Beware the multitude of author's notes.
Uh oh, it's been quite while, huh? Sorry! My life was a roller coaster for a bit there, but I'm slowly getting some glimpses of hope back.
IMPORTANT! READ: So, this story has basically gone through some major revisions. Like… the titlechanging! (gasp) This was due to another idea that I just didn't know how to add at first, and then I sort of figured out what I wanted to do. I hope this improves the quality of the fic instead of takes away from it. (grins)
Also I re-edited and re-uploaded each of the chapters. So ALL chapters have been edited/changed a little/lot here and there. Just to improve the flow and over all voice, and because I realized that I'd made the story out to sound like something that it wasn't ever meant to be. Chapter zero and chapter one have been revamped quite a bit, so it hopefully flows a little better and introduces the story a little better too.
Thank you to mimiren4045 (hearts) for the comments on chapter 1, I've tried to rework that scene especially. I hope it's not as confusing now. It was because I wrote that one in different pieces, so the flow was probably lost in the abyss. (I don't know if I replied to your review or not.) But I love receiving constructive criticism, so thank you sweetie. (Mimi told me how the voice and actions weren't flowing well at all during the fight scene where Zoro shoves Sanji, and I'm sorry for confusing the hell out of my readers! *sob* I think I fixed it though). *bows*
Chapter 2's crazy ooc-ness has been looked over. It's still really long…. I apologize.
I was also informed of some mistakes in Chapter 3 by a lovely reviewer. Thank you Saminagg! (hearts) I've been told that Chopper does not need a rumble ball to change into his more basic forms, so that's where the edit is in there, plus the beginning being tacked on, and some detail/dialogue stuffs through the middle. (face+palm). Spelling and grammar mistakes have also been searched through, even though there are probably still tons more out there. (sweat-drop).
Whoo... That is all~!
To All Reviewers! You are always always appreciated. You are all so very thoughtful, I could cry. I'm so very grateful to have readers like you guys. (huggs) (I hope I got the opportunity to reply to most, if not all, of you)!
Finally, please enjoy the new chapter~ (yeah, it's probably unbearably long like all the ones before. I'm sorry. I should split them, I know. But you all keep saying you like them long. So… heh, your feedback will help with the lengths too. Just tell me if it becomes too much!)
Warnings: Strong language!, as always. Sarcasm. And maybe a dash of angst. (if that needs a warning).
A Cook's Recipe For:
C4: Who Believes In A Best Part
Chapter Song: "I'm Not Leaving": Uncle Kracker
Chapter dedicated to VivaciousRingo. (hearts) Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
you take a small part of me
and hold it like you mean it.
mold it and shape it into pieces
only you can shatter.
You know those times when you see someone crying, and you think to yourself that they never should?
This was one of those times…
4 ½ brushed knuckles
It was weird. It was absolutely fucking weird. And Sanji had seen some pretty bizarre shit throughout his short life. But this one took the cake.
Zoro was crying.
Zoro was crying.
Zoro was crying.
Sanji grabbed a stick of raw cinnamon out of one of the cupboards and stuck it between his teeth, letting the spice set his mouth ablaze. Anything to clear his head. Because Sanji was now completely out of cigarettes, and utterly confused. Confused to the point of mental exhaustion.
The cook took a seat on the counter near the sink, sitting in the pitch black darkness of his galley in a stony silence. He laced his fingers together, perched his elbows onto his knees, and leaned his head against his hands. His thoughts began to bristle. He was supposed to be on watch duty right now. Slash that. He was supposed to be in bed right now. Chopper was supposed to be on watch duty for the second shift, but the little reindeer was currently incapable of fulfilling that duty.
Because their doctor was too busy being a damn doctor.
Sanji grunted against his folded palms, he knew he should just go continue to be on look-out until Chopper got there. After all, the stuff going on in the other room was none of his business anyways, each of their doctor visits were labeled "private". But, it was his business at the same time. Something was wrong with one of his Nakama and Sanji wanted to be responsible by being there to assist, in any way he might be able to.
Even though it was the Marimo.
It was part of his job to protect the people on this ship.
Even though it was the damn, green-headed, shit-for-brains, Marimo!
And since Sanji had seen. Since now he knew that the swordsman wasn't alright, he felt like he had to do something.
Damn his conscience.
Sanji tugged at his hair, fisting through the golden locks until it hurt. The pain was a nice sedative. It helped him relax as his scalp tingled from the abuse. He focused his attention on his hurt foot. It felt numb, and he twisted it a little, moving muscle that wasn't supposed to be moving until he could feel a sharp, shooting pain there too. A mind-numbing pain from head to foot.
Stupid swordsman. Sanji didn't remember the last time he'd seen the Moss Head looking so… miserable. And to think he had actually had a pretty good day. Sanji sighed out loud until it became a groan that he had to smother with his hand. He breathed out, wishing he had a cigarette to take the edge off. But he didn't.
Dim light was still filtering across the floorboards from Chopper's office, signaling that there were still people inside, but they didn't make a sound. Sanji wanted them to make sounds. Loud, laughing sounds.
The haunting silence laughed back at him instead.
Sanji listened to the quiet. It tickled his ears and nibbled at the back of his mind in little overwhelming waves. He couldn't get Zoro's agonized face out of his mind. He'd never seen the swordsman break down like that. He didn't even know that the swordsman had the mental capacity to have a breakdown. Sanji frowned. Wondered what had brought it on. Zoro had seemed a little out of it earlier. Sanji wasn't even sure if they'd exchanged more than a few words. The cook had assumed that they were both still pissed off at each other over their little scuffle the day before.
The truth was that Sanji had been too preoccupied sulking over his found recipe cards and lost-forever-and-all-eternity last few cigarettes to even think about the stupid swordsman. They'd both just stayed away from each other. And Sanji was grateful for the small moments of peace, where he could brood alone, in silence. He didn't want Zoro to tease him about it anymore.
Sanji spent most of the day with Usopp and Chopper and Franky and Luffy and his beautiful ladies that had wandered in and out of his galley.
The swordsman hadn't even crossed his path, except for a few hours ago at dinner, where Zoro had actually complimented Sanji's cooking. The cook's lingering bitter feelings began receding then. And when Zoro had left the kitchen, the bitterness had gone with him, caught by the wind. Sanji didn't want to admit it, but he was worried about the swordsman. The way Zoro had looked when he stumbled out the door made his breath catch.
And now... after seeing Zoro in there with Chopper. Crying. Actually crying. Not crocodile tears, either. These tears were real, honest, sorrowful tears. The kind that needed to drain, and drain they had. Sanji didn't know which was worse, the fact that he didn't know what to do, or the fact that even if he did know what to do, Zoro probably wouldn't let the cook do anything for him.
The more Sanji thought about it, the more he felt like he should attempt to fix it. Whatever the "it" was.
"Hey, Sanji, are you still out here?" Chopper's door clicked softly when it opened and Sanji found his eyes darting, like famished moths, towards the small sliver of light that escaped. He cleared his throat quietly.
"Can I get your help moving Zoro around. I've just got to bandage something."
"He sleepin'?" Sanji swallowed, he'd already stood up anyways. He felt strange for not hesitating more when Chopper asked him to assist with the swordsman. The man had, after all, just yelled at Sanji to get the hell out of his sight.
"Yeah. Yeah, he's out cold."
Sanji didn't know if the term that Chopper used was the most appropriate. "Out cold" made it seem like the swordsman's unconsciousness was a bad thing. He bit his lip as he quickly hobbled after Chopper into the medical bay.
The light inside the small room made Sanji squint even though it was so dim, and when his eyes finally started to adjust all he wanted to do was shut them again. Zoro was lying stretched out along the cot, fast asleep. The sight of a lazing Zoro was familiar enough to the chef, but what caught his attention was the raw looking appearance of the other. Zoro looked strange. Vulnerable.
There were black circles under Zoro's eyes. The kind that meant sleepless nights and days. The kind that brought back restless memories of Sanji's own past. When he was stranded on that God-forsaken rock, jutting up in the middle of the ocean. Black circles had formed under Sanji's eyes then too, from the sleepless nights he had while watching for ships, waiting for salvation to come drifting in from the horizon. He remembered his skeletal reflection staring back at him from puddles of rain water that had gathered against craggy granite. He remembered looking so incredibly weak.
Those times were the blackest days of Sanji's memories. They still haunted him from time to time.
Suddenly he felt stupid for letting the unfortunate events of the last few days drive him so crazy. Compared to back then, this "bad luck", these small aches and pains, were just tiny stones of gravel along the path, they were nothing compared to that gigantic mountain that had kept him stranded.
Nothing compared to the sensations of starvation he had experienced.
Sanji shook his head to derail the thoughts. Tender memories that were still just as haunting as the day they were born were creeping along the borders of his mind.
Those memories still hurt him. Not often, but when he thought about them, or dreamed about them, they hurt, because the experience had hurt.
The cook swallowed, wetting his sandpaper throat, as the realization dawned on him; Zoro had been hurt, too. Zoro's pain was just as real as Sanji's pain.
Sanji stared back at the dark circles marring Zoro's tan flesh. The strained knit of his sharp eyebrows. The deep frown lines painted along the swordsman's forehead. Studied how unsettled his sleep seemed now.
Zoro was having trouble sleeping, and Sanji, acting like a child, was making life even tougher for the swordsman. The little things that Sanji had learned these past few days about the events of Zoro's childhood didn't sound like terribly ecstatic experiences either. Much like his own past, or much like anyone's past on this ship, Zoro had scars that ran deep, even beneath his already scarred skin.
The swordsman fit right in with the crew of misfits that Luffy was so keen to keep picking up.
There was another dimension to the swordsman that Sanji had been shed light to.
But what was wrong with the sword-freak now? He'd never seemed this bothered by anything before. Why now? What changed? It couldn't have been all Sanji's fault, because the swordsman had haunting dreams the night before Sanji had even said anything at all.
Sanji stilled, his eyes moving across Zoro's troubled face. His nose was red, along with the red and black circles around his eyes. His mouth was a slanted sort of snarling frown instead of a peaceful line. It left an unsettling feeling in Sanji's gut.
Sanji had no right to see the swordsman this way. So crumpled. So bent.
Zoro should never even be allowed to look this way.
"Sanji." Chopper's urgent hushed hiss caused the cook's head to snap up, his attention turning from his ailing crew mate towards the little doctor.
"Chopper, what's… what's wrong with him?"
Chopper let out a sad sigh, "For now, the biggest problem is that he's exhausted. He told me he hasn't been sleeping well."
Sanji nodded. Those nightmares. He knew. But was there something else?
"Here, can you just lift up his head a little? I just need to wrap the bandages around it."
"I'll explain it later, to everyone at once."
Sanji nodded as Chopper professionally dismissed the subject, and didn't say another word. He soundlessly slipped a hand beneath Zoro's neck, being almost too careful in his touch, but held the other's head steady as Chopper worked on him. The cook's long fingers nestled themselves securely in Zoro's soft green hair.
Sanji found his thoughts swirling, and he couldn't keep them straight. He found himself absently running his thumb along the back of Zoro's neck where his hair tapered off into skin. What was Zoro dreaming about at night? What was going on in that marimo-colored head of his? Sanji felt the swordsman shiver in his hold and he held his breath, afraid the other man would wake up, and be reduced to facing another undesirable situation. He shouldn't be here with Zoro. Zoro didn't want Sanji here. Sanji was causing him even more pain. Doing this to him…
Shit. Is this really my fault? Sanji asked himself. Ugly thoughts were sinking deadly claws into his heart and making it ache.
He was suddenly too hot. The room felt too stuffy.
Zoro didn't open his eyes, and the shaking stopped. Probably just the reaction of his muscles relaxing in his sleep. Sanji suddenly felt Chopper's hoof prodding his forearm.
The cook jumped, pulled away from his internal musings, heart racing.
"Okay, all done. Thank you, Sanji."
Sanji nodded numbly, and set the swordsman's head against the pillow, slowly, unaware of his gentleness, but all too aware of the fact that he was thinking that Zoro might suddenly shatter.
Treating Zoro as if he were weak was unforgivable, Sanji knew, and if Zoro were awake to witness this, the swordsman's pride would surely be threatened. He'd probably kill Sanji for treating him like glass.
"Come on, let's let him rest."
"Yeah, yeah sure. He probably needs it." Sanji murmured. He found he had to work to pry his eyes away from the swordsman's prone form.
Sanji watched Chopper slither out of a crack in the door, tip-toeing on his hooves, and began following on his crutches. The little reindeer held the door open to make it easier for Sanji to exit when Chopper gave a sudden tiny gasp. They both froze.
"Cook." Sanji was two hops away from freedom when the gravelly rumble tore out of Zoro's throat. Sanji glanced back at the bleary eyed man, even though his mind was screaming at him to just keep moving. It was something soft in Zoro's voice that kept Sanji from running. He found Zoro's gaze pinned just over his shoulder, gazing at something that wasn't Sanji, at something that was probably nothing.
Sanji turned a little, still in arms length of the bed. Ready to assist if Zoro should need anything. Half of him wanted to bolt, his mind kept chanting that leaving Zoro alone would be best. A heavy sense of burden was crouching on his shoulders, and he felt like a thorn in the swordsman's side.
He tried to catch Zoro's gaze though, the other irrational half of his mind telling him that he had to do something to fix the festering.
Their eyes finally met when Zoro shifted, and half-lidded steel pierced open sky blue. Sanji found himself pinned with that firm gaze. Zoro's lips moved before either of them could blink. "Mmh. Don' tell..." Zoro rumbled again; his voice cracking and unstable.
The cook stayed silent, not knowing exactly what he could say. Not knowing exactly where to begin. He saw Zoro reach up, fingers brushing the white bandages wrapped around his head. Sanji moved without thinking, to brush Zoro's hand away from Chopper's hard work, not wanting the swordsman to tear off the wrap so soon, as Sanji knew he'd probably try to do. Keeping any restraint on Zoro took a lot of effort normally, and since the swordsman was a bit out-of-sync now it would probably be doubly hard.
But Sanji's hand froze in midair as he watched Zoro's fingertips simply brushing along the wrap Chopper had put on his head. The swordsman let out one long breath, and then averted his eyes towards the doorway. Sanji didn't know if he was waiting for someone else to come through it, maybe preferably someone who wasn't Sanji, bringer of Zoro's misery lately, but no one did come through as Sanji knew no one would. The only one there was the little doctor, standing rigidly in the entranceway. Probably shocked at how Zoro could be awake after the drugs that he'd most likely been pumped with.
The awkward averted gazes lasted maybe half a minute before Sanji decided that maybe Zoro wanted Sanji to walk out the door, instead of waiting for another to come in it. He straightened his crutches quickly, and picked his injured foot up off the ground, readying to retreat, when something stopped him.
And Sanji didn't move another muscle, because Zoro had gripped his hand then, but it wasn't strong or steady. Instead, the grip was cold and fragile, until it shuddered, and became a gentle hold that didn't feel quite right having Zoro touching him like that. The swordsman wasn't looking at the blonde anymore.
"I won't say anything." Sanji finally muttered, his voice managing to get past the tightness that was suddenly constricting his throat. He figured that the simple vow was what Zoro needed to hear.
Zoro let his hand linger on the cook's knuckles a moment longer before dropping off completely.
Sanji watched with a soft gaze as Zoro nodded once, then sunk back into bed, falling once more into a lighter-than-should-be slumber. He exited quickly with Chopper's urging and assistance, stealing into the blackness of the kitchen.
That went better than Sanji thought it would have. Sanji guessed he should be thankful that there was no violence after the encounter. His eyes drifted back towards the closed doorway without him realizing it. His fingers were still tingling from where Zoro held on with that weird desperate grip. It felt almost like a tense dream.
Sanji shook his head, trying to make sense of the situation.
"Sanji, you should be resting too." Chopper's small voice washed over him.
The cook nodded. He didn't answer back, didn't dare to. The more he thought about it, the more the entire situation felt like a dream, and so he headed to his bedroom silently, thoughts racing through his head. He just wanted to sleep and have the world flip itself back over when he woke up.
1 tingling hand
Sanji was back on the Baratie, but the ship was entirely empty. He walked through each empty room, finding no one and finally sat in a lone chair in the kitchen. He lit five cigarettes at once and tilted back so the chair was balancing precariously on its' two hind legs. He sat there, smoking into the emptiness. Becoming a chimney.
"Sanji… help me…"
The cook perked his ears, barely hearing the whisper.
He peered into the darkness of his old kitchen, squinted through the smoke that was breathing out of his mouth like breath. There was someone there. It was a tall, burly figure. They looked familiar and Sanji somewhat relaxed.
"Zeff?" Sanji questioned, as the smoke grew thicker, his breath a darker grey. "Old Geezer?"
The figure started shrinking. The silhouette thinning out.
Sanji stood up. His chair tipped over but it didn't make a sound when it hit the ground. The only sound was suddenly raspy breathing. The figure of Zeff turned even skinnier and the smoke became darker, until it was black and thick.
"Old man!" The figure crumbled onto hands and knees and Sanji rushed forward, reaching out.
The arm he touched felt like bone under his hand. Sanji gasped. The black smoke began thinning out then. The cigarettes fell away from Sanji's lips one by one. They turned into tiny flames when they hit the ground. Sanji could see now, he could just make out features in the dark. "Chef Zef…Ze…Zoro!"
The kneeling figure on the kitchen floor wasn't Old Man Zeff. It was Moss Head Zoro.
Zoro was sitting there, shrinking down, becoming bone, dying. "Sanji… help me."
And then the Zoro skeleton reached out, and traced a long bony finger down Sanji's throat, stopping right where his heart should be.
1 weird dream
Sanji's eyes snapped open immediately. He was met with a comforting clear blackness. There was no smoke. He felt his chest and immediately felt relief when he didn't feel any bony appendages lingering there. It was all just a dream. A weird one, but a dream all the same. Zoro had asked him for help. Of course that had to be a dream.
He breathed out a quiet breath. The odd visions began fading into simple cut up pieces in his memory. The dream didn't make a whole lot of sense to him in the first place, but it was startling enough that he still felt his heart beating swiftly beneath his hand.
It had been four in the morning before Sanji finally fell into a restless slumber of his own. And now he was awake and it was still, strangely, quiet. He dug into his pocket, took out a lighter and flicked his thumb against the switch four times before getting it to light successfully. The flame produced a small circular glow in front of him and he reached for his pocket watch to check the time. He realized with a jolt that he'd only been asleep for a little over an hour. Sanji groaned, rubbed his face, and realized then that he was shaking.
He kicked off his covers with his good foot, and lay in his hammock staring up at the ceiling and feeling a little sick to his stomach. His thoughts immediately turned from craving a cigarette to the events of what went on last night, and of what had happened in his dream. His sleepy mind was piecing together bits from his dream and reality and it was a little bit challenging to decipher between the truthful bits and the fabrications.
What he'd seen last night, with Zoro in the infirmary, seemed a little too unreal for his tastes.
There was one thing that Sanji was sure of. Last night… was the end of joking around.
Life was a game. And Sanji was suddenly so tired of playing it that he was going to do something drastic.
He was going to help the swordsman.
Zoro had asked for it, hadn't he? In Sanji's dream, after all.
That whisper was enough to send a shiver throughout the Cook's entire being.
His shaking intensified.
Now, Sanji did not speak Neanderthal.
Sanji did not speak Swordsmanese.
He didn't speak in Code, or Woman, either.
He spoke a plain fucking language, plus swear words. That was his vocabulary. So excuse the hell out of him if he couldn't speak the same language as a damn Moss-Ball.
He never asked Zoro to go off the deep end. He never wanted Zoro to look at him with fierce eyes that frightened the piss out of children. Sanji gnawed at his lip. He never wanted to see Zoro so hurt and maybe a little pathetic looking. He never wanted Zoro to go crazy because of something he did, or something he said. But the more Sanji thought about it, the more he thought that it really was all his fault.
Zoro seemed to think so too.
The stupid Marimo couldn't even look at him for longer than two seconds, after all.
Sanji had a plan though, he usually did. He was cunning and naïve and confident. Those were his good traits. But he was also self-sacrificing, prideful, lusting, and stubborn.
Combined together, Sanji was a bottled up explosion that could detonate at any second. And Zoro or whoever else was in the way when that happened, well, it was nice knowing 'em.
Sanji was going to do something that no other pirate cook had done before. That maybe no other creature had ever done before. Of this, he was fairly sure. He was going to go to Zoro, like a civilized human being, find out what was ailing the sweaty green lettuce head, and then he was going to kick it out of him. Then Zoro would be all better. Not better than before this mess all started. Sanji wasn't a miracle worker, after all. But he'd make sure the Marimo wasn't a butt sore lunatic by the time he was done with him.
Sanji also decided that he would shove some food down Zoro's throat around breakfast time, since the idiot wouldn't eat a decent portion of food on his own.
He pressed himself out of bed at 5:30. His eyes burned from being forced to stay open after so little down-time, but Sanji didn't have time to fool around.
Thoughts of the swordsman wouldn't leave Sanji alone.
He made his way out of the bedroom, as quietly as he possibly could and then rounded the corner towards the washroom.
The images from his dream kept coming back in shifts to mock him. He could almost feel the cold slimy bone beneath his palm and the saggy flesh, the skinny body. It was enough to make Sanji's stomach do flips. Sanji found himself sitting rigid on the edge of the toilet seat, running fingers up and down his arm, making sure that soft flesh was all that he felt. Not slimy, sticky, melting, muscle and bones. The thought made him feel sick inside.
He stood up and leaned against the wall, panting. Sanji found himself leaning over the toilet a second later, trying to expel anything and everything in his stomach. He found out that throwing up was a lot harder with a broken foot than he'd originally thought it'd be.
The knock on the door during one of his more violent gags didn't do anything to comfort him either.
"You okay in there?"
Thank God for small miracles. It was only Usopp.
"Been better," Sanji spat sarcastically around bile.
"Oh geez, Sanji?" Usopp pushed the door, that Sanji hadn't locked, open. "I was sure it was Zoro in here. He isn't sleepin' and I thought you had Watch or would be cooking by now… are you sick?"
Sanji cringed at the rambling, "What's it look like?" He muttered. His hands were shaking worse than when he had frost bite back in Drum Kingdom.
Usopp moved in, coming to bring an arm around the cook's thin waist. Sanji wouldn't allow him to normally, except that it was easier to balance this way. If the sniper started rubbing his back or some shit like that, then there'd be problems. But the support was nice. The nimble leathery feel of the other boy's hands provided the cook with a certain warmth. "Are you okay? You're shaking."
"It's withdrawal. I'm out of cigarettes." Sanji groaned, "Shit, I'm so sick to my stomach, it hurts."
"I'm sorry, man. You think Chopper has something that could help?"
"Let's hope so."
"When did you run out?"
"Been low all week. My rotten luck tossed the rest in the ocean sometime around yesterday."
Usopp moved to flush the toilet for the shaking cook, he let Sanji lean against his side and grip his pants. When the blonde nearly yanked the sniper's pants down, Usopp gently pried Sanji's hands off and rubbed the cold, clammy, palms with his own.
Sanji's face flushed even more.
"Usopp, can people melt?"
Usopp cocked an eyebrow, "Like, can they catch on fire?"
"No, like, melt. Their flesh and bones?"
"You really aren't feeling well, huh?" Usopp added, sympathetically. "Do you feel like you're melting?"
Sanji swallowed, and fought the urge to deck Usopp. He didn't have the patience to deal with this right now. "I'm not talking about myself, Crap Sniper." He wasn't going crazy, dammit.
Usopp made a face that Sanji couldn't see, he rubbed the blonde's hands a little faster, massaging circles into hard knuckles with his thumbs. "I guess it's possible, probably not like a candle or anything, unless they were made of wax. Or maybe Luffy could, since he's like rubber… do you think he'd let me try it?" The sudden spark of snug curiosity in the marksman's voice was enough to make Sanji shrug him off.
"Shit Sniper." He growled loosely.
"Did you have a bad dream or something?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I did. How'd you guess?"
Usopp shrugged, "Heard they've been going around lately."
The unease in Usopp's voice made Sanji a little curious, but it wasn't enough to make him want to ask. He let out a long yawn.
"Do you wanna go back to bed?"
"Nope. I'm good. I'll just drink lots of tea, and cooking will take the edge off."
"If you're absolutely sure," Usopp pursed his lips, "hey, you mind if I work on something in the kitchen?"
Sanji narrowed his gaze at the long nosed man. "You could work on it in your shitty workshop."
"I could, yeah." He wheedled.
"Whatever. If you make any noise, you're out."
"I'll be quiet as a mouse."
"Tch. I'd like to see you try." Sanji snorted, he let Usopp hold the door for him. "You're a good guy, Usopp." Sanji muttered, as he passed him on their way to the galley. He didn't miss the long squeak or the blush that was suddenly painting the younger man's cheeks at the affectionate comment. Heh. Crap-sniper.
Usopp made good on his promise, and by the time Sanji had got everything out for prep and served tea to the marksman and himself, he'd forgot Usopp was even there. He made sure to be extra quiet while cooking, wary of Zoro still resting in the small infirmary at the end of the hall.
Chopper had come back down from watch, and was alternately doting back and forth between resting his head on the table next to the long nosed man, and peeking inside the infirmary door. Whenever he would walk passed, Sanji would unknowingly give him soaking looks, the kind that leeched for fresh information after being left in the dark for too long. If Chopper noticed, he didn't offer anything to the chef, and Sanji thought it would be too out of character to ask, because he usually wouldn't, and the sniper was seated at the table, tinkering, and not knowing that Zoro was in the room down the hall. Or at least Sanji thought he didn't know. He hadn't asked Chopper what he kept checking on. Of course, Usopp was absorbed in his work, and Sanji had just asked Chopper for something for his withdrawl symptoms.
Sanji wondered if anyone knew. Aside from the doctor and himself, of course. Well, it was still early, he supposed. Chopper did stop to hand Sanji a pack of gum as a prescription, and discreetly asked Sanji if they could eat their meals outside today in attempts to give you-know-who more peace and quiet to sleep. Sanji readily agreed.
Sanji waited until the sun had dried most of the wet dew from the grass before asking Usopp to help him move breakfast outside and onto the lawn. Thankfully, it was a warm morning.
"Should I ring the bell?" Usopp asked, when Sanji was directing him on how to arrange the plates.
"No, but you can go gather everyone who isn't already up here."
"But, wouldn't the bell be easier?"
"Are your legs broken?" Sanji snapped, annoyed. He caught Usopp eyeing his hurt leg with a drawn face and felt guilty for being so snippy. But the fucking bell would wake Zoro up, and Chopper said the swordsman should get as much rest as he could. Sanji screwed his eyes shut. "I'm sorry, Usopp. My head just hurts, okay?"
Usopp's expression softened into one that didn't look so kicked-puppyish. "Should have figured. I'll go round everybody up!"
"Ladies first, Shit Sniper!" Sanji called after the boy as he darted away.
When the crew had gathered outside around the grass yard, Usopp came back panting. "I can't find Zoro anywhere." It was then that Chopper spoke up saying that he had something important to tell them.
Sanji watched the crew's faces when Chopper told them that Zoro was in bed and he had to stay there for a while to get some rest. The shocked and concerned expressions came at once. Sanji watched all this with a distanced gaze. He was trying his hardest to act unconcerned, but he couldn't help but scold himself quietly every time his eyes would wander, against his will, towards the general direction of the infirmary. If anyone asked, he could pass it off as just simply thinking about what to make for lunch, since the infirmary was thankfully just a doorway past his kitchen.
Sanji's attention only returned in full when Chopper had told them that Zoro had a mild concussion.
Chopper had diagnosed the swordsman with it early that morning, and now Zoro was forced to stay in bed until further notice.
After hearing his doctor's diagnosis, Luffy took to staring at Chopper as if a third antler was protruding from the little reindeer's forehead. Chopper met his captain's gaze with an innocent blink. "W-what?"
"What's a con-cush-ion?" Luffy demanded, one eyebrow cocked in confusion and lips pulled into a half-frown around a stack of waffles.
Usopp faltered, "You dork." The marksman gaped at his captain. "A concussion is when someone has a huge couch dropped on them. They are then transported into the Cushion World beneath the couch springs!"
Luffy gaped at Usopp starry-eyed, "Wow! So Coool!"
A tiny noise of surprise came from the littlest reindeer who had been interrupted. "Really, Usopp?! Awesome!"
Sanji slammed a palm into his forehead. "Seriously, Chopper?!" He wailed. Maybe, just maybe, if he was fortunate enough, someone would drop a couch on him. Then he could spend all his future days gallivanting in Cushion World.
He gave the sharp-shooter and his two captivated audience members a sour look. Why was he so cursed?
"That's not what a concussion is, you idiots!"
All three blinked over at Sanji, as if he were the crazy one. The blonde just gave them a half-lidded stare. "Tell them what a concussion is, Chopper…"
The doctor blinked, and then as if a switch was flipped, put a hoof to his chin. "Oh, well, actually Usopp wasn't too far off."
Sanji almost fell over at the triumphant cackle that left the long-nosed liar's lips.
"A concussion is just a name for a head injury. They can be bad and cause lots of trauma." Chopper paused here, seeing fear on his friend's faces. "But, Zoro's isn't that bad. He'll just have a nasty headache for a little while. And a bump, some bruising. He just must've knocked himself on the head somehow."
Usopp's palms met the ground with a soggy slap. "When he fell!"
Chopper turned to face him, alarmed. "Zoro fell?"
"Yeah, the other day when… h-he…" Usopp trailed, his eyes searching for Sanji. The cook was staring blankly past him towards the ocean. He had a sick look on his face. "Um…"
"It's fine Usopp. It's not like it's a big secret or anything. Shit, stupid ass Moss Head should've said something sooner." Sanji suddenly growled.
"The day I slept in, Zoro was coming downstairs the same time I was going up. We ran into each other. And we fell. Zoro caught me, and that ass banged his head against the dresser." Sanji sighed.
"Thought I heard a crash," Franky mumbled. He took another swig of the Cola in front of him.
Chopper hummed thoughtfully. "He should have came and got it checked out." The little reindeer sighed, "but, we're lucky. It's not bad. He'll just have a bad headache for a couple days." Chopper paused here, "The other issue is a little more serious."
"What other issue?" Luffy looked up, concerned, thoughtful. Food fell from his lips.
Sanji swallowed thickly. Here Chopper was, saying Marimo had issues. He tried to ignore the unease welling up in his gut and focused instead on the animalistic eating habits of his captain. He gave Luffy an unamused look, "Chopper eats better than you, and he's half animal." He growled.
"Shhhhh…" Luffy had the gall to shush him. He ended up spraying food from his lips. Sanji shut his eyes, and listened as the doctor cleared his throat.
"Zoro told me he hasn't been sleeping very well."
Luffy resumed shoveling in his half-chewed breakfast. "Zowo can'b sweep?"
Sanji's shoulders stiffened at the turn in conversation.
"Right. I gave him some sleeping pills, and that will help a little, but with his headache, I can't give him anything nearly strong enough. His brain is going to try and heal the bruising he got from his concussion."
"Never thought I'd hear of a day when Zoro was having sleeping problems." Nami laughed softly. Luffy and Usopp laughed right along with her, more boisterously.
Franky let out a groan that he couldn't quite stifle when Robin's hands pressed in a more deliberate way into his neck. The half-human-cyborg had given up trying to work out a few sore kinks when she took over, but the new conversation had her hands distracted. Sanji looked away silently, eyes flickering back towards Robin's face, instead of her sprouted hands that were touching the shitty cyborg. "Could it be those nightmares?" Robin asked instead.
"You knew?" Chopper asked. Sanji also looked surprised, although he shouldn't have been. Of course his sweet Robin-chwan would know about something so obvious!
"Robin-chwan is so smart and observant and beautiful!" He gushed softly.
Franky rolled his eyes at the cook. "So, sword-bro is having nightmares, huh?" Franky asked.
"It seems so. Although, he hasn't told me what they were about. Truthfully I don't know how to help him with it. I don't know much about dreams in general, or how to control them." Chopper looked sad, at a loss of what to do.
"But dreams can't hurt you." Luffy spoke up, his arms were crossed now, and the sticky jam had been wiped from his chin and onto his t-shirt.
"Can they?" Sanji found himself mumbling before the thought had even registered in his mind.
"Huh?" Luffy hummed, eyes finding his cook. Sanji met the rubber boy's gaze and then looked away.
"What is it, Sanji? Do you have something on your mind?" Chopper asked.
Sanji plucked at the grass with his fingers, "Uh, do I need to make him special meals or anything?"
Chopper shook his head lightly, "No, he should be alright to eat with the rest of us, although he might not have much of an appetite. Head injuries usually make you feel kind of nauseated."
"Nauseated means sick, Luffy." Sanji barked, before the rubber man could get the question out. The happy laugh and the "Ah-ha" that followed didn't surprise the cook in the least. His eyes traveled downwards to the empty breakfast dishes.
"Is there anything else?" Chopper asked. Sanji felt the reindeer's eyes on him and he bit his lip.
"You okay, bro? You look like you've got something heavy on your mind." Franky asked from the cook's side, he nudged the blonde's knee lightly with his elbow.
Sanji flicked his eyes away from the general direction of the infirmary, not noticing when they'd first wandered there. "Well, what about his breathing?"
Everyone went quiet. Chopper turned fully to look at Sanji.
The cook shut his mouth, smacking together lips that were parched and dry. He shrunk under the gazes that were suddenly turned his way.
"What about his breathing, Sanji-kun?" Nami looked at him.
Sanji's heartbeat sped up at her inquiry, he could feel its' coarse beat whooshing through his ears, "Uh-he, ah, it's nothing, Nami-swan. It's just silly. I mean, there's no side effect to a busted head that could make it hard to do, is there?" He finished with a stutter. His palms were sweating.
"Has Zoro been having trouble breathing, Sanji?" Chopper asked seriously.
The cook swallowed, and blinked.
"No. No, he hasn't. I don't think."
"If he has, it's not going to help him any if you keep it a secret, Sanji. You know I can't help if I don't know about it, right?"
The cook breathed out heavily. The little doctor made so much sense it made Sanji sick just thinking about how childish he was being. "It was just once." Sanji mumbled after a moment.
"What happened?" Chopper asked again.
When Sanji didn't start to answer right away Chopper closed the distance between the cook and himself, then leaned forward to whisper into Sanji's ear. "You can tell me privately, if you think that would be best."
Sanji took the little doctor's words into consideration for a moment, and then he caught Luffy's gaze over Chopper's shoulder. The captain looked too serious for Sanji's liking, and that's when he knew that Luffy was worried. The stupid moss-head was worrying their captain. Sanji cracked, knew Luffy had a right to know, and then spilled it.
"Okay, okay. It might have even been my imagination, I don't know." Sanji said quietly, although he felt like he was screaming out Zoro's business to the world with how silent the six people surrounding him had become. Chopper leaned back, giving Sanji more room to speak. "I went to bring him a drink and found him sleeping. I was going to wake him up and that's when I noticed his breathing started getting shallow. Then it, it just stopped, I swear it did. Started up a few seconds later though, maybe not even a few seconds, maybe like one second. But... I noticed it. Or at least, I thought I did. I dunno."
"What does that mean, Reindeer-Gorilla?"
Chopper put a hoof to his chin, "It could mean a few things. If what Sanji said really happened, it might be nothing, especially if it's just happened once. Or..."
"Well, we'll see. I don't think it's anything too serious from what Sanji described. I'll keep monitoring him and see if anything happens."
Blend together with:
1 cup of Chamomile Tea
Breakfast ended with a pretty negative air. Everyone was especially quiet after the news and had tottered off to do their own things.
Sanji was left undisturbed for the better portion of a half hour, choosing to go back into his galley where he proceeded to knock back two glasses of delicately aged wine and five sticks of Chopper's nicotine-laced chewing gum. By this time, he'd already began the preparations for lunch. He cleaned the fish, chopped the vegetables, and started boiling the water for the pasta.
Every time he tried not to think about the Moss Head, that's where his thoughts ended up. And images of a starving, melting, desperate, and dying swordsman would come into his mind to tease him. He told himself again and again that Zoro was fine, and he was in Chopper's very capable hands, or hoofs. But the thoughts made him angry at himself for thinking them in the first place. This led him to mincing anything he could get his hands on.
He had his knife tip poised above the dried noodles, just about to add them into his wrath relief when the familiar creak of a doorway filled the galley quietly.
Chopper was outside, Sanji knew, so that was the most likely reason that he'd nearly given himself whip-lash by turning his attention fully towards the infirmary at the end of his kitchen. Sanji watched owlishly as Zoro lumbered out the door, looking more than a little pale and sickly. The cook looked on curiously, wondering if he should force the swordsman back to bed. Or maybe he'd come out to finally eat something.
"Yo." He greeted soundly.
Zoro didn't greet him back.
"Food will be done in about a half hour. I set aside some breakfast though, if you're hungry now." Sanji offered. More like 'awkwardly rambled'. Zoro didn't seem to be listening to him. He looked around with a lost sort of glaze in his eyes, and Sanji didn't want to admit it to himself, but he could see their raw, red-rimmed appearance from nearly across the room.
"Hey Moss-head, I'm talking to you."
Zoro turned to face him then, sort of, he was facing in Sanji's general direction, but it seemed like he couldn't keep a solid stare on anything. His gaze was pointed towards the deck's doorway and the intercom radio at the same time, which Sanji had thought was an impossible task, seeing as the two were sort of on different sides of the galley. The swordsman seemed a little off-balance, like his sea-legs hadn't yet been invented. It wasn't until Sanji saw the swordsman reach out to grab for the wall that he understood what was going on.
Zoro was dizzy. Disoriented. Sanji's heart thudded towards his throat. The stupid algae head could hurt himself worse if he passed out now.
"Hey, Swordsman, Chopper said you should really stay in bed."
Zoro fingered the wall, and then reached for his hip. Sanji watch his fingers crumple into a soft fist.
The cook opened his mouth to say something else when the swordsman beat him to it. "You know where Chopper is?" He molded the words between too-stiff teeth.
Sanji felt his pulse quicken. Something wasn't right.
"Marimo, maybe you should sit down before you fall down. You aren't lookin' too steady there."
"Don' need to siddown." Zoro slurred. It made Sanji wonder if the other man was drunk.
The cook tapped a spoon on the side of his counter and reached for his crutch. "I'll get Chopper, just sit." He pointed at the swordsman with one free hand and made a gesturing motion to the floor.
The swordsman stared oddly at him for a moment before seeming to realize something. Sanji saw the pale face turn a few shades closer to the man's hair color and then Zoro stumbled backwards. Sanji had a phrase on his tongue that he didn't get the opportunity to call out. The swordsman caught himself and flew back through the infirmary's door moments before Sanji heard the all-too-familiar and unpleasant sounds of someone being very, very ill.
The cook cringed, thought about going to see if the Marimo was alright, wondered if he should go and get Chopper first, and then acted on the first choice for reasons that he couldn't fathom. He pushed the office door open gently and watched Zoro throwing his guts away into the small trashcan. He'd missed the first time, Sanji noted quietly, seeing the mess of bile decorating the bed sheets and ground.
"I'll get you some water." Sanji said quietly.
Zoro gagged, the sound somewhere between a cough and a whine. "I think 'm poisoned…"
"Stomach. It kills. Can't see straight."
Sanji pulled open a cabinet above Chopper's sink and found disposable cups there. He took one down and began filling it from the tap. The frown that he hadn't realized was on his lips deepened. "Ah, that's because of, well, Chopper said you got a concussion when you hit your head."
"A wha-?" Zoro breathed. His nose burned.
"Real genius, not telling him about it like you said you would." Sanji accused, he limped around, coming to a stand-still by the sick man's side.
"Cook, don' step…"
"I got it. No big deal."
"Here, drink something." Sanji offered, "You've got a lot of air in your stomach. That's why it hurts so bad. I'll guarantee it."
Zoro cautiously took the little paper cup that the cook offered him. He took a sip of the water inside it and immediately gagged. He missed the trash can again, hitting the floor and his pants instead. His head whirled. "Fuck it…" He growled.
Sanji could see his struggle. He moved to set a hand on Zoro's back and helped to prop the basin beneath his chin. The blond could see the cold sweat that glistened against the back of Zoro's neck and along the sides of his cheeks.
He rubbed awkwardly up and down along Zoro's spine a few times. Feeling a violent tremble shuddering his body.
"I know, you'd think we were being punished for something." Sanji joked. He was trying hard to make the situation a little less awkward, but couldn't help but feel like he was failing completely. Zoro turned away a little more, so he was angled clumsily over himself. "Hey, it happens, no big deal. I got sick myself, just this morning."
But Zoro didn't seem to be listening anymore, too busy trying to shove Sanji away from him.
"Can do this m'self, Stupid Cook."
"Just trying to help you, Asshole. You can't even sit up straight."
"You like this…" Zoro muttered tiredly then. Sanji heard the thickness in the swordsman's voice.
"What are you talking about?"
"Like seeing me weak." Zoro accused.
"I never said you were weak, idiot. Don't start that now. "
"You don't have to say it." The words flowed out over his lips, and he glanced up to look at the cook's face, for some reason wanting to see the expression it held. The shallow light in the room made it hard for him to see.
Sanji tried to ignore the nonsense that Zoro was mumbling. He was obviously not all there. "Try and drink some more of that."
Zoro ignored him.
"Come on, I'll help you change before Chopper comes bursting in here."
Zoro shook his head wordlessly, and felt Sanji crouch beside him. He set the half full cup on the ground beside his knee.
"Are you… alright now?"
There was a pause where all either of them could hear was the soft plink plop sound of the water dripping from the tap.
"Zoro, come on. I'm trying here. Really, I am."
Zoro stilled then. Feeling ashamed. He felt the cook's hand on his back, noticed Sanji swaying a little to try and keep his balance from the awkward angle. But still the cook held the basin steady for him. Zoro gnawed at his lip, tasting the sick on it.
Zoro didn't look at the other man. He felt like a stupid fool. Sanji was just trying to help. He was sorry for what he'd said before. He apologized, and tried to make up for it, and still, after all that trying, Zoro kept turning a blind cheek. A childish, weak, maneuver for a swordsman. A pathetic, little, wannabe, excuse for a human being.
Roronoa Zoro finally realized something. He was in a battle, and he was losing. It was too hard to come to terms with it from the way his head was swirling. The bed was right in front of his face and it was blurry…
If he was going to have any chance of coming out on top now, he realized with a jolt that he needed help.
He stopped struggling, stopped fighting against the hands that were helping him now, and really felt Sanji's hands against him. They were firm, and warm, and steady. Zoro needed steady. He needed the warmth, the comfort they were offering.
"Are you finished?" Sanji was asking in his ear, and his voice didn't sound like it was mocking him. In fact, it sounded weary, maybe worried, and more than a little sad.
Zoro could only nod now. He felt his stomach settling a little more as each moment passed.
"See, you can trust me, Zoro. I don't like seeing you like this, and I don't think you're weak for it. You're sick and hurt, and you probably won't remember anything that's happening now, so we won't have to make excuses later." Sanji chuckled, a hollow laugh. "You'd be a fool to think that I don't care. I'd be a fool to tell you I don't care."
Sanji helped him back into bed carefully, after stripping the dirty sheets from it. Zoro seemed to be contemplating something while he got settled, there was a drained look on his face and Sanji only hoped he wouldn't be sick again.
"The wind calls me weak…" Zoro confided. He peeled off his soiled clothes, dropping them at Sanji's feet.
Sanji didn't know where the strange confession had come from, if he could call it that. Maybe Zoro had officially lost it. "Okay… okay…" Sanji stalled, before yanking a clean blanket rather forcefully towards Zoro's chin, convinced the swordsman was delirious.
"I can never save her…" There was a frightened animalistic look in the swordsman's eyes that was pretty hard to ignore.
The drugs were definitely talking, but Sanji humored him anyways, "Save who?"
"She always dies. I can't help her. Can't bring her back. I'm so.. so pathetic."
"No. You aren't pathetic. It isn't your fault." Sanji said. They were false condolences. It clicked in his mind that Zoro was probably talking about his dead friend after he'd already said it. His eyes went soft. "You can't bring back the dead, Zoro. And you can't beat yourself up for what happened."
"If only I were stronger."
"You were a kid. Right? It's not your fault."
"You don't know…" Zoro grimaced.
"You're right. I don't know. So tell me. Tell me what the hell you could have done different. Tell me why you're acting like this. This isn't the Zoro I know."
The swordsman's hands buried themselves in the blanket at chest height. "Then you don't know me."
Sanji went quiet then. He couldn't deny it. Couldn't argue back. Maybe he didn't know Zoro, and that made him a little sad. Maybe they were still only strangers in this makeshift family.
"Tell them to stop."
The cook's attention was brought back by the deadpan plea. "Tell who to stop?"
"Make them stop."
Sanji swallowed. He looked around, listened for anything that might be out of place, and came up empty. "Marimo. What are you talking about?"
"Make 'em stop, Cook."
A frightened look passed over Zoro's face then, it was enough to make Sanji bite his tongue. The cook cursed softly. Zoro met him with glassy eyes, staring at him hard. "Please. Sanji, please, I can't see her die again. I can't see her—lose…"
Sanji watched Zoro's eyes slide shut as his voice tapered. He finally understood that he was talking about the nightmares. They really got to him. Sanji felt sad for Zoro, there was nothing he could do to protect the swordsman in his sleep, except wake him up, and that wouldn't do him any good.
Sanji realized something then that he probably shouldn't have. Zoro had the ability to care, to feel, to love, to be human. To be imperfect.
And Sanji didn't know why, but seeing Zoro like this… knowing the swordsman had a weak spot, made the cook want to protect him. It made the cook want to understand him. Because seeing Zoro like this was like seeing a stranger in a mirror, and it tickled Sanji curiously.
The cook waited there a while longer, kicking at the soiled bed sheets and shoving them into the laundry hamper, along with Zoro's discarded clothing. Sanji watched the swordsman's chest beneath the blanket moving up and down, wanting to make sure it stayed moving. He watched the knit between his eyebrows gather and release. He touched Zoro's forehead and smoothed the worry lines away, then realized what he was doing and stopped. A soft sigh escaped between the swordsman's chapped lips.
Sanji remembered he'd left the water boiling and then left the room hastily, leaving a cold towel on Zoro's head, even though there was no fever. Thinking that maybe, the slight pressure alone would be enough to help.
Tell a good story (make it sound real).
Zoro woke up feeling strange, and puffy eyed. He looked around himself, and noticed Chopper sitting as his desk this time, a few feet away.
What in the world…?
He got sick… Damn. His teeth were coated with the after taste, and he could still smell the sickly, nauseating scent of vomit lingering in the air. And he hadn't been eating much, so it was just that much worse.
He made a small noise in the back of his raw throat, and Chopper spun around immediately.
"Oh good, you're awake!" The young reindeer chirped. Zoro thought he seemed a little too chipper compared to how the rest of his day was going so far.
"What the hell happened to me?"
"Well, after you got sick, you conked out pretty fast. Sanji thought you'd fainted at first." Chopper mumbled, sounding a little too innocent for Zoro's tastes.
Zoro's stare pierced the little reindeer, trying to piece together what Chopper was saying.
"Anyways, I think I overdid it a little with the dosage."
Zoro groaned and rubbed his face. It was coming back to him. Just foggy images, but he could remember some things. He remembered Sanji being in here with him, for one.
He remembered the cook being in here a lot. The bastard seemed to be everywhere.
Saw him crying. Saw him being sick.
"Here, drink this for me, please." Chopper handed him a glass full of something that looked like water but when Zoro went to swallow, it burned the underside of his tongue.
"Take smaller sips." Chopper instructed lightly, "It'll help you relax."
Zoro pinched his nose. "This sucks, I don't even want to put food in my mouth."
"Is the nausea still real bad?" Chopper asked, ears sinking slightly.
Zoro finished the horrid liquid and gave Chopper a level look. "It's still there, if that's what you mean." He didn't even sugar coat it for him, instead pinning the reindeer with a look that wanted answers. "Why was I so messed up earlier?"
Chopper's eyes widened in a doe-like fashion, he pressed his hooves together. "Heh, Sorry. I had to make the dose stronger. You're immunity level is scary sometimes, ya'know?"
"You poisoned me." Zoro accused lightly.
Chopper rubbed his furry little head, "Ah, not poisoned exactly. I think you got sick because of your concussion, but the drugs I gave you probably made you feel a little loopy."
"It should go away soon, though. How'd you sleep?"
"Feels like I didn't, really."
"Sorry. It was drug induced, so it probably wasn't as relaxing as it could have been, but, did you dream?"
"No, no dreams."
Zoro couldn't bring himself to tell Chopper about the nightmares he had, however. After all, the doctor had never asked.
"That's great! If the dreams do come back though, I was thinking, about how you said your nightmares were pretty theme-based, and thought that it could be caused by guilt."
Zoro gave him another look, "Guilt?"
"Sure. Bad dreams can be caused by a number of things. Bad eating habits, stress, problems in your waking life, feelings of guilt." Chopper listed, text book like, "And that's not even half of them."
Zoro stared down at his hands.
"Zoro, are you feeling guilty about something, or maybe stressed?"
He was having a staring contest with his pinky finger. He blinked, and lost. Damn.
Chopper must have got the idea that he didn't feel all that up to long conversations at the moment, because he gave him a very patient look.
"You don't have to tell me about it, but I'm here if you feel like you need to talk, okay?" Chopper paused, he looked into Zoro's tired eyes sadly. "Okay?" he repeated.
Zoro nodded mutely.
"Maybe if you can talk about it, or distract yourself, it can clear your head."
He didn't want to talk about it.
And he didn't know a good distraction.
The rest of that evening went by agonizingly slow. Feeling a little more coherent, Zoro escaped from the infirmary to out on deck and then was asked, in as gentle of a threatening tone that Nami could produce, to come back to the dining room, where he sat at the table with light chatter surrounding him. It didn't comfort him in the way it should have. Instead, it only managed to grate his still lingering headache.
Sanji made Onigiri with spicy rice vinegar just like Zoro liked it. It felt like torture, sitting there with something he'd normally inhale in a heartbeat and feeling too sick to his stomach to even look at it.
Sanji was seated next to him at the table, and Zoro could feel the cook's eyes pass over him again and again. He didn't turn to look at him. He nudged the riceball on his plate with his chopsticks instead.
"If your stomach is still upset, the plain rice might settle it."
Zoro felt the tips of his ears get hot at the cook's casual tone, as if talking about Zoro's health around the dinner table was the most natural thing for him to do.
"Not eating won't make the sick feeling go away."
"Yeah, come on Zoro, try it. Just a little bite?" Nami cooed from his left. Zoro didn't look at Nami either. Instead, he was forced to stare straight ahead to avoid the badgering. Robin was sitting across from him, and she didn't say anything about trying to eat something. She didn't ask questions that made him feel uneasy. She kept her mouth shut, and so Zoro found that it felt like it was safe to look at her.
When her straight lips turned into a small smile, however, he stiffened. And then he felt bloomed arms at his back, rubbing it. That was the final straw. He couldn't take it anymore. All of the nervous, or curious, or concerned looks. He hated the pity. He hated having all the unneeded attention thrust upon him. His face was burning by the time he managed to twist away from Robin's comforting hands. He didn't need the damn comfort!
He felt hot and dizzy all over again. Zoro slid his plate away from himself, said he felt too nauseous, and excused himself to go to bed.
Zoro knew the little reindeer was sad when he stood up to leave and so he told the kid he could have his dessert. The news made Chopper squirm a little in his seat.
"Are the pills not helping at all?"
"You did good, Chopper. I'm just not a very good patient. I don't like to be babied." The words were pointed to Sanji and Robin and Nami. "So stop looking at me as if I'm broken." He sent a look towards Chopper and Usopp and Franky. "I'm not." Zoro's voice didn't sound mad, and the way it shook as he said those words didn't sound at all convincing. Zoro didn't turn his eyes towards Luffy at all.
For once, Sanji didn't make a fuss.
Zoro didn't know if he felt relieved that he wasn't forced to put on a fight show with the chef, or offended that the cook hadn't tried to start anything. Did he think Zoro couldn't handle it? Zoro could handle it. He could. But he was secretly thankful that he didn't have to. A foggy understanding was all Zoro felt between them.
He lay wide awake on the couch, unable to close his eyes. Sleep didn't sound appealing to him at all, and Zoro was slightly worried that things might never go back to normal. It wasn't until he heard everyone tromping down stairs and fall into their own bunks that Zoro was able to think about sweet slumber.
He closed his eyes, clearing his mind as if in meditation, and before he knew it he was out.
A pinch of ground cinnamon
Zoro was suddenly nine years old again and he was drowning. He looked at his stubby appendages through his blurry underwater prison, wondering how he got there.
His head kept plunging beneath the surface of an ocean and Zoro couldn't find which way was up.
All he could tell from his surrounding is that it was dark and cold. Really cold.
He felt the icy water clawing up and down his arms like serrated blades and they left deep bloody gashes when each wave passed over him.
Suddenly Wado Ichimonji was floating in front of his eyes.
Zoro gasped, gagged on water, and started coughing.
He could feel his lungs bursting with sea water, and he kicked frantically, reaching out towards Kuina's and his white handled blade.
It kept sinking.
Zoro started floating.
The sword sunk faster.
Suddenly Kuina was there, gripping the blade, and it was pulling her down into the murky ocean depths like an anchor.
Zoro kicked downwards with all his might, but he couldn't move. Icy ocean waves had him frozen in their firm grip. Sea water flooded his nose and eyes then and he couldn't see anything anymore.
He was suddenly standing on top of the sea, waves whipping around him. He was nineteen again.
There was a dark silhouette of a powerful man standing in front of him.
"What are you waiting for, boy?"
Eyes like a hawk flashed in front of him. Seeing those eyes brought Zoro uselessly to his knees. He still couldn't breathe, ocean water was still somehow caught in his lungs.
He pressed his cheek against the black waves and peered down into the ocean again, trying desperately to find his lost friend. His hands hit the ocean surface like a large glass window. All he could do was peer through it, down into the murky waters.
He could see Kuina twisting the blade uselessly, trying to gain control.
Zoro caught her large eyes then, and hers too were like the eyes of a hawk, piercing golden slits that ran right through him. He reached out to her, and the ocean bit him. Kuina floated away.
"You're still weak, Zoro…"
Zoro started screaming Kuina's name then, there was a loud steel clang, and then the sea around him turned to blood, and the swords was back in his hand, stained with the same substance that the sea had become…
3 glances at the Milky Way.
It was like clockwork. Every night now, Sanji could be certain that the swordsman was going to wake him up with another stupid nightmare plaguing him.
Sanji decided. He wasn't going to put up with this anymore.
The first night was annoying, the second made him curious, the third was a little more concerning, the fourth was just worrisome- which made it irksome at the same time. But the fifth? The fifth night in a row of Zoro awakening Sanji with his damn moaning and groaning was just too much. It was maddening and angering, because deep, deep down in a place inside Sanji that was very dusty and barely touched, he was terrified. Terrified, because deep deep down in that dark and dusty place, he actually might've cared about Zoro a little. It was an alienated feeling, but it was there. He cared about the bastard. A little. Deep, deep down. Very deep.
It was because of that little prickling, deep down feeling that Sanji was awake now and staring across the room at his troubled crew mate. Sanji shook his head, wishing for a smoke. His hand was already lifted automatically to his lips where the invisible cigarette was perched. Yeah, this had to stop. He swung his legs out of his hammock and reached out for the crutch that he knew was perched against the wall at his side and made his way over to his marimo-headed comrade.
He stopped to loom over the couch where Zoro fitfully slept.
The images of Zoro in the medical bay last night with Chopper wouldn't leave his mind. He tried to tell himself that it was all just his imagination, but he knew it was real. The unwashed milk glasses that had been dumped in the kitchen sink he'd found that morning confirmed it. He tried to tell himself that the swordsman being sick yesterday was all in his mind too, but the sheets that he'd watched Franky hanging up to dry caused that notion to fly out the window along with the first. The weirdness was tangible. And the worst part was, Zoro wouldn't frickin' talk about it.
Not to Sanji at least.
Because that wasn't the swordsman's style.
And Sanji didn't really expect Zoro to confide in him. But obviously, whatever Chopper had given Zoro to supposedly "fix" him, wasn't working. And then there was that messed up breathing thing. If it was even real, Sanji thought that it might just be a reaction to the fear that Zoro's dreams were creating for him. And if it wasn't… well damn. The swordsman was in even deeper shit than Sanji had originally thought.
Some tossing and turning alerted Sanji to the slumbering lump he was standing over. He looked down, narrowed his eyes, and then his gaze softened. His foot pulsed with a wave of pain. Something was tearing into his heart. Zoro groaned. Sanji couldn't take it anymore. Man, Moss-head…
"Wake the hell up, Jackass." Sanji's harsh whisper had Zoro's eyes snapping open.
Zoro took in a deep gasp of air, still plagued by the drowning feeling he had been experiencing moments ago. He noticed a flash of blonde above him, and felt his body shaking but didn't feel hands touching him anywhere. Zoro peered around groggily, trying to swallow around the cottony feeling that was pressing against his tongue. It was too dark to see much of anything around him, but he could hear the gentle familiar breathing of the cook somewhere above his head. The shuffle of fabric and the creak of a crutch confirmed it to be true when Zoro had sat himself up.
Sanji's eyes were obviously better adjusted to their dark surroundings because the blonde's next words left Zoro's own eyes clenching shut. "It was just a bad dream?" If the question wasn't tacked on to the end of that statement, Zoro might have denied it. In fact, he didn't even think of denying it until it was too late and he was already out of bed and following Sanji slowly up on deck. The sound of the peg-leg hobble of the cook's crutch against the wood floors guided him as well as any beacon through the dark bunk room.
Zoro grabbed his swords like a security blanket as he stumbled as quietly as he could out of the cabin. The night air washing over Zoro's face as they left the cramped men's quarters was like a splash of cold water. The swordsman let out a long breath and discarded his weapons against the mast, not really wanting to touch them anymore. As if spellbound, Zoro turned and walked to the edge of the railing and leaned against it. He felt, rather than heard, Sanji limping up to stand beside him. The two stared over Port together, air caressing their cheeks. Zoro was thankful for the refreshing breeze against his flushed face.
The cook stole a glance at the swordsman next to him. Zoro hadn't said anything yet, which was odd, and so it gave Sanji every justifiable right to assume that something was wrong with his crew mate. He blinked softly and tried following the swordsman's gaze, trying to find the waves that made the other's eyes look so haunted. He didn't see anything but the blackened sea.
Sanji swallowed, just to wet his throat. He didn't know if this was the first time that the swordsman had faced an enemy that he couldn't see, but it was obviously weakening the Marimo's defenses. The worst part was that Sanji didn't know if he could back the swordsman up. If he could just get Zoro to open up to him, then Sanji thought their chances of beating this thing would rise greatly.
"At first," Sanji felt his voice halt, "I was going to tell you to just get over yourself, but that didn't sound very helpful." The cook chuckled. Zoro didn't chuckle back, didn't even acknowledge the cook. Sanji was beginning to wonder if Zoro even realized where he was.
Sanji backpedalled. Thinking a more sensitive approach may be necessary in a situation like this. Sanji was never great with kids, but he suddenly felt like that was how he should approach Zoro. Maybe gentle. Cautious. He could see the swordsman's fingers, white with his tight grip, wrapped around the railing. The tight muscles, straining in his neck as the swordsman ground his teeth together nervously.
"Zoro…" Sanji started again, Zoro didn't react. "Look, I know you said you didn't need any pity, or comfort, or babying shit. And I know we don't… we're not… close or anything, like you and Chopper, or how you are with Luffy, but," Sanji paused to take a breath. He didn't know why he was saying what he was. Maybe to fill up the silence. He looked back at Zoro. The swordsman showed no sign that he'd even heard the cook speak. "Look, Zoro, if there's something I can do," Sanji growled, he leaned heavier on his crutch, leaned closer to his crewmate, "If this is something I caused…"
"Cook," Zoro's gruff voice cut him off.
"I know, I know, this is stupid. If you just need some space, say the word." Sanji started shifting, feeling unhelpful. He thought he could do this, but it was obvious that it should be left to someone better, like Chopper, or their captain, or even Usopp. Maybe someone that actually had a backbone and wasn't such a screw up in Zoro's mind.
"Cook," The gruff voice repeated. It made Sanji pause. "Wait," it added. "Stay." It begged.
Sanji stopped, and caught Zoro's gaze just to his left, looking down at his injured leg. Something in the swordsman's expression made him feel uneasy, but somehow secure at the same time.
Chopper had told Zoro that he might have felt guilty. Subconscious thoughts could come into dreams and torture him from the inside out. Zoro unclenched his jaw, turned his attention away from the black waves. He stopped trying to see the things he knew didn't exist when he looked out at the ocean and turned a little towards Sanji instead. The cook's voice was a steady grounding buzz a few minutes ago, it was there, and it was real, even if he hadn't heard all that the cook was saying. Zoro let his eyes linger steady on the chef's casted foot. Maybe he felt guilty about not being able to protect Kuina… but he could protect Sanji. Couldn't he? He didn't understand why he even cared in the first place, and that's why it bothered him so much.
There was a weighted pause that was so heavy it made Sanji startle when it suddenly ended.
"I am so sick and tired of watching people fall."
Sanji felt his heart beat hard against his chest twice before slowing down again. He stayed quiet, listening to the soft rumble that was Zoro's voice. The swordsman still seemed to be miles away, but Sanji could see his attention returning, little by little.
"When you fell before in the bedroom. I didn't say what I did to be cruel. At least I don't think I did. I would have helped you up. It was just, I didn't… I said what I said, because… because, maybe if you stayed down, you wouldn't fall anymore."
"Can you get up?"
Sanji listened to the swordsman's quiet voice, sounding like a cool ocean breeze. He let the explanation wash over him and sink in, and couldn't say that he hadn't already forgotten about that particular experience. It was funny that Zoro even chose to bring it up now. Sanji hadn't really taken that "insult" personally in the first place.
It was obviously weighing in pretty strongly on Zoro's mind, however. Sanji watched the swordsman close his eyes, clenching them tightly shut until the skin around them bunched at the creases.
"Why are you sweating that?"
Zoro shifted again, a little further away from Sanji and the cook redirected his words. He wasn't about to tell Zoro that the jibe hadn't fazed him at all. Sanji felt like shit after he fell in the bedroom. He'd just found his recipe cards that weren't even lost in the first place, after all, and he felt stupid. He'd remembered feeling embarrassed. He remembered thinking Zoro was an asshole for the way he just left him there. But he hadn't looked into it any deeper than that. He didn't think the swordsman's reasons for doing it was because… he didn't want Sanji to fall. Because he was… afraid… that Sanji would fall. Afraid. Ha. Zoro afraid. The thought seemed laughable. He shook his head, tearing the thought in two. "I mean, you don't have to dwell on that. We fight all the time. It's what we do."
"It's what we do." Zoro repeated. He liked to fight. He was good at it, and with every victory came a grander feeling of reward. Fighting was what he did. With Kuina. With Sanji. And maybe that's why he felt so protective of the cook now, because in some weird way, the Love Cook reminded Zoro of her.
Maybe that's what Chopper meant about feeling guilty. Even though Chopper didn't know the whole story, and Sanji didn't know the whole story, and Luffy didn't care to know. No one knew except the dreams in Zoro's subconscious. Not Sensei, or Saga, or even Johnny. No one. No one knew how Zoro still partially blamed himself. If he hadn't made that promise that night, maybe… maybe things would be different. But it happened. It happened and he couldn't change it. But oh, how he wished he could, maybe that way the wind wouldn't make him feel so darn guilty every time he nearly lost or took a beating. It wouldn't hiss at him for how weak he still was and how he should be stronger.
"Well, it's not all we do." Came Sanji's soft voice, hitting Zoro's temple. "We do some other shit together, it's not much, but we do. Sometimes. We're… crewmates, or something."
Zoro swallowed, staring sidelong at the blonde, all hunched over himself, like he was suddenly so unsure of what he was saying.
"Yeah, we are." Zoro confirmed, knowing that Sanji deserved to hear that, at the very least.
The blonde's breathing came a bit easier after Zoro's confirmation. And Sanji was suddenly digging into his voice box, hastily trying to vomit up some words of consolation for Zoro.
"This is going to sound cheesy as hell," the cook paused, curling a strand of blonde bangs around his finger. "But I'm going to say it anyways." He felt the swordsman's eyes watching him, they were pressing and caressing. "Zoro, falling is… how we become stronger." Sanji said, his hands moving steadily downward until they found purchase on the rails of the Sunny that Zoro was leaning against. He let his shoulder brush statically against the swordsman's upper arm, trying to offer comfort that he knew he wasn't allowed to give.
Zoro waited as Sanji's words washed over him like glue.
"falling is how we become stronger."…?
They sounded familiar. Sounded like,
"losing is how we become stronger."
He took a cursory glance at the cook's hands gripping onto the ship's railing and wanted to scream. How could the cook say something like that to him now? "Shut up. You don't believe that. That doesn't even mean anything to me." He ground out.
Did Sanji and Sensei know something he didn't? Weakness didn't make a person strong.
"You're weak, Zoro."
Zoro let out a couple large breaths and forced his mind to shut itself off. Sanji was stupid! He didn't know! He didn't understand!
Sanji hummed. Leaned forward, and caught Zoro's averted eyes and held his gaze steady. "It sounds like you've heard that one before." The cook mused. "So have I, believe me. The Old Geezer wouldn't let me forget it."
Zoro shifted uncomfortably where he stood, gripping his haramaki that was wrapped around his waist in gentle fists. He tried to escape the look that Sanji had him pinned with, but couldn't. There was something in Sanji's eyes that made him look back, something that made Zoro feel like maybe he might understand some of the swordsman's burdens after all.
"We fall… but we get back up." Sanji said, after he was sure he had Zoro's attention. When the swordsman's frown deepened, he continued. "We can't grow without losing first, not without making some mistakes. Right?"
A sadness washed over Zoro then that he felt he had no right to experience.
He looked back at Sanji, eyes blazing in raw emotion. "And what if one day, you don't fucking get back up? Huh? What then, Cook. Do you wanna tell me what the hell will happen then?" Zoro shuddered. He gripped the green cloth tighter all the way through to his t-shirt underneath until he was pinching the firm skin on his stomach. Zoro felt his breath coming in short, shallow pants. Tried to even them out before speaking. "Your clumsy ass keeps falling down, and what if one day you can't get back up?"
Zoro was screaming, but his voice was a hoarse whisper. Sanji noticed the stress lines growing deeper along the swordsman's brow, and it surprised him by how much effort it took to not reach out and try to smooth them away. He held back though, and Sanji held onto those dark eyes with his own instead. Noticed the way the surface was glossy when the moon light swept over them.
"I will always get back up, Shithead. You wanna know why?"
Zoro swallowed, balled his fists at his side and forced himself to look away. Sanji didn't understand! He didn't know that people could just randomly die one day, and there was just nothing anyone could do to stop it. He wondered if Sanji had ever experienced a death of someone he cared about. And then he was hoping he hadn't. And he didn't understand why he wished for that so badly.
"You want to know WHY, Zoro?"
"WHY?" Zoro snapped. His voice cracked, going high and hysteric at the end.
Sanji whirled on him. He slammed a hand down on one of Zoro's shaking wrists, if only just to keep him from running away, like Zoro wanted to. Wanted to, but never would.
Because the Roronoa Zoro that Sanji knew didn't run from anything.
Even if the one standing next to him might.
Sanji wanted to ask Zoro who he was and where did the real Marimo go, but the thought sounded stupid. Zoro was here, next to him. He squeezed the tense wrist tightly in his own fist and then moved to press it against the railing like a cuff.
Sanji gave him a long, hard stare. Reaching into Zoro's eyes with his own. The yellow moonlight glowed in them and Zoro saw gold and truth trapped there.
"Why?" Zoro screamed again. His breath moving in cold puffs towards the cook's face; Zoro could see his breath dissolving over the cook's nose, over his lips. Clouds that dissolved and weren't really there, just coloring the air.
"Because, shit-for-brains," Sanji spoke, and a puff of Zoro's breath caressed Sanji's teeth. Zoro forced himself to turn away, gaze shifting down towards the soft hand holding onto him, watching those impossibly long fingers coil tightly around his thick wrist.
"You'll be there to pick me up again."
A large lump caught in Zoro's throat. He was pretty sure he'd never felt this much intense emotion in his entire life. His gaze swept up to meet the cook's stare again. Sanji's lips curled softly at the sides.
The blonde head nodded towards the mast behind them when he was sure he had Zoro's attention. The swordsman didn't follow the cook's gaze. He didn't need to see what the cook was pointing to. He knew. He fucking knew and the damn cook told him anyway. "That white sword there. You picked her up, right?"
Zoro felt his resolve crumbling. He bit his lower lip hard when it started to tremble.
"The wind doesn't call you "weak". Wind can't talk. It only says what you want it to say."
"You picked her up. So, I don't doubt that you'll pick me up too."
Zoro turned away from the cook then, discreetly wiping away heavy emotion that had welled up along his bottom lashes. "You're such a cheesy bastard."
"Meant every word, dumbass."
Zoro swallowed. The cook released him.
"Man, I really need a cigarette." The cook breathed out.
Zoro cleared his throat, gaze flicking up towards the moon. "It was all bullshit, by the way. Bullshit about trust and I was wrong to say it, but you pissed me off so much. You said all the things I didn't want to hear. It was just wrong timing."
"It's okay. It was a good slap in the face."
"Guess we all need one of those, huh?" Zoro snuffed. He ran a hand through his hair, staring out at the horizon. "I feel lighter." He offered, and then wished he wouldn't have said it out loud. He saw Sanji smile out of the corner of his eye.
There was too much heat surrounding them now, and it wasn't angry either. It was heavy and confusing and somehow meaningful. It made both men want to turn and run, but they stood their ground, refusing to surrender to something that was on a fine line between comfortable and uncomfortable.
"Hey, look at that." Zoro changed the subject.
Sanji looked up at Zoro and then followed his crewmate's gaze out towards the sea. There was a small speck on the horizon.
Zoro stood there, for once not feeling so weighted down. Maybe he just needed one big adventure. A big bang to take this all away.
Chopper mentioned how a distraction could cure him of his nightmares.
Sanji was leaning further out over the railing now, trying to see what Zoro had offhandedly mentioned only moments before. Sanji's words were still playing in his mind, toying with his thoughts, and sending feelings that actually didn't hurt throughout the swordsman's heart. Zoro felt the trust between them spark again.
The cook had successfully distracted him from his pain filled night terror.
"Oi, Oi, what're you looking at, Asshole?" Sanji asked, obnoxiously too close to Zoro's face, trying to match the other's eyelevel. "That little rocky speck out there?"
It was a little too soon for laughter, so Zoro settled on a smirk while Sanji tried to seek out the little speck of land in the distance.
The swordsman felt himself yawn then, and he still felt dreadfully tired, as he had for days. The thought of sleep, for once, seemed welcome, just like it used to.
Maybe he'd found his distraction.
Now throw it all in the ocean.
Zoro fell asleep that night, listening to the Love Cook's voice replaying in his head. And Sanji thought that maybe Zoro just needed someone to talk to. A shoulder. And the swordsman seemed to finally sleep peacefully. It wasn't until six hours later, when dawn was beginning to creep up across the horizon that Zoro finally startled awake. Sanji counted down the seconds in his mind it took his heart to nearly tear itself out of his chest, and the echoes of "COOK!" to stop resounding off the bedroom walls. To stop ringing in his ears.
Sanji died in Zoro's dream that night. Sanji died in much worse ways that Kuina ever did. Because, when Kuina died, the wind would howl back at Zoro in some tremendous force, and whisper the words "weak" in Zoro's ears until they bled. But when Sanji had died, swallowed by the sea, Zoro could do nothing but stand there and watch. And the sea, unlike the wind, roared back and told Zoro how "strong" he was. It was the worst slap in the face the swordsman had ever received.
4 ½ brushed knuckles
1 tingling hand
1 weird dream
Blend together with:
1 cup of Chamomile Tea
Tell a good story (make it sound real).
A pinch of ground cinnamon
3 glances at the Milky Way.
Now throw it all in the ocean.
Presenting a cook's recipe for:
The weather was brighter than it had been all week. Sanji was almost sure that it was mocking him. He was feeling worse than he had all week, and it was because he was officially out of ideas. He sat outside on the grass deck and tilted his head back, trying hard to enjoy the warmth that the sun shone against his face. There were clouds in the sky that Nami said could turn into storm clouds, but she wasn't worried about them, and so a peaceful blanket fell over the Thousand Sunny.
That little speck Zoro and he had seen last night turned out to be the island that they'd been sailing towards for the past two weeks. Nami told them it would take at least until nightfall to reach it. Sanji couldn't have been more grateful. He could stock up on cigarettes, sleep in a real bed, take a break from cooking, and get the hell away from the swordsman until they figured out what would truly help the shit-head.
He couldn't wait to dock, and Luffy's chanting of "Island, Island! Ahoy!" wasn't helping.
There was a sick feeling in Sanji's gut as he sat there, trying to rest his eyes. It was tense, and he couldn't figure out quite why.
Zoro was lifting weights on the other side of the ship, he could hear the heavy clunks as each one rose up and down. Again and again and again. Clunk, clunk, clunk. They hadn't stopped since dawn. They hadn't stopped and Zoro did not eat breakfast. Zoro looked like positive death this morning. He was quieter than usual, and he wouldn't look or speak to Sanji at all. Sanji growled softly. He didn't know what to do!
It shouldn't have been his problem!
Everything Sanji did lately seemed to blow up in his face.
"Cook!" Zoro's cry from last night had startled him, had woken up the entire crew, save Chopper, who was on Lookout. When they asked him about it, Zoro hadn't said a word, just took a long look at Sanji through the flickering candle light, as if to make sure he was still in one piece, and then left the room.
No one had followed after him. Everyone was convinced that Zoro just needed his own space for a while. He looked so shaken, so rough. And when he didn't show up at breakfast, Sanji's patience with him nearly snapped in two. He'd gone to find him, but found him lifting weights. Stupid clunk, clunk, clunk. And he looked so deep in thought, that Sanji didn't feel like he had the right to disturb him. The aura around the swordsman was thick with the need for space, and so Sanji let him be.
But that was over an hour ago, and the clunks! were still pacing, like rabid caged tigers, through Sanji's eardrums.
He thought he'd made it clear to the swordsman last night that if he needed help all he had to do was ask for it. And now they were drawing ever closer to that speck of land, so everything should be okay again. Except it wasn't, and Sanji knew it wasn't, because Zoro was even ignoring Luffy. Sanji was beginning to wonder if the swordsman had lost the half of his brain that he actually might have possessed somewhere between stupid-o'-clock and dawn-thirty.
Zoro always got excited before a new island, always hoping to blow his small share of their fortune on the prospect of finding a nice bar or pub in town, or geeking out in some weapon shop somewhere. His excitement wasn't as easy to read compared to Luffy's, but it was there. He usually at least humored the rubbery captain during the final stretch, but not today. Today he didn't say a word, and Sanji didn't know if Luffy even thought twice about it, the way he was carrying on with his stupid New Island chants.
Sanji ran a hand through his shaggy bangs, biting harshly on the gum Chopper prescribed him. It was official, he was going to go mad…
And then the ship rocked. There was a loud yelp, followed by an even louder clunk!. It didn't take long to put two and two together.
Sanji climbed to his feet, hobbling up the stairs towards the figure head. He noticed Zoro's empty boots by the railing before he even heard the splash.
Luffy had fallen overboard. And Zoro had gone to save him.
That was the routine… right?
So then, why the sinking feeling?
Maybe it's because Captain and First Mate hadn't resurfaced, and the air bubbles were no longer appearing.
That could be it.
Sanji stayed, staring in a sleepy helplessness over the railing.
"Man overboard!" Usopp had yelled, accidentally right in Sanji's ear.
Looooong. Long. Long. I'm sorry… I was going to split it. So many times. But it didn't feel finished when I did, so I didn't, but I could, but… yeah. I didn't. (sheepish) It's to make up for the long hiatus, me thinks.
A/N: A curious little question popped up in a message, so I thought I'd also answer it for everyone. The little poems / sayings that are posted before each chapter starts are not song lyrics or published poems. (frowns). They're actually just my own creation. XD Sorry for those if you'd searched for them in songs. They're just my goofy little introduction bits. I like poetry. (hearts)
Any comments, concerns, private messages, and reviews are greatly appreciated. Thanks to you all. You're all so lovely.