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Zoro doesn’t make a habit of staying in the Sunny’s kitchen, but he has, against his better judgment, found himself in it more often than not.

There is a ridiculously elaborate arrangement of ice cream cake towering in the middle of the dinner table, Sanji bending over it—for the girls, no doubt. It has at least ten different colors, five different types of sugar flowers, and wrapped in ribbons that are most probably, knowing Sanji, edible. There is another, less-decorated pile of ice cream on the pantry, so haphazardly put together it may as well have been put under a giant For The Male Crewmembers sign by Sanji, and Zoro makes his way towards it.

“If you take one step closer,” Sanji says, without looking, “you’ll get a kick freshly delivered to your face.”

“Bring it on, cook,” he sneers back, but steps away anyways. He isn’t scared, but it wouldn’t be wise to start a fight in Sanji’s home turf.

Sanji looks away from the cake, this time. He gives Zoro a skeptical once over and, seemingly satisfied, returns his focus to the task at hand.

He is carefully placing a cherry on top of the ice cream, his hands nimble, soft, almost—gentle. But all Zoro sees is the way the hems of his pants are still soaked in blood from an earlier skirmish with a marine ship, red seeping into the cracks on the floorboard, spattering across the kitchen floor in a slow drip, drip, drip.

Zoro stares, fascinated. He can’t bring himself to look away.

 


 

The heel of Sanji’s shoe presses hard on the man’s neck.

The marine doesn’t even struggle for purchase anymore. He lies there, fingers twitching and face flushed, eyes unseeing. He had a lucky shot a few minutes ago—a bullet from his rifle still lodged right under Usopp’s left rib cage—which also means he has just become the unluckiest man alive on this ship. Probably not even that for long, considering his current position. Alive, that is.

Zoro stands at a distance, close enough to hear any conversation between them. He climbs a couple more steps up the stairs to get a better view just as Sanji leans down, leg pressing down harder.

“Please,” the man manages to choke out, somehow. “Have mercy.”

Something dark flashes in Sanji’s eyes, and it’s as familiar as the bitter taste of bile at the back of Zoro’s throat.  “You didn’t have mercy for our sniper.”

Sanji presses, and twists, and there’s that.

Something flares in the pit of Zoro’s stomach at the sight. Shushui trembles eagerly in his hands. Kitetsu is already sheathed, but it sings under its scabbard.

 


  

Zoro wonders when the sound of bones breaking has become familiar to him. He wonders when did it start becoming familiar to Sanji.

 


 

(Sanji taught him a little bit about cooking, once, when they both had drank enough alcohol not to start clocking each other in the face by the third sentence exchanged.

The thing about cooking is, actually, Sanji told him, the words slurred along his tongue, the things about cooking is, there are two things.

That sounds stupid, Zoro thought, and maybe accidentally said too, because Sanji scrunched up his nose and wore the expression he always did when he pretended not to hear something Zoro had said.

The first thing is, Sanji said, and raised his right hand, palm up, as some sort of emphasis. Steady hands. Pretty self-explanatory even for that moss brain of yours. Don’t spill your soup, don’t shy away from fire. Don’t waste food.

The second thing, Sanji plowed on before Zoro could retort with another insult, is a clear conscience. The things you cookanimals, fish, plantsthey live. They’re, like, living things. Remember their sacrifices, and you give backto the nature, to the sea. One for all, all for one, all thatshit, he stumbled with his words, the alcohol finally getting the better of him, and he mumbled the last part, remember who you’re doing this for. Who you’re cooking for.

The next day, Zoro killed a bounty hunter who tried to take a shot at Robin.

Steady hands, he thought as he watched blood spurt from the man’s severed jugular. And a clear conscience.)

 


 

It doesn’t dawn on him until he wakes up in Thriller Bark only to find Luffy still as carefree as he always is, despite—despite what happened with the cook. Despite Sanji knowing everything.

Luffy doesn’t need to know, is all Sanji says about it, and Zoro finally sees Sanji for who he really is for the first time—blood on his hands, under his nails, in his eyes, red, red, red. The crew has seen Sanji's back as often as they've seen Zoro's, and the slope of their shoulders are burdened by the same weight. Zoro can still taste the coppery tang of blood between his teeth. He wonders if that’s what kissing Sanji feels like, too.

He does exactly that, that night.

He was right.

 


 

Their new bounty posters are out, and Sanji’s is as ridiculous as his previous one. Zoro laughs when he sees it, and makes a point to do just that when he sees Sanji again, but somewhere, at the back of his mind, he wonders.

Because there he is again, deceptively harmless. Deceptively—weak, powerless. Even when Zoro knows, first hand, how Sanji is anything but.

It’s startling, in hindsight, how Sanji is always shrouded with layers upon layers of pretenses. There’s this terrible, terrible animal among the Straw Hat Pirates, a monster who has taken as many lives as the Demon of East Blue has, and the whole world sees him as just the cook. The one with the silly bounty poster. Practically nameless. Skulls and lungs break under the sole of his shoes, and marines still second guess the level of threat he poses.

How does he do that. How does he do that.

 


 

 

“I heard from Luffy,” he tells Sanji one morning as they visit the island’s largest marketplace together, in between bustling bodies and haggled prices, “the first time you two met, in Baratie. How you gave food to this starving pirate.”

Sanji turns to him, slowly, and gives him a look. “This may have come as a surprise to you, Marimo,” he says mockingly, lips curling around the cancer stick, “but I’m a cook. That’s literally what I do.”

Zoro would cross his arms indignantly if it weren’t for the bags of supplies he’s carrying. He still doesn’t know how he agreed to do this—an increasingly common occurrence when it comes to Sanji—and he tries not to think too hard about what that means. He ends up saying, “shut up.”

Sanji drops his cigarette to the ground and crushes it with his foot. “Idiot,” he says with a disbelieving shake of his head, “you’re acting like this is the first time you see me feeding people. What’s with the sudden reminiscing anyways?”

You don’t understand, Zoro wants to say. Zoro has heard how Luffy and the others almost starved on the way to Big Mom’s place without Sanji. Without the cook, their crew is as good as dead, and yet they live, and eat, and live.

Those hands of yours have given so much life, Zoro wants to say. He thinks of a group of hungry marines on Punk Hazard, of starving minks on the back of a giant elephant. You’ve seen so much death, and yet.

And yet.

“You’re insufferable,” he says instead, which is true. “I hate you,” he also says, which isn’t.

 


 

 

(I killed a man today, Sanji says, out of the blue, as they lie on the bed, cigarette ever-present between his lips. I kicked him in the face and caved his skull in.

Zoro doesn’t know what that quite feels like. To have your very own body as your weapon, to feel the spasm of someone’s last breath pressed onto your bare skin. But Zoro knows how Wado weeps between his teeth as it slices clean through someone’s neck, and he thinks it’s not much different, after all.

Sometimes, he tells Sanji, things just break.

Like hearts, Sanji says.

Like bones, Zoro says, at the same time.

Sanji blows a lungful of smoke into his face. You’re a Neanderthal, he says, you’re absolutely fucking awful, you know that? But he’s laughing, loud and free, and when Zoro leans into the crook of his neck Sanji smells like smoke and blood but not regret. Never regret.

So Zoro rolls on top of Sanji, holds him close and slowly fucks into him.

This isn’t making love, but.)