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The Stray Path

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Sanji and Zoro were walking down the town market. Like what they always did, Sanji was in charge of shopping, and Zoro was in charge of carrying. No one talked to one another.

They just finished fighting Big Mom, and had stopped by a nearby little island before heading towards Wano. Half of the Straw Hat Pirates went to Whole Cake Island, including Zoro. Sanji finally came back safe and sound, the wedding didn’t go through either. Everyone was happy that Sanji came back, didn’t get mad at him for leaving on his own either. Zoro was the only one that hadn’t shown any reaction yet.

Sanji was well aware that this was his own fault, but he didn’t know how to approach Zoro. Zoro was just as fierce as always on Whole Cake Island. He and Sanji paired up and defeated a bunch of Charlottes with ease. But once they were completely out of Totto Land’s territory, he didn’t speak to Sanji again. It has been more than ten days, they hadn’t fought once, Sanji was feeling uncomfortable.

Sanji knew Zoro was worried about him. After they met up on Whole Cake Island, Zoro’s frown was so deep it could kill mosquitoes. During the fights afterwards, not only he kept fighting within Sanji’s range, he kept looking over, like he was making sure Sanji was still there.

Sanji had been having feelings for Zoro for quite some time, so he was so frustrated now that he wasn’t really looking at where he was going. Zoro didn’t say anything. He just kept following Sanji. Wherever Sanji went, he went. And very uncharacteristically didn’t get lost.

All of a sudden, they went through something invisible. They immediately tensed up.

 “Oi, Marimo.” Sanji couldn’t care about their “cold war” right now. He just wanted to make sure Zoro felt the same thing he just felt. But Zoro’s expression was weird. Other than looking alert and confused, there was also a little…nostalgic? “Zoro, you okay?”

“I…know this place.” Zoro said thoughtfully, and continued walking down the road. Sanji wanted to tell him not to take any risks; that they should turn back and see if they can get out of here through the same way, but Zoro was already gone, so Sanji had to follow him.

 “You’ve been here before?” Sanji caught up with Zoro.

 “To be exact, I lived here before.” Zoro was walking faster and faster, like he was looking for something. “This is Shimotsuki Village, I used to train here. If we can find my sensei’s dojo we can be sure.”

Sanji didn’t really care how they came to Zoro’s hometown in East Blue from Grandline. Like he said, they were in Grandline.

Whether they could actually find the dojo, Sanji was doubtful. Zoro had no sense of direction after all, but maybe it would be different in his hometown.

As they kept on walking, an old farmer came in sight. Sanji walked up to him. “Sir, is this Shimotsuki Village?”

“Yes. Are you from out of town? We haven’t had visitors for quite some time.” The old farmer chuckled, then he saw Zoro. “Hey, green-haired young man, you look so much like a celebrity from our village a long time ago.”

Sanji had a bad feeling. The old farmer kept talking. “He used to be a famous pirate. Like you, he used three swords, but he went live in seclusion twenty years ago. What a shame.”

Zoro listened, but still didn’t say a word, so Sanji asked instead. “Sir, this person you speak of, what’s his name?”

“His name is Zoro, Roronoa Zoro. His bounty used to be 320 million Berries! He once wanted to be the Greatest Swordsman in the World, but something happened, and he left. He lives in our little village now, not as impressive as he used to be though. Well, time and tide wait for no man.”

Up till now, Sanji already summed up some info. First of all, not only they were actually in Shimotsuki Village, it was probably twenty years later. And most importantly, Zoro didn’t complete his dream. Sanji asked again, “Sir, do you know where this Zoro is?”

“Oh yeah, he lives in the dojo at the end of this road…Hey! Young man, that dojo is ruins now!”

Sanji watched Zoro running away without hearing out the old farmer. He nodded to the old man as gratitude, and ran after him.

The dojo was a very recognizable building. Sanji didn’t spend much time to find it, but he didn't see Zoro anywhere. He got inside the dojo himself, thinking maybe Zoro already got in.

The courtyard was a mess. There was not a single wall that was intact. The wooden house was utterly damaged. There were holes on the roof, and there were a couple of pillars missing too. The whole house looked like it could fall apart any minute.

 “Oi, Marimo! Are you in here?” Sanji called as he couldn’t find Zoro.

“Who is it…hic.” A man walked out of the house swaying from side to side. His face was red, with a bottle of low quality liquor in hand. He hiccuped. “Hirata, I told you I have no money.”

Sanji was stunned. This middle-aged man was chubby. He lost a lot of teeth and his movement was slow. He only had some hair left, but it was definitely green. There was a vertical scar across his left eye, and there were three unmistakable golden earrings on his left ear.

This man was a forty-year-old Zoro. A complete loser.

“Oh, you’re not Hirata.” Forty-year-old Zoro finally realized the man before him wasn’t the debt collector. Then, his eye widened. “You…you look so much like…are you…no…that’s impossible…you must be…”

Sanji watched Old Zoro talking to himself, then snapped his head up. “You must be Cook’s son.”

“Ha?” Sanji dropped his cigarette in shock.

“Cook…Shitty Curly…Ero Kappa…Mr. Nosebleed…Target Brow…” The man counted the names he used to call Sanji one by one. “…Sanji.”

“It’s been twenty years…Cook’s son is so grown up now…” Older Zoro slumped on the ground, sending dust flying everywhere. He raised the bottle, took a full swig. “You look just like your father.”

“My…father…” Sanji didn’t know how to tell this Zoro, that he was the Cook himself.

“Thank God you didn’t get the eye on your forehead, otherwise which way should that eyebrow curl?” Old Zoro chuckled, then he tensed up. “Or do you actually have the eye, but you’re just hiding it under the bang? Hey, lift up the bang, let me see!”

“I don’t have a third eye.” Sanji could already guess, in Old Zoro’s mind, who his mother was.

“What a relief. But…if it’s Cook, might not actually be a bad thing to have an extra eye.” Zoro dropped his gaze, his look became nostalgic. “After all, his eyes are so beautiful.”

Sanji blushed. Not only the appearance of this Zoro was already so ridiculously different, the way he talked became ridiculous too. What kind of trauma did he suffer?

“Um…what happened to your swords?” Sanji tried to change the subject.

“Sold them all.” Old Zoro took another swig. “Drinking costs money.”

Sanji couldn’t believe the words this dispirited man just said. Those three swords used to be the most precious treasures he ever owned. Set Kitetsu and Shusui aside, he sold Wado too? What made him give up his whole life?

There was a growl, and Old Zoro looked sheepish. “Sorry…I haven’t eaten in three days.”

“I’ll cook something for you.” Sanji said immediately. He didn’t wait for Old Zoro to answer, already started to look for the kitchen.

He found the place that used to be the kitchen behind the house. The equipments inside were broken and dirty, but somewhat usable. Sanji gave them a clean, started to cook. Not a while later, he brought out a plate of onigiri.

“Here.” Sanji gave the plate to Old Zoro, who still sat at the same spot.

Old Zoro took the plate, paused for a second, then grabbed one of the onigiris, and shoved it in his mouth.

“It’s good yeah?” Sanji squatted down, lit up a cigarette. He heard a whimper.

“So good…it's so good…just like what I remembered…” Old Zoro’s face was full of tears, but he didn’t stop shoving the onigiris in his mouth. “Cook’s onigiris…are the best in the world…”

Sanji didn’t know what to say, so he patted Old Zoro’s back. “Take it easy, don’t choke.”

Within minutes, all the onigiris were gone. Old Zoro couldn’t get enough so he started licking the plate. When he finally couldn’t taste anymore flavor on the plate, he put it down and stoop up, facing Sanji.

“Thank you for the onigiris, they were very delicious.” Old Zoro’s face was still covered in tears, but he stopped crying. He smiled contently. “I know you probably can’t stay for too long, but before you go,  can I ask you for one more favor?”

“I can make more onigiris for you.” Sanji offered, but Old Zoro shook his head.

“It’s ok. It was enough to relive the taste in my memories.” Old Zoro looked at Sanji, looking hesitated. “Can you…give me a hug?”

Sanji was surprised. He didn’t expect that. He never hugged men, not to mention Zoro. Even if he secretly adored Zoro, the only physical contacts he ever made with him were with his feet. Seeing him went silent, Old Zoro thought he was unwilling to do it. He started backing off.

“It’s ok. I know I’m forcing you. You are Cook’s son after all. You must hate men too. I’ll just…”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll give you a hug.” Sanji didn’t know why he agreed to it, but looking at the petty men in front of him, who had lost all his spirit and pride, and had become such a coward. It broke his heart.

“Re…really?” Old Zoro lifted up his head, eye full of hope.

“Yeah, come on.” Sanji walked up to Old Zoro, put his arms around him.

Sanji never hugged Zoro before, so it felt kind of awkward. This forty-year-old Zoro got short. He was now half a head shorter than Sanji, but Sanji still hold him in his arms.

Old Zoro was stiff at the beginning, but then, he raised up his arms, hugged Sanji back.

“Sanji…” Sanji heard the man in his arms whispered.

“…I miss you so much.” Tears started to come out of Old Zoro’s eyes again, even the blind one. “…I should've…I should've……”

Old Zoro cried like a baby. Sanji didn’t know what to do. All he could do was hold him, and patted his back.

After a while, Old Zoro let go of Sanji.

“Oh, I got your clothes dirty.” He looked at Sanji’s shoulder, and pulled out a dirty rag from his pocket. Sanji suspected that rag used to be Zoro’s head band. Old Zoro clumsily wiped the tears and mucus on Sanji’s cloth.

After making it worse than before, Old Zoro stepped away, scratched his back. “Aw…the scars on my back hurt…Umm…sorry for I treating you as your father. You two look too much alike.”

"It’s ok.” Sanji stood there, not sure what to do. “You sure you don’t need me to make more onigiris for you?”

“Thank you, but no. Those are you food, I can’t pay back. Before you say anything, I know what you’re going to say. You’re not gonna ask me to pay, cos you’re just as kind as your father. I’ll be fine.” For the first time since Sanji met Old Zoro, he had a genuine smile on his face. “I don’t know why you’re here, but I’m glad you came. Thank you, for letting me see him one last time.”

“Zoro…” Sanji wanted to say something, but Old Zoro made him turn around, started to push him towards the front door.

“You should go. Look, the sun is going down. If you don’t go, I…” Old Zoro pushed Sanji out of the door. “When you go back, about what you saw today…can you…not tell your father?”

Old Zoro looked down shamefully, tears dropping on the ground. “I…don’t want him to know…what I’ve become…”

“I won’t tell him.” Sanji promised. Old Zoro gave him a ugly smile. “Thank you. You’re really just like your father. So gentle it’s unbearable.”

With that, he ran back into the house. Sanji stood at the front door, a bit lost. Oh yeah, he needed to go look for the missing Marimo.

He turned around, and saw Zoro leaning against the dojo wall with arms crossed not far from him. The twenty-one-year-old one.

“There you are.” Sanji walked towards him. “How long have you been here?”

“Since the beginning.” Said Zoro. He pushed himself off the wall, met Sanji half way.

They started to walk back towards where they came from, hoping by doing so they could go back to their own universe. None of them said anything. Finally, Sanji broke the silence.

“I wonder what happened to him.”

“I…might have guessed.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“…So what happened?”

“You got married.”

Sanji didn’t expect that Zoro would believe the reason why his whole life changed so much was because of this.

“I know in this universe I got married, probably with Purin-chan. But what does it have to do with you?”

“Because you got married, I couldn’t fulfill my dream.”

“Oi, you mean, I need to be responsible for you not fulfilling your dream!?”

“No, what I mean is, you getting married made me lost my direction.”

Sanji stopped. He looked at Zoro confusedly. Seeing he had stopped, Zoro stopped too.

“I…don’t understand.” Sanji didn’t get it.

Zoro scratched his head. Every time he got frustrated he did that. He seemed to be struggling with how to explain.

“You…have always been my rival.” He finally said. “Since the beginning, we fight with each other, compete with each other. We grow together, improve together. I…got used to the life fighting with you every day. So when we arrived Zou, Nami told us that you left, for a moment I didn’t know what to think. We got rid of Kaido’s soldiers just fine. But after that, I couldn’t calm down. Luffy told me, that you will return, but I couldn’t be as sure as he. What if getting married was best for you?”

Sanji had never hear Zoro said so much, so he listened quietly, didn’t interrupt.

“So I went to Totte Land too. Even though others said it was supposed to be a secret mission, I wanted to confirm with my own eyes. I wanted to know if you actually wanted to get married. When you told us to fuck off on the cat carriage, for a second I really thought you didn’t want to come back. But then I saw your tears, and I knew you didn’t mean any of what you said. Not only Luffy can’t be the King of Pirates, without you, I can’t become the Greatest Swordsman in the World either.”

Zoro turned to Sanji, looked at him in the eyes. “Seeing myself in twenty years, I’m so glad I went to Whole Cake Island and got you back. I’m sure in this universe, he didn’t go for his Cook.”

“And so, he lost him forever.”

Silence. Sanji didn’t know how to answer, but it didn’t seem like Zoro wanted him to answer anyway.

“Cook, what’s my goal?”Zoro asked Sanji. Sanji was surprised by the sudden question.

“To become the Greatest Swordsman in the World.” answered Sanji.

“Between our fights, have you ever lost to me?” Zoro asked again.

“Hell no!” Sanji was pissed.

“So, even if I defeat Mihawk, if I lose to you, I’m still not the Greatest Swordsman in the World.” Said Zoro. “It’s ok if we have draws, at least I know I’m as good as you are. But if you’re not by my side, how do I know if I’m falling behind?”

Zoro put down the supplies in his hands, walked up to Sanji. “You are my direction. You’re the one that always make sure I don’t stray on the road to greatness. Because no matter how many times I got lost, you always find me.”

“Sanji,” Zoro’s voice trembled a little. “Don’t let me become like that.”

“I won’t let you become like that.” Sanji held Zoro in his arms. “I promise.”

Except for the forty-year-old, this is the first time Sanji held Zoro, but it wasn’t awkward at all. Their bodies matched perfectly.

“You are indeed so gentle and so unbearable.” Zoro lifted his head, kissed Sanji.

Breaking apart, Zoro looked at Sanji, crooked his head. “You didn’t kick me.”

“Because I want to do it again.” Sanji smiled. Using the split second Zoro got blank, Sanji kissed him again.

 

***

 

They went back to their universe without difficulties. As expected, they got yelled at for getting back late. Zoro and Sanji stood on the deck, accepting Nami’s rage. Sanji sent hearts towards the angry Nami like always, and Zoro turned his head to the side, pretending not hearing a single word Nami said.

Behind them, their hands were holding each other.

 

***

 

After departed from Wano, Straw Hat Pirates continued their adventure. They stopped by a small island for supplies, and Sanji and Zoro went shopping together again.

They were on their way to the market, all of a sudden, they went through a familiar field.

“Not again?” Sanji’s lips twitched. They hadn’t even started shopping.

“I wonder if he’s dead.” Zoro kept walking.

“Hey, that’s mean. It’s yourself you’re talking about.” Sanji caught up.

“I will never admit that loser is the future me.” Zoro said proudly. Sanji smiled.

That’s right. With him by Zoro’s side, that kind of future will never come true.

They arrived the dojo again, but this time, the dojo was full of life. There were kids’ voices everywhere.

“Sensei! Sensei! Show us Four Swords Style!” A child called.

“You wanna see Four Swords Style? Let me get ready.” A familiar voice replied.

Four Swords Style? Sanji and Zoro looked at each other confusedly. They climbed up the walls, peeked from above.

A muscular man with all the green hair combed back stood in the courtyard, kids with bamboo swords surrounded him. The man had three swords on his waist. Zoro and Sanji saw the man took out a fourth sword, Zoro recognized it as Enma.

“Remember, scars on the back are swordsman’s shame.” The man said to the kids, as he put Enma behind him. “Watch carefully, if you want to guard your back, tuck the sword between your…”

A shadow came out of nowhere, kicked the green-haired man and sent him flying.

Don’t fucking teach the kids that kind of bullshit, you stupid Marimo!” The newcomer had his back on them, but judging by the voice, the choices of words, and the shining blond hair, they knew who it was immediately.

Shitty Curly you want me to cut you?” Green-haired man jumped up, snarled at the blond man.

What kind of stupid fucking thing were you doing? You want Enma to fucking dry you up?

Don’t worry, I’ll save some energy to dry YOU up tonight.

What the fuck are you talking about!? There are kids here!

You’re the one with the F word in every sentence!

Sanji and Zoro jumped off the wall, started to head back. There was no need to worry about this universe.