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They directed Sanji into the too-warm, silk-draped room and shut the door behind him with a firm and ominous clang.

He wished he had a cigarette.

The air in here was clinging and humid, like a damp, hot summer night, despite the weather on this autumn island. The walls were hung with lengths of deep blue and burgundy silk that shimmered gently in the flickering light of the lantern overhead. It was like an upholstered sauna, he thought to himself with distate, before the dread in his stomach knotted up again.

They’d required him to take off his suit and change into a light, loose cotton robe. It was blue as the walls, belted with a burgundy rope.

His feet were bare, and the cool stones of the floor offered the only contrast to the damp, clinging air. He stepped forward, once, twice, and with each stride towards the curtains that hid what was on the piled pillows at the far wall of the small room, he felt his insides roil with dread, embarrassment and bone-deep worry. For Luffy, currently incapacitated by seastone spears pressed against his throat, for Usopp and Nami, caged and bruised, but most of all for Zoro. Anger swirled into the rest of his stormy thoughts as he parted the curtains and saw the swordsman without his swords, without anything to defend against what was about to happen to him.

Zoro was on his back, naked. Smooth ropes bound his wrists and pulled his arms straight out to either side, tethering his upper body. There was a loop of rope below each knee and ankle, and his legs both hung, parted, awaiting whomever had won the fight to take the offering.

His head was tilted back. Sanji couldn’t see his face, but the way his limbs hung limply, the single, lolling movement of his head in reaction to the sound of Sanji's approach, made it clear he had been drugged, just as promised, for “compliance.”

It had been no one’s fault, for once, not even Luffy’s. They’d been getting ready to buy from the small market on this island, a short but bustling street in a quiet, normal-seeming town with a silent, predatory underbelly. Visitors were all regarded as potential "offerings" to the local fertility gods. Or something. Sanji wasn't clear on that, hadn't been in any mood to listen when they were surrounded and captured.

That they used seastone as ceremonial weapon blades was icing on the whole foul cake. Fighting to escape would do no good if all one of the three captors pinning Luffy had to do was lean a little harder on the spear point resting against his throat

They'd all thought it might be defused, for a while, that they just had to navigate some weird ritual and then they could get the fuck off this rock.

Ritual. Right.

One cleric, more temperate than the rest, allowed that only one of them need submit, that would suffice and they'd be released.

Nami had shrilly demanded an explanation.

“It is a fertility rite,” the cleric said, looking smug and off-puttingly... hungry. "One will drink the ceremonial draught, then submit to accept the seed of one of our champions.”

Nami had tensed utterly still, eyes strained, Usopp had blanched, Sanji had felt nauseous. Luffy had made a noise like a sickly, snarling groan, seething and feebly struggling as he lay on the ground, drained of all energy by the seastone.

"Now now," the cleric had said, watching them all close ranks around Nami with an amusement that made Sanji's rage redouble. "Gender of the offering is irrelevant. It's a ceremonial act. Not that she would be refused, by any means," the man added, with an appreciative glance.

Sanji's furious lunge was forestalled by an immobilizing hand on his arm. “I'll do it,” Zoro said, walking forward shouldering past the guards around him like they didn't exist. For all he cared, Sanji knew, they didn't. Either of them could have dealt with the crowds of armed guards surrounding them, Nami and Usopp certainly could have fought and fled easily enough as well... but not any of it fast enough. Rubber could be cut, just like flesh.

“Zoro—” Sanji started, shocked but still angry, then cut himself off when the idiot swordsman turned to look over his shoulder. Zoro raised an eyebrow and shrugged.

“Not him," Zoro nodded towards Luffy. "Neither of them,” he said flatly, eyes glancing towards Nami and Usopp, and Sanji couldn't argue with that automatic fact, but, he had to say it. “I—”

“No.” Zoro interrupted him with the same flat reply, half-lidded, serious eyes meeting his with simple, solid refusal. “You either, shit cook.”

Zoro let himself be led away at spear-point, moving like he was simply walking down the street, and Sanji stared after him, filled with bewildered fury that the asshole had decided he needed to be protected. A hot current of shame ran through him at the relief he also felt, however, and that was worse.

But the cleric had said "champion" for a reason, at least.

Sanji entered the fray, when the arena was opened for eager applicants to fight for the right to rape Zoro. His demand to join was met with amusement, the expression infuriating him even as he waited to know if it would even be allowed. There was no rule against it--indeed, the cleric seemed to be amused by the prospect. Sanji reserved his anger to power his fight.

A free-for-all brawl was even less challenge than a one-on-one, no one paid him much heed, then it was too late, and he spun on his hands to send them flying, dispatching the remainder with hardly any effort at all.

This whole situation was fucked up beyond belief, he had thought, staring at the unconscious bodies around him, the idea that any of these maggots could have touched any part of Zoro was beyond offensive.

And now, barely an hour later, it was his touch that Zoro was supposed to endure instead.

“Marimo,” he said, feeling his mouth gone dry.

Zoro shifted slightly in his bonds, and groaned, muttering incoherently for a few syllables, before he trailed off in a growl. He took a slow breath and tried again. “Cook...”

Sanji said nothing, instead kneeling to work at the knots. The clerics outside had said he could do whatever he wanted. The act would not be watched—small mercy—but the aftermath would be verified. The words had been hypocritically roundabout, given the satisfaction on some clerics' faces, but he'd understood; he had to finish, and it had to be inside Zoro. They would... examine Zoro, afterwards.

He undid the ropes, and found that Zoro was already breathing a little faster, moving a little stronger. The stupid ox's stamina would deal with this drug soon.

“You're gonna be fine in a minute, let's just go get him,” Sanji said furiously, pulling open the last knot on Zoro's right wrist. Zoro's hand flexed and curled slowly into a fist.

“Nah...” Zoro shook his head slowly. His eyes were closed and he was frowning. “No... collateral, no... leeway. They'll just kill them. This is their mercy to us... no reason for them to keep them alive if we do anything... Just do it, cook.” Zoro did open his eyes then, peering blearily at Sanji, clouded gaze managing a sneer somehow devoid of any actual contempt. “'Less you can't... get it up?”

“Fuck you,” Sanji snapped, likewise failing to inject any heat into it. But he said nothing more, sitting cross-legged and glowering down at Zoro, feeling like the skin of his face was on fire.

“Can you?” Zoro asked bluntly, closing his eyes again, his voice suddenly detached and matter-of-fact, and Sanji's eyes widened and he stared at Zoro's face, trying to find any hint of stress, of discomfort... anything.

“Don't you care that some stranger with who knows what disgusting diseases could've been here to fuck you up the ass?” Sanji demanded, and Zoro dragged his eyelids up, looked at Sanji and gave a soft snort.

“Figured... there was a good chance that wouldn't happen,” he said, shifting in what he could muster of a shrug, and Sanji realized Zoro had expected this to happen this way. That realization made fresh anger and, somehow, pride wash over him at once. Zoro had trusted him to do this—had anticipated his reaction. That stunned him.

“If you wanted to get lucky,” Sanji muttered, turning his face to the wall, “there are easier ways.”

Zoro snorted, eyes still closed, face pointed upward. “Same to you.”

“You think this is lucky, shithead?” Sanji snapped tightly.

Zoro didn't reply for a while, and Sanji finally looked back over at him, seeing for the first time a hint of stress around Zoro's mouth, a frown over his eyes. “No,” he said quietly. “This isn't how it's supposed to go.” Sanji blinked at him, though Zoro's eyes remained closed. His expression grew pained now, and Sanji suddenly felt extremely uncomfortable in an entirely new way. Zoro's eyes slid open, still bleary, but he looked at Sanji. “M'sorry, cook,” he said, and it was in those dark eyes, he meant that.

“Don't fucking apologize to me, seaweed-head,” Sanji snapped, “I'm not the one getting raped here.” I'm just the one doing it to you, he snarled to himself. He hadn't even touched Zoro yet, not with... not with intent, and the oil-slick film of discomfort at the situation thickened to something clinging and filthy.

Zoro's eyebrows twitched at that. “You're being forced as much as I am,” he sighed.

“Fuck it,” Sanji said, his voice tight around the tightness in his chest. The needed to get this over with. He untied the belt around his waist with a violent yank and flung the robe away.

“Fuck me” Zoro corrected, and Sanji choked at the... joke? Command? Demand?

“Not. Helping,” Sanji gritted. “Shut up and...” he didn't know how to finish that sentence.

“There's lube,” Zoro said suddenly. “That bowl. Use it. Just close your eyes and move, pretend... whatever,” he finished, curt.

Sanji didn't respond, but he shoved at Zoro, rolling him over onto his front, unwilling to stare at his face while he did this. The lube was some kind of gel, scented with something flowery, and he took nearly a handful of the cool stuff and slicked himself up. The glide of his hand and the rapidly warming smooth wetness managed to coax an erection from him, almost against his expectations, and he wiped the excess off on one of the pillows. He paused when he came to the next step, staring at the cheeks of Zoro's ass, well-muscled as the rest of him, but relaxed just now with the remnants of the drugging.

The moment stretched, his momentum totally gone, because now he had to... he had to...

“C'mon,” Zoro grunted. “Just do it. It’s the fastest way out.”

Sanji reached then stopped before he touched. "I should--you need--" he wasn't sure he could... prepare him.

"I don't. Get on with it."

Sanji swallowed the wave of self-revulsion and put his hands down, parting Zoro's cheeks. He barely looked after that, holding himself with one hand and then just pushing.

Zoro grunted again when he pushed through. Zoro's ass was tight but there was little resistance, and Sanji was relieved. He placed his hands on either side of Zoro's torso, braced his knees and, as Zoro had urged, just moved.

There was nothing he could summon to make this easier. No usual fantasy could be tainted by this insane situation, he refused to do that. The pure physical stimulation was enough, though. Heat, tightness, warmth. He squeezed his eyes tightly closed, clenched his teeth and fucked Zoro as fast as he could, short, hard strokes to get himself up and over the edge as quickly as possible.

He came with shallow gasp, face hot and he felt his lips grimace with the anger and disgust he felt flooding in on the heels of that orgasm.

Pulling out as soon as he could, he thudded back on his ass, grabbing one of the curtains and ripping it from the wall to wipe himself off. Still panting, he found his robe and got to his feet, absolutely not looking at Zoro, where he still lay facedown on the pillows, arms bent up near his head and curled loosely around folds in the cloth.

He opened the door to leave, stopping short at the sight before him—the elder clerics were right there, waiting in a double row of perverted satisfaction that made him grind his teeth and have to consciously hold back from violence. Beyond them was the cage where the rest of the crew waited, Usopp and Nami were both visibly roughed up. Luffy was in his own lockup, still in a boneless puddle under the seastone spear points, apparently unconscious now from prolonged exposure.

Two of the elders brushed past him, and the rest blocked him from moving further. He stared fixedly forward, but was unable not to listen to the rustle of robes and murmur of words exchanged between the two elders as they… examined Zoro.

What felt like hours, but was surely barely five minutes, passed before the elders came out again, and the ones before him turned and left in single file. The last one spoke dismissively as they walked away. “The key is hung near the door. You're free to leave.”

Sanji swallowed a string of curses and made himself wait until they’d left for good. He snatched the key from the nail its ring hung on and threw it through the bars at Usopp, who caught it and began working at the lock. Nami gave him a distressed look and though he could feel the right reaction welling up, the “Nami-swan, please don’t let a frown mar your lovely face on my account!”, it stuck in his throat and he turned back into the ritual room. Though that was hardly better. Faced with their stares or looking at what he’d just done…

But Zoro was sitting up cross-legged now, head down but steady. He gave it a hard shake and then looked up. He blinked at Sanji, and leaned over to where his clothes were in a neat pile. “Back for more, pervert-cook?” his voice was casually insulting, just like normal, like nothing had just happened. .

Sanji had never actually felt blood drain from his face before, nor had nausea ever come up him so violently and so fast.

He lurched to one of the corners and threw up, and threw up again, until he gave a dry heave, his throat and mouth burning from bile.

A hand landed on his back and he shot upright and kicked out, planting his bare heel in Zoro’s stomach and sending him sprawling to the floor. Some part of his mind knew that had been too easy. Clearly the drug was still interfering with Zoro’s reflexes. Just as it had to make him pliable and unresisting… his stomach turned again, but there was nothing left to drive it to more vomiting, and so he just wiped his mouth with his sleeve and glared as Zoro pushed himself to his feet.

He’d gotten his pants on before he’d approached Sanji, at least, Sanji couldn’t have stood seeing him naked in here any longer.

“Sorry,” Zoro told him, simply and seriously, his face so fucking calm, how could he be that untouched by that after Sanji had—after he’d—it was impossible to understand. And most of all, how was Zoro the one apologizing here.

“Fuck you,” Sanji spat, and left the room.

By the time they got back to the ship, Sanji had managed to drag out some of his normal mannerisms and prop them in front of the roiling shakes that were taking up most of the rest of him. It was a fragile wall, but it held for the rest of the day, through barking at Luffy to let him finish dinner, chatting with Usopp while drying dishes, and giving Nami all the attention she deserved. He even managed to present enough of a relaxed facade to reassure Chopper.

Cooking was a help to his nerves, the familiar motions and the art that he loved a balm over the rest of it, a desperately welcomed distraction, and dinner that night was extravagantly presented.

The only thing he couldn’t manage, couldn’t even fake, was interacting with Zoro at all. He ignored him, except for the couple of seconds it took to slam his plate down in front of him. Fortunately, that level of interaction between didn't seem to strike the others as out of character.

He took the first watch, hoping that tiredness would help him sleep afterwards. He certainly wouldn’t be sleeping now.

The night dragged on, the sounds of the ship at rest, the creaks of wood and rope and the quiet flap of the sail were his only company. This was not better than lying awake down in the cabin. It was worse. There was nothing to distract him here, no hostile ships attacking, no sea kings looking for a midnight snack, only Sanji, the stars, and the water.

At long last, he heard the hatch below open, and then two hands shot past the crow’s nest to come down on the railing, and then Luffy came up and bounced over the edge to land next to him.

“My turn!” he announced, and Sanji nodded, moving to step one leg and then the other over the rail to find the rigging and climb down again. To what purpose, he had no idea. He was sure sleep would continue to elude him.

“Sanji,” Luffy said, and his voice made Sanji stop and look up. Luffy was leaning over the rail above, watching him with a serious expression that made Sanji want to crawl under a rock. Luffy’s forehead wrinkled with a frown, and he shook his head.

“Don’t be mad at yourself,” he said. He looked silently down for a few seconds, then added, “being mad is okay. But not like that.” He sighed. “I wish I could have beat them up for you.”

Luffy hadn't woken up until after they were back on the ship, and had pulled anchor.

Sanji huffed a laugh at that. “Sure, Luffy.” He kept on down the rigging, shaking his head, though he realized when his feet hit the deck that he felt lighter than before, something in his chest unknotted and no longer choking him. Luffy understood. Not fully, not really, and that was as it should be, but he did see what Sanji felt, nonetheless. It lifted some weight away.

Heading for the bathroom before daring to try for sleep, he opened the door to a faceful of steam and caught a blur of bare, tanned skin and green hair.

Zoro turned and saw him, and Sanji lifted his foot to back out, but Zoro said, “wait.”

Sanji felt his heart race, felt his anger flare, but he stopped, and he closed the door behind him.

“What.”

“Did they… did they do something to me? My back, my skin, it’s like…” Zoro trailed off into a growl. “It’s crawling,” he said, and his hands clenched, soapy water dripping off his knuckles as he squeezed the cloth in one fist.

Sanji stared, incredulous, and Zoro stared back, expression challenging him to mock, but mostly just waiting.

Sanji shrugged off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. “Turn,” he snapped, and Zoro turned, planting his hands on the wall and presenting the broad expanse of his back to Sanji’s eyes.

There was nothing on it, nothing more than old, familiar scars. No new marks, scratches, ink lines, needle marks… “It’s clean,” he said. “There’s nothing.”

“They touched me, and after that, it just—something’s there,” Zoro replied, and Sanji felt his own body clench in a motionless flinch at the thought.

They hadn’t touched Sanji, he’d escaped that, and his inside churned at the very idea. “So get someone to wash your back,” he said dully. “Luffy’s outside, I’ll get him. Or I'll wake up Chopper.”

“Can't you?” Zoro asked, and his voice was low, tired, a little surprised.

“You want me to touch you now? Didn’t get enough before?”

The sarcasm was too angry, and Sanji tried to leash his temper.

Zoro half-turned, staring at him without words, only serious eyes and a slight frown.

Silence stretched until the already-uncomfortable atmosphere became almost unbearable, and Sanji was ready to storm out.

“I just want to get clean,” Zoro said finally.

“I’m hardly gonna fix that problem, am I?” Sanji retorted, his hands tightening into fists and then spreading open in nervous reaction. “I did the worst of it. Me. Or did you not notice?”

Zoro looked startled at that, and Sanji was confused.

“No.” Zoro tilted his head slightly. “You…” he took a short breath. “You didn’t do the worst of it.”

“I raped you,” Sanji told him, hoping the statement might get some kind of reaction that actually made sense.

Zoro’s expression changed, yes, but not as he’d hoped; no anger, not even a hint of disgust or fear at the word, nothing. Instead he seemed to have realized something.

And then he reached for Sanji, one hand moving slowly out, until it found his, held it lightly, lifted it. He raised his other hand and used both to hold Sanji’s, sliding his thumbs over the back, between the knuckles and fingers, some kind of weird study.

Sanji let him, but felt more and more every second like he should pull his hand free, stop touching Zoro. He didn’t want to spread any of the filth inside him.

“Rape is… a power trip, I think,” Zoro said studying the hand he held. “It’s dominating someone in the worst way to get some kind of rush.” He looked up at Sanji. “You can’t be telling me that’s what you thought you were doing, love-cook. You of all people.”

“No, but I fucked you,” Sanji hissed, “and you can’t tell me that was on your plan for today, Marimo.” He tried to pull his hand from Zoro’s grip, but the attempt was halfhearted, and Zoro didn't let him go. He just kept exploring Sanji's hand, or whatever it was he was attempting with the slow motion of his thumbs and fingers over Sanji’s skin.

“Or yours. It happened to both of us. They did it to you too,” Zoro said, and Sanji’s insides congealed, chilly and gelatinous and sickening. His fury thrashed for a moment, then reformed in a different shape, jagged, corrosive spines turning outwards.

“I—” Sanji tried, feeling suddenly vague.

He’d been the one doing the fucking, Zoro had had to lie there and take it.

But…

He’d had to be the one to do the fucking, Zoro had been able to just endure.

All this because the clerics… because the town… had forced…

And then the clerics had gone in...

“Look," Zoro said steadily, "it’s not you I’m trying to wash off. I know you... I expected you. So it felt shitty, it wasn't good sex--maybe it wasn't even sex, I don't know. I don't care about that part. The worst was after, lying there while they put their hands on me,” and Zoro’s face went the way Sanji had been waiting for all this time, disgusted, sick, but it wasn’t at him. When Zoro did look at him again, the malaise eased away. “What you did... was a favour.”

“Couldn’t let one of those fuckers do it,” Sanji replied, feeling unsteadier than he had all day. He felt the slow evaporation of the crushing guilt begin, cold anger taking its place, anger that made sense, that he could look at, and grasp, and handle, and take apart, if not now, then eventually.

“Thanks,” Zoro said.

“Give me that,” Sanji freed his hand from Zoro’s grip, at last, and gestured for the cloth where it was lying across the soap dish.

He took his shirt off, the steam in the air settling comfortably against his skin, and he lathered the cloth while Zoro presented his back again, and Sanji slowly washed him. He was clean already, of course, but Sanji drew the cloth over his shoulders and upper arms, following with his other empty hand, sliding with splayed fingers over his warm skin. He could feel tension in the muscles that slowly gentled as he worked, washing over his shoulder blades and down to the small of his back.

Zoro braced his forearms against the tile, leaning almost at ease now, and Sanji paused. “Where else?” he asked.

“My legs,” Zoro said against the tile. “My ass, my… inside me.”

Sanji moved to his legs next, taking the easy way first, and then back up, over the cheeks of his ass, and finally, he swallowed and worked the cloth between them, careful, but not letting the awkwardness make him too light. “Did I… hurt... you?” The words came before he thought.

A ridiculous question. Zoro could take punishment so far beyond any of this. It was trivial. Less than that, it was irrelevant. Physically.

“Kinda stung at first,” Zoro replied steadily. “But you used enough lube. Y’didn’t tear me up or anything, if that’s what you wanted to know.”

Sanji made a noncommittal noise in reply. He wasn’t sure what he’d wanted to know.

He moved the cloth away, and let his fingers follow, just as for everywhere else. The soap-slick cleft was warm and his fingertips moved easily down it, spread it to find the tightly-clenched hole, soft little skin folds held snug together. It seemed undamaged. Looked clean. "Looks normal," he said quietly. The clench eased and Zoro sighed, the sound unsteady and relieved.

Sanji set the cloth down and moved back while Zoro stood fully upright to rinse the soap off. He studied his own hands, rubbing his thumbs over his fingertips.

He looked back at Zoro, watching him spray the soap away, his naked, scarred body pristine for now, until the next workout, or fight, or trip over the side of the ship to fish Luffy out of the sea.

Sanji's hands didn’t feel that clean. He didn’t feel that clean inside. He suspected Zoro didn’t either.

But a bit better, maybe. A bit of the anguish... diluted. The nadir of this who disaster felt like it had passed. The mess inside now something he could scale. Eventually.

Perspective. That’s what he had now.

Zoro turned, met his eyes. Their usual reactive competitiveness was still put aside for this moment, it seemed, and Sanji read a stark flash of regret in Zoro's face for a moment, before it too was pushed back inside.

“What?” he asked, and Zoro let out a short sigh that matched his brief expression.

“I'm fucked,” he said, then gave himself a grimace for the wording. “I'm—I had this idea, that... someday, I wondered, if we... anyway. Fucked, fucked up, fucked over,” he muttered, and stepped out of the tub, grabbing a towel. “Thank you,” he added suddenly, voice serious, the words heavy with sincerity.

“It was... nothing,” Sanji answered, his brain locked in neutral after Zoro's previous words. He stared into space a moment before saying, “you wanted... us, me to...”

Zoro gave him a shrug, unashamed, it seemed, now just unhappy. “It was a shot in a million anyway, love-cook. You're not exactly the poster-boy for queerness. Thought there was a chance you might work both sides. Doesn't matter now, though.”

“I—” Sanji couldn't find words. “I don't...”

“Never mind,” Zoro waved him to silence, and though Sanji would normally have verbally bitten his head of for daring that kind of gesture, or aimed a kick in the same general direction, he remained too stunned to respond.

Zoro's expression went quietly resigned, though the last look he gave Sanji was still solemn gratitude before he pulled his pants on and left the bathroom.

Sanji didn't dare to go down to the boys' cabin for some time, and when he did, Zoro was fast asleep. Sanji seethed briefly at the familiar snores. Fucking asshole swordsmen who dropped fucking bombshells like that after what they'd just been through had no right to fall asleep so easily.

Sanji dropped into his hammock, crossing his arms and glaring upward, expecting to wait out the remainder of the night like he had the part before his watch.

But sometime between one mental curse at the swordsman and the next, he fell asleep.

The next day was almost back to normal, at least on the outside. Sanji woke in the morning feeling on a much more even keel. Lingering fury and disgust remained, would for a long time, he was starting to think, but it was already easier to set aside for day-to-day activities. Zoro's sort-of confession was a fine distraction from it as well, though Sanji wasn't quite sure if he really wanted to dwell on that at all either.

Not the poster boy for queerness? he mentally repeated to himself. Fucking hell no. Sanji loved women. He loved looking at them, he loved their bodies and their smell and their hair, he wanted to treat every single one like the princess or queen they were.

Men... men were for sparring and arguing, for playing pranks on and with, for sitting on the ship railing and throwing a fishing line over the side. They were buddies or training partners or shitty swordsmen with crazy ideas.

Men were the ones in his fantasies about hard bodies and broad chests and large hands and unrestrained lust, instead of the ones about soft curves and slow motion and perfect touches.

But all those fantasies had been too precious to use for that ordeal he and Zoro had endured. Not least those about Zoro himself.

By the time breakfast was being prepared, he felt outwardly back to normal enough that mustering his usual temper was easy to do, slingshotting his captain out of the galley before he drank the crepe batter, and threatening Usopp with a cheese grater to his nose if he even thought about stealing the chocolate chips.

The meal was reassuringly like normal. Sanji sliced extra strawberries over Nami's crepe and added far too much whipped cream to Luffy's. Sanji had a moment of... not apprehension, but certainly wariness, when he served the swordsman his food, but Zoro just grunted, like he always did, and reached for the jam jar that Sanji always put out for him. Then it was as usual. Zoro smothered his crepes in Sanji's own recipe of minimally-sweetened berry jam and shoveled them into his mouth without anything more than a grunt of approval at the taste.

Usopp helped him wash up again, visibly nervous but chattering on with gradually increasing ease as Sanji responded normally to his newest tall tale. He trailed off when Sanji handed him the last plate, though, rubbing it slowly with the dish towel. “Th-thanks for—”

“Sure,” Sanji said quietly, needing to interrupt, but making sure he didn't snap. Part of what he'd discovered today, along with all the confusion, was relief that Usopp and Nami and Luffy were safe, hadn't been drawn into the worst of it. For that to remain so, he had to present himself as whole as well. Whatever his own troubles, admittedly already less than yesterday, it was absolutely worth it.

He glanced over at Usopp and twitched the corner of his mouth in a dismissive gesture. Usopp smiled tentatively back, and that calming relief washed over Sanji again.

Finishing the last of the tidying on his own, the awareness of Zoro's admission intruded on his consciousness again, the regret and unhappy resignation he'd seen on his face. That unnerved him, on so many levels... pure and simple shock that Zoro bore some kind of romantic interest in him... that the man's apparent aggravated disinterest all this time had been covering up what the raw emotion of their ordeal had exposed... that despite the ruin that ordeal should have dealt to any interest, Zoro's irrationally pragmatic mindset wouldn't allow him to change his opinion of Sanji in the aftermath.

But the fantasies Sanji had entertained himself with... Zoro's tanned, scarred body slick with sweat or water and moving hot against him, muscles bunching and flexing and reacting to Sanji's hands... he'd adamantly blocked them away during their time in that room, and it seemed they were still gone. Locked off, now. All he could summon was the memory of Zoro's still, drugged body. It made him queasy. It had been nothing like Zoro, nothing like what Sanji would ever want.

Sanji folded his dishtowel and hung it up, leaving the galley to walk out into brisk air and bright sun. Chopper and Usopp were barely-heard voices high up in the crow's nest, Luffy was on the figurehead. Nami, Sanji knew, was working on a new map.

Well, then.

Sanji found Zoro on the sunny side of the ship, stretched out as usual where anyone walking there would trip over him. Sanji kicked lightly at his shin. “Inconsiderate bastard.”

Zoro opened one eye, raised the accompanying eyebrow, then closed it again, moving his arms from where they were crossed over his chest to settle his hands up behind his head.

Sanji took out a cigarette and lit it, stood for a while, then took a long drag and sat down next to Zoro, blowing out his breath and watching the smoke dissipate in the cool air. In pleasant contrast, the sun was warm on his face, and sank its heat into the black of his pants and suit jacket.

“Shot in a million, right?” Sanji said finally, staring out at the sea. He saw slight movement in the corner of his eye. “Lucky you, then, asshole.” He looked over then, letting his arms hang forward over his knees, cigarette in his hand. Zoro's eyes were open, arms held slightly away from his head like he'd just stopped himself sitting up properly. His expression was intent but very careful. “You'll need it,” Sanji muttered, looking away again. “Because fuck if I can't get rid of this shit in my head.”

There was a pause. Then, “I never lose,” Zoro said finally. “I won't lose to that either.” That was just stupid, Sanji knew, for many reasons. Things like this didn't work that way. Zoro went on, “What you're remembering doesn't hold a fucking candle to the real thing.”

“Heh.” Egotistical fucker. Still, Sanji had no doubt about that. And the thought made him... optimistic.