Fandom: One Piece
Rating: PG-13 (for language and violence)
Word count: 9865
Summary: Actions will often say much more than words. This is a series of scenes exploring this theme, taking us from East Blue, to the Grand Line, and into the New World. The story is Zoro/Sanji-centric, though the rest of the crew and one of the most central themes of One Piece, that of nakama, are certainly not ignored. Spoilers through the end of the Enies Lobby arc.
Notes: I am a dork and was inspired to write this by my college's weekly magazine. Therefore, I would like to thank The Reporter for printing such an interesting article on body language (the parts of which that I used to write each scene can be read here, here, here, and here). Also, endless thanks to nickelodeon for the read-through. ♥ Any remaining errors (though I'd hope there would only be a few, if any!) are totally my own fault. Sorry for the rambling author's note! Please enjoy the story!
He'd stepped onto the ship for the first time and Zoro had tried to tell himself that he was fine with it.
He'd been fine with Usopp joining the crew. He'd been a little less than fine with Nami, but that was to be expected given that she was a conniving little wench on the best of days. But overall, he'd been all right with others joining him and Luffy. That was part of Luffy's dream, after all – gathering an able pirate crew, traveling the Grand Line, becoming pirate king.
And the Merry needed a cook. Nami wasn't bad at cooking but she didn't cook like it was her job to do it, and in fact it wasn't. It kills Zoro to admit it, but since he's only admitting it to himself and therefore no one else can hear him, Nami's job was to navigate, and she did a hell of a good job at it.
They need her.
They need Nami and they need Sanji, or at least someone like him. Obviously Luffy wasn't going to be too choosy when it came to picking out a cook. It was clear that arrogant, annoying, flirty blond assholes with weird eyebrows were completely welcome on the crew as far as Luffy was concerned, but that didn't mean that Zoro had to warm up to Sanji automatically.
And he wouldn't.
They'd set sail from Conomi Island just hours before, and now the island appears as little more than a foggy line in the distance. Nami had stared off at it for quite some time before sighing and finally retiring to her quarters, and now Zoro sits with his arms folded relatively comfortably over his still sore chest, hoping for a nap.
The breeze brings the bitter scent of cigarette smoke to his nose, however, and he pops open an eye, already knowing he's not going to like whatever he sees.
He's correct. Sanji has walked over to the railing only a few feet from where Zoro sits, seemingly ignoring him and just staring off into the distance over the blue sea. Calm waves lap up against the Merry's hull, virtually the only sound Zoro can hear, as the cook is remaining silent. He wonders if Sanji's even noticed he's there, and tightens his arms across his body, ignoring the shots of pain as he moves against his wound.
“Guess this means we're off,” Sanji says, and Zoro lets out a stale breath of air – he'd kind of been hoping Sanji hadn't realized he was there after all.
“We've been 'off' for a while, now, cook,” Zoro states. “You just weren't there for the ride until now.”
Sanji shrugs his shoulders and flicks a bit of ash into the sea. “Maybe. But we're off again now, and the crew is whole again, and we've still got dreams ahead of us, right?”
The way Sanji puts it, Zoro has a hard time arguing with it. Maybe the cook really does understand them after all, even after such a relatively short amount of time. He sounds as happy as Zoro feels.
“I guess,” Zoro concedes. Then the corner of his mouth twists slightly. “But I was still here first.”
“Idiot.” Zoro can't see Sanji's eyes roll from where he's sitting, but he knows they must from the way Sanji says that single word.
The clenched muscles of Zoro's arms relax minutely
They remain like that a while longer – Zoro sitting, arms crossed, and Sanji standing, facing the sea. They say nothing more, but the silence is comfortable enough that Zoro feels his eyelids protest over remaining open. Finally, they close, and as he succumbs to sleep, arms still folded, a new dream begins, with plenty of adventure to keep him occupied within it for quite some time.
Time passes, and opinions don't change beyond Zoro perhaps beginning to get accustomed to and spoiled by Sanji's filling, regular, tasty meals. Sometimes he wonders if he would trade Sanji for a less annoying but less talented cook, and he has trouble coming up with a proper answer to that unvoiced question.
The recently reunited Stawhat Pirates have set a course for Loguetown, the last stop before the Grand Line, according to Nami, and the very place the legendary Pirate King was executed. In the moments before sleep claims him, something similar to worry pulls at Zoro's heart, but as the darkness of slumber comes, the worry always leaves. It's a trade-off that Zoro rather appreciates.
A call for dinner wakes him, though he doesn't start. One eye opens, examining his surroundings – the setting sun, the reflections of the sunset on the water, the lifeless deck, and the noises from the galley that scream of life.
“Get in here, marimo! Luffy's about to eat your share!” Sanji calls from the door, only his head and shoulders visible, and then he's gone. The door remains open.
Zoro sighs and revels for a moment in that fleeting post-nap bliss before standing up and joining his nakama for dinner.
“Awww, Zoro! There you are!” Luffy smiles as he takes his seat at the table. “You're late! I was going to eat your meat.”
Luffy eyes Zoro's cut of meat greedily and Zoro elbows him. Hard.
Usopp laughs when Luffy falls out of his chair and both Sanji and Nami scold their captain and first mate for rough-housing at the dinner table – never mind that the cook is a hypocritical bastard and has picked fights with Zoro at the table once or twice himself.
His nakama start on dessert while he stuffs the meat and fried rice down his throat, not having realized that he had been quite this hungry until the food at been placed down in front of him.
“Nami-swaaaan, would you like whipped cream, chocolate fudge, and white chocolate chips on your pie~?” Zoro ignores the hearts that he can see in Sanji's eyes, disgusted. Those toppings do sound good, though.
“If she doesn't,” Zoro says promptly, “I do.”
“Too bad, I don't have enough for idiots like you. I only have enough for Nami-san,” the cook says coldly. He places a piece of pie that looks like a work of art in front of Nami, who smirks at a disgruntled Zoro, an envious Luffy, and a disappointed Usopp.
“Thank you, Sanji-kun,” she says in that fake, sickly sweet voice that for some reason seems to make Sanji the happiest that Zoro has ever seen him.
A piece of naked chocolate cream pie isn't set in front of him, but carefully dropped there, and Zoro scowls, turning to Sanji.
Sanji stands towards the head of the table, holding the knife that he had presumably used to cut the pie in one hand and undoing the button on the cuff of his shirt sleeve with the other. Slowly, he rolls it up, raising his elbow to do so, then flips the knife in one graceful movement to the other hand and does the same with his other sleeve. When he looks to Zoro, his gaze is hard, unfaltering, but so is Zoro's. Zoro's left hand rests over Wadou's scabbard, the muscles in both his arms pulsing and aching for some action.
“Don't even ask, shithead. There's no more,” Sanji says finally.
“Bullshit! That's unfair to us guys, crap cook!”
“No, that's proper treatment for the lovely lady forced to deal with your crap all day, every day.”
Zoro feels the eyes of his crewmates following each of them as they speak – back and forth like a tennis match. It might have been comical if he wasn't feeling so argumentative at the moment.
“My crap? What about your crap? She's got to deal with your fawning flirting shit and your perverted dart-board eyebrow every time she's in the same room as you! Are you trying to make up for your being a love-sick pervert by giving her extra whipped cream and chocolate or something?”
Zoro's pretty proud of himself for that, and is tempted to smirk, but his danger sense kicks in and before he knows it a knife is flying his way.
A normal person wouldn't have been able to see the knife, but Roronoa Zoro isn't a normal person by any means. Not only does he see the knife – a twisting, twirling silver projectile still covered in chocolate cream and pie crust crumbs – but he can also tell that it isn't going to hit him.
He doesn't move.
A millionth of a second later, the knife embeds itself in the wall several feet behind Zoro and the rest of the crew realizes what has happened.
“SANJI!” Usopp yells. “What are you doing to Merry?!”
Luffy looks between Zoro and Sanji with what passes for a thoughtful expression on his face, then smiles, rolling his head back on his shoulders, and laughs, calling them idiots.
Nami yells along with Usopp and attempts to pry the knife from the wood of the galley wall.
Zoro stands still and ignores all of this. His eyes focus on Sanji's slim arms and hands. They aren't shaking, and when Zoro's gaze moves up to linger on the cook's face, his expression seems completely in control. His dark gaze is solid and unmoving, unrelenting.
Sanji raises an eyebrow and slides his now empty hands into his pockets – the thin, pale arms standing starkly against the black of his trousers and the dark blue of his dress shirt.
Zoro grins, well aware that he probably doesn't look entirely sane at the moment. Sanji had meant to miss. If Sanji had wanted it to, that knife could have embedded itself in his skull instead of the wall. Zoro had assessed the risk in time and hadn't moved, but what if that knife had been thrown in all seriousness? Would his body have been able to move in time?
The challenge is there in Sanji's eyes.
Zoro decides that he will rise to it, but not in the form of an outright fight. He sits back down, takes his fork, and steals some of Nami's whipped cream from her pie. The cook's face reddens and Zoro wonders if he's won.
About thirty minutes later, the knife finally comes out of the wall.
“You did not,” argues Sanji. His voice is short, and he stands at the stove, flipping the contents of a skillet with a few constant flicks of his right arm. He isn't looking at Zoro.
“I did,” Zoro confirms, his mouth full of the toast Sanji had made for him after he'd claimed he was too hungry to wait for a proper breakfast. He finishes chewing and adds, “And it was easy, too.”
Zoro thinks he can sense Sanji's body tighten slightly at that and his lips curl into a smirk. “Bet you couldn't have done it,” he says, secretly hoping to get a rise out of the cook.
Sanji expertly flips the blueberry pancake from the skillet onto a plate, slathers it in butter and syrup, and holds it out to Zoro. “Eat. And shut the hell up.”
“You're not even going to respond to that?” Zoro prods. He cuts the pancake with his fork, ignoring the provided knife. It's easier this way.
“No, I'm not, because I still think you're full of shit.”
Zoro takes a large bite of pancake and grins. “I'm not. Ask the Princess.”
“She's sleeping! And very shaken up!” Sanji says, raising his voice. Zoro sees his eyebrow twitch. “As if I could bother her with such a stupid question!”
“Fine. Then ask Nami.” Zoro's stuffing his face by now and thoroughly enjoying this entire argument.
“I–” Sanji's voice falters, his mouth slackens, and he's pointing at nothing in particular with his right hand. Whatever he'd been about to say, whatever protest he'd had, is gone before he had the chance to voice it. Now he just stands there, looking not unlike a fish, slack jaw and all.
Zoro can't help it. He laughs.
Several moments pass, and only after the worst of Zoro's chuckles are completely contained does Sanji speak again. In that time, he had managed to take out and light a cigarette.
“So maybe you beat one hundred elite bounty hunters while the rest of us had passed out from drinking too much.” He's clenching his jaw so hard that Zoro wonders how it is he can speak at all and why he hasn't bitten straight through the cigarette.
“There was no 'maybe' about it, cook,” Zoro says. And then, “Get me a glass of milk.”
He feels the kick coming and blocks it with the scabbard of one of his swords, no doubt saving himself from being forced into doing a faceplant into his breakfast.
“Get it yourself!” Sanji yells, fists clenched.
Zoro just smirks. “Heh. But getting us food and drinks is all you're good for, isn't it? I didn't see you saving the day back on Whiskey Peak.”
When Zoro looks up, Sanji seems to be slouching into himself slightly. He isn't looking at Zoro, but Zoro can tell that he's angry. Angry and probably disappointed, too.
Probably at himself, Zoro realizes suddenly. He opens his mouth to say something, then, but Sanji beats him to it.
“You will next time.”
The answer pleases Zoro, and he gets up to pour his own glass of milk, lips curved into something not quite a smile, but close enough.
“It's pretty obvious you are, idiot. What the hell happened back there?”
Sanji is annoying. He should just let it be. Zoro had stitched up his legs just fine, he was going to be fine, and so what if he's still limping a little?
Zoro shrugs. “Nothing much.”
“Hm.” Sanji gives one of Zoro's legs a tap with his foot, just above Zoro's ankle, and...
“Shit!” he yells, unable to help himself. His carefully concealed emotions and what little control he had over the pain are abruptly torn apart.
To his shame he falls to the deck and lands on his ass. Sanji stands over him, seemingly unaffected by the sight of a vulnerable Zoro sitting right in front of him. Zoro takes a few breaths, regaining that control that had been so easily lost before, erasing any signs of pain and worry from his face.
Sanji speaks. “I refuse to believe that 'nothing much' did that to Roronoa Zoro.”
Something in his voice makes Zoro look up. Was he worried about him? It had almost sounded like it, but Sanji's face is blank as Zoro's.
Sanji can worry all he wants if that's what he's doing. As far as Zoro is concerned, what he'd done had been necessary. It had been his choice, and the only choice at the time. Sanji hadn't been there. He wouldn't understand. He'd probably call Zoro an idiot, and Zoro doesn't need that from him right now. Or ever.
“Believe what you like,” says Zoro as he gets up, showing no signs of the pain he's in or his frustration toward Sanji.
He heads below deck to clean his wounds again and Sanji doesn't follow.
The crew is about a day from Alabasta, and Zoro would have realized this even without Nami informing him of it. But still, he feels as if he should ask after waking from a nap and finding himself in the midst of a heavy, stifling warmth, “Are we almost there?”
Nami, sitting on a lawn chair on deck and examining the maps she'd drafted on their journey thus far, replies with what Zoro already suspected, “Mm-hmm. We've entered Alabasta's climate zone. About a day's steady sailing left, I think.”
Zoro nods before getting up and heading to the galley for a drink. He'd heard somewhere that people need plenty of fluids in desert climates, and sake was a fluid, right?
The cook isn't in the galley, which Zoro finds odd but not entirely unwelcome. That just means that he can steal whichever booze bottle he wants, and he does – he takes the bottle of relatively expensive sake that he knows Sanji wouldn't have let him have had he been in the galley. Zoro figures that's the cook's problem, though, for not being where he should be, and toasts to this thought, bringing the bottle to his lips and gulping the sake down in a way that Sanji most definitely wouldn't approve of.
Zoro kind of feels like he's committing sacrilege, and likes it. He grins to himself and turns to leave, only to literally bump into the cook.
Zoro is carrying the bottle of sake in front of his chest, and it's now sandwiched between his and Sanji's bodies. There's no way he's going to be able to hide it, but even so, he automatically tries to hide the label so Sanji won't see exactly which bottle Zoro had stolen.
“What is that.” The words out of Sanji's mouth don't form a question, they form a statement that promises immediate bloodshed unless he receives an answer that is not the answer he thinks it is.
He knows. Shit.
“Nothing?” Zoro feels his face growing warmer. Damn the Alabasta climate!
“That isn't nothing. You dumbshit, is that the aged sake from North Blue I've been saving for months now?!” Sanji's voice is getting increasingly loud, his expression increasingly violent, and his face is turning an angry shade of red.
It's really getting hot in here, Zoro thinks.
“Oh,” says Zoro, trying out the stupid act. He looks at the bottle quizzically. He's been told several times that he's pretty damn good at the stupid act. “Is that what this is?”
He takes a confused look at the label on the bottle, shrugs, and downs a large gulp of it. “Oops.”
The kick to the head is expected, and Zoro dodges it. The kick to his shin is slightly less expected, but Zoro manages to dodge that, as well. It becomes a game – Sanji is the cat, and in this case, Zoro is the mouse holding the expensive bottle of foreign sake. Zoro decides to play to his strength, which in this case is...
“Dammit!” Sanji's foot decelerates to a stop barely an inch from the sake bottle Zoro is now using to defend himself.
Zoro smirks, though his face is still warm. Probably from the fight, this time. “Cut the bullshit, cook, and I'll share.”
“That's fighting dirty,” Sanji growls, though he lowers the leg he was about to use to kick Zoro straight in the stomach. “You might as well have used Nami-san or Vivi-chan as a shield, you asshole.”
Zoro lets out a short breath of amusement and downs another gulp of the sake. “This shit's loads better than any woman, cook.”
Sanji's face is still a blotchy red from the anger and the heat. “Give me that,” he replies, no longer quite as angry.
Zoro obliges, watching as Sanji takes the bottle and gulps the fine sake down as if it's the cheapest tavern ale. Zoro's eyes widen. It's really freaking hot in the galley today.
Sanji lowers the bottle, then takes a deep breath and wipes his mouth on the sleeve of his jacket, which he abruptly starts unbuttoning.
“It's hot,” Sanji explains, handing the bottle back to Zoro.
Zoro nods. He can feel the sweat trickling down his back. “Mm.”
The North Blue sake is gone within thirty minutes and by that time, the hot, angry blush on Sanji's face has been replaced with a blush of a different kind. Zoro always imagined the cook as a lightweight, and this just proves it.
“Your face is red,” he informs Sanji.
Sanji turns his head toward Zoro, an action that takes considerably longer than it would have had Sanji not been tipsy. Dark eyes stare at Zoro for a moment before Sanji's lips turn into a teasing smile. “So's yours.”
“It's hot,” Zoro says automatically.
The teasing smile is still there. “Maybe.”
Sanji gets up from the table, then, and Zoro can see that he's trying hard not to sway on his way toward the sink. His eyes focus on Sanji's long legs, then travel up to his face, and he raises an eyebrow when he sees Sanji looking back at him.
“Scratch that 'maybe'. Definitely,” Sanji says. He pulls out a cigarette and lights it, the teasing smile having morphed into a shit-eating grin.
Zoro doesn't like that. He feels suddenly petulant. “Great. Now that we've established that, make us all some cold lemonade, cook!”
Sanji laughs, but Zoro doesn't get the joke. They put some weird shit into the sake up in North Blue, he figures.
The Strawhat Pirates are heroes of an entire country by the time they sail from Alabasta, and despite how often Zoro suppresses his more useless emotions, he can't help but feel a little pride at the idea. His goal had always been to be the best swordsman, but that didn't mean that he'd never dreamed of saving countries and fighting bad guys as a kid, either. He thinks that the two dreams kind of go hand in hand, and the poetry of it all tickles something deep inside him, possibly something close to his heart.
Zoro is sitting on the deck, carefully polishing Wadou Ichimonji with caressing sweeps of a polish-damp cloth, when he feels rather than hears footsteps coming toward him on the deck. He doesn't look up, only asks, “Lunch ready yet?”
The footsteps stop, and Zoro can see from the corner of his eye black slacks and black leather shoes. The sea breeze brings the smell of tobacco to his nostrils – something else that annoys him about the cook, but in all honesty he's gotten quite used to it by now.
“Not quite,” says Sanji nonchalantly.
“Then why are you out here?” asks Zoro, annoyed. “Move out of the way – you're blocking the sunlight. I'm busy here.”
Sanji doesn't move, at least not right away. This also annoys Zoro. It's almost as if the stupid cook has to spend an excessive amount of time thinking about whether or not he feels like doing what Zoro had said. Zoro isn't about to add a “please”, knowing it would give anyone in the vicinity a heart attack if he did, so that only leaves arguing about it.
The two of them are good at that.
“Oi,” says Zoro, but as he looks up he sees Sanji staring thoughtfully at his sword, of all things. Sanji notices Zoro's eyes on him and breathes a stream of smoke from his nose in a sigh. Then, before Zoro can say anything more, Sanji crouches down, still standing but resting his arms on his bent knees.
“Hey,” Sanji says, voice lowered, “who was she? What was her name?”
Zoro blinks. Does Sanji have a couple bolts lose in the freaking attic? “What?” he asks.
Sanji sighs again, then grabs the cigarette from his lips and returns the slightly less empty hand to its position over his knees. His lean wrists are facing up and toward Zoro, and the cigarette moves slightly with each word Sanji speaks. “That sword, it belonged to a girl, didn't it? Who?”
This... Zoro is not comfortable with the direction this conversation is taking. He feels his nerves fire once, twice, from the shock. “How the hell did you know?” Zoro narrows his eyes, though he thinks regretfully that the power of his anger is greatly being overpowered by the power of his uncertainty.
Sanji shrugs and avoids Zoro's eyes, which is probably a good thing right now, Zoro thinks. “Intuitive guess.” Sanji lets out a small breath of amusement. “Plus I heard you talking in your sleep once.”
“I don't talk in my–”
“Yes you do. And don't change the subject, asshole,” Sanji says, a bit of the usual venom finding its way back into his voice, then. “I'm curious. You're not afraid to tell me, right?”
He just had to word it like that, Zoro thinks scornfully. As if Roronoa Zoro was afraid of anything.
Zoro grunts, and his eyes are unblinking again when he finds Sanji's. He tells him about her, about everything, and Sanji actually listens without interrupting, a wistful sort of look on his face.
“You love her,” Sanji says when Zoro falls quiet, the story told.
Zoro wants to protest. He blinks, and the words are right on the tip of his tongue, but Sanji decides to continue, and Zoro decides to listen.
“I know, I know. You were a kid, right? You can't really know what love is at that age. There was a rivalry, there, yeah, but with that promise came mutual respect, and when she passed away, part of you died, didn't it?”
Zoro can't find the words anymore. He notices that Sanji's cigarette has burned down to the filter. He avoids Sanji's perceptive gaze and blinks off into nowhere.
“Part of you died and was reborn into the promise and your goal. That's probably as close as you've ever been to loving someone, and don't say I'm full of shit.”
Zoro does anyway. “You're full of shit.”
Sanji doesn't understand. He was just fulfilling a promise he'd made to a friend. That was all.
“You're living the life she couldn't live, you realize that, right?” Sanji's voice is soft, though hardly coddling. He stands up and throws the burnt-out cigarette overboard. “Thanks for telling me.”
He's gone as quickly as he'd came, and Zoro drops the cloth he'd been using to polish Kuina's sword, using the free hand to reach for its scabbard. The sword glides in with a clink, and Zoro places it on his lap, holding the scabbard with two hands and staring upward at the sky. Eventually, he closes his eyes and mutters a tired, “You're welcome.”
The Stawhat Pirates are at the edge of their seats. This isn't a metaphor, and Zoro would know – Sanji is sitting beside him and his entire body has been leaning forward more and more, bit by bit, since Luffy started his fight with that Foxy guy. The others have all adopted similar postures, some less obvious than others.
But Zoro feels relatively relaxed.
“Calm down,” he grunts in Sanji and Nami's direction.
A sharp hit to the head and he's leaning away from Nami and her fists of pain. “Don't tell us to calm down! This is it, Zoro! This is it. Our last chance to get our nakama back!”
“What Nami-san said, idiot marimo,” Sanji says sharply between biting at his lower lip. His gaze is glued to the ship in front of them.
An explosion sounds from the ship, followed by at least ten more. Nami jumps a little each time, and Sanji cringes. Zoro moves his head a little closer, trying to discern any other tell-tale noises through the thick gray smoke.
Nothing, not yet.
He sighs and leans back again, disinterested. Why won't Luffy just get it over with, already?
“He's got the afro. Nothing can take him down, ahahaha!” laughs Usopp, but every word is strained and the laughter is forced.
They all trust Luffy, there's no doubt about that. What kind of crew would they be if they didn't trust their captain? A crappy one, Zoro thinks. It's obvious that they trust Luffy, it's that Fox-idiot that they don't trust so much. But even with that, Zoro trusts Luffy more than he distrusts Foxy, and he's pretty sure the math for that adds up to be positive.
He nods, crosses his arms, closes his eyes, and waits.
...and opens his eyes abruptly, leaning in to see what's going on when he hears Luffy scream.
The others do the same, like clockwork. Zoro is the first to lean back again, though, slightly flustered for getting so worried. Luffy stands back up. It's fine.
And so it goes, every time Luffy falls. When their captain gets a hit in, Zoro allows himself to smile, but other than that, he sits passively, sometimes with his arms crossed, or his eyes closed, or both.
He pays some extra attention to Sanji during that time, not quite knowing why. They're all moving the same – even Robin's control falters when Luffy hits the deck – and yet it's Sanji whom he pays attention to.
Their own fight had been no joyride, and Sanji still bears the marks of a fight won the hard way. Sanji's visible eye is bruised purple around the edges, yet despite the bruising it is widened, staring hard at the battle in front of them. There are scrapes and more bruises along his arms and hands, which hang to his sides, fists clenching and unclenching with each blow from the battle. His back forms a steep angle from where he sits, and his legs seem to be shaking the very slightest amount, as if he's itching to go in there to help Luffy, yet here in the stands he remains, occasionally calling out words of encouragement along with Usopp, Nami, and Chopper.
Zoro shakes his head slightly, gaze returning almost regretfully to the battle. His heart seems to stop for a millisecond when he hears, “Strawhat is down!” but reality soon assuages his fears as a shard of glass falls from Luffy's boxing glove.
He smiles, and when he leans forward, his shoulder brushes Sanji's. Neither of them comment on the touch – they're too busy cheering Foxy's splash into the sea and locking eyes with their exhausted but victorious captain to care.
It's hundreds, maybe thousands, against their small group, and it's only getting worse, even as Zoro cuts them down. Zoro can hear the sound of flesh being beaten by rock-hard, powerful legs not far off, and he moves in Sanji's direction, thinking that at the most two is better than one, and at the least, he can bug the cook a little and piss him off enough to get him to use a little more of that deadly force that Zoro knows he possesses.
Zoro doesn't know how Sanji can manage to look so damn powerful during a fight. He's drawn up higher, head almost leaning back, arms resting in his pockets but splayed out slightly, and yet that isn't it – that isn't what makes Sanji looks so large on a battlefield. If it were just that, the cook would look less like a lean killing machine and more like a skinny young kid trying to fit into shoes too big to be his size.
It's in the way Sanji carries himself when he fights – confident, looming, maybe just a little scary. Zoro almost wishes that he could fight Sanji when he's like this, but knows it will never happen because they're nakama, and neither of them are as stupid as Usopp.
There's a pang in his chest at that thought, so he slices up a marine to compensate for it.
“Oi, Pirate A,” says Zoro, grinning as he looks at Sanji from over his shoulder. Somehow they've gotten themselves surrounded by marines, and they stand back to back, almost touching.
“Screw you,” comes Sanji's whispered reply, but Zoro can tell he's gotten the message – otherwise a brawl between them would have ensued.
Zoro takes a step to his left, and Sanji follows. Another step, this time in sync. Soon, they're circling together in a deadly dance of limbs and blades, while the marines look on, the dumber ones confused and the smarter ones having the foresight to run away.
Zoro and Sanji each fan out from the center where they had circled, taking down dozens of marines each second before any of them have an idea that the two pirates are there. The effect is disastrous, the results immediate, and Zoro grins in a manner that he imagines must seem quite feral. Bodies surround him on all sides – so many that the cobblestone of the street is only barely visible in some places. A quick look over his shoulder tells him that the same is true over at Sanji's end.
“That wasn't bad,” Zoro says, smirking and sheathing his swords. Any conscious marines have long since run away – there is little danger anymore. He stands tall and confident, walking on the stomachs, backs, legs, arms, and heads of several marines in order to reach Sanji, who is doing the same.
Sanji seems bigger than he is, then, as much so after a fight as before and during it. Zoro marvels at this for only a second before Sanji speaks.
“It's a good move,” agrees the cook, who takes the cigarette from his mouth and flicks the ash onto some poor bastard's bruised and bloodied face. “It needs a name.”
Zoro doesn't even hesitate. “Broad side surprise.”
“Sounds like a shitty casserole,” retorts Sanji, but the curve of his lips indicates that he's accepting of the name – and why wouldn't he be? Half his moves are named after food, anyway.
“Broad side surprise it is, then,” states Zoro. “But I get to say it.”
The glare and the kick to the ass are far from unexpected, but both are mild so he doesn't try to dodge them.
“We both say it,” says Sanji.
Zoro shrugs. He can deal with that.
.hand behind head.
When they have Robin back, Sanji is all over her like blue on the sea. This should be business as usual, and always had been before they'd reached Water 7, but to Zoro, something feels off about it.
It's not as if he isn't glad Robin's back – he is. She's nakama, they saved her, end of story. Zoro has a feeling that it isn't something wrong on his end, but something on Sanji's.
The doting seems slightly forced, like Sanji is afraid that if he slips up, the careful, wonderful balance of things between their crew will shatter once again. Zoro wonders if Sanji even realizes what he's doing and hopes he doesn't – walking on eggshells like that is a damned cowardly thing to choose to do.
So he corners Sanji on his way back from serving Robin and Nami fruit smoothies in the kitchen of the Galley-La building they're temporarily calling home.
Sanji places the tray he'd been carrying the drinks with onto the kitchen counter, then turns around to face Zoro.
“Don't tell me you want something else to eat, idiot,” he says, unamused. “I just fed you less than an hour ago.”
Zoro crosses his arms and sneers. “Don't worry, that's not what I'm here for.”
“Well you're not here for some riveting conversation, so what's the deal?” Sanji lights a fresh cigarette with one swift, unified motion of his hands.
Zoro cuts to the chase. Things are usually easier that way. “You're acting weird.”
Sanji rolls his eyes. “Wow, when am I not acting weird, according to you?”
“Unusual, then,” Zoro growls. “You know what I mean. Usually when you look at the girls, you're beaming like an idiot, but now, especially with Robin–”
The cigarette in Sanji's mouth goes slack and one hand that had been resting in his pants pocket is raised to his neck. He rubs it slightly, scratching an itch that probably isn't even there. He appears strangely withdrawn.
Zoro doesn't like it.
“See?! Unusual!” Zoro points at Sanji. He doesn't know what else to do.
“Shut up, marimo.”
Zoro shuts up, if only for a few seconds. In that time, Sanji lowers his arm, but he refuses to look Zoro in the eye.
Zoro sighs. Part of him hates doing this, but it's necessary to tell it like it fucking is sometimes, especially when no one else has the guts to say it. Often, Luffy does the honors in his own special Luffy way, but their captain is still sleeping off his fight with Lucci.
He takes a deep breath and lids his eyes slightly.
“Stop dwelling on what could have happened and move on, cook.”
Sanji's head jerks abruptly in Zoro's direction. “What did you say?”
“So you lost. You won, too. You were probably a big part of the reason we were able to leave Enies Lobby at all. Robin doesn't blame you for anything. She doesn't blame any of us. She'd be dead if we hadn't come, and she doesn't want to die anymore. She's alive. Got it, cook? She's alive and fine and if you'd open your eyes or maybe move that stupid hair from your one eye so you can see–”
“Hey!” comes the expected protest. Zoro ignores it.
“If you could see at all, you'd see that she's twice as happy, twice as relaxed! And you're ruining it by being the opposite of the gentleman you claim to be. You aren't trusting her.”
“What the hell are you talking about? I trust her! I'd trust her with my life!” Sanji snarls.
Zoro's eyes narrow. “Yeah, but do you trust her with hers?”
Zoro sees Sanji clench his jaw and raise a hand to his neck. The hand ghosts over the blond hair at the back of his neck before swiftly falling to his side again. He turns around, faces out the window, and presumably stares at nothing.
“Of course I do,” comes the soft reply. “That isn't the problem.”
Zoro uncrosses his arms and walks over to where Sanji is standing. The smoke from his cigarette makes Zoro's eyes sting slightly. “Yeah, right. What is, then?”
Zoro can see a hint of the iris of Sanji's left eye, staring at him from the beneath a wall of sheen hair. His heartbeat inexplicably picks up – he doesn't think he's ever seen that eye before, had never really cared to. Now, however, he finds himself copying Sanji's motion from earlier – a quick rise of one hand to rub at the back of his neck – but he doesn't break that tenuous eye contact.
They're quiet for several minutes. Zoro can hear Luffy's snores from the adjacent room and half wishes he too were asleep, but he recognizes that something is happening here, even if he doesn't understand it entirely.
“What would you say if I said I liked you,” Sanji says bluntly. The hint of his eye that had been visible is gone in an instant.
Zoro chokes on his breath. “What would I say? I'd say you've lost your fucking mind!”
“I know that's what you'd say. But what would you think?”
The question stumps him, and the hand at his neck stays there. Zoro growls in frustration. What would he think? He'd think the cook was out of his fucking mind! What else was there to think?!
“Because,” Sanji continues, “if you said that to me, I'd tell you that you were absolutely mentally incompetent.”
A pause. A twisting of the body and head so that they're face to face, eye to eye, but still, Zoro can't see both eyes no matter how hard he tries. His hand at his neck twitches – he wants to brush the stupid hair from the cook's stupid eye. He can't. He won't.
Sanji removes the cigarette from his lips, and then there's a whisper from a mouth situated barely an inch from Zoro's chin, speaking in waves of bitter-smelling smoke:
“And then I'd probably do this.”
This is a touch of lips to lips, of exhaled breath and smoke, of hands to haramaki, of nose to nose. This is soft, where Zoro would have expected hard. This isn't the violent reaction Zoro had expected.
This is a kiss, and something within Zoro coils and unwinds at the same time, creating one big tangled knot where his heart had been.
Zoro thinks he might possibly enjoy this, and because Roronoa Zoro is well-known as a fearless, foolish, arrogant, unforgiving bastard of a pirate, he doesn't allow Sanji to pull away. When he tries, Zoro places one hand to Sanji's waist and the other to his face beneath the long curtain of hair that covers the left side of Sanji's face.
“Yeah. You know,” he says, voice low and predatory, the knot in his heart pulsing strangely, “I think I might actually do this.” He licks Sanji's lower lip, tasting tobacco and moist skin, and watches with amusement at the way Sanji's eye flutters at that motion.
Except then Sanji pushes him away.
“Good. Fine. That's...” Sanji seems to have lost the ability to string together sentences, and that amuses Zoro so much that he forgets about the fact that he'd just been shut down.
“That was it?” Zoro provides. His smile reaches his eyes, something that he knows is quite rare.
“Uh. Yeah,” says Sanji. He licks his lips and raises a hand to the cheek Zoro had been touching, and Zoro's smile morphs into a smirk.
“Tch. See, nothing to worry about, didn't I tell you?”
Sanji shakes his head, not meeting Zoro's eyes and seeming to favor the hardwood kitchen floor to Zoro's face, staring. “There's plenty to worry about.”
“Except I just said there wasn't, and that means there isn't.” Zoro argues, starting to get frustrated.
Sanji sighs. “Hm, whatever,” he says, voice seemingly tired, unargumentative.
Maybe this is one of those things that frank, honest truth won't cure. Zoro doesn't claim to understand everything Sanji thinks or does, but even for him, this is strange.
Even so, Zoro decides to try just one more time. “You said fine a minute ago, I say fine right now... I'm going out on a limb here, cook, but I'm pretty sure that means things are fine. Got it?”
Sanji looks up, rubs at his neck, and says after a moment, “Nothing's going to change.”
“Nothing's going to change,” Zoro agrees. He'd thought that was a given, except... “Except I'll probably want to–” Zoro grabs Sanji's tie and presses their lips together, “–do more of that and this.” He finishes the motion with yet another lick, taking pride in the way Sanji gasps.
Before Zoro unhands Sanji's tie, he pulls the other man toward him and leans his head against Sanji's so that his blond hair tickles Zoro's cheek. Into his ear, he mutters, “Got it?”
A bruising kick to the shin proves that yes, Sanji gets it.
A new ship, a new nakama, a new journey, and something new and yet not entirely unfamiliar developing between Zoro and Sanji. It's been a couple weeks, though, and even with all these new things, it's all starting to become routine.
Zoro's eyes furrow in his sleep as he inhales deeply and barely registers the feeling of long strands of hair tickling his nose or the scent of smoke and shampoo. His arm is falling asleep because Sanji is laying on it, and Zoro gives it a half-hearted, half-awake tug before giving up completely and resigning himself to his fate and to sleep.
Zoro wakes again gradually, after what feels like only a few moments but must have been several hours if the sunlight leaking into the men's quarters is anything to go by. It takes a minute or two for him to open his eyes, though, and even longer for the feeling of long, warm fingers tracing his torso from beneath his shirt to saunter into his consciousness.
Zoro rolls his head to the side and stares Sanji down with a straight-faced, unamused look. One corner of Sanji's mouth twists up teasingly and the hand grows more ambitious, brushing fingers across the muscles of his stomach. Zoro doesn't so much as flinch.
“What the hell,” Zoro murmurs, grunting afterwards and wishing he were still asleep.
Sanji shifts a little in the hammock, and Zoro imagines that it might have been a shrug. Zoro isn't surprised that Sanji has no idea what he's doing or why – it's the same for virtually everything else they do together, from fighting to making out, and probably always has been. He likes that he doesn't have to actually think that often around Sanji. Zoro understands that Sanji's a bastard – a weird one, sometimes, but a bastard is a bastard in Zoro's eyes. He also understands by now that there's a large part of him that's come to rely on Sanji and everything that Sanji is, including but not limited to being a bastard, a cook, good in a fight, and the only guy Zoro wouldn't be caught dead snuggling with (he hates that word).
Maybe some or all of that is fucked up, but Zoro's used to being fucked up, so he honestly doesn't care and doesn't question it.
“Thanks for sharing your hammock,” says Sanji, his voice low. “It was all right.”
“Just all right?” Zoro can't help being a little disappointed at that. He'd thought it was a little more than all right, and he was the one who'd had to deal with a bony little bastard cutting off the circulation in his arm all night.
The crooked smile on Sanji's face and the way he leans back, relaxed and satisfied, into the hammock and into Zoro indicate that maybe he thought it was more than all right too.
“If you want to prelude your sleep-over with sex next time, just tell the rest of us ahead of time and we'll let you two lovebirds be,” comes a mocking voice from behind.
They react simultaneously, and unfortunately this results in a whole lot of yelling, tangled limbs, and a unified PLOMP as they both fall from the hammock to the floor. And then, of course, there's laughter – not only from Franky but from Usopp, Luffy, and Chopper as well.
Zoro is seeing red and reaches instinctively for swords that are not yet attached to his hip. “What the hell?!” he yells, and is somewhat surprised when Sanji's voice joins his own.
“Married~” Usopp chirps, sending Chopper and Luffy into uncontrolled giggles before following suit himself.
“SHUT UP!” scream two voices.
Zoro looks at Sanji.
Sanji looks at Zoro.
“You shut up!”
They're now ordering each other, to no effect.
“Married married married~! Married married married~!” the others are making a song out of it, and Zoro knows his face is now probably as red as Sanji's.
“What on earth is going on down there?” comes Nami's voice, and with it Zoro wonders if letting the rest of the crew on to what was happening between himself and Sanji was really such a great idea after all.
“Nami-swaaaan, don't come down!! It's terrible! It's horrible!” Sanji yells, sounding desperate and waving his hands.
“Eh? What are you talking about, Sanji-kun? The others didn't catch you and Zoro in the act, did they?”
The noise that comes from Zoro's own throat at that question is matched by the noise coming from Sanji's.
“Sanji! Zoro! Are you guys choking?!” Chopper screeches. “Quick! Someone call a–”
“That's you!” they tell the reindeer, and by that point Zoro thinks that this talking in unison thing is getting more than a little ridiculous.
Another chorus of “Married married married~!” sounds.
Zoro groans and Sanji moans.
“I could really use a cigarette right about now,” mutters Sanji, who leans back onto the floor, defeated.
“And I could really use a sword.”
“Tch. Your swords are three feet away.” Sanji points to where they sit, propped up against the couch.
Zoro's eyes widen slightly as he follows Sanji's gesture. A moment passes, along with another chorus of that stupid, annoying song. “Oh.”
“...I don't feel like getting up.”
Zoro shrugs and closes his eyes, feeling Sanji's deft fingers tickle down his arm and down to his hand. It's only then that Zoro laughs and grabs Sanji's hand, not caring that this will incite at least two dozen more rounds of the Married Song.
It's ironic, Zoro thinks, how things tend to work out in his life, and in all their lives.
The island with the greatest treasure known to man, they now know, resides in the middle of All Blue. Robin looks upon the strip of land in the distance eagerly, convinced that they are mere kilometers away from the legendary island of Raftel and the Rio Poneglyph.
Zoro, however, has locked his eyes on something entirely different.
Hawk Eye Mihawk's small craft bobs up and down in the waves of All Blue not far in the distance. Zoro can barely seen the lights of the two green candles or the shape of the coffin-like raft, but the shadow of Mihawk's body and the great black sword situated behind his back resembles a cross.
There is no fear in his heart. There never had been, but facing that man again, perhaps anyone else would have felt uncertainty, at best, and resounding, soul-crushing fear at the worst.
By now the others have noticed the swordsman in the distance, but Zoro, Nami, Usopp, and Sanji are the only ones to put two and two together. Luffy will realize five minutes from now, and possibly the truth of the situation will occur to Robin, as well, but someone will need to explain things to Chopper and Franky, and it's not going to be Zoro.
The Thousand Sunny is steadily sailing in the direction of the island that must be Raftel and the man that most certainly is blocking their way.
It's ironic, Zoro thinks again, grinning. His goal is sailing in the midst of Sanji's dream, sitting like a complacent king while barring the way from Luffy's and Robin's.
Each of their dreams are in his hands. He shivers in anticipation and takes the black bandana from his left bicep and wraps it around his head. Once his eyes are steeped completely in shadow, Zoro turns toward his nakama, locking eyes with each of them.
If he loses here, all their dreams are lost. Zoro's, Luffy's, Robin's, Sanji's, and Kuina's. That is something that is absolutely unacceptable to him, so when Sanji speaks, voice quiet but still discernible in the relative silence beyond the sound of the waves and the wind on the sails, Zoro pauses.
“Go get him, Zoro. Kick his ass.” The hand holding Sanji's cigarette is shaking, but Zoro can't tell why and doesn't want to know whether it's due to anticipation, fear, or something else. Sanji's words are sincere, and so are his eyes. The wind pulls at the curtain of hair covering Sanji's left eye and reveals it for a brief moment.
“I will. Promise.”
Roronoa Zoro always keeps his promises.
The others voice their own various encouragements, wishing him luck and telling him not to die or else. Zoro acknowledges them each in turn, keeping steady eye contact while they speak and while he nods, drawing their words deep into his soul to use to fuel his fire in the battle to come.
When Hawk Eye Mihawk steps onto the grassy deck of the Sunny, Zoro's arms itch to grab his swords, but his gaze remains steady, now focusing on Mihawk in his own hawk-like stare.
“Normally I would not hesitate to slice this ship in two,” the greatest swordsman says without preamble. “But the Jolly Roger triggered an old memory.”
“It's an honor to be remembered,” Zoro replies, his tone sincere.
“I trust you've improved? The bounty on your head would certainly suggest as much.”
Zoro grins. “There's no way I'd be here if I hadn't.”
“Here” refers to the end of the Grand Line, the end of the New World and the start of an even Newer World. It also refers to “in front of Mihawk”. The dichotomy pleases Zoro.
“All pleasantries aside...” Mihawk's golden eyes leave his own and they reach for their swords simultaneously. Zoro is pleased that Mihawk is giving him the benefit of the doubt this time by drawing the sword and not the knife – to do otherwise would spell instant death for the greatest swordsman in the world, and Mihawk seems to know this.
Zoro's breath is steady. This is it. This is the cumulation of everything he's been working for, the purpose of his life and the incarnation of his promise.
Breathe in, breathe out. The world fades away – even the faces of his nakama, who are standing to the side and watching on – fade to a blur. They're part of something that is not himself and Mihawk, and therefore they are phased out until all of them that remains are their words from before.
Kick his ass.
Even the words are internalized after a few more breaths, lost along with most of his emotions and recollections.
There are some things that do not and cannot leave him in this state: his soul, his memories of a girl and a promise, and his instincts and discipline. Virtually all else is gone.
He is not a man. He is an extension of his swords.
Zoro's movements are fluid and electric like current through the ocean in a thunderstorm and just as quick. The names of his moves, he does not say. He merely moves, and moving is enough.
Ten seconds in, Zoro can tell that they are evenly matched, and the knowledge sends an extra jolt of electric fire through his body. Wadou vibrates with each hit so that Zoro can hear and feel a hum each time she strikes. The swords in each of his two hands cross in front of him in a defensive move that probably saves his life. He's unconscious of it but his nakama gasp and his own eyes narrow.
This isn't a battle that can be hurried, but neither is it a battle than can or should last forever. There is no pressure to end it, no hastiness or impatience or any emotion whatsoever between them save determination. Thus, it is perfectly acceptable for the swordsmen to do nothing but examine each other for minutes on end. Zoro is glad for it, as much as he can be in the state that he's in – it allows him to catch his breath while still remaining on guard and to contemplate upon paper and steal, and letting the blade guide his body...
Before he knows it, Zoro is moving again with a motion not unlike a dance except it's too quick for any existing musical tempo. There is a twirl, a blade moving slowly and quickly all at once, bending reality, challenging existence and all the rules that human beings live by in this world.
Mihawk's exquisite feather hat falls into the sea, having been hit by the deadly end of Zoro's sword – yet it floats away unharmed and uncut.
Zoro breathes out and flips away before Mihawk's sword can find his flesh again. The wound he now carries may have been fatal if it hadn't been for his own quick parry. Still, Mihawk's black sword has grazed his skin once again and blood spills onto the Sunny's grassy deck.
The pause in their battle lasts only a moment this time before they converge on each other simultaneously in a flurry of steel, Zoro's three swords perfectly matched by Mihawk's one. Their movements are too quick for the eye to follow and both rely on instinct and their other senses to know where to strike and when to parry. Zoro's arm is bleeding, now, in addition to the wound he earned before, but the arm still works so he remains unconcerned.
A quick look at Mihawk reveals that he, too, has been wounded. The greatest swordsman in the world is favoring his right leg, and his unblinking gaze meets Zoro's own before those golden eyes... blink.
Zoro's mouth curves up and he attacks.
He is steel.
He is a leaf floating in the wind in the middle of the sea, and his edges can kill.
Zoro is struck, but his skin does not give.
Mihawk is struck, and his skin does.
Mihawk's eyes are wide with no small amount of shock, yet his expression overall is accepting, almost expecting. The sword that had struck Zoro falls to the deck and the forearm it had struck bears no mark.
“Your victory,” breathes Mihawk, speaking as if he is handing something over to Zoro, and in fact, he is. Mihawk falls to his knees, apparently unable to stand. Zoro had given him a blow not unlike the one Mihawk had given him the first time they'd met. The decision to deal the blow had been unconscious, or perhaps subconscious. Zoro knows that there is a subtle difference, there, but refuses to waste energy trying to figure out what it may be.
Zoro sheathes his swords and exhales. He removes the bandana from his head, grasping it in one hand, and the rest of the world slowly begins to filter through his consciousness.
The first thing he registers is the pain. Wounds that had seemed like nothing moments before now force him to the ground. The second thing he registers is his nakama rushing to meet him – voices loud and hands touching him everywhere.
He finds Chopper's eyes. “Treat him,” he says, nodding toward Mihawk.
Chopper slowly nods, then leaves to check on Zoro's former goal.
“That was so cool!” exclaims Luffy, and Zoro's mouth curves into a small smile.
“How did you–?!” Nami can't even find the words.
“I have no idea what the hell just happened, but that was super!” Franky congratulates him with a harsh slap on the back.
“That was impressive, Swordsman-san,” praises Robin, and her eyes crinkle with her wide smile.
“As expected of Roronoa Zoro, my own trustworthy and talented protégé!” laughs Usopp. Zoro lets out a snort of amusement.
“In your dreams,” says Sanji to Usopp, a smile in his tone.
Zoro realizes then that Sanji is sitting behind him, holding his body up. Either the state he'd been fighting in is taking a while to fade, or he's lost too much blood, but Zoro thinks that either way, he should have realized where Sanji, of all of them, was.
“Took the words straight out of my mouth,” Zoro tells Sanji, taking the chance to relax and lean into him a little more.
“Married~” says Usopp in a whispered sing-song.
Zoro is too busy letting Sanji stick his tongue down his throat to argue much, but he figures that his raised middle finger will say pretty much everything Zoro himself can't.