Sanji chewed on his cigarette, it was the last one in his pack. He set his gaze on the horizon and breathed out heavily. At that distant point, dark green waves dissolved into a milky sky. The sun had just gone under the water, shrouded behind a faint veil of clouds.
Behind him, captain Luffy and the others sat arranged around a crate, playing a game of cards. Usopp's mad laughter broke through his reverie. Yosaku rested one hairy leg against the railing Sanji was leaning on... his eyes lingered on it for a second too long before he shook himself and stared out at the ocean again.
Some subjects were just better left untouched, locked away in the depths of his mind, like Sanji's mild interest in men.
It was only a mild interest after all, a very mild interest, barely there. Maybe if he ignored it, it would go away.
"I fold," he heard Johnny's voice say with resignation.
"Alright!" Luffy shouted in glee, after which Sanji heard a card being slapped down hard on the crate. The motion rocked their ship, making Sanji's eyes go wide, and prompting him to quickly check up on the anchor.
He let out a breath of relief when he spied the anchor in his side-view vision. Seemed like the Going Merry would remain intact... for now. He hoped Nami was feeling alright in her room where she'd retreated to study her maps. That sudden lurch of the boat must've been quite the shock. He should check up on her later... see if she'd like an evening snack. Yeah, he'd do that.
Conversations from the men playing cards filtered in through his distant thoughts.
"Heh, this makes me happy Zoro isn't playing tonight," that was Usopp.
Unsurprisingly, the swordmaster Zoro had gone off to bed hours ago... with the sun still up. Sanji scowled at the darkening sky. That guy was so lazy, he would fall asleep in the middle of the day, randomly camping out on deck, hands clasped under his neck in a makeshift pillow. And he always lugged his swords around with him... almost like he didn't trust the rest of their crew to lay off his weapons, which frankly pissed Sanji off, ...or like Zoro expected to get attacked by another pirate ship any minute, which was frankly absurd. It was like the guy didn't know how to relax... or something, like he was constantly on edge.
In a way Sanji envied him, he had to admit. Zoro had to have amazing upper body strength to be able to carry around that many swords all the goddamn time. Those bloody swords had to weigh a ton. It would be like carrying around Nami everywhere he went...
That last thought put a smile on Sanji's face. He wouldn't mind carrying the beauty Nami around in his arms, bridal style, or however else she wished to be carried... if she would let him. Really, her arms around his neck, long lashes fluttering, would make all the lower back pains worth it. So worth it! He shut his eyes and breathed in the ocean air through his nose. At least he could dream.
"Yeah," a barked laugh, "he'd skin you all," that was Yosaku. They were still talking about Zoro.
Luffy giggled with youthful enthusiasm. "Awesome!"
"He never plays for money though," Johnny said in a more serious tone.
"Unless he's broke," Yosaku's hairy leg jiggled on the railing, drawing Sanji's attention back to the man's well sculpted calves. No wonder he showed them off... although these checkered yellow shorts were an odd fashion statement, not something Sanji would have picked out for himself to wear.
"Yeah," Johnny again, "well, he only does that in case of an emergency. Roronoa Zoro is an honorable man. Playing cards is not really his thing."
"What's so dishonorable about playing cards?" Usopp cut in, clearly sounding put-off by Johnny's earlier statement.
"Well... euhh..." Johnny backtracked, "I guess if you don't scam rookie players out of their hard earned cash, it can be a fair trade..."
Luffy laughed his head off. "That's assuming these rookie players earned their money through fair trade!"
"Uh yeah, I guess..." Johnny trailed off.
Yosaku took a swig from his flask, then handed the small metal bottle to Luffy, who passed it on to Usopp without having a single drop. Usopp set the flask to his lips and threw his head back, gulping the liquor down. He sat up straight, burped audibly, and offered the flask to Johnny, who took a long swig of his own.
Mellowed by the drink, Yosaku leaned back, his leg dropping from the railing onto the wooden deck of the ship. "Don't mind him. Johnny boy over here's just sticking up for his boyfriend."
Sanji perked his ears. Was Johnny into men? Furtively he observed the man from the corner of his eye. With how stereotypically manly Johnny looked, he never would have guessed.
Johnny playfully poked Yosaku in the ribs. "He's not my boyfriend. I've been single ever since the Yotsuba Islands where we left things off on friendly terms. Ask Zoro."
Sanji's jaw dropped. The burnt-out cigarette fell from his lips, scattering over the deck till it came to a halt at the edge of Usopp's boot. What shocked him even more than this revelation that Zoro had been intimate with another man was how casually the rest of the crew took the news. Usopp did not look surprised in the slightest. And even their captain Luffy who normally had so much to say on any given topic and openly expressed his emotions whenever he felt them, failed to react.
Clearing his throat, Sanji drew all of their attention, but he directed his speech at Johnny.
"Zoro is... into men?" his voice nearly cracked as he put the question forward.
Johnny blinked up at Sanji in surprise, as if that was common knowledge. And the rest of the men stared at Sanji strangely, like he'd asked an incredibly dumb question.
Usopp scratched the back of his head, right under his bandana. "You didn't know?"
Feeling the weight of the day on his shoulders, Sanji took some steps toward the group, and sat down between Yosaku and Luffy. If there was any liquor left in that flask, he could use it.
"How would I have known? The topic of sexuality has not really come up in our conversation."
"I mean... it's pretty obvious," Usopp gestured with his hands. "He doesn't hide it."
Sanji felt a subtle accusation in Usopp's words. They seemed to say he hadn't paid much attention... which was true, perhaps.
"So," Sanji awkwardly started, fiddling with a button of his suit jacket in lieu of a cigarette. "All of you were aware of this?"
Luffy emphatically nodded his head. "I've known all along, from the very start."
"How?" Sanji grabbed at the air in frustration.
"He told me," Luffy shrugged. "Not that it really matters I suppose." Absently he stared up at the night sky, the brim of his straw hat scratching the spot between his shoulder blades. "Doesn't really change anything."
This changed everything.
It had turned Sanji's world on its head; like the globe had made a one-eighty under his feet, suddenly landing him on the other side of the planet, upside down, totally out of place.
The men carried on playing cards and drinking throughout the night, although Luffy abstained by choice. Their captain wasn't much of a drinker, preferring to keep a cool head.
Sanji found it intolerable to remain in their company for much longer. After half an hour of playing along, acting like everything was okay, having three shots from the flask and losing two games at cards, he felt he needed some space to himself. His mind was reeling. His legs were shaking when he finally stood and staggered back to their living quarters below deck.
Quickly he threw a window open and threw up into the sea.
Panting, he leaned against the window frame, looking down at the black depth below. Why was he taking this revelation so poorly?
He waddled his way to the room with the hammocks where they all slept, blindly tracing his hands along the walls of the ship to steady himself. When he reached the sleeping area, he was the only one there... Which was a bit odd, since Zoro had supposedly gone to sleep hours ago.
But oh well, Sanji barely had the energy to stand up straight, let alone ponder this new information. It would have to wait till tomorrow. He just hoped everything would be clearer in the morning. Zoro's sexuality didn't have to change anything between them, like Luffy had said, it didn't matter. Sanji didn't care! That's what he tried to convince himself as he fell into a fretful sleep.
Zoro inhaled her scent through his nose, burying his face between the mounds of Nami's breasts. They lay tangled in each other, legs intertwined, heartbeats synced in a soothing slow rhythm.
Her fingers traced patterns over his arms. That's when Zoro decided to speak up.
"Why are we doing this?"
Nami's soft exhausted laugh filled the room. "I guess it's the raging hormones they told me about." She looked down at him with a sneaky grin, "we're both using each other to vent our frustations."
Zoro smirked back. Her smile was infectuous... maybe that's what drew him to her all those weeks ago. He needed a positive influence in his life, a reason to choose happiness, someone who could make him smile: he craved it like a moth craves the flame.
"Sexual frustrations?" Zoro said with a rogueishly raised eyebrow.
"Oh you wanna go another round?" said with amusement, from behind half lidded eyes, chapped lips curved seductively.
He let his head drop down on her chest, turning a little so his ear was nestled against her warm skin. Her breast, flattened from the position she lay in, was directly in his line of sight. It looked weird up close. He could see all the little ridges and unevennesses on her skin. He brought up a finger and experimentally poked at her nipple.
"Can't," he sighed, "I'm spent."
Still the small smile of contentment would not leave his lips. Zoro preferred men, but he could not deny Nami was beautiful... and in the end it was her fiery personality that did it. That caught him in her net, and as she reeled him in, all he felt like doing was sinking in her warmth. He did not love her and he felt like she did not love him much either, but they gave each other the joy to live. And perhaps that was enough, ...for now.
Nami chuckled softly. "Sometimes I feel like women weren't meant to be with men."
"Expand on that thought," he breathed against her breast, causing goosebumps to travel over the pale skin.
"I've never had a lover who could fully satisfy me."
Zoro paused. Nami's words cut into his calm sense of peace like a fine Chef's knife. He knew he was not that experienced when it came to women, but Nami was hardly the first woman he'd had, and quite frankly he felt a little insulted.
"Not one of them has had the stamina to go all night," she prattled on, oblivious to Zoro's mental crisis. "I bet a woman would last longer. What do you say, Zoro? How long do your partners usually last?"
He climbed off her, rolling over to grab his clothes from the nightstand. She pouted.
"I'd... rather... not talk about other people I've been intimate with," he managed to get out at length.
"Ugh," Nami rolled her eyes, "you're no fun." She stuck her tongue out at him.
Ignoring her in favor of putting his clothes back on, Zoro made quick work of tying the haramaki around his waist and hoisting the three legendary swords over his shoulder. He gave her one last passing look, that she returned with a smoldering look of her own.
The words "see you soon" awkwardly made their way out of his mouth.
The glint in her eye was predatory, sizzling hot. It did weird things to Zoro's stomach, things he could not fully understand. They were playing a game here, a dangerous game. When it came to toying with feelings, or pretening you didn't have none, ...everything was dangerous. He had been told many a time not to play with fire. Yet here she was... and she was beautiful, both inside and out. And what they were doing to each other was dangerous, treating a common cold while kindling a flame, denying they had feelings for each other. Someone was going to get burned. He just hoped it wasn't him.