I know it's taken me a while to get an update out on this one, but I hope to write faster in the near future. That's all I really have to say, so... off you go. Read. I'll be here.
Sanji dropped his house and restaurant keys on the nightstand beside his bed and shrugged out of his jacket. He tossed the garment on his bed and loosened his tie as he walked into the bathroom. He flicked on the light and his shoulders dropped.
"Well, damn." Sanji pulled his hair back from his face and shook his head slightly. There was a small cut right on his hair line, bleeding an inch-wide stripe of blood that trickled down to his chin and dripped onto the sink. "Why didn't anyone tell me I was bleeding?" Sanji wondered aloud as he went in search of a rag.
The cook sprung for a washcloth that was red to begin with so the old fart wouldn't jump his ass about bleeding on stuff. He took the rag back to his bathroom and wet half of it before wiping up the blood trail on his face and under his chin. Sanji tentatively dabbed at the cut on his head with the wet rag and was relieved to see it wasn't as bad as it was trying to be. It would heal in no time. Sanji tucked his hair behind his ear and looked at the cut a moment longer before returning to his room.
He didn't want to think about it, but his mind was magnetized to his unpleasant encounter with Gin earlier that afternoon. He had laid down his cards for all to see in the middle of the school yard, daring any and all associated with Gin and his boss to come after him. Not that he was banking on anyone getting protective over their "nakama" in that crew and wanting revenge. Probably the only reason anyone in Gin's crew would fight him would be to try and prove they were stronger than Sanji's previous opponents by besting him. Then again, that's what any punk wanted to do lately.
Sanji sighed, walking around his bed to the window. He turned the latch back and opened the window inwards, letting in a crisp breeze. It was already starting to cool off, he noticed. That would only be a good thing for a couple of weeks, Sanji knew, but it was a welcome change after the stifling summer.
The cook looked around at what little of the city he could see through his window. The decrepit old jewelry store next door had always blocked any significant view he might have had, since it was only a tiny bit shorter than the Baratie from the outside. He could almost see onto the roof, but most of what he could see was just grimy brick and cracked concrete. Besides that, he could see the back of the building behind the Baratie, a couple of buildings across the street out front and a wide stripe of orangey sky right across the top of his view.
Sanji placed his palms flat on the window sill and leaned out the window, admiring the wispy clouds with an almost philosophical expression. School and work drained from his mind, leaving him in semi-peace as he stood by the window a minute longer, eyes on the sky. He would have to get to work soon, he reminded himself, but watching the sunset seemed like an important task to be accomplished just then.
"Ah, the fading days of summer..." Sanji sighed again, over-dramatizing in his moment of peace. His hair fell back over his eye and he looked at it for a second before ducking his head and retreating back into his room.
Out of the corner of his eye, Sanji saw something glint in the orangey sunlight outside his window. He was already a few steps towards going downstairs to work, but he had to go back to the window. Squinting against the sun, he could see the multicolored glare of light off something on top of the jewelry store next door. "What the hell?" Sanji frowned at the object, but it didn't come into focus. If he moved to either side, the colorful glint would disappear, leaving only a shadowy object to hold its place. That certainly hadn't been there the last time he looked out his window, had it?
The cook turned and went downstairs, power walking out the back door of the restaurant that was used for taking out the trash or receiving deliveries of fresh ingredients. He'd gotten a few strange looks on the way out that made him wonder if visiting the roof of the neighboring building was really something that had to be done, but he was too curious to just leave it be.
The heels of his shoes clicked against the pavement as he marched up to the fire escape on the back of the jewelry store. He knew it was still daylight out, and he could technically go inside and tell the owner of the building about the mystery object on their roof, but he wanted to check it out for himself.
Sanji hesitated a moment at the rusty bars of the ladder, looking at his slightly dirty hands before deciding to just suck it up and climb up the shaky fire escape. Several screws fell out as he climbed up to the top of the two-story building and Sanji was mentally pleading with the structure to hold under his weight for just another minute.
Metal creaked and scraped against brick as Sanji hoisted himself up onto the roof. He heaved a sigh of relief and placed his hand over his heart to make sure it was still there. Heights weren't exactly his thing.
Once he'd recovered from the panic of climbing a rickety ladder, Sanji turned and looked over the surprisingly vast roof. There were various ventilation tubes scattered across the roof, along with a chimney that Sanji assumed only went down as far as the upstairs apartment. But, behind that chimney, he could see a cloth.
Sanji walked briskly over to what looked to be a futon placed up against the lip of the roof right in line with his window. Beside the futon were several bottles, empty or otherwise, that boasted in white letters that they were a little-known brand of sake.
"What the fuck?" Sanji knelt beside a cluster of sake bottles and picked one up. He was growing more and more disturbed by what might have been going on across the way from his window. He leaned down experimentally, ducking so that he could only barely see above the two-foot tall edge of the roof. He could see straight into his room from there. Sanji was not an easy person to freak out, but whomever had set all that up on the roof was seriously freaking him out.
On the edge of the roof was a single blue-tinted glass bottle, half-full of liquid that Sanji didn't dare try to determine. That bottle was what had caught his eye, he noticed, touching it with as little skin as possible to pick it up. Sanji became more and more paranoid as he examined the outside of the bottle for who-the-hell-knows-what. Carefully setting it back down next to the other bottles, Sanji turned back to the blue patterned futon.
Despite the bottles looking relatively clean, the futon looked like it had been up there since the last rain storm. It was covered in dirt and grass and a handful of cicada shells, there wasn't a blanket or pillow in sight and the thin mattress itself looked to be old as shit. Sanji really couldn't describe in words how or why the thing looked old, it just did. That was very odd.
Sanji tried to remember when last it had rained, since the futon was flattened to the jewelry store's roof like it had been molded to the roof by rain. The last storm he could remember was weeks ago. A shiver ran up his spine. What creep had been camping out on the roof, possibly looking into his window, for weeks? Oh, God, why have I neglected my curtains?
"No, no, keep a level head, now," Sanji told himself, beginning to pace. Maybe the owner of the jewelry store was stargazing? No, that man's older than dust, Sanji remembered. Besides, there didn't seem to be any way onto or off of the roof aside from the fire escape Sanji had climbed. What would some old man be doing shuffling up a ladder like that with a futon under one arm and a bottle of sake under the other?
Sanji tried to think rationally, to figure out something anyone might have been doing on the roof of some old jewelry store. It could've been a homeless person, but then again, a homeless person wouldn't have money enough for as much booze as appeared to have been consumed on that roof. Unless they'd just collected the old bottles. The only one Sanji had seen with anything actually in it was the unlabeled blue glass bottle, so there was no telling.
Looking around the roof once more, Sanji was starting to relax a little. He'd never heard of a homeless person living on a roof, in full view of the elements, but if that was all that was going on, he didn't suppose he could tell that person to leave.
The cook knelt again and rolled up the futon, tucking it under his arm and taking a deep breath as he approached the ladder. He climbed down as quickly as he could without breaking anything and hurried back to the restaurant, futon under his arm.
A few of the chefs and waiters gave him stranger looks than when he had left, but he just shook his head. Didn't matter what they thought. Sanji went straight up the stairs and into his and Zeff's living space. From there he went to the laundry room and shoved the futon in the washing machine, put in some detergent and bleach and started it on the longest cycle at his disposal. It smelled like a dog.
After thoroughly washing his hands, Sanji started moving about the kitchen collecting ingredients for a meal that he was going to make for the roof-occupant. He really had no way of telling who it was, but he'd decided it must be a homeless person. In that case, someone who was not eating properly. Whoever it was, anyway, didn't seem like they really meant any harm.
Sanji went about making onigiri* filled with umeboshi.* He figured the snack would be appreciated by whomever was visiting the roof. The cook hoped that his gestures would not be misconstrued as an invitation to stay on the roof longer, though. It would become awkward to have someone constantly on the roof outside your window, possibly watching you while you do their laundry and cook them things.
For a moment, he paused. No, it couldn't be enterpreted that way. Whoever's living up there wouldn't know it was me that did this, anyway, Sanji thought, placing the finished onigiri in a plastic container. He snapped the lid on the container and left it on the counter to check on the futon in the wash. It wasn't finished, so he went down into the restaurant to help out and kill some time.
"Oi, eggplant! Where have you been? You're late!" Zeff scolded the moment he got into the kitchen.
Sanji scoffed. "Shut up, old man. I've been busy."
"With what, getting into fights? You're a hundred years too early to be that reckless!" Zeff shouted at him as they worked at their individual stations.
"How the hell do you even know about that, you nosy old fart?" Sanji asked with less heat than he intended. When he didn't hear a reply, Sanji turned around to see Zeff staring at him boredly. Sanji looked down at himself then, noticing that his clothes were dirty in places and there was a drip of blood on one of his jacket buttons.
"Not the brightest little eggplant, are ya?"
It was nearly dark outside when the futon was finally washed and dried. Sanji surveyed the worn-looking pattern, bright blue with light blue swirls, and wondered if he shouldn't just replace the damn thing. It looked like hell, it still smelled faintly of animal, and the fabric was worn through in places. Yeah, I ought to check and see if I have a better one somewhere around here.
Sanji took the old futon with him to the hall closet where he knew bedding was kept. He and Zeff both slept in beds with frames and they rarely had guests, so he didn't really know if they would have any futons. But, Luffy and Ussop had slept over a few times, so they were bound to have something. And, just about anything was better than the shitty old futon.
"Ah! Here we go!" Sanji pulled a red futon with white skull and crossbones pattern out of the bottom of the closet and flapped it out to it's full size. It was one that Luffy had brought to his house once upon a sleep over and had never come back to get. He'd brought it over and said that he would leave it there for when they slept over at Sanji's house again, claiming that Sanji had the coolest house ever because it was on top of a restaurant.
It was not as long as the other one, but it would do.
Sanji rolled up the red futon and held it under one arm as he went to the kitchen and grabbed the container of onigiri. He took a quick breath and gave himself a mental pep talk, before hurrying down to and through the kitchen for the third time that day, receiving equally curious looks as the first time. He refused to acknowledge them that time and just hurried out to the jewelry store.
He had to stop at the bottom of the ladder to figure out how he'd climb up with both his hands full, but after a minute he just threw the rolled-up futon as hard as he could up and over the roof's edge. That would make it easier, he decided.
The cook held the box of onigiri tightly in his left hand and climbed up the ladder as quickly as possible, trying his absolute hardest not to look down. When he reached the edge of the roof, he vaulted over so fast he lost his balance for a second and nearly tripped over the red skull and crossbones futon. Recovering with a flourish, Sanji righted himself, picked up the unrolled futon, and marched over to the spot he'd taken the old futon from. There was an odd rectangle light spot on the roof and Sanji used that as a guideline to spread out the fresh futon.
Sanji put the onigiri down on the edge of the roof so that he'd be able to see it from his window, to know when the person on the roof had returned and eaten. Taking a few steps back to survey his handiwork, Sanji nodded and departed the roof.
In the end, he'd had no luck coming up with a plan. He'd just walked around the island with an empty mind full of an echoing curiosity. Somehow, planning shit out didn't really work for him. He was always a man of action, a "do first, think later" kind of guy. He could think of no tactful way of figuring out why Sanji and his group of friends stood out to Robin, or why Sanji in particular was so strong. Only one option was standing out in his mind.
He had to talk to Robin. He had to directly ask the witch-woman herself why she was interested in those specific humans. Face-to-face. That would have to wait until tomorrow, Zoro decided.
Tired and possessed by something he couldn't name, Zoro journeyed to the jewelry store next door to the Baratie. He knew something was different before he got there. He could smell it in the air. But, he still couldn't believe his eyes when he saw it.
Where his old futon had been, there was a red one with tiny white skulls and crossbones all over it, smelling like artificial flowers and something familiar. In addition to that, a rectangular plastic container about the size of a shoebox sat on the edge of the roof, and from the smell of it, it contained onigiri.
Zoro went over to the container and picked it up. The outside of the container had a scent, too, that wafted to him over the smell of pickled plums. It smelled like the cook. It smelled like Sanji.
Curiously, Zoro sat down on his new futon and opened the box of onigiri. He couldn't smell any poison, and the futon was rather comfy. So, what the hell? Why would Sanji... Wait a second, he doesn't know it's me up here, Zoro thought. He couldn't decide whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that Sanji knew there was someone on the roof, even if he didn't know it was Zoro.
The demon stood and paced the roof, deliberately walking away from the light cast out of the cook's room. He couldn't explain it for the life of him, but Zoro felt like he had to do something to repay him. It wasn't like Sanji had directly shown him kindness, but it meant a lot to Zoro. He hadn't met very many humans who would be kind to any random stranger, let alone a random stranger that was camping on the roof outside their window. Didn't he know he was being watched?
Oh, damn, that was another matter entirely. If Sanji ever found out he was being watched, not to mention the "by Zoro" part, he'd have a cataclysmic meltdown. Zoro could almost feel it just thinking about it. He could imagine Sanji would be more pissed than when he first found out Zoro was the one who hurt his hand. It seemed Zoro was pissing him off quite a lot. Not to say that Sanji didn't do a fair amount of annoying, but Zoro felt as if Sanji was always upset with him, whereas the opposite was not true.
Shit. Now, he really needed to repay Sanji.
Zoro paced the roof even faster than before, the tips of his boots out in open air before he spun on his heels and started the other way. He could give the futon back to Sanji, of course, but he didn't think that would be accepted as a "thank you." Most people would see that as a refusal of kindness. Zoro didn't want to piss him off more.
He could leave a note, although that seemed a little tacky. And, what would he say? "Hello, this is your creepy neighborhood roof-dweller, thanks for the food and the bed, signed, Hobo?" That wouldn't work. Why couldn't Zoro be better with his words?
"Ugh!" The swordsman rubbed at his face with both hands, trying to think. He didn't know what to do about it, but he definitely had to do something. He couldn't just talk down the idea of paying Sanji back for his good gesture, he had to actually do something good for the cook in return. He could try not to tick him off, he supposed. That might help a little. But, he didn't know when next he would encounter the cook in person.
At that moment, the thin blue curtains parted and the light cast upon the roof by Sanji's window grew brighter. Zoro ducked quickly and crept towards the edge of the roof to see what Sanji could possibly be doing at his window at such a late hour. Didn't humans need a lot more sleep than demons?
The blond rested his elbows on the window sill and put his chin in his hands, looking out at the city's nightlife. A serene smile tugged at his lips as a breeze ghosted through his hair. Zoro caught a glimpse of a small cut on Sanji's hairline and frowned. He looked damn peaceful for someone who got hit in the head by a big-ass tonfa not four hours ago. Yet again, Zoro was undecided as to whether that was good or bad.
Blue eyes shadowed by the light behind them turned towards Zoro and the demon hit the deck faster than he ever hit the deck before. Was he found out? He couldn't tell. He couldn't hear, see, or sense the cook's reaction, if there was one at all. Zoro breathed a silent sigh and moved over to a darker side of the roof so he could peer over the edge and see Sanji. Waiting for him was the most appalling sight.
Sanji had a wide smile on his face as he looked to the roof. Zoro didn't know why he looked so happy, but it was damn annoying. It brought up an ominous feeling somewhere inside Zoro that he could really do without. He really did have to pay Sanji back, didn't he?
Onigiri - Rice balls wrapped in seaweed, usually filled with something savory or salty.
Umeboshi - Pickled plum. xD I really have no idea what it tastes like, but it's popular enough, so I'll be borrowing it!