Sanji has never been so terrified in all his life, this island had seemed so normal when they first got here. It had a bustling marketplace and friendly townsfolk and everything had just been so normal. He and Zoro had been sent to the opposite side of the island a few days walk away to pick up medicine for Chopper, there was nowhere to land the ship over there so they had to walk. Zoro had this idea that Nami was punishing him for something by making him and Sanji spend that much time together, not that Sanji's angel would ever do that to them.
Sanji hasn't seen Zoro in days. Not since... everything happened.
Sanji shudders as the mere memory, they were in the other town and it had been night so almost everything was closed. Then... the dead had started walking. Sanji doesn't mean like it was on Thriller Bark just a few months ago, no, this was literal zombies. He'd seen a man get bitten and then wake up and eat his friends alive, after about five minutes what remained of his friends got up and started moving around too. It was contagious.
Sanji is understandably worried about Zoro. They'd lost each other in the mad scramble from the village when everything went to shit, all Zoro had to do was follow him out of there and he couldn't even manage that. Asshole had got himself lost and now Sanji was trying to avoid the living dead AND track down Zoro's directionless ass at the same time.
Sanji leans down and picks up the black fluttering piece of fabric and looks around at the devastation on the beach. There is blood everywhere but it's black and thick, not human. There's also bits of the dead strewn around the place, including a dismembered arm that is slowly crawling its way towards Sanji by its fingers. He snarls and kicks it into the ocean.
Zoro had been here, there was no two ways about that, Sanji knows his work anywhere. There are footprints in the sand leading off down the beach and judging by the spacing between them Zoro was running and he was being pursued by at least one of those creatures. Sanji follows the tracks with his heart in his throat. The tracks are still complete which means that Zoro's been here recently, Sanji tries to remember what time the tides are on this island because Zoro has been here within the last tide, all of his tracks are still intact and yet well within what the tide would have washed away if it had been since.
A little ways down the beach Sanji finds a bisected zombie crawling towards him, Sanji gives it a very wide berth and runs along after Zoro's tracks. Eventually they merge into the woodland and Sanji resorts to trying to locate Zoro again the hard way, by following signs like snapped branches of bent twigs and leaves suggesting that he disturbed the forest by walking that way.
The forest itself is oppressive, both in the sense that it's too quiet, there are no animal noises. No birds singing in the trees and no rabbits or anything running around, it feels like everything in the forest is holding its breath. The trees surrounding Sanji make him feel trapped and claustrophobic with nowhere to run. He sincerely hopes that he doesn't run into any of the living dead in here because he won't be able to run at full speed if he has to avoid all of these trees.
He comes to a valley in the forest and Sanji can see huge scuff and scrape marks down the side of it, it looks like someone fell in. Probably Zoro. Cautiously he makes his way to the very edge and peers down into the valley. The flash of Zoro's bright green hair catches Sanji's attention immediately and his heart soars. The dumbass is okay! He's okay and wandering directionless around the bottom of the valley as if he can't work out where he's supposed to go now, idiot.
From behind another tree a zombie appears, shuffling and covered in blood. It's missing an arm and something appears to be wrong with its leg from the way it's walking.
"ZORO! LOOK OUT!" Sanji yells at the top of his lungs. The idiot hasn't seen the stupid thing and like hell Sanji is gonna watch him get attacked!
Zoro's head snaps around in Sanji's direction and all in one horrible wave Sanji realises his mistake. Zoro heard him alright, but so did the other zombie in the valley. And Sanji says other because there are two in there. Zoro is staring his way with dead eyes and his mouth is open in a horrifying snarl. Already Sanji can see that Zoro's skin colour isn't right, it's not its usual glowing tan, instead it's a sickly pale colour of death.
The zombie that Sanji had tried to warn Zoro about starts lurching towards Sanji at a surprisingly fast pace considering its leg, but worse than that is the fact that Zoro is running right towards him and Zoro is fast.
"SHIT!" Sanji yelps and turns tail, running as fast as he can away from the thing that was Zoro. Zoro must have been bitten and Sanji has spent all this energy tracking down a man that will likely kill him. He tries to focus on avoiding the trees in his mad sprint, he really doesn't want to become one of them, he can't stand the thought of that happening. Zoro is dead on his heels, snarling and snapping his jaw. Oh god, Zoro is really dead, he's one of them. What about his dream? He's never going to achieve it now! If only Sanji had kept Zoro closer to him when they'd run then Zoro wouldn't have been separated and caught on his own and wouldn't be bitten and dead!
He hears Zoro ricochet off of a tree but he's now not the only one chasing Sanji, a quick glance behind him shows that as well as his dead eyed ex-nakama there's two other zombies sprinting after him and they're gaining. They have the unfortunate advantage of not needing to breathe whereas Sanji is practically choking on air in his haste to get it into his lungs, he's sprinting as fast as he can but he's not meant to do that speed over distances this long.
A hand snags in the back of Sanji's jacket and he tumbles to the forest floor, two bodies coming down with him. He twists and lands on his back, just in time to catch the zombie that downed him in the chest with a foot. He kicks for all he's worth and sends one of them flying into a tree with a loud snap that sounds spinal. The other one however is balancing on Sanji's foot and clawing in the direction of his face with wild hands.
"GET OFF!" Sanji shrieks as the clawing fingers scrape down his legs, thankfully Sanji's clothes are made of fabric thick enough to ward off slight scratches but they won't hold out for long at this rate.
With a blur of green the zombie is knocked from Sanji's foot and he scrambles back away from it. Zoro... or the thing that was Zoro has the thing pinned to the ground and is ripping at its neck with his teeth. They'll attack each other then.
Sanji leaps to his feet, adrenaline flooding his system and with a panicked scramble he climbs up the nearest tree, climbing as high as he dares and hoping against hope that these things can't climb too. The meaty sounds stop after a little while, though Sanji isn't sure how long he's been clinging to the tree with his face pressed into the trunk trying to convince himself that this isn't real. He's scared, he doesn't want to die, and he really doesn't want to die like this, eaten alive by his nakama.
Footsteps under his tree make Sanji look down. There's Zoro, pale skinned and dead eyed looking up at him. Zoro's eyes are supposed to be a rich golden brown, like caramel and chocolate. Now they're a dead grey colour. Zoro's entire face is smeared with the black blood of his fellow zombie and his mouth is hanging slightly open as he stares up at Sanji, circling the base of the tree.
"I'm so sorry Zoro." Sanji sobs down to the thing that used to be a man.
"If I'd just stayed with you then you wouldn't have got lost and... and this wouldn't have happened. I'm so sorry!" He chokes out, apologising to a dead man.
Zoro stares at him and hisses, long and low. It's an inhuman sound that chills Sanji to his core. A groan and a rustle across the way makes Zoro's head snap across to look at it, a motion that would hurt a living person but apparently not Zoro. Zoro snarls and leaps across to what remains of the zombie that Sanji had kicked. Sanji looks away.
Eventually Zoro returns to the base of the tree, hissing and staring up at Sanji.
"Sssssss." Zoro hisses at him.
"Zoro..." Sanji whines pathetically, his guilt overwhelming him.
"Aaaaaa..." Zoro continues, his mouth stretching around the sound.
"I'm going to have to kill you aren't I?" Sanji mutters to himself. How can he get down there and kill Zoro without getting bitten or killed himself? Zoro's so fast and strong like this. Besides, Sanji has so much practice of hitting Zoro to hurt and not kill that he's not sure he can override his instincts to not seriously hurt Zoro. Sure the two of them fight but neither ever go for a killing blow, neither of their reflexes will allow it. He doesn't want to go down there and find that he still can't do that. This Zoro has no such instincts and he will kill Sanji.
"Saaaaaannnn..." Zoro hisses. Sanji jerks. Did Zoro just...?
"Sannjiii..." Zoro groans out.
He did! He just said Sanji's name, he's sure of it!
"Sanji." Zoro repeats brokenly. He stares up at the awestruck Sanji for a few moments and then snaps his jaw shut, biting at the air and making Sanji flinch.
Zoro groans and shuffles off, his movements uncoordinated now that he's not chasing Sanji. With his heart in his throat Sanji climbs down a branch to get a better look at what Zoro is doing. How can Zoro have said his name? There's nothing left of the human inside when they turn, he's seen that well enough. But Zoro said his name...
Zoro hauls the second dead zombie over to the base of the tree, it's skull is caved in and it's well and truly dead. Zoro shambles off again and grabs the other and hauls it over too. The head of this one is still alive but the rest of it is in bits. Zoro stares at the still chomping head for a few long moments before dropping to his knees, picking it up and slamming it into the base of the tree until it stops biting the air.
Zoro stays there motionless for a little while. Sanji watches him and can see that the other man isn't breathing at all, there's no movement from him whatsoever, he's just sitting there staring straight ahead as if in a trance. Perhaps... he can climb down quietly and get away without Zoro seeing.
Cautiously he climbs lower, there's no movement from Zoro at all and so he continues descending. Eventually he's at the last branch and Zoro hasn't so much as twitched. Steeling all of his courage Sanji drops the final way and lands on the floor. No sooner than he does Zoro's gaze snaps up to Sanji and he hisses.
"SHIT!" Sanji yelps and sprints away. It takes Zoro a second or two to get to his feet but he's hot on Sanji's trail. Sanji is still tired from earlier and Zoro gains on him really quickly. They've barely gone half a mile before Zoro lunges at him and drags him to the ground. They tumble over a few times, still carried by their momentum and Sanji ends up on the bottom with Zoro's heavier weight pressing down at him. Zoro skin is smeared with the black ooze from the zombies he attached and he snarls as he brings his face to Sanji's. Sanji yelps and twists away, foolishly exposing his throat to Zoro. In a second he can feel Zoro's teeth on his jugular and Sanji squeezes his eyes shut knowing that he's a goner.
Zoro's teeth just stay there, not doing more than merely touching the skin. After a few long seconds he pulls back.
"Sssanji." Zoro says, his dead breath ghosting across Sanji's skin.
"Zoro?" Sanji squeaks out, squirming backwards as much as he can and looking at Zoro.
"Sanji." Zoro repeats.
The two stare at each other for a little while. Zoro not making any further moves to kill Sanji and even letting him squirm fully away from him. He just sits there and stares at Sanji, his dead eyes unblinking.
"Do you remember me?" Sanji asks shakily. Can zombies remember? He's not seen any evidence of anyone else remembering people they knew when they were alive, he's seen family members eat each other since everything went to hell. So why does Zoro seem to remember him.
"Sanji." Zoro responds again.
"Yeah, I got that idiot. I know that you know my name." Sanji snaps out tensely.
"Sanji." Zoro repeats.
Sanji rolls his eyes. Great. It seems that something of Zoro's instincts have remained of him, the 'don't actually kill Sanji' instinct. Other than that there seems to be nothing going on behind those blank eyes of his.
He gets to his feet and Zoro copies him, lurching unsteadily into standing. Zoro is filthy, covered in blood and mud. Granted Zoro wasn't the most hygienic man when he was alive but even Zoro would have cleaned himself up a little before he got to this stage.
Sanji lights a smoke carefully and watches Zoro who seems content to just stand there and stare in his direction. Cautiously Sanji takes a few steps to the side and, yes, Zoro's gaze follows him. He takes a step back and Zoro takes a step towards him. He's just on autopilot.
He exhales smoke through his nose and looks at his nakama. Zoro is dead, there's no two ways about that. Whilst this thing seems to remember vaguely who he is, it's still not Zoro in there. He ought to give his nakama some kind of proper burial. He's not sure he can bring himself to end Zoro though, so he's kind of at a loss for what to do.
His eyes fall on the swords at Zoro's waist. Zoro wouldn't want those getting damaged or being dragged around by a corpse who can't use them. Shit. He needs to take them back, for Zoro.
Anxiously he takes a step towards Zoro and is pleased to see that there is no reaction. He gets closer and closer but Zoro still doesn't move. Eventually he's close enough to touch and, with his heart in his throat, Sanji reaches out and touches Zoro's chest.
Zoro's not so much cold as he is merely the temperature of the surrounding air. He's cold for a person but not actually cold so to speak. He doesn't react to Sanji's touch apart from looking down at his hand. Emboldened by Zoro's lack of mauling him Sanji trails his hand down to Zoro's haramaki. He tugs it up slightly to reveal the belt that his swords hang from. Gently Sanji undoes the belt and removes it and the swords from Zoro. There's no reaction at all, Zoro really isn't in there.
Sanji takes a few steps back and does the belt around his own waist. The weight of them unbalances Sanji a little but he's sure he'll get used to it soon enough.
"I'll keep them safe. I'm so sorry." He says seriously. Zoro just watches him and says nothing.
Sanji turns to leave, there's nothing that he can do for Zoro now. As he takes a step he hears the crunch of the forest floor behind him and he nearly jumps out of his skin at the sound. He whirls around to see Zoro stepping towards him, he stares wild eyed at Zoro and Zoro stops walking and stares back, making no movements to attack. Frowning Sanji takes a step backwards, still facing Zoro. Zoro takes a step towards him. Sanji takes a few more and so does Zoro. He's following him.
"Great." Sanji groans, turning his back to Zoro and walking off back to the direction that he knows the ship is moored. Zoro is still walking behind him, silent as the grave. Zoro is stuck on some stupid auto pilot of following Sanji. If only he'd done this well when he was alive then they wouldn't be in this situation that they're in now!
An hour or two passes and Zoro is still peacefully following Sanji, despite all that Sanji has done to try to lose him, climbing over things and ducking under things.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with your swords." Sanji says out loud, just to fill the silence.
"They're not really Brook's kind of swords, he's a fencer. I mean, you know that obviously but, yeah. None of us can do them justice, not like you can. Besides isn't one of them cursed?" Sanji wonders aloud. He glances back to the dead man following him, he remembers Zoro telling him that one of the swords has always got its master killed. It looks like Zoro was no exception to that rule.
"I suppose you'd know." He sighs softly.
"I could try to get them to your old sensei. I don't know what town you came from though, but I'm sure Nami could find him. We'd have to leave the Grand Line again though, sail way back past where we started. I don't know if we can do that. I don't know how one gets out of the Grand Line, it's not like we can just sail over the calm belt and jaunt across there for a little break is it?" Sanji snorts. Zoro has nothing to say to this.
"We'll work something out, I promise." He vows.
Sanji tries not to talk too much after that, though he can't help but pipe up with his thoughts every so often, the silence is just so weird. If he doesn't look around at Zoro he could swear that this almost feels normal, it's probably just the grief but he feels like he can feel Zoro's aura just behind him.
Sanji is getting low on water and he's feeling really hungry. He's seen nothing to eat though, no fungi, no fruit and no animals. He really doesn't like being hungry and all he's got in his pack is water, they'd eaten all their supplies and were going to shop for food on the morning that all hell broke loose. He glances back at Zoro, the other man is still wearing his pack. Sanji can't help but wonder if Zoro has water in there. It's not like he needs it is it?
He pauses and Zoro stops as well, he simply stands there watching him.
"Sanji." Zoro grunts out.
"Yeah, I'm Sanji." he agrees and tries to walk around Zoro to get to his pack. Zoro just slowly rotates with him so that he's always staring at Sanji.
"No, stop. Stay still. Stay." He orders, holding his palm out. Zoro stares at it and Sanji tries to move again. Zoro's head follows Sanji this time but his body stays put. Eventually Sanji gets behind Zoro who is straining his neck to keep looking at him. Sanji flips open Zoro's pack. He's not got any food either but he does have a blanket, some basic medical supplies and a full canteen of water.
"Thank god." He murmurs removing it and walking in front of Zoro again. He tries to open it but Zoro has screwed it on really stiff with his monstrous strength. He grunts in strain against it and is startled when Zoro lets out a harsh breath, Sanji looks up at him suspiciously, that almost sounded like a laugh. But Zoro has no expression on his face so Sanji is convinced that he must have imagined it.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out Zoro's bandana. With that assisting his grip he's able to unscrew the lid of the canteen. It sloshes water over Zoro's bandana and Sanji groans unhappily, great he's wasted some. He looks at the wet cloth in his hand and back up to the grimy and blood smeared Zoro.
"Stay still." he says softly, an idea occurring to him. Zoro just watches him as Sanji gets into his space and hesitantly raises the bandana. He reaches up and gingerly brushes Zoro's face with the wet cloth, it leaves a clean streak on his skin. Underneath all that grime Zoro looks almost normal. Sanji keeps washing, encouraged by Zoro's lack of trying to bite him. Zoro even shuts his eyes when Sanji tells him to.
Before too long Zoro's face is clean, if slightly damp and pale. He looks like himself again. Sanji could almost believe that he's just a little sick, his skin a little pale and clammy, but still alive. If anything seeing him like this hurts more but Zoro deserves better than to have his corpse looking like hell. He takes Zoro's left hand and cleans that too, but when he reaches for Zoro's left the other man hisses threateningly, making Sanji leap back in fear.
He stares at Zoro who drops his arm to his side and stares back, hostility gone. Puzzled Sanji reaches for Zoro's hand again, Zoro hisses once more and steps back away from Sanji.
"Give me your hand idiot. I'm not going to hurt you, you're dead already!" Sanji insists exasperated.
He takes Zoro's hand, ignoring the angry hiss that Zoro is giving him. He holds on tight as Zoro tries to pull back and scrubs away at the muddy dirty flesh regardless. Zoro is yowling angrily now, thrashing away from Sanji until Sanji reaches his wrist and Zoro goes still. Sanji pushes Zoro's jacket back a little and reveals his wrist.
There in the pale skin are a row of bite marks, deep into the skin and with black lines radiating out from them. This is where Zoro was bitten. Zoro hadn't... hadn't wanted him to see. He cleans it gently, trying to avoid hurting the man by digging too deeply into the wound. The bite looks a little crooked though. He holds Zoro's arm out in front of him and the bite mark evens out a little more. Curiously he clenches Zoro's fist from him and tilts his hand ever so slightly, visualising the sword in his hand. The bite becomes even in shape now, this is how Zoro hand been holding himself when he was bitten, he was fighting.
"Oh Zoro..." Sanji breathes softly, wiping over the bite and tucking Zoro's jacket down over it when he's done. Zoro had fought them off, that was why the beach was littered with bits of zombie. Only Zoro wasn't used to opponents who didn't feel pain and didn't care about being killed. So one had got too close and sunk their teeth into him. Zoro had got away but the infection had turned him anyway.
He looks mournfully up at Zoro who isn't looking at him at all. So Zoro's pride survived his death too.
"You went out like a warrior then." He says slowly and Zoro's gaze returns to Sanji.
"You did good." Sanji nods tightly, trying to ignore the way his eyes are stinging. He distracts himself with dusting down Zoro's clothes and making him look like less of a wreck. By the time he's done Zoro is looking at him again and he looks almost normal.
"We'd better get going, we're burning daylight." Sanji says awkwardly and turns to walk away, sipping at Zoro's canteen as he does so and sliding the now dirty bandana into his jacket pocket. Zoro follows him and the two walk in silence until the sun sets. Sanji is ravenously hungry now but he's still not seen any sign of life or anything to eat at all, he wonders if Zoro's presence is scaring them off.
He climbs a tree, seeing nothing else to do. He doesn't want another zombie to sneak up on him in the night, though he's pretty sure that he can trust Zoro not to eat him in his sleep. He sprawls out on a mid level branch and wraps his legs around it, trying to get to sleep and ignore his hunger. Zoro is standing there staring up at him; not moving, or sitting down, or sleeping, or anything.
"Go to sleep dead marimo." Sanji croaks out, his throat catching on the word dead. It's so hard to believe that Zoro is dead but he is. Sanji buries his face in his sleeve and sobs quietly.
"What am I going to do without you Zoro?" He whimpers softly. Zoro has nothing to offer to his question.
"You're the one person that I could fight and trust to be myself with, I know we never got on but... we're like two sides of the same coin, you know?" He explains. If only he'd said this to Zoro when he was, you know, alive. Zoro just looks up at him blankly.
"You're part of me and now you're dead and it's all my fault, if I hadn't-" Sanji chokes out, tears flowing freely now.
"Sanjiii." Zoro groans, Sanji opens his eyes to see Zoro reaching up towards him, his hands falling short of the branch no matter now high he reaches. Sanji holds on with one arm and leans down, stretching his fingertips far out until they brush Zoro's.
"Sanji." Zoro repeats, his touch lingering on Sanji's fingertips before he drops his arms.
"Thanks." Sanji says brokenly, tucking himself up on the branch and trying to sleep.
"Ugh, I'm so fucking hungry. I hate being hungry." He bitches quietly as he tries to go to sleep.
He's jolted out of a shallow sleep by the sound of footsteps, he glances around fearfully in the dark and squints at the ground below. Zoro is gone.
Sanji's heart sinks, he suppose Zoro has wandered off to do whatever it is zombies do. He should feel lucky that he got to apologise and say goodbye to Zoro. Most people didn't get that, he's lucky. He curls up a little tighter on his branch and tries to sleep some more.
A screech jolts him back into alertness before he can even drift off again and Sanji is sure that he'll never sleep again in his life, not with how much adrenaline he's currently got in his system. The screech ends as soon as it started and that terrifies Sanji even more. He strains his ears and slowly he can hear the sound of something shuffling closer. He holds his breath in terror and hopes to god that whatever it is that's coming closer doesn't see him. He peers out into the darkness and sees a shadowy shape emerging from the bushes, dragging something with it. It reaches the base of his tree and when it stares up Sanji catches a glint of earrings in the moonlight and realises that it's Zoro. He flicks his lighter on and sees that it is indeed Zoro and Zoro has something with him.
"Is that a deer?" Sanji breathes in awe as he drops down onto the floor. It is, a doe in fact, young and reasonably small but a deer nonetheless. It's food. His stomach growls fiercely and Sanji is hit by a wave of hunger so intense that he feels like he's been hit with a brick.
"Sanji." Zoro grunts dropping it at his feet.
"You brought me this?" Sanji asks in awe, that must have been the screech that he heard earlier. He hesistates though, is this deer infected? He looks up at Zoro in the flickering light of the lighter and sees that there's no blood on Zoro's face or hands and the deer itself appears to have had its neck snapped instead of being bitten. It's clean.
"Eat." Zoro says flatly.
"What?" Sanji blinks in awe, looking up at Zoro.
"Eat." Zoro repeats, kicking at the deer.
"Oi, don't kick it!" Sanji berates Zoro out of habit. Zoro grunts and stares at him.
"I need a fire to cook this, I can't eat it raw." Sanji says quietly. Can he risk a fire? A small one perhaps? He's so hungry and Zoro has already shown that he'll kill other zombies so... yeah. A fire.
He starts a small fire going and carefully cuts chunks of meat from the deer and sets them up to cook, putting sticks through them so they'll roast with the heat. He cooks as much as he thinks that he can possibly eat in one go, he has no safe way to transport the food after all so he needs to eat what he can.
Even so, there's still a lot of deer left over and so he looks up at Zoro who is watching him quietly.
"Do you want to eat the rest? I mean... do you need to eat? I don't know how this works." He says gently.
"Eat." Zoro nods at him.
"Yeah, I'm eating this, do you want to eat this?" Sanji sighs, pointing to his own cooking meat and then to the leftover deer. Zoro grunts in agreement, a noise that wouldn't be out of place with a living Zoro. The swordsman grabs the deer carcass and drags it off into the shadows, he can hear the sound of Zoro eating. Sanji frowns as he cooks, is Zoro... ashamed? Hell, is he even self-aware enough to be ashamed of something like this?
Sanji's logic says no, Zoro's dead but... but Zoro comforted him when he cried and Zoro's brought him food. He's been peaceful with him and let him take his swords. And there's the whole talking thing too, he's never heard a zombie do that, not that he has a lot of experience, but still. There's definitely something of Zoro still in there.
"You don't have to stay over there you know... I don't mind." He calls out quietly to Zoro. There's a ripping sound and then Zoro shuffles back. He's all bloody again and Sanji rolls his eyes, even dead Zoro is still a messy eater. Zoro drops to the ground opposite Sanji and chews slowly on a hunk of raw meat in his hand. It's a little grim to look at but raw meat isn't something that really skeeves Sanji out, he's a cook after all and deals with raw meat enough as it is. He's just dismembered a deer after all. It's just a little odd to see someone eating it raw like that.
Sanji's own food is cooked now and between them they sit in silence and eat, as usual Sanji is the more civilised of the pair.
"I don't think you're completely dead Zoro." Sanji says quietly. Zoro doesn't react.
"So maybe if I bring you back to Chopper he can cure you or something. Maybe he can cure everyone else when he finds out how to fix you. You'll be back to normal, I swear." He promises boldly, though he's got no idea how Chopper might do that. He reaches forward and feels Zoro's neck, he searches for a pulse and of course doesn't find one. Well curing death would certainly put Chopper on the way to becoming the world's greatest doctor, just as long as he doesn't go all Hogback on them about it.
Eventually Sanji has eaten all that he can physically manage and is actually feeling a little ill for it. Zoro too is done with his raw meat. Sanji takes a swig from Zoro's canteen and uses it to wet Zoro's bandana again.
"Try to stay clean for five goddamn minutes this time, yeah?" He grumbles as he rubs Zoro's bloodied face clean. Zoro glares at him and Sanji is taken aback by the Zoro like expression, so much so that his hand stills. He looks at Zoro for a second, maybe it's just the firelight and wishful thinking but he swears that Zoro's skin looks a little more normal and his eyes a little less grey.
He shakes his head, he's imagining things.
"I'm gonna go fall into a food coma now, thank you for the dinner." He says, standing up. He kicks dirt over the fire and smothers it, blindly groping his way back to his tree before climbing it, his night vision ruined by the fire.
Sanji awakes in the morning to see that Zoro is still there, sat down on the floor and staring into space. Sanji has a cursory look around but doesn't see any other zombies around and so he drops to the floor. Zoro looks up at him and stands up with a grunt, Sanji hears the bones in his back click.
"Come on idiot, we've got lots of ground to clear today." He says and heads off with Zoro following him. There's not a lot of talking coming from Zoro's end but Sanji babbles on about whatever happens to cross his mind. He bitches about the way Zoro's swords hit his legs or about the fact that this island had to have something horrible about it. He wonders aloud about what might be the cause of this and what kind of disease it must be to have these effects.
Partway through a rant about the fucking slope of the forest Zoro snarls and grabs his fist in the back of Sanji's jacket, yanking him backwards against him. As he does so Sanji sees what Zoro has seen, there's a zombie a little way away, staring right at them. This one's got a huge gash across its face and is missing a chunk out of it's shoulder. Zoro pins Sanji tight against him and lets out a screeching snarl that sounds completely inhuman and chills Sanji's blood.
Sanji's heart hammers in his chest as he stays pinned with fear and by Zoro's big arms around him. Zoro snarls again and the creature shambles off, evidently figuring that the swordsman can put up a better fight, dead or otherwise. The two stay frozen like that for some time, with Zoro's breath ghosting across Sanji's jaw and the shell of his ear the only sound that he can hear.
He jolts at that, Zoro is breathing!
He wriggles out of Zoro's grip and turns to look at him. Zoro watches him. Sanji raises a hand to Zoro's face and yes... Zoro is breathing!
"You're... you're breathing!" He exclaims in wonder! He reaches for Zoro's neck and is disappointed to find that there's still no pulse there. But... he hadn't been breathing yesterday and now he is. Is this just a temporary thing? Is Zoro getting better? How on earth can you get better from being dead?
Zoro's heart hasn't been beating so oxygen hasn't been getting to his brain, he should be irreparably dead. And yet, he's been thinking this whole time, talking too. So... something is still working there. He's not a doctor but he supposes that it doesn't matter, medicine probably has no answers for this either. It probably doesn't happen a lot.
"Sanji." Zoro says pointedly, and yes, his speech sounds clearer too now. Less clunky and groan like.
"Yes?" He asks expectantly.
"Sanji." Zoro repeats, shoving Sanji backwards.
"Oh, right, yes... walking. Sorry." Sanji mutters embarrassed.
"Thank you for... scaring that thing off." He adds gratefully.
Zoro mumbles something under his breath that sounds slightly embarrassed and entirely Zoro like. Sanji grins like a moron.
After a while more of walking Sanji spots a familiar plant growing not too far away.
"Mint!" he exclaims gleefully, jogging to it and picking off several leaves and chewing them. The flavour bursts on his tongue and makes Sanji feel a little better for not having brushed his teeth in a day or two. He rubs his finger over his teeth until they squeak, figuring that it's better than nothing.
"You could probably use some of this too. I know you're dead but it's not excuse to smell, and now that you're breathing you can actually have bad breath. So eat." He insists, pulling off several leaves and thrusting them in Zoro's direction.
Zoro just looks blankly at them and then at Sanji.
"Don't give me that look. I know you can understand me now open up." He orders, squeezing Zoro's cheeks until the marimo opens his mouth. Sanji winces and shoves the mint inside.
"UGH. You smell like something dead." He grimaces, backing away from Zoro who just stands there glaring at him with his mouth open and mint leaves sitting on his tongue.
"I don't care if that's offensive to you corpse-boy, EAT." He snarls at Zoro. Zoro glares at him and slowly chews, seemingly understanding enough of Sanji's demand. Sanji grabs some more of the mint plant for good measure. After some time Zoro swallows the mint with a grimace and a growl and Sanji continues his trek through the woods followed by a minty fresh zombie. Of all the things that Sanji thought would ever happen to him on the Grand Line, this was not one of them. He needs to start writing this stuff down so that he can compare notes with Zeff when he sees him again, he knows that Zeff kept a log of all that happened to him.
By late afternoon they find a creek but Zoro refuses to go in or to let Sanji anywhere near it, he just stands there and snarls at the water and barks out "no!" whenever Sanji tries to go near it. Sanji is pissed. He wants to refill his canteen and have a wash if he can. Besides it's not like Zoro can't scare off other zombies and hell, Sanji is even more armed than usual with Zoro's swords at his side.
Zoro is pacing the edge of the water and hissing and snarling at it, he looks like an angry cat. Do zombies have some kind of aversion to water or something? Zoro didn't seem to mind too much when Sanji washed him with his bandana, except for when Sanji had gone near his bite.
"It's just water." He reasons with Zoro but the dead man ignores him, snarling at the water.
"Look, I don't know what your problem is. Look." Sanji sighs, pulling his own shirt off and fiddling with the button to his trousers. Zoro looks at him wide eyed then.
"Oh come on, don't look at me like that. We've done this before Zoro, so don't make me come over there and strip you too. I'd really like to keep the list of sins that I've committed away from the whole perverted acts against the dead." Sanji grumbles. Zoro keeps staring at him and Sanji replays what he's just said in his own head.
"Uh! Not that I was thinking of having sex with you or anything! I mean, you're dead and necrophilia is just- which isn't to say that I've ever thought about having sex with you when you were alive or anything!" Sanji blurts out anxiously, his face going tomato red. And yeah, he can tell that story all he likes but he knows that he's gotten drunk and jerked off to the thought of Zoro more than once, not that he'd ever want to admit it sober.
Whatever! That's not the point! They need to wash so he needs to get Zoro in that water. Zoro has stopped staring at him and is back to snarling furiously at the placid water. Sanji groans and walks to his side, hoping to drag Zoro to the water and wash him properly. Zoro is pacing under the shade of a tree and glaring at the water like he wants it dead.
"If you want me to convince the others not to kill you it'd help if you didn't smell like a corpse. Not that you actually smell that bad now, but at the very least your shirt needs a wash, you're covered in blood so let's just- WHOA." Sanji jumps at he looks at the water. Now that it's shaded he can see that there are several zombies under the water, clawing up at the surface and towards Zoro. That's what Zoro was growling at, why he didn't want Sanji to go in the water. He would have been completely unaware of them and been eaten alive!
"Ok... point taken. No baths. Zombies can live in water, got it." He says shakily.
Zoro snarls at them and paces back and forth, Sanji stares at the zombies in the water, their hungry dead eyed gaze is following Zoro too, not just him. They want to eat Zoro as well...
"Zoro come here." Sanji asks, beckoning Zoro over. Zoro looks over at him and comes closer. Sanji looks at him properly, his skin isn't as pale as it was before and his eyes are most certainly more brown and gold than they were before, less of a dead grey. Sanji presses his hand to Zoro's chest and the marimo actually feels slightly... warm. Only a little bit though, and as Sanji feels Zoro's fingers and his hands he realises that at Zoro's extremities he's still cold. No circulation he supposes. He feels for Zoro's pulse and waits for a good long while to see if there's anything there.
Zoro looks at him, it's proper eye contact too and Sanji sees something human flicker in Zoro's dull eyes. Sanji doesn't think that he can feel Zoro's pulse, but it's hard to tell with his own beating so loudly in his veins. Zoro might be ok...
Zoro hisses at the water until Sanji pulls him away from the creek. Sanji slides back into his shirt and weaves a wide path around the creek, once they're away from it Zoro seems to calm down a lot more.
"Sanji..." Zoro says slowly a few hours later.
"Yeah?" Sanji asks, looking over his shoulder at Zoro. Zoro is looking down at the bite on his arm, his jacket pulled back enough to see it.
"Why?" Zoro says slowly, sounding confused.
Sanji's feet grind to a halt. Why did this sickness come just as they got the island? Why was Zoro bitten? Why did he turn? Why does he remember things? Why hasn't he killed and turned Sanji too? Why, why, why?
"I... I don't know." He says quietly.
"But we're going to find an answer, okay? We're nakama? And i'm not going to let this thing get the better of you. I promise." He insists earnestly. Zoro looks at him for a long second or two before his mouth moves a little jerkily, Sanji pulls back as Zoro reveals his suddenly very sharp looking teeth. But Zoro's mouth splits wider and quirks up unevenly on one side. He's... smiling. Or... trying to at least.
"Na...nakama." Zoro repeats, his smile looking a little more natural, but not much. Sanji's heart flutters excitedly.
"Yes! We're nakama and I'm gonna take you back to the rest of our nakama and make you better, ok? Just hold on." Sanji beams happily. He takes hold of Zoro's uninjured hand and pulls him along beside him through the woods, Sanji chattering about all kinds of happy things. He promises to make Zoro sushi when he's better again, he promises to let him have long naps in the sun and that he can play tag with Luffy and Usopp as much as he wants.
By mid-afternoon though he's hungry again and his water is almost entirely gone as well as Zoro's. His stomach is growling unpleasantly and that always sets him on edge, childhood trauma and all. He looks over at Zoro to see that Zoro is mouthing at his bitten arm intently.
"OI! Are you gnawing on yourself?!" Sanji squawks in horror.
"No!" Zoro answers quickly, dropping his arm as if Sanji hadn't just caught him at it.
"Let me see that! We can't deal with you re-infecting yourself or anything! Give me that arm!" He insists, finally wrestling Zoro's wrist from him and peering at it. Zoro seems to have chewed at the scabs that had formed since Sanji washed it last and it seems to be oozing some kind of really gross looking black goo.
"Ugh." He grimaces, the whole wound smells bad and infected. The skin around it feels hot too and it's gone bright red, Zoro must have been biting at it because it itches. Poor thing.
Wait. Dead people don't get infections. And wounds only get like this when the body is trying to fight an infection. Zoro's... fighting it.
"Your immune system is rejecting the bite." He says in wonder. Zoro's whole arm feels warm, not in an especially healthy way but warm nonetheless. He remembers with a start that Zoro had some medical supplies in his bag and he quickly retrieves them. Inside the little pack is numerous bandages and antiseptic along with sterile water and safety pins.
"Sit down, I'm gonna see if I can help." He orders and Zoro, surprisingly complies. Sanji settles down at his side and gently pours the sterile water through the bite marks, being sure to get into every one and wash the gunk out. He then douses a cotton ball in antiseptic and presses it to the bite. Zoro hisses like a wildcat and yowls at him, trying to yank his arm back.
"Don't be such a baby!" Sanji admonishes him, wresting Zoro's arm back and continuing to clean each and every bit of the bite. Zoro lets him with a very petulant scowl.
"Anyway, if you can feel that and it hurts then it means your nervous system isn't dead, you should be happy." Sanji points out helpfully. Zoro gives him the most unimpressed look ever and pulls and entirely unconvincing smile.
"Great, you're dead but you can still be sarcastic. You would wouldn't you? You're literally tormenting me from beyond the grave! That's how annoying you are!" Sanji groans and blows on the antiseptic so it'll dry a little. He thinks that he probably shouldn't bandage it, the air is probably good for it. Still, he uses the pair of scissors in the little medical kit to cut Zoro's sleeve off above the bite, he doesn't need that grimy bloody jacket pressing on his open and healing wound does he?
Sanji chews his lip in thought as he carefully snips away the fabric. Zoro's annoying personality traits are still there after he's dead, it's not too surprising. Well, beyond the level that any of this shit is surprising, he's developed quite a high tolerance for surprise since he started sailing on this goddamn ocean. But the more interesting thing is that Zoro recognised him before much of this came back which means that... that Sanji is prior to Zoro's irritating personality in Zoro's brain. Whatever Zoro feels for him and the instinct to keep him safe is more basic to Zoro than almost anything else. It's more important than all his undead instincts and his own memories and personality.
"There, you're all good. Give me that hand though, I don't want you chewing on it any more." Sanji insists, pulling Zoro to his feet and threading his fingers through Zoro's and leading him along. He can feel the warmth radiating from Zoro's wound and warming his fingers in Sanji's palm.
Early evening rolls around and Zoro is starting to stumble as they walk, his gait is almost like what it was before when he was newly turned. Sanji looks at him in concern. Zoro's eyes are cloudy and unfocused, his skin is scorching in Sanji's hand and his breath is harsh and uneven, loud enough in Sanji's ears. Zoro looks sick, really sick. Sanji stops and Zoro falls to an uneven halt, his head lolling forward unsteadily, he's shivering too.
"You need to sleep." Sanji says quietly.
He looks around them and sees a big oak tree with thick branches that should hold the both of them without them falling off.
"Right, come on." He says, pulling Zoro over to the tree. On the plus side zombies ought not to be able to climb that tree, on the down side, zombies probably can't climb that tree and he's got one here that he really needs to get up there.
"Okay, this might not work." Sanji murmurs uncertainly. He turns around and presses Zoro's front into his back, wrapping Zoro's arms around his neck. Sanji crouches down and grabs Zoro's legs and straightens up again so he's carrying Zoro on his back in a piggyback fashion. He jiggles Zoro a few times to make sure that he's stable before crouching down once more. Sanji looks up at the big low branch and focuses all of his power into his legs, with one giant leap he manages to get them both up there, though it's a painful landing, his ribs and stomach connecting with the branch instead of his feet.
Sanji groans and hauls himself upright. He leans Zoro against the trunk of the tree and shuffles in close to look at him. Zoro is cold and clammy, his skin looks properly grey except for a bright red flush across his cheeks. He's shuddering and looks genuinely close to death, which is surprising and worrying for a dead man. Habitually Sanji leans forward and feels Zoro's neck for a pulse.
Slow and sluggish Zoro's skin pulses under Sanji's touch. He gasps in shock and feels a little harder, yes, he can feel Zoro's pulse. His heart is beating again! He leans in with an excited squeak and presses his ear to Zoro's chest, a low and weak sounding thump can be heard over the rattling breaths that Zoro is taking. He's ALIVE!
Sanji pulls back and looks at Zoro. He might not stay that way for long at this rate though, Sanji needs to get him food and water if Zoro has any hope of surviving at all. Sanji pulls Zoro's nearly empty canteen out of his jacket and unscrews it. He tilts Zoro's head back a little and opens his mouth, slowly pouring the water inside. Zoro swallows and coughs loudly, the movement shaking his whole body.
He needs to leave Zoro to get food and water, but he can't risk Zoro getting caught by zombies either and he may well fall out of this tree by himself. But he'll never catch anything by keeping Zoro with him. Sanji undoes his own belt and holds it in his teeth whilst he threads Zoro's through his belt loops, keeping the swords on there too. With that done he tenuously swings upside down on the branch and uses his belt to tie Zoro's feet together underneath the branch. There, Zoro shouldn't fall to the floor now.
He then climbs past Zoro into higher up in the tree. The branches are thinner up there but Sanji doesn't weigh much, besides it affords him a better view of the area. He can see a lake a few miles away, that's what the land has been sloping down towards and what that creek led to. No doubt it's infested with zombies, he doesn't want to go there.
However, all water comes from somewhere so if he can just work out where that water has come from he might be able to get some uncontaminated water before Zoro dies of hunger and dehydration. The topography of the island suggests that the water is coming down from the big hillside over to the east (or right as Zoro would say).
He climbs back down the Zoro's branch, his course set in his mind. Zoro looks terrible and his lips are chapped and cracked, he is most definitely in need of water.
"Zoro, I'm going to get you food and water, just stay alive whilst I go. I'll be right back." He says softly, touching Zoro's jaw gently. Zoro looks at him with hazy eyes and just blinks at him. Sanji has no idea if he understands but he can't wait to find out. He drops to the floor and takes off uphill to the east in a run, Zoro is running out of time. He'd kill himself if his neglect caused Zoro to be the kind of permanent non-walking dead.
It takes him a good 45 minutes of running before he makes it to water. He's sensible enough to follow it upstream though, he wants to take the water from the source, not from lower down just in case there's a zombie in it and the whole stream is infected. He doesn't want to be the living dead and he doesn't want Zoro to go back to that either.
Another ten minutes lead him to the source of the river, a bubbling spring coming straight out of the rock. He's seen fish in the river as well on the way up there so the water will be safe to drink. Many a traveller hasn't checked that and drunk beautifully crystal clear water without realising that it's so clear because nothing can live in it due to it being filled with arsenic or lead or some other poisonous mineral. But if the fish can drink it just fine then so can he and Zoro.
He fills one canteen and drains it thirstily then and there before refilling both and putting them into his jacket again. To Sanji's delight there appear to be a few fruit trees up the hill, probably feeding off of the same water that is coming from the spring. They look to be kiwi fruits and he plucks a few and cuts them open to check. They're definitely kiwi fruits, a little underripe but still perfectly edible. Considering as Zoro ate a raw deer last night he doesn't think he's going to get complaints about the food choice. Besides, kiwi's have about three times as much vitamin C as an orange and vitamin C is very good for sick people. He's not sure if it's the cure for zombification but it probably can't hurt. He's picked about ten when he hears the splash.
Sanji's head whips around and he sees it. A zombie staring at him, dead eyed, grey skinned and lurching up the stream towards him. It snarls and groans, reaching the base of the tree. Sanji scrambles out of reach. Shit!
Normally he'd kick the thing in the face and leg it whilst it was recoiling in pain, but these things didn't feel pain, not at this stage. Anyway, Zoro was evidence enough of what could happen if you got too close to these things. No, he needed to keep it at a distance. Shitting fuck, why did he have to be a close range fighter?
Zoro's swords bump against his leg and the idea hits Sanji right between the eyes. Of course, the swords! He can just reach down and stab the thing through the head and kill it! Uh... which one was the cursed one again? He stares down at the swords at his hip anxiously, wishing that he'd paid more attention before. Well, he knows that it's definably not the white one, Zoro's had that one more or less his whole life, right? He unsheathes it.
"Um. Sorry to disturb you, I know I'm not your master but... well up until recently he was dead. He kind of recovered from that, you know Zoro. But... his life will be in danger of expiring again if I don't get back to him and I really need to kill this thing so if you could help and not cut me I'd be very much obliged." Sanji says to the sword as respectfully as he can, even if he feels a little stupid doing it.
He doesn't get any confirmation or denial from the sword which is, after all, an inanimate object. He tightens his grip on the hilt, the blade pointing down. He stabs downward and gets the zombie right through the eye and out the back of its head. Sanji squeaks happily until the corpse topples over and drags him out of the tree with it. Sanji has a few very ungraceful moments of trying to extricate the blade from the ex-zombie's head and he's really glad that Zoro can't see him do this. He wipes the gross blade on the zombie's clothes before re-sheathing her and making a mental note to buy Zoro new polish or whatever he'll need to clean her. Anxiously he sprints back in the direction of Zoro.
To his pleasure Zoro is still sitting in the tree and not hanging upside down from it by his feet when Sanji returns. Unencumbered by Zoro's weight he's able to gracefully leap up into the tree and land on the branch. He settles down in front of Zoro and manages to coax him into slowly drinking at least half of the canteen. After a lot of fine slicing with the dismantled scissors from the medical pack he's got the kiwi fruits into small enough pieces that Zoro doesn't need to chew them. He manages to get about two of them into Zoro before the other man falls into unconsciousness. Sanji peels and eats some himself, his own stomach protesting at the neglect.
Zoro is still shuddering though and his skin feels clammy and cold to the touch. Not a good sign. Sanji retrieves the blanket from his backpack which he had cleverly relocated all of the supplies into and turns around to face the other way on the branch. Cautiously he shuffles back until his back is flush against Zoro's front. He wraps Zoro's arms around his waist and then drapes the blanket over both of them. Zoro needs body heat and Sanji can certainly give him that, he just hopes that Zoro doesn't die and reanimate in the night because Zoro's face is pressed right into the crook of Sanji's neck and he could kill him with one strong bite.
Sanji doesn't sleep especially well that night, concerned as he is for Zoro's health and the possibility of the undead sneaking up on them. His concerns turn out to be unwarranted however as they wake up entirely free of the living dead and Zoro looks a lot more human. His skin is still a little pale and his eyes aren't quite right, but his responses all read human. He's throwing off body heat and his pulse and breathing are stable.
"You need to eat." Sanji insists, peeling another kiwi fruit.
"Feel sick." Zoro groans, shaking his head. His arms are wrapped tightly around his stomach and Sanji can't imagine that he feels all that great.
"I don't care, you need to eat, even if you throw up again. We're only a few hours from the shore, maybe longer depending on how fast you go. So you need to eat and drink to keep your strength up." He insists.
"Don't wanna." Zoro grimaces, squeezing his eyes shut.
"Deal with it." Sanji snaps irritably and shoves the fruit into Zoro's mouth. Zoro gags a little in surprise but with a furious look from Sanji he decides to chew and swallow. Sanji unbinds him from the tree and packs away their supplies, forcing another kiwi fruit into Zoro. He can eat on the move but Zoro can't. Convincing Zoro to drink is a bit easier and soon enough they're back on the forest floor shambling towards the shore and the town and port that Sanji knows is there. He can only hope that it's not swarming with the living dead too.
Getting there is slow progress as they have to detour around several packs of the undead and Sanji is more or less supporting all of Zoro's weight as they walk. For fear of attracting attention they both stay quiet on the walk there, but within four hours they break through the tree line and out onto the beach. They've crossed the entire island on foot from one side to the other.
Zoro hisses as Sanji brings him into the sunlight on the beach and blinks in the harsh midday light. His eyes look strangely grey and bloodshot again with tiny pupils, but he's still breathing and warm so Sanji makes them push on. To Sanji's fears the town does not appear to be untouched, several buildings are on fire and there are corpses, both living and dead littering the streets. Sanji peers at all of them but none of them are people they know, he feels terrible for being pleased about that.
Zoro is barely conscious, stumbling along with Sanji but they're so nearly there. He can see the Sunny in the distance in the harbour and it appears to be fine. Chopper will know what to do, that's what Sanji keeps telling himself. So focused is he on the Sunny that he doesn't see the men with guns until it's almost too late.
"STOP!" One of them hollers at him, Sanji jumps and freezes. There are two men there, both pointing rifles at the two of them.
"Please, my friend is hurt and needs a doctor. I just need to get to my ship. It's the one over there, with the straw hat pirate flag on it. We mean you no harm." Sanji insists. These villagers must be panicked to hell about all of this, Sanji doesn't feel much better to be honest.
"He needs a doctor?" One of the men with guns asks suspiciously. Sanji realises that this may have been the wrong thing to say. Zoro jerkily raises his head and Sanji winces, he looks very undead right about now.
"He's bit! Look at his arm!" One yells, gesturing to Zoro's exposed arm and the inflamed bite. Zoro groans and winces, not helping their case.
"They probably both are! Shoot 'em!" the first shouts, raising his gun at them and pulling back the safety.
Sanji doesn't even see Zoro move.
One second the guy is standing there pointing a rifle at them and the next he's on the floor with Zoro snarling and mauling him. Zoro seems to be simultaneously trying to rip the guy's arm out of it's socket and rip his jugular out with his teeth.
"Zoro! No!" Sanji yelps, leaping forward to pull Zoro off of the guy. Zoro snarls animalistic and furious.
"Zoro, it's me! It's Sanji!" He insists, shouting into Zoro's ear. Zoro actually moves now when Sanji pulls him back, he's pleased to see that Zoro hadn't actually been able to bite him though the bastard looks about ready to have a heart attack.
"Sanji." Zoro repeats with a growl and glares threateningly down at the guy under him.
Sanji yelps as a bullet whizzes by his head, loud enough to make his ears pop and cut his cheek as it goes by. The second guy must have shocking aim, he's like two feet away and he still missed. Zoro snarls and lashes out, his hand catching the barrel of the rifle.
Sanji watches as Zoro squeezes the barrel and the metal crumples under the strain. Zoro is growling, low and deep and looks about ready to leap on this guy too. It seems that some of Zoro's undead instincts are still there and teaming up with Zoro's usual deadly aggression to make a terrible mix.
"I think you had better let us get to our ship." Sanji says calmly and clearly. The two guys look at them and then each other. They turn tail and flee leaving Sanji and Zoro there, so much for this town's defences.
"Sanji..." Zoro breathes, his knees sagging. Sanji just catches him before he hits the floor.
"We're nearly there, just hold on." He promises. He hauls Zoro onto his back and takes off in a sprint. The ship is moored at a considerable distance from the actual dock, probably to stop the undead streaming on. But Usopp spots them before they get there and the others have a gangplank down by the time Sanji's feet reach them.
"Help! He was bit and he was a zombie and then he... got better? He's better now and he's eating and breathing and talking and walking just- HELP!" Sanji yells in one long breath. Gently lowering Zoro onto the grass. Zoro's breathing is shallow and fast but he is still breathing.
"He... turned and then... unturned?" Chopper gasps at him, skidding to Zoro's side and putting a stethoscope in his ears to listen to Zoro's heart.
"Yeah, he nearly ripped my throat out but then he remembered me or something. He said my name and he's been following me back ever since. He's been talking and getting better, but I swear when I saw him the first time there was no breathing or pulse." He explains, kneeling down next to Zoro.
"He's alive." Chopper agrees in awe.
"None of the people that we've seen bitten have remembered anything, let alone spoken. They've just eaten people, we thought you'd both been eaten alive." Robin says grimly.
"Yeah well, you know Zoro. Not gonna let a little thing like death stop him." Sanji laughs hollowly.
"Zoro protects his nakama no matter what." Luffy agrees with a nod.
"You'd think death would be a little bit of a get out clause on that agreement though." Usopp points out fearfully.
"No matter what." Luffy reiterates sternly and pats Zoro on the head.
Chopper picks up Zoro's limp body and takes him into the infirmary. He sets up transfusing some of Zoro's old healthy blood into his system and injects him with all sorts of fluids and potions. They seem to be doing the job though as Zoro's skin colour starts to turn back to it's usual tan.
As much as Sanji would like to stay and watch over Zoro he has a crew to cook for and he's famished himself. Whist Zoro does seem to be recovering him Sanji isn't so stupid as to not note that there are always a few armed people in the room with Zoro at any one time, just in case he turns again. Though no one says as much.
Zoro drifts in and out of consciousness for days, only waking up when Sanji makes him eat. But by the time the weekend rolls around and Zoro has stayed in bed a few days Sanji finds him in the kitchen. He still looks weak and a little shaky but he's alive and well, the bandage on his arm is the only hint that he was never himself.
"Zoro, I didn't expect you to be up." He says in surprise, though he's certainly pleased to see that he is.
"Yeah, Chopper doesn't either, don't tell him. I've got a while before he notices me missing." Zoro laughs, weak and breathy. Zoro is slumped against the counter but trying really hard to look like he's fine. He should be in bed. That's not an argument that Sanji will win though so he doesn't engage in it.
Zoro's brown and caramel eyes are on Sanji's hip, and it takes Sanji a moment of staring at them and appreciating their real colour again before he realises why. Zoro is looking at his swords. Sanji had refused to take them off until Zoro was well enough to take them back and their weight at his hip has been a constant reminder to him that Zoro was not yet back to health.
He unbuckles Zoro's belt and removes it and his swords before handing them back to Zoro.
"I remember you taking them off me. I just have bits and pieces but I remember that." Zoro says suddenly.
Sanji reddens in embarrassment, he hadn't been sure how much if anything Zoro would remember and Chopper's medical books were irritatingly light on the details of what to expect of the memory of men who come back from the dead. Which is to say that they had no information at all.
"It's nothing." Sanji mutters.
"No, it's everything. You know how precious they are to me and you took them to honour me. It means everything." Zoro corrects him, his voice sharp and angry.
"That's not what I meant. I meant..." What did he mean? "You would have done it for me too."
"Yeah." Zoro agrees, relaxing at last.
"Thank you though." Zoro adds thoughtfully.
"You're welcome. Thanks for not ripping my jugular vein out with your teeth." Sanji responds with a grin.
"Hey, any time." Zoro laughs weakly.
Zoro's face becomes troubled after a few seconds though and he looks at Sanji carefully as if he's not quite sure that Sanji is real.
"I remember wanting to eat you. I wanted to bite you and rip you apart and-" Zoro's voice catches in his throat at that, he sounds truly pained.
"But you didn't. You changed back, you were so strong and you're better now." Sanji insists.
"Mostly better." the marimo agrees with a slight nod.
"Still feel like hell and I've got this strange craving for raw meat but... yeah. Alive." Zoro nods a little more.
"I can make you black and blue steak for dinner tonight if you want." Sanji offers with a smirk. Zoro rolls his eyes and shoves him.
"I might put this down to not feeling like myself but.." Zoro trails off, chewing at his lip and staring at Sanji.
Zoro lurches forward and for a split second Sanji has a flash of terror, he remembers when Zoro did that before and nearly killed him. Instead of a bite though Zoro's lips press against Sanji's cheek in a soft and chaste kiss.
"Oh!" Sanji gasps in surprise. Zoro pulls back a little and looks at Sanji with those rich and very living eyes. His stomach flutters as he remembers how devastated he'd been at the thought of life without Zoro. Sanji stares at him for a second before tilting his head and leaning in, pressing his lips gently against Zoro's.
Life was too short, and very very weird. And not everyone got a second chance. Sanji sighs wistfully and the two of them pull apart, a healthy blush on Zoro's cheeks making Sanji grin.
The door to the kitchen bangs open and there's a full size Chopper with a look of fury on his face looming in the door.]
"RORONOA ZORO GET BACK IN BED THIS INSTANT! YOU DIED AND YOU NEED YOUR REST!" Chopper booms angrily.
"I'll sleep when I'm dead, can't I just- AGH!" Zoro yelps and Chopper picks him up and hauls him out of the room.
Sanji grins. Life was very... very strange. He thinks that he likes it, but he really needs to start writing this stuff down. Zeff isn't gonna believe half of it!