Author's Note: Yes. I went there. Deal with it. Now read. Please.

Because He's Namaka

Sanji finally managed to stop hyperventilating, fifteen minutes after Chopper had him bring in the broken body of Zoro into the ruins so he could heal him.

But that's just what it was, he figured.

The broken body of Zoro.

Zoro. Their first mate. Their indestructible anchor. Not literally, the way that Luffy and Chopper and Brook and yes, even his Robin-chwan were. Their emotional anchor, the eye of the storm of swirling emotions. He was always there, pretending to be aloof and cold but really just a rock for them all to hang on to. Zoro understood his strengths and their weaknesses, and was always there as a medium, a stabilizer to all the swirling emotions that was their crew.

Sanji remembered a weird encounter with some townsfolk. They had shied away from the cold and aloof Pirate Hunter, even as they were somehow drawn to the Straw Hat. Even some of their enemies considered Zoro to be far more of a threat than Luffy, because it was Zoro they thought concealed all of his emotions.

That wasn't it, Sanji knew. Anyone who had eyes could see the way that he would all too often join in with the Idiot Trio at their insistence with some harebrained scheme or game. How he encouraged their young doctor and protected him from some of the more hostile strangers. How he was always there for Luffy, always the first one to comfort him in his own way that the two of them somehow understood, how he was there to support him or guide him back to the right path, how he was there to restrain him when the captain's overflowing emotions erupted. How he grudgingly catered to Nami when she brought up his debt but how he unselfishly saved her or shielded her from attacks and blows during battle. How he sometimes listened patiently to Usopp's tales, even if he did point out that it was all lies at the end. How he sometimes quietly discussed things with Robin-chwan. How he accepted all of Franky's weirdness, and his value as an ally when they were rescuing Robin-chwan. In fact, he even helped, almost uncomplainingly, when he, the cook, needed help with food preparations or dish-washing, and washed his clothes every week.

It went even further than just individual reactions for each crewmember. He laughed at the jokes, celebrated with them when they got new namaka, fought with them as one of the front-line defenders, jumped to it when Nami-swan needed a change of direction. He even felt safe enough, Sanji was sure, to sleep on the deck, in full sunlight. Even though that had often irritated him, since he had the worst (or maybe it was best, at least for him) timing for picking naps, Sanji still could appreciate that. Zoro felt enough…enough at home here to fall asleep, confident that his namaka would wake him up when they needed his help.

And now he was going to make the ultimate sacrifice. Sanji didn't know how he got this way…but he had a pretty good guess. After all, if Luffy's body was like that, then wouldn't it make sense…?

But Sanji knew better than to speak his thought out loud. If Zoro was protective, then Luffy was downright obsessive about the safety of his crewmates. Sanji had decided long ago that it was the fact that he knew he was stronger than all of them, that he hit the hardest. And the fact that Luffy was aware that he was the strongest made him, in his childish, simple (but in no way unintelligent) mind, responsible for all of his crewmate's wellbeing. Every hit each of his namaka took, Sanji thought, made Luffy ache all the more. He had seen, at the end of the battles when Chopper ran around patching them up, the quick, hot, pained flashes in Luffy's eyes when he saw the shape his namaka were in.

Yes, he knew Zoro was different. He'd known it far, far back, even before he joined, but he confirmed it absolutely at Mock Town, when Luffy and Zoro came back all bloody. Nami-swan had told him the whole story, and Sanji had felt a quick stab of jealousy bite deep.

Yes, Luffy cared about all of his crewmates. Cared enough to hurt for all of them. But he knew and understood Zoro and his insane strengths and sometimes idiotic weaknesses, enough to hurt with him. And that was a whole different ball game.

And yet it was the same, he mused. Now it was the same, with Luffy not physically hurt at all but with Zoro two breaths and a drop of blood away from death. He was sure that Luffy might not really know, but he knew. Luffy would have a suspicion about what had happened, but he wouldn't know exactly what happened.

Sanji sucked in two lungfuls of calming smoke, and blew it out, watching the grey mist swirl patterns in the air. What had happened only made Sanji surer that while it was Luffy who was the strongest, it was Zoro who could take the most and hardest blows. And if he was correct, then if you looked at it the right way, then it was Zoro who was the more formidable—an opponent who just kept standing up, again and again, even after downpours of blows.

Sanji exhaled again, leaning back against a chunk of wall. Now that their rock was cracked, the hard exterior slipped and the inside damaged, what would the crew do? Yes, Robin-chwan was also steady and somewhat of a second anchor, but even she was no substitute for Zoro. Especially not to Luffy, who was closer to him than a brother. Not even Chopper, who depended on Zoro even more than they cared to think. Robin-chwan might be clear and level-headed, but she didn't carry the innate authority that Zoro did. Not the authority one gets from superior knowledge, but the authority from the absolute understanding of right and wrong, honor and dishonor, victory and defeat. Zoro had that, not Robin. The only other member of the crew who had that was Luffy, not even Sanji, who knew (as much as he'd prefer to pretend it wasn't so) that he tended to try and rationalize it all.

Goddamnit, how was Luffy going to take this? He, Sanji, could sit and reflect like a dumbass (marimo) if he so chose too, but their captain. Their captain. Zoro had been the first crew mate Luffy had chosen, and if Nami-swan's account was right, they had nigh on a week or so to get acquainted with each other. And if the hints dropped by Coby and Helmeppo and Luffy and Zoro himself were right, Luffy and Zoro had saved each other's lives, trusting each other almost from the start. There was no way that Luffy didn't feel any impact from this.

Sanji sighed and stood up, arching his back to hear the satisfying pops of his spine and walked to the ruins. He was the cook, after all, not the analyst. His hands itched to cook something, to make something, after all that thinking and doing nothing. He'd better go and see if the kitchen was ruined or not. He hoped not—cooking over an open fire was mildly annoying.

There had been a kitchen, in fact, one big and splendid enough to make delicious food for everyone. It was one of the things he had accepted through the years as a cook—no matter how strong or how difficult the enemy was, it was always the most important thing to get up again after a fight and cook for everyone else. And even so, cooking calmed him down and was therapeutic for him. It had been one of the things that Chopper had guessed at—the reason why the crew so rarely came down ill was because they were all content and mentally well, so their bodies reflected that.

He had eaten a few dishes and made mental notes on what to change and what to keep, and basked in the warm appreciation from everyone temporarily. It was also important not to keep a big head—arrogance seeped into the food and made it bitter.

It wasn't until those two idiot (mosshead) pirates came over that he became concerned again. Luffy was not going to find out what happened to his namaka, if Sanji had anything to do with it. Goddamnit, the poor kid was always at the front lines, always bearing the mental stress of his namaka's wellbeing. This was not going to be another fucking block on his shoulders, while Sanji just stood aside and waited.

He hadn't been surprised at what the two pirates had told him. It wasn't anything he'd already puzzled out. And he was sure some of the others had known, but trusted them not to run to Luffy. They all understood.

That night, Sanji had the strangest dream. Instead of finding the All Blue, or going to the Mermaid Cove in Fishman Island, or a rehash of some of his more humiliating defeats/hard-earned victories, or memories from the Baraite, or even just cooking, he had found himself in a house, one that he found strangely familiar, and yet in the very back of his mind knew that he'd never seen it before. He'd walked through the house, wondering why it seemed so familiar.

Then it hit him, from a memory far back in his life. This was the house he had been born and, for a little while, raised in. He walked into his old room, but froze at the doorway at the sound of baby coos. Carefully walking in, he looked in the crib and saw a whole, thick headful of bright green hair. He blinked. This was…a baby Zoro, staring up at him with pink cheeks, bright silver eyes and tiny fingers squashed up into his mouth.

It was fucking adorable.

Sanji lifted him up from under his arms, like he had seen some mothers do. The baby Zoro laughed and waved his arms, batting his nose. Sanji couldn't help but laugh as well. This was an innocent Zoro, a Zoro completely unaware of the hardships of the world and of bitterness and lonely days. This was Zoro in his elemental stage, and Sanji loved it.

The baby Zoro's stomach grumbled, and they both looked down at it, before looking back at each other. Chibi Zoro opened his mouth and babbles flew from it, instead of the cries Sanji expected. Suddenly laughing again, Sanji made his way to the beautiful kitchen and set him down in the high chair that somehow appeared. Whisking a meal quickly together, he pulled up a stool and with a plastic-covered metal spoon, proceeded to feed him. It was so cute, how he got the applesauce all over him, and how he tried unsuccessfully to wipe it off. But really, he should have seen it when chibi Zoro slapped a small fistful of the mashed apples into Sanji's hair with a devilish glint in his eyes. Sanji had cleaned them both up, and set about putting Zoro to bed. Unlike most of his other dreams, which maintained a sort of dreamy unreality to it all (excepting the nightmares, which had been more real than reality), Sanji had a clearness of mind to understand that this was a separate reality, one where he had been born far ahead of Zoro, maybe even had a hand in his creation (although he wondered if he did, then exactly where did the chibi marimo get his hair shade). This almost scared him, because he suddenly felt the urge to do it all over—to protect the little, adorable baby version of his crewmate, protect him from the world that had made him grow such a hard shell, and he also felt the uselessness of that mission. Knowing Zoro, he would just find it oppressive and sneak off. Standing there, an armful of baby marimo and a shoulderful of head, thick hair and light baby snores, he understood that it was in Zoro's nature to do so, to sacrifice all for the sake of those he cared for. Chibi Zoro hadn't shown it (Sanji guessed that he was too young to) but the fact that it was only Zoro there sleeping on his shoulder, Zoro untouched by misery and hardship and weariness, let him understand his crewmate far better than if he studied the first mate for the rest of his life (which he had a sneaking feeling that he would).

Sanji felt the world fading, colors bleaching like they always did as he slid into consiousness. The weight in his arms lifted, and he felt a loss, understanding that it had been a rare glimpse, and it very well might never happen again. He thought cynically for one last moment that he was lucky he wouldn't have to change any marimo diapers, before reality crashed back in.

Sanji pushed himself into a sitting position, leaning against one of the standing walls. Around him were his sleeping crewmates. There was Robin-chwan and Nami-swan, and Usopp, and Chopper, and Franky and Brooke and—and where the fuck was Luffy? Sanji sat bolt-upright, and then relaxed, kicking off the thin blanket. There was Luffy, lying next to Zoro's bed, perpendicular to his first mate with his chin resting on folded arms.

"Luffy, what are you doing?" he asked, folding his legs underneath him, sitting cross-legged next to his captain. Luffy said nothing, still watching Zoro. Eventually, Sanji gave up waiting for an answer and looked at the first mate of the Mugiwaras. They sat there for an unknowable stretch of time, before Luffy grabbed his arm, shaking it. To Sanji's questioning glance, he pointed at their crewmate.

And there was Zoro, eyes open, staring at his crewmates, the walls fully down and incalculable relief in those brightly polished grey eyes. And Sanji knew, really knew, that his first mate, his brother, was not going to die.

Author's Note: I know, I know, there are far too many one-shots about Zoro and Thriller Bark. But to be honest, I think it's written so well that it deserves all of that. It just may be me, but I haven't seen many Sanji-POV Post-Thriller-Bark arc stories, and this one presented such a beautiful opportunity to insert in a Chibi!Zoro moment I couldn't resist. SHUT UP, IT'S NOT AN OBSESSION. And finally, thanks for taking the time to slog through it all. It's confused and horrible and I would love it if you guys could tell me if there's things wrong or OOC or whatever, I say go ahead and criticize. But flames will be handed to Sanji, who will use them to cook more delicious meals. Yum.