For Zoro, the most hectic days always start with tranquil mornings. A calm before the storm, or something like that.
The sky is a beautiful shade of blue, one that reminds Zoro of lazy afternoons spent at Shimotsuki village — of hardening hearts and laughs that old winds brought, and new ones carried away. There aren’t many clouds in the sky, and Zoro watches as the heat stretches over his field of vision, coiling and sizzling all over the courtyard.
Under the relentless sun and the scrutinizing gaze of the marines, time passes slowly. He lets his eyes drift closed, lets his head hang low, the sun burn the nape of his neck. He naps and meditates in equal measure; sometimes, when the stars gently blink down at him and Zoro has no way of knowing what time it is, the two blend together, and, like the past few days, he can’t say when one ends and the other begins.
There are bruises hidden under the dirt on his skin, coloring his body with hues of purple and green. The blond brat comes and goes with an entitled speech and too many marines following his steps. Zoro wishes for nothing more than to wipe the stupid smirk off his face with nothing but a sword unsheathe, but whenever he considers kicking the kid just to prove that he’s not as defenseless as they might think, the fear of death painted across a little girl’s face flashes across his mind, and the blood-lusted demon inside him coils and waits for a better moment to strike.
It can wait. Zoro will live through those thirty days, he will survive, and then he will cut this entire base to pieces.
Not a lot of people have the courage to disturb him, nowadays. His reputation grows fed by the trail of blood he leaves behind everywhere he goes — Zoro relishes in the shivers of the people who cross gazes with him, and even more in the whispers that follow his every movement. Great people have great reputations, and Zoro takes pride in the fear that arises when someone says that the infamous Pirate Hunter is in town.
Which is why he doesn’t understand why those two kids don’t leave when he tells them to. They clearly know who he is, if the way the pink-haired kid shivers is anything to go by, but the boy with the straw hat pays him no mind. It’s annoying, to say the least.
But his attention is quickly diverted by a little girl running towards him, with her glinting doe eyes and bouncing pigtails, and Zoro pales.
Nothing he says makes her go away. The disappointed downturn of her lips would have been enough to make him cave any other day, but now, she has to run before the marines see her talking to him. Zoro wants her to live, goddammit. He’s fighting for both of them here, for his pride and her family's life. It would be a waste to let her get herself killed because she wanted to give him onigiri , of all things.
Still, it’s not enough. The girl quivers with fear at the sight of a purple dot followed by a pack of marines, and Zoro considers thrashing around just to divert their attention and give her a chance to escape.
But he can’t move. He can’t move when the brat stomps on the onigiri and she cries, can’t move when he threatens her, can’t move when a marine throws her over the wall. His limbs don’t answer anymore and he watches, rage clouding his vision and burning on his chest, as the brat laughs when she yells.
He’s so going to cut him to pieces.
Zoro waits for the noise of bones cracking, listens for a pained wail, but it never comes. Instead, the straw hat kid jumps over the wall and talks to him like he hadn’t just heard the execution order to whoever enters the courtyard.
Zoro dislikes him on principle. But he does give him the onigiri when he asks for it and leaves with a promise to tell the girl it was delicious, so he can’t be that bad.
When he falls asleep again, Zoro dreams of Kuina, of the irritated undertone of her voice as she scolded him for being careless again, of the way her calloused hands were oh so gentle on his heated skin despite her words. He dreams of opening his eyes only to find her in front of him, laughing because he fell asleep on a strange place again.
When he wakes up, there’s a shadow stretching towards him, and he startles. He looks up, and doesn’t know whether he should sigh in relief or growl in annoyance.
The straw hat kid is back. He’s a pirate, he learns, even though he didn’t ask. He insists that Zoro will be a part of his crew, even though he says he doesn’t want to.
Zoro’s dislike for him only grows. That is, until he flies into the base, declares he wants to be the King of Pirates, gives him back his swords and smiles when Zoro promises to cut him up if he ever stands between Zoro and his dream.
From then on, he can’t say he minds Luffy all that much.
Back in Shimotsuki village, Koshiro had a habit that always got under Zoro’s skin. When one of his disciples lost a fight, or when they got seriously injured and had to give up their swordsmanship, Koshiro would smile and say “Don’t be sad. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be.”
Zoro hates the idea of Fate. He hates to think that his entire life has been planned out, that all of his achievements and failures have been decided by some entity with nothing better to do. Every step he takes, every fight he fights, is because he wants to. He has a goal, and means to get there. It’s up to him whether or not he reaches it, whether he succeeds or fails. Fate has no saying in that.
Zoro doesn’t like to think that something was “meant to be”, but maybe, just maybe, he’s willing to consider his encounter with Luffy an exception.
During his travels, Zoro found all kinds of people. Interesting people, annoying people, forgettable people. He found pirates and marines, thieves and mercenaries, townsfolk and wanderers. He found all kinds of people, but never someone quite like Luffy.
Luffy, Zoro soon learns, is a force of nature. He’s the salty wind that brings a piece of ocean to the land; the maker of earthquakes and tsunamis; the gentle waves that lull seamen to sleep. Luffy is the Grand Line itself, calm surface that hides raging currents personified.
Luffy is full of life and will, full of stupid ideas and stupid behaviors that make Zoro want to strangle him on a daily basis — sometimes, he indulges, but only because he’s made of rubber, and Zoro would never agree to follow a man that would give in to a simple chokehold.
But that’s the catch, isn’t it? Zoro would never agree to follow anyone before Luffy.
He has his own path, after all. The road to greatness is a tiring, treacherous one. Zoro measures his steps carefully, with single minded focus on the end of the line. He has no need for detours, no need for distractions that’ll steer him from his path.
To follow someone is to believe in them, in their dreams and ideals. To follow someone is to care for someone, and believe that they care for you, too. He’d have to think of someone else before a fight, think of someone else when getting food, think of someone else before going to sleep. Zoro would have to trust them with his life, with his ambition, and that’s not something he’s willing to give.
Traveling with someone would be a pain in the ass. He doesn’t need a companion, much less a capitan.
He wants Luffy to be his, anyways.
Because when their eyes cross and they declare their ambitions for the whole word to hear, Zoro thinks ‘ah, we’re the same’ . The same fire that runs in his veins, white-hot and all encompassing, restless in its hunger to swallow everything it touches, burns within Luffy. It drives them both forward, makes them both stronger every time they fight, and it wouldn’t be a bother, would it, to follow someone who’s just like him.
Zoro and Luffy both want to swallow the world whole; isn’t it fitting, for a greedy creature like himself to follow someone just as greedy as he is?
Luffy laughs during battles and Zoro laughs with him, carefree and proud, because he finally found someone who’s worthy of being King. It’s easy, after that, to follow him into a battlefield, to unsheathe his swords on someone else’s name. It’s a graceless game of push and shove against the world, what they fall into, but Zoro doesn’t care, because Luffy is there with him.
Luffy is a raging river, crossing mountain ranges and open fields, wreaking havoc at every twist and turn he takes on his way towards the ocean. Zoro throws himself head first into the water because he trusts Luffy — trusts him to keep him safe, to honor his promise and take care of his dream the same way he takes care of his own.
Hidden beneath Luffy’s promise lay a thousand others. We will reach the top, it says. I won’t ever take my eyes off our goal. You will never have to walk alone again. I’ll treasure you. Treasure you and your ambition, for as long as we are together.
Luffy promises to help him take over the world. It’s only fair that Zoro, open chest spilling his blood and dreams on the broken deck of a sunken ship, promises him the same.
Every King needs a knight, and so a knight Zoro will become. He’ll be a spear and a shield, a one-man army that serves the one who will become King. Zoro will cut through everything that stands in the way of their dreams, through everything that threatens the fine balance of this ragtag crew that he decided to call family.
Luffy is a god in the making, an entity who will shape the world to their liking, one island at a time. But for now, he is only human — he laughs and fears and hungers and hurts. Zoro will be there beside him to take care of Luffy the same way Luffy takes care of him — letting him roam free and do what his heart desires, but always being there when he needs a place to go back to.
Zoro is not a man of religion, but he is devoted to a lot of things. The Bushido. His swords. Kuina, and the promise he made her.
Luffy enters that list the same way he enters Zoro’s life; sudden and unsolicited, he carves a place for himself on Zoro’s core between one blink and the next. When he opens his eyes to the figure of Luffy, glowing with the sun and the sea behind him, one hand holding his straw hat and the other extended towards Zoro, he sees a thread connecting them, and wonders when it got there. He wonders if he can cut it. He wonders if he’ll ever want to.
In the end, it doesn’t matter that much. The road to greatness is a tiring, treacherous one, and they still have a long way to go. Zoro has plenty of time to decide whether or not Luffy’s worth all the trouble he causes.
For now, he’ll settle for an afternoon nap.