Bit by Bit

Dish duty on the Thousand Sunny, like it had been on the Merry, alternated between the men every night of the week.  Sanji always helped, though, because he didn't "Trust you brain-dead morons not to break everything if I left you alone."  Luckily, unless Sanji was spoiling for a fight, he didn't talk when Zoro was on dish duty with him.  Zoro liked it that way.  They finished faster and he could get on with doing more important things, such as taking his post-dinner nap.

Cigarette smoke wafted past Zoro's nose when Sanji exhaled.  Zoro could hear Chopper's squeal as he ran past the galley door and Luffy's reckless laugh as he thundered after the doctor.  A mist sprayed the portholes as a monster porpoise leapt and dove alongside the Sunny.  Shifting his weight as the ship rocked underfoot, Zoro handed a plate to Sanji, their fingers brushing again, and thought about polishing his swords after his nap.  He would have to pick up more cotton balls soon. 

A soap bubble floated upwards when Zoro plunged his hand back into the wash water.  The lantern light overhead made it glisten with the colors of a rainbow.   Zoro watched it rise and drift on breathy air currents.  It descended slowly, landing on Sanji's forefinger as Zoro passed him another plate.  The bubble slid down the bend of his knuckle to the join between his fingers, drawing attention to a faint scar that bisected his skin.

Zoro glanced at his own soapy hand covered in old scars, nicks, and calluses, then back at Sanji's.  Sanji's fingers were long and girly, while Zoro's were thick and blunt.  His whole hand was the same size as Zoro's, though; definitely a man's hand.  Still, the way Sanji went on about protecting them you'd think he was a woman.

But that faint scar was an anomaly.  Zoro wondered how Sanji got it and if there were others that he hadn't noticed.  And were Sanji's hands really as delicate as they looked?  Zoro had grasped one or the other in the past, pulling Sanji to his feet or to save his sorry ass, but he hadn't paid attention to what they felt like.  Were they covered in old battle scars, from cooking or otherwise?  Were Sanji's palms rough and callused like Zoro's?  Zoro imagined they might be, with all the hand-spins and handsprings Sanji did while fighting.  If they were soft, they'd get torn up.

Leaning forward, the silverware clinked as Zoro reached into the bottom of the wash sink.  Water splashed on the sink lip.  He tried to get a glimpse of Sanji's palm and instead got a "What are you staring at, dumbass?"

"Nothing," Zoro said, jerking his gaze back to the sink.  Embarrassment tickled the back of his neck and he scrubbed the knife harder.  What did he care about Sanji's hands anyway?  They were as annoying as the rest of Sanji and not worth thinking about. 

Zoro made it a point never to get in the way of another man's fight.  Sanji's fights, especially, because he did his best ass-kicking when he had a lot of room.  Slouched against a crumbling stone building, shaded by the wrought-iron balcony overhead, Zoro watched as Sanji took on several scores of enraged cutthroats and rogues on the dusty street.

What Sanji had done to anger them was an easy answer, in Zoro's opinion.  All Sanji had to do was open his mouth.  Scuttle Island was populated with ship-less pirates bruising for a fight with whoever docked.  Sanji's pretty-boy looks made him a ready target and that was before he said anything with his usual contempt for anyone without breasts.

The fight had just started, evidenced by the scarcity of bodies littering the ground.  The street had been empty when Zoro had left the tavern across the way not too long ago, to return to the Sunny.  How he ended up back where he started was a mystery to him.

The sun burned brightly overhead.  Heat shimmered on the terra cotta roof tiles.  The pirates' shouting and curses filled the air, their swords drawn and raised as they charged Sanji.  Sanji sent the closest two flying with a Korie-Shuuto before vaulting backwards and landing on his hands.  Dropping his legs into the splits and with a fast hand-spin, he knocked the first wave of pirates into the ones behind them, making them all crash to the ground.

The fallen comrades received no respect, getting trampled over by the oncoming tide of replacement fighters.  Sanji pulled his legs together, sprang upright, and launched into a barrage of kicks that Zoro knew from experience hurt like hell.  The power contained within Sanji's stork-like legs impressed Zoro more than he'd ever admit.  Sanji sent a particularly large and ugly pirate through the wall of the tavern with only a single kick.  Of course, this made the patrons who'd remained in the tavern angry and they came storming outside to join the fray.

Zoro shifted against the wall, getting more comfortable.  On top of having such hidden strength, Sanji was flexible, too, as if he had no bones in his body.  He leapt into the air, contorted to kick one person, spun the opposite direction, and kicked another.  He fought with handsprings, flips, and other acrobatics that increased his speed, kept him out of reach of sharp swords, and enabled him to slip through defenses.  The acrobatics combined with the length of his legs gave him an impressive advantage and was one of the reasons Zoro kind of enjoyed fighting against him.  Sanji was a real challenge and he never held back just because they were nakama. 

Sanji caught sight of Zoro, smirked cockily, and all of a sudden his kicks became even stronger and his leaps higher.  Sanji arched into a backbend, dodging the swing of a sword, rose onto his hands, and kicked up with his feet into a Bouquetiere.  It caught the pirate under the chin, taking him clear off his feet.  Springing upright, Sanji pivoted into a back Cotellete and sent the pirate sailing into three more men.  The four crashed in a heap.  Without pause, Sanji continued in his tight circle, leaping into the air simultaneously, to land a sharp Jyu-Shuuto with his left foot against another pirate's face.  Teeth exploded from the pirate's mouth.

Zoro grinned.  Show off.  He almost felt sorry for the pirates piling up in injured heaps on the street.  Sanji's fighting style made him a lethal opponent, far outstripping these pirates' abilities.  Zoro could see curtains swishing in the upper floors across the way, painted ladies peeking out and watching the brawl.  Sanji might get lucky, for once, from this.  Zoro was sure they were envisioning what Sanji's killer legs and bendy body could do in the bedroom.  Imagining the power in his hips.  The grace of his movements.  That lean form arching beneath them, long, long legs wrapped tightly around their waist...

Suddenly hot under the collar, Zoro shoved away from the wall and went in search of his own companionship.  Obviously, he hadn't been getting lucky enough lately, either, to picture Sanji in the throes of passion.  Zoro didn't even like the skinny, prissy type.  He liked 'em big and brawny with the supposed ability to pin him down.  Stupid dartbrow and his stupid legs.

It took two men to cool Zoro off.

"Damned sea-witch," Zoro muttered, fumbling with the bow tie around his neck.  He couldn't get it knotted correctly.  The scowl lining his face reflected in the mirror Sanji had hung on the inside of his locker door.  The Straw Hat crew had rescued the Grandovian kingdom from a tyrannical, wind-manipulating Devil's Fruit user and as a reward the King and Queen were hosting a reception in their honor.  Nami insisted they all attend, wearing the fancy clothing paid for by the royals. 

Zoro hated this.  He looked like a pussy.  Or worse, like Sanji.  Black opal buttons lined the front of the pristine white shirt, tucked into black trousers.  The black patent leather shoes he'd shoved his feet into squeaked when he walked and gave off a mirror bright reflection.  The single-breasted black jacket felt constricting and he hadn't even buttoned it yet.  At least the jacket was short enough that he could still wear his haramaki.  He wasn't going anywhere without his swords, screw Nami's dress code.

"She probably wants to steal from the castle while everyone's occupied at the dinner," he grumbled, and pulled the flap of the tie straight through again.  It still didn't look right.  "Damn it!"

The men's cabin door opened behind him and his scowl deepened when he saw who was reflected in the mirror.  "Aren't you dressed yet, marimo?" Sanji said as he entered the room.  "Nami-san wants to leave."

"I don't care."  Zoro tried yanking the knot out of the tie once more, only to pull it tighter.  "This whole reception thing is stupid.  Why can't they just feed us the normal way?"

"Unlike a boorish oaf such as yourself, most people enjoy classier dining."  Sanji's shoes didn't squeak when he crossed the cabin, probably because they were the pansy's own pair. "Turn around."

Zoro shrugged Sanji's hand off his shoulder.  "I can do it myself."


Sanji's mocking tone made Zoro's hand go for Wadou's hilt as he spun around.  "You want me to cut you up, cook?"

Sanji's face read I'd like to see you try, but what he said was, "Stop being a baby," and reached for Zoro's tie.

Zoro grunted with displeasure and slight embarrassment about needing help, but Sanji had already taken control and fighting about it still wouldn't get the stupid thing tied right.  He distracted himself by looking Sanji over.  Naturally, Sanji appeared at ease wearing the same cut of tuxedo as Zoro's, and begrudgingly, Zoro had to admit Sanji looked good in it.  It emphasized the length of Sanji's legs � which Zoro had vowed never to stare at again, and he jerked his eyes to Sanji's face.

Sanji's mouth turned down in the corners in a slight frown as he worked on unknotting the tie.  His visible blue eye was narrowed in concentration.  His blonde hair seemed lighter after having been washed, falling in a part that bared that absurd curl of his eyebrow.

Zoro wondered sometimes if his curled eyebrows were the reason Sanji's hair covered one side of his face.  He'd glimpsed the hidden side every once in a while, when the wind blew fiercely or when Sanji was hanging upside down for whatever reason.  He knew Sanji never cut his hair shorter than nose-length.

Zoro's palm itched suddenly to push Sanji's hair off his face and really see what he looked like.  Aside from the fact that Sanji would kick his ass if he touched him in that way, it felt like an extremely intimate thing to do, more intimate than even sex would be.  Seeing Sanji exposed in such a way would be tremendously personal and private.

"There."  Sanji patted the perfectly tied bow tie, smoothed his hand down the front of Zoro's shirt, cleared his throat suddenly, and took a large step back.  "Now you look like a well-dressed ape."

"Shut up."  Zoro knocked Sanji's shoulder as he stalked past, heading for the door.  He held his itching hand in a tightly closed fist.  He did not want to be the one to see Sanji in that way, at all.

As if he'd be so lucky, anyway.

Steam filled the bathroom, rising from the large tub filled with hot water.  Zoro stripped out of his wet, frozen clothing quickly and wrapped a towel around his waist.  The Sunny had gotten caught in an ice storm and the crew had spent the past few hours out on deck in the worst of it, keeping the Sunny from capsizing.  Of course, the girls had gotten the bath first, and by the time it was the men's turn, Zoro was cold down to his bones.  He stifled his moan of pleasure when he stepped into the heated bath.

Usopp, Luffy, and Chopper were horsing around at one end of the tub.  Sanji and Franky lounged at the other.  Zoro slipped into the empty space beside Franky, nestling into the corner-curve of the tub, and ignored Sanji's sidelong look as he practically purred.  Warmth seeped through his flesh, reddening his skin and dispelling the blue tinge the cold had wrought.  Franky was a genius for making the tub large enough for them all. 

Franky sighed happily, his arms stretched on the rim of the tub and his head tilted back as if he were basking in sunlight.  Zoro was surprised he didn't rust in the water.  And that his mascara didn't run. 

"Behold the true aim of a sharpshooter!"

"Hahaha!  It went up my nose!"


"You'd better not shoot water over here, unless you want your naked asses kicked back onto the deck," Sanji warned, tapping ash from his cigarette into the ashtray perched on the edge of the tub beside him.  His skin had a rosy hue from the hot water, but Franky's hand near his shoulder emphasized his paleness compared to everyone else.

Zoro's own skin was slightly darker than Franky's from being out in the sun.  Sanji spent nearly all his time indoors, in the galley.  And when he did come outside, he was always bundled up to the neck in his prissy suits.  The few occasions he dressed like a normal person made that fair skin stand out more.  The fair coloring added to the illusion that he was an easy target, a pretty boy who was too delicate to be out in the elements.

Zoro bet the men who saw Sanji thought about how easily his skin would bruise.  Sinking lower in the tub, Zoro watched a droplet of water as it slid down the length of Sanji's pale neck, dipped into the notch between his collarbones, and continued down his chest.  Under rough hands, his skin would be mottled with livid finger marks, branding him like a possession�

"Ah-hahahaha!  You got him right in the center of his eyebrow!"


"Ahh!  Sanji is going to kill us!"

"I think the heat has made me faint.  I'dbettergetoutofthetubnowbye!"

Zoro used the distraction of Sanji beating up Usopp, Luffy, and Chopper to escape the tub, holding his hands in front of him.  He caught sight of Franky's knowing grin and felt his face heat.  Damn Sanji and his markable skin.

Grabbing his clothes, Zoro fled the bathroom.

"Iodine, camphor� oh, and I'll need more bandages," Chopper called from the infirmary.

"Sanji-kun, add parchment to the list."

"Aye, Nami-swan."  Seated at the head of the table, Sanji continued jotting down the items needed to be restocked.  Nami read over his shoulder, swatting the stray hearts that occasionally floated into her face. 

Outside the galley, the wind whipped fiercely, blowing snow past the portholes.  The ship rocked heavily on the waves.  Zoro sat a few seats down from Sanji, katanas laid out on the table.  His polishing kit sat open and he carefully dabbed a cotton ball along Kitetsu's blade.

"And Franky said we needed canvas for sail repair," Nami said.  "And nails, twine�"

Chopper stuck his head out of the infirmary.  "I'm nearly out of Idearacol, too."

Beyond the edge of the blade held in Zoro's hand, Sanji took a drag from his cigarette, lips puckering slightly as he did so.  His mouth parted on one side, almost comically, when he exhaled. 

"I'll go and find Robin, and see if she needs anything."  Nami ducked into the interior hallway from the galley, her heels clicking on the wood decking. 

Sanji put out his spent cigarette in an ashtray and worried his lower lip with his upper teeth.  He wrote more on the parchment and licked his lips.  The shiny lower one was reddened from the worrying, with slight indentations where his teeth had been. 


"Yes, Robin-chwan?"  Sanji's face lit up with a wide, radiant smile at Robin's appearance, and Zoro's heart lurched in his chest.  Zoro yanked his focus back to the blade in his hand, where it belonged, and saw the blade tremor.

Cursing silently, he slid Kitetsu into its sheath, gathered his other katanas and his polishing kit, and quickly left the galley, Sanji's voice trailing behind him.

"Oi, idiot, where are you going�?"

Alone in his training room, Zoro pumped weights furiously, no longer concentrating on his reps, his mind focused on a certain foul-mouthed, annoying, long-legged, blonde.  Sanji was driving him insane.  Zoro couldn't stop watching him no matter how hard he tried.  It seemed like Sanji was purposely seeking him out to torment him, too.  For months now, every time Sanji came into sight, Zoro's eyes would instantly be drawn to him.  And despite forcefully dragging his gaze away, inevitably it would return to Sanji.

Bit by bit, he'd cataloged every plane, curve, and nuance Sanji had and then some.  Like the way the fragile shell of his ears peeked from his hair.  How sharp the edges of his shoulder blades were beneath tight shirts.  The crazy length of his toes, as long and narrow as the rest of him.  The goofy patterns in his leg hair, swirls and thatches and some bald spots.  The shadowed dip of his spine right above the waistband of his boxers.

Zoro had tried to erase the unnerving attraction to Sanji by having as much sex as possible at every port of call.  He'd even slept with men who had the same body type as Sanji, hoping the experience would dispell his thoughts of the idiot.  It didn�t do any good; no matter who he was with, afterwards he'd end up comparing them to how he imagined Sanji would be.

Stupid, aho cook.  There was no reason for Zoro to be so obsessed with him.  He smoked incessantly.  He bitched non-stop.  He liked women for some reason and to the point of ludicrousness.  He was second on the list of people Zoro would happily toss overboard if given permission (Nami was the first).  He was prissy and pansy-assed, the shit-talking bane of Zoro's existence, and there was nothing remotely likeable about him.

Sure, he could hold his own in a fight.  In fact, he outclassed most everyone when fighting.  And he was a really good cook, even when he made weird things that smelled funny and were unpronounceable.  His waspish tongue could sometimes be amusing, too, when it wasn't directed at Zoro.  And he cared about his nakama as much as Zoro did and would give his life for them in a heartbeat.  If Zoro had to choose one person  to go into battle with, it would be Sanji.

The weights clanked when the barbell thumped against his thighs.  Zoro stared at the pattern of the wood grain on the wall as a horrified realization set in.

Zoro's loyalty was to Luffy, but Sanji was the one he wanted by his side.

Zoro was not a coward.  Nevertheless, it took him nearly a month to decide to confront Sanji.  He wanted to be sure that he really did feel something for Sanji and that it wasn't some fatal disease.  (Chopper said he was the perfection of health, damn his furry hide.)  He couldn't put it off any longer, though.  Every day that passed, Zoro saw another new facet to Sanji that tied him up in knots.

Zoro scowled at the galley door and at what lay behind it.  Luffy had already been kicked off of dish duty, which meant that Sanji was alone.  Franky was on watch in the crow's nest.  The girls were in the lounge.  Usopp was in his workshop.  He'd passed Chopper and Luffy plastered to the aquarium.  Now was the time to get it over with, before the Marines attacked or a storm whipped up or he figured out he really was a coward.

Squaring his shoulders, Zoro yanked open the door and stalked inside.  Sanji stood at the sink, sleeves rolled, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, washing the dinner dishes.  He flicked a glance at Zoro before returning his attention to the suds in the sink.  "There's only one bottle of sake left and the rum's off-limits, marimo."

"I'm not here for that."  Zoro stopped on the other side of the island, folded his arms, unfolded them again, and wiped his damp palms on his thighs.  "I want to ask you something."

That stupid curled eyebrow twitched upwards.  "Spit it out, so I can tell you to fuck off."

Zoro glared, but his gaze shifted to a spot above Sanji's left shoulder when he began to speak.  "You and me," he said, forcing the words out.  "Do you think we could be you and me� together?"

Sanji barked a strained laugh.  "What the hell are you talking about, dumbass?"

"Never mind.  Forget it."  Zoro turned on his heel and made a beeline for the door, humiliation heating his neck.  "I'll train myself out of feeling like this."

Back out on deck, Zoro put as much distance between himself and the galley as possible, stopping when he ran out of ship at the bow.  The night was warm.  The moon hung low and full.  Stars sparkled in the dark blanket of the clear sky.  Zoro grasped the rail.  "Stupid idiot," he said, staring out into the darkness.  "What did you expect?"

He knew what he'd hoped: that Sanji might give it a try.  Zoro didn't think in terms of forever, but in the here and now.  He'd thought maybe Sanji would've felt the same way.

Zoro exhaled heavily, his shoulders sagging.  He'd gotten his answer.  Sanji wasn't interested.  Zoro would have to work on caring for Sanji as a nakama again, instead of caring too much.

Waves lapped at the hull as the Sunny sailed on unobstructed.  Zoro tensed when footsteps sounded behind him.  The familiar clink of a lighter told him who it was and he braced for a confrontation.

Sanji came up beside him and leaned his forearms against the rail.  The sea breeze ruffled his hair.  He said nothing for the longest time, until Zoro was ready to blurt an apology for being attracted to him.  "I can't believe you're really contemplating a relationship with me," he finally said.

Zoro didn't apologize.  Instead, he shrugged and said, "So there's no chance, huh?"

Sanji took a drag from his cigarette and didn't answer.

Zoro's heart began beating faster.  Sanji continued standing there, not kicking Zoro for suggesting such a thing or telling him flat out no.  As the seconds ticked by, Zoro's hope grew.  He reached out tentatively, hesitated, and then took Sanji's hand.  It was as rough as he'd imagined, callused and scarred.  The tiny soap bubbles caught between Sanji's knuckles popped when Zoro entwined their fingers. 

Sanji stared at their hands a moment, color infusing his face.  Then, he shot Zoro a look that read: Crazy marimo.

But he didn't pull his hand away.


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