"There has to be another way."
Zoro stood with one fist clenched, his jaw tight, staring out the window in Right Belly Fortress. Whale Forest was cloaked in night, the crickets creating a symphony for the nocturnal hunters. He could hear Luffy's laughter amidst the boisterous din of conversation and carousing in the main hall, where a feast was being held in the Strawhat's honor.
Zoro had been able to escape the Minks using him for a playground when one of their hosts had pulled him aside. A call had come for him on the den den mushi, and he'd been escorted to a quieter room off the main hall. He held the den den mushi in his open palm, its eyes half-lidded in boredom despite the tense conversation it was relaying.
"I told you, there isn't," Sanji's voice came over the den den, his tone harsh and his words clipped. He'd been gone for two days, voluntarily taken by Bege to be delivered to a Tea Party to get married. He'd managed to get hold of a den den mushi to make a single call, to Zoro.
"We can take care of ourselves," Zoro said, his fingernails digging into his palm.
"What about Patty or Carne? Or Vivi? Or someone from Momoiro? Anyone I've ever cared about is at risk," Sanji said. "I'm not going to have someone's death on my hands."
"We can't come after you," Zoro told Sanji. "Kaido is going to be coming after us. We need to be prepared. We can't be chasing you around the New World because you're stupid."
"I'm not asking you! I'll take care of this and then I'll be back."
But what if you don't come back? The words were on Zoro's tongue, but he didn't say them out loud. He wouldn't let his true fear be known - that Sanji would fall in love with his bride-to-be and never return to the Sunny.
Never return to Zoro.
Zoro had just gotten Sanji back after two very long years apart and then had to fight for him against every pretty woman they came across. Their relationship was barely starting to feel like it had been before Sabaody, and now Sanji was gone. Possibly forever.
"You shouldn't have left to begin with," Zoro said, with tightness in his voice and knots in his gut.
"I didn't have a choice, shithead."
"There's always a choice! For fuck's sake, you could have delayed until we got here and we could have figured out something!"
"I shouldn't have called you. I knew you were too stupid to understand," Sanji said.
"Then why did you even bother?!"
Sanji went silent for a moment, before murmuring, "I wanted to say goodbye."
"Oh." Zoro felt like his chest was being crushed by Zou, as he realized what Sanji meant. Zoro may not have said the words aloud, but Sanji had still heard them and agreed.
Sanji might choose not to return, because he fell in love with someone else.
Zoro fought not to throw the den den mushi as hard as he could out the window. His jaw ticked from clenching it so tightly. He hadn't realized he'd drawn his katana until he saw the gleam of silver in his hand. His body had reacted with instinct, to fight for what was his.
"Don't," he said, raw and vulnerable. Don't go. Don't say goodbye. Don't end this.
Zoro heard a click, and Sanji was gone.
Zoro carefully set the den den mushi on the edge of the windowsill. The pain in his heart was nearly overwhelming. He clenched Wado, staring sightlessly into the night.
The door opened behind him, and Franky's called his name. "Hey, Zoro. Brook has returned, and Luffy's wondering where you went."
"I'll be right there."
Franky left the door open, the sounds of merriment and singing spilling into the room. Zoro looked at Wado before slowly sheathing her and his all of his emotions. Somberly, he rejoined the feast in time for Brook to call for the newcomers to Zou to gather around him.
The den den mushi rang, the action causing it to fall from the windowsill. It landed on its side, and the shell triggered the receive. Sanji's apologetic voice floated into the empty room.
"Zoro, are you there? I was wrong. Zoro, do you hear me? I was wrong. I don't want to say goodbye..."