A Date Story


The Sunny reached Timberton harbor late in the afternoon. Trees grew abundantly on the island, and the townsfolk used the wood to create one and two-story cabins around an enormous redwood that towered to the clouds. The city was good-sized, with lumber as the main export. Shops, taverns, and other businesses were plentiful, and the locals dressed colorfully in caftans with woodsy animal prints. 

Sanji read over the shopping list in his hand as he descended the gangplank. The rest of the Strawhat crew had gone ashore immediately upon docking. Sanji had been delayed down in the hold, finishing rearranging the stores. He'd stocked up at the last port a week and a half ago, so his current list wasn't long. Fresh fruits and vegetables were always needed, and he wouldn't pass up on getting more meat. He also wouldn't mind purchasing any local delicacies he might find. Perhaps something sweet for his sweet ladies. 

"Oi, Cook." 

Sanji found Zoro standing at the end of the rickety dock, blocking the stone cut steps rising to the street. His arms were folded across his broad chest, his feet planted in a defensive stance. A determined expression creased his face. Sanji debated on kicking him into the sea, but chose to tuck the list into his breast pocket instead. "What do you want?" 

"You."  Zoro's blunt response was accompanied by a rosy flush on his cheeks. He scowled, as if his own reaction offended him. "Come with me to the tavern." 

Sanji stared at Zoro like he'd lost his mind. Maybe Sanji had kicked him one too many times in the head. "Why the hell would I want to do that?" 

Zoro growled, grabbed Sanji by the arm, and dragged him up the steps. Sanji allowed it for a short distance before digging in his heels.   He shook off Zoro's hold.   "I'm not going anywhere with you, shitty swordsman." 

Frustrated, Zoro dragged his hand over his head and against the back of his neck. "Look. Come with me to the tavern and I'll carry your packages back to the Sunny. No complaints." 

It was on the tip of Sanji's tongue to say no, but free pack mule service was hard to pass up.   "Fine. But not for long. There's no telling when Luffy will start trouble." 

The Timberton Docks Tavern was located a scant few steps from the dock itself. Inside, defaced and torn Wanted posters plastered the rough hewn beams packed with dried mud. Capstans turned on their sides were used as tables. Peanut shells littered the floor. Pirates, fishermen, and locals perched on three-legged stools, with mugs of beer in their scarred hands. A card game was underway in a corner beneath one of the candle chandeliers hanging from the hatched ceiling. 

Zoro led them to the chest-high bar at the back of the tavern. "Ale, and whatever he wants," he told the bartender, jerking a thumb toward Sanji. 

"Same," Sanji said. The bartender, a squat fellow with a deeply lined face that appeared to be cut from wood, filled two tankards and set them on the bar. Zoro paid.  Sanji didn't comment about it. 

Turning so his back was to the bar, Sanji drank from his tankard and let his gaze slide around the room. The card players stared intently at each other, trying to catch tells. A table full of motley pirates crowded over what appeared to be a map. A pair of men near the side of the tavern put down money on an arm-wrestling match. 

Zoro mashed peanut shells in his hand, making a mess on the counter in front of him. He plucked the peanuts from his palm, ate them, dropped the remaining shell on the floor, and chose another from a bucket the bartender had set on the counter. He seemed oblivious to what was going on around him or that he was even with Sanji.   

Sanji didn't bother striking up a conversation. It wasn't needed. Instead, he occupied himself by trying to see the map without moving from his spot, but gave up after a while.   He took another drink as he shifted his focus to the arm wrestlers - a new pair - with a small crowd now gathered around them. His tankard was getting low. A pile of discarded peanut shells mounded around Zoro's boots. 

"Bet I could win," Sanji commented, motioning to the arm wrestlers with his drink. 

Zoro looked over at them and snorted. "Chopper could win against those guys." 

"Heh."   Sanji snatched one of the shelled peanuts from Zoro's hand and popped it into his mouth. "Bet I could beat you, then." 

"Your skinny arms wouldn't last a second," Zoro said, eating the second peanut from the opened shell. 

"I'd use my foot." 

Zoro tilted his head, studying Sanji. He suddenly grinned. "You're on." 

Sanji drained the rest of his tankard and set it on the bar. Zoro dusted the peanut shell from his hands, followed Sanji over to one of the tables, and loomed threateningly until the two fishermen who'd been sitting there vacated. 

Taking one of the stools, Zoro cracked his knuckles and set his left elbow on the table. Sanji sat across from Zoro, toed off his left shoe, and rucked up his trouser leg. He brought his foot onto the table, slotting his thigh between the handles on the turned capstan. Zoro's hand was warm, the palm calloused, where he gripped Sanji's foot. 

Zoro's grin changed to one of challenge and taunting. "Ready, Cook?" 

Sanji lit a cigarette.   "Waiting on you, marimo."

The unique match started with a flash of Zoro's black eyes. Sanji's calf became immediately taut and Zoro's bicep bulged, but neither appeared to be otherwise straining to an outside observer. Sanji expelled his cigarette smoke casually, in spite of the fact that he was fighting hard to keep Zoro from moving his foot. The pressure of Zoro's hand felt like stopping a cannonball at close range. Sanji's thigh was corded tightly beneath his trousers. 

Zoro's teeth gleamed in the chandelier candlelight above the table. Sanji could see the delight in his expression, though others would likely take it as murderous intent. A tiny droplet of sweat formed near the hairline by Zoro's ear, proving how difficult Sanji was making it for Zoro.

The crowd that had been around the other arm wrestlers swarmed around Sanji and Zoro. The map disappeared into a pocket and the pirates joined in, as did the card players. Bets started flying around. 

"Hundred on the green-haired one."

"Two on the skinny guy!" 

"Double or nothing on a tie." 

"That's one damned ugly foot." 

Zoro broke the battle of wills their eyes had been having and jerked his head in the direction of the appearance commentator. The distraction gave Sanji the opportunity to move Zoro's arm a centimeter. That brought Zoro's attention back where it belonged. Sanji smirked at him. 

"Shut up," Zoro grunted, attempting to push Sanji's foot back to the middle of the table.   Sanji kept his advantage with a strain in his jaw, but didn't let it carry into his voice. 

"It is an ugly foot," Sanji said, and it was. Both Sanji's feet were thickly calloused and heavily scarred, with yellow, brittle, cracked toenails caused by smoking. The nail on his big toe was still growing back after it had come clean off during the Strawhats' last big battle. 

Zoro muttered something that might have been, "My ugly foot," or "Damned smug cook." Sanji was amused by either. 

Alarm bells sounded in the distance. Zoro frowned. Sanji's brow furrowed.   The look they exchanged was one of resignation and regret. Release was simultaneous, though Sanji said, "I win." 

Zoro sputtered.   "You did not!" 

Sanji tucked his foot into his shoe and rose. His trouser leg fell back into place. "I moved you. I win." 

The onlookers were confused by the sudden end to the match. Some became hostile, but that didn't last. A flash of Zoro's sword and people were giving them, and the bodies around them, clear berth. Sanji plucked the map out of a felled pirate's pocket - Sanji might have kicked him unconscious even though he hadn't been one of the hostiles - and tucked it away. 

Outside, city guards and what appeared to be firemen ran down the street toward the center of Timberton. Smoke could be seen rising in the distance. "Looks like we have even less time to shop," Sanji commented, stabbing out his cigarette butt. 

"Hn." Zoro squinted in the distance. Several blocks away, a furious redhead chased a trio of fur, nose, and rubber between buildings. 

"Hey, Zoro," Sanji said, getting Zoro's attention. He abruptly grabbed Zoro by the shirt and planted a solid kiss on his lips. "Thanks for the date." 

Sanji was graced with one of Zoro's dopey smiles that only he got to see. It made Sanji's heart stutter, and he shoved Zoro away with a bit of force and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Stupid marimo," he muttered, and started toward the market at a fast clip. 

Zoro caught up with Sanji quickly. If there was a bit more bounce in his step than usual, no one would comment. Sanji smiled inwardly. He and Zoro may not be involved in a grand, epic romance for the ages, but it was still a love story. 

"When we get back to the ship, you can help me pack things in the hold." Sanji nudged Zoro with his elbow. "Alone." 

Anticipation flushed Zoro's cheeks and he suddenly picked up the pace. "Why are we walking so slow, then?"

Sanji watched as Zoro dodged around the people in front of them and veered off in the wrong direction.   Shaking his head with a smile, Sanji hurried after him. "Oi, idiot! You're going the wrong way."

Love story, indeed.