A quiet whimper stirred him awake.
Zoro rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand in an attempt to push the drowsiness away.
It was the middle of the night. In the distance could be heard the steady motion of the waves and nothing else. Just a white noise in the background.
Then, another low whine reached his ears, right beside him, just like the previous one in fact. But this time it was more desperate. More pitiful. It reassured Zoro that all of this was not the remnant of some dream.
His vision adjusted to the still prevailing darkness after a few short moments, picking up another soft sound from his surroundings. One resembling turning over in the sheets. Swordsman's eye narrowed.
Could it be?
As quietly as he could, he turned his head slowly in the direction from which the rustling was coming, focusing involuntarily on the erratically moving figure. Cook. He examined the Blond intently.
The faint moonlight highlighted the wetness of his forehead, allowing Zoro to see more clearly the way in which Cook's precious hands twitched as they tightened their grip on his hair, even in complete obliviousness. Zoro had seen this gesture so many times before.
In an instant, the Blond's face shifted into a deeper grimace, and the beads of sweat on his forehead seemed to become even more evident.
Zoro felt almost like he was seeing something forbidden, something he should not be experiencing under any circumstances. Like crossing an unspoken line. But still, he couldn't tear his gaze away, keeping it fixated as if in a trance on Sanji's distressed form.
At that, the Cook's legs tensed as if in an offensive sort of gesture. To the swordsman's dismay, Sanji seemed to curl into himself even more, pressing his chin to the chest, his hands constantly tormenting his hair.
Zoro's hands tightened on their own accord on the sheets. He had no idea what he ought to do. On the one hand, it was Sanji after all... and on the other, well, it was Sanji.
A sound pulled him out of his thoughts, resembling, to Zoro's bewilderment, an almost strangled, breathless sob.
Helplessness sent a shudder down his body. There was something paralyzing about the whole situation. Zoro expected many things, but not this kind of stuff. In the back of his mind, something urged him to move, to grab the Blonde by the shoulders and shake him so those tormenting thoughts would disperse.
At the same time, it kept him frozen in place, not allowing him to move an inch, telling him to wait for further events to unfold. He knew deep down that it was the part of him that held a gnawing grudge for Sanji and his departure.
He had left them behind, a hushed whisper hinted, the same one that kept him from making the slightest step towards the Blond. He left you.
But just look at him - thought Zoro, with his jaw clenched impatiently.
A sharp gasp with a trace of a familiar voice tore through the night again, bringing Zoro's attention back to the scene before him.
The Cook was now leaning on his elbow, with one hand still painfully grasping onto the pale strands that now covered almost his entire face, excluding his lips twisted in agitation, and in no way helping in concealing the ragged breaths leaving the Blond's lungs in irregular bursts.
He's shaking, the Swordsman observed with peculiar fascination.
Somewhat sheepishly, Sanji threw his legs over the edge of the hammock, and blindly hurried towards the exit, without a single unnecessary sound.
Zoro shut his eyelid rapidly as the other brushed past his hammock. Perhaps it was just Zoro's fatigued imagination, but it seemed to him that the Blond's footsteps slowed near him, as if in momentary hesitation, only to head for the door in the most casual way.
The Swordsman let out a slow breath that he didn't even notice he was holding. To see Sanji, of all people, in such a state. He felt compelled to look away and erase the entire incident from his mind. And yet, as he thought about the other, looking oh so terribly vulnerable, unaware of his rival's attentive gaze, something didn't sit right with him. He really did feel the need to act then. To try to find a way to do anything about it. Too many things in Sanji's story and logic that Zoro came up with, that would explain in plain and simple way what happened, simply ceased to make any sense. To his displeasure, however, different, much more complicated reasons and supposed events seemed to become more and more probable.
He kicked himself mentally. He'd seen Sanji sneaking out in the middle of the night before, looking strangely shaken. It surely had to be about the same thing. He furrowed his brow in consternation.
What the hell happened to you?
Yet again, Sanji tried to focus on the horizon, but the blurriness didn't help him one bit. Blinking persistently, he tried to get at least a tiny shred of sharpness. It only got worse. He bit the inside of his cheek to stop his chin from quivering.
The Blond slammed his fists against the side of the ship angrily. This was starting to get ridiculous. So what if he was dreaming? Others surely have had even worse nightmares. Why couldn't he deal with these? Logically, he knew that all this was just nonsense and images created by his mind, but this logic did not even help with calming the accelerated heartbeat. Let alone with other things.
But it had been real. It all really happened, he thought.
The very moment he closed his eyes, he could feel the harsh cold of the iron pressing down on his head, making him suffocate, crushing his skull. How he is unable to get rid of it, even if he uses all of his strength. How terribly afraid he had been.
The Cook released the rest of the air through his nose and counted to ten, forcing himself to inhale properly. He slowly lowered his forehead, bringing it to rest against the wooden edge of the ship, with his hands relaxing on either side of his head.
The smell of salt lingered in his nostrils. The broadside was wet and cool to the touch, but it was also firm, and stable. He could hear the sound of waves and gentle flutter of the sails. All he could see was darkness.
The trembling has stopped.
You should be glad you didn't wake him.
Sanji smiled with bitterness at the thought. For once he had a feeling that he didn't agree. He actually could imagine that the Swordsman might be the very person who could hear him out, and once that was done, maybe look at him differently, with understanding even.
But it felt as if he would never be able to tell him.
His throat tightened at the thought. To expect that he could hurt everyone around him, only to demand help after a little more thought? It seemed selfish. Like an unnecessary burden. He should be grateful for the crumbs of attention and patience Zoro had bestowed upon him after his recent moodiness. Even though it was the stubborn Marimo's fault that his hand got hurt.
At the mere recollection of what followed after that incident Sanji felt his ears burn, despite the night's chill. The Blond sighed exhaustedly.
He still wanted more.