A/N: Most of my followers know I have been really sick for the last few months. It's really taken a toll on my ability to write. I've been getting frustrated with every story I try to bring to fruition as I just can't seem to find the words I need. So, I thought maybe I am trying too hard to get the Kurobasu stuff out, maybe I should try a completely different fandom. Even if you do not watch or read this series, if you like my other fics, I think you will enjoy this one anyway. It starts off angsty but has my requisite happy ending.
Everyone has scars.
Some are visible. Like the one covering his eye. Like the ones crisscrossing his body, too numerous after all these years to even count. Like the one on his captain's chest, big and jagged and red, as if it was actually only yesterday and the pain was still there, still burning and screaming out its agony for all the world to see.
Some scars are hidden. Like the one that bore a young girl's bittersweet smile and a promise to become the strongest swordsman the world has ever seen. Like the one that had kept his captain from him, from all of them, for two years and carried a brother's grief. They are wounds of the heart and soul, engraved so deeply the weight of them could crush a lesser man.
Zoro was as familiar with scars as he was his precious swords, and until the Sabaody Archipelago, he had thought none of the inner and outer ones he wore would hurt, would bleed more than Kuina's too-young and tragic death. How wrong he had been.
Marineford. Just the name of that godforsaken place ate into him like acid. He had sworn to always fight at Luffy's side, since that day long ago when he had joined his fate with the man who would one day become the Pirate King. Yet he hadn't been there during the most important and terrible moment of Luffy's life. Zoro would never forgive himself for failing his captain. The scar created by that failure was etched into the very marrow of his bones. He was the walking wounded, hiding his pain behind an indifferent face and a bottle, just as Luffy hid his behind an unbeatable determination and a bright smile that hardly ever faded.
Staring out of the crow's nest at the blue stretching all the way to the horizon and then bleeding up into the sky as it simply exchanged one shade for another, Zoro smiled mockingly and took a swig from the aged rum in his hand. Surely the rest of the crew would be shocked that he could think on something so complex, especially that shitty cook. Contrary to what they all thought, he wasn't really stupid, and neither was Luffy. Honest and strong and sometimes refreshingly naïve, definitely. And he was kind, kinder than anyone Zoro had ever met. His strength and kindness was why Zoro followed him, most likely why the others followed him, too.
Luffy felt things deeply, too deeply perhaps, and his nakama's pain was his pain. Thus, he not only carried his own scars, but theirs as well. More than anything, Zoro wished he could ease that burden, take all that suffering and sorrow. He'd done it once, on Thriller Bark, when he had offered his life to Kuma in exchange for Luffy's. Kuma hadn't taken his life, giving him the choice instead to take in all the horrible, excruciating pain Luffy had incurred in his battle. There had been only one answer, and Zoro had nearly died from it. Yet he would do it again. And again and again and again. Would face death, would even walk barefoot through the fiery depths of hell itself, if it meant he could protect his captain. Let him gain scar after scar, let them pile up until his body was a roadmap of lacerations, both inside and out. As long as it was him, and not Luffy, who was suffering, then he could bear anything.
He was on the verge of taking another drink to drown out his black thoughts when a voice rang out below him.
"Found Zorooo," the merry, singsong cry floated up to him.
Seconds later, a hand landed on the curved edge in front of him. Zoro didn't even have time to blink before a body followed that hand, flying into the crow's nest with unstoppable speed.
Eyes widening in dismay, Zoro held his hands in front of him. "Oi, Luffy, don't—"
He wasn't able to finish his protest. Luffy crashed into him, knocking his head back into the wood behind him and sending his bottle spinning away. Elbows and knees, amazingly hard for something made out of rubber, slammed into his stomach. The air whooshed out of his lungs and Zoro actually saw stars for a moment.
"Sorry, sorry," Luffy laughed, easing back just a little to straighten his ever present straw hat.
Sucking in a deep breath, Zoro rubbed his belly and glared at his errant captain. "What the hell are you doing, you idiot?" he growled menacingly.
Luffy just smiled, not looking the least bit intimidated by Zoro's glowering demeanor. "I wanted to see what you were doing."
"What else could I be doing up here, stupid? I'm keeping a lookout."
With gentle movements that belied his annoyed expression, Zoro moved Luffy off his lap.
"Hmm," Luffy's reply was mildly disbelieving.
Turning around, he folded his arms on the edge of the crow's nest and dropped his chin onto them. He stared out at the vast ocean, not saying anything else. Zoro sighed inwardly and closed his eyes. Luffy's mind worked in mysterious ways. He would say what he wanted to say when he was ready. Minutes passed, and Zoro was soon lulled into a light doze by the gentle rocking motion of the wave's and Luffy's warm, comfortable presence.
"You don't have to carry everything by yourself, you know," Luffy spoke again right as Zoro was about to fall asleep for real.
His dark eyes popped open to find Luffy kneeling before him, staring somberly at his face. Zoro looked away.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Luffy cocked his head. "Don't you?" He took his hat off and sat it beside him. "There's been something bothering you ever since we reunited at the Archipelago. The others might not notice it, but I do. Because I know you better than anyone."
That was certainly true. Zoro was the first, the one who had been with Luffy from the beginning. Luffy might know him best, but the same was true for Zoro. More than anyone, he understood his captain. Even when the rest were clueless to Luffy's thoughts or actions, Zoro knew. He always did.
Cutting his gaze back to Luffy, he sat up straight. "I could say the same thing. You're not alone, not anymore. Not ever again." Zoro said those last three words vehemently, another oath to himself and to the man who had forever changed his life.
Luffy smiled crookedly, but his eyes never left Zoro's. "I wouldn't have made it this far if I'd been alone. I know that much. It's just Ace," his voice was slightly uneven and he shook his head. "Well, I can't talk about him, not just yet. But when I can, you'll be the first."
Zoro's heart, hardened by loss and a million fights, swelled. This time, Luffy had made a promise to him, an important, solemn promise. His hands clenched at his side and all the self-hatred and sorrow he had bottled up for two years came pouring out, and for a man of few words, the things he said were surprisingly eloquent.
"I wasn't there when you needed me," he slammed his fist on the floor beneath him. "I couldn't protect you, or the ones you were trying to protect. How can I call myself the greatest swordsman if I can't even do that much?"
Anger and bitterness dripped like venom from his voice.
Smile fading, Luffy moved from his position to sit on Zoro's left side. "Why do you think you have to protect me?"
Zoro turned his head. Luffy was watching him, a thoughtful look in those wide, round eyes.
"Because it's my job," he answered automatically.
His eyebrows drew together. "Because you're the captain."
"When I asked you to become a pirate with me, it wasn't because I wanted you to fight in front of me, Zoro," Luffy nudged Zoro's shoulder with his own, "it was because I wanted you to fight beside me. You don't protect me, we protect each other, and the rest of our nakama."
A seagull passed overhead, it's lonesome cry piercing the otherwise quiet sky. It suddenly occurred to Zoro he used to be just like that seagull. Though he had sometimes run with Johnny and Yosaku when he'd been a pirate hunter, his life had still been a solitary one. His dreams were the only thing he had really cared about protecting, and no one had ever tried or even needed to protect him.
Luffy had shattered his solitude in an instant, saving him from an evil man's bullets, and then Zoro had returned the favor, blocking the swords aimed at Luffy's head. And though he still believed, down in his soul, that he should have been there at Marineford, he decided right then that he would bury those feelings. For Luffy's sake, he would hide that scar away, where only he could see it, and he would continue to get stronger, to become a man worthy of fighting beside the Pirate King.
"Alright, you win," Zoro faked a grudging tone.
Throwing back his head, Luffy laughed gleefully . "Of course, I always win. I'm the captain."
Tsking, Zoro grinned and reached for his discarded bottle. There were still a few drops in it and he wasn't one to waste alcohol. Luffy abruptly plopping into his lap aborted that mission. He grunted at the impact, but the sound was swallowed by Luffy's mouth.
Zoro was too stunned to immediately grasp the situation. When he did a few moments later, his brain almost exploded. Luffy was kissing him! And not very well. It was evident the younger man hadn't had much practice, if any. Gah, that wasn't the point! Luffy was kissing him!
Grabbing Luffy by the shoulders, Zoro pushed him back. "What the fuck was that, dumbass?!"
"A kiss," Luffy explained patiently, as if he were talking to a child. "I can't believe you don't know what a kiss is, Zoro. It's when you put your lips on someone else's and stick your tongue i—"
"I know what a kiss is, retard!" Zoro thundered. "What I want to know is why you were kissing me?"
Luffy just shrugged. "You looked like you wanted a kiss."
Zoro blushed, a rare, almost inconceivable event, and he sputtered. "Th-th-that's ridiculous! I'm not like that erotic cook!"
"I wouldn't kiss Sanji," Luffy huffed in disgust.
"Then why did you kiss me?"
"Like I said," his captain rolled his eyes, "because you looked like you wanted, or rather, needed a kiss."
Zoro was still confused and dazed. "So, you just go around kissing people who look like they want to be kissed? Not that I'm admitting I actually looked like that." He added the last part hastily.
"No, dummy," the captain replied simply, "it's because it's you. Zoro is special."
Mind whirling, the green-haired swordsman slumped against the wooden wall behind him. "I still don't understand."
Luffy followed him, snuggling up against his chest. "Wow, Zoro, you're dumber than I thought."
"I don't want to hear that from you!"
Snaking out his hand, Luffy snatched up his hat and dropped it on Zoro's head. "I like you," he shrugged again, "and I know you like me. I could always tell and I kept expecting you to do something, but you never did. Then Sabaody Archipelago happened and two years passed and you kept everything to yourself, even more than before. So, I got tired of waiting."
The absurdity of the situation finally got to Zoro. He put a hand on his forehead and chuckled.
"You know we are both men, right?" he casually asked.
It was Luffy's turn to look confused. "So? What does that have to do with anything?"
Zoro laughed once more. Of course Luffy wouldn't care about something like that. "Never mind, it doesn't mean anything."
The others might freak out, but Zoro suddenly didn't care. Luffy was right, of course. Zoro had feelings for the younger man, feelings that went beyond friendship and respect. He'd never planned on acting on them, however. He hadn't wanted to rock the boat and, frankly, he'd always thought Luffy too dense and innocent to ever even think about that sort of thing. The scar on Zoro's soul faded, just a little, and he smiled widely.
"Then, c'mere, oh mighty captain. Let me show you a real kiss."
A/N cont: From the moment Zoro agreed to join Luffy, I have always shipped this pairing. Zoro has been with Luffy since the start, and they just "get" each other. All through the manga, Zoro is the one who always understands Luffy, who supports him even if the others question his actions (i.e. the Usopp fight at Water 7). Plus, omg, Zoro took Luffy's pain from the battle at Thriller Bark, pain and suffering and wounds that should have killed Zoro. How amazing is that?! How wonderfully beautiful!