Zoro would never quite understand it. Every other day when he passed by a building, a tree, a girl with a smile on her face, he would have to stop and cover his face, hold his breath and grit his teeth and wait for the feeling to pass over. He'd look through the gaps of his fingers and see the light of day, of a dying winter with the promise of a wonderful clean spring approaching, and he'd wonder what it might have been like if Sanji had not succeeded in ending his life.
He visited the resting remains of the man he had made the mistake to fall in love with on Friday. By then the only thing keeping the body together was a failing brainstem. Zoro had heard from Luffy, and then from the doctors and nurses looking over the silent body that the man he knew as Sanji was no longer there. The body was being kept alive temporarily, until his mother could accept and would be willing to sign the permission sip to have the plug pulled, killing the rest of what remained of a man formerly known as Sanji.
On a Saturday he overheard the conversation between the mother and doctor about Sanji becoming a potential donor, a lifesaver to those who might have a future if his mother would be willing to allow the body of her son to be opened up and excavated. Zoro didn't stay long after that, feeling his stomach twist in a knot as he imagined the man he had held in his arms having his organs scooped out and given away.
On Sunday he talked to his therapist. He did his homework and tried his best not to think about Sanji, but it was so hard.
Several days went by with hardly any time to see and visit and mourn the remains that he still longed to touch and hold and kiss. Though Sanji was gone the body was still breathing, and it was enough to drive Zoro made. Then on Thursday Luffy called. He and the boy still had their issues, but Luffy made the promise to tell him if anything had happened, and on that day something had happened. Sanji was no longer brain-dead, but officially dead. His mother gave permission to pull the plug and donate any viable organs, potentially saving the lives of many lucky patients.
Zoro didn't make it to the hospital in time. The room was empty.
Days went by. Zoro would stop whatever he was doing to hold in his breath and try not to break down, but it was so hard. He'd walk down the hallways of his university and see Sanji everywhere. Sneaking up behind him, hiding in the bathroom stalls, sitting in open classrooms pretending to pay attention to the lecture: Sanji was literally everywhere. It drove Zoro insane to think that just a few months ago, in early November, he met the blond sitting helplessly in Robin's bathroom, and now it was February and he was dead.
Right in the middle of his kendo lecture Mihawk stopped what he was doing, his golden eyes filled with a concerned emotion for the first time ever, causing other students to nearly freak out, as he patiently stood where he was, his voice calmly asking, "Is everything alright, Roronoa?"
He sat in the group section of the library, taking his break with Perona, who barked and complained about the classes she was taking, the whines and groans over her professors never ending, when suddenly a wave of pain hit him in the chest, causing him to kneel over in his seat and hold on while Perona, gasping, stopped her usual selfish behavior and helped him, holding him and telling him that he needed to get over himself. None of this was really his fault.
When he was handed the graded test Zoro looked down and stared, thinking about how difficult last semester was, how he distracted one failure for another, and felt a bitter laugh try to break it's way through his twisted smile. Now he was passing classes, just barely, but science was becoming a language that he was beginning to understand.
Luffy sent him a text regarding the date of the funeral.
He eventually received an email from Nami, asking if he would show up. It was the first message he had received from the girl. Apparently everyone was going, even the man who kept him away from real help for two months. Yes, eve Zoro would be allowed to see Sanji off.
Usopp never called. He saw the boy once in passing when he went back to Luffy's, just to talk, nothing more, but never got to speak with Usopp. He imagined there would be no forgiveness from the young man for a long time, if at all.
That was all right. As far as Zoro was concerned, he needed no forgiveness. He deserved none.
Ashes to Ashes; Dust to Dust.
Zoro did not see the body. He did not want to see the body. Seeing Sanji's body tied together in tubes, wrists wrapped up in bandage that could barely hold together a wound that was hardly healing, as he laid brain dead in a cold, white hospital room; that was and would be the last time he saw the blond. He didn't prefer the morbid image compared to the supposed sight of a peaceful, well dressed Sanji resting in a coffin, but there was something so final in the latter image that made Zoro cringe, completely unwilling to give the body one final view. So he remained at the very back of the aisles, where an atheist was expected to be anyways, and kept his eyes lowered as he pondered over and over the meaning of the past few months, and whether or not he really made a difference.
Time was a blur to him. He could hear words being spoken, but the language was unknown to him. Nothing seemed to stick as his mind continued to dig deeper, past pleasant memories, past the memory of him meeting Sanji, beyond the moment where he imagined Robin driving her car, driving past the cloudy form of Sanji about to jump. How strange would it have been if he had never met Sanji? How boring? How safe?
He played nervously with his shivering fingers when he heard a soft voice whisper to him, "Why are you back here?" The question was not directed at his presence; rather, it was focused more on his lack of presence. Zoro was gracious for it.
He looked up and stared at Usopp and Kaya, both about to leave the small church located in the front of the cemetery. It was Kaya who chose to stop and reach out to Zoro. Usopp frowned, almost refusing to look Zoro in the eyes.
"I prefer to be back here."
"You wont see him?"
"This will be the very last time."
Kaya covered her frown with her free hand, her other visibly clinging harder to Usopp's.
"Are you sure about this?"
Kaya stared deeply, as if her consciousness was slipping away, sinking in quicksand. Zoro and Usopp seemed to feel it to. Everyone was sinking. And then Zoro realized he wasn't the only one blaming himself for Sanji's death. Kaya looked as though it was all he fault, and behind Usopp's cold eyes was a level of self-loathing that Zoro couldn't even compare his own to. Suddenly his hatred for sending Sanji away, that final act of betrayal, was changing into something else. It was not just one final act, but millions of miniature pieces, a complex puzzle of past memories that did not fit together, making up the confusing mess that couldn't be put together; the mystery behind Sanji's suicidal being. It brought relief to Zoro and it made him disgusted. How could anyone think to share such an experience as the one he had with Sanji?
A few seconds went by and Kaya and Usopp left Zoro to continue to ponder. A minute went by. Zoro could hear more people leaving and getting ready for the final ties and goodbyes. He continued to listen to the loud voices until they dwindled into subtle soft shoes tiptoeing out the church. The final clicks of boots ended right on his aisle, causing Zoro to stir uncomfortably in his seat.
"Luffy told me about you."
Zoro recognized the voice right away. He brought his hand closer to his face but not letting it cover his growing scowl.
"Do you think you're doing yourself a favor by separating yourself from everyone else?"
Zoro sighed, sinking a bit into his seat. Everyone was invited.
"Do you think you're special from everyone else that knew him?"
Zoro lifted himself from his seat and looked up at the taller figure drenched in black. He expected that Law would have a smirk on his face. Zoro was surprised to see the same stoic expression from before when he had first met him in the office. His arms were crossed. There was a curious look in his dark, fierce eyes.
"Tell me," Law began, "why you separate yourself from others? You can't expect to win anyone's favor this way."
More words were spoken by the uncomfortable priest; his biblical preaching consoling only to the crying mother who had lost her only confused son. Nobody else knew what to make of it. Nami stared out to the distance at a faraway tree, imagining herself at a faraway island where the worries of death had no meaning to its inhabitants. Usopp rested against Kaya's shoulder; the only proof of him being conscious was his heavy breathing as he fought to make himself appear strong in the presence of the many who were not afraid to be afraid and sad on this cloudy, quiet day. There were other faces that Zoro did not recognize. He wondered if he was the only one in the crowd that was truly alone.
Luffy sat upfront, with his brother, next to Sanji's family, with a kind smile on his face as continued to console the weakened, female frame that could have been Sanji's. Zoro could not see it all. He wondered how Luffy managed to do it in the faces of so many who were crying and mourning. He had seen the boy cry before. Why was it all right for Luffy to stand out and be different from everyone else?
Why? Zoro kept asking it over and over again. He was told not to be different, not to signal himself as a special being that had something special in accordance to Sanji, but it appeared that everyone was making some sort of attempt to stick out. What was Law trying to prove when he asked Zoro to be amongst sheep and play the part of a young mourning friend? What made him so special? Nami? Anyone?
Or was that just it? He had nothing special when it came to his relationship with Sanji, because, once upon a time, he fell in love with a girl named Nami, and had spent years together with her, even after they stopped being in love. He had only known Sanji for a less than two months. Two months and he was acting like he was bearing the world's weight on his shoulders. He was dreaming the big dream that it was all his to bear. He was being selfish.
Zoro frowned at himself, feeling his throat go raw as he suddenly realized just how real this all was to him. It was too late for him to ever see Sanji again, and now he wished nothing more than to hold his hand one last time. The fact that in so little time he had fallen in love and had lost it all made it all the more tragic, and at the same time made it all the more pitiful. There were people here in the cemetery that had known Sanji since birth. Who was he to judge their reactions to his death?
Zoro wiped at his face. He continued to do so for what felt like hours, hearing the torturous sounds of a smooth, metallic sound that signified the final fall: a coffin being hoisted down six feet under in the earth. More tears ran down as he remembered the brief second right before he had promised Sanji that he would not tell a soul about his location, so long as the blond agreed to have sex with him. Disgusting. And now he was dead. It was a pact that was broken, but a promise that never made much sense to begin with.
Had he really failed Sanji, he wondered. With so many people blaming themselves, with so many pieces of misshaped figures, a puzzle that could never be completed, not when the owner of the puzzle was dead. Was everyone to blame for this tragic end, or was it so much more complicated? Did everyone take part in plunging the broken mirror into Sanji's wrist? Or was it just Sanji who decided that he had had enough of this world, and with no lover, friend, distraction, he could finally perform the only action of control he had left.
People were standing up, moving around frantically, leaving Zoro behind as he felt Sanji's frustration hit him in the chest. He looked and saw past the moving crowds, the deep hole that was taking what was left of Sanji away. He stood up, struggling to se past cloudy wet eyes as he stumbled through crowd, raw strength pushing past unknown mourners as he proceeded closer to the grave.
He stopped, finally pushing through the final barrier and looking down the deep hole to see a beautiful black coffin being tarnished with handfuls of dirt. Tears ran down his eyes.
He was no so special, he realized. Nobody really was. All of this was out of his control.
His voice failed him after that. What was there to say to a man that was already dead? The first words that came to mind were "I love you," but nothing could have been more inappropriate. Any other words seemed unimportant. He was at a lost of what to do. He stood there, helpless, staring down at the end of everything, with legs growing weaker, the threat of falling over becoming so real.
Zoro felt a hand rest on his shoulder. He looked over to see Luffy at his side, staring carefully, solemnly at him. His hand, so small, pulled Zoro back up to a standing position, giving him the strength he needed to wait through the rest of the funeral.
When people began to leave Luffy asked, "Will you be alright?"
Zoro, still looking down into the grave, responded, "I don't know. There are so many things going on in my head right now. I don't know what to do."
"Do you need a ride home?"
"No…I brought my own car."
"You want to come over to my house and talk about it?"
He became nervous. "Will Usopp be there?"
Luffy moved in closer. "He asked me to invite you, just in case." Had he really? But Zoro believed it, knowing a day like this would allow for strange thoughts to arrive.
Zoro lifted his eyes up and stared at the rest of the cemetery. He could see rows upon rows of graves, little markers of those who had passed away. Dying patches of grass surrounding greenery. Flower filled vases scattered across the rows, some fresh, many now dying.
"Yeah, that would be nice."
He could feel Luffy smiling at him, "Yeah, it would."
"Just give me a bit more time, ok?"
"Alright…I'll see you soon."
Zoro waited several more minutes and despite knowing that he wasn't the only person at the grave, still found himself compelled to say, "I don't know what I'm supposed to do." He lowered into a squat and looked deep into the grave. He knew once everyone had gone it would be filled up. He knew in a few years he would ultimately visit the grave less than what he would this year and the next. "Sanji, what am I supposed to do now? I tried my best," he muttered while letting his hands sink into the moist earth. "How am I supposed to forget all of this?" He knew there would come a time when he stopped visiting at all, and left him frightened. He knew one day he'd be alright. Not good, never the same as he was before, but he would be able to live without Sanji. It made him so sad to think he'd ever be ok without Sanji.
He blinked at let tears run from his face and drop into the grave. The remainder of his love began to pour out of him as he let himself crumble further, sinking into the ground as his fingers dug into the grave, miserable and dying blades of grass sticking to his wet fingers.
"Sanji, what am I supposed to do?" Zoro asked. "I'm still alive, but I'm alone. Sanji, is it selfish of me to think this way? Sanji? Sanji? Sanji?"
AN-And that's it. I thought about ending this chapter after a long time skip, but then I asked why? If you paid attention to the last chapter, and the details of this chapter, then you'll know one day things will be better. Things will be better. So always focus on now.
Thanks to everyone who stood by this story and left a review or PM. I have been getting quite a bit of the latter lately. I'm glad this story has affected you so much. I hope those of you who now feel inspired to write will one day publish something, even if it is small. It's been a long four years, and I am satisfied with what I've produced. Who knows what I'll do next. I certainly hope to come across everyone's username soon. Once again, thank you all for your patience, and feel free to leave a review of PM.