The barbell clanked to the floor, followed by Zoro’s exhausted body. The pleasant burn in his muscles had long since given way to a bone-deep numbness that set his muscle fibers twitching. He gave up trying to open his water pouch with shaking fingers and ripped a hole open with his mouth, guzzling the water that rushed out. His thirst now sated, he eyed his favorite secluded napping corner of the Going Merry, but unfortunately his stomach protested its emptiness loudly.He groaned, but wrung the sweat out of his shirt and used it to give himself a quick wipedown before walking into the kitchen. Normally he’d saunter in leaving puddles of sweat with every step, but a snack and a nap were looking real good right about now and a fight with the shit-cook would mean he’d get neither for several hours.
In the kitchen, Sanji was messing with several pots of simmering something-or-others. He didn’t have to turn around to know who had just walked in.
“Don’t bring your stench into the kitchen! Do you want Nami-swan’s food to taste like salt and algae?” The blonde snarled, attention still seemingly fixated on his concoctions. Zoro sniffed the air appreciatively. Smelled good, like always.
“Relaaax, I wiped down before I came in. You got any booze, busboy?” Well, he hadn’t originally wanted to pick a fight, but since the cook was actually in the middle of something he wouldn’t just up and abandon, Zoro could afford to rile him up a bit. Maybe. The endorphins might just be getting to him, or maybe it was the delightful twitch in the question cook’s namesake eyebrows egging him on.
“You’re not getting a drop of my cooking wine, musclehead.”
“Wouldn’t want your piss vinegar anyway.” Zoro crooked a grin as he saw the cook’s fists tighten almost imperceptibly on the handle of a lid.
The cook swirled around, waving a ladle threateningly. “Say that one more time and you’ll have to fish your dinner out of the bottom of the sea. Now bring these snacks out to Nami-swan.”
“No. What’s in it for me?”
“If you don’t fuck up, you ~might~ get to taste some of the leftovers in the fridge.”
Like you weren’t planning on giving them to me anyway, Zoro thought as he rolled his eyes but complied anyway. He decided to treat the effort required to carefully balance the tray of filled-to-the-brim drinks as a stability exercise. Of course, he still managed to drop them by the sea-witch with a thunk so that a little sploshed over the side. He made sure to keep the tray a whole table away from her precious maps, though. He was spiteful, not suicidal.
“Are you Sanji-kun’s little errand boy now?” She said with a smirk.
“You know how he is. Gotta assert himself somehow.”
“Hmm not sure that’s quite it, but I’ll take it. Pass on my thanks.”
Zoro ignored whatever that was and wandered back to the kitchen, happy to see a plate loaded up with meat and complex carbs waiting for him. A shiny black shoe snapped at his reaching hands. “Oi what’s that for? I gave her the stupid drinks.”
“And what’d she say?”
“She said, “Snagi who? That loser?” and then tossed them in the trash.”
Sanji paled for a moment before turning purple with anger. “My frugal angel would never do that! Or um say that either!”
Zoro burst into laughter as he dodged a loose barrage of kicks while chewing. He can barely deny that she’d say that though! “Yeah, yeah, she might’ve said something else but I can’t remember.”
“Well it doesn’t surprise me that you don’t have the mental capacity to remember simple phrases. All your energy is dedicated to building water-bloated muscle, you oaf.”
“I’ll choose to take that as a compliment, so thanks, curly. Didn’t know you noticed my muscles so much.”
“Wha--as if I’d ever! Baka!” Sanji growled, almost dropping his tongs. Zoro gawked at the reddish tint that blossomed on his pale cheeks.
“Dammit, your idiocy made me add too much chili pepper to the spice. It’s too hot now! Get out of here!”
Bemused, Zoro let Sanji usher him out of the kitchen. He finished up the plate of food and settled down in his corner, finally, for a well-deserved nap.
After a series of disastrous missteps--er, careful experiments--Zoro had calculated that the optimal time to approach Nami for money was at approximately 10am the day before they reached an island. By then, she was pleasantly looking forward to mapping out the island, BUT had yet to run inventory with Sanji, Chopper, and Usopp, who generally had rather expensive lists as befitting their roles on the ship. Hm, maybe he should think about getting an actual job that would give him some sort of budget outside the meagre handful of Beris the penny-pincher deigned to give him. It’s not like being the ship’s watch required any special equipment (they already had binoculars). And, while he sometimes mopped the decks, it was just communal cleaning supplies. Could he claim that his swords required more polish? Argh, and now his head was hurting from all these attempts at cunning. He’s no Usopp. So anyway, it was now 10am, the day before they were to reach small island #504835, and he was approaching Nami.
"Hey sea-witch, I need money." Well, his delivery could use some work.
"Not if you're just gonna waste it on booze. I’m sure the locals will be happy to give us free booze after we take down the rumored mountain demon, as well as a generous rewaaaaard." Cue the eye-beris.
"Not for booze, I need more clothes!”
“Clothes? What’s wrong with the dirty rags you normally wear?”
“I dunno, they keep disappearing.” This part, at least, was true. For the past few weeks, actually pretty much since Mihawk, he’d noticed that his clothes kept disappearing. He assumed it had been happening to everyone else--maybe they blow away from the clotheslines every now and then. Though, none of the more fastidious crew members (read: Nami and Sanji) had mentioned it, so maybe it was just him.
Nami levelled him a skeptical glare. “Disappearing.”
“I bought 3 new shirts on Drum Island, and after a month those were the only shirts I had left.”
“Take responsibility for your possessions. I bet you leave them lying around and someone thinks they’re cleaning rags.”
Zoro gave an exacerbated groan. “Usopp said there were plenty of rags from clothes that got ripped up in battle.”
“No matter. I’m not giving you extra money because I know you and I know that, if you pass by a liquor store on the way to the clothing outlet, you’ll drink yourself penniless before you remember your original goal. Now shoo and let me finish my maps.”
But Zoro was already walking away, all too eager to turn his back on the one futile fight his pride allowed him to.
A few weeks after the fruitless conversation with Nami, Zoro's final shirt disappeared. Since he normally tended to walk around shirtless, the other crewmembers didn't seem to notice, although curly-cue had been starting more fights lately.
Zoro was really fine with all this. It amused him to no end to "accidentally" drip sweat onto the kuso-cook's dress shirt when he blocked a strike with Wado. Then, Sanji would shimmy out of the shirt, muttering something about sweat minerals and shirt dyes, and jump right back into the fight. The pale skin of his lean torso contrasted brightly against the tiny scarlet nicks that blossomed wherever Zoro's blade kissed his side. Yeah, fighting against shirtless Sanji was nice. Which. Didn't really make sense, now that Zoro thought about it. Well, it is difficult to fight an opponent wearing loose clothing: what's body and what're flaps of cloth? That must be it. Zoro nodded to himself.
So really, the lack of shirts wasn't such a big deal to Zoro. Until Hyouka Island, that is. Hyouka Island was a winter island, and not just any. Even Chopper started shivering as soon as they entered its climate. Needless to say, the other crewmates started to notice something was up when Zoro slowly frosted over without so much as lifting a finger to layer up.
"Zoro, you're going to catch a cold if you don't layer up!" Chopper’s voice chimed from somewhere inside Guard Point.
"Yeah man, I get the whole bravado thing, but -20C is no joke. Once when I was stuck at the top of the coldest mountain in East Blue, it was -50C and all my 5000 men had succumbed to the cold wrought by the evil witch's spell while I, Usopp the Brave, soldiered on. Even lost a few inches of my nose to frostbite."
"Oh shut up, you probably just trembled from fear till you heated up the entire mountain," corrected Nami. "But seriously Zoro, put something on before we head out. You're helping Sanji-kun with the shopping."
"Iiii ddddon'ttt hhhavvvve anyyyyyy othththther cccclothththesss." Zoro managed to utter through chattering teeth, watching his dignity float away with the steam on his breath.
Nami squinted at him. "Is this the disappearing clothes thing again? I thought that was just a ploy to get more money for alcohol. It's not like you to keep running with it."
Zoro would've rolled his eyes if they weren't frozen in place, but something saved him the trouble.
Chopper piped up, happy to have useful information. "OH you mean all the shirts Sanji has in his--" Chopper promptly disappeared, showing up only as a squealing pink and brown blob hurtling towards the island. Nobody moved, although the snow around Sanji suddenly seemed unsettled.
"W-wow, Chopper reaaaally couldn't wait to get on the island. What a crazy hammock, I mean, uh, reindeer. Aha. Aha. Aha." The idiot-cook laughed weakly, looking oddly pale.
Which was odd, of course, because the cook’s skin typically flushed quite prettily near winter islands. Wait what? Oh, right, Zoro thought, that means blood is leaving his legs so he’s a bit impaired, or more so than usual. That makes sense. He mentally congratulated himself for subconsciously picking up on his rival’s tells.
Zoro tuned back into the conversation in time to catch the heavy winter coat Nami threw at him. Why she couldn’t have just told him that they had moved the coat closet, he’d never understand. He’d spent all morning looking for it. A few burpees later, he was all thawed and ready to...apparently help Sanji with the shopping. A Sanji who seemed to be looking anywhere but him as they wandered through the indoor market.
That was irksome. “Oi, kuso-cook, you must hate winter islands.”
Moron-ji gave him a suspicious glance. “They’re certainly not my favorite. We don’t all have useless muscles wasting energy and creating extra heat for us.”
“Che, not so useless after all then. But I was thinking more along the lines of you missing out on all the cleavage. Are you having withdrawals? I mean, how can you even tell if it’s a woman or man beneath all those puffy coats anyway?” Zoro had meant to just poke fun, but he was seriously wondering how the ero-cook could tell which human-shaped bundle of furs to simper at and which to snarl at. He seemed to know and act instinctively, and each time Zoro cared to take a closer look he found that the blondie’s instinct ran true. Was Sanji truly that naturally repulsed by men and attracted to women? The thought didn’t sit too well with Zoro for some reason.
Still, Sanji came to life at the strange, hastily contrived insult, lighting up with fiery indignation. “Cleavage is not the only thing that sets women apart from men." The ero-cook's gaze dropped a bit before jumping back up to Zoro’s face. "I mean, obviously.”
“So, what is it?”
“Easy, scent. Women and men smell very different. Clean, dirty, perfumed, sweaty. They all smell different on men and women.” Sanji said this as if it should be quite obvious, but Zoro was baffled. He’d expected something like gracefulness, or height, ... or, honestly that’s all he could think of.
“Huh. I can’t smell a thing different.” Zoro pointedly nuzzled a nearby woman(?)’s coat, earning a horrified glare from the man(?) who immediately stomped off. Probably a man, Zoro thought, since Swirly hadn’t kicked his head off yet.
“It’s training, you mannerless neanderthal. You should understand that. When I cook, I have to be able to sniff out the slightest mold growing on my produce, or the difference between two near identical herbs. Naturally my nose is more sensitive.”
“So you’re basically a hunting hound. Woof woof.” Yeah, Zoro was starting to get it, although there was no way in hell telling a man or woman apart by scent was in the same ballpark as knowing thyme from rosemary. But he had already abandoned pushing the point in favor of pushing the cook’s buttons. “Gonna sniff out a bitch to lay?”
The cook turned a bright red and looked about to lose his shit before he deflated all at once. “Forget it, it’s useless trying to explain. Smells are closely tied to our emotions, like how eating a childhood snack brings back warm memories, or how ladies spray their letters with perfume so their beloved smells them when they read kind words.” Sanji muttered out the last bit, leaving Zoro struggling to get the point, not expecting such a sincere answer.
The shopping trip went a little more smoothly after that, although Zoro spent a considerable amount of time staring at the hound-cook. He just had to see if the idiot actually made a sniffing motion as he walked around. That would be so cute! AHEM! Moronic, dumb, silly. Aha. Zoro slipped away at some point, reappearing somehow when Sanji had finished the last leg and was almost invisible beneath the mountain of shopping bags.
“Make yourself useful and hold these bags, mossy.”
Fortunately for Zoro, the log post set fairly quickly, and they beelined out of the frozen villa. Unfortunately for Zoro, the log post set fairly quickly, and he didn’t have a chance to buy clothes even though Nami hesitantly relented and gave him some spare change.
And so, shirtlessness remained Zoro’s curse.
Well, not for too long. A day or so out of Hyouka Island, Zoro managed to scrap together his courage and approach the cook about something. It was just after lunch, around the time the cook usually took a swim before starting on afternoon snacks. As always, what Zoro lacked in spatial awareness he made up for with almost god-like timing.
“No booze till the next island, we’re running low.” The shitty cook snapped.
“Wait what!?! Stingyyyyy.” To his own horror, Zoro found himself pouting a little.
“Don’t pull a Luffy. It’s not a good look on a master swordsman.” Zoro tried to maintain his frown, but the edges of his mouth kept wobbling upwards at the cook’s words. Weird.
“I didn’t come for booze anyway. Unlike some, I’m not a slave to my vices. I actually, um.” Zoro paused, words suddenly not stringing together in satisfying ways.
The cook straightened, fingers tapping out a rapid beat on the counter between them. He made to wring his hands but turned it into a brusque “go-on” gesture.
Zoro scratched the back of his head and shrugged. “Your whole spheal about scent memories had me thinking, and--” Sanji abruptly bit his cigarette in half, coughed, choked, chugged some water, and then repeated the “go-on” gesture about 50 times “--uhhhhh and I used to have these things with ... well, at my dojo growing up. They were made from rice, and usually had stuff in them? Like sometimes sweet stuff, or salty stuff.”
Sanji, fully recovered now, butted in. “Onigiri. You want onigiri, you asshole?”
“Yeah! If you can handle it, you shitty whorelicking dishwasher.”
“Onigiri are really simple. I didn’t realize they meant that much to you, figured you had just named that attack after the last thing you’d eaten that day.” The shit cook huffed.
Zoro wasn’t sure how to respond (without revealing that the cook was basically correct about that), so he settled on an above average insult that got him promptly kicked out of the kitchen.
Zoro bulldozed through his afternoon routine, somehow breaking all of his previous records for push-ups, strike power, you name it. He felt a strange buoyancy in his stomach, but also a little light-headed whenever he thought about it too deeply. Meditation managed to calm down the weird mood. Excess energy was good for training, but led to carelessness on the battlefield. This satisfied Zoro’s urge for introspection, and was quickly forgotten when Sanji’s afternoon snack bell rang out, bringing the buoyancy back with a vengeance.
A few minutes later, Sanji breezed over to Zoro with a plate of 3 perfectly shaped onigiri. They weren’t quite the same as the lumpy, too-sticky rice balls that he’d shared with Kuina back in the day, but once he bit into them all the memories came hurtling back. Somehow, he felt the scratchy edge of porch planks digging into his kneepit, and smelled the dew on the grass beneath his dangling feet. Sweat and determination rolled off of the two hungry children, mixing and strengthening each other.
Sanji coughed, quietly, bringing Zoro out of his memories quite suddenly.
“They’re good. Shit-cook.” Zoro tacked on quickly.
The cook blew some smoke out the window, a hint of the unique tobacco, clove, and mint scent wafting over to Zoro and making him wonder if this, too, would become part of his scent memory. In 10, 20, 30 years, would any stranger smoking that mix evoke this in him?
“Don’t go thinking you’re special, mosshead. Just special in the head. Everyone gives me requests. I make Usopp potato leek stew whenever he misses home. And, well, Chopper gets cherry-flavored cotton candy whenever he wants.”
Zoro chuckled, somehow ignoring the slight. He looked up from his onigiri, eyes settling on where the cook had unbuttoned his jacket a little to fish out his lighter a few moments ago. It might just be the light, but it looked like...
“Is that my shirt?”
The shit cook froze, looked down at his chest, at Zoro, back down to his chest. “No?”
“The hell you mean no!? That’s my fucking shirt!” Zoro lunged forward, intent on ripping the jacket off, but the cook sprung away lightly, a frenzied look in his eyes.
“You’re clearly hallucinating. The onigiri were so good you’ve lost it!” Sanji ducked underneath a too-wide sword swing and turned it into a low spin kick that almost imbalanced Zoro. Zoro fell forward with the momentum, slicing through the cook’s denim jacket and revealing a pawprint-shaped stain on the right arm sleeve.
“The onigiri were terrible!” Zoro spat in retalization. “I only ate them out of pity!”
The thief-cook gave a comical gasp. “Say that again you bastard!”
Zoro grabbed the shifty shirt-stealing bastard by the collar and brought his face in close. “I said, the onigiri were amazing, your scent memory bullshit isn’t complete bullshit, that shirt has a pawprint-shaped stain hole on the left sleeve from when I fell out of a tree when I was 14, now why the fuck are you wearing my shirt?”
They stood, both panting, noses almost touching. “Okay. Okay.” Sanji conceded, lowering the shiny black shoe he’d had poised to strike. “Uh, this is awkward. Uhhh.”
“Out with it, ero-bastard.”
Sanji faltered. “I don’t normally wear them, I mean it. I got out of my swim and was distracted thinking about. Stuff. And grabbed the wrong shirt. Just a silly mistake, moss-for-brains.”
Zoro sniffed loudly. “Does it suddenly smell like Usopp in here, or do we have more than one shitty liar on board? You go on and on about my fashion sense yet you suddenly steal my clothes? It makes no sense. Is it a spite thing??”
“Ok, ok fine you damn plant. A few of your shirts may have, ah, come to be in my possession during the past few months. It was a complete accident at first. One of your nicer ones got thrown in with my nightshirts in the laundry. I didn’t notice till I put it on before bed. I might not have noticed for a few days, but, like I said, you know, before, I have a really sensitive nose. Even though our clothes are all washed together, they still retain the scent of the original owner, to me. So, um, it smelled like you.” Sanji’s face, slowly reddening the entire time, reached peak cherry red. “And it helped me fall asleep, at night, to have something that smelled like you. At first, I thought it was because it blocked out all the other scents and helped me focus on just one. Luffy has this tangy rubber scent, Usopp smells like machine grease and acrylics, and Chopper, well, wet fur is never good in abundance. But over time, it became almost like a security blanket. Of course, I eventually used up the scent on that one, and I was going to put it back, I swear, but suddenly another one of your shirts appeared in my laundry, and now I had two of your shirts! If I gave one back, you’d ask for the other, and then it would be obvious that I’d been hanging onto that one for a while, and you’d want to know why and it’d be weird. So I figured it was best if I kept hanging onto them. After that, they stopped appearing in my laundry, except, well, except when I put them there myself. On purpose. Which I guess is stealing. But hear me out! I’m the cook, and I need to be well-rested or I might make a mistake. Not that I ever make mistakes, but it’s possible. So hanging onto the shirts was for the good of the crew! As first mate, you agree, right?”
For the first time since starting his monologue, the dumbass shirt thief looked up from wringing his hands and took in the sight of Zoro standing statue-still with a matching bright red face.
Immediately fearing he was frozen with rage, the shit-cook blurted out more words. “I love you! Agh! I mean, scents are attached to emotions, and the scent of you, it always makes me happy. Lighter. Less alone. So, I think I love you. Yeah, I love you. Mhmm. Actually I--”
Thankfully for the scraps of Sanji’s remaining dignity, Zoro interrupted him with a low groan. “I like you too. That light feeling? In your stomach? I have that too. I don’t know if I realized it till today, but I think it’s been that way for a while. I probably love you, I don’t know.”
“Really?” Sanji squeaked. Cough. “I mean, really?” He repeated with a deeper intonation.
Zoro finally met the leg-cook’s bright blue eyes with intention. “I said it, so obviously I mean it. Can I kiss you now?”
The ero-cook nodded, only a little surprised at his bluntness, and then stood up, toe-to-toe with Zoro. Zoro closed his eyes, brow slightly furrowed with concentration, and immediately opened them as soon as a pair of soft lips pressed lightly against his. A tongue slithered against his tightly closed mouth, leaking in the unique taste of tobacco-clove-mint. Zoro’s lips spread slowly, his eyelids fluttering shut as the cook’s wet tongue licked along the inside of his mouth. He could feel himself hardening, realizing with a start that his hands had drifted to grab fistfuls of Sanji’s ass. Zoro backed off quickly, feeling relieved to note that Sanji’s wide eyes, flushed cheeks, and tented pants mirrored his own lustful condition.
Their conversation and kiss seemed to have restored the ero-cook’s confidence. Sanji smirked down at the rather obvious bulge in Zoro’s haramaki. “I guess it’s not just my onigiri that you like, eh Zoro, and little Zoro. Well, littler.” The baka-cook’s smirk widened as Zoro blushed all the way to his hairline.
“Shut up.” Zoro didn’t really understand when Sanji-who-talks-to-another-man’s-cock had replaced Sanji-who-drools-over-anything-female-shaped, but he wasn’t going to question it.
As if reading his mind, the shit-cook obliged him with a lecherous grin and a wandering hand that suddenly seemed more dangerous than any shiny black shoe. “Cleavage isn’t something unique to women, and I’m not blind, especially when you’ve been working out shirtless so often lately. Eager to show off or something?”
“Is your brain made of spirals too with that circular logic??? You stole all my shirts! Every! Single! One! Confusing curly whorelicking bastard!” Zoro whipped out his sword, the metal one this time, and darted towards the cook, only to be stopped by the sole of a shiny black shoe.
Elsewhere on the ship, Usopp ruefully handed Nami a 1000 Beri note. When she’d paid him to mess around with the laundry a couple months ago, he’d really doubted that this would cause the cook and the swordsman to lock lips. This time he’ll learn his lesson: never bet against Nami.
After a few rounds (of fighting, jeez), Zoro eventually made it back to the boy’s hammocks, a dopey smile on his face. He stopped abruptly at the shit-cook’s hammock, suddenly curious. Lifting up the topsheet, he was simultaneously shocked, embarrassed, aroused, and not at all surprised to see the bottom of the hammock lined with balled up white shirts, like a shitty fucking nest.
“Does that dumbass think this is an ABO AU or something? Does this count as a proposition??” Despite not being the insomniac in the relationship(?), Zoro ended up being the one staring wide-eyed at the ceiling for several hours after everyone had turned in.