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Title: Don't Take The Fall Alone (Part One)
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Zoro/Sanji/Usopp a.k.a the Red Shirt Trio
Spoilers/setting: Set after Thriller Bark and before Sabaody
Summary: After leaving Thriller Bark, Usopp, Sanji and Zoro are all troubled for varied reasons. Usopp proves quite perceptive in some respects, less so in others.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Written for Martianico within the exchange seeing-color and first posted to the AO3 collection for that exchange. All my thanks to my wonderful beta [personal profile] tonko, who worked hard on this story and who came up with the title, too. But the responsibility for any remaining errors are mine alone. Nitpicks are very welcome, and so is feedback in general!

DISCLAIMER: The characters and situations of One Piece are owned by their creator, Eiichiro Oda. They are used here without permission. This fic may not be used for profit and should not be reposted elsewhere without the writer's approval.


It was a good way past noon. The sun had just slipped behind a large cloud, making the air in the crow’s nest slightly cooler. Zoro got up, changed the iron weights to a larger pair, and started to pump.

The change in temperature was very small, and the feel of the air hadn’t shifted. This hot, stuffy weather which had crept in last night still hung on, on this third day out from Thriller Bark. There were interruptions - sudden gusts of wind, a streak of cooler air, even some showers - but Nami kept frowning and shaking her head, and sure enough, in just a few minutes the humidity returned as if nothing had happened.

And ever since last night, there had also been an inexplicable scent of spices coming on the wind, not from any of their provisions and despite there being no land in sight. It wasn’t exactly an unpleasant smell, but it wasn’t completely pleasant either: it went back and forth between making him feel uneasy and not. Sometimes Zoro even wondered if he was the only one who could sense it. Most likely it was just some weird Grand Line thing.

He felt yet another burst of pain, sharp twinges here and here and there, coming from all over his body. Gritting his teeth, he kept pumping. That was the only way forward, wasn’t it? Of course, Chopper kept scolding him, but that couldn’t be helped. He didn’t get it. Neither did Nami, Robin and even the cook, who all in different ways let him know they thought he should take it easier than usual, that he still needed to rest.

They didn’t understand the vastness of Kuma’s strength and abilities compared to his, to Luffy’s, to all of them put together. The crew had been exhausted after fighting Moria and his underlings for a full day and night, but Zoro knew that no matter how fit and well-rested he and the others had been, the outcome would have been the same against Bartholomew Kuma. Just like none of them had stood a chance against Admiral Aokiji either. The New World had too many people with that kind of strength, and the gap between Zoro’s own power and that level was much too vast.

If it had been a closer gap, still significant but within reach, if not this week then the next one; then he might have listened to Chopper’s pleas and allowed himself to take it easier.

But that wasn’t the case, and he didn’t dare to do that now. Not as long as he still felt stuck on the same level of skill and strength; if only he could get a sense he’d made some real progress and become stronger since his fight against Ryoma, that again could change things, but no. Worse, right now he felt actively weaker than he’d done before Thriller Bark, and that was even discounting the fatigue and ache from his wounds. No, his focus was off, his rhythm sucked, his meditations failed. The whole of him felt out of balance.

He’d see flashes of images, during training, some from real memories – Luffy lying pale, unconscious and utterly helpless on Thriller Bark; Usopp all smashed up and bloody outside the Franky House – others just from nightmarish never-happened mental pictures of his crewmates lying lost, broken, dying... Those images should have spurred him on, if anything, echoing the frenzied thoughts that drove him to train harder, but now they made him freeze uselessly instead, making him lose his step and rhythm.

And then there were the other kinds of images, and the feelings that came with them...

He’d been annoyed with himself back when those had first started to appear, a good while back – even more when he realised they didn’t just involve the sniper but the cook as well. But it hadn’t really been worth calling a problem, he’d judged. It had only happened now and then, occasionally, easy to smooth down inside and hide well – things like seeing the occasional flash of a cheeky grin from Sanji, or the way the back of his head looked in certain lights; or suddenly getting a dry mouth from the completely ordinary look of Usopp’s bare shoulder and the back of his elbow (Usopp’s shoulders were almost always bare, so why the hell?); or when, during a relieved post-battle moment, he got the urge to ruffle Usopp’s hair and kiss him on the neck; or a couple of times when he’d been fighting with Sanji and he felt a sudden urge to pin the cook to the wall, let go of his swords and instead let his hands do some entirely new things with him...

The thought that he could approach either of them and sound them out on how they might feel towards him in return, and, if they were amenable, actually try to do something about these attractions... that didn’t seem like a real alternative. And not just because it was clear as day how crazy Sanji was about girls, or because Usopp was... not too young exactly but too unsure of himself and maybe too easily convinced into going along with something he might not be that into. Rather, it simply hadn’t seemed like the correct thing for him to pursue. Too much of a distraction, too liable to cause trouble with those two, maybe spreading to the rest of the crew... no. Just making the attempt would mean having to admit more than he wanted to to himself, and being far too indulgent. No, far better to focus on more important matters.

But now, those other kinds of images and the feelings they evoked were more insistent than ever, more frequent and more intense. There was a new flavour to them that seemed at one with his off-kilter state and even with that faint but pervasive scent of spices. Disquieting.

The way the weather persisted, the way Chopper would not only scold him but look at him with large accusing eyes that made him feel like a heel for a moment; even much smaller things like the extra layer of concern underneath Nami’s nagging, or the tiny amount of wind on the sea - not completely becalmed, but such a weak, futile breeze it wasn’t much better - the way the cook would just a bit too obviously, if you were used to reading him, hold back much more than usual in their fights - it all kept bothering him, kept feeling like part of his lack of true balance, and with the palpable sense of being stalled, not advancing at all no matter how hard he trained. He was worse off than the ship, that way; Sunny still moved a tiny bit, at least.

And the way that Usopp and the cook kept looking at him when they didn’t think he noticed, that bothered him, too. Sanji was one thing and bad enough, but why Usopp? He couldn’t know the real truth - the cook wouldn’t have blabbed about that, and Usopp wouldn’t have been able to hide his reaction to it either, Zoro felt sure. Maybe it was just his worrywart ways.

Just now, Zoro had for the second time today seen him talk to Sanji in a low voice, both of them looking serious, occasionally shooting glances in his direction. Zoro was intensely annoyed to find how much a small thing like that kept bothering him. It really shouldn’t. But it did.

**

Usopp would have liked to be able to say that he didn’t really know what the problem was. But the truth was, he did know when it came down to it - it was a bit too obvious to ignore. Although he couldn’t really have said why it troubled him, or why now when it hadn’t before.

He jumped down the last bit from the rigging to the lawn deck, then made the A-OK sign to Brook over by the main mast, and to Robin standing serenely way over by the tangerine trees. The three of them had just raised an extra sail on Nami’s orders, hoping to capture what they could of what little wind there was. The weather sure wasn’t very helpful lately.

It was good to keep busy. Usopp walked up the starboard staircase towards the second deck, aiming for the third deck where his Mini-Factory was. He heard the sound of insults and scuffling and looked up to see Zoro and Sanji over by the port side, also on second deck, in one of their usual dumb arguments from the look of things.

Usopp stilled. His hands felt clammy. He scowled in the direction of the pair of them, trying to look tough and disapproving, then swallowed tightly. He didn’t like the colour of Zoro’s face, still too damn pale. He didn’t like the way Sanji seemed to try hard not to show any worry, only to let some of it slip on his face anyway. He wasn’t putting his usual heat into his fighting, Usopp thought, and he fancied he saw an unhappiness in the cook’s body language that was more than the usual temporary flare-up. Much like Zoro looked more troubled than his usual exasperation. The air felt thick with undercurrents around the two of them these days. You could feel like a third wheel so very easily.

And that was dumb, he knew, shaking his head at himself as he went on, reaching the Mini-Factory where he sat himself down. Whatever was going on, he was pretty sure, had way more to do with Zoro’s injuries and be tied to some kind of warrior-ish thing. Not - probably not - connected to the vibes Usopp thought he’d sensed from the two of them at other times, when they’d been fighting so hotly he couldn’t help wondering if they wouldn’t like to switch to making out instead. But maybe that part was only his very active imagination...

He had to admit that there wasn’t anything uncommon about Zoro being really banged up after a battle, not about him pushing himself harder than Chopper liked. Though it wasn’t usually as bad as it had been on Thriller Bark - the only other time he’d come so close to dying was after Mihawk. (The fact that Luffy had bounced back so very quickly this time around was also strange, but simply inexplicable.) And the weird looks that Sanji kept shooting Zoro were new, too. Still, Usopp wasn’t sure he’d even have picked up on that, if he hadn’t already been hyper attentive towards those two in particular.

When had it all started? Not as far as back in East Blue, he was sure. Back then, they had just been his new comrades, the two of them; along with Luffy and Nami, of course. Nami with her level head and secret chains that held her back until she and Luffy and the rest smashed them open, with her amazing inner strength and guiding hand, indispensable for their journey. Luffy above all, Luffy himself who ran into your life and shook things up and opened up ways you hadn’t dared take, not caring about who you used to be or how strong you weren’t but only about what you wanted to do with your life and if you were willing to stake your life on going where they were going. Usopp hadn’t paid any more attention, back then, to the swordsman and the cook.

But that had been big enough at the time, strange and wondrous enough: to be comrades with Zoro, the already-famous bounty hunter who probably would have scared Usopp more if he’d had the time for it before they’d already fought and won a battle together – Zoro, who followed his dream no matter how strong his opponent and never backed away even if it meant his death, who was often quiet, often sarcastic, oddly reliable and whose great open laugh had been more common, back then, than it was now.

And same for Sanji, the lanky coarse-mouthed cook with a sceptical eye and a cool and cocky manner in the face of danger, held back from his dream by duty only until Luffy happened (but not by fear, never fear when it came to them); who could get irate or swoon for ladies at the drop of a hat only to fall back into cool, tough mode the next moment.

They were bewildering and fascinating and endlessly impressive, even if he also enjoyed learning about how much they could both be frustrating dorks. Like Luffy, they tugged at him but seemed far too advanced for him to ever have a hope of catching up, not just in outer strength but in courage and attitude too.

So when did it start to change? Was it back in Alabasta, or even before that? At some point on the way the fascinated admiration (not at all unmixed with envy) had started to turn to more, as other kinds of thoughts started to appear in his mind as he watched them, other reasons for looking just a bit longer and a little more often than warranted.

Especially when Zoro’s shirt was torn, or he made that particular little dismissive/grumpy turn with his head; or when Sanji was leaning back at ease towards the railing with a relaxed grin; or his long, steady hands when preparing food with such speed and pinpoint skill... but at first it hadn’t been easy to tell those impulses apart from just admiration. There were moments when his overheated teenaged mind would have inappropriate thoughts of just about everyone of his crewmates except for the reindeer, after all.

It wasn’t until the two of them had started to turn up in dreams and in those fantasies halfway between wakefulness and sleep that Usopp realised he had started to single them out, without ever wanting or meaning to. He'd sighed, at the time, thinking of it as a minor affliction that would hopefully soon pass, and that he needed to be careful about hiding. (Very careful; they would certainly be upset and offended, if they knew, it only stood to reason. Besides, it would be mortifying.)

Water 7 hadn’t helped with making any of that clearer. Looking back now he could see that those types of feelings hadn’t gone away completely even then - they’d only been buried for a while, underneath a huge cave-in of anger, self-hatred and despair. He’d torn up his friendship with Luffy and his allegiance to the crew in one fell swoop, all the better to tear himself down too – too frightened he’d only mess up again and get thrown aside for it, if he stayed, and too upset about Merry to think clearly.

And when those particular feelings had come back, bit by bit as he picked up the remains of himself, and picked up a mask to help him stand up again, it was hard to separate them out from the general loneliness.



There had been a moment on Enies Lobby, when they’d been standing together on the stolen Marine escort ship - the one that would get blown up soon afterwards - watching the situation, waiting for Luffy to win, unsure of what the next step would be but awaiting it together - when he’d felt a new sense of connection to Sanji and Zoro in particular (though Franky had stood with them as well). He’d been in disguise and not-of-the-crew, but it was… like he could understand them better, like he felt closer to getting their outlook on life. And there had been a longing in it, too much of it. Later he’d gone back to doubting himself again and whether anything of that connection was mutual. But right then, it had meant something.



And now those feelings and their yearnings were back with a vengeance, muddling everything up.



He sighed, putting his projects on the workbench aside for a moment and looking up at the sky, stretching his hands over his head and adjusting his bandanna. Perverted fantasies were one thing, honest concern for his crewmates very much another, but this... well, it was more than just the former, but it wasn’t only the latter, either; and his awareness of that fact unnerved him and made him unsure of what he should do. He couldn’t really trust that his motivations were pure. Reason told him that since he felt all muddled like that, it would be smartest to leave well enough alone and not try to intervene. Whatever it was about would blow over soon. He should be fine with Sanji and Zoro having secrets and being serious and quiet for their own damn unknown reasons, but...



I don’t like it. I just don’t like it.

Then again, when had he ever been able to keep his nose out of other people’s business?

**

“Look. I don’t have to know, all right?”

Zoro looked up from the grass. He was doing push-ups on the lawn deck with weights on his back. Usopp was leaning at the nearest railing, watching him with a frown.

“Know what?” he asked.

"I don’t have to know whatever it is that you know and Sanji knows and Sanji won’t tell me,” said Usopp. He held up a hand as to stop Zoro from interrupting, although Zoro wasn’t trying to. “It’s fine.” He drummed his fingers on the railing and didn’t look at Zoro. “But I can still tell he’s worried about you,” he went on in a lower voice.

Zoro scowled. Man, why did Usopp pick this time to be so observant? “No, you’re wrong,” he said roughly. “He’s just being annoying like usual. And...” – He’d wanted to say and there’s nothing to tell but the words choke in his throat. ”And that’s all there is to it,” he finished.

Usopp crossed his arms and harrumphed, looking down at the boards of the deck. Zoro removed the weights on his back and switched to doing handstand push-ups.

“I actually do know how to keep a secret, you know,” Usopp said. “I know I talk a lot, but I’ve done that for others before.”

Zoro hummed non-committedly. He privately considered that Usopp was more likely to resolve to keep quiet but then wind up letting it all out in some moment of emotional stress. But even if he was wrong about that, Zoro still didn’t want him to know the full truth of what had happened between him and Kuma.

His balance wobbled, and he flipped to his feet, wiping sweat away with a towel as he straightened up. He sighed. It wouldn’t be half as bad as Luffy knowing, of course - but Usopp would get all tearful and grateful and huggy, overcome with mushiness. Zoro didn’t want that. He couldn’t see how that particular truth would do the sniper any good in the long run, either.

“There isn’t anything to tell,” he said, getting the words out firmly now. He met Usopp’s eyes steadily. “Don’t make a fuss. It’s dumb.”

“...Fine,” muttered Usopp. “Fine, I just...” Then he burst out, “There’s something weird going on! And not a good kind of weird! I don’t like it!!”

“Well, don’t blame me!” snapped Zoro. “I’m just doing what I always do! Blame the weather or the shit-cook for working himself up over nothing, I don’t have anything to do with it!” He threw the towel away. His pulse was beating angrily in his temple. This was stupid, why couldn’t he keep his cool?

Usopp stared at him with surprise, then rallied. “Aha!” he hissed, keeping his voice down this time around. “So you do admit something is weird, at least!”

Zoro drew a hand through his hair and closed his eyes for a moment. A dizziness came over him, and his forehead felt hot. The wounds ached more than usual.

He wanted to say: it’s fine. He wanted to say: quit worrying. He wanted to turn and walk away from there, a picture of perfect health, steady mind and clear thoughts. And he’d do that, in a moment, he only needed to regain his balance first...



Eyes open again, he was painfully aware of his gaze straying to Usopp’s arms, re-crossed over his chest, and to the area around his collarbone. Those arms and shoulders were still fairly scrawny, but more toned and muscled now than when he’d first joined them. And right now, it wasn’t Sanji his body most wanted to pin against the nearest wall, tree or mast and use his mouth and hands to make him stop talking...

Are you okay, Zoro? You kinda... seem a little pale right now.” Usopp’s eyes were wide, honestly concerned. “And you’re trembling,” he added in a lower tone.

“Yeah. Sure. Fine.” His throat was dry, but Zoro could manage that much. “It’s nothing.”

*

Usopp had retreated after that, looking pretty sceptical but not pressing the matter any more right then. After a short, uneasy nap, Zoro got up on his feet again and rubbed his eyes; still aching and tired and just a shade short of feverish but at least not as dizzy. He was just about to start climbing up to the crow’s nest for more training, when he heard Nami shout at him from the bridge.

“Oh, perfect!” she cried out. “Hey, Zoro - catch!” She threw a clay flask down at him; he caught it in time, feeling the smell of rum and hearing the slosh of liquid inside it.

“What the-? You could have smashed it!” exclaimed Zoro at this cavalier treatment of the good drink. He heard a snigger behind him and turned his head, shooting a glare at Sanji who was standing on the steps up to the second deck.

“Like you wouldn’t catch it,” said Nami, waving that aside. “Anyway, Franky needed some of that rum for some weapons stuff or other, I don’t know, but he’s done now and there’s plenty left. Can you two go put it back into the bar? Way in the back, it’s got a box of its own, you’ll see. Sanji, go with him and make sure he doesn’t drink too much of the inventory in there.”

“Hey!” Sheesh, it wasn’t like Zoro was some kind of Luffy-like monster for booze; the bar didn’t have a lock on it like the fridge did, after all. On the other hand, he noted that she hadn’t said he couldn’t have anything at all.

“Of course!” carolled Sanji cheerfully. “Anything you want, Nami-baby! Then I can check the state of the fish tank, too!”

“Oh, and there’s a bottle of medicinal alcohol on the top shelf of the cabinet, way over to the left!” Nami added. “Can you bring that one out for Chopper? He’s said he needs it, but he’s stuck mixing herbs right now.”

“Fine,” said Zoro. He carried the flask carefully on his way to the bar/aquarium/observatory. Once there, he found the box she’d meant in one corner, fastened to the floor and with plenty of wood shavings inside to cushion the flask against impact.

“Hey,” said Sanji, who stood looking at the fish tank pensively, “Usopp said something weird earlier today.”

“What.” Zoro made his tone as flat and uninviting as possible, not even putting any real questioning tone into it.

“Well, he seemed to think... he’d somehow gotten the impression...” Sanji paused, looking for a moment longer at the fish in the tank, then out the window and the lacklustre sea, the low skies above it. A flock of birds passed in the distance.

“...Ah, never mind. Doesn’t shitty matter.” He put his hands in his pockets, and started to walk towards the door.

“The hell-!” exclaimed Zoro, really annoyed by now. “Lousy cook, you can’t just-” He stopped; Sanji had stopped walking as well and was looking at him with a ‘wanna make something of it?’ expression. Zoro might have ordinarily liked the opportunity, but right now there were other things to focus on. “He was talking to me just now, too,” he went on in a calmer tone. “But I didn’t get why he was so worked up. Started out making sense and then... not so much.” He frowned.

Sanji blew out some smoke. “Yeah?” he drawled. “Maybe because your shitty brain couldn’t grasp it.”

“You’re the one with nothing but mush between the ears, love-cook! ...Anyway. Said he didn’t mind it if we’re keeping something secret from him.” He crossed his arms, letting that sink in.

Sanji nodded. “Uh-huh. He’s been...” he scratched the back of his head, “...on at me a bit like he suspects something weird was going on with you. Back over there.”

“Mmhm,” was all Zoro had to answer to that. The silence stretched out for some very long seconds. He half wanted to add, ‘Don’t tell him’, but he knew that was superfluous. Instead he opened the drinks cabinet and looked at the bottles for the one Chopper wanted, noting they didn’t have much booze left right now, sadly. “Where the hell is that thing...” he muttered under his breath.

“She said left, you’re over at the far right,” said Sanji. He walked over to the opposite side of the cabinet and picked up a small bottle with a bright yellow label on it.

“Anyway,” said Zoro, grabbing a small flask of gin for himself, “about Usopp. Then he acted like... I don’t know what’s going on with him, I don’t get it. So.” He turned and looked straight at Sanji. “What the hell did you mean, just now?”



Sanji looked away and laughed a little, not sounding very happy. He cleared his throat. “Just a shitty notion… Nothing that would make you happy to hear about.”



“What?” Zoro’s pulse started to beat faster. “You...” He felt dizzy again, a bad feeling about this now. He felt a sudden fear this would take him to unfamiliar waters that were at the same time all too familiar, from dreams and suppressed desires.



Sanji’s posture and movements were now all sharp, angular, unflowing. But there was a flash of hard challenge in his eyes as he finally looked back, warning Zoro off. “Don’t. Give it a rest, Mosshead,” he all but snarled.



Zoro felt a flood of relief. The hostility seemed sharper than usual, but this was still safer ground. Unfortunately, he couldn’t exactly back off when Sanji put it like that. “You’re the one who brings stuff up without explaining” he growled. “Half-baked wishy-washy candy-ass shitty eyebrow...”



“Oh yeah? Watch what you’re saying, you overgrown piece of lawn-”

The door opened, and they both froze as Usopp of all people poked his head in. “Nami was wondering why it took you guys so long,” he said. “Uh.” He looked from one to the other. Why? Zoro had to wonder. There was nothing unusual with this particular situation, was there? “Did I interrupt something?” asked Usopp.

“Nah. I’m done here,” said Sanji shortly. “Talk to the algae man if you like.” He waved towards Zoro. “I’m leaving.”

“Hey, wait! I didn’t mean it like that. Actually, since – since you’re both here–” Usopp started to say, clearing his throat; but Sanji was already moving past him to the door, not looking at him. “Sanji!!” Usopp protested.

“Look,” the cook snapped, rounding on him and including Zoro in his glare, “I’ve had it up to here with both of you! Both that shit-for-brains mossy lunatic and you, o Master of Negative Ghosts!” Usopp gaped at him; Zoro felt taken aback too. “Just – just go be idiots somewhere else, I need to get started on dinner!” Sanji finished, then strode out.

“What the... What’s that supposed to mean?” Usopp turned towards Zoro, who could only shake his head.

“Don’t ask me. Looks like the pervert eyebrow is even more screwy than usual.”

“I guess - guess I’d better ask Nami if she needs any more help,” mumbled Usopp and was out of there quickly.

*

Out on the first deck again, he ran into Chopper, already clutching the flask of medicinal alcohol Sanji had picked out. The reindeer brightened as he saw Zoro, then changed to a sterner look and called out, “Don’t move, I’ve got something for you!” He zoomed up to the bridge and was back in half a minute, carrying another, smaller bottle. “It’s medicine! Take two spoons right now,” he ordered, “then two before going to bed.”

“Do I really need to? I told you, I’m fine now.”

“No, you’re not! But since you insist on taking off your bandages and moving around and training too much, you can at the very least take some medicine to help you! It’s the least you can do!” Chopper crossed his tiny arms over his chest and fixed his eyes on Zoro firmly.

“Fine, fine,” muttered Zoro. “Stop nagging, I’ll do it. Only, seems a bit of a waste of medicine when I don’t really need it.”

“Here’s a spoon for you,” said Chopper helpfully. “And don’t worry about that! This potion is easy to make more of. I got new herbs from the Rollerblade Pirates that will last a while!” He paused while Zoro put the offered spoon in one pocket resignedly, the medicine in another together with the gin. “Zoro,” Chopper added in a lower, serious tone that made Zoro look at him more closely. “I’m only one person, okay? And there’s way too much I don’t know about yet about treating people. I know I need to get stronger, but… right now this is all I can do.” He held his forepaws tightly, as if they were fists.

“Huh. Never seen a doctor as good as you,” Zoro said, meaning it. “But if you think you need to get stronger, I know you can. We all do.”

“You- you shitty idiot! That doesn’t make me relieved at all to hear that or anything!!” But as Zoro walked away, feeling just a little better himself, Chopper called out, “Hey! This doesn’t mean you’re off the hook! You still need to take it easier!”

Chopper was right, thought Zoro as he started to climb up the mast. Not about that last bit, maybe, but it was true they all needed to be stronger, not just him. And also smarter, more skillful, better informed... but Zoro was a warrior first and foremost, and he’d always think of it in terms of strength. That was what he was good at, after all.

The cook should know it too, so what had he meant by bringing up those unpleasant ‘negative ghosts’ of Moria’s minion? Usopp had proved immune to them, which had been very convenient and lucky. But that was just another kind of strength, and one you had to respect, too, being able to overcome those crushing emotions. If Sanji was going to disrespect that by feeling sorry for Usopp over it, that would make Zoro disappointed in the idiot. He hoped it wasn’t like that.

He wiped the sweat from his brow after a bout of weightlifting, the bitter taste of the medicine in his mouth. Still felt weird, out of pace, off-kilter... but now he felt he could sense the balance he looked for really was somewhere out there. If he could just shift himself into the right angle, his mind in the best direction, he’d find it.

That damn spicy scent grew stronger again. He suddenly remembered a dream from the night before, one where his dream-self had come across Usopp and Sanji in a rowboat, first placidly playing cards and then slowly but also pretty damn casually starting to kiss. He’d intended to call out to them at first, but then hid behind a convenient large bronze statue. There wasn’t much else he could recall from that dream, apart from the sense he got when watching them, half horny and half wistful.

In this persistently buzzing state of mind and body, he climbed down for food as the dinner call sounded. At the table, he guarded his food the best he could, not hesitating to spear Luffy’s hand with a fork in the process but secretly content with that boundless energy. Luffy, at least, didn’t seem to be worried about him. He trusted Zoro to be strong and to be well on the way to get even stronger, and that, when it came down to it, meant more than anything else. All the same, Zoro made sure not to look too long at the cook or the sniper while eating, only giving them studied neutral looks when he had to.

But today happened to be his turn doing the washing up. He cleared the table quickly and filled the sink with hot water and soap, starting to do the dishes at a quick pace. The rest of the crew had cleared out by now.

Sanji was sitting down by the table with a pen and piece of paper in hand, smoking as he wrote. Probably just planning tomorrow’s menu or something boring like that. He made no effort to break the silence, but didn't leave the room either.

Finally, at a point where he was nearly finished, Zoro cleared his throat.

“Look,” he said without turning his head, keeping his voice low, “if he comes to you again... you can tell him something.”

“Uh? Oh.” A pause, just long enough for Sanji to inhale deeply on his cigarette. “You sure?” The tone was calm, almost nonchalant on the surface.

“Yeah. Not all of it... but some. If you want to,” Zoro allowed. He went over to the table and wiped it down with a dishcloth, not looking up at the cook. It was a concession. Maybe an unwise one, but... it wasn’t as if Usopp was Luffy. Zoro still wasn’t sure why Sanji seemed to feel so backed into a corner by all of this, but maybe opening up this one narrow path could be of some help. To Zoro as well? He doubted it.

The air suddenly felt far too thick. He quickly retreated, walking all the way up to the helm this time to do some chin-ups on Sunny’s figurehead - as far away from the galley as possible.

Continued in Part Two
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printfogey: Picture of Argentinian cartoon character Mafalda (Default)
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