Luffy would never tell the others that he found his best friend tied to a post in Shell Town, though he suspected they already knew that. There wasn't a single time Luffy could recall needing to explain something to Zoro. When everyone else stared in shock and awe, Zoro looked on boredly. No matter what Luffy said, decided, or did, Zoro already knew. He never questioned orders. He held Luffy responsible in ways other couldn't dream. Forced Luffy to look passed his own loyalties and make decisions best for the crew. For Luffy’s dreams.
Sometimes, he wondered if the others would be upset, jealous, if he said it out loud. His first mate, his best friend. Zoro was a lot of things. Strong. Determined. Loyal to a fault. But Luffy didn't need to tell Zoro these things. Just like he didn't need to tell the others that Zoro’s first mate. There were things that one just knew sometimes.
And, sometimes, there were things that no one knew. Like how quickly someone's unyielding loyalty can turn into a bad thing.
Zoro doesn't question it. Doesn't stop to second guess himself. This is Luffy. Luffy and the crew. His family. He isn't losing them to some overgrown bear-man.
“You truly wish to take his place?” Kuma grumbles. “Following him would lead you to your death.”
“I will follow him,” Zoro pants. “To the end of the world, to death, through the afterlife, and back again.”
He would. Zoro would follow Luffy anywhere . Do anything to protect his family.
“Very well,” Kuma says.
Luffy wakes covered in bandages but without a hint of pain. He laughs and jumps and bounces around. Chopper tells him this isn't possible, but it obviously is possible because Luffy feels great.
Right up until Nami asks, “Guys? Where's Zoro?”
The swordsman is nowhere to be seen. His swords, on the other hand, sit in a heap on the ground. Nausea bubbles in Luffy’s gut at the sight. Zoro would never leave his swords behind.
They search the entire island. Gallons of blood spattered across the grounds and trees remain the only indicator that Zoro had ever been on Thriller Bark.
For the first time, Luffy has no idea what to do. Normally, he has a clue. Someone to lead him to the bad guy. A bad guy to punch in the face. Now, he has nothing. Nothing but Zoro’s swords and fear swirling in his heart.
Kuma’s a warlord. Practically a Marine. Which means the Marines have Zoro. But where?
Anywhere. In a prison. Waiting at an execution block. But the world holds thousands of prisons. Hundreds of execution blocks. Luffy has no idea where to begin.
“Zoro has a high bounty,” Robin assures Luffy gently. “Our crew has gained quite a name since Enies Lobby. If they have plans for him, they'll want to brag about it.”
“We’ll watch the papers,” Nami agrees. “We’ll find him, Luffy.”
Luffy nods, but he doesn't pull his gaze from the precious white sword in his hands. The only thing Luffy truly feels sure of is they aren't going to the New World anytime soon.
Zoro screams. Every muscle in his body tries to tear in half. Bones bulge against his skin. His body spazzes against the restraints that hold him to a cold metal table. Voices buzz from somewhere around him as his screams fade to stuttered sobs. Everything hurt. Hurt to blink. To breathe. To stay awake.
The respect he holds for Luffy doubles. If his captain manages this kind of agony after all of his fights, it isn't possible for Zoro to ever doubt Luffy’s strength. Not that he ever had.
His captain is the only one Zoro can follow. Full of loyalty, determination and courage. None of which could be doubted.
Zoro knows he’s in trouble. But he isn’t worried. Come hell or high water, his crew will find him. These shitty devil fruit users can mimic the pain all they want. When his crew frees him, Zoro will kick all of their asses for it.
“Come now, Roronoa,” one of the man says. “All your pain could vanish. We could make everything better. Just tell us what we want to know about Mugiwara.”
Luffy. They want to know about Luffy. His strengths and weaknesses. How to take him down. How to break him.
These dumb bastards think a little bit of pain will break him. They haven't done their research. Life is pain. Loneliness and fear. But none that lasts forever. Pain and loneliness and fear, they disappear as soon as Zoro’s captain walks into the room.
So these fuckers better start praying to something. Because when the Strawhats get there, the Marines will learn: hell hath no fury like Monkey D. Luffy.
A cold hand settles on his chest. The pain hits again. Duller this time. His body adjusts to being pulled apart. That doesn't keep him from panting wildly when it all comes back down though.
“Be reasonable, Mr. Roronoa.” This time a woman speaks. “All of this pain can stop. Don't you have anything to say?”
Zoro swallows. Lets out a wheeze. Purses his lips and lets out a slurred mumble.
He senses them frown above him. “Come again,” the woman says.
Sharp and loud. Her voice makes his head ache. “To the end of the world,” he forces out, a little louder.
“He needs a break,” the man says. “He can't tell us anything like this. He's delusional.”
At first, Zoro couldn't figure out what woke him. Cool air floated through the cabin, but not cold enough for another blanket. Waves slapped calmly against Merry’s side. Rough seas didn't threaten them. Did he miss his watch?
His internal clock wasn't screaming. It wasn't three in the morning yet. A snore filled the air. Then silence.
Only one snore.
Then, the cook’s slow breathing.
Chopper’s soft whine through the nose as he exhaled in his sleep.
Zoro pushed himself off the couch and stepped over Usopp’s sleeping form slowly. The cook was supposed to be on watch right now. Not their captain.
Overhead, a full moon shone in a cloudless sky. The bright light illuminated Luffy’s form in Merry’s head, staring out at the empty sea.
“Oi,” Zoro called as he approached. “I thought the cook was on watch.”
“Sent him to bed,” Luffy replied simply.
I can't sleep, Zoro heard.
“Why?” Zoro asked.
Talk to me, Sencho, Luffy heard.
“Nami almost died.”
Ah, Zoro waited for this conversation for three days. When it didn't come, he assumed Luffy worked it out himself. He never made the mistake of assuming again.
“Hai,” Zoro agreed. He leaned against the railing and stared up at the skies.
“I don't want Nami to die. Or Sanji. Or Usopp. Or Vivi. Or Chopper. Or Zoro.”
“Everyone dies, Luffy.” Zoro shrugged when his captain turned to him. “No one lives forever. Nami wanted to come on your quest. We all do.”
Luffy shifted uncomfortably, glared up at the sky. “What if my dream gets in the way of everyone else's?” the captained asked in a whisper.
What if I get you all killed? What if I'm the reason you lose your dreams? Dreams are everything. I want you all to see them completed.
“Baka,” Zoro scoffed. “ You are our dreams.”
Luffy looked unconvinced. “Zoro doesn't dream of me. Zoro dreams of beating the Hawk-Guy.”
“Yes.” Zoro nods. “But it won't mean shit, if you don't watch me do it.”
Being the World’s Greatest Swordsman won't be the same if I'm not at the side of the Pirate King.
Luffy blinked. “Zoro will follow me? Even if it means he might die?”
“I will follow you to the end of the world.”
A beat followed the statement. Then, Zoro was rewarded with a dazzling smile.
“I’d follow Zoro too. To the end of the world.”
They read every paper. And they don't find what they're looking for. Not a word mentions their swordsman. But, it does mention Luffy’s brother. Ace will be killed in three days.
“You want to break into Impel Down?” Nami shrieks.
Luffy glares at her. “Ace is there.”
“Luffy.” Sanji puts his head in his hands, like the thought of explaining gives him a headache. “One doesn't simply walk into Impel Down. It's the most notorious prison in-”
“I won't let Ace die!” Luffy roars.
I can't lose another brother. I can't let anyone else down, no one hears. They can't read his words like Zoro can. He needs Zoro back. He needs Zoro back so bad it hurts. No one else understands. No one else hears.
They're going to kill Ace! And no one understands.
“We aren't going to let them kill Ace, Sencho.” Robin’s voice remains cool and smooth. “We’re just trying to make a plan.”
“We get him out of that place!”
“A plan that doesn't end with us dying or arrested,” Usopp pipes in.
“Then stay here! I didn’t say you had to come,” Luffy snarls at him.
The sniper jumps back. They don't understand. They can't understand. Luffy lets everyone down. He's never anything but a crybaby and a screw-up. He always needed his brothers to protect him.
Sabo. Zoro. Luffy didn't protect them.
But Ace, Luffy can protect Ace. He will protect Ace. No matter the cost.
“Luffy-san,” Brook says evenly. “We all want to help you save your brother. But, we need you to calm down before we can make a proper plan.”
He looks around at his crew. Robin, Brook and Franky all watch him calmly. Nami has her head in her hands while Usopp and Chopper cower behind Sanji - chain smoking like it's the last chance he'll get.
Luffy breathes. Sinks back into his seat. “Wari.”
A soft, cool hand touches his. Robin. “It's alright, Sencho. We know you're worried. We’re going to get you to Ace.”
On the sixth day, they stop making him relive Luffy’s pain. Instead, the woman traces her head down his chest. Zoro swears she tears open the scar Mihawk created. White hot pain shoots through him. His back arches off the table. A scream breaks through him
Around him they laugh as he struggles to breathe. To think. To move.
“Now, don't you want this to stop?” the woman t’skes. “Is your captain really worth all of this agony?”
Zoro follows against the table as her hand vanishes. Stares up at the ceiling as the remnants of pain twitch through him.
There's no question. Yes. He wants the pain to stop. But yes, Luffy is worth the pain. The crew is worth the pain. Family is worth this pain.
He only hopes his find can realize that as this continues. The answer to all her questions sit on the tip of his tongue. Every attempt to swallow them ends with a whimper and her dragging up more pain.
“You're pissing me off, Roronoa,” she snarls. “Tell me where your captain is!”
Burning pain strikes him and Zoro barely managed a cry. Sweat rolls down his face and arms. Eyes refuse to remain open. His body begs for unconsciousness. For a break.
“Say something!” she shouts.
“E-nnnd. Of. T’e. World,” he slurs out.
Her scream of rage is the last thing he hears before it all goes dark.
They make it to Marineford in time. Hundreds of ships, all flying Jolly Rogers sit on the coast. Luffy only recognizes one of them. The same Jolly Roger tattooed on Ace’s back. The Whitebeard pirates have come as well. It makes Luffy’s heart feel a bit lighter. Ace’s crew know that he's worth the world as well.
Sunny rides a wave in, but gets stuck at the top when Aokiji freezes it. The crew can see the entire battlefield but no one seems to notice them.
“What do we do now?” Usopp asks.
His knees shake as he stands beside Sanji. Luffy glances at the crew. Fear wafts from most of them. Only Sanji and Robin seem unafraid. This isn't fair to them, Luffy knows. Ace isn't their brother.
“You can stay on Sunny,” Luffy tells them. “I'll get Ace.”
“Don't be an idiot!” Nami snaps. “There's thousands of Marines down there. You're not going by yourself.”
Her body trembled but fierce determination flickers in her eyes. The rest of the crew mod after her.
“We follow you, Luffy,” Sanji says. “To death and beyond.”
Tears build in Luffy’s eyes but he forces them back with a nod. Below them, the Marines and pirates talk too much. As if they don't know that part of Luffy’s entire world is at stake. Banter and chatter. Empty threats and promises. None of it is helping Ace. That needs to change.
“Robin.” Luffy turns to look at his archaeologist. “We need a plan.”
She beams at him and nods. “Of course, Sencho.”
If anyone can come up with a foolproof plan, it's Robin. They'll have the Marines defeated and Ace saved in no time flat.
Usopp’s gasp pulls everyone's attention. The sniper stands at Sunny’s rail. Points down at the field below. “The Shichibukai are here. Look, Kuma!”
The rest of the crew rush to join him. Sure enough, the giant bear-man stands below with the Warlords. Luffy’s heart leaps. His hands tighten on the rail.
Ace won't be the only one he saves today.
“Tell me what I want to know,” she hisses. “Tell what I want to know and this can only stop. Don't you want it all to stop?”
A soft hand carcasses his cheek. Zoro flinches. Waits for the pain. She lets out a soft “aw”. Her smooth hand travels down his bare skin, mock softness in every movement. Zoro’s loud wheezing echoes in his ears. His sore body tense and ready. Pain will come. Unbearable pain.
He wants it to stop. Part of him wants her to be proud of him. Leave him alone. But he can't betray…
There's someone Zoro’s trying to protect. Someone he can't tell her about. But, if pain wins out, he'll tell. Why can't he remember? It's only been a few weeks, maybe. They haven't forgotten about him. Why is he forgetting them?
She leans over him, long hair tickles his nose. “Tell me,” she whispers. “Where to find Monkey D. Luffy.”
Luffy. Zoro is trying to protect Luffy . His captain. His best friend. Zoro must protect Luffy.
She lets out a scream of frustration and slams a hand into his chest. Pain erupts through him. Stars dance in his eyes.
“S-stop!” He manages around a sob. “S-stop.”
The pain stops. She leans closer. Zoro’s body continues to tremble. His eyes refuse to focus. His brain whirls at a million miles a minute. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. His mind focuses on the single word. It's all he can think.
“Something to tell me?” she demands
Her blurry shape looms over him. His chest heaves. Body shakes.
“S-stop. St’p. Stop.” He can't say anything else.
His body twitches violently. Darkness clouds his eyes. The word repeats from his lips. He stops trying to remember his captain’s name.
Luffy fails. Ace dies. Zoro remains missing. The rest of his nakama are hurt.
“You're going to break his mental state before you get any answers out of him,” the doctor snaps. “Out. Out, both of you!”
Zoro stares up at the ceiling. The door opens and slams somewhere in the room. Cold hands begin moving his body around. A blurry, old face leans over him.
“Tell me your name,” the doctor orders.
Zoro blinks heavily up at him. The man frowns. His brow ceased in concern as Zoro’s brain struggles to process the words. Name. His name. What's his name again? Can he say it? There's a name he can't say. Someone he’s supposed to protect.
The doctor snaps his fingers to gain Zoro’s attention again. “Your name,” he repeats. “What is your name?”
“Z-Zoro.” His voice is so soft, he almost doesn't hear it.
The doctor hums and goes back to his work. “Where are you from, Zoro?”
Zoro furrows his brow, tries to think. Somewhere. He's from somewhere. There's green grass. Open water. There's a girl with a sword. Where is that?
“Where are you from?” the man asks again.
He squeezes his eyes shut. Fear begins to pool in his stomach. “Dun-no. Dun-no.”
“Where is Zoro from?” Luffy asked as they floated through the open ocean.
Zoro opened an eye to look at him. “Eh?”
“Where is Zoro from?”
Luffy shrugged. “I was just wondering.”
“Does it matter?”
“Does it matter where I come from?”
Luffy looked thoughtfully out at the sea. Then beamed as he shook his head. “No. I like Zoro. Even if he is a mystery.”
Luffy wakes screaming. The dream lingers in the back of his mind. Ace drops dead. Zoro begs for Luffy to save him. He doesn't. He can't. Luffy can't save them.
Franky brings him to Robin when he starts to sob. The archaeologist welcomes him without hesitation, pulls him into her arms and lets him sit on her bed and just cry. Nami either remains asleep or pretends to be. Luffy can't tell through his tears. Either way, she leaves them be.
“We can't go to the New World,” Luffy whimpers. “I'm not strong enough.”
Robin brushes some hair from his head as she rocks him. “Then we get stronger, Sencho.”
“I want Zoro.” The words erupt in a sob.
Robin hugs him tighter.
They drag him to the new fleet Admiral when the doctor “okays” him for interrogation again. The large man towers over him, shouts about pirates. But that means nothing. He doesn't know any pirates.
Lava erupts from the fleet Admiral’s arm. Burns his arm. Dying flesh fills the air and so do his screams.
“Doc said it was a defense mechanism,” he hears the man say once the pain fades. “He can't give us information if he forgot it all.”
The Admiral frowns down at him. “You're telling me he forgot his precious captain?”
“Sir, he doesn't even remember his own name.”
The frown morphs into a smile that sends shivers down his spine. “Fine. We’ll use this then. If he can't take us to Mugiwara, he’ll bring Mugiwara to us. After all, they did call him Pirate Hunter.”
“Pirate Hunter,” Zoro scoffed down at his new name. “Pirate Hunter. They could have gone with anything and they chose Pirate Hunter. Those bastards.”
Luffy laughed. “Zoro doesn't like his name?”
“I never once called myself a pirate hunter,” Zoro told his captain.
“I guess Zoro will just have to hurry up and beat Hawk-Guy so everyone calls him World’s Great Swordsman Zoro instead.”
“Hai. I suppose I will, Sencho.” He smirked at Luffy. “Are you ready to be called Pirate King Luffy?”
The smile faded into a thoughtful look. “Hai.”
I don't know, Zoro hears.
Zoro frowned. “I thought that was your dream.”
“It is!” Luffy flops back on the Merry’s deck and smiles wistfully up at the sky. “I'm gonna be King of the Pirates.”
“But?” Zoro presses.
“But, then how do I know who really wants to be my nakama?” Luffy glanced at him, a raised eyebrow. “Would Zoro still follow me? Even if I wasn't King of the Pirates.”
Zoro falls down beside Luffy. “Baka. I'm not following the King of the Pirates.”
The eyebrow raises higher.
“The idiot rubber man from Shell Town. The one who saw something in a good for nothing bounty hunter. That's who I follow.”
Time passes in the blink of an eye. Adjusting to life without a swordsman is rough, but they adjust. They train for years before they decide they're strong enough to attempt the New World. Battles are rough, but the New World is no match for determination and a dream.
Luffy straps Wado to his back. Carries the sword wherever he goes. Brook never offers to teach him to use it. Everyone knows it's not for a weapon. It's a symbol. Zoro is always on Luffy’s mind. Should the briefest rumor of his nakama turn up, Luffy will go to him.
“You've done well, boy,” Sir growls.
Pirate Hunter drops the unconscious pirate on the ground at his feet and sits on his knees beside it. A warm hand pulls his hat off to ruffle his hair.
“So promising. How long did it take you to bring in Bonney? A month?” There's a brief pause before Sir smiles and says, “Answer.”
“Three weeks, Sir.”
Another ruffle of his hair. “You've turned out far better than I expected. Perhaps you've earned a rest, hmm?”
A rest sounds wonderful. His body aches after a long fight with Bonney’s crew. And no break from bringing in Hawkins a month before hand. Food. Sleep. It all sounds so good.
“I'll take that as a yes,” Sir laughs as his body relaxes. “But first, I believe your assistance is needed in G7 for a few hours.”
Pirate Hunter doesn't groan, even if he wants to. G7 are rough and unrelenting. He always leaves with bruises that take weeks to heal. But this is his job. He serves the Marines. No one else wanted him. No one else needed him. He belonged to them.
News of a vicious pirate hunter reaches them a few months after Fishman Island, when they meet Torao. Three of the original 11 supernovas have been captured and put to death. Torao says all of them were taken single handedly by the Pirate Hunter. He settled them all in as they sail for Dressrosa and warns then that it's possible they will meet the famed demon with Doflamingo.
“He’s a serious threat, Mugiwara-ya,” Torao warns. “Not someone to be played with.”
A shiver runs down Luffy’s spine. But not of fear. Something feels familiar. But, it can't be. Zoro would never work for the Marines. It's Zoro.
“What does he look like?” Sanji asks between puffs of his cigarette. “This Pirate Hunter.”
“No one has a clear idea. He wears a black hat over his head and a black bandana over most of his face. They say all you can see are his eyes. Should he appear, under no circumstances should you try and fight him. Do you understand, Mugiwara-ya?”
“I thought he was ours for the night.” G7’s captain snaps when two young Marines come for him. “Pur reward for a job well done.”
“Sorry, sir, but these orders are from the Fleet Admiral himself.”
The captain growls but waves the men off him and throws him his clothes. He obeys the silent order, struggles to get the articles on while the lingering effects of the drug grip his numb body.
“Did you drug him?” one of the young Marines squawks.
“Makes too much noise if we don't numb him up a bit,” the captain replies coolly.
“The fleet Admiral said no drugs were to be given to him without permission.”
“It'll wear off in a few hours.”
Pirate Hunter stumbles into his pants and sways. The world is fuzzy and everything seems to turn slowly. The two young Marines scoff in disgust and grab him on either side, pulling him from the room without letting him attempt to get his shirt on. They bring him to Sir, stumbling and unable to form a lucid sentence.
“What the fuck is wrong with him?” Sir demands as Pirate Hunter collapses in a half attempt at a kneel.
“G7 drugged him, Sir. Said he’d make too much noise if they didn't.”
Rage wafts off Sir. Pirate Hunter lays his head on the ground. Exposes his scared, ruined back for a punishment.
“Someone get him sobered up! Mugiwara And Trafalgar just took Dressrosa. I want him after them. Now!”
Big Mom tries to take Sanji and fails. No one will ever take Luffy’s nakama again. They meet on Wano and the whole in Luffy’s chest widens. An island full of samurai. Zoro would be in heaven.
Wano is long since free of the Strawhats by the time Pirate Hunter gets there. Sir won't be pleased. Though, he does find Eustass Kidd and Killer. So, the punishment may not be too bad.
The crew puts up quite the fight, but they're no match for his blade. He drags the two supernovas passed their dead crew and heads back to Sir. Not returning empty handed, that's the key.
“So, what happens after you become Pirate King?” Zoro asked.
He and Luffy had been floating on their dinghy for hours. The stars illuminate the sky overhead. Thousands of stories laid above them, but Zoro was more interested in the one to his left.
Luffy blinked over at him. “Eh?”
“There isn't anything you want to do after you become King of the Pirates?”
“Is there something Zoro wants to do after he becomes the Greatest Swordsman?”
Anything. As long as I'm with you. But Zoro couldn’t say that. He'd barely known Luffy a week. Yet, it felt like a lifetime.
“Haven't put much thought into it,” Zoro said instead.
“Me either. Guess We’ll figure out together.”
Raftel sits before them. A massive island that's waited for Luffy for years. And yet, it all seems wrong. He's made it here with a crew, with nakama. Yet, the most important one isn't here. Luffy wanted to become the Pirate King with the World’s Greatest Swordsman at his side. Now, staring at the banks of the island beyond the Marine ships, Luffy isn't quite sure he can do this.
“Ready, Sencho?” Nami asks.
She stands beside Sanji, behind Jinbe on the helm. Behind their ship, Luffy sees his fleet. Ready to take on the Marines in front of them.
He's made it this far, with all these people rooting for him. He can't let them down now.
“Hai! To One Piece!”
Their fleet moves forward, one person short.
“Take out the Strawhats first,” Sir orders as they stand on the banks. “Keep Mugiwara alive. He needs a public execution. So all those filthy pirates understand what happens when they try to fight Justice.”
Pirate Hunter nods his understanding and stared out at the approaching ships. The pirates are surprisingly agile, taking down the Marine vessels as if they're toys.
A strange satisfaction fills him as he watches the one with the lion’s head sink G7’s ship. The bastards deserved it.
Sunny continues on.
Sunny. Pirate Hunter blinks. Why did he name that ship? And what kind of name is Sunny?
Akainu stands on the beach with Marines as his back when Luffy jumps off Sunny. Rage pounds in his ears as he stares at the man. The man that murdered Ace.
Akainu smirks. “Come to fail at the hands of Justice again, Mugiwara?”
Armament haki takes over Luffy’s arm. “You talk to much!”
The Strawhats leap into battle.
Pirate Hunter goes for the blond first. The man uses powerful legs that clash against his sword. It's strange but it feels nice. Familiar. Fun.
“You must be that shitty Pirate Hunter we keep hearing about,” the blond says. “You don't seem that tough.”
The words are barely out of his mouth before Pirate Hunter pulls out his parrying dagger and drives it into his leg while the cook is busy watching his sword.
Cook? His this the Strawhats’ cook.
The blond howls in pain and drops to the ground. Crackling lighting and a cry fill the air. Pirate Hunter moves quickly. Avoids the lightning bolt and turns to the red haired woman as the blond struggles to his feet.
“Nami-san,” the blond says. “Go help Chopper.”
Nami-san. Nami-san. Nami-san.
Pirate Hunter’s head begins to pound. Something tears through him. Rage he can't explain. Why are they using these names? How do they know it will effect him?
“Sanji-kun, you can't fight on that leg.”
Stupid sea witch. She should leave. The cook can - No. Stop. Stop. Stop. None of this means anything to him. Sir would be angry if he knew Pirate Hunter hesitated. There’d be more retraining. More dark rooms. More nights with G7. No. No. No. No.
Pirate Hunter lunges for the redhead. She needs to stop saying that. Stop talking. He'll pull her fucking voice box out if it means no retraining. The blond cries out behind him but with that leg, he'll never reach them in time.
Something solid but rubbery slams into Pirate Hunter’s side. He's thrown away from the girl. Hits the ground hard and rolls. His hat is thrown away. Bandana falls down around his neck.
He wipes some blood from the lip he bit and stands, turning to glare at Mugiwara Luffy.
Time stands still. Four years. Luffy hasn't seen his best friend’s face in four years. Now, here Zoro stands, the only thing between Luffy and the path to One Piece. Tears fill his eyes. His breath catches in his throat.
Green eyebrows furrow. His nose scrunches. “Who the hell is Zoro?”
The Strawhats’ captain doesn't fight. He avoids Pirate Hunter’s blades but doesn't throw anymore punches. The cook and the navigator vanish, off to face the rest of the Marines. Pirate Hunter pays them no mind. Mugiwara is what he's here for. Capture Mugiwara and be rewarded.
“Zoro has to stop!” Mugiwara cries. “Zoro’s going to hurt his nakama.”
Zoro. Zoro. Zoro. That's all Mugiwara will call him. But that's not his name. He doesn't have a name. He's just a pirate hunter.
“Zoro, please!” Mugiwara’s eye fills with tears. “Doesn't Zoro remember me?”
Somewhere behind them, Sir laughs. “You're wasting your time, Mugiwara. Your swordsman belongs to me.”
Anger fills those brown eyes. Luffy’s going to beat someone's ass kind of anger.
No. No. Mugiwara. This filthy pirate doesn't have a name. Pirate Hunter doesn't know it.
The eyes soften as look back at Pirate Hunter. “Zoro’s my nakama.”
“You're my mission,” Zoro snarls in return.
No. Pirate Hunter. He isn't Zoro. He isn't whoever Luffy thinks his is.
A scream of pain fills the air. With one last desperate look, Luffy moves. Knocks his sword away. Slams him onto his back. His breath leaves him and he gasps as the captain leans over him.
Silver shines above him and Luffy drives a white handled katana into the ground beside his head.
“I need to go help Nami and Sanji,” the captain says. “But I'm not giving up. I'll follow Zoro. To the end of the world.”
“Zoro’s avoiding everybody.”
Luffy didn't often appear in the crow’s nest. Mostly only when it's his turn for watch or when he wants to talk to Zoro about something privately.
The swordsman sighed and put down his weights. Wiped sweat away from his face.
“I'm not avoiding everybody,” he replied.
He grabbed his water bottle and settled on the floor against the benches. Luffy settled beside him with a disbelieving eyebrow.
“I'm not,” Zoro insisted. “I'm training. We got our asses handed to us at Enies Lobby. I refuse to sit around and do nothing while there are stronger enemies out there.”
I pissed everyone off because I was too harsh with Usopp. I wanted him to come back but, how can I trust him to take care of this crew if he abandons us because he feels sad? Luffy heard.
“No one's mad at Zoro.”
The swordsman scoffed and looked away. “Nami and Chopper haven't spoken to me in three days.”
Luffy frowned. “They'll get over it.”
A cool hand touches his hot arm. “No one wants Zoro to leave,” Luffy said firmly. “Zoro’s nakama.”
“I told you I would,” Zoro whispered. “If you brought Usopp back. I kept him from-”
“Zoro did what Zoro had to do.” Luffy’s firm voice held no room for arguments. “I know Zoro wouldn't leave me. But it made me think. That's what Zoro wanted. For me to think. Nami and Chopper will get over it. So will Usopp.”
Why someone found it appropriate to tell the sniper exactly what had gone on that night, Luffy had no clue. All he knew was that if the crew didn't straighten their attitudes out soon, there'd be problems.
“No one wants Zoro to leave. We want Zoro with us. To the end if the world.”
Even Armament Haki does little to dull the pain of Akainu’s lava body. It burns Luffy’s body but he keeps fighting. Nami and Sanji jumped back in to help the other. Luffy isn't sure where Zoro is. He can't concentrate on where his swordsman is. Only on the rage boiling when he thinks about the blank look in Zoro’s eyes.
“What did you do to my nakama?” Luffy demands.
Akainu punched him and he slides back a few feet. A cruel laugh leaves the Admiral. “It's almost admirable. Your swordsman knew he would break under pain eventually. So, to ensure he didn't give you up, he forgot who you were.”
Break under pain. They hurt Zoro. Again. And again. And again. They hurt Zoro until he couldn't take it anymore.
A scream of rage leaves Luffy as he goes Gear Fifth.
Everything hurts. Not like it does when the Marines punish him or have fun with him. This hurt is different. His head pounds. His chest tears itself to pieces with agony he can't understand.
To the end of the world.
To the end of the world.
There is someone that Pirate Hunter - No, Zoro. His name is Roronoa Zoro and there is someone that he will follow to death, through the afterlife and back again.
Battle rages around him. Screams of pain. Of death. Of vengeance.
“You hurt Zoro!” He hears Mugiwara scream. “I'll make you regret it.”
Zoro will follow Luffy to the end of the world.
Akainu laughs as Gear Fifth depletes. Luffy is left panting, barely able to move. The Admiral has slowed down. He's exhausted too. But he still has just enough more energy than Luffy. Which is bad. If Akainu beats Luffy, he'll kill his nakama. Luffy will let them all down again.
“I thought about a public execution, Mugiwara. But this, for you to die and none to remember you. This will be far more just.”
A fist of lava flies toward him. Luffy tried in vain to make any of his limbs move. He's too exhausted. He dies without achieving his dreams. Without protecting his nakama.
Or so he thinks he will.
There's a shing. A strange hiss. Luffy looks up. Zoro stands before him, three katana in hands and mouth. Glares at the Admiral.
“What the hell are you doing, boy?” Akainu demands. “I'm your superior!”
Zoro’s chest heaves in a deep, angry breath. Luffy understands the simply noise.
Get away from my captain.
His heart explodes with joy. Tears fill his eyes. Zoro is back. He has Zoro.
“Kiki Kyutoryu: Asura.”
A head rolls to the ground. Marines scream in terror, flee for their ships as the nine armed demon turns to them. Rage ticks in Zoro’s head. Vengeance begs for an opportunity.
They hurt him. Used him. They turned him against his nakama.
“Zoro.” Luffy calls as the Marines run. “Leave them. Zoro’s safe with me now.”
Aaura disappears. Zoro falls to his knees. Drops his katana. Luffy hurries over to him. Wraps his arms around the swordsman as he begins to fall forward.
The fleet cheers as the Marines disappear. A hard earned victory. But Luffy has ears only for Zoro’s struggled breathing. His shaking body.
“Luffy,” he whispers. “Your name is Luffy. You're- you're my captain.”
“Hai.” Luffy keeps his voice soft. Holds up a hand to stop their nakama as they rush forward.
“What else does Zoro remember?”
His breath trembled. He shakes his head. “Hurt. It-It hurt. And they'd make me. They'd make me tell them. I didn't want to tell them.”
“Zoro didn't tell them anything,” Luffy assures him. “Zoro took care of his nakama.”
“Cook. I-I hurt the cook.”
“He’s alright. Chopper will take care of him.”
“Chopper.” Zoro tests the name on his tongue. “Chopper. Little, soft. He-he naps with me. Gets mad because. Because.” He trails off.
Luffy doesn't interrupt. Shoots a glare at Usopp when the sniper opens his mouth to guess the rest of Zoro’s sentence. Zoro knows the answer. He just needs another minute.
“Doctor.” A shiver runs through Zoro. “He’s the doctor. And I'm. I'm a bad patient. I don't like bandages.”
Luffy rests his head against Zoro’s. “How come?”
“Can't move in ‘em. I can't fight if I can't move.” Zoro falls quiet again. Then, tears take over his voice. “Luffy?”
“I didn't mean to.”
“I'm sorry. Please don't hate me.”
“I could never hate Zoro.” Luffy places a kiss to his temple. “Zoro’s my nakama.”
“I hurt the cook,” Zoro whispers. “They'll hate me.”
“No one hates Zoro.” Luffy hugs him tightly. “We’re going to take Zoro home. Does Zoro remember home?”
Luffy nods. “Hai. Sunny-Go.”
“He’ll be alright, he's just really loopy on pain medicine,” Chopper said, shaking his head. “I don't know why he didn't tell me he broke his leg. He only made it worse!” Tears swam in the little doctor’s eyes. “I said I was sorry for being mad at him. I thought we were all better.”
Luffy ran a hand through his fur. “Zoro doesn't like to tell people when he's hurt. He knows Chopper isn't mad anymore. I'll sit with Zoro. Go to bed.”
Chopper nodded. “Okay. Ask him the normal questions. But don't be surprised if they sound funny or he’s a little silly.”
Luffy didn't bother to tell Chopper that he'd seen Zoro on pain medicine enough times to know that. Just smiled and sent the little doctor on his way.
Zoro slept for a few hours before he cracked open his eyes and slurred out Luffy’s name.
“Hai. Hai. Does Zoro remember his name?”
Zoro snorted. “Kinda hard ta forget w’en ya tell me.”
“Oh, right. Chopper said I'm not supposed to do that. Wari. Wari. Does Zoro know where he is?”
“Chopper says Zoro has to say the name.”
Luffy laughed. “Almost. Zoro put Going in there. We don't have Merry anymore, Zoro.”
Zoro breathed. “Hai. Hai. I know. Sunny. Sunny-Go.”
Luffy didn't bother to correct him the second time. Close enough. “Hai. Sunny-Go.”
Zoro presses himself into Luffy a bit further when a large man with blue hair kneels in front of them. He talks to Luffy, gestures to Zoro and words rumble through Luffy’s chest as he speaks back. Zoro ignores the conversation. Focuses on the man.
He can do this. He knows this.
“Franky.” The conversation stops and Franky looks down at him. Zoro swallows hard, forcing courage up, and continues. “Y-you’re Franky. You're. You're. Our shipwright. You built Sunny-Go.”
The shipwright beams at him. “That's right, Zoro-bro. Do you remember anything else about me?”
Zoro frowns. Forces himself to think. “You made my weights. So I could train. The room upstairs. You designed that for me.”
Franky nods. “Hai.”
Zoro furrows his eyebrows, looks over the man. “You used to be smaller.”
“Upgrades, little bro.”
Zoro nods. “Upgrades,” he repeats. “You're not human. No, you are. But all. There's something. Something else. I. I can't remember.” He bows his head. “I'm sorry. I can't.”
“Oi, oi,” Franky says softly. “Don't worry about it, little bro. It'll come.”
God, Zoro hopes so. Feet scuffle as the others move onto his vision and he presses himself further into Luffy. It's too much. There's too many.
“Minna,” Luffy says. “Spread out and look for Roger’s treasures. Zoro and I will be up on a few minutes.”
“Luffy,” the little reindeer protests. Chopper. Chopper is the doctor. “I should look at Zoro. What if he's hurt?”
The cook puts his hand on Chopper’s head. “Chopper, Sencho knows Zoro. If he was hurt, he'd tell you. Come on, let's go.”
Luffy shoots a grateful look after Sanji as the crew begins to disperse. He looks down at the swordsman huddled into his chest and then back up at Franky. A single look is all his shipwright needs to nod and sit down in front of them.
“Does Zoro know where we are?” Luffy asks.
The swordsman shakes his head. “Sir said you'd be here.”
Luffy frowns. “Akainu. He doesn't own Zoro. Zoro doesn't have to call him that.”
Another shiver tears through his swordsman. “Yosh.” He pauses for a minute. “Where are we?”
We're at your dream. You're going to be King of the Pirates, Zoro’s eyes say when he peeks up at Luffy.
Luffy nods. “Hai. We’re gonna go find it. Can Zoro walk?”
Zoro blinks as if confused. “Walk?”
“Hai. To find One Piece.”
“I can wait here.” No. Everything hurts. I'll slow you down.
Luffy shakes his head. “Franky waited here so he could carry Zoro up with us.”
Zoro’s gaze flickers to the shipwright and Franky gives him a wide smile. “We can't leave you behind, Zoro-bro. But we've got treasure to find.”
“Treasure,” Zoro mumbles. “The girl likes treasure. The redhaired one.”
Luffy nods and shifts to help Franky lift Zoro up. “Hai. She’s excited.”
Zoro nods slowly and settles against Franky, only half awake. “I don't remember her name.”
“That's alright. Zoro will remember soon.”
Franky makes no protest carrying Zoro through the thick jungles of Raftel. The rest of the crew come and go. Curious gazes move to Zoro and he tries to disappear into Franky, though it never works.
“Don't worry, Zoro-bro,” Franky says as the sniper disappears again. “They're just worried about you.”
Zoro nods against his shoulder and closes his eyes. He's too tired to worry anyway.
The rest of the fleet parties the night away once Luffy emerges Pirate King. Give a short speech. Makes everything seem okay. The crew of the Sunny is far quieter, all waiting anxiously as Franky and Luffy bring Zoro into the infirmary with Chopper.
Luffy sits on the exam table, Zoro’s back pressed to his chest, and tries to keep his swordsman calm as Chopper rushes about. Franky sits by the door, there to help if they need it.
“Zoro, you need to take off your shirt,” Chopper says. “I need to examine your ribs. They're broken.”
Zoro shakes his head, curled against Luffy. “I-I don't wanna.” He clutches the offending article and looks up at Luffy with tearful eyes. “I don't wanna.”
Fear coils in Luffy’s stomach. The unspoken words hang in the air. His swordsman’s fear and trauma laid out before him.
“Zoro needs to trust Chopper,” Luffy says evenly. “Chopper’s nakama. He'd never do that to Zoro.”
Questioning glances at thrown his way, but Luffy ignores them. His eyes belong only to the shivering swordsman in his arms.
“I'll never let anyone do that to Zoro again.”
The black haired woman often sits with Zoro when he can't sleep at night. He dreams of the Marines. Of torture. Of all the things they forced him to do. She sits and reads to him.
“Robin,” he says on the fourth night. “Your name is Robin. You're an archeologist.”
She smiles warmly. “Very good, Zoro.”
“Did you find it?” he asks.
She raises an eyebrow in silent question.
“The Void Century. Did you find it?”
Her eyes lit up. “Hai. Would you like to know?”
Zoro remembers Brook and Nami randomly. They sit at the dinner table and the swordsman looks over at the skeleton and says:
“You're Brook. We weren't nakama very long. I don't know a lot about you.”
Brook lets out a gleeful laugh. “Very good, Zoro-san! Very good.”
He plays Bink’s Sake to lull Zoro to sleep from that night on.
Nami walks by him to sit and sunbathe when he remembers her. He calls her name, startling her and she rushes back over to sit next to him, face alight with excitement.
“You're our navigator,” he says. “The best navigator on the seas. You're going to draw a map of the world.” He frowns. “I owe you money. I don't remember how much.”
Nami smiles and kisses his temple. “You remember me,” she whispers. “Considered your debt repaid.”
The big blue fishman is terrifying to approach. Not because he’s a fishman but because, unlike the rest of the crew, he doesn't look even vaguely familiar.
“I'm really sorry,” Zoro tells him. “But I don't. I can't. I tried really hard, but I don't remember you.”
He chuckles. “Not to worry, Zoro-san. We haven't met. I joined Luffy’s crew only two years ago. My name is Jinbe.”
“Oh. I'm Zoro.”
Jinbe laughs and nods. “Yes. It's nice to finally meet you, Zoro-san.”
The final two members of their crew prove to be more challenging. Zoro knows their roles: the cook and the sniper. But their names, their names remain a mystery. The crew are good about not using names when Zoro’s around. He wants to remember on his own. He needs to remember on his own. But, the longer he takes, the more discouraged the sniper seems to become.
“I'm trying,” Zoro assures him. “I promise I am.”
A weak smile from the fishing sniper. “I know you are, Zoro.”
Zoro rests his head on Sunny’s rail. “I keep. It gets to the tip of my tongue and then it goes away. And all I can think of is Sogeking. But that's not your name. That's who you were when you wanted to be brave. Which is dumb. It's really dumb, Usopp, because you're always brave when it counts. And you don't have to want to fight ghosts and monsters. You just have to be there when your nakama need you and you always are. And - oi. Usopp. Your name is Usopp.”
Usopp stares at him, wide eyed. Zoro feels his proud smile start to fade.
“Sorry,” he mumbles. “Did I get it wrong?”
Tears gather in the sniper’s eyes. “I want to hug you,” Usopp says. “Can I hug you?”
The whole crew has been careful to ask for physical contact since the cook touched his arm and Zoro ended up on his knees with his shirt off. An embarrassing moment that revealed entirely too much as far as Zoro is concerned.
“Oh. Um- yeah.”
Usopp hugs him tightly. “You got it right.”
“Sanji isn't upset?” Luffy asks.
His cook scoffs. “I don't think Zoro’s ever called me by my name. I'm not surprised he doesn't remember it.”
Luffy hums thoughtfully. “Do you think he’ll remember on his own?”
Sanji shrugs. “Let him keep trying. He asked Jinbe for his name, right? If he gets too frustrated, he'll ask me for mine.”
The man with red hair and curly eyebrows frowned at him as the Marines sat him down in a chair.
“You're not going to tie him down?”
They shrugged. “He won't go anywhere. Will you, boy?”
Pirate Hunter shook his head. Kept his eyes on the ground.
“I don't know what you expect from him. Stupid bastards doesn't even remember his own name.”
The red head scoffed. “I can make him talk.” He grips Pirate Hunter’s chin hard. “Tell me, Roronoa Zoro. Where is Sanji?”
Zoro’s screams wake the entire boat. He thrashed himself awake. Scrambles to the nearest corner of the men’s room and curls away from them.
“I don't know,” he whispers as Luffy takes hesitant steps toward him. “I don't know where he is.”
“Zoro,” Luffy calls softly.
“I don't know where he is. Please stop.”
“Where who is?” Usopp asks from behind.
The girls shush him.
Luffy’s finally call seems to bring Zoro back and he looks up. Tears stain his cheek. Blood weeps down his arms from where his fingernails dug into his flesh.
Watery eyes move to Sanji and Zoro lets out another sob. He buries his head in his arms.
“It hurt. It hurt and they-they. I'm sorry, Cook. I'm sorry.”
“Everyone out,” Luffy orders. His gaze finds the cook. “Sanji can stay.”
No one protests and Sanji settles cross-legged on the ground in front of Zoro. Luffy inches closer to his swordsman.
“I'm gonna sit next to Zoro. So he can lean on me when he gets tired.”
I'm right here, Zoro. You're safe.
“Zoro,” Sanji says. “Hey, what happened?”
Zoro sniffles but doesn't raise his head. “Marimo. You called me Marimo ‘cause I have stupid hair. We fought all the time but I didn't hate you. I never hated you. I'm sorry.”
“For what?” Sanji sounds exasperated.
“I told them. I told them you could catch fire. I told them you wouldn't. You loved your nakama. I didn't mean to. They wouldn’t. They wouldn't let me forget. They wouldn't let me die.” Zoro sobs against Luffy’s shoulder.
“Who?” Sanji presses.
Luffy hugs Zoro close as the swordsman stares at their cook, a haunted look in his eyes. “Vinsmokes.”
Luffy’s blood runs cold at the name. Sanji stiffens.
“They kept putting this stuff in me. They kept making me remember.” Zoro huddles closer to Luffy, sobs against his shirt. “I'm sorry.”
“Zoro,” Sanji says firmly. “Listen to me, whatever happened, it wasn't your fault. I'm not angry at you. You're right. We’re nakama. We never hated each other. And I could never hate you. I know you tried to protect us. It wasn't your fault.”
They sit and listen to Zoro cry for well over an hour before he calms down. Peeks an eye open and watched Sanji.
“Your name is Sanji. I don't like it, though. They-they call you that. Can I. Can I keep calling you Cook?”
Sanji smiles. “Hai. Of course, Marimo.”
At first Luffy isn't sure what woke him. He doesn't have watch tonight. Usopp and Franky’s snores fill the bunk. Then, his right side feels cold. Zoro sleeps with Luffy at night. Trusts his captain to ward off the night terrors that plague him. Now, his swordsman is nowhere in the bed. Chopper’s soft whining breathing is there though. Which means Zoro has replaced the young doctor on watch. Even though Usopp’s supposed to.
“Oi,” Luffy calls softly as he approached the swordsman, leaned against Sunny’s rail. “It's Chopper’s watch.”
“I couldn't sleep,” Zoro mumbles. “I sent him to bed.”
I can't stop having nightmares. I don't want to sleep , Luffy hears.
“Zoro needs sleep,” Luffy says.
You're not there anymore. They can't hurt you. We’ll protect you, Zoro hears.
“I know. I do,” Zoro says. “My head just doesn't.”
“Zoro isn't keeping us awake,” Luffy offers.
Zoro snorts. Yeah, right.
“He's not!” Luffy insists.
Letting out a breath, the swordsman rests his chin on the rail. I'm a burden .
“Zoro,” Luffy growls.
Zoro shrinks a little. Hunches his shoulders and stares at the ground.
Luffy sighs. “Zoro isn't a burden. He’s nakama. He fought for him. He doesn't get to leave us now.”
“I won't leave you, Sencho,” Zoro whispers. “I just don't like to be useless.”
“Zoro isn't useless,” Luffy says. He kisses the side of Zoro’s head. “He’s healing.”
“It's taking too long.”
“It's only been a few months.”
“Nine. It's been nine months. And I still cower like a two year old when the others use the cook’s name.”
“Zoro got hurt. His head needs time to remember stuff the right way.” Luffy’s voice leaves no room for arguments. “Zoro is not a burden. I don't care if Zoro takes forever to heal. I just want Zoro to stay with me.”
Zoro breathes again. “Hai, Sencho. I will. To the end of the world.”
Luffy kisses his head again. The end of the world is a long time. Zoro will have plenty of time to heal on the way there.