A fanfiction by Velkyn Karma
Summary: Nine days out of thirty, Zoro waited, tied to that wooden post.
Note: I always wondered what happened during the time Zoro was imprisoned, before Luffy actually released and recruited him. I've seen disputes over how long he was tied up, but I'm going by the manga version, in which he says himself he's been tied up for 9 days.
Warnings: A little violence, and some swearing. Zoro doesn't watch his mouth.
Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, One Piece or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs solely to Eiichiro Oda. The only thing that belongs to me here is the concept for the story.
"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will."
On the first day, he acted without thinking. He was only in town to pick up the new bounty lists and a bite to eat before heading off on his way. He ignored the stares of the townspeople, distrusting and fearful. They had never meant anything to him anyway. Still, he didn't really want to start trouble. So he paid for his meal exactly without complaint, hunted down the new stacks of bounty posters himself, and spoke to almost no one.
But when he was just about to leave he saw the dog. It was more wolf than dog, really, all mangey and starved and vicious. He saw how the people ran in obvious fear, scattered into their houses as quick as he could. He wasn't afraid of it. He could kill it easily. But the little girl that tripped when trying to get back into her home was certainly vulnerable.
When the dog leapt for the sobbing little child he didn't hesitate. Kuina's sword was in his hands in moments and he had given the thing a number of fatal strikes while standing defensively over the girl's body.
The guns leveled at him were the first indication that he might have done something to get himself in trouble. The arrest proclamation definitely proved it to him. He considered fighting his way through them to make a break for it, but immediately decided against it. As a bounty hunter most of his money came from the marines. Bad idea to get himself blacklisted, or next thing he'd know he'd be the one with a price on his head.
So when the marine commander's son offered him a deal, he took it without hesitation. Survive one month imprisoned under the kid's conditions, and he'd be allowed to go free without a record. Seemed fair enough.
He let himself be led off without complaint, surrendered his swords with a sharp command to be very careful with them. Even now, even sword-less, he could probably still break the little jumble of marines to pieces, but he resisted. Control was a very important factor for a swordsman after all.
They let him put his bandana on before they tied him to a post in the parade grounds with thick rope and left him there. The sun was beginning to set, and with a grim nod he settled in for the month.
On the second day there was a crowd. No one was allowed inside the parade grounds, but he could see dozens of heads popping over the high stone walls all day, many of them children. He ignored them. They had nothing to do with his failure or success, and so were unimportant.
The faces continued to stare over the walls all day, and more and more older faces joined them. Many tried to catch his attention, whispered things about the 'demon' that he was and how he could kill any of them without mercy. Rumors flew about the reason he had been imprisoned. He'd attacked a marine for not getting the price he wanted on a bounty head, some said. No, he'd killed a marine just because the man had talked back to him. No, it was five marines. Ten. Twenty. By the time the sun started getting low in the sky he was responsible for wiping out an entire marine division, which made him wonder briefly exactly how the current one that had imprisoned him got here so fast, or why nobody had noticed the blood. He didn't hear the correct story, not even once, among all the rumors. He also didn't care.
The marines noticed the sizable crowd he had gathered eventually and tried to shoo people away, but they would have none of it. One adventurous little kid even managed to climb over the walls and drop to the ground. The kid's friends were up on the wall, cheering him on in an obvious dare to see just how close to the demon he could get without getting hurt. On the rich marine brat's orders, the child was intercepted, brutally hauled off kicking and screaming. The marines that dragged the kid off looked just as terrified as the kid himself.
After that, he started giving his most malicious glares to any head that popped over the wall, the kind he usually reserved for the cold-hearted killers he went after. By nightfall, the place was completely empty, and dead silent.
On the third day, there was a signboard in place not too far from his own wooden post and cross-brace. It said anybody caught helping him would be charged with his own punishment, and a punishment would be given to anybody caught on the grounds without marine permission. Not surprisingly, there were no crowds that day. His capture was exciting, but not worth risking one's life over.
He didn't really miss the people, but he did sort of miss the distraction. It had been rather amusing to listen to rumors of himself taking down thirty armed marines with a single sword-slash from twenty feet away, helped kill the otherwise empty and meaningless hours. He couldn't train, couldn't even try some sort of adaptive training. They had tied the cords so tight they actually cut into his flesh, and his arms were at such an awkward angle he couldn't even try empty-handed reps. Hell, he had to stand in a constant crouched position just to keep his full body weight off of them. And it was impossible to really nap here, when he had to focus on standing the whole time, and the sun beat down on him terribly.
He was hungry too. It had been a few days now since he'd last eaten. It wasn't so bad normally; he was sure he'd be fine in the long run. He'd been through worse. But sometimes he could smell faint traces of food in the air from the restaurants or the marines' mess hall (he was sure the latter was intentional on the part of Rich Brat), and it made his mouth water unless he caught himself and forced himself to ignore it.
He was tempted to free himself. He still could, if he wanted to. The cords were tight, but he figured he could snap the wooden posts if he had to, break himself free, and take off into the night. He certainly had all the incentive. He was hungry, tired, and bored, and it was only day three for hell's sake. But he'd given his word, and he had never gone back on his word before, not even to scum like this. He'd last the whole damn month, and then he'd be out of there as a pirate hunter again with a clean record and his honor intact.
On the fourth day, Rich Brat came to visit.
He seemed enthusiastic to see his prisoner sagging a little. It wasn't because he was weakening, or anything like that. And it certainly wasn't because he was hungry, either. He was just bored, and a little tired, that was all.
Rich Brat tauntingly asked him how he was doing, and he answered truthfully that he was perfectly fucking fine, thank you very much. Rich Brat didn't seem so enthusiastic after that. The kid slugged him in the face as hard as he could. It really wasn't very hard at all, and before he could stop himself, he'd laughed. That was when the two other marines with Rich Brat as his escort were ordered to attack him, too. They weren't the strongest men he'd ever fought, but they had been trained how to throw a punch correctly, and he wasn't exactly going anywhere. By the end of that little encounter he'd gotten himself a black eye and a bloody lip.
At least that day had been a little more interesting.
On the fifth day, he finally gave it up and let his legs stretch out before him, tired of crouching constantly. It meant all his weight was hanging from his arms now, and a little bit from the rope tied around his waist over his haramaki. He felt his arms going numb after several hours, but did his best to ignore it. Whining and whimpering would do him no good.
The sun blazed above him that day, sending trickles of sweat down his spine. He didn't quite remember being so uncomfortable before, hanging from his arms with the heat beating down on him mercilessly. It didn't care about him or his honor or his promises, but it was an enemy he could beat all the same. He ignored it, did not complain or whimper about it once, even when he could feel his skin starting to burn or the sweat trickling into the injuries the marines had given him with a vicious stinging sensation.
All the same, it wasn't until night fell and the sun's cruel blaze went away that he was able to settle at last into an exhausted slumber.
On the sixth day it rained.
It was as though the weather was trying to attain divine retribution for its brother, the sun. It poured for the entire day with thick, cold, heavy droplets that sank into fabric and froze the skin. He was drenched in minutes, and it kept on coming, dripping from his bandana, his haramaki, the wooden post, the tight cords.
The water slipped into his wounds, just as the sweat had yesterday. And not just the ones on his face, but where the cords had cut into his flesh too. It should have felt cooling, relaxing, bathing those injuries with a freshness that he otherwise wouldn't be seeing for a month, but instead it stung surprisingly badly. It did wash the blood off his face, though, which was fortunate. The crusty trails had been starting to itch, and he couldn't even scratch his own face with his arms bent behind his back like they were.
It thundered too, and there was lightning. The former shook him to the bone when it rattled overhead, and he could feel it reverberating both in the wooden post at his back and in his own stomach, chattering his teeth. The latter flashed overhead, lighting up the otherwise midnight-dark midday, and struck dangerously close. Twice it hit the top of the marine tower, and he hoped desperately it wouldn't strike him in the parade grounds. He was pretty sure he could survive a lightning blast, but it would make surviving out the rest of the month significantly more difficult. But the lightning was merciful and avoided him, and though the thunder boomed above and rattled his weakening body it did little else.
The rain finally tapered off as darkness fell. He remained damp and shivering in his wet clothing, and did not sleep that night.
On the seventh day, Rich Brat came back for another visit.
The kid was accompanied by the usual entourage of marine escorts, and seemed to think he'd be much weaker for the wear after the storm. Rich Brat fingered his still soaked clothes-they had only just started to dry in the sun-and asked him how he was feeling again.
He replied, just as before, that he was perfectly fine. He already had seven days under his belt. A month would be easy.
Rich Brat seemed just as unhappy with this answer as he was last time. Really, he should learn to not be so repetitive. Why ask a question when you know you'll get the same answer? He himself knew what answer Rich Brat would be giving him, and sure enough, the order came soon enough for the marine escorts to attack once more. Neither seemed particularly happy with the order, and he could tell they were both pulling their punches slightly, though Rich Brat obviously couldn't tell with his limited experience. Still, that one shot to the gut definitely hurt, and for the first time he found himself thankful he hadn't eaten in several days. Otherwise, whatever had been in his stomach definitely would've come right out again.
Rich Brat seemed satisfied when it was over, and there were new blood trails covering his prisoner. For his part, he was merely annoyed. The rain had finally washed away the last ones; these ones would itch all over again. Hell.
On the eighth day, he meditated.
There wasn't much else to do, and he was really too exhausted and hungry to try anything physical anymore. By this point, he doubted he would have been able to break the cords binding him. They were pretty tight, expertly knotted, and he hadn't eaten in eight days. Nor had he really gotten any rest. A few catnaps here and there, sure, but though he prided himself on being able to sleep in any situation it seemed he had finally come across the only one that could stump him. Hanging by one's arms with one's shoulders wrenched back like that just simply wasn't restful.
So instead he retreated inside himself, did his best to ignore the situation around him and focus on clearing his mind. It was a difficult task to do in his current situation, and he normally preferred the calm of a sword dojo or the pleasant exhaustion of his own personal training to accompany it. But it was quiet here, since he hadn't seen the crowds in days and Rich Brat was off doing something else with his time instead of beating on incapacitated prisoners, so he could sort of concentrate at least.
He was hungry, but he ignored it. There was pain at the corners of his mind, but he could ignore that too. He withdrew further, tried to attain that level of emptiness and precision that he could turn to his swords when he had them again.
His swords. Fuck, he missed them. Didn't think he would so bad. They had better not be mistreating them, especially Kuina's. If anything was wrong with them when he got them back, there'd be hell to pay.
Meditating helped him through the day. The sun beat down on him, his stomach ate away at his insides, and his numbed arms protested violently, but he ignored it all, remained in a place of emptiness and disinterest.
Almost a third of the way done. He could make it.
On the ninth day, he had visitors.
It wasn't Rich Brat, which he had been expecting; or at least, not at first. It was the little girl he had originally saved, with an offering of rice balls for the vicious demon. He told her to get lost, fixed her with the murderous glare that had chased all the other villagers over the wall away. But she seemed strangely immune to his most deadly stare, and offered him the food cheerfully. He wasn't one to care, but he'd nearly had a heart attack when she was thrown over the wall.
Stranger still had been his other visitor. It was a weird, cheerful kid in a floppy straw hat with a wide red brim. He didn't look terribly old; definitely a teenager, but with his stupid grin, messy hair and gangly limbs he seemed even younger than that. He too seemed utterly immune to the vicious glares that had made pirates and bandits fall to their knees in terror, and announced point blank his intentions of scouting the demon hunter as a potential crew mate.
He wanted nothing to do with him, naturally. As a hunter of pirates, it would be foolhardy to associate with one. Not to mention it would ruin the entire point of the current exercise, clearing his name with the marines. The kid was fearless enough to help him out at least, feeding him the rice balls the girl had foolishly tried to make for him. They were mostly dirt, and tasted as such, but it filled his clawing, grumbling stomach and would save the little girl's pride too. He hated seeing bravery wasted.
The kid disappeared, and he never expected to see him again. But lo and behold, the gangly teen was back within a few hours, blackmailing him with his own swords into joining his pirate crew. He'd never, in all his years of hunting, seen somebody so utterly forthright and equally insane, but it felt kinda familiar. The guy wasn't afraid to chase an impossible goal, that was for sure. He could get to respect a guy like that.
When the final showdown came, he had to make a choice, but there really wasn't a choice at all in the end. Die trying to uphold a promise that had been devised to toy with him, and thereby give up on all his dreams. Or live, become a pirate, destroy his record, and follow an insane kid that claimed he was going to be the king of pirates and find the One Piece.
Like he said, it was hardly much of a choice.
On the ninth night, Roronoa Zoro found himself on the open sea. He was in a tiny little boat, lazily floating to who knew where (this kid had no sense of direction), hungry all over again because they had already eaten their food stores, with his new captain who was unquestionably crazy. And yet, he had never felt better in his life. Because he was reaching for a goal nearly as impossible as his captain's, and his captain accepted it easily, promised to help get him there, swore he wouldn't get in his way. And really, where else did the future greatest swordsman in the world belong, other than at the right-hand side of the future Pirate King?
I love when inspiration randomly hits. I was watching this episode and just...suddenly had to know.
If you enjoyed it, let me know what you liked! If you didn't, what do you think could have gone better? Feedback is extremely useful!