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Born of Blade

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“Am I the only one who thinks this is a bad idea?”

The island is in sight now, sitting on the horizon and growing steadily larger. It’s hard to see anything other than tall trees at this distance. So far, it looks like an ordinary island. Nothing that suggests it is a mysterious place holding gemstones that are worth five hundred million beli a piece. Much to the witch’s delight. She’s been dancing around the deck like the cook when a woman compliments his tie for the past three hours.

Usopp’s legs haven’t stopped shaking since the locals mentioned that it’s a very strange island and that sometimes dangerous strangers come looking for the gemstones. The sniper cowers beside Zoro, staring at the distant mass of land.

“No,” Zoro answers Usopp’s question around a small yawn. This whole “journey to the mysterious gemstone island” has really gotten in the way of his post midafternoon training nap. “You’re just the only one who cares.”

Usopp lets out a squeaking protest. “How can you not care? We’re in the New World now! And you heard what that shopkeeper said! Dangerous people come looking for gemstones that were stolen from the island!”

“That’s how we know they’re valuable,” Nami says from behind them, dancing to the railing with beli signs flashing in her eyes. 

“That’s what’s going to get us killed!”

“Oi, don’t yell at Nami-san, you shitty long nose!” the cook shouts from somewhere behind them. 

Zoro rolls his eye. Leave it to the cook to get all hot and bothered over someone speaking to Nami. At this point, Zoro considers it a miracle that the bastard doesn’t try to fight anyone who tries to look at either of the women. Man, is he going to be pissed when he realizes that Franky and Robin are fucking. His head might actually explode when he finds out. Which would be fucking hilarious. And slightly disappointing. Not that Zoro will ever admit it outloud, but he’d actually miss the bastard.

He has missed the bastard. For two years. Strange, that it took him so long to realize it. The cook brings a strange comfort. The annoying voice. The soft tap of dress shoes on the floor. Golden hair that glows under the sun. Long legs and handsome face and -

Stop. Zoro needs to stop that right now. The cook is straight. And, Zoro doesn’t actually give a shit about him. He just thinks the cook is kind of attractive. Okay, really attractive. Really, really fuckable. And flexible as fuck. 

Nope. No. Stop that.

They dock with surprising and unnerving ease. Zoro rolls his shoulders uncomfortably, keeping hold of the back of Luffy’s vest as he looks around at the thick forests before them. There’s something wrong with this island. Something that sends a chill through Zoro’s bones. 

“Zoro,” Luffy whines. “Let go. I wanna explore! This island feels like it’s gonna be so much fun!”

Fun isn’t the word Zoro would use to describe the paranoia snaking through his muscles. Out of the corner of his eye, he watches the cook’s back straight and the blond inches closer to Nami. Apparently, he feels the “fun” of the island too.

“Alright, let’s get going,” Nami says, ushering them toward Sunny’s ladder. “We need to find the treasure before we lose the light!”

“What if we don’t find any treasure?” Usopp asks. “The shopkeeper said it’s a hit or miss.”

“Oh, we’re going to find some of the gemstones.” Nami grins. “I can smell them from here.”

Zoro doesn’t actually doubt it. Their greedy weather witch probably developed a nose for treasure years ago and she probably senses it the same way Luffy senses danger. He tightens his grip on Luffy again as the captain tries to wriggle loose, rolling his eye as Usopp lets out a long spiel about his “dangerous treasure” allergies.

“Zo-ro!” Luffy whines. “Lemme go! I wanna go exploring!”

Absolutely not. Sure, Luffy’s definitely gotten stronger. Even if Zoro couldn’t feel it - which he can. Luffy radiates strength and danger more than every now -, Fishman Island confirms that this crew’s captain is once again a force to be reckoned with. But, Luffy hasn’t quite lost his inability to take the world around them seriously. And the dark aura on this island demands to be taken seriously.

“Luffy!” Nami rounds on the captain, slamming a fist into his head. “You aren’t running off like an idiot! We’re here to search for treasure, not to look for your dumbass after you rocket off into the forest and get lost. Which reminds me.” Nami turns her attention to Zoro, eyes narrowing in a glare. “If you wander off by yourself and get lost, I’m upping your debt.”

“I don’t get lost!” Zoro snarls. Because he fucking doesn’t ! The world just likes to move around on him when he isn’t paying attention.

Nami’s glare doesn’t fade. “Usopp, you keep an eye on him.”

“What? I can’t. I have to stay on Sunny. It’s the only way to cure my deadly “can’t-step-foot-on-mystery-islands” disease.”

“Don’t argue with Nami-san, shithead.” The cook’s shoe slams into Usopp’s back, throwing him off of the ship. “Don’t let this idiot get lost.”

“Tch.” Zoro sneers at the cook. “You’re the one who gets lost, Number Seven.”

“Will you fucking quit that?” The cook’s entire body tenses. 

Yes. Yes. Yes. Zoro would fucking love a fight right now. He missed this. More than he wants to admit. Sure, he’d gotten to spar with Mihawk and those annoying monkeys, but that was different. Sparring with the cook, it’s fun. It’s comforting. It’s home. And, sure, maybe he’s picking fights because of that. Not that he will ever admit that. Because he isn’t soft. And the cook would mock him mercilessly for missing him. 

“Oi!” Luffy whines. “Let’s go! Let’s go! It’s time to go adventuring.”

Rubber limbs wrap around Zoro before he can protest and the hard forest floor slams into him without warning. Really, Zoro should have been expecting that. He is back home, afterall.  

Luffy’s wild laughter fills the air as the captain releases him and bounds away. Up on the deck, he hears Robin giggling madly while Nami bemoans their child of a captain.

“Sorry, Zoro!” Luffy calls, diving behind Usopp as Zoro shoots to his feet.

“Luffy! I’m gonna cut you in half!”

“Will you idiots focus? We have treasure to find!”

Usopp bemoans the cruelty of life as they start into the forest. Chopper waves at them from atop Franky’s head while Brook calls for them to be safe on their journey. Colorful plants surround them, moving in the breeze. The paths they wander through are barely visible. Overgrown and disappearing beneath Any tree roots that dare poke through the ground tangle together, reaching out to trip them. 

It takes them a few hours of wandering to find the river Nami’s been so intent on finding. According to Nami, the gemstones she’s looking for will fall from a waterfall and then float down the river.  Which seems ridiculously farfetched. But, it is the New World, so what the fuck does Zoro know? 

They follow the river upstream, walking against the current. Zoro keeps his eye sharp, searching for the strange presence he can feel lingering on this island. There’s something wrong with this place. Something unnatural. Judging by the slight tension in the cook’s back, he can feel it as well. 

Luffy freezes suddenly and Usopp nearly knocks into the captain, stumbling into Zoro instead. It takes little effort to right the sniper and Zoro turns his attention back to Luffy as Nami turns to yell at him. The words seem to die in her throat and when Luffy turns to look at Zoro, he knows why. Luffy’s eyebrows furrow, his lips turned down in a confused and concerned frown. The fun and excitement seem to have left Luffy and Zoro’s stomach churns uncomfortably.

A rubber hand pokes Zoro in the forehead. He blinks, staring at Luffy as his captain’s hand snaps back.

“Luffy?” Nami asks. Her voice shakes slightly.

“Is something wrong, Sencho?” Robin asks, her own brow furrowing slightly. 

“Zoro’s here,” Luffy says.

Zoro blinks.

“Of course he is.” Usopp sounds hesitant and he inches away from Zoro as though he’s afraid the swordsman has some contagious disease. 

“But, Zoro’s there too.” Luffy turns to point ahead of them. 

In the distance, Zoro spots what appears to be a large cave. The river flows within it, leaving a small strip of ground between the cave walls and the steady stream of water.

“Luffy.” Nami frowns. “Don’t be ridiculous. Zoro’s right there.”

“No, he’s right, Nami-san.” Confusion fills the cook’s face as well, that stupid swirly eyebrow raising as he looks between Zoro and the cavern. “I can feel it too.”

Zoro can’t feel anything except the creeping unease of paranoia. It scuttles up his back like an oversized spider, biting into his spine and sending shivers through him. 

“Okay, time to head back now.” Usopp turns to shove Zoro back the way they’d come. “If Luffy and Sanji are scared-”

The cook scowls. “Oi, oi. We aren’t scared.”

“Shishishi. What’s there to be scared off? It’s just two Zoros.”

There is not two Zoros. There is one Zoro. Luffy and the cook clearly just haven’t mastered their Observation Haki as well as Zoro has. Afterall, if there was another him, surely Zoro would have felt himself. 

“Suge!” Luffy shouts. “Suge! Suge! Two Zoros.”

“There aren’t two-” Zoro starts to snarl, shaking himself loose of their sniper. And then, his brain catches up to his captain’s train of thought. “Oi, Luffy, wait!”

Too late. Luffy rockets off toward the cave.

Well, fuck.

“Luffy!” Nami screeches.

Robin lets out a giggle. “Well, I suppose we should go see if there really is another swordsman waiting for us.”

The cook frowns. “There has to be.” A narrowed blue eye moves to Zoro again, sizing him up carefully. 

Every snarky comment dies in Zoro’s throat. The usual sparkle of excitement that lights up the cook’s gaze when he insults Zoro is missing. Now, there’s only confusion and slight concern. As though the idiot thinks that Zoro is going to vanish on the spot and they’ll find him wandering around that shitty cave. The look unnerves him more than he cares to admit. 

 

 

A gemstone floats in the river just outside the cave’s entrance. Nami squeals with excitement as Usopp finishes it out with one of his weird plant monsters. It’s smaller than Zoro expected it to be, only about the side of a bird’s egg. The color is a brilliant green. A marimo green. Which everyone seems to find hilarious. Usopp makes a point of holding the stone beside Zoro’s head so they can compare the glittering stone to Zoro’s hair.

“Get that away from me,” Zoro snarls, slapping Usopp’s hand away. 

“Zoro!” Nami lunges to take the gemstone from Usopp, cradling it close to her chest. Only she would hold onto a piece of stone like it was a fucking baby. “Be careful, you idiots! If you lose me five hundred million beli, I’m adding it to all your debts!”

Zoro shoots her a glare. His debt must already be up into the hundreds of billions by now. He’s never going to pay her back in this lifetime and they both know that. So, why does she have to keep poking at it? Because it stings. Zoro’s a man of his word. Promises are the most important thing in the word and his pride demands that he keep every promise he makes. Debts are promises. A promise that Zoro is destined to break. And he fucking hates it. 

“Zoro!” Luffy’s voice calls from within the cave, bouncing off the rock walls. “Oi! Zo-ro!”

Zoro grits his teeth. Why does he follow this moron? Of all the people to sell his soul to, he picked Luffy. 

“Sencho?” A voice calls back.

Everyone stiffens. The voice is young, like Chopper’s, and still deep. Familiar for a reason that Zoro can’t quite place. 

“Zoro!” Luffy shouts again.

“Sencho? This isn’t funny! Where are you? Dad? Papa?” 

God, that voice sounds so fucking familiar. Why can’t he place it?

“Is someone else in there?” Usopp whimpers.

“Sounds like it,” the cook answers. “Nami-san, Robin-chan, stay behind me. I’ll protect you!”

Rolling his eye, Zoro shoves past them and starts into the cave. A round of protests shoot up behind him, Nami and Usopp shouting about him getting lost. But, Zoro ignores them. The paranoia squeezes at his ribs, the uncomfortable presence of someone else growing stronger as he moves along the river’s edge, into the depth of the cave. Vaguely, he knows it should be getting darker. The sun’s light has long since abandoned him, waiting back at the cave’s entrance. But, he can still see easily.

The river, he realizes after a moment, has a light glow about it. Zoro pauses, glancing into the deep rushing water. More of Nami’s gemstones litter the river’s bottom, all glowing a brilliant white. 

“Don’t touch them,” Robin orders sharply from behind him as he moves to reach for one.

Zoro freezes at the sudden order, glancing back at the wide eyed historian. 

“R-Robin?” Usopp asks around a shaking voice.

“Don’t touch anything,” Robin says, voice calm though Zoro doesn’t miss the unease in her gaze. “There’s something strange about this cave. And I would hate for you to get lost, Zoro.”

Well, no shit there’s something strange about this cave. “I don’t get lost,” he tells her, but stands anyway. 

“Daddy! Daddy!” a young child cries.

Zoro senses the tension that shoots through the crew. They all turn to look around the cavern, searching for the source of the voice. So small and innocent. 

“Daddy, there’s a man in a straw hat yelling your name. Daddy, get up!”

The river. Zoro turns back to look at the rushing water. Despite bouncing around the cavern walls, something in his gut tells him that the voice comes from the river. The cook seems to have a similar thought, inching toward the water as well.

“Zoro!” Luffy calls in the distance.

“Sencho?” the mystery voice calls back.

Right, his captain. He needs to go get his captain. Because the idiot has wandered into this strange cave, where the water fucking talks, without any thought for the consequences.

“Taika!” The water uses Zoro’s voice and all thoughts of Luffy vanish. He can hear the fear in his own voice. It feels like a punch in the gut. “Get down from there before you hurt yourself!”

“So protective, Marimo.” The cook’s voice follows his, full of surprisingly kind amusement.

Zoro’s gaze snaps to the cook, whose jaw clenches tightly as he glares at the water. The water that’s stolen both their voices. Taika. Who the fuck is Taika? How is the water stealing their voices?

“Shut it, you shit cook. He’s up too high. Taika!”

“Oi, come on, little brussel sprout. You’re going to give your mossy father a heart attack.”

“Who’s Taika?” Usopp mutters from behind him.

“Zoro!” Luffy’s voice becomes a little more unsettled.

“Daddy! Daddy! Look what Franky made me!” The little boy’s voice is older now. Gone from sounding like he’s four to sounding at least nine or ten. “Now, I can learn Santoryu too!”

Santoryu. That’s Zoro’s style. He’s spent his whole life perfecting that swords style. Whoever that kid’s father is, he can’t know Santoryu. Let alone teach it. Zoro isn’t completely confident that he can teach it. And has no plans of teaching it to anyone. Especially not some snot nosed kid.

“Robin,” Nami whispers. “What the hell is going on?”

“I’m not sure.” There’s a genuine curiosity in Robin’s voice. “I’ve never read about anything like this.”

“Taika.” The river takes Zoro’s voice again. “What the hell were you thinking? You could have been killed!”

“Papa was in trouble. What was I supposed to do?” That voice. It’s the same voice that they’ve been hearing respond to Luffy. The one calling for his Sencho and his parents. 

“You’re supposed to let me take care of it! Papa can take care of himself. Stay out of the way.”

“Oi,” Zoro snarls, glaring at the water. “Quit it.”

The river ignores him, using the cook’s voice again. “Zoro, for the love of God, he’s sixteen. Stop acting like he’s a child.”

“He is a child,” Zoro hears himself snarl in return. My child.”

“Is that really something you want to have said to me ?” There’s a mix of challenge and betrayal in the cook’s voice.

“Zo-ro! Oi! Where are you?” 

“Daddy, that light's too bright. Tell them to turn it off.”

“That's not a light, Taika,” Zoro's voice responds. Slurred and heavy with sleep. “That's the sun.”

“What's a sun?”

“It's a big star. It lights up the whole world.”

“The whole world?”

“Zoro!” Luffy’s cry echoes around them. “I found you!”

Finally, Zoro manages to tear himself away from the river. Found him? Luffy is nowhere in sight. How the fuck could he have found Zoro when Luffy is nowhere in sight. Shit. What has that idiot got himself into now?

“Zoro, wait a minute!” Nami calls. “You’ll get lost.”

Zoro ignores her and shoots off after his captain’s voice. The pounding of his nakama’s feet follow him. 

“What happened?” Luffy demands. “Why are you so tiny? Did somebody hurt you? I’ll kick their ass?”

“S-Sencho?” the voice stutters back. 

Taika. If the river tells the truth, this kid’s name is Taika. So why in the hell does Luffy think that he’s Zoro?

“I knew it,” Luffy cheers. “Two Zoros. Suge! Suge!”

“What? Z-Zoro? I’m not Zoro!”

“Of course you are!”

The river leads Zoro around a corner and to his captain. He freezes immediately, eye widening as he stares at the person standing across from Luffy. A boy of maybe sixteen, wearing a pair of black slacks, tucked into black boots, and a white buttoned down shirt with the collar popped to hug his neck. Three katana sit on the boy’s right hip. His eyes, a solid steel gray, are wide as he stares at Luffy.

The swords are unsettling. Zoro can’t, for the life of him, think of anyone besides himself that carries three swords. Though, the katana are far from the most disturbing factor. 

No, the most disturbing factor is the kid's face. The sun kissed tanned skin and hardened cheekbones with thin eyebrows. Short green hair - marimo green hair - that stands up as though his hands have been run through it a thousand times.

Zoro’s face. This kid has Zoro's face.

“No.” The kid shakes his head, gaze traveling to Zoro, and swallows thickly. He raises a hand, fingers surprisingly sturdy for the amount of unease Zoro feels rolling off of him. “He’s Zoro. I’m Taika.”

Luffy turns to look at him as the rest of the crew stumble to a stop behind him. His captain blinks, brow furrowing in annoyed confusion once again. Zoro’s hands drop to his swords, teeth clenching as he fights to keep himself from lunging at the young boy. He’s the cause, Zoro realizes. The reason Zoro’s been feeling this strange, paranoid presence that refuses to allow him to relax.

“What the hell is going on?” Nami mutters from behind him.

“Who are you?” Zoro demands. 

The kid blinks at him. “Taika.”

Zoro feels his sneer grow. To his credit, Taika doesn’t seem rattled. Simply cocks his head and raises an eyebrow.

“I think what Zoro meant to ask,” Robin begins gently.

“Why the hell do you have Zoro's face?” Usopp yelps.

“Don't cut off Robin-chan when she’s speaking!” the cook snarls. Zoro hears the soft thud of the blond kicking their sniper’s leg. 

For whatever reason, that seems to relax this copycat kid, most of the tension draining from his stance. Zoro rolls his eye at the shenanigans and takes a few steps forward. Again, Taika doesn’t back down. Simply looks up at Zoro with a slightly bemused expression. 

“Who. Are. You?” Zoro repeats 

The fucker smirks. “I'm Taika.”

“Again,” Robin props gently.

Before she can get the rest of the sentence out, Luffy leaps forward, half an inch from Taika’s face with a firm frown. “No, that’s not right. You're Zoro.”

The bemused smirk fades a bit into an uncomfortable frown. The kid takes a step back.

“Sen-Luffy, not so close. I don’t like it when you do that.”

Tension snaps through Zoro and his hands tighten around his katana. He senses the crew shift uncomfortable behind him and knows all eyes have locked onto the teenager. Taika seems to recognize the slight slip easily, eyes widening and lips twisting in a grimace.

“You are Zoro.” Luffy gives him a short and serious nod. 

“No,” Taika’s voice lowers with firm annoyance. Suddenly, he sounds all too much like Zoro. Their voices close to the same pitch and sound nearly identical when dropped into the dangerous growl. “I'm Taika.”

Luffy frowns.

“It’s complicated,” Taika offers, voice relaxing slightly.

Complicated. This fucking kid has stolen Zoro’s face and his voice and he thinks he can explain it away by calling it “complicated”? Hell fucking no.

“Uncomplicate it,” Zoro growls.

Taika turns to frown at him. “Don't make it sound so simple.”

“It is simple,” Luffy says. “Taika is Zoro.”

“I. It’s not. Ugh.” The younger man shakes his head desperately. “Look, I don’t know how to explain it. But, I'm Taika, alright?”

“Not alright,” the cook snaps, appearing in Zoro’s field of vision as he moves forward, tense and ready to fight. “Explain.”

Taika blinks. Then, amazingly, his lips twitch. That bemused look returns. “Elaborate.”

The cook's anger fills the air. “The face.”

Taika blinks. “Face?”

Your face.”

The amusement fades to genuine confusion. “My face?”

“Yes, your face. Why is it like that?”

Luffy lets out an exasperated sigh. “Because Taika is Zoro.”

“Taika isn’t Zoro,” Taika snaps. “Zoro is Zoro and Taika is Taika.” 

“But Taika looks like Zoro.”

“That doesn't make me Zoro, you shitty captain.”

“Shishishi.” Luffy throws his head back in a laugh. “See? Taika knows I'm captain. Just like Zoro!”

The kid looks like he’s about two seconds away from losing his mind. Zoro understands the sentiment. He’s about one second from losing his. 

“Taika,” Robin takes advantage of the quiet to speak. “How is it that you got here? We didn’t see any other ships.”

Attention pulled from Luffy’s insistence that this kid and Zoro are the same person, Taika seems to relax. His hand moves to rub through his hair in a sheepish look. “Oh, well. It’s - um.” 

“Don’t say complicated,” Zoro orders, because he can already tell that the kid wants to use that damn word. 

Taika uses Zoro’s face to fucking pout. “Fine. Take away the best word I have for it.”

“Perhaps,” Robin prodes gently. “You could just tell us what happened.”

Taika shifts from foot to foot. “Well. Um. My nakama and I came to this island looking for these gemstones. My - uh - my aunt,” he says the word like he’s not sure if it’s the correct one, “really wanted them. She likes treasure, so Sencho agreed to come look for them. We all split up to look n’ I was supposed to stay with Papa but I got kind of turned around. The paths moved when I wasn’t looking and I ended up at this cave.” He gestures toward the glowing river. “There’s a bunch of those gems in the water, so I grabbed one, but I fell in and ended up falling down the waterfall. Which is really, really weird, because it was following up when I found it. When I managed to get out of the water, the gem had turned green - like my hair. I lost it when I was getting out. Which sucks, because I’m already going to be in deep shit when Dad finds out. But.” Taika pauses to frown and collect his thoughts. “I think. I think I might be more lost than usual because now, the water is flowing the other way. And I can’t feel anyone. My. My family isn’t here.”

There’s a sadness and fear in the boy’s voice. Something in Zoro’s chest aches for him, though he doesn’t want it to. If this kid is going to wear his face, he can at least have the backbone to support it. And, the kid wasn’t using names. He seemed to be making a conscious effort to avoid names. Which Zoro suspects is a really bad thing. The rest of the crew stand silently, all staring at the young man as he rests his arm on his katana and stares thoughtfully at his boots.

“Yosh!” Luffy says after a moment, grinning. “We’ll help Taika find his family.”

“Luffy,” Nami protests immediately. “Wait just one minute.”

Taika’s gaze snaps to the captain as well, blinking for a moment before he gives Luffy a forced smile. “That’s nice of you. But, don’t you guys have to get going?”

“Nope!” Luffy grins. “Nakama help nakama.”

“Oi, Luffy,” Usopp shouts. “We don’t even know who this kid is.” 

Luffy laughs, glancing back at their crew. “Taika’s nakama!”

Robin giggles. Zoro wants to fucking punch his captain. Just because this little copycat bastard wears Zoro’s face, it doesn’t make him nakama. The kid seems to sense Zoro’s annoyed rage, nervous gray eyes flickering to him before back to Luffy.

“Look, Luffy-”

“Luffy, we know nothing about him!” Nami screeches. “He could be a murderer for all we know!”

Which is true. Not that it really matters. The kid feels strong, but certainly not strong enough to get through Zoro, Luffy, and the cook. Taika seems to have lost interest in their conversation, his gaze wandering around the cavern instead. He holds himself strangely. A mix of relaxed but on edge. Gaze soft for the crew - a crew he can't possibly know - but angry for anything around them. 

“Oi, Taika.” Luffy spins back to the young swordsman. “Are you a crazy murderer?”

“Eh?” Taika turns back to him, brow furrowed. “No.”

“Yosh!” Luffy beams. “Then -”

“Taika!” The river shouts with Zoro’s voice again, echoing from further down the way.

Taika starts, spinning around to look down the cavern. “Dad?” he calls back.

Zoro’s mind skids to a halt. Dad? No. No way in fucking hell can this kid hear Zoro’s voice and call him “Dad”. That’s just not possible. Sure, the kid has Zoro’s face. But that stupid Marine woman has Kuina’s face and as far as Zoro can tell, there’s no actually relation. Copycats can copy without needing a relation to do it.

“Oi! Taika! Where the fuck did you go?”

“Shishishi!” Luffy’s laugh erupts from the river. “Zoro worries too much. Taika’s a pirate!”

“Luffy’s right, Zoro.” Nami lets out a small whine at the sound of her voice from within the water. “It’s not like he’s helpless. Taika can take care of himself.”

“Dad?” Taika calls back, hesitation clear in his voice. “Sencho? Nami-san?”

“No one asked you, Witch. No one asked either of you. I swear to God, he’s grounded for the rest of his fucking life. Taika!”

Taika tenses, taking a few hesitant steps in the direction of the voices. “Dad!”

“Taika’s a grown up now.”

The fucking kid bolts down the thin path. “Sencho!”

“He’s sixteen. That's not a grown up.”

The water uses Nami’s voice to t’sk impatiently. “Zoro, you did much more dangerous stuff when you were his age.”

“Yeah, well I didn't have a family worried about me on the ship that I was ordered not to leave without my parents. Taika!”

“Oi!” Luffy shoots down the path after the kid. “Taika, wait up!”

“Luffy!” Nami shouts, running up a few steps before stumbling to a stop. She spins to glare at Zoro like he’s behind all of this. “What the hell is going on?”

“How the fuck am I supposed to know that?” Zoro growls.

“Taika! Fucking answer me!”

Nami gestures to the river as it uses his voice to call for the kid again.

“It’s using your voice too,” Zoro tells her, pushing by to follow Luffy.

“Oi! Don’t shove Nami-san, you shit swordsman!”

“Well, when is Taika going to be grown up then?” Nami snaps.

“When I’m dead.”

In the water, Luffy lets out an exasperated sigh. “That's dumb.”

“Is this why the fucking cook sent you two with me? To badger me about how I raise my fucking kid?”

“Taika isn't just Zoro's. And it's not nice to say he is.”  

“Well, you know Luffy, how’s this sound: you spend four fucking years with the Marines and then you can decide who's fucking kid it is!”

“Dad!” Taika's voice floats back to them. “Da-ad!”

“Watch your tone, Zoro.”

“I'll - wait, what was that?” The voices pause for a moment. “Taika? Taika!”

The water rushes by them. In the distance, Zoro can hear the defining roar of a waterfall. Ahead, he can barely see the red of Luffy’s jacket, flapping behind him as the captain sprints after this kid. Completely ridiculous. This is the New World. They shouldn’t be chasing down some weird kid in a crazy ass cave.

“Do you hear that?” Usopp asks. “Is that a waterfall?”

“It sounds like it,” Robin hums. “Didn’t Taika mention something about a waterfall?”

The path finally widens, giving way to a large room with a thundering waterfall. Taika has thrown himself into the river, treading water as he spins in every direction, searching for the source of the voices. 

“Oi! Dad?” the kid yells desperately, trying to swim closer to the waterfall. The current continues to shove him back. “Sencho? Nam-sani? Somebody answer me!”

“Oi, kid,” the cook snaps from behind Zoro. “Get out of there before you drown yourself.”

“Taika! Oi, this isn’t a fucking game. Where are you?”

“Oi, that's Sanji,” Luffy’s voice says.

“We left Sanji back at the ship. Taika!”

Now, Zoro knows the water is messing with him. He doesn’t use the cook’s name. This is wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

“Dad!”

“Taika,” Robin calls. “Get out of the water.”

The rippling reflection in the waterfall begin to shift. Zoro’s hands drop to his side. Dark shapes begin to emerge. 

“Oi, kid,” Zoro says. “Get out of there.”

Taika ignores him, still trying to not to be swept away in the current. Frowning deeply, Luffy finally wraps a rubbery limb around Taika’s arm to haul him out. Cursing wildly, the teenager flails as he’s dragged out of the water.

“Get off me. That’s how I got here. It’s how I’ll get back. Dad!”

The dark shapes stop and see to turn on their direction. Zoro's hand wraps Wado, tense and ready as one of them lunges forward. Confusion fills him as the shape takes form. A tan face, slightly distorted by the water, a scar down his left eye, three earrings dangling from his left ear. He looks to be at least ten years Zoro's senior, but still, unmistakably Zoro's face.

“How many marimos are we going to find down here?” the cook growls.

Taika shoves himself free of Luffy’s grip and scrambles to the edge of the path, directly beside the waterfall. “Dad!”

Taika ,” the older version of Zoro breathes. “ What the hell did you do?”

“I didn’t do it on purpose. I fell into the river when I was trying to get one of Nami’s gemstones.”

Jaw clenched, Taika's father looks around the water. Danger radiates from the glare, as though he can make out the shapes of the crew but not who they are. “Taika, what's behind you?”

“Taika's in there?” An older version of Luffy appears beside older Zoro, hair slicked away from his face and pressing into older Zoro’s side to look into the water. “Oi! Taika, you aren't supposed to go anywhere unless I say!”

Taika sighs. “I know, Sencho. I'm sorry. But, will you please go find Robin so I can come home? I don't like it here.” 

“Luffy, out of the damn way. Oi, where are you?”

“I dunno.” Taika's nervous glance moves back to the crew. 

“Taika, who's there with you?” Taika's father demands.

“You,” Taika says hesitantly. “N’ Sencho. Usopp and Robin-”

“But we left Usopp and Robin on the ship,” older Luffy protests.

“Well, they aren't really you. They're young, Dad. Like, when I was little.”

“Taika.” Both the older captain and first mate are pulled back to be replaced by Nami, orange hair cut shorter than she wears it now, her face pinched with a mixture of annoyance and worry. “Are you telling me that you traveled back in time?”

“I-I don’t know, Nami-san.”

“Oi, get out of the fucking way, Nami. Go get, Robin and Sanji.”

“Zoro-”

“Go! Before I lose my fucking temper. We just had to go look for treasure.”

“I’m not the one who lost him!”

“Yameru!” Taika shouts. “Dad, stop fighting!”

The ground beneath Zoro’s feet trembles suddenly. Small rocks tumble down the walls. Zoro throws an arm up to guard his head. The others dance around to avoid the other small stones tumbling down. 

“Shit,” Taika gasps, dodging out of the way of a particularly large rock. 

“Taika!” Fear rings in Zoro's older self's voice.

“The tunnel must be collapsing,” Robin calls. “We need to go.”

Zoro nods, hauling Usopp out of the way of more debris.

“Dad,” Taika says, sticking a hand into the water again, as though it will pull him back to his father. “I learned my lesson. This isn’t funny anymore. I wanna come home!”

“Oi, oi, breathe.”

“Don't tell me to breathe! I wanna come home!” 

A resounding rumble shakes the room. Through the water, the older Strawhats let out a collective round of swearing.

“Zoro, ours is collapsing too. We gotta get out.”

“No. Not without Taika.”

“Zoro, now !”

“Oi, Luffy,” Zoro calls to his own captain. 

The others are already filling out, away from the falling tunnel. His captain, however, stands in the middle of the cave, watching Taika reach desperately into the waterfall. A large chunk of ceiling falls beside Taika, who doesn’t so much as flinch.

“Luffy,” Zoro shouts again.

His captain finally moves. He bounds forward, rubbery hand wrapping around Taika's arm.

“Time to go, Taika,” Luffy says.

“No.” The kid tears his arm free. “I'm going home. Dad, tell him I'm coming home.”

Desperate uncertainty fills the older Zoro's face. Taika’s voice mixes with the two Luffy’s, each demanding a different thing. Just before Zoro opens his mouth, demanding that they leave, his older counterpart’s face scrunches with frustrated rage.

“Oi, all of you shut it!” He doesn't move as a piece of ceiling falls beside him. His dark gaze locks on Taika, self loathing clear in his eyes, even from a distance. “Taika, go with Luffy.”

“Dad-”

“Taika, look at me. I'm going to find you, alright? But I can't do that if one of us ends up dead. Go with Sencho.”

Again, Luffy's hand closes around Taika's arm. 

“Oi, Luffy!” A hard edge steals the older Zoro's voice. “You take care of him. Don't let anything happen to him!”

Luffy nods, pulling Taika to his feet. “Of course. Taika's safe with me. I promise.”

A small smile, full of relief, graces his lips. “Yosh. Don't worry, Taika-Tiger. I'll find you.” 

“Yeah,” Taika breathes.

Luffy drags the younger man away from the waterfall and back down the tunnels. Zoro glances back in time to see his older self being dragged back as well before he follows. Debris continues to rain down around them as the cave collapses. Luffy's hand stays wrapped tightly around Taika's arm, as though the captain is afraid the boy will vanish if he eases up. Taika himself stumbles along behind Luffy, one hand placed carefully over the three swords at his side. The others wait for them outside, a fair distance from the cave, all looking a mixture of surprised and relieved when they tumble out.

Taika yanks himself free of Luffy, turning to watch the cave walls collapse into the river. Water splashes up in waves, drenching the grass and trees around them. The crew follows his lead, staring at the pile of rubble. The river continues to flow, moving along the smaller pieces of cavern walls. Around them, the air seems strangely light and quiet.

“Dad?” Taika whispers, his knees hitting the ground.

“W-what the hell just happened?” Usopp stutters.

“Taika got stuck here,” Luffy tells him.

Zoro eyes the kid carefully, watching his fists clench as he pulls in a deep breath and seems to try and center himself. It feels familiar, the way Taika’s fingers tug at the grass beside his knees. Searching for the soft feeling of real grass on his fingertips. Because the smell and feel of reality make things real. Zoro does this, he realizes after a moment. This is how he centers himself when the world becomes overwhelming, by running his fingers through the grass.

“We got that much,” the cook growls.

“Robin?” Nami turns to look at their historian and Zoro glances her way as well.

Robin’s gaze remains on Taika, the kid rolling his shoulders and tilting his head upward with his eyes closed to listen to the sound of the wind. Shit. Zoro does that too.

“I’m not quite sure what’s happened,” Robin admits after a moment. “I’ll need to do a bit more research into it. Do you still have the gemstone?” 

Nami nods, pulling it from her pocket.

“What are we doing with the kid until then?” the cook asks, pulling at his lighter.

“Taika’s coming with us!” Luffy says, as though it should be obvious, grinning widely.

“Luffy!” Usopp yelps, turning to look at him. “Are you insane? We still don’t know anything about this kid!”

Luffy frowns. “He’s Zoro.”

Taika moans, finally pulled from his calming motions to look back at Luffy. “I’m not Zoro.”

The captain continues as though Taika hadn’t spoken. “Besides, I promised Zoro-ossan I’d take care of him. So, he’s gotta come with us.”

He did promise. 

“I don’t need you to protect me,” Taika says, pushing himself to his feet and turning to frown at Luffy. “I can take care of myself.”

“Of course you can!” Luffy beams at the fucking kid. “You’re Zoro. N’ Zoro’s really strong. But, I promised Zoro-ossan that I’d keep you safe. So, I gotta.”

Taika stares at him for a long moment, as though weighing the pros and cons of once against reminding Luffy that he is not Zoro. Finally the kid sighs. “Just, don’t let Dad catch you calling him that. He’ll slice you into ribbons, Sencho.” 

“Shishishi! Zoro’d never cut me.” Luffy reaches out to wrap an arm around Taika’s waist and pull him closer. “Let’s go back to Sunny for lunch. Oi! Sanji! Meat!”

“Oi, let go!” Taika shouts, trying to wriggle loose. “If you fling me back to the ship, I’ll cut you!”

“Luffy,” Usopp moans. “This is a terrible idea.”

“Oh, quit your whining, Usopp,” the cook orders, letting out a stream of smoke. “Luffy’s made up his mind. There’s no talking him out of it.”

“But, but, but.”

“Meeeeat!”

Taika manages to successfully wiggle himself from Luffy’s grasp before the captain flings himself toward the ship. A surprisingly fond smile crosses Taika’s face as he watches Luffy vanish. The cook sighs, shaking his head and waits for Nami and Robin to start back to the ship before he turns toward the kid, stupid eyebrows narrowed. Zoro lingers behind as well, letting Usopp rush after the girls.

It’s not that Zoro doesn’t think the cook can handle this kid. He knows the cook can kick the young boy into the ground with ease. But, it makes his stomach churn uncomfortable: the idea of leaving the two alone. After two long years, the idea of leaving any of his nakama alone with a stranger makes him want to cut his other eye out. Even if it is the damn cook. 

“I know,” Taika says before the cook can talk. 

The cook blinks. “Excuse me?”

“If I hurt Robin-san or Nami-san, you’ll kick my ass.” Taika smiles. “I know. N’, I won’t. Don’t think I could, even if I wanted to. Nami-san punches really hard. I don’t like being on her bad side.”

Zoro’s brow furrows as the cook gaps at the kid. Had he just called her “Nami-san”? This kid wants to pretend to be Zoro ’s son and call the psycho weather witch “Nami-san”? What the fuck? 

After a long pause, the cook seems to come back to himself. Clearly his throat, he takes another long drag of his cigarette.

“As long as you remember that, I suppose I can handle another marimo on the ship. Any allergies?”

“Strawberries and peanuts.”

Zoro stares at the kid. If he notices, he gives no indication, staring at the slightly surprised cook instead. Blue eyes flicker to Zoro for a moment before moving back.

“Anything else?”

Taika shrugs. “That’s it for allergies. I don’t like sweet stuff either, but I’ll eat it if that’s what you’re making.”

The cook nods slowly, pulling his cigarette from his lips. “So, you’re a little marimo, huh?”

For a moment, Taika’s eyebrows furrow with confusion. Then, he smiles. “Oh, right, I forgot about that nickname. You haven't called me that in a long time.”

“I - what?” 

Taika grins, resting a hand on his katana. “Marimo. You don’t call me that anymore.” He glances back down the path the rest of the crew had vanished down. “We should go, don’t you think? Sencho’ll eat through the fridge.”

 

 

“He’s identical!” Chopper cries, dancing around Taika.

“Well, I don’t know about identical.” Taika turns his head with the small doctor, trying to keep an eye on him.

“I believe Chopper-san is correct, Taika-san.” Brook pulls Zoro’s poster from the kitchen wall and holds it up to the kid’s face.

Taika’s face is only slightly more round, eyes a little softer. But otherwise, the kid’s a dead ringer for Zoro’s picture. Even the solid, muscular build matches the picture of Zoro at nineteen. Taika blinks in surprise, gently taking the poster from Brook’s hand and staring down at the picture.

“Oh, I guess we kind of are.” His lips twist, not quite pleased but no upset either. “I’ve never seen Dad with both eyes before.”

“So.” Usopp presses, leaning against the table to look at the kid. “You are Zoro’s kid?”

Pots and pans clack together as the cook moves, the warm smell of meat filling the air. The rest of the crew sit around the table. Taika had taken the seat two down from Zoro without thought, screwing up the rest of the crew’s seating arrangements. If he notices, he doesn’t seem to care, too busy studying the photo in his hand.

“Huh?” Taika looks up at the sniper. “Oh, yeah.”

“How old are you?” Luffy asks, stretching his neck to study the boy carefully. “You’re a lot smaller than Zoro.” 

“Well, duh.” Taika smirks at him. “I’m a lot younger than him, Sencho. I’m only sixteen.”

Zoro glares at the kid.

“That’s only five years,” Usopp mutters.

“You had a son at five-years-old?” Chopper demands, turning to look at Zoro. “I thought humans couldn’t do that!”

Robin bursts into a fit of giggles. “We can’t. I believe Taika was speaking of his father, not our Zoro.”

“But Zoro is Taika’s father,” Luffy whines.

The rest of the crew burst into discussion, trying to explain to Luffy that Zoro and Taika’s father are technically the same person. And yet, not the same person. The whole thing gives Zoro a fucking headache. Taika blinks between them all with a scrunched nose and a frown, looking like he has a headache coming on as well.

Then, he turns his attention back to the cook. “Is that ginger?” he asks, sniffing loudly, face breaking into a grin. “Are you making ginger Sea King stir fry?”

The cook freezes and turns to stare at the boy, lips parted in surprise. Taika’s smile grows and he leans forward a little, closing his eyes to smell the air again.

“And Katsuobushi? Oh! Onigiri too!”

Around them, the rest of the crew falls quiet. Some of Taika’s excitement dims and he turns to glance around at them.

“What?”

“You’ve got a suuuuuper nose, little bro,” Franky says.

“Not really. Pa-Sanji says my palate sucks too. But, he says that’s Dad’s fault. And I’ve been getting a lot better. Sanji always makes Onigiri with katsuobushi. It’s Dad’s favorite. And Nami-san likes the ginger in Sea King stir fry, so I just kind of assumed. And, if he cooks Onigiri and stir fry, he can use up any extra soy sauce before it goes bad. That way, we aren’t wasting any food.”

Silence. Zoro stares at the fucking kid. He sounds… happy? Content. Proud of himself for knowing all of that. And he says the cook’s name fucking weird. Like it's an unnatural word for him to use. 

“Are you sure you’re Zoro’s son?” Usopp presses. 

Taika laughs.

“So, Robin-san,” Brook says, turning his attention to the archaeologist. “Do you have any ideas?”

“I suspect the water in the cave is a gateway between our world and Taikia’s. I’ve read stories like it before, but never one about it.” She hums thoughtfully. “Though, since the cave collapsed, it’s entirely possible that Taika will be stuck here forever.”

The news doesn’t seem to upset the young teen too much. He shrugs as all eyes turn to him. “You always say stuff like that,” he tells her. “But, in the end, you always figure something out. Besides, Dad promised he’d find me. So, he will.”

“You’re pretty calm about this all,” Nami tells him.

“No use in whining about things I can’t change,” Taika replies, setting back in his seat. “Besides, Dad and I get lost all the time. Our nakama always find us. That’s what nakama are for.”

It’s strange. The kid can go from sounding like the cook to Zoro to Luffy with relative ease.

“Wait a minute,” Usopp says. “Did you just admit you get lost?”

Oh, no. Not this fucking shit again.

“Yeah. Papa says I get it from Dad. He gets lost all the time.”

“Shishishi! So, Taika’s an idiot, just like Zoro.”

“I don’t wanna hear that from you , Sencho.” 

The damn kid calls Luffy “Sencho” like it’s second nature. It’s unnerving, how easily he’s already beginning to slip into - wait a minute. 

“Papa?” Zoro blurts out the question before he can stop himself.

Taika’s gray eyes meet his. The kid grins. “Yeah, Papa.” 

The rest of the crew seem to take a moment to realize what’s being said. This little bastard calls Zoro “Dad”. And says that his “Papa” says he gets lost because of Zoro - which is bullshit because Zoro does not get lost. But, that means that Taika’s dad and papa are two different people. Which means. Which means.

“You have two dads?” Usopp yelps.

“Zoro has a boyfriend?” Nami demands.

Zoro wants to strangle them both.

Taika just fucking laughs again. “Yeah, Dad and Papa. And they’re not boyfriends. They’re married.”

Married. Fucking married. Zoro can’t be fucking married with a goddamned kid. He’s got more important stuff to do than worry about some snot nosed brat and a husband. Family gets in the way of important things. Like fighting. Like his dream. There is no way in fucking hell that Zoro is married .

Questions begin to spill out of his nakama’s mouths and Taika’s head turns from side to side as he tries to place all of them.

“Zoro’s married ?”

“What? To who?”

“Does that mean we get another crew member?”

“Who is it?”

“Did we ever find Raftel?”

“What about One Piece?”

“Does Jinbe actually join the crew, like Luffy asked?”

“How many nakama do we have?”

Fuck, Luffy’s going to fucking murder these idiots. He can sense Luffy’s annoyance slowly turning to anger as their overzealous crew begins to try and ruin the adventure laying ahead of them.

“I can’t tell you guys any of that.” Taika’s simple response pauses the onslaught of questions. After a minute, he gives them a sheepish grin. “I probably should have told you as much as I did. Sorry, Sencho.”

Luffy blinks at Taika, taken aback by the apology. Zoro can’t manage to pull his gaze from the boy either. He’d known, without Luffy having to snap. The kid knew without being told that Luffy doesn't want answers. This kid can read Luffy just like Zoro can.

“Wait, what?” Usopp looks between their baffled captain and the copycat.

“Sencho doesn’t like boring adventures,” Taika tells him. “So, I can’t tell you anything. You gotta be surprised, just like my nakama were.”

All eyes remain on the young teen, everyone’s surprise and confusion filling the air. He knew. Against his will, Zoro’s suspicions begin to fade. No one can read Luffy that easily. No one except for Zoro himself.

“Shishishi!” Luffy bursts into laughter. “I told you. Taika is Zoro!”

Taika moans. 

Chapter Text

For a teenager that’s been ripped out of his reality and placed with a younger version of his crew - a version in which he doesn’t even exist - Taika seems to be taking it all remarkably well. The kid is quiet and polite - the quiet fits their marimo, but polite? Hard to believe - and entertains Chopper’s medical questions without much protest.

“Do you have any past injuries that have the potential to flare up unexpectedly?” the little doctor asks.

Taika shifts slightly from his position lazing against the mast. Sanji once again has to do a double take and glance up to the figurehead to ensure that it is not, in fact, Zoro that Chopper is talking to. The one eyed marimo has taken up refuge near Luffy, leaning against the railing beside the figure head, and watching them with an unusual tension. 

“No.” Taika adjusts the katana leaning against his shoulder and shakes his head. “I’ve got a couple of scars that bug me when we get too close to a winter island, but nothing that causes real problems.”

“Are you allergic to any medicines?” 

“Just two. Um. Shit, what’s it called. Moc? No. Um. Sulfa drugs and something that starts with an a.” He gestures toward Zoro. “The stuff he’s allergic to.”

“Amoxicillin?” 

“Yeah, that’s it. Amoxicillin and sulfa drugs.”

“You have the same allergies as Zoro,” Chopper says, sounding surprised.

Taika nods. Sanji blinks. The kid has the exact same food allergies as well. Which isn't necessarily uncommon, but it still feels a little strange that of the only four allergies Zoro has, Taika has all four. Glancing up, Sanji watches Zoro’s brow furrow slightly as well.

“Okay. Well, that’ll be easy to remember then.” Chopper smiles at him. “Do you have any other conditions I should be aware of?”

Taika shakes his head. 

“Oi,” Sanji calls, leaning against the railing. “Dinner’s almost ready, shitheads. Usopp, Marimo, come help set the table.”

“Sanji,” Usopp moans, gesturing towards his newest gadget. “I’m busy.”

“Fuck off, shit cook,” Zoro growls.

“I’ll do it,” Taika offers, springing to his feet before Sanji can kick the shit out of his idiot crewmates.

The entire crew stops to stare at the boy. Taika’s smile dims only slightly as he glances around at them.

“What?” 

“Are you sure you’re Zoro’s son?” Nami asks.

Taika chuckles. “Pretty sure, yeah”

“Alright, little marimo,” Sanji agrees. “Come on then.”

Taika flinches but manages to keep his smile. “Yosh!”

The kid sets the table with ease and without complaints and bites back the popular question of Taika’s parentage. Never would Sanji imagine that a child of the mannerless brute outside could be so polite and easy to get along with. 

“I believe Nami and I have figured out the solution to our problem,” Robin says as they all sit down to dinner.

Taika takes the same seat as he had at lunch, two down from Zoro. Normally, their sniper sits there, but Usopp is either terrified of the kid or just doesn’t care about seating arrangements. Sanji suspects it's a mix of both. There is something slightly disturbing about Taika’s easy going nature on Zoro’s face.

“Really?” Luffy cheers. “So fast!”

“Of course. Nami-san and Robin-chan are the most intelligent women on the seas.” Sanji grins at his beauties as he places their dinners before them. “If anyone could solve the marimo problem, it’s them!”

As he stands again, trying not to melt as Robin gives him a soft smile, Sanji catches a slightly annoyed look on Taika’s face. The teen looks away quickly, scowling down at his plate. A few chairs down, Zoro rolls his eye, muttering insults under his breath that seem to only darken the young swordsman’s mood. Strange. For what Sanji has seen so far, Taika holds the ladies with a different amount of respect than his father. But, every time Sanji praises them - the way they deserve to be praised -, Taika seems to get annoyed.

“I managed to find this island in one of the many lore books I picked up for the New World,” Robin says. “It appears that this island has a sister island. Tell me, Taika, does Kismet Island sound familiar to you?”

Gray eyes snap up to Robin. “Hai. That’s the island Nami-san wanted to look for gemstones on. It’s the island that’s always found directly under Arcturus. That’s how we knew we were in the right place.”

“Arcturus?” Usopp asks. 

Taika nods enthusiastically, his eyes lighting up. The way Zoro’s eyes light up when he talks about Hawk Eyes. “The star!”

“A star?”

“Not just a star. It’s the fourth brightest star in the sky. And it’s one of the three points of the Spring Triangle, along with Spica and Regulus.”

Now, Nami looks curious, leaning a little closer to Taika as Sanji takes his own seat at the table. “The Spring Triangle?”

“You haven’t heard of the Spring Triangle, Nami-san?”

“No.”

Taika looks taken aback, turning to glance at Robin instead. “What about you, Robin-san? You’ve heard of it, haven’t you?”

Robin gives him a smile, her eyes soft at the young man’s enthusiasm. “I’ve heard of it, in passing. But I’m sure I couldn’t explain it as well as you, Taika. Please, continue.”

Smiling, Taika glances back at Nami. “Could I borrow your map, Nami-san?”

She blinks and nods, passing the map to him. Taika snatches her pen as well, carefully marking three islands. 

“This,” he says, gesturing to Kismet Island. “Is where you find Arcturus. And these two are under Spica and Regulus. If you connect each of these,” Taika draws a line from each point to the next, creating a triangle. “You get a triangle. And, all of the islands that fall in the triangle are spring islands.” He frowns down at the map for a moment. “Wait, is this the island we just left? Lot Island? Under Spica?”

Robin hums her confirmation.

“That’s strange. Unless.” He taps his finger on the last mark. “Regulus is over Echo Island. Robin-san said people who go to that island will hear echoes of the past. That’s how it got its name. And some people say that celestial connections can hold special powers.” He looks up at Robin again. “That’s why the river on Kismet flows backwards. Because there’s an issue with the celestial pull affecting the gravity. That’s how I ended up here, isn’t it? There’s a hole somewhere in our realities and the celestial connection of Kismet, Lot, and Echo create a pull effect. When I fell into the river on Kismet, it sent me through a hole in reality. And, since Echo shows the past, that effect likely followed the triangle, pushing me into Lot into a different reality, one that’s behind mine. That’s why so few people find those stones. The water and celestial lines create a hole in reality that flows from one island to the next and the people who fall into the river to try and find these stones get lost in other realities.”

Sanji’s mouth falls open. Everyone at the table has fallen silent, eyes glued to Taika - with the addition to Luffy, who’s taken advantage of the situation to snag as much food as possible. The words are all gibberish. They make absolutely no sense and yet, Robin absolutely beams at him. 

“You know quite a lot about the stars and rumors of celestial powers, Taika,” Robin praises.

The kid fucking glows. “I’m going to be an astronomer,” he tells her. “Nami-san’s been helping me make maps of the stars. And my Robin-san bought me all sorts of books. I have an entire shelf in her library. It’s the only way I can navigate; at night. The stars don’t move the way roads do. So, if we go to Kismet Island here, it should send me to Lot Island in my reality. Right?” 

Robin giggles. “You didn’t need us at all, did you? You could have figured this out all on your own.”

“I’ll always need you, Robin-san,” Taika replies smoothly, grin filling his face. “Who else would I learn from? And without Nami-san, I’d never have learned to draw maps. Kismet Island. Okay. So, if we’re traveling from Spica to Arcturus, that means it’s a distance of roughly three thousand five hundred twenty-eight. So, if we divide that by seven that’s five hundred four. And then divide that by twenty-four, that’s twenty-one. Twenty-one days. So, we’re about three weeks from Kismet.”

Awe sits thick in the air, all eyes locked on the younger mosshead, who has his own attention locked on Nami. She stares back at him, wide eyed.

“Right,” she says after a moment. “That’s completely right.”

“That math was suuuuper quick, little swords-bro!” Franky finds his voice next.

“Are you sure you’re Zoro’s son?” Usopp asks.

Taika laughs. “Yeah, positive. Papa says the hair gives it away.”

The whole face gives it away, honestly. But, in personality and intelligence, Sanji finds it kind of hard to believe. Taika’s a happy kid, who likes stars and, apparently, math. He even has manners. How on Earth he was raised by their grumpy, lost, idiot of a swordsman?

“From here, it’s about four days to the next island,” Nami says, pulling her map back. “We should stop there to stock up on supplies. After that, we can head straight for Kismet Island.”

“Yosh!” Luffy grins, swallowing. “Let’s get Taika home!”

The teen grins. Chest light, Sanji smiles and picks up his fork. And then, he finds an empty plate.

“Luffy!” The cry of rage rises up from most of the crew.

“Shishishi!” Laughing like a madman, Luffy bolts out of the kitchen with Usopp and Chopper hot on his heels.

“You shitty captain!” Sanji shouts after him, bolting to the door. “How dare you steal from the ladies plates? I’m going to kick your ass.”

“Here, Nami-san,” he hears Taika say behind him. “I’ll fill your plate up for you. I’m sure P-Sanji has more on the stove. He always makes extra.”

“Oh, thank you Taika.” 

“Oi,” Zoro grumbles. “Don’t spoil the witch.”

“Don’t speak about Nami-san like that!” Sanji snaps, turning back to the table. 

“It isn’t my fault you don’t want the truth, shit cook.” 

“Say that again!”

From the corner of his eye, Sanji watches Taika balance two plates in his hands, filling them with practiced ease before returning them to the ladies with a smile.

“The witch is a witch,” Zoro repeats, flicking a katana upward.

“Oi, oi!” Taika protests before they can move toward each other. “Don’t fight at the table, you’ll ruin the food.”

“Oh, yes, what an excellent point, Taika-san,” Brook praises as Zoro spins to stare at the boy like he’d just insulted his precious swordsman’s pride. “If we ruin the food now, you’ll all starve to death. Though, I’m already dead.”

Falling back into this seat, Taika chuckles. “Skull joke!”

Their shit swordsman shoves past Sanji to storm onto the deck. Any trace of pride or happiness vanish from Taika’s face, morphing into slight hurt as he drops his gaze. Sanji’s heart aches for him instantly. Just from listening to Taika talk, he can tell his father means a lot to him. And while their Zoro isn't his father, he kind of is. There's no worse feeling than disappointing your parent. Sanji knows that first hand. 

Usopp and Chopper return to scarf down their dinner, before leaving with the rest of the crew. Taika, however, remains at the table as Sanji begins to clean it, pushing around a few pieces of potato with a frown. Pouting, Sanji realizes after a moment. The son of Roronoa Zoro is pouting.

“Don’t let him bother you,” Sanji tells the boy. “Zoro’s an asshole.”

“I know,” Taika mutters. “Papa tells me that all the time. It’s just. Dad’s never been disappointed in me before.”

Sanji blinks, but allows him to keep talking.

“I mean, sure, I’ve done stuff he doesn’t like. But, he’s never been upset about my dream. Or that I don’t want you guys to fight. Or anything like that. Dad’s always been proud of me.” 

“Seems like he has a lot to be proud of,” Sanji offers. “You’re a bright kid.” 

“Yeah.” Taika’s eyes move to the doorway. “I just. I know he isn’t my dad, but. I don’t know. Guess I still kinda want him to like me.”

This poor fucking kid. Sanji knows that feeling. Knows the longing for someone to be proud of him, even if its someone he shouldn’t give a fuck about. And, even if he is a marimo, Taika seems like a good kid. Smart and steadfast. He’s barely blinked at being thrown into such a strange situation. Nerves of steel, it seems. Just like his father.

“Sorry.” Taika rubs his eyes quickly. “I know I shouldn’t be such a baby.”

“You’ve had a pretty rough day, kid.”

“Still.” Despite his dry cheeks, Taika’s eyes are bright and red with tears. “I’m a Roronoa. Dad doesn’t get scared of shit like this.”

“That’s because your dad has the emotional range of my saute pan.”

Taika lets out a small laugh but, to Sanji’s horror, even more tears gather in the boy’s eyes. “Sorry,” he repeats. “I just. I miss my papa.”

“Don’t worry, little marimo. Sencho said we’re going to take you home. You’ll see him soon.” 

Again, Taika winces at the name. “Yeah.”

 

 

The little marimo - No, Sanji shouldn’t call him that. For whatever reason, the kid winces whenever Sanji calls him that. Which, normally wouldn’t bug him because looking at the kid is like looking at their resident marimo. In fact, Taika’s face feels more familiar than Zoro’s. With the scar over his eye, it always takes a moment for Sanji to remember that the older, scarier man is the one he should be addressing as “Marimo”. Which is probably why it’s taken him so long to call Taika something other than “Little Marimo”.

The kid’s been a real trooper about it too. He doesn’t pitch a fit or snarl at Sanji. Just kind of winces and goes on with his day. It’s a small and subtle thing, but one that Sanji doesn’t miss. He knows what it’s like to be called a name he doesn’t enjoy. Which is probably why he feels so damn guilty about it. 

It’s taken only a day for Taika to fit into the crew. But, despite his willingness to play games with Luffy, the young swordsman spends most of his time in Sanji’s kitchen of all places. Which seems to set their shitty swordsman on edge. Zoro doesn’t trust this kid as far as Usopp can throw him and seems pretty determined to be within eyesight of the kid at all times. Meaning, Sanji’s got two shitty mossheads sitting at his table at any given time. 

If Taika notices, he doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, Sanji thinks the young boy rather enjoys sitting in the kitchen with the two of them. Even if they sit in complete and utter silence. Zoro naps and Taika watches Sanji cook.

“What are you making?” Taika asks, voice breaking the silence.

“Lunch.”

“Well, yeah, I know that. I meant, what are you making for lunch?”

Sanji pauses, glancing back at the kid. He looks genuinely interested, gray eyes lit up in a way Sanji’s only ever seen when Zoro’s fighting. The idiot, neanderthal marimo has a child that is actually interested in Sanji's cooking. Mark the day on the fucking calendar.

“Coq Au Vin,” Sanji answers. “It’s-”

“A dish from the North Blue.” Taika beams at him. “I like that one. Can I help?”

Sanji blinks at him, barely biting back the popular question of “are you sure you’re Zoro’s son”. Instead, he puts his spoon down to eye the boy carefully. “ You want to help me cook?”

Taika nods. “Yeah. I’ve made Coq Au Vin before.”

You cook?”

“Yeah. Well, not as good as you. But, yeah. I’m not the best at Coq Au Vin. I always end up burning the wine when I try to cook the alcohol out of it. It’s really hard, you know.”

Sanji does know. He’s been cooking for years. Of course he knows how difficult it can be to cook the alcohol out of red wine. But, that’s not what’s bothering Sanji. No, what’s bothering Sanji is that the son of his uncultured, idiot of a crewmate knows how to make Coq Au Vin. Knows how to cook at all.

“You can cook?” he repeats. Because it’s the last thing he expected from Zoro ’s fucking kid.

“Of course. I grew up on a ship with you.”

Sanji’s lips part. “I taught you how to cook?” 

Taika nods. “You said it was really important for me to know how to cook. That way, if Dad and I got lost, one of us would be able to feed us until you came. Dad’s okay at making food. I mean, it’ll keep us alive. But, after tasting your food, I don’t think I ever want him to cook for me again.”

A perfectly reasonable thing. Sanji’s honestly a little surprised that Zoro can make anything edible. Though, he shouldn’t be. Zoro did wander around the East Blue by himself for years as a bounty hunter, so the idiot must know how to - Wait. Zoro cooked for Taika. Brow furrowed, Sanji stares at the young teen. 

Zoro had to cook. Why would Zoro ever have to cook? No matter how angry the idiot swordsman made him, Sani would never refuse to cook for him. And, he especially wouldn’t refuse to cook for a child. Taika said he grew up on Sunny. Grew up with the crew. Why would Zoro ever have to cook for him?

He bites down the question before he can ask it. Taika won’t tell him. Since lunch, the kid has refused to answer any questions to do with the future. So, it won’t do him any good to ask. If anything, it will probably only bring him more frustration.

"It wasn't your fault," Taika says once Sanji turns back to dinner.

"What?" Sanji tries to sound nonchalant, like the question had never crossed his mind. 

Even though it's ringing through his brain. Why wasn't he there to cook for one of his nakama? Did something happen? Did they get separated again? The older Zoro had mentioned him twice in that cave, so Sanji has to be with the crew. Why was Zoro cooking for Taika?

"That Dad had to feed me for a little while." The easy tone doesn't seem forced. Whatever happened, it doesn't bug Taika anymore. "It wasn't your fault." He hears a chair slide back as the kid stands. "Can I help? Papa says I peel potatoes pretty good."

So, whoever this “Papa” is, he thinks he knows about cooking. Maybe that’s why Taika learned to cook in the first place.

Reluctantly, Sanji gestures toward the vegetables. "Don't-"

"Forget to wash them." Taika laughs. "I know. I'm not Usopp."

It’s quiet. Comfortably quiet. Behind them, Sanji can hear Zoro’s soft snores, deep and relaxed enough for him to know that the idiot is actually asleep this time. Not like earlier, when he let out soft grunts that were too light and tense, hovering on the edge but not quite trusting himself to sleep with someone else in the room. Taika doesn’t seem all that bothered by the silence or the snores. Which Sanji finds surprising. Not even Nami manages to stay in the kitchen with him when Zoro’s snoring like this. Though, perhaps Taika is used to this. Zoro is his father, afterall. 

“Chop those carrots when you’re done, Little Marimo,” Sanji orders.

From the corner of his eye, he catches Taika flinching and curses himself. 

The young man doesn’t seem to find the issue in it, his gaze still on the potatoes. “Sure. Do you want them julienne?”

Of course the kid knows what julienne means. According to Taika, Sanji is the one who taught him how to cook. “That’s perfect. Sorry.”

“For what?”

“Calling you that. You don’t like it.”

Taika glances at him, eyes widened just a touch. “Oh, it’s okay. You called me that for a long time when I was young.”

“And you didn’t like it then either?”

Taika shakes his head. “No. It’s. Well, it’s complicated. You found a new nickname for me, when I told you it bugged me. So, it doesn’t hurt my feelings. I know you don’t mean anything by it.”

Does the nickname hurt Zoro’s feelings too? The swordsman’s never given any indication that it actually bothers him.

“What is it?” Sanji finds himself asking.

“What is what?”

“The nickname. The one I call you. The one that doesn’t hurt your feelings.”

“Oh. Sprout.” 

“Sprout?”

Taika’s lips tug into a smile. “Hai. You started by calling me all the green foods you could think of. Eventually, you settled on Brussels Sprout. Then, it got shortened to Sprout.”

“Sprout.” Sanji tests the nickname on his tongue.

It’s cute. An odd little nickname that feels like it should be full of fondness, the way that Zeff calls him “Eggplant”. Taika’s face lights up at the nickname and Sanji slips it into his back pocket for later. They fall back into their comfortable silence, Taika sliding his knife through the potato skins with practiced ease.

Still, unease swirls in Sanji’s stomach. Questions linger in the back of his mind. Even if Luffy doesn’t want them asking questions, there are some things that Sanji has to know.

“I know you aren’t going to answer,” Sanji tells the boy as he pours wine into one of the pans. “But, I’m going to ask anyway. If you have two fathers, that means you can’t biologically belong to both of them, right?” 

Taika tenses, pausing for a moment before he breathes and continues to peel the potatoes. “Biologically, right,” the young moss ball agrees. “But, Papa’s still mine.”

“Of course.” Blood doesn’t mean family. Sanji learned that a long time ago. “But, you look too much like our resident seaweed head to not be his. Biologically. Right?” 

Taika nods.

“So, that means, that somewhere along the way, he ,” Sanji turns to point at Zoro, “slept with a living, breathing woman.”

Again Taika stiffens.

“But, that makes no sense,” Sanji continues. “Because Zoro told us years ago that he’s gay.”

Insisted, more like. After Sanji had tried to kick the shit out of him for sleeping side by side with the lovely Nami. He can still remember Zoro stopping their fight, dropping his blades to dive into a fit of laughter when Sanji accused him of trying to seduce their perfect navigator. 

“That’s disgusting.”

“Don’t you dare talk about Nami-san like that. She’s the perfect woman. Any man alive would be lucky to-”

“Not any man.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“I’m gay, you fucking moron.” Then, Zoro had laughed so hard, he’d gone red in the face. 

A strange, protective growl begins in Sanji’s chest, dumping through his veins the more he thinks about it. Zoro is gay. He has no attraction to women. And, Sanji hates to think poorly of any woman, but he’s seen what the world is capable of. There’s darkness and cruelty around every corner. A nagging suspicion at the back of his mind keeps screaming at Sanji that something is wrong. Taika is biologically Zoro’s son and that’s wrong. Because Zoro finds no comfort in the soft arms and warm breast of women. He would never be able to have a biological child.

Zoro is strong. And resilient. And determined. Someone like Zoro doesn’t just suddenly decide they’re not gay anymore. Not even if they want a biological child. And Sanji’s mind can only come to one conclusion. Someone is going to hurt Zoro. And, no matter what Luffy says, Sanji needs to know how to stop it.

“So, either he was lying to us - which I seriously doubt - or something bad is going to happen to my nakama.”

Taika drops another peeled potato into the bowl Sanji handed him. “It’s not. Nobody rapes my dad,” he says softly.

That’s pretty specific wording. It does little to calm the worry bubbling in Sanji’s stomach. Probably because it doesn’t make any sense. Zoro is gay. Gay , as in he has no interest in a woman. And, while Sanji doesn’t quite understand how someone could not love women, Sanji knows the swordsman hasn’t been lying about that. Which means that he would never willingly sleep with one or conceive a child with one. Sanji turns to look at the boy, ready to demand more answers but shockingly finds him smiling softly. 

“What?” Sanji demands.

“It’s just nice,” Taika says. “To know how much you all care about him.” 

There’s more to it. Taika has more on the tip of his tongue, but he bites it back. Sanji’s brow furrows. Heaving a sigh, the kid drops the last potato in the bowl.

“It’ll be a while,” Taika continues. “I’m pretty sure Dad was twenty-three when I came around. So, don’t worry too much, okay? And, thanks. For trying to look after him. It means a lot. To both of us.”

And the little bastard disappears out the door before Sanji can get another word out. And without even julienning the carrots. 

 

 

There's something fucking weird about Taika. Beyond his face, that is. It takes Sanji to about the middle of the third day to realize that the kid goes out of his way to trick Sanji and Zoro into somehow staying in the same room. The Strawhats' paranoid and overprotective swordsman continues to follow Taika around and Taika continues to hang around Sanji, meaning both marimos end up at the kitchen table. Which would be less of a pain if Zoro didn't insist on sake every time he sat down at the damn table. 

And, then, once Zoro's settled in with sake or falling asleep for one of his naps, Taika finds a way to abandon them in the room. Sometimes, he brings the ladies' drinks or snacks out. Sometimes, he says he's going to the bathroom. Or going to ask Nami for more paper. He vanishes out the door and then doesn't fucking come back. So, Sanji is forced to suffer through the soft snoring of a sleeping marimo - that he absolutely does not find comforting. Or, on some rare occasions, Taika strikes up a conversation that intrigues both Sanji and Zoro and then vanishes, leaving them to continue the conversation. And, to Sanji's shock and horror, he discovers that the idiot isn't half bad to talk to. 

"Oi." Zoro pauses their discussion on just how many forms Chopper has now to scowl at Taika. "Where the hell are you going?"

"Gonna ask Nami-san if she had any mapping paper to spare," Taika replies easily, gesturing to the filled paper on the table. "I'm almost finished with this section of the Spring Triangle, but I need to make sure I have enough paper to map the skies tonight. Otherwise, I'll have to ask my Nami-san to backtrack when I get home. I'll be right back."

"Last time you said that you were gone for an hour."

"I got distracted." Taika shrugs. "I'll be back in a few minutes."

The kid vanishes before they can protest, once again leaving them alone in the kitchen. Sanji digs out the pit of another peach for the ladies' snack, letting the silence flow. For the first time in quite a while, he doesn't find comfort in it. It feels strange not to be talking to Zoro.

"Do you know what that little bastard is playing at?" Zoro finally asks.

"No," Sanji admits. "But, I don't think he likes it when we fight."

Their friendly sparring matches don't seem to bother the boy. Quite the opposite. Taika tends to lean against the deck's railing to watch them with excited eyes and a slight smile when they begin to spar. It's when they fight, when Zoro says something rude about the women or Sanji insults the marimo's strength and it breaks into the two of them trying to beat the shit out of each other that Taika seems to get upset. The young boy doesn't try to break it up, just vanishes into the kitchen until they're finished.

"Don't know why he gives a fuck," Zoro growls. "That's how this crew works."

But maybe not how Taika's crew works. Sanji's mind moves slowly as he pulls out another pit and drops it into the pile. His memory throws snatches at him. Taika's father calls Sanji by his real name and Taika had seemed genuinely relieved several nights ago, when Sanji had questioned the danger that very clearly hovers on the horizon for Zoro.

"Maybe it isn't how his crew works," Sanji says. 

Zoro scoffs. "I find that hard to believe. You telling me you're gonna go soft for me, shit cook."

"Not in your wildest dreams, asshole."

The door opens again and Taika reemerges with a sheet of paper in his hand. Sanji glances back at the kid, watching him sit at the table again to scribble away at his map. Two seats down from him, Zoro frowns. Sanji wants to kick the bastard in the face.

"Am I allowed to ask how you became interested in the stars, Brussels Sprout?" Sanji asks, hoping to keep Taika's attention off of the grouchy swordsman.

"Dad used to tell me stories about them," Taika replies, grinning at the nickname. "When I was really young, he'd tell me about them for hours."

Blinking in surprise, Sanji glances at the swordsman. " You know stories about the stars?"

The bridge of Zoro's nose and his cheeks turn bright red. An unusual look for him. Sanji doesn't think he's ever seen Zoro look so genuinely embarrassed. It's kind of cute.

Wait. No. Hold it. Back up. Where did that come from? The brainless, disgusting green moron before him has never been anything other than infuriating, rude, and occasionally - very occasionally, when Sanji loses his mind for a full minute - kind of hot. In that awestruck, impossible to believe that anyone can be that strong kind of way. Not that Sanji would ever tell Zoro that.

Still, "cute" is a word reserved for the most beautiful of women, with soft hair and pink cheeks that have a smile that lights up the sky. Not for some embarrassed, over muscled idiot who's face has tinged just the barest trace of red.

"Just a few," Zoro mutters. "I picked them up in the East Blue when I was traveling. Johnny blabbed about them all the time. They're just dumb stories that got stuck in my head. I don't even remember them now."

Taika snickers.

Zoro's gaze snaps in his direction, eyes dark with a challenge. "What are you laughing about?"

"Nothing. Just surprised you can fit your head and that stick up your ass at the same time."

Sanji presses his lips in a thin line in a failed attempt to stifle his laughter. Dangerous anger seems to roll off Zoro as he snarls, glancing toward Sanji. 

"Shut your mouth, shitty love cook. And you." He rounds on Taika, who only smirks back at him. "Watch your tone, you little-"

"Land-ho!" Franky calls.

Taika bolts out the kitchen door, shit eating grin still firmly in place. Zoro spins in his seat to watch the kid go, snarling with his hands resting on his katana. Sanji once again fails to hide his laughter.

"It isn't funny," Zoro growls. "That fucking kid has no respect."

"He is your kid," Sanji says.

"That brat isn't mine ," the swordsman spits. "This is just some New World trick. Or some shit nightmare I'm going to wake up from."

Sanji seriously doubts it, but he lets the swordsman continue his brooding. It takes them no time to dock on the small island and Nami hands out their allowances while giving orders to keep everyone on track.

"Here, Sanji-kun." Nami hands him an extra pouch of beli. "Take Taika-kun with you to help carry the groceries. Stop and buy him some new clothes, too. His are filthy. And he's drowning in your shirt."

Despite repeated offers to borrow any clothing he likes, Taika refuses to wear any shirt without a collar. Which means he's only been wearing the white shirt he'd shown up in and one of Sanji's borrowed yellow dress shirts. And, even though Taika is a muscular kid for his age, he's still a little shorter and a little less built than Sanji is. All of the shirt sleeves are too long, meaning Taika has rolled them up to his elbows and the rest of the shirt hangs loosely around his shoulders. Add in the popped collar and the kid looks absolutely ridiculous. Another trait he seems to have gotten from his mossheaded father, a distinct lack of fashion.

"Of course, Nami-swan! Oi, Brussels Sprout, you're with me."

"Yosh." Taika comes to stand at Sanji's side with no protest.

"Don't let him out of your sight. This island is crawling with Marines and the last thing we need is him getting lost. Speaking of which. Zoro. Huh? Zoro! Get back here! Where are you going?"

The swordsman is already starting down the path toward the town. "Bar."

"Not by yourself! You'll get lost and we don't have all day, you idiot!"

Zoro doesn't even acknowledge Nami's words, the ungrateful bastard. Feeling the anger pouring off of Nami, Sanji steps up to the railing. 

"Don't ignore Nami-san, you shit swordsman!"

"Zoro!" Nami's screech reaches a new pitch of annoyance and Sanji flinches.

"You shouldn't waste your breath, Nami-san," Taika offers from behind her. "Dad only ever listens to Sencho. Papa says it's his worst quality." Nonetheless, the kid leans against the rail beside Sanji and cups his hands to call after Zoro. "Oi! If you die, can I have your coat?"

Raising a single hand in the air, Zoro flips him off and keeps walking. Taika bursts into laughter. So carefree and happy. Again, Sanji bites back the question. Taika has assured them that he is, in fact, Zoro's son. By now, Sanji thinks the kid has said it a thousand times. And he does look identical to their swordsman. Still, it's so hard to believe. This kid just seems so human.

"I'll drag him back if I find him, Nami-san," Sanji assures her.

Nami groans. "If he starts another bar fight, I'm tripling his debt."

"As you should, my sweet. Come on, Taika. Let's go."

"Don't worry so much, Nami-san," Taika says with a smile as he follows Sanji off of Sunny's deck. "He can take care of himself."

Nami sighs.

They get Taika new clothing first. Not unlike Zoro, the kid is easy enough to shop for. He has no preference for colors or designs. Just grabs the closest collared shirt, one white and two back, along with black trousers and proclaims he's done. The whole ordeal takes about five minutes.

"Do you want to change now?" Sanji asks, fingers fiddling with the lighter in his pocket.

He hopes the kid doesn't. An uneasy feeling settles in Sanji's stomach. He can't quite place his finger on it, but something is wrong. Danger waits on this island for them. Maybe it's the Marines. The base on the opposite side of the island is newer and, from what the locals have told him, they've been going out of their way to make their presence known. If that's true, he shouldn't leave the ladies alone for too long. 

"No, I'll change when we leave." The kid still seems happy, but it's dimmed slightly. As though he's on edge as well, which is probably adding to Sanji's paranoia.

He doesn't miss the way Taika pays close attention to every person passing by them, studying them closely as they make their way to the market. Sizing them up, Sanji realizes. The way Zoro does when he thinks someone is a threat.

They're almost to the market - Sanji can smell the sweet aroma of fresh fruit - and Sanji is almost ready to ask Taika just what is making him so anxious when a loud explosion rings out. Then, on the wind, he hears a loud and unmistakable laugh from where the smoke is bellowing.

"Shishishi! Sorry, Zoro!"

"I'm gonna slice you to pieces!"

Oh shit. Leave it to Luffy and the idiot swordsman to make a fucking scene. Beside him, Taika lets out a wide variety of curses.

Luffy appears, laughing loudly with Zoro at his side and an entire pack of Marines at their backs. Sanji is going to murder the idiots. He hasn't even gotten them food yet.

"Oh! Sanji! Taika!" Luffy grins at them, turning in their direction. "Shishi! We gotta go." 

"Luffy, you idiot!" Sanji barely gets the words out before Taika shoves him to the side and he hears the distinct clang of metal meeting metal.

Another group of Marines have appeared, surrounding the four of them. Because that's just what Sanji needs today. Taika throws his weight forward, sending the Marine swordsman back a few feet, and lets out a low, threatening growl. He sounds entirely too much like Zoro.

"Shit," Sanji hisses. "We're surrounded."

"That's a good thing, isn't?" Taika asks, drawing a second katana. "It means we can attack in any direction."

"What? No! Shit, just when I was thinking you were smarter than the idiot you call a father."

"Who are you calling an idiot, shit cook?"

Taika laughs, though it sounds strangely forced. "Don't be like that Pa-Sanji. Where's your sense of fun?"

Sanji doesn't miss the slip on his name. The kid does that a lot. Like he has to put a conscious effort into using Sanji's name. It puts him on edge more than it should. There's only one other person that Taika has to make an effort to call by their name. And that's Zoro.

"Yeah," the marimo mocks behind them. "What's wrong, baka love cook? Afraid of getting your ass handed to you by a couple of grunts?"

"You shut your shitty mouth. I can take out more than you, easy."

"Care to test that theory?"

Luffy's laughter hangs in the air as they all linger for the Marines. The men aren't that strong, just large in numbers. Sanji makes sure to keep an eye on their smaller mosshead anyway. He hadn't missed the unease in Taika's eyes or the way the kid's hands trembled slightly around his katana.

Son of their swordsman and a pirate to boot. And, yet, afraid of the Marines. That didn't make any sense. None of them - sans maybe Usopp and Chopper - have ever actually trembled at the sight of Marines. And Sanji finds it hard to believe that Zoro would allow his child to be afraid of anyone.

Taika certainly fights like his father, all brute strength and calculated slashes that drop the Marines around him with surprising ease. So, what reason does this kid have to be afraid of anything?

Kicking one of the last standing Marines in his section into a wall, Sanji turns to watch Taika again. The kid raises his foot just enough to slide one of his katana along its sole, friction creating a brilliantly bright flame.

"Flambè Tiger Claw." 

With a swing of the blade, fire flies through the air, colliding with the last four Marines standing. Once they've fallen, Taika lets out an audible sigh and spins the blade, suffocating the flame. He looks relatively unharmed, though there are a few bruises forming on his face and the shirt Sanji let him borrow has been torn around the collar.

It's the first time, Sanji realizes, that Taika's neck has been fully exposed - always hidden behind his popped collars - and his gaze is drawn to the black mark on the left side of the kid's neck. A tattoo. And, not just any tattoo. The number two has been branded into the boy's tan skin. And, within the thick lines sits the Marine logo. Sanji stares at him, unable to pull his eyes from the mark.

Taika’s gaze drops to the torn collar, hanging from his shoulder and then back up to Sanji. He claps a hand over his neck, eyes wide and opens his mouth, only to close it without a word. His gaze flickers back to Luffy and Zoro.

"It's," the teen mutters as Luffy and Zoro finish the last of the Marines. "Complicated."

 

 

Unsurprisingly, Taika’s “it’s complicated” response doesn’t sit well with their resident swordsman. It doesn’t really sit well with Sanji either, but Sanji at least has the class not to make a scene. Surprisingly, Taika handles Zoro’s rage and demands that Luffy leave the kid on the fucking island without so much as a flinch. He simply stands near the mast, away from the rest of the crew, and watches the swordsman throw his temper fit. Though, it doesn’t help that the sniper, skeleton, and little doctor are all just as admet as Zoro that Taika spells danger for their crew. 

“I saw it,” Luffy repeats when Zoro snarls about the Marine mark on the kid’s neck.

“Then, do something about it,” Zoro snaps. “This is the New World, Luffy. And just because this fucking kid stole my face-”

“I didn’t steal your face,” Taika speaks up for the first time. “It’s my face too.”

Zoro sneers at him.

“Do you want to know?” Taika turns his attention to Luffy. “If you want to know, Sencho, I’ll tell you.”

Silence falls across the deck. Sanji blinks at him. When Zoro had demanded answers, Taika had ignored him, sticking close to Sanji’s side as they headed back to Sunny. When Nami and Usopp had much more timidly inquired, Taika had simply replied that it was “future stuff” and “complicated”.

“Taika would tell me?” Luffy asks.

“If you really wanted to know.” Taika shrugs. “I know they don’t believe it and I know this is all one big mess. But, you’re my captain. And, my dad always told me that captain’s orders are the one thing you should never disrespect. So, if you want to know, I’ll tell you.”

Luffy stares at the kid, frown twisting at his lips and takes a few steps forward. The breeze on the open water ruffles Taika’s hair as it passses and the island - and the Marines - have long since vanished over the horizon. Sanji pulls a cigarette from his pocket, pressing it between his lips. Tension sits thick in the air the closer Luffy steps to the younger swordsman, though - again - Taika seems strangely relaxed.

“Did Taika get that tattoo willingly?” 

“No, Sencho.” It’s a soft whisper, full of regret and angst. 

It sends shivers down Sanji’s spine. Luffy’s face flickers, angry for a moment, before it settles on a wide smile. Within seconds, the captain’s strawhat slams onto green hair with a loud laugh.

“Yosh! Let’s get Taika home.” 

Taika smiles.

“Luffy!” The protest shoots up around the crew.

Sanji can feel Zoro grinding his teeth as the swordsman glares at the younger boy.

“Luffy, you can’t be serious!” Nami shouts. “Look, Taika seems like a nice kid, but Zoro’s right. This is the New World. Anything could happen.”

“My I-Can’t-Sail-With-A-Marine-Copycat-itis is acting up again,” Usopp cries. “If he stays on the ship, I could die , Luffy.”

“Taika isn’t a Marine,” Luffy replies simply. 

“But, Luffy,” Chopper mutters. “How do you know? What if he’s lying?”

“He’s not.” Luffy turns to face their first mate with a blinding smile. “Taika n’ Zoro are the same. I can always tell when Zoro’s lying to me, so I’d know if Taika was lying. N’ Taika isn’t lying.”

Zoro’s sneer falls into a confused frown.

“Besides,” Luffy continues, glancing around at the rest of the crew. “I promised Zoro-ossan that I’d get Taika home safe. That means, we gotta get him home. Oi, Sanji! Meat!” 

“Take this seriously!” Nami screams.

Sanji tears his gaze from the lovely navigator to look between the two swordsmen. Zoro’s glare has lessened to a strange annoyance. Sanji isn’t sure he’s ever seen the marimo’s brain try to work this hard. Like he’s picked up on something in Luffy’s words and he’s trying to sort out what exactly it means. Taika, however, has completely relaxed, his fingers resting on the brim on Luffy’s hat and a relieved smile on his lips.

Robin hums softly from her spot beside Sanji and he glances in her direction, watching sharp eyes move between Zoro and Taika as well. Her finger taps against her lips for a moment, inquisitive gaze moving over every inch of them.

“Is something wrong, Robin-chan?” Sanji asks, carefully blowing his smoke toward Brook instead of Robin.

“Oh,” she lets out a sudden giggle, loud enough to catch everyone’s attention. “So that’s it, is it?”

“What’s it?” Nami asks, turning to look at her.

“Robin-san?” Brook asks, leaning around Sanji to look at her.

“Oi. Don’t crowd Robin-chan, you perverted skeleton!”

Pressing a hand to her lips to stifle her laughter, Robin glances at Luffy. “I think I understand, Sencho. Taika and Zoro are unusually similar, aren’t they?”

Some of the color drains from Taika’s face. 

“Wait, am I missing something?” Usopp asks.

“Shishishi, I knew Robin’d figure it out. But Taika doesn’t wanna say, okay?” 

“Rest assured, my lips are sealed.”

“Wait a minute!’ Nami cries. “What is going on?”

“That’s suuuuuper uncool! The rest of us want to know too!”

Robin ignores them to glance back at Taika, still looking uncomfortable beneath Luffy’s hat. “How interesting,” she tells him. “I didn’t think such a thing was possible.”

“Robin,” Chopper whines, eyes full of tears. “If you know, you gotta tell us! It’s not fair and I-”

“Enough,” Zoro snaps, voice firm and sudden. “Sencho said we’re taking the brat, so we’re taking him.”

Again, the crew stills. Sanji can still feel the unease and annoyance from Zoro, but he doesn’t seem completely distrustful anymore. Even though Taika seems to have no interest in meeting his eye.

Heaving a sigh, Sanji turns back to the sea, ready to gather the thoughts swirling in his mind. If Taika hadn’t gotten that tattoo willingly, then where had he gotten it? And why? How? What would the Marines want to leave a pirate’s son alive for? Especially a pirate as infamous and powerful as Zoro. Not that Sanji would admit that to -

Something white flickers in the distance. Sanji’s spine straightens as they come into view. Three Marine vessels, heading straight for them.

“Shit. Oi! Marines!”

The crew jump into action. Franky reminds them all that they haven’t refilled the cola yet and Nami immediately starts shouting orders. It won’t be long, with the speed the bastards are sailing at. Sanji taps his toe against the deck boards, rolling his neck to get out some of the energy already building. Luffy bolts toward the figurehead, Zoro hot on his heels. 

Unwittingly, Sanji’s gaze falls to Taika again. The kid’s chin rests against his chest, eyes close and chest moving slow and even. Sanji recognizes the stance. He’s seen Zoro do this a thousand times after training. Calming his heartbeat, the marimo always said. Gathering his thoughts and ensuring that his mind will be clear for battle. The slight tremble in Taika’s hands vanishes as his gray eyes open again, eyes flashing dangerously at the approaching ships, and he pulls his katana loose.

Marines leap onto their ship with battle cries. All small fries as far as Sanji can tell. Waves and waves of small fries. Which seems a little underwhelming for the New World. It takes simply, halfhearted kicks to send most of them back over the railings - some crashing into the railings, but Franky doesn’t need to know that Sanji did that. He can just blame it on Zoro later. 

He’s so absorbed in his boredom that Sanji forgets to glance around at his nakama, like a moron and only senses the Marine headed for Nami when it’s too late. Not that it stops him from spinning to look in her direction. The navigator’s eyes are wide and she’s clearly tripped over the unmoving Marine behind her. A swordsman lunges toward her and Sanji feels the fire creeping up his leg. He has to at least try. Try to get there. Try to protect her. That’s his job. How could he ever let one of the lovely ladies of his crew get injured.

A black clad leg catches the Marine in the stomach, sending him flying back before he can touch Nami. Taika’s hand reaches out, snagging Nami’s arm and pulling her back to her feet with ease. Sanji freezes watching the green haired teen smile at her before he turns back to the other swordsman, shoving one of his katana between his teeth.

“Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to treat a lady?” Taika asks, tone a playful snarl.

Nami looks as surprised as Sanji feels, but she’s safe - Taika saved her. Taika, who is Zoro’s son, is lecturing a Marine about how to treat a woman. Taika who kicked a Marine instead of cutting them down. This is the weirdest fucking week of Sanji’s life - so Sanji turns back to the fresh wave of Marines that arrives with the second and third ship. Even with Luffy’s legs whipping around to knock tens of them off the ship at once, it’s getting a little overwhelming.

“Taika!” Nami cries, her beautiful voice full of surprise and worry.

Kicking the nearest group of Marines off the deck, Sanji spins again. Taika, surrounded by several fallen Marines, pulls a dart from the side of his neck. He blinks at it, mind seeming to slowly comprehend what it is and eyes shine with horror as he hits his knees. Cursing, Sanji bolts toward him, dodging back as a large Marine swings a spiked baton at him. Kicking away two other Marines and dodging the baton again, Sanji watches Taika’s gaze move up, to the figurehead. To Zoro.

The kid’s mouth moves, his words drowning under the cry of battle. But, Sanji can see the word all the same. Dad. And then, the sedative takes effect. Swords clatter from his hands and mouth as Taika hits the deck.

His attention to the young swordsman costs him as the bat connects with his ribs and Sanji slams into the kitchen door, ruining the table on his way through.

“Luffy!” Nami screeches from outside.

Sanji rolls, letting his feet catch him and bolts back out the door. One of the larger Marines has already snatched their young ward, throwing the limp boy over his shoulder. Across the deck, Zoro seems to realize the same thing, already lunging toward them. And then, their marimo stumbles. 

Two of the fucking darts stick out of Zoro’s collarbone. 

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

Why is it that every time Sanji turns his back, the idiot gets himself into trouble?

“Get your hands off my swordsman!” Luffy roars across the deck, throwing a fist at the Marine already moving to intercept Zoro’s unconscious body.

Two other Marines stop the attack and Sanji bolts off the railing. Smoke erupts before he can get too far and he barely manages to avoid the mast in the confusion. Marines continue to shout. Battle rages on in the thick blackness. Sanji can hear his crew shouting in confusion and terror.

“Oi! Get back here with my swordsman!” Luffy shouts. 

Sanji’s heart leaps into his throat. That oddly protective pressure returns to his chest because everything begins to click into place. Taika is afraid of the Marines. The Marines only wanted Taika and Zoro. Zoro is very, very gay. 

For the first time in his life, Zoro is in real, actual danger. Because, for the first time in his life, Zoro isn’t going to be able to defend himself. 

Sanji slams his shoe into another Marine. Smells the fire of his kick without really thinking about it. Because all he can think is that he has to get to Zoro. Has to protect his nakama. But, it’s too late. He can already feel Taika and Zoro getting further and further away. Luffy must feel it too because Sanji hears Luffy roar with more rage than he’s ever heard.

When the smoke clears, Sunny’s deck is riddled with the unmoving bodies of Marines. But it’s also short two marimos. 

Chapter Text

A steady, obnoxious thumping pulls Zoro from his nap. It fucking sucks too, because he has the worst headache. Whether it’s because he hasn’t gotten enough sleep or because Sunny’s deck is unusually cold, Zoro can’t be sure. But, he should probably ask Franky to fix it. Who can nap on something so hard and cold? And who can nap with all this fucking racket?

Forcing his eyes open, it takes Zoro a full minute to realize that he isn’t on Sunny’s deck. No, the world around him is steel, like the inside of a cell. And cold. And dark. And, definitely the inside of a cell. Oh, fuck. The Marines. At least that explains the headache. Letting out a low moan, Zoro presses a hand to his head. No, both hands. Fuck, is that sea prism stone? Curses shoot through his mind at rapid speed.

It takes a moment to sit himself up, his shoulder aching, and look around the room. The world blurs slightly, his eyes still heavy under the sedative. The thumping continues. Settling himself up against the wall, Zoro blinks at the barred door across from him. A flash of torn, stained yellow, black and green. Zoro blinks again.

Taika. 

Zoro had forgotten about the damn kid. Last he remembered, the kid had been on his knees, dart in his hand, and staring at him with clearly drugged eyes. “Dad.”

Zoro hadn’t heard the word, but he’d seen Taika’s mouth move. Dad. He’d called Zoro “Dad”. Which shouldn’t be surprising at all, because Zoro is his father. But, he isn’t actually the kid’s father. And he’s been everything except nice to the teen since he stepped foot on the ship. Suspected him of being part of the Marines, asked Luffy to leave him behind. Yet, in a drugged haze - probably one of the most terrifying moments of the kid’s life - he’d looked up at Zoro and asked for his dad.

It shouldn’t strike a chord with Zoro. It fucking shouldn’t. This isn’t his kid. Isn’t his problem. That kid represents everything Zoro has never thought about. That some part of him has always feared. A family, a child, something that would steer him away from his dream. Zoro hates everything that kid stands for. But that word had slammed into him with the same force as Mihawk’s blade and everything in his mind screamed “protect him. Protect him. Protect him!” , leaving Zoro to lunge forward without a thought. And get his stupid ass captured right along with the damn kid.

A fifth blink finally clears Zoro’s vision. Across the room, Taika’s boot slams into the bars. There’s something familiar about the way he moves. The way he drops his hip and bends his knee. It sounds stupid, because a kick is a kick. But, Taika does it a certain way. A specific way. Then, the kid fucking flips himself onto his hands, spins around twice and uses his momentum to slam his foot into the bars again.

Blackleg style.

He’s using Blackleg style.

The fucking cook’s fighting technique.

“What the fuck?” Zoro manages to spit out.

His mouth still feels slightly numb, stuffed full of cotton, so the words sound slightly slurred. But, they make it out of his mouth.

Taika springs back to his feet, panting slightly, and glances back at Zoro. “Oh, good,” he mutters, slight sarcasm in his trembling voice. “You’re up.”

“That’s the cook’s kick.”

“Côtelette selle,” Taika corrects, rolling his shoulders and looking back at the cell door.

The damn thing must be made of sea prism stone as well because it looks untouched. 

“Why the fuck do you know the cook’s kick?” 

Taika huffs out an annoyed groan. “Oh for the love of the shitty Four Blues. Papa was right, you’re the densest motherfucker on the planet.”

“Watch it, kid.”

“Taika,” the boy snaps. “My name is Taika .”

Zoro’s brow furrows. This might be the first time the kid - Taika - has shown any trace of a backbone. Zoro has the sinking suspicion it has nothing to do with Taika being annoyed at him. Both of his hands tremble slightly, his jaw clenched tight, and something flickers in his eyes. Fear.

“What’s got you so worked up? Haven’t you ever been captured by the Marines before?” Well, probably a dumb question considering the kid is fucking branded by them. “Luffy’ll be here to get us out in no time.”

Taika fucking scowls. “Yeah, I’ve heard that before.” 

Zoro’s stomach churns uncomfortably. From the drugs, he tells himself. This kid has no clue what he’s talking about. Luffy will come for him. If there’s one thing his captain does, it’s kick Marine’s asses for the sake of his nakama.

“Oi, oi.” Vaguely, Zoro knows he should make some attempt to make himself sound soothing. The kid is obviously scared, like Chopper. But, like with Chopper, Zoro can’t manage to get his voice to stay low and soft. Instead, the words come out a rough growl. “Sit your ass down and calm down. Sencho will be here soon. I’d give it an hour. Marine ships are easy-”

“We aren’t on a Marine ship,” Taika snaps. “And I won’t calm down. You don’t have a clue what they’re going to do to us.”

Fear isn’t a strong enough word for the look in Taika’s eyes. It’s absolute terror. Zoro blinks back at him, voice caught in his throat. His gaze moves to the tattoo on Taika’s neck. The tattoo that the kid didn’t get willingly. Stay calm. He’s a kid. And his father clearly made no attempts to teach him pride. So, he’s letting his emotions get the best of him. Just like Usopp. Or the fucking cook.

“Luffy will-”

“No, he won’t! He won’t, Dad. We’re going to have to get ourselves out of this. You can’t sit back and rely on Sencho for everything. He isn’t coming!”

Taika spins around again, slamming his boot into the cell door with renewed vigor. Zoro stares at his back, watching him wear himself out with kick after useless kick. The resentment and anger in his voice shouldn’t shake Zoro to the bone the way that it does. This is Luffy they’re talking about. And, on the off chance Zoro can’t get himself out of this, his crew will show up to save him in no time. That’s what they do. 

“Shit!” Taika lets himself fall on his ass, panting heavily, and glares at the door. “Shit, shit, shit!”

“Do you always panic this much?” Zoro asks boredly. “Are you sure I raised you and not Usopp?”

Taika lets out a loud, long breath. “Yes. Yes, I am very sure that you are my father. And I know that everybody gets a real big kick out of asking if I’m sure , but trust me, I’m fucking sure. I’m sure that Papa taught me how to cook and I’m sure that Nami-san taught me how to make maps and I’m sure that you taught me how to fight. I’m sure.”

It’s a long wind of frustration and resentment. Zoro can hear the annoyance in each sentence. Words that he’s been holding in for a long time, apparently. Zoro can’t say he knows the feeling. Most of the time, he just says the first thing that pops into his head. Which is probably how he ends up staring at the kid, brow furrowed.

“I thought you said the cook taught you how to-”

Taika gives him an unimpressed look.

The kid can cook. Uses honorifics when talking to the witch and Robin. And he knows Blackleg style. And now he’s staring at Zoro like he thinks he’s the stupidest person on the seas. Which, he isn’t. Luffy is the stupidest person on the seas. Zoro just isn’t gullible enough for one moment to believe -

“The cook is Papa?”

Taika moans and puts his head in his hands. “Yes, Dad.”

No. No. Nope. No way. No fucking way would Zoro ever sleep with the fucking cook. No way would Zoro ever marry the fucking cook. No. Nope. No.

The cook .”

Looking like he’s torn between crying and kicking Zoro in the face, Taika raises his head. “Dad-”

“I’m not your fucking dad. And there is no way in fuck that I am marrying the cook!”

Taika’s jaw clenches and he pulls in several deep breaths. “Fine, Zoro . Can you please concentrate on something other than Papa for ten seconds? We need to get out of-”

A door down the hall opens and closes. Taika stiffens again, inching away from the door as tense fear pours out of him. Boots click down the hard floors and Zoro looks from Taika to the door and back again. The man on the other side of the cell door doesn’t look like a Marine. More like an overzealous wannabe doctor with his long lab coat, rubber gloves, and oversized glasses. Two Marines do flank him, familiar looking dart guns in their hands.

“Interesting,” the doctor says, studying Zoro and Taika closely. “From what I’ve been told, Two over there wears my mark. But I can’t remember either of you.”

“Taika,” the teen bites out. “My name is Taika .” 

He’s pressed himself against the cell wall, glaring at the men. Tense and ready to strike. The doctor ignores him, eyeing Zoro.

“You’re clearly the older one. So, tell me, how is it you don’t have a mark?”

“I have no clue what you’re fucking on about,” Zoro tells him.

The man lets out a disappointed hum. “Well, if you’re the original, you’re the one I’ll want to work with first. We’ll take Two for tests and that one for the prosecure.”

Taika lets out a dangerous growl. “You’re not touching him.” 

“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice in that, Two.” 

“Taika!”

“Sir, Roronoa Zoro is quite dangerous,” one of the Marines says. “I’ve heard he can tear fingers off with one bite.”

Zoro grins, pride swelling through him. He can, in fact, bite fingers off in a single try and it’s nice to know that these idiots know who they’re dealing with. Though, the doctor’s eyes light up at the news.

“Oh, that powerful, are we? Well, that is good news. If I wish to keep this position, I need some results. Very well, you can gas them. Then, strap them in.”

Zoro’s grin falls. Taika pushes himself further into the wall. A canister is tossed through the bars, smoke filling the room as the three slip gas masks over their noses and mouths. Zoro clamps a hand over his face, eyes moving to Taika, who’s done the same. It does nothing, gas slipping between his fingers to seep into his nose and mouth. The world around him goes fuzzy again, tilting dangerously. And then, darkness.

 

 

Cold presses into his bare skin. He can feel straps cutting into him, wrapping around his ankles, knees, hips, wrists and elbows. His right arm is trapped at his side, his left arm stretched out to the side and pinned like the rest of him. Forcing his heavy eyelids up, Zoro can see fuzzy images. A needle and IV in his arm. He can feel the warmth of something in his blood. Something that makes all of his muscles heavy, too heavy. His brain can’t seem to form a whole thought. He knows that there’s something wrong. This is wrong. But, he can’t seem to remember why.

“Is he coming out of it already?” someone asks.

“Hmm, he is strong. Impressive. Has Two woken yet?” 

“Yes, sir. He dented all of the regular cells. They moved him back to the sea prism.”

A dark chuckle. “Well, that does bode well for us, doesn’t it? Hand me that needle. I need a bone marrow sample.”

“Would you like me to up his dosage, sir?” 

“Not unless he starts to move. As long as we can keep him immoble, I’m not worried. Besides, what fun is it if he can’t feel the pain?”

Something sudden and sharp presses into Zoro’s hip and he manages a small moan of displeasure. The pain isn’t as bad as it could be, Zoro is sure he’s been through worse pain than this, but it hits him hard enough to be a strong discomfort.

“Perfect. Now, give me that. I need red and white blood cells.”

“Sir, his fingers are twitching.”

Zoro blinks again. Are they? He doesn’t remember moving his fingers. But, he is. His index finger twitches violently and after a moment of concentration, he manages to move his middle finger as all.

“Ah, so they are. Do put him back under for me. I’ll have to see if I can come up with something new. How exciting.”

Fire hits Zoro’s veins and his mind flees the scene.

 

 

There’s something strange in the room with him now. It takes Zoro a few minutes to realize it. He’s still strapped down to something cold and solid, sending goosebumps across his skin. Everything is still heavy, like someone placed weights over his arms, legs, and chest. And his eyes burn at every attempt to keep them open, like he hasn’t slept in weeks. But, he must have. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be waking up. Right? 

There’s another tube in his arm now, this one blood red. Blinking heavily, he follows it to the large tube, full of what looks like yellow jelly. All except for the strange little red dot in the middle. It can’t be much bigger than the tip of his finger, but, it’s there.

Stop , his mind orders sharply. You’re not supposed to be here.

He isn’t. Zoro is supposed to be somewhere else. He needs to be somewhere else. He needs to get up. 

Get up. Get up. Get up.

Zoro is strong. He moves weights all the time. This should be nothing. He just needs to concentrate. Just needs to move. Wake up one muscle and he’ll wake them all up. He stares at his fingers, waiting. Just concentrate. Just move one finger. Just one. 

His index finger twitches. Yes. Good. Wake up one muscle and he can wake them all up.

“Sir, he’s moving again.”

“Tch. What a pain. Give him another dose.”

Black takes over Zoro’s vision again.

 

 

“Hmm, interesting. I didn’t expect Two to be so healthy. Most of them don’t live past five years of age. Perhaps he’s an original as well. Hmm. I guess we’ll see with Three over there.”

“Sir, his fingers.”

“Goddamn it. Get me the muscle relaxant. I’m trying something new.”

 

 

The thing in the jelly is much, much bigger. It even has a shape now. A baby, Zoro realizes. It’s a fucking baby. A baby that they’re basically feeding his blood, because the blood red tube in his arm attatches to the jelly tube. They’re making a baby. A baby of Zoro. 

Taika has a two tattooed on his neck. Taika is terrified of Marines. Taika has been here.

“Taika is Zoro,” Luffy kept saying. 

And Zoro thought it was just because they had the same face. But no. No, Taika literally is Zoro. Luffy knew that, could sense that. And that’s why he’s trusted the damn kid all this time. Because Taika isn’t Zoro’s fucking kid. Taika is Zoro.

His limbs are still heavy, too heavy. But his mind won’t shut down. And he’s stuck, in this room, strapped to a table. Alone. With a baby that this insane doctor is literally growing out of his blood.

Shit. Just when Zoro thought the New World couldn’t get anymore fucked up. 

He lasts about two hours before he has to break the silence. He can’t take it anymore. It’s never quiet. Never. There’s always something. 

“Dun-no,” he mutters, voice thick and trying to stick in his throat. “Dunno if you can hear me, but that’s okay, innit? Bet Robin’d be interested in you, wouldn’t she-” He pauses, the name refusing to leave his throat. If he names this thing, it’s all over. If he names it, he’ll get attached. And he can’t get attached. He can’t. He can’t. He can’t. “Chibi? She finds weird things like you interesting.”

The thing in the tank doesn’t respond, not that Zoro expected it to.

“N’ Sencho. He’s gonna - gonna love you. He’ll go on ‘bout having three of me. N’ the cook will throw a hissy fit. Doesn’t like me. But-but maybe he’ll like you. Seemed to like the other one. Kinda weird, innit? He hates me, but he likes the kid. Maybe he’ll like you. Maybe.”

 

 

Turns out talking to the damn thing is an awful idea. Because the more Zoro talks to it, the more he finds himself caring. Whatever the doctor keeps giving him makes it impossible to move and makes his mind unfocused. But, it doesn’t keep him from rambling to the baby. It’s strange, the attachment he feels as he watches it grow, larger and larger each day. And, even though Chibi doesn’t have a proper name, something deep in Zoro’s gut tells him that the baby is his .

Three, they keep trying to call him. But that isn’t his name. Zoro won’t let it be his name. He’ll find something else for Chibi. A real name. A proper one. Because Taika doesn’t fit him. Zoro tried it, in the dark of the night. He’s muttered the boy’s name and it feels wrong. Whatever Chibi’s name is going to be, Taika isn’t it. And it sure as hell isn’t Three.

“Give you a real name,” Zoro promises. “When Sencho comes to get us. He’ll come get us. Know he will. He always comes.”

Luffy always comes for his nakama. He’ll come for Zoro. No matter how long it’s been, his nakama will come for him. Will come for all of them. 

“The cook’ll feed you real good. Makes the best food on the seas. But, don’t tell ‘im I said that. Bastard’ll get a big head.” His eyes drift close, exhaustion beginning to melt his bones. “Maybe he’ll make onigiri. Sounds good, doesn’t it, Chibi? Dunno if he will. If Nami doesn’t want it, then I won’t get it.” 

The jealousy burning in his stomach makes no sense. Why does he always do this? How is it that everytime he thinks of that bastard now, all he can think of is how much he wants what he’ll never have? The cook is kind. He loves his nakama. His smiles are bright and perfect when they’re true. He’s strong, bright and determined and Zoro knows he’s always felt a little bit more than respect for the man. But, the cook will never give a shit about him. And, it’s easier to hate the bastard than to care for someone who will never want him. 

“You won’t get a papa,” he tells Chibi. “Sorry ‘bout that. But, you’ll have Sencho. N’ the crew. They’ll care about you. You’ll be nakama. You’ll like the sea. It’s-”

One of the snails that’s monitoring the tube begins to scream. Zoro’s eyes snap open and he turns his head to look at Chibi again. The baby moves, not like the occasional kick of his legs as he moves himself around. This is a genuine twisting and turning as he tries to escape the jelly. White coats flood into the room. Zoro’s heart jumps, panic filling his veins. 

“O-oi,” he manages to speak through over the pounding of his heart.

The doctors ignore him, blocking the baby from view. Adrenaline slams into him with vigor and, for the first time in what feels like years, Zoro manages to move his body. Straining against the straps, he tries to pull them loose. And then, there are hands on him, Marines shouting about sedating him as they try to hold him still. But he can’t sit still. Because something is wrong Something is wrong with Chibi. With the only thing that’s kept him sane for all this time. And if Zoro loses his son, he might lose his mind next. 

A cry splits the air. Loud and high. Zoro’s muscles give out as he realizes that it’s the wail of a baby. Because Chibi is out of that tube and apparently pissed about it. But, he’s alive. Breathing. Screaming. Moving. Alive. Alive. Alive.

The hands on him let up as Zoro stills, staring at the wriggling blanket across the room. Zoro breathes. 

“W-wait,” Zoro mutters as the baby is passed to a Marine woman and she heads for the door again. “Wait, no. Wait!”

His heart slams in his chest. They can’t take him. He’s Zoro’s. No. No. They can’t take him away. He doesn’t belong to them. He belongs to Zoro. He’s Zoro’s son.

The Marine woman ignores him.

No. No. No.

Each breath leaves him in a rushed gasp, his chest heaving as heat attacks him. His fingers twitching beyond control. Desperate. No. No. No. They can’t take him. 

“N-no. No, wait!”

“Wait,” one of the doctors calls. “He’s still sedated. Give him the baby.”

Yes. Yes. Yes. 

“Sir,” the woman spins to protest.

“Don’t you see, this is good,” the man says. “We can use that to our advantage. Give him the baby.”

“Sir, it’s a child. It’s innocent.”

“It’s a weapon. Give him the baby.”

The straps on Zoro’s arms are released and a wriggling, screaming child somehow ends up on his chest. Scowling, the Marine woman moves Zoro’s arms for him, placing one arm under the baby’s ass and his other hand at the base of his neck.

“Always support his head,” she growls.

Zoro can’t pull his gaze from the wrinkled, screaming face pressed against his chest. 

 

 

The island looks about the same as the last time Sanji saw it. Lush green trees and beautiful spring colors covering the brushes and fields. Luffy insists this is the best thing to do. They’ve spent months searching Marine bases and calling in favors and nothing . No Zoro, no Taika, no news of either of them. So, in his infinite wisdom, Luffy decided they need to go back and try to talk to “Zoro-ossan”, because he might know what to do. Sanji thinks it's an awful plan. 

Not only did the shitty waterfall cavern collapse, but there’s also no guarantee that the older marimo will still be there. If Taika’s Robin came to the same conclusion as their Robin - which, Sanji’s positive the beautiful and intelligent woman would have - then Taika’s family is probably waiting for him on the other island. Which means they won’t find anything on this island. 

They walk along the river anyway. Luffy is convinced that the answer to their problem is here, waiting on this island.

It takes a few miles for  Sanji to feel it. He should have known. Somehow, Luffy can always sense these things. And, Sanji is not at all jealous, because that would be utterly ridiculous. Zoro and Luffy have always been on another level. Sanji and Zoro are just nakama. Just sparring partners. It’s just that, Sanji misses the fucker. So much more than he thought he would.

Ahead of him, Luffy stops and stiffens. It's the only time Sanji thinks Luffy would look so unsure when he feels the presence of nakama.

“Oi, look,” Usopp says, kneeling at the river’s edge. 

Floating in the water, just a few yards from them, is a marimo green gemstone. The rest of the crew - sans the lovely and all knowing Robin - gather around it as Usopp scopes it up, pulling it to dry land. Sanji lets out a long breath of smoke, staring at it from over Chopper’s head as the sniper cradles it close.

“It looks just like Taika’s,” Nami says, pulling the small gemstone from her pocket. “Are they all this color?"

“No.” Zoro’s voice is tight and annoyed as he speaks.

The rest of the crew - once again, sans for the all knowing Robin and Luffy - leap. Usopp nearly drops the gemstone, flailing just in time to catch it. Sanji looks up at the cliff on the other side of the river and pulls in a calming breath. This is going to go very, very poorly. Zoro’s temper can be bad at the best of times. Add in his typical protective nature and his insistence on keeping promises and Sanji’s sure they’re in for the melt down of the century. 

The older marimo feels like he could wipe them all out with a single swing of his katana. He sits on the cliffs, glaring down at them, feet hanging over the edge. His hair looks a little lighter when they aren't seeing him through water, almost as though there's a gray tinge starting to spread through it. Dark gray eyes move across them, searching them one by one. Looking, Sanji knows, for his son. The son they lost.

"They change shape and color depending on who touches them. You need the damn things to guide you back into the right place, so don't fucking lose that, Usopp." 

"That's why people attack the stores for them," Nami mutters. "Because they're trapped here until they get their gemstones back. But." She frowns, holding Taika's stone up to Zoro's again. "Yours are identical."

The overgrown marimo ignores her, his sharp eyes moving to their captain. "Oi, Luffy. Where is my son?"

Sanji pulls in a calming breath. Luffy drops his gaze. 

"The Marines came," Luffy mutters and Zoro's eyes flash, something close to fear. "N' now we can't find Zoro or Taika."

Nostrils flaring, Zoro glares down at him. Sanji's never been worried for his captain with Zoro around before. Their swordsman is loyal and honorable to a literal fault. But now, Zoro radiates true danger, as though he's contemplating leaping down and slicing Luffy to pieces where he stands.

"You told me you'd take care of him," Zoro growls.

"I know," Luffy whispers.

"Wait a minute," Nami snaps. "This isn't his fault, Zoro-"

"Shut your fucking mouth, Nami," the older marimo roars. "This isn't a conversation for you ."

Nami freezes, taking half a step back and Sanji immediately places himself between them, glaring up at him. Leave it to Zoro to be an asshole to Nami. The navigator is just trying to defend her captain, like any good crewmate would, and Zoro's losing his mind like a dipshit.

"Don't yell at Nami-san, shithead! It isn't her fault either."

Zoro's jaw grinds together, eyes widening just a touch with rage. "I fucking hate it when you're like this," the swordsman growls. "I forgot what a boner driven moron you fucking are when it comes to her."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Sanji demands.

"I don't believe it's you he's speaking to, cook-san," Robin offers softly and Sanji turns to see her pick an ocean blue stone out of the water.

Sanji blinks at it. A third stone? So, there's a third person. Zoro is talking to someone else. But, it seems like he's talking to Sanji. The glare, the annoyance, are directed at Sanji. So, why would he be talking to someone else and looking at Sanji like that?

Unless.

"Clever as always, Robin-chan." It's Sanji's voice, though it sounds strange coming from someone else's throat. From behind him.

Not unlike Zoro, the man is distinctly Sanji, from the dress clothes to the swirling eyebrows. And yet, he has wrinkles and a world weariness that Sanji has yet to obtain.

"Could I bother you for that, Robin-chan? Those as well, Nami-san. They are our ticket home, after all. I'd hate for them to get lost. And, speaking of lost." Sanji watches himself turn to Zoro, frowning up at him. "How in the hell did you get up there? You were behind me two minutes ago!"

Zoro sneers.

"Drop the attitude, marimo, I'm not in the mood."

"Do I look like I am?"

Sanji's older self lets out a long suffering sigh before glancing back at Luffy, who fiddles with his hat, too ashamed to look the older Zoro in the eye. "Don't worry about it, Luffy. Once he throws his hissy fit, you'll be able to have an actual conversation with him."

"Fuck you. He lost Taika !"

" You lose Taika all the time. Now, go cut up a rock, blow off some steam, and get your ass down here so we can go get our kid."

Our ? The word sticks in Sanji's brain. Our . Our kid. As in Sanji and Zoro's kid. Taika. Sanji is Papa. Taika is Sanji's son too. 

Holy shit.

"Oh, good," Zoro scoffs from above him. "You broke yourself."

"Shut up and get down here, shithead!"

 

 

Marines are the fucking worst. Taika's always known that, ever since he was young and the bastards tried to tell him that Dad deserved what they were doing. 

"Pirates are bad," they used to tell him. "Monsters. Scary, scary monsters."

And the assholes were right. From the moment Sencho came barrelling into the base, screaming Dad's name, Taika knew that his captain is a monster, a very scary monster, to other people. To bad people. Because Taika doesn't think he's ever seen Sencho beat the shit out of someone who didn't ask for it. It's a mindset Sencho has passed onto his crew and one that Dad passed on to Taika.

It's okay to hurt people. But only people who deserve it.

And the Marines fucking deserve it. Which is why Taika doesn't feel bad kicking every one of them in the face every time they come close enough. Not that he's going anywhere. Deep down, Taika knows that. He isn't anywhere near the monster his Sencho, Dad or Papa are. Taking down this entire Marine base on his own and getting Dad - no, Zoro. The grumpy swordsman has been pretty fucking clear where he stands on that- just isn't in the cards. 

Now he knows how Dad felt. All those years, having a three-year-old throw the world's biggest temper tantrum - "You're strong, Daddy. Just beat them up! I don't want to stay with them anymore. They're mean to you! Daddy, I don't wanna be here! Daddy, do something." - and knowing that it would be more dangerous than helpful to even attempt it. So, Taika did exactly what Dad did. He plays along with their tests. Runs until his legs give out, lifts weights that should be impossible, lets them test his pulse and healing abilities when they slice his skin and break his bones.

Because, Sencho will come. Eventually, Sencho will come, just like he did when Taika was little. Sencho and Papa will come to get them. And then Sencho will tear this place to the ground when he finds out what they've done to his swordsman.

"What the hell did they drug him with?" one of the Marines growls from down the hall and Taika sits himself up on his cot. "Can't even walk a straight line."

"What a pain in the ass," another one mutters. "Least it's fucking quiet."

"Don't see what the point in this is."

"Boss thinks he'll quit kicking us. Its incentive."

Zoro looks like shit. He's pale and lost weight and barely able to keep himself up straight. But that's not what Taika focuses on when the two Marines drag him to Taika's cell. He doesn't focus on the confused, nervous look on his father's face or the way he sways under the influence of whatever drug they've got him on or the fact that they've tattooed that disgusting fucking one on his neck, marked Zoro the same way they marked Taika and Dad.

Taika only has eyes from the small bundle in Zoro's arms, cradled close. 

"Shit." Taika can't hold in the curse.

"Back," the red haired Marine tells him sharply.

"I'm on the fucking bed," Taika snaps. "How much further back can I get?"

Just let him in here. Shit. What did you give him? He looks awful. Is this what Dad looked like? It’s been so long. Dad didn’t look like this. Did he?

Anger flickers in the guard's eyes. "Back."

Gritting his teeth, Taika slinks off the bed to the far corner. Zoro blinks, as though confused at the sudden movement, and cocks his head to the side, staring at Taika as though trying to place him. The cell door opens and they shove Zoro forward. He stumbles a few steps, into the cell, and hits his knees with a whimper, clutching the baby a little tighter as he tries to keep him from being jostled. The red haired Marines tossed a box in as well and Taika sees bottles and powder and diapers.

They're leaving him here. Zoro and the baby. Because they want Taika to behave better. And, if he starts a fight with them in the cell, he'll risk hurting them. The same reason they let Dad keep him all those years. Bastards.

Taika waits until they've locked the cell door to move across the room, kneeling in front of Zoro as he blinks and tries to orient himself again.

"Oi, oi," Taika says softly when the older man flinches away from his touch, tucking himself around the bundle in his arms. "Dad-Zoro, it's just me. Taika, remember?"

Zoro blinks at him. "Taiga," he slurs.

"Right. Are you okay?"

"Taiga," Zoro mutters again, the way Dad used to when he was tired. It's the reason Sencho called him "Tiger" for so long.

"Zoro said his name is Tiger."

"No, Luffy, his name is Taika. It's a "k" not a "g"."

"But Zoro said Tiger!"

Taika gives him his best attempt at a smile. "That's me. Here, do you want me to help you onto the bed?"

Zoro's gaze drops to the bundle in his arms as it starts to move, eyes widening. He looks scared, Taika realizes. Scared of the baby. It's strange. Dad's always seemed like a natural with kids. Both Franky and Usopp had been incredibly miffed to discover that Dad could calm their respective children with little more than a song and small dance around the room. But, it seems, all that talent came from taking care of Taika for so long. Because Zoro seems absolutely horrified at the notion of the baby waking up.

"Please don't wake up," Zoro whispers, voice hoarse and rough and scared. "Please don't."

The baby lets out a wail and Zoro flinches, hurrying to bounce the screaming infant slightly.

"No, no, no, no," Zoro whimpers. "Please stop. Please, please, please stop."

"Oi, oi," Taika says quickly, horrified to watch tears of panic begin to gather in Zoro's eye. "It's alright. He's a baby. Babies cry all the time."

"Is that brat crying again?" one of the guards calls.

"Oi! What did we tell you, Roronoa?" the other shouts. "If you can't shut him up, we're going to take out his fucking voice box."

Zoro whimpers, hunching himself over the baby. "Please stop. Please stop. Shhhhh, Chibi. Shhhhh. Please."

Taika grits his teeth, trying to tame the anger bubbling in his chest. He wants to kick something. Wants to tear down this whole fucking building. But, he can't. He can't do anything like that. 

"Here, let me see him," Taika whispers instead, reaching toward the bundle. Zoro winces. "It's alright. You know I won't hurt him. Let me help."

Reluctantly, Zoro allows Taika to ease the baby into his arms. He tucks the baby's head against his elbow, going through the list of things Dad told him the first time they let him hold Livia. Taika stands, carefully moving himself around in a soft sway the way he's watched Dad sooth Robin's daughter so many times. Still uncoordinated and disoriented, Zoro stumbles into the nearest corner to curl himself up.

"You are my sunshine. My only sunshine. You make me happy. When skies are gray." Dad sang it to him for years. Still sings it to him sometimes. He hopes it brings Zoro as much comfort as it brings the wailing baby in his arms. "You'll never know dear. How much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away. The other night dear. When I lay sleeping."

Zoro's gray eyes follow him like a hawk, nervously watching Taika dance around the small cell and sing softly. Taika smiles at him when their eyes meet, hoping to be reassuring as he watches the man shake in the corner. It's not an unfamiliar sight, even if Taika hasn't seen Dad do it in years. Not since Papa. What Taika wouldn't give for Papa right now.

Papa always knows how to make Dad feel safe. Papa can coax Dad out of flashbacks - however rare they are now- and how to get him to sleep. Papa knows what to say and when to call for Sencho.

Shit, Taika wants his parents so badly. 

The baby's cries don't lessen as Taika finishes the first song. And he searches his mind for another song that Livia likes.

"Five little speckled frogs. Sitting on a speckled log. Eating some most delicious grub. Yum. Yum. One jumped into the pool. Where it was nice and cool. Now, there are four speckled frogs. Four little speckled frogs. Sitting on a speckled log."

It takes another song to get the baby to calm down and all the tension begins to drain from Zoro's body when the cries stop. He slumps against the wall, tired eye still on Taika and the baby. 

"See," Taika says softly. "He's okay. You are too. I won't let them hurt you or him, okay?"

Zoro's hands tremble as Taika hands him the baby back. 

"Come on, let's get you two on the bed and then you can sleep, okay?"

One of Zoro's hands, his index and middle fingers bent at an unnatural angle - they hurt him. They drugged him and hurt him and Taika is going to slaughter them all -, cups Taika's cheek. The touch is hesitant and confused, trailing down his skin until it rests on Taika's tattoo. 

"Sorry," Zoro mutters. "Sorry. I tried."

Tried to protect the baby. Tried to keep them from branding him. The way Dad has always tried to protect Taika.

"I know," Taika whispers. "I know. It's okay. Sencho's gonna come, okay? He's gonna come get us. Come on."

It takes a small amount of effort to get Zoro to his feet and to the bed. He mutters softly, still under the influence of whatever they've given him to keep him compliant. The baby remains quiet against his chest, sleep soundly, cradled safely in his father's arms. Zoro's asleep almost as soon as Taika settles him and the baby, his snores far softer than Taika's used to.

"It's going to be okay," Taika promises. "I'm gonna protect you, Dad. I promise."

And he will. Taika isn't a little kid anymore. He doesn't need Dad to protect him anymore. And, even if he can't protect his dad, he can protect Zoro.

He settles himself on the ground beside the cot, arms resting on his knees and stares at the cell door. There's no windows, no way to tell time or days. But, if the baby's here, it's been months. Taika isn't sure whether or not to be relieved. Months means they're that much closer to Zoro's crew finding them. But, it also means Zoro's crew won't find them any faster than Dad's had. Which means they're looking at fucking years here.

The main door creaks open and Taika hears the distinct clack of boots on cement. He steadies his breathing, like Dad taught him, and waits. No fighting this time around. He has to behave. If he's going to protect Zoro and the baby, he's going to have to go quietly.

It isn't the guards that stop in the doorway. It's a woman - Captain Eyeglasses. The one who's been trying to steal Wado from Dad for years. And the bitch has his father's treasure in her hands. Taika rockets to his feet, hating the she way looks at Zoro's sleeping form with a mix of pity and disgust.

"Put that down," Taika growls.

Her eyes move to Taika. "Excuse me?"

"That's my father's treasure. It doesn't belong in the hands of an ameuter! Don't fucking touch it."

She straightens. "Wado Ichimonj is too good for the likes of pirates and evil doers."

"Put. It. Down. Or I can promise you, I will break bones you didn't even know you fucking had."

That isn't hers. That sword is his father's most precious treasure. Taika's heart slams into his chest, rage bubbling back through him. Purple tinges his vision and he has to calm down. Dad has always warned him that fear and rage are dangerous for them. That there's something deep down that he won't be able to control without a clear head.

He needs to calm down.

"You don't scare me, little boy." She's trying to be brave. But Taika can smell the fucking fear coming off of her.

Smokey and Captain Eyeglasses have always been the more tolerable Marines. They're the only ones Dad doesn't make Taika hide below when they're fighting. Because Smokey's made it very clear what he thinks of this place. What he thinks of how Taika was born. He should be a little nicer to her. She's never necessarily been unkind to him, clearly as disgusted of the Marines' experiments as Smokey. But, standing here, watching her claim his father's treasure, all Taika wants to do is fucking murder her. 

"My name," Taika snarls, letting his rage pour into the words. "Is Roronoa Taika. Not little boy. I'm the son of the World's Greatest Swordsman and the Fighting Chef of the Strawhat Pirates. I've grown up fighting Marines and bounty hunters and any pathetic pirate crew that thought they could take my captain's crown. So, let me assure you, woman , you should be afraid of me."

Papa wouldn't approve of speaking this way to a lady. But, Taika can’t manage to feel bad about it. He can feel himself slowly losing his temper and everyone has always said Taika is too much like Dad when he loses his temper. Captain Eyeglasses must think the same because she takes a step back, staring at him wide eyed. For a moment, her eyes turn to Zoro's sleeping form. And then, she's gone.

 

 

Someone is snoring. Chibi sleeps soundly on his chest, safe and quiet. The table beneath him seems soft and warm. And, is that a blanket settled over him and Chibi? When has that scientist ever let them have a blanket? Zoro thought the crazy man wanted to see what their tolerance for temperature change was.

Another deep snore from beside him.

Forcing his eyes open, Zoro blinks, trying to tame his blurry vision and the headache pounding against his skull. Every part of him aches dully, muscles drumming against his skin. Everything is hot and cold all at the same time, his empty stomach churning with nausea. 

Chibi's head rests beside his chin, whispers of green hair tickling him as he glances around. This isn't the lab room. This room is empty, kind of chilly. There's a barred door. And the kid - Taika. 

They moved him in with Taika. Vaguely, Zoro remembers soft singing, remembers Taika whispering promises of Sencho and safety.

Taika is covered in bruises, purple and blue staining his right eye and wrapped around his swollen wrist. Dim anger sparks in Zoro's chest, but he's too tired to allow it to erupt into wildfire. Sleep. Zoro just desperately wants sleep. But he can't seem to fall back to unconsciousness. Something is wrong. He can hear something in the distance. Something slamming and crumbling. Maybe shouting.

No. Definitely shouting. And screaming.

The door down the hallway slams open. Zoro starts, hands wrapping around Chibi as he sits himself up. Shit. Did Chibi make too much noise? Are they going to try and make good on their threat? His back hits the corner, too tired to do anything other than cradle Chibi close and try to hide him from view. Maybe if they can't see him, they'll leave him alone.

Taika springs to his feet beside them, suddenly awake and already in front of the bed and Zoro hates himself. He should be better than this. He should be the one trying to protect the boys, not cowering in the corner. But, the thought of not holding Chibi, of not protecting him, make Zoro's entire chest seize up. 

Taika lets a hollow laugh as the sound of screams reach them. "So," the kid says as the doctor rushes down the hall toward them, "Sencho found us already. I'm surprised. I figured it'd take him a lot longer."

"Gas them," the doctor calls. "I won't lose my experiments now!"

Taika stiffens. Zoro's heart rockets into his throat and his arms tighten around Chibi. No. No, they can't do that. He's a baby. It could hurt him. Please no. 

"We aren't experiments," Taika growls.

"Hurry your asses up! I'm sick of listening to Two whine."

" Taika !" the kid snaps back.

Someone strong moves toward them. Someone stronger than Zoro. Stronger than Luffy . Zoro tucks Chibi a little closer, closing his eye against the panic pounding in his head.

No. His limbs are too heavy. His chest is too tight. He can't protect them like this. He can't. 

Fuck. Fuck.

Something flies past the man in the door and slams into the wall with alarming speed in the stink of burning flesh. Dust and debris blow out from the wall, thick in the air. 

"Get the fuck," a voice growls and Zoro watches an orange glow from the hallway as someone stalks forward. "Away from my son."

A flash of flaming back collides with the doctor and then he's gone. Taika bolts forward, voice full of a combination of tears and awestruck relief.

"Papa!"

"Taika." The old cook breaths. "Oh, thank God. What the hell did they do to you?"

"I'm fine, Papa." Taika's head turns to glance back at Zoro. "Just, get us out of here."

"Stand back."

It takes two kicks for the hinges to bust and the door collapses with a bang. Chibi stirs, letting out a small whine but doesn't start wailing, so Zoro allows himself to breathe as Taika launches into his papa's chest.

"Papa!" Zoro hears the tears in Taika's voice. "How did you get here?"

"I followed your father. If anyone could get lost enough to find it you, it's Dad," the cook says around a small laugh. 

Taika lets out a choked chuckle. "Papa," he whispers.

"I'm here, Sprout. I've got you. Dad'll be down in just a minute."

Blue eyes move up, finding Zoro. The gaze is soft, like the calm ocean after a storm and it holds Zoro. Captures him like one of Luffy's rubbery hugs, tight and sudden and refusing to let him go. 

"Zoro." The cook's voice is gentle and careful as he releases Taika. "Oi, you okay?"

Zoro blinks and the cook is kneeling in front of him. Close. Too close. He jerks himself back, head slamming into the wall and the world tilts for a minute. Chibi lets out a wail.

"Papa, don't touch him!"

Hands reach for Chibi. 

"Keep him under control or we'll do it for you."

"It you don't shut him up, he'll take out that fucking voice box. Weapons don't need to talk."

He moves, shooting to the side and curls as tightly around Chibi as he can, throwing an arm out to shove the hands away. No. No. No.

"Shh," Zoro whispers, keeping his hand soft but firm around Chibi's head. "Please, stop. Please, stop."

The hands don't come back, but there are still people there. He can feel others coming. One of them is strong. Too strong. Shit. They'll try and take Chibi. And Zoro can't let them. He can't.

He hasn't even given the kid a real name.

No. No. No.

"Zoro!" He should know that voice but his head is muddled and thick and won't tell him who it is.

"Sencho, don't touch him, wait!"

"What in the shitty Four Blues happened to him?"

"He's scared."

"Probably. But, I'm sure the drugs aren't helping." That voice. That's his voice. Isn't it?

"Drugs? They drugged him?"

"They used to drug me. Come on back, Cook. He's trying to protect the baby."

"He hit his head."

"Sanji. Back up."

A new presence crouches down beside Zoro. He ignores it, tucking the wailing baby into his chest. Maybe if he can just stifle the noise, they won't hurt him. 

"Oi, oi. It's alright." The voice is strangely soft and soothing. "Look at me. Come on, it's alright."

The world tilts and blurs and spins. The person looks familiar with green hair and a scar over his left eye. The smile is soft and somehow comforting.

"What's his name?" 

Zoro blinks hard, trying to process the question. Trying to place this face. But it's hot and his head pounds wildly. 

"Does he have a name?"

Slowly, Zoro shakes his head. He doesn't. Zoro hasn't given Chibi a name and that's awful. Everyone deserves a name.

"That's okay. He'll get one. Can I hold him for a minute?"

Zoro's grip tightens slightly.

"Oi, come here. He might respond better to you." The man motions someone over.

Red vest, black hair, strawhat. Sencho. Luffy.

"'S okay, Zoro," Luffy whispers. "You protected him so good, Zoro. But, we're here now. Let us help, 'kay?"

Warm hands touch his, large and rough but somehow comforting and soft. "Here, let me take Chibi, okay? It's alright."

"'S okay, Zoro," Luffy says again. "He's gonna take care of the baby."

Luffy would never lie to him. Luffy won't let anything happen to Chibi. They're safe, now. Luffy is here and Zoro and Chibi are safe. After months, they're safe.

Chibi is eased away from him and Zoro blinks as the man stands with the squirming, screaming baby and begins to sway, muttering something before he begins to sing softly. 

Luffy climbs on the bed next to him, careful and slow. Golden blond hair and swirling eyebrows follow soon after. The cook. Nakama. Zoro's nakama are here. He and Chibi are safe. Luffy wraps an arm around Zoro's shoulders and pulls him into his side. The cook settles at Zoro's other side, close but not quite touching. 

"You make me happy. When skies are gray," the man sings softly. Zoro knows this song. Someone else sang it. This song is important. He needs to remember it. "You'll never know, dear. How much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away."

Chapter Text

Sanji never thought he'd be depending on Zoro to find his way around. Well, Roronoa, technically. In her intimate wisdom, Nami had suggested that they find other names to call the two visiting Strawhats. Family names were the navigator's instant suggestion, so Zoro's older self had become Roronoa. Then the navigator had turned to Sanji's older self and asked for his surname and Sanji had almost died. Never had he planned on telling anyone his surname. The answer his older self gave was somehow more horrifying. With a small smirk and complete confidence, the fucker had replied "Roronoa". 

"It's the only family name I've ever had, Nami-san."

And thus, Sanji's older self became "Blackleg".

The older chef vanished almost immediately, rambling about Taika while Roronoa decided to destroy everything in his goddamn path. It's never been a secret that Zoro is an absolute monster. His older self is a whole other level. One swing of his white blade, the swordsman splits the entire hallway in two. And all Sanji manages to think is holy shit

He's not impressed. Or turned on. He's not . It's just. Holy shit.

By the time they reach the cell holding the two marimos - wait, no three marimos. Fucking hell. There's a goddamn baby cradled in Zoro's arms. Their marimo is hunched on a bed, pressed against the wall with a screaming baby against his chest as he begs the baby to be quiet in a whisper. All senses seem to leave Sanji's mind. He can't manage to form a proper thought. To go to his distressed nakama, desperately trying to protect the precious bundle in his hands.

"Dad!" Taika lunges into Roronoa's arms, melting against his father.

Every inch of rage and fear seem to trickle out of the swordsman and he lets out a long breath. "Taika," he breathes, hugging the boy tightly. "Fuck, Taika. Are you alright?"

"Yeah." Taika's voice turns thick with tears.

"Zoro!" Luffy bounds into the room, all excited energy and wide grins until he actually spots his terrified swordsman. "Oi?"

Taika pulls away from his father as Luffy moves toward Zoro. "Sencho, don't touch him, wait!"

Luffy freezes, turning to the boy with wounded eyes. 

Sanji's gaze moves back to the whimpering swordsman. Hunched over, shaking, whispering desperately. Like, Taika, Zoro is bruised. Two of the fingers on his right hand look like they might be broken. There's a split in his lip.

Voice shaking, Sanji takes another step into the cell. "What in the shitty Four Blues happened to him?"

Still squatting in front of the bed, Blackleg looks back at them and frowns. "He's scared."

Gently pulling Taika back, Roronoa gestures for his chef. "Probably. But, I'm sure the drugs aren't helping."

"Drugs?" Blackleg demands, fury flickering in his eyes. "They drugged him."

"They used to drug me. Come on back, Cook. He's trying to protect the baby."

"He hit his head."

"Sanji, back up."

Scowling, the other chef does as he's told. Taika attaches himself to his Papa's side immediately as Roronoa moves to kneel in front of the bed. It's strange, watching any form of Zoro be so fucking gentle. His voice barely a whisper, a comforting hum, Sanji finds himself glued to his spot, watching Luffy and Roronoa carefully coax the baby from Zoro's grip.

"Oi, oi, Chibi," the older swordsman says softly as he stands with the baby. "What's wrong? Did they wake you up? Those bastards."

Chibi, Roronoa calls him, because Zoro hasn't given him a name yet.

"Sanji," Luffy calls, waving him over.

Roronoa backs away, swaying with the sobbing baby, and nods toward the bed. Luffy's already crawling on, carefully making his way to Zoro's side. It’s an obvious and gentle message: he’s scared. He needs his nakama. Sanji can do at least that much. That’s what they do, Sanji and Zoro. They protect their nakama. Except, this time, it’s Zoro who needs protection.

"Oi, Cook," Roronoa says softly. "Go get Chopper. And see if you can find the lab on your way through. There'll be a sedative in there. Grab that too."

Sanji settles himself on the bed, watching the older men as Luffy pulls Zoro's shaking form against him. 

"Sedative? The fuck do you need that for?"

"Sanji," Roronoa says softly. "Please."

It's so fucking weird to look at himself, especially when he's watching the worry flashing through his own eyes when he looks at Zoro. They're married, Sanji knows. These two men are married, the way Taika talks, they clearly love each other - even though the week-long journey to this base had mostly been Blackleg lecturing his mossheaded, asshole of a husband for being an asshole. So, it makes sense that Blackleg is looking at Zoro with such burning pain and protection in his eyes. But, Sanji never imagined looking at Zoro like that.

"Yosh," Blackleg finally says, pausing to kiss Taika's temple. "I'll be right back. Don't wander off. Either of you."

He vanishes without another word. 

Roronoa lets out a long breath, still bouncing around with the baby, and eyes Taika carefully. "Do you want Wado?"

Taika looks surprised, blinking at him. "How did you-?"

"Her ship is here. Do you want Wado?"

"You're gonna let me go?"

The father and son fall quiet for a moment. 

"I don't want to," Roronoa finally admits. "But, if you feel like you have to, I understand."

Taika's lips twitch. "I'll be quick."

Roronoa hums. "If you're not back before Papa, I'm sending him to get you. And don't forget Sencho's rule."

"Yosh."

The kid bolts out the fucking door. Sighing, Roronoa finally turns his attention to the wailing infant in his arms.

"Yosh, yosh, Chibi. Shh, you're alright."

And then, to Sanji's absolute shock, the man starts to sing. It's an old lullaby, one Sanji thinks he used to hear his mother sing. He dances around as well, moving himself and the baby with ease and grace and without a trace of embarrassment. It looks so natural.

"You are my sunshine. My only sunshine. You make me happy. When skies are gray. You'll never know, dear. How much I love you. Please, don't take my sunshine away. Please, don't take my sunshine away."

At Sanji's side, Zoro has completely collapsed against Luffy, eyes closed but still trembling lightly. Luffy clutches him tight, whispering into his filthy green hair. From the new position, the stained set of too big clothing Zoro’s wearing have shifted and Sanji catches a stain of black on his nakama’s neck. Vomit bubbles at the base of his throat. The number one with the Marine’s logo, a number to match Taika's, has been tattooed into Zoro’s neck. The same tattoo that Sanji’s seen poking out from beneath the collar of Roronoa’s shirt.

The baby continues to wail.

"Good to know you're as loud as Taika," Roronoa mutters to the child. "Alright. Hmm, let's try: La la la la, lemon. La la la la, lamplight. La la la la, lumps in my oatmeal. La la la la, lullaby. La la la la, lollipops. La la la la, lights in the sky."

Sanji stares at him, well aware that his mouth has fallen open. This man, standing there, is Roronoa Zoro. The Demon of the East Blue. The man who lives for blood and violence and fighting. The only man that Sanji has ever looked at and thought that he's looking at the true definition of a fucking man. And he swings a newborn baby in his arms like it's second nature. With all the grace and ease of a practiced mother. And gradually, the baby in his arms quiets, snuggling into the warmth and safety. 

Sanji's seen a lot of strange things since he started sailing with Luffy. This is by far the strangest.

"La la la, linoleum. La la la la la, la listen to me. Cause L is such a lovely letter. For words like licorice. And lace. And I love you. The letter L lights up your face, so won't you la la la la, la la la la, la la la la la with me." A small sigh of relief. "There we go, Chibi. See? That's not so bad. We're gonna go to Sunny soon. Nothing to be scared of there, is there?"

Despite the horrible situation surrounding them, Roronoa looks slightly amused when he catches Sanji's eye. 

"What?" the father asks, still bouncing on his toes with the baby.

"Zoro-ossan's real good at that," Luffy finds his voice long before Sanji does.

His gray eye darkens. "For fuck's sake, Luffy, I'm only thirty-nine. Stop calling me that."

Luffy lets out a small laugh and Roronoa's lips quirk. Apparently, whatever tension and anger the two have been harboring has vanished. The room is relaxed, both the baby and Zoro quiet and calm. 

Sanji senses his crew long before he sees them. Usopp, Chopper, and Nami all stumble in, Sanji's older self behind them scowling down at the large bottle in his hand.

The three younger Strawhats freeze, staring at Roronoa with wide eyes and open mouths.

"Is that," Nami breathes, seemingly torn between awe and confusion. "A baby?"

"A baby?" Chopper scuttles closer, looking up at Roronoa with a deeply concerned frown. "Where did a baby come from?"

"Well," Usopp says, inching forward as well. "You see, when two people love each other very much-"

Sanji is going to kick the shitty sniper into next year. Because that isn’t even close to how this baby came about. Two people didn’t love each other very much to bring Chibi into existence. Someone hurt their nakama to make that child. And joking about it to hide the horrible truth isn’t going to fix anything.

"What? Usopp! I'm a doctor! I know that part. This baby. Where did this baby come from?"

"Chopper," Roronoa says calmly, even as the baby squirms in his arms, clearly displeased by the noise. "I've got Chibi. Take care of him."

All three of their gazes move to Zoro, curled into Luffy's side and breathing far heavier than he should. Chopper springs into action, leaping onto the bed and Sanji slides himself off to give the doctor more room. Nami and Usopp inch forward as Chopper begins his examination and Roronoa begins to sway with the baby again.

"Zoro," Blackleg says, voice tense. "Where's Taika?"

Roronoa shifts the baby so it's head rests against his collarbone, bouncing on his toes slightly as Chibi - what an awful name. They have to find that poor child something else - whines softly. "He'll be back."

"Are you kidding me? We just found him and you let him wander off!"

"Keep your voice down . If he starts crying again, you're going to freak out the younger me. Taika can take care of himself, Cook. And this is something he needed to do."

"Needed to do?" Blackleg drops his voice only slightly, glaring. "You're the one that gets antsy when the kid breathes wrong but you let him wander off in this hellhole."

"Sanji," Roronoa growls. "I know you don't understand, but you have to try. He's never going to get rid of the anger if he just shoves it down. It'll sit there and fester until it brings out the demon. And I have no interest in dealing with that . I'm the one that gave him The Talk. You can deal with Asura."

"God, why the fuck did I have to marry you ?"

Apparently, unphased by the words, Roronoa glances back at the doctor and his patient. Nami inches herself closer to Sanji as Chopper works, unwilling to move their first mate from the safety of his captain's arms.

"I don't understand," Chopper whispers, watching sweat trickle down Zoro’s face as he whines in confusion. "He doesn't have a fever. Why-?"

"Chopper," Roronoa says. "Sanji has the sedative. Give it to him."

"S-sedative?" Chopper stutters and Sanji furrows his brow at the older marimo. "He's not doing anything. I'm not worried about him hurting himself."

"I know." Again, Sanji never imagined Zoro's voice being this gentle. Even with Chopper, he's never been so quiet and soft. "They made it themselves. It's addictive."

Sanji's stomach drops. Blackleg's gaze snaps to Roronoa, as does everyone else's. Chopper blinks, looking between the two marimos for a moment before realization dawns on his face.

"He's going through withdrawal." Without another word, the young doctor linges to snatch the sedative from Blackleg's hand. "Oh, Zoro."

A tired gray eye flickers open and Zoro lets out a low whimper, pressing himself further into Luffy as he watches Chopper. But he doesn't fight. It makes Sanji sick, watching sweat drip down Zoro's face, face pinched with pain and exhaustion.

"You were hooked on that shit?" Blackleg snaps from behind them.

"Don't get your panties in a twist, Cook," the older swordsman says with an eye roll. "They took me off it when Taika was still little. Once they knew I wouldn't fight with him around. It sucked, but I lived."

The response doesn't do much to calm the older chef's anger mutterings. Sanji feels a familiar presence poking at the back of his mind and the older men must sense it too because they pause their bickering to look at the cell door. Taika emerges, blood spattered across his face and chest, with three familiar swords at his hip. Zoro's katana. So that's what the kid was after.

"Told you," Roronoa mutters.

"Shut it." 

Taika drops his gaze, hands lingering around the hilt of Zoro's white sword. His treasure. The kid had gone to get his treasure back.

"Alright, Tiger?" Roronoa asks.

"Fine."

"Remembered Sencho's rule?"

"Hai. She wouldn'ta been worth it anyway. She's a smaller fry now." Taika turns to Blackleg, though he seems hesitant to meet his eye. "I'm sorry, Papa. But, I couldn't let her have Wado. It's his dream."

Blackleg heaves a heavy sigh, hand cupping Taika's cheek with such affection and care that Sanji feels jealousy flare in his stomach. That's all he'd ever wanted. That genuine fatherly love and affection. Someone that would cross the world to protect him. 

"I know, Sprout. Some things are more important than our pride."

Taika gives him a relieved smile. 

“Zoro-ossan?” Luffy calls softly, stiller than Sanji’s ever seen him sit.

“Hmm?”

“Do we gotta get anything else? Or can we get Zoro outta here?”

“Let’s get him home, Sencho.”

 

 

With the Marine base in ruins behind them - after a particularly dumb Marine decided it was a good idea to make a comment about Taika and Roronoa had leveled the entire thing with a single attack - and the lovely Robin assisting Chopper in the infirmary with their unconscious swordsman, the rest of the crew settle into the kitchen. Sanji shoves down the slight annoyance as Blackleg moves around him with ease, grabbing ingredients and crushing them into a fine powder as Sanji tries to make dinner before his lovely angels start to get hungry.

And, every second that he doesn’t light up a cigarette, Sanji’s temper ticks lower and lower. Apparently, babies can’t be around cigarette smoke. Roronoa and Blackleg had been pretty firm on that. And, then, the fuckers had tossed his packs overboard. Even his fucking emergency pack. And then , Blackleg had the nerve to hand him a goddamn lollipop, saying it had nicotine in it and it would help. It hasn’t really helped the urge to fucking kill both of them.

“He’s so tiny,” Luffy says, leaning over Roronoa’s shoulder to look at the baby cradled in his arms.

“He’s only a few weeks old, Luffy,” Roronoa replies around a sigh. “Usopp, if you don’t stop breathing on my neck, I’m going to let Taika use you for kicking practice.”

The sniper scrambles back with a whimper. Taika lets out a laugh, leaning against his father’s free shoulder with his eyes half open.

“Keep that ice on your wrist,” Roronoa orders. “It’ll help the swelling go down.”

“I know, Dad.”

“Then why aren’t you doing it?”

Taika moans.

“Luffy, you haven’t washed your hands. Don’t touch Chibi.”

Glancing over his shoulder, Sanji watches Luffy drop into the chair beside Roronoa with a pout. Across the table, Nami sits on her knees to look at the baby as Usopp slinks into the chair beside her. 

“His name isn’t really Chibi, is it?” the navigator asks hesitantly, her nose crinkled slightly at the thought.

“No,” Roronoa sighs. “It’s a placeholder. I used to call Taika that before I picked his name.”

“But, you picked my name before I was out, didn’t you?” Taika asks.

“Put that ice on your damn wrist or I’m going to tape it there. And, yes, I did. Clearly he didn’t think your name fits Chibi.”

As if stirred by his name, the baby lets out a soft whine.

“Shit. Sanji-”

“Two seconds,” Blackleg says. From the corner of his eye, Sanji watches him pull a bottle out of a pan of steam water and pour a droplet of the liquid onto his wrist. “How hot is this supposed to be again?”

Roronoa sighs. “Did it burn you?”

“No.”

“Does it feel like it just came out of the fridge?”

“No.”

“Give it here.”

“What’s the magic word?”

“I’ll let him scream.”

T’sking, Sanji’s older self walks the bottle over to the table. “You are an insufferable, mannerless brute.”

“Jokes on you. You married me.”

“And I’ll regret it until the day I die.”

Roronoa laughs. Chibi lets out another soft whine. “Yosh, yosh. There you, Chibi. Good stuff, huh? Better than that shit the Marines gave you. What are you lot looking at?”

“Zoro-ossan’s real good at that,” Luffy says for the second time.

Sanji pours more white wine into the saucepan. 

Blackleg sniggers. “Ossan, huh, marimo?”

“Fuck you.”

“Rain check.”

Sanji chokes on his own spit. 

Taika moans. “Gross. Stop it.”

“Now what are you morons looking at?” Roronoa growls.

“Huh? Oh, nothing. Nothing. We aren’t looking at anything, are we?” Usopp stutters.

“You’ll have to excuse us, Roronoa-san,” Brook says. “It’s just, well, it is very rare to see you and Sanji-san speak without arguing.”

“I’ll say, bro! It’s suuuper weird for you two to get along,” Franky adds.

“Is that way Curly-chan keeps choking on his own fucking spit over there?”

Okay, Sanji’s let this go on long enough. “Who the hell are you calling chan?” he demands, spinning around.

Blackleg rolls his eyes, cuffing Roronoa on the back of his head. Taika sniggers softly. 

Roronoa grins broadly. “That’d be you, Little Curly,” he replies evenly.

“Stop antagonizing,” Blackleg orders sharply. “And, Taika, put that ice back on your wrist.”

“Huh? Oh, fuck, sorry.”

Roronoa chuckles.

Blackleg frowns. “Don’t say the fuck word. It’s bad for Dad’s health.”

“Why the fuck is it bad for my health.”

“Because you taught it to him, so I’ll beat you to fucking death.”

Pulling the still half full bottle from Chibi’s mouth, Roronoa places it on the table and carefully shifts the baby to his shoulder, patting his small back with a soft but firm hand. His gaze meets Sanji’s, shaking his head in exasperation.

“If it makes you feel any better, Little Cook, you can rest assured that my - and probably his - opinion of you is - and always will be - that you are an insufferable bastard.”

“Jokes on you,” Blackleg replies smoothly. “You married me.”

Sanji isn’t sure if it makes him feel better or not. The kitchen door swings open and Chopper’s hooves clack into the room, followed by Robin’s soft footsteps. All eyes move to them, apart from Roronoa, who’s already turned his attention back to the squirming infant and muttering something about the little glutton needing to burp before he can eat more.

“How’s Zoro?” Luffy asks as Chopper makes his way to the table.

Chopper glances around at them nervously, gaze lingering on Roronoa, Taika, and Chibi. “Well, I think he’s going to be alright physically. He’s lost a lot of weight. Definitely malnourished. We should start him on broth and light food, Sanji.”

Malnourished. They weren’t feeding him properly. Those bastards. They were going to let Sanji’s nakama starve. Anger pounds in his veins, tightens his chest.

“Don’t burn the fucking sauce, dipshit.” Blackleg’s already got the saucepan off the flame, moving it away from heat with a frown. “Go, sit down.”

“It’s my kitchen,” Sanji snaps, rounding on his older self.

“If you couldn’t handle hearing that they were starving him, you won’t be able the rest. Go sit down.”

“Sanji,” Roronoa snaps.

“What? I’m not having him ruin perfectly good food because he’s too busy thinking about-”

“Stop.”

The two glare at each other for a long moment. From the corner of his eye, Sanji watches Chopper dive behind Robin to hide. The rest of the crew sit tense and silent. Taika presses himself a little further into Roronoa’s shoulder, suddenly very interested in the table, hunching down as if to make himself smaller.

“Sanji.” Luffy fixes him with a stern look. “Sit down. Let Sanji-ossan cook.”

“I’m thirty-nine, shithead.”

Shooting his older self a glare, Sanji takes the seat beside Nami. Chopper peaks out from behind Robin’s legs slowly and their beautiful historian ushers him back to his chair before she takes her own seat.

“Do continue, Chopper-san,” Brook encourages gently.

Chopper lets out a deep breath, gaze flickering to Roronoa again before back down to the table. “Well, Zoro’s index and middle finger were broken and he has some pretty severe bruising in various places. I noticed a lot of needle marks, which I’m assuming are from the sedative they’ve been giving him. I don’t think it will take too long to wean him off of it. He didn’t seem too bad earlier, which probably means he wasn’t on it for too long. But, um, Zo-Roronoa?”

“Hai, Chopper?”

“I know you guys didn’t want to tell us earlier, but will you tell us now? Zoro has needle marks on his hips, they’re deeper and more heavily bruised than the rest. And the only thing I can think of is that they were pulling bone marrow from him. Which is used to treat a variety of diseases, so I’m worried that Chibi-”

“He doesn’t,” the older marimo interrupts gently. “Deep breathes, Chopper. Chibi’s fine. You can give him a checkup once he’s done eating, if you’d like. But, I promise you, he’s fine.”

“If I have a theory,” Chopper says softly. “Will you tell me if I’m right?”

Roronoa turns his head just enough to kiss the crown of Taika’s head. He doesn’t yell at the young teen when he drops the ice to wrap both arms around his father, ducking underneath the arm holding Chibi’s bottle in a nervous hug.

“Taika was born from just my DNA, Chopper. And Chibi comes from your Zoro’s.”

“Nobody rapes my dad.” Taika had said. Along with insisting time and time again that his name is Taika, that he isn’t Zoro. 

But, he kind of is.

“Taika and Chibi are clones,” Chopper mutters.

Taika hides his face in his father’s chest, tense and silent.

“Taika is my son,” Roronoa replies, voice soft but firm. 

A quiet warning. They got to use that word once . Now, they’re never to refer to Taika or Chibi as a clone again. 

“Nobody rapes my dad.” Taika had said. 

But, in some ways, they did. The Marines violated their nakama, used Zoro’s body against his will as a way to create a baby. They’d drugged him, strapped him down, branded him, stole bits of who he is, and then used the child against him. Clearly threatened to hurt Chibi, based on the way Zoro had been so scared to let anyone other than himself touch the baby.

Sanji’s hands shake. His heart thunders in his chest.

“I didn’t think that was possible,” Franky mutters softly. “To have just one parent.”

“Taika doesn't have just one parent.” There’s a forced calm in Roronoa’s voice as he pulls the empty bottle from Chibi’s mouth and shifts the baby to burp him again. “He has me and Sanji.”

“Well, yeah, I know Zoro-ossan-bro. I just meant-”

“I know what you meant.”

The cyborg wisely lets the subject drop. Silence engulfs the table. Taika doesn’t shift his position, pressed against his father’s side and clinging tightly as Zoro continues to pat the baby on the back. 

“Is-is there any - um - medical things I should worry about, with Chibi?” Chopper finally asks. “All the research I’ve read on - uh - the subject. I mean most of the time-”

“None of that ever happened with Taika.” Roronoa flinches. “Oi, Tiger, not so tight.”

“Sorry,” Taika mutters.

The teen is rewarded with another kiss on the head. They lapse into silence again, only the soft clinking of pots and pans behind them. Normally, it would drive Sanji insane, having someone else in his kitchen - even if it is technically Sanji in the kitchen. But, right now, his brain is fuzzy and infuriated and all he wants to do is turn around, go back to that base, and murder anyone left.

After a moment, Chibi lets out a small burp and Roronoa shifts, somehow bringing the baby back against the crook of his elbow without once disturbing the distraught teenager attached to him. Then, the older man raises his gaze to Chopper again, giving him a gentle smile.

“Do you want to check him over, Chopper?”

The small doctor’s ears press back against his head. “I don’t know a lot about human babies,” he admits after a moment. “I didn’t think I’d ever be the doctor for one.”

Nami lets out a soft, distressed noise. “Oh, God. A baby on a pirate ship. That can’t happen.” Her gaze snaps to their captain. “Luffy, we can’t have a baby on Sunny.”

Roronoa’s eye darkens dangerously. The noise from the stove stops completely as though Blackleg has stopped as well.

Nami isn’t completely wrong. The idea of a baby on a pirate ship - with a bunch of young and inexperienced morons - is terrible. Mostly because it could end disastrously for the baby. And Sanji knows that Chibi’s safety is Nami’s concern. It has to be. Because the beautiful and kind Nami-swan would only think of the safety of an innocent. But, the thought of forcing Zoro to give away the child he’s fought so hard to protect makes Sanji sick. And, he suspects it would only do damage to their swordsman.

“That’s not Nami’s choice,” Luffy replies firmly.

“Luffy,” Nami tries to protest.

“No.” The firmness turns to slight anger. “Chibi isn’t Nami’s. She doesn’t get to decide what to do with him.”

Nami’s jaw clicks shut.

“Zoro gets to pick. If Zoro doesn’t want Chibi to stay with us-”

“We’ll take him.” The older chef and marimo speak in unison.

Sanji doesn’t miss the way Roronoa’s arm tightens protectively around Taika. His eye moves to Luffy, still dark with anger at Nami’s words, but not overwhelmed or dangerous. Luffy stares back.

“If he really doesn’t want the little one, we’ll find a way to take him home with us.”

Luffy gives him a slight smile. “Yosh. I don’t think we’re gonna have to, though.”

“Neither do I.”

 

 

Weaning Zoro off of the sedative they’d given him turns out to be a little rougher than any of them expected it to be. Even Roronoa seems slightly surprised at the violent response that comes along with the withdrawal hallucinations. Apparently, having Zoro lash out at anyone who got too close to him, confusing them with Marine doctors and trying to protect himself and Chibi, isn’t something that the older swordsman remembers.

“It was thirteen years ago. And I was hallucinating. How the fuck was I supposed to remember that?” he demands when Blackleg comes out from helping strap Zoro down, sporting a black eye. “Looks good on you, though.”

“I fucking hate you.”

Between Zoro’s difficult withdrawal symptoms and Chibi’s constant crying - something called colic according to Roronoa -, quiet is rare on the Sunny’s decks. Not that he would ever admit it out loud, but Sanji is incredibly grateful that the island that will send them home is about a month away. Roronoa calms Chibi with practice ease and normally within a reasonable amount of time. The few times anyone else on the crew - Nami, Chopper, Usopp, Franky, and Sanji - has tried to calm the screaming child, it’s taken hours. And didn’t actually happen until the grumpy, middle aged swordsman emerged from wherever he’d been napping, snatched the baby out of their arms, and calmed him in a matter of minutes.

It takes Taika a few days to get back into his normal attitude. For at least forty-eight hours, Sanji swears the teen has lost his voice. He follows his parents around like a lost puppy, generally trying to hide himself in Roronoa’s side whenever possible. It isn’t until Sanji had finds the kid in the shower, scrubbing himself raw, alerts his father, and listens to the poor fucking kid sob his heart out in his dad’s arms for well over an hour that Taika gradual comes back out of his shell.

“He doesn’t like what he is,” Blackleg warns when the crew sits down for dinner that night, missing all of their marimos. “He’s ashamed of it. Always has been. He didn’t want you to know. He’ll work his way out of it. Just don’t push him.”

And, they don’t. He talks to Sanji first. Which, all things considered, makes a lot of sense. To Taika, Sanji is Papa after all. The young man wanders into the kitchen at the crack of dawn and sits down at the table without either of his parents present.

“I’m sorry,” Taika mutters.

“For what, Brussels Sprout?”

“It was rude and childish. To hide with Dad like that. Sorry.”

“Forget about it. Want to help me? I’m making eggs benedict.”

“That’s my favorite.”

The rest of the crew stumble in one by one, all looking pleasantly surprised when the youngest member greets them quietly. Luffy beams brighter than the sun, his excitement only growing when Chopper arrives to tell them that Zoro had woken up in the night without any hallucinations. The first time in almost a week.

Roronoa stumbles in with Chibi almost five minutes later, yawning with the same obnoxious noise as his younger counterpart. He ruffles Taika’s hair on his way by, a slight bounce in his step as he hums an upbeat tune. Before Sanji gets the chance to ask what’s got him in such a good fucking mood, the very bright red and very obvious mark on his neck catching the chef’s eye. It takes all Sanji’s willpower not to gag.

“Oh, Dad,” Taika whines. “Is that a hickey ? Seriously? How old are you guys?”

“It’s not a hickey,” his father snaps, though the red creeping up his neck suggests the exact opposite. “It’s just a bug bite. Now, shut it.”

The kitchen door swings open again and Blackleg all but dances in the doorway. “Good morning, everyone. Can I help with breakfast?”

Giggling lightly, Robin brings her coffee mug up to her lips. “And the bug arrives.”

Taika groans, turning back to the food. “I hate you guys.”

“Love you too, Sprout.”

 

 

“Little Cook.” Roronoa grabs Sanji by his tie and drags him into the kitchen, surprisingly free of Chibi. “Come with me.”

“Oi, oi!” Sanji protests, stumbling along with the aged mossball. “Don’t you have any fucking manners?”

“Not generally, no.” The fucker smirks at him. “Didn’t take much to get you to stop complaining about it though.”

“Gah! No, stop!” 

Roronoa laughs.

“What the fuck do you want, asshole?” 

“Help me make Chibi’s bottle.”

Sanji blinks in surprise, taken back as the words settle in. “What?”

“You’re the chef, right? You’ll have to make his formula. Might as well know how to make the bottle too.”

It takes a moment of staring for Sanji to get his voice back. There’s no way Sanji heard him right. Zoro has never, never called Sanji anything other than “cook”. Despite how many times Sanji has tried to explain the difference, the idiot has never listened. “Did. Did you just call me a chef?” 

“Well, that’s what you are, isn’t it? You create recipes, not follow them.”

“You listened to that?”

Roronoa’s lips twitch. “Always.”

 

 

“Why the fuck does this kid keep spitting up on me?” 

The better question is how the hell did Sanji let himself be convinced to try to feed the baby. But, given Roronoa’s roars of laughter, he isn’t going to get an answer to either question. Taika at least has the decency to look like he feels bad for Sanji, holding the wailing baby away from his shoulder that’s now covered in thick, disgusting vomit for the second time that day.

“You made the formula too thick,” the old marimo finally manages to tell him, pulling Chibi into his own arms and vanishing into the kitchen between huffs of laughter. 

“Your father is an asshole,” Sanji tells Taika.

 

 

“Why are there so many. Songs about rainbows. And what’s on the other side.” Sanji’s not quite sure how he ended up holding the baby out on the deck while Taika and Roronoa nap against the mast and Blackleg cooks lunch. He just knows that Chibi whines softly in his arms and this is normally what Roronoa does to calm the little guy down. Though, seeing as Roronoa is a father, he probably actually knows the words to the damn song.. “Rainbows are something. They’re always in the sky.”

A soft snort interrupts Sanji’s soft singing. Roronoa’s gray eye opens to watch him, sparkling in amusement. “That’s not how the song goes.”

“I know, asshole.”

“Why are there so many. Songs about rainbows.” Roronoa tugs Taika’s sleeping form a little closer as he begins to sing, kissing the crown of the boy’s head. “And what’s on the other side. Rainbows are visions. They’re also illusions. And rainbows have nothing to hide. So we’ve been told and some chose to believe it. I know they’re wrong, wait and see. Someday we’ll find it. The rainbow connection. The lovers. The dreamers. And me.”

Sanji commits the words to memory as Roronoa sings, trying to catch the tune and soft lulls of highs and lows. Though, he’s not sure why. Brook’s the damn musician. Shouldn’t the shitty skeleton be the one singing the kid to sleep?

“Sing My Favorite Things next,” Taika mutters as the song comes to a close.

“You remember that song?” Roronoa asks.

“That’s the one where you sing about Papa’s eyebrows.”

Roronoa chuckles. “Yes it is.”

 

 

“Alright, I cave. What the hell are you two doing?” Sanji demands.

He’s ruined at least two suits, he knows more lullabies than he ever imagined he’d ever learn, and he just wants a fucking cigarette. But, unfortunately, that isn’t really possible anymore. The kitchen is blissfully empty, apart from his older counterpart, diligently making a fresh supply of baby formula. Chopper’s gone to check on Zoro - this is the first day they’re trying to get away without giving the swordsman any of the sedatives - along with a slightly anxious Luffy. The rest of the crew has spread out to do their usual routine. Roronoa, Taika, and Chibi are probably still all sleeping on the deck. And Sanji is wondering how on Earth he ended up with all the fucking baby information. Especially when there are far better suited people on the ship. Like the lovely and soft Nami or Robin.

“Elaborate,” Blackleg says carelessly, not looking up from his ingredients.

“I’m not going to marry that green haired bastard.”

“I’m not asking you to. Got to be honest with you, I couldn’t give a fuck.”

“Well tell that to your shitty husband.”

Heat races to Sanji’s cheeks when his counterpart lets out a bark of laughter. “You think Zoro gives a shit about what you two do?”

“Why else is he making me take care of the baby?”

Sighing, the older chef sets down his ingredients and turns to face him, leaning against the counter. “We’re married.”

“I noticed. What in the shitty Four Blues does that have to do with me?”

“Look, there are only two people that Zoro completely trusts with Taika. Himself and me.”

“And?”

“And, Chibi and Taika are,” he pauses, searching for the right word. “Similar. And, Chibi might not be his, but Zoro’s still anxious about the kid.”

“Why?”

“That’s not my place. And it has nothing to do with this conversation. He’s making you take care of Chibi because that way, when we go home - if you guys decide to keep him - he knows Chibi will be taken care of.”

It makes sense, in a strange and twisted kind of way. Roronoa wants to know someone he trusts is looking after Chibi. And, given Chibi and Taika’s similarities, it isn’t really surprising how quickly the older man has become attached to the baby. But still, it doesn’t make any sense. He and Zoro hate each other. How could Roronoa and Blackleg ever happen?

“Well, tell him to trust someone else.”

The older chef scoffs. “Yeah, that would go over well. Look, like it or not, he trusts you and only you to look after Chibi.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re me.”

“I am not.”

“Look, kid, I’m not going to argue with you all day. Just, know that Zoro trusts that you love him.”

Even more heat rushes to Sanji’s face. Nope. No, absolutely not. He does not love Zoro. Just because his counterpart lost his mind doesn’t mean Sanji ever will.

“I do not -”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, I know. You don’t love Zoro. Except that you do. No. Stop. Listen, alright. All I’m trying to say is that, at the end of the day, we feel the same way about him. You have to understand, I hate Zoro so much some days. But, if anyone ever hurt him, I would torture them until they begged for mercy. And that’s how you feel too, isn’t it? Think about it. What would you give to go back to that base without Luffy?” 

Anything, if Sanji’s being honest. They raped his nakama. They used Zoro against his will. Threatened him. Beat him. Hooked him on some shitty homemade sedative. Those bastards are the reason that his nakama had flinched away from him and begged for his baby not to cry. Those bastards are the reason Zoro screams and throws himself around, locked in horrifying hallucinations that none of them can calm him down from. 

Sanji would give anything to be able to make those assholes regret their decision to hurt his nakama. Because, Zoro is his . His to protect. His nakama.

Oh. Oh .

“Look, I’m not saying you’re in love with him. Trust me, it took me a very long time to see a part of Zoro that I could fall in love with. It took Taika. That kid made him a better person. Makes me a better person. Just like Zoro does. I’m not saying that you’re in love with him. But, you do love him. He’s nakama. And, it’s okay. It’s gonna have to be. Because, speaking from experience, he’s going to need you.” Blackleg sighs, running a hand through his hair. “Everyone else on this crew expects him to be Roronoa Zoro . Expects him to be an unshakable badass, all of the time. Even Luffy.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Because it is. Even Zoro can’t just walk away from this.

“But they do. Trust me, they do. I’m not telling you to fall in love with him or marry him or any of that stupid shit. Because that’s not what I was doing when I tried to help him with Taika. I’m asking you to be his nakama first and his crewmate second. That’s it.”

The air seems thicker. The words hang heavy in the air. No one on this crew can really expect Zoro to be okay , can they? Thriller Bark , his mind whispers. Because, they let him pretend to be okay after Thriller Bark. Maybe, it isn’t so much that they expect him to be okay, it’s more that none of them have the time or patience to argue with the swordsman. None of them want to fight him on it. It’s just easier to let Zoro break down and comfort him through the aftermath. 

From beyond the kitchen door, Chibi’s loud cry splits the air. Blackleg sighs, turning back to the counter and Sanji’s conscious screams at him. Because, at the end of the day, his counterpart is right. No one on this crew is going to fight Zoro the way he needs to be fought. That’s up to Sanji.

“Give me the bottle. I’ll do it.”

 

 

It’s warm again. Warm and quiet and dark. Too quiet. Why is it too quiet? His chest feels light. There should be some sort of weight there. Something is missing. Something is gone.

Chibi.

Shit. Shit. No. No. No.

Zoro shoots up, ignoring the way his head spins slightly and dull aches move through his back and hips. All of his bones ache now. Ever since they started sticking that damn needle into his hips, he hasn’t been able to get rid of the light, drumming aches that shoot through his bones and muscles at every turn. When they all flare up together, it’s almost impossible for Zoro to move. But, right now, he has to. He has to move. 

Because Chibi isn’t here. Chibi isn’t here and Zoro doesn’t even know where here is. He just knows that it’s too bright and warm to be his room. And that’s wrong. But, it doesn’t matter. Zoro doesn’t care where he is, he just wants his fucking son.

His legs don’t work right, leaving him to stumble along beneath the bandages when his legs try to lock up. His hand finds hardwood, knocking things from the surface, but he can’t seem to care. Just find Chibi. That’s all he needs to do. He can’t lose that baby. He can’t. He can’t.

Somehow, he manages to find a cold doorknob. His fingers slip around the brass, door pulling open and he stumbles forward as his knees give out.

Arms catch him before he hits the ground and he knows he should panic, but he can’t force himself to do anything but gasp uselessly for air.

“Oi, oi,” a voice says. Zoro knows that voice. That voice is safe. That voice is nakama. “It’s alright, marimo, I’ve got you.”

The light blinds him, impossible for Zoro to see. He wishes they’d turn it off. But there’s only one person that calls him marimo. The cook. Nakama. He’s safe. He’s safe. But Chibi. Where is Chibi.

“Chi,” he stutters, grasping uselessly at the cook’s shirt. Shouldn’t he be wearing a suit coat? Doesn’t the cook where one of those? "Chi-bi.”

“It’s alright, he’s safe. Oi! Zoro! Oi!” The cook is shouting now, shouting his name like he isn’t half slumped against the man’s chest.

He tries to struggle upright, but everything hurts and spins. And, it’s wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The cook moves, shifting him until he’s leaning against the wall. Hand trembling, Zoro forces it up to block the light. But, it isn’t the light. It’s the sun. The sun beats down on him and a breeze ruffles through Zoro’s hair.

He isn’t there anymore. He isn’t there and they left Chibi. No. No, no, no. 

“Marimo, you gotta breathe for me. You’re going to hyperventilate. It’s alright.” The cook leans closer to him, hands resting on his shoulders and something in Zoro’s brain screams that this is wrong too. The cook looks different. It’s his face but it isn’t.

Boots thump against the ground and there’s suddenly someone else squatting in front of him. Green hair, three earrings, three swords, scar on the left eye. It’s Zoro. That is Zoro’s fucking face. But it’s older. His hair has a few streaks of gray. There’s a few extra scars littered across his skin. But that doesn’t matter. None of that matters. Because, whoever this man is, he’s cradling a small, polka dot green blanket.

Zoro’s chest heaves. Chibi. Chibi. Chibi.

“Oi, oi,” Zoro’s voice speaks out of the man’s mouth. It’s softer than Zoro thinks he’s ever spoken. Soothing and easy and calm. “Take a deep breath. You can’t hold him if you’re hyperventilating. You’ll drop him. Luffy, get your ass back to the kitchen. Now . Sanji will come get you when he’s calm. Go . For the love of fuck, this crew is ridiculous.”

The weird cook chuckles, sitting back to watch Zoro struggle to catch his breath. Breathe normal and he can hold Chibi. Breathe normal and he can have his son back. He’s done this before. It’s easy. Simple task to prove his endurance or healing ability to mental strength and they’ll let him have Chibi.

“There you go. One more deep breath. Good. Alright, here.” Carefully, Chibi is eased into his arms. The stranger with his face tugs his arms into the right position, allowing Chibi to nestle in comfortable. 

Zoro’s muscles go weak again and he slumps back against the wall. Chibi yawns, face scrunching slightly, and panic shoots through Zoro’s chest as he wiggles. Fuck. Did he wake the baby up? No. No. No.

“Please, don’t wake up,” he whispers, ignoring the small pricks of pain as he forces his body to work, curling around the baby. If the Marines can’t see him, maybe they’ll ignore him. “Please, don’t wake up. Please. Please. Please.”

“It’s alright,” he hears his own voice say, too patient to truly be his. “Babies cry. He’s alright. Sanji, go get Luffy. Just Luffy.”

Chibi wriggles a little more, his tiny fist punch upward slightly, but he doesn’t cry. He isn’t crying. Good. That’s good. Quiet is safe.

“Oi, look at me. Oi.”

Reluctantly, Zoro raises his gaze, stares into his own eye. Calm and world worn and gentle. It shouldn’t make him feel better. Shouldn’t make him feel safe, make him feel like Chibi is safe now. Somehow, it does.

“There you go. It’s alright. Babies cry, alright? He’s colicy. He’ll cry a lot. But that’s okay. Right, Sencho?”

Luffy appears at the strange cook’s abandoned spot, smiling softly. “Hai. It’s okay if Chibi cries, Zoro. We don’t care.”

Blinking again, Zoro glances around. Green grass. Blue skies. A tall mast. Billowing Jolly Roger.

“Sun-ny,” Zoro manages to mutter. 

“Right. We’re back on Sunny. Zoro n’ Chibi n’ Taika are safe. N’ Zoro-ossan’s been taking really good care of Chibi.”

“Luffy, for fuck’s sake. I’m thirty-nine , I’m not that old.”

“You got gray in your hair, though.”

“That’s because you’re my captain.”

“Shishishi, don’t think it’s my fault. I think Zoro just gets old.” Luffy’s eyes turn back to Zoro. “Are you hungry? I can get you meat!”

Hungry? No. No, Zoro isn’t hungry. In fact, his stomach churns uncomfortably at the mere thought of food. 

A particular sharp pain stabs into his knee.

“Zoro?” There’s a small note of panic in Luffy’s voice when he winces. “What’s wrong?”

“Oi, oi,” he hears his own voice again, patient and knowing. “Don’t curl up like that. You’ll lock up your joints again.”

“Listen to Zoro-ossan, okay?” Luffy says. A rubber hand touches his arm gently and Zoro can’t help his flinch. “‘S okay, Zoro. We’re gonna stretch out, ‘kay? Zoro? ‘M not gonna do it unless you say it’s okay. I can stop if you want. But, I don’t want you to hurt.”

Pulling in a deep breath, Zoro forces himself to look up at his captain. Luffy watches him with a small, forced smile, awaiting Zoro’s consent to touch him. Chibi shifts again, catching everyone’s attention. Small gray eyes peek open, his small mouth opening in another large yawn. Zoro’s breath catches in his throat as he watches the baby, waiting for the inevitable wailing that can only bring them trouble. Amazingly, no noise leaves. Instead, the baby lets out a smal, happy noise.

Something light flutters through Zoro’s chest. A smile pulls at his lips. Chibi is safe. Safe and happy. 

“Yo,” he mutters, carefully pulling the blanket away from the tip of the baby’s chin.

Chibi’s little hand moves again, small fingers wrapping around Zoro’s pinky. His hands are wrinkled but so soft. So tiny. Everything about him is so tiny. How was Zoro ever this tiny? He is strong, though. Little hand clamping tightly around Zoro’s smallest finger, determined not to allow him to move away.

How did Zoro make something so perfect? 

“Zoro?” Luffy calls again.

Oh, right. Luffy’s here. Luffy asked him something. Blinking hard, Zoro looks up at his captain’s soft brown eyes. Luffy’s face splits into a grin.

“Can I help you stretch out?” 

Stretch out? Stretch what out?

“Zoro-ossan said you can’t curl up, remember?”

Zoro-ossan? Oh, right. Right. There’s another Zoro beside Luffy. There’s got to be at least a twenty year difference. And, Luffy’s right. This guy has gray hair. It matches his gray eyes. Gentle and understanding eyes. 

“Just, don’t stay curled up too long,” the old man says after a moment, pushing himself to his feet. “I’ll have Sanji make something light. You’ve got to eat something.”

No. No, if he eats, they won’t let Chibi eat.

“We’ll make something for Chibi too,” his older self says. “Don’t worry. Sanji would never let anyone go hungry. You know that.”

He does. Zoro knows that the Cook would never let anyone go hungry. They both get to eat. It hits Zoro like a ton of bricks. He and Chibi both get to eat. Tears spring to his eyes and his chest heaves as Chibi continues to coo softly up at him.

They both get to eat. Zoro’s nakama are with him. They’re safe.

“Zoro?” Luffy whispers softly. “Oi, Zoro-ossan, what’s wrong with him?”

“Nothing, Luffy,” the older man replies. “He’s just happy. Sit with him, okay? I’m sure Sanji already has something on for him.”

Warmth spills down Zoro’s cheeks, making wet spots on Chibi’s blanket. They both get to eat. Luffy moves slowly, settling down beside Zoro and a warm arm wraps around his shoulder, tugging Zoro into his side.

“You’re safe, Zoro,” Luffy whispers. “Chibi too.”

For the first time in months, Zoro believes that.

Chapter Text

"So, wait, you left them down there, alone ?"

"Um. Well. Oh, yeah. Is. Is something wrong with that? Are they going to destroy the ship?" Usopp sounds briefly horrified.

Rolling his eyes, Sanji sets the first plate of lunch down in front of Zoro. It still feels off to serve Zoro of all people first, but Blackleg insisted it's the best way to deal with Zoro's eating issues. And, as much as Sanji hates to admit it, the marimo loving bastard is right. It has helped. He isn't sure if it helps something click in Zoro's brain when he has food before anyone else or if it just makes him feel good. Either way, they haven't had an issue since yesterday at lunch, Zoro's first meal back with everyone. And Sanji intends to keep it that way.

Zoro pays the food no mind, staring nervously down at the squirming baby in his arms. Chibi's already eaten, burped, and been changed and the baby still won't sit still. But at least he isn't screaming. 

Taika moans at Usopp's response, putting a hand to his head. "No. I mean, I don't think so. It's just. Well. I can't believe you left them alone , Usopp."

Robin lets out a barely stifled giggle and Franky wiggles his eyebrows. Sanji resists the urge to kick the shitty cyborg out of his kitchen for even thinking that.

"I don't understand why me getting up to come to breakfast is wrong," Usopp whines.

"Yeah, it isn't like your parents fight." Nami raises an eyebrow. "Do they?"

"No. Not seriously anyway. Not since I was little."

"Then what's the problem?'

Taika sighs. "Well, it's just."

A very clear and very vulgar noise makes it's way up into the kitchen, followed by a very throat "fuck, yes" . Sanji nearly drops Usopp's plate on his head. Robin's laughter breaks out, Usopp's entire face turns beet red, Nami glares at Sanji and then Zoro - who's finally looked up from Chibi with a look of absolute horror on his face - and Taika looks like he wants the floor to swallow him whole.

"Huh?" At the head of the table, Luffy's mind finally seems to move away from meat. "Was that Zoro-ossan?"

"Papa likes to go hard and Dad's a screamer," Taika mutters. After another round of screams of delight and random curses of pleasure, Taika glares at Sanji and Zoro. "In case Chibi ever forgets to tell you, you guys are the fucking worst."

"I'm upping both your debts," Nami whines, clapping hands over her ears.

Which, she absolutely should. Sanji has never in his life been so utterly embarrassed. Most of his anger, however, dissipates when he turns to glare at Zoro and finds the swordsman already fretting over the way Chibi's blanket sits on him. Which Sanj has picked up on as a sure sign that Zoro is nervous about something or other. Anytime Zoro gets a little uneasy, the marimo drops his gaze to the baby - as if checking to see if he’s awake - and then adjusts the marimo green polka dot blanket that Nami had been kind enough to pick out for him. 

What in the Four Blues Zoro has to be nervous about, Sanji has no idea. Nami ups everyone’s debts at least once a week and everyone knows that their older selves are together . Sanji shudders at the thought. Another delighted moan makes its way through the floor and Sanji resists the urge to storm down there and kick them both to death.

“Five hundred percent,” Nami says seethes. “Honestly, Zoro!”

The marimo keeps his gaze glued to Chibi as their lovely navigator turns to glare at Zoro as though it’s his fault. And, the strangest thing happens. Sanji has the sudden urge to stand up for Zoro. It isn’t Zoro’s fault that Roronoa is. Sanji struggles to think of a word that won’t traumatize him anymore than he already is. Loud. It isn’t Zoro’s fault that Roronoa is loud. Plus, the marimo’s entire body has gone tense, as though he either wants to bolt or curl himself into another one of those painful looking balls, trying to block Chibi from everyone’s view.

“It isn’t his fault my parents are gross,” Taika pipes up from across the table, voice a little firmer than it normally is with a lady.

The kid has been kind of protective - that’s the best word for it - of both Roronoa and Zoro since they left the base. Especially with Nami, of all people. Though, Sanji supposes he shouldn’t be that surprised about the whole thing. This is the second time that Taika’s had to suffer through the Marines’ experimentation. But, as far as Sanji can tell, all of the scientists had been male. So, why on earth Taika would be so snappy with the lovely Nami-swan, Sanji can’t figure out. 

“He is one of your parents,” Nami points out.

Taika’s eyes darken for a moment. “No, Nami-san, he isn’t. Chibi and I aren’t the same. Zoro’s not my father. And it isn’t his fault my dad’s so loud.”

Nami blinks in surprise, but immediately quiets down. Taika returns to his lunch and the rest of them fall silent. Luckily, it seems that the idiots down below have finished because the room around them is blissfully devoid of noise, apart from Luffy cramming as much food into his mouth as possible. Though, the captain has been surprisingly careful not to touch the food on Zoro’s plate. Sanji had assumed that Roronoa had said something to their captain but when he brought it up to Roronoa, the older swordsman had simply laughed.

“I didn’t tell Luffy jackshit. He’s an idiot, Little Cook. But he isn’t stupid.”

They’re halfway through lunch when Taika’s parents emerge from below deck. There’s a red tint lingering across Blackleg’s cheek and Roronoa has a large grin plastered across his face. It takes all of Sanji’s willpower not to kick the smug bastard right in the face.

“Yo, Tiger,” Roronoa says, ruffling Taika’s hair affectionately.

“No, gross!” Taika yelps, pushing the hand away. “Don’t touch me. Did you guys even shower?”

“Aw, Sprout.” Blackleg slips into the chair beside Taika and slings an arm over his shoulder to pull him into a hug. “I missed you. Give me a hug.”

“No! Papa, stop it!” Taika moans as Roronoa roars with laughter. “I hate you guys.”

It’s so fucking weird to see this. Even after a week of all three of them and a month of Blackleg and Roronoa, Sanji still can’t wrap his head around the idea that this is him and Zoro, with a kid. They’re a family. And they certainly act the part. It isn’t uncommon for Blackleg to kiss his husband’s cheek or for Roronoa to let Taika lean against his side and sing a soft lullaby. They’re like one of those perfect families that Sanji used to read about in fairy tales. And the idea of Sanji having that is absolutely insane. 

“You two are disgusting,” Nami seethes as the older Strawhats settle into their seat, on either side of their son, whose entire face has turned bright red.

“My deepest apologies, Nami-san,” Blackleg says, though he doesn’t sound or look very sorry at all. “I should have never allowed this brute to harm your lovely ears.”

“Oi, oi,” Roronoa protests. “In case you forgot, shit cook, you’re the reason-”

“Stop!” Taika cries. “Stop, stop, stop. For the love of shit, please stop.”

“Taika, don’t say the shit word.”  A teasing smile crosses Roronoa’s lips. “It’s bad for Papa’s health.”

Blackleg mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “you’re bad for my health”. Sanji suppresses a shudder and tries to move his mind to safer topics as Luffy bursts into laughter over how funny “Sanji-ossan” looks with his face all red like that. Blissfully, Usopp starts to tell one of his many “tales of bravery” and the topic finally moves away from Sanji’s older self’s sex life.

Though, he can’t keep himself from glancing at Zoro, who has been strangely silent throughout  their discussion. The marimo still hasn’t touched his plate. Instead, his entire attention continues to stay on Chibi, fiddling with the small blanket. The poor bastard has turned redder than Taika and looks like a fucking tomato at this point.

“Want me to hold him?” Roronoa asks once Usopp’s latest tale finishes, glancing at Zoro.

The marimo doesn’t reply, his gaze still focused on Chibi as he sleeps soundly.

“Zoro?” Luffy prods their swordsman.

Zoro jolts at the touch, head snapping up and arms tightening around Chibi. The table falls silent, everyone tensing slightly. Sanji’s heart clenches. If they have to wrestle Chibi away and pin Zoro down again, he’s not sure anyone will be able to handle it. Sanji isn’t sure he’ll be able to handle it.

“‘S okay,” Luffy says with a smile. “Zoro-ossan wants to know if you want him to hold Chibi so you can eat.”

Zoro blinks twice, slowly, gaze flickering back to Roronoa and Blackleg for a moment before he shakes his head. Luffy frowns as Zoro’s attention moves back to the baby. 

“Oi, oi,” Sanji says before he can stop himself. “You need to eat.”

Zoro ignores him. Annoyance bubbles in Sanji’s chest. Even after months of practically no food, the idiot still can’t seem to understand why it’s so important to eat. 

“I’ll take him, Zoro,” Blackleg offers calmly, standing from the table slowly.

Zoro’s gray eyes snap upward as the older chef moves toward him. Of all the fucking people on this ship, the arrogant bastard really thinks that Zoro will listen to him ? It’s completely ridiculous. Because, in this world, Zoro and Sanji do not get along and there’s no fucking away Zoro is letting any version of Sanji touch the child he holds so dear. 

No fucking way.

“Here.” Blackleg sits cross legged on the floor beside Zoro’s chair. “Chibi and I will sit right here while you eat, alright? Then, you can still see him.”

Zoro glances between the precious bundle in his arms and the chef sitting beside him. Blackleg only gives him a soft smile.

“It’s alright, Zoro. You know I’d never let anything bad happen to Chibi. You’ve just got to eat, okay? One plate for me.”

Shock and awe flood Sanji’s blood as he watches Zoro slowly and hesitantly ease Chibi from his chest and into the older man’s waiting arms. He knows the entire table must be as shocked as him, because everyone has gone deathly silent. Blackleg only smiles, cradling Chibi close and humming softly to keep the baby from stirring too much. 

Of all the people to give Chibi to, Zoro trusts a version of Sanji .

“Zoro trusts that you love him.”

The words play over and over again in Sanji’s head as he watches Zoro shovel food into his mouth. The only person Zoro trusts with Chibi is a version of Sanji.

 

 

 

“Oi, oi, just a minute,” Zoro mutters, trying not to drop the bottle or Chibi.

After two weeks of feeding the damn baby at night, Zoro should probably be able to do it without so much fucking issue. And, yet again, Zoro stands in the middle of the cook’s kitchen, struggling for what feels like the thousandth night in a row. 

“Here, let me help.”

The older cook’s voice is soft but it still makes him start slightly in the low lamplight. Chibi continues to scream his demands for a bottle and Zoro can’t get his heart to stop pounding. It’s nearly impossible to balance a wailing baby and test the temper of a bottle that it took him three tries to even fill with water and formula. 

“It’s alright, Zoro.” Blackleg - his name is Blackleg and if Zoro keeps trying to call them Cook and Old Cook in his head, he’s never going to keep them straight - says. “I’ll do it.”

Blinking back tears of frustration, Zoro allows Blackleg to take the warm bottle from his hands and squeeze a small drop of formula from the nipple. Chibi’s fists shake wildly as he screams his displeasure at Zoro’s inability to make a simple bottle, his entire face completely red.

“It’s a good temperature. Come on.” Blackleg puts a soft hand on the small of Zoro’s back and, even as his spine arches away from it on instinct, Zoro’s surprised to find the touch isn’t unwelcome. It feels good. Welcoming. Safe. “Sit on the couch. Then I can put a pillow under your arm.”

This cook is different. He’s still snippy. Zoro’s seen this cook snark and poke at his older self, watched them bicker back and forth. But all of it has a light hearted and friendly air about it. They’re always joking. Always teasing. And, in some strange way, always flirting. At first, it made Zoro’s head spin. Now, if he’s being completely honest with himself, it makes Zoro jealous.

When he was young, Zoro absolutely resented the idea of a family. Families made even the strongest men weak at the knees. Families put the fear of death into those who once had a dream. Zoro never wanted a family. Even when he got his nakama, Zoro was never afraid of death. If anything, he was afraid of not dying for his nakama. But, now, Zoro is absolutely terrified of dying. Now, he has this little bundle of joy, the only thing that brought him happiness for months. His son. Now, Zoro has a son and he’s afraid to leave Chibi behind. He’s going to have to live forever, for his son. And, he doesn’t want to do that alone.

Zoro never wants to be alone again.

His counterpart never has to be. For whatever reason, this cook has fallen in love with a version of Zoro and it’s a little bit magical. Because, who could ever love Zoro?

Blackleg’s blue eyes always go soft for his husband and son. His voice is always a special tone of love and kindness. And sometimes, just sometimes, Blackleg seems to mistake him for Roronoa or Taika because sometimes he gets that special voice and those soft eyes. Zoro’s stomach clenches every time he does. Against all odds, he feels safe.

And then he remembers that his cook could never fall in love with him and he just feels kind of empty. Chibi doesn’t get a papa and Zoro doesn’t get someone to love him. Zoro gets to be all alone.

“Do you want me to feed him?” the grown cook offers softly. “You look exhausted.”

Yes. Zoro can trust him with Chibi. This cook cares about Chibi - and maybe Zoro - which means that Zoro can trust him to feed Chibi while Zoro sleeps. Because, sleep sounds amazing. But, he can’t. Blackleg, Roronoa, and Taika will be returning home soon. Zoro needs to be able to stay up for hours and feed Chibi by himself at night. He needs to train himself to do this. And, if he caves now and lets the old cook feed Chibi, he’ll never be able to do it for himself.

“Here, come on,” Blackleg says, gesturing toward Chibi. “Let me feed him, Zoro. You need to sleep.”

“I can,” Zoro mutters in protest.

A swirly eyebrow raises in amusement. “I know you can, marimo,” Blackleg chuckles. “If you had to, you’d be able to do it. But, you don’t need to. Let me take care of Chibi, Zoro. Go to sleep.”

He really shouldn’t be letting Blackleg do this. Zoro needs to be able to keep himself awake. Needs to be able to take care of Chibi by himself. Because he’s alone. He doesn’t have a Papa to help him along the way.

“You aren’t going to win this one, Zoro,” Blackleg says firmly. “Let me help.”

Against his better judgement, Zoro allows Blackleg to sit beside him and ease Chibi from his grip. The baby’s wailing pauses after a moment, as the bottle finds its way to Chibi’s mouth. Breath leaves Zoro’s mouth and all of the adrenaline leaks from his body. Muscles giving out from exhaustion, he relaxes into the couch, resting his head against it’s back. It's warm, warmer than he thought it’d be. And so, so comfortable. 

Zoro is safe. Zoro is safe and Chibi is too. Because the cook is here. Zoro is surrounded by nakama. And he’s safe. 

His mind lingers on the edge of unconsciousness, ears straining to ensure that Chibi is eating without a fuss. That he’s being good and quiet.

The door creaks open and Zoro hears a chuckle. It’s sincere and gentle, genuinely amused and not ready to cause any damage. But, why didn’t he sense anyone coming to the door.

“I wondered where you went,” Zoro’s voice says.

“Trading you in for a younger model,” the cook replies. Something tickles Zoro's nose. 

“Don’t move too much,” he hears himself say. “You’ll wake him up.” 

“He’s the one that fell asleep on my shoulder.”

Did he? Zoro could have sworn he fell asleep on the couch, not the cook.

“And you look devastated. Don’t let him eat that all in one go, Cook. He’ll throw up all over you.”

“I know, shitty marimo. I’ve fed Livia too, you know.”

“And she threw up all over you.”

“That was one time.”

Another deep chuckle. “He’s taken a liking to you.”

“Chibi or little you.”

“Both. But I was talking about little me.”

“I’m as surprised as you. It took you three shitty goddamn years to do this with me.”

“Well, in my defense, you were kind of a shithead.”

You’re a shithead, shithead.” 

Zoro’s own laughter rumbles in his ears. “Do you want me to move him?”

A short pause. “No. Let him be. He needs to sleep.”

“You plan on sitting there all night?”

“I would for you.”

“Tch. I think Taika’s made you soft, shit cook.”

“I could say the same.”

“I suppose you could. Though, I’d make the argument he made me more dangerous.”

“In some ways, marimo. In some ways.” 

A chair scraps against the floor.

“What are you doing?” 

“Do you know what a pain it is to sleep sitting up with a baby?”

“No?”

“It’s a giant pain in the ass.”

“So?”

“So, when he’s done eating, I’ll take Chibi so you can sleep.”

After a moment, Blackleg’s shoulder shakes with laughter. “Taika really did make you soft, marimo.”

“Oh, shut it, shit cook.”

 

 

 

“Robin, have you found any way to send the baby back with them?” Nami asks.

Zoro’s chest seizes and he nearly drops the bottle in his hand. The rest of the crew fall silent around them. From the corner of his eye, Zoro watches Taika practically tip out of his chair as he leans closer to his father, seeking comfort. Tension fills the air.

“I haven’t,” Robin replies carefully. 

“Well, don’t you think we should look into it?” Nami presses. “I mean, we’ll be to the island in a few days and we can’t keep a baby on board, can we? That’s completely ridiculous.”

Zoro’s arms tighten and he hates it, but his shoulders begin to hunch and he can’t force himself to stop. If they can’t see Chibi, they won’t touch him, right?

“Nami,” Luffy growls lowly.

It’s a dangerous tone, one of warning. Zoro doesn’t like it.

“No, Luffy. We put up with a lot of things, but I am not putting a baby in danger. He needs to go somewhere safe.”

“Come on, Nami-sis,” Franky says, voice unusually quiet and hesitant. “We’ve already talked about this.”

The words drop into his stomach like rocks. Already? They’ve already talked about taking Chibi away. They don’t want him. They won’t let Zoro keep him. No. No. No. He’s Zoro’s. Not the Marines’. That stupid, black number doesn’t mean anything. They can’t take him away. They can’t.

Zoro’s knees shift. He tries to keep the bottle steady as he moves. If he pulls it out of Chibi’s mouth now and the baby starts crying, they’ll take him away and Zoro will never get to hear his son’s voice. But, he needs to hide him. If Chibi’s quiet and they can’t see him, they won’t take him.

“Well, we’re talking about it again. Look at him, Luffy! How is Zoro supposed to fight if he can’t function because of this thing? It's not even supposed to-”

“Nami.”

That’s the cook’s voice but it’s devoid of its normal cooing, soothing tone. Instead, her name leaves his lips in a low, angry growl that Zoro thought he reserved solely for any man who “dares try to touch a lady”.

Amazingly, it silences the entire crew. Zoro chances a glance up. Taika has tucked his face completely into his father’s side. Zoro thinks it might be the only thing keeping his older counterpart from leaping over the table to strangle the navigator. The cook’s older self is on his feet beside them, hands resting on the table as he glares at the stunned navigator.

“Chibi is not a thing . He’s a baby,” the older cook growls dangerously.

Nami blinks up at him. “Sanji-kun,” she breathes. “I know that. It’s just it’s-”

He’s .” Blackleg snarls. “That child is a he , Nami-san. And he isn’t yours to make decisions about.”

That thing. That thing, she calls Chibi. Nami doesn’t want him. Nami’s going to take him away. The only person Zoro thinks he’s ever truly loved enough to want to live . She’s going to take him away and Zoro needs to keep him quiet and hidden so she can’t.

His heart hammers, knees and hips aching as though someone is stabbing him, but he can’t uncurl. He can’t. 

“Look, I understand that you guys managed to keep Taika safe-”

We didn’t do anything. Zoro kept Taika safe.”

“Oi, oi, don’t talk to Nami-san like-”

“Shut it. Remember what I said. Nakama first, crewmates second.”

The words silence the younger cook.

“Sanji-ossan’s right, Nami,” Luffy says, voice full of unnerving calmness. “Chibi’s a baby. N’ he isn’t Nami’s. He’s Zoro’s.”

“Then he can go back with that Zoro.”

“Watch it, Witch.” A chair scrapes against the floor and the door to the back deck opens. “Oi, Taika. Shit.”

Boots hurry toward the door and Zoro swears he hears his own voice muttering curses as he goes. The room falls silent in their wake.

“Shit, Zoro,” the older cook sighs. “Oi, don’t curl up like that. You’re going to hurt yourself.”

Shoes click gently across the floor until they stop beside Zoro. He can sense the cook there - no, Blackleg. The cook doesn’t give a shit about him -, kneeling down beside him with his hands overing near Zoro’s shoulder. Safe. Safe. The older cook is safe. He won’t take Chibi. He cares about Chibi. 

“It’s alright. Come here. Let’s go get some fresh air, alright?” Warm hands touch him carefully, tugging at his shirt sleeve. 

Zoro’s joints crack painfully, but he allows the old cook to help him uncurl. He has those eyes again. Soft and patient and understanding. The smile on his face is sad but genuine. Safe. Zoro and Chibi are safe.

“Wait,” Nami says as the old cook slings an arm around Zoro’s shoulders, steering him out the kitchen’s main door. “We aren’t done-”

“Nami-san.” Just when Zoro thought his day couldn’t get any stranger, the young cook is the one to interrupt Nami. “Let Zoro be. Sencho’s right. We aren’t just going to give Chibi away. Zoro loves him.”

It feels kind of like Zoro’s walking on air as Blackleg steers him out of the kitchen and onto the deck. They settle on the side near the stairs. Mostly because Zoro’s legs turn to jelly. The cook - the young cook - stood up for him. Took his side over Nami’s. And it shouldn’t light up sparks of joy in Zoro’s chest the way it does.

Blackleg leans against the railing as Zoro sits on the ground, Chibi resting on his bent legs and cooing lightly at him. Safe. They’re safe.

“Oi, don’t think like that. Nami loves you, you know that.” Roronoa’s voice carries on the wind.

“But she wouldn’t have if I was little, like Chibi.” Taika sounds miserable.

“You know that’s not true.” 

“Obviously, it is.”

“Taika, stop.”

“No! Would you have wanted me?”

“What?” Horror wraps through Roronoa’s voice.

“What if I was little and Nami-san didn’t want me? Would Papa have wanted me?” 

“Of course he would have.”

“What if he didn’t?”

From the corner of his eye, Zoro sees Blackleg tense.

“Tiger, it doesn’t matter. You weren’t little like Chibi. And Papa loves you very much.”

“It matters to me .”

“Taika.”

“What if I was still in the tube when Sencho found you?”

“Stop.”

“Would you have wanted me? Would you have just left-”

Yameru , Taika!” Roronoa snaps. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It does.”

“No, it doesn’t! It doesn’t matter how old you were when Sencho came to get me, Taika. It doesn’t make a single fucking difference. Because you are mine . My son. And if you think for two fucking seconds I would have let Nami decide whether or not I kept you, you clearly don’t think very highly of me.”

Taika sniffles softly.

Zoro bites into his bottom lip, his gaze dropping to Chibi cooing softly in his blanket. Roronoa’s right. It doesn’t matter.

“I love you,” Roronoa continues, voice firm and unwavering. “Taika, I love you more than I have ever loved anyone. Anything . From the moment I started talking to you when you were in that fucking tube, I knew. I would give up anything - my dream, my nakama - as long as it meant keeping you safe. You are everything, Taika. And I would have sooner let Eyeglasses keep Wado and tell Mihawk he’s the better swordsman than lose you.”

It’s true. Zoro realizes with horrifying nausea that he hasn’t thought about his swords at all. Luffy had assured him that all three are safe, the captain had excitedly told Zoro that Taika had gone to fight the Marines for them and bought all three back in perfect condition. But, Zoro hasn’t thought of any of them in weeks. Not even Wado. And it’s a gut punch that he can’t seem to regret.

Zoro would rather give up his dream than give up his son.

His vision blurs dangerously. It shouldn’t. Zoro should be strong. He needs to be strong and brave, for Chibi. Because this is his son and, even among nakama, he needs to fight to protect him. 

Sandals slap across the wood. “You can go, Sanji-ossan. Zoro n’ I gotta talk. N’ I think Taika needs you.”

On the wind, Zoro hears Taika’s soft muffled sobs and the soothing murmurs of his father.

“Yosh. Holler if you need anything, Luffy.”

Zoro feels his captain lingering beside him and his hands move to Chibi of their own accord. The instinct to tuck the baby away and hide him rolls through Zoro. Protect Chibi. Protecting him is the only thing that matters.

A rough strawhat lands on Zoro’s head and everything freezes. After a moment, Luffy sits down beside them, eyes on the clouds forming in the sky. Zoro’s teeth clamp against the inside of his cheek, his lungs refusing to work until his captain finally sighs and looks at him.

“Zoro’s scared,” Luffy says.

Zoro swallows hard. He doesn’t bother to try and tell Luffy he’s wrong. Any attempt he’s ever made to lie to his captain has failed.

“That’s okay,” Luffy continues. “It’s scary when you gotta watch out for other people. I know. But, don’t worry, Zoro’s gonna do great, I know it. After watching out for us for so long, Zoro’s gonna be the best. N’ don’t listen to Nami, ‘kay? Zoro gets to decide if Chibi stays or not. If you want Chibi to go with Zoro-ossan and Sanji-ossan, that’s okay. But, Zoro, Chibi’s nakama now. And I’m gonna make sure he knows how much we love him, promise.”

A smile that could blind the sun focuses on Zoro. Lips quivering, he forces himself to nod. If possible, Luffy’s smile widens.

“Good. Zoro’s my nakama. If he thought he had to leave with Chibi, I’d understand. But, I don’t really want him to. I want Zoro and Chibi.”

Breath pours from Zoro’s lungs. The pressure in his chest lessens and all of the fear shooting through him finally begins to leave. On his lap, Chibi lets out a sudden giggle, toothless gums bearing a smile.

Zoro breathes.

 

 

 

“There’s a storm on it’s way,” Nami calls. “We’ve got five minutes before it hits.”

Kismet Island sits on the horizon. According to the navigator, they should be at the island by sunset. But, a looming storm probably changes matters. Blackleg warned them that the rocks lining the island in their world are sharp and thick. They require clear vision to get around without potentially harming Sunny.

Roronoa sighs. “Looks like we’re stuck here a little longer.”

“Oh good,” Taika says from beside him. “I was afraid nothing would go wrong.”

His father cuffs him on the back of the head. “Oi, what did I tell you about the fucking attitude?”

“Only to give it to Papa.”

“So, why are you giving me attitude?”

“‘Cause Papa said only to give it to you.”

Sanji bites back his snort of amusement as Roronoa rolls his eyes and Blackleg laughs. Taika beams proudly. The small family has settled themselves near the port side, Blackleg sitting and leaning against Roronoa’s leg as the two marimos stare out at the water. He doesn’t think it will ever get less strange to see. And, yet, somehow it brings him comfort. A family, a real family that Sanji gets to be a part of. Maybe, he’ll actually find someone that loves him that much.

“I’m keeping him,” Zoro mutters suddenly, as though watching these morons has given him some sort of realization.

Nami hasn’t dared breach the topic of Chibi since Sanji’s older self yelled at her. Though, Sanji suspects it's still weighing heavily on her mind. It’s rather surprising. No one else seems to bat an eyelash at the thought of keeping the baby marimo. Only Nami really seems upset about it. And, Sanji has to keep reminding himself that he can’t agree with Nami on this one. His pride, deep down, tells him that he should. Nami is lovely, kind hearted, and intelligent. She has a very good reason for not wanting Chibi on the ship. But, Blackleg’s words continue to ring true. 

Nami doesn’t need Sanji right now. Zoro does.

Blackleg lets out a long breath of relief and Taika turns to beam at Zoro. Roronoa, however, doesn’t look the least bit surprised, turning to look at the marimo sitting on the swing with Chibi cradled close.

“I know,” the older swordsman replies, a light teasing in his voice. “I had no intentions of taking him, you know. Suffering through one kid was plenty.”

“Oi, oi!” Taika yelps. “What do you mean “suffer”? I’m the best thing that ever happened to you guys.”

“The best thing, huh?”

“Obviously!”

Roronoa’s face breaks into a grin as he turns back to Zoro. “He grows on you, if you give him a few years.”

Zoro shifts, looking slightly unsure as he glances down at Chibi. “I never wanted to be a parent,” he admits in a whisper.

“Well, that ship has set sail, caught fire, and sunk to the sea floor,” Roronoa replies, gesturing towards the baby, though he wears an easy smile. “It gets easier, I promise. I managed it. Besides, you’re not doing alone. You’ve got your nakama. That means you’ve already got a leg up on me.”

Sanji’s brow furrows. Chopper clambers up on Usopp’s shoulders to look the older swordsman in the eyes. 

“What do you mean?” the reindeer asks nervously. “Didn’t Taika grow up on Sunny with us?” 

“He did. But, I was on my own with him when he was a baby,” Roronoa replies softly, one arm wrapping protectively around Taika’s shoulders. From the floor, Blackleg wraps his own arm around his husband’s leg possessively. “My crew didn’t find us until Taika was almost four. We spent a long time there.” His gray eye is unusually soft but somehow lacks any trace of pity. “It’s hard, I know. And scary. I know it sounds weird, but Taika is the best thing that could have ever happened to me. And, it’s horrifying right now because Chibi is so little and you feel like if you move the wrong way, you might snap him in two. But, it does get easier. Besides, you aren’t alone. You have nakama that want to help. You just have to let them.”

Zoro’s gaze drops to Chibi again, carefully readjusting his blanket. “Yosh.”

 

 

 

Sanji hates to think poorly of any lady, especially one of his own, but he wonders if Nami knew what this island was when she planned for them to land there. With Kismet long behind them - and Taika and his parents safely home -, it seemed like a good idea for them to take a long break in a nice hotel. Though, Sanji suspects Luffy’s agreement to spend at least a day, if not more, on one island has little to do with wanting a break and more to do with the fact that having a baby on the ship is a lot harder than they expected it to be. Especially without Roronoa around.

Waif Island is a home for orphans. A safe place for sailors to drop off unwanted children. From the moment they step off the ship, a number of people approach Zoro, offering to take Chibi. After a few snarls and curses, the swordsman finally retreats to the ship with Robin instead. Not exactly a good start to Chibi’s first island experience.

“Zoro and Chibi can stay on the ship then,” Nami says to Luffy, still trying to convince him to stay the night on the island. “Everyone else is tired, Luffy. We deserve a nice stay in a hotel.”

“Nami,” Chopper whines timidly. “That’s not fair.”

“It’s not fair that we all have to give up a relaxing night.”

“Nami-san,” Sanji sighs. “I understand your frustration, but Chopper and Sencho are right. It’s not fair to stay somewhere that makes Zoro uncomfortable.”

Nami spins to look at him, betrayal crossing her face. “Since when do you care about Zoro, Sanji-kun?”

Heat rushes to Sanji’s cheeks. “He’s my nakama, Nami-san. His well being is always my concern.”

“Then you wouldn’t want that-”

“Nami.” Luffy’s tone turns firm and dangerous. “We aren’t staying. Find somewhere else.”

Gritting her teeth, Nami turns and storms back to the ship. Sighing, Sanji adjusts the shopping bags in his hand.

“I’m going to get these back to Sunny, Sencho. Lunch shouldn’t take long.”

“Yosh. Are we gonna have meat?”

“Of course.”

Luffy beams at him. “Make sure Zoro’s okay, ‘kay?”

“Aye, Sencho.”

“Thanks, Sanji!”

Luffy bounds off without a second though, Usopp and Chopper chasing after him. Sanji sighs, watching them go. Franky and Brook have vanished into town to look for supplies for Franky’s newest project and new strings for Brook’s violin. Which means that it’ll be him, the ladies, and the two marimos back on the ship. Normally, Sanji would be elated to spend time alone with the two ladies. But, Nami is in a horrid mood now and Robin has never been as willing to accept his doting. Even worse, if Zoro is still on deck, he and Nami are likely already in a screaming match over the baby.

Sanji quickens his pace. The last thing their lovely Robin needs is a headache after listening to all of that. Children run around him, giggling and laughing as their guardians call for them to watch where they’re going. So many. It’s sad. All of these sweet and innocent children with no one to love them. Growing up feeling that same sadness in their chest. Knowing that they aren’t truly loved. He’s felt that pain for years. Sanji wouldn’t wish it on his worst enemy.

Sunny’s deck is blissfully quiet when Sanji returns. Robin lounges in one of her chairs, reading one of her books with a frown marring her beautiful face. The charting room door is shut, meaning Nami has probably already stormed in there, and Zoro is nowhere to be seen.

“Aw, Cook-san, I’m glad to see you,” Robin says, sitting and closing her book. “I believe I may need your assistance.”

Sanji’s heart flutters. “Of course! Anything for you, Robin-chan!”

Her frown doesn’t change. Arms appear out of the deck, easing the bags from his grip. “I’ll put these away Cook-san, if you would please go check on Zoro. I’m afraid he was quite distressed and my presence only seemed to make things worse.”

The excitement in Sanji’s chest vanishes immediately. He sort of hoped Robin might need him to apply sun block or make her a delicious beverage. No such luck, he supposes.

“Of course, Robin-chan. But, please leave the groceries. I’ll put them away when I’m finished with the marimo.”

“I believe he made his way down to the bunkroom.”

“Yosh, thank you, Robin-chan.”

Sanji bites back a sigh and crosses the deck. Of course he has to be the one to comfort the idiot. By the end of their journey, Zoro had taken a strange liking to Sanji’s older self. Blackleg had been the only one allowed to pick Chibi up without asking permission - an honor not even Roronoa had been given. So, unsurprisingly, now the entire crew expects Sanji to fix their marimo. And, Sanji can’t very well refuse. Especially with Blackleg’s words always lingering in the back of Sanji’s mind.

Zoro trusts him. Whether or not Sanji should be his first choice, the marimo needs someone to trust. Still, he can’t help but feel slightly annoyed. He should be putting groceries away and making lunch. 

“Sorry,” he hears Zoro whisper as he approaches the bunkroom door. “Please don’t cry. You gotta be quiet.”

Any trace of even the vaguest annoyance flees Sanji’s mind. He knows these words and this tone of voice. He’s heard this before, late at night on his watches. Zoro’s go to words and voice when he’s afraid that someone is going to try and take Chibi away from him. Suddenly, Sanji doesn’t want to open the door. He wants to go get Luffy and make the captain handle this. Luffy has always been so much better at talking to Zoro, but only when Zoro wants to talk.

“If Zoro needs help, he’ll tell me. If Zoro wants us to know, he’ll say,” have always been Luffy’s favorite things to say. After Mihawk, after Whiskey Peak, after Little Garden, after Thriller Fucking Bark. Luffy never makes Zoro talk when he doesn’t want to. So, Luffy probably won’t be much help in this situation. 

“Sorry. Please, don’t cry. Please, please. Please, don’t cry. Chibi, please.”

Sanji carefully opens the door, heart breaking at the desperation in Zoro’s voice. The swordsman has somehow managed to wedge himself between their lockers and the extra beds Franky had made for Taika and his parents. He’s curled in that painful looking ball again, Chibi whining softly from where he’s tucked to Zoro’s chest.

“Oi, marimo,” Sanji calls gently.

Zoro tightens himself around Chibi. 

Sanji pulls in a deep breath to keep himself from sighing. “Zoro,” he tries again, taking a careful step into the room. “It’s alright. You can sit like that, remember? You’ll fuck your hip up again.”

“Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry.”

The shittiest part about all of this is that when he’s in his right mind, Zoro is actually really good with the baby. He’s picked up a lot of Roronoa tricks, bouncing Chibi lightly and humming the songs he remembers. The bottle feeding remains the one thing that the marimo can’t really get a handle on. It seems like at least every other time, Chibi is throwing up the too thick formula or refusing to even accept the bottle. Zoro rarely seems to let it get to him, though. Sanji didn’t even know that the hotheaded moron could have such calm patience. 

It makes moments like this hurt all the more.

“Zoro.” Sanji forces bravery through his veins and crosses the room to kneel in front of the swordsman. “Oi, come on, you’re fine.”

Zoro doesn’t look at him. 

“You know you can’t sit like that,” Sanji continues. He reaches his hand out slowly, touching Zoro’s shoulder and ignoring the flinch. If he pulls back now, he might not be brave enough to touch Zoro again. “Come on, let’s stretch out, alright?”

Zoro doesn’t protest as Sanji tugs at both his shoulder and ankle, not letting up until Zoro’s finally stretched out again with Chibi held tightly to his chest. Chibi whines softly but isn’t screaming. Sanji counts that as a win.

“You can’t have him,” Zoro mutters softly, though his voice is tight. “He’s. He’s mine.”

“I know,” Sanji agrees. “We’re not sending him anywhere, Zoro.”

“You can’t have him.” The words come out a whimper this time. “He’s mine.”

“I know,” Sanji repeats. “Zoro, we all know. Chibi’s yours. I’m sorry that Nami-san brought us here. No one knew what this island was, I promise. And no one wants to send Chibi away. He’s nakama.”

Chibi’s soft whines turn to wails and Zoro winces. Sanji’s hands snap forward, one catching Zoro’s shoulder and the other catching his knee to keep him from curling up again.

“Oi, when have we ever cared when he cried? It’s alright, Zoro. He’s just colicy.” Sanji tries to channel Blackleg’s softness and reassurance. Anything to get Zoro to calm down. He softens his voice, trying to imagine he’s talking to Chibi instead of Zoro. “Come on, marimo. You know we’d never let anything bad happen to Chibi.”

Finally, Zoro’s eyes meet Sanji’s. Sanji watches his tongue dart out, trailing along his lower lip before he bites down on it, gray eyes moving to Chibi’s screaming form. 

“Do you want me to take him?” Sanji offers.

“No.” The reply is quick but not overly harsh.

Fighting down his disappointment - because Zoro would hand Blackleg the baby without a second thought -, Sanji nods. “Yosh. Do you know why he’s crying?”

“Hungry. I-I think.”

“Perfect. I have to go start lunch anyway. You and Chibi can come sit in the kitchen while I make his bottle.”

“I can,” Zoro mutters.

No, Sanji wants to say. No, Zoro cannot make a bottle. It’s the one thing that he kind of sucks at when it comes to this kid. And, as cute as it is when Zoro’s face turns all red with embarrassment - shit. Shitty brain. Sanji has got to stop thinking crazy shit like that -, Chibi’s screams bang against Sanji’s skull.

But he can’t say that to Zoro. He’s working up to gaining Zoro’s trust with the baby and telling Zoro he can’t do something surely won’t do him any good. What would he say to Chibi? To Taika?  What would his older self say?

“I know,” Sanji says. “But you don’t have to. I’m your nakama. Let me help, Zoro.”

Zoro’s body tenses, like he’s considering telling Sanji to fuck right off. But, there’s a strange light in his eyes. Almost a relieved awe.

“Yosh,” the swordsman breathes.

Sanji breathes too.

Chapter Text

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.”

“‘M fine.”

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.

“Zoro?”

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.

“Zoro?”

“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.”

“Zoro.”

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.

“Couch.”

He doesn’t want to wake the others.

“Yosh.”

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.”

“G’night, Sanji.”

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?” 

Zoro nods.

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.”

“Tch.” 

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.”

“What?”

“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?”

Zoro nods.

“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.”

“Missed what?”

“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 what?” 

“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. 

“What?”

“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.

“I’m not-”

“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.”

“It’s different.”

“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?”

“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-”

“I’ll come.”

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 !”

“Ow, Nami!”

“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.”

“Sake, huh?”

“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. 

“Mind what?” 

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?”

“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.