Twilight painted the hazy sky in oranges and purples and reflected on the rippling surface of the sea. Hands pillowed behind his head, Zoro watched the clouds change shape as he floated aimlessly on a raft of broken foredeck. Wind ruffled his short hair and snapped at his exposed skin. The storm that had capsized the schooner – on which he'd been catching a ride – had died out as quickly as it had arisen. The other two who'd been on the vessel had made it to a rowboat before a rough swell had washed Zoro from sight. He hoped they had made land safely. He wasn't too concerned about his own predicament. Heavy ship traffic sailed between the islands of the Sandali island chain. The circlet of islands, each connected by an isthmus, formed a center body of water only two days apart at its furthest points. If a ship didn't pass by before morning, he'd start paddling towards the sunrise and would reach land relatively quickly (he hoped). He was supposed to meet the Straw Hat crew on Sandalisa, the clasp island in the chain, by tomorrow.
"The log pose will take two weeks to set," Nami had said, dividing Beli into equal stacks – their share of the plunder – on the galley table. The Going Merry had moored outside the island chain, as Nami hadn't wanted to be trapped waiting to pass through the locks. "Try not to start a battle or get arrested while we wait."
Zoro had managed, so far, not to do either and had still had an enjoyable two weeks. Sleeping, sex, and sake had filled his time and sated his needs. He was ready to move on, though. Mihawk waited out there for him and he wasn't bettering his swordmanship in bed.The makeshift raft dipped with the roll of the sea. A bird flapped overhead. Zoro yawned audibly and scratched his crotch. He wondered what his nakama had been up to; he hadn't seen any of them since leaving the Merry. At one point, a skinny blonde with insanely long legs had passed by the alley Zoro was in, but Zoro didn't go after the guy. If it hadn't been Sanji passing by, Zoro would've had to acknowledge his disappointment and he tried to avoid anything involving his feelings.
The sound of a bell signaling the change of watch drew Zoro's attention. He craned his neck and spotted a ship in the distance. Giant blue letters and a symbol were painted on the canvas of the billowing broadsail. A marine battleship, and it was sailing in his direction.
Zoro groaned and dropped his head back onto the planks. Great. Now what? Marines were coming to the unwitting rescue and once they saw whom it was, a battle or being arrested was inevitable. Nami wouldn't care that it wasn't his fault (it never was, either, no matter what that She-Devil said) or that he had no choice in the matter. Swimming wouldn't get him anywhere fast enough, not with the strength of the wind pushing the marine ship's sails. The new person on watch would spot him before he'd gotten two lengths.
"Try not to start a battle or get arrested while we wait," Zoro heard Nami repeat in his head, remembering the pointed glare she'd given him. But what else was he supposed to do? The five-masted ship would have 300 or more marines on it, and Zoro was "Wanted" by the World Government, alive or dead.
Dead. Zoro blinked up at the shifting clouds in the sky. If he were dead, there'd be no need to arrest him. Dead men also couldn't fight. And the battleship would have to stop at Sandalisa Island and travel through the locks, to take him to the World Government headquarters…
The jointed wheels turned in Zoro's mind like one of Usopp's inventions. The deep meditation of Zazen could hold the appearance of death. In Zazen, Zoro was able to synchronize and slow his heart rate and breathing rate to one beat/breath per approximate minute. It would fool a doctor, if the timing were right. And if the marine doctor happened to listen during that one beat, what was the worst that could happen? He'd be arrested, or get into a fight. That was the same result if he did nothing, so what did he have to lose?
Zoro closed his eyes and lowered his arms to his sides. Playing dead would get him a lift to Sandalisa, and surprise that he wasn't should enable him to escape the marine ship without too much violence. He'd be vulnerable for the fifteen seconds or so it took him to pull out of the meditative trance, but life without risk was boring.
Zoro inhaled fully, paused, and began his descent into Zazen meditation. Sounds around him grew louder: the water lapping the edges of the raft, the wind whistling its high tune, and the distant cry of a gull. He concentrated on them, allowing them to clear his mind of thought. The noises faded as he focused inward on the beat of his heart. He breathed deeply and slowly from his lower abdomen. With each breath, his heart slowed in tranquility, until the steady thump-thump was a mere whisper, the beats growing further and further apart.
He drifted, his mind and body at peace. He felt weightless. Outside sounds again infiltrated: voices shouting, the splash of oars. He was lifted, pulled, and dragged. He sensed the presence of many and could see their auras of pinks, blues, greens, and gold, behind his closed eyelids. Fragments of sentences pierced the murmuring hum around him.
"…who do you think killed…"
"…bet the reward will only go to …"
"…no breath or heartbeat…"
"…can't believe he's dead…"
Conversation died away with the clank of rusty metal. Silence shrouded him. His heart beat once with a single breath. Invisible tendrils stretched from him, tasting, measuring, observing. The ship rocked as it sped across the water, waves lashing against the wooden hull. Splinters formed sharp peaks from the cracked deck beneath his back. Iron chains clinked and scraped where they hung. Damp, musty air clung to his skin. A brig. The tendrils caressed the three swords still at his side.
He waited, and drifted.
Metal screeched and banged suddenly. His senses went silent, then screamed. Blood red and black choked the normal bright color of an aura he'd know anywhere. Knees thumped beside him on the floor. Fingers that smelled like smoke pressed under his nose. A head rested heavily on his chest, listening for a beat Zoro willed him to hear.
"You fucking bastard," Sanji's voice was a whisper, the black swirling violently with the red. "You fucking, marimo bastard."
What the hell was Sanji doing on a marine ship? Zoro fought to surface quickly, his mind becoming alert, but his body was slow in responding. The risk he'd shrugged off casually before was now a nightmare. When he reached deep Zazen, he stopped thinking about controlling his breathing and heart rate; his body did it automatically. Regaining control took time – valuable time that he didn't have.
A broken noise came from Sanji and cut off abruptly. He pressed his forehead against Zoro's brow. His jagged, smoky breath warmed Zoro's face. Another strangled sound came from him, and then suddenly, he was gone.
Four seconds later, Zoro opened his eyes. With a curse, he scrambled to his feet, his limbs tingling. The open metal door to the brig was dented and hanging from one hinge. Zoro dashed into the empty corridor, glad there was only one way out. He couldn't afford to get lost, not with Sanji thinking he was dead.
Zoro's worry about getting lost changed quickly into a different sort of fear. Marine bodies in crumpled heaps pointed the way Sanji had gone. Lanterns ran along the narrow passageways and Zoro's boots rang on the metal stairs as he took them four at a time. He had to stop Sanji before he did something stupid, like taking on the entire ship alone.
Chaos surrounded Zoro when he burst onto the main deck with two katanas drawn. Fallen men littered the ground and more crashed against the cabin walls. Marines armed with swords continuously charged a central point. Shouts and cries rang in the air. The wind whipped the sails, the battleship rocking fiercely on the rough waves. The lantern flames flickered wildly behind their glass enclosures, hanging on running-light posts. Barely a sliver of the moon shone in the night sky.
Zoro threw himself headlong into the battle, knocking marines aside. Some gasped when they saw his face before he knocked them unconscious. He noticed marines with rifles lining the upper decks, taking aim at the black and blonde whirlwind kicking the shit out of the seamen on the main deck. The rifles retorted as bullets flew, sending splinters flying where they impacted on the deck around Sanji, barely missing him and the other marines.
The gleeful rush that normally accompanied danger was nowhere to be found. Zoro wanted to get Sanji to safety and reassure Sanji that he wasn't dead. Sheathing a katana, he waited for his opening, knowing exactly how Sanji fought, having done so with him for so long now. When it came, Zoro charged, ducking under a just-kicked, flying marine. He captured Sanji around the waist and kept running full speed to the rail. He leapt right over and dove into the longboat tied to the side of the ship. Sanji's head cracked through one of the wooden seats and banged into the metal emergency medical kit that had been under the seat. Landing on top of him, Zoro saw his wild, pained eyes briefly, before they rolled back and Sanji slipped into unconsciousness.
A bullet ruffled Zoro's hair and imbedded itself in the broken seat, prompting him into move. With two fast slices, the ropes securing the boat were cut and he and Sanji plummeted down into the sea. The boat splashed hard on the waves, seawater lapping over the edges of the hull. Zoro sheathed his katana, slid the oars from beneath the seats on the port side, and hooked them in the paddle rings. Shots continued pinging in the water around them. Zoro dipped the oars and began rowing as fast as he could away from the battleship.Night engulfed the boat, erasing it from sight. The rough swells threatened to capsize them, but Zoro kept steadily on until there was no chance of being found.
The wind died down an hour later, and the sea smoothed. The marine battleship was barely a speck with its running lights. After securing the oars, Zoro drank from the small water cask that had been hidden beneath his seat – marine longboats were always fully stocked for emergencies – and studied Sanji in the pale moonlight. He was not looking forward to rousing Sanji from unconsciousness. Guilt gnawed at him and, with it, an ache for unintentionally hurting Sanji settled in his chest. Better to get it over with; they still needed to reach Sandalisa by tomorrow.
Zoro stowed the water cask and crouched beside Sanji in the bottom of the boat. Sanji's long legs flopped over one of the seats and water that had splashed over the edges of the boat puddled beneath his back. Zoro touched the corner of Sanji's eye, wondering if the dampness was from the sea or something else. "'m'sorry," he said, and sighed. Next time, he'd just fight, screw whatever Nami said.
Readying for an onslaught, Zoro smacked Sanji's cheek. "Oi, cook, wake up." He smacked Sanji again.
Sanji caught his wrist before he could smack him a third time. "Don't hit me again if you value your hand."
"Tch. Like you could hurt me."Sanji's hand tightened around Zoro's wrist and his eyelids flew open. He stared like he was seeing a ghost. "Zoro?" he whispered.
"Um, yeah." Zoro brushed his other hand through his sea-damp hair and looked away awkwardly. "What the hell were you doing on that marine ship? I had a plan to get to Sandalisa without breaking that sea-witch's rules and you messed it all up."
"I messed—" Sanji cut off and sucked in a sharp breath. He searched Zoro's face anxiously, finally appearing to realize that Zoro was alive. His grip grew even tighter on Zoro's wrist. "You were faking?"
"Of course I was faking. I'm not gonna let some pathetic storm kill me." Zoro snorted a laugh. "Stupid eyebrow. You really thought I was dead."
It was the wrong thing to say. A rush of anger flooded Sanji's face and his lips curled back, baring his teeth. In silent fury, his foot connected hard with the back of Zoro's head, causing stars and sending Zoro sprawling forward, half on Sanji, his other hand coming down on the broken seat. Splinters bit into his palm. Before he could complain, Sanji levered up and flipped their positions. Zoro splashed in the puddle of water and his head banged on the dented medical kit. One of his legs was twisted under him at an odd angle in the cramped boat.
Sanji straddled him, fisted his hand in the front of Zoro's shirt, and yanked him up at the same time as he drove a punch into Zoro's face. Zoro reeled, more shocked than hurt. The boat rocked as Sanji hit him a second time, his knuckles crunching against Zoro's jaw. Zoro caught the third swing before it connected. "Stop it. You're gonna hurt your hands."Sanji let go of Zoro's shirt and decked him with the other fist. He vibrated with rage, his breath coming in sharp pants between his clenched teeth. He struggled viciously when Zoro snared both hands, sat up, and trapped them behind his back. "Hey- hey! That's enough," Zoro said, as Sanji twisted and seethed, caught between Zoro's arms. He head-butted Zoro and Zoro grunted in annoyance. "I said enough."
"I hate you," Sanji hissed hoarsely, a bruise blooming on his forehead. "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you." Then, he smashed his lips to Zoro's in a violent kiss.Zoro gasped in surprise, enabling Sanji to plunge his tongue into Zoro's mouth. Cross-eyed, Zoro stared at Sanji, dumbfounded, his grip loosening its hold. Sanji ripped his hands free, grabbed the nape of Zoro's neck, and kissed him harder with a shattered sob coming from deep in his chest. The sound gutted Zoro. He wrapped Sanji in the shield of his arms, his hands itching to draw his swords and slay what had caused it.
It was him, though, wasn't it? He was the one who'd stupidly faked his death. He leaned his head back, overpowering Sanji's grip. "I—"
"Shut up. Just shut up." Sanji's voice cracked, but he had no tears in his eyes. He closed the distance between them again, kissing Zoro roughly, desperately. Zoro was lost in an onslaught of emotion: guilt, sorrow, arousal, protectiveness, affection – all of which enveloped his heart.Zoro tightened his arms around Sanji, angled his head, and gave himself over to the kiss. Sanji exhaled raggedly and pressed firmly against him. Strong legs bracketed Zoro's hips and he felt Sanji's growing erection against his abdomen. Sanji tasted like salt and smoke, his mouth moving against Zoro's fervidly. He tugged at Zoro's shirt, rucking it up in the back, until he broke the kiss to pull it over Zoro's head.
In the dim moonlight, Zoro's gaze measured Sanji's intent. The raw need he saw stripped him to the bone. Any hesitation fled, and he reached for the buttons on Sanji's shirt.
Sanji unknotted his tie, shoved it in his breast pocket, and shrugged off his black jacket. The boat rocked on the smooth surface of the water. A fish splashed nearby. Sanji's shirt ended up in a heap with his jacket and Zoro's discarded shirt on the seat behind him. He clasped Zoro again, bringing their bare chests into contact. Zoro inhaled sharply, desire zinging through him. Hard, lean muscle shifted under Zoro's hands. He slid his palm along the bumps of Sanji's spine, feeling the slightly raised scar and bolts beneath his warm skin where Doctorine had repaired his broken bones.
Sanji slanted his mouth over Zoro's, rubbing back and forth before slipping his tongue past Zoro's lips. He drove his fingers into Zoro's short hair, holding him captive. The kiss intensified rapidly, audible puffs of breath escaping as Sanji's mouth met, parted, and met Zoro's again. Zoro dove headlong into passion, clutching Sanji possessively, one of his hands splayed between Sanji's sharp shoulder blades, the other grasping the taut globe of Sanji's ass. Sanji's nipples, pebbled from the cool sea air, rubbed against Zoro's chest.Sanji broke the kiss with a sharp bite on Zoro's lower lip. Zoro lifted heavy-lidded eyes, drinking in the swollen pink of Sanji's mouth and the flush of desire on his cheeks. Blood raced through Zoro's veins, his body tight with want. Wordlessly, Sanji tugged on Zoro's shoulder and Zoro sucked in a sharp breath, knowing what Sanji meant by it. Fantasy and reality slammed together and he nearly upended Sanji as he scrambled to comply.
Sanji didn't laugh. His gaze was hot on Zoro's bare back, having shifted out of the way. Ripples formed in the puddle at the bottom curve of the boat and around Zoro's knees. Zoro faced the broken seat, and when he heard the buckle of Sanji's pants being undone, he set his katanas quickly in front of him and shoved down his pants and haramaki.
He swallowed hard at Sanji's touch, feelings entangling. With a steadying hand on Zoro's hip, Sanji's saliva-slicked cock kissed Zoro's asshole before pushing inside. Zoro exhaled noisily, bearing down, his head dropping to hang between his arms. He accepted Sanji easily, having spent the past two weeks in a similar position. But those he'd bedded held no meaning, whereas this encounter would inevitably change his life.
"Zoro, shit," Sanji cursed softly, and Zoro's earrings tinkled as Sanji drove forward. Zoro grunted, his fingers curling around the edges of the broken seat. The splintered wood abraded his palms. He rocked with the next thrust, his eyelids fluttering closed. It was Sanji in him. Warmth spread from his belly and pleased rumble escaped his lips.
Sanji curled over and around him, a hand clutching his shoulder, the other arm encircling his waist. The fringe of Sanji's hair tickled between Zoro's shoulder blades, as he drove into Zoro again and again. Water slapped at the hull of the boat with the snap of Sanji's hips. Sweat began itching Zoro where Sanji pressed against his back. His cock hung heavily between his legs, moisture beading at the tip.
He shifted his weight and reached down to jack himself. Sanji's erratic breathing matched his own. Pressure built behind his balls and at the base of his spine. He'd wanted sex to be the end result with every fight they'd had and it was finally happening, and he never wanted it to end. "Sanji…"Sanji jerked with the sound of his name and choked on a moan. He pounded harder into Zoro, his fingernails digging into Zoro's stomach and shoulder, until he came with a noiseless shudder. Zoro's hand stroked faster with the pulse of Sanji's cock inside him. He could taste his orgasm on the back of his tongue. Sanji rested his forehead against the ridge of Zoro's shoulder blade and drew in ragged gulps of air. The brush of a kiss tripped a wire, and Zoro came with a hoarse cry.
A heavy silence stifled the afterglow. Sanji pulled out and Zoro heard the shush of material as Sanji fixed his pants. Fear that it was a mistake crept into Zoro's thoughts, as he straightened his pants and haramaki. He turned on his knees to find Sanji sitting on the boat seat, head bowed, with the heels of his palms pressed against his eyes. It wasn't the pose of someone embarrassed or uncomfortable. It made Zoro ache. "Hey—"
"Don't," Sanji said sharply, but when had Zoro ever listened to him? Zoro tugged Sanji's hands down and the glare he received didn't quite shutter the emotions evident in Sanji's eyes.Zoro brushed Sanji's hair from his face, cupping the side of his head. "I would feel the same, if it had been you," Zoro said, revealing the truth. Maybe it would erase the anguish he'd seen lingering in Sanji's gaze. "Don't ever let it be you."
Sanji scoffed unconvincingly, looking away. The blonde strands slipped through Zoro's fingers, partially hiding Sanji's features again. "I'm not stupid enough to get myself killed, unlike you."
Zoro felt things shift back to normal with the insult and was relieved. He liked his Sanji acidic and annoying. "I was faking it."
"Doesn't make you any less stupid." Sanji reached for his suit jacket and pulled out his cigarettes and lighter. "And don't just sit there, shithead. Get rowing."
A smile broke out on Zoro's lips, even as he protested, "Why should I row? You have two arms."
"You were the one who trapped us in this boat. I was happily stealing a ride from the marines, posing as a cook, and you had to come along and ruin it like usual."
"Tch. You were most likely about to get caught and don't want to admit that I saved your ass." Zoro climbed over the seat to the one behind Sanji and took hold of the oars. Sanji turned around.
"I don't know how you managed to escape without help. You've probably been rowing in circles for hours," Sanji said, searching the sky. Smoke curled from the cigarette clamped between his lips. He pointed left. "Sandalisa is that way."
Zoro pretended not to see the bruises on Sanji's knuckles and began rowing.
With Sanji's constant course corrections, he and Zoro reached Sandalisa by dawn. Zoro beached the longboat by the docks. Sailing vessels, mostly one or two-man schooners and ketches, were moored at the branching piers. The harbor narrowed beyond the docks and split to become two channels that fed into and from the locks. Sea-washed buildings and warehouses lined the shore. Dirt-packed streets cut paths through the thriving port. A few locals were already setting up shop for the early fish market.
Zoro walked beside Sanji through the slowly waking town. Sanji carried his suit jacket, the tie in the pocket still. The shirt he wore untucked and unbuttoned at the collar. A soft sea breeze ruffled his hair. He was unusually quiet, a pensive frown tugging at the corners of his mouth. Zoro knew the signs of him wanting to be left alone.
The Merry bobbed in the rougher waters outside the island chain. "Don't wake Nami-san or Robin-chan," Sanji warned before disappearing into the galley.
Zoro fetched clean clothes from the men's quarters under the cover of Usopp's snores. Chopper and Luffy hadn't returned yet. Robin and Nami were both asleep in their beds, as Zoro crept through their quarters to the bathroom. He cleaned up quickly, a yawn cracking his jaw. Re-emerging on deck, Zoro settled against the stern rail for a nap, as the sun peeked over the horizon.
A touch on his chest woke him from a nightmare about being unable to surface from Zazen. He immediately knew who it was and his throat tightened. Sanji's hand rested over Zoro's heart. "Stupid, marimo bastard," Sanji murmured, pulling his hand away.Zoro caught his wrist before he could leave and opened his eyes. The sky had brightened considerably, its brilliant blue erasing all traces of the prior evening's storm. Balanced in a crouch, Sanji shot him a slightly awkward, dirty glare. "Let me go."
"Never," Zoro stated, putting all his intentions and feelings into the word. What had happened between them wasn't going to be swept overboard and forgotten about. He stretched up until their noses touched. "So you'd better get used to it."
Sanji studied Zoro's unwavering gaze, a hundred emotions playing under the thin veneer of displeasure. He inhaled a shaky breath, and then released it with a falsely derisive huff. "Stop being a sap and kiss me already."
Zoro smiled slowly, tilted his chin, and met Sanji's lips. His guilt from hurting Sanji weighed on his mind, but he couldn't say he hated the outcome. Still, he'd make it up to Sanji no matter how long it took. He wasn't going anywhere, anyway. He wanted to see where the change in their relationship was going to lead. He had a feeling it was going to be one hell of an interesting – if irritating and exasperating – life.
(Sanji forgave him on his 61st birthday with a kick to the head, followed by a kiss, before extinguishing the blazing candle-fire. Zoro stuck around and loved him for another twenty-three years after that.)