Sanji and Zoro sit opposite each other in the rigging that runs up to the mast, the square nets that are vital for securing things in a storm and for getting up and down safely even when the weather is bad. The two of them are checking it for frays or rot. It's a vital task but that doesn't make it any less dull. Sanji is on the ropes on the left hand side of the mast and Zoro on the right.
"I nearly drowned once." Zoro says suddenly, obscured behind the mast.
"I need more detail than that if this is gonna work." Sanji replies absent-mindedly as he tugs on a section of rope and runs his sensitive fingertips over the cords in it. No fraying here.
"Okay, not that one. Uh... What about the time I lost to Mihawk, does that count? Stressful enough?" Zoro asks with a creak of rope from his side.
"Is that stressful enough. Use full sentences marimo." he reprimands the swordsman.
"Full sentences like 'shove your grammar down your throat, I'm not gonna talk like a robot' how's that?" Zoro asks acerbically.
Sanji huffs and lets himself fall backwards, his knees and feet locked in place on the rope. He catches his hands in the net underneath him and arches his back and cranes his neck so that he can see Zoro.
"How about you go fuck yourself marimo?" he counters, getting to watch Zoro's scowl first hand this time. It's always so much more satisfying when he can see it. Zoro spots him and his eyes widen comically.
"How can you even- do you actually have a spine, shit cook?!" Zoro balks at his twisted position.
"Sure I do, I'm just flexible." Sanji shrugs. He probably shouldn't be able to shrug in this position as he bent nearly double on himself, but he can.
Zoro regards him with narrowed eyes.
"Is that... oh. I don't know the word. Saying one thing but meaning something dirty." Zoro says biting his lip and looking down at the floor as if the word is there.
"You mean was that innuendo? It wasn't but, you know, now that I kind of can do that to you..." Sanji trails off and waggles his eyebrows suggestively at Zoro. The swordsman snorts and moves further along the rigging, slightly out of Sanji's sight as he checks new sections of rope. Sanji laughs and lets go of the rope, curling his body back the right way up with a pull of his abs. He blinks as the blood goes out of his head a little but he's over it almost immediately. He's so trained from flipping up and down and everywhere in fights for it to phase him too much.
"Ignoring your dumb flirting love-cook, do you think it'll work?" Zoro asks again.
"I don't know. I found watching you get cut in two pretty traumatic and I didn't even know you, it was a big deal to you though right? And you know it depends on the detail." Sanji answers with a frown.
"Okay, so we were at the Baratie, but you were there. You know that and Mihawk-" Zoro starts.
"Oi, remember you promised that you'd stop if you started panicking like last time. Fainting or getting a panic attack this high up in the rigging is about the worst thing you could do, so don't you fucking dare!" Sanji interrupts, his voice harsh.
"Ugh, yes. Stop being a baby about it." Zoro grumbles, out of Sanji's sight and out of his range for a kicking, damn. Excuse him for giving a shit about Zoro's wellbeing.
"I couldn't believe my luck you know? I mean sure I'd been keeping an eye out for rumors of him for years but joining Luffy was when I really committed to going out and finding him. I was committed to it before but I had planned to train more before setting off to the Grand Line. But when Luffy says go..." Zoro says with a soft laugh.
"Yeah, I get ya. I think most of the crew technically counts as victims of kidnapping." Sanji snickers in amusement.
"Hey, you agreed and Robin showed up without anybody even asking her." Zoro points out.
"Oi, don't say it like that. And anyway I was conspired against, Luffy and my old man planned it together. I was half stolen and half evicted." He points out. It's not that he didn't want to go but Luffy doesn't really take no for an answer when he wants you on his crew.
"So I'd not even been sailing with Luffy a week and then... he was right there. I couldn't believe my luck, it was so easy." Zoro says and Sanji notes the pause in the creaking of rigging. Zoro has stopped what he's doing. Sanji is a little concerned but says nothing about it, he has to let Zoro test himself and he can't just keep running in whenever he's worried about him. Not that it'll stop him worrying of course.
"I knew his face from... from posters but he looked different in person. I thought he'd have more... more muscles or... I don't know. He was different is all." Zoro muses.
"Yeah, it's weird. I'd never thought about it but you look like you're stronger than him physically, I've seen your muscles." Sanji comments, glad that Zoro can't see his blush. Has he ever seen his muscles. The fantasies he has about...
Sanji shakes the idea out of his head and shifts awkwardly, he shouldn't be thinking about this right now.
"Makes me... a-am I training right or- or- or-" Zoro stutters, his speech cutting into shaky chunks. Sanji's hands tighten on the rigging, it's happening again.
"Best chance of breathing- no, beating him is is is when I when I'm youn younger and if- if I'm wasting my time by... by doing it wrong then- then." Zoro says in a somewhat strangled tone.
Sanji silently slips out of the rigging, putting his feet on the ropes rather than resting on his thighs like the ropes are a seat. He climbs down a little so that he can see Zoro and peers at him silently. Zoro's brows are drawn low in a troubled scowl. He watches Zoro swallow thickly and take a deep breath and shake his head. Zoro trusts his gut and Sanji hopes that this is no different. In the time that he's known Zoro he's grown so much stronger and more skilled, he can't be wrong, surely. Maybe Mihawk is just built like Sanji is, where his muscles get stronger and leaner without him getting that much bigger. Zoro is the type whose strength gain can be almost measured in the girth of his biceps.
"So I challenged him and... he didn't laugh but... he may as well. He knew there wasn't any chance of me def-def... ugh, of me beating him. But he let me. Guess he saw how... how bad I wanted it. But he took that tiny knife and- made me so mad." Zoro says with a flash of gritted teeth and a pulled back snarl on his lips. Sanji frowns. He remembers watching it and though Mihawk obliged Zoro with a fight, a fair battle rather than just obliterating him, he still used the smallest knife he had and insulted Zoro. But he suppose that the man was trying to make a point, that Zoro wasn't anywhere near ready enough to even warrant his swords whilst still being worth a fight either then or in the future.
"But he used his sword in the end, you showed him." Sanji says softly and Zoro jumps, snapping from his reverie. He looks down and sees Sanji looking up at him. Zoro leans forward and folds his arms around the ropes and rests his chin on his folded arms. He smiles down at Sanji, soft and sweet in a way that makes Sanji's heart throb.
"Yeah, he did." Zoro says quietly.
"But I lost badly. I've beat people that badly before, I don't even remember their faces, if I beat them that easy then they're not worth remembering. But Mihawk remembers me." Zoro says thoughtfully, his speech back to perfect levels again.
"He knows the man who'll take his title when he sees him." Sanji asserts defiantly. For all of the crew it's not a question of if Zoro achieves his dream but when. He knows that the common quiet consensus is that Zoro is going to be the first to achieve his dream. Unless they stumble across All Blue first of course, but that's not something anyone can plan for. Nami can't finish her map until she sees the whole world and Luffy still has so much further to sail, Robin has so many more poneglyphs to find and read... Zoro's going to do it first, he's sure of it.
"I knew I was beat, nowhere... nowhere near ready. I was s-so idiotic to think that that I was even close to ready. Couldn't pass up the chance though, don't regret it. I'd do it again if I had the choice." Zoro says with that firm kind of tone that Sanji knows he can't argue with.
"I'd- I'd lost an... he was gonna uh... um..." Zoro cuts out, closing his eyes as he tries to work out the word. He takes one hand off of the ropes and makes a motion, a slashing motion. Sanji bites his tongue, he doesn't want to just put words in Zoro's mouth, Zoro doesn't appreciate people doing that anyway.
"Cut." Zoro mumbles, his hand resting on the scar on his chest. Sanji tries to gauge if he can jump from his rigging to Zoro's and with a squint he works out that he should be able to. He climbs around to the inside of the rigging on his side and with a leap from his powerful legs he makes the distance in time to cling properly to the ropes without so much as a friction burn to his precious hands. Zoro clings a little tighter to the rope as Sanji jostles the whole swathe of rigging.
"I'm fine cook, I don't need you-" Zoro begins to say, his trademark scowl creeping onto his features.
"Shut your shitty mouth, this isn't about what you need." Sanji snipes back, swinging himself onto Zoro's side of the rigging and easily climbing up to his level. Zoro rests his head on his arm again.
"So you need to be close to me then?" Zoro questions, a small and somewhat smug smile pulling at his lips.
"Marimo's shouldn't question real people. Go on with what you were saying." Sanji evades. It's not that he's scared for Zoro or that he thinks that Zoro needs his comfort but... well. Perhaps Zoro isn't too far wrong, maybe he wants to just be close to Zoro so that he feels better himself.
"Told him to cut... here." Zoro says, his fingers on his breastbone and pulling the neck of his shirt down somewhat to do it. Sanji's eyes run along the jagged and snarled edges of Zoro's scar, or as much of it that he can see at any rate.
Some people might be put off by that huge scar, they might consider it a flaw. It's certainly not as smooth a scar as it could have been. If they had been in Chopper's company back then Sanji is sure that Zoro's scar would be soft and even, faded dark scar tissue that'd be smooth to the touch. Instead Zoro's scar is uneven, skin healed together and pulled apart as Zoro overdid himself time and again before he had a chance to heal. It's worst up by his shoulder, right where Sanji can see it as Zoro's neckline hangs loosely, leaving his skin up to the warm sun. He ripped it open several times with the torsion of his shoulders as he fought. Sanji remembers being back to back with him at Arlong Park and being stunned that any human being could still be alive after what Mihawk had done to him, much less be in any state to fight. Zoro hadn't been in any state to fight of course, but he'd done it anyway.
As Zoro's cut healed at different speeds and times with added injuries the wound has snarled up. Up by his shoulder the scar is almost crinkled, his skin pulled apart from the skin on the other side at regular points as if straining and threatening to burst against stitches that have long since been removed. In between those stretches of skin are healed up dark red patches of flesh that grew in the gaps to keep Zoro's insides inside him and his outsides outside. The scar isn't pretty. Nothing about Zoro is. His injuries, both old and new. Hell, the back of his head looked like mincemeat not too far in the past. His feet are stitched back onto his legs like some horrific Frankenstein's monster. Zoro should not be attractive, but Sanji has never felt so physically drawn to another person in his whole life. This goes deeper than the attraction to a beautiful lady. Sanji wants all of Zoro, he wants the history behind each supposedly aesthetically unappealing mark and all of the man that wears them.
A powerful urge to kiss the other man wells up inside him. He leans forward but then stops, looking up at Zoro.
"Can… can I kiss you?" Sanji asks, looking up at Zoro, his mouth level with Zoro's scar. He could straighten up and look Zoro level in the eye and ask, but the magnetic pull of that scar is too much for him.
"Why do you even want to?" Zoro says with a frown.
Sanji represses down the snap answer of 'I just fucking do, ok?!' and 'because I like you, dumbfuck' and instead gives his real reason.
"Because…" He starts, reaching out and touching his hand to the scar, just his fingertips. The rough textured edge under his fingers sends shivers up his spine and he runs his fingers along it as he speaks.
"This scar is the reason that I'm here. I love this scar." He admits in the quietest of voices.
Zoro says nothing but his stare says it all. 'What?'
"When I saw you and Luffy fight that day… when he fought for the Baratie and you fought Mihawk." Sanji says, the memory of it bubbling to the top of his mind like air in boiling water. He can't stop the churn of it or the way the speed of it only increases.
"For you that was the day you learnt how far that you had to go, for Luffy it was the day I agreed to join the crew, for Zeff it was the day that he and his family nearly died defending the Baratie and he sent me out to chase our dream. But that wasn't what that day was to me."
"I gave up on my dream long before you two got to me. I believed in All Blue ever since I first heard of it, I've dreamed of it a thousand times, touched it and felt it in my head and in my heart. I know that it's out there and I wanted to find it." He says, with determination and fire inside his heart burning from deep in his stomach through to the very core of him.
"But… Zeff saved my life. He had no crew, no ship, no friends or family to speak of and because of me he lost his leg too. His weapons were gone and he couldn't go back to the Grand Line, he couldn't find All Blue because of me. I still owe him that, I always will. By then I'd resolved to give up my dream, my debt to him was too high and I wanted to be by his side, to repay him however I could. I was happy there too of course but… I had given it up." Sanji says. It had left a hollow place inside his chest that ached if he thought about it, so he'd stopped talking about All Blue as much as he could because it only hurt. But as soon as he set foot on Merry he found himself whole again and he didn't ache any more.
"Then you showed up, acting like a cocky son of a bitch and walking around like you owned the joint along with that rubber moron. Then when it all came down to it the pair of you just threw yourselves into everything like… like it didn't matter if you lived or died." Sanji sighs in exasperation. He leans his head against one of the ropes and rubs his finger over a dip in the scar, feeling it under his sensitive fingertips.
"I told you to give it up. Do you remember that? I said that your stupid dream was going to get you killed and that it was easy to give it up if you chose to." He asks, looking Zoro in the eye.
"Yeah, it made me want to punch you in the face." Zoro says with an easy shrug that makes Sanji laugh. Quite frankly he is surprised that Zoro didn't do just that.
"It's not easy though. I had forced myself to give up on my dream and it took effort every day to pretend like it didn't matter. Seeing the two of your made me realize just how hard I'd been working to do it. I saw you go out to fight him and how you nearly died. I kept shouting that it wasn't worth your life but I don't know if you even heard me." Sanji says, the words pouring out of him now. Zoro shakes his head, no, he hadn't heard. Presumably he was in a space where nothing in the world mattered besides him, Mihawk and his dream.
"I saw you get cut in half and I thought you were dead. But you were so stubbornly dedicated to a dream that you wouldn't even go down from something that should have killed you. Whilst I was so busy trying to kill my dream yours was trying to kill you and it failed at it just as bad as I did. I figured that if Luffy could have such faith in you and that stupid idiot assurance that his dream will happen then something had to be going on there. You didn't care about your life because some things are more important. If I hadn't seen that… seen this, then I wouldn't be here." Sanji admits, almost digging his fingers into Zoro's scar.
"You just walk around with that scar that threw my life around like- mph!" Sanji is thoroughly cut off as Zoro attempts to either kiss him or to headbutt him off of the rigging, he's not quite sure which it is.
Zoro's hand wrenches a handful of Sanji's shirt and crushes it in his hand so hard that Sanji almost can't breathe because the room in his neckline is constrained by Zoro's grip. Zoro hauls him in whilst Sanji flails for a steadier hold on the rigging. The other man doesn't so much as kiss him as he licks the inside of Sanji's mouth in one thick stripe that says mine.
A reedy whine emanates from Sanji's throat and Zoro swallows it from him, his mouth sealed so tightly to Sanji's that the cook couldn't get a sound out if he wanted to.
He can only react, to follow Zoro as the other man leads because Sanji has no idea where this is going. The two of them are balanced so precariously and so high up that either one of them could fall and fall hard. The rigging jolts with every movement, it ripples as the ship crests and breaks on the waves around them. The whole world is moving around them and the only thing that seems to be a constant is Zoro against him.
When Zoro breaks from him, he leans back a little before raising a hand to Sanji's face and shoving his fingers into Sanji's hair. With one confident movement he pushes back Sanji's hair so that his whole face is visible. It's a stupid thing really. It's just hair. Nothing more. Somehow though Sanji feels like Zoro may as well have jammed his hand between Sanji's ribs and rubbed up against his still beating heart.
Zoro stares at him, gold eyes boring into both of Sanji's blue ones at once and though Sanji opens his kiss bruised mouth to speak he can't find the words. His brain seems to rifle through his entire vocabulary and come up empty handed with a shrug. This must be what Zoro feels like.
"What?" Sanji utters. A sentence fragment that barely means anything. It's not even what he meant to say. He meant… he meant…
Why did he do that?
What does it mean?
When did he change his mind?
"Fuck. You." Zoro growls.
Sanji blinks in stunned silence, his face still held between Zoro's palms as he hangs onto the rigging with one elbow and a foot. Is that an insult or a suggestion?
"Fuck… fuck owing." Zoro adds.
"I don't… what?" Sanji manages.
"I- ugh. Hold on, I need-" Zoro grumbles and the marimo squeezes his eyes shut. When Zoro speaks again his fingers don't tap but Sanji feels each finger on his left hand move with the beat of his words, pressing into Sanji's skin and marking him with the words.
"You. Don't. Owe. Shit." A pulse of words to Sanji's artery, jawbone, skull and temple.
"You don't owe Zeff." Another four presses of skin to skin.
"You don't owe me." Again.
"Just you, only you." And again.
Sanji's head is buzzing with words but Zoro seems to get his own under control. He opens his eyes again and stares Sanji down.
"You do what you want. Didn't give you your dream. It's not here." Zoro asserts, taking one hand off of Sanji's face and placing it instead over his scarred chest.
"It's here." He says, jabbing Sanji in the chest, right over his heart.
"You don't- don't owe anyone for your dream. Me… Zeff… Luffy…" Zoro shakes his head.
"Yours." He says firmly.
"You want it, not cause you owe it to someone. Do what you want, don't run on debts." The man tells him.
"I want this." Sanji says quietly and as he says it he doesn't know if he's speaking about his dream or about this nebulous thing that he and Zoro have between them. The way that he loves Zoro, the electric that holds them together and Zoro's reserve keeping them apart.
"You were the one who said you thought you owed me though. Remember." Sanji points out. Zoro had said it after all, that he didn't know if he wanted Sanji for the sake of wanting him or if he felt he owed him for giving him his voice back.
Zoro's face suggests that he hadn't thought of that when he was telling Sanji not to credit him for breathing life back into his dream. That Sanji couldn't look at Zoro's scar and remember that every drop of blood that Zoro shed with him still impossibly alive became a transfusion of life to the dream that Sanji had bled dry and stuffed into a casket. Zoro didn't give Sanji his dream, he didn't create it or encourage him to follow it. If anything Zoro was condescending about Sanji's potentially lifesaving advice.
Zoro doesn't have an answer for him. Sanji looks away, out into the sea and Zoro's hands fall from him.
"I'm not saying that I owe you. Just because I wouldn't be here if you hadn't done what you did doesn't mean that I owe you. All you did was let me watch you and you couldn't demand any debt from me for that if you tried. But that doesn't mean that the scar on your chest isn't leading me exactly where I want to go." He says, almost angry in his tone.
Zoro cocks his head and looks at him. He leans back a little so that his scar is stretched out. He takes his free hand and starts at the top of his scar, running down over his clothes, over his shirt, the shitty belly warmer and onto his trousers to just above his hip where the scar tails off.
"Into my pants you mean?" Zoro grins, broad and showing every smug tooth in his fucking mouth and Sanji really wants to shove his foot in there instead.
"NO. To All Blue!" He snaps.
He may as well fuck with Zoro's head whilst he's at it.
"But a detour into your pants wouldn't be unappreciated." He says with a lecherous grin that makes Zoro go red, a hard job considering just how much Zoro invaded his mouth earlier.
"Pervert cook." Zoro mutters, leaning back into the rigging and sitting on one rung, facing out to sea with his arms looped through it at his sides. Sanji mimics his posture and for a while the two of them stare out at the ocean.
"Robin tried to catch me. Chopper saved my life and Franky put me back together. Brook gave me music." Zoro says after a while, but it feels almost like he says it to the sky and the sea and that Sanji is just overhearing it.
"You…" Zoro frowns.
"You heard me, even when I couldn't say anything. You gave me words and made me use them. I can't repay that. What can I give you?" Zoro says, sounding lost. Though for a change it's an emotional kind of directionless rather than physical.
"I'll let you know if I ever work out what to give Zeff. But if I don't owe you for getting me on this ship, then you don't owe me for helping you fix this." Sanji tells him, reaching over and giving the dull metal plate at the back of Zoro's head a sharp flick with his finger that actually makes the metal ring.
"Well, shit." Zoro remarks blankly.
"Guess I'm out for excuses." He says.
"Out of excuses and fuck you. I don't want your excuses or your reasons. If you want this say yes and if you don't then say no. It won't kill me, I'm not so weak and you ought to- MPH!" Sanji is cut off yet again, but this time by Zoro's hand instead of his mouth.
Sanji glares and sticks his tongue through the gap of Zoro's fingers, making the other man wince in disgust and pull his hand away.
"Shut it." Zoro snaps.
"YOU shut it!" Sanji retorts.
Between them one day they might come up with an intelligent argument.
"No, you- agh. Let me talk!" The swordsman groans, tipping his face skywards as if to implore the heavens for strength in the taxing task of having to talk to his nakama.
"I don't risk shit for things that aren't dreams." Zoro tells him.
Sanji scowls and feels a hurt and hot kind of anger rise in his chest. Zoro can't even put it in a nicer way than that? What an asshole!
"Then don't." He tells him curtly and prepares to jump from Zoro's rigging back to his own. He doesn't want to be here anymore.
"AGH. STOP IT!" Zoro yells, grabbing Sanji by the thigh and hauling him close, making Sanji scrabble for the ropes to avoid his own high fall onto his head. The crew doesn't need more brain damaged crew members.
"I mean I don't-" Zoro presses his head to Sanji's thigh. It throws the cook off balance and he has to put his hand on Zoro's head to steady himself. Under his fingers smooth metal radiates heat and as always, protects what Zoro is inside.
If the two of them are going to live their lives like this, hanging in midair before a fall or clinging to rigging in a wind on a rough sea. If they live only a second away from a sword in the chest or a shoe to the back of the head then do they really have time to argue over the details or to let anger or pride derail them?
"I had a reason to stay away, but now I don't and…" Zoro says into the fabric of Sanji's trousers.
Sanji doesn't try to fill in Zoro's sentence, to put words in his mouth or tell him what he means to say. Zoro hates when people do that. He needs to listen. But, he doesn't always do what he needs to do or what he knows that he should do. Sometimes he just does what he wants to do when he wants it.
"And you think I should follow that scar of yours into your pants?" Sanji asks him with a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows.
Zoro stares at him for a second and then punches him in the meat of his thigh, hard enough to make Sanji's leg tingle.
"YOU BASTARD! I was trying to- to- to. SHIT. I was saying something- and I couldn't get the words and you- fucking curly browed moron!" Zoro howls at him. Sanji drops to the rung below him, resting both hands on Zoro's thighs. He stands up on tiptoes, the rope under his feet straining as he does so. He gets right up in Zoro's face and grins.
"Yeah, but you love me." He says. An echo of his confession, of Zoro's teasing and of the truth.
Zoro stares at him, golden eyes wide before rolling in an exaggerated display of annoyance.
"Luckily for you." Zoro mutters and kisses him. This time not a passionate thing or an attempt to get inside his skin. This time it's just a gentle and soft kiss, almost innocent. Sanji smiles into it and pulls back to look at Zoro, his hands on the other man's knees.
The wind shifts and the rigging moves and suddenly Sanji's center of balance is not where it should be. He feels that lightness, the suspense in the air, the moment of time before gravity catches up before a fall, where he just seems to hang there, staring at Zoro.
"I got you." Zoro says, his hand tight in Sanji's shirt, holding him from falling and landing and who knows what else. Zoro's got him. But more than that, Zoro gets him. He gets Zoro too and he's got his back. Regardless of how long it takes, if it happens at all, for Zoro to recover completely he'll be there. If marines ever imply that Zoro is lesser or stupid because Zoro is too amped up to put words out to them then Sanji will just tell them that Zoro doesn't waste his words on people that aren't worth them.
He's got Zoro and they both know it. All it took was four near death experiences. Perhaps they could stand to be quicker learners.
"Say it again." Sanji asks, leaning in, his balance safe again although Zoro's hand doesn't release him. He takes his hand up to Zoro's face and rests his fingers on Zoro's mouth and feels the pattern of it burn into his brain as Zoro says it.
"I got you."