Dead tired, Sanji unlocked the door and finally entered his home. He had a long day behind him, which wasn't exactly unusual in itself in his line of work, but it was tiring. All he wanted was to drop into bed and be dead to the world. He slipped off his shoes in the hallway, enjoying the unusual silence of the house with Zeff out of town. Getting the geezer to go on a well deserved vacation was almost more tiring than actually working instead of him. Really, the old man made it all look far easier than it was and Sanji was not happy about it. After all, few things infuriated him as much as the fact his old man was right about something.

He walked through the house, flicking on the light when it was needed in the kitchen. Even if he did spent almost his every waking hour in a kitchen, he couldn't help but stop in his own sanctuary before finally going to bed. Ah, bed. Once in the kitchen, Sanji could hardly remember what he was even doing in there. Opting for just turning off the light and collapsing onto the nearest soft surface, he walked out and headed for his room. No matter how tired, Sanji knew he wouldn't just plop onto his bed and hibernate until morning; at least not until he took off his suit. There weren't many things that could make him postpone sleep, but he would for the sake of his suit.

Just like in the kitchen, Sanji turned on the light in his room on autopilot, knowing exactly where the switch was. It had been in the same spot for the past twenty years just like almost everything else in the room, except for the bed. He had long since outgrown the little bed he occupied as a kid. Sanji walked past his old desk and the shelf above it with the same old empty spot in the middle of his old toys. He'd been meaning to put something there, the reason for it being empty in the first place forgotten some time ago and honestly, he was too tired to think about it. He'd just find something later.

With the practiced ease of someone who was used to wearing three piece suits on a regular basis, Sanji carefully stripped, placing each piece of clothing over the back of his surprisingly empty chair. The simple white shirt he wore was dumped into the laundry basket less carefully as he contemplated for a moment whether he should brush his teeth or not. Opting for doing it, just because he cared for personal hygiene, Sanji waddled to the bathroom clad in nothing but a pair of fairly ridiculous boxers. At least he didn't have to be careful while the old man wasn't at home. Sure, normal 24 year-olds would think of inviting a girl, or in his case a guy, over and enjoying the freedom, but not him. With the double amount of work he'd been doing since Zeff left, he was lucky there was enough time to actually sleep. Which he should be doing, instead of zoning out in the middle of the bathroom.

He brushed his teeth quickly, returning to his room in a matter of minutes, flicking the light off on his way in. That empty spot on the shelf was bothering him more than usual as he could almost remember why; his sleep deprived mind liked to play tricks on him like that, dangling a forgotten memory just out of his reach. Well, he hardly cared as he let himself fall onto the bed, thoroughly enjoying the softness. He all but melted into the covers, somehow managing to slither under them before sleep finally took over.

XXX

The alarm sounded far too soon, signaling the beginning of a new tiresome day. The urge to just stay in bed was strong, but he couldn't allow himself to just stay in and ignore his duties. Zeff's vacation wouldn't end for another week and a half, which meant he only had a short few days behind him. Sanji found a new respect for his old man if he had been working like that for years already.

With a grumble of a curse on his lips, Sanji dragged himself out of bed and towards the bathroom. A shower was always the best way to wake him up and the only thing his mind managed to think of before having a cup of coffee. Moving on autopilot, Sanji turned the water on, letting it run while he stripped of his boxers. Stepping under the hot spray woke him up immediately, the water cascading down his already completely soaked hair washing away the last bits of sleep and thus diverting his attention to another part of him that rose along with the sun.

Just what he needed, a reminder of how long it had been since he had enjoyed the company of another person. It had been just him and his hand for quite some time, the double work he had on his shoulders with Zeff gone making it even less likely for him to go out and find some adult entertainment. With no other choice, Sanji let his forehead rest against the cool tiles while his hand gripped his erection. He didn't have much time and he was doing it for the release more than for pleasure, as he could hardly remember what that felt like. It really was too long since he was touched by someone else's hands, but he could still imagine as he closed his eyes and started stroking. The cold tiles against his forehead provided some form of a connection to the real world as he was lost in his imagination, the hand stroking steadily. His other hand came up next to his head, resting on the wet tiles as well.

The hand stroking him tightened its grip and he gasped, already feeling himself getting close. It was embarrassing, actually, the fact he couldn't last that long anymore, but he didn't want to. It was just a means to an end, the end being him going to work without a boner. Increasing the pace made him moan unintentionally and he considered himself lucky for being alone in the house. His eyes remained closed as he imagined a tan hand stroking him; he had always been attracted to tan guys, yet he couldn't really remember why that was. Squeezing a bit tighter and pumping just a bit harder, Sanji came with a moan and a splash across the white tiles. His breath was heavy, but he simply took the shower head and washed away the mess off the wall before reaching for the shampoo.

Sanji hardly thought he'd end up the way he did, jacking off in the shower to the image of what his perfect guy might look like. It was even worse considering he could imagine nothing more than a tan hand. With an exasperated sigh, Sanji promised himself he would go out as soon as Zeff came back and took over the restaurant again.

Washing his hair and the rest of his body, Sanji's mind went blissfully blank. He was just tired of worrying and trying to figure out why he felt empty. It was a feeling he had for as long as he could remember, yet the reason never came to him. Well, he chose not to dwell on it in favor of finishing in the shower and drying himself off before walking back to his room. It was strangely liberating, being able to walk naked without worrying about an old man seeing him. He passed the damned shelf again, getting annoyed at the lack of something he couldn't really pinpoint. That had also been going on for quite some time. He might think he was OCD or something, with such a small thing bothering him beyond belief.

He started getting dressed quickly, noticing his stress relief in the shower set him back a bit and he was officially running a bit late. A great way to start yet another agonizingly long, stressful day. Sanji sighed and finished getting dressed, finding himself outside the front door in record time. All love for cooking aside, Sanji couldn't say he loved the stress running a restaurant brought with it. As soon as the front door was locked behind him, Sanji was going through familiar motions: walking to the bus stop, getting on the right bus and getting off on the fourth stop, walking the short distance to the restaurant and preparing for the day. Well, at least starting before the kitchen staff arrived and lastly, a short while before opening, the waiters. He already finished some of the more pressing tasks by the time the first pair of chefs arrived, as expected of the temporary head chef.

From there, his whole day was lost in a flurry of barking out orders or breaking up fights between chefs, greeting more esteemed guests at their tables and catering to their fickle needs. Sanji prided himself on his people skills, but some of these pompous bastards were really pushing their luck. Still, he went through it all with a smile on his face and flattering words on his lips.

He was aware that he got especially pissy around this particular time of year, for whatever reason, and the feeling he had was only intensifying which hardly helped to improve his mood. The day trickled away slowly, the day's fatigue piling up on his shoulders as the sun moved across the sky. By the time the last customer left and he locked the restaurant door, his shoulders were sagged as if they carried the weight of the world. It came as a surprise when the rest of the staff banned him from the kitchen and only allowed him to stay long enough to change from his chef's whites before shoving him out the back door. Sanji didn't resent them for it; they were his family and obviously cared for him more than he had imagined. It brought a smile to his tired face as he lighted a cigarette before making his way to the bus stop.

The bus ride home was always his least favorite part of the work day, no matter how tiring the work actually was. If he was lucky enough not to encounter a creeper, drunk or otherwise, Sanji would sag in the plastic seat and doze off which often led to him almost missing his stop; or actually doing so at times. Something that mostly led to dealing with more creepers while he walked home in the dark. Having the staff kick him out earlier was apparently a good sign as he stayed awake and got home without any awkward situations that are usually a normal occurrence on public transport.

The house was, of course, dark and silent as he had expected, but a rustling sound was out of place as he opened the door. Looking on the floor, Sanji noticed a white envelope almost shining in the darkness. On any other day, he'd probably be annoyed at the moron who slid the mail under the door instead of leaving it in the mailbox, but he figured it was no use anyway. With the envelope in hand, Sanji toed off his shoes and moved through the darkness, evading the furniture with ease on his way to the kitchen. It was nice being home early enough to make some dinner before bed, he thought as the envelope hit the counter and he turned the light on. Fried rice with the random assortment of vegetables he still had in the fridge would have to do for the night and he immediately started working like he hadn't spent the whole day cooking. Making something simple as fried rice would undoubtedly relax him as he remembered the old man teaching him how to cook rice when he was still only eight years old.

With a smile on his face, Sanji went through familiar motions of cutting and preparing the vegetables, cooking the rice, putting it all together and hadn't even realized how fast it was done. With a steaming bowl of rice in hand, he moved to the counter and set the food down before sitting onto the soft barstool. Despite all the intricate food he knew how to make perfectly, Sanji still preferred simple dishes his old man had taught him when he was still learning the basics.

Only after a few bites did his mind wander to the envelope and, setting his for aside, Sanji took the crisp white paper into his hands. It had no address, neither his nor the sender's. The only thing marring it was his name written on the back in a scratchy handwriting. There was something eerily familiar about it, but Sanji simply couldn't point out what. Though, that meant the person who wrote it had to have delivered it themselves and the fact made him freak out the tiniest bit. Still, he was too curious to just let it go and opened it.

He found a simple piece of paper inside with a short message scribbled on it: 'Just 15 more days'. Well, that was really vague. Fifteen days to what? There was no signature to speak off, only three scratchy lines at the bottom of the paper and Sanji had the strongest feeling that it meant something. Of course, the meaning didn't come to him, but the feeling in his gut suggested that the message was not from a homicidal maniac and it made the whole thing slightly less... creepy. No, it was definitely creepy, it just probably wasn't life threatening. Or so he hoped.

Either way, Sanji finished his dinner and washed the dishes, before picking up the envelope and note. He'd just have to roll with it, he thought as he turned off the light and headed to his room for a well deserved rest. He had never thought doing something he loved would be so tiring on most days. Still, with a smile on his lips, Sanji stripped and climbed into bed, happy with every second of being in charge.

XXX

Sanji's days continued to run in a pattern of waking up early, going to the restaurant, working his ass off then going home to sleep. It had continued for four more days until the realization hit him. Something would happen to him in eleven days. Of course he had no clue as to what would happen or whether it would be good or bad, but it would be a blessing in any case. It would break his rut and offer some semblance of change; or so he hoped. Whatever it was, he would welcome it as an old friend. Sanji was desperate for a change and for something to break the monotony of what his life had become as he realized he was still too young for a restaurant of his own. A lesson Zeff was mostly likely trying to teach him with his absence and it was, for a change, coming through to him. It didn't bother him that much, really. He didn't mind staying with the old man until he was ready to move on and Zeff certainly didn't mind having him around, despite the incessant grumbling.

He found himself surprised on the fifth morning after receiving the note that he actually woke up excited; something he had felt on rare occasions over the last few years. It was different from the routine he went through recently and he welcomed it, rising from bed in a more joyous manner than before. The rest of the day, or the fact it had both slipped past him and dragged on agonizingly slow, came as less of a surprise. It didn't matter, he felt like a child counting down to Christmas morning and honestly, he didn't know what hit him. No matter how he looked at it, though, it was an improvement compared to the previous state of things.

However, he still didn't have the faintest idea as to what he was waiting for. Or even why. Sanji was beyond that; it didn't matter what it was, though he hoped it would be worth the wait. As the sixth and seventh day trickled by, his excitement made way for nervousness. The excitement was very much missed, but he couldn't help but finally ask himself: what was it he was waiting for? It almost felt like he was expecting a miracle, clinging to some sort of false hope that things would change by themselves and he wouldn't have to do anything about it.

Why did he even cling to the wish for a change? His life was far from bad. He had a family and even if it consisted of him and a grumpy old man with an impressive mustache, it was still family. He was living his dream or rather working towards it, but his life was on the track he had planned. Yet, it still felt empty on occasion. It didn't happen that often, but still enough for him to take notice.

The note was perched on his desk, out of the envelope and set in plain sight just so he wouldn't forget. The envelope, rather than staying pristine and white, was marred with seven lines, one for each day. Sanji was meticulous about that, putting down a line each night before bed and he felt foolish each time he did so. It didn't stop him, of course, but he still left as if he should whip out a Christmas list.

By the time the markings reached twelve, Zeff was back and Sanji felt like a complete wreck. The old man noticed and Sanji knew it, but neither mentioned it beyond Sanji's request for a specific day off which he was granted without question. With the geezer back, however, Sanji's work related stress went down and he was free to overthink possible scenarios. That was not exactly a good thing, if his sanity was concerned, as the idea of a homicidal maniac resurfaced. He never thought of himself as a morbid person, but Robin might have been rubbing off on him in the wrong way if the images he conjured about being hacked up and buried in the woods were anything to go by.

The last days were pure hell if Sanji was concerned. His moods alternated between excited, nervous and fucking scared shitless while he tried to decide whether he would just hide out in the house or escape for the day. Zeff could see the mood swings and odd behavior, but chose not to comment on it and Sanji was beyond grateful. The old man seemed to know him too well. In the occasional lucid moment, he would ask himself what the hell he was worrying about and why, but the thing that interested him the most was who sent him the note in the first place. He tried not to dwell on it too much, seeing as the day was approaching to fast and too slow at the same time, but he couldn't help the occasional stray thought about who it might be.

XXX

He woke up with a start, confused as to what woke him. The sun was shining and Sanji had to check to time to see if he was seeing right. After all, he usually woke before the sunrise and having overslept for that long must have been some sort of mistake. Well, the clock informed him that he did indeed oversleep and Zeff had already gone to work. Hoping he didn't oversleep whatever was supposed to happen, Sanji got out of bed and took a quick shower. He didn't know what the right course of action was or what he should even do other than start the day normally. Though, it was already far from normal. He hardly took days off from work and having the whole day to himself was an experience he hadn't had in years. It was strange and he had no idea what to do. His stomach was in knots and nothing worked for calming his thoughts. Or the nausea that kicked in after breakfast. The nervousness still lingered, but it mixed with disappointment as the morning turned to noon. There was still plenty of the day left, but he was starting to feel foolish for getting his hopes up. It was even more ridiculous seeing as he was hoping for something he didn't even know what it was.

Sanji felt stupid. It was as simple as that. He was stupid and ridiculous for waiting for change when he should have done something about it himself. Nothing was ever just handed to him, he had to work hard for everything and that was how he liked it. He had earned everything he had achieved and that was what mattered to him. He would simply have to work for whatever change he was expecting of the day, nothing more.

His pep talk was cut short by the doorbell. Sanji was shocked, not really sure whether he should open it or not. Would the mystery sender be there? What if it was someone he hated with a burning passion? That option was more likely that it being someone he cared for, anyway. Cutting his annoying over thinking short, Sanji darted from his seat on the couch, almost knocking over the coffee table in his haste to get to the door. Even if he didn't quite know what he had been expecting, it certainly wasn't a regular delivery man; he got his hopes up for nothing yet again.

He was pleasant as usual, signing whatever it was the man asked him to sign and took over the fairly large package, unable to ward off all the disappointment as he stood with the box in hand, observing as the delivery truck drove off. Sanji sighed and turned on his heel, walking back into the house with the posture of a defeated man. His glance fell on the package and he almost dropped it as he noticed the same scratchy handwriting filling out the address box.

When the something, clearly a package, finally happened, Sanji was actually surprised. Not that it was a package, but the fact all the waiting actually led to something. Snapping out of the haze, pretending there wasn't a smile on his face, Sanji placed the box gently on the coffee table before ripping through the hideous brown paper only to reveal an equally hideous brown box. He tore through that soon enough and was steadily becoming more aggravated as there was more paper revealed on the inside. The living room resembled a murder scene of papers and cardboard by the time he removed the last bit of it and stood in shock, memories from ten years ago flooding his mind. He had promised never to forget, yet he did. He forgot all of it. Sanji chuckled as he finally remembered why the empty spot in his room bothered him that much; it was Laboon's spot.

Reaching into the box, Sanji gripped the soft fabric of his favorite whale. It had been his favorite until it was taken from him ten years ago, at least. Realization hit him in no time as he stroked the smooth surface; it was exactly ten years on that very day. Regret filled him as he remembered the fight, but the worst part was that he had forgotten him: his best friend and his first crush. Sanji looked at Laboon again and noticed the toy was clean, freshly washed no less, and one of the fins was patched up with an equally soft green fabric. Leave it up to that moss headed kid to fix Sanji's toy with green. The other wasn't a kid anymore, though, was he? Zoro was as old as Sanji.

Sanji couldn't help but retrace the memories, from the day they met to the day he found out Zoro's parents were in an accident, leaving their only son in the care of his uncle all the way in Japan. He still couldn't believe he had forgotten something so important. Sanji promised he wouldn't and kept the spot empty for when Zoro would come back with his whale, but he lost hope for that, he supposed. He grew up.

Lost in the memories of what seemed to be another life, Sanji hugged the still soft toy, almost screaming in surprise as something pricked his chest. He carefully removed the whale, only then noticing a note attached to its underside with a safety pin. This one, as the previous one, was simple.

'2 PM, St. Elmo's park'

Two o'clock? Sanji stared wide eyed at the note; the moss head was there and would be waiting for him in... twenty minutes?! Without a second thought, Sanji stormed out of the house with the whale still in hand, bothering with slamming the door shut, but not locking it as he simply had no time. He couldn't remember the last time he ran as fast, people staring at him as he darted by, but he didn't care. He needed to get to that park in time. Sanji was at the verge of tears, blaming it on the running rather than the fact he couldn't wait to see what became of the scrawny little green haired kid he once knew and loved; even if he would never admit the last part out loud, it was a weird jumble of feelings he tried not to think about since he had been fourteen.

The part was getting closer by the second, the huge willows already coming into view and panic started to seep into Sanji. What was he hoping for again? He faltered for a moment, coming to a full stop just outside the park gates. As far as he could see, the park was full of people, but he didn't see green hair anywhere. Sanji felt the doubts swimming in his head, unsure of why that even was. He remember the time he had spent with the other. They were kids back then, only fourteen when they parted ways with feelings he couldn't even hope to understand at such an age; especially since no one told him you could have such feelings for another boy. It was a confusing experience for him, to say the least, but he hadn't stopped to think about Zoro and the possibility of those feelings not being mutual. Standing just outside the park with five minutes to spare, all those doubts were crashing down on him, but it was too late to turn back. Nor did he want to. They were foolish kids, parting with a fight and letting themselves forget because they were too stubborn to keep in touch.

Sanji couldn't help but chuckle at the memory of his younger stubborn self. Deciding he wouldn't be like that for once, Sanji took a deep breath and stepped under the arch of the park's entrance, glancing around in hopes of noticing the other. So far no luck, but he walked further into the park, still clutching the whale in his hands and feeling really stupid about it. The clock in the middle of the walkway showed it was already two o'clock and he felt slightly disappointed. Was it all just a joke after all?

"I never thought you'd miss that thing this much," a deep, unfamiliar voice rumbled next to his ear and Sanji almost jumped out of his skin. He was about to shout an assortment of profanities at the creeper invading his personal space when the words spoken finally came through to him and he froze. It was him, Sanji knew it, trying to steel himself to turn and look at the other. Seconds ticked by and felt like hours before Sanji sighed, turning around.

With the image of a scrawny green haired kid on his mind, Sanji was surprised when he turned and was forced to look up at the man now taller than him. Also broader and just generally... huge. The height difference wasn't bigger than an inch or so, but the rest of the green haired man made him seem even taller. He was nothing like the kid Sanji remembered. That is, until he took a good look at the other's smiling face. It was unmistakably the same person he deeply cared for all those years ago.

Still, Sanji blushed at the fact he was hugging a plushy in the middle of a park in broad daylight. Opting for maybe an even more awkward solution, Sanji threw himself at the other and hugged him instead. The moss head was surprised for a brief moment, before his chest rumbled with laughter and he hugged back. Sanji couldn't believe he had actually forgotten, but it was beyond good to have the other back.

"Where the hell have you been for so long?" it was all he could muster as he tried to let go of Zoro, but the moss head was having none of it.

"What the hell are you talking about, I've been here for at least fifteen minutes, watching you carry that thing around like a lost kid," Zoro replied, completely missing the point of Sanji's question.

"I do not look like a lost kid, moss head!" Sanji exclaimed, finally freeing himself from the other's grip. "And that's not what I meant! It's been ten years, where have you been?" he asked, trailing off as he realized how childish and probably pathetic he sounded. His eyes averted to the ground, Sanji tried to save some dignity and not let the other see him blush because it definitely wasn't a dignified look on him.

A big hand -seriously, why the hell was Zoro so big?!- reached out and surprisingly gently gripped his chin, making Sanji lift his head and look at the moss head once again. He was about to protest, but the other shut him up with a gentle smile and a touch of their lips.

"I missed you too, curly," Zoro said as he leaned back, his hand falling from Sanji's chin. Sanji was aware he probably had the appearance of a fish out of water, but he couldn't help himself. Only when Zoro's smile faded and his face turned into one that easily read as 'shit I fucked up', did the blond snap out of his startled state and pulled the other closer by the front of his shirt. It was Zoro's turn to be startled and surprised as Sanji kissed him with the fervor of a drowning man clinging to his last breath.

They didn't part until grumbles and coughs reached them, reminding them that they were, in fact, still in a park surrounded by people. Sanji didn't waste a second more, painfully aware they had already wasted ten long years when there was clearly something there, he grabbed the other's hand and started dragging him out of the park.

"Oi, what are you doing?" Zoro asked, but his voice was far from harsh as he still suffered consequences from being kissed the way he was only moments before.

"I'm taking you home, making lunch and you'll tell me what took you so long," Sanji said without looking at him and Zoro smiled. Sanji was blushing so obviously and he couldn't help it. The walk back to Sanji's house was just long enough for Zoro to explain why he was back and Sanji couldn't keep the grin from his face as the other told him about moving back to the house he grew up in. The blond got his chance for a change and he decided he would not let it go to waste.

They reached the house soon enough, Sanji blushing at the fact he forgot to lock the door and because of the mess he had left in the living room, but he was grateful Zoro didn't seem to plan on commenting. Finally setting the whale down after way too long, Sanji turned to the kitchen with the intention of making them lunch. Zoro, clearly with different things on his mind, tugged Sanji closer and pulled him into another hug.

"I forgot, I'm sorry," he mumbled, sounding honest, but not keen on apologizing. Sanji smiled, though, noticing how similar they were. Too damn proud and too damn stubborn.

"In that case, I'm sorry too," Sanji said, not one to apologize either, but how could he not after the other did it too. "How did you remember, then?"

Zoro let go of him and stepped back. "I moved back into the house and found Laboon in my old room,"

Sanji stared at the moss head. "Wait, how'd you know his name?"

"Well, I did give him to you," Zoro laughed. "Remember?"