Chibi won’t stop crying. The shrill wails ring through the dark kitchen and down into the bunkrooms, Zoro’s sure. He’s tried just about everything. Danced, rocked him, bottles, burping, diaper changes. None of it works. Chibi just won’t stop screaming. And, that’s fine.
Everyone keeps telling him that it’s fine. Chibi is screaming and that’s fine. It’s completely fine that he can’t get Chibi to just quiet down.
“Please,” he whispers, well aware that he’s begged this child like he has never begged anyone in his life. Because, Zoro has never begged anyone beyond fucking Mihawk. And that wasn’t as hard as this. “Please. Please. Please.”
The thrown up formula dries against his neck and the collar of his shirt. After all the shit Zoro has managed to do over his twenty-one years of life, he never imagined a fucking baby bottle would be the things that defeats him. It certainly didn't defeat his older self.
Nope. No. Zoro is not touching on that topic. If that asshole can do this, Zoro can do it. He just has to get the kid to stop screaming. Chibi’s face has begun to tinge red, little nose scrunched up in fury. If light spilled across Sunny’s decks and he could hear the soft laughter of his nakama, Zoro might think the face is adorable. But, there’s nothing but darkness and silence on the other side of that door and the fact pours fear into Zoro’s chest, which in turn makes him furious with himself.
He should be able to do this. He shouldn’t need any help. His older self didn’t need help. His older self managed to take care of Taika for four years by himself. So, why the fuck can’t Zoro? Did that lab fuck him up beyond all repair? Did they do something that makes him completely incompetent? Because, apparently, Zoro can’t do something as simple as make a bottle.
Maybe that’s why Nami wants Chibi off the boat. Maybe she knows that Zoro can’t do that. He can’t. He can’t.
Stop. Shit. He’s got to stop doing that.
“Come on, Chibi,” Zoro whispers.
Shit, he needs to find a name too. Chibi’s almost three months old and Zoro still hasn’t given the poor kid a name. A nagging voice at the back of his head snaps that if Zoro was any good at this whole “father” thing, he would have a name by now. He should have had a name for Chibi ages ago.
Stop. Stop. He just needs Chibi to stop crying.
Below deck someone begins to move. An icy chill spreads through Zoro’s veins and he shifts Chibi back up onto his shoulder, barely remembering to move him to the right, away from the vomit. He breathes in through his nose and out through his mouth. Chopper keeps insisting that he do it, because it helps steady his breathing apparently. Zoro doesn’t think it does jackshit, but the little guy keeps insisting.
In through the nose, out through the mouth.
It’s a lot easier in theory. And easier when there isn’t a three month old screaming bloody murder in his ear.
“If you stop screaming, I can remake the bottle,” Zoro mutters. Not that reasoning with a baby has done him any good in the last two hours.
The kitchen door opens and the cook slips in with an unusual amount of care. Probably so he doesn’t wake his precious ladies. Which Chibi probably already has. So, that doesn’t really matter all that much.
“Have you tried-”
Embarrassment heats Zoro’s cheeks as the cook begins to speak. No one should have to run through a list of things he needs to do to calm Chibi down. He can do this himself. He can. If Roronoa could do it, Zoro can do it. He can calm Chibi down himself.
“Yes,” Zoro snaps before the cook can finish. “I tried the bottle. And I tried bouncing him. And I’ve tried swinging him around and he won’t stop. And I’m sorry if that wakes your precious fucking Nami-san, but I there isn’t much I can do about it, Cook.”
His stupid, swirly brow raises. Zoro hates that his brain immediately goes to the cook’s older self. To a caring gaze and gentle touches. But, he can’t stop it either. Can’t help but long for that again. And it pisses him off even more. Zoro doesn’t need anyone except for Chibi. He doesn’t need Blackleg and he doesn’t need the cook. He can do this. He can.
“Have you tried singing?” the cook asks, voice quiet and lacking bite.
Zoro stares back at him. No. He hasn’t tried singing. Mostly because he can’t manage to remember any of the lyrics. He’s tried humming though and Chibi doesn’t seem to appreciate any of it.
“He isn’t tired,” Zoro finally mutters. “He’s hungry. But he won’t take the fucking bottle.”
They watch each other in complete silence for a moment before the cook steps further into the kitchen. He snatches the bottle Zoro had thrown across the table and eyes it suspiciously.
“You made the formula too thick.”
“You fucking think?” Zoro snaps, even more aware of the vomit still drying to his neck and itching.
Finally, something flickers to life in the cook’s eyes. “Easy on the tone, asshole. I’m trying to help.”
"Go help someone that needs it." Exhaustion and anger taint Zoro's words. Vaguely, it occurs to him that it isn't the cook's fault that he can't make his son feel better. Or make a bottle by himself. Or that he hasn't slept right in almost a week. Nor is it Chibi's fault. But frustration and shame mix in his chest, creating an untamable anger that makes him want to throw things. "For fuck's sake, shut up already!”
Chibi does, in fact, stop screaming. Zoro suspects that’s because he fucking yelled at his son and seems to have shocked the entire kitchen into silence. His breath catches in his throat. Fuck. He just yelled at a baby. At his son . Fuck.
Horror crashes down on Zoro about the same time Chibi decides to find his voice again. The wailing is replaced by screams, loud and angry. They ring in Zoro’s ears as he stares down at the enraged infant, his heart pounding in his chest. His mouth feels dry, his lungs refusing to fill with air.
He lost his temper with his baby. And now, Chibi won’t stop crying. Won’t be quiet. And he’s going to be in trouble. Shit. Shit. Shit.
“Oi, oi,” someone says as Zoro’s legs go weak and his brain just fucking shuts down.
He yelled at Chibi. This poor fucking child that’s stuck with Zoro for a parent. This poor child Zoro can’t even give a name to. And, Zoro yelled at him. He doesn’t know what’s wrong. He can’t tell Zoro what he’s fucked up. Chibi can only cry.
You destroy everything you touch , a voice whispers in his mind.
And he does. Zoro’s a killer. A blood thirsty demon who only knows how to destroy things. And the only thing he will ever do for Chibi is teach him how to be a terrible human being.
Vaguely, he’s aware of someone supporting him from behind and lowering him and Chibi to the ground. There’s a buzzing in his ears, like someone’s trying to talk to him, but Zoro can’t think about that. He can’t. He has to fix this. Has to make Chibi stop crying before they take him away. Zoro can’t do a lot for Chibi, but he can at least protect him. That’s what he’s good at. Zoro is good for protection. Good at destroying himself for others. Because, that’s what Zoro does. Destroys. Ruins. Breaks.
“I’m sorry,” he finally manages to whisper. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please, don’t cry. Please.”
His hands are too big. He’s too reckless. He might hurt Chibi. Snap him in half. He’s too small for Zoro to touch. For Zoro to protect.
You’ll ruin him. You’ll ruin him. You’ll ruin him.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Zoro rambles. It does nothing to calm the high pitched screams. “I’m sorry.”
Ruin him. Ruin him. Ruin him.
Zoro should stop talking. That’s what got him into this mess. Just shut up. Just don’t talk. If he doesn’t talk, he’ll never do that to Chibi again. He should stop talking. But he can’t stop chanting apologies, cradling Chibi close and rocking in a vain attempt to calm the wailing baby.
“Oi, oi, it’s alright, Zoro.” He knows that voice. So soft and kind. And Zoro knows it. Blackleg’s voice and his stupid swirly eyebrows. Zoro can trust him. He won’t let anyone hurt Chibi. He’ll keep Chibi safe from everything. From Zoro . “Let me see him, alright? We’ll sit right here with you and try the bottle again.”
Zoro allows Blackleg to ease Chibi from his grip, fighting the urge to curl into a ball. Instead, he forces his eyes closed and counts his breaths. Searches for the feeling of Sunny. Of his nakama. Because Zoro and Chibi are safe. They're safe and on Sunny. Chibi can cry. Because they're safe.
Chibi's cries stutter to a halt. Despite the guilt still rushing through him, Zoro's chest begins to loosen. He can breathe again. And now that he can breathe again, he's exhausted. His head rockets around his skull. His vision blurs as he peels his eyes open again.
The cook stares back at him. The young cook. Sanji . Because Blackleg left. He and his family are home and Zoro handed Chibi over to Sanji. Who looks complete unbothered by all of this. Instead, he's watching Zoro with calm, patient eyes. Eyes that remind Zoro too much of his older counterpart.
"Did you even try to go to bed tonight?" the cook asks patiently, adjusting his grip on the bottle. "Or have you two been up here all night?"
Zoro drops his gaze to Chibi sucking happily on the bottle. Swallowing, Zoro licks his lips. “Thought the formula was too thick,” he mutters.
He and Chibi have been in the kitchen all night but that isn’t the cook’s damn business. It's faster for Zoro to sleep on the couch. The crew won’t have to wake to Chibi’s demands for attention and, when Chibi’s hungry, Zoro can make the bottle in a matter of minutes. Or, not make the bottle apparently. God, why is he so bad at this?
“I have one pre-made in the fridge for night,” Sanji - the cook. Don’t use his first name. Don’t get attached. Zoro and Chibi don’t get a papa - says.
“Oh. I. I didn’t know I could do that.”
Because Zoro’s an idiot and he knows nothing about babies. Maybe that’s why Nami wants to get rid of Chibi. Maybe he really would be safer without Zoro.
“Roronoa told me while you were,” the cook pauses, as if searching for the right words. “Sleeping. I thought I told you. Sorry.”
Chibi’s gray eyes move around the room, one little hand reaching out toward Zoro. His little fingers wiggle, as though searching for something to hold onto and Zoro offers his hand before he can think on it. Small but incredibly strong, Chibi clings to Zoro’s finger and continues to suck on the bottle.
“So?” the cook presses softly.
Zoro blinks and glances back up at him.
“Did you go to bed?”
No. No point in that. If Chibi starts screaming, it’ll wake everyone up. Besides, Zoro doesn’t sleep much anymore. Every time he tries, it just ends with him waking up in a cold sweat, searching for Chibi. The kitchen is easier. Safer. Which is strange because of all the places he thought he’d feel safe, Zoro never imagined it would be the cook’s space.
“You look like shit,” the cook continues. “Why don’t you head down? I’ll bring Chibi down when he’s done eating.”
Zoro ignores him, thumb tracing over the small hand still clutching his index finger. So tiny. Was he ever this tiny?
“Or, you could ignore me.” The cook sighs heavily. “Look, at least go lay on the couch. I’ll bring Chibi over when he’s done eating.”
He is. He has to be. Zoro is going to prove Nami wrong. Chibi will always be safe with him. Roronoa seemed to do it so easily. He’d scoop Chibi into his arms, hum and bounce or make a bottle with one hand. Taika’s a good kid. A strong kid with manners and a good head on his shoulders. And some version of Zoro did that. Roronoa trained himself to be a good father. A great father. Zoro can do that too. He doesn’t need the cook or the crew. He just needs to train himself to do this.
Zoro can do this.
The cook scoffs, pulling the half eaten bottle from Chibi to burp him. Little fingers leave Zoro’s as the cook shifts the baby onto his shoulder. “Do you know the definition of that word?”
“I can do it,” Zoro tells him, gesturing towards Chibi. His finger feels strangely cold. “You can go back to bed, Cook.”
“I know you can. But, you don’t have to. I told you, Zoro. I’m your nakama.”
The empty words do nothing to calm the discomfort growing in Zoro’s chest. The sudden urge to snatch Chibi and force himself into the small space between the couch and stand blossoms hard and quick. Zoro suspects it has to do with the sudden spike in his heart rate and the way a strange, fearful pressure begins to build against his back. Something is wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
“I don’t need your help,” Zoro snaps. The fear in his chest twists and turns until it morphs into an unnecessary resentment. “I can take care of him myself. Give him back!”
Wide blue eyes blink at him as the cook freezes. Chibi lets out a whine. Zoro freezes as well. Shit. Shit, he’s going to make Chibi cry again . After a moment, the cook leans forward, carefully offering Chibi for Zoro to take. He flinches back instead.
Ruin him. Ruin him. Ruin him.
Not for the first time, Zoro isn’t sure what to do. Part of his mind screams for him to take Chibi and the other part orders him not to. All of his muscles lock up. Even as a blind terror shoves at his back, telling him to bolt for fresh air. Because he’s going to fucking suffocate in the kitchen.
“Zoro,” the cook says again, voice firm but gentle. “You’ve got to breathe.”
Chibi lets out another whine. Zoro forces himself to suck in oxygen and look at the room around him again. He’s fine. He’s safe. He and Chibi are on Sunny. There are nakama all around him. He can feel the cool wood of Sunny’s boards beneath his legs, can smell the lingering scent of makins in the air.
Sunny. Sunny. Sunny.
The cook has given Chibi his bottle back, inched slightly closer and peeks up at Zoro with clear concern. Zoro isn’t going to curl into a ball. He fucking isn’t. Zoro is going to be strong. He’s a member of their monster trio and he’s going to stop cowering like a goddamn child. Even if all of his muscles scream for him to hunch himself down again, Zoro isn’t going to do it.
“Do you want me to hand Chibi back?” the cook asks after a moment.
Yes, his mind shouts but Zoro’s mouth can’t seem to agree. His hands are too large and Chibi is so fucking tiny. And all Zoro seems to manage to do lately is make his fucking kid cry.
“No,” Zoro finally says, even though he can’t keep himself from moving forward a little to look down at the baby, happily sucking on his bottle. “N-no.”
The cook looks mildly surprised. “You look like you’re going to throw up. Here, take him.”
Ruin him. Ruin him. Ruin him.
“No.” Zoro leans back, pulling his hands away.
Swirly eyebrows furrow. “Didn’t you just want him a minute ago? He’s your kid.”
“I.” Zoro’s brain fumbles and scrambles for an explanation. For anything, but he can’t seem to manage it. He’s so fucking tired. His back hurts. His neck is killing him. Sleep fogs up all of this thoughts. “No, I’ll just ruin him. Don’t.”
The cook pauses, staring at him like he’s grown a second head.
“I’ll just,” Zoro continues to ramble because his brain doesn’t want to shut up all of the sudden. “He’s too tiny. I’ll just hurt him. I don’t. I don’t. I’m not like you and Chopper. I’m not supposed to take care of things. I kill things.”
The strange panicked pressure continues to build, spreading across Zoro’s body. It seems to shut down most of his filter, his chest heaving slightly in his rush to get all the words out. If he doesn’t talk quickly, someone will cut him off. If he doesn’t get all the words out right now, they’ll be trapped in his head forever, pounding against his skull and dumping poisonous fear into his veins.
“I’m a killer and I can’t. I’m not. I’m not supposed to be anything else. I didn’t want to be a parent, I didn’t .”
Zoro isn’t entirely sure why it’s so important for the cook to know this isn’t what he wanted, but it is. He needs the cook to understand that this isn’t what Zoro wanted. He didn’t ask for this. Zoro didn’t ever want to be a parent. But, now he is.
“But, I. He’s. I want to keep him. I just. I’m a killer. And I didn’t want to be a parent, but I want Chibi.” Shit he’s really rambling now. Why the fuck won’t the cook just shut him up. “He - older me. He and Taika, they were so. I never thought I wanted that, but now I think I do. I think. I think I want a Taika. But, I can’t. I’ll screw this up, won’t I? He’s so little. So innocent and perfect and I’ll just ruin him. I’m a monster and I can’t. I’ll ruin him.”
Finally, the cook decides to interrupt his empty, meaningless ramblings. He sounds slightly surprised. Which is fair. Zoro is kind of surprised and he’s the idiot who couldn’t make himself shut up. Yet at the soft and understanding tone, Zoro manages to click his jaw shut.
Again, the cook reminds Zoro far too much of Blackleg. His eyes have gone all soft and - is he imagining that or is the cook really looking at Zoro with fondness ?
“Look, marimo,” the cook whispers, pulling an empty bottle from Chibi’s lips and shifting the baby up onto his shoulder. “You’re not going to ruin him.”
“I will,” Zoro argues weakly in the slight pause.
“Zoro.” A bit of exasperation leaks into the patient voice.
“What can I teach him?” Zoro asks, desperate to hear - he isn’t sure. He isn’t sure if he wants the cook to tell him he’s dead wrong, that Zoro will be a great parent and Chibi will grow into a great man, or if he wants the cook to tell him he’s right; the only thing a monster like Zoro could ever do with such a beautiful child is ruin him. “Besides violence and chaos?”
A long silence follows the question. Zoro drops his gaze, unable to watch the cook’s lips twist with careful thought. Probably struggling to think of what good Zoro could bring that child.
“This,” the cook finally sighs. “Doesn’t leave this room.”
Blue eyes bore into Zoro as he looks up. Passion and challenge burn in the deep ocean colors. Zoro nods his agreement.
“My,” the cook pulls in a long, deep breath, “family - if you can call them that - aren’t good people. I wasn’t supposed to be a good person. Sometimes, I think that they managed to taint me with their shitty DNA because sometimes I can be a pretty shitty person too. I was born to be a killer, Zoro. That’s what they always told me. I was born to be a monster and a killer with no emotions and no friends. And, for a little while, I wanted to be. I wanted my father to care about me. I wanted him to be proud of me. But, my mother, Sora ,” he whispers her name like a secret he’s been holding onto since childhood. A slight smile pulls at his lips. “She loved me. No matter how weak I was. No matter what my father said. She loved me. And she used to tell me that who I’m supposed to be doesn’t matter. What matters is who I am.”
Chibi lets out a small burp. Smiling a little more, the cook pulls Chibi from his shoulder and carefully shifts the baby into Zoro’s chest. His hands move automatically, one shooting up to support Chibi’s head and the other resting under the baby’s butt. The cook moves as well, choosing to sit directly beside Zoro, close enough that their shoulders brush. It sends warmth through Zoro’s body. That fear fighting to settle in his bones flees, replaced by a light, floating feeling.
“Don’t get me wrong, Zoro. You’re a shithead. You’re moody and sometimes I think the only thing you can think about is swords. And I think it would psychically kill you to treat a lady like a lady. But, you are a good man. That’s what you can teach Chibi. How to be strong and loyal and courageous. You can teach him determination. God knows you can teach him stubbornness. But, most of all, you can teach him how to be a good man.”
Chibi nuzzles against Zoro’s shoulder, breath deepening as he falls asleep. Zoro’s own breath catches in his throat and he squeezes his eye closed before the cook can see the tears gathering. It can’t be true. Nothing the cook says can be true. But, the cook has never lied to him. Has never sugar coated anything for Zoro. The cook has never given Zoro anything other than the truth.
“I’m going to put an arm around you, alright?” the cook tells him softly. “Let’s get you up and at least onto the couch. You need to sleep.”
The cook doesn’t move until Zoro nods. Warmth settles around his waist as the cook wraps his arm around Zoro’s hips. They move slowly, careful not to wake the sleeping Chibi, and it feels like it takes a good five minutes to get to their feet.
“Couch or bunk?” the cook asks.
He doesn’t want to wake the others.
Exhaustion plows into Zoro as soon as his back hits the couch cushions. The cook snatches the blanket laying at the opposite end and carefully lays it over him and Chibi. It draws a soft coo from the sleeping baby. Zoro yawns, securing an arm across Chibi’s back to ensure he doesn’t slide off. A soft thud reaches Zoro’s ears and he peeks his eye open to find the cook settling on the floor, back against the couch.
“Get some sleep, marimo,” he orders. “I’ll keep an eye on you and Chibi.”
It brings a strange comfort, not sleeping alone.
“Good night, Zoro.”
He tests the cook’s name on his tongue. It tastes far better than he thought it would.
“Okay, just make sure that you’re using the same amount of water as you do formula,” Sanji says, rocking Chibi as he whines.
Zoro frowns down at the formula container, eyebrows furrowed as though he’s staring at a math problem instead of white powder. It takes most of Sanji’s willpower not to snap at him to hurry his ass up. But, Zoro’s finally decided to trust him and Sanji’s not about to ruin that now. The swordsman has been a strange mixture of overly shy and strangely clingy. His new favorite place to nap has become Sanji’s kitchen and he’s been more willing to come to Sanji for help with Chibi since their kitchen talk last week. Though, he always approaches Sanji with a strange level of embarrassment.
Which sucks a lot because the bastard looks absolutely adorable when he goes all red in the face. A thought Sanji’s brain insists on thinking every time Zoro walks up to him. And he would like to kindly reject that thought because Zoro is in no way a beautiful lady that needs to be doted on. He’s a stubborn asshole who cares entirely too much about training and swords. But, he’s also, really patient and sweet apparently. And his voice gets really soft when he’s talking to Chibi. And, shit. No. Stop. Rejecting these thoughts. Sanji is rejecting these thoughts.
“Zoro,” he presses softly when Chibi lets out another mewling cry of disapproval.
“I don’t.” Shit, that blush is starting to creep across Zoro’s cheeks. Stop it. It’s not cute. It’s not . “How do - um. I don’t think I can. How do I know if it's the same amount?”
Sanji blinks. “What?”
“You said it has to be the same amount. But. But, how do I tell?”
“You use the measuring cup that’s in with the - Wait a minute. Have you just been trying to eyeball it?”
Despite himself, Sanji lets out a soft laugh. The bright red spreads further across Zoro’s skin.
“That’s why you can’t make the fucking formula right,” Sanji tells him, biting the inside of his cheek to keep himself from bursting into hysterical laughter. This idiot is going to be the death of him. “You can’t eyeball that kind of shit, Zoro. There’s a measuring cup in with the formula.”
Shaking his head, Sanji shifts Chibi up onto his shoulder so he can bounce with the baby. Zoro glances at them as he shakes the formula and water together. His teeth sink into his bottom lip, the way they do when Zoro wants to ask a question but is afraid of looking like an idiot. Which is a new thing. Because Zoro has never been afraid of looking like anything before. It’s adorable.
No. Stop that, brain. Stop it!
“Does - um. He likes that, huh? The bouncing?” Zoro finally mutters.
“Seems to keep him calm,” Sanji replies, gaze dropping to Chibi, who has quieted slightly. “He likes to move.”
Zoro hesitates for a moment. “I don’t think I do it right.”
“I’ve tried to, you know.” He gestures toward Sanji. “To bounce with him, but I don’t think he likes it when I do it.”
There’s something magical about seeing Zoro insecure. It’s like Sanji’s met a whole other person. Instead of seeing an annoying, over confident asshole, Sanji sees someone who genuinely wants to do good. Who genuinely wants to learn. And Blackleg’s words keep playing over and over in Sanji’s head.
“It took me a very long time to see a part of Zoro that I could fall in love with.”
Is this the part that Blackleg saw? This sweet and cute and willing part of Zoro. Willing to be affectionate, with the way that he’ll hug Chibi close and kiss the baby’s forehead. Willing to ask Sanji for help, so he can learn more about taking care of the baby. It has to be. Because Sanji keeps feeling this strange little flutter in his chest.
Zoro isn’t unbearable. Even when they aren’t talking about Chibi. And their usual verbal sparring matches have lessened and transformed into something different. More like bickering. More fun. Something that Sanji finds himself enjoying.
“Are you bouncing or hopping?” Sanji asks.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean does the ball of your foot leave the ground?”
“Then you’re not bouncing. You’re hopping. It probably jostles him too much. Don’t let your feet leave the ground, just move your weight up and down.”
Slowly, slightly unsure, Zoro nods.
“Don’t worry,” Sanji tells him. “You’ll get the hang of it.”
Zoro’s breathing is even but soft, a sure sign that the swordsman is resting rather than sleeping. Sanji doesn’t give the sight a second thought. Zoro sleeping on the couch, Chibi nestled into his chest has become a pretty normal occurrence over the past few weeks.
“Cook.” The soft call does startle him, more than Sanji wants to admit.
He pauses chopping the carrots to glance over his shoulder. Zoro hasn’t moved from the couch, hasn’t even opened his eye.
“What can I do for you, marimo?”
“Will you make me onigiri?”
A request. For food. From Zoro . Holy shit. Alright, don’t freak out. Sure, the idiot’s never asked Sanji for a specific food before - he’s never done anything besides insult Sanji’s food - but that doesn’t mean Sanji needs to get all over excited about it.
“Hai, of course.” Sanji’s immensely proud of how even he keeps his voice.
“Thanks.” He grows quiet for a moment and Sanji assumes he’s gone back to sleep, until. “I missed it.”
“Your food.” Glancing back, Sanji finds a gray eye open and watching him, a small smile on Zoro’s face. “I told Chibi he was going to like it. When he has teeth.”
The comment probably shouldn’t make Sanji float on air. But it does.
“The next island seems calm,” Nami says at dinner. “As long as there’s not a lot of Marine activity, it should be a safe place to weigh anchor for a few nights.”
Excitement roars around him. Zoro ignores them, keeping his gaze on Chibi’s bottle instead, watching him gulp down the formula at top speed. Another two ounces and he’ll need to burp. One of Chibi’s hands finds its way up to Zoro’s, clinging to his pinky and tapping against the bottle slightly.
“Suge, suge!” Luffy cheers. “We’re gonna get to go on adventures!”
“Just try and keep yourself out of trouble, shithead,” Sanji says. “Some of us would like to relax when we have the chance. Oi, Zoro, do you want me to feed him so you can eat?”
“No, I got him.”
“No relaxing!” Luffy cries. “We’re pirates. We’ve gotta go on adventures.”
“Absolutely not,” Nami snaps. “No adventures and no trouble, Luffy. If you want to stir up trouble, you’ll have to get rid of-”
“Nami-san,” Sanji growls.
Zoro keeps his gaze on Chibi’s happy face. The little glutton doesn’t have a care in the world outside of his bottle and Zoro wishes he could be that lucky. Anger begins to bubble beneath his skin. He wants to tell her to shut her damn mouth. Wants to tell Nami that if she doesn’t stop trying to get rid of his son, he’s going to lose his temper.
But, he can’t do that. That would lose him Sanji. As much as the cook has been standing firmly on Zoro’s side in matters relating to Chibi, Zoro knows that if he opens his mouth too much, Sanji will return back to Nami without a moment of hesitation.
“I’m just being honest, Sanji-kun,” Nami responds firmly. “We can’t bring trouble around with a baby on board. So, unless you want to-”
“What is your fucking problem?” The words fly out of Zoro’s mouth before he can stop them.
The table falls silent. Probably because outside of shooting out the door, Zoro hasn’t done anything to object Nami’s very loud protests of Chibi. Tense eyes settle on either Zoro or Nami. Apart from Luffy, who is furiously shoving food into his face from all of the plates at the table. Including Zoro’s. Which is nice, because the captain stopped doing that for a long time. When he first came home, Zoro appreciated the gesture. Somehow, Luffy seemed to know food was a sensitive topic. As much as he wanted to eat, Zoro’s brain kept replaying threats and dangers. Kept hammering in the reminder that if he touches food, Chibi would have to starve. After a few weeks, once Zoro’s mind finally straightened itself out, it drove him insane to think that his captain was treating him like glass.
Now, apparently, Luffy realizes that Zoro is ready to be back to normal. Or, at least, the new normal. Which means stealing food from Zoro’s plate and allowing Zoro and the navigator to disagree again.
Nami’s eyes darken dangerously. “My problem is that you don’t seem to have a problem putting a baby in danger, Zoro.”
“Nami-san,” Sanji growls again.
“ My baby, Nami. He’s mine .”
Nami rolls her eyes. “Yes, I know. I’ve heard the speech a thousand times. But, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a baby . He’s a baby and we’re pirates.”
At least Nami’s finally calling Chibi “he” as opposed to “it”. That’s a step in the right direction.
“So, do you know what it’s like to be raised by pirates?” Nami demands.
No. There is no way that Nami’s problem with Chibi is that Arlong is an asshole. He refuses to believe that. If Nami was willing to forgive Jinbe without blinking an eye, Zoro can’t believe that Arlong has anything to do with this.
“It sucks,” Nami continues without waiting for an answer. “It’s dangerous and it’s terrifying and-”
“Stop acting like that shitty fishman has anything to do with this,” Zoro growls.
“Um, guys?” Usopp whimpers. “Maybe not at the dinner-”
“Shut up, Usopp!” Zoro and Nami snap together.
The sniper lets out a terrified whine. Chopper dives under the table for protection.
“What is your problem?” Zoro repeats. “And don’t give me excuses or bullshit. What is your goddamn problem with my son?”
“He isn’t your fucking son,” Nami snarls. Zoro’s heart skitters to a halt. “You didn’t choose to have him, stop acting like you did.”
“Nami,” Robin says, voice sudden and hard.
“No. No, I’m not ignoring this anymore. You all can if you want to, but I won’t.” Zoro’s grip tightens around Chibi as Nami turns back to him. “He isn’t your responsibility. Just because Roronoa kept Taika doesn’t mean that you should have to keep him and act like everything’s fine.”
“Nami-san.” Sanji’s voice sounds much softer now.
And it clicks.
“You think someone bullied me into keeping him?” Zoro asks.
Nami’s jaw tightens.
Brow furrowing, Zoro forces himself to meet her gaze. Searching for any other clue. He finds a million emotions in her eyes. Anger. Resentment. Guilt. Concern. Fear.
“We aren’t Arlong,” Zoro tells Nami. “And no one bullied me into keeping Chibi.”
Her eyes scream that she doesn’t believe him.
A little more resentment builds in Zoro’s chest. “He’s mine. No matter what you think or say or do. He’s mine . And I’ll leave this crew before I leave him.”
Nami pulls in a breath, her lips twisting in disapproval. Everyone else goes completely still, again, apart from their captain, still shoveling food into his mouth.
“You’re right, I didn’t choose to have him,” Zoro continues. “But, I did choose to keep him. And I’m not letting you dictate what I feel, Nami. He’s my son. You don’t get a say in that. Keep your shitty opinions to yourself.”
She slams the door behind her on her way out.
“Well,” Usopp mutters. “That went terribly.”
“Will you watch Chibi for a few minutes?”
There’s a very brief period of time that Sanji isn’t doing anything. After spending enough time in the kitchen, Zoro has learned how to pinpoint that time exactly. The blonde pulls his nicotine infused lollipop from his lips and frowns at Zoro, swirly eyebrow raised high on his forehead.
“Will you watch-”
“I heard you the first time, Zoro.”
“Then why did you ask what?”
“I just.” Sanji places the lollipop back between his teeth. “Normally, you stick around.”
Normally, he does. And, the thought of leaving Chibi alone makes Zoro feel slightly ill. Outside of sleeping and the withdrawals from that damn sedative, Zoro hasn’t ever left Chibi alone with anyone. And, at least for the withdrawals, Chibi technically wasn’t ever out of Zoro’s hands.
“Yeah,” Zoro mutters. “I know. But, I wanna. Well, I’ve got to talk to Nami.”
Sanji hums, pulling Chibi into his arms with practiced ease. “Yosh.”
“That’s it?” Zoro asks before he can stop himself. “You’re not going to yell at me?”
“Why would I yell at you?”
“For, well, for dinner.”
Sanji pulls in a deep breath, bouncing slightly when Chibi stirs. “Look, I’m not saying I approve of you arguing with Nami-san. Especially at the dinner table. But, I do think you two need to talk. Just, try not to be too rude.”
Which is, without a doubt, the strangest thing that Sanji has ever said to Zoro. But, he nods nonetheless, trying to keep it in mind as he makes his way to the charting room. His heart pounds a little faster than he’d like and he opens the door without knocking, lest he lose his nerve to do so.
“Zoro, get out or I’m going to up our debt five hundred percent,” Nami says without looking up from her map.
He lets the door close behind him. As much as he hates the thought of owing her more money, Zoro logically knows that he will never be able to pay her all of it back anyway. So the threat has kind of lost its appeal.
Nostrils flaring, she sets down her pen and turns to glare at him.
“What’s your real problem?” Zoro asks.
No use beating around the bush. The sooner he gets this over with, the sooner he can get back to Chibi. Who he knows is safe. Because Chibi is with Sanji and Sanji is safe. Sanji would never let anything happen to Chibi. But, there’s still a small pinch of panic in the pit of Zoro’s stomach that’s just going to keep growing and growing until he bolts to the kitchen and snatches the baby from Sanji’s perfectly capable hands.
“You are,” Zoro snaps before Nami can tell him that she isn’t going to have this discussion again. “You’ve been a bitch for months. And you owe me an explanation.”
“I told you already. It’s dangerous to have a baby on board.”
“That’s not it. We’ve had kids on board before. You never had a problem with that.”
“They weren’t forever.”
“But they were still here.”
“You didn’t have a problem with Taika.”
“Well, Taika wasn’t my fault!”
Words refuse to form and Zoro stares at her. Nami glares back at him, tears beginning to shimmer in her eyes. Oh, fuck. Zoro isn’t prepared for this. Just because he’s used to Chibi screaming and crying at the top of his lungs, doesn’t mean he knows how to deal with Nami crying.
“What?” Zoro asks.
Taika was kind of her fault. She’s the one who wanted to go jewel hunting, so-
“You got caught trying to help Taika and Taika got into trouble helping me. If I could take care of myself, then this wouldn’t have happened.”
Oh fuck. Zoro really isn’t equipped to deal with this. He pulls in a deep breath, trying to think of what to say. Annoyance flickers to life in his chest. Chibi has nothing to do with her guilt and Zoro won’t abandon his son because of it.
“We were supposed to get stronger over the two years,” Nami mutters. “We all suffered through being alone, not knowing who was lonely and who was hurt. I didn’t even know if you were alive.” She shutters, face falling as though she hadn’t been expecting to see him on Sabaody for their reunion. “You looked so awful when they split us up. Everyone was supposed to come back stronger and it still isn’t enough. I’m still not enough. Why do you always get into trouble saving me?”
“Because we’re nakama,” he answers without hesitation. It’s the obvious answer. He would get in trouble for any of the idiots on this ship.
Nami’s lips twist with disgust. “That was a rhetorical question, idiot.”
“Is that really what your problem with my kid is?” Zoro demands. “You feel bad because I got caught saving Taika after he saved you? Really Nami?”
Nami rolls her eyes, bringing her arms up to hug herself. “I don’t. I don’t have a problem with Chibi,” she finally mutters.
Fucking liar. Zoro raises an eyebrow at her.
“He’s cute,” Nami continues, shifting uncomfortably on her feet. “And sweet. And he smiles so big now.” A slight smile pulls at her lips. “I just. You didn’t choose to have him. And you told Roronoa that you didn’t want to be a parent.”
“I didn’t. But I still don’t understand what the hell that has to do with you .”
“Because I’m the reason you have to be now!” Nami hugs herself tighter, fingers digging into her skin. Tears swim in her eyes again. Something in Zoro’s chest aches for her and he hates it. Because before Chibi he probably would have rolled his eyes and walked away. But, now, he’s stuck here, unable to move for god only knows what reason. “It’s my fault.”
That does actually draw an eye roll from him. “It isn’t your fault.”
“It is,” Nami insists. “And I don’t. You didn’t want to be a father and now you’re stuck being one and I don’t want you to regret it.”
Zoro blinks at her. “Regret it?” he echoes.
“I don’t want you to be stuck with a child you don’t want and then regret it. And hate him.” Her voice drops to a whisper. “Hate me.”
“I won’t regret him.” I love him . “And, even if I did. I would never hate you. We’re nakama.”
Her shaky breath tells him she doesn’t believe him. “Even if you don’t. Zoro, we’re pirates. With bounties. High bounties. Marines try and raid our ship at least once a week. Do you know how dangerous it is to have a baby on board? I know that our crew would never be anything like Arlong’s. But, there is still this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. I can help but feel like. Like we’re going to fail him somewhere down the line. I mean, if I can’t even protect myself, how am I supposed to help protect a baby?”
And now she’s fucking crying. Her face scrunched up, tears streaming down her face. It shouldn’t punch Zoro in the gut the way it does, but his ears won’t stop hearing Chibi. A million curses run through his brain but his body runs on instinct. He pulls Nami into his chest, resting his chin on her head and slinging an arm around her waist.
“I don’t want him to get hurt,” Nami tells him around sobs. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“We’re pirates,” Zoro sighs, but doesn’t shove her away.
Her hands fist in his kimono.
“I get that you’re scared.” Shit. Are they really doing this? Has having a kid made him this soft already? “I do. I am too. But, I need you to understand this, because it's important. I will never regret Chibi. He’s mine, Nami. I love him so much. And, just because I didn’t want to be a parent doesn’t mean I hate him. Or you. I knew, the minute I started talking to him, I knew, I was going to keep him. And that was my choice. I don’t. I don’t get it and I can’t explain it. But, I love Chibi. He makes me want to be better. More than I thought I could be.”
Nami sniffles, her hands tightening in his coat. “I just want everyone to be safe,” she whispers. “I’m so sick of seeing the people I love get hurt. And, if something happened to Chibi. He’s just a baby.”
A fierce wave of protection washes over Zoro. “I will never let anything happen to him.”
It’s a promise he intends to keep. Zoro will never let anything bad happen to his son.
“I’m sorry,” Nami whispers. “I’m so sorry, Zoro. I just wanted him to be safe. And everything that we’ve been through. Wars and Shichibukai and - and this . I just don’t want him to grow up scared.”
Pulling in another deep breath, Zoro lets her cry. God, Chibi has made him so soft.
“I’ll bet you tonight’s midnight feeding that Luffy knocks Usopp into the ocean when we dock,” Zoro says.
Sanji snorts. “No. He’s going to knock Chopper off. Usopp’ll dive in after him.”
“Probably not before Brook does, though.”
“You’ve got me there.” Sanji slips into the chair beside Zoro and offers him the bottle.
“Thanks.” Chibi’s soft cries stop as he latches onto the nipple. “Nami gave me extra for when we dock, so I can get Chibi new clothes.”
“Nami-san is so giving.”
Zoro rolls his eye. “Yeah, she’s great. Do - uh. Do you want to come?”
“Yeah. Nami says I’m shit at clothes.” Zoro shifts Chibi, suddenly all too interested in the baby’s happy face. “Will you. You wanna help me, you know?”
“You want me to pick out clothes for Chibi?”
“You’re good at clothes and stuff,” Zoro replies weakly. “But, I can probably-”
Zoro’s gaze snaps up, surprise filling his gaze. And, if Sanji isn’t completely imagining it, there’s a little spark of joy in his eye and a slight curve in his lips, almost like a smile. It’s fucking adorable. And Sanji’s finally given up on fighting his brain when it says these ridiculous things. Because, Zoro is kind of cute. And not bad to talk to, now that they aren’t trying to beat the shit out of each other.
“Yosh.” Zoro’s teeth sink into his bottom lip and he drops his gaze to Chibi again, as though to hide his smile.
Fuck. Fuck. Sanji blames Blackleg and Roronoa for this. Them and their shitty kid. They put all these stupid ideas in his head. Their shitty little family came onto their ship and did their cute family shit and put all these stupid ideas in his head. And now, Sanji actually enjoys Zoro’s presence. Even when they’re bickering slightly, Sanji enjoys himself.
“Let me take you to dinner.”
It’s Roronoa and Blackleg’s fucking faults. The words spill out of Sanji’s mouth but he can’t help it. Zoro’s sitting there, holding the cutest fucking baby Sanji’s ever seen, with this shy little smile on his face and looking like Sanji agreeing to go baby shopping with him made his whole fucking life. And it’s cute. It’s adorable. Warmth fills Sanji’s chest, the same way it does whenever Zoro gives him one of those shy smiles or asks him to help with Chibi.
Zoro looks about as surprised as Sanji feels, blinking up at him with his lips slightly parted. “What?”
No going back now. He already blurted out the damn words. Sanji swallows. “Let me take you to dinner,” he repeats, a little slower, feeling heat rise through his cheeks. “After we go shopping.”
“You want to take me to dinner?” Zoro echoes, dumbfounded.
“Don’t make me say it again, marimo.” If Sanji has to say it again, he’s actually going to fucking blush.
“Okay,” Zoro says slowly. “Sure. Um, sure.”
He’s got that insecure, little confused look on his face again. That look is going to be the death of Sanji. All of the gorgeous, perfect women he’s met on their travels and somehow, none of them have ever looked this adorable.
Sanji is so fucked.
“They know where his formula is, Zoro. Stop fussing,” Sanji sighs, tugging at Zoro’s sleeve.
After a very long hour of debating and reassurance, Sanji somehow managed to convince Zoro to leave Chibi behind for their shopping trip and dinner date. Robin and Chopper are the obvious choices. Their little doctor has been taking care of Chibi for months now and Robin is one of the few people Zoro allows to hold Chibi unattended. Their overprotective swordsman looks paler and paler the closer they get to the island, as if the closer they get to the island, the more real it becomes that he and Chibi will be separated for a considerable length of time. Even handing Chibi over seemed to take all of Zoro’s will power.
Robin giggles fiercely, one hand patting Chibi’s back as she holds the sleeping baby. The swordsman keeps fretting over the blanket. Across the deck, Luffy has already knocked Brook into the ocean, sending Usopp diving in after him while Nami screams at the captain to be more careful.
“You could have hit Zoro! He was holding Chibi, you idiot !”
“His extra blanket is-”
“In the trunk in the men’s bunk room,” Robin finishes, her beautiful smile soft and patient. “Don’t worry, Zoro, Chibi and I will be waiting here for you when you return.”
“Sora,” Zoro mutters, voice so quiet it’s almost lost under the soft slap of waves against Sunny’s hull.
Sanji freezes, staring at the swordsman’s back. He can’t have heard that right.
“I’m sorry?” Robin asks.
Zoro’s hands fall away from the blanket and Sanji watches red creep up the back of Zoro’s neck. Behind them, the crew continue their ruckus.
“His - um. I. Well, his name. I-I want it to be Sora.”
“What a lovely name,” Robin says with a smile. “Roronoa Sora.”
Zoro glances back at Sanji, teeth sinking into his bottom lip again. “Is that okay?”
This man is going to be the absolute death of Sanji. And so is that child. Sora. The perfect name for someone who makes one want to be a better person. Taking a step forward, Sanji gently tugs the blanket back into place.
“Thank you for looking after Sora, Robin-chan. We’ll be back this evening. Come on, marimo. Sora’s in safe hands.” He snatches Zoro’s hand before the swordsman can protest, pulling him off the ship.
“O-oi, Sanji?” Zoro mutters softly, though he doesn’t pull away.
It’s still slightly strange to hear his name out of Zoro’s mouth. But, the swordsman’s been making a conscious effort to use his name instead of “shitty cook” and Sanji’s grown to kind of like it. The soft rumble and the way the ‘s’ morphs into an elongated ‘a’ when Zoro says his name.
“Can’t have you getting lost, can we, marimo? There’s a restaurant in town with a sake I think you’ll enjoy. And I’d hate to have it close while you’re wandering through the woods.”
“I don’t get lost,” Zoro protests.
“Sure you don’t.”
“Hai. I found it while you and Sora were napping.”
He spent the whole two hours after they’d docked, while Zoro and Sora slept, to find a nice restaurant with good booze. Not that Zoro needs to know that. Because it’s rather embarrassing. Sure, Sanji would search the island for a suitable place for a lady, no problem. He never imagined himself doing it for Zoro.
“Do you really not mind?” Zoro asks as they sit down at a table, menus in hand.
Sanji’s eyes scan the list of expensive drinks and their collection of dishes. Only two of them have peanuts, so he’ll have to ensure Zoro doesn’t order either of those. The moron never looks closely enough at the ingredients.
“The name.” Zoro’s fingers fiddle with the menu’s corner.
“I like it.”
“Yeah. Roronoa Sora, it sounds right.”
Better than Vinsmoke Sora ever did. His mother’s name, finally with a family name that’s worthy of having. Roronoa Sora. Sanji isn’t ever going to call that kid anything else.