Oh, this one hurt. Hurt my soul to write. I wanted to dedicate all these Recollection stories to loyal and awesome readers, but this one is just too sad and depressing to dedicate to anyone. Sorry for the UBER!angst, but for everyone who's read Memories, you know it all turns out okay. *nods nods*

So anyway, story three in the series. This is that night where Luffy was filled with a little too much insight, said something he probably shouldn't have, and Sanji went nuts. Or, I guess you could say, this is that night that Luffy said just enough, and set things in motion? …Hmmm… Enjoy!

Confrontation

"I need the cheese platters replenished, and somebody better have browned off that beef or heads will fucking roll!"

Sanji slammed the door behind him and stepped out into the cool night air of the ally. He grabbed his cigarette pack from his pocket, pulled a stick to place it between his lips, and flicked his lighter. The momentary flash illuminated the otherwise dark space, bringing the trash bin and pile of cardboard boxes by the door into hazy contrast.

The event was going well. Kaya was once again on her way to making another million for one organization or another. What was it tonight? Abused wives? Orphaned children in Africa? Sanji couldn't keep it straight. He just knew that his food was going into the mouths of some insanely rich individuals, and by the end of the night, another group of people that were unfortunate in one way or another were going to benefit from Kaya's generous and loving heart.

Sanji sighed and leaned against the brick wall. He loved working these functions. He usually felt a deep sense of pride and accomplishment whenever he could help the young heiress in her work. Even though Sanji didn't particularly like the people he was currently feeding, he knew that their full and happy stomachs helped lead to lighter wallets by the end of the night. The fact that all of his leftovers went immediately to the nearest homeless shelters was an added bonus.

Pulling in a long breath and exhaling a thin stream of smoke into the darkness, Sanji tried to muster up some of those good feelings, but if there was anything Sanji was not feeling at the moment, it was pride or accomplishment. Instead, he felt weary, depressed, and most of all frustrated. He was confused and mildly angry, and it was all thanks to that green-haired bastard. That ass-hole had lumbered into his life with a splash of hot coffee all over Sanji's expensive shirt, and had done nothing but cause trouble and headaches ever since. Sanji had been so sure that after Zoro's mishap with Hawk a few months ago, his relationship with the swordsman would have gotten at least a little better. For fuck's sake he had saved the guy's life! Is a simple thank you too much to ask? But no, if anything, there relationship (if you could even call it that) had actually gotten worse. Now, instead of barking at Sanji for the smallest thing, Zoro barked at him for nothing! Sanji merely had to be in the same room with the bastard!

Taking another long drag, Sanji closed his eyes. Who was he kidding? He was just as bad as Zoro. He bitched and moaned and barked and snarled like some crazy, wild dog on meth if Zoro so much as looked at him. Sanji antagonized every second, and took the bait when Zoro did the same.

Sanji's gut tightened. But that wasn't all, was it? There was still that horrible secret that Sanji kept locked away, deep, deep in the back of his heart where he swore to himself that no one would ever find it. That small, shameful part of himself that he would give anything to change…

More than anything else, Sanji just wanted Zoro to accept him.

Everything would be so much easier if Zoro really was just a douche bag. If he was just some muscle head tool that did nothing but hung out at the gym and banged chicks he met at the bar, Sanji could look the other way and brush off his insults like it was nothing. But that wasn't how it was with Zoro. Zoro was cool. He was an excellent swordsman, and worked his ass off to be even better. He was kind, to everyone but Sanji of course. He was always there for his friends when they needed him, and most of all, he was humble. He never bragged about himself or his accomplishments. He never vied for the spotlight. He was quiet and polite, refined in a classic kind of way. Sanji knew that if he and Zoro could stop fighting for three and a half seconds, they would probably be friends.

No, Sanji shook his head. They would definitely be friends.

And that was the root of Sanji's unhappiness right there. Zoro was cool with everyone but him. It wasn't fair! What was he doing wrong? Well… besides starting a fight within a half second of coming onto close proximity. What was it about Sanji that Zoro hated so much? What set the swordsman off? What did he have to do to get Zoro to notice him?

Crushing the cigarette between his fingers and flicking it into the ally, Sanji slipped his hands in his pockets and sighed. It hurt. It hurt really bad that Zoro had never given him a chance. And it hurt even more that he still hadn't said anything to Sanji about the night he had gotten his scar. Sanji had seriously thought Zoro was going to die. He had worried, worried more for Zoro than anyone else ever, and he had almost passed out from the relief that had overcome him when the doctor had told him that the swordsman was going to be okay.

Sanji had truly, truly planned on changing after that. He had decided he wasn't going to fight with Zoro anymore. They would work things out, become friends, stop all the pointless arguing, and maybe someday become real sparring partners—instead of this weird "accidental" running into each other at the gym every Monday and Wednesday. He had even gotten Zoro a get well card. He had felt like an idiot sneaking into the hospital, terrified that someone was going to see him, mortified as he ran out, knowing that Zoro was going to read the card and see right through Sanji's semi-kind words to what he was reallysaying.

But no. None of that had happened. They were still at each other's throats, still arguing over nothing, and still pretending that meeting at the gym twice a week was a coincidence.

But what had hurt the most, what had really sent Sanji into a shameful and embarrassing funk, was Zoro had never said anything to him about the card. He had never even mentioned it. He had probably just thrown it away without even reading it. That alone had made Sanji so sad, he almost couldn't breathe.

Suddenly, the door opened, and one of Sanji's regular staff stuck his head out.

"Hey, boss? You have two kinds of prawns in here. You have a preference which goes in the soup?"

Sanji shook his head and pushed off the wall. "Not really, but don't worry about it. I got the soup."

The worker nodded and opened the door fully or Sanji as he stepped back into the kitchen.

Forty-five minutes later, the soup was served, and Sanji was digging through the walk-in cooler for veggies to replenish the salad. As he reached for the cucumber, he felt the pressure change, and glanced over his shoulder to see who had joined him. He almost dropped what he was holding when he saw it was Nami.

"Nami!" he tried to cover up his fumbling by turning back to selecting carrots. "Are you trying to kill me? That dress leaves nothing to the imagination!"

Nami scoffed behind him. "It's Kaya's so it's a little small."

"Well, God bless Kaya." Sanji turned around, arms heavily laden with veggies. He let his eyes trail up and down Nami's body as obviously as he could before he moved past her and back out into the kitchen.

"You really do look stunning."

"Thank you," Nami replied and followed Sanji to the prep table. She watched him as he grabbed a cutting board and opened his knife kit.

"What can I do for you?"

Nami's elegant shoulders lifted in the most feminine shrug possible. "Just wanted to know if there was anything I could do to help."

Uh oh, something was wrong. Nami never, everoffered her services for nothing unless she was feeling substantially guilty. For her to go out of her way to leave the party and come into the kitchen to offer help, meant that something unspeakable had gone down.

Turning towards her, Sanji tried to lighten the mood with some inappropriate flirting. "Of course, my lovely Miss Nami, there's always something you could do for me. Leave that sorry excuse for a boyfriend and run away with me."

Nami's expression didn't change. Not that it ever did, Nami had grown accustomed to Sanji's advances in high school, and had learned that the easiest way to deal, was ignore it.

Sanji grinned and started slicing carrots. "I'd even be okay with just some messing around. I'm not against cheating if I'm the one you're cheating with."

Then the world froze. Nami actually moved close and touching him gently on the arm. Sanji's whole body grew hot, and his hands faltered as he almost sliced through his own thumb.

"What if…" Nami said softly into his ear. "What would you do exactly, if I said yes?"

Sanji's blood pumped a little faster. His cheeks flushed a little hotter. He carefully set down the knife and steadied himself on the table with his hands.

"Uh…" he choked out. "What?"

"You heard me," Namie said quietly.

Sanji's swallowed. "Nami, I really like you a lot, but I'm just kidding around. I would never do that to Luffy, he's one of my best friends."

Nami's head tilted and she eyed him curiously. "Is that the real reason?"

What the hell was going on here?

Sanji took a deep, shaking breath and turned to look into piercing green eyes. "Wh… what do you really want? Why are you here?"

Nami studied him, not unlike the way a cat studies a bird in a cage. She took back her hand and placed it on her hip. Sanji could tell there was a lot going through her head at that moment, and he was dying to see even a glimpse of what it might be.

"I just came in here to see how you were," Nami said softy. "That's the truth."

Sanji waited a beat. "…And?"

Nami sighed. "And, I came to ask if maybe you wanted to go home. You're second, your su… sui…"

"Sous chef?" Sanji asked.

"Yes, your sous chef. He'll be okay without you, right? I mean it's all just refilling stuff that's already made. Why don't you head home and I'll make sure the place gets cleaned up real good."

Sanji's heart raced, but not from anything as easy as Nami's soft skin touching his. No, Sanji's heart pounded with anxiety and suspicion. What the hell was wrong? What had happened? Why was Nami telling him to go home?

"I can't just leave my work," Sanji murmured. "That's a level of unprofessionalism I can't stomach."

"I'm sure you'll be all right," Nami shook her head. "Just go home, relax, put your feet in that massager thing Kaya and Usopp got you for Christmas."

Sanji was slowly getting angry. "Nami, this is ridiculous. I'm fine back here. Whatever you think is so—"

Sanji didn't have time to finish. Just then the doors that led into the ballroom hallway swung open, banging against the walls behind them. Conis, Sanji's ex-girlfriend stood there, her beautiful face was red and puffy, and tears streamed down her pale cheeks.

"Shit," Nami grumbled.

Instantly alert, Sanji went into protection mode. He gently pushed past Nami and ran to Conis' side.

"Coco?" he took her hand, "Love, what's wrong?"

Conis sniffed and put a delicate hand over her mouth. "Oh, Sanji…" she said softly. "Why didn't you just tell me?"

Sanji, confused, looked over his shoulder and met eyes with one of his cooks. The young man nodded to him, and Sanji gently pulled Conis through the doors and down the hallway. They passed the ballroom and the party that was still going strong, and moved into the foyer at the building's side entrance. No one occupied the small space, so Sanji pulled Conis to the cushioned bench and sat with her.

"Okay, start over," Sanji took both her hands. "What's wrong? What didn't I tell you?"

Conis continued like she had not heard him.

"You should have told me instead of leaving me with no explanation." She sniffed and carefully wiped at her eyes with the tips of her delicate fingers. "I've been under the impression that I did something wrong."

"What?" Sanji breathed.

"Did you think I would make fun of you or something?" Conis looked at him then, her face full of sadness and pain. "Were you worried that I would treat you different, or think less of you?"

Sanji lifted his hands and placed them on Conis' cheeks. He pulled her close and spoke slowly and carefully, earnestness weighing heavily on his words.

"Conis, love, I have no idea what you're talking about. I broke it off because I'm not ready for any kind of serious commitment. I'm an ass-hole like that, and you can hate me as much as you want. I know I deserve it."

She sniffed again and another small trickle of tears tumbled down her cheeks. She watched his eyes, her expression turning into confusion.

"Then… why are people saying what they're saying?"

Sanji's blood grew cold again, and he pulled his hands back. "What are people saying?"

Conis' lips trembled and she leaned in close, her voice barely above a whisper.

"They're saying that you have a thing with Zoro… that the two of you might be… together…"

It really was the last thing in the known universe that Sanji expected to hear. For several long moments, the cook felt nothing, not surprise, not confusion, just nothing. He let the words float in the air for a few moments before they settled. He stared at the beautiful blond in front of him, unmoving; unblinking.

"Why…" Sanji tried to swallow but his mouth was too dry. "Why are people saying that?"

Conis sniffed again. "Somebody mentioned something about us, and then Luffy said something about you and Zoro and that was why we didn't work out. I didn't hear exactly what he said, but Zoro was standing right there and he went completely pale. He looked so guilty and then he just left! No explanation! What were people supposed to think? Zoro didn't deny it!"

If a rumor had started like that about him and anyone else, Sanji would have laughed it off, but for some reason, the fact that the rumor was about him and Zoro… Zoro! Maybe if he wasn't already so torn and confused and depressed about Zoro, Conis' words would not have had any effect at all. But this subject was so sore and so very, very tender, that as Sanji sat thinking about it, as it brewed and built in his head, Sanji's mind started adding to it. His anger and his hurt from the way Zoro treated him manifested. His mind started to blow things up and out of proportion. By the time Sanji stood, and said quietly to Conis that he apologized but he would be back later, his fist were clenched so hard that his fingernails were digging small crescents into his palms. By the time he made his way down the hall and spotted Ace and Vivi in the crowd of party goers, his breath was coming harsher and he felt his face flushing.

Ace saw him first and made a b-line for the cook. "Hey, man, you okay? Maybe we should go outside for a few, have a smoke?"

"Shut the fuck up, Ace. Where the hell is that asshole?"

"Asshole?" Ace faltered. "I don't really underst—"

"Ace!" Sanji hissed. "Tell me where Zoro is now, or I'll kick your ass right here and I don't care who sees!"

"Sanji?" Vivi said quietly from Ace's side. "Sanji, calm down, Zoro left."

"Besides," Ace continued, "Zoro didn't do anything. Luffy just said some stupid shit and people started to talk. It's not even that big—"

Sanji pushed past them without listening to the rest of what Ace was going to say. He burst through the doors of the kitchen, almost knocking over two cooks, and flew outside. By the time he was out of the ally and heading for his car, Sanji was burning inside. His anger had spread to every last part of him. Nothing was left but the blind rage that fueled him as he pulled out of the driveway and headed to Zoro's apartment.


Zoro hadn't been at home, and Chopper was currently living with three other medical students in a small house so the only other places he could be were Ace's, or a bar. Sanji banked on Zoro hiding out at Ace's and pulled into the firefighter's apartment complex. He didn't bother parking in the designated visitor spots. He pulled into one of the numbered spaces right outside Ace's door and slipped out. He walked right up to the red painted door marked 103 and pounded his fist on the heavy wood.

He heard noises from inside and then Zoro's voice growled, "Who is it?"

"Martha Fucking Stewart," Sanji spat.

There was silence for a moment. Then, "I don't think we should be talking right now. You're pissed, I'm pissed, and Ace has lots of breakable stuff."

Sanji was surprised how in control he felt. He must have been so beyond angry that his rage had somehow evolved into some other form of energy.

"I swear to Christ, Zoro, if you don't let me in I'll break this goddamn door down and pay for it later."

There was another moment of silence before Sanji heard the lock turn and the door swung open. Zoro stood there, hands at his sides, his stance ready and waiting in case Sanji decided to lunge at him.

Sanji didn't. He moved slowly into the apartment, walking past Zoro carefully. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his slacks and stared at the couch as Zoro closed the door.

"What do you want?" Zoro asked quietly.

Sanji shrugged.

Silence once again. It was so thick Sanji could almost feel it. He wanted a cigarette. He wanted to fight.

"Tell me what happened," Sanji growled. "Exactly what happened, and why Conis thinks that you and me… that we..."

"I don't know," Zoro replied simply. "Luffy said something, and everybody took it the wrong way."

Sanji ground his teeth. "Yeah, but why did he say it? What happened, or what have you been telling people that made Luffy think that?"

He heard Zoro moving close and spun around. The swordsman was angry, moving in on him fast. Sanji readied himself for an attack, but Zoro stopped just short of his space.

"I haven't told anybody anything!" Zoro growled.

"You must have," Sanji said quietly, "it's not like I'vebeen going around telling people we're fucking."

"Why would I tell people that!" Zoro's voice rose.

"I don't know, because you're an ass-hole?" Sanji's voice was still steady but he started pacing the room, his eyes never leaving Zoro's. "I don't know anything about you, Zoro. Maybe you had some fucked up locker room dream about me and told the wrong person."

Zoro bared his teeth and started to say something. Whatever it was, however, he closed his mouth over it and started again, obviously trying to reign himself in.

"I can't even be in the same room as you without wanting to beat you to a pulp! Why are you such a prick?"

"Oh, you're no party either," Sanji hissed. "I wanna kick the living shit out of you every time you open your stupid fucking mouth!"

"Yeah? Try it!"

Sanji growled in frustration and balled his hands into fists. "I fucking hate you, you son of a bitch! Maybe I should go around talking about how you whined to Hawk about losing, and then cried and begged like a fucking baby when he almost cut you in half!"

Zoro's stance lost some of its hostility and he backed away. For a moment, Sanji felt the swell of victory. He had rattled the green-haired bastard. Let him see how it feels!

"You wouldn't do that…" Zoro said softly.

No, you're right. I wouldn't Zoro. I'm full of shit and I'm frustrated and angry and I don't even completely understand why.

"You bet your ass I would."

Zoro stood there unmoving for a moment, but then some of that fire returned to his eyes. "I always thought that you were an okay guy when you weren't fighting me… Now I know that's not true."

Sanji faltered. What? What was Zoro saying?

"It takes a special kind of person to spread a lie like that," Zoro continued. "I would never spread a rumor about you that would make you look bad, 'cause I'm not petty like that. You think I gave Luffy a reason to think we were together out of spite? Think again, shit cook. To me you're not important enough to spread a rumor about! I spend less time thinking about you, than I do brushing my teeth! You'll all worried about something I might have said or done that would make people think whatever, but you know what, cook? I don't give a shit about you! I don't ever talk about you! I couldn't care less about you even if I tried! You're a waist of fucking space and I wish you'd fucking disappear!"

Sanji clenched his jaw against the pain that welled up at the back of his throat. Zoro's words sliced through him like katana, severing arteries and piercing his heart. He had always known Zoro hated him, but to hear it like this was devastating. While he was in turmoil over everything, Zoro didn't care at all.

To Zoro, he was nothing.

Sanji slid his hands back into his pockets. He closed himself up to everything he was feeling but the hurt and watched Zoro's angry eyes, his shoulders heaving from a mere couple feet away.

"I should have let you die…" Sanji whispered.

And just like that, all the anger drained out of Zoro. His eyes went wide, and his face paled. His hands went limp at his sides. All the fight left him as he stared at Sanji with that look of raw anguish. Sanji felt vindicated. He had managed to do exactly what Zoro had just done to him.

He had found the swordsman's heart, and he had pierced it.

Sanji took Zoro's shock as an opportunity and moved close. He whispered softly as his eyes trailed over Zoro's scar, only half-hidden by the white t-shirt the other man was wearing.

"You aren't worth the uniform I ruined saving your life…"

With that, Sanji turned and left the apartment. He slid into the seat of his car and revved the engine. He made it all the way back to the event center and parked before he couldn't contain himself anymore. He rested his elbows on the steering wheel and buried his face in his arms. Tears of grief and frustration rolled down his cheeks as all the pent up feelings he had been holding in for months on end burst from inside him like a flood. He sobbed into the sleeves of his shirt, wishing with all his might that he could just take back this entire day.

He was done for. He had feelings for Zoro, real life feelings, and not the silly, flighty ones he had for Conis or Nami. No, there was substance in what he felt when he thought about Zoro. He had realized it the moment the swordsman had said Sanji didn't matter to him. The pain and the heartache was so profound he had barely been able to stay on his feet. It was the worst possible thing that could have happened. Now Sanji realized what was happening to him, but only after Zoro had made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with Sanji. Ever.

And oh God… Sanji himself had said such awful things. He had told Zoro he should have died. What kind of person…

Sanji sat up and wiped his eyes. He needed a cigarette badly. He needed to smoke, to calm down, and then he would pull himself together and think of what he was going to do.

He opened the car door and slid out. The evening air hit his wet cheeks with a bite. He wiped at them again, pulling a smoke from his pack, trying to breathe normally. He turned and leaned against the car next to his, pulling in a long and comforting drag. He stood there for God only knows how long, smoking, thinking, and wiping his eyes—even long after the tears had stopped falling.

By the time there was a small pile of cigarette butts on the ground by his feet, Sanji felt like he could face the world again. He sucked in one last drag from his current stick, and blew out.

"Sanji?" a voice said from behind him.

The cook turned, startled. A thin man with intense eyes on a very feminine face stood watching him. He had shaggy, blond hair, and was dressed in an expensive-looking white suit.

Sanji wracked his brain for his name.

"Pell?"

END