Sanji had heard once that the ocean had a voice, when nights were calm and the air held itself in a reverent pause, that whispered its aged secrets to those few who were patient enough to look into its dark depth and listen. He couldn't remember who had told him this; the clearness of the memory lost before puberty, but he could still remember how much he had believed with a belief as strong in its infant stage as the belief he held, and still holds, of All Blue.

He spent many young nights sneaking out along the abandon decks of that ship after the other cooks and kitchen help had went to bed. He had sat with his face pressed up against the smooth railing, feeling the spray of the midnight sea gentling raising tiny bumps on his chilled skin. He sat for hours, staring out into the silk and waves, listening to its echoing slap against the side of the boat as it continued its cut across water. He wanted so badly to hear that voice calling out its ancient mysteries, because he knew, deep down in the fragile place where the expectations of youth lay, if only for a short while, sacred and guarded, that he would be guided to the waters of All Blue by the knowledge in that voice.

But no matter how much he sat there, staring out into the deepness of the sea, no whisper ever called to guide him. And he came to realize that voices in the ocean were not to be found in its murky depths, but from the mouths of foolish men who boasted and bragged on the decks of the boat where he worked in the kitchens. And of course, these voices were never anything more than idiotic exaggerations of sailing adventures that were spilled out in slurs and on tainted breath that painted the sailors as kings of the sea, as they pretended not to understand their vast insignificance when compared to the greatness of the waters of the world.

And so he stopped listening for that voice; stopped believing that the sea was a thing that was willing to speak its words to man, and moved on to other things as he continued his climb out of childhood. But he still believed in All Blue, still believed in the wonder of the sea even if it remained silent, and still believed, though he would never admit it, that when he looked into the eyes of that old man, he believed the faded colors reflected the wisdom of the waters.

Sanji walked from the kitchen of The Going Merry into the cool night air. He had spent hours alone in the kitchen, perfecting a special desert that he was planning on surprising Nami with the next day. The deck of the ship was uncharacteristically silent, so the chef guessed that the rest of the crew had already gone to bed. He himself was far from tired, as hopes of Nami's appreciation for receiving the special culinary gift danced before his heart-shaped eyes as he anticipated the next day. Tomorrow would be the day when the beautiful young woman would cast off her mask of indifference and display her affection in the face of his love and generosity.

"If you keep walking around like that, you're going to fall over the rail."

The hearts vanished from his eyes as quickly as they had appeared, as he looked around for the source of that annoying voice. Zoro stood with his back against the sea and the moon, in a deceptively casual lean against the ship's railing. The swordsman's arms were crossed against the broadness of his chest, with his lips turned in an amused smirk.

"Mind your own business", the cook shot back reflexively, irritated to have his good mood shot to hell by the condescending tone in the swordsman's voice. But he couldn't really expect the other man to understand the effects of love, if the way Zoro treated women was any indication. Sanji couldn't fathom how someone could be around feminine beauty and not want to fall to his knees in admiration. From what he had seen, it seemed Zoro considered Nami's greatest asset to be her, well, navigation skills!

"What are you still doing up at this hour? I've never seen you have any trouble getting to sleep. Ever."

"Just thinking."

"What made you decide to start that now?"

Heat flashed in the swordsman's eyes, and Sanji felt his gut tighten as it always did at the sight, but instead of the expected explosion of anger, Zoro turned, rested his arms across the railing, and focused his gaze on the calm sea.

"Something's up with Luffy. Something's bothering him."

Sanji sighed, and leaned with his back to the railing, mimicking the earlier stance of the other man. He pulled out a cigarette; feeling he was going to need a nicotine fix for the upcoming conversation.

"What makes you say that? He was acting fine earlier. Running around like an idiot as usual."

"I don't know, exactly. It's just a feeling I get, that something is on his mind, but he's not talking."

Zoro seemed to understand their captain better than anyone else, so if he felt that something was off, then he was most likely right. But instead of feeling concern, the chef felt a sudden flash of unexpected irritation at the other man's show of worry. He found himself striking out without thinking.

"Sometimes I think that you have a case of hero worship for our rubber man. Or perhaps a little bit of a crush?"

As soon as the words were spoken, Sanji wished he could take them back. Because as much as he enjoyed baiting the green-haired man, even he knew that he had just crossed a line. Which made him a little nervous, because if the two of them ever came to serious blows, the cook wasn't quite sure that he would be the one to win.

"Nah. These days, I think I prefer blondes."

In addition to his gut, Sanji felt his whole body tense up in response to the soft way the words were spoken. He was suddenly afraid to look in Zoro's direction, and the cook was rarely afraid of anything in life. He felt like he had the day he followed Luffy from the only true home he had ever known, from the only true family; like he was walking blind, that no matter where the future would take him, it would be abruptly different then what he had known before.

Words shouldn't have the power to change life. Words did that and more.

"You know, when I was a little kid, I overheard some jack-asses talking some crap about the sea actually talking to people. So I use to sit up, listening real hard, trying to hear it."

It seemed completely unfair that the other man could continue onto his next thought after what he had implied. Well, Sanji didn't know quite what he had implied, but it was enough to make the cook feel irrationally nervous. Not that the blonde knew why it did, or knew anything else at that moment, other than the fact that Zoro had said something that was probably going to lead the chef to have an early stroke on the deck of this stupid ship, while the green-haired son-of-a-bitch just blabbered on about nonsense without a care in the world.

He was damned if he was going to let the big idiot make a fool out of him. No one did cool and casual like he did. After convincing himself that his voice WASN'T going to crack, he started to talk again.

"Yeah, I heard that when I was a kid, too. How long did it take for you to realize that was a bunch of bullshit?"

He was almost right about the voice.

"Who said I believe its bullshit?"

Sanji finally turned and looked at the other man incredulously.

"You're kidding me. Don't even try to tell me that you're still waiting for the sea to open up and start babbling stories to you."

Zoro chuckled lightly.

"Nah, not really. 'Cause it took me a little while, but I figured something out. The water isn't gonna grown a mouth and start talking. But it still talks to you."

Sanji shook his head in disbelief, and began to wonder if this was all a dream, as surreal as the night had become, and he was actually back in his hammock dreaming some idiotic dream featuring a philosophizing swordsman and talking water. If that was true, then he was pretty pissed at himself for dreaming like this, and not dreaming something a lot closer to his usual dreams of choice; mostly involving Nami in a bikini holding a sword. Wait, not a sword. Where did that come from?

He considered asking Zoro to pinch him to make certain that he wasn't sleeping, but didn't, because he was pretty sure he didn't want to risk any touching at the moment. So, instead, he snapped out,


Maddenly, the other man's eyes never left the surface of the water as he answered him softly.

"People listen with this to hear its voice"

Zoro reached up and tapped gently on his own ear. The gold earrings sounded like tiny wind chimes when they moved together.

"But the sea only talks to this."

His hand moved down and tapped three times, softly, above his heart. Sanji watched, enraptured with the movement, not thinking of hidden scars.

When he looked up, Zoro's eyes were fixed on him, and the intensity of the gaze was similar to the one he had seen the swordsman cast on his opponents moments before the killing blow.

But this was not violence, but something close.

He found himself whispering, "What does it say?"

The other man smiled a predatory smile that made Sanji think about jumping over the railing that he was backed against to get away. It made him think of.not.

The swordsman leaned in, and there was hardly any space between them now. Zoro's mouth just about touched Sanji's ear when he spoke in a low rough voice that caused the light dusting of blonde hair down Sanji's body to stand in anticipation.

"Well, that's between me and the sea. What does it say to you?"

The chef didn't know how he could breathe with Zoro so close. He sure as hell couldn't think, and he ended up saying the only words that would move past his lips.

"Blonde girls, right?!?"

The bastard. Laughed. In his face.

He could still hear the echo of laughter long after the other man had turned and left, leaving him frozen against the railing; his flesh warm against the cool breeze from the sea.


To be continued.