Commission for the amazing and lovely テーリス トーマス. Another one of the commissions I picked up a few years ago and then lost it to the abyss of my writing folder. Alex, thank you so much for your donation and I'm looking forward to eating all the things with you in Japan!
This story went a hundred different ways and it took forever, but I'm pleased with where it ended up. The original prompt was something like "Sanji loses a bet to Zoro and has to bring him breakfast in bed every day for a week. Zoro casually seduces Sanji. It would be awesome to see how it accelerates each day Sanji has to bring him food." It sort of worked out that way.
Zoro had never before considered the finer details of having an internal clock. He knew people had them, because he understood that the human body was capable of many things—some much more fantastic than others—but he had never given a thought to possessing one himself. Zoro pretty much lived in the moment. He ate when he was hungry, slept when he wanted to, woke when his body was rested (or some rubbery captain crashed-landed in his lap), and trained until his body ached. There was no set schedule. He just did things when he needed to.
However, on this calm, peaceful morning, Zoro woke in his bunk from a deep sleep, alert and ready for what he was inherently positive was coming in mere minutes.
Rolling to his side, Zoro glanced at the clock by Chopper's bed and squinted into the dim light. It really was almost six o'clock. How had his body known? Was he really that excited?
Moving to reposition himself on his back, Zoro closed his eyes and pretended to still be asleep. Sanji was going to come through the door at any moment, and he didn't want to seem like he was too eager.
Sure enough, at six o'clock on the dot, the door to the boy's cabin opened and Sanji slipped inside. He wasn't trying to be particularly quiet, it was useless really. Everyone on the ship was a light sleeper when it came to food, especially their captain, but the cook did try to make as little noise as possible as he brought the tray over and set it on the shelf next to Zoro's bunk.
Wow, that smell. That smell was amazing.
"Oi, Marimo," Sanji growled softly, "Breakfast."
Zoro opened one eye, feigning grogginess. "What is it?"
"Breakfast food," Sanji's voice was calm and controlled, but Zoro could tell he was holding back some pretty powerful anger.
"Eggs and bacon and French toast and all that stuff that you eat at breakfast time."
Zoro smiled inwardly, he loved riling the cook up. There was something very appealing about Sanji's inability to keep emotions in check, and it was always amplified when Zoro was the cause. It made the swordsman feel all kinds of interesting things.
Yawning, Zoro scooted up the cot to lean against the pillows. He crossed one leg over the other and laced his hands together behind his head.
"What's to drink?"
Sanji closed his eyes and took a few slow breaths. Zoro almost chuckled, and he almost complimented the cook on his incredible display of self-control, but he didn't, not yet. He wanted to have a little more fun first.
"I brought tea and coffee," Sanji said. "There's also milk if you want it."
"No ale?" Zoro asked.
Sanji's face did something amazing as he physically held himself back with a fist against his thigh. Zoro was intrigued, he had never seen Sanji try this hard to not kill someone.
It was pretty great.
"Wow, Sanji, what is that?" Luffy's voice was muffled, no doubt still smashed into a pillow.
"Yeah, Sanji," Chopper's voice was slurred, "iss'ere more?"
Reigning himself in, Sanji slid his hands into his pockets. He didn't look up; his gaze seemed to be fixated on the floor by his feet.
"Yeah, I made plenty. If you go wash up I'll get you guys a plate."
Luffy practically tripped over himself as he and Chopper bolted out of the cabin, Usopp hot at their heels. When the door slammed behind them, Sanji's gaze rose from the floor to stare at some fixed point on the wall.
"Do I have to stay here and watch you eat? I need to make sure they don't tear apart the kitchen."
Zoro shrugged. "Whatever, I'll manage."
Sanji turned on a heel and made his way to the door almost as fast as Luffy, of course with considerably less flailing. Just as he opened the door and was about to slip out, Zoro called to him from around a bite of perfectly cooked bacon,
"You have to make it up to me tomorrow though."
Sanji bristled, but he said nothing. Then he nodded tersely and was gone.
Zoro shoved the rest of the bacon in his mouth. Life was good.
That evening, as Zoro was heading toward the gym, a thin trail of cigarette smoke stopped him in his tracks. Sanji's long, lanky form waited for him at the bottom of the mast. He puffed indifferently on a cigarette, but Zoro knew him well enough to know that there was nothing indifferent about the cook's mood at that moment.
"What?" Zoro asked.
Sanji glared at him as he took another drag.
"Stay in the crow's nest tonight."
Zoro cocked an eyebrow. "Why?"
"Because we never agreed on there being a specific place I have to bring the breakfast. You sleep in the crow's nest all the time. This way I don't have to deal with the crew and Luffy waking early before I can get back to the kitchen."
The smallest of smiles tugged at Zoro's lips.
"You just don't want the rest of the crew seeing you serve me breakfast in bed."
"Of course I don't!" Sanji roared. "But I lost the fucking bet! And now I have to fulfill my end of it! I always, always do what I say I'm gonna do, but I can't this time if I have to deal with Luffy and everybody waking up and destroying my kitchen every morning! So, can we please just agree to do this fucking thing in the crow's nest from now on!?"
Truthfully, Zoro didn't give a crap where this all went down. He just liked that for a few minutes every morning, Sanji paid attention to him and it didn't have anything to do with beating each other to a pulp.
"Yeah, that's fine. I'll sleep in the crow's nest tonight."
Sanji visibly relaxed. He took the spent cigarette from between his lips and tossed it overboard. Nodding, he shoved his hands in his pockets and pushed off the mast.
Zoro watched him go, returning to the galley or wherever he went in the evenings, and tried not to think about how this was actually an interesting turn of events.
Now Sanji was going to bring him breakfast in bed, and they were going to be alone.
The bet had been a simple one and Zoro figured that was the reason why Sanji had lost.
If it had been something intricately complicated, or something to do with cooking or baking, or perhaps something with numbers or science things, Sanji would have wiped the floor with Zoro's broken corpse. However, the bet had been a simple "who defeats the most Marines besides Luffy", and Zoro had won by a landslide.
And yeah, okay, Zoro might have cheated a little.
He might have noticed as the ship had come closer that almost half the Marine crew happened to be women.
It wasn't Zoro's fault, Sanji could have looked through the scope at any time and seen how many of those uniforms were filled with boobs. He would have noticed instantly, he just didn't look. Now, if one were to be completely honest, Zoro would have won anyway had the crew been predominantly men, but at least the defeat wouldn't have been so humiliating.
Oh well, what's done had been done, and now Zoro was reaping the benefits.
The crispy, crunchy, syrupy benefits.
Zoro was enjoying his breakfast on that second morning, but his attention was divided between the pile of waffles on his plate, and the hypnotizing way Sanji's lips moved as he rolled the cigarette over his teeth. In reality it shouldn't have been a contest, the waffles were this incredible golden color and they had that perfect crunch that no restaurant or bar or anywhere seemed to be able to replicate. However, Sanji's lips were chapped and every time the cook's tongue slipped out to wet those patches of dry skin, Zoro might have forgotten how to swallow.
"Can you eat that any faster?"
Zoro blinked, surprised by Sanji's sudden words.
"I can't enjoy my victory?"
Oh that poor cigarette, it was being ground to pieces.
"You can enjoy it, just enjoy it faster. I have to feed the rest of the crew."
All in all, Sanji had done an excellent job of keeping his cool this morning. Zoro figured it was because he didn't have an audience for this little game of theirs. It was kind of disappointing. Zoro enjoyed the way Sanji's one visible eye seemed to burn when he was angry or frustrated and so far, the cook's everything had been cool, collected. Boring.
Zoro chewed slower.
Okay, that did it. Sanji's hackles rose and he managed to tap the toe of his shoe on the floor twice before he remembered the terms of the bet: Sanji couldn't attack Zoro in any way while he was eating, for any reason.
Instead, the cook moved the four or five steps to the cot and loomed over Zoro's form.
"Just finish it or I'll do it myself."
Naturally, that didn't go down in Zoro's head the way Sanji probably meant it.
"You wanna feed it to me?" Oops, wait, he shouldn't have smiled. Now Sanji looked as if he was ready to set the ship on fire.
Taking the cigarette from between his lips, Sanji crushed the butt between his fingers. He moved in close enough for Zoro to smell the flour and cinnamon on him.
"Marimo, I swear to God…"
The electricity that sparked from the cook's skin tingled across Zoro's. This was exactly what he had wanted: this closeness, this emotion boiling up and spilling over into his space. This close proximity, the hum of adrenaline and the buzz of white hot anger were exactly what Zoro needed.
Zoro took another bite and shrugged. "Whatever, cook. You can leave."
Sanji was off him and to the trap door so fast it was almost sad. When the cook started making his way down the rope ladder, Zoro called out to him.
One blue, burning eye turned to him.
Zoro smiled. "French toast again tomorrow."
Sanji slammed the trapdoor behind him.
The next morning, Zoro's newfound internal clock woke him up eight minutes before six o'clock. He spent the first few of them lying on the cot, staring up at the ceiling and thinking about Sanji and breakfast. He was looking forward to whatever Sanji was going to bring him. Eggs, bacon, sausage, those crepe things, and the French toast… mostly the French toast. Zoro loved French toast, especially the way Sanji made it. He always crisped it a little extra, giving it this amazing brown crunch on the outside, but somehow kept the inside soft and melty. He also liked the way Sanji's hands looked as they prepared the tea. His nimble fingers were quick as they went through the tasks that Zoro knew well but Sanji preformed them so much better than the swordsman ever could.
Zoro was aware that he was probably anticipating Sanji more than the food, but that was something he had accepted about himself months ago. He did not plan to dwell on the thought for long, he never did. It was too disappointing.
When the trap door opened, Zoro let his eyelids go heavy. He watched the cook come up and set the tray on the crate by his cot, but when Sanji's hands moved toward the lantern, Zoro let his face fall back into the pillow and closed his eyes completely.
A few long moments past and Zoro waited. Those few moments turned into a minute. What was Sanji doing?
Taking a chance and opening his eyes just enough, Zoro peered out from beneath his lashes and out into the dim light of the gym.
What he saw startled him.
Sanji sat on the floor, his legs crossed and his arms resting in his lap. He held a half-empty pack of cigarettes in his hand. He was studying the thing intently, but it almost seemed like he wasn't really seeing it. There was a droop to his shoulders that Zoro wasn't used to, a strange kind of melancholy about him. The cook also looked utterly exhausted.
Zoro had seen the cook dejected before, he had seen Sanji sad and frustrated and bored and fatigued, but Zoro was sure this was something more than any of those. This was something quiet and… internal. It was strange because Sanji's emotions were always so larger than life. His moods were positively catching. But this? This was uncomfortable. This was foreign and strange and didn't look right on Sanji's face at all.
Sanji took a breath suddenly and reached for the lantern. Zoro didn't have to pretend it had startled him as he squinted into the harsh brightness.
"Wow, geez, cook," Zoro said, "Your bedside manner is terrible."
"Not sorry," Sanji replied as he slid a cigarette between his lips.
Zoro decided it was better to stay silent as he sat up and leaned against the wall. He watched Sanji's hands as they handed him his plate and then went about preparing the tea. The cold, unlit cigarette rolled between those chapped lips as he worked and Zoro found himself watching with more interest than he thought was possible. This was really starting to become a problem. Maybe this bet wasn't such a good idea after all.
"What?" Sanji said suddenly, "No sage words? No anecdotes? No stimulating conversation starters?"
Zoro lifted an eyebrow as he chewed and swallowed—holy shit the eggs were so good...
"Do I usually have simulating conversation starters?"
"That was sarcasm."
Sanji finished the tea and moved away to lean against the wall. He took out his lighter and lit the tip of his cigarette.
"I just meant you've always got something to say." Click. The lighter snapped shut.
Zoro snorted and shoveled another bite into his mouth. After chewing a bit Zoro felt the corners of his mouth twitch, "Didn't know you were so keen on chatting me up."
He could practically hear Sanji's hackles rise.
"It's better than sitting here in awkward silence, asshole."
Another awkward minute passed before Zoro heard Sanji shift. "Yeah, whatever. What would we talk about? It's not like we have anything in common besides the mutual hate for each other anyway."
That stung a little more than Zoro had anticipated. He didn't hate Sanji, not even close, and up until that moment, he had not completely believed that Sanji hated him either.
Apparently, he had been wrong.
He couldn't think of anything to say. He knew he should, for nothing else then to dispel the unspoken. If he said nothing, wouldn't it seem like what Sanji had said was true? Wouldn't saying nothing mean that he agreed they hated each other?
In the end, Zoro stayed quiet, he wasn't feeling too compassionate. Ultimately, he had won the bet and Sanji had just kind of maybe hurt his feelings a little, so fuck him. Zoro was going to let him stew in it. Sanji would live. It wasn't like the dumb cook cared anyway. He obviously couldn't wait to get the hell out of here and as far away from Zoro as the ship would allow.
Suddenly, Zoro wasn't as excited about breakfast as he had been a few minutes ago.
"You can go, cook," he grumbled.
A heavy kind of silence filled the space in the gym but Zoro did his best to ignored it. He knew Sanji wouldn't break the terms of the bet and attack him, so he focused on his food and didn't look at the cook standing only a few feet away. A few long seconds passed, and the silence became increasingly uncomfortable. However, Zoro pointedly ignored everything but his breakfast and kept on eating without pause.
After what seemed like hours, Sanji pinched out the cigarette and whispered, "Fine."
He moved. He walked silently to the trap door and let himself out. It slammed behind him and Zoro was left feeling like he had done something terribly wrong.
The rest of the day moved slowly. Zoro skipped lunch in favor of training through the afternoon without interruption, and then took a long nap on the deck outside in the sunshine. His body was stiff when he awoke, so he decided to stretch for a half an hour or so and then get a shower in before dinner.
But first, a drink. Ale always helped with sore muscles and cramped joints.
Moving in the direction of the storeroom, Zoro felt relatively safe. Sanji was usually in the galley at this time preparing dinner, so there was little or no chance of being discovered. This was definitely a good thing, considering Zoro didn't really want to see the cook or have to deal with a tongue lashing.
Well, okay, that depended on exactly what a "tongue lashing" entailed, but Zoro was pretty sure Sanji's version didn't resemble anything he wanted.
Shit, he should probably get over this thing he had for Sanji. It was starting to border on depressing.
Opening the door to the storeroom, Zoro quietly slipped inside and made his way toward the racks at the back.
"…but I mean he's not going to kill you or anything…"
Zoro stopped dead in his tracks. Usopp? What was Usopp doing in the storeroom?
The swordsman slipped around a corner and flattened himself against a shelf of canned goods. He slowed his breathing to nearly nothing and listened.
"…at least, I don't think he would."
"Your confidence is very reassuring."
Well shit, that was Sanji's voice. So much for getting in and out without a tongue-lashing. All he wanted was some ale. Was that too much to ask?
"I just think it's stupid that you're putting yourself through this when—"
"—I get it. I know he wouldn't do anything. I know it's not really that big of a deal, but shit, Usopp, I have my goddamn pride."
There was a pause and Zoro heard the distinct click of a lighter. And again. Three times. It was easy to tell that Sanji was angry and upset because he only flicked the lighter without a purpose when he was extremely frustrated.
Lowering himself into a crouch, Zoro moved to the end of the row and peered out from behind a large barrel. Sanji and Usopp sat side by side on a small pile of rice bags. Usopp sat straight-backed with his arms crossed over his chest, a worried expression on his face.
Sanji was hunched over, his forehead in the palm of his hand.
The lighter clicked again. And again.
Zoro shouldn't have been intrigued, but he was.
"I don't know what else to say, Sanji. Just finish out the rest of the week, just… get through it."
Sanji shook his head. "I don't think I can do it again without losing it. I wanted to kill him this morning."
"Yeah?" Usopp's eyes went wide.
Sanji nodded and the lighter kept on clicking. "He just… he loves making me angry. He just sits there and eats the food and I can't tell if he likes it or of he's just getting off on making me look like a fool."
"Come on, you know he likes it or he wouldn't have made his prize be you serving him breakfast every mor—"
"—No," Sanji interrupted, "that part has nothing to do with liking or not liking the food. He doesn't give a shit about the food, he just wants to humiliate me. And he's doing a great fucking job because I wanna crawl in a whole and die every time I leave the damn crow's nest."
Zoro swallowed. His stomach had started doing some very peculiar things as he listened. This was raw, unfiltered thoughts of how Sanji thought of him and it was absolutely nothing like what Zoro had always thought that would be. Sanji sounded almost sad, defeated. This whole thing didn't even make any sense.
And what the hell? Sanji didn't think he liked the food? How could be possible think that? Sanji's food was the best fucking food on the planet!
"Maybe you should just tell him."
"Tell him what?" Sanji growled.
"That you don't hate him?" Usopp's voice was quiet, unsure, as if he was afraid to be voicing these specific thoughts aloud. "What if you told him that you actually like him a little? That you'd really like it if you could bring him breakfast and eat with him and talk and be friends and stuff?"
Zoro's lungs collapsed in on themselves. Breathing had suddenly become a problem.
Sanji scoffed and ran his hands through his hair. "No way, that's never gonna happen."
"Why not?" Usopp asked.
Yeah, why not? Zoro thought to himself.
"Because he hates me."
No I don't!
"I don't think he does," Usopp said.
See? Zoro rolled his eyes. What the hell is wrong with you, cook?
"He does," Sanji said softly as he rubbed at his face, "there's nothing I can do about that."
Another long stretch of silence had Zoro aching to stand and come around the corner. He wanted to stride right over to that shitty, stupid-ass cook and punch him hard right in his pretty face. How long had the dumbass felt that way?
Sanji stood and Zoro turned and flattened himself out against the shelf again. He breathed slow, hoping that the cook was not about to come this way and discover him. How awkward would that be?
"I'll just get through the rest of this week," Sanji said. "After this stupid bet is over, things will go back to normal and I can go back to dealing with everything at a distance."
Thankfully, Zoro heard Sanji's footfalls heading toward the supplies and not in his direction. But then Usopp's voice rang out, clear and steady.
"You know what you sound like right now?"
Sanji's footsteps stopped, as well as Zoro's heart.
"Yeah, I know."
Another long stretch of silence.
"Why don't you tell him?"
Zoro heard Sanji turn. "You know, Usopp, I always thought you were a smart guy, kind of goofy, but smart. But that is some dumb fucking shit that you're suggesting right there."
"Are you listening to yourself right now?" Sanji growled. "I tell the stupid Marimo how I feel and then what? We kiss and sail off into the sunset together? Luffy has a pair of husband pirates in his crew? No. If he doesn't try and ice me right there, which is pretty likely, he'll have something to hold over my head for the rest of my life."
"But if you don't say anything…"
"I'll be fine. The way things are, is fine. I'm serious, Usopp, once it goes back to normal it'll be easier to deal with."
Zoro heard Usopp's heavy sigh and then shuffling as the younger man stood. "Who are you trying to convince here?"
To that, Sanji said nothing and Zoro wished he could see the look on the cook's face. After one last long and pressing silence, Zoro heard the click of the lighter, this time only once, and then that familiar sound of a puff and an exhale.
"Come on," Sanji said softly, "I gotta make dinner."
Usopp said something else as the two of them left the storeroom, but Zoro didn't hear it. He was too preoccupied with sliding to the floor and forcing his lungs to start working again.
Questions started to swirl in the swordsman's head, questions he actually knew the answer to, but he had learned the answers even before he knew that the questions had existed. Everything was backwards. For a long time, Zoro just sat on the floor of the storeroom, letting his brain catch up with everything he had just learned and everything he hadn't known was even a possibility. All the implications and all the potentials of what Sanji had said were churning through his mind like the waves during a particularly choppy bit of sea.
When he finally pulled himself to his feet, he decided to forego the ale, or wine, or whatever it was he had come here for, and go straight to take that shower. His head hurt. His lungs were tight. He no longer wanted dinner or anything else besides getting under some scalding hot water.
Moving out of the storeroom and across the deck, the swordsman heard the cook's words in his head.
…he doesn't give a shit about the food, he just wants to humiliate me…
…he hates me…
How could he think that? Didn't they fight together? Didn't they protect the crew together? Weren't they like… a team? Yeah, they fought and were at each other's throats all the time but Zoro had always thought of that as a kind of friendship. A special rivalry that was applicable only to the two of them. Zoro didn't treat anyone else on the ship like Sanji, he didn't fight with anyone else on the ship like he fought with Sanji because no one but Sanji was a challenge. Wasn't that their thing? Wasn't that what made their relationship special?
When he was finally in the washroom and under the hard spray of water, Zoro realized that not only did his head hurt and his muscles feel stiff and sore, but his heart ached as well. On one hand, hearing how Sanji felt about him had been amazing. It was something he had never expected, he had never even let himself dream about it because every avenue in that direction promised nothing but disappointment and loneliness. But now, things were different. He knew Sanji felt something similar to how he felt himself. There was hope.
However, on the other hand, hearing how he made Sanji feel was devastating. Zoro knew he wasn't the best at expressing his feelings, and now his inability to express himself to the cook in a more straightforward or even… healthy way, had caused Sanji a lot of grief and pain.
That wasn't fair, and Zoro knew he had to do something about it.
Grabbing the soap from the shelf, Zoro quickly washed and then shut off the water.
He had an idea.
Later that evening, after dinner and everything had been cleaned up, Zoro waited at the top of the stairs for a certain cook to emerge through the galley door. He was excited, his plans were laid and to the best of his ability, the swordsman had seen to it that they were foolproof.
When that head of blond hair appeared, and the familiar smell of cigarette smoke hit his senses, Zoro pushed off the railing and put himself in the cook's path.
"Oi," he said softly.
Sanji's one visible eye widened in surprise, and then overwhelming aggravation hardened his features.
"Oh my god," Sanji rubbed at his forehead with his fingers, "what the hell do you want?"
Zoro folded his arms across his chest. He had to come at this carefully, otherwise Sanji would just blow him off and he would have to try again in the morning.
"I've been thinking and—"
"—Oh, you've been thinking, huh?" Sanji scoffed.
Zoro tried not to react as getting in a fight would definitely throw off his plans.
"I was just thinking about how our bet was sort of unfair to you."
"Sort of unfair?" Sanji growled. "I don't even know how you sleep at night after knocking out all those ladies. How could you—"
"—They were marines, not a bunch of fragile flowers."
Zoro put up his hands in a surrendering gesture. "Okay, okay. You know, that's not what I came to talk to you about. Just, calm your tits for a second and let me say my piece."
Fire burned in that one visible eye and Zoro almost got lost in it for a second before he collected himself and continued.
"The bet was unfair, so I came to see if you wanted a rematch. We can do something a little simpler, something that we both have an even chance of winning."
Sanji studied him as he brought his cigarette to his lips. "I'm listening."
"This time, if you win, you won't have to bring me breakfast in bed anymore. In fact, I'll go ahead and do the dishes and mop the kitchen for a week like I said before."
"Two weeks," Sanji said.
"All right, two weeks it is."
The cook's eye narrowed as lines of suspicion started to crease his forehead and bunch at the corners of his mouth.
"What's in it for you?" he asked.
Zoro shrugged. "Keep bringing me breakfast in bed for the rest of the week, and as extra for this bet, you have to stay and eat with me."
Sanji's eye widened again and the way he fumbled with his cigarette made it seem to Zoro like the cook had almost dropped it.
"I… have to eat with you? That's your prize if you win this time? That's what you want?"
The cook stood there thinking about it for a few seconds before he took another drag and nodded.
"Okay, what are we doing?"
A small smile tugged at the corners of Zoro's mouth. "You know how Robin always uses honorifics when she talks to us?"
Sanji nodded. "Most of the time."
"Get her to say your name."
One curly eyebrow raised at that. "That's it? I just have to get Robin-chwan to say my name? That's stupid."
"You have to do it without telling her to do it. You can't say "you can call me by my name" or something like that. In fact, you can't say the word "name" at all or you lose."
Sanji stood for a while finishing off the last of his cigarette and thinking. When he finally returned his gaze to Zoro, he was grinning softly.
"Yeah, that sounds good. This'll be easy. Is there a time limit?"
"Before bedtime tonight," Zoro said. "Otherwise, Robin will get weirded out and figure something's up."
Sanji nodded, "Okay, so what if we both manage to get her to say our names? What then?"
"It's whoever gets her to say their name first, stupid. I thought that was obvious."
"Don't call me stupid, idiot."
"Holy shit, come one let's just go."
"You're going down, Marimo."
Twenty minutes later, Sanji stomped away towards the galley, and Zoro turned to grin at the beautiful, dark, dark-haired woman standing next to him.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Robin asked.
"Not at all," Zoro chuckled, "but thank you for your help anyway."
Robin put her hands on her hips and smiled softly. "Good luck with the wooing of our cook-san, Zoro-san. You both deserve to be happy."
Zoro nodded to her and made his way down the stairs towards the lower deck. He tried not to be too excited about tomorrow morning, but who was he kidding, how could he not be excited? This was turning out great.
The next morning, it was not going so great.
Sanji had fulfilled his obligation of bringing Zoro his breakfast, and what a breakfast it was. Sausages and biscuits and the best goddamn gravy Zoro had ever tasted. Black coffee and orange juice and fresh fruit rounded it out and as Zoro ate he thought he might actually die and go easily into the afterlife, if there was one.
The cook had brought his own breakfast, but it was meager, just a single biscuit with butter and a cup of tea. When Zoro had asked if that was really all he was going to eat, Sanji had replied, "You just said I had to eat with you. You didn't say for how long or how much I had to eat."
And with that, Sanji had downed the biscuit and gulped his tea and had stood to turn and exit the crow's nest.
The fact that Zoro knew this was cowardice, rather than an escape from humiliation or annoyance, angered him so much that he slammed his coffee mug down, spilling the hot liquid over the back of his hand.
"So that's it then? You can't stand being around me so much that you'll just tuck tail and run away? Won't even sit with me while I eat? Shit, cook, I thought you were all about manners and crap like that."
He turned back to his plate to shove sausages angrily into his mouth, and so he missed Sanji kicking the trap door shut. The sound of the wood slamming against the metal frame rang out through the space of the gym but Zoro didn't look up. He knew what would be waiting for him if he met that gaze. The fire that burned so brightly behind those blue eyes. He already knew it, he had already seen it, and he didn't feel like dealing with it anymore. This had been a stupid idea. He should have just left it alone, accepted his breakfasts the rest of the week, and let the cook feel bad about whatever he was feeling bad about all by him-fucking-self.
But then he heard a scraping against the floor and turned to find the cook shoving one of the small crates from the wall over to the side of the cot. With his feet, Sanji positioned the crate next to where Zoro was sitting and then plopped down on top of it, his cup in his hand, and his pack in the other.
Nothing happened for a few seconds, Zoro just sat watching, and Sanji sat staring at the floor. His eyes held none of that anger or fire or anything that Zoro had been expecting, and it was so strange. Zoro wanted to speak, to ask Sanji why he had come back, but he couldn't talk, he could barely make himself swallow. The look of sadness, of utter confusion and defeat that was so clearly written all over the pale, handsome face in front of him kept Zoro completely silent.
Finally, Sanji spoke in a calm, soft voice.
Zoro blinked, unsure of what he should say. Should he say anything?
"You… want some coffee?" he asked.
Sanji sighed and held out his cup. Zoro poured and the two sat in silence for another handful of seconds. It was almost comfortable; would have been comfortable if Zoro hadn't noticed the hand holding the cigarette pack. Those knuckles were bone white, the hold around the empty pack was like a death grip. In fact, the cook's entire body was shaking.
This version of Sanji was worse than listening to him talk about how Zoro hated him, and Zoro knew that he couldn't expect the cook to take flying leaps into complete darkness without knowing there was someone there to catch him. Nothing was going to change unless he met Sanji halfway.
"Hey cook," he said as he shoved food into his mouth, "how do you make your gravy?"
Sanji's head shot up, his one visible eye wide with shock.
Zoro pointed to the plate with his fork. "How is your gravy so much better than everyone else's? What do you do different?"
There was a moment when Zoro thought Sanji wouldn't answer him, that maybe the cook's brain had broken, and he was just going to stare at Zoro for the rest of eternity blinking. Then he finally cleared his throat and spoke softly.
"Uh… well, it's probably several reasons. Most people make their gravy with stock from meats. Mine is cream based, after the roux of course."
"What's a roux?" Zoro asked.
"It's uh…" Sanji seemed to think for a minute, like he had forgotten what they were talking about. "It's the part that makes it thick. It's made with equal parts of oil and fat, usually vegetable oil or butter, but I use the leftover lard from all the meat I make Luffy."
"I thought you said you don't use meat stock."
Sanji shook his head and sat up straighter. His body language had gone from despairing and defeated, to excited and engaged almost instantly.
"No, stock is different from leftover lard. The roux for this gravy was made from the grease that was left after I cooked the bacon yesterday, plus the pan drippings from the roast last night. Stock is flavored liquid, so like if I had put the bacon in boiling water with spices for a few hours."
"That doesn't sound all that bad—bacon stock."
"No, I mean yeah, belly stock is great, but you add stock to gravy after you make the roux. The lard and the flower made the roux in the first place."
Zoro slipped the last of the sausages into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. "So why don't you make the roux thing with the bacon fat and then add the bacon stock later? That's double meat flavor."
To his surprise, Sanji actually smiled. "That's a lot of salt. Instead of stock I add cream because I wanted to keep it mild, and I also wanted to get that silky texture."
Zoro studied the plate as he sopped up the rest of the gravy with the last bite of his biscuit, experiencing the "silky texture" firsthand.
"Well," the swordsman said as he chewed, "it sounds complicated."
"It's," Sanji chuckled, "it's not, really."
"Whatever, it tastes great. It's all that matters to me."
He snuck a glance at Sanji, and to his surprise, the cook was turned away, scratching at his chin like he was… what, embarrassed?
"I uh," Sanji said softly, "thanks, I guess."
Zoro watched the small smile that pulled at those chapped lips and he saw right through the cook's quiet modesty. Sanji was flattered, and Zoro was pretty proud of himself for being the cause of it.
"I gotta go get everything ready for the rest of the crew," Sanji said, and he stood. "You have any requests for tomorrow?"
"Omelets," Zoro said immediately.
Sanji laughed. "Okay, yeah, omelets."
When the trapdoor closed behind the cook, Zoro sighed in relief and lay back on the cot. Step one of his plan was complete. It had been rocky, but it had ended in total success.
Now it was time for step two.
"There's no way. There's no fucking way, Marimo. You're sleeping habits are shit, you've drunk your liver into a stupor, and I can't even imagine what you were eating before I joined this crew."
"You smoke like eighty-four cigarettes a day, cook."
"You let a crazy person almost cut you in half."
"You have metal rods in your spine."
Rolling his eyes, Sanji moved closer to Zoro and spoke in a low voice. "Do we need to talk about what happened to you on Thriller Bark? How many organs did you rupture pulling that stupid shit? What do you think all that damage did to your brain?"
Undeterred, Zoro shrugged, "Do we need to talk about how you got hit by a bold of lightening? From a god?"
Sanji threw the sponge into the soapy water and let his head fall back. "How the hell do you even know about that?"
"Nami," Zoro said and returned to drying the pan in his hands.
Sighing softly, Sanji let it go and returned to scrubbing. "Well, there's only one way to be sure."
"Chopper can give each of is a physical."
Zoro tried not to laugh. "I don't think I've ever had a physical."
"All the more reason to do it," Sanji said. "Come on, let's finish up here and go see our doctor."
Sanji handed him the clean pot and Zoro accepted with a small grunt. "Okay, cook, but you know you're just going to regret it later."
"No way," Sanji said, his teeth bared in a vicious grin, "I'm gonna win this time."
Chopper was quiet as he moved the stethoscope's diaphragm a few inches higher on Sanji's chest.
"Breath in," he said, for the third time.
Sanji breathed and Chopper's face got that pinched look reserved for when he was either doing intense critical thinking, or extremely upset. It had always been a little hilarious to Zoro that the looks were interchangeable.
The little doctor pulled back, dropping the bell and pulling the ear pieces from his ears, then he sighed and looked at the cook.
"Sanji, you really have to stop smoking."
Groaning, Sanji tilted his head back and slipped his hands into his pockets. "Yeah, I know, Chopper, we've been over this. What about the rest of me?"
Fidgeting, Chopper turned in his seat and looked over the notebook sitting on his desk. Over the last hour, as he had examined both Sanji and Zoro, he had made extensive notes on everything from heartbeats to fingernails. Zoro had no idea what any of it meant, but he didn't really care either, so there was that.
"You both…" Chopper trailed off, and then took a breath before he started in again. "You're both idiots."
Zoro couldn't help it. He laughed.
"I'm not kidding, Zoro!" Chopper said angrily. "You're both monsters made out of metal and cement! I don't even know how either of you are still alive after what you put your bodies through!"
"We get it, Chopper," Sanji said gently, "but it's just the life we live. Now, tell us who is in better shape?"
Chopper looked angrily from Sanji, to Zoro, and then back again to Sanji.
There was a moment of silence before Sanji made a soft noise and dropped his forehead into his hand.
"What the fuck?"
"It's because of your lungs, Sanji," Chopper explained. "There at something like forty percent capacity. I know it doesn't feel that way but imagine what you'd feel like if you stopped smoking and let them heal!"
"I don't have to listen to this," Sanji said and stood. He grabbed his jacket and tie and stomped out of the infirmary without another word.
After the door closed, Zoro looked at Chopper and smiled softly.
Chopper rolled his eyes and turned back to his notes. "I hope it's worth it. I've never lied to a patient's face before. It's extremely unethical."
"It'll be worth it," Zoro said as he stood and took his swords from where they had been resting against the wall. "Seriously, if the cook ever finds out you were in on it, he'll thank you too."
Chopper said nothing and continued to make notes in his notebook. Zoro turned away and headed for the door, but he stopped before turning the handle. He glanced back over his shoulder and spoke softly.
"Did I really win?"
Chopper shook his head. "Sanji's lungs aren't nearly as bad as I said. I don't know how it's possible, but it's fact. To be completely honest, there's not really anything wrong with either of you, it's a complete medical mystery."
"So we tied?"
"No," Chopper sighed. "You may be healthy but it's obvious you received some pretty severe trauma over the last two years. I can't tell what it is, but your organs are still recovering from it. You'll be fine, it's nothing permanent, but looking at the state of your bodies right now, at this moment, Sanji is in better shape than you."
Zoro said nothing for a moment, but then nodded. "Thank you, Chopper. I promise it'll be worth it."
"It better be."
Zoro found Sanji out by the rail on the quarterdeck. He had his hands in his pockets and he was smoking furiously, watching as the last bits of the sun disappear behind the horizon. Carefully, Zoro moved up beside him and leaned against the railing.
"I told you you'd regret it later," Zoro said.
Sanji puffed again and blew the smoke out without taking the stick from his lips. "So, what am I doing now? Breakfast and lunch? Serve it to you on my best plates?"
"I want a bottle of your good wine," Zoro said, "one of the bottles you'd give to the girls."
"Fine." Sanji turned and headed toward the galley.
"Woa, wait," Zoro said, "just like that? You're not gonna argue at all?"
"What would be the point? I lost the bet."
Zoro pushed himself off the railing and folded his arms over his chest. Well, if the cook was going to be that accommodating…
"I want two glasses."
The cook froze and then slowly took the cigarette in his fingers. Glancing at Zoro over his shoulder, his eyes narrowed in what the swordsman assumed was suspicion.
"You're gonna drink it with me."
There was something that sparked in Sanji's visible eye at that moment, something that Zoro had only seen once or twice but it had never been directed at him before, not even close. But then it was gone and Zoro was wondering if he had really seen it at all.
"I have to prep for tomorrow morning," Sanji said softly.
Zoro shrugged. "Have a glass while you work, I'll drink at the bar."
Sanji seemed unsure at the prospect, but Zoro could see the surrender in his features before the cook said anything.
"Fine, come on."
"What are you doing?"
"Prepping for tomorrow, like I said."
Zoro took another small swallow of wine from the glass Sanji had offered him. It turned out the taste wasn't all that different from the "shitty stuff" Sanji let him have every day. Both were bitter, both had aftertastes like berries and some smoky stuff, but overall it was basically the same, so that was sort of confusing. It didn't matter to the swordsman though, wine was wine. It all quenched his thirst and it all went to the same place eventually.
However, Zoro had paid enough attention to know that there were differences when consuming what was considered "good" wine. You were supposed to savor and take in the aromas or some shit. Seemed stupid really, but he had managed to slow down and take quarter sips at unbelievably long intervals. All of this worked in his favor of course. The longer he took to finish the bottle, the longer he got to sit in the galley alone with Sanji.
"Won't those eggs be all gross by tomorrow morning? Why do that tonight?"
Sanji looked up from the bowl and gave Zoro an interesting look. The swordsman couldn't place it.
"I'm not cooking these, they're for the mayonnaise."
Zoro sat up straighter. "Mayo has eggs in it?"
"Mm hm," Sanji nodded and continued adding things to the bowl. Zoro watched as those nimble fingers he liked so much dropped powders and vinegar and a few other things into the mix, and then started whisking.
"Why did you separate the yellow part from the clear part?"
"Yolks. The yellow parts are yolks," Sanji said. "If you leave the whites out the mayo is thicker and tastes better."
"What do you do with the clear, er, the white part?"
"They're going in a sauce I'll put over the fish tomorrow."
"Hm," Zoro said and took another sip, "that'll be awesome." The way Sanji's hands were moving as he whisked was mesmerizing, and the way his hair fell into his eyes as he worked was so charming Zoro felt he could sit and watch the cook forever.
Suddenly, the whisking stopped and Sanji reached for his glass. After taking a sip, he held the glass just below his jaw and swirled the liquid, watching the wine as it tumbled between his fingers.
"Why are you here, Zoro?" Sanji asked softly.
Zoro shrugged. "You lost a bet."
Interestingly, Sanji laughed, but listening to it Zoro realized there was not much humor behind it.
"Seriously," the cook ran the back of his hand across his brow, "what's going on? You win a bet and you get me to serve you every morning, I get that. But then you win another one and you want me to eat with you? A third and I drink with you? I don't… understand. What's your goal here?"
The cook suddenly seemed very tired. He drained the rest of his wine and set the glass on the countertop, then his gaze lifted to look right at Zoro.
"What are you trying to do to me?"
Zoro was a little surprised. When he had devised this plan he had expected some blowback, but he had not foreseen this level of opposition. It almost seemed as if the nicer he was, the more despondent Sanji became. It didn't make any sense. Well, maybe it did. Sanji was surly—at least when it came to Zoro—so a fair amount of resistance to Zoro's wooing should be expected.
But wait, that wasn't what Zoro was trying to do, was it? The surly cook had already been wooed, the easy part was done. No, what Zoro was trying to do was much harder than getting Sanji to fall in love with him.
Zoro was trying to get Sanji to like him.
"Sort of paranoid, aren't you?" Zoro asked.
Sanji made an exasperated gesture and motioned between the two of them. "Then what's happening here? What's with the compliments? The sudden interest in what I do?"
"It's not sudden," Zoro growled. "I've always been interested in how you do what you do, you've just always been such a shithead I never got the chance to ask about it before."
"Oh, don't put this on me. I'm only a shithead to you because you were a shithead first."
Zoro paused for a moment, letting his eyes wander to the ceiling as he pretended to think about Sanji's words.
"Yeah, you're probably right."
He let that sink in, wondering if he had conceded too quickly, and took another sip of wine that finished off what he had in his glass. Reaching for the bottle, he poured himself what was left and set the bottle back down before he looked up.
Sanji was watching him with something like mild horror. It was almost funny.
"I don't even know what the fuck to say to that."
Zoro shrugged and downed a medium sized swallow. "You don't have to say anything. Just finish your sandwiches and explain to me why your 'good' wine tastes exactly the same as your 'shitty' wine."
Another handful of seconds passed in silence, and then Sanji scoffed and picked up the whisk.
"No class, Marimo," he chuckled softly as he returned to his task.
"No fucking class at all."
Zoro ducked and sent his sword in an arc that missed Sanji's left leg by mere centimeters. The cook had flipped, tumbling feet over hands, and then back to his feet again, deftly moving out of Zoro's reach.
"So slow, Marimo!" Sanji laughed before he darted forward and tried to take the swordsman's legs out from under him.
Zoro saw it coming, he was ready this time. He leapt forward as Sanji went in low, and brought both swords down hard, expecting the foot that came up to meet him. The sole of the cook's shoe clanged against his crossed blades, and because he had no leverage, Zoro was pushed backwards into the air.
He had expected this too.
Instead of letting himself fly back and regroup like he usually did, Zoro pulled his left hand down and back, not truly aiming, but instead letting the direction of his body determine the arc of his strike. His body went back, his blade went up, and the sharp side of his steel found the black silk of a tie.
Excited that the move had worked, Zoro let out a howl, "Ha! Who's too slow now, cook!?"
He got the other sole of Sanji's other shoe to his chest for the effort. He grunted with the dull pain that shot from his ribs all the way out to his fingertips, but he landed on his feet, sliding only a few yards across the deck.
"Son of a bitch…" Sanji was murmuring.
Zoro straightened watching the cook finger the tie. "You need a moment to mourn?"
"No," Sanji said, and surprisingly enough, the cook didn't sound angry. "Here, look at this."
Sure that it was some kind of deflection, Zoro tensed as Sanji came close, ready for whatever attack the cook had planned. Nothing came however, Sanji merely held up the tie for Zoro to see, and as unbelievable as it seemed, Sanji was actually grinning.
"Look at this shit," Sanji chuckled, "how did this even happen?"
The tie was in two perfect pieces, split directly up the middle, and stopped just below where it folded over itself. It was kind of fascinating. Zoro wasn't sure he would be able to do that again even if he tried.
"Meant to do that," Zoro gave Sanji a superior grin.
Sanji rolled his eyes, "Oh, I'm sure. Damn, now I gotta get another black one."
"Should have thought about the consequences before you challenged me."
"I didn't challenge you, idiot, you came in the galley demanding more coffee and got pissy when I told you it was all gone."
Zoro slid his swords back into their saya and lifted his hands in a dramatic shrug. "That's a challenge of a sort, isn't it?"
"Being out of coffee?" Sanji asked, almost laughing.
It was surreal to be bantering like this. The entire morning had been filled with teasing and jabbing at each other like always, but none of it held the animosity or pettiness Zoro had grown so accustomed to. The jabs were no longer cruel, the teasing was light, almost inviting, and Sanji had even touched him once. It had been just a brush, just his fingertips across his arm, but the touch had been like fire on his bare skin and Zoro had sat in stunned silence for more than a few minutes.
He had come out of it when Sanji toed at his boot, but the astonishment had lasted the rest of breakfast. The swordsman had barely tasted the sandwiches, shame, because Sanji's breakfast sandwiches were the best, and then after the cook had left to prepare everything for the rest of the crew, Zoro had sat for another twenty or so minutes just staring at nothing, his heart beating a frantic beat against the inside of his ribcage.
"Damn," Sanji said suddenly, bringing Zoro back to the present, "you fucked up the rail again."
"I didn't do that," Zoro said, "it was your foot that went through it."
Sanji scoffed, "Are you stupid? It's been cut. Franky's gonna murder you."
"He would have murdered me a long time ago if he was that angry about the ship. I've done more damage to this rig than anyone besides Luffy."
"I don't think so," Sanji shook his head. "Usopp blew a bunch of shit up and I knocked like ten canon balls into the mast."
Zoro folded his arms over his chest and tilted his head like he was actually thinking about it.
"No, I'm pretty sure I have the record, besides Luffy."
Sanji shook his head again, "There's no way, Marimo."
"Let's ask Franky," Zoro offered. "He's got a log of the repairs."
Sanji paused in the middle of lighting a cigarette and stared at Zoro, wide-eyed. "Seriously?"
It was Zoro's turn to scoff. "Of course, he's gotta keep tabs on everyone so Nami can tally our bills."
"Ah, Nami-swan is so smart~! Of course she keeps tabs on all our destruction!"
"If you want to know who has the actual highest damage record besides Luffy we can check. Unless you're worried it's me. I mean, I can underst—"
"—Yeah, let's check out this log. I bet it's Luffy and then Usopp, and then me."
Zoro started down the stairs, grinning. "Let's just stick to us. If I have more damage than you, I win. You have more, you win. Simple."
"You're on," Sanji said and descended the stairs two at a time.
"You are finally going down, Marimo."
Franky hummed as he looked at the log. It was a huge leather-bound book with faded yellow pages filled with brisk, scratchy writing. Every once in a while, he would open his large fist and the tiny hand would come folding out to turn the pages, but mostly the large cyborg would just hum and read and sometimes chuckle under his breath.
"Well," Franky said finally and straightened, "it's kind of close, but there's a clear winner. Or loser? How does this work again exactly? Whoever owes more money to Nami wins? I musta' heard you bros wrong 'cause that sounds hella stup—"
"—Just tell us who has done more damage to the ship between the two of us," Sanji growled.
"Before or after Sabaody?"
"Since we got the ship," Zoro said.
"Ah, well then," Franky glanced back at the book, "Zoro."
"Nooo!" Sanji wailed, "I can't fucking believe this!"
Zoro laughed and shrugged his shoulders. "I told you, cook. You need to just stop taking bets, you're unlucky as hell."
"At least tell me that Usopp's number two!"
Franky didn't even have to look at the book before he answered, "Oh, hell yes. That kid has done more damage to the ship than all the rest of you combined. Well, except for Luffy, of course."
Sanji sighed and slipped an unlit cigarette between his lips. "Well, at least there's that." He then laced his hands behind his neck and sighed. "Okay, Zoro, what do you want?"
Zoro pretended to think for a moment. "Not sure yet, I'll let you know."
"Fuuuuck…" With that, Sanji turned around, opened the door, and was gone.
When Zoro turned back to Franky, the larger man was watching him carefully.
"He took that a lot better than I expected."
Zoro grinned. "I think he's starting to like losing."
Franky closed the log book and replaced it on the upper shelf. "At least now I know why you were asking all those weird questions. I heard Sanji's been losing a lot of bets lately, you cheat every time?"
"I don't cheat," Zoro said, "I just make sure the bets are ones I can win."
"Bro, that's totally cheating."
"Okay, then yes, I've cheated every single time."
Franky smiled a very mischievous smile and that small hand came out once again to lower the man's sunglasses from his eyes. He looked at Zoro over the rims and wiggled his eyebrows.
"Kind of aggressive, aren't you?"
Zoro met his leer evenly. "I don't know how else to be with him."
Throwing his head back, Franky laughed until tears ran from the corners of his eyes. He slapped at his knees and pushed Zoro playfully on the shoulder.
"Oh man," he gasped, "well, good luck, Lady Zoro. Hopefully, you'll win over your prince and not just get a foot up your ass."
Zoro chuckled and headed for the door. "Thanks, Franky."
Outside, Sanji was stretched out on his back in the grass, smoking and watching the small puffs of clouds as they floated overhead. He seemed relaxed enough, so Zoro moved out onto the deck and stretched out beside him. Not too close, but close enough that they could talk softly and still be heard.
"You'll stain your shirt," Zoro murmured.
"It's fine," Sanji said as he took another puff, "Chopper has stuff for grass stains, wine stains, blood stains..."
They lay there for a few minutes, watching clouds and breathing in the fresh, salty air. Zoro started to drift a bit, lulled by the gentle rocking of the waves and the comforting smell of cooking spices and tobacco.
Sanji's words stirred him awake.
"So, tomorrow's the last day…"
Zoro hummed in agreement.
"You just won again. What do you want?"
Sighing, Zoro opened his eyes. What did he want? He could extend the breakfast thing to go another week, he did love eating with Sanji in the morning. He loved having that time alone together when the cook was just himself, when he would answer questions about his craft and lecture excitedly about gravy or fish or potatoes or whatever. Zoro didn't really care what the discussion was about, he just liked listening to Sanji talk. His voice was smooth and deep, and his hands were always moving, making motions in the air, telling part of the story themselves. When they fought, Sanji's hands always seemed to be in his pockets. There was never a chance that Sanji would touch him accidentally.
A tap on his shoulder startled Zoro out of his musings and he turned to find Sanji watching him.
"W-what?" Zoro was suddenly embarrassed like the cook had caught him doing something obscene.
Sanji's face was calm, and then his teeth flashed in a tiny grin. "You fall asleep?"
Zoro growled and turned back to the sky. "Never."
Taking a long drag, Sanji turned his attention back to the sky as well. He was quiet for another minute or two, but then he took the cigarette from his lips and sighed.
"This is weird, right?"
"What's weird?" Zoro asked.
"Us, chilling on the deck together. A week ago, if someone had told me I'd be doing this with you I wouldn't have believed them."
Zoro thought about it for a while. "Yeah, I suppose I wouldn't have either."
"How did it happen?" Sanji said softly, enough that Zoro realized he had been speaking to himself. "I mean, don't get me wrong, it's fine, it's just… How did we get here?"
Zoro watched the cook's face as he frowned, studying the smoldering cherry between his fingers. The swordsman couldn't tell if Sanji was regretting decisions he had made, or if he was confused, or if he really was just trying to puzzle out how they had gotten to laying next to each other on Sunny's deck without screaming or beating each other black and blue.
"I guess, I just met you halfway…" Zoro said softly.
That made Sanji turn. Surprise was evident in his face, but Zoro looked away, not entirely ready to meet that gaze.
"What do you mean?" Sanji asked.
Zoro didn't know how to respond to that. This was the part of his plan he hadn't thought all the way through, and he hadn't expected it to be quite this embarrassing.
Finally, he spoke. "I'm not so dumb that I can't figure out when I've gone too far. The breakfast in bed thing is great, but I noticed it was making you upset, and not the fun kind of upset."
"There's a fun kind of upset?" Sanji snorted.
"Of course," Zoro said. "Fun kind of upset is a cook that wants to call me names and fight hard enough that I break a sweat. Do you know how many others in our crew I would go all out with in a mock fight? Exactly zero."
"You mean, besides Luffy," Sanji said softly.
Luffy doesn't count," Zoro could feel his voice trembling and he hoped Sanji did not notice. "But yeah. I always thought we were kind of a team, but then I won the bet and got to see this other side of you. It helped me see that you didn't understand that I felt that way."
Sanji sat up suddenly, startling Zoro. The swordsman watched the other man's shoulders rise and fall as he breathed, his face turned away so Zoro couldn't see him.
"I did understand," he said softly, "I mean, I thought I did. We fought but we always came together when it counted." He paused again, pulled out his pack, and stuck a fresh cigarette between his lips.
"You're hard to gage sometimes so… It's hard to tell if I'd be overstepping or…"
Zoro was silent as Sanji lit up, waiting for whatever else the cook was trying to say, but nothing else came. Whether it was because he didn't want to share it just yet, or he was unsure, or he just didn't know, it was unclear.
"Okay," Zoro said and sat up, "I'll make it easy."
He saw Sanji glance at him out the corner of his eye, but he ignored it and moved so that he was sitting with his back to Sanji's. He leaned against the cook a little, waiting for the other man to relax and lean back against him as well.
Sanji's body was warm, his weight was strong and sturdy against him. It was nice.
"You're not the worst person to be around, okay?" Zoro said. "You're kind of annoying sometimes and a pervert, but besides Luffy, there's no one I'd rather stand with in a fight. So just… don't take the bets too personally, they're just for fun."
They sat that way for a long time, leaning against each other, watching the sky and the waves, feeling each other's warmth; each other's support. Then, just when Zoro was beginning to think they would sit that way forever, never speaking again, Sanji surprised him by chuckling.
When Zoro turned his head to ask what the hell was up, Sanji let his head fall back, conking his skull against the swordsman's.
"You know, when you want to fight me you could just ask to spar or something. You don't have to be a pain in the ass."
Zoro rubbed at the back of his head. "No, no, you have to be mad. That's what makes it so exciting. I need to feel like I could be killed."
Sanji snorted again and his weight shifted. His shoulders relaxed and Zoro found himself leaning even further into the other man's body. The cook was such a huge presence despite his body being thinner than Zoro's, and the swordsman found himself wishing he could just wrap himself up in whatever it was that made Sanji so larger than life.
"What?" Sanji asked.
"You were sighing."
"Oh," Zoro murmured, "I was just thinking how great dinner's going to be tonight when you bring it to me in the crow's nest."
Sanji made a noise that was halfway between a groan and a laugh. "That's what you want? Why can't you just eat with everyone else? I'm not making something special for you too, am I?"
"No, I'll go easy on you. You can bring it up after everyone else is done."
"Well, thanks for that," Sanji said, his voice muffled. His teeth were probably clamped down on the fresh cigarette he had just pulled from his pack. "It's fish, by the way."
"Oh yeah, that sauce with the egg whites," Zoro nodded and closed his eyes. "Yeah, bring me the fish under one of those fancy cover things."
There was a click of the lighter and smoke tickled at Zoro's nose.
"I assume you'll want more of my good wine too?"
Zoro made a face even though he knew Sanji couldn't see it. "Naw, I'm fine with the 'shitty' stuff."
Sanji sighed, "All right, Marimo. Fish under a cloche, cheap wine, after dinner in the crow's nest. Easy." With that, Sanji's weight disappeared and Zoro found himself slipping backwards. He caught himself with his hand and turned to find the cook dusting off the backs of this thighs.
"Speaking of," he said, "I probably should go get started. Potatoes will need some time to roast."
Zoro said nothing and watched Sanji make his way towards the stairs, but before the cook reached the top, Zoro stopped him.
"Oi, and cook?"
Sanji turned back, "Yeah?"
Zoro grinned. "Bring an extra plate. It's dinner for two."
As it turned out, dinner had been a good idea. Sanji had come through the trap door about a half hour after the rest of the crew had left the galley to do whatever it was they did in the evenings. He was carrying a tray with covered dishes on it in one hand, and a bottle of wine in the other. They had eaten quickly but had taken their time drinking the wine. Zoro listened to Sanji talk about his fabled "all blue" and had teased the cook about his enthusiasm for things that seemed rather benign, like how many fins a male tiger fish had compared to a female.
"You have to pay attention because the flavor is different," Sanji explained.
Zoro didn't think it would matter to him all that much. Sanji could cook a male or a female any-fish and Zoro would love it either way.
After that the conversation died down. Sanji smoked and Zoro leaned back on the bench, watching the sky outside the window grow darker. The swordsman was content just sitting, being in Sanji's presence, but there was a stray thought in the back of his mind that was sure Sanji was uncomfortable. He snuck a peek at the cook and his thoughts were confirmed when he saw the way Sanji was fidgeting.
"What's on your mind?" Zoro asked.
Sanji looked up, but he seemed neither surprised nor annoyed by Zoro's question and it took a moment for the swordsman to realize he had been expecting one of those. In fact, now that Zoro could see his face, besides the fidgeting Sanji looked rather content.
"I was just thinking about what you said on the deck this afternoon," he said, and Zoro felt a tingle down his spine at the velvety softness of the cook's voice. "When I asked how we got here you answered that you 'met me halfway.' I guess I was just trying to think of a way to say thank you."
Zoro swallowed. "You don't have to. Or, I mean it's not necessary."
"Yeah, I think it is," Sanji looked down at his hands. "I could have been nicer, but I wasn't. I let you rile me up, and I poke and prod and goad you on all the time. I'm just as much of a shithead."
Despite the fact that Zoro's stomach was doing flipflops, he managed a snicker. "The love-cook's admitting to being something other than a dashing lady-killer?"
Sanji chuckled and shook his head. "I'm not dashing. And I'm not a lady-killer."
Something in the way that Sanji said those words made Zoro's heart ache. It was obvious the cook was not being self-deprecating or fishing for compliments, he was just stating what he felt were facts. The stupid cook really didn't think very highly of himself and it was a little shocking. Suddenly his ridiculous behavior was understandable.
Folding his arms across his chest, Zoro grunted softly and then slid sideways towards the other man, as if he were about to convey some outrageous secret.
"You're… a little dashing."
Sanji's face was serious as he turned to meet Zoro's gaze, but his eyes were very, very bright.
"I don't know how to react when you compliment me."
"I compliment you all the time."
"You compliment my food," Sanji corrected, "it's not the same. I don't know what to say when you're complimenting me."
Zoro grinned. "Just say 'thank you.'"
Sanji continued to look at him, his gaze still bright, still penetrating.
"It doesn't seem like…" but then he trailed off and looked away. His eyes searched the floor by his feet, and his fingers crushed out the butt of his cigarette. "Never mind," he murmured, "I'm being stupid." Before Zoro could say anything Sanji was standing and collecting the dishes. He didn't seem upset, his movements were as quick and precise as ever, but there was obviously something off. Zoro sat up and handed the cook his wine glass.
"I can help."
Sanji shook his head. "Naw, I got it. I'm just gonna dump these and head to bed. I'll see you at breakfast."
And with that, he was through the trapdoor and gone.
Positive he had said or done something wrong, but having no idea what it could possibly be, Zoro sighed and ran a hand over his face. The cook was proving to be a tougher nut to crack than he had first imagined.
Then Sanji's words came back to him. I'm being stupid…
It hit Zoro then, and he suddenly felt ashamed. He had told Sanji he had met him halfway, but that hadn't been true. Not really. Zoro was standing on the edge of a ravine, doing nothing but watching the cook fumble across a rickety bridge all alone. Sanji didn't even know if Zoro was waiting on the other side, he was just blindly making his way across, boards creaking, rope handle fraying, and below him a ten thousand meter drop yawned waiting for him.
This wasn't fair. Sanji had feelings for him, Zoro knew this, but what did Sanji know? Nothing. Just because this was a fun little game from Zoro's perspective, didn't mean that Sanji was enjoying it. Sanji didn't know where Zoro was coming from. He didn't know if this whole thing was Zoro being friendly, or teasing him, or stringing him along, or (a more likely scenario considering their past) just setting him up for something cruel and sinister.
God damnit. He was so stupid. How had this happened again? He was so self-absorbed he couldn't see how much Sanji was risking by going along with all of this.
Zoro's heart did a strange kind of lurch in his chest as another thought came over him. It was intense, almost painful, and overwhelming.
Would he have been able to do something like that? Would he have been able to approach Sanji like he was now before he had known about Sanji's feelings? No. Hell no. Just the thought of it was more terrifying than facing ten thousand of the best swordsmen in the world all at once.
Sanji was being so brave. So unbelievably fucking brave.
Standing, Zoro headed toward the trapdoor. He wasn't sure where he was going or what he was doing, he had no plan, but he was sure of one thing: he needed to move. He needed to go somewhere, breathe fresh air, stretch his legs. He couldn't think in this space with the air still smelling faintly of cigarettes even with the windows wide open.
When he climbed down the ladder, he was so preoccupied with his thoughts that when he collided with Usopp he almost cried out in surprise. The young sniper made a high-pitched screeching noise and threw his hands up. The whole thing was so unexpected Zoro wondered for a moment if he had fallen asleep and he was, in fact, dreaming. What the hell was Usopp doing here? What could he possibly want? And at this hour?
"Uh… you got a minute?" Usopp asked when he had calmed down.
"Yeah, I guess."
Usopp nodded and motioned with his hand for Zoro to follow. "Be quiet," he said softly.
Zoro followed not saying anything. He had half a mind to grab the younger man by the scruff of the neck and demand to know what the hell they were doing, but the other half of him said to be patient. Usopp rarely went out of his way to talk to him if it wasn't important.
When they had climbed the stairs to the forecastle, Usopp stopped and turned around.
"Sit here," he said and pointed to the top step.
Confused, Zoro sat. He placed his swords on the stair next to him and rested his elbows on his knees.
"Okay," he said, "what are we doing?"
"I'll show you in a minute," Usopp moved to stand in front of him on a lower step and folded his arms across his chest. Zoro had seen him try and puff himself up like that a million times before, but this was the first time it didn't seem comical. This time it was almost intimidating.
"First, I have a few things to say," Usopp's voice was low, serious.
"Okay," Zoro frowned.
For an instant, Usopp seemed to falter, as if finally staring at Zoro face to face had knocked all the wind from his sails, but then that serious, determined look returned and he took a breath.
"So, whatever you're doing to Sanji, can you just… stop?" he said, and then as if it was an afterthought. "Please?"
Surprised yet again, Zoro had to try and keep his features neutral.
"I'm not doing anything to the cook," he said. "Not that it's any of your business anyway."
"—Don't think you can pull me out here in the middle of the night and tell me how to—"
"—Shut up!" Usopp hissed, and the outburst surprised Zoro enough that he did just that.
"Just listen to me for a second, okay? Whatever you two are doing, whatever weird game you're playing, you need to just quit. It's messing him up and I don't know how much longer I can watch before I flip out. Well, he'll probably flip out before I do, but I mean, we could both flip out at the same time and wouldn't that just be amazingly terrible?"
Zoro was caught somewhere between anger and embarrassment so his thought process wasn't exactly fluid when he reached for Wado and growled.
"Again, I don't see how this is any of your b—"
"Okay, okay, fine." Usopp turned and sat on the step next to him. "You can beat the crap out of me in just a second, but there's something you should see first, okay? Look over there."
Glancing in the direction Usopp was pointing, Zoro noticed the lights were still on in the galley. Not completely unheard of, Sanji still had to wash their dinner dishes, but… how long ago had the cook left the crow's nest? Why was he still in there?
"Just calm the heck down and watch for a minute, okay?"
Zoro almost growled something back at the young sniper but was cut off abruptly when the lights in the galley turned off. The swordsman's attention turned fully to one of the galley portholes as Sanji's silhouette came into view. The cook had his tobacco kit in one hand and was lighting a lantern with the other. As the flame flickered to life, Sanji blew the match out, pulled a chair out from the dining table, and sat. It was too far to see clearly but Zoro could at the very least make out the dark circles underneath those blue eyes. The cook looked exhausted.
"He looks like shit," Zoro murmured. "Why doesn't he go to bed? He told me he was going to bed."
"Oh, he said that huh?" When Zoro glanced at Usopp the younger man was rolling his eyes. "That guy hasn't slept more than a few hours this whole week."
Zoro was startled yet again. "What?"
Usopp looked at him and sighed dramatically. "Do I need to go over it again? Okay." He pointed a finger at Zoro's chest. "You're. Messing. Him. Up." He emphasized every word with a shake of that finger.
"He laid awake in the men's bunk the first night, but I don't think he likes being idle, so now he spends the time in the galley rolling cigarettes, reading, or sharpening knives or whatever."
Mildly horrified, Zoro watched as Sanji unpacked his tobacco kit and licked his fingers.
"How the hell do you know this is because of me?" he asked. "The cook does all kinds of crazy shit, maybe he just needs less sleep than we do. Maybe that's what he was working on during our two years apart."
"Oh my gooooood I hate you right now," Usopp groaned. "Okay, so there's some stuff you don't know, and you should probably know it but it's totally not my place to tell you, so you need—"
"—I already know, Usopp," Zoro said softly.
"—to go talk to…" Usopp trailed off. "Um… what?"
Zoro turned and glared at his young friend. "I already know. I overheard you two talking in storage a few days ago. I know he has feelings for me."
There was a long period of silence that made Zoro feel like his words were hanging there around them, big and bright and damning in the night air. Then Usopp stood abruptly and glared down at him with his teeth bared and his fists clenched at his sides.
"So… you knew? This whole time? You freaking knew and now you're just messing with him!? God damnit, Zoro I thought you were a better person than that—"
Usopp's wrist seemed frail, brittle underneath the small bit of skin and muscle Zoro held in his hand. If he wanted to, he could snap it in half easily, but that was not what he had in mind. He jerked Usopp down and put his face right up against the younger man's so that their foreheads were almost touching.
"You listen here," Zoro growled, "you may be my nakama, and it may be my job to protect you, but I'm about ready to break your fucking arm right now. You don't know a goddamn thing about what kind of person I am if you think I'd mess with him that way. Don't come to me all high and mighty when you don't know my side of the story."
Usopp trembled in his hold and tears had started to form at the corner of the sniper's eyes but Zoro paid them no mind. He was livid.
"I fucking love that stupid, son of a bitch. I want to be with him more than you could possibly understand, but I also know that, while he may have feelings for me, he doesn't like me very much. This past week I've been trying to get him used to me not being a total dick to him all the time."
Looking back at the slumped figure all alone in the galley, Zoro shook his head and sighed. When he turned back to Usopp he loosened his grip and softened his voice a little.
"If I left things the way they were and just made a move on him when I found out about how he felt, he probably wouldn't have taken it seriously, or he'd think I was making fun of him or something. Any chance I'd have with him would be gone."
Usopp had tear streaks down his cheeks and his nose was running, but he seemed a little less terrified than he had a few moments ago.
"But why is he so unhappy? If you're making an effort to be friends with him why isn't he excited? Why isn't he sleeping?"
Zoro sighed and looked back at the lonely figure sitting at the table in the galley. "I think I understand, but it's kind of complicated."
Usopp sniffed and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe and his eyes and nose.
"You r-really love him?" he stammered.
Zoro wasn't embarrassed, but he had never said anything even remotely like that out loud before and he had just gone and confessed to a secret infatuation he'd been harboring for years. For another man, no less. The whole thing felt kind of surreal.
Usopp wiped at his face and managed a small smile. "Well, that's awesome then. I'm glad I risked my life coming out here to show you all this. I guess you could say I'm kind of a matchmaker of sorts."
"Don't get a big head, you just happened to set me back on track after a wrong turn."
Usopp snickered into his palm. "Too bad that doesn't work when it's not a metaphor."
Zoro eyed him, annoyed. "The hell is that supposed to mean?"
Laughing, Usopp tried to muffle the sound while clapping him on the back at the same time. Why did everyone on the ship laugh so hard at directional jokes? They weren't even that funny.
"Whatever," Zoro sighed. "Okay, I'm gonna go talk to him now." He stood and slipped his swords back behind his haramaki. "You're gonna help me."
Usopp shot to his feet and gave Zoro a pseudo-salute. "Yessir! What's the plan?"
Zoro tried not to grin. "Well, you're probably not going to like the first part."
About a half hour before midnight, Usopp barged into the galley groaning and clutching at his face. He fumbled at the light switch and turned on the lights, effectively bewildering the blond cook that sat at the table rolling a cigarette.
"What the hell?" Sanji murmured.
"Oh, sorry, Sanji," Usopp said, "I just came to get some ice."
"Ice?" Sanji asked as he carefully placed the unrolled cigarette on the table and stood. "Why do you need ice?"
Usopp sighed and lowered his hand. "For this."
The right side of the young man's face was a mess of reds and a thin trail of blood trickled from the side of his mouth.
"Woa, what happened?" Sanji moved toward his friend and lifted Usopp's chin to get a better look.
"Well, I was on my way to the bathroom, and then this tentacle—at least forty feet long—rose out of the sea and slapped—"
"—Shut up," Zoro growled as he gently pushed past Usopp into the galley. "Quit your lies. I turned a corner and he wasn't running his mouth, so I didn't recognize him. I thought he was a stowaway and clobbered him."
Sanji's one visible eye was incredulous as the cook turned to him. "Are you fucking serious? Zoro, we're in the middle of the goddamn ocean! There's nothing around for miles! How could someone—"
"—It's happened before."
"You seriously can't tell if someone coming around a corner towards you is someone you know or not?"
"It was really dark."
"I seriously don't understand how you can be so stu—"
"Hey guys," Usopp interrupted, waving his hand, "I'm still here. Still bleeding."
Sanji's attention turned from Zoro and his anger melted away almost instantly. "Sorry, I'm sorry, Usopp. Come here, sit, I'll get you some ice. You want me to get Chopper?"
"Naw," Usopp waved a hand, "It's just a black eye. Don't wake him for something like that. Poor Zoro doesn't need both of you guys chewing him out."
Zoro closed the galley door and ignored the look Usopp gave him as he moved past the table. In the kitchen, Sanji was scooping ice from the ice box into a bag, muttering softly under his breath.
"Lemme see it," Zoro said softly, holding out his hand. "I got him, you can go to bed."
"It's fine," Sanji said softly.
"No, seriously," Zoro tried again, "it's my fault, I'll do it. You have to get up early and make breakfast."
Sanji replaced the scoop and twisted the bag closed. He held it for a minute, seemingly thoughtful, and then reached out and placed it into Zoro's waiting palm.
"Thanks," Zoro murmured.
"Ow ow ow," Usopp said as the ice came down on his face. "I hate you, Zoro."
"I'm sorry," the swordsman said around a smile. The fact that Usopp had stood out on the deck, not even five minutes ago, whispering Okay, okay! Do it do it do it! made the whole thing kind of funny.
As if his thoughts summoned it, Sanji snickered. Both Zoro and Usopp glanced to the side to see that Sanji had returned to his rolling but was laughing as he worked.
"It's not funny," Usopp pouted.
"It's…" Sanji trailed off into another soft shake of laughter. "You're just… it's just so fucking dumb."
A few seconds passed where Zoro and Usopp sat watching the cook try not to laugh, but then Usopp finally lost it and chuckled.
"Yeah, you're right, it was pretty dumb. Zoro, you're dumb."
That finally got Sanji laughing for real. The cook threw back his head and chortled at the ceiling, his hands clutching at his belly.
Even though the entire thing was at his expense, Zoro had planned it that way and had no trouble joining the other two in their laughter. By the time they had calmed down, both Sanji and Usopp had tears in their eyes and Zoro was almost wheezing into the crook of his elbow.
"Weren't you…" Zoro snorted and tried to find his voice again through his chuckles. "Weren't you going to bed, cook? We finished dinner hours ago, what are you still doing here?"
Sanji wiped at his eyes and shook his head. "Had a few things left to do. Besides, I'm not as tired as I thought I was."
"You guys had dinner together?" Usopp asked.
Sanji's laughing stopped abruptly and he glanced sideways at Zoro. The swordsman said nothing, waiting to see what Sanji would say.
"Yeah, I uh… lost a bet."
Usopp frowned, feigning confusion. "I thought you told me it was a breakfast thing."
Sanji shook his head, "That was another bet."
The ice pack lowered to the tabletop as Usopp frowned at Sanji, then at Zoro, and then back at Sanji again. "Is that what's been going on? You guys are playing bets and you've been losing a bunch?"
"It's only been a couple," Sanji muttered. He took one of the freshly rolled cigarettes and placed it between his lips. "It hasn't been that bad, he hasn't asked for anything crazy. Just food stuff."
"I bet he's cheating," Usopp said, and his eyes flashed in Zoro's direction.
Zoro put out his boot and kicked Usopp's shin. The young sniper made a face and kicked the swordsman's other foot. He mouthed shut up and turned back to Sanji, who was ignoring them.
"He's not cheating," Sanji said softly, "how could he be cheating? I'm just… not very lucky is all."
"Naw, I bet he's cheating," Usopp stood and fished around in his huge pockets with his free hand. "I got an idea."
"What?" Sanji asked.
"Here," Usopp pulled his hand from his pocket and threw a deck of cards on the table. "Let's play a game. I'll be dealer, winner gets whatever they want."
Sanji looked at the sniper warily, puffing on his cigarette and not saying anything.
"Come on," Usopp coaxed. "I'll make sure it's fair."
"Wait, wait," Zoro growled. "I just accidentally punched you, and you're all sympathetic to Sanji losing all this week. How do I know you're not just going to throw the game in his favor?"
Usopp turned his one uncovered eye on him and his gaze was dark. When he spoke, his words were clipped and deliberate.
"Because I'm not an asshole."
Ouch. Okay, maybe he deserved that.
Zoro sighed and looked at Sanji. The cook was looking at him, half expectantly, half… something else. The swordsman waited the proper number of seconds to make it seem like he was actually thinking it over, and then nodded.
"All right. I'm in if the cook is."
Usopp turned to Sanji. "Well?"
Sanji took a puff and then tapped out his ashes into the tray sitting on the table.
"All right, fine. What else do I have to lose?"
About a half hour later, Sanji sighed and cocked an eyebrow at Usopp.
"You're counting cards, aren't you?"
Usopp shook his head, his eyes never leaving the table. "I swear I'm not doing anything. It's just happening."
Zoro grinned and finished off the bottle of wine Sanji had brought in for him as Usopp slid his card forward. Jack of hearts. Add that to the ace he already had, and it gave Zoro a perfect twenty-one.
Sanji sighed again and slumped over the table, his head drooped between his folded arms. "I should have known better than to play cards with you. You're the luckiest person I've ever met."
Zoro shrugged. "You could always ask for another hit, you only have seventeen."
"He's doubled down," Usopp said, "he's not allowed any more cards."
"He's won four out of five rounds and he doesn't even understand the rules." Sanji's posture made it seem like he was upset, but when Zoro glanced at him, the cook was actually smiling.
"I'm not even going to pretend that this isn't completely baffling," Usopp scooped up the cards and began shuffling one-handed. His other hand was still holding the ice bag against his face.
Sanji sighed and stretched before he stood slowly and started gathering glasses and the empty wine bottle. "It was fun guys, but I think I'll just admit defeat now. It's late."
"Yeah, I'm pretty beat," Usopp put the cards into their box and slipped them deftly into his pocket. "I think my chance of concussion is pretty low, so I'll head out. Can I leave the ice pack, Sanji?"
"Yeah," the cook said over his shoulder, "I'll get it. Just leave it on the table."
Usopp shot Zoro a look before he stood and headed towards the door. Zoro, assuming Usopp needed to tell him something, followed and slipped outside behind the younger man.
"What?" he asked.
"I only rigged two of those games," Usopp said softly. "You really are the luckiest jerk on the planet."
Zoro grinned. "Thanks, Usopp. I promise it'll be worth it."
"It better, my face feels like it got hit by a train."
Chuckling, Zoro slipped back into the galley. Sanji was still rinsing glasses at the sink and heard him come in. He glanced over his shoulder.
"I thought you were heading to bed."
"I thought you were heading to bed," Zoro retorted.
Sanji shrugged his shoulders. "Not really tired."
Zoro pushed the chairs back in place around the table and wiped everything down with the rag Sanji had waiting on the counter. When he finished, he folded the cloth in half and was about to drape it over the drying wrack, the way he had seen Sanji do it a thousand times, but he froze when he found Sanji leaning against the sink and watching him.
Sanji put an unlit cigarette between his lips. "Thank you," he said softly.
Zoro shrugged and leaned against the counter directly across from the cook. He could see the fatigue in Sanji clearly now that he was looking for it. The bags under his eyes, the slump in his shoulders, how had he not noticed before? Now that he was seeing it, it was so obvious. The swordsman looked away, down at the floor as a small flicker of shame fluttered in his chest.
"You're taking your losses pretty well, cook," he said to fill the space.
He heard Sanji scoff softly. "I'm just getting used to it."
Zoro wondered if that was true. There was a thought in the back of his head, a fear maybe, that Sanji was just getting more and more discouraged and this was all for nothing. But at the same time, Zoro knew that Sanji was not the type of person to give in. Even if the situation was completely dire, the stubborn cook would keep fighting.
That fear was still there as he straightened and hung the rag on the drying rack, but at least he could push it out of his mind for now. There were other things to worry about at the moment.
Like how nervous he suddenly was.
"I'm gonna ask you something," Zoro said softly, "and I want you to be honest with me."
Sanji sighed and slid his hands into his pockets. "Are you making this your prize for winning this last bet?"
Zoro raised an eyebrow. "If that's what it's going to take for you to be honest with me, yeah."
Sanji closed his eyes and a small smile pulled at his mouth. He shook his head.
"Out with it."
Zoro put his hands on the counter behind him to steady himself. He couldn't understand why there was such a terrible knot in his stomach, or why his knees were getting a little weak. Or maybe he did understand a little.
"What would you have done if you had won tonight?" Zoro let that sink in for a moment before he added, "What would be your prize?"
Sanji's eyes opened but they stayed fixed on the floor. He seemed frozen for a few long seconds but then he shifted and pushed his hands deeper into his pockets.
"I don't know," he said softly.
"You don't know," Zoro murmured, "or you don't want to tell me?"
"What does it matter?" Sanji asked. He looked up at Zoro then, his visible eye dark and sad. "I didn't win, you did. So never mind what I would want."
"Ah, so there is something you want."
Sanji rolled his eyes and pushed off the sink. "It would probably be something stupid like washing dishes and mopping the floors. I'd have you catch the fish out of the aquarium or move stuff around when I'm organizing the storage room or something. Stuff that's easy but it'd be nice if I didn't have to do it every day."
"You organize the storage room every day?"
Sanji started laughing again. Had it been another day, another morning, and Sanji hadn't been so tired, Zoro was sure he would have growled at him, or shouted, or started a fight. Was the cook really so emotionally compromised that he was low-key hysterically laughing at everything now?
"You probably should lie down, cook," Zoro said softly.
Snickering, Sanji pulled his hands from his pockets and pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, probably."
"I mean it," Zoro said, "come on." He straightened and moved around the sink and past the table. Sanji watched him cautiously for a moment but finally gave in and followed. When Zoro pulled out the hidden bed in the couch, Sanji kicked off his shoes and emptied his pockets.
"You gonna tuck me in, Marimo?"
"If that's what it takes," Zoro murmured. "Where's the blanket?"
Sanji pointed to a low cupboard by one of the portholes and Zoro retrieved a few extra pillows and the thick, blue quilt that was kept inside. This wouldn't be the first time Zoro had put someone to sleep on the pull-out. Chopper and Usopp both used it whenever there was a party in the galley and they ended up too drunk or too tired to make it back to the boy's cabin.
When Sanji hit the mattress, he sighed deeply and folded his hands together across his chest. His voice was quiet when he murmured, "Thanks, man. Would you mind getting the lights before you leave?"
Zoro was about to tease him, say something crass or completely inappropriate because that's what the two of them did together, but then he turned and looked at Sanji lying there, his handsome face haggard, exhausted.
No, not tonight. Any plans or wishes the swordsman had harbored about what would or could happen before the morning, disappeared when he saw the way Sanji's body sagged into the pillows. Sanji really was done in and it was mostly Zoro's fault. Even if Sanji was in an approachable mood at that moment, any attempts at anything besides just leaving him alone and letting him rest would no doubt backfire.
Besides, he had breakfast in a few hours, and he had a prize coming from their latest bet. He could wait.
With that, Zoro turned and stepped out of the galley, and closed the door behind him.
"So, these have raisins and these here are plain?"
Sanji nodded as he poured coffee into two large mugs. "Well, not technically. The ones on your right are au beurre, made with butter. Croissants aren't always made with butter."
Zoro grunted approvingly and took a croissant from each of the two baskets Sanji had brought up from the galley. It was an interesting breakfast, just the bread, a little fruit jam, and coffee, but Sanji had insisted that it was the way you ate them. At least at breakfast time.
When the swordsman's fingers pulled apart the croissant, he found it nothing like the bread Sanji made on the regular. It was extremely soft on the inside, and flakey. When he was finished examining it, he put a piece in his mouth and was amazed with how quickly it melted over his tongue. It was almost like the cotton candy Chopper had made him try a few years ago, only more substantial and not as sweet. It was soft and warm, and he could taste the butter and what was probably honey.
"Holy shit…" he said, stuffing another piece into his mouth.
Sanji grinned and handed him his coffee. "Kind of weird seeing you excited about something other than meat or booze."
Zoro sipped at the hot coffee and glanced down at the different colored jars on the platter. "This all jam?"
Nodding, Sanji took a small knife and pointed at jars as he named the flavors "This one is apricot, this one is apple, blueberry, and this one is strawberry."
After a few minutes of sampling, Zoro found he liked the apricot jam with the plain croissant, and the blueberry on the raisin croissant the best. He liked the apple, but not as much, and the strawberry was a little too sweet for his taste.
"You know," he said as he licked crumbs from his thumb, "I never ate jam before I met you."
Sanji's eyes came up from his own croissant and the cook looked at him with such surprise Zoro found himself chuckling.
"What?" Sanji asked. "You didn't eat it regularly, or you'd never eaten it before period?"
"I tried it once, just a little dab on a spoon—it was raspberry or something—but I didn't like it. I was always eating rice and fish so there wasn't really much to eat it with anyway."
Sanji's gaze dropped and he started slowly running the tip of his pointer finger around the rim of his coffee mug. A smile was forming on his lips as he teased, "Sorry for forcing it on you."
Zoro shook his head and scoffed. "Shame on you."
They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes, drinking their coffee and, in Zoro's case, stuffing his face with the rest of the croissants. When the food was gone, Sanji started closing up the jars and stacking the little breakfast plates.
"Zoro," he said softly.
"About last night… I wanted to thank you."
Zoro cocked an eyebrow. "For what?"
Teeth flashed in a wide grin. "The card game, the bet, making me go to bed. I'm just… thank you for the distraction. I appreciate it."
"You should thank Usopp," Zoro said, "he's the reason it happened."
"Oh, is he?" Sanji's look was sly as he stood and picked up the tray.
Okay, he had always known Sanji was sharp, but Zoro hadn't expected him to suspect last night had been anything but a coincidence.
"I hope you're gonna do something nice for Usopp since he let you hit him."
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," Zoro said as he stood and opened the trap door. Sanji held the tray in one hand and slipped the other into his pocket to fish out his pack. Shaking one out he put it between his lips and put the pack back in his pocket. He didn't light it, he merely stood looking down at the rope ladder and the deck below them.
"You thought about what you want for your win last night?"
Zoro nodded but when he said nothing, Sanji cocked his head to the side. "…and?"
"I'll uh…" Zoro cleared his throat, "I'll tell you later tonight. I'll stay after dinner and help with the dishes."
Sanji's eyebrow raised and he smiled around the cigarette. "Wow, I'm not gonna pass that up. Okay, Marimo, I'll see you later."
When the cook was down the rope ladder, Zoro shut the trap door and ran his hands over his face. He had roughly eleven hours before dinner. Plenty of time to rest, train, take a shower, and maybe mess around with Luffy for a while.
It was a regular day. Totally normal, nothing out of the ordinary…
…except, holy shit he was nervous.
Afternoon came and went, and evening set in. The sun started to race towards the horizon, it's blazing yellow turned to smoldering reds and golds that burned across the surface of the water for miles. Zoro watched the waves, contemplating his situation and wondering if the last week had been a terrible idea.
Maybe he should have just been straightforward. What's the worst that could have happened? He knew Sanji had feelings for him, so why had he not just made a move, been straight up about how the feelings were mutual? This whole ridiculous, convoluted game could have been avoided and he wouldn't be here now, crippled with the very real possibility that he might have blown the whole thing. Shit, why hadn't he just…
The wind blew through his hair and Zoro took a breath.
No, he knew why the game had to be played, and he knew why he wouldn't have been able to approach the cook about it right off the bat. He wasn't stupid. Sanji might have had feelings for him, but that didn't mean that the cook liked him.
Did Sanji like him now? Did he feel more comfortable being around him? Was a week enough time to change something like that?
Well, Zoro supposed, I guess we're about to find out.
Dinner was chaos as usual, but a good kind of chaos. Luffy stuffed his face and made a mess of everything as Usopp and Chopper tried to keep their food out of reach. The girls tried to hold conversations with each other and sometimes Franky, and Brook strummed his guitar and sang "Bink's Sake" between bouts of laughter and huge bites of food that went nowhere, or at least, that's what it looked like to Zoro.
Midway through the meal, Zoro's attention wandered and he found himself watching Sanji as he talked and laughed and shouted at the crew from the other side of the counter. It was normal for Sanji to be working through the meal, it was his job to feed the crew after all, but Zoro wondered when the cook got to eat. Did he sneak something in before he called everyone into the galley? Or did he make a plate after everyone else was gone? It was kind of a mystery.
"…and bowling would make it perfect!" Luffy was saying as Zoro's attention came back to the table.
"I don't know, Luffy," Usopp rubbed at his face, "last time we played we lost most of the pins overboard. Maybe we should wait unit we reach land."
"Aw, then what are we going to do?"
"Basketball!" Chopper shouted. "It would be similar to bowling, just instead of throwing Luffy at the pins, we throw him into a net!"
Franky was nodding at the other end of the table. "I like that idea. This way we don't lose any parts overboard."
"Count me in," Robin smiled, "I think I can make this work to my advantage."
"You can only use two hands, Robin!" Usopp laughed.
"Yeah! This'll be great!" Luffy was standing in his chair now. "How 'bout it, Zoro? You in?"
Zoro looked up at his captain and smiled. "Naw, sorry, Luffy. I promised the cook I'd help with dishes."
Everyone got quiet for a moment and Zoro suddenly regretted his honesty. He glanced over at Sanji, who had frozen in the middle of whatever he was doing. His face had gone a little red and he was staring at something on the countertop that was apparently very interesting.
"Oh, you did, huh?" Nami asked.
Zoro shrugged. "Unless he doesn't want my help."
Sanji looked up then and made a face. "You do what you want, Marimo."
Turning back to Luffy, Zoro spread his hands wide. "I promised him."
Luffy hopped down from his chair. "Hey, a promise is a promise. I'm sure Sanji appreciates it, Zoro." He stopped and motioned to the others sitting around the table. "We can play the first couple games without you guys."
The conversation picked back up after that. Brook began to sing again, and Usopp got to his feet and ran out the galley door on a mission to find out if they had a net they would use for a goal. "If not, I'll just make one real quick!" he had shouted as he disappeared.
Now, the galley was empty, save for Zoro and Sanji. The cook was still at the counter, consolidating leftovers and labeling the containers. When Zoro stood to start clearing the plates, Sanji spoke but didn't look up.
"I didn't realize you offer to do dishes was actually an oath swearing on your life."
Zoro snorted and brought the stack of plates to the sink. "Didn't feel like playing basketball."
"Hm well, lucky me, I guess."
A few minutes passed quietly, the only sounds were the running of the water in the sink and Sanji moving around collecting wine and cola bottles and glasses. Zoro felt the cook move up beside him, but he didn't turn from his task. His heart was starting to beat hard in his chest and he didn't need the extra stress of watching Sanji on top of it. Not that watching Sanji was stressful, actually it was rather relaxing normally, but today it was not. Just the thought of glancing sideways and seeing the way the cook's blond hair fell into his eyes or the way his fingers curved around the stem of a wine glass made it hard to swallow.
"Zoro," Sanji said quietly.
Zoro almost dropped the dish he was rinsing. What the hell was wrong with him? He grunted in response, his throat was still dry.
When a handful of seconds had passed and Sanji still hadn't said anything, Zoro chanced a sideways look and his breath caught. Sanji had his hands on the edge of the sink and he was leaning on them, watching Zoro with eyes as blue and clear as a cloudless day in summertime. There was nothing in his posture that was aggressive, and his stance was calm, but there was something in the air that Zoro caught on to the moment he locked eyes with that powerful gaze.
Zoro cleared his throat and gripped the dish in his hands as if it was a lifeline.
"What?" he murmured.
Sanji blinked once, slowly, like a cat.
"Did you cheat every time?"
There was no point in arguing, Zoro had planned on explaining his actions this evening anyway, and it was probably best to get out ahead of everything, especially now that Sanji had no doubt concocted something crazy in his mind.
"I actually won those card games last night," Zoro said softly, and then when Sanji's eyebrow lifted he made a face. "Most of them."
Turning back to the sink, Sanji took a dish from the rinsing water and a towel from the rack at his side. He said nothing, and his stance continued to be nonthreatening as he started dying the plates. Zoro was confused.
"That's it?" he asked. "You're not gonna yell or stomp on me or something?"
"Was that the plan?" Sanji asked. "Get me mad?"
"No! That wasn't…" Zoro trailed off when he realized the lie he was about to tell. "Okay, that might have been part of it. I do like it when you're mad, but it wasn't the important part. At first, I just wanted your food, and I wanted you to serve it to me like you always serve the girls. But then it turned into this thing where I wanted an excuse for us to get past the petty shit so we could talk or whatever and I could show you that I don't… hate you."
He sounded fucking stupid. This whole thing was fucking stupid. Why hadn't he just been straightforward? Now he looked like a fucking asshole and—
Sanji's long fingers slid over his and tapped him. Zoro's heart skipped a beat and he looked down where their hands were touching.
"You're gonna break it," Sanji said softly.
Zoro was holding a glass so tightly his knuckles were white. Another few seconds and it would have shattered in his grasp. He relaxed his hold and let Sanji take it from him. Then the cook took the drying rag and gently wiped the soapy water from Zoro's hands and forearms.
"I'm sorry…" Sanji whispered.
The apology left Zoro dumbstruck. "Sorry for what?"
Sanji shrugged and fixed his stare down somewhere at Zoro's shoulder. "For being… unapproachable. I'm sorry my attitude made you scared to just come to me."
"I wasn't scared," Zoro growled.
"You were something."
Heart pounding, stomach tied in knots, Zoro had to admit that Sanji was right. Maybe he had just been scared? Maybe he was the one that hadn't been ready to approach Sanji and not the other way around. Maybe all of this had just been an elaborate game to woo himself to the idea.
Shit, maybe he was just an idiot.
"I overheard your conversation with Usopp in the supply room."
Sanji flinched at that, just the smallest movement in his palms. "I figured it was something like that."
Zoro glanced down and realized that Sanji was still holding his wrists gently, so he took the rag and tossed it on the counter. Then he turned back and carefully touched his fingertips to Sanji's.
"I didn't mean to eavesdrop, and I wanted to come to you, but we just weren't in the right place. I know now that you didn't hate me, but you said some stuff that made it seem that way and I didn't know what else to do. The bets were just… the only thing I could think of to get closer to you.
Sanji's eyes lifted then and met Zoro's gaze straight on. He seemed confused, and then sad.
"I hated the way I felt. I never hated you. It's been really hard this last week because you were suddenly interested in me—in stuff that I do, and you were nice and asked me all these questions like you… I don't know. I couldn't get my head around it and it was driving me crazy."
Zoro felt a tremble in his spine and he lifted one hand to run his thumb across Sanji's jaw.
"I'm sorry I went about it all wrong. I just wanted to tell you I'm in love with you without you trying to kick me through a wall."
If he had meant to say anything else, he didn't get a chance. Sanji's hands went to his waist, pulling him close, and before Zoro could do anything about it, Sanji leaned in and kissed him.
Zoro's breath caught, or maybe it was stolen from him. Sanji's mouth was warm and soft and before Zoro could get his bearings, Sanji slipped his tongue between his lips. Zoro felt a shudder through his body, a tingling sensation that made the tips of his fingers and toes hum. His cock was rock hard and pressed into Sanji's thigh as the cook backed him up against the fridge door. He felt the cool metal against his shoulders and then his lower back as Sanji leaned his body against him. Zoro tried to kiss back but he felt awkward and clumsy compared to Sanji's lazy, effortless caress.
"The dishes…" he murmured dumbly when Sanji pulled away.
Sanji smiled against his mouth. "Dishes can wait."
With that, the cook took his hand and turned, pulling Zoro through the kitchen, past the sink and bar, past the dining table, and towards the door at the back marked "Storage". It was not the same storage room where Zoro had overheard Sanji and Usopp's conversation, but the irony was not lost on him. Not even with the way his head was spinning.
Inside was dark, but after Sanji closed the door behind them, he struck a match and lit a lantern that was sitting on a barrel. The space was thrown into soft orange light, creating shadows behind shelves and around crates. Suddenly the place seemed endless, even more so than when it had been dark and formless.
"I um…" Zoro started but did not get a chance to finish. Sanji's hands found the neck of his robe and pushed the thick fabric from his shoulders.
"I still owe you for the bet last night."
Zoro's lungs felt tight as he tried to speak. "What if we ate breakfast tomorrow morning naked?"
Sanji laughed, and Zoro didn't want to talk anymore.
Making quick work of Zoro's clothes, Sanji placed his swords on a nearby shelf and discarded the robe and haramaki on the floor by the door. Zoro had trouble with Sanji's tie and the buttons on his shirt, but the cook's fingers took over and after a flutter of movement, he was bare from the waist up.
Their shoes clattered on the wooden planks loudly and Sanji chuckled at the noise. Zoro was too distracted by the way the light reflected off of Sanji's skin to be bothered with how loud they were being.
When he undid Sanji's belt and started to slip the slacks down over those lean, powerful hips, Zoro slowed. He lowered his gaze and watched as every inch of pale flesh was slowly revealed. He felt the buckle of his own belt being undone, and his own slacks sliding to the floor, but he couldn't tear his eyes away from Sanji's body, his amazingly long legs, his toned hips, and his thick, heavy cock.
He ran a hand up Sanji's thigh and traced over that straining flesh with his fingertips. He heard Sanji make a low noise in the back of his throat, and then he was being pulled forward. The cook's back hit the shelves, rattling cans and knocking over a box of something or other, and then Sanji was kissing him again. Harder this time, more urgent. His hands found Zoro's hair and pulled, he ground up, crushing Zoro's length into the hard V of Sanji's hip. Zoro groaned and felt a dizzying wave of want and arousal wash over him. It was unlike anything he had ever experienced before.
His hands splayed out over Sanji's chest, his thumbs grazed over the hard buds of Sanji's nipples and the cook made another one of those wonderful noises in the back of his throat. Zoro tore himself away from Sanji's mouth and kissed down his jaw and then his neck. He smelled like soy sauce and garlic, and soap, and clean clothes, and Zoro breathed him in deeply as he buried his face into the curve where neck met shoulder.
"You smell good," Zoro breathed.
Sanji kissed the top of his head. "So do you."
He felt Sanji shifting and then the cook was tapping on his shoulder. He looked up and found Sanji opening a small container filled with a light cream.
"It's salve," Sanji said softly, "for when I burn myself."
"Oh," Zoro said dumbly and tensed as Sanji ran his fingers through it and set it back on the shelf behind them. Then he lowered his hand to Zoro's cock. The swordsman let out a silent ah as Sanji stroked him slowly, coating him with the cool salve.
"Lift me up," Sanji said, and Zoro did. He gripped the backs of Sanji's thighs and lifted the other man easily, pushing him against the shelf. He felt those powerful legs come around his waist and then he shuddered again as his slick cock slid against warm skin.
Sanji put a hand up and gripped a shelf for support, and then wrapped his other arm around Zoro's neck. They said nothing as Zoro took himself in his hand and slowly pressed up into Sanji's body. Zoro couldn't stop himself from groaning again as heat and velvety softness closed around him. He felt Sanji's lips on his cheeks and forehead, and he heard the desperate pants as the cook tried to keep himself from crying out. He paused, not wanting to cause more discomfort than was necessary, but Sanji's legs came around him tighter and he whispered, "Don't stop."
Another flash of heat and a bolt of pleasure rocketed through Zoro's body and he started to move before he was fully seated. He thrust up, bracing one hand on the shelf for leverage, and wrapped the other arm around Sanji's thigh for support. Sanji arched and growled a curse under his breath but met those thrusts with powerful rolls of his hips. Cans fell to the floor as the shelf was slammed against the wall over and over. Containers tipped over, and Zoro might have heard something shatter, but he paid it no mind. He knew nothing, felt nothing but Sanji. The cook was panting, whispering his name into his ear, holding him so tightly and rocking so deliciously over his cock Zoro felt he would never be able to feel anything else ever again.
When he came it was like a tidal wave. His pleasure broke him open, spilled out from every pore, pulling the strength from his legs. He emptied himself into Sanji, growling low and breathless into a sweet mouth that was whispering beautiful, dirty things. He felt teeth on his lip, biting into his flesh, and then Sanji's frame went taut. Zoro thrust a few times gently as the cook came apart, stroking himself roughly. Zoro looked down and watched Sanji's cock twitch and then spill over his hand, and then dizzy, amazed, and already hungry for more, Zoro lifted his head and met Sanji's eyes.
Sanji was gasping for air, looking down at him like he was something extraordinary, something unexpected, and that look, more than anything else, did Zoro in. He kissed Sanji's lips and slid both his arms around the other man's hips. He held the cook there and sank carefully to his knees, letting Sanji's body rest on his lap and against the shelf.
"Love you…" Sanji said looking down at him with eyes that were finally content. Happy.
"Love you too," Zoro whispered.
They stayed that way for a while, kissing touching, marveling in the knowledge that after so much confusion, they had finally found common ground. Then Sanji straightened and ran his fingers through Zoro's sweaty hair.
"We broke a lot of shit," he smiled.
"Hm," Zoro hummed, "worth it?"
Sanji chuckled, "Yeah, definitely worth it."
When they emerged from the galley a little later, the rest of the crew was just finishing up their third game of basketball. After Usopp was done explaining the rules, Zoro was sure that whatever they were playing was so far from anything even resembling what he thought was basketball, he just started laughing.
"What's funny?" Usopp pouted.
"Nothing," Zoro said, wiping a tear from his eye, "I'm just in a good mood."
"Yeah?" Usopp's eyebrows rose into his hair line. "You guys were in there for a long time. You uh… figure some stuff out?"
Zoro nodded. "Yeah. I'm an idiot."
Usopp laughed. "Well, I'm sure Sanji already knew that."
Zoro shoved playfully at Usopp's shoulder and moved towards the area the crew had set up for the games. Luffy was wrapped up in a ball and laughing so hard he had tears trickling from his eyes. Sanji caught the flying captain and turned to Zoro.
"Hey, Marimo! I bet I can score more points than you before someone breaks something!"
Zoro grinned. "Oh, you're on, cook."