Finding the Words



Zoro didn't have the best sense of direction - it wasn't his fault things moved when he wasn't looking - but he knew down to the minute how long he'd been apart from Sanji.

Zoro had been the first to arrive on Sabaody Archipelago at the designated time. The archipelago was a massive mango tree forest made up individual tree islands, called the Yarukiman Mangrove. The bubble producing trees were rooted in the ocean floor, making them able to withstand the strongest storms. The bark of the mango trees looked like candy canes, which reminded Zoro of Drum Island and Chopper. Zoro spent his days waiting and wandering between the tourist area and the Sabaody amusement park.

The others on the crew began trickling in as the days wore on, but Sanji wasn't amongst them. Zoro's anxiety grew the longer he waited. He wasn't afraid that Sanji had been killed, but what if he'd found something better - someone better. What if he wasn't coming back?

Zoro didn't want to think about that possibility. He did his best to distract himself by training, riding the rides at Sabaody Park, avoiding Perona (who kept haunting him like one of her ghosts), and browsing the wares at the shops. He found a fisherman on the coast of Grove 41 who agreed to take him fishing. Somehow, he ended up on the wrong ship - their fault - and had to return without having fished at all. It pissed him off.

He'd planned to tear the fisherman a new one once the broken ship returned to Sabaody, but the words died on his lips. Sanji was there - really there - on the shore with the fisherman. The fisherman was up in arms, but Zoro couldn't tear his eyes from Sanji.

Sanji looked good, whole and healthy. He'd let his mustache grow and had a fuller beard. He'd parted his blonde hair on the other side, revealing the reverse twist of his eyebrow that he used to be self-conscious about. His suit was crisp and neat, though he'd left the collar of his shirt unbuttoned and his tie loose around his neck. A cigarette was clamped between his lips with familiarity. He held the strings to a dozen bubble packages of supplies floating above his head.

Zoro felt a tingle in his belly and heat on the back of his neck. His heart beat double time. He tugged awkwardly at the pea green long coat he wore that was tied with a red sash at his waist. His three katanas were strapped to his side. His appearance hadn't really changed since they were last together. He had a new scar over his left eye, but that was pretty much it. He hoped Sanji still found him appealing. Two years was a long time.

"You're back already?" Sanji said. He looked Zoro over, and added, "Not that I care."

"I got the wrong boat." It was a lame response, but Zoro was stung by Sanji's words. Sanji didn't care? Or was this one of the times where Sanji said he didn't care but he really did and didn't want to let anyone know?

Sometimes being with Sanji gave Zoro a headache.

"You didn't have to destroy it." Sanji exhaled cigarette smoke as he spoke. His gaze shifted to the ship wreckage. The fisherman had given up shouting and was now helping the former crew to shore.

Zoro rested his hand on the hilt of a katana. "They wouldn't turn around."

Sanji snorted softly, tucked his hands in his pockets, and started back towards town. The bubble packages followed their strings. Zoro hurried to catch up to him. Footprints remained in the sand behind them, their strides in perfect rhythm. Zoro glanced at Sanji from the corner of his eye. He felt uneasy, the quiet between them unnerving rather than comfortable like it had been in the past. There was so much Zoro wanted to ask: how was Sanji? Where had he been? Did he miss Zoro as much as Zoro had missed him? But Zoro couldn't seem to force those words out.

"I want to go to the coast," Zoro said instead, just to fill the silence. "I want to do some fishing."

"Forget it, you big dumb brute," Sanji said. They'd reached town, a bustling hive of tourist activity. Shops displayed their wares in windows and outside their doors, enticing people inside. The smoky scent of barbeque mingled with the sweet smell of freshly made fudge. Tourists of all shapes and sizes, in varied manner of dress, strolled along without hurry in groups of twos or threes.

"Why?" Zoro said, thinking maybe Sanji wanted to get him alone and do something about the current weirdness between them. When Sanji didn't respond, Zoro clenched his jaw and stopped walking. "Why do I have to listen to the likes of you, anyway?"

Sanji turned to face him, the bubbles shifting with a rainbow sheen where the narrow beams of sunlight hit them. "What, you think I'm hanging around with you because I want to? Hah! I don't trust you enough to leave you wandering around this damn island again, you brainless marimo," Sanji said. "We're all meeting up pretty soon, so just shut up and follow me, got that?"

"Tch." Annoyed, and hurt, Zoro turned to walk away. "I'm number one. I don't need this kind of crap from you, number seven." He cringed inwardly for giving away that he knew exactly how long he'd been waiting for Sanji.

"What, are you turning the order we arrived into some kind of ranking?" Sanji sounded peeved. "Don't get all high-and-mighty just because by some miracle you actually managed to get here first."

"Sure, whatever. Seventh."

Sanji's long legs carried him around and in front of Zoro in an instant. His blue eye was narrowed in a slit and anger brought pink to his cheeks. He raised his right leg in threat. "Oh, that does it. You're going down. It's time you felt the force of this leg. I've been training to perfection in hell for two years."

"Bring it on! I'll slice you in two." These words fell easily from Zoro's lips, unlike what he really wanted to say. Fighting was their forte. But Zoro really didn't want to fight, as Sanji's declaration of being 'in hell for two years' twisted his heart.

Sanji must have seen his reluctance on his face, because he lowered his foot to the ground. "Tch. Stupid marimo. Let's just go join the others."

They fell into step again, bubble packages bobbing behind them. Zoro cut a glance at Sanji. Sanji appeared not to have a care in the world. Zoro couldn't see any signs of 'hell' that Sanji had been through, but Sanji was good at hiding his pain. It bothered Zoro, though. So much that he finally had to speak up.

"So, um... hell?" Zoro said, as they dodged around a tumble of children in the street.

"Yeah." Sanji blew out a ring of smoke. "It was brutal."

Zoro's concern grew. "What happened?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Sanji said.

Zoro frowned. He should probably drop it, but he couldn't. He cared too much about Sanji still to do so. "C'mon. It's me."

"So?"

The small word cut sharper than Mihawk's blade had, and Zoro's heart was sliced in two. Sanji no longer loved him. Zoro swallowed past the thickness in his throat and shrugged with feigned uncaring. "So you're still pathetic, number seven."

"And you're still an asshole," Sanji said. "An asshole with only one eye. I can't believe you lost an eye. What kind of shitty swordsman are you? I thought that you could take care of yourself, but I was wrong."

"I can take care of myself just fine, cook," Zoro growled. "I got here first, didn't I?"

"Enough with the numbers! I don't care who got here first! I care that you went and got yourself hurt, you dumbass!" Sanji stopped walking to yell at him. "I trusted you to take care of yourself and you didn't! I should've went looking for you like I planned before getting Luffy's message. Stupid marimo, can't even live without me for two years, twelve days, and a handful of hours."

"Seven."

"Didn't I say enough with the numbers!"

"No." Zoro shook his head, his heart suddenly whole again and beating madly. He took a step nearer to Sanji. "Seven hours. Two years, twelve days, seven hours, and twenty-eight minutes. That's how long its been since I last saw you."

"Oh." Sanji studied Zoro's face before jerking his gaze away. He took the cigarette from his mouth and crushed it under his heel. "I hadn't been counting."

Unlike earlier, Zoro knew Sanji's words to be false. Zoro's hand came up and he brushed his fingertips along Sanji's cheek. "Liar."

The tips of Sanji's ears reddened, and the knot of tension that had been twisting in Zoro's gut unfurled. Sanji had missed him, too.

Zoro stepped closer, brought his other hand up, and cupped both of Sanji's cheeks. Sanji's eyes flashed to his with a hint of panic. "What--"

Zoro smothered Sanji's protest with his lips. Warmth flooded through Zoro, a combination of rightness and joy tinged with excitement. Sanji's lips were chapped, and he tasted like cigarettes, ale, and peppermint. Sanji's hand wrapped around the back of Zoro's neck and he sighed in contentment against Zoro's mouth.

Zoro had been staying on the Sunny for days, but in kissing Sanji, Zoro knew he was finally home.

Zoro broke the kiss with a shaky breath. He rested his forehead against Sanji's, soaking in Sanji's presence. "I missed you," Zoro murmured.

"Same," Sanji said with a thickness in his voice. He cleared his throat. "We should get to the ship."

"That sounds like a very good idea," Zoro agreed. He wanted to get Sanji alone, and naked, and show him exactly how much he was missed.

The den den mushi interrupted whatever Sanji had been about to say. He stepped away from Zoro and pulled the small device from his pocket. Franky's voice came from the mouth speaker, telling them to hightail it back to the Sunny because the Marines were on their way.

"Gotcha. Grove number 42 beach," Sanji said, as he lit another cigarette. The den den mushi balanced in his free hand.

"All right, then. See you there," Franky said, and disconnected.

"What's up?" Zoro said, adjusting his trousers beneath his coat. They'd gotten pretty tight.

"Weren't you listening?" Sanji shook his head, pocketing the den den mushi. "Ehm, let's see. 'Marines coming. We ship run.' You get it?"

Zoro glared. "What do you take me for, a baby? Speak in full sentences."

"I figured that was the best way to get through to a guy with muscles for brains."

"Right. You're getting sliced up later." The innuendo in Zoro's tone made Sanji blush. Zoro was pleased with himself.

Shouting and other loud noises from a nearby grove caught Zoro's attention. Both of them looked in that direction. "What's all the ruckus over on that island?" Zoro said.

"Good question," Sanji said. He pointed and smirked. "That way. Noisy."

Zoro rolled his eyes. "Idiot cook."

"Dumbass marimo." Sanji's smirk curled into a full, affectionate smile. He shifted the bubble-strings to his other hand. "Let's go see what trouble we'll probably get into."

"Sounds fine by me," Zoro said, returning Sanji's smile with a comfortable grin.

They fell into perfect step without another word. No more were needed.

End