Title: The Ugly Duckling

Theme: Set #3 - Swan
Claim: Zoro
Words: 1407
Rating: T for...
Warnings: ...one swear word.
Disclaimers: I don't own One Piece.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to ZeldaAddict42 for beta-ing this, and dandy wonderous for the animal suggestion! And thanks also to pikinanou for the lovely fanart! pikinanou .deviantart #/d2tj7w5 [remove the spaces]

It was one of those hot, muggy days on the Grand Line, when the sails hung limp from the yardarms, and the Thousand Sunny sat so still and heavy in the water you could close your eyes and imagine you were on dry land. For most of the Strawhats, it was a chance to catch up on their work, free from the demands of manning the ship or fighting the Marines. But for the cook, such days inevitably meant one thing - that he was going to be bothered at every turn by the youngest members of the crew.

"Saaaaanjiiiii, tell us a story," Luffy begged for the tenth time. At least it wasn't a plea for more meat.

Sanji made an impatient noise and batted Luffy's hand away from the sherbets he'd been slaving over for the past hour. "I'm trying to fix some afternoon refreshments for Nami-san and Robin-chan. If you want a story, why don't you get Usopp to tell you one?"

"Franky has Usopp helping him fix up one of the cannons down in his workshop," Chopper explained. Sanji glanced at the little reindeer to see how he was taking this heat. Chopper had his hat off and a bandanna tied around his head, and Sanji suppressed a grin at the reindeer's somewhat comical appearance.

"Then what about Zoro? I'm sure the shitty marimo can manage a simple story."

"We already asked him, and he said to go bother you," Chopper said earnestly.

"And why are you listening to him instead of me?"

"Zoro's scarier."

Sanji sighed, unable to resist two pairs of pleading eyes. "Fine. I'll just deliver these to Nami-san and Robin-chan, and then you can have your story."

"Yay!" The excited pair trotted faithfully behind Sanji as he offered the desserts to Nami and Robin, then they adjourned to a shady spot on the lawn deck. Sanji cast an annoyed glance at Zoro, sound asleep just a short distance away. Like Chopper, Zoro had tied his bandanna around his head to combat the heat. Unlike Chopper, however, the effect was to make his shadowed, furrowed brow look all the more menacing. No wonder Chopper had complained Zoro was scary. Not that Sanji ever found Zoro intimidating, of course. No, never.

Sanji settled down on the deck, making sure the swordsman was within earshot, and Luffy and Chopper plopped themselves down next to him, talking excitedly.

"So what's the story gonna be about, Sanji?"

"It's about...hmm. It's about the ugly duckling," Sanji decided.

"The ugly duckling? Cool! I've never heard this one!"

Sanji cleared his throat, and began:

"Once upon a time, there was a mother duck who laid a bunch of eggs. One day six of her eggs hatched and out popped six pretty little ducklings, but there was still one more egg that hadn't hatched yet. The mother duck sighed and said, 'oh dear, this is going to be one developmentally retarded little duckling.' True enough, when the egg hatched, it was a little duckling covered with green fuzz, and it was a damn sight uglier than all its pretty little brothers and sisters."

"You mean the duckling didn't look like the rest of the herd?" Chopper asked, wide-eyed.

"Flock, but yeah."

"And...did all his brothers and sisters look down on him?" Chopper asked in a small voice, and Sanji suddenly realised that Chopper might interpret this story a bit too personally.

"Yeah, they did. But the ugly duckling didn't care, 'cause he was an anti-social bastard who slept all the time anyway," Sanji explained, "and besides, there was only one thing the duckling did care about - his dream."

"What was that, Sanji?" Luffy asked.

"He wanted to become the strongest duck in the world."


"So after a while, the ugly duckling decided to leave the flock and look for Miduck, the strongest duck in the world, and challenge him to a duel. But because the ugly duckling didn't have much of a brain (as the mother duck predicted), he wandered around for years without finding Miduck."

There was an explosion from behind them, which could have been a snort from Zoro, but which they decided to interpret as a snore.

"Along the way, he would challenge other ducks to prove his strength. Sometimes they would refuse, because they were terrified of the duckling's bizarre green down. When one of them was stupid enough to accept, the ugly duckling would beat them to a pulp, because he did have some measure of brute strength. And after a while the ugly duckling came to be known as the demon duckling, because he was so feared by everyone.

"Finally, Miduck and the ugly duckling crossed paths one day. The ugly duckling immediately challenged Miduck to a duel, even though Miduck was known to be the strongest duck in the world, because he was a reckless idiot."

"Did he win? Did he win?" Luffy pressed eagerly.

"Nope, he lost. Miduck was just too strong for him. The ugly duckling was defeated and was heavily injured."

"Awwwwwwww man! But he didn't give up, right? He stuck to his dream, didn't he?" Luffy questioned.

"No, he didn't give up. He decided he would get even stronger and he'd find Miduck again someday and defeat him then."

"Yay, I'm glad!" Luffy sighed in relief. "Hmm? Why d'you look so sad, Chopper? The ugly duckling didn't give up on his dream, so that's good, right?"

"But he was always alone, wasn't he? Everyone thought he was a monster," Chopper said sadly. The tears were beginning to pool in his eyes, and Sanji knew he had to fix the situation fast.

"Of course he wasn't always alone," Sanji said comfortingly. "Sure, the other ducks were scared of him, but one day he met a little monkey who wasn't afraid of anything, even demon ducks. In fact, this monkey was so brave, he was determined to become the Monkey King, and he invited the ugly duckling to be his nakama."

"Hooray for the monkey!" Luffy and Chopper cheered.

"And as they travelled, they found more nakama - a beautiful songbird who was a great navigator, which was good because both the monkey and the duckling were morons when it came to directions, an...er...aardvark, a..."

"Slobbering dog," Zoro supplied. Apparently he'd been listening all along, even if his slow, even breathing said otherwise.

"A panther," Sanji continued, blithely ignoring the interruption, "A reindeer, a beautiful bird of paradise..."

"Even a reindeer?" Chopper's eyes sparkled.

"Umhmm. Even though the duckling was ugly, lazy, and bad-tempered, his nakama put up with him, because that's what nakama do."

"So what happened to the ugly duckling in the end, Sanji?"

"As far as I know, he's still voyaging around the ocean with his nakama and training up to beat Miduck."

"D'you think we'll ever meet the ugly duckling someday?" Luffy asked excitedly.

"Yeah, you might, if you're good and don't bother me for the rest of the day," Sanji replied non-committally,knowing that the world would probably end before that actually happened.

"That was a good story," Chopper sighed in satisfaction. "Don't you think so, Nami, Robin?"

Sanji looked up, realising that he'd gathered quite an audience.

"Nami-swaaaaan! Robin-chwaaaaaan! Did you enjoy the story?"

"Yes, Sanji-kun, it was a very good story," Nami said, smiling, "but didn't you forget the most important part of 'The Ugly Duckling'?"

"What part is that, Nami-san?"

"The part where the duckling looks at his reflection in the water and realises he's grown into a beautiful white swan?"

"Oh, no, Nami-san, you see, cygnets are grey," Sanji explained. "This was just a mutant, ugly, green duck."

"I'm going to fucking KILL you, you shitty eyebrow!"

Much to Zoro's chagrin, Sanji's version of "The Ugly Duckling" quickly became Luffy and Chopper's favourite story. Not a week went by without them begging him to tell it again, asking him to expand on how the monkey and duckling joined forces, and how the rest of their nakama (especially the reindeer) joined their group. Why every rendition of this terrific story was followed by a fierce fight between Zoro and Sanji, neither of them ever knew.

A/N: Poor Zoro. Funny thing is, Sanji's the one that's supposed to be a duck. Coincidence? That's up to you to decide. *waggles eyebrows*

Let me know what you think!