* * * * *
I’ll call you, and we’ll light a fire, and drink some wine, and recognise each other in the place that is ours. Don’t wait. Don’t tell the story later.
– Jeanette Winterson, Lighthousekeeping
* * * * *
They make landfall in the late morning, on an island of perpetual summer.
To be perfectly honest, it’s less of an island, and more a barren patch of rock and sand barely raised above the ocean. Nami had said if the waves were any more ferocious than the calm lull they were now, most of the land would have been submerged. Still, having hightailed it off the previous spring island due to the buzzkill of marines, and being wretchedly stuck in a blizzard in the winter island before that, the unassuming stretch of sun-drenched land is a welcome respite.
Zoro reclines back onto his hands, and watches Luffy, Usopp, and Chopper splash around in the cluster of rock pools near the island’s edge. Underneath his palms, the sand is soft and off-white, dotted with cast-off clam shells, now broken and bleached post-mortem pale by the sun. There’s one digging into the flesh of his palm, and he picks it up, holding it closer in idle curiosity. Its exterior is a dull bone-white, but when he turns it over, the inner side is nacreous. Rainbows shimmer out in a hundred shifting variations as Zoro tilts it this way and that in the sunlight.
It’s a pretty little thing in death, he thinks. He wonders if it would have been any good to eat when it had been alive.
Now that he knows what he’s looking for, he can see silvery glints all along the beach, like discarded coins washed up onto the shore. How he hadn’t noticed them when they’d first landed escapes him. But now that he does see them, the island is new to him, glittering and beautiful in the summer heat.
Zoro wonders if he’s growing soft. He never used to do things like pick up shells or consider the beauty of things that weren’t the edge of a blade. Perhaps he’s just learnt to see things outside the end goal of his ambition. He’s not sure if that’s a good thing or not.
Holding the shell up to the sun again, Zoro squints at it like it has the answer to his questions etched into its ridges. But it simply winks off light in mischievous prisms, and whatever secrets it holds remain just that: a secret. As another array of color flickers playfully between his fingers, Zoro spots a figure past the clam’s curves, coming closer in the ugliest beach shorts known in all Four Blues.
Zoro drops his arm so he can watch Sanji’s approach.
As Sanji comes closer, Zoro can see that he’s smiling, outshining the midday glare with how pleased he looks. In one hand swings a wooden pail, and in the other is a bulging mesh bag. Sanji lifts the latter high up into the air, victorious and eager to show it.
Zoro snorts. For all the posturing, cigarettes, and tailored suits to make himself seem older than he actually is, Sanji’s brand of excitement is still that of a child’s. It doesn’t so much as peep from a crack in his facade. Rather, his abject happiness hurtles straight into your solar plexus, the grin that splits his face so guileless that it becomes weaponized. The most baffling part is that Sanji doesn’t even know it himself. It comes out only when he’s unawares and honest; two things that Sanji isn’t very often.
“You walked right into my line of sight,” Zoro says with accusation, and clicks his tongue. Predictably, Sanji lowers the bag, holes poked into his good mood by the way he bristles.
“How is it that you’re the first to greet me, you ungrateful seaweed?” Sanji snaps back, softening only to give a hopeful glance to where Nami has folded out a beach chair to sun herself. Behind the spread of her newspaper, their navigator doesn’t give any sign that she can hear them.
“Met a lot of grateful seaweed to compare, have you?” Zoro asks.
Sanji swings the mesh bag at his head. Zoro ducks it easily.
“Ungrateful,” Sanji just repeats, disdainfully, as if Zoro ducking what would have been a catastrophic mesh bag to the head was another ill-graced facet of his personality. How dare you avoid a concussion, the baleful curl of his lip seemed to say.
Then, contrary to his mood, Sanji thumps the bag and bucket down in front of Zoro, and squats. He looks expectantly at Zoro, waiting.
“What?” Zoro says, and drags the mouth of the mesh bag closer.
Inside the bag is a wealth of clams, stacked against each other and glistening with saltwater. They have the look of life about them, surface pearlescent, and so unlike their fragmented counterparts littered about the sand and baked dry. It looks like Zoro’s unspoken wish to see how they taste will be granted after all.
Sanji fiddles with the plump of his lip, no doubt missing a cigarette. “Found them in the shallows over there,” he says, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “They aren’t so hard to harvest, if you don’t mind a little digging.”
Sanji’s hands are clean, cracking slightly from the saltwater, but Zoro can see a ring of mud around his forearms, as if Sanji had been trawling the beach mud elbow deep. There’s a similar telltale ring around his calves too. Zoro looks at the casual slump of Sanji’s shoulders, the almost-bored look on his face, the drooping hood of his one visible eye – this pedantic clean freak of a man acting as if he hadn’t just spent the morning in the mud trawling for clams.
Zoro thinks he’s hopeless, and can’t bring himself to hate Sanji for it.
“It’s a lot,” Zoro concedes. He reaches into the pile and rakes his fingers over the topmost clams, just to hear them clatter against each other. “But even this much won’t take the edge off Luffy’s appetite.”
Sanji snorts. “No shit. You’d all fucking starve if this was all I had planned for dinner. I already have something else in mind, so don’t worry the moss off your head.” He nudges the bag. “This is just a little something extra. Something nice. For the crew.”
Already, Zoro can see the cogs turning in Sanji’s head, already writing and rewriting lines of some new seafood recipe in his head. A whole afternoon spent in toil for a moment of the crew’s delight. Zoro can’t bring himself to hate Sanji at all.
“And this?” he asks, rather than dwell on the small smile on Sanji’s face. Two fingers hook the lip of the bucket towards him, and before he can even blink, Zoro gets a faceful of saltwater as Sanji’s restless catch thrashes in its confines.
Sanji grins as Zoro splutters.
“Now these were some real bastards to pin down. They’ll be good with some sweet smoked sauce and rice, don’t you think? I’ll have to spend some time figuring out the sauce. But you were so ungrateful about it,” Sanji sniffs, and Zoro stares at the eels squirming endlessly over each other. They’re plump and bead-eyed, staring right back at Zoro. “So maybe I shouldn’t bother.”
Zoro perks up at the mention of unadon, and he can’t tell if Sanji’s serious about begrudging him some. He tries not to let the disappointment show on his face, unwilling to lose this game that they’re surely playing. But from the upwards tick that lifts the corner of Sanji’s mouth, he guesses he’s already given himself away somehow. (That, or Sanji can just read him that well, and– it doesn’t bear entertaining right now. What would he even do with that?)
“I haven’t had unadon since–” and Zoro pauses, thinking for a bit. “Since I left my village in Shimotsuki,” he admits, and feels a little lost for it.
“I know,” Sanji says simply. “You told me.”
Sanji cooks their every meal with the same love and dedication he prides his profession on, but it’s something else to know he’s remembered a meal from Zoro’s childhood. Zoro can’t even remember when he’d told Sanji about eating eel on rice, a specialty dish made by one of the retired fishermen back in Shimotsuki, who would reward him with a bowl after he’d helped fix their roofing (or some other chore their elderly backs couldn’t handle). He doesn’t know why Sanji would remember something like that. Except– of course he would.
If anyone would remember a story about grilled eel over a bed of fresh rice tasting like the best thing after a hard day’s work, it would be Sanji.
Zoro stares at him.
“You know,” Zoro starts, slowly and with a dawning realisation. “I think we’re friends.”
Sanji blinks at him. There’s a moment where they just stare at each other, this incomprehensible concept unable to fully compute in Sanji’s mind, before Sanji reels back with disc-wide eyes.
“Wh– You– What in the–” Sanji splutters, and you’d think he was the one who got the tail-end of seawater from a restless eel. “What are you saying? ” is what he settles on, appalled. “Four fucking Blues! What if someone heard you?”
Zoro opens his mouth to reply, but they’re interrupted by the sound of Nami snorting behind her newspaper. When they turn to her, she flips the edge down, looking at them through gigantic oval-shaped sunglasses that are tinged orange. Sanji probably thinks she looks flawless; Zoro thinks it makes her look like she has persimmons for eyes.
“Weekly comics. They’re hilarious,” she deadpans, wiggling the newspaper in explanation. Zoro can’t help the feeling he’s being laughed at. “Don’t mind me.”
It’s a telling sign of Sanji’s state of mind that he doesn’t spend five minutes swooning after gaining Nami’s attention. Instead, he just nods in a daze, and turns back to Zoro. His expression is pained, as if Zoro had physically grabbed his words and clubbed him over the head with them.
“You must be confused,” Sanji grits out. “We-” he says, gesturing in the space between them with a frantic wave of his hand, “are not friends .”
Zoro arcs an eyebrow. “Okay. So what are we?”
“Reluctant crewmates! Rivals! Enemies! A mutual pain in each other’s asses!” Sanji replies, all reprimand for keeping quiet apparently forgotten as his hysteria rises with each syllable. “You’re the bane of my existence! The- the- the scoliosis in my spine!!”
“Scoliosis, huh,” Zoro says, unimpressed. “You’d cook me unadon and still say you hate me?”
Sanji huffs. “If someone’s hungry, I’ll cook for them. You don’t know me at all if you don’t know that.” His expression is stormy, ready to spit rain clouds and thunder.
“Of course I knew that,” Zoro says, annoyed but willing to wrench Sanji into self-awareness. By the horns, if he had to. “What I’m saying is, you wouldn’t know about your enemy’s hometown food, let alone cook it for them, would you?”
Sanji opens his mouth to scald him with a reply and- doesn’t. Can’t. Zoro can see the moment he deflates, the same realisation settling over him as it did over Zoro. In picture-perfect defeat, Sanji puts his head in his hands.
“Oh, fuck,” he whispers, and he’s so past the point of appalled, Zoro can’t even tell what emotion is in the cook’s voice. “Is this really happening?”
Zoro nods grimly. “Yup,” he says, and thumps a commiserating hand down on Sanji’s shoulder. “We’re friends.”
At the confirmation, a low, pained groan reels out of Sanji’s hunched-over miserable form. Zoro lets the other stew in his misery, watching the shells wink on the beach and the eels slither in infinite figure-eights.
Honestly, the idea doesn’t horrify him that much. It’s like he’s taken all their tussles, quickfire banter, and relentless competition, and then held it up against the sun, tilting it just so, as it cascades into a different prism of colours, a new way of looking at how they fit. Friends, he thinks, and tongues the word around his mouth.
Perhaps this too, had been something unnoticed, but now that it was seen it couldn’t be unseen- could be glittering and beautiful.
Then Sanji lifts his head, half-apprehension and half-hope.
“Maybe the others haven’t noticed yet,” Sanji whispers desperately. Before Zoro can reply, Nami snorts behind her newspaper, loud and undeniably derisive, and Sanji covers his face in shame.
* * * * *
Later – islands later – Zoro walks out of a bar with Sanji, who is very, very drunk.
The night is still young, the stars having barely yawned and stretched over the sky, and Sanji is already a rum-soaked mess. Zoro sighs in deep regret for all the tankards he could have drained. Being the sober one was not how he’d envisioned his night would go.
Zoro heaves a sigh again, and addresses the mess he has in a fireman’s carry over his shoulder. “You’re such a lightweight. How are we friends?”
Somewhere over Zoro’s back, Sanji says, “I caught you eels.” The words slur together.
Then Sanji starts wriggling in Zoro’s grip, suddenly petulant and much too loud for nighttime in a residential area. “I caught you beautiful, delicious eels–” he cries out, “–and you’re carrying me like a sack of potatoes! Jail! Jail for marimo!”
Despite their difference in build, where Zoro is all ripcord strength while Sanji is more of a lithe grace, Sanji’s strength is nothing to scoff at. Even Zoro, for all his biting jabs, would never call Sanji weak and mean it. They’re rivals for a reason.
However, saying Sanji is less than sober right now would be an understatement, so even with all his struggling, all Zoro has to do is tighten his grasp on Sanji’s legs, and determinedly try to not get the soles of the cook’s dress shoes indented into his face. It’s a close few kicks, but eventually Sanji tires out and goes still once again.
“Reduced… to potatoes,” Sanji mutters, dejected and nonsensical. “Can’t find the All Blue as potatoes. So cruel. Marimo is so cruel.”
Zoro snorts and pats the back of Sanji’s knees where his grip holds strong. “You’ll find it,” he says.
“Did you-” Sanji hiccups again. “Did you like the eel? On the rice? Was the sauce right? You never told me,” Sanji says, and he sounds too hopeful to be the violent, foul-mouthed guy that Zoro knows. He sounds like he’s waiting for praise.
“...Yeah. Yeah, cook. It was good,” Zoro replies, unable to say anything else and not trusting himself to say anything more. Maybe the sauce hadn’t been exactly as he had remembered, but there was something to it, this fragment of his past – a taste he had thought was already transient, archived to be memory and nothing more – brought into the realness of the Merry’s galley, sweet and salty on his tongue. In a way, Sanji had touched his childhood without ever being in it, and presented it back to Zoro on a bed of rice. The effort of it, the imperfection that made it another taste, another good memory in its own right. It was something – something more than just good. Zoro had stuffed his mouth until his cheeks were bursting.
“Good,” Sanji mumbles, and still, he sounds hopeful. “So, we’re really friends now?”
Maybe it’s because Sanji’s drunk, or the fact that they’re winding their way home on some unnamed road, but the night feels liminal. It feels like there’s no incrimination in being honest here. The wind is the only other witness to their clumsy way of conversation, and Sanji will only remember this in snatches when the morning comes. So Zoro says, “Yeah, cook, we are. It’s probably been a while too.”
The paved road has given way to a dirt path, and bits of gravel crunch under Zoro’s boots. A curious little noise comes from the vague area of Sanji’s head. “Since when?” Sanji asks. He sounds baffled by the prospect that their camaraderie had not been brought into being by a bucket of eels. As if he was surprised by his possession of it, earned through some inscrutable way that hadn’t asked of him a transaction.
Since when? Zoro isn’t sure he could answer that himself. He just knew it was right.
Maybe it was repeated exposure, their shoulders bumping and getting into each other’s space, when they fought each other and fought together, elbows skimming as they washed dishes and watched over the crew. Maybe it was that time at Arlong Park, Sanji standing over Zoro’s bleeding body, protectiveness in the set of his shoulders, resolute even though they had barely known each other then. Maybe it was the time Zoro had been ready to do the stupid thing and fight a fishman in their own domain, bleeding body be damned, and Sanji had understood his duty to their captain (shared it, that same debt), gave him that uncertain grin, and did the stupid thing in his stead.
Maybe it was all before that, before barely knowing each other, when they had not known each other at all. Just strangers in a floating restaurant, no consequence on their part, but inevitable as soon as Luffy had taken a liking to yet another clueless soul.
“Think about it yourself,” Zoro tells him, tetchily, embarrassed by the train of his own thoughts. The liminal night can only make him so honest.
“Mean. Mean marimo,” Sanji complains. “Carrying me like potatoes and– and– asking me to think thoughts upside-down.”
“Do your best.”
“At least the view’s nice,” Sanji says, senselessly, and before Zoro can make heads or tails of what Sanji means by that, he feels two perfunctory pats on his backside.
He feels Sanji’s face smush into the base of his spine, the damp heat of Sanji’s breath puffing through Zoro’s shirt and onto his skin as a muffled ‘oomfgh’ sound escapes him. The night air is cool in comparison. Zoro tries not to shiver.
“What did you just say?” Zoro asks, incredulous.
“I said you’re mean.”
“No, no. After that,” Zoro presses.
“Oh. Uhhh–” and from the way Sanji sounds stumped by his own memory, Zoro thinks he’ll never confirm it, that it was a mistaken moment. But then Sanji says, “Your butt. It’s nice,” and Zoro stumbles again. “Oomfgh.”
Zoro splutters. “How long have you thought that?" he asks, even though he shouldn’t, because Sanji is so incredibly drunk and they wouldn’t be having this conversation if he was sober. But Zoro doesn’t know what else to say. Sanji was supposed to be painfully and annoyingly straight, not commenting on Zoro’s ass like it’s a balcony view.
“Think about it yourself,” Sanji says smugly.
“Not the burning comeback you think it is.”
“You stink though,” and Zoro feels Sanji press his nose into his spine, inhaling and then snuffling disapprovingly. “Shower more.”
“If I stink so much, why are you rubbing your face into my shirt?” There’s a small heat patch from the friction of Sanji furiously rubbing his face against Zoro’s back in some drunken frenzy.
“Feels good. Still stinks though.”
“You’re so fucked up.”
“Stinks.” Sanji stops abruptly. “Marimo. Put me down.”
Zoro clicks his tongue. “Don’t be dramatic. I don’t smell that bad. We’ve gotta be almost back to the ship by now.”
“Put me down,” Sanji insists.
“I’m gonna throw up.”
“Oh.” Zoro stops. “Shit!”
In the following fumble, Sanji – miraculously – does not throw up all over Zoro. The grassy patch besides the nearest building they happened to be next to though, isn’t so lucky. In a moment of forethought, Zoro pins back Sanji’s fringe with a hand while Sanji braces himself against the stone wall.
By the sounds of it, Sanji is going to have a terrible time with his hangover. He’ll find some way to blame the bad taste in his mouth on Zoro, and he’ll swear to never ever go drinking with the swordsman ever again. But Zoro knows it’ll be a lie, that there will be more days of sharing drinks at a bar, throwing up in the grass, making up constellations on the night walk home, and maybe one of those times Zoro will be the one who’s drunk and carried back.
It’s not likely, given his tolerance. But, well– it’s a new world where Sanji likes looking at his ass. Zoro’s a lot more open to improbable opportunities now than when he started the night.
Sanji lifts his head slightly, one eye peeking out from the miserable hunch he’s in. “You can’t take it back,” he says.
Zoro furrows his brows, trying to find where this non-sequitur fits into the thread of their rambling conversation.
“That we’re friends,” Sanji clarifies, a miniscule more sober and more wretched for it. There’s an earnest edge to his voice though, almost urgent – as if he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop but still hopelessly hopeful despite it.
The non-sequitur clicks into place. Zoro snorts.
“Don’t say such unnecessary things.” Zoro lifts the hand that’s in Sanji’s hair to scuff it back into place. It stands up in woollen tufts, and Sanji does nothing to fix it. It makes him look boyish: all messy and several degrees off his usual composure, the relief abject in his eyes.
Then Sanji squints, looking over Zoro’s shoulder. Zoro turns, hand on the hilt of his swords, ready for trouble. But Sanji just frowns.
“Wait. That’s the same bar we walked out of.” Sanji says, and then groans. “Fucking hell, you directionless mosshead.”
* * * * *
Life is so short. This stretch of sea and sand, this walk on the shore, before the tide covers everything we have done.
– Jeanette Winterson, Lighthousekeeping
* * * * *
Finding Zoro is not actually a difficult errand. Not for Sanji, anyways.
It’s irritating, yes. More likely than not, a task that involves arduous terrain and nonsensical trails. Is it completely and utterly maddening, the way Zoro’s sense of direction works– or more accurately, doesn’t work? Oh, most definitely.
But never difficult. When it’s time to go, Sanji always knows how to find Zoro.
The galleon is, in retrospect, quite a beautiful ship. The body is all dark wood, with gilded cornices that swoop and swirl in grapevine designs. Sanji walks through an expansive room that features a tiered glass chandelier, immaculate and shining despite the wreckage of dining tables below it, shedding prisms of light through its teardrop-shaped trappings. It would have been a gorgeous space to dine in, before Sanji had made it a casualty to the black leather of his shoes. Now, the way the singed tablecloths drape defeated over splintered beams of wood makes it look like Sanji had fractured the ship’s very bones, the once-white fabric now ineffectual bandages.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say the galleon was quite a beautiful ship.
Before the ruination that was Sanji. Before the ruination that was Zoro, too.
Hands in his pockets, Sanji winds down the slipstream of destruction; not his brand of shattered furniture and crushed bodies, but the slashes that gouge into the walls and the fin-sharp streaks of blood. He admires the intricate candle-holders while stepping over the hopscotch of piled enemy pirates. Some of them groan and he pays them no mind; most of them are silent.
When he turns the corner, Sanji is met with a doorway of sunlight, the hallway abruptly cutting off and making way for the sound of seabirds and the susurration of waves. Walking right up to the edge, Sanji considers the sight before him.
It’s the other half of the ship – the bow-end – cross-sectioned like a cut-open hive, where he can see each room and their place in the grid of the ship’s tiered floors. A sailor’s quarters here, a storage room there; neatly displayed across a churning channel of water. The bottom rooms have already been taken into the ocean’s possession, claimed by the rising waves, and the bow has tipped slightly upwards like a narwhal’s horn seeking the sky.
Zoro would be on the deck, Sanji reasoned. The brute would have simply used one giant slash as a means of a shortcut. Sanji almost wants to backtrack and find his way upwards the sensible way, just to show that it’s possible for someone who wasn’t a directionless disaster.
But he doesn’t. Sanji skywalks until he’s hovering over the top deck, and lets his feet carry him through the air a slight distance more. When he spots the figure he’s looking for, it’s a quick fall onto solid footing, alighting without so much as a stumble.
“There you are,” Sanji says in greeting, exasperation already slotting into place. “Are you done here, or–?”
The last part of his sentence dies on his tongue. When Zoro turns, he is more of a presence than a person. The sun has slunk part way below the horizon, soaking everything in warning red, backlighting where the swordsman stands in the eye of a battlefield of bodies. From the black bandanna to the black of his boots, the other is a stark silhouette, swords knifing out of his outline like protruding canines. Only his eye acts as respite from the void he makes in the scene, a puncture of predator-sharp gold underneath all the shadow. Although that, Sanji thinks, is the part of him that looks the most dangerous.
Sanji watches him roll a shoulder, a sinuous motion that carries into a quick flick of the hand; the blood slices off Kitetsu and splatters onto the deck. Even the slow sheathing of his swords sounds like a threat – the danger remains unchanged despite the disarming.
Sanji steps forward.
The sunlight that bleeds around Zoro’s edges seeps onto Sanji’s skin too. The way that the swordsman stands is uncanny – legs and body a straight profile, while his head is bent forwards and tilted to watch Sanji’s approach. His gaze devours Sanji’s every detail. He is a hadean thing – amalgamated of dying sunlight and arterial blood and the battlelust coming off him in waves.
Sanji steps closer still.
He doesn’t flinch when one of Zoro’s hands comes up to take Wado from his mouth, and watches as the same hand tugs off the bandanna in one motion, green tufting out wildly as the fabric comes off. Sanji tuts at its dishevelled state, even though that’s how it usually is.
Suddenly, the figure is Zoro again – obnoxiously green and messily mundane.
“Yeah,” Zoro replies, and runs his bandanna over Wado’s blade. “Don’t think any of them will be going after the crew any more.” He sheathes Wado and ties the stained bandanna back onto his bicep.
“Gross,” Sanji says, wrinkling his nose at the offending bandanna. “So gross. Tell me you wash that regularly.”
Zoro doesn’t say a word.
“Whatever,” Zoro grumbles, rolling his unscarred eye. Sanji watches the movement, more curious than annoyed.
“I don’t think we’re human anymore,” Sanji says.
Sanji watches Zoro eye him from head to toe for any signs of an existential breakdown, but Sanji’s stance remains relaxed, head still slightly tilted from when he followed the movement of Zoro’s eye.
“No shit.” One of Zoro’s eyebrows arches upwards. “What finally made you realise?” His words are laced with sarcasm, but underneath the scathing default is a genuine question.
Sanji straightens and lifts his own hand to Zoro’s face, feeling the exact moment Zoro instinctively stills, then relaxes. With a swipe of his thumb, Sanji wipes off the worst of a streak of blood from Zoro’s cheekbone. But instead of separating there, he keeps his hand curved so the tip of his thumb rests under Zoro’s eye, contemplative.
Zoro looks back at Sanji, and lets him.
“Your eyes. They used to be a deep brown, almost black. This one’s almost all the way gold now.” Sanji swipes his thumb across carefully again, watches how Zoro squints into the motion like a cat, his iris gilded gold over small threads of dark brown. Swooping and swirling, like grapevines. “Extraordinary,” Sanji says. He means it in the rawest sense of the word: unreal. Unusual. Inhuman.
Zoro gives him a dry look.
“I’m not the only one,” he says, and pointedly looks down to Sanji’s shoes. Sanji looks down too, and sees the remnants of flames still curling around his calves and from underneath his shoes. Almost self-consciously, he scuffs his soles against the deck a few times, and the fire writhes rebelliously before snuffing out.
“Do you regret it?” Zoro asks, and Sanji looks up again. There’s no bite in his tone this time – just the simple question and his quietly searching eyes. Sanji blinks at it, and retracts his hand when he realises he’s still holding Zoro’s face.
“Hm.” When they’ve made landfall before and Sanji went into towns for supply runs, sometimes, he’d look at the person handing him fresh produce and imagine himself in their life. The green grocer, the patissier, the man on the balcony strumming a guitar and singing about love. He imagines the inside of a house, the kitchen table with a bouquet of fresh flowers on it, a note beside it that says, ‘Just went out. Love you. Be back soon.’ He imagines an afterimage of himself papered over the lives of these people–
–and it doesn’t quite fit. More like, he doesn’t know how to make it fit. Maybe in another life, or future. But not this version of him.
Sanji runs a hand through his hair lightly. He thinks about an iron mask, a small voice in the dark, a buried ghost still alive. He suspects this version of him never learnt to be human the way others have. He wouldn’t know the shape of it, really. “Nah,” he says. “I just used to think it’d be more lonely.”
Zoro studies him a second longer, then looks away. “It’s inevitable. We’re on the Grand Line, following the future Pirate King. Of course we’d be monsters.”
He says it plainly and without pity. The edge of Sanji’s mouth ticks up.
“You and me then,” Sanji says. Zoro is looking out towards the ocean, watching the sinking sun.
“You and me,” Zoro answers.
By morning, this ship will have submerged, the blood washed from the deck and both of them elsewhere. Another stretch of sea, another length of sand – it will be as if they were never here. But Sanji knows that the way the red of the sun only makes the blood on Zoro’s face redder – the half-streak where his hand had been – on Zoro’s skin and Sanji’s hand, all the same red – will be burned into Sanji’s memory.
The weight of Zoro’s response to Sanji’s call, too, settles with a finality somewhere within the core of Sanji’s heart.
Sanji finally tears his eyes away. “Gah. Not exactly a hit trait with the ladies, though,” he complains, just to complain about something. He thinks he should be more stung over the fact that, on some level, he’s just as much of a brute as Zoro is, but all he feels is a secret pride. He’d like to think he’s more graceful about kicking heads in, at least.
Zoro slides him a look like he’s laughing at him, though he doesn’t make a sound. As if he’s in on a secret Sanji should know but doesn’t. Something about it sparks the wraith of a memory– the smell of rum, a warm strong back, rambling conversations that unravel along the edge of a pleasant buzz– but before Sanji can pin it down, it’s gone again.
“Dunno,” and damn, Zoro really is laughing at him, his mouth curling almost imperceptibly. Sanji can tell though; it softens Zoro’s whole expression. “Some people love it.”
Sanji doesn’t want to give him any quarter. “Who would love people like us?” Sanji scoffs, jerking his chin at Zoro. He turns his nose up at the coppery smell of Zoro’s bandanna, the streak of blood on his face, the wild green hair that’s never seen a brush in its life. There is nothing about him that fits the idyllic fantasies that Sanji has about love. Zoro is real in a way that leaves no room for those things.
Maybe that’s why Sanji can’t stop looking at him.
Zoro is fully grinning now, sharp teeth and sharper eyes, and Sanji doesn’t want to give him any quarter– but only because it’s a lost cause. He wants the struggle and the thrash, that line between determination and desperation.
He wants Zoro. Zoro makes him feel alive.
“Why don’t you show me?” Zoro says, and it’s the sweetest final nail in the coffin. Sanji is already reaching out.
Maybe there is something to be said that the first time they kiss, they kiss on a sinking ship. As if to say: this too, is inevitable. The waves are gnashing above the sea’s bottomless maw, and the timbers of the sinking galleon groan their own dirge – as far as this space of sea is concerned, the world is ending. Then there they are, balanced on the cusp of it, concerned only with how they exist relative to each other.
There’s an awful devotion to it, and it shouldn’t be romantic. But Sanji is hopeless. He’s always wanted a love like this.
Zoro’s hands slide slowly down his back, pausing at every notch of spinal bone, ignoring the way the ship sinks beneath his shoes in favor of mapping the way Sanji curves towards him. Sanji is busy tasting every bit of warning red from Zoro’s mouth, hotter than the sinking sun, nails scraping through Zoro’s disgustingly dishevelled hair like he’s always wanted to. It’s only when the galleon submits to a sudden lurch that they break apart, and Sanji steadies himself to anchor Zoro and Zoro’s grasp on his waist tightens.
“This ship is useless,” Zoro remarks, and glares at the mast splintering under its own waylaid weight as if it personally offended him.
“That might have something to do with you bisecting it into two pieces,” Sanji says, dryly.
Zoro mutters, almost sulky, and Sanji catches, “The Sunny would let me kiss you in peace,” as Zoro noses back into his space and brushes his lips over Sanji’s again.
Sanji can’t help it. He laughs into Zoro’s cheek and kisses the place where the scar that runs over Zoro’s left eye cuts into his upper lip. It’s heady, how Zoro chases his mouth when he draws away, eyes closed and seeking him nonetheless, as if Sanji was something magnetic, irresistible to the steel in the swordsman that turned pliable and pleading in his embrace.
But Sanji is always the one who thinks two steps ahead, and he has plans that work better in places that aren’t a dying galleon. So he steps back, even if Zoro’s grip is reluctant to let him go.
“Come on, mossbrains,” Sanji says, pivoting and making his way to where the lifeboats are. “The beach is in sight. Rowing’s great for the core, or whatever you muscleheads are into.”
Sanji hears the frown in Zoro’s voice as he kicks ropes and debris out of the way. “We’re not going back to the ship?”
Sanji pauses in lowering the lifeboat, and scratches the back of his neck with one hand. He doesn’t turn to look at Zoro. “The crew will be fine now that these guys aren’t on our tails. I was thinking– well. We could see if we can get a room at an inn,” and the pulley creaks as the lifeboat continues to dip down towards the sea, “Just you and me. For a night. If you want.”
The back of Sanji’s neck burns. He curses himself for having the bashfulness of a teenager. But before he can salvage the fact that he is, in fact, a grown twenty-one whole years old thankyouverymuch, Sanji feels himself being swept off his feet – literally. The lifeboat splashes onto the waves as the rope hisses wildly out of his hands.
“Wh–” he splutters, grabbing at Zoro’s robe.
“You and me,” Zoro says, unbearably exuberant, and jumps over the side of the ship with Sanji in his arms before Sanji can get a word in. The bridal carry that Zoro has him in makes Sanji feel offended and romanced and wildly off-kilter all at once, encapsulated into one very impassioned “Idiot!” as Zoro’s boots thud onto the lifeboat, making the little vessel teeter this way and that.
Then, Zoro drops him unceremoniously.
“You have seaweed for brain cells,” Sanji says, righting himself from where Zoro has dumped him between the seats, legs askew in the air and hair in disarray.
“You love it,” Zoro shoots back, oar handles in hand and invincible in the knowledge that he’s right. Sanji looks at the stretch of Zoro’s grin over his face, and the word waltzes around in dizzying circles in his mind.
Love, Sanji looks at Zoro and thinks. Love, love, love, love–
* * * * *
They’re not even through the door of the inn’s room when Zoro presses his lips to the back of Sanji’s neck, hands already under Sanji’s suit jacket and splaying across the fabric of his shirt, fingertips dipping underneath the line of his belt. Sanji presses his forehead into the wood of the door as Zoro mouths at his skin, the key momentarily forgotten in his hands as he hisses, “Menace,” through a shudder, and despite himself, revels in the thrill that shoots through him as he feels Zoro’s grin on the skin of his nape.
Sanji turns around and drags Zoro in by the lapels as they step over the threshold, and there it is again– the way Zoro follows him headfirst, half-lidded eyes like he’s drawn inexorably towards Sanji. It’s heady, how the single-minded determination that Zoro dedicates to the little he deems important is now turned onto Sanji and the matter of kissing the life out of him.
Zoro kisses like he’s starving, and what can Sanji do but answer it?
In between the closeness of their bodies and frantic way they clutch at each other, there’s no room to lie. Sanji has been starving for this too.
It’s not as if Sanji has never seen Zoro in a state of undress before. But it’s different, pushing Zoro’s robe aside himself to reveal the warm brown skin under it. It’s different from just seeing Zoro shirtless on deck, or wrapped in nothing but a towel in the baths, because there’s looking (and god, has he looked, only to catch himself in the middle of it and convince himself there’s nothing to feel guilty over) and then there’s looking, watching Zoro press into his touch, urging him on while his teeth impatiently nip at his jawline.
Sanji lets Zoro undress him as far as his shirt’s third button, because by then the fumbling has turned into tugging, Zoro hissing, “Stupid– fancy– over-dressed dartbrows–”, and Sanji isn’t sure his suit will survive Zoro’s impatience. There are other things Sanji wants to do more than an argument over shredded shirts and loose buttons, so he bats the other’s hands away and pops the buttons himself, well-practiced and eager.
He’s rewarded by Zoro immediately ducking his head to nose at the jut of his collarbone, breath hot with the chase of tongue right behind it, and Sanji muffles a moan into Zoro’s hair.
“Hey, wait–” Sanji says, and catches Zoro’s chin in his hands before Zoro can go any further down.
The makings of his plan almost go flying out of his head when Zoro tips his head just-so to catch Sanji’s fingers in his mouth, slipping the pointer and middle finger past his lips and pushing them down the flat of his tongue, his teeth pressed undeniably against Sanji’s precious hands. Teeth, Sanji knows, that have gripped swordstrokes to fell mountains. Teeth that now graze his knuckles, teasing the potential of disaster and careful with the knowledge of it. Locking eyes with Sanji, Zoro takes his fingers as far as they can go and curls his tongue around them, smirking (the absolute bastard) as he sucks them off, releasing them with a pop and kissing the tips. The plush of his lips are red and spit-slick, shiny in the second-rate lighting of the cheap rented room, obscene in his hungry desire. Sanji flushes all the way to his cock. One of Zoro’s hands chases the blush.
“Oh, shit. Fuck. Fuck. Wait,” Sanji attempts again, tipping his head back and squeezing his eyes shut as he can feel the rumble of Zoro’s laugh against his chest. “Wait. Wait. Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” Zoro replies, eye closing as if in supplication, godless and thrumming with his faith in Sanji. His palm is pressed against the soft of Sanji’s stomach, the other hand resting at the dip of his back. Everything about how he curves into Sanji is reverent, ready for whatever Sanji will ask of him next, desperate for it. Sanji runs his thumb along the jagged edges of the long scar over Zoro’s eye like he’s counting down prayer beads. There is no way Sanji is getting out of this without a complex.
Sanji presses his five fingertips around the epicenter of Zoro’s sternum, pushing him back while keeping their inch of space. As always, Zoro follows. This unending push and pull – Sanji could burn for this (hot skin and gasps that sear its way out of his throat – Sanji is already burning for this, and loving every second of it.)
In equal parts relish and mourning, Sanji watches the hazy expression on Zoro’s face be abruptly replaced by shock as Zoro’s tips over the edge of a wooden tub and falls into the waiting water.
“You–!” Zoro splutters, half-in and half-out, and Sanji tugs the combat boots off his feet to fling them to the side. In quick succession, Zoro’s pants and haramaki follow.
“Darling,” Sanji drawls, mockingly, but noting the way Zoro stills at it, an interesting pink touching the tips of his ears. Very interesting. “Trust me. I’m going to enjoy this a whole lot more when you’re not covered in the viscera of our enemies.”
Zoro grumbles, righting himself into the tub.
Gesturing to the dried blood on his face and on his chest, Zoro arches his eyebrows at him. “Aren’t you supposed to tell me you find this sexy, love-cook?” he prods, and gets Sanji’s undershirt to the face for it. Sanji doesn’t dignify that with an answer, since a truthful one wouldn’t leave him with any dignity at all. There are only so many times he can flush at the sight of Zoro in battle and blame it on the adrenaline. When Zoro pulls the undershirt off his face, his expression is all too knowing for Sanji’s liking.
In some form of mercy, Zoro dunks his own head under the water instead of saying anything.
“A bath? Really? With that mood?” Zoro complains, undressing completely and washing the blood off his face. He scowls when one of the flower petals infusing the water gets stuck onto his face. Sanji doesn’t think it’s endearing. He doesn’t.
“I’ll make it up to you,” Sanji promises, folding his clothing over a folding screen neatly and slipping into the water himself. The water sloshes over the sides of the tub as he situates himself on Zoro’s lap, seeing the exact moment Zoro goes from sulking to interested. It’s hard to miss, with how Zoro goes rose-red all across his face, the color racing all down his neck too. Sanji snickers.
The bath makes them realise they have time to make this more than a quick rut, and Sanji gets drunk on the way Zoro kisses all over again. Zoro’s fingers flex on Sanji’s thighs, and Sanji can tell he more than likes the muscles there by the way he massages them in his hands again and again.
Lathering soap over Zoro’s body is a new kind of heaven, appreciating the different curves of a strictly-trained body, firm yet pliable to his kneading. Then there is Zoro sighing into his mouth, droplets on his eyelashes and water streaming over his skin. Surely Zoro wouldn’t say a god doesn’t exist if Sanji could show him what he looked like now, he thinks. There’s reason to go to the pyre for the way Zoro tips his face up towards Sanji.
The tub however, is snug for two grown men at best, and anything more ambitious between them would probably be asking for splinters. They towel each other off before the water chills. There are flower petals in Zoro’s mossy-green hair and Sanji doesn’t point them out. He can’t deny the utter charm of the sight Zoro makes.
This time Zoro is the one to push him back, guiding him towards the bed until the back of Sanji’s knees hit the mattress. Sanji doesn’t miss how Zoro cradles the back of his head as he falls backwards. It’s a whole codex of care that Sanji doesn’t know the full story of. He knows it’s important though, the same way that ivory-white sword is.
It’s alright, Sanji reasons, carding his hands back through Zoro’s hair. He’ll have the time to ask later. They have all the time.
Zoro slides into the bed over him, and Sanji takes a moment to make sure this feels right. The bulk of Zoro’s body shadows his own, heavier set and puckered with its history of scars– most history he was there for, and ones he wasn’t but will ask after in the coming days. Sanji runs his hands over Zoro’s neck and down to his chest, deliberately slow, squeezing the smooth muscle there and seeing it plump in his hands.
“Glad you can finally touch it?” Zoro says, and Sanji knees him in the side (though not enough to hurt).
“You were the one running around shirtless all the time,” Sanji argues hotly, before kissing the ragged scar that runs diagonally across Zoro’s torso. He tongues the divots, bites down on the scarred stitching and revels in Zoro trembling against his mouth.
“Mm. Maybe I wanted to catch someone’s eye,” Zoro teases. “And it worked, too. You weren’t exactly—” and he gasps as Sanji drags his tongue around a nipple, arching forwards.
“Sorry, what was that?” Sanji innocently asks, fluttering his lashes up at Zoro. Zoro huffs.
“Subtle,” he finishes. Sanji shrugs unrepentantly.
Zoro runs hot, like he’s soaked up every bit of sun he’s ever fallen asleep under and kept it humming under his skin. Curving his fingers and scratching his nails down Zoro’s sides, eyes peeking through his curtain of blond hair and seeking the other’s face, he watches this immovable object of a man shudder and crack open, face flushing a little darker than just the heat of the bath. His gold earrings catch the light and chime together, a fragment of a hymn as the flickering fluorescence haloes him from above.
It’s almost baffling to think the world gave this man the moniker of a demon. If they saw him like this, flushed eagerly and bowed so wonderfully over Sanji, perhaps they’d reconsider. Then Zoro cracks his eye open, licking at his canines as he gazes down at him, that same predatory gold whetting itself on the sight of Sanji, and maybe it isn’t so baffling after all.
It works out, anyhow. Sanji has never felt a possessiveness over Zoro — but the idea of anyone else seeing Zoro spilling over in his desire makes him think he would learn very fast indeed.
Zoro tilts Sanji’s head back to lick up his neck, scraping his teeth over the bob of his Adam’s apple and sucking the corner of Sanji’s jaw. His pace is back to being measured, steady, as Zoro is wont to be. Sanji wants to tear the bedsheets to shreds because of it. But there's an edge to Zoro’s attentions, the paired pain with the pleasure, that gives away the intensity of need underpinning the swordsman’s facade.
Sanji realises something then: Zoro has been waiting for this. Ever the epitome of rigorous self-discipline, Zoro has held himself in check, up until this moment. He’s had to hold himself in check from Sanji, because of Sanji. Waiting for who knows how long. It knocks the breath from him, that someone would think he was worth waiting for.
Then he realises a second thing: Zoro is still holding himself back.
Sanji kisses him, licks at Zoro’s teeth and guides Zoro’s hips towards his own. And the swordsman goes– but only until there is that inch left between them, and then he stops, even when Sanji’s hand presses into his skin and Zoro huffs against Sanji’s mouth. Sanji frowns. Something discomfiting collects at the pit of his stomach.
He pulls back from the kiss.
“What’s going on?” he asks. He tries not to sound hurt. Zoro makes it look like it’s close to a physical wound that they aren’t grinding against each other. But he doesn’t chase him.
That inch between them remains.
“I–” Zoro begins, and stops, throat clicking. The flush is still high on his face, and it’s so hard to draw his hands away from Zoro when he looks so inviting, but Sanji does. He doesn’t want this to hurt any more than it has to. He can already feel himself clamming up, drawing into himself and shuttering away his ugly vulnerabilities. Zoro sees this and catches one of his hands, gripping it urgently. “Wait. It’s just–”
He makes a frustrated sound, and it punches out of him. Zoro presses their foreheads together, Sanji can’t see Zoro’s exact expression without going cross-eyed. He suspects that isn’t an accident. The uncharacteristic uncertainty from the swordsman is what keeps Sanji there, rather than bolting for his clothes and out the door. Sanji reminds himself Zoro is only so much an anchor after he’s a person with his own set of devils.
Sanji holds his breath and waits.
“I don’t want you to regret this,” Zoro says into the quiet between them, and Sanji’s breath suddenly aches in his throat. “The bath made me stop to think and— we don’t have to go all the way. If you– you understand how I– towards you. That’s enough.” Zoro brings Sanji’s hand up to his mouth, speaking the next words into his skin, and the small break in his voice breaks something in Sanji too. “This can’t become something you regret.”
Silence floods between them, both of them barely breathing. This is the closest either of them have ever come to articulating what they both feel sparking between them. Or moreso, the slow and persistent kindling over the years, equal parts the familiar hearth and the terrifying wildfire. This is the closest either of them have admitted that it’s important, too.
“It’d be ‘enough’?” Sanji repeats after a moment, needing to find his voice again. Zoro doesn’t say anything. He just presses his lips against the cut of Sanji’s knuckles. “We both know that’s not true. Drowning men went to their graves quieter than the way you kissed me.”
With the hand that isn’t in Zoro’s grip, Sanji pushes Zoro back so they can look each other in the eyes, and holds his chin in place.
“Darling,” Sanji says, and nurtures the delight that runs through him when Zoro’s ears flush again, the loveliness of knowing it will be something to see over and over for much more time to come. “You’re a shit liar. So am I. So I think it’d be in our better interests to give up the bullshitting, which we both suck shit at, and maybe suck other things.”
Zoro stares at him.
Sanji stares back.
“And by other things, I meant–” Sanji starts, and Zoro thuds his head down onto Sanji’s shoulder.
“I’m going to kill you one day,” he says.
“–my dick. Cock, if you will,” Sanji continues, and feels Zoro start to shake from laughter. The tension begins to bleed away from the line of Zoro’s body, and Sanji runs his hands up and down his back (reassurance for both of them, really). “My hot, heavy, girthy–”
“Shut up, you stupid, insufferable, dart-browed–” Zoro lashes, laughingly, and brings his hand up to clap it over Sanji’s mouth, except his hand is still intertwined with Sanji’s, so it does a poor job of muffling him, “–you’re a bastard, you’re such a bastard.”
“I could go on, if you need more clarification about how much I want this. Aching for it, if we’re being honest - in the ‘cross my heart, hope to die from blue balls’ sort of way.” He makes the little mime of an ‘X’ over his heart, followed by the universal jerk-off gesture. Zoro looks ready to bite him. Sanji grins. “I’m a veritable treasure trove for phallic-related synonyms. You see, growing up surrounded by foul-mouthed, shitty old sailors has its perks–” Sanji drones on, and Zoro momentarily lifts off him.
The small part of him that hasn’t quite settled from the scare of Zoro’s hesitance flares up again, bravado be damned. He thinks that Zoro is leaving, finally coming to his senses and realising he doesn’t want this. Sanji rises up from the mattress to follow him.
But then Zoro leans back down over Sanji’s lower half, fitting his hand over Sanji’s hip, and mouths against where Sanji is undoubtedly turned on underneath the small towel around his waist. With a choked off little noise, Sanji twitches his hip up and forgets what he was going to say.
“Shut up,” Zoro says, voice gravelling, “and we can focus on our ‘better interests’.”
Sanji shuts up, and finds out just how thankful he is that Zoro is a man who always keeps his promises.
* * * * *
(There are soot marks on the bed-sheets when they’ve finally tired each other out. Sanji thinks that the fact the bed isn’t a flaming wreck makes him a pretty good contestor for the epitome of self-restraint in favor of Zoro.
“Pretty extraordinary, huh?” Zoro says, the smugness radiating from him.
One of his hands plays lazily with a lock of Sanji’s hair.
Sanji kicks him in the shins. “Don’t be insufferable,” he says tetchily, and then huddles closer into Zoro’s warmth.
Zoro drops a kiss onto his temple, and curves Sanji’s body closer to his, hitching one of Sanji’s legs over his thighs. It’s like even after fucking each other silly, Zoro isn’t keen on letting him go any time soon, still looking to situate himself inside the outline of Sanji’s body.
He can’t say he minds. With extreme prejudice, Sanji makes propriety walk the gangplank, and buries his face into Zoro’s chest.
Before he can hear Zoro’s comeback, Sanji falls asleep.)
* * * * *
At first, waking up comes in gentle increments.
Then, Sanji remembers he has breakfasts to cook, people to feed, and oh shit, what’s the time! He bolts up, half-panicked.
The washed-out walls of the inn’s room greet him good morning, and Sanji remembers that they hadn’t returned to the Sunny for the night.
They, he muses, turning the feel of the word over his head. Him and Zoro. Together. There are things they’ll have to talk about. But he’s just woken up and there are no ship duties to immediately attend to, so Sanji indulges himself in a rare bout of laziness and relaxes back into the warm indent of the bed.
He knows Zoro is gone before he even looks to the other side of the mattress. He hates to be clingy after only one night, but he can’t help but run his hand in the space Zoro has left, pausing in the bar of sunlight that has filtered through the cane-wood shades to fall where the sheets are wrinkled from Zoro’s weight. The sun’s warmth pools onto Sanji’s skin. The fine blond hairs on his arm are alight in the morning rays.
Zoro would have felt warmer, he thinks. More welcome company, too.
Grumbling to himself, he buries his face in Zoro’s pillow, breathing in the scent of his idiot moss and curling himself around it.
Then he bolts up again and stares at what hadn’t registered before, sitting there on top of the bedside drawer.
It looks surreal, immaculate and bone-white against its washed-out and weathered surroundings. With a halting hand, Sanji reaches out to touch Wado’s scabbard, just to make sure it’s not a dream. When the cool surface of the sheath meets the pads of his fingers, Sanji snatches his hands away, shocked by its realness. It feels as though he’s broken something sacrosanct by daring to lay a hand on the beloved sword.
But Zoro wouldn’t have left it in such a place if Sanji wasn’t allowed. The trust of it guts him.
There’s no hand-written note and no bouquet of flowers, and the second-rate room is hardly suited to the domestic life of Sanji’s dreams. But the message of leaving Wado is clear.
Just went out. Love you. Be back soon.
After a final moment of hesitation, Sanji reaches out to grasp the sword in his hands.
It’s not difficult to admire the beauty of Wado, even with who Sanji is as a person. The matching white hilt and scabbard, all furnished with gold, and the elegant simplicity of the guard is something Sanji can appreciate. There are indents in the grip where the memory of Zoro’s teeth had made their mark — Sanji rubs his thumb over them contemplatively.
There’s no mistaking the way Zoro’s hand goes to this very sword every time he talks about his ambition and the intertwined promise, the duty to a childhood friend. Sanji had seen this sword survive that fateful day with Mihawk too, gleaming in the clear day of Zoro’s defeat.
Sanji balances Wado on the flat of his palms, parallel to the bed. He bows his head in respect. “Thank you for taking care of that idiot,” he says, all a little clumsily. It’s a sentiment both for the sword and the friend it had once belonged to.
Belatedly, Sanji thinks he shouldn’t have done this in a state of post-debauchery, scandalously undressed in what feels like the presence of Zoro’s childhood friend. With no small amount of embarrassment, Sanji places Wado back on the bedside table, and flops back into the bed.
Without realising he had dozed off again, Sanji wakes up to the sound of the room door unlocking. The unmistakable scent of fresh pastries wafts into the room, all baked brown sugar and butter sweetening the air. Without opening his eyes, Sanji stretches languidly, the long line of his body filling the bed. The mattress dips behind him.
“Now that’s a nice sight,” Zoro’s voice rumbles, kissing his temple. “I thought you’d have cleaned up by now.”
“You left me alone,” Sanji frowns, turning to kiss the edge of Zoro’s mouth and shying away when Zoro tries to deepen it. “Wait. I have gross morning breath.” Zoro kisses him deeply anyways, and Sanji pretends to grumble into his mouth.
Holding Zoro’s face in his hands, Sanji can admit how right this feels. He brushes the pads of his thumb over the crest of Zoro’s cheekbones, and Zoro's eye blinks closed lazily, soft under the attention. He looks the same as always, except maybe with a little more freedom to let the affection linger in his expression.
“Thank you for coming back,” Sanji says. Thank you for coming back to me. He’s still halfway waiting for the moment Zoro breaks the bad news to him, that it had been better unsaid and safe.
Zoro’s eye opens back up slowly. “Don’t say such unnecessary things. We’ve been through this,” Zoro says, and Sanji furrows his brow in an unspoken ‘wait, we have?’ . Zoro knocks his forehead against Sanji’s. “I said I’d be back.”
Sanji’s heart soars at the reminder of Zoro’s monumental gesture. It’s not fair how much of a natural romantic the swordsman is, all without knowing it or doing it on purpose. It truly was hopeless for Sanji from the very start.
Winding his arms around Zoro’s waist, Sanji pulls him further into bed, peppering his face with kisses.
“You didn’t let me finish. Thank you for coming back. I know it must’ve been hard, getting lost like the poor little directionally-hopeless marimo you are and having to find your way back from three Blues over,” Sanji says, all dramatic woe and commiseration. “Truly the bread delivery of the century.” He yelps when Zoro pinches the skin at his side in retaliation.
Laughing into another kiss, Sanji thinks he tastes a little salted butter on Zoro’s mouth. “You have sesame seeds all over your face,” Sanji points out, pausing to lick a seed off his own lips. Zoro swipes a hand across his mouth. “What did you eat?”
“Bread,” is the reply, and Sanji rolls his eyes at the enlightening answer.
“Helpful. Whatever. I’ll bake you something a hundred times better when we get back to the ship.”
“I know you will.”
“A thousand times better. With loads of sesame seeds.”
“Mm-hmm. You should eat,” Zoro says, kissing the words into Sanji’s throat. A sweet-smelling paper bag sits on the bedside table, right alongside Wado.
“I will,” Sanji says absentmindedly, and makes Zoro turn onto his back, climbing on top of him as he does. The sun hits his chest and vies for his attention, but Zoro is a solid, warm weight under him, and Sanji wouldn’t tear his eyes away even if the sky caved in on itself.
Dipping down, he presses back into the hands that cup his ass, kissing Zoro until all his single-minded devotion narrows onto him. Then he rolls his hips to make Zoro shudder and tip his head back.
“You should eat,” Zoro tries again, then visibly loses the plot as Sanji scrapes his teeth down the arch of his throat. Pulling open Zoro’s robe to see last night’s bite marks on the join of his shoulder makes Sanji feel like a cat that got the cream. With one hand, he strokes down Zoro’s torso and leans into his ear, snaking his tongue between the triple set of gold earrings. The metal clinks against the enamel of his grinning teeth.
“What do you think I’m doing, Roronoa?” Sanji asks.
“Fuck,” Zoro gasps.
“Of course, darling,” Sanji purrs, and eats well.
* * * * *
There comes a time when Sanji does get his dream home, complete with the big kitchen table he’s always wanted and the bouquet of flowers in the middle. Built right on top of his restaurant in the All Blue.
The One Piece has been found. But to his pleasant surprise, adventure still finds its way into his life. It does so in the droves of customers that come clamoring for his food, all characters of their own, bringing their hunger and their stories to the table. It does so in the pirates and Marines that want to try their luck on the reputation of Blackleg, where a few at least do well enough to keep Sanji in practice. It does so quite literally, when Luffy comes crashing in for a visit, crowing exclamations and recounting escapades a-mile-a-minute, all while shovelling his favorite dishes into his mouth.
But before all that, Sanji starts his day by waking just before dawn, the world still dark in lieu of the sun’s arrival.
He rolls his neck to shrug off the dredges of lethargy, and sits up in bed to look out the glass doors of the balcony. Like an old friend, the sound of the waves eddy just beyond. The rhythm of his breathing attunes to it like fish to water.
Unlike every other day, Sanji doesn’t get up to go wash and get dressed for another day at the restaurant. He sits there in bed, warm and content, and watches the morning slip into its liminal greys, the sunlight seeping back into the world. Sanji just sits there, and watches.
“You don’t have to be awake so early today,” a voice from the other side of the bed rumbles.
Sanji turns away from watching the morning and looks down at Zoro, face half-hidden from where it’s mashed into his pillow, but scrunched into the expression of those reluctantly dragged out of sleep. Sanji blinks, and brushes his hands through his wild green hair, scratching at the scalp. Zoro hums.
“It’s my body clock,” Sanji says. “You go back to sleep, sleepyhead. I’ll get you breakfast.”
He’s about to turn back to look out the balcony doors when he feels Zoro snake an arm around his waist, pulling him back down to the bed. Sanji looks at his partner again.
“Stay here,” Zoro replies, muzzily, eye already shutting again. “Breakfast later.”
Fierce affection flares up in Sanji’s chest, and he settles back onto his side, facing Zoro. In approval, Zoro runs his hands up and down Sanji’s spine, over the scarring from the Drum Island avalanche an age and a half ago.
“What do you want today?” Sanji asks. There are always eggs and hams in the kitchen, and there are still bread loaves leftover from last night’s dinner hour. The weekly import of fruit just came in from the West Blue yesterday too. He thinks of experimenting with new recipes for fruit preserves, perfect for the coming mornings. Some more tart than sweet, for Zoro.
“You,” Zoro answers, pulling Sanji closer. A lop-sided smile breaks onto Sanji’s face. The idiot probably isn’t firing on all cylinders yet (or at least, the usual amount when he’s properly awake).
“I mean for breakfast,” he says, and Zoro mumbles incoherently. Sanji smooths his thumb over Zoro’s cheekbone. Maybe he’ll make something grand today, since he has the time. He mentally flips through the catalog of Zoro’s favorites.
Zoro peeks his eye open again when Sanji is quiet for a while. Reaching up, he mirrors Sanji carding a hand through his hair, and lets the streams of blond slip and flow through his fingers. Sanji gives him a small smile, and Zoro already knows what he’s going to say.
“I should really cut it short,” Sanji says, like he has for the last year or so. It’s grown past his shoulders now, enough to make a small ponytail when he collects it in a band.
“Nah. You look good,” Zoro replies, just like clockwork, yet still meaning every word like it’s the first time. Sanji laughs a little.
“This makes you look...distinguished. Instead of a gold coconut with a short temper,” Zoro adds, which is decidedly not clockwork. Sanji pulls a face before aiming a jab at his shins. “Still got the short temper, of course.”
“Can’t you be more romantic?” Sanji huffs, and tangles his legs with Zoro’s.
Zoro tips his head to kiss the hand Sanji has left lying on the pillows between them. He knows he likes that – Zoro watches him melt into it every time. Romance really isn’t something he gets, at least, not in the way that Sanji sighs and swoons and composes sonnets about.
But there must be something in the sun breaking over the balcony, washing the outline of Sanji in warmth and heavenly gold, the morning inlaid into where Sanji’s eyes crease when he smiles. Where the sunlight has filtered through their white lacewing curtains, the patterns cast onto Sanji’s body, dressing him in the splendor of the new dawn. Zoro wants to kiss everywhere the light hits, jealous of how close the sun touches, while being helpless to how lovely Sanji looks. He thinks of how he can hold this sight of Sanji close – loose-limbed and off-guard and warm adoration – for as long as he will let him.
The phrase dawning realisation has never been more fitting as Zoro watches the daylight pour over Sanji.
“I love you,” Zoro says. Sanji’s eyebrows shoot up.
“I thought we weren’t supposed to say unnecessary things,” he says, laughingly, after a few seconds of shocked silence. Zoro has long since told him the story of carrying a drunken Sanji back home that one night, all those stretches of ocean and islands ago. It was their joke, now.
But this part wasn’t a joke. “This one needs to be said. You should know how I feel.”
Sanji’s expression softens again. “Don’t worry. I know how you feel.”
Zoro slips his free hand from under his pillow and joins it with Sanji’s. “I want this for the rest of my life. To wake up to you, to help you choose your stupid ties even though you make all of them look good, to watch you cook perfect eggs for breakfast. I want you for the rest of my life. I love you.”
He sees the pink rise in Sanji’s face with every declaration he makes. Sanji blinks, and smiles. “Well,” he says. “Only if I can have you for the rest of my life too.”
Zoro squeezes the hand in his. The scar on his chest is old and faded, but from the way his heart swells, he could swear it could burst anew again. “I can’t cook eggs very well,” he says, even though Sanji knows.
Sanji laughs anyways, cradling Zoro’s face in his hands, full of care, brushing his thumb under Zoro’s eye with loving strokes. “Oh, darling, I love you. Let me cook the eggs then. We can have breakfast in bed today, and we’ll stay together for as long as you want.”
He has a good feeling that the last part isn’t just about today. More, the rest of his life. Their lives. From Sanji’s grin, he knows he’s right.
Zoro grins and laughs back.
“I’d like that.”
* * * * *
I love you.
The three most difficult words in the world.
But what else can I say?
– Jeanette Winterson, Lighthousekeeping
* * * * *