They met in a grocery store because Sanji accidentally rammed his cart into Zoro's, which ended up knocking into the distracted swordsman, which caused him to drop the milk he'd been examining. Sanji watched all of this in surprise and amusement, certain that all had not just happened because, jeez.

And then Sanji laughed, because he couldn't really do anything else.

"What the hell!" the man—his most striking characteristic obviously the lawn he called hair, aside from the endless black eyes and, well, very toned body—yelped. At this point, before Sanji knew Zoro's name, he referred to him as "the marimo" in his head. "Hey, why the fuck are you laughing?!"

Sanji really didn't think it was that big of a deal—after all, no use crying of spilled milk, right?—but the man seemed to be taking everything all very personally.

"My bad," Sanji said easily, pulling a cigarette from his jacket pocket and tucking it behind his ear. Sanji's casual dismissal didn't seem to appease the tetchy man, who looked all but ready to clean the floor with Sanji's carcass if he had his way. Sanji wasn't impressed.

"Christ, you're a real asshole, aren't you?" the marimo said, crouching down to pick up the milk carton.

What the hell, was the guy itching for a fight or what. "Well, Marimo, maybe if you didn't take your sweet time staring at the milk carton like a dumbass, I wouldn't have lightly bumped into your cart. What were you looking for in there, the answer to life or something?"

The marimo snarled and snatched Sanji up by the collar. Up close, those dark eyes were deeper than any black hole. The guy had a very intimidating scowl, but Sanji was made of tougher stuff.

"You wanna fight or something?" Sanji asked, pulse accelerated. A grin stretched across his face, a nasty, mischievous twist of his lips. He could feel the marimo's power just from the grip on his shirt, sinewy muscles taut and clenching. If he fought this marimo, it would be a challenge, and Sanji craved for it, like nicotine, like sex, like air. People were staring now, peering behind the racks of food. Sanji could put on a show.

But the marimo, disappointingly, released Sanji after a long moment of hesitation. Sanji had a feeling that if they hadn't been at the grocery store, the man would have taken him up on his offer.

"No," the marimo said, "I wouldn't waste my time on you." He stormed off, not bothering to offer to pay for the spilt milk or even apologize to one of the clerks. Sanji decided that he must be a college student. Maybe from SFSU. He didn't look like the stereotypical art student, but Sanji didn't dismiss the possibility.

One of the clerks brought out a mop and bucket and Sanji sighed. "I'll pay for the milk," he said.

"Good."

"It was my fault, after all," said Sanji.

"Yep," said the clerk, then ignored Sanji completely.

Sanji didn't think he would ever get used to San Francisco, and he'd been living there for ten years.

o o o o o

The second time Sanji met Zoro, it was during a street brawl.

It was his fault for risking the Tenderloin this late at night, but it was the quickest way to get from Geary to Market and Sanji was in a hurry to get home. It had been a long night at the Baratie and he was anxious to get back to his tiny apartment to possibly soak for an hour or two before burying himself under a mountain of blankets. He was tired, he was cold, he was moody, and all he wanted to do was sleep.

He should have predicted he'd get jumped.

One thug was—a little odd, and not falling as easily as he should have. He wasn't a match for Sanji, who proudly wore the nickname Black Leg like a badge, but he got back up when Sanji kicked him. This didn't happen very often.

"Hey," Sanji said. He lit his cigarette with his most prized Zippo—an obscene thing shaped like a woman's body and flashed inappropriately when the switch was flicked. The thug's skin was wobbling, as if whatever was underneath it was too big, too sentient to be confined to a human body. Sanji didn't think he should be seeing something like this, a hint to a world he wasn't necessarily a part of, and it made the hair on the back of his neck prickle.

"That's really nasty," he told the thing that wasn't a human.

What crawled out of the man's skin wasn't quite a bat, since it was huge, but that was the closest thing Sanji could compare it to. A giant, furry, stinky bat. "What were those, then," asked Sanji to the bat, "zombies? What is this, some sort of B movie?"

The giant bat moved much faster than Sanji would have expected, considering its bulky, hulking body. It was on him in a flash, claws scratching at his chest, digging, and Sanji realized, I'm going to be like that thug. This thing is going to turn me into an animated corpse.

"Like hell!" Sanji shouted into the face of the bat, then brought his knees up to his chest, jackrabbiting the creature into the air. At that same moment, a sword sliced down, slamming into the street where Sanji's legs had been just a second ago.

"Jesus Christ!" Sanji shouted at the marimo, leaping back to his feet without using his arms. The jacket, probably the only thing that saved him from being instantly dissected by the bat's claws, hung in shreds from his shoulders. Damnit, this was his nice coat. He was cut, that much was certain without checking, but he was mostly certain that the wounds were shallow. They didn't stop him from getting into the marimo's face, at least. "What the fuck were you trying to do, kill me?! It was just milk!"

The man looked stunned for a moment, before schooling his features and straightening, swinging the sword up behind him. "I was trying to save your life."

"By chopping off my legs?!"

"I didn't think you'd kick out like that."

"If I didn't, I wouldn't be able to walk away from all this, because I would have no more legs!"

"No," the murderous marimo said calmly, "I would have cut off that bat monster's head."

The creature, as if coming when it was called, swan dove at them with an angry shriek. Sanji wasn't done arguing with the marimo though, and sent it crashing into the side of a building with a high kick. Several of the windows shattered on impact, glass and dust and other debris falling to the street. Sanji would have felt guilty if he didn't know that the building was abandoned. Except then the face of a startled homeless man popped out from one of the recently broken windows, and then Sanji felt like shit.

He finished off his high kick with a roundhouse, but the marimo was prepared for his attack and blocked it with his sword. Sanji used this momentum to push himself down, catching himself with one arm for a spin kick.

Those muscles, Sanji thought when he was launched backwards into a wall by a swing of the marimo's blade, were definitely not for show. Damnit, he was going to feel that tomorrow.

Sanji's eyes widened as the marimo came swinging at him like some sort of deranged swordfish. "Fuck, I don't have time for this!" he shouted into the marimo's face, causing him to trip a little. "I have work tomorrow! The old man is going to kill me if I come in looking like shit!"

The marimo stared at him, dumbfounded. "You're worried about that?"

It didn't strike Sanji as odd that he would be more concerned about Zeff than he was about the deranged killer bat that crawled out of some dead thug—after all, Sanji had no doubt that Zeff could inflict much more damage on him than any weird creature could.

The marimo lowered his sword. "What are you, an idiot or something?"

The bat, offended that it was being ignored in favor of some sort of stupid squabble, screeched and lunged at them, claws extended. The marimo snarled and turned on it, and for a moment Sanji wondered which of them was the true monster. The marimo moved faster than humanly possible, sword arcing up and through the monster's chest as if it were water, then back down again as if the marimo wanted to make certain the bat wouldn't get up again. When it fell to the ground, it was in pieces.

"It's not like you have to worry about or anything," the marimo said casually, wiping his sword against the bat's body to clean off the blood. "You're going to die, anyway."

Sanji snorted in disbelief, leaning against the wall. The cuts must have been deeper than he originally thought. It felt infected, as if someone poured tabasco sauce into his veins. He closed his eyes. "What, you going to attack a wounded man?"

"No, the bat's poison has digestive qualities. Sort of like a spider." The marimo said this all with such careless ease that Sanji was beginning to think he didn't care.

"I'm beginning to think you don't care," Sanji told him.

"What was the first hint?"

Sanji attempted to kick him, but a sudden, sharp pain caused him to double over. He braced himself against his knees, a cold sweat gathering at his brow. "So, Doctor Marimo, how much longer do I have?"

"Don't call me that." The marimo considered him thoughtfully. "You're a pretty strong guy, so I'd give it about twenty-four hours."

"God, you're a prick," Sanji laughed, though it came out like a gasp. Panic was welling up inside of him, but he knew that freaking out would be counter-productive. He would rehash everything in his nice warm apartment when he wasn't dying. "So, is there anything I can do? Are you going to help me?"

"Say please," said the marimo.

Sanji stared at him in wonder. "You're fucking with a dying man," he stated in disbelief.

The marimo sighed and manhandled Sanji until he had the chef's arm slung around his shoulders. "You're such a fucking pain."

Sanji chuckled, then spared a glance at the remains of the bat. "Is it okay to just leave it there?"

The marimo didn't even bother to look, just hauled Sanji forward. "Don't worry about it."

And Sanji realized that Zoro was right, there really wasn't anything to worry about, when three rats the size of labradors slunk out from the shadows and attacked the carcass with relish.

The marimo said nothing while they walked, just held Sanji up and kept them on a straight path forward. Sanji leaned heavily against him, fading in and out of consciousness. It didn't even occur to him to doubt the marimo's fantastic words about the poison. It was just one of those things where Sanji knew implicitly that he wasn't being lied to. It probably wasn't the smartest idea, however, to follow this stranger who had, just moments earlier, been trying to murder him. But Sanji was beyond caring. Besides, if the marimo left him in the alley, he knew that's where he would be found the next day, cold and dead. At least depending on the marimo was getting him somewhere.

"Are you taking me to the hospital?" Sanji gasped out, not really interested in the answer. By this point, he was certain he was going to die no matter where the marimo was taking him, and he just wanted to distract himself from the pain.

"Your doctors won't be able to help you," the marimo said quietly. Sanji stumbled slightly. At his side the marimo sighed in disgust and then scooped Sanji up, bridal-style.

Sanji knew he was in trouble when he couldn't bring himself to even care about that.

"So, you're a swordsman," Sanji said conversationally. If he stopped talking, he would pass out. "Weird. Really weird. Who uses swords these days? What are you, a samurai?"

The marimo grunted in response.

Sanji wasn't deterred by the lack of verbosity in his conversation partner. This was not the point of the exercise. "What's your name, anyway? What was that bat thing? And those rats, I haven't seen a rat like that before, ever. Are all rats like that in San Francisco? Hey, fucker, tell me your name."

The marimo snorted. "Zoro."

"Like that guy from the movie? Oh my god, that's so perfect."

"Look," said Zoro, "I can drop you anytime and leave you to rot on the street."

Sanji tsked, but threw his arms around Zoro's neck just in case and caught him in a strangle hold. If Zoro wanted to get rid of him, he'd have to chop off Sanji's arms, first. Though that probably wouldn't be that huge of a deal for the man who was apparently stuck in the wrong century.

"Where did you learn how to fight like that?"

"Hi, nice to meet you," Sanji said in response. "I'm Sanji."

"Charmed, I'm sure," Zoro said automatically, and Sanji cracked a grin. "Answer my question. It doesn't look like you have any particular style, just like you kind of—mashed together a bunch of different ones."

Sanji didn't tell his life story to just anyone, and opened his mouth to say, None of your business, fucker, but what came out was, "Some of it was from living on the streets when I was younger, but most of it was from the old man. I've never had any proper training, but I don't need it. I fight because I have to and because it's fun, not because I want to—perform, or something." It was harder to get the last bit out than he liked, and he had to pause between words to get his breath back. The pain was incredible, as if there were shards of a broken plate jammed into every nerve ending in his body.

"You're stronger than most humans."

"Just because I don't have any proper training," Sanji gasped, clutching at Zoro's shirt, "doesn't mean that I don't train every day. I—have to." He clenched his eyes shut and concentrated on breathing, skin feeling like it was drenched in hot soup, breath coming out in short pants. Fuck, he was being digested from the inside. Even if Zoro's miracle doctor had some sort of cure, the poison would have surely caused irreparable damage by the time they got to him.

"Relax," Zoro said calmly. They were going down, Sanji could tell this without opening his eyes, and it was getting cooler, but Sanji was feverish and unaffected. "I know it hurts, but the poison doesn't really start taking affect for several more hours."

What, was that supposed to make him feel better? Sanji wanted to tell him off, but the pain was overwhelming and, even though he fought it, Sanji sank into blissful unconsciousness.

When he woke up again, it to the face of a concerned looking reindeer.

"You would probably be good in a stew," Sanji told it. "Slow cooked. Maybe in a crockpot? Cheap way out I always say, but sometimes taking the easy road makes the best dishes."

"AGH he wants to eat me!" the reindeer cried, taking off to hide the wrong way. Sanji pushed himself up into a sitting position and was rewarded for his efforts by being smacked roughly against the back of his head.

"Hey, fucker, that main course you were just talking about saved your life."

Sanji looked up at Zoro in disbelief, brain short-circuiting. "This isn't fair," he said. "You're asking way too much of me. Not only are there weird bat creatures using thugs as nests, but reindeer talk?"

"And practice medicine," Zoro said, picking up the plush sized deer. "He was able to stop the poison from doing any major damage, but—"

"But you'll need to take it easy for a couple of days," the reindeer said, now that he was safe in Zoro's arms. Sanji stared at him, then shook his head quickly, trying to dislodge the cobwebs. He immediately regretted it when his vision refused to focus. He dropped back down, sprawled out spread eagle.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I shouldn't have talked about cooking you, though you would probably make a good stew. Thank you very much for saving me."

"Your gratitude means nothing to me!" the little deer shouted, hooves flying to his cheeks, then he scrambled out of Zoro's arms, landing splayed. He took off out of the room, obviously overwhelmed. Sanji could sympathize with him.

"Hey, shithead," Sanji said towards the ceiling, though he was clearly referring to Zoro. "We need to talk."

"What the hell are you, a jaded lover?"

"No, I'm a guy who just got attacked by a poisonous bat and patched up by a talking plush doll. I just want some explanations, such as what the fuck is going on here?"

He felt the bed sink down where Zoro sat next to him, but didn't turn his head. "There's a lot more to this world than just what you can see," Zoro said after a long moment. "And then there are parts of the world and its inhabitants that don't want to be seen, and therefore won't be."

"I would have never pegged you as a guy who would use the word 'inhabitants'," Sanji said, and Zoro whacked him against the stomach. "Ow, motherfucker."

"Anyway," Zoro continued, "I don't know why they noticed you. Maybe because you spilled my milk, fucker."

"All this just because of milk?"

Zoro observed him thoughtfully, eyes searching Sanji's face like a pair of hands feeling a piece of fruit to see if it was good. "No," he said, finally. "Not just because of that. I think they would have eventually noticed you, anyway. You're—different."

"No I'm not," Sanji said automatically, though he knew this was a lie. He had to be different. In fact, he strived to be different, because it was the only way he could get someone like Zeff to take him seriously.

"If you were normal," said Zoro, "then that bat would have killed you instantly with its attacks, and you definitely wouldn't have been able to fling it off into some buildings. Also, that poison—" Zoro paused, considering his words. "It's really potent."

"No shit."

"No, I mean, you should have died as soon as it hit your bloodstream. I was lying when I said you had twenty-four hours to live."

Sanji stared up at him.

"Chopper said that he's never seen anything like that—in a normal human. The poison affected you like it would have affected us."

"Us being—"

Zoro shrugged. "We have a lot of different names, but my kind are usually called pirates."

"Pirates?" Sanji asked skeptically. "As in, 'yohoho and a bottle of rum'?"

"Well, yes. Kind of."

"That's so fucking stupid."

"Sort of like your face."

Sanji fell silent, closing his eyes. He could feel the beginnings of a nicotine attack creep up on him, lungs clenching up. If he didn't get a cigarette soon, he would turn into a jerky, nervous mess that couldn't get a sentence out properly. "I don't believe that this whole world could exist without being noticed. I mean, the government—"

"I never said people don't know about us. Not everyone, at least." Zoro reached forward and pulled the pack of cigarettes from Sanji's jacket, bumping one out and holding it out for Sanji.

"I could kiss you," Sanji said with relief.

"Please don't, I wouldn't want to have to cut off my own lips." Zoro snorted at Sanji's prized lighter and handed it over. "The government knows about us. They're the one who initially funded our trade with you Outsiders."

Sanji lit his cigarette and exhaled out a stream of smoke with relief. He could handle anything as long as he had his cigarettes to keep him grounded. "Okay," Sanji said after a moment. "So, when can I go back home?"

"That's it?" Zoro said in surprise. "You don't want to actually see anything?"

"Not particularly. I've got my own shit I got to take care of. I don't need to get involved with any pirates or bats or talking reindeer." He stood up carefully, one hand against his chest. He thought he heard Zoro say, "It's too late for that," but was pretty sure his mind was just playing tricks on him. With regret over the loss of such a specimen of fashion, he slung on the remains of his jacket, then looked over at Zoro.

"Here," Zoro said, holding out a small jar. "Chopper said you should put this on your wound twice a day for a week."

Sanji took it and slipped it into the pocket of his jacket. He considered Zoro for a moment, then nodded. "Thank you. For saving me."

Zoro pursed his lips together and said nothing.

"Asshole, a normal person would say 'you're welcome'," Sanji grumbled.

"The stairs to the left will lead you back to San Francisco," was all Zoro said and Sanji, with a parting glare, left.

o o o o o

The effects of the poison lingered. At work the next day he was sluggish where he should have been fast, and most of the meals he cooked came back half-eaten. His wounds itched horribly and he was having trouble breathing, and while he was sure smoking didn't help this, he had bought three packs to get him through the day.

"I don't know what the fuck you're thinking!" Zeff snarled. "Get out of my kitchen if all you're going to do is fuck around!"

Sanji stared at Zeff in shock. By now the old man should have sent him across the kitchen via Red Leg Express, but instead there was a knowing glint in Zeff's eyes. "Take the rest of the day off, you lazy fuck-up, and next time you come into work hungover you better fucking believe your ass will be back on the streets where I found it, shithead!"

But when Zeff stormed past him, he grabbed Sanji's shoulder roughly and discreetly murmured, "Make sure you use that salve, and if it gets any worse you sure as hell better get your ass back to Chopper."

Sanji caught the edge of the counter, suddenly needing something to keep himself upright. Zeff knew about this crazy underworld society? The old man looked down at him somberly, then went to harass Patty who was watching their exchange with glee, probably hoping this would be the day Sanji was fired.

"What the fuck," he murmured under his breath, and left the kitchens.

His favorite patron was greedily stuffing his face at his usual table. When Luffy saw Sanji he waved enthusiastically, shouting for him with his mouth full. Sanji could never get too annoyed at someone who so very obviously appreciated food. Besides, there was just something about Luffy. Sanji sank into the chair across from him, and Luffy shoved the last bit of food into his mouth. "Sanji!" he yelled cheerfully, beaming with the innocence of youth that wasn't often found this deep in the city.

"Hey, Luffy," Sanji said, a little tiredly. If he wanted to be completely honest with himself, the events of last night were wearing him thin. Zeff was right. He should take the day off and get away from everything for awhile.

Luffy's arm stretched forward, and then stretched and stretched and stretched, tugging at Sanji's collar. "Hey! Are you all right? Zoro said that—"

Sanji fell out of his chair, scrambling backwards. He stared up at Luffy, wide eyed and horrified. He rubbed his eyes furiously, then looked around the restaurant frantically. The other patrons didn't even notice them, just continued chatting and laughing as if Luffy had not just stretched his arm out to impossible lengths and Sanji hadn't gone sprawling from his chair. He closed his eyes, trying to keep control of his breathing. Inhale, exhale. If he didn't calm down, he was going to start hyperventilating and end up making a huge scene, and then everyone really would notice them and Zeff would probably kill him.

Luffy was looking at him seriously, the expression alien on his features. "They can't see," he said simply.

"What the fuck, is Harry Potter going to pop up next?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Luffy said cheerfully. "So a bat demon attacked you, huh? I heard that you made quick work of it! Wow, I always knew you were a little weird, but I didn't know you were like us!"

"You know the marimo," Sanji said, flatly.

"Duh, everyone knows Zoro. But of course I know him, he's my first mate and best friend!" Luffy studied Sanji thoughtfully, but his grin was unnaturally wide. "Zoro doesn't normally help people like he helped you, especially not after they've pissed him off as bad as you did when you guys first met."

"It was just milk," Sanji groused, pulling himself up and back into his chair.

"Now that you know about us, you should join our crew!" Luffy crowed, delighted. "I've been trying to get Zeff to tell you about us for a year now. You'd be perfect with the Straw Hats!"

Sanji didn't know how much more of this he could take. The world he knew was being flipped upside down, and while he had always suspected that there was something going on in the sidelines, behind the shadows and staying just outside of peripheral vision, he never expected things to turn out this way. The old man apparently knew all about this other world, but had fought to keep Sanji unaware. He wondered just how far Zeff had gone to protect him.

"Look," Sanji said slowly, a good deal more calm than he felt. "I'm not going to go off and sail the blue seas with you guys—"

"Whoever said anything about sailing?"

Sanji blinked at him, confused. "Zoro said you guys were pirates."

"We are."

"Pirates usually, er, have a boat."

Luffy stared at him blankly.

"Okay, so we obviously have very different ideas about what a pirate is," Sanji said slowly. "Why don't you tell me what you do?"

"We get treasure," Luffy said promptly. "And fight a lot of other pirates, and then trade the treasure—I don't know about all of that, Nami's the one who deals with the treasure and stuff, and travel all over the world to find more treasure—"

"But not in a boat."

"Only if the treasure's in the ocean. Why would we take a boat? We have an airplane."

"Yes, of course," Sanji said with a sigh. "I'm sorry, Luffy, but I can't go with you."

Seeing a sentient rubber-band pout with all his might was interesting. "Why not?"

"Because I have other responsibilities. I can't just leave the Baratie because you want me to, and I wouldn't be able to stay if I became a pirate. It's not like I can travel all over the world and keep working at Baratie.

Luffy considered Sanji pensively. "But if you travel the world with us, then you can learn a whole lotta new recipes."

Sanji froze.

"You can have the chefs from France and Italy and Spain and everywhere teach you their secrets. Plus," Luffy said with a crafty smile, "you like ladies, right? We meet a lot of foreign ladies."

Two huge thoughts battled for dominance in Sanji's mind. His first thought was, Who taught Luffy how to con people? This thought was overwhelmed by the images of beautiful Latin women with skirts that flowed out when they twirled, slender French women that killed him with their grace and style, the smooth, dark skin of African women who smiled at him brilliantly. That, plus the opportunity to learn new recipes—

"You should do it."

Sanji looked up at Zeff in surprise, eyebrows raised. More people were noticing them now, their attentions caught by the head chef talking with his second chef. Zeff sat across from him, beside Luffy, with a sigh. "I've been trying to keep you away from these fucking pirates for god knows how long. Luffy isn't the first captain to try and take you away. It wasn't easy." Zeff glanced at Luffy, a fond smile almost touching his grouchy lips. "Luffy's a good guy. Joining them will be good experience for you."

"Old man—" Sanji said.

"The Baratie will be here when you come back. Besides, maybe we can finally hire someone who knows what the hell he's doing." Zeff considered Sanji thoughtfully, then stood up. "Don't come back tomorrow."

Sanji felt as if his world dropped out from under his feet. He watched Zeff amble back towards the kitchens, feeling weak and a little nauseated. He wanted to chase after Zeff, to yell at him, to plead with him not to be so unreasonable, but knew that Zeff wouldn't have any reservations to kick him this time, and he really didn't think he could handle it this time.

"Hey, that's great!" Luffy said, excitedly. "Now you have to join us!"

Sanji pushed himself up, wobbling slightly. "I'm going home." But no, that wasn't really true. The Baratie was his home, and now he wasn't allowed back into it because some fucking pirate wanted him to join his crew. This was just too much.

"Sanji—"

"Luffy, I'm going home."

o o o o o

Sanji found, after a week of moping around in his apartment and stressing out about next month's rent, that avoiding this new world was next to impossible. All those things he had been previously unaware of were cropping up all over the place. At Mission's Flea Market he caught a glimpse of a ridiculously tall and emaciated man examining a violin. Except when the man reached forward to drop some bills in front of the oblivious vendor, it was bones that slid out from under his sleeve. Sanji had let out an undignified yelp of surprise and the skeleton jumped, whirling around to look at Sanji with those empty eye sockets.

Sanji took off in the other direction. If he had been looking, he would have seen the skeleton running away, too.

It didn't end there. At one point he glanced out his window and a flock of goldfish flew by, being chased by an enthusiastic white fox. Sanji lived on the fifth floor. He closed his blinds. Similarly, when he was walking to the corner market to pick up a pack of cigarettes, an inflated octopus floated by overhead.

Sanji didn't know how much more of this he could take.

"You're just fighting the inevitable," a slender, red haired girl who Sanji had been ogling at all night said. Sanji had decided to drown himself in whiskey that night, hoping to avoid everything, just for one night.

"Look," Sanji said, interest evaporating, "I can't accept this."

"Why not?" the girl asked, crossing one long, slender leg over the other. Sanji lied. He was still interested. "You're a part of us now, whether you like it or not. Luffy told me Zeff fired you, right? Well, what are you doing with yourself now? Sitting at home and feeling bad for yourself? Stop fighting it, Sanji."

Sanji felt around in his pocket for a cigarette, then put one in his mouth even though he couldn't light it, just for comfort. "How did you find out everything was different?"

"I've always known," the girl said, promptly.

"I'm guessing that's how it was for Zoro and Luffy too, right? I had a life before this."

"Some life," the girl snorted. "Let me guess, you live alone in a one bedroom apartment—no, maybe a studio, and work, what, forty hours a week or more? The only friends you've managed to keep are the ones at work, but you don't really get along with them because they're all envious of you or think you want to overthrow Zeff." She paused. "Okay, so the last bit I didn't really guess on."

"Well, I don't know, maybe if you all would stop throwing me for a fucking loop I wouldn't have so many reservations about this!" Sanji said, frustration bubbling over and inhibitions dropped somewhere after his third glass. Immediately, he felt horrible, and slumped over the counter. "It is unforgivable of me have spoken like that to such a vision as yourself."

"It's all right," the girl said, quietly.

"Did Luffy send you?"

The girl frowned, stirring her electric blue drink. "He really wants you to join. To be honest, I don't know why you're so adamant about not."

"I have some misgivings about throwing myself headfirst into a world I'm not a part of."

"I think you're just being stubborn," said the girl.

Sanji threw back the rest of his drink, then stood up. "I'm going outside to have a cigarette. Hey, bartender, put the rest of this lovely girl's drink on my tab, will you?"

He wasn't really surprised when Zoro fell into step beside him as he walked down the street, away from the bar. "You shouldn't have done that," Zoro said, looking out to the street. "She'll probably buy everyone in the bar a drink now."

"Doesn't matter, the credit card they have belongs to some guy named Duval, anyway."

Zoro turned to Sanji, frowning. "You have less morals than Nami."

They walked together in silence for a couple of blocks, streetlights dimly coating the sleepy city in a pale glow. There were creatures that Sanji had never seen before rummaging through the garbage cans, raccoons with two heads, foxes with three tails.

"Why are you here, anyway?" Sanji asked.

"I've come to take you to the Going Merry. Are you done thinking about whatever you need to think about?"

"You guys can't take no for an answer, can you?" Sanji sighed, then flicked his cigarette out into the street. He looked around, at the life that came out in the cover of the night, at the creatures that should not belong in the world he knew, and realized that whether he liked it or not, things had changed. The only thing he could do now was roll with the punches. He pulled another cigarette from his pocket and looked back at Zoro, those black eyes filled with infinite possibilities. Sanji sighed, and threw everything to the wind.

"Fine. You win. I give. Take me to your leader, Scotty."

Zoro grinned at him triumphantly. "It's about damn time."