Sanji clattered to the floor, and the fact that Zoro could use the word ‘clattered’ to describe the sound already said way too many things, none of them good.
It was on the rebound that Brook, fast as ever, caught Sanji by the, by the hilt before he could hit the floor again, and fuck, there it was, Sanji had a hilt, because all of a sudden, Sanji was a sword. There was a second sound, a tiny ting and subsequent circular roll of the ring that Sanji had tried on when he had last had fingers, and by the time it rattled onto its side with an air of finality, Zoro had Wado out and pointed at the shopkeeper.
Sanji would have protested this if he still had a mouth, but genders seemed especially irrelevant at this point considering Sanji had just turned into a sword . The only thing saving the middle-aged woman behind the counter was that she looked just as confused as he felt, at least, before she found herself at the end of a katana.
Luffy had no such compunction or perception. He was on the counter in a second, and the next second, the shopkeeper’s legs were dangling slightly above it as well. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she said before Luffy could even demand anything. “I swear, I didn’t know that would happen!”
“This is a pawn shop, Luffy,” came Robin’s much calmer voice, and Zoro bit back the instinct to remind her that Sanji was a sword. “She had no hand in the creation of this ring.”
“Hey,” Zoro cautioned, seeing the ring that turned Sanji into a sword in her hand, but given that Robin was doing a lack of turning into a sword, anything else he had to say simply died in his mouth. Instead, Robin glanced at him with a Look, and he lowered Wado in a way that was certainly not sheepish, was the furthest from sheepish as possible.
“Excuse me,” she directed to the shopkeeper, as though she wasn’t currently being held maybe a foot above the countertop, “do you happen to remember who sold you this particular item?”
The shopkeeper shook her head as best as she could in her position, but added, “A, a, it was a m-merchant, from another island,”
Robin pressed her lips tight for a second. “Unfortunate. Do you at least know what this inscription on the ring means?”
The shopkeeper did the same approximation of shaking her head.
“That stupid fucking cook,” Zoro muttered, finally sheathing Wado. “A goddamn inscription? Fucking, practically screaming ‘cursed item.’”
“I wouldn’t be too hard on him,” Robin replied, smiling as she held up the offending jewelry between her fingers. “The inscription was on the inside. A bit hard to take notice of, I would think. In any case, although it would have been rather serendipitous to have the answer given to us, I already have a few ideas on how to go about translating this script, and I’m certain we will glean the necessary information once I can determine the meaning.” And, as an afterthought, “You can put her down now, Luffy.”
Luffy grunted, but the slight ‘oof’ a few seconds later indicated that he complied. “Let’s go find that merchant and kick his ass, then!”
“We don’t know what they look like,” Robin gently reminded him, and, showing a great amount of compassion for the shopkeeper, added, “and we wouldn’t likely find them even with all the details our friend could give,” before Luffy could spin around and pull her back up again. “Perhaps we should go back and inform the others of Sanji’s current condition, and then I can get started immediately on deciphering this language.”
“Um,” said Brook as Luffy jumped down and Zoro filed in behind him. “Excuse me,” he added, still crouching near the floor in the position that he had caught Sanji in. “I don’t mean to be rude, but...Sanji-san is a little heavy.”
Zoro was the one who ended up holding the blade. Sanji. The blade that was Sanji. It was a little awkward, not because this was technically Sanji, but because Sanji didn’t come conveniently with a sheath and so he was forced to just hold him openly around the town while they walked back to the Sunny. This wasn’t exactly viewed well by the locals. Though maybe word of Luffy threatening the owner of the pawn shop spread around. Or maybe it was because they were pirates.
With the distance of time and the assurance that Robin would solve everything (as she always does), Luffy had shed that dangerous demeanor and was now circling around Zoro, prodding at Sanji any chance he got. “He looks real cool, though! Is he a good sword?”
Though Sanji was an absolute asshole of a human, he definitely made a beautiful sword. Black blade with the hilt wrapped in dark blue, covered in gold decorations. The weight of him was balanced. The blade clean and polished. Zoro made a few practice stabs (sending a few of the watching locals into conniptions) and could feel the air itself part.
“Eh, not my type.”
“Sanji-san I believe is an estoc, a sword used for stabbing, such as mine,” Brook explained, slowing his stride until he was beside them. “Zoro-san uses katana, which are for slicing.”
Luffy nodded, a finger dug in his nose, and then said, “So which part’s his butt?”
It took a great amount of fortitude for Zoro to not drop Sanji right then and there.
“...You’re joking.” Nami’s voice was flat. Not with denial or disbelief, but with the lack of any sort of opinion whatsoever.
This was not exactly the response Zoro expected, but upon reflection, he would have probably reacted the same way if he hadn’t actually seen it happen. Still, even Chopper’s scream of “WHAT?? REALLY?!” had an edge of skepticism to it, and given the things Usopp fed to him on a daily basis, that was saying something.
Zoro kept Sanji held out, blade to the side. He hadn’t figured out which way was right-side-up and this seemed the best compromise to make.
“You could try the ring on and see for yourself,” Robin said, and Nami and Usopp took a large step back. Chopper and Franky, the two literally unable to put any ring on, cursed or not, leaned forward.
“You sure it’s even him? I mean...maybe someone replaced our bro with a sword to make you think – “
“I witnessed the whole event. If you want, I could describe exactly how his form twisted itself into the one you see before you now before he could even call for help.”
Franky grimaced and joined Nami and Usopp. “No thanks.”
“He went all flat! And changed colors!” Luffy slapped his palms together and then waggled his fingers in the air, which didn’t in any way represent the act of changing color but got the idea across somehow. “And – “
Nami covered Luffy’s mouth. Usopp covered his own ears. Franky just sighed. “Well, at least it wasn’t detailed...”
“Nope. Too late,” Usopp moaned, sinking to the deck. “I’m imagining it already. Ohhhhh god, this is worse, this is definitely worse than if Robin told me.”
“I could still describe it.”
“No,” said Usopp, and then he curled up and buried his face into the grass.
Chopper stood on the tips of his hooves to examine Sanji and Zoro complied and lowered him a little. “Do you think it hurts? Can he feel anything? Does he need to breathe?” At some point, a stethoscope had appeared around his neck and he was holding the end of it up now, hovering hesitantly around the sleek black metal.
Zoro shrugged. “Swords don’t have lungs.” And with that, he swung Sanji up to toss him over to Franky, thought better of it, and just held him out. “Hey. Make a sheath for him or something. I’m gonna sleep.”
“ Now?” Nami said, then screeched when Luffy, tired of being muted, licked her hand.
“I shall let you know when I have finished,” Robin promised, but as soon as Franky had plucked Sanji up between two trepidatious fingers, Zoro was already halfway passed out.
When Zoro woke up, it was noon.
It took him a moment to figure out why he just suddenly woke up (when usually it would take a goddamn hurricane before he would even stir) but it was noon, and it was lunchtime, and Sanji hadn’t kicked him awake yet.
Not that he could, at the moment. But still, unnerving. Also, was someone going to make lunch?
There were definitely sounds in the kitchen, but the sounds seemed to be Luffy-related and that was enough to wake Zoro the rest of the way up and propel him straight into the one place Luffy had no business being.
On the bright side, Luffy wasn’t raiding the pantry with the cat away (turned into a sword). But there was currently a large hunk of frozen meat out, and the aforementioned cat-sword in Luffy’s hand, edge digging into the meat. And apparently Zoro wasn’t actually all the way awake because he was even more awake now, would maybe never be not awake ever again, and he pulled Luffy away and Sanji out of the pork and everybody out of the kitchen.
“Luffy,” said Zoro, after examining the blade for scratches or even cracks (how would that translate if he turned back then and there?), “what the fuck.”
“It’s lunch,” Luffy whined. “Sanji needs to cook.”
Zoro found himself sputtering before he managed an incredulous, “He can’t? He’s a sword?” As if anybody needed reminding.
“But he’s still Sanji, and Sanji’s a cook, and also swords can cut meat, so I figure if he helped then it’d be basically the same.”
There were too many things to tackle. Zoro settled for, “He doesn’t cut.”
Luffy blinked. “He’s a sword,” he said, like Zoro was the idiot. Zoro hit him with Sanji’s hilt and then realized that maybe that wasn’t something he should do. But then again, Sanji probably wanted to hit him, so call it a favor.
“I told you, he’s made for stabbing. Look,” Zoro said, wrapping a hand around the blade and squeezing lightly. “His edges are dull. Like him.”
Luffy’s face opened up with a brilliant awe and instantly his rubber hands were all over Sanji’s blade too, and now Sanji was being swung around and maybe Zoro just made things worse. Luffy laughed. “Hey, what if people used swords like this instead?” He explained what ‘this’ meant by swinging Sanji’s hilt like a mace and hitting Zoro right on his head and yeah, Sanji would have probably done that himself too if he could.
After a quick discussion, Luffy was banned from being alone with Sanji.
“It’s not a curse.”
Everybody stared at Robin, and then down at Sanji, lying in the middle of the dinner table. He glinted sadly, assuming swords could look sad. “He looks pretty fuckin’ cursed to me,” said Franky.
“It’s more of a lesson,” Robin continued, setting down a notebook with a bunch of writing that Zoro couldn’t understand. Courteously, Robin added, “Whoever wears the ring is turned into the part they most despise about themselves. The only way to turn them back is for them to accept that part.”
“He’s a sword,” Usopp said blankly. It was an increasingly common phrase on the ship. “What’s he gonna accept.”
“Also, why a sword? I’d get it if the curse turned him into something he hated about someone else – “ all eyes glanced at Zoro for a second, “ – but…how is Sanji-kun a sword? ”
Robin hesitated, and that was enough to put everybody on edge. “It’s...not a perfect translation. Language is not interchangeable, and certain languages have words for concepts we cannot easily name. ‘Accept,’ for instance, does not exactly encapsulate what the word means, but I’m finding it difficult to describe otherwise. In any case, it appears to me that all we can do is set sail and wait.”
Luffy crossed his arms and gave an elongated hurm. Then, suddenly, he scooped Sanji up by the hilt and glared into his own reflection in the blade. “Hey! Sanji! You’re a sword! Deal with it!”
There was a brief hush, just in case Luffy’s will was enough to fix even this particular problem. When Sanji remained a sword, Brook offered, “Perhaps we should simply give him time to, ah...think.”
“All he’s good for right now,” Zoro muttered.
Usopp pushed his chair back and sighed. “I guess I’ll cook for now, then.”
Luffy nodded authoritatively. “Alright. Sanji, you go rest,” he ordered, and then tossed him lightly towards the couch and missed, hitting the wall and then the floor.
Luffy was banned from handling Sanji.
A few days in, Franky crafted an ornate stand to prop Sanji against. As they all admired the way he stood by the corner of the dining room, Usopp suddenly sniggered, doubling over from the weight of whatever joke he thought of.
To Sanji, he finally managed to say, “Nice rack,” before going back to immature giggling.
Franky was the only one left scowling. “It’s not a rack, bro!” he said indignantly.
“How do you properly care for a sword?” Chopper asked. Zoro paused in the middle of his new daily ritual of drinking right in front of Sanji in case he could still see things.
“He’s gonna change back.”
“But until then, I wanna know how to take care of him! Is there a specific temperature that’s best to keep him in? What do I do if he starts to rust? Is it unhealthy for a sword to not be sharp – “
Zoro moved to pat Chopper on the head, but ended up lightly bopping him with the bottom of his sake instead. He rolled with it and patted Chopper a few more times. “We’re not gonna turn into swords on a regular basis. Don’t worry about it. I can – “ Zoro thought for a moment. “Brook can take care of him.”
The next island was hospitable and had a lack of cursed items, which was a major plus.
“You think I could sell – “
Usopp snatched the ring out of Nami’s hand, careful that none of his fingers slipped through it. “ No! We’re not turning people into swords! Why do we still have this?!”
Nami pouted, but didn’t move to snatch the ring back. Though she certainly could have. “C’mon, it’s such a waste! And after all this trouble this thing caused us, why not get some compensation?”
“ No,” Usopp repeated, moving to throw it overboard.
“Careful, a fish might eat it and get caught by a fisherman.”
Usopp froze. Made a strangled groan. Threw it against the deck instead, where Nami caught it on the rebound. “This is awful. You’re awful.”
“They’re not gonna turn into swords,” Zoro pointed out as Nami pocketed the ring with too much cheerfulness. “Maybe they’ll turn into something that can actually move. Maybe the cook’s just weird.”
“Maybe,” Usopp mumbled, though his conscience was clearly still in conflict.
Zoro and Usopp jumped and turned towards Nami, who hadn’t just run off to the nearest pawn shop as expected. She twirled the ring around between her fingers in a slow, morose way. “I’m kinda...getting used to him like that.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Usopp said after a much-too-long pause. “Go sell that thing already. It’s giving me a headache.”
“It’s a He’ll-Die-If-You-Don’t-Sell-It Disease,” Zoro supplied.
“Yeah, I’ll – hey!”
If anything brought Sanji’s absence into sharp relief (besides mealtimes), it was ambushes. Turns out the Flying Fish Riders (or whatever their names were now) weren’t the only ones with the idea to ride flying fish.
They were pretty damn strategic about it, dropping all of a sudden on specific places of the ship, arriving much too fast to really shoot them down or even notice them, trying to catch everybody unprepared. Which, jokes on them, really. One of them didn’t even land before sprouting a bevy of arms, and certainly didn’t land on his feet after that.
There were no flashes of passionate fire. No string of curses or trail of smoke. Zoro absolutely wasn’t watching out for any of that, of course, just noticing something missing here and there. Instead, there was a man bursting out of the dining room (snuck in from the second floor?) with a blade that Zoro almost didn’t recognize in the hands of a stranger.
By the time Zoro realized, he had already parried the swing and he winced at the impact, fucking relented, and there went Shusui. The second swing he saw coming and he hurriedly spat Wado into his free hand, but he couldn’t stop the current of his thoughts, what if he breaks, what if he breaks, and Sandai Kitetsu abandoned him next, humming with displeasure. The third swing came, only to be stopped by a hand that grew out of the man’s arm like a fungus, more arms spiraling out and twisting the arm until the man screamed and let Sanji go, momentum carrying him up and Robin didn’t quite make the catch, Zoro saw someone behind her and yelled out a warning while reaching up to catch Sanji at the same time, hilt falling neatly into the groove of his palm, and when he looked back down from the sky he saw Sandai Kitetsu again, except at the wrong end, every owner ends up dead by its blade, and it was pure instinct that had him wind up his arm and stab,
Zoro was holding Sanji by his hand. His very, not-hilt hand. Sanji stood, back to him, and Zoro would have let go immediately if it weren’t for the way that hand shook, and when Zoro trailed up that arm and down the other, he saw it piercing straight through the man he had just stabbed.
There was blood dripping down Sanji’s arm, soaking his suit. It was hard to tell, but judging by the way that his arm was about elbow-deep in the body, his hand was probably jutting out the other side.
A harsh breath caught Zoro’s attention and he glanced up to see if it was Sanji, but it was actually the impaled man, who gave another rattling breath, stared straight down at the two of them, and then slumped, forcing Sanji to his knees.
It seemed like the fight was over. Dimly, Zoro could hear someone say, “Sanji?” So did Sanji, evidently, because he let out a breath and said, in that voice that hadn’t been heard in what felt like forever, “Someone get this fucking filthy piece of shit off of my goddamn arm.”
Was he okay? Did he hurt anywhere? Did he feel stiff? Was he hungry? Thirsty? Was he aware of what was going on?
“I’m fucking fine,” said Sanji, lighting up three cigarettes at once, or at least, trying to. His hands kept shaking.
He fucking wasn’t, obviously, but now didn’t seem like the time to shake some goddamn healthy communication into him. Chopper snatched all three cigarettes out of his mouth and ordered everybody out of the infirmary. But just an hour later, Sanji was released, now smoking five cigarettes at once, slouching in that usual arrogant way, kneeing Usopp for the “nice rack” joke (which answered at least one question).
He didn’t cook lunch. Or dinner.
Sanji’s hands weren’t shaking, Zoro noted when he climbed into the crow’s nest. But they kept opening and closing, leaving angry crescents in his palms. “My shift,” Sanji said tonelessly.
Might as well jump right in.
“Sorry,” said Zoro, and the look on Sanji’s face might have almost been insulting if it had been someone who wasn’t already insulting on a daily basis. Zoro took a breath. “For, using you. Like that.”
“Apology fucking not accepted, asshole.”
Zoro closed his eyes and sighed through his nose for a good three seconds. No, he was here to be, contrite. For once. “Fair.” Sanji’s look wasn’t quite as insulting, but certainly was suspicious. Zoro allowed himself to be scrutinized. “I’m the one who killed him, y’know.”
Sanji snorted. “Fucking duh. I didn’t fucking stab myself into him.”
Okay, now that was a loop he was just thrown for. “You know?”
“Yes, marimo. I understand the basic concept of autonomy.” Sanji rolled his eyes and blew smoke rings in his direction.
“Then why the hell’re you moping!”
“None of your fucking business.”
Zoro squinted. “Is it something to do with that acceptance thing Robin talked about?”
“Drop it,” Sanji snarled, and Zoro did.
Sanji flexed his hands. “Okay, I was supposed to be strong.”
“You are,” Zoro said without thinking, and it spoke to the extraordinary situation they were in that Sanji didn’t immediately pounce on that.
“ Now I am. But I wasn’t.” He wasn’t quite talking to Zoro, but to the floor, and it was starting to spill out like a waterfall. “And, he hated me for that, and I really wanted to be strong, ‘cause that was the only way to be worth anything, except that was fucking bullshit and I know this, I was fine the way I was, he was the one who was fucked up, weapon this weapon that, I don’t even want anything to do with him anymore, but...”
But then he became strong.
The unsaid line hung in the air above Sanji’s hunched back. His hands opened and closed, opened and closed. ‘I became strong, so am I still hung up on my worth to that guy?’ or, ‘I became strong, and now I’m exactly what he wanted me to be.’ or maybe even something else. Someone with more emotional intelligence could probably figure it out. Someone with more tact would probably be best.
“You’re a fucking idiot.”
“Fucking thanks, asshole,” Sanji muttered.
“What, so just because this guy wanted you to be strong, you’re not allowed to be strong? Because you hate him? So what! You hate me all the time and you don’t give a shit about what I think! I don’t even know why I’m the one talking to you about this!”
“That makes two of us,” Sanji said dryly, though his hands were still for once.
“If you really hate this guy as much as you say, then forget about him. Forget about what he wanted. It was your decision to get stronger. You were the one who wanted that. Don’t give that to him.” Sanji was looking up at him now, not suspicious, not incredulous, just evaluating. Zoro took a breath. “You had your own reasons. To protect people you wanted to protect, or whatever. Remember that instead of him.”
Sanji sat up, face blank.
“You’re a fucking sap,” he said, with a barely-contained fondness that Zoro was all too happy to ignore in favor of drawing his goddamn swords because finally, things were back to normal.