A/N: I'm posting this fic today for two reasons, one in celebration of my return from Italy on tour with my choir. It was hot, and stressful, singing in these big (gorgeous) churches with all these strangers who may or may not understand a word we're singing, but I'm a traveler at heart and Italy is beautiful. So I really did have an amazing time. It's an experience I will hold dear forever. Back to the point at hand, this fic is how I spent the majority of the 9 hour plane ride over the Atlantic ocean back to the states from Zurich, Switzerland. The other reason is that yesterday was One Piece's first publishing date! In Shonen Jump, on July 19, 1997, the first chapter was sent out to viewers. I think it deserves a quick congratulatory clap, maybe a cake, and certainly a published fic, even though I didn't know it was yesterday until this morning. Either way, I dedicate this fic as a belated birthday fic for One Piece! Please enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own One Piece! Please hail Oda! 3
*A LINE BREAK... BEHOLD*
He strides down the cobblestone street on the Thursday afternoon before the first of June. The air is cool, but everything else is wet, and it smells like the end of summer, even though it's just beginning. His sandals make loud slaps with every step. Each breath shakes, but you can only hear if you get right up close, which no one does.
There's a bum on the corner, who shakes his tin cup at the man as he passes, but is ignored. Water is gushing through the gutters, last night's late storm still pouring through the pipes, and its spilling onto the streets as well, getting people's feet wet.
The man turns the corner with a slow and ambling turn, the new street is empty but it doesn't make much of a difference. He doesn't care anyway. So long as the drink's tolerable.
Though he supposes that doesn't matter much either.
One establishment on this street has lit lights, and though you'd never think to find a bar empty at seven o clock, it is. This bar is too small to house many more then fifteen, and too buried in the street maze to be found by someone who may actually care to remember it. When he opens the door it squeaks loudly, and the bartender drops the book he'd been reading at one of the side tables.
"Hey Ossan. Are you open?"
The barman looks confused for a second before nodding and picking the book off the floor and setting it on the table, standing and brushing off his pant legs.
"Yes. Would you like something?" The barman is in no rush, he's never had to be. He runs a quiet business, even though its a bar.
The man smiled, a quiet smile. It looked very small on his face. Eyes softening it with sadness. His voice quiet.
The barman nodded again, and pulled out one of his heavier bottles, the one he poured for any man who looked like that while asking for anything. But its not anything they want. Its something.
So the glass is filled with a heavy brandy, amber and dark, and the man takes a seat before the counter, spinning slightly on the stool and swinging his feet. He lifts it to his face and looks into it for a second.
"This'll get me drunk right?" The barman looks up at the question and replies quizzically.
"If you drink enough. Yes."
And he chugs the glass down, coughing as he sets it back on the counter and grimacing as though he'd like to spit it out.
"I don't like that stuff."
"You still have to pay for it."
A moment passed. The man fingered his glass and ran his tongue over his lips. A clock is ticking in the backroom.
It goes on for an hour or two, till the stock runs out of the brandy and the barman replaces it with whiskey. His customer is determined to drink himself under the table, and it seems to be going well so far.
The growl of distaste that accompanied the tenth glass was the first sign, and then the slur of words, the pause of the chair spinning. The barman would suppose he should get some information from the man on who to call or else he could get stuck with the man sleeping on his counter for the night. He can't bring himself to truly mind though. Maybe its the business he's getting, maybe he doesn't want to stop the steady process of draining subtle fear and stress from a man who really needs it gone.
"This stuff is really bad, Ossan."
"Do you want another?"
The barman actually stumbles a bit, in the sudden brilliance of the simple smile shown before him. He realizes that this is why the previous smile felt too small, because this is what belongs on his face, perhaps even more. And now he's determined to do his job, and really pull away whatever wet blanket has been placed over this bonfire.
"So. You have the money to pay for this?"
"Yeah! Well. Sorta. I have it back on my pirate ship! With all my friends and my hat. Usually I keep it with me, but I don't know how this is gonna turn out. I've never been drunk."
Perhaps the man is farther gone then he thought.
"Can you pay me?"
"That's fine then."
He's not sure he should trust the man, but that smile was so clear. And yet muffled... How is he supposed to say no to anything this man says? When he is obviously in so much pain already.
"Its not all its cracked up to be. What's the occasion?"
The mans brow crinkles and his head tilts an inch to the left, clearly an expression of confusion.
"Why do you want to get drunk?" The barman simplifies slowly.
"There's someone I miss."
Ah. A lover probably. Its always sad when the romantics wander in, all puppy eyed and somber. He should have guessed. Any one could fall in love with the flash of happiness that had shone for a moment before. In fact many probably had.
And suddenly the man is standing, all shaking limbs and quivering features as he begins to pace, his hands flying over his body in search of something to do with themselves. He's alien to the man who was sitting at his stool, and the barman shouldn't be surprised because that's what alcohol can do to a mind and body.
But it still hurts when he sees the flush spread across the man's face, the stagger in his steps. Sees the frantic clench and blink routine that shows the man is seeing something else and he wants to wake up. When his fingers start pinching his arms and leaving red dots up and down his arms he almost reaches out to stop him.
"Sake!" The man yells suddenly and in an instant one hand is at his head and the other has the bar tender's shirt. "Bring me sake! Now!" And then he drops him, and without hesitation the barman scuttles off into his cellar, rifles through to find his sake stock and carries the bottle back to he who demanded it.
An order given like that usually left him to be assaulted for the bottle, and once it was retrieved, it was guzzled. But he is the given the opportunity to set it on the counter, and even after a few moments it sits.
"Sake." He says "here you go." But the man doesn't move, just stared at the bottle and clutches at his head.
"Where're the cups?"
Cups. Alright. The barman sifts around beneath his counter. Few sake drinkers have need for cups, but who is he to question the customer?
The cups the man snatches at, pulls the four that he produced from his hands like they're jewels and diamonds. One is discarded, dropped immediately after being picked up. It clatters on the counter.
The third is fingered for a moment, before being set down carefully, the second and first following. The man pops the cork, with some difficulty, and once it is flowing it is poured sloppily into each cup, sloshing up the edges of each shallow dish.
He stares for a moment, and his hands move to the counter edge where they grip hard and leave deep dents in the wood.
And then he looks at the barman with a heavy gaze. Heavy with sorrow and pain and hate for someone or something. The barman takes a step back, hesitates, turns and sits.
The man lifts one cup, the sake swirls, slightly clouded. He breathes deeply, its still shaky.
"To my brothers."
The barman blinked as the man extended his arm, the yellow cup gripped tightly. He held it there, arm hovering in the dim lighting of the bar, the smell of varnish and dust, another round of rain had started up at some point.
Then he downed the cup, his eyes moist and glistening, even the little light in the room setting the liquid sparkling.
The cup was set down, empty now. The other two remained full, he did not pick them up.
The bar tender watched his customer carefully, unsure of how to react to the clearly meaningful display a few moments ago.
The clock ticked in the back room, the rain lightened, they could hear frogs, chirping. If there were people out on the street could probably hear the tremor of the man's breath, perhaps smell the alcohol that rode it.
Minutes passed in the silence between the two men, one nervous, the other somewhat contemplative and partially spaced out. And then the man dressed in red and blue stood and stretched his arms over his head, yawning.
"Thanks for letting me drink ossan! My nakama don't like it when I drink today. Sanji only gives me juice anymore. And the sake was really good! Not as good, but good!" And there was the full strength of his smile, the one that had been only slightly uncovered at various times of the night. The man suddenly appeared a boy, and the barman decided that he'd been a boy all along, that it was sadness that made him a man not happiness that made him a child.
"I'll tell Zoro this place is on the other side of town, he might find it! Shihihi."
The barman was feeling a bit of vertigo, the attitude change was stunning. still, he managed his own small smile and a wink.
"Guess you better get back to those friends before they realize you were gone for long enough to get yourself that drink."
"My nakama." He corrects him.
"Nakama." The barman agrees and collects the empty sake cups from the counter, he feels that surely the boy would be very upset if he removed the still full cups just yet. He drops them in the sink with the last glass he'd been using. He suddenly realizes he hasn't collected the money for a single drink the man ordered that night.
"You still need to p..."
"See ya, ossan!"
And the door swings shut as someone sings on the street about sake and sakura and the rain dribbles away into a silvery clouded sky.