Hello everyone! I'm alive, yes...I'm not dead yet. I know that I owe an apology to all of my readers. But things will hopefully get better now. I had a lot of trouble with betas. I lost contact with UltimteC3 as well and I had to find a new beta.
Now then, credits for editing this chapter goes to Kaitaru Stark-Laufeyson.
Please enjoy the chapter...
Chapter 17: Developing feelings and assault?
On a small, uninhabited piece of land, waves collided harshly with a sheer cliff. This piece of land was the same island where some of the world's strongest pirates had clashed with the mysterious figure, Odin, mere days ago. Said figure sat on a rock at the edge of the cliff; his eyes closed and head slumped down. He held onto a red pendant's chain firmly as the gem lightly swung to and fro in the air like a pendulum. A few moments passed in the same state as the wind reverberated in through the atmosphere.
"You made me wait," Odin said, his voice soft as he slowly opened his eyes.
"Apologies, my Lord!" A heavy voice pierced through the blowing wind, making its way to Odin's ears.
Odin stood up and turned around slightly to catch the sight of a person slowly closing in from behind. A seemingly young man with short, black hair, wore an unpleasant look on his face and rather casual clothing. He knelt down on his right knee and bowed his head a couple of meters away from Odin, who silently stared at the knelt man for a few seconds, watching as electricity surged through the man's body in short pulses.
"Found anything?" Odin questioned.
"G-15." The man's answer was followed by a short period of silence, which was engulfed by the sound of howling wind.
"So, they have it, after all." Odin murmured, sounding displeased as he continued. "You didn't let yourself be discovered, did you?"
"No," The young man before him answered calmly.
"Good. I've already blown my cover before Red-hair and Hawk-eyes. We can't afford the World Government knowing about our movements as well. They've been trying to get their hands on Nico Robin all this time. If they launch a full scale assault on the Straw hats in their current state, it would ruin everything. We can't do much in our current condition either. We'll just have to wait for the right time."
"You've become stronger, my lord?" The man inquired as he witnessed a malicious, dark aura emitting from Odin's body.
"Roronoa Zoro has become stronger as well. He's getting stronger and stronger with every passing moment," Odin replied with a wide, sinister grin as he looked back at the man. "now, to weaken the barrier that damned Hawk-eye has created."
He punched into the air, his fist buried inside the cracks that appeared in the atmosphere. His hand movements indicated him grabbing onto something, and the air shattered as he pulled his fist out. Odin opened his fist to reveal a palm-sized, tentacled creature with a dragon-like head, wriggling in his hand. He stared at it for a few moments before throwing it into the deep, fathomless depths of the ocean.
After a few minutes, his grin became yet wider and more sinister as a gigantic shadow writhed beneath the water and swam away from the island, leaving high tides behind its path.
Time had passed since two of the crew's members had prepared to start their meeting. Neither had said a single word. Robin's eyes were fixated on Zoro's closed one, whilst he sat there wearing a frown. The atmosphere had become quite annoying for Robin. She sighed once and proceeded to break the silence.
"I thought we were going to talk about something?" She questioned, raising an eyebrow.
Zoro's face tensed for a moment and his frown deepened as he opened his eye, turning his head to look at her.
"Just wait a bit. I'm trying to work out where I should start," he snapped before closing his eye again.
"That's surprising. I never thought you'd have this much trouble choosing your words," she remarked, tilting her head slightly. "You'd better hurry up with it. It's starting to feel like a love confession." As much as she wanted this to be true, she was just trying to lighten up the atmosphere.
"Haha…very funny." Zoro pretended to laugh at her joke as he shot her a quick glance, receiving a smile in return. Turning his head to look ahead once more, he took a deep breath and prepared himself for what he was about to say.
"I've been possessed by something," he said at length, a low growl snarling in the back of his head once more.
Robin stared at him for a couple of seconds. "That isn't much of a surprise. It's been proved, in a way, from the last time I saw you being possessed. Since I doubt you have split personalities."
"It's been like this for more than three years," Zoro stated blankly, pausing when he noticed Robin's eyes widening slightly, before continuing shortly after. "It wants a 'Name' and apparently you're one of the two people who can do that." Zoro gazed at the archaeologist's surprised expression. "I guess that was surprising enough?"
Robin lowered her head, remembering the several shadows who had demanded for her to return their names as she stood under the tree. The tree and the thing possessing Zoro were connected. The bigger question was: 'To what extent?'
She repeated Zoro's last sentence in her head once more, and just at that moment, realization struck her. "Did you say that I am the only one who can name it?" Her widened eyes were fixated upon Zoro in disbelief. She received a nod in reply.
"Why me?" She asked.
"I don't know that much." Zoro answered shortly, shaking his head once.
"I see." Robin relaxed back in her seat. "For now, the only lead we have is that tree."
Zoro grunted once in reply and silence filled the room. He closed his eyes again in hopes of getting some peace of mind as Robin drifted away in her own thoughts, but was utterly disappointed by the constant growling in his head.
"I want to ask you something." Robin ventured, breaking the silence once more.
Zoro opened his eyes as he heard something similar to a request from Robin. "What?" He questioned in a dead tone.
"It's about when we were under that tree." She responded, pausing for a few seconds. In this short interval Robin's usually calm face shifted through some expressions, which Zoro had never seen on the archaeologist's face before, causing him to quietly stare at her and wait for her to continue. "Did you really call me out just to return the book?" She asked, trying to keep her face neutral.
"Yeah." Zoro answered, after having pondered the question for a few moments.
'Just like that?' Robin thought as she let out a deep frustrated sigh.
"Are you still angry about that?" Zoro queried her as he leaned back to rest his head on the headboard.
"No, I'm not. You should have just asked me about it, instead of going through all that trouble." She answered, in her usual calm manner.
Zoro opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by a sudden growl. However, this growl was different from those which he kept hearing in his mind. Instead, it was generated by his stomach, informing him of his hunger.
"It seems like there are other things to worry about, at the moment." Robin commented with a slightly confused look.
"I…guess you're right." Zoro replied awkwardly as his stomach let out another, deeper growl.
"I'll go get something." Robin stood up and walked to the door to leave. Pausing at the door, she turned her head to look at Zoro over her shoulder. "Was it really just to return the book?"
Silence reigned in the awkward atmosphere around the two crewmates.
Zoro didn't answer, instead just averted his eyes away from hers. After another moment of silence Robin stepped ahead and left the infirmary, closing the door behind her.
"Maybe not." Zoro mumbled to himself, throwing his head down with a frustrated sigh and closing his eyes.
The shadow possessing him wasn't the only thing that was troubling him. He was becoming aware of Robin's feelings. He had no idea how he was able to tell, but he was quite certain about it. Even if it was just his misunderstanding, his own state of heart was something he couldn't get over. Sudden affection towards the archaeologist was something he couldn't quite seem to understand. He had never felt this way towards any woman he'd ever met. Whether anyone liked him or not, or what anyone thought about him, had never been any of his concern. Why, all of a sudden, did it matter?
"Tch," Zoro tutted with a frown, "to have such feelings for someone like me… I thought she was intelligent or something." Zoro mumbled to himself as he opened his eyes.
'What's with you? If a woman of her class has affection for you, shouldn't you be happy? As much as I know, most humans would. Why're you holding back?'
Zoro gritted his teeth as his frown tensed even more, showing his discomfort with the voice echoing in his head.
'Well, I personally don't care about human relations but it isn't such a bad thing, either. The closer you get to her, the better for me.' The shadow remarked before starting to laugh maniacally.
Ignoring the annoying laughter, Zoro leaned back to rest his head on the headboard. "I'm hoping it'll just turn out as a misunderstanding, now," Zoro calmly muttered to himself as he closed his eye again.
Outside the infirmary, Robin was leaning on the wall beside the door. She slowly stepped out under the rare blue sky of the New World for some fresh air, but as soon as she heard the faint voice of a certain swordsman from inside the infirmary, she couldn't help but eavesdrop.
Straightening up from the wall, she quietly walked up to the railing and lifted her eyes up to the sky. "So, he isn't as oblivious as I thought, after all," she breathed, a faint smile creeping onto her lips.
Inside the Sunny's Kitchen, everyone except Robin, Zoro and Chopper were present. Because no one else felt like doing anything outside, Luffy was slumped on the table with a bored expression, slacking off with the rest of the crew. Nami sat across from him deep in thought, resting her face on the palm of her hand. She usually spent her free time drawing maps or reading books, but she didn't feel like doing anything that required any concentration. Ussop was sitting on the couch as he examined a few of his gadgets. Brook sat beside Luffy, calmly sipping tea whilst Franky was chugging down cola out of a bottle beside Ussop. One part of the room was particularly gloomy. Ever since Robin had gone to the infirmary, Sanji was brooding over the encounter with a very dark and depressing atmosphere around him. By now, his eyes and face were as lifeless as a zombie's.
"I wonder how long we'll have to deal with this?" Nami pondered whilst looking at Sanji. Her voice stirred a bit of disturbance in the quiet atmosphere. Everyone's eyes turned to the person the navigator had indirectly talked about.
"He's been like this ever since Robin-san made that decision," Brook commented as he took another sip from the delicate, china cup.
Something popped into Luffy's mind, making his eyes glint with excitement. He stood up and casually walked over to where Sanji sat, wearing his usual grin.
Ussop ignored Luffy's antics and turned back to the others. "Aside from that, I still can't get that shockwave out of my mind." He groaned, placing down the gadgets down on the couch as he thought back to the shockwave with a shudder.
"You're right. That was one suuuper attack. I don't think that even the Sunny's Goan Cannon has that kind of power." Franky joined in, placing his bottle on table.
"The target was certainly Dracule Mihawk, and he easily defended himself against such an attack." Brook added in tense tone, his voice serious and devoid of his usual humour.
"So, he's the guy Zoro wants to beat?" Nami almost mumbled to herself as the image of the master swordsman, standing in-between dust clouds as his coat heavily flapped with the wind, flashed before her eyes. "That was the first time I've seen him in person. I knew he was a monster but this is just too much." She had heard a lot of rumors about the master swordsman that also included the one where he cut down the East Blue's strongest swordsman effortlessly.
Nami was pulled out of her thoughts as a hand continuously kept nagging her on the shoulder. As soon as she turned around to look back, Sanji's lifeless, horrific face with chopsticks in his nostrils and meat written on forehead appeared before her eyes, gripped in Luffy's hands from each side. Nami's heart almost jumped out of her throat at this dreadful image, and the next moment the ship shook as two punches planted both Luffy and Sanji to the ground.
Nami grabbed Luffy by the collar of his shirt and shook him heavily while yelling at the top of her lungs. "WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU!? CAN'T YOU READ THE ATMOSPHERE? BE A BIT MORE SERIOUS FOR ONCE! AND YOU…" She threw Luffy away and turned her rage towards Sanji who was still mopping on the ground with chopsticks stuck in his nostrils. "…JUST HOW MUCH LONGER ARE YOU GONNA MOPE AROUND LIKE THAT? GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF! GROW UP ALREADY; YOU'RE NOT A KID WHOSE ONEE-SAN HAS GONE OUT OF TOWN, LEAVING HIM ALONE!" Nami screamed, throwing him into the same spot as Luffy after violently shaking him a few times. Unfortunately for Ussop, the sniper happened to be sitting in Luffy and Sanji's landing spot, causing him to scream in terror before they barreled into him and knocked him backwards, effectively cutting off his screams.
"Nami-swan~" The words came out of Sanji's mouth like a soft chant as the chopsticks finally fell out of his nostrils.
Nami was breathing heavily, ferociously grinding her teeth, when the main door of the kitchen opened to reveal Robin, who walked in to join the ongoing party.
"Robin-chwaan~" Sanji chanted, almost the same way as before.
"Nami, you don't have to be so strict on them." Robin rebuked the navigator gently, walking past Nami and grabbed a seat beside the table.
"Hmph! I'm just a bit frustrated." Nami's words almost sounded like whining. Sitting down beside Robin, she threw down her head on her arms which she had folded on the top of the table, her long arms taking up a lot of room on the table.
"Sanji?" Robin called out for the chef after a few seconds of silence.
"YES ROBIN-CHAN?" Sanji cried, instantly bowing down beside Robin like a gentle butler on duty. "Your knight is present in your service."
"Would you prepare some food for Zoro?" Robin politely requested with a smile, a smile for which Sanji would take on the whole world for. But instead of happiness, despair and depression took over him as he realized the very reason of his tantrum a few moments ago.
"For Zoro, eh?" He slowly mumbled with a lifeless expression.
"Something nutritious will help him recover faster," Robin added in the request without any change in her expressions.
"Yeah sure, I'm on it," Sanji mumbled softly and dragged his feet to the counter like a zombie.
"Eating food by Robin-san's beautiful hands, Zoro-san sure is lucky," Brooke calmly said. Just as he placed the emptied teacup on the table he realized that everyone except Luffy, who appeared to be fast asleep on the floor beside the couch, was somehow affected by his words. Ussop and Franky were eyeing him awkwardly; Nami was staring at Robin with a sly smirk as Robin was expressionlessly looking away to ignore Nami's suspicious gaze. In all this drama, Brook felt a spine chilling feeling from a particular part of the room. Sanji's eye shot a piercing glare at the skeleton, and he felt like he would be pierced by a deadly beam at any second.
As soon as Brook realized how big of a mistake he had made, he stood up and wasted no time to travel to the door. "I'm off for some fresh air, then." He left the kitchen with these words.
"I thought Sanji-san would gouge out my heart right out of my chest. Though, I don't literally have a heart. Yohohohohohoho…" He stopped laughing after a moment and walked away with a relieved sigh.
Back in the infirmary, Zoro had been staring at the plate in front of him for a few minutes, thinking of a way to eat it in his current condition. Had it been something as big as a hunk of bread, or ramen perhaps, then he would have found a way to eat it. Even if that had meant shoving his face into the food and eating it like a dog, he would have been grateful of every bite that he would have taken by himself without assistance.
But no, it had to be a hot, sea king soup.
"See? You can't eat it if you can't use your hands." Robin told him, smirking smugly.
"I'm telling you, I'm perfectly fine now." Zoro muttered after a quiet groan, in an attempt to convince Robin to help him take off the arm-casts.
"There's nothing I can do. I made a promise with Chopper after all." Robin denied, shaking her head.
Zoro spent a few more minutes trying to think of something, but when nothing came to his mind he eventually gave up. "Fine, do as you wish." He huffed in annoyance, throwing his moss-haired head down in frustration.
Smiling at Zoro in response, Robin pulled the chair closer to the bed and sat down with the hot plate balanced carefully in her lap. "Open your mouth wide and say 'Aa', please." Robin ordered gently in a motherly tone, lifting the spoon slightly higher from the plate, being as careful as she could in trying not to spill any of the creamy-white soup that Sanji had grudgingly prepared for the swordsman.
Of course, Zoro stared at the raven-haired beauty in disbelief, wondering how she was going to try to even get him to play along with this kind of childish game.
"You've gotta be kidding me." He stated in a deadened tone as he raised an eyebrow, continuing to stare at Robin awkwardly for a few seconds. There wasn't much change in Robin's expression as she held the spoon, waiting for Zoro to comply with her command.
"Stop joking, already." Zoro snapped after a long moment. This time, he received a deadly glare from Robin which clearly meant: 'Do it or I'll make your stay in this infirmary last another two weeks.' Finally, Zoro realized that he had no other option. After flinching and twitching for a few more pride-damaging seconds he gave in, full of irritation and embarrassment. He let out a frustrated sigh and opened his mouth with his eyes closed, making the sound almost mockingly. "Aa." He growled.
As soon as the sound escaped his throat, Robin let out a chuckle whilst covering her face with her free hand to suppress her laughter. Zoro was desperately trying to control his anger at this point. As if the humiliation wasn't enough, the annoying laughter of the shadow starting ringing in his head.
'UHAHAHAHAHAHA,' The shadow guffawed, '…she is really amusing…HAHAHAHAHAHA!'
Robin swiftly returned to her usual, poised self. "I'm sorry." She smiled, apologizing for the little prank before continuing with her task, spoon-feeding the soup to swordsman as carefully as she could.
"Want seconds?" Robin politely asked as she placed the spoon in the empty plate once Zoro had finished.
"I think that was enough for an entire day." Zoro replied, laying back to rest his head on the headboard. His expressions and tone alerted Robin to how Zoro felt robbed of all his dignity.
"You're hurting me by saying that. Is eating by my hands that bad?" Robin teasingly asked as she stood up.
"Forget it." Zoro huffed, trying to shrug off the topic as quickly as possible.
Robin turned around and placed the empty plate on the table behind her.
"You're really enjoying this, aren't you?" Zoro questioned, his gaze fixated on the wall in front of him.
"Indeed, it is quite enjoyable." She calmly answered while placing the dish down on the table. A couple of seconds passed in silence. She turned around and asked, "What about you? Why don't you relax a bit and try to enjoy it as well?"
Some more silence passed before Zoro shifted around a bit and stood up to face Robin as he replied. "I can't. Not when I'm in this condition." Robin knew well enough what he meant. He fell silent again as they stared at each other. Their eyes were filled with a mixture of feelings and questions, and with a quiet sigh, he continued, "And you're the one I'm worried about the most. I told you that you're the target of whatever it is inside me. Shouldn't you be more careful?" He was trying to persuade her to stay away from himself and Robin fully understood the reason as well.
'Oi! -The hell are you saying? Don't go ahead and ruin everything.' The shadow hissed at Zoro, who had no intention to pay any heed to the voice as his gaze locked with Robin's.
"You don't have to worry so much. I know you would never hurt me or any of us." Robin replied, her gaze piercing yet trusting.
"You're saying that even though I was ready to kill you?" Zoro asked, his tone devoid of emotion as he broke the gaze and looked away.
"That wasn't you." She replied after a pause.
"And that's the problem." Zoro responded persuasively as his frown deepened. Glancing back at her, he realized Robin had no intention of accepting his words. He let out a frustrated sigh and turned away from Robin slightly as he continued. "Maybe I should leave until I find a solution for this."
Robin was taken aback by his words. She never expected that he would say something like that. Even as a joke, it was unacceptable.
"Don't think you can solve everything yourself," Robin hissed forcefully as she pulled Zoro by his arm to look him in the eye. Her frown was enough to tell him that she wouldn't let him do as he pleased this time around. Maybe he was being selfish, but his actions and thoughts weren't unreasonable either.
"I don't think it's a burden I can share. This time…it's different." He softly replied.
"The only difference is your attitude," Robin disagreed, her voice hardening with anger, "don't think I'll let you do what you want. Stop being stubborn, and stop trying to act tough." This was one of the very few times when Robin felt like losing her temper.
"Why are you trying so hard?" Zoro asked moodily. His words were getting more and more unreasonable. Even he himself was confused about what he was trying to say.
"Is something wrong with that? Aren't we nakama?" Robin's tone softened as she lowered her head. She couldn't understand why he was asking such a ridiculous question. Zoro kept silent.
She paused for a second as well and then spoke. "Very well… If you want an even stronger reason then let me give you one. Zoro-" The unexpected shaking of the Thousand Sunny interrupted her, causing her to cut herself off with a short cry of surprise.
Zoro was about to fall on his face without his arms to support him, but was saved by Robin's extra arms as the ship shook rigorously.
"What the hell?" Zoro yelled out while caught in Robin's extra limbs.
"Are you alright?" Robin asked out of concern. She was supporting herself with a few extra hands as well.
"Yeah." Zoro answered as he tried to regain his footing.
The Sunny was still in the middle of the process of gaining back its equilibrium when it shook again, even more violently than the last time, throwing Zoro and Robin off balance once more. The back of Zoro's head was about to hit the wall but was once again saved from a hand that sprouted out of the wall to catch Zoro's moss-colored head. By now, Zoro was laying on a cradle of several hands that were sprouting from the bed and wall. It took a second for Zoro to get his head clear after the heavy jolt. His eyes widened slightly, face frozen as he found Robin on top of him, their faces only a few inches apart as her deep azure eyes stared back at him, her face wearing an expression almost similar to his.
If possible, Zoro would've backed away as soon as he had realized the situation, but his position didn't allow him to move even an inch. On the other hand, Robin had no intention to back away.
"I think they need our help outside," Zoro spoke softly to her after some hesitation, without breaking eye contact as they heard a loud, beastly roar from outside the room.
"They don't. It's probably a sea monster. They should be able to take care of it." Robin almost whispered to him. The distance between their face started to decrease as Robin moved closer. Zoro's body was almost frozen, as there were no signs of resistance or submission.
"I was saying…" she whispered again as the distance kept shortening with every passing moment "that I-"
"ARE YOU TWO…!…alright…?"
The door to the kitchen flung open. Without any change in their current positions, both of them turned their gaze towards the door to find Nami with her eyes wide open in surprise.
After a few moments of awkward silence, Nami pretended to talk in a carefree tone. "I see you guys are just…fine. Sorry to disturb you. It's just a sea king of some sort; we'll take care of it so you two enjoy yourselves." Nami gently closed the door and ran off to the main deck.
This was the second time Robin had been interrupted when alone with the swordsman. She was starting to feel exhausted by the whole situation, too. Robin got back on her feet and Zoro fell on the bed as the extra limbs holding him disappeared. His head was slumped down and his body remained almost motionless.
"I'll go help them out." Robin walked to the door and gave a final look to him before leaving.
As soon as she left, her eyes widened in surprise and all of her recent thoughts disappeared as a gigantic figure reflected in her pupils.
Inside the infirmary, Zoro got no chance to reminisce about anything as a heavily malicious and familiar feeling started taking over him. 'What the hell is this?' He thought, scowling to himself.
'Oi! Do you feel it? This energy, isn't it amazing?' The shadow asked excitedly. Zoro scowled even more, not liking how excited the shadow sounded, for some reason. Zoro clenched his teeth as the familiar feeling over his body got even heavier than before.
At the dark and gloomy Kuraigana Island, Mihawk emerged out of the coniferous forest. The thick fog cleared out of his path as he continued treading towards the abandoned castle. His overwhelming presence was enough to scare the Humandrills away, though they still kept their eyes on him while hiding behind the trees. Mihawk took a few more steps and then stopped as the Humandrills scattered out into the woods in fear. However, this time their source of fear wasn't the master swordsman.
"I never expected to be greeted by one of the fellow Shichibukai." Mihawk spoke, his voice clearly carrying across the area as he diverted his piercing yellow-eyed gaze towards a certain shadow leaning against a tree.
"I've been witnessing a lot of things lately," came the lazy reply, "and though I can't be bothered by other matters at the moment, I don't think I should ignore them either." The man wearing a white fur hat said, placing a katana on his shoulder and walking towards Mihawk. "How're ya doing Hawkeye-ya?"
To be continued XP
Another tough one. I have to say that dealing with the situations as this chapter has, is on of the toughest things for me. I'll try my best to upload next chapter as fast as possible. Trust me just this once, it won't take another 7 months this time, I'll make sure of it.
Now then, please leave a review because your sincere reviews are whats keeping me motivated to continue and finish this story. Thank you for reading and reviewing again. See ya next time and here's the title for next chapter:
Chapter 18: Two Demons and Two Warlords...!