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The atmosphere was chilling in an unsettling way. The sky outside was clouded and illuminated the room poorly from the window against the back wall. It was towering over them, raindrops furiously running down its pane. Smoke lingered before it like a boundary, a protecting mist.
It was that smoke, now lingering cautiously, that caused Zoro's soft brown eyes to wander. He followed it, temptingly with an anxious gaze. It ended at the faint amber glow on the end of a cigarette tucked away in between long slender fingers. He held his breath, a battle of thoughts coursing through his brain. His mind protested, telling him to turn back around and flee- to protect himself from the unfortunate truth that he knew lay ahead. However his body dismissed it, as it usually did, and he found his legs moving forward instinctively.
He was silent as he moved, his fingers stabbing into his palm, knuckles growing white. He moved outward, coming around the room's single obstacle – an occupied wheelchair located in the dead center. It was only when he found an open point where his gaze wasn't obstructed by cigarette smoke that he halted, letting the image of a broken man sink in.
Sanji was sprawled out into the chair, his shoulder's hung low, and his chin rested against his chest. His long arms paled in the light, and they hung loosely over the wheelchair's metal arm rests. His blonde hair, messily bedridden, clung to the sides of his face. It made a protective curtain over his right eye. His unhidden eye, usually a heavenly blue was red, his eyelids swollen and exhausted. It was staring out ahead looking at nothing in particular and it made Zoro's stomach churn.
His throat felt like it was threatening to swell on him and his heart was weighing him down. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up straight, and he began to slightly shake. The sight was unnerving, and something he had never seen before. A man he held an untold amount of pride for, who he had always seen as an equal, so fragile and damaged. He struggled to convince himself of the worst.
So what if the blonde was sitting here in a wheelchair, dressed in hospital clothes, with bandages draping around his arms and chest? It wasn't the first time he'd seen him in a painful aftermath, it certainly wouldn't be the last. After all getting hurt was a given in their profession, they'd all been through some. They always bounced back twice as strong though in the end, the experience in their favor.
Zoro clenched his teeth. So why was it this time had to be different? He swore inside to himself, the reminders of the last few days clouding any sugarcoating he had attempted. The memory of the intensive surgeries that he had waited through tugged at his soul. They reminded him of all the uncertainty and worry he suffered the last few days. The cruel acknowledgement he had to make that this time was indeed different. That there wouldn't be a bouncing back.
He parted his dry lips slowly, contemplating what to say. He wanted to call out to Sanji, to hear his voice once again. To see his eye, staring frozen off into nothing move over and see him, acknowledge him, and remind him that he was still there. That Sanji wasn't dead, he was alive, and he was here with him. Zoro needed it, really needed it, to know he was okay. But all that had escaped had been the breath he was holding.
Sanji's body tensed, and his gaze fell. He had heard it, the exhale from the figure before him. He resisted himself to look, shocked that he had not sensed the man's presence before. How long had he been there? Was he enjoying the view? His breathing began to slow, and his fingers caressed the cigarette he had forgotten. Zoro. He could feel those dark eyes he had come to know so well studying him. So much for hiding away in his thoughts.
His shoulders shifted uncomfortably. Why was he here? Of course Sanji knew he was probably concerned, just as much as the others, if not more, but it pained him none the less. To be honest with himself, Zoro was the last person he ever wanted to face in this condition. He had categorized himself as now ruined, broken and weak. And to let Zoro, a person he admired so greatly and loved so passionately see him this way, it was tearing at his insides. He didn't want him to see what he had become.
"Zoro…" His voice said softly, and his eye finally moved to the man.
He was half hidden by a shadow, towering over Sanji with his arms crossed. His arms were patched up neatly, a few nicks and scratches on beautiful tan skin. It was reassuring; at least a little on Sanji's heart to know that he hadn't suffered as much from their last ordeal. He wouldn't have known how to take it if something had happened to him and that it was his fault.
Zoro shifted his weight on his feet then and took another step forward, his face coming into the light. Sanji studied it longingly, and it made him want to cry. It was a face he wanted to see again, a face he loved, but at the same time didn't want to be seen by at all. He felt so small under his gaze, and he quickly retreated back to staring at the floor, scared that scowled expression would change into anger or worse yet pity towards him.
Zoro pressed his lips together in a thin line, a wave of relief filling him. He had heard it, the voice he feared he might never hear again, and he had been acknowledged. Now why did he still feel he couldn't move forward and reach out to his cook? His brain struggled again to find the right words to say, and he glared into the floor.
The words had surprised him, as it finally broke the silence that consumed them. But they confused him even more. For what purpose was the cook apologizing, and in what condition did he have the right to? It was he who was now trapped to the confines of a wheelchair, battered and pained. Surely, Zoro's conscious argued, he did not feel responsible for the events that had occurred?
"For being weak in the end."
Zoro's eye widened. "Oi." He said lowly, his voice finally escaping. The subject at hand caused his eyebrows to narrow. He didn't agree with that at all. The cook saw this as weakness? It was unsettling to him. Could he have been anymore wrong?
Sanji brought the cigarette to his lips, and took a long drag. Of course Zoro would never say it aloud or agree, but he felt it enough to know it was true. Perhaps he wasn't weak when this had all occurred, but certainly now there was no use arguing against it. It needed to be realized, the fact he would probably never stand next to Zoro again, or be seen as his equal. That he couldn't help or protect anyone now, let alone himself. His heart palpitated, and he closed his eyes, continuing.
"I wasn't strong enough." He explained, a stray tear working its way through Sanji's lashes. It trailed itself down his cheek and shimmered in the light. "I failed you." He opened his eye again, reminding himself in his head that this was all his doing. It was his own fault for bringing it on himself, for letting the others in on his situation. "I failed you all."
"Sanji. No one blames you."
Zoro's soft tone made him wince. Like he could really believe that. He turned his face away. How could they not blame him? He had told them nothing about the events that had gone down, let no one in, and left them to intervene on their own. What if they had gotten hurt, or killed? What if they were now being blacklisted just as he was? He could never live it down, the way he hid this and for them only to find out after he couldn't handle it alone.
Zoro moved in closer, unraveling his arms. He moved a rough hand out, and gently brushed the end of the wheelchair's nearest arm rest, and lowered himself to the floor. Although Sanji was looking away from him now, he stared at his cook softly, frowning at the dried blood clinging to his hair. It was this side of Sanji that terrified him but also confused him the most. He never wanted to hear something so negative and so sad come out of those lips.
He ached for Sanji to stop this, the path he was paving for himself. He was self-torturing inside that head, Zoro knew it…and it upset him. Why was it that instead of being happy and alive he felt the need to place the blame on his own shoulders, and ride it out alone? Zoro didn't blame Sanji, nor did he see him as weak. But he wished he could just stop for the moment, and see from Zoro's perspective. They weren't blaming him for anything, none of them. Not for keeping something secret or for losing his battle. They were all too moved to know he was even alive.
Closer now, Zoro moved his other arm up to reach for Sanji, to turn his face and look at him but he froze in place.
"Don't." Sanji's voice had pleaded softly, seeing him approaching through his curtain of hair.
Zoro narrowed his eyes again, and let out a heavy breath. "Why can't I look at you?" There was a slight hiss. He was half tempted to do it anyway; this was beginning to aggravate him. If Sanji wasn't going to listen to reason then he wasn't going to waste his time trying to explain anything to him. He'd just do it. He was far better through actions than words anyway, and confident he could still get his point across.
But Sanji didn't say anything. Zoro let out an irritated sigh. "You don't make any damn sense."
He continued forward then, his fingertips brushing against Sanji's cheek. They trailed down and rested at his chin, touching his scruff affectionately. "Cook?" Although he had remained composed and anger was slowly boiling inside him at the situation, Zoro's eye threatened itself to water. He clenched his teeth harder.
Sanji flinched at the sudden touch, feeling the warmth of Zoro's fingertips as they danced down the side of his face. He longed to melt into the familiar touch, to bury his face inside that hand and hold it close. But his broken perspective ached at his chest. Didn't Zoro understand the situation at hand, and the position he now faced?
Maybe he pitied him, and that's why he still acted so fondly, felt obligated to be a source of closure to Sanji. That thought ripped at Sanji's heart. He could handle anything from Zoro, but not his pity. He gripped his hand into a fist. "Get out." He said finally. Although it was said in an anger that Zoro might be pitying him, the phrase seemed empty. "Leave." He pressed himself back into the wheelchair, a cowardly retreat from Zoro's hand.
Zoro glared. He reached his hand out, this time grabbing the cooks shoulder. "No." He moved upward, and leaned before him, bringing his other hand from the arm rest to the other shoulder. Then, essentially pinning him down, he forced Sanji to face him. He squeezed them softly. "Not until you talk to me."
There was no way in hell he was going to back off. He knew Sanji was stubborn, but so was he. He had also had the privilege of waiting outside a room while the love of his life was open on a table, and he couldn't do anything but wait. Or even before that, being a few moments too late to help Sanji, but perfectly on time to witness the devastating blow. To experience over and over the snap that froze them all in place, and would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Sanji was shaking under him. He glared at Zoro. Why couldn't that damn Marimo just for once do what he was told? He moved his arms inward, and began to press into his chest, trying to get him away and off of him. "You asshole…" He mumbled. "Let go of me!" The frustration did nothing to help his tears and the feeling of being weak. He couldn't move the swordsmen away, even if he wanted to. It was well known that Zoro's upper strength far outmatched his own. Sanji cringed.
"Fucking hate you!" It was a slip of the tongue, and Sanji hadn't exactly meant it, but it did the trick. Zoro, taken aback from what he had just heard distracted him, and Sanji pushed him back with as much strength he could muster. However, before Zoro could react the push recoiled against Sanji's wheelchair, causing it to go off balanced onto its side.
Sanji braced himself as he fell out and onto the floor. Whatever was left of his cigarette flew from his hand and scattered off down the tile. He growled at the pain from his bandaged wounds, and shifted to his stomach.
Panic spread across Zoro's face as he moved quickly to him. The cook was fragile enough as it was now, he didn't need this to re-open his wounds! He went to grab him.
"Cook are you alright-"
"Don't touch me!" Sanji snarled, infuriated at the world. Really he was just waiting for the next worst thing to happen. Perhaps god might finally strike him down? His head was throbbing, his body scolding him for moving. He moved himself up onto his elbows, and his body tensed. He clenched his teeth while hissing, the air stinging at his gums.
"I don't.." His words were forced. "Need your help dammit."
He jerked his head to the side, taking in the sight of his legs, sprawled out behind him motionless on the floor. They seemed so foreign now, refusing to connect with what he willed them to do. "Fucking Marimo…" He dropped his voice to a low whisper. He just had to be there, watching this too.
"Shitty Cook!" Zoro growled, wrapping his arms around Sanji, ignoring his protests. Stupid, stubborn, fucking idiot. He couldn't take this anymore, watching Sanji struggle with himself, and now his body. He forcibly turned the cook to him, and brought him into an embrace. "Shut up. Just shut up." His fingers moved up and nestled in between the blonde locks at the back of his head, holding him into his chest. The tear he had been holding in just moments ago so confidently found its escape.
"Stop doing this to yourself! It pisses me off!"
The blonde let out a small cry from where his face burrowed into Zoro's white shirt. He raised a hand and gripped at it. He listened to the Marimo's words; let them play on his heart strings.
"Do you really think I care about this kind of shit…" Zoro's voice began to crack, his solid exterior vanishing. He buried his face into Sanji's hair. "I thought you were going to die." He raised his head slightly, and eyed at the ceiling. "All I could do was wait."
Shakily, Sanji released his grip on Zoro's shirt that he had so kindly wept his tears into. He slowly backed away, looking up at Zoro's face. Their eyes met, and both their lips seemed to quiver.
"Don't tell me I can't look at you. I thought I'd never see you again."
Sanji's face grew so hot, and he stared back down at Zoro's chest. "Zoro I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." His voice was a cracking mess too. The swordsman dismissed it, moving his arm from Sanji's back to his face. He swept the curtain of bangs away gently, taking in the view of Sanji's full expression. He leaned in, moving that hand to cuff at the back of Sanji's head, and guide him into a kiss.
They both moved into it, and Sanji raised his arm around Zoro's neck. Sanji's lips were faintly warm, and he still trembled at the touch. They both pulled away, giving a gasp for air, and Zoro scanned his lovers face. He was in pain, he knew it, and he felt so helpless. But at least he had seemingly been able to reach to Sanji, in his self-loathing.
They remained that way for a few more moments until Zoro turned his head, and glanced at the cook's legs. He grazed a hand over the soft blue hospital pants before finally sliding his arm under and bringing them in closer. He began to stand up. Sanji, realizing this, brought his other arm around Zoro, and held onto him tightly. He was at his mercy now, but was willingly so.
He turned to the side towards the bed, which was pressed up against the wall. Its sheets and cover were sprawled about. Medical equipment decorated the wall and the area around it. Chopper had really out done himself, bringing out all his toys so that they could take care of their own family somewhere private, because even if none of them were blood related, they were family through and through. Even Robin had graciously offered her home.
Zoro moved to the bed, cradling Sanji in his arms. He climbed into it, settling himself against the wall. He removed his arm from beneath Sanji's legs, and guided them so that they lay straight. Sanji slowly loosened his grip around Zoro, and pulled away. His tired eye watched as Zoro checked his legs, making sure they lie flat. He felt his heart skip at the gesture, and narrowed his eyes while leaning his head back into Zoro's chest.
He didn't care for needing the Marimo's assistance, not one bit, but he knew it was pointless to argue against it. He loved the shitty bastard and knew the shitty bastard loved him, and would protest anything Sanji said, as he often and always did. He watched as Zoro gracefully moved his hand to his abdomen, and scanned over his bandages. They had bled a little thanks to the fall, but apparently it hadn't been enough to really strain them. He moved upward, and cautiously studied the stitched cuts to one of Sanji's forearms.
"Bastards…got your arms too…" Zoro swore under his breath.
Sanji didn't reply. He just watched Zoro's delicate fingers as they brushed over his wounds. It stung, but he embraced it. It was the Marimo's concern to his health that began to dwell on him. He closed his eyes, embarrassed. How could he have doubted the person he held so close to him? Of course Zoro had been worried about him, not pitying him. Sanji couldn't even begin to wrap his head around the thought of Zoro waiting while he had been in Chopper's care.
"How long," He began quietly, and then cleared his throat. It felt rough and sore from his earlier sobs, which he wasn't very proud of. "was I out for?"
He could feel Zoro relax as he wrapped his arms back around him. Zoro leaned in, and rested his chin on top of Sanji's head. Sanji flushed, secretly rejoicing to the feeling of Zoro's breathing chest. He could feel his heart beating, and it soothed him. He stared off into the room, waiting for his answer.
Zoro closed his eyes, welcoming the sound of this more casual conversation. Though, he doubted anything between the two of them could ever be considered casual anymore.
"Three days." He said with a small huff. The longest three days of his life, if he might add. "Chopper said that the first day was the most critical but…you weren't waking up."
Sanji listened to the sounds of their mixed breathing, feeling numb in Zoro's grasp. Instinctively, he felt the need to spit out some crude humor in their usual fashion. "You should've kissed me awake then moss head." His tone was still quiet, and he listened, hoping his attempt at mild humor wasn't too soon considering the dramatic scene that had just unfolded.
A small muscle twitched at Zoro's mouth, causing him to want to smile. Yes, here was his Sanji. Slowly he was coming back and feeling more comfortable with him here. Zoro let out a small sigh. "That only applies to sleeping beauties."
Sanji let out a small grunt, his eyes glaring up in the direction of Zoro's head. Zoro let out a small chuckle, which raised Sanji's spirit considerably and he let out a dry laugh too. But then the awkward silence came back with both of them staring off into different directions. Sanji's eyes found his legs, like they had already often done countless times since he had awoken.
He slowly edged his hand out, and rested it on his thigh. He couldn't even feel that. They just laid there motionless and alien to him, despite anything he did. It was disheartening to think that only days before that, these legs had been Sanji's greatest weapon. But now they teased him cruelly, being so close – hell they were attached to him- but utterly incompliant.
Zoro caught Sanji's movement in the corner of his eye, and watched intently. Seeing the cook reach out to his legs, then witnessing the slight change in his posture made Zoro's thoughts wander to what had just occurred. Sanji couldn't even pull himself off the floor, his legs weighing himself down. Zoro himself didn't believe it when he had heard the possibility of the cook's legs being rendered useless, choosing to wait and see before worrying, and deciding if it happens, it happens.
Be that as it may, it was way different then he imagined seeing it had actually happened. Now he didn't know what to really think and that made his chest tighten. He knew how much of a disadvantage this was to the cook, how much of a change it would be to his lifestyle. They had been, after all, a huge part of his life, even aside from just being legs. And it was the flexibility and power of his legs and the way he mastered using them as a weapon that had once been an igniter to Zoro's then growing affection.
"You really can't move them?" He found himself asking without really thinking about it. It wasn't until after the words left his mouth that he wondered if the cook would find it insensitive, like maybe he didn't believe him.
Sanji's eye seemed to glass over. "Shitty legs." He was whispering. "Can't feel or move them." He made a small gesture by tapping his hand on his leg again. Unfortunately, still nothing.
Zoro stretched his arm over, and moved his hand atop Sanji's. He squeezed it gently.
"Do you want me to stab them?" mused Zoro.
Sanji shook his head, his face relaxing. "Idiot marimo. Stabbing isn't always the answer…" He mumbled. He turned his hand around and interlocked his soft fingers with Zoro's. "Besides… I already tried that."
Zoro raised his eyebrows at that. "And you call me the idiot, eyebrows?"
Sanji gave a small shrug, looking up at Zoro. He gave a soft smile, which Zoro returned eagerly with his own. "It was worth Chopper's reaction at least." He explained.
Zoro let out a chuckle. He could just picture Chopper trying to fully explain to Sanji what was happening, and Sanji, stunned and confused, just grabbing the nearest thing and prodding it into his leg. Then the small reindeer's eyes bugging out in a panicked frenzy, like they always seemed to do anytime they took matters into their own hands.
But leave it to the still negative dwelling cook to bring back the cruel reality.
"But I guess now you'll really have to find a new sparring partner." He said through his teeth. Sanji didn't really want to say it, fearing that saying it would make it real. But it wasn't something he couldn't just not accept.
The comment seemed to agitate Zoro though, and not because Sanji had brought it up or suggested it. It was the idea of him sparing or training with anyone else that seemed to do the trick. Even if the cook couldn't spar with him anymore, at least for a long while, he wasn't about to go and replace him. Besides when it came down to it and the hidden boiling anger inside him was put into consideration, he was more than confident he'd get lots of practice in on the revenge he would be seeking fairly soon.
"Nah. This works out. I was about to beat you anyway." He said with a fake smugness.
Sanji just grunted at that and glared. Leave it to some numbskull to reply like that. But in a way… it relieved him. Zoro always had his own way of making him feel better, and a lot of times it included their fights, which both equally enjoyed.
"Keep dreaming Marimo. Keep dreaming." He nudged away from Zoro then, leaning back and adjusting himself so that he was lying down. Zoro assisted him without any protest.
He looked so exhausted, the events of the day weighing down on him. Zoro brushed some hair from Sanji's face. "You should rest." He said, although he gave a small yawn after that. Even mentioning napping around him seemed to remind him he was due for one of his many afternoon naps.
Sanji just smiled at that. "You too."
Zoro's face went back to its normal scowl then, as he suddenly remembered something very important he had planned to ask about much sooner. He pressed his lips together. "Oi. Curly."
Sensing the mood yet again took a serious turn, Sanji stretched his arm over his face, shielding his eyes. "Eh?"
"Tomorrow, I want you to tell me about them."
Sanji swallowed hard. He knew this was unavoidable. Of course they would all ask questions. He had left them all in the dark about it. All they knew was that someone had tried to kill him. Nothing more, nothing less.
"Alright." Sanji reluctantly agreed. "I'll tell you everything I know about them."
He uncovered his eye, and stared deeply into Zoro's.
"The All Blue."
Author's Note: Hello all! Thank's so much for reading! After a positive response to my first fanfic, I was inspired to write some more! This time something darker, sadder, most angsty-er. This time I've twisted Sanji's dream of the All Blue from a legendary ocean to some kind of crime syndicate !? Say wat! Might be a little OOC :'D sorry. At the moment this is a one-shot cause I love being mean to anyone who gets into it, but I might add some more to it depending on the feedback it receives! Reviews are welcomed !Iprobablywillsoaddtoit.
Also a huge thanks to MuffinGirlBethan for being my Beta Reader!