That's the Kinda Love I've Been Dreaming Of - FayeHunter (2024)

Sanji doesn’t have a soulmate.

In a world full of them, he’s been cursed to spend his existence alone.

His mother used to tell him the story when he was younger, curled up in bed with her, when he would go to her crying after his brothers beat him up. She would run her fingers through his hair, press cool hands to his bruises, tell him all about how their family came to be.

They’re witches. Two powerful families of elementals and casters joined together by the matrimony of Judge Vinsmoke and Sora Black, no love there, just paperwork and a bargain. Magic passed down from generation to generation, growing stronger and stronger. Who needs soulmates when you can rule the world?

The gift of magic is this: when the Goddess of Love offered to humanity the chance to have a soulmate, a way to find their missing half, their red string of fate, their twin flame in exchange for a boring, ordinary life, the High Priestess refused to give up her power. She traded her soul instead for the continued allowance of her skills.

And Aphrodite agreed.

Sora tells the story like she’s proud. Here they are allowed this gift, this amazing power. Sanji can control the elements. It’s a wonderful gift, she says. Sora loves magic. How can she not? After all, her power is her ability to heal. She patches up Sanji with soft hands and a kiss on the head.

Her magic is valuable.

What little did it matter to her the ripple effects of this pact? What little did it matter that Sanji would grow up to watch his parents, the cold way they interacted, barely even partners, never even friends, and crave something more? Crave a soulmate, a lover, someone, anyone to take him from his nightmare. Rules and expectations and magic are all useless when all you can do is play with fire, fill a glass with water.

He isn’t even useful with magic, unable to create potions and poisons like his sister, unable to manipulate people, control metal, cast illusions like his brothers. He can barely even control the fire on his fingertips.

Born without a soul. Born without love. Sanji doesn’t get a soulmate.

Instead he gets magic. He gets to be a witch, all powerful and mighty.

What a pathetic trade off. Instead of love, he can play with water and bend fire. He can be the family’s disappointment. He gets stares from people when they realize he doesn’t have a mark, looks of pity and remorse. He gets dates with people knowing that he’s just a stop on their journey to find true love.

After all, who would settle for anything less than the person that is half their soul.

****

Zoro’s always had a soulmate.

He remembers sitting with Kuina in their backyard, gazing at the mark on their wrists after sword practice. Kuina’s fan, Zoro’s straw hat. They would trace the outlines, whisper about what they thought the other person would be like. Would they be brave? Funny? As good with a sword as Kuina is? Would they hate sweets like Zoro does?

When he’s young, the only soulmates he has to base his experiences off of are his own parents. He sees the way they are together, the love in their eyes. The way his mother watches through the kitchen window, waiting till she sees his father coming up the street. The way she rushes out to meet him, excited to see her soulmate again after a long day. The way his father swipes his mother’s into his arms, spinning her around before pressing a kiss to her lips. They always told him the story of their meeting with stars in their eyes, as if it had just happened yesterday, love still fresh and young.

Zoro wants a love like that. He wants the epic romance they have, looking into someone’s eyes and just knowing they are yours, that you are theirs. Knowing that they love you just as much as you love them. Zoro wants to have his twin flame.

His father dies in an accident at work. Something went wrong in the factory, they tell his mother, shaking their heads and patting her arm in sympathy as she wailed, rubbing the spot on her wrist where her soulmark used to be. It’s faded white now, a jagged scar branding the skin.

She dies within a week. Death of a broken heart, all the doctors say when Koushirou calls them to examine his deceased cousin.

Zoro watches as they lower her into the ground, fists clenched. His mother, so trapped in her sorrow for her soulmate, that she forgot about him. That she couldn’t love him enough to stay with him. His own mother couldn’t bear to stay with him because Zoro simply wasn’t her soulmate.

He stops believing in soulmates after that. What good is having another half of your soul when all it means is leaving others behind? What good is a soulmate when it blinds you to other loves? Is that love worth more than others? Is it truly that ultimate power?

It’s only a few months later that Kuina dies, accidentally falling down the stairs during some rain. By the time they lower her into the ground, Zoro finds that he doesn’t much care for love at all.

It’s only after Kuina dies that Zoro realizes what the look in Koushirou’s eyes means. Yes, Kuina is his daughter and he loves her. But her birth took her mother, took Koushirou’s soulmate from him.

And it’s something he can’t overcome. Even in his sorrow for Kuina’s death, there’s a relief to him that only Zoro can see. It makes Zoro’s own skin crawl, that even in death, Koushirou doesn’t love his daughter more than his soulmate. It’s a bitter taste in his mouth to realize this.

Soulmates are nothing but a burden, a weight. They tie you down, trap you in a haze.

Zoro’s goal is to be the best swordsman. A soulmate will do nothing but stop him.

He’s sent off a few months after Kuina’s death, to live with his uncle, Koushirou no longer fit to be his guardian. After all, he was only Zoro’s mother’s cousin. After all, in his own grief, he isn’t fit to raise Zoro following the death of his own daughter. Mihawk is at least his father’s brother, with a daughter of his own. More suited to raise Zoro.

Zoro remembers his first night at the Dracule manor. He’s never met Mihawk, only heard of him in passing from his father, the odd way he spoke about his older brother, the way he seemed to love swords more than people, more than his own soulmate. The man reminds Zoro of a vampire, golden eyes and jet black hair, wearing a fitted red cloak, with a small, pink haired girl in a frilly black dress by his side. She turns out to be Zoro’s cousin, Perona.

He remembers when Perona caught sight of his soulmark on one of the first nights, eagerly showing him the curved sword that sits on her shoulder blade. She loved them the way Kuina had, caught up in the glamor of them as she talked about her hopes and dreams for her other half. Zoro only half paid attention to her words. He grunts when she asks about his, shrugging in response to her questions until she throws her hands up, giving up on grilling him about his own soulmate.

He’s tired of playing the game.

Instead, Zoro remembers Mihawk’s mark, a sword etched into his bicep, only visible during their fighting lessons together. He sees the way Mihawk runs his fingers over it, the frown on his face when he realizes it’s there, that he’s been tracing it. He’s never seen anyone else in the house besides the three of them, never heard mention or a photo of anyone else. He does know that Mihawk spends late nights on the phone, whispering words to a person that never comes.

How unfortunate, Zoro thinks, running his fingers along the straw hat on his wrist. How unfortunate to be tied to a person that’s not here. To be left behind by someone. To be trapped with someone, no freedom to choose.

Zoro’s seen a few people without marks around, a sign that their soulmate is gone, maybe even that they never had one to begin with. He envies them in a way. They get the chance to pick, to find someone, to have a choice in their love, instead of letting some invisible force decide it for him.

It’s the one thing that Zoro craves.

But no one wants to be with someone who has a soulmate, to take someone away from their predestined other half.

And so, Zoro is forced to wait. Destined to always wait for this other person, robbed of his chance to choose love.

The freedom to love. The freedom of choice.

It’s the one thing he can’t ever seem to have.

****

Sanji meets Luffy at the Baratie.

He’s older now, closer to 20 than eight, no longer a little boy curled into his mother’s lap when he’s afraid. She was right about his magic. It’s grown as he has, the little flares he could conjure now flames in his hands, the way he can calm the ocean around their ship when it gets too rough at dinnertime.

He would still trade it all for love.

He’s left home, escaping as a result of Sora’s last act of love, the sacrifice she made for him. She gave her life for his chance at freedom, letting him escape Germa for the chance to find the love he so craves.

What a waste of her life, he thinks, stuck peeling potatoes for Zeff.

Sanji’s working at the Baratie now, saving up for college, in the hopes he can go to culinary school to learn more. He lives with the old man that runs the place, a man named Zeff, who’s more of a father to him than Judge ever was. Saved him from a shipwreck and took him in. Trained him in how to cook, to care for his food. To care for himself.

He does love Zeff. He’s gruff, hasn’t even said the words I love you out loud, but he’s kind underneath his hard words. He ruffles Sanji’s hair when he walks by him and calls him Eggplant, spends hours in the kitchen with him teaching him family recipes and all his tricks. He gives Sanji a home, lets him practice his magic. He doesn’t comment on the lack of soulmark.

But maybe Zeff gets it. He’s missing his own soulmark, lost to the shipwreck that took his leg. Maybe in some twisted way he can understand Sanji.

And Sanji likes the Baratie. It’s easy here to fall in and out of love. People come and go, happy to let Sanji kiss them in hidden corners, happy to pretend that maybe for one night it could be more. It’s so easy to pretend that he might have a soulmate out there too, someone waiting for him if only he would leave the restaurant. It’s easier to pretend than to face the pity of people’s stares when they realize he has no one.

It’s a nice fantasy.

He meets Luffy by chance. He comes in sometimes with his grandfather, a vice admiral something or other, sits in a booth and eats all their food. The other chefs bemoan his presence, how much food he eats, that fact that he never seems to slow down or stop. Having him in the restaurant is a fun challenge for Sanji, the chance to test out new dishes, see how many spices he can pour into something, fire licking at his fingers as he prepares plate after plate. He always seems to leave satisfied, with his compliments to the kitchen, leaving something glowing in Sanji’s chest.

Sanji’s never had the pleasure of meeting Luffy before though. Until today.

Sanji’s in the back, on meal prep after a heated argument with Zeff about how he needs to go to school, get a life, get out of here, make something of yourself past this ship, Eggplant, had led to Sanji burning a hole in one of the countertops, unable to control the fire in his heart until it poured out of him. He’s on grunt work until they can fix the counter and until Sanji can learn to control himself.

It’s just that Sanji knows they can’t afford to send him off to school. There will be mountains of debt if they do, no way to pay for college if he leaves now.

No matter how badly Sanji wants to go. Even if the world scares him. Even if getting out of here, facing the harsh realities of the world, with his magic and missing soulmark means he’ll always be at odds.

Zeff sticks his head into the kitchen, clearing his throat until Sanji looks up. He can feel the stares of the other chefs, even if they’re pretending not to look.

“Sanji. Need you out here. There’s someone I want you to meet,” he says, waving him over. Sanji sets down his peeler and the potatoes, wiping his hands on his apron as he follows Zeff out into the dining room.

Zeff leads him over to a table, an older man in an admiral coat and a boy about Sanji’s age in a straw hat and red vest. The man is drinking from his glass of wine, eyes on Zeff as they approach. The boy is focused on his plate, shoving rice into his mouth without a care in the world. There’s already a small stack of plates in front of him.

Oh. This is the neverending pit the chefs talk about.

“My boy, Sanji. Sanji, this is my old friend Monkey D. Garp and his grandson, Luffy,” Zeff says, waving at the two men. Sanji’s heard both the names, the way Zeff grumbles about his acquaintance Garp, who visits the restaurant from time to time. Sanji’s always wondered how a marine and a former pirate are casual enough to know each other, but then again, he thought better of asking. There’s just some things he doesn’t need to know about his dad.

“So you’re the stray Zeff’s always going on about,” Garp says, raising one eyebrow as he scans Sanji up and down, wine glass hanging from his grip. Sanji stands firm, swallowing heavily under his gaze, under the words.

“Yes sir,” he says. He feels Zeff squeeze his shoulder, the proud expression on his face when Sanji meets his eyes, unflinching under Garp’s comment.

“Sanji here is going to be starting college in the fall. Same place your boy is going to. Luffy’s going to be a second year student at East Blue Uni,” Zeff says. Sanji frowns. It’s the reason their fight started, the acceptance letter on the dinner table and how Sanji had told Zeff he wasn’t going because of money. He’s not sure how Zeff even means to send him. Leftover stolen treasure from his pirate days? (He hopes it doesn’t involve favors to the man in front of them.)

“What are you going to be studying?” Garp asks. Luffy has barely looked up from his plate.

“Culinary arts,” Sanji says. That makes Luffy perk up.

“You’re gonna be a cook?” he asks, excitement in his tone as he meets Sanji’s gaze.

“Yeah. Gonna be the best in the East Blue. And then I’m gonna find the All Blue,” Sanji says, puffing up his chest.

“The All Blue?” Luffy asks. Sanji finds it easy then, to slide into a seat next to Luffy, telling him all about the legendary ocean where all the blues meet, about the fish there, how Sanji’s going to see all of them, cook to his heart’s content with the variety in it. He can see the flames of the candles dance as he speaks, the flare of his excitement lighting them up. Luffy barely seems to notice, focused on Sanji, smiling as he listens to him talk.

He’s the only person since Sora, besides Zeff, who’s ever cared about what Sanji has to say.

“I’ll help you find the All Blue! You should come meet my friends! We’re all going to sail together after our dreams,” Luffy says, talking around the leg of chicken he has shoved in his mouth. Sanji spares a glance over to Zeff and Garp, knows Zeff is listening even if he pretends not to be.

“I would like that,” Sanji says, cheeks flushing red at the intensity of Luffy’s gaze, the shine of his smile. Luffy beams at him, asking if Sanji will make him meat, if he’ll come over to his apartment to play games, if he’ll join Luffy’s quest to be king of the pirates. It’s hard to say no to Luffy, swept up in his grand gestures and plans, in the force and sincerity of his words.

It would be so easy to be in love with Luffy. He makes it easy to feel comfortable in his presence. He pulls Sanji in, beaming as they exchange phone numbers, Luffy begging to let him try Sanji’s food. He’s warm and inviting.

He grabs Sanji’s hand, declaring that Sanji’s going to be the best cook in the East Blue. And that when Luffy’s the king of the pirates, he wants Sanji on his crew.

Luffy makes Sanji smile. He makes Sanji want to dream. He makes him comfortable. He makes him happy.

But he doesn’t make Sanji’s heart race. He doesn’t feel him with aching or longing.

He gives Sanji love. But Sanji isn’t in love.

And so, Sanji is still left wanting more.

****

Zoro meets the other half of his soul on the first day of college.

More accurately, his soulmate falls from a tree, landing onto Zoro’s back and causing him to collapse to the ground.

Zoro’s wandering the campus, trying to find the dining hall. He’s sure that it was a left from his dorms, but he’s been going in circles for a while now with nothing in sight but trees and the admissions building.

They must have moved the buildings. That’s the only thing he can imagine happening.

Zoro’s stopped under a grouping of trees, glancing around to try and figure out where he is, when someone crashes down from the trees above him. He hits Zoro’s back, making his knees buckle as he falls to the ground. He manages to throw his hands out in front of him, bracing himself from fully hitting the ground. He hears a groan from above him, the boy that landed on him rolling onto the ground next to him.

“Thanks for bracing my fall,” the boy says, groaning. Zoro clenches his fists, whipping his head to look at the guy.

“What the hell man!? What were you doing…” Zoro’s rant trails off mid sentence as he realizes the boy is wearing a straw hat. A straw hat that looks just a little too much like the one under his leather bracelet.

No. It just…It can’t be…can it?

What are the odds that Zoro’s soulmate would be here, at college with him, falling from trees and landing directly onto him.

A soulmate that Zoro has determined he doesn’t need. A soulmate Zoro doesn’t particularly want.

And here he is, falling from the sky directly to Zoro.

Zoro thinks the universe might be making fun of him.

“Luffy!” a female voice shrieks, footsteps getting closer and closer. Zoro tears his gaze away from Luffy, from his…whatever in time to see a red haired girl and a boy with an afro and long nose running towards them. The boy leans down, grabbing hold of Luffy’s hands and tries to pull him up. The girl crosses her arms, turning her attention from them to where Zoro’s still kneeling on the ground too shell shocked to move.

“I’m so sorry. Did he hurt you? He was raised in a barn,” the girl says.

“I think the better description is that he was raised in the woods,” the boy grumbles. Luffy just laughs, righting his hat. Zoro sits up a little, falling back on his ass to wipe the gravel onto his jeans, ignoring the way his wrist burns. He can feel the throb of it, the waves of excitement and joy coming off through the bond that’s been knocked loose.

All Zoro feels is numb.

“I told you I could see the whole campus from up there,” he says, beaming at his two friends. The girl huffs, swatting him upside the head. The boy wrings his hands, eyes darting between them and Zoro.

“You moron! Falling from a tree doesn’t count,” she shrieks. Luffy’s still beaming up at her.

“Aw, but Nami, I think I met my soulmate,” Luffy says, turning his gaze to Zoro. Zoro freezes, rooted to the spot as the other two turn their gaze toward him. He feels hot and clammy, all eyes on him, the expectations in the utterance. The disappointment that he’ll be.

He thought he had more time. He thought he had more time to choose.

“How do you know he’s your soulmate?” The girl, Nami, asks evenly. Her eyebrow might be twitching.

“My mark! It’s all warm and tingly,” he says, shoving his wrist out from everyone to see. A wave of sorrow, aching, longing washes over Zoro as he gazes down at Wado etched into Luffy’s skin. He feels almost wrong that Zoro’s soulmark is of Kuina’s sword. Wado, even in Zoro’s possession, has always felt like more of Kuina’s sword, her pride, her joy, her goal, than Zoro’s in so many ways.

What a f*cked up sense of humor the universe seems to have.

“I’m Zoro,” he says, the only thing he can manage to choke out in his current state. He holds his wrist out limply, letting Luffy and his friends paw at the straw hat on it, marveling at how similar it is to Luffy’s hat.

It hangs in the air between them, the giddy excitement of Nami and Usopp at the pairing for the marks. They gush over it, dragging Zoro off with them to have a meal, learn all about him. After all, if you’re Luffy’s soulmate we have to know more about you, they say, protectiveness evident in their voices. Luffy seems curious too, head tilted to the side as he watches Zoro. He seems less intrigued than the others, even if it is his soulmate they’re discussing.

“So, what’s your dream?” Luffy asks, once Nami’s run off to make a phone call and Usopp realizes he needs to unpack his dorm if he wants to sleep on his bed tonight. It leaves Zoro and Luffy sitting in the dining hall, finishing a meal of sushi and meat between them. Zoro swallows around his spicy tuna, glancing up at Luffy.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I want to find the One Piece and be King of the Pirates, but my grandpa said I need to finish college first. And then he’ll give me a ship if I still wanna. I think he’s hoping I’ll give up on my dream if I’m in school.”

“That’s silly. A dream isn’t something you just give up on. It’s your passion. It’s your whole being. You don’t just give up on that for some job,” Zoro says. If there’s one thing Mihawk taught him, it’s to pursue his goals. Even if it means defeating his pseudo dad (some part of him wonders if Mihawk hopes Zoro will defeat him so he can finally achieve his dream of reuniting with whoever is marked on his own body).

“Exactly! This is why you’re my soulmate,” Luffy says, easy as that. He shoves more food into his mouth. Zoro pushes his sushi towards Luffy, appetite lost at the weight of the words.

“Yeah.”

“So, what’s your dream?”

“To be the world’s greatest swordsman. My uncle holds the title now, but he said I’ve learned all I can at home. He wants me to get better with my swords before I come back and challenge him.”

“Swords?”

“Three of them. One in each hand and one in my mouth. It’s taken me years to perfect my three swords style,” Zoro says, puffing up a little with pride.

“That’s so cool! All I have is my gum gum fruit but Nami said I can’t use it indoors cause I might break something and she’ll add it to my debt. But I can show you later,” he says.

“Sounds…neat.”

“It is! And I’m gonna be the best pirate captain out there! Do you wanna join my crew? I still need a swordsman,” Luffy says. There’s something easy to the words. Like no matter what answer Zoro gives, Luffy won’t be upset with him at all. He so clearly wants Zoro to be happy, to follow his dream.

Maybe Zoro can make this soulmate thing work. Maybe it’s not so bad if it’s Luffy.

“Yeah. I’d love to join your crew,” Zoro says. Luffy whoops in excitement, taking his strawhat off and shoving it onto Zoro’s head.

And that’s that. They’ll be crew and Zoro will achieve his dream and be the world’s greatest swordsman. If Luffy’s certain of it, then so should Zoro be. If his soulmate believes in him, then he should believe in himself.

So Zoro decides to try. He’s seen the wanting in Mihawk’s gaze when he looks out the window. He remembers the love in his parents’ eyes when they gazed at each other. He remembers how excited Kuina was at the idea of having a soulmate to call her own. Maybe he can try to love his soulmate. Maybe with someone like Luffy, all his boundless energy and open love, Zoro could learn to love his soulmate like he should.

A few more months pass. Zoro tries. For Kuina, he tries to love Luffy. For his parents, he tries to love Luffy. He tries to picture himself with Luffy. Past the part of crew member, of best friend, of wing and first mate. He can picture himself pleading his life to Luffy, to his dream, to his cause. Yes, he can see himself at Luffy’s side, the world’s greatest swordsman.

Luffy pushes him to want that, to strive for that, to be that. He tells Zoro to follow his dreams. He puts his faith in Zoro, his trust in him. And Zoro does the same for Luffy. He knows Luffy will be king of the pirates. Being at uni is just a step in the journey. He’ll find the treasure, he’ll be the greatest. Zoro wants to be by his side.

But when he tries to think about pulling Luffy into a kiss, about spending nights with him, curled up in each other, early mornings spent trading easy touches and soft words, Zoro comes up short.

He can love Luffy. But he doesn’t think he can be in love with him.

It would be too cruel to keep stringing him along.

They sit down together at breakfast one morning, just the two of them. Nami and Usopp insist on it, that as soulmates, Luffy and Zoro should spend quality time alone to get to know each other. The knowing looks in their eyes, the winks, the nudges makes Zoro ache.

He wants so badly to not disappoint them.

They’re sitting at a table in their usual diner, Zoro gripping at a cup of coffee, gazing down at his omelet and hash browns, unable to force himself to eat. Luffy’s already devoured half of his own plate, eyeing Zoro’s. The silence hangs between them, heavy, suffocating.

“Are you gonna eat those?” Luffy asks, already scoping hash browns onto his own plate before Zoro can answer.

“I’m not interested in being with you,” Zoro blurts out, words spilling from his lips before he can stop them. Luffy shoves egg into his mouth, furrowing his brow.

“What do you mean? I thought you wanted to join my crew,” Luffy says. He sounds sad, the waves of his emotions coursing through the bond. Zoro frowns, crossing his arms under Luffy’s gaze.

“I do…I’m just…I don’t want to be with you romantically. I want to choose love. I want to find the person that’s my best match. And I…I appreciate you. I love that you push me to be my best. I love that you drive me. But I don’t think I can be in love with you,” Zoro says. He feels a little like a failure saying the words out loud.

“Oh! Well, that doesn’t mean we can’t still be crew! I don’t wanna kiss you either,” Luffy says.

“But…aren’t marks supposed to be romantic? Everyone’s always told me that the soulmark is the person you’ll spend the rest of your life with. They’re the person best designed for you. They complete you,” Zoro says. The unspoken because you’re supposed to pick the person that completes you hangs in the air. Luffy just shrugs.

“None of my other marks are romantic either,” Luffy says.

“You have other marks?” Zoro’s curious. He’s never heard of someone having multiple soulmates. It’s almost as rare as not having one at all.

“Yeah! I have matching ones with my brothers. And a couple others, but I’m not sure what they are and Ace told me to wait before saying anything,” Luffy says. He pulls up his sleeve, showing off the ASL mark on his bicep. Zoro reaches out, fingers brushing over it. Oh.

“So…you don’t want to date me?” Zoro asks, retreating back to his side of the table. Luffy shrugs.

“Not really. My dream is to be the king of the pirates. My foster mom’s the one who told me that marks can be anything. Most people think they have to be romantic, but they don’t have to be! It’s just someone who completes you. It’s the person that knows you best. Romance can fade, but the desire to strive, to be your best, is forever. Ace and Sabo always push me after my dreams, but now that we’re separated, they said I would always need someone to keep me trying for my goal and to challenge me. And that’s you,” Luffy says.

“Does this mean you’ll still be on my crew?” Luffy asks. Zoro smiles. It’s so easy to smile for Luffy.

“Yeah. I’ll be a strawhat pirate,” he says. Luffy whoops, ignoring the looks from the other diner patrons as he steals Zoro’s hashbrowns.

Zoro likes Luffy. He maybe even loves Luffy. He understands why this man is his other half. There’s something in Luffy, in his presence, in his person that pushes Zoro, that drives Zoro. He says Zoro will be the world’s greatest swordsman and so, Zoro will be. Simple as that.

It’s just too bad that Zoro isn’t in love with Luffy.

Maybe then things would be easier.

He thinks in a life where both his parents were still alive, Zoro could have loved Luffy. Been in love with him. Maybe in another life, he could have been happy with this path chosen for him.

But he wants more. He wants passion and fire. He wants someone to challenge him.

Zoro wants to be in love. And he wants to choose the person he loves.

****

Sanji meets Zoro in the middle of a bar.

It’s the first week at school and Sanji’s made it through. He’s still living at home, commuting each day to and from his classes. It’s been good, it’s been exciting to sit in his culinary classes and know he’s going to learn how to perfect his craft.

Sanji’s been welcomed into Luffy’s friend group, spending the time in between classes with Nami and Usopp. He tries to ignore their looks of pity when they realize he doesn’t have a soulmark, both too excited to talk about their marks, realizing too late that Sanji doesn’t have his own. They’re polite enough to not mention it to his face, dancing around the subject when Sanji said it.

He almost wishes they would just say something. Get it over and done with. Poor Sanji, soulmateless and unloved. They could all just move past it if someone would ask.

The only person Sanji hasn’t met is Zoro. He’s Luffy’s soulmate, some kind of swordsman. He’s the best, as Luffy had put, Nami and Usopp nodding in agreement. They’ve known each other since their freshman year, already a year ahead of Sanji. Zoro’s been too busy with the start of the year to join them at lunch, the elusive man of mystery.

But he’s supposed to be at the bar tonight, celebrating the first week of school being done. They all raved about how Sanji’s going to like Zoro. He’s supposed to be standing with the group now, waiting to meet this man he’s heard so much about.

Except, Sanji’s sitting in the corner, four drinks in and starting on his fifth. He’s hiding on a couch, well on his way to being drunk. He’s avoiding the group, Nami kissing her girlfriend Vivi, Usopp and Kaya tucked into each other and gazing into each other’s eyes, the way it makes him ache and burn. It’s probably something to do with the alcohol, but Sanji’s not in the mood to tolerate it.

He’s sipping on his tequila sunrise, wondering if he can find someone to take him home, make him forget how miserable he is, when he feels a presence next to him.

“Can I help you?” Sanji asks, aware of the slur on the end of his words, tipping his head back to look at the man next to him.

“I was hoping you could,” a low voice rumbles. Sanji looks up, squinting a little against the bright lights of the club to take in the man in front of him. He’s tall, with bright green hair and three earrings glittering in his left ear. He slides onto the couch next to Sanji, taking another sip from his beer bottle.

Sanji swallows, gazing at the man’s biceps, the spread of his legs, how thick his thighs are in his jeans. He’s wearing a leather band on his wrist which probably means he’s covering up his mark. Maybe if Sanji’s nice, he can at least ride his man’s co*ck before he runs back to the person he’s meant for.

“I don’t read minds. You’ll actually have to tell me what you want,” Sanji says, a little snippier than he means. The other man takes it in stride, easy smile in place as he shrugs.

“I’m trying to figure out what’s got you looking like you want to burn this place down. It’s a friday night and you’ve got a drink. Can’t be all bad,” the man says, lazy grin as he tips his bottle back. Sanji follows the line of his throat, the bob of it as he swallows, mouth dry as he gazes at the man.

“Well, that’s a little personal. How do I know you won’t turn me in if I tell you?”

“I’m trustworthy.”

“I’ll need at least a name before I tell you my arson plans,” Sanji says. The man laughs, earrings clinking as he turns his head, audible in the lull between songs. Sanji fidgets under his gaze.

“You just want an accomplice. You first then. Since it’s your plan,” he says, taking another swig of his drink. Sanji blames the shape of his plush lips around the bottle for the way he gives his name up first.

“Sanji,” he says, holding his hand out. Sora always told him to be polite. The man smiles, all sharp teeth and narrowed eyes, as he takes Sanji’s hand. He holds it a little longer, calloused and warm, like he’s tracing the lines of Sanji’s palm with his fingertips in his hold.

“So you’re the cook Luffy keeps telling me I need to meet. Nice to finally put such a pleasant face to the name. I’m Zoro,” the man responds.

Sanji’s blood runs cold. He tugs his hand back, downing the rest of his drink as he tucks his hand into his lap. Stupid, stupid Sanji. Of course this man is taken, of course he’s Luffy’s already. Too good to be true, that the man who laughs at Sanji’s sharp tongue and smiles at him so nicely is already claimed.

He sees the way Zoro’s smile falters, the frown on his face as he takes in Sanji’s expression, confusion clear. Sanji figures the best thing he can do is clear the air and move on. He’ll have to see Zoro again if he stays friends with Luffy and the others. Better to apologize and pretend this has never happened.

“So you’re the guy Luffy keeps talking about?” Sanji says, aware of the way he stumbles around the words, how heavy they are on his tongue. Zoro smiles at him, stilted now that Sanji’s made it awkward.

“Depends on what he’s been saying,” Zoro says, mouth pinched. Sanji wants another drink.

“Told me about his soulmate. Told all about how the guy is gonna be the first mate of his crew. Said you’re gonna be the world’s greatest swordsman. He’s real proud of his love,” Sanji says, bitter edge to his words. Zoro shrugs, tension dropping from his shoulders as he stretches out.

“I’ve known Luffy since last year. And I am going to be the greatest. Luffy’ll make sure of it. Is that all that’s got you worked up?” Zoro says, hint of pride in his voice when he says Luffy’s name. Sanji’s mouth tastes sour, flames of the candles flaring as his mood shifts.

“Is that all? Must be nice. Knowing you’re going to achieve your greatest dream with your soulmate at your side. Bet you two will get married right after. That’ll be a romantic gesture. And you brush it off like it’s nothing,” Sanji says, fisting his pants, gripping his glass, unable to stop the spill of words from his lips. He might be shaking.

Zoro leans forward, resting his bottle on the table. Sanji glances over, unable to meet Zoro’s eyes, stuck on the frown on his face as he rests his hand between them, just close enough that Sanji can feel the ghost of his touch on his knee.

“Hey Sanji. Look at me,” he says, tapping Sanji’s thigh. Sanji can’t stop himself, looking up up up into Zoro’s clouded expression, the way he co*cks his head to the side. He reaches out, catching Sanji’s chin, holding him in place, steel gray eyes gazing into Sanji’s.

There’s something in his eyes, the sharp edge, the playfulness replaced with worry. He’s so warm, so close to Sanji. It feels like he can read him, seeing into him. Like he can see all of Sanji’s hopes and fears and dreams. Like he can crack Sanji open, stitch him back up.

Sanji’s soul aches for him. It’s like Zoro can see into him, eyes caught on his, searching his. If he looks long enough, maybe Zoro can see what’s wrong with him, what parts of him were made wrong, made bad, put Sanji back together.

It feels cruel to be this close. Sanji tears himself away, facing away, body trembling.

What a cruel joke the universe is playing on.

“We’re not together like that,” Zoro mumbles, barely audible over the din of the club. He’s so close now, lips to Sanji’s ear to be heard. Sanji’s body is a livewire, tumbling for Zoro, the closeness of him, the way he swallows up Sanji’s space. He’s overwhelming. He’s intoxicating. He’s everything Sanji wants. He’s everything Sanji can’t have.

What a f*cked up joke the universe is.

“Like what?” Sanji bites out.

“Like romantically. I don’t feel like that for him and he doesn’t for me. I want to choose my love. I want to pick who I love. Not some all powerful Goddess. I think I know myself better than some lady,” Zoro says. Sanji turns to him, too stunned to say anything at the tone in Zoro’s voice. He looks angry, huffing as he glances away, tugging on his earring.

“She’s the Goddess of Love for a reason.”

“She can’t possibly know what I want. Who I want. I deserve the chance to choose.”

“Must be nice. To toss aside this gift you’ve been given. To know that someone loves you, completely and wholeheartedly. To have someone to call your own. Must be nice to have all that and decide you want something else,” Sanji says, angry at Zoro, poking him in the chest. How dare he take his gift for granted. He should know how lucky he is.

“Well, what about you?” Zoro asks. Sanji pulls back, frowning.

“What about me?”

“What about your soulmate? Do you love them? Or did they turn you down?”

“Don’t have one,” Sanji mumbles, looking away. Zoro perks up, something close to…hopeful on his face.

But that can’t be possible. Why should he be excited that Sanji has no one? He’s already got someone.

“You don’t?”

“Nope. Got this instead,” he says. Sanji holds his hand over the candle on the table, smiling when the flame jumps to his fingertips, dancing as Sanji twists his hand. He lets it dance between his fingers, spinning it around until he snaps, snuffing the flame out.

Zoro’s watching him with his lips parted, open wonder on his face. He’s scooted closer, pressed shoulder to shoulder with Sanji as he looks down at his hand.

“What was that?” he asks. Sanji snaps his fingers, reigniting the flame in order to light the candle. He ignores the way his heart thumps, the way his blood sings and his chest tightens as he gazes at Zoro.

“Magic. Long ago, my ancestors claimed to want magic over love, so they traded half their souls for power. So now I can control the elements, but I don’t have a soul to give to another.”

“That’s not true,” Zoro whispers, pressed close to Sanji again, catching his hand in his own. Sanji looks down at their joined fingers.

“What isn’t? That I don’t have a soulmate or that I can do magic,” he says around the lump in his throat.

“That you don’t have a soul to give someone. You can still love. You can still be loved. Being without a mark doesn’t make you loveless. It just makes you more special.”

“Oh yeah, real special. Tell me, is it the fact that I can do parlor tricks instead of anything useful with my spells or is it the fact that I’m the only freak without a partner that makes me special.”

“You get freedom. You get to find someone to love. Not some predetermined nonsense, but real true love. With a mark, you’ll always have to wonder if the person loves you or if they just think they should. But you, Sanji, you get to find someone to love you because they want you,” Zoro says. He sounds so earnest, grasping at Sanji’s hands, like they’re the only two people here. Not at a bar, not at a club, but just the two of them, here in this world.

It hangs heavy between them, the echo of his words, the weight of them. That Sanji has somehow been blessed in some twisted sense with the ability for true love. Not, in Zoro’s view, the burden of living up to the expectations of a soulmark, but rather that Sanji can find someone to love just him. That for someone to pick Sanji over their soulmate would be the ultimate act of love. That Sanji has a chance for freedom that Zoro craves.

It’s heavy.

It’s cruel.

“I have to head home. I have an early shift,” Sanji says, unable to find anything to say in the face of Zoro’s declaration. He’s too overwhelmed here, sitting with Zoro, the weight of his words between them. That Sanji’s magic makes him special. For so long, it’s made him different, sticking out for all the things it stole from him. And now Zoro’s treating it as this precious gift.

It’s too much.

“I want to see you again,” Zoro says, grasping tight to Sanji’s hand, like he’s scared if he lets go that Sanji will vanish.

“I hang out with Luffy and the others. You’ll see me again.”

“Not like that. I want to see you again,” Zoro insists. Sanji swallows. It’s against his better judgment to say yes, to entertain this notion. He can’t take Luffy’s soulmate. He can’t take something from his friend.

And yet, some selfish part of Sanji does want Zoro. He wants someone to look at him like Zoro does, to tell him he’s special, that his magic is special. Someone to love him, despite it all.

“Ask me when I’m sober,” Sanji says. He already knows he’ll say yes. Zoro grins, face lighting up at the promise, squeezing Sanji’s hand as he stands up.

“At least, let me walk you home. Make sure you get back safe, since you’ve been drinking,” Zoro says.

“You’re going to get lost,” Sanji fires back. He’s heard the horror stories of how Zoro loses his way, turned around even on campus, wandering until someone finds him.

“Not if you’re leading the way,” Zoro says. It makes no sense. How will Zoro find his way back to his own place without Sanji?

It still makes Sanji’s heart sing to think Zoro would risk it just to spend time with him.

“Okay,” he whispers. He lets Zoro grasp his hand, warm and rough around his own, lets Zoro tug him up and out into the cool night air. Sanji guides them back to his apartment, only a few blocks from the college campus. They don’t say anything, Sanji leading Zoro with a tug of his hand, Zoro easily following after him. His presence is warm, heated like the fire that Sanji likes to play with, like the spice in his favorite tea.

Too soon, they make it back to his place. Zoro follows him up to the second floor, watching as Sanji unlocks the front door. He spins in the doorway, flexing his hands into fists at his side.

“This is me,” Sanji says. Zoro just nods.

“I’ll see you around?”

“If you can manage to not get lost,” he says. Zoro just laughs, eyes crinkling with the movement. He gives Sanji a two finger salute, taking the steps down two at a time. He stops at the bottom to wave goodbye to Sanji and immediately turns in the wrong direction. Sanji sighs, closing the front door and locking it. Let Zoro figure it out for himself. Hopeless moss.

Sanji’s heart still races, imaging Zoro’s hand in his, the brush of his shoulder against Sanji’s own. How warm his skin is, the heat coming off him as they stood next to each other. The way he made Sanji’s heart race in glee.

It doesn’t matter anyway.

He can’t have Zoro. Zoro’s already been claimed. And Sanji likes Luffy. He’s not about to steal Zoro.

He hopes Luffy appreciates Zoro the way he’s meant to be.

****

Zoro meets his twin flame, the person he’s sure he’ll grow to love at a club. It’s more of a bar than a club, but college students can’t be picky when it comes to alcohol.

They’re all going out at the end of the first week of school. Zoro’s surprised Luffy made it through another year of school, but he supposes stranger things have happened. Everyday he keeps expecting to wake up to a phone call that Luffy’s stolen a ship and is ready to start looking for treasure on the open sea. He thinks the only thing keeping Luffy here is that he has yet to find someone willing to cook for him on his pirate ship.

Nami had begged Zoro to go out with them, telling him she’d increase his never ending pile of debt and favors if he didn’t. She said she wanted to celebrate a new year, to celebrate the fact that she’s met Vivi, her soulmate, an exchange student from Alabasta. Zoro just thinks that she hopes seeing her happy with her soulmate and seeing Usopp happy with his, will finally convince him to give up on his idea of finding someone else and accepting Luffy.

Zoro and Luffy were pretty open about the extent of their relationship last year once they’d worked it out. They’re not dating and they won’t ever be dating. There’s not going to be some grand wedding on the high seas, no epic swiping romance like Nami envisioned when she realized they were soulmates. They’re friends, they’re something more. Zoro is Luffy’s wing and Luffy is Zoro’s driving force. They’ll push each other to their limits for their dreams.

But at night, Zoro still dreams of waking up next to someone else.

It’s not a matter of accepting Luffy. Zoro has accepted Luffy as his soulmate. Zoro just doesn’t want to be with him in the way everyone else does.

It’s frustrating. Zoro wants to choose. He wants someone to share his soul with. He doesn’t understand why that’s so hard for everyone to understand. He’s taken to wearing a cuff around his wrist, something to block the stares of other people. He just wants people to stop judging him.

And besides, Luffy doesn’t even want to be with him like that either. He’s pretty sure he saw Luffy making out with some fourth year med student last week. He’s more than happy for Luffy if that’s the case. One of them deserves to get something.

But going out tonight promised booze. And Zoro’s never one to turn down booze.

And, Nami had said when Zoro said no, you can finally meet Sanji, wiggling her eyebrows as she said it.

And that…well now that had piqued Zoro’s interest.

Everyone keeps talking about Sanji. He works at the Baratie, the son of the owner, Luffy tells him. He’s a first year student and he’s an amazing cook. He can cook anything to perfection, knows just the right amount of spices to flavor the food. He makes Nami tangerine tarts and Usopp spicy chips and all the meat Luffy could want. Luffy’s convinced Sanji’s going to be the cook of their little crew. Zoro hasn’t had the pleasure of meeting him yet, always busy with practice or studying whenever the others are meeting up. Luffy says that Sanji can make him the best onigiri if he asks.

If Zoro didn’t know any better, he’d think Luffy wants to marry the damn cook. Luffy just laughs when he mentions it in passing. There’s something in his eyes when he says, you’ll like him Zoro.

Zoro got to the club late, hours after his friends, meaning he can’t reach Nami, who probably has her tongue down Vivi’s throat, or Usopp, who always has his phone on silent. And Luffy never seems to have his phone anyway.

Zoro’s just gotten a beer at the bar, surveying the room for his friends when his gaze stops on him.

There’s a blond man sitting on one of the low couches in the corner, scowling into his drink, backlit by the lowlights of the bar. Zoro can see the glint of metal in his eyebrow, in his nose as he turns his head to glance out. His bangs fall over his right eye, hooked nose, sharp cut of his jawline as he tips his head back to sip his drink. Zoro watches his throat bob, the way the lighting casts shadows across his face, painting him in sharp hollows, eerie shadows. He looks ethereal, otherworldly.

Zoro can feel the thump of his heart, the way his pulse races and his body warms. He catches the man’s eye, watches the way he scans past Zoro, still scowling. And oh does Zoro want to knock the look from his face, press into his space, into his body, into his presence. He wants to be with this man.

His feet carry him across the bar, stopping him in front of the couch. The guy stops, tipping his head back to squint at Zoro. His lips are soft looking, pink and plush in the light. His legs are crossed, shirt open enough that Zoro can see the hint of collarbone, the hair of his chest shining in the light.

“Can I help you?” the guy slurs, cheeks pink from the alcohol.

“I was hoping you could,” Zoro answers, low and easy, sliding down on the couch next to him. He spreads his legs a little, knee brushing against the guy’s thigh, catching the way his eyes trail down Zoro’s body, stopping on his thighs, flushing when he stops on Zoro’s dick. Zoro smiles when the guy meets his eyes. This close, Zoro can see the stud in his nose, the hoop on the other side, the studs above his eyebrow, curved at the end. What an odd shape for them.

The guy snips out some comment about reading minds, all bristled edges and sharp words. Zoro just smiles, taking another drink, watching as the guy’s eye falls to his throat. Zoro can see the bead of sweat on his neck, trailing down to the divet of his collarbone. And, oh does Zoro want to kiss him so badly. Past the quips and the teasing words, past the hunger in his eye and the easy way he moves. Zoro just wants him.

Zoro asks for a name. He’s not quite expecting to get one, surprised when the man smiles easy, clearly just a little tipsy, glass still in hand.

“Sanji,” the man, Sanji, says, holding his hand out to Zoro. He’s smiling, unaware of the way Zoro’s heart is beating, the way the world seems to fade away, nothing but him and Sanji as Zoro takes his hand. His fingers are long and delicate, tiny scars nicking the fingers, warm and rough. Zoro holds onto him tightly.

“So you’re the cook Luffy keeps telling me I need to meet. Nice to finally put such a pleasant face to the name. I’m Zoro,” Zoro responds. It makes sense now, why Luffy said Zoro would like him, why Luffy smiles at him with his all knowing gaze. Luffy, who knows Zoro better than anyone. Luffy, who took one look at Sanji and just knew Zoro would like him.

And oh how Zoro likes him. He makes Zoro feel like his world is burning. It’s intoxicating. Zoro moves closer, frowning when Sanji pulls in on himself, glancing away from Zoro now, fidgeting in place. He tries to pull his hand back. Zoro holds tight.

“So you’re the guy Luffy keeps talking about?” Sanji asks, words heavy, bangs falling into his eyes. His voice catches on the last word, the clear ache in them. Zoro frowns.

“Depends on what he’s been saying.”

“Told me about his soulmate. Told all about how the guy is gonna be the first member of his crew. Said you’re gonna be the world’s greatest swordsman. He’s real proud of his love,” Sanji says. There’s something hard to the words, bitter and angry.

Zoro shrugs, pulling his hand back to stretch out on the couch, resting his arms on the back of it. He notices the way Sanji’s fingers flex, the way his own shoulders drop and he glances over at Zoro’s hand before rubbing his palm on his pants.

“I’ve known Luffy since last year. And I am going to be the greatest. Luffy’ll make sure of it. Is that all that’s got you worked up?” Zoro asks, rolling his eyes just a little. Yeah, he is really proud of Luffy too. He knows Luffy’s going to achieve his dream and he can’t wait to stand by his side.

Why is Sanji so upset about it?

“Is that all? Must be nice. Knowing you’re going to achieve your greatest dream with your soulmate at your side. Bet you two will get married right after. That’ll be a romantic gesture. And you brush it off like it’s nothing,” Sanji snaps. Somewhere in the back of Zoro’s mind he remembers Nami’s comment about Sanji. About how he’s soulmateless, markless. She said it almost sadly.

Sanji has everything Zoro wants. He has freedom. He has a choice. Why is he so upset about it?

Zoro glances over at Sanji, frowning when he sees how badly he’s shaking, the way his shoulders are trembling. He looks like a live wire, clenching onto anything his hands can grab, eyes wet in the light. Zoro scoots closer, leaning into Sanji’s space, tapping Sanji to get his attention.

“Hey Sanji. Look at me,” he says. Sanji looks at him, really looks at him. There’s an ache to his eyes, something vulnerable under the hard edge to his face. There’s unshed tears on his eyelashes, flush high on his cheeks. He looks…hollow. He looks like there’s pain in him, something open and hungry, something begging for release. His hand hovers, afraid to touch, afraid to reach out for Zoro.

He tears his eyes from Zoro, clenching and unclenching his hand, shoulder hunched in on himself.

Zoro’s soul aches for him.

“We’re not together like that,” Zoro leans in to whisper into Sanji’s ear, feels the way he shudders under Zoro’s touch. Zoro brushes his fingers against Sanji’s knee, feels the heat of his skin through his pants. Zoro just wants to touch.

“Like what?” Sanji bites out.

“Like romantically. I don’t feel like that for him and he doesn’t for me. I want to choose my love. I want to pick who I love. Not some all powerful Goddess. I think I know myself better than some lady.”

“She’s the Goddess of Love for a reason.”

“She can’t possibly know what I want. Who I want. I deserve the chance to choose,” it gets a rise from Sanji, the way he turns to face Zoro, scowling, cheeks red as he pokes Zoro in the chest. All the earlier sadness is gone, replaced with rage as he hisses the next words.

“Must be nice. To toss aside this gift you’ve been given. To know that someone loves you, completely and wholeheartedly. To have someone to call your own. Must be nice to have all that and decide you want something else,” Sanji says.

“Well, what about you?”

“What about me?”

“What about your soulmate? Do you love them? Or did they turn you down?”

“Don’t have one,” Sanji mumbles, rubbing at his wrist where he should maybe have one. Zoro glances down, realizing that Sanji’s wrist is blank.

It’s not possible. It’s not possible that Sanji doesn’t have a soulmate, that someone as wonderful as him, with his sharp tongue and quick wit, with the easy smile Zoro saw earlier doesn’t have someone.

Maybe that’s why he was so bitter about Zoro having one. Maybe he wishes he had one.

But why would he? Sanji has all the things Zoro craves. He gets a chance.

Maybe…maybe Zoro has a chance.

“You don’t?” Zoro asks. He’s afraid he sounds too eager. It seems to spark something in Sanji, the way he straightens up just a little, shoulders back. There’s a hint of pride in his motion, a hint of something a little sad as he moves.

“Nope. Got this instead,” he says. Sanji does something with his hand, waving it around the candle that sits on the low table in front of them. Zoro sucks in a breath as he watches the flames dance around Sanji’s fingers, moved from the candle to his own palm as he spins it around, slow and easy. The flame barely seems to touch him, hovering just above his palm, barely seems to burn him. It paints his face in soft glows and shadows, the spark in his eyes as he glances over at Zoro, the smile when he must see the way Zoro’s watching him in fascination.

“What was that?” he asks as Sanji relights the candle on the table, hands in his lap. He’s never seen anything quite so amazing. He reaches out, caught in the warmth of Sanji, the way the fire seems to cling to him even now that it’s gone. There’s a small smile on Sanji’s face as he looks at Zoro.

“Magic. Long ago, my ancestors claimed to want magic over love, so they traded half their souls for power. So now I can control the elements, but I don’t have a soul to give to another.”

“That’s not true,” Zoro whispers, grabbing Sanji’s hand, clasping it tightly. How can this wonderful man think he doesn’t have a soul to give.

“What isn’t? That I don’t have a soulmate or that I can do magic,” he says quietly.

“That you don’t have a soul to give someone. You can still love. You can still be loved. Being without a mark doesn’t make you loveless. It just makes you more special,” Zoro whispers. He reaches up, tracing the edge of Sanji’s jaw under his fingers. He feels the way Sanji shudders, eyes closing just a little as he leans in.

There’s an ache in Zoro’s soul for him.

“Oh yeah, real special. Tell me, is it the fact that I can do parlor tricks instead of anything useful with my spells or is it the fact that I’m the only freak without a partner that makes me special.”

“You get freedom. You get to find someone to love. Not some predetermined nonsense, but real true love. With a mark, you’ll always have to wonder if the person loves you or if they just think they should. But you, Sanji, you get to find someone to love you because they want you,” Zoro says, clutching Sanji’s hands between his. It hangs there, Zoro’s words heavy over the low thumping of the music around them. How can he make Sanji understand how special this is? That Sanji gets freedom, he gets a gift. Everyone else is told who to love, but Sanji gets a blessing. He’ll always know in his heart if his love is true. He’ll never have to wonder if it’s only because of a mark that a person would choose him. He’ll know that someone picked him because they love him.

Sanji pulls back, saying something about having to go home. Zoro begs to walk him home, not wanting to cut their time together short, not wanting to leave just yet. Sanji indulges him, letting Zoro trail after him, hands intertwined, heart racing as they weave through town. Pressed this close, Zoro can feel the roughness of Sanji’s palm, see the fluid way he moves through his town. He pictures doing this with Sanji, stopping along the way to see all the places that Sanji loves, taking their time together, hand in hand, pressed close. He imagines pulling Sanji into a kiss, listening to his laugh, all for Zoro, just for Zoro, watching as he plays with fire, the way it dances off his touch.

Zoro wants.

All too soon they make it to Sanji’s place, saying goodbye. Zoro doesn’t miss the way Sanji smiles as they say their farewells, the blush on his cheeks as Zoro salutes him as he heads down the stairs. It makes Zoro’s heart sing, smile a little dopey as he walks on home.

It makes it worth it to have Nami yell at him, increasing his debt for making her have to pick him up.

He’s going to see Sanji again.

He has so much to prove to him about love.

****

Once Sanji’s met Zoro, he seems to be everywhere. Now, he shows up to group lunches, he tags along with Sanji to his classes on campus. He shows up to movie nights with the group, smiling when he sees Sanji.

Sanji turns up to his shift in the morning, to find Zoro and Luffy sitting at a corner table together. Something catches in his throat, seeing the two of them together, pressed almost shoulder to shoulder at their table.

That is how it should be. The two of them together. Sanji’s heart be damned.

Zoro smiles when he sees Sanji, posture loosening, stretching out in the booth. Luffy smiles when he sees Sanji, waving excitedly and yelling meat Sanji meat when their eyes meet. Zoro’s face never changes, soft easy grin, eyes trailing up and down Sanji’s body as approaches.

“Luffy told me I needed to try the best food in the East Blue,” he says by way of explanation. Luffy’s already rattling off his order, just about one of everything on the menu like he always does. But Sanji finds his eyes stuck on Zoro’s, steely gray in the morning light, earrings still jingling, hair still green. He leans forward, elbows on the table.

“It’s not polite to do that,” Sanji says, lost for other words as he waves at them. It just makes Zoro grin even more, eyes crinkling in the corner.

“Luffy said you’d make me the best onigiri I’ve ever had.”

“Only if you’ll take your elbows off the table,” Sanji says. Zoro laughs, leaning back, cheeks pink. It makes Sanji feel fuzzy on the inside, like the way holding fire in his palm makes him feel.

“Sanji, I want meat!” Luffy whines, dramatic like he’s never had food before. Zoro just laughs, flicking the brim of his hat to make him sigh dramatically.

“I’ll be right back,” Sanji says, beating a hasty retreat while they’re both distracted. He can feel Zoro’s eyes follow him as he runs off, ducking into the kitchen to hide.

His heart is racing, quick pitter patter in his chest, as Sanji leans against the wall, trying to catch his breath.

It’s different than seeing him in the club that first time. There’s no harsh lights, no dancing shadows. There’s just Zoro, easy growing smile and soft green locks that curl around his neck when damp, sitting in a booth with Luffy for dinner, still eager to see Sanji. He shows up almost as much as Luffy now, doesn’t order nearly as much as Luffy, but he sits there politely and eats when served to him. He’s never asked Sanji’s to make anything.

It’s what spurs Sanji onwards to cook again. If Zoro wants onigiri, then Sanji’s gonna make him the best damn onigiri there is. It doesn’t matter that they don’t really make it here, specializing in fancier fish dishes and the chicken and beef ones that Luffy always orders, but Sanji knows they have the ingredients to make onigiri here. He packs the rice with spicy salmon, covers it in seaweed. He makes a few of them before Zeff comes over, stopping next to him.

“That’s not on the menu,” he says. Sanji hums, packing more rice, avoiding Zeff’s eyes.

“No.”

“And I know Luffy doesn’t order that,” Zeff says.

“He didn’t,” Sanji says, setting up the plate, cheeks heated. He hears Zeff sighs, sees him rubbing his forehead.

“Kid, what are you doing?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

“Eggplant,” Zeff says. Sanji turns to face his dad, the sorrowful look in his eyes, the way he reaches out to touch Sanji’s cheek. He rubs his thumb over it, catching a tear he didn’t even realize was leaking out.

He doesn’t have to say the words. Sanji knows.

“I’ll be careful,” Sanji says. Zeff nods, holding onto him for one more moment before letting him go. Sanji gathers up the plates, darting out of the kitchen to drop them off and run back before Zoro and Luffy can stop him to talk to him.

Sanji avoids the dining room after that, keeping himself in the kitchen to avoid seeing the two of them together, laughing, watching them in love. He can’t handle the way Zoro looks at him, like he’s something special. He can’t handle the way Zoro looks at Luffy, like he hangs the moon.

It’s too much. It just hurts too much. He’ll always be stuck in the middle.

He can never be the first choice.

Sanji gets a text long after the two of them have left, a simple little note from Zoro that says how good the onigiri was, that it’s the best he’s had in ages. He even sends a picture of the empty plate he left and I wanted to compliment you but your dad said you were busy :( to go with it.

Sanji lays in bed for a while, staring at the text message, thinking too hard on it. He shouldn’t want Zoro like this. He shouldn’t want to spend his time chasing his love, the way his chest flutters at the words, the message, the way he can hear the soft rumble of Zoro’s words to go with them.

You’re welcome to come back anytime he shoots back, tossing the phone aside before he can see the reply, burying himself under his blankets.

The message the next morning is a simple heart. Sanji tries not to overthink it.

Zoro’s sitting in Sanji’s booth a few days later. He’s alone this time, scrolling on his phone when Sanji approaches. He sighs, squaring his shoulders as he approaches.

“Hi, welcome to the Baratie. What can I get you started with?” Sanji asks, plastering on his customer service smile. Zoro glances up from his phone, beaming brightly as he tosses it aside to look at Sanji.

“Some of your onigiri again. And you,” he says, still smiling. Sanji sighs, stopping mid scribble to look up at him. Zoro is smiling, eyes crinkled up and earrings jingling together as he tips his head to the side. There’s a sparkle to his eyes as he rests his chin on his hand.

“What are you doing here Zoro?” Sanji asks, pinching the bridge of his nose, pen bumping against his face. He can hear the squeak of the vinyl seating as Zoro shifts, refusing to meet his eyes.

“I’m courting you, Cook,” Zoro says. Sanji peeks his eyes open, brow furrowed. Zoro just looks at him, earnest, open expression on his face. He doesn’t flinch when Sanji frowns, arms spread across the back of the booth.

“Courting me?” Sanji asks. He can see Zoro’s bracelet, the cover up, all that it means weighing down on them. Zoro just gazes back, shrugging a little.

“Yeah Curly. I’m courting you.”

“Why?”

“Cause I like you. I want to get to know you. So, I want to court you,” he says. It makes Sanji’s heart flutter, too easily before he can curtail it, squash it down. Something like hope, wonder, excitement flares up in him. He can see the way the candle flame jumps, arching up just a little before settling down.

“You can’t just say that!” Sanji shrieks a little, the candle flame flaring wide once again before snuffing out. Zoro just smiles, leaning forward until his elbows are resting on the table again. His face is painted in shadows, bright steel eyes and glittering earrings as he gazes up at Sanji.

“Why not?”

“Because! You…and the…you have…oh,” Sanji says, throwing his hands up when Zoro just laughs.

“Come on, cook. Just let me try,” Zoro asks. Sanji frowns.

“Why? You already have a soulmate.”

“And he’s not you,” Zoro says. As if it’s the easiest answer in the world. Zoro’s soulmate isn’t Sanji, so he’ll court Sanji. Forget Luffy, forget the person that the universe made for him. Instead, he’ll pick some magic wielding boy Zoro just met.

Sanji refuses to be some toy, something Zoro can test run until he’s bored. He refuses to be some passing fad while Zoro figures out that he does love Luffy.

“Prove it,” Sanji says.

“Prove what.”

“Prove that you’re serious about me. About wanting to be with me,” he says, chin up, glaring down at Zoro, daring him to say any differently.

“Okay,” Zoro says, shrugging just a little.

“Good. Now, I will send your order to the kitchen and you will behave,” Sanji says. Zoro smiles, taking it all in stride.

He still tips over 20% and texts Sanji later to thank him for the meal.

Sanji opens a can of worms agreeing to Zoro’s plan. He starts showing up at Sanji’s classes, walking him across campus, going out of his way just to ask Sanji how his day is. He sends Sanji photos of things he sees that remind him of Sanji, pictures of his food, practice photos. He’s never anything less than sweet, happy to just be with Sanji.

Zoro’s touchier than Sanji was expecting too. He likes to bump shoulders with him, tapping him on the arm to get his attention, pressed knee to knee whenever they’re together at a table. It’s hard to ignore the looks Usopp and Nami give them, the genuine confusion on their faces at the way Zoro asks. Usopp tells Sanji that he’s never been like this before, touchy with them, arms around shoulders or claps on the back, but never as openly affectionate as he is with Sanji. He makes Sanji blush.

It makes his heart race to think about.

Zoro shows up at the Baratie with flowers. It’s some time after the dinner rush, where there’s a lull in the back room when Patty sticks his head into the kitchen.

“Uh, kid? There’s some guy out front with some flowers for you,” he says. All the chefs perk up, turning their heads as one to gaze at Sanji. He turns red, can feel the flush spreading from the tips of his ears all the way down his neck. He’s sure someone’s already whispered to Zeff what’s going on, nothing staying a secret too long at the restaurant.

Sanji has half an idea about who it is before he even gets out there to see him. Zoro’s standing in the middle of the dining room, a bouquet of sunflowers in his hands, beaming at Sanji. He already knows the chefs are gathered round the door, peeking out to watch Sanji.

“Hey Curls,” Zoro says, holding the sunflowers out to Sanji. Cautiously, he takes them, inspecting the blossoms. There’s a blue ribbon tied neatly around the bouquet, trimmed down but still long, bright open yellow faces.

“Marimo?” He asks, tentative, voice shaking. The flowers seem to smile up at him, matching the sunny expression on Zoro’s own face.

“I was out with Perona and thought of you,” he says. Simple as that. Like Sanji isn’t falling apart right now.

“Eggplant! The potatoes won’t peel themselves!” Zeff hollers, startling Sanji out of spiral.

“I’ll let you go. I’ll see you later,” Zoro says. He leans over, pecking Sanji on the cheek before leaving out the door.

Sanji stays rooted to his spot, fingers clenching his flowers, tips brushing the ribbon holding them together. It takes another shout from Zeff to draw him back to the kitchen again, putting the flowers in water till he can take them back to his place.

Later, standing in the kitchen in their home, Sanji is trimming the stems. He’d dug out a vase from a dusty corner of the cabinet, washing it out before filling it with water. Zeff’s watching him from the kitchen table with a cup of tea and a frown.

“Do you know what you’re doing, Eggplant?” Zeff asks. Sanji looks up from where he’s fluffing the flower petals, spreading them out and arranging them neatly. It sounds gruffier than Zeff means, the frown on his face obvious even with the distance that separates them. It feels like Zeff is speaking Sanji’s own concerns, reminding him is this really something he wants. Does he want a man who has a soulmate? Does he want someone taken?

But then he remembers Zoro’s smile when he handed him the flowers. The way his cheeks dimpled and his eyes glowed and the idea of they made me think of you. He remembers the way Zoro’s cheeks turned pink when their hands brushed against one another, like something out of a romance novel. Remembers the way Zoro had beamed when Sanji took them, the little smile emoji later when Sanji said fine marimo, you can come over for a movie on my day off.

It had made Sanji’s heart beat faster, made him bury his face into the sunflowers to hide his own red cheeks.

“Yeah, I do,” Sanji says softly, rubbing one of the petals between his fingers. Zeff lets out a huff, nodding before turning back to their dinner.

Seeing the sunflowers on the counter warms him, makes him smile and blush to think of Zoro as he gets ready in the mornings. He sends Zoro a photo of them just to see the little smiley face emoji he sends back with it.

Since Zoro gave him the flowers, he wants a way to show him that he cares. Food has always been the easiest way for Sanji to express himself. He knows Zoro always forgets his lunch, stealing some of Sanji’s whenever they eat together on campus.

He wakes up early to make the bento box, cursing himself as he does so, making the little sandwiches and the onigiri that he knows Zoro loves. He carries it around campus, almost talking himself out of giving it to Zoro by the time lunch break rolls out. He barely maintains his nerve until he sees Zoro at their usual table, bent over his textbook, brow furrowed.

Sanji crosses the space, drops the bento box in front of Zoro before he loses his nerve. Zoro startles, looking up from his textbook at Sanji. Sanji tugs on his bangs, looking away.

“What’s this?”

“Bento box for you. To thank you for the flowers.”

“You didn’t have to,” Zoro says. He grabs the box, pulling the edge off it to see what’s inside. He perks up when he sees the onigiri, the little hot dogs that Sanji cut into an octopus shape, the heart shaped sandwiches of turkey and cheese, the little handful of green grapes and blueberries. He gazes up at Sanji, cheeks pink.

“Well…I…I just,” he trails off, rubbing at his elbow, blushing. Zoro holds one of the sandwiches out.

“Share with me?” Zoro asks. Sanji slides down into the seat across from Zoro. He takes one of the offered sandwiches, pointing at Zoro’s textbook to ask him what he’s reading. Zoro turns the textbook to Sanji, showing him part of his English assignment. It’s nice, sitting like this with Zoro, bumping their feet together under the table.

There’s something comforting in Zoro’s presence, the way he leans into Sanji’s space, pressing a hand to his arm to grab his attention. He walks Sanji to class, bumping their shoulders together on the walk, like he can’t bear to be away from Sanji, too far away, has to keep him near.

It’s easy after that to let his guard down. Zoro shows up to the back rooms of the Baratie, hanging out in the office to study and steal snacks, waiting for Sanji to get off work so they can be together. Sometimes, he comes out, poking around the kitchen until Zeff gives him something to do, running plates or doing dishes. He gives Zoro the peeling and dicing job when he learns about the swords, watching him with narrowed eyes, waiting to see what he does. Zoro takes it in stride, uses it as an excuse to stand close to Sanji, teasing words falling from his tongue as he pretends to need help with the knife.

It shouldn’t be as endearing as it is.

But it’s easy to see why Zoro and Luffy go together. Zoro has the same boyish charm, the same easy smile. He has a way of making Sanji smile, crinkling the corner of his eyes when Zoro tells a bad joke. He makes Sanji forget for just a moment that they’re not made for each other.

Zoro feels like he’s made for Sanji. He watches in fascination when Sanji plays with fire, marveling at the way Sanji can touch it without burning, using it to boil water. Sanji plays with the water one day, turning it into spheres and shapes in his hands just to watch Zoro smile and laugh, ignoring the way the other cooks watch him.

It’s easy to start inviting Zoro home with him. To study, to try new recipes, to watch movies on TV. It has become a Saturday tradition to watch something together. They go to the theater, sitting close together in the dark, pressed close and sharing popcorn. Sanji finds himself watching Zoro more than the screen, the awe on his face, the way he smiles in the light of the projector.

It’s so easy to love Zoro.

Sanji gets asked out on a Monday.

Zoro’s hanging around his apartment like he always seems to do nowadays. He’s lounging on the couch, feet up on the coffee table as he flips through his book for English Lit. Sanji’s jotting out a new recipe he wants to try for matcha cookies (ignoring that he’s only making them because Zoro hates sweets) when he feels Zoro nudge him with his foot.

“What Marimo?” Sanji asks, barely looking up from his notes. He hears the book closing, the rustle of Zoro’s pants as he shifts.

“Go out with me,” Zoro says.

“We already do that every Saturday when you drag me to see whatever action thriller they have in the movies.”

“I meant on a date,” he says.

Sanji freezes, dropping his pen against the table.

A date. Zoro can’t possibly want to go on a date. It would make no sense for him to do so. They’re just friends. Zoro has a soulmate, why would he want to go out with Sanji.

But he makes Sanji smile. He brings him flowers on such a consistent basis, Sanji accused him of being some kind of garden witch. He always has lunch with Sanji, spends his study time with Sanji. When he’s not at practice or with Luffy doing god knows what, he’s hanging around Sanji. He seems to just enjoy being with him, curled up on his couch to watch whatever they can agree on. He brushes against Sanji, light touches to his knee or shoulder, setting his heart on fire.

Maybe it’s selfish, but Sanji wants.

“sh*t,” Zoro shouts, drawing Sanji’s attention to his hands. The edge of his recipe paper is on fire now, licking up his wrist. Sanji shakes the paper, putting out the flames. He can still feel the sting of the fire, the lick of it against his palms as he drops the paper, hissing under his breath.

Zoro reaches out, grasping at Sanji’s hands to check them for any burns. He runs his fingers along Sanji’s palm, tracing the lines of them. Sanji’s breath catches, Zoro is holding tight to his hand. He slides his fingers down, encircling Sanji’s wrists. He holds firmly, thumbs pressed to Sanji’s plush points, feeling the way his heart thumps under his touch.

Maybe Sanji just wants.

“What do you say Curls? Will you go out with me?” Zoro asks. He looks so earnest, so eager. There’s a soft smile on his face, holding onto Sanji’s wrist to keep him from burning his fingers again. Sanji blushes, letting his fingers curl around Zoro’s.

It’s such a bad idea. It can’t possibly end well. Zoro’s just going to figure out that he should be with Luffy, that Sanji’s nothing more than a stepping stone on his path to a soulmate. He’s just something to use and toss aside. He’s not important. He doesn’t matter.

But Zoro’s smiling at him, face soft and open, clasping to Sanji’s hand. It matters so much. It means so much. To have someone to hold him, to touch him like this. To look at him like he holds the world. Like he is the world. To look at him like he matters.

“Okay,” Sanji whispers out. Zoro lets out a soft woop, grabbing hold of Sanji’s cheeks and pulling him into a kiss.

Sanji’s eyelids flutter, hands coming up to grasp at Zoro’s biceps. It’s soft, softer than anything he could have imagined, having Zoro pressed to him, rough calloused hands against his skin, soft soft touch as he holds him close, kissing him gently, so gently.

And for just a moment, Sanji can hold onto Zoro and pretend the world is just the two of them in the here and now. Just them. Only them.

****

Dating the cook is…well it makes Zoro understand why people always talk about how magical having a soulmate is. It’s exhilarating to grab Sanji’s hand, intertwining their fingers together while they walk across campus. He loves being able to press kisses to Sanji’s cheek in public, cuddling up next to him whenever he can.

He keeps stealing kisses whenever he drops Sanji off. Or rather, when Sanji drops him off at his dorm, insisting that if he doesn’t Zoro will get lost anyway. It doesn’t bother Zoro too much when he gets to tug Sanji in, pressing kisses to his neck while Sanji insists on heading home, tightening his hold on Zoro, making no move to leave.

It’s intoxicating being caught in Sanji’s orbit.

He starts spending the evenings with Zoro, under the guise that well I’m in the dorms, so it’s so much easier for you to stay on campus, despite the eye roll the excuse gets from Nami and Usopp. They spend their nights tangled up in the sheets together, textbooks long forgotten in the hazy glow of Zoro’s laptop and the streetlamps outside, Sanji resting his head on Zoro’s chest. He draws shapes on Zoro’s bareskin, embers sparking from his fingers. Zoro watches in fascination each time, surprised to find that it never burns, warming him instead, fire burning deep inside him.

And Zoro’s selfish. He’s so selfish. He wants to keep Sanji all to himself, wrapping up in tangled sheets with him, basking in the way his hair glows in the harsh lamplight, the everpresent warmth of his body, the soft smile that lasts on his face while he sleeps. He looks soft in the night, mouth open slightly as he snores, the fall of his hair over his unusual eyebrows. Zoro plays with the strands, staying up till late hours of the night to stare at Sanji’s face, committing it to memory, burned behind his eyelids as he falls asleep.

He knows Sanji hates his magic, hates all that it comes with or steals from him. But Zoro adores it, the sparks from Sanji’s fingers, the way he plays with the breeze or encourages the plants around campus to stay alive a little longer. He’s the sole reason Zoro’s cactus is still thriving and not a shriveled up husk on his desk.

“How come you don’t live with Luffy?” Sanji asks once, etching little shapes into Zoro’s arm, sparks leaving a trail on his skin. Zoro shrugs, eyes on the movie on his computer, pulling Sanji in closer to him.

“He lives with his brothers’ off campus. His grandpa told him he’d rather that he lives in a nice apartment than the hovel that is the dorms.”

“I’m sure they would let you move in with them if you asked. It’d be much bigger there,” Sanji says. The implication in his words is clear, punctuated by the fact that Sanji’s chosen to sit on his soulmark free side, still avoiding his wrist even as he moves.

“I like my little single just fine,” Zoro says, pulling Sanji in for a kiss before he can ask any more silly questions. It’s not enough to erase Sanji’s ever present worry about his soulmate, but it's enough to distract him from asking anymore questions about Luffy.

Zoro surprises Sanji with a date to the local aquarium one weekend. Sanji’s been bemoaning how busy they’ve been between school and his job, wanting to spend some time together outside of curling up in Zoro’s dorm room.

And Zoro would be stupid not to notice the way Sanji lights up whenever there’s talk about the ocean, sharing stories with Zoro about how he and his mother used to go to the beach practically everyday during the summer, how she’d taught him to hone his magic there, how to calm the waves or make them jump, making the tide rush in just to lap at their feet. He confesses to Zoro he hasn’t gone to the beach since she passed, hasn’t been to the local aquarium since Sora took him there as a child either. Too many memories wrapped up in them, too much pain in the presence of existing. He can sense the apprehension in Sanji’s posture, the slight furrow in his brow as he accepts the ticket, tension in his smile at the idea of going.

But Zoro’s determined to create happier memories for Sanji, wants to give him the smile that Zoro’s so come to love.

So to the aquarium they go.

Sanji loves it. It’s easy to tell when they step inside, the way he grabs hold of Zoro’s hand, squeezing tightly in delight. He abandons the map in favor of tugging Zoro along behind him, guiding them into a room full of slow bubbles and dim lights, little seahorse behind the glass. He leans in close, whispering to Zoro about the animals, whispering to the water, to the little fish as they swim along. He keeps rattling off fish facts, laughing when they end up by the otters, watching as they splash and play.

“They have little pouches to store their favorite rocks,” Sanji points out, gesturing to where two of the little creatures are chattering to each other.

“Do they?”

“And they hold hands while they sleep so they don’t float away,” he says. Zoro laughs, squeezing Sanji’s hand where they’re holding onto each other.

“So is that why you always want to hold hands while we nap?”

“I’d have to or you’d get lost,” Sanji says, huffing when Zoro laughs at him. He ducks into a press to his cheek in apology when Sanji starts to tuck away, holding faster to him as they move through the exhibits.

Later, when they’re sitting at a picnic table outside the aquarium, sharing some lunch of chicken tenders and French fries, Sanji bumps his foot against Zoro’s under the table.

“Wha?” Zoro asks around a mouthful of potato. Sanji snorts, rolling his eyes as he chews his bite.

“Thanks. For today,” he says. Zoro smiles, grabbing hold of Sanji’s free hand, rubbing his thumb along the back of it.

“I’m glad you had a good time,” Zoro says. He presses a kiss to the back of Sanji’s hand for good measure, earning him a blush and a giggle.

Zoro cherishes all their little moments together, the fluttering in his chest, the smile on Sanji’s face, the warmth of his embrace.

Is this love?

Mihawk lives close by, barely batting an eyelash when Zoro mentioned that he wanted to come over for the weekend with a friend. The eyebrow raise he’d given when Zoro mentioned who. He hadn’t said anything else, going out of his way to leave him alone where they’d set up in the living room together, arguing over watching a rom com or a horror movie. They’d ended up landing on what looks like some B list horror movie, complete with fake blood and even faker acting.

Zoro hadn’t minded too much though, taking every opportunity at a jump scare to wrap his arms around Sanji and pull him close. It makes the torture of every rom com worth it for the nights he can make Sanji watch a horror movie that gets him to curl up into his embrace just to avoid the blood and guts on the screen.

Sanji surprises him at his house one afternoon. Zoro spent the weekend at home, promising to water Mihawk’s plants while he was out of town, staying up far too late to watch scary movies with Perona. He’s standing at the front door, bright smile on his face, holding a picnic basket in his hands. He lights up when Zoro opens the door, smile only dimming slightly when he sees that he’s still wearing his pajamas.

“Curly?” Zoro asks. He’s a little relieved that both Mihawk and Perona are out of the house, no one there to witness the fact that Sanji’s standing on his doorstep in a pair of jeans and the softest looking blue shirt, unbuttoned at the collar to give Zoro a lovely view of his collarbone.

“I thought we could have lunch,” Sanji says, cheeks a little pink. Zoro knows that whatever is in the basket is homemade.

“Here?”

“Maybe the park? Unless you’re busy…or you’d rather stay home…I should have called first,” Sanji asks. He tucks a loose strand of hair behind his ear. Zoro reaches out, fingers brushing against Sanji’s as he plays with the strands.

“Let me get dressed,” he says. Sanji beams, face lighting back up. Zoro smiles, leaning forward to press a kiss to Sanji’s cheek, unable to stop himself. It’s worth it to see the way his cheeks turn red at the touch, the way Sanji brushes his fingers against his cheek when Zoro pulls back, still smiling.

Zoro dresses quickly, throwing on the first shirt and pants he can find, brushing his teeth before running back down the stairs to where Sanji’s standing just inside the entryway of his home, gazing around the room as he takes in the grandfather clock across from the door, the swords hanging over it. He sees the way Sanji pales when he notices them, the sharp edges glinting in the light from the chandelier.

There’s even the cauldron on one of the side tables that Perona insists on storing flowers in for decor. To lighten up the place because she insists that Mihawk keeps it too dark in there.

God, they really are freaks aren’t they?

He doesn’t miss the relief on Sanji’s face when he notices Zoro coming down the stairs, clutching the picnic basket to his chest. Sanji huffs when he sees Zoro, reaching out to try and smooth down his hair.

“Do you even know what a brush is?” he asks, trying to fix the strands of Zoro’s hair, huffing when they stick back up again.

“It looks fine,” Zoro says, batting Sanji’s hand away. He grabs hold of his fingers, tangling them together as he grabs his keys from the bowl by the door. Sanji huffs, rolling his eyes as they leave, hands still tangled together as they head out to Sanji’s car.

Sanji drives, fingers tapping on the steering wheel as he takes them across town, windows down to let a breeze in. Zoro does his duty, slumped in the passenger seat, playing whatever music he can find on his phone. He cares more about the soft smile on Sanji’s lips, the way he reaches out to grab hold of Zoro’s hand, fingers locked together across the center console.

They park, Sanji leading them to a little patch of grass underneath a shady tree. He pulls a blanket out of the basket, shaking it out before laying it out on the ground.

“Come here often?” Zoro asks, looking around at the pond nearby, playground equipment off in the distance, park benches scattered around. There’s hardly anyone in the park right now, the heat rolling off the air enough to deter people from coming.

“I used to come here with my mother for a bit. Zeff and I still come out occasionally, but I haven’t been in a while,” Sanji says. Zoro can hear the tension in his voice, the way his shoulders hike at the mention of his family. Zoro grabs a corner of the blanket, helping Sanji to smooth it out against the ground, plopping down on it to keep it from fluttering away.

“It’s a nice little park,” he says, happy for a way to break the tension. Sanji just hums, settling down too, starting to pick apart the basket. Zoro leans over, trying to see what it is that he’s got in there. Sanji tries to shoo him away, only succeeding in making Zoro lean in even closer, pressing kisses to Sanji’s cheeks until he lets go of his hold on the basket.

“Stop it! It’s supposed to be a surprise!” Sanji huffs, giving up once Zoro’s got a hold on the wicker handle.

“What did you make?” Zoro asks, poking around in the basket to see. Sanji swats his hand away, leaning into the basket to pull out the tupperware of sandwiches, fruit, veggies, and a little thing of cake. He’s just pulling out the bottles of iced tea, leaving the tupperware unattended for Zoro to grab at, pulling the lids off to see what it has.

“I have tuna salad and egg salad. Also some carrots and celery with hummus. I made chocolate covered strawberries and there’s some watermelon and blueberries. And lemon cake,” he says, cheeks a little red as Zoro shoves a tuna salad sandwich into his mouth, chewing around his smile.

“ ‘is good,” he manages to get out. Sanji shoves him.

“You brute. Chew with your mouth closed,” he grumbles, scooting closer as he says it, reaching for his own sandwich. He curls into Zoro’s side just a little, nibbling at his egg salad as they watch two ducks splashing around in the pond.

It’s a nice soft afternoon, Zoro managing to manhandle Sanji into his lap to feed him bits of strawberry, happily accepting repayment in the form of the lemon cake that Sanji makes with just the right amount of tartness to make him forget it’s a sweet.

It’s like their own little world, getting to stay wrapped up in the cook, the way he leans back into Zoro’s chest, tangling his fingers up in Zoro’s. He wants this world to last just a little longer. He wants to keep Sanji to himself just a moment longer.

It’s just a bit too perfect. The other shoe has to drop.

They’re sitting on the couch one night, popcorn bowl between them, knees bumping against one another. Zoro’s using the bowl as an excuse to brush his fingers against Sanji’s as he grabs his snack, nudging him to get his attention. He can see the pink on Sanji’s cheeks, distracting him from the rom com that Sanji suggested they watch. The movie isn’t half as important as the boy he’s watching it with.

Sanji’s laughing at something on screen, pointing wildly to get Zoro’s attention when Perona walks into the room. She stops in the doorway, eyebrows raised as she gazes at them.

“Dad wants to know what to make for dinner, Zoro. And he wants to know if your friend is staying. Who are you anyway? You’re new,” she says, startling Sanji. Zoro watches the way he pulls into himself, removing his hand from the popcorn bowl and tucking into himself. The flush is traveling to his ears under Perona’s withering stare.

“I’m Sanji,” he manages to squeak out, shoulders creeping towards his ears.

“Oh, so you’re the little boytoy ‘Ro mentioned,” she says, as if that explains anything. Zoro watches the way Sanji’s posture slumps, the way he’s trying to pull in on himself at the title. The words hurt, the implication hanging over them, that Sanji’s so passing fad, some passing fancy, something for Zoro to use up and toss aside.

He reaches out for Sanji, trying to snag Sanji’s hand on his own. Sanji shakes him off, hand coming up to tug on the edge of his bangs. His lips are thin, cheeks hollow as Sanji chews on them. Something possessive and angry flares up in Zoro’s chest, snarl on his lips as he turns to his sister. She seems unfazed, expression bored as she looks at them. Of course she wouldn’t care about them. She’s always believed so heavily in her soulmark, never understanding why it is that Zoro and Mihawk couldn’t care less about them. She’s always found Zoro’s mission to find another love to be a pointless, silly waste of them.

“Leave my boyfriend alone, Rona,” Zoro grumbles. He sees the way Sanji tenses up, shoulders going rigid, eyes still focused on the TV screen. Perona rolls her eyes, arms crossed as she co*cks her hips.

“Whatever,” she says. She lets out a final huff, turning to leave the room. An awkward lull falls over the room, movie playing in the background. Zoro’s not focused on it, instead looking at the way Sanji’s curled in on himself. His knees are pressed to his chest, fingers picking at the knee of his pants.

Zoro reaches out to take his hand. Sanji flinches back slightly, hand tucked between his bent knees. He keeps looking at the TV screen, shadows cast across his face, bangs following over his eye.

“Why’d you do that?” Sanji asks, soft whisper barely audible above the TV. Zoro co*cks his head, wrinkling his nose in confusion.

“Do what?”

“Call me your boyfriend.”

“You are?” Zoro says, voice going up in confusion. He was pretty sure he and Sanji were dating. Between the soft kisses they’ve shared under the covers of Zoro’s bed and the way they hold hands during movie night, the meals together and the press of Sanji’s body into Zoro’s whenever they’re close, Zoro assumed they were dating.

“I can’t be,” he mumbles. Zoro’s eyebrows go up. He taps Sanji’s knee, waiting patiently until Sanji turns to face him. His eyes look a little red, slightly watery around the edges.

“I’m pretty sure you are. Why can’t you be?”

“You haven’t told Luffy,” he says, tears starting to roll down his cheeks. Zoro cups Sanji’s face in his hand, rubbing at the tracks softly.

“What do you mean? Luffy knows about us.”

“It can’t be official until he says it’s okay. He’s your soulmate. I don’t…I can’t be your boyfriend until he gives you his blessing. I can’t let that happen. I just…” Sanji trails off, sniffling just a little.

Oh, Zoro realizes. He gets it now. Sanji’s clinging to some insecurity, some idea that Zoro’s just test driving Sanji out. Using his love before going back to his soulmate. Even with all the kisses and confessions and promises, Sanji’s convinced that Zoro’s going to back out of this.

Of course it makes sense that he won’t let them be official unless Luffy’s okay with it. If Luffy says no, Sanji must think that Zoro’s liable to leave him. Sanji holds soulmates in such high esteem. The idea that Zoro’s own soulmate could disapprove means that Zoro could turn his back on Sanji.

Oh, Zoro thinks, leaning over to press a kiss to Sanji’s forehead. Sanji sniffles, still not meeting Zoro’s eyes, locked onto the screen behind them.

“I’ll talk to him, yeah?” Zoro says. It’s important to Sanji for Zoro to do this. It means something to him. He has to do this for Sanji.

Zoro tells Luffy on a Sunday that he loves Sanji.

They’re sitting in their usual diner booth, Luffy trying to devour a triple decker cheeseburger oozing egg and ketchup while Zoro watches with his own burger and fries. He waits till Luffy’s finished chewing a bite before clearing his throat to grab his attention. Luffy looks at him, head co*cked to the side. There’s ketchup at the corner of his mouth.

“What’s the matter?” he asks. It would be easier to take him seriously if there wasn’t a glob of ketchup on his face. Still, he’s Zoro’s soulmate and it’s important that he knows what’s going on. It’s important that Luffy is okay with Zoro dating Sanji. It’s important that he likes Sanji. It’s important that his other half likes his love.

“I’m…I want to go out with Sanji. Or well, I’m currently going on dates with Sanji, but he says he won’t count it as official unless you give us your okay.”

“Why? You guys are your own people?”

“He’s stubborn. Won’t go out with me unless you’re cool with it,” Zoro says, chewing on a French fry. Luffy laughs.

“Of course he is! You wouldn’t like him if he wasn’t!”

“He’s old fashioned. Says I should respect the soulmark and if I won’t, then you need to give us your blessing.”

“Well that’s silly! Why wouldn’t I be okay with it? He makes you happy. You can tell him about my other mark if it helps. Let him know they’re not as romantic as he thinks,” Luffy says, nodding matter of factly about the whole thing. It sparks something warm in Zoro, seeing the way Luffy’s happy, that he’s not upset with Zoro, that he’s encouraging Zoro to follow his heart.

“I’m sorry I don’t love you. I mean, I do love you, but I’m not in love with you,” Zoro says. He feels like a failure. All these years, all he’s wanted was to be able to make a choice about the person he loves. And yet, telling his soulmate that he doesn’t love them feels like a betrayal.

“I love you too. But I love the sea more. And I’m happy to have you with me,” Luffy says. He reaches over, squeezing Zoro’s hand. Zoro huffs, squeezing back, letting Luffy steal a fry while he’s not looking.

Maybe that’s the most important part of them being soulmates. The way Luffy understands Zoro the best, the way they seem to always be in sync with one another.

Or maybe it’s just the fact that whomever decided Zoro’s fate thought it would be funny to match him up with the one person who would be happy to let him follow his dreams.

Either way, he’s never been more grateful for Luffy than in this moment, his easy laugh as he tries to steal Zoro’s food, his smile and the way he’s encouraging Zoro to go after Sanji.

It makes him feel loved, makes him feel full.

And maybe that’s all a soulmate is meant to be.

****

Sanji falls in love with Zoro in fits and starts. It feels like the soft burn of fire in his chest, warming him from the heart. It’s eating him alive, burning brightly, the comforting embrace of it all. It’s so easy to fall in love with Zoro. It’s so easy to love Zoro.

It’s so easy to be loved by Zoro.

It’s so nice to call Zoro his boyfriend now, to tell people that they’re dating now. He’d pressed about it when Zoro tried to set up another date night for them, some movie in the park event he thought Sanji might like. Sanji had insisted before they went on any more dates, Luffy had to be okay with this, give Sanji his blessing to courting his soulmate. He’d been a little surprised when Zoro had told him that yes, Luffy agreed, when Sanji had pushed the issue over their routine of dish washing after dinner.

“Luffy gave us his blessing,” Zoro says. Sanji pauses, elbow deep in the sink, squeezing the soapy sponge tightly.

“He did?” Sanji asks. His voice sounds breathless to his own ears, breath hitching at the end. Zoro presses close to him, shoulder to shoulder, tapping Sanji lightly on the forearm.

“Said you make me happy and he was happy for us to be together.”

“He’s not upset that I’m stealing you?”

“You’re not stealing me, Curls. Luffy and I aren’t together like that. Luffy’s happy to share. And, well…I already share Luffy.”

“What do you mean?” Sanji thinks he would have noticed if Luffy was dating anyone. The only person he can think of is maybe the guy with tattoos and a permanent scowl that hangs around on the outskirts of their group, but he’s never seen him around long enough to know. And Zoro never mentioned it before either.

“Luffy has two other soulmarks,” Zoro says. It knocks the air from Sanji’s lungs.

“Wait, he does?” Sanji asks, turning to face Zoro. He’s holding the dish towel in his hand, smiling softly at Sanji.

“Yeah. He’s got two marks with his brothers, Ace and Sabo. Most people think it’s just a regular tattoo because multiple soulmarks are rare. And people expect soulmarks to be, you know, romantic. But, Luffy says he loves too much to just have one person. And besides, he loves the adventure of being the pirate king too much to commit,” Zoro says, with a slight shrug.

Oh,” Sanji says, too shocked to say anything else, and oh, he’s shaking slightly, body rattling with nervous energy pouring from him.

If Luffy can love more than one person, be with more than one person without truly being with them, maybe…maybe it is possible for Zoro to love Sanji. Maybe it is possible for Sanji to keep Zoro.

And it’s so easy to want to keep Zoro. The ache of desire burns deeply in Sanji, all consuming, sharp on the back of his tongue like lemon and cardamom. For the first time since he was a child, Sanji pours magic from himself, dripping in it as his love burns in him. He bakes a batch of matcha cookies, something he knows Zoro will enjoy, stirring in comfort and joy and love into the batter. He brings them for the Strawhats, one batch for them to share and one special for Zoro.

He doesn’t think much of the magic infused in them until Nami takes a bite of one, tears falling from her eyes, gazing up at Sanji as she talks about the way it feels like a hug from her mom, the way she would always peel tangerines for Nami, turn the rinds into pinwheels. Usopp goes quiet with his bite, whispering about how it tastes like the bread his mother used to bake for him, the way she would pull him into a hug when he would cry about his nightmares. Both leave the table with a hug to Sanji, whispering words of thanks as they go.

He waits till he and Zoro are alone to give Zoro his share. Zoro’s bite wraps him up in his own quiet world, the way he whispers stories about his cousin, his friend Kuina, late nights spent at their dojo, practicing their swords, sharing their dreams, their goals. Zoro confesses over a second bite that he carries his dream of being the world’s greatest swordsman for her, a promise and a goal that can never be hers, that he carries her sword with him as a reminder of what he’s striving for. He confesses that he hasn’t spoken about her since her passing, pain still too raw to speak of it, but the comfort of Sanji’s magic softens the sorrow just a little bit.

In turn, Sanji shares his own stories of Sora, of the pain of his childhood spent unable to live up to the shadow of his brothers and the goals of his father. That he’s always been too soft and too kind for Judge, that Sora’s the one who taught him all he knows, who poured her own spells into him. She’s the one who taught him to cook, to bring warmth and comfort to other people, to use his magic for good. Sora taught him how to love and respect the elements and that in turn they would love him back. He tells Zoro about how she gave her life to save him, free him, that Zeff took him in because of a promise to a young witch he made so long ago.

It’s a story Sanji’s never even shared with Zeff in full.

If Sanji falls apart in Zoro’s arms, crying as he wipes away Zoro’s own tears, well…that’s what you do for the ones you love isn’t it?

Zoro pours himself into everything he does. Sanji’s been to his kendo practices, his tournaments, seen the spark in his eyes as he beats his opponent, the smile on his face when he’s declared the winner. He pours himself into his studies too, determined to maintain his perfect average, even if it won’t matter once he’s sailing the high seas with Luffy.

He loves in much the same way. He’s always there with Sanji, showing up at the end of his shifts to go home with him, holding his hand every chance he gets, pulling him in for a kiss whenever they stop in their walk. He thinks if Zoro had his way, date night would be every night.

As it is, the nights they don’t spend out on dates are spent at either Zoro’s dorm or the apartment Sanji shares with Zeff, alternating between studying and cuddling. He surprises Sanji one night, already at Sanji’s apartment, with a home cooked meal of seafood pasta that he confesses Zeff showed him how to make. The warmth of it, the richness and spice, the way Zoro smiles at him over the table almost makes Sanji think Zoro’s the one with magic, not him.

Zoro doesn’t seem to mind Sanji’s magic at all. He watches in awe when Sanji practices, endlessly delighted by the embers he can spark and the plants he can encourage to grow. He always asks Sanji about it, watching as he does his age-old lessons to keep his magic sharp, laughing whenever Sanji presents him with a flower at the end of it.

Sanji’s not used to having someone enjoy his magic like this. Zeff tends to avoid asking about it or acknowledging it. Nami, Usopp, and Luffy know about his magic in the vaguest sense of it. Zoro’s the only one he’s shown his magic to since his biological family, the only one since his mother who’s watched his spells with a smile of encouragement and a face of wonder.

For the first time since he was a child, Sanji is embracing his magic. He’s no longer afraid of it, embarrassed to use it, to let others see it. He plays with it, basking in the glow of Zoro’s love, magic overflowing from him as it sparks in Zoro’s presence, feeding off the love and happiness that burns in Sanji.

Sanji’s over at Zoro’s dorm one night, changing into his pajamas as Zoro sits on his bed, propped up by the headboard as he tries to pick a movie for them to watch. It’s date night, the evening already spent over ramen noodles and lemon cake, a short walk back to the dorm to argue over what they want to watch. Sanji already aches for Zoro’s touch, the way he holds Sanji’s hand in his, kissing his knuckles when Sanji had separated from him to go to the bathroom and grab his sleep clothing. Sanji pulls his sweatpants on, playing with the drawstring as he listens to Zoro shifting around on the bed.

“Hey Curly,” Zoro says. Sanji turns around, sees the way Zoro’s sitting at the edge of the bed, laptop discarded as he gazes over at Sanji.

“Marimo?” Sanji asks, shirt bunched up in his hand. Zoro’s looking at him, lips parted in a soft O, eyes bright as he reaches his hand out.

“You’re glowing,” he whispers as Sanji looks down at himself. He’s caught off when he realizes that he is in fact glowing, like someone turned a switch on inside him, like a nightlight as his skin glows and glows and glows.

“That’s a first,” Sanji manages to stutter out, turning his hand over, amazed at how it seems to be all over.

And it’s happiness. Sanji’s happy. He’s so happy, it’s flowing off him, spilling out of him for Zoro to see.

“Like a star,” Zoro says, grabbing hold of Sanji’s hand to reel him in close. He pulls Sanji to him, wrapping his arms around his waist, burying his face into Sanji’s stomach. Sanji blushes, hands resting on Zoro’s shoulders as Zoro tips his head back, gazing up at Sanji. Sanji’s sure he’s glowing, fire eating him up from the inside, pouring out of him as he gazes down at this wonderful man, the bright spark in his eye as he presses a kiss to Sanji’s skin.

Sanji bends down, pulling Zoro into a kiss and oh love, love, maybe this is love.

****

Zoro falls in love with Sanji the way he imagines an ember sparks. It starts slowly, catching him off guard until it consumes him completely. It burns inside him, all encompassing so the only thing he can see is Sanji.

It’s so easy to love Sanji.

It’s so easy to be loved by Sanji, Zoro finds out. It’s one thing to pour himself into loving Sanji, making sure he knows how Zoro feels, to make sure he never doubts the sincerity of his feelings.

It’s another thing to realize how much Sanji himself loves Zoro in return. It seems once his initial hesitancy fades in the face of Luffy’s approval, the way Luffy slaps him on the back and congratulates him on having the strongest, toughest, bestest boyfriend in all the blues the floodgates of Sanji’s love are opened wide.

Sanji’s affectionate. It’s something Zoro noticed before, in the way Sanji brushes against him when they’re close together, the kiss he presses to his cheek when he says goodbye. He brings Zoro a bento box lunch everyday because I know you always forget your lunch Marimo with an eyeroll, like Sanji doesn’t cut the sandwiches into little heart shapes or write Zoro a little note to go with it. He leans into Zoro when they curl up together to watch movies, always draping himself over Zoro as the big spoon when he gets the chance. He seems to exist in this where if he’s not touching Zoro, bringing him food, texting him little photos throughout the day, he’s worried Zoro will slip away.

He already has Zoro though.

They’re curled up on Sanji’s couch, watching some movie about worms in the desert with Kevin Bacon as the lead. It’s…bad. It’s so laughably bad, watching the worms shake holes into the ground, chasing people from rooftop to rooftop. It’s terrible, truly one of the worst things Zoro’s ever seen.

But it’s worth it to see the way Sanji laughs, the bright smile on his face everytime something happens. He keeps tapping Zoro’s hand to point out the bad dialogue, the bad action, even the cheesy looking worms. Zoro finds he’s not paying attention to the movie, focused on the delight in Sanji’s face, the way he lights up with each laugh, whole body shaking with it. Zoro finds himself barely focusing on the movie, far more interested in the shape of Sanji’s face in the neon glow of the TV, the crinkles in the corner of his eyes, the way their hands keep brushing against each other in the popcorn bowl.

And maybe this is love.

In the same way that they tend to hold movie nights on Fridays or Saturdays, Sunday becomes their night for dinners. Zoro could argue that every night is dinner night, since more often than not they’re eating together, but Sanji argues that it doesn’t count because they’re either with their group of friends or eating out somewhere.

But Sunday nights are special for them. Sanji invites Zoro over to his place with the promise of a nice home cooked meal by him. He always makes something different, alternating between seafood dishes, pastas, whatever he wants to try making. He swats at Zoro whenever he comes into the kitchen, complaining about how he’ll only get in the way. Zoro finds the best way to distract him is to press kisses to the back of Sanji’s neck until he’s pliant enough to let Zoro steal a snack. Usually his punishment is being forced on dish duty, but Zoro finds that one less of a punishment than Sanji seems to think it is.

The other trick to dating Sanji is the magic that comes with it. He’s shy about it, like he’s afraid that doing anything in front of Zoro might freak him out. Zoro finds it all so fascinating, the easy way it moves with Sanji, like he’s speaking to it and it to him. I can really only control the elements, he says, as if that somehow makes it less impressive. Like it doesn’t make him special and unique. Like it doesn’t give him freedom.

Zoro’s watched him play with water and grow his plants and even start a breeze when Zoro complains of the heat one day. But Sanji’s love seems to be the fire he so favors having at his fingertips.

“Will you show me?” Zoro asks one night, as they lay in the dark together, gazing at each other. Zoro’s been unable to sleep, listening to Sanji whisper about his dream of finding the All Blue, to see all the species of fish that they have there.

“Show you?” Sanji asks, clearly puzzled.

“Your flames. I love watching you play with them,” he says. Sanji tries to hide the confusion on his face as he twists his fingers, letting the fire leap from inside him.

“Where do you get it from?” Zoro asks, watching as Sanji twists the flames around his fingers in a dance.

“Get what from?”

“Your fire. I’ve seen how you have to already have things around for the others elements, but the fire just seems to come from you sometimes.”

“It does. Some witches can harness the elements, some can pull them from within. It seems to depend on heredity and skill.”

“So you’re special because you can do this,” Zoro says.

“I don’t know if I’d call it special,” Sanji mumbles, letting the fire still spark in his palm, moving it this way and that to let the shadows dance across his face, light up his eyes, paint him in a soft ethereal glow.

“Seems pretty special to me,” Zoro mumbles back, afraid to talk any louder and break the moment.

Sanji curls his hands up, letting the flames die. He still feels warm, heat pulsing between them as Zoro stares from his hands up to Sanji’s face in complete awe. Sanji blushes, moving to cross his arms over his chest.

Zoro takes Sanji’s hands in his, tracing the lines of his palms, watching the sparks as they cool on his skin. He can still feel the heat of them, pressing delicate kisses to them.

Sanji blushes, making no move to pull back as he gazes down at Zoro.

Zoro takes it as his chance to press a kiss to Sanji’s wrist, working his way up Sanji’s body, trailing up his arm until he can press a kiss to Sanji’s neck. He giggles, tangling his fingers into Zoro’s hair as Zoro tips them back onto the bed. He nuzzles into Sanji’s neck, earning him a laugh as Sanji half heartedly tries to push him away.

And it’s love, love, it must be love.

****

Sanji’s not blind to the pity on other people’s faces. Zoro’s leather bracelet and Sanji’s lack of mark seem to be enough for people to puzzle the pieces together. He’s seen enough people’s faces when they try to congratulate them on being so lucky, quickly morphing into vague confusion when Zoro corrects their assumptions.

Zoro doesn’t seem phased by the questions at all. He ignores the looks of puzzlement or pity on people’s faces, happy to grab hold of Sanji’s hand and talk about how amazing of a cook Sanji is, how lucky he is to have found him. He usually presses a kiss to Sanji’s cheek when he’s finished, beaming with pride that Sanji’s his and his alone.

But Sanji’s not ignorant of the confusion that lines people’s faces when they see them together. He knows people realize that Zoro never mentions being soulmates when he talks about their relationships. He can always see the moment when they put it together, happiness morphing into something else entirely as they look at Sanji and Zoro.

Sanji hates seeing the pity on people’s faces. It’s a reminder that no matter how much he loves Zoro, no matter how much Zoro loves him, it will never be enough for some people. That it might never be enough. That somehow Sanji’s incomplete without a mark. That people are always confused as to why Zoro would pick him over his mark. He heard someone at a party once tell Zoro just wait until you meet your soulmate, man, then you’ll realize what you’re missing. Zoro punched the guy in the face but it didn’t make the words sting any less, didn’t stop the insecurity from flaring up inside of Sanji.

That he’s just not enough. That his love for Zoro might never be enough.

It shows up in the worst of times.

Today, they’re taking a trip to a local bookstore owned by a couple friends of theirs, Robin and Franky. Sanji knows Robin because she’s a fellow witch, someone he tends to go to when he has any questions about magic. Robin’s an archaeologist by trade, taking a pause on her goal of finding some ancient poneglyph to raise Chopper, the reindeer medical student that’s Luffy’s new friend. Her husband, Franky, seems to spend half his time at the bookstore, half his time at his brother’s shipbuilding company. Luffy swears he’s going to build the ship that will make him a pirate king one day. Sanji thinks Franky finds their little ragtag group of college kids as adorable as his wife does, happy to indulge anything that pleases his own little family.

Robin feels like the older sister Sanji never had the chance to experience, constantly asking him how school’s going and trying to give him tea whenever she sees him. She gives him lessons on potions and spellcasting when he asks, something that Sanji could never seem to get Reiju, finding worth in his elemental magic that his own family never could. She always looks at him like she can see into his soul, knows everything about him, like she’s studying him under a microscope. He’s sure she’ll join Luffy’s crew one day if only to keep her son safe and to keep studying all of them under her magnifying glass.

Sanji’s on the hunt for a Japanese food cookbook. He doesn’t want to tell Zoro, but after making him onigiri, he’s been on a mission to try to make more dishes for him. He’s seen the way he lights up about ramen and Sanji’s sure he could make something better than the cups from the store.

Sanji’s so engrossed in what he’s hunting for, that he misses the fact that Zoro wandered off somewhere. His only consolation is that he’s sure Zoro will somehow turn up when he decides he’s hungry enough to go home.

He’s just wrapped up his browsing, deciding on the cookbook he was looking for and another one for just desserts, heading over to the register. Robin’s manning it today, chatting with an older woman as she rings up her books.

“Sanji! Lovely to see you again. I’m assuming Zoro is somewhere close by,” Robin says when she notices him standing behind the lady. Sanji huffs a little, shrugging as he shifts what he’s holding to dig out his wallet.

“I’ve misplaced my worse half,” Sanji says. He lost Zoro somewhere between the cookbooks and the history section. Zoro’s hard to pin down for what he seems to enjoy reading. Sanji’s seen him read things from books on the history of swords to Stephen King to some Jane Austen novel to an odd looking sci-fi novel he said Usopp recommended. Combined with his ability to get lost going from the living room to the bathroom, Sanji’s sure he could be anywhere from inside the store to halfway down the block.

“I’m sure if you can’t find him, Franky can probably find a tall enough ladder to scope out the whole store,” Robin says. She looks like she’s holding back her own laughter, familiar with how easily Zoro gets lost at parties.

“I need to start putting a leash on him,” Sanji grumbles now that he sees Zoro again, green hair coming into view around the corner of a bookshelf. He’s holding a couple books, eyes scanning the store and brow pinched, like he’s looking for Sanji, but can’t find him. Sanji’s just getting ready to call out his name and start waving, when the woman at the register distracts him.

“You’re so lucky to have your soulmate,” the lady says, gesturing over to where Zoro is. He’s wandering off, bumping into where Franky’s shelving some new stock. His head is tipped back to chat with Franky now, holding up his book selection for inspection.

“Oh, he’s not my…” Sanji trails off, cheeks red at the realization of what he’s said. The woman glances between the two of them, brow furrowed, as she seems to take them. Sanji hunches in on himself, trying to pull the sleeves of his sweater down to cover where he’s sure she’s looking at his bare wrist.

It makes him uncomfortable. He wishes she would just go away.

The woman offers him a hurried apology as she gathers her purchase and scurries out the door. Sanji doesn’t miss the brief look in her eyes, the way she frowns at him, the sharp look of confusion and pity on her face as she leaves.

Sanji fidgets, picking at his cuticles as Robin rings up his books. He can’t get the woman’s face out of his mind, the look when she realized they weren’t soulmates. As if there was something wrong with him, wrong with them.

There’s a heavy silence in the air as Robin works. Sanji can feel the tears burning at the back of his eyes, fighting desperately to make them go away before Robin notices, before Zoro comes out to fuss about whatever it is that’s made Sanji upset. He doesn’t want to make Zoro angry over something he can’t seem to change no matter how hard he tries.

“You get used to it,” Robin says, breaking the fog between them. Sanji blinks away the tears, glancing up at her, the fierce look on her face as she gazes at him.

“What?”

“The looks. You grow accustomed to the way people look at you when they realize you don’t have a mark. Even more so when they realize you have a partner,”

“I hate it. I just want to be left alone. I just want…I just want to be loved,”

“And you are,” she says, eyes drawing a path to where Zoro’s standing, holding his stack of books as he chats with Franky. He glances over to Sanji, as if sensing that the two of them are staring at him. He beams, raising his hand to wave, quickly readjusting his hold on the books when they start to tip.

“Why can’t people just leave it alone?”

“Because people don’t like things that don’t fit into the structure they’ve created for the world. You confuse them. Both of you. It makes people uncomfortable. People used to do it all the time when they would see Franky and I together. Most people know I’m a witch. They can’t figure out how he could be with someone without a mark.”

“At least Franky’s missing his mark. Makes you guys look even at least,” Sanji grumbles. Robin just smiles.

“He didn’t always. Before his accident, he had one. Even know exactly who it was,” Robin says.

“He did?”

“His brother, Iceburg. When Franky had his accident and almost died, he lost his mark. It burned off of Iceburg. Slowly. While Franky was fighting for his life, Iceburg had to feel it all. And then Franky didn’t show up for almost 2 years afterwards. Gave him a fright when Franky finally turned up,” she’s smiling now, the laugh clear on her face as she remembers the story.

“What happened?”

“Iceburg tackled him in the front yard screaming about how dare he do that to him, make him think he was dead, leave him like that. I believe somewhere between the punching and the screaming they ended up crying and hugging it out. Now we go over every Sunday for dinner, lest Iceburg think Franky’s dead again.”

“So his soulmark is…”

“Platonic? Yes. Did you know platonic soulmarks actually make up about a third of all soulmarks out there?” Robin says. It gives Sanji pause. He’s always been led to believe that soulmarks had to be romantic, that Zoro’s and Luffy’s cases were rare. That there was some horrible chance Zoro would wake up one day and realize he did want Luffy instead.

But maybe…maybe…maybe.

“So how do you guys do it? Live in a world where one of you had a soulmark and one of you just doesn’t,” Sanji asks, asking the question he’s been burning to. Robin reaches over, grabbing hold of Sanji’s hand. It reminds him oddly of his mother.

“It confuses people. He’s a normal man. But he doesn’t have a mark. Which most people could accept, if he hadn’t settled down with a witch wife. Someone once asked him why he didn’t at least settle down with someone normal. Someone who at least had a “soul.” You know what he did?”

“What?”

“Socked the guy in the jaw and told them to apologize to me,” she says. There’s an air of pride to it, the way she looks over to where Franky is, high atop his ladder as he shelves some books.

Sanji would be blind to miss the clear love written across Robin’s face as she looks up at him, the way she fiddles with her wedding band as she does so.

“He really did that for you?” Sanji asks. Like he hadn’t noticed the way Zoro snapped at the people staring at them, doing his best to try and shield Sanji from their stares.

“He doesn’t do things in halves. If you can find someone like that, well, it won’t matter what other people think,” Robin says, passing the bag over to Sanji. Zoro wanders over at that moment, dropping his head on Sanji’s shoulder to whine about being hungry and asking if they can go home yet. Robin laughs, taking Zoro’s items to ring up and making Sanji promise to come by later that week for a potion lesson before sending them both on their way.

He thinks about it on their way home, walking back to Sanji’s home, hand in hand. Zoro’s rubbing his thumb along the back of Sanji’s hand, rambling on about the books he picked out, about how his training with Mihawk is going, about something Franky told him about the ship he’s working on now. He’s only half paying attention, focused on the warmth of Zoro’s hand in his and the way Robin’s words seem to haunt him as they make their way back.

Sanji ends up making them ramen for dinner, setting Zoro to the task of cutting up the vegetables they bought on the way home while Sanji works on seasoning the broth and adding in the noodles and cubes of beef he bought as well. Zoro’s gone quiet at some point, concentrating on his task, but also clearly noticing how pensive Sanji’s been, the way he keeps turning Robin’s story over and over in his mind.

“Whatcha thinking about?” Zoro asks, poking Sanji in the side as he stirs the ramen together in the pot. Sanji shrugs, unable to look at Zoro at that moment. It only serves to make Zoro poke him harder, Sanji swatting his hand away.

“Just…something Robin said in the shop about love.”

“Oh yeah? Did she say something morbid about wanting to remove Franky’s heart and examine it?” Zoro jokes. Sanji pokes him in the side, shaking his head.

“No. Just…she mentioned she and Franky aren’t soulmates.”

“I figured considering she’s a witch like you.”

“Yeah, but…I don’t know. It was different hearing her say it out loud. How proud she is of them.”

“Well of course she is Curls. Love’s something to be proud of,” Zoro says, leaning over Sanji to dip a spoon into the pot to taste some of the broth. He says it so simply, so easy.

And maybe it is that way for Zoro. Love’s always been easy with him, the open way he expresses himself, how easily he’d bore himself to Sanji. He’s never hesitated, loudly proclaiming to anyone around and even Sanji himself, about how much he loves Sanji. It’s always Sanji that’s been apprehensive, always cautious about their relationship. But it’s Zoro’s that’s always been so…proud of them.

Robin’s words about finding someone who doesn’t do things in halves comes back to him. All knowing Robin with her sharp eyes, guiding Sanji to the answer right in front of him.

Sanji can’t find the words to express how he feels in that moment, the swell of his chest as Zoro moans at how good the ramen is, pressing a kiss to Sanji’s cheek as he does so. Sanji pulls him into a better kiss, hoping Zoro will understand what he’s trying to say.

Zoro responds immediately, wrapping his arms around Sanji to pull him even deeper, mumbling something against Sanji’s lips that might be I love you, might be soup’s good for all he knows. It doesn’t truly matter at that moment, fingers tangled up in Zoro’s hair, holding him as close as he can.

Sanji’s not sure he’s ready to say the words yet, but he hopes that Zoro can understand what he’s too afraid to say.

By the sappy expression on his face when they pull away, he’s pretty sure Zoro knows what he means.

****

Spring bleeds into summer, nights getting shorter, heat filling the air. It’s sticky and humid outside, the end of the semester fast approaching. Zoro mourns the loss of his freetime with Sanji, forced to give it up to studying for exams and preparing for his championship match for kendo. He thinks he would enjoy things more if he could spend his nights in his dorm room with Sanji pressed to his side, instead of sweaty and alone because Sanji insists he needs a kitchen to practice for his finals.

But soon, school will be over and Nami proposes a trip to the beach to celebrate together before finals and splitting up for the summer. Zoro thinks she’s just using it as an excuse to see Vivi in a bikini, but who is he to argue when it means he gets to see Sanji sunkissed and shirtless.

Franky offers to drive them, packed into the van he keeps modifying, sitting on each other’s laps to make room for everyone. Zoro pulls Sanji into his, nose buried in the nape of his neck as he breathes in the scent of sunscreen and sweat, arms wrapped around Sanji’s waist as he chats with the girls about their summer plans.

Zoro’s just started to doze off when Sanji flicks him in the arm, startling him awake. He’s pouting just a little, arms crossed and bottom lip sticking out now that the girls’ attention is elsewhere. Zoro sighs, tilting his head back and resting his chin on Sanji’s chest to gaze up at him.

“What’s the matter?” he mutters, trying to keep his voice low enough so the others don’t hear. Sanji’s still pouting, fingers coming up to play with the edge of Zoro’s earrings, letting them jingle together with his movements.

“You know, I should be studying right now. You should be studying right now,” Sanji says. Zoro just shrugs, letting his eyes close again.

“Tests won’t matter once I’m helping Luffy be the Pirate King. Besides, the sun will be good for you.”

“I burn Marimo,” Sanji grumbles.

“You’re too pale. You haven’t been getting out of your apartment enough. You deserve the break. And maybe I missed my boyfriend,” Zoro shoots back as Sanji opens his mouth to protest. He clicks his mouth shut at that, teeth clicking together at the force of it as he keeps pouting.

It’s the truth though. Sanji’s been too busy with his culinary classes and his regular exams to spend as much time in Zoro’s dorm as he usually does, claiming that all Zoro does is distract him. Zoro hasn’t even been able to get Sanji to come watch his kendo practices with all his studying going on. He won’t even stay over for fear of being late to his morning classes. Zoro didn’t realize how much he likes having Sanji around, how much he needs him around till he stopped being around so much. Zoro’s determined to spend as much of the summer as he can making up for their time apart.

“When I’m a lobster later, I’m going to blame you because it’s good for me,” Sanji shoots back, voice lacking its usual bite, cheeks pink from Zoro’s earlier words. Zoro just laughs, pressing a kiss to Sanji’s cheek when he’s sure no one is looking to add it to his PDA debt with Nami.

They all fall out of the van when they get to the beach, Luffy halfway down the sand before most everyone is ever out of the car. Usopp takes off after him, towel and floaties in tow, reminding Luffy that technically you can’t swim, Zoro taking off after the two of them once Sanji’s firmly on the ground. They barely last a minute before Zoro’s diving into the water to save his drowning soulmate, smacking him upside the head when they resurface, Luffy gasping for air and laughing as he does so.

They claim their section of the beach, setting up towels and umbrellas and chairs before diving back into the water. Zoro loses track of Sanji in the commotion, wading out into the tide with Chopper on his shoulders, Luffy close behind him in an attempt to see what seashells they can find on the beach. Robin tags along, rattling off her own knowledge of sea life and the fragments they’re finding on the beach.

It’s only once Luffy’s tired himself out enough to go whine to Nami about letting him have a snack from the cooler that Zoro ventures over to where Sanji’s hiding out under one of the umbrellas, sprawled out on his back in an attempt to escape the humidity in the air.

Zoro approaches, sand catching between his toes as he walks, poking Sanji’s side once he’s in range. He groans, moving his arm away from his eyes. The umbrella casts him in a shadow, covering his torso, leaving his board shorts exposed to the sun. His skin is covered in beads of sweat, dripping down the curve of his cheek, pooling into the curve of his clavicle. His bangs stick to his forehead. Zoro leans over, brushing them back, plopping down next to Sanji and rummaging into the bag holding down the edge of the beach towel. Blue eyes stare back at him, green flecks around the edges as he tracks Zoro’s movements, too overheated to ask what it is that Zoro’s doing.

“You’re going to burn,” Zoro says, once he’s found his prize, holding up and shaking the sunscreen bottle. Sanji rolls his eyes, letting his arm fall back, pillowing his head on it. There’s already a pink hue to his cheeks, flushed from the heat and the sun.

“You just want to rub sunscreen on me,” Sanji says. His hair falls over one eye as he turns to face Zoro, smirking just a little at him. Zoro shoves his shoulder, laughing when it causes Sanji to roll face first into the sand.

“I’m just trying to protect you,” he grumbles. Sanji laughs, blowing Zoro a kiss from where he’s laying out in the sand.

“My knight in shining armor,” Sanji teases, brushing sand from his hair as he settles down onto the blanket. Zoro takes it as an invitation, squirting some of the lotion onto his hands before reaching out to rub at the top of Sanji’s shoulders. He rubs over his arms, digging into the muscles of his biceps where he can feel the tension in them.

He lets his hands drift back to Sanji’s torso, squeezing more lotion into them before he continues his job. Zoro presses a kiss to his shoulder, rubbing sunscreen along the planes of his back. Sanji sighs, eyes half closed. Zoro dares to press another kiss to the back of his neck, relishing in the way Sanji tastes like saltwater and the coconut scented lotion he’s using.

“Behave,” Sanji mumbles, one eye open to gaze up at Zoro. He sighs, pressing a kiss to Sanji’s cheek, pulling back to rub the last of his lotion on his own arms.

It’s quiet around them, distant crashing of waves and the laughter of their friends the only sounds. Zoro sits back on the towel, resting his elbow on his propped up knee, watching Robin pushing floaties onto Chopper’s arms before she leads him out into the water, grasping tightly to his hooves, Franky hovering close behind them. Usopp and Luffy are digging from shells in the sand, Nami, Vivi, and Kaya sitting under an umbrella close by. Zoro watches them all, fingers reaching out to brush against Sanji’s side, running them up and down against his sun-kissed skin, soft and warm to the touch, sand still clinging to his sides.

“What happens now?” Sanji asks, breaking the silence with his soft question. Zoro tilts his head down, attention on Sanji. He still faces forward, eyes locked on where Luffy’s waving around his prized seashell, delight obvious on his face. Zoro’s fingers still, caught above Sanji’s shorts.

“What do you mean?”

“For the summer. What happens now?” Sanji asks again, rolling over onto this side, dislodging Zoro’s hand, head resting on his arms. His bangs fall over one eye, piercing blue gazing up at Zoro.

Zoro reaches out, running his fingers along the shell of Sanji’s ear, tracing the edge of his jawline. Sanji’s eyes stay on him, chest rising and falling with each breath, each pause, waiting for Zoro to answer him.

Zoro hadn’t thought this far ahead. In his grand plan of dating Sanji, he never once considered the idea that they would be separated. It’s been a constant in his life, having Sanji by his side, knowing that it’s easy to look and find Sanji, that he’s always a hair’s breadth away. Zoro’s never considered not having Sanji there.

Does Sanji think he’ll leave without the proximity of school to keep them close?

“Well, I’ll be at Mihawk’s for the summer, probably training. I figured he’d let me borrow the car to come visit you at the Baratie as long as I finish my practicing,” Zoro says.

“I’ll be working,” Sanji mumbles.

“So I’ll come buy lunch. And dinner. And dessert.”

“Zeff will kick you out if you stay so long without paying.”

“I’ll just sneak into your apartment.”

“Zeff would really kick you out,” Sanji says, the smile on his face giving away his true feelings about the matter. Zoro laughs, ducking down to press a kiss to Sanji’s lips. He tastes like salt sweat and lemonade, tilting into Zoro’s touch. Zoro cups his cheek, running his thumb along the skin there.

“Like that would stop me from coming to see you. I’m sure I could bribe Luffy with food to help me climb through your window,” Zoro says.

“You haven’t even met my dad and you already want to be banned from our house,” Sanji warns, the joy in his tone giving him away. Zoro snickers, pressing another kiss to Sanji’s lips, trying to find a way to pour himself into it, to try to convey to Sanji that he’s here, that he loves him, that nothing will make him go away. Sanji reaches up, hand resting on Zoro’s shoulder, leaning into the kiss. Zoro presses in closer, hoping Sanji can understand, that he can ease some of his worry when the words are too hard to say aloud. That he’s here, that he loves Sanji.

A beach ball thumps against Zoro’s head, startling him as he pulls away from Sanji to look over. Nami’s glaring at the two of them, hands on her hips as she faces them. Usopp, Kaya, and Vivi all snicker before their hands, Luffy and Chopper too preoccupied in the waves to care, Franky hovering around them for safety.

“No kissing in public! I’m going to raise your debt!” Nami shrieks, throwing another beach ball at them. It bounces off Zoro’s head again, landing somewhere in their pile of things.

“Witch!” Zoro yells at her, face flushed at getting caught. Sanji buries his face in his arms, clearly trying to cover up his own blush as Nami seethes.

“Don’t call her that!” Sanji shrieks back, flicking Zoro on the arm for doing so. Zoro huffs, yelling about how he’s being attacked by all sides. Luffy only proves his point by showing up in time to jump onto Zoro’s back, knocking the wind out of him as he falls face first into the sand beneath him.

They wrestle for a few moments, rolling back and forward while Luffy laughs, Zoro’s wrist burning as they tumble. He can hear Sanji, caught between laughter at their antics and shouting when they get sand stuck to his skin.

Things cool down a little after that, sun starting to set in the late afternoon, grumbles about needing to go get food. Sanji volunteers Zoro and Usopp to help him scoop out food, coming back to the group with tacos from a small shop they found down the boardwalk. They settle in to share their food, watching the tide roll in, hiding in the shade from the last of the heat of the day before Zoro lets Luffy and Chopper drag him into the ocean one last time.

When Zoro comes out of the waves, Sanji’s sitting on his towel, knees tucked into his chest, chin resting on top of them. He’s staring intently at the ocean line, the lap of the waves against the shore, the wake of white foam it leaves behind. Chopper, Usopp, and Luffy are running through them, shrieking as they splash one another. Robin’s leaning back in her chair, book abandoned on her lap as she watches Franky swoop in to swing Chopper up onto his shoulders. Vivi’s dozing off with her head in Nami’s lap, Nami playing with her hair as she chats with Kaya.

Zoro flops down onto the towel, scooting in closer to Sanji, leaning his head against Sanji’s. Sanji reaches out, tracing shapes onto the top of Zoro’s foot, fingers getting stuck on broken shells and bits of sand.

“Thanks for today,” Sanji murmurs. Zoro presses a kiss to the top of his head.

“Told you the beach would be good,” he says. Sanji huffs, flicking the top of Zoro’s foot. It doesn’t stop Sanji from moving closer to Zoro, trying to nestle under his head. The sun’s low in the sky, bathing the beach in soft oranges and pinks. The air is filled with the shrieks and laughter of their friends down in the water. Zoro wraps an arm around Sanji’s shoulder, humming quietly as he snuggles closer. There’s sand clinging to his skin, salt stuck to his hair, body warm and slightly overheated from all the sun, leather bracelet stuck to his arm in the heat. He lets his eyes drift closed, letting the shouts and laughter of their friends fade wash over him.

He knows there’s a beach full of people around them, a whole world surrounding them as they huddle together on their shared towel. He knows that here, it’s impossible for them to truly be alone.

But none of that matters, nestled close to Sanji on the towel, feeling the rise and fall of his chest, the quiet way he hums under his breath, fingers tracing over Zoro’s, it’s as if it’s just the two of them in their own little world together.

****

When Zoro invited Sanji over for the evening, Sanji was expecting their usual affair. Dinner and a movie, with the hint of a parental unit and loud older sister to make sure they keep their hands to themselves and their bodies five feet apart. Sanji’s always happy to spend time with Zoro though, so of course he said yes. Even if the aura of Mihawk hovering in a doorway sets Sanji’s hair on edge. He has yet to formally meet Mihawk, the man more of just a shadow haunting Zoro’s house than a father for Sanji to meet.

Not that Zeff is any better. Sanji dreads the day the two of them end up meeting.

But this weekend, when Zoro invites Sanji over, he’s careful to point out that Mihawk’s out of town and Perona’s at a friend’s house. For the first time, Sanji and Zoro have the whole house alone.

It makes Sanji’s heart sing at the prospect of what if, what if, what if.

Dinner (which Sanji had had to save from burning up in the oven) and a movie (that Sanji was barely watching because Zoro’s hand was running up and down his thigh) had led to them making out on the couch. Sanji’s seated in Zoro’s lap, legs wrapped around his waist as Zoro clings to Sanji, fingers twisting into the front of his shirt as he tried desperately to suck a bruise onto Sanji’s neck, leaving Sanji panting and moaning, grinding down onto Zoro as he did so.

It had taken very little to convince Sanji to take the rest of the night up to Zoro’s room.

Zoro gripping Sanji under his thighs, carrying him upstairs to his room certainly won him the argument.

Zoro wrestles with the door handle, face buried into Sanji’s neck, still pressing kisses to the exposed skin, shirt pulled down, collarbone sticking out as Zoro noses at the skin. Sanji bats at his face lightly, getting hold of his chin to tilt him up. Zoro stops his movements, gazing up at Sanji with steel gray eyes, lips slick and red, flush on his cheeks.

“Eyes on the road Marimo,” Sanji teases. Zoro huffs, hands tucked underneath Sanji’s thighs as they stumble into the bedroom, kicking the door closed behind them.

Sanji grips tight to Zoro’s shoulders, taking stock of the bedroom as Zoro gets his balance. There’s a few trophies on shelves, photos on a desk in the corner, a rack of his swords on the wall, a night stand crammed in next to the bed. It doesn’t look much different from Sanji’s bedroom.

Except for the candles covering almost every inch of the room. They’re standing on every available surface, little flames crackling softly, casting a hazy glow over the rose petals littering the bedroom. There’s a few thrown across the bed, the rest spilling over onto the carpeting, making a trail from the door to the edge of the bed.

“Did you have fun with your fire hazard?” Sanji manages to stutter out, too startled to draw attention to the way his heart skips a beat upon seeing the flowers, the candles.

Zoro lets go of his thighs, causing him to scramble to get his balance, getting his feet under him. Zoro’s hands never leave his hips though, drawing circles on his skin. He huffs, burying his face into Sanji’s neck as he noses at his jaw, pressing kisses to it.

“I just wanted to be…” Zoro says, trailing off at the end, his cheeks flush bright red. Sanji rests his fingers under Zoro’s chin, tilting his head back to gaze at him.

“Wanted to be what, Mossy?”

“Be romantic,” he mumbles. Sanji huffs, letting out a chuckle as he presses his lips to the edge of Zoro’s nose.

“Oh darling,” Sanji says. There’s something soft in the way Zoro’s holding him, the hazy candle lit lighting of the room, the rose petals under his feet. There’s care in it, something romantic in the air as Sanji leans in to press a kiss to Zoro’s lips.

“Is it okay?” Zoro whispers, the implication behind the words clear. They haven’t been together like that yet. They’ve touched each other before, hands down pants as they pant into each other’s mouths in Zoro’s dorm room, gasps and moans muffled behind hands. There was one memorable time where Sanji had sucked Zoro’s dick after he won a kendo match, gazing up at Zoro as he’d gripped tight to Sanji’s hair, whimpers covered by his hand.

He wonders what Zoro sounds like when he’s not hiding.

“It’s perfect,” Sanji says. He feels the smile against his own lips as Zoro pulls him into an eager kiss, sloppy in his haste to keep moving. Zoro nudges Sanji, guiding him in the direction of his bed. Sanji backs up to Zoro’s bed, knees hitting the edge of it. He giggles, letting himself fall backwards, fingers tangled into Zoro’s shirt as he takes him with him. Zoro laughs, pressing a kiss to Sanji’s neck, his jaw, his lips, one knee pressing into Sanji’s hip as Zoro climbs onto the bed.

Zoro brackets Sanji’s hips with his knees, nudging him further up the bed until Sanji’s resting against his pillow. He tangles his fingers into Sanji’s shirt, easing it up his chest before tugging it over Sanji’s head. He tosses it off to the side, swallowing up Sanji’s protest of wrinkles, it’s going to get wrinkles in it with another kiss. Zoro pulls back, yanking off his own shirt and throwing it to the side before he starts to tug on the zipper of his pants, undoing the button on them. The fly falls to the side, putting the dark green of Zoro’s briefs on display. Sanji barely has time to admire the bulge, hand reaching out to catch in the waistband of his pants before Zoro’s tugging on Sanji’s jeans, determined to yank them off as fast as he can.

“If you break them, you have to buy,” Sanji grumbles, trying to bat Zoro’s hands to get them out of the way so he can take care of his own zipper. Zoro whines, pouting just a touch as Sanji undoes his pants, wiggling them down around his hips before kicking them away. He’s almost grateful for the low lighting in the room, just enough to soften the soft edges of his body, the dip of his stomach, the shape of his thighs. It’s just enough to blur the edge of Zoro’s leather bracelet as he shimmies his own jeans down his legs, kicking them off.

Sanji grips onto Zoro’s hips, stilling his movements, causing him to pause. He rests in Sanji’s lap, knees framing Sanji’s hips, hands coming to rest on Sanji’s wrist. Sanji takes a moment to admire Zoro like this, the sharp lines of his body, the way the flames in the room paint his face in soft shadows. Sanji can feel the way the flames spark and dance around the surge of love, fear, comfort, apprehension in his own chest as he gazes up at Zoro, gray eyes gazing down at him.

“What?” Zoro says, voice cracking on the last syllable, nails digging into Sanji’s skin. Sanji reaches out, tangling his fingers into Zoro’s hair, tugging him down for a kiss, words lodging in his throat. Zoro hums, hand coming up to cup Sanji’s cheek, using his other hand to play with Sanji’s nipples.

“You’re playing dirty,” Sanji grumbles, body flushed, heat pooling in his gut. His dick twitches, rubbing against Zoro’s as he leans in, pressing a kiss to Sanji’s neck, working his way down his chest. Zoro stops, gazing up at Sanji, biting the corner of his lip.

“Can I…” Zoro trails off, cheeks bright red, squeezing Sanji’s waist. Sanji wraps one leg around Zoro, nudging him with his heel.

“Use your words.”

“Can I touch you?” Zoro asks, burying his face in Sanji’s chest, flushed with embarrassment as he asks. Sanji blushes, tips of his ears red as he realizes what Zoro means. Zoro’s fingers inside him will certainly be different than having them wrapped around his dick. He can feel the roughness of Zoro’s skin, the calluses on his fingertips as they trail along the curve of his hip, tracing the sensitive skin there. His dick gives another twitch, leaking precum as Zoro wraps his fingers around it to give it a squeeze.

Sanji whimpers. Zoro grins, ducking down to press another kiss to Sanji’s lips.

“Use your words Curly,” Zoro teases. Sanji kicks him.

“Maybe I don’t want you to now,” Sanji teases back. Zoro lets out an embarrassing whine, pouting as he leans back to pull the bottle of lube from his nightstand.

Sanji lays there, admiring Zoro, the hard curve of his abs, the lighter puckered skin of his scar, the corded muscles of his thigh as he shifts. His dick bobs where it’s curving upwards between his thighs, red and leaking against his stomach. It’s thicker than Sanji thought it would be, apprehension mixing with arousal in his gut as he looks at it, thinking about getting it inside of him.

Zoro turns back to Sanji, fingers wrapped tightly around the bottle, frowning when he sees the way Sanji’s worrying his lip.

“We don’t have to,” Zoro says, still frowning, dropping the bottle in favor of reaching out to grab Sanji’s hands. He interlaces their fingers together, kissing his knuckles lightly.

“I do want to. Just…go slow,” Sanji says. Zoro’s answer is a soft kiss to his lips, hands coming up to cup his face before he pulls back. He gazes into Sanji’s eyes, eyes flicking around his face, trying to read his expression. The candles flare just a little, lighting the room in soft orange before dying down.

“I will,” Zoro answers. He leans back, grabbing the lube, flipping the cap open. He squeezes some into his hand, pausing with the bottle, looking at Sanji with an expression that might be close to nervous. His hands look like they might be trembling, resting in Sanji’s lap, dick curving up against his abs. Sanji reaches out, wrapping his hand around it, twisting his wrist just a little to relish in the way Zoro’s body shakes with the sensation, eyelids fluttering, bottle falling from his grasp.

“Come on Mosshead,” Sanji teases, thumbing at the head of Zoro’s co*ck. Zoro growls, hooking one arm under Sanji’s thigh. He bends it back toward Sanji’s chest, bending him nearly in half, putting his hole on display. He can feel the stretch in the back of his thighs, the burn as Zoro circles his hole before pressing one finger in slowly. It’s a tight squeeze, easing past the rim little by little, stretching him further and further.

Sanji lets out a little sob, one arm thrown over his face as he breathes sharply, adjusting to the feeling of Zoro’s finger inside him. He bends his knee, bringing his leg back to match the way Zoro’s holding his leg back. Zoro takes a shallow breath, wiggling his finger out, squelching, wet sound of lube filling the air. Carefully, adding more lube, adding a second finger to Sanji’s hole. The stretch of it burns, opening him up further as Zoro tries to spread his fingers inside of him.

He reaches up, digging his nails into Zoro’s shoulder as he lets out a soft gasp, a cry as Zoro f*cks him with his fingers. Sanji’s dick twitches against his stomach, red and leaking wet as Zoro f*cks his fingers in and out of his hole. Zoro’s just barely brushing against the spot inside him that makes him whimper and moan. He can feel the tightness easing, Zoro’s fingers spreading him wide, rough against his soft skin.

Zoro tangles his fingers with Sanji’s, leaning down to press a kiss to his lips. Sanji lets out another sob, free hand coming up to cup Zoro’s face. Zoro adds a third finger, stretching Sanji further, just pushing him to the edge of his limits. The edge of his vision whites out just a little, spotty as he takes the stretch of Zoro’s fingers.

“I wanna f*ck you,” Zoro says, voice low and cheeks pink as he does, gaze on where his fingers and buried inside Sanji. Sanji swallows, digging his fingers into Zoro’s shoulder and nodding. Zoro leans in, pressing a kiss to Sanji’s lips, off balance from where he’s holding onto Sanji.

Zoro leans back, grabbing the bottle of lube again. He squeezes more into his hand, using it to coat his dick before squeezing some over Sanji’s hole. He takes a deep breath, pressing Sanji’s legs back against his chest to spread him wide. He grabs hold of his dick, squeezing it as he guides it into Sanji’s hole, the tip just barely pushing into him.

“Zoro,” Sanji sobs out. He can feel the air shifting around them, a sharp breeze circling them as the head of Zoro’s dick catches on his hole. Zoro stops, taking a deep breath through his nose, squeezing Sanji’s hips.

“I’m gonna…” Zoro trails off, hips slowly shifting forward, pushing his dick further into Sanji. The stretch of it burns, the wet sound of the lube filling the air as Zoro bottoms out, hips pressed flush against Sanji’s ass. Sanji lets out a choked sob, still clinging to Zoro, holding him close. Zoro presses soft kisses to his shoulder, still as he adjusts to the feeling of being inside Sanji.

It makes Sanji gasp, whimpering at how close they are, the way he feels stretched and full. He can feel the blood pounding in his ears, shaky as he tries to catch his breath. Zoro isn’t moving, dick resting inside Sanji, tip rubbing against the spot inside him that always makes Sanji’s dick leak and ache. He can feel it throbbing now, twitching and red, covered in lube and precum.

“Move,” Sanji hiccups, tears leaking from his eyes, running down his cheeks at the feeling of being full, so full, pressed so close. Zoro rocks his hips, dick sliding out of Sanji before pushing back in, tip pressing against the spot that makes him see stars. He clings to Zoro, his own dick hard and leaking as Zoro readjusts, lifting Sanji’s legs around his hips. It shifts the angle, driving his dick in deeper, stretching Sanji further. He sobs, throwing one arm over his eyes, fingers scrambling for purchase against Zoro’s skin, digging in. He can hear a faint roar in his ears, wind rushing around him as Zoro keeps up his pace, slow and easy as he rocks back and forth. Sanji can feel his dick, bobbing with each thrust, leaking and twitching as Zoro jerkily thrusts in and out of him. Sanji wraps one hand around it, thumbing at the head while Zoro f*cks him.

“I love you,” Zoro whispers, fingers digging into the back of Sanji’s thighs, holding him tightly. If it wasn’t for the fact that his dick is in Sanji, Sanji thinks he might have kicked him. Instead, Sanji grapples at his shoulders, pulling Zoro down, pressing a kiss to his lips. Zoro digs his fingers onto Sanji’s hips, nails scraping at skin as they kiss hungrily.

“I love you,” Sanji sobs out into the air between them, shaking as the words fall out of him. He grips tight to Zoro, arms wrapped around his shoulders. The candles flare up as Sanji lets out another sob, pulling Zoro closer. Zoro rocks his hips forward, angling Sanji up higher, dick sliding out of him before sliding further in. He picks up his pace, flames dancing higher, breeze kicking up the petals scattered on the floor.

Zoro c*ms, moaning loudly as he fills Sanji. Sanji can feel it leaking down his thighs as he f*cks Sanji through the aftershocks, pulling out slightly. He pulls out with wet pop, cum and lube leaking from Sanji’s hole onto the sheets below. He wraps a hand around Sanji’s dick, pressing a kiss to Sanji’s lips as he jerks Sanji off.

Sanji c*ms embarrassingly fast, whimpering out soft I love yous against Zoro’s lips as he pants into the space between them, coating Zoro’s hand and his stomach with cum.

Zoro flops onto the bed next to him., panting as he catches his breath. Sanji rolls over onto his side, tracing shapes onto Zoro’s arm as he catches his own breath. Zoro rolls over, curling up on his side to gaze at Sanji.

“Hey” he whispers. Sanji smiles.

“Hey yourself,” Sanji says back.

“I love you,” Zoro says. Sanji blushes, still drawing shapes on Zoro’s arm.

“I love you too,” he whispers back. It hovers in the air between them, Zoro leaning in to press a kiss to Sanji’s lips.

Sanji’s warm and sticky, with rose petals stuck to his back. He’s worried about the candles lighting the room on fire. He wants to get them both cleaned up and into a shower.

Zoro pulls him into another kiss, rolling Sanji onto his back to wiggle in close and kiss him again. Sanji sighs, digging his fingers into Zoro’s forearms, giggling as he does so. It only encourages Zoro to press in close, kissing the underside of Sanji’s jaw and he whimpers and sighs.

Maybe for a little longer Sanji can bask in the afterglow of Zoro’s words, of his touch. Maybe just for a little longer, Sanji can pretend that the world just belongs to them.

****

“Zeff wants to meet you,” Sanji says one date night, killing the mood dead with his words. Zoro startles, gazing up at Sanji from where his head is resting in his lap.

“What?” Zoro says. He’s barely been paying attention to the movie they’re watching, some loud explosion in the background as Sanji runs his fingers through Zoro’s hair.

“Zeff said he wants you to come over for dinner so he can meet you.”

“But I’ve met him already. What about all those times at the Baratie? Or when he comes back home and I’m here?” Zoro asks. He can feel the panic rising in him, heart thumping at the idea of meeting Sanji’s dad.

“He said that he wants to have dinner with my boyfriend, cause he wants to meet you officially,” Sanji says. His eyes are locked onto the TV screen, unwavering as he avoids meeting Zoro’s gaze. His cheeks are flushed red, hands shaking as he cards them through Zoro’s hair. And, oh, he’s nervous about this.

“We can have dinner with him,” Zoro says. It must be important to Sanji…of course it’s important that Zoro meet his dad.

It doesn’t scare Zoro at all to meet Sanji’s dad. There’s absolutely nothing scary about Zeff. It’s not like he’s an ex-pirate who has multiple knives. It’s not like he could probably hide Zoro’s dead body if he really wanted to.

It’s the only thing Zoro can think about as he stands at the front door of Sanji’s apartment, palms wet and clammy as he knocks on the door. He’s barely gotten two knocks in before the front door is flung open, Sanji standing in the doorway, looking frazzled. His shirt sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, buttons undone.

“I brought wine?” Zoro says, holding up the nice bottle that Mihawk made sure to give him. Sanji barely responds, simply yanking Zoro into the house, wringing his hands together as he leads him towards the kitchen.

“I have to warn you,” he starts. Zoro frowns, ready to ask what he needs to warn him about. His words get cut off as they enter the kitchen, greeted immediately by the scent of chili and seafood, warm and inviting. Zeff’s standing at the stove, grumbling as he stirs at the pot in front of him.

Zoro’s starting to realize why Sanji was so stressed. The only thing that sets Sanji off balance is when he feels out of control. And having his father taking over the kitchen would certainly send Sanji over the edge.

“Eggplant, I need more chili flakes,” Zeff says, holding his hand out for the bottle. Sanji balks at him, clearing his throat to draw Zeff’s attention from the pot to where Zoro and Sanji are standing in the doorway. He raises his eyebrows at Sanji, still waiting.

“Zeff, this is Zoro. Zoro, Zeff,” Sanji says, waving between the two of them. Zoro sticks his hand out, Mihawk’s training kicking in to remind him to go for a nice, firm handshake.

“I’ve seen you sneaking around the apartment when you both think I’m working late. About time you introduced yourself. Chili flakes, Eggplant,” Zeff says, still holding his hand out. Sanji sighs, throwing his hands up as he grabs the jar, shoving Zeff lightly out of the way to shake the chili into the pot. Zeff rolls his eyes, wiping his hands off on the dish towel to reach over and shake Zoro’s hand. He squeezes it before nodding and letting go.

“I brought wine,” Zoro says, holding out the bottle. Zeff takes it, turning it over in his hands as he appreases the bottle. He humphs, setting it down on the counter.

“Thank Mihawk for me,” he says. Zoro nods, ears red as Zeff evaluates him. It feels different from all the times he’s met him at the Baratie in passing, his gaze more critical now as he takes Zoro in, looking him up and down.

“Stop doing that, Dad,” Sanji grumbles from where he’s stirring the saucepot.

“I’ll do whatever I damn well please with your boyfriend,” Zeff grumbles, turning back to see what Sanji’s doing to the pasta. Zoro stands there lamely, watching as father and son move around the kitchen in perfect harmony, a practiced dance from stove to fridge to countertop.

It’s only when Zoro’s starting to feel utterly useless that Sanji seems to notice him standing in the doorway, waving his hand to the cabinets.

“Why don’t you set the table, Marimo?” Sanji suggests. Zoro jumps at the chance, worming his way in between the two men to reach up and pull down three plates. He takes them over to the table, before going back for the rest of the place settings. Zeff watches him the entire time, eyes tracking his movements, grumbling at Sanji under his breath.

It’s not until they’re all sitting at the table, that Zeff finally clears his throat, glaring at Zoro from where they’re facing one another. Sanji keeps eating, cheeks only slightly pink, as he notices whatever it is his dad is about to do.

“What are you studying?” He asks. Zoro almost chokes on his food in surprise, coughing a little to clear his throat.

“Swords?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?” Zeff says, raising one eyebrow when Zoro flounders a little. He can hear Sanji grumbling next to him about how Zeff should be nice, but Zoro’s too focused on the embarrassing flush over his body to care.

“Swordsmanship. I’m going to be the world's greatest. I want to surpass my dad.

“Mihawk, right? I’ve known that man for years. He always mentioned his little brats, but he conveniently left out the rest of the information about you and your sister,” Zeff says.

“He’s always been very private. He hates the idea that someone might use my sister or me against him one day.”

“I can understand that,” Zeff says, glancing over to where his son is playing with his pasta. Sanji grumbles something about Dad, stop it, eyes rolling as he stabs at a piece of mussel on his plate.

“I want to be a swordsman. Maybe even join a pirate crew,” Zoro powers on. That seems to perk up something in Zeff, eyes locking with Zoro’s.

“Is that the crew the little Monkey kid is starting? Luffy?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. All the more reason for my son to go,” Zeff says. Sanji lets out an exasperated sigh, starting a small argument in what sounds like French. It's only once it’s died down that Zeff keeps asking Zoro questions about his classes, about Mihawk, about his goals. Zoro answers each honestly, hands shaking a little, knowing that he’s being set up to pass some test Zeff’s set out to make him worthy of Sanji.

It’s important that he’s worthy of Sanji. He wants Sanji’s dad to like him. He wants his approval.

Later, after the food is cleared and the plates have been washed and put away, Zeff manages to pull Zoro aside. Zoro’s wary, putting his boots back on, watching as Zeff approaches. Sanji continues on in the kitchen, sorting out the reminder of the food.

Zoro straightens up, coming face to face with Zeff. He stands there, arms crossed, sizing Zoro up.

“Sir?” Zoro asks, trying not to sweat too much under his narrowed gaze.

“You know, I wasn’t too sure about you before, Cabbage,” Zeff says. Zoro pauses, glancing past Zeff to see that Sanji’s still fussing with the leftovers. He turns back to Zeff, pulling his jacket on to buy himself some time.

“Was it the time I snuck into Sanji’s window?” Zoro asks, trying to lighten the mood. He sees the way Zeff’s gaze falls to his bracelet, exposed where his jacket has ridden up, the slight frown on his face, the way his mustache droops down as he looks back up at Zoro.

“It was a toss up between that and the fact that I know your soulmate isn’t my son.”

“It doesn’t mean that I don’t love him,” Zoro says, defensive as he stares down Zeff. Zeff raises one eyebrow at him, crossing his arms. Zoro matches his gaze, crossing his own arms, trying to puff his chest out.

“Forgive me for being protective of him. He’s been hurt enough,” Zeff says. It hangs between the two of them, Zeff’s nostrils flaring, Zoro still frowning.

“I don’t care that we aren’t matched or that he has magic. I love him just the same.”

“It’s not just about the marks or the magic. If Eggplant hasn’t told you, then it’s not mine to tell. But I will not allow him to be hurt anymore by life.”

“I love him,” Zoro insists, earnest as he gazes at Zeff. He can hear Sanji banging around in the kitchen, finishing up with his containers, voice carrying as he talks to himself.

Zeff sighs, reaching out to clap a hand onto Zoro’s shoulder. Zoro stiffens, waiting a beat before Zeff pats him lightly, shoulders dropping.

“You’re alright kid,” he says. It feels almost like a stamp of approval. Wary approval. Zoro squares himself up.

“I’m going to prove it to you,” Zoro insists. Zeff snorts, crossing his arms.

“And if you don’t I certainly know ways to hide your body. I wasn’t a famous pirate back in the day for nothing. Ask your old man,” he says. Zoro opens his mouth to protest, argue, prove himself, something when Sanji appears in the hallway, bag of leftovers in his arms.

“I took a couple containers for Zoro to have. I’m going to walk him home so he doesn’t get lost and then I’ll come right…” Sanji starts, pausing when he sees the way Zeff and Zoro are standing. He frowns, crossing his own arms, “What’s going on here?”

“Nothing Eggplant. Just asking Cabbage here to let his old man know that the wine was good. He’s more than welcome to send more wine next time,” Zeff says. Sanji narrows his eyes, shouldering past Zeff to take Zoro’s hand.

“I’ll be back,” he says. Zoro throws a goodbye over his shoulder as Sanji tugs him down the stairs and on the path to his home. Zoro glances over his shoulder, catching sight of the way Zeff is still frowning, arms crossed as Sanji and Zoro round the corner of the sidewalk.

Zoro’s going to make sure he proves himself worthy of Zeff’s consent. He won’t disappoint Zeff by mishandling Sanji’s precious heart.

They walk towards Zoro’s home, fingers interlaced, in comfort silence as they keep going. Zoro rubs his thumb over the back of Sanji’s hand, unwilling to break it with words. He leans closer to Sanji, bumping their shoulders together, pressing a kiss to Sanji’s cheek at the stop light.

They make it halfway to Zoro’s before Sanji finally cracks, clearly curious about whatever transpired between Zoro and Zeff on his doorstep.

“What were you two talking about?” Sanji asks, swinging their joined hands between them. Zoro shrugs, shouldering the food bag up higher where it slips.

“Not much. Just asked me about the wine Mihawk sent,” Zoro bluffs. Sanji glances at him out of the corner of his eye, lips turned downwards when he meets Zoro’s gaze.

“I hope he didn’t scare you too much, Marimo. He just…he worries. He saved me from a shipwreck and from my birth family. He tends to get overprotective of me.”

“Shipwreck?” Zoro asks, startled by the sudden confession. He’s starting to feel as if he’s missed out on something important. Sanji’s always said that Zeff adopted him when he was young, but this…this goes beyond that.

“I’ll tell you another time. It’s not a story meant for now. Now, you deserve a nice cup of tea as a thank you for having dinner with my dad,” Sanji says, patting Zoro’s arm, letting the matter drop.

Zoro’s still thinking about it a few weeks later, the way Zeff talked around Sanji’s past, the way Sanji’s been cagey every time Zoro asks about the shipwreck or how Sanji met his adopted father. Zoro doesn’t mean to push it. He wants to give Sanji time to tell him the story, but Zoro will admit, he’s curious now. Especially with the words Zeff left Zoro with.

The talk about Sanji’s family and his connection to Zeff has also caused Zoro to realize that Sanji never mentions his mother. He talks around her, mentioning her in passing whenever something strikes him, but never in any concrete way. Zoro figures that when Sanji’s ready, he’ll tell him about her. He knows that Zeff is Sanji’s father in all the ways that matter, in the same way that Mihawk has become like Zoro’s dad over the years.

So, when Sanji takes Zoro to a graveyard one afternoon, driving them to the outskirts of town with a picnic basket and we’re going to go meet someone, Mosshead, Zoro doesn’t think too much of it. No matter how much it makes his skin crawl walking through a cemetery with the idea that they’re going to sit down and have lunch somewhere. A picnic in a graveyard feels like something that Perona would like. Zoro finds it slightly creepy, trailing after Sanji in broad daylight as he weaves through the pathway. He looks determined, basket swinging as he tugs Zoro along behind him.

They come to a stop in front of one of the headstones. There’s a tree next to it, large and loomed, branches shading the etching on the stone. Sanji clears his throat, beckoning Zoro closer.

“Zoro, I want you to meet my mother. Mom, this is Zoro,” Sanji says, gesturing towards the stone. Zoro finally breaks his gaze away from Sanji’s face to look at the ornate headstone.

Sora Vinsmoke. Beloved wife, adored mother, it reads a list of dates underneath it.

Oh, Zoro realizes belatedly. He was vaguely aware that Sanji has a different last name from his dad and that Zeff was not in fact his biological father. He’s also aware of Sanji’s mother, who he tends to talk about in abstract terms and a fondness that left Zoro curious.

Now, staring down at the headstone, watching as Sanji shakes out a blanket and sits down, palms to the ground as he pulls flowers from the dirt, Zoro has his answers.

“Hi Ma’am,” Zoro says, lost for words as he sinks down to the soft blue of the picnic blanket. Sanji’s trying to arrange the flowers he’s crafted, sunny yellow blossoms twisting around the stone base. He snorts when he hears Zoro, rolling his eyes as he turns to face him.

“She would have hated being called ma’am. Sora is just fine,” Sanji says. Zoro shrugs, poking through the basket in an attempt to avoid meeting Sanji’s eyes.

Zoro’s known in a sense that Sanji’s mother wasn’t quite around, based on the fond way he spoke of her in a strange past tense and the fact that Zoro’s never met the woman. Even before dinner with Zeff, Zoro had seen him in passing, but it always felt odd that he hadn’t met Sanji’s mother.

Now, he has his slightly awkward answer.

“I didn’t know your mother had…passed,” Zoro says, at a loss for anything else to truly say. Sanji looks away from the flowers he’s been tending to. Zoro pulls out their sandwiches from the basket, setting them out next to the water bottles he’s found. He’s just started to pull out the watermelon when Sanji clears his throat, drawing Zoro’s attention back to him.

“It’s not something I tend to like to talk about. I left home when I was young, after she…passed. I was lost until Zeff took me in and saved me. I prefer to think about him before I think about my…family. This isn’t even where her body really is.”

“It isn’t?”

“No. Her body is probably in the family mausoleum back in Germa. But I wanted somewhere that I could visit her when I needed to. Funeral homes don’t tend to ask too many questions when you bring in money and ask to purchase a plot for burying ashes,” Sanji says. He takes a sip of the water Zoro’s set out, reaching out to run his fingers along the base of the headstone.

“I haven’t visited my parents since they passed,” Zoro blurts out. Sanji looks at him, confusion on his own face.

“I thought Mihawk adopted you young.”

“He did, but only after my parents died. He’s my father’s brother. I used to live in my mother’s village until my parents passed. It was either staying with her cousin or going with my uncle, so I went to Mihawk. But their bodies stayed there,” Zoro says. He’s never been back to Shimotsuki since leaving, the memory of Kuina and his parents too painful to consider. He knows Koushirou sends letters sometimes, ones that Zoro’s left unanswered, still unready to face what he has to say.

“I’m so sorry,” Sanji says. Zoro shrugs.

“My father died in an accident, my mother died of a broken heart from losing her soulmate. It’s not something I like to think about,” Zoro says. A beat falls between them, silence heavy at his admission. Sanji reaches out, tapping the back of Zoro’s hand, resting his hand over Zoro’s.

“I grew up in a cruel house, with a father who only cared for power and a set of brothers who abused me for the magic it was deemed that I lacked. My mother died in a fight to protect me and to give me a chance to be free of them. Her sacrifice of her life allowed me to escape to a cruise ship, where I learned to cook and met Zeff after a shipwreck. We barely survived before we were rescued. He built the Baratie from a shared dream that helped us survive. I work in those kitchens everyday, working towards my dream of cooking, of feeding people, of healing them and I think about it everyday if I’m living up to the life she wanted for me, if I’m making the most of the gift that she gave to me,” Sanji says. It hangs in the air, filling the space between them.

Zoro’s not sure what to say to that. Something that heavy, that deep, doesn’t have the proper words to articulate what it means. Anything Zoro can think to say sounds disingenuous or silly in the wake of the weight of Sanji’s words. Is he living up to the life sacrificed for his? Is he making the most of the life he thinks he took?

“Thank you for giving me your son, Ms. Sora,” Zoro says, bowing his head at the tombstone. Sanji lets out a flustered little sound, swatting at Zoro’s arm.

“Mosshead,” he shrieks, red cheeks and shaking voice giving him away. Zoro shrugs.

“I mean it, Curls. I’m lucky to have met you. Your mother deserves my thanks for her part in that,” he says. Sanji falls quiet, tugging on his bangs, letting out a sigh. Zoro leans over, pressing a kiss to Sanji’s cheek in lieu of a real answer.

“You can’t kiss me in a graveyard.”

“Why not? I’m pretty sure Perona takes all her dates to graveyards and scares them with ghosts.”

“Your family is so weird,” Sanji grumbles. Zoro just laughs, taking a bite of the little chicken salad sandwich Sanji’s made. Sanji’s talking to his mother now, telling her about how his summer’s going, how the Baratie is doing, what classes he plans to take in the fall. He’s telling her about Zoro’s kendo competitions coming up, bragging about how Zoro’s been undefeated this season.

Zoro wonders what Sora would think of him. If she would find him as tolerable as Zeff does, wary of the damage Zoro could do to his son, but willing to accept him if Sanji has. Would she like him? Would she be as distrustful of his soulmark as Sanji was when they first met?

He likes to think he would have won her over, shown her that he is worthy of her son’s love. If she was anything like Sanji, Zoro’s sure he would have loved her too.

Later, once they’ve packed up their basket and said goodbye to Sora, Sanji reaches out to grab Zoro’s hand as they make their way back to the car.

“Thought there’s no touching in the cemetery,” Zoro teases.

“We’re leaving, so it doesn’t count,” Sanji says, squeezing Zoro’s hand. Zoro snorts, rolling his eyes as they keep walking. It’s not until they’re back in the car that Sanji finally speaks up, eyes on the road as they keep driving.

“Thank you for coming today,” Sanji says, knuckles white on the steering wheel. Zoro reaches over, squeezing Sanji’s thigh.

“Thank you for introducing your mother to me,” Zoro says. They stay silent, basking in each other, Zoro’s hand resting on Sanji, Sanji eyes on the road.

Maybe someday, Zoro will take Sanji to visit his parents too.

****

It’s not the first time he has seen it. Sanji will not be intimidated by the ornate front door and massive door knocker of Zoro’s home. He will not be intimidated by the way it looks like a dragon’s head, mouth gaping and wide, ring hanging from it demanding to be knocked. He will not be intimidated by a house that reminds him too much of the one he grew up in, large wooden doors and looming windows.

His hand is certainly not trembling as he raises it to knock on the front door.

He’s saved the trouble by the front door swinging open, revealing a pink cheeked, flushed Zoro standing in the doorway. Sanji reaches out, fixing the rumbled collar of his nice button down, taking him in. He’s dressed up, wearing black jeans and his unscuffed boots, hair slicked back. Sanji ruffles the top of his hair, breaking up the gel, tracing the shell of Zoro’s ear.

“You look nice,” Sanji says, taking a step into the manor and closing the door behind him.

“Well, tonight’s important,” he mumbles, turning his face to press a kiss to Sanji’s palm. Sanji feels his own cheeks heat, swatting at Zoro and his smug grin.

“I brought dessert. I made a strawberry rhubarb pie, since I know you don’t like chocolate.”

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“I didn’t want to show up empty handed.”

“You’re enough,” Zoro says. Before Sanji can retort, he hears a clatter from further into the house, swearing and Perona, that’s not polite, mixing with the metal clang.

“Zoro!” a shrill voice hollers down the hall. Zoro somehow flushes an even deeper pink, ducking his head down. His earrings jingle together as he grumbles.

“What ‘Rona?” Zoro shouts, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“Stop making out with your boy toy and come help set the table!” The assumed ‘Rona, hollers back. Zoro’s face goes impossibly red, voice raising in aborted protests and insults as he stalks through the house. A distinctive laugh follows, growing louder as Sanji trails after Zoro.

The kitchen smells lovely. Despite the scatter of pans that seem to have materialized on the counter, the place looks neat, marble countertops and state of the art stove. Perona’s standing there, dressed in a frill black dress, shoving pans at Zoro, pointing at where they need to go as they argue. There’s a tall man with slick backed hair and a fancy coat pulling a dish out of the oven. He turns around to set it on trivets, giving Sanji a full view of his sharp gold eyes, cross necklace swinging as he moves.

Dracule Mihawk, the warlord, Zoro’s father, is just as terrifying as Sanji thought he might be.

Sanji finds his palms suddenly itchy and clammy, standing in the doorway of the fanciest kitchen he’s ever been in. He feels wholly out of place in his nicest dress pants and the blue dress shirt that Zoro says compliments his eyes. He can feel every inch of possibly threadbare fabric, the scuffs on his shoes, the ache of old cuts on his hands.

He’s just getting ready to reach up and tug on his bangs, make some excuse for why he has to go, when Dracule Mihawk straightens up, tugging off the oven mitts he’s been using (a warlord using oven mitts, Zeff will laugh), circling the counter with a hand outstretched.

“You must be Sanji,” the man says. Sanji feels himself juggling the pie pan, sticking his hand out, taking Mihawk’s in his and shaking. This close, he can see the sharp lines of Mihawk’s facial hair, the creases at the corner of his eyes as he smiles.

“Nice to meet you Mr. Dracule, sir,” Sanji stammers out, glad that his voice doesn’t crack too much on the words, cheeks warm. He needs to make a good impression on this man. He’s Zoro’s family. He wants Zoro’s family to like him, to want him to be around, to not care too much that he’s not Zoro’s match. They’ve already met Luffy and they like Luffy. Sanji just has to prove that he’s just as important.

“Mihawk is fine. Perona, stop terrorizing your brother and help with setting the table,” he says, turning his attention back to his daughter and where she’s still arguing with Zoro. She pouts, rolling her eyes as she gathers up the dinner plates for the table.

“Make him help me set up,” she whines. Mihawk waves, clearly trying to gesture to Zoro that he should listen to his sister. Zoro huffs, grabbing the glasses and trailing after her to the dining room. Sanji can hear the chatter of their bickering as they leave the kitchen, leaving Sanji alone with their father.

Sanji glances back over to where Mihawk is testing the temperature of the meat he’s pulled out of the stove, frowning as he looks at the number. He turns back to the stove, before putting the pan back in and setting a timer.

“Just a few more minutes should do the trick. You can leave that pie on the counter. Would you mind helping me open the wine bottle? I have to get the rest of dinner plated,” he says. Sanji nods, following Mihawk’s instructions for the corkscrew and the wine bottle. He feels the judgment in Mihawk’s stare as he pops the cork of the wine, despite the fact that Mihawk seems to be preoccupied with whatever vegetable he’s poking at in another dish. Sanji grabs the bottle, darting off into the dining room to pour the wine before dinner is ready.

Perona and Zoro are still bickering, moved on from whatever they were arguing about in the kitchen to debating the order for the silverware they’re setting out.

“Forks on the left of the plate, knife is on the right side, with the spoon next to it,” Sanji interrupts, setting the wine down at the head of the table. The two siblings stop, looking at Sanji in bewilderment. Just as he’s getting ready to wish the ground would open up so he can disappear forever, Mihawk appears, holding the serving dish, eyebrows raised.

“Finally someone in this house with correct taste and manners. Perhaps you can provide instruction to these two some time. It would certainly save me time,” he says, effortlessly shifting around his children as they scoff and argue, to set down a platter on the table. Zoro and Perona get roped into collecting the rest of the dishes from the kitchen before the four of them settle in to eat.

The meal is simple enough. Steak, asparagus, and mashed potatoes, with some gravy on the side, and red wine. Sanji can tell from the way Mihawk pours the wine, the puff of pride when Sanji comments it’s a good wine with beef, when he compliments the seasoning on the steak, that Mihawk takes pride in his liquor, in his meals. Unlike Zoro, who chugs half a glass to an eye roll from Perona as she mumbles something about sucking up.

The silence is broken after the first bite of steak, bloody and flavorful on Sanji’s tongue as he chews, letting the cut of meat almost melt in his mouth. Mihawk watches him, smiling when Sanji meets his gaze.

“Is the meat to your liking? Zoro tells me you’re a chef,” Mihawk says. Sanji blushes, kicking Zoro under the table. He grunts, glaring at Sanji. He can see the way Perona stifles a laugh behind her glass of wine.

Great. Now Mihawk probably thinks Sanji’s weird and a snob about his food.

“Yes, sir. I work at the Baratie,” Sanji says. He sees the face Mihawk makes at the use of sir, the way Perona and Zoro both laugh.

“He’s not a sir, he’s a Mihawk,” Perona says. Sanji feels his face heat up even more.

“Be nice Perona. He’s Zeff’s boy and I will not have you get us banned from the only place that knows how to cook veal,” Mihawk says. Perona rolls her eyes, shoving food into her mouth. Zoro reaches under the table to squeeze Sanji’s thigh, shooting him a small smile when Sanji meets his eyes.

It’s only when Sanji turns back to stab a forkful of mashing potatoes that he realizes Mihawk’s been watching them, eyes narrowed and brow furrowed. He looks pensive, eyes darting between them before he meets Sanji’s gaze and smiles. He tips his glass to Sanji, taking another sip before clearing his throat.

“You cook?” Perona asks, perking up as the realization hits her.

“I do. I can make anything you like, although I’ve gotten many compliments on my chocolate raspberry cake. It’s lost on your brother though.”

“I like those matcha cookies you make,” Zoro mumbles. Sanji pats his arm.

“I’ve accepted that you don’t have any taste buds for sweets,” he says. Zoro lets out a little offended squawk.

“Can I borrow him? I’ll appreciate the cake,” Perona teases, fluttering her eyelashes at Sanji, chin resting on her hand. She’s smiling, clearly trying to get a rise out of her brother. Zoro puffs up, cheeks red as he opens his mouth, clearly ready to snap at her.

“Behave Perona dear,” Mihawk says, taking a sip of his wine, eyes never leaving his glass before he turns back to his mashed potatoes. Perona huffs, rolling her eyes, flicking a strand of pink curls over her shoulder.

“You’re no fun,” she sighs, sticking her tongue out at Zoro when she’s clearly sure Mihawk isn’t watching. Zoro retaliates with a stuck out tongue of his own. Mihawk sighs even more dramatically than his daughter, clearly well versed in his children.

The rest of the meal passes well, quiet chatter about Sanji’s job at the Baratie, Zoro’s plan for the next school year, what Perona plans to do now that she's graduated. Mihawk seems genuinely interested in whatever plans his children have, even if he keeps insisting to Zoro that he has to finish school and travel the Grandline before he tries his hand at challenging Mihawk for his title. He mentions something about gaining experience that makes Zoro roll his eyes and grumble. Perona deflects the situation by asking Mihawk about Shanks, shocking Sanji at the way Mihawk’s cheeks turn red and the light cough he gives into his napkin. It seems to do the trick, distracting Mihawk’s attention from his son.

Sanji doesn’t miss the way Zoro rests his hand on Sanji’s thigh throughout the meal, giving him a light squeeze every time he must sense the way Sanji tenses up at a question. He doesn’t say much, glancing at Sanji out of the corner of his eye, like he’s trying his hardest to keep his focus on his family, not drawing attention to the way he’s pressed to Sanji. Mihawk still seems to notice it though, one eyebrow raised, but nothing said. There’s something close to a smile on his face as Sanji talks about wanting to find the All Blue and about his plans to open his own restaurant. Zoro mumbles some insistence about making sure Sanji has a place for him to keep it safe. Sanji smiles, pressing a kiss to his cheeks and assuring him that there will always be a spot for him.

Later, after they’ve split pie and coffee, after Sanji’s listened to Perona share embarrassing stories about Zoro growing up, complete with accompanying pictures of bad haircuts and scraped up knees, Sanji’s finally saying goodbye to Mihawk at the door. Zoro and Perona were corralled into putting the dishes away, Mihawk stops them at the front door, watching Sanji pull on his shoes before reaching out for Sanji’s hand to say goodbye.

“It was a pleasure to have you,” Mihawk says, taking Sanji’s hand in his to shake it. His palms are a little warmer this time, the smile on his face a little more genuine. Sanji smiles, easier this time, more honest as he shakes Mihawk’s hand.

“The pleasure was all mine.”

“Do come back some evening. Based on what I know about your father, I’d love to have you in my kitchen,” he says, warmly, a smile pulling up at the corner of his lips. It’s small, barely there, barely even wrinkling the skin around it, but it looks so…warm.

“I’d love to cook for you. Not just bring dessert,” Sanji says. Mihawk chuckles, a small thing, almost drowned out by the sounds of Perona’s and Zoro’s voices rising in the background as they approach the front door.

“Thank you,” Mihawk says, still holding Sanji’s hand in his, cupping it now.

“For what?”

“For helping him smile again,” Mihawk whispers as Perona and Zoro round the corner, loudly arguing about who gets to borrow the car tomorrow. Sanji’s too stunned to speak, letting Mihawk drop his hand as he nods to Sanji, Zoro tugging on Sanji’s sleeve to get him moving towards the car. Perona waves at him, cooing to come back next time, as he follows Zoro in a daze, tripping on the gravel and his own feet.

They stop next to the car, Zoro turning to face him, brow furrowed.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“You sure? I know Mihawk and Perona can be…eccentric.”

“I liked them,” Sanji says with a smile, shocked to find how much he means it.

Zoro makes a face like he finds it hard to believe anyone could like his family. Sanji laughs, pulling Zoro in for a kiss, Mihawk’s words clinging to him. For helping him smile again.

Sanji pulls back, taking in the soft curve up of Zoro’s lips as he gazes at Sanji. He leans back in, pressing another kiss to Zoro’s lips, smiling when Zoro pulls him closer.

They’re not soulmates, but maybe it’s better to love this way.

****

It’s late summer night, air hot and muggy, humidity hanging in the air. Vivi’s throwing a party to celebrate the end of the summer, sticky with heat and dripping with sweat as they sit around her pool. There’s music thumping in the background, Usopp playing DJ through his phone while Nami boos his music choices. Despite Zoro’s attempts to distract him, Sanji’s spent half the night around the kitchen, making enough snacks to feed an army. Or at least enough to feed Luffy.

There’s a fire pit going off to the side, Luffy and Chopper making s’mores while Nami yells at them to make sure they don’t burn themselves. The sun has dipped low on the horizon, washing the world in oranges and pinks, blues and blacks painting up the night sky. The moon is full, white and shining against the stars. Zoro’s been watching quietly, tracking Sanji’s movements from inside to outside, the way he keeps fleeting around to check on everyone, sparing Zoro a kiss to the top of his head on his loops.

Zoro’s broken away from the crowd to flop out on the lawn, staring up at the stars. He watches the way they blink in and out of existence, stray clouds blocking them as they float through. He’s just nearly drifted off into a light doze, head pillowed on his arm, when he hears the crunch of grass under someone’s steps, a sigh as the person lays down on the grass next to him.

He cracks an eye open, watching as Sanji stretches out, propping his head up against his arms. He gazes up at the stars, humming quietly under his breath. Zoro watches him for a few moments, the rise and fall of his chest, the way the moon casts him in shadow, the way he tips his head back to gaze up at the stars.

“You abandoned your kitchen to Luffy?” Zoro asks, breaking Sanji’s song. He turns to face Zoro, scooting a little closer when he realizes Zoro’s awake. He snuggles close to Zoro’s side, curling up next to him.

“I left him with enough snacks for at least 20 minutes,” he says. He shifts an arm, reaching out to brush his fingertips against Zoro’s. Zoro angles himself a little closer, tracing shapes on Sanji’s palm as they gaze up at the stars together. Silence falls between them, soft pulse of music and high pitched shrieks of laughter in the distance as Zoro’s eyes trace the shape of Sanji’s nose in the starlight, the shadows painting his face in eerie white and black splotches.

“Sky looks nice,” Zoro says, pointing at one of the constellations he can vaguely make out. He thinks it might be Orion’s Belt. Sanji smiles, pointing up at his own cluster of stars.

“That one is Scorpius. And that one there is Cygnus, the Swan,” Sanji says, gesturing up to what Zoro’s pretty sure is just a cluster of stars that Sanji claims he can see shapes in. To Zoro, they’re just pretty lights in the sky, unable to make out the shapes that Sanji is trying to draw. He gives up eventually, giggling at whatever expression Zoro must be making, he leans over to press a kiss to Zoro’s cheek.

“You’ll be a poor pirate if you can’t read the stars,” he says. Zoro shrugs.

“I’ll have Nami to navigate. And I’ll have you. Don’t need much else to be a pirate,” he says. Sanji whines, burying his face into Zoro’s shoulder as he mumbles. Zoro just smiles, tugging on a strand of Sanji’s hair just to mess with him. They fall into a soft silence after that, eyes locked on the shifting night sky, the last of the sunset colors fading below the horizon. There’s the soft thump of music in the background, voices muffled. Zoro glances over at Sanji, watching him out of the corner of his eyes. Sanji’s eyes have slipped half closed, soft smile on his lips.

Zoro’s just closed his eyes, content to nap with Sanji until Luffy inevitably comes to demand food from them, when Sanji pipes up.

“You know what?” Sanji says after a beat. Zoro pulls his attention away from the curve of Sanji’s lips to glance up at him.

“What?”

“We’ve known each other for almost a year,” he points out. It hangs heavy between them, the idea that it’s only been a year, that they’ve only known each other for 12 months, only been together less than that.

It feels like Zoro’s always had Sanji.

Is this what having a soulmate feels like?

He’s always felt it with Luffy, that some part of them was always meant to slot together, to fit just right.

But it’s just different with Sanji. Like there’s some part of them that clicks, that rearranges itself to puzzle together, matching them in such a way that makes them whole.

“Only a year? Surely you’ve been a pain in my ass for longer,” Zoro teases, words sticking in his chest just a little bit. Sanji lets out an annoyed huff, rolling his eyes.

“Marimo, I’m serious!” Sanji says, trying to swat at Zoro. Zoro catches his fingers in his own, bringing them up to press a kiss to the back of his hand.

“I am too! Can’t believe it’s been a year since your drunk ass harassed me at the bar.”

“Excuse me, I believe you harassed me. I was just an innocent bystander in the matter.”

“Innocent bystander my ass,” Zoro grumbles, capturing Sanji in a kiss when he starts to protest. They break off into a whine, something between Zoro’s name and a grumble to let him go, as they tumble around on the grass. Zoro gains the upper hand, knees bracketing Sanji’s hips as he pins Sanji’s arms over his head. He lets out a half hearted protest, wiggling just a little before resorting to pouting. Zoro snorts, leaning down to press another kiss to Sanji’s lips.

“Mosshead,” Sanji mumbles, protest lost against Zoro’s lips as he steals a kiss from him.

“I love you,” Zoro says, forehead pressed to Sanji’s, noses brushing. He let Sanji’s hands go, feels the way they run up his chest, catching in the front of his shirt to bring him closer.

“I love you too,” Sanji says back, pressing another kiss to Zoro’s lips.

Love is work, but that’s what makes it special. Through the ups and downs, he’s always had Sanji by his side, like he was meant to be there, to fit in the space next to Zoro. Luffy might be his captain and soulmate, but Sanji’s his love. He’s someone to share his dream with, his future with. When he pictures his life, it’s standing on the deck of a restaurant in the All Blue, Sanji at his side as he defends his swordsman title. It’s building a life with Sanji, fulfilling his dream, with their friends. When he pictures the future, the possibilities are endless as long as he has Sanji with him.

And how special a future it’s going to be with his love.

****

That's the Kinda Love I've Been Dreaming Of - FayeHunter (2024)

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