Title: Loyalties
Author: AstroKender
Anime: One Piece
Pairings: The are no obvious pairings in this fic. Readers are fit to assume whatever pleases them. However, my own preferences may color the story as it moves forward.
Warnings: PG-13 for violence, language, mild torture and angst.
Spoilers: Possible spoilers for anyone who may not have seen/read anything up to the Straw Hat's obtaining of their 6th crewmember.
Notes: Alternate Timeline. Takes place right before the arrival at Alabasta. I have tried to keep the crew as in character as possible, but some artistic licensing may apply in order to forward the plot. I use the metric system in this fic, since this is what predominates in the anime. It's not my normal system of measurement, so forgive my if one of my figures come up off. No Japanese will be involved except for proper names (i.e., Zoro's swords) and Luffy's power move Gomu Gomu (although the essence of the move will be translated, as in: Gomu Gomu no Balloon as opposed to Gomu Gomu no Fuusen). This saves the reader time from having to read any sort of translation notes, and myself the headache of making sure my Japanese is up to snuff. (Which it isn't.) Nami-san will be translated as Miss Nami and so on. I know it sounds weird but try to bear with it 
Feedback: Use the comment bar at the bottom of the screen. Feedback is appreciated, whether good or bad.
Archived: Ask and ye will probably receive.

Did ya read all that? Make sure now, cause it's the last time you'll see it. The following chapters will start directly into the fic.

Now, let us proceed…

Chapter One

Black Feather--An island completely covered with marshlands. It contained only one town, bearing the same name, but little else was known about the island and what adventures it held in store for the now infamous Straw Hat Crew.

It sounded just a bit too scary, Usopp had stated as his long nose quivered in fear. The resident handy-man had put up one protest after another since the isle was determined as their next stop by the Log Pose. Usopp knew that it wasn't like they could sail around it or anything – the Grand Line being a bit finicky in that respect—but it didn't hurt anything to suggest it.

Turns out that little suggestion hurt more than Usopp had thought.

The rest of the crew quickly grew tired of his quibbling complains and feeble attempts to sabotage their course with imaginary typhoons and ravenous Sea Kings. Usopp's plea to sail around was the last straw. Nami, who was especially exasperated, finally just tied the sharpshooter up and tossed him below decks.

"We don't really have a choice, now do we?" she had growled out angrily.

Everyone had been on edge since the Eternal Pose pointing the way to Alabasta was accidentally broken during one of the freak storms so inherent to the Grand Line. Distraught, Vivi had locked herself in the cabin she had been sharing with Nami and refused to come out no matter how long Carue had scratched at the door. Zoro and Sanji almost came to blows over whose responsibility it was to secure the barrel that had almost crashed into the princess, causing her to drop the precious navigation tool. Chopper, who was gifted to have a room all to himself, had hidden from the flaring tempers by setting up his new medical office below deck.

And Luffy...well, Luffy was Luffy, but even he seemed to have understood the seriousness of the situation. He had ordered Nami to follow the course her Log Pose had set to during their time in the Drum Kingdom. That course had led them, unluckily or no, to their current destination.

But, contrary to the ominous name, the town of Black Feather seemed pretty normal. Quaint mud and thatch houses perched up on stilt-like supports shoved deep into the soggy ground. The local businesses were all built with sturdy foundations of homemade brick, showing the town was prosperous despite its seclusion in the middle of the Grand Line. The people here were friendly after their initial hesitancy at such a mismatched bunch of companions. And when asked about the island's unusual name, the townsfolk cheerfully explained that the name came from the black marsh birds that could be seen flying through the sky overhead.

The sun had set, signaling that the town's bars were now officially open for business. Both the ale and food flowing freely from the largest pub: Swampwater's Brew. And it was here that the Going Merry crew decided to rest for the night. Wanting to unwind from the strains of sailing the Grand Line, they resolved to make the best of being temporarily stranded on an island that seemed far from their destination.

The Brew was a two story wooden building located near the center of town. The common room was dim and stuffy, flanked by two fireplaces and lit only sparsely with oil lamps. But the pub was filled with the noise of clanking dishes and raucous laughter, making overall feeling of the place friendly, if not somewhat claustrophobic.

The crew, minus Chopper, Vivi and Carue, sat at a long table in the middle of the bar. Chopper, still quite nervous around people, volunteered to guard the ship for the night. Vivi offered to stay with the reindeer, stating that she didn't want to be recognized so close to home. In reality she most likely wanted to lament over the delay that could cost yet more of her people their lives. The remainder of the crew sat in the pub, happily stuffing their faces. All but one seemed blissfully unaware of the desert princess's woe.

Nami was currently pouring over the map she had 'acquired' from Captain Buggy. The navigator believed herself to be partly at fault for the delay, since it was she that had fallen ill on the way to Vivi's homeland. Even though the event had gained them a comrade—who was a doctor to boot-- Nami couldn't help but try to shoulder some of the responsibility for the kingdom of Alabasta's impending peril.

The redhead frowned as she scanned over the map's sketchy details. There were three islands located on the next leg of their journey, and beyond them, the kingdom of Alabasta. Nami was trying to futilely guess which of the three islands the Log Pose would set to and whether any of them would ultimately lead to the desert isle. The townsfolk could not answer this question, since none of them who had left their homeland ever returned.

"Miss Nami, you should eat your food before it gets cold," Sanji cooed as he fluttered over her shoulder, much like an injured bird. Though the others, if they had been paying attention, might compare it more to the traditional dance of the nearly extinct lovesick idiot.

"Gomu Gomu Self Service!" The bar's other patrons looked up in shock as Luffy's arm suddenly stretched across the table and greedy fingers latched onto the full plate. "If you don't want it…" The captain's lips curved upwards hopefully. Even Luffy knew better that to idly steal Nami's food: Not if he wanted to keep his fingers, anyway.

Nami waved her hand in a distracted 'go ahead' motion and Luffy's face split into a wide grin. In a blink of an eye the arm retracted and Nami's plate of food disappeared. Belching loudly, Luffy waved cheerfully to the waitress. "More!"

"And don't skimp so much on the meat," Zoro muttered from beside his captain, his first words spoken since entering the rowdy tavern. He slid his gaze from some point on the far wall to the shell-shocked barmaid, who nodded nervously before fleeing to the kitchen.

"We're really a self sufficient island." She had told them earlier. "Since the only trees that grow here are too gnarled and twisted to make large wooden items, we can build no boats to travel with. What you see here," she had gestured to the mismatched planks of wood that formed the bar's walls. "Was made mostly from the scraps of shipwrecks that have washed up on our isle."

Grunting, Zoro snapped back to the present and turned his attention to his comrades. He frowned when a quick mental count came up one short.

"Where'd Usopp go?" he asked.

Currently licking all their dishes clean of any molecule of food, Luffy pointed wordlessly behind them. Arching his brow, Zoro glanced back where indicated only to snort with a sort of amused disgust. Usopp was standing on a chair in a far corner of the room. The sharpshooter was surrounded by a group of rowdy men as harangued them with one of his boastful, and largely untrue, stories. Now that he was paying attention Zoro could hear Usopp's nasally voice filtering past the general hue and cry of the pub.

"And there I was, arms and legs tied up tight with chains that had to weigh fifty--no a hundred kilos. I knew they were going to kill me so I drew my sword and charged—"

"Wait!" One man sputtered drunkenly. "How'd ya pull out yer sword if you were tied up?" The other men murmured in agreement. It seemed as though they weren't quiet drunk enough for Usopp. Zoro could see the boy's knees shaking even from across the room.

"Uhhh…I didn't explain that part?" A large bead of sweat dripped down the side of the 'Brave Warrior's' face as Usopp noticed the mood of the crowd darkening. His eyes cast about the room desperately, racking his brain for something—anything-- to tell his doubting audience. Usopp's eyes locked with a now glaring Zoro's and a light seemed to flicker over his head. With a relieved sigh, he turned back to the men.

"I used my teeth!" He exclaimed with his chest puffed out proudly. Behind him, the former pirate hunter nearly fell out of his chair in outraged surprise.

Rolling up the map with a frustrated sigh, Nami rose from the table. "We should turn in. The people here say it takes almost two days for the Log Pose to set. Since we're stuck here, we should use that time to rest up and restock on supplies." She pulled an errant lock of hair behind her ear, making no move to cover her tired yawn. "Come one Sanji; Luffy."

"Yes Miss Nami!" Sanji crowed as he rose quickly to his feet. Across from him, a large frown imbedded itself upon their captain's face.

"No," Luffy pouted. "I want more food!"

Nami's teeth suddenly seemed a lot sharper as she loomed over Luffy. "You'll get a fat lip!" She threatened, tugging him out of his chair and towards the stairway.

Since the Swampwater's Brew also housed an inn, Nami had graciously 'lent' them the money to rent rooms for the night. Eager to enjoy a real bed instead of the course web of a swinging hammock, the others agreed to bunk together to avoid double the pain of the navigator's ridiculous interest rates. So Nami had booked three rooms and even provided money for their dinner on the promise that her generosity would be returned to her doubled.

"If I left you alone down here, you'd get into trouble and you know it!" Nami argued her point as she tugged a protesting Luffy from his seat. "For once I want to leave a town without having to run for my life! Zoro, Grab Usopp!" she barked out from the bottom of the stairs. A smirking Sanji followed in her wake, giving a helpful kick now and then to keep their whining captain moving forward.

"I'm already on my way!" Usopp squeaked out as he shot past Zoro, leaving in his wake a trail of drunk and angry men who were apparently not humored by his stories.

"Amazing how he has that effect on people." Zoro muttered to himself as he casually placed his hand on his treasured sword, Wadou. The angry mob suddenly disappeared with an audible synchronized gulp.

Zoro smirked and turned back to the table to drain his tankard of ale, determined not to judge its quality on the pub's name alone. But upon lowering his mug, the smile had disappeared from his face. Zoro glared straight ahead at the same wall he had stared at all evening, as he stiffly addressed the figure sitting in the shadows to his right.

"You've been watching me all night," Zoro nonchalantly pointed out. "You like what you see?"

"That remains to be seen Pirate Hunter, Roronoa Zoro." a sepulchral voice intoned. "Won't you sit down?" A pale hand, its sharp nails glistening in the lamplight, gestured to an adjacent seat.

It seemed to Zoro's imagination that the lights dimmed as his boots made a slow but steady trek across the room. Patrons, once laughing, now stared into their mugs silently. Partying revelers suddenly decided to take their celebrations elsewhere. Even the pub's workers seemed to disappear through the back door.

"I ain't a pirate hunter anymore." Zoro growled out, but nevertheless slowly took the proffered chair. His sharp eyes quickly took in everything about the figure across from him. If this guy was a potential threat, the Going Merry's first mate was determined to snuff him out as quickly as possible.

Long greasy hair covered a sallow face bearing cat-like eyes that glowed from sunken sockets. Black nails clicked together as the man wiggled his fingers. Zoro couldn't tell if it was from nervousness or excitement. Overall the man gave him the impression of a snake slithered freshly out from the swamps.

"Of course, of course. But some jobs are hard to quit, true?" the dark-haired man stated, a sly smile pasted to his face.

"What do you want?" Zoro asked with narrowed eyes. His hand hovered near his swords, ready—and even somewhat eager-- for a possible confrontation.

"Impatient, are we?" Laughter caused the man's bony shoulders to shake from underneath the long coat he wore-- one that seemed about three sizes too big. "Very well. I will indulge you in your childishness. I have a job for you."

"Not interested." Zoro was already sick of the conversation and had half a mind to gut the man no matter what his intentions just for the child comment. The swordsman started to rise from his seat when he felt something hard pressed against the middle of his back. The click of a pistol's hammer resounded through the air.

The man's smile turned sinister as his lackeys surrounded the swordsman. It seemed that the majority of the bar's customers were here for more than drink and merriment, Zoro noted. He cursed himself for only just noticing that the bar was now empty except for his new 'friends'. There were about ten of them, as near as Zoro could tell without turning around. It was a number he could take care of easily, probably without even breaking a sweat. But he was reluctant to turn his back on what he perceived to be the larger threat. Something about the man before him didn't sit well with the former pirate hunter.

A quick poke to the back brought Zoro's attention back to the situation at hand and he slowly retook his seat. "Using force won't help you," Zoro grinned darkly as he surreptitiously loosened his swords from their sheaths. "I'm known to be very stubborn. And you are definitely underestimating me if you think a few maggots with firearms will change my mind."

"Let's jest shoot 'im, Mr. Uragi." A man, presumably the one holding the pistol, pleaded. "We don't need no upstart punk like 'im."

"You're wrong." Uragi's slitted eyes never left Zoro, whose own eyes narrowed as he felt something slide past his foot. "We need him very much. This job would be quite messy without him." Uragi eyes flicked over his man disdainfully. "I highly doubt a backwater punk like you would survive it."

Hearing a choked gasp, Zoro fought the urge to turn around as the gun barrel slid from his back and something heavy fell past him, rebounding off the floorboards. "He's dead," one henchman whispered in shock. The other goons behind him murmured fearfully.

"Know that I underestimate no one." Uragi pointed out with a mild frown. "I've done quiet a bit of research on you and I'd like to pride myself on knowing how you think. It could only be fate that brought you to my island, after all. Lady Luck's way of saying we are destined to become partners."

"I'll ask you again," Zoro's face was grim. "What do you want?"

Uragi's fingers wiggled about once more, creating that same irritating clicking noise that was beginning to grate on Zoro's nerves. Uragi's lanky frame rose from his seat, showing himself to be taller than even Zoro. His men backed away in fear as he slowly made his way around the table. The man's teeth shined in the darkness as he stood before Zoro, grinning like a cat that caught the canary.

"It quite simple really. As a fellow bounty hunter, I only want you to help me hunt some pirates."

"Who?" Zoro demanded, not liking where this topic was heading. Sweat began to bead across his brow and warning lights flashed frantically in his head.

"Your friends of course. I'm sure no one knows their fighting skills better than you."

"Forget it, Shithead." Zoro jumped to his feet and went to draw his swords as his fighting instincts quickly overrode his shock. But A surprisingly strong hand had wrapped itself around his throat even before he could touch the hilts.

"Don't be so hasty, Roronoa." Uragi smiled pleasantly as his hand tightened its grip. "I'd be willing to share the reward money with you. Sixty million beli just for the captain of the Straw Hat crew is definitely nothing to sneeze at."

"Go to hell." Zoro gasped out as he quelled the urge to claw at the hand clasping his throat. His pride demanded that he prove that he would not buckle under a little intimidation. It was that pride that usually got him into trouble. A little voice in his head reminded him that it would only take about seven kilos of pressure to snap his neck, but Zoro wasn't going to let that fact stop him. He'd find out as much about this guy's plan as he could before he filleted the lot of them.

"And as an added bonus," Uragi continued as if he hadn't heard the green haired man's obscenity. "I have this rare sword I'd be willing to part with." One of his lackeys stepped into view, a gleaming sword held up in both hands.

"Its name is Seigi Shihai no Ken. The Ruling Sword of Justice. It is the companion to your katana, Wadou Ichimonji, I believe." Uragi took the sword and held it reverently before Zoro's eyes. "How about it? Will you help me?" The hand around Zoro's throat constricted, cutting of his air supply.

Zoro kicked out suddenly; Causing Uragi to stumble backwards and his breaking his grip on the swordsman's neck, though not without leaving a deep scratch from the man's long nails. In a blink of an eye Zoro's three swords were drawn and ready for battle. The sharp tip of Yubashiri came to rest mere millimeters from Uragi's nose.

"I think you have my answer." Zoro spoke between teeth clenched around the white hilt of Wadou.

Shadows hid the man's eyes as dusted the bootprint from his chest. "Tsk, tsk. That is a pity. I guess I don't have a choice then…." Uragi's head shot up, his face suddenly loosing its pleasant façade. His right hand clenched around Seigi Shihai and he charged forward with the blade aloft.

It took only seconds for Zoro to realize that Uragi wasn't just fighting for show. The man had skill. Although Zoro outnumbered him by two blades, Uragi was defending himself almost nonchalantly. Their blades hissed and sung as the struck against one another, creating sparks of friction when their owners used too much force.

Zoro suddenly saw an opening and did not hesitate to use it. Sandai Kitetsu lashed out like a snake as it sliced down on the Uragi's sword arm, severing it from his body. But Uragi seemed undeterred as his left hand struck out, those black nails digging deep into the scratch on Zoro's neck.

The pirate jerked himself backwards and he drew his swords back in the most powerful swing he could muster in such close quarters. His katanas sliced crossways through Uragi's torso and just before Zoro was thrown to the floor by his own momentum.

Cries of outrage filled the empty room. Uragi's men raised their guns and prepared to unload their muskets into the pirate's body before Zoro could regain his feet. But, an eerie, mocking laugh stopped all movement on both sides.

"Poor Roronoa," Uragi stood before him, whole and unharmed. "You are the one who underestimated me. You should show more respect to one who has eaten the Doku Doku Fruit."

"You've eaten a Devil's Fruit?" Zoro blurted out involuntarily as his fists clenched around his swords. The green-haired man stubbornly tried to ignore the sudden burning sensation in his neck. "Are you a member of Baroque Works?" he demanded.

The dark-haired man let out another high-pitched laugh. "Those idealistic fools? No. I like to work for someone more grounded." He flashed an evil grin. "Like myself."

Uragi's face turned serious once more as he squatted before the green-haired man. "Now listen closely, Roronoa. Those who have eaten the Doku Doku Fruit find themselves being able to turn into liquid at will." To prove his point, his hand dissolved into a viscous black fluid before turning into an ordinary hand once more.

"I've heard of that trick before." Zoro snorted and glanced away pointedly. "I'm not very impressed."

"That's not all, Swordsman." The man hissed. "That liquid happens to be a very powerful poison. Meaning I don't even need to bear a weapon in order to kill." He tossed the sword, Seigi Shihai, back to one of his men before continuing his lecture. "I can control my own toxicity, believe it or not. For instance, I can make a man's death quick," he glanced back at his man who had fallen so mysteriously earlier. By the expression frozen on the man's face, Zoro guessed that he died in a considerable amount of pain. "Or I can make it very, very slow." Uragi whispered gleefully as he wiped the trickle of blood from Zoro's neck in a languorous motion.

Eyes wide, Zoro's hand flew up to a long scratch along the side of his neck. The burning he felt earlier flared up in answer. "Y-you—" he stuttered. Even his stoic demeanor floundered in the face of the prospect of such a horrific death.

"Yes. I gave you a little taste of my power. By the time your crew is ready to set out to the next island, you will be dead. That is, unless you agree to help me. You see, I can also create the antidote for your recent malady."

Damn it, Zoro cursed silently as stared at the floorboards, a deep frown etched on his face. Even now he could feel the poison coursing through his system, making the left side of his body throb with pain. This was not something he had ever planned for. This was not something he had ever planned for. He didn't have a clue about what to do in such a situation. How do you fight what you can't cut?

If he refused outright, there would be no doubt that Uragi would shoot him with more of that poison stuff and kill him just as quick as he had his lackey. On the other hand, the price fore his life was probably higher than he was willing to pay. The serpent-like man would then probably switch his focus upstairs after Zoro's swift disposal, to where the swordsman's unknowing shipmates were resting, completely clueless of any danger.

"What do you want me to do?" he finally choked out, silently berating himself for his own weakness.

"Kill the Straw Hat's three friends and lure the captain himself into the swamplands just south of town."

Zoro's eyes narrowed at the request but he forced himself to remain cool headed. "What about Luffy?" he asked. "You gonna try to poison him too? Because I'll tell you now he's won't be that easy to get rid of." Zoro spoke with pride.

"I'm quite aware of your captain's rubber-like abilities." Uragi stood and tossed something at Zoro's feet. It resembled an ordinary iron musket except for a razor-sharp arrowhead jutting out from one side. "That's why I created these bullets. I'm positive they'll pierce through even his stringy hide. A nice long distance killing-- no mess, no danger to myself. And with you to take care of the other riffraff of a crew that bounty is as good as ours. I still want you as a partner so you'll of course get half the money. As long as you do your part, Zoro, we will both come out healthy and rich."

The Going Merry's First Mate picked up the sharp-tipped bullet and tried to swallow past a suddenly dry throat. "What if I refuse?" he asked, his eyes gaining a glint of defiance. Zoro's swords were no defense against something as insubstantial as water. But his stubbornness had always been stronger than his logic. He would fight with a sponge if he had to.

"Well, you'll be dead of course."

"Fine." Zoro muttered as he pulled his bandanna from his arm and tied the black cloth onto his head. "Kill me then, if you think you can." He dared the man gruffly.

"Then I'll kill your friends." The bounty hunter added, making Zoro freeze in his tracks as he the man just blithely stated the green-haired man's foremost fear. "Such a quiet island like this…I bet they are in their beds now, completely at ease. It would take only a few seconds to overpower them. And believe me, their deaths will be much nastier than the mercy-killings you could bring them." Uragi eyes flashed with undisguised malice. "I'd keep them alive as long as possible while sending them to the Marines piece by piece!" he sneered.

Zoro wracked his brain for any feasible way out but he couldn't think. His head pounded from the poison and his hand balled into a fist, causing the bullet to cut painfully into his skin. He regretted not mentioning the watching eyes during dinner. Even a man made of poison would be no match against all of them, which is why he wanted Zoro's help. But now it was too late. Without proper warning, the possibility of one or more of his comrades falling to this slimy prick was too high to bet against. And there was the matter of Zoro's own life. He definitely wasn't willing to up and die just yet. He still had a promise to fulfill.

The swordsman cursed his own selfish stupidity as his shoulders slumped in defeat.

"I'll do it." He whispered.

"Excellent!" Uragi smiled triumphantly as he clapped the pirate jovially on the back. "You will of course excuse me for putting a timetable on things but, you have only until sundown tomorrow. Lure your captain to the border of the south marshes—that is close to where your ship is docked-- and my men and I will take care of the rest."

Zoro nodded wordlessly, his eyes never rising from the floor. The swordsman watched dully as the boots of Uragi's henchmen strode towards the exit, the body of their dead comrade dragging along behind. Not even an overturned chair existed to indicate any sign of the previous struggle.

"Oh, and Zoro?" Uragi, the last to reach the doorway, paused as if he had forgotten something.

"Yeah?" For some reason Zoro had trouble recognizing his own voice.

"Don't forget to bring the bodies."

And then Zoro was alone. He sat there, unmoving, for what seemed like an eternity before trembling hands sheathed his katanas and pocketed the deadly bullet. The pirate released a shuddering sigh and picked himself up from the floor just as Sanji poked his head down the stairs.

"Meathead! Why haven't you come up yet? You causing trouble? Nami told—Hey, where did everybody go?" Sanji's cigarette dangled from his mouth, as he looked this way and that for the pub's missing patrons. Seeing Zoro's troubled face, he frowned. "What's wrong?"

Zoro quickly schooled his face into a neutral expression as he walked towards the stairs. "Nothing."

"You sure?" the blonde asked, doubt lacing his voice.

"Mind your own business, you shitty cook." Zoro growled as he shoved past him. "Now which one's my room?"

"Asshole." The cook pointed with his cigarette to a door on the left side of the hallway. "You're with Luffy since both you and him snore enough to wake the dead." He took a drag as he watched the swordsman with narrowed eyes.

"Thanks," Zoro muttered as his made his way down the corridor. Shrugging, the cook stubbed out his smoke. Zoro's business was Zoro's business, he supposed.

"Night, you bastard." Sanji called out before entering the room he shared with Usopp. Zoro stepped into his own room without replying.

Slumping against the other side of the door, Zoro's eyes clenched shut as he rubbed the scratch on his neck. Bring the bodies, Uragi had said. The swordsman was suddenly filled with self-loathing. Did he really value his own life that much?

One eye cracked open as he heard Luffy stir. His captain lay sprawled out on the tiny room's only bed. Nami was such a cheap bitch. The swordsman betted that all of them could have slept comfortably in the bed she must have been lying in. An iron shackle chained the rubber man's leg to one of their bed's iron posts, undoubtedly also the redhead's doing.

Drawing Wadou, Zoro walked silently towards his friend. A swift downward stroke was all it took.

The chain slithered to the floor with a dull clank. "Thanks Zoro…dinna wanna break the bed…nice, comfy bed…." Luffy murmured before seamlessly falling back into the depths of sleep. In no time his snores once more filled the room.

Zoro wordlessly removed his other swords and placed them to the side of the bed. Scooting his captain over, the swordsman lay down beside him, not even protesting when Luffy rolled over and cuddled against him as if he were an oversized teddy bear. Zoro just stared up at the ceiling, trying desperately to keep the stoic expression plastered to his face as he tried to piece together his shattered resolutions.

By sundown tomorrow, one of them would die.


Doku Doku Fruit : The only translation I'll give—it translates to, unimaginatively enough, the Poison Poison Fruit.