Zoro is old, and meets a young man who reminds him of something, long ago and far away...
The young one stepped through the bar's door, his eyes flicking back and forth. He eyed every man in the bar before finally coming to rest on the grey-haired man sitting by the bar. The young man took a step, and then another, and then with a cry he threw himself forward. A sword was suddenly in his hand, and he brought it around in a killing stroke.
The old man shifted, almost imperceptibly, and the blade imbedded itself not in his back, but rather in the bar with a /thud/. The old man turned his head to look at the young man.
"What do you want?"
"I'm here for your head, Roronoa Zoro!"
"Roronoa Zoro?" someone whispered behind him. Soon the bar was filled with people talking fearfully amongst themselves.
"The Legendary Swordsman? What's he doing here?"
"The Demon Hunter!"
"That old man is the legendary Roronoa Zoro!?"
In a matter of moments the bar was rapidly emptying. Nobody wanted to get caught between these two.
The young swordsman pulled his blade out of the countertop and swung it once more, trying to take the top of Zoro's head off. Zoro effortlessly ducked under it, and then fell backwards off his stool to avoid a downwards thrust. Impossibly, he righted himself before he hit the ground, and grabbed hold of one of his three swords. He did not draw it. Instead, he stood straight, well within striking distance, and spoke once more.
"Go home, bounty hunter, and find safer prey. I'm not interested in fighting you. You're far too weak."
The younger man laughed harshly.
"It's not your bounty that I'm after, Roronoa Zoro!"
He made another series of attacks. Zoro drew his own blade with blinding speed and casually parried. Every movement seemed uncaring, bored even. This fight held no challenge for him.
"I'm here for your title!" the young man finished as he stomped hard against the ground with both feet. A short blade popped out of the toe of each boot, and he flipped backwards, pushing off with his free hand while kicking upwards at Zoro's throat.
There was a clash of metal on metal as Zoro caught both blades on his sword. For a moment neither moved. The young swordsman strained, trying to push past Zoro's guard. The old man did not move at all, resisting the young man's efforts with no visible strain.
Then Zoro gave his blade a tiny flick, and the younger man went sliding across the tavern's floor, crashing into a table.
"My title?" Zoro asked derisively. "You wouldn't want it, even if you could take it from me. Now, put away your sword. This is your last chance. Once I start really fighting, I won't stop until it's finished."
"Good!" The young man shouted, lunging forward once more. He leapt through the air, twirling about, bringing all three blades to bear. He slashed with his sword, then fell on his left hand, using it to pivot about and stike with his feet. Zoro knocked the sword aside and danced back, keeping himself out of reach of the young man's feet. The challenger swung up, trying to press the attack, and Zoro slipped past his guard and slid his sword into the younger man's belly.
The young man gasped in pain as the steel blade penetrated his abdomen. He stared Zoro in the eyes, grimacing. Zoro looked at him with eyes devoid of any emotion, save perhaps pity. After a moment, Zoro pulled his katana free of the young man's body, and the young man collapsed on the ground.
Zoro stood over his opponent's defeated form. The young man was lying on the floor, clutching at his wound with both hands. Zoro gently placed the tip of his sword at the prone figure's throat.
"Yield," he advised.
For a moment, there was no sound but the young man's ragged breathing. Then he said, in a voice no louder than a whisper: "No."
The wounded swordsman snatched up his blade from the ground, and with a cry threw himself at Zoro once more. He was good, the former marimo had to admit. His strength, his speed, his skill...enough to slaughter a hundred ordinary men. In other circles, he would have been a force to be reckoned with.
But Zoro was the best that there was. The greatest swordsman in the world. This young man, scarcely more than a boy, was completely outmatched, even with his unique fighting style. Zoro easily deflected his assault and gave him a deep slash across the left leg. The boy stumbled and fell onto the ground once more.
"Yield!" Zoro exclaimed as the boy picked himself up again. He didn't even respond this time, but instead powered through his aching leg and threw himself at Zoro. His attack was clumsy this time, with one leg wounded and a hole in his gut. It was even easier than it should have been for Zoro to push his attack aside and cut him from hip to shoulder.
"Yield, or you're going to die!" he shouted as the boy pulled himself up once more.
"I don't care!" the young man shouted back, glaring at him with a face full of determination, and Zoro realized that he was telling the truth. He wouldn't give up, no matter how little hope he had, no matter how wounded he was.
"What is your name, boy?" Zoro asked, staring down at him.
"Modred...Northside," the boy panted out between heavy breaths.
Zoro nodded. "Modred Northside..." he repeated, absorbing this new information. He drew a second sword, and held it in a ready position.
"I'm going to show you the full extent of my power," Zoro said as he drew the Wado Ichimonji and gripped it between his teeth. "Show me yours. Don't disappoint me by holding back."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Modred said. Then he leapt upwards, jumped off the bar's ceiling, and launched himself at the Legendary Swordsman. With a cry of "Typhoon Rush!" he became a whirlwind of glinting steel and flesh.
"Onigiri!" Zoro called out as he dashed forward, faster than Modred could possibly see. Northside's blades shattered beneath his own, and he pushed farther, digging the edges deep into Modred's torso. He knew what he should do. He should press deeper, finish the fight once and for all, as he'd done countless times before. And he would, but...
But it was lonely at the top. He was not simply the greatest swordsman in the world, he was leagues above everybody else. Since defeating Mihawk and taking his title decades ago, truly challenging fights had become rarer and rarer. It had been years since he'd fought anyone good enough to really get his blood going. Sad as it was, this fight had been the best in a long, long time.
And he saw something familiar in Modred's eyes. Zoro had seen that blazing fire before, that unending determination, that complete unwillingness to surrender, no matter the cost. He saw a bit of his younger self in the young man's eyes. For a moment, he wondered if Mihawk had seen the same thing in him, all those years ago.
And so, ignoring a lifetime of training that was screaming at him to do otherwise, Zoro held off on the killing blow.
Modred collapsed, his chest exploding outwards in a crimson sunflower. He spit out blood as he lay on the tavern's dirty floor. An ordinary man could not have survived this. If the cuts had been even a millimeter deeper, he would have been dead before he hit the ground.
Zoro stood behind him, facing away as he slid his swords back into their sheaths.
"Your wounds are deep, and they will hurt for a long time, but they will heal. If you're half as strong as I think you are, you will survive this."
Zoro pulled the Wado Ichimonji out of his mouth and put it away with the other two. "A weakling like you can never hold the title of world's greatest swordsman. So become strong! Sail the seas and gain in power and skill. Find nakama, for the road will be far too long and hard for one man to tread alone. And when at last you are ready to fight for my title, I will be waiting. Surpass me, Modred Northside!"
With that, Zoro walked out of the bar, leaving the wounded man behind him.