Author's Note: Hi everyone! I think I'm irritating everyone with the PM's, so I'm just taking the space/time here to tell you how grateful I am. You all are the reason why I can bring myself to write *hearts*

~Reviews to Master-chan, x. summergrey .x-chan, KrazyKoneko-chan, 000LuvYaoi000-chan, Islet-Sharrae-chan, StrawHatsXD-chan, Stubbe-chan, bobonbon-chan, writer-xanthangummy-chan, Stray Neko-chan, eternal-anime-chan, and BrevityGravity-chan! Whew! Welcome to my story, newcomers, and thank you all for enjoying it!

On to the story!

Warning: Ah…well, it might get fluffy. I really wanted to get Zoro's POV in after his scene with Sanji in the kitchen. *grins* I'm updating a little late but forgive me? *winning smile*

After all the angst in Chapter 2 of A Second Chance, I couldn't take it anymore, so…this is the result XD

Enjoy~

Tangled


Chapter 7: Nurse Marimo and an Intrigued Woman


A little earlier…

N-nothing. No problem. I'm totally fine

It's really nothing.

It's not that. Don't worry about it. It's got nothing to do with you.

Zoro didn't bother trying to reorganize everything he had shuffled around in his haste to cook and picked up the plate from the ground instead, letting out a frustrated sigh. He shouldn't be this worried about the stubborn-as-an-ass cook. Clucking his tongue, he began doing the dishes. If he had to be honest, it was admirable how much Sanji tried to keep his pride intact as a dog, trying to remain independent regardless of the circumstances.

Just seeing the cook in such a form made him…

His eye twitched. He would never tell the crew, but he was one of those people, the kind where they simply couldn't leave dogs alone. Now that both of them were healed and feeling normal again, it became clear to Zoro that Sanji was just too damned cute as a dog, with those big, unusual gray-blue eyes, shiny golden fur, and those fluffy ears…how could anyone not want to take care of him? Every time he caught sight of the puppy-Sanji, he wanted grab him and keep him in his arms the whole day. When he had pawed at his face in agitation earlier, Zoro had been unbelievably tempted to coo at the sight. It had been hard enough when Chopper had entered their crew but, now, acting masculine and unaffected was nearly impossible.

He frowned. Sanji was still keeping his thoughts and fears to himself, as expected, refusing to talk to Chopper about anything. Was it really that difficult for the cook to just lean on someone once in a while? Zoro couldn't understand. He simply depended on the crew to help him and the crew in turn needed him, his ability to fight. They all had their own strengths and weaknesses, which was why they traveled together, covering for each other, picking each other up. Zoro had brutal strength, he knew, but where would he be without his friends? The only reason he had become so powerful was because he was with them, the adventures constantly making all of them stronger, more experienced. If Sanji continued to isolate himself like that, the crew could potentially fall apart, the way it almost had when Usopp and Luffy fought over the Going Merry. Now that Zoro really thought about it, it confused him that Sanji couldn't see the parallel between himself and Usopp.

He began wiping the floor where Sanji had made a mess of himself, planting his face into the pasta. He swiped up the excess sauce that had splattered all over the place.

B-bacon? How the hell did you know that?

Zoro felt an uncomfortable heat prickle his cheeks. No one had to know that he had overheard Sanji say that as he ate alone a couple weeks past. He watched and paid attention to Sanji way more than he cared to admit. What else could he do, since the obstinate man refused to look after himself and the rest of the crew thought that the cook was capable of handling everything alone all the time. Was it so much of a surprise, then, that even as an amateur cook, his food ended up tasting a little similar?

He sounded like a stalker.

With a shake of his head, he wiped the floor with vigor, leaving the place sparkly clean. He needed to stop thinking and concentrate on work, whether it was cleaning or physical training. He left the kitchen and headed to the usual crow's nest, only to find himself missing Sanji's presence again.

"Ah, what the hell. He can sleep wherever he wants," he muttered out loud, grabbing his medium-sized weight and pumping his arms furiously with it. "One, two, three, four…"

Should he just tell the crew and risk Sanji's wrath? He knew Sanji was hiding something again, something that had to do with his ridiculous notion of chivalry, all giving and no taking. Wouldn't that be just as harmful for the crew? Ignorance could get you killed out in the sea. And the person most at risk was Sanji himself. Didn't he realize he needed to be protected as one of their nakama?

Didn't the crew deserve to know that Sanji was right there with them?

"Twenty seven, twenty eight, twenty nine…"

He even refused to tell Zoro what he was thinking, which made it so much more irritating. There wasn't much more to hide from him, since he knew just about everything that had to do with this situation. He had been the one protected. Didn't that mean anything to Sanji? The least Zoro could do was to be the one that Sanji could confide in...

What the hell was he talking about? Who was he kidding, anyway. Sanji was a rival, a nakama, something Zoro just happened to keep forgetting because of that adorable puppy face. The dartboard brow had no obligation to tell him anything. In fact, this wasn't supposed to change their relationship in any way, shape, or form, in the first place.

"Fifty one, fifty two, fifty three…"

So why the hell did he care? He didn't even know anymore. But it wasn't helping that he probably spent the most time with Sanji now and talked with him much more than he used to. He supposed that made him greedy for more conversation, and yet both of them tended to be men of few words. That was just…weird.

"Seventy nine, eighty-"

"ZORO!"

Startled, Zoro dropped the weight on the head of the person who had suddenly appeared in front of him. Shit, when was the last time he'd been caught this much off guard?

"Are you that much of an idiot?" Zoro growled, lifting the weight off Luffy's head, hat miraculously uncrushed. "If you were a normal person, that could have seriously hurt you!"

"Oi, Zoro, don't kill me!" Luffy pouted, securing the hat more tightly on his head. "I was calling your name, but you kept counting, so I thought maybe it'd be better if I talked right in front of you. Sheesh!"

Oh, the brilliance of such logic.

"What do you want?" Zoro continued his exercising. "If you came here to ask me to cook, I'm not going to."

"Aww, why not?" Luffy whined.

"Eighty five, eighty six…Luffy, you don't weigh anything." Zoro chuckled, as he felt the miniscule change in weight as Luffy wrapped his arms around the heavy rings.

"Well, you're not cooking breakfast!" Luffy frowned, completely unperturbed that Zoro continued to swing the weight around.

He sighed. "Look, Luffy, if you bother me right now, I'm not cooking lunch either."

"WHAT?" Luffy shouted, immediately untangling his rubbery limbs from the weight. "Why, why, why?"

"I really need to work out," Zoro said honestly. He hated thinking about these kinds of things, worrying about stuff he shouldn't be worrying about in the first place. Sanji could take care of himself…ah, who was he kidding? "Ninety six, ninety seven-"

"How many do you need to do before you can go to the kitchen and cook? A hundred? A hundred one?"

"Idiot, I already passed that while you were talking," Zoro grumbled. "Wait half an hour and I'll go down."

"I'll watch you then."

Zoro ignored the intense stare that he began receiving and kept his pace, undeterred.

"I'm not feeling good, Zoro."

"Go tell Chopper that."

"No, I want to talk to you."

"Then talk."

Luffy pouted again. "Zoro, you're mean. I really don't feel very good."

"Like I said, Chopper's better with this kind of stuff."

"I give up. You're stupid, Zoro."

Zoro's eyebrow twitched but he said nothing as he continued counting his repetitions.

"I'll go talk to Usopp, then. Bye," Luffy said. "Come down quickly."

"Do you actually ever pay attention to anyone when they talk?" Zoro muttered as Luffy disappeared. With a sigh, he put down the weight and sat, hoping to meditate instead.

Why was Sanji treating him like a rapist or a murderer or something? Well, he was an actual murderer – more like a killer, and only when it was necessary, sort of – but that had never put him off before. In any case, he was avoiding Zoro as if he was contagious, flinching and jumping just at the sight of him. Had he done something wrong the night in this exact spot? He was usually a calm sleeper, so he couldn't imagine doing anything strange…

Was Sanji just embarrassed? But that didn't explain anything, since he didn't seem to mind the others that much. Then again, Zoro knew the truth and they didn't.

Shit. This wasn't helping at all. He gave up. Nothing was working, no matter how hard or long he tried. He groaned and headed down to the main deck, when he heard Luffy talking.

"Zoro said he had to go work out or he wouldn't cook at all today. Man, he's so strict with the whole three meals a day thing, no snacks. And Franky built Zoro a lock for the refrigerator that I don't know the code for."

"I don't know how to buy groceries," he interjected, clearly surprising Luffy…and making Sanji upset again in some way. He fought to keep his composure and continued talking, "I'm just trying to make the food last as long as possible. Plus, it doesn't seem like we're going to arrive at an island any time soon."

Luffy's smile all of a sudden seemed a little too forced. Zoro raised an eyebrow in surprise at the sight.

"Hey, Usopp! Why don't we try to paint that large rock thing over there? I'll use my fists and you can shoot paintballs or something."

"Huh? Oh, okay. I'll bring some paint." Usopp ran back to his room to find some.

Zoro sighed for the millionth time. "Luffy-"

"We should have arrived at the next island more than a week ago. I saw it. I told Nami not to go. I told her to change our route. And she agreed with me. I think most of our crew would agree, too. We can't continue our adventure without him," Luffy interrupted, his hat shielding his eyes. "I want him to come back soon. It took us some effort to get Robin back and for Usopp to apologize when they both decided to leave our crew, but Sanji…I think I made the wrong choice. I should never have said to leave. It feels pretty awful. We should have waited there. Nami's trying her best to keep us going in circles so we don't have to go to the island yet. Nothing feels right without him. So we're waiting now."

Zoro nearly choked, barely managing to keep his face impassive. Luffy, the boy who just loved exploring new islands, had kept this information from everyone but Nami, Zoro included? But this spoke volumes about how much Luffy valued Sanji as a friend. When Sanji looked up with his jaw dropped open, Zoro shrugged, not showing how glad he was that Luffy had managed to speak so candidly.

He couldn't stop himself from teasing him. "You see, now, cook? You were never alone."

Sanji stiffened and nodded slightly. Zoro felt his facial muscles freezing in place, the slight smile turning awkward. So he must have really done something wrong, if Sanji hadn't lightened up by now. Turning his head, he watched Luffy punch the rock-like thing off to the distance and give up.

Just what had he done? He thought things might get better between them after that conversation in the kitchen but apparently not. And he had expected Sanji to be a little more happy towards Luffy's confession. By this point, he wasn't sure if he was just supposed to go with the flow or just get mad at Sanji, pick a fight, just so that he'd show some sort of response.

"I'm hungry, Zoro~" Luffy wailed, turning into mush near the railings. Zoro sighed.

Wait, what? Wasn't that where Sanji used to be?

"Oi, where's Sanji?!" Zoro roared without thinking, his eyes scanning the deck in panic. "What did you do to him?"

"That's not a funny joke, Zoro," Luffy said, his voice so suddenly icy and his glare so serious that Zoro finally realized what he had said, what it sounded like. Zoro ran his hand through his short hair in agitation.

"I meant Puppy-Sanji! It wasn't my idea to call the dog the same thing!" he managed to say, feeling a throbbing headache coming on. "I wouldn't even joke about that kind of thing, Luffy."

Luffy seemed to deflate again, his fury dissipating as if it had never happened. Usopp stared at the two of them with wide eyes and took some steps backwards, clearly not wanting to get involved. Luffy shrugged. "Oh…I don't know, then. Sorry."

Zoro fought back his irritation and looked around madly, when all he wanted to do was shout the truth to Luffy. Then he caught sight of some strange bubbles on the ocean's surface as the ship kept moving in the opposite direction. He leaned over the railings to take a closer look but, to his horror, the stream of bubbles slowly disappeared.

What the fuck? Wasn't Sanji a brilliant swimmer? Even if he fell, he should have been able to paddle his way back with little problem…but he was a dog and never had to swim that way yet. He guessed it didn't matter that Sanji, as a golden retriever, should easily get the hang of it, since he still hadn't gotten used to that body. Quickly, Zoro yanked off the three katanas at his waist and dove into the water.

Damn.

His eyes stung with the salt, making him come back up to the surface faster than he wanted. He tried to clear his vision by rubbing his sore eyes, but he knew his hands were just as salty so he blinked instead.

No more bubbles. Shit. Didn't that mean Sanji couldn't breathe anymore?

Stop panicking. Calm down.

He took a deep gulp of air and ducked back under, doing his best to keep his eyes open for the golden fur. He swam around to no avail. When he broke the surface again, he heard Usopp yell, "I see him near you! Go-"

Ignoring the rest of the sharpshooter's words, he dunked his head back in and finally glimpsed a flash of gold. Using all his strength, he swam rapidly towards the sinking body and wrapped him up in his arms, breaking the ocean's surface again to breathe deeply.

"Luffy! You…idiot!" Zoro yelled, panting. "You…pushed… him over!"

"I'm sorry! I didn't know that," Luffy said sincerely, throwing him an arm. Zoro grabbed the proffered hand and Luffy flung them back towards the ship. He covered Sanji's limp body with his arms just in time as he landed heavily on the deck, taking all the impact of the fall on his back. Zoro coughed from the force but managed to sit upright easily.

Damn, that might have stretched some wounds. But it's only to be expected that Luffy would do that, considering how he never fixed this habit.

"Bring Chopper, Usopp!" he muttered, setting Sanji's body gently on to the deck, ignoring his own pain.

"Got it!"

Sanji was not looking good. Zoro could hardly tell if he was breathing because he was so unnaturally still. He had no clue how to administer CPR to a human being, much less to a dog. His mind went blank and his fingers stilled, as he completely froze. What was he supposed to do in this situation?

"Zoro, what happened?" Chopper raced over in his reindeer form, immediately turning chibi and pumping Sanji's chest area, much to Zoro's gratitude. The little doctor's eyes narrowed in concentration. "Open his mouth."

Zoro obeyed the command, unable to help himself from grinning at the serious attitude that had suddenly transformed the usually cuteness-overload Chopper.

Argh. Something was seriously wrong with him.

"Tell me what happened," Chopper repeated, doing all sorts of things Zoro couldn't fathom.

"Luffy pushed him overboard."

Chopper sighed as Sanji began coughing up water and immediately sat down, burying his head in his hands. Zoro cringed at seeing Chopper's haggard face. It was the expression people had after consecutive all-nighters, with the black bags underneath droopy, bloodshot eyes. He looked filthy, unwashed, and just plain awful.

"Can you please be careful, Luffy? This dog is really fragile and honestly, I can't tell you how the seawater might affect him," Chopper whispered, clutching his head and plopping down on the deck. "Wow…my head hurts…"

Luffy looked crushed. "I didn't know. I'm sorry."

"I think it'll be okay," Chopper muttered. "Zoro, can you carry him to the infirmary – you're bleeding!"

"I'm fine. It's not a lot of blood. I'll take him and you can treat me there," Zoro shrugged, wincing at the pull at both of his shoulders. Chopper tried to stand but slammed back down to the ground, unable to muster the strength to move. Zoro's heart ached to see his little friend in such a condition and he held out a hand. Chopper grabbed it and Zoro yanked him upwards, settling him on top of his shoulders easily enough.

"And you call yourself a doctor?" Zoro teased softly, knowing that Chopper really was taking it too hard. As expected, there was no response, just a tightening of a grip on his head. Usopp was already gone, so he turned to Luffy and said, "Can you tell Robin to make lunch?"

After all, Franky, Usopp, Brook, and Luffy are all incapable of cooking, and Nami would probably charge an enormous sum for it. Which really only leaves Robin.

After Luffy sprinted off, obviously feeling guilty, Zoro headed into the infirmary…only to see the utter mess that Chopper had been living in.

"Oi, oi, oi," Zoro mumbled, simply staring at the infirmary. Books were strewn everywhere, with not even an inch of the floor visible. The bed wasn't much better off. Various vials and flasks glowed brightly on the equally messy desk, reflecting a wide variety of colors, some ominously bubbling. The room was a disaster in itself.

Just then, a slight snore made him chuckle, as Chopper fell asleep on his head. Zoro managed to hold Sanji in one arm as he carefully began cleaning the bed.

He didn't know if Sanji really understood how much Chopper was trying, how hard it all was.

"Zoro…"

"Shhh," he said absentmindedly, clearing enough space to set Sanji and Chopper down near each other. "Just go back to sleep. You need it."

"No…I wanted to say…thanks…"

Zoro blinked. For some reason, he had thought Chopper was the one talking to him, but it turned out that it the weak voice actually belonged to Sanji. "It's no problem, curly."

"Ha…I can't even…swim…" he coughed, his small form writhing with the effort. "Shit…"

"Just rest. It's fine."

"You're bleeding…idiot…"

"Like that's stopped me before," Zoro shrugged. "Chopper has to sleep now."

The little reindeer was completely knocked out, limbs sprawled over the bed carelessly. Sanji was curled up next to Chopper like a lump of golden, drenched fur.

Goddamn. They were too cute.

Zoro self-consciously touched his cheeks with a hand, covering his ridiculous smile. They were all battered, hurting, and yet he couldn't stop himself from enjoying it. He must be some sort of sadist.

Shaking his head in disbelief at himself, he opened up the cabinets in search of towels. After what seemed like hours, he finally found a stack of them. He took one and began drying Sanji's still damp form.

"Zoro…"

The whisper was so soft he almost missed it.

"Zoro…"

Was Sanji dreaming about him? That…that couldn't possibly be.

He rubbed Sanji's fur ferociously with the towel when Sanji suddenly bent over, letting out something like a sneeze. Zoro grinned at the sound, then frowned.

Did that mean Sanji was sick?

Zoro let go of Sanji and pulled off his soaked t-shirt, which now had three bright, small splotches of red where his wounds had all simultaneously decided to open up. He snorted. It didn't even hurt, but just that small impact on to the ship had so easily broken open the delicate stitches. Chopper had mentioned something about weaker materials, but he hadn't expected it would give away now of all times. Hadn't enough time passed since he'd been stabbed?

Stupid, weak body. No amount of training would make up for the natural fragileness of a human. He slapped a bandage around the slightly bleeding areas and tied it tightly. With that, he sat down on the bed near the two small bodies, picked Sanji back up to finish drying him, and pulled the blanket over them all, making sure they were warm. This kind of stuff wasn't what he was used to, but he supposed desperate times called for desperate measures.

Damn. Sanji was soft, with such silky fur, though he was a little cold. He held him closer to his chest, unable to stop himself.

It's to warm him up. There's nothing wrong with a human cuddling up with a dog.

Except there was so much that was wrong with this picture.

Zoro wanted to set Sanji back down on to the bed, but a wave of drowsiness suddenly hit him in the darkly lit infirmary, and he felt himself losing his fight against sleep…

[~ * ~]

Nico Robin completely, wholeheartedly, trusted the adorable little reindeer doctor. A lack of faith was, therefore, definitely not the reason why she had decided to follow him, instead of searching on her own, with her network of eyes and ears. It was simply curiosity, something she had to satisfy. That made sense, considering her job was essentially to learn. From the moment the chibi doctor had left on his own, she had to know what was going on.

Which, of course, meant she had managed to piece together everything by now. Besides, there had been enough clues for the past couple of weeks to comprehend the situation, if one looked in the proper places, at the right people.

She had seen and overheard the entire conversation between the doctor, the cook, and the swordsman back at the island, just the way had managed to listen in on Brook and Zoro at Thriller Bark. Admittedly, she had been more than a little shocked that Sanji had turned into an animal, especially one that was just so adorable and not quite as ferocious as she imagined. Though if she thought upon the matter, a golden retriever fit his personality pretty well.

More than anything, however, she had the strangest desire to tease Zoro. How would the stoic swordsman deal with keeping a secret of this magnitude? He had obviously decided to go with whatever Sanji wanted, covering up the situation with a calmness she hadn't quite expected, though she should have. He was, after all, someone who would take care of the crew, someone who would go a long ways to help out a friend. Even, and perhaps especially to Sanji, who was clearly a rival he treasured. He didn't show many emotions, but that didn't mean he was incapable of feeling them.

She had tried to goad him, just slightly, to see if he'd waver in his decision to stand by Sanji. As she anticipated, he had done no such thing and in fact managed to lighten the situation by naming him so ridiculously. For that, she wanted to applaud the kind swordsman.

Well, she did. Before she had been assigned to cook. It wasn't that she particularly disliked it. In fact, she could produce some pretty appetizing dishes if she felt like it. The problem was that she had really enjoyed seeing Zoro fumble around to make meals all the time, the nearly disastrous incidents all ending spectacularly somehow. He seemed to mess up in every way possible and create something more than passably edible. Maybe he was in great favor of some cooking gods out there.

"Robin, it was delicious. Thanks," Luffy laughed, rubbing his stomach. "You make a lot more food than Zoro or Sanji. Your Devil's Fruit ability is just too cool."

"Thank you, Captain-san," Robin smiled. "Your ability is much more interesting in my opinion."

"Who knew so many people could cook on our ship?" Nami asked.

Robin's smile tightened. "Only one person can cook, Nami. Swordsman-san and I, what we do is not cooking but rather doing our best to put ingredients together in hopes that something edible will come out of it and that the crew doesn't die of hunger."

Nami looked startled but nodded with an expression of confusion on her face. An awkward, uncomfortable silence settled over the table.

"There you go again, sounding morbid," Franky chuckled, lighting up the mood quickly with his booming laugh. "Robin, is there ever a time you don't mention death?"

"But it is just so fascinating," she responded, thankful that Franky was a skilled mood maker. He winked at her and she blinked, taken aback. She stood up quickly, nearly smashing her legs against the hard wood. "Excuse me."

It was as if Franky had understood her feelings, despite the fact that she was 99.99% sure he had no idea what was going on with the puppy and Sanji.

The crew was simply too ignorant, too unconcerned about Sanji. It was a well-known fact, yes, that he could take care of himself. He had proved that through his raw physical power, advanced techniques, and his tendency to be able to hold his ground against an enemy one way or another. And if she hadn't really paid attention, if she hadn't happened to listen in on their conversation, she might have been the one to basically badmouth him while he was present. She wasn't going to blame Nami or anyone for speaking their minds honestly, but it hurt to think that Sanji constantly had to endure loneliness.

Which was why she was determined to put him together with Zoro. She herself had no problem with homosexuality, but it seemed like the relationship was progressing without her doing much. It was rather adorable how they always acted so violent and angry at each other when, deep down, they probably had one of the strongest relationships in the crew. Would it be so bad if that were to turn to love?

Robin grinned. She didn't think so. But…

She bit her lip. Chopper refused to take care of himself. He had been so wrapped up in trying to fix Sanji's situation that he was becoming dangerously unhealthy. And she didn't want to tell him that she knew the secret, because he was putting in such an effort to keep it that way for Sanji's sake.

How complicated all of this was, especially because she didn't understand what the cook was thinking at all. There was obviously a reason why he was keeping this to himself, something to do with protecting the crew. But she liked to think she could trust his judgment.

"Doctor-san?" she called out, knocking on the door to the infirmary where Chopper had been practically spending every waking moment, much to the worry of herself and the others.

No response.

She opened the door and couldn't help but to chuckle softly at the sight.

Zoro sat in the bed with some awfully applied bandages that were becoming undone, legs stretched out in front of him, back against the wall. He held the puppy loosely in his limp arms near his abdomen and Sanji was easily nestled against him. Chopper's head leaned against the swordsman's thigh. All three of them snored at different pitches, muttering things under their breath in their sleep.

"Zoro…" Sanji murmured.

"Sanji…" Zoro mumbled back, an unconscious hand absentmindedly stroking the fur.

Robin closed the door, her eyes crinkling into a smile.

She would never doubt Zoro's ability to fight, his strength, his steady and mostly unperturbed-at-everything personality. He had a rather intense character. But at times like these, she wondered if maybe, he really did like cute and adorable things. For all his toughness, he seemed to be a softie in the inside.

Which was why she thought it would be good for the both of them if they were to find romance in their relationship.

Maybe it was a good thing that she tried to change things up by purposefully putting that plate of food in the refrigerator, since it had ended so well.

[~ * ~]

Author's Note: Alright, so it was cheesy and little bit on the short side (?) XD I hope you didn't mind too much…tell me how you thought of this chapter!

Dear StrawHatsXD: Oh dear. I've rewritten the first chapter of Beauty and the Geek five times now. *EXPLODES ON TUMBLR WITH RANTS* It's coming along slowly, but I WILL GET IT DONE! *fist pump*