Sanji showed up at Zoro's room much earlier than he had planned, but his blood was still boiling, and his mind was still whirling with the conversation he had just had, and his feet had led him here on their own. He could have turned around and found something else to do to kill the remaining time left until they were supposed to meet, but his mood was so low at the moment, he couldn't think of a single thing to do. He supposed he could just wait here for the others to arrive, he was sure Zoro wouldn't mind. Even if he did, Sanji didn't really care.

He'd expected the small cave to be dark, with no one here there was no sense in wasting the lantern, so he was surprised to see a light flickering on the other side of the crevice that separated the cave from the stretch of corridor. He entered anyway, assuming Zoro had left it burning in case Sanji beat him there. Once he was through, however, he was greeted with a surprised looking Zoro.

"You're early!" Sanji snapped. Was he being unreasonable? Maybe. His temper was still high with ill contained rage, however, and Zoro just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"I live here," Zoro replied, looking irritated. "You're the one that's early, curly-brow."

Surprisingly, the slight on Sanji's eyebrows didn't infuriate him as much as the completely valid and reasonable argument Zoro made. He hated to admit Zoro was right, but he hated Zoro's attitude even more. His temper swelled, his anger multiplying and heading quickly for an explosion and then… nothing.

"Yeah," he sighed. "Do you mind?"

All at once his anger had evaporated into nothingness, leaving only the pain of his injuries and the fatigue of his day behind it. He was still hurt, and putting in a full day's work had taken its toll on his stamina. He was tired, both physically and mentally. Everything in his life had gone completely screwy in a matter of weeks.

"Sit down," Zoro pointed to the end of his bed.

The blessed mat of blankets looked heavenly, and Sanji complied easily, taking a seat at the end of the bed where Zoro indicated.

"Thanks," he muttered, reaching into his pocket and pulling the thin cigarette case out. Zoro glanced sideways at him but didn't say anything.

Sanji inhaled a lungful of smoke and felt instantly better. The cigarette might not have solved all of his problems, but it certainly seemed to take the edge off of his stress, at least for the moment. Even the motions of smoking, pulling out the cigarette, putting it to his lips, and lighting it, had an almost relaxing movement to them. His problems were still there, hanging around the edges of his mind, but for one moment he didn't have to focus on them.

Thankfully, Zoro allowed him to have that moment. Rather than questioning his sudden intrusion, Zoro reached beside him, picking up one of the staffs Sanji had seen him with before. It was the white one again, and Sanji noted that Zoro seemed to have a preference for it. It was very beautiful, despite being very similar and shape and construct to the other two Zoro owned. Maybe it had more sentimental value than the other two held, but Zoro took it and laid it in his lap for a moment, looking at it almost lovingly, before taking it in his hands again. He placed one hand firmly on the handle, and the other gripped around the lower part of the staff, and in one swift movement, he pulled the two apart.

Sanji almost cried out in alarm as a long, sharp blade emerged from the lower half of the staff. No, it wasn't a staff, Sanji knew that now. Though he'd never seen one in person before, he remembered seeing it in one of the books deemed forbidden and stashed away from the public in the secret room of the library. This was a sword. It was a weapon.

Sanji stared at it in awe. Sanji had experience with blades, he worked in the kitchen with them every day. He could tell at a glance when one was sharp or in need of sharpening. Zoro's sword was far sharper than any of the knives in their kitchen. It was deadly sharp, Sanji was willing to bet it could cut through anything like the softest butter. It was deadly beauty.

"What?" Zoro frowned, looking at Sanji suspiciously.

"That's a sword?" Sanji asked, sliding slightly closer. Just slightly, because the thing in Zoro's hands was as deadly and intimidating as it was beautiful and fascinating.

"Yeah." Zoro raised it so the blade pointed toward the ceiling. It was lethally sharp on one side but dull and flat on the other. Recognizably a sword, but not like the ones in the books that Sanji had seen. It shined in the lantern light, the reflection bouncing off onto the cave walls.

"It's a katana," Zoro explained. "A long sword from Japan. This was my sister's." He lowered the sword again, and the almost loving look returned to his eyes as he stared into the reflective blade.

"You have a sister?" Sanji asked curiously, smashing the burning remains of his cigarette into the floor away from the bed.

"Had," Zoro corrected shortly. He pulled a small kit Sanji hadn't noticed before closer to himself and began to arrange a variety of strange tools about.

Sanji didn't press for details. The abrupt way Zoro had delivered that single word told Sanji it was a topic Zoro didn't want to get into. He didn't need to know, it wasn't important to their relationship or their mission, and it certainly didn't matter where he got the sword from for Sanji to admire it.

"Can I see it?" He asked.

Zoro looked sideways at him, pausing in the act of procuring a vial of oil from inside the small box kit. There was a long moment of silence, where Zoro seemed to consider the request and weigh his options. Then, without a word, he handed the sword to Sanji.

Sanji took it in awe. It was heavier than he had thought it would be, Zoro had lifted it like it was nothing, and the initial surprise weight forced him to use both hands. It was solid, sturdy, he felt stronger and more powerful just holding it, though he had no idea how to use the thing. He held it before him, admiring the length of the blade. Curiously, he ran a finger down the edge of the blade. He didn't put any pressure on it, for fear of losing his hand, but even the gentlest touch sliced easily through his skin. He pulled the finger away, admiring the way the blood welled up in the perfectly clean cut. The blade had broken his skin like it was nothing, and though his finger was now oozing a fresh trail of blood, he couldn't help but be amazed by the sharpness of the sword.

"You idiot!" Zoro snapped, snatching the sword out of Sanji's hand and grabbing his oozing finger. "What the hell are you doing?"

Zoro tore a strip from what seemed to be a clean towel beside the kit he'd brought out. Without a moment's hesitation, he licked at Sanji's finger. Sanji nearly shouted with alarm, but his voice was stolen from him as Zoro cleaned the blood from his would with fast flicks of his tongue. When the finger was more or less cleaned, Zoro quickly wrapped the strip of towel over and around it, tying it off in a secure knot. It was done with all the purpose and precision of someone who had a lot of experience tending to small nicks and cuts.

Sanji stared at Zoro in shock and alarm as Zoro sat back, looking thoroughly at ease for someone who just molested Sanji's finger with his tongue. He raised an irritable eyebrow when he caught Sanji staring.

"What are you giving me that look for?" He asked.

"You… just…" Sanji trailed off, and then his expression fell into something more disgusted. "Licked blood off of my finger, that's disgusting!"

The scowl Zoro never went a day without returned to his face. "You're the idiot that cut yourself!"

The comment should have warranted a comeback, but it distracted Sanji instead. He looked back at the sword in Zoro's hands. "It's really sharp," he remarked.

"And your eyebrow is curly," Zoro said, rolling his eyes.

"Shut up!" Sanji snapped. "I've never seen a sword before."

Zoro frowned. "Of course not, you have those stupid laws against weapons here. Not even your guards have very effective weapons."

"Weapons are dangerous," Sanji shrugged. "We're safer without them."

Zoro looked at Sanji skeptically, as if challenging him to say he really believed that. "Weapons are only as dangerous as the people who use them," Zoro told him. "Not everyone uses them with good intentions, but not everyone uses them entirely for evil either."

Sanji was just about to ask what other use weapons could have, when Zoro interrupted him to speak again.

"Are you going to tell me what was bothering you now?"

Sanji shot him a glare. He'd actually forgotten, ever since Zoro had drawn his sword, why he'd come here so early in the first place. Now that Zoro had reminded him, his foul mood was coming back.

"That shitty bastard," Sanji swore. "He went squealing to his daddy like a little pig." He let out a groan of frustration. "The next time I see him I'm going to kick him so hard in the face his nose comes out of his ears."

"I'm dying to know who has you this pissed off," Zoro smirked. "I'd love to shake his hand."

"It's not funny, asshole!" Sanji growled. "He's the one that sold me out to Morgan."

In an instant, Zoro's smile fell, and his hand gripped the hilt of his sword tightly. His eyes took on a cold, deadened look that Sanji had never seen before, even when Zoro hated him. Even though Sanji was the one who was supposed to be angry here, Zoro looked far more dangerous.

"Who is he?" Zoro demanded.

"His name is Helmeppo," Sanji said. "He's one of the guys in my barrack. I went there after dinner to try to think of how to talk to Usopp, and he and his goons surrounded me. He confessed the whole thing, idiot."

Zoro stood suddenly, almost faster than Sanji could blink. It was amazing. One moment he was sitting next to Sanji, and the next he was standing and turning to leave the small cave.

"I'm going to kill him," Zoro ground out.

"Wait!" Sanji leapt up, barely managing to catch Zoro by the back of his shirt. "If anyone is going to kill the little rat, it's me."

Zoro did stop, much to Sanji's relief because he was sure that if Zoro really used all of his strength, there would be nothing Sanji could do to stop him. At least not in his current condition. Even in his best shape it would be a challenge, but like this he made a pretty pathetic opponent.

"He almost killed you," Zoro said. His voice was quiet, low, and dangerous, like a growl.

Sanji thought about pointing out that it was actually Morgan who had almost killed him, Helmeppo was just the one who had set him up to be killed, but Zoro really didn't seem to be in the mood to notice such discrepancies.

"Almost," Sanji said. "Almost killed me, but I'm still here right now, so no harm done."

Zoro spun fast. Before Sanji could make sense of what was happening, Zoro had one hand over the massive bruise on Sanji's side. It was where his ribs had been cracked and one of the major injuries that was still giving him pain even now. Sanji tensed, expecting the pain of Zoro's hand pressing into his sore spot, but Zoro kept his touch feather light. Sanji could feel the heat of Zoro's palm through his shirt, but nothing more than that.

"He hurt you," Zoro said. "He could have killed you. You're lucky he didn't."

"I know," Sanji frowned. "But I'm fine."

Zoro looked conflicted, confused. Like there was something he wasn't saying and wasn't sure he wanted to say. Sanji watched the decision bounce around in Zoro's golden eyes, eyes that held his own while they thought it over.

"I didn't want to lose you," Zoro finally said.

Sanji stared at him, unsure of what to make of that comment. It seemed… heavy, coming from someone that was barely a friend a few days ago, but there was weight in the look Zoro was giving him, and Sanji knew the moss head was serious.

"I…" Sanji's mouth worked around silent words. He wasn't sure what to say. Did he return the sentiment? He wasn't even sure what the answer to that was. He barely knew Zoro, certainly not well enough to make sense of this situation. What was he supposed to do now?

"I'm… going to go find Usopp," Sanji said, managing to duck away from Zoro's hand on his side and side step the green haired man. "I'll be right back."

Before he left, he cast one last look behind him at Zoro, but Zoro hadn't moved.

Sanji's steps felt a little shaky as his feet led the way. What had that been about? What did Zoro mean he didn't want to lose him? Lose him as what? An escape partner? Sanji doubted that, Zoro seemed perfectly capable of getting in and out of the colonies whenever he liked. He certainly seemed to have a fairly good grasp on some of the ins and outs of the place. Besides, if Zoro wanted a company for his escape, he had Robin and Luffy for that. What then? Friends? But Sanji and Zoro were hardly friends. Sure, Sanji trusted Zoro, even liked him (though he would never admit that), but they were completely opposite personalities and bickered more than they talked. What had Zoro meant then? Something more?

He knew what it had sounded like. It had sounded like a confession. That was a ridiculous thought though. A confession? From Zoro? It didn't make sense. Zoro was a man, for one thing, and who ever heard of a man liking another man? Also, Zoro had never even hinted at liking Sanji like that, so why would he suddenly have feelings for him?

No, the more Sanji thought about it, the less sense it made… but that was what it had sounded like.

"Sanji?" Usopp's voice interrupted his thoughts.

Sanji's feet had led him back to their barracks without Sanji's guidance. That was a good thing, he supposed, seeing as he needed to get there anyway, but for one moment he was confused as to where he was, and it took a moment to get himself oriented again.

He was glad Usopp wasn't inside their barracks just yet. If Helmeppo was still in there, Sanji was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to resist kicking the bastard's head in. He was in a foul enough mood now, with all of the stress he already had weighing on him, and now this thing with Zoro, he felt good and ready to release a little steam on something or someone.

"What's wrong with you?" Usopp asked.

"Nothing," Sanji replied, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "Let's go."

Usopp followed obediently, but he continued to give Sanji a look that demanded answers. Sanji did his best to ignore his friend, though he could feel Usopp's eyes on him every step of the way. He was more stubborn than Usopp gave him credit for, though, and eventually, when he realized Sanji wasn't going to tell him what he wanted to know, Usopp would lose interest and let it go. Sanji just had to wait it out and ignore him until then.

"I thought we were going to meet up separately," Usopp said.

"Change of plans," Was Sanji's only response.

There was a length of silence between them before Usopp spoke again. "Did you have a fight with Zoro?"

The question made Sanji miss his next step and stumble slightly. "Why would you think that?!" He asked in alarm. Usopp wasn't exactly spot on, but the fact that he guessed so easily that it had something to do with Zoro was a little disconcerting.

"Because you're wearing your 'I hate Zoro' face," Usopp twisted his face into a scowl that Sanji assumed was meant to imitate his own. "You used to wear it whenever we ran into Zoro, but it's been a while since I've seen it. So, I assume you had an argument with him."

Sanji's face paled. Did he really have a Zoro-specific face? That was humiliating. No wonder Usopp had guessed so quickly that it had something to do with Zoro.

"We didn't fight," Sanji assured his friend truthfully. "I'll explain more when we get there, just stop asking."

Usopp seemed to be satisfied with that reply, and Sanji could finally feel the eyes leave his back. Of course, Sanji wasn't going to explain the real issue between him and Zoro. He was still too confused about it himself to even begin to explain it to someone else if he wanted to, and he really didn't want to. He would tell Usopp about Helmeppo though. He would need to so that Usopp could keep his guard up as well. Hopefully, that news would be enough to tie his young friend over, and hopefully he wouldn't ask any more details about what was happening between Sanji and Zoro.

They made it back to Zoro's room quicker than Sanji expected. He was disappointed to find himself back in front of the crevice that separated Zoro from the rest of the colony so soon, and he hesitated to enter. Would Zoro talk about what happened earlier? Even in front of Usopp? Surely, he would let the matter rest for now, wouldn't he?

"In there?" Usopp asked, stepping ahead towards the crevice with a look of surprise. "It's not that far from the barracks, but I never knew this place existed!"

"It's pretty well hidden and off the beaten path," Sanji said, and then with a heavy sigh he took a step forward. "Let's go."

He led the way, squeezing through the small space with Usopp right behind him. For a moment he hoped that maybe the marimo had left, leaving Sanji and Usopp to talk about their plan without the stranger present, but the moment he was through the crack, those hopes shattered.

Zoro was sitting on his bed again, shining a different sword this time, one with a red hilt and an interesting pattern to the metal. He looked up when Sanji entered but thankfully didn't say anything. In fact, he didn't show any sign of even remembering the conversation they had just had, although it was impossible for him to have forgotten it in such a short period of time.

"Is that a sword?" Usopp asked in alarm. He clearly didn't pick up on the tense atmosphere between the two men.

Zoro didn't reply, instead he continued to clean his weapon with the same stoic expression he'd worn since they arrived. Usopp looked to Sanji instead, who spared the green haired man a scornful look before answering Usopp's question.

"Yes, it's a sword. Now sit down over there and be quiet, or I'm not telling you anything more."

Usopp obeyed, sitting down on the floor a little distance from Zoro and looking up at Sanji expectantly, like a student waiting to receive his homework assignment. Sanji sat across from him, his foot tapping anxiously against the ground. The tapping was making his leg bounce, which in turn made the arm he rested on his leg bounce. After a few moments, he stood up again.

Usopp watched him the whole time while Sanji dug around his mind for the words. What had he planned to say? It seemed that earlier in the day he had had some kind of plan, at the least a list of details he needed to cover, but now his mind was blank. After his run in with Helmeppo and that weird thing with Zoro, everything he'd been planning to tell Usopp had left his mind, and now he was left without a clue where to begin.

He looked to Zoro, maybe hoping the man would help him, but Zoro was still cleaning his sword. He did pause for a moment to look back at Sanji, looking just as expectant as Usopp, and it pissed Sanji off.

"You, get out," he ordered.

"This is my room," Zoro retaliated calmly. He sheathed his now cleaned sword and looked back up to Sanji with a face set in a cruel smirk. "If you don't want me around, you can always try your luck somewhere else."

Sanji groaned, his hands tugging at his hair in frustration. He wanted very badly to kick Zoro's face in right now, but even if he did, it wouldn't solve his problems. Zoro was making it hard to resist with that stupid face as he smirked up at Sanji. He was trying to piss him off, Sanji was sure, but he wasn't going to let Zoro get to him. He was going to show that bastard that he didn't bother Sanji in the slightest.

With a deep breath, Sanji fixed his hair and turned to Usopp. He remained standing, the difference in height levels giving him more confidence, and he spoke.

"Zoro is going to take us to the surface with him," he said, his voice clear and casual, without even the slightest hint of nerves. He prided himself on his excellent delivery, turned to give Zoro a mocking look. Zoro was no longer looking at him though, Zoro was looking at Usopp, and Sanji realized he still needed to hear Usopp's response.

Perhaps it was because Sanji had mentioned his name, but Usopp was staring slack-jawed as Zoro, eyes searching as if seeking the truth from the man himself, before he looked back to Sanji. "What?" He asked in disbelief.

His not-so-enthusiastic response dimmed Sanji's confidence once again, and it took him a moment to seek out the right words. "I mean, Zoro and I were talking when I was still recovering, and Zoro asked us to come with him…" Sanji trailed off and looked to Zoro again, this time for support. Zoro was, after all, the one that had invited them, he could at least speak up and back up Sanji's claim. Zoro sat in silence, however, not looking away from Usopp, and Sanji continued on his own. "We'd get to go up top, isn't that a good thing?"

Usopp frowned. "By 'us' who did you mean? Just you and I?"

"Yeah," Sanji confirmed. "Me and you, we can get away from all of this. Up to the surface, think of how much we dreamed about this, isn't it great?"

"What part of that is great?" Usopp asked, his face darkening as he looked at Sanji. "Leaving everyone behind? What about Nami? Were we just going to leave her here? And Franky? What about Zeff? You care about him, right? But you are just going to leave him behind?"

A cold sensation washed over Sanji, as if someone had dumped a bucket of cold water on him. He hadn't even really thought about what leaving meant. This whole time he'd only felt the excitement of leaving. It had been such a dream, the very thought of their getting out of here, that Sanji almost hadn't realized how real it was. He certainly didn't think about the consequences of their leaving, or what leaving might mean. He hadn't even thought about what they would be leaving behind…

"I'm not leaving everyone behind," Usopp concluded. "Unless we can take them with us?" He looked to Zoro hopefully, but Zoro's expression didn't change.

"The more people we take, the more risk we put ourselves in," Zoro said.

Usopp nodded, looking as if that was what he had expected to hear and then turned back to look at Sanji. "We can't leave," he said to his friend. "Not without them."

Sanji agreed with Usopp. He didn't want to leave the others either. Zeff was like a father to him, and the other cooks were his family. He hadn't thought about what leaving them would mean. Surely, he would never see them again. Nami too had always been a close and dear friend. He would have bent over backwards to make her happy, how could he have dreamed of leaving her behind?! Even so, the thought of staying here, especially now that he knew all that he knew, made him ache. He'd been so close to freedom, and now he'd tell it goodbye.

"Wait a minute," Zoro interrupted Sanji's internal dilemma. "There's more Sanji needs to tell you about." He gave Sanji a hard look, one that urged him to confess.

For a moment, Sanji was confused. What secret was he keeping that he hadn't told Usopp yet? This whole conversation had been about filling Usopp in, so what was he missing? But Zoro was running a thumb along the hilt of the sword in his hands in a restless way as if he were eager to use that sword on someone or something. It was that behavior that reminded Sanji of their previous conversation, and he remembered what he needed to tell his friend.

"Before I came to get you," Sanji started suddenly. "Helmeppo and his band of merry men had a talk with me."

"Helmeppo?" Usopp's long nose twitched in confusion. "The chin guy?"

"Morgan's son," Sanji added.

"Morgan's… son…?" Usopp seemed to mull over those words for a moment, and Sanji could practically see the gears spinning in his mind as he tried to make sense of what Sanji was getting at, and then… "WHAT?!" Usopp let out in a shriek.

"Yep," Sanji nodded. "He told me himself and confessed he was the one who got me into trouble."

"Sanji can't stay here," Zoro cut in. "It's too dangerous for him."

"I'm fine," Sanji snapped.

"No, you're not," Zoro argued. "What if the same thing happens again? What if you don't walk away this time?"

There it was again, that hint of unidentifiable something in Zoro's words. Like there was some deeper, underlying meaning behind what was being said out loud. It was there in Zoro's stern gaze and in the way he was gripping his sword, but Sanji couldn't make sense of it; it was there, he could tell, but what it meant…

"If I'm in danger, so is Usopp," Sanji said, shaking off the troubling thoughts for now. He would address those later, there was another issue at hand right now. "Helmeppo told Morgan to go after Usopp in the first place, and he said he'd try to set him up next time."

"Me?!" Usopp's eyes widened in alarm. "Why me?"

Sanji snapped his jaw shut. He wasn't going to tell Usopp why, it would just make the younger man feel guilty, and Sanji wasn't going to let Usopp feel guilty for something that wasn't his fault. This was that shitty blond asshole Helmeppo's fault and one else's, but telling Usopp that would be about as useful as telling him not to have curly hair. It wasn't something he'd be able to help.

It happened often when they were kids. Usopp was an easy target for bullies, and more often than not Sanji got into a scrap with the kids set to make Usopp's life hell. Sanji was pretty good at fighting, but even if he managed to win, the instructors would come down on him hard. Each and every time it happened, Usopp blamed himself. Whether Sanji suffered bruises and scrapes or punishment from their teachers, Usopp felt responsible. Sanji never blamed him, and he tried to show Usopp that, but it made no difference. This case would be no different. If Sanji told Usopp that Helmeppo wanted to use Usopp to get back at Sanji, then Usopp would feel horrible.

Unfortunately, even if Sanji was going to keep quiet, Zoro apparently wasn't.

"You're a weak spot," Zoro said. "If they hurt you, they hurt Sanji. Morgan did the same thing. He told Sanji he'd hurt you instead if Sanji didn't cooperate."

The look of horror on Usopp's face was almost comical, except there was nothing funny about it. Sanji shot a hateful glare at Zoro. The moment he was fully healed, he'd kick that shitty green head of his in. Zoro didn't look phased by Sanji's rage, however. In fact, he didn't even bother to look at Sanji, his focus entirely on Usopp.

"I-is that true?" Usopp asked, looking from Zoro to Sanji. His voice was so small, so quiet. Sanji hated that voice.

"Yeah," Sanji said, letting out a heavy sigh. "But Usopp, that's not your fault."

Usopp didn't reply, but he didn't need to. The guilt was written in his eyes, eyes that fixed on Sanji. It made Sanji's insides turn. He hated that look, too.

"The point," Zoro spoke, breaking Usopp's gaze from Sanji momentarily. "Is that you aren't safe here." He looked from Usopp to Sanji and back. "Either of you."

There was a round of silence before Usopp broke it with a sigh. He looked at Zoro, and his eyes were different. Not the horror struck look of pain he had when he'd looked at Sanji. These eyes were set and determined.

"There are people here I'm willing to risk my life for," he said. His tone was sharp and final.

Zoro stared at him, meeting Usopp's look with one of his own, just as stubborn but with much more experience. Zoro was a man that didn't falter when his mind was set, and he was willing Usopp to back down now. Usopp wasn't having it though, and after a tense couple of moment, Zoro looked away, a deep chuckle rising from his chest.

"Fine, you win," he said, shaking his head as if he almost couldn't believe it. "We'll take your friends."

Usopp blinked, once, twice, and then a blinding smile broke across his face. "Really?"

"Yeah," Zoro chuckled again. "I'll tell Luffy and Robin. Luffy won't say no, and we'll figure something out."

"Thanks, Zoro!" Usopp exclaimed before throwing himself, arms open, at the green haired man. Zoro winced and tried to escape Usopp's crushing hug, but it was a long minute before he was able to free himself.

"Get off!" He griped, pushing the younger man away.

"Usopp," Sanji interrupted their show. "It's almost lights out. You should go."

Usopp looked at him again. For a moment, those eyes were back. The ones Sanji hated. As quickly as they appeared, however, they were gone again.

"What about you?" Usopp asked, frowning curiously.

"I have something to discuss with this shitty piece of moss," Sanji kicked Zoro lightly in the knee as if Usopp needed an indication about who he was talking about. "Just steer clear of Helmeppo and watch your back."

"Sure, you can count on me," Usopp nodded. He looked determined again. It wasn't until that moment that Sanji realized his friend was no longer the little kid that needed protecting. He wasn't sure when it had happened, exactly, but Usopp had grown up and become a man in his own right.

With one last goodbye to Zoro, Usopp left, leaving a silent and tense atmosphere behind him.

Zoro sighed, setting the sword in his lap aside. "Are you going to hit me now?" He asked.

"No," Sanji glared. "I should kick your brains into next week."

"He needed to know," Zoro frowned. "He's not a kid, you should trust him more."

"I know that, you shitty asshole," Sanji snapped. "That's why I said I should kick you, but I'm not going to."

"Oh?" Zoro perked up curiously.

"At least," Sanji continued. "Not for that. However, if you ever," he took a menacing step forward. "Ever," and another, "treat me like I'm a weakling in need of your shitty protecting, I swear to god,"

It took exactly one sharp kick to the stitches in Sanji's leg for Zoro to take him down. One kick to his leg, and Sanji was on one knee, fighting hard not to let out the scream that desperately wanted out to tell the world exactly how much that one kick hurt. It took another hit, a jab of Zoro's booted toes into Sanji's side, to make him helpless. That was all it took, two well placed, not even particularly powerful kicks, and Sanji was sprawled out on the floor of the cave, helpless under Zoro's restraining hold.

"You couldn't even last one round of a fight with me, you really think you're strong enough to fight your own battles?" Zoro spat out viciously. "You'd die before you even got the chance to try and fight back."

Sanji, still dazed from the pain in his leg and side, had one absurd moment to think that Zoro's surprise attack had hardly been a fair fight, before some reason returned to him (along with a lungful of much needed air), and he realized that a fair fight really wasn't the point here. The point was Sanji was injured and pretty useless in his injury, though he didn't really need the painful reminder from Zoro to know that. He knew his injuries made him weak, but knowing it and admitting to it were two different things.

"Why the hell do you even care?!" Sanji snapped, struggling against Zoro's hold. Zoro was smart though and locked Sanji's legs with his while his arms pinned Sanji's. There was no escaping this trap, especially not with Sanji's injuries.

"You're an idiot," Zoro murmured, before closing the distance between them.



Suddenly Zoro's behavior - all of the weird looks, the protective attitude, the weird almost confession from earlier - it all made sense. Sanji felt a little stupid that it took such a direct action for him to realize it, but in his defense, it wasn't like this kind of thing happened to him every day.

Zoro's kiss was short and direct, nothing more than a press of his lips to Sanji's. Sanji was shocked, a little taken aback, and definitely unprepared for it. After a few moments Zoro pulled away from Sanji and gave him a searching look. His gold eyes looked almost vulnerable, and Sanji couldn't get over how surreal this all seemed.

"Bad?" Zoro asked.

"I -, uh," Sanji struggled to get his mouth working properly. "I don't know," he finally managed. "That was my first time."

"Again then," was all the warning Zoro gave before leaning in and kissing him again.

This time Sanji was more prepared for it, or so he thought. He was certainly more prepared to catalogue senses - the softness of Zoro's lips and the way they moved against his own - but he was completely out of his element when it came to reciprocating. Little by little, he steadily picked up on the movement, returning Zoro's kiss with one of his own.

Zoro surprised him when he parted his lips, his tongue flicking at Sanji's lips invitingly. Sanji followed suit, his lips parting, his tongue meeting Zoro's curiously. It wasn't… bad. It was strange, different, but exhilarating. Addicting, Sanji thought, so much, so that when Zoro pulled away for the second time, it was Sanji that pulled him back down for more. He wasn't even sure when Zoro had released his arms, but Sanji had far more important things on his mind at the moment. His fingers laced around Zoro's neck, pulling him down, unwilling to let him go just yet.

Zoro settled his weight more on to Sanji, using just one elbow to keep from crushing him entirely. Heavy, but not oppressively so. It was no longer a hold to restrain him, but a way to create more contact. Zoro's one free hand began to wander, marking a trail from Sanji's hair to his face and down the column of his throat.

Sanji gasped; the gentle, meandering touch was electric, he could feel it shooting sparks through him. Zoro's mouth against his became slightly more aggressive, more demanding, and Sanji fought to learn quickly and catch up. Zoro's hand continued its curious movements down his throat and across his chest, around his side… all the while the electric current in Sanji's chest grew stronger and stronger, leaping as Zoro's fingers trailed down his stomach. He let out a noise, something between a groan and a gasp. It was… This was…

Zoro ripped away from him as if he'd been poked with a hot iron. "Enough," he panted, his words barely understandable around the gasping breaths. "Too much," he added on. "This is too much right now."

Coincidentally, that was exactly what Sanji had been thinking, but all he was capable of at the moment was lying there, gasping for air and absolutely stunned. Had he just kissed a guy? Well, that was certainly not like he'd read about in books. It was weird, or it should have been, but to say he hadn't enjoyed it would be a lie.

He'd enjoyed it very much, actually.

With every deep breath he took, his side ached in protest. He hadn't even noticed it a moment ago, which was strange. The pain came back with a vengeance now though, probably in response to Zoro's less than gentle treatment before.

"It's past your lights out," Zoro said. He'd recovered his breathing and sounded calm and confident as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. When Sanji didn't move, Zoro gave him an irritable scowl. "I'm saying, get up and come to bed already."

Sanji glared back. "With you? No way," he snapped. Like he hadn't just been kissing the guy a moment ago and on the edge of feeling really good.

"Shut up and get in bed, Cook. I know how to keep my hands to myself," Zoro snapped before turning over and lying against the wall, his back to Sanji.

Sanji was half tempted not to move, or to leave, just to spite him, but he had nowhere else to go. He really didn't want to sneak into the barracks so late at night and fall victim to the waking, watchful eyes there; staying with Zoro was just a more logical choice. With a huff of annoyance, he climbed into the blanket bed next to Zoro, settling into sleep. Zoro kept his distance, his back not even brushing against Sanji's as they breathed.

It was cold.

"Just for the record," Sanji said. "You're the one choosing to sleep all the way over there, I didn't kick you over. I don't want to hear you bitch about my hogging the bed tomorrow."

There was a moment of quiet stillness, punctuated only by quiet, steady breathing. Sanji wondered if maybe Zoro had fallen asleep already, but just as he was thinking it, Zoro moved, his body sliding back more fully onto the blankets. His back met flush against Sanji's, and somewhere at the foot of the bed one of his legs tangled into Sanji's.

And that was much warmer.

A/N: Aaand we finally get to the ZoSan part of it. Better late than never, right? I hope it was okay please enjoy and thank you!