Blood splattered onto the floor, tainting the bright lime stone underneath their feet. Their speed was incredible, disguising their moves from the untrained eyes and even his own, who could only guess whose blood had barely touched his shoes. Sounds of heavy feet hitting the ground, blades slashes through fabric, grazing skin, echoed off the walls of the dimly lit hall. Shadows dancing through the colorful reflections of the large arched windows, a hint of a chuckle floating on a gust towards him, swirling dust into his direction.

As much as it tore him into pieces, he couldn't take his eyes off them. Nervousness gnawed at his calm collected personality, he hated to be the one observing and he hated even more how the nescience of the outcome was applying pressure on his posture. He tossed another used cigarette to the ground, replaced it with a new one without once taking his eyes of the event in front of him.

It was still beyond him why it had to be him, why he had been permitted to watch the fight when it should have been their captain's privilege to accompany his first mate. When the rule had been revealed, the discussion bound to unfold, he hadn't spoken a word, knowing well that he should be the last one to consider the offer. Even after years of traveling together, invading each other's lives and also saving those, he couldn't say they were anywhere close to friends.

He shouldn't be the one to watch the final battle. Shouldn't be the one worrying about the rivaled nakama's dream to be shattered all over again. And still he was sucking out the nicotine of his cigarettes as if it was medicine to his rapidly beating heart. His head was aching at the sight of their fast bodies moving along another, attacking and provoking, he couldn't tell any longer whose physical shell belonged to who.

He nearly dropped his lighter when a body fell, hitting the ground noisily and shapelessly, so contrary to their moves before. For a second his vision blurred; what if he had lost? what if he had failed again, this time impossible to patch up again? Something greenish, shade manipulated by the blue window glass, caught his attention and his vision refocused again, gifting him with a sight he didn't expect to witness.

The green-haired man turned around to face him, blood staining his sliced and torn clothes, bruises and cuts covering every inch of skin. His ribcage was rising and falling, rising and falling, proof of his vitality and his clear victory over the barely conscious man to his feet. A smile growing in stages brightened up the successor's features, spreading over his whole face and revealing a bit of his teeth.

It was over. Concluded, achieved. His dream had become true, and it was hard to believe. Even for him, he was still searching for the mistake in this perfect set-up, this couldn't be over so easily, could it? The shitty swordsman wore no severe injuries, just that blood-tainted, surreal grin plastered to his lips that gave him the air of a maniac.

A split of a second they remained still, staring at each other and cautiously waiting for reality to reveal that it all was just a joke. Nothing happened, nothing changed; the moment was real, no mirage, no nightly dream. The title of the world's greatest swordsman had found a new owner.

Suddenly the moment rolled into the next and time started flowing again. The victor sheathed his swords, too caught in the moment to care about their uncleanness, and approached him in large steps. His blood-drenched clothes threatening to fall off his body with each move of his feet, droplets falling to the floor leaving a red trace behind him.

"No... no...! NO!" He shook his head vehemently when it dawned on him what the other man had planned. "Don't dare to get near me- no- hey, let me go!"

In one swift move he was thrown over the swordsman's shoulder, held in a secure and strong grip around his knees that he wasn't able to fight off. His fine dress shirt unavoidably stuck to the bleeding wounds on the bare shoulder, something he had wanted to prevent but the swordsman hadn't listened. He intended to fight himself out of his grip, also to point up his displeasure over being carried like this, but his fist halted an inch above a bleeding cut on the younger man's shoulder blade. His heart sank lower at the sight, the wound was deep and revealing a good patch of flesh framed by a dark bruise. It was the wrong time for their usual physical bickering.

They stepped outside into the sunlight, warm rays welcoming them like the cheering of their nakama at the sight of the victor. No one had doubted his skills, no one had doubted him failing, never, but the tiny prospect of the first mate losing never stopped accompanying it. Everyone congratulated, hugs and hands being shaken, even a kiss placed on the ensanguined cheek by their navigator. Tears glistened in her eyes still as they passed her by, relief about their nakama having survived clearly written on her face. Why had he never been blessed with a reaction of that kind? He'd give anything to be in the swordsman's position now, to gain their ladies' special attention.

But his fate was different and by the time they were alone in the man's bunk room, he couldn't quite bring himself to hate it. He was gently placed on a mattress and found himself enjoying his own position now. The swordsman leaned over him, settling between his surprisingly obedient legs, and stepped over the mental border they had drawn between them. Their lips touched, barely making contact but the intention didn't miss its goal. It ignited a fire inside his belly he wasn't aware of lingering inside of him, he couldn't stop leaning into the embraces the eager swordsman was offering.

"Oi, shithead, you didn't have to kidnap me," he panted in a pause from their kissing, arching into the hands that were brushing over his chest upon unbuttoning his shirt.

"Didn't." Lips caressed his neck, moving lower and leaving marks on their way.

Frowning a bit, he grabbed a fistful of green hair to pull the other man away but the feeling of his lips near his navel was enough to stop him. "Then... what do you call it? You threw me over your shoulder like a sack!"

"Just getting my reward, finally." His attention was back on his neck, gently pecking the sensitive spot behind his ear, sending shivers down his spine.

"I'm not a stupid reward, marimo!" Arms wrapped around the swordsman's neck, he tilted his head to the side to offer more access, his mind going crazy over the thousand different thoughts roaming in his head. A roughly sucking on his skin at the verge of pain just below his earlobe, and a moan slipped from his lips. "Zoro..."

A smirk played with the first mate's lips as he looked into his eyes, his own full of hunger and need and shining from the aftermath of the battle. His hand reached up to cup the man's cheek, thumb brushing over drying blood and rough skin, eliciting a hiss from him when he rubbed over another cut. Eye half-closed, the swordsman nosed his palm, planting soft kisses on his fingers to prevent him from dirtying his fingers even more.

"Why now?" The question suddenly crawled onto his tongue, urging him to voice it out loud. Why now, after all those years in which the swordsman could've taken this step; why now, after achieving his dream; why now, instead of celebrating his victory with their nakama?

Halting in his tracks, the green-haired pirate connected the hand near his cheek with his own, squeezing it gently before kissing each knuckle. His other hand was playing with silk-like blond hair, brushing it out of the cook's questioning eyes. "I thought you wouldn't turn down the world's greatest swordsman..."

"Tch!" He poked the other man's head gently, his cheeks burning from embarrassment. "That doesn't change anything."

"It doesn't? I see you blushing," Zoro pointed out, his lips still caressing the cook's long fingers. From the corner of his eye he watched the blond's mouth opening in protest, ready to release any insult he could come up with, and closing again when the swordsman started to plant little kisses around the base of his left ring finger.

It meant a lot of things, and Sanji just realized he had been unconsciously longing for them for too long. So many emotions were shaping his caress that he had never imagined the gruffy swordsman to feel. There was a silent question in his affectionate gesture, impossible to miss when he added his own fingers to draw an imaginary ring to the digit.

Blushing even harder now, Sanji reached up to wrap his free fingers around Zoro's chin, gently brushing over those thin lips and tracing along the corners of a smile. Dark eye gazed into his, awaiting an answer to the delicate question that he couldn't find to speak. He didn't know if forever was what he wanted this to be, he didn't know if being bonded to the other man was part of his plan. Only mere minutes ago he hadn't even been aware of those feelings crossing the boundaries of their nakamaship.

Not knowing what to say, he entwined their fingers again, held the other man's hand tightly in his own to give back a bit of the determination. He didn't want to settle on words that he wouldn't feel connected to anymore in the future, not now, not in this very moment, so suddenly. Alternatively, he chose to end this moment with a fusion of their lips, putting as much of his feelings into the kiss to leave his own cryptic message on the swordsman's lips.

Even if one of their dreams had just been achieved, their very own had just begun.