Title: Convalescence

Author: auspizien

Pairing: ZoroxSanji

Rating: M (language, violence, and mature themes)

Disclaimer: I do not own One Piece.

Summary: AU Post-Apocalypse. The nuclear war has left the world a dead, desolate place with people fighting for survival and the infected wandering in a mindless, frenzied state. Between fighting off zombies daily and dealing with desperate survivors; is there any room for love to possibly exist?


The swirls of whirling dust devils whipped across the desolate highway sending the occasional spray of sand to nip against the tan face of the hardened traveller that made his way down the long stretch of tarmac. Thick leather jacket covered his hulking figure and protected from the harsh climate – a gloved hand raised to pop the collar to better help ward off the annoying dust particles.

Blood splattered and dirt smudged the man trekked forward, his worn military issued boots kicking up their own clouds of dust as their soles grated on the parched earth. Knee pads clicked quietly as they bunched at the knee of the man's thick industrial fabric camouflage pants. On the man's left was a scabbard to an interesting arm supported sword, his belt a holster to a large tactical military blade and on his right leg was a strapped bag that held various smaller weapons in its depths.

The man adjusted the military pack on his back, jostling a long thin item hidden beneath clothe and string, as he approached the outskirts of a small outpost that he had been approaching for the past two days. The flat plains had kept this town in his sights for quite some time, and the Western Mountains that were his destination were thin little bumps on the horizon.

The small town was as occupied as he had expected it to be; riddled with bandits that were terrible at hiding their presence. Towns like this were pretty common; a gang would claim it and whenever someone unfortunate stumbled into their midst they would attack, kill and then pillage the body. And to the untrained eye the town appeared empty – a ghost town – but Zoro had dealt with this more times than he could count and fresh tracks in the dirt, and clumsy movements of the bandits gave them away.

Zoro continued to make his way through the town not bothering to search for supplies since the bandits would have long since drained the city of anything useful and instead placed a ready hand on his combat blade at his waist and awaited their attack. Right on cue the men all started to emerge from different hiding points on the street – black shapes of weary, blood smeared men that were barely as sane as the zombies they were trying to survive against.

A large hulking man stepped out holding a large chain in his meaty grip and had a very dog like grin on his face as he sized up Zoro. Zoro stopped walking and stood calmly as more and more men came out to surround him, all eyeing his pack and provisions with unrestrained lust.

"Travelling alone?" The dog man rumbled with a chuckle, "Are you really that stupid?"

Zoro didn't say anything, just let a finger casually undo the clasp on his thigh holster that concealed a large blade and waited for the first movement of attack.

"What? Think you're too good for us?" A man from behind Zoro voiced his complaint and he cast a small glance to see a pointy man with features reminiscent of a snake who held and interesting whip that looked more like a limp-dicked sword, "Can't reply?"

Before Zoro could make a move the snake man went flying to the side, his body hit the wall and caused the boards to splinter under his weight and let him go flying into the depths of the building. In the snake-man's place stood a man decked out in his own travelling gear, balancing on one leg as his other still remained raised after his kick to the man.

The man slowly lowered his leg and arms, tapping the toe of his shoe against the ground as he cocked his hip and smirked, "Maybe he just doesn't want to talk to you pathetic shitheads."

"And why do you fucking care?" The dog man growled in annoyance and took an aggressive step forward, the entire crowd now had their attention turned to the newcomer. Zoro contemplated leaving and letting this blond have the attention; why the man was helping him in the first place was confusing enough.

The man shrugged casually and flashed a cheeky grin as his hands fell to his thighs, resting on the handles of two large looking knives, "Thirty on one just seemed a bit unfair is all."

"Well, by all means join the party." Dog man growled low before snapping his muscular arms forward and lashing his chain whip at Zoro. Zoro remained silent as the chain connected with his side and immediately wrapped around his body, the pointed end hooked onto one of the links so it wouldn't come undone.

The man laughed loudly in triumph and leaned back as he jerked the chain forward, bringing Zoro up and off his feet to fly toward the bandit. Dog man brought a fist back – intending to hit Zoro as soon as he came in range – Zoro flipped over in mid-air and landed with the soles of his rough trekkers right in the man's face. He immediately kicked off – knocking the dog man to his ass in the process – back flipped and landed gracefully back on his own feet. A quick flex of his hulking biceps and the chain came undone and fell with a clatter around his feet.

Zoro tweaked his neck to the side to relieve the stiffness as he drew his tactical knife with practised ease. Casting a glance to the side he discovered the blond was already in a crowd of bandits and was holding his own fairly well – one well placed kick had a man flying a good ten feet before landing in a pile of lumber and debris and not moving after the impact. Smirking, Zoro turned back to the dog man and his lackeys.

The man had pushed himself to his feet with a disgruntled look and wiped away a trail of blood that was flowing from his nose with the back of his hand before pointing at Zoro and ordering his underlings to attack. The bandits all came at him in a rush and it was clear that they didn't have any actually fighting styles or tactics and just relied on numbers to overtake their victims.

Each one was disposed of easily enough – a strategic cut to a neck artery, a quick slip of the blade between a man's ribs to hit any number of vital organs, or even a strike to a tendon at the back of the neck to immobilize – and soon all the men were face down in either their own, or someone else's blood. All that remained was the dog man who now stood alone looking absolutely terrified as he looked over all of his fallen friends.

Zoro noted the first moment the man contemplated fleeing – the small glance to his left, the shift of his feet, the fidget of his right hand – Zoro hooked his foot underneath the chain from earlier and he kicked it up and into his grip. The man began to flee and with a snap Zoro flicked it at the man, the sharp end went spiralling and pegged him right in the back. A garbled cry of pain and the man collapsed into the dirt unmoving.

Without pause Zoro quickly spun to face the man who had allied with him and held his full tang tactical combat blade at arms length as he stared down the man watching for any signs of attack. The man stood his ground, equally expectant of an attack and they both took the silent stand off as an opportunity to assess the other.

The ally was a young blond man that looked about the same age and height as himself and was dressed accordingly so it was obvious as to why he had survived for so long. Full chest, shoulder, arm and calf dirt bike armour was decked out on the man, as well as various weapon holsters across his body. A large rucksack was tightly strapped to his back and a large biker helmet with the Japanese cresting wave of Kanagawa hung from a loose strap. A pair of goggles sat on the man's forehead, pushing some hair down to cover his bright blue eyes, while forcing other strands to stick up at odd ends boyishly.

The blond surprised him by spinning his blades skillfully by the circular handles and sheathing them quickly at the holsters on his thighs before resting a hand on his cocked hip and grinning brightly, "Relax would ya. I helped you; I'm not about to try and kill you."

Zoro remained firm with his blade raised glaring at the man, "Why'd you help me?"

"Cause you were being ganged up on?" The blond rolled his eyes as though the answer was obvious, "You seemed like a good guy; I wasn't about to let you get killed."

Zoro snorted as he slowly lowered his combat knife, letting it hang loosely at his side, but still ready to bring it up at any sign that the blond might be bluffing, "As if I needed your help. Mind your own business."

The man looked a little insulted but managed to brush it off, "A simple thank you would work."

"I'd thank you to leave me alone."

"Wow. Just my lucky I help the stingiest asshole left on this fucking planet." The man crossed his padded arms across his plated chest and huffed playfully, "And here I was hoping for a friend."

"Sorry to disappoint." Zoro grunted as he began wiping off the blade with a small black bandana, making sure the black tang was completely clean before sheathing the blade quickly and concisely, pocketing the clothe. "Now go back to what you were doing."

Zoro spun on his heal and continued off down the asphalt, following the path that the sun had created across the sky since its rising and making for the horizon. He trekked quietly for only a few moments before the sound of running footsteps fell upon his ears and then the blond man was skipping happily beside him, "So which way are you headed?"

"East." Zoro muttered reluctantly, he had a feeling that this man would be the type to not let Zoro off with simply saying nothing, so he decided to play along with this little game.

"Oh sweet." The man placed his hands in his pockets with a ecstatic grin, his teeth looking entirely too white for the current conditions, "I'm heading that way too. We can be travel buddies!"

"No." Zoro growled as he readjusted his jacket collar as they both exited the town and entered back into the dust storms, "Stop following me."

The martial artist was stubborn and ignored Zoro's words, instead opting for keeping in perfect stride beside Zoro. The man's stupidly long legs allowing him to keep up with little problem, and despite a heated glare sent the man's way it neither deterred nor slowed his stride as he remained at Zoro's side.

"Come on. Human companionship is hard to come by these days." The man's elbow caught Zoro's side, "You can't tell me you're not happy to see another person."

"I'm not happy to see you." Zoro monotoned, "You're annoying. Go away."

"Well," The man huffed, "I need to take this road too, so it's not like I'm just going to change routes because I displease you."

"Fine." Zoro muttered and immediately angled off the trail, still heading East, but at more of an angle.

The blond's footsteps immediately halted with a skid in the dirt, "Wow. Really?"

Zoro didn't say anything, just continued on his set course leaving the blond behind on the trail looking disgruntled and insulted. He'd made it about twenty feet before his arm was snatched up in an annoyed grip, his knife was in his hand before he was even fully turned around to face the angry blond.

The knife was pressed up against the man's throat before he could even blink and they stood there locked in that hardened stance, hands gripping each others clothes and that blade kissing the blond's neck. A slow swallow had the man's throat expanding just enough for the blade to poke a little deeper and draw a thin red line.

"I'm not trying to hurt you." The man said slowly, his bright blue eyes searching Zoro's as though trying to convey his honestly through look alone, "I know half the assholes left on this fucking planet only care about themselves, but can you trust that I just want be with another human that isn't trying to stab me in the back?"

Zoro watched the blond carefully, inspecting his face for any ticks to show that he might be lying; he had seen this act plenty of times – had been on the wrong end of the behaviour more then once – some young girl, or man such as this blond here, would act all happy and innocent. Then as soon as you turned your back or let your guard down they'd turn on you, vicious as though they were already turned.

It was a sad fact, and Zoro really did not like having to harm people who had survived this long without contracting the virus. There were such few people left as it was, having them turn on each other was pointless and pathetic. How could they possibly save humanity if they were killing one another instead of the infected?

True, he did miss human companionship; when he thought of life before the War of the End[1] had sent the Earth into a devastated area of nuclear radiation, disease and death. Just simply being in the company of someone who wasn't plotting how to kill you, or didn't have your best interests at heart was something he hadn't experienced in years. But after fifteen years of living – no surviving – and having best friends turn on him, strangers try to kill him, and eventually wandering aimlessly alone; he hadn't trusted in years.

But as he stared into that young face he came up completely empty. No ill intent hidden behind lashes, or false words whispered between lying teeth – the only thing the blond was radiating was complete honesty. Slowly he removed the knife from the man's throat and sheathed it at his waist once more.

A flash of relief washed over the blond's face before his face broke out in a large grin and he let go of his hold on Zoro's arm, patting down the leather as though in apology for the rough treatment. "So you don't mind me tagging along?"

"Stop talking so much." Zoro growled through his teeth before taking a step away from the touchy blond, adjusting his jacket roughly and turning his back on the slightly affronted looking man. Several steps and he muttered reluctantly, "You coming or what?"

There was a pause before a happy laugh and the blond immediately ran up to Zoro's side once more, "I promise to shut up, but can I at least know your name? I'm Sanji."

"Zoro."

"Oh, interesting name." Sanji waggled his eyebrows as he grinned cheekily, "Wasn't there a movie or something with a character with that name? Did your parents name you after him? Where are you from?"

Zoro sighed in exasperation at the realization that this blond was probably physically inept at being able to keep his mouth shut, but at his annoyed sigh and refusal to answer the blond thankfully shut up. They walked in complete silence and slowly the sun touched the horizon, the remaining chemicals in the atmosphere warping it and creating two mirror image suns that shone with a green hue as they made their way over the edge of the earth. The mountains were still a couple days ahead but they had found an adequate area with cliffs that provided small neat caves that were probably used before.

It provided very good protection, the towering cliffs would not allow anyone to climb down them to attack, and the cave itself was situated nicely over the plain so it allowed a view of anyone and everything within miles. No one would be able to sneak up on them in the night.

Zoro shucked off his pack as Sanji lay out several pieces of wood he had gathered throughout the day and he set to work starting a small fire, skillfully snapping a piece of flint against a scrap of steel and sending a cascade of sparks raining down on the parched wood. The chemically ridden objects immediately burst into flames and soon the wood was crackling happily.

They sat at opposite sides of the fire as each did their night time ritual; Zoro pulled off his pack and removed his clothe covered precious possession from the straps on his pack and settled down with it in his protective grip while Sanji pulled out a small tin from his bag that was decorated with an old and weathered picture of a child-like skull and cross bones. Once opened it was revealed it to be filled with an assortment of AllBlue cigarette boxes, single smokes and a few match boxes.

The blond removed a half finished one and placed it between his lips and gently inhaled the taste without even lighting it. After a few casually inhales of the stick Sanji finally lit it and took a long cool drag, holding the sweet nicotine in his lungs for a least a minute before slowly exhaling. He then licked his finger, stifled the tip and replaced the partial cigarette back in the box and returned it to his pack.

Zoro just sat with a raised eyebrow, not intending to ask what the blond was doing, knowing the man would tell him regardless. As if on cue the blond explained, "Don't know when I'll ever find more so I need to be sparing."

"I'm surprised there's still some left on the planet." Zoro muttered with a condescending smirk, "Maybe you should just quit?"

"Fuck that. That's why I'm heading East." Sanji explained with a grin, "I heard that over on the coast the main manufacturer of AllBlue is situated. Zombies don't smoke so I bet the factory is untouched."

"And that's the only reason you're going to cross the entire country on foot?" Zoro asked with an arched eyebrow. "A lot of work and risk for some cigarettes."

"They're not just any cigarettes." Sanji defended hotly as pulled a small gore-tex fleece lined blanket from his pack and began to get himself set up for sleep, "They taste like everything good in this world combined into a fucking stick. If I can find that factory then I'll gladly die happy with lung cancer on top of a pile of cigarettes."

Zoro actually found himself laughing at the idea but at the same time somewhat inspired at fact that something so simple was giving this man the faith, strength and endurance to move on. Even though it was such a simple thing it seemed like it gave the blond all the willpower in the world.

"You said you're heading East; you must have a reason too, right?"

Zoro shrugged lightly, barely lifting his shoulders as he glanced to the side, "My reason isn't that important."

"C'mon." Sanji sent Zoro a sceptical unimpressed look, "I told you my dream – fucking cigarettes, man, that's it – there's no way that yours is any stupider."

"How about I just don't want to talk about it right now and we leave it at that?" Zoro snapped, his tone harsher than he had intended but Sanji seemed to understand and back down quietly, not pushing the subject any further. Instead opting to toss another log on the fire and loosen the straps on his plated armour to get ready for bed.

The two sat in silence as the fire crackled and warmed the small alcove from the chill of the desert night. Zoro had found a comfortable spot near the wall to sit against as he held the concealed sword protectively and rested his head against the covered handle. Sanji had curled up by the fire with his head resting on his pack, had covered himself with his durable insulated blanket and stared up at Zoro with his innocent eyes. "You can sleep, you know?"

Zoro watched Sanji steadily, head resting on the sword in his grip, "No thanks."

"What?" Sanji grinned cheekily, "You think I'm gonna stab you in your sleep?"

Zoro said nothing and just watched Sanji. To be honest he already knew the blond meant him no harm and that this was now just playful banter, but that didn't mean he was going to just open himself up to the man. Tolerating and respecting one another was about as far Zoro would label their relationship.

"Fine." Sanji shrugged, "I'll sleep first."

"You're not scared that I'll kill you?" Zoro sniped childishly but made sure to look darkly at the blond in hopes that maybe it would actually scare the man off. Of course Zoro wasn't that lucky and Sanji just laughed.

"No." Sanji offered easily as he fixed his blanket so that the edge was pulled up to his beard dusted chin, "You didn't kill me when you had the chance; why would you now?"

"Maybe because you're an annoying prick that won't leave me alone?" Zoro countered with a scowl.

Sanji just laughed and continued to watch Zoro with an enigmatic smile and those annoyingly bright eyes, "Are you really so against human company? When was the last time you talked with someone that you weren't trying to kill?"

"None of your business." Zoro snapped.

In truth Zoro honestly couldn't remember the last person that he had been able to trust fully with his life, at least not after the War. The closest he could get to were a pair of annoying friends that he had met on his travels that were so daffy it was a wonder how they were still alive. They had travelled together for a bit until they parted ways; Zoro deciding to head for the States and them both continuing on up into the remnants of Canada.

"Exactly." Sanji grinned before closing his eyes, "Now I'm getting some shut eye. Do what you want."

A small grunt was the only confirmation that the blond received that Zoro had heard him, and then the man immediately shut his eyes and drifted off. It wasn't long before the blond was sprawled ungracefully with his blanket half kicked from his body and he was snoring quietly loudly.

Zoro watched the sleeping blond quietly and wondered exactly what his motives were. If his plan was to confuse and utterly throw Zoro, then he had achieved that objective. After years of dealing with bandits and dishonest people he had learned early on how to tell if someone truly was asleep, not just faking so that you would drop your guard and they could get a knife in your chest. And as confusing as it was; Sanji was dead asleep.

Maybe he was trying to make Zoro confused – think that Sanji trusted him so that maybe Zoro would then trust him – so that he would drop his guard over the next few days and then the blond would strike. But even as Zoro ran scenario after scenario through his head, the more he contemplated the idea and the more he stared at the man he realized that there was nothing hostile about him at all to back up his theories.

Zoro stayed awake well after the fire had burnt itself out contemplating the risks involved of potentially trusting this man and in the end he himself had drifted off after coming up with absolutely nothing.

~X~

The small sound movement immediately set off sensors in Zoro's brain and his eyes snapped open as his head jerked up to assess the situation. Hand already on his thigh holster he glanced around and only found Sanji sitting across from him, pack in his lap as he rolled up and put away his sleeping blanket.

"Interesting." Sanji mumbled with a slight mocking tone as finished tightening the bindings on his rucksack and began adjusting the straps on his armour so he would be set for another long days journey.

Zoro began packing up as well, making sure that the precious sword was still covered properly and tugged at the leather straps to make sure it would not come loose throughout the days travels. As he pulled on his gloves and tightened the wrist straps he mentally fought not to reply to the irritating blond.

A glance confirmed Sanji to be watching Zoro with a knowing smirk and Zoro glowered in frustration before muttering, "What is?"

"You didn't leave."

"What do you mean?" Zoro frowned.

"If you really didn't want my company you would have left after I fell asleep." Sanji explained with a coy smile, "You stayed."

Zoro scowled, "Think what you want. This was a good hiding place; I wasn't about to go wandering off in the night for another one. You know travelling by night is suicide."

"Sure. Sure." Sanji waved a hand at him playfully, "I believe you."

Zoro just rolled his eyes in annoyance at the blond's childish teasing and pulled on his pack, tightening the shoulder straps and adjusting his gloves before staring down at the blond expectantly. Sanji was immediately on his feet, rucksack on and smile slapped across his face. Zoro just snorted and began trekking down from the cliffs.

The surroundings of the desert never changed; the sparse shrivelled weeds and deformed cacti littered the ground in pitiful clumps and the parched Earth always had the same dehydrated pattern. The only sign that there really was an end to this dry hell was the Western Mountains that for days now had been getting closer and closer on the horizon. Now, the mountains of the West were now only a few miles off, the definition of their trees and snow patches were clearly visible.

Try as he might – or maybe he didn't even try at all – the blond did not keep his promise and refused to shut up. Most of it was chatter about where he'd been, and random encounters he had had with weird strangers, or some girlfriends that he missed that had gotten turned. Regardless, Zoro had tuned most of it out, but when the sudden incessant chatter stopped he actually became concerned and stopped to look at the blond.

"You hear that?" Sanji abruptly stopped walking altogether despite himself Zoro stopped too to listen for whatever sound the man had heard. The land was dead silent. Only the whisp of the wind scraping across the dry earth could be heard, but then there was another sound – a distinct slobbering.

Without much effort the source was found over the next ridge; a mutated creature with human attributes, but with a lizard-like body was digging furiously at the ground, its large reptilian claws scooping and throwing dirt aside desperately. The creature was as large as a dog and with such big talons Zoro decided a larger weapon was in order. He placed his arm on the support of his weapon[2], strapping it to his forearm as he grabbed the protruding handle as he unsheathed the weapon.

At the slide of the sword being drawn the creature looked up with bulging black eyes that oozed puss and seared with animalistic anger. Without pause it launched itself at the two men, its attack was uncoordinated and driven by fury. A quick side step and an up sweep of his arm cut head from body in one quick motion. Both body parts fell to the ground with quiet thumps and was followed by slight twitching as the mutant bled out.

"Smooth." Sanji grinned cheekily as he casually kicked the body over to lightly inspect its features, "Looks like it was once an iguana."

Zoro agreed with a quiet nod as he made his way over to the hole that the 'iguana' had been digging. Since the War the nuclear chemicals had altered many things on the planet, living and not. Zoro's hair was a perfect example of what happened when you were unfortunately exposed to the radiation.

The radiation was actually the main reason human population dropped as drastically as it did. Most pregnant women had all had still births, and with the hovering chemicals the years directly after the war most children didn't survive and reproduction had lead to many failures. Those that were born had varying defects and mutations. It didn't help that all food supplies were contaminated, the zombie virus had begun to spread, and the world had been thrown into complete anarchy. From the seven billion that had populated the Earth there was probably less than a million remaining.

Zoro had been only ten at the time but his perseverance and strong will had managed to get him through it; though some of his friends hadn't been as lucky. One of his closest friends had ended up cornered in her basement and eaten by a zombie.

The hole turned out to be a small crevasse and Zoro dropped to a padded knee to peer into the small area. For a moment he didn't spot anything, but then a flash of white caught his eye and he noticed a small girl curled into a terrified ball, cowering as she assumed that his shadow was the monster returning for the kill. The white turned out to be a small pair of mutated wings growing from her small arms – he smiled lightly – another mutant child.

Zoro gently reached in and picked up the small girl, his reassuring hold seemed to be all the permission she needed before she completely passed out. He quickly tucked her safely in the protective confines of his leather coat, zipping it up as much as he could to protect her from the howling elements.

"So Mister Tough Guy has a weakness for kids?" Sanji grinned cheekily, hands shoved in his pockets as he followed after Zoro with a shit-eating grin, "How cute~"

Zoro ignored the jabs and continued walking, keeping his free hand firmly on his knife in case of any more unexpected attacks. Sanji continued with the quiet teasing for the rest of the days journey as they finally made it near the foothills of the Western Mountains. Small rolling hills and sparse trees led up to the towering features and they soon found shelter under a large spruce as night began to fall.

Once a fire was made and Sanji begun cooking a small can of beans, the girl finally came to, sitting up with a small delicate hand pressed to her forehead as she blearily glanced around at her surroundings. When she noticed the two rough men sitting by the fire next to her she began to tip backwards, her eyes threatening to roll back into her head as she attempted to pass out. A strong tan hand caught her head and propped her back up and seemed to reassure her enough to keep her conscious.

"Where am I?" Her voice was shaky, but at the same time was as strong willed as you'd expect from a child who had grown up in the conditions on Earth today.

"On the outskirts of the Western Mountains. You're safe for now." Sanji explained with a reassuring grin, and Zoro tried not to frown in confusion, it was the first time he had seen the blond smile in a way that wasn't sarcastic or obnoxious.

"Really?!" The girl's eyes widened in excitement and she immediately shot to her feet as she glanced out toward the mountains, eyeing the horizon for something that the two men could not see. She finally sat back down with a cheerful smile, "My village is really close!"

"Well, we'll take you there tomorrow." Sanji reassured as he offered her a small bowl filled with the cooked grains, "Why were you out in the middle of the desert?"

"I was looking for some herbs for my mother." She explained lightly as she took the bowl before biting her lip guiltily, "I guess I wandered too far."

"You're safe now; for now just eat and get some more sleep."

"What's your name's?" The girl asked as she began to dig into the small ration with fervour, bunching the beans in her cheeks as she mumbled, "I'm Xiao."

"Sanji."

Xiao continued to munch happily until the bowl was empty she began to lick some of the remnants from the bowl before glancing up at Zoro with wide brown eyes expectantly.

"Zoro." Zoro muttered finally and looked to the side as Sanji took the bowl and filled it with a small ration for himself, and another for Zoro. Zoro took the bowl quietly and began to eat his meal slowly as he savoured each mouthful, not knowing when the next time would be that he would eat.

"Those are nice names." Xiao said happily as she lay back down on the makeshift pillow made from Sanji's jacket, and pulled the warm leather of Zoro's over her as a blanket, "So are you two together?"

Zoro's eyes widened at the question – not quite sure if he understood it correctly or not – while Sanji laughed hysterically before slinging his arm around Zoro's shoulders and pulling him into an affectionate hug. Sanji's warmth seeped in Zoro's clothes and the ashy scent from Sanji's beloved cigarettes gently wafted over his senses.

"Yup, he's my precious little mossball." Sanji cooed as he pinched Zoro's cheek more rough than was necessary, before turning to Xiao and whispering conspiratorially, "He's the bottom."

Zoro flushed in annoyance and knocked the clingy – raucously laughing – blond off of him with a quick shove and jerk of his jacket to recover some of his poise. Sanji wasn't perturbed and just fell back on the ground laughing uproariously as he held his stomach and rolled back and forth.

"As if." Zoro sniffed haughtily and picked his bowl back up and continued eating.

Xiao just remained curled up by the fire giggling away at their antics and that was a small victory in light of the situation. At least the girl was comfortable, happy and felt safe; the last thing he'd want to deal with was a crying, terrified and uncooperative little kid. The red head eventually fell asleep in her spot and Sanji and Zoro made an effort to stay quiet even though the taunting suggestive glances Sanji kept sending his way made him want to reach across the fire and punch the man in the face.

~X~

In the morning the fire was quickly stomped out, items gathered, and Xiao walked on her own beside the two men as she showed them the way to her village.

They were now at the base of the Western Mountains, the tall edifices towered over the small crowd and seemed to reach into the heavens, their tops lost in the islands of clouds floating above. Snow sloped from their peaks down into dendritic ditches where sediment had turned to gravel and was slowly sloping to the mountain's base. The snow continued down until it speckled amongst the many trees that littered the slope.

The village that they came upon was nestled safely in the base of the mountain, hidden among the large spruce trees, and protected on a side by a creek that was a result from runoff from the mountains.

Xiao bounced up and down happily as the town came into view, and began a small trot that the two men could easily keep up with by increasing their strides. The village itself was small and quaint with old rustic houses that looked like they were built long before the War of the End, though may have been repaired and modified over the years. Brick foundations and walls that were covered with tin and shingle roofs made up most of the housing, as well as a few wooden shacks that appeared to be for food storage.

Xiao lead them right to a house near the creek and immediately ran inside squealing her mother's name happily. Zoro and Sanji opted for remaining on the porch, not wanting to seem intrusive – though it was short lived because Xiao's lively family immediately came out and dragged them in with praise and appreciation.

Sanji soaked up the fucking attention, and wasted no time to flirt with Xiao's older sister Ever, who seemed torn between falling for his charms or perhaps kicking him in the face. Zoro however, stood awkwardly as Xiao's father shook his hand in a firm grip and thanked him gratefully for bringing the young girl home and despite many respectful declines their spare room was offered to the travellers for the night.

They lay together quietly in the spare room on the small mattress that had been laid out for them. Zoro lay on his back and stared up firmly at the supports of the house while Sanji lay on his side and watched Zoro intently as though expecting something.

"So..."

"What?" Zoro sighed reluctantly, knowing from the tone alone that Sanji wanted something. He shifted lightly and enjoyed the feeling of for once actually lying on a real bed and being allowed to remove his boots. Flexing his free feet he finally gave in and glanced over at the blond.

"Still not going to tell me why you're going East?"

"No."

Sanji stuck out his tongue playfully, "I'll make you break eventually."

"Yeah, maybe." Zoro mumbled lightly as he continued to stare up at the ceiling, not quite following the conversation as his brain was already starting to disconnect as the safety of his environment allowed him to sleep freely. It had been weeks since he had slept in such a secure area.

"Oh~ So you're already giving into my charming wiles?" Sanji propped his head up on his palm and leaned in toward Zoro with a prompting, happy smile.

"Go to sleep." Zoro placed a palm to Sanji's face and pushed the blond away so he was forced to roll over and away from Zoro. Sanji chuckled quietly but went along and stopped prying, eventually falling asleep with his back pressed against Zoro's side.

~X~

Zoro awoke to find the annoying blond sprawled across most of the bed with his arm draped possessively over Zoro's waist and his head happily nuzzling in Zoro's neck. With an exasperate sigh Zoro untangled himself from the clingy man and sat up, running a hand up his face to roughly massage the muscles to wake himself before dragging it through his short green hair and tugging lightly.

Of course his damned companion was going to end up being a clingy, cuddling fool. What had he honestly expected from a blond that had chased after him like a lost puppy and had begged him to be friends? Another heavy sigh and Zoro pushed himself to his feet leaving the blond alone on the small futon.

Quickly donning his boots and doing up the clips he threw on his jacket and went out into the living room to bid good morning to Xiao's family, fully intending on bartering some goods off the townsfolk before he and the dumb blond set out. As he made his was through the village he discovered that the wing deformation that was on Xiao's arms was actually present in the entire community and must have originated from an area of contamination nearby.

Besides the mutations the villagers had a great selection of raw materials and technological devices. For some interesting knick-knacks that he had collected throughout abandoned towns he was able to trade them for a large quantity of dried fish and meats that would keep for the next few months, and he gave up one of his fine sharpening stones to one man for a new waterskin and a nifty bamboo container full of the fresh mountain runoff.

After a bit more browsing he also found a man who – after a detailed conversation about the best path through the mountains – traded some coins for a jar of disinfectant and a few clean pieces of cotton clothe. With his supply kit now fully restocked Zoro felt completely ready to set out as soon as he grabbed his pack and that clingy blond from Xiao's house.

Zoro eventually made his way back to the bungalow – circling the town several times after getting turned around; the houses looked so identical – and found Sanji in the kitchen chatting amiably with Xiao's mother as he cooked something on the stove. From the pot Zoro could guess it to be anything, but whatever it was smelled amazing. Add that to the list of many skills the blond had.

Back in the bedroom he quickly packed up the foods and other supplies he'd managed to gain from the townsfolk and brought his pack out into the main room silently telling the blond that he was ready to leave. Sanji ignored it and laid out the food for the family and Zoro reluctantly took a seat at the small oak table.

The pot turned out to be full of rich oatmeal, and though the grain that was gathered from the plains was usually rough and coarse, Sanji had managed to make it soft and sweet. After a delicious meal and a farewell with Sanji practically molesting Ever's arm with kissing, they headed out.

They made their way from the village with many of the locals bidding them a cheerful goodbye and thanking them for finding Xiao as well as not attacking them. Following the path that the man had directed Zoro to take they managed to find their way heading up and into the icy mountains.

"So." Sanji ventured as they glanced up at the endless expanse of mountains that spanned out ahead of them, grabbing a hold of his rucksack's shoulder straps, "East, was it?"

"East."

TBC...


A/N: Everyone is hopping on the Zombie Apocalypse bandwagon; I felt like I should join in :)

Zoro is heading East(even though he has a really bad sense of direction) and is currently in Nevada. He crossed California and Nevada whom had both been completely flattened by the War and he is now at the base of the western side of the Rocky Mountains.

[1] The Third World War resulted in the end of humanity and civilization and was since dubbed the 'War of the End'.

[2] Google 'arm sword'.