Disclaimer: I do not own One Piece
Warning: Horror, slash, death of characters, OOC AU
A/N: It was fun, as always, writing this story! Mainly cuz...I dunno...it just was. And for my first OP it was received rather well. Though I have doubts with keeping the characters, um...recognizable. Utter and inexcusable fail. And GIN! ZOMG, GIN! I FAILED YOU THE MOST! But thanks for the reviews, for the hits! Everything! And, uh...I know I made a promise for romance, but...um...it's there. Really. You just have to look reaaaaaaally close. (Grimace) Yah. I know. I failed at that, too.
A/N: Fayeri: Wee, thanks for your review! I'm glad that you think they were, um, somewhat in character. And I know I totally ruined Gin cuz...yah. He's like, the exact opposite of what Gin really is, but I do that. I completely mutilate characters so that I can write squicky things such as this fic. I have high hopes somebody will come along and give Gin a better character than me. He's soooo completely ignored in fics. (Sniffle) As for Gin's background, I'd already planned on a short story that leaves everything up in the air. As much as Gin's background would be delightful in a maniac way to explore, I can't. Hopefully, the end of this chapt. reveals a few things. O.o I'm glad that you found Z a character interesting enough to overcome personal interests...I've always liked characters like him. The reason Gin lost scary factor was cuz, well...I guess just reading this chapt will explain. He started out as a 'thing' and came out this. (Points to the end of the story). Which was cool. I mean, I don't think I could continue with not explaining stuff to death. But I'm glad you liked what you'd read so far! Hopefully the ending doesn't totally ruin everything and your opinion of my fic, even though I'd...completely battered everybody...
The Pirate In The Doll:
Sanji awoke to an intense silence. A studious glance around revealed no sign of Gin. It was nearing midnight. Sanji stretched his legs out in front of him, feeling cramped and stiff from sitting on the floor for so long. He rose from the floor, wincing at the extremely dry and foul taste in his mouth. He stretched out the kinks in his back and shoulders, then turned on the lamp. Everything was so still, so silent...but he had to guess that it was because everyone was asleep for the night.
He looked at the front door. He considered leaving when he decided that it wasn't worth engaging in another battle with the demon. The last battle they had, Gin had driven a bony elbow right into his lower back—it still ached with a fierceness that left him stiff. Sanji wouldn't be surprised if he found himself pissing blood. He needed to give himself a little more time before jumping into another fight.
Five minutes later, Sanji brushed his teeth over the sink. His toiletries had been scattered all around the apartment during one of the battles, and he'd found his toothbrush underneath the fallen bookcase. He had to wince over the intensely foul taste in his mouth, rinsing and repeating the entire process over again to feel somewhat clean again. It was mighty uncomfortable to feel the way his bladder reminded him that he hadn't relieved it, yet.
There still wasn't any sign of Gin, so he finished with his teeth and slowly made his way to the front door. He waited for a few moments, then opened the door. It screeched loudly, making him wince, waiting for Gin to pop up from out of no where. But when a minute drew into two without any sign of the man, Sanji slowly made his way to the bathroom.
He was unnerved by the utter silence and stillness of the entire floor. He had to shiver, jamming his hands under his armpits and clenching his teeth to keep them from chattering. He paused in mid-step, craning his head and straining his ears. It was possible that he couldn't hear anybody on the floor above and below. He had to wonder if this was one of Gin's tricks, and he had to wonder why Gin felt the need to do it. He turned at the sound of a slight creak—narrowing his eyes, he stared at the empty hall behind him, and felt himself jolt slightly at the sound of a boat horn in the distance.
The bathroom seemed ominous down the hall. But he continued on, every step he made creaking obscenely loud within the stillness. Once inside, he flicked on the lights and stepped forward, eying the toilets nearby. He then froze. The three corpses of a woman and her two children lay in disarray on the floor. The mother's hands were wrapped protectively around one child, but her head was twisted completely around, facing him. Her neck was completely mashed, as if massive weight had settled directly on top of that column, leaving no bone uncrushed. The child in her arms had a squashed skull—the brain was broken and exposed, blood matted hair darkening bright white. Her other child lay on his back, having suffered the same fate as his mother. He retched, backing out and slamming the door shut.
Once he had control over himself, Sanji glanced down the hall. It was so still and so silent that he could hear the venders outside shouting their wares. Sanji convinced himself that Gin was trying to trick him into thinking Sanji was all alone. With that, and with the hurtful pressure of his bladder influencing most of his thoughts, he reopened the bathroom door and walked in. It felt very uncomfortable walking around the corpses, but after he relieved himself he washed his hands and hurried out the door without looking at them once. Ten minutes later, he was at the top of the stairway—trying to convince himself to go.
But his feet were like lead. His body refused to obey the order to keep walking. With a low growl, Sanji turned and began the heavy walk back to his apartment. But he stopped outside of Zoro's, staring at the door with a conflicted expression. It really bothered him that Zoro hadn't come back. After all the time they'd spent together, Sanji just wasn't important to Zoro.
Wherever Gin was, Sanji hoped he stayed there.
But he glared at the door once more, balling his fists before turning and slowly walking away. Once inside, he turned to the kitchen and began to search for ingredients to make a small meal. Going through the process, he started to feel angry all over again. Doing such a menial task reminded him of all the meals he'd made for Zoro; the comfortable relaxation in doing something easy and quick, both of them talking about various things that gave them enough to know about the other on an easy front. Zoro would perch on top of the stools and drink his booze, lamenting about his job and lack of true destination in life, and Sanji would bitch and complain about rations and the restaurant's future. Afterward, they would share their bodies with each other and Sanji would pretend to be annoyed whenever Zoro passed out afterward, or Zoro would do his caress and slap thing, making them argue and fight and ready themselves for another round.
It all seemed to fake and ugly, now. Because it hurt to think that Sanji was nothing more than a convenience to Zoro, when he felt it was so much more—
"This is stupid," he growled, chopping through the last of his vegetables. "Stupid...stupid!"
Frying up the last of his packaged meat, he scowled at the stove. "Fuck him. Fuck him and fuck Gin. I'm not some fucking weakling that can't take care of himself. Not that I was thinking I needed fucking rescuing or something like that—! It's just—! The point of it all! You like somebody, you want to be with them no matter what—! Fine! Fuck him! Shitty loser!"
He flung his wooden spoon with a sudden twist of his body. He and Gin were startled when the spoon bounced off Gin's head.
Seeing how blood stained Gin was at that moment, Sanji stared at him in silence. He was quite positive that Gin wasn't like that earlier. But the question for Sanji at that moment was how Gin had gotten into that state.
Gin narrowed his eyes. But he closed the door. Sanji watched him and matched the expression.
"That...hurt," Gin growled.
Sanji smirked. Encouraged by this admission, he reached back, grabbed the frying pan and flung it at Gin. The heavy pan bounced off his shoulder, half-cooked meat flopping to the floor. Gin snarled at him and lunged forward, Sanji immediately preparing for the attack. He was a little familiar now with Gin's style of violence, and was prepared for the flash of his weapons, the two cannon ball tipped tonfas that he wielded. Gin used his entire body to keep the weight of the weapon moving with its own momentum, using his thin arms to guide the direction. The lunge of the legs, followed by the push of a wrist had one ball slamming hard into the kitchen counters, cracking through wood and upsetting various containers.
While in that movement, he used the momentum to push the other forward, nearly knocking Sanji's head off his shoulders hadn't the blond ducked and jumped into Gin, slamming a shoulder into the man and knocking him to the floor. He used that movement to roll off Gin and get space between them while the demon lunged to his feet.
Sanji realized that the man was more solid than ever—that he wasn't passing through various objects as he did hours before. Now, the man rushed through cookbooks and parts of the broken radio, controlling a swing of one tonfa in Sanji's direction. Quickly, Sanji lunged to the left, catching sight of the other weapon that Gin used, stepping back and around in a side-step that had the tonfa's weight grazing his shoulder. Thrown off balance, Sanji jerked himself to the side, hit the wall, and forced himself to duck when Gin kicked outward with one leg. Sanji thought that he'd be thrown off-balance with that move, considering both of his tonfas' weight forced forward, but Gin twisted, relying on the weapons' swinging weight to propel himself into a smooth back flip that allowed him to swing one arm, the baton catching Sanji by the back of one knee and sending him crashing face first into the table.
Instantly he howled, feeling as if his entire face had just been rearranged back into his own brain. He cringed immediately after that, waiting for the next blow and hearing the shift of the floor underneath him as Gin relaxed behind him. He felt the heavy weight of one of a tonfa rest along his shoulder, Gin chuckling deeply.
"It is pity that you cannot match me," he said, first words of the day. Sanji had noticed that even his sentences were longer, that it didn't take as long for Gin to spit out words in broken English as he had when he'd first started speaking. As if...almost as if Gin had gained strength in the ability to do so. Which was an odd thing to think. "But, you improve. I think that you should stop relying on legs, and use hands."
Sanji let his hands fall away from his face, no longer interested in repressing the drip of blood from his nose, and feeling it swell right over the bridge of his nose and eyes. He grit his teeth, feeling murderous at that moment; that damn strength and skill Gin had with his tonfas kept Sanji from getting an upper hand. He'd beaten taller, bigger and more aggressive men in street fights with his kicks alone; he hated feeling so helpless when his opponent was so much more stronger than him.
He heard the shift in the floorboards once more, and felt his skin crawl when Gin's breath hit the back of his exposed neck. He wanted to leap away, but he felt that by doing so would give Gin satisfaction and glee.
"I been gone...I have a duty. You'll notice that you are the only one here. My tricks, my ways of other...otherworldly gestures are no more. The more I am with you, the more I am human again. That old witch may have slain my first body, but not my soul."
Sanji crinkled his brow, feeling his eyebrow lift with skepticism. He shook his head slightly. "Crazy bastard," he muttered.
Without warning, Gin slammed his head off the table. For a few moments, the world spun in shades of black and grey, blood rushing immediately to the area where skin had been briefly crimped between his own head and the wood of the table.
"No matter...you are pitiful now. It shames me to think that I'd thought you so valuable. Maybe you are right. Only the insane would think the pitiful would be worth a death."
"Fuck you. Fucking crazy-ass piece of shit Frenchie bastard."
Gin snorted. But he began moving. "I need away, now. Thirty-four is all I need to satisfy my...benefactor. I have not yet explored the first three floors. Oh, yes, Sanji...if I should come across your cowardly Zoro...I'll make sure you can watch. Heh."
Sanji turned, forehead furrowed as Gin's words swept over him in a confusing array. Gin left the apartment, opening and closing the door gently, walking down the hall with a set course. Hearing him use the hall stairway, Sanji frowned.
'Thirty-four?' he thought. Thirty-four what?
He picked himself up from the floor, in utter confusion over Gin's words and for the fact that the silence and stillness of the entire floor didn't seem so unreal, anymore. Hastily, he hurried out from his apartment, still dripping blood from his nose and feeling areas of his face swelling. Without much thought, he rushed to the first door in the hall adjacent to his and pushed it open. There were four people laying on the floor—all of them dead in the same manner as the woman and children in the bathroom. Rushing to the next apartment gave him the same sight. Sanji rushed from broken door to open door, finding that every occupant on his floor had been slaughtered. Amidst the stench of death, there were evidence that dinner had been interrupted. Radios had been muted. Sewing abandoned. Books forgotten. Blood mixed with clothing, and outstretched hands curled around children and loves in death.
Walking back to his own apartment, Sanji was still trying to convince himself that it was all a dream.
While Luffy and Ussop loaded the rumbling vehicle outside of the back entrance, Robin held both of Zoro's hands, palms up. While Zoro was impatient to leave, seeing that he had a task to see through, Robin had distracted them with the task while she played with Zoro's hands. Zoro didn't know why he continued to stand there. But there was something in her presence, her eyes holding his with a sort of power that he couldn't identify. While utterly aware that the clock was ticking, he was also aware that there was something she was trying to tell him. He just didn't know what.
"There's strength in these hands," she murmured, studying his palms. "But here...this line here tells me that you lack destination. There will always be turmoil and confliction in the choices that you make."
Zoro scoffed, Robin tightening her grip. Frowning as he realized he couldn't pull his hands away, Zoro glared at her. She looked at him, her eyes dark and deep as she continued. "And not a very long life line."
"...This is so dumb..."
"And your love line...well...it's the same length as your life line." Robin's eyes were smirking as she released him. But then they turned serious. "It's not that hard to open your mouth to say something that you'll never have the chance to say again, Zoro. When Gin decides to end his life, what will you feel then?"
Zoro shrugged a shoulder. He stared down at his palm. "I don't think that way."
"How will it end, Zoro?"
"...I...I don't know."
"There was a choice you'd made that morning; something that brought you back at the exact same time. Don't you think that its fate?"
"What scares you the most, Zoro?" she finally asked, almost impatiently.
"Failure," Zoro said.
"Well...uh...yeah? I mean..."
"Do you think you've failed now?"
"I haven't done anything," Zoro pointed out, rather testily.
She nodded. "I know."
Frowning, Zoro lifted his hand to study his palm. Then he scowled at her. "Wait. There's something that you're not saying, is there?"
"The point of it all is that...you're afraid. Afraid to tell him, even when you know you won't see him again. And that is what will continue to hold you back. That is where you will continue to fail, Zoro."
"What kinda stupid point is that?!" he asked angrily. "This sounds so stupid right now...why am I still here listening to you?!"
"Why is that, Zoro?" Robin tilted her head. She looked over at the clock. "How long has it been since you've last seen him?"
"Uh...well...uh...yesterday? Why? I mean, I...have this, uh, habit of getting lost. Hell, it's nothing anyway! Like the bastard wants me around! Bitch, bitch, bitch, that's all he does whenever I'm around!"
"Does it hurt, Zoro? When he does this to you?"
"Well, it's annoying..."
"Why does it hurt, Zoro, when you feel nothing for him?"
Zoro jerked his hand away and turned away from her. "I don't know what you're talking about, and this is so fucking stupid—! Listen, lady, I have to do something. How do you take that thing down?! I want to fix this so my life can go on!"
Robin studied him for a few moments, then folded her arms behind her back. Her expression was grave. "There is a way to fix things, Zoro. It's easy...it's simple...you must confess your feelings to him. And have your feelings returned."
Zoro whirled around so quickly that he nearly bumped into a stack of boxes. "What?!"
"That's all you have to do, Zoro. That's the simplest way for Gin to release Sanji. It's entirely opposite of what Gin represents." Her lips curled. "Isn't it frustrating?"
"This is ridiculous! 'Feelings'?! Hell! That's just—!" Zoro lowered his voice when Luffy looked over curiously, Ussop struggling under the weight of one box.
Robin nodded solemnly, never taking her eyes from his. "That's all, Zoro. Do you think you can do it?"
Zoro grit his teeth. He thought of Sanji at that moment, snapping and arguing with him. Irritating him with his gruff exterior and annoying him in that Sanji revealed nothing of his feelings for him. Incredible turmoil made his insides roil. If he confessed his feelings, what happened next?
Veins popped from his straining neck and flushed face. "That's so—! You're just fucking around with me, aren't you? Something like Gin, a demon guy that does all these otherworldly things, can be defeated by something as stupid as confessing feelings—!"
"I didn't say it would defeat Gin. That's something entirely different. I am only talking about releasing Sanji from his eternal bond with Gin." Robin gave him a studious expression, crossing her arms in front of her stomach. "To defeat Gin requires a large amount of power. Something you don't have. You cannot kill a demon."
Zoro stared at her for a few moments, then whirled away. "What happens after I say shit to Sanji? I mean...that's just—!"
"What happens next is up to you, Zoro." Robin tilted her head slightly, eyes growing more intense than before. "Maybe...maybe you should sign up for the military. I hear they have a very relaxing and very beautiful base out in Hawaii...Pearl Harbor is beautiful in the winter."
Zoro turned and looked at her, giving her an expression of disgust.
"With everything that is happening overseas, wouldn't it make sense? You'll have direction then, Zoro. Maybe...in a couple of years you can sign up for the Navy." Robin studied her fingernails, then looked up when Luffy and Ussop came marching back in, looking decidedly warmed up for more action. "You're finished already? That was quick. Thank you. Thank you very much."
Sanji stared out the window of his apartment, morosely scanning the streets. The deathly silence was utterly penetrating. He smoked with a sense of grief, seeing every one of Gin's victims in his mind's eye. It was at this moment that he felt utterly helpless—he could definitely go after Gin to try and stop him, but...there was a sense in being unable to do that. With every fight he had with Gin, he came away with an injury that was disabling. Right now, he was still recovering from the previous battle's injuries, and he wasn't sure what was going to happen next. There was definitely a feeling of impending doom with each imagined battle, and he hated feeling and thinking about it. It made him feel wimpy and weak; things that he thought he wasn't.
But he had to reason with himself—he wasn't a seasoned fighter. It wasn't as if he fought every day, and it wasn't as if he searched life purposefully for that. He fought only when he absolutely had to; to discourage street muggers, drunkards, violent customers. That was far and few in-between, but...
He exhaled slowly, staring down the lit streets below. He tried not to think of Zoro, but the green-haired man's image kept penetrating his thoughts. He was tired of thinking of him. He was utterly tired. Zoro was not coming back for him, and Sanji had to find a way to accept it. But the bitterness within him warred with his feelings of self-preservation.
With nicotine stained fingers, Sanji flicked ashes into a clay dish and stuck the filter-less end back into his mouth. The night was full of stars and moving clouds—it looked like a storm was trying to come into the city. Sanji watched them for awhile, feeling exhausted, sore and battered. Reaching over for the washcloth, he dabbed at his face once more, examining the faint stains of blood and then testing the swollen areas underneath his eyes and right cheek.
His lower back felt more sore than ever. He reached back to rub at it gingerly, wishing he were just as strong as Gin was. Gin didn't seem to be suffering from any injuries Sanji had managed to give him, and for that he felt extra-pissy.
He had to wonder what was going to happen in his future. Would Gin let him go? What was going to happen when the people of this building were finally found? It was starting to stink—the stench of death creeping slowly underneath his door. He tried to ignore it, focusing in on the smoke. Wondering why Gin wasn't letting him go made him wonder what was so damn special about himself. He snorted, flicking the ashes aside. Maybe Gin wanted a permanent cook while he went on his murderous rampages.
He was so intensely focused on the outside that he didn't see the door opening behind him, the window reflecting every action. He didn't see Gin sneaking in without a sound, shutting the door just as quietly as he'd opened it. He didn't hear the whisper of a metallic rasp as a knife was pulled from the kitchen counter.
Sanji brought the cigarette to his lips again and wondered if Zoro was thinking about him, wherever he was.
Zoro hid the evidence of his distress by shoving both hands into his pockets. The scene of a night earlier was brilliant, as if it had just happened minutes ago. Luffy was excited and Ussop was reluctant as they approached Sanji's apartment. Zoro watched them for any signs of apprehension or nervousness, but he had to keep his own in check—he didn't want to reveal his weakness. The floor was silent and still. While he thought it odd, there were more pressing matters that occupied his mind.
"Sanji!" Luffy called, knocking on the door. "Hello? You home?"
Ussop cringed, and nervously drummed his fingers together. "Erm..he's not...in a bad mood, is he?"
Zoro shrugged. Sweat had made his skin sticky and his chest was tight. He focused on the closed door and strained his ears to hear signs of movement.
Luffy moved to knock again, trying the knob just after. To Zoro's surprise, it opened right up. Luffy walked in, complaining, "Sanji! Zoro's worried about you! Hey, where are you?"
"Huh?! No! Just—!" Zoro pushed past Ussop's trembling form and barged in after Luffy to defend himself. He stopped short, Luffy calling Sanji's name, walking forward until stopping short.
Zoro was confused. There was no sign of blood, but the apartment was practically in shambles. There were body-sized holes in the walls, books were scattered everywhere, the table upset and things broken all around them. The kitchen had its cabinets hanging from mere nails, wood smashed and cracked, dishes and other kitchenware completely destroyed. Absently, he began to rub his arms against the immense chill in the air.
"Geez, it's freezing in here!" Ussop exclaimed, teeth chattering.
"Hey, Sanji?" Zoro heard Luffy ask, jerking his head around to face the doorway. "Oh, you're not Sanji...where's Sanji?"
"Luf—!" Zoro cut himself off as he glared at the tall, lone figure standing in the doorway. It definitely wasn't Sanji, but it was a human-version of the doll he'd first seen. All three of them stared in silence at the demon that stared right back at them. All were unnerved by the blood and matter that coated the cannon-ball tipped tonfas that were hanging from strong hands. His bloody footprints were very visible behind him.
Zoro was startled to see that the ghost was now solid and real—he could smell the man. Could hear him breathe normally, could see the way his veins pulsed at his exposed wrists. But his eyes had a shimmer of red to them, causing Ussop to squeal and hide behind them both while Luffy shivered in excitement. The man's gray and black clothing was stained with blood. While most of it had lost that intense red and looked eerily muddy, there was a great majority around his face, shoulders and hands that were vivid.
Full lips pulled back into a fierce grin, eyes glinting. Before either man could speak, Gin stepped out from the apartment, wood creaking slightly under the movement before silencing. Luffy performed a wild flail that earned Zoro a smack in the face.
"Whoa! NEAT! Is that him, Zoro!? Huh?! Is it?! HIM!? He's not a ghost, Zoro!" Luffy cried more excited than scared or alarmed, earning him an exasperated expression from Zoro.
"Sanji? Sanji, shitty bastard, where are you?!" Zoro demanded as he moved toward the bedspace, seeing movement from the corner of his eye. He whirled just in time to see Gin reach in and slam the door shut. Luffy spun around with a gasp, Ussop squeaking once more.
"Um...gee...why do you think he did that?" Luffy asked, finger in his nose. "Is he mad at you because of Sanji? Is this that pirate you were talking about? Gin? Is it? You didn't answer me yet, Zoro. Is this just another guy?"
Ignoring him, Zoro shouted, "Gin! Bastard! Don't you dare run away!"
He started toward the door when Luffy snatched his arm, abnormal strength squeezing in warning around his wrist. "Wait, Zoro...that's what he wants. We came here with a mission, right?"
"Dammit, Luffy, let me go—!"
"Let us go!" Ussop squeaked, fumbling for the lamp, then flopping over something he'd bumped into. "Gin doesn't want to fight—he wants to—go away. He wants to go away to sleep. It's rather late, guys—oh, wow! Look at the time, it's almost one in the morning, good Lord, my bedtime was hours ago—!"
The door opened and shut quickly, causing all three of them to grow silent. Wood creaked slightly, the sound of metal against wood causing tension to harden their muscles. Frustrated with the lack of light in the apartment, Zoro squinted, unsure of the presence in the room. The moment he smelled sulphur and body odor was when he felt a heavy punch to his chest. He stumbled back, hearing Luffy grunt at that same moment. The moment he registered the noise, Zoro felt another punch down his side, Luffy crying out a moment later. Having no idea what was happening, only that they were under attack, Zoro struggled to reach out, trying to grasp at Gin.
"Zoro!?" Luffy cried out in panic, emitting another grunt.
Another punch to his chest, and Zoro managed to grab enough material to shove out, hearing the very human action of a man stumbling back. Before he could do anything else, Luffy leapt out with a growl, ripping the man out of Zoro's grasp and tossing him into the kitchen. Zoro had always thought Luffy's strength was abnormally strong for his build and size, but he was grateful for his interference. It meant a respite from the attack. But it also meant that Gin had enough time to slip away from them. Panting, Zoro touched the areas where he'd been struck and was horrified to feel the liquid warmth on his skin.
"Luffy! We've been stabbed! Maybe you should—"
"It's okay, Zoro. They ain't deep," Luffy reassured him with a great amount of confidence and unwavering calm. "But now I'm kinda pissed."
Unsure of what to say, Zoro grit his teeth, hearing nothing of Gin. The silence was heavy, the air extremely still and thick. A quiet suction of air from his left awarded him a clue in Gin's position. Lashing out, he caught the man upside the head, causing him to stumble. He then slammed his full weight into the man, forcing both of them to crash into the upended table. Zoro heard Luffy give an excited whoop!, moving to take over on Gin as the man thrashed with strength that had Zoro shoved away from him. He nearly tumbled over Ussop, who was crawling clumsily along the floor, panting as he sought escape.
Luffy cried out, but Zoro wasn't sure whether it was one of excitement or pain. The wild thrashing and crashing sounds of men engaged in battle was a familiar one, but also one that called him. He really wanted nothing more than to join Luffy, but he was also torn with wanting to go search for Sanji to complete his task.
"Zoro! Go! Find him! We'll be okay!" Luffy suddenly shouted, grunting a moment later as he found himself flying into the floor.
Zoro hesitated, watching as Gin rose, eyes glimmering red as he tossed away the sharp kitchen knife and aimed to dive at him. Zoro tensed before the man slammed into him, his strength catching Zoro off guard and off his feet. They both slammed into the floor, coming to a stop right up against a wall that had already been damaged by some previous fight. As plaster and pieces of wood fell around them, Zoro keeping Gin from choking him with his own hands curled around the demon's thin wrists, he stared up into a face maniacal with glee.
With some horror, he realized that Gin was lowering his head closer to his, his foul breath wafting over his face. He could smell blood and gore all over the man—along with the rotten stench of sulphur.
"You're a little too late," Gin whispered, the harsh sound making Zoro's stomach curl. "You should have been there...he screamed for you...over and over...just like the very first time."
With a feeling of white-hot rage, Zoro twisted sharply, tossing the demon off. At that point, Ussop was there, yelping as he forced himself from the floor and wrapped his limbs around one of the man's legs to bring him down. At the upset, Gin looked away from Zoro and had his full attention focused on Luffy as the man rebounded to tackle him once again.
With a grimace and a heavy reluctance, Zoro ran out of the apartment, hearing Gin's enraged screams.
He dashed from apartment to apartment, shouting Sanji's name. He heard Ussop and Luffy fighting valiantly with Gin, Gin's enraged screams of frustration and anger ringing through the entire building. It was insanely eerie how Zoro ran into various dead bodies—all of them in gory disarray. With each room that revealed nothing of Sanji, Zoro found himself growing desperate. He kept hearing Gin whispering to him, that shadowed face of his practically radiating with glee.
He told himself it was only Gin fucking with his head. Because Sanji wouldn't allow anybody to mess with him, because Sanji wasn't the type to allow any type of abuse. Sanji would give as good as he got and then some. Zoro knew this personally. He knew it and it was what kept him sane.
It was on the ninth floor when the world came to a stop. At the sight of a slick and dark trail of blood that began from the top step and spread away from him to a corridor at the end of the hall, Zoro came to a halt. The hall was splattered with blood—the walls wore splashes and various hand prints. There were a couple of bodies lying within open doorways, but the trail didn't come from either. Not wanting to go any further but unable to stop himself, Zoro pulled himself onto the top step and began the slow walk alongside the grisly trail. The stench was strong—it made his stomach clench. His fists were tight balls at his sides. Every step that he made was heavy and slow, and he couldn't understand why he wasn't making the rush to find the end of it.
There were cannon-ball sized craters in the floor and walls—tonfa impacts. All of them were rimmed with blood. Halfway down the hall, Zoro paused to stare at the most vivid hand print on the wall. He reached up, fingers uncurling to press over the imprint. It matched the size of his own hand—only it was thinner, the fingers skinnier. When he lifted his hand away, his palm and fingers were wet with congealed warmth.
The walk was even slower. The closer he grew to the corridor, the more he dreaded seeing what he knew he was going to see. With everything around him, with the way the air felt so heavy—familiar—and so strong with the stench of death, Zoro knew that once he turned the corner of the corridor, he'd find whom he was looking for.
The sounds of battle drifted away. The utter silence became heavy and impenetrable. Every footstep was as heavy as the steel beams he'd worked with.
When he rounded the corner of the hall, stepping only once into the corridor, he found Sanji.
It was one of the more sickening deaths he'd seen so far. Zoro felt himself shut off at that moment, silently taking in the scene before him. He took in the sight of deliberately crushed hands, each one purpled with massive hemorrhaging, with bones crushed and upset in grotesque positions. Every finger had been deliberately broken, separated—nearly black. The wrists were in unnatural angles. The undersides had been shredded by what looked like angry slashes of a knife, revealing bone, muscle and fat. The long, lean legs that delivered both pain and pleasure when they squeezed tight were just as displaced as the mangled hands. Feet had been twisted and flattened, bones pushing out from purpled skin in disarray. Twin shins were torn, protruding—kneecaps were exposed, flattened just below the thigh. Angry knife slashes revealed muscle and fat, much of which spilt onto the floor in an ugly mess.
There was more—so much more. It was as if Gin had purposefully disabled Sanji's ability to fight and tore into him with a knife just to torture. The angry slashes were hateful—deliberately tormenting. At that moment, seeing how flayed Sanji's body was made Zoro believe that Gin had been drawn out his death for his own sick pleasure.
Zoro's eyes drew up to Sanji's face—his entire upper and lower torso was completely destroyed, as much as his legs and hands were. Zoro didn't want to see it—he could already tell, the edges of his vision catching the displayed inner organs, the stench of broken innards that made the entire air thick and rotten. He didn't want to see the clothing that had been slashed away to allow this display. He didn't want to see the mangling of genitals. He didn't want to see the uncoiled ropes of intestines that had been slashed. Instead, he focused only on Sanji's face—seeing bruises and swelling...the very least of hideous injury.
Sanji's blond hair was dark with blood and bits of his own gore. His eyes were wide open—a dry blue that looked unnatural and eerie.
For a moment, Zoro stared into those unblinking eyes and wondered if Sanji could still see him.
He failed, he realized. Taking too long at the curio shop, arguing with Robin. Allowing the woman to take his hands and speak nonsense while Gin was busy flaying Sanji alive. It was at that moment that Zoro believed Gin when he'd said Sanji had screamed for him. A death as torturous, as hideous as this was—pride would have been the least of the blond's thoughts.
A massive wave of guilt, of grief slammed into him, as heavy as a human body. Zoro slumped against the wall, hands flattening against it as his legs refused to support him any longer. Slowly sinking to the floor, he lowered his head, releasing a low keening sound that seemed to echo throughout the entire building story.
Hours later, Gin lifted his head. One of the tonfas rested against his shoulder, dry and flaked with blood. He was victorious—sitting cross-legged within the middle of Sanji's apartment, contemplating the darkness. Morning was drawing near, the sun's rays faint in the distance. The entire building was rank with death—but his mission was complete.
Three souls with one mutilated corpse walked away from the carnage—but it was all right. Gin had met his quota. He wasn't interested in revenge or some sort of rivalry; he wasn't interested in pursuit. They were three lucky souls that should have been thankful he was lenient in that matter.
He exhaled slowly, feeling injuries slowly heal and the revealing heat of his benefactor's presence at his back.
"What?" he croaked crankily.
"You may go, now. You've fulfilled your duties."
He rose slowly, shaking out the kinks in his legs. His face felt heavy with exhaustion—but he never slept. He didn't have to. He was overwhelmed with a sense of regret, seeing that he had an eternity to spend wandering the world, fulfilling his benefactor's requests. An eternity...and he'd already killed one of his possessions. But there were others...their souls called to him throughout the East Coast and in Europe, readily accessible now that he was free from that wretched doll. And in years ahead, he would be reunited with the ones that returned to him.
He cracked a half-smile. The thought of what he'd do to them delighted him. Then he scowled down at the face that watched him closely. He was punished with his last venture for allowing the witch Kureha to slay his physical body; his benefactor had kept him contained in her own doll for an understanding of what she could do to him if he failed her again. The only real reason he was allowed out, he figured, was that it was time for her to feed again. Feasting on human feelings in times of massive emotional stress and turmoil was how this particular demon lived. Gin's role in keeping her happy and keeping him strong and free was to torture, kill and raise enough stress in slaughter for her to be fed. It was something that he was able to do.
"I will find you when I need you. There's no need for you to hang around here."
"I...almost didn't recognize you."
"I'm sorry." Within a blink of his darkly shadowed eyes, he was looking down at a more familiar face and body. Though the lace-trimmed dress and dark eyes that had seen hundreds of years pass was horribly out of place for this time line, Gin would always feel more comfortable with his benefactor in her child-form. "Is this better?"
Gin nodded firmly, then asked, "Have you eaten?"
"Yes." Dark eyes gleamed. "I'd feasted well. Zoro's...was as delicious as they were back then. Even more so with the weight of his devotion to your possession. You've done well. I'll be full for decades."
With another half-smile, a feeling of success blooming within him with her satisfaction, Gin nodded and left the apartment.
Robin turned to the window and smiled, closing her eyes in gratification, rubbing her belly.