Seventy two…

Sanji gritted his teeth, vowing to bring a leather strap instead of a cigarette the next time he decided to use these goddamn inhuman weights. Loathe as he was to admit it, that shitty swordsman was obviously monstrously strong. Tch, but it was all brutish upper body strength; Sanji's specialty was kicking the ever living shit out of people.

Let's just focus on that, he decided, pausing in his pursuit to prove that Zoro's arrogance and self-sacrificial nature were all for show. Admittedly, Sanji may need a couple of weeks to be able to pick up the pace of Zoro's ridiculous training, but it wasn't anything to be ashamed of; this wasn't his sort of training. Not this animalistic bullshit. Zoro would definitely have difficulty if he were being trained by Zeff, being doused in gasoline and having flaming bottles tossed at you…

Let it not be said that Red Leg Zeff was a fair teacher.

With a little grunt, Sanji tossed the weight into the air and leapt onto his hands, catching the bloody excessive equipment with his feet. Okay, take it slow… like a first date with a lovely lady… he told himself, arms trembling with effort as he forced himself into a push up. Damn it, Zoro wouldn't have this much of a fucking problem, and – and Sanji was using his legs! This was his domain, his area of expertise; he had to at least best the bastard in this, or he'd have nothing.

Clenching his eyes shut and gritting his teeth, he pushed himself to continue, pumping his arms up and down as he balanced the massive weight in the air. He could do this. He could. He had to strengthen his whole body in order to put more force behind his kicks. He had to be able to take out that shitty Kuma with one kick this time, before he could… hurt anyone.

Zoro was losing.

Sanji's ego didn't swell at all; he felt no triumph in seeing Zoro staring at Bartholomew Kuma like he was a lost fucking child. Despite all the degrading insults he threw at Zoro, and all the times he claimed he could kick his ass in an instant if he wanted to, he… he never thought he'd see the guy lose. He had never really thought about it before; he'd never even considered the possibility, and he was startled that he unknowingly had so much blind faith in him.

But now wasn't the time to beat himself senseless for that epiphany. He couldn't distract himself with Nami-san and Robin-chan because right now he had to protect them, had to get Robin-chan's shadow back, had to ensure the crew's safety – had to help Zoro before he got his ass handed to him.

So, taking a deep breath and steeling himself, he launched himself forward, dashing madly towards Kuma and channelling all of his strength into his leg. Leaping off the ground, he let out an enraged roar as his leg came crashing down onto the damn Kuma—

For an instant, his world went white, blindingly hot agony gripping his leg. He choked on nothing, coughing past his cigarette, and clutched at his leg like it'd ease some of the pure pain. He couldn't think, couldn't see past it for what felt like forever, writhing on the ground and wondering if it was broken, how he could possibly fight now, how he could help anybody like this.

Since that moment, Sanji realised how weak he was. Several paces behind Zoro, trying to surpass him before he even tried to catch up, and just stumbling and ending up farther back than before. And yet, stupidly, he'd thought he could protect the bastard! He'd helped weaken Luffy's zombie and then remained conscious through Kuma's shitty attack, only to be knocked out by one hit from his ally?

It was… shameful.

Sanji gasped, cigarette falling from his mouth in pieces from how much he'd grinded his teeth together. God, his head stung… That's right, it was still bandaged. He had taken a few bad hits from Oars, that damn giant.

He was flooded with humiliation as soon as he thought of it, reminding himself for the umpteenth time that he was nowhere near as injured as Zoro. That seemed to be the only thought that could keep him going when his body ached so badly.

"Nngh…" Biting his lip, he moved his legs rhythmically – up, down, up, down – until he didn't have to think too much about controlling the movements, just focus on not dropping the enormous weights. Where did Zoro even get these things? How did they not snap the crow's nest?

No wonder Nami-san is reluctant to be on watch duty, he thought, when this place stinks of his sweat.

His breaths were shaky now, and he couldn't swallow the pained grunts that scrambled up his throat like the bile that was threatening to. He was trembling all over now, and he was so, so thankful that nobody was here to see him whimpering and shaking like a weak little kid. He was Black Leg Sanji, for fuck sake! He could do this. He could…

"Sanjiii! I'm hungry!"

Startled, Sanji wavered a little, eyes widening in horror as he felt the weights roll. Clenching his toes, he held extremely still, willing the weights to remain where they were. When they ceased moving tremulously, he kicked them off with a grunt and hurriedly caught them, wincing at the twinge in his arms. Couldn't have Zoro knowing Sanji had used his weights, though… That'd be mortifying.

He deposited them to the ground, hoping they looked untouched, and willed his heart to stop beating a mile a minute. He wiped his sweaty palms on his pants and then rubbed the sweat from his forehead and then, with a hasty glance out the windows to ensure their path was safe, he descended from the crow's nest.

"Sanji!"

"Yeah, yeah, I heard you," he grumbled, hopping to the deck. When his feet collided, a wave of dizziness made him sway, and he leaned back against the mast and tried to breathe deeply.

"Yo, you okay?" Franky asked, and Sanji twitched in shock, surprised to see him right beside him. He hadn't even heard him approach with his blood rushing so loudly in his ears. Franky had his hands out as if to steady him, and Sanji felt his face warm in embarrassment. Shit, he probably looked pathetic…

"Yeah, fine. Don't worry," he said, waving off hi concern. He checked his pocket for his cigarettes and flipped open a box, feeling his heart sink.

Six left.

"Cook—"

"I'm all right, Franky," he said again, sounding a little more irked than he intended to. Franky didn't seem hurt, though. He just looked serious, and for a moment Sanji wondered if he knew what he'd been doing…

"Sanji, can you make onigiri?" Luffy asked, popping up from behind the mast.

"Oh, yeah. Sure."

"Yes!" Luffy cheered, beaming brightly at him before being called back to where Usopp was flailing, yanking desperately at a fishing rod. "Get it, Usopp! Don't let it get away!"

Sparing Franky a little wave, Sanji tried to rush to the kitchen as nonchalantly as possible. As soon as he stepped over the threshold and shut the door, his legs collapsed beneath him and he dropped his pack of cigarettes. He groaned at the sight of seeing his cigarettes strewn across the floor, trying to grab them, but they kept rolling away whenever his fingers jerked involuntarily. With a frustrated grunt, he hit his head against the door, frowning at the ceiling.

That little session had taken so much out of him… Sure, he could argue that he was still recovering from his injuries sustained on Thriller Bark, but it just felt like an excuse at this point. But shit, his head hurt so bad…

He slammed his fist against the door with a frustrated snarl, cursing his weakness. Luffy was going to be the king of the pirates, so he was driven to incessantly keep improving. He had to protect his nakama. But even he had his limits; he'd had to accommodate a hundred shadows in order to match the strength of that bloody zombie. That had taken a lot out of him, and… and those two guys had said that the reason Zoro was so bloodied up was because he'd voluntarily taken on the burden of Luffy's pain he'd sustained during the whole ordeal with Moria…

He, Zoro, and Luffy were the crew's strongest fighters – and even their strongest had found it challenging to stand on equal ground with that guy. After defeating those CP9 bastards, they'd just kept on going without stopping, and their training hadn't gotten tougher. They hadn't thought they'd encounter such a tough trial almost directly after saving Robin.

I'm falling behind.

Luffy had fought Oars, taken out Moria, and Zoro had taken on Luffy's pain. What the fuck did Sanji do? Jack shit. He'd landed ineffective kicks and then got knocked out by Zoro. And it was… humiliating. Shameful.

Utterly pitiful.

With an agitated, restless grunt, he ran his hands through his hair and heaved himself up. The faster he gave them their dinner, the quicker he could get back to training. Zoro would probably be awake by then, though, so he'd have to think of something else…

But first: lunch. Had to keep them fed…

At least when he was cooking, he could switch off for a while. It was as natural as breathing to him; everything flowed together like rivers joining the sea. He sprinkled chilli powder over sparkling white rice, and then let a little bit of garlic powder rain over it. The scent of spices enveloped the kitchen and it felt more like home. He could just picture Patty and Carne now, telling him he'd used too much or too little, that his rice was undercooked, and he'd kick their damn ugly faces in…

He found himself smiling as memories flooded his mind along with the smells of the tantalising food, and he let himself get lost in reminiscence as he rolled the finished rice, wrapping it in seaweed paper.

He spared a few moments to cut up some narutomaki into the shape of a flower for Robin-chan, and a little heart for Nami-swan. The guys wouldn't appreciate such fine efforts, so he left theirs as they were, giving a little huff towards Zoro's rice balls. Wasted on him, they were.

He carried them out on the serving tray, depositing Nami's and Robin's before them. Nami brightened, putting down her map, and Robin smiled over her book.

"Thank you, Sanji-kun!" Nami proclaimed, grinning beautifully as she picked up a rice ball in her delicate hands.

"They look lovely, Sanji," said Robin, leaving Sanji beaming at their sweet words of gratitude.

"You're always welcome, my lovely ladies," he said ingratiatingly, giving a little bow. Robin eyed him curiously for a moment before smiling again, as calm and composed as ever.

"Sanji! You made onigiri!" Luffy cheered, bounding over and messily grabbing at the rice balls, stuffing two in his mouth and spraying rice all over his face.

"Damn it, you're so disgusting," Sanji muttered, making a face.

Luffy blinked in confusion before grinning, teeth and cheeks coated in rice, and gave Sanji a mischievous little peace sign. Despite himself, Sanji chuckled, but masked it quickly by aiming a hasty kick at Luffy's head, which he dodged expertly. Shaking his head, he left the tray on the table, deciding the others could get their food whenever the hell they felt like it.

But…

He glanced around and zeroed in on Zoro, who was still leaning against the mast, snoring lightly. The idiot had been asleep all morning, jeez…

He needed the rest though, Chopper continually reminded everyone. And since Sanji didn't want to undermine Chopper's hard work on patching the idiot up, he decided he better leave him a few onigiri so he wouldn't lose all his food to Luffy. For Chopper's sake.

About half an hour later, when the sun was high in the sky and beaming down at them and Luffy, Usopp, and Franky were chanting one of their tuneless shanties, Zoro jerked awake. He snorted and winced, glaring blearily at the sun. What time was it…? Nami and Robin were already basking in the sun, barely dressed, and the others were as boisterous as ever, except for Brook and Chopper who seemed to be flailing around in what could have been either laughter or suffering.

He grunted at the sight and leaned back against the mast and then, noticing a little flash of white in his peripheral vision, glanced down to see four rice balls set neatly on a green napkin. He stared at them for a moment, mesmerised, and then slowly reached out and grabbed one. He inspected it through narrowed eyes, suspecting it could be poisoned, before shrugging and deciding to take an experimental bite. If it was poisoned, Chopper would cure him anyway.

But – no. These were… really good. He found himself downing three of them with excited rapidity, eager to taste them. They were just the right side of spicy, and the rice was soft enough to practically melt in his mouth and – and he was pretty sure he might be drooling. He looked around, but everyone was enraptured in their own activities, so he subtly swiped the drool from his lip before picking up the last rice ball.

That cook… He'd never made onigiri before. Zoro wasn't sure if it was because he knew it was his favourite food and refused to make it to spite him, or just because he'd never really thought about something so simple. But, che, that guy obviously hadn't made freaking balls of rice simple at all; Zoro could taste the assortment of spices dancing on his tongue and – hell, he could eat these every day.

From the deck above that overlooked the garden, Sanji gazed over the balcony, eyes wide and cheeks slightly flushed when he saw Zoro savouring his last rice ball, looking about as satisfied as he did whenever he thought he won an argument with Sanji.

Sanji huffed, quickly tearing his gaze away and blowing out the smoke of his cigarette, determined not to think too much into it. He was already pushing himself to his limits because of that shitty swordsman; he didn't need to question his cooking over him too!

As he headed back to the kitchen to distract himself with… something, he thought, Man, I've never been so reclusive before. That marimo's the loner on this crew…

But… that wasn't strictly true. Yeah, Zoro was more independent than most of them. He had to be, if he got himself lost so often it had to be deliberate. He could handle himself and he enjoyed seeking solace, but… he wasn't really alone. He was the second strongest member of the crew; they all relied on him and Luffy whenever the rest of them were unable to defeat someone. As weird as it was, he noticed things like that. He noticed it when Luffy shot his first mate tiny glances whenever something was about to happen; their odd indestructible loyalty to each other was obvious damn near all the time. As much as they contrasted, Luffy was always worried for Zoro even though the guy could handle himself easily enough… most of the time. You know, aside from the occasional masochistic self-sacrifice moments. Likewise, Zoro was insanely loyal to Luffy, always defending him and standing up for him even though he didn't need to. He'd been ready to fucking disown Usopp, renounce him from the crew, for disrespecting Luffy. Sure, Sanji got it, but… losing Usopp didn't really seem worth it. He understood though, and somehow… he'd found himself backing up Zoro of all people.

Luffy's and Zoro's bond was evident to anybody, and Sanji… felt kind of left out. What was he to the crew, but a cook? Yeah, he was good at what he did, but food couldn't… revive someone, couldn't heal someone like Chopper's medical abilities. His food couldn't save Nami-san when she'd gotten sick; it wasn't was brought Robin-chan back; wasn't what saved—

No, the ones who did all the heroics were Luffy and Zoro. The rest of the crew may not be as strong as those two, or even as strong as Sanji, but they were all more useful than he was. Nami-san's astonishingly helpful navigational skills, Usopp's innovative creations, Robin-chan's amazing intelligence and profound wisdom, Franky's lightning-fast abilities, Brook's music that could calm down the seas themselves and cheer the crew in times of sorrow…

And what did Sanji do?

He fed them.

Fan-fucking-tastic. What kind of shitty "nakama" was he if he was only able to—

"LAAAND!" cried Luffy, disquieting Sanji's trance. He heaved himself up from the chair he'd perched on and approached the window, noticing a rather small island on the horizon. It looked… purple? What the shit?

Making a face, Sanji found himself going outside to check it out, curiosity getting the better of him. Man, he'd had enough of purple after all those fucking rotting zombies and smog that looked like contagion from spoiled food. He really, really did not like purple right now. Shitty ass purple… But the island was also bursting with trees, the leaves huge enough to obscure any potential civilisation that resided within the foliage. Several bell-shaped lilac flowers sprouted from the trees, hanging like raindrops, and they rested upon oddly iridescent green leaves that appeared to glow and, shit, Sanji really hoped this wasn't just one big poisonous island, because it sure as hell looked like it.

But if it's not, he thought, lazily lighting a cigarette, it might be pretty interesting to make a purple salad with some glowing leaves too…

"It looks so pretty!" Nami-swan chimed in, eyes glittering as she gazed upon the island that was entirely unworthy of such a ray of light setting foot upon it.

"Nami-swaaan!" he cried, twirling up to her and beaming, "you're far more beautiful than any island!"

She blinked at him for a moment before smiling, looking a little subdued somehow. For some inexplicable reason, Sanji felt his heart falter. It was probably because he was worried that something was wrong, that he might have said something wrong to upset her, but she swiftly said, "That's very sweet of you, Sanji-kun."

"It seems that there is light further inland," Robin-chan offered, and Nami perked up again, staring intently at the island.

"There must be people living here."

"What kinds of people?" Usopp mumbled, swallowing audibly. His knees were shaking a little, but Chopper still found a way to hide behind them… very ineffectively. "Barbarians? Cavemen?"

"Cavemen?" Chopper screeched, burying his face in Usopp's leg, eyes swirling slightly with tears of terror.

Usopp glanced down at him and nodded solemnly, seeming to gather himself together.

Not again… thought Sanji wearily, as Usopp began to regale Chopper with a false tale of courage.

"Yes! When I was a young boy, I traversed to an island much like this one, only… bigger!" Chopper gasped in fright, and Sanji wondered how he established the logic of being an accomplished doctor who hid behind the leg of the man who was scaring him. "But to protect my village from certain doom, I wasted no time in charging into their cave—"

"All right, oh slayer of the cavemen," said Sanji, sauntering towards them with an unimpressed eyebrow raised, one hand lazily in his pocket, and the other lightly holding onto his cigarette, "you can be the first to set foot on this barbarian-ridden wasteland."

Usopp stared at him in unrestrained horror, and Sanji nearly – nearly smiled. While he was still having his weird… quarter-life crisis or something, everyone else was the same as ever. In a way, it was sort of comforting, knowing that they hadn't changed, that they weren't angry at him for being unable to protect Zoro, but… it was also like they didn't… care enough to notice.

Or something.

Shit, he sounded so pathetic.

"Uh," Usopp began articulately, and then cleared his throat when it sounded slightly too high for comfort. He hit his bony chest once and declared, "Sure! The Great Usopp will ensure the protection of his crew!"

"Ooh, how brave!" Luffy cried, suddenly crouched beside Chopper as he gazed up at Usopp with wide, naïve eyes.

"This'll be good," Zoro commented dryly, folding his arms as he stared at Usopp. Usopp looked somewhat unnerved by his gaze, but Sanji wasn't too sure why. It was just Zoro's 'I've just woken up because I'm a lazy bastard' look, which he wore 72% of the time. 25% was his pissed off, channelling ancient sword-wielding demons look, and then 2% were the goddamn shit-eating grins he gave Sanji when the idiot thought he was winning a fight.

Usopp steeled himself anyway, taking a deep breath and clenching his fists, and then glaring at the indigo grass like it was a sworn enemy. Usopp seemed to be muttering to himself under his breath, probably giving himself a pep talk, but hey, whatever helps. Sanji liked to think of rescuing a fair maiden, but to each their own.

Usopp clambered onto the side of the ship and then stared down at the impressive drop that seemed to stretch before his vision. So, maybe most of the others could jump it easily, but Luffy was made of rubber, most of Sanji's power resided in his legs, Robin could help herself, Brook was… already dead, and Zoro…

Zoro was just inhuman.

I can't back down now!

With a shrill – battle cry, thank you very much, Usopp leapt off the ship. The crew blinked in surprise, having thought he'd give up and ask for help or just climb down awkwardly. From slightly below, Usopp clung onto one of the lower deck's windows, shaking slightly from adrenaline and fear, and then clambered down the rest of the way. When everyone glanced over the side to make sure there wasn't a dead body or something, Usopp staggered into position and struck a pose.

"What are you all doing up there? Don't keep The Great Usopp waiting!"

His voice is shaking too, thought Sanji, a drop of sweat appearing on his forehead as he regarded his crewmate in exasperation. Luffy let out a yell similar to Usopp's, only far more confident, and he leapt down, looking comically like some sort of flying lemur. Or squirrel monkey. Whatever.

"Nami-san, Robin-chan, would you like a hand?" he offered courteously.

"Robin already jumped down," said Nami with a sweet little smile, and then turned back as several arms form a sort of staircase from the ship to the land. "She'll be giving me a few hands." With a little wink, she descended from the ship, surrounded in a flurry of petals and hands.

"Yohohohoho! Let's go!" Brook cried happily, leaping from the ship. As soon as his feet left the deck, he gasped in fright and flailed in midair. "How terrifying! I could die from his fall!" He paused. "Ah, but I'm already—" … and he thankfully crashed before he could finish his sentence.

"Oi! You okay?" Franky called, bounding over to Brook and poking his bones as they cracked more lame jokes together.

"I'll be going next then," said Zoro, looking kind of bored. He grabbed Chopper and put him on his back, letting the reindeer wrap his furry arms around him. "Hang on tight."

"I-I will!" Chopper squeaked, eyes wide.

Zoro shot a quick glance at Sanji and smirked arrogantly. "See you down there," he said, "dead last."

Sanji felt his body heat up in unreserved fury. "Shitty swordsman, who do you think you're talking to?" he snapped, dashing to the edge of the ship and flying off it with a heavy kick – but making sure he didn't damage it, or Franky might be pissed. Or cry. He landed elegantly, of course, and whirled around to scoff at Zoro. "Who's last now?"

Zoro just raised his eyebrows. "I landed first."

"The hell you did!"

Goddamn him, he pissed Sanji off so fucking much. Who the hell did the think he was? The guy might wield three swords and have unimaginable strength, but there was no way he was faster than Sanji!

"Let's head towards that light," Nami-san declared, voice raised above the noise of their squabbling. "We'll all go together," she added, and nobody asked why. They didn't need to; nearly all of them were worried about how effective their abilities would be here, after how they'd struggled on Thriller Bark, and even if some weren't scared, they were aware of it. They all had to be cautious and, with their recovering injuries and strength, they couldn't afford to start a fight they couldn't win.

So, they began to shuffle along in silence, before Chopper squeaked. They all turned, tensing and assuming defensive stances. "What's up?" asked Franky, raising his burly arm.

"When – when we walk," said Chopper, eyes wide as he stared at the ground. "When we walk, there are… spores." He stepped to the side and, sure enough, little glowing white balls drifted into the air before breaking apart and dispersing several flying seeds.

"Do you think they're poisonous?" Nami-san asked, eyes wide in horror as her hands snapped up to cover her mouth.

Chopper risked sniffing the air a couple of times before shaking his head. "I don't smell any toxins," he said, frowning. "It's just… weird."

"I think we've established that every island on the Grand Line is weird, Chopper," said Sanji dryly, flicking his cigarette. The ashes fell to the ground and they paid it no mind, but suddenly they shone dazzlingly and Sanji staggered back, wincing at the bright light. "What the shit?"

"It's like the glowing leaves," Brook said, somehow unaffected by the intense light – oh, right, yeah. No eye sockets. Ha.

That's never been funny, Sanji thought. The light soon faded away and the ashes had disappeared into the ground, and he blinked in bewilderment.

"I wonder what happened," Robin-chan mused, cupping her chin and observing the ground curiously. "What remarkable foliage this island has…"

"Let's just continue on," said Nami-san, looking mildly unnerved. "Besides, I don't want to risk running into any weird mutated bugs or something."

Sanji felt his insides clench in dread. "Bugs?" he repeated, hoping he sounded offhanded about it, throwing a casual glance around as if examining his surroundings, not – definitely not looking out for bugs.

"This island seems to be primarily forest," Nami-san elaborated, also glancing around sporadically. "It's probably riddled with all sorts of insects." She shuddered.

"I don't get why you're so afraid of bugs," Usopp said, rolling his eyes. "They've never done anything to you."

"They're totally gross!" she screeched, reeling around to glare at Usopp and freezing suddenly, eyes wide in dismay. Everyone else turned too, and stilled.

"What, is there one right behind me?" Usopp asked, lips quirked in a little mocking grin, proud that he wasn't afraid of something everyone else was. He turned, hand raised ready to capture the ltitle guy—

And was met with an odd, slimy texture.

Sanji almost hoped Usopp wouldn't open his eyes.

He did. And he screamed.

Shit.

"Hey, Sanji, do you think we can eat this thing?" Luffy asked.

"What do you think, Luffy?" replied Sanji with false calm, cigarette clenched between his teeth. "It's a fucking glowing giant jellyfish, you idiot!"

"You can eat jellyfish," Luffy protested with a pout, like they weren't stood right on front of this shitty thing.

"Probably not if it looks radioactive!"

"Let's just get this over with," Zoro muttered and, with a grunt, unsheathed his swords and leapt up with a shout of, "Santoryuu!" and sliced the poor bastard. He jumped back down, staring at it in boredom, before grimacing when it fused back together again, its slashes from Zoro glowing with a blinding orange light. "What is this thing?"

"It's a jellyfish, dumbass," said Sanji, even though he'd only just rebuked Luffy for assuming it was that simple. But for some reason, he always had to disagree with Zoro. It was an unconscious habit by now.

"You know what I meant, asshole," Zoro returned irritably, and then stepped forwards. "I'll handle this. You guys get to the village, or whatever it is."

Sanji ground his teeth together in aggravation that he'd been trying to suppress for days. "Stop playing the fucking martyr, you shitty swordsman," he snapped, cigarette falling from his mouth and illuminating when it hit the ground. He swore at it blinded them both momentarily, and the jellyfish swung its tentacles.

Fuck. Fuck, shit, fuck. Can Zoro dodge in his condition? Sanji's head snapped over to look for Zoro, who seemed just fine slicing and dicing the bloody thing like it was a damn entrée. Zoro seemed to sense eyes on him because he soon glanced back at Sanji and then shouted, "Oi, cook! Behind you!"

And just in time, too; Sanji leapt up, narrowly avoiding a tentacle, but it did graze his ankle. He clenched his teeth shut and focused on getting out of range. He landed upon the damn thing's head and launched himself into the air again, sparing a second to ensure Zoro hadn't been stung or something and then, when assured that the idiot was fine, he launched himself downwards like a flaming bullet, aiming to kick the damn thing into oblivion.

"Wait! Don't kill him!" someone cried, a woman, and Sanji propelled himself away from the shitty jellyfish and landed beside the swordsman. He winced and lifted his stung foot off the ground, leaning all his weight on the other side.

"Why'd you stop?" Zoro demanded, face stony. He would have seemed impassive if it wasn't for the glint of annoyance gleaming in his eyes.

"Because she asked me to," Sanji muttered, scowling at him. "I never ignore a lady's requests."

"I'm pretty sure Nami's requested that you stop being such an annoying womaniser before," Zoro muttered, but then turned away from Sanji to glare at the girl, as if he was bored with him. What the fuck?

"Who do you think—" Sanji began, pissed, ready to turn his attacks on Zoro, but he was interrupted by the young woman.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," she said, bowing formally, and Sanji spared a moment to admire her beautiful silky black hair falling over her shoulders. Was she a priestess? "But you mustn't hurt any of the spirits of the forest."

"Spirits," Zoro muttered, looking entirely unimpressed.

"They guard this island," she explained, seemingly unaffected by the shitty swordsman's discourtesy. "If you deliberately harm a spirit, you'll be cursed," she said, frowning darkly at them. "We don't want that to happen to anyone, so please try to avoid angering the forest."

"Angering the forest…" Zoro scoffed, turning away. "Sure, whatever. Where did our crew go?"

"Don't be so rude, asshole!" Sanji snapped furiously, kicking his shin. Hopefully Zoro wouldn't notice if the attack was a lot lighter than usual, but Sanji wasn't going to stick around to watch Zoro's every minute shift in facial expression. He didn't want to look at his face if he didn't have to… "We humbly apologise for being so presumptuous, my lady," said Sanji, kneeling before her and inclining his head. "We hope we have not caused any harm to your forest."

"Please stand up," she said, seemingly flustered by his behaviour. "It's all right. No one was harmed. Yori will not bother you as long as you do not trouble this place."

"You named the jellyfish?" Zoro mumbled in the background, not at all amused.

Sanji smiled serenely. "We're very thankful, Miss…"

"Mikki," she offered, and then turned to the cantankerous looking Zoro. "Your friends are being escorted to the village, so please do not worry. Your names are…?"

"I'm Sanji," he quickly piped up with a charismatic smile. When Zoro didn't respond immediately, he flashed him a meaningful glare. He sighed and unfolded his arms, but the seemingly permanent scowl didn't leave his face.

"Zoro."

Oh, how charming.

But the polite Mikki didn't seem to mind. "Very well. Then, Sanji-san, Zoro-san, please follow me to the safety of the village."

"This doesn't feel right," muttered Zoro, casting a baleful glare towards the helpful shrine maiden that Sanji had been admiring.

It's probably just his default expression, thought Sanji, tearing his gaze away from Mikki to shoot a fierce at Zoro. "She's helping us, jackass. Show a little courtesy."

"Yeah, just like we get 'help' everywhere we go, and then get fucked over." Zoro didn't even bother to look at Sanji as he said this, instead opting to drill holes into Mikki's back. If she noticed, she didn't bother saying anything about it. But she was definitely in earshot, and Zoro wasn't doing anything to lower his voice. Ill mannered bastard. "Didn't Usopp fill you in on how they got help from someone when they landed on Thriller Bark? That went well."

At the mention of that ship, Sanji faltered for a moment. He clamped his teeth down on his cigarette, grinding them together so hard that the stick must've been ground into oblivion in his mouth. Not that it mattered, his mouth tasted like ash and dust whenever he thought about what had transpired back there. He remembered all of it, and the memories assaulted all of his senses and wiped out any scent of plants in the forest, replacing it with the remembered stench of corpses, bitter blood, and smoke and debris that could choke you. Shit, was he really still this affected by that fucking place? It had been several days now, and Nami seemed to be feeling better, no longer seeming suspicious whenever someone brushed past her or asking Robin to stand guard outside the bathroom whenever she went for a shower. Zoro was no longer favouring his right side or masking a limp, and he hadn't bled through his bandages in days. If those two were fine, why the fuck did Sanji still feel so shitty?

"Oi, cook."

Wrenched from his thoughts, his head jerked up to meet Zoro's gaze – which was suddenly entirely too close to his own. He paused in his steps, dropping his cigarette and stomping it out, to regain some space between them. "What is it?" he asked, desperately praying that Zoro hadn't noticed his fingers shaking. He could feel Zoro's steely gaze boring into him, and his body felt like it was covered in needles. He hated being watched so intently when he knew that the bastard was searching for all his weaknesses, and Sanji didn't even know what some of those were.

But then Zoro grunted and looked away again, following Mikki through some violet vines. "Stop daydreaming, we're at the town."

Sanji hated himself for being both relieved and disappointed at those words. He should be glad that Zoro hadn't taken the piss out of him for being so fucking pathetic, for being scared of something that had happened a while ago now. He was one of the crew's strongest fighters; he couldn't afford to be scared. Scared was for when you know you're no match for an enemy; scared was for when you're unable to save your nakama; scared was for when you have no food – it definitely wasn't for… this.

But what the hell was 'this', anyway?

Shit. Stop thinking about it, damn it.

He stepped through the vines, vaguely wondering if they were sentient enough to attack him too, but thankfully the universe wasn't totally against him and they remained unmoving. He took a little leap over the last set, tired of pussyfooting around the shitty plants, but then nearly choked on his ruined cigarette when pain flared up his leg.

Right, fuck. That shitty jellyfish…

When he looked up, Zoro's head whipped around, and he wondered if the guy had been looking at him. He swiftly dismissed that notion, though, deeming it as preposterous as… well, Zoro being concerned.

He glanced around the town, eyes widening with glee when he noticed the array of little stalls with assortments of exotic foods in a vast array of pinks and lilacs and blues. Little wind chimes were hung on thin vines over the stalls, all shaped like jellyfish, and they pulsed with a dim purple light every few seconds.

"…are all in there."

Sanji's head snapped up to glance at Mikki, feeling terribly impolite for having missed most of her words, but he'd been so transfixed by all the new foods that he ached to experiment with, and – Oh holy hell, are they transparent?

"Sanji-san, are you feeling all right?" Mikki enquired concernedly.

Zoro glanced at the shit cook, taking in his shining eyes and tense shoulders, and he snorted. Sanji only ever seemed to get like this over food. With women, he swooned and fawned and practically fainted from exposure to pheromones, quickly moving from one to another and trying to please them all at the same time; with fighting, he got flared up and heated, but he didn't toy with anyone and didn't waste any time practicing. But when it came to food, he was practically buzzing with excitement, and his adrenaline was palpable. Sometimes, like right now, he looked like he was going to act like a little kid – or like Luffy – and just dash madly all over the place. Zoro would probably never understand the cook's rapt adoration of food, but the guy treated it as dedicatedly as Zoro did his swordsmanship. That couldn't be a bad thing, really.

"Don't worry about that guy," he said, rolling his eyes. Mikki looked at him, seeming to be no less apprehensive. Zoro didn't really care either way. "So, they're in the temple," he said, and it was more of a dismissal than a question. He decided to just head towards it and leave Sanji to his creepy looking fish and leaves. No point in dragging him away from them… He gave Sanji a condescending pat on the head as he passed him. "If you're staying here, don't get lost on your way back."

"Ah, Zoro-san, I'm afraid you may be going the wrong way…" Mikki said tentatively, looking embarrassed for him. He stilled, pursing his lips, and glared at nothing.

"Don't get lost, Zoro-kun," Sanji hissed patronisingly, shooting him a menacing little smirk. Zoro quickly met it with a vicious glare.

"Shut up!"

x

They climbed the stairs to the temple, Sanji looking back every other step to glance longingly at the market. He could hear the wind chimes beckoning him, and the aroma of foreign spices and new dishes. If he could find a new type of meat here, he could cook up something delicious that would please Luffy to no end! Besides, the beautiful colours of all the herbs and everything complemented each other perfectly; the presentation would delight Nami-san and Robin-chan…

"Guys, you made it!" Usopp said as they entered the temple, glancing up from whatever he was holding. Paper…?

"Of course we did," said Sanji, raising an eyebrow. "What did you expect?"

Usopp just shrugged, looking a little sheepish, and Sanji recalled his words when they'd encountered that pink-haired girl with those creepy little ghost minions – "They don't affect me… because I'm already so negative!"

And, well, sure, that was cool and all, great for them since they'd have someone who would actually be able to go up against her – even if that someone was Usopp, of all people. But the fact that Usopp was so cynical and pessimistic had sort of nagged at his mind a little. It wasn't that he was particularly worried, per say. It wasn't like he'd thought of positioning Usopp's breakfast into a semblance of a smiley face. And even if he had thought about it, he hadn't actually done it.

"Rue is teaching us a game," said Robin-chan softly, casting a gentle smile towards a young girl seated beside her. Sanji couldn't help but smile a little at that. Robin-chan was so good with kids.

"Yeah, come and sit, Zoro, Sanji!" Luffy called with a volume that was completely unnecessary. A few monks looked at him and sighed, and Sanji realised they must have already given up on him. He looked back at Mikki and offered her a bright smile. "Would you care to join us, Mikki-chan?"

She returned his smile with a much more formal look, but shook her head in declination. "I'm sorry, but I must attend to my duties. Please excuse me."

"Oh…" said Sanji disappointedly, but quickly perked up again. "Well, when you're finished, make sure to come by and visit us!"

She just smiled shyly again before departing hastily, and Sanji spared a final glance outside the temple at the sound of the chimes, before joining the others around the table.

"So, what're you doing?" he asked, sliding down into the small space Usopp and Franky had made for him.

"It's like fortune telling!" cried Chopper happily, eyes glimmering as he bounced up and down.

"Don't crumple the paper, Chopper-san," said Rue-chan, seeming a little bit nonplussed. She obviously wasn't accustomed to dealing with rambunctious pirates. Couldn't blame her, really.

"It appears that the paper folds itself into a certain shape, which tells you about your future," Brook explained with far more clarity than the overexcited Chopper. Not that it mattered, really – the kid was cute. "Mine is in the shape of a cup, and Rue-san says it means I will soon meet an old friend!" He paused here, staring down at the folded paper so intensely that, for just a moment, Sanji felt his heart go out to the guy. He himself missed old man Zeff more than he'd care to admit, but Brook had been waiting to see Laboon for centuries

"The paper has not steered anyone wrong yet, Brook-san," said Rue, smiling gently at him. Although she didn't know his story, she seemed graciously accepting of everyone's oddities, including having a skeleton and a reindeer in their crew.

Weirdly accepting, Sanji's thoughts insisted imposingly, and he mused for a moment that the voice sounded almost like Zoro's. Of course the fucking marimo had to infect him with suspicions; Sanji would never misconstrue any lady's manners.

Still… it was quite odd…

"Sanji, Zoro, you guys do it too!" Chopper insisted, still jumping in place like he couldn't sit still. He probably couldn't, actually. But hey, he was a kid…

"I don't believe in fortune telling," said Zoro dismissively, casting an uninterested glance at the paper.

"Careful your monobrow doesn't rise too high," Sanji said sharply, "your wrinkles will get even worse."

Zoro's eyebrows twitched in irritation and his folded arms tensed. His spine curled as he leaned forward, still somehow towering imposingly over the table despite sitting cross-legged like everyone else. "Of course you'd obsess over wrinkles, curly brow."

Sanji's eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to retort – something, he didn't know what, but he always gave as good as he got. And he had initiated this. Sort of. But he couldn't help it, for some reason. Every time he looked at that shitty marimo, he felt like he was burning; he felt that odd leap as his heart missed a beat, remembering how it had almost stopped entirely when he'd found Zoro covered in rivulets of his own blood. It pissed him off because – because he didn't understand why he was so angry in the first place. Part of it – a substantial part of it – was because he'd easily been knocked out and tossed aside when he'd volunteered to sacrifice his own life. What, had he not been good enough for the fucking swordsman? And why the fuck did that even matter? But for the life of him, he couldn't find the reason behind so much as hearing Zoro's goddamn name made him want to kick something and shout until his throat was raw.

"Both of you, be quiet!" Nami snapped irritably, voice as sweet as ever, even when shouting. "We're in a temple, you know. Show some respect." She glared at Zoro evocatively at this point, and he grunted and sulked in another direction.

Serves him right. Bastard. "You're so right, Nami-swan!" Sanji cried, squirming in place as he basked in her beautiful, reverent light.

"You won't do it then?" asked Chopper disappointedly, his crestfallen face gazing at them both in what he probably thought was surreptitious.

Zoro snorted. "No thanks."

"Boo, you're no fun, Zoro," Luffy said, sticking his lips out in an obnoxious pout. "Even Robin did it!"

"What do you mean 'even Robin'?" she murmured, regarding him with a veiled look of annoyance.

"I'll do it, Chopper," said Sanji, if only to prevent an unnecessary quarrel from escalating. It was probably hypocritical of him since he and Zoro argued all the time… with their bodies and weapons, mostly. But that was just… different, somehow. Arguments between the rest of the crew grated on his nerves and gave him a headache, whereas fighting with Zoro just… made him feel lighter. It was like a form of catharsis for him, letting off steam with someone of equal strength, not holding back and just letting go for once. All the anxious adrenaline that festered within him could just be dispersed in a swift one on one with the marimo.

Although… well, sometimes it didn't make him feel better at all. But he really didn't want to think about why.

"Ah, Sanji, you will?" Chopper beamed at him, clapping his little hooves together.

"Please pick up a piece of paper. Any one will be fine," said Rue, gesturing towards the low table that they sat before, across which dozens of oddly shaped bits of paper were strewn. Sanji noticed that this paper was far thinner than any he'd seen before, and almost translucent – like those fish in the market. God, how he desperately wanted to go back and look…

"You're taking longer than Nami does in the bathroom," Zoro mumbled offhandedly, still gazing into the distance and not noticing the ferocious glare Sanji threw at him, only reacting when Nami hit him over the head.

He hasn't been looking at me properly for a while now, Sanji thought vaguely, somewhere in the back of his mind. Is he hung up over what happened on Thriller Bark too? He wondered, glancing at all the pieces of paper laid out before him, not sure why he was hesitating to pick one up. They all looked virtually the same, and it wasn't like he could predict the outcome based on the size of each individual scrap. He wouldn't be, though. He's the one who ended up almost throwing away his shitty dream… Sanji's thoughts were derailed suddenly and he tensed in mortification, realising he'd been staring blankly at the table for a whole fucking minute because he'd been thinking of Zoro. Zoro, of all people!

Hastily, hoping to mask his odd behaviour, Sanji clumsily fumbled for the first piece of paper he could get his twitching hands on. He didn't look up to see if any of the others had noticed his lapse of concentration.

"Just hold it in either one of your hands. It doesn't matter which," Rue explained. For a moment, Sanji did wonder why they had a fortune teller inside the temple… Then again, this island had fucking transparent fish, so why question anything?

So he watched, a little enraptured by his own tumultuous thoughts, as the paper shifted in his hands and began folding itself into a weird sort of indented hexagon. It didn't stop there, however, as the paper seemed to expand itself and form three lines through the shape, and Sanji could safely say he had no idea what it was.

"What does it look like, Sanji?" asked Chopper, leaning over the table and peering into his hand.

Sanji raised an eyebrow. "Uh… I'm not sure," he admitted, holding it out so that everyone could see it. Maybe they'd have a better idea than he did.

"Looks like a spit roast to me!" Luffy supplied helpfully, looking completely serious.

"Those look like swords," Zoro muttered, unable to help himself.

"Zoro-san is correct," Rue said, nodding amicably. "The three lines symbolise swords… and what they are embedded within is a heart."

"That sounds ominous…" Nami mumbled, leaning back slightly.

Rue offered her a rather uncomfortable smile, which Sanji really did not think was a good sign. "It is," she admitted bluntly, looking over at Sanji. "It is telling you that you will find love—"

Sanji's eyes lit up and he nearly leapt up and cheered, but instead settled for beaming. "I will? Really? Ah, I knew our love was destined to be, Nami-swan! Of course, Robin-chwan is like a fair princess that I would gladly give my heart to—"

"Sanji," said Robin patiently, barely glancing up from the book that was elegantly settled in her lap where he often wished his head could rest. Maybe she would read to him in her soft, melodic voice and lull him to sleep… "I believe that Rue has not yet finished speaking."

He blinked himself out of his stupor, and looked back at Rue apologetically. "Oh, I'm sorry, Rue-chan. Please continue."

She didn't seem offended. This sort of thing probably happened quite often, interruptions and questions and dreams about the future. "It is true that you will find love," she reiterated, "but…" Why? Why did there always have to be a but? "The swords mean that you will be separated from the one you love. The obstacles you will face will be hard to overcome."

Sanji blinked down at the odd shape in his hands and tried not to scoff in front of Rue, knowing how rude that would seem. "Nami-swan, Robin-chwan! I won't let us be separated! I vow to fight for our undying love!"

Nami made a rather strained looking face, but it was probably just the thought of losing her prince that made her look so pained.

He wouldn't be separated from Nami-san and Robin-chan. He couldn't be. He may be no match for Luffy, and maybe he was even finding it hard to keep up with Zoro, but… he wasn't weak, right? He could protect them; he could help keep the crew together. He didn't need three blades to prove that, either.

But… he had nearly lost Nami-san. That damn Absalom guy had tried to marry her, had probably assaulted her, from what he had gathered from her behaviour in the days following their departure from that shitty ship. And Sanji – he might've been able to get her out of there, but he'd been late. He hadn't protected her from him, he'd only gotten her out of there just in time. And just in time was too close a call for Sanji. He vowed to never keep a lady waiting, and Nami had almost been stolen from him…

He'd been too weak against the rest of their enemies, too. Robin-chan's shadow was taken away, and he'd been fucking unconscious while she suffered. Usopp and Nami-san had been quivering in fear until Luffy had saved them – and then saved them all. Again. And then the fucking shitty marimo had fucking… he'd fucking decided to play the hero, or some shit, and took on all of Luffy's pain and – and he could have died. And Sanji couldn't just – he couldn't just let that go. He couldn't accept that they'd almost lost, that they practically did, that they'd only escaped by a hair's breadth. He couldn't just think, oh, hey, I'll just get stronger, it's no big deal – because it was. It was massive because he'd almost lost his entire goddamn crew—

"Oi, bro, you in there?"

Sanji blinked, and suddenly colour flooded his vision once again, and he immediately saw Franky's bright aqua hair. He backed away from the close proximity and made a face. "What the hell, Franky?"

"You spaced out, man," he said, moving out of Sanji's personal space now. "You cool?"

"Huh?" Sanji frowned and rubbed at his temples, heaving a deep sigh. "Yeah, sorry, I'm fine."

"Did the paper make you worry that much?" Usopp asked, brows drawn together as he regarded Sanji calculatingly. "If it helps, mine turned into a mop."

Sanji's lips twitched upwards. That kind of helped, actually…

"But Usopp, yours was really cool! Rue said that it means you'll find strength in an unexpected way!" Chopper cried, eyes shining with what looked like stars as he gazed at Usopp like he was some kind of god.

Yeah, Usopp's words had helped up until Chopper had chimed in.

Usopp, props to him for trying, seemed to be torn between bragging and telling tall tales about how that had already occurred numerous times, and being modest for Sanji's sake.

"Tch, it's all bullshit anyway," Zoro finally said, yawning belligerently as he stood. "I'm going for a walk."

"You'll get lost," Nami reminded him brusquely, not even bothering to look at him. Good. That brute didn't deserve someone as beautiful and intelligent as Nami-san to bestow her gaze upon him.

"I will not get lost!" Zoro snapped. Sanji was prepared to jump to Nami's defence, but found his words getting stuck in his throat because – well, Zoro was looking at her. And sure, that wasn't really significant, and he was scowling more than looking, but… but every time he looked at Sanji, he turned away just as quickly, like he couldn't bear to look at him, and what the shit was that about?

"I don't want you wandering off alone," Nami said scornfully, unnecessarily concerned for the idiot swordsman's wellbeing. "Take Sanji with you. That way, you can stock up on food for when we leave. You can help him carry the shopping."

"Fuck no! That damn cook's not some damsel in distress, I'm not carrying shit for him!"

And wow, okay. He didn't want the bastard lingering around him either, but – but what the hell? Ugh. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck—

"Nami-san, as much as I appreciate your concern, I truly don't need this idiot's help—" he began, feeling he had to protest, because like hell he wanted to hang around Zoro for longer than strictly necessary. He was fucking infuriating. God, he was pissed, he could feel it thrumming in his veins, blood pumping like he was about to die, heart beating like he'd run a marathon and swam the whole of the East Blue, and yet a tight heat coiled in his stomach that felt like it would unfurl and send him into a furious frenzy and – he needed to train. Now.

"I don't care!" Nami said shrilly, rubbing her forehead and scowling irritably. "It'll take less time with two, and Zoro won't end up hopelessly lost, so just go."

Zoro ground his teeth together. "You don't get to tell me what to—"

"GO!"

x

It was… awkward.

Shit, he and Zoro didn't usually have a ball when they were alone together. Being in the same room together was oftentimes intolerable thanks to some weird gravitational pull that forced their eyebrows downwards and glares on each other. When they were within a five mile radius of each other, it sent something prickly and uncomfortable down their spines. Sanji didn't really know why; it was sort of just how they'd always been. When he first met the green-haired goblin, the guy had gone and gotten himself almost slashed to death because of the fact that he was an arrogant bastard. He just… knew that they wouldn't get along. Because Sanji never really got along with anybody. And he didn't know why. Zoro wasn't competition for the ladies' hearts; he never even glanced at their heavenly bodies whenever they were scantily clad. Either he was the perfect gentleman, or completely asexual. But the fact remained that Zoro wasn't trying to elope with Nami-san or Robin-chan, so it was never about women. It was a lot to do with the fact that he made scathing remarks unnecessarily, that he knew he antagonised Sanji and started shit even when he claimed that Sanji was overreacting, that he was cocky enough to think Sanji was weak in many ways that he claimed not to be.

Sanji just didn't get along with people. Men especially, mostly due to his own behaviour, he knew. But men all had such shitty attitudes and manners, propping their feet on the table like barbaric swines, manhandling women instead of treating them with respect and delicacy—

Well, then again, Nami often grew irritated with Sanji over his chivalry. He was only trying to be polite and helpful; Zeff had drilled those manners into him… with his foot. But Nami frequently reminded Sanji that he could easily be killed by a strong woman one day if he refused to fight them, and that she and Robin could handle themselves just fine most of the time. He knew all of those things, and he didn't think women were weak at all, and most definitely not inferior. He just… felt he had to protect them more so than the others. Aside from Usopp, maybe. But he could protect his own ass just fine when he tried.

Still, though… Sanji just wasn't someone who got along easily with people. He'd grown up without friends. On the Baratie, he'd always been in the kitchens learning to peel potatoes until they didn't look like they'd been through a meat grinder, but he could often hear the delighted laughter of children visiting the floating restaurant and he pretended he wouldn't want to play with spoilt brats anyway. Even before he had the misfortune of his encounter with Zeff, when he'd been sailing with his parents, there were never any children around. Sanji's only friends had been his parents and the seagulls and the sea itself.

And as well as having no friends, he was disappointed and somewhat embarrassed and insecure about the fact that he'd never really had a girlfriend either. He'd started flirting and fawning over women when he was about fourteen, but they usually just giggled and shooed him away, or regarded him with disgust. Neither response gave him particularly nice feelings.

The one time a girl had said yes to him, he bought his first suit, and he threw the withered flowers in the ocean after waiting for two hours.

But Luffy had liked him. When Luffy crashed into his restaurant, he easily professed that he wanted Sanji to be his cook, and adamantly refused Sanji's declination. He always praised Sanji's food, and whenever they landed on a new island and Luffy was amazed by the cuisine there, he always turned to Sanji to reassure him, "Don't worry, Sanji, it's nowhere near as good as yours!" and Sanji always had to turn away to hide the pleased grin that he could never fight off.

The others seemed to take to him well enough too, even the ladies. Everyone expressed their gratitude to him after every meal, and sometimes Brook stayed behind to play him some music and provide him with some company while he washed the dishes. Even though Brook was a skeleton, Sanji couldn't help but give him a slightly bigger portion than most of the crew, ever mindful of how Brook had been hungry and alone on that dark ocean for years.

One night when Sanji couldn't sleep, Franky had found him admiring the aquarium and he'd grinned and said, "I'm super glad you like it, bro! I thought it'd help make it easier for you!" and then they'd sat together watching the fish until they fell asleep and it might have even been worth the embarrassment of waking up wish his head resting on Franky's thigh.

Nami, lovely Nami, quietly offered him access to her precious tangerines when the food stocks had gotten low when they'd been sailing through a desolate patch of ocean, and even though he'd refused, she'd rolled her eyes and tossed a few at him and demanded he make cocktails.

Usopp was astonishingly unafraid in the face of impending doom, and once when he'd walked into the kitchen to find Sanji huddled in a corner, he'd gotten rid of the absolutely massive spider and never told anyone, so Sanji always made sure to serve him after the ladies.

The first time Sanji had made Chopper candyfloss, the kid had been so happy that Sanji almost thought he'd barf rainbows. He knew it was probably the sugar high, but when Chopper clung to Sanji and professed his thanks with tears in his eyes, saying nobody had ever made anything so sweet for him before, he forgot the feeling of growing up as an only child who had no friends.

Beautiful, wonderful Robin was far more reserved than the rest of the crew. That was why he had been so surprised when she showed up one night, a fortnight or so following the events that occurred in Water 7, and illuminated the kitchen with a candle. He'd offered her a snack or something to drink, and they sat in peaceful quiet and had soothing chamomile tea together. Then she said a quiet thank you, and he beamed at her and said he'd never believed that she'd betray them, and her open, grateful smile brightened the night more than the flame of the candlelight could.

But Zoro…

They'd never really… interacted like that. At all. Sanji could be civil with even the guys sometimes, but never him. Sometimes he was like another species altogether, one that Sanji couldn't fucking fathom out. He seemed so calm, so at ease with the insane world they sailed through, that he could fall asleep despite knowing that impending threats could be anywhere. Then when he fought, it was like he transformed. He became violent and merciless, unrepentant of his actions. Sanji had initially witnessed Zoro's battles with some disdain, begrudgingly admiring the guy's strength, but loathing his brutality. But then the bastard had to go and be all self-sacrificing and protective and – and saving Sanji, and he'd completely fucked up his perception of him.

"Oi, cook."

"What?" he snapped belligerently, the scent of his cigarette smoke the only thing that kept him from instinctively kicking the bastard's skull in for interrupting his thoughts.

"We're here," Zoro said, either utterly oblivious to Sanji's internal struggle, or just altogether indifferent to it. Sanji wasn't entirely sure which was worse, nor did he know why he gave a shit. "You were gonna walk past. Tch, and you and that witch talk about my sense of direction…" He turned away from Sanji, the disapproving frown on his face suggesting he had a right to be insulted.

"You don't even have a sense of direction!" Sanji shouted, gritting his teeth. "I was lost in thought, you are just an idiot." He turned abruptly, approaching the stall near the end where the transparent fish were earlier on. Oh, they were calling to him!

"What's the difference, when all you think of is women? You're the idiot," Zoro muttered, trudging along behind him like a moping child.

"Says the guy who thinks that north means up." Sanji scoffed, burying his hands in his pockets. "I don't want to hear this shit from someone like you."

Zoro made a face and was prepared to retort when Sanji suddenly brightened up, his irked, slouched demeanour perking up as his eyes widened and he grinned, all teeth and no finesse. Zoro blinked at the sudden change, not sure how to react, not sure if he should insult him when he looked like he'd discovered his dream.

"What're you so happy about?" he asked instead, and he hadn't meant for it to sound so patronising. Really.

Sanji didn't seem that affected by his tone now, though. He increased his pace, practically jogging down the cobblestone path. "The fish are here! The see-through ones!"

Zoro just watched him run towards the vendor, all buzzing energy and bright smiles, hopping from foot to foot like Chopper did when someone complimented him or something. Seeing the damn cook get so happy over food was… weird. Zoro sort of just assumed Sanji only lost the sour look when women were around, and then he got progressively worse as he adapted some extremely unappealing lewd grins and gooey eyes… Ugh.

But seeing Sanji like this…

He shook his head, dismissing the thought as it came, and decided to just follow the damn cook. Didn't want him to get lost, after all. Nami would have his head on a platter and have Zoro pay the bill.

x

Obviously, this island they've disembarked on isn't canon, pahaha. I just wanted there to be some time in between Thriller Bark and Sabaody Archipelago where more events could pan out...

Anyway, this island is supposed to be sort of reminiscent of a traditional Japanese town with a very old temple and a bustling marketplace. Mikki is supposed to be a shrine maiden, which is a miko. I picked the name Mikki because it sounds similar to 'miko', and because it's derived from the name Michael which means "who is like God?" and implies that nobody is as omniscient as God. Anyway, these characters won't be prominent in this story. As I said, this little island's just supposed to be a little intervention before shit goes down.

Sorry for all the curses in this, by the way. ; u ;'' I don't swear nearly this often... although I do say "shitsticks" sometimes, so. uh. well.

Sorry for the word vomit too. Maybe this makes up for taking a while to update? Wishful thinking. Ehehe... ;;

Anyway, I hope you like it! ; u ;