A/N: This was typed in under 2 hours due to inspiration from a Zoro tribute on Youtube. I have to warn you that this is the first time that I've ever attempted an interspective piece, and for some reason, picked Zoro, one of the hardest people to read in One Piece. For this reason, he might seem slightly OOC, but not majorly so. Comments and critique is welcomed, but flaming is not. Slight Zoro/Kuina pairing if you squint and subtle (and unintended) Tashigi-bashing.

A gust of wind blew through the empty yard, a tuft of green hair standing out against the grey shrine that doesn't at all match its owner, the girl that was vibrant, strong, unyielding, but most of all, alive. Except she wasn't, not anymore. A solemn promise made, and the man who was only short days ago a boy leaves, a sword of pure white strapped at his side. A sensei and the sense of a family he had taken for granted for far too long was left behind, and Zoro felt empty. 'One day', he thought, 'One day I'll return as the greatest swordsman in the world, for her, and for myself. The future she should have had, the challenge that wasn't really a challenge anymore, because she isn't here, and she's the only one who would ever claim victory against me forever.' He's a boy who grew up far too quickly, unfairly, heading into something he vastly underestimates.

Zoro travels alone, too long he suspects and makes a name for himself as "Pirate Hunter" and "Demon". He doesn't particularly care what others call him, as long as they recognize him as a swordsman, a good one at that. He no longer cares about many things, crafting himself into the model of swordsmanship. Righteousness, to do what's right, but only to his eyes, because he now answers to no one. Courage, never giving up the dream, because somehow that's all he has left of her. Benevolence, but only on his terms and only to the ones that truly deserve it. Respect, to the ones he recognizes as strong, in ways he can surpass and also in the ways he knows he never will. Honesty, not that he ever bothers to correct others. He will answer truthfully when asked but that was as far as he's willing to go. Honour, something he will never sacrifice, because that would brand him a traitor, to his own dreams and to her memory. Most of all though, he ties himself to loyalty, to the girl who's life has already faded, but manages to still outshine him.

Thus he goes on, day by day, passing strangers whose names he's forgotten long before he knows them. Johnny and Yuusaku are ones that stick, but even then, only superficially. Mihawk is another, a distant goal and a face, but not something of any value. Even his teacher's image is fading from his memories, though his teachings echo in his head every time he faces an enemy or runs through a kata. She is the only one whose face remains clear, crystal clear no matter how much he sometimes tries to forget yet fleeting on the days where all he truly wants to do is give up. Zoro is nowhere close to his goals yet, and he's well aware of that, but his loyalty and determination still drives him forwards. He's a swordsman with a soul that is merely clinging on to the edges of survival, waiting for something to either push it over the edge, or pull it back up.

Something does pull him up, someone rather, with a straw hat and a blinding smile. He glimpses the potential of someone who shines bright, definitely brighter than himself, but perhaps, also brighter than her. He is saved, from starvation, from gunshots, but most of all, from the loneliness and emptiness that has been his life for the last few years. Suddenly, his life is in colour again, instead of the monotone grey that never lifted after that fateful day more than ten years ago. He looks up to the man who caused the change and calls him "Captain". He doesn't leave his promise behind, he never would, but he is aware of a world other than striving towards his goals. He is a swordsman after all, a bushido, a samurai, and one thing he needs is something to serve, someone to protect. He still guards her memory, but he now serves another and protects someone alive who truly appreciates what he does. He's still a swordsman, and he always will be, but now he's also a first mate to a pirate captain, a valued nakama, and a friend. His life is fuller, brighter, and he thinks that if she was watching, she'd be happy for him as well.

He finally meets the goal he's been striving for all this time and he's slightly irritated that after his years of training and searching, he's found his dream only short days after finding his captain. He mentally prepares himself for a battle as a foolish cook yells at him for his stupidity and arrogance, calling him an idiot. He knows that, he always knew that, but that wasn't going to stop Zoro from trying his best when his dream is right in front of him. As he steps onto the deck of the floating restaurant, he watches as the grace that can only be found in a true master swordsman deflects a bullet faster than the untrained eyes can see. He can't do that yet, but as soon as he finishes this battle, he vows to learn how. He steps in front of the hawk-eyed man and states his challenge. The man looks at him, seemingly through him, and calls him a fool, declaring him unskilled and only the shadow of a true swordsman. Zoro thinks him right in saying so, not doubting the knowledge of this man, but also thinks him slightly blind for thinking that Zoro is unable to see the things he calls out. It doesn't really matter, since the man is willing to fight him anyways and that was all he wanted.

The fight was over before it started. Outmatched in a way only one other has ever managed, Zoro is proud at least of the fact that he had been able to prove himself worthy of the sword master's true sword. It seems that Mihawk is now able to really see him and not just another challenger. These facts are all eclipsed however, by the enormous sense of guilt and shame. Not only was he unable to defeat the man, he wasn't even close and he has no one to blame except himself. He sheaths his only sword, the one that's been with him through it all and the only one that has any true value and turns around. Lifting his arms up as if as a sacrifice, he beckons the world's strongest to take his prize, his life. He smiles as the black blade swings forwards hiding his inner tears. He apologizes to Luffy, for not being able to stand with him longer, and to Kuina for not keeping his promise. His captain's screams are secondary as he falls, drenched in drops of crimson blood still apologizing as the pain tears trough him.

It's a miracle that he's alive, and while he is shamed that his opponent doesn't even deem him worthy of killing, he is glad that he'll be able to continue on his path and that he hasn't broken his promise after all. Mihawks words give him something strive for once again and despite the defeat, he feels as if he's gain way more that he's lost. He weeps, in shame and in gratefulness, and promises to never lose again, verbally addressing his captain while pointing his sword to the sky to address another. He's a swordsman who lost a battle, but stood up again aware of what he's lacking and determined never to be knocked down again.

Loguetown introduces him to someone who blindly crashes through all the walls he's built around his heart and reminds him to no end of what he has lost. A girl wears his friend's face, but doesn't have her soul. She is weak, he determines, of body and also of mind, easily jumping to conclusions due to her lack of confidence. He is offended that someone like that could carry around the image of Kuina. He looks away, not because he is confusing her with someone who's already gone, but because someone so weak has the gift his strongest rival didn't. She's given all the opportunities Kuina wasn't and she was that weak? Zoro sees her as the flightless bird her name implies, a small creature unable to see that her wings could allow her to soar, unknowingly mocking the ones who can't with the fact that she can and chooses, ignorantly, not to. He's a man reminded of the fragility of life and of strength that at the end of the day, falls almost entirely to luck. He was lucky, and he appreciates that fully now.

Traveling with Luffy is an experience in itself and Zoro finds him doing things he'd never do alone.

Alabast's battle ends he sheaths Wado Ichimonji, and he thanks his opponent for teaching him a lesson he failed to learn from his sensei. He winces, thinking back to his insolence and ignorance, and silently offers an apology to the man who taught him so much without him noticing. He's able to protect much more now that he can literally slice through everything and as he falls unconscious, he hopes that he learns much, much more. He later discovers that his skills earn him a bounty, much higher than those he once hunted, and feels proud of his achievement. He is gaining more fame, and as much as a certain navigator whines, all he tastes is sucess.

Skypeia is a surprise and Zoro finds himself standing on clouds, the closest he thinks he'll ever get to heaven. He doesn't believe in a god, and certainly not an arrogant one who goes under the name of Eneru but he hopes that his friend is in a nice place, watching his adventure from above. Somewhere that was truly paradise not at all like Skypeia. This, along with the orders of his captain drives him to save an island that looks like heaven but is really anything but. He frees others from subjugation because he doesn't want her to be subjugated like she was during life and he develops his skills as he always does so that one day, he can cut through the clouds and the barriers that will separate him from her in the afterlife.

Water Seven was a memorable stop, marked in his memory by the loss of nakama, two only temporarily and one forever. Zoro doesn't find much to remember other than that and the chance for him to test his newly learned skills on a giraffe of all things. His bounty increases once again, but that's nothing new. It seems that his captain was out to defy every figure of authority possible and Zoro supports him every step of the way. He's known as "Pirate Hunter" Zoro, wanted dead or alive and with every island, it seems like his name is getting closer and closer to reaching her.

A bear is all that stands between his nakama and safety and Zoro feels horribly weak for not being able to protect them all. Despite his best efforts, the Shichibukai, or whatever the machine was, steps to take the head of the man he's sworn to protect and Zoro's will is the only thing that allows him to stand. He feels no shame as he falls to his knees and begs for his captain's life. It is his duty to protect Luffy's life and something like pride is a small price to pay for the chance to see Luffy smile and live for anther day. He's already lost one precious person, and he refuses to lose another before doing absolutely everything to prevent it from happening.

Kuma accepts the offer and even after accepting the small blob of unbearable pain, the only thing his heart feels is gratitude that he is finally able to protect something precious to him. As he prepares to take in Luffy's pain into himself, his sworn duty as the first mate, he whispers a silent apology once again to Kuina and to Luffy. It is the same as the one that he gave not even a year ago, except for the fact that he now also whispers a quiet "Sayonara" to his fellow crewmates. To the people who make his world shine and to the ones whose names he remembers down to his very soul. The pain is all engulfing and all he can do is try his best to hang on. He blacks out, for seemingly the last time.

When Sanji stirs him from the pain demanding what he did, he answers a gruff "Nothing happened", not because he's modest, but because in his mind, nothing did. He protected his captain's dream, as always, and protected his nakama, as always. Nothing extraordinary has occurred, no matter how you look at it and Zoro is not going to tell Luffy simply because it wasn't a big deal. It is during his during his recovery that he truly considers what had occurred and finds that his promise to Kuina is not what drives him forwards anymore. He still intends to be the world's greatest swordsman, he doesn't break his promises, but it is mostly now to be able to protect his crew from any danger, no matter how great and never be driven to resort to only being able to plead for mercy.

This drive is cemented into place as he reads the newspaper only a scarce few days later after being defeated yet again by Kuma and sees that just like him, Luffy has lost someone who meant everything when Zoro was nowhere to be found. His captain was all alone, just like he was once was, and he felt as lost as he was when the one he would never defeat perished to a mere stairwell. He lowers his head to the man who he knows can give him strength, disregarding his pride as a swordsman, and is relieved that he will be taught what he needs to protect. He's a first mate who has learned the necessity of strength in order to protect and for two years he trains for a man he's known for less than one.

One day, Zoro will step back on the spring island that he once called home and visit the grey shrine that holds the girl he holds close to his heart and proudly state that he is the world's greatest swordsman. He'll visit the sensei who he considers a father and show him how much he has grown, and also how he's changed because Zoro is no longer the boy that left that 's not a boy forced into being a man, unaware of the world and of his fragility and luck. Zoro is now a true swordsman, conscious of the strength he's gained but also the weakness he has left. He's a man who is able to stand up again no matter how many times he falls and part of a pirate family he'll do anything to protect.

One day, Zoro will meet Kuina and when that day comes, he knows he will not be alone. He'll greet Kuina with a hug and then show her all the people that he's met through his journey. He'll protect her from the attentions of a gentlemanly skeleton, a perverted cook and the sight a robotic shipwright who doesn't know the word shame. He'll scowl as he introduces her to the enigmatic archaeologist and a cunning navigator and he knows he'll never hear the end of it. He'll watch as Kuina bullies a lying sniper into submission and earn the adoration of the reindeer doctor. Most of all though, he'll show her the hawk-eyed swordsman he defeated in order to keep his promise and the idiotic captain that somehow managed to earn his undying loyalty.

Kuina is still with him, in every fight he wins and in every single training exercise but she no longer guides his every move and somehow, that feels right. Zoro is a different man than he was over ten years ago, and that's perfectly fine. He will always be a student to his sensei and a rival to a ten year old girl, but he's also be a part of the Straw Hat Pirates, first mate to the Pirate King and the world's greatest swordsman.

Hmmm, for some reason I felt that this started ok, but ended on a low note... Because of this, let me know what was good/bad and let me know how to change it!