Sanji takes the brioche out of the oven and adds it to the bread basket already loaded onto the tray with the rest of their breakfast. He serves both coffee and juice, places them snuggly in between the plates, and picks up the tray to balance effortlessly on his left hand. He steps out of the warm kitchen and crosses the main dining room where the chairs are still upturned, dimly lit by the cold light of dawn.
He hums idly to himself as he climbs the stairs to the second floor, right hand playing absently with his lighter as he runs through the day's menu. He considers whether he should head to the market today, maybe even visit Zeff. It's been a while since he's done that.
He turns left at the top of the stairs, walks down the narrow corridor and enters the bedroom. It’s a small room, dominated mostly by the bed in the center which is empty, sheets rumpled and messy. He looks towards the balcony and as expected spots one outstretched tanned leg.
"You are up early," Sanji greets as he steps outside. Zoro turns to look at him. He's older, his hair cropped short at the sides where it has slowly turned gray. Age has turned his face more angular, sharp at the jaw and the cheekbones where the skin, although weathered by the ocean salt and the countless battles, remains firm and taut. Sanji thinks it's a cosmic joke that all age has done to Zoro is make him look more regal, more powerful, the fine lines at the corner of his eyes a sign of pride as much as his scars are. He is sitting on the floor, leaning against the railing, his loosely tied yukata has fallen open, carelessly revealing endless expanses of thick muscle. Sanji takes his time looking at him just because he can, because he has earned that privilege, and is reminded once again of a tiger, a powerful predator deceptively calm and therefore twice as dangerous. Even after all these years, it thrills Sanji.
"It got cold," Zoro says simply, his lips quirking slightly in that smile that is equal parts amused and smug. He lifts a hand to curl around Sanji’s right wrist, pulling the hand close to his mouth and presses his mouth to the back of it in something that isn’t quite a kiss.
"I haven't smoked," Sanji says fully aware of what the gesture really means and Zoro hums please. He tugs until Sanji lowers himself onto his haunches so that they are eye to eye and Zoro leans forward, brushes his lips along Sanji's jawline.
"Why are you already wearing a suit, it's not even morning yet," Zoro murmurs and Sanji pushes Zoro back, a finger pressed against Zoro's chest.
"Well some of us aren't lazy swordsmen who do nothing but eat and sleep all day. Some of us have work to do," Sanji answers and places the tray on Zoro’s lap who reaches out to keep it from sliding right to the floor. He grunts.
"You do know you don't have to bother on my behalf, I eat anything."
Sanji gives him a look. "That's exactly why I have to bother, god knows what you'd end up doing to yourself without me,” Sanji chides and sits down next to him. This too is routine, years and years of sharing the first meal of the day before it gets busy.
Zoro dutifully uncovers the plates. It’s food common to his hometown, steamed rice and grilled fish, hearty soup and pickled vegetables, and Zoro has never quite known how Sanji knows what he grew up on because he sure as hell didn’t tell him. He’s come to understand, however, that this is just one of the many secret powers his cook has. It’s one of the many ways in which Sanji shows he cares, by taking the time to research and perfect recipes that remind him of a time long gone, of a time of innocence. He eats, slowly, savoring the rich flavor of the fish, the tangyness of the vegetables, the heat of the soup, letting himself be transported in time. It's early still, there is no need to rush this morning.
Sanji breaks open one of the steaming brioche buns, adds butter and jam and proceeds to quietly eat. He makes an almost absent note that the jam is just a tad to sweet but the breqd is flawless.
The sun is starting to peak out at the horizon, bathing the sky in hues of yellows and pinks, seagulls are singing in the distance. He stares across the vastness of the ocean, feeling quiet and calm and at ease in a way he never thought he would be able to, at the place where he grew up, raised by the only father he really ever had.
Zoro watches Sanji who is endlessly more fascinating than the sea. His hair is long now, tied loosely in a pony tail at the nape, white has steadfastly threaded through the blond over the years and his face has grown soft. He knows Sanji hates them, but Zoro is pleased to see the passage of time in lines at the corner of his eyes and his mouth. For men like them, age is a badge of honor and each wrinkle is a tally on their side. Growing old was never part of either of their plans, much less growing old together, but any other accomplishment pales in comparison to having this, to being able to watch Sanji as the sun rises, his hair waving softly in the wind, an absent smile curling the corner of his mouth.
This is Zoro’s favorite time of the day, when it’s just them, the sound of the waves, the creaking of the Baratie, the sun rising in the distance. He cherishes these quiet moments when he can have Sanji all by himself, before the day begins and he has to share him with everyone else. Zoro doesn’t mind, not really, he knows that Sanji has a heart too big and too full to be just his. He knows that there is nothing more fulfilling for Sanji than to make a meal and share it with the world. He knows and understands the pride Sanji has in his cooking, but more importantly, he knows that it's in the kitchen where Sanji has found his purpose. He will do everything he can, so that Sanji can continue doing what he loves, and he will greedily take these quiet moments in the morning, when it's just them and the ocean and the history between them.
The sun is almost fully up when Sanji speaks again. "I think I'll be going into town today, in case there's anything you want me to get for you."
Zoro answers with an absent 'hmm' and Sanji starts running his fingers along the napkin nervously. Zoro watches and waits.
"I was thinking, stopping by Zeff," Sanji adds at last, dropping the napkin on the tray still in Zoro's lap. Zoro watches him for a moment, not all deceived by the casualness of the tone and Sanji very pointedly does not look at him. Sanji is rubbing his thumb nervously against his pointer finger, as if flipping the ashes off of a cigarette, a habit he never kicked. Zoro moves the tray away from his lap and places it carefully next to him on the floor.
"If- Well, if there's time,” Sanji continues not paying attention to Zoro, “I do have to go to the market and that sometimes takes the entire day,” he says and stands up, rubs his palms against his slacks. He starts pacing as he mentally makes a list of everything he needs to get, convincing himself that he will actually be too busy to do anything other than going to the market.
“You know that the guy at the fruit stand hates me after you did the thing with the Pineapples,” Sanji continues now on a roll, his movements becoming more agitated as he talks “and I also need fresh thyme and rosemary and you know that’s all the way to the other side of town and-" He is cut off abruptly by Zoro who is standing in front of him, holding Sanji’s arms gentle but firmly.
"I'll go with you," Zoro says simply and Sanji just stares at him. They remain like that, swaying as the Baratie sways with the gentle movements of the ocean. Zoro doesn't say anything else, he doesn't need to and Sanji doesn't want him to. So they remain there standing face to face, until Sanji leans forward, resting his forehead against Zoro’s shoulder, the tension leaving him as if in one single blow.
“Okay,” Sanji says softly and he is pathetically grateful when he feels Zoro’s arms come around him, pulling him close embracing him gently. Zoro understands loss, he understands grief and he understands the importance of keeping promises. There isn’t much Zoro can do to comfort him, he never quite learned how to do that, but he knows how to share a burden, he can go and visit a grave, and he can pretend to not see Sanji’s grief fresh even after all these years.
He rests his cheek against the blond hair, the closest he can get to offer comfort, and Sanji exhales softly against his neck. He raises his own arms and circles Zoro's waist, his fingers knotting the fabric of the kimono briefly before letting go entirely and stepping back. Sanji looks out across the ocean and Zoro gives him the privacy he wants, one large hand pressing against the small of Sanji's waist before dropping away completely.
The sun has come up fully, it's morning and there are noises drifting up from the first floor, of the crew cleaning the deck, airing out the main room of the restaurant, setting down chairs and arranging the tables properly. The sun has come up and so it's time for the quiet to end.
Sanji’s hand reaches out to Zoro’s, his fingers sliding shyly along his own. Later, after prepping in the kitchen and going to the market and visiting Zeff, he will seek Zoro out. He will look for him in the dark, after night has fallen and it's just them and ocean and the silence, and he will press himself close to Zoro and he will show him all the things he can’t say but feels anyway. Zoro curls his fingers around Sanji's and Sanji smiles. He knows that Zoro understands all the things he doesn’t say.
The sun has come up and Sanji will go downstairs to the kitchen to do what he loves, and Zoro will while away the day training and it will be like any other day has been ever since he came to the Baratie years and years ago, but for right now, it’s still just the two of them, standing side by side on a balcony looking out towards the endless ocean.
Zoro’s hand closes tightly around Sanji’s and he smiles.
It feels like home.