline; carcass too heavy to be washed away by the shallow, lapping waves, bloody steaks messily hacked from it by human hand. Like the pile of big coconut shells behind them on the grass bank. And like the unattended cuts on Luffy's skin... Luffy's skin of which he could see a lot, because yes, the bandaging around his own chest seemed to be the better part of his captain's shirt.
The tousled head turned his way -- moving differently in subtle ways. Focusing not with the eyes but with the face as a whole, angling back and forth to get a more all-around picture with senses reduced to the nose and ears -- animalistic, in a fashion. "Zoro?" His voice was strange too, quieter than the swordsman had ever known it. "Zoro, did you make a noise?"
"Yes..." His throat felt like he hadn't spoken in a week. "Yeah, I did. What the hell--?" Luffy looked wild and ragged as he crawled over to his side. His shirt gone, his shorts in tatters, his visible skin scraped -- the only thing on him that was more or less undamaged was the black cloth still tied across his eyes. He had what must have initially been a nasty, deep puncture wound on his hand, but it was now a healing scar. Zoro didn't remember him getting the injury, but even with the way Luffy healed, it must be days old. "How the hell long was I out?"
There was a pause while Luffy's half-covered features seemed to consider. "Three days," he finally responded. "Maybe four." Maybe more, Zoro filled in. "I tried to give you water and feed you, but you wouldn't eat properly in your sleep." That would probably be why his jaw felt so sticky. "And you still wouldn't wake up," Luffy added.
His captain's hand landed on his face, drawing a brief grunt of surprised protest from Zoro, but the touch drifted down his shoulder and side to the inept bandaging. "We should take this off so you can see it and tell how bad it is."
"Uh-huh." He cursed as the bandages, stuck on by dried blood, pulled at the wound. Luffy went away and came carefully back with a palmful of water he slowly tipped over the stuck cloth as they peeled it away. Zoro sighed as he saw the injury, a deep, jagged tear in his right side. But it didn't look infected and it seemed it was beginning to heal. "It's all right," he told Luffy, catching his captain's hand. "It'll be okay."
Which meant he probably mostly felt this lousy for having lain unconscious three or four or more days. "You got water? Some of that seaking meat?"
"Yeah! Meat!" Luffy scrambled off to hack pieces off the seaking with Wadou, a sight that made Zoro's hackles rise and his fingers twitch with the realisation the blade wasn't at his side. Luffy brought the meat over and helped him sit up. His back was leaned against the side of their boat. He wondered again how the hell Luffy had even got them back here, blind--?
The younger man sat cross-legged and rocked back and forth like that. Zoro watched him out of the corner of his eye as he ate. Luffy had undoubtedly managed amazingly, but there was plenty wrong here. He finished eating and took Wadou when his captain guiltily offered it back -- his fingers embracing the familiar shape of the hilt as it returned to his hands.
Cagily, he said, "I'm sorry. I should have been strong enough to kill that thing, but instead I let it catch me off guard and you got left on your own."
Luffy didn't grin or shake it off. Instead, his head hung. The hair that straggled in his face was unwashed, slick with grease. Zoro supposed that if there wasn't much fresh water, he wouldn't have dared the salt waters of the sea just to wash. "I broke it," Luffy mumbled.
He alleviated Zoro's confusion a fraction by a moment later reaching up to touch the bandana around his eyes. Only... the cloth looked whole enough. Zoro sighed heavily.
"It was too dark... and it was always dark... and I waited for you to wake up or for the others to come, but those things didn't happen. I wanted to make sure you were okay. So I took it off. But I still couldn't see, Zoro. Nothing's changed. And I put it back on again afterwards, but it's not the same. I can't make myself think it's just the blindfold any more. I know that behind this I still can't see anything at all, and... there's nothing I can do about it. I failed your test and now it's broken."
"Hey." Zoro couldn't reach, himself, so he swung the sheathed Wadou, landing the end in a sharp crack! against Luffy's skull. Luffy yelped at the unexpected impact, falling sideways onto one hand, and Zoro caught the wrist now within reach. "Don't give up on your eyes til Chopper says so. You hear me? We can't know anything for sure until then." He tugged on the wrist. "Come here."
Luffy resisted and complained, "You'll hit me again," but then gave in and came anyway.
Zoro pulled him down and crushed him against his uninjured side in what for anyone else might've been a bone-breaking hug. "My old teachers would've been proud. Hell of a lot more than they were of me. Just... give it a little while longer, okay?"
He felt the slow nod against his chest, then the thin arms that hesitantly started to reach around him, then paused, lowering their grip to curl by memory below the wound, around his hips.
"They'll be here any day now..."
In fact, it was another week before he saw any ship out on the waters of the bay, and when he did it was a marine vessel and they didn't try to draw its attention.
In the meantime, at least, his own hurts healed enough to allow them to make another expedition for fresh water. While Luffy's spirits never rose to their normal high levels and he remained tainted by that uncharacteristic seriousness, they could at least return to making the best of their situation. When they walked, he trailed after Zoro like a shadow, forced to uncharacteristic silence to manage the world around him, but uncannily self-sufficient without sight.
Whenever they weren't occupied in something he needed his concentration for, Luffy made up for the silence of other times, and on the evenings demanded verbal entertaining to cut through the darkness, tales of Zoro's 'pirate hunter' days or his childhood training. Which it wore him out to recount, because unlike Usopp, he was no storyteller, and didn't know how to spin a story to catch the imagination.
But it wasn't a terrible time, once they got into their rhythm, except for the same awful uncertainty that still hung over them, and their growing fears for what could be taking the others so very long. He was Luffy's eyes during the day, should he need any, and at night they huddled together for warmth.
It was later the same day Zoro had seen the marine ship that their rescue finally arrived, the Sunny bobbing through the waves into the bay, and Nami, Sanji and Usopp jumping down and splashing through the shallows towards them. Though he'd never admit it aloud, Zoro was relieved to see the cook still alive with his vision intact. He hailed them loudly. At his side, Luffy bounced up and down bawling a greeting of, "What the hell took you guys so long!"
They splashed up onto the beach, Usopp and Sanji heading for Luffy with worried exclamations that turned to surprise when the captain, with blind accuracy, stretched his arms and seized them both in a rubbery hug. It was a more unexpected twist to a joyful reunion when Nami marched dripping up to Zoro and landed a hard punch in his face. "You!"
"What the hell was that for?!" Zoro yelled, knocked on his butt in the sand. Luffy and Usopp were laughing, grabbing at each other's shoulders and dancing clumsily, while Sanji's gaze was fixed upon the blindfold on Luffy's face, his smile damped by concern.
"You!" Nami yelled again. "Only you! Two weeks we spent searching! Nobody else in the whole world could have done it! Nobody!"
Behind her, Franky was carrying Chopper and Robin across from the ship, wading with one on each shoulder, tall body holding them above the waves. The cyborg's eyebrows raised at the scene, but he seemed unsurprised.
"What's she talking about?" Zoro demanded, looking to Usopp and the crap-cook. Luffy was no use at all, hanging off the shoulders of his reunited nakama with a face full of grins.
Nami explained herself. "There is no reasonable way that the currents in these waters could have carried you to this island from the place we lost you. Only you could get lost against all the laws of nature, Zoro! We tried everywhere you could have reached alive first, damn it, before we started checking the impossible! That's what took so long, Luffy." She paused, her indignation evaporating as she remembered their captain. Zoro took the chance to get his feet back under him and scoot around to put the others between them.
"Your poor eyes..." Nami reached for Luffy's face, hands brushing over the blindfold. "Sanji told us... We've been so worried!"
Luffy had stilled, as though not sure what to do about all the poking and prodding. Not used to being around so many people without the ability to see, Zoro supposed the numbers had to be confusing, and now Chopper, Robin and Franky were also arriving volubly at the shore to add to the confusion. He opened his mouth to lend Luffy some support, but was too late to protest those interfering hands of the crap-cook reaching past Nami for the blindfold.
"I..." Luffy began, and stopped. Sanji's fingers had pulled back the cloth from one large, pale, blinking disc. His breath caught, wide mouth dropping open, and Nami and Sanji fell back in surprise as he yanked the bandana entirely free in a sudden wild movement. He opened both eyes wide, and took a few halting steps up to the nearest person. He zoomed his face in close to theirs. "A shadow!" His hands slapped ungently at his chosen target, too excited to be as careful as he'd learned to be. His fingers caught a long nose. "Usopp! You're Usopp! I can see you! You're all grey and blurry!"
He twisted and his frantically blinking eyes homed in on someone else, hands groping again for the confirmation. "Nami! --ow, don't hit me, I didn't mean to touch that!"
Again he turned, face screwed up and a trail of moisture at the corner of each eye -- "Zoro!"
"You did that by scent," Zoro said, since Luffy's eyes had squeezed closed now and his hands hadn't even touched him. Though he was still smiling, all the same.
"Yeah." He grinned, and his forehead furrowed in almost comical intensity. "I'd know Zoro anywhere," Luffy announced fiercely.
But he finally grimaced, and raised his arm to cover his eyes. "Agh! It hurts!"
Chopper, transforming to heavy point, caught his arm and gently pulled it away. He tied the reclaimed bandana gently back into place. "Keep your eyes covered, Luffy. It was very smart to do that until now. It probably helped a lot." The doctor cast an approving glance at Zoro, who returned a wholly blank one back. "I'll make a full examination when we're aboard the Sunny, but... this is a good sign, Luffy."
Chopper straightened, and beamed around everyone. "It's a good sign!"