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Eyes pinned to the red light glowing on the streetlight in front of him, Sanji waited impatiently for the intersection to change as he kept his motorbike propped up with one leg on the ground. Foot tapping restlessly as he was already a few minutes behind his usual schedule, and at this rate would wind up late for work; his boss was a reasonable fellow, but ran a professional kitchen and didn’t exactly appreciate tardiness.

 

Even before the light turned green, Sanji was already righting his bike and engaging the clutch, and the moment the light turned, he was gunning the engine. Speeding through the intersection as the car on his right had a bit of a late start and was a few meters behind him as he shifted gears. The rev of his engine drowned out by the sudden blaring of a horn, followed by the screeching of tires skidding across asphalt.

 

Everything slowed for a single moment; Sanji poised on his bike as he looked up at the truck – that had run the red light – meters away from him, white's of the drivers eyes reflecting the terror in Sanji's own. Each grumble of the engine between Sanji's thighs passed with the steadiness of a beating heart, and nearly matched Sanji's own as the last thing he recollected before pain was the sound of his own blood rushing in his ears.

 

A second later everything returned to normal as the truck collided with Sanji at a jarring pace. The intersection filled with the squealing of tires, shrieks of pedestrians watching, and the gut-wrenching whine of metal colliding with metal. Everything coming to another stand still a second later as Sanji's world went black before he even knew he had been hucked from his bike.

 

~X~

 

Snapping awake with a writhing gasp, Sanji found himself in the safety of a hospital bed with all the starchy linens, and cotton gowns, and bright overhead fluorescents. A stark contrast to the last memories playing through his mind which consisted of grating asphalt, tearing skin, and exploding pain.

 

Searing unbelievable pain in his head where uncountable bandages were wrapped around, the deep ache resounding through his entire left side where the vehicle had collided with him, and all the way down to his legs that... that didn't feel like they had been injured at all. Slowly Sanji became aware of just how much they didn't hurt. There were no traces of soreness or stiffness, and not even the scratchy linens were noticeable against his skin; all of this forming into an inescapable feeling of wrong.

 

Hand trembling with enough force he was certain it would shatter, he was barely able to grab the blanket draped across his waist and pull it up to get a good look at his eerily still legs. The rest of his body burned in pain, but as he stared down at his legs it was quite obvious that there was absolutely no pain affecting them.

 

There was nothing.

 

No pain. No soreness. No weight steadily pushing down on them from the instead and making it harder and harder to breath with each passing moment as he came to the horrifying realization that he felt absolutely nothing from the waist down. Nothing.

 

~ One Year Later ~

 

With one hand propping the book open for him to read, his other remained grasped on the wheel of his chair as he kept it balanced precariously backwards. Rocking occasionally on the spot to keep from falling back on his head, or from sliding forward onto the front wheels. The habit becoming so second nature that he hardly needed to pay attention as he expertly flipped a page of the book with his thumb and continued reading unperturbed.

 

It had been several months since Sanji had become accustomed to his new wheelchair bound state, and while it had been a rough road, he had managed to get somewhere fairly comfortable. Despite the fact that he wasn't able to do any of the old sports he had done, he had been able to continue going to the gym regularly, however now he focused mainly on upper body strengthening – which was something he had never bothered with before.

 

Work at the restaurant had become unrealistic – despite his love of cooking – so Sanji had taken up a position at the local library. It was incredibly wheelchair friendly, and had provided Sanji with the revelation of his newest hobby; reading. In just a few months he had mowed his way through the entirety of the cooking and romance sections, and was now dipping his toes into some mystery.

 

When he wasn't helping students find resources, putting away books, or hosting the after school reading circle; he was tucked away in some corner of the building, reading. From early in the morning until long after the sun had set he'd let himself get lost in the misadventures of someone who happened to have more freedom than he did. Only leaving when one of the other closing staff would come by to usher him out.

 

Friends and family were supportive, but they had become a tad intolerable. The patronizing looks of pity had gotten old months ago, and the condescending words of consolation were so past over-repeated that Sanji could recite them word for word; there was only so much coddling he could handle before he had to get away from them. One of the only people that treated him normally was his co-worker Usopp, but even then the man tended to fuss over him from time to time.

 

Which is why, when the book he was perusing was plucked from his grasp, Sanji was less than pleased to see his sister having been the one whom confiscated it. A chipper smile on her gorgeous face as Sanji forced his own elated smile, dropping his wheelchair back down onto all four wheels, and managed, "Hey Rei! What a pleasant surprise!"

 

"Not as big a surprise as mine!" Reiju smirked, digging around in her purse before procuring an envelope. Handing it to Sanji with a flourish, "I know your birthday is still a couple weeks away but I got you something!"

 

"Oh, Rei." Sanji sighed fondly, "You didn't have to get me anything."

 

"No, I insist."

 

Flipping open the envelope, Sanji pulled free the multiple tickets inside as he simply stared for several moments. trying to figure out what they were for. Eventually, he spotted the word 'baseball' and what little excitement he had fizzled out as he realized her gift was simply an underhanded plot to get him to branch out more - like she had been bullying him to do for months. There had been several months of struggle trying to get Sanji to do anything, admittedly it had been hard for Sanji to adjust in the beginning, but he had made amazing progress since then.

 

"They're season tickets for the Grand Line Supernovas.” Reiju explained as Sanji focused on masking his features to make sure there was no way she would be able to tell he was annoyed. “And I know you're not too big into baseball, but they're playing home field this season and it seemed like a great excuse to get you out of the house."

 

Ah... And there it was...

 

Politely placing the tickets back into the envelope so as not to lose them, Sanji glanced up at Reiju, "I do leave the house."

 

"You know what I mean." Reiju dismissed with a short wave, "Out of the house, out of this building, and your nose out of those books; there's a whole world you're missing while you keep your head down."

 

Glancing back down at the envelope in his hands, Sanji knew she had point, but also felt like she was being incredibly unfair for how much work Sanji had put in to get this far. These tickets to a sporting event that he couldn't participate in was just another bitter reminder that all he was good for now was to sit on the sidelines and watch.

 

"Please promise me you'll go?" Reiju implored with a soft hand to Sanji's cheek, cradling her younger brother's jaw in her delicate hold. Forcing him to look up at her as he plastered his trademark grin on his face to make sure she wouldn't be able to tell how much it was all effecting him.

 

"Yeah." Sanji nodded, "I promise."

 

~X~

 

While Sanji had initially debated skipping out on the games – or even selling the tickets – his love of his sister ended up getting the better of him; knowing that if she ever found out he didn't go he'd never be able to make it up to her. So, several weeks later when the first game of the season was announced, Sanji begrudgingly took the day off work and headed downtown to go watch.

 

Getting to the arena had been fairly easy; the usual transit hubbub was a bit of a hassle, but after missing several trains due to overcrowding, and having to do several laps of the stadium before locating a ramp Sanji had managed to get into the arena in time for the game.

 

The seat Reiju had found was on the ground level – right beside the dugout – so there was no need for him to search for an elevator, and once he found his end seat he was able to get a rather good view of the field near home plate. With practised ease he lifted himself from his chair into the provided seat and folded up his chair, leaning it against the barricade in front of him so it wouldn't get in the way of anyone that needed to walk past. Sanji had to hand it to Reiju, she had at least pulled out all the stops and gotten him a decent seat. If he had been stuck somewhere up in the higher stands, he might've turned around and headed home right there and then.

 

Everything went down like most sporting events – opening ceremonies, announcements, and anthem – before anything remotely close to a game even started. And by the time the players were taking their places Sanji was pretty sure he'd already been stuck there for over two hours.

 

Of all the people that ran out onto the field, Sanji recognized absolutely none of them. He made an honest effort to check out their names and see if any of them rang a bell, but nothing came to mind. Of all the sports Reiju could pick, she had to pick the one he – not only knew nothing about, but also – probably gave the least amount of fucks about.

 

Heaving a sigh, and preparing for a long and boring game, Sanji shuffled deeper into his seat as he waited for the first inning to start. And if he dozed off once or twice, well, it wasn't like there was anyone he knew around to tell him off for not paying more attention.

 

~X~

 

Out amongst the fans and reporters, Zoro found himself nearly blinded from the numerous photos currently being taken of the team. Signing autographs for the younger fans, chatting with a few of the more persistent reporters, and just generally appeasing the crowd before they were set to play their next game.

 

It was the fourth game of the season and so far they had managed to completely annihilate the competition; their third game against the Shandalians had been a close call but they had pulled through. They had been kinda perceived as the underdogs this season just because so many of their players were fresh from the draft, and many senior players had been traded away, but they had managed to defy the odds so far and were ready for more.

 

After signing enough autographs to please the crowd and not seem too conceited, Zoro gave a final wave to the fans and left some of the more extroverted teammates to pacify the crowd. Making for the locker room as they had only a few minutes to really get ready before they had to be on the field for opening ceremonies. Even after giving himself a head start, he barely had enough time to pull on his cleats and grab his gear before being called to the field.

 

Holding his lucky mitt in his mouth, he hastily tucked in his shirt and finished doing up the belt for his uniform as he followed several other teammates out of the change rooms. He managed to just get the belt finished and his glove out of his mouth as they stepped out onto the field to deafening cheers. Absently waving towards the crowds as they made for the dugout nearby and wait for the game to begin.

 

Opening ceremonies went by without a hitch, and soon the game had begun. Away team taking the field as home was up to bat first; entire team watching from the dugout as they each went about their own form of pre-game mediation. Some stretching, others listening to music, and most just chatting amiably until it was their turn up to bat.

 

“Check it out.” Ace smirked as he strode past Zoro, smacking him in the arm with the back of his hand before pointing off towards the box seats just visible from the dugout. Zoro pausing from stretching out his calf to look up, “The dozer is back.”

 

“You're one to talk.” Luffy snickered from across the dugout.

 

Zoro ignored them as his gaze turned to the blond man who had been at every game so far this season, had arrived early, and then spent the majority of the time napping or on his phone. Every time looking like he'd rather be anywhere else than here.

 

Ace hucked a water bottle at Luffy which was easily dodged by the younger man, “Shut up.”

 

“He has a point.” Law grumbled softly.

 

Interrupting their squabble, Zoro stood and informed rather suddenly, “I'm gonna go harass him.”

 

“You really think it's a good idea?” Law grunted with an entirely unimpressed look on his face that read exactly how much of a good idea he did not think it was. Vaguely gesturing his head towards the field, he reminded the man, “You're up to bat soon.”

 

Shrugging him off with a dismissive smirk, Zoro flicked Law's hat off his head as he walked past him and hopped out of the dugout. Adjusting his own cap as he cast a glance back at his teammate and reassured, “Relax. I'm just gonna tease him a bit.”

 

~X~

 

Slumping in his chair, Sanji found himself beginning to drift off as the referees were once more called to the side to discuss a tricky call. Head dipping forward and chin slumping against his chest, he legitimately felt his eyelids slipping shut as it seemed no better time than ever to catch up on some sleep. He was just starting to get comfortable when he heard footsteps across the gravel of the field in front of him, that had him jerking awake out of curiosity more than anything else.

 

Blinking the last few vestiges of fatigue from his eyes, he found one of the players from the dugout making a beeline for Sanji. There wasn't anything hostile to his gaze, but having obviously been caught napping at the game of the guy who was playing made Sanji feel akin to a child getting caught doing something bad. One hand instinctively falling to where the wheel lock should be, he wondered if he could wheel himself away before the man got any closer, before realizing he wasn't in his chair and definitely couldn't get away now.

 

Regardless, it was far too late as the man had already come to stop in front of the guard railing that separated the seats from the field. The railing came up to about the man's chin so Sanji sat a couple feet higher than him and the man only really had an unobstructed view of Sanji's top half. It made Sanji a little less afraid of whatever the man had come over here to talk to him about.

 

Upon a closer inspection, the man was devilishly handsome with a heart-stopping smirk that already had several fans seated nearby cooing over his arrival. However, Sanji couldn't say he recognized the man better than any of the other players he had been watching the past several games. Though this man did have a fun look about him; what with the vibrant green hair jutting out from under the black ball cap of his team and the gold pierced into his left ear.

 

"If you're not gonna pay attention, maybe you should've let someone else have your seat, who's going to actually appreciate it?" The guy grunted, and while his comment was firm it was more of a playful jibe than an actually vindictive, "Like a child or someone in a wheelchair."

 

That on the other hand had Sanji's eyebrows leaping into his hairline as he realized the man was completely unaware of Sanji's situation. However, instead of finding it insulting, it was remarkably refreshing. It was the first time someone had talked to him without sounding so damn condescending or molly-coddling; it actually managed to put a grin on Sanji's face. "Well, it's a little too late now, isn't it?"

 

"I suppose," Green Hair mused, that cocky smirk still on his face as he pushed, "Though why does someone buy season tickets and fall asleep at every game?"

 

Sanji instantly felt the need to protest, realizing very quickly that anything he said would be a blatant lie as it was obvious the man had seen him snoozing every game so far. Which begged a much more interesting question of, "Have you been watching me?"

 

Green Hair seemed thrown for only a little bit before laughing charmingly, "Maybe. Now answer the question?"

 

"It was a gift..." Sanji explained carefully, not entirely sure why he was hesitating as there was absolutely nothing wrong with the truth, "seemed rude to not use it."

 

Nodding thoughtfully, the man agreed. "Makes sense."

 

"Answer mine."

 

Green Hair shrugged, "Hard to not notice a fan right beside the dugout napping through every game."

 

"Definitely not a fan," Sanji countered, eyes trailing down what of the man he was able to see and feigning polite confusion. "whoever you are."

 

"You don't know who I am?"

 

A cocky smile of his own plastered across Sanji's face as he smirked, "Does it look like I give a shit?"

 

Of all the reactions Sanji had expected after being rude towards the guy, he hadn't expected a surprised laugh followed by uproarious laughter. Letting him laugh himself out after which the man held out his hand to Sanji over the large barricade and offered unprovoked, “Zoro Roronoa.”

 

"Didn't ask." Sanji drawled, eyeing Zoro's hand with mild contempt before heaving a sigh, giving in, and snatching up the hand in firm shake, grunting a tad petulantly, "Sanji."

 

"So Sanji," Zoro pressed, keeping that all too intense look pinned on Sanji and holding Sanji's hand a tad too long that he had to snatch it away, "why are you so bored?"

 

"It's a boring fucking game." Sanji shrugged with a roll of his eyes, crossing his arms over his chest to express just how tired he was by it. "Next to this, getting my teeth pulled feels like a party."

 

That stupidly attractive smirk wouldn't go away from his face, "It's the American past time."

 

"A mistake, really." Sanji drawled.

 

"Alright." Zoro conceded, propping an arm against the railing, "what's so bad about it then?"

 

"Well, for one you don't have any cheerleaders." Sanji pointed out callously, "I mean at least football has something for you to watch between all the boring calls. Instead, I have to sit here while a bunch of sweaty guys stand around waiting for someone to hit a ball with a stick."

 

That earned a snort of laughter from the player.

 

"You're all standing around while one guy does all the work, the guy on second base picked his nose – even though he thought no one would notice, I did – any game you can stand around while shoving your finger up for nose isn't an exciting one." As Sanji kept monologuing, the smile on Zoro's face just kept spreading wider, "No one's even attempted to steal a base, and there's been zero home runs. So, really, you tell me what I have to be excited about?"

 

There were a few seconds after Sanji finished that he just sat rather breathless as Zoro just looked up at him with this entertained look dancing across his face. Lips quirked, teeth flashing, eyes locked onto Sanji – a touch too intently for Sanji's comfort – before the moment passed and Zoro was glancing out towards the pit and back to Sanji. A cocky smirk that caused a rather cute dimple to indent his cheek as he proclaimed smugly, "'Cuz I'm up to bat."

 

Sanji's eyebrows arched gracefully at the man's confident demeanour, watching as he strutted away to snatch up one of his bats from the pit and headed out to the plate, still in earshot as Sanji barked, "I hope you miss."

 

Whether or not Zoro actually heard him was debatable as he didn't respond to Sanji's comment, although maybe his professionalism was keeping him from reacting. Either way, Sanji watched as the man took his place at the plate and took a few moments to get into a comfortable stance. Foot twisting as he ground his cleats into the dirt to make sure he was properly planted.

 

After he was happy with his footing, Zoro cast a quick glance over his shoulder and smirked at Sanji, the look causing a not too foreign feeling to flush the back of his neck in unwanted excitement. Scowling immediately to cover his embarrassment, as Zoro turned back forward, straightened, and pointed far off into the stands on the other end of the field.

 

Sanji just sat confused for several moments as the crowd erupted into crazed cheers, and he was barely able to hear the commentators over the screaming. Zoro was calling a home run. Rolling his eyes a tad aggressively, Sanji was almost worried they'd roll back into his head, as he crossed his arms and slumped into his seat to watch whatever attempt the man was gonna make.

 

Through the cheering, everything else became impossibly tense on the field, Zoro placed his bat securely over his shoulder and his hands twisted slowly around the shaft as he glared down the pitcher. Sanji watched as a few seconds passed before the man on the pitchers mound reeled back and hurled the ball as hard as he could towards Zoro. The batter in question twisted impossibly fast, legs swivelling and arms coming around in a single movement, bat coming around in a blur and the only indication that it landed was the sharp crack that echoed across the stadium.

 

True to his word – or rather his finger – the ball sailed far beyond the field and into the stands where the crowd scrambled to catch it. However, instead of looking to the jumbo-tron like everybody else, Sanji was watching as Zoro tossed aside his bat rather casually, and set off at a leisurely jog around the bases. Passing near where Sanji was and giving a short wave and smirk which Sanji returned with an exhausted shake of his head .

 

Sanji watched as the rest of Zoro's teammates each rounded home, and the man himself eventually followed. Stopping by the pit for several high fives, slaps on the back, and a drink of water before making his way back to Sanji. Propping his elbow on the railing rather cockily as he inquired, "That more exciting for you?"

 

Sanji's shoulders rose as his face twisted with an unimpressed look, "Ehh."

 

"What?" Zoro asked through a disbelieving chuckle.

 

"I've seen better." Sanji lied. In all honesty Sanji was actually incredibly impressed that the man not only called the home run in advance, but had managed to pull it off on the first swing without the pitcher striking him out, however the man’s arrogant attitude meant Sanji could never let the man ever know the truth.

 

"There's just no pleasing you."

 

Turning his nose up, Sanji made a show of over-exaggeratedly huffing, "There is nothing wrong with high standards."

 

With a shake of his head, Zoro lamented teasingly, “I just can't live up to your expectations, huh?”

 

“Ah,” Sanji waved him off with a consoling look, “don't beat yourself up over it.”

 

“What could I do to impress you?”

 

Honestly giving it some thought, Sanji tried to think of any possible scenario where he might get genuinely excited about anything going on on the field and unsurprisingly came up with nothing. Gifting Zoro with hopeful expression as he shrugged, “End the game faster?”

 

Another hearty chuckle, another rush through Sanji’s extremities. “You're just not going to let that go, huh?”

 

A devilish smile split Sanji's face as he reassured the man, “Never.”

 

“Zoro!”

 

They both looked over at the loud call that came from a chipper looking kid on the team who was waving them down as the rest of the team was busy filing out of the dugout. Holding up what Sanji could only assume to be Zoro's white mitt, the boy pointed excitedly to the field to indicate that it was their turn on the field. Stepping away from the barrier, Zoro cast a glance back at Sanji and bit out, "Wish me luck."

 

"Not a chance, Turfhead." Sanji faked a yawn, settling back into the chair as he revelled in the look of indignation that flickered across the other man's face at the nickname. However, whatever he wanted to say in response was cut short as he was practically dragged out onto the field by his teammate, and Sanji was left alone once more to watch the boring game take place.

 

Several more innings passed with Zoro stopping by to chat whenever their team was up to bat, making remarkably interesting conversation as he still seemed stuck on defending the lame ass sport to Sanji. And whenever they were out in the field, Sanji found himself paying a little closer attention to what was going on instead of dozing off. Particularly keeping an eye on the green-haired third baseman.

 

When the game ended, the team flooded the field to celebrate their victory and Sanji decided it was a better chance than any to get out of the stadium unnoticed. Pulling out his chair and getting seated in it, he cast a final glance back at the group on the field – definitely not looking for the green-haired player – before facing forward and wheeling himself out of the arena before the crowd became too thick.

 

~X~

 

A moment after the inning ended their team rushed the field in celebration, Zoro screaming so loud he was certain he might be a little hoarse the next morning. Not giving a damn about it though as they had managed to completely annihilate the Sabaody Nobles and were on to the next leg of the season.

 

After the initial excitement died down, Zoro managed to extract himself from the more rowdier guys to congratulate his other teammates on their win. Hugging several and receiving hand shakes from others, eventually running in to Law, grabbing the grouchy guy’s arm and pulling him into a rough half hug. On being released, Law jerked his head towards the stands and muttered with a knowing smirk, “Your fanboy left.”

 

Head snapping over, Zoro saw that Sanji's seat was indeed empty. His face fell momentarily as a part of him had been expecting that maybe the guy would hang back considering how much they had talked during the game. Not that he would admit it to the others yet, but his plan to harass the jerk had horribly backfired when he found out that the guy was not only attractive, but funny as well.

 

He wasn't allowed much time to dwell on it as Luffy came barrelling through the crowd and leaped onto him with a full body hug in an attempt to tackle him down to the ground. Twisting the kid around, he managed to get his head trapped under his arm and proceeded to give him a post victory noogie to celebrate.

 

~X~

 

"Here are your books, darling." Sanji crooned pleasantly to the young woman across the counter from him. Carefully handing the books off to her, his heart fluttering as she gave a shy smile before taking them and he gushed, "Hope you enjoy and have a wonderful day!"

 

With a cute nod and a small wave, she turned to leave and Sanji waited the few moments it would take for the woman to turn and make for the door before letting his overly chipper smile fall and shoving himself away from the counter. Rolling the swivel chair he was perched on towards the trolley of books behind himself and piled several into his lap, before snagging the counter and pulled himself back.

 

Flipping open the first book, he pulled out the library card and stamped the return date on it before closing it and placing it aside. Doing the same with the next, and the next, as a small stack began to form beside him. Getting through an entire row on the trolley before he was interrupted by Usopp making his way behind the checkout desk.

 

"So, how'd the game go?"

 

Making a point to finish up stamping the book he had been returning, he set it aside with a shrug before admitting, "It was okay."

 

"That's a step up from boring." Usopp pointed out with a hint of surprise, pausing as he set about transferring all the books to be reshelved onto a separate rack. Getting the last of them loaded, he asked over his shoulder, "Yesterday, weren't you lamenting how awful the whole experience was going to be?"

 

"Uh, well it was." Sanji admitted, finishing the stack of books in front of him and placing them on the trolley Usopp had brought with him. Pulling out his wheelchair and levering himself into it, he followed after the man who had waited for him as they both headed out onto the floor to reshelve the books.

 

"'Was'?" Usopp intoned in surprise, wheeling the cart into the science fiction section and began sorting through the stacks of books.

 

"I... I started talking to someone there.” Sanji admitted, already sensing he had let the nosey man know far too much already. Nabbing a couple copies of different anthologies and placing them on the shelves that were at his level, “And it wasn't the worst conversation in the world."

 

"Hm."

 

"What?" Sanji sighed.

 

Usopp glanced back innocently, shoving a book rather aggressively onto the shelf as he quipped, "What?"

 

"Don't 'what?' me." Sanji snapped as he snagged another stack of books and wheeled himself a little ways down the aisle, beginning to put the books away in the correct shelves as he sent a shrew glance Usopp's way, "That little 'hm' is your snide comment noise; get it out already."

 

"Nothing." Usopp implored nervously, shoving several books on the shelves in front of him before giving in, "It's just that's not your 'talking to a girl' voice which means you were talking to someone else."

 

Sanji opened his mouth to protest, but nothing came out as he realized Usopp had very cleverly backed him into a corner. Shutting his mouth with a snap as he couldn't do much more than pout at the fact Usopp had him a bit better figured out than he had initially anticipated.

 

"No way! I was right?" Usopp balked before quickly catching himself, "I mean, of course I was right."

 

“It wasn't anything crazy.” Sanji defended hotly, focusing very intently on the books in front of him to make sure they had managed to find all the science fiction ones so they could move on to the next section. “The game was boring, this guy started talking to me, the game was less boring; the end.”

 

Nabbing the cart, Usopp swivelled it around to head to the next section as he gifted Sanji with a sneaky grin, “You gonna see him again?”

 

Scowling, Sanji scoffed to cover any and all embarrassment the question might invoke, “How the hell should I know?”

 

“Do you want to?”

 

Not liking the way this line of questioning was going, Sanji grabbed the guide bars on this chair and wheeled himself past Usopp aggressively fast. “Don't we have books to be shelving?”

 

“Fine. Fine.” Usopp chuckled, letting the subject drop as he followed after the blond. However, Sanji grimaced as he could already tell from his tone that he was probably not going to hear the end of this so easily.

 

~X~

 

“Hey,” Ace flopped down on the bench where Zoro currently had his foot propped as he finished lacing his cleats, reaching out to punch Zoro lightly in the leg before pointing towards the stands with a cheeky smile, “Your favourite fan is back.”

 

Glancing over his shoulder, Zoro noted the blond in the same seat he had been in the last several games looking even better than Zoro remembered him. Perfect blond hair combed down to stylishly fall into his eyes, sharp jaw with faint stubble speckling its curve, dexterous hands clasped over arms he had crossed in front of him, and thin, chapped lips that muttered scathing banter that got Zoro riled.

 

Snatching up his lucky white glove and making for the field, he glanced back to Ace with a shake of his head as he assured through a laugh, “He's not a fan.”

 

“Sure~” Ace singsonged with a tone of disbelief as he followed after, letting the conversation drop for now but clearly intending to harass Zoro about it more later. Zoro already forgetting about it as he made his way to his place at third base, but not before catching Sanji's eye and sending a wink his way; heart skipping a beat when the man responded by sticking his tongue out at him rudely.

 

~X~

 

While it had only been a week, by the time the next game was scheduled, Sanji was actually – embarrassingly – impatient to go. Though he would never admit it to anyone, a part of him really did want to go and see if he'd be able to talk to that obnoxious player again. Simply because it had been an engaging conversation, nothing more.

 

This time when the opening ceremonies took place Sanji actually made a point of paying attention as each of the players made their way out onto the field. Noticing Zoro immediately thanks to his obnoxious hair that stood out like a beacon amongst his teammates as they stood for the anthem. Sanji was just thankful that from where he was sitting Zoro wasn't able to notice him not standing along with the rest of the crowd.

 

For the first inning Zoro's team was out on the field while the away team was up to bat, and the man in question covered third base. A man with shoulder length black hair was on the pitcher's mound, and the first few plays were as boring as Sanji had expected them to be. Until a rather formidable batter came up to the plate and the moment the pitcher hucked the ball Sanji was forced to pay a little more attention to what was going on.

 

Bat connecting with ball as the next few plays happened in a matter of seconds. The ball skimmed the ground until a player dove to catch it flawlessly, rolling out of his dive to toss it to the tired looking first baseman covered in tattoos. Catching the ball – outing the batter – before immediately hucking it across the field at Zoro who caught it with a lazy flick of his arm to out the person attempting to take third. And just like that the play was done and two people from the other team were heading back to their own dugout.

 

The more Sanji actually watched the game, the one thing all the player's had in common was they were all incredibly built, despite Sanji's earlier jibes about standing around, when these guys had to move, they moved . It was clear from their legs alone that the amount of sprinting and training they did was probably unholy.

 

Glancing down at his own legs, Sanji couldn't help but heave a sigh at remembering how much stronger and healthier they used to be. While he did look after them now as much as he could, it hadn't stopped a year's worth of atrophy from transforming his muscular legs into gangly limbs that looked like they belonged to a teenager.

 

Lost in his own self-loathing, he didn't notice that the inning had finished and Zoro's team was coming in off the field to take a turn to bat. Glancing up in surprise as he heard Zoro's voice shouting loudly to him over the roaring stadium and cheering fans.

 

"Hey!" Zoro crowed, arms outstretched as he walked over to where Sanji sat. Sanji forcefully stomped out the immediate surge of excitement he felt at seeing the man walking towards him and instead feigned a bored meign, "You've decided to grace us with your presence!"

 

"Not like I have much choice." Sanji wasn't sure what it was about the other man that made him want to be as cutting as possible, but it was like second nature the moment the man was within earshot of him, he wanted to bother him. It might have been that he hadn't had anyone to talk to like this for nearly a year and was sorely in need for someone that could take his banter that wasn't his timid co-worker, or his heavenly sister whom he would never speak an ill word towards as long as he breathed.

 

“Seemed like you paid attention that inning.” Zoro noted with a hint of mockery, “Could it be that you're actually beginning to like the game?”

 

“Fat chance.” Sanji scoffed, ignoring the fact that Zoro had apparently noticed him watching. He was really going to have to watch himself if Zoro was constantly that aware of what was going on around him, so much for his assumption that the man was a brainless jock. “Just figured I should actually stay awake if I'm supposed to entertain you between your stints of usefulness.”

 

“I’m being more useful that you.” Zoro snorted, “You’re just sitting on the sidelines.”

 

That stung a little.

 

“Not by much.” Sanji rebuked scathingly.

 

“So what are you useful at?” Zoro enquired curiously, changing the conversation on the drop of a dime. Doing a fantastic job of taking Sanji by surprise by asking, “What do you do when you’re not here harassing me?”

 

That was a loaded question, because a year ago he would have had a well rehearsed - and drastically different - answer. A year ago he had his dream job and was working in one of the highest acclaimed restaurants in the city, he would go out on weekends with co-workers and friends and flirt with patrons in bars, and during the week he was training for kickboxing. A year ago he had been an entirely different and well rounded person.

 

Now, on the other hand, he was still the same person but the old facets of his personality were no longer relevant to him. Now he worked at a library and passed the days reading between when he had to go to the gym or was required to go to his sister’s for their weekly dinner. Now his bookshelves were filled with self-motivation books - given by his sister - and adventure novels, instead of the multitudinous amount of cookbooks he used to have. Now he spent more time in his apartment practicing close up magic, or origami, than he did in bars or clubs.

 

All of which was still something Sanji, himself, was coming to terms with; it wasn’t a conversation he wanted to have with a close family member, least of all with a stranger, so Sanji deflected it rather casually, “I think you are seriously confused about who is harrassing whom.”

 

“Debatable.” Zoro snorted before jerking his head once more to urge Sanji to respond, “So?”

 

“I… uh…” Sanji paused, not entirely sure why he felt uncomfortable revealing where he worked. It wasn’t like it mattered or was in any way comparable to what the other man did. For some reason still feeling a little ashamed as he admitted modestly, “I work at a library.”

 

“Library?”

 

“Yeah.” Sanji snapped, “Got a problem with that?”

 

“No.” Zoro shook his head quickly, and Sanji almost hated him for how sincere he seemed in that moment, “just didn’t picture you working someplace like that.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Sanji smirked, “What do you picture me doing?”

 

“I’m not sure.” Zoro shrugged, looking Sanji over critically before answering, “Something prissy like hair styling, or suit tailoring.”

 

“Prissy?!” Sanji squawked. “How dare you?!”

 

“That’s not what I meant!” Zoro seemed to be aiming for sincerity, but was failing largely due to the way he kept snorting out barely concealed laughter while trying to pacify Sanji. The stupid grin on his face also not helping him any as Sanji began waving his arms to get the man to go away.

 

“No. No.” Sanji shook his head and pointed off towards the field, trying to remain serious despite breaking a few times and letting a smile through, “Conversation privileges revoked. Go play your dumb game. Go. Shoo.”

 

Zoro went, but it hadn’t stopped him from returning every inning to press Sanji for more information, and despite Sanji’s initial indignation over Zoro’s teasing, he found himself willingly continuing to give up more. By the end of the game - and Sanji wasn’t entirely sure how it happened - Zoro had found out his favourite colour, how many siblings he had, and the name of his childhood pet turtle… among other things.

 

~X~

 

Summer began to move by a little too quickly as the games began to blur together and they quickly became the highlight of Sanji's mundane life. Every Sunday heading downtown through the crowds of people – which seemed less exhausting than it had before – and getting his seat at the sidelines. Watching their home team play and chatting with Zoro between innings as he was slowly coming to the realization that their banter wasn't as innocent as he had originally intended.

 

Zoro's cutting, yet flirtatious, remarks seemed less like banter and more like actual flirting. And Sanji even found himself less opposed to the sport as he had in the beginning. Finding out - much to his surprise - that he enjoyed his time talking with Zoro just as much as he enjoyed watching the other man out on the field; not only because he filled out his uniform really well, but because he actually looked like he was having a fun time.

 

By the ninth game of the season Sanji realized he couldn't exactly be in denial about it anymore as he found his eyes wandering down the other man's figure as he stood on base. Most of their time conversing, Zoro was leaning against the railing and Sanji couldn't see much beyond his – admittedly – dashing features, and his well built arms he occasionally rested on the railing in front of himself.

 

On the field, however, Sanji had a more than perfect view of the man and just how snug his uniform clung to his muscular body. A vibrant red shirt donning his name and number was tucked in and highlighted just how impressive of a taper the man's upper torso had. Broad shoulders and back almost stretching the shirt a tad much in comparison to the extra fabric tucked into his pants around his thin waist.

 

Pants not fitting much better with how tightly they stretched across Zoro's – regrettably – amazing ass, and the lower half tucking into knee high black socks. Sanji hadn't ever considered someone's calf particularly arousing before, but there was something about Zoro's lower leg that was causing Sanji some issues with his breathing. That alone was a warning sign telling Sanji he should try to get out of this situation while he still had enough brain function to do it.

 

From the tight black spandex long sleeve underneath his jersey, to the laced cleats on his feet; everything about the man was radiating perfection and was seriously making Sanji rethink his initial comments about this sport being boring.

 

Arms reaching high above himself in a lazy stretch, Sanji found his eyes glued to each toned line of the man's body that he could faintly make out through his clothes. Not exactly sure when his perversion had transferred from women to men, but not about to stop and think about it when Zoro adopted a ready stance as the next batter came up to plate and Sanji got the opportunity to ogle his ass for a few moments longer.

 

It was something he’d never let anyone ever know though. Since this friendly relationship at the games had started Sanji had appreciated it for what it was, so when Zoro began to change it Sanji wasn’t entirely certain how he felt about it. All of it starting off when they were mid-game and Zoro poised a question.

 

“Why don’t you stick around?” Zoro asked rather absently - currently focused on retying one of the leather straps on his glove - but the question seemed to be preluding to something else. “You always leave before I have a chance to come see you after the game.”

 

Sanji shrugged, “I like to get out before the crowd becomes too thick.”

 

“I guess that’s fair.” Zoro finished the knot, putting the glove on and punching into the mitt a few times to get the feel of it and test it out. When he seemed satisfied, he pulled it off and turned to look back up at Sanji, “What are you doing on Saturday?”

 

“Probably working.” Sanji shrugged, as the nature of Zoro’s question made Sanji wonder where the man could possibly be going with this. Playing it off as he teased, “Not all of us only get to work one day a week.”

 

"We're playing a friendly game with some local kid's teams and parents." Zoro explained while completely ignoring Sanji’s jibe, a skill Sanji had found out that the man was immeasurably good at. If anything it was beginning to bother Sanji a little bit as there was almost nothing he could do to genuinely rile the man up. "You should come?"

 

"I'm... not really good at baseball." Sanji worded carefully.

 

“Who cares?” Zoro snorted, “You can't be worse than a ten year old.”

 

“You'd be surprised.” Sanji drawled.

 

"C'mon... it'll be fun." Zoro implored with a drawl, "It's a good excuse to stretch your legs if nothing else."

 

That one stung a little, but not because of Zoro or what he said. It was just because it was a heart wrenching reminder that despite how badly – how desperately – he wanted to, he was never going to be able to ever again. Forever left to the sidelines while remembering everything he had once been able to do. Biting back any sign that what Zoro had said had gotten to him, Sanji managed, "I don't want to."

 

Blinking in surprise, Zoro seemed genuinely taken aback before accepting Sanji's answer with a confused, yet understanding nod. Sanji hoped that Zoro wouldn't become suspicious or press the matter further as he kept his eyes downcast to where his hands were fisted on his knees in agitation.

 

"Okay." Zoro agreed – a little too easily for Sanji's comfort – before immediately pressing, "Then what do you want to do?"

 

That threw Sanji.

 

Of all the things he had been certain Zoro would throw at him, that hadn't been one of the possibilities, and it happened to also be the exact question he feared the most. Because all the things he did want to do – and all the things he used to want to do – involved him walking, not being wheelchair bound, or keeping his predicament secret from the person attempting to do something with him. Deciding to play the whole thing off, Sanji look Zoro dead in the eye and mused, "I'd like to go to Italy."

 

For once, Zoro actually seemed surprised, "Italy?"

 

"Yeah, Italy." Sanji repeated snidely, casting a wave about the arena as he continued, "I've always wanted to see Saint Peter’s Basilica, and considering I'm probably going to die of boredom here; I should probably do it soon."

 

There were several seconds where they stared off against each other, Zoro measuring Sanji to see if he was serious and Sanji waiting for the man to get the joke. However, it didn't go as intended as Sanji was thrown once more by Zoro nodding agreeably and conceding amiably, "Alright."

 

Zoro's response didn't fully click in Sanji's head as he watched the man give a smirk, snatch up his glove, and begin wandering off as his team was called to take the field. Sanji watching him go in a state of shock, because surely – surely – Zoro had not taken him serious on such a ridiculous request.

 

"...no..." Sanji lamely called after the man, hand grasping the railing to pull himself a little more forward as he raised his voice, "I was joking!"

 

"Don't care." Zoro shouted back happily.

 

~X~

 

“It's a horrible idea!” Ace accused, throwing his arms up to amplify his point as he made his way to his locker. Zoro close behind him as he used a small towel to aggressive dry off his hair after the shower he'd just had; the summer sun combined with a hard game had caused him to really work up a sweat.

 

“It's not that bad.”

 

“You're right, it's not a bad idea...”

 

They came to stop near their lockers, Ace already pulling out his clothes as Zoro attempted to get some water out of his ear with his towel before hitting the side of his head a few times to try and shake it free. Finally managing to get it when a sharp crack of a towel across his back had him yelping and sending a scowl Luffy's way before turning back to Ace as the man pulled on a shirt before rounding on Zoro.

 

“...it's the worst idea I've ever heard in my life.”

 

“It's not--” Another loud crack echoed through the change-room, only this time it got across Zoro's bare ass. Rounding on the other man, Zoro pointed an aggressive finger at him while promising menacingly, “Luffy, you do that again and I swear I'll make you eat that fucking towel.”

 

All he got in response was a maniacal laugh as Luffy took off across the change-room as fast as he could – towel in hand – to go harass somebody else, though Zoro knew he hadn't seen the last of the damned kid. Keeping a shrewd eye on him until he was out of sight and turned back to Ace who was still looking at him with a painfully skeptical look. “You said he said it was a joke, right?”

 

“Which is why it'll be funny.”

 

“I don't think he'll see it that way.”

 

“It’s worth a shot.” Zoro shrugged as he grabbed his own shirt and tugged it on, “He rejected every other offer I made.”

 

“Yeah,” Ace drawled, “and sending him to another country is the right move here.”

 

~X~

 

“Cute glasses.”

 

“Fuck off, Usopp.” Sanji muttered in his palm, not even bothering to look up at the other man as he calmly flipped a page and continued to read through the current historical fiction novel that had caught his attention this week; lost in the world of knights, princesses, and adventures far beyond his subpar modern day life, “You're just jealous I can pull them off and you can't.”

 

“Well...” The voice mused with an all too familiar chuckle, “I don't know who this Usopp is, but I would bet that you definitely do pull them off better.”

 

Sanji's head snapped up so quickly there was an audible crack and he was concerned he might have just pulled something, looking up at Zoro mildly horrified as the glasses sat askew on his panicked face. Realizing a moment too late that his jaw was hanging open as he snapped it shut and pulled off his reading glasses with vicious urgency and shoved them away in their case as Zoro pouted playfully, “Aw, those were cute though.”

 

“Bite me.” Sanji snapped, shoving the case as far away from him across the desk as he glanced up at Zoro as the initial reason for his panic came back. Shuffling his chair a little further into the desk in hopes Zoro wouldn't notice that his chair actually had wheels instead of legs, “What are you doing here?”

 

“Your friend Nami said you worked here on Tuesdays.”

 

“Nami? Nami?!” Sanji did a double take before frowning, “How the hell do you know Nami?”

 

“Ah...” Zoro had the grace to look a little ashamed and it did nothing to calm Sanji's panicked thoughts. “It's a little embarrassing actually.”

 

Sanji gave Zoro an expectant look that clearly read 'Well?!'.

 

“I had our PR rep find you,” Zoro grimaced right after he said it as he seemed to realized just how bad it sounded aloud as it was to hear. Though the man seemed to be a glutton for punishment as he pressed on, “Though you're apparently kinda dead online, so she found your friend Nami and got in contact with her.”

 

“Uh-huh.” Sanji allowed slowly, his explanation not nearly as bad as he had been expecting, but still not sure if he was comfortable with the fact Zoro put so much effort into finding him outside of his games. Sanji had enjoyed what they had there, and him finding Sanji really put into perspective how suddenly real all their flirting had been. At the game Sanji had been able to be himself without really thinking of the repercussions or what might happen in real life; now Zoro was here - in person - and it threw a giant wrench into everything. “And you needed to find me because?”

 

“Well, mainly to give you this.” Zoro pulled a wrinkled envelope from his back pocket and handed it to Sanji, who took it warily. Flipping open the envelope, Sanji had a sinking suspicion of what was going to be inside long before he pulled out the pieces of paper that were enclosed. Still a little bit in denial when he saw the airline tickets emblazoned with his name and the destination they had discussed at the game. In what universe did anyone think this was an appropriate gift?

 

Sanji stared down at the tickets in absolute confusion, "I... can't accept these."

 

"They're a gift." Zoro argued, placing his hands on the desk and leaning in towards Sanji with a sinister smile. Sanji instinctively leaning away out of sheer habit as he struggled to get the tickets back into the crinkled envelope, "And if I remember correctly you have a hard time refusing those."

 

"Yeah, when it's from my older sister." Sanji snorted, giving up on getting them back into their envelope and shoving the collective bundle of paper into Zoro's hands, "Not when it's someone I barely know. Why are you doing this anyway?”

 

“‘Cause,” Zoro grunted - tearing up the tickets and tossing them in the garbage beside the desk without a second thought - and remarking with a cocky grin, “I like you. And I want to take you out.”

 

“Ah...uhhhhhhh.” Sanji's initial response devolved into a long hum of confusion as he honestly didn't have two brain cells left to rub together to come up with a proper answer for the other man. Despite all the flirting that had happened between them at the games, Sanji had never really considered a scenario where Zoro had been legitimately serious. And that was completely disregarding the fact that he didn't even know Sanji was wheelchair bound, “...no.”

 

“No?” Zoro asked, amused.

 

Sanji's eyes flicked to the side as though hoping someone would simply manifest to save him from this situation because he was very quickly running out of ideas. However, no one was there and he was left to fend for himself while giving a soft, “Yeah?”

 

Zoro eyed Sanji shrewdly, “You don't sound too sure.”

 

“I'm pretty sure.” Sanji nodded, much more confident now as he knew he needed to nip this all in the bud as swiftly as possible to keep it from turning into a worse scenario. It was horrible enough that Sanji had let their flirting get this out of hand that it had made Zoro actually make a move; the sooner Sanji shut this down - and the sooner Zoro left - the better.

 

“What was with the hesitating?”

 

“Cause I'm considering calling the cops.” Sanji barked through a nervous laugh, not entirely sure what was so funny, “Who the hell takes someone to Italy for a date?”

 

At this, Zoro had the grace to actually look a little guilty, “Did I come on a little strong?”

 

Wincing, Sanji teetered a little in his seat before supplying gently, “A little.”

 

“In my defence,” Zoro shrugged, “you did ask.”

 

“It's not my fault that your ears are filled with grass and didn't hear me tell you it was a joke.” Sanji held up his hands as he proclaimed his innocence. WHile, yes, Sanji may have made the request, never in a million years would he have expected the man to actually follow through on it.

 

“That aside,” Zoro dismissed his earlier behaviour like it still wasn’t something Sanji should have an issue with, and instead focused a rather heated stare on Sanji, “what do I have to do to get you to go somewhere with me?”

 

Glancing around himself, Sanji didn’t honestly have good answer. Considering tossing his lukewarm tea on the man to get him to leave as he muttered absently, “I don't know...”

 

“You're a hard nut to crack.”

 

Sanji gave an apologetic shrug, as he made a point of keeping his gaze anywhere but the charming hazel that were staring oh-so-intently at him. Maybe if he pretended it wasn't really happening it would be easier for Zoro to get the hint and stop trying, “Your problem, not mine.”

 

“I'm not going to give up.” Zoro chuckled – like he had just read Sanji's mind – placing a hand on the desk and leaning in towards Sanji. The blond instinctively leaning away, “You know that, right?”

 

“Hope you like being disappointed.”

 

“Don’t worry.” Zoro reassured with a wink, “Things usually work out for me.”

 

“Congrats.” Sanji drawled, “Anything else I can help you with today?”

 

Zoro seemed to genuinely consider Sanji’s question - for a moment Sanji was worried he was going to keep pestering him - but instead cast a glance around the library before asking, “Got any books you would recommend?”

 

Sanji properly floundered as he couldn't exactly leave the desk to get anything without exposing himself to Zoro, but it wasn't like had anything good in reach. Glancing around himself hopelessly before his eyes landed on a book in the return pile, it's cover shining like a godsend from heaven. Snatching the book up, Sanji smacked it down on the counter and slid it across the surface towards Zoro.

 

Humouring Sanji, Zoro scooped up the book and Sanji watched as his eyes scanned the cover before lowering the paperback and gifting Sanji with a skeptical look, “'He's Just Not That Into You'?”

 

“It's a good read.” Sanji lied with a sugary sweet smile, “I highly recommend you take it to heart.”

 

For a moment it seemed like Zoro actually took Sanji seriously as his eyes flickered back to the cover and he seemed to contemplate it before placing it back on to the counter. Sliding it towards Sanji as a wide grin caused him to bare his perfect teeth at Sanji in a predatory smirk, winking cheekily as he added, “Sounds like you need to read it more than me.”

 

“I...” Sanji's face heated up, not having the preparation to deny the man's words or what he was implying. Hating that the man could call him out so easily like that, and hating even more that he was right. “Hey!”

 

Before Sanji even had a chance to defend himself, Zoro was already turning and striding out of the library with far too chipper a step in his stride. Calling out behind him, “See you at the game on Sunday!”

 

“I...” Sanji repeated hopelessly, watching him go as he still had no idea what to say to respond to the man’s impressive resolve. Surely, Sanji had thought a simple rejection would have been enough, he hadn’t even considered the man would be stubborn about it.

 

Even just watching him walk away had Sanji’s stomach tying in knots with how confidently he strutted from the building; the way his slack jeans fit his legs just right, how his jacket slumped off his broad shoulders, and his green hair standing out vibrantly in contrast to the dark skin on his neck. It was hard to compare himself to Zoro and wonder what on earth the man could possibly find interesting about Sanji aside from the fact he was a smarmy dick.

 

“Was that him?”

 

“Hm?” Sanji turned in surprise to find Usopp making his way behind the counter as his gaze followed Zoro's retreating figure. Realizing a moment later what Usopp was referring to and nodding, “Oh, yeah. Yeah, that was hi--”

 

Cutting off Sanji's response, Usopp picked up a nearby textbook that had been returned and rounded on Sanji. Hitting Sanji against the arm with it between pleading words, “What. Is. Wrong. With. You?!”

 

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” Whining as he wasn't able to do much but snatch the book away from the other man as soon as he had finished hitting Sanji with it on his last word. Tossing the book aside before levelling on Usopp, “What was that for?!”

 

“You know exactly what that was for!” Usopp reprimanded him, “You've done nothing but pine over him for weeks, and he comes in here to ask you out and you tell him no? Are you insane?!”

 

“No.” Sanji defended somewhat guiltily, knowing his actions hadn't exactly been the best, but they had been the most logical. It wasn’t that Sanji wasn’t interested, or flattered, by Zoro’s request to go out, it was more that he wasn’t ready to even consider telling Zoro about his situation. It would’ve been an entirely different situation if Zoro knew Sanji was wheelchair bound, but he didn’t, and at this point it felt like Sanji had waited too long to reasonably toss it casually into conversation. “You wouldn't understand.”

 

“You're right. I don't.” Usopp shook his head in disbelief before prodding, “You like him right?”

 

Sanji made a face. “Unfortunately.”

 

“You think he's attractive?”

 

“Passably.” Giving the response as he tried desperately to not think of all the times he had leered at the other man, both close up and from afar. Already the amount of times he could think of off the top of his head were not helping his case at all.

 

“You enjoy his company?”

 

Refusing to look Usopp in the eye as he huffed, “Regrettably.”

 

“Uh-huh. Okay.” Usopp pretended to mull over his thoughts for a moment before rounding on Sanji with a raised hand, “Then what is the problem, you absolutely lunatic?!”

 

Shoulders slumping defeatedly for the first time since Usopp had begun his interrogation, Sanji glanced away sheepishly as he muttered, “He doesn't know I'm handicapped.”

 

“Wait... really?”

 

“Yea, really,” Sanji grouched heatedly, feeling his initial resolve come back as he grunted, “And as much as I like him, telling him is the last thing I want to do.”

 

At that Usopp fought to keep his voice hushed as he wailed softly, “Why?!”

 

“I like what we have.” Sanji argued seriously, “I like being able to talk, and banter, and joke with someone that treats me like a normal human being and not someone that needs to be treated like a child. It's nice flirting with someone for once and have them honestly like me, and not have to worry about it being about pity or some freaky fetish. If I tell him, it will ruin the whole dynamic and he's just gonna treat me like everyone else.”

 

There was a long, uncomfortably pregnant pause as Usopp looked down the length of his nose at Sanji with nothing short of exasperation. Raising his hands to clasp in front of himself, he seemed to be praying before angling his hands down to point at Sanji while still clasped and proclaiming rather flatly, “That's stupid.”

 

“No, it's not.” Sanji argued vehemently, “I get to enjoy regular human interaction for once, and he can move onto another fan and pester them without having to deal with all this unnecessary drama. Plus I'll never have to have the awful conversation with him. It's a win-win.”

 

Usopp's hands had moved from pointing at Sanji, to dragging down his own face in frustration as he groaned into his palms, “I just wanna roll you down a flight of stairs right now.”

 

“Just try it, long-nose.” Sanji barked, manoeuvring himself around and managing to clip Usopp's calves with one of the sharper points on his chair, laughing as Usopp made a decent effort to run away as Sanji called after him, “Yeah, that's what I thought!”

 

“I still think you'd be surprised by how he'd react if you just told him.” Usopp insisted from the other side of the counter – the coward – specifically continuing their conversation from far enough away that Sanji couldn't grab him. “Instead of playing these dumb mind games.”

 

“Trust me.” Sanji shook his head, and firmly ending the conversation with Usopp, “He doesn't want to deal with this.”

 

~X~

 

“Thought any more about my offer?” Zoro goaded as he made his way over to Sanji’s seat, it was the first thing Zoro had said to him since Sanji had arrived and it threw him for a loop. It had only been a couple days since he had turned down the other man, but here he was being his usual egotistical, charismatic self, and Sanji could tell that the weeks of talking with him had worn down his own defenses to a startling degree.

 

Having to really make an effort not to let show exactly how much he found himself attracted to the other man, Sanji opted for playing dumb as he tilted his head innocently, “Which one?”

 

“Ha. Ha.” Zoro laughed flatly. “Date offer is still on the table. Any where. Any time. You name the place.”

 

“Let’s do a rain check.”

 

“That’s better than a no. I’ll take it.” Completely ignoring the way Sanji rolled his eyes at Zoro’s behaviour, before moving on and grinning, “Any requests today?”

 

“Aside from forfeiting the game so I can leave?”

 

Zoro nodded with a smile, ignoring Sanji’s teasing.

 

“Hm...” Sanji leaned back in his chair thoughtfully, arms coming up over his chest as he really tried to come up with something to stump the cocky guy. However, his knowledge of the game was limited and there were only so many plays he knew of. “Triple play?”

 

One of Zoro's sharp eyebrows arched as he muttered, “Do you know how hard one of those is?”

 

“You saying you're not good enough?”

 

“That reverse-physiology isn't gonna work on me.” Zoro smirked, “But I'll give it a shot anyway cause I like you.”

 

“It's reverse-psychology.” Sanji corrected, “And if you're gonna do it than it just did, you dork.”

 

“Sure, whatever you say.” Zoro smirked, “You’re about to eat your words.”

 

After about nine innings, Sanji had a feeling Zoro wasn't going to be able to pull through on his promise, but near the end of the round all three bases were loaded and it seemed like he had his chance. Sanji watched with interest as Zoro called out the pitchers name and gave him several signals and Sanji couldn't have even begun to guess what they meant.

 

The pitcher seemed a little skeptical over whatever Zoro had just told him, but the shrug seemed to indicate that he was willing to go along with whatever crazy scheme Zoro was planning. Sanji found himself actually on the edge of his seat for once as he wanted to know exactly what Zoro had planned. Watching as he gave the same signals to the rest of the team before they all readied themselves for the next pitch.

 

Two clever pitches had two strikes on the batter, and it seemed like the guy could just strike the guy out and end the inning, but on the third throw, he clearly pulled his pitch and let the batter have it. A sharp crack exploded from the bat and the ball went sailing across the field as everyone jerked into motion.

 

Opposing team members rounded the plates as fast as they could as the players in the outfield sprinted after the ball. Still arching high through the air as a rather rambunctious boy went running up the wall of the outfield and actually managed to catch the ball that Sanji had thought for certain was going to go into the stands for a home run. Before the kid even hit the ground he was twisting in mid-air and hucking it as hard as he could to Zoro.

 

Ball sailing straight to Zoro who caught it effortlessly – outing the player running from second to third - before turning on a dime and hucking the ball straight to home plate. Sending the ball whizzing past the running player and straight into the catcher's glove to out the third player.

 

The stadium erupted in cheers – Sanji was pretty sure his eardrums were going to be slightly damaged afterwards – as the play finished and effectively ensured their win. People were screaming, cheering, yelling. Making any and all noise as they lost their minds over the amazing play.

 

At the next inning, the teams swapped over and as Zoro made his way over, Sanji could already see the smug look on the bastards face. Sanji was certain that now he was never going to hear the end of it from the man.

 

“Here.” Zoro grinned broadly, tossing the ball up to Sanji who caught it as the green haired man gloated, “The ball from the play; autographed by yours truly.”

 

Glancing back down at the ball in his hand, Sanji inspected it to find Zoro's messy scrawl of a signature near one of the red seams. The black standing out in stark contrast to the white of the rest of the ball. Eyes flicking back up to where Zoro stood, watching Sanji smugly, Sanji couldn't help but try to knock him down a peg as he drawled, “You know I'm just going to sell this online, right?”

 

“I don't care what you do with it.” Zoro chuckled, “Though... saying you could sell it is admitting I'm worth something.”

 

“I never said you weren't worth something,” Sanji defended quickly, “just not anything to me.”

 

“Ouch.” Zoro gave a faux wince, “You really try to cut deep, huh?”

 

“It's one of my special skills.”

 

“Oh?” Zoro intoned curiously, “What other special skills do you have?”

 

Glancing away quickly, Sanji tried to ignore the connotations that the other man had put behind his words and grounded himself enough to look back without letting his cheeks burst into flames. Recovering his aplomb as he grinned proudly, “I can hold my breath for ninety seconds, I'm really good at close up magic, and I make a killer chicken piccata.”

 

As soon as the words left his mouth, Sanji wanted to slap his hands over his face in regret considering how embarrassing the admission actually was. It sounded like he was in elementary school trying to talk up a damned fourth grader. Who on earth thought that close up magic was attractive?

 

“Really?” It seemed that the lameness of everything Sanji had just said had gone straight over Zoro's head as he focused in on the last comment, “You'll have to make it for me sometime.”

 

Sanji snorted before he could stop himself, “Nice try.”

 

“Show me a magic trick then.”

 

“I don't have anything on me right now.” Sanji argued rather flatly, “It's not like I go out in public with flowers up my sleeve 'just in case'.”

 

“Really?” Zoro said, “Cause you seem the type.”

 

“What the hell's that supposed to mean?”

 

“Whatever you want it to.” Another flirtatious look from the man before jerking his chin at him much more seriously, “Now show me some magic.”

 

“Alright. Alright!” Sanji waved his hands hurriedly as he tried to shut the man up, “If I do will you stop pestering me about it?!”

 

“Sure.”

 

It didn't sound like Zoro was really agreeing with him as much as he was just saying what Sanji wanted to hear to shut him up, but Sanji decided to let it slide. Leaning forward as much as Sanji's chair would let him, he did some lame hand work to distract the green-haired buffoon as he pulled his expired driver's license from his wallet. Once in hand, he waved his other hand behind Zoro's ear before snapping sharply with the other and he pulled the card out to make it seem like it appeared from thin air.

 

“Not bad.” Zoro admitted, before goading rather smugly, “I've seen better.”

 

Giving a half-hearted shrug, Sanji feigned indifference as Zoro tugged his cap back on his head and began pulling on his glove as the team was called to head out onto the field. Fighting back a smirk as Zoro began walking away and Sanji let him go several feet before calling after him, “Hey, Turfhead!”

 

Zoro turned back with a raised eyebrow.

 

Ignoring the flutter in his chest whenever Zoro's gaze landed on him, Sanji gestured to his own chest to signify for Zoro to check his breast pocket. There were a few moments where Zoro simply looked at him in confusion before glancing down to the pocket on his chest, reaching his hand in and scooping out the earring Sanji had stolen and stashed there. Thoroughly enjoying the look of confusion on Zoro's face, before the dawning expression of understanding replaced it.

 

A wide grin sweeping across his face as his gaze snapped up to meet Sanji's, however a hint of disbelief was still furrowing his brows as though he still wasn't sure if Sanji had done it on purpose. Sanji just gave a modest nod and shrug before Zoro was laughing heartily as he stuck the gold trinket back on his ear as he continued making his way out onto the field.

 

~X~

 

As Sanji finished stamping the checkout cards for the girls on the other side of the counter, he couldn't help but notice the way they kept staring at him before furtively glancing away. At another time Sanji would've jumped at the chance to chat up two gorgeous girls like them, but now he had learned better than that; when people acted cagey like this around him it was because they had unfortunately noticed the chair he was sitting in. Any and all conversation he might start with them would be laced with pity and he wasn't in the mood for it today.

 

Stacking the books neatly, he handed them off to the two with a charming smile, “Enjoy the books, girls!”

 

They both were speechless for a moment, before tittering with ecstatic giggles as they turned away, even as they left casting glances back over their shoulders at him. Whispering to each other as Sanji couldn't help but watch them go in confusion as that had been a completely different reaction than he was used to. Most people were polite – annoyingly so – he hadn't had many people outwardly mocking him though...

 

“Hey, Sanji...” Usopp grunted absently as he made his way behind the counter, nose in his phone, “Have you been online at all today?”

 

“Not really.” Pulling the lever to unlock his wheels, he swivelled himself around to face Usopp intent on telling the man about the weird encounter he'd just had with the two girls. “Why?”

 

“You're...” Usopp trailed off in disbelief, before looking up at Sanji nervously, “You're all over the internet.”

 

“What?!” Sanji all but snatched Usopp's phone from his hands and began scrolling through the app he had already pulled up for him, the tag across the top reading #roronoaromance. The more Sanji scrolled the more he realized just how out of hand the whole thing really was.

 

There was a particularly popular picture spreading of a side shot of him and Zoeo that must have been taken by someone else in the row nearby. It showed Sanji – sitting where he always sat – leaning a bit more forward in his seat than he ever remembered himself doing. An exhausted, yet fond smile was on his face, and even though he knew at the time he had been saying something scathing, the way his gaze was fixated on Zoro made him seem so much more involved.

 

And Zoro was even worse. Standing at the barricade with his arms resting on the railing, only just tall enough to rest his chin on them as he craned his neck up to look at Sanji. Ankles crossed casually and his glove hanging from one of his wrists as he looked up at Sanji with a soft smile and an even softer expression. Looking absolutely love struck in ways Sanji was certain he never actually looked in real life.

 

Perhaps people were just fantastic at editing, or maybe they had caught them at a bad time – like Zoro had been talking about what he was gonna eat after the game – they talked about that a few times, right?

 

There were several other photos floating round of them talking in much the same position. It seemed that none of them had caught sight of his wheelchair – much to Sanji's relief – but they had all caught something much worse; the obvious fact that there was clearly something happening between them that wasn't just a simple conversation.

 

As he scrolled further he found more condemning evidence and eventually began finding links to articles and even several videos. None of them had his name posted, but it was undeniably him in every single shot. A very unmanly whimper managing to squeak itself out as he found an article under a photo of Zoro handing him the ball from the triple play he had managed to pull off just for Sanji.

 

Roronoa Romance; Players Sideline Chat Steals Show

 

Peanuts and cracker-jacks used to be the draw of the baseball stands, but now it seems something else has gotten this crowd – and fan’s – attention. While the mystery fan remains nameless, it is easy to see that from reports of past several games that Zoro Roronoa has become quite smitten with a returning fan. Whether it is a budding romance started in the stadium, or one that has been going on off the field; it leaves many fans wondering if one of baseball's notorious bachelors has finally been snatched up?

 

Unable to read another word, Sanji quickly handed the phone back to Usopp and instead dropped his head into his hands in an attempt to erase the images from his eyes as he tried to process everything he had just seen. Never in a million years had he thought something like this would happen, all they had been doing was having a conversation and someone had managed to blow the whole thing out of proportion.

 

“Oh man,” Usopp mumbled, breaking Sanji from his thoughts and angling his phone towards Sanji as he explained, “There's an interview.”

 

This time, Sanji didn't even have the ability to respond before he was taken in by the video playing in front of him. The image of Zoro in his gear standing next to a gorgeous reporter was already playing as she was clearly talking to him about their victory with one of his many games.

 

"Fantastic game." The interview crooned flirtatiously, practically shoving the microphone into Zoro's mouth as an excuse to get closer to him.

 

"Yeah, everyone's pretty happy about our performance." Zoro commented seriously, completely ignoring his teammates in the background making an effort to make fools of themselves on camera. Several of them dancing on the field behind him and making lewd gestures as he continued on unperturbed, “There were a few decisions we weren't too happy about, but everything worked out and we pulled out a well earned win.”

 

“That was an impressive triple play you managed to pull off.” She noted. “Many people are speculating that you and Portgas planned it.”

 

Both of them completely oblivious to the teammates behind that had grabbed a lawn chair from the side lines and were currently hauling one of the younger teammates around in it like it was a thrown. The boy in the chair having made a makeshift crown out of a random box and posing regally as he was marched past, and neither Zoro nor the reporter batted an eye.

 

“I may have given him the idea.” Zoro admitted innocently before chuckling, “Coach wasn’t too pleased, but we pulled it off so he let it slide.”

 

“Well the fans certainly loved it.” She agreed happily, before pressing further, "Now, I don't know how much you keep up with social media?"

 

"Not much." Zoro admitted with a modest shake of his head and a soft chuckle. Hands falling to his hips as it was clear that despite many interviews that man wasn't particularly comfortable in front of a camera, much more interested with staring at the ground as he listened to the interviewers words.

 

"Well, are you aware of photos of you and a certain fan surfacing?"

 

A genuine look of surprise lit up Zoro's face, mouth gaping for a moment in confusion as he raised a hand to scratch the back of his head childishly. Nervousness twisting Sanji’s stomach into a tight knot as he found himself holding his breath for what Zoro might say. "Uh... no, honestly I hadn't."

 

"It's of you and a blond haired fan chatting from the dugout."

 

Sanji watched as that adorable frown continued to furrow on Zoro's face, before everything seemed to click and he glanced up rather hurriedly, "Oh!"

 

A look of glee lit up the reporters face, "So, you know him?"

 

"Ah, well kinda." Zoro suddenly seemed oddly reserved compared to how he had been acting earlier and how Sanji remember him being in person. Having to remember to take in a breath as he had been holding his previous one for far too long, "Why?"

 

"Well, the people want answers!" The interviewer gushed with a playful laugh, "Friend? Boyfriend? What's going on there? Who is he?"

 

At the mention of the word boyfriend Sanji began to sweat profusely, stomach twisting uncomfortably as he waited with bated breath for what Zoro was gonna say. Certainly hoping the man wasn't about to completely out him to his friends and family – and the world – without his permission. Not to mention the fact that they most certainly were not in any form of relationship to begin with anyway.

 

"Uh... no there's nothing going on there." Hand back to scratching absently at the back of his neck, giving a lazy shrug, "We just started chatting cause his seat's right by the dugout and you know how it gets between innings. I tend to avoid media because they seem to take a lot of what I do out of context."

 

"So there's nothing happening there?" The interviewer seemed rather disappointed, "Nothing at all?"

 

"No, sorry." Zoro chuckled apathetically, "Must've been a bad photo."

 

The video ended a few seconds later, but Sanji had already stopped paying attention as a buzzing had started in Sanji's ears as the video faded out, and the sick feeling in his gut hadn't gone away despite Zoro having done the right thing and denied anything was happening. There was an initial rush of relief, sure, but if he was happy about it then why did it feel like he had still just been punched in the gut.

 

~X~

 

From where he sat in the dugout, Zoro felt his stomach drop as they were already into the second inning and there was no sign of Sanji. Seat completely empty for what would be the second game in a row and Zoro couldn’t help but feel mildly responsible for scaring the man off. Though he supposed he shouldn’t be surprised, or hurt, that this would be Sanji’s reaction after being outed so publicly.

 

After the first game of Sanji’s absence, Zoro hadn’t exactly known what to think, but had assumed that maybe Sanji had prior plans. It wasn’t until after the game that their PR representative had taken him aside to show him everything that had been blowing up online after Zoro had drawn the crowd’s attention by giving the ball from the triple play to Sanji. If he had known doing that would have brought a bunch of their other interactions to light and basically put Sanji on the spot, he would never have done it.

 

Everyone insisted Zoro had handled it - and the many pesky reporters afterwards - the best that he could and shouldn’t worry, but it was hard not to when he saw Sanji’s empty seat. Zoro loved playing baseball, but chatting with Sanji had been a highlight of his week that he had come to look forward to; even if the blond couldn’t seem to make up his mind whether he wanted to flirt with Zoro or reject him.

 

A movement beside him had Zoro glancing over to see Luffy sitting down beside him and had to fight back a groan, if Luffy was coming to console him, that meant he was really becoming intolerable to the others. It was even worse than he initially assumed since Luffy currently had on his ‘serious face’ which meant Zoro really needed to get his shit together.

 

“It’s not your fault.”

 

Zoro grunted, “Hm?”

 

“Your friend.” Luffy clarified, “That picture. He doesn’t blame you for it.”

 

Groaning more out of frustration that anything else, Zoro whipped off his hat and tossed it across the dugout. Running his hands through his hair a few times in aggravation before finally letting his head fall and mumbled into his chest, “How the hell would you know?”

 

“Because,” Luffy shrugged, “I wouldn’t.”

 

“Well,” Zoro raised his head and couldn’t help but chuckle. Resting his jaw in his hand as he stared out at the field petulantly and tried to not think about a certain blond that had been occupying his thoughts for the past several weeks, “you’re a bit different than him Luffy. You actually like me.”

 

“But he does like you.” Luffy argued, pushing himself to his feet and striding across the pit. Snatching up Zoro’s ball cap and walking back over to the brooding man. Offering it to him as he pointed out, “He wouldn’t come to every game and talk to you if he didn’t.”

 

“You’re missing the point here Luffy.” Zoro grumbled, trying not to take out his annoyance on the young kid as he took the hat back. Hitting it against his knee a few times to try and get some of the dirt off, “He had to come to those games.”

 

“And now he doesn’t?” Luffy frowned skeptically, crossing his arms, “If you bothered him from the beginning, then he could’ve stopped coming at anytime.”

 

That… actually made Zoro pause for a moment before brushing that comment aside as well. “And this time it seems like it got pushed too far.”

 

“Then go talk to him.” Luffy shrugged, “You know where he is right?”

 

“I suppose…”

 

“Then what’s stopping you?”

 

Zoro’s gaze shifted back to Sanji’s seat that still remained empty. Thinking of all the time he had spent that summer talking to the man, flirting with him, falling for him; he had just never expected Sanji to be so stubborn in return. Sanji had become an enigma; the way Sanji had looked and talked to Zoro made him almost certain that he was interested, but whenever Zoro got too close the blond shied away like he had something to hide.

 

Zoro had run out of ideas for what to do, and then this whole picture disaster happened and really put a stop to all of it. Though he supposed Sanji had already flat out rejected him, so what was the harm in at least making sure the man was okay and leave everything on good terms…

 

~X~

 

After everything that had happened on social media, Sanji had decided it was best to lay low until the whole mess was forgotten about. A part of him was admittedly bummed that he wouldn't be able to see Zoro the next couple weeks, but it was inevitably for the best. Sanji didn't want any more photos of him being spread around lest someone get a shot of him in his chair, and Zoro didn't need that kind of publicity as the season was getting more intense.

 

That's why, when Sanji was sitting at a table in the corner of the library reading, he hadn't been expecting Zoro to come striding over and stop in front of it with an unsure look on his face. Sanji's eyes immediately flickered to where he had stashed his chair under the table before turning back up to Zoro and watched him carefully. The last time Zoro had cornered Sanji in the library it had been for a much more forward reason, now he wasn’t exactly sure what it could be for.

 

When Zoro spoke, he didn't sound accusatory, but Sanji could see it in his eyes, “You haven't come to any games lately.”

 

Sanji scoffed, deciding to play it all off, "Were you worried about me?"

 

"As if." Zoro drawled, really putting some playful malice behind it before falling silent. Watching the man lean a hand on the table calmly, jaw muscle working soundlessly as he seemed to be clenching and unclenching his jaw before muttering much more timidly, "And if I was?"

 

"Thought it was best I didn't show up for a few games." Sanji murmured as he decided to completely by-pass Zoro's other comment, "Let the heat die down after that whole photo fiasco."

 

Zoro was silent for a while before pointing out, "There's only a few games left."

 

"Ya." Sanji agreed, leaving the unspoken 'That's the point.' hanging in the air for them both. To Sanji it seemed like this was a better time than any to call it quits, things had been getting too complicated between them anyhow and not going to any more games would make it easier to end this awkward relationship before it began.

 

A long silence hung between them as Sanji wasn’t sure what else he was supposed to say, and it seemed Zoro had run out of things he wanted to ask Sanji. Both in a kind of awkward stalemate to see who would crumble first. Luckily, this time it seemed Zoro was okay taking the fall as he mumbled apologetically, "I'm sorry about the photo."

 

Hands fidgeting with the cover of his book, Sanji couldn’t help but feel at fault as well. Not because of the photo itself - because it was a nice photo - but because of what the photo represented; the beginning of the end. Watching as the cover flexed in his hands as Sanji admitted, "I am too."

 

Another uncomfortable silence before Zoro muttered, “I'm not sorry though.”

 

Sanji was certain he had misheard, glancing up to meet Zoro’s gaze, “What?”

 

“I mean, I'm sorry if the photo made you uncomfortable or if it outed you at all,” Zoro floundered for a moment before seeming to get his bearings and proclaiming rather stubbornly, “but I'm not sorry because I like you; and I don't care what other people think if I do.”

 

“Mhm.” Sanji could only hum in surprise to what Zoro was saying, he hadn’t really considered that Zoro might be okay with all the publicity. In the interview he had written it all off remarkably well, and had really sold it like he hadn’t cared about Sanji at all.

 

“I said what I said to get the pap off my back.” Zoro explained further, awkwardly pushing his knuckles into the table in front of himself, “I figured you would appreciate it.”

 

There was a long silence following Zoro’s admission, Sanji not fully realizing how badly he had wanted to hear those words from Zoro as the pain that had been in his gut since watching the interview lessened. Nodding and giving a hoarse, “Thank you.”

 

“Alright, well…” Zoro straightened and replaced both hands into the pockets of his jacket, glancing around before looking down at Sanji nervously, “that’s all I wanted to say. I’ll leave you alone now.”

 

With that, Zoro turned to leave and Sanji watched him go.

 

This was exactly the moment he had been waiting for for a couple weeks now, the perfect excuse to cut all ties with Zoro so Sanji never had to take it farther than what it had been, but now, presented with the opportunity, he hated it. After everything that had happened between them, how persistent Zoro had been in his quest to get Sanji to go somewhere with him, and even after everything had gotten spread all over the damn internet; it felt wrong that this was how it was all going to end.

 

Sanji knew it was completely irrational - and a huge dick more - but the moment Zoro walked away Sanji immediately found himself not wanting the other man to go. He knew keeping him around was risky - and ultimately against his overall plan to make sure this didn’t become any more complicated than it already was - but Sanji found himself shouting out before he even realized what he was doing, “So--!”

 

Zoro stopped and glanced back.

 

Floundering for several moments as Sanji tried to think of anything to get the man to stay, the only thing coming to mind the most obvious, “Baseball?”

 

“Baseball?” Zoro echoed.

 

“Yeah…” Sanji tried for earnest as he shut his book and slid it away from himself, “why baseball?”

 

“You…” Zoro trailed off, turning to face Sanji despite the cautiousness of his next words, “actually want to know?”

 

Sanji smiled and nodded, finding that despite his earlier panic he meant it..

 

“Uh. Alright.” Zoro grumbled somewhat awkwardly, shuffling back to where Sanji was sitting and pulling out a chair. Falling into it somewhat stiffly as he glanced around the library once more as though looking for something - or perhaps avoiding Sanji’s gaze - before levelling on him with uncertain eyes, “What do you want to know?”

 

“I don’t know.” Sanji chuckled, “Like, how’d you get into it? Why did you choose to do it professionally? Why this and not literally any other cool sport?”

 

That comment at least seemed to loosen the tension from Zoro’s shoulders as he chuckled, “You’re not going to let that go, huh?”

 

“Nope.” Sanji smiled smugly, making sure to emphasize the popping of the ‘p’ when he spoke.

 

“Well, uh,” Zoro’s arm came up to scratch the back of his neck as he thought over his response. Eventually shrugging and offering, “I’ve just always loved it, I guess? I used to watch every game with my folks, collected all the cards, played peewee all through school. It was always just the best game to me.”

 

A guffaw from Sanji had Zoro glancing up with an arched brow.

 

“Sorry!” Sanji waved Zoro off through his giggles, “I’m just picturing little grumpy you collecting cards in your favourite baseball jersey.”

 

“How is that funny?” Zoro demanded, though the effect was lost as he was also already laughing along with the blond. Sitting a bit more upright and engaging Sanji - reminding him more and more of the Zoro he hung with at the games before it had all gotten messy - pointing at him rather aggressively, “I’ll have you know I still have those cards.”

 

That sent Sanji into another spiral of laughter until eventually someone at a nearby table told him rather sharply to hush and he had to muffle it with his hands. Eventually getting control of himself and waving a hand at Zoro in mild apology, “Sorry, it’s just… I can’t picture little you without that scowl on your face.”

 

“What?!” Zoro laughed through his indignation.

 

“Oh, c’mon.” Sanji chuckled, pointing at Zoro’s forehead, “That scowl. Tell me I’m not wrong.”

 

“You’re not wrong.” Zoro supplied easily with a laugh and a shrug, “I was a grouchy kid.”

 

“Knew it.” Sanji smirked happily, “So, you’re doing all of this because you just enjoy the game? No other reasons?”

 

“Oh, I have a goal.” Shifting in his chair, Zoro pulled his wallet free from his back pocket and began digging through it before procuring a rather tattered card from a hidden pocket. Flipping it around, poised between two fingers, and offering it to Sanji with a rather dramatic flourish; Sanji taking it carefully and inspecting it to find it was an old, worn baseball card. “He has the highest recorded batting average ever; and I want to beat it.”

 

On the card was a rather distinguished looking man for someone who played baseball, with stylishly cut facial hair and eagle sharp eyes. Sanji couldn’t tell much about him from the jumbled statistics all over the card, however he was able to discern from the top that his name was Dracule Mihawk.

 

“What’s taking you so long?” Sanji jested lightly, handing the card back to Zoro and gesturing towards the man while asking, “You’re like what; thirty-eight? Thirty-nine?”

 

“Try twenty-eight.” Zoro corrected as he carefully put the card back in his wallet and returned it to his pocket. Rolling his eyes to the side before glancing back at Sanji with a smirk and adding, “Ass.”

 

“So?”

 

“I’m a couple years behind.” Zoro explained with a half-shrug, “Career-wise.”

 

“Really?” Sanji frowned with a lighthearted laugh, “I assumed you would’ve come right out of school chomping at the bit.”

 

“Oh, I did.” Zoro assured Sanji, “Scholarship and everything, but I got injured and was out for about five years.”

 

That caught Sanji’s interest as he couldn’t imagine what sort of injury would cause someone to be completely out of the game for so long. Looking Zoro over nervously, not expecting to see anything off about the man that he wouldn’t have already noticed, but still curious as to, “What happened?”

 

“I was in a car accident several years ago.” Zoro explained a tad too casually, grabbing the hem of his shirt and hiking it up to reveal his torso and the large ugly scar bisecting it from hip to shoulder. It was gnarly and patchy and completely deformed the muscles that had been forced to heal together after being split in two. Pulling the shirt down messily, he continued, “I nearly died. I was in the hospital for a year - recovering - going in and out of comas. And when I got out it was another year of physio before I was even a functioning human again.”

 

Even though Zoro had covered the wound, Sanji found himself unable to tear his eyes away from where he knew it lay. The gravity of what Zoro was telling him slowly sinking in, regardless of how casually he had given it. And Zoro, it seemed was completely unaware of what his revelation was currently doing to Sanji mentally as he continued on as though he hadn’t just dropped the biggest bomb on Sanji ever.

 

“I'd lost everything.” Zoro shook his head somberly, “My scholarship was gone, my coach told me my career was over, and my doctors said I'd be lucky if I would do any kind of sport ever again.”

 

“I…” Sanji spoke softly now, seeing the residual pain in Zoro’s eyes that Sanji himself had seen in his own every day since his accident. That inescapable hopelessness that made it feel like there was nothing he could do now that his own body wasn’t even able to support him, “imagine it was pretty hard.”

 

“Yeah. It was.”

 

“So what happened?” Sanji questioned, “Wouldn’t you have been behind? Why not give up?”

 

“Hell yeah I was, and I had to work twice as hard to get to where I am, but I don't regret it for a second. If you have a dream, you do it, you get it done. No excuses.” A wide grin splitting his face as he eyed Sanji softly, “Even if some people think it's a shitty, boring game for old men.”

 

Having to mentally shake himself from the effect Zoro’s words were having on him, Sanji forced out rather quietly,“As inspiring as you are I do not rescind my comment.”

 

“I didn't expect you to.” Zoro chuckled, that unbelievable softness returning to his gaze as he stared at Sanji and murmured, “It's why I like you.”

 

Sanji could hear his heart skip a beat, “How are you like that?”

 

“Like what?”

 

“Just so…” Perfect. Unbelievable. Determined. “blunt with everything.”

 

“You only get so much time to live your life,” Zoro shrugged, “seems a shame to play your cards close to your chest.”

 

“I… um…” Sanji glanced down at the book he had been reading - the escape he had been using as a mental crutch these past months - as he realized there was something he had been putting off that he needed to do. Something that he had been making excuses for the moment he had gotten out of that hospital bed and into this wheelchair. Something that he needed to fix now. “I have something I need to do.”

 

Zoro didn’t seem hurt or offended, just mildly taken aback by Sanji’s sudden shift in conversation.

 

“But,” Sanji met Zoro’s gaze and urged as sincerely as he could manage, “but, afterwards, if you maybe wanted to... do something...?”

 

“Yeah,” Zoro grinned. ”I’d like that.”

 

~X~

 

Wheeling his way into the restaurant, Sanji headed towards the back with a mission. Ignoring many of the patrons that stopped or paused in their meals to look at him as he made for the bar and ran into one of his old co-workers that regarded him with a mean grin and firm handshake.

 

“Sanji.” Carne boomed, “Good to see you!”

 

“Looking good, you shit excuse for a chef.” Sanji bit out through a laugh, “Tell Zeff I’m here.”

 

“No need.” Came a grumble from the kitchen as one of the large swinging doors to the kitchen burst open and a large, burly chef stepped out with stiff limp to his giat as he finished wiping off his hands on a cloth. Flipping it over his shoulder and crossing his thick arms over his chest, he came to stop in front of Sanji.

 

“Oi, bean-pole.” Zeff grumbled with begrudging happiness, “Good to see you.”

 

Skipping the pleasantries, Sanji explained, “I wanna talk.”

 

“Well, you do plenty of that already.” Zeff noted, before gesturing behind himself to his office, “But I assume it's about something else?”

 

“Yeah…”

 

Back in Zeff's office, Sanji couldn't help the melancholy that twisted in his chest from the hours he had spent working here. Cooking in the kitchen, helping with order sheets in the office, out on the floor serving customers; all of it had been a blessing despite how much he might have complained at the time. If he had known then it was only going to be a fleeting moment, then he probably would have cherished it more.

 

“So,” Zeff turned to Sanji after shutting the door behind himself, arms crossed as he levelled a hard look on him, “what do you need?”

 

Steeling himself, Sanji said firmly, “I want my old job back.”

 

It seemed to surprise Zeff, but he didn't pause as he asked, “We talked this over before, haven't we?”

 

“That was then, this is now.” Sanji argued firmly, a fire lit under him that he didn't remember ever being there before. Not until he had heard what Zoro had said, not until he had seen what that perseverance could do first hand, not until he had realized that he had given up far too easily. “You know I'm the best damn chef you ever fucking had in this place, and you know I can cook circles around those second rate assholes in the back you call professionals. I'm amazing at what I do and I'm not stopping now over something trivial like stove height.”

 

Zeff didn't say anything.

 

“I will literally do anything to make this work!” Sanji persisted, the topic which at one time would bring him to tears now just had him burning with determination, “Even if I have to take a loan out and buy my own stove I will, but there's no way I'm spending the rest of my life in this chair and not cooking as well. So give me the damn job or I swear I'll open up a food stand out front and put you out of business!”

 

Zeff levelled a harsh look on him, silent for several long seconds as he seemed to be measuring Sanji's resolve before nodding firmly. “Alright, boy. I'll help you in any way I can.”

 

“R-Really?” Sanji stuttered, taken aback that the grumpy old man had actually conceded that easily. He had been preparing to fight for his life to even get the old geezer to consider taking him back, and just like that; he was in?

 

“That was the fire I was looking for when you first came back a year ago.”

 

“I wasn't the same person then.”

 

“Clearly.” Zeff grunted with a chuckle, “What changed?”

 

A lot. There was so much that had happened to him in the past year to bring him to this moment; so much pain, and learning and growing, but the one thing above all else that stood out was something far more important. It was a simple conversation that only happened because, “I went to a baseball game.”

 

~X~

 

Getting Zoro's number had been a tad complicated, but once Nami connected him to the PR representative that Zoro had used to contact her, he managed to get his number. At first she seemed skeptical, but once she found out he was the same guy Zoro had insisted she track down, she was much more lenient; even seemed to find the whole situation funny.

 

So, with bated breath, Sanji typed in his number, hit call, and waited for him to answer. It was all planned out perfectly in his head, everything he was going to say, why he was contacting him, everything. And the second Zoro picked up the phone and Sanji heard that perfect voice; it was all tossed out the window in exchange for a panicked shout, “I wanna cook you!”

 

“What?” Zoro guffawed.

 

“I want to cook for you,” Sanji repeated much more slowly to make sure he wouldn't mess it up again, could feel the phone shaking against his ear in his nervousness. “I owe you a chicken piccata remember?”

 

There was long pause before Zoro asked cautiously, “Sanji?”

 

It took all of Sanji's willpower to refrain from smacking himself in the face as he realized he hadn't even told Zoro it was him calling. He wondered if it was too late for him to just hang up the phone and pretend it never happened, and just deny it in the future if Zoro ever asked him about it. However, that seemed like a pretty hard option as he opted to just go with it.

 

“Yup.” Sanji finally answered, figuring he might as well go all in at this point – he'd already embarrassed himself, “So, dinner?”

 

Another pause. “It's eleven o'clock at night.”

 

Biting his lip, Sanji pressed, “Is that a no?”

 

There was muffled movement and grumbling down the line before Zoro requested, “Where do I need to go?”

 

“Baratie on East Blue Avenue.” Sanji told him, “Closed sign is up but the door's unlocked. Just come in.”

 

“Alright, I'll see you shortly.”

 

Call cutting out, Sanji immediately set to work getting everything else he needed set up before Zoro arrived. After briefly explaining what had happened and what he wanted to do, Zeff had given him the key to restaurant with a stern warning to properly clean and lock up when he left. Shortly after Sanji had set about prepping the meal he had planned before calling Zoro.

 

Once Sanji was certain he had everything ready, he made his way out to the bar and took a seat on one of the barstools behind the counter and waited. Fiddling with his phone nervously as he knew exactly what he wanted to say to Zoro, but was also still nervous at what he had just done. By the time the door to the restaurant swung open and Zoro was striding inside, Sanji was pretty sure his shirt had sweat stains under the arms from how nervous he was.

 

“Hey!”

 

Sanji glanced up quickly as the sound of Zoro's voice and instead of feeling even more stressed - like he had been expecting - instead he felt immediately calmer. A bright smile lighting up his face as Zoro neared and he reciprocated happily, “Hi.’

 

Zoro looked perfect; as he always did. Hair delightfully tousled, earrings jangling against his jaw, and a dashing smile lighting up his face. Striding casually to the back bar where Sanji was sitting on the other side of on one of the stools, wheelchair folded and leaning out of sight as it hadn’t been the reason he had called Zoro here and he didn’t want to risk it derailing the conversation.

 

Spinning on the stool, Sanji pulled open the door to the small oven kept behind the counter to keep dine out orders warm in. Zoro neared the bar and asked over Sanji’s shoulder, “What's that?”

 

“It's just an oven to keep it warm.” Sanji explained, trying not to sound as nervous as he felt, “I didn't know if you'd get lost so I wanted to make sure it didn't get cold.”

 

Removing the two plates he had finished making earlier, he spun back around, placing them down on the counter in front of them with a flourish. Making a show of pouring a glass of wine for both of them while Zoro watched as he slowly removed his jacket, placed it on the back of his chair, and took a seat.

 

“It’s a rosemary chicken piccata with a saffron risotto and mango reduction.” Sanji explained, “The wine is a pinot grigio from Italy.”

 

“I don’t know half the words you just said,” Zoro laughed as he rested his arms on the table, upon closer inspection looking far more clean and casual than he did at his games. Maybe it was the low lighting of the restaurant, or maybe it was because he wasn’t filthy from being out in a field playing a sweaty game, but Zoro looked even better than usual, “but it smells amazing.”

 

Forcing his gaze away, Sanji reminded himself that that wasn’t the reason he had called Zoro here at such an ungodly hour. Maybe at another time, but for now he had a dinner he owed the man and a thank you in order. Gesturing at the food, Sanji ordered, “Well, stop looking at it. Dig in.”

 

Without waiting for another invitation, Zoro snatched up a fork and scooped up a mouthful. Sanji definitely trying not to seem like he was waiting for the man’s approval by timidly starting on his own meal, before being quickly interrupted by a surprised moan.

 

“You… uh…” Zoro spoke around a bite, pausing to fully chew and swallow. Groaning softly before glancing up at Sanji and actually looking a little surprised, “You weren’t kidding; this is killer.”

 

“You doubted me?” Sanji chuckled, slowly working away at his own food as he was pleased to find that even after a year he hadn’t lost his touch. There were a few things he could be self-critical about, but he’d save that for later when he got back to cooking at the restaurant full time.

 

“A little?” Zoro teased as he continued to mow through the food, pausing long enough to mumble around a bite, “I won’t do it again though.”

 

“Good.” Sanji warned playfully, taking a sip of wine as their conversation began to flow much more easily like it had at their games. Small talk about everything and anything in between until Sanji had begun to forget the reason he had called Zoro here in the first place.

 

As the wine slowly disappeared, and conversation began to dwindle, Zoro finished a final bite of his meal before politely placing his fork down and gently pushing his plate aside as he levelled on Sanji, “What made you change your mind about the dinner?”

 

“I…” Sanji paused, taking a second to remember the original intentions as he placed his wine aside and turned to Zoro, “I wanted to thank you.”

 

“Thank me?” Zoro seemed genuinely surprised.

 

“I recently lost sight of myself and had given up on a lot of things.” Sanji took his time choosing his words, not quite ready to come all out with his condition, but also needing Zoro to understand where he was coming from. Chuckling a little to himself as he admitted, “My sister sending me to those games was her loving way of forcing me to get out of the house and try to just be myself again.”

 

For once, Zoro didn't say anything. No biting remark, or sarcastic comment, he just sat silently with his gaze pinned to Sanji as he listened to everything he had to say. It was enthralling but also terrifying at the same time as he realized he really was laying it all out for the other man.

 

“When you told me what had happened, it made me realize that I had probably given up on my dreams far too easily.” At that Sanji had to look away, fixated on his hands as painful memories were beginning to surface. The hopelessness he had felt when he had tried to initially return to work only to find he couldn't perform the way he had in the past. But instead of pushing through it, he had given up; gone to work at the library. And while working there had provided the safety he had needed, and the time to really take care of himself and heal; it hadn't been where he belonged. “It made me want to fight for this.”

 

Silence stretched for a lot longer than Sanji had expected, and he was considering adding something on so he didn't leave Zoro with such an awkward conversation. But the decision was taken from him as a clattering of plates and cutlery being swept aside was his only warning before Zoro was leaning over the counter – hand tangled in the front of Sanji's shirt – as he pulled Sanji into an aggressive kiss.

 

It short circuited Sanji's entire thought process as the rough slide of Zoro's thin lips against his became the only sensation he ever wanted to focus on again. And Sanji's jaw must have fallen open in surprise because a moment later Zoro's tongue was slipping inside and immediately correcting Sanji's previous thought as he realized that this was actually the best thing he had ever felt.

 

Zoro tasted of the meal Sanji had just made, and a bit of the wine he had drank, and a heady amount of steel that left Sanji craving more. It tangled with the man's musk that he'd never been close enough to smell before, but now that he had, Sanji wanted to bury his face in Zoro's collar and just breathe it in. All of the scents and flavours and sensations were becoming overwhelming as Sanji realized he still hadn't moved since Zoro had kissed him.

 

Just as Sanji was considering reacting, he was suddenly reminded how visible his chair was from this side of the counter, and just how much Zoro was leaning over it. Panic overriding anything and everything else he was feeling as he tore himself away from Zoro and shoved the man back. Sanji's heart was in his throat for several reasons – most of them because of Zoro's mouth – but the main one was his concern that Zoro had seen something Sanji wasn't ready for him to.

 

Staring off with the other man as he waited to see some sort of recognition in his eyes that he had figured out Sanji's secret, but seconds passed and nothing happened. Instead, Zoro's gaze soon turned cold and it dropped away from Sanji to stare down at the counter top where their plates had been shoved aside. The side of Zoro's mouth jerked down for a moment before he recovered and an almost indifferent look covered his face.

 

“Thanks for the dinner.” Zoro murmured politely, pushing himself out of his chair, snagging his jacket off the back, and turning towards the door. Pausing and looking like he wanted to say something but thought better of it and instead nodded, “See you around.”

 

“...uh.” As Sanji watched him go, his jaw hung open as he willed himself to say anything to get the man to turn around and come back. Wanting nothing more than to call out and tell Zoro the truth, but the fear leaving him frozen and the longer he watched, and the further Zoro went, the harder it seemed and the more it felt like something painful had speared through his chest.

 

It was only when the door thudded shut behind Zoro’s retreating figure that Sanji was finally able to draw in a ragged breath and he found his head falling hopelessly into his hands. Unable to begin to rationalize what the hell was wrong with him and why he was letting his fear control him so fully, why he was letting this stupid chair ruin even more of his life than it already had.

 

Taking several moments to breath heavily into his hands, he managed to reign himself in and push himself up to do at least something useful. Levering himself into his chair, he went about cleaning the kitchen, washing the dishes, and putting away the leftover wine.

 

After putting the last of the dishes away, he wheeled himself out from behind the counter and over to a vacant table in the middle of the dinning area. Sitting for several minutes, he thumbed his phone and debated calling Zoro, hating that that was the way he had left it, and hating seeing how rejected the other man had looked. That hadn't been how he had wanted this evening to go at all, but it seemed there was only so long Sanji could keep him in the dark before it was going to backfire.

 

Groaning, Sanji slumped forward and rested his head on the table as he knew he had no one but himself to blame for his current situation. The flirting had been all fun and games, but he had never expected he would develop actual feelings for the other man – or that Zoro would for him either – and that they would end up in this complicated situation. And once they had, he had no one to blame but himself for being too much of a coward to just tell Zoro the truth, consequences be damned.

 

And god, the look on his face!

 

In retrospect, Zoro had thrown his all at Sanji and he had reacted by shoving the man away viciously. No wonder he had decided to leave so quickly afterward, no wonder he looked so damn cold, no wonder he had finally given up. What the hell had Sanji been thinking?

 

A loud bang of the restaurant door being thrown open interrupted Sanji's lamenting and had him sitting bolt upright in shock as a fuming Zoro came storming back into the building. Looking just as amazing as he had before he left, and the sight of him already fixing the aching in Sanji's chest that had been caused by his leaving. But before Sanji even had a chance to say anything, or contemplate the fact that he was sitting in his chair for Zoro to see, Zoro was growling at him.

 

“You know, I don't get you?!”

 

All Sanji managed to do was croak in surprise to Zoro's accusation. Still very much aware how exposed he was as Zoro seemed too focused on what he had to say that he hadn't even noticed yet; he didn't sound angry, but it was clear he wasn't exactly happy either as he huffed several times as it seemed he was having just as hard a time coming up with words as Sanji currently was.

 

"Like if you don't like me, that's one thing; and I can handle that." Zoro grunted, as he dragged his hand through his hair in frustration. Continuing to make his way over as he ranted, "But this back and forth you have me doing is giving me whiplash; I just don't know what you want from me. One second you're flirting with me, and the next second you look like you want to run."

 

“I... uh...”

 

"I want to be with you." Zoro pressed, "I want to know more about you. It's why I keep bothering you to do things with me outside of those games; hell I was willing to take you to Italy for a day just to get some time with you, but even that didn't work. I don't know what I'm supposed to do here. And if you don't like me, that's cool, but at least fucking tell me so I can--”

 

Whatever else Zoro had wanted to say died instantly the moment he got close and came to a startled stop beside him and his eyes dropped to the chair Sanji was in. Previous conversation absolutely forgotten as confusion rewrote his face, eyebrows furrowing before realization hit and a look of horror replaced everything else.

 

"I...” Sanji was surprised by how quiet his voice came out, but couldn't find the strength to really push his voice any louder as he admitted softly, “I do like you."

 

Silence.

 

“A lot.” Sanji managed a little louder, finally dragging his eyes away as the weight of Zoro's stare was becoming too much for him, “But there's so much I--”

 

"What's going on?"

 

Shoulders climbing, Sanji winced as he hadn't prepared himself for this conversation nearly as much as he would have liked to. The harshness of Zoro's words cutting unexpectedly deep as he honestly had to no idea how to even begin explaining this entire messed up situation to Zoro. He felt awful, and ironically enough the person that was at fault and could also make it all better was standing in front of him.

 

“Sanji?” Sanji must have been ducking his head for too long, because Zoro spoke again and this time he just sounded scared and it was enough to cause Sanji to raise his head to face Zoro. "Are you okay?"

 

"I'm fine." Sanji assured with a small nod, attempting for calm but unable to ignore the lump in his throat that was causing him some breathing difficulty. Avoiding eye contact lest it get worse as he gestured to the seat across from him, "You should probably sit down."

 

It was clear Zoro was still too flummoxed to respond right away, but nonetheless backed up enough to fall into the chair across from Sanji with his eyes still cast down. Sanji waited him out, and when he eventually looked up his jaw was slack and it was clear he was desperate to know what the hell had happened.

 

"I was in a car accident last year." Sanji breathed out a tad quickly, realizing it was the first time he was going to say any of this aloud since the incident had happened. Keeping his eyes on his hands in his lap as he forced himself through this, knowing that if he looked at Zoro he might not be able to continue. "I got paralyzed from the waist down, and I've been in a wheelchair ever since."

 

Silence.

 

“It's the reason why I stopped working here.” Sanji gestured weakly around himself, “And the reason I wanted to thank you for giving me the confidence to come back.”

 

The silence began to get deafening so Sanji chanced a look up and found Zoro simply looking at him with an utterly lost expression. It had been something Sanji had been expecting, but it was another thing to deal with in person.

 

"But..." Zoro paused hopelessly, "but at the games..."

 

"...i was sitting." Sanji pointed out.

 

"You work."

 

Tilting his head to the side, Sanji contemplated that for a moment before meeting Zoro's gaze, "Sitting."

 

"...the dinner!"

 

"...uh." Sanji pursed his lips, a smile somehow breaking through across his face for a moment before humming, "Also, sitting."

 

Flopping back into his chair, Zoro seemed to finally give up and run a distressed hand through his hair as he glanced around in shock. Sanji watched the wheels turning in the man's head, waiting patiently for him to catch up until it finally all seemed to fall into place and he was sitting forward once more. However, when he spoke it wasn't quite the reaction Sanji had been expecting.

 

"Why didn't you tell me?!" Zoro's accusatory tone caught Sanji off guard, because out of everything he'd thought would bother Zoro he hadn't even considered being told would be part of the issue. Though he supposed being lied to for weeks on end wasn't exactly the best feeling in the world...

 

"I don't exactly have to start my conversations with it." Frowning, Sanji gave a small shrug, "It's not the most important thing about me."

 

A panicked look replaced Zoro's annoyed one, "I didn't mean--"

 

"I didn't say anything because it wasn't important." Sanji continued over top of Zoro's interjections, giving an embarrassed shrug as he felt his cheeks begin to heat up. Eyes continually flickering to Zoro and away as he admitted softly, "And by the time it was... I was too scared of what you'd think."

 

“This is why you kept rejecting me?” Zoro’s voice sounded a little choked in his hysteria, “I wouldn't care!"

 

"I know..." Sanji mumbled, heaving a sigh, "I know that... but I still just couldn't... I was... I was afraid everything would change. You were the first person in a year that treated me like I was normal," Sanji smiled, "you were rude, and cocky, and arrogant..."

 

"Sure you're not talking about you?" Zoro interjected.

 

That caused a smirk to crook Sanji's lips before he continued unperturbed, "It was just so refreshing to talk to someone and have them treat me like a person and not a child that needs help... and I guess I just didn't want it to end so soon."

 

"It doesn't have to." Zoro murmured softly.

 

Sanji blinked owlishly at the man, still recovering from the relief that had swept through him upon telling Zoro the truth that he hadn’t even begun to think about how Zoro might react to all this. Unable to mask his shock as he asked, "You're still interested?"

 

"Why wouldn't I be?"

 

"I don't know." Sanji gave a hopeless gesture, "It's a lot to deal with."

 

Without even a moment of pause, Zoro argued back sternly, "Not really."

 

A smile touched Sanji’s lips as he warned, "I'm not easy."

 

"Nothing I can't handle."

 

"I won't play baseball." Sanji tried with a chuckle.

 

"Eh,” Zoro made a face before breaking out in a soft laugh, “it's overrated."

 

Sanji's eyebrows jumped into his hairline at that comment, watching Zoro for any sign that the man was joking but getting nothing from him but utter sincerity. Realizing he might have to step up his game as he glanced around thoughtfully before meeting Zoro's stare with as he assured rather seriously, "I suck at most sports now."

 

Without letting his eyes stray from Sanji's, Zoro lifted a shoulder in a half shrug, "There's plenty of other things to do."

 

Leaning back slightly, Sanji decided to start pulling out the big guns as he pointed out rather callously, "I can't go anywhere that doesn't have a ramp."

 

"I can carry you." Zoro countered easily.

 

"My family is insane."

 

"Whose isn't?"

 

Laughing through his next words, Sanji joked, "People stare at me constantly."

 

"Join the club." Zoro leaned back further in his chair and propped his elbow on the back as he really seemed to be getting comfortable knocking each of Sanji's points out of the park with just the right answers. A matching smile growing on Sanji's face as he couldn't help but be flattered by the commitment the man had to everything Sanji was throwing at him; it wasn't like Sanji had particularly held back on anything.

 

Smile faltering as he realized that there was nothing else remaining but the elephant in the room that had been there since nearly day one when Sanji had realized he was attracted to the man. Something he hadn't even really had the courage to deal with yet, as denial had been his best defence. Hands furling into fists on the table as he choked out, “I'm...”

 

Zoro arched an eyebrow.

 

Letting out a breath – Sanji could hardly believe he was even about to say this – Sanji steeled himself and met Zoro's expectant gaze. Chuckling nervously as he admitted, "...I'm not even sure if I can have sex."

 

That seemed to honestly throw Zoro for a loop for a few moments, removing his elbow from where it had been propped on his chair. Both hands coming to clasp on the table in front of him as he mulled over Sanji's words with polite contemplation, before he gave a shrug and offered, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

 

Sanji hadn't expected the answer to hit home as hard as it did, but the moment it was spoken Sanji felt like the dam had broken. The surge of relief that cascaded over him felt strong enough to knock the air out of his lungs as it was all he could do to keep himself from bursting into tears. Nearly hysterical as he laughed, "You're serious, huh?"

 

Raising a hand as though swearing an oath, Zoro nodded, "Like a car accident."

 

At that, an actual laugh was torn from Sanji as he managed, "You're bold insensitivity is charming, risky though."

 

"You enjoyed it before,” Zoro argued, lowering his hand, but this time instead of the table it fell to land on top of Sanji's, “figured it didn't make sense to hold back now."

 

"As much as I hate to admit it,” Sanji mused, hand twitching happily underneath Zoro's, “you're right."

 

A jarring scrape filled the quiet restaurant as Zoro slid his chair around the table until he was seated closer to Sanji. Arms propped on the table top as he leaned in close and murmured softly, "Can I kiss you now?"

 

"Uh..." Sanji floundered, eyes falling to Zoro's lips before back to Zoro's hazel eyes. Still a little thrown that this was all happening in the first place as he offered breathlessly, "Yes?"

 

"Good." Zoro grunted, all the invitation he needed. Gaze locked with Zoro as the man slowly shifted in his seat to better face Sanji, eyes shifting from Zoro's to watch as the man reached out a sure hand to hook confidently around Sanji's neck and pull him in. Fingers threading through the hair at the nape of Sanji's neck and his thumb stroking along his jaw as his face was pulled forward in a commanding tug until his lips hovered millimeters from Zoro's.

 

Startled eyes glancing up as he could barely make out Zoro's with how closer they were, hazel iris' dancing in and out of focus before falling shut as he closed the distance between them. All tentativeness gone as his lips slid across Sanji's with a furtive urgency that had Sanji's stomach twisting with arousal and his own hands rising to grip at Zoro's arms nervously.

 

It was just as perfect as their first one, and so much more, because Zoro wasn’t tense with uncertainty and Sanji was able to actually lean into it and take it all in. And as they moved against each other in the dim lighting of the quiet restaurant Sanji was pretty sure he wasn’t going to ever forget this kiss. Or this moment. Or how he felt.

 

Time melted away as they drank in each other until they slowly parted and Sanji was left breathless with Zoro’s hand at the back of his neck still holding him close. Both of them simply staring at each other until Zoro pulled away rather abruptly with a horrified gasp, “Oh my god.”

 

“What?” Sanji questioned, becoming a little concerned with how upset Zoro looked.

 

Zoro whispered softly in terror, “I made so many handicapped jokes.”

 

There was several seconds as Sanji stared at Zoro blankly as what he had said settled in. Realizing that for the first time Zoro was coming to terms with all the misplaced leg jokes, and wheelchair comments he had made that had all been in rather poor taste. The panicked look on his face setting Sanji off into a round of uproarious laughter before eventually calming himself so he could reassure Zoro.

 

“Don’t worry.” Sanji placated him through his laughter, pulling Zoro in by hand against his jaw and placing a soft kiss to his lips, “You can make it up to me. Take me to a baseball game or something.”

 

~End~