4:00.

Sanji's eyes snapped open. He sat up. The cabin was filled with the snores from his neighbors. He ran one hand over his face and groped for his shirt with the other, more tired than usual. He really should avoid drinking til odd hours of the morning when he knew his crewmates would be expecting an exceptional breakfast the next morning. But it was his birthday, and he celebrated it with a sort of manic glee because he couldn't help thinking about the Baratie on his birthday and the last thing he wanted to think about was the family he left behind.

5:00 found him zoning out over several frying eggs, all of the dishes from last night's party washed and put away. Not even the popping grease attacking his bare arms and face could snap him out of the half-doze that gripped him. He flipped the eggs mechanically and really could be replaced by one of Frankie's inventions. 5:30 he held up a strip of winking bacon and examined it with all the intensity someone might devote to a piece of art. Then he popped it into his mouth because the only time he got to eat was when he tested his dishes, which really wasn't that bad because he never could get out of the habit of picking at his meals while preparing them. He was especially weak around cookie dough.

At 6:00 Robin appeared, looking as beautiful as usual, except for the dark smears under her eyes. How funny. Even she was affected by last night's binge. He smiled at her (and who was to say if the smoke from his cigarette may have swirled into hearts?) and pushed a cup of coffee towards her. She wrapped her hands around the mug gratefully, raising her eyebrows at him. Ah, bliss. He beamed brightly back to her, pleased beyond words that she would acknowledge his efforts. He really did enjoy these quiet mornings with Robin, the only one who bothered to wake up as early as he did. She helped out sometimes, her disembodied hands handing him things when he was multitasking, or grabbing things for him that were just out of his reach.

By 7:00 the first of the stragglers came stumbling into the dining area, and Sanji found out just why Robin had raised her eyebrows at him, and it had nothing to do with the coffee.

"Oh my god!" Usopp shrieked, effectively waking up everyone else on the Thousand Sunny. "You're sleeping with Zoro!"

o

Zoro was usually one of the last ones up, but this morning he had the advantage over his Nakama because he could actually tolerate his alcohol. Still, when he slammed into the kitchen that morning, he was surprised to see that only Usopp, Sanji, and Robin were up.

Then Usopp shrieked, "You're sleeping with Zoro!" and for some reason, though his eyes should have logically went straight to Robin, he found himself staring at Sanji.

By that time, the doorway to the kitchen was getting a bit crowded. Luffy was whining loudly about how he wanted to eat and would everyone please get out of the way? before giving in and just clambering over Zoro to get to the food. Everyone else, however, was staring openly at Sanji.

Sanji, who normally would have asked in a deadly tone exactly what Usopp was implying before lashing out with a lethal kick, was not at all helping his situation by spluttering and getting flustered. It was probably because he was tired, if the dark circles around his eye and tousled blond hair meant anything. That didn't help much, either. The red mark near Sanji's left ear that Zoro distinctly remembered giving Sanji was possibly one of the most incriminating pieces of evidence, though Zoro had whacked that sensitive white skin with a sheathed Shuusui, and had not, in fact, made the mark with his lips.

What was the most damning, however, what made everyone look between Sanji and Zoro with something mixed between horror and dawning realization, was the shirt that hung loose on Sanji's shoulders, that may have not been obviously Zoro's at first glance, but at second, so obviously was. It was his favorite shirt, nicked at one sleeve where he had been cut, so old that it was nearly threadbare and for some damn reason, Sanji was wearing it.

Zoro evaluated his situation with the clinical detachment man thrown into the middle of a battle that he was not at all prepared for. He could:

Bail. Let Sanji deal with the mess when he had no one to blame but himself.

Play along. He would have to swallow some of his pride, but wouldn't the aspect of humiliating Sanji be worth it?

Ignore them all. He was hungry, they were in his way. He might have to start drinking a little earlier than normal, but food was a worthwhile objective.

Sanji spun around, stared at Zoro pleadingly, and his decision was made for him.

"I'm out," said Zoro.

"Oh no you're not," Nami said from behind him, and small hands pushed him forward. He stumbled right into the middle of the battle with no weapons except for possible explanations, but fuck that. This was all Sanji's fault.

"Zoro and Sanji," Usopp was muttering, shaking his head. "Sanji and Zoro."

"Yohohoho! It makes so much sense. I had a feeling there was something more going on between the two of them!"

"Look," said Zoro, "This isn't what it looks like."

Those were not the right words. Instantly, everyone started chattering at once, volume rising as everyone tried to be heard over everyone else. The only people who were not talking, in fact, were himself, Sanji, and Luffy, who was too busy stuffing his face.

"I just grabbed a shirt," Sanji said quietly, and Zoro was slightly surprised that he could hear him over the din of voices that was still escalating.

"I think," Nami blared, able to silence everyone like she usually could, "we deserve an explanation." Then she looked at Sanji so hard that Zoro, for the first time ever, wondered about their relationship.

Sanji stepped back slightly under her glare. "It was the first shirt I grabbed," he explained lamely and, if possible, made everything just a little worse. No one talked, now. They just looked at Sanji, who was slowly regaining his footing. He lit a cigarette, stone cold, and glared at Zoro. "Give me more credit than that. I have better taste."

Except that denying it obviously wasn't the right tactic. In fact, Zoro didn't see any way of swaying their opinion. Since running away wasn't an option anymore, he could either play along or ignore them all which, after flicking a glance towards Luffy, seemed like best thing to do since their breakfast was disappearing at a disturbing rate without Sanji there to protect their food. So he sat down beside Robin and rescued some food before it could all go into Luffy's bottomless pit that he called a stomach.

Nami seemed to have deemed herself the appropriate person to get to the bottom of things. She glowered at Zoro for a hot moment, then turned to sink her claws into the chainsmoking cook. "All right, Sanji, spill."

"I don't understand why you would think I would choose moss-head over there when there are two lovely specimens here for me to admire." They were his usual words, but spoken flatly and tiredly.

Nami put her hands on her hips. "That's why we want you to explain."

"Don't bother," Zoro advised. "She's only going to hear what she wants to hear, anyway."

This kind of talk usually warranted a kick in the chin for his efforts, but perhaps Sanji saw the truth in his words because he just sighed and closed his eyes. Sanji normally wasn't the center of attention - that glory even stolen from him when he first joined them because Zoro had been hacked up - and he didn't seem to operate well under so many speculative eyes.

"I woke up," Sanji tried explaining again, but with no fight, "and grabbed a shirt."

"I want that back, by the way," said Zoro. "Washed."

"Why that shirt?"

"Because it was the first I grabbed."

No matter how Sanji tried to explain it away, it all sounded very bad. Zoro vaguely remembered stripping his shirt off and flinging it into the distance, as it was warmer than normal that night. He must have thrown it on top of Sanji's pile of clothing without realizing it.

"Big deal," Luffy said, around a mouthful of eggs. "It's not like Sanji can get pregnant, anyway."

It was disturbing enough to hear Luffy talk about anything even resembling sex, but for him to be the voice of logic was enough to throw even Zoro, who had resolutely decided to ignore the situation until it disappeared. Nami whirled on him, eyes flashing.

"It is a big deal. We're Nakama."

"So?" asked Luffy. "Is that going to change because they're doin' it?"

"There's no room for romance on board! What happens when they break up, because you know that's what will eventually happen!"

"Romance!" Sanji yelped, and Zoro choked slightly in dismay. It was bad enough that they thought he and Sanji were having sex in their minds, but for romance to be involved - ! "Nami-swan, you've got it all backwards. I don't love him."

The entire room went silent.

"Oh, Zoro," Chopper said, sympathetically. "I'm so sorry."

"How could you, Sanji?" Nami choked out.

"No, you've got it all wrong! I don't love him, and he doesn't love me! We don't love each other! There is absolutely no love in this equation!"

Zoro looked down at his food. His other two options seemed to have failed miserably. Bailing was out, ignoring the situation wasn't going to last very long. That left him with -

"I only have sex with people I love," Zoro said mildly.

It was a critical hit. The audience exploded as if they had just reached the climax of a particularly juicy soap opera. In all of the chaos, Zoro couldn't help but to grin evilly at a very stunned Sanji, satisfied with this small bit of revenge. Serves him fucking right for wearing his shirt.

o

"'I only have sex with people I love'," Sanji spat mockingly, scrubbing the pan much too hard for a Teflon. He banged the pan hard against the side of the sink and was rewarded by crushing his fingers. Careless. Too careless. He dropped the pan in the soapy water and rubbed his fingers. "Like that has anything to do with me!"

The rest of the meal had been disastrous. He had suddenly become public enemy number one in the eyes of his Nakama. How dare he lead Zoro on like that? Brook had even began composing a ballad about Zoro's unrequited love. Frankie was absolutely inconsolable, and Usopp and Chopper alternated between trying to kill Sanji with their eyes and offering words of sympathy to Zoro. It was too much. Nami had even stuck around after breakfast to nag - no, to gracefully voice her disapproval - about how he was treating Zoro, and that if Sanji didn't love him, he shouldn't lead him on. It wasn't until Sanji had politely asked her to help with the dishes that she made her escape.

Now, once again, it was him and Robin.

"You believe me, right Robin-swan?" he asked her disembodied hands as they helped dry the plates. He was too desperate and tired by this point to put on airs. Besides, she seemed to be the last logical person on board.

"Hmm," was Robin's noncommittal response. Then she added, "I am not the best person to offer words of advice when it comes to love, Sanji-san."

Scratch that. He was alone in his reason.

"Perhaps you should correct any misconception Swordsman-san might have?"

"Oh, he has no misconception," Sanji laughed, bitterly, resuming his attack on the Teflon. "He knows exactly what he's doing."

"Then perhaps you should consider returning his affections, or rejecting them."

Sanji's hand slowed from their vigorous scrubbing, then finally stopped. He turned towards her.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the turn of phrase is, 'Two can play that game'." Robin smiled at him gently.

"You're a genius," said Sanji in wonder.

o

By the time lunch rolled around, Sanji hadn't yet left the kitchen. He wasn't exactly avoiding his crew, but they were running low on salt and he had been busy all morning extracting salt from bottles of ocean water. Realistically, he could have just left buckets of water outside to evaporate, but he needed to keep his hands busy, so he went with the whole boil and filter method. He ended up with a lot more salt than he really needed by the time he started preparing lunch. Since this was a special occasion, he went all out. Crab cakes for appetizer, stuffed garlic rolls with the freshest spinach and cheese, peppercorn roast pork and panko chicken. Candied apples and cobblers and pandowdy's for dessert.

He never really understood why anyone would choose to pick a fight with someone who had control of the food supplies. Whoever said, "revenge is a dish best served cold" must have been a cook. He considered this while he chopped unripe Hachiya persimmons into Zoro's salad. Usually, if Sanji even bothered to try and get Zoro to eat his greens, he would just get laughed in the face for his efforts, but if Zoro wanted to continue this game, well. It wouldn't be kind to reject a meal so carefully prepared for you by your loved one, right?

For Zoro's main dish he pulled on a pair of gloves and very carefully began chopping up a Habanero chili. Usually he reserved these for spicy seafood pasta and used a very small amount, but he added twice the amount he would have used in an entire vat of pasta in the red snapper dish he was preparing for Zoro. He wasn't too concerned about any lasting damage - Zoro would take one bite and would probably have to leave the room, and if not, well, Chopper was a whiz with medicine.

He set the table and surveyed his work with a critical eye. He had to admit, he was impressed. There was an art to food preparation and presentation, and he was pretty damn good at it.

As usual, it was Luffy who burst into the kitchen first, shouting his head off at how starving he was and how lunch was waaaaaaaaaaay too late. He was brought up by the train of usual suspects, and Sanji was gratified to see that were at least grudgingly impressed by his efforts, though probably not quite ready to be bought off with quality food.

"This looks wonderful, Cook-san," said Robin, and Sanji could kiss her. She was his lone supporter when he desperately needed an army.

The last, per usual, was Zoro. He stomped in, reeking of sweat from the sun and throwing weights around, and thumped down into his usual seat. Before he could reach for the food (without even admiring Sanji's work, the ass), Sanji stopped his hand with his soup ladle. He affected an annoyed look, cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, eye narrowed. "Wait," he said.

As predicted, everyone hushed, too interested in the soap opera that was Sanji and Zoro to continue eating (except Luffy, of course). Sanji set the salad in front of Zoro.

"What the hell is this crap?"

"Shut up and eat it." Sanji would never confess to be a romantic when it came to the likes of Zoro.

Warily, Zoro speared a bit of salad with his fork.

"I've realized the error in my ways," said Sanji, not faltering this time under the gazes of so many people. He was so used to working behind the scenes, safe in his kitchen where he could create in peace. However, no one could say he wouldn't rise to the occasion if need be. "I should have taken your feelings into consideration. I just - I hadn't wanted to get my hopes up because I didn't think you would ever love me back."

The words tasted like ash in his mouth, but Sanji was a superb actor. Zoro stared up at him, appalled, then shoved the bite into his mouth. The effect was immediate. To his credit, Zoro didn't spit out the painfully bitter persimmon, just chewed very slowly.

"Delicious," Zoro choked out, and Sanji had to hand it to him. He had, of course, tasted unripe Hachiya persimmons before, and the effect was not one he would ever like to be subjected to again. It was like his entire mouth was injected with anesthetics but still, unfortunately, able to process tastes, which in this case was horrible. He had spit it out instantly, even though Zeff guffawed at him for a good couple of minutes.

"It certainly looks nice," Nami said doubtfully.

"Thank you, Nami-swan," said Sanji, heart skipping a beat like it always did when Nami appreciated his efforts. "I would offer you some, but - " he waved his hand towards Zoro, smiling ruefully.

"Eat up, lover boy," Sanji said sharply to Zoro.

"I believe in sharing," said Zoro, pushing the salad towards Nami.

"But I made it especially for you." He had meant to sound whiny, but couldn't quite pull it off. Instead he just sounded hostile. He slid the bowl back in front of Zoro.

"I'll eat it!" Luffy said, stretching out across the table to dump the entire salad into his mouth. Without even blinking his eye at the bitter fruit, he went back to his own plate. Damn. That was one plan foiled. Zoro was looking up at him, eyes glinting with what he could only call "mischief," which was unbelievably bizarre.

"That's too bad. Here I was looking forward to a meal made especially by you for me - "

"Aren't you hilarious!" Sanji said, ruffling Zoro's hair harshly. "Of course that's not all that I have for you! Give me one second."

He grabbed the red snapper from the counter and delicately placed it in front of Zoro. He had really outdone himself with the presentation of this piece. The snapper was artfully placed in the middle of the plate, head and tail and bones removed, covered in his best salsa with a sprig of parsley on top. It truly was a masterpiece, and as much as he absolutely loathed wasting food, it was for a good cause. Zoro looked up at him suspiciously.

"I'm allergic to tomatoes."

"Liar!" said Sanji in his best injured tones. "You just don't want to eat my meal! If you loved me - "

He was giving Zoro an out, a chance to say that it was all a joke, I, in fact, want to rip your head off half the time I'm around you and wish you would jump overboard the other half. Zoro, however, wasn't about to go down without a fight. He cut a slice of the snapper. He lifted the piece to his mouth. Sanji leaned forward in anticipation.

"You know," Zoro whispered out of the corner of his mouth. "If you've poisoned this - "

"Oh, how I wish."

"..or whatever you did to this, you know that it would just make you look like the bad guy."

Sanji considered this. He knew Zoro would at least take that first bite out of pride, but there was logic to his words. However -

"It's worth it."

The effect was instantaneous. Sweat broke out on Zoro's forehead and upper lip, but still he chewed that one small bite. He pounded on the table with one hand and braced himself over the plate, neck and ears red.

"Oh gosh!" Sanji said in surprise. "I thought you liked spicy food! I didn't realize you couldn't handle it."

He whisked the plate away, satisfied by the outcome. So what if he was back in 'bad guy' territory. That was satisfying.

o

If Sanji thought he could get away with his lunch time stints, he had another thing coming. It took over an hour for Zoro's mouth to feel normal again, and that was after clearing out most of the ship of sake. Training was impossible - his stomach was in complete agony. All he could do was sprawl out on the lawn.

"You're a total bastard," he groaned when Sanji's shadow loomed over him. A small package landed by his head.

"Medicine. For your stomach. From Chopper."

Zoro glared balefully at Sanji, then rolled his head distrustfully towards the medicine. At this point, if Sanji had poisoned it, he might be better off. He downed the the medicine with one gulp and the relief was instant. He sighed and closed his eyes, dropping his head back down onto the grass. Sanji sat down beside his head, and Zoro was too boneless to tell him to fuck off.

"Lectured twice by Nami-swan in one day," Sanji sighed, lighting a cigarette. "How long are you going to play this game, Marimo?"

Zoro looked up at him in disbelief. "What, you're asking for a truce?"

"No, I'm just trying to be the mature one here."

"Oh, yeah. Real mature, shitty cook, to fuck with my food."

He expected at least a glimpse of guilt, but instead Sanji's face split with a grin. "I think that might have been the best moment of my life."

"Asshole."

"You started this, moss-for-brains."

"If you think that I would ever let you get away with that, pervert cook, then you have another thing coming."

Sanji inhaled deeply from his cigarette, then exhaled right into Zoro's face. "Bring it on, then."

o

Sanji wondered why he ever opened his big fat stupid mouth. Really, if he had just let it drop, let this fake romance fade away like it would have undoubtedly done, then he could have probably gone back to his relatively peaceful life. This, though. This was fighting dirty.

Zoro was kissing him as if it were going out of fashion. In front of everybody. Well, okay, in front of Frankie, but that was as good as if all of his Nakama were crowded in the dining area. And all he could do was melt into the kiss.

After his little encounter with Zoro on the lawn, Sanji had escaped back into the kitchen because it was the only place where he could truly relax. He decided to make donuts. While making masterpieces was invigorating in its own way, it wasn't as fun as making donuts. The feast yesterday could be compared to painting a Mona Lisa. What he was doing right now was like finger painting. He allowed himself to get a little messy, something he very rarely did. Flour coated his arms up to his elbows, and he was pretty sure he had some on his face and his hair. That was okay, though. When everyone went to sleep, after he finished cleaning up after dinner, he would take the longest bath he possibly could.

He was whistling a catchy tune while rolling the dough, still cheerful from his revenge earlier. Making donuts also just made him happy, to be honest. Sanji could pretty much make a meal out of anything, but he was weak in the dessert department. However, he could make a killer donut, if he said so himself. He made one for himself earlier and was picking at it while working on the main batch, sugar and brilliance melting in his mouth.

Lips on the side of his neck made him drop his rolling pin, ruining the perfect surface he had been working so hard on. Zoro was kissing him right on the bruise the fucking moss-head had put there himself with his sheathed katana. Every muscle in his body tensed, his stomach roiled.

"What are you doing, shitty-swordsman?"

He actually felt the nasty little curve of Zoro's lips against his neck. "What do you mean, lover?"

This didn't make any sense. They were by themselves in the kitchen; there was no one to trick. Sanji grit his teeth, not liking this at all.

"You smell like booze, shitty-swordsman."

Zoro licked a stripe on Sanji's neck, sending chills up his spine and goosebumps down his arms. "Sugar," Zoro hummed with pleasure. "Salt and - cigarettes."

Sanji just about crawled out of his skin.

Then he saw Frankie out of his peripheral vision and suddenly everything fell into place. He should have known that Zoro wouldn't make any moves without an audience. Immediately, he relaxed into Zoro's embrace. What had Robin said again? Two can play that game.

He turned around in Zoro's arms, relishing in the brief flash of surprise in the black eyes, then kissed him square on the lips. It was more of an attack than anything else. Sanji refused to give Zoro the upper foot.

Out of the corner of his eye, Sanji saw Frankie's mouth all but drop to the floor. If there were any doubts left, they were chased away by Frankie's bellows that he was happy for Sanji and Zoro but if they could please get a room, man. Sanji thought this was ridiculous, because everyone had been so interested in their personal lives before. Well, served them right. If this were real, Sanji wouldn't have wanted to go flaunting it around. Sanji may be flamboyant in the initial stages, but something like this - something like this, he would have wanted private.

The thought made him draw back slightly. He had not once thought of this seriously, and doing so jarred him down to the bone. He looked at Zoro, whose eyes were wide in a comically stunned fashion, and shook his head.

"I don't want to do this anymore."

"So I win, then," said Zoro, sounding a little hollow.

"Yeah. You win. Please leave now."

Zoro's eyes searched his face, looking as confused as Sanji felt. There were no real victors, here. Then he turned around and walked out of the kitchen, leaving Sanji to clutch for something that was never really there.

o

It took all of one day for Sanji's world to turn on its head. Three meals. He cooked dinner as if he were a machine. It could have been worse. He could have really been in love with Zoro. Instead, this was just a misunderstanding that turned into a prank that went a little too far. And - it was over now. He didn't have to worry about pretending to be interested in Zoro anymore. He could go back to the peaceful background in the kitchen without everybody overly interested in his make believe love life.

Sanji stuck with a simple beef stew. He threw in the ingredients without even bothering to look at what he was adding, figuring that it would be delicious no matter what he did. Briefly, he considered throwing in the rest of the Habenero as an act of defiance, but decided against it. His Nakama didn't know any better and maybe even thought that they were acting out of the best interest of Zoro and Sanji. Instead, Sanji felt as if he lost something he never even had in the first place.

Dinner was subdued, as far as Sanji could tell from his safe haven in the kitchen. His excuse was that he had stuff to do, when really he was just creating a bit of a monster with the donuts he had fried earlier. He glazed and stacked the donuts into a pyramid, and was about to start drizzling the chocolate on the top when a pair of hands took the pot from him.

"Hi, Robin-san."

"Cook-san."

He watched as her disembodied hands carefully tipped the pot over the donuts, sending rivers of chocolate to the bottom. "Thank you."

"Cook-san, there never was a relationship between you and Swordsman-san, correct?"

Sanji chewed on his bottom lip, wishing that she hadn't asked that question. There was no relationship and there never had been, but that kiss - it was a taste of something he hadn't even thought about having. It was brutal and sharp, teeth nipping at sensitive skin and shouldn't have been pleasurable at all, but it sent little spikes of heat in his stomach just thinking about it. If anyone had asked him yesterday if there was something more between himself at the Marimo, he would have kicked them off into the horizon. And now he was acting like a heartbroken school girl.

"You're right."

"But now...?"

Sanji closed his eyes. "There's still nothing."

"Something has changed, though."

Sanji grabbed a block of chocolate to keep his hands busy, shaving off rolls of chocolate that Robin took from him to stick out of the top of the donut-volcano, a second pair of hands adding donut holes to the bottom to represent boulders. He looked up at their creation, lips twitching into a smile despite himself. It really was a monstrosity.

"This is hideous," he said.

"I don't know, it has a kind of.. charm."

He finally turned to her and flinched when her concerned gaze smacked him somewhere in the chest. He sat down beside her, feeling a little as if he were a lost child again, stuck on the island and wondering why no one cared enough for him and Zeff to save them.

"It'll go back to normal," he promised her. "It was all just a joke, anyway."

Robin didn't fidget, but she looked so uncomfortable that she was all but squirming in her seat. "I feel like I owe you an apology, Cook-san - "

Sanji lifted his hand. "There's nothing to apologize for, Robin-san. Come on, let's go show off our masterpiece." He stood up, holding out his hand to help her up, and she looked sadly up at him before accepting his help. Several hands popped into existence to lift the donut-cake, and she linked her arm through his.

The donut-volcano was a hit. Usopp and Chopper had to hold Luffy back to keep him from swallowing the cake whole, and everyone oohed and aahed and Robin and Sanji's bizarre concoction, as if they had presented him with the Statue of David.

Everyone except for Zoro, of course.

Sanji did his best to ignore him, but it was like Zoro's eyes were burning holes into the back of his neck. He had a really uncomfortable feeling that they were due for an extremely awkward conversation. If Sanji knew anything about Zoro, he felt guilty, but didn't think he should feel guilty, and that pissed him off. Sanji would just tell him that there was nothing to feel bad about and they would go along their merry way, trying to kill each other as their only means of communication.

Well, he would tell him eventually.

Sanji still had one more escape. He was scheduled for first look out that night, which meant he could avoid Zoro in the cabin. And, since he got up so much earlier than everyone else, he could avoid him in the morning. Come to think of it, he really didn't see Zoro all that often. He had his kitchen, Zoro had his weight training. It would be easy to move on.

That is, if he didn't live with a ship full of do-gooders.

"All right," Nami said after finishing off a donut. "What's going on?"

"Navigator-san - " Robin broke in, and he really could marry that woman.

"No, she's right," Usopp said, "something's going on."

Sanji had to bite back a flow of nasty words, wanting to badly to tell them to all mind their businesses, but he couldn't. He wished that he was back in the safe confines of his kitchen, dreaming up some weird dish and bringing it to life to test on his friends. Instead, he was forced to stand there, feeling like an awkward teenager all over again.

"I'm - sorry," he said finally, then quickly pulled out a cigarette so that his hands had something to do. "This was all a misunderstanding. There really is nothing between me and Zoro."

"Hey man," Frankie protested. "I saw that kiss. That wasn't 'nothing'."

"It was just a prank," Sanji explained as levelly as he could. "It was never meant to go that far."

The looks of betrayal on his Nakama's faces were too much. "Excuse me, I have watch," he said, and escaped before anyone could think of anything to say. He would deal with the mess in the kitchen, later.

o

The night was colder than he had anticipated, considering how hot it was before, but he should have expected something like this would happen. He huddled up as best he could with what he had in the watchtower, wishing for a hot cup of soup. The only thing he had eaten that night was a donut, and the sugar, along with who knew how many cigarettes he smoked, was giving him a sour stomach. He was still so tired from the night before and wished he could just close his eyes for a couple of minutes, but he was in bad enough waters with his friends as it was.

A pair of hands appeared on edge of the crow's nest, and before he could react Luffy went springing upward, landing with a bounce next to Sanji with one hand keeping his hat in place. He grinned recklessly, then thumped down next to Sanji with a thump and a pleased "ah!"

"Those were good donuts, Sanji. You should make them more often!"

Sanji grinned in spite of himself. "Sure. Of course."

He expected Luffy to babble on about food like he always did, but instead they sat quietly, watching the stars.

"You know," Luffy said after several moments of companionable silence. "Zoro's pretty stupid."

Sanji barked out a surprised laugh. "Him and me both."

"Yeah, that's true. But if we had brains, Nami would be out of a job."

Sanji laughed helplessly, because it was true. He rubbed his hands over his face. "So, how bad is it down there?"

"They'll get over it. They always do. We're Nakama, after all. I mean, they got over that you and Zoro were doing it in the first place, right?"

"Luffy, there never was anything between me and Zoro."

Luffy pinned him with a look, one Sanji rarely saw outside of battle. "If you think that, then you really are stupid. I mean, you are, but even more stupid."

Sanji dropped his gaze down to his hands. "Well, whatever. It doesn't matter now, does it?"

"That's up to you, isn't it?"

Luffy disappeared over the edge, leaving Sanji with his thoughts. It always shook him up a bit whenever Luffy offered any words of insight. If anything, Luffy could constantly be relied on as a brainless eating and fighting machine whose only goal was to become the king of the pirates, but there was so much more to him.

When a pair of hands appeared again, Sanji had a crazy idea that Luffy was returning to start quoting Shakespeare or something, and when it was a green head that appeared, Sanji flung himself to the other side of the crow's nest and wondered if he would break anything essential if he threw himself off the side.

"Quit freaking out, will you?" Zoro snapped gruffly, hauling himself into the crow's nest. "Here." He shoved a thermos into Sanji's hands.

"What's this?"

"Fish blood. What do you think it is?"

Sanji unscrewed the top of the thermos and was greeted with the warm scent of his beef stew. He glanced up at Zoro warily. "You didn't put Habanero in it, did you?"

"Habawhat? No, you shithead, just eat."

Sanji took the spoon from Zoro and dipped it into the stew, still on edge. In fact, the appearance of Zoro made his stomach even more uneasy. He set the stew down. "What do you want?"

Zoro leaned against the mast, folding his arms. "What's wrong with you?"

"Nothing!"

"Cut the bullshit, will you? Obviously something's wrong."

"Nothing's wrong," Sanji said again, a little calmer this time. "It's just - it's weird, all right? I shouldn't have kissed you."

"It was a joke," said Zoro, flatly.

"That's the crux of it."

Zoro's eyes widened. "So, let me get this straight. You're acting all pissy because it was a joke."

Sanji searched desperately for an escape. The only way down was blocked off by Zoro, and he wasn't quite desperate enough yet to leap off the edge, but he was getting there.

"Sanji," Zoro snarled.

"If - if we just leave it be, then everything will go back to normal," Sanji bit out, digging around for another cigarette. His pack was empty. Fuck.

"You're telling me it wasn't a joke."

"It was! It was. It was just a really bad joke. It had just crossed my mind - what if it wasn't?"

"And?" Sanji snapped a look at Zoro, but there was nothing in his expression or tone that gave anything away. "And what did you think?"

Sanji gave up trying to dig a cigarette from his obviously empty pack and took the plunge. "If it wasn't a joke, then I would have wanted things to be more - private. Personal. Not so out in the open like that."

"Why not?"

"Because it should have just been mine!" Sanji exploded, then added in a softer voice. "Mine and - and yours. There's so little we can have to ourselves out here, and if we were in love, I wouldn't want to share that with anybody else. At least, not right away. And then we kissed and - it kind of messed me up. That's all."

"That's all," Zoro repeated, with a snort, and for moment Sanji remembered why he hated the fucking Marimo in the first place.

"Yes, that's all. Now if you could please fuck off now, I'm on watch." He turned away and picked up the stew again. Briefly, he considered throwing the thermos into the ocean since it was Zoro who brought it for him, but that was stupid because he was the one who made the stew. Besides, he had wasted enough food already.

A cold, strong hand grabbed his arm and he nearly overbalanced. Zoro spun him around roughly and Sanji immediately fell into a defensive stance, ready to kick off his head at the slightest provocation. "I don't have room for love in my life."

Sanji stepped back, stung. "Fuck, Zoro. Do you kick your opponents after you cut off their heads, also? Let me spell it out for you. I'm not in love with you. That was a 'what-if' situation."

Zoro scrubbed his hands through his hair in frustration. "You always have to make everything so complicated. Look, let's try it."

"Try what?"

"This - thing," Zoro pointed at himself, then at Sanji. "Whatever it is. Let's just try it."

"No fucking way."

To Sanji's utter surprise, there was a flash of hurt in Zoro's eyes. Then he scowled. "Fine."

This time it was Sanji's turn to grab Zoro's arm, though in retrospect he really should have just let Zoro go. There was no way this could end well, but at this point he had so much to lose if Zoro left right then.

"You just said you had no room for love in your life."

Zoro raised his eyebrows. "Do you love me?"

"Fuck no."

"Then I don't see what the problem is."

"That doesn't mean I won't love you in the future!"

"Well," said Zoro, quietly, "maybe by that time I will have room for love in my life."

And really, what could Sanji say to that? He deflated, and when Zoro stepped forward with the same kind of determination he had for everything else in his life and kissed him, he finally accepted that things were never going to be normal, nor peaceful, again.

But oh, it was worth it.

-fin

12/02/10 - reuploaded to fix formatting issues (thanks a lot, ff-net.)