He stands tall and powerful on the battlefield, Wado vibrates with power in his hand and her sisters respond in kind with a hum of energy. He will be the greatest and this is just another step on the road to that goal. He moves gracefully from one sword stance to another, smooth with the hours and year of his life spent practicing. He pulls his swords back ready to strike-
"Na, Zoro, you're beeping." Luffy's sleepy voice cuts through to him, the dream dissolving around him like mist, taking his precious swords with it.
He opens his bleary eyes and takes in Luffy's upside down face, the brim of his hat not quite obscuring Zoro's view of Luffy's stained poorly repaired ceiling. There are splotches of food on the ceiling, a testament to food frenzies past, there are also scorch marks from Ace's enthusiasm with fire and oddly there's also a pen jammed halfway through the ceiling fan. Zoro has no idea how that got there.
He rolls over on Luffy's badly sprung sofa and groans as he buries his face in the cushion that smells vaguely of feet and rubber. Another round of the irritating beeping issues from the vicinity of his neck.
"It's been going on for hours, it's annoying." Luffy whines, poking him in the head. Zoro growls at that, Luffy isn't the one stuck with the infernal thing all the time. His fingers find the button on the collar around his neck by memory. The collar itself is stiff and hard but the inside is soft-ish, it feels somewhat like suede leather inside but is actually some kind of synthetic electrically wired thing. Its hard surface on the outside is pressing uncomfortably into the veins of his neck as he lies down even now, but hey, the things weren't built for his comfort. As he presses the button an electronic voice booms in his head through the cochlear implant in his skull.
"RORONOA ZORO you are off of the institute's property, this is forbidden you are ordered to-" Zoro cuts that message short. He's heard it a million times with it's electronically generated approximation of his name, it plays whenever he sneaks off of the institute's grounds and it won't stop alerting him regularly until he returns. After deleting that message a message from Chopper kicks in.
"MESSAGE RECEIVED AT 10:31 PM. Zoro! Please get back as soon as you can, it's very important. Something very urgent has happened and we need you back tonight!" Chopper sounds anxious. He was already drinking pretty heavily with Luffy at that time last night and, oh yeah, that was about the time they fell into the river and he had to rescue Luffy from drowning himself, AGAIN.
"MESSAGE RECEIVED AT 11:15 PM. Zoro! Where are you? We need you back here now! Call me!" Chopper's voice is even more anxious now. Ah, at that point they'd run into Ace and Marco. He remembers that Marco had been fiddling with his collar out of curiosity so he might have muted that message.
"MESSAGE RECEIVED AT 11:45 PM. This isn't funny asshole! I could lose my job if you keep this up! Come back!" Chopper squawks. Ah… at about half eleven Ace had decided to start buying shots for everyone and things got a little fuzzy at that point. He knows that he got back to the D brothers house about one or so… he must have been beeping the whole way there. He really shouldn't find that noise so easy to tune out especially when it plays out loud and inside his head.
"MESSAGE RECEIVED AT 5:15 AM. Zoro please, it's morning now! Come back!" Chopper pleads again, sounding like he's barely slept all night, probably worrying. Zoro feels a little guilty about that.
There are about ten more increasingly frantic messages from the little doctor after that, they all seem to be saying the same thing so he skips them all. He probably shouldn't have found it as easy as he did to sleep through the beeping.
He deletes the last message and the beeping stops. Luffy sighs in relief and flops onto Zoro's back with a happy sigh. Zoro huffs a laugh and shoves his friend's rubbery body off of him. He doesn't know what Luffy is complaining about, the rubber boy is almost as deep a sleeper as he is, and he has his own room with a door unlike Zoro who almost always spends the night when he's at their house sleeping on the sofa.
"I'd better get back, it sounds pretty serious." Zoro sighs standing up.
"Aw." Luffy pouts from Zoro's feet where he sits propped up on his elbows, his hat hanging from the string around his neck that Nami made.
"Shaddap, you know I'd rather not go back. But you know how insistent the institute gets when it's "urgent", if I piss them off then it'll be ages until I can sneak off again and come back here." He sighs jabbing Luffy slightly with his bare foot. He wiggles his toes in Luffy's side which sets the raven haired boy off into a small giggle fit.
"Don't go back." Luffy says in a serious tone, catching his foot and looking up at him with his big brown eyes. Zoro looks away, it's easier when he doesn't have to see that expression. Luffy says the same thing every time Zoro has to leave and each time it's harder to say no. Only the thought of the horror which overhangs him if he were to be recaptured after escaping dissuades him, nothing is worth that risk.
"See you in a few days." Zoro says with a smile and ruffles his hand through Luffy's hair before plopping the famous straw hat back in its place.
He ignores Luffy's "aw" and shoves his boots on before walking quickly back out onto the street. He shoves his hands in his pockets and hunches his shoulders up as he walks briskly back towards the institute, ever aware of his conspicuous black collar and the empty ring on it just by his jugular.
He walks fast enough so that by the time anyone sees his empty collar and realises what's going on he's already into the distance, it's a speed and method of walking that he's perfected over the years. He doesn't slow down his pace as he gets into the more middle class area and out of the poor area that Luffy and Ace live in. He knows far too well that money is no indicator of moral standing, far from it. The area that he's in now is centred more around small businesses and invention and less around the mining and industry that Luffy and Ace live and work in.
He glances up in the sky and sees a flying car whizz overhead, it's a fancy one too, one that runs on clean energy instead of the smoggy land based things that they have down here. It's heading in the direction of the institute, which dampens his spirits even further than the messages did. It means that someone in the institute has been selected. He touches the empty ring on his collar as a mark of respect for the poor unlucky person, it's tradition that they all have. There aren't many people left in the institute that Zoro knows all that well or even likes, which at his age is more a self preservation instinct than it is a comment on his fellow prisoners, but it's still sad to see that someone's being taken.
He can see it now, it's the tallest building around here but he can tell that he's not far from the institute, or as it is properly named "The Royal Institute of Harmony", or as Zoro prefers to think of it "the institute of tyranny". The large grounds it is set in look more like a university than a place of terror. The main body of the institute is reserved for the library and teaching rooms along with the gym, a ballroom and various administration offices. The large sky scraping tower next to it is both a security facility and the main dormitories. The younger that you are the higher up the building you live, slowly descending as you age. Zoro is on the second floor from the bottom now which is helpful for when you need to jump out of your window to sneak off the grounds.
He reaches the tall walls that surround the institute, the walls that are supposed to keep strangers and poachers out and keep him in, they're not very successful at that last part. He climbs up the tall tree by the wall and climbs up until the branches get too spindly for his weight, he's climbed too high before and fallen from a snapped branch. He didn't break anything in that fall thankfully but it's not an experience that he wishes to repeat. He leaps from the tree to the wall and drops down the other side. He lands by one of the guard dog houses, they're trained to bark whenever they see anyone but lots of meat snuck from his dinners and lots of belly rubs have trained them to like him. The purebred guard dog trots up to him with its tail wagging happily.
"Who's a good boy?" He whispers to the dog and scratches it solidly behind the ear before jumping and bouncing from the outer wall to the inner wall of the institute and dropping over that one. He's now properly in the grounds of the institute. Stealthily he jogs across the grounds hoping to avoid detection from the guards. The clock reads ten past ten so classes are in session right now.
He sneaks into the main building, he shouldn't run into anyone now, most people are in their classes like good little inmates, or else they're ditching class somewhere sensible. He and Nami found all of the good places to hide years ago when they were just kids, in fact there's someone in one of his old hiding spots in the rafters now. He looks up, the boy is no more than fourteen. He looks down solemnly at Zoro and touches his own collar, Zoro nods and does the same, the boy must have seen the car too.
He jogs down the corridor towards Chopper's office, his route takes him past the classroom that he's supposed to be in, it's Tuesday morning so it's behaviour class right now. He stopped attending that class years and years ago and he's never once regretted it. He pauses out of a morbid sense of curiosity and glances around the edge of the glass window in the door. He peeks through the window in the door and the wave of disgust that washes over him is more than enough to reaffirm to him that he's never going to attend that class. One of his fellow residents is on his knees at the front of the class blowing the teacher whilst the lecture continues. Sickened Zoro leaves the hallways and heads straight to Chopper's office.
He slows down in the hallways and shoulders the door to Chopper's office without even having to read the door, because he's in there so often. He comes to a grinding halt in the doorway though when he clocks the figure in the chair before Chopper's desk. She's tall and slender with long poker straight black hair. Around her shoulders is a fancy expensive looking white coat which matches the brilliantly white cowboy style hat on her head. She turns in her seat and looks up at him through thick dark lashes. Her blue eyes unnerve him, it's as if she can see into his soul. Her smile is predatory and sets his teeth on edge.
"Oh Zoro! Thank goodness that you're finally here, this is Lady Nico Robin." Chopper says enthusiastically in his highly strung panic.
"Pleased to meet you." The woman smiles up at him.
There's a pause that settles upon the small office as the truth sinks heavily onto Zoro's shoulders, weighing down his very soul.
"You're here for me." He hears himself say in a dead voice. So the flying car wasn't coming for one of his fellows then, it was for him. That explains why the small boy saluted him directly, the picture of all selected residents is broadcast in a overly saccharine cheery announcement.
"Oh, no. You're not for me personally, you're to be bonded to Sir Sanji Prince. Are you excited?" The Lady Robin says with a small curious smile.
Zoro's hands snap into fists at his sides. These rich self important sociopaths! She thinks that he should be excited over this? Like some schoolgirl asked to the prom by her crush?
"Excited? I'd be more excited to have my head cut off, actually no, I'd much prefer it if it was your head being-" Zoro snarls vehemently.
"ZORO!" Chopper interrupts him in horror. Zoro clenches his jaw shut and holds his tongue, but he can feel the tension dancing in his face. He won't apologise, not matter what Chopper says. The rich bitch doesn't even look threatened or offended, instead she looks amused, as if a pet has just done a rather interesting trick.
"Lady Robin, I'm so incredibly sorry, Zoro really isn't like this, he's a lovely man and-" Chopper babbles apologetically to her.
"It's quite alright doctor. Zoro and Sanji will get on like a house on fire, I'm sure of it." She grins, looking pleased with herself.
Zoro grits his teeth, he'd like to set her and this Sanji bastard on fire and lock THEM inside a house. Robin stands and arranges her bag on her back and brushes the wrinkles free of her coat as if she were doing something so stress free as having a pleasant afternoon tea with him and Chopper.
"Anyway, Sir Sanji's father's servants will be here to pick you up soon, I'm sure they'll be delighted to hear that you've only just turned up. I'm just here to pick up the necessary legal papers of transfer. But I shall see you before the ceremony this afternoon." Robin says smoothly, her glossy smile widening as she speaks as if something very funny has occurred to her.
"This afternoon?" He balks in horror.
"Yes, two thirty to be precise, thank you for these doctor." The lady nods as she scoops the paperwork off of Chopper's desk and leaves.
The door shuts behind Zoro and he swallows thickly.
"It's going to be okay Zoro, he's a really great guy, you'll like him." Chopper says hesitantly.
"I HATE him, and you betrayed me! I trusted you!" He shouts at the little reindeer. Chopper's eyes well up with tears but Zoro refuses to feel bad, Chopper has quite literally sold him out.
He is so so pissed at Chopper for betraying him. And what he really wants when he storms out of the little doctors office is to run off to the gym and beat the shit out of one of the heavy bags there until he feels a little better. What he does instead is nearly trip over the six technicians that were waiting outside of Chopper's door for him.
"Where have you been?" One of them demands angrily, as they drag him away to their section of the building.
"Do you know how many hours we usually get to prep you before the client's team gets a hold of you? Now we don't even have half that, and for Sir Prince too…" Another frets as they shove him into a seat.
Zoro could fight them, but it wouldn't get him anywhere, they wouldn't go away and they wouldn't stop. They'd just do whatever they felt the need to do to him with him unconscious. They squawk over the state of him, apparently he's been supposed to be doing something with his skin or whatever. He's never cared. The most effort that he's ever put into his appearance is shaving every so often and working out, and he works out for the strength and because he enjoys it, looking good is just a result of that.
They scrub him and shave him and buff every inch of his exposed skin before throwing him in a shower and do their best to scrub his skin raw with brushes and soap. They file his nails and pluck at his eyebrows.
Zoro doesn't care, he ignores them and pretends that he's somewhere else. He tries to imagine that he's back at Luffy's and they're hanging out. It doesn't work though, his mind keeps coming back to the grim reality of his situation. The history of how Zoro came to be in his position is academically interesting for those wealthy enough to never risk it happening to them.
There have always been rich people and there have always been poor people. The ultra rich people however are a relatively new thing that had developed since industry took hold, people who have so much money that they couldn't even spend it in a lifetime.
A hundred years or so ago some bright spark of a servant came up with a supposedly brilliant idea whilst he was looking for work. He drew up a contract which exchanged his free will for a lifetime contract of work and higher pay. He effectively sold himself into slavery for security. He vowed to be loyal to whomever signed his contract and to carry out any and all talks asked of him in complete confidentiality. The idea took off with the ultra rich like a storm, they were vulnerable to staff learning their secrets and selling them to someone else, they needed people that they could trust. Owning a member of staff for life was an ideal solution, and if you had to pay a little more than that was no great strain.
By the time the lawyers got interested in the matter there were already thousands of slaves, for both private people and public institutions. The lawyers argued that one couldn't just sell oneself into slavery. However the ultra rich and their highly paid lawyers argued that every person owned themselves as a person and everyone could sell their own property without restriction from the government. The lawyers, after a lot of fat bribes, agreed. And in one stroke of a pen the status of all slaves changed, they had not simply signed a contract for their time, but their freedom and personhood too. And because they were no longer people in their own right, having sold that privilege, they become un-entitled to all the rights that went with being a person, they became sub-human.
Shortly after that the Royal Institute of Harmony sprang up specialising in two things. First of all convincing people to sell themselves to the institute who would in turn train them to do any and all tasks their eventual owners might require of them whilst providing housing and education, and secondly they offered a service to anyone with enough money to afford it. That service was to provide a ready made human being with enough training, culture and most importantly a lack of free will, to be a perfect partner. It was an idea situation, instead of trophy wives who might divorce you and take your money you got someone who would and could never divorce you, had no claim on your property and best of all you could do whatever you wanted to them! Have a sadistic streak a mile wide? No problem! Got a penchant for meek wallflowers with delicate features? They were the institute's bread and butter!
People, for various reasons, sold themselves to the institute quite young. The institute owned them for a time before eventually selling them on at a highly marked up price to someone else. Most slaves got bought from the institute at age sixteen, the moment they would have been legal if they'd still been people. Other institutions didn't limit themselves like that, but the royal one did, it was the only good thing that Zoro could say about them and was part of why they had such good PR. They made these shiny happy adverts as if they were some kind of true match soul mate service instead of organised human trafficking.
There were only two reasons why Zoro had survived until nineteen without being sold, firstly being a man only interested in men limited his field of prospective buyers and secondly he was difficult. He made it his mission to be as surly and unlikable as possible whilst, under Chopper's guidance, still being good enough to not attract the sadists that liked to break strong willed slaves- sorry "mates". The institute carried out a "matching" procedure and Zoro had studied the forms long enough to try to make himself tick boxes different enough that no one should have been interested. It looked like they'd found some weirdo who was compatible enough for him though.
The ceremony that Zoro was attending later was little more than an elaborate sales transaction. The institute would sell him to this Prince character and he would belong to him for the rest of his life.
It takes the technicians a good two hours of frantic work and tripping over each other to scrub, shave and pluck him into a more pleasing piece of merchandise that they seem at least halfway pleased with. After that he is handed over to the Prince's servants. It's a man and a woman that are waiting for him, the woman is thin and blonde whilst the man has a weird rectangular nose and blonde hair as well, Zoro wonders if they're related. He discovers that their names are Kalifa and Kaku, not that they introduce themselves to mere property like him. They bicker constantly with the driver who has a stupid wispy little kung-fu man moustache and apparently goes by the name of Jabra. Zoro sinks lower in his seat in the car, unable to enjoy his first ride in such a high tech vehicle.
When they arrive at the venue, which could frankly only be described as a castle, he is bundled out of the flying car and herded into a large room where a large selection of fancy clothes are waiting for him. The two of them strip him down again and toss his clothes away with disgust, Zoro doesn't really care, he's used by now to being nude in front of an array of doctors, professors and technicians, these two clowns don't exactly make him shy. The two of them shove him into some hideous red and white outfit that's more kimono than it is a suit, though manages to look like a horrible hybrid between the two. It's shiny and uncomfortable with boning in it jabbing painfully into his sides.
Kalifa takes out his beloved earrings right out of his ear and throws them on onto the floor across the room deeming them too "cheap" to wear. Zoro feels his hackles raise a little inside at that, they're gold. Not a high quality gold it's true, but they're the only thing that he still owns from back when he was a person, the institute let him keep them because they thought it added to his "exotic appeal", whatever the hell that meant.
They then proceed to force him into some uncomfortable shoes and cover any remaining exposed skin in white paint, practically erasing any sign that he's a real person under there and not some overgrown china doll. He supposes that's fitting, the more they do to him the less he feels like himself under there. They paint his eyes and mouth red and cut and straighten his hair into what Kalifa apparently considers an "edgy" style. Finally pleased with their work they order him to stay there until they call for him and leave, locking the door behind themselves and trapping him in the room.
He stands hopelessly in the middle of the lavish room on his own. The events of the day thus far have mostly washed over him with him observing everything with a sense of detachment that Zoro can more accurately attribute to shock rather than any mental strength on his part. But now as he stands alone the reality of everything sets in. He's been supposedly training for this for years but he doesn't in any way feel prepared for the reality of his life from this point on as the property of a specific person rather than an unwilling inmate of an institution. A bubble of hysteria rises in him and he feels like he can't breathe, he doesn't know if it's from the panic or the too tightly laced waist of the… of whatever the hell he's wearing is called.
Trying to calm himself he leans unsteadily against the vanity table, his natural sense of balance thrown off by the shoes and the boning in the outfit. He looks in the mirror at himself and doesn't recognise himself at all, all he sees is a painted mask.
"I thought that this might happen, I barely even recognise you under there." A voice by the other side of the room says. He jumps and turns, nearly spraining his ankle in the process. It's that dark haired woman Robin from before. She's standing over by the windows, on the opposite side of the room from the door. He swears that he didn't hear the door open, it was locked after all, and he certainly didn't see her walk behind him in the mirror. So how did she…?
She's dressed differently to how she was before, now she's in a long floor length dress that clings to her and reflects purple in the light. It probably costs more than Luffy's entire house. The lady bends and plucks his three gold earrings from the floor and saunters over to him, her wide feminine hips moving in an almost snakelike manner.
"How about we make you look a little more like yourself, hm?" She says pressing the earrings into his palm and folding his fingers over them. He swallows slowly and nods, making the raven-haired woman smile.
"We haven't got long, go wash that stuff off of your skin." She instructs him as she ushers him into a bathroom. There's no shower in this place but there is a sink and Zoro doesn't need to be told twice, not when it means getting out of this thing. He rips off the hideous red and white jacket and is able to reach back behind himself to snag at the ties to the thing around his midsection, he scrabbles desperately at the lacing until the entire thing comes free and he's able to peel it off of himself like a horrible cocoon. He kicks the shoes from his feet and smirks as they clatter into the corner.
With liberal amounts of soap, water and acrobatics with the sink he manages to scrub the horrid white paint from his skin, starting with his feet and hands before moving onto his neck and face. It takes a lot of careful attention to make sure that he's not left any trace of it and then, just to be sure, he soaps up his hair with the hand soap and rinses that under the tap too. He stands up dripping, his own features and golden skin shining back at him in the mirror. He quickly and efficiently puts his earrings back in their place and exits the bathroom to find Robin standing there with a rack of suits that wasn't there before. The door to the room appears to still be shut and locked, how the hell did she get those in here? When she sees him though she smiles and it seems genuine.
"Much better, now, let's fix that hair." She says and beckons him into a chair. An extra pair of hands appears in a flurry of petals on the side of the chair, making him jump as she uses them to wrap a cloth around him.
"You… you're a devil's fruit user." He comments relaxing a little as he watches her disembodied hands closely. Across the room three more hands appear, two of them flicking through the suit rack and the other with a critical eye in its palm watching. Robin takes the clippers in her own normal hands though and powers them on.
"You've seen others like me before, and not just your little doctor friend with the antlers." She says in something that is more a statement than a question. His mind springs to Luffy and Ace.
"Yeah, friends of mine." He agrees as Robin runs the clippers through his hair, evening the length up to something normal and smart looking and erasing the stupid asymmetric cut that the other two had put in it.
"I knew you had a voice still under there somewhere. Done. Now, to find something for you to wear that doesn't make you look like you belong in a circus." She smiles wryly at him and makes her way over to the suits.
Robin and her disembodied hands flick through the suits, occasionally holding something up against him with a careful eye. The one that Zoro eventually likes catches his eye before it does Robin's. He's never really liked suits before, they've always seemed too confining, but something about the cut of this one seems nice. It's a soft matte black fabric that reflects no light which joins together low on his chest with two gold buttons.
"Hey-" He says without thinking, reaching for it.
"Hmm, very nice. Here, let me find you a shirt to go with that." Robin smiles at him. Zoro hesitates with the trousers to the suit in his hands. What Kalifa forced him into doesn't really have enough fabric that isn't see through to be termed underwear in Zoro's mind and really he'd rather not wear it. With a shrug he takes them off and decides that he's better off without them. If Robin is fazed by his complete nudity she doesn't show it and simply holds a white shirt up to his chest with a displeased noise before putting it back and selecting another with a more open neck and a smaller collar. As she's discarding that replacement shirt too Zoro slides into the trousers which fit like a dream, the material is soft on his skin, all of his skin, and they sit comfortably on his hips.
Robin then passes him a crisp white shirt that she apparently likes, it pleases him too, it's simple and classy without being frilly or over elaborate. He slides into that and tucks it neatly into the suit trousers. With a hum of thought Robin mutters "green…" and whips a green silk sash around his waist, covering the line where his shirt and trousers meet. It's a shiny emerald colour and Zoro does know the name for what she's turning it into… it's a… a come-her… something? Cumberland? No… wasn't that a sausage? Whatever, it looks good.
He toes on an expensive looking pair of black shiny shoes that are just his size and wonders again how Robin got all of this stuff. Standing up and leaving that mystery unsolved he shrugs on the jacket which sits neatly on his large shoulders and Robin does up the gold buttons for him.
He turns to look at his reflection but before he can get to the mirror Robin grabs his chin. She pulls something small and gold from her purse and swipes her thumb through it. Delicately she runs her thumb over his cheekbones, just under his eyebrows and over his lips. With a satisfied smile she turns him to the mirror and lets him take in his reflection.
Whatever Robin did when she touched him has left traces of golden dust on his skin. It emphases his high cheekbones, brings out the gold flecks in his dark eyes and altogether makes him look ethereal, godly almost.
A sense of panic floods him as a knock hits the door, he doesn't want to look this good, he doesn't want to give this Prince guy the impression that he wants to be here or please him. In his panic Robin somehow disappears again, taking the rack of suits with her somehow. Before he can look for her though the door bangs open framing within it a large man wearing a top hat who's goatee almost looks like some kind of musical note, on his shoulder there's a goddamn dove. His eyes narrow in something between rage and disgust.
"KALIFA!" He snaps, turning and looking out the door. Kalifa and Kaku come in the room and both regard him with surprise and horror.
"I don't- that's not how we left him! I don't know where he even got-" Kaku stammers clearly as perplexed at Zoro's outfit change as he is about how Robin got herself and the clothes in and out.
"I don't CARE! This isn't what the boss wanted!" The guy snarls.
"It doesn't matter Lucci, there's no time to fix it now, and Lord Spandam is almost here." Kalifa says matter-of-factly. At that moment a lavender haired guy bursts through the door with some kind of… leather mask on his face. He looks at Zoro and literally howls with rage. For a panicked moment Zoro thinks that this guy is the one he's being sold to until his rationality calms him down. He reminds himself that the technicians were going on about how the Prince guy was blonde and just turned nineteen like him.
"WHAT IS THIS?" He demands gesturing to Zoro.
"That's not how we left him Lord Spandam!" Kaku exclaims, clearly desperate to not be the one to be blamed for this.
"Well then you shouldn't have left him then should you?" The man apparently named Spandam snaps, raising a good point, especially when there was apparently slinky dress wearing ninjas sneaking about with clothing racks and makeup.
"That's sexual harassment." Kalifa says calmly, and for a moment Zoro thinks that she means him and agrees, but apparently and nonsensically she means herself.
"That doesn't even- never mind that's the music starting up! Come with me." Spandam snaps and grabs Zoro's arm hard enough to bruise and drags him so sharply as to deliberately put Zoro off balance. He stumbles along the hallway with the irate Lord. Part of him hopes that his future owner doesn't look like this snarling, hideous faced, mask wearing man dragging him around. He immediately chastises himself for that thought, it doesn't matter what his new master looks like, he still hates him.
Spandam comes to a halt outside of a big set of doors, takes a calming breath and adjusts his tie and freaky leather mask. He tightens his grip on Zoro's arm, notching it up from bruising to circulation altering whilst managing to look gentle to the guests and potential photographers. He walks forward through the doors gently, looking for all the world like he was shepherding an innocent lamb into the room instead of leading him to metaphorical slaughter. His fingernails remain sharply embedded in Zoro's arm to remind him of his place, as if he could possibly forget.
The room is lavishly decorated with red roses about the place and dribbling red candles in wrought-iron wall sconces. The room is packed with guests so rich looking that Zoro is stunned that he doesn't accidentally inhale a hundred dollar bill just by breathing near them.
Of their own accord his eyes dart up to the man at the table at the head of the room, the table that would be an altar if this was a wedding between consenting adults – which it isn't. The guy there is shockingly blonde and lean, he looks like an advert for fancy suits or cologne. He's Zoro's height more or less and his posture conveys a certain nervousness that Zoro hadn't anticipated. He turns to look at Zoro and he catches a flash of Mediterranean sea blue in his eyes, though one of them is hidden under a wash of silky blonde hair. Their eyes meet and the flash of sexual interest in the blonde's eyes reminds Zoro sickly of just why he's here.
The whole ceremony is a sick mimicry of a wedding, only he doesn't have to sign anything because he's not a real person. He does have to stand there and try to force sincerity into his voice as he pledges loyalty, obedience and devotion to his new master. He knows the words by heart, the Royal Institute drums it into all of their heads from day one so that they don't screw up this most important moment.
Sanji turns to him at the last part of the ceremony, the bit that Zoro had been strangely dreading. It wasn't like this changed his situation any but the symbolism involved makes it somehow all the more real. The blonde rich boy fumbles in his pockets for a few moments before Robin, from her seat in the front row, crosses her arms, materialising an arm on Sanji's shoulder and reaches into his breast pocket for him and pulling out a gold padlock. Sanji reddens as her hand disappears and mumbles an embarrassed thank you that draws a few laughs from the audience.
The padlock is open with a golden key in it that has a smooth gold chain attached to it. With slightly shaky hands the blonde flicks the bar on it until it's open all the way. Zoro knows all too well that the key doesn't actually open the thing, it's just for show. But then so is the padlock which obviously doesn't make his collar come off should he remove it, after all it's been stuck on Zoro's neck for years without one.
The official makes Sanji repeat overly legal sounding lines about care and ownership and so on. After he finishes he flashes Zoro a quick nervous and slightly embarrassed smile which Zoro doesn't return. In fact he wants to hiss at him and rip his face off, but he doesn't.
Sanji reaches over and snaps the golden padlock shut which frees the key into Sanji's hands. He can hear the ringing sound in his ears of the padlock shutting, sounding the death knell of the few little freedoms that he had left. Sanji takes his hands away from the padlock and Zoro swallows, feeling the heavy weight of the gold padlock move with his throat, it weighs him down to his very soul. As Sanji slips the chain with the key on over his own neck Zoro knows the deal well enough to slide to his knees and bow his head as he's supposed to, it's over. This guy owns him.