Upon hearing that expletive, Sanji very nearly placed the receiver back on the transponder snail.
Customer service was all well and good in theory, but in his experience, there was only room for conversations that started with an expletive to go south. Far south.
Also it was 3am in the morning and while Sanji was currently suffering from insomnia, he would still much rather count sheep than deal with an irate customer. He hadn't really been thinking when he picked up the phone earlier, acting more on reflex than anything else.
"I'm afraid our restaurant is now closed for the day. Kindly call back- "
Sanji's usual spiel was interrupted by a growl.
It was only then that recognition dawned and Sanji let out a long suffering sigh.
"Oi marimo. Do you know what time it is? "
"Shut up, sea witch," and Sanji bristled at the insult to his most precious goddess.
“Watch your language, moss head,” Sanji warned, but his heart was not in it. It was late, and he had had a long day. “You’re drunk. And you dialled the wrong number. Again. Are you so senile you can’t find your way around a number pad?"
Sanji was rewarded with a grunt. If someone had told him just a few years back that he’d be on the phone in the wee hours of the morning listening to Zoro gripe about his love life, he would have laughed them off the Thousand Sunny.
Yet, here he was, on the end of the line, getting ready for the long haul, knowing what Zoro was going to talk about. For the last couple of years, Zoro had been calling sporadically. The first time it happened, he had been looking for Nami. It sent Sanji into a bit of a tizzy, because he hadn’t known that Nami was Zoro’s close confidant.
That wasn't the biggest shock however. Finding out that Zoro was interested in a guy was. Sanji supposed it made sense given how immune to the charms of Robin and Nami Zoro had always been. Thinking back on it all, he was surprised that he hadn't figured it out earlier. The first time they had spoken of it however, Sanji had been taken aback.
"No matter what I do or say, he's just so fucking oblivious. "
"He?" Sanji had enquired impatiently, fully expecting Zoro to backtrack and correct himself. He'd figured that Zoro had some crush on Robin or Tashigi.
"That's what I said. He." Zoro continued with emphasis, as the mental gears in Sanji's mind spun to a sudden complete halt as Zoro's words sunk in.
"He? As in a man?" Sanji asked stupidly, seeking greater clarification.
"Keep up, will you? Stop repeating what I say." Zoro had demanded belligerently.
At that point, Sanji's brain sort of shut down. He remembered little of that conversation from that point onwards. Instead he began rewinding through his memories for some sign that had to be there that Zoro had been interested in the sex that was not fairer.
Actually, he’d spent the next week doing that too. Two weeks later, Zoro had dialled again, and Sanji had been far more attentive than before. Who on earth did Zoro have a crush on? Law? Luffy? Mihawk? Marco? Whoever it was had to be strong to earn that kind of respect and affection from Zoro. He’d racked his brain, but he couldn’t quite place a single event where Zoro had shown any signs of crushing hard on someone. Zoro was brusque with everyone, except maybe Luffy at times.
So it was Luffy?
The thought of Zoro lusting after Luffy made Sanji’s head hurt. Much as everyone respected Luffy, he was also like everyone’s little brother. It was really kind of incestuous if you thought too deeply about it. On one hand, Sanji felt this surge of big brotherly protectiveness towards Luffy and on the other...
Well if there was anyone who had been born to be Luffy’s right hand man, it was Zoro. And was it so hard to make that leap to them becoming… lovers? At this point, Sanji had to go lie down, from the terrible images that were inching their way into his mind, as well as the impending migraine.
“Is it Luffy?” Sanji had blurted out on the phone a month later.
There had been an awkward silence on the other end, as Sanji had held the receiver pressed so closely to his face it would later leave a mark.
“… I’m not naming names,” Zoro had said and that had been that.
“Is it Luffy?” Sanji had almost demanded from Nami, the next time she’d stopped in for dinner. She had given him this strange assessing look, as if seeing him again for the first time anew. Sanji supposed she was. Back on the Thousand Sunny, he never would have been so disrespectful, but the question had been eating at him for almost a month now, and he was dying to know.
“I mean,” Sanji tried to school his features back into a mask of casual indifference. “Is it Luffy that Zoro likes?"
Nami had given him one of those sharply furtive looks, then smiled disarmingly.
“A lady never tells."
And of course, Sanji had to leave it at that.
Usopp, who had been with Nami, had given him this bug-eyed incredulous look.
“What? You actually don’t know who-hmmmmphh!”
Before Usopp could spill the beans, Nami had clamped a hand over his mouth, and whispered something in his ear. Usopp had gone pale, then dangerously still. When Sanji had tried to ask him about it later, all the sharpshooter would say was that he was bound not to tell, by Nami on pain of death and really the great captain Usopp would much rather be kicked into smithereens than betray a woman’s trust. And seriously, did he really not know?!
Sanji had nearly kicked Usopp back to Syrup Village and beyond.
“I miss the sound of his voice,” Zoro said suddenly.
“Tch. Call him then,” Sanji said, flipping open his lighter, as he lit up another cigarette and drew the smoke into his lungs. Despite his flippant tone, Sanji had, in spite of himself, found himself increasingly invested in Zoro’s personal drama. He was after all, an unapologetic romantic at heart. Accidental or not, Zoro had come to him for advice, and he was determined to see the other through.
“I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“Long time no see, hey, did you ever realise that I have a crush the size of Noah on you?” Sanji suggested, as he began pouring out a glass of wine.
Zoro snorted. “… Like that would work."
“Why not? You obviously haven’t tried."
“Maybe I did and got rejected. How would you know?” Zoro sniped.
“You’re right. How about you tell me everything about the two of you, including who your crush is, so I can dish out some proper advice?” Sanji countered amicably. He could tell that Zoro really wasn’t as drunk as some of the nights when he called, and had sobered up considerably.
“Yea, right,” Zoro muttered sarcastically, and Sanji had to bite back the insult that threatened to escape from his lips.
“You’ve already told Nami and Usopp anyway."
“I did not!” The strength of Zoro’s denial surprised Sanji. “Wait, Usopp knows?!” Zoro sounded aggravated.
“He definitely acted like he did."
Zoro groaned.”I’m going to kill that sea witch. First Robin, then Nami, Franky, Brook, Chopper and now, Usopp?"
Was he the only one that didn’t know who Zoro’s secret crush was?
“Nami wouldn’t have told him,” Sanji replied loyally. It wasn’t blind loyalty though. There was no way Nami would divulge prized information like that without exacting a high price and Usopp definitely couldn’t afford to pay for that kind of intel.
“Why am I the only one who's left in the dark?” Sanji asked, giving voice to the gnawing question in his mind.
There was a bit of an uncomfortable silence on the line.
“… Maybe you’re just unobservant. Or maybe I let something slip to Franky and Brook that last night when we had that banquet together."
Sanji did recall the three of them getting into a drinking competition that night. That dinner had been an unforgettable memory. It was the last time he had cooked for all of them and the night before the Strawhat Pirates had disbanded. Emotions had been running high that night. Small wonder Zoro had blurted his dark secret out.
“Robin, Nami and Chopper found out themselves. There’s nothing you can hide from the women and animals are kind of sensitive to stuff…” Zoro trailed off. “I guess I must have been a bit obvious."
And yet, Sanji had missed it.
It could only be Luffy really. Back on the Thousand Sunny, the only thing Sanji had been bothered with when it came to Zoro was their ongoing rivalry. But even Sanji hadn’t been blind to the unwavering loyalty, devotion and affection that Zoro had for their captain. Luffy was a bit thick about these things though, which was probably why Zoro was in the sorry state he was in. He probably had tried to tell Luffy, only to have it bounce off the rubber man.
Come to think of it, Nami had been among the earliest to join the crew. She’d probably known right from the start, bearing witness to Zoro falling head over heels as time went by. She was Zoro’s drinking buddy so he supposed Zoro had naturally began confiding in her. Truth be told, Sanji was still a little shocked that Zoro had even deigned to speak to him about this aspect of his life.
Although it had happened by mistake.
The first time Zoro had called, he had been so drunk he hadn’t realised when a horrified Sanji had tried to tell him that he wasn’t Nami and to please stop telling him this stuff.
The next day Zoro had called at a slightly earlier hour, been bizarrely polite, apologised for misdialling the night before and asked if he had said anything weird. Sanji hadn’t been sure whether to play it dumb or just be honest, but in the end he’d gone for the truth.
“You might have mentioned having feelings for someone."
There had been a long silence on the other end. Sanji began to wonder if Zoro had hung up.
“Still there, marimo?"
There was a sharp exhale on the other end. Zoro had evidently been holding his breath.
“What else did I say?"
“That you thought your feelings would fade if you didn’t see each other anymore, and you keep thinking of opportunities missed…”
The silence now was almost thunderous, but it was Zoro who ended it this time.
“… An-and what do you think?” Zoro’s voice sounded strangled.
What did Sanji think? He was weirded out of course. He didn’t even know Zoro had the capacity for romance. He was surprised Zoro could harbour any desire aside from being the best swordsman in the world.
“Doesn’t matter what I think, does it? What matters is what this other person feels. But I do think you should at least give it a shot, confess, and let whoever it is decide."
“I like you?"
“… Kind of like that, but with more feeling. And maybe a rose."
Another silence, then Zoro had snorted with both laughter and derision. Sanji could almost picture him rolling his eyes. After that Zoro had just continued calling. Sometimes by accident and other times deliberately. And suddenly, Zoro and Sanji were a little bit more than rivals, they were genuine friends. Sanji actually began to care about whether Zoro would get the guy.
“I did what you suggested the other day."
“What’s that?” Sanji had given Zoro a lot of suggestions. He wasn’t exactly sure which one Zoro had acted on.
“Started seeing someone else.”
“Oh.” It was the only thing Sanji could think to say. He felt a brief thrill of excitement for Zoro, then strangely enough, disappointment set in, and also sadness and envy. If asked to describe the feeling, Sanji would say that it was a sense of abandonment akin to when one's best friend had finally gotten into their first relationship.
Not like Zoro and him were best friends or anything.
It was all just a little bit ironic. Zoro was the one who had nicknamed him 'love cook', but now that Sanji had his own restaurant, he was just too busy and tired to date. And here was Zoro, the man who Sanji had believed was incapable of romance, actively dating someone. It was all messed up.
Aware of sounding like a bad friend, Sanji rallied.
“How’s that going?"
“Not too bad,” Zoro admitted. “It’s just a casual a thing though…"
“You mean 'just sex'?” Sanji couldn’t help interjecting.
“That’s not what I meant, you pervert cook!"
Sanji couldn’t help smiling. Zoro was so easy to rile up.
“Who’s the unlucky guy?"
“You don’t get to know that either."
Sanji threw up his hand in exasperation.
“Fine. So are you done with the love of your life then?"
“Were you listening? I just told you I missed his voice."
Sanji felt strangely pleased. Maybe it was because Zoro might stop calling if he moved on, and these days, it felt like there was precious little reminder of the Strawhat Pirates' journey left to hold on to.
He took another large gulp from the glass of wine he was drinking. He was working through the bottle pretty quickly he knew.
“Enough about me. How was your week?"
Sanji coughed, spluttering a little, from the surprise at the unexpected question. They were on the line to talk about Zoro and his issues, and sometimes the other members of their crew. They had never talked about Sanji’s run-of-the-mill daily life before.
“What’s that you’re drinking?"
“Three quarters of the bottle gone already huh?"
Sanji glanced at the bottle on the table. It was a little more than that actually.
“Not quite. Nothing out of the ordinary happened during my week. It’s just the restaurant day-in, day-out. Don’t feel like you have to ask after me or whatever. I lead a boring life."
Zoro laughed softly. “Who would have thought? I always imagined you would live life in the fast lane."
“Well entrepreneurship sucks the life out of you. Wouldn’t have it any other way though."
“You sound tired."
“I am tired,” And it was only through this admission that Sanji finally really realised how exhausted he was. “I love what I’m doing. It’s just some days… I really miss being out on the sea with everyone."
“I know what you mean. I miss… well, everyone too. I guess I should let you get to bed,” Zoro continued awkwardly.
“I wasn’t trying to get you off the line or anything. I can’t sleep anyway,” Sanji blurted out before Zoro could hang up.
“Yea? Well, if you’re sure.” Zoro sounded a little pleased.
It was going on six months since the last time Sanji had heard from Zoro. Sanji could only assume this meant that Zoro’s love life was smooth sailing, hence he hadn’t dialled. He would in turn have called Zoro if he could, but Zoro lived a sort of nomadic existence wandering around wherever he saw fit.
It was mortifying to face the facts, but Sanji deeply missed those late night conversations with Zoro. In person, they had fought like cats and dogs, but on the phone they had forged a sort of strange camaraderie that hadn’t existed aboard the Thousand Sunny. Those regular conversations with Zoro kept him anchored to the past Sanji missed.
He’d asked around, but no one seem to know where Zoro had gone. It was like he had dropped off the face of the earth.
So when Zoro had appeared at the back door of his restaurant covered in blood, Sanji hadn’t known whether to be mad or glad. He’d had gone with simple observation instead.
“You’re bleeding all over the floor boards."
“Most of it isn’t mine.” It might not have been, but there was certainly an ugly gash at the side of Zoro’s neck that was going to need medical attention, and ran the risk of a more serious infection.
Sanji stepped back from the door, holding it open to admit Zoro.
“You should have gone to Chopper."
Zoro nodded agreeably.
“I should have. But I’m here now."
Zoro hadn’t lied. Most of the blood hadn’t been his, but a lot of it was. Zoro had stubbornly tried to patch himself up with Sanji’s basic first aid kit, then Sanji had kicked him in the head and taken over. Zoro was fast asleep in Sanji’s bed now, whether from exhaustion or blood loss, Sanji wasn’t sure. He knew Zoro would pull through though.
In the meantime... Sanji slumped down on the floor against the bed. He was fumbling about his jacket for a cigarette, before he realised that the box was empty. With a sigh, he crumbled the box, tossing it clear across the room.
Sanji was exhausted. He'd had to fire the maitre d' who had been caught stealing earlier that day and wanted nothing more than to fall into bed and the warm embrace of his sheets. Instead, here was Zoro hogging his bed, pillows and comforter. And here was Sanji sitting on the cold hard floor. Without. His. Cigarettes. What with sewing Zoro up and all, he’d forgotten that he was running low and was now completely out.
He really wanted to kick something now.
Instead he closed his eyes and settled in for a woefully uncomfortable night.
A week later, Sanji was about ready to boot Zoro out of his bed. Typically, he would have, without an ounce of remorse, but even he could see that Zoro’s wounds needed more time to heal, which was why the man spent most of his time practically comatose.
In freak weather typical of the Grand Line, it had snowed right after Zoro had showed up, as if his arrival had been a bad omen. Sanji supposed it was just as well. The snowstorm didn’t look like it was ending any time soon and he needed time to replace his head waiter anyway, so he had closed the restaurant until the weather let up. He was slightly relieved for the respite - it gave him more time to experiment with new dishes for his menu. He’d come up with a couple he was pleased with.
But now, days of sleeping on the cold floor had caught up with him and he was feeing shitty. His head was throbbing, and he felt a chill deep within his bones.
“Move over,” he grumbled, shoving Zoro, none too gently to the side, where the green-haired man continued snoring gently. Making sure there was a suitably safe distance between them, Sanji lay down and tried to go to sleep.
Within seconds of his head touching the pillow, he was fast asleep.
When Sanji next woke, it was still dark. Strange. He must only have slept for a couple of hours. He turned and it took him several beats of the heart before he finally remembered what was wrong with the empty space beside him.
He was answered by silence. Sanji reached out, flicking on the bedside lamp. There was a note on the pillow beside him.
You slept the entire day, weakling. I made you chicken soup.
PS. Thanks for the bed.
Sanji sank back into his pillows, holding the note up in the air, as he read it again. He was still feeling slightly feverish, but his headache had faded somewhat. Propping himself up on his elbows, Sanji reached over to the table where a cold bowl of soup sat. He stirred it gingerly. It was lumpy and tasted nothing like the chicken soup it purportedly was, but he finished up every last drop before setting it aside and staring up listlessly at the ceiling above him.
The weary empty loneliness was creeping up on him once more, and this time there was no green-eyed swordsman on the end of the other line, or side of the bed, to stave it off.
The transponder snail trilled stubbornly as Sanji lifted his head from the table where he’d fallen fast asleep. It was way after closing hours, so Sanji thought he could be forgiven for that note of irritation he couldn’t keep out of his voice as he snatched up the phone and went “What?!"
There was a long pause on the other end, while Sanji began to reflect on his rather terrible phone demeanour.
“Good to hear from you too. Catching you at a bad time?” There was no mistaking the low gravelly chuckle on the other end of the line, and Sanji couldn’t quite keep the smile out of his voice.
“Marimo. I thought you’d died."
“You wish. I’m not as weak as you are."
To anyone else listening, the traded insults might have seemed like the opening salvo of a heated argument, but in Sanji-Zoro land, it was pretty much a virtual hug.
“What have you been up to, you ungrateful git?” Sanji asked as he began pouring out his usual glass of wine.
“Hey! I did make you soup,” Zoro protested.
“Worse I’ve ever tasted. You coming to the Christmas party this year?"
“Yea. I think I’ll be in the area.”
Sanji didn’t bother to school his face back into his usual couldn’t care less expression. Grinning, he made a mental note to buy more sake.
“But uh hey. About that."
“Just spit it out.” Zoro was not a man who was easily unnerved and so Zoro sounding tentative about something instantly put Sanji on edge.
“Is it okay... ifIbringaplusone?"
The words came out in a rush, and so it took Sanji a moment to understand what Zoro was saying, but when he did, it took another few seconds before Sanji found his voice in a throat that had gone dry.
“But of course. I would love to meet him,” Sanji managed in as warm a voice as he could. “Whoever it is sure doesn’t have high standards,” he added quickly, careful to sound flippant again, in case Zoro caught the little falter there.
It wasn’t that he really minded. Sanji had just thought it would have been nice to catch up with Zoro one on one, now that they had become a little more than rivals, rather than with Zoro's latest squeeze in tow.
“At least I have someone, love cook. What about you?” Zoro sounded genuinely curious rather than condescending.
“Like I have the time for anything after spending so much time listening to your morose love sick declarations,” Sanji complained, but it was without heat, and Sanji wasn’t feeling so great now.
“I still think a lot about him,” Zoro said suddenly, in a voice that was suddenly so quietly serious, it caught Sanji off guard.
But this was familiar territory. It was after all, the only reason Zoro kept calling.
“Just tell him and you’ll know for sure whether or not to move on with this new guy or to get together with your crush if he feels the same way.” This piece of advice had almost become Sanji’s mantra in the last year or so that he’d been chatting with Zoro. He rattled it off like a parrot.
“It’s gotten more complicated now. There’s too much at stake."
Sanji had never known Zoro to back down from anything, but in this matter he was extraordinarily reticent. Just talking to Zoro about it exhausted Sanji.
“How will you ever know whether he feels the same way if you don’t tell him?!” Sanji demanded, annoyed. Love was worth taking risks for. In Zoro’s shoes, Sanji would fight tooth and nail for that kind of love. And here was Zoro just squandering it. If there was someone who felt even half as much as Zoro did for Luffy for him, Sanji would want to know. But there wasn’t anyone like that anywhere on the horizon.
Sanji didn’t need to imagine Zoro’s face to hear the scowl in the other man's voice.
“I just can’t, okay?"
And that pretty much spelt the end of their conversation for the night.
Sanji glanced around the happy drunk faces in his restaurant. Brook hadn’t showed because he’d had a Christmas concert, and neither had Luffy, but everyone else had shown up. Everyone, but Zoro.
“Mr Swordsman probably got lost,” Robin commented softly, looking at Sanji kindly, and that felt odd. Why did Robin think he was waiting for that dumb green-haired promise-breaking marimo?!
“He’ll show up when he wants to,” Sanji grumbled under his breath, before topping off Robin’s drink with a smile that was a little too bright to make up for his earlier grouchiness.
Robin smiled at him knowingly, a smile that made Sanji just a touch uneasy. “I think I’d better leave you two to catch up,” she commented, gracefully stepping down from the bar stool she had been perched on.
Sanji turned a little too quickly, his heart skipping a nervous little beat. Looking at the man behind him, he broke into a wide smile, his earlier tension melting away.
“I haven’t seen you in forever!"
The lanky man before him rubbed at his head bashfully, with an almost embarrassed smile.
“Sanji. It’s been too long."
“How have you been, Gin?"
“Good. I missed yo- your food."
Gin shook his hand almost formally, but Sanji yanked him into a warm hug instead.
Zoro showed up a half hour before New Year’s Day, with a gorgeous blonde in tow, and even Sanji had to admit that Zoro had struck the jackpot.
Sanji didn’t know what on earth Cavendish saw in the marimo, but he welcomed him warmly all the same, even as he felt a little twinge of jealousy. And really, he knew he was only feeling this way because he was missing what he had now grudgingly come to admit was his friend, Zoro.
“Sorry. We took a wrong turn on Christmas day,” Zoro explained, as Cavendish tossed his curls behind him haughtily, before bursting into protest.
“Don’t make excuses! It was all because you were too hor-“ But Zoro had clamped a hand over a sputtering Cavendish’s mouth, although Sanji could have guessed what Cavendish was about to say. He gamely gave Zoro a salacious wink, as Zoro stood looking more pained than Sanji had seen him when he’d been slashed to ribbons by enemies.
“Well, there’s still some food. Help yourself to that, and the sake,” Sanji offered graciously, as Zoro quickly marched Cavendish to the buffet table before the other man could spill more bedroom secrets.
Even if they seemed to bicker a lot, Sanji supposed they were rather cute together. If he were to look at it very very extremely objectively as a third party, he could admit that Zoro was at times rather handsome with his masculine square cut jaw. And one would have to be blind not to notice Cavendish’s exceptional beauty. They really were an extremely good-looking couple. Sanji supposed Cavendish’s psychotic double personality was only an additional draw for Zoro. He was after all another master swordsman for Zoro to pit his skills against.
And Cavendish was lovely, but Zoro wouldn’t stop staring at Sanji, his eyes following Sanji’s every movement, and seriously Zoro needed to just stop seeking his approval. It still stung that his new friendship with Zoro had been eclipsed so suddenly by Cavendish, but Zoro was a grown man. He didn’t need Sanji’s reassurance to date. Sanji supposed it was a good thing that Luffy wasn’t here to further erode Zoro’s confidence.
Sanji turned away deliberately to where Gin was standing beside him, his cheeks slightly flushed. They had been talking most of the night, just like they had on Christmas as they swapped tales on what they had been up to since last they met. Sanji didn’t really have any swashbuckling adventures to speak of after the Strawhats had disbanded, but Gin seemed to find Sanji’s hum drum daily life interesting enough and so Sanji continued sharing his perfectly ordinary tales of the kitchen.
Glancing up, he saw Zoro staring at him again with that inscrutable look upon his face, and Sanji’s chest was hurting a little now, at the perfect picture the two of them made. It was just the idea of being alone on Christmas, Sanji told himself sternly. The countdown to the new year was beginning, and as Sanji looked on the two of them, Cavendish whispered something in Zoro’s ear which made him smile, softening his features completely, as he slipped an arm around the other blonde, and kissed him deeply.
And suddenly, cheers filled the room as the clock struck midnight, ringing in the new year. Sanji was about to join in with the cheers, when suddenly he found himself pinned against the bar as Gin pressed his lips to Sanji’s gently. And maybe it was the alcohol, or perhaps it was just the whole atmosphere of it being New Year’s Day, but Sanji decided to play along, and he kissed Gin back. Feeling a little giddy from the sudden adrenaline rush, Sanji opened his eyes, and instantly found Zoro’s gaze transfixed on them, and Sanji had never noticed how green Zoro’s eyes were or how they glittered like emeralds when he had that dangerous glint in them.
Feeling suddenly uncomfortable, Sanji gently disentangled himself from Gin with a soft laugh to let Gin know he didn’t mind, but he didn’t want things to get too serious just this moment, not when he’d had so much to drink earlier anyway.
“Was that alright?” Gin asked carefully, arms still settled around Sanji’s waist. Sanji gave him a brief smile and nodded reassuringly. He craned his neck looking for Zoro, but the other man was now nowhere in sight.
It was yet another two months before the transponder snail rang again in the middle of the night.
Sanji didn’t even hesitate.
“Love cook. Why are you always up at this ungodly hour?” Zoro was slurring slightly which meant he’d had a bit more than a few drinks.
“Why are you always calling at this ungodly hour?” Sanji retorted.
“Because you always pick up anyway.” And Sanji had to concede the fact.
“What can I do for you today? Last I heard you were happily sailing the seas with Cavendish."
Zoro grunted in response.
“At least attempt to make conversation, when I’m sacrificing precious sleep to be your sounding board,” Sanji prompted helpfully.
“I just wanted to talk to you."
The jolt that statement sent through Sanji’s body made his cheeks colour with heat. He was just pleased to have his friend back, Sanji reminded himself. It was nothing.
“Are you with Gin now?"
Was he with Gin? Well Gin wasn’t physically here at the moment, but Sanji supposed Zoro wasn’t exactly asking about that.
“We see each other, on and off,” Sanji hedged. It was true enough. They’d hung out several times, and made out on a couple of those occasions, but that was pretty much it. Much as Sanji liked Gin, there was just something missing. A lack of intensity, Sanji realised suddenly. The kind of intensity that Zoro had, that burning torch Zoro carried for Luffy.
“None of your business,” Sanji grumbled, not wanting to dwell on his rather dismal love life.
Zoro hung up. Sanji stared at the transponder snail in disbelief.
The nerve of that idiot swordsman.
Sanji had been surprised when Cavendish had breezed into his restaurant one evening for dinner. He’d expected to see Zoro with the other man, but Cavendish was alone, as he pensively sipped from a wine glass all night.
Cavendish was on his second bottle when Sanji finally sat down across from him.
“The restaurant is technically closed now, but you’re welcome to stay as late as you want,” Sanji offered. “Zoro’s a bit of an idiot, but he can be really devoted too."
Cavendish looked up sharply.
“That, I know,” he said frowningly.
“Shall I call him?” Sanji offered.
“No,” Cavendish replied shortly. “Will you drink with me?"
Sanji saw no reason to decline. They drank in silence for a while before Cavendish finally spoke.
“We’re no longer together."
The regret Sanji felt was genuine. He’d thought that Cavendish could have been the one to help Zoro forget the past. He’d seen that tender look in Zoro’s eyes as he had looked at Cavendish.
“There was someone else.” And now Cavendish was studying Sanji’s expression intently, as if Sanji had all the answers he sought.
Sani felt a little like the ground had opened up from under him. Had Zoro actually cheated on Cavendish?
His face must have said it all because Cavendish shook his head as if he was answering Sanji’s unspoken question.
“He never cheated. Not in the physical sense of the word, but he couldn’t really love me either. Big dumb lout.” And Cavendish was almost pouting prettily now, and if Sanji had drunk a whole lot more than he had, it was not entirely impossible that he would fall over himself to offer Cavendish a shoulder to cry on.
“You’re his best friend,” Cavendish said suddenly, and the shock of hearing that declaration nearly caused Sanji to drop his glass. “Do you think he might ever forget that other guy?"
“I think Nami is Zoro’s best friend,” Sanji said hurriedly, eager to correct the misunderstanding, but Cavendish shook his head.
“He hasn’t spoken to Nami in almost half a year. Zoro’s always talking about you and saying we should go eat at your restaurant someday. He built it up so much in my mind that I had to try it for myself, even if we weren’t going together. My compliments to the chef by the way.” Cavendish offered a small smile generously. He leaned forward suddenly.
“Do you know who Zoro’s in love with?” Cavendish asked, and his eyes were a little red now and Sanji wasn't sure it was all the alcohol’s doing.
Sanji reached out, placing his hand over Cavendish’s own comfortingly.
“He never said."
And that was the plain honest truth.
Luffy’s birthday was on the 5th of May, and while Luffy might be a no-show on Christmases and New Years, Sanji knew that Luffy would head to his restaurant just like a homing pigeon for his birthday. It was after all the day that he made all of Luffy’s favourite dishes and offered an unlimited amount of them to Luffy. The man was helpless to resist.
And true enough, Luffy breezed in with his biggest fan, Bartholomeo, in tow as soon as the sun set. Pretty much everybody who knew anyone was there. It was the Pirate King’s birthday after all, and it was being celebrated in the best restaurant across all the seas. This also meant that Sanji was spending a good part of the night holed up in the kitchen as he fired out order after order to his staff. He caught glimpses of his friends as he bustled around - they would have a quieter more private celebration when all the guests were gone in a day or two. Sanji was not surprised to see Zoro practically attached to Luffy’s hip the entire night, and only slightly surprised when he unexpectedly stumbled across Bartholomeo and Cavendish making out in the pantry (did they really think it was a good place to hide in there of all days? Talk about Beauty and the Beast...) He was happy that things were working out for all of them, and he could tell that Zoro wanted to talk to him, but Sanji had no time to slow down. There were hungry folks out there, and everyone was going to be well fed on Luffy’s birthday. There would be no exceptions.
Speaking of hungry people...
Sanji caught Luffy by the scruff of his shirt, and manhandled him as gently as he could out of the kitchen.
“Everyone is going to starve if you keep eating the food before it has a chance to get out of the kitchen,” Sanji admonished.
Luffy grinned widely.
“But it’s my birthday!"
Then without warning, he slipped his arms around Sanji, tightening the coil so Sanji couldn’t kick out, and bounced away, off Sanji’s restaurant and onto his own ship.
“Luffy! What gives?” Sanji protested.
Luffy let him go as they landed, and Sanji was on his feet at once, casting a worried look at the restaurant behind Luffy.
“They’ll be fine."
Sanji’s gaze snapped back to Luffy and there was a spread in front of them, all items stolen from Sanji’s kitchen.
“You’re the only person I haven’t talked to all night. It’s my birthday and I want to spend it with the people that matter to me. So Sanji, sit down and have my seventh dinner with me!"
Sanji opened his mouth to scold Luffy, but the words of admonishment died in his throat as he looked at Luffy’s wide happy smile, and he felt an answering smile curving on his lips as well.
Sanji sat down and took a bite out of the sandwich in front of him, only realising then it was the first thing he had eaten all night.
“Pretty sure those idiots won’t burn down the restaurant without me for a couple of hours."
Luffy threw his head back in laughter.
Their captain was impossible. But only because they all spoilt him so.
“Are you happy, Sanji?"
Sanji frowned at the question.
"Why do you ask?"
“Because you’ve found All Blue and you have your restaurant now, but Zoro says you’re not."
“Zoro needs to mind his own business and speak for himself."
“Zoro’s not happy too,” the rubber man said sagely.
Ah fuck it. It was now or never. If Zoro didn’t have the guts to reach out for his own happiness, Sanji would do it for him.
“Zoro’s unhappy because he’s in love with you, and he can’t bring himself to say it because he thinks it’ll destroy your friendship."
There. It was all out there now. The rest was up to Luffy.
Sanji didn’t know why his heart was beating so quickly suddenly as he waited for Luffy’s reply. This was after all between Zoro and Luffy. It really had nothing to do with him at the end of the day.
Only… Zoro might never call again once he got together with Luffy, and if Sanji was being honest, Zoro had come to mean a lot more to Sanji than he was willing to admit.
Luffy didn’t say anything as he continued chewing on his two drumsticks thoughtfully.
“And you’re sad because Zoro is unhappy, and you miss all of us."
Sanji was a little taken aback. That wasn’t… well, yea it was true, but that wasn’t the point of this conversation. Luffy poured a whole plate of canapés down his throat carelessly, as if Sanji hadn’t just divulged Zoro’s biggest secret to him.
“I miss everyone too, Sanji. But the journey couldn't last for ever and life goes on. We’re all living our dreams now. This was what we wanted. And we’ll always be friends. Forever and ever."
Luffy spoke as if he had been talking about the weather, then he smiled at Sanji brilliantly, and Sanji wondered what good he must have done in a past life to deserve his captain, the King of the Pirates, and the captain of all their hearts.
Luffy turned serious suddenly, looking Sanji in the eye.
“You’re wrong about Zoro though. There are three things you should know. Number one.” Luffy held out a finger before him. "Zoro is unhappy because you are unhappy, but that’s just one part of it."
Luffy held out a second finger.
"Number two. Zoro isn’t in love with me."
Sanji wasn’t sure he had heard Luffy right.
“… What?” He finally managed, thoughts caught in a tailspin. He’d been so sure. And if it wasn’t Luffy then?
“What was that third thing?” Sanji asked, feeling a little lost, like the very core of his being had been shaken.
Luffy grinned through a mouthful of food.
“Did I say three? I think I meant two. Because you don’t need me to tell you about that third thing."
Eventually, Sanji’s wait staff had found them and begged him to come back to the ship and take charge of the kitchen again, and Luffy had run out of food by then, so Sanji had gone with them. It had been a whirlwind of activity after that, and Sanji hadn’t had the time to actively dwell on what Luffy had said, although it was constantly at the back of his mind.
It was only in the wee hours of the morning that Sanji finally had the chance to rest his badly aching feet. Black Leg Sanji was losing his touch, Sanji mused. He couldn’t help but to let out a soft groan as he entered his room, and promptly sank into a chair nearby.
Sanji would have bolted out of the seat if not for the strong pair of hands that was now on his shoulders kneading his sore muscles and keeping him in place.
He tilted his head back, and there was Zoro looking back down on him, green eyes flecked with gold, locked onto Sanji’s own gaze unflinchingly. Zoro looked tired but resolved and there was just the slightest pang tugging at his heart strings now, and Sanji wished suddenly that he was anywhere else but here.
Yet he wanted to be nowhere else but here.
“Zoro,” Sanji tried to say, and it came out a little broken, like shattered shards of glass caught in his heart, in his throat, in his soul, and Sanji hadn’t known he had been slowly bleeding from the inside out from those tiny wounds until that exact moment when Zoro had looked at him as if Sanji had been the only thing in the world that had mattered to him, and his wall, that solid impenetrable wall of denial had come crashing down.
After all this time. Why had it taken Sanji so long to see it?
“It was always me.” Sanji stated matter-of-factly.
“Yes.” Zoro’s voice did not waver, even as the pressure on Sanji’s shoulders eased, and then Zoro was back, winding his arms around Sanji’s chest, as he rested his chin on Sanji’s shoulder, his every breath tickling the soft hairs on Sanji’s neck.
“You could have said something."
“I did. I said it so many times over the years."
Sanji cast a questing eye over his web of memories, and there was the first time Zoro had told him he liked him, and his voice, and more, signs that were so painfully clear now.
“You could have been more obvious."
And Sanji could see that too. Most of the Strawhats had come to the same conclusion by themselves after all.
“Still… you could have just kept repeating it until it sank in."
“Would you have accepted me then?"
No. Sanji would not have. And it would have been awkward, and it would have ruined everything like Zoro had feared.
“You dated Cavendish to make me jealous?"
“I dated Cavendish because I could and it seemed like you were never going to get the hint. And I liked him a lot more than I thought I would so we just kept it going for a while. And then you started dating Gin,” and a note of jealous accusation had crept into Zoro’s voice.
“You were seeing Cavendish,” Sanji reminded him gently.
“I know,” said Zoro, and the arms around Sanji's shoulder tightened. “But I wanted you still."
And Sanji remembered too the way Zoro had looked at him when he had kissed Gin.
“Will you have me?” And Zoro was biting gently at Sanji’s ear lobe now, and, Sanji’s heart was fluttering like a bird caught in a cage and it was all so unfair.
Zoro was only asking now because he already knew Sanji’s answer.
“Fucking hell, marimo. You’ve wasted so much time."
He could hear the triumphant smile in Zoro’s voice. “You needed that time."
And so Sanji had. He’d needed it to get to really know Zoro, and eventually fall for him, his dedication, devotion and all.
Sanji was the one who turned then, and sought Zoro’s hungry lips. The kiss was achingly sweet, almost gentle and Sanji could sense Zoro holding back, like he was afraid he would scare Sanji away with the force of his passion, but he needn’t have worried.
And it wasn’t the most earth-shattering kiss in the world, but it was the one that Sanji would always remember best, because it was the first time that Sanji had kissed the man that he would love for the rest of his life.
And there was that third thing.
Roronoa Zoro was in love with Sanji Vinsmoke.
Zoro had declared it so many times over the past years to Sanji in so many little ways, only Sanji wasn’t ready for it then, and so he hadn’t heard.
But Sanji was finally listening now, and this time, Zoro didn’t have to say anything else.