A/N: For the first day of #zoluweek – prompt: Fantasy AU! So I made it into a Youkai AU with a Natsume Yuujinchou twist!

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

There's… a kid staring at him. Or rather, there's a teen that looks around Zoro's age that is standing uncomfortably close to him on the train on the way to his school.

Zoro's never seen this kid before. And if he had, he's pretty sure that he would have remembered him. He's got unnaturally large eyes, unnaturally dark hair, and he's got a ridiculously over-sized straw hat on his head that the kid keeps looking up at Zoro from under the shade of.

That, plus Zoro feels confident he would have remembered a guy with a really obvious scar right under his left eye. Scars like that didn't come without a story of bloodshed behind them.

Zoro's eyes rake over the boy's clothing. He's wearing a school uniform; it's a blazer-less dress shirt with a light blue tie and navy blue dress pants - but the way the boy wears them, they're rolled from the ankles up to mid-calf.

The uniform ensemble itself seems pretty standard, but it's not one that Zoro recognizes from around the prefecture; which in itself is odd, seeing as Zoro has already beaten up all the thug bosses around said prefecture. Perhaps the kid was from out of town?

Zoro's train of thought is thrown off its rails when the automated voice of the conductor issues from the speakers and announces his stop. Without a glance back, he exits the train and continues on his (wrong) way to school.

Not like he'll be seeing the kid again.

He's wrong about that.

Zoro ends up seeing the kid again. Every. Single. Day.

It's getting a little creepy what with the way the kid has this unblinking stare somewhere over the top of Zoro's head. He wants to confront the guy about it, maybe speak up and ask why the hell he was staring at him. But then again, the kid (Zoro doesn't even know his name - hasn't even bothered to try and find out for the past few weeks) hadn't really done anything wrong. Hadn't once touched him, or glared at him, or talked to him. The only thing he had done was send this oddly fascinated look in Zoro's direction.

It's weird. And unsettling. It makes Zoro jumpy. Makes him stare too hard at someone or second guess his judgement when he bumps into new people nowadays.

Zoro makes up his mind then and there. He's going to have to stop this. For the sake of his mentality and his rapidly deteriorating trust in the world. (Nevermind trust in himself - he'd had one too many mishaps with that to fully trust his instincts anymore, but if Zoro wanted to stop the nagging paranoia that was building up in his system, he'd have to confront the kid once and for all.)

With a deep-seated breath, Zoro turns to look at the boy with the ridiculous straw hat. Only for the said boy to jump as if caught with his hand in a cookie-jar and to scurry off at the next station.

Mouth left hanging open in his attempt to get a word out, Zoro stands frozen in place until his stop comes.

Well, if nothing else, there was always tomorrow.

The next day, Zoro finds that once he steps onto the train, the boy that usually gets on at the next stop to stand uncomfortably close to him as he basically hugs a pole like a stripper, is not in his regular spot stewing in Zoro's armpit.

He's over at the other end of the train carriage, pressed up against the wall and regarding Zoro with a skeptical gaze. It's strange - this distance between them. Especially after Zoro's spent close to a month ignoring the other's presence practically pressed up against him.

Before he makes the conscious decision, Zoro finds his feet moving until he's standing in front of the boy in a semi-private area of the train where eyes are less likely to wander. He boxes the guy in with his shoulders, pressing close to the wall so that he can't make a last-minute escape like last time.

The kid with the scar under his left eye blinks up at Zoro without a hint of the trepidation seen the day before - in fact, it almost looks like they're twinkling in anticipation. Suddenly, Zoro can't get the words out. His tongue is sticking to the roof of his mouth and his nerves are tingling and each hair stands on end- but he can't make a sound.

Instead, the kid fucking smiles and it catches Zoro completely off-guard.

"I like your hair!" he chirps abruptly, rocking up onto the balls of his toes to shove both hands into Zoro's vibrant green mop. He hasn't gotten it cut in a while, so it's a bit long. Long enough for the mystery kid to card his fingers through them.

Zoro rears back like a spooked horse. "What the hell?" he hisses, shoulders climbing up to his ears in a protective hunch.

"Is it natural?" the kid asks, eyes sparkling something hopeful.

Zoro clears his throat discretely, a little put out by the way the kid completely ignored his blatant indignation at being touched. "Y-yeah. It is."

"Cooool~!" The boy sing-songs. "Hey, you're pretty amazing! What's your name?"

Zoro's not really sure having green hair is all that amazing, but- "Before you ask for someone else's name, isn't it polite to give yours first?" he shoots back without missing a beat.

The boy hums, tilting his head in consideration. "Yeah, you're right. I'm Luffy! Monkey D. Luffy!" Luffy's grin is wide and bright, but his voice has a quiet, hushed tone. Zoro's head spins.

"Zoro," he hears himself answer accordingly. "Roronoa Zoro."

"Zo-rooo.." the kid - Luffy - drawls, testing out the syllables on his tongue. The way it sounds in the kid's voice shouldn't be so pleasing to Zoro, but it is. And it's weird.

"You-" Zoro blurts without thinking. "Suddenly on first-name basis? Isn't that a little bold?"

Luffy blinks at him. "Would you rather I have called you by your last name?" he asks, owlish eyes seeing straight through Zoro.

"No…" the swordsman sighs, grimacing. "Zoro is fine."

"Weirdo," the boy hums under his breath, lips quirking into a teasing smile that has no malicious intent behind it whatsoever. Still, Zoro prickles at the word.

"I don't want to hear that from someone who stared at me for like, a month straight without saying anything!" he growls. He lowers his voice to a conspiratorial murmur when people start giving him funny looks from out of the corners of their eyes. "It was all because of my hair anyway, right?"

Luffy places a hand on his straw hat as if it's about to be blown away in the soggy air of the train and his grin grows wider (Zoro didn't think it was possible, but here it is, staring him in the face). "Yup! It was interesting! A mystery colour!"

Well, that explained why the kid had stared at the space above Zoro's head every single goddamn day. "It's not that strange," he grumbles more to himself than to anyone else. A flashback montage of a blonde idiot calling him a marimo comes to mind, and he has to push away the thought before he grinds all his teeth to dust. Instead, he distracts himself with a burning question he's held onto since day one: "Hey, you, which school do you go to? I haven't seen that uniform around this prefecture."

Luffy laughs. "I don't go to school in this prefecture. Mine's technically over in the next town."

"Hah? The next town?" Zoro says, disgruntled. "Isn't that a little far?" A little far is an understatement. It would take about half the day to get to the next town by train. And this kid has to make a round trip everyday. What the hell.

Luffy shrugs his shoulders like the details of it couldn't have mattered to him less.

"That doesn't make sense," Zoro grouses, brows furrowing down the middle of his face. "It would take you half the day to get there and then half the day to get back. How the hell would you have time to actually do anything, let alone go to school?"

A mischievous smile lights the kid's face. "I don't. Go to school that is. I only go to see my friends. They all live in separate towns, so I go to see them when I can. Otherwise, I just get off at the stop after yours to see my brothers."

Well, at least that made marginally more sense than travelling by train to the next town just for school. Zoro feels tempted to ask about the kid's schooling and what he's doing about that, but he holds his tongue. He doesn't know the kid's situation, and it isn't his place to ask. So he'll let the issue lie.

"Hmmm. I see. So where do you live?" Zoro asks as a diversion, not really expecting a straightforward answer.

"On the south side of East Blue Mountain," Luffy replies easily.

An eyebrow raises itself on Zoro's forehead. "I live on the North side of that mountain."

That explains why the kid always got on one stop after Zoro did. East Blue Mountain wasn't really a mountain, but more like an over-glorified hill that had gained its status as a mountain due to its long-standing history and ancient forest.

"Cool! So I guess I can just meet you in the mountains then instead of on this crowded train!"

Zoro splutters. "Who ever said I would meet you anywhere? We just met!"

"Hm? But isn't Zoro my friend now?"

Zoro has gone through the sensation of vertigo once before when he had trained so hard he nearly collapsed. He feels like that now, but at the moment he's just talking to Luffy. "That's not how it works!" he yells, "I'm not meeting you anywhere, friends or not!"

He's not sure how long he'll last if he has to interact with the kid for longer than an half-an-hour train ride.

He ends up meeting Luffy in the forest between their homes later that day.

Zoro can't really say how it came about, but one moment Luffy had yelled at him to meet him at the tree in the very middle of the forest as he hopped off the train, and the next, Zoro's feet were leading him there after school.

There really is no harm in meeting the boy, Zoro surmises. The worst that could happen is that Luffy isn't there, and Zoro would have to make the trek back home. Second-worst is that Zoro doesn't go, and Luffy is stuck waiting for him. Neither's a good option in Zoro's books. It simply wasn't moral.

So, into the forest he goes.

It comes as a sort of surprise when he finds that the tree in the very middle of the forest is a sakura tree. When he walks up under it, he finds Luffy sitting in between its boughs, napping soundly. His left arm and leg are dangling over the side of the trunk he's sleeping on, barely visible under the heavy cover of blooming sakura blossoms. That ridiculously over-sized straw hat of his is resting in his lap, nearly drowned in pink petals that spill haphazardously over the brim.

In the fading light of day, surrounded by off-white petals that light on his dark hair, Luffy almost doesn't look human.

He looks a world away, part of that other world, full of its mysteries and possibilities that shouldn't exist.

He looks ethereal.

But then he blinks his eyes open at the sound of Zoro approaching, and something grounds him - pulls that incorporeal glow back into himself until he has the temporal body of someone from Zoro's world. A human, a mortal, a being that wallows in dirt and sweat and blood.

Zoro finds that to his eyes, Luffy looks good in both.

That month, they talk a lot. Or rather, Luffy talks a lot.

He talks about his friends that live in the towns over that he sometimes goes to visit when he has nothing to do, how these guys named Chopper and Robin and Brook and his brother Ace live in or near forests like this one.

How crocodile meat is one of his favourite meats because it's so tasty (how Luffy came across crocodile meat in Japan's mountains has left Zoro bamboozled for at least three days before he gave up thinking about it).

He talks about how he often trains with the monkeys that live further up north in another mountain called Ruskaina that Zoro has never been to (the fact that Luffy trains in combat has led to some pretty epic sparring sessions that honestly give Zoro a run for his money).

He shows Zoro all the best hidey-holes to sneak into when playing hide-and-seek (in which Zoro learns that Luffy really knows his way around East Blue mountain).

And in the times when Luffy runs out of things to say, they talk with their bodies instead of their words. A flicker of eyes to the side. A slow blink. Lips that curl back into a knowing smile. Fingers that twitch around an ankle. Shoulders that bump when they walk side-by-side.

Each is a conversation on its own.

And when those peter out, they just sit there in the swaying grass, enjoying each other's presence.

That, in itself is rare, because Luffy is always getting into something, so there's never really a moment of rest in his company - but sometimes it happens. And those are the moments that Zoro treasures the most.

On Zoro's part, he doesn't talk. He doesn't fill the silence between them with idle chatter like Luffy does. Doesn't tell Luffy about his friends Nami and Usopp and Vivi and Franky or (begrudgingly) Sanji. He doesn't talk about his past or his future. Doesn't need to mention that he is a swordsman (not that the three katana slung across his back don't give it away), or that he has lost all sight in his left eye.

He answers when talked to, and manages to hold a conversation; but Zoro always keeps his cards close to his chest.

He does not tell Luffy about the promise he made when he received Wado Ichimonji. He does not tell him about his dream of being the number one swordsman in the world, or the scar across his torso that he got chasing it. And he certainly does not mention to Luffy that he can see youkai. Ever.

Because being with Luffy doesn't require him to be transparent like that. Luffy doesn't ask, and Zoro doesn't tell. He meets Zoro at face value, and takes what he can get. Zoro respects that.

That's how their tentative friendship works - Zoro likes it that way, and he intends to keep it that way.

That's why he doesn't ask questions, and Luffy doesn't tell.

It's a typical day. He meets Luffy at the sakura tree in the very middle of East Blue forest and then they head off for something like fishing or sparring or napping in the shade of some trees.

It's a typical day. Until, of course, it's not.

They're picking their way through the undergrowth in search of a boar to catch and roast when a youkai comes barrelling through the trees, screaming its vengeance on the Roronoa name.

Without even thinking, Zoro has already unsheathed Wado Ichimonji and has swung its sharpened blade down in one swipe. The youkai goes wheeling backwards, swearing and cursing up a storm. It bumps into a conifer, little pine needles sprinkling down onto its unkempt hair, peppering the snowy silver with a smattering of deep green.

Zoro notes with some dissatisfaction that he didn't cut deep enough; the youkai is still writhing from the pain of the gash down the middle of its ginormous head instead of extinguished into ashes on the forest floor.

It's then that something occurs to Zoro. Something unsettling. He hasn't seen a youkai like this in such a long time. And it's especially odd that he hasn't seen one from this forest - this forest that he's grown up in all his life - been tormented in for all his life. At least, not since the beginning of the month. Not since Luffy.

The name catches in Zoro's brain and plays on repeat. Luffy.

Was he-? Did he have anything to do with this? Was it a coincidence? Could he see them?

Like being doused in cold water, Zoro catches the youkai out of the corner of his good eye. It's running straight at Luffy.

"Fuck," he hisses, placing Wado Ichimonji into his mouth and drawing the other two katana from their scabbards before breaking into a flat sprint.

The youkai is fast. It's already half way to Luffy, stumbling and making a racket, and the little fucker hasn't even turned around.

Because he can't see them.

Because he's human, Zoro thinks frantically.

Heart pulsing harsh against his chest, Zoro races against the youkai to get to him first.

But he's too late.

He watches in slow-motion as his friend is knocked over flat on his ass, a giant youkai hovering over him with its mouth hanging open. Luffy is rubbing at the bump on his head, seemingly oblivious to the danger about to eat him.

Zoro grits his teeth. Strains a little further. A little faster. He can make it. He can-

Zoro sees red and a scream echoes in his ears. For a heart-stopping moment, Zoro feels his blood turn to ice. Feels all his organs drop from under him. Forgets how to breathe- how to live.

But it's not Luffy's scream that he hears. It's the youkai's.

Everything rushes back into motion. Luffy is standing on his feet, fist raised as he punches the youkai again over the ear in a left hook following his uppercut. His expression is dark, lips pressed together in a deep line and brows creased low over thunderous eyes. Luffy's gaze leaves the youkai in front of him for all of a millisecond to spare a glance at Zoro. And then suddenly everything is too bright. Grimacing against the blinding blue that radiates out from Luffy's body, Zoro squints through the purifying light and he sees it.

On Luffy's forehead, a symbol appears - twining and ancient and definitely not human.

The youkai disappears in a wisp of black smoke and then it's just Luffy and Zoro, standing in the ringing silence of the forest as the youkai's dying howls make the surrounding trees groan and shudder at the fading sound.

Zoro doesn't say 'I thought you were human'. Doesn't ask Luffy 'Why didn't you tell me?'. Doesn't mutter under his breath, 'You should have said something.'

Because that was their relationship - that was how they worked. Zoro didn't ask, Luffy didn't tell.

But he supposed it didn't matter anymore.

In retrospect, their friendship (if he could call it that - he wanted to call it that) didn't require Zoro to be transparent like that because all this time, Luffy could see right through him anyway; right through to his core. He met Zoro at face value, and took what he could get - what Zoro was willing to give to him. And that was everything.

Zoro lets out a short huff of disbelief.

In the end, nothing had really changed, had it?

"So you're an ayakashi," Zoro says, sheathing his swords. He doesn't ask.

"Nah, not really," Luffy replies, bending over to pick up his straw hat and dusting off the top with a few firm pats. He places it back on his head with reverent care, but doesn't tell.

That was just how they worked.

"I see," Zoro eventually hums, already following after Luffy as he begins picking his way through the crushed undergrowth.

They continue on with their day without another word. Today was one of those days, Zoro guessed.

A/N: Aaaaand the end! I hope this had a Natsume Yuujinchou feel to it. I've been watching the anime recently and just finished the sixth season. (I've never clicked on an OVA so fast in my life.)

In case it wasn't that readily apparent, Luffy is a youkai (umbrella term meaning "demon/ghost/supernatural being") sort of like Nyanko-sensei, but is closer to being a deity (as shown by the purifying light) than an ayakashi (a lesser spirit/apparition that "appears over a body of water").

Also, yes, he's been acting as guardian/bodyguard to Zoro since he's met him. I couldn't resist.