how the kitchen feels like a wooden cross

| but he carries his burden nonetheless |

Note(s): This is inspired by Tongue (Jo Kyung-Ran); Kitchen (Banana Yoshimoto); Seven last sentences (Dimitri Verhulst and the Ensor String Quartet) and my interpretation of Sanji's mind, customs and reactions to a break-up. Alternative Universe.

Warning(s): An overload of references to food and cooking; Biblical verses; heartbreak; rather implicit boy x boy.

Summary: Breaking up feels like dying. Zoro is his renaissance. /past-SanNa; ZoSan/

I hereby disclaim any rights.

pater, dimitte illis, quia nesciunt, quid faciunt. | father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing.

(Luke, 23:34)

They wade through a dream, side by side; he cooks and teaches, she calculates and takes care of the finances. If he were allowed to make a comparison of their relationship with any dish, he would draw parallels between themselves and a salad with goat cheese and apple slices, seasoned with a strip of honey. Every flavour blooms separately upon the tongue, but it's the ensemble that's pleasing to the other senses. They are simple ingredients, he muses, and despite their obvious differences in taste, they are compatible.

Apples are bittersweet, he realizes when the words spill from her vocal cords and they sizzle in his eardrum like oil in a wok on the stove. "I think we need some time apart. It's not you, Sanji-kun... I.. I just can't do this at the moment." The first taste is saccharine, quenches thirst, makes the stomach rumble pleasantly, but afterwards, the sour juice stings the taste buds.

He swallows, whether tears, bile or disbelief, and shakily asks, "Why?" Gingerly, he places the knife upon the smooth granite surface of his kitchen counter. "Didn't I..." He pauses and turns to face her, "Didn't I treat you well? Was I too overbearing? I can change.. I'll do anything for you.. You know that." She stays still, her knuckles the colour of powder-sugar and her tresses curl past her shoulder as she shivers.

"I don't know.. It's just.." She chooses her next sentence precariously, "I don't know anymore. It's gone, the chemistry, I mean. Do you, uh, do you understand?" From underneath a curtain of thick lashes, she glances up to him.

Sanji doesn't understand, he could add more spice to their relationship if she wants, if she would just ask, easy; just switch from ginger slices to wasabi, pound the substance and tenderly apply it in larger quantity to the nori before rolling the sushi. He can do that. Just ask me, Nami-chan. Her expression turns pensive as she studies him, her bottom lip curved downwards, much akin to how she studies the digits of their finances on the screen of her laptop.

Due to the lack of response, the girl hesitantly pipes up again, "Are you angry at me? We.. We'd still work together, but, uh, I could give you some space if you want. Work at home, 'till you're more comfortable. With this.. This situation?" She sighs and once again, Sanji realizes how cacao-brown her irises are, "Sanji-kun, don't be mad.. I'm sorry, but this isn't working anymore."

Without the apple slices and the honey, his salad is sober, incomplete, lacking. He forgives her nonetheless and watches her teeter-tatter on those faux-leather heels of hers out of the studio with bulb cheeks and shimmering, glossy eyes. Somehow his kitchen feels hostile, the cabinets pristine and unfriendly and he doesn't feel like cooking anymore.

amen dico tibi: hodie mecum, eris in paradiso. | i assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.

(Luke, 23:43)

His surrogate father, Zeff, teaches him the distinction between spices; saffron, basil, paprika powder, mustard and cinnamon. Pencil and paper are useless tools in his working environment as a student, he handles a ladle, pots and pans, a set of knives, the stove and the oven. Scents are his tutors, the menu is his curriculum, the dangerous chef is his examiner and executioner all the same. If he disrespects the kitchen appliances, the sole of a boot collides with his ribs, bruises his sides and is a not-too-gentle reminder that he needs to focus. Eventually, through an exhaustive trial-and-error process, Sanji manages to make a spaghetti carbonara from scratch; the pasture for the noodles, how to chop the bacon into exact morsels, the creamy texture of the sauce, the perfect temperature.

Zeff did not show his appreciation for his pupil's talents through praise; the blonde quickly learned to notice the crinkle of his brow when he notes the spaghetti is al dente, the slight squint of his eyes if the meal slides down his oesophagus and leaves a pleasant taste behind, the way he leans back to enjoy how satiated he is by the dish. His pejoratives afterwards are less diminutive, more like quips and inside jokes.

He meets Nami in his surrogate father's restaurant during his breakfast shift; she asks for a Spanish croissant with blueberry jam, a cup of café au lait, glass of tangerine juice and please, skimmed milk in the coffee, okay. When the light pouring in from the large windows of the restaurant clings to her frame from behind, he deems himself in heaven. She is lightly annoyed by his constant stream of compliments, swatting him away with the flick of her wrist, but after he assures her the second coffee is on the house, she informs him she will return for more. Days after their first encounter, they start to talk about their dreams, hopes and aspirations; about this crazy idea to open a cooking school. Fingertips brush over the back of his hand, a coy smile playing upon her love-me-red lips, she has a sensible nose, she says. Nami smells profit from miles away and he has commerce sprawled all over his handsome face. They would be-are-always will be an excellent team.

Those mornings were dollops of paradise upon a magnificent cake of expectations. Saccharine gives one cavities, but he supposes he would've indulged anyway. As a cook, he knows he can balance sugar with salt. Sanji didn't expect her to be the one tearing chasms in his soul; but he fills them with memories and scents; like pouring salt in a wound.

mulier, ecce, filius tuus. | dear woman, here is your son.

(John, 19:26)

Ussop has been his friend since high school so he instinctually picks up the foul mood, wafting around Sanji like flies buzz around thick golden molasses. His favourite dish is focaccia with Pacific blue fin tuna; the chef has the recipe memorized in his fingertips; first he drips the buns with Italian olive oil and adds snippets of thyme and salt upon the bread, then he slices through the mozzarella and evenly distributes the cheese, he proceeds by adding strips of fish and capers, olives and spices. Upon a flat rectangular plate, the blonde usually presents the delicacy, pride swelling to his lips in the form as a smile when Ussop eats with gusta.

It's tradition for the both to go to the Catholic cemetery in the suburbs every three months, just like it's customary for the duo to talk, gossip and chatter along the drive; exchanging pleasantries and exaggerations. Ussop has unruly black curls, falling in the nape of his neck, and Sanji normally attempts to talk him into using better hair care products. Honestly, it's a miracle Kaya even considered you, look at you, you're stained in grease and oil. Today, the drive is as quiet and eerie as the graveyard they're about to visit.

Everything about cemeteries screams gray; the tombstones, the colour of the soil, the clouds drifting above their heads, the iron-wrought gates are dulled in a sorrowful gray splendour. His friend's mother died a few years back and the other relatives demanded a Christian ceremony; they belonged to the 2 percent Christians in the national statistics concerning religion.

Sanji takes a long-stretched drag from his cigarette, the faint cherry beaming a mixture of orange and red while ashes fall upon the ground. Crouching down, his friend starts to murmur against the tombstone, where a name and a date are engraved in a solemn calligraphy, he recalls moments which left an impact, but unlike in his daily fashion, there is no fantasy nor are there lies. Ussop might look like a modern-day Pinocchio, but he is earnest and loyal. He is a real boy. The chef figures his friend's mother must be extremely proud of her son, because he most certainly is.

When they traverse through the statuesque gates, Ussop squeezes the cook's right shoulder and offers him a sincere, albeit nervous, smile. "You'll bounce back. It just takes time, you know?" Sanji wants to huff, snap back like an elastic, instead he inhales nicotine and cemetery air.

"I'm not good with comforting people, Sanji." He drops his cigarette, a tiny supernova explodes on the cobblestones, but he stamps the butt out with his dress shoe just in case. "I.. Uh, do you want to get a drink or something? Talk? I'm good at talking, but what people don't know is that I'm also an extraordinary listener." Ussop lets out a panicked chuckle. "Listened to Vivi's problems four hours straight in high school once. Promise."

The chef eyes him warily, claps him on the back and shakes his head lightly, golden tresses waywardly slide against his cheeks, "Nah, I appreciate the effort. Let's, uh.. Let's go home. Got a fresh batch of tuna from the market." He even seasons the response with a self-conscious smirk.

Ussop decides to let the dismissal slide, like a fresh sliver of tomato falls from between two buns if one holds a sandwich wrong. Sanji understands the concept of time, he knows the exact span of time the oven needs to preheat, understands how precious minutes are: time becomes palpable in the capable hands of a chef.

deus meus, deus meus, utquid dereliquisti me? | my god, my god, why have you abandoned me?

(Mark, 15:34)

Jasmine stains his pillow slopes and his nostrils flare when the remnant of the scent penetrates his nose. Sanji rarely uses jasmine as an ingredient lately, nor does he dare to peel the skin of a tangerine and mash the fruit to pulp. He jolts upright, the rumpled sheets a cumbersome weight on his legs, and rubs absentmindedly through his hair. The strands glide through his fingers like grass. His gaze shifts to the alarm clock and the bold digits glare straight back at him.

Nami is coming at three. Sanji decides to go grocery shopping at two thirty. She's going to pick up her stuff from their apartment; collect her blouses, skirts and dresses, pinpoint her novels in between his cooking books and carefully pull them from the shelves, she'll reduce him to the scraps one leaves for hounds underneath the table to wolf down. He can't see her right now, not while his insides are a gaping abyss of raw emotion, sensitive like the taste buds on a tongue. The chef supposes if he doesn't see her abandon him, their relationship might still be tangible. He sends her a text that she should bring her own key; he apologizes he isn't at home to welcome her.

Recipes, praise, reprimands and guidance pass his lips relentlessly during his evening class; his scrutinizing gaze falls upon Trafalgar Law first, who gracefully cuts the pork in even, symmetrical strips for his stew. He admires how the doctor perfects his hold of the German-made kitchen knife and slices in utmost concentration. Then he focuses on Robin, a woman who holds his adoration in the palms of her slender, gracious hands; the chak-chak sound of her chopping the carrots echoes dully in his large kitchen. He compliments her with an artificial smile.

Ace and Luffy, who really just inscribed for the course in the prospect of receiving free food, were cackling as they dumped the vegetables in the pot. The youngest of the siblings makes a remark of witchcraft as the onion rings float to the boiling surface. The chef merely shakes his head and softly stirs their broil, gently pouring miniscule grains of salt into the –attempt at a- stew.

"Why are you two still here?" Sanji asks in genuine wonder as he scrubs the granite counters, staring at the two brothers in interest.

Chuckling loudly, Luffy crosses his arms in front of his chest, "We're waiting for a friend to pick us up. Say, Sanji, do you still have some leftover pork? I'm a bit hungry.." His tone dwindles to a whine.

Rolling his eyes, he retorts, "You're always hungry. You don't even attempt to cook, you idiots just throw things in a pan and hope it's edible."

"Isn't that how humans invented cooking?" Ace interjects with a charming smirk, "Kill something meaty, roast it and have a feast?" Luffy nods eagerly and expectantly looks at his instructor again, the hope burning in his eyes like the hunger infests his stomach. Sanji wants to kick them both out of the window.

Creaking lightly, the door opens and the click-clacking of boots fills the relaxed atmosphere; the figure's posture is ominous, buff and strong, masculine with that slight smell of musk and steel.

Luffy lights up at the presence, his grin splitting open like an overripe plum. "Zoro! You're finally here! Did you get lost again?" His arms immediately wrap around the figure's waist. Ace can't help an amused snicker.

The sponge lays forgotten on one of the kitchen islands, the cook raises an eyebrow at the unexpected visitor and states in a deadpan, "Your hair is green." Both brothers burst out in laughter.

"So?" Zoro shrugs, unimpressed and impassive, "You hide your face behind a curtain of hair and your eyebrows curl. I think genetics have been more kind to me." He places the palm of his hand flat against the rambunctious teenager's forehead in an attempt to push him off.

Spluttering at the words, Sanji manages to produce an indignant, "Excuse me?" He was ignored in favour of the guy explaining to Luffy that no, he didn't get lost, this place just happens to be extremely hard to reach and can we finally have a drink now?

They end up having curry instead; because Zoro finds it unnatural for a chef to be skinny and thus, in turn, deduces that Sanji must be terrible and his food even worse. Ace winces when the ball of the chef's feet hits his friend straight in the stomach and Luffy is under the impression they have interesting dynamics. They have a small-scaled brawl, because the kitchen supplies are expensive and they are –strange as it seems- evenly matched. The blonde lights up a cigarette and, alongside of a stream of smoke, says he'd gladly prove himself to sceptics, despite their brutish nature.

During the mincing of the red onions, Sanji feels a pair of eyes glued to his back, a pair of abyss-black pupils rimmed by irises the colour of soy sauce. Soy sauce is actually quite troublesome to make; the texture has to be more watery than syrup, the flavour has to be a mediate between salty and sweet and the colour has to be the colour of Zoro's irises. Full cycle.

Somehow the thought that Nami packed her bags this afternoon is shoved into his subconscious as his instincts to prepare and serve food take over.

sitio. | i am thirsty.

(John, 19:28)

When the city becomes a blur of flashes and movement outside of his bedroom window, he resents the thought of sleep and he particularly doesn't understand why his subconscious tortures him needlessly with images of heartfelt smiles and curious fingertips running down his ribcage. So when the city bustles outside, Sanji effortlessly slides from underneath his covers and leaves them askew on top of his mattress. He lumbers over to the kitchen, a route he has sauntered over a thousand times and more, reaches a standstill in front of the liquor cabinet and sighs listlessly when he opens it.

The alcohol sizzles against his bottom lip like well-prepared fugu is wanton to do, and glides down his throat in a slow, leisured pace, burning and numbing his oesophagus. The chef isn't exactly sure what he's consuming at the moment, it could've been the Beaujolais he's been meaning to open at a special occasion –he spent a lot of money on his educational trip down to France and this wine came with compliments and manufacturing secrets and cooking tips- or the Amaretto he sometimes slips into his coffee for extra flavour.

Everything blurs together and he finds himself sliding down the sturdy spotless refrigerator door with the screen of his cell phone glaring brightly at him. Nami, her hair in a low messy pony tail and a steaming cup of Oolong in front of her, serves as his screensaver; his heart aches and screams suggestions of making a phone call. Despite his better judgement, which is now as inebriated as the rest of his sorrowful conscious, Sanji scrolls down his contacts to pause at her name.

He's even more thirsty after she screams at him, begs him to drop the fucking bottle and go to sleep. Morpheus is not his ally tonight, nor does Sanji suspect they'll become more amiable tomorrow evening. Leaning with the back of his head against the cool steel of the refrigerator door, the cook squints his eyes shut for a moment, exhales loudly and raises the opening of the bottle back to his mouth. He's still thirsty after the empty container rolls away from him and bumps against one of the counters with a hollow 'thunk'.

Somehow Sanji isn't surprised when he wakes up the following morning with a migraine, a dry itchy throat and a cramp down his lower back. To quench his thirst he decides on a bottle of mineral water. Coffee would only enlarge his dehydration and he has a class to teach at five.

(Ace left him a message; they're going out tomorrow night and Zoro's tagging along. That infuriating Portgas even dares to add a 'Play nice' at the bottom. He is astonished when Nami leaves him a text to inquire if he's okay and if he could please refrain from drinking and waking her up with gibberish. She says that she 'still cares about you, y'know'. He feels his heart breaking all over and apologizes extensively. It'll never happen again, although the thought of calling her doesn't quite leave his mind.)

consummatum est! | it is finished.

(John, 19:30)

These little rendez-vous after his classes with Ace, Luffy and Zoro take place more frequently; he whips up a simple dinner for the four of them and they chatter about the daily comings and goings of their lives. Sanji has come to the decision that although he and the green-haired punk have more quarrels than an embittered married couple in their late 70's about even less important topics than grandchildren and dental insurance, he has grown quite fond of how the idiot would point out that his foster father –and kendo sensei- usually adds cayenne pepper powder on the rips of avocado on his sandwich for extra spice or how he always finishes his Thai noodles quickly and with specks of omelette are all over his chin. Of course, admitting these particularities hasn't once popped up in his head.

So when the chef greets the two brothers and the green-haired punk with three plates of customized sandwiches, Chicken teriyaki with extra chicken for Luffy, mozzarella, olive pesto and tomato for Ace and avocado with cayenne pepper powder for Zoro, he can't help the self-righteous smirk tugging on the corners of his mouth when those soya sauce brown irises narrow around the pupils in pleasant surprise.

If there is anything Sanji likes about the process of eating, it's how the action stimulates blood flow in the lips and makes them fuller, redder and more appealing to the observer's eye. He casually leans against the stove, ankles crossed, the fabric of his trouser leg riding up his skin and showing unshaved skin. Luffy is shoving the entire sandwich into his obscenely large mouth, the bread disappearing quickly inside the dark, bottomless cavern and spatters of salty sauce splatter all over his plate and the surface of the counter. Bad etiquette runs rampant in the D. genes as he watches how Ace tears the buns apart like a ravenous coyote. Rolling his eyes, the chef takes a drag of his cigarette and taps a bundle of ash into the glass ashtray behind him.

Zoro has plump, attractive lips after he's done with his sandwich. No doubt, the effect of the spicy substance tingling his now-sensitive mouth. Sanji exhales a mushroom cloud of smoke and continues to scrutinize him behind the curtain of Monday-sky gray.

It isn't until the thought of kissing those lips crosses his mind, that he's figured out he might be over Nami.

in manus tuas, domine, commendo spiritum meum. | father, i entrust my spirit into your hands.

(Luke, 23:46)

"Why did I agree to this again?" He groans out as he warily takes in the sight of the Kawasaki motorcycle, standing on a parking spot for residential, and the green-haired punk who wholly intends to force that ridiculous pink helmet onto his head. He continues to whine. "I'm going to have helmet hair when we get there, marimo."

Fully ignoring the ridiculous nickname bestowed upon him, Zoro pushes the offensive object into his hands and gives him a meaningful 'don't fuck with me, cook'-stare. The blonde is 99% sure Zoro perfected the look just to spite him in moments like this one.

"Because, curlybrows, the reason for this alcohol-free night is the fact my darling," he scowls at his own choice of words, "cousin Perona, the one you fawn over like one of those awful otaku, has a role in her school play."

He scoffs, "Like I'd ever forget such an adorable appearance. Who is she playing again?"

His companion crosses his arms in front of his chest and merely grunts out, "Ophelia. Figures she'd pick the most depressing female role... Com'on, we need to leave now.."

The motorcycle mocks him by being so imposing and intimidating in its shimmering black, Sanji takes a deep breath to steel himself and puts the helmet on. He doesn't even want to start imagining how ridiculous he must be with this horrendous contraption around his pretty face. Getting onto the vehicle proves to be a quest of epic proportions, but he manages to seat himself firmly. Almost automatically his arms wind around Zoro's slim waist and he bites the inside of his cheek to numb the nerves.

"Oi, marimo..." Zoro hums in acknowledgement so he continues unsurely, "Don't let me die, okay. 'Cause they'd sentence you to death for ruining moi. You'd be scorned from here down to the Provence. I have influential friends there!"

He snorts in disdain, "Like I'd ever let you fall, love-cook. I wouldn't hear the end of it. 'm positive." The engine purrs contently when the key is turned and the single headlight burns a hole in the front door. "Hold on tight, scaredy cat." And Sanji does, bumping his forehead –covered in helmet- in between Zoro's shoulder blades.

Maybe it's a bit early to be riding off towards the horizon, where the sun is slowly descending to a different continent and maybe this is how it feels when you're caught in a blender, molded into a grapefruit and mango smoothie; he reflects as the lampposts flash by. Everything is whisked into his brain; the scent of warm sake at ungodly hours, barely awake but lingering on the edge of consciousness just to see Zoro's intoxicated smirk, - or slaving away above a wok full of boiling oil, dumping the grouper inside and jumping away for the incoming waves, just because that idiot enjoys traditional Thai cuisine so much, - or being caught staring at him when he's helping Ussop with some strange mechanic construction and Nami, who he's actually surprisingly completely okay to be just friends with, is giving him this knowing quirk of the brow.

-But Sanji genuinely trusts that green-haired punk, he just has to tug –ever so carefully- on one of the sleeves of his leather vest when he decides to drive in the opposite direction. It's okay though, as a chef, he is supposed to keep his head cool and as a chef, he is used to being patient .

"Right, marimo! For cryin' out loud, I tugged right! Why did you turn left? Go right at the next corner... The next! God, did they drop you on your head when you were a baby or somethin'?" His voice is barely audible as they race through the various streets, almost flying past a red Toyota, but his arms stay tightly around Zoro's waist.

He's not letting go, y'know.

I'll be absolutely ecstatic if I made at least one person hungry with this... (Be sure to let me know.)