Disclaimer: Nothings mine!
Pairing: Definitely ZOLU!!!! Don't like, don't read!
A/N: My third One Piece fic and it's a lot like my first one 'Momentum' although I'd like to think that "In The Blink of an Eye" is a little bit more mature and intense. I worked quite hard on this and I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. This writing style is one of my favorites although I rarely have the opportunity to use it for a story.
This story was beta'd by TheDoublemintTwins11 who did an awesome job!!! I'd be lost without you!
"...in the blink of an eye, you might reinvent yourself... the person you were yesterday might not be the person you are tomorrow."
He watches her move.
Watches the way she wields her sword, how she dodges a counter attack and advances on her opponent.
Watches how she strikes and disarms the nameless boy with an easy smile that is just shy of arrogant.
Watches how she leaves the fighting area and how her eyes find his for a brief moment.
Watches how she winks at him and smirks in a way that is definitely arrogant - confident of her superior strength and abilities.
And for a moment Zoro forgets that he actually admires her and sneers back because it's all he can do to not throw petty and childish insults at her. He has to admit though, she didn't look like she was fighting when she practiced with their fellow pupils. She lacked the brute force of the other guys.
Her movements much more graceful, much more subtle.
It looks like dancing, Zoro thinks, and he wonders if he looks that way too.
Zoro stares at her and wonders where all the tears came from, because, no matter how hard he tries, he can't remember ever seeing her cry.
And suddenly he's facing the hardest fight of his entire life.
Suddenly he is fighting the need, the unbearable urge, to turn around and run. She has always been the strong one, the one that laughed at him for loosing yet again, and it angers and frightens him to see her like this.
He shouldn't see her like this.
It's wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. So very wrong.
But he forces himself to stay. To stay and extend his hand to seal a deal with her, because it's all he can think of to make those tears vanish. Zoro doesn't just seal a deal that day, but his fate as well. He knows this, and he couldn't care less.
Because everything is better than seeing her, his nemesis, his enemy, his rival, crumble into pieces without a fight.
The coffin is too small.
That's all Zoro is capable of thinking.
The coffin is too small.
The coffin is too small and she couldn't possibly be in there, could she?
She was taller than that, wasn't she?
She had always been taller than him and even he couldn't possibly fit into this small wooden box.
So she couldn't really be in there, right?
And suddenly he's so sure that this is all a mistake. That it's someone else in that box. Someone else died while he was in the woods. Someone else fell down the stairs and broke their neck. Someone else lies in that box and someone else is about to be buried in the local cemetery.
It's all just a big mistake.
It has to be. She couldn't have died after the promise they made. Couldn't have died in such a goddamn stupid and horrible way.
Not her, the swordswoman who moved like a dancer.
Zoro doesn't cry at the funeral because he doesn't know the person they are lowering into the grave.
Because it couldn't possibly be her.
Because the coffin is too small.
He traces the patterns on the hilt of his new sword. The sword that, once upon a time, had been her sword, and he still can't quite believe that it doesn't still belong to her.
Any minute now, she's going to scold him for stealing her precious, precious weapon, and demand it back.
Any minute now.
But nothing happens.
Hours later it's still his sword, and his eyes are still puffy and sticky from all the crying, and his throat is still raw from all the screaming. Zoro only barely remembers what he'd been screaming when his sensei had handed him her --his now, forever his now-- sword.
Screams of promises broken and re-established.
Screams of denial and acceptance.
Screams of brief hopelessness followed by screams of steeled determination--the kind of determination that he should be too young for.
But he doesn't feel too young for anything right now. He feels old. Weary. Feels like he's seen too much already, though he's never really left home.
But Zoro knows that it's true and he knows that his future is set, one way or another.
And the boy keeps tracing the patterns on the hilt of their sword, repeating the screams from earlier in his head, over and over, until they are the only thing on his mind when he closes his eyes at night.
The ropes cut into his skin, almost drawing blood, but Zoro doesn't mind all that much. He barely notices it, really, because all his attention is focused on the person in front of him.
For a second there, he fears that he's going insane. That the hunger and thirst were too much after all. Because the boy is manhandling their sword, their treasure, their dream and promise personified, and it doesn't bother Zoro as much as it should.
Doesn't bother him at all, in fact.
For some strange reason he can't bring himself to tear his eyes away from that face.
And for some even stranger reason when the boy asks him to join his crew, he gives in without much of a fight, and becomes his first mate.
Maybe, Zoro muses, it's because the boy looks a little bit like he's dancing when he fights.
The pain is excruciating. Like nothing he's ever felt before. Unlike like anything he ever wants to feel again.
And it's not the physical pain.
The physical pain feels like a paper cut compared to this.
Zoro doesn't even see Mihawk's sword as it swings downward, but he does see his dream as it flies away. He sees his promise cut into pieces. In the second that it takes his skin to tear and his blood to flow, he sees the future that was meant for him slip away.
And that hurts. More than anything, because it's accompanied by a sense of loss and bitterness and failure that makes him sick.
And in the seconds that it takes him to fall backwards into the water he hears Luffy scream his name and that hurts too, although in a completely different way.
Zoro can't yet quite admit to himself that that scream hurt even more than anything else, but as he lies in that little boat with Johnny, Yosaku and Usopp and realizes that he isn't going to die, that nothing flew, cut or slipped away after all, he can admit that he never wants to hear that odd catch in Luffy's voice ever again.
He never wants to disappoint his captain, and he never wants to see his ambitions crumble in front of his eyes, ever again. He never wants to loose ever again, so he makes another promise.
To his Captain.
To everyone who wants to hear it.
And as he raises his sword into the sky, the life leaking out of him with every second that passes, he feels strangely alive.
He squints against the wind and water that squarely hits him in the face. It would be so much easier to just turn away, but Zoro doesn't want to miss one second of this.
Never in his life would he have guessed that he could enjoy the look of pure delight one someone's else face. But here he is; on his way to the Grand Line, speeding through Reverse Mountain and watching the others --My Nakama, I have Nakama now-- laugh and celebrate this moment with such unadulterated glee that he can't help but grin as well, so hard and so wide that it feels as though his face is splitting.
But for as much as he likes to watch the others, he loves to watch Luffy.
Luffy, who had made all this possible. Who sat at the very front of the Merry, bracing himself against the wind, standing on his toes and leaning forward as if he can't wait any longer. There, on Reverse Mountain, Zoro has one of his very few realizations, and he feels an odd mix of trepidation and anticipation in the pit of his stomach.
Because he sees his future.
Sees himself following this boy to the end of the world. Sees himself fighting alongside this boy. Sees how he will change the world alongside this boy. And he sees how he will achieve his dream at his side.
His only Captain.
The only one he will ever bestow that title upon.
And slowly, every so slowly, the trepidation fades until it is nothing more than a distant memory. Fades until Zoro can't even imagine why he would feel like that in the first place. It's gone by the time that they finally reach the Grand Line and Luffy turns towards him with that excited gleam in his eyes and the confident smile on his lips.
Because suddenly Zoro can't imagine anything he wants to see more than that smile when he finally becomes the greatest swordsman in the world. He wants to see that smile when the others achieve their dreams, too.
But more importantly, he wants to be the one smiling when Luffy finally achieves his dream.
Because there is not a shadow of a doubt in his mind that he will.
Because, one day, Luffy is going to be the Pirate King, and Zoro wants to be there when that happens.
The touch is not so much an accident as a test, really. Just a light brush of fingers under the table to see if it gets him a reaction. Any kind of reaction.
Zoro doesn't know if he should feel crestfallen or relieved when the rubber boy doesn't even seem to notice and just keeps listening to Vivi's explanations about her home country.
A few minutes pass and Zoro feels bold and tries again. He doesn't like to lose after all, no matter what the situation.
The touch lingers a little bit longer and this time he allows himself to really feel the boy's skin.
It's not like touching rubber, which is a nice surprise, but really soft and smooth. The fingers are long and delicate and seem almost fragile against Zoro's, and for a brief second he can't imagine that those are the same hands that defend them against wanted pirates and the Marines. He wouldn't believe that those soft fingers could punch through stone walls, if he hadn't seen it himself countless times already.
And suddenly those fingers brush back against his own, as light as a feather, before they disappear.
Zoro feels strangely adrift without the connection and he suddenly wonders if he hadn't imagined Luffy's response after all.
But then he chances a quick glance at his Captain's face and there's that soft smile on Luffy's lips, the one that he wears when he watches the sea, and Zoro knows that he hasn't lost after all.
He knows he's won.
He just doesn't know what.
Zoro has never been so close to heaven, so close to her, as he is right now.
Skypiea isn't really the kind of heaven she was in, but it's close, and he has to fight the ridiculous urge to scream her name into the air and order her to watch him fight, and to see his progress, to acknowledge how far he'd come since she left.
Once again, Luffy is the reason why they are here, and Zoro wants her to know that. He doesn't know whether he wants her approval or whether he wants to reassure himself, but he needs something. Anything that shows him that he is allowed to feel again what he once felt for her. And more.
He was never in love with her.
At least he doesn't think he was. They were too young, too competitive to feel anything even remotely like love. Maybe if they had grown up together, gone into the world together, maybe then they would have also grown to love each other.
But that didn't happen and it never will happen, and Zoro isn't one to brood over things like that.
No, he didn't love her then, and he still doesn't. But he respected her, admires her, even now, as he follows the lead of another individual who he respects and admires even more.
Nothing will ever keep him from following his captain, not even her disapproval, but some small part of him, the part that is still refusing to cry for the stranger they buried that day, wants it anyway. And he knows how ridiculous that is, because she is dead and there is no way for her to come back and give him that approval.
That it is okay that he would give his life, and their dream, for that boy.
That it is okay for him to get the shit beaten out of him by people that he could snap in half without a second thought, just because his captain told him to not fight back.
That it is okay that he is fine with that, because the sight of Luffy covered in blood, standing upright in silent strength, and proving others that they are not even worth his attention, is simply intoxicating.
He watches Luffy and Usopp play with those cloud like things, and Luffy must have sensed his gaze, like he always does, because he suddenly looks up, and directly at the swordsman. They stare at each other for what feels like hours before Luffy waves at him, and his face splits into a grin, and Zoro smiles back without any real reason.
Smiles just because Luffy is smiling at him and suddenly he doesn't care about approvals anymore. Doesn't care what she might be thinking when she watches them.
And he knows, beyond a doubt, that he was never in love with her.
Because now he knows what that feels like.
The kiss is a disaster in every sense of the word.
They are in the men's cabin and Luffy is so near that Zoro can count his eyelashes and smell the exotic shampoo Nami had bought for them in Arabastia. It smells like the desert, and sawdust, and Luffy, and it is almost too strong, except that Zoro doesn't think that he can ever get enough.
The raven haired boy is in mid speech --something about the ship carpenter they are hopefully going to find as soon as they reach Water Seven-- when Zoro leans forward to catch those luscious lips with his own and their mouths collide with even less grace than their noses.
The smaller boy seems to be even more surprised by the move than Zoro himself and takes a startled step back, immediately stumbling over his own feet. The swordsman tries to catch him and only manages to crash on top of the boy.
The noise is enough to catch the attention of the crew. When they arrive --all of them, much to Zoro's disdain-- they see their captain and his first mate in a tangled mess on the floor, Zoro cursing and Luffy giggling, although it sounds a little bit strained.
For the next few days, Zoro has to endure countless suggestive comments from the stupid love cook about his intentions towards their innocent Captain.
And Zoro can't even come up with a proper comeback, because they are so much closer to the truth than curly brow could imagine.
The grass feels good beneath him, and he almost forgets that he's lying on the deck of their new ship. If not for the gentle rocking and the sound of the waves crashing against the hull, he might have.
Water Seven lies behind them, and Zoro can't help but breath a little bit easier now that the worst is over.
For now, at least.
Because if he knows his Captain at all, declaring war to the World Government isn't nearly the worst they can, and will, do.
Zoro's lips twitch in amusement at the thought, although there should be nothing funny or comforting about that. But he also thinks that more trouble means more delays on their way to the end of the Grand line, and more delay means more time with his Captain and the crew, before anyone has to wonder what will happen to their little family when everything is over and done.
Maybe that's selfish, but Zoro has never seen himself as a particularly good person anyway.
Besides, he isn't all that sure that the others, including Luffy, aren't thinking in similar ways.
He stares up at the stars for a long time and doesn't react to the soft sounds of approaching footsteps until the person stops right beside him. The night is pleasantly cool, and Luffy isn't wearing his sandals. For some reason, Zoro can't help but think that he looks younger like that.
His Captain stares down at him, Zoro stares up and in the
of an eye, Luffy is lying besides him and in the
of an eye, Zoro is leaning over the smiling boy and in the
of an eye, they are kissing, more tender and more experienced than that first awkward kiss a few weeks ago. Luffy makes a happy noise in the back of his throat, and Zoro leans back a bit so he can see the matching expression on his Captain's face.
Luffy's eyes are closed and his skin is enticingly flushed. His black hair is pillowed on the grass beneath him, and the combination of green and black shouldn't be as beautiful as Zoro thinks it is. The smile on his lips is there, of course, common as it is. Despite this, Zoro is positive that he'll never get enough of that smile, no matter how many times he may see it.
Those dark brown eyes open to stare at him in mild curiosity, and Zoro leans down to steal another kiss, before he maneuvers them until Luffy is more or less lying on top of him, his head resting on the swordsman's chest.
Zoro loves to feel the weight on his chest. Loves how it makes him feel alive and connected. Loves how he can feel each breath Luffy takes, and, when he concentrates, even his heartbeat. Involuntarily, he has to go back to his earlier worries...
What will happen when they reach the end of the Grand Line?
What will happen when Luffy finds the One Piece and becomes the Pirate King?
"What's next Captain?"
Luffy raises his head slightly to look him in the eye. "Next?" He settled back down and hummed, before grinning from ear to ear. "Next we'll find a musician so we can sing old pirate songs and dance all night long."
Zoro isn't really surprised that the boy has misinterpreted his question. Luffy lives in the moment, always has and always will.
Pirate King or not.
He mulls over his Captain's plans and feels a snicker building in his chest.
For a second the memory of a little girl, practicing with a sword, invades his mind and for the first time in his life he doesn't push it away, but acknowledges it with a sad smile, all the while pulling the body in his arms closer.
"Sounds good, Captain."
A/N: Maybe not my best work but it has a special place in my heart, mainly because it helped me over my little writers block! Hope you liked it as well, if so, tell me! You know how! *grins*