This fic is dedicated to dragon5174 on Live Journal. She has read and reviewed pretty much everything One Piece I've ever written as I wrote them. She never criticized my style or my characterization, not even under the guise of a compliment. (You know, like those horrible "OMG I loved this! HATED Sanji topping, but other than that it was great!") She's always just appreciated and more often than not that was just what I needed. Just wanted to let you know, Dragon that I noticed and I appreciate all your reviewing and kind words. Here's to you. :)
Fourth in the "Recollections" series in the Memories universe. You can find the first three, as well as the main storyline in my story list here on fanfiction. I liked this one—writing this one I mean. Once in a while it's nice to just get something out easy. This only took a couple hours, and I didn't have to strain my brain too hard. Yay.
Turning the key in the lock, Sanji opened the door to Pell's house and stepped over the threshold. He greeted Buck, Pell's Maltese Terrier puppy and smiled kindly at the housekeeper, Sarah. She was a red head with a cute face and a heavy splash of freckles. She was sweet and didn't seem that interested as to why Sanji had started to show up at Pell's place at all hours of the day and night for the past few weeks.
"Hello, beautiful," Sanji crooned softly, handing Sarah his jacket.
Sarah made a noise and shook her head. She believed his advances about as much as Nami did, giving Sanji the idea that red heads in general must have some sort of anti-Sanji powers. When was the last time he had slept with a red head anyway? High school?
"He's already started," Sarah said sweetly as she hung Sanji's jacket on the coat rack. "Been in there for almost an hour."
"Really?" Sanji asked as he loosened his tie. "He's not gonna have anything left for me."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Sarah shrugged. "He seemed a little out of sorts when he got home from work. You might be surprised."
"Hm," Sanji headed down the entry stairs and through the foyer. Pell out of sorts? Sanji couldn't believe anything could rattle that guy's cage. He seemed unshakeable.
Pell's house was one of those older two-stories along Green Lake. It had gone through extensive remodeling, so the outer shell still had that homey, old fashioned look, but the inside was the epitome of modern. All the best appliances, stainless steel or dark wood furnishings, eco-friendly heating and power, the list went on. At first, it had struck Sanji as a little odd when he had learned Pell was living in a house on Green Lake. Even if it had been gutted and remodeled so the value had probably gone into the millions, for crying out loud, the guy was a prince! Second in line for some throne in some far off country Sanji couldn't pronounce! Didn't he have mansions or small castles somewhere?
However, having spent a lot of time here in the past few weeks, Sanji had learned that Pell cherished his peace and quiet. He lived a simple life when he could taking walks, sitting on his porch watching the sunset, making his own dinners… He enjoyed the charity balls and banquets that Kaya and Vivi threw, but it was obvious he was not so enamored by the royal lifestyle. He liked his privacy, and Sanji knew he was very privileged to be accepted into Pell's otherwise secluded life.
Stepping though the archway into what doubled as a study and a semi-gym, Sanji watched as Pell's lithe body swiveled around into a fluid roundhouse kick. The impact the blond's heel had against the punching bag was loud and echoed nicely throughout the wide space. Pell was exceptional in many forms of martial arts, and when he discovered Sanji was a master in savat, he wasted no time in offering the cook a ridiculous amount of money to teach him. He was an easy study, and he took the style and the creed that went along with it very seriously. Sanji found he enjoyed teaching Pell immensely, and the two had become close over the past few weeks.
This time with Pell also gave Sanji a change to get away from everything that was happening in his life. He found that distancing himself from his friends for a while had given him time to think and reflect. He hated himself for the horrible things he had said to Zoro, and he planned to apologize once had had himself completely back together. Time away from the Baratie was nice too, he loved the job, but he hated being the head chef's son sometimes.
However, today was different. The serenity and peace that Sanji usually found here was disrupted. Sarah had been right, Pell's form was off. He was obviously distracted, possibly even upset. As Sanji watched, Pell went through three short series of studied movements and made at least ten mistakes. The older man was obviously tired but he was not sweating, his body was stiff, and his form was sloppy.
"Pell," Sanji said as he made his way across the mats, "take a break, get some water."
Pell stopped his series but stayed standing, facing away from Sanji. His shoulders sagged as he caught his breath. "I thought you weren't coming until later."
"I wasn't," Sanji murmured. He snatched a water bottle off the desk and threw it to his friend. "But now I'm glad I came early. Is this a thing you regularly do? Or is hurting your form and your body just a today thing?"
Pell averted his eyes and slowly lowered himself to the floor. He took a long drink of water and sighed softly. "It's just a today thing…"
Sanji nodded. He had figured as much. Moving closer to his friend, the cook sat on the mats as well, directly in front of Pell and between his friend and the door. It wasn't as if he thought Pell would run away, it was just one of those instinctual things Sanji did sometimes without thinking.
"What's going on?" Sanji asked.
Pell didn't answer right away. He sat looking at the floor his hands wrapped around his bent knees. When he finally spoke, his voice was soft, defeated.
"My father called me earlier today. He said I have to come home next week for another marriage interview."
Sanji let out a breath. "Oh, I'm sorry."
Another reason Pell had become Sanji's friend so quickly was because of what happened the night they had met in the parking lot. Pell had heard what had happened from his sister and had invited Sanji back to his house. After a few drinks Sanji had told Pell about his fight with Zoro, and then without another thought, the cook had poured out the rest of his story, everything from his feelings for the swordsman to the fact that he hated himself for being such a coward. Pell had listened quietly, and then surprised Sanji by telling him everything was all right, and he understood completely. It turned out, Pell's lover was a man, and he and his partner had gone through something similar before either of them had mustered the courage to confess their feelings for the other. Sanji had never met this "Chaka", but he had heard good things about him.
Being around Pell changed Sanji's perspective on a lot of things. It was good to be around someone who didn't fit into that stereotype that Sanji had thought was every gay man. Sanji didn't have anything against that particular stereotype, he just didn't want them around him, and he didn't want to be categorized as one of them by having feelings for Zoro.
Pell was a normal guy. He liked baseball and soccer, he liked good wine and food, he loved action movies and mystery novels. He worked on his car, and got dirty in the yard. And he was Goth. Not that stupid emo Goth either, he was genuine cross wearing, NIN loving, badass rock star Goth. He didn't spend all of his time sipping girly drinks at a trendy bar or hanging out at a hair salon. He jammed to screamo on his electric guitar and wrote songs about love that made you want to smash windows.
He didn't wear high heels and he didn't have a lisp, the only gay thing about him was that his partner was a man. He was cool, and Sanji liked him a lot.
Pell showed and taught Sanji a lot of things, but perhaps the most important was to not be ashamed of who he loved. Pell kept his affair a secret, but the secret was to keep family ties and business endeavors together. The secrecy wasn't born out of shame. Sanji knew if Pell and Chaka's situations were different, if they weren't both so high profile, they would be out and open with their relationship.
That being said, this marriage interview put Pell in a difficult situation. No one in his family, except for Vivi of course, knew of his sexual preference, and he planned on keeping it that way to keep his lover's reputation intact. Apparently, Chaka was from a very wealthy and influential family, and a gay lover was not in the plans his parents had set up for him.
"They're really going all out this time," Pell continued. "They have three interviews lined up, back to back in one day. My father says I have to choose or he's going to disinherit me."
Sanji made a face. "Isn't that what he always says?"
Pell smiled softly, "Yeah, he doesn't really mean it. He knows I wouldn't really care. I have my artifact restoration business, so I won't hurt for money, and I prefer the anonymous life anyway. I think he just says that stuff to save face."
Sanji nodded, troubled that his friend had to deal with such things. "Have you talked to Chaka?"
Pell nodded and his eyes grew sad.
"What?" Sanji asked.
"It's nothing, I just… um…" Sanji was surprised to see tears well up in the older man's eyes. His voice trembled as he continued. "I tried to talk to Chaka about moving in with me again, but he won't even consider it. He says there's no way we could make it believable that we were just roommates, even if we are childhood friends. It just… I hate that we have to sneak around and I only get to see him a couple times a month."
Sanji felt helpless as he sat there watching his friend cry. He wished there was something he could do. He wished that he had some secret house that no one knew about where Pell and Chaka could live together, somewhere nice but not too obvious. This place was actually perfect, it just wouldn't work because Pell's parents already knew…
Suddenly, a thought struck Sanji.
"Pell? You told me once that your parents don't keep heavy tabs on you and Vivi, right?"
Pell nodded, wiping at his eyes. "They send someone once or twice a month to check up on us. But it's more like an inspection of our homes than anything else."
"So no wire taps or anything?"
Pell chuckled. "No, this isn't a movie, Sanji. Our family is so obscure no one really knows who we are. I also hire my own security, but only for travel or high profile functions."
Sanji let out a breath and leaned back on his hands. "So why don't you sell your house?"
Pell blinked. "Excuse me?"
"Sell your house. Move in with Vivi. She's got that huge place up on the hill, plenty of room for the both of you."
Shaking his head, Pell shifted so his legs were crossed. "I couldn't do that, I love this house, Sanji. Who would I sell it to?"
Pell sat confused for a moment, but then his eyes widened. He seemed to be catching on to what Sanji was saying.
"Do you… think that would work?"
Sanji shrugged. "Worth a try, don't you think? You are childhood friends after all. It wouldn't be weird, at least to the commoner's eye."
Pell made a sound at Sanji's offhanded "commoner" crack and turned his head towards the window. "It would be worth it to try… My parents wouldn't think twice about it."
Sanji stood and moved to the desk. He grabbed Pell's cell phone and tossed it to him. "Talk to him about it. See if he'll go for it."
Pell rolled the phone over in his hands. A wistful look came over his face and he smiled softly. "Okay, I'll run it by him. Thank you, Sanji."
Sanji shrugged again and turned to head out through the archway.
"Where are you going?" Pell asked.
Sanji turned back. "Thought I'd go by the gym, haven't been there in a while."
Pell tried to hide a smirk and failed miserably. "What if he's there?"
Sanji shook his head. "He probably won't be."
"But if he is?"
Sanji felt his heart skip a few beats. "Whatever, I'll duck out."
"Sanji…" Pell made a disapproving face. "You have to talk to him sometime."
Sanji rolled his eyes. "Yeah, and say what? 'Oh, sorry about that night, Zoro. I didn't mean all that shit I said. I was just a little crazy from realizing that I was in love with you'?"
Pell thought about it for a minute. "Sure, why not?"
Sanji scoffed. "Sorry, I'm not suicidal. I'll see you tomorrow. I don't work, so be ready to spar at five. I'll make dinner afterward."
He heard Pell wish him good luck as he left. Whatever it was for, however, Sanji wasn't sure.
X x X x X
Maybe somewhere in the back of his mind, Sanji wanted to "accidentally" run into Zoro. The want—the pressing needto apologize for the things he had said to the swordsman two weeks ago had been eating away at him slowly. He knew he wouldn't feel right again until he had settled everything, and his heart wouldn't rest until he let Zoro know how sorry he was. It was not like he was hoping for forgiveness or friendship or anything, he just wanted everything to be back to normal. He wanted to look at himself in the mirror and not hate what he saw.
Sanji shook his head as he neared the gym's entrance. He shouldn't be kidding himself. He wanted much more from Zoro than forgiveness or friendship—a hell of a lot more—but he was being realistic. No matter how strong his feelings were for Zoro, the swordsman saw him as nothing more than a nuisance. And no matter how much that hurt, Sanji knew he was just going to have to live with it.
The guy behind the front desk was on the phone and so he merely nodded and waved Sanji through when the cook showed his membership card. It was late, not a lot of people in the gym, just the regulars that came after work, and the few instructors that taught the evening classes. Sanji looked around for Zoro but didn't see him. He shifted his bag over his shoulder and headed towards the locker rooms, a heavy disappointment weighing on his heart.
He entered the locker room just as someone left. A good thing, because the first thing he heard when he turned the corner was Ace's voice. Stopping abruptly, Sanji looked around and changed course, heading down a row of lockers towards the back where Ace and whoever he was talking to couldn't see him. He doubted very much that Ace was talking to Zoro, but Sanji had hid instinctively just in case. Besides, Sanji wasn't really in the mood to talk to Ace anyway, even if Zoro wasn't there. Ace had a way of coaxing things out of you when you really didn't want to talk about them, and considering Sanji had about a million things he didn't want to talk about on his mind, an interrogation from Ace would be inevitable.
"…so good for you, man!" Ace's voice was excited. "It'd pay a hell of a lot better than here, and you'd get to teach martial arts instead of stupid self-defense and yoga. Hey! You might even be able to talk my dad into letting you start a kendo team!"
Kendo, Sanji thought with a sigh, of course he was talking to Zoro.
There was a moment of silence before Zoro's low voice rumbled softly in the large space. "It sounds cool, Ace, I just don't know how long I'm gonna be here…"
Sanji froze. He didn't know how long he was going to be here? Was Zoro leaving? When? Why!
"It doesn't matter!" Ace exclaimed. "Dad said I could start these classes if I could find a second instructor. I'm at the station every day but I only work Monday through Wednesday. I want to teach classes Thursday through Saturday, and you can take Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It would be so fun! Imagine making a bunch of little punks do pushups all day!"
Sanji heard Zoro chuckle. "It does sound fun… but it doesn't have to be me."
"Yes it does!"
"No, it doesn't. Luffy's gonna need a job during the summer, and he's just as good as I am. And anyway, if you wanna start some martial arts classes, shouldn't you be asking Sanji? He's better than all of us."
Sanji's heart practically stopped. Had Zoro just complimented him? What the hell? Zoro thought he was that good? The cook's chest hurt and he realized he had been holding his breath for a long time. He let it out as quietly as he could, leaning against a locker for support. That had been the last thing in the world he had ever expected to hear out of the swordsman's mouth.
"I know," Ace said, his voice quieting, "having Sanji working at the dojo would be totally awesome, but he's got his job at the Baratie. His hours are crazy."
Zoro sighed and Sanji heard a bag hit the floor. "I'll think about it, okay?"
"You will!" Ace's voice was loud once again, "Oh man! Zoro that's awesome! Thank you!"
"Whatever," Zoro replied, but Sanji could tell in his voice he was smiling.
"So, okay, take your shower," Ace's voice was moving towards the exit. "I'll see you tomorrow!"
"Night," Zoro called after him.
As the door closed behind Ace, silence rang loud and heavy in the locker room. Sanji knew he was going to have to stay very still, everything echoed and amplified in this space so if he moved Zoro would know someone was there. The cook listened as the swordsman rummaged around in his bag, and when Sanji heard the distinct beep of a cellphone being dialed, he started to move down the row of lockers.
"Hey," Zoro's voice was soft, "what are you doing tonight?"
Sanji was momentarily stunned when he thought Zoro might actually be talking to a girl. He bit the inside of his lip and wondered how in the hell he was going to deal with listening to Zoro make plans with some chick right here while he was only a few feet away.
The swordsman's next words settled his fears. "Homework? Come on, Chopper, who does homework?"
Having regained feeling in his extremities, Sanji moved to the edge of the locker row and slowly peered out from between two shelves of a towel rack. He could see Zoro fairly easy from this vantage point, but it was unlikely the swordsman could see him.
God damnit, I'm a stalker…
"Well," Zoro continued, "I have no idea how to use an xbox controller, but I'm sure Usopp can show me."
The swordsman grunted out a few more "yeah's" and a quick goodbye before he hung up. Sanji waited for Zoro to put the phone back in his bag and get up to take his shower, but the swordsman just sat looking a little sad. Sanji had a moment of feeling sorry for the other man, but then the cook thought about how nice Zoro had been on the phone, and how he had laughed with Ace when their dark-haired friend had been talking with him only minutes ago. It reminded Sanji of how Zoro was nice to everyone but him. He talked gently and laughed at people's jokes, he said please and thank you to everyone on the planet but Sanji! Why! Why was that!
Whatever benevolent feelings Sanji had harbored seconds ago for the swordsman, were instantly replaced by petty satisfaction. Let the green-haired ape feel bad! He hoped whoever had put that look on the swordsman's face had gotten him good. Zoro was an asshole and deserved a knock down from his high and mighty pedestal once in a while.
Sanji almost jumped when Zoro moved suddenly. He placed the cell phone back in his bag and slowly pulled out something small and white. The cook couldn't really see what it was, but he could tell that Zoro handled it with care. The swordsman didn't look at it, but took it in his hands and leaned back against the lockers. He sat for several long moments, just staring at the white—what was it? An envelope?
Sanji started to feel bad again. Hatred and loathing didn't suit him well, even if it was for green haired oafs. He had feelings for Zoro, and that was shitty, and yeah the swordsman treated him like crap, but really it was Sanji's own fault. None of that gave Sanji the right to wish the worst for Zoro. Zoro was a good guy, he didn't deserve unhappiness just because he couldn't get along with a certain selfish cook.
Zoro sighed and tapped the envelope against his thigh. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the locker door.
"Get it together…" he whispered.
Sanji didn't have to be a genius to know what was happening. Someone had broken Zoro's heart, and as surprising as that was, it still sent a multitude of feelings through the cook's heart and body. Jealousy battled with concern; curiosity struggled with disbelief. The cook's chest tightened with despair at knowing there was someone out there that Zoro cared about like that and it wasn't him, but at the same time he felt relief that whoever Zoro had feelings for didn't return them.
Sanji hadn't even known Zoro was seeing someone, but it was completely obvious that Zoro was aching. It was a very universal look. Unmistakable.
When Zoro finally stood and slipped the envelope back into the bag, Sanji crouched low waiting for the swordsman to leave to take his shower. He knew it was wrong, he knew he was being crazy and childish, but what the hell was he supposed to do? Walk away and pretend he had never seen it? He was just supposed to pretend that he hadn't just seen Zoro in a rare moment of weakness and notgo see why?
When the water from the shower hit the tiled floor, and Sanji heard Zoro step underneath the spray, he moved. He slipped around the towel rack and slid on the bench until he was sitting next to Zoro's bag. He reached into the side pocket and pulled out the mystery envelope. He turned it over in his hands, noting the wear around the edges. Zoro had kept this for a while, at least a few months. Judging by the crease at the top it had been opened and reopened many, many times.
The cook turned the envelope over and almost dropped it on the floor. His entire body froze as he stared at the neat scrawl across the front. One word Zorowas written on the faded white paper in a handwriting Sanji was intimately familiar with.
Sanji knew exactly what this envelope contained.
Nevertheless, he turned it over and opened it, just to be sure. Inside was a simple blue card with the words Get Wellon the front. Hands trembling, Sanji opened the card and read the words written inside, as if he had never seen them before.
Zoro, Get better soon so I can start kicking your ass again. - Sanji
It was surreal. It was unbelievable. Why was this what Zoro was holding when he had that look on his face? What was he thinking! What the hell was going on!
Sanji didn't have any more time to think about it. The water in the shower turned off and the cook scrambled to put the card back in the envelope and the envelope back in the bag without making any noise. He quickly moved around the towel rack and crouched where he could see, but not be seen. When Zoro finally came around the corner Sanji's breath stopped and his heart skipped several beats.
The swordsman wore nothing but a towel around his waist so the scar across his chest was in full and terrible view. It was still red and bruised in some places, but it looked like the stitches had been removed a while ago. The thing must have hurt like a mother-fucker, it was as long as Sanji's arm! How had Zoro survived that!
Sanji's train of thought faltered as he remembered that the doctors had said Zoro was alive because Sanji had held him together. His face started to feel hot and his insides started to tingle. It was as if the gravity of what he had done for Zoro had suddenly hit him. He really had saved Zoro's life.
It also threw into perspective how much his words two weeks ago had probably hurt the swordsman. Sanji had said the most horrible things he had ever said in his life, and Zoro had just stared at him, frozen. After that how could Zoro ever forgive him?
Sanji sat on the floor leaning against the lockers for a long time, even after he heard Zoro gather his stuff and leave the locker room. The cook was too scared, to wired, and too confused to move. He didn't know what to think or how to feel. What he had seen tonight was so out of left field that Sanji didn't even know how to start dealing with it.
Maybe he should talk to Pell, he might know what Sanji should do, and if he didn't at least he was someone to talk to.
Standing slowly, working the kinks out of his back, Sanji left the locker room through the back door and stepped out into the ally. He pulled his pack from his bag and slid a cigarette between his lips. Lighting up, something came to the cook, something that was wonderful and frightening at the same time, but it still managed to lift some of his worries from his shoulders.
At least now he knew Zoro didn't hate him.