Summary: Sanji always manages to appear strong and carefree, but he can't help but to think that he's constantly falling behind. He's feeling detached from his nakama and starts to doubt his place in the crew. When he and Zoro get separated from the rest of the Straw Hats, Sanji thinks he has finally found the chance to prove himself, only to realize that his actions have some unexpected consequences. Can he sort out his feelings and fix the situation he's landed himself in?
Genre: Romance, Humor, Hurt/Comfort, Angst (just a tiny bit)
Rating: M (for later chapters)
Disclaimer: One Piece is Oda-sensei's.
Chapter 1: The Fate of a Cook
All was as quiet as could be on the Thousand Sunny. The nearly full moon shone brightly, casting a faint light against the pitch black sea. Other than the odd snore from the crewmembers – most notably Luffy, or was that Zoro? – and the sounds of the waves sloshing gently against the ship, it was a relatively silent night.
Only one person was up at such an ungodly hour as the rest of crew tried to save their strength for the next day by catching up on sleep. They were nearing the next island and had to be ready to face potential dangers when they arrived. Even Robin, who usually stayed up to read, had decided to rest instead.
Sanji had finally finished cleaning the kitchen to perfection, having put away every dish, polished every visible surface, and double checked that everything was in order. Not a speck of dirt or dust remained. He hoped it would stay this way for a while, since they weren't having breakfast on the ship.
With a click of a lighter, the blond cook lit a new cigarette and glanced over at the window, noting the dark blue color of the sky. It had to be somewhere around three in the morning.
Dammit, he was hungry. And that meant he'd probably have to cook something for himself.
And that just meant more mess. More cleaning.
Well, it's not like he really minded. It was just that he wanted to sleep.
Sanji sauntered over to the refrigerator and opened it, not able to do much but blink at the barrenness and laugh softly to himself. He should have gotten used to it by now, the fact that nothing edible was going to last in this ship very long. Still, it took him off guard every time, seeing the nearly empty shelves. After all, Luffy's appetite contradicted every principle he believed in. Not wasting food. Appreciating food. Tasting food. The idiot just inhaled everything, more than was ever necessary. And it didn't help that Chopper and Usopp were becoming the same way.
So why was there a smile on his face? He shrugged. He supposed it was because they were friends.
He sighed, pulling out a box of tagliatelle pasta noodles from one of the cabinets. He guessed that he had to be glad that even Luffy wouldn't touch unprepared food.
Several minutes later, he had managed to gather some garlic, onions, sage, parsley, cheese, and chestnuts. He supposed he could make some sort of pasta dish using the last remaining ingredients.
Why did he even bother trying to make dishes ahead of time? He knew that Luffy would somehow find a way to scarf it down. Maybe it was because he wanted to eat on time with everyone else; the premade food was for himself after all. When he made the crew breakfast, he tried saving some food for his own lunch, only to have Luffy or Usopp (let's face it, it was usually Luffy) eat it by noon. And, of course, the same thing happened during lunch and dinner until his meal was pushed as late as it could get.
Hence the reason why he had to eat at 3 AM. By himself.
But it wasn't as though he was complaining. He didn't really mind that he usually ate alone in the early hours of the morning when their stupid captain was fast asleep. Besides, as a cook, he had taken it as a challenge to make sure the whole crew, including Luffy, was thoroughly satisfied after every meal.
Though if he were to be honest, it would be nice to be able to eat with the crew instead of just watching them.
What the hell am I thinking?
"Boil. Chop. Stir. Chop. Stir. Mix," he muttered under his breath, repeating the phrase over and over again to try to clear his uncomfortable thoughts.
He was not lonely.
"Really, I'm not. Not lonely."
He could hear a defensive, weak voice and he smirked.
Wait, was that him?
I'm just tired, that's all. Feeling shitty.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and breathed deeply to calm himself. Eventually, he pulled out a pot, filled it with some water, and turned on the fire. Folding up his sleeves, he picked up a knife and began chopping everything but the cheese, which he grated. Noticing that the water was boiling, he slid the pasta noodles in.
A yawn escaped his mouth as he fought the urge to rub his eyes. Yeah…just tired.
He yanked out a frying pan and began to prepare the ingredients. Almost automatically, he started with the onions, slowly adding the garlic and sage, and finally tossing in the chestnuts. Then, he checked to see if the noodles were cooked, which they were, and drained them. He added the cheese at the end.
"Ah, just if we had some butter…" Sanji muttered, checking the refrigerator one last time. To his surprise, there was a single tablespoon's amount left. With a grin, he added the last ingredient and mixed the noodles with the ingredients.
With care, he poured a portion of the pasta onto a plate and grabbed a fork. He set it down on the table along with a glass of water.
"Tagliatelle with chestnuts and sage," he said lamely, naming his newest creation. He sprinkled some salt and pepper on to the pasta from the nearly empty containers on the table.
He slowly took a bite. It was difficult not to scarf it down as his stomach demanded. It was a simple dish but very good, if he had to say so himself. Well, then again, hunger was the best sauce.
"It would be better with some sort of smoky meat…pancetta, maybe," he stated to no one in particular, getting up and pulling out a black notebook from a watertight compartment.
This was the recipe book he had been working on. Whenever he was even remotely inspired, he would jot things down.
Taking a larger bite, he retraced his steps to write down what he did and what he used.
For days when you want to make a simple side dish: Tagliatelle with Chestnuts, Pancetta, and Sage, he wrote. First, prepare the noodles separately...
When he was finished, he returned it to its rightful place and sat back down, continuing to eat at the slow pace he tried to maintain.
He had to be used to this by now. In the end, the cook's responsibility was to feed the crew, no matter how ill-mannered and careless some of them were, at any and at all times. If there was no time for him to eat with them, so be it.
In any case, it was at this time of day that he could experiment with his cooking, since he didn't like using his crewmembers as guinea pigs.
Perhaps it was the cook's fate to feel lonely.
Sanji snorted and tried not to think about it. If anything, it was he who had chosen his priorities this way.
"Oi, shit cook."
The deep, gravelly sound successfully snapped Sanji out of his thoughts. As if by habit, the blond clucked with his tongue with something like disapproval. Shooting a glare in the direction of the door, he snapped, "What?"
"What are you doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing?" Sanji scoffed. He tried not to feel relief at the sight of the shitty swordsman and instead chose to hold up his fork in explanation.
"Eating. You lonely?" Zoro teased, casually leaning against the doorway.
Sanji swallowed. No. I'm not. Really. "What do you want."
His curly eyebrow twitched at the sight of Zoro. That stance wasn't casual at all, and Sanji could feel the tension exuding from the green-haired man.
As he had suspected, Zoro hadn't fully healed. If there was one thing Zoro couldn't do, it would be to rest when his body demanded it. Sanji rolled his eyes, though it wasn't because he was unconcerned.
"Woke up to piss and couldn't go back to sleep." Zoro shrugged, walking over to the table and taking a seat. Sanji bristled at the sound of the chair scraping against the floor he had taken so much care to mop but decided not to say anything. He also didn't mention the fact that the man was limping more than walking. Zoro didn't exactly appreciate pity. Not that Sanji pitied him.
It was more regret than anything else.
Zoro rubbed his eyes and let out an enormous yawn. He nodded towards the plate of pasta and asked, "Is that your breakfast?"
"Why, are you hungry?" Sanji responded, answering his questions with questions in hopes of avoiding them. No one had to know about Sanji's eating habits. They hadn't noticed and he preferred it that way. "What's with this interrogation anyway…"
It always seemed like the moss head said things that made Sanji uncomfortable without meaning to. He was too perceptive, despite his apparent idiocy.
Without responding, Zoro simply took the fork from Sanji's fingers, pulled the plate closer to him, and twirled up a sizable amount of the pasta.
"Oi!" Sanji protested, feeling strangely embarrassed. He would never give such leftover-like food to any member of the crew, even if it was his ultimate archrival who never really appreciated any of his cooking.
Smirking, Zoro popped the forkful into his mouth. The cook stared at him, unable to draw his eyes away. Shit. Why do I care about what he thinks?
Zoro chewed slowly, staring straight at him. Sanji felt his mouth go dry.
"It's edible," Zoro said finally, and the blond's gray-blue eyes narrowed.
"No one told you to eat it," Sanji muttered, snatching back the fork. Damn, he always ended up acting so immaturely when it came to this shitty swordsman. It wasn't like he was offended. Right.
He tried to ignore the fact that Zoro's lips touched the fork and ate another mouthful of the quickly cooling pasta.
Sanji swallowed and drank a sip of water.
"What," he responded flatly.
"At 3 in the morning?"
"How else am I supposed to keep myself awake?"
"Why should you stay awake? Go back to sleep."
Another bite. Another sip.
"It was my turn to look out and I slept instead," Zoro answered simply.
"It's fine. Just go to sleep," Sanji muttered. The marimo still needed his rest. "I'm already up, and I've been up, so I'll keep a look out."
"You'll need your strength too," Zoro said quietly, getting up and pulling out a bottle of sake himself from one of the cabinets.
"Shit, I could have just-" Sanji cut himself off. The swordsman wasn't an invalid, even if he wasn't fully healed. It was difficult not to ask if he was okay, difficult not to do things for him. Difficult to pretend like he wasn't concerned.
But some boundaries were never crossed.
Sanji's fingers clenched involuntarily around the fork as he controlled his feelings.
"I'll be up in the crow's nest." With that, Zoro left the kitchen as suddenly as he had shown up.
"Idiot," Sanji mumbled. Damn it, he had lost his appetite. He yanked out a cigarette with slightly trembling fingers, just barely able to light it. He sucked on it as if his life depended on it, trying to calm himself down. Lacing his fingers together with both elbows on top of the table, he rested his chin against his hands.
He didn't know how to talk to the damned marimo anymore.
It was true they were rivals who treated each other rather harshly, constantly bickering and arguing. But ever since the incident at Thriller Bark, Sanji had become confused and irritated. For one thing, he didn't even understand why he had felt the need to protect Zoro and his goal. He usually respected the swordsman's decisions and often took actions that separated himself from the rest of the crew in order to strategize. They let each other fight their own battles alone, not because they didn't care but because that was how they showed trust.
Why had he stepped in? And why the hell had Zoro stopped him?
That proud, self-confident swordsman had bent his head, kneeling on his knees, to save the crew. Everyone had been able to heal quickly, except for the one who had been willing to absorb all of Luffy's massive pain.
It should have been him, not Zoro. The moss head was Luffy's first mate. What could they possibly do without each other? Their dreams and their ambitions and intertwined and neither could exist without the other.
Zoro had risked everything, more than Sanji ever had. He hadn't accepted Sanji's offer...as if Sanji's life, everyone else's life, was more important to him than his own. And this pissed Sanji off more than anything.
Just looking at Zoro struggle to keep a calm and unaffected composure now, days after the incident, made Sanji want to kick something.
Why was he so weak? Why had he been unable to do anything? Zoro had been the last one to stay conscious, the last one with even a remnant of strength left to fight, while Sanji had barely managed to keep himself standing until Zoro knocked him down.
It seemed to come so easily to Zoro and Luffy, those fighting geniuses. They always took it upon themselves to face the strongest enemies so they could protect the crewmembers.
And Sanji could only watch as he tried his best to support them from the background.
True, he was the cook. Instead of spending time training like the shitty marimo, he cooked and cleaned. Made sure everyone was fed. In a way, he was like Nami-san, who kept everyone alive not by sheer strength but by her navigation skills. But that was little excuse. After all, Luffy rarely ever trained, yet he kept improving his attacks on the spot. The crew might call the three of them "Monster Trio" but he definitely didn't deserve to be a part of it.
He wondered if being alone and isolating himself in order to support their two strongest nakama was truly his fate as a cook.
Everyone had a place, a position of some kind, within the crew. Without a doubt, Sanji was the cook, but he wasn't truly close with any of them. Not like Zoro and Luffy. He admired and respected the women and the same applied to the shipwright. Brook had awful manners (though he liked him well enough) and Usopp liked hanging out with Luffy and Chopper more.
Sure, they all needed him to survive. But did they need him as a nakama?
[~ * ~]
"Sanji! I want food!"
"Are you an idiot? We all decided we're having breakfast on the island yesterday. Just wait a little! Why can't you remember anything we ever talk about?"
"Navigator-san, sorry to interrupt, but it seems like the wind has changed direction."
"Oh, Robin, good morning! Thanks for the warning. Everyone-"
"YOHOHOHO! I will play my violin now-"
"Oi, help out a little, will you?"
"Ugh, you guys are so loud first thing in the morning-"
"What time is it, everyone?"
The voices all blurred in Sanji's mind into one chaotic sound as he groggily rubbed his eyes open. Where was he? When he straightened up, he heard his back crack and he groaned. At this rate, his posture would be forever ruined.
He yawned, then blinked at his surroundings. The sunlight streamed through the window and his kitchen was still perfectly pristine. Getting up, he stretched his limbs and pulled out a cigarette, shoving his hand deep into his pocket.
"Fell asleep in the kitchen again, huh," Sanji muttered, taking a puff. Then he realized that both his plate of pasta and fork were gone.
"Probably Luffy," Sanji mumbled to himself as he ambled over to the sink where his pile of dishes remained…
Scratch that. Where his pile of dishes should have remained.
What he saw didn't register in his brain very quickly. All of the pans and pots, the knives, the cheese grater, everything he had used was cleaned and drying on a rack, evidence of the pasta completely gone.
"What the hell…"
This couldn't have possibly been him. The last thing he remembered was talking briefly to the moss head. His head began to throb and he poured himself a glass of water more out of habit than anything else.
He chuckled humorlessly, not even touching the water. It was like having a hangover. Sanji could feel the bags under his eyes, which he assumed was bloodshot. Usually, staying up didn't cause so many problems, but he figured that his body hadn't really liked the lack of rest after Thriller Bark.
"Shit…I feel like shit…" Sanji couldn't even say that he enjoyed his "nap"…
The 8 other Straw Hats were already on board, and Sanji was horrified to find that the ship had set sail without him. His ankles were chained down to prevent him from swimming, and no matter what he tried, the chains wouldn't snap. He rubbed his foot raw against the metal, anxiously trying to be free, but the cuff was wrapped as tightly as possible around his ankle. "Wait, what the fuck is going on?"
"Sorry Sanji. I'm finding another cook." Luffy's tone of voice was serious, cold, insincere.
Sanji's eyes widened in dismay as he saw all of them with their arms crossed, unwelcoming. Were they…were they abandoning him?
"You just can't compare to someone like Luffy…or even me," Zoro mocked, slinging a casual arm around Luffy's shoulders. "What can you protect?"
"We don't need you as a nakama. You aren't even close to any of us," Nami said easily, turning around to go inside. "Besides, I hate guys like you. You can't relate to our experiences. Have you ever lost anyone close to you? No. How would you know how it feels?"
"It looks like you're on your own, Cook-san," Robin said unsympathetically. "Try not to feel too lonely. I'm sure you'll still have some friends at the Baratie."
"SUPER~ goodbye! I'll miss your food." Franky put his arms together, putting together the two pieces of the star.
"Even I'm stronger than you," Usopp chuckled. "Sanji, Sanji, what are you doing? You have no place here in the crew."
"You don't even play with me very much," Chopper said sadly. "We all need a friendlier cook."
"Good luck finding All Blue on your own," Brook called out, whipping out his violin and playing a soulful melody. "Farewell, Sanji-san!"
"Wait! Fuck this!" Sanji shouted. "What the hell do you want from me?"
"You don't belong in this crew," Luffy said, shrugging. "We don't need you."
We don't need you…
"Looks like you really did need the sleep, ero-cook. I came here to tell you that it's only 7 but everyone is itching to get off the ship."
Sanji gasped, horrified to remember his nightmare so clearly. It's just Thriller Bark giving you some bad dreams. That's all it is. That would never happen to you.
After taking a long drag from his cigarette, Sanji finally registered Zoro's voice and he whirled around to find the moss head sitting down at the table, empty bottle of sake in hand. The blond scowled, perplexed by what was going on. His still semi-conscious, sleep-deprived brain refused to process his thoughts properly. It seemed like it was preoccupied with terrifying him.
"What did you do." Sanji found himself asking hoarsely, trying to forget the dream.
"I just cleaned up since you were sleeping," Zoro answered, shrugging, a queer expression on his face. "And don't worry, I didn't waste any food. Or break anything."
Without really hearing what he said, Sanji blurted, "You ate it all?"
"What else would I have done with it?" Zoro smirked. "It was okay, though I'm surprised you make those kind of simple dishes because..."
The blond's face contorted into a frown as he shivered, tuning out the rest of Zoro's words. Why was the dream so damned vivid? No matter what image he tried to conjure in his mind, all he could see were the faces of his disapproving crew.
Suddenly, he was seeing the nightmare-Zoro's face, filled with scorn and disgust, instead of the actual Zoro. Sanji stiffened, taking shaky breaths as he tried to clear his vision, calm his mind. He knew Zoro would never look at him like that...would he?
He was too wrapped up in his thoughts to notice the grin disappearing from Zoro's face.
"Look, don't worry about what I said. You needed to sleep, so I figured I'd just do your chores while I was awake," Zoro muttered, getting up. "Franky's staying, so the rest of us are going. You can do what you want."
"Shitty marimo, you know I have to get ingredients." Sanji ruffled his hair in agitation, fingers trembling involuntarily. It kept bothering him, how Zoro seemed to constantly look after him when he could hardly ever return the favor. And that godawful nightmare…
Turning his head to face Zoro, Sanji said, "I'm going, I'm going."
But Zoro was already gone.
[~ * ~]
"Yoho! We're finally here!" Luffy shouted gleefully, flinging himself off the ship to land first. Their ship had docked and Franky was ready to check the ship for maintenance and repairs.
A small but bustling town was clearly visible, even from a distance, indicating that the island was not only inhabitable but well-populated. And that meant they could restock their diminishing supplies with little problem. And it was only several minutes past 7 but the people were already busy, moving up and about.
"This seems like a nice place," Luffy yelled with a grin stretching his face.
The crewmembers – minus Franky – took their time getting off the ship the way a normal person would, by walking.
"Oi, Luffy, we have to divide ourselves into teams," Usopp called after him. Luffy surprisingly stopped in his tracks and waited, looking at the crewmembers expectantly.
"Luffy, you're coming with me," Nami commanded, since it turned out that the only way Luffy would behave was if he was managed by Nami's fists from time to time. "We're getting clothes and some mapping material."
"Nami, that's boring," Luffy whined.
"I'll buy you a snack or something," Nami lied. Luffy jumped in the air, excited.
Sanji tried to act normal, forcing himself to smile and look at Nami with heart-shaped eyes. "Nami-swan~ You're so beautiful when you're ly-"
Ah, he had already anticipated the punch he would receive. This time, he welcomed the pain, which only momentarily distracted his thoughts.
"Shh!" Nami snapped. She was truly a wonderful lady, even if he exaggerated half the time, even when he felt like shit. But in reality, did she really hate him? She had to be joking like he did all the time.
"I'll go with Doctor-san," Robin piped in quickly and Chopper grinned.
"Usopp and Brook go together," Nami suggested. "Could you guys get some cola? Looks like we'll need quite a bit."
"Fine by me," Usopp said. Brook nodded.
"That leaves me…with the moss ball?" Sanji said indignantly, the facts finally dawning upon him. "Why, Nami-swan?"
After what happened this morning's awkward confrontation, the last thing he wanted to do was spend the entire day with the damned marimo.
"You're going to need help buying food," Nami said in a nonchalant manner, crossing her arms. "Look, I'll buy you the lock you wanted for the refrigerator. Not lying."
Sanji smiled halfheartedly. "You're wonderful, Nami-swan~"
He already knew what she meant. It wasn't so much that he needed Zoro to carry things as it was the other way around. Nami basically wanted him to keep an eye out for their still-healing member.
"We'll meet up back here after dinner, alright?" Nami looked at all of their faces and each crewmember nodded. She handed each pair an envelope filled with a designated amount of money she deemed appropriate.
"Thank you, Nami-swan~!" Sanji grinned as he pocketed the money. With an entirely different attitude, he turned towards Zoro and muttered, "Let's go."
The two of them walked in an uncomfortable silence, separating themselves from the other pairs. After what seemed like an excruciating amount of time, they finally arrived at a market street.
"Get your fresh vegetables here! Fresh and top notch!"
"Freshly caught fish here! Buy your fish today!"
"Here's the best place for your fresh fruit!"
"Is 'fresh' the only adjective they know?" Sanji chuckled softly, bending to check the quality of the potatoes, only to have his back crack audibly. "Shit."
"Maybe I should have carried you over to your hammock."
Sanji swallowed, trying to hide his surprise at seeing Zoro right next to him. "Shitty marimo, I appreciate your concern, but what the hell are you trying to do?"
"Nothing," Zoro muttered, putting distance between them by walking a few steps away.
"Oi, don't move. You'll get lost." Sanji forced out a laugh. He struggled to act like he normally did. But that nightmare…It bothered him so much he couldn't think straight. Was he going crazy? What did the crew really think about him?
"What did you say? And what the hell are you trying to say about me?" Zoro retorted.
"You're kidding me," Sanji said disbelievingly. "You stubborn moss head, how can you not know how bad your sense of direction is-"
"What?" Zoro said indignantly. Faster than Sanji could possibly register, the swordsman took his sheathed katana and launched an attack.
Something felt strange. As if Zoro wasn't really seriously arguing with him. As if Zoro was testing him.
Sanji blinked at the sudden move, instinctively putting out a foot and effectively blocking the sword's movements. "Oi, what the hell are you doing?"
"Nothing," Zoro replied, placing his katana back against his side.
"Let's just get the supplies," Sanji suggested wearily, not only physically tired but mentally worn out. He didn't know what Zoro was playing at, but he didn't have the patience to put up with the cryptic behavior of the idiot swordsman.
"Whatever you say."
[~ * ~]
On a different ship, at the same island…
"Reporting as requested."
"Target was identified. Name: Roronoa Zoro. Bounty: 120 million. Pirate. Straw Hat. It appears as though the Straw Hat crew has stopped for supplies, although the amount of time they have designated to stay here is unknown."
"The one with the green hair, 3 katanas, average build." This was not a question but a statement, one that needed to be confirmed.
[~ * ~]
Author's Note: Hello, everybody :) This is my first ever fic about One Piece, so I hope you enjoyed its first chapter (the last little section was just a taste for the next chapter, really). I will warn you that this fanfic will be long and rather slow-paced, so lemons will show up much later :D I'm going to try and keep everyone as in character as possible. Thanks for reading~! I welcome all sorts of comments, reviews, criticisms, flames (though this one…not so much…)