Author's notes :

Here's Sanji's side of this story, minus the brainfart stuff. I think Aevium deserves kudos for pointing this out to me, since without her insightful input, everybody would've known that I fail at characterization.

Did I ever mention that I love reviews and PMs? And that I always respond to them (aside from anonymous reviews), even if I'm overwhelmed with school work? In any case, constructive criticism is always appreciated, and much needed, if I ever want to improve my awkward writing. That being said, I'll be computer-less for some time starting tonight, since I'm upgrading my beloved companion (I'm a dork), and exams are fast approaching. I don't know how well I'll fare with review follow-up, but I'll do my best. Wish me luck.

I don't own these characters, but I have so much love for them that it makes me die a little inside.


I am an idiot.

As if my whole life didn't already feel like a succession of wasted chances and missed opportunities, meeting you only made things worse. Maybe I should blame myself and my shitty temper for that – actually, I do, a little... a lot. And maybe I should resent you as well, if only I could, for being such a dumbass and making things harder for me, by not taking the clues when I'd thrown right into your face. But what did I expect anyway? In the end, I'm the one who brought this shit upon myself, and I didn't need your help with that.

Curse that shitty temper. I'm such a fucking idiot.

Ever since we met, I've had this dichotomic appreciation of your character. I first thought you were raving mad, endangering yourself when you knew you didn't stand a chance. But at the same time, it only proved that you had the courage to live up to your dreams, the courage I never had – though, thanks to Luffy and that shitty old man, things changed shortly afterward.

You have no idea how much I admired and envied you for that, as well as that stoic demeanor you showed the world – yet another thing I could never do.

These feelings never disappeared, even when the bickering started. And actually, they're exactly what started it. I admired you so much, and your overall behavior was so cold and distant... I couldn't help it. Before long, I wanted to scratch the surface and reveal what was underneath. Or maybe I only wanted to get closer to you. I don't know anymore. All I know is that I couldn't help but try to get your attention. And since I'm such an idiot, the only way I knew of doing that was antagonizing you, as soon as I found the slightest excuse.

As if I could help it, anyway.

At first, you ignored me. We'd fight all the time, and usually, I was the one who started it. But it did me no good at all, because, soon enough, you started issuing retorts that were witty enough to unsettle me. Every time you'd scoff at some stupid shit I said, it would only make me more annoyed at you – and at myself. Before long, the mere sight of your damn shitty hair, of your stupidly impassive face would plunge me into the deepest irritated state. And as days passed, my aggravation at your whole demeanor grew, until it reached levels unheard of. Not only were you an ill-bred boor, disrespectful of ladies, but most of the time, my perpetual nagging wouldn't even leave a scratch that thick armor of yours, whereas your insults would drive me crazy more often than not. Since you were the silent type to begin with, I never thought you'd have such a good sense of repartee.

It triggered a lot of frustration on my part, which I think you noticed after some time. And, surprisingly enough, you took advantage of that, taking an active part in what was rapidly becoming routine for us.

I didn't understand at first. I finally had your attention, so why wasn't I satisfied when you went along with the flow? It took me some time to realize that I wanted more than your attention. I wanted your respect. I wanted you to treat me as an equal. I only wanted you to acknowledge me. I also realized that, because of that shitty, uncontrolled mouth of mine, I may have spoiled it all.

But yeah, what did I expect, anyway? You were strong, most likely stronger than I was, though I'd never admit it in front of anyone. Despite everything I said, all the insults I threw in your general direction, in the end, I didn't think you were really that stupid. You even had the wits to match mine, when you deemed the situation worthy of using your tongue for clever, irritating retorts that ineluctably got on my nerves. Of course I'd be no match for you, because everything about you was admirable.

I was such a coward about it. Even knowing I had gone the wrong way with it all, I went on with the bickering. At some point, I even convinced myself that it was enough.

And then, shit happened. I shouldn't have been surprised, because it always does.

I was almost out cold, laying on some pile of rubble. My whole body hurt, especially my leg, which was most likely broken, and I thought we were all going to die. I heard voices – your voice, deep and strained like you'd been fighting for days, and somehow, it comforted me, knowing you were still alive. But then, the words you were saying finally started making sense, in my fuzzy brain, and my eyes darted open. I couldn't believe the shit you were uttering, talking about wasting your life like it didn't matter, like it wasn't worth shit. About letting go of your dream, when in fact, you were the most eager of us all to follow through with it.

My eyes darted open. What kind of bullshit was that? What about your fucking promise? Your dedication to it was one of the things I admired the most about you, and you were ready to throw it away, just... just like that? Dumb, stupid sacrificial jerk. I knew what was going on in your head, and it was all good and chivalrous, for once, but I wouldn't let you waste your life away.

So, I ignored the pain in my leg, in my cracked ribs, in my whole body, and slowly stood up. I had to reach you before you committed the biggest mistake of your life. My vision was blurry, and I thanked fate, god, or whatever superior being was up there for the fact your hair was green, and thus, hard to miss, even when I couldn't see shit. I don't think you heard me approaching your position, because when I stood between you and that freaky guy, stumbling as I did, you fell silent for what felt like the longest time. Only proved you were in pretty bad shape yourself, you big, goddamn idiot. I stood upright and lit a cigarette, and I could feel the burning of your eyes, staring at my back as if they could pierce through it.

I tried to save you, to protect you. I really did. But no sooner did I issue my challenge that a tremendously painful blow landed on my already cracked ribs, reverberating through my whole body. My legs betrayed me, my eyes scrunched, small pain-induced tears falling from their corners against my own will. When I opened them, an unwelcome, dark haze started surrounding the edges of my peripheral vision. I glanced up as I fell to my knees, eyes widening in disbelief as I realized you were responsible for that blow. You wanted to knock me out, so I couldn't interfere, that much was pretty clear to me. I accusingly glared at you with all the strength I had left. But already, my consciousness was fading, and all I could do was grab whatever piece of you was in reach. I felt your fever-warm skin under my fingers, and then, I was gone.

It was so unfair.

I woke up thinking you were dead. That was the most terrible thought that ever occurred to me, ever since I was rescued from that forsaken rock in the middle of nowhere, the one I was forced to survive on for such a long time. And actually, it was worse. I thought you were gone forever, that I had been unable to protect you – you were the one who usually did that, for the entire crew, while Luffy was usually too busy fighting on his own. So, if I couldn't do it, who would protect you? As soon as I could muster up the strength, I started looking for you. I couldn't believe you were gone just like that, without a sound – all greatest swordsman and cocky smirk one moment, and out cold the next? I just couldn't believe it.

And I was right, after all, because in the end, you'd survived. But in what kind of fucking state... There was no way I'd believe you when you told me nothing happened. I was in no condition to, anyway. My relief had been so intense when I realized you were still alive that I had to concentrate, just to stand straight and keep my eyes dry. I'd have hated to break down from relief in front of you, after what had just happened, after all you'd been through. Whatever it was.

Afterward, I spent the longest time at your bedside, watching you breathe in that coma-like sleep, ruminating on the whole event and not quite getting what it all had been about, in the end. It's then that I realized with increasing awareness how close I had been to losing you. I'd always known how eager I had been, since we'd met, to obtain your approval, your acknowledgment – your respect. But I had never realized how desperate I was to earn these from you. And I was scared to discover that I wanted more. I wanted your love, and it drove me into a deep state of bewilderment.

During these long hours that stretched into days, as I'd hoped you'd make it, eventually, I realized that what I had been feeling all along was love, not just admiration, and it left me tremendously confused. I had never loved like that. So completely. And of course, never in my right mind had I imagined that I'd feel that way for another man. I didn't understand how it was even possible. I was known as a lady's man – and moreover, I saw myself as one. I wouldn't lie and pretend I was unable to recognize beauty in other men, but it generally pissed me off more than anything else.

However, this wasn't about looks. It had never been – though I'll admit, now that I've accepted that new, surprising part of myself, and, even though it took me a long time, that I'm far from indifferent to your unusual attractiveness. And I've never been indifferent to you, not even at the beginning, when your peculiar hair and handsome face annoyed me to no end. But no, it was never about looks. It was about who you were, and the challenge you were to me. As I said earlier, I wanted you to acknowledge me, as I never wanted anyone to before – aside maybe from that stubborn shitty old man with a shitty mustache, but that's another matter, entirely. I wanted to be as great as you were, and maybe, along the way, these feelings got too strong to remain solely made up of admiration and envy. Or maybe I'd been in love with you all along, from the first time I laid my eyes upon you, and I was just too damn stupid to realize.

A short time after I began to understand what was going on in my own mind and heart – though it didn't make things easier to accept, and trust me, I had trouble doing that – even more shit happened. As if it had only been waiting for me to question myself on one of the most important aspects of my life. And I landed on that fucking island. How ironical.

I woke up in hell. I was worried about the others, about you, though I reckoned that, if I was still alive, you would, too. But you were badly injured, even before all that shit came up, and not knowing if you were all right drove me mad with worry. In the first months, I ended up not sleeping much, for my sleep was plagued with nightmares about you. It got slightly better, eventually.

I had two whole years to reflect on you, me, and the "relationship" we had established over the months since we first met, as well as what I felt for you. You have no idea how hard it was. I had thought before that what I felt for you made me less of a man. And that shitty island with those shitty okama could have made things worse – actually, it did, at some point. But after nearly losing myself and being back from whatever cross-dressing hell my treacherous mind had been sent to, I decided that it didn't matter, as long as I never pulled that shit again. Nothing could be worse than being forced to wear a dress and bloomers. Merely thinking about it makes me shudder in disgust.

After these two years in hell, I was more than eager to see you again – I knew you were still alive, I never even doubted that, for you were, my dear dumbass marimo, such a brute force of nature to reckon with. I couldn't wait to see your stupid, gruff, handsome manly face, so different from all those shitty okama's ugly mugs. I didn't know what would happen when we'd meet again, but I knew I wouldn't let you know. There was no way in hell you'd feel the same, I knew that, and I had come to terms with it. It drowned me into despair, whenever I thought about it for too long, so I tried, somewhat successfully, not to dwell on it.

And then, the two years went by, and I finally reached the Sabaody Archipelago, leaving those shitty cross-dressers behind for good, I hope. I reached that place, and when I was told that you arrived days earlier, my heart skipped a beat. You were really alive, after all.

I went to search for you. I knew you would have trouble finding your way to the ship.

I searched and searched, enjoying the wonderful view – real, beautiful ladies, everywhere! – but I never strayed off my path. I wanted to see you so eagerly. It was almost painful.

And then, you were there, in front of me, and I forgot everything else.

You changed during these two years. You became visibly stronger, and it seemed to me that stupid, perpetual frown of yours got a little deeper in its natural state. I felt a tad intimidated at first, but after a couple seconds, I managed to throw an insult at you, just like I used to, before. And just like before, you were soon to retort, and smirked. That smile of yours hadn't changed. I tried to be casual about it, at first, and I managed to put up a front for a while. But as we were bickering lightly, walking through the archipelago's streets, I suddenly found myself nearly stumbling under the weight of these two years of separation, of everything I had been through since then, and I couldn't take it.

I felt my eyes prickle with fresh tears. I tried to hold them back, to reign them in – I couldn't show you these. I couldn't let you know. I tried to hide it, but you wouldn't let me. You grabbed my shoulder gently, and forced me to turn around, to face you, and lay my emotions bare. It was too late to run away – nowhere left to go, but forwards. And yet, I tried to temporize. I tried pretending I was never worried, when in fact, it ate at me from within. But you – admirable you – you weren't fooled. You knew better. Or maybe my expressive face betrayed me once again – but if that was the case, I'm glad it did. Because you brushed my hair out of my face with a gentle hand, and stared into my eyes for what seemed like an infinite time. I wasn't unsettled by that. There was something new in your eyes, a warmth, a different quality from when we last met. I never wondered what it was, because at that point, stripped naked by your dark, fond gaze, I was ready to take whatever you were willing to give me, even if it wasn't much.

You cautiously lowered your head towards mine, as if you weren't sure yourself of what you were doing, and your lips tentatively pressed against mine.

It wasn't my first kiss, far from it. But as we lost ourselves into each other, I finally realized that I had searched for someone like you, for you, my whole life. Even as you were right next to me, and I'd never realized it. It took me so long to realize that I almost chuckled against your lips, at that thought.

It seemed I would have to search no more.


And then, Sanji kicked Zoro's ass for kissing him in a place where anyone could see.