Neither of them are sure how it happened at first - behind some shithole of a bar, exhilaratingly unfamiliar to her, grounding in its familiarity to him, lips crashing and fingers fumbling, her cheeks flushed from embarrassment, his from booze. That's how it began. Neither thought they would meet again. She would hunt him just as she always had, and he would run like he always had, but in the end on this vast world that they called the Grand Line, what were the chances? Half their lives were spent on the sea, the wide sea full of his adventures and her justice.
But they met again, just as they inherently knew they would, and they did not simply meet - those two never actually met. They crashed. It made sense. Every time they met, swords were drawn, harsh words grating upon deaf ears, calloused fingers brushing against deceptively smooth skin. He never lets her touch the scar racing down his broad chest, skin knotting and clumsy threads crisscrossing like jolly rogers. And this is okay. It starts being okay for her, and she's not sure when it became okay. Maybe when she first noticed how he handled his swords, she thinks, maybe when she sees the reverence which he treats Wadou with. Maybe it's when she saw him, bruised and bloody, and heard rumors of the swordsman that could cut through any material, heard steel's heartbeat, heard it in his swords as he caressed the tender flesh of their hilts, sending their arms flying in graceful arcs, dancing red across the impossibly blue sky. He has no misconceptions as to when or why it became right for him - it never did.
Her superior asks her one day, "Why?" He doesn't have to elaborate; after two people spend so much time together, they know what the other is thinking before they think it, know their expressions, know their hearts, even if they don't say so.
"It doesn't go against my justice," she says, gritting her teeth in preparation for the reprimand that she may receive. She clutches on the hilt of her sword. "He treats his katana with respect."
He snorts, doesn't let even a flicker of emotion cross his face. He exhales thick smoke, and she knows the smell, dark and musky. It smells like home, the only home she's ever known. "I'll still be hunting down straw hat," he responds, off hand.
"I know," she replies with a smile. "I will be too." She walks away, then, knowing that the conversation is not meant to go any further. Even as she enters her own bunk, she can feel her superior smiling behind her, knows that he is probably shaking his head, but he'll allow it. Which is good. Because for once in her life, if her superior disapproved, Tashigi isn't sure whether or not she'd obey.
When Zoro trains, white hilted sword clutched between his teeth, he can see Kuina. Sometimes. Not all the time. Usually, he ignores it. He has no use for an afterlife, no use for a God, no use for any of that spiritual bullshit others seem so fond of. He's a man who believes in the now, believes in training, and sweat and blood and tears, and becoming the greatest even if it kills him. But sometimes she speaks, and not even a man as pigheaded as Zoro can pretend that he doesn't see her, dark, solemn eyes and a mouth that doesn't smile.
"I look like her. Don't I." It's not a question, and the words surprise Zoro, even as he never stops the constant sway of his arms.
"You're not her." He doesn't have to say it, but he can convey it nevertheless. It comes with being a spirit, he guesses. You can read things.
Her eyes have a smoldering fire in them. "I'm not her." She repeats this, sits cross legged in midair. This infuriates Zoro. He closes his eyes, but she's still there, not a wispy spirit as some would have thought she would be, but very, very real, just as the last day he had seen her alive. (Not dead, oh no, not dead, because then, then she looked phantom thin and frail and weak) Strong muscles hidden behind taut skin, a smile in her frown and a challenge in the tilt of her head. When he doesn't reply, she keeps on talking. Like she always did, when they were kids. When he was a kid. She's stuck forever in a adolescent's body. "You know I'm not her, don't you?"
"Yeah." He grunts. Even spirits-Zoro-doesn't-believe-in-anyways can get anything more out him.
"No you don't," she says sweetly. "You feel like you're betraying me." Even if she isn't transparent, her words are; she's never been a sweet girl, only hard angles and sharp edges.
He is defeated, wants to talk to her like he's wanted to for the past... God knows how many years. (Except not, because Zoro doesn't believe in a God.) "So if you were alive. Where would you be?"
She snorts, unsheathes her own sword. "Not in the marines. I'd beat you down at every corner."
"And I'd be sailing with you. Not against. Unless it came to Mihawk."
Her voice is higher than he remembers, and this almost pains him, remembering how young she really was, and thinking that the dead should just stay dead.
"You'll never become great like that," she reprimands, reaching out as if to touch him, but she doesn't, maybe because she doesn't want to. Maybe because she can't. There is a sharp tone to her voice, a bitter tone that she exhibited rarely in life. "You're supposed to be doing what the girl couldn't."
He bites down on his tongue hard then, too hard, and Wadou clatters to the ground. Kuina disappears as soon as the last rattle sings through the air. Zoro wipes blood away from his mouth, and picks up Wadou again, dark blood staining white flesh.
He puts it back into its sheath and ties it to his side. There, it carries no memories, and he has peace of mind.
They crash at the next harbor. And when they crash, they really do crash - marines stream through, shouting and cursing as those on the Thousand Sunny quickly dispose of them, dark clouds whipping through a previously sunny sky, projectiles singing through the air, a blur of legs cloaked in black and a demon's smile.
Tashigi and Zoro. Eventually, as they knew they would, they crashed, sword against sword, gritted teeth and a smirk playing across a mouth fastened surely around his sword. She fights for her side, and he fights for his, but in the end, they are together. She enjoys the pretension of conversation, and words that may be romantic in a normal man's view, but Zoro is no normal man, and prefers to get straight to it. It never takes long, not with Zoro around.
"Why," she asks one day as they lay together, his arm slung comfortably around her shoulders, "do you never look at me?"
He doesn't look at her. He grunts. "I look at you plenty."
"You're not looking at me now."
Smirking with a mouth more suited to a shark's grin, he replies, "I look at you plenty when your eyes close." He doesn't, of course, but this makes her blush and stutter and eventually, she falls silent, which is something he wanted all along.
He can't get over how similar her voice sounds to Kuina's, full of power and confidence and uncontrollable hopelessness, at times.
When she is underneath him, however, her nude form dotted with startlingly fresh scars and her face blooming with the flush that threatens to overtake her entire body, her eyes closed and legs splayed, she doesn't look like Kuina at all. Zoro has never seen Kuina like that.
And, he realizes, dozing on the hard mattress, he never wanted to.
Sometimes, she wonders about Zoro. She harbors no illusions of love. She knows very well that he does not love her, and that she doesn't love him, but what they do possess is respect, and love for the art that is swordsman (or woman)ship, and that is enough. Most of the time. But sometimes, sometimes, he will look at her, something distant in his eyes. Something she doesn't recognize. Tashigi recognizes very well the shadows of the past, having spoken with many men doomed for death before. It's not that. She is also very familiar with the look of the wary, the hunted, and it isn't that either; no matter how many people hunt Zoro down (and a great deal of people are doing just that at this point in time), Zoro will never be the hunted. He will always be the hunter.
So it's not that either. She can learn to shrug it off most of the time. She's learned to shrug it off most of the time. But it's when he stares off into the distance, at anything but her, shifting as if ready to take off for another day, week, month, year, decade. It bothers her more than it ought to, she decides, but doesn't let that stop it from bothering her.
She has brought it up before, but now, she decides, she won't let him change the subject with a sly smirk, won't let him dissuade her from the topic by pushing the buttons he seems to know so well, as well as if he had known her his whole life.
With this in mind, she is ready to sleep, and she does so soundly. When she wakes, in her fog filled mind, past her even foggier vision, she believes she can hear Shigure's heartbeat.
One night, the calm after the storm (as there is no calm before the storm with Zoro; he is all storm, all quick hands and roughened lips), they lie together. She opens her mouth, and roughly, he looks over as if to make her quiet. He never likes it when she accuses him of things, and now he can almost tell when she is about to. "Why," she says quickly , "do you never look at me? Or want to talk? You'd better answer me, or else I'll never come back." These are bold words, and she feels them fall out of her mouth before her mind processes it.
He glances at her, brows furrowed, and she can't help but think he looks like a caveman, consternated by the ever elusive mystery that is fire. It's funny, imagining it, but it's not as funny as those solemn eyes and pensive scowl are turned in her direction. He doesn't answer in the end, but at least he thinks about it, Tashigi will think afterwards, but not now.
Now, he asks, "What do you think of being a female swordsman?"
This takes her by surprise; Zoro has never seemed to take any interest in any of her thoughts, any of her dealings before. She gives a typical, hot headed answer. "Women can do anything that men can. The world means more women who aren't afraid of it." She casts a glance, reverently, at Shigure. "I'm proud of it."
He looks at her one more time, and her stomach does flip flops as he surveys her. Then, he turns to face forward again, and begins to laugh, great rumbling laughs that shake his entire body as his mouth quirks into a rueful smile. He laughs, and laughs, and laughs until tears are streaming down his face. She asks why, almost offended, but he merely shakes his head, still laughing, and she leaves it at that.
Men. They're all pigs.
Late at night, on his watch, Zoro picks up Wadou between his teeth, and waits. He can vaguely see Kuina in the dim lighting, but her body, so frail looking (and so unlike Tashigi's) is obscured by the darkness, but he can see the glint of her eyes and hear the expressions dancing across her face, and that is enough.
She speaks quietly, at first, of little things and how are you's and how the sword that was once hers was doing, and of the new scar running red and ragged across his back. But the subject, as it always does, turns back to Tashigi. This time, Zoro does not drop the sword, turn to his weights. He does not ignore her.
"I know you're not her," he says firmly.
A coy arch of her brow (and an expression upon her face that is too old for her adolescent eyes), and she replies, "But do you know that she's not me?"
There is a difference, a key difference, and Zoro knows this. It takes him a moment to answer, a grunt as he continues to train. "I know."
"And how," Kuina asks, "do you know?"
Zoro knows that Kuina is not asking these things out of sheer curiosity. There is a reason. Kuina never asked such questions in life—she had put as much importance in actions and in the now as Zoro does. Talking is useless without anything to back it up with. If there is a reason to it, he decides, he will answer.
"Because she's proud of being a woman," he says simply, and knows that it hurts her.
It does. "Oh." Then, after a moment of silence, "Anything else?"
"I don't look at her the way I look at you." Simple. Blunt. Honest. That's how Zoro always has been, and that's how he'll always be, and Kuina knows how to deal with this. She fills in the blanks.
"You never wanted me as a lover," she says, sensitively substituting 'fuckbuddy' for 'lover' to preserve the tone of the entire exchange.
"You were my goal."
She swallows heavily, looks down at her hands, and he feels an acute pang of sorrow looking at her. He searches for the right thing to say.
"And my strength," he adds on, sheathing his other two swords and holding Wadou firmly in both hands. She understands this immediately, and it is not the right thing to say, but a good one. She smiles, touches Wadou briefly, and nods.
"Makes sense," she says lightly. "Say hello to Tashigi for me."
Then it's like a candle being put out, and she's gone. He sheaths Wadou, hesitates, and takes it out again. Kuina is nowhere to be seen. Zoro knows he won't see her again.
When he closes his eyes, he can hear Wadou's heartbeat.
They meet for the first time. They've never really met before—they crashed, almost afraid of what would happen if two bodies hungry for contact touched. His touch is not gentle—his touch will never be gentle, with his fingers hard and calloused from a lifetime of battles fought. But his touch rests upon her anyways, and she looks at him, her reasonable, not-beautiful hair framing her reasonable, not-beautiful face.
"Tashigi," he says, and they both realize that this is the first time he has ever said her name.
Her breath catches. "What?"
He looks at her, slow and sure, and says, "Hello."
He grins like his idiot of a captain, and she shakes her head, not understanding, but feels a sort of significance to it anyways. "Hello to you too, Roronoa Zoro," she replies, and they end up where they have always ended up - in bed. This is fortunate, because Zoro enjoys sleep almost as much as he does sex. Sometimes Tashigi suspects that he enjoys sleep more than sex.
Either way, after their bodies crash, and meet, and crash, and meet, they close their eyes and listen after the storm. They can hear four heartbeats. His. Hers.
Each of them smile, in their own way. Both are, for once, content to be still, and to listen. So they do.