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It's not what it seems, I promise

Chapter Text

I.

"Zoro?"

The swordsman didn't open his eye, despite the fact that he had so rarely heard his name spoken that way, much less in that uncertain, soft tone.

It sounded almost like a plea.

He knew very well what the Cook wanted, what he had came for.

Probably he was tormented by "remorse", but Zoro saw through him. Of course, this was a very different situation from Usopp's. Actually, it could be said that Sanji's stunt created an even more serious problem, more complicated, on top of the fact that Zoro could not logically understand Cook's reasons. He hadn't explained anything upon his return, and what Luffy and Nami had said was rather enigmatic, as if they themselves didn't want to dwell on it too much, as if it was a thing of the past.

Well, not for the Swordsman, after all, that's the thing, Sanji was taking the easy way out now. He could have left the crew, that was his business, but now that he has returned, does he have the right to behave towards others as if nothing had happened? As if his choice would have no consequences in their mutual relations?

Zoro simply could not allow this.

So he remained in his passive coldness toward the Cook, while respecting the attitude of his Captain, who held no grudge against the blond. It would be all too easy if the whole situation was simply swept under the rug, and they would all go back to happily enjoying their adventures, ironically. And of course, Sanji knew this, and this strategy of the beaten dog, the insecure child, the naive man now bringing sake and onigiri - how intentional - wasn't working on the Swordsman one bit. After all, what else did the blond do to somehow make it up to them? They were nakama, it was true, but it had to work both ways. Luffy and the others had thrown themselves after him in pursuit, and he had what, let go and gone off to marry a beautiful girl and eat some cake. Selfishly. Cowardly.

Conveniently.

And now he still expects some forgiveness, some normalcy.

Oh, no.

So Zoro's eyes remained closed and he remained unmoved. The Cook did not call him a second time. After a moment, the click of a meal tray being put away and footsteps could be heard, and the smell of cigarettes disappeared.

Zoro's eyes remained closed, so he did not see the hands putting the tray away trembling.

***

Sanji tried not to run. He tried to keep a steady pace, a steady breathing, without arousing anyone's suspicions.

Just a bit more, already near, closer and closer to the kitchen, just a few more steps.

As soon as the Cook crossed the threshold, he slammed the door behind him.

Get a grip, now.

He sat down on the floor, his back leaning against the door, his hands immediately going into his hair.

Great, now he probably hates me.

He is stupid. So very, very, freaking stupid. What did he expect? Zoro is not Luffy. Zoro's not Nami. He didn't even go to Whole Cake Island in the first place. All in all, he wasn't surprised. Why, for a loser like him? Someone who couldn't even trust his friends when something more didn't go the way he wanted it to?

He had only himself to blame, and now he was just wallowing in self-pity. Which was funny, because he knew Zoro would never know why he acted the way he did. Those who had chased him to Big Mom's land had promised not to talk about anything too emotional, which had happened there. It's for the best, after all, he's already done enough harm anyway.

Weak.

If the Swordsman didn't already think of him that way, he certainly would if he got to know the whole story. He shuddered. No one knew the whole story because he himself didn't have the courage or desire to tell it. He saw no point in it, it was like cutting scars. It hurt and at the same time it did not help at all. No, now he had to be strong, prove that he deserved to be part of the crew, part of this wonderful family he had found, then brutally dismissed as if it meant nothing.
Of course he knew that wasn't true, he cared terribly about them, he would sacrifice his life for them.

Actually, that was what he was going to do.

He scowled, pressing his head between his knees. Yes, those were his intentions, but good intentions weren't everything. He should have just trusted them. Well, and now he still had a Zoro problem.

He got struck with resignation, the damned Marimo was right after all, and there were few people capable of changing his mind, certainly not Sanji under these circumstances.

I guess I'll just have to get used to it, flashed through his mind.

It was still a better prospect than living under Judge's dictation. He frowned. This was not how it was supposed to be, this was not how he had imagined leaving Zou. But on the other hand, even that situation he would never have predicted, the past barging into his new home with its filthy boots.

He took out a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. He let the smoke fill his lungs, slowly escape his lips.

The trembling in his hands did not stop.

Chapter Text

II.

 

The eggs were almost done, the smell of bacon and spices spreading through the entire room. Sanji put the utensils on the table. The only thing left to do was to wait. He looked out of the window - the sun was beginning to rise. There wasn't much time left before breakfast, though Luffy was probably going to show up much earlier, and attempt to eat everything before anyone else. He wouldn't let him even try.

The Cook wondered if he should maybe eat at a different time from the rest of the crew, but what kind of chef would he be if he ate before the others like that? He would do it when everyone had finished, yes. That is, when Zoro finished.

After all, the kitchen was Sanji's refuge, it was where he felt most comfortable, he could slow down, let himself go for a while - and hardly anyone looked in here except at mealtimes, that was the most important thing. The presence of the swordsman combined with his current behavior would take that away, and while he knew it was one of the consequences he now had to bear, he didn't want to lose the last piece of something he felt to be his very own.

Suddenly the smell of burnt food overcame him. As if awoken from a slumber, he rushed clumsily to the pan to save the breakfast.

"Damn, that was close." He sighed in relief when it turned out that only some of the food was slightly burnt - no longer suitable for the Ladies, of course - but a perfect portion for him.

"Sanji! Where's the food!" a distant roar from outside rang out to. Uh huh. Or a perfect portion for Luffy. The captain certainly wouldn't even notice that something was wrong with his food, he would simply consume it along with his plate.

The cook glanced casually out of the window again, the sun had been up for some time it seemed - how long had he been standing like that, lost in thought? He studied his reflection in the glass - he did not look like someone who had been up most of the night. He smiled to himself.

Well, there was nothing a few cigarettes wouldn't fix.

***

Zoro didn't show up for breakfast. No one in the crew paid any special attention to it, it did happen from time to time after all. However, Sanji felt that this time it was not about a long nap or extending his training. This time it was about him.

He furrowed his brows. He hadn't expected to be feeling this way, and yet somehow it was bothering him. It almost hurt, he thought. It was true that lately he'd been frequently dropping sake and other snacks the swordsman liked at his favorite spots - he knew them by heart - it was something he'd always done, making sure the crew didn't go hungry, so he could name any of Marimo's special places without a moment's hesitation.

Nothing special.

Zoro himself, although not right away, not until the Cook was gone - ate and drank everything he brought, in amounts at which he could easily have skipped the rest of the meals during the day, but eating with the rest of the crew was a kind of a special ritual for them all, a chance to talk and think together - it was one of the things Sanji missed terribly on Whole Cake Island. The absence of the swordsman during these - while on the one hand providing some relief, because it eliminated the opportunity for any kind of confrontation, for experiencing repeated piercing stares full of accusations - wasn't something he appreciated.

After a moment of reflection, he decided he simply felt sad.

Zoro now even brought the dishes to the kitchen by himself. Sometimes he washed them, too. Admittedly, the Cook had never caught him during these activities, even though he was now practically spending his entire days locked in this room, which meant that the dumb algae needed to find very specific times when Sanji left the kitchen - or he ought to have been keeping a close eye on the Cook and his surroundings.

This surprised the blond, as it conflicted with the way the swordsman had been regarding him since his return. Unless the whole arrangement was meant to send him a message along the lines of don't come to my spots again, or I'll wash the dishes myself, no big deal.

Still, he hoped Zoro's intentions were different, that he was simply waiting for the right move on his part, something to repair the damage done. Of course, he had no certainty what that might have been, albeit he could guess.

He would have to make any sort of contact with this disappearing Marimo first, though.

***

If someone were to ask Zoro how he was doing ignoring the Cook, he would say great, excellent even. He could concentrate in peace on his training, his naps, without any distracting fights and bickering - and Sanji was leaving atoning offerings of sake and food in his favorite spots. He knows me too well, he thought sourly at times. Well, at least he didn't have to show up for the meals, in his kitchen.

Whenever this happened, it didn't result in a pleasant situation. The atmosphere was always suffocating, sickeningly awkward. He couldn't even look at the blond man when he was in such state. Oh, and he was well aware that the other was looking at him often. Maybe at some points his gaze wandered towards the swordsman unintentionally, but from time to time he would catch the Cook giving him anxious glances.

As their gazes crossed from afar, his - stern as could be, and the blond's - uncertain, as if afraid of any reaction, as if he wanted to yell at him right away, or run - he almost felt sorry for him. But then he remembered the reason for it all.

Now he was going to the crow's nest for the night watch, for the second day in a row. This state of affairs suited him very well; it reduced contact with the Cook to a minimum.

Then he heard voices.

"I'm getting a little concerned about Sanji" it was Chopper talking, from around the corner. "Do you think he'll actually take it?"

"Logically he knows it might help him." replied Robin.

"I'm afraid he'll be angry with me" echoed Chopper, close to tears.

"Certainly not, dear doctor" he heard Robin chuckle, "he'd sooner appreciate you paying attention to it." The swordsman stood in place as the conversation moved further from his hearing range.

Of course, Zoro had no intention of eavesdropping on their entire talk - after all, what did he care about the damn Cook for the time being - yet he stopped, and now was staring at the ground, deep in thought.

Why would they be worried?

He shrugged.

Guess I'll find out on another occasion.

Chapter Text

III.

 

The eggs were almost done, the smell of bacon and spices spreading through the entire room.

"Just a moment now," commented Sanji cheerfully, "I'm sure you'll love it." Saying this, he glanced with childlike excitement towards Sora. The woman smiled at him without saying anything. She's just like the Sun, he thought.

The Cook turned back to the food and slowly began to put it on the plate, it was still steaming. He looked proudly at his creation - truly delicious. Probably. He would find out soon anyway. He turned around, presenting the plate to Sora.

And froze.

The bed was empty.

***

"Mom?"

He jerked awake with a broken whisper forming on his lips.

Sanji realized his back was drenched in sweat. The air wouldn't come into his lungs. He lay motionless for a moment in the darkness, staring at the ceiling, struggling to inhale. After a while, his surroundings began to make sense, the events came together in his mind. He looked around the room. Fortunately, everyone was asleep. Of course Zoro was missing, but he was probably taking an extra night watch again. That was very fortunate.

He breathed in deeply, trying to calm himself down.

His heart continued to beat too fast. He could stay here, alone with his thoughts and probably hyperventilate in a short while, and the swordsman could come back for some reason. At any moment.

He could also go to the kitchen, but that carried the risk of being seen by that dumb algae. Or that dumb algae would just be sitting in the kitchen washing his dishes.

Sanji rolled abruptly onto his side, hammock swaying in synch. What should I do? Either way, if he meets the swordsman in the kitchen, he can always order him to leave. If the other sees him from the crow's nest, he will almost certainly not strike up any conversation first. Whereas if they meet here - there will be no escape.

The Cook sighed. Slowly, he rose up and put the first, then the second foot on the ground, not liking at all how weak his knees seemed at that very moment. Without hesitation then he directed his steps toward the exit, swung the door open and surreptitiously looked around the deck. Zoro was up there. A good chance that he was napping also existed. The blond decided that a sprint in the middle of the night might still look a little suspicious.

Casually, then, he reached the kitchen door and, as quietly as possible, closed it gently behind him. This was a good time to come up with a new recipe. He took out of the drawer his vast tome with descriptions of various dishes and the ingredients needed for them and glanced in the pantry. He grabbed his head. There were obvious signs of Luffy's presence before his very eyes. Well, he'll have to go for some supplies tomorrow.

A shudder run up his spine.

Usually for such occasions he took Zoro with him, as he was irreplaceable in carrying tons of meat.

But Franky will do, he thought bitterly.

***

The door creaked.

Zoro lifted an eyelid slightly. Footsteps on deck. But quiet ones.

He yawned lazily and scrunched up his face, debating whether he wanted to get up. Since he was already awake anyway, what was the harm in doing so? The swordsman stood up slowly and without leaning too much, turned his gaze towards the source of the sound. His eye widened slightly.

Cook.

What was he doing here at this hour? Surely he wasn't planning on doing something stupid again? He watched the blond man glance nervously towards the crow's nest, and had to stop himself from hiding. He can't see if I'm observing him anyway, it's too dark. He snorted. It was none of his business what Sanji was up to.

He laid down comfortably, ready to continue his nap. Then another creak of the door. The kitchen. Out of the corner of his eye, he involuntarily glanced at the leftover onigiri that, at some unknown point in time, the Cook had brought.

Suddenly a slight twinge of guilt stung him.

***

He didn't know what was wrong. First the burnt breakfast, now he nearly added powdered sugar to the sauce instead of flour - it hadn't happened since Zeff had taught him to make the most ordinary spaghetti. He involuntarily tangled his hand in his hair. A whole batch of good ingredients, almost wasted.

He needed a cigarette.

Sanji patted his pockets. Nothing. With growing irritation he started to search all the cupboards one by one. There must be something left somewhere. Above. In an overly desperate move, he opened the last one. Bingo. One whole cigarette. That should be enough. Delighted, he moved towards the door, only to stop with his fingers on the handle. Ah, yes. He tentatively took half a step back, crumpling the cigarette nervously.

Screw that. The swordsman wasn't paying attention to him anyway.

***

Something woke him up again.

Zoro growled in annoyance. He opened an eye and began staring stubbornly ahead, with his arms crossed behind his head, his back resting against the mast. There was no point in trying to go to sleep again. Soon Brook would come to change him anyway. A constantly slumbering guard, after all, is a useless guard, even if he is stirred awake by every little creaking sound. In the worst case, Luffy might not let him take another night shift in a row.

His eye wandered to the food tray again. A good time to eat as any. He reached for the onigiri, examined it - this intensified his appetite - and attempted to take a bite.

His hand stopped halfway to his mouth. Some being must have been certainly messing with him.

The smell of cigarettes.

***

Eyes fixed on the horizon line and the slowly graying sky. Eyelids already starting to flutter shut. The smoke was making him blink even more often. That didn't usually happen either, after many years he was used to it's biting touch.

He leaned on the ship's side, head heavy in the palm of his hand, the other one holding the remains of a nearly burned-out cigarette, and sighed.

He thought the smoking would bring him some relief. Which was partly right, the remnants of the nightmare were slowly peeling themselves away from his thoughts, but now the matter of Zoro was at the back of his mind again - firstly because he was aware that the swordsman might as well be staring at his back from above right now, and secondly, of course, the problem of redeeming his wrongdoings. Sanji smiled bitterly, nothing came to mind. Probably even the Marimo himself didn't know what he wanted.

"You must be fuming at all hours of the day and night, you damned Cook?!"

Every muscle in his body went stiff. Alas, Zoro paid attention to him after all. Judging by his tone, he was very irritated, but not actually angry. That was a good thing. It meant he didn't make his situation even worse. He inhaled one last time, crushed the cigarette against the wooden surface and quickly tossed it into the sea. He was almost done anyway.

"Don't howl like that, you're about to wake everyone up, you dumb algae!" huffed the blonde, without turning around or looking up.

"Did you hear what I said or not?!" came another muffled shout from above.

Sanji let out a final puff of smoke, then walked unhurriedly towards the men's quarters.

***

The dumbass Cook had to be infuriating even now - given their current situation - by what right was he still calling him names. The swordsman scratched the back of his neck. On the other hand, it was strange that the blond himself let go of the banter so easily. Not that it bothered him.

On the other hand, only a complete moron would not have noticed how the other flinched at the sound of his voice, and his reply was dripping with resignation. This was all really strange.

"I'm getting a little concerned about Sanji" flashed through his mind.

Zoro furrowed his brows and leaned out of the window once more, following the blond with his eye.

He sneered.

The idiot had forgotten to turn off the kitchen light.

Chapter Text

IV.

"Talk to Sanji." Luffy sat across from the swordsman, the weather that day was exceptionally nice, the sky clear, but still they could count on a favorable wind.

Zoro sighed with fatigue. "No. I already explained why."

Luffy puffed out his lips, clearly displeased with the answer. "Sanji said that now he can't bring as much meat as usual."

"I don't understand how is that my problem?" He glared at the annoyed Captain, raising his eyebrows in annoyance. Luffy, however, remained unmoved and insisted on giving him an angry look.

"Captain's orders."

"All right, all right now," grimaced Zoro, "but just one attempt" - He raised a finger - "if the damn Cook doesn't want to talk it's not my fault. Just once."

At those words Luffy smiled broadly and giggled. "I knew I could count on you" he then stood up and turned around. He took a few steps forward, then stopped. "And Zoro" - he turned his head towards the green-haired man - "You should know something about something. But Sanji has to tell you on his own."

This further perplexed the swordsman. There were more and more questions, and the number of answers was still a big zero, but the picture that was forming in front of him didn't seem appealing at all.

***

The cigarettes had already stopped helping in any way. Sanji could not count how many packs he had smoked in the last few days. No matter what he did or didn't do, he couldn't stop thinking.

He hoped that it was behind him, that he had finally trampled his past, but it began to return where he didn't expect again, when he was most vulnerable - in his dreams. With increasing frequency, he would wake up drenched in sweat, with a scream lingering on his lips, in his mind begging for no one to hear him. He would have taken extra night watches, but that was what Zoro had been doing for a while.

Sanji tried to hide it at all costs, but the dark circles under his eyes and general tiredness were beginning to show. Still, he seemed to take it well, and it was best when he could be alone with himself. And in the kitchen, of course.

That's where he had been sitting for a good few extra hours.

From whichever way one looked at it, it was also his fault. Who would normally add such amounts of staining ingredients to the food of someone who eats as chaotically as Luffy, and just when the chaotic eater is very unhappy with the amount of meat.

He had had the kitchen cleaned by the Captain, but now the washing up was going terribly slow, and the leftovers were staining his hands and sleeves.

"Sanji?"

He was snapped out of his reverie by Robin's voice. Damn, he hadn't heard when she came in. He must try to be more alert in the future.

"Dear Robin, what can I do for you? A snack? Some dessert?" he turned around slowly, taking a moment to transform the depressed expression on his face into best beaming smile.

"Chopper wanted me to give you this," she smiled mysteriously handing him the box.

"Oh, you didn't have to bother, I could have gone to him myself, all you had to do was say so" he said with embarrassment, taking the item from her.

"It's no problem." Saying that, she left. Her expression seemed strangely sad. Sanji looked hesitantly at the package and carefully unwrapped it. Inside was a note from the reindeer and a vial.

He abruptly closed it.

That would be it for pretending to be sleeping well.

***

Zoro stretched with satisfaction, rubbing his eyes after another good nap.

He wiped with his hand the grains of rice that by some miracle had gotten lost at the corners of his mouth after eating. Damn, it was delicious, even more than usual. This apology food for some unknown reason tasted even better than Cook's normal meals.

Speaking of Cook.

He looked over his shoulder at the entrance to the kitchen. He had heard Franky go to the mainland for supplies about an hour ago, presumably Sanji had gone with him, because there was never a time when the blond simply gave the swordsman a shopping list and sent him off to get the things he needed. They always had to go together so he could supervise what Zoro was buying.

Either way, it was the perfect time to get down to washing the dishes. He rose slowly, approached the kitchen door and pushed it open confidently.

***

The pills were too big and obnoxious for his liking. Still he decided to give them a chance, after all it was better than risking a stupid Marimo seeing him in this state one night. He cringed at the mere thought.

The door to the kitchen opened, Sanji turned around, expecting -

- definitely not Zoro. With a plate after the meal he himself had prepared.

With a panicked gesture, he tightened his grip on the bottle, trying to hide it at all costs.

Turning away, the blond had began to wash the dishes as if the other's presence wasn't bothering him at all. Still, his hands began to tremble slightly again. He cursed under his breath and dipped them up to the elbows in the soapy water, digging his nails into the well-cared-for skin of his palms, to at least get some control over their twitching. He sincerely hoped the vial with the pills was waterproof.

"Can you move over? I'd like to wash this." the indifferent voice of the swordsman rang out.

Sanji stilled. Why now? He'd been treating him like air for days, and though the blond had tried as hard as he could to smuggle in his quiet apology - sake here, onigiri there - it didn't seem to have any effect.

No, he probably really had just come to do the dishes and didn't know I'd be here.

But he could have just turn on his heel and leave.

"Oi, I'm talking to you" Sanji felt Zoro's strong hand tighten on his shoulder. When had he gotten so close? Panicked, the cook turned suddenly, pulling himself out of the other's grasp.

"Don't touch me, you dumb algae!" he choked out through clenched teeth. Then he realized how close he was to Zoro. Their chests were milimeters apart. The swordsman's gaze pierced him, emotionless eye seemed to crush and suffocate him. Breathing heavily, he leaned back until he felt his spine press into the painfully cold rim of the sink. He was trapped.

Sanji saw the swordsman lower his gaze slightly, and his good eye widened, as if in surprise. He traced the movement after him.

The vial.

He squeezed it even tighter and with a nervous gesture swung to tuck it into his sleeve. Anywhere.

But Zoro was faster. He grabbed the other man's wrist again.

"What the hell is that?" Sanji felt swordsman's gaze burn right through his skull.

"Let go!" he yelled, trying to yank his hand away, feeling the rising panic.

"Just tell me what it is!" Zoro was losing his patience.

"It' s none of your business!"

"Goddamn it, shitty Cook-"

A crack echoed through the room.

Sanji felt something sticky engulf his hand. A hint of a metallic smell in the air followed.

They stood for several minutes as if frozen. Sanji's gaze wandered with confusion between the swordsman's eye and the bleeding hand. Zoro looked shocked, the strength of the grip diminished. Cook's blood was running down his fingers.

The blond man blinked several times. He felt rage seize him out of nowhere. With ease he freed his wrist.

"Get out of my kitchen." Cook hugged his wounded hand to his side, not caring if it ruined his clothes.

"But-"

"Get out."

This time Zoro complied.

Chapter Text

V.

He had been sitting like that for nearly an hour. No, he corrected himself.

It was the damn Cook who had been sitting there for nearly an hour.

Since their little heated conversation, the swordsman had been waiting on the deck, in reasonable proximity to the kitchen door, for the blond to come out. Because he had to, he had injured his hand after all. But the longer he awaited any sound or movement, the more worried he grew. It was impossible for the Cook to bleed to death (right?). Nor would he continue cooking with hands stained with blood. So what was he doing there?

Pride - flashed through his mind - he probably doesn't want me to see him in this state. He sighed and took a few steps towards the kitchen.

"Oi, shitty Cook!"

Silence answered him. The swordsman's eyelid twitched in annoyance.

"I'm going to Chopper to get some bandages!" he tried again.

Still nothing. Well, tough luck, he thought, heading for the doctor's office. Guilt was trotting at his heels.

***

Chopper wasn't at his place, which seemed like an even better solution to the situation, the reindeer would surely be mortally concerned about the whole incident and would insist on seeing Sanji himself. Unnecessary fuss over a petty matter.

Zoro approached the kitchen again, stepping a little louder so as not to accidentally surprise the already nervous Cook, they could run into each other and this time it wouldn't end with just a bloody hand. He figured it would be for the best if he just leaves the necessary things by the door, after all the blond man certainly didn't feel like seeing his face that day anymore, especially near his place. He in fact wondered if Sanji would even accept the stupid bandages from him.

"I'm leaving these here" he said loudly and turned away, with the intention of heading someplace unknown, as long as it was away from the other. "I'm going to the aquarium" he added just as loudly after a moment's thought.

As the kitchen door creaked open, the swordsman turned involuntarily, only to see a flash of blond hair for a second. And to hear the angry slamming of the door.
"Tch." he smirked with undisguised mockery. He was about to leave when suddenly the door opened again. A familiar eye appeared in the crack, looking distrustfully at Zoro.

"Marimo." Said Sanji in a voice full of seriousness. "I need you to help me."

"Huh?" the swordsman's arched his brows. "Like with what?"

The other didn't answer, just opened the door slightly wider, inviting him inside. Zoro sighed and shook his head in disbelief. Then walked right in.

***

A mess.

Only with this word the swordsman could describe what he had encountered. Firstly, there were shards of glass and dots of blood everywhere, secondly, all sorts of handkerchiefs, towels and other makeshift bandages were scattered on the floor, all stained with blood and strangely crumpled. The cook was sitting at one of the chairs not far from the table.

It was then that Zoro noticed that the blond was still awkwardly embracing his injured hand at the wrist, holding it close to his body, as if he were restraining himself from involuntarily hiding it. Zoro looked at him questioningly. Sanji lowered his gaze and stared at the floor.

"I tried-" he muttered, then fell silent again. He looked like he was collecting his thoughts. A nervous swallow. "I tried to wrap it up with something, but..." He hesitated, glancing cautiously at Zoro.

"I can't do it right with one hand."

Oh.

The swordsman crossed his arms over his chest closing his eye, head tilting forward slightly.

"I see." He looked at his rival - in his eyes he noticed a strange expression of uncertain hope.

"I m-mean," the blond stammered out hurriedly, "under regular circumstances, of course I'd ask Chopper, but now..."

Zoro nodded. That was exactly what he was thinking. He tentatively took a step closer, not really knowing how he should act. Of course he was used to dealing with his own (much more serious) wounds. But this was Sanji, who was now watching him with a fair amount of distrustful waryness, further guarding his hand.

"Uh, would you mind...?" The swordsman pointed at it uncertainly.

The cook glanced confused in the indicated direction. "Oh, oh yeah, sure." He swung his hand as if stabbed, extending it towards Zoro, and turned his head away.

***

Delicate.

That was the only way to call the manner in which the swordsman proceeded to carefully remove the fragments of glass and wipe the blood from his palm.

It took him by surprise. Of course, the swordsman did not take care of his hands as he did - it would not even be suitable, the calloused skin from training was less sensitive, which came in handy when wielding, of course, swords.

He winced as Zoro washed the deeper cut with disinfectant. As soon as he did that, the swordsman's hands stopped.

"Sorry." Sanji looked at him. Zoro was studying him with his gaze, as if searching for something in his expression.

"No worries." He replied in a neutral tone, slightly shocked. That was new. Who would have expected that from him? He wondered if he had ever seen the other so composed and strangely focused.

"Cook?"

He suddenly realized that he had been staring into Zoro's eye the whole time. He smirked nervously.

"Y-yes?"

The swordsman seemed perplexed, looking to the side, frowning with a bandage in one hand and disinfectant in the other. "Uh, can I go on?" his eye again shifted uncertainly straight to the blond man.

The Cook swallowed, again abruptly turning his head away. "Sure." With that, Zoro grabbed his palm tenderly, continuing his work.

Sanji felt a strange kind of heat spread across his face. He attempted to turn his head even further.

They sat like that in awkward silence, Zoro working quietly, carefully wrapping any cuts, and covering each finger with a thin bandage, not taking his eyes off his handiwork.

The tension in the air was clearly palpable, at least to the blond. Usually small talk wasn't the type of contact the two of them would look for with each other. Now, even more so.

"I'm sorry."

The Cook stiffened.

"Nothing hurt this time." He said quietly.

"That's not what I meant." He heard the hesitation in the swordsman's voice. "I'm sorry about, uh, you know." He gestured awkwardly at their surroundings.

The air now seemed to get even thicker now. Great. Sanji had no intention of confronting his gaze with the other's again, worried what kind of things he would see there. He clenched his healthy hand into a fist, trying to keep from biting his lip, not breaking his silence.

If Zoro was awaiting for some kind of reply, he must have let it go, because he occupied himself with first aid again. How long can one do this? - thought the Cook with growing irritation. His first instinct would be to pull his hand away and leave the kitchen. Asking idiot Marimo for help - he must have fallen on his head, it was clear from the start that this was a bad idea.

At the same time he was awfully glad.

Zoro had agreed to help him. As Sanji swung the door open - after a second he realized his growing dread - what had tempted him to show himself so vulnerable in front of the swordsman? Surely he would refuse, after all he was angry with him - and yet. As soon as the idiot algae took the first step towards the kitchen, his heart began to beat faster. It meant that there was still some chance of fixing it all.
He was momentarily enlightened.

"I'm sorry as well, Zoro."

He squeezed his eyelids shut in anticipation. The answer didn't come. Instead, he felt the swordsman's fingers tighten on his hand until he began to feel the sting of freshly treated cuts. Startled, he glanced at the other.

Zoro looked wary.

He said something quietly under his breath, but Sanji heard it all too clearly.

"For what exactly?"

Chapter Text

VI.

 

For what exactly?

Running away. Not trusting you. Being a bad friend. Letting you down. Causing you problems. Being a burden-

"Hey." He felt Zoro's hand squeeze his. This time tenderly. "Breathe."

Sanji didn't notice that he held his breath. For a moment he thought he'd already said it all out loud. He really wished he had the courage to do that. Then the Cook realized what position they found themselves in.

He was facing Zoro, leaning back in his chair, his hands trying to clutch at his hair, held back carefully only thanks to the swordsman, who was kneeling in front of him, leaning forward, watching him with wary apprehension. The blond felt how his cheeks had begun to burn.

Suddenly everything seemed like too much. Zoro was too close. His hands were too warm. Breath too loud. His stare not like he expected. Sanji stood up abruptly, hitting his back against the table.

He saw the caution turn to confusion on the swordsman's face. Then even more worry appeared. And he was still stubbornly gripping onto his hand. That wasn't what Sanji wanted at all.

"I-" he tried to force something out of himself, very well aware that his so called angry tone would waver at every syllable. "I'm just sorry, okay?"

With those words, he clumsily pulled his hand from Zoro's grasp, though there was no longer any actual strength in it. Feeling a stinging sensation in the corners of his eyes, he hastily made his way for the exit, trampling the glass and cursing the papers that were getting stuck to the bottom of his shoe.

"Oi, you-" he felt Zoro trying to grab him by his shirt. It only quickened his step.

"Sorry." He mumbled out once more, walking out the door with a thud.

 

***

 

Had he gone too far?

The swordsman sat on the floor in the middle of the kitchen, looking a bit lost, with his arm still raised toward the exit, where seconds ago he had tried to catch a hold of the leaving Cook.

More like a fleeing, he thought. He hadn't expected the blond to react like that. It didn't really suit him. Though asking for help in such a situation wasn't something they normally allowed in their interactions either. In combat they watched each other's back and that was it, such cooperation was most efficient and for the best interest of the entire crew. This was something totally different. He scratched the back of his neck.

It also didn't escape his attention how Sanji's hands almost instinctively darted towards his head. It was suspicious to say the least. When he thought about it now, it was not the first time he had observed such a gesture in the other. And that look on his face. Hell, the Cook seemed awfully terrified. Zoro never thought he'd see him like that.

He glanced around the room aimlessly, shoulders slumping with a heavy sigh. He swept his gaze over the glass remains. He could as well clean up the mess.

He rose from his knees sluggishly, searching for the broom, and grimaced. It was sticky with blood. Of course that idiot had tried to clean up.

Without further thought, he began to gather up the trash. It was the pieces with a visible label that caught his attention, Chopper's handwriting evident, with some pills scattered nearby. He carefully picked up a few shards in his fingertips and lifted them up towards the lamp, trying to decipher the letters.

Sleeping pills.

His eye involuntarily widened. Theoretically, he had expected such a thing, but could not piece together the obvious facts that were being laid out before him. Or maybe he didn't want to.

Was this what Chopper and Robin were talking about? Surely. What had they noticed that he had missed?

He kicked himself mentally. He hadn't been paying much attention to the Cook lately, blinded by anger. And hurt, he admitted to himself with some difficulty. Truly, at some point, legitimate offense turned into empty stubbornness, a rebellion against the fact that everyone was acting as if nothing had happened.

And you don't abandon your family for no reason.

So logically, he was aware of it. But it seemed that everyone but him knew what that reason was. And he had thought that despite everything, despite their constant bickering, arguing, fighting and teasing - Sanji trusted him at least enough to say something. Anything, really.

And the way the blond fiercely tried to hide that vial.

He felt the sharp edges scratching his palm. He almost got some answers, but now he felt more lost than ever. That damned Cook.

 

***

 

He was a goddamned idiot.

Now any chance for a peaceful night's sleep was gone. He had been lying like this in the dark for probably an hour or so, tossing nervously from side to side, completely losing any sense of time. The others had been asleep for a long time. His eyes were starting to close by themself, but he did not want to sleep. He anticipated what would happen afterwards. At the very thought, his legs were beginning to tremble uncontrollably with every slight tension in any muscle. Sanji bit his lip and tried to stop himself from letting out a frustrated whine.

So what if Zoro saw the pills? He could always come up with something on the spot. It's for Chopper, he's been sleeping poorly lately. Absolutely not for me. I'm fine, after all. Dumb algae would've let it go.

Yes, it's true, it was all his fault, he completely panicked. Even though he didn't mean to, as soon as he saw the expression forming in the swordsman's face he decided that at all costs he must not let him see what these are.

So maybe Zoro did not find out, but he witnessed another embarrassing situation with him in the main role. And the pills were gone. He had gathered as many as he could from the floor, but they were no longer of much use. He thought about going to Chopper's to get some more - he had even been to Chopper's office - but he couldn't find anything, and too much searching would put the doctor on alert.

He couldn't ask him directly for another batch, it would mean he either needed too many of them or - or he would have to explain the whole situation with Zoro. The reindeer would also undoubtedly take notice of his hand.

He ruffled his hair in frustration with a quick motion, clenching his teeth as he felt his muscles twitching again.

And heard the sound of the door opening.

A beam of light spilled into the room, and a figure undoubtedly belonging to Zoro stepped into the doorway.

Sanij momentarily slowed his breathing and squeezed his eyelids shut. Hopefully the bastard algae wouldn't try to continue their discussion right now. He heard slow footsteps heading in his direction, stopping right beside him.

The smell of the seawater and sweat.

Warm air being breathed out.

After a moment, just the sound of the hammock next to him bending under the weight of Zoro settling down for the night.

Why isn't he on watch? The thought crossed Cook's mind. Especially now, when he had no way to defend himself in his dreams, this Marimo had decided to sleep a meter away from him. In such situation, wouldn't it be better not to fall asleep at all?

His debate was interrupted by the soft sound of rhythmic snoring.

The Cook cautiously opened his eyes, slowly lifting his head, glancing over his shoulder at the still form of the swordsman.

In this way he looked completely harmless. He took one look at Zoro's stoic face, slightly parted lips, and oddly positioned arms tangled in the blanket, palms clutching the edge of the hammock.

If Sanji concentrated hard enough, he could still feel the strange comforting gentleness with which these hands gripped his.

He shook his head at the feeling of strange longing that swept over him.

Indeed, they were both idiots.

Chapter Text

VII.

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.