A blond boy stared at a kid his age with green hair, watching him go through some basic kata with a wooden sword. After watching for a few more minutes, the blond jumped off from his seat on a bench and approached the kendo student.
The kendo student gave a brief glance in his direction before going back to his kata, his brow furrowing at his broken concentration.
The blond was unperturbed. He stood his ground and continued, unaware of the growing stillness in the dojo as the other students stopped to watch their interaction; “You're supposed to be some kendo genius, right?”
The sword swung down particularly hard at that, but the kendo student refused to look up and remained focused on his training.
The blond scoffed. “You don't look all that special to me.”
The kendo student stiffened, his shoulders and arms tense. His hands gripped his sword tightly again, and his mouth turned into a firm line.
“I bet they only say that because your uncle is Mihawk,” the blond continued nonchalantly, shrugging his shoulders. “I bet I can beat you with just my feet.” As if to emphasize, he went into a practiced stance and performed a smooth roundhouse kick.
The kendo student turned to the blond with hardened eyes. “You wanna try it?” He raised his wooden sword, the polished bamboo gleaming brightly in the lights of the dojo at the prospect of a good spar.
The blond laughed. “Kicking around a mossball sounds like fun.”
The kendo student fixed a fierce glare upon the blond and grit his teeth. “I'm not a mossball,” he snapped furiously. His voice was loud, ringing through the silent dojo. He turned and faced his opponent properly, declaring fiercely; “My name is Roronoa Zoro, and I'm the world's greatest swordsman! I'll cut that swirly eyebrow right off your face!”
The blond grinned challengingly. “Bring it, swordsman,” he sneered, taking a ready stance. “As if I'd let a shitty mosshead like you bring a sword anywhere near me.”
Early in the morning, dark eyes slowly blinked open and darted around a modestly furnished bedroom. The familiar sights they took in — the old, frayed print of All Blue hanging on the wall across the room in its black frame; a small desk against the wall underneath it, recipe books lying open atop a legal pad with scribbled notes; a dresser pushed against the farthest corner of the room to the right; framed photos, certificates, degrees, and awards adorning the wall to his left, where his bedroom door was — gently disparaged feelings of disorientation from lingering on in his head.
A dream, he realized; not of fantasy, but a recollection from almost fourteen years ago.
The clock hanging on the wall above his bed ticked steadily, the sound as strong as his heart beating inside him. He stared up at the numbers the clock's hands were pointing to and could make out that the short hand was pointing to an ebony three. The longer hand was somewhere between the five and the six, and he gave up trying to figure out where precisely it had paused.
The memory was still fresh in his head as he slowly sat up in bed, feeling his jaw and remembering the sharp bluntness of the wooden sword against his cheek from fourteen years ago. Granted, that was after he'd kicked the sword-wielding idiot into the doorframe.
It wasn't odd for his mind to wander back into his childhood, but this particular memory stuck on him well after it'd ended its playback.
The timing was uncanny, and for that reason Sanji lifted himself out of bed and approached the door. He turned the doorknob and pushed his way through, shuffling his feet down the cold hallway and into the kitchen. He walked until he reached the counter looking into the den, and he wasn't surprised to see Zoro lying on the couch, arm hanging over his closed eyes, with his swords, red and gleaming in the dark, scattered on the carpeted floor behind the couch.
Sanji stared for a while, soaking up the sight of his friend of fourteen years crashing on his couch as if he hadn't been gone for the past three months without a word. He figured he should be used to it by now, with the odd errands he's been running for almost seven years now. And he is used to it — it's certainly not anything new; hasn't been for five of those seven years.
But it's different now. This was different. Wherever he'd come back from, whatever he'd been doing those seven long years — all of it had come to a stop with his return tonight.
Sanji saw a fresh pack of King Ground cigarettes lying on the counter and opened it, despite the fact that there was a pack of five cigs somewhere in his room. He didn't really give a damn and lit up anyway. He took a long drag and breathed out slowly, careful to empty the smoke out into the den over the counter.
“You awake?” Sanji called out carefully, pulling a kleenex from a box and tapping his ashes onto it. From the couch came an acknowledging grunt, and Sanji continued; “I just had a dream about you.”
Zoro's laugh was heavy with exhaustion, but it still had a warm, familiar rumble to it that Sanji couldn't help but smile at.
“Didn't know you thought of me that way.”
“Don't flatter yourself,” Sanji replied with vague amusement. “You're nowhere near good enough for me.”
“And you tell me not to flatter myself…”
Sanji hummed, leaning his cheek in the palm of his free hand as he took another long drag on his cigarette. He fell silent just as Zoro did, enjoying the way the room began to fill up again with the sound of Zoro’s light snoring and the smell of nicotine slowly burning away. A room that had once seemed so big, so empty just moment ago now felt full to bursting, and Sanji couldn’t help but laugh at feeling so filled — with emotion, with thoughts, with sounds and smells, and—
“What’re you laughin’ at?”
Sanji’s laugh dwindled down to a low chuckle. “Nothing,” he said, and even in the darkness Sanji could see the corner of Zoro’s mouth twitch in barely contained amusement, a reaction Sanji didn’t need light to see, didn’t even need sight to see, because it was just one of those things you can see after spending so much time with someone, after nearly spending your whole life with someone.
When all that was left of Sanji’s laugh was a cheeky grin, Sanji finally caved and said it:
“Welcome back, marimo.”
And Zoro’s voice, rich and strong, came to greet him at last. “Good to be back, shit cook.”