And yes, I am back again. With another update that isn't Stealth, OR It's the Onions. Sorry! This is what my easily distracted mind does to me. Another Zolu of course. Not quite as fluffy as most of my other ones are, but hopefully you'll like it anyway. Anyway, I'm hoping to update, or more preferably finish It's the Onions on Wednesday. So anyway, I hope you enjoy this in the mean time!

This was originally planned for Zoro's b-day even though it's barely mentioned in this story. And it's extremely late. So happy belated b-day Zoro! hehehe

A quick note... I'm not sure what that thing Zoro wears around his waist is called... The green thing I mean... I've heard it called a haramaki, so that's what I referred to it as in this fic. If that's wrong, please let me know what it really is so I can change it! Oh, and the bold/italic parts are flashbackish things XD

Warnings: Language and yaoi/shounen ai. It's Zolu!

Disclaimer: I don't own One Piece. I'm not that cool.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this!


Red Sky


Sanji and Nami hadn't come along, because this had originally been only a quick trip into town.

At first she'd only appeared to be some two-bit bounty hunter, and she'd rifled off the typical speech about him going from infamous pirate hunter to lowly pirate.

How Usopp had known that the situation was about to take a major turn for the worse, he didn't know, but when he had turned around the liar had disappeared.

He shouldn't have turned his back on any potential enemy, and as he had soon found out, especially her.

Within seconds, using what the woman called 'low-frequency hypnosis,' or her siren's song, she had managed to almost completely take control of his body.

Throughout the greater part of nineteen years, Zoro had been exposed to all manner of weapon: swords, explosives, guns... You name it, chances are that at one time or another, he had found himself face to face with its business end.

But in all of those years, not once had he ever dreamt of deliberately taking one of his blades to his own body.

That was, until today...

That day, right at that moment, the swordsman would have given anything just to be able to saw both of his hands clean off.

He couldn't stand looking at them. Training had left them calloused. Hunting had left them branded. Protecting had left them trusted. But this... this had left them stained.

Just knowing that they were still there, attached to his arms by those horrible wrists, made him sick.

"Zoro?"

The worried voice of his captain pierced his focus as he tried to fight off the dizziness that had suddenly flooded his vision. "Stay back," was the only thing he managed to force out through his lips, now beginning to feel frozen.

The woman smirked prettily at the younger of the two. "So you're Monkey D. Luffy? I must say the wanted posters don't do you justice. You're much more adorable in person."

Struggling visibly now for control of his body, the first mate watched in horror as his friend completely disregarded his request, dashing over and putting both hands on the first mate's shoulders in concern. "Zoro!? What is it?"

And to think, the day had started out so well.

The swordsman had been awake long before the sun rose, finishing his morning workout upon the bow as the sky was only just beginning to color the most vibrant gold, orange, and red.

What was that old rhyme? 'Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.'

Zoro snorted in disdain. He'd heard it thousands of times before; he should have known that the verse could caution against more than just the weather.

"Let's delve into your mind a little, shall we?" The woman called, and suddenly the captive pirate's sight returned. "Hmm... Why don't we see what happens if I allow you to act upon one of your deepest desires..."

Almost immediately the green haired young man lost the last of his hold; his hands slowly lifting, reaching toward his captain. "Get back, Luffy..."

"Zoro?"

The east in its entirety, if for only a moment or two, had blazed an angry scarlet, and the swordsman remembered that blood had been the first thing he had thought of.

But to both his relief and his torment, there was no new blood on his hands. Blood he could have washed away. Blood he could have hidden.

But this mark... He could scrub his hands raw and it would still remain, and if anything, anchor itself even deeper within his mind: A constant reminder of his nearly lethal weakness.

How... No, not how. Why. Why had he devoted his life to the pursuit of greater strength, only to have the power he had gained used against him? Years of constant pressure and abuse. Years of pushing himself beyond all limitations. He had honed his skills, forged his body, and sharpened his mind.

And in return? What had he received as compensation for what had become his life, his heart, and his soul?

Having slipped his hands around his friend's neck, the boy stood shocked before him.

"What's..."

'Not this one,' he pleaded silently, thrashing harder against the hold on his body. 'Not this...'

Forced into pulling the boy closer, Zoro roared in anger. He knew exactly where this was heading. One of his strongest curiosities was to kiss his comrade, to reveal feelings that he'd kept safely locked away until now.

The woman's manipulation heightened, and his grip on the boy's throat suddenly became stronger.

Betrayal. One of his worst fears recognized. His achievements, his sacrifices, his own hands, turned on the person he had sworn to protect.

There was no evidence of the incident visible among the creases in his palms. But the knowledge that his own body had been so easily manipulated, and still worse, that he had taken a hand to his captain... with the intention to cause him harm...

That shame hurt him far more than any physical blow ever would.

Zoro clenched his eyes shut, pressing his tightly clasped hands against his painfully set jaw. A moment later he bolted upright, realizing that it was his repulsive hands that he was leaning into. He scowled, forcing those detestable fingers apart and lowering his arms stiffly to his lap.

"Oh my," the girl suddenly burst into laughter. "I certainly lucked out with you two. This should be fun!"

No, there was no physical proof on his own hands... but...

"Hnn..."

Looking at Luffy now, cocooned in a thick blanket upon the couch before him, you would never have guessed that he'd been through such a terrible ordeal only hours earlier.

The smaller pirate began shifting restlessly, suddenly giving a reflexive kick and tossing the covers aside.

Zoro could only watch in horror as his hands, which had been softly cradling the boy only moments ago, seized around his throat, tightening harshly and sending the teen's eyes wide.

"What the hell... Let him go, damn it!"

Eyes widening, the first mate couldn't tear his tortured gaze from the bruises that circled the boy's neck. Dark, angry bluish-yellow lines marred the teen's pure, pale skin.

Two smaller vertical marks blemished the front of his neck, while four other lines feathered outward, stretching backwards until they reached beyond his vision.

Lifting one hand, Zoro moved toward the beaten skin of the boy's throat.

Hesitating, he noticed that his extended fingers had begun to quake, trembling violently as he paused mid-reach. Clenching his fist, he forced his nerves back under control before continuing his motion towards the boy.

When he neared the boy's injury, not only did his hand begin shaking, but the tremors had seized the entire length of his arm. And these he could not stay.

Regardless of his uneven movement, he pressed forward, lowering his palm almost flat against his captain's warm skin.

The intensity of his shuddering had increased again, but he didn't need a steady hand to know that the shape of the wound on Luffy's neck would correspond perfectly with the contours of his fingers.

The painful, undeniable proof laid around his... cherished friend's throat.

It was a testament to his ultimate failure.

With his fingers clutching ever tighter around the boy's neck, the older pirate fought his hardest. "Let him go!"

Still quavering, Zoro inhaled slowly, doing his best to maintain his composure.

The motionless form on the couch gave a long, deep sigh. A breath that was too measured and deliberate for the boy to have given while unconscious.

Startled, the green haired young man realized that his captain had been roused from his sleep.

The boy was watching him lazily through eyes still half-lidded in fatigue, completely indifferent to that familiar hand upon his neck again.

"Zo-?" He tried to speak, but all he received was a rasping croak. Frowning, the younger pirate gave him a questioning look.

Coming to his senses, the swordsman recoiled as if he'd been bitten, fingers twisting into a fist against his thigh. Closing his eyes to steel himself, he opened them again and focused on the smaller pirate.

"The doctor said your vocal cords are bruised," he explained. "Said it'll be a little while before you can talk regularly again. He gave you something for the pain and said to take it easy."

Looking slightly aggravated in finding that he was lacking a voice, the rubber-man nodded to show he understood.

"How are you feeling?"

"Little sleepy," he mouthed. As if in demonstration, the boy's face was split by a jaw-cracking yawn.

When the boy chuckled wearily, the sound more a grating cough than a laugh, the first mate couldn't help but force a weak smile in return. Eyes locked, they lapsed into silence; one that was unbearably uncomfortable for the older of the two.

Luffy's slim chest lifted beneath the blanket as he sighed again, his breathing slightly labored and sounding somewhat cautious, as if he were testing just how deep a breath he could still take.

His gaze never faltered, and he seemed content just to answer his friend's stare; no anger, betrayal or resentment staining that youthful face.

Finally the silence was too much for the first mate, and he had to fill it with some noise, any noise, even if it were his own voice. "Do you hurt anywhere?" He asked, instantly regretting his choice of subject.

His captain shook his head, rolling onto his side so he could face his companion. Once he had settled again, his constant focus returned to the swordsman, and Zoro's unease flared again at full strength.

"Are you hungry?" He ventured, and it almost hurt when the teen shook his head 'no.' "Are you sure?" The older pirate urged, pressing for any sign of normalcy. Even the boy's insatiable appetite.

Grinning slightly, Luffy shook his head one more time.

Another heavy silence enveloped the room, and the green haired young man struggled to remain calm.

"Fucking witch," Zoro seethed, feeling the muscles within his comrade's neck bow under his forced grip. "Get the hell out of me!"

"Zoro," the younger teen managed to gasp out. "What's... going..."

The rest of the crew had gone back into town for a late dinner, so not even the normal sounds of their movements or conversation could be heard.

All the first mate was left with was the sound of their breathing, his comrade's unyielding attention, and the thoughts clashing within his mind. It was becoming harder and harder to deal with, to quell the rising panic, and he just couldn't contain it anymore.

"I'm sorry!" He suddenly barked, voice hoarse and too loud in the darkened room. Gasping as if the admission had been completely unintentional, he glanced cautiously at his captain's face, and was shocked with what he found.

Luffy was shaking his head fiercely, his once serene expression twisted with anger. Eyes dark and jaw clenched. It almost felt better this way.

"You're angry with me," prompted the older of the pair; more of a statement than a question.

If possible, the teen shook his head even more forcefully, and Zoro found himself at a loss.

"You're not angry with me?"

Another determined shake.

"Then... you don't want me to apologize?" He questioned aloud, looking to his friend for confirmation.

The smaller boy nodded with just as much enthusiasm.

"Luffy," the first mate began, tone regretful, and his captain's scowl returned again. Even so, Zoro forged ahead. "It's my fault, and you know it. Let me-"

"No!" Was his silent, but insistent reply, the boy was miming furiously at him.

"It wasn't on purpose. You know that. You have to know that. But my hands... holding your neck... that much was my own doing."

How could he convey the truth to this boy? His captain wanted none of it. None of the guilt or suffering, but Zoro needed it. Required it... to use as a catalyst. So that he could surpass everyone and prevent this from ever happening again.

"This is just too much!" The woman chortled, striding closer for a better look. "The leader and his loyal subordinate. Unrequited love perhaps?"

Letting out a burst of shrill laughter, the girl's control grew again, and his grip around his friend crushed noticeably inward.

So he could throw himself into his training and amidst the sweat and the blood and the screaming protests of his spent muscles, he could forget for one fleeting moment, that he had brought harm to the one he held most dear.

He would've given anything to be able to blame the entire occurrence on that woman. But... he couldn't...

"Luffy, I-" Abruptly he cut himself off as the boy levered himself upright.

Groaning, the boy held his head for a moment, his balance wavering so badly that Zoro instinctively lunged forward to steady him.

With his fingers grasping the boy's arms, the two were now face to face.

Glaring straight into his swordsman's eyes, the captain slowly, intently mouthed out a brief demand.

"Show me."

Startled, the larger of the two blinked in realization. "Show you?"

The teen waited expectantly, giving him time to work out the rest of the details.

"Show you... what I had wanted to do?"

A curt, resolute nod.

He wanted to refuse, wanted to leave the room, wanted to be anywhere else with anyone else right at that moment. His love for his captain had been what had given that woman the edge.

And now the boy wanted to know just what his thoughts had been as he had first wound his rough fingers around that slender neck.

Somehow the first mate couldn't deny his request.

Shifting backwards and releasing his hold, the swordsman searched his companion's face. "Are you sure you want to know?"

Without so much as a nod, the rubber-man's posture conveyed a firm 'yes.'

"...Fine." And with that Zoro reached again, with both hands now, for the teen's neck.

Moving as slow as he could, giving his friend every opportunity to back away, he eased forward onto the couch beside the boy.

Zoro jumped visibly when his fingertips first met with his captain's skin, and his mind was screaming, his thoughts lashing erratically within his head. Memories of earlier that day were flashing like warning lights behind his eyes.

His heart suddenly leapt into his throat, panic rising as his blood ran cold. He wanted to wrench his hands away, but he couldn't muster the strength to withdraw. It was as if he'd lost all control... just as he had before.

Focus lost to his internal battle, he lifted his eyes towards the face of his captain, silently pleading for the boy to get away. To retreat before his fingers could clench shut around him...

The boy was waiting patiently, expression set in resolve.

Zoro blinked in shock when, after seeing his companion, his vision abruptly cleared and his racing mind calmed. This wasn't like what had happened earlier...

He still had complete control over his movements, and his terror had been a product of his own consciousness. Swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat, he mirrored his friend's determination and pushed onward.

Luffy sighed imperceptibly when those calloused fingers slid up and over his bruised skin. Settling to cover the marks upon his flesh, they were tense, as if frightened, barely applying any pressure at all.

Having his hands upon his captain again was like an enormous weight, and it slowed his mind and body even more in combination with his almost reluctant hesitance.

With concentration that rivaled that of when he was walking into combat, Zoro leaned in towards the smaller teen, his heart hammering against his chest as he pulled the boy closer.

Watching his captain's face for any sign of discomfort or fear, the swordsman faltered when he noticed the teen's expression shift only slightly. Luffy's brow was creased slightly in anxiety... but no, he didn't appear scared. It was... anticipation. As if he'd been expecting this exchange.

"Luffy..."

The younger pirate harbored no fear of him whatsoever. Even with all that had taken place, the boy still held only the deepest trust for his swordsman.

It made something clench within Zoro's chest. It...

Even as his first mate's hands steadily tightened around his throat, the raven haired pirate showed no fear. Only concern and confusion.

"Zo...ro..." Rasped the rubber-man. eyes boring straight into Zoro's, trusting and unaffected by the grip constricting around his airway.

It was all too similar to their previous encounter. He couldn't do it.

"...I can't, Luffy." Releasing his hold on his comrade, he rose just enough to move back to his own chair, folding his hands against his knees and focusing on the back of the worn couch.

Stunned, the rubber-man made to reach after him, but paused, thinking for a moment before dropping his own hands to his lap. Only after several minutes of oppressive silence had passed did he lift his eyes to his first mate again.

Zoro cautiously observed the teen from the corner of his eye, not willing to meet his companion's gaze directly.

As he watched, the smaller pirate's focus came to rest on his face, and the boy's expression went from puzzled, to shocked, to concerned in a fraction of a moment.

Luffy began motioning for him, probably to gain his full attention, and when he was certain he had it, he scooted closer to his first mate.

His eyes were surprisingly dim; troubled with a sorrow that the swordsman had never seen before. Reaching upward, the rubber-man touched his own face with his fingertips, stroking downward from right beneath his lashes.

Not able to catch the meaning behind the boy's sign, the green haired young man narrowed his eyes in question.

The captain's hands rose to wrap around his wrists, but held no force behind them. No attempt to wrench away from his assailant, no desperate clutching, only a constant offer of support.

Repeating the gesture, the smaller of the two again traced his fingers down his cheek, searching for an indication of understanding from his older comrade. When he received none, he pouted, frowning in thought before he pushed himself closer again.

When he had managed to move within arms length of his friend, Luffy carefully balanced himself on one arm, reaching out with the other to brush his fingertips across Zoro's face.

Stunned to say the least, the swordsman was even more so when the teen's touch left his skin and his hand came away wet. Staring blankly at the fluid that shone against the boy's slender fingers, he lifted his own hand to his face.

Tears.

He hadn't even known he'd been crying. Sweeping gently beneath his eyes, Zoro gazed down at the moisture that clung to his skin, stunned. That same hand closed into a fist, and his shock was quickly replaced by a look of cold finality.

Scowl seating itself deeper along his brow, the older pirate felt the boy's bones and muscles giving oddly under the pressure of his grasp.

The devil fruit powers caused his throat to squeeze thinner than should be physically possible, and the woman, now standing directly beside the two, watched in morbid fascination as the teen's body flexed where it should have fractured long ago.

Pointedly ignoring the worried teen beside him, the swordsman bowed his head, and in a voice far too cold for what he was about to say, excused himself.

"It's a weakness," he began quietly. "A weakness I can't afford. One you can't afford. It could endanger everyone on this ship, and I won't allow myself to become a liability."

Luffy bit his lip. Whoever had just been speaking, it hadn't been Zoro. His Zoro had a goal that was fueled by feelings and emotions, they all did, and he knew their value.

He was desperate to reach the distraught mind of his first mate. But even if he'd had a functioning voice at the moment, he had no words that could reassure the older pirate.

Knowing that, he moved on pure instinct and grasped one of his friend's hands with both of his own.

Surprised when fingers wound around his hand, the green haired young man could not summon the will to pull away as he felt he should have. This was what he needed to discourage...

Instead his hand was squeezed, lifted and pulled until the rubber-man had settled it against the curve of his neck, showing his companion that he held no offense or fear.

His fingers were pressed tightly to the marks they had caused barely three hours earlier. "Luffy-" He voice faltered slightly.

At the warning tone of his voice the boy's brow immediately creased into a frown.

Zoro, trapped within his own body as it wrung the life from his captain, fought frantically against the woman's control.

"You bitch," he spat. "Let him go!"

The only movement his captor offered as acknowledgment was the flickering of her eyes in his direction.

"You're the one with your hands around his neck," she chided, laughter springing into her voice.

As if in defiance of whatever the larger teen had been about to say, the captain pressed harder against his friend's palm, meeting his swordsman's eyes with an unyielding glare.

"Don't," he mouthed firmly, shifting the broad palm he held trapped to his throat upwards, until he urged the rough fingers to cradle his cheek.

Zoro watched as his captain closed his eyes, which had been glued to his own throughout this entire motion, and bowed fondly into his first mate's hand.

When his warm gaze rose again, the older teen could clearly read what was written across his features.

'I don't hate you. I'm not angry and I'm not afraid.'

Pleased that his friend hadn't made any attempt to push him away, Luffy offered his crew member a smile. Twisting into that familiar hand, he pursed his lips, easing them softly over the lines in the rough skin.

The swordsman's breath hitched at the incredibly affectionate gesture, unable to comprehend what was happening.

The woman moved behind the rubber-man, grinning in satisfaction at the way Luffy's neck was being throttled.

"That's amazing," she murmured in dark excitement. "I've never seen anyone's body bend like that before. It's exquisite!"

Satisfied with the gasp that tore from his comrade, the rubber-man decided to take it one irreversible step further. There would be no going back...

With his mouth just barely playing over Zoro's palm, he slowly, purposefully, breathed three syllables into those gently cupped fingers.

The smaller boy's admission had made no sound at all, but the first mate had recognized those three words just the same, and wrenched away as if he'd been burned.

"Luffy, you can't. I can't," he fumbled urgently. "I won't have you hurt again because of me."

The look the younger of the two turned his way was hurt and angry at his aggressive withdrawal, but rather than let his first mate get away with that behavior, he stretched to close the older pirate's right hand in his own again, grip stubborn and unforgiving.

"Luffy, let go." Pulling insistently against his captain's grasp, he growled when the fingers only cinched tighter.

"Let him go, god damn it!"

"I won't!" The rubber-man mouthed, clinging to his swordsman's wrist. He leaned toward the older teen, challenging the man's livid expression with his own glare.

The woman's full lips curled into a sneer. "Oh, but this is so much more fun!"

Hauling more forcefully against the boy's small hands, he bit back a curse. "Let go! You're being stupid!" He stood, intending to use his height to pry himself loose.

His response was an inflexible, though inaudible, "No!"

"I said let go!"

Dropping his eyes, the rubber-boy shook his head furiously.

"Damn it, Luffy..." Bracing himself for one more heave, Zoro wasn't expecting his friend's hands to clamp down even harder. "Let go of me!"

'Oh, god,' the captive teen thought, suddenly frantic. 'I'm watching my best friend die right before my eyes...'

In one smooth movement, the stronger pirate pulled with all his might, only freeing himself after he had unintentionally thrown his captain to the ground. He froze, horrified at what he'd just done, upon hearing his companion's pained cry.

Out of nowhere, the woman was knocked aside by a vicious kick.

Screaming in both pain and anger for the interruption, the woman could barely lift her head from the ground to fix Sanji with a glare.

Balancing on one foot, the blonde blew smoke in the girl's direction, one curled eyebrow creasing into a frown as he took in the scene.

'Would you look at that,' Zoro mused in relief. 'The long-nose made it.' Grinning to himself, he could feel the woman's hold on him slipping.

The injured teen landed harshly against the unforgiving floor, but his yelp was one born more of surprise than of pain. Before he'd had enough time to recover, he heard steady footsteps retreating towards the ladder.

Pushing himself to his elbows, with the blanket tangled around his legs, the raven haired pirate watched as his most trusted friend left him there on the floor. 'Zoro...'

With his foot resting upon the lowest rung, the swordsman halted, his face cast in shadow. "You can't forgive me, Luffy. I don't deserve that, and I sure as hell won't accept it."

And with that said, he made his way out of the men's quarters and onto the open deck; his conscience fighting him every step of the way.


"You know, normally I wouldn't dream of harming a woman." Easing back onto both feet, Sanji plucked his cigarette from between his lips. "Lucky for me, you're not even human."

The cook moved to advance on the still prone girl, but the moment he had taken to spout that line had given Zoro the time needed to shake off the effects of the woman's hypnosis and grab one sword.

Out in the cool evening air, Zoro slouched against the rail, pressing his face into his hands and collecting his thoughts.

"Shit," he spat under his breath. It had taken every ounce of his will not to drop beside the huddled form of his friend and gather him into what had once been the safety of his arms. "Shit!"

In a fraction of a second, the green haired young man was upon the siren, and without hesitation, driving his blade straight through her stomach and into the ground.

"How?" He wondered aloud. "This is entirely my fault... so how can he forgive me so easily? How can he expect me to forgive myself? He has every right to hate and fear me, so why is the only thing I receive forgiveness?"

"Zo-"

Stiffening, the swordsman didn't need to turn around to know that his comrade had somehow managed, even in his weakened state, to haul himself topside.

There was a harsh, labored cough before Luffy tried again, forcing his aching vocal cords into use. "Because you deserve it, Zoro."

Tone hardening, the first mate clenched his hands upon the railing. "I don't," he countered firmly.

Pulling another sword, sheathe and all, he straddled the girls chest, crushing the length of the weapon he now held across her throat. "How do you like it?" He muttered fiercely, peering down into her stunned eyes. "Still fun?"

"You do," the smaller teen croaked, his voice grating painfully as he clasped one hand to his throat.

The older of the two remained silent, shoulders set with angry tension as he gazed pointedly out at the eerily calm sea.

"Oi, Zoro," called Sanji, shoving roughly at his shoulder with one foot. "She's fucked already. Come on, we've gotta get Luffy looked at."

At the mention of his captain's name, the swordsman felt all of his remaining strength leave him, and he collapsed to the ground beside his victim.

Taking his companion's lack of response as yet another refusal, the rubber-man frowned. "What's wrong with you?" He exclaimed irritably, staggering several steps closer. "Why won't you listen? It wasn't your fault, Zoro! You think that this happened because you wanted to kiss me?"

Flinching noticeably, the green haired young man bit his lip, fighting to feign indifference.

"What's wrong with that, Zoro?" He fumed, voice braking slightly as he fumbled over something, anything that would reach his swordsman. "One stupid woman messes with you and suddenly-"

"You don't understand!"

"What don't I understand, Zoro?" The captain cried desperately, moving to pull the blanket draped over his shoulders closer around himself. "Why can't you see what I'm saying? I don't blame you-"

"Well I do!" Zoro offered abruptly, frame shaking with both physical and emotional exhaustion. "No matter what anyone says, the fact is that I hurt you. It was my hands around your neck, my thoughts that put them there, and my-"

"IT WASN'T YOU!" Luffy suddenly roared, voice returning in its full force. "That woman was controlling you! I know your hands, Zoro, and the ones around my throat this afternoon weren't yours."

Taking two more unsteady steps forward, the smaller boy wavered dangerously on his feet. "It wasn't..." Pressing a hand to his forehead as his vision swam after his outburst, Luffy paused. "...wasn't..."

When a combination of fatigue and painkillers drove the strength from his legs, he slumped to the floor, once again without his first mate's intervention. "It's wasn't you, Zoro," he concluded weakly, propping himself upon his knees.

Face down upon the floor, the first mate felt two pairs of hands take him by each arm. Automatically moving to shove them away, Zoro felt the fingers clamp down harder on his worn muscles. "Leave me alone."

Regardless of his protests, he could feel his swords being returned to their place at his hip, being hoisted upright, his arms slung over two separate sets of shoulders: Nami on his left and Usopp on his right.

"Just shut up and let us help you," Whimpered the navigator. There were tears in her eyes and her voice was trembling. "...You poor, stupid asshole."

The swordsman drew in a slow, difficult breath.

The quiet sound of his captain tumbling to the deck had nearly sent him over the edge. Bowing his head, the larger teen had his eyes screwed shut, grinding his teeth as he stood rooted to his spot through sheer determination. 'I can't.'

"It's your birthday today, isn't it? November eleventh?"

Startled by the strangely timed question, Zoro couldn't help the hitch in his composure. Was it really..? It was.

Why did all of this have to happen on a day that was supposed to be celebrated? He'd never want to honor this date ever again...

"If you want a reason to accept my forgiveness, there you go," the captain prompted, sluggishly rising to sit straighter. "Happy Birthday."

The first mate couldn't believe it. 'He's winning,' he mused brokenly. 'God damn him.'

Rocking forward onto his hands and knees, crawling little by little, Luffy closed the distance between them. "Zoro..."

With his mind in complete disarray, the swordsman hadn't realized that his friend had moved until he felt small but purposeful fingers twist in the material of his pants, settling against the back of his knee.

"Zoro," the rubber-man repeated, reaching upwards to fist his free hand in the older pirate's haramaki.

From there, driven by his will alone, the raven haired boy gradually pulled himself to his feet. With both hands now securely curled in his friend's shirt, he pushed forward, pressing until he was completely flush against his first mate's broad back.

Nuzzling his face between the hard angles of his comrade's shoulder blades, the younger of the two sighed. "You're my first mate, Zoro."

There was a brief jerk before the man spoke, and Luffy guessed it had been bitter laughter.

"So?" Quipped the green haired teen, shifting in discomfort. "Look what that's gotten yo-"

"But before that," the captain interrupted, nestling more firmly against his companion. "You're my friend. My best friend, Zoro."

The swordsman felt his resolve shatter. There was no way he could save his argument now... And when he thought about it, there was no real reason to.

Even though there were so many ways something like this could go wrong, there were a great number more that they could go right. So right...

This boy, with his odd magnetism, had become both his weakness and his strength, and the larger teen realized that there was nothing he would have denied his captain at that moment.

The smaller boy could feel his first mate calming, tightly knit muscles relenting beneath his fingertips, and he smiled in relief. "You know I trust you, Zoro. And now you know I love you."

At the echo of the teen's earlier confession, the swordsman suddenly pivoted on the ball of his foot, turning with an almost violent speed.

The rubber-man was unexpectedly pushed backwards with the force of his spin, a result of how close he had been standing.

With a feeble yelp, the raven haired boy was pitched off balance, loosing his footing once again before he was circled within two powerful arms.

"Luffy." Tone barely above a whisper, Zoro seized his captain to his chest, practically squeezing the boy breathless. "I'm sorry." Pressing his forehead to the boy's temple, he shuddered.

"You were dying, Luffy," he murmured hastily. "I could see and feel everything, but I couldn't stop it. I've never felt anything like that before. I-"

"Zoro..." Managing to pull his arms free from his swordsman's unrelenting embrace, the younger teen leaned back just enough to look his friend in the eyes.

If his first mate wasn't going to listen to what he'd been saying all this time, then he'd just have to show him...

Lifting his fingers to tangle in the soft burr of his comrade's hair, the captain gifted his companion with one brief, but enthusiastic, full blown grin. "Just shut up."

And with all conversation effectively stopped, the raven haired teen rose up on his toes, crossing those few, but ultimately crucial inches to crush his lips to Zoro's.

With his eyes wide and his breath caught, it took the older of the pair two seconds to react to this sudden assault.

One moment to realize that he was being kissed, and the second for him to register that it was Luffy on the opposing side of the exchange.

It could have taken him longer, but the decision to kiss his captain back was not up for debate.

Though still at first, stunned by just how fiercely the younger pirate had claimed his lips, the green haired young man was quickly over his initial shock, answering the teen's fervor with his own.

Zoro poured everything he had experienced that day into that kiss, and it seemed as if the rubber-man understood, because he moved to counter it, matching his swordsman beat for beat.

This wasn't at all what either one of them had expected. How were they to have known that their first embrace would have been so slow and so brutal.

But the meetings occurrence being so hard-won, it seemed appropriate, and neither party moved to soften the gesture.

With no knowledge of time passing, save for their dire lack of breath when they finally drew apart, Luffy sagged heavily against his friend's chest.

"I'm sleepy," he mumbled, the words playing across his first mate's collarbone.

Dropping his eyes to the top of his companion's head, Zoro smiled fondly. While he knew the guilt would return he also knew that his captain would be there, more than willing to knock some sense back into him.

"That doesn't surprise me," he replied quietly, stooping to gently gather the smaller pirate, who snuggled gratefully against the crook of his neck, into his arms. "Come on."

"You'll stay with me, right Zoro?"

He hummed in agreement, drawing the boy closer. "Only if you promise to sleep for the rest of the night. No fidgeting."

But even with his warning, the swordsman didn't last long enough to back it up. Because ten minutes later, both young men were sound asleep, tangled together upon their couch.

Completely oblivious to the setting sun and the red hue that colored the night sky.


And there you go! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it! Please leave a review!