Notes: This is sort of a "What if?" story, exploring a little idea between Zoro and Nami as if Luffy never came into the picture. Possible spoilers for the Arlong saga. Expect a lot of angst. Enjoy!
She dug her bear hands into the earth, dirt piling under her long fingernails as she tore through vines and roots. Tears streaked her pale face in the moonlight. Shadows lurked around her, casting their darkness upon her work. It was a hot summer night, but then it always seemed hot on that island.
Finally a large wooden box emerged from the soil, and she opened it without hesitation. Inside, glowing under the full moon, were countless glittering treasures staring back at her. Determinedly, she shoved handfuls at a time into her navy backpack, zipped it up, and began filling a large denim purse. And when all of the treasures had been packed away, she stood up and walked out of the garden, not bothering to bury the wooden box again.
There was a tiny boat waiting for her along the shoreline, and she crept into it without a sound. She pulled a roll of paper out of her pocket, held it under the light of the stars, and began paddling away.
By morning she had reached her destination, the ever-busy island of Logue Town. She hoisted her bags over her shoulders and climbed out of her boat, walking down the crowded street. Her eyes shifted back and forth, and her hands were stiff upon her treasure. She, more than anyone, knew how easily such treasures could be stolen in crowds like these.
She finally arrived at a bar, a seedy place that looked abandoned. But rumors had been whispered through the air and she had heard of the man who often showed up there for his favorite brand of rum. She prayed that he would be there, or at least come in at some point during the day. She didn't know how long she could wait.
She walked inside, cautious and careful. She wasn't sure what to expect, but was slightly relieved that the place was empty. Only an elderly man sat leaning his face against the bar, sleeping soundly. So she sat down at a table in the back and watched the door intently for the next few hours.
She had stopped crying hours ago, but the tear-stains on her face could still be seen if one looked hard enough. A bruise was visible on her left cheek, and she had the look of someone in trouble. She wondered how he would react to her, whether or not he would accept her offer. And she worried that he would not show up at all.
When night began to fall outside and darkness spread through the empty room, she pulled her bags back onto her shoulders and stood up. There was no point waiting any longer, and she decided to come back the next day and wait again. He had to turn up eventually, she assured herself that.
But as she neared the door, it opened, and a man walked in with three swords resting by his side. A dark bandana covered the top of his head, casting a shadow upon his face. And Nami knew instantly that he was the one she had been seeking. She froze in front of him, studying his features. He certainly looked tough. But would he be enough? She had to give it a shot either way. He was her last hope.
He had only glanced at her as he walked by, heading toward the bar. Nami turned around to watch him. He had sat down on a stool and gave the sleeping bartender a nudge. When the elderly man awoke, he smiled and began preparing a drink.
Nami spoke the name loudly, facing him. Her eyes were determined. She had to show him she was serious.
He looked at her, curious. One eyebrow was raised.
She walked to him, throwing both her bags onto the bar in front of him. "It's all yours," she told him, "nearly one-hundred million berries."
Zoro glanced at the bags, then at her. "I usually collect my bounty from a Marine office, and after I kill the pirate."
"So you don't do personal jobs? It's a hundred million berries, probably more than you've ever earned before. It's yours now, if you promise to come with me tonight."
Zoro unzipped one bag, taking a look at the beautiful treasures inside. She was right, it was worth at least what she said. He looked back to her. "Who's the target?"
Zoro laughed. "You want me to kill that merman pirate? Why?"
Nami's face was serious. "He killed them all. Everyone I ever knew, he slaughtered them."
Zoro looked thoughtful, then looked at the treasures again. "All right. I'll kill him for you."
Nami nodded, no more need to speak as she lead him out of the bar and down the dark street. There were no more crowds, it was too late for that. People were sleeping in their beds, dreaming of happy things. And Nami rubbed her cheek with the back of her right hand, wanting to be rid of the stains.
Zoro carried the treasure on his shoulders, no complaints from him. It was a huge bounty, more than the Marines had offered for Arlong's head. It was a good deal for him, but he watched Nami's back as she walked in front of him and thought about the face that stared at him in the bar. It was the face of someone who had been destroyed, someone who was alive while being dead inside. He knew people like her, and none of them ever turned out alright in the end.
He wondered about her, curious as to how she alone had escaped Arlong if he had killed everyone else. What was her connection to him? Then Zoro sighed and adjusted the packs on his back. He didn't need to know. The details were not important to him. This dead girl with her dark, wet eyes and pale, pallid skin had nothing to do with him. She was walking a path to ruin, and who was he to say anything about it?
They finally arrived at Nami's little boat. There was barely enough room for the two of them, but they wordlessly climbed in. Nami sat facing Zoro, but she stared at the black water around them and never met his eyes. Zoro paddled the boat, well aware of where Arlong's base was. That hot little island, the one with pretty trees and scared people peeking out above walls and fences, waiting to be saved. He wondered which of the villages had been decimated, which one Nami had belonged to.
"How did you get away?"
He asked the question before thinking. What did he care?
Nami looked up at him. She smiled then, the first time he'd seen her do so, but her smile was empty and sorrowful. "Arlong needs me. I'm an important part of his crew."
Zoro was a little surprised, but didn't say so. It really was none of his business. Nami looked back down at the water. The smile slowly faded from her lips, and in the light of the full moon he could see her eyes narrow. They were almost glowing as she looked back up at him.
"I want you to make him suffer. If you can do it, kill him slowly. I want him to have time to think about me."
Zoro was silent for a few moments, meeting her gaze. Then, "If that's what you want. It can be arranged."
Nami smiled again, this time wide, and it was no longer empty. It was full of sweet vengeance. "That's exactly what I want."
Zoro kept paddling, and Nami pulled out a compass to check their direction. He watched her take out a map too, and for a moment he could see a tiny glimmer of something else in her eyes, something alive, something not clouded by rage and despair. She loved her map. That much was obvious. Perhaps she had hope after all.
Then Nami folded the map and shoved it into her pocket. She stole a glance at Zoro, who was looking at her, but then looked away. Nami wished he wouldn't look at her. She was once proud of her looks, using them to catch others off-guard. But her hair was a mess and her clothes were stained brown with dried blood, dirt, and tears. She wasn't beautiful now, and wondered if she ever would be again. Even she could tell that something was missing inside her, something had been forever lost.
Zoro was a handsome man, Nami hadn't noticed it until now. In the well-lit bar she had sized him up to judge how strong he was. But in the darkness and the moonlight, and in the tiny boat, she could see the perfect form of his body and the sharp, determined eyes. In the back of her mind, she wondered if Arlong would kill him, if yet another person would be mowed down before her. And Nami silently promised herself that this was the last time. This was the last person she would go to for help. If Zoro couldn't kill Arlong…
Zoro spoke again, and Nami blinked. "So is this Arlong pretty tough?"
She knew he wasn't really curious. How many bounty hunters ask such a question after agreeing to the job? He was making conversation, and she wished he wouldn't. Talking hurt. Thinking hurt. "Yeah. He's pretty tough."
Zoro was quiet again. It dawned on him that she didn't want to talk about Arlong, unless it was to discuss his bloody demise. But something about her small, fragile voice made him want to hear her speak again. She wasn't exactly what he'd call pretty, but her eyes were large and just begging to be read, and her long legs were crossed beneath a short skirt. He looked away from her. Why even think about it?
The rest of the trip was silent, and by sunrise they were back at Nami's island. Zoro climbed out of the boat and turned, watching Nami stand up and lift one leg over and onto the sand. She appeared tired, and as she lifted the other leg, she lost her balance. She toppled forward and crashed into Zoro's arms. For a moment, a feeling washed over her, something strange and unfamiliar to her. Zoro's arms were strong, his body stable and firm. For a brief moment, she felt secure, almost even safe. It was as if she had discovered her foundation. She looked up at him, surprised that he was looking back at her so intently.
She pulled away from him and smoothed her skirt. She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, a nervous habit she'd given up on breaking. In the darkness she lead him into the forest, and not a word was spoken until they arrived at Arlong's base. There was a wooden fence surrounding his home, and Nami despised it. It didn't belong there. Arlong didn't belong there. Bloodstains covered the gates, and even more had seeped into the ground, mingling with the mud and dirt. Nami knew where they came from, exactly how many people had been massacred right outside that fence, and how many more had been murdered inside. She walked out of the woods, and Zoro followed.
"He's in there," she told him, pointing at the gate.
Zoro examined the fence, and the doorway. It wouldn't be hard for him to get in. He sat down Nami's bags of treasure on the ground beside his feet. "You can wait here if you want," he said.
Nami nodded. "Destroy Arlong, but come get me before you give the final blow. I want to see his face."
Zoro agreed, and pulled out two of his swords. He used them to climb over the steep fence and Nami heard him land softly on the other side. She walked over to the fence and pressed her hand against the puncture mark where Zoro's sword had first went in. She then turned around and slid into a sitting position, staring up at the stars. "Please God, let this work… please let Arlong die tonight."
She heard the clashing of metal against metal, lots of cursing and yelling, and finally, the satisfying sound of a blade slicing through flesh. She stood up quickly, almost afraid of going to the gate and confirming her hopes. But she stepped slowly around the corner and stared at the door.
It opened with a loud creak, and Zoro stood behind it, his swords back in their place at his side. His shirt had many tears, and small cuts and scratches covered what was exposed of his skin. "Come on in. There's not much left of him, but he's still conscious."
Nami blinked. It was over that fast? Perhaps there was more to the legendary swordsman than she had dared to hope. She walked inside, Zoro leading her to a large, heaving body on the ground. She looked down at Arlong, and his narrow eyes glared darkly at her. "I always knew… you'd be the ruin of me…" he spat weakly.
Nami kneeled beside him, and looked at his face. He was bleeding, and his breaths came with pain and struggling. She felt joy in that. "You shouldn't have left me alive. You should have killed me with the others. But now, you pay for your sins."
She reached behind her back and pulled a dagger from the waistline of her skirt. She held it up so that Arlong could see it, then drove it into his left eye and all the way through to his brain, killing him instantly. She left the dagger and stood up, facing Zoro.
He looked a little confused. "I thought you wanted me to finish him off."
Nami smiled. "I'm sorry, I changed my mind at the last minute."
"I'm still taking all the treasure."
"Of course. None of this would have been possible without your help."
Zoro nodded, and they walked outside the gate. He pulled the bags of treasure onto his shoulder again and looked around. It was still dark, and morning was yet a few hours away. "Is there an inn around here anywhere?"
Nami shook her head. "Not for several years, no. But you can stay at my place. It's a little empty these days."
Zoro hesitated, but eventually agreed, and followed her back to the small house she had shared with her mother and sister. The dead silence in the village made him uneasy. Did no one survive besides Nami? How could she stand it?
When the arrived at her home, Nami opened the door and ushered him in. He dropped the bags by the door, slipped off his shoes, and stood his swords in the corner. He sat down on her couch, and looked around. It was dark until Nami lit some candles, but when dim light spread through the room, he realized how homey and comfortable the house was. Memories were thick in the air, even though Zoro didn't even know what they were. Nami disappeared into another room, and didn't come back for nearly an hour.
She walked out from the back of the house, carrying another candle and a small plastic box under her arm. She was wearing a long T-shirt, and nothing else to be seen. Her hair was wet, and her skin was white and clean. She had taken a shower. She sat down beside him, placed the candle on the coffee table, and reached him the box. "There are some bandages and ointments in there, if you want to take care of your cuts. I have hot water, so you're welcome to take a shower. There's only one bedroom, but I don't care to sleep on the couch."
Zoro thanked her and slipped off his shirt. He stood up, went to a nearby mirror, and examined his wounds. None of them were serious, though most of them were rather annoying. Nami watched him in the candle light, sitting on the couch with her legs beneath her. She couldn't possibly describe how she felt. Arlong was dead. Her enemy was gone. No more worries. Not more concerns. But something in her ached for the love and comfort of her family, her friends. They were all gone now, and Arlong's death would not bring them back. She didn't know where she would go from there, whether she would migrate to another village on the island or move to another island all together. All she knew was that a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and it was all thanks to Zoro.
He returned to his place on the couch, and put away her medical supplies. He started to stand up again when she put a hand on his arm. "Zoro… thank you…"
He made no move to pulls his arm away, but the contact made him uncomfortable. "Why? You paid me to do a job."
She didn't move her hand. "I know that, but you have no idea how much it means to me, to see that man dead."
Zoro didn't have a reply for that, so he looked at her silently. The candle light flickered off her face, and her eyes seemed more inviting than ever.
"I'm so happy that I'm free… I can't even put it into words… but at the same time…" she trailed off slightly, and her eyes were becoming moist again, "I'm all alone now. Everyone is dead. I'm… so lonely…"
She leaned over slowly until her face was resting against his chest and he could feel the dampness of her cheeks. He had no idea what to do, so he went still, waiting for her to disentangle herself.
She did not, and instead raised up and leaned in closer, kissing his lips. "I'm so lonely…" she repeated desperately, "even when they were all alive… I was lonely…"
Zoro leaned back, attempting to put some distance between the two of them, but instead ended up flat on his back on the couch, Nami on top of him. He knew what was happening, she was emotionally distraught, and turning to the first available source of comfort. He wasn't sure what to do. She was even more attractive now, in the soft glow of the orange light that complemented her hair, and she felt so fragile and delicate against his hard body. But would she regret it in the morning? Would she accuse him of taking advantage of her despair? Did it even matter?
He finally gave in, and returned her kisses, wrapping his arms around her. She smelled of oranges, but the lingering stench of blood and tears drifted from beneath her skin. She was soft and hard at the same time, innocent yet already scarred far beyond repair.
They made love on the couch, drenched in sweat in the summer heat, and tears periodically fell from Nami's face. She felt deep sadness and deep joy and so many other things that overwhelmed her that night. But Zoro's strength kept her anchored, and once again she felt a brief moment of security in his arms. When it was over, she retreated to the bedroom, leaving him asleep on the couch.
The next morning sunlight filtered in through the windows of her house, and Nami pulled herself out of bed. She wondered what she should fix for breakfast, whether Zoro would prefer orange juice or tea. But as she walked into the living room, she immediately noticed that the couch was bare, and there was no sign that anyone had been there at all.
Sorrow began to swell inside her. For one night, the void in her heart left by the death of her village had been filled by something else. Now that was gone too, and she laughed loudly. She should have been used to it by now, losing all that she ever cared for. How could it have worked anyway? Zoro was a wandering pirate hunter. She knew that the night before, and she knew it now.
In the corner of the room, she spotted the two bags she had filled with treasure in the middle of that night that now seemed so long ago. She opened them and was shocked to find that all of the treasure was still there. Had Zoro forgotten it? Surely not. Beneath the bags laid a piece of paper. She held it up and read it out loud.
"Keep the treasure. You need it more than I do. Start a new life for yourself, and keep on living."
Nami crumpled the paper up in her hand and leaned against the wall. She didn't know what she was feeling, or how to put it in perspective. All she knew was that everyone was gone. Zoro was gone. And all they left behind them was Nami and cold, pure emptiness.
And before anyone writes to me saying "But Zoro couldn't defeat Arlong!" please don't. In the series, when Zoro fought Arlong, he was severely wounded from his battle with Mihawk, so that is not a good basis to judge whether or not he could do it at full health. Thank you.