The big question is how does someone go back to who they were after they've been tortured? How can you put yourself back together? How long does it take? How does it work?
The short answer is you don't. You can't. Not really.
The first day that Zoro wakes up on the ship he spends most of it watching Sanji out of the corner of his eye, as if expecting him to disappear. Zoro prowls around the entire ship, searching in every room and crawlspace for… something, Sanji doesn't know what. He's jumpy as all fuck and Franky has a black eye within three hours of Zoro waking up, for such a big guy Franky sure can walk quietly and apparently Zoro really doesn't like being startled.
When Sanji brings him his first proper meal since waking up Zoro gives him the most suspicious look that Sanji's ever seen.
"What?" He asks, crouching down to where Zoro's sitting, the dish still in his hand.
"I'm not sure if you're real or not." The swordsman says suspiciously and gives him a shifty look with his one remaining eye.
"I get that, but I am. Real that is." Sanji answers quietly, taking a drag on his cigarette to calm his nerves. He really doesn't need Zoro deciding that the world isn't real and shutting himself off from it.
"You'd say that whether you were or not though." Zoro says with a shrug.
Sanji tries to come up with some clever way that he can prove that he's real to Zoro, but nothing comes to mind. If he tells Zoro something that he already knows about him then Zoro will just say that he's a hallucination so of course he knows everything that Zoro knows. If he tells Zoro something about himself that Zoro doesn't know then he'll just say that he's made it up and he's still not real. He can't win.
"Oatmeal?" Sanji offers, holding out the bowl. Zoro nods but doesn't take the bowl from his hand and actually edges away when Sanji holds it closer to him. Sanji frowns and puts it on the floor between them, it's only then that Zoro picks it up and eats.
This is how Sanji learns the first two rules of Zoro's, don't surprise Zoro and don't touch Zoro.
The third thing that Sanji learns is never to let Zoro be in the dark. At night time on deck there were lanterns and the men's bunkroom is always dimly lit, no matter what time of day. If Zoro is suddenly plunged into darkness he'll panic and completely lose it,
Within the first week Chopper learns rule four. The smell of bleach or antiseptic really puts Zoro on edge, combine that with a small room that he feels trapped in and you have a very bad situation. The smell of bleach and metal makes even Sanji's mind flash back to the dark dungeon that he ran through to find Zoro, it makes him remember the bandaged injuries that Zoro had when he found him. Blackbeard had looked after Zoro's injuries, if only so that he could continue to torture him without him getting sick. Zoro's dressings are changed on deck in the sunlight from then on.
At first everyone had more or less abides by the rules. But after two weeks Sanji sees Nami and Zoro leaning against each other and reading a book, which is okay he supposes, they'd been friends since childhood. Then Luffy had been allowed to touch Zoro, which is… acceptable Sanji admits, Luffy touches everyone and everything he can get his hands on, the boy seems incapable of having a conversation with someone without slapping his hand on their back, jostling their shoulder or making contact in some way.
But now it had been three months and everyone but Sanji got to touch Zoro casually from time to time, as long as they didn't surprise him by it. Aside from the first night on the ship where Zoro had slept in the same bed as him, pressed close and holding on tight to Sanji as if he might disappear… except for that he's not touched Zoro at all.
Oh, he's tried. But if he gets close to Zoro the other man with subtly lean away or walk off, it's as if Zoro has this big bubble of space around him that everyone but him is allowed in. It hurts but Sanji expects it somewhere in his soul. It's his fault that Zoro was in there in the first place, it was his relationship with Zoro that got him tortured and taken from him, why on earth would Zoro want to make the same mistake twice? He was lucky that Zoro hadn't slit his throat open with a kitchen knife yet, he should be grateful for that much.
Just after the three month mark though Zoro slides into the kitchen and leans on the door so that it shuts, that makes Sanji rise an eyebrow, Zoro almost never shuts himself in a room unless it's the bathroom, he doesn't like being closed in.
"Hey." He calls out cautiously to Zoro.
"Hey." Zoro answers back quietly. Zoro's eye flicks to the half done dishes in the sink and the still wet plates drying in the rack.
"Need a hand?" He asks, stepping forward and snagging a dish towel from the counter top.
"Sure." Sanji says, feeling curious but not about to stop Zoro by any means.
Zoro slides in against the sink next to him. They're not touching, but… they're closer than they've been since the night of the rescue. He's so close that he can feel the warmth coming off of Zoro's body. He glances down at Zoro's hands as they carefully wipe the dish dry with the cloth, his sleeves are rolled up to keep them dry and Sanji would be blind to miss the slightly pink bands around Zoro's wrists where the shackles rubbed his skin raw.
Zoro's whole body is tense, like he's fighting to keep still and not bolt, he can see Zoro's fingers shaking ever so slightly as he dries another dish. Is he scaring Zoro?
"Look, you don't have to do this if you-" Sanji starts.
"Shut up." Zoro cuts him up.
With a shaky sigh he puts the dish down gingerly and bites his lip. Zoro opens his eye again and gives Sanji an assessing look.
"Just… shut up." Zoro mutters again.
Sanji's about to say something, to apologise for speaking at all when Zoro steps right into his space and grabs him by his tie. He should be expecting a punch, but Zoro's body language is all wrong for that, he's tense, sure, but not in a violent way. Zoro pulls him forward and presses their lips together.
Zoro slants his mouth just so and properly kisses Sanji. It's so gentle and honest that the whole thing cuts deep into Sanji's heart and pulls out everything that he'd told himself was never going to happen again. He'd assumed that Zoro would never want this again, that because Zoro never touched him or even seemed to want to be near him that the two of them were over. He'd taken all his memories of being with Zoro and all his dreams of what could have been and locked them up inside himself, telling himself that it was never going to happen.
But with one gentle, hopeful, careful kiss… Zoro's pulled it all to the surface again. He moans quietly against Zoro's mouth and doesn't miss the amused quirk of Zoro's lips and the sudden flash of teeth against him that accompanies the quiet laugh against his lips. Zoro leans in a little closer, pressing their chests together and biting Sanji's lower lip before sliding his tongue into Sanji's all too willing mouth.
Sanji's hands are hovering near Zoro's sides, itching to touch him but not daring to. He's sure he'd actually die if he frightened Zoro away from this, it's too much to lose again.
Zoro seems to sense his thoughts and tugs Sanji's right hand against his side, Sanji immediately flattens his palm against Zoro's warm body, ghosting up his ribs and pulling and pleased shiver from the swordsman's frame. Zoro kisses him a little deeper, heating Sanji's blood and making him realise just how much he's needed Zoro since they were separated.
Sanji lets his other hand come up to Zoro's neck and strokes in one smooth unbroken stroke from the top of Zoro's back to his hairline, his touch uninterrupted for the first time, he doesn't have to negotiate around that awful collar any more.
"Ohh… do that again." Zoro breathes, breaking their kiss and leaning back into Sanji's touch, his eyes shut and his expression blissed out.
Sanji smiles and strokes the soft skin of Zoro's neck, there's a paler band of skin around there, skin that's only so recently seen sunlight again after so long. A dark blush is starting to stain Zoro's cheeks and Sanji is pretty sure that he could do this forever.
He hadn't realised that his other hand was wandering up Zoro's back underneath his shirt until it comes against something unfamiliar. A ridge of healing skin runs lengthways along Zoro's back about halfway up, his fingers chase the unfamiliar line in confusion. It's easily longer than Sanji's hand and is fainter in the dip of muscle where Zoro's spine runs, though it's still there. What is that? He'd run his hands all over Zoro's body before and never found th-
Unbidden the wall of whips and crops flashes behind Sanji's eyes. His mind instantly joins the dots and places Zoro in the manacles that were on the wall, he sees Blackbeard's hand bringing down the weapon with a snap and ripping a scream from Zoro's mouth. At the same time his other hand brushes against the still healing cut, the mark that Blackbeard had left on Zoro when he made him lean into his blade, just to prove to Sanji how much he'd broken Zoro.
Zoro's body is tense under his hands and both of them are holding their breath. He tries to shake the image free from his head and look Zoro in the eye but the second that he does his mind reminds him that he is the reason that Zoro only has the one eye now. He doesn't want to look because he can see the pain in Zoro's expression, but like watching a train wreck his eyes are drawn to the long vertical scar over where Zoro's other eye used to be, across the eyelid that will never open again all because of him.
Zoro shoves back away from him, breathing again now but in harsh breaths that speak of fear instead of excitement from a kiss. Zoro turns and bolts from the room, the door slamming loudly behind him.
"Zoro! No, wait!" He calls, but the swordsman is long gone.
After that Zoro doesn't even come within two feet of him again, much less touching him at all. Sanji hates himself, after all he's done to Zoro the other man was still willing to go out on a limb and trust him and he failed right away. Zoro had trusted him again and he'd fucked it up, again. They don't speak about the kiss and instead return to a wary relationship with far too much time spent on both their parts watching the other out of the corner of their eye.
A little over four months from the rescue and a whole month since their ill fated kiss, he and Zoro are innocently finishing up cleaning the kitchen when Chopper bursts in and shuts the door behind him.
"I've had enough!" Chopper yells, throwing his little hooves in the air. Sanji watches as Zoro lets the tension drain back out of his body and releases his vice like grip he'd suddenly developed on the dish rag since Chopper burst in, he doesn't like being surprised.
"Of what?" Zoro asks, his voice flat and quiet.
"Of you two! Sit down, you there and you there!" Chopper snaps, pulling them both to the ground on opposite sides of the galley but facing each other.
"Here." Chopper adds, putting a tennis ball in Zoro's hands as well before trotting off to sit down against the door with a scowl.
"Uh… are you feeling okay Chopper?" Sanji asks warily, eyeing the little doctor.
"Why am I holding a tennis ball?" Zoro asks holding it up and raising an eyebrow.
"You both need therapy and I'm sick of watching the two of you blunder about without it pretending you're both fine! I'm trying to make things better but you two keep hurting each other all over again!" Chopper snaps.
"…and you need to work on your depth perception before I let you have your swords back." The reindeer adds, flicking his eyes back down to the ball in Zoro's hands.
Zoro gives Chopper an unimpressed look, it's so similar to one of his old expressions that it makes Sanji's heart ache. Sanji acknowledges that the man that he pulled from Blackbeard's dungeon is not the man that went in there. That Zoro is gone forever. But… Zoro in a kind of undefined changeable sort of way is still here. Sometimes it'll be a look that he has, like the unimpressed "why are you wasting my time with this shit" look that he's giving Chopper now. Or sometimes he'll hear it in one of those rare times that someone will make Zoro laugh. Zoro is still in there, but he's different too.
This Zoro still trains the same as the old Zoro (religiously), he still eats the same way and enjoys the same food, he's still as unlikely to make requests for particular foods no matter how much Sanji pesters him for it. Zoro is still the same stubborn bastard he was before, he's still as gentle as he was before and his protective streak that was already a mile wide seems to have actually broadened.
But… some things are different. Chopper had warned them all when Zoro started coming back to life that there were symptoms that people who had experienced torture were likely to display. Irritability, mood swings and violence were just a few, Nami had pointed out that she wasn't sure how she'd know the difference from before, to which Zoro punched her in the arm and called her an ass. That was the first time Zoro had smiled since they escaped, those smiles were fleeting and rare but they were happening a little more frequently.
But Zoro had gone through therapy with Chopper as soon as he was talking again, long drawn out sessions that left both of them looking wrung out and unhappy. It'd seemed to make everything a lot worse before it got better, but he had started getting better. Whilst the pieces of what Zoro was would never fit back together in quite the same way he was still Zoro and he was starting to fit back together well.
"I've done therapy, and you still keep dragging me into it twice a week, so what's the big deal? And there's nothing wrong with my depth perception." Zoro adds irritably and throws the ball at Sanji. He catches it but Zoro's aim is a little off.
"You have one eye now, by definition your depth perception is skewed." Chopper answers.
"He's got a point, especially if you're going to be waving around three swords." Sanji agrees and throws the ball at Zoro. Zoro swipes the air for it but misses so the tennis ball smacks him straight in the forehead. Sanji puts up a valiant but ultimately fruitless effort to not laugh.
"Fucker." Zoro snaps and hurls the ball back at Sanji, he keeps still and grins smugly as it bounces off of the wall by his head. Zoro manages to catch it this time as it bounces back but his scowl is still deeply in place.
"See, this is what I'm talking about. You're acting like everything is fine when it's not. You two need therapy, together. You were both tortured with the idea of what was happening to the other, trying to help you separately hasn't worked." Chopper adds quietly.
Zoro picks at the yellow fuzz on the tennis ball and stays quiet.
"I'll stay if it helps Zoro but I don't need therapy Chopper, I wasn't-" He cuts himself off. The word tortured simply sticks in his throat. Bringing with it the mental images of Zoro chained, Zoro with bleeding gashes on his back from the whip, Zoro's scream over the phone, his eye in a box.
He still has nightmares, he wakes up sweating in his hammock, shaking in terror as nightmares cling to his skin. He dreams of Blackbeard catching up to them and taking Zoro again, or finding Zoro dead, or imagining what happened to Zoro. He has visions of Zoro's pain flashing behind his eyes at night, he wakes with Zoro's scream in his ears and has to roll over to check that Zoro is indeed alive and well in his own hammock.
He catches the ball that bounces at him out of reflex, Zoro is frowning at him.
"You disappeared." Zoro says in a faintly accusatory way.
"Sorry, spaced out." He mutters and throws the ball back. That keeps happening to him at the moment, he'll get caught in a cycle of thoughts about what happened to Zoro or what could have happened and then he ends up losing a chunk of time.
"That's a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something both of you- and most torture survivors- have." Chopper points out academically from his place at the door.
"And I told you I wasn't tortured." Sanji says, choking a little on the last word.
"What's wrong with you?!" Zoro shouts loudly, startling Sanji. His face is genuinely angry as he speaks.
"HE cut out my eye and sent it to you, he ripped me apart so he could send you bits of me in boxes, he called you when he- I heard what that did to you, idiot! You were tortured just the same as I was!" Zoro shouts angrily, pointing a shaking finger at him, his other hand clenched into a fist.
Sanji's eyes flick to Zoro's missing eye, the scar that runs from forehead to cheek straight down, the eyelid that will be forever shut. His line of sight then darts to Zoro's ear, where three still healing cuts mark the place where his earrings used to be. At the moment they're in a box in the boy's bunkroom, Franky says that after Zoro's ears heal he can get them re-pierced if he wants, he'll even do it himself. His eyes then drop to the red knife mark along Zoro's throat, where Blackbeard had made Zoro lean on his blade just to prove to Sanji what he'd done.
"It's not the same as what happened to you. Those things happened to you, that was- but not me. I wasn't-" Sanji says, shaking his head and throwing the ball back to Zoro.
"Blackbeard certainly tortured Zoro, there's no doubt about that Sanji. But the way in which he did it was so performative, it was entirely aimed at showing you the results to cause you anguish. He succeeded in that." The doctor says softly, his big brown eyes regarding Sanji gently.
"It wasn't torture." he answers defiantly.
"Why are you so certain? Or is it that you can't stand to be a weak victim, like me?" Zoro asks, his voice dangerously calm.
"What?! You're not weak! Don't you dare say that! You're the only person who he tortured that managed to keep their sanity, that's strength!" Sanji shouts, furious that Zoro could think such a thing of himself.
"I don't think I'm weak, idiot. But I think you think that you are, or that if you admit you're a victim too then you have to be weak." Zoro says flatly and flings the ball back at Sanji.
"It's nothing to do with that goddamnit." He denies, catching it and glaring at the fuzzy yellow ball in his hands.
"Then what makes you so special? Why is it torture when it's me but not if it's you huh?" the swordsman demands, his fists tightly clenched at his sides.
"It's not- it's just different okay!" he argues back louder than Zoro, they're both shouting by now. Chopper isn't intervening though, perhaps he thinks that this is healthy or productive or some shit like that.
"HOW?! Come on! Tell me!" Zoro yells, kneeling up on his knees now, as if he can hardly restrain himself from coming over there and punching the answer out of Sanji.
"BECAUSE IT WAS MY FAULT!" Sanji screams.
It's funny how unaware you can be of how quiet the ship usually is until you say something like that and everything seems to go quiet. Sanji can't even hear the waves outside, there's no noise at all as Zoro just stares at him, his mouth slightly open.
"What?" Zoro manages in the smallest, quietest voice that Sanji's ever heard.
"It was my fault! I opened my stupid mouth in court and you got taken away to him. If I wasn't such an idiot then none of this would have happened, you wouldn't have got hurt! But I was, and you did! It's my fault that you're covered in scars, it's my fault you've only got one eye now- I might as well have done it myself! And however Blackbeard made me feel… I deserved it!" He shouts.
He's shaking now, just saying all of that out loud… he feels like he's been sick or something. But it's true, that's why this haunts him so much, that's why seeing Zoro hurt wounds him so deeply, because it's entirely his fault.
"I don't know how you can even look at me." He mumbles, looking down at the floor.
Sanji tells himself that the only reason he didn't see Zoro move is because his gaze was averted, because there's no way Zoro could have moved that fast. One second Zoro is staring at him wide eyed and the next Zoro's got him by the collar of his shirt and slammed him up against the wall behind him. He's hanging at least a foot off of the air, caught between Zoro's powerful grip and the wall.
"Why you- I ought to punch you so hard your mother will feel it!" Zoro threatens, raising his fist.
Some churlish part of Sanji wants to point out that a) his mother is dead so there's no way she could feel it, and b) how would that even work anyway? He doesn't though and instead lets his eyes close. Maybe if Zoro punches him, maybe if Zoro takes some proper vengeance out on him he can start feeling a little better- not that he deserves to though.
"You fucker, how can you even be so naïve after everything that's happened?" Zoro asks quietly, as his grip relaxes and he drops Sanji to his feet.
"This had nothing to do with you, you unbelievable idiot. None of it was your fault." Zoro sighs, running a hand through his hair.
"Are you deaf? If I hadn't opened my mouth in court-" Sanji protests, he wants Zoro to hit him, he needs it. After what he's done it's the least he deserves.
"If you hadn't opened your big mouth in court and accidentally given me up then it still would have happened! You think your father and Blackbeard were waiting until you stupidly said something that made it all nice and legal? Were you not paying attention to them at ALL?!" Zoro snaps, interrupting him.
"If you hadn't done that then they would have grabbed me off of the street, or taken me in the night, or bankrupted you and forced you to sell be back. Heck, maybe they would have just cut my head off and left it in your bed like the goddamn Godfather movies! Sanji, nothing you could have done would have made a difference, this wasn't you." Zoro says, throwing his hands in the air in exasperation.
"But I should have got you out of there sooner, I should have done it right away!" he says quietly. Zoro looks at him sadly, with a frown forming on his face.
"Is this what's been going on in your head this whole time? Is this why you've been so weird with me? You've been looking at me like you can't stand to be near me, like being near me hurts you. I've been trying to keep my distance but… is this all because you're convinced that this is your fault?" Zoro asks him, his hand reaching out and stroking at Sanji's cheek. The touch is oh so gentle and it makes some treacherous part of Sanji's rotten heart sing for it.
"I'm not convinced of anything! It is my fault, you're just… trying to be nice. I should have got you out right away." Sanji insists, shaking Zoro's hand from him. Zoro makes a disgusted noise in the back of his throat and punches Sanji in the temple, its light but still enough to hurt.
"Moron, you'd have been killed. The only reason you weren't when you did rescue me is because you created one hell of a distraction for Spandam and showed up with an army when Blackbeard was sure that he'd destroyed you." The marimo grumbles.
"You're wrong, you're just…" Sanji says shaking his head, it can't be true, he knows it's his fault. He knows it.
"Chopper, help me out here!" Zoro yells, turning to the doctor. Sanji looks, he'd almost forgotten that the reindeer was there at all.
Sanji's leaning against the wall with his whole body shaking, though from what Sanji can't quite place. Chopper looks at them both gently and Sanji starts to get perhaps why Chopper thinks that they needed to do this, the fact that Zoro could think that he was… what? Disgusted by him? That he didn't want him around? It's ludicrous!
His mind flashes to the time that Zoro came in and kissed him and he tries to see it from Zoro's side. The swordsman had come in here, into what was obviously Sanji's territory and risked kissing him, perhaps in the hope of winning him back if he thought that he'd lost him. It'd all been going fine until he'd gone and run his hands over Zoro's scars. Zoro must have thought that… god, he doesn't know what he thinks Zoro thought of his reaction. But it hadn't been repulsed by him, he'd been struck by guilt, by the sense that it was him that had done this to Zoro. But Zoro… Zoro didn't know that, so he'd run off.
"Zoro… what would you do if you saw Blackbeard again? If he walked right into this room?" Chopper asks carefully.
Sanji would have to be blind not to see the way Zoro flinches away from that question, as if the very idea of Blackbeard being in here frightens him. His eye flicks to Sanji's knife block and then back to Chopper.
"I'd cut his fucking heart out of his chest and show it to him right before he died." Zoro spits angrily.
"Or- or gut him like a fish, from balls to brains. No, maybe I'd drown him, or set him on fire or-" Zoro continues, shaking from rage, his fists snapping open and shut as if he could wring Blackbeard's neck right now if only he could do it hard enough.
"We get your point. So Sanji… do you really think that if Zoro thought you were in any way responsible you'd be standing there?" Chopper asks him, turning his gaze back to him.
Sanji's mouth opens and shuts. It's a simple question really. If Zoro… if he thought that it was his fault- and Zoro would know, Zoro had to know… But he was here, the swordsman hadn't cut his throat out or put his head on a pike or… or anything!
"You saved me, you idiot. I don't hate you, I owe you." Zoro grumbles, still looking tense from Chopper's earlier question.
And that's all he can say, because really… what else could he say?
"Right, Sanji you'll see me Tuesdays and Saturdays, Zoro you'll be Wednesdays and Sundays. And you're not getting your swords back until you can catch that reliably." Chopper announces, standing up and leaving the room with one last gesture to the forgotten tennis ball.
Therapy is not fun. Therapy is in fact the opposite of fun. It makes him feel crazy and miserable and anxious. Apparently he has something called "survivor's guilt" as well as some kind of traumatic stress something-or-other. All he knows is that it makes him feel crap whenever he has to talk about it.
It doesn't help that every time he and Zoro fuck things up it sets them both back weeks. Accidentally spooking Zoro makes him feel guilty which makes Zoro angry which makes him feel worse, it spirals from there. But when things go right… well… apparently kissing Zoro breathless makes them both significantly happier people.
Zoro isn't allowed his swords back until he can prove that his hand eye co ordination has got better. The swordsman seems to be going through more and more elaborate efforts to prove that he's fine, Sanji suspects that Chopper has deliberately given Zoro something achievable to focus on to stop him dwelling on the therapy. Which is why three weeks after Sanji was ordered to start therapy Zoro is sitting on the dining table juggling apples whilst everyone else talks over coffee. It's been sweltering on the ship all week but Zoro is still wearing a black long sleeved shirt and his big boots, they look dumb with the shorts that he's got on but it manages to cover all of his scars.
"So we're coming up on Alabaster next, it's a summer island, that's why it's so hot right now." Nami says, fanning her lovely self with a pale hand. She's wearing the tiniest crop top that Sanji's ever seen and itty bitty shorts in deference to the heat, whilst his heart belongs only to Zoro his eyes… well… they're a little freer.
"That name sounds familiar." Zoro remarks, throwing one apple up so high that it arcs over a low hanging ceiling beam and drops right back down into his open hand.
"It should, it's where Vivi said her family were from." Nami offers. Zoro's juggling the apples behind his back now.
"I wonder if we'll see anyone who knows her." Zoro says thoughtfully as he juggles with his eyes shut. Sanji watches, admittedly impressed as Zoro throws the apple right up in the air, eyes shut, and catches it between his teeth at the same time as the other two land in each hand.
"Fine, you can have your swords back. If only so I don't have to keep worrying about what you've been doing with the fruit." Chopper mutters, shaking his head.
"FUCK YES!" Zoro yells perfectly clearly around the apple somehow.
"It's a big country though, I doubt anyone will know Vivi." Nami sighs, ignoring the whole fruit issue entirely.
Vivi is apparently an actual princess, a princess whose country needs rescuing, so they help out of course. The whole affair involves a lot of fighting, overthrowing a coup and fighting some nutbag made out of sand. Said crazy person apparently knew Robin way back when and it seems like she got a lot of her money from him, something this Crocodile guy wasn't too pleased about. Either way, Zoro got to cut a lot of people with his swords for the first time in a long time, which made him happy enough to make Chopper consider taking them back for his mental well being. Zoro looks serious with his swords after that but Sanji doesn't buy it.
Several days, one long battle and a massive party later he's walking through the guest room in Vivi's palace towards the balcony that Zoro headed out to a few hours ago. The other man is asleep on a long lounge chair, warmed by the dying sun as day turns slowly into night. Sanji pauses and looks at Zoro, really looks at him.
He's laying there, face down, his head turned to the side with his scarred eye exposed. Where his skin was previously covered completely he's now naked except for his boxers. Along the once perfect bronze skin is a crisscross of scars and marks, burns and cuts, whip marks and the ghost of manacles against Zoro's skin. He sees the twin cuts around Zoro's ankles, the injury that he heard being made over the phone, where Blackbeard cut deep into Zoro's skin and made him scream. Zoro is scarred and damaged, Blackbeard has left his mark on Zoro's body and his mind, that much is undeniable.
But… in the warm red glow of the sunset and with the peace of sleep making his body relaxed… he's still gorgeous. Those marks on Zoro are a part of who his is now, but they're not all of him, Zoro is still beautiful and strong- he always was.
"Hey." Sanji says softly, stroking a hand through Zoro's hair. He realises his mistake as soon as he makes it, he shouldn't startle Zoro awake. But instead of panicking Zoro just opens his eye sleepily and gives him a lazy grin.
"Hey." Zoro echoes and stretches catlike before sitting up.
"It's actually kind of nice weather here when it's not so blisteringly hot." Zoro smiles at him, gentle and warm.
Sanji opens his mouth, he really should say something smart. He should talk about the weather, or say something about their trip, or the palace, he should say something. Instead he leans down and tilts Zoro's jaw up and kisses him thoroughly.
A mixture of his own lust and Zoro's pulling hands guide him into sitting in Zoro's lap. Zoro's hands hold him tight, as if he doesn't want to let him go, which is ridiculous because there's nowhere that Sanji would rather be.
He kisses Zoro a little harder, a little more urgently perhaps and runs his hands down Zoro's bare back. He feels Zoro pause and hold his breath, but Sanji continues stroking down his back, loving the way he can feel every one of Zoro's muscles tense and flex under his touch. Of course he notes the pattern of marks and scars on Zoro's back but for the first time it doesn't really bother him, he's more focused in the fact that he's in Zoro's lap and he's nearly naked than he is about Zoro's marks.
He nibbles the edge of Zoro's jaw and noses his recently replaced earrings, liking their soft chime as they move. Zoro hums in happiness, it's more of a soft vibration through his throat that Sanji can feel than it is a noise. The marimo pulls at Sanji's shirt and Sanji happily complies with raising his arms so that Zoro can pull it right off of him over his head.
He tangles his hands in Zoro's short hair as the other man's hands find their way to Sanji's scars. It had taken him a few days and an infection to notice that when he'd escaped his destroyed house he'd not only broken his collar bone but rubbed parts of his back and arms raw as he'd pulled himself from the rubble. At the time he'd been too concerned about Zoro and then too consumed with planning his escape, it was only when Zoro was safe on the ship and the itch of the infection was too much to bear that he let Chopper look at it. The poor little reindeer flipped out and tried to patch him up as best he could, but the marks are still there. Sanji quite likes them actually, for him it's reminder that he was too strong to be killed, and in a way he knows that he left part of himself in the rubble of his old home, and not just skin and blood.
Zoro's fingers linger there though, at the particularly rough scar at the place where Sanji's neck becomes his back and Sanji has to kiss him to distract him.
"I know that… things aren't ever going to be the same as before." Sanji breathes against Zoro's mouth.
"I'm not the same… you're not the same. But I love you, you stupid marimo haired idiot." He says quietly and kisses Zoro again.
"How can you manage to be romantic and insulting at the same time?" Zoro snorts and bites Sanji's lip hard enough to pull a whine from him.
"I'm just special, I guess." He gasps against Zoro's skin as the other man gropes his ass shamelessly.
"That's one word for it." Zoro says with a chuckle.
"You haven't said that you love me yet, bastard." Sanji points out, grinding his hips into Zoro.
"I'm not going to stroke your ego, cook." The swordsman says flatly and bites Sanji's neck, chasing the impressing right after with his tongue.
"What are you going to stroke?" he asks breathlessly as Zoro pulls him down onto the sun lounger with him, the swordsman's body held above his. Sanji lets his hands run unhindered across the expanse of Zoro's body offered to him.
"Whatever I want." Zoro answers argumentatively and runs his hand up Sanji's leg.
Sanji decides to open his dumb mouth again because, apparently, he's an idiot.
"So we're okay?" He asks softly. Zoro's hand stills on his thigh, his thumb thoughtfully tapping the inseam of Sanji's trousers. Zoro pushes himself up on his other arm and looks down at Sanji.
"Yeah, we're okay." Zoro agrees.
He flashes a grin at Sanji that makes the cook worry slightly about what Zoro is planning. True enough the swordsman catches Sanji's wrists and pulls them over his head.
"You know why?" Zoro asks into Sanji's ear as he presses the trapped cook against the lounger.
"Why?" Sanji asks, shifting his hips against Zoro's and biting his lip in happiness at what he can feel resting against his hip.
"Because you're all mine." Zoro purrs and rolls their hips together, making sparks of pleasure flash in Sanji's vision.
"I can live with that." Sanji grins back at him.