THANKS SO MUCH TO Scioneeris! Without your advice I wouldn't have been able to upload this.
I wanted to explain the gap between 'Observations and Suspicions' and the previous chapter, because in 'Observations and Suspicions' Zoro was so obviously set to die yet in the previous chapter Luffy told Brooke Zoro would live for him. So this is about how Luffy was right. Thanks for waiting! Thanks to xKoKorox, divz, rebecca Taylor, Ghost of the moonlight for reviewing. I hope to hear from you again! This is officially the last chapter of 'Breathtaking in So Many Ways'.
Roronora Zoro is going to die.
It isn't some strange fate or the devil's work. It's his own decision, his own choice that he'd make a thousand times and over if he has to. As far as Zoro is concerned, if there must be an ending that ends with bloodshed, it will be his, not Luffy's.
Luffy will become the Pirate King, he will utter the claim for the whole world to hear and all of Grand Line to see, and the rest of the world will hail. It is the way things must go, like how the sun must shine and the rain must stop and so Zoro doesn't resent how things turned out. He has no last words(except the wordless apology to his captain) no regrets(except the fact that when Luffy declares himself king there will be pain and guilt laced in the words that will go unknown by anybody and everybody for the one whose supposed to notice will be the one to put it there), no second thoughts(though Zoro knows he is doing the single thing Luffy could never forgive him for).
The lean swordsman takes a deep breath and looks at Bartholomew Kuma, indicating that this is the location he chooses, the place where he is sure his screams won't haunt his friends' dreams.
Kuma places the embodiment of Monkey D. Luffy's pain before the swordsman. Never has Kuma seen such certainty and resolve in a man who has chosen death, and he tells the swordsman, giving him the closest thing to comfort he can offer.
"You couldn't have protected him forever."
(But you're protecting him now and even once is admirable, and something only a handful of men would choose, so this once is enough)
Zoro looks at his enemy with that serious and careful gaze he has, before turning to the direction his friends and captain are.
Forever. Zoro tastes the word with unfamiliar unfamiliarity in his mouth. Forever is how long the world will remember his captain. Forever is how long Luffy's name will be uttered with awe, Luffy's name and Luffy's name alone because Zoro will die now and he will never become the world's greatest swordsman nor the Pirate King's first mate.
And that single word is searing pain, sharpening his exhausted mind to absolute clearness and suddenly there is bright white light and Zoro can see.
He is a broken shadow, standing over his own corpse. He watches Sanji(the idiot) find him and the others follows the sound of his yells with their weapons drawn and senses alert but they find that there is no danger, only the remains of what had been. And Sanji catches Nami before she falls and though the cook is shaking just as much Zoro knows that he'll hold himself together for everybody. Everybody including Usopp who has begun to throw up the moment he set his eyes on the lifeless limbs and Franky who is for once, silent, shock and disbelief having taken his words away. Robin looks at the body and there is ancient grief and simmering fury, but she blinks and it is gone. Instead Robin looks at Luffy who is looking at Chopper. Asking, Pleading, Begging. And Chopper chokes out-
-and that is when Luffy drops to his knees, before his dead first mate. And Zoro sees Luffy's face clearly, and there is disbelief, and rage and sorrow and grief, but there is more. The others will never notice it, and Luffy himself won't understand but it is there and Zoro knows.
Because Zoro is dead, gone.
Undeniable, sheer terror.
Because now he is alone.
"No," Zoro snarls, but he is not agreeing with Bartholomew. The swordsman's steel eyes harden again with resolve, but of a different kind.
He cannot die. He simply, cannot die.
He will take Luffy's pain and according to Kuma, that will be enough to kill him. But it won't be, because dying would mean breaking a promise far older than any he'd made with Kuma.
So Roronora Zoro straightens, standing tall and proud with a well accustomed dignity some men never achieve during their whole lifetime. There is no hope in his eyes, because hope is wishful thinking for the impossible, about wanting something you secretly know would never happen. No, there is something stronger than hope in the pirate hunter's eyes, something that burns brighter in his soul, something that has the certainty hope lacks.
Kuma looks at the swordsman and instinctively feels this, that Roronora Zoro is no longer a man set to die-but maybe, just maybe, it is just his own wishful thinking. Kuma wants to be sure. He has to be sure(He has no time). So he warns, challenges, and taunts the pirate.
"You can't protect him forever."
Monkey D. Luffy's first mate doesn't disappoint. The pirate answers with a grin, not just to Kuma but to the government he represents and it is a taunt, a challenge and a spine chilling warning-
"Watch me try."
-that once is never enough.