A howl of anguished rage vaulted Sanji into consciousness. He bolted upright from his slump against the wall, his head jerking in the direction of the sound. The lanterns swung on their hooks with the rough rocking of the ship, causing shadows to writhe in the narrow passageway. Dark blood splattered the wood planks and splintered chunks were hacked into the walls and floor. The boom of cannon fire reverberated within the ship.
Sanji rose and moved hurriedly down the passage. He didn’t recall being knocked unconscious, so he had no idea how long he’d been out of the fight. He cursed himself for his ineptitude. The Straw Hats’ vicious encounter with the Black Breath Pirates needed every crewmember at top form. One slip-up could mean death.
The Black Breaths’ ship, The Shroud, shuddered under the impact of a cannonball and the passageway tilted precariously. Sanji picked up speed, gliding swiftly down the corridor. The barrage of fire from the Thousand Sunny would soon sink The Shroud. As soon as he made sure no one needed his help, he’d abandon ship.
The Sunny’s cannon boomed. The Shroud rocked wildly and, from an open hatch, a severed head bounced into the corridor. It was the Black Breaths’ first mate, his dead face frozen in shock. Sanji recognized the clean slice of the first mate’s neck as Zoro’s work. It meant Zoro was probably one death up on Sanji. Damn it. They’d been tied before they’d come below deck and had gotten separated, and Sanji hadn’t met any more of the enemy yet. Sanji would have to find a straggler and even the score before returning to the Sunny, if Luffy had left any onboard for him to find.
The head rolled down the passageway as the ship shook again. Sanji glanced into the room where the head had come from and saw Zoro kneeling on the floor, his back to Sanji, with two of his katanas discarded with surprising carelessness around him. Wadou curved from Zoro’s mouth, the blade’s edge stained crimson. The first mate’s corpse lay half under a table, bleeding out onto fallen maps and charts.
Sanji hid his concern that Zoro was injured with a smirk. “Oi, marimo, what’s taking so long?” Sanji said from the doorway. “The ship’s about to sink and you’re sitting on your ass.”
To emphasize his words, a cannonball exploded into the room, sending splinters flying. Sanji ducked and tried not to be hit with the sharp wood projectiles. Zoro gathered his katanas, though not nearly as quickly as he should. “Hurry up, idiot!” Sanji yelled, as an ominous crack echoed through the ship. The keel had broken.
The tilted passageway lurched around Sanji and a great rush of water came pouring inside. “Shit.” Spinning around, Sanji hurried back up the corridor, keeping ahead of the water flowing in. Some of the lanterns fell from their hooks as the ship began breaking apart, their flames extinguishing when they rolled down the sloping passageway and into the rising water. Through an open doorway, he spotted a ladder leading upwards to a hatch and called behind him, “This way!”
Sanji darted into the room as the ship lurched again. The hatch overhead swung open and a wave of water poured through the hole. Washed-in fish floundered on the floor and were swept into the hallway, bumping into Zoro’s feet as he walked past the room.
“Zoro!” Sanji shouted, but Zoro didn’t return. Sanji ground his teeth. Only Zoro could get lost in a straight hallway.
Sanji rushed out of the room to find the brain-dead lug. Luckily, Zoro hadn’t gotten far. Further up the corridor, Zoro stood staring down at a shadowed body slumped against the wall. The dimness didn’t hide the agony twisting Zoro’s features. Fear and worry sprang up in Sanji. Something was horribly, horribly wrong.
“Didn’t you hear me, dumbass?” Sanji said, closing in on Zoro. “There’s a way out over…” Sanji trailed to a whisper as the nearby lantern unhooked from the wall. Its descent seemed to be in slow motion, making its flame bring light over the body on the floor for an infinite moment.
The body was him.
“…here.” The glass surrounding the flame shattered when it hit the floor and the flame snuffed out. Disbelief stunned Sanji. That couldn’t be him. He was standing right here. It had to be someone who simply resembled him and that was the reason why Zoro dropped to his knees.
Sanji had to stop this. He went to grab Zoro by the shoulder, to reassure Zoro that he was alive – only, Sanji’s hand passed right through Zoro. Holy shit.
“No, no, no. Zoro, that’s not me.” Sanji swiped at Zoro’s shoulder, back, and head and each time his hands passed right through Zoro. “That’s not me.” Sanji’s voice rose in panic. “It’s not me. Zoro! I’m right here! Look at me!”
But Zoro didn’t acknowledge Sanji at all. Alarm shook Sanji. Why couldn’t Zoro hear him? Sanji stared at the body that wasn’t him on the floor. “It doesn’t even look like me, stupid! Can’t you tell the—” Sanji looked down at his real self and the words jammed in his throat. He had no legs. He had no legs. His body ended at his waist with a dissipating haze that resembled cigarette smoke. “I’m— but—” Sanji couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t. He couldn’t be. It was impossible. There was no way he was a ghost.
“I…” Shock robbed Sanji of the ability to say or do anything more. He watched in strange detachment as Zoro lifted a shaking hand and touched the corpse’s face. The destruction of the ship around them didn’t cover the anguished noise that ripped suddenly from Zoro’s throat. Zoro slid his hand behind the corpse’s neck and yanked it into a tight embrace. The corpse’s arms hung limply, its legs crumpled beneath it. Zoro rocked back and forth, his face buried in the crook of the corpse’s neck, grief breaking him apart in front of Sanji’s eyes. Wracking sobs scraped the walls of the corridor. Sanji felt hollow inside.
The corridor tipped sharply as the ship shuddered with a last cry and started its final descent. Zoro and the corpse slid into the rising water. It jolted Zoro visibly, and he leapt to his feet, scooped the corpse into his arms, and ran topside.
Nami, Robin, and Chopper were fighting with the few remaining Black Breath Pirates on the Sunny’s deck when Zoro jumped the divide between the ships. “Gomu gomu no bazooka!” Luffy’s shout echoed across the water as his own battle neared its climax onboard The Shroud. The blue sky and bright sunlight overhead seemed odd to Sanji. A light breeze made the Straw Hats’ flag wave on the mast.
“Oh, no! Sanji’s hurt!” Chopper gasped. He poofed into Guard Point, knocking over the pirate he was fighting with the sudden body mass change. “Someone get a doctor!”
“You are the doctor,” Sanji murmured, gliding numbly behind Zoro. Zoro didn’t say anything, walking past Chopper as if he weren’t there.
“Wait, I am the doctor. Eh-heh-heh-heh.” Chopper called after Zoro, “Bring him to the infirmary. I’ll be right there. Heavy point!”
The noise of the ending battle diminished vastly upon entering the infirmary. Zoro carried the corpse to the medical cot and laid it down carefully. Sanji watched while Zoro adjusted the corpse’s clothes, straightening its tie and smoothing its shirt collar. Sanji’s numbness swiftly flared into anger. He wanted to kick Zoro for acting so tenderly. Zoro should be giving Sanji shit for dying, calling him weak and threatening to kill him for allowing it to happen (even though he was already dead).
“Fucking wimp,” Sanji snarled. “What are you doing? Stop it. Stop acting like this!” Sanji could tell by the tight line of Zoro’s jaw and the tenseness of his shoulders that Zoro was barely holding himself together. Multiple streaks ran through the blood drying on his cut face, from his earlier tears.
Chopper burst into the infirmary. “Okay. I’m here. Do you know what happened?”
Zoro jerked his hand away from the corpse and took a step back. Sanji winced at the rawness of Zoro’s response. “He’s dead.”
“Dead?” Chopper paused mid-reach for the stepstool, his eyes growing huge. He shook his head hard, dragged the stool over to the cot, and started his examination. “No, Sanji can’t be dead. His constitution is on par with yours. You just think he’s dead because he’s not moving, is unresponsive, and doesn’t have a pulse…”
Chopper’s eyes widened again and he began frantically searching for the corpse’s heartbeat. Zoro turned on his heel and left the infirmary. Sanji had the macabre desire to stay and see everyone’s reaction to his death, but the pull to follow Zoro was too strong.
Luffy was back on the Sunny, cleaning up the remainder of the Black Breath Pirates by pitching them overboard. Rowboats carrying survivors paddled swiftly away. Franky and Usopp emerged from below deck smudged with soot from manning the cannons. Nami grinned at Robin as two hands grew from the rail of the ship, grabbed a Black Breath straggler, and tossed him overboard.
Ignoring everyone, Zoro jumped up into the rigging and climbed to the crow’s nest. Sanji found it disconcerting to be freely rising in the air and phasing through the crow’s nest floor. His mind reeled again. He was dead? He didn’t remember that happening. He remembered going below deck on The Shroud and being separated from Zoro. Then, suddenly, he’d heard the pained, raging howl – Zoro’s, he realized now – and rushed to see what was wrong. He didn’t recall anything happening between those events let alone dying and he thought that would’ve been damned memorable. It had to be a trick of some sort.
Sunlight streamed through the glass windows of the crow’s nest and Zoro’s weight sets cast obscure shadows on the floor. Zoro banged shut one of the storage compartments hidden in the bench seat that curved beneath the windows and opened another. “Hey, moron, I’m right here!” Sanji yelled and swatted his hands through Zoro’s head. But Zoro continued searching through the storage compartment, oblivious to Sanji. “What are you looking for so intently that you’re ignoring— Is that my tie?”
Zoro let the compartment door fall shut and sank down on the seat. He stared at the tie he held in his hand. The tie was bright blue with thin black pin-striping. Sanji loved that tie and was none too happy when it had gone missing. “What the hell are you doing with my tie, asshole?” Sanji pivoted to kick only to be vividly reminded that he had no legs. The stark reality of it hit him hard.
He was dead.
A stifled sob tore roughly from Zoro. Zoro clasped his hands together, the tie dangling between them, and pressed his bowed forehead against his knuckles. His lips were curled in a snarl, as if he were trying to scare off his grief.
Grief was a stronger monster, however, and Zoro released a sudden howl that rattled the walls. He jumped to his feet, grabbed the nearest weight, and threw it violently. The window shattered and the weight went sailing. Zoro grabbed another one and threw it, then another and another. He knocked the stand over and then ripped the hand weight pegs off the wall, all the while roaring wordlessly in anguish.
Sanji rose up through the ceiling of the crow’s nest, needing to get away from the destructiveness of Zoro’s grief. He could still hear it, though, and he covered his ears futilely.
Far below, Sanji saw Luffy burst out of the infirmary, run to the rail, and scream at the top of his lungs. “SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNJJJJIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!”
A female wail joined Luffy’s scream, rising from the open infirmary door, and Sanji was scraped raw. “Nami-san…”
Usopp stumbled from the infirmary and collapsed in a bawling heap on the deck.
“Why is this happening?!” Undirected rage swept over Sanji. He shook his fist at the clear blue sky, railing against the unfairness. “I didn’t deserve this! I haven’t found All Blue yet! I have to make dinner still! Who’s going to cook for them now? How could this have happened to me? I’m too good of a fighter! I still haven’t won over Nami-san’s heart! My nakama need me! Why?! Why did this happen?! I don’t want to be dead! I can’t be dead! I’m too young to die!”
Sanji’s screams of protest had no effect and he wound down with a strong desire to cry. No tears came, however, and Sanji stared miserably out over the Grand Line. Eventually, Zoro stopped tearing apart the crow’s nest and Sanji could no longer hear his other nakama’s mourning cries. The silence didn’t ease the depression that pressed down on him.
Sanji gazed out over the open sea, arms wrapped around himself. The Black Breath rowboats were tiny spots in the distance, bobbing under the sun.
Days passed. Sanji’s funeral was held with stifled sobs and shaky goodbyes. Zoro stood like a statue away from everyone else, his dry eyes fixed on a point on the horizon, never once glancing at Sanji’s sheet-wrapped corpse as it was cast into the sea. Guilt and self-loathing weighed on Sanji as he was forced to watch his nakama suffer. He felt useless, unable to be seen or heard, unable to touch in comfort. Unable to do anything but curse his own stupidity and ineptitude that got him killed and caused those he cared most about be in constant pain.
Selfishly, he wanted to go so he no longer had to witness them hurting. He was grateful to Franky for taking care of everyone and everything while they grieved. Franky hadn’t known Sanji long enough to be affected as much as the others, but Sanji caught a glimpse of him wiping away tears on occasion.
Sanji seemed tethered to Zoro and couldn’t move very far from him and Zoro spent most of his time away from everyone else. Apart from his reaction on the first day, Zoro appeared not to care about Sanji’s death, but Sanji could see clearly that Zoro was taking it as hard as the others. Zoro didn’t nap, he hardly ate any of the food Franky prepared, and he locked himself in the repaired crow’s nest for hours on end, exercising non-stop.
“It wasn’t your fault, dumbass,” Sanji snapped at one point, as Zoro pushed himself at a grueling pace. “I’m the careless idiot who let himself get killed.”
Zoro continued lifting, sweat drenching his shirt, oblivious to Sanji’s words.
Sanji turned his eyes to the window and listened to the clink of Zoro’s weights as he watched the clouds float by.
The heavy pall of sadness slowly dissipated on the Sunny as weeks went by. Sanji felt relieved the first time Nami yelled at Luffy for splashing her when he fell overboard. Soon thereafter, Robin volunteered to take a turn at cooking. Chopper bandaged Usopp without questioning his ability as a doctor after Usopp’s new invention blew up. There was a backslide during the Straw Hats’ first battle without Sanji, but Zoro made it his purpose to fight for both of them and all the self-inflicted punishment paid off.
“I can’t believe you’re abusing my tie like that,” Sanji fumed as Zoro slaughtered the Knights and Bishops of the Checkmate pirate crew. Sanji’s blue tie with black pin-striping was knotted around the hilt of Wadou like a ribbon and Zoro was drooling all over it with the katana clasped in his mouth.
Zoro didn’t acknowledge Sanji, but Sanji had stopped expecting it. After raging against the unfairness, suffering through self-recrimination, and going as far as begging, he’d finally accepted his death. And now that he knew his nakama would be fine, he was okay with leaving them. He was actually grateful for being given the opportunity to say goodbye.
Time healed the crew as much as they’d ever heal. Sanji observed them invisibly and with only a touch of despondency. He couldn’t fault them for finding happiness again.
But as months continued to pass, irritation and mind-numbing boredom set in. Being a ghost wasn’t much fun. As tempting as it was, he’d never sully Nami-san and Robin-chan’s purity by spying on the girls in their own cabin. He was tied to Zoro, anyway, and could only get so far away before the pull to return was too strong to resist – and resist he’d tried until he felt like he was coming unraveled at the seams. He could only guess it was because Zoro had found his body and that had connected them somehow. It was like Sanji’s worst nightmare come to life, or death as the case may be.
“And it’s back to the crow’s nest for more training.” Sanji phased through the floor with an aggravated sigh as Zoro climbed through the hatch. Sunset painted the interior of the crow’s nest in red and gold. Robin unfolded her legs, rose from her seat on the curved bench, and tucked her book under her arm. “Robin-chwan! Please stay and let me gaze upon your beauty instead of watching this ugly brute lift weights again.”
“Good evening, Zoro,” Robin said, not hearing Sanji’s plea.
Zoro grunted. “You’d better hurry before Luffy eats your dinner.”
“I hope you don’t mind, but I borrowed your book.” Robin handed the book to Zoro. “I learned several things that I didn’t know about previously.”
“No, it’s fine,” Zoro said with a weird catch in his voice. He stared at the book cover.
Sanji glided closer and peered over Zoro’s shoulder. He sputtered in laughter. “‘Dining Etiquette’?!”
Robin descended from the crow’s next, closing the hatch behind her. Zoro blinked hard at the thump of the hatch and his knuckles whitened around the edges of the book. He walked over to the bench seat, opened one of his storage compartments, and buried the book deep inside.
Sanji was still laughing as Zoro began lifting weights. “I can’t believe you have a book on table manners,” he sniggered. “Obviously, you never read it as evidenced by your barbarian behavior at dinner.”
The hatch creaked when it opened and Sanji whirled like a top, hands clutched to his chest. “Mellorine! Has Robin-chwan sent you to soothe my eyes?”
“Zoro, I need to speak to you,” Nami said.
Keeping watch out the windows, Zoro didn’t stop lifting his weights. “What do you want?”
Sanji wished he was still able to kick. “Oi, shit swordsman, you could be more polite.”
“Um…” Nami appeared reluctant and Sanji was immediately concerned. He floated over to her. “Luffy and I had a talk today, and we decided we need to bring another cook onto the crew.”
“You what?!” Zoro exclaimed, and Sanji reared back. He’d known this day was coming, but it was still a blow. Zoro stared disbelievingly at Nami. “You can’t do that.”
“We have to.” Nami spread her hands in appeasement. “Robin and Franky don’t have the training to keep doing it.”
“Then I’ll do it.”
“Zoro, you don’t know how to cook.”
“I’ve watched Sanji enough. I could do it,” Zoro said, shoving his hand weights onto the rack.
Sanji snorted. “Cooking is not easy for someone who has a brain. For you, it’d be impossible.”
“No!” Zoro cut Nami off, hands bunching into fists. His face was red with anger. “I don’t want some stranger messing around in Sanji’s galley. He’d hate that.”
It was true; Sanji recoiled from the thought of anyone new using his kitchen.
“It’s been seven months, Zoro,” Nami said, taking a step towards Zoro. She laid her hand on his arm. “He wouldn’t want us to go on like this.”
Zoro jerked away. “I don’t see you starving.”
Nami sighed. “Luffy’s going to start looking for someone at the next port.”
“Whatever. Do what you want. You will anyway.” Zoro stalked over to the weight rack and stiffly loaded a bar with more weight.
Nami looked pained. She pressed her lips tightly together and left the crow’s nest.
Sanji was unhappy, but there was nothing he could do about it. “She’s right. You need a new cook. Robin-chan and Franky do a marvelous job, but you need someone with experience to make sure there’s a proper balance of nutrition so no one gets sick.”
Zoro swung his arm out suddenly, violently knocking the circular weight disks across the room. “Damn it!”
The weight disks cracked the wall but didn’t break through. Zoro collapsed onto the bench seat and buried his face in his hands. Sanji floated closer, reached out, hesitated, and then ran his ghostly fingers over Zoro’s bowed head. “Idiot,” he said quietly. “You have to let me go.”
As usual, Zoro didn’t listen.
“Zoro, will you help me?” Chopper’s shy question roused Zoro and stirred Sanji’s interest. Fluffy clouds drifted across the sky, shading the deck from the bright sun. White caps crested the waves, breaking against the Sunny’s hull. It was a beautiful day, and Sanji was bored out of his mind. It was pushing a year since he’d become a ghost and he was tired of it. Why was he still around, haunting Zoro? What usefulness did he have as a ghost? Most importantly, why couldn’t he smoke to keep his hands busy? He was wearing a shirt and a vest, so why couldn’t he make cigarettes appear? It was so unfair.
Sitting up, Zoro yawned and rubbed the sleep tears from his eyes. “Sure,” he told Chopper
“You will?” Chopper brightened and clapped. “I’m not happy at all that you agreed, bastard.”
Zoro rolled his eyes and climbed to his feet. He picked up his katanas, leaning against the ship’s rail, and slid them into the loop on his pants. Sanji’s tie knotted around Wadou fluttered in the breeze. “What do you need?”
“I’ve read about a new technique for immobilizing broken bones in the book that I picked up in Anglerton,” Chopper explained, leading the way. “I’d like to try it out and see how it works.”
Shoulders tensing, Zoro hesitated in the doorway of the infirmary before entering. Sanji slipped through the conjoining door to the galley and gazed longingly at his appliances. He missed cooking almost as much as he missed interacting with his nakama.
He stayed in the galley until his happy memories of cooking became melancholy. He floated into the infirmary and found Zoro immobilized on the medical cot. Zoro’s arms and legs were covered in gauze and Chopper was wrapping Zoro’s limbs in wet, paste-coated strips of cloth.
“Certain plants are difficult to find because they only grow in a few areas because of the climate,” Chopper rambled as he worked. Zoro appeared attentive, which piqued Sanji’s curiosity. “I prefer making my own medicines, but sometimes I can’t because of the scarcity of ingredients. Sometimes I have to purchase the ingredients and it’s expensive. Denbel is the most expensive that I’ve had to buy so far. It cost over four hundred beli! Nami wasn’t happy giving me the money, eh-heh-heh.”
“Come to me if she doesn’t give you enough,” Zoro said. “I’ll give you my share.”
“Don’t say that, asshole!” Chopper blushed brightly and danced on the stepstool. “I don’t like it when people are nice to me.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Zoro brushed off his kindness. “Tell me more about these medicines of yours. Why would you make them when you can buy them?”
“You don’t know the quality of the ingredients if you buy them,” Chopper said informatively, continuing to wrap Zoro in paste-bandages. “You don’t know the measurements of the ingredients, either. One extra teaspoon of something could mean the difference between a curative and a poison!”
The conversation continued on, with Chopper doing most of the talking, and Sanji realized that Zoro was acting brotherly towards Chopper. Sanji was surprised. Zoro hardly interacted with the crew so far as he’d observed. He couldn’t really remember Zoro ever doing it when Sanji was alive, or at least Sanji hadn’t paid attention. He didn’t know what had brought it on, but it raised Zoro up a notch in Sanji’s eyes.
Something changed with Zoro after that day. Zoro’s mind-numbing routine of training, eating, and sleeping became peppered with events that made a lingering tension over the Sunny disappear. Sanji hadn’t known that the tension was there until it had gone. The smiles of his nakama were a little brighter, their laughter merrier, and the chaos raised to ship-shaking levels like it used to be.
The difference in Zoro, though, was staggering. Zoro pretended to be asleep and allowed Luffy his fun whenever Luffy played games with Zoro as the target. He let Usopp demonstrate his inventions even though it was obvious the results would be disastrous. He volunteered to help Franky when the ship needed repairs and always helped Robin when she asked. It pissed Sanji off more now that Zoro still treated Nami like crap since he knew Zoro had the capability to be nice.
Then one day while they were in port, Zoro loomed behind Nami as she haggled with a particularly nasty vendor and Nami walked away with twice the amount of food for the asking price.
Sanji reluctantly admitted after that, that Zoro was an okay guy. But he couldn’t figure out why Zoro’s attitude adjustment bothered him so much.
The new cook was a slip of a thing with breasts that Sanji could get lost in. She also had a braying laugh and the ability to fell a man four times her size with a vial of one of the hand-mixed spices she wore on a bandoleer crossing her chest. Sanji liked Jess immediately, and that was before he’d seen her cooking. Zoro avoided her as much as he could – a blessing, really, because Sanji was tortured by what he was missing out on by being dead.
“How can you sit here, staring out over the water, when there are three perfect beauties lounging nearly naked on the lawn?” Sanji bemoaned.
Shirtless, Zoro sat on the figurehead in Luffy’s usual spot, leaning back on his elbows, the wind ruffling his short hair. Heat rose in a glimmer on the decks of the Sunny. The sun crackled high overhead in the crystalline sky. Franky had crafted a small pool on deck and Luffy, Usopp, and Chopper’s whoops of splashing laughter echoed in the air.
Sweat glistened on Zoro’s torso, on his forehead, and on his upper lip. His eyelids drooped at half-mast as he gazed over the water. He looked at peace.
Sanji sighed forlornly and sank down beside Zoro on the figurehead. “You know, this is not how I imagined my afterlife would be. Actually, I don’t know what I imagined, but it certainly wasn’t this.”
A gull skimmed the water’s surface, wingtips raising glittering droplets as it flew by.
“I know, for sure, that I didn’t expect to miss everyone so much, including you.” Sanji cut a glance at Zoro and rephrased correctly, “Especially you.”
A serene smile tilted Zoro’s lips. Sanji wanted to smack it off, if only it would get Zoro to fight him. “It’s driving me nuts not having you dishing my shit right back. What little respect I had for you was based on your standing up to me, not your crappy swordsmanship. Now that you’re not doing it any more, it’s like… a part of me is missing.”
Sanji looked down at his legless body and laughed mirthlessly. “I guess a part of me is.”
It wasn’t what he’d meant, though, and he couldn’t pretend he didn’t know it. He poked his finger against Zoro’s side, watching it pass right into him. “Bastard.”
A school of fish jumped beside the ship. Their scales reflected rainbows in the sun.
“If you changed your balance to the ball of your left foot, you’d get more torque with that move,” Sanji commented from his position on the sidelines, as Zoro pivoted and struck with his blades again.
An earlier rain had slicked the ground and droplets sparkled on the fronds that arched over the jungle. Waning sunlight filtered through the canopy, and spongy green moss grew on the pale trunks of the trees. Knee-high brittle grass was trampled under Zoro’s heavy boots. The giant, black jaguar’s roar silenced the local wildlife in fear.
Zoro leapt backwards out of reach of the jaguar’s claws and his heels slid in the mud when he landed. Rearing upright, the jaguar was as tall as a mizzen mast. Saliva dripped from sharp incisors the size of Zoro. Its claws sheared the trees into pieces with a single swipe.
The jaguar had thought Zoro was prey who’d been wandering lost through the jungle on Gato Isle. Sanji felt sorry for the jaguar for the assumption. Zoro had drawn only two katanas – to him, the fight was play.
Zoro ducked another claw swing and then charged forward with a predatory smile on his face. The jaguar howled when Zoro’s blades struck. Blood spurted from its wounds.
“Your back is wide open, idiot.” Sanji smothered the regret and anxiousness he felt not being able to join in the fight. He was the one who was supposed to fill those open spaces.
The jaguar snapped at Zoro and Zoro blocked its pointed teeth with crossed blades. The jaguar roared again in Zoro’s face. Zoro turned his head with a wrinkle of his nose. “Ugh. Cat breath.”
The jaguar swept its paw at Zoro’s feet, sending Zoro tumbling. “Stupid swordsman, pay attention!” Sanji sniped.
Zoro landed on his back with an audible “Oof!” and stared up at the jaguar as if he didn’t know what had happened. “Shit.” He rolled quickly and the jaguar’s claws slammed into the earth where Zoro had been.
Zoro scrambled to his feet. Mud streaked his clothes and bare forearms. Bits of broken grass stuck to his back. He flipped over another paw-swipe and then used the momentum to put some distance between him and the jaguar. “Okay. That’s enough of this,” Zoro said.
Getting serious, Zoro drew Wadou and clamped her between his teeth. The faded tie knotted around the hilt was frayed at the edges and missing a length on the thinner side. Zoro crouched like the jaguar, preparing to attack.
The jaguar roared and leapt. Zoro sprang and met the enormous beast midair. A ray of sunlight glinted on the three edges of Zoro’s blades. The jungle around them went suddenly silent.
Zoro landed nimbly on the other side of the jaguar and sheathed the two katanas in his hands. The jaguar seemed to hang in the air for an infinite minute. Zoro took Wadou from between his lips and slid her into her sheath. Dead, the jaguar plummeted to the earth with a boom that shook the trees. Birds took off in noisy flight.
A grin played over Zoro’s lips. “It wasn’t that impressive, marimo,” Sanji scoffed. Zoro grabbed the deceased jaguar’s tail – Zoro knew better than to kill an animal and leave it to rot, when it could be used for food – and looked around. Sanji pointed. “Harbor’s that way.”
Naturally, Zoro went in the other direction.
With an exasperated sigh, Sanji followed. He’d come to the conclusion that Zoro’s brain was too small to include an internal compass. If Zoro hadn’t been able to take care of himself his getting lost constantly would’ve been a problem as he wandered into dangerous situations. Instead, it was merely an annoying quirk that Sanji would’ve fixed by tying a leash between Zoro and the Sunny, had he known he was going to be stuck following the directionally challenged moron everywhere.
Dragging the jaguar’s body, Zoro cut a swath through the jungle, flattening grass and knocking down trees when the jaguar’s massive shoulders got stuck between the trunks. Shadows lengthened as the sun sank lower in the sky. Night insects hummed as they emerged. Zoro’s stomach rumbled audibly, and he plucked a heavy yellow fruit from a vine as he walked past and bit into it. Juice dribbled down his chin and onto his shirt.
“Pig,” Sanji commented absently, wondering what the fruit was and how it tasted. He couldn’t remember how most things tasted anymore. He still had knowledge of sweet, sour, or spicy ingredients, but their flavor had faded from his memory. It was depressing and he tried not to let it bother him. “You should pick some of that fruit for Jess.”
Zoro used to bring Sanji new fruits or legumes he’d found while wandering (lost) on a new island all the time. “Found a whole bunch of these,” he’d say and dump an armful in the sink or on the galley table before clomping off.
“Yeah, well, I don’t appreciate it,” Sanji would call after him, though Sanji actually appreciated it a lot. However, he’d never let Zoro know it.
Zoro never brought Jess anything thoughtful like that. Animals he’d killed in a fight that he couldn’t avoid were the closest things to gifts he’d give her. It made Sanji think that Zoro had liked him more.
Sanji cut a glance at Zoro. Could Zoro have liked him more? Zoro wiped his mouth with the back of his wrist before taking another huge bite of fruit. Sanji felt a little strange, like he wanted to preen and to flee at the same time.
Zoro perked up and Sanji was glad for the distraction when they emerged from the jungle into a man-made clearing. Teepees rose tall in the clearing, covered in painted animal skins. Wearing thin pelts, men and women with dark skin and dark braids worked in the central open area, cutting wood, grinding flour, or stringing traps. Young children streaked nakedly through the camp, screaming and chasing each other.
Zoro tossed the fruit core away and yanked the jaguar into the clearing. He raised his hand in greeting. “Hello!”
Heads turned in Zoro’s direction and the men picked up sharp spears or reached for the knives strapped to their thighs. Zoro seemed oblivious to, or didn’t care about, their arming themselves. “Is the harbor around here?” he asked.
Sanji floated closer to Zoro as the natives began pointing and chattering excitedly. “I’ll laugh if you end up in their stew pot.”
A handful of the men came closer, but they weren’t looking at Zoro. The dead jaguar had their full attention. Three older male children pushed through the group, stopped short, and gaped. “Woah!” the shortest exclaimed.
Zoro looked bemused. He held out the tail towards them. “You guys want it?”
One of the adult men tentatively took the tail from Zoro. He exchanged excited glances with his companions, looked at the jaguar, and then turned towards the camp. He lifted the tail in the air. “Jaguaroinoperante!”
A loud cheer rose from the natives and they began crowding around Zoro and the jaguar. Zoro received hardy slaps on the back and a few hugs. Looking slightly confused, he let them drag him into the center of the camp.
A man with gray in his braids and wearing a beaded headband stepped out of a teepee. His bare chest and arms were peppered with silvery scars. “Elder! Elder! Jaguaro inoperante!” a thrilled child called.
“Oh?” The Elder’s gravelly voice matched his weathered face. He studied the dead jaguar, which had been dragged into the camp, then turned to Zoro. “You kill Jaguaro?”
“The cat?” Zoro glanced over his shoulder at the animal and shrugged. “Yeah. Why?”
“What is name, stranger?” the Elder said.
Elder turned to his people and held out his arms in praise. “O amigo Zoro matou Jaguaro. Nós estamos livres!”
“AI-AI-AI-AI-AI-AI-AI-AI!” The cheer was deafening. Impromptu dancing took place among the natives. Zoro put his hand on the hilt of a katana when he was grabbed, but then relaxed his guard when he was hoisted harmlessly in the air and paraded around the camp.
“He’s going to be insufferable after this,” Sanji said, watching, amused, as Zoro laughed.
The natives threw a feast together in celebration, while Zoro regaled them with the tale of the jaguar’s defeat. A bonfire was lit as the sun went down and the celebration continued. Men and women put on beads and symbolically painted their faces with smashed berries. Zoro had his face painted with a line of red dots crossing over his nose beneath his eyes and another line of dots over his eyebrows.
Sanji floated near the spit where jaguar meat was cooking and pretended to be a part of the festivities. Zoro relaxed with a group of hunters, his head bent close to one with blue beads entwined in his braided hair, talking animatedly. Writhing shadows splashed against the sides of the teepees as dancing men circled the bonfire to a throbbing drum beat. Children shrieked while reenacting Zoro’s fight with the jaguar, embellishing wildly. Giggling young women shoved each other lightly until one would bring another gourd of alcohol to Zoro.
“My apologies for my companion’s boorish behavior, sweet ladies,” Sanji cooed when, one after another, the rebuffed women returned. “I would never turn away your luscious charms.”
The party went late into the night, and Zoro was shown to his own teepee by a buxom beauty that he chased away when she tried to follow him inside. Sanji phased through the teepee wall as Zoro dropped the door flaps. “You do know what she was offering, don’t you?” Sanji said in disbelief. “Or are you so stupid that a woman would have to sit on your cock before you understood?”
Candlelight flickered against the tanned interior of the teepee. A bed of soft pelts nested off to one side. Melted candle wax puddled at the base of the candle on an upturned crate. A gourd-shaped pitcher of water stood next to a hand-carved bowl on the makeshift table. A small rag sat inside the bowl.
Zoro stripped off his shirt and set his katanas on the packed earth beside the bed furs. One of his boots sailed through Sanji’s body when he tossed it over his shoulder. “Oi! Watch where you’re throwing things,” Sanji griped, moving across the teepee. He crossed his arms and hovered by the crate as Zoro poured water into the bowl. “The others are going to wonder where you are, you know. You were supposed to be on mid watch tonight.”
Zoro wrung out the wet rag and began washing. The drums still beat a heady rhythm outside.
“It was a good party, don’t you think?” Sanji said, watching Zoro run the rag over his bare arms and chest. Zoro’s skin glistened damply in the candlelight. “I would’ve cooked the jaguar differently, maybe cut it up into chunks and made shish-ka-bobs.”
Zoro dropped the rag in the bowl. Water splashed over the edge. He pulled off his haramaki and pants.
“You could’ve stayed out there.” Sanji didn’t want Zoro to go to bed yet. He wanted to pretend just a bit longer. “Maybe you would’ve found a girl to your tastes. I’m sure there’s some girl here who can open bottles with her teeth, scratches in public, and is able to lift an elephant over her head.”
Sanji averted his eyes when Zoro became intimate with the wash rag. “It sounds like your true love, doesn’t it? And she’s probably out there, waiting for you to grunt in her direction.”
The door flaps parted and the candle flickered wildly. Zoro glanced over his shoulder at the intruder, uncaring of his bare ass. It was Blue Beads from the fire circle. Blue Beads’ slightly bucked teeth gleamed whitely against his dark skin when he grinned. He turned and laced the door shut.
Sanji snorted. “You must not be that great of a hero, marimo, if you have to have a roommate.”
Zoro ran the wet rag down his legs. Blue Beads approached him from behind as he straightened. There was a strange gleam in Blue Beads’ eyes that set Sanji on edge. “Uh, Zoro, you might want to…”
Zoro dropped the rag in the bowl as Blue Beads slid his arms around Zoro’s waist. Sanji’s jaw fell when Zoro leaned back against Blue Beads and tilted his head. Blue Beads sucked a kiss on the tanned length of neck exposed.
Holy shit! Sanji couldn’t believe his eyes. He’d thought Zoro was asexual, or maybe a virgin or something. He hadn’t expected this!
Zoro turned in the embrace, wrapped his hand behind Blue Beads’ neck, and pulled him into a kiss. Sanji gaped. How could he not know that Zoro liked men? It wasn’t an easy secret to keep on a ship, Sanji knew from experience from living on the Baratie. Sure, Sanji wasn’t privy to Zoro’s deepest secrets, but he’d thought they were closer than strangers. And that’s what it felt like to Sanji, seeing a stranger wearing Zoro’s skin, tugging at the knot of Blue Beads’ loincloth.
Blue Beads was hard, and Zoro was getting that way. They sank down onto the bed furs.
“You could’ve told me!” Sanji found his powers of speech and wished he could find his feet, too. He really wanted to kick Zoro’s ass. “We’re nakama, you shit swordsman. I deserve to know something like this!”
But why? a little voice asked. Sanji had made it no secret that he was all about the ladies, and he’d made millions of needling comments about Zoro’s prowess, or lack thereof. Too stupid to chat up a girl; too ill-mannered to attract a woman; too inept to visit a brothel – Sanji belittled Zoro every chance he could. But that was how they interacted. And for more than a year Sanji had been a ghost following Zoro around and Zoro had never indicated he preferred men. Zoro hadn’t been with anyone but his hand since Sanji had died. Until now.
Blue Beads covered Zoro on the bed furs, his skin looking even darker against Zoro’s body. Zoro’s bent knee pressed against Blue Beads’ hip as Blue Beads ground against Zoro. They kissed hungrily, wetly, and finally broke apart for air. Breathing heavily, Blue Beads slipped two fingers into Zoro’s mouth. Zoro’s cheeks hollowed as he sucked on them.
Sanji watched, angry and hurt, as Blue Beads’ fingers left Zoro’s mouth slicked with saliva. Blue Beads bent his head to kiss Zoro again as he lowered his hand between them. Zoro moaned in the back of his throat and Sanji’s hands clenched into fists.
Something vile and spiteful uncoiled in Sanji and acid dripped from his tongue. “Fucking sodomite. You should be hanged for your unnatural perversion.”
Blue Beads shifted his hips and Zoro broke the kiss with a guttural sound. His face turned towards Sanji, his features twisted in the best kind of pain.
Sanji whipped around and flew out of the teepee. He wanted to keep going, but the stupid tether wouldn’t let him. He flitted angrily back and forth outside the teepee. How could Zoro do this? How could he let some horse-toothed guy fuck him? Zoro hadn’t even told Sanji that he liked men and yet he could lay there like a two-beli whore with a complete stranger. It proved how little regard Zoro had had for Sanji, that Zoro could trust someone he didn’t even know – expose himself so basely – and not drop a fucking hint to the man he’d lived side-by-side with, fought with, laughed with, mourned with; who’d battled back-to-back with him, sung bawdy sea chanteys with him, gotten drunk with him, cleaned up puke with him, dreamed with him, loved him...
Sanji drew up short and blinked hard. Oh, fuck. He loved Zoro. He loved Zoro. The dark churning inside him wasn’t disgust, it was jealousy. Laughter bubbled from Sanji, and the cynical sound stung his ears. He loved Zoro. He was also dead.
Hello, I’d like you to meet my boyfriend, the ghost. I can’t see or talk to him, and don’t even know that he’s there. It’s the perfect relationship.
Sanji laughed long and hard and wondered why it felt like he’d died all over again.
Sanji was miserable. Zoro was happier than he’d been in ages. Getting laid had seemed to be the miracle mood-enhancer that kept Zoro cheerful for weeks. It was downright nauseating. And Sanji was still jealous that it hadn’t been him that had caused Zoro to be like this.
“Nnn-nnngghh!” Luffy pushed against Zoro with his feet, trying to free his neck from the headlock Zoro had on him. Slumped against the tree in the shade, Zoro snored loudly while pretending to nap. He’d caught Luffy belly-crawling through the grass on deck, playing Snake. When Luffy had poised to strike, Zoro had grabbed him around the neck and wouldn’t let go.
Sanji hovered above the seat of the tree swing, trying and failing to distract himself by watching Nami sunbathe. Not even her heavenly body barely wearing a white and orange bikini lifted his spirits. Hearts lay in a pile under the swing, having sunk like lead balloons shortly after they appeared. It was pathetic. He was pathetic. Love sucked.
Jess swept from the galley balancing a plate in either hand, plus four more plates clasped in the hands sprouting from her chest and shoulders. Robin followed her outside, carrying a plate of her own. “Lunch time!” Jess called.
Zoro cracked an eye open, but didn’t let go of Luffy. Chopper emerged from the boys’ cabin and scurried to join everyone on the lawn.
Nami sat up and accepted a plate from Jess, as Robin folded herself beside Nami. “Ooh, this looks delicious, Jess.”
“I’m trying that pepper we picked up in Formity,” Jess said, passing a plate to Chopper before heading over to Zoro and Luffy. Two of the hands disappeared as she shifted the plates. “Let me know what you think of it.”
“It’ll be scrumptious!” Chopper declared.
Jess laughed like a donkey (a cute one, in Sanji’s opinion). “You have to eat it first.”
Zoro let go of Luffy after taking his own plate from her. He studied the vegetables piled on the plate with a wrinkled nose. “No meat?”
“Wha’?” Luffy said incredulously around his mouthful of food. “No meash?”
Sanji stared with equal incredulity at Jess. How could she not give Luffy and Zoro meat? It was a necessary part of their diets.
“There’s meat in there,” Jess said, crouching beside Zoro. She shifted the remaining two dishes to one arm and pointed at the fine slivers of white mixed throughout the vegetables. “That’s the leftover sea king you’ve been complaining about having to eat again.”
Zoro’s cheeks colored faintly. “Yeah, well, we’ve had it for two weeks straight.”
“Then next time, don’t catch such a big fish!”
The intercom cleared its throat and Usopp’s voice filled the Sunny. “I, the great Captaaaaain Usopp, have discovered land off the port bow.”
Nami’s breasts bounced pleasingly as she stood and hurried to the rail of the ship. She glanced at the log pose on her wrist. “That’s not the island we’re heading for, but—”
“I, the great Captaaaaain Usopp,” Usopp’s panicked voice over the intercom interrupted her, “have also discovered a cannonball coming right for us!”
Zoro climbed to his feet. Luffy sprang onto the rail beside Nami, hand clasped on his hat to keep it from blowing off. The cannonball whizzed in an arc over the Grand Line, heading right for the Sunny.
“They’re shooting at us!” Nami exclaimed, aghast. Zoro came to stand beside her, wearing a frown. Sanji hovered by his shoulder.
“Ha-ha! Let’s shoot back!” Luffy leapt straight in the air and caught the cannonball. The impact wound his body in circles. When he reached his tightest twist, he grinned impishly and then unwound at blurring speeds. The spin put momentum on the cannonball and it soared back towards shore with a high-pitched whistle. The explosion echoed across the water.
In response, a barrage of cannonballs was shot from shore. Zoro hopped up on the rail and drew two katanas. Nami ran for the girls’ cabin. Robin joined Chopper in rushing to the rail, while Jess ran up to take Franky’s place at the helm. The lunch plates sat forgotten in the grass.
Luffy’s laughter rolled down the Sunny’s mainsail. He was perched on the end of the horizontal yard, giddy with excitement. Usopp pushed open one of the crow’s nest’s windows. Fourteen cannonballs streaked through the sky towards the Sunny.
“Nanajuuni—” Zoro crossed his katanas in front of him, building up energy in his arms. “—pondo hou.” With a cutting release, a wave of power swept through the air and sliced five of the cannonballs clean in half.
“Cien fleur!” Robin called. A hundred hands built out from the rail of the ship and formed a giant racket. The racket drew back and smacked several of the cannonballs back towards shore.
Franky’s wrist opened and he returned cannon fire with cannon fire, knocking cannonballs out of the sky one after another. Usopp’s sniper shots from the crow’s nest exploded two more mid-air. Chopper cheered. Nami rejoined the crew, dressed in a wraparound skirt and tank top. She ran up the stairs to join Jess at the helm. Nami opened a telescope, examined the shore, and gave instructions to Jess for guiding the Sunny into the harbor. The Straw Hats didn’t run from a fight.
The ease and precision of the crew working together made Sanji ache to be a part of it again. It had been so long that he’d forgotten what it felt like to face a physical challenge with only his legs to protect him and everyone he cared for. He’d never been meant to be a spectator.
“You can do better than that,” Sanji berated Zoro, when Zoro sliced through another round of cannonballs. Luffy puffed like a balloon and let several of the cannonballs rebound against his body.
The Sunny steered closer to shore. Usopp picked off single targets in quick succession. Luffy dropped from the yard onto the deck, grabbed the rail, and stretched his arms. “Gomu gomu no rocket!”
Zoro caught a ride on Luffy as he flew from the ship towards shore. Sanji zipped after them, shouting, “Hey!” over his shoulder when Franky’s grappling hand punched through Sanji’s body.
Franky’s hand grasped a flag pole. Chopper latched onto Franky’s neck and the two soon joined Luffy and Zoro. Bodies littered the harbor path – men, women, and children cut down in cold blood. The buildings along the waterfront stood in smoldering ruins. The four Straw Hats exchanged grim looks. Chopper chomped on a Rumble Ball.
A masked, mustachioed skull-and-crossbones flag flapped on the mainmast of a brigantine floating in the harbor. Cannons from the ship and from the town’s defenses fired indiscriminately on the Sunny.
“Keel them!” shouted a small man with silver at his temples and a curling mustache who’d appeared on the wall. He wore a feathered hat and waved a rapier. “Keel them all!”
A roar of agreement rose in the air. Masked pirates poured over the wall and from the ship, shouting obscenities. The Straw Hats met the attack head on.
Dividing from the others, Zoro parried, thrust, and cut through the pirates swarming him like paper. He ran up the wall to the top. Sanji stopped beside him. The town spread below, buildings smoking and some still on fire. Townspeople not lying dead in the streets fled screaming from the pirates. The Sunny’s appearance had interrupted a pillaging.
Zoro’s expression darkened and he drew all three katanas. He leapt down from the wall with a snarl of outrage. The faded tie knotted around Wadou’s hilt flapped beside Zoro’s cheek as he ran full tilt into town.
Sanji flew behind him, angry and disgusted by the pirates’ needless killing. How were the children a threat to them? Or the elderly? What was so valuable that it was worth murdering anyone for?
Zoro felt the same way and he showed no mercy to those who had such little regard for other people’s lives. He routed the pirates from still standing buildings and alleys. Rescued mothers clutched their babies, teary-eyed with thanks. Townsmen and women picked up rapiers from the felled pirates and rallied to fight back.
“On your left,” Sanji directed as Zoro ran through an intersection. Zoro kept going straight. “Left! On your left, moron!”
The pirate Zoro had passed yelled, “Die!”, and took off after Zoro instead. Zoro whipped around, killed the pirate, and kept running straight without losing a step.
The cannons had stopped booming in the background. Sanji took it as a good sign that his nakama were winning. He and Zoro passed a narrow street where Chopper was flinging pirates with the sharp tips of his horns. On another block, pirates flew over the tops of buildings to the cry of, “Gomu gomu no Gatling gun!”
Zoro kept running, taking corners at random, slicing down any pirates he found. The buildings thinned and gave way to farmland. Scarecrows watched while fresh vegetables, stolen from the lush fields, tumbled from abandoned carts as the greedy thieves were punished by Zoro’s blades.
The road curved and branched. Zoro’s boots kicked up dust as he continued on. Sanji glanced over his shoulder. From the roll of the farmland, he could no longer see the town. “Oi, dumbass, I don’t think the pirates made it out this far yet.”
Sanji was wrong. They came around a curve and over a rise, to find an old man struggling against four pirates on the side of the road. The white haired old man was tied with rope, flopping around on the ground and kicking. A pushcart lay overturned nearby. The pirates had their rapiers drawn.
The pirates turned at the heavy stomp of Zoro’s boots on the road. Beneath their masks, their faces paled. Zoro’s lips curled in a snarl around Wadou’s hilt.
“You all right, old man?” Zoro said a few seconds later, the dead pirates staining the road with their blood. Two katanas sheathed, Zoro slit the old man’s bonds with the third and gave him a hand up.
“Now that you’re here, I am,” the old man replied. Stoop shouldered and unsteady on his feet, he hooked his fingers over Zoro’s arm. “Quickly, before others arrive.”
Zoro let the old man lead him up the road. Sanji studied the sliced rope, his mind turning. The pirates in town had killed anyone they ran across. Yet, these four had tied this old man up like a prisoner. Why?
Sanji caught up with Zoro and the old man. The old man didn’t look too special. A doctor maybe? Or maybe he had a bounty? Sanji wracked his brain but couldn’t remember seeing a wanted poster with the old man’s face on it. Then again, the old man hadn’t always been old and his bounty could’ve been placed on his head decades ago, when he looked differently.
The old man guided Zoro down a path that branched from the road. A small, red-washed house stood on a rise at the end of the path. White flowers bloomed on bushes around the house. A white fence ran along either side of a worn stone walkway leading to the front door. The front door hung damaged on its hinges. Inside, furniture was overturned and items were broken. Clothes spilled from an upturned wardrobe. Pottery lay in pieces on the floor.
“Over here,” the old man directed, shattered dishes crunching under his sandals as he led Zoro through the destroyed room. A squat bookshelf filled with tomes stood against the wall, untouched by the pirates. The old man pointed to it. “The damned thing is stuck. What good is having a bolt hole if I can’t get it open?”
A bolt hole? Sanji leaned towards bounty as the answer. It had to be a pretty large bounty, too.
The bookshelf swung open easily under Zoro’s hand. Relieved, the old man ducked through the secret door. “Come, come,” he beckoned to Zoro.
Zoro crouched and entered a room identical to the one they’d just been in, only undamaged and windowless. A stove, sink, and icebox nestled in a corner. Four pillows sat on the floor at the four sides of a low wooden table. Dishes and pottery were piled on shelves on the walls. A rolled futon stood in a corner beside a small wardrobe.
The old man knelt on a pillow with a grateful sigh. “Thank you. I should be safe in here until the pirates have given up the hunt for me.”
“There won’t be any of those pirates on this island once my nakama and I are done,” Zoro stated fiercely. His fingers tightened around the hilt of a katana and he gave the old man a perfunctory nod. “I’ll send someone to let you know when it’s safe.”
The old man seemed surprised. “You aren’t curious why they’re after me?”
Sanji was curious, but of course Zoro wasn’t. Zoro didn’t care about anything but fighting, training, napping, and sake when it was available. And sex with men. Sanji scowled moodily.
“Like I said, I’ll send someone to let you know when it’s safe to come out,” Zoro said, turning for the door.
“Wait,” the old man stopped him. “I have one more question.”
Zoro turned back, visibly irritated. “What is it?”
“Don’t be rude, asshole,” Sanji said. “There will still be bad guys for you to kill after answering his question.”
Zoro all but tapped his foot, waiting. The old man studied him. “Don’t you desire a reward for rescuing me?” the old man asked.
“I don’t help people for rewards,” Zoro said, his lips twisting in disgust. He pivoted on his heel, heading for the door.
“What if I said I could give you the most precious gift in the world?”
“Find someone to give it to who deserves it. I don’t care.” Zoro ducked through the doorway and swung the bookcase shut.
Nami was going to beat Zoro senseless for giving up a treasure. Sanji shook his head. Dumbass.
Making to follow, Sanji drew up short when the old man unexpectedly crashed forward, his forehead smacking on the low table. “Shit! Oi, old man. Old man!” Sanji rushed over to him and tried to see what was wrong. The old man’s eyes were shut, his wrinkled face slack. Sanji couldn’t tell if he was breathing. “Shit, shit, shit!”
What should Sanji do? There was nothing he could do. The old man could be dying because Sanji was a fucking useless ghost. But he had to try. He needed to get Zoro back to the house.
Sanji whipped around and aimed for the wall. Suddenly, his body seized, freezing him midair. What the hell? He struggled to move or speak, panic building. What was happening?
Panic turned to fear when Sanji’s body began to glow with white light, growing brighter and brighter until it blinded him. Oh fuck, was this the end? Were his haunting days over? He thought he’d been ready for it, but now he didn’t want to leave. The old man needed help. And Zoro— fuck, Sanji didn’t want to leave him. He loved Zoro. Even if nothing could ever come of it, he wanted to stay by Zoro’s side. He didn’t want to leave!
The white light vanished abruptly and Sanji crashed to the floor. Pain exploded in his body. The foreign feeling scrambled his brains as tears leaked from his eyes. Pain? Tears? What? Sanji’s breaths were harsh in his ears and coldness underscored the pain. He was on the floor, the grain of the wood blurred from the tears. He had a rancid taste in his mouth.
“So you’re the one I felt hanging around,” the old man’s voice filtered through the confusion in Sanji’s mind. Roughened hands helped him sit up. A lightweight pale green robe was draped over his shoulders. The wood floor scratched his bare ass.
Kneeling in front of Sanji, the old man studied him concernedly. The old man looked much older than he had before, and more frail. Deep grooves etched lines around his mouth and hollowed his eyes. “Do you have a name?”
Sanji opened his mouth but no sound emerged, because his eyes had caught on something he’d thought were gone forever. He had legs.
Sanji wiggled his toes and felt the pull of muscle in his calves. Hair covered his legs and spread over his groin, which was exposed to the old man’s eyes. Sanji pulled the robe over his lap, a distant part of his mind squealing in glee at the sight of his cock. His body was whole once more.
The pain faded into a low-level ache. Sanji could feel his heart pumping. His chest rose and fell with each of his breaths. He licked his lips and felt the moisture from his tongue.
“Don’t worry, it’s just as disorienting for everyone,” the old man said. He stood, retrieved a cup of water, and returned. “Here.”
The cup seemed inordinately heavy and Sanji’s hand shook, splashing water over the rim. The old man helped him bring it to his mouth. The water was cool, refreshing, and the best thing Sanji had ever tasted. It washed the rancidness from his mouth and cleared his head.
“How?” Sanji’s voice trembled like his hand. “How did you…”
“Bring you back to life?” the old man finished. He set the empty cup on the floor. “Ever hear of something called the Devil’s Fruit?”
Sanji laughed. It sounded slightly hysterical. “Yeah, I know all about them.”
“My ability is to bring ghosts back to life.” The old man held up his withered hands. “But at a steep price.”
“Not that I’m not grateful, but why did you do it if it comes at such a price?” Sanji said.
“Because your green-haired friend didn’t ask,” the old man said. “And because it takes a certain type of bond for me to feel if a ghost is present, in order to bring them back.”
“What kind of bond?”
The old man smiled and tapped the side of his nose. “I think you can figure that one out on your own.”
Sanji’s legs wobbled like a newborn colt’s and he gripped the fence lining the stone walkway outside the old man’s house. The pale green robe fluttered against his legs with each shaky step. The worn stone was rough against the soles of his bare feet. Overhead, the sun shone brightly, warming the top of his scalp. His hair tickled his nose when a breeze stirred the fine blonde strands.
The world looked different to his eyes, crisper, cleaner. Flowers bloomed in vivid colors. Birds flitted across the blue sky with a whistling song. Deep, rich soil produced healthy crops as far as he could see. The salty scent of the sea permeated the air. Sanji relished it all.
A splinter from the fence stuck Sanji’s finger and he gasped in pain. He lifted his finger and stared at the blood welling from the prick. He was bleeding. His finger hurt. Sanji threw his head back and laughed giddily. He was fucking alive!
The old man had wanted Sanji to wait until someone returned, but Sanji couldn’t stay. He needed to get back to the Sunny. He needed to see his nakama. Most importantly, he needed to find Zoro and— and— Well, Sanji didn’t know what he wanted to do, all that mattered was that he was alive to do it!
Sanji reached the end of the fence and paused to rest. His legs were weak, his body not used to the effort it took to walk. He hoped he could reach the harbor before the Sunny left. He knew his nakama would stay and help the townsfolk for a while, but Nami wouldn’t want to remain too long so as not to lose the log pose setting.
Hearts burst like fireworks above Sanji’s head. He’d be able to bestow affection on Nami and Robin again! And Jess – a new flower that deserved his tender care. He was sure they could come to an agreement to share the galley, working closely, intimately…
“I’m coming, my lovelies!” Sanji called, pushing away from the fence. “Don’t leave without me!”
He took a step without support and nearly fell on his face. He latched onto the fence again. “Shit.” Damn it. This was going to be harder than he’d thought.
Mustering his energy, Sanji shoved away from the fence. He shuffled slowly forward, arms extended for balance. His goal was the brown fence across the road surrounding the farm field. He would not let a little thing like walking stop him from returning to where he belonged.
Sanji managed to reach the fence without falling and collapsed against it, huffing from the effort. He squinted as he looked up the road. The fence thankfully ran right alongside the dirt road and, when he got closer to town, he might find someone willing to assist him. If they didn’t try to kill him, thinking he was one of the bad pirates. He’d have to be careful; he’d just come back to life, he didn’t need to die again on the same day.
Sanji caught his breath and started walking. The packed dirt road was easy on his bare feet. He followed the fence, admiring the fields of vegetables that would feed many. He’d have to see if the townspeople would trade for some of them for the Straw Hat crew. Fresh vegetables were important to remain healthy.
The road branched and Sanji recognized the scarecrow in the field. He stumbled to his knees once crossing the open road, scratching his bare kneecaps and palms. Cursing his weakness, he latched onto a new fence and continued on his way.
Around the curve in the road, he caught sight of someone running towards him. He stilled, wary that it was one of the pirates. As the runner came closer, Sanji saw a familiar shade of green hair and his heart quivered. Zoro.
Sanji’s fingers tightened over the length of fence and he fought to keep his tone neutral. “Oi, Zoro!” he called. “The harbor’s the other way.”
Zoro stopped so fast he left skid marks in the dirt. He stood unmoving a good distance away. Sanji could feel Zoro’s stare boring into him. He forced a smirk. “What’s the matter? Never see a dead person before?”
Sanji knew Zoro could move fast, but even he was shocked frozen when Zoro suddenly appeared in front of him and pressed the blade of a katana against his throat. Fury blackened Zoro’s eyes and distorted his features. “Take that face off right now,” he snarled.
A shiver wracked Sanji’s spine. He’d never been afraid of Zoro, but at that moment he understood what others felt when faced with Zoro’s wrath.
Sanji could feel the blade dig into his skin when he swallowed the lump of fear. “It’s me, idiot. Get that fucking sword off my throat before I kick your head in.”
Zoro dug the blade in harder and spittle foamed at the corners of his lips. “NOW!”
The fear left Sanji with a snap of anger. Zoro dared threaten him like that? Almost of its own accord, Sanji’s leg flashed out in a round kick. It hurt immensely, muscles pulling painfully from not being used in so long. His other leg refused to hold his weight, his knee buckling. His hold on the fence didn’t help much and he went down hard on his ass.
Luckily, Zoro had moved his katana the instant Sanji started to fall, so Sanji didn’t have to worry about a severed head on top of everything else. “Ow! Fuck! Shit!” Sanji smacked his fist in the dirt. His other arm was raw where it had scraped against the fence. “Motherfucking legs. You were dead, not an invalid, damn it.”
Sanji glared up at Zoro. “And you! Stop being a fucking jackass, you shit swordsman, and put Wadou away, or so fucking help me I will kick your ass all the way back to the Sunny.”
Zoro’s face drained of color. “S-Sanji?”
“Yes, it’s me, you stupid marimo,” Sanji said irritably, yanking his robe shut and re-knotting the belt. The material draped modestly between his bent knees. “I know it’s a fucking shock – it is to me, too. One minute I’m a ghost following your sorry ass around and the next I’m alive again and listening to an old man ramble about precious gifts and shit. And fucking hell, I need a cigarette.” Sanji thrust out his hand towards Zoro. “Help me up already, shithead.”
Sanji’s faded tie fluttered like a tail as Wadou fell to the ground. Sanji stared, astounded, at the katana Zoro had dropped and then looked back up at him. “Zoro?”
Zoro took Sanji’s hand, but instead of pulling Sanji to his feet, Zoro dropped to his knees. Sanji blinked several times as Zoro bent forward and rested his forehead against Sanji’s chest. He stared at the crown of Zoro’s head. “Um, what are you doing?”
Hand still holding Sanji’s, Zoro rubbed his thumb against the lines on Sanji’s palm. “Sanji…”
The shaky sound of his name on Zoro’s lips wrenched Sanji’s heart and he brought his other hand up to cup the back of Zoro’s neck. He rested his chin on the top of Zoro’s head and whispered, “That’s ‘perverted love cook’ to you.”
A broken laugh burst from Zoro and he yanked Sanji into a hug that squeezed the breath out of him. Sanji found he didn’t care. He wrapped his arms around Zoro and hugged back even tighter. He felt like he was finally home.
Birds twittered in the field beside them. A breeze stole up the folds of Sanji’s robe. Zoro let go and scrubbed his hand over his eyes, but not before Sanji saw their dampness. “What happened? How are you back?” Zoro asked.
“I told you, it was that old man,” Sanji said, after clearing his throat. It was dusty outside. “He has some Devil’s Fruit power that can bring ghosts back into the land of the living. It’s probably why those pirates had captured them.”
Zoro glanced at him quizzically. “You know about that?”
“I was with you,” Sanji said. He used the fence to climb unsteadily to his feet. Zoro shoved Wadou into her sheath and scurried to assist, angling a shoulder beneath Sanji’s arm and curving his hand around Sanji’s waist. “I’ve been with you this entire time. You just didn’t know that I was there.”
“If you tell me you’re sorry, I’ll kick your ass.”
The sad look vanished from Zoro’s face, replaced by a familiar smirk. “Because you did it so well last time.”
“Shut up and take me back to the ship.”
Zoro chuckled, hugged Sanji tighter around the waist, and, together, they began walking slowly down the road.
Sanji’s return from the dead was greeted with short-lived suspicion, crushing hugs, joyous tears, and a few lucky gropes that didn’t wind up with him getting beaten black and blue. At first, his nakama wouldn’t leave his side. Someone was always with him, touching him, talking to him, and, in a swift amount of time, annoying him. He sought refuge in Zoro’s company – a surprise to Zoro, but not to Sanji. Sanji had spent his ghostly existence practically living in Zoro’s haramaki; not being with Zoro felt weird.
Sanji wasn’t used to Zoro responding to his comments, though. Had Zoro always had that sharp of a tongue? Had Sanji enjoyed his verbal sparring with Zoro so much before he’d died? Had that twinkle been present in Zoro’s eyes each time their fights turned physical? Had Sanji’s blood sung so excitedly in those fights?
Sanji fell into an easy routine as the days passed, relearning his place among the crew. He didn’t fight Jess for the ship’s chef duties, instead using the hours between meals to discover his love of cooking once more. He helped the others when needed and hung out with Zoro when he wasn’t, getting scolded by Nami when their fighting disrupted her or damaged the ship. Chopper had proclaimed Sanji’s new body healthier than the old one and Sanji had promptly fixed that by smoking three packs of cigarettes in a row. He’d started training again, both early in the morning when only Jess and the person on watch were awake and in the evenings in the crow’s nest with Zoro.
Dressed in roomy pants and a ribbed white tank, Sanji propped his ankle on the waist-high barre attached to the wall and began a series of stretches. Zoro was on the floor warming up with an ungodly number of pushups. Zoro’s bared muscles rippled as he raised and lowered himself with one finger, his other hand in a loose fist behind his back. Zoro’s katanas leaned against the wall, along with his discarded shirt. An evening cross-breeze flowed through the crow’s nest through the open windows and made the flames flicker in the lanterns. Voices drifted inside occasionally from their nakama below.
In the morning, the Sunny would reach Bakerston. According to the information Nami had gathered, they’d have a five-day layover in order for the log pose to set. Restocking would only take a day and, after that, Sanji would be free to take pleasure in all that he’d missed while he’d been dead. He was staying clear of the fight to convince Jess not to leave the crew at Bakerston. “I took your place, but I could never fill your shoes,” she’d told him privately on the morning she’d made her decision. Sanji understood – he felt the same way about Zeff – and respected her choice.
Zoro had already voiced his opinion (“You could stay, make Sanji your dish boy.”) and Sanji knew he wouldn’t say anything further. That meant Zoro would be looking for ways to entertain himself at Bakerston. Sanji lowered his left leg and set his right ankle on the barre. Lifting his arm over his head, he stretched sideways. Maybe he would see if Zoro wanted to do something with him. Or maybe Zoro would want to get away from the crew, including Sanji. Maybe Zoro wanted to do something with someone else. Maybe Zoro wanted to do someone else.
Sanji’s hands tightened around his foot, his chest pressed against his extended knee. Jealousy sank its fangs into Sanji at the thought of Zoro having sex with a stranger again. Being back amongst the living hadn’t changed Sanji’s feeling towards Zoro; in fact, they’d grown stronger because of Zoro’s interactions with him. Sanji lowered his leg and took several measured breaths. Zoro stood, bent at the waist, and put his hands flat on the floor. His pants stretched taut across his ass. Sanji’s fingernails dug into his palms. It wasn’t his business who Zoro slept with and bringing it up would only make things awkward.
Zoro straightened and twisted his upper body. A frown creased his brow when he caught sight of Sanji. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Sanji turned to the barre, rested his hand on it, and lifted his left leg behind his back. He grasped his ankle, pulling his leg in a slow stretch above his head.
Sanji sensed Zoro moving behind him and forced himself not to exit the stretch until it was completed. He lowered his leg to the floor. Zoro put his hands on Sanji’s shoulders and turned him around. “It’s not nothing. You’re all tense.”
“It’s because you’re interrupting me.” Sanji shrugged off Zoro’s hands. “Don’t you have a million more pushups to do?”
Zoro studied Sanji. “You’re lying.”
Of course he was lying. “No, I’m annoyed. Get out of my face, marimo.”
With a smirk, Zoro shoved his face right in Sanji’s. “No.”
Sanji reared back, bumping into the barre behind him. The sudden closeness was too much. Zoro’s smirk fell away. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing’s wrong, jackass.” Sanji snapped. He pushed past Zoro, aiming for the weights.
Zoro snagged his arm. “Bullshit. I know when something’s bothering you.”
“You don’t know shit!” Sanji yanked his arm free and glared hotly at Zoro. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“I know plenty. I’ve known you for years!”
“Yeah, well, a lot changes when you’re dead!”
The blood drained from Zoro’s face, turning him a sickly shade of white. Sanji regretted the reminder immediately. “Zoro…”
Zoro spun around abruptly and walked over to the open window. Grasping the windowsill, he stared out over the sea.
Sanji was an asshole. He dragged his fingers through his hair, went over to Zoro, and laid his hand on Zoro’s shoulder. He could feel a fine tremble beneath the bare skin. “Hey—”
“That was the worst day of my life,” Zoro said jaggedly. “You don’t know—” He stopped and clamped his lips together. The tense line of his jaw made his profile appear cut from stone.
“I’m sorry.” Sanji didn’t know what else to say. “I’m sorry—”
“I love you.” Zoro turned his head to look at Sanji. A thousand emotions welled in his eyes. “I love you, and I can’t go through that again.”
Sanji’s heart stopped in his chest and then started beating wildly. Zoro loved him. He suppressed the urge to whoop in joy and instead slid his hand from Zoro’s shoulder up to curve around the back of his neck. Zoro stared at him, fear, longing, and pain swimming at the surface of his emotions. “I can’t promise you that I won’t die again,” Sanji told him, “but I can promise to love you until that day comes.”
The smile that slowly eclipsed Zoro’s face made Sanji’s romanticism worthwhile.
Shifting, Zoro slipped his arms around Sanji’s waist and drew him into an embrace. His breath was warm on Sanji’s skin. Sanji felt the touch of a kiss over the fluttering pulse in his neck. It was a tender gesture that made his heart sigh, and he really did love this man, didn't he? Turning his head, Sanji nosed the strands of hair above Zoro’s ear and whispered, “You’re mine now.”
Zoro shuddered in Sanji’s arms, lifted his head, and seized Sanji’s mouth in a kiss that Sanji felt everywhere. Powerful, primal, demanding – it was a kiss Sanji had never experienced with a woman. He returned it with everything he had and was rewarded with a ragged moan.
“Sanji,” Zoro mumbled plaintively against Sanji’s lips. His fingers rucked up Sanji’s tank with his grip. Sanji felt a hardening length press against his thigh and arousal rushed through him, fast and furiously.
They needed to be naked. Sanji’s clothes were suddenly too constricting. He toed off his shoes and struggled with pulling his tank over his head without leaving Zoro’s mouth. Zoro helped by yanking it off between one breath and the next. The tank went sailing out the open window.
Sanji’s bare chest pressed against Zoro’s and the flat, solid masculinity threw him. He tore his mouth from Zoro’s and blinked dazedly. Zoro’s lips were reddened from kissing and a flush colored his face. There was a faint sheen of moisture in his eyes. His big fingers clumsily worked the knot tying Sanji’s pants on his hips.
A surge of panic almost made Sanji laugh nervously. He held it back, swatted Zoro’s hands away, and tripped him onto the floor. The knock of Zoro’s head against the wood didn’t dispel Zoro’s ardor. His cock strained visibly against the material of his pants. "Sanji?"
Sanji stared down at the man spread before him as want warred with trepidation. He loved Zoro, there was no question about that, but once he stepped over the line there was no turning back. He’d no longer be a ‘ladies man.’
Zoro propped himself up on his elbows and, knowingly or unknowingly, spread his knees in blatant invitation. Sanji’s cock pulsed in excitement. Fuck it, Sanji thought and dropped by Zoro’s feet. He tugged off a boot and threw it over his shoulder. I’ll deal with that later.
Sanji got rid of Zoro’s other boot and his pants. Naked in the lantern light, Zoro’s erection curved against his abdomen in a thatch of green curls. Sanji had seen Zoro hard before and had floated outside numerous masturbation sessions, but this time Zoro was hard because of him. It was weird, flattering, and made Sanji want to beat his chest all at once.
“Come here, already,” Zoro said, extending a hand towards Sanji. Sanji gulped and crawled up between Zoro’s thighs. He tried not to look. Zoro tilted his chin and engaged Sanji in a kiss that spelled out exactly how Zoro felt about him. Sanji’s fingernails dug grooves in the wood floor and he lost the ability to breathe.
Zoro’s mouth slid from Sanji’s lips, across his cheek, and nipped at his earlobe. “Fuck me.”
Sanji made a rather intelligent, strangled noise and grabbed his cock through his pants. He didn’t want it to be over before he had gotten to grant Zoro’s request. He didn’t know what to do, though. That native had done something with his fingers that had made Zoro writhe and– oh shit, did he have to stick his fingers in Zoro’s ass? “I don’t— I’ve never—”
Zoro grinned, and it was playful and slightly mocking. “Are you telling me you’re a virgin?”
“No.” Sanji rose upright on his knees with a huff. “I am most definitely not. But you don’t exactly have the bits that I’m used to.”
Zoro palmed Sanji’s crotch, making both him and his cock jump. “Feels like you’ve got the same bits to me,” Zoro said cheekily.
“Jackass,” Sanji said, smacking Zoro’s hand away. “Just tell me what to do already, before my dick falls off.”
Snickering, Zoro gestured at the bench seat curving beneath the windows of the crow’s nest. “There’s a vial of oil in the middle left compartment.”
They were close enough to the seat that Sanji didn’t bother getting up. He climbed over Zoro’s leg and scooted over to the bench. He opened the compartment. Inside was a lot of Zoro’s flotsam: cleaning supplies for the katana; a broken ankle weight; a sewing needle and different colored threads; a handful of ship nails; old, crumpled shopping lists; an odd-looking invention of Usopp’s; bandages; two empty sake bottles; the vial Zoro told him to retrieve; and a book.
Sanji picked up the book and grinned. “‘Dining Etiquette’.”
“That’s not mine,” Zoro said swiftly.
“Liar,” Sanji sniggered and paged through it. “I know for a fact it’s yours. Did you actually spend money on it?”
“Shut up.” Zoro crawled up beside Sanji and snatched the book from him.
“Why’d you buy it, huh? Trying to impress someone?” Sanji paused and then gaped as it hit him. “You were trying to impress me.”
“Ha!” Zoro responded, but his face was bright red as he shoved the book into the bowels of the compartment.
The knowledge of the truth made Sanji a little giddy, and a lot horny. He sidled up behind Zoro. Wrapping his arms around Zoro’s waist, Sanji rested his chin on Zoro’s shoulder. His hard-on nestled perfectly against Zoro’s ass. “Want me to show you how impressed I am?”
Zoro snorted. “Do lines like that really work?”
Sanji flicked his tongue against the shell of Zoro’s ear. “You tell me.”
Twisting his head, Zoro initiated a kiss that told Sanji that lines like that worked in spades. Heat spiked between them and reached boiling point in a flash. Sanji burned with desire for a man he hadn’t looked twice at and he called himself all kinds of stupid for not realizing sex with Zoro would sear his bones.
Sanji ended up on his back with no recollection of how he got there. He dove into another kiss, losing himself in the passion. He skimmed his hands along Zoro’s biceps, over his shoulders, and up his neck, feeling the taut cords of muscle stretch and flex beneath his skin. Zoro’s earrings tinkled when Sanji bumped them with a finger and he moaned a little when Sanji tightly gripped on his hair.
Sanji heard a clink of glass and Zoro began moving in a distracting manner. He dragged his mouth away from Zoro’s and opened his eyes. Zoro hovered above him, concentration and lust creasing his features. His cock hung heavily between his legs and he was doing something to himself with his arm stretched back that made him gasp in pleasure.
Shit, Zoro was fingering himself, and that shouldn’t be hot, but it really, really was, and if Sanji didn’t fuck Zoro soon he’d explode. A whine escaped his throat and Zoro opened his eyes. His hungry gaze scorched Sanji – hunger for Sanji – and Sanji couldn’t take anymore. With a twist of his legs, he tumbled Zoro onto his back, changing their positions. Sanji snagged the rolling vial before it got away.
Dropping back on his heels, Sanji yanked at the knot in his pants with one hand while unstoppering the vial with his other. “Do I need to do something with this?” he said, desperation lacing his tone.
“Put some on your cock,” Zoro’s gravelly voice inflamed Sanji’s every nerve-ending, “and then fuck me, damn it.”
“Fuck. Fuck.” Sanji almost dropped the vial in his haste to get his pants down. His erection sprang from his boxers, flushed dark with blood. He hissed when the cool, cinnamon scented oil hit his excited cock. The oil got everywhere in Sanji’s rush, on his hands, on his pants, on the floor, and the vial went skating across the crow’s nest when Zoro pulled his knees back and offered himself to Sanji.
Sanji’s hand shook as he lined up his cock. Zoro was tight and resisting, and then Sanji was suddenly in and holyfuckingshit. Pants and boxers bunched around his knees, he pressed over Zoro and chased for the skittered marbles of his brain. Zoro’s nose and eyes were scrunched in the perfect kind of agony and he muttered a litany of “Sanji, fuck, Sanji, fuck,” with every rasp of breath.
Sanji drew his hips back and thrust, his eyes rolled back, and he was gone, destroyed by the tightness and the heat. He fucked Zoro hard, screwing his hips with each pounding thrust. Zoro’s ankle dug into his lower back and the grip on his bicep was bruising. Sanji’s chin dropped and his slick palms slid further and further forward on the floor where he’d braced them.
Orgasm slammed through Sanji with teeth-rattling intensity that wrung every drop of come from his balls. His hands slid out from under him and he crashed onto his elbows on either side of Zoro’s head. He wasn’t sure he knew which way was up. Zoro tugged at his arm with a “Please, you bastard,” and Sanji opened his eyes. The wild need on Zoro’s face made Sanji’s cock pulse dryly. He shifted his weight to his other arm and Zoro pulled Sanji’s hand down between their bodies. Zoro’s erection was as hard as steel and slicked with sweat, and Sanji had a jibbering moment over touching another guy’s cock until Zoro shattered under his jerking hand and Sanji filled with a strange pride.
Catching his breath, Zoro cracked open his eyelids and gave Sanji a lazy, satiated smile that made Sanji want to fuck him all over again. Instead, he kissed Zoro’s nose and chuckled at the squawked “Hey!” he received in return. He moved off Zoro, wiped his hands on his pants before adjusting his clothing into place, and flopped on the floor with a pleased sigh. He could use a cigarette, but Zoro didn’t allow him to smoke when they were working out, so his pack was down in the boys’ cabin. He supposed a nap would do instead.
Zoro’s joints cracked as he stretched and then Sanji suddenly found himself being rolled onto his side. “Oi! Sleeping here.”
Zoro curved behind him, draping a heavy arm over Sanji’s waist. His chest was damp from sweat and hot against Sanji’s bare back. “Yes, sleeping.” Sanji pillowed his head on his arm with a grin. Zoro was a cuddler. Sanji would have to abuse the knowledge often. The Sunny rocked gently. The lantern light flickered with the breeze. Fresh sea air drifted through the open windows. Across the crow’s nest, Zoro’s katanas rested against the wall. Sanji’s tie remained knotted to one of the hilts. “Tie thief,” Sanji murmured.
“My tie around Wadou’s hilt.” The color of it had faded to almost white. “When did you steal it?”
“I didn’t.” Zoro nuzzled Sanji’s hair. “You left it up here.”
“Why didn’t you give it back, then?” Sanji paused and thought about it. “Pervert.”
“Am not,” Zoro said, but Sanji could feel Zoro’s heated cheek against his shoulder.
“And then you put it in your mouth.”
“I washed it!”
Sanji snickered. “Pervert.”
“Shut up,” Zoro muttered.
“You should throw it out.” Sanji nudged his elbow into Zoro’s side. “You won’t need it anymore.”
“No.” Zoro’s arm tightened around Sanji. “It’s staying where it is.”
Zoro didn’t respond. Sanji tried turning to face him, but Zoro only held him tighter, tangling their bare feet together. He buried his face against the curve of Sanji’s neck. It made Sanji curious and concerned. “Zoro…?”
“Kuina drives my dream, but you were— are my future,” Zoro answered quietly against Sanji’s skin. “I wanted you to be with me when I reached it.”
Sanji stared at the scrap of tie knotted around the hilt as the weight of Zoro’s words folded around him. Zoro loved him fiercely and absolutely, and Sanji never would’ve known if he had died and simply faded away, instead of being given a ghost of a chance at something more. “I love you.”
Zoro pressed a lingering kiss to the nape of Sanji’s neck. Sanji took Zoro’s hand, backed a little closer, and entwined their fingers over his heart.