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Between You and I and Thereafter

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There are a very select few things he deems to remember from the Kamabakka Kingdom, mostly pertaining to legs- his legs, to be exact.

But sometimes when Zoro’s lifting weights or Zoro’s napping out on deck or Zoro’s just anything, Sanji remembers a few more select things that he’d rather forget.

The way they’d talked about men, about the feel of rough fingers scraping down your back, tugging at your hair, thumbs at your lips to make the kiss deeper- those horrid things start to spring up.

Who would want that?

Girls did. Girls wanted that, and girls were never wrong, just ask Nami.

He’s good about suffocating such thoughts between the marinade and the cilantro. He’s good about sweeping it up with the dust under the counters and clapping it into the trash.

That is, until they come across Caroline.

He doesn’t understand it, finding him- or her- or, shit. But there she is, alongside a few faces he’d marked up in his memories with black strips. They’re there, on that island that smelled too strongly of rosemary, doing something secret with some secret people that seem to know Robin, who introduces them as Revolutionaries.

They notice him, of course they do, and insist on hugging him and squealing and saying how much they missed him and now his entire crew understands why he’d never divulged like they had. They all know now, where he’d been for two years.

And Zoro is actually smiling with all his teeth, as if this were just the best god-damn thing that could happen, and then Caroline notices him and Sanji smirks- except that Zoro takes it all in stride, allowing her to touch his muscles and squish his face- and really, he’s far too relaxed about this.

“Whoa Sanji, you never told me you were with a bunch of Ivankovs! It must’ve been so much fun!” Luffy can only be so naive.

Zoro snickers from between Caroline’s fawning, the others joining in. “Oh yeah, I bet you had so much fun. You gotta share your stories, shitty cook, I think we’re all due for some entertainment.”

There’s no lack of amusement in their little circle and Caroline just insists that they join them for dinner and talks, and that’s how he ends up sandwiched between two burly men shoved into flowering dresses.

“He’s such a looker,” Elizabeth whispers, “and the captain too, how do you hold yourself back?”

He snorts. “Just wait a little bit,” he mutters, “he’ll lose his appeal.”

But he never does, at least not to them, and stories are shared without Sanji’s consent, the girls red with laughter at his anguish. Sanji in a dress, Sanji in make-up, Sanji frolicking by the beach-side in clicking heels.

Sanji leaves for a smoke somewhere between the time Sanji had tried on panties and the time he’d picked flowers. He refused to acknowledge that awful named they’d called him back then.

“You don’t seem the least bit fazed, shitty marimo.”

Zoro stands out there beside him, arms folded beneath his robe.

“Of course, I’m not as sensitive as you.”

Sanji puffs on his cigarette erratically. Bastard.

“Besides,” Zoro offers, “it’s not like it’s anything new. There’ve been people like that for as long as there’ve been people. Sometimes nature makes a mistake, and it’s up to the person to correct it.”

The way a man can hold you, cradle you, love you. The way he can work you open with his mouth-

“There was no mistaking me,” Sanji murmurs through the stick, “I am as I am, not what they made me to be.”

Zoro watches him, before he’s got this damnable smirk to him. “That’s true. You weren’t meant to be a girl, ain’t no fucking maiden heart in you. No, you were tricked into worshipping them. Nature fucked you over.”

Sanji scoffs, cats scampering loudly from the alleyway to the left. It was a calm night, most of the lights out as the full moon swathed the street in a muted blue.

The way a man lifts you up, bending your knees impossibly back, pressing you against a wall-

No.

“We should drag them out,” Sanji says, “time to go back. We’ll need to leave by tomorrow evening if we want to stay on schedule.”

“Do what you want,” Zoro shrugs, “the ladies invited me out to drinks after this.”

Sanji splutters, turning on him. “But you’re not going to, right!? Right?”

Zoro just smiles at him.

“Get some rest, Candy.


 

Sanji can’t sleep.

It’s been far too long.

He should be back by now. What had that idiot gotten himself into?

“Hey.”

Sanji flinches. Zoro was there on the deck with him, smelling strongly of liquor.

When he does finally turn around the taller man is far too close, peering down at him. “You aren’t asleep yet?”

“What did you guys talk about,” Sanji interrogates instead, “what did they tell you?”

Zoro’s lips twitch in amusement. “Worried? There something you don’t want me to know?”

Sanji huffs, but doesn’t give in, doesn’t look away. “I’m pretty sure they divulged anything and everything back there with the crew, stripped me bare and threw me to the fucking sharks.”

Zoro braces his arms against the railing behind Sanji, brow cocked, “Then why so concerned, stupid cook?”

This bastard. He pushes past him with some choice obscenities, telling him to go fall over and die.


 

They leave those unpleasantries behind them, Caroline waving them off with a tearful handkerchief. She says something peculiar, something that sticks with him while he’s flaying the salmon.

“I understand now.”

What in all the fucking hells did she mean by that?

He slices the sashimi too thin and attempts to make up for it by arranging them into a lotus flower that Robin would surely appreciate, the whipped sauced dolloped in the center.

What could Caroline possibly understand?

He offers the girls apple martinis and dumps a bottle of rum on the crate next to Zoro’s spare weights, leaving the man be.

And then he realizes with a horrifying step halfway down the deck stairs what it was that had most likely happened.

In a moment of intolerable weakness, Sanji had given in to those horrid women. He’d, in a state of vulnerability, played along with their fantasies. He’d divulged things he’d never divulged with anyone, the more intimate details of his perceptiveness.

He’d told them his type.

Somewhere between the flowering sake and the peach tarts, somewhere between the eye shadow and the curlers, he’d told them what he liked in a man.

He’s not blind, despite his hairstyle, he really isn’t. If he were forced into a corner then fine, he could list off some amicably standard traits of a handsome man. And there was nothing wrong with that- if men weren’t handsome then why would all those lovely ladies even consider populating with them?

Men were handsome, just as girls were pretty and damnit he steadies himself with the railing, god-damnit.

“Did you know that it’s possible to like both genders.”

Robin’s there unseen somewhere below him, probably propped up against the wall of the stairs with a book. “They have a name for it, of course, like they have a name for everything, but really, I think it should just be a given. The capability of loving two genders is natural and innate.”

Sanji descends the rest of the way, putting on his best smile. “You looking at some sort of psychology book?”

“Indeed I am. Fascinating things, really, the horrors of the mind. But somehow I wandered into the sexual intimacies of it. Not as interesting. All common sense really. Don’t know why they insist on putting labels to everything. Love is just love, don’t you think?”

She’s looking up at him with a smile, and he swallows.


 

They come across this island with wild boar the size of the Sunny, and Zoro edges him on until they’re both out there hunting with clenched teeth. The way this man dug under his skin the way he fleshed him out and scratched at his nerves- it was too much.

Of course, his boar is bigger, but Zoro never concedes.


 

They island hop for a while, skimming through and by little singular cells of city-islands, heavy in trade and tourism.

Some of those pirates notice them and fawn over Luffy, and the captain scratches at his head a bit with a pleased smile, and Sanji wanders off towards the bakeries. For the first time in a long time, a girl reddens when he points at a few delicacies, and he takes notice.

She knows him, knows of his name and his reputation and apparently being a crew member of the Strawhats earns you brownie points with the more adventurous ladies, the ones that were stuck in little city-islands with nothing to do.

Except Zoro is there grabbing at something and plopping it into his mouth, asking her how much it is and Sanji’s too annoyed to take advantage of her starry eyes.

It’s when he draws attention at the next island that he reconsiders things.

A man comes up to him in the market, his apron streaked in fish oil, his hair tied back. A man comes up to him and, blushingly, confesses his attraction and the cook just stands there, perplexed.

Zoro’s there to interrupt again, except this time he’s taste-testing some beer, only happening by their little dalliance by chance as he says in passing: “You’re not his type.”

Sanji can’t say anything and that boy smiles sheepishly and wanders off and Sanji can feel the quicksand in his chest drip down into his stomach.

They’d told him. Those Queens had told Zoro.

He’d been right.


 

Avoiding Zoro wouldn’t do him any good, and he’s not stupid enough to even try. He dumps a bottle of whisky on that crate, and Robin tells him about the hippocampus and the nervous system and Nami asks for something sweet.

Zoro is up there in the nest later and Sanji offers him some steamed dumplings before going to bed.

They’re at the mercy of the sea now, and the third day in the needle they’d been following goes whack and so Nami redirects them towards another island, setting them back a little. Everyone promises not to tell Luffy.

Doesn’t help much in the end, because this island’s been colonized by these brutish clans from the mountains, and of course the people beg them for help and of course Luffy complies once they reveal the meat storage.

So Sanji is there, peeling off his suit jacket and hanging it delicately on a speared head as this boorish man thumps his chest before him, three people too tall and streaked in flaking war paint.

He finds Zoro after, bandana tied about his head, muscles drenched in sweat and Sanji notices- not for the first time- the sheer girth of this man. It almost troubles him. They’d been nearly the same at one point, hadn’t they, him and Zoro?

But now the swordsman had a thickness to him, something corded in intent, and Sanji hollers out to him. They needed to find Luffy.


 

“Have I changed too much?”

It’s such an un-Zoro thing to say, and yet there he is in Sanji’s kitchen, drinking water for once, and disturbing whatever peace the blonde had garnered for the evening.

“How do you mean,” he decides to indulge him.

Zoro’s drinking it through a straw, the hollow sound echoing about.

“Am I no longer your type?”


 

 They finally have a conversation about it. For the good of the crew, Sanji decides, though the crew knew nothing of this to begin with.

“I was caught up in the island,” Sanji sighs, sitting there against the edge of the deck, the ocean lapping up high behind him, “I was caught up in everything- two years can do a lot to you, y’know.”

Zoro takes the offered sake, sitting across from him not too far off. He just hums.

“So, y’know- I’m sure they told you, but like, they were discussing preferences, and somehow I ended up in the midst of it.”

Zoro takes a sip, considering him with a touch of humor. “Refresh me. What had that been?”

Sanji wouldn’t back down. This was nothing to be ashamed of.

“Nothing too pale- pale’s only pretty on girls anyway. Nothing too skinny or too big. Short hair preferably. Can’t be weak-“

“Seems like a bunch of can’t can’t can’t. That wasn’t how they told the story.”

Sanji does flush a bit at that, lips pulled tight. “Yeah, well what the hell did they say?”

Zoro considers his memory, as if it had truly been that long ago. Sanji puffs on his smoke irately.

“Sanji’s type is someone of good girth, someone with muscles and knows how to use him,” he recites, “someone that’s not too boring, someone with good color to him. Our Sanji needs someone exciting and adventurous, someone that can eat anything and appreciate the smaller details. More importantly, someone that he can leave alone in a fight.”

Sanji puffs some more. “They were improvising.”

Zoro offers Sanji the same cup he’d been drinking from, and the cook takes it, downing it in one go.

“Just say it,” he gasps, wiping at his mouth with his sleeve.

Zoro grins. “Sure does sound a bit like me, huh?”

Sanji does look away then- he just wasn’t as strong as he’d thought. No matter how he tried to rationalize it, yeah, it did sound a lot like him.

“And every other pirate,” Sanji rumbles stubbornly.

Zoro shakes his head. “Nah, you’d never trust any of them enough to leave them alone in a fight. You got a thing for that, cook, for trust.”

The way a man can tear you apart, inch by inch by impossible inch- and the way he puts you back together again. The way he fills you and claims you and quivers around you.

“What’s the point of all this,” Sanji murmurs, “what do you want from me?”

Zoro leaves him with a smile, and Sanji sits there in total silence, the empty sake glass glinting in the devilish moonlight.


 

 Luffy causes some trouble in a port-side city with a clusterfuck of bounty hunters.

They get separated and the city appears to be no more than a maze of mismatched buildings, flowerpots, and gardens.

Sanji comes across Usopp once, but the man was being chased by a fellow with a broken axe and he loses him soon after that.

Zoro’s there on a leafy rooftop, two out of three of his swords out, eyes intent on this freakish guy that was balancing on the lattice above him, these terrifically bat-like wings protruding from his spine.

He knows he’ll be fine, and eventually he finds Chopper, who isn’t fine and is running frantically in the opposite direction.

He doesn’t find Luffy that night, and allows Chopper to sleep in his lap on some restaurant roof, night flowers glowing as they clawed up at the moon.

“What a mess,” he whispers, knowing Zoro’s shadow to be close by.

“No shit. If you’re not trying to kill pirates, then you’re married to someone who is.”

Zoro plops down beside him, bandana still tied about his head, chest bare.

So he’d come across trouble at some point.

“You reek.”

“Thanks.”

It was a pretty city though, vibrant and smelling of eternal summer. Chopper sighs happily in his sleep.

The way a man curls about you, encasing you in him, in his smell, his heat, his livelihood-

“They way they murmur the world into your ears,” Sanji mumbles, “they way they promise you life.”

Sometimes those damned ladies could be romantic, in between the crazy and the obsessed.

Zoro seems to agree, watching him with his one good eye.


 

It rains out at sea for a week straight, and even Nami can’t seem to help them much. The shower is so heavy it hurts to be outside for too long, needle-like drops pelting them.

Sanji runs to the crow’s nest, a few fat drops pillowing the harsher, sharper ones. He clambers up, and Zoro is trying to complete this puzzle box Usopp had invented. He’d been challenged, and the marimo never did back down from a challenge.

But puzzle boxes just weren’t his thing, and so Sanji sets aside the tray of sherbet bread and twists the box a little without removing it from Zoro’s hands.

He’d already completed this one weeks ago, was now working on one of the harder ones Usopp had created just for him and Robin.

He crouches in closer once he gets started, Zoro allowing him to move things here and there, tugging on some parts, pushing at others, and Sanji had been sure he’d have been stopped by now- Zoro wasn’t a cheater, and he didn’t usually like help.

He slows down to a stop when he realizes why.

Zoro is watching him intently, lips pressed a bit thin and eyes a bit wide and Sanji wonders what’s going on in that head of his.

“Do you like me?”

Sanji flinches. Zoro cocks his head a bit, never letting up his gaze. “Well?”

He did.

Somewhere between that stupid boy that’d challenged Dracule Mihwak at the Baratie all those years ago and the man that sat before him now, Sanji had developed a little troublesome flutter.

Zoro has his hand to Sanji’s arm, staring down at it now with a furrowed brow.

“Am I your type still?”

Sanji’s heart stutters a little and he’s breathing into his mouth then, tentatively, yeah.

The way a man will stick with you, even when he’s gone, the way a man will cling to your memory, reminding you of reverence.


 

Zoro is gentle in bed, he’s careful and considerate and entirely too doting and Sanji finds that it messes with him, makes him red and hot and wanting.

There’s a thoughtfulness in his fingers, in the way he opens him up, the tenderness in his mouth, in his tongue and the wetness of it all.

He’s merciful enough in his thrusts, soft and hard and gasping. Zoro appears to enjoy Sanji in a way that he’d never enjoyed food, in a way that sake mimicked, in a way that fighting feigned.

He says sweet things sometimes, soft things, dirty things. He makes these promises that make Sanji’s throat dry, and fulfills them in ways that make him wet.

He comes with a guttural sigh that sounds nothing like a woman, and Sanji’s okay with that.

He’s okay with this, with everything.

He trembles his acceptance, whimpering and Zoro swallows that too.


 

He knows somewhere down along the road, when he’s old and prunish and can’t move, he’ll remember this swordsman. He’ll recall him at the Baratie, at Little Garden, at Alabasta and thereafter.

He’ll remember those weights on the Sunny, and the nest so high up.

He’ll remember the King’s laugh and the first mate’s toothy grin.