Chapter 1: Frightful First Symptoms
For some reason, waking up seemed a tad bit harder than it usually was. The blond’s body would have prefered Sanji to stay where it was. In fact, it was pretty bent on doing just that. He squeezed his eyes tight as the light pulsing in the back of his skull increased and radiated towards the front, just behind those oceanic orbs. The blond suppressed a groan as a hand reached and pressed against his temple.
Slowly, the man sat up, holding the side of his head the whole time. He raised his other hand to his mouth and cleared his throat before coughing lightly into it. It burned subtly, but he ignored it and forced himself the rest of the way up. His hand flew to the wall, bracing his body as the room wavered for a few seconds. Sanji held his breath until it passed, then slowly released it.
What the hell was that all about?
The cook brushed some hairs out of his face, cringing at their dampness. He felt utterly disgusting if he were being completely honest. Still, it didn’t matter, he had a job to do, and he’d be damned if he broke his streak due to a little inconvenience. As he ascended the stairs, each pull sent a few aches through his legs, as if he had just done a workout the day before. To be fair, they did have a run in with some marines, but that was nothing they couldn’t easily handle.
Sanji shielded his eyes the moment he reached the top, and his head only throbbed more prominently with his eyes’ discomfort. He didn’t know if it were just him or not, but it was quite a bit brighter than normal. Squinting, he turned his head away, kept his head low as he strolled towards the kitchen. As soon as he was on the other side, he pressed his back to the door and let out a heavy breath, followed by a couple more coughs. His exhales were coming out in pants. It was a mere walk over, less than a minute, there was no reason it should be wearing him out so much.
Needless to say, his movements were sluggish, and it was mostly his muscle memory that carried him through the kitchen and helped him with his practiced routine. Body on autopilot, his mind was focused on the slight tightness of his chest, the pulses that continued to plague his skull and not to mention the overall tension that gripped his entire form.
Every now and then, Sanji coughed into the crook of his elbow, finding they were coming more frequently the hotter the area became. He ignored it, pushed everything to the back of his mind until he finally finished the morning meal and had everything laid out beautifully across the table. He was breathing heavily and swiping his hand across his forehead before calling the rest in.
It wasn’t long before the crew filled their seats, delving in. He thought about joining them, but he just wasn’t hungry. No, it was more than that: he wasn’t sure he could stomach a single bite. Grimacing slightly, he habitually grabbed a cigarette from his pocket and stuck it between his lips, lighting it a second later.
“I need some fresh air,” he mumbled around it. Sanji hoped it was only him who heard the raspiness in his throat. It was almost enough to produce a couple more coughs, but he managed to hold them in.
“Aren’t you going to join us, Sanji?” Nami asked, one brow raised.
The man forced a pleased smile. “Of course,” he replied, cheerfully. “...But, in just a moment.” He turned towards the door, expression faltering as soon as it was no longer in view. He heard a little bit of muttering behind him, though he didn’t quite catch what was being said. To be frank, he couldn’t be bothered to care at the moment. Sanji dragged his feet towards the railing and leaned against it, placing almost all of his weight into it.
He inhaled deeply, instantly choking as the smoke slithered against his throat. The blond quickly removed his cigarette before the hacking started again, this time wracking his whole body. Every cough sent a stab through his chest, each more prominent than the last. By the time it was over, one hand - still holding the cigarette - was gripping the rail with whitened knuckles. The other gripped at his chest, fingers tangled in his jacket.
“Those things'll kill ya, you know?”
Sanji said nothing, he was too busy trying to steady his breathing again without starting another fit. Replacing his cigarette, the cook straightened up and looked over his shoulder. “What’s it to ya, asshole?” Whatever conviction he was hoping for was nonexistent when the words were almost strained.
Zoro took a moment and looked the other up and down, pausing at the hand that still hovered just over his chest. A fraction of a moment after his eyes caught it, Sanji dropped his hand to his side.
“Move, I’m going back insi- Hey!” he snapped when his arm was grabbed, none too lightly at that. “The hell’s your problem?” He snatched his the limb away with a glare at the swordsman.
The other didn’t say anything for a moment, but he never broke eye contact. “I could be asking the same thing. I’m not the one acting strange, and I wasn’t the one who was just about to hack up a lung.” He felt a small twinge of victory when Sanji reeled back at that comment, brow furrowing. He stuck some sort of cord with the chef, that much was for sure. If looks could kill.
“It got too damn hot in there and I needed to step outside-”
“Bullshit. It’s hotter out here than it is in there,” Zoro cut in. He wasn’t buying that pathetic excuse for a second. “Do I have to tell Chopper something’s wro-”
“It’s none of your business, alright? Now, like I said, I’m going back insi-” His breath caught with the shimmer of a sword. “What the…” He lept back. “What are trying do?” he snapped. “Do you not know how to do anything without pulling out that damn sword of you-” He winced as a particularly painful jolt ran through his chest, causing his knees to buckle and strike the wood with a resounding ‘thud’.
Zoro was taken aback. It happened so quickly, he didn’t know how to react. His body then sort of acted on its own as he, too, dropped to his knees, but with a bit less force. “Hey,” he called as the blond trembled before him, body shaking violently with each hack. Every time he tried to draw in breath, it was instantly expelled back out with an agonized-sounding cough.
He did the only thing he could think of, which was to pat the smaller man’s back. There was no telling if that was helping or making things worse though. It wasn’t until he heard something splatter against the deck that he felt his heart drop in fear. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see nothing but red, and his head refused to turn in its direction. He feared what he would see would confirm his suspicions.
“Chopper!” he called out, as loudly as he could. There was no way the doctor didn’t hear that. He’d be surprised if the nearest island didn’t hear his call. Still, he called a couple more times just to be sure, all the while supporting Sanji with his other hand. As seconds ticked by, that hand was bearing more and more of the cook’s weight. Zoro leaned down to get a better look at the blond’s face, and his whole body chilled, matching the other’s complexion.
He was deathly pale all of a sudden as beads of sweat rolled down his features. But, the part that bothered him the most was the red staining his lips.
“Sanji?” he whispered, giving the cook a gentle shake. Slowly, that single, half-slitted eye turned his way. He could barely hear the approaching sound of hooves over his own racing heartbeat. It was pounding in his ears, deafening. He couldn’t hear it, but he could see his name play out on the other’s mouth before his gaze hid itself behind his eyelid. The blond slumped, a gold curtain falling to hide the rest of his face.
Zoro didn’t move as the chef was pulled away from his grasp and turned over to his back as the doctor began looking him over. He was at a complete loss for words; his body refused to obey his commands to move. The swordsman could simply watch as Chopper unbuttoned Sanji’s jacket and shirt, moving his stethoscope from one side to the other.
He finally snapped out of it when another cough caught his attention, and his eyes snapped to he cooks face to see his eye was barely open again. It was fogged over, totally unaware of its surroundings.
Said man slowly turned his attention in the reindeer’s direction, not at all relieved at the fearful veil over his eyes. He looked a bit farther to see the others standing just a few feet back, expressions of concern, much similar to Choppers. Nami had her hands over her mouth; Usopp with his mouth ajar. “Yeah?” he whispered, looking back to their doctor.
“I need you to carry him for me.”
“What’s wrong with him?” He couldn’t stop the question from slipping out.
Chopper looked down, almost as if he were afraid to say anything, like he was at fault for this. He took a shaky breath and willed himself to look back at the swordsman, then to the others, knowing the same question was on their minds.
“Pneumonia...I believe.” He pressed his hooves together. “That’s just what I can guess for now, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it is. We need to get him in a bed. He shouldn’t be walking around…” Chopper trailed off as his eyes glanced over the red tinge, just now noticing it. Finally, he found the red stain on the deck. A small gasp found its way out. “Get him inside now!” he ordered, allowing his panic to finally shine through.
“R-Right,” Zoro stuttered and swallowed thickly. As gently as he could, he slipped both arms under the trembling form. Sanji inhaled sharply as he was lifted, coughing lightly. The swordsman didn’t realize until he pulled the man in closer, but he was radiating heat. And when the chef’s head lolled until it was almost against his neck he made a small noise at how much warmer the blond’s face was on his skin.
Dammit, why didn’t he tell anyone something was wrong sooner? The idiot. He was finding it difficult to be pissed with the other man, though, when he was shaking as bad as he was, puffs of heated breath hitting his neck.
Things grew unnaturally silent as he crossed the other side of the door. Now, it was painfully clear, the sound of wheezing every inhale the cook took. His face was lined with discomfort, each breath seemingly painful to take. As Chopper followed him in, Zoro slowly placed Sanji atop the sheets.
“Why didn’t I notice something sooner?” the reindeer asked himself aloud, on the verge of tears. “This doesn’t come out of nowhere...there were signs and I didn’t see them…”
“Chopper,” Zoro muttered, arms crossed. “You can’t blame yourself, the dumbass just does a good job at hiding things.”
From all of us.
He cut his focus back over when a groan caught both of their attentions. Sanji cleared his throat and went to sit up, clearly struggling with the simple task. Surprisingly, Zoro beat Chopper to the punch.
“Hey, stay the hell down unless you want to pass out again. I ain’t picking you back up if you do.”
Sanji didn’t say anything as his face scrunched into one of disgust. Slowly, he raised a shaking hand and swiped a couple fingers over his bottom lip. As he pulled them away, his eye widened at the blood decorating them. “Wha-” he rasped, gasping at the scraping the word caused in his abused throat. His pulse was racing, and he turned his head to the other two for answers.
This time, Zoro stepped back and allowed the professional to do the talking.
“Sanji…” Chopper started, stepping over. “You should tell me when something’s wrong!” he snapped, forgetting bedside manners in the heat of the moment. “If you’re sick and don’t tell me, you’re just going to make yourself worse!” He stood there, trying to calm himself. “You scared me…” he muttered, quieter.
Smiling softly, the cook forced himself to sit up, ignoring the screaming protests from his chest and down his limbs. “It’s alright, Chopper,” he tried to assure, giving the reindeer a pat on the head. “You’re a good doctor, so I’m sure everything will be back to normal in no time.”
That seemed to pacify the other marginally, but he still clearly wasn’t pleased. “Shut up, idiot,” he muttered back. “Don’t move, I need to go grab some things. Zoro, make sure he stays.”
The swordsman nodded as the door clicked shut.
As if on queue, Sanji chose that time to fall into another fit. Thankfully it wasn’t as bad as the other, but it was still enough to leave him winded. “Really?” Zoro asked. “You’re going to lie to his face like that? ‘Alright’ my ass.”
“It’s...none of your...business,” Sanji shot back between pants. Eyes shut, he fished in his pocket. Zoro didn’t need to ask to know what he was doing.
“Don’t you think that’s a bad idea?”
“Didn’t I say to mind your own business?”
The other leaned to one side, waiting as the cigarette was lit and waiting for the process to repeat itself. No surprise, the moment he inhaled, he was forced to lurch forward. “Dammit.” Sanji let the stick rest between his fingers, tapping it every now and then to knock the ashes to the floor. His forehead was drenched with sweat now, and Zoro was sure he was paling more and more by the second.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone you were sick?”
“...” Sanji was looking down, breathing quickening. “...gonna be sick,” he whispered. The speed at which Zoro reacted was to be marveled as he swiftly spun around and snatched the trash can and shoved it towards the bed. Not a moment too soon.
The swordsman cringed as Sanji heaved into the container. He had to turn his head away, but the sounds were enough to send shudders through him. Zoro didn’t turn back around until the retching was replaced with miserable groans.
“Fuck…” the blond sighed, practically falling back against the pillow.
There was no longer the sight of the cigarette in his grasp, Zoro could only assume it had been dropped in the trash can. He sure as hell wasn’t checking. He didn’t know what he was supposed to say now though, not after Sanji just threw up in front of him. He wasn’t good at this whole sick thing. He didn’t even like to be around sick people. And yet, there was this nagging need to do something.
Sighing deeply, Zoro set the can aside and carefully lowered himself to sit on the edge of the bed, arms crossing over his chest as he cast his gaze on the floor. “You know, Chopper’s going to have you on lock down for at least a week, right?” he asked with a touch of humor.
This was unnatural, Zoro wasn’t used to hearing the man sound so…exhausted. He’d seen the man after hard and tiring battles, but even then he was able to bounce right back. Now though, he didn’t give off the same burning determination.
He didn’t get the chance to say anything else when the door creaked back open, and they were met with Chopper, arms filled with supplies: bottles of water, a bowl, rags, different bottles of medicine among other things, all of which were spilled onto the table.
“Ok, first, I need to check your temperature,” he instructed. His checkup went by relatively quickly, thanks to the fact that Sanji was simply too drained to argue or fight about it. Chopper was thankful for that, but at the same time, that only raised more reasons for concern. But, the temperature of 102 degrees F was another reason for worry.
Once Sanji had obediently taken the medicines instructed, Chopper rubbed a hoof over his forehead with a sigh. “All done, for now,” he said. “But, I still want you to stay here, no getting up. If you need something, you call someone.” He then paused, knowing what he was going to say next was going to be the hard part in all this. “And...no smoking.”
“Huh?” the blond questioned, unsure if he heard right.
“Sanji...your lungs are under a lot of stress as it is...you don’t need smoking making it worse.” He had his arms behind his back, expecting an explosion of frustration, but there was none of that. Maybe it was the fever pacifying him, or the exhaustion leaving with without the strength to care much right now. Either way, he knew it wouldn’t last long once the cravings set in. Once that happened...it would take more than warnings and talking, he was sure.
“You hear that, dumbass?” Zoro asked, wringing out a rag before slapping it over the cook’s face. “No smoking. Touch one and I’ll cut your fingers off. Got that?”
When he didn’t get a response, he lifted the cloth, scowling when he saw his eye closed...sleeping.
“Zoro, could you stay here with him? I’m going to go let the others know.”
“Sure.” The swordsman let out an exasperated sigh and took a seat in the only available chair, leaned back and crossed his legs. All he could do was stare at the blond as he finally took steady and even breaths. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but seeing the man like this was...difficult.
Chapter 2: Kicking Habits Are Hard
For close to six hours, Zoro sat there, legs and arms crossed as he watched over the cook. Not once did the other man so much as twitch. Aside from the occasional hitch in his breath and stray cough, he was totally out of it. He couldn’t help but wonder if something Chopper gave him had anything to do with it. He wouldn't be surprised, might be the only way to get Sanji to cooperate.
Taking a deep breath, the swordsman rose, having a desperate need to stretch his legs. That need was made clear when all the feeling rushed back to them the moment he was standing. He had to take a short walk, but he made sure to take one more look back, just to be sure, before stepping outside. Zoro flinched as the sun assaulted his eyes, but that wasn’t as bad as the rest of the crew nearly jumping him a second later.
“Hey,” he snapped, “Back up, damn.”
He pushed through them, making it quite clear he was in no sort of mood. But, they continued to bombard him with their questions and concerns. Having enough, he finally spun back around.
“Is Sanji alright?” Nami asked. It was like she didn’t even notice the annoyance on his face. However, as he saw where she was looking, he swallowed thickly. He still had a small blood stain on his shirt.
“He’s still asleep,” he replied in a low voice. “If you have questions, ask Chopper, he knows more than I do.” There was zero reluctance as he hastily removed his shirt, balling it until the red spec was hidden. “I need to go change…” In other words, ‘Don’t talk to me and leave me alone.’ Speaking of, he probably should find the doctor so he can go take over. Leaving that idiot alone probably isn’t the wisest of choices. He took a deep breath, just now realizing how stiff and exhausted he was now. That’s right, by now he was usually napping or just waking up from one.
He needed a drink, that’s what he needed. With heavy footfalls, he dragged his body towards the kitchen and thrust the door open, pausing when he found just the one he had wanted.
“Zoro?” Chopper asked, perking up slightly. “Why are you here? Did he wake up?”
All it took was the shake of the swordsman’s head for the reindeer to basically deflate back into his seat. “Oh…good.” Slowly, he returned to whatever it was he was doing. Which, as far as Zoro could tell, was mixing and crushing some herbs.
“So,” Zoro started, pouring himself a generous amount of ale, “tell me, how bad is it?” He took a seat across from Chopper, not missing the slight stiffness at that question.
He could hear the gulp before he started talking. “Well, I’m positive it’s pneumonia now. So, knowing is good. But, he let it get too bad without anyone knowing. I know you saw the blood. Luckily, it wasn’t a lot. As long as he stays in bed, rests and doesn’t smoke for a while, then he should be fine.” They both knew that all three of those were pushing it.
The other just nodded along, taking drinks of his beverage. “In other words, we’re gonna have to tie him down.”
There was a slight gleam in Chopper’s eyes. “If we have to.”
“Oh yeah…” Zoro muttered, almost forgetting. “He’s alone right now, by the way. I meant to tell you.”
The doctor appeared unphased by this. “That’s fine. I gave him enough sedatives to hopefully keep him asleep for the rest of the day. I knew otherwise he probably wouldn’t get any sleep.” He took a deep breath, and it was easy to see the lines of worry and exhaustion across his face, even under the fur.
“Why don’t you take a break,” Zoro suggested. “Like you said, he won’t be waking up for a while anyway. I’ll be going back in there, so you don’t need to get so worked up, I’ll be sure to tell you if anything happens.”
Chopper nodded, releasing a small breath of relief as he sat back. For a few more minutes, they sat in silence while Zoro finished his drink. He still had to fetch another shirt before returning to Sanji, which took little time to fish out of his pile of clothing. The closer he drew to the door, the harder his heart pounded in his chest. He didn’t know what he was expecting, or if he even thought anything would be different than when he left. Whatever the case, what he walked in on was enough to flip his mood instantly.
“The fuck are you doing!?” the swordsman snapped, bounding down the stairs in a matter of seconds before snatching the unlit cigarette from the cook’s lips. “Did you damage your brain or something? Chopper said no smoking!”
Sanji blinked a couple times. “What?” he asked “I don’t remember that, and even if I did, what business is it of yours?” he shot back, reaching a hand out and wiggling his fingers. “Now, give it back.”
The blond’s brow furrowed slightly as he scoffed under his breath and reached back into his pocket.
“Hey, don’t you dare!” the swordsman snapped, momentarily forgetting the other’s condition. He threw one of his legs to the other side of the bed until he was straddling Sanji. The cook grit his teeth and eyes widened.
“H-Hey, what are yo-”
Zoro cast the cigarette aside in order to grab a hold of the chef’s wrist. And with his other hand, he started searching his pockets for the pack and lighter. He couldn’t tell if his adrenaline was running high, if he was really that much stronger than the cook, or if the other really was that drained, but it took little effort for him to accomplish his task.
Sanji growled lowly, teeth bared as the swordsman had him effectively pinned. “Dammit, mosshead, will ya get...off me?” He cleared his throat with a wince. If it weren’t for the almost inaudible whimper and the flash of pain across his face, Zoro would have found his struggles rather amusing. The blond tried to take a much needed deep breath, only for it to get caught in his chest and forced right back out.
Zoro quickly got off as coughs wracked the lithe form, and he swore quietly under his breath. The pack of cigarettes crumpled in his grip before he tossed them to the side. “Sorry, but I’m not letting you make yourself worse, got it?”
The cook’s hacking eventually ebbed away, leaving him taking in shuddering inhales. A fresh sheen of sweat covered his face and one hand was resting on his chest, fingers furled. “Shit...that hurts…” He muttered, almost as an afterthought. His hand slowly relaxed and he moved it to rest at his side. Sanji had his eyes closed, so he was slightly startled when something cool and damp was placed on his forehead. He’d be lying if he said it didn’t feel welcomed though. A small exhale tickled over his lips. He swallowed dryly, wincing.
“Here, drink some water,” Zoro suggested, voice taking a 180 from what it was just moments earlier. “Can you sit up?”
Sanji opened his eye just enough to glare. “Of course I can.” It may have been a declaration, but it didn’t appear as though he were in any rush to move. Then, slowly and with caution, he slowly moved his arms to heft himself up until he had his back resting against the back wall. Even that little bit left him out of breath and slightly wheezing. The worst part was he could still feel the other man’s eyes on him. Damn, was that humiliating. He tried not to think about it and accepted the offered drink.
Every swallow was accompanied by a small flinch. He managed to finish it off and thrust the glass back. Sanji wiped a heavy hand down his face and noticed too easily how slick with sweat it was. Before he could say anything, that cool touch was back as it graciously cleaned of part of his face. He couldn’t stop himself from leaning into it with a low moan.
The moment that sound escaped, the blond jerked back up, face reddening further. “I can do that...myself,” he blurted, snatching the rag away.
Just like he declared, he started washing his own face off, but...it just wasn’t the same. Not that he’d openly admit it though.
“How are you feeling?”
The question caught him so off guard, the blond nearly choked on his own breath. Why the hell did he sound like he cared so much anyway? He glanced over, and that look he gave him even looked like he really did. His skin crawled and chest tickled at the same time. “What’s it to ya?” he asked, voice wavering slightly.
“Just answer the damn question. And don’t lie, it’s easy to tell when you do,” he added, staring right through the man.
Sanji rolled his eyes as he slowly started to sink back into the sheets. “Like my whole body’s on fire,” he half-joked. “Can’t hardly breathe, and when I do it’s like being kicked in the lungs.” He cleared his throat, face contorting as he held in the next series of coughs. It was obvious that even talking brought discomfort. He couldn’t hold them back for long though, and his hand reached to cover his mouth as his body trembled for a few moments. His hand eventually came away, shaking with a couple specks of red.
The cook outwardly cringed with the bitter taste. As if knowing, Zoro tossed the rag back over, and Sanji quickly wiped the blood from his hand and mouth. The man stared at the cloth for a few seconds and decided perhaps it was best for him to hold on to it this time.
Zoro only snorted in response.
He didn’t ever remember feeling this drained before. It was different when he was injured in a fight, or tired from night watches. But this, this was completely different; to be exhausted from your own body attacking you. And that dam swordsman was giving him that look again. Was it pity? Sympathy? Whatever it was, it was driving him crazy.
“So…” Sanji muttered after some time. “Why have you been sticking around down here? It’s not your job, or did Chopper make you?”
“No one makes me do anything, alright?” Zoro replied sharply. “What’s so wrong with me wanting to, shithead?” He froze. Did he really just admit that he wanted to be there? “I mean, we’re stuck on the same ship, and if one person’s sick, it drags the whole crew down, right?” he asked, words flooding out in his sudden panic. “Does it matter? Point is, you clearly need someone to babysit you and keep you from screwing up, ok?”
Sanji’s eye narrowed. “Really, does no one trust me?”
“No! Hell, you wake up with a cigarette in your mouth!”
“They calm my nerves.”
“They’re gonna kill you.”
“Well from the looks of it, so wil-”
Both heads jerked towards the door as it swung open. A light tap sounded down to signal the arrival of Chopper as he tapped down the stairs before pausing half way down. A pleased smile lightened his expression.
“Sanji! You’re awake!” He sounded both surprised and elated at the same time. He covered the rest of the distance in only a few leaps until he was by the blond’s side. Zero hesitation before he started checking his vitals. The reindeer clicked his tongue at the quickened pulse and scowled at the chef’s pallid complexion along with his tinted features.
He turned around just long enough to grab the thermometer again. “You can’t be getting worked up,” he muttered, sticking the device in the other’s mouth quickly. Sanji flinched with the motion, but remained silent. His gaze was still on Zoro, who returned the look. It was Chopper’s hum of disapproval that pulled their focus from one another. “Your fever got worse,” he muttered. “It’s a degree higher.” As he spoke, he got to work, pulling the cover up to the cook’s shoulders, fetching another cloth and filled another bowl with chilled water.
“I need you to take some more medicine,” he instructed. “It will help you sleep some more.”
“I just woke up,” Sanji complained, but the strain in his tone did him no favors. Even his drooping eyelid was giving his tiredness away. He was fooling no one.
Their doctor didn’t care though, he still handed the small capsules over and a glass of water. “I know, but you need more rest. The more you sleep, the faster you’ll get better.” He could only hope he’d stay asleep until morning this time. “I also have some others I need you to take. And let me know if any of them make you feel nauseous so I can try something different.”
“You mean more than I already am?” Sanji muttered.
He ignored the flash of concern across Chopper’s face and took the pills as asked. With both him and Zoro watching him like a hawk, it was probably for the best to just play along. One alone was pressuring enough.
As he took the medication, Chopper’s nose twitched once, then a few more times and his eyes slightly widened. “I-I smell blood,” he whispered, leaning in closer.
Clearing his throat, the blond lifted the rag to show. “Here, this is probably what you smell. Don’t worry...it wasn’t that much.” At least he wasn’t a lie. It definitely wasn’t as much as the first time. Chopper nodded. There wasn’t anything he could do about it, but it was something he was glad to be aware of.
“Right,” he muttered, tossing the rag aside in order to fetch the rest of the medicines. “Alright, take the rest of these, and then I want you to try and get back to sleep. And when you wake up, I want you to try and eat something, whether you want to or not,” he ordered. He shoved as much authority unto his tone as he could muster.
Sanji shrugged. “Yeah, yeah, I get the routine.” He finished taking everything else lied back down with a soft sigh.
Already, he could feel his mind drifting off. Chopper sure knew how to knock someone out fast when he really wanted to, there was no mistake about that. “W-What the hell did you...put in that stuff?” he asked with a deep yawn. He didn’t think it possible, but somehow his body felt even heavier, like he was sinking. The voices of the others were growing fuzzy and discernable until they were gone altogether.
Meanwhile, Zoro watched in utter amazement as the just moments ago determined blond was now out for the count in less than a minute.
“That’s...a good question…” the swordsman mumbled.
Chopper let out a small, innocent laugh and rubbed the back of his head. “Nothing...I just upped the dosage is all. It should keep him under longer this time.”
“So, your plan is just to keep him drugged through this?”
The reindeer furrowed slightly. “No, just for now, just until he gets through the worst of it. Which, if he does as he’s told, won’t be that long.” He took a deep breath and huffed it back out. “If you want I can take over from here, you’ve been down here all day…” he offered.
Zoro just shook his head. “Nah, it’s fine, I don’t mind watching him. Besides, you need sleep to if you’re going to be taking care of him until this passes.” To make his point clear, he dragged the chair closer to the bed and planted himself in it without another word. And then made sure to cross his legs to seal the deal on the subject. “I’ll be right here if you need anything.”
Again, he couldn’t explain his reasoning for his need to stay by the cook’s side. ‘What’s so wrong with me wanting to, shithead’. The thought ran through his head, and he shook it in an attempt to chase it away. Did he really? Want to be here with him? Since when did he really care? Then again, he’s never seen Sanji sick before, so this was relatively new to him, so it was only natural that being caught of guard would give this unsure feelings, right? So lost in his thoughts, he didn’t notice right away when it was just the two of them left in here. Just the sounds of his mind and the ragged breathing filling the space.
He lifted his gaze to watch the subtle rise and fall of the other’s chest, feeling his own tighten with every hitch he witnessed. His hands balled into tighter fists every time the blond’s breath caught in his throat, and he winced with each involuntary cough. Even in his sleep, Sanji couldn’t get away from them, it seemed.
Swallowing the lump, Zoro eventually pushed himself up, unable to sit and watch doing nothing any longer. As he stepped closer, he grabbed the bowl of water and rag off the table and sat on the edge of the bed. Sanji muttered lightly when his body shifted with the added weight next to him. Gently, the swordsman picked up where he was earlier, dipping and wringing the rag and swiping it across the blond’s face. Every time the cloth touched his heated skin, his expression relaxed a little more.
It wasn’t much, but he was just happy to see there was at least a small something he could do to ease his discomfort. In the middle of a swipe, he paused when Sanji’s lips parted slightly. He was sure he said something, but it was lost in his labored breathing.
He was sure he saw his name spelled on them.
Chapter 3: From Bad to Worse
Zoro didn’t remember when he fell asleep, or how long he was out for that matter. Only that he was slowly brought around by some rather intrusive hacking. For a split moment, all he felt was annoyance, until the memories of the day before came rushing back. His eyes snapped open and he was on his feet before he was fully awake. Everything took a few seconds to register.
The first thing to become clear was the fact that Sanji was turned to his side. The second was his face, pale and twisted into a mask of agony. And the third…
It took longer than he cared for to realize it wasn’t coughs he was hearing. He was choking. The swordsman almost tripped over his own feet in his rush to get over. Zoro acted without thinking and hefted the blond until he was leaning over one of his arms and used the other to strike his back. He tried to be gentle, but at the same time he was borderline panicking.
“Come on…” he growled lowly as the chef continued his desperate attempt to draw in breath. After a few more rough and heavy pats, Sanji coughed, harsh, as whatever was lodged finally expelled from his throat. Zoro cringed as what looked to be red-tinged phlegm dripped to the sheets.
Sanji stayed where he was, shaking violently, gasping in breaths of air, coughing after every other inhale. But, he was breathing. Zoro’s pulse was ringing in his ears, pounding against his ribs. He hadn’t noticed his own breaths were labored as well as he leaned his head back in relief. His moment of reverie was short lived, however, as the cook was still sagged against him, heat wafted off in torched currents.
He was absolutely burning up.
“Hey, Sanji?” Zoro said, using his free hand to tap his cheek lightly. No response. “Hey, dumbass, say something will ya?” He tapped a bit harder, a few times. Finally, after the fifth pat, the blond groaned and his features twitched. Zoro didn’t care if he let out a relieved sigh, and he cared even less that he actually wrapped his arm around the other and pulled him closer. “Dammit...giving me a heart attack.” He let out a nervous laugh as Sanji merely leaned into the embrace.
“You with me?” the swordsman asked after a couple more seconds.
He felt the small, weak nod and pulled the chef away from his chest. His face was flushed and gaze unfocused, but he appeared to understand most of what was going on. “D-n’t feel good,” he slurred, listing back towards the larger man.
“I know,” Zoro replied, one hand cupping the side of the blond’s head.
He hated to have to move, but there was still the mess to clean up, that and Sanji was totally drenched in sweat now. It wouldn’t hurt to change him out of those clothes and change the sheets. “I’m going to get Chopper, I think he needs to take another look at you,” he explained, helping the other ease back down. Well, it was mostly him doing all the work; Sanji just leaned in the direction he was moving him.
“Chopper!” Zoro called the second his foot touched the first step. He called the doctor’s name the entire way up, making certain he was heard.
Most of the crew was already on deck, looking his way with confused and concerned expressions. None of them approached the swordsman when they made out the look in his eyes: an uneasy mixture of worry and fear with a touch of rage. And he said nothing to them, he hardly even noticed them as he strolled by. Unless it was Chopper, he had zero interest.
“Hey, Chopper!” he called again before he finally heard the clacking of hooves on the deck. Out of breath, the reindeer skidded to a stop at his feet. “I think you need to have another look at Sanji,” he said, cutting right to the point. He glanced around, feeling the other’s eyes on him, searching. “Something’s wrong,” was all he said.
That was all Chopper needed to hear before he was rushing in the cook’s direction. Zoro could barely take a step when a hand wrapped around his wrist.
Zoro turned his attention towards his captain, surprised to see that rare, serious expression of his. “The idiot’s trying to kill himself, apparently,” he answered. “I think he’s in a little more danger than we thought.” He pulled his attention back away, and his arm with it. He had to follow after Chopper. By now, he knew the others already caught on to how much time he was spending below, how much time he spent next to the cook of his own accord. He didn’t care, he needed to go back there.
By the time he was descending the stairs, their doctor was already at work, checking vitals: pulse, chest and temperature. Now, he appeared to be drawing blood from the blond, filling a few vials. Zoro was glued to the spot, only able to watch as the reindeer darted from one side of the room to the other; he couldn’t remember the last time he saw him in such a frazzled state.
“Zoro, can you check the thermometer, my hands are full,” he asked as he hauled his supplies to the far desk.
The man could only nod, voice lost. The swordsman slowly approached, numb fingers plucking the device from slightly parted lips. He glanced down, jaw clenching as he tried to figure out if he was seeing that correctly.
“What does it say?” Chopper asked, his back to the man.
“...” Zoro forced himself to swallow and scanned it one more time. “It says… 105,” he answered. Without another word, he handed it over, almost as if asking for confirmation.
Chopper nodded before going back to what he was doing. Zoro noticed he was busy applying drops of blood to glass slides. “I need you to strip him down and change the sheets, if you don’t mind.”
Just like he thought. “Right.”
With Sanji practically unconscious like he was, Zoro doubted this was going to be an easy task. Guess he had to start with the jacket and shirt. Most of the buttons were already undone thanks to Choppers checkup. He made quick work of the rest and basically peeled the material from damp, heated skin. Zoro had known the blond was sweating bullets, but this was more than what he had expected.
Those were discarded to the floor, and next were the cook’s pants. Which, he won’t lie, was more than a little awkward having to remove. But it needed to be done, humiliation be damned. Those too were cast aside, leaving the other man in nothing but his boxers. He could only be thankful he wasn’t aware to know what the hell was going on, or he’d be throwing a fit for sure, regardless of if it was necessary or not.
The hard part was over, now it was just the sheets that needed taking care of. Without anything better to do, the swordsman took the cover and placed it on the floor and then hauled the cook onto that. He worked as quickly as he could, knowing that couldn’t have been comfortable for Sanji. Balling the sheets up and tossing the pillow, he grabbed the spares and made the bed back.
With a heavy exhale, he turned back to the blond, who hadn’t moved from his spot. “Here we go,” Zoro warned, draping one of the cook’s arms over his shoulders and hauling him upright. His head lolled to the side, landing on the swordsman’s shoulder. Already, he could feel sweat soaking through his shirt. Before this was over, he’d need to change again as well. Likely need a shower too.
Sanji stirred as he was moved this time, whimpering softly. His eyelid fluttering until it was half open, staring blearily up at the other.
“Z-Zoro?” he rasped.
“Yeah, that’s right. Now, shut up while I get you situated.” He couldn’t hide the light, eased tone from his voice. The sound of the other’s voice was nothing short of reassuring. There was a grunt of a response as Sanji was finally helped back into bed and situated back in place.
Still not turning around, Chopper gave him his next order. “Get some ice.”
Zoro followed his every order without question, doing each task as quickly as he could. Ice packs were placed around Sanji’s body in various places, he cleaned his face up and gathered all the dirtied materials. By the time all was said and done, he had even worked up a sweat. Yet, somehow, he still wasn’t as drenched as the chef.
He waited for a moment for Chopper’s next order, but his heart dropped when his instructions finally came. “Zoro, I’m going to need you to step out while I run some more examinations.” He didn’t wait for the swordsman to reply as he started ushering the man out. “I’m sorry, but I need to be alone for this, I need to concentrate.”
“I’m not going to get in the way, you know. And he doesn’t have anything I haven’t seen before. Chopp- Hey!” It was too late, the door was already shut and locked behind him.
“Dammit,” he grit out, fists clenched. Impatiently, he leaned his back against the door. What else was he supposed to do? He had nothing else to do, nothing else he gave a damn about doing at that moment.
Minutes ticked by which quickly progressed to an hour, and then another. All he could make out was frantic shuffling, a few clanks of glass, but not much else. Afternoon was already rolling in, the sun high and beating down on him. With a heavy sigh, he finally pushed himself away from the door, seeing that it wouldn’t be anytime soon that he’d be allowed back in. His feet were dragged along, his pace slow in the hopes that any second now, Chopper would by busting out, needing him to come back down.
Of course, that never happened, and so, Zoro walked to the railing and leaned over that, watching the waves, needing a distraction. Soon, he felt a presence next to him, and he didn’t need to look to see who it was.
“What do you want?” he asked.
There was a soft hum. “I didn’t think you were the kind to worry about the cook,” Robin said, now leaning into the railing next to him. “But you really are, aren’t you?” Her tone was serious, too much so for his liking.
“Why should I care?” he questioned sharply. “The idiot did this to himself, after all.” He took a deep breath and folded his arms over the wood. “Dumbass nearly gave me a heart attack twice; if he weren’t sick, I’d strangle the life outta him.” His chest ached as the events that morning popped back in his head.
The woman was silent for a few moments, letting all that sink in. “You hate seeing him like that.” It was a statement. “I believe he’ll bounce back from this, and deep down, I believe you do as well, do you not?” She turned to offer that warm smile of hers. “Don’t worry, Chopper will take fine care of him, and I’m positive just having you by his side is helping him more than you may think it is.”
He swore that woman could read minds sometimes. “Yeah,” was all Zoro could muster to say. He stayed where he was as she slowly left him alone.
It felt like forever before evening started to roll around. More than once someone came up to him, trying to convince him to come eat with them. But all were rejected with a muttered of “Not hungry,” or “Later.” He really couldn’t stomach the thought of eating anything. Everytime he considered it, he felt sick. Zoro cast a glance back to still see that door shut; it hadn’t opened once since he was kicked out.
For a split second, he actually considered breaking it down and going in with or without permission. This wait was killing him, he was getting impatient. He just needed answers, anything. Even if it wasn’t a definite explanation of what was wrong, he at least wanted some sort of info on the situation.
Finally coming to the conclusion that his wait was in vain, Zoro took one step towards the kitchen, where the rest of the crew was. Even if he wasn’t up for eating, it would still help if he weren’t outside sulking by himself. Besides, he wasn’t the only one worried, he knew they all were. Pushing the door open was like entering a different world almost. There was actual life, talking, laughing, it was almost unnatural.
“Zoro?” Nami called out. Sounded like she hadn’t seen him in years or something.
In a second, every pair of eyes were on him, and he braced himself for the questions he knew were coming. However, his shoulders relaxed when he was instead waved over to join them. It was still weird, despite their cook’s current predicament, there wasn’t a word spoken about him. Were they avoiding saying his name? Maybe it was the same as him and they just needed to focus on other stuff. No matter the case, Zoro was sure this is what he needed. Probably what they all needed.
Though, no matter the topic they discussed, Sanji was still in the back of his mind. He didn’t like how long it was taking Chopper to come back out. He tried to pay attention to the others around him, allowing himself to be spared at least a couple hours of enjoyment before his worries and concerns came rushing back to the forefront of his thoughts.
Another hour or so passed, and night was slowly creeping up. With the fading of the day, their few moments of gracious peace were slipping away with it. Eventually, they fell silent, little by little.
Then, “What do you think’s taking so long?” It was Nami. She finally asked the question they were all wondering.
“Who knows,” Usopp answered. Then, without a word, he looked to Zoro, his eyes asking everything for him. But, he dared not voice his inquiries.
Zoro thought about telling them something, but at the same time, he doubted Sanji would want the whole crew knowing too much. Such a prideful man wouldn’t want those closest to him knowing just how vulnerable and weak he had become. It didn’t matter if they would judge or not, it wasn’t Zoro’s place to tell them anything.
“I can’t say, all I can tell you is it’s bad, alright? Chopper will tell us what we need to know when he’s ready. And when Sanji feels well enough, you can just ask him what you want.” He had his eyes cast down and his arms over his chest as he grew quiet.
Their silence served only to accentuate the creak as the door slowly opened.
Their doctor slowly entered, feet thoughtfully placed one in front of the other until he was within view of all of them. No one asked anything. They kept their mouths shut as they waited. Chopper put his hooves together, shamefully as they could see his eyes misting over. “Guys...I was wrong.” He sniffed once before finally lifting his gaze to look at all of them. “It’s not pneumonia like I though. It has similar symptoms, and I just though...I should have done tests the first time, I’m sorry…”
“Chopper,” Luffy cut in. “What’s wrong with Sanji?”
The reindeer stiffened and tried to straighten up, clearly trying not to cry anymore. He took a deep breath. “He...has tuberculosis…” he finally said, wincing as the word let his mouth. “But,” he spoke back up before giving anyone the chance to freak out, “it can’t be cured...completely. B-But, it can be treated, now that I know what it is. It...will just take a bit longer, is all.”
“You’re sure he’ll be fine, though?” Nami asked, not letting her hope get the better of her just yet.
Chopper nodded once, wiping a hoof over his eyes to swipe at a couple clinging tears.
Zoro instantly got to his feet. He wasn’t waiting for any sort of go ahead, he had been waiting long enough as it were. No one tried to stop him, probably knew it wouldn’t have done a bit of good to try. He unintentionally slammed the door behind him, stomping his way to the other side of the ship. Thrusting the next door open, he let it fall shut behind him as he descended the stairs.
He stopped as soon as he was hovering over the still, blond form. For a change, his breathing was somewhat even. Labored and ragged, but no longer hitching every couple seconds. If he had to take a guess based on the thin tube in his arm, Chopper was keeping him sedated for the time being.
He was so pale...too pale. It didn’t look right on him, not when fever was plain to see against the stark whiteness. Despite how relaxed he appeared, that one brow was still furrowed just enough to reveal the discomfort he was in. Breathing was still painful and there was that ever present wheezing sound with his inhales. Mouth dry, Zoro pulled the chair back to where he had it before, and then a little closer.
Gently, he grabbed one of Sanji’s hands and pulled it to rest between both of his. He never knew how soft they were. He knew he valued them and took good care of his hands, yet it was still surprising. As he looked closer, he could see various small scars, likely from when he was just learning how to use knives, but it was easy to tell they were years old.
Taking a deep breath, Zoro steeled himself for a long night. Even if he wanted to, he doubted he would be getting any sleep. After the news they were just given and with the blond’s sudden decline, he just didn’t see it happening. That, he wasn’t sure he could handle another one of those wake up calls. That’s still all he could see every time he blinked.
“Don’t you dare fucking scare me like that again.”
Chapter 4: Only Room Left For Improvement
This last chapter does have a song, I have marked where to listen~
Song is "Meet Me In The Woods" by: Lord Huron
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The first day that passed was the hardest, for everyone. Chopper spent all of it constantly checking on Sanji, constantly taking his temperature and watching diligently for any signs of change: good or bad. Zoro never once left his side. The only times he left was to use the bathroom and take a shower. The latter he had to be more or less dragged out for. And they finally got him to eat something, but it wasn’t until it was brought to him and he was threatened by Chopper to be kicked out again if he didn’t. That and, “I already have to take care of one member, I don’t want to have to look after two of you.”
He was reluctant to do so, but he finally took a few minutes out of his day to take care of himself, albeit as quickly as he could. The moment he did that, Chopper was then on top of him, pestering him to take some medicine himself, same thing he gave everyone to prevent the possibility of them contracting the illness as well.
It wasn’t until the second day that Chopper wanted to take Sanji off the sleep medication. The only thing they had to do then was wait until he woke up and was conscious enough to finally eat at least a little something and start with his antibiotics.
Once more, Zoro was left in charge of keeping an eye for the first signs of the blond coming to. Morning had come and gone, and still nothing, Sanji was still in the same position. Then, as noon slowly rolled around, Zoro was growing impatient. How long did this guy plan on sleeping? After this, he had no room to talk about anyone sleeping for too long. The swordsman tapped his foot on the floor, picking up pace with every minute that passed by.
He was quickly getting tired of waiting. “Hey, you gonna wake up or no?” he asked, none too quietly.
His brow twitched, and he was on his feet in an instant before he could stop himself. Zoro leaned down and placed a gentle hand on the blond’s cheek. “Hey, princess, time to wake up,” he announced, giving a few light taps. At around the tenth pat, he heard something that sounded like a grown of annoyance.
“Well, if you’d open your eyes, then I’d stop.”
Exhaling slowly, he tried a different approach, a less rough one. Instead, he plucked the cook’s hand from his side and kneeled down until his face was just a few inches from the blond’s. “Sanji…” he whispered. “Come on, will you please just wake the hell up? It’s been over a day, I think you’ve slept long enough…”
The more he talked, the more Sanji’s eyelid twitched, like he was desperately trying to come to. He just needed a little push, a little more encouragement.
“Listen, you have no idea how worried you’re making everyone. It’s been three days now. Luffy’s been missing your cooking, Nami and Robin have been missing your attention, Usopp's been missing late night talks, Chopper’s missing seeing you well.” He took in a shuddering breath and held it for a second before slowly releasing it. “Sanji, I’ve been missing your annoying as hell attitude, your cocky and obnoxious insults, being kicked out of the kitchen for late night drinks.” He swallowed thickly. “You get on my damn nerves every day, but I fucking miss it.”
Zoro lowered his head, Sanji’s hand still in his grasp and placed his forehead against the back of it.
“...ou’re too...damn loud.”
The swordsman instantly jerked his head back up, his face heating up the moment he saw that single blue orb staring at him. There was a few long seconds of awkward silence before Zoro realized he still had Sanji’s hand in his hold. It was too late though, the cook had already noticed as he looked down and blinked slowly.
“What’re you doing?” his voice was low, hoarse, but still clear enough for everything to be heard fine.
Biting his lower lip, Zoro flopped the cook’s arm back on the bad and shot to his feet. “What does it look like, trying to wake your lazy ass up!” He had no idea how convincing that was, but hoped Sanji was still too delirious to process anything properly. Slowly, the latter looked to his hand, then back up to the swordsman, then down and up again before narrowing his gaze.
“Y-You were worried?” he questioned, bringing his other hand to rest on his chest as he let out a few coughs. He winced, fingers subtly clasping with the jolts. Zoro breathed in sharply and quickly averted his gaze.
“What? You think I was worried about you?” he repeated, the corner of his mouth pulling slightly up. “Don’t think so highly of yourself, dumbass. Worried? Right. I’m going to go let Chopper know you’re awake.”
He had to get out of there and clear his head. As he passed by, he halted when a weak grasp latched onto his hand. He could have easily torn away from it, wouldn’t even have to try, but it desperately tried to hold on, barely strong enough to do what it was doing. The man found himself unable to when there was such intent behind the grab. “What is it?” he asked, softer, looking over his shoulder.
Sanji tried to sit up, but gave up with the first and only attempt with a small groan. “Shit…” Clearing his throat, the blond eased back. “Wait...I have something to ask.” He spoke softly. “Were you in here all this time?” He didn’t look up. All Zoro could see of his face was his partly separated lips as he took in slow and methodical breaths. The rest was covered by a golden curtain.
“Yeah, I had nothing better to do,” he replied, nonchalantly.
The blond nodded and released his hold. It was subtle, however, Zoro could make out a small upturn at the corner of his mouth.
“I’ll be right back.”
Sanji nodded again, keeping his attention cast downward. As the footsteps faded away, he took as deep a breath as he dared. Slowly, he pulled his hand back and stared down at it, the same one Zoro had been holding. It was still warm. He rubbed his other hand over the back of that one and lowered both to his lap with a low cough.
Damn, he didn’t know what day it was anymore. All he knew was that everything hurt, his chest was unbelievably tight, and he wanted nothing more then to go back to sleep and stay there until all this rolled over. He lifted a hand, the whole limb trembled with the effort, and he pushed his bangs back. Sanji clicked his tongue at the way a few strands stuck to his forehead. He desperately needed a shower…
It was so quiet, the only thing he could hear was the raspy sound of his own inhales, and even those seemed so foreign to him. But, with every breath, there was a stab in his chest and an annoying grating in his throat. They had to belong to him.
Sanji didn’t know how much time ticked by; it dragged on to the point where he felt himself already drifting off again. His eyelid tugged down, only to snap back open as he jolted when the door was thrust back open.
“Sanji!” It was Chopper, his tone far too high and loud for the chef’s comfort. His hand was back on the side of his head with a wince. “You’re awake!” He pranced closer, stopping just to the blond’s right. Straight to the point as always, and by now, the other knew the deal. The cook stayed still as Chopper did his checkup, his poking and prodding. “Fever is still high, but it least it’s lower than it was. How do you feel?”
A grunt was all he got in response. They supposed that was an answer anyway. Probably closer than they were expecting.
“Do you feel like eating?” Chopper asked, hopeful.
The man thought on it for a moment and gave a half shrug. Honestly, he was still a bit on the nauseous side, so there was no telling if he’d be able to keep it down or not if he were to try. “Maybe later,” he opted for with a shudder.
With everything else out of the way, Chopper’s face fell into a more serious one, realizing the hardest part was coming next. “Sanji…” he started, his tone instantly planting dread in the other’s core.
“There’s something I need to tell you, and it’s serious. It’s about your illness…” He straightened up. “First, I’m sorry, but no more smoking, ever!” he declared. “Sanji, you have a serious disease, and you’re going to be stuck with it forever, so you’re going to have to be more careful about what you do, nothing that damages your lungs.” He waited for that to sink in, watching the blond’s face as the news slowly began to process. When no one said anything, he continued. “You have tuberculosis. It’s treatable though. But not curable. I’m sorry, but...there’s nothing else I can do about aside from give you antibiotics and suppress it.”
It was quiet.
Both pairs of eyes were on Sanji, looking for a reaction.
There was a hard swallow followed by a low, bitter chuckle. “Is that so?”
“You can still do everything you used to,” Chopper went on, more enthusiastically. “Well, almost everything...but you’ll still be able to cook and fight and everything!”
Even as the reindeer went on, Sanji’s hands grasped at the sheets, teeth grit with a small hiss. “Dammit…” It was barely heard. Zoro had his head bowed, arms and legs crossed as he remained quiet.
Chopper breathed out slowly. “I need you to take these,” he said, leaving for a second to return with a couple pills in his hoof. “It’s the antibiotics. As long as you take them...it’ll become more manageable.” Seeing as the man wasn’t paying much attention, he placed them on the table, as well as a glass of water. “They’ll be right there...the sooner you take them, the better.” He stepped back and turned his head to Zoro, who finally lifted his own attention to do the same.
“Can you give us a moment?” the swordsman asked softly.
The doctor hummed. “Let me know if you need anything,” he said before doing as he was asked.
Zoro waited until he was sure they were completely alone and silently rose to his feet. “It’s not the end of the world, you know. You heard him, things can still go back to being normal as long as you aren’t a suicidal dumbass about it.” He didn’t know how to feel about the lack of a retort to his snide comment. “Hey, are you listening to me?”
“Can’t help but to,” Sanji snapped back, voice raising. “What, you wanna start saying I told yo-”
The swordsman drew back as the cook’s voice broke off into another fit. He was forced to lean forward, each hack caused his body to convulse as the became more violent. As soon as he saw some sort of substance drip from the corner of his mouth, Zoro snatched the nearest cloth he could find.
His throat tightened slightly at the sight. Maybe he shouldn’t have gotten him so worked up. He should have known better after the first time. Taking the cloth in one hand, Zoro held it under Sanji’s mouth, his other carefully reached to wrap around his shoulders as he sat next to him. For a few moments, they stayed like that, Zoro’s hand moving to form small circles along the other man’s back.
Slowly, the shaking calmed until it was no more than trembling, Sanji left struggling to catch his breath. Completely drained, the blond leaned his head against the other’s broad shoulder, no caring anymore if he looked vulnerable.
“Everything will work out,” Zoro assured, quietly. For about an hour, he said nothing more, merely allowed the two to sit like that until he was sure Sanji was alright for the time being. He didn’t realize it until then, how light the blond felt against him; it was hard for him to believe his full weight was leaning into him.
Glancing down, looking at the slightly hollowed cheeks, he let out a heavy exhale. “You really should try to eat something. If nothing else, you shouldn’t take those things on an empty stomach,” he added with a nod towards the pills.
There was a brush of hair against his neck as the chef slowly moved his head. With some assistance, he was lying back down, totally drained after that episode.
“Try to stay awake until I get back,” Zoro said after making certain Sanji was comfortable enough.
By the time he returned, broth in hand, Sanji was just as he had left him. For a moment, he assumed the man to have fallen asleep again. But the slight unevenness in his breath told him otherwise. Carefully, he set the blow on the table long enough to help the blond sit back up. It was still painful for him to watch, to have to see someone like Sanji have a hard time carrying out such simple actions.
“Need help, or do you think you can do it yourself?” he asked after looking at still unstable hands.
Surprisingly, Sanji gave the idea some real thought. As much as he hated the idea of someone having to help him eat like he was a child, he really was not sure he could even hold the bowl without spilling half of it...which, in his mind, would be more humiliating.
“...Tell anyone...and I’ll kick your ass.”
Zoro understood well enough and took his place back in his chair and picked the bowl back up. He, too, was thankful for the fact that no one was around to bare witness to this. Never did he think the day would come that he’d have to take care of Sanji in such a way. Not that he minded. The first spoonful was the most awkward for both of them. But, once that one was out of the way, the others were easier. Slow, but less strange. Even if his insides weren’t immediately agreeing with it, the warmth of it did help to soothe the blond’s throat.
They only got through half the bowl before Sanji lifted a hand and shook his head. It was disappointing, but it was something, more than he’s had in days. It was a start. “I guess we should wait to make sure that stays down before you take anything,” he sighed.
After a few minutes, Sanji gave the thumbs up, and soon enough, his first dose of antibiotics were down. Only an eternity of them left to go…
For a while, all was silent, it wasn’t until the blond’s breath hitched, breaking into a choked off sob that Zoro glanced over. Frail shoulders shuddered and golden strands hid the rest of the man’s face, obscuring his only visible eye. His fingers grasped at the sheets until his knuckles paled into an impossible shade of white. Then something transparent fell.
‘ So, it finally set in,’ Zoro thought with with a twitch of his hand.
“Things will be back to the way they were in no time,” he promised.
Sanji opened his mouth to reply, but it caught in his chest, this time not due to another fit of coughing, but a pair of arms that securely reached around him and pulled him in. His jaw tightened to hold back the pain that clawed at his throat. “Dammit,” he bit out, too exhausted to keep the facade from crumbling. “Dammit...dammit,” he muttered, turning his head until his face was buried in the other’s shoulder.
Zoro instantly felt moisture soak through the fabric. Shivering, one slender hand lifted to clutch the front of his shirt just over his chest. Not knowing what else to do, he moved one of his hands up, brushing his fingers through blond locks. Slowly, he raked through the strands, gently combing through. Sanji’s entire form rattled with each stifled sob.
The swordsman leaned his head down to rest his chin on the top of the cook’s head. Titling his head down just a little more, his lips were firmly pressed just below Sanji’s hairline. He gave a single, light kiss before moving his chin back to where it was.
“Everything’ll work out,” Zoro spoke gently, hand still stroking through Sanji’s hair. “It might take a while, but trust me, things will be fine.” He slowly released his breath, ruffling a few strands of gold.
Sanji continued to allow his frustrations to pour out without the restraint to keep them in check any longer. And Zoro let him, saying nothing until the man finally stilled in his arms. Trembles lingered and every inhale nearly caused him to gag. He had completely worn himself out. Weakly, the blond turned his head away from Zoro’s shoulder and looked up to see the other man watching him.
“Sorry…” he muttered, raspily as he tried to push himself away.
The swordsman, however, didn’t release his hold. “Sanji, it’s alright. No one is expecting you to completely hold it together.”
The cook bit his bottom lip, as if trying not to break down again. Instead, he swiped a hand over his eyes and tried to calm his quivering. He was only slightly successful. “Right,” he whispered.
He dipped his head to let out a series of coughs and listed back against Zoro. The latter picked back up where he left off, combing his fingers through damp hair. “When you’re finally feeling up for it, I think a shower is in order. You smell like shit.”
“Feel like shit.”
Zoro just snorted in amusement. “Yeah, well, just do as Chopper says and behave and that won’t be the case for too long. Like I said, things will get better, just be patient and don’t be stupid.”
Sanji grunted in response.
“And, if you screw up, like I expect you will, then that’s what I’ll be for. To beat the sense back into you. But, I’ll also pick you back up, brush you off, and let you try again.” He reached with his other hand to grab a hold of one of Sanji’s, not caring that it was slick and rather thin in his own. “You’re a pain in the ass, but...it doesn’t mean I want to see you suffer. So, try to take better care of you-”
Zoro’s eyes narrowed as the sound of a light snore interrupted his rant.
He cut his attention down, and he couldn’t help but smile to himself as, for the first time, Sanji’s features were relaxed, free of discomfort. He knew it wouldn’t last long, unfortunately, and he dared not move and disrupt it. This was likely the first real sleep he was getting in the last few days.
“Rest easy,” Zoro whispered, leaning to plant another light kiss on the top of the other’s head.
Anyway, hope all these fics were enjoyable, and I do wish to write more for this fandom. OwO