I do not claim to have created, or own, any characters, names, places or any other creative properties belonging to One Piece. This is only my hobby, and I simply hope for you to enjoy what you read.
"This weather is amazing!"
"Nami-swaaaaan is so lovely when she's excited about the shitty weather! Mellorinnnne!"
"This island is strange…" Usopp frowned at the strange foliage bordering the tiny beach. The rest of the Strawhats nodded in agreement of this assessment. Overhead the sky was a startling, jewel-like blue, sparkling with minute rainbows that danced among the soft raindrops falling constantly from the cloudless heavens. The sun-warmed rain gently coated the entire island with a continuous moisture, and the brilliantly colored plants seemed to thrive in the wet.
"These look like sea anemones!" Chopper excitedly examined a patch of small, pink plants that did indeed appear as if they belonged on the ocean floor.
Most of the plant-life resembled forms you would expect to see on a coral reef. "Do you think these sting?" Usopp poked a larger plant with a shell he'd picked up on the beach.
The plant rippled slightly in response, before dramatically changing its hue from a light yellow to a striking purple. "Ooooh!" Everyone reacted with simultaneous wonder.
Robin smiled, "So lovely… I hope it's not dangerous."
"AWESOME! MAKE IT CHANGE AGAIN!" Before anyone could stop him, Luffy's hand shot out, and he eagerly jabbed at the purple plant with his finger. The poor, molested flower flared a brilliant crimson, before turning green and then blue as Luffy kept up poking at it. "Shishishishishi! So interesting!"
"It seems fine…"
Sanji sneered at Zoro's opinion, "Like we would listen to the words of an idiot marimo."
"What did you say?!"
"It's okay everyone! The tests don't show any toxins!"
"Thank you Chopper!" Nami smiled brightly as she looked around at her companions. "Everyone, I want to get a better look at this weather phenomenon, so let's head out to find some high ground!"
The seven of them headed into the colorful forest, after Zoro pried Luffy off the frantically color-changing plant that he was chewing.
Zoro walked at the rear of the group, so he could handle anything that tried to sneak up on his friends… and so he could watch Sanji without being caught.
Recently his relationship with the cook had changed. It had always been complicated between them. Zoro admired the cook's strength and his tenacious belief in an impossible ocean; he saw Sanji as passionate, intelligent, loyal, and someone he could trust unequivocally. Sanji, however, treated him like shit. The blonde was an asshole to all the men onboard, but Zoro didn't find that fact to be comforting at all. It was unbelievably frustrating to have someone that he admired and wanted at his side, behave with constant hostility. Zoro's agitation spilled over into anger, which in turn, fueled the eternal bickering between him and the cook.
However, after everything that had happened at Alabasta, the cook's attitude had changed.
Zoro couldn't be sure that it was a good change… Sanji had become distant. He spent more time in the galley, or flirting with Nami and Robin. He avoided Zoro almost entirely. They still fought on occasion when Zoro picked a fight out of habit, but Sanji stopped the constant little annoying things he used to do; like kicking Zoro awake when he was napping, or deliberately stocking Zoro's least favorite booze.
Zoro hated to admit it, but he actually felt lonely. At least when the cook was snarling insults in his face, he knew that Sanji noticed him. It was sick. He'd formed some twisted association with Sanji's abuse and friendship. What was made it worse was that apparently Zoro was so emotionally weak that Sanji's attitude alone could affect him so much. Sure Sanji was his cremate, but did it really matter if they enjoyed each other's company as friends? It shouldn't - Zoro shouldn't be giving one fuck about what Sanji felt toward him, and he didn't understand what kept him from doing just that.
So he walked along behind the group, and tried to puzzle out what the fuck was wrong with himself.
Up ahead, everyone was laughing and enjoying the exotic scenery. It wasn't every day that they stepped onto a new island and weren't in immediate danger. Trailing behind, Zoro found his gaze permanently stuck on Sanji's happy body-language. He was in the middle of an intense bout of self-loathing for being jealous when alarm shivered up his spine and raised the hairs on the back of his neck. Halting in his tracks, Zoro carefully scanned the thick foliage behind them. The continual patter of the falling rain dulled his senses of hearing and smell, and the bits of refracted sunlight flying everywhere made it more difficult to spot suspicious forms.
Eventually, Zoro gave up looking. If there was something, it would attack and he'd cut it down, or it would just leave them alone. Either option was fine. Zoro remained alert, with his hand at his swords as he turned back to his group.
Shit! They had left him behind!
Zoro broke into a run, but only made a few steps before something caught the corner of his eye. His boots made sliding tracks in the damp soil as he halted once more. Drawing two swords, Zoro frantically scanned the underbrush once more. His heart nearly stopped when he spotted the tall figure to his right, and within arm's reach!
He jerked back in alarm and settled into a defensive stance. This thing before him was completely unnatural, and the sight of it was unsettling. Completely black from crown to foot, it had no face; instead there was a flat plate that could possibly be a mask. The sheer blackness of the figure made it stand out against the candy-colored plant-life as it just stood there, and stared…
"What do you want? Who are you?"
Without answering, the figure turned and moved silently away, deeper into the forest.
"Hey! HEY!" Zoro gave chase.
Apparently his shadowy prey had some nasty trick up its sleeve, because no matter how fast Zoro ran, he just couldn't catch up. He roared in anger when suddenly the black figure vanished before his very eyes. Had he fallen for some damn trick of the light? No! There HAD been something there! Just a little further and surely he'd catch up! Sweaty, scratched to hell and panting hard, Zoro burst into a small clearing.
It was a shrine of some sort. In the center lay a perfectly still pool of water; not even the sparkling raindrops made so much as a single ripple as they appeared to melt into its mirror-like surface. Soft green moss grew between the cracks of white stones paving the ground, and crept up the smooth white pillars bordering the forest's edge. Standing on the other side of the pool was a figure in white.
Zoro took a cautious step forward. This figure strongly resembled the one in black. At first glance Zoro wasn't sure that this "person" wasn't simply a statue of the figure in black. He kept his weapons up defensively as he eyed this new apparition. In its left hand, the figure was cupping a golden ball that was emitting a soft glow. Nami would love that. He should get a better look. However, as Zoro drew closer, it became obvious that this statue was actually a person that had painted their skin to be white. Eye-slits cut into the white mask revealed dark eyes that regarded him silently as he boldly walked nearer. This person must be a priest of this shrine. From his experience, priests weren't usually a threat.
Sheathing his weapons, Zoro stopped at the banks of the pool. "May I drink here?"
"You may." Zoro knelt and reached out to scoop up the water, but stopped when the priest spoke again, "But you must not drink with a divided heart."
Zoro sat back on his heels. He had no desire to bring down some weird curse on his head. No matter how thirsty he was, he wouldn't drink water that had conditions. "Thanks anyway."
"My shadow drew you here for a purpose." So that creature from before had been sent for him? Zoro eyed the priest curiously. Was this priest a swordsman or something?
"If you wish, I can either remove that thing which troubles you and brings you pain, or I can help you accept it and make your heart whole again."
Zoro's eyes narrowed. He didn't appreciate riddles. They were a waste of time. "I don't understand."
"The one you love. I can erase that existence and your weakness with it…" Zoro growled. No one would be "erasing" anybody! His hand went back to his swords. If this man threatened any of his friends he would not hesitate to cut him down. He refused to lose any of them! Especially not… Sanji?
Awful realization stabbed through his entire being like a knife. Zoro's hands fell limply to his sides as he looked at the priest with a stricken expression. Softly spoken words from behind the mask continued to flow over him; each syllable tearing off more little pieces of his emotional defense. "Lies and divisiveness will cage your soul. Your freedom will only come through truth. I can help you accept your love as a part of your true self. It is your choice, warrior, and you must choose or your weakness will become your undoing."
He… loved… Sanji?
Suddenly days and weeks of agitation and sleepless nights rushed back to him in a new context. He admired Sanji; he loved Sanji - and it hurt like hell every time the bastard rejected even the smallest gestures of friendship. His heart had been broken into so many pieces so many times, it was no wonder he had grown fixated on their fights as an only means of maintaining relationship. He had renamed his feelings as 'respect' in a desperate bid to protect his hurting soul, but even in denial, his love had continued to grow.
"I-I love him…"
A cool hand cupped his cheek, and Zoro lifted his gaze from where he'd been contemplating the stones in despair. "Let's begin the ceremony."