Chapter One

With all the romance and legend associated with a life at sea, the tales rarely took the time to mention the incredible mental and emotional strain of being around the same people, in the same place, day after day for what seemed like eternities at a time.

It was the life they had come to foster and mold, though, to their own liking. Amidst the occasional squabbles the entire crew found that they were all keen enough to understand the little invisible lines which they drew for one another-what was to be said, how different situations were to be treated. The rapport was boring, but it was better than any major turmoil Sanji could figure.

The voyage from Arlong Park to Loguetown was shaping up to be long and uneventful, for the most part. In between the odd ill-conceived attack there was little to do but acclimate oneself to the living arrangements, make oneself comfortable, and try not to focus too much on the little insecurities.

Unfortunately, midnight was one of those times meant only for focusing, only for the nagging little insecurities that gnawed impatiently on the brain, denying sleep. Sanji found himself on the upper deck, staring East, leeward so the smoke didn't blow back into his eyes. The chill of the night air didn't faze him; in fact he preferred the cold. But little was fazing him in that peculiar state he found himself, sleepless and wondering so many things.

It was why he had needed Baratie so badly; the dedication and hassle of a full-time work environment helped to keep him from thinking too much and letting his mind run away with him. There, he was at liberty to be carefree, masking any deeper thought with food, wine, and women.

"Heh," he smirked to himself, shaking his head only slightly. Women. Gorgeous creatures, whether smiling or scowling, laughing or crying. He admired their sensibility, their tendency to appreciate things at more than just face value. And now to be on this ship with a woman like Nami--a woman who faced battle with brains, standing confident even when she was bloody and defeated. It captivated him at the same time that he knew he would never be good enough for someone so strong.

He closed his eyes and rubbed his face vigorously. He had been accused, often in a teasing manner by those who were intimidated by his popularity, of trying to emulate a woman rather than win one. In so many ways, it was true. Even when he felt so much passion in his heart for someone like Nami, the feelings grew sketchier as he considered them more. The deeper he examined her psyche and her soul, the more he wondered what things he would trust her with, what secrets and weaknesses...and even then, he wondered if someone like her would appreciate all these late-night insecurities of his.

Never had Sanji been out to win anyone. The admiration he adored, and the jealous looks in other men's eyes sometimes only egged him on. But when it all boiled down, it was almost always for the satisfaction it gave him when he sat alone at the end of the day. Blasted insecure Sanji, he chastised himself with another smirk, can't even open your eyes without your ego getting in the way.

His nakama on the Going Merry were bringing out his best and worst simultaneously, forcing him to break those habits of fly-by-night seduction and wanton disregard for the feelings of others. Those lines. Those lines everyone had laid out. He couldn't believe the respect the crew had for each other, even with all the bickering and annoyances.

In fact, he felt very comfortable with everyone on board. Comfortable that they knew him well enough to know when to shut up, and when to badger him until he finally said what was the matter. He was a water sign, after all. The moodiness was only as strong as the determination of those around him to quell it.

But the swordsman...

His smirk turned into a momentary sneer, and he brushed a few ashes from the knee of his trousers. Roronoa Zoro had disliked him from the beginning, but why? He knew the dislike couldn't run as deep as all that, not personally or emotionally. But there was an innate tension between them, something that only made their interaction harder and less natural. Sanji simply wouldn't stand for not understanding how to play off of someone else's conception of him. He was determined to know, before they hit Loguetown, before they faced the Grand Line, if their differences were deep enough to belie any exchange of kind words or even a comfortable silence.

Thinking alone on a sleepless night certainly wouldn't do him any good, he knew very well. But there was little else he could do. The minute he walked below deck Zoro would be the first to be disturbed. That bastard, he exhaled twin plumes of smoke through his nose and scowled, he can sleep through anything during the daytime, but heaven forbid I should disturb his sleep at night...

Rolling his eyes, he leaned back and scolded himself again. I shouldn't be thinking about him so much, he thought firmly, I should just keep thinking about women...or something...

But women were easy to understand. He'd always been able to identify with them, somehow. It accounted for a lot of his charm, but kept so many people, male or female, preyed-upon or otherwise, from taking him seriously. He was shortsighted and wishy-washy, overanalytical and hopelessly romantic.

In other words, he suddenly found himself thinking, I'm everything Roronoa Zoro is not.

The revelation actually made him smile, and as his cigarette pointed up toward the stars he congratulated himself on a personality distinction well-solved. He would have to remember that. Possibly it was that Zoro didn't respect Sanji thanks to his immature emotions, or maybe it was resentment that, being contender for the world's greatest swordsman and all, he didn't have the same freedom of flightiness at his disposal.

Whatever it was, realizing their difference made him feel a little better, and suddenly brought the weight of sleepiness upon him. He shrugged his shoulders and realized how long he had been topside. His fingers were nearly numb from the cold, and he was struggling to maintain his alertness by the time he crept below deck.

It took all the stealth he possessed to try and make it to bed without incident. As he wiggled noiselessly between his hammock and Ussop's splayed limbs, he cringed at the sleeping figure of Zoro and waited...though he was silent as the grave it would be any second now...

The moment his hand touched the hammock and he attempted to flop into it, a single green eye wrenched open and trained upon him immediately. Sanji's tension deflated and he sighed in dismay.

"Hnnnn." Zoro's eye fluttered shut again, and he scowled visibly. Sanji tried not to notice it, and rolled exhausted into his hammock. As he swayed lightly with the shift of his weight, he could simply tell that the body less than three feet away was still awake.

"Stop waking me up all the time." Zoro murmured, the articulation barely understood over the rumble of his naturally low voice.

"I didn't make a sound, you're just a light sleeper." Sanji replied, though he already knew his best defense would have probably been a brazen insult or dismissal.

"You're awfully catty tonight." He breathed, and Sanji heard him roll over, the hammock's stays making quiet sounds of stress as he did.

"Shut up." Was the best reply he could think of, before his eyes closed on their own, pulling him under whether he wanted to welcome sleep or keep exchanging barbs.


The late nights often led to oversleeping, and the next morning was no exception. After a rude awakening and several impatient demands for breakfast, Sanji finally managed to appreciate what turned out to be a beautiful day. He found a spot on the deck that was shaded by the cabin's overhang, and stole a moment for himself as he began to mentally prepare the evening's supper.

"Move," Only moments after he had drifted into a pleasant state of woolgathering, Zoro's voice roughly interrupted, and a boot nudged his shin, "your legs take up the whole deck."

"And apparently you can't step over them," Sanji growled gently, moving begrudgingly into a cross-legged position. As Zoro strode past, he found himself calling after him, "oi, Zoro."

Zoro had one eyebrow raised in ennui as he turned back, probably expecting a clincher insult or a similar jab. But his expression tightened into something more interested when Sanji asked, "Why do you hate me?"

He turned around, undeniably confused but unable to dismiss the question. Crossing his arms over his chest, Zoro made the most of his looming stature over Sanji's sitting figure. He smirked cruelly and chuckled. "Because you're annoying."

"No, I'm not joking right now." He had a tendency to be curt and dry, true, but when Sanji wanted to be taken seriously it wasn't a difficult task. As he cupped his hands over his mouth to light a fresh cigarette, Zoro's eyebrow returned to its former, upturned state, "siddown."

"You're such a drama queen." Zoro sighed blankly, hissing out the side of his mouth as he made a motion to walk off again.

"And I can do terrible things to your food without your knowledge. Now sit."

Though he was obviously still reluctant, and a bit humiliated to be subjected to such an injustice as talking, Zoro plopped down and glared at Sanji expectantly.

"Wow," Sanji said, his face alight with self-satisfaction, "that was easier than I expected."

Indeed, it was the first step (albeit a small one) he had taken toward anything resembling 'private interaction' with Zoro since their first meeting.

Zoro pulled a face and tried his best to look righteously indignant, but Sanji wouldn't let him respond with words just yet. He went on, "I just get the feeling you don't like me, is all."

"You're deranged," Zoro threw a sidelong glance in the other direction and sneered, "what do you want, candy and flowers?"

"Just an idea of where we stand. What our lines are."

"What do you mean, lines?" Zoro was not a man who thought in psychological terms very often, Sanji could tell. He may have been intelligent enough to come this far in life, but he certainly wasn't the introspective sort.

"Well, we all have these little barriers that are the guidelines for our relationships, you know?"

"We don't have a relationship."

"We're nakama." Sanji snapped gently. For a moment it scared him that he was starting to sound like Luffy. He must have taken on quite the intimidating look when he said this, because it chased Zoro's indignant expression away as if on cue. With an accepting nod, Zoro got a little more comfortable and told him to go on.

"Like, for instance," Sanji went on, "I love Nami, right?"

Zoro snorted. Sanji tried his best to ignore it. After all, Zoro was the last person who was likely to understand romance, much less unrequited love. "But I know I can't act on that...not just because I'm a gentleman, but because I know it would make things...well...weird. And Luffy and I, we get along fine. He's impervious to my insults and sarcasm so I'm free to simply be myself," he coughed into his hand and tried to deny what that said about his personality, "Ussop is like a puppy, you just have to learn to like him, and once you do he's sort of indispensable. But he knows exactly when to leave me alone before I put a fork in his hand....you know? Hey...hey! Zoro!"

He had fallen asleep.

Sanji poked him squarely, firmly, in the ribs, which had Zoro up in a flash, shaking his head and growling. "That was unnecessary! Bastard."

"You fell asleep while I was trying to discuss something serious!"

"You were saying something about Luffy and insults." Zoro sighed, in a vain attempt to convince Sanji that he had been listening.

Sanji sighed dramatically and cut to the point, trying to retain what shred of earnestness he had left. "But with you, I....I guess I just don't know whether you're comfortable around me or not."

"Me?" Zoro shrugged and leaned back, stretching out until he was lying on his back, obviously intent on sleeping again. "I'm absolutely fine with you. Like I said, you're a drama queen, but other than that I'm fine," he shot Sanji a hard glare, "maybe you're the one who's uncomfortable."

"Hm," Sanji considered this for a few moments, running his fingers through his hair as he nursed the cigarette in his mouth, "I suppose you've got that right. I just wish I knew why."

"Eh, that's easy. I'm the better fighter, so you feel inadequate by comparison."

"Heh, so it comes down to that, does it? I'd like to see you cook for five one of these days."

"Well then maybe it's because I'm more confident."


"Well, I certainly seem to be more popular with the ladies."

"Maybe I don't need that distraction in my life."

At this, Sanji sighed, and decided that the conversation was leading to a point where he wanted to sacrifice the meaningless repartee for another moment of actual thought. He glanced down at Zoro and shifted his cigarette from one corner of his mouth to the other. After a moment, he flicked the unfinished butt over the railing and flopped down onto his back as well.

Zoro gave a smug smile, as if winning some subtle victory. "What, didn't get enough sleep last night?"

"Nighttime is the only time I can think without being interrupted by idiots."

"You're not being interrupted now. They're all too busy learning how to play Go with Nami. And losing."

"Okay, then I'm being interrupted by idiot, singular."

"You're the one who wanted to talk."

"True, I did." He felt a little helpless without the cigarette to punctuate his sentence.

"Why are you so concerned about how we get along, anyway? We're both in this crew, we're working for the good of the same whole. It's not like we need to host parties together or  anything."

"Yeah," Sanji was not assuaged by his words, and in fact was inexplicably more depressed by them, "I just feel like I'm friends with everyone else, but...you're more distant."

"I prefer the term 'mysterious'."

"I prefer the term 'idiot'."

"Yes, I know," Zoro actually chuckled, "let me just put it this way: if I didn't consider you my friend, this conversation would have ended a long time ago."

"It isn't just the obligation of being nakama?"

Zoro was silent for a few moments. Together they stared up at the sky and watched the clouds drift lazily. Everything seemed so quiet for a second. Peaceful. If Sanji concentrated he couldn't even hear the shrieks of Luffy and the others, reveling in their own brand of strangeness on the other side of the deck.

When Sanji realized that they had shared a comfortable silence, he was determined not to be the one to end it.

Thus, Zoro's voice startled him a bit when he spoke again. "Maybe we don't have any lines." He said, his tone a little too far-off and airy for the remark to have been in jest.

Sanji waited to respond. A few moments passed, and for good measure he waited a bit longer. "Yeah." He finally sighed. Blankly content with Zoro's assessment, he decided to leave the further introspection for another time.

Within minutes, Zoro was snoring.


Am I....am I attracted to him?

Wide awake, but not quite enough to venture topside. They were in choppy waters and his hammock swayed in brisk, unpredictable spurts as he stared up at the ceiling. The others were sleeping through it rather soundly, and Sanji couldn't help but wonder how Zoro, the usual light night-sleeper, was sawing logs in the next hammock.

Maybe the others didn't have such strange thoughts to keep them awake.

Of course I'm not! He doesn't turn me on, I've never felt anything but the basic stuff about him...nothing that would even border on desire!

But it was a lie, and Sanji knew it. Frankly, he hadn't seen much in all his years, despite his storied life. The Baratie was a boring place to grow up and live, and interactions with customers were transitory things. Interactions with women were even more fleeting, as Sanji fell easily into the role of the gigolo, suave and seductive but ultimately alone. Ultimately nothing but the punchline of so many jokes. He was the kid on board, and always remained that way. Chibi nasu..

It was different here. He was an equal. He was treated with the same courtesy and indifference as anyone else, especially when it came to the close quarters they were forced to share. Within weeks nothing was left to the imagination, and Sanji couldn't help the nagging fear that he was lingering a little too long on those memories.

Well, sure he is attractive, and he knows it. He practically throws it in our faces, even if it isn't on purpose. I'm comfortable enough to admit when another man looks good.

And just as soon as he even considered it, there was the image, in his mind again, clear as the day had been. Zoro, naked as a jaybird, lounging on the deck in the late morning sun. It had taken all the composure Sanji possessed not to shriek out loud at the sight. Luffy and Ussop had been practically comical to his eyes when they first stripped in his presence, so why was Zoro any different?

"Maybe it's because I'm more confident."

Those words were stinging, and Sanji knew they were true, incredibly true to the point that it angered him with jealousy. Zoro was a beautiful man, there were no two ways about it. He was nonchalant about his magnetism, practically oblivious. Sanji struck poses, primped for appearance's sake, but even he couldn't work to pull off the casual, smoldering sensuality that Zoro did, simply sitting there on the deck, wearing nothing but the sunshine, impatient for his clothes to be dry again.

I admire him, that's all. I'm jealous and I want to have that sort of natural mystique. That's all. He was trying too hard to convince himself, and he knew that meant trouble. 

He had stared a little too long, seen a little too much, and now he remembered it a little too fondly for it to be simple admiration. It would certainly explain his insecurities around Zoro. His inability to come to terms with their interaction. The seeming nonexistence of their lines.

The sound of the wind outside was distracting when it mixed with his thoughts, and he hadn't noticed the snores next to him had stopped abruptly. When he turned his head to test himself with a quick glimpse at Zoro, Sanji was absolutely stunned to see the swordsman wide awake, staring right back at him.

"Why are you always up at night?" Zoro asked softly, looking at Sanji as if to say how odd he considered him.

Sanji clutched his chest and panted, trying his best not to speak too loudly. "Bastard! You almost gave me a heart attack!"

"You're the one who turned around."

He always said the most sensible things to stop Sanji's arguments dead in their tracks. Blowing the displaced blonde hair back into place, he grimaced in feigned anger. Really, it was humiliation that was wracking him. Had Zoro seen the wistful look on his face when he turned over? It felt like his mind had been read, like some sacred territory had been trod upon. Sanji felt in that moment like Zoro knew everything. And that made him nervous.

"Why were you staring at me?" Sanji asked quizzically.

"I was facing this way," He replied, propping up slightly to look at Sanji with both eyes, "I can't sleep with all this movement. It's enough to make me sick."

"Bah, this is nothing," Sanji was used to the bucking and tossing of the sea. Sometimes he had to pause and remember that Zoro had built his entire legend in less than five years on the ocean. Beyond that, the swordsman was a seasoned landlubber.

"So I asked you," Zoro began again. Sanji's ears burned with embarrassment. He was hoping Zoro had forgotten that question, "why are you always up at night?"

"I told you today--it's the only time I can think." He checked over his shoulder to confirm that Ussop and Luffy were still asleep, and then looked back at Zoro challengingly.

"What sort of things do you think about? Like, cooking things?"

Sanji resisted the urge to roll his eyes and consider the breath wasted, "I, for one, happen to take the time to examine my own situation. My emotions. My ambitions."

"Oh, yeah?" Zoro grinned evilly, "I forgot, you're the sensitive type and all that."

"You should try it sometime, it can really be interesting."

"Hey, no thanks, I know all I need to know about myself—it's called 'instinct'."

"Well, some of us just have really bad instincts." Sanji sneered, glancing at the wall.

"And that, I can believe." Zoro shifted onto his back, and folded his hands behind his head. This time, Sanji stole a look. A good, long look.

What is it that he does to you, Sanji? He interrogated his own bad instincts, you throw your defenses up and act like a child. He puts the burner under your insecurities and you don't like it one bit.

It's because you want him.

Just admit it. And go from there.

For a few moments longer he kept his eyes on Zoro, whose chest began to fall into a steady, slow rhythm of light sleep.

And then an almost terrifying thought hit him. This...happens to men at sea, doesn't it?

He growled at what was nearly full volume, and flipped around roughly in his hammock, to face the less threatening members of the crew. It was a fitful sleep that eventually came to him.


Sanji managed to avoid any further awkward moments for the next few days. Secretly he hoped the others didn't notice that he was going out of his way to avoid Zoro, but of course it was more fear than anything else. He felt like an adolescent with an indecisive crush, the way he made it a point to avert his eyes if Zoro ever glanced his way. After a number of days and nights, it was becoming a tiresome chore to be so casual.

"Sanji," he had been lost in another deep bout of thoughtfulness when he felt Luffy's unmistakably sharp elbow nudge him in the arm, "hey, Sanji."

"What?" He snapped, turning on him and making a show out of rubbing his arm, as if wounded by the gesture.

Unfazed, Luffy pointed across the deck. "I can't believe you're not paying attention! I just didn't think you'd want to miss this."

Sighing, he looked in the direction Luffy was pointing. The sight caught him momentarily like a deer in the headlights, and it took his mind a moment to readjust from the shock. Nami was standing in full view, clutching a wide-brimmed hat to her head with one hand. She was wearing little more than a few strings with convenient pieces of fabric attached. He supposed that sort of thing was what she called a bikini, but that was unimportant.

His cheeks flushed red immediately, and he melted into the sort of goofy smile that proved mightily that he was still as hot-blooded for the ladies as ever. "Oh, yes, thank you, Luffy." He oozed.

"She's been standing there for a while now. You've been daydreaming or something."

"Well, I....I...." he wanted to say something in his defense, but when Nami shifted her back to them and faced the other way, every word he had ever learned suddenly escaped his memory, "hm."

It was a moment that restored all the carefree romanticism to his mind again, renewing his zest for the voyage and pushing aside all his meditations on that boorish, impolite swordsman. He enjoyed the smile, and continued to ogle for as long as he could before he felt an unmistakable urge grip his senses.

Without a word, he stood up and left Luffy alone on the deck. It had been a relatively long time since he had rubbed one out, not since they had left Arlong Park and certainly not since he had started questioning his feelings for Roronoa Zoro. He was delighted to feel the desire coursing through him again, the sort of feeling that made him want to do nothing more than...well...

He sighed. There was certainly something he wanted to do more than spend some quality time with his own hand, but the end result was the same, wasn't it? Besides, he loved Nami too much to even consider stepping over the lines of their friendship.

But damn, there were some times that he wondered how deliberately she was teasing him with no intention of ever being more than that. Just a friend.

You're thinking too much again, he chased the thoughts away, and was below deck within moments. As he slipped through Nami's room on his way to the crew's quarters, he could smell the unmistakable scent of her, and let his mind wander back over the image of the redheaded siren, silhouetted in the bright sun on deck, the bikini strings drowned by the shadows and sunshine so she seemed almost naked in front of him. The fabric riding tightly in the crease of her backside, reminding him only more of how much he loved a woman's curves...

He was so aroused by the time he shut the door behind him that he nearly flopped into one of the hammocks and jerked off right there. But that didn't seem very smart, or safe. Quickly, without wasting an instant of the beautiful wave of libido he was riding on, he flattened himself against the side of the wall, so he would at least be hidden if the door opened unexpectedly. He closed his eyes.

The fabric of his shirt caught the splinters in the wood as he slid down the wall, making a swishing, gently crackling sound. He opened his pants halfway down, and was already handling his impatient cock  by the time he hit the floor. Stroking frantically, he imagined Nami in ways he was only allowed to imagine while in the quiet seclusion of his own fantasy. Her face led to others, other women he had known, others he had only dreamt about. He turned his face over one shoulder, panting heavily and trying to hold back the little cries of pleasure that so desperately wanted to come out. Sanji closed his eyes tightly and thought of losing his virginity with the tall, black-haired woman wearing the diamond earrings, who had only been a customer at the restaurant for forty-five minutes before she followed him into the service corridor, told him to lock the door, and lifted her skirt without another word.  He had been seventeen.

He put Nami in her place for a moment, and sped his strokes toward orgasm. He couldn't hold back the noise at this point; whimpers were turning to groans, breathy gusts of air to strangled little cries. Usually he would open his eyes, watch himself come, but this time he needed the darkness. He needed his fantasy. Reality was becoming a little too confusing.

And then, in his mind, there was Zoro's naked body.

He was so close, riding so tense on the brink of completion, that he didn't even chase the image away. It remained on the forefront of his racing thoughts, the only thing driving him over the edge as he came. Panting, gritting his teeth, groaning as if in the throes of pain, he tried to hold it back, but the only thing that came to mind, the only word that forced itself out of Sanji's mouth was:


As the fire of his orgasm settled, his hand slowed down with his heartbeat. His fingers went from slow to unmoving, dripping wet, his erection fading slowly in their grasp.

Sanji scowled at himself, and the embers of the moment burned in a slow, still-frame silence. All at once the magnificent loneliness of the darkened quarters became apparent. He leaned over one knee and pressed a hand to his face.

Why can't you admit it? What more proof do you need?

He kicked forward angrily and only ended up knocking a stray 2x4 askew. Times like these, he wished he could punch a wall. "I know it!" he said softly, all the emotion of a scream stunted into something that was little more than a whisper, "I just....I can't. It can't be this way."

It is that way.

"He wouldn't...it never....no." He buried his head against his knee and clutched it tightly. He had just enjoyed one of the most powerful orgasms of his life, and dancing in his mind at the time had been the image of a man he'd been trying to deny an attraction to. So many things were wrong in his mind, so many things were twisted.

"Damnit..." He started crying out of frustration more than anything; frustration that he couldn't show in front of any of the others, or even channel through a few broken dishes.

The door squeaked open, and he heard footsteps on the floor before he even had his fly zipped up. He knew he looked awful at that moment, hair mussed, tears staining his face, and traces of come all over his trousers. But somehow he hoped someone would come to rescue him, someone he could talk to. Luffy, or Ussop, even Nami for heaven's sake...

Just please don't let it be him, please don't let it be him...

"Oi, Sanji," Zoro called into the room, that great booming voice burning Sanji's ears and only forcing more tears to his eyes, "you in here?"

"Yes." He replied flatly, leaning back against the wall and resigning himself to the fact that, if confrontation was ever meant to happen, maybe it was destined to be now. When he was at his weakest and most vulnerable, yet his most enlightened.

"Everyone's wondering where you went, what are you—" Zoro looked down at him and suddenly hushed.

Sanji rubbed the ball of his wrist over one eye, clearing away the tears that wouldn't seem to go dry. He couldn't look up at Zoro, couldn't think of a thing to say that would make a bit of sense.

"What happened?" Zoro fell to his knees and leaned toward Sanji with nothing but concern. That was the unspoken power of the bond they all shared, that anytime they were in trouble, anytime they seemed to need help, whether physical or emotional, everyone made it their business.

"Don't tell anyone, Zoro," He growled. Angry at himself. Angry at everything. He wondered how charming it would look to Nami if she saw him right now.

"What? That you're down here? Why?" He reached out and touched Sanji's shoulder.

When he finally looked up, opening his bloodshot blue eyes to brave Zoro's face, he felt them flood immediately again. Those bad instincts were firing in his brain faster than he could control them, and by the time he drank in Zoro's drawn, sincerely worried expression, he had no idea what he was doing anymore.

He leaned forward and pursed his lips, able to taste the slightest spice of Zoro's mouth before the swordsman fell back in shock.

"What are you doing?!" Zoro cried, scrambling into a cross-legged position a safe distance from Sanji, who made an effort to appear collected, if not particularly calm.

"Well, you bastard, it was pretty obvious that I just tried to kiss you!" He barked.

Zoro pulled a face and didn't seem quite sure what to say. Sanji couldn't blame him. He tried to place himself in the other man's shoes, and immediately the inevitability of an unhappy ending became clear.

Finally, Zoro's green eyes softened, and he smirked broadly. "Oh. Well, that certainly explains what you've been so weird about lately."

"Yeah, doesn't it, though."

"I'm flattered." He offered.

Sanji shoulders tensed at the weight of those crushing words. It was the most polite, tactful, and cruel shut-down in the book. Suddenly he wanted to have never said those words to the women who didn't seem beautiful enough before.

"Don't worry, I know it's totally insane. Just forget this ever happened, okay?" Sanji blustered shyly, wrapping his arms around his knees and slumping over them. He yearned for a way to make his scowl even deeper.

What passed between them was an awful, heavy silence. It made Sanji want to scream, anything to break the unbearable torture of waiting for a response.

Stealthily, he shifted his eyes to hazard a sideways glance at Zoro. After a few moments, Zoro lifted his fingers and touched them to his lips, his face as blank and serious as ever.

"My first kiss." He finally remarked. So simple.

Sanji's eyes widened, and he was nearly afraid to respond. "Really?"

"Would I lie about something like that, asshole?" Zoro shot him a poisonous glare, then let out a tiny gust of a breath.

"It wasn't a real kiss. You don't have to count it." Sanji bristled.

A few moments after he said it, he was convinced Zoro wasn't going to respond. After all, they both had something to say about each other now – if he let on that Sanji desired him, Sanji would blab that he had never been kissed. It seemed fair in the schoolyard sense, but still not in Sanji's heart. Not that any of the others would probably care – Nami could probably tell already, and Luffy probably wouldn't bat an eye. The worst he expected was a snicker, maybe a knowing smirk and a shake of a head. The most torturous teasing would be welcome in place of some well-intentioned pity from the others when Zoro turned him down flat.

Then, before he was aware of what was happening, he felt a monstrous something invade his personal space. A strong, broad hand pushed one of his shoulders against the wall, and the firm, insistent lips of Roronoa Zoro pressed full against his own.

He was trapped by Zoro's thighs, straddled with his legs to the ground. He was being kissed by another man. Overpowered by another man. Aroused by another man. It felt undeniably right.

It was like breaking the surface for air, and he sucked in a gigantic breath by the time Zoro pulled away.

"So there, that was a real kiss. Now I can count it." His face was still blank, expressionless, and Sanji wondered to the point of dizziness what was going through the smug bastard's mind.

"Why did you do that?" he finally asked, softly at first, then gaining volume as he went on. Humiliated. Agonizing. Indignant, "this isn't funny, get off of me!"

"I know it isn't funny, I'm not making any attempt at being funny."

"You don't know what I've been going through. I've come to terms with it, now you can sod off." Sanji scowled and looked away, anywhere but Zoro's face. No matter how much he wanted to lick his lips, perhaps quell the tingling sensation that kept his entire mouth begging for more. It had seemed right, smelled right, felt right. Zoro was only prolonging his torture.

When he was just getting impatient enough to fight his way free, he felt a rough forefinger lodge under his throat, and a  thumb press against the knob of his chin. Zoro's hand turned his face back into position, until they were staring each other down. Zoro's green eyes were still softly nonchalant where Sanji's were no doubt something quite different.

"This is purely physical." Zoro said, words that shot lightning into Sanji's heart. It was a warning and an invitation all at once, but it wasn't exactly something he could let go.

"Yeah, I tried thinking of it that way, too."

And he had. Over and over. He had desperately wanted to believe that his attraction to Zoro was one of those things that happened to men in the absence of sexual fulfillment for months at sea. But Nami was here. And it hadn't been months. There was nothing to suggest that his feelings were anything short of honest longing for something wholly different, something right in front of him and yet impossible to brave.


"It couldn't be purely physical, even if we wanted it to be."

"Why's that?"

"Because we're nakama."

Zoro's face actually tightened in shock when Sanji said this. He pulled back a tiny bit, still keeping his thumb and forefinger hooked dutifully on the other man's stubbly chin. Again, the torturous wait. Sanji kept his eyes focused, knowing it was his turn to be the one in charge of the course of things. Zoro, I won't let this be something simple for you, either. You value loyalty and discipline. You don't do things without due process of thought. .

"You're right," he finally bowed his head and half-smiled, "you're perfectly right. This can't be that way."

"But," Sanji quickly stammered, his heartbeat tearing into a sprint as he tried to salvage his chances, "that doesn't mean—"

Zoro looked up suddenly, his mischievous glare cutting Sanji off. "So we'll be nakama, plus a little bit more."

He brought his thumb up to Sanji's pouting lower lip, and pulled at it. The rough, calloused skin was a bit scratchy, sending a new sort of sensation all through Sanji's body. He let his mouth fall open at Zoro's bidding, and waited breathless for him to lean in for the kiss.

This is what it felt like, he suddenly realized. This was his body enjoying letting go. Being under someone else's power.  The sort of surrender he could only give to someone like Zoro. Someone who went into every new challenge with all flags flying, even the art of intimacy. A man who had never been kissed before stepped into that darkened room, and was now kissing Sanji like a well-practiced lover.

"Sanji. Look at me." Zoro suddenly commanded him. The deepness of his voice, and the closeness of his mouth sent vibrations through Sanji's body, made every little blonde hair stand at attention.

He opened his eyes and realized that his mouth was still open, a little bit stunned by the passionate kiss Zoro had given him. He slowly pursed his lips together again, just as Zoro's fell in little, swiping kisses all over his face, cleaning away the tracks of his tears.

"Don't you ever cry like that again over something so stupid, idiot." Zoro whispered into his ear, drawing an unexpected gasp from his partner. Sanji's hands pulsed and grabbed, his arms curling around Zoro's back, one set of fingers clutching at a handful of warm cotton fabric, the other landing in his short, soft hair.

"Zoro," Sanji gasped again, as the roving mouth fell past his jawline and onto his neck, "why are you doing this?"

Zoro paused, but didn't have to think much about his answer. His long, rough fingers ran up and through Sanji's hair on one side, brushing it back to trace an eyebrow with his thumb. He smiled where it curled at the end, and spoke matter-of-factly. "Because we don't have any lines."

It was the typical sort of romantic answer that would have normally sent Sanji into a state of exaltation. But the timing, the shock, the very suddenness of it all...he had to keep questioning, until he understood. "Are you attracted to me?"

"What are you, stupid?" Zoro's voice rumbled as he sucked absently on the rise of Sanji's clavicle, "I'm not doing this for charity."

"But...I didn't know..."

"So? I didn't either." They looked each other in the eye at that moment, and felt the unspeakable thing they both wanted to say. As unusual as it was, it just seemed too right to stop. Strange things were happening, possessing them, but it was obvious that neither man wanted it to end.

Their lips pushed together again, a sudden urgency making the kiss rougher, harder, and more forceful than before. When Sanji pressed back against him, Zoro would press harder, binding him against the wall, rolling their tongues together deeper and deeper.

His heart pounding and his groin growing tighter, when they parted Sanji could only whisper, "Lay back."

Zoro appeared slightly enchanted by these words, if momentarily stunned. "Okay." He answered after a pause. Sanji's hands collided with his chest, both of them featherweights under the domination of one another, both of them eager to give in where the other pushed, or only push back stronger. He slipped his legs from beneath Zoro and for a moment they were a tangle of limbs on the floor, frantically shifting their position and making contact wherever they could in between that.

Ravenous to experience everything at once, Sanji crouched between Zoro's legs, tugging impatiently at his pants while the swordsman only watched, still too enchanted and far too stunned to interrupt.

"It already smells like sex in here." Zoro suddenly remarked.

His expression gleefully mischievous, Sanji smirked up at him. "That's because I came down here to jerk off, right before you walked in."

This seemed to intrigue him.

Not content to simply intrigue him, Sanji opened Zoro's pants as he added, "I was thinking about you when I came." He realized that the confession should have been as weighty as it had been to his mind at the time, but he was more than a little preoccupied. Zoro wasn't completely hard yet, but when Sanji touched him, he squirmed. A tiny grunt escaped, one he had no doubt meant to allow. Sanji smiled to himself.

"Does that turn you on, to know that?"

The waters were being tested, and Sanji knew automatically that this was the dynamic they both craved so much. It was a game of dominance, a series of challenges punctuated by little moments of ecstasy. In between Zoro's legs he wasn't obligated to the same decorum he kept in the company of women. Women, those delicate, spellbinding creatures, he was willing to do simply anything for them, always the gentleman, always holding back.

But then Zoro's hand came down hard on the back of his head, wiping the evil smile from his mouth and forcing it up against his cock. "Don't use your mouth for talking right now, bastard."

He gulped and steadied his mind. Yes, this was completely different. This was exhilarating in a way that he never would have imagined. This was the excitement and energy he had been trying to replace with women who were more and more beautiful, only to be left with the same conclusion: sex with the female of the species was getting boring.

His nose pressed against Zoro's shaft, his lips pursing out to touch it when he breathed. Tentatively, his tongue lashed out, taste testing what was such a familiar mystery in front of him. He felt like a novice all over again, but it wasn't necessarily unpleasant.

The thigh under his hands tensed, and he could hear Zoro breathing harder, struggling not to give any encouraging reaction. His broad hand still rested on the back of Sanji's head, and when he hesitated the fingers curled into his soft blonde hair, pulling at his tender scalp.

Zoro growled from what seemed like miles away. "Can't you go a little faster? Anyone could come looking for us."

"Well, I'm sorry, I'm not exactly an old pro at this!" Sanji suddenly barked, his inherent dislike for Zoro's attitude taking over for a moment. When he looked up from his position, affronted and glaring, Zoro only smirked. He loosened his grip in Sanji's hair.

"Right, then." Again, Sanji lost a moment of comprehension where time and happenstance were concerned. Zoro tucked himself back into place, adjusting and fastening his pants before sitting up to yawn in his usual, perfectly nonchalant way.

Sanji's brain pounded with confusion. "What are you doing!?"

The swordsman stood up. "I told you, anyone could come looking for us. This is too dangerous and you were taking too long."

"You're just a damned tease is all." He hissed in response, his nerves exploding like fireworks.

"Hey,"  Zoro stopped as he walked toward the door, leaving Sanji in an indignant heap on the floor, "I wouldn't have let you get that far if I was just a tease. It's just going to take a better opportunity, that's all."

"Wait a minute!" Sanji cried out and scrambled to his feet. He knew he had to say something else before Zoro opened the door and made his exit, "how can you be so calm about this? We just...almost...we were..."

"And how should I be about it?" Zoro raised one eyebrow and lifted his pinky finger to twist in his ear.

"I..." Of course he had no idea what to say about that. After several moments of silence, the swordsman grew tired of waiting for an answer, and swung the door open.

"Right, then. See you later!" Zoro breezed out, waving in passing as he did every other day.

Sanji swayed in shock for a moment, and finally landed in the hammock where Luffy usually slept. He stared up at the ceiling and licked his lips. He tasted Zoro.

Then he smiled.