Disclaimer: I don't own One Piece.
Set in the New World some time after Fishman Island (though I'm using that as a time reference only, nothing about Fishman Island is directly tied in here.)
Warning: possibly graphic descriptions of wounds/fighting/enemies. I don't think there is anything that out there but I don't want to surprise people who don't like that sort of thing.
The Isle of Nightmares
Zoro watched as Nami squeezed her eyes shut as if trying to block out the nightmares. Her back was pushed up hard against the wall, and her front was lodged firmly against Zoro's front. Behind him, the brick wall dug into his back and prevented him from trying to move. The whole while his heart pounded against his ribcage. The scent of steel and blood in the alleyway was overpowering and it only added to their distress.
A shadow passed by the small crevice they were hiding in and Nami bit her lip trying not to scream. Their enemy was terrifying. His cruel powers seemed to be more than Nami could bear. She had been the one to pull them in between the two buildings to hide. In the cramped space, there was barely enough space for them both to stand here. If the Scythe man discovered them now, he'd rush in for the kill before they could even move.
The shadow passed by again and Nami's eyes grew wide with fright. She bit down on her lip harder causing blood to drip down her chin. Zoro wondered if she even noticed the pain in her terror. Despite her best efforts, a whimper escaped her lips.
Zoro had never been more frightened in his entire life.
Nami whimpered again and Zoro tried to shush her. When her eyes grew even wider in alarm he whispered, "Nami don't!" But he could tell she would lose it and scream. If his hands weren't pinned behind her he could cover her mouth to stifle the sound, but at the moment his hands were useless. So Zoro-ever practical-did the only thing he could think of doing. When Nami's mouth opened to scream, Zoro leaned forward and caught her lips with his own. Her fists were already holding tightly onto the front of his shirt from when she pulled them into this tight space and they clenched even tighter in her shock- but it was lucky for them both that she didn't scream.
Tears were rolling down her cheeks now, but she didn't turn away from him-his mouth were the only thing preventing the scream that could seal their fate. The kiss tasted like salt and blood- it was anything but gentle. And yet after a few moments, Nami's ragged breathing began to slow and her fists began to loosen. Her tongue chanced forward found Zoro's. The young swordsman to open his eye with wonder. Their eyes met for the briefest of moments. Zoro realized that even though he started this kiss as a simple way to shut Nami up, it had a comforting effect on her as well. Zoro shifted slightly to give him better access to her mouth and closed his eye when his tongue began to stroke hers.
Out on the street, the sound of their pursuer drew further and further away.
Despite the blood and despite the tears, Zoro was a bit surprised to find he liked the kiss. When Nami could relax her hands enough so they were no longer in fists, she slid them up his chest and around the back of his neck pulling him closer. It felt good. There was something desperate the kiss and when she pulled him to her, he pressed forward with his whole body. One of Nami's legs slid around his own in response beckoning him even closer. Instincts and wants built up inside of Zoro. He wanted to move his hands over her body. He wanted both her legs wrapped around his waist. He wanted to taste the skin on her neck. But he didn't dare leave her mouth for fear she'd still scream and get them discovered.
It wasn't until Nami's breathing had completely evened out and her chest was slowly rising and falling that Zoro felt secure enough to break their kiss. There was barely an inch of space for him to move his head back, but he managed to pull away and look down at her. Her eyes were half shut with a far-away look to them and her slightly parted lips were swollen from the force of their kiss. She was covered in blood, sweat and tears, but Zoro had never seen anything so lovely. Slowly, her eyes opened all the way and she began to look at him with the same awed expression that he'd just used on her. Thinking about it now, he realized that the blood on her lip was her own, but the blood soaking through her clothing had been his.
When she spoke her voice was soft yet alarmed, "Zoro, you're hurt."
He put on his most convincing look and whispered, "Just a scratch."
Their minds were no longer clouded by the fear they had felt moments earlier and it was Nami who realized that their enemy had left. "He's gone. But he was following us so closely! I was so certain he was going to find us. He was right there! How did we manage to evade him?"
Zoro swallowed, the pain in his abdomen growing stronger now that the adrenaline was wearing off. "I have an idea about that." Nami looked at him with wide curious eyes and he wondered if he'd ever look at those eyes the same way. "I think it's all part of his ability. He can feel our fear. Even though we hid from his sight, he was able to track us. I noticed that the more frightened you were, the closer he got. Then... when you started to... relax... he went away."
Even in the dark, Zoro could see her blushing as she looked down in thought. "I guess that makes sense. So the more afraid we are, the easier it is for him to find us."
When she looked back up at him with such trust in her eyes, he felt his heart jump. Somehow his improvisation earlier had changed things between them. "Right. So what do we do now?" she asked.
Zoro automatically went into the 'first-mate' mode he used when a crewmate was depending on him. "We meet back at the Sunny like the Captain said. If we can keep our minds focused ahead on the ship and not behind us on that monster, we should be safe. Can you do that Nami?" He met her eyes and was glad to see them sparkling with determination.
"Right. I can do that." She nodded and visibly steeled herself in preparation. "After all, I'm with you and you're one of the strongest on the crew." It wasn't meant to sound sappy and had the last few minutes been different, it would have just come across as another smart remark from his catty crewmate; however, given their recent past the simple statement grew heavy with meaning and both pirates adverted their eyes with the need to compose themselves.
When his heartbeat had steadied out Zoro spoke, "Alright. I need to get my hand out from behind you so if you just lean away from the wall a bit..."
"...like this?" Suddenly they were both blushing as Nami's body came in contact with Zoro's again and his hands automatically moved from the wall to her back. They held the position for just a second longer than was necessary. Then Zoro pulled his hands away quickly and straightened himself up as best he could in the cramped space. He needed to flex his fingers a few times to get the blood flowing back to his hands/
With a nod, Zoro said with an air of finality, "I'll go out first." After a brief struggle he and Nami managed to untangle themselves so he could squeeze out of the tight space. There wasn't even enough room between the two buildings for him to stand facing the street- his shoulders scraped along the walls as he tried to exit. How had they managed to get into that small space together?
Out on the street, Zoro declared the way was clear and Nami followed him out of the alley. They headed back to the ship as quickly as possible. After running past five blocks of empty buildings toward the harbor Zoro heard Nami's breath hitch. Glancing out the corner of his good eye, he could tell that the fear was creeping back up on Nami.
"Don't give into it! Keep going straight ahead!" he commanded with all the authority he could muster.
He heard Nami whimper, but she kept running. Though, it soon became apparent that she was slowing down and Zoro realized that paralysis was another effect of the fear. Spinning around Zoro grabbed Nami's wrist with his right hand while his left hand reached behind her head forcing her to look into his eyes. When he spoke he could have slapped himself for how silly it sounded, but it was the only thing he could think of under the circumstances.
"No fear! You're with me. Got it?"
The fear left Nami's eyes as she began to focus on Zoro. She didn't speak but instead gave a small nod, which he knew meant she was ready to move. Turning back toward the ship, Zoro started moving again with Nami beside him. It wasn't until after they'd gone another two blocks did he notice he was still holding onto her wrist. He was about to let her go until her realized that the fear hadn't crept back up on her. Maybe it was best if he kept holding onto her for now. After all, he'd be damned if he let his nakama fall behind.
Running together, they reached the ship soon enough. Zoro pulled Nami in front of him and nearly threw her on board before turning around to make certain they weren't followed all the way to the Sunny. He wasn't exactly being rough, rather he was sending her to the safety of the crew. Hopefully, she understood that when their Captain caught her easily.
Only after he was certain their pursuer hadn't followed them, Zoro climbed on board himself. Looking around he counted the crew members on board. It seemed he and Nami were the only ones to run into trouble. Good.
His thoughts were interrupted by the high-pitched voice of Chopper crying out, "Ah! Nami and Zoro are both bleeding heavily! Someone get a doctor! DOCTOR!"
Franky, Usopp, Luffy and Sanji all shouted at him. "Idiot! That's you!"
"Oh yes!" the reindeer cried grabbing his medical bag, running over to Nami and reaching for her stomach, "does it hurt very bad? A wound that bleeds that much will need stitches."
Nami, still seeming a bit shaken up, shook her head. "No. No, it's not my blood. Help Zoro!"
At that moment Zoro was thinking that he'd gotten his nakama safely back to the ship and how good it was that the whole crew was together. He heaved a sigh of relief as he fell unconscious onto the deck of the ship.
Zoro awoke several hours later to find himself lying on the bench in the dining hall. His abdomen had been treated, stitched up and bandaged. From the table he heard Robin call out softly "Mr. Swordsman is up!" and suddenly his nakama were running to flank him with concerned looks on their faces.
"You're alright, aren't you Zoro?" asked Luffy with his ever-present goofy grin.
"Of course he's alright, Dummy!" answered Usopp, "Zoro can't be taken down that easily. I remember the time..."
Sanji's foot landed on the back of Usopp's head and stopped him from continuing his story. "Hey you shitty Marimo. You slept too long and your food's gone cold. Better eat it all, I won't forgive wastefulness."
A few notes of a violin played. "Ah. The young swordsman is up. Perhaps we should have a celebratory tune..."
"Shut up!" Franky was wailing and hiding his tear-streaked face behind his massive hands. "I didn't think he was going to die so young! I'm not crying!"
"It's all thanks to Choppers medicine that he's doing better so quickly," Luffy declared proudly.
"Ah! Shut up Assholes! That sort of thing won't make me feel good!" Chopper said squirming around with his hooves pressed to his cheeks and his tail twitching left to right.
Zoro smirked as he pulled the plate of food toward him and looked around the room at the crew. What a rag-tag group this was. And yet, there was nothing better than sitting in this dining hall surrounded by these stupid jerks. Of everyone in the room only Nami remained silent- she even looked kind of sad.
"What happened after we came back to the ship?" Zoro asked with the distinct feeling he was missing something.
"Your wound was infected by the time you got back her, Mr. Swordsman," Robin informed. "You spiked quite a high fever, very quickly. Even Doctor Chopper admitted that if he didn't get such wonderful new medicines from the Torino Kingdom, you might not have made it."
At that Nami said nothing but stood silently and walked out of the room. If he was confused by her behavior before, Zoro had no idea what to make of her actions now. No one said anything as she left or made a move to stop her from going. Sanji took a long drag of his cigarette and came over and crouched down beside Zoro, blowing smoke out into the air. After a moment he spoke in a low serious tone.
"While you were unconscious, Nami-san told us what you both faced on that island. Not one of us thought we'd run into a devil fruit user here, let alone the one who ate the akumu akuma no mi. Nami told us about the Nightmare Man's frightening abilities. She explained how he was able to track fear." The blond took another drag before continuing. "Nami-san told us that you remained calm the whole time, while she was gripped with terror. She insisted it was her fear that brought the Nightmare Man to you since you weren't afraid at all. She told us that to shake him off from your trail all you have to do is not be afraid, but she couldn't do it. Even since coming to the ship, she's insisted we all stay together since we are less likely to become afraid that way."
After another drag, Sanji went on in a more accusing tone, "Do you get it yet you shitty bastard? You almost died and Nami-san blames herself for what happened."
Zoro almost choked on the mouthful he was swallowing. Why would that stupid girl blame herself? They happened to come across that guy by chance and it wasn't like Zoro was inclined to run away from a fight. He thought about what Sanji had said about Nami blaming her fear.
When Zoro tuned back into the conversation, he heard Luffy asking, "Alright. So now that we know what the Nightmare Man does, how do we take him down?"
Pushing himself up from the ground, Zoro moved toward the exit.
"Hey Zoro," Luffy asked sounding confused, "where are you going?"
With a grunt he responded, "Something I have to do."
Most of the crew looked confused or indifferent, though Robin wore an amused smirk and Sanji narrowed his eyes. Chopper called after him, "Don't run off to fight Zoro! You'll re-open your wounds!"
Raising a hand to acknowledge the request, Zoro responded. "Don't worry I won't go looking for a fight until we decided how to take that bastard out." The door swung closed behind him effectively shutting out the sounds of his crewmates conversation.
He found Nami on the deck sitting on the swing. Her head resting against one of the ropes and there was a sad quality about her. Zoro said nothing, but he crossed the lawn and sat down against the trunk of the tree and began to polish the blade of his katana. If Nami noticed him come over, she didn't show it.
It was quite a while before Nami spoke and Zoro was certain she was hoping he'd leave before she had to. Her voice sounded meek and unlike her when she said, "I'm sorry."
With a quirked eyebrow, Zoro looked at her. "What'd you do? Unless your apologizing for your outrageous interest rates or being stingy with your mikans, I don't want to hear it."
Nami shifted and sat up so she could actually see Zoro now. "Zoro, you almost died! And it was all my fault!"
And then Zoro laughed. Nami's face registered a wealth of emotions- shock, anger, confusion, out rage- before she indignantly stood up from the swing, fists by her side, and stamped her foot like a petulant child. "It's not funny! I couldn't do anything. You were cool-headed and...challenging! All I could do was panic! That guy kept coming after us and it was all because of me! Because I was afraid! And I couldn't do anything! I spent two years training and I'm still so far behind." Her voice trailed off softly and she collapsed onto the grass next to Zoro.
Now satisfied that his katana was in top shape, he sheathed it and put it back with the others. When he spoke his tone was serious, despite his laughter previously. "It wasn't the first time I almost died and it won't be the last. But until I become the worlds' strongest swordsman, there is no sword or illness that will strike me down."
Nami looked up through her hair at him and whispered, "Zoro..."
Ignoring her interruption, he continued. "That enemy was truly terrifying. No matter what happens I am going to strike him down." He noticed Nami's hands clenching in the grass. "In that nightmare, I saw some truly frightening things-things that struck me to the core. I won't burden you with their details, but I will tell you this: you weren't the only one who was afraid tonight, Nami."
She was transfixed now, looking at nothing but him. The intensity of her gaze made him shift. A day or two ago, he might not have spoken so much about the incident or cared as much about what she thought. But the events of that day had given him a new perspective. "I've never been afraid for my own life; a true swordsman puts his life on the line every time he draws his sword. But I looked into a nightmare today and I knew fear. And I will cut that man down before I let that nightmare become a reality."
There was shock written all over her face. She had evidently thought him fearless, and hearing Zoro admit to being afraid was something no one ever expected to hear. Zoro stood to leave feeling that his job of lessening her burden finished, but Nami reached out and grabbed onto the leg of his pants to keep him from going. "How... how were you so calm then?"
Those trusting eyes were looking up at him again and making his pulse quicken. "It was because of that fear that I had to remain calm. In that nightmare I lost something truly important to me-I never want to feel like that again."
With that Zoro walked off to rejoin the crew and discuss how to best beat the monster on the island.
The previous day:
The Straw Hat pirates were scattered about the Thousand Sunny each doing their own thing. Brook was working out the next few bars of his neww offensive song; Franky was tuning the gears on the Soldier Dock System; Robin was reading some historical text; Chopper and Usopp were fishing over the side of the deck; Sanji was cleaning up the kitchen from breakfast and getting ready to prepare lunch; Nami was tending to her mikans as the ship was right on course; Zoro sat under a tree taking a nap; and Luffy was perched on his special seat atop Sunny's head.
Suddenly a loud voice called out "ISLAND!" and everyone was on their feet rushing to their Captain's side to see their new coming adventure. It didn't take long to pull into the small harbor. Several rust covered buildings lined the cost. Many were missing windows and needing obvious repairs. The cobble stone streets were torn up in places and most of the shop signs could no longer be read
From the looks of it, the island appeared to be deserted and Nami said as much. "The buildings all look like their falling apart. And there are no people anywhere." There was disappointment in her voice. Nami liked finding splendid towns not abandoned piles of rubble.
Luffy's face fell, "Oh. That means no meat shop."
"How boring!" said Usopp without a trace of his usual I-can't-enter-this-island disease.
" Maybe everyone contracted a mysterious illness and died," suggested Robin.
"Ow! Don't say such depressing things, Robin!" shouted Franky.
"Still," Nami mused, "It does appear that whoever did live here left quite suddenly." Her eyes went a little strange, "I bet they left tons of stuff behind!"
"Hey! Nami's got 'that look' again!" Chopper whispered to Usopp.
"Woo hoo!" shouted Luffy. "They left their meat behind!"
Sanji's eyebrow twitched, "That's not what she means, Dumbass!"
A smile crossed Robin's lips, "I bet a place like this has an interesting history."
"Y-you don't think there's any ghost left on a place like this?" asked Usopp suddenly trembling a bit.
"G-Ghost?" Chopper and Brook shouted at the same time with faces of shock.
"Probably not. Unless the people who lived her died in some horrible way," answered Robin.
"Oh, I think I've got a case of the 'I-can't-enter-this-island-or-I'll-die' disease," Usopp informed the group as he sank back from the bow.
"Alright! I've decided!" Luffy shouted, "We'll enter this island!"
Usopp nearly fainted dead away causing Chopper to rush to his side calling for a doctor.
Luffy just laughed. "Okay everyone. Let's split up and search the island. We'll meet back here at sundown! If you find any meat, treasure or interesting things bring them back alright?"
"Only two of those things were necessary!" shouted Sanji.
"I want to go check out that large building in the distance," Nami declared. "A building that large must have been the home of the king or magistrate. That's where the treasure will be for sure. I'll need someone strong to come with me to carry it back... Hmm... Zoro! Will you come with me?" But Zoro had slept through all the excitement. "You lazy ass!" Nami yelled smacking Zoro over the head. "Get up and carry my treasure- I mean come with me on the island."
Zoro rubbed at the large bump forming on his head. "Why should I?"
Pulling a small note pad and pen out of her pocket Nami smirked, "Should we just total all your debts to me now then? Let's see that will be..."
"Evil woman..." Zoro grumbled fastening his katanas to his side and pushing past a grinning Nami.
"I want to go to the center of the town and find out what I can about this place." Robin said aloud.
A little put out about missing the chance to accompany Nami, Sanji volunteered right away. "Allow me to come with you Robin-chwan!"
"I'd like to come too," added Chopper, "There may be some interesting books there."
"I don't have much use for abandoned towns," Franky said looking around, "but I wonder if I can find some scrap metal for the new 'secret weapon' I'm working on?"
"Secret weapon?" Usopp perked up. "What sort of weapon exactly?"
"Ah." Brook began mildly, "Though I am disappointed that there are no fine maidens or panties on this island, allow me to accompany you on your journey Captain-san!"
"Right!" said Luffy. "We're going off to find some MEAT!"
And so the Straw Hats went their separate ways off to explore the mysterious island.
"Why is it that we have to go to the furthest point from the shore again?" Zoro didn't actually mind accompanying Nami since she usually put up some good banter, but he wasn't about to let her think that.
"We're looking for treasure, Idiot! And we haven't even gone that far yet. Stop being lazy!" Her orange hair cascaded down her back as she walked, bouncing more with her now irritated gait.
Zoro stopped himself from chuckling. "I don't care about treasure. All I care about is cutting down someone strong."
"Jeez," griped Nami, "Do you ever think of anything besides your swords?"
Raising an eyebrow he countered, "Do you ever think of anything besides money?"
Nami stuck her tongue out at Zoro and this time he did chuckle. They walked on in silence for a while more. After some time Nami spoke, "I guess it is a little further than it looked. And these shoes aren't quite broken in yet... You'll carry me on your back right Zoro?"
"Who's being lazy now?" he shouted, but in the end he lifted Nami onto his back easily. That was the way it always was between them. They bickered constantly, but Zoro felt comfortable enough being around her that it was mostly for fun. When it came down to a serious matter, she always listened to him- or sometimes he listened to her- and that was what counted. Things with Nami were never boring or repetitive; maybe that's why Zoro never minded when he got teamed up with her.
They had been walking nearly an hour total and were nearing their destination. Nami's head was resting against his shoulder blade and her hair fell onto his back creating a slight tickling sensation. It wasn't quite strong enough to be annoying, just enough so he knew it was happening. They had been traveling in silence for a while so he said, "I won't be able to carry you and the treasure back, you know."
Though he couldn't see it, he knew she was pouting, "And I thought you were strong, Zoro."
At that, Zoro bounced none too gently causing Nami's weight to shift. She wasn't prepared for it and almost fell so she grabbed onto him tightly shouting, "Hey!" As her hair swung around with her, Zoro caught the scent of mikans in the air.
"We're here," Zoro said simply, nearly dropping Nami in the process.
Nami's eyes had glazed over once more when she eyed the building. Excitedly, she pronounced, "Let's find that treasure!"
Smirking, Zoro followed her inside the mansion. The walls once must have been a bluish color, but now more closely resembled a dark grey. Wallpaper was peeling off in several places and the beige carpets were covered in black stains. There was so much dust in the mansion the very air stung Zoro's eye. The whole place felt stifling.
It took quite a deal of time to go through the many rooms in the mansion, and most of the place was a dump. By the time they had reached the fourth-and final- floor, Zoro seriously doubted there was any treasure at all. But Nami, once convinced, couldn't be deterred from her precious treasure so Zoro pressed on reluctantly.
"Ugh, it smells up here." Nami complained.
"Well it was your idea to come here!" Zoro spat back, though he did wonder at the strange heaviness in the air. His hand instinctively went for his katana just in case. Luckily, Nami was to absorbed in her treasure hunt to notice such a suspicious gesture.
It was when they entered the third room on that floor that everything began to change.
A dark mist rose from the floor. "Nami," Zoro called out, "You aren't doing anything strange with clouds or weather are you?"
From across the room Nami answered, "No. Why?" before noticing the mist herself. "Aah! What is that?"
The mist started rising faster and it was too dark to see through. "Nami! Get behind me!" Zoro shouted rushing in her direction, but try as he might he couldn't find her in the mist. "Oi! Nami? Nami!"
But Nami didn't answer. What the hell? They hadn't been more than a few feet apart. Why couldn't he hear her? Why couldn't he reach her? Damn it!
"Neehihihihihihi" a voice cackled throughout the room and Zoro's eyes went wide. So this place wasn't abandoned after all. "Neehihihihihihi! A couple of mice came to play! What a lucky day! I've been so bored since the villagers all went mad and killed themselves. Neehihihihihihi!"
Zoro cast his eye about the room looking for the source of the voice, but it was impossible to see anything through the thick, smoky mist. The insane laughter continued and it seemed to bounce off every wall. Zoro tried blowing the smoke away with his swords, but as soon as it moved away more smoke replaced it. Shit!
"Neehihihihihihi! You won't escape like that! I ate the akumu akumu no mi. I'm a Nightmare Man, and you are in hell!" Suddenly the mist began to part in front of Zoro and he could see a large figure in a dark robe holding a scythe. Try as he might, Zoro couldn't quite get the figure to come into focus. Zoro charged at the figure with all three swords, but it simply disappeared and reappeared behind him. An illusion?
With his sword gripped in his teeth, he demanded "Where is Nami?"
"Neehihihihihihi! That little mouse is playing her own game right now. And it's time to start yours. What is it you fear swordsman? What thought makes your blood run cold and your insides drop?"
"Heh." Zoro laughed. "If you're looking to get a rise out of me you wont. I have already chosen the path I walk and put my life on the line for that dream. There is nothing else left for me to fear."
"Neehihihihihihi! How I do love it when they think their so strong! They come to me saying, 'I'm a man. I have no fear. You won't break me!' and they all break! They all show me their secret fears. Fears buried so deep they didn't even know were there. They show me those dark dreams and being the benevolent man I am, I make those dreams real for them! Neehihihihihihi!"
Zoro's eyes widened and his grip tightened on his swords. Illusions were pointless to fight, so he needed to find the real man behind this. First, he needed to slash away the smoke. Zoro bit down and used Santoryu: "Tatsu Maki!" The smoke cleared and a large demon stood in his path. It was grotesquely large with a worm-like body and a boar-like snout. Several arms and legs of various species- man and animal alike- were attached to its side.
With a cry of "Karasuma Gari!" the demon was cut into several pieces. "You'll have to do better than that Mr. Nightmare Man!" Zoro called with an arrogant tone to his voice.
"Oh I love it when they get fired up! Neehihihihihihi! Then perhaps, this is your nightmare instead."
The floor around Zoro began to ripple and move and suddenly hands were reaching up from the floor- disgusting, rotten hands missing bits of flesh and muscle. The hands were followed by rotting blood soaked bodies that looked previously starved. With a bored sigh, Zoro rolled his eyes. "Zombie again. How original."
He began slashing left and right cutting bodies on either side of him. Arms and legs flew off and kept moving, bodies that were cut in twain still tried to attack. Despite Zoro's first thoughts the zombies were a lot more difficult than he anticipated. Soon he was sweating with the effort of keeping them away. There were so many. "I don't have time for you!" he yelled. "Go back to HELL! Kokujo O Tatsumaki!"
A dragon-lead cyclone burst through the room and tore the zombies apart sweeping them away and the taking smoke from the room with them. Zoro caught his breath as he looked around the room. It was empty! Neither Nami nor the Scythe man were there. Shit!
Zoro ran from the room in search of Nami, but all he encountered were more monsters. Dinosaurs, vampyres, harpies, sludge creatures, slimes, the horrors never ceased. One after another the creatures came at him and one after another they fell. Still, all the fighting was exhausting and by the time he had reached the second floor, Zoro still hadn't found Nami. He defeated a tribe of giant silverback gorillas and shouted, "I told you! This crap aint gonna work on me!"
It had to be getting late now and they were supposed to be back with the crew by sundown. And even if these monsters couldn't phase him, how would Nami fare? Could she stand up to such demons as easily? Would fear overcome her and drive her insane? Why hadn't he found her yet? There was a sinking feeling inside of him, but Zoro chose to ignore it and press forward.
"Neehihihihihihi! Are my dream pets not challenging enough for you, Swordsman? Does a real man like you need something more difficult? Then try this!"
The next door he opened sucked him inside a room completely filled with water. There were sharks circling him hungrily. Shit! His swords didn't have nearly as much power under water and he couldn't use his third sword without getting water in his mouth. There wasn't enough time for this! Zoro fired off his attacks one after another "Nigiri, Maguma, Nanajuni Pound Ho, Sai Kuru!" All the while Zoro fought to swim toward the door. With a great deal of strength he made it to the exit and pulled himself out of the room.
He collapsed on the floor half drowned and bearing some nasty wounds from where the sharks had gotten too close. At least he had made it to the stairs. After coughing up water, Zoro pulled himself up on the banister of the stairs and pushed on. How long had he been at this? Two? Three hours? Would he ever find Nami?
Soon he was at the bottom of the stairs and was that... yes! There was Nami crouched on the floor in front of the entrance hall. Good. He started to move forward. And then Zoro realized by the look on her face that she had met the same fate as him: fighting off various nightmares. Her eyes were wide and she was shaking looking at something down a hallway hidden from Zoro's view. He could hear foot steps and watched as Nami backed herself against the wall. The slow foot falls from the hallway and suddenly the scythe man was in front of Nami. "Neehihihihihihi! You tried your best girl, but they all show me their fears in the end. And what a delicious fear yours was!" The Scythe Man licked his lips and raised his scythe.
Zoro was running as fast as he could, but the hall seemed to go on forever. Before Zoro could get there the scythe came down and tore Nami from her neck to her pelvis. Blood shot out from the wound and Nami fell as the Scythe Man disappeared.
"Nami!" Zoro shouted sprinting to her while the crazy Scythe man laughed in the background.
When he finally got to her Zoro collapsed on the floor over her body. "Nami," he whispered pushing her hair back from her blank face. Blood pooled around her causing her hair to stick to her back.
"Nami." He said it a little louder as he checked the unwounded side of her neck for a pulse. "Nami!" He was shouting now. There was no pulse. How could this have happened. Hours ago she was so vibrant and so full of bossy, annoying life! Damn it! How could he let this happen? Why couldn't he protect her? Why? Why? Why?
"Neehihihihihihi!" The laugh came from right behind him now and Zoro turned ready to cut down the monster that had killed Nami. But before he could fully spin around, he was caught through the belly with the scythe.
"Gyah!" Blood poured from his wound as well as flying out of his mouth when he coughed. His katanas made a loud clang as they fell to the floor. Zoro looked up into the face of the Nightmare Man and was surprised to find him in clear focus now. There was a sickly tinge to the man's pale skin. The hair on his head had gone stock white long ago and looked as if it hadn't been cut in years. His glowing yellow eyes and matching pointed yellow teeth grinned up at Zoro with a mixture of hatred and amusement. "They all show me their fears in the end."
Zoro's heart was beating so fast it hurt and he was still on the end of the scythe. His eyes snapped down to the floor where Nami's body had lain a moment before. But there was nothing. It was a trick! An illusion! Nami wasn't dead! It had all been a nightmare... his nightmare. And suddenly he realized that all the monsters he saw before belonged to other people's nightmares- people the night mare man had already possessed.
"Even the strongest men fear something." The Nightmare Man said, "And I always find it out! Neehihihihihihi! I will do the same thing to you that I did to the villagers here. Now that I know your fear, I will make it your reality. Can you live with yourself after she dies? Will you see her body everywhere you turn? Will the guilt of not being able to save her eat at you until there is nothing left? In the end, will you take your own life like they did? Such a fun game! Neehihihihihihi!"
"Z-zoro?" Nami's voice came from down the hall. From the sound of her voice she was trembling. "Are you here Zoro? Help me! Please!"
"Ah!" The crazy Scythe man laughed, "Halftime is over. The second half begins now."
Nami stumbled into the hallway and gasped when she saw Zoro on the end of the man's scythe. The Nightmare Man wretched the scythe from Zoro's gut, causing the young swords man to collapse on the floor. But Zoro didn't have time for collapsing, he grabbed all three swords and shouted "Enbima Yonezu Oni Giri!" at the same time he heard Nami screamed.
The Scythe Man fell to the floor inches in front of Nami. He was wounded but he was still breathing. Zoro looked up from his enemy to glance at Nami. Her clothing was torn in several places and she was dirty and covered in scratches, but she was alive! If the pain in his gut was any less, he would have smiled. He had been so worried about her as he ran through the mansion fighting nightmare after nightmare, but she was strong enough to hold her own. Thank goodness. Zoro rested on his katana and looked at his enemy as he thought about what to do next.
Fight or flight. That primal instinct seizes a man at the beginning of every fight. Zoro had never once chose flight. Instead he put his life on the line time and time again. If he wasn't willing to risk his life, he wasn't worthy enough to carry his swords. But would he risk Nami's life as well? The Nightmare Man had made it apparent that he would target Nami. Could Zoro take that chance? All this time they had been fighting the Nightmare Man and Zoro had only gotten in one hit. What if he separated them again? If he lost sight of Nami and she got pulled into a nightmare, it was all over. The man on the ground was beginning to stir. The decision had to happen now.
"Zoro?" he looked up to see Nami and the terror apparent on her face. Whatever nightmares she had seen had been just as horrific as the ones he'd fought. And she was looking at him for her next move. She had so much faith in him, that instead of running she would wait for him to tell her what to do. It was there in her eyes, she knew he would protect her in whatever way he could
And to protect her, he needed to get her as far away from the Nightmare Man as possible.
His voice was gruff and commanding. "Nami, run!" She didn't argue or object. She followed his command without questions. It was there on her face. 'Zoro knows what's best for us now. Zoro will protect me.'
There was an order forming in his head. Protect Nami. Get Nami back to the ship. Then tear the bastard apart once she is safe. He could at least do that for her.
They ran as fast as they could. The sun had already completed its descent in the sky and nighttime was moving in. Without needing to be told, they knew the Nightmare Man would be stronger at night. As they ran they could hear the manic laugh rise from the mansion. "Neehihihihihihi!"
Nami turned to look back once and gasped before going pale all over.
"Turn around and run!" Zoro snapped, grabbing her upper arm and forcing her to turn. But in that brief moment where he was half turned, he saw what she had. The Nightmare Man had grown in size and stature as if he was soaking up the nighttime! He was easily now as tall as the mansion and would catch up to them in no time at all!
"Where are you little mice, Neehihihihihihi! It's time to play!"
Still, they kept running. Zoro's wound was throbbing and it got the best of him once causing him to double over slightly. It was only then that Nami noticed the wound.
"Zoro! You're wound!" she gasped concern evident in her voice.
"Never mind!" Zoro grunted through his teeth. "Just keep running!"
And then he almost caught up to them. Zoro could feel the man getting closer and saw a shadow rise above Nami's head. The scythe was raised high ready to strike Nami down!
With a burst of energy, Zoro jumped behind Nami shielding her. The scythe grazed Zoro's back and he could feel his skin tearing beneath it. He turned around quickly and pulled Nami's hands onto his haramaki and growled, "Get down behind me! And whatever you do, don't let go!"
"Hyakuhachi Pound Ho!" Three slices shot through the air and crashed into the enlarged body of the Nightmare Man. The attack sliced him and knocked him backward. It bought them some more time.
Zoro spun around grabbing Nami's wrist and pulling her after him. "Let's go!"
They started running again and change their path through the city streets. It would take longer to reach the ship, but with any luck they would lose the beast behind them.
In the distance, the demonic voice carried on once more. "I love this game! Neehihihihihihi! Come out, come out where ever you are!"
They were about halfway back to the ship now, but the Nightmare Man was closing in on them again. He hadn't spotted him yet, but they could hear him getting closer. His very presence was terrifying and the fear began to slow them down.
Nami was very nearly in a panic and she shouted. "We'll never get away at this rate."
Suddenly, Nami stopped.
"What are you doing?" Zoro asked whirling around to face her. But she was looking at him oddly, almost as if she were sizing him up.
It was then that Nami grabbed Zoro's shirt and shoved them both into the crack between the two buildings. It was cramped. They could barely move. But at least the Nightmare Man didn't know where to find them. Hopefully, they could lose him.
Early the next morning back on the Thousand Sunny:
"Alright! It's decided! We'll go as soon as the sun is all the way up!" Luffy shouted seriously and the crew hollered their consent.
Now, all that there was left to do was wait out the hour or so until they would leave. The crew set about preparing for the coming battle. While everyone was busy, Zoro moved to the deck rail overlooking the harbor town and stood motionless to wait until his swords could taste the blood of the man they hungered for.
Before long, Sanji came to stand next to Zoro. After a moment and a long drag on his cigarette, he spoke. "While you were unconscious Nami-san told us about the many nightmares she faced in the mansion. But we didn't hear anything about yours."
With his good eye, Zoro cast a sideways look at the cook. "Say what you mean, Bastard."
"Heh." Sanji started with a mock-laugh. "You're not the type of guy that runs from a fight. I've seen you risk your life over and over with no regards for your own fate. You're reckless. So what was different this time?"
For a long time Zoro stayed silent. The muscles in his neck and jaw twitched with irritation at being called out. In the end, he answered: "It wasn't my life that I feared risking."
The cook looked down at the floor and took another drag from his cigarette. "That asshole is after Nami-san?"
Zoro's short green hair bobbed in a curt nod.
"Like hell I'd let that happen!" Sanji shouted. "I'll kill the bastard!"
"You'll have to get in line!" Zoro snarled back in vicious tone.
For a moment, the love-cook took his eyes off of the coast to stare at Zoro and Zoro could easily guess what was going through the other man's mind. The cook knew or at least guess what Zoro's nightmare was and just how much it affected him. After a long moment Zoro spoke. "When we get there, I am going to kick that buffoon's ass. You watch out for Nami. That bastard is sneaky and we already know he can create multiple illusions at the same time. Last time he separated us right away, so he may try to do it again. Make sure Nami doesn't get taken." His tone was final.
Sanji put out the last embers of his dying cigarette before pulling another one from his pack and lighting it. He fixed his eyes back on the coast and exhaled slowly. "Yeah that's fine with me."
A little while later, Luffy came to stand next Zoro's other side. Soon after that Franky joined them. One by one all the Straw Hats lined up side-by-side ready for action. Nami was the last one to join the line, but her resolve was just as set as the others. The sun pulled entirely up over the horizon and the sky was alight with orange hues.
Luffy reached up and pushed his straw hat down over his eyes. "Let's go!"
When they arrived outside the mansion, it was Luffy who made the first move.
"NIGHTMARE MAN! COME OUT AND FACE ME!"
They all stood there ready for anything. A black mist began to engulf them and a crazed laughter filled the air. '"Neehihihihihihi! Neehihihihihihi! Look! More mice came to play! More games! More fun! Who's next? Neehihihihihihi! How many lives shall I destroy today?"
"Brook!" Luffy commanded, "Start it now!"
With that, Brook began playing a jig. It was a bouncy tune so light that it lifted one's heart no matter what the circumstances.
Suddenly the scythe man illusion appeared before them. "That's no fair!" it hissed. "Using mood altering music is cheating! Now I'm angry! Try these on for size!"
Monsters appeared before them in all shapes and sizes, each more twisted than the last. They remotely resembled humans that had been put together the wrong way. Arms and limbs were not in the right places, some torsos were sideways or upside down. A few of the creatures had extra mouths or eyes and other parts. They were all shaking and covered in blood. It was a wonder how some of them even moved.
But the straw hats remained unwavering. They set themselves up for battle.
"Gomu Gomu no..."
"Coup de burst..."
"Yaki Oni Giri..."
And then chaos erupted around them. Everywhere monsters fell and were replaced by new monsters. It was impossible to keep track of the damage on either side. Luffy used his rubber whip to Zoro's left and while Sanji sent monsters flying with his kicks on Zoro's right. Zoro kept slashing up the monsters in his path. He could see hands and feet growing on some monsters way out to the left so Robin was still fighting. Even in battle Franky was loud enough to be heard, his voice booming over his explosions. Several carnivorous plants from Usopp's pop greens were devouring the monsters stupid enough to get too close. And all the while Brook's song played on fending off the darkness. The mist that had completely swallowed Zoro before wasn't able to get more than a foot off the ground. Their plan seemed to be working!
But something was missing... something important.
"Oi! Shitty Cook!" Zoro yelled as he ran six more monsters through with his swords.
"What" asked Sanji between kicks.
Zoro pulled his swords out of one monster's chest and knocked the heads off four more. "Can you see Nami?"
Sanji stopped to look around with the result that he got punched in the face. Once he kicked the jaw off the monster that socked him, he answered slightly panicked. "I can't see her anywhere!"
"Fuck!" Zoro swore loudly lashing out at the nearest monsters. "He's got Nami!"
"What?" Luffy asked, his arms snapping back from his gattling gun while his leg stretched out to stamp some other monsters. "He's got Nami?"
"Neehihihihihihi! Looks like some of the mice have finally noticed the game's stakes! And now it's time for her to die! Neehihihihihihi!"
"Follow the voice!" Zoro shouted and for once in his life, he moved in the exactly right direction with Sanji and Luffy trailing immediately behind him.
The scene was so similar to what he saw the day before. A terrified Nami crouched on the ground and the Nightmare Man with the scythe in his hand loomed over her. Only this time it was no illusion. If yesterday taught him anything it was that the real Nightmare Man who showed up at the end to go for the kill. As they got closer Zoro noted that the scythe figure came completely into focus.
"That one's real! It's not an illusion!" Zoro shouted as they ran as fast as their feet could take them.
"Sorry," the Nightmare Man was saying to Nami, "but you have to die. It's that swordsman's only nightmare. Neehihihihihihi!"
The Nightmare man lifted the scythe up into the sky and...
"Gomu gomu no..."
"Roppyaku pound canon!"
Zoro, Sanji and Luffy's attacks landed all at once and the scythe fell to the ground followed by the large bloody body of the Nightmare man. Franky, Robin, Brook, Chopper and Usopp rushed over. The monsters disappeared when the Nightmare Man fell. This time he had been defeated. Robin kneeled down to check on Nami and Nami, still trembling, grabbed onto her friend for comfort.
Held by her friend, Nami's eyes sought out Zoro and he shrank before them. How she must hate him now! The Nightmare man told her that her death was his nightmare. It was his fault she almost died. His looked down to hide the emotions stirring within him and remind himself that she was safe. That's what was important. When they got back to the Sunny, he'd train harder to make sure nothing like this ever happened again.
"What a weird looking guy!" Luffy was saying hovering over the fallen body of their enemy. "And we don't even know his real name." Scratching his head under his straw hat, Luffy shrugged.
"Mochizuki Takeshi." All eyes turned to Robin imploring her to continue. "I saw his picture in the town hall yesterday. He was the governor here before he ate a devil fruit and went crazy. It seems the townspeople suffered for it."
They all silently looked at the unconscious man on the floor whose life had been twisted by rage and power. Several of them jumped when the sound of footsteps broke their silence.
"Look Mommy! I told you! They beat the Nightmare Man!"
"They really did it! Look!"
"We're free! I can't believe we're finally free!"
"Hey!" Luffy called with a laugh, "This place isn't abandoned after all!"
Zoro looked up, "How can that be? He said all the villagers went insane and killed themselves."
A silence fell over the crowd that was emerging from the forest until one elderly villager stepped forward. "It did happen a few times. He killed some people of our village and some others went mad and killed themselves. But those of us who stand before you refused to be ruled by nightmares. We faked out deaths and retreated to the hills. We've been living there for a years now. While we were always afraid he would find us again, but we stayed strong for each other. It hurt us to leave our town, but our lives were more important than buildings. Now that you've beat him, we don't have to hide anymore! We can re-build our town and begin anew! We can finally be happy again!"
"Shishishi!" Luffy laughed. "This calls for a party! Sanji! MEAT!"
And so the Nightmare Man was locked up with the sea stone handcuffs that were kept in the town's small jail put in a cell. Chopper administered a strong enough sedative to last a few days. The villagers agreed to phone the marines after the Straw Hats left the island later that evening.
The feast Sanji put together was one of the best they'd had so far. There was music and dancing, not to mention delicious food. But Zoro wasn't in the mood for any of it, so he was sitting on the deck of the Thousand Sunny mulling things over. The past day had brought some startling revelations to his mind. The nightmare forced Zoro to acknowledge the truth about his feelings for Nami. Sure he'd admitted to himself that it was nice to see her again after the Straw Hats two year break, but caring exclusively for her was something he'd never allowed himself to think about.
Zoro liked bickering with Nami- it was fun. He liked the way she wasn't afraid to try to boss him around but that still listened to him when it mattered. He even liked the way she charged him for every little thing. She would never let him leave until he paid that debt after all. Nami was interesting; he'd always thought that. But it wasn't until he thought he saw her die that he understood just how much she meant to him.
And he had only just started to acknowledge those feelings when Nami was almost killed because of him.
And then there was that kiss! What had he been thinking? Well, he hadn't been thinking. And that was the problem with instinct... it always got in the way and messed things up. How was he supposed to ignore these feelings now that he had tasted her lips? How could he stand being around Nami when ever time he looked at her he thought about that damn kiss? He was beginning to feel out of control and he didn't like it at all.
There were footsteps in the grass behind him as someone crossed the deck and sat down next to him. Even though she was on the side of his bad eye, he knew it was Nami. She was sitting rather close to him so that he could almost feel her arm when she moved. His mouth was suddenly dry and he found himself with the need to swallow.
"Sanji said you came up here instead of staying at the feast so I brought you up some food." Her voice was sweet and concerned, not the angry voice he had expected.
Zoro accepted the plate of food and turned toward her so he could actually see her. "Thanks. You're... not mad?"
"Mad?" Nami brushed the word off. "Mad about what?"
The dry throat was back and Zoro had to swallow before he could speak. "Mad that you almost died and it was all my fault."
This time Nami laughed and Zoro felt the tips of his ears grow red in embarrassment. "Don't be stupid! I'm a pirate. It wasn't the first time my life was threatened and I'm sure it won't be the last."
Throwing his own words back at him! The nerve! He tried to look at her sternly and then he started laughing too. "Alright you got me. I guess we're about even then."
"Well in life debts maybe, but you do still owe me several hundred thousand beli!" Nami quipped.
"Hey!" Zoro said indignantly and bumped into Nami lightly with his shoulder. When Nami regained her balance, she leaned back into his shoulder and put her head down.
Zoro couldn't move. He was almost afraid to breathe. The shock of the small gesture was overpowering. What did it mean? Was it friendly? Was it more? His heart was beating so quickly in his chest despite his resolution to put this whole feeling business behind him.
"Zoro," Nami chided, "You haven't eaten a bite! Don't forget you're still on the mend. I'd never hear the end of it if I let you starve. Here." She picked up a cut strawberry off the plate and held it up to Zoro's lips.
Did she have any idea what she was doing to him? This wicked woman! But he was too entranced by her to put his guard back up. Instead he leaned forward and took a bite of the strawberry. When his lips brushed against her fingertips, Nami briefly closed her eyes. Zoro's heart was pounding against his ribcage- he wasn't sure how much more teasing he could take.
Nami popped the other half of the fruit into her own mouth and gave a content sigh. "Mmm. It's sweet." She was giving him that catty smile that she wore when she was winning some game. What was he supposed to do? Damn! This stuff was so much more complicated than sword fighting! He eyed the plate and decided to play along.
"Would you like another?" he offered trying his hardest to keep his tone polite and not the crass manner in which he usually spoke. When Nami nodded, he expected her to reach for one and was confused for a moment when she didn't. Then it hit him! He picked a strawberry up off the plate and held it to her lips. This strawberry was smaller than the first so it only took one bite to eat. When Nami took the strawberry into her mouth, she allowed both her tongue and her lips to brush against Zoro's fingers causing him to inhale sharply.
A sudden resolve took him and he decided to be bold. He leaned toward Nami and asked, "Was it sweet?" When she nodded he asked, "But I wonder if it was it as sweet as the last one. I think I'll have a taste." And he slowly lowered his lips down to hers. Her lips parted for him eagerly inviting his tongue to mingle with hers. They both tasted heavily of strawberries and the kiss lasted a few glorious seconds before Nami pulled back and smirked.
"Well the second kiss was definitely sweeter than the first, but I think it's mostly because neither of us are bleeding." And then Zoro laughed- a deep laugh that came from within his belly. Nami continued while smirking mischievously, "Would you care for a third?"
Zoro pretended to think about it for a few seconds. "That depends..."
"On what?" Nami said crossly.
Narrowing his eye and lowering his brows he asked, "You're not charging for these kisses are you?"
And Nami punched him in the shoulder- albeit not that hard. "I will if you don't just shut up and take them! Idiot!"
Zoro laughed and pulled Nami into his lap and stole a third, fourth and fifth kiss. Her arms snaked around him and he reveled in the feeling of her. With a playful grin he pulled back and said, "And what if I plan on doing more than just kiss you?"
Nami's face turned redder than her hair and Zoro suspected she was seriously fighting the urge to swat him over the head. "Don't push your luck just yet big guy!"
But when Zoro leaned into kiss her once more, she allowed his hands to wander under her shirt and caress the smooth skin of her stomach. Even when his fingers trailed up over her bra, she didn't stop him. Instead she moaned into his lips.
At some point during their kiss, Zoro considered that the only thing scarier than having feelings for Nami was her having feeling for him as well. As the doubts began running through his head, he pulled back and looked down at the woman in his arms. Trying to think of the best way to state his concerns, he said the only two words he could find: "Why me?"
Nami blushed again and Zoro was certain he could feel the color rising in his own cheeks- it was clear that neither one of them was used to or comfortable being so sentimental. When Nami spoke she had her eyes fixed on his chest and not his face and it heartened Zoro to know he wasn't the only one having trouble with this. Licking her lips, Nami spoke with a soft uncertain tone that Zoro wasn't used to hearing her use.
"When you told me about your nightmare... you said that you lost something important to you." Her small fists gripped his shirt as she found the resolve to speak. With a deep breath, Nami relaxed her hands and let one hand slide up over the back of Zoro's neck to rest in his hair. Then, she looked up at him- her mulberry eyes taking on an unusual timid look. Her voice came out barely louder than a whisper. "You're important to me too."
Zoro stared down with wonder at the girl resting in his arms. Swallowing the lump of emotion in his throat, he brought one hand up to brush her hair back from her face. He allowed his hand to trail from behind her ear down her jaw line and finally back up to her cheek. Her skin was soft beneath his calloused fingers and he enjoyed the feeling. The look in Nami's eyes made him feel daring and he brought his hand down trailing gently over her neck and down over the swell of her breasts. As Nami closed her eyes and arched into his touch, Zoro brought his lips down to meet hers again. His hand continued its path down her waist and came to rest on her hip. Nami's hands had started moving too. Cautiously they glided over his chest and stomach careful not to upset his wounds.
He wanted nothing more than to ease her back onto the grass deck and climb on top of her, but he wasn't sure if he should push things so far just yet. This was more than enough for now, and he realized that they had plenty of time to try more later. After all, this was just the beginning!
Author's Note: Yay! That was fun to write! And this marks my first attempt at battle scenes too. :) So this story came out way longer than I was expecting it to! But it was fun to write. I also got it up a lot sooner than I expected I would.
A technical note. As this story takes place in the New World, I have neglected to mention the Log Pose as I am not certain this will be used once they get that far. I have seen it implied in the Manga that there is a better way to navigate the New World which is why Nami is not using the log pose on the ship. (Just incase anyone was wondering).
These One Piece fics are seriously taking over my soul! I've already got some evil plot bunnies running around my head.
Thanks for reading! Please review!