A/N: Yes, this is one of the oft-used plots including a modern universe in the city. I've read a few really, really good ones (and a lot of really horrible ones) and I just had to write one because they were so freaking fun to read, you know? I think my favorite is Memories or Persistent Resistance. There was a HS fic floating around somewhere a while ago too, but I've forgotten the name, unfortunately. After all, shouldn't I pay homage to my predecessors?
But ever since ending The World I wanted to try something like this. Even though The End of Seclusion is still going on, and there are some stories that I've been meaning to write (cough Santoryuu-Zoro) but…this was bugging me even as I was going through college interviews.
I won't be updating this very often (yes, I know, terrible!) but I just wanted to put that out there right now. The chapters will be fairly long compared to what I'm used to, though. So have fun! The next chapter won't come up for a while, but I'd love to get some feedback about what you guys think.
Hah…hah… Sharp intakes of breath, painful in the cold air.
Thump…thump… Boots pounding on the hard pavement in synch with the throbbing of a strong, laboring heart.
Zoro jogged through the park, his breathing harsh in the sharp morning air as he ran. The weights that he had strapped to his thighs were making his muscles burn, and the heavy, lead-filled vest that he had opted to wear this morning made his shoulders ache wearily. Still, he was almost done with this morning's cardio, so he might as well grit his teeth and get over with. He needed to be in good shape if he wanted to be able to work out with his students without showing any weakness. Weakness on his part would only reveal a lack of discipline.
The stopwatch bouncing on his chest beeped, and he heard the sound with a gasp of relief. He was done. He turned around and began the long trek home through this concrete jungle that he called home. His head itched under the beanie that he wore, but if he took it off then he'd get lightheaded from the sudden shock of cold to his head.
Navarone was one of the largest cities in the world. It was known for its cosmopolitan nature, although some critics argued that its division into Sectors tended to create divisive lines based on wealth and social status. Still, the citizens of Water Sector were large and opulent enough to take care of any problems that arose.
"Classes in a couple of hours…need to stop by home to pick up my stuff…damn, my bus isn't running today…maybe I'll ask Franky for a ride…scratch that, Tashigi might pick me up on the way to the academy…" Zoro mumbled to himself, walking down the street. "Breakfast? Maybe I'll steal something from Tash…"
A sharp reminder from his stomach and a loud complaint rectified his last thought. A passerby stared at him as he walked by at the sound.
"Fine, I'll stop somewhere and get some food. Geez!" Zoro slapped his belly before he dug in his pocket and looked at the pathetic handful of change that he had dug out. Looking around at the street, he realized that few businesses would be open at this time of the day, and cursed the time. Even if he was in Fire Sector—which was known as the culinary center of Navarone—it was too early to find a good cheap place to eat, but too late to go back home and grab something. He looked around in despair, and brightened when he saw a woman walk briskly into a small café on the corner of the street. A bell tinkled, and the flash of her red hair brought his eye closer to the sign that read "OPEN" in neat white script on a board in the window. Score.
Zoro didn't recognize the name of the café—the Paris Baguette—but judging by the tantalizing scent wafting through the door as he pulled it open, it didn't really matter. The wooden floor was polished without being slippery, and there were comfortable looking couches lined along the walls. Small tables were arranged and made him think vaguely of toadstools in their orientation, although their shape and size did nothing to suggest that sort of connotation. The walls were painted a pastel yellow and were bare save for the occasional decorative wall hanging and a single, large painting of a fish-shaped boat on the furthest wall. That bright red hair brought Zoro's attention to a granite counter topped with jars of baked goodies—biscuits and cookies—adjacent to glass display cases full of more food and drinks. The aroma of coffee was heavy on the air, and he felt rejuvenated just to smell it. Zoro scanned a menu propped up on the wall that had been written in multi-colored chalk and waited for the woman in front of him to finish her order. When she finally moved to sit in a chair, wrinkling her nose slightly at his sweaty state, he went up to the counter while still staring at the menu. He needed something with protein and carbs. Minimal sugar, or he'd crash.
"I'll have the…" Zoro began, looking down to address the worker waiting at the register. His words died on his lips as he saw what might have been the most beautiful person he'd ever seen.
Smooth, unblemished skin. Long, fine hair the color of fresh butter. Teeth so white that they made pearls tremble in shame, peeking out under soft, peach lips in a smile. Long, pale lashes that blinked slowly over eyes that were a shocking shade of blue. A graceful neck, leading down…
Zoro read the nametag and blanched at the absence of breasts. The tag read Sanji.
"Um…can I help you?" the man asked, looking as though he was losing patience. Sanji was still enamored by the redhead's presence, but was becoming irritated as he tapped his fingers while waiting for this sweaty moron to say something coherent. He was also very uncomfortable with the way that this man was staring at his chest.
"I-I'll have a coffee. No, wait, a fruit juice," Zoro corrected himself, remembering that coffee would only dehydrate him. "And a…" He squinted at the name of one of the pastries in the window. "That sandwich thing right there. With the cheese and ham."
"Do you mean the Breakfast Croissant?" Sanji asked, his lip curling back in distaste. "And what kind of fruit juice would you like to order from this coffeehouse?"
Zoro was too distracted to notice the tone of the other man's inquiries. "Yeah, the breakfast croissant. I'll have orange juice, if you have it. Or apple."
"Right away, sir." As Zoro handed over his money and watched the other man move to pull out a croissant and place it delicately on a plate, he saw how lean and long the other man was.
He doesn't have a woman's body, but he seems so feminine, Zoro thought hazily to himself. He accepted the glass filled with orange juice and ice with his breakfast and made his way to a table, settling down unsteadily. He opted to sit in a stool, because he had a feeling that it wouldn't be good if he chose to sit on one of the leather couches next to that woman. Who was still giving him dirty looks. He ignored her as he shook his head, dislodging thick drops of sweat and allowing them to fall to the floor.
"Naaaaami, I have red bean pastries fresh from the oven~!"
Sanji yawned wearily as he unlocked the iron grating that covered the door to the Paris Baguette, glancing at his watch and feeling disgusted for being up this early. As the rusting metal screeched in complaint, he felt like joining in on the cacophony. With all the construction being completed in the area, it would still be a while yet before business really picked up, so why bother preparing?
He scolded himself for his slip in work ethic. Even if he had only one customer, that customer deserved the best treatment. This was especially important considering that he had only opened up for business a few weeks prior. It had taken him years to save up enough to be able to move from Earth Sector to Fire Sector, and even then it had taken a generous loan from the Arabasta Mutual Banks.
Sanji pulled the dough that he had set to rise from the cupboards and twisted the dials on the oven to heat. His hands were steady as he fell into his work—washing his hands, preparing the flour, eggs, milk, and such, kneading the dough, shaping it, gently mixing in berries—and he sighed happily as he breathed in deeply. There was nothing like baking in the morning, especially when he was warm in the bakery rather than freezing his butt off outside.
A few hours later, he stretched his tired arms and kicked his legs to get the kinks out of his joints. It was time to get the coffee ready to brew.
A soft ding from the timer he had set alerted him when the bread was to be taken from the oven, and when the coffee beans were roasted enough. He flipped the sign on the door to let passerby know that he was open for business.
A tinkle at the door alerted him of the arrival of his goddess, who was on her morning commute to work at the newspaper. She always stopped by every morning, much to his delight. He told himself that it was his charming personality and not the free goodies he gave her that kept her coming.
Wait. There was a small rut in his morning ritual. A very small, very smelly rut that was still as big as an ape.
That man, who desecrated his temple with his sweaty state and ratty jogging suit, his bulky build that couldn't have been muscle, his beanie that made him look like a criminal…Sanji was smiling when he first saw the man, but that smile quickly faded as he kept looking.
The man was an idiot. Who on earth was incapable of realizing that the little placard that he had placed in front of the trays of goodies meant that the breakfast croissant was, indeed, called a Breakfast Croissant?
"That sandwich thing right there. With the cheese and ham."
Sanji gave him his food and went to the oven to check on the new recipe he had developed after visiting the Wien Bakery in one of the more ethnic parts of the cities. He had found a recipe that used red bean, a previously unknown baking ingredient to him, and was intrigued. He placed one on a plate and blew on it gently before picking it up and taking a bite. It was sweet and buttery, light on the pastry side and a bit heavy on the filling side, but good and well-balanced overall. It might be fit for his goddess. He plucked another pastry from its brothers and placed it lovingly on a round dish—it was part of his special collection, and was one of the last legacies from his old man's business that he had been willed. It was a clear blue color, and shone like an amorphous crystalline liquid.
"Naaaaami, I have red bean pastries fresh from the oven~!"
Zoro heard the mating call of a dodo and shuddered. He had fallen out of love with this moron. This male moron. No—he had never been enamored with the fool at all! The fact that the person had been a man and not a woman rubbed at Zoro in just the wrong way. When he had seen that blonde hair, he had to admit that he'd been a bit excited. He had dabbled around in terms of dating—Japanese, Native American, and even an Egyptian girl—but he'd never seen anyone with such angelic blond hair or such a becoming figure in its slimness.
He had also never dated a man before. Well, that was that thing with Usopp, but they'd both been spectacularly drunk and he suspected that someone had slipped him something in his drink, because he never became that inebriated. Ever. The savory taste of the croissant curdled in his mouth at the memory, and he grimaced. Unfortunately, Sanji had looked up at him just as he made that face, and he froze in his scowl—in nervousness? Fear? Of course not!...he fervently told himself.
"Something the matter with your croissant, sir?" Sanji asked. Zoro could have sworn that he heard "shitty bastard," but it must have just been him.
Zoro chewed and swallowed carefully. "No. 's good."
Sanji turned around and rolled his eyes as he walked off.
Zoro stared at those swaying hips and slapped himself mentally. He should go to a club tonight and take a nice girl home. He was sure that Franky knew some nice girls that he could meet. He finished his meal and gulped the rest of his juice, wiping the bit that dribbled down his chin on the back of his hand. Covering his mouth with a fist as he belched, he picked up the dish and cup and plunked them on the counter before dropping a few coins in the tip jar and leaving with a sidelong glance at Sanji.
Maybe he'd go see Chopper; he had a bit of spare time. Did that kid learn anything about psychiatry in med school?
Sanji watched Zoro walk briskly out of the café with a sigh of relief. Finally, that barbarian was gone. Hadn't he ever heard of napkins?
"Sanji, could you get me another cup of coffee?"
"Yes, princess!" He picked up her empty plate and cup on the way.
As Sanji twirled to obey, a particularly smooth part of the sole of his show rubbed against the droplets of sweat that Zoro had left on the floor, creating a miniature hydroplaning effect. Just the right set of circumstances to create disaster. Sanji's eyes widened in horror as he felt himself slipping. He tried to grab the edge of a table to stabilize himself but missed and slammed his forehead into the nearest table.
"Oh my god! Sanji!"
His last lingering thought as he heard the dishes crash to the ground was Fuck, there goes my good dishware.
"What you clearly have is a classic case of Freudian—"
"Did your father ever—"
"Have you ever had homo—"
"No, Chopper. You've known me since high school. When have I ever so much as looked at a guy twice except when they pissed me off?"
"Maybe it was hidden sexual tension."
"I didn't have the hots for any guy. Not even Luffy."
"'Not even?' What about Usopp?"
"Never speak of that again."
"O-okay. I can't really explain your sudden inexplicable attraction to this man, but maybe he's just good-looking enough to attract even straight men. You know? The pretty type. Like, the one who has to watch out when he drops the soap in prison."
"You've been talking to Franky, haven't you?"
"How could you tell?"
The tiny office that had the name Tony T. Chopper on a bronze plaque on the door was currently filled to capacity with medical books strewn around the room and falling off the shelves, bubbling test tubes, candy wrappers, and two humans. Chopper shook his long brown hair out of his eyes as he peered down at Zoro carefully. Despite his burly stature and almost animalistic looks, he was a veritable medical genius who was in an internship with the Department of Diagnostic Medicine at the Navarone Public Hospital.
Before they could get any further, a pager beeped from Chopper's waist.
"Oh, damn! I forgot I'm supposed to be on clinic duty!" Chopper shrieked, pushing Zoro out the door as he looked for his coat. "Uh, you can come with me, if you want. This shouldn't take too long." Zoro followed in amusement as Chopper hurled out the door. A nurse caught him and handed him a folder, briefly explaining the next patient's circumstances before moving on.
"The patient appears to be suffering from a blow to a head. Possible concussion. He's out cold right now."
Chopper rushed into the room and immediately pushed the red-haired woman who rose to greet him out of the way. "Excuse me, excuse me! Is this the patient?" Chopper crashed onto a stool and pulled the man's eyelid open, pulling out a flashlight and examining the man's reaction. Zoro stared—hadn't this woman been at the café?—and gaped at the man lying on the table.
Sanji was laid out with a lovely bruise spreading across his forehead, giving him a humorously worried look. Zoro smirked, until the woman smacked him across the head. "Ow! You bitch, what the hell?"
"This is all your fault! You and your…your sweatiness! It's because of the nasty sweat that you left on the floor that this idiot slipped and fell on his face!" This statement was punctuated by another punch. Zoro grabbed her hand roughly to stop her, and she gave a yelp of pain.
"Nami…?" a hoarse voice groaned as Sanji sat up. "Who dares hurt my Nami…?"
His Nami? Zoro thought. So he's straight, then. Good…
"You idiot, she's trying to kill me."
"Don't dare to try and harm a woman, you bastard," Sanji hissed as he stood unsteadily. Chopper tried to push him back, but Sanji shook his head and glared at Zoro. "You…" The whites of his eyes rolled back, and he slumped over, to be caught in Chopper's arms.
Zoro caught him—ignoring the pleasantly sweet scent of vanilla and the undertone of coffee, plus a little something smoky—and dragged him back onto the examination table. Nami looked at her watch and groaned.
"I have to go to work. Get this idiot back home, would you? He lives over the café," Nami said. She handed him a key. "I locked up the café with his key, but you should be able to get in. You had better take him back. He's your responsibility." Before Zoro could argue, she swept out of the room. He could hear her high heels clicking rapidly as she ran down the hall.
"Um…it looks like he has a mild concussion, but the only reason he passed out again was from moving around too suddenly," Chopper said. "You can take him home."
"Why the hell am I taking him?"
"Because that other woman left. And because it's your fault, apparently."
"Don't just make assumptions!"
Zoro ended up taking Sanji home in a taxi. He carried the blond man slung awkwardly over one shoulder (good thing Chopper couldn't see, or he would have killed him) and opened the door to the café, taking care to avoid hitting Sanji's head against any hard or sharp objects. Zoro gently placed Sanji on a couch as he explored the café and found the set of stairs that led to the second floor behind an inconspicuous door. He carried Sanji up, unsuccessfully try to make sure that Sanji's head didn't hit the corner of the door, and plopped him onto the bed once he found it. Zoro looked around the apartment curiously and found that it was neat and modernly furnished. A small kitchen in the corner was all stainless steel and clean countertops, with a bowl of fruit (now missing an apple that was currently in Zoro's mouth). The living room consisted of a worn black leather sofa and simple stereo that was clearly built for a single inhabitant. The bathroom and bedroom were also similarly furnished. The general style suggested good taste, but little excess income.
So the witch didn't live here, then.
Zoro also noted that there were several boxes strewn around, although they were mostly empty save for a few Styrofoam peanuts. Had this guy just moved here, or what?
As Zoro nosed around the closet curiously, he heard Sanji groan behind him and saw the blond clutching his head. Zoro went into the kitchen and drew a cup of water before going to the bathroom and digging a bottle of aspirin from the medicine cabinet (curiously, there was a bottle of massage oil that was nearly empty. Hm).
"What the hell are you doing here?" Sanji growled, but accepted the water and aspirin gratefully. As he gulped the pills down, one eye glared angrily at Zoro. "And why are you eating my fruit?"
Zoro leaned against the doorjamb and gave as good as he got. "I'm here because your girlfriend had to go to work, and I had time to burn. I have to leave soon too, so just be glad that I took you home rather than just leave you at the hospital. I'm taking an apple because I'm feeling a bit peckish. You're not supposed to be moving around, by the way," he added as Sanji sat up.
Sanji snorted. "I can take care of myself. You can go now…you. I don't even know your name."
Zoro hesitated, arguing internally with whether to continue arguing with the man or to be polite.
"The name's Roronoa Zoro. Er…Zoro Roronoa, I mean," Zoro corrected himself. He held out his hand, and Sanji grasped it firmly in surprise at the sudden change in courtesy. "Your girlfriend said that your name was Sanji?"
Sanji brightened up visibly. "Do we look like a couple? Really?" he asked enthusiastically. "Yes, my name is Sanji. Sanji Baratie."
Zoro was slightly unnerved by Sanji's reaction, but shrugged it off. "Yeah. The way you were fawning over her like an idiot means that you're either going steady, or you're an idiot."
Sanji's smile instantly turned into a frown. "Oi, I'm not an idiot, asshole."
"So you admit that she's just a girl that you waste time wooing."
"I'm not wasting time. All women deserve the same wonderful treatment."
"What a sap…"
"You want to fight?"
"I don't fight pansies who faint from a knock to the head."
"Oh, so you do want to fight! You think you're so tough, in your hobo clothes and with that stupid beanie?" Sanji reached out to grab at the beanie, but Zoro immediately moved back.
"Tch. I'm leaving," Zoro snarled. "So much for gratitude." He turned and left, slamming the door behind him.
Sanji looked at the door and sighed. He'd normally never treat anyone that he had just met that day with such discourtesy, especially if they had been kind enough to take him home, but there was something about that man that just irritated him.
"Roronoa, eh?" If that man ever stopped by the café again, then Sanji might give him a free cup of coffee as an apology.
When he saw the shattered remains of his favorite dishware lying on the ground as he went downstairs, he decided that he might give him a free cup of coffee laced with rat poison as an apology and as revenge.
"I didn't know you liked coffee." Ensign Tashigi glanced over at Zoro, who glared right back and looked moodily out the window. She had picked him up in her Volvo after he had called her from a payphone, and had been curious to see him walking out of the coffeehouse.
"I don't. I just went for some food before my next class. Aren't you late for work?" Tashigi worked for the Navarone police station. Navarone was considered one of the safest cities in the world because of its powerful and efficient policing force, and she was proud of her part in it.
"I called Smoker-san and told him that I would be a little late. When he heard that it was because of you, he said it was okay because you're such a moron."
"No problem. Here we are."
The building they stopped in front of was a large white building with the words Strength through Spirit on a sign in front. The multi-story building was dedicated to the study of martial arts, and Zoro had been lucky enough to land a well-paying job here after going through months of hellish interviews and evaluations. The owner, Juraquille Mihawk, had traveled all over the world in search of talent and brought whatever he found to this one building in Navarone with funding from Sir Crocodile, an businessman with a long history in Water Sector. It was rumored that he was searching for an heir to his expansive estates back in Spain, although Mihawk himself discounted such claims as preposterous.
Mihawk had dubbed the organization Baroque Works.
"You're late, sensei!"
"Did you get lost again?"
Zoro glared at the group of children who looked up at him the moment he walked up the stairs and entered the room. They were already dressed in their uniforms and ready for action, and he sighed. He hadn't had time to clean up, and hoped that Mihawk wasn't thinking about visiting his class today.
"Go do your kata. Fifty reps," Zoro ordered. "Your forms had better not be as sloppy as they were last week."
"I think the hot and sweaty look suits you, Zoro," an effeminate voice trilled from the doorway. Zoro groaned as he looked around.
"Don't you have class, Bon?" Zoro asked, looking at the flamboyant Bentham "Bon" Kurei. Bon was a master of both Savate and ballet, which gave him a flexible assortment of abilities to draw from in combat—he was literally quite flexible. He was as renowned for his skill as his cross-dressing tendencies. Bon winked at Zoro as he wrapped his arms around the other man's neck.
"Oh, don't be so cold! My darlings are all stretching right now. I'll give them a real workout pretty soon, but I wanted to say hello to my favorite Baroque Works teacher," Bon said happily while pecking Zoro on the cheek. He dodged the fist that Zoro sent flying in his direction. "Tsk tsk, you'll have to be faster than that if you want to catch me!" He pranced off, twirling. "Un, deux, trois!"
"I hate it when that guy does that," Zoro muttered under his breath. "Oi! You! Your arms are getting tired, aren't they? Your form is sloppy—twenty more for the whole class!"
The children whined as they yelled at the kid whose form had fallen apart.
Sanji baked, brewed, smoked, and paced. He had received a call from the hospital—damn, had an intern been examining him? He said that he was a doctor, but you could never really tell—to check up on him, and he had told them that he felt just fine. Great, even. He didn't need to take the day off. He had to prepare for the rush of people who were bound to stop by after work.
"Did Zoro take you home? I know he tends to get lost…" a youthful voice said worriedly over the phone.
Sanji chuckled. "Don't worry doctor, I feel just fine. You must have done a fantastic job, doctor…?"
"Dr. Chopper. Saying that doesn't make me feel happy, you asshole!" Sanji stared at the phone in his hand that had gone dead, wondering if he'd offended the guy somehow.
A bell tinkled, indicating that someone had entered the building.
"Coming!" Sanji called, putting the phone down and trotted downstairs to stand at the counter. No one was there. "Hello?"
Someone stood, coming from out of sight from beneath the counter. The click of a cocked gun brought his attention to the barrel of a pistol that was pointed at his nose.
"Freeze. This is a holdup."
Tashigi was driving around in her police cruiser with Jango. Normally, the eccentric officer would be with Fullbody, but Fullbody had gotten in trouble after he had been a bit too zealous in his wooing of Captain Hina. As Jango sang along loudly with the disco music he insisted on playing in an off-key voice, the music was cut short as the radio crackled.
"…armed robbery…Wilshire Boulevard…Paris Baguette…Fire Sector…" Tashigi caught those words through Jango's indignant exclamations.
"We're close by. Let's go, Jango."
They sped to the scene and found a small crowd already clustered around the small café. Tashigi frowned as she left the car and went up to the officers who had already arrived.
"What's going on, Coby? We heard something about an armed robbery, but…a coffeehouse?"
Coby turned around and nodded, his lean face grim. "Apparently, this place is quite successful and only manned by one worker, making it a prime target for robbers. We arrived before they could escape, but now they've barricaded themselves in and have taken the owner hostage." A loud shout drew their attention to the upper story window.
"Leave! Everyone, leave, or we'll kill this guy flashily!"
"Is that a clown?" Tashigi asked, blinking hard. Maybe she needed more sleep?
"He looks like the Joker from Batman," Helmoppo chuckled. "Wow. What a goofy-looking guy."
The man in question turned red under his thick makeup and pulled a tied-up Sanji to the window. "Shut up, you! How dare you talk about my nose! We'll kill this guy unless you let us leave peacefully!" Sanji squirmed uncomfortably, not liking how vulnerable he was in front of that gorgeous policewoman. If only that stupid Zoro guy hadn't distracted him, or if he hadn't had a major headache from his concussion, then he could have kicked this guy to the moon and back without even breaking a sweat.
"You bastards, why are you robbing me? I haven't been in business long enough to have made that much money," Sanji snarled at Buggy. The man looked vaguely familiar, although Sanji was sure that he would a remember a man like this. The clown leered at Sanji before replying.
"We don't like your kind. Go back home, you traitorous mud boy!"
Sanji groaned. "What do you mean, traitorous? So this is because of my background, red-nose?" Buggy screeched at this sudden insult and punched Sanji in the gut before turning back to the window.
"How many men are with him?" Tashigi asked Coby, not taking her eyes off of the clown.
"We looked this guy up. Apparently he's the head of the Buggy gang, but all of the members are accounted for—in jail for various offenses—save for three. The leader Buggy with his two henchmen Cabaji and Mohji," Coby replied. "What are you planning?"
Tashigi cleared her throat before shouting at Buggy, "You and your men are all cowards!"
Two other heads shoved Sanji out of the way and began to angrily yell obscenities at her. She grinned grimly as she saw the three men who were jostling for space in order to yell at her, and pulled her gun up in one fluid motion. The gang members fell under the accuracy of her shots. Jango, Coby, and Helmoppo all stared.
"You shot them?!"
"Wow, that's some good shooting. But you killed them!"
Tashigi chuckled darkly, holstering her gun expertly. "Don't worry. I got this new gun from Vegapunk. It looks and shoots like a gun, but it's actually a tranquilizer dart. All the accuracy, without any of the casualties. Nifty, isn't it? I always wonder what would happen if I mixed up my regular guns, though. C'mon, let's go clean this up." She walked into the building and tried the door. It was locked. "Is anyone going to help me?"
The three men jumped forward to force the door open. Not because they were scared or anything, of course.
"Thanks for giving me a ride home, Tashigi."
"It's no problem, Zoro. If I let you walk home on your own then you would probably end up in Jaya again..."
"Oi! That was only once!"
"…or Omatsuri…or Hyoukaidou…"
"You make it sound like it's a regular occurrence."
"It's not? You're lucky that Mihawk likes you so much. Smoker-san would have fired you ages ago."
"Good thing I don't work for a prick, then. Well, less of a prick than Smoker, at least."
"He's not a prick. Oh, by the way…"
"There was a little incident at your coffee shop."
"I've only been there once." Tashigi didn't miss the suddenly tightened grip that Zoro held on the armrest. "What happened?"
"Oh, just an attempt at armed robbery. Three men from the Buggy gang."
"What? Are you serious? Did that pansy let himself get robbed?"
"I took the three robbers out with tranquilizers. Easy stuff, they were pretty dim."
"Nice. Even if that is fighting dirty." Should I go check up on him? Zoro thought anxiously.
"Darts against bullets, with a hostage? I don't think so. I seem to recall someone who uses three—"
"Here's my stop." Zoro clambered out of the car, grabbing his duffel bag. "Thanks again. I'll see you later."
"Next time, don't just call me when you need a ride!" Tashigi yelled before driving off.
Zoro looked up at the apartment complex where he currently resided. Although Zoro normally disliked any excess or overindulgence in luxury, he couldn't deny that it was comfortable. He unlocked the gate and walked through past the kidney-shaped swimming pool with a Jacuzzi in the curve of the pool. Since they were close to the University of Navarone, the people who lived here were around his own age. He walked up the stairs—he hated waiting for the elevator or talking to people on the ride up—and made his way to the seventh floor, down the hall, and to the door at the very end. He kicked off his shoes and put them in the small sunken square of space designated for that very purpose. His room was on the corner of the triangular building, meaning that he had a good view of the city with two expansive windows. His flat was almost completely empty. A dresser and mattress were in the bedroom, making the relatively large space seem even bigger—the closet was embedded in the wall, so that didn't take up any room, either. He rarely cooked, and what few utensils and cooking pans that he had were stored safely in the cupboards in the kitchen. A slice of stale bread was still in its bag on the counter, and he stuffed it absently into his mouth before washing it down with an open can of beer from the fridge. A single beanbag chair sat in the corner and he dragged it to the middle of the room before digging into its squishy depths for the remote control. An old television sat on the floor and was plugged into the wall; he had to hit it a few times before it began to work properly.
The Galley-La Apartments were known for their luxurious settings at prices that matched; still, Zoro's furniture was no indication of his wealth; in fact, he could have even lived in more expensive parts of the city without too much strain on his banking account. However, housing was given only after the landlords had personally approved, and he generally liked the people who were admitted into the building.
Zoro heard a loud banging on the door. Speak of the devil.
"Shut up, I'm coming!"
Zoro opened the door and a ball of energy burst through, wrapping around his midriff.
"Zoro! You're back!" Luffy peered up under a skewed straw hat. He wore a red shirt with the words 'Galley-La' printed on it over brown board shorts. His flip flops slapped the floor with his every step as he jumped back and forth excitedly before he kicked them off and tossed them in front of the door.
"Yes, Luffy, I'm back. I went to work…you know…what normal people do for a living."
"Shishishi! Being a landlord is work, too!"
"Your brother does all the work. He even cleans the pools himself."
Luffy pouted. "But he said he only does that because the girls like seeing him shirtless."
"He still goes around shirtless anyway."
"Well, still," Luffy said, as though that magically explained everything. "Want to go out and get something to eat?"
Zoro grinned as he grabbed his coat. "Are you treating me?"
"Stingy! Well, Paulie finally paid his rent, so sure!"
Zoro was glad to be home. "Let's meet up with the others, then. We can call Chopper, Usopp, and Franky."
"I'll call Robin and Vivi, too. What about Tashigi?"
"Er…sure. Tashigi, too."
"Cool! Let's go, then!"
"Where do you want to eat?"
"Duuuh. Rain Dinners. They have the BEST food."
"You only like it because it's a buffet. They almost threw us out last time."
"I promise I won't eat ice cream directly from the soft serve spigot. Please, Zoro?"
"Hey, it's your paycheck."
Zoro chuckled as they texted their friends to meet them.
Sanji sighed as he looked at the mess that the robbers had left behind. He would have to clean up tomorrow morning or later that night. Now, though, he had work to do.
Although the Paris Baguette was a successful joint, he had quickly realized that he needed something to supplement his income if he wanted to live comfortably in a place like Navarone's Fire Sector. Thus, he had taken a second job as a chef for one of the busiest restaurants in the city—Rain Dinners. Although it was a buffet and the owners were more concerned with producing quantity over quality, he still insisted on maintaining flavor. The first day that he began working there, he used scraps of food that other chefs had deemed as trash and turned them into dishes that were emptied almost as soon as they hit the buffet tables. Rain Dinners began to enjoy income on levels that were astounding and unprecedented because of his treatment of food and his hesitancy to waste anything. They had even set up a small booth for him to allow the diners to see him at work, pleasing both Sanji and the female clientele to no end.
Sanji took one look at the ingredients and grills laid out before him and knew what he would be cooking—takoyaki. It was a fast dish that required little time or skill, but which could be turned into something more spectacular than regular street food with the right touch. The fact that watching it being made was fun was always a bonus. Sanji immediately pulled his sleeves back, adjusted his chef's hat, and flashed a winsome smile at the people who were already lining up to see what he would make next.
"Look, Zoro! Takoyaki! I haven't had that since Ace brought some from Little Tokyo," Luffy exclaimed excitedly as he dragged Zoro along. "It's too bad Tashigi and Usopp and Chopper couldn't make it—they like takoyaki, right?" They hadn't been to Rain Dinners in a long time because of Luffy's last display of gluttony, but he was fairly certain that none of the waiters would remember them.
The glares that they received suggested otherwise.
Sanji looked up as the manager Chaka tapped him on the shoulder.
"What's up, Chaka?" Sanji asked, flipping the dumplings expertly.
Chaka pointed to the large group that had just entered. "You see that man there, with the straw hat? Watch out for him. He's a customer of the worst sort. Last time, we caught him eating ice cream straight from the dispensers, and taking whole trays of food instead of putting it on his plate. He was—oh my god is that Vivi? What is she doing, hanging with that sort of man? Pell!" Chaka waved over his co-manager. "Is that Vivi?"
"My goodness, so it is." The blond man watched curiously, without as much chagrin as his business partner was displaying.
"We—she—what will her father say about this?"
"Who's the babe?" Sanji grinned lecherously.
"Quiet! That's Vivi Nefertari, the daughter of Cobra Nefertari!"
"Nefertari as in of Arabasta Mutual Banks?"
"Yes, 'that' Nefertari."
"Looks like her lady friend is quite the looker too."
"You lecher, do you…oh…she is, isn't she?" Pell whistled softly as he caught sight of the shapely woman following Vivi into the restaurant.
"Relax, Chaka. I'm sure that Mr. Nefertari approves of them."
"You're starting to sound like Igaram. Don't."
"Oh, dear god, no."
Sanji shrugged as the two managers left. If they came and bothered him, he wouldn't mind, as long as the men kept their hands to themselves.
"Are you sure you should be up and about, pansy?"
Sanji's head whipped up and he winced as a ball of takoyaki rolled off the grill and onto the counter. Before he could pick it up, it was already in Luffy's mouth.
"Mmm, this is good!"
"That wasn't even cooked all the way," Sanji informed Luffy. "You're that guy from earlier today, aren't you? The asshole?"
Zoro growled and tugged on Luffy's arm, pulling the cap that he had donned further down over his head. "Come on, let's go get something else to eat. I don't want any of this shitty cook's crap."
"But it was soo good."
"Whose cooking are you calling crap?"
"Yours, crap cook."
"Bold words for a man who's too meek to go out without covering his head. Why do you wear those hats, anyway?"
"Is there a problem?" Vivi asked softly. Behind them, a line was forming, and Sanji worked quickly to whip out the now-cooked takoyaki.
"Mellorine~! No, princess, there isn't a problem. I can only hope that you enjoy this meager offering that I might give to you," Sanji said grandly. "Please, help yourself. Would you like any toppings? Perhaps some takoyaki sauce?"
"A perverted and a shitty cook. Great combo."
"Hey, bro, don't hate!" Franky protested. "I'm sure he's got a reason for being a womanizer, you know!"
Sanji slapped his forehead. "All of you, just get your food and keep moving. That is, except for you, my dears," Sanji said happily to Vivi and Robin.
"Good thing Tashigi couldn't come. She would have put this perv in a headlock," Zoro muttered as Franky and Luffy chuckled.
Sanji twitched, but didn't say anything as something niggled in the back of his mind. As he looked at Zoro, he suddenly remembered an incident that had occurred earlier that day concerning his blue dish. "Wait. There's one thing we haven't settled yet."
"Oh? What's that?"
"My dishes. Because of you, I broke my best dishes."
"What the hell are you talking about? Why is this even relevant?"
"How could it get any less relevant, you idiot?"
"I hate it when morons answer questions with rhetorical questions."
"Hey, now just a minute—"
"Sanji." A hand tapped him on the shoulder, and Sanji looked around to see Chaka giving him a stern look. "Please do not argue with the customers."
Sanji sighed. "Alright. You. We'll take this outside after my shift."
A/N: So this is the first chapter! How was it? Feedback would be much appreciated.
And about Chopper—yes, he is large. Imagine him in his human form, with his height between 178 and 225 cm (5'10 to 7'4.5)—in other words, somewhere between Zoro and Franky. Yeah. Big.
A short explanation concerning the Sectors, because even I'm confused as I'm writing this. Okay. So basically, Navarone is divided into four different districts, based on the elements (yeah really original, I know -.-) Water, Fire, Air, and Earth, in order of wealth and prestige (with Water being the highest). More information to come later.