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Rewind (Be Kind)

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Zoro is not afraid of Nami.

Zoro is not afraid of anything, when it comes down to it. He has faced Shichibukais without so much as a flinch, staring down Dracule Mihawk and Bartholomew Kuma with swords drawn and head held high. He has fought literal sea kings. He has challenged admirals into a swordfight. Fear is not so much of an enemy as it is an old adversary he has beaten, time and again.

But, well, Nami.

The woman herself is currently smiling at him in that way of hers that seems to promise a horrifying, bitter fate to him and his wallet, Zoro’s bravery and sword skills notwithstanding. Zoro puts his hands in his pockets, and his swords clatter against each other in his hips as he turns to face her, head on, because that is what he does best. “What.”

She just smiles. Wider.

“Zo-ro,” she sing-songs, completely devoid of malice and therefore completely terrifying, “would you care to explain what is going on with Sanji-kun?”

The man in question seems oblivious to the tension in the air, though he doesn’t seem to be much of a man either right now. Which is the problem, really. Sanji looks up to him, reaches up to Zoro’s haramaki with his too-small hands, and gurgles an innocent, child-like imitation of Nami’s sarcastic, “Zo-ro.”

Nami looks at the little kid, back at Zoro, and says, “explain.”

Zoro isn’t afraid of Nami. Really.

Sometimes, though, he comes quite close.

 

+

 

The thing about devil fruits, and the New World, and the crew’s entire life ever since the kid with a straw hat and a rubbery smile barged his way into their life, really, is that they tend to be unpredictable. Fight happens. Shit happens.

Zoro thinks it is such an exaggeration, then, that Nami is yelling at him just because Sanji turned into a ten-year-old in the middle of a supply run with Zoro.

At that, Chopper turns to Sanji. “How old are you, Sanji?”

Sanji blinks and looks sheepishly at his fingers. He frowns at them, slowly puts some of them up, before deciding with, “eight.”

Well. Shit. Even younger, then.

“Okay,” Nami says, once she has considerably calmed down. Sanji is now sitting beside Chopper at the ship’s deck, sharing a stick of cotton candy Sanji’s adult self has made earlier that day. Little Sanji’s eyes brighten like he has never seen the food before, and he giggles happily into the candy, face half-buried in the colorful treat.

He is almost… cute, if Zoro didn’t know any better.

“Okay,” Nami repeats. “Now what?”

Luffy tilts his head, confused. “Do what? We just need to find the guy who did this to Sanji and ask him to turn him back!”

“And what, sail in the New World with a little kid on our ship?” Nami gestures at the kid. “He’s only eight!”

For once, Zoro agrees with her. None of them are really equipped to take care of a little kid, much less this…version of Sanji. Zoro always thought—not that he has given it much thought before—that a younger Sanji would be exactly like his adult self: shameless, loud-mouthed, whiny. Annoying.

Brave.

The little kid in front of him is anything but.

In fact, the first thing Little Sanji did as soon as he came to was hide under the kitchen table. He was shaking all over, peering at the crew from behind the foot of the table, and while Zoro could see the fight in his eyes, it was in flashes, drowned more often than not by his fears and insecurities. He also kept touching his own face, like he was expecting to feel something there, and found himself surprised to find his own skin instead.

It took them all two whole hours to coax the kid out of the table. Zoro had given up before he even tried, figuring that the rest of the crew would have the distinct advantage of not having only one eye and carrying three swords, but they fast realized being a two-meter-tall cyborg, a guy with suspiciously long nose, a rubber kid who can stretch all parts of his body and a literal skeleton did not really help either.

Sanji only came out after all the male adults are kicked out of the galley. He quickly bonds with Chopper, who looks as threatening as a pile of candies and soft fur, and Zoro watches them talk animatedly to each other as the rest tries to figure out the solution to the dire situation at hand.

Luffy pouts at Nami. “We’re not leaving Sanji behind! He’s our cook. Who else is going to cook me meat?”

Well, that option is out of the window too, then. Alas.

“We can’t afford to wait around either,” Robin observes. “The hostile pirate crew retreated immediately when they figured out they were losing. They probably have left for the next island, for fear of running into us again on this island.”

Luffy grins at that and pumps his fist. “To the next island, then!”

Nami wears an expression of someone who just swallowed a scream and a sigh at the same time. “Okay,” she says, more to herself than to any of them. “Okay. But we have to at least buy some supplies first.”

Somewhere across the deck, Sanji giggles at something Chopper says. His laughter is light, the kind that bubbles up from deep in your chest, and Zoro distantly thinks he has never heard Sanji laugh like that before.

 

+

 

Little Sanji is not afraid Brook, Zoro learns, which is boring.

He is afraid of Usopp, which is hilarious. Zoro can’t help the amused grin on his face that appears every time he sees the little kid skittering away from Usopp, eyes darting around as if Usopp would suddenly jump out of nowhere with five different species of insects in his hands. Their recent excursion into the insect-infested jungle on the previous island seems to have left some scars on the poor kid, and Zoro mentally shelves this information for a future argument with the cook.

The most bewildering part of it all, though, is that Sanji seems to like him.

The little kid, he quickly notices, chooses to hang around Zoro a lot. On the deck. Up in the crow’s nest. At the dinner table. Whenever they dock, he inches closer towards Zoro, who immediately gets assigned with babysitting duties for the rest of the visit.

Zoro isn’t bad with kids. Zoro is great with kids the same way he’s great with people—they don’t annoy him if they don’t speak too much, and if he’s not annoyed, he doesn’t try to slice them into five different pieces.

And little Sanji doesn’t annoy him, contrary to popular belief. Zoro even has a hard time matching the image of the little kid with his adult self—little Sanji isn’t loud, or overbearing, or whiny. He is quiet, he rarely cries, and he doesn’t seem to have an irrepressible urge to ruin an adult’s day through temper tantrums like most kids of his age. All things considered, Zoro figures he doesn’t mind Sanji’s company much.

The rest of the crew gradually takes notice.

“Don’t you think there’s something wrong with Sanji-kun?” Nami asks as Zoro lifts his weight, Sanji perching comfortably on top of it, head bobbing up and down in turn with the weight.

“Have you ever considered that the guy, uh, replaced Sanji with a different kid with similar eyebrows?” Usopp wonders out loud as Sanji happily eats the slices of oranges Zoro is feeding him.

“My, my,” Robin says much more directly, as Sanji wraps his arm around Zoro’s head, his free hand swinging a duck plushie Zoro got him from a festival on the island they’re currently docked at. “You two are adorable.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Zoro tells all of them. He feels like he should be more concerned about this development, but Sanji is wiggling on his lap, trying to find a more comfortable position for his afternoon nap, and Zoro shifts lower on the sofa so Sanji can use his chest as a pillow. He can leave the concerns for future Zoro.

 

+

 

Zoro jerks awake in his sleep.

He jolts upright in his hammock, his right hand already reaching halfway towards Wado before he realizes that the terrified, head-splitting scream he’s hearing comes from the hammock beside him.

Sanji, his sleep-muddled brain finally registers, and his eyes meet Usopp’s bleary ones as a look of understanding passes between them. This isn’t the first night this happens ever since their cook turned into a wide-eyed eight-year-old, and by now they have a system. If ‘warily looking around with terrified faces until Zoro wakes up’ counts as a system, that is.

Zoro climbs out of his hammock and there he is—the little kid. Curling into himself, feet bent and tucked under his arms, tiny pinpricks of tears falling from his closed eyes. By now the scream has dissipated into shaky, distressed whimpers, and Zoro doesn’t know which sounds worse.

“Oi,” he nudges the kid’s shoulder. “Cook,” he calls him, like he always does, because Sanji might be eight but he’s still Sanji. “Wake up.”

Sanji just hunches further. He does that a lot, Zoro notices—hunching his shoulders. He always thought it was one of Sanji’s stupid habits to look cool in front of the ladies, like smoking and wearing three layers of clothing every day, but now, reflected on his eight-year-old self, it looks eerily similar to a defensive posture. As if someone has told Sanji, over and over again, that he is taking up too much space just for existing.

Zoro doesn’t like where his thoughts are going, so he decides to nudge the kid again. “Oi, cook,” he tries, “it’s just a dream.”

Sanji is still deep in his nightmare, but he seems to subconsciously realize Zoro’s presence, because he uncurls from himself and turns his head towards Zoro’s hand. Sanji nuzzles at the hand, cheek rubbing softly against Zoro’s calloused hand, and Zoro’s breath snugs in his chest.

He goes quiet, eventually. So does the rest of the men’s quarter soon after. Zoro stays like that for a long time, runs his thumb on the kid's cheek, steadying, grounding. He thinks of the Sanji he sailed with, who only went to sleep after the crew was fed and the dishes were washed, long after the rest of the crew had tucked in for the night, and woke up earlier than everyone else to prepare their breakfast.

Zoro doesn't know if Sanji eventually grew out of these nightmares, or if he simply just got better at masking them.

 

+

 

“You’re tired,” Zoro hears Usopp say from the lawn deck, followed by Franky’s, “it’s time for you to sleep.”

“I can keep watch too,” is Sanji’s petulant reply. Zoro sits up on the sofa in the aquarium room to get a better view of the three, and just as Usopp said, the little kid is clearly tired, hands absent-mindedly rubbing his eyes to chase away the sleep.

They had an attack from the marines earlier in the day, and Zoro had instructed Franky to carry Sanji to safety before things could go South for all of them. Usopp had locked him inside the galley, and when they returned after the fight Sanji’s hands and feet were bleeding because he tried to break the door down and joined in on the fight.

Zoro conceded that he was wrong with his initial judgment. The little Sanji now may be physically weak, the destructive power of his kicks Zoro is familiar with has not been trained into the muscles of his legs, but the fighting spirit, the dogged, untiring perseverance? That’s all Sanji, powerful kicks or not. They both know he would go down easily in a fight in the New World, but he would still go down fighting.

It must have been frustrating then, Zoro figures, for the kid to have stayed inside the galley as the rest of the crew fought for their lives. As the rest of the crew fought for his life.

“Don’t worry about that, li’l bro,” Franky replies, waving a dismissive hand at Sanji, “it’s Usopp-bro’s turn now, anyways.”

“It was supposed to be my turn,” Sanji counters. “I saw the schedule when I was getting some tomatoes from the pantry. It was supposed to be my turn, but I’m, I’m too—” he seems to struggle with his words, before finally spitting out, “weak, now, to do that.”

Both Franky and Usopp shake their heads. Franky pats him on the head. “No, no, that’s not true. You’re plenty strong yourself, kiddo—”

“Just let me do this one thing—”

“Have I told you about how the Brave Warrior Usopp kept watch of the ship for five days—”

“I’m not useless!”

The outburst renders the whole deck mute.

Sanji’s face is red, redder than the roses on Robin’s flower bed. One hand is clenched at his side, nails digging into his palm, and the other grabs a fistful of his own hair—a nervous tick, Zoro has learned. Sanji’s hands always go to his head whenever he is under any pressure; his hair, his face. Like there is something on his head he’s trying to make sure is there—or isn’t there.

The adults are silent for a beat, not knowing what to tell him.

“Okay, so maybe you’re not so super with fights,” Franky concedes, but quickly adds when he sees Sanji is about to burst into tears, “but that’s not so bad, y’know?”

Sanji blinks at that. “It’s not?”

“I mean, it’s cool to punch people and all, but we all can fight, so it’s nothing special,” Franky shrugs. “You give Chopper a friend of his age that he has always wanted, and you can make all these little treats and cakes that taste super, and you’re, you know,” he flips his sunglasses up and gestures at the kid, “you. And that’s what matters, doesn’t it?”

Sanji looks at Franky like someone has just told him that his entire life was a lie.

“Someone once told me,” Usopp adds, and there’s a hint of a smile in his voice, like he’s telling an inside joke, “Everyone has something they can and cannot do. So we’ll do what you can’t and you’ll do what we can’t—we got your back on the fighting thing until you’re strong, and you’ll stock us up on the sweets department, how about that?”

There’s another moment as the words seem to sink in, and then a giddy smile breaks across Sanji’s face. He nods vigorously, bang swaying, and Zoro catches a glimpse of the other half of his face. “I can do that!”

Franky pats him on the head again. It’s the same gesture, but this time it does not reek of condescension like it did before. “But now it’s not the time. Time to sleep and let Usopp-bro do his work!” He says, grabs the kid by the hips and places him on his left shoulder. Sanji giggles and grabs Franky’s hair to steady himself.

Zoro watches them go, disappearing into the men’s quarters.

He feels something, soft and painful, humming beneath his ribcage.

 

+

 

“Cook,” Sanji says without preamble.

Zoro is confused by the sudden turn in the conversation, but not confused enough to stop his push-up. Two-hundred and one, he counts, two-hundred and two. “You’re the cook,” he points out. “Not me.”

“I’m not, though,” the kid argues. Sanji is smarter than most kids his age, and after the first week he pretty much figured out that there were some devil fruits mumbo-jumbo involved. The kid seems to have taken it in stride. “Robin cooks breakfast and Nami cooks our dinners. All i did was make simple snacks every now and then.” He looks down at his hands. “Everyone calls me Sanji, or Sanji-chan, or little kid.” He seems to have gathered up the courage to ask, “why do you still call me cook?”

This question is enough to make him stop his training. Two-hundred and three, four, five, he finishes his set, and stands up. Sanji looks at him with expectant eyes, shy but eager. Zoro sighs; he’s never been good with words.

“We’re not… I mean, the other you and me…” he tries, and shrugs helplessly. “Don’t get me wrong here, kid—we’re nakama, and there’s no one I’d trust more to have my back in a fight than you, but we don’t exactly hold hands and share our feelings.”

He thinks of Sanji—confident, quick-witted, smack-talking Sanji. “I called you that because I could, then to get a raise out of you, and then it just became a habit.”

It’s probably not the answer Sanji is looking for, but Zoro thinks Sanji deserves nothing less than Zoro’s honesty. But the kid is also that—a kid—so he adds, “but most importantly, I called you that because you are a cook. Or you will be, I guess. There are a lot of things I don’t get about you, but this is the one thing I’m sure of.”

That seems to be enough for Sanji. Zoro sees him visibly relax, and the tension in the air eases that Zoro starts making his way towards his dumbbells.

They stay there in companionable silence, Zoro training and Sanji rolling around on the floor, but curiosity eventually gets to Zoro and he blurts out, “why do you follow me around so much?”

He feels ridiculous for asking why an eight-year-old does what he does, but Sanji simply does another roll on the floor, face down. “I like you a lot, Zoro!” he says, honest in the way only a kid of his age could, “and even though you’re strong, and you train too much, you’re not like—some people I know,” he says. Sanji does that sometimes—catching himself mid-sentence and changing them. Zoro doesn’t push; they all have their ghosts, and if Sanji wants to tell him, he will. “You fight not just to be strong. You fight because you want to protect people.”

Zoro feels warmth creep up his face from Sanji’s words, and makes a point to ignore it. “So did you.” Most, out of all of us, he doesn’t say. “So do you.”

“Am I strong enough to do that?” the kid asks, his earlier insecurity returning. “I mean, I… I’m not really good at the fighting thing.”

“You will, if you start training.” He thinks of the last sparring he had with the cook; he can still feel the phantom pain where Sanji kicked him square in the stomach. “I don’t know what got you so worried. The you I know, he could handle himself in a fight.”

Sanji beams.

The mood is light and Zoro is already embarrassed anyways, so he decides a one last push. "So? Is that,” He grunts. “Why you followed me."

Sanji flops again on the floor and looks up at the ceiling. “That, and also,” he says. The grin stays on his face, wide wide wide. "Because you called me cook."

 

+

 

Zoro doesn’t know which was worse—learning that Sanji is different, that there’s this gentle, quiet personality Zoro likes that his adult self must have hid under layers and layers of misguided masculinity, or learning that at the end of the day, Sanji is not so different, really, and Zoro has always liked him all along.

 

+

 

There is a ludicrously long list of things Nami can get away with when it comes to the love cook, but this is probably the one thing Sanji will finally, finally snap at her for.

“Why does it look like someone exploded a bomb in the middle of the kitchen?” Zoro asks as he enters the galley. It is not an exaggeration—there is flour on top of every available surface, and Nami is standing in the middle of the mess, holding onto what looks like a cake batter, if one is generous with the definition of cake batters and include details like “shit-brown in color” and “can kill you through substance poisoning.”

He kind of regrets asking now. He doesn’t think he is prepared to deal with this.

She looks at him like she is torn between telling him and kicking him out of the galley. Desperation seems to win out in the end, though, because she goes with, “It’s Chopper’s birthday soon.”

Zoro totally knows that. “I knew that,” he says, just to make sure she knows this.

Nami wears the same skeptical look she always gives Zoro whenever Sanji complains about missing alcohol on the ship. “Sure you do,” she says, but moves on to a more pressing problem at hand. “Robin and I can cook regular meals just fine, but cakes are kind of outside of our expertise.” Zoro opens his mouth to reply, but she holds up her hand. “And before you’re trying to offer help, let me remind you that the last time you cooked, you almost killed half the crew.”

“Oh, come on! That was once,” Zoro objects.

Four times, Zoro. We had to rush Chopper and Luffy to a hospital that one time.”

Che. Ungrateful witch. See if Zoro ever offers her help ever again.

Zoro is about to turn and leave the galley when he suddenly remembers his conversation with Sanji on the crow’s nest, a few days ago. “How about the cook?”

Nami snorts. “Sanji-kun? In case you forgot, he is eight years old now.”

He thinks of the way Sanji looked in the crow’s nest—small and insecure in ways that made Zoro want to stab whoever was putting that expression on his face—and Zoro has to remind himself that Nami meant well. “He’s still the cook,” Zoro says instead. “He’s been fine making simple snacks so far. Let him get a bigger project for once; pretty sure the kid is dying for it.”

It’s been a long time since Zoro looked at one of his nakama and doesn’t instantly know what they’re thinking, but right now, he can’t read Nami’s expression at all. Nami looks at him, face pensive, before a smirk tugs at her lips.

“You’re doing this for Sanji-kun,” she guesses.

Zoro doesn’t blush, and definitely doesn’t sputter, “shut up.”

She covers her mouth with her hands. “You really are,” she says, and her tone is positively giddy, like someone just gave her a million berries. “You’re doing this for him.”

“I’m leaving,” he declares, and clears his throat, before adding, “don’t tell the cook.”

“That goes to your debt!” Nami simply says before the door of the galley slams close.

 

+

 

The cake is a success, and if Chopper is happy, Sanji looks practically glowing.

His eyes dart around the room, drinking in the sights of people eating his cake. He seems nervous but excited, and the combination makes him vibrate in his seat like a ticking time bomb. Luffy tells him for the fourth time that the cake tastes good, and Zoro suspects the kid is this close to getting a heart attack at the tender age of eight.

When the party dwindles down, he catches Nami talking to the little kid, and—damn it. He should’ve known; Nami is going to spill the beans because she’s Nami and being scared of Zoro has sadly never been coded in her DNA.

Zoro sees her leaning down to whisper something into Sanji’s ears, and something tugs in his chest when he sees the kid’s jaw drop comically. Zoro tries to duck his head, but he isn’t fast enough—Sanji whips his head towards him, and their eyes meet across the room.

Sanji’s face splits into a slow-starting smile.

The smile is ridiculously wide, sunny and all teeth and so very Sanji. Zoro thinks of the Sanji he knows, twenty-one-year-old, fierce and violent and stupid, and, oh, he knows, in that moment, deep in his bones, thrumming beneath his ribcage, that he is in love.

 

+

 

They sail.

They sail, and sail, and sail. Days turn into weeks, into months, and one day Zoro enters the galley and realizes that the smell of smoke has disappeared completely from the Sunny’s kitchen.

It has been three months since Sanji turned into a small kid, and Zoro realizes one simple fact with a start, like a light switch being flipped over somewhere at the back of his mind.

He misses Sanji.

Not the little kid. He loves the kid, he grudgingly admits within the safety of his own mind, but he misses Sanji, and it’s the one he always bickers with. The one who kicks him in the face to wake him up, who never fails to push all his buttons, who swoons in that annoying way of his whenever a member of female population is in the vicinity. Loud, foul-mouthed, irritating Sanji.

The same Sanji who secretly makes Zoro’s favorite food whenever he notices that the swordsman is down. Sanji, who he can trust with his back in a fight, who continues to challenge Zoro into a better version of himself, who never learns not to be kind. Sanji, who never lets a single soul go hungry. Sanji, who smiles brighter than the sun outside the windows of the galley.

Sanji, who—he’s in love with.

This is getting a little out of hand.

 

+

 

It’s four months and three days since Sanji turned into a kid (not that Zoro is, what, keeping count like a love-struck fool who has nothing better to do) when Zoro finally comes across the guy who is responsible for all these.

Zoro meets him in a bar, out of all places, by pure chance. Zoro is never one to question his luck.

Instead he gets directly down to business—he unsheathes Kitetsu, leaps across the room and plunges the sword through the man’s leg.

He doesn’t even let the man finish screaming when he says, “it seems like we have some unfinished business.”

Pain must have clouded the man’s memory because he looks confused for a second, but one sweeping look at Zoro—one eye and three swords—is always enough to jog anyone’s memory and match the appearance with the name and reputation.

“Pirate Hunter Zoro,” the man chokes out—in fear or pain, Zoro doesn’t care.

“The one and only,” Zoro agrees. “You have two options now. You undo what you’ve done,” he says, something dark twists and curls in the pit of his stomach. “Or you don’t, and I’m going to give you a gentle push. And then you’ll undo what you’ve done.”

Kitetsu trembles in his grip, but the man’s voice even more so. “I,” he whimpers, “I can’t.”

Zoro twists the sword. It never fails to get people to do what he wants, in his experience. Zoro is distantly grateful that he doesn’t bring Sanji with him for once.

The man cries out. “No—no, you don’t understand! I can’t!”

Zoro feels his stomach sink. “Are you saying that your power is permanent?”

“Not exactly,” the man gasps in between tears. “Your friend, B—Black Leg, wasn’t it? He can turn back, but I can’t make him to.”

Zoro doesn’t have time for this. “Speak clearly or this is the last time you get to speak with both legs intact.”

“He has to want to turn back!” The guy blurts, panicked. “My power, it, uh, only sticks when the victim doesn’t want to turn back, which makes it pretty useless in the long run. Kids, you see, they tend to want to grow up real fast. Especially when they’re told that they really are an adult.” The man even has the gall to look ecstatic for a second when he says, “this is actually the first time it sticks for so long! How long has it been? Three months, at least, right—” 

Zoro knocks him unconscious.

 

+

 

Does Sanji not want to turn back? Zoro thinks of the first time he met the kid Sanji—frightened, lost, and with the air of resignation that felt out of place for a little kid like him. He had wanted to survive, but probably not...grew up, specifically. But what about after?

They got to know each other, he tries to recall. Then the kid grew into his space in the ship, one that easily accepted him with open arms, and allowed him to go by his own pace, and—well, fuck.

 

+

 

“He’s too happy?” Nami says when Zoro breaks the news. “The reason that Sanji-kun hasn’t turned back yet is because we made him too happy?”

“Not too loud!” Usopp shushes her, and takes a quick glance outside the window. Chopper, Luffy and Sanji continue to play tag on the deck, oblivious, but Usopp lowers his voice anyways, “they might hear us.”

“So, what now?” Franky asks, his tone devoid of his usual optimism for once. “You can’t just tell someone to want something.”

“If the problem is him being too comfortable, then maybe we can, I don’t know, make him sad?” Nami proposes.

They can hear Sanji giggling happily from the deck.

“Second option,” they all unanimously agree. They may be ruthless pirates, but they’re not about to make this kid sad. They have standards.

“What about positive reinforcement?” Robin, ever-rational, suggests. “Every time he has a pleasant experience, we imply that he would enjoy it even more as an adult. Over time, the need to become one eventually wins over.”

Zoro observes the whole discussion go down. He is doubtful that this...positive reinforcement bullshit would work, but he has seen what Robin can do with her hands and a male’s private part in a not-fun kind of way, so he wisely shuts up.

 

+

 

It turns out that they don’t need positive re-in-whatever when a sword sticking through Zoro’s chest can do the job just fine.

It hurts like hell, like someone stuffed burning coals inside his chest, but it also feels distant, like he is forced to feel someone else’s pain. He fumbles for his blades but he can barely make out anything by this point, his vision blurring at the edges, so he just kind of lets go and falls down on his side.

He should get up and do something.

He should.

Zoro’s right hand falls outstretched on the ground and it is soaked in blood. There is blood everywhere, now that he really looks at it—on the ground, on his shirt. His green haramaki is growing darker by the second with it.

But then, out of the corner of his eye, something red-hot flashes into view.

It’s a blurry mess after that, fire and smoke and bodies fall around him, but Zoro has stopped struggling to get up and fight again. He knows what those flashes mean, can only associate fire with one specific person, and it is not a child’s voice that he hears when Sanji’s voice calls out an urgent, “Zoro!”

Zoro is tired, but he smirks anyways when he sees a black and blonde figure rushing towards him.

Zoro!” The voice calls out again, and yeah, not a child. Good.

“Took you long enough,” he hears himself rasp.

The voice says something in response to that, but Zoro is tired. He thinks there’s a hand, a thumb running on the side of his cheek, before he fades completely.

 

+

 

Zoro wakes up to a pissed off, dishevelled, very adult Sanji staring down at him.

Zoro blinks and takes him all in. He looks pale, like something has shaken him up from the inside, and Zoro is bracing himself for a rehash of their argument in Thriller Bark—the whole thing about recklessness and sacrifices, lessons that Sanji preaches but never practices himself.

Except. It never comes.

Instead Sanji stretches his arms and wraps them around Zoro’s shoulders.

It’s… weird, is what he wanted to say, but it really isn’t. Zoro and Sanji have spent the last few weeks practically attached at the hips, and Zoro frankly has forgotten what it’s like not to share his personal space with Sanji, so he musters all his energy to lift an arm and drape it around Sanji’s middle.

It is a little awkward when they finally let go of each other, and Sanji sounds odd when he says, “you lost a lot of blood.”

Zoro blinks. “Yeah, no shit, cook.”

“No, shithead, I mean—” Sanji fires back, and damn, Zoro misses this. Misses him. “He could’ve killed you.”

“He didn’t,” Zoro points out, because it’s true. “You stopped him.”

“That’s not the point—” Sanji begins. Zoro knows where this conversation is going, and he usually wouldn’t miss the opportunity to argue with the cook, but. There’s this thing, you see. There’s the meds, for one, but also this thing, this light feeling in his chest that doesn’t have anything to do with the stab wound, warming him all over, and it’s kind of stupid how seeing the cook being all Sanji makes him. He doesn’t want to say overwhelmed with feelings, but he kind of is, and Zoro has never been good with lying, especially to himself.

He knows he doesn’t have it in him to argue with Sanji now, not when his heart is jackrabbiting in his chest like this as Sanji goes on and on about the same old tune, so Zoro does what the little kid always did to him and puts his head on Sanji’s shoulder.

“I missed you,” he says.

Sanji stops speaking mid-sentence.

Zoro smiles onto the nape of Sanji’s neck, counting it as a win. He makes himself comfortable and he can feel Sanji melt into him. It used to be difficult, reading Sanji’s body language, because Sanji is full of contradictions and carefully-crafted personas, but after a few months with the little kid, Zoro can read him like a book.

So he knows. Knows that Sanji is as nervous as he is. Knows the telltales and where to look—the tips of his ears that have turned red, the tightening of his jaw, the way he plays with his hair. But mostly he knows the way Sanji shows his affection, the way he leans into Zoro. Trusts Zoro enough to enter his personal space. Allows him to see a different part of himself.

He feels safe, Zoro realizes. Sanji makes him feel safe. Sunny has always been home, but it is the kind he has to fight tooth and nail to keep safe. Sanji gives him a different sense of peace, of home, and Zoro thinks he wants to kiss Sanji. So he does.

Sanji, as always, meets him halfway.

 

+

 

Nami and Chopper come by the infirmary in the evening.

“You should get some rest, too,” Chopper says to Sanji, who hasn’t left Zoro’s bedside even once. It feels kind of nice, Zoro thinks. “We still don’t know if there is any prolonged effect from your transformation, so we shouldn’t take any chances.”

Sanji’s face turns a shade darker.

Chopper reads him all wrong and switches into his mother-hen mode, accusing, “don’t tell me you don’t want to rest.” 

“No, I’m—I’m going to rest,” Sanji stammers, and Zoro can really get used to the sweep of that blush on his face. “Here.”

Nami raises her eyebrow. “On the infirmary chair?”

“In the bed,” Sanji says, and swallows. “With Zoro.”

“Good for you,” is all Nami says, because she never takes Sanji’s flirting by heart and knows everything, and she herds Chopper out of the room as she adds, “try not to pull out any stitches while having sex, or Chopper is going to kill you both.”

Sanji sputters an embarrassed Nami-san and Zoro laughs, and he’s probably going to end up pulling all his stitches out, but Sanji is beside him, warm and safe, and he thinks, yeah. This is good