Well it's nearly two years since we've written One Piece. Guess who's back?

This fic starts back at the beginning. Immediately following Arlong Park there was a definite sense of comraderie between Zoro and Sanji -- chemistry even. What happened there?

This promises to be a very long one, folks. For those of you who may tack us on LJ and are wondering "WHAT ABOUT SOUND SIREN, ASSHOLES?!" -- I promise, we haven't forgotten you or that fic. We still (no, believe me. seriously.) have good intentions for that fic. But after such a long hiatus, we're easing back into writing these two seriously and are following where inspiration leads. We've been dabbling here and there and will probably have a few more things to post soon, as molasses-slow as we may be. :)

We hope you enjoy the new fic and can forgive us if we're a bit rusty!

~JadePrince + DustyJack

Initially, Zoro had some misgivings about Luffy's decision to drag the gangly blond cook on their little adventure. He didn't object necessarily. He'd learned quickly enough in their short bit of time together that there wasn't much use in trying to argue with his new wayward captain. And Luffy had managed to get enough under his skin and earn enough of his affection that he found it would be difficult to deny the boy much anyway. Not that he would let anyone else know that.

The cook seemed like he might be problematic. His instant enamor with the thief woman didn't bode well. If his judgment was worth anything, Zoro was sure that she had no interest in letting a man get anywhere with her -- but had no problem in using her wiles to the fullest extent. It promised to be a long, uncomfortable ride for the cook.

The swordsman had no particular problem with him, though. It might be nice to have someone his own age around -- someone potentially a little more worldly than the two younger members of the crew. And if that person were to be good looking -- considering the rules of the sea -- he couldn't complain. There was a dry thought at the back of his mind that wondered just how many weeks the other young man would survive on the waves with the frustration that the thief would inevitably infect him with. Zoro himself was particularly thankful he wasn't afflicted with similar urges.

After the battle at Arlong Park, his hesitation dissolved. Sanji's skill in the fray and readiness for self-sacrifice had won him over right away. The fight had been a particularly unpleasant one with odds stacked against them from all sides but he felt that he and the cook had worked well together. And Zoro could only be quietly grateful for the cook's concern for his well-being. The skirt-chasing habits were admittedly annoying but when he tasted the first bite of the first decent meal cooked aboard the Going Merry, Zoro found in it forgiveness for the unbecoming quirk.

In general, things appeared to be looking up for their young crew as they set out from Cocoyashi, their new navigator in tow and all five of them together on the fine little sheep-headed ship for the first time. The cook seemed to be as pleased with cooking as the rest of them were to be eating his meals, and Zoro rather suspected the blonde's skill had been wasted on that floating restaurant. Besides, if Luffy's ambitions turned out to be sound, then all of them had bigger futures in store than they'd had before meeting him. And anyway, despite the cook's sharp tongue and heavy feet, the smiles he offered along with his food were genuine. He was as happy as the rest of them.

It was their second night at sea, making their way out of East Blue with a strong headwind that drew them closer to the promise of the GrandLine and adventure. The first night aboard had been the final night of celebration and the real christening of their new ship. Sanji had made a feast that was an excellent impression for what the rest of the voyage would offer and the stores of rum and wine were full from Cocoyashi, leaving all satisfied. With the night breeze licking his skin cool and dry, Zoro finished a brief set at the bow. He toweled off until appropriately clean and ducked in to the galley for a drink before he would sleep until his early morning watch.

In the soft, pleasant glow of the galley, he found their new cook at the sink, working his way through the dishes from dinner. Zoro nodded to him when he glanced, then retrieved a bottle which he polished half of in one go. "Oi," he said, grinning just a little as he leaned an elbow on the counter beside the sink. "Can I help?"

The cook, Sanji, raised that strange curled brow, as though surprised by Zoro's question. It made sense, he supposed; it couldn't be common at a restaurant for the people who ate his food to help clean up afterwards. But they were on a pirate ship now and there were only five of them and none of them were customers (except maybe Nami) so it only made sense to Zoro that everyone be expected to pull their own weight. Except (again) perhaps for Nami.

"Yeah sure," the cook said, breaking Zoro's train of thought. "Wash your hands first, then you can help dry." Then he was moving, making room at the sink for Zoro, handing him a bar of soap.

Zoro did as he was told and rolled his eyes good-naturedly when Sanji requested to see his hands. When the cook was satisfied that his dishes wouldn't be smeared with sweat and grease and he nodded, Zoro held up a palm for the first dish to be handed to him. For a moment or two there was a comfortable silence aside from the swish and drip of water and light clinking of plates.

"Nice apron."

For just a beat Sanji met Zoro's gaze from the corner of his eye. Then he snorted, slapped another plate down in Zoro's waiting hands, and glanced pointedly down at the swordsman's crotch. "Nice wet spot." Parry, thrust.

Zoro blinked for a moment, then glanced down and grumbled. When he had the dish dry, he fumbled in a drawer for a dry towel which he tucked in the front of his pants, sticking out from under his haramaki. It was arguably less dignified than Sanji's pink apron.

But the cook didn't seem to need to rub it in, only allowing himself a quiet chuckle, maybe making a mental tally mark beside his own name. He said nothing further though, only the two syllables of Zoro's name as he passed him a cup.

He was interesting, this one. He made such an effort to be cool and aloof and sometimes actually pulled it off. But now and then, especially when there were women involved, that veneer slipped and there was a goofy teen with too many hormones underneath. And then there was a the deadly monster that appeared in battle. He was nothing if not well rounded. "All healed up?"Zoro wondered as he took another glass. Though Sanji hadn't sustained quite as much external damage, from his retelling of what had happened beneath the water, he had to have some internal aches and pains.

"All right," Sanji acknowledged; there was that attempt at coolness again. "Healthier than you, I suppose," he added, nodded toward the bandages they both knew still swathed Zoro's chest. "It's gonna scar?"

Zoro nodded and shrugged. "It wasn't exactly physical therapy at Arlong Park. But..." He shrugged again, green eyes on the dish in his hand. "It'll be a good reminder."

Sanji nodded as though he understood, but there was no way of telling if he did or not. "World's greatest swordsman, huh?" A beat. "Cool." Then, surprisingly, the cook smiled, his grin split right around the unlit cigarette he'd placed between his lips a moment earlier. "I guess you'd have to be to keep up with our captain, hm?"

Zoro cocked a brow at him but then smirked faintly back. "Luckily he's all thumbs if you hand him a blade."

Sanji chuckled. "I don't mean competition. I mean keeping up with him. I've got a feeling none of us really knows how big an adventure he's leading us into..." The dishes done, Sanji rubbed his hands dry on a towel and pulled the apron over his head. "Don't you think?"

"Mm." Thoughtfully, Zoro did the same, hanging up his own impromptu apron. "I know that wherever that kid goes there's danger. And danger makes you stronger. So it should be pretty good."

"Keep eating my food, it'll make you stronger too," the cook added, maybe just a little boastfully as he crossed behind Zoro to pick up the bottle of liquor he'd half finished. After fetching a couple of glasses, he found a seat at their table, poured two drinks.

"Is that how you got where you are? Your own cooking?" It was half-tease and half-compliment but delivered with a face that gave away nothing. He sat down across the table with an appreciative nod, palming the mug. He wondered how long the peace would last before Luffy burst in or Nami appeared with purred demands or Usopp blew something up.

There was that brow again-- Zoro swore it curled tighter with the cook's moods. "Something like that," Sanji finally answered, seemingly unable to quite decide if it was a compliment or a veiled insult. "That and a father figure who handed out kicks to the head and training lessons instead of hugs." It was clear though, from the cook's fond tone of voice that he didn't resent the old peg-legged man. As Zoro watched, he knocked back the liquid in his cup and poured another. "And you?"

"Single-minded determination. And... a debt to be paid. Of sorts."

Sanji seemed to have enough respect not to ask. He simply nodded as though Zoro's explanation was more than adequate. And perhaps, between two young men, it was. Details weren't as important as honor.

In the long, respectful and comfortable silence that followed, Zoro made sure not to smile. Just another reason to appreciate the cook's membership in their crew. Any of the others would have dogged him for more information, whining for a good story. Nami might have hit him on the back of the head and shouted not to be so cryptic. But, this one... He understood.

Zoro took his time with his drink, having downed nearly three servings before starting the dishes. He'd been drunk for nearly five days, it was time to take a breather.

"You're not green yet," he spoke up at length, glancing again at the cook. "This little boat rocks a lot more than that big anchored restaurant."

Sanji snorted, tongued a bit of liquor from the edge of his cup and met Zoro's eye over the table. "Not just the restaurant," he scoffed. "Spent my whole life on boats, on the sea. My legs haven't yet failed me."

Zoro chuckled vaguely, resting his cheek in a palm, elbow on the smooth edge of the new table. "Bet it helps when they're made of steel."

"Something like that." Sanji's answer was a smirk and a nod, accepting Zoro's compliment without much concern. "As good as swords, anyway."

A single brow was arched without moving a single other muscle. "Not sure I'd go that far."

"Only because you haven't yet had the opportunity to properly experience these weapons of mine." Sanji's raise of brow mirrored his own.

"Is that a challenge?" Zoro grinned faintly, something glinting in his eye. His rough hands suddenly itched for Wadou's hilt and could almost share the excitement with her even from across the room where she was propped against the wall.

"It'd be a shame to challenge you with such a handicap. Only one sword... that's unnatural for you, right?" Sanji took another swallow of the liquor, toe tapping audibly beneath the table.

"One sword against a pair of loafers seems fair enough to me." Zoro shrugged.

"It's not the shoes you should be worried about."

The swordsman glanced out a porthole. "The deck is pretty wide."

"Everyone else gone to bed?"

"Just Usopp up on watch. You tired?"

"Pfft, not at all. Just if we're gonna do this, no point in troubling the others." Sanji stood then, stretching his arms high over his head, twisting from the hips, and lifting each knee to his chest in turn.

Zoro almost said something about Sanji not wanting to embarrass himself in front of Nami. But he held it back. The evening was going so well, no need to spoil it by bringing up women. Instead he stood with a long stretch of his own, fingers threaded and wrists turned out before he retrieved the humming Wadou and held the door for Sanji with a smirk.

Sanji accepted the offer with a smirk of his own but as he passed the swordsman, he had to add, "Don't try to be a gentleman. It doesn't suit you."

He might have been wrong, but the words sounded to Zoro more like a compliment that a barb. With the way Sanji waved dismissively and lit up a cigarette without looking back, however, it was hard to tell.

The sea breeze tugged so lightly, so invitingly at hair and clothes, coaxing them down the steps that led to the deck. The slow click of Sanji's fine shoes was an answer to the tiny, rhythmic creaks of the ship. His cigarette smoke drifted lightly back as Zoro followed him and promised to cling to his hair and clothes for the rest of the night. He found he didn't particularly mind.

He felt Usopp's eyes on them from the crow's nest but surprisingly, the younger boy didn't call anything down to them. Maybe he was given pause with peaked curiosity when Sanji stopped, back still to Zoro who stopped easily as well. Maybe it was that Zoro was tying his bandanna into place. The sails flapped quietly above, perfect and unspoken understanding settling between them. A promise not to hold back but a counter promise to fight with honor. And in the silent words between them, Zoro wondered if it wasn't also a promise for when, soon again, they would be back to back just as they would be soon face to face.

There was no shout for start or signal to square. There was only the simultaneous sense of one another's muscles coiling and releasing in an instant. A hiss of displaced air sang with the delighted shriek of Wadou. The katana clanged quietly when its blunt side met Sanji's heel, catching the wide, arcing kick that would have come down on Zoro's head. He grinned at the cook from his defensive crouch.

"Healing nicely, I see," Sanji hummed, a shift of hips and a quick sucking breath the only warning he gave before pushing back, striking out again, testing Zoro's limits, his range and his speed. At first each kick was meet solidly with the white katana, each slash of the sword deflected and parried with quick footwork. But as they fought, as they began to learn each other's movements, a hit or two slipped through. An inch shaved from Sanji's hair, the chime of Zoro's earrings as a steel-toed boot caught the gold.

It had been some time since Zoro had sparred with a grin on his face -- and not just because he usually had a katana between his teeth. But because it was good and their speed was well-matched as they mapped a strange dance across the deck, a tornado of swinging boots and swiping blade.

In one of the moments that made him so good at what he did, he felt time crawl and saw an opening appear. It was a sacrifice -- Sanji was aiming low and if he surged in, he could get a good clean blow in. He'd take a hit but he stood by his stance on feet versus swords. He'd been nearly sliced in two a week ago, somehow finely-crafted leather just wasn't sending a chill down his spine. So he went for it.

With the surge forward, he caught Sanji's shoulder with the back of his blade -- and he also caught the cook's kick squarely in his wounded gut. It took less than the gasp it produced for him to instantly take back all his skeptical thoughts about the other man's feet. Obviously he'd seen, and had been extremely impressed by the other man in battle. But it wasn't until he was getting a kick in the stomach that he realized hey, that actually does hurt. A whole fucking lot.

But even as Zoro gasped and doubled over, the force of Zoro's blow knocked Sanji back several feet and sent him into a very personal encounter with the mast. The cigarette that had kept it's perch so elegantly on the cook's lips dropped to the deck, as his mouth opened wide in the sudden pain of spine meeting hardwood. He managed, somehow, to keep his feet, but it was a near thing, and most of his weight was held by the mast at his bruised back.

"Sh-it!" Sanji cursed, scrabbled to catch his breath as he squinted across the deck to where the swordsman was nearly on his knees. "Idiot! Why'd you let me hit you? I don't need any favors. Wasn't tryin'-- trying to split you open again anyway. Shit!"

"I saw an opening and took it, asshole!" Zoro snarled back, gripping his stomach with a splayed hand and a locked jaw. He knew full well Sanji had been aiming for his hip and by surging forward, he'd shifted the blow to his wounded gut. "Don't leave yourself wide open like that!" He glared up at the cook from under the shadow of his bandanna.

"Maybe next time I'll aim for your head and end it quicker!" Sanji snapped, mirroring Zoro's glare with one of his own, the most petulant and irritated expression he could muster.

Zoro's teeth gleamed as much as his eyes, bared and piercing through the dark of night. Wadou hummed, almost disappointed as he sheathed her and let his legs give out to sit down heavily on the deck. The glare faded to a sneer. And then a smirk cracked its way through. A gust of air that was something like a chuckle. And then Zoro tossed his head back and laughed full and loud in a way that shook his shoulders.

"What's wrong with you?" were the words immediately out of the cook's mouth but he was already grinning as he said them, and moments later he was trying and mostly failing to stifle his own laughter behind a freshly lit cigarette. "Shit," he snorted, "Did I make you bleed again?" The 'damn, we are stupid' went unspoken, but was certainly understood between them.

"Oiii!" Usopp shouted down at them from above. Apparently his fear to interrupt the tension between the two men dissipated when they started laughing together. "Are you crazy!? Why are you fighting in the middle of the night!?"

"You'll understand someday," Zoro called up at him, grinning as he hauled himself to his feet and turned to Sanji. "It doesn't matter. You or the next guy, it'll always happen. I need another drink."

With a groan that was more dramatics than sincerity, Sanji straightened upright, rubbing idly at the back of one hip and nodded, cocking his head back toward the galley. "Come on then, Musclehead. I'll pour." The cook's steps were only a little bit stiff as he headed across the deck, once more stretching his arms over his head.

Zoro was still chuckling as he caught up with the other, though not too quickly, watching that supine arch that produced a pop or two. He took a moment to marvel over the power that he'd just had the pleasure of experiencing first hand. He'd only been able to admire it in passing during their fight together in Arlong Park and there was something entirely different about actually taking a hit from those powerful legs. He had to appreciate that such a slim, sleek frame could pack such a punch. He could only find himself looking forward to the next time they would tangle -- together or with whatever threat the Mugiwara might face on this voyage.

And still grinning faintly, he fell into step with the cook to join him again in his galley. He liked this. Whatever this was, he liked it.