Summary: Zoro disobeys a Captain's Order and it's all Sanji's fault – or, in which everyone has changed in the past two years but Luffy's changes have Zoro concerned.
Characters and Timeline: Immediately Post-Timeskip – just imagine that there was enough time before Fishman Island to include filler or something – so everyone's in it, with the majority of screen time being placed on Zoro, Luffy, and Sanji. No pairings, no romance, just good ol' angst and drama.
Notes: Happy New Year's! Ha, this one is only 100ish words longer than my other OP fanfic, even though I thought it would come out much shorter. It originally started off with no plot, then with a little plot, and now it's a well rounded story (in my opinion) that took me all of December to put together. I hope you all enjoy it, and as always please don't forget to leave a review!
"Mutiny," Luffy says loudly and suddenly.
Instantaneously, the galley falls silent. Seven heads snap up to attention. A fork softly clatters against a plate, someone else breathes in sharply, and then all that remains is dull silence.
Zoro continues eating, unperturbed.
No one breathes for a very long time, the deathly silence surrounding them like smog, and then Nami speaks. "Wha . . . what're you talking about, Luffy?" Her voice is a little shaky, full of unconcealed confusion. Zoro doesn't fault her for it; dinner was winding along smoothly, quietly, before Luffy decided to speak, the word wanton and declared without any provocation.
The crew's confusion is reasonable. Zoro, though, is not in the least bit confused. He shoves another forkful of meat into his mouth. Silent. Patient.
At the opposite end of the long table, without looking up, he knows Luffy is glaring daggers at him, and he knows the Captain isn't making it subtle at all; he feels all eyes on him. At each elbow sit Robin and Chopper, and their stares are the most rapt, their heads tilted to regard Zoro with a bewildered glance of varying degrees. He remains silent.
The ship sways thickly. A storm is raging outside, thunder and lightning appearing minimally with rain falling at full capacity. The waves below them are large and heavy, carrying the Thousand Sunny on its back like a drunken horse. There were clear skies hardly a few hours ago, and the quick change in climate makes Zoro's chest ache and the side of his head throb.
"Mutiny," Luffy says again, this time a bit steadier, and just the way he says that stupid word aggravates Zoro more than the word itself. It's as if he's been painstakingly searching his brain for it all day and finally, finally found it right then and there, in the middle of dinner while everyone is around them. That would explain why he was so quiet on the way back, Zoro thinks dryly.
"What about it?" Nami asks, and she's trying to level her voice to hide her perplexity but it's a useless effort. She's sitting beside Robin, her hands hidden under the table, but from the way her elbows twitch Zoro knows she's wringing her fingers nervously.
Luffy answers frankly, "I was thinking about what the word was, and I finally found it. It's mutiny." Ah, so Zoro is right. Honestly, Luffy is just too transparent for his own good. Zoro scrapes his fork loudly against his plate as he continues eating and ignoring his enlightened Captain.
"And why were you thinking about it . . .?" Franky asks carefully. Zoro wonders if Luffy is currently brandishing his somber expression; that look he has when he becomes serious and deadly, when his face becomes lax and his mouth becomes a steady line and his eyes become firm. That would definitely justify why the normally brash and expressive cyborg is speaking as if subdued.
Luffy doesn't answer him. The feeling of being watched – of being glared holes at – intensifies, and the silent rage that radiates off Luffy is almost perceptible. Usopp, the poor sap sitting next to him, squirms from his seat.
The silence stretches, and now everyone's unease is practically tangible that Zoro is sure he can reach out and touch it.
"Because that's what happened." Luffy's voice is steady and defiant. If only you were this calm before, Zoro thinks bitterly, and he has half a mind to snarl that right now, but no. He won't crack first. Let's see how long I can drag this out.
"You're being very vague, Captain-san," Robin says, but Zoro has the strangest sensation that she's looking at him instead as she speaks. She is sitting beside him, their elbows almost touching, and her apprehension emanates off her skin. "Are you perhaps referring to whatever it was that occurred earlier today?"
She's perceptive, Zoro thinks, not for the first time. Luffy's lack of a response is enough of a confirmation for them.
Zoro picks up the roasted chicken leg and bites into it. Robin is definitely staring at him now. Glaring, probably. He doesn't care.
Usopp coughs nervously when no one speaks. "A-And . . . uh, what is it, exactly, that happened . . . ?"
Crunch. Zoro bites right through the chicken bone, snapping it in half. The sound makes most of them flinch. His scarred eye aches on, the pain resonating against the side of his head, and he blames that for his sudden teeth grinding.
"Luffy-san, I must interject," Brook says hastily. He is sitting on the other side of Luffy, opposite Usopp. From the corner of his eye, Zoro can see his boney fingers finding Luffy's arm, giving it a pleading squeeze. "If it is a quarrel that you're talking about, that's well and good, but aboard a pirate ship, the accusation of mutiny is an absolute serious one. I would humble you to not joke about it."
As if this idiot knows that. Zoro spits out the splintered bone and continues eating as if the discussion has nothing to do with him.
"I'm not joking." Luffy pulls his arm away. He's pissed, Zoro notes. But not as much as I am.
The aura Luffy radiates is nothing that he's ever shown to his crew; Zoro has been on the receiving end of it before, back at Whiskey Peak. Although its foundation was at the root of a misinterpretation, Luffy's feelings and anger were real then, and they're real here, too. Zoro didn't think he'd ever have to feel it again. He didn't think he'd have to make Luffy feel his ever again.
Chopper whimpers and his hooves touch Zoro's hand. "You're being scary, Luffy. Zoro, what's he talking about it? What happened in the forest? Zoro?"
Zoro doesn't answer, and he feels like an asshole about it too because Chopper looks genuinely upset by the one-sided fight that he and Luffy are having, but regardless he doesn't answer. I have nothing to say, he reaffirms to himself. He clenches his fists. I'm not going to fucking defend myself.
It seems like Nami is the only one that has some real sense about her because she notices that Zoro isn't the only one that's being unusually silent. "Sanji-kun," she says, and she says it- not purrs it or hums it, but actually speaks to him. "What's going on?"
Zoro doesn't pause eating, but he raises his eyes just enough to see the cook's expression. Sanji looks like he would rather be anywhere in the fucking world than here. His shoulders are high and rigid, his jaw clenched, cigarette perched between pursed lips- the personification of tension.
Their eyes meet briefly but it's just enough time for Zoro to narrow his, as if saying: I fucking dare you to say something.
Sanji looks away with a scowl. When he realizes he hasn't supplied an answer to Nami, he mumbles a short, "Nothing."
"Like hell it's nothing- you three have been acting weird ever since you came back from that forest. Cough up. What went on down there?"
The cook's jaw clenches tighter, the muscles on his neck jumping. Zoro knows what's going on in that idiot's head – He can't find it within himself to lie to his precious Nami, that's clear enough, and he doesn't want to involve himself in Luffy's and his 'fight' – he doesn't want to take sides, that pacifist shithead. But that's good, Zoro thinks. Smart even. At least the cook knows his place in all this – which is complete and total lack of involvement.
"It's not . . . Nami-san, just don't worry about it, please."
"Don't worry about it?" Nami repeats, aghast. She gestures wordlessly to Luffy, as if saying, how can I not worry when our Captain looks ready to murder someone!?
Zoro picks up his mug and drinks. With his head raised he can see that the baton of attention has been passed from himself to Sanji. The cook's eyes shift uneasily from the table to Luffy, avoiding the others.
"Bro, you're gonna have to give us a little more than that," Franky huffs. "Cause these two don't look like they're gonna be talkin' anytime soon."
Robin adds a nod to that and says, "Clearly, something occurred in the forest between the three of you that has caused this tense rift."
"There is no rift," Sanji hisses quickly, then composes himself just as fast. "Look, whatever happened . . . happened. It's over. It's not like. . . it's just – it's not a fucki- it's not a big deal."
"Yes it is," Luffy snarls.
"Then perhaps you can explain what happened, Captain-san," Robin proposes, and Zoro almost snorts into his cup because he knows damn well what Luffy's going to say.
"Zoro committed mutiny, that's what happened."
There's a gasp from beside him, and someone's knee hits the table abruptly, and now their eyes are on him. Brook makes a very displeased noise and Zoro could hear the cook's teeth dig into his cigarette. Zoro is just surprised that Luffy actually knows what that words means.
". . . Is this true?" Robin asks him after a beat.
Zoro takes another swallow of his drink, silent.
The woman's gaze weighs down on him, her disapproval like gravity, and so quietly that only he can hear, she murmurs to him, "You're playing a very dangerous game here, Swordsman-san." And his only reply to that is to think, I know, but it's the only way.
Usopp laughs nervously. "No, no, no, hold on . . . You're telling me that- that Zoro mutinied? Against you? You're joking, right? I mean, this is Zoro we're talking about! Right? This s'gotta some mistake."
"It's not." Luffy growls.
Robin frowns. "I see. It seems both our Swordsman and our Captain are experiencing a fallout, a particularly nasty one as well. This is no good. Maybe you can enlighten us, Cook-san, as to what it was that led to this animosity within our crew so that we can resolve it?"
Zoro sets his cup down and looks at Sanji expectantly. Luffy seems to be doing the same thing for a very different reason. The stupid cook looks frazzled under the two heavy gazes, and if it were any other time Zoro would think it was the funniest thing ever.
Thunder crashing outside sounds muffled and faraway from inside the galley, the rain sounding like thousands of shards of glass smashing against the ship. Zoro hears it all too distinctly in the silence that the cook drags on.
"This has nothing to do with me," Sanji finally says.
Good, Zoro thinks approvingly. At least someone understands the situation. The ensuing tension is so thick Zoro is tempted to see if he can literally cut it with one of his swords.
"Sanji." The cook's shoulder twitches at Luffy's sharp voice. It's disturbingly calm and very unlike their cheerful Captain that everyone in the room collectively flinches as if they were the ones being addressed. "Don't lie."
The cigarette in his mouth is slowly dissolving into a stick of ash. "I'm not – God dammit, Luffy, don't involve me in this."
"You were there. You saw."
"Don't make it sound like it's a fucking big deal! Fuck, nothing happened, alright?" He looks up at the other occupants of the table. His voice rises as he says, "Listen- we got chased by those shitty Marines into the forest, one of them had some stupid Devil Fruit power, we kicked all their asses, and we came back here. That's it- That's all there is to it. That's all that happened."
Luffy slams his hands on the table. "That's not what happened!"
"For me it was! Whatever shit you have with the idiot swordsman is between the two of you! Leave me the hell out of it."
"You saw what he did – you were there."
"I don't care! I'm not getting involved in it!"
By now the crew's confusion has quickly warped into frustration. Usopp asks loudly, "Saw what? Can someone please just tell us what it is that Zoro did already? I can't stand this!"
The cook hisses, "Stop it, Luffy-"
"No. You know I'm right, Sanji."
"This isn't about right or wrong, just stop saying that fucking word!"
"It's what he did! If anything, you should be the one angry here –"
"Cut it out –"
Zoro's voice is a whip, cracking in the air.
Everyone's head twists to him, looking at him like this is the first time in his life he's ever spoken. Zoro disregards all of them casually, his eyes meeting Luffy's. It's a world of rage, those eyes. Burning hotter than any fire Zoro's ever seen, a mixture of anger and betrayal and devastating confusion. Don't give me that fucking look.
The others' gazes bore into him; they're expecting him to say something, he knows. Hoping he'll explain what happened more clearly – or at least clearer than Luffy had – looking to him as if he could diffuse the situation and restore the mood.
That's what they expect, but Zoro won't give them that. I'm not cracking first, he thinks. Like hell I'm giving him that. I'll drag this out for as long as I want.
Luffy's lips curl like he'd just read Zoro's thoughts. The swordsman keeps his face perfectly unreadable. Nothing about his expression betrays what he's thinking or feeling, and he knows that's what's pissing Luffy off the most. He wants me to feel guilty, bringing this shit up in front of the crew. He thinks I'll feel ashamed, feel regret. Mutiny against the Captain is mutiny against the whole crew, after all.
The crew seems to be holding their breath as they wait for him to speak. I ain't saying a damn thing. Instead, he lifts his empty mug in Sanji's direction and says, "Booze."
Then their heads turn to Sanji, like they're watching a particularly engrossing game of tennis between the two. Luffy looks like he's ready to launch himself out of his seat and thrash Zoro mercilessly. I fucking dare you.
He knows that any other time the cook would vehemently deny Zoro another drink, nagging him that one is enough or screaming at him to get it himself. But this is clearly not any other time. Sanji purses his lips into a thin line and gets up, snatching the empty mug from his hand and retreating behind the counters.
"What the hell is going on with the three of you!?" Nami screeches at the extremely uncharacteristic exchange. "Zoro. Zoro! Don't ignore me! The silent treatment doesn't suit you at all so knock it off already! Why is Luffy so mad at you?"
Because I saved his fucking life but he's too stupid to realize it. He doesn't say that though, but he's very tempted to. There's more to it than that, of course, but that's the primary reason, even if Luffy won't admit it.
So instead, he just shrugs.
Nami's face is fuming red. "Don't you even care? Oh my God, this is just ridiculous! Why are you acting like this?"
He hears the sound of the fridge door opening and Usopp making an unhappy noise. "It's hopeless, Nami. If these two – the two most stubborn guys in the whole freakin' world – wont talk, then there's nothing we can do. Then again, it is these two, so they might just forget about it the next day or something, heh . . . "
"I caution you not to take this lightly, Usopp-san," the skeleton says somberly. "The allegation of mutiny against a pirate is a severe crime, even more so if it's the captain that is issuing the accusation. The punishment, more often than not, is death. This matter cannot be left on resolved, especially now that Luffy-san has declared it."
The sniper visibly pales at Brook's blunt words, and any amusement that can be dragged out of the situation is effectively snuffed. Franky nods grimly. "He's right, this ain't no laughing matter. We gotta clear this up before it really gets messy. Oi, Swords-bro. No more dicking around. Why is Luffy saying you mutinied?"
Because he doesn't want to admit he was wrong – no, he can't say that. The long answer to that question is too long, and the short one wouldn't resolve anything. The best answer would be to go back a few hours; the others were right, it's all about what happened when he, Sanji, and Luffy went to the forest. Zoro can recite what happened in that damned forest word for word if he wanted to, and he can probably narrate it in the same detailed fashion Usopp narrates his tall tales, too. That's what Luffy wants, anyways. He wants me to explain it so that I can expose myself. Tch.
He can easily tell them that it wasn't, in fact, a forest- but a wet, disgusting swamp with sagging trees and soft soil where they took on that unit of Marines easily, but those are pointless details that they'd easily overlook. Fighting Marines is so normal with this crew that going a day without encountering them would be bizarre. No– they definitely don't want to hear how effortless that fight was.
He knows, however, that what they really want to hear is how that fucking Marine Lieutenant managed to separate the three of them with his damned Earth-Earth Fruit or whatever the fuck his Devil Fruit power is called. That's the pivotal detail. That stupid son of a bitch greenhorn Lieutenant who didn't even know who the hell they were so long as they were pirates, so who cares if they can kill one in the midst of a capture, right?
The frustration of that fight never left him; it grows and festers with each pulsing pound of his aching scars. It wasn't raining in the swamp a few hours back, but it sure as hell would have helped the situation. Fucking mud. Zoro never in his life would've thought he would hold a grudge against mud of all things. It's that fucking Lieutenant. I should have sliced his head clean off when I had the chance.
He doesn't recall hearing the Marine Lieutenant's name, but even if he did he wouldn't put any effort into remembering it. All he recalls is the obnoxious, braying laugh he made when he managed to encase Luffy and the cook in a slope of mud that covered everything but their heads. We were careless, underestimating them, Zoro remembers thinking.
That's where the stalemate began. Sanji and Luffy futilely struggling in place, effectively mobilized in the most ridiculous of ways, yards apart from one another, while Zoro stood untouched between them, his quick reflexes having alerted him of the shifting mud before any contact. Surrounded by the Marines, he was outnumbered and alone, but that never stopped him before. In the two years he spent training, he was stronger than he ever was; He knew he could handle it.
But in those same two years, the Marines became viler and more despicable.
The Lieutenant had made a gesture, and suddenly there was a Marine standing behind the cook with a knife to his throat, while the Lieutenant himself stood with his own sword against Luffy's neck.
In a manner of three seconds, the situation had flipped. Zoro was still trying to register what was going on when the Marine and the Lieutenant both raised their blades as one, his nakama squirming like mad. "Not so tough now, are ya?!" the Lieutenant laughed, "You pirates like to play dirty so I'll give you a game you'll never forget! Let's see which one you can reach first, swordsman! Major, cut the blonde's throat while I deal with this rubber brat! Here we go, let's see which one the swordsman saves! Bah, ha, ha! "
And then both their hands plunged and Zoro was running with all his might and all he could think of as he watched those blades descend was fuck, fuck, fuck! They're too far apart and I'm too far from them- I can only reach one of them– this guy can't be fucking serious! Does he know how much Luffy's head's worth!? Fuck- fuck, fuck!
But to Franky and his inquiring look, the one that the other Strawhats mirror, he doesn't say any of that. The cook returns with a mug full of ale, and he doesn't say anything either, rightfully so. The mug is set on the table beside his elbow, and to Nami and the others he says with a careless shrug, ". . . hell if I know."
"Liar!" Luffy explodes, instantly on his feet, his seat thrown behind him, Usopp's hand on his shoulder trying to keep his captain in place- "Liar, liar, liar, liar!"
And the way he screams that word plunges Zoro back into his memories, because it's the same fucking way Luffy was screaming at him back in the swamp when the blade was sinking into his neck – "ZORO, HURRY! SAVE SANJI! SAVE SANJI! SAVE SANJI!"
And the yelling is unnecessary and fucking irritating because of course the blade never reached its intended target – neither blade did. There's a faint cut on the cook's neck now, thin and shallow and hardly noticeable, and the mark on Luffy's neck had healed over after an hour. Everything worked out, no one got hurt – no one died. It's all fine and good and great so it's understandable why Zoro is getting annoyed as fuck for being yelled at for a situation that he had completely under control.
But Luffy isn't done. "He mutinied! Zoro mutinied!" He's pointing now, subtlety gone and thrown off the ship. "Tell them, Zoro. Tell them how you mutinied."
He's getting sick and tired of hearing that fucking word.
Usopp looks between them, pale as a sheet. "G-Guys, seriously . . . ! This is freaking me out!" The hand on Luffy's shoulder is tight and shaking. "Please, just stop. You and Zoro . . . you guys never fight. Ever! Not like this, at least. You guys – we're all nakama here, I'm sure we can fix this if we –"
Luffy's face changes. "Nakama don't betray each other."
And then Sanji kicks the leg of the table so hard the silverware jumps and he screams "LUFFY!" so sharply that the others baulk and his expression is a sheer copy of the one he sported two years ago in Water Seven when Luffy and Usopp argued with such intensity that it chilled the air –
– But Luffy doesn't see any of that and his own shouting simply intensifies. "It's true! They don't!"
"Shut the fuck up! You have no idea what you're saying!"
"Stop it, you guys! Stop fighting!" Chopper wails.
"I know exactly what I'm saying and it's the truth!"
"Oi, bro- Luffy, you gotta calm down-"
"I want you to tell them, Zoro- I want you tell them how you betrayed-"
"For fuck's sake, Luffy!" Sanji yells. "You're making this bigger than it actually is!"
"It is big! It's mutiny! It's what happened and you know it. Zoro knows it!"
And Zoro knows he should just stay silent and he knows he shouldn't provoke Luffy right now, but the fury is boiling inside him and if he doesn't at least get one thing out he's going to fucking burst, so he drawls out, "Do I?"
Sanji whirls around. "Don't fucking start – "
"You disobeyed Captain's Orders!" Luffy accuses with a deafening bellow.
And he really, really shouldn't say anything now, but his control is slipping and the words just leave his mouth without his consent.
"I disobeyed shit orders."
– he crashes against the wall before he hears the distinct sound of rubber stretching, before he sees the red blur flying towards him– and someone screams "Luffy!" which is mixed in with someone else's "Stop, stop, stop!" but Zoro can't match a voice to a face because he's no longer sitting like he thought he was but rather, he's on the ground with back against the wall- with a very livid Luffy on top of him and then there's another shout – "Stop it, Luffy!" – and he's wondering why his head fucking hurts and why his mouth tastes like copper and it's after the fourth punch that he realizes that fuck, I probably shouldn't have said that because now Luffy's going for the fifth punch to his jaw – "Luffy please!" – and everyone is screaming and panicking and Zoro's head fucking hurts –
And then it's over as quickly as it started. Hands erupt all over Luffy's body, securing every one of his limbs with firm grips, pulling him back and off of Zoro and allowing the swordsman to breathe.
Luffy growls and pulls at the flesh bonds, but they don't let up. "Luffy, that's enough." Robin says. There's no fondness in her voice, but neither is there any resentment. She forces Luffy to take three struggling steps backwards, and then pushes him to his knees. The Captain breathes through his clenched teeth, his entire frame shaking with rage and adrenaline. Sharper, she says, "That's enough."
Not yet, Zoro thinks. Vaguely, he can hear Nami's voice choking up, can hear the Cook's breathless curses, can hear Usopp's frightful whimpering and Chopper's crying. Franky mutters something tightly " –hell of a mess, not super at all –" and there's no cheer in Brook's murmurings of "Oh, dear. Oh, dear . . ."
He gingerly sits himself up and wipes the blood from his mouth. He's never doubted Luffy's strength before but fucking hell, he clearly wasn't holding back in the slightest. The galley is a rightful mess; Luffy's lunge across the table knocked over every glass cup and plate in vicinity, the chair Zoro was sitting on now crushed behind and under him.
The world is still spinning in Zoro's view, but after a few blinks it rights itself and Zoro regains his bearings. Fuck. A teary eyed Chopper is kneeling beside him, shaking his knee. "Zoro, Zoro? Are you alright? Zoro?"
He notices the others are up and around them, too. Robin still has a firm clutch on Luffy, whose breaths are deep and ragged, like a confined beast. He doesn't bother looking at the others' expression, knowing all too well what their reactions would be.
"I'm fine," Zoro grunts, pushing Chopper away, not unkindly.
The reindeer sniffs and moves to stand next to Nami, clutching at her leg. Brook takes his place. "Zoro-san, please. This cannot continue. You won't be helping the situation any if you keep up this behavior. If you would only explain to us your side of what occurred, then perhaps we can help resolve this and put this entire matter behind us."
Zoro turns his head and spits blood on the ground. "I don't remember asking any of you for help."
Franky takes a step. "Bro-"
"Shut up," he says sharply. His head is throbbing excruciatingly, but he would be damned if he let it show. Zoro continues, his voice low, "Luffy's the one that chose to bring this up in front of all of you, not me, so don't fucking interfere." He stares at his captain. "This is between the two of us."
"Then say something already!" Nami snaps. "Stop dragging this on! You think we like watching the two of you fight? We can't stand it! Seeing the two of you like this is painful enough. Just fix it already, please."
He wants to tell her that he knows. He knows this is painful for them because it's insufferable for him . . . but he has to do it. This is the only way.
He remembers the look on Luffy's face as he yelled at him to save Sanji – it's that look. It's all about that damn fucking look in Luffy's eyes when he gave the frantic order – that look – not the look he had when Zoro disobeyed him and didn't save Sanji.
Zoro stands up slowly. Wood splinters and broken glass litter his body but he doesn't regard it. He shoots Robin a glance, and she nods in understanding. With eyes closed, Robin uncrosses her arms and the limbs around Luffy disappear. He stumbles a step at his sudden freedom, but regains his balance and stands tall.
Feet apart, the two face each other like titans. Their eyes lock and for a reason unbeknownst to him, Zoro is suddenly acutely aware of how much everyone has changed in the past two years. The physical differences are the most noticeable, Luffy with his new scar, Nami with her long hair, the Cook with that shit on his face, Usopp with his muscles, Brook with his extravagant clothes, Franky with his bulking body, Chopper with his new forms, Robin with her loose and relaxed shoulders.
But he's also aware of other changes, and although they've only been reunited for a short period of time, those changes are glaring. Brook is more outspoken, Nami more confident, Chopper more assertive, Usopp more courageous. Robin is beginning to address them by their names rather than titles, Franky has modified himself to better help the crew and not himself, and the Cook has come up with new attacks that for once don't look dance moves.
Everyone has changed for the better– . . . but it's the changes in Luffy that has Zoro on edge, that has him so uneasy. It's those changes that revealed themselves in that swamp, in that moment, that had forced Zoro's hands. In two years, Luffy had gotten a gruesome scar on his chest and had become immensely stronger, but there's another change that even he's not aware of –
– and that's what Zoro's going to take care of right now.
Zoro reaches for his hip and unsheathes two of his swords, the steel ringing with a sharp shiiiing. Brook tenses so abruptly that his bones clatter against each other. Franky takes a step but is halted by a quick glance from Sanji. The air in the galley is frigid with nervousness.
Zoro is tempted to roll his eyes at the theatrics. The fact that they all think he's about to attack Luffy with his swords is both laughable and a little bit insulting. Instead, he throws the two swords on the ground, between himself and Luffy, then unsheathes Wado and tosses it in the pile as well.
Even Luffy looks confused at the gesture, but before he can even furrow his brows, Zoro takes a wide step and smashes his fist against Luffy's temple.
The force knocks Luffy headfirst into the floor, and Usopp shouts "Oi! What are you doing– " but Zoro is already picking Luffy up by his collar and pulling his arm back for another punch. His fist makes contact with the rubber head two more times, and to really drive home his point, he coats his knuckles with a thin layer of Haki and plummets it into Luffy's stomach.
He doesn't get another hit in; someone grabs his wrist before he can bring it down, and then everything stops. He doesn't turn around to see who it is. "You made your point," Sanji says grimly.
Not yet. Zoro pulls his arm free from the cook's grip and drops Luffy on the ground. The Captain lands on his feet and continues to stand, his expression blank. His lip is split and bleeding, but other than that he looks completely unfazed. Somehow during the whole beating, Luffy's hat had remained on his head stubbornly.
Zoro turns his back on him and walks past Sanji. He briefly catches a glance of his other crewmates' horrified expressions, but he doesn't dwell on it. He bends over and begins picking up his swords. "That hurt?" He asks loudly.
"No." Luffy's answer comes out quickly and defiantly.
Zoro snorts at that. He slides Wado into its sheath first, then Shusui, and lastly Kitetsu. When the familiar weight of his swords presses down on his side, Zoro suddenly feels exhausted. He grabs a chair and folds into like an old man. I drew this out as far as I could. Time to end it.
He studies his captain with a weary look, then asks with a sigh, "Do you think I'm weak, Luffy?"
Luffy blinks, "W–What?"
"Do you think I'm weak?"
Luffy's somber face can't hold out much longer, and the creases of confusion start forming on his forehead. He looks around, as if seeking confirmation that what he's hearing is actually what Zoro is saying. "Of course not, but don't–"
"No?" Zoro jerks his chin. "What about the cook?"
Luffy turns to Sanji, then back to Zoro. "What about him?" He asks, but the look on his face clearly indicates he knows what Zoro's asking.
"You think he's weak, right?"
Luffy flinches at the bold claim. "No! Why are you talking like this? Everyone here is strong!"
"I'm not! Shut up!" His fists are clenched and suddenly their roles are reversed and Luffy is the one being prosecuted, and Luffy knows this – he's not that stupid, though it seems otherwise sometimes – because his shoulders are shaking from deciding whether to be angry at how easily Zoro changed the subject or to be angry at Zoro's original insubordination.
Zoro doesn't care which one he picks. He simply sighs. "Only strong people in your crew, right? That's one of the qualifications for joining. Alright."
He picks himself up from the seat, pieces of broken glass rolling off of him noisily. He moves to stand next to Sanji, their shoulders practically touching, and says to Luffy, "Pick."
A beat passes. Luffy doesn't move, doesn't comprehend; "What?"
"Pick," Zoro repeats, just as nonchalantly as before. Sanji, for his part, doesn't say a thing, and Zoro wonders if the cook isn't that stupid after all. The Thousand Sunny swings against the heavy waves lazily, the storm outside dying.
Luffy still doesn't get it, but that's fine; Zoro is patient. He's got all the time in the world. He elaborates, "Which one of us do you think is stronger?"
Confusion replaces rage, and the Straw Hat Captain doesn't seem so menacing anymore. Luffy looks between the two, lost. "I don't . . . What are you saying- why does it matter?"
It matters because you don't understand. Zoro speaks slowly, "Who do you think is stronger, me or the cook? The one you pick gets to stay in the crew, while the weaker one leaves. It's really not that complicated."
Usopp starts, "Zor–" but is cut off by a sharp glance from Robin. The galley has never felt so suffocating before.
"Pick," Zoro repeats.
He still doesn't understand it, but his answer is defiant and sure. "No."
Through gritted teeth, "I can't."
With fists balled, "I told you, I can't-"
"No! I won't! This is stupid! I'm not picking between the two of you, that's – that's – you're both strong, OK? Both of you. Stop asking these stupid questions already, it has nothing to do with what you did!"
"It has everything to do with it!" Zoro snaps, voice raised, the words ripped out of his throat. "Because back in that fucking forest you thought we were weak, didn't you!?"
"I didn't – "
Zoro grabs Luffy by the scruff of his shirt and slams his back against the wall. "You did. You humiliated us. You thought we weren't strong enough."
"What are you talking about!?" Rubber hands paw at Zoro's firm ones, and Luffy yells back with all his might, "I wanted you to save Sanji!" and he yells it so harshly, so desperately, the same way he yelled it before hand- he yells it as a way of explanation, as if it were the overarching answer to this whole mess – but it's not!
"The damn cook doesn't need my fucking saving!" Zoro roars. "Do you know how insulting that is? Do you? That your own captain doesn't trust you to get out of a situation that you're perfectly capable of handling?"
Luffy shakes his head, the defiance in his eyes cracking. "That's not– "
"That is exactly what happened! You didn't trust your own crewmember to take care of himself and you didn't trust me to make a simple decision." He gives Luffy a rough shake, and this time his hat falls. "You interfered with our fight because you thought we were weak!"
"That's not true! I didn't think –"
"No, you didn't! That's the fucking problem, Luffy! The minute shit hit the fan, you panicked and stopped thinking. You didn't see." He throws Luffy on the ground and is met with little resistance. "Tell me, how the hell am I supposed to take orders from a blind Captain that has no damn common sense!?"
Luffy clambers back to his feet quickly, his voice unwavering. "I wasn't blind- I saw what they were gonna do. They were gonna hurt my nakama- they were going to kill Sanji!"
"You think I don't know that? I was there!"
"Then why didn't you save Sanji!?" Luffy screams. His voices rings inside the galley like a gunshot. No one speaks, not even Zoro, so Luffy takes three quick breathes and continues, "I told you to save him, not me – him!"
"ZORO, HURRY! SAVE SANJI! SAVE SANJI!" – Luffy had screamed, his eyes wide and his face paled . . . but Zoro didn't. The knives were plunging and Zoro was too far to get to both of them- so he doesn't go to Sanji . . . he goes to Luffy.
Luffy, who was unrecognizable in those short seconds; who was screaming his head off, who looked like he was witnessing his worst nightmare come to life, whose screams were almost animalistic with desperation, whose eyes were wild and completely unseeing and just . . . gone.
"Because I knew the damn cook could get himself out of that," Zoro says after a stretch. "With one fucking kick he was out of that mud. And you could have gotten yourself out too, but you didn't- You didn't see yourself, Luffy, but I did. I had to save you because you were about to get yourself killed."
Luffy, who was screaming his head off, not because of the blade that was rapidly approaching his neck- screaming orders with the full capacity of his lungs, and Zoro- who wasn't listening to any of it because he could clearly hear the sound of Sanji's enflamed foot destroying the mud encasing him, could hear the Marine's yelp of surprise, hear the clatter as the blade hits the ground.
All he was aware of was Luffy, who was perfectly capable of getting himself out of the mud prison but didn't because he was too engrossed with the danger approaching Sanji and not himself.
"There was no mutiny," Zoro says, quieter this time. "Because that wasn't my captain that gave me orders. I don't know who the fuck that was, but that wasn't you. The Luffy I know could have gotten himself out of that without so much as a struggle, without panicking and definitely without freaking out – that Luffy wouldn't even have looked our ways because he knows we can take care of ourselves, knows that the cook wasn't weak enough to get himself killed like that, would have trusted me to make the right decision and not interfere. Do you understand?"
He doesn't need to ask because Luffy's expression is enough of an answer; throughout Zoro's lecture, the rubber face had melted like a wax candle- from sheer ire it dissolved into apprehensive confusion, until the last of Zoro's words thawed it into horrified realization.
Luffy's eyes dash back and forth, as if he's replaying the afternoon's events in his mind, analyzing and picking apart every single detail, and that's when Zoro knows he's accomplished his job. It's over. He takes a large, exhausted breath and sits down on the ground, feeling drained from it all- or possibly feeling some side effects to the concussion that Luffy definitely gave him.
Luffy blinks slowly. Then, softly, he says, "I don't think you're weak at all . . . that's not why . . ." He bites his lip and looks past Zoro, expression cracking. "I'm sorry, Sanji, I'm sorry- I didn't mean to – I thought they were going to kill you."
"Luffy . . ." Sanji sighs and kneels down in front of him. He plucks the cigarette from his mouth and searches Luffy's face. "You don't have to worry about me. You know that."
But their captain doesn't look convinced in the slightest. He seems to shrink into himself even more, Sanji's words having an opposite effect on him. "I can't help it."
"You never did before." The cook puts the cigarette in his mouth and places a hand on Luffy's shoulder. "I can take care of myself. We all can. Why do you think we spent those two years training? We're stronger now, Luffy."
He grimaces, hard. "I know you're all strong. I do, but . . . but . . . " He shakes his head frantically, "But Ace was strong, too . . . ! He was strong and he always said he could take of himself and told me not to worry but the Marines still killed him!"
Sanji recoils as if struck, but Luffy isn't done. His eyes are wide and scared, "I saw it again, back in the forest. I saw it! It was like it was happening all over again! I thought I was going to have to watch you die in front of me like I watched Ace die – I don't want do that again- I don't."
The temperature seems to drop exponentially. The forbidden topic, the name they've been so careful to never bring up in front of Luffy, the word that they knew would only bring agony and horrible memories to their Captain – Ace. It's even worse when Luffy says it, because the name creaks out of his throat painfully, spilling from his mouth like ash and choking him. Ace.
"Oh, Luffy . . ." Nami says thickly, kneeling besides him. "We're not going to d-"
"Don't say that! Don't say what Ace said, because he promised. He promised he wouldn't die but he still-" His voice cracks and he doesn't continue – can't continue. His face is as white as sea foam, the color drained from his cheeks.
"Luffy . . ." Chopper murmurs, but he doesn't know what else to say. Instead, he joins Nami and Sanji on the floor, and Usopp, Robin, Franky, and Brook join him, the crew forming a protective circle around their Captain, substituting comforting words with their presence.
Luffy takes a shuddering breath. "I don't want lose anyone ever again. It hurts too much. I just got you all back, and I can't lose you again- not again."
"You wont have to." Robin's voice is gentle. Her hand finds Luffy's cheek. "It's like Cook-san said; we've been training these past two years so that we can be stronger for you, Captain-san, so that you would never have to experience what you did in Marineford ever again."
Luffy lifts his head to look at her tentatively, then looks at Nami as she says, "We can't promise you that we won't die, but we can promise that we'll stay by your side for as long as we can."
Chopper nods vigorously. "She's right, Luffy. We've been training nonstop for the past two years so that we can never be separated from each other ever again!"
"It's nice of you to worry about us, really," Sanji adds. "But, I'd rather you trust us more instead, like the good old days."
That takes Luffy aback. "But I do trust you! I trust you all with my life!"
"But do you trust us with our own lives?" Brook asks softly.
"I –" He pauses, frowning. He searches all their faces, then offers meekly, ". . . I do."
Sanji puts a hand on his shoulder, grabbing his attention. "Do you think we're strong?" Sanji asks, repeating it in the same tone as Zoro did in what felt like hours ago.
Luffy nods, voice confident. "I do."
Robin smiles. "Then you have nothing to worry about."
And her smile is contagious because the others are sporting it, too. Luffy's head twists in all directions to see those expressions, those smiles that seem to light up and put the spotlight on their captain. Luffy isn't immune; and slowly, like watching a butterfly hatch from a cocoon, the frown on his face becomes a genuine smile.
Its when Luffy laughs that Zoro realizes the storm outside has died out. Luffy's cheerful voice fills the galley, filling the air with mirth. "Ahh, you guys are right! Of course you're right! I'm so stupid! What was I thinking? I have the strongest crew in the world! There's nothing in the whole sea that can defeat you guys!"
"Damn right," Sanji grins while the others fluster and blush at the praise.
Zoro watches it all with silent approval, but its approval nonetheless. Luffy takes notice of that and his smile falters. The others watch them with baited breath.
Luffy sits himself in front of Zoro and doesn't say anything for a long time. Then, he asks, "Am I a bad Captain?"
"No," Zoro answers immediately, almost instinctively- and if it were any other situation Zoro would scoff at the question, wouldn't even supply it with an answer because it's just so obscure to think about, but not here. This situation warranted asking, if only for Luffy's sake, because this situation would not be resolved fully until Zoro completely eliminated Luffy's doubts. "You wanted to protect us, just like any good captain would."
He picks up Luffy's hat off the ground and plants it on his head. "You're allowed to make mistakes, Luffy, so long as you learn from them. Right?"
Luffy beams. "Right!" He reaches over and grabs the rim of his hat, relishing in the comfort it gives him. "But from now on, no more mistakes! Zoro's too mean of a teacher, so I don't wanna learn from you anymore."
And he's hit with Luffy's blinding smile in return, and the others are clambering back to their feet noisily, someone complaining about the mess, someone complaining about injuries, someone complaining about the theatrics and melodramatics of it all, and Zoro remains sitting, absorbing the sounds and sights he's missed out in the past two years.
They've all changed in those years, especially Luffy, especially himself – but they've all been good changes, and no one has changed too dramatically to the point where they've become unrecognizable.
Zoro would never admit it out loud, but prior to their reunion, he was . . . not worried, but apprehensive about how those two years would effect Luffy in particular. Especially the events in Marineford . . . especially, Ace's death.
Because no one can come out of trauma like that unfazed, and Luffy might be incredibly strong and durable, but even he isn't immune to that sort of damage. Zoro fully expected a change to happen to Luffy, and he was determined to catch it before it could cause some serious damage. He wanted to be there for his captain – and he was.
As he watches Chopper struggle to tend to a laughing Luffy's split lip, he allows himself a small smile. Luffy did change in the past two years, but he's still the silly, idiotic, and excitable captain that he's always known; The captain that he fights for and would die for.
He's Luffy, the skinny rubber kid whose too stupid for his own good and always screwing up and always causing trouble – but that's alright because he's got Zoro, and Zoro would gladly guide and help Luffy through more mistakes and failures, would gladly help him learn and grow from them all.
Because it's those failures and lessons that would shape him into the Pirate King, and Zoro would be there to watch that happen, too.