Chapter 6: Zoro's Promise
Being forced to watch Zoro's first day was almost as painful as watching Sabo die. Almost, but not quite.
Teach held absolutely nothing back, and the wide, wolf-like grin on his face displayed the twisted joy he felt each time he rain his blade along the length of Zoro's shoulders, or pressed the flickering flame of his cigarette lighter against Zoro's side.
He bled so much the floor turned red.
And there was nothing I could do but cry and wait for it to end, for the slashing and ripping and horror to finally be over so that I could wrap up the new boy's wounds and tell him softly in the dark that somehow, someway, everything would be all right.
And the torture just stretched on and on and on. And maybe he knew, without me even having to tell him, that no, nothing would ever be all right again.
As minutes turned to hours turned to days tuned to weeks, Zoro's frantic screaming just got louder, and the floorboards just soaked up more and more of his blood.
I wanted so badly to stop it, but I couldn't. Teach had chained me to the wall so I could watch Zoro's education. Not for the first time, I was powerless to stop someone right in front of me from being hurt.
Inside me, the broken pieces rattled like scraps of metal against each other.
And each time Zoro was hurt, I swear I felt a little more of me break apart and join the cacophony of rattling in my chest.
The hot air of the dungeon, as I called it, stank heavily of tears, blood, and sweat. The chains that bound me clanked noisily as I struggled and thrashed, because that was what I did, non-stop, for the entirety of the session, and I just kept crying out, begging for Teach to stop his torture, to try and make him see that Zoro couldn't take anymore. Teach just sneered at me, and sank the knife deeper into Zoro's flesh as if to spite me.
It went on like this for what seemed like forever.
Until at last, mine and Zoro's voices raw from screaming, Teach stood up and took out a rag to clean the blood off his knife. Upon seeing this, I heaved a sigh of relief. This was always the sign that he was finished, that he had appeased his bloodlust for the moment and was going to haul us back to our room to lick our wounds and prepare for it all to begin again. Once he was finished, he tucked the knife into its sheath at his side and kneeled down to look at Zoro. He grinned and flipped the battered boy onto his back, snickering at the hiss of pain he received from doing so. He then proceeded to drag him over to where I was chained and toss him unceremoniously at my feet.
He undid my cuffs slowly, taking his time with each hand, and when I was free I instantly fell to my knees and gathered Zoro carefully into my arms. The boy groaned, and I felt sticky blood from his wounds seep into my shirt.
"Take him back to your room and patch him up." Teach growled above me. "Make sure he doesn't die before we get to have some real fun. If he does, you'll regret it."
I looked up fearfully and nodded. Teach grinned, placing a large bloody hand on my head. "That's my boy," he said, and then he turned and lumbered out of the room, flipping off the light as he went so that we were plunged into complete and utter darkness. I waited for his footsteps to vanish from down the hall before I moved, hoisting Zoro onto my back with what little strength I could muster and stumbling through the doorway. Even in darkness, I knew the room like the back of my hand, and soon we reached the tall metal door that led into our chamber.
I pushed it open with my forehead and proceeded to place Zoro, who had gone unnervingly quiet, onto his cot. I hurriedly found the small box of matches I kept by my pillow and lit the candle in the center of the room, the tiny fluttering light illuminating the room just well enough for me to examine Zoro's wounds. The gashes glowed like crimson ribbons in the candlelight, and I winced at how deep they were.
Absentmindedly fingering my own numerous scars, I rushed to gather the bandages and antiseptic I'd been granted after a close call a few months ago with my own injuries. I placed them on the cot beside Zoro's head, and I took in the boy's tear-stained face with a heavy heart. It disgusted me that Teach would steal another person from the world of light just to feed his own terrible desires, and I bit my lip both to keep myself from swearing and from crying.
I began to gently wrap Zoro's wounds, apologizing silently each time he winced in pain. I prayed to every deity I could think of plus a few I made up that he would be okay. When I was finished, I inspected my handiwork, and when I was satisfied that nothing was bleeding or life-threatening, I heaved myself onto the same cot and curled my back to Zoro's wounded side. I wanted him to keep warm, and I was worried that if I put a blanket over him it would aggravate his injuries. So I burrowed as close as I could to him, trying to will his shivers away with my body heat.
For a while, it worked, and I managed to slip off into an uneasy sleep with Zoro's shallow breath ghosting over my shoulder.
It didn't last long before the first round of nightmares came.
In my dreams, I saw Teach. I saw his face drawn up in a savage smile with blood dripping from his black eyes. I saw him cut me apart limb from limb, and then eat the limbs with his sharp monster teeth right in front of me. I saw him kill me. And then Sabo. And then me again.
I was crying before I even woke up.
Upon opening my eyes, familiar trembles wracking my body and wetness on my cheeks, I was greeted by the utter darkness signifying the candle had gone out, and a warm, gentle hand on my shoulder.
I wiped my face with the back of my hand and rolled over so that I was facing the body connected to the fingers that lightly gripped my shoulder. I could tell Zoro and I were face-to-face even though I couldn't see him, and I smiled into the darkness with relief.
"You're awake," I whispered softly. "I'm so glad. I was worried there for a while."
Zoro was silent for a moment, and then leaned forward so that our foreheads were touching. "...So all of that really happened? It wasn't... It wasn't just some kind of fucked up dream?" I could tell he was fighting to keep the quiver from his voice, and my heart broke a little at the amount of bravery he was showing.
I shook my head slightly. "No. It was real. Teach really did a number on you for your first time. It's gotta hurt a lot."
Zoro tensed as he remembered his injuries, and instantly hot guilt burned through me.
"I'm sorry." I whispered just loud enough for him to hear. "I'm really, really sorry." I fought to keep the tears back, but failed when a few of them slipped from lashes and dribbled down the bridge of my nose.
I felt Zoro raise his eyebrows in confusion. "The hell're you sorry for?" Zoro said, gently shifting his weight so that our knees touched. "It's not like it's your fault a demented psychopath decided to start kidnapping and torturing kids." Something warm brushed my knee and I knew that some of his injuries were bleeding again. More tears dripped down into the fabric of the cot and I bit back a sob.
"But it is," I whimpered miserably. "It is my fault. He hurt you because I wasn't enough. Because I wasn't strong enough to keep being how he liked. He got bored. A-and that's why you're here. Because of me. B-because... I-I wasn't... e-enough..." I covered my mouth with my hand to muffle the choked sobs that fought their way up from inside me. I heard Zoro sigh, and before I could react, I found myself swept up in a warm, albeit weak, hug.
Zoro rested his chin on the top of my head and held me close to his bandaged chest. I closed my eyes, and for a moment, it felt like I was with my brothers again, like I was safe and warm and protected. I buried my face into Zoro's shoulder and let the tears fall. I felt terrible for letting Zoro see me cry after only a day of knowing each other, but the sadness and the shame in me wouldn't allow me to stop. I clung to him, to the boy who was now in the same horrible place as I was, and I let him press his face into the crook of my neck a squeeze out a few of his own frustrated tears.
"It's not your fault." I heard him mumble. "It's not your fault."
But all I could do was lie there are cry and whisper apologies into Zoro's bloody linens. And he let me, which was more kindness than I'd received in a lifetime.
We stayed like that for a long time, each of us just taking comfort in the other. Zoro began to cry softly, his tears muted by the fabric of my shirt, and I rubbed soft circles in the uninjured part of his back to calm him down. I didn't know if he found it comforting or irritating, but he didn't tell me to stop. And in that small space of time something grew. Something big and bright and terrifying all in one.
It was a sense of need.
The feeling of having something that you simply cannot lose.
And it was beautiful.
It wasn't a friendship, so much as it was a sudden and passionate urge to protect, and I found myself frightened by the ferocity with which it struck. I wanted to keep Zoro safe. Even though I knew nothing about him other than his name, even though we'd only met a few hours before. I needed him to be safe. Somewhere deep inside me, I felt that that was what Zoro was feeling as well.
Zoro was the only one.
He was the only person here now, and so the only one I could protect.
If he was gone, then I would be all alone, at the mercy of Teach yet again with no one to hold me and cry with me and to tell me sweet lies like it is going to be all right. Zoro took a deep shuddering breath. He slid his hands up to grip both my shoulders, and I felt our eyes make contact even though neither of us could see.
"Luffy," he said slowly. "How long have you been down here?"
I wiped my nose and thought for a moment. "I dunno. At least a year." I was embarrassed by the shakiness of my voice and I prayed he didn't notice. He must have because his grip on my shoulders tightened.
"A whole fucking year...?" Zoro said, almost to himself. "Jesus, Luffy... that's..."
"It's okay, though," I said quickly, not wanting Zoro to feel bad. "It hasn't been so bad lately, nothing like what you went through today," lie. "And besides, I'm really strong, so I can handle the pain."
"But you shouldn't have to!" Zoro whispered fiercely, his hot breath tickling my cheeks. "It isn't fair for you to have to face this hellhole all by yourself! You shouldn't have to be strong for that bastard or do what he wants or fucking get cut up-" Zoro paused and sucked in a pained breath. When he spoke again, it was quiet, and sad. "... I heard you, you know. Back there." He shuddered. "You were screaming just as loudly as I was, trying to make him stop. For me you did that. No one's ever done something like that for me before." He paused and I held my breath, wondering what he was going to say.
I chewed the raw skin of my lip until I tasted copper.
"... What I'm trying to say is... thank you." Zoro said lowly. "Thank you for trying to help me, lot of good it did. And I'm sorry he that he hurt you too."
My eyes widened a fraction and I traced the familiar scars along my arms with one finger. "But Zoro, I keep telling you that it's my fau-"
"I don't want to hear it Luffy." Zoro said with finality. "The fact is, you're here, I'm here, and neither of us is strong enough right now to do anything about it. Got it?"
I nodded my head dumbly, surprised by the harshness of his words.
"Good." Zoro said tiredly. He yawned loudly and snuggled closer to me so that we were sharing heat. "Now let's get some rest. Who knows when that bastard will be back, so we've gotta be prepared, alright?"
I nodded. "Okay," I said, trusting in his words. "... Goodnight, Zoro."
Zoro yawned again. "Goodnight, Luffy." He moved so that my head rested against his chest, and I wondered if I was hurting him. Either I wasn't or he was just too tired to care because he made no sound or motion of discomfort. We were both silent after that, and slowly I felt my eyes getting heavier and heavier, until at last they were on the precipice of lowering me into a deep sleep.
I was just about to when the rumble of Zoro's voice cut into my thoughts.
"Hey, Luffy," he whispered.
"Yeah, Zoro?" I said tiredly back.
"I want to make you a promise."
"Promise? What kinda... promise..?"
"I want to promise you that we're gonna get outta here. Okay?"
"I'll watch your back, but only if you'll watch mine. Okay?"
And with that, the two of us drifted off into a warm sleep, our newly made promise like a blanket that covered us both and ushered us into the never-ending night.
Hey Guys! Are you all still out there? I hope so, because I have a bunch of cool stuff coming your way. Yes, I know that I have been gone for a hella long time, and for that, I offer you my deepest apologies. School sucks. Major balls. And so I offer unto you this completed chapter of a story I never thought I was going to continue. If you think I should finish it, be sure to leave reviews to tell me what you think, and don't hesitate to check out my other stuff! Well, until we meet again! - Miiki