Chapter summary: He didn't ask, so Luffy assumed.

A/N: Since Luffy is a youkai, his narrative style is very different from the previous chapter's. Time takes place at very different rates for him; at times, scenes may run together, and in others, they may follow Zoro's narrative timeline. Conversations tend to be truncated or attention given to different details.

All in all, I've tried to encapture the way the world looks from the eyes of a youkai.

There's a guy on the train come spring. Luffy is pretty sure the month is April, but when one lives as long as he does, time doesn't mean much. The passing of seasons is about the only way Luffy marks time, and even then it is only for the snow or rain or colour or sunshine that it brings that excites him enough to anticipate the turning of the clock.

But this spring, time brings something new with it.

He looks young. As young as Luffy's current form. And his hair is green. Which is really cool. In fact, Luffy can't stop looking at it. It's a vibrant green that seems almost natural, like the grass that's just now starting to spring out from the thawed earth. It makes him want to stare. To run his hands through it. To tug on those short locks to see if they were really strands of hair instead of grass. Maybe they would taste like grass too.

What a mysterious thing.

Except, it's not a thing, per se, it's a human. A mystery human. And from the vacant look in his eyes out the train window behind Luffy, he can't see him. Just like every other human.

Ace had always told Luffy to mind his manners and that staring and touching people without permission was rude, but since the guy couldn't see him in the first place, it wouldn't hurt if he looked a little, right?


Luffy stares at the human on the train day after day, never-endingly fascinated by his bright green hair. Sometimes, in moments like these, he wished humans were able to see him again, talk to him again, touch him again. Just like they were able to back in the day.

It's almost as if the passing thought summons the guy's eyes to him.

It's then that Luffy notices that the human is looking at him. Not looking as he had before, with glancing eyes that rove over his face passively, as if wasn't there, but actually looking at Luffy.

The human takes in a breath, scowl fixed on his face and mouth opening in preparation of saying something. Luffy flees. He wasn't about to get scolded for staring at someone. Least of all by Ace, if he ever found out that Luffy'd been staring at a human that could see all this time.

Luffy wonders if humans would feel shame at being caught doing something like that, but he wouldn't know. He's not one of them. Instead, he feels curiosity and excitement bubble in his gut. A human could see. After the longest time, finally, a human could see Luffy again.

He couldn't wait to make friends with this new guy.

The next day, Luffy gets onto the train early. He'd been visiting Robin the previous night, and was taking the train that ran his usual route to Sabo's school in the morning. (Where Ace was no doubt following and guarding his human - their brother. Luffy still giggles at the thought.)

The morning rush of humans in and out of the train pushes Luffy to the end of the carriage, pressed up against a wall where humans were less likely to bump into him. Not that he would have minded all that much, but sometimes he didn't like the clinging emotions that would linger on his skin after contact with annoyed humans, cloying and buzzing in his ears like some giant cicada that got stuck in there.

When the train finally reaches the stop at the North side of East Blue Mountain, Luffy sees the interesting human step onto the train. His vibrant green hair doesn't make it any harder to spot him, but the pack of humans between him and the guy does. So Luffy cranes his neck to see the guy search the cabin, eyes roving over every person until they land on Luffy, tucked into the little corner of the train and leaning against the wall.

Holding his breath, Luffy desperately hopes that the day before wasn't a coincidence. That the human that finally looked at Luffy had actually seen him.

The guy's feet move in Luffy's direction, eyes dead set on his face, and Luffy can't help the anticipation in his expression when the human finally closes the gap between them - boxing him in with his shoulders. Standing so close to each other, Luffy can feel the spiritual power radiating from the human; it's strong. Strong, for a human, despite the way it rises off the guy and dissipates in the atmosphere like an air freshener's scent. Which made sense - before this, Luffy had felt the presence throughout the whole cabin, spread out and thinned; enough that the source was hard to pinpoint.

A flip goes off in Luffy stomach, and he faintly pushes back with his own power, pressing forward and enveloping the human with his youki until the leak of spiritual power is contained in a little bubble around the two of them. The human stills, body going rigid and jaw locking before he gets the chance to open it. Luffy's interest piques a little further; the fact that the guy could pick up on such a subtle action… This human was really interesting!

Luffy breaks into a grin that he doesn't bother suppressing.

"I like your hair," he says to the human, finally getting to reach up and thread both hands through those green strands. The human jerks back into motion, hissing something that Luffy doesn't pay attention to in favour of giving his hair a gentle tug, mindful that humans are fragile things, and notes that his hair really was hair, and not a wig.

"Is it natural?" Luffy asks, peering into the human's eyes. He's a little disappointed that they're not green like his hair, but the excitement comes back to him when Luffy learns that his hair, was indeed, green by birth.

It's cool, and Luffy makes sure to mention as such. "What's your name?" he asks eventually, eager to have a name to put to the face. Names were important; especially to youkai.

"Before you ask for someone else's name, isn't it polite to give yours first?" the human grunts gruffly.

Luffy takes a second to try and remember Sabo's lessons on politeness… or was it manners? Maybe it was atticus? No, no, wasn't that etiquette…? Either way, it doesn't ring any bells, but he doesn't bother refuting the human's logic. He was probably right about the manner stuff anyways.

"I'm Luffy! Monkey D. Luffy," he says, voice low so that only his human can hear. Names were powerful things, and although most youkai called him 'Strawhat,' he wanted this human to know his spoken name.

"Zoro," the human with green hair says, matching Luffy's tone. "Roronoa Zoro."

Luffy tastes the name on his tongue, judging the power of it and the soul of this human. It feels good in his mouth, an instinct that Luffy has come to trust means that a person had a good soul and a better heart.

"You-" Zoro chokes out, head lowering and eyes squinting. "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. He was pretty sure humans liked their first names though. They were unique to the person and not their family, right? Sabo liked his first name better than his last name, after all…

Maybe Zoro was secretive about his name in the same way that youkai were? It wouldn't be surprising, what with his power.

"No," Zoro eventually sighs, his mouth pulling downward. His entire face sags like he's tired. "Zoro is fine."

Luffy scrunches his brows together, but doesn't drop his smile. This human was weird. If he wanted Luffy to call him by his first name, why did he bother trying to change Luffy's mind? "Weirdo," he comments instead.

Luffy watches in fascination as Zoro's hackles raise and he goes off on a tangent about Luffy's staring. Humans were so much like youkai sometimes. Their emotions were so transparent, so present in their bodies and the way they moved. It never ceased to amaze him how alike they were.

Luffy zones back in to the conversation when Zoro's voice lowers into a whisper. "It was all because of my hair anyway, right?"

Hiding his grin behind his straw hat at being reminded on how they were brought together, Luffy replies blithely, "Yup! It was interesting! A mystery colour!"

The human with green hair huffs out a cross between a laugh and a sigh. "It's not strange," he grumbles under his breath.

The rest of the conversation is about mundane things that Luffy doesn't bother going into detail explaining about. Zoro seems confused. Which, Luffy supposes is a natural reaction. A lot of people were confused when they first met him too. It just took time to get used to his pace, was all.

As it turns out, Zoro lives on the other side of East Blue Mountain, the perfect place for Luffy to meet up with his new friend - seeing as that mountain was his and Ace's home base anyway.

After spending his morning and part of his afternoon with Ace and Sabo at the latter's school, Luffy excuses himself from their midst and heads back home, eager to meet with Zoro.

Luffy knows Zoro will be there when he arrives. He has a feeling he will be.

Zoro's late.

Luffy knows he's late, and not not coming, because Luffy can feel his presence in the forest; it's the same presence Luffy had wrapped up in his youki and shielded from the eyes of other youkai the very same morning. And for the past two hours, the little blip on Luffy's radar had kept making strange turns and taking roundabout paths.

Luffy's pretty sure Zoro's wildly lost. And also that he was an idiot. Either way, he'd eventually end up finding Luffy.

Until then, Luffy might as well take a nap in the sakura tree he was sitting in. He had all the time in the world, after all.

In the following days, Luffy is excited to meet his new friend every evening after school.

He tells Zoro about Chopper and Robin and Brook and Ace and Sabo and how amazing all of them are. He tells Zoro about his favourite kinds of meat (which is all of them, but especially crocodile meat), the monkeys he trains with at Ruskaina (Luffy's resolved to bring Zoro there eventually. He's sure the swordsman would enjoy the challenge), and best of all, Luffy gets to play hide-and-seek with Zoro.

There are so many things he gets to do that he hadn't been able to do with humans in such a long time. Zoro can see him, can hear him, can touch him. Luffy can enjoy Zoro's presence next to his, even when they aren't doing anything. When they don't bother doing anything until the sun sets and the stars come out.

The moonlight on those nights illuminates Zoro's green hair and his sharp features and the way he looks up at the sky like he could see the world from here, sitting with Luffy side-by-side in the swaying grass.

Those moments are rare, but they are Luffy's favourite.

Zoro doesn't talk much about himself. And he never really asks Luffy any questions about himself either, so Luffy assumes.

Assumes that the scent of mikans, Tabasco sauce, scrap metal, foreign spices and cigarette smoke belong to his friends. Or the fact that the three katana imbued with Zoro's spiritual power represent his past, his present, and his future as a swordsman. And even that Zoro cannot find him as easily in hide-and-seek when he sneaks around on Zoro's left side because of the scar over his eye.

Luffy knows these things instinctively. Zoro is transparent like that.

And the things that Luffy does look for- those are things that Zoro gives to him on his own.

Like the promise he made on the white katana. Zoro holds that one closest to his body when they spar. Swings it hardest when he cuts. Luffy can feel the most spiritual power gathered in that sword out of the three; and it's not only Zoro's spirit essence that he feels in the heirloom either. It belonged to someone else originally, someone who's passed away, what with the way Luffy can feel part of their soul still clinging to the blade - making it stronger, sturdier - in a way that the wielder cannot. That sword is without doubt Zoro's longest and oldest companion. It is a promise made in blood and sweat and tears.

More than that though, Luffy does not need to ask about Zoro's ambition in life.

Not when Luffy mentions Zoro is good with his blades and then soundly beats him in the next moment using nothing but his fists and a little spirit essence to bolster his punches. Zoro's eyes burn the brightest in those fractions of time; they burn with the kind of light that does not belong to someone who half-asses their art. Those are the eyes of someone aiming to be the absolute best. The number one in the world.

Luffy notices these things, but Zoro never talks about himself, so Luffy assumes.

The day is nice. The air is hot but not humid, clouds frequently provide drifting shade, and the forest is alive with the faint buzzing of youkai getting ready for the Sake Festival later in the evening.

Perhaps Luffy will bring Zoro with him. Zoro had enjoyed the last few bottles of sake Luffy had brought with him to their meetings on the occasions he stole from Dadan's hut on Mount Corvo.

Ah, but the hosts of the festival required an offering for entry to the event. Maybe an animal sacrifice would be good; the host had a tendency to favour the meat on East Blue, so it was either boar or fish or tiger. He remembered seeing a family of boar a while back, and the rivers were plentiful this time of year, so maybe a combination of boar and fish would suffice.

Luffy decides to wait until Zoro joins him for the day before they go hunting for offerings. It wouldn't be fair if he did most of the work, after all.

Zoro meets him under the sakura tree in the very middle of East Blue forest a little before noon, and then they head off for fishing, and sparring and napping in the shade of some trees. Luffy squints up at the little patches of sky blue that peek through the foliage of the maple tree they are napping under. It's a nice day. But they still haven't caught any boar.

With a gusty sigh, Luffy rolls over onto his side and pokes Zoro in the stomach with his foot. They need to get that boar before sunset if they want to make it in time for the sake festival.

They're picking their way through the undergrowth, tracking the hoof-marks of a small boar, when Luffy senses a youkai approaching them with malicious intent. It's at the very same moment that he catches sight of a boar piglet hiding in the brush some paces away.

For a moment, Luffy is conflicted. The boar, or the youkai?

A second later, and Luffy is just beginning to gather his spirit power under his skin when he hears the youkai scream out Zoro's family name, vengeance on its tongue. Immediately, Luffy dismisses the commotion from his mind. This was Zoro's fight - his name to clear, not Luffy's. So he looks away from the direction the youkai is approaching in, and turns his attention back to the boar. Would it taste better roasted, or grilled?

When Luffy hears the soft sshhh of Wado Ichimonji being drawn, he does not pay it any mind. When the youkai starts screeching at the top of its lungs, Luffy does not pay it any mind. When Zoro's eyes snap to the side of Luffy's face and burn a hole into it, Luffy pays it no mind. When the sound of both the foreign youkai and Zoro running full speed towards him grows louder, Luffy still does not pay it any mind. He is too focused on the baby boar, shuffling around under a bush, looking for roots to eat.

Heck, when the clumsy, revenge-seeking upper mid-rank youkai bumps into Luffy, he doesn't really mind.

What he does mind is when the damn baby boar gets startled by the appearance of the youkai's ugly bleeding head and scary face and runs away for its dear life.

That, Luffy is not about to let slide. He would have let it go had it just been a personal vendetta that Zoro had had to settle and the youkai had unwittingly bumped into Luffy. But now that he had let Luffy's prey escape, things got personal. Damned if the youkai vowed vengeance on the Roronoa name. That had been his offering for the night!

Luffy cuts a quick glance to Zoro after he lays two solid punches on the other youkai to see if the other cares that Luffy had touched his impromptu opponent. Zoro doesn't seem to mind, what with his slack jaw and bulging eyes, so Luffy lets his rage boil to the surface. He lets his blood run hot and then cold. His spiritual power spikes underneath his skin, glowing white through the blessed mark on his forehead.

The youkai screeches in pain, its physical form being torn apart and twisted until it disappears in a smattering of rising black smoke. The echoes of its scream rustle the branches of the surrounding trees, disturbing the few nature youkai looking on. They whisper behind their sleeved hands, but Luffy ignores them in favour of Zoro's wavering spirit energy.

It becomes turbulent, lashing back and forth for only a few seconds before it settles into a state similar to acceptance. Luffy continues to stare at Zoro until the other chuffs out a breath.

"So you're an ayakashi," he asks without rising intonation. Zoro's spirit energy settles into a zen state, smooth like the glass surface of a lake.

"Nah, not really," Luffy replies, picking up his treasure and placing it back on his head. He wants to laugh at the thought of being called an ayakashi. He was a youkai, sure, but not even close to an ayakashi; more like a mitama (of which people called him an ara-mitama or a nigi-mitama, depending on who you asked).

Zoro looks perplexed at the thought, but it made sense to Luffy, so the youkai doesn't bother elaborating on the subject.

"I see," Zoro finally hums, keeping pace with Luffy as he starts pushing through the undergrowth in search of the lost baby boar. They still had a few hours before the witching time and the sake festival.

Which reminded Luffy - he forgot to tell Zoro about the festival at all. Oh well, he'd find out on his own once they got there.


Some special notes on Luffy in this AU:

- Luffy is closer to a deity than an ayakashi (both of which count as youkai); he is a "mitama", which is basically the spirit of a kami (god) or the soul of a dead person. Mitama come in two forms, which at times are considered separate entities: the Ara-mitama and the Nigi-mitama. The ara-mitama is the rough and violent side of a spirit/kami which appears in times of war or natural disasters. The nigi-mitama is the normal state of the kami, and its functional side.

- Luffy's power is "spiritual empathetic synergy". Basically, he is able to feel people's emotions through their spiritual energy. Every human has some level of spiritual energy - though most don't have enough to be able to see youkai - and Luffy is able to pick up on their minimal spiritual energy (and therefore emotions) through skin contact.

- Although Luffy can feel what other people feel, that does not always mean he understands what people are feeling. There are complex human emotions that youkai simply do not experience often enough to be really familiar with. For example, shame directed at the self is not something that youkai really experience all that often because they came into existence a certain way and are born (usually) with their life purpose ingrained in their very being.

Some special notes on Zoro in this AU:

- Zoro is wonky for a human - he has very strong spiritual power, but that's not the weirdest part about him. The strange part about him is that his spiritual power is not concentrated around him or focused within his body. Instead, Zoro's spiritual power acts more like a gas than a solid aura; it kind of rises off him like steam and dissipates in the area he occupies. In fact, instead of inside of himself, you'd find more of Zoro's spiritual power concentrated in his swords (they act kind of like vessels to contain the spiritual power that leaks out of Zoro).

- Zoro, though his spiritual energy is not concentrated within himself, can naturally refocus his power so they are more evenly spread between his swords and his body. When not using all three swords in a fight, Zoro unconsciously reinforces his body with the remainder of the spiritual power he is not using from his other swords.

- Zoro is a born fighter, according to the many youkai that have faced off against him thinking he was simply a weakling that possessed powerful cursed/blessed katana. In truth, Zoro is the one imbuing the swords with his reiki. (Though it is true that one katana is cursed and the other really IS blessed by a piece of Kuina's spirit.)