Most days, it's business as usual. Wake up, train, chase Luffy, Usopp, and Chopper around for disturbing him (because those smiles amid laughs make the whole day better), argue with the cook, occasionally explore an island, pretend not to see Robin and Franky flirting, go to bed. Then do it all once again. Most days he's done. Smiles and laughs. Grumbles and snark. Most days, Zoro feels fine.
But some days, some days he wonders if they really like him.
Did they bring Zoro along because they genuinely like him? Most days, he forgets the question.
Today, though. Today, Zoro sits alone on Sunny’s deck. The others disappeared into a nearby town for shopping and leave Zoro to guard the ship. It’d be too much of a hassle for Zoro to go to town. He’d either get lost or get drunk. And they don't have the time for that. The log pose takes only a few hours to set. So, today, the question sits at the front of Zoro’s brain. A brain that answers the question without a second thought.
No. No, they don't genuinely like Zoro. Who in their right mind would actually like Zoro? He's a loud, obnoxious drunk with weird hair who can only cut shit and get lost. When Zoro dies, he won't be missed. They'll get some more muscle and just move on. If they even wait that long. One day, the straw might just break and they'll leave Zoro anyway.
Still, he can't keep himself from getting attached. Because, some days, Luffy’s smile is all it takes for Zoro do forget the answer that makes him nauseous. Chopper’s big brown eyes do it too. When he curls up in Zoro’s lap to nap. Or Robin’s giggles. The cook’s yelling. Nami raising his debt.
Some days, Zoro can forget again. Today, Zoro can't forget.
He's tired. A bone breaking exhaustion that holds his eyelids closed even when the cook returns bitching about Zoro sleeping on watch and Nami promising to raise his debt. Though it brings a sense of security. She won't left Luffy get rid of him until that's paid off. Right?
Sanji isn't an idiot. The marimo has off days. He knows that. Hell, the entire crew knows it. Days when he sleeps far more than normal and speaks in grunts more than words. Days when Luffy gives the swordsman more attention than usual. They crop up randomly. No rhyme or reason. No weekly schedule. Sometimes it appears once a month. Sometimes it appears once a week.
Today appears to be one of the bad days. Zoro didn't peek an eye open when Sanji complained about him sleeping on the job. Nor when Nami-san threatened to raise his debt. Though the uneven rise and fall of his chest told them both Zoro was awake. Nami-san had frowned, concern creasing her flawless brow, but let the swordsman be.
Zoro has always been comparable to a wounded animal. Approach with extreme caution on bad days, unless you're Luffy.
Now, the swordsman sits at his table. Frowns down at the perfectly tender sea cow meat and vegetables steamed to perfection as though he's going to be sick at the sight of it. Sanji’s jaw ticks. He spent hours slaving over a meal that everyone else enjoys with gusto. Ungrateful bastard.
“Oi,” Sanji snaps. Everyone's gaze moves to him as he glares at Zoro. “Something wrong with the food, marimo?”
Zoro’s gaze meets his. Exhaustion rolls off him in waves. Lips not even upturned in a snarl. Gaze almost blank, distant. After a few blinks, Zoro shakes his head.
Sanji’s anger fades but he does manage an annoyed, “then eat it”.
Luffy glares at Sanji. The captain’s anger firmly in place on him. Zoro turns his gaze to his plate again without a word. Sanji doesn't let guilt eat away at him as Usopp launches into a lie -that doesn't even draw an eye roll from Zoro. He doesn't! Someone needs to let him know when he's being rude.
He sure as hell does not feel guilty about it.
As soon as the cook looks away, Zoro dumps half his plate into Luffy’s. His stomach rocks so fiercely, Zoro doesn't think he’ll be able to finish a fourth of it. The frown Luffy shoots him makes his skin crawl and Zoro can feel Robin watching him as well. He ignores them and forces a small bit of food down his throat. Just get through dinner. Get through dinner and then he can go to bed. And tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow, he’ll feel better. Tomorrow, he always feels better. Just get through dinner.
Tomorrow is not better. Zoro peels his eyes open to a pounding headache and feeling even more exhausted then he had yesterday. Sun barely pours into the room and only one person is walking around upstairs. Which means that the cook is in the kitchen and everyone else is still in bed.
Maybe, if he closes his eyes, he can get a couple more minutes. He pulls the blanket up to his nose. Curls his body up to fit as much beneath the warmth and comfort as he can. A few more minutes and he’ll feel better.
Sanji frowns when Nami-san settles at the table. The only person missing is the damn marimo. He wasn't on watch last night and he went to bed right after dinner. There's no way he can still he tired.
“Maybe he doesn't feel good,” Nami-san, in her infinite wisdom, suggests when Franky asks where the swordsman is.
“You're right!” Chopper jumps to his feet in an anxious huff. “Maybe he is sick. I should go-"
“Chopper.” Luffy’s face is surprisingly calm. Maybe even a little grim. “Finish breakfast. Then you can go check on Zoro.”
Sanji blinks at their captain. Doesn't miss the way Luffy bites his bottom lip. How sadness lingering in those normally oh-so happy eyes. Luffy knows something. Knows what's wrong with Zoro. And he won't tell Chopper he can't do his job, but he also wants them to let the swordsman sleep.
“But, what if he's really sick?” Chopper asks.
“Chopper,” Luffy repeats. His voice doesn't change. “Finish breakfast.”
Something warm and soft brushes Zoro’s forehead. He moans slightly and forces his eyes open. Chopper leans over him in heavy point. The doctor frowns as Zoro blinks up at him. Confusion and concern clear in his eyes.
Zoro hums to let the doctor know he's listening.
“You don't have a fever? Do you feel sick?”
Zoro shakes his head. Feels the blankets rub against his nose.
Chopper’s frown deepens. “Does anything hurt?”
His head. Zoro’s head kills him. Pounds against his skull like it wants to break loose. But he can’t find the energy to speak. Sleep nudges at him again. Exhaustion tugs him deeper into the warm blankets. It’s just a headache. It’ll go away on it's own.
“Does Zoro’s head hurt?” Luffy’s voice pulls Zoro’s eyes open again. Surprisingly soft and patient.
His brown eyes dim with seriousness and concern. Daring Zoro to lie to him. And Zoro doesn't. He could never lie to Luffy. Not about something as mild as a stupid headache.
“Yosh.” Chopper nods. “I'll go get something. I'll be right back.”
Energy seeps away before Zoro can respond. He curls a little tighter beneath the blankets and lets sleep take him again.
“A shitty headache doesn't mean he gets to ignore everyone,” Sanji says firmly. “Or skip meals!”
Honestly, it's like the idiots don't understand the dangers of missing a meal. If they crash, having a full stomach could be the difference between life and death. And, contrary to popular belief, Sanji would rather the swordsman did not die. The not is the key factor here.
“Sanji,” Luffy says. His voice tight. Leaves no room for discussion. “Leave Zoro alone. He's having a bad day.”
“He’s hurting feelings,” Sanji snarls. Not his feelings, obviously. Sanji couldn't quite care if Zoro hangs around or not. But Chopper’s ears sit flat against his head and Nami-san keeps glancing at the door to the men’s cabin. “All because of some shitty headache.”
Luffy’s gaze darkens. “Leave. Zoro. Alone.”
“Cook-san,” Robin-chan says gently. “Perhaps it would be best if you listened to Sencho. I believe our swordsman will be alright for today.”
Sanji’s teeth grit against his cigarette. The last thing he wants to do is tell Robin-chan she's wrong. His beautiful archeologist is without a doubt the smartest person on their ship. But she doesn't know shit when it comes to food. Or starving.
Sanji turns back to Luffy. “He needs to eat.”
Luffy’s jaw clenches. His eyes go darker than Sanji’s ever seen. Across the deck, Chopper whimpers and dives behind Nami, clings to her leg.
“Sanji’s only going to make it worse,” Luffy growls. “Leave Zoro alone. Captain’s orders.”
He storms down to the men’s quarters without another word.
Little bits of energy let Zoro open his eyes again. He finds Luffy sitting next to his bed, playing with a deck of cards. The captain’s eyes shoot to Zoro as soon as he wakes. Called by the mysterious sixth sense they've developed between them.
Zoro tenses, prepares himself for an overload of Luffy energy with a pounding headache. But the noise never comes. Luffy leans forward instead. Touches Zoro’s cheek with a gentleness Zoro didn’t know he had. Gentleness that did nothing to stop Zoro’s flinch.
“Yo,” Luffy whispers. Smile stretching across his lips. “Zoro’s awake.”
His thumb strokes against Zoro’s cheek. A shiver moves down Zoro’s body against his will. He squeezes his eyes closed, tries to tame the show of weakness.
“Its okay,” Luffy tells him. “Ace has bad days too sometimes.”
Zoro blinks his eyes open again. Stares up at understanding eyes. No disgust. Or disappointment. Just a bit of concern.
If Luffy can be concerned about Zoro. Which, Zoro seriously doubts. Luffy probably doesn't even like Zoro. He just sees Zoro as useful. And once he gets what he wants, he’ll leave Zoro. Because that's what people do with damaged good. They use whatever they can and then abandon it.
Soft lips press to Zoro’s temple and he lets out a whine. Can't even manage the energy to be embarrassed by it.
“Dadan said I should always ask what Ace wants. So, I wanna ask Zoro too. Does Zoro want me to leave?”
Leave? Leave Zoro alone. Let the exhaustion and dark pull him back under. Listen to the truth of how useless and damaged Zoro really is.
Tears blur his vision and he shakes his head. Ignores the agony in his temples. Luffy presses another soft kiss to Zoro’s forehead.
“Okay.” Carefully, Luffy climbs over Zoro and wiggles under the covers. He curls himself around Zoro’s still body, warm chest presses against Zoro’s back.
For a moment, Zoro’s back arches. Unwilling to taint the pure sunshine that is Luffy with the disgust and patheticness that is Zoro. But Luffy tugs him close. Places a few more kisses to Zoro’s neck and he melts back. Lets himself be embraced by warmth and love. Even if he doesn't deserve it.
“I love Zoro,” Luffy whispers. “I love Zoro more than anyone else in the whole world. He’s strong. And smart. And good. Zoro’s so good.”
Tears burn Zoro’s eyes. He wants to tell Luffy to stop. Stop lying to him before he actually believes the ridiculous words. But he can’t make his mouth work. Can't bring himself to stop the lies. For just a few minutes, Zoro wants to pretend the words are real.
Luffy is awake when Sanji wanders into the men’s bunks. Zoro sleeps soundly. Curled on his side with his back pressed against Luffy’s chest. Robin’s words ring in Sanji’s head even as he walks toward the captain and first mate, cup of cooling soup in his hand.
A warning glare shoots his way from the captain. But Sanji ignores it and places the soup down. He leans back against the wall afterward, eyes locked on Luffy’s. A dark challenge sits in the captain’s eyes. Dares Sanji to call Zoro weak. Mock the swordsman’s self worth.
It hurts that Luffy thinks Sanji would ever try to hurt the swordsman. But he lets it slide. Luffy doesn’t mean it. The captain is just on edge. Zoro’s bad days normally last less than twenty-four hours. This one is pushing forty-eight. And this, this is about Zoro.
“You could have told us,” Sanji says.
The challenge melts from Luffy’s eyes. He nuzzles his nose against Zoro’s shoulder blades. Peppers kissed against the base of Zoro’s neck. “If Zoro wanted you to know, he’d tell you.”
The bond between captain and first mate runs deeper than Sanji’s ever seen. Creates a trust that Luffy would never betray. Zoro has clear signs of depression. But, in Luffy’s mind, unless he told the crew, they needed to figure it out for themselves.
With Robin’s suggestion, the signs are far clearer. Zoro sleeps far more than most, but some nights he paces around the ship, unable to even close. Some days he doesn't speak. Some days he avoids them at all costs. Trains himself until he’s exhausted enough to sleep the night away.
Hindsight may be twenty/twenty, but Sanji still feels like a horrible nakama.
“Nami-san and Chopper want to come sit with him,” Sanji says. “They want him to know they care.”
Luffy eyes him critically for a moment before he nods.
“Yosh. I'll send them down.” Sanji gestures toward the cup of soup. “He doesn't need to eat that now. Or all of it. Just, just when he wakes up, ask him to eat a bit?”
Luffy blinks at the seed of desperation seeping into Sanji’s voice. After a minute, the captain smiles softly.
“Sanji would never let his nakama starve,” Luffy whispers. “I know that. And so does Zoro. But I'll ask him to eat it.”
Zoro wakes to warmth. His headache finally faded away and it doesn't take nearly as much energy to open his eyes.
The warm and solid form of Luffy curls against Zoro’s back. Zoro smells the sea and sunshine of his captain long before he opens his eyes. Leans into the warmth of a man that may love him.
He blinks a few times. Clears the blurriness from his gaze. Nami and Usopp lean against each other on the wall, a blanket wrapped around them with Chopper curled on their laps. Robin leans against Franky, a book resting on her stomach. Both of them sleep soundly.
To the right, someone moves. Zoro’s gaze snaps the the cook as he stretches. Their eyes met. Zoro waits for a joke. A teasing comment on how he let a headache get the best of him.
Instead, he receives warm eyes and a slight smile. “Hungry, marimo?”
For the first time in days, Zoro summons the energy to smile.