8.


Pain burned in his suffocating lungs - spreading out like tongues of fire that singed every nerve in his body. Sanji clawed at the water, panicking, searching for a way to escape. It was like a reoccuring nightmare - the familiar weight of the water bearing down on his body, restricting his every movement. Sanji felt himself begin to drown. Despair started to set in, and only the faint hope of finding Zoro at the surface kept him striving upward.

As his struggles became weaker and weaker, one of his flailing hands hit on something solid.

A strong hand clamped onto his wrist, and Sanji was suddenly yanked through the dark water. He was hauled bodily out of the lake and flung onto the mossy bank like a giant fish. Gasping and choking, he sure felt like a fish. Sanji coughed and wheezed, trying to relieve the pain in his chest and breathe. He wasn't alone as he fought to clear his lungs. Crouching at his side, Zoro watched him silently - just as soaked as Sanji, with his wet clothes clinging to his skin.

When Sanji finally could take a full breath without his lungs convulsing, he flopped over onto his back and scrubbed at his face with a dirty sleeve - trying to erase how his eyes were watering from choking. Zoro shifted to the ground and settled quietly at his side. The distance between them was small, but Sanji was painfully aware of the space as if it were a gaping wound.

Neither of them spoke.

Sanji just lay there with his hand over his face and listened to the light patter of the raindrops on the thick moss around them. What could he say? They had lost something precious and intimate when the lake had forced them apart. Sanji knew that no words of promise or apology would come even close to easing the bite of loneliness in his soul.

Overhead the blue sky was filled with tiny falling rainbows as the sun shone over the tops of purple trees - illuminating the continually falling rain. It was beautiful, but Sanji found that he intensely missed the soft rustling of tall grass and the scent of blood... The fear and suffering he had endured in that place under the lake was obscured by the memory of Zoro's heart connected to his own, and how nothing else in all the seas had mattered for that moment of bliss.

But now that place was gone, and they were stranded back where this damn mess had all begun.

Sanji raised his hand and looked at it sadly. Already the clarity of his memories of the swordsman's thoughts and feelings were beginning to fade. It was terrifying - like Zoro's whole existence might accidentally slip from his mind. Sanji was scared to even look at him - the emptiness inside infecting his thoughts and leaving Sanji bitter.

He'd never be happy like that ever again.

Startling him out of his misery, Zoro's big, warm fingers interlaced with his own. Sanji's gaze flew to the swordsman's face. The expression of desperation Zoro displayed as he squeezed Sanji's fingers uncomfortably tight tugged painfully at his tattered emotions. He felt like crying when their palms crushed together but remained two separate limbs attached to two separate bodies - their skin remaining an all too solid barrier.

It just wasn't enough to touch if he couldn't also touch Zoro's soul.

Sanji turned away, wanting to just curl up and vanish. However, Zoro wouldn't allow him to shake off the swordsman's hand. With a low growl of irritation, Zoro dragged Sanji upright with a bruising grip on his wrist. Sanji glared at him in genuine anger. Why wouldn't this bastard just let him wallow in his misery? "What the hell are you doing, shitty marimo?! Let me go! It's no use, dumbass!"

"Shut up!"

Sanji struggled half-heartedly as Zoro pulled him into a crushing hug, burrowing his face into Sanji's shoulder. Wishing like hell he knew what Zoro was thinking, Sanji pressed his cheek to Zoro's wet hair. Why couldn't they have just stayed in that place and been happy?

The glint of sunlight off metal attracted his attention, and Sanji found himself staring over Zoro's shoulder at the three swords embedded in the earth behind them. He never would have thought that a mere straight line of shitty weapons would affect him so personally, but seeing them brought on a fresh rush of emotion as he recalled the memories behind Zoro's dream - memories of a little girl, sweat and stubbornness. They wouldn't have been happy under the lake - not for long. Zoro had a powerful dream that influenced every beat of his heart.

And Sanji had All-Blue.

Smiling for the first time since he'd been dragged from the water, Sanji sent a silent thank you to Wado and Yubashiri. They were more than weapons to Sanji now, and he couldn't help watching them hopefully, wondering if they would change and move. It would be nice to see them again.

Kitetsu could go fuck herself.

Beyond the naked blades, Sanji's eye was drawn to a quick flurry of movement. At the edge of the woods a white-furred beast with distinctly vulpine features watched them with shiny, black eyes. It was too big to be just a fox - its legs were unnaturally long and the body was lean, giving the beast a leggy appearance more like a fawn than a predator. Swishing lazily, a split tail flicked its twin ends around the creature's back heels. He'd never seen anything like it. However Sanji did recognize the metal ball in its mouth. The golden sphere was dull - entirely lacking the warm glow from the cook's earlier encounters. That was somehow reassuring.

The beast snarled at him silently from around the object in its mouth, baring the sharp teeth in its narrow muzzle before vanishing into the brilliant jungle foliage with a swish of its tails.

Sanji wrapped his arms around Zoro's back and held him tight. There was nothing to fear anymore. He had brought Zoro back - or rather, they had brought each other back. Being together - holding each other at last - sent warm happiness flowing out from Sani's chest to his fingertips and toes. Yet Sanji still felt the sting of loss - the powerful longing to feel Zoro's skin inside his own. He needed to have their nerves mingle and their bones fit together like cogs.

It had been too perfect.

Zoro tightened his arms and growled softly as he squeezed Sanji painfully tight. It was like the stupid swordsman was trying to forcefully press their bodies together into one. However it only produced discomfort - there wasn't any way for them to be like before. Sanji didn't like it but at least he acknowledged it. Annoyed at the marimo constricting his ribcage, Sanji threw his weight forward and pushed Zoro backward onto the ground. He failed utterly in breaking the swordsman's hold - instead Zoro wrapped his legs around Sanji's hips.

"Sanji...!"

The blonde shuddered as the swordsman breathed his name into the still-damp skin of his neck. As Zoro's legs tightened around Sanji's waist, their groins brushed, sparking an electric sensation that was tantalizingly similar to the energy that had overtaken the both of them before. Without thought, Sanji ground his hips down against Zoro's body, eagerly chasing that rush of feelings. All his rationale flowed away with the rain as Sanji was consumed by the flare of need to feel MORE. Zoro gasped against his throat and Sanji instantly loved that small sound.

Not entirely comfortable with where his arms had ended up trapped under Zoro's back, Sanji pulled away to adjust his posture. Zoro reacted quickly to the distance between them, lunging up with a snarl, bared teeth biting into Sanji's shoulder near his neck and spilling blood down creamy skin. "Ow! You fucker...!"

Zoro rolled his hips and Sanji forgot his complaint. The arousal gathering in his lower body pulsed with brilliant flashes of the same bliss the two of them had experienced through their connection. Sanji needed it so badly. He needed to be fused to Zoro's soul again.

He planted his hands in the moss by Zoro's head and concentrated on the hard grind of their hips. Zoro groaned, his hands scrabbling and grasping at the back of Sanji's shirt. Sanji's shoulders shook as he struggled against the force of Zoro's arms seeking to pull him down and trap him once again. Zoro bit down harder, making Sanji grit his teeth in pain, but he didn't relent - keeping his distance and some semblance of control as he pressed Zoro's hips into the ground with his own.

Zoro's jaw slackened with a gasp and Sanji could feel his rapid panting against the aching bite wound left behind. The pleasure and the pressure from the hard press of their bodies still wasn't enough. Their connection had burned brighter, deeper and with an intense power that had made Sanji breathless. This wasn't enough.

With a growl of his own, Sanji rolled away and tore at his clothing. Zoro was on top of him in a flash, his thick fingers enthusiastically ripping Sanji's clothing away. When the last article had been thrown aside, Zoro forced himself onto Sanji's lap, licking at the wound he'd made at Sanji's neck while the cook was left to wrestle with Zoro's clothes alone. The shirt and haramaki were cooperative, leaving Sanji satisfied with the slide of their chests against one another as Zoro re-wrapped his arms around Sanji's torso. However the pants and boots just wouldn't come off.

After tugging unsuccessfully for a while, Sanji forced Zoro away with a tight hand on his throat. Zoro drew in a sharp breath and Sanji could feel the air flowing down the swordsman's windpipe, thrumming against his hand. He stilled for a moment and just felt Zoro breathe - the swift pace of the swordsman's panting just behind the rapid pulse in the vein under Sanji's thumb.

Zoro accepted Sanji's guidance when he continued pushing, forcing the swordsman back down onto the ground. He loomed over Zoro with a smirk, enjoying how aroused, dark eyes watched and waited for his next move. He reached down with his free hand to fumble with Zoro's pants. Another pair of hands joined him in releasing the button and removing the last barrier between their bodies. Finally there was only the sun-warmed rain and their own sweat separating them.

Sanji's hand was immediately drawn to Zoro's arousal. He kept one hand one the swordsman's throat, holding him in place as he explored the weight and the shape of his partner. Zoro bucked up into Sanji's touch, snarling as he wordlessly demanded more. Sanji punished the impatient swordsman with a tighter grip on his throat, causing Zoro's eyes to roll back as he moaned in reaction to the blonde's fingertip pressing into his slit.

With Zoro shaking and making sounds that gave Sanji the shivers, the blonde decided then and there that he had to have Zoro.

Dark eyes watched him closely as Sanji trailed his hand from Zoro's throat, through the rain pooling in the dips of his chest and abs, before boldly stroking with his fingers deep between Zoro's legs. The swordsman shuddered, his gaze locked with Sanji's as the blonde rubbed gently, waiting. They didn't need words - Zoro stretched his arms up to cross them behind his head and spread his legs, willingly opening his whole body to Sanji's touch.

Sanji refused to waste time hesitating. The swordsman reacted with a helpless jerk of his hips - his feet spasming on the damp ground - as Sanji sought to stretch the swordsman's entrance as wide as he could manage. Sanji couldn't take it slow - his fingers straining as he impatiently worked at Zoro's flexing muscles. Zoro's breathing escalated into rough gasps - tiny, desperate noises escaping as his toes curled and his thighs trembled.

The heat of Zoro's body was calling out to him - lighting Sanji's blood on fire with a promise of something he'd craved even long before they'd been joined under the water.

Zoro's back bowed forward and he clamped his hands onto Sanji's shoulders as the blonde thrust himself inside. Both men groaned, pained at the rough friction resulting from the minimal lubrication. Sanji hooked both of Zoro's legs over his biceps and pressed the swordsman's knees back toward his chest as he ground his hips against Zoro's firm ass. Moaning loudly, his toes flexing in the air and his spine undulating - Zoro released Sanji's shoulders and let his hands slide down to clutch at the blonde's wrists.

The first thrust was shallow - just a test of the friction between them. Zoro cried out, his knees clamping down painfully on Sanji's arms, and Sanji had a pretty good idea of what the marimo was feeling - he felt it too. Adrenaline surged through his veins, escalating his heartbeat into a mad rush. The hammering of his heart behind his ribs was complemented by waves of pleasure that rolled over his body as he rocked his hips. Looking down into Zoro's wild, black eyes he knew everything the swordsman was thinking - lust and excitement shone clearly in the blown pupils. Zoro was smiling up at him - sweat and rain running over his face and shimmering in the daylight. He looked so beautiful and perfect beneath Sanji like this. Sanji's breath caught in his throat as he drank in the sight before he bent to press a kiss to Zoro's heated lips.

This was better than what they'd had beneath the water - hotter, more brilliant, and more them.

Sanji spread passionate kisses over Zoro's jaw down to his neck where he bit and sucked at the place where he could feel Zoro's thundering pulse beneath his lips. Zoro didn't hold back - his volume rising as Sanji thrust deeper. Sanji moaned into the bruised skin of Zoro's neck as Zoro's voice rang in his ears. The swordsman's whole body was shaking and rippling beneath him, and the frantic rhythm of Zoro's muscles snapped Sanji's control like brittle thread. His hips juddered out of his control and he screamed by Zoro's ear as it felt like everything in his body - his entire soul - emptied out into Zoro. Eyes widening, Zoro gasped as Sanji shuddered against him, and before the blonde had even begun to come down from his high, Zoro's hands tightened on Sanji's wrists hard enough to make his bones creak - Sanji was only barely aware of how Zoro shouted out his name as his waist buckled and jumped sporadically.

Sanji let Zoro's legs slide to the ground and he shook off the swordsman's shaking hands from his wrist as he bonelessly draped himself over Zoro's heaving chest. The two of them lay there entwined in the sun as warm rain washed the sweat from their bodies. Sanji felt himself begin to drift - floating contentedly on the current of the high buzzing through his veins. Zoro's trembling fingers stroking through his hair prompted him back into wakefulness. Reaching up, he caught the swordsman's hand with own - tangling their fingers as he stretched his neck to place a kiss to Zoro's cheek. He no longer remembered everything that had happened in the mysterious lake - however that was fine with him. He didn't need those memories now - not with Zoro smiling sleepily and squeezing his fingers.

His heart was full and his soul was complete - this was how they were meant to be.

-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-

"MEAAAAAAAT!"

Luffy yelped in excitement and leapt off the path into the jungle. Nami ran her fingers through her hair in exasperation as the rest of the crew watched the captain chasing a white, fox-like creature around and around the purple trunk of a large tree. This island had produced neither treasure nor information on the strange weather, and the navigator was more than eager to get back to the Merry and brush the knots out of her hair. Humidity was a bitch.

"L-Luffy! That thing might be dangerous!" Usopp hid behind Robin as he uselessly tried to convince their excited captain to release the unhappy beast's tails.

Laughing as the creature tried to turn and snap at his fingers, Luffy's eyes sparkled at the panicking sniper, "IT'S SO COOL! I BET IT'S DELICIOUS!"

"Don't eat him...!" Chopper began to wail in distress. Luffy ignored him in favor of scowling where the fox-beast had finally managed to bite at his hand.

"He bit me! I'M GONNA KICK HIS ASS!"

"Luffy let that thing go. It probably has diseases."

Everyone turned to see Sanji walking up the path toward them. Zoro was at his side, limping noticeably. Robin raised an eyebrow at the ruined state of their clothes and Sanji's arm planted around Zoro's waist.

Chopper ran to meet them, babbling in distress, "ZORO! What happened? Did your ankle scars open again? You're limping! AH! YOU NEED A DOCTOR!"

"M'fine, Chopper." Zoro leaned against Sanji as the little doctor examined him frantically.

"Well if you're fine can we go now? I'm sick of this useless island!"

Robin smiled at the dirty, bedraggled pair as Nami huffed past them. "You two look like you had quite an adventure."

Sanji nodded absently at the archeologist as he was stared down by their reindeer doctor. Chopper's eyes had grown huge as his nose twitched. "Y-you two...?! With each other...?! AHHHH!"

"Chopper?" Usopp chased after the little reindeer as he ran down the path after Nami, blushing under his fur.

Luffy was rubbing his bitten hand on his vest as he came to stand next to Robin - the poor, molested fox-creature having long since escaped into the jungle. "An adventure...?"

Sanji quickly interrupted the direction Luffy's thoughts were heading, "We should get back to Merry. It's almost time for dinner."

Luffy reacted to Sanji's declaration with pure joy - jumping around and disturbing all the color-changing plants nearby. Robin chuckled to herself and followed her crewmates. It seemed that her worries had been of no consequence, and she couldn't be more relieved. She adjusted the armful of scrolls beneath the protection of her coat and walked slowly - pretending merely to be cautious of her delicate acquisitions as she watched how Zoro's hand crept up to press against the cook's fingers at his hip.

Behind them the rain slowly ceased - the moisture still hanging heavy in the air reflecting a brilliant rainbow that arched over the entire island as the sun sank toward the horizon. The brilliant colors of the island mirrored the display in the sky. It was a fantastic sight - as lovely as anything the Grand Line had to offer. However none of them looked back.

They didn't need to.

- The End.