At first Sanji was against the idea of Zoro doing all of the picking and carrying around the kitchen, getting all of the ingredients and equipment out or even cooking if Sanji ever got short of breath. Sanji changed his mind on that right about the time that he had to ask Zoro to get the kebab skewers from the very back of the cupboard which meant lots of Zoro bent over rummaging and a fantastic view of his ass.
"No more in here!" Zoro yells out from inside the cupboard.
"No, no, I swear there's another one back there. Maybe under something?" Sanji suggests, tilting his head sideways a little as the fabric over Zoro's perfect ass stretches a little more. Zoro grunts and his back arches a little as he lifts up something inside the cupboard. His shirt slides up his back a little and Sanji can see the dimples above Zoro's hip bones on his back, just where he'd rest his hands if he put them on him.
Zoro pulls out of the cupboard and huffs in irritation, dusting a cobweb off of his hair. Before Sanji can come up with another excuse he kneels down on the floor and presses his chest nearly to the floor as he looks back in the same cupboard on the lowest shelf, his butt high in the air.
Sanji bites into his lip to contain the whine within him. Those trousers of Zoro's are sinfully tight across his behind now, almost as tight as the front of Sanji's own are getting. Zoro's not as flexible as him so whilst Sanji would just let his supple back take all the bending Zoro has to instead move his legs. That is just what Zoro does as he tries to get further into the cupboard. As he reaches forward a little more his knees splay apart from one another and Sanji brings his hand to his mouth, biting into a knuckle and imagining Zoro doing just that on a bed with Sanji behind him. As Zoro's hips sink closer to the floor he imagines Zoro naked and on top of a mattress just like that. He'd be tired as they both get closer to finishing, pleasure filled limbs growing heavy as Zoro's chest presses into the mattress and his moans muffled in the sheets as Sanji brings him closer to-
"No more fucking in there!" Zoro snaps, sitting up and snarling at Sanji who has to quickly shake himself out of his guilty daze.
"Uh, how many do you have again?" Sanji asks, innocently placing his arms between his legs where he sits on the counter top.
Zoro grumbles and stands up, swiping the already found skewers off of the side and counting them quietly.
"Twenty!" Zoro insists, waving them in Sanji's face.
"Oh, uh. Well, you said eighteen before. Twenty is the right number, you got them all." Sanji lies shamelessly.
"I SAID- ARGH." Zoro snarls and slams them into the counter, stalking off to the fridge to grab the meat. Sanji bites into his lip and sighs softly to himself, sure, he's going to hell for this but it'd be worth it for a view like that. Goddamn.
Zoro rests his fists on his hips and squints at Sanji suspiciously as if he's sure that Sanji is up to no good in some form, just that he's not quite worked out how so yet.
"What?" Sanji asks innocently as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Zoro huffs and removes the meat to put it on the counter.
"Ok, so, I'm going to need a bunch of herbs for this. They're all stacked in the vertical lockers on the inside of that cupboard door." Sanji says, gesturing to where the herbs are supposed to be, he hopes for his mental wellbeing that they're still there. If they've been moved too he may just lose his marbles.
Thankfully Zoro opens the door to reveal all of his dried herbs neatly bottled and held in racks in the door that prevents them from escaping and smashing whenever the ship rolls in the waves.
"Ok, so this is lamb, so you want the rosemary. Grab that." He instructs.
Zoro scowls at the little labelled bottles so hard that a vein pops up on his forehead and he looks about ready to have some kind of brain aneurism from trying so hard to suddenly learn how to read again.
"Alright stop that before you give yourself a stroke, you need to learn how to read again. Grab a few of those and come here." Sanji says, gesturing to the rack.
"Ok, ok." Zoro grumbles back and selects a few random herbs from the door and closes it again before returning to Sanji, something that makes Sanji feel a swell of happiness. Zoro doesn't just leave shit lying around and let doors just hang open, unlike certain other people on the ship.
Sanji settles four of the bottles on the side by him and pops the top on the one in his hand. He takes a long deep inhale of it. It smells like cool refreshing drinks in summer, a tingling on his tongue and working on desserts at Zeff's side when it was so hot outside that the sweat ran down his back in rivers. All of those memories flash through his mind in the instant that he opens the bottle and breathes.
"You know scent is a really powerful memory trigger, maybe if you learn the smell of them at the same time as reading the word and hearing it said then you might learn it." Sanji suggests thoughtfully as the idea occurs to him. He'd originally just planned to show Zoro the letters and sound them out until he got the word, but that's a much better idea. Zoro doesn't seem to think so however as he's got a huge frown on his face.
"So I can just read herbs?" The swordsman says derisively.
"No, ass face. I'm thinking it'll work the same way that your singing and learning to listen has done, you learn enough stuff and the rest starts coming back on its own." He snaps back, smacking Zoro in the shoulder.
"So come on." He urges, pressing the bottle into Zoro's hand.
Zoro's fingers wrap around it but he doesn't move to do anything else. Zoro's golden eyes fix dubiously on Sanji's blue ones and so Sanji puts his hands around Zoro's again and pops off the lid of the herbs and lifts it to Zoro's face. He hears Zoro breathe in and watches as his eyes widen.
"Oh! Oh I know this it's- it's- AGH. Uh, cold, like... use it for..." Zoro trails off frustratedly. He doesn't know the word but Sanji is at least pleased to see Zoro trying to talk around it like he's supposed to do. Zoro frustratedly mimes brushing his teeth, trying to get the message across.
"Shit it's right... can feel the word just..." Zoro hisses, pacing on the floor.
"Read this then." Sanji suggests, turning the bottle to face Zoro, so that his handwritten sticker on it is visible. Zoro glances at it and then looks away as if it's pointless.
"Mint! It's MINT!" Zoro yelps suddenly, jumping as if the word had surprised him too.
"Yeah!" The cook laughs happily.
"Did I...?" Zoro frowns, looking at the bottle and peering at the letters written on there in Sanji's own messy scrawl.
"I know it said mint now..." Zoro continues.
"Says, you know it says mint. Present tense." Sanji corrects him simply.
"Says." Zoro shrugs as if it was nothing. Sanji smiles a little to himself, neither of them made a big deal about him being wrong, it's ok for Zoro to make mistakes and so he doesn't panic when he does.
"But you don't know if you're reading it or remembering what you just said." the cook says, voicing Zoro's point.
"Yeah." The swordsman agrees with a slight nod.
"Well, have a read of the rest of them. Smell them, see if anything comes to you." he recommends, pushing the small assortment of bottles over to Zoro.
Sanji watches in interest as Zoro picks the bottles up one by one and opens them, sniffing each of them before recapping them. He reads over the labels, or at least looks at them and even runs his thumb over the letters written there as if they might somehow reveal themselves to him in the same way that feeling Sanji's lips out before had.
It's kind of strange how Zoro seems to be such a tactile learner, goodness knows how many times people had talked to him after his head injury but Zoro had only got the hang of speaking and then understanding by feeling the words come out of Sanji's lips. It hadn't been enough to see them or hear them, he had to feel it. Zoro had always seemed like one who just simply watched things, he was the silent observer often in fights and when Zoro got involved shit got real pretty quick. If Sanji had been forced to guess before he would have taken a stab at saying that he was a visual person. That said though, Zoro could almost always be found physically training his skills, assuming that he wasn't sleeping of course, so he was physical enough.
Hm. Was there some way that Sanji could use that for this?
"Hey, give me your hand." Sanji asks suddenly, drawing a confused look from Zoro who slowly moves his hand with a bottle in it over to Sanji as if he's offering him the bottle itself.
The cook rolls his eyes and opens Zoro's hand and removes the bottle. After settling it gently on the side, careful not to spill its contents or damage it, he unfurls Zoro's fingers and holds his palm flat and face up. He runs his finger across Zoro's skin on his palm and feels the hard calloused places where his swords have worn on him. Even with his tough hands Sanji is surprised to note that they're not rough. The callouses are cared for and smoothly blend into the softer surrounding skin, they feel natural, not ripped up. The palms and indeed the fingers of Zoro's hands are crossed all over with hundreds of scars of varying sizes from presumably his own swords and those of his opponents, as well as the general injuries one sustains on a working ship. Sanji of course rarely uses his hands on the rope of the ship, preferring to keep his work to the less hand intensive kind, something that his nakama allow out of respect for his treasured hands.
He shakes himself from his musings and starts to trail his finger across Zoro's palm, making out the letters of the alphabet whilst he quietly speaks them aloud to Zoro. In his peripheral vision he can see that Zoro's eyes have drifted shut and he's gently mouthing along with Sanji, hopefully converting shape to memory.
It all seemed to be going so well until Zoro started snickering softly.
"What?" Sanji growls as Zoro struggles to keep in more sniggers and laughter, failing more and more as Sanji's unimpressed silence stretches out.
"So serious!" Zoro laughs, clearly teasing him.
"I was trying to help you, you utter asshole." Sanji snaps back, shoving Zoro's hand away from him in childish spite.
"No, no, sorry. Just- pft." Zoro breaks off in sniggering agains, apparently the look on Sanji's face far too funny for him to contain himself.
"I wanna learn, really." Zoro insists, a little more sincerely, though there is still more than just a trace of a smirk lingering around his mouth. Sanji huffs, it is a little silly when you look at it, but it's not his fault that Zoro is a dumb tactile learner is it? He's doing what's best for him, the little ungrateful shit!
"Ugh. Turn around, I can't do this if I have to look at your stupid grinning mug." He orders, placing his hands on Zoro's shoulders and spinning him around to face the other way. Zoro giggles quietly and Sanji jabs him in the ribs sharply.
He's glad for Zoro facing the other way when the moss haired idiot settles with his back in the space between Sanji's spread legs on the counter top. Sanji rests his hand on Zoro's broad back and chews at his lip nervously. The dull metal shine of the plate at the back of Zoro's head sobers him up pretty quickly, reminding him of the seriousness of his task. He and the rest of their nakama all adjust to a new normal pretty quickly, it's a way of survival as a pirate, but Sanji shouldn't forget that Zoro having to relearn shit like this isn't normal, it's because his nakama had his brains splattered on a rock. This is serious.
He breathes a few times deeply to steady himself and starts at the beginning of the alphabet again, speaking the letters as he writes them large on the middle of Zoro's back. He's only got to C though before Zoro stops him.
"Wait." The swordsman says simply and leans away from Sanji. In one smooth movement he pulls his shirt from his chest, revealing strong and rippling muscles under bronze skin. His earrings chime softly from the movement as he settles back into place between Sanji's legs. Sanji breathes in softly, his breath slightly taken away and wondering if Zoro somehow knew what was on his mind earlier and is just tormenting him now. As he breathes though the unique scent of Zoro fills him, salt and steel, shirtless summer sunshine and diving under the water. He absently licks his lips as he tries to gather his senses again.
"Why're you doing that?" He asks, his throat dry with anxious anticipation as his hand hovers mere centimetres from that expanse of tanned delicious skin. He's pretty sure that Zoro's answer isn't going to be something like "To sexually frustrate you of course whilst facing in a direction that reminds you that I'm still injured and you're supposed to be looking after me, I figured it was the best way to give you a conflicted erection!"
"Feels good." Zoro answers, shorting out Sanji's brain.
"What?" Sanji squeaks.
"Wait, no. Uh... easier to... yeah, easier to feel without the shirt." Zoro clarifies, bringing Sanji's heart rate from hummingbird with a coronary levels and back down into the human range.
"Right." Sanji says, swallowing thickly as his head spins more than a little at Zoro's words. He breathes out slowly and watches Zoro's muscles tense and flex under the exhale of air running over his skin. Shit, Zoro's going to realise that something is up if he just sits there just staring like this. Sure enough Zoro's head is tilted around to look at him ever so slightly, a dark pupil focused on him as Zoro tries to look without being caught.
"Heh, you're just wanting to get your stupid sweat stench all over my nice clean kitchen without me being able to shout at you." Sanji accuses weakly.
"Could've when you were out." Zoro smirks challengingly at him. Sanji's brain shorts out more than a little at that image.
"You... you didn't though... right?" Sanji asks weakly, his mind flashing up images of Zoro naked and sweaty, sprawled out on any and every surface of his kitchen.
Zoro doesn't say anything, just looks suspiciously innocent and smirks up at him. Sanji's not sure if that's Zoro's lying face and that he did do just that or that he didn't but wants to drive Sanji mad by thinking that he did. Either way he's a bastard.
"Hate you." Sanji hisses and kicks Zoro in the knee. Zoro laughs, bright and loud in a way that makes Sanji's insides flutter.
"Whatever, back to the alphabet." He insists and shoves Zoro's shoulders so that he's facing straight forward and the giggling is at a minimum. Sanji traces each letter out, saying it softly as his finger runs over shoulder muscles, the tight ridges of muscle over his ribs, the tense parts under his shoulder blades and the smooth planes of muscle and skin up to his shoulders. He spells out words and names, saying them and getting Zoro to say them back to him.
Eventually Zoro starts getting it, he starts recognising patterns and is able to identify letters by touch as Sanji draws them out. He can tell letters from the nonsense patterns that Sanji draws on his back now and then to try to catch him out.
"Ok, ok, how about this one?" Sanji asks. He draws his finger tip from Zoro's left shoulder blade over to his right, then crosses back down and left over the dip in his spine and goes right again to finish under Zoro's right shoulder blade. He takes his finger off and then draws a big circle from the nape of Zoro's neck to the middle of his back. Then he makes a straight line from Zoro's left shoulder down to the bottom of his left shoulder blade before adding a smaller semicircle at the top that makes it to the dip of Zoro's spine in the middle before returning to his drawn line, without taking his finger off he then pulls his touch all the way to under Zoro's right shoulder blade in a straight line. He finishes with another large circle in the middle of Zoro's back.
"That's..." Zoro starts uncertainly and Sanji watches him tense uneasily.
"Go on." Sanji urges him gently.
"My name? I think that's my name." the swordsman says uneasily, looking over his shoulder to Sanji.
"YES! You read!" Sanji exclaims delightedly, unable and unwilling to suppress the smile on his face. He flings his arms around Zoro's neck and pulls him close into a hug, brimming with excitement.
"I did." Zoro agrees numbly.
"I did!" He says again, more excitedly as it sinks in.
"Alright, another, stand up straight again." Sanji orders him, as he tries to think of a word that's less obvious than Zoro's name.
"Uh... tom... wait, do that again?" Zoro frowns, Sanji repeats his movements and notices Zoro mouthing along.
"Tom..a..t...o? Tomato!" Zoro shouts victoriously.
"You got it!" the cook agrees happily.
Zoro pulls free of Sanji then and excitedly bounds to one of the cupboards, jamming his hand inside and pulling out the first thing that he catches.
" r. Flow..you..are? Flour!" He declares, waving the bag at Sanji euphorically.
"Wait up moss ball, do you think you can write too? Here, let me just..." Sanji trails off as he grabs his little magnetic notepad and pen off of the fridge. It's one that Usopp had rigged together for him back on the Going Merry to help him keep his shopping lists together for when they landed at port. He walks to Zoro and hands them over.
"Don't just copy what you just read out, write my name down. You haven't read that recently." Sanji suggests. The last thing that he wants is for Zoro to just be copying down something that he can see, Zoro could copy before but he still couldn't read or understand what he had down on the paper. Sanji wants to know that Zoro can turn the words in his head and the sounds that come out of his mouth onto marks on the page, that's what he needs to know. If Zoro can do that it'll be an incredible amount of progress in one afternoon. Granted Zoro's reading level seems to be pretty fucking rudimentary but considering that it wasn't that long ago that he was mute and couldn't understand so much as a word anyone said it's a hell of a lot of progress.
Zoro nods to himself and holds the pad of paper close to his chest. He shoos Sanji away and curls over the paper as he starts to write. He sees Zoro scowl at the page and cross out his scribblings time and time again. Clearly it's not coming to him as easily as he might like. In the end Zoro has to close his eyes and slowly mouth the letters to be able to make what he wants to write. He doesn't want to put pressure on Zoro by staring at him though so he busies himself with properly mixing together seasoning for the lamb that he had selected earlier. All the same though his attention is entirely focused on the soft scratching sounds of Zoro's pen as he writes.
Zoro's finger taps softly on Sanji's shoulder and the cook expectantly turns around to see Zoro with the pad held up in front of himself, the cardboard back to the notepad facing Sanji. He's holding it in such a way that it conceals his mouth and the idiot actually looks kind of cute and nervous like that. Sanji would deny it fervently but his heart is actually melting a little at the sight.
Zoro tears the paper slowly and carefully from the pad and then, placing the now blank pad of paper and its pen down on the counter next to the chopping board, hands the note over to Sanji. Sanji turns it over in his hands and looks down at it. There are numerous scribbled out attempts, each one a little more indented into the paper as Zoro's frustration had built. But near the bottom of the page, surrounded by clear space, are the first words that Zoro has written since he got his head smashed open.
Sanji grips the paper tightly and glares up at Zoro, watching the smug grin of 'gotcha' spread out over the bastard's face.
"You... you... you SHITTY SHIT!" Sanji howls, swinging his leg up fast at Zoro and catching him in the ribs. Zoro skids across the kitchen, clutching his side but not from the blow Sanji had dealt him but from the hysterical laughter coming out of him.
"You UNGRATEFUL shitty little bastard! I ought to break every bone in your BODY!" Sanji snarls, leaping the counter and kicking for Zoro's face. Zoro catches the blow with his arm but Sanji's foot still connects enough to leave a red mark of impact on his cheekbone. Zoro grins, broad and feral as he shoves Sanji back and hightails it out of the kitchen, laughing like a hyena as he goes.
"AND STAY OUT!" Sanji bellows out of the door for good measure before slamming it shut after him.
Sanji stomps back further into the kitchen, fuming and muttering angrily under his breath. He scowls at the piece of paper and pulls his arm back all ready to throw it in the trash. But... it was still the first thing that Zoro had written after he'd taught him how to do it and... well...
Sanji glances suspiciously around the room and checks through the portholes to make sure that no one is watching him before he quickly folds up the slip of paper and slides it into the breast pocket in his jacket. Stupid shitty bastard.
A/N: Thank you so well everyone for all of the amazing well wishes and the continued positive feedback on this story! I hope I can keep making you all proud! I love you all! 3