Authors Note: Uh…. So…. Here you go…. Yeah... It's been a while haha
The walk had done nothing to help clear Zoro's mind. It actually made his headache worse and it throbbed painfully as corruptive thoughts danced around his head. Doflamingo had made many good points and each one felt like a dagger to Zoro. They were grinding away at every piece of loyalty that Zoro possessed and he could feel the weight of them pressing down on him.
He began to walk back towards the ship. Every step towards the ship felt heavy and forced. He was practically dragging his feet back to the place that he was supposed to call home. His entire body yearned to turn around, run back to Doflamingo, and accept his offer. But there was one thread of loyalty still connected to the ship and crew and try as he might, Zoro could not find the strength to severe that bond.
As much as his crew felt like they were dragging him down, Zoro could not turn his back on them quite yet. He was sure they hated him at this point, but he still gave them his loyalty. He had given Luffy his word and had made a commitment to the crew to be there for them. And as much as it killed him, he felt bound by those words.
And so, he trodded across the beach back to the shore where the ship was gently resting. With a heavy sigh he waded into the water until it swelled to his waist. With his swords firmly attached to his sides, he pushed off the ground and swam to the edge of the ship. Grasping the ladder with blistered fingers, he pulled himself over the railing with ease and landed with a smacking sound on the deck.
He expected the deck to be relatively clear. It seemed the entire crew had been avoiding him for weeks now. And yet, there was everybody, sitting on the deck. Luffy sat in the middle of the crew with his back propped up against a tree, his hands folded with abnormal grace in his lap, and with his head craned down, hiding his features. Nami and Sanjii decorated his sides. Sanjii had a cigarette burning on his lips and he leaned up against a pillar, not even glancing at Zoro when he landed on the deck. The rest of the crew was scattered across the main deck, each one looking stern and slightly timid at the same time.
Zoro was unsure of what to make of the sudden gathering. Are they here for me? He thought. There were a few beats of awkward silence as Zoro ripped off his shirt and wrung it on the deck. He looked around for a moment, waiting for somebody to speak. The silence continued and Zoro let out an overtly loud sigh and began to walk towards the weight room.
"Zoro." A voice called out to him.
Oh look, they do speak! Zoro thought bitterly as he stopped and turned around. With a voice burning with a bitter sarcasm, he responded "Yes?"
There was a heavy silence in the air as the crew turned to all look at Sanjii, waiting for the next words.
"We saw you." He said, staring off into the distance.
"What?" Zoro grunted.
At that Sanjii walked a step away from the post he was leaning on and finally turned to face Zoro. His eyes locked Zoro's green ones. "We saw you."
"I don't understand what you're talking about." Zoro said calmly, but deep down his heart beat was spiking.
Sanjii took a small breath as if the words were painful to say. "When Luffy and I were out getting supplies, we saw you." He took a large swallow, trying to keep his voice from cracking. "With Doflamingo."
Instantly, every muscle in Zoro's body contracted and he felt frozen to the spot.
They saw me.
They were there the whole time.
Zoro couldn't even think of how to respond. He didn't want to deny it- he was through with all of the lying. He just stood there, waiting for Sanjii to continue.
But it wasn't Sanjii who spoke next, it was Luffy. It was quite, soft questioning voice that made Zoro's heart ache for a moment. "Why?"
Zoro gnawed on the inside of his lip. I could say he was angry for me killing Dalburn. I could say he was curious where I got the strength. I could say anything right now to make this issue go away. But Zoro couldn't bring himself to lie again.
"He wanted me to join his crew."
A shot of electricity seemed to zip through the crew and the air appeared to have been sucked out of the ship. The world felt frozen and sharp and empty and hollow and awful. Half of the crew looked to Zoro with a disappointment of disgust and disappointment and the other half couldn't even meet his eyes. But Zoro did not falter- He did not look down with shame and sadness but instead kept his head held high with pride.
"What did you say?" Usopp asked after what felt like the longest pause. He knew what he had heard but he couldn't process it. He was dreading the answer.
Every person held their breath as they waited for the answer. "Obviously, I said no." Zoro answered and a massive exhale could be heard across the deck. Or else I wouldn't be here.
"Why did he ask you that?" Sanjii stared at Zoro, not at all satisfied with Zoro's answer.
Zoro just shrugged in response.
"Really though," Sanjii continued, taking a few steps towards Zoro. "Why would one of the seven warlords of the sea ask you to join his crew when you already have one? Why would somebody who tried to kill us all suddenly offer you a job? Why would you even stand there talking to somebody who just tried to massacre your entire crew less than a week ago?!"
The questions stung Zoro and he realized exactly how bad it sounded. He met the man who tried to kill them all on a beach and had a nice little conversation with him instead of pulling out his swords and trying to kill him.
But why? Why did I stay and talk? Why did he ask me to join the crew?
A thousand answers ran through his head.
He admires my strength
He thinks you all are no good for me.
He can see how much you all are dragging me down.
He understands that I shouldn't be wasting my time with you all.
He doesn't hold me back.
"He thought I was being held back on this crew." Zoro said. He could have made up any excuse or at least softened the brutal message of his statement- but he didn't. It came out cold and harsh.
"Oh, oh, being held back. Right." Sanjii fake nodded after processing Zoro's response. He was too filled with rage and disgust to hesitate. "And let me ask you another question then Zoro… Are you?"
Every eye was now focused on Zoro. The word yes was burning on his lips. He could say it and it would all be over. If he just said yes, the truth would finally come out. But he couldn't bring himself to say that. So he continued to stand there in a brooding silence.
"Oh, alright then. So sorry to be holding you back Zoro!" Rage was filling Sanjii and the mood on the ship had turned dangerous. Sanjii was walking to a fierce mocking tone towards Zoro. The silence came off as worse than the actual word "Zoro, sorry we aren't good enough for you.
Zoros tongue grew dry and his throat shrunk. He couldn't find himself to speak.
"How dare I even stand in your presence-
-Gosh, I'm holding you back so much-
- maybe I should just go join another crew" Sanjii continued on, spouting out insults. He was hurt by Zoro's response but he had no other way to handle it than with his anger.
"Sanjii…" Luffy muttered, reaching up to grab onto the blonde boy's wrist to hold him back.
"Are you fucking kidding me? You SAW him Luffy. Talking to Doflamingo. Casually, just talking like it was no big deal. Zoro is treating going to another crew like it's no big fucking deal and you're asking ME TO STOP?"
Luffy tightened his grip on Sanjiis arm and looked up. His eyes weren't curved upward in a puppy and sad face. They were stricken with a dead seriousness. It was that look that Luffy gets when his friends are hurt, when the enemy has done something so disgracefully wrong, and it was a look that made him look as though he never knew how to laugh.
"Zoro, do you think we are holding you back?" Luffy asked with narrow eyes.
Yes. Zoro screamed internally. Yes I do. Yes I believe you hold me back. I could be so much more without these stupid adventures. I could be so much stronger without the distractions and wasting my energy on friendships. I could be better with focus and a focused captain. I could be better without you.
"Answer me Zoro." Luffy said.
The word felt stuck in Zoros throat. His voice cracked out a broken "Yes."
Even after saying it, there wasn't a massive weight lifted off of Zoro's chest. It still felt like something was digging down into his heart and now the word was out there. How he really felt was out there for the entire crew to hear.
However crushing the word felt, Luffy showed no signs of emotion. His face was vacant as he let out a small nod. Luffy suddenly had a flashback to a few nights before where he and Sanjii asked Zoro about the dream and nakama thing. Zoro had changed so much. Luffy just couldn't understand his first mate anymore.
"So every fight we've fought together, that's been holding you back?" Sanjii roared, he couldn't take it. Everything they've done together couldn't have been for nothing. Every memory they had made couldn't have just been holding Zoro back. He refused to believe that his best friend believed him to be a hindrance. Again, Sanjii felt the burning anger that he had felt when Zoro told him that he would choose his dream over him.
Zoro just gave him a blank stare back. He didn't have the energy to fight this fight. He had been having this fight with himself for the last few weeks and he didn't want to start it over again with Sanjii.
"What the hell is wrong with you lately!?" Sanjii shouted, wrestling his hand free from Luffys grasp. Luffy didn't even bother to try and catch it.
Zoro rubbed his hand over his forehead and eyes, just wishing the annoying noise that was Sanjii would go away.
"I'm so sick of this Zoro." Sanjii was nearly a foot away from Zoro now. "I'm sick of you being moody and brooding about and now you want to leave our crew? Where's the real Zoro? Our Zoro? The jackass who would never do anything that would hurt us. You may have been cocky and proud but you were loyal to use, you were one of us."
Zoro took a step forward so he was nearly touching Sanjii. "I said no to him. And you're making it feel like that was the wrong answer."
Sanjii was done with words.
Within an instant his foot shot through the air, nearly catching an unsuspecting Zoro's face. Zoros instincts reacted and he barely dodged the flying foot. Sanjiis hands dropped to the ground and propelled another rapid kick towards Zoro, this time connecting, sending a foot straight into Zoros gut. The air escaped Zoro's lungs and he was flung back several feet.
His boots skidded across the ground and his hands quickly griped his swords and pulled them out. Sanjii was the first to make another move, bolting with a low kick towards Zoro who leapt over it and dodged the next kick that Sanjii shot above him in the air. Zoro swung his left sword down, ready to plunge it into Sanjii but the chef rolled out of the way at the last second. Zoro didn't hesitate and removed the sword from where it had plowed into the deck. This time Zoro made the first assault. He began to swing his swords expertly, aiming for Sanjii as the chef was barely able to dodge the blows.
One strike nicked Sanjiis armed, making a massive gash down the side. Sanjiis reflexes instantly went to cover it and to check the damage. Zoro noticed and swung for his other side, connected another blow as the cook was forced back again. He now had matching gashes on his arms.
Zoro's eyes narrowed and he sunk down into a crouch and leapt towards Sanjii, sword fully extended. It plowed towards Sanjii, who was barely able to spin away from the most of the blow. The edge of the sword caught him on the rib, slicing him through. The blood gushed out from all three of the wounds as Sanjii hopped back, trying to steady himself.
Both men yielded for a moment, but neither took their eyes off each other. They always play fought, but this was the first time it was real. This was the first time they truly spilt each others blood and were ready to kill the other. Well, Sanjii didn't quite want to kill Zoro but Zoro knew he would feel little remorse for Sanjii. It was just like with Robin, there was no guilt. He could kill his 'friend' and not feel a thing. That was what he had become.
The fight felt so empty.
"That is enough." Luffy's voice shouted again.
"God damn it! I told you guys, I said no to Doflamingos offer! Doesn't that mean anything to you?" Zoro shouted back, his swords still raised high.
Nami had raced over to Sanjiis side and was aiding Chopper in dressing his wounds. Chopper was rapidly
"There shouldn't have even been an offer Zoro! You should have never given him a reason to think you wanted to leave the crew!" Nami shouted with red eyes. She couldn't even look at Zoro, there was a darkness about him that frightened her and made her tremble.
"I said no and that should be the only thing that matters!"
"Well it's not the only thing that matters!" Nami continued on. "You've changed Zoro. You didn't used to be so cold to us. And you know what? I don't like the new you."
"I'm sorry I don't quite meet your standards you little bitch." A shuddering gasp shook through the crew. "I have saved your life countless times when you were too worried about money or god forbid staining your precious clothes. And I've never once gotten a thank you or a good job. No, all I've ever gotten from you is a debt. You were never warm to me Nami, not even when I risked my life to help save you from the fisherman. Don't talk to me about warmth you cold hearted –
Sanjii would not stand for his women being insulted. He shook Chopper off of his arm and lunged for the swordsman. Zoro was so fired up on rage that his adrenaline was already racing and his instincts sharp. He saw Sanjii coming and easily dodged the blow, spinning around to drive his sword straight through Sanjiis leg.
The sword slipped right through his thigh, just like butter.
His scream rang through the icy air. Blood seeped around the sword wound and Zoro ripped his sword from Sanjiis flesh. Sanjii curled his fist and bit his tongue to hold back another scream as blood continued to pool around his leg.
Zoro just looked down at the wound, squirting and leaking at a sickening pace. He looked down at Sanjii, fighting back another scream with his head buried in his arms. He then looked over at the rest of the crew.
Nami was crying and curled up in a ball with her knees pressed tight to her chest. Usopp was on the other end of the deck, refusing to believe what he was seeing. And Chopper was looking away, as if the very scene was causing him physical pain.
And Zoro felt nothing. No regret. None of the crew's pain or sadness meant anything to him anymore. There was an empty anger that swarmed around him and his thoughts seemed to have become muted.
There was a small shuffling sound behind Zoro and reflexively Zoro swung, ready to plow his sword down.
It was Luffy.
Zoro tightened his arm muscles, halting the blow inches before impact with Luffys shoulder. But the younger boy didn't even flinch.
"That's. Enough." He said decisively. His eyes looked hollow and dark and angry. But not the normal anger when he takes down an enemy. No, this was anger at himself and at everything. It was a hopeless anger. "Chopper come treat Sanjiis wounds before he bleeds out."
The little fur ball was shaking and shook his head, refusing to. He couldn't bring himself to go close to Zoro.
"Go Chopper." This wasn't a suggestion, it was a captain's order.
Chopper crept over, keeping one eye on Sanjii and the other on Zoro. Zoro turned around and looked at Chopper. The doctor cringed at the dark void that had filled Zoro's eyes. Chopper kept a large distance from Zoro, as if a darkness was pushing him away from the swordsman.
"You raised your sword against the crew Zoro." Luffy's voice was trembling, but he was trying so hard to keep it still. "You need to leave."
It killed Luffy to say that.
But it hurt him worse to see his crew falling apart. He didn't want the constant fighting and bickering. He didn't want the awful mood that had sunk into the crew the last few weeks.
But he also didn't want Zoro to go- truly he didn't. Zoro had been there since the beginning and he wanted to help Zoro with whatever was bothering him but somewhere deep inside Luffy knew he couldn't. Zoro had stopped caring about the crew. And Luffy could see it.
Zoro chuckled slightly. "When we first met, I told you that I would leave your crew if you ever stood in the way of my goal. I guess that time has come."
With a sharp motion, Zoro sheathed his sword and walked towards the edge of the ship. His foot steps were heavy, deliberate stomps. Without a look back at the crew. Zoro softly said "Goodbye." He dove into the ocean below, bringing nothing with him but his precious swords.
Doflamingo was right. It was my time to move on from them.
Authors Note: Well, uh, that's it. Next chapter will get into the spore situation.