The morning sun was at Zoro's back as he ducked inside the infirmary. Chopper and Nami looked up at him and smiled, squinting with tired eyes.
"He went back to the boys' room," Nami said quietly, her left arm wrapped from her wrist to her elbow, a small splint in place. Zoro's eyes shifted to Usopp, who was passed out, sprawled across the chair in the back corner.
The swordsman hung in the doorway for a moment, saying nothing. Finally, he nodded and left them there in the med bay, making sure the door latched shut before wandering towards his shared sleeping quarters.
He opened the door abruptly and strode into the bedroom, eyeing the rows of hanging beds. He could see the cook's leg hanging over the edge of the bottom bunk in the row nearest to him. Zoro managed to slam the door shut completely by accident and startle Sanji into sitting up, and the blonde immediately grabbed his head, which was wrapped in a few layers of bandages, his hair sticking up in random places.
"Maybe you could not stomp around like a bumbling idiot for maybe an hour or so? And we could get some damn sleep?"
Perfect. Sanji was already pissed and lighting his first cigarette.
"You look like shit," Zoro said, the words escaping from his mouth before he could muscle them back down his throat.
Sanji glared up at him, blowing his smoke directly into the swordsman's face. "I feel great."
The cook looked away, leaning over the edge of the wooden sides of the bed to grab the ash tray he kept on the floor under his bunk. Zoro studied his face. His entire eye socket had turned a deep shade of violet, and his lip was split open, and there were warm red and yellow bruises that encircled his throat.
"Chopper said himself that I'm fine, so I don't know why you're in here bothering me."
"You don't look fine," Zoro said in his low baritone, and still Sanji wouldn't look at him.
"Last I was informed, you weren't a doctor."
The swordsman grit his teeth and closed his eyes, forcing himself to take a deep breath. "You keep not looking fine."
"You keep coming back looking like shit."
Now Sanji was looking at him from under his bruises and bandages, tonguing the cut that ran straight through both his lips.
"Cook, I…" And Zoro trailed off at the sound of quiet shuffling, and his gaze trailed from Sanji to the back of the room where he finally noticed his captain was spread out across the floor, his straw hat placed over his face, his legs wrapped in gauze. He hadn't even made it into a bed.
"Don't say anything you'll regret," Sanji said carefully, quietly.
Zoro focused his attention back on the cook in front of him, studying him with a critical eye. "You should be more careful," he said finally. "You keep getting knocked around too much."
The silence between them was heavy, contaminated with Luffy's even, shallow breathing.
Sanji placed his cigarette between his lips and climbed out of the bunk, taking an aggressive step towards Zoro, shattering his personal bubble and shoving the swordsman backwards. He took a couple steps back, and before he could center his weight again, Sanji was on him, a hand clenched tight around the front of his robes, and he wrenched him towards the door.
Zoro made no move to resist.
Once they were out on the deck, the door to the sleeping quarters closed behind them, Sanji sucked hard on his cigarette and pinched it between his thumb and forefinger.
"Don't ever step in the middle of one of my fights again."
Zoro raised an eyebrow, standing his ground, although the chef was dangerously close to him, his voice low and threatening.
"You were getting your ass kicked."
"I was fine. I would've been fine, I never needed your help."
"It didn't look that way to me," Zoro said, his voice level.
It was another memory he didn't care to revisit. Zoro had spotted him a little ways away on the battlefield, going on the defensive when his attacker had lurched forward with what looked like a bullwhip, and in a split second, it was wrapped around Sanji's neck, and immediately, the cook's long fingers were clenched around it, trying to yank it loose with no avail.
Zoro had been blocking his own oncoming attacks, but he kept his eye on Sanji, his chest starting to burn as he watched the blonde get rocked in the face once, twice, and then again, and again, and the swordsman saw his knees starting to buckle, and he finally lost his own self control and turned his back on his enemy, rushing over to where Sanji was struggling. He'd cut the whip easily with one of his three blades, stepping between the blonde and his opponent, taking on both enemies at once.
The sound of Sanji's hacking cough was like a blanket over him, and despite it, the cook had sprung forward, going after his target with a new sort of rage.
"Regardless of how it may have looked to you, I can take care of myself."
Sanji's posture was less than perfect, and Zoro watched him roll his cigarette between his fingers. An anxious habit.
Out on the deck of the Thousand Sunny, the swordsman stood frowning, studying the cook.
He couldn't find the words.
"I don't need you," Sanji said to him.
Zoro did not move. He simply watched the other man's lips and the smoke that lingered around them.
"I never have."
Sanji's voice was still ragged. It was barely above a whisper.
"I never will."
He took one step closer to the swordsman, leaning forward, carefully annunciating every syllable into Zoro's pierced ear.
"And if you ever make me look weak in front of our captain again…"
Zoro didn't breathe again until he heard the click of the door to the boys' room latching shut.