Title: Last Promise
A man with an unusual moss hair, a bandana tied on his left arm and three katana strapped on his waist, ducked the small boat. It was a surprise he did not get lost.
How many years has it been?
He wondered…it was too long for him to remember…too long since everyone found their dreams…Pirate King, King of swordsmen, Rio Poneglyph, All Blue, World Map, Lost Fathers, Panacea, promises…
Then they disbanded with a promise never to forget.
He sighed and looked up at the cliff. There on top of the hill is the house of the Pirate King.
He is waiting.
They are waiting.
He sighed again and started to climb up. He could not really tell if he is ready to see him or them…but he must…they went all the effort to locate him anyway.
Feeling a lump in his throat at their memories, the now King of Swordsmen reluctantly climbed up the stairway towards the place.
Promises…he kept them all…
Duties…he performed them well…
And now the time has come when the famed Straw Hat Pirates would gather once again.
"Neh, Zoro, why do you want to be the best?" Luffy asked as they both sat down on the prow while the others are asleep. Said man looked sideways to give his captain a single glance.
"A promise I made to someone," was his answer and Luffy grinned. He knew about promises. He understood it deeply because he too made a promise to someone that he would gather a crew as great as Red Haired pirates and become the Pirate King.
And his crew?
They are the best.
"Then would you make another promise?" he asked, his innocent eyes boring on the swordsman.
The group glanced at the doorway when they felt his exuding presence. No words were needed as each stood up to meet the seemingly tired man. The eye contact is enough to understand each other. Zoro walked towards them while looking at the gathering crowd outside. How the hell did they know?
"You came," Sanji said quietly. Zoro only nodded his head and spotted Kaya coming out from the kitchen. She became Usopp's wife.
The truth is, only Luffy and him remained unattached. Commitment is not for them. They have another definition for commitment.
Robin was Franky's wife and Nami became Sanji's.
Sanji puffed smoke before sitting down on a couch. All of them had aged now…all of them had grown…their predecessors had long past away, leaving their legacy to the current generation.
"So, glad you were able to make it without getting lost," Sanji commented and it was a surprise that Zoro did not retort back. Truly, they all have grown and matured. Zoro sat beside Chopper.
"How are you?" Nami asked, wanting to know what had been happening to their swordsman. He was the only one who was always away and they seldom heard from him…mostly, they would only hear about his tale…about the trouble he creates wherever he goes…at least that much did not change from him…
He flicked his eyes outside and frowned. "What in thunder are these people doing here?" he asked.
"They heard and they came…words spread fast," Nami answered and pushed back a few strands of hair. "You don't seem to have changed so much."
"So are the rest of you," he answered. "Aside from physical declination, there's nothing much."
"You sure could still brag, neh?" Usopp chuckled.
"Luffy wanted all of us here…" Ace appeared next and everyone stood up to acknowledge him as well while the people outside started to murmur once again. The greatest pirates of the New Era are gathering in one place…it was a surprise there were no Marines spotted around…
Ace tipped his hat and raised his two fingers for a greeting. "Yo."
Nami, Kaya and Robin gave him a chaste kiss. They are still waiting for the others to arrive.
"Would you both like to have some drink?" Kaya offered to Zoro and Ace. Both men shook their head.
"Where is he?" Zoro finally asked, he was not aware he had spoken so low, so soft. It was so in contrast with his tough-guy attitude.
Everyone shook their head and it was actually Robin who led the way. But there is still another guest they were all waiting for…Zoro cast his glance towards the door just as another figure entered with a hooded cloak.
Nami immediately went towards the person and quietly shut the door. It is imperative that she hide her identity from the watchful eyes outside to protect her status in the world…
"Vivi," Nami choked the name and hugged her nakama whom she had not seen for a very long time. Vivi removed the hood covering her face and smiled as she returned the affectionate hug. Indeed, it was a very long time…ever since they left Arabasta…it was even too long for her to remember it but she was of course one of those who kept track of the Straw Hat Pirates…
Sanji immediately greeted the princess with his usual way in which Vivi smiled with amusement. This thing about Sanji never did change even as years passed by…
"Vivi-chan," he said.
Usopp and Chopper were the next to greet her, Chopper tugging at her. Vivi held the reindeer close to her. "How've you been Tony-kun?" she asked kindly while Chopper sobbed…the emotion is too overwhelming…the nakamas had all reunited once again.
"Have you come alone?" Usopp asked.
"Nah-ah. Pell and Chaka were guarding the convoy ship. We must remain as inconspicuous as possible," she said and studied the blond woman standing next to Usopp. The latter must have realized it so he turned as he wrapped his arms around her.
"This one here is my wife, Kaya. Kaya, she's one of our nakama, Princess Vivi of Arabasta," Usopp introduced. Kaya immediately offered a warm smile as acknowledgement in which Vivi returned.
"It's nice meeting you, Vivi-chan," Kaya said, her voice so gentle.
"Same here," she said. This time her eyes settled on the other Straw Hat crew. First, she set her eyes on cyborg Franky who was casually sitting beside the skeleton while drinking cola. The skeleton is drinking tea so gracefully that it amused Vivi.
"Yo," Franky raised his two fingers. "Pleasure meeting another friend whom they met before."
"Yohohoho," Brooke said and stood up to actually bow down. "Would you – "
He did not get to finish his statement when he received a hit from Nami. "Shut it Brooke."
A knock was heard and Sanji went towards the door while Vivi studied Robin. They were not friends before but somehow, she felt they should be now. After all, Robin was a nakama to the Straw Hat for a long time.
Robin just smiled and nodded.
Vivi did the same. She smiled warmly towards the woman who was first her enemy way back when she was traveling with the Straw Hats. But many things have changed.
This time, her eyes bored on the two others. Roronoa Zoro and Portgas D. Ace. Both men were just sitting there, quietly watching. It seems age had hardened them in some way. Ace seemed to have lost his grin while Zoro seemed to have become more serious than he already was.
"Mr. Bushido, Ace," she said.
Ace raised his two fingers too then offered a quick smile. "Vivi…glad to see you…"
She nodded again. This time Zoro spoke. "Indeed. Come to think of it, a very long time, wasn't it?" he asked more to himself. Vivi chuckled.
All eyes turned to the newcomers and they all but smiled to acknowledge Pappage, Caimie and Hachi. Hachi was carrying Camie on his back while Pappag rested on his shoulder.
"Glad you made it Hachi," Nami said as the octopus laid down the mermaid. Vivi and Kaya watched with fascination as it was their first time to see one. A real, live, mermaid….
Zoro kept watching quietly. Even Caimie had aged as well…and her hair had grown longer…the mermaid immediately sat down on the floor while Pappag jumped towards Chopper. They would never forget this crew for what they did for Caimie back then…they were all willing to face an admiral if it only means saving her from that auction house…
"Would not want to miss it," Hachi said. "Besides, we haven't seen you for a very long time."
"Yes. In fact, we were even wondering if we ever saw you again," Caimie said.
This time, Sanji led the way. "He's waiting."
Everyone else stood up and followed except for Zoro who remained seated. The people gathered around were the crew's nakama….people they have met along their journey towards One Piece…people who have supported them, believed in them and laughed with them…
Luffy jumped down from the crow's nest and landed right in front of Zoro. The latter scowled at almost getting hit by the rubber man but Luffy only grinned while raising his two fingers for peace sign.
"Damn it," Zoro only cursed.
"Gomena," he said though he didn't really mean it at all. They heard Brook playing a music…oh it was that music that they loved to sing…Bink's Sake was it? Ah yes…
They heard Chopper and Usopp squealing in delight as they catch fish. It puzzled Zoro why Luffy did not even join the fun. Robin was quietly sitting down on the lawn while reading another book while Nami was just sunbathing. Franky was probably checking out the status of the ship while the cook is preparing a snack.
This was actually the day that Zoro and the rest of the crew would share their last meal altogether. They didn't have any idea that they would soon all disband…after all, they have fulfilled what they sought for…Luffy and Zoro were the last to reach their dreams…
"It's really all great having you all as nakama," Luffy said seriously. Of course Zoro had already been aware of the slight change in Luffy but he never asked. Luffy would not tell him anyway if its something trivial.
He didn't comment as he resumed his sleep while Luffy just sat beside him. "Neh Zoro…"
"Did you ever regret sailing with me?" he asked. Zoro cracked one eye open and gave him a questioning look.
"Why do you ask that now? You should have asked me that when you gave me no choice but to join your crew," he said lazily. "What's with you anyway?"
"You didn't answer my question," he pointed out.
Zoro did not answer still as he pretended to sleep. Talking is something he's not so fond of…especially in rare occasions like this…
"Nah Zoro," Luffy tugged at him now.
"You have not answered me yet…"
This time, two eyes were finally cracked open…they stared at each other and somehow, Zoro saw the seriousness in the question so he sighed.
"No, after all, you paved the way for me and them all," he simply stated and the answer had satisfied the captain. Luffy nodded and looked ahead of the ocean.
"Been a long time since I made you promise me something," he said.
This time, Zoro's attention was caught. That one moment when Luffy made him promise something…he never believed he had that kind of conversation with him back then. It was so long ago.
"What about it?" he asked in a serious tone.
Luffy heaved a sigh and stood up. "Oi, mina, I've got something to tell you all…"
Everyone gazed up at him and wondered. It was rare for Luffy to call everyone's attention so seriously. Whenever he used that tone, it was always on battle…the first time he used that tone on them was when he ordered everyone to run away from Kuma and the admiral and Sentauro. Back then…Luffy knew, even with his strength, its not enough to actually defeat the enemies…
"What is it now Luffy?" Nami asked, irritated at having been disturbed. "You've been nagging me awhile ago about something important you are about to tell us."
Zoro remained leaning and closed his eyes. Somehow, he knew…he felt from his voice…the end is near for them…they have traveled together for a long, long time…even after they have already reached their goals…they continued traveling for a long time…but now…there is something that forebodes Zoro…
Luffy ignored Nami for a while and turned to the sleeping man. "I've forgot to ask you something," he said.
"What is it?" Zoro asked without opening his eyes.
"Where would you want to go?"
Zoro stilled and he slowly opened the sleepy eyes to stare at Luffy with disbelief. He knew it. Luffy is going to say something the others won't love to hear…
"You sounded like Kuma," he said instead.
"I do?" Luffy asked with a slight surprise.
"What are you going to tell us Luffy?" Franky asked as he helped Sanji lay down the food at the center of the lawn while the others sat around it. It left the captain and the first mate…
Luffy held his straw hat tightly. Zoro watched as Luffy wrestled his mind. He was not looking at them but he was looking down…
"Luffy…" somehow, the others noticed it as well…
Then he lifted his face, his eyes filled with brightness once again as he jumped to join them for the food. "Oi, Zoro come on."
The way he said it…there was meaning behind and Zoro chose to keep quiet as he stood up with his three katana on hand…
They shared a happy lunch together while the others watched Usopp's antics. Luffy laughed with the rest then he saw Zoro just resting his forehead on his palm as if taking a nap once again. He does not seem interested to hear what he was about to say.
"Guys…" he called while wearing a wide grin. "It's been wonderful with you all around…I'm never going to forget it."
A glass broke on the ground as Nami's glass slipped from her hand. Chopper and Usopp stopped laughing. Franky brought down his cola. Brooke stopped playing his violin. Sanji was about to light his cigarette but his hand froze. Robin's hand still on the air as she was about to have her drink as well. Only Zoro did not react.
Again, Luffy held his straw hat tightly…
"It's time for us to disband…" he said croakily and the others just stared in horror.
"W-W-What?" Nami stammered.
"Y-You can't be serious," Usopp asked in disbelief while shaking his head.
"I am," Luffy answered.
"But – "
Luffy smiled. "It's been fun sailing with you guys…but now that we've reached all our dreams…" he could not continue…he could not find the right words to say in fact…he could not even offer any explanation yet…
Five years of sailing after reaching their dreams and he suddenly said they would disband…
"It's time we find ourselves another dream to fulfill…" he said to them. "But promise me guys…" he said and Zoro hated that word already.
"No…no…" Chopper shook his head…
Luffy paid no heed to their reactions…he was staring at his first mate when he said that as if to emphasize something only the two of them could understand…
"We'll never forget each other okay?" he said and his voice already croaked as he began to sob. Damn but he never wanted to actually separate from them…
"So just like that?" Sanji said angrily and stood up.
Luffy did not answer so Sanji grabbed his shirt. "Answer me Luffy."
Luffy refused to meet his eyes as he nodded his head. "Aye."
"But we'll keep contact with each other of course. It is just time that we go back…you've got Baratie to go back to Sanji…Nami has her village…Chopper too…in fact even Usopp and Franky…Brooke and Zoro had nowhere to go but I know Brooke would go with Franky…"
"And what about the marimo?" Sanji barked.
"I go where I want to go," Zoro answered with his eyes still closed. "That's no concern of yours."
It was rude. There was a sudden tension…
Zoro blinked at the recollection. Yes…the crew did not take it easily when Luffy announced that they disband…but that only happened temporarily as they begin to see the logic behind Luffy's words…Robin insisted on going with Luffy…she said she had nowhere to return to…
It was from Robin that they kept in touch…and it was Robin who contacted them all…
"Zoro-chin?" Caimie asked worriedly when she noticed the conflicted look on his troubled face. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah," he murmured and stood up to follow her. The others were already gathered inside the room where Luffy laid on the bed…still as the calm sea…his face…so serene and calm…at the sight of him, Nami, Vivi, Caimie and Kaya broke into tears. Nami fell on her knees beside the bed…
Robin looked away. She had already gone past that emotion ahead of them when she first learned it…
"Luffy…" Usopp, Franky, Chopper and Brooke sobbed too. Ace knelt on the other side with a wistful look…a regretful look as well…then he held his brother's forehead and bowed down…
"I'm so glad you were able to reach your dream before this happened," he said. "I'm so proud of you Luffy…I'm so proud of what you've done for the world…"
Robin moved towards the cabinet and got something from there. She remembered it clearly…
"I'm sick," Luffy said to her when they decided to find a place to stay. Calm as she is, Robin listened clearl, emotions hidden so well.
Luffy stared at her. "Aren't you gonna ask why?" he asked curiously.
He smiled. "I'll tell you anyway…" he said and told her of how he had been feeling strange lately…then later, it dawned on Robin that it was just the same illness that took Gold Roger. Does becoming a Pirate King have a price to pay? She wondered.
And Luffy did the same thing Gold Roger did. He disbanded the crew but he did not surrender to the marines. Like hell he would…doing so would just attract his nakama back to the place where he would be executed and he does not wish for them to get hurt anymore…
And so through the years that followed, Lufy and Robin lived in an unnamed island where Robin had done her best to help him…in fact, she secretly asked Chopper about some forms of medications…secretly because Luffy made her promise not to tell anyone…
Then one day, Luffy was sitting outside the house overlooking the vast ocean. They have already aged…they kept in contact with the others…he was happy for Nami and Sanji…for Usopp and Kaya…for Chopper and the others while he was worried for Zoro…
Oh they have been hearing the tales of the greatest swordsman…he would stir trouble wherever he goes as if nothing much have changed…he would challenge anyone…it took them longer to locate him…
Anyway, as Luffy was watching the sunset…Robin was preparing food…when she stepped out and called for him…she found Luffy peacefully asleep…forever…a smile on his lips…
The day before that…he had left something on the cabinet and had left word for Robin to open it when everyone gathered…
"Was it a curse?" Vivi mused as she wept beside the other females. "Was it a curse to become a Pirate King?"
Ace looked away. So it was all because of a sickness that he wanted to hide eh? He shook his head in bitterness. His father, though he denounced him as such, acquired that disease. The next to follow his footstep died with the same illness…it was as if becoming a Pirate King has a price to pay…
"Luffy did not leave much of an explanation," Robin finally spoke sensing that no one wanted to answer Vivi's question. She surmised they are still processing it in their minds despite having told beforehand of what they should be expecting when they arrived.
"That freaking rubber man really nailed it," Zoro muttered and raked his now faded green hair.
Robin smiled curtly and went towards him, reached his hand before he could step back and there left what Luffy left. All eyes turned towards him now…they knew…
It was Zoro, his firstmate…
Zoro stared hard at the straw hat which Shanks had given the rubber boy so long ago…a hat which Luffy had intended to give back but Shanks had already said the hat is his…without it, there would be no trademark for the infamous group.
The others watched with mild curiosity. They have always known there is a special bond between the captain and the first-mate…though they say Luffy treated them equally, it was still different with Zoro…as if Zoro is already half of him…the two seemed to have complemented each other in fact…
He clenched it tightly as if he could see his face there…smiling goofily at him as if to remind the promise they made…
"What promise?" he asked, not at all interested in what he is about to say. After all, one can't expect Luffy to say something serious not unless they are in a dire situation…as far as Zoro is concerned, they are not in a dire situation or whatever…they're having a good time relaxing in fact…
Luffy grinned at his firs-mate. "Take care of my hat for me."
Zoro only snorted. Just that? Though he did not say anything, he understood the importance of the hat to Luffy just as he understood the importance of katana to him…
"You can ask the others to do that," he said. Eyes now closed.
Wondering, he cracked one eye open to find his captain staring hardly at him. "You are my first-mate so it is customary that whenever something happens to me, you will take responsibility over the crew just as you would take responsibility over this hat."
Again, Zoro snorted. "Talking about death so early eh? We did not even reach the half of Grand Line and you already talk that way."
Luffy shrugged. "One can never tell."
They now watched the horizon in silence until Zoro finally broke it. "Sure. I promise. But it does not work one way."
Grinning, Luffy chuckled before realizing what was last said. "Huh?"
It amused Zoro how at one moment, Luffy could be so goofy and the next he could be so serious…he's a very complex person…he bet no one could really understand him fully…
"Make a promise too."
Luffy blinked in wonder, his eyes showing amusement and fascination at sharing a promise together. "What would that be?"
Zoro looked at him hardly…his eyes penetrating his captain's soul. "Don't die on me."
He took a seat at the recollection again and then sighed before staring at his captain bitterly. "In the end, you were the first to break the promise," he said and the others could only listen with incomprehension. It was really rare to see Zoro so emotional…normally, he would still act like a tough-guy…in any kind of situation he always does…
"Zoro?" Nami asked in wonder but Zoro just shrugged.
"Just some passing thought," he said, the straw hat still in his hand. "Just a passing thought about him…"
At the request, Luffy stared at his first-mate weirdly then he chuckled. "That's rare to hear from a tough-guy like you."
Then Luffy's grin faded. "But as I have said, no one can tell."
This time, Zoro raised his brow, his hand reaching one of his katana and pointed the sheathed blade towards the rubber man who looked surprised at the action.
"If you ever die on me without me knowing it, I swear I'll hunt you," he said threateningly. "Kidding aside, the captain should not die first before his crew. I'm a warrior of the crew so between the two of us, I should be the one dying first."
For others, they would think the two are crazy. They spoke about death so easily, so casually.
"There are mysteries around the globe," Luffy said which earned a smirk again from the swordsman. "One can die in different ways. But I promise."
"But there is another promise I want you to make," he said.
Zoro sighed. "You're supposed to only make one."
"I know…but if I die…no matter what happens…be there okay?"
He scratched his head. "I'm here. You really went and broke it huh?" he said more to himself while the others listened. At least I've got to fulfill my promise.
That was when he noted a small paper, tucked neatly on the worn-out hat. Slowly, he took it and read the content while the others waited with anticipation. The two seem to have kept secrets to themselves.
I'm ashamed of running away. I know that and I can't take it back. I have disbanded the crew and among all others, I could not face you.
I made a promise not to die on you but it turned out I can't keep that one so I have to disband just to run away from it. After all those years, I'm a coward eh? I'm running away from a promise I could not keep. I'm so sorry.
You probably would be mad at me now. After all those years of sailing together, I kept this illness from you all and you among all others would be the angriest. But despite the rage, I know you would still keep your promise right? We all have aged and I know there's not much time left for us all. You still have a few promises I made you keep and I still hold your word for it.
Until then…I'll wait you guys at the Farther Shore.
True indeed, Zoro is mad but he kept that only to himself. Besides he had known it in his subconscious anyway…it was just that he was too stubborn to admit it…that when Luffy spoke about those promises it was as if it's gonna turn out true. It did.
The last promise eh?
He made three promises to Luffy.
One was to take care of the straw hat while he lives.
Second is to be on his deathbed or at least be around when he gets buried.
And the third?
He stared at all his nakama…all of Luffy's nakama then he stared at the serene face.
"The lat promise I would make you keep is for all of us to meet again…at the Farther Shore."
Then a slow, smile curved his lips as he tried hard not to smile wider than necessary. "Heh…Luffy…don't you think the last one does not only bind me but them as well?" he asked as if the dead captain could hear it.
And perhaps his spirit still lingered around the room because there was a gust of wind that fanned his face and Zoro could very well hear the reply.
"Yes of course but you'll lead them there so the burden is in you."
He shook his head now as if to drive away that thought then he smirked at the crowd around him. "Well until then…wait for us," he said and the others simply understood. Zoro held the straw hat tightly.
"To the Farther Shore then…and I'm going to kick your ass for dying on me."