Sanji had a plan.

Well, in all honesty, it was kind of also Zoro's plan, he supposed, but it was * mostly * HIS plan, since he was the one who figured out that they needed a plan in the first place ---

Wait, this is getting confusing already. Back up a few steps.

Sanji and Zoro had this "thing" between them. If it sounds a little vague, then, well, that's because it was. Is. But not for long. Thus, the PLAN.

The Going Merry, as large as it was, seemed to be constantly over-run with its mostly rowdy crew, as small as it was, and this phenomenon tended to make it virtuously impossible for two adult men to find any sort of private time required to discuss any "things" that have been developing between them. So, knowing that the crew was due for a pit stop in the next port that they came across, the two men had decided that they would meet up to discuss things in private.

And today was the day.

It was all worked out; they were going to leave the ship separately and then meet back up. As Sanji watched the dock growing closer, he grew more and more nervous, but determined. He stole a glance at Zoro who was standing not too far from him, and had to look away quickly when he felt the sudden urge to lose his lunch on his freshly shined shoes.

Christ, he doubted that he had ever been so nervous about anything in his entire life. He had no idea of how the upcoming discussion was going to go, and he had a hard time picturing how he was suppose to act. How did you act romantic with another guy? It couldn't be the same as you acted with a woman, with sweet words and compliments. Could it? No. He couldn't even imagine what he would say to compliment the other man. It wasn't like he could come out and say something like //"Hey Zoro, you sure have lovely eyes."// The thought alone made him cringe, and would probably result in him getting his own eye punched.

It wasn't like it wasn't true, but such thoughts didn't come naturally when in the presence of the other man. And he was afraid that if he did go with what came naturally, he would wind up saying something more along the lines of //"Hey Zoro, I sure would like to lick maple syrup off your stomach some time."//

His thoughts were crowded as he started to leave the ship with the rest of his crewmates to make his way to the bustling town, and he wisely kept himself from stealing any more looks at the green-haired swordsman. But, the sound of raising voices soon grabbed his attention.

"Ussop! You promised me!"

Sanji could not stop from raising his head at the sound of distress in Nami's voice.

"I did not, Nami! You volunteered me without asking. I have things that I want to do here, too!"

Sanji was half expecting the artist to stomp his foot at the end of the words from the look of exasperation on his face. The cook guessed that this disagreement had been going on for a while now.

"But how am I suppose to carry all of my supplies by myself?"

Her bottom lip stuck out in a pretty pout, and Sanji could not help himself from staring at the adorable vision that was Nami. Feeling his eyes, she looked up in his direction, and the pout turned into a smile.

Uh-oh. This wasn't good.

"Never mind, Ussop. Sanji-kun-"

No. No no no no no. He had a PLAN. He was DETERMINED. He wasn't even going to let the little minx finish that thought. Looking her directly in her beautiful eyes, he squared his shoulders, and spoke with conviction.

"Whatever you want Nami-san."



She grinned broadly at him, and he cursed himself into the furthest regions of hell as he felt hearts swelling in his eyes.

"Whatever she wants, huh? Sounds like the two of you are in for an interesting afternoon."

Zoro's voice was like a bucket of ice water being poured down his back. The hearts vanished, and he looked at the other man, who was not looking at him. The swordsman walked away from them without another word.

"You know, it's amazing that we have gentleman like Sanji-kun and ill- mannered APES like Zoro in the same crew!" Nami commented making sure her voice followed the departing man.

She reached over, gently tugging on Sanji's arm. He allowed himself to be led into the crowd, feeling nothing but numbness.


After about an hour of silently following Nami from shop to shop, Sanji knew that he had to devise a way of escape. Zoro's cool detached voice followed him with every step that he took, and the cook knew that if he still had any sort of prayer of salvaging this mess that this trip had turned into, he had to go and find the other man quickly.

"Um, Nami-san, how many more places do we have to go?"

She replied without lifting her eyes from the oil lamp that she was examining.

"As many as it takes, Sanji-kun. We need to go into each shop, to make sure that we are getting the best price."

She left the shop empty-handed (again) as Sanji wordlessly followed. The late-afternoon sun was beginning to drop down into the horizon, and the blonde knew that if he was going to make a break for it, that it would require drastic measures.

"You know, Nami-san, I'm really enjoying spending this time with you."

"Mmm." was the distracted response as she scanned the square for the next shop.

He took her distraction as his opportunity, as he snaked an arm gently around her waist and pulled her light curvy body close to his. He leaned his head towards her, and took a moment to revel in her lovely feminine scent, but was able to stop himself from losing sight of his purpose for a second time that day. He spoke in a low voice while staring deep into her wide startled eyes.

"I'm so happy that you wanted to be with me today. I knew it was only a matter of time before you realized what you wanted."

He began to lower his lips to hers, and knew the impact was coming even before her dainty fist slammed into the side of his face. He loosened his grip on her as he stumbled back a few steps, allowing her to slip away.

Putting a pained expression on his face, he looked at the woman who was looking back at him annoyed, and, yes, more than a little flustered with her pale skin swept by a blush.

"Um, Sanji-kun, I think that I can handle the rest of the shopping by myself. Thanks again!"

She turned and hurried off before he had a chance to form a reply. Once she was completely out of sight, he took a second to straighten himself, and then began his search for Zoro.


As the evening grew darker, Sanji grew more and more irritated and edgy as he continued to search the crowds for the swordsman. He just could not imagine where the green-haired man could have disappeared to in the relatively small but densely populated town. He had checked every weapon shop and every tavern that he had come across (since those seemed the most logical choices of where Zoro would most likely spend his time), but so far he had no luck.

At this point, his apprehension had put him in a foul mood, and the swarm of people constantly around him was wearing on his frayed nerves. It seemed that it was impossible to take more than five steps without being bumped into, and he was afraid that he was going to lose it the next time it happened.

His internal rant was interrupted as he (surprise!) collided into yet another body. His blonde head snapped up, and he barked out,

"Will you watch where the hell you're going?!?"

And then all anger faded as he looked up into the tanned face of Zoro.


Whatever he was going to say was cut off by the other man's cool voice.

"Where's Nami-san? Doesn't she need some things carried for her or her ass kissed?"

Sanji sighed.

"Nami can carry her own stuff."

"Really? I thought that a * gentleman * would -"

"Would you just shut-up! Listen, I fucked-up, OK? I know that. Can't we just-"

"Just what, Sanji-kun? What did you have in mind to do with me tonight that you couldn't do with Nami?"

Sanji's face burned at the sleazy tone in which the words were spoken.

"I just wanted, I mean-"

Zoro lifted an eyebrow at his stumbling, but instead of easing up, he seemed to coolly enjoy the blonde's obvious embarrassment and discomfort. Sanji grew furious.

"You are such a fucking bastard! I don't need this shit. Let's just forget the whole stupid thing."

Mortified and angry, the cook tried to stalk past the other man. A hand grabbed his arm to stop him.

"Sanji-" the tone was much more gentle and tinged with regret, but the cook still cut him off with a cool hiss.

"If you don't take your goddamn hand off of me right now, I will break it. I swear to God."

His arm was released, and Zoro took a wise step back.

Sanji ran a frustrated hand through his hair, trying to bank his anger. Both men stood there for a moment, as the crowd moved around them.

"I'm getting something to eat. You can come if you want." said Zoro looking off to the side.

"Sure. Whatever." Sanji replied to his shoes.


They walked along in silence for a while in search of a suitable looking tavern, still cloaked in uncomfortable silence. The sounds of laughter and catcalls drew their attention, as they passed by a couple kissing passionately across the dimly lit street. Sanji glanced at them, and was about to turn away when he noticed that his companion was still staring at the couple, with an odd expression in his eyes. The cook looked back at the pair, and it was then he realized that the smaller form that was wrapped in the arms of the tall darkly dressed man, was in fact, a man himself.

The cook put his head down and walked on, cursing the blush that was singeing his cheeks. The entire point of this so far bumpy evening came rushing back to him, and his nerves began to once again eat at his stomach.

"That's just disgusting. Why do they have to carry on like that in public? Don't they care what other people think of them?" the swordsman commented, nodding his head back towards the passionate couple.

Startled, and more than a little irritated by the words and tone with all things considered, Sanji stopped suddenly at a bakery stand they were passing and picked up an item from the counter.

"Creampuff?" Sanji asked with mock innocence, hiding a smile, while holding the pastry under the swordsman's nose.

He received a glare in return, as the other man stalked ahead of him. Smirking, he set down the baked good. He gave a lazy wink to the blushing sales girl, feeling better than he had in hours, and then went to catch up with the fuming man.

He followed him onto a rather dubious looking tavern, and as seedy as it had looked from the outside, the inside was every bit as grimy. They sat there nonetheless, and ordered food and drinks. Lots of drinks.

The time at the tavern was spent with edgy silence interrupted occasionally with stunted conversation. As much as the chef drank, he felt a small amount of disappointment that he hardly felt the effects of the alcohol. He imagined that this night would be a lot more bearable intoxicated.

Across from him, Zoro was eating his meal without interruption, and Sanji fought down the juvenile urge that was prompting him to stick out his tongue at the other man. The food here was beyond gross, yet the swordsman ate it just the same as he would eat Sanji's masterful cooking on The Going Merry. The cook felt oddly insulted by this.

A movement caught his eye, and he felt bile rise as he watched a small little bug scurry down a crack in their tabletop.

"OK, that's it. We have to get out of here. This place is beyond disgusting."

"Yeah, well, I'm sure Nami would have picked a more suitable place for your delicate tastes."

Sanji barely stopped himself from throwing what little flatware he had been given at the other man.

"Look, I already said that I was sorry about that. What the hell do you want?"

"I thought that's what we were here to talk about, isn't it?"

"Yeah, but I don't see that happening until you stop acting all jealous."

Zoro threw down his fork and gave him a hard glare.

"I am NOT jealous."


"No. Its just that---I mean, you can't just keep running after Nami all the time."

"Why not?"

The question was not asked in anger, but in a tired and defeated tone. Sanji sighed, and looked down at the dirty tabletop. This whole night wasn't getting them anywhere, and he was no less confused and uncertain than he had been that first night against the railing. He had come here seeking answers, but was beginning to realize that he wasn't even certain what question he was asking. An uncomfortable silence fell between the men.

"This is a date. We are on a date." Zoro announced suddenly with conviction, shocking the living hell out of Sanji.

"Its -- it's a what? We are?!?!? Since when? How-"

"We're in a restaurant, eating a meal, and I'm paying. It's a date." The swordsman confirmed with a nod.

"* You're * paying?"

Sanji's open palm slammed down hard on the gritty table, rattling the dishes.


Heads snapped to them in all directions at the aggravated yell, and silence fell like a surprise rain. Sanji had no color to him now, and never wanted to melt into and become part of a chair so badly in his entire life.

Zoro dropped his head into his hand, and after a moment's pause, called out into the dead quiet,

"Can we have the check, please?"

Then, he took his hand away from his face, looked at Sanji's clearly mortified form, shifted his gaze up to Heaven, and added,

"And can we get that split?"

The silence was shattered by the swordsman's deep bellowing laughter.

Sanji just stared at the hysterical man, unable to make the jump back to coherent thought.

He finally felt a presence by his elbow, and saw that a serving girl was standing near him, looking at the laughing swordsman warily.

"Um, I don't remember how many drinks each of you had to split-"

Her soft, nervous voice trailed off as Sanji reached out and gingerly took her hand. He pressed his lips softly to its surface in a lingering kiss, and although he did not shift his eyes from the now entranced girl, he heard the laughter at the other end of the table fade and drop away. When there was silence once again, he spoke.

"Well then, Lovely, could you at least bring one of us a dress?" he drawled, ending the question with a flirtatious wink.

This time, when Zoro's laughter cut through the startled silence, Sanji's own matched it in volume. He wasn't sure how long the two of them sat there, laughing until Sanji tasted salty tears run into the corner of his mouth, but at some point the manager had come up to them and informed them that their bill was on the house if they would just leave NOW, and then Zoro's strong arm was around his waist, pulling him to his feet, as they stumbled out arm and arm into the warm night like a couple of drunken fools.

They walked for hours, wandering with no direction, talking until their throats were dry and raw. Sanji was never one to open up about his past, but now he talked obsessively, revealing things to the swordsman that he had never before spoken out loud to another living being. And in return, he learned much about Zoro, felt his heart constrict and ache as he was gruffly told about the loss of the young swords girl, and finally felt as though he understood the roots of determination propelling the other man.

As they stopped, finally, for a rest at one of the more deserted edges of the pier, the pair fell into a very easy silence, stood very close to one another, and gazed into the lightening sky.

The hour of the morning just before the sun managed to push and prod its first real break into the sky always seems to be filled with so much more than any other hour of the day. It was a time of weakening and mounting strength, as the seemingly unbreakable blackness of the night begins to slip and buckle as morning gathers its forces to slip over the devious horizon to claim its place. A time of old expectations ending, and new possibilities painted fresh.

It was in this moment that the two men found themselves living. Found that the approaching light had taken their paths and twined them together, as they let go of old assumption and opened up to new expectation. Reaching to where they had always shied back, relenting where they had always ever been relentless.

Calloused fingers captured his unusually soft ones in the fading shifting shadows. Sanji let his eyelids slip shut with a soft smile as the sun finally broke out and over the horizon. He did not need his eyes to see ahead, but instead, allowed his heart to look out, and he saw clearly that this day would be vastly different than the ones before, and he squeezed the hand in his in satisfaction.

The End.