The King of All Kings: The End
Where predestination was the only foe he couldn't defeat.
Zoro watches Koby leave, eyes drowsily trailing him as a hawk's eyes would travel over that of another animal with the potential to interrupt its hunt. He listens to Luffy's subtle challenge, which is also quite obviously blunt, because that's the way Luffy does things.
He's on the borderlines of exasperation and pride and probably more than a little bit of anger, because really, Luffy's such a fool.
Koby is a good kid with a good heart and a good chance of becoming a strong enemy. Zoro's rational enough to be wary of this knowledge. He's halfway to berating Luffy and making him realize what, exactly, he's creating, when Luffy turns to him.
For a moment less than a millionth of a second, his face is grim and tight and hollow. And then it's not, just as if it never had been. Again, he's all grins and encouragement with a pinch of excitement. As always, he's strength and sunshine and dreams. But that break, that small wrinkle in time is enough to set something heavy in his heart. Something a little bit like worry and a lot like fear, only, as his captain's first mate and the World's Best Swordsman-to-be, fear is not allowed. Fear cannot be accepted, and so he ignores it, glances a few seconds too long at his captain and then turns.
By the time he does, Koby's back is less than a speck in the distance—barely recognizable—but looking back at him gives Zoro the sudden urge to be sick, a sudden urge to kill whatever it is that he can feel is a threat. His hand twitches at his side and his swords sing. But Luffy turns and walks away, and acknowledging the silent order, so does he.
He doesn't sleep peacefully for a while after that though, sometimes choosing to watch Luffy snore and breathe and live. There is some deep instinct in Zoro telling him to savor this while it lasts. It's so deep, however, that he doesn't hear it. Just as he doesn't see the half-lidded eyes--and if he'd seen, he might have caught the guilt, regret, resignation? in them--that watch him as he finally drifts into an uncomfortable sleep in an uncomfortable chair.
It takes a few days and a few nights and a few weeks to push the feeling back down, but he does.
When he wakes up after the fight with Kuma, he doesn't wonder why he's still alive even though he should be dead (and it's different this time, because there have been many times when he should have died, but this time, he was really supposed to die). 'You can't replace the life of a dead man,' his swords hum sympathetically, but if there has ever been a time when he has not heard them speak, it is this time. If there would ever have been a time where he would have ignored them, it would have been then.
And the signs come, and the signs go, and the years, slowly, slowly pass by.
It's an eternity of time and happiness and nakama later—suddenly it doesn't feel like it was enough—when, one by one, dreams become reality becomes nothing becomes everything. And then they're left alone; the Pirate King and the World's Greatest Swordsman. He thinks it'd still be enough if it weren't for the fact that when he stands next to this man, he has never felt such a loss; such an empty loneliness before. It shouldn't be this way. They should be happy, reliving stories of their past while drinking heavy liquor with their nakama and racking up their debts to the woman-devil. They should be together, but people move on and the world changes and dreams eventually mean nothing. But he takes that thought back almost as quickly as it comes because that thought is too painful. His captain is made of dreams, and what are they without them?
"Zoro," Luffy says suddenly, breaking him from his thoughts. They're on a cliff high, high above the sea and something in Zoro knows Luffy isn't happy looking down on it; not being in it. And he's right. When it comes to Luffy, he is always right.
There is a breeze. It's strong enough to cause his bandana to twist and dance in the currents, but he doesn't notice, instead opting to watch as his captain's own cloak is tossed about like the mass of black dreams it is. He wonders if in another world, his captain is wearing red, not black, and laughing as if he were still a kid and still on Sunny and still dreaming. But it doesn't really matter. The idea is trivial and fleeting as most of his thoughts are these days; in his head one second and out in less. Maybe it's age. Maybe it's resignation.
"Yeah?" he finally replies, looking away into a blue future that's not really there.
Luffy lowers himself and sits down. They aren't equals. Not really, at least. Luffy has always been something more than Zoro, something greater (and he wouldn't have it any other way) but being next to him, standing side by side, head to head, is something that he has always treasured. That place next to his captain is something that has always been important to him. But that place, though still his (always his), feels crowded now.
He stays standing because there is something pulling on him, on his heart and lungs and head. He looks down at Luffy and feels as if Luffy is no longer there. For the first time in many, many years (memories, lives, minutes, towns) he is afraid. "I know a secret."
'A secret,' he thinks. 'The definition of a secret is something hidden. Something hidden is something I don't know. Something I don't know about Luffy…something I don't know about Luffy is trouble.'
"What?" he says, feeling sick.
"Actually, I know a lot of secrets, but this one …this one I've known longer than anything." For a moment Luffy is seventeen again and smiling and living and there. "Do you understand yet, Zoro? Do you know it?"
He doesn't move, doesn't say anything because there is nothing to say. He doesn't know what Luffy's talking about, doesn't know and it feels like he's let him down somehow. So he tries to think, tries to think of every last thing that Luffy has ever said or done but can't find it. Can't find it.
"It's okay if you don't, Zoro. Not many people know it, I don't think. Grandpa does, but, he would, wouldn't he?" he asks rhetorically, voice carried away on a breeze.
"Luffy?" and then he is being embraced. It is dark and warm and so un-empty that he's not sure if it's really happening. Here is his friend, here is his life, here is his captain again.
"Sometimes I'm afraid, Zoro." And even though he doesn't know what Luffy's talking about or what he's going to do, he puts his hand on the man's shoulder and looks him in the eyes. It isn't hard at all to follow him, blindly or not, into the unknown. It never has been.
"I'll follow you anywhere, Captain."
And then Luffy turns and leaves. Their room is cold that night and Zoro doesn't sleep. He tosses and turns while the lamp on the table slowly dims until even the last valiant effort of the flame is snuffed out and blackened.
The Marines attack them the next morning and Luffy is dead within twenty-four hours of their last conversation. They're two of the strongest men in the world, but aside from making strong comrades, Luffy always had the ability to make even stronger enemies. They both fight well and Zoro wouldn't really have minded going out like that, but when he looks over at Luffy's fight and sees what his fool of a captain is doing it unlocks that fear that had been hiding—growing--over the years.
He doesn't even feel it as the blade pierces his stomach, going through one of his lungs and puncturing what he's sure must be one of his kidneys. He almost hates Chopper for not being there to heal them. Almost hates NamiSanjiRobinUsoppFranky for being able to leave.
Zoro, with much too many wounds to still be alive, much less moving, crawls over and topples down next to him.
Before, he would have wondered where it all began and where he could have ended it, but in his last breath, during his last fleeting thought, he wondered at which point he could have saved everything they were and everything they could have been.