Zoro's back hit the mat with an echoing whack! He didn't go down easily in the practiced manner he'd been taught. He didn't have time to think about it; before he'd even realized what had happened, he was staring at the ceiling, and all of the air had been forced from his lungs.
"I thought you said you could fight," Sanji commented cockily.
Zoro glared at him, unable to speak while his body tried to readjust to breathing.
"I said," he finally managed to wheeze out. "I was a swordsman."
"And I told you to use your swords," the blond smirked.
It was true, he had, but Zoro had stubbornly refused. His swords were not silly play things or collectibles that were cheaply made and used for display. They were genuine, authentic, very expensive katana.
Zoro had grown up near a dojo that taught kenjutsu, and made the foolish mistake of challenging the instructor there to a duel. He was fortunate his sensei was a patient man, and that he'd agreed to teach Zoro to fight properly.
Zoro's swords were very real and deadly sharp. Of course he'd refused to use them against Sanji. He'd only brought them to show them off a little, but he never used them even in tournaments. They were too dangerous.
"If you don't use the swords, moss for brains, I'm going to have you down on this mat in another ten seconds," Sanji warned. His cocksure attitude was gone, but the air of confidence remained. Sanji was absolutely sure he could beat Zoro in hand-to-hand (or in this case, hand-to-foot, as Sanji only used his legs and feet), and judging from the way things were going right now, he was probably right.
Zoro sighed, hauling himself up and stepping off the mat, grabbing up his katana.
"Fine, you asked for it."
The final score put them at a tie, with Sanji winning most of their hand-to-hand fights but Zoro winning most of their sword-to-foot fights. He'd nicked Sanji a couple of times, shallow wounds the blond barely batted an eyelash at, but over all their fights had been good. Zoro was truly impressed with the blond's skill.
The sparring match had been Sanji's idea. Ever since Zoro had confessed to being able to fight, Sanji had been sending not so subtle hints to get Zoro to fight with him. Pictures of boxing gloves were first (though neither Sanji nor Zoro boxed, so Zoro was very confused by these) followed by anything Sanji could find that might hint at a fight. Gym mats, the cover of an old Bruce Lee movie, his own bare feet, a picture of him kicking Franky in the ass… he'd even taken a picture of a fight that happened outside of the bar he visited one night.
It wasn't that Zoro didn't want to face off with the blonde, and certainly by the time all these pictures were sent, Zoro was annoyed enough to want to kick his skinny ass, but the timing was never right. Zoro's days off always coincided with big events for the Baratie, and so Zoro was forced to keep putting up with the constant hints until they found the right time to go.
"So did you want to stop by the restaurant for lunch?" Sanji asked, his voice echoing around the locker room. He slipped out of the sweatpants he'd been wearing, and Zoro turned quickly to avoid staring. It was bad enough the cook hadn't bothered with a shirt during their fight, and Zoro thought he could easily pass off a few of Sanji's wins on his own distraction.
"Uh, no," he declined. "I have to get to work pretty soon, I don't want to be late."
The problem with their current sparring session was that, although it was Sanji's day off, Zoro wasn't as lucky. The likelihood of their ever having a day off together to be able to spar was unlikely, and so Zoro had taken Sanji up on his invite. He didn't work until later in the afternoon, which left them with plenty of time to fight, but not much time for anything after.
"Zoro, you don't work for another… " Sanji paused, consulting the watch he'd set in his locker. "Two hours. You have plenty of time for a meal."
Zoro wasn't sure how to argue that. He really did have time, honestly… if he knew how to get to the record shop from here. He'd never been to this particular gym before, it was the blond's regular place, and he wasn't exactly sure how to get anywhere from here.
He didn't want to admit that out loud, though. His poor sense of direction was a weak point, and people tended to get a real laugh out of it. If he confessed that to Sanji, the cook would probably mock him for a solid five minutes before offering to escort him there so Zoro didn't get lost.
It was a level of patronization Zoro just wasn't willing to deal with today.
"Well, Brook told me to come in early, actually. I told him I couldn't, but I'm sure he'd appreciate my being there as early as possible. Something about Johnny getting his by a cyclist or something," he explained, hoping Sanji would buy his excuse.
The blond snorted, and Zoro turned around to see Sanji staring at him skeptically.
"This has to do with that whole 'getting lost thing', doesn't it?" Sanji asked, amusement dancing in his blue eyes.
Zoro set his jaw in a stubborn pout and refused to answer.
"It does, doesn't it?" Sanji laughed out loud, and Zoro hated him a little bit.
"I'm taking a shower," he said, snatching up his towel and turning to stomp back to the showers. He could hear Sanji's feet start to move behind him.
"Oh, did you want me to join you?" The cook asked suggestively.
Zoro spun, ready to put the bastard in his place for making fun of him, but the look on Sanji's face stopped him. He still looked amused, his thin lips curling into a mischievous smile, but then Zoro couldn't be entirely sure he was joking. There was something in his eyes that made his offer genuine, or at least Zoro thought so.
He couldn't be sure though, and he wasn't risking the humiliation that might come from his being wrong.
"Shut up," he grumbled, scowling at the blond man before continuing to the showers. "Don't you have somewhere else to be?"
This time Sanji didn't follow, and Zoro didn't hear him speak either. The blond's silent acceptance made Zoro jumpy, and his shower went twice as quickly as it normally would. He didn't mean for it to, but the silence made every echo seem like an attack, and he half expected the blond to show up naked any moment now.
It wasn't like he didn't want to see Sanji naked. Actually, that thought had been plaguing Zoro's fantasies and even paying him visits to torture him during work hours. No, he very much looked forward to seeing Sanji naked, and that was the problem. He was sure he wouldn't be able to control himself if an opportunity like that presented itself, and he was positive he didn't want that to happen in a public locker room.
After the fastest, most anxiety ridden shower of his entire life, Zoro turned the water off and quickly dried himself. Normally he might linger around in a towel while he got his things in order and then get dressed, but right now clothes seemed like a safe haven. Once he was in them, there was nothing the blond could do to ambush him, or at least that was what Zoro had told himself. He dove into his clothes quickly, and only once he was fully dressed did he take a moment to properly pay attention to his surroundings.
It was silent in the locker room now. If he strained his ears, he could make out the echoing dripping sounds of the last of his shower water rolling down the drain. Aside from that and the noises he made while he repacked his gym bag, the room was silent. The cook had obviously left, unless he was lying in wait somewhere, ready to attack when Zoro dropped his guard.
But no, Zoro found a note neatly placed over his phone so he couldn't miss it, with his name written on the front in stupidly perfect script.
I went on ahead. The offer for lunch still stands, if you think you can get there without getting lost. Don't come if it's too risky, I'd hate to have to file a missing persons report.
I'll message you later.
-Your Love Cook
Zoro snorted at the stupid signature at the bottom and crumpled the note in his hand. He couldn't even take the insult seriously after that. He tossed the note in a nearby waste bin and picked up his phone. He was surprised to see he had a new message from Sanji already, and wondered if the blond had forgotten something. Or maybe the asshole just thought he'd tease Zoro about his sense of direction some more.
Zoro opened the image, already coming up with ways he might be able to get revenge on the blonde for his mocking, but when the image loaded, all rational thoughts fled Zoro's mind, and he was left standing with his jaw hanging open, unable to think coherently.
Sanji was shirtless in the picture as he had been all morning, but his pose was different. His muscles looked tighter as is he was flexing them slightly to show them off in the best possible way, and his pants were riding much, much lower than they had been when he and Zoro were sparring. So low Zoro could see the lines of his groin tapering down and a small line of hair that peaked above the waist band.
Zoro managed to swallow, though his throat felt oddly constricted.
Sanji's face was just as sinful as the rest of the picture, his eyes lidded, the irises a much deeper blue. His lips were parted slightly, and the expression on his face perfectly mirrored the way Zoro was feeling right now.
Shit. He was going to need another shower.
Zoro turned his phone off entirely, but not before saving the picture to his phone. It was the act of a depraved man, but a picture like that was too good to waste. He was short on time now, but later he could definitely use it…
Zoro set his phone down and stripped out of his clothes again. Yes. Shower. Now.
Zoro pressed his forehead against the glass of the counter. His phone was still turned off and hidden deep in his pocket. He hadn't even so much as touched it since he slid it in there, but the image from Sanji's message was ingrained into his brain now, and despite his best efforts he couldn't get it out. He was dying here.
"Zoro," Brook spoke softly, carefully, as if he were afraid speaking too loud would detonate a bomb. "Could you, maybe, not press your head against the counter like that? It leaves marks."
Zoro pulled his head away. Sure enough, on the surface below, there was a smudge in the previously clean glass. Zoro acknowledged it for a moment before pressing his head to the counter once more. It was wonderfully cool and felt magnificent against his slightly flushing skin.
"I'll clean it before I go," Zoro said to his employer.
Brook mad a few noises that might have been the beginnings of protest, but none of them ever fully formed into words, and Zoro ignored them. He knew he was being an ass; Brook was too passive a character to yell at a friend, even if that friend was an employee. Zoro took advantage of that on days like today, but he just couldn't bring himself to care at the moment.
Before Brook could form a full sentence, one that might have made some kind of half-assed demand Zoro would listen to on principle, the bells on the front door jingled. They were extra loud these days, with the addition of several sleigh bells Brook had dug out of storage in honor of Christmas.
Zoro sat up properly, wiping at the stain his head had made on the glass and attempting to look somewhat professional until he could see who it was. Brook straightened as well, giving up whatever he was about to say to Zoro, and fixing their guest with his best salesperson smile.
It was the same man as before; the flamboyantly dressed guy with the sunglasses he never removed and the wicked smile. Zoro could practically feel Brook tense, somewhere beyond his range of vision, and knew that this guest of theirs was unwelcome. Zoro couldn't get over seeing Brook like that the last time, so formal, and he knew this guy was some kind of trouble.
"Welcome to Humming Brooks," Zoro greeted without any enthusiasm or cheer. He was supposed to greet every customer this way, but of course, he very rarely abided by that rule. Most of their customers were used to it and few expected a warm greeting from Zoro. Those that received one were important people indeed.
Zoro did not consider this man important. He considered him an over-stuffed flamingo with too much time and/or money on his hands. He might have acted tough and important, but that didn't mean Zoro had to respect him. Hence why Zoro gave him only the driest, most sarcastic greeting he could conjure.
"Mr. Brook," the overly colorful man greeted, ignoring Zoro entirely. "I trust you have a moment to talk?"
Brook nodded tersely, leading the man back to his office. He asked Zoro to mind the store for him momentarily before snapping the door shut and disappearing from view.
Zoro wondered if 'momentarily' meant 'until closing' again. Not that Zoro minded, it was an especially slow day today, the back room had recently been reorganized and the shelves had undergone their weekly dusting earlier that day. If anything, his only complaint was that it was too boring. With nothing else to do, he took up his post at the counter again, sitting himself on the stool there and resting his head against the glass once more. The previous mark was smudged badly from his attempts to wipe it by hand, and he made a mental note to clean it properly before he left.
For now, he would wait for his day to end. There were still a couple hours left in his shift, and he strongly considered taking a nap on the counter. It wasn't something he did often, but on slow days like today he'd spent at least a little time dozing off there. The only thing stopping him from doing that was the presence of the strange man in pink. Zoro didn't feel safe dropping his guard around that man.
Zoro's thoughts strayed to the phone in his pocket. He could, maybe, turn it back on. Maybe he could talk to Nami for a bit, if she was in a good mood and not busy doing whatever it was she usually did with her free time. That would at least help stave off some of his boredom…
But then, there was that picture. Zoro realized the only time today the stupid blond cook hadn't been at the forefront of his thoughts was when that weird sunglasses guy had come in. Now that Zoro had thought of his phone, the unwanted images came rushing back to him in full force.
Boredom was winning out though, and he caved, pulling his phone from the confines of his pocket. He wasn't going to look at pictures anyway, and he was disciplined enough to keep his mind from wandering in that direction.
He turned his phone on and waited while it displayed the welcome screen and then reconnected his service. He drummed his fingers impatiently on the counter, a little too eager for entertainment. He would even take a conversation with Nami at this point, although those always seemed to end up with him in trouble.
As if on cue, his phone received a backlog of messages he'd missed while it was turned off. He very rarely got texts, most people knew his hatred for technology and called him instead, so to receive this many was strange.
Most were from Nami. He read them over. The first was the request that he stop by the store and pick her up some nail polish remover before he came home. The next few pleaded for him to please, please do this for her. After that, they turned threatening, rude, and Zoro really wondered if she expected him to do her a favor with that attitude. The last message among them said he'd better answer her right now or she would make him pay dearly.
It had been sent over an hour ago.
He sighed heavily, messaging her back to tell her his phone had been off. Hopefully it wasn't too late to avoid whatever kind of revenge she had had in mind.
He had another message as well, from Sanji. He looked at it curiously, deciding whether or not he really wanted to risk opening it. After that message this morning, he was wary. Opening another picture like that was going to drive him nuts.
The blond didn't send things like that often though. Actually, today had been a first and that was probably because he had been teasing Zoro previous to that as well. This message was sent a couple of hours ago, but surely by then the cook had gotten everything out of his system.
Zoro took a deep breath and opened the message.
The general message of this picture, Zoro assumed, was that Sanji's water had either turned off or ran cold on him. That message, however, was completely lost to Zoro's mind at the moment.
Sanji stood in his shower, still dripping wet with suds in his hair that were seeping down the curve of his neck. Droplets of water formed small pools in the space between the blond's muscles, and some ran down, arching over every curve and angle the blond possessed.
The cook held the camera away from him and at a slight angle, exposing even more of himself than he had this morning, and Zoro found himself tipping the phone forward as if doing so would expose the man entirely. He was so close to seeing everything, it was hardly fair.
The only thing that managed to take Zoro's focus off Sanji's body was the pouting expression on the blond's face. He was unhappy about something, and from his current predicament, Zoro could only assume that meant there was a problem with the water. He couldn't bring himself to care though.
Sanji was driving him nuts.
He quickly turned his phone off and pocketed it once more. It had been such a very, very big mistake to turn it back on. He was still hours from being home and safely locked in the confines of his room, where he could take care of just how crazy the blond was driving him.
He sighed and pressed his head against the counter again. His phone wasn't safe anymore. He'd just countdown the minutes instead.
Once again, Brook and the man in pink did not emerge from the office before Zoro finished the last of his closing duties and was ready to leave. Once again he had to peek his head in, not failing to notice the tense atmosphere in the office, and tell Brook he was going home.
Brook replied in a friendly manner, but it lacked half the warmth it might usually have. Zoro wished he could help his employer escape what was obviously an uncomfortable situation, but he'd learned that butting his nose into other people's business usually had a bad outcome. He would just have to hope Brook could handle this on his own or would ask Zoro for help later.
After saying his goodbyes to Brook, he left the shop - locking the door behind him - and headed home. He was very eager to get there as soon as possible, although he was sure Nami was even more livid with him now than she had been before. After finally answering her back, he'd turned his phone off again, probably ignoring several more messages from her. As a peace offering, he did stop by a store and get her that nail polish remover, as well as a cold case of her favorite beer. That should keep her happy.
He pushed through the door of his apartment and was immediately assaulted with a pillow.
"What the hell, Zoro?!" Nami snapped, reaching for another one of their throw pillows to whip at him. Zoro was ready this time, however, and dodged just at the last second, leaving the pillow to hit the wall with an impressively loud whump!.
"Hey!" He shouted.
"Do you know how many messages I sent you?" She stood from the couch and Zoro backed up a step.
"I know," he sighed. "I'm sorry, I—"
"And then! When you finally message me back? I don't hear from you again!" She moved closer with every word, and Zoro swallowed nervously.
"I got you the stuff!" He shouted, hoping she would hear him over her rage. He held the bag out as well. "And your favorite beer too," he held out the case in his other hand. "I am sorry."
Nami paused, looking at the offerings he was holding out. She pulled the nail polish remover from the bag and sighed.
"This isn't even the right brand," she said to him before placing it back in the bag and taking both it and the beer from him. She didn't thank him or say anything more, but Zoro knew that from Nami this was as good as forgiveness.
"Why did you turn your phone off?" She asked, resuming her seat on the couch and cracking on of her beers open.
He was mildly relieved. Nami was a much nicer drunk than she was a person sometimes, and the more she drank the quicker she would forgive him.
However, she had now asked a very awkward question. He didn't really want to explain it to her. She'd probably demand to see the pictures herself and drive him nuts in a completely different way if she knew.
"Uh," he thought quickly to come up with a believable lie. "Yosaku kept sending me all these dumb chain messages. It was getting really annoying."
"So?" She frowned at him. "You're just going to get them when you turn your phone on anyway."
"Yeah, but," he faltered, unsure of how to cover himself. "At work, the vibrating gets really annoying."
"Oh," was all she said in reply, but it seems she bought his lie for now.
Which was good for him, because he was eager to get on with his night and not spend all of his time trying to convince her. The beer seemed to be helping him out, however, and by the time she'd finished the first she seemed pretty over her anger at him. She flipped the TV back on and began channel surfing instead.
It was the perfect opportunity for him to make his escape. "Well," he said. "I had a sparring match before work, so I'm pretty beat right now, I think I'll turn in early."
He was careful not to mention who he had sparred with. Nami seemed particularly invested in his relationship with Sanji, and every time the other was mentioned, she immediately dove on him for details. He never liked answering her questions anyway, and there was no way he felt like answering them tonight.
Fortunately, she seemed distracted by the TV and didn't care what Zoro had just said. That was fine by him, and he used that distraction to make his escape, bidding her a quick goodnight that she returned automatically, and without thought.
Once he was in the safety of his bedroom, he pulled out his phone, turning it back on again. Once again a flood of messages poured through. Mostly from Nami demanding another reply, but one from Sanji as well. He opened Nami's quickly, not even bothering to read them over. He only wanted the unread message icon to go away. When he was finished with hers, he took a deep breath and prepared to open Sanji's.
Given the trend in messages the blond had sent him today, he could only guess what would be inside this one. Surely it would be something just as maddening as the others, but here in the safety and privacy of his bedroom, Zoro was ready to welcome it now.
He laid himself on his bed and clicked open the message, eager to see what would be inside.
There was no picture here. Instead, the message opened with four words that effectively killed all of Zoro's excitement stone dead. Four words that no one liked to hear from the person they were with –
'We need to talk.'
A/N: Sorry to end it in such a horribly bad spot. Kind of.
Thank you all for the wonderful reviews so far. You guys are really great readers :)
I also apologize now for any typos/grammar errors you might find. Tried to catch them all but I'm not perfect by any means.
Also the idea for shower Sanji comes from a fan art Candy-of-Doom made for this fic way, way back when it was still in it's infancy. Finally, seven or eight (or maybe even nine, it was a really long time ago) chapters later, I got to add it in. The link for the fan art will be in my profile if anyone gets interested and wants to see it!
Thank you for reading!