Like most troublesome, headache-inducing things that happen to Sanji, it starts with a bored Luffy.
They’re in the galley, and Luffy is sprawled face-first on the dining table, head swollen from a recent kick from Sanji. Sanji is still riding on high from having thwarted Luffy’s attempt for Snack Before the Snack Before Lunch, so he doesn’t expect Luffy’s innocent, “why do you and Zoro not kiss like most couples do?”
It’s a blessing for the crew that Sanji is such a professional, because otherwise he would have dropped the rice balls he is making.
He whips his head towards Luffy. “What?”
“Just wondering, is all,” Luffy says to the table, oblivious to Sanji’s shocked confusion. “Ace told me about it before, how couples should kiss and hold hands and stuff.”
Sanji doesn’t even know where to start with that, and his brain is not exactly equipped for this kind of conversation with Luffy—out of all people—so he decides to return to the rice balls on the pantry. Salmon for Usopp, Sea King meat for Zoro…
He sighs. “Zoro and I,” he begins, just as the door opens.
Zoro strides into the galley like he owns the place, arching his eyebrow. “You and I?”
He feels Zoro stand behind him, and soon enough, Zoro’s left hand shoots over Sanji’s shoulder, snatching one of the rice balls. His other hand is on the pantry, right beside Sanji’s hip.
Sanji lets him take the food, feeling generous for once. He’s almost done, anyways. “Go ask Luffy, he’s the one with the stupid questions.”
Zoro turns to face Luffy, but doesn’t step away from Sanji. Their shoulders brush against each other.
Luffy sits up and looks at them with a rare, serious expression. Before either of them can ask if anything’s wrong, though, Luffy picks his nose, goes, “never mind,” and strolls out of the galley.
Zoro watches their captain go as he reaches for another ball of rice. “What’s with him?”
That was one more rice ball than Sanji is feeling generous for, so he swings his leg. Zoro blocks the kick with practiced ease, as expected, but he seems to have gotten the message loud and clear, because he drops the rice back onto the plate. He still doesn’t step away.
“No idea,” Sanji says, and doesn’t step away, either. If Zoro doesn’t back down, neither will he.
Sanji immediately forgets all about it because it’s Luffy and he has long learned that trying to understand how Luffy’s mind works is a futile endeavor, so it throws him completely off guard when a beautiful girl from a flower stand waves at him and says, “We have just the right flowers for your boyfriend.”
“Excuse me?” Sanji asks, tone surprised but polite, because he wasn’t raised wrong like a certain green-haired oaf he’s currently doing a supply run with.
“Your boyfriend, you know,” the lady winks, and in a terrible, horrifying turn of events, gestures at the very oaf-slash-pack mule standing a few meters away from him. “The swordsman,” she clarifies.
What the fuck makes you think we’re dating, are you fucking blind is Sanji’s initial gut reaction, but—he feels like reiterating—he wasn’t raised wrong like a certain green-haired oaf who thinks it’s okay to argue with women and their eternally wise insights, so instead he says, “No, thank you, miss.”
He walks away before the girl can say more… misguided things, and grabs Zoro by the arm. “We’re leaving.”
“Don’t tell me what to do, cook,” Zoro says, but he lets Sanji lead him through the crowd. Sanji keeps a secure grip on Zoro’s arm throughout the way—Zoro might get lost, you see, and then Sanji has to spend hours looking for him throughout the island. Wouldn’t be the first time that happens.
Sanji’s hand tightens around Zoro’s arm; he ignores the way it almost mimics the sudden tightness that runs through his chest from the touch.
It’s been a week and they have long sailed away from that island, but the conversation still bothers the fuck out of Sanji, so he goes to Usopp’s workshop. It pains him to admit, but this is something he can’t talk about with the girls (regardless of how wonderful and smart they are), and Usopp might be full of shit but he’s a good friend, and sometimes he says the exact things Sanji wants to hear, so.
“When the fuck did I start dating Zoro?” He asks as he steps into the room.
Usopp doesn’t even bother to look up from his new invention. “Did you forget your anniversary or something?”
Definitely not the things Sanji wanted to hear. “Did I forget my—no, that was a rhetorical question, I didn’t forget my anniversary because we were never dating!”
“Very funny, Sanji,” Usopp says. When Sanji doesn’t reply in favor of having a heart attack and an aneurysm at the same time, Usopp finally tears his eyes away from his workbench and frowns. “…wait, really?”
Sanji takes every good thing he has said about Usopp back. Usopp is full of shit, period. “Really! Why would I lie about this?”
“I don’t know! I mean, you and Zoro,” Usopp says, and visibly inches away when he sees how quickly Sanji’s face sours. “You two have this, this thing going on, so we’ve always thought—”
“‘We’?!” Sanji zeroes in, because there are so many things wrong in that sentence that the only way to maintain his feeble grasp on sanity is to tackle it word by word.
“Royal ‘we’!” Usopp squeaks. “Just, the general we, no-one-specific we, actually, I’ve caught the ‘I-Can-Only-Use-the-Pronoun-We’ sickness in the last island—”
“Cook!” A voice from the deck interrupts Usopp’s rambling. Sanji would recognize that annoying voice even with both ears plugged. In his sleep.
“Shut up! I’m in the middle of something important, Marimo!” He shouts back. There’s a loud thump from the deck in place of a civilized reply because Zoro is a brute, and Sanji groans and adds, “fine, I’m coming!”
“I want five!” Zoro shouts.
“Three!” Sanji fires back, and then grumbles under his breath, “ungrateful bastard, who the fuck even eats five spring rolls during snack time? Still had the gall to ask for drinks on top of that! One day I’ll put saltwater inside his stupid mug and he’ll finally beg me for mercy…”
When he turns back to Usopp, the we’re not done yet dies in his lips as Usopp gives him a funny look.
Sanji squirms under the scrutiny. “What?”
“You got all that just from ‘I want five’ and a thump?”
Sanji huffs. “It’s Zoro. That idiot can only speak in caveman language. I’m just smart enough to interpret his stupid grunts.”
The funny look doesn’t disappear from Usopp’s face, and it’s sort of pissing Sanji off. “Yeah. Sure.”
Sanji opens his mouth to disagree with whatever the hell Usopp is implying, but Zoro’s thump evolves into a bang, and he shouts, “If you smash the deck again I hope Franky kills you this time!”
He stomps out of the workshop, Usopp forgotten.
There’s a group of marines sitting a few tables away, and Sanji has a feeling that they’re beginning to recognize him.
They aren’t exactly subtle about it; they are all looking down at the same paper, presumably Sanji’s bounty poster, and a couple of them start pointing and gesturing at his table. Amateurs, Sanji thinks.
Sanji takes another gulp of his drink and listens in on their conversation, just in case. He can take them all down in his sleep, of course, but he would rather not do it in the middle of a crowded bar when others can get unnecessarily drawn into the fight and injured. He’d leave when it looks like they’re about to take action.
“It’s Black Leg, I’m sure,” he overhears one of them say.
“One hundred and seventy-seven million berries,” another chimes in, obviously excited. “Even split five ways, we could each get thirty-five. We should go for it; I think we can all handle a below two-hundred.”
Sanji feels a vein pop up on his forehead. He is ready to stand up and show them what it’s truly like to face someone with his grossly undervalued bounty, when one of the marines suddenly says, “no, are you crazy, haven’t you heard of the rumors?”
Sanji pauses. Interesting. Are there some cool rumors surrounding him? Is it about how terrifying his kicks are? Or maybe it’s about how his observation haki is so amazing nobody can even touch him—
“If you go after Black Leg,” the marine elaborates, “his boyfriend is going to come and get you.”
Sanji’s brain short-circuits.
“His boyfriend?” another pipes in, oblivious to Sanji’s breakdown. “Are you talking about Pirate Hunter Zoro?”
What the fuck?
“Yeah!” The first marine searches his pocket, and pulls out another poster, most probably Zoro’s. “Look at how terrifying he is! Three hundred and twenty million berries! We won’t win against him.”
Oh, that was it. They’re fucking dead.
Sanji haphazardly throws the payment for his drinks at the bar, takes large strides towards the marine and slams his foot against their table. The wooden table cracks and crumbles into pieces at the impact with a loud bang, and the whole establishment goes quiet.
“Heard some familiar names being thrown around,” he says, lips stretched into a humorless, feral grin. He cracks his neck as the marines scramble to their feet in panic, a fruitless attempt to run away from him. Sanji takes several steps towards them as his legs start to catch on fire. “Only beautiful ladies are allowed to say my name.”
Sanji is no longer welcome to that bar.
“So, Cook-Bro, when did you two get together?”
Sanji’s hand slips, swinging his hammer down a little too hard, and the wooden block he’s helping Franky nail snaps into two. “Who?”
“You and Zoro-san, obviously,” Brook chimes in when it’s clear Franky won’t answer, grumbling about ‘monster strength’ and ‘too many broken blocks.’ Brook, who’s also been helping on the restoration of the crow’s nest after a particularly nasty storm yesterday, starts laughing. “I would imagine the two of you have spent so much time consummating your relationship on this very spot, and we simply got curious.”
There are...so many factual inaccuracies in that statement that Sanji is actually impressed by his crewmates’ imagination.
“What the shit?” He says, trying to laugh it off. “You’re joking, right?”
Franky and Brook visibly freeze. Pausing from their respective work, they turn, slowly, giving Sanji twin bewildered stares before looking at each other.
“Forgive me if I was wrong, Sanji-san,” Brook begins, twirling his bony fingers together as he carefully says, “but I’ve always thought I simply missed the beginning of your and Zoro-san’s love story, seeing that I joined the crew a little bit later than everyone else.”
“Yeah, same with me, actually,” Franky says, and he’s staring at Sanji like he’s looking at the man for the first time in his life. “I mean, when I joined, you and Zoro-bro were already,” he flips up his sunglasses and frowns at Sanji. “You know,” he says conspiratorially.
“I don’t know,” Sanji says, because what the hell, he doesn’t. Why do people keep assuming that he knows things? When did this even begin? He always thought that the whole incident with the marines was just one of those ridiculous marine rumors, in the same vein of people thinking Robin can kill people with a wink and Shanks secretly has twenty different wives hidden in East Blue. Tall tales of people with high bounties aren’t exactly a new concept.
But then he remembers his exchange with Usopp, and that one conversation he had with Luffy in the galley, and the beautiful flower lady a few islands ago, and fuck, holy fuck, this is a thing, isn’t it? Is this what everyone has been thinking the whole time? Is this what the ladies have been thinking the whole time?
That he’s been, what, banging the Marimo?
He tries to school his expression into something resembling a smile, his jaws clenching a little. “Me and that Marimo aren’t a thing,” he explains.
“Really?” Brook asks, and he sounds so genuinely disappointed that it almost makes Sanji feel bad. Almost. “Not at all?”
Sanji grits his teeth. “I think I would know.”
“So you and Zoro-bro aren’t,” Franky says, and his hands make a horrifyingly obscene gesture, made worse by the fact that Franky’s hands are the size of Sanji’s head each. “Doing this?”
“No,” Sanji says flatly. He gets the vague impression that he’s just figured out the existence of a new level of hell, and his crewmates are its gatekeepers.
Zoro steps out of the dressing room wearing the most mismatched outfits Sanji has ever laid his eyes upon—a green tie on a purple suit and blue vest, with an orange dress suit underneath. Zoro’s pants are bright yellow. Sanji thinks he just got a minor headache from the sight alone.
“Happy?” Zoro grumbles, clearly irritated by the whole proceeding.
“Are you colorblind?” Sanji says in place of an answer, and starts shoving him back towards the dressing room. “Never mind, don’t answer that, I don’t want to know. Just let me pick the clothes for you already.”
“You always pick the expensive ones,” Zoro protests.
“No I don’t, you’re just poor,” Sanji argues back. “Listen, I want this to end just as quickly as you do, so stay inside, be nice, and wear whatever I tell you to wear. Don’t worry, Nami-san is always generous enough to lend you some berries for the clothes."
“That’s because she’s trying to rip me off,” Zoro shouts back from inside the room, but Sanji refuses to acknowledge such preposterous accusation towards a queen like Nami. He opts to start picking clothes instead, making sure they’re of the right size for Zoro’s stupidly overtrained muscles, and throws the whole thing into the room.
When Zoro walks out of it this time, he is decidedly more...presentable. In white dress shirt, black tie and dark green vest, the mosshead doesn’t seem like he’s trying to blind every person who has had the misfortune of seeing him anymore. Sanji could even say he’s...handsome.
In, like, a friend-way.
This whole thing is a mess.
He decides to distract himself from that dangerous train of thoughts by dramatically pointing at Zoro’s tie, groaning, “eugh, do you even know how to tie a tie?”
Zoro crosses his arms indignantly. “Of course I do,” he says. And then, when Sanji simply stares at him skeptically, amends, “not really, but I made some guesses. It wasn’t that hard.”
Disgusting. Downright barbaric. Sanji doesn’t know what he expected from such an uncultured brute.
He walks right into Zoro’s personal space and starts fixing his tie, grumbling, “why do I have to do everything,” and Zoro lets him, body leaning slightly into Sanji to give him better access, contrasting the way his arms are still crossed in a stubborn pose.
Just as Zoro goes off to pay (with Nami’s money that Sanji will make sure he’ll pay back), one of the shop attendants walks up to Sanji and starts giggling. “It’s so cute to see your boyfriend let you pick his clothes for him,” she says without preamble, “oh, what I’d give to have my girlfriend let me pick her clothes for her. Her fashion sense is so terrible too.”
It takes a couple of seconds for him to realize what the girl means. “No, no,” he immediately says when what she’s implying finally dawns on him, “you’re getting this wrong, my dear.”
She continues to giggle. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell him,” she says, and winks at him. “If he asks, he totally picked those clothes by himself.”
Sanji feels like he’s going to cry, and he mutters to himself, “I should’ve let that stupid Marimo wear those ugly clothes.”
The girl clasps her hands together excitedly. “Oh, I feel that too!” she says cheerfully, completely missing the point, “we all have a soft spot for our significant other, including their bad fashion decisions.”
When Zoro finally returns from the cashier, Sanji kicks him in the shin just because he can.
The clothing store incident was the last straw.
Sanji can handle people thinking that he and Zoro are banging—physical attractions between crew members aren’t exactly unheard of for pirates—and considering their crew has a literal skeleton and a talking reindeer, there are worse people he can get into weird rumors with. Not to mention Zoro isn’t exactly...bad-looking.
Not that Sanji is actually having sex with Zoro on the regular, of course. Never even crossed his mind, really. Except that one time, at that one summer island, but it must have been the heat.
The point is, Sanji can handle raunchy, sex rumors. But it’s a whole different ball game when people think he and Zoro are—he shudders at the thought—in love.
So before Sanji could second guess his own decisions, he forces himself to confront the ladies. He finds them lounging under the mikan trees, and he half-hops towards them, a tray of drinks balanced carefully on his left hand.
There isn’t a good way to lead up to the question, so he blurts, “do you think Zoro and I are dating?”
There’s a pause.
And then, Robin turns to Nami and says, with a little smile, “it seems our bet has come to an end in my favor.”
“Damn it!” Nami exclaims, pulling out some bills from her pocket. “I was so sure he wouldn’t catch on for a couple more months.”
This isn’t happening, Sanji thinks despairingly as he, in horror, watches Nami reluctantly handing the money over to a smiling Robin. I am dreaming and this is a nightmare. “Nami-san. Robin-chan,” he says, because he thinks he’s going to burst into tears if he tries to say something else.
“Oh, yeah, you and Zoro,” Nami turns to him, almost like she’s forgotten about him in favor of mourning the loss of her money, which is probably true. “You two are dating, no question about that.”
“Nami-san,” he says, voice raising a few notches higher. “Zoro and I aren’t sleeping together.”
“We didn’t exactly say anything about sexual intercourse,” Robin points out, and Sanji never imagined this is how he’d get Robin to finally talk about sex; his imagination usually involved much less clothing and even fewer mentions of Zoro. Somewhere around the value of zero, in a perfect world.
Sanji does not live in a perfect world.
“You take care of him, he has your back in a fight,” Nami adds. “Whenever you two are in the same room it’s like everyone else stops existing.”
“That’s not true,” Sanji argues, but it sounds weak, even to himself.
Nami gives him a flat look. “You guys were playing footsies under the table when we went to that food stall in the last island.”
“It was a manly feet competition,” Sanji sputters. “That I was winning.” He also can’t help adding, just because.
Both Robin and Nami give him sad, identical looks that makes Sanji feel like he’s one of those pitiful dishes he made when he was eleven that adults pretended to like, and Sanji resists the urge to throw himself overboard.
The girls then turn to each other and have one of those silent conversations they usually have when any of their male crewmembers starts doing something particularly stupid, which involves a lot of eyebrow raising and pitying looks. Sanji prides himself of rarely being at the ends of that look, but as always, Zoro is making that feat increasingly difficult to maintain.
It’s Nami who finally turns back towards Sanji and suggests, “if you’re so unsure about it, why dont you just ask Zoro?”
Before Sanji’s brain can fully process Nami’s question and the incoming headache it seems to cause, Robin smiles and says, “I’m sure he will be happy to explain.”
Sanji possess a healthy amount of respect for women that is far from fear, but in that moment, there may have been some chills running down his spine.
“Thank you for the drink, Sanji-kun,” Nami says with a sip from her cup, signalling the end of their conversation.
Sanji is a smart, calm, and rational decision-maker, so clearly the first thing he does is file the whole thing into a neat little box in his head, pack it all up, and pretend nothing ever happened.
He admits he isn’t very good with the last part; it’s only been a week since the disaster of a conversation with the ladies, and he’s already caught himself avoiding Zoro multiple times. The swordsman clearly notices, and it’s almost impressive how the man can wear a flat expression and still exude the aura of a kicked puppy every time Sanji looks away whenever their eyes accidentally meet across the room.
Not that Sanji would ever equate Zoro to a puppy. That would be an insult to the entire canine species.
“Is that our afternoon snack today, Sanji?” Chopper asks, his tiny head peering over the counter, eyes wide and practically sparkling at the macaroons on the counter.
Sanji looks up from a neatly stacked tower, arranged in order of color wheel and size because he strives for nothing short of perfection. There are only eight towers, though, and Chopper, ever observant, quickly notices.
Chopper tilts his head. “Did you not make any for yourself?”
Sanji shakes his head and shrugs at the baking tray left at the kitchen counter. “The ones for the Marimo isn’t done; I made his a little bit different from everyone else because he doesn’t like sweets.”
Chopper breaks into a smile at that. “That’s really thoughtful of you, Sanji! Zoro would definitely appreciate it!”
Zoro’s taste buds have not advanced past the level of a starfish’s so Sanji doubts the brute would even notice, but you don’t exactly disagree with the bundle of joy that is Chopper. “Sure.”
He takes a little bite from another batch, testing its taste. It dawns on him that his earlier agreement might come across as a special gesture for Zoro, so he rushes to clarify, “not that it’s anything special, really. I do this all the time for everyone, including you, Chopper.”
Chopper nods, once again distracted by the colorful treats, but Sanji still feels the need to continue, “and anyways, I guess I just want to make things even, you know? He bought me this really ugly tie, and I…”
He trails off, and absentmindedly fiddles with the tie he’s wearing. It’s a gift, one that Zoro bought him for no reason when they went on a walk together in the last island. They do it more often than he’s willing to admit, sometimes under the guise of Zoro being a pack mule for Sanji’s supply run. And Zoro always pays for the food they get afterwards, because there’s no way Sanji is paying when Zoro’s the one picking the shitty restaurant, and they have dinner together, bickering over the candlelit room, their knees almost touching underneath the table—
“Oh, shit,” Sanji curses, hand still hovering around the tie from Zoro, resting above his heart. The neat little box in his head is spilling all over. “That was a date.”
He finds Zoro at the crow’s nest.
The swordsman is lifting a weight the size of Little Merry, which is totally an overcompensation for something, but thinking about Zoro’s dick in this situation isn’t exactly helpful so Sanji tries his best not to think about it.
He slumps down at one of the benches, and Zoro ignores him for the most part.
“Are we dating?” He asks after a long pause.
Zoro doesn’t even miss a beat, that asshole. “Huh. Those girls are right. Never thought you’d ever catch on, cook.”
Sanji scowls. “What do you take me for?” He says, as if he didn’t just figure this out a few hours ago. “An idiot?”
Zoro doesn’t answer and opts to stop with his training and give him a look, which is an answer in and of itself.
It's not the time for a fight, though, so Sanji makes a vague gesture at the empty space beside him, and his… boyfriend, apparently, what the fuck—takes a seat beside him.
He takes a long drag from his cigarette because he feels like swallowing his arm whole. “What were you going to do?” He asks. “If i never...you know.”
Zoro shrugs. His expression is unreadable. “Probably nothing,” the swordsman says. “I like what we have, cook. I wasn’t going to ruin it.”
The word bothers Sanji more than he expected it would. “Ruin it?” He echoes.
Zoro sighs. “I knew you were going to freak out.”
“What? No.” Sanji scoffs. Or tries to. It somehow comes out more like the sound a drowning chicken makes. “What? No.”
Zoro narrows his eye at him. “You’re literally freaking out right now.”
“I’m not freaking out,” Sanji half-yells, which is probably a clear sign that he’s freaking the fuck out, so, okay, maybe a little bit. Just a teensy tiny bit.
Zoro smirks at his reaction, and oh, fuck, now that Sanji knows where to look, Zoro’s smile actually looks fond. “It’s not like you’re going anywhere, you know?” Zoro explains. “And when this whole thing ends, I can just follow you, stay at whatever stupid restaurant you’re going to build in All Blue.”
Zoro smiles, at that, a small curve of lips, soft and barely-there but touches his eyes nonetheless. It sends a weird warmth, spreading through Sanji’s chest. “I know I can,” he says, and, “I know you’ll let me.”
The words knock a breath out of Sanji. The trust, pressed in between every syllable, is loud and clear—for Zoro, to believe wholeheartedly in Sanji’s dream like it was his own, in the existence of the All Blue. And for Zoro, who was ready to die for his own dream, to actually think of what is coming after. To have Sanji be a part of it.
Zoro must have taken Sanji’s dumbstruck silence the wrong way, though, because for the first time since the conversation started, there’s a flash of uncertainty across his expression.
“Listen, cook, you don’t have to—” Zoro looks away, and rubs the back of his neck in an uncharacteristically nervous gesture. “I don’t need you to love me back. What we have, it’s good enough for me. We don’t have to call it anything if you don’t want me to.”
And that finally got Sanji to speak up, because the mosshead cannot be more wrong, and Sanji never passes up the opportunity to point out Zoro’s mistakes. So he puts out his cigarette and says, “shut up. Shut up.”
Zoro goes quiet and stares at him. Okay, so he can look like a cute puppy. Sometimes. The cute part is still arguable.
“Stop assuming everything, shithead,” Sanji jabs his finger at Zoro’s chest. “I just found out that not only I’m dating a shitty swordsman, I’m also apparently in love with him, and that’s all you have to say?”
Sanji waits for the words to sink in, and he watches Zoro’s face break into a slow-starting smile. It erases the hard edges of his expression, makes him look younger, and Sanji thinks he’s a little in love with it.
He’s kind of a little in love with everything about Zoro, really. That’s part of this whole dating thing, he’s been told.
“Cook,” Zoro says, and he looks like he’s stumbling with his words, because he pauses, and corrects himself, “Sanji. I’m going to kiss you now.”
Sanji doesn’t need to be told twice and closes the distance between them.
“Oi,” Zoro says after they pull away, blunt and straightforward and so very Zoro. “Can we do that again?”
Sanji laughs, and pulls Zoro into another kiss. “We’re dating, dumbass. Of course.”