May be an ending.



Chapter 23



Blue eyes slowly cracked open, but nothing came into focus. He tried to squint, but he ended up hissing when a pain throbbed through his skull.

"Sh.. Shit.. What happened?"

"My idiot chibi-nasu got his ass handed to him again."

That gruff voice made the wounded blond flinch. "Jijih... What's going on..?" Sanji attempted to sit up, but he was roughly pinned to the bed by a peg leg.

"Stay down. You cracked your skull this time. I was hoping that you would have learned your lesson by now, but apparently you have a death wish." Zeff seemed to growl in disappointment.

The boy gritted his teeth, but he soon gave a defeated sigh and let himself go limp on the bed. "What lesson would that be?"

Zeff gave a stern glare as he lowered his wooden leg. "To not go around pissing off people you can't take on yourself. Not only are you making a mess of my restaurant, you're keeping yourself out of commission. As shoddy as you are, I still need your hands, boy. You need to take care of them."

Sanji frowned deeply and looked away. "I'm trying, but you make it look too damn easy! I look after my hands, but how do I keep up?! Everyone else is so much stronger that I am! No one takes me seriously! It's like nothing I do is worth a damn to anyone!" he vented, tears forming in his tightly shut eyes.

"Is it worth a damn to you?"

The question had Sanji looking back at his mentor with confused eyes. "Wh.. What?"

Zeff sat himself down in a chair he had pulled next to the bed. He let out a deep breath and stroked his long moustache. "Do you care about what you're doing?"

"Of course I do! Why the hell would I be doing it if I didn't?!" the boy exclaimed in irritation.

"Because you don't show it, Stupid boy!" Zeff shot back. "If you showed that you care about what you do, the people around you would take you seriously. Flying off the handle at every insult won't get anything done. Anger is like any other tool. You use it. Not let it use you."

The boy was speechless for a moment as his gaze shifted to the ceiling above him. "Jijih... How do I get stronger..? I'm tired of people stepping on me.."

"You can't get stronger for yourself, Chibi-nasu. That selfish reason will get you killed on the sea."

"Then what reason should I have?!" Sanji snapped.

"To protect."

The short answer had the boy blinking at the man in confusion. "Protect..?"

Zeff nodded. "Find what you care for and protect it. Devote yourself to it. Give everything you have and then rip off part of yourself and give that too." he stated while placing a hand on his peg leg.

Blue eyes widened and filled with tears as Sanji nodded. "O.. Okay.."

The old man gave another sigh and leaned in to brush the blond hair away from the bruised face. "Listen well, Boy... The path you're taking will be hard. More difficult than most. You need to strengthen your resolve and come to terms with the fact that you will always be intentionally limiting yourself for the sake of these." He reached and placed his hand over the smaller one resting on the bed. "You must focus on your strengths and go beyond perfection. Never stop improving, because no matter how strong you get, they'll always be someone stronger. Find your breaking point and throw yourself past it. Your body is your weapon, and you have to be prepared for the day that it fails you."

The stern words had Sanji swallowing nervously. "How.. Do I do that?" he asked quietly.

"Find someone that can stand as your equal. Someone that can take on what challenges you can't. Someone you can trust without a doubt to watch your back. That's the kind of person you need by your side if you really want to tackle that dream." Zeff seemed to pause for a moment before a slow sigh left him. "But remember you need to watch out for them as well." he explained in an easier tone than the boy was used to hearing.

".. How do I know when I've found this person..?"

A smirk formed on the old chef's face. "You'll know. It'll be someone that you won't be able to stand. Someone you won't need words to communicate with. They won't need to ask if you're okay. They'll be able to know what you're feeling with just a look."

The description sounded weird as hell, and it pulled a weak laugh from the boy. "Heh.. Sounds annoying.."

"Knowing you, your equal will be just as stubborn and irritating as you are." the old man snorted, almost cringing. "But you need that irritation to keep you on your toes. Just remember to treat your equal's life more important than your own. You'll be lucky to find one within your life time. Don't let that person go."

"What if I don't..?"

Zeff gently patted the boy's bandaged head. "You will. Just keep doing your best to prove that you're their equal. They'll see it eventually. Just don't give up on yourself." With that he stood up from the chair and turned to leave.

"... Jijih.."

Zeff paused at the door. "Hm?"

"... Thanks..."

Zeff glanced back over his shoulder and smirked. "I expect you to be back at your station in 3 days, stupid chibi-nasu."

Sanji couldn't stop the laugh that left him. "You just wait, Jijih. I'll be the best there is, and then I'll expect you to be at your station."

"That'll be a long hundred years before then." Zeff snorted as he walked out the door. "I'm not worried."

As the door closed, Sanji smiled and finally let himself rest.

"Find.. My equal.."


Sanji's eyes slowly opened as he woke from a familiar dream.

'No.. Memory..'

It was one he had occasionally. Especially if he had any particularly rough conflict with a certain swordsman. That memory would sneak into his dreams and remind him not to kill the mossy idiot in his sleep.

'Thinking of mossy...'

He looked to his side and smiled a bit as he saw Zoro's sleep softened features next to him on the pillow. His nakama looked to relaxed as he slept peacefully. Sanji silently decided that these moments would be what reminded him the directional clusterfuck that was Zoro was worth keeping around.

The last three days...

They had been amazing, for lack of a better word. They had found an Inn, and enjoyed a holiday that involved as little time standing upright as possible. It was awkward at first with their history still lurking in the background, but once that barrier was broken it all seemed to flow. It was easy and natural. Vicious and passionate. All the emotions between them had a new.. Highly more pleasurable outlet as an alternative to their usual rivalry bouts.

However, now that Sanji was healed, he knew they would be setting sail soon.

Though he hated the fact their moment had to end, he was looking forward to continuing their adventure. Carefully he sat up, trying not to wake his companion. Zoro was in a surprisingly heavy sleep. For once the man was completely relaxed, and Sanji had to admit he felt a bit smug about that. He reached out and slowly threaded his fingers through the green hair only to grin when Zoro automatically pressed into the touch as he snored softly. Pulling his hands away, Sanji slowly got out of bed and took up his boxers that had been flung to the night stand at some point.

As he was tugging on his pants next, Sanji caught sight of the sunrise through the window. He moved to the window and smiled at the warmth the new dawn was bringing. He pushed the hinged window open and perched himself on the sill. Watching the colors splashing over the landscape below and the sun making the ocean at the horizon sparkle like millions of diamonds.

He took a deep breath of the fresh air and let it out slowly. After everything that had happened, it made him appreciate being able to greet this new day. The promise of the unknown, the thrill of getting one step closer to that elusive horizon.

The fact he wouldn't be chasing the horizon alone. That made him excited and content at the same time. He wasn't alone. He had nakama that cared and needed him as much as he needed them. He had an equal that would not only watch his back...

"You're up too early."

The warm arms that wrapped around his bare torso had Sanji smirking. "You didn't have to get up." he pointed out.

"Bed got too cold." came Zoro's simple answer before he trailed a line of kisses along Sanji's pale shoulders. "You look happy this morning." he mumbled between kisses.

Sanji chuckled and rested his hands on the strong arms. "I suppose I am."

Zoro placed one last kiss to the back of Sanji's neck before perching his chin on the cook's shoulder. "Mmm.. What caused that..?"

A wicked grin was on the pale lips. "The fact I owned your ass just like I told you I would~" he cooed before turning his head and licking Zoro's cheek.

A stubborn pout was instantly on the swordsman. "Yeah yeah, whatever." he grumbled, wiping the saliva off his cheek onto Sanji's shoulder.

In truth, Zoro found that he liked getting owned. A lot. Not that he would ever admit that to anyone, even if his life depended on it. 'I won't inflate his ego that much, might explode.'

Sanji chuckled at Zoro's reaction before he looked back out the window. "I think Nami-san said we'll be leaving this afternoon."

"Hm... It'll be good to get back out there." Zoro replied, eager to meet what was lying in wait for them on the Grand Line once more.

"Yeah.." Sanji mused as his eyes lingered on the horizon.

Instantly noticing the thoughtful tone and the far away look on the pale face, Zoro held the cook a bit tighter. "Oi.. No wandering off without me."

Pulled from his thoughts, Sanji snorted as he glanced back at his nakama. "You have any idea how ridiculous that sounds coming from you?"

"Shut up. You know what I mean."

A smile twitched onto pale lips. "Yeah, I know." He looked to the ocean and hummed softly. "Just.. Wondering if things will be different now."

"They will be. But you're still a idiotic ero-cook that drives me up the fuckin wall, so won't be that different." Zoro added lightly.

Sanji gave a bland stare. "And you're a shitty marimo that could get lost in a barrel."

"See? Still can't stand each other." Zoro pointed out with a smirk.

"Yeah yeah." Sanji shook his head and let his hands slowly run over the strong arms around him. He liked how Zoro's skin was so smooth.

Zoro had to bite back the purr that wanted to leave him. He was now addicted to those hands he always admired. Just thinking of all the things those hands did to him made him feel warm. He absently began kissing the edges of the scars that now hung around Sanji's shoulder blades. Chopper said they would fade with time, but Zoro knew he'd always see them. However he wasn't going to feel guilt whenever he saw them from now on.

No, if anything, the entire ordeal on this island taught him that these scars were a sign. A sign of Sanji's devotion to his nakama and the lengths he'd go through to protect them. Protect him. It humbled him, but he was determined to never let that gift be taken for granted again.

When the blond returned his gaze to the horizon, Zoro hummed thoughtfully. "Tell me." he mumbled against the scarred skin.

Breaking away from the daze his thoughts and the tender touches had lured him into, Sanji hesitated for a moment before he let out a quiet sigh. "Just wondering.. What will be thrown at us next."

"Whatever it is, we'll get through it or beat it into submission."

That answer made Sanji smile. "Think so?"

Zoro returned his chin to the perch on the pale shoulder. "Know so."

He was used to baseless confidence from Luffy, but he found it just as comforting from the swordsman as he did the captain. He leaned back into Zoro's hold and relaxed.

Zoro readily held him tighter and supported him so he wouldn't fall from his perch.

That simple action made Sanji fully understand the words his adopted father spoke to him so long ago.

"Oi.. Zoro.."

The swordsman turned his head and lightly nuzzled against the soft blond hair. "Yeah?"

"Let's make a deal."

Puzzled, Zoro shifted to look at the visible blue eye. "About what?"

Sanji turned his head to look at his companion.

His nakama.

His rival.

His equal.

"I'll breathe for you... If you'll breathe for me."

Dark eyes widened slightly. Thoughts of that moment when they shared that breath that had saved his life in the cold waters filled his head. Though Zoro had a feeling there was far more to those words than that.

A slow smirk was soon curling at dark lips. "Deal."

"Deal..." The cook's eyes became half lidded as he moved in closer. Wanting to taste that smirk.


A loud knock on their door had them both blinking in alarm, and shattered the moment they were becoming lost in. "Zorooo~ Sanjii~ Put your pants back on! Nami wants us to get the ship ready to sail!"

Hearing Luffy's blunt wording had them both staring blandly at the door. "Guess our holiday is over." Sanji snorted, trying bite back how disappointed he was to return to reality.

"Yeah.." Zoro slowly stepped back to let Sanji step out of the window.

Once Sanji was on his feet, Zoro held out his hand to the cook with a slight smile. "Let's go catch that horizon."

Blue eyes widened as they flickered between the warmth on the tan face and the hand held out to him. A brilliant smile then lit up Sanji's pale face as he took hold of Zoro's hand firmly.

"Let's go."

fjfjfjThe Endfjfjfj

Or a new beginning.

Thank you to all who have stuck with me through this fic.

Until next time.