Satoru knew what he was signing up for. Gathering intel on notorious pirates for the marines was a dangerous, downright suicidal business. It wasn’t something you chose casually, it was more along the lines of necessity and dire need. He had hit rock bottom and didn’t see a way up. He was desperate and took the first job they offered him. Out of a pure stroke of luck, he had managed to infiltrate the crew of his target and get the marines the information they needed. He had been rewarded generously and he had never looked back.
But this job had him questioning all his decisions up to this point. The marines were hiring everyone they could get their hands on to gather intel on one of the most infamous and dangerous pirate crews out there: The Strawhats. From what he had heard through his contacts they appeared to be a happy go lucky group of idiots when you first met them. But take one look at their collective bounty and history and you better run for the hills.
Every single member was more dangerous than an entire marine platoon. They could wipe out a fleet of warships without breaking a sweat. They had toppled Shichibukai, high ranking marines, and even Yonkos. The number of their allies was almost as high as the number of their enemies and equally as infamous as the Strawhats themselves. They were not to be trifled with, especially not now that their captain was this close to claiming the title King of the Pirates.
But it was this closeness to the end of one of the most important races in the history of piracy that was driving the marine headquarters to act. Akainu was getting impatient and wanted results. He wasn’t going to allow anyone to claim this title, especially not under his leadership.
And that’s where Satoru came in. In the last few years, he had gained quite a bit of experience when it came to pirates and how they worked. What their favorite hideouts were, favorite foods, favorite prostitute, most common weaknesses. Even pirates were just humans with needs and desires, maybe even more so than the run of the mill civilian. Because pirates lived their desires. They weren’t held back by themselves or others and didn’t give a flying fuck about the rules and norms of society.
On the one hand, he admired and envied that about them. On the other hand, it made them easy targets for his work. Even the most powerful and shrewd ones had weaknesses that one could exploit. And if he had to choose between his gain and the freedom of some lowlife scum the decision wasn’t hard.
But the Strawhats? That was an entirely different situation.
Of course, he wasn’t the only one who had been given this assignment. He was just one of many. So he took one last lingering look at the paper in his hand before destroying it, a resigned sigh leaving his lips. He wasn’t the desperate man from a few years ago. He was good at his job, he had quite a bit of saving now. He didn’t need to take every job that was offered to him, even if it had a reward like that. He valued his life, thank you very much.
He continued with his life as normal as ever. Infiltrating pirate crews, stalking others, selling every scrap of information that he could. After all, he wasn’t an expert. Someone could construct a plan to bring someone onto the scaffold with just the knowledge of their favorite brand of tea. He certainly couldn’t, but scary people were working for the marines. Some even more frightening than some of the pirates Satoru had seen.
But the jobs were getting sparser each month. The marines were shifting most of their focus on the rising pirate group, letting the lesser-known pirates be handled by other operatives and relying more on brute force than on cunning and knowledge. His saving was dwindling and he could feel the old desperation settling back in.
He was sitting in a dingy, old bar on an island near nowhere, nursing the single beer he could afford for himself right now. At least if he didn’t want to sleep outside again. His eyes roamed over the other patrons and he was idly playing with the thought of how to get someone in here to pay for his next round when the door slammed open. His eyes moved over to the door and he choked on his sip of beer.
“Oi! Barkeep! We need beer please!” said a young man, who was grinning from ear to ear and clutching a very telling and familiar straw hat onto his head. Behind him were eight other, almost equally as familiar people entering the bar and taking seats at one of the tables. The remaining patrons of the bar starred on in badly concealed awe. Some were looks of amazement, some were of horror and some were just of disbelief. Satoru counted to the last group. He couldn’t believe it. The Strawhats, right in front of him. All the reasons why he didn’t want to be involved with this job popped up into his head again. On the other hand, the emptiness of his wallet was threatening to burn a hole into his pocket and stomach. If he wanted to keep his comfortable lifestyle he needed to risk it. And he needed to keep his lifestyle. Pirates weren’t the only one with a favorite prostitute.
It would be easy. Not much different from the other crews. He just needed to make sure he played his cards right. From the way they interacted and from what he heard they were friendly enough to strangers. Getting onto their boat and staying on it for an extended period was something else. But he didn’t need them to invite him. He just needed to stick close to then and make sure they didn’t notice. He would be a fly on their wall.
Thanks to his special abilities that would be quite a literal simile.
A knock on the door ripped Kenta out of his thoughts and he looked up from the report he was supposed to be reading. It was supposed to be about new intel about the Strawhat crew but after almost a year of this, he was getting pretty good at spotting the fakes. The useful intel they had managed to get through all those private investigators was minimal and not enough to set their plan into motion.
The door opened and in stepped his second in command. “Konno-san, please excuse my intrusion, but there’s someone here that wants to see you. It’s about the Strawhat case.”
With a weary sigh, Kenta lifted a hand and rubbed it over his face. “Another one?” he asked, a resigned tone in his voice. “Can’t you tell them I’m busy or something? I am already reading through the last ‘fake news’ that we got.” He gestured to the pile of papers in front of him. Morita gave him an apologetic smile.
“Sorry boss. But I think this one might be legit. It’s the Fly Man.” That piqued Kenta’s interest. The Fly Man had been able to gather quite the reputation over the last years. His information had helped to put a lot of criminals behind bars and it had always been legit. If someone like that said he had the information it was worth listening to him.
“Okay, bring him in.” Morita nodded before closing the door again. Kenta hurried to tidy up his desk a bit before his guest was brought in. He was a high ranking officer after all and it wouldn’t do to look like a slob in front of an operative.
There was another knock at his door and after a brisk “Come in.” it opened to reveal the Fly Man. Or at least the person that he assumed was the Fly Man. He had never met him personally, but his reputation preceded him. He was a small, spindly man, with big wet eyes and an otherwise unassuming face. Over his shoulder, he had a bag made of canvas cloth. Slowly he closed the door and after a nod from Kenta, he took a seat in front of his desk.
“So, I heard you had information to give me regarding the Strawhats, Mister…?” he trailed off, not knowing if using Fly Man as a title was appropriate in this situation.
“Sazama. And yes, I do. I assume the reward is the same as a year ago?” Kenta nodded.
“It has gone up a bit actually. All the false information is slowing down our work and we needed the incentive.”
“Excellent,” Sazame answered before opening the bag at his side. He retrieved four folders, barely kept shut by strings. “This is everything I was able to gather about the crew. Their likes, their dislikes, their sleeping habits, their routines, their favored everything.” Kenta couldn’t help himself as he stared open-mouthed at the literal treasure trove that had been dropped into his lap. Well, on his desk, but it was the same thing.
With a shaking hand, he reached out and pulled the first folder closer. He untied the string and the contents almost spilled out of it. He gave the first few pages a quick overview before swallowing. He reached over to his transponder snail and dialed the number of Morita.
“Prepare the reward for our guest. Give him an additional 20 % for a job well done. And after that contact the rest of the task force. We can finally put our plan into motion.”
Opposite of him the Fly Man smiled.
Sanji was starting to get annoyed. Not only did he have to buy way more to make up for their lost food, no, now he had to track down their stupid moss head of a swordsman, who had wandered off from the group.
They hadn’t planned to stop at this island, but since the stash of candy they had bought at the last had been poisoned, and Chopper needed his sugar fix, there was no other way.
Who poisoned candy?! If I a child bought some of that that could’ve had catastrophic consequences!
It was a good thing that Chopper had such a reliable nose. When they had been back on the ship and pulled out of the harbor he had taken a piece of candy, absolutely joyous about the sweet treat, but he had stopped short of eating it. Without another word he ran into his clinic and started tinkering with some chemicals and the candy. Confused, Sanji had joined him and asked for an explanation.
Someone had infused the candies with a paralytic poison. If ingested in high dosage it could be lethal. It wasn’t detectable for humans, but Chopper with his sharp nose had picked up on the strange smell immediately.
They had gotten rid of all of it at once. But that also meant they had to go on sailing without any kind of candy and that meant one grumpy and unhappy reindeer. No one could live with that, the constant sad eyes were just too much. And the surprising temper tantrums were scary as fuck. So they decided to stop at the next available island on their course and restock.
But now one of their resident idiots had once again decided to run off on his own and gotten lost. And since it had somehow become Sanji’s role to be the official Zoro-fetcher, here he was again trying to find him.
He let his eyes drift over the various people going after their own business in the market square. None of them were who he was looking for.
‘ God damn it. If I were the moss head, where would I be? ’ But that kind of thinking wasn't helpful, since Zoro didn’t even know where he was most of the time.
Tired and frustrated Sanji rubbed a hand over his face before turning into a random alley to continue his search. He didn’t get very far before he collided with someone. The other person let out a high pitched yell while falling on the ground.
“Oh shit, I’m so sorry, I didn’t watch where I was going!” he exclaimed before bending down slightly and offering up a hand. “Are you okay?” The other person lifted their head and looked up at him. It was a woman. She had a very cute face, bright eyes, and long, dark hair. Sanji’s guilt instantly doubled. He had bowled over a beautiful lady!
“I’m fine.” the woman replied while taking his still offered hand. “I didn’t look where I was going either. I hope I didn’t hurt you?”
“No, of course, you didn’t. Such a lovely lady as yourself couldn’t hurt a fly.” In the back of his head, he almost heard the indignant scream Nami would let out if she could hear him. He winced a little at his choice of words. Yes, he still was trying to be a gentleman to every woman he met, but he was also not the same naive boy from a few years ago. He knew that sometimes fighting a woman didn’t mean he was breaking his moral code. It rather showed what he was willing to do to protect his crew.
The woman in front of him giggled and looked up at him through her lashes, a pink blush painting her cheeks.
“You are certainly charming, Mr…?”
“The name’s Sanji, my lady.”
“Well then, thank you for helping me up Sanji.”
“No need to thank me, after all, it was partly my fault.” At that, she gave him a shy, but still a bit mischievous smile.
“Hmmm, it was, wasn’t it? How about you make it up to me by accompanying me to the market?” Sanji froze. His first instinct was to say no, I’m sorry, but I have to go . But he stopped himself. Sure, the moss head was missing, but that was just a regular Tuesday for the Strawhats. And this lovely lady wanted his attention! Of course, he would go with her!
But still, the thought of Zoro running aimlessly around the island filled him with unease. He knew he would feel better if he knew where he was and if he was safe. Not that he couldn’t take care of himself of course, but accidents could happen.
“Sanji? Are you coming?” The woman in front of him looked up with an innocent, sweet expression on her definite feminine face. Not trace of scars or green hair anywhere.
He felt himself blush.
Why would he think that? He was mortified. He needed to focus on the lovely vision in front of him, not linger on idiotic thoughts about green-haired cavemen. He gave her his best smile and offered her his arm.
“Of course I am! Lead the way!” With another very cute smile, she took his arm and started walking. He was a bit confused though when they started to walk into the opposite direction of the marketplace.
“I’m sorry, but shouldn’t we go this way?”
“Oh, we could. But I want to visit a specific shop and this is the more scenic route there. I hope you don’t mind spending more time with me?”
“Of course not!” he answered quickly, the grin on his face becoming a bit strained as his subconsciousness told him he was wasting precious time for finding Zoro by walking around here. Immediately he scolded himself for thinking something like this. Nothing was more important than helping a lady in need! Especially if that lady wanted his company.
He doubled his efforts in focusing on her. How nice her hair smelled, how soft her hands and body were, how delicate her fingers that slipped into her pocket, and pulled out a small strip of paper. She had such grace surrounding her! Only a woman got to hope to be so filled with grace. Once again he ignored his mind which was busy conjuring up images of Zoro fighting. This was not the same and now was not the time, thank you very much!
Focus, Sanji, focus!
Her delicate hands opened the strip of paper and revealed a fine, lavender powder. Sanji opened his mouth to ask what this was about when he felt the grip on his other arm tightening. That helped in pressing her ample breast even more against his side. She was, as he had suspected all-around soft and delicate. Completely different to a swordsman. No, he couldn’t think about that! Think about the warm breasts, not about any other chest, for god's sake!
He lifted his eyes back to her face, as not to appear too rude and to try and play off staring at her breasts for so long. That was when he noticed the paper with the powder had been lifted to face level. With a sweet smile, she blew into it and scattered a fine lavender mist right into his face.
He took a step back from here and lifted his arms. He coughed and tried to clear the air around him with his hands. He could feel the powder coating the inside of his mouth and nose. His back hit the wall of a house and he leaned against it while trying to catch his breath.
“W-wa-...” he couldn’t finish his question, another string cough wracking his body. “What did you do…?” He could feel his eyes watering. His knees suddenly gave out and he slowly sank to the floor. He tried to get his bearing but found he couldn’t move his arms or legs. He slowly rotated his head until he could see the woman, who he just now realized had never even given him her name, standing over him with a smile. But now it wasn’t sweet or pure, it was the opposite.
“You are easy to trick, aren’t you? Some pretty eyes, a nice rack and you’re putty in my hands.” She not so gently pressed a foot against his chest, which he couldn’t feel. He only knew that he had fallen over by the way that the street was just right there in front of his eyes. When had he laid down? Wasn’t there something he should be doing instead? But a nap sounded nice about now. Thinking was difficult.
His vision changed again. Someone was lifting him? He wasn’t sure since he couldn’t feel anything. His head lolled to the side and the sun was shining into his eyes. He closed them out of reflex. Yes, a nap sounded good right about now. The next thing he knew was that the sun had disappeared and he was in darkness. Which was even better for his nap. So he closed his eyes again and drifted off, the steady rocking of his surroundings lulling him to sleep.
Zoro wasn’t lost. How could one be lost if you hadn’t a set destination in mind? He had wanted to take a walk. Stretch his legs a bit before they headed out to sea again. Nothing more. He most definitely wasn’t lost.
If the others wanted to think so, he wouldn’t stop them. Important was only what he thought. And if they sent out the cook to “search” for him again, that was also their decision. It had nothing to do with the fact that he had decided to walk around the island.
Nope. Nothing at all.
But it had been quite some time since he had started his walk. He had even reached the city limits again and no sign of the cook… or anyone else. It wasn’t as if he was waiting for someone specific to pick him up. It had just become a routine for them.
Zoro would go for a walk and after a certain time Sanji would find him and force him to go back to the ship, the two of them walking next to each other, sometimes even close enough that their hands would brush.
Not that it mattered or anything.
He wandered around aimlessly when he caught something out of the corner of his eyes. It seemed to be marines, hiding behind a corner. They were watching something happen, but from the angle he was standing he couldn’t make out what it was.
He hid behind a wall and waited. If the marines were on this island they might have been planning an ambush on the Strawhats. Either they were in the process of setting up their trap, in which case Zoro could stop them before springing it, or they had already finished setting up and he could find out what was going to happen and prepare the others or find a solution for them to flee.
It seemed something had happened because suddenly the marines sprang into action and carried a large wooden box around the corner. He silently crept closer and peered around the corner.
From what he could see the soldiers had captured someone. There was a seemingly unconscious body on the ground outside of one of the houses and a young woman was standing over it. The marines handed over a bag that was most likely filled with cash and the woman left. The other soldiers were busy lifting the body of the ground and into the crate, they brought with them.
The sunlight caught in bright blond hair as an achingly familiar hand was thrown over the shoulder of one of the marines. Before he had even fully registered what he was doing he had drawn all three of his swords and was charging at them.
He was so focused on the target in front of him that his senses registered the threat from behind far too late. Something small and sharp nicked him at the base of his skull and immediately his knees gave out. His swords clattered to the ground and he fell straight down on his face. The pain he felt from his probably broken nose was sharp, but nothing he wasn’t used to. He tried to sit up, but even though he could feel all of his body, it wasn’t responding.
One of the marines that had been busy with securing Sanji stepped over to him and gave him a swift kick in the rips, effectively turning him onto his side. Again the pain was nothing he couldn’t handle and the new angle allowed him to see how Sanji's limp form was dropped unceremoniously into the crate.
“I’m going to kill you for this.” Zoro tried to say but what came out sounded more like “Hmmuorgh”.
“If you’re finished with the blond one tie up this one next. We’re taking them both.”
“But Sir, Captain Konno said to only take one.”
“He will be pleased that we managed to double the catch. Now hurry up before the paralytic lets up.” The man in front of Zoro gave him one more critical once over. “And maybe put him to sleep too. We don’t want to risk anything.”
Out of the shadows, another person dressed in marine gear appeared a syringe with a lavender liquid in hand. Zoro tried to clench and unclench all of his muscles in a desperate attempt to dislodge the paralytic, but even though he was able to twitch his fingers he wasn’t fast enough. The syringe was plunged into his neck and a warm, fuzzy feeling overtook his brain.
He tried to fight it as long as he could, tried to hold onto the sight of Sanji, helpless and limb in the arms of the marines, but to no avail. In a matter of seconds, he was out cold and was sinking into darkness.
The shock of ice-cold water hitting his face ripped Sanji out of his drug-induced unconscious state. With a gasp, he tried to stand up from where he was sitting but found that he was unable to. A quick look around revealed a nondescript cell without windows and just a single iron door. In front of him were too brutish looking marines, one still holding an empty bucket, the other clutching an iron pipe.
The sight of it made a shudder run down Sanji’s back but he refused to let anything show on his face.
“Rise and shine, princess. We have some questions for you.” Sanji nodded sagely.
“I can imagine that. I mean looking at you it’s no surprise. But couldn’t you have, I don’t know, simply asked me instead of all this drama?” He gave another casual look around before addressing them again. “I mean, aren’t you guys tired about having to build new headquarters all the time after our captain destroys them?”
Instead of an answer, he got a punch to the face for his troubles. He could taste the blood that welled up from his cut lip and spit it out onto the ground.
“That wasn’t very nice of you. This way you’re not getting any answers out of me gentlemen.”
“We don’t expect to.” Marine number 1 said with a cruel grin. “At least not yet. We know how stubborn you Strawhats are. But we have patience. And to make you see how committed we are to this…” He turned to Marine number 2 and nodded. “Do it.”
The marine with the iron pipe gave him an equally cruel grin and stepped forward.
“I hope this hurts a lot.” And he lifted the pole into the air and swung it down again.
Right against Sanji’s knee.
The first thing he noticed was the horrible crunching sound his knee made when it shattered. The second was a wave of agonizing pain. He gritted his teeth against the assault on his senses and tried to breathe. But before he could even try and gather his wits again, the marine had already lifted the pole again and was bringing it down.
Right against his other knee.
Another horrible crunching sound and this time Sanji couldn’t suppress the bellowing roar of pain that left his body. The blood roared in his ears and he almost missed it when Marine number 1 talked again.
“Good. But this one is dangerous with his legs. Better break the shins too. Maybe the ankles.” Before he could even comprehend the words he just heard there was another sickening crunch and the pain in his left leg skyrocketed. His scream of agony echoed around in the empty cell and almost managed to cover the three additional sounds of shattering bone.
He only stopped screaming when the blood from where he had bitten his tongue was threatening to suffocate him. His body convulsed in a desperate attempt to get air into his lungs and Sanji retched out as much as possible. That included the remains of his last meal. In a slightly delirious moment of pain, the first thought in his head was ‘ what a waste ’.
The marines had stepped away from him and were looking at their handiwork.
“That should be enough for the moment. Now you know that we’re not messing around. We’ll leave you to your contemplation. Think wisely about what you're going to say to us the next time we come in here.” And with that, they turned around and left the cell. The door fell shut and left Sanji in complete darkness, with only his tremendous pain to keep him company.
The first thing Zoro noticed when he came too was the heat. His cell was small, barely wide enough that he could lie on the ground in a huddled position. His feet and shoulders were touching opposite sides of the cell. His hands were tied tightly at his back and his clothing was drenched with his sweat. The smallness of the room and his body temperature only helped in making things worse.
Carefully he tried to stretch and found he could. That meant the paralytic must’ve worn off. Slowly he started to rise to his knees, careful not to move too quickly to not overstrain his muscles. He managed to get to his feet but was unable to stand up completely since the ceiling was a lot lower than he had anticipated. He leaned against a wall and tried to find a position to stretch out his legs to get the blood flowing again.
After a few minutes of this, he turned his attention to the door. It seemed to be made of sturdy, thick iron and had no window in it. The only thing that looked like an opening was a small hatch roughly in the middle of the door. He shuffled closer and tried to move it with his foot, but the small metal contraption didn’t budge an inch.
Frustrated he let out a loud groan and just barely stopped himself from kicking against the wall. It wouldn’t do him any good to further injure himself in his position. He could already feel the ache in his shoulders, hips, and back from the cramped position, his body had been forced into. And if he could already feel an ache that meant he had been in here for quite some time.
There was no way to gauge just how long he had been here. His stomach rumbled with the complaint and his bladder was making itself known, but that wasn’t helping in pinpointing a more precise time. He could only guess that he had been out for a couple of hours up to a day. Any longer and the aches of his body would’ve been worse.
He tried shifting his bound arms around but the ropes were tied tight and didn’t budge. They were also not just binding his hands and wrist, the robes were extending up to his elbows. That made dislocating a shoulder for an escape troublesome. He would keep it in mind as a dramatic last measure. Sooner or later someone would come for him, either to feed him or to question him. He knew the usual drill of the marines. He could be patient, he could wait.
And after he got out of here and found the cook there would be hell to pay. For both the soldiers who had been dumb enough to kidnap not one but two members of the Strawhat Pirates and for the charming idiot who had been gullible enough to get kidnapped in the first place.
He lowered himself back to the ground and moved his legs into a halfway comfortable position and settled in to wait.
He must’ve fallen asleep again because he was woken up by the sound of the hatch opening. When he looked over to the door there was a tray connected to the door. On top of it was a simple bowl of soup. The hatch had fallen shut again. So they were trying to minimize the contact they had with him. He could eat the soup without assistance if he was ready to slurp it up like a dog.
He had always been a prideful man but the time with the Strawhats had taught him the difference between being rightfully prideful and being a dumb idiot. Sure, he didn’t want to lower himself in front of some marines who would undoubtedly laugh at him but was he turning away the only nourishment he would get. Fuck no, not if he wanted to escape this place.
So he heaved himself up to his knees and turned towards the bowl. With a few quick gulps, the bowl was empty. Even if the food was drugged to keep him complacent, it was better than nothing right this moment. But now that he kneeled in front of the door he saw a small crack between the hatch and the door. It was at the point where the tray connected to the door. Through that crack, he could hear muffled voices talking. He strained his ears to listen, going so far as to close his eye.
“They’ve broken his legs. Next are his rips and that pretty face of his.”
“Heh. Nice. I hope they take the video snail with them this time. The audio from the last time was great, but I really wanna know if the big shot pirate can be reduced to tears.”
A loud noise right next to his ear made him rear back in shock. His eye flew open and he saw how a hand reached into his cell and removed the tray. The hatch fell shut again and the voices from outside were inaudible again.
Zoro sat frozen in a kneeling position on the ground. Who had the marines been talking about? Was it Sanji? Or was it some other pirate they had in their clutches? But they had said the prisoner was a big shot. Since his legs hadn't been broken they couldn't have been talking about him. So it must’ve been Sanji.
But that was bad. It wasn’t as if the cook couldn’t hold his own in a fight, even without his legs, but he would be at a severe disadvantage if they were broken. And depending on how badly they were broken escaping or simply just walking was out of the question. So it was laying with Zoro to try and formulate an escape plan. If the others hadn’t noticed their absence already and were searching for them.
But in a situation like this, it wouldn’t do him any good if he just relied on Luffy to come to save his ass. He was the First Mate for god’s sake, he should be able to get out of here. Sooner or later someone had to come and talk to him. He just had to wait and not try to think about what it meant that they had broken Sanji’s bones but hadn’t even touched him yet.
Sanji wasn’t sure how long he’d already been here. He knew it had been quite some time since Marine numbers 1 and 2 had been in here for their last visit where they had introduced his ribs to the metal iron pipe that had already demolished his legs. Combined with the fact that the only water he had been given were buckets full of it to the face every time he was threatening to fall asleep from exhaustion.
The pain radiating through his body had turned dull, the sharp edges softened by the lack of sleep and the drugs that were undoubtedly in the water that he managed to catch in his mouth every time he was dosed with it.
They hadn’t started to ask him any questions yet, but he was sure it wouldn’t be too long before they started. Normal people would’ve succumbed to the torture long ago and probably would’ve started begging for release already. But luckily no one in the Strawhats could be considered normal. And Sanji had a childhood full of torture and starvation to prepare him for situations like this. Yes, he was in pain and hungry and exhausted, but it was nothing he hadn’t experienced before.
He just had to hold on a little bit longer until he could find a way to escape from here. Or until his idiot of a captain came barreling through the wall. Whichever came first. Because the fact that his captain would come for him was exactly that: A fact. There was no way the others hadn’t noticed his absence and were starting to look for him. He just had to hold on until then. Or maybe make it easier for the other by escaping by himself.
For now, he was on his own.
When he heard the lock in the door turn he took a few shallow breaths, to not aggravate his broken ribs any more than necessary, and lifted his head in a defiant gesture.
“Hello, princess. Did you miss us? No? Well, what a shame.” Marine number 1 said as he stepped into Sanji’s cell. Right behind him came Marine number 2 with the usual iron pipe in hand. Against his will, Sanji felt himself shudder at the sight. Yes, he was used to torture. Didn’t make it much easier to bear though.
Marine number 2 caught his look towards the pipe and gave him a cruel smile.
“Ahh, I see you’re excited to see your friend again. But I have to disappoint you, today you don’t get to play together.” He leaned the pipe against the wall and slid a pair of knuckle dusters out of his pocket.
“A pretty face like yours needs a special kind of attention, don’t you think?”
Marine number 2 stepped closer and Sanji felt his muscles tense automatically, which made the pain in his rips flare up again and he let out a short gasp of pain. The marine used this opportunity to land his first strike, right against his right cheek. The force of the punch almost made the chair he was strapped to topple over. Before he could do more than try to get some air back into his lungs the second strike came, right against his left cheek this time.
The punches continued to rain down onto his face and his upper torso. He could swear he could feel some of his bones turn into dust inside his body.
When the marine backed off and Sanji was allowed to breathe he moved his head to the side and spit out a swell of blood. Small noises alerted him to the fact that he had also spit out some of his teeth. Just what he needed.
“Look what you’ve done.” Marine number 1 said as he stepped closer and grabbed Sanji by the hair to lift his head. “You look horrible. And on top of that, there’s blood everywhere. But don’t worry, we’re nice people. We’re gonna help you take a bath.”
He hadn’t noticed it when the door had opened and a big bucket full of water had been brought in, but he certainly noticed now that he was dragged over to it. The chair was tipped to the front, his legs uselessly dragging against the ground. He could feel Marine number 2 coming up behind him and grabbing the edges of the chair to hold it steady. Marine number 1 tightened the grip in his hair and pushed his head down towards the bucket.
“Time to get clean now, princess.”
And his head was pushed under.
At first, Sanji didn’t struggle. He tried to concentrate on conserving his energy and his breath. But the time dragged on, longer and longer and he just couldn’t hold on anymore. Against all of his willpower, his body betrayed him and opened his mouth to try and take in some of the precious, much needed, nonexistent oxygen.
Instead, he swallowed a lungful of water. His lungs burned, his eyes burned, his head was pulsating and the pain in his chest almost overlapped the pain from his broken bones. Just as he thought he wouldn’t make it the force pushing him down let up and pulled him back up again.
As soon as his head broke through the surface he retched up the water in his lungs and tried to replace it with air. His lungs were still burning, but the pain was slowly residing. The pain of his ribs doubled instead, aggravated through the frantic movements of his chest. His panicked breathing hadn’t returned to normal yet when the hand in his hair was already pushing him back down again. He managed to take in one last lungful of air before the torture began again.
This started a cycle. Almost drowning, spitting up water, blood and bile while trying to breathe as much air as possible, almost drowning again. He lost count of how many times his head was pushed under. He only knew that the time that he could hold his breath was getting short and shorter and the black spots dancing on the edges of his vision were getting bigger and bigger with each drowning.
Even the pain of his injuries took a backburner in his mind. He was only able to think about the next lungful of air he would be able to get. If he was able to get it. In the beginning, he had tried to struggle against the grip holding him in place, but he had no energy left for anything like that. He was hanging limply in the grasp of his jailer.
The next thing he registered was the chair being tipped back into an upright position. His head lolled to the side and onto his chest. He had no strength left to support it. He was tired. His body was feeling completely numb, except for the burning pain in his chest.
“I think it’s time.” The voice of Marine number 1 pierced through the fog that was threatening to overtake Sanji’s mind.
“I agree. Let’s get the video snail.” He could hear the words, but he wasn’t able to comprehend them. His mind was running slow and sluggish after days, weeks, hours, seconds without sleep, or rest.
He felt the rough hand return to his head. It was pulled up by his hair. His unfocused eyes stared straight ahead into nothing. There was a grey film over the whole world and he couldn’t concentrate. The hand in his hair moved and shook his head.
“So, princess, we have a few questions for you. I’m sure you'll be glad to answer them now.”
Zoro was in the middle of some very basic and very cramped stretches when he heard the door to his cell being unlocked. In the last three days that had never happened before. He only knew it had to have been three days because he had been feed three times and the time between each bowl of soup had been too long to be less than a day. At least he thought so. It was hard keeping track with nothing to do and nothing to see or hear. The few times he had been able to listen to the guards when he was eating didn’t help him either.
Not once had they said anything about Sanji, the Strawhats, or questioning Zoro. He had started to become impatient. Also, his body had started to cramp up with the way that he had only limited space to work with and his muscles ached fiercely.
The door opened and a bulky marine grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him out of his cell. He tried to struggle but his body didn’t obey his commands. His knees gave out and he almost fell face down onto the floor. The thing that saved him from face-planting again was the tight grip the marine had on his restraints. He dragged Zoro over to a big monitor and forced him to his knees.
“I think it would be fun making you watch how your crewmate betrays all of you, don’t you agree Pirate Hunter?” Before Zoro could answer the screen right in front of them flickered to life. The scene in front of him felt like a punch to the chest and he could feel all the air leaving his lungs.
It was Sanji. His clothing was torn and soiled by bile and piss in several places, his skin bruised and cut open from his legs up to his chest. The swelling around his face made it almost impossible to recognize him. The lumpy way his chest caved in some places and the wrong, twisted position of his legs spoke of several badly broken bones. But the worst part was the look in his eyes. They looked lifeless, almost dead. The usual spark and fire were missing, instead of being replaced by a grey film over his eyes. He didn’t even seem to notice his surroundings if the unfocused way his eyes flickered from left to right was any indication.
Zoro felt his throat closing up with pure, burning rage. A red mist seemed to fall over the world and he strained his arms. Fuck his cramping muscles, fuck these robes, he was done. He was getting out of here and he was making every single one of these bastards pay for what they’d done. His struggle seemed to be in vain though.
The second marine who had staggered over to them even dared to laugh at his attempt. He used the bottle in his hand to not to gently move his head back towards facing the screen.
“Better watch out, it’s just getting started.”
The marine on the screen, the one who was pulling Sanji’s head up by the hair, started to speak.
“To where is your crew headed?”
Sanji did not indicate having heard the question. The other marine grabbed an iron pole and swung it against the blond’s chest. A painful groan left Sanji’s lips before he went slack in the grip still holding him.
The marine asked again.
“To where is your crew headed?”
After another few seconds of silence, the pole was used again. The sound of it hitting flesh was sickening. Sanji let out a quiet groan again, but this time the marine leaned down.
“What was that? Speak up, princess.” With a seemingly monumental amount of effort, Sanji spat out a bit of blood and cleared his throat. When he spoke Zoro almost wasn’t able to hear him, so abused was his voice.
“My crew is on their way… to fuck your mother…” An intense feeling of pride and other warm, fierce emotions that he normally tried to suppress when thinking about Sanji coursed through his chest. If those marines thought that either of them would sell out their crew or their captain, they had another thing coming. Every single member of the crew would rather die than betray their loyalties.
The retaliation came swiftly and brutally. The marine still gripping Sanji’s hair brought up his knee and rammed it into the tied up man's face. A sickening crunch could be heard even through the video snails recording. Zoro felt himself tense up, his teeth grinding against each other.
“Oho, seems you’re all a rather tight-knit group, aren’t you?” The marine still pulling his head up said with a mean grin. “Must be hard for you to see your buddy all beat up, right? You know what? One word from you and I can make them stop.” He held up a small rectangular piece of metal with a few buttons on top.
“One push from me and they stop. Maybe they’ll even treat his wounds so he doesn’t bleed out. Wouldn’t that be nice?” Zoro glared up at him.
“Fuck you.” The marines face twitched in a short burst of anger. But instead of hitting Zoro, as he so clearly wanted, he just nodded.
“Suit yourself. Just know that what is happening next is on you.” And then he pushed down on one of the buttons. A few seconds later a noise came from the pocket of one of the marines next to Sanji. The man grinned before lifting his leg again and ramming it full force into Sanji’s stomach. Zoro’s eye widened.
“No!” The marine just grinned before pressing down on the button again. One more time the noise sounded on the other end of the transponder snail and the other brutish looking man lifted the hand still holding the iron pipe and brought it down onto the injured blond’s shoulder.
“You sick bastards! I’m going to fucking kill you!” Zoro roared out, the blood rushing in his veins.
“Wrong answer, Pirate Hunter.” Another press of the button. Another noise. Another sickening crunch as Sanji’s body was hit again and again and again. Zoro couldn’t do anything but watch helplessly as the marines mercilessly wailed on Sanji. Blood sprayed everywhere, some even hitting the eyes of the transponder snail, painting the gruesome scene in front of them at hazy red.
The two men next to Zoro just laughed at his misery, one repeatedly pressing down the button, while the other pulled out a few bottles of alcohol and started drinking. That got him the attention of his colleague. He gave him a slightly disapproving frown.
“We’re still on duty, you can’t start drinking now.”
“Ahhh, come off of it! What’s the worst that could happen? We have the two Strawhats locked up securely and the rest of their crew has no idea where they are. And this is such a good show, I simply need some booze to enjoy it.” He offered one of the opened bottles to his comrade, but he declined.
“Is this what the great Marine Force has been reduced to?” Zoro pressed out from between gritted teeth. “A bunch of day-drinking cowards and bullies who resort to blackmail and torture? Sounds to me just like any other pirate scum I’ve encountered on the seas.” Instead of the expected punch to the face, the only reaction was another press of the button. Zoro let out a bitten-off curse and stared at the screen.
Sanji hadn’t moved in a while. He hadn’t made any noise in a while either.
Zoro desperately needed to find a way out of this. He cast his eyes around the room, jumping from object to object, but no avail. Nothing here could help him get out of his bindings, at least not without a considerable amount of time and effort that he didn’t have with the two guys guarding him. And he didn’t know how long they intended to keep him here or if there would be shift change soon. But he needed to act and he needed to do it now.
He subtly tried to shift his weight from his knees to the balls of his feet.
“What do you think you’re doing?” The marine with the remote asked and made to grab his hair again. But Zoro tucked his head against his chest and launched himself against him, successfully knocking him to the floor. Behind him, the other man scrambled to get up and tripped over his own feet in his haste to get to them. Zoro hurried to shift his body higher up until he was at eye-height with the man under him. Then he craned his neck back and smashed their heads together as hard as he could. He repeated the action a few more times until he could feel the other body go slack.
His hair was roughly grabbed and pulled back. Instead of fighting against it, Zoro rolled with the movement and used it the momentum to knock the already unstable marine to the ground again. He managed to get his feet under him and stand up before the other did. With one brutal swing of the leg that he had seen countless times when Sanji was fighting he kicked the other man in the head. The marine dropped like a sack of potatoes.
Breathing heavily he looked around the room again. He spotted the empty bottles of beer scattered across the table. One of them had broken in the attempt to subdue him. With a determined look on his face, he shifted until he could wrap one hand around a big, thick piece of glass. He tried to wedge it between the cracks of the wooden table. The sharp edges of the shard were cutting into his hand, but he just gritted his teeth and kept going until he was sure it wouldn’t be moved easily. Then he started to cut his robes.
In a repetitive up and down movement, he rubbed the thick cords against the sharp edges of the glass until he felt them snap. For the first time in days, he was able to move his arms out of the cramped position from behind his back. Immediately the blood started rushing back in full force and Zoro had to suppress a groan at the pain. He carefully rotated his arms around and rubbed at his wrists. The bindings had left deep imprints on his skin and his movements had rubbed the skin raw until he was bleeding.
When he looked up towards the projection of Sanji, the screen had turned dark. With a curse, he spotted the shattered remote which must’ve been destroyed during the scuffle.
He picked up the robes again and used them to tie up the two marines. He fashioned two gags out of their clothes, just to be safe, and a makeshift bandage for his still bleeding hand. He quickly searched through them and found a ring of keys. Silently he made his way to the door and cracked it open carefully.
When he listened he wasn’t able to make out any sounds from the hallway. He needed to find out where they kept his swords if there were ships he could steal and almost more important than the first two, where they kept Sanji. He had looked horrible on the video and Zoro didn’t know how long he had. He needed to find him quickly, try to at least stop the bleeding, and get him to Chopper as soon as possible.
With a quick look behind him at the two marines, who were still out cold, Zoro slipped from the room and made his way down the hallway. He wasn’t sure how long he was walking around, but he encountered almost no one. The only ones he did see where some stray marines, but he was able to duck into a closet and avoid them. He couldn’t hear any alarms, so his escape hadn’t been noticed yet.
He continued his search until he opened a door and was standing in an office of sorts. It seemed top belong to someone higher up the food chain if the fancy furniture was any indication for that. The desk was covered in papers, but they were written in some kind of military cipher and weren’t of any use to him. He was just about to turn around when he heard hurried steps approach through the corridor.
Frantic he looked around and spotted another door. Quickly he walked over, opened it, and slipped through. It was another closet. He carefully closed the door behind him and waited. Seconds later the door to the office flew open and Zoro could hear angry voices.
“- and position extra guards at any exit! I want him found, now!”
“Yes, Sir! The necessary protocols have already been put into motion. He won’t get away from us. We’re going to post extra guards at the entrance to your office too, just to be sure.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea. Pirate Hunter would never leave here without his swords and they are being safely kept in here.” His swords were in the office? But he hadn’t seen them when he searched around the room. His eye traveled down next to him. Leaning on the wall to the closet were Wado Ichimonji, Sandai Kitetsu, and Enma. He couldn’t believe his luck. With a grin, he silently picked them up and affixed them to his haramaki.
Outside the conversation continued.
“How is the other captive?”
“Still alive, but mostly unresponsive after the beating he took.”
“Make sure he stays alive, he has more use to us that way.”
“It was a good decision to separate them. I can’t imagine the amount of damage they could do if we kept them in the same place. Inform the commander of Cappadocia of the escape. He needs to take the appropriate measures to ensure we don’t lose another captive.”
“Yes, Sir!” After that were the sounds of retreating footsteps and a door opening and closing again. He could still hear movements from behind the door, probably the commander of this base, but Zoro couldn’t focus on that. Did that mean that he and Sanji weren’t in the same place? They had shipped him somewhere else? That meant he wouldn’t find him here.
On the one hand, the words he just heard made him incredibly angry, because it meant all of this had been planned from the start and hadn’t just been a lucky catch. On the other hand, he was relieved. The commander had said they needed Sanji alive, so Zoro window of time had widened a little. He still needed to hurry and hope that no one had done any permanent damage to the cook.
Slowly he opened the closet just a crack, to make it easier to launch an attack. Because of the cramped inside of the closet, he opted to just use one sword. Slowly he withdrew it and got into position. He took a deep breath before launching himself out of the closet and directly on top of the unsuspecting marine working at his desk. He quickly and, most importantly silently, overpowered him. He had one hand pressed against his mouth to keep him from screaming, the other one was holding the sword to his neck.
“I’m gonna make this real simple for you to understand. I am going to remove my hand and you’re going to answer my questions. After that, I will knock you out and put you in your closet, but I will be merciful and kill you, even though you piece of shit more than deserve it. Nod once if you’ve understood.”
The other man gave a small, hesitant nod.
“Oh, and don’t even think about screaming for help. You know who I am and what I am capable of. If I even see the sliver of a chance for you to start screaming I rather cut your throat before that happens.” To underline his point he gave him the cruelest and scariest look he could manage. He would never admit to it, but the inspiration behind the look was Nami. It worked like a charm, he could almost feel the man pissing his pants in fear.
Slowly he removed his hand. The man did not scream.
“Tell me the fastest way to get to Cappadocia.”
Someone was wiping the blood off his face.
“Geez, they messed you up, huh?” That was a woman's voice. Reiju? Did she come to clean his wounds again? What had happened? Did he have an accident while training with the others? No, wait, he wasn’t allowed to train anymore. Father had thrown him into a cell. Had his brothers attacked him in there again? No, wait, he escaped that cell. But what was Reiju doing here? The last time he had seen her was… it had been… when he was escaping from Big Moms children. This didn’t make sense. It had been years since that. Or had it just been a few hours? He wasn’t sure. He didn’t know how long he had been unconscious.
He couldn’t feel anything except the hand against his face. Suddenly there was something else. A glass?
“Drink up, Black Leg. I’m not gonna be responsible for you keeling over dead.” Where had Reiju gone? And when did Vivi get here? Maybe she could tell him what had happened?
The glass was pressed more insistently against his lips and that was when he realized how thirsty he was. His throat felt as dry as the desert the princess lived in. The last time he had felt like that had been with Zeff on that rock. When had that been? It felt like yesterday. Had it been yesterday? But if that was true, when had he had the time to go to Whole Cake Island to marry Pudding? Something wasn’t right.
The liquid running down his throat was warm and slightly viscous. The taste reminded him of his mother’s gaunt face in her room. He felt his throat convulsing at the thought, but his iron will of not wasting a single bit of food or drink ever forced him to keep swallowing. It settled warm and heavy into his stomach.
“That wasn’t so hard now, was it?” Slowly he opened his eyes. In front of him stood Nami, critically inspecting his body. Did she need something? Why was she bringing him something to drink? That was his job. Maybe he was sick? His thoughts drifted back to Drum Island where she had been the one to have been sick. That would explain why he wasn’t feeling anything, right? But why was there so much blood everywhere?
His eyes slipped closed again.
“Hey now, I need you to stay awake a bit longer. I need to dress some of those wounds.” Since when did Robin help with treatment? Had something happened to Chopper? He hoped the reindeer was okay, he seemed a bit unsure of himself after the incident at Enies Lobby. Sanji thought he had done great. Maybe he should make extra sweets tonight for dinner.
“Oi, I said to stay awake!” That voice made him snap his eyes open, his back automatically straightening a bit. In front of him, wearing his usual scowl, was Zoro. He was holding a roll of bandages. But something was off about him. What was it? Why did Zoro ring a bell in his head? Hadn’t he been searching for him? But when had that been? He felt like he was always searching for the green-haired swordsman. Either because he was lost or because Sanji just couldn’t take his eyes off of him. But that wasn’t something he had been ready to accept yet. Was he ready now? He wasn’t sure. Everything was fuzzy. Like Zoro’s hair.
Would it be soft if Sanji touched it? Or maybe prickly?
“I need to get you ready for transport.” Transport? Were they going somewhere? Hadn’t they just arrived here? And why was Zoro responsible for it? He had a terrible sense of direction. He would only get all of them lost.
Either way, something was off. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t feel anything and the warm liquid in his stomach was making him feel queasy. His eyes slipped shut again. Maybe all of this would make sense in the morning. He just needed to trust that Zoro would take care of him.
And trust in Zoro he did.
He had been tracking the cook for two weeks. The information he had been able to gather at the Scrabster base before leaving on a stolen marine vessel had been useful if a bit hard to read. But reaching Cappadocia from Scrabster by boat was a two days trip according to the marine. He had lied about that. There was no other reason why it had taken Zoro longer to get there.
None at all.
He had briefly considered trying to contact Luffy and the others but had discarded that idea again quickly. He didn’t know how far away the others were. And he couldn’t waste any more time in getting Sanji back or else who knew what could happen to the cook. He was too dumb for his good.
When he had arrived at the military base he had fought his way through the stationed guards with ease. None of them proved to be a challenge. They had been informed about Zoro’s arrival, and he felt almost insulted by the fighting power that had been gathered there. The reason why became apparent quickly: The main troops had already left the base. And they had taken Sanji with them.
He had been furious and the remaining marines had certainly suffered a lot because of it. He had been able to extract the new location from one of the guards and he had been off again. He didn’t even stop to rest or restock his supplies. There was no time for eating or sleeping when Sanji was being tortured at the same time.
So the chase began. Base after base after base he raided, always meeting little resistance since the higher-ups weren’t dumb enough to lose valuable members to his bloodlust. He painted all of them red, never faltering once. He was so close to his goal he could practically feel it. The next one would be the one. He had made sure no one would tip them off this time.
He tightened one of the robes on his small sailing vessel when it slipped right through his fingers. He was able to grab at it in the last second. With a frown, he looked down at his hands and noticed they were shaking. So were his legs. Huh.
When was the last time he had eaten something? Or slept for that matter? He couldn’t recall. Even though his body was strong and resilient, two weeks with no food and almost no sleep would be hard on anyone. However, a bit of shaking would not stop him.
He kept thinking back towards the last time he had seen Sanji. Had his wounds been treated? If yes, how much? Would he be able to survive the trip back towards the Sunny? Would it be the extra injuries he had received because of Zoro that would be his undoing?
Resolutely he shook his head. Now wasn’t the time to start to doubt himself and wallow in self-pity. He needed to reach the next island before nightfall or his plan wouldn’t work. He would need to rely on the cover of darkness to enter the base unnoticed and find Sanji.
Sanji had lost all sense of time and place.
He didn’t know anymore if he was still in the same place or if he had moved to several different locations. Maybe he was hallucinating? Had Luffy bought some kind of mystery ingredient again that made all of them high? If so, where was everybody? They seemed to pop in and out of this room unpredictably. Sometimes his father would come to yell at him. It was always weird when that happened because in the times he was hurting it was Judge and in the times when was feeling lonely it was Zeff, scolding him for abandoning the potatoes he had yet to peel.
Sometimes he cried when Zeff was in here with him. He hadn’t realized how much he missed his father sometimes. He wanted to ask him to stop the pain but he knew what he would say if he did:
“The pain is part of life Sanji. How we deal with it, if we let it destroy us or make us stronger, that’s what shows what kind of person you are.”
He liked it the most when Zoro visited him. He was always gruff and short with him, not even a hint of a smile, but still, Sanji was glad to see him. Made everything a bit brighter. Must be all that green.
Right now he was alone and he was aching .
It felt as if his whole body had been crushed and then set on fire. His head was also foggy, but for the first time in a long time, there was no floating sensation. He tried to remember where he was and why he was strapped to a chair. There was something about Zoro. And a woman?
There had been marines at some point. Maybe even at several points. Who knew.
His gaze focused on his right leg. That seemed wrong. He was pretty flexible and he was sure his leg shouldn’t be bend that way. It went in four different directions. Strange. It looked almost like a spring, the way it was twisted. Maybe that would help him jump even higher as Luffy did with his rubber body?
He heard a loud noise. Slowly he lifted his head and saw a door in front of him. Did the noise come from there? Another loud shout could be heard.
It was probably Luffy, Usopp, and Chopper playing a game. Sanji should get up and make them some snacks before they started to bother Nami and Robin with their antics. He just needed to get up. Every second now.
He kept blinking at the door and wondered why he hadn’t gotten up yet.
There was another loud noise, closer this time.
Zoro had successfully infiltrated the military base. His plan had gone off flawlessly. At least until he opened the wrong door.
Since then he had been fighting his way through the base, leaving bodies left and right. But he was confident that he would be able to pull off this rescue. For one thing, he had manipulated the ships in the harbor. No marine would leave this island. Sanji wasn’t going anywhere without Zoro.
There seemed to be a big commotion outside.
Sanji wanted to go and see what was happening but he couldn’t move. He had tried several times since the loud noises started but a sharp pain inside his chest had stopped him. There had been a weird feeling for a while and now he was just starting to feel cold. His body was wracked by shivers that he couldn't feel. He could only watch as his body convulsed again and again.
That didn’t seem good.
Zoro was almost there.
There seemed to be one direction, one room that the marines tried to desperately protect. It was down in the basement with the other cells. It had to be the one they were holding Sanji in.
The shaking in his hands had become quite bad over the last fight. He could feel that he was running on low energy, but he couldn’t give in. He was so close. He broke through the last line of marines in front of the stairs down to the cellar.
He jumped down almost all of them and landed hard. His knees gave out underneath him and he fell to the floor. Disoriented he needed a few seconds to gather his bearing again and get up. He leaned heavily onto the wall as he tried to shake out the numb feeling in his legs.
“Fire!” He looked up to see a line of marines in front of a door, all aiming at him with their guns. He was able to dodge most of them, one managed to graze his leg, the other embedded itself into his shoulder. He grunted in pain but shrugged it off. This was it. The door that he needed to get through.
With a feral grin, he charged.
The noises from outside had been getting louder again.
There were a lot of footsteps and then a series of gunshots. That was the point that Sanji realized there must be a fight going on outside. That was none of his crewmates. Had someone attacked the Sunny?
Was he even on the Sunny?
Flashes of memories arose in him. Two marines, one with an iron pole, goth with cruel grins and taunting remarks. Was that what happened? Did someone kidnap him? But why? Didn’t they know who the Strawhats were and how they reacted to something like this?
If he had been kidnapped then there was no doubt in Sanji's mind that the noises outside had been caused by his crewmates. He just needed to sit back and relax and wait until they broke through that door. In Luffy's case probably quite literally.
Except he couldn’t keep his head up anymore. The amount of red that was dripping out of his mouth whenever he coughed was also a bit concerning. And why was it so cold in here? He hoped the others had a blanket or something.
They needed to hurry up. Sanji had the bad feeling that he should go to see Chopper rather sooner than later.
In front of him, he could hear the door opening.
Zoro did it.
Every last marine had been defeated and he had finally reached the door. He was painted in the blood of his enemies, his body was almost giving out because of exhaustion, but he had done it. With a heavy sigh, he sheathed his weapons and opened the door.
Inside the cell was an empty chair.
Frantically he entered the room and looked around.
There was no Sanji anywhere.
But how could that be? He had made sure no one would be able to leave the island. Was there another mode of transportation around here? But why hadn’t he noticed anything? He should’ve found Sanji here.
“Seems like your princess is in another castle. Too bad really.” A female voice behind him made him whirl around. Before he could even process what he was seeing a fine, lavender mist had been blown in his face. He coughed, trying to get rid of the powder that was entering his body but to no avail. He could already feel himself slipping. Combined with his exhaustion it only took seconds for him to blackout.
He didn’t even feel it when he hit the ground again.
This had not been part of his plan.
He looked at the limp creature that was tied to the chair in front of him.
“Holy shit,” his First Mate exclaimed. “Isn’t that the Strawhats cook?”
“Gods, look at him. Is he even still alive?”
Quickly the doctor walked over to him and checked for his vitals. Weak and barely there, but alive nonetheless. But the blond man was completely unresponsive. With a quiet word, he activated his powers for a more throughout scan. The number of wounds was staggering. The only times he had seen wounds to this magnitude was when he was sailing and fighting side by side with the Strawhats and their idiotic, charming captain.
So this was almost a regular Tuesday. Almost. He straightened up from his crouch and turned back to the crew.
“Shachi, Penguin, gather everything of worth. Information, maps, treasure, weapons, booze. Bepo, go back to the ship, and prepare the operating room. I’ll try to stabilize him here and teleport us over in a few minutes.”
“Aye aye, Captain!”
Law turned back towards his new patient. This was going to be a lot of work.
Zoro came back to himself slowly.
The first thing he noticed was the roaring headache behind his eyes. It felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to his brain.
The next thing he felt was that he was tied up to a chair. With a wince, he opened his eyes and looked around. The cell around him looked suspiciously like the one they had held Sanji in. He let out a loud string of curses and strained against his bonds.
He had been captured by the marines. Again. He feared his reputation would never recover from this. But the most frustrating and honestly scary thing was the fact that he hadn’t come closer to finding Sanji. In truth, he seemed to be farther away than ever.
Now that he had nowhere to run and no escape from his thoughts the feat started to creep in. Who would find the cook now? Zoro hadn’t contacted anyone. No one even knew where he was, much less where they had taken Sanji. Would they even be able to find and rescue him in time? While he was on the hunt he was able to suppress these thoughts, but now the sight of Sanji, broken body tied to that chair and bleeding profusely, replayed over and over in his mind.
Would that be the last time he ever saw him? What had they talked about last? Knowing them it was probably a stupid argument. Zoro felt sick to his stomach. He didn’t want the last thing he ever said to Sanji to be an insult.
The thought of Kuina flashed through his mind, bringing with it the bitter feeling of loss and regret.
No. He refused.
The door to his cell opened and in stepped a decorated marine. Some of the higher-ups no doubt.
“Pirate Hunter. You’ve given us quite the trouble over the last few weeks.”
“Eat shit and die you piece of crap.” Zoro bared his teeth at the marine. “Don’t act like this is my fault. You fucknuts were the ones to abduct me and the cook and you’re going to pay for it.” The marine didn’t react to his rude words and continued to look him up and down.
“I don’t suppose you want to tell me where your crew is headed next or what your plans are, right?” Zoro spat at the ground in front of him. The marine sighed. “I take that as a no then. Well, we have options to make you talk, don’t you worry. I think-”
But Zoro never found out what exactly it was that the marine was thinking.
He was interrupted by a giant hand crashing through the ceiling. The marine had just enough time to look up before he was crushed against the ground, where he stayed lying in an unconscious mess.
Zoro could only stare dumbfoundedly at the hand that had just punched a hole through the ceiling. It was familiar.
The hand retreated and instead a person jumped down through the new hole.
“See, I told them this way would be way quicker! Ah, Zoro! I found you!” In front of him was no one other than Monkey D. Luffy himself, clutching his hat to his head. His signature grin was missing from his face though. The serious look on his face was something Zoro had only rarely seen. Luffy wasn’t easily worried. But when his friends were in danger, in serious, life-threatening danger, that changed things. He also looked almost as tired as Zoro himself felt.
With a few quick steps, his captain was by his side and started to unravel the robes still holding Zoro in place.
“I’m seriously pissed at you!” He exclaimed while tugging at the knots. “How could you and Sanji just leave us like that and go on an adventure without me? And you didn’t even tell Nami where you’re going! It took us ages to find you. It’s a good thing swords leave an easy route to track.” With a final tug, the robes fell away from Zoro's hands and he almost fell flat on his face again if it hadn’t been for Luffy's quick reflexes.
“Woah Zoro! Are you okay? You look super tired! Where’s Sanji?”
“It’s nothing,” Zoro growled out. “I don’t know where the cook is. I’ve been trying to find him for the last few weeks. But that piece of shit over there should know.” He gestured to the knocked out marine on the floor.
“Ah well, we’ll find him sooner or later.” Luffy tried to give him an encouraging grin, but Zoro wasn’t having it. He was grateful to his captain for his rescue but he needed them to act now. He grabbed Luffy's vest and shook him slightly.
“Luffy, we need to find him now. Sanji’s in a really bad state and I don’t know…” His voice gave up halfway through the sentence and once again the picture of Sanji, bloody and broken, flashed through his mind.
Luffy seemed to understand the urgency in his voice though. He looked at him with a determined expression on his face.
“Okay. We will find him. I promise.” With that, he wrapped one arm around Zoro’s waist, the other around the still unconscious marine. Before Zoro could utter a word of protest they jumped straight up through the hole.
“Fuck, Luffy, wait! What about my swords?!”
With a deep and weary sigh, Law closed the door behind him.
The surgery for Black Leg had been successful, thankfully. The fact that Law had found him when he did was nothing short of a miracle. He had been right at the cusps of bleeding out from his internal injuries. The marines had only tried to patch up the holes, so to speak, and hadn’t cared about the other injuries.
But the hardest part hadn’t been the blood loss and the internal ruptures. It had been his bones. They had been broken so many times that some of them had just been rubble at this point. He had been forced to break some of them anew because they had started to heal incorrectly. Some he hadn't been able to save completely. Luckily something similar had happened to some of his crew a few years back. Nothing as excessive as right now, but a bone had been unsavable after a rather nasty accident, so Law had been forced to create a substitute that wouldn’t be rejected by the body’s immune system.
Tired he walked the halls of his submarine towards the bridge where most of his crew should be around now.
True to his prediction he found them at their posts. When he entered they all tensed up.
“How is he, Captain?” Shachi wanted to know.
“He’ll live. Probably will be able to keep on using his legs without hindrance too I’d wager.”
“Captain! You’re amazing!” Bepo cried out. Law smirked. He was. At least where the medicine was concerned.
“Ah. So, when will the Strawhats get here?”
Silence. No one dared to look him in the eyes.
“Well?” he asked, a bit more force in his voice this time.
“We… Uhm, we have trouble contacting them right at this moment…” Penguin answered in a quiet voice, still without making eye contact. Law’s heart skipped a beat.
“Is everything alright? Was there another emergency?” He didn’t want to enact another rescue mission, but when his ally was in trouble…
(He ignored the tiny voice in his head that laughed at him when he used the word ally )
“no, no, nothing like that!” Penguin assured him. “It’s just that… our transponder snail may be… Uhm… slightly broken?” Law felt his pulse return to normal. At least for now.
“And what do you mean when you say slightly broken?”
“I mean that it’s been… completely smashed to pieces.”
“We don’t know! Everything just happened so fast! Bepo was chasing us-”
“-you refused to give me the ice! You know how hot I get! Don’t pin this on me!”
“- and we were running and Shachi didn’t look where he was going-”
“- you were in the front!”
“- and we maybe collided with Uni, who was holding the transponder snail-”
“- and it went flying and crashed.”
Law took a deep breath and started to count backward from ten in his head. It wouldn’t do them any good if he lost his temper now. Least of all him. But, by the gods, would it be cathartic.
“Don’t worry Captain!” Penguin hurried to add. “Jean Bart is already fixing it! It should be repaired in a day, two at most!” Law just lifted a hand and rubbed it over his face. He thought about replying but decided against it. Without a word he turned around and left the bridge. Behind him, he could still hear the faint voices of his crew.
“I think he took that fairly well.”
“If I were you Penguin, I would sleep with one eye open for the next few days.”
Nami had found his swords and brought them on board of the Sunny.
Now he owed her another obscene amount of money, but right now that was the farthest thought from his mind. Robin and Franky had worked their magic on the marine they had captured and found out where exactly they held Sanji captive. With Nami’s calculations, they should arrive within a day.
Zoro was itching to go. Now he knew where to go and he had his friends backing him up. It was easy to ignore the lingering thoughts of Sanji that way.
Or it would be if he would be allowed to distract himself.
“No!” The tiny reindeer stood his ground in front of him and gave him his best glare.
“Out of my way Chopper. I can’t just sit around here and do nothing!”
“You can and you will!” The reindeer form wavered and grew until he was larger than Zoro. He grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him back towards the bed in their small infirmary.
“You are severely dehydrated, malnourished, and sleep-deprived Zoro! I don’t even know how you’re still standing actually. You need to drink, you need to eat and you need to sleep. I will tie you to this bed if I have to, don’t test me!”
At the thought of being tied up again, Zoro automatically tensed. Chopper, seemingly feeling this, relaxed his grip on Zoro’s shoulders.
“Please Zoro! Just rest. I promise you I’ll wake you in time to join us when we save Sanji. But if you don’t go to bed right now I’ll have to force you to stay here. Your choice.” Zoro narrowed his eyes. Since when did Chopper know how to play dirty? With a grumble, he took a step back and sat down on the mattress.
“Thank you, Zoro.”
“Whatever. But Chopper, if you don’t wake me up in time-”
“I know, I know, I won’t forget.” With a last nod, Zoro laid down onto the bed and closed his eyes. He didn’t think he would be able to sleep, not with the amount of restless energy still buzzing through him, but there had to be some truth behind Chopper saying he was sleep-deprived. He was out like a light in seconds.
It only felt like he had lain down for a few minutes before someone was shaking his arm.
“Zoro. Zoro, wake up! We’re almost there.” Sluggishly he opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. For a moment he was confused. He didn’t know where he was or how he got here. Slowly he dragged his gaze to the person still holding on to his arm. It was Chopper, who still had a very worried look on his face.
The memories rushed back and he hurried to sit up. His head was still spinning and he reached out a hand to steady himself.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to come with us.” Chopper said. “I’d much rather have you stay here on the ship and rest.”
“I’m going.” He pressed out from between gritted teeth. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood up. He was swaying slightly on his feet, but that was just because the Sunny had to be sailing through some rough waves. Nothing else.
He gripped his swords and left the infirmary, ignoring the worried look Chopper shot him. It was time to take back their cook.
Law was checking on his patient’s vitals when Penguin barged into the room.
“We fixed the transponder snail!” Law gave him an unimpressed stare.
“And why are you telling me this?”
“Uhm… because…” Law sighed.
“Nevermind. Did you contact the Strawhats?”
“They didn’t answer.” Law dropped his head into his hands and tried to breathe through the red haze that had descended upon his vision. Sometimes he doubted his crewmates. But that’s what you get from not buying enough caffeine at the last port. Now all of them were running on low fuel.
“Just… keep trying to reach them. Tell me when you do.”
“Aye aye, Captain!”
Zoro was barely able to keep the desperation at bay.
They had arrived at the marine base to find it in complete shambles. Bodies were lying everywhere and rubble was strewn along the buildings. It seemed that someone else had been here to raid the base first. He didn’t allow even one thought about what that could mean for Sanji and purposely walked into the building, the other Strawhats right behind him.
They searched every room but didn’t find anything. They found a few empty cells, but nothing gave them a clue which one had been Sanji’s. In the end, they convened in the office of the commander of this base to compare their findings. Chopper and Luffy were the last ones to appear. Their captain was carrying a heavily crying Chopper who was clutching a stack of papers to his chest, heaving with sobs.
The crew immediately tried to calm him down. Luffy didn’t know what had happened either, he had just found Chopper crying like this in something that looked like a doctor’s office. Slowly Chopper calmed down enough to talk. He raised his shaking hooves and showed them the papers.
“T-these are r-report o-on… o-on S-...Sanji…” A heavy round of hiccups interrupted him. When he was able to breathe again he continued. “With injuries like these… I-I don’t know if… if h-he m-made it…” He broke out in heavy sobs again and buried his head against Franky’s chest. The others stood around him in shock.
“Does… does that mean…?” Usopp started to ask but was interrupted by Zoro.
“No, it doesn’t! The damned cook isn’t dead until I see his corpse in front of me, you hear?! We’re not giving up!”
“I want to find Sanji-kun as much as you do, but what are we supposed to do?!” Nami screamed at him, her tears flowing freely down her face. “He obviously wasn’t taken by the marines and there’s no clue who has him. Or if they even took him in the first place! Maybe they just slit his throat and dumped him in the ocean!”
“Nami!” Robin scolded her as Choppers wailing got even louder. Nami just wrapped her arms around herself and lowered her head. Her shoulders were still shaking from silent sobs.
Luffy had been surprisingly silent through the whole exchange, his gaze was fixed on something near the overturned desk. Zoro took a step closer to him. Suddenly he sprang into action and dived at the table. Everyone startled and shared a confused look.
“Luffy?” Usopp asked carefully. Their captain emerged from behind the table with a piece of paper clutched triumphantly in his hand. On his face was his signature grin.
“I know where Sanji is!”
“WHAT?!” The remaining Strawhats exclaimed as one.
“Gimme that!” Nami yelled and ripped the paper out of Luffy’s hand. She quickly scanned her eyes over it before frowning.
“Luffy, that’s just an inky paw print. This doesn’t help us in finding Sanji.”
“But it does!” Luffy insisted. He pointed at the paper. “That’s Bepo’s paw print! Sanji is with Torao!” They all fell silent, except for Chopper whose wailing doubled in volume.
“Oh thank god!” He cried out. “If he’s with Law that means He’s… he’s…!” He went back to crying into Franky's impressive chest.
“Luffy, this is just a random paw print.” Nami tried to reason with her captain, but his mind seemed made up. And on some level, Zoro knew that he would trust Luffy on this. He took a step towards the door.
“Well?” he asked. “What are we waiting for? Let’s call him or something.” Luffy gave him a big grin and ran through the door. Warily the rest of the Strawhats followed, hope a fragile thing in their chests.
“Captain!” Bepo’s yell ripped Law out of the nap he was taking at his desk in his office. The door was slammed open and Bepo stormed inside, Penguin and Shachi hot on his heels. Law scrubbed a hand over his face to dispel some of the leftover sleepiness.
“The Strawhats called us!” Law raised an eyebrow.
“They called us?”
“Yes!” Bepo proudly raised the transponder snail that he held in his hands. The grin on the snail’s face resembled a certain idiot that made Law’s insides feel all warm and fuzzy. He absolutely hated it.
“Torao!” The snail exclaimed in a familiar voice. With a sigh and a grumbled “I have to do everything around here…” he picked up the receiver of the snail and held it up to his lips.
“Torao! Do you have Sanji?” At that, the mouths of all three of his crewmates fell open. law managed to keep his poker face but he was surprised too. How did others know about that?
“As a matter of fact, I do. How-” He was interrupted by loud cheering from the other side of the snail. It seemed all of the Strawhats were listening in on their conversation. Good to know.
“I knew it!” Luffy shrieked in delight.
“If you don’t mind me asking, just how did you know that he was with us?”
“Oh! I found a paper with Bepo’s paw print at the marine base.” All of their eyes snapped to Bepo who was looking at the snail with a gobsmacked look on his face.
“And you knew it was Bepo’s because…?”
“As if I couldnÄt recognize Bepo’s paw print Torao!” He sounded almost insulted by the fact that Law seemed to doubt his animal footprint knowledge. Maybe he was, who even knew. Bepo blushed in delight and rubbed his back. Law rolled his eyes.
“Nevermind. Get your navigator on the line so we can find a meeting place. I’m sure you want your cook back as soon as possible.”
“You’re the best Torao!” That comment did not make him feel warm inside. He also didn’t blush because of it.
So his crew members could stop giggling like schoolgirls, thank you very much. He handed the snail back to Bepo and used his Room to drop Penguin and Shachi downstairs in the kitchen. If they decided to act like children he would punish them as such.
Luffy was worried.
He did his best to hide it, but it was hard. Seeing his crew hurt had never been easy, but after Sabaody and Ace and Whole Cake Island, he had lost a bit of his carefree attitude. He still had absolute confidence in his friends and their power, but it was hard when they got hurt.
It had been a week since they had met up with Law and his crew, and since Sanji had been transferred over to the infirmary on the Sunny. After Chopper and Law had discussed Sanji's injuries and how Law had treated them they concluded that it would be best to sail together for a short time, just to be on the safe side.
Luffy was glad that Law had decided to stay. It wasn't that he didn't trust Chopper, his doctor was going to be the best in the whole world after all, but having Law around calmed something in his chest. It made it easier to believe everything as going to be okay and it helped Luffy sleep to know that Law was nearby. That was why he had taken to nap with him and Bepo, even though Law protested. But Luffy knew it was just a front and he secretly enjoyed it as well. Law was weird like that, but that was one of the reasons he was one of Luffy's favorite people.
But Sanji wasn't the only one that worried Luffy. Zoro wasn't his usual self either. He hadn't been hurt in the kidnapping, except the injuries he got while escaping, but Chopper had said he had overstepped his limits. Luffy hadn't even known Zoro had limits, but if Chopper said so it had to be true. Apparently, Zoro hadn't actually slept in two weeks, and hadn't eaten and only drank the bare minimum. Luffy couldn't even imagine going without food for half a day, how did Zoro survive two whole weeks?
So now he had to rest a lot to regain his strength. But he had refused to leave Sanji's side. As soon as the blond had been brought over to the Sunny, Zoro had been glued to his side and refused to move. He ate when you gave him food and he took naps on the chair in the infirmary and slept on the ground next to Sanji's bed. But he didn't work out anymore, he didn't come out to eat or to sit in the sun or to fish with them. The only thing he did was sit in the infirmary and stare at Sanji. Sometimes he talked to him too. Law and Chopper had said it was important to talk to him because there was a high possibility that he could hear them, or at least know that he wasn't alone. Because of that, they took turns to sit with both of them and update them about the things happening on the Sunny.
Luffy didn't like the talking. It always felt wrong to see his friends so motionless and unresponsive. Even Zoro, who was completely awake, gave almost no reaction to Luffy's jokes and his stories. Sanji needed to wake up so that everything could go back to normal.
He had just left the infirmary after checking up on both of them and he was feeling restless. There seemed to be an itch under his skin that he couldn't scratch. He decided to take a nap on his favorite seat but stopped halfway there. Zoro wasn't around to catch him if he fell.
The itching intensified.
He still took a seat upon the Sunny's head and stared out over the ocean. The breeze was nice and soothed his aching heart a little bit. The ocean was never the same and at the same time, it was always the same. Just like his friends. They were always changing, evolving to be better and to reach their goals but at the end of the day they were still his friends, his family and that would never change. He felt more then he heard somebody approach him from behind. A small smile stole itself onto his face. He knew who that was.
"Luffy-ya?" The smile grew bigger. He liked it when Law called him by his name instead of his moniker. But he only ever did it when the two of them were alone. But that only made it more special to Luffy. He peered around the mane of the Sunny and grinned at Law.
"Torao! Did you need something?" There was a frown on Law's face when he looked at him. It wasn't his default frown, but something deeper, more worried. Worried for Luffy. He didn't know why Law would be worried about him, he wasn't the one injured.
"No, I just wanted to make sure you didn't fall off and drown."
"Awww, Torao! You do care about me!"
Law scoffed "Obviously, idiot" before averting his eyes. There was a light blush covering his cheeks. Cute. Law was so cute sometimes.
Luffy patted the space next to him.
"Come sit with me Torao." Law seemed to hesitate for a second before he uttered a quiet "Room" and appeared next to Luffy on the head and sat down.
"Shishishishi~, you're powers are so cool Torao!"
"You said that before." A small smile played at the edges of Law's mouth. Luffy kind of wanted to press his lips there. So he did.
And as always when he did something like that Law's face turned a fiery red. He turned his head away and grumbled out something that Luffy couldn't catch. But at the same time, he grabbed one of Luffy's hands, so he figured he couldn't be too mad. Luffy moved a bit in his seat and let his head fall on Law's shoulder.
"Don't fall asleep on me. I won't catch you if you fall in. And I'm certainly not going in after you."
"I'm not gonna fall in," Luffy mumbled with his eyes closed. The itch under his skin had lessened with the proximity to Law and he felt himself relax. Maybe he could nap here after all. But first, he needed to ask something.
"I know you and Chopper said that Sanji will be fine, but... why won't he wake up?" Luffy could feel the deep breath Law took before releasing it in a long sigh.
"There could be several reasons why he hasn't woken up yet. His body suffered a lot of damage over a prolonged period. In addition to that, he suffered severe sleep loss and his body was dehydrated and malnourished when we found him, not unlike Zoro-ya’s. That kind of injury takes up a lot of energy to heal and when the body is weakened it takes even longer. Maybe he isn't waking up yet because his body needs all the energy it can get to heal." Out of the corner of his eyes, Luffy could see Law lifting his other hand and rubbing it over his face.
"The other reason could be that because of the trauma he suffered, not only in body but in spirit, that his brain is refusing to work right now, as a protection mechanism so to speak. He was infused with heavy drugs to keep him quiet and complacent and that can be very damaging on his own but paired with the physical injuries it can become a lot worse. I'm going, to be honest with you Luffy-ya, I don't know how long it will take for him to wake up. And even when he does, he will need a lot of physical therapy to get back to his old form. He lost a lot of muscle mass in those few weeks and it will be quite some time before he can leave the bed. In addition to that, I had to remodel some of his bones. It was a successful surgery, but I don't know if he will regain his full range and strength of movement. Only time will tell."
They fell silent once again, Luffy trying to comprehend the amount of information he just got.
"So he might not be the same anymore," he said after a long stretch of silence.
"Physical, no. Mentally? Only time will tell."
"But he will live?"
"Yes, I can promise you that much." Luffy nodded.
"That's good. Thank you Torao."
Law watched as Luffy's body relaxed and the other captain started snoring lightly. He rubbed his thumb over the hand still in his grasp and let out a sigh.
He hoped his presence was able to help soothe him like he always claimed when he flopped down on top of Bepo and him to join their naps. He also had taken to crawling into Law's bed in the dead of the night. Law never turned him away. He wasn't sure he could, even if he were to try.
He knew the other crew was worried about their cook, but with injuries like that, there was no other way but to wait. Things like that needed time to heal.
The body next to his suddenly stiffened and the snoring stopped. Concerned Law wrapped in arm around the other to keep him from slipping out of his reach. He knew the signs of a nightmare by now. With a quiet word, he activated his room again and teleported both of them up to the Crowsnest. He wasn't risking either of them diving into the ocean.
He leaned against one of the walls and pulled the other completely into his arms. He started rubbing soothing circles onto his back and settled in to wait, hoping that he would be able to calm the other. When a quiet "Ace..." left the lips of the Strawhat together with a sob Law couldn't help himself. He pressed a dry kiss against Luffy's forehead and gently started shaking him.
"Luffy-ya, it's just a nightmare. I need you to wake up." He tried to coax him out of his sleep as gently as possible. After a few minutes, Luffy let out a gasp and opened his eyes. His panicked gaze locked onto Law's face and without warning, he dived headfirst at him. He wrapped his arms and legs around him reminiscent of an octopus. Law returned the hug just as fierce.
"Everything's fine Luffy-ya. It was just a nightmare."
"But everyone leaves Torao. I don't want to be alone." Law could feel his heartbreaking. He couldn't even tell him that he would never leave him, because he refused to make empty promises. He knew the possibility of one of them dying was high and he just couldn't bring himself to lie to Luffy, even if it would make him feel better.
Instead, he tightened his embrace a bit more.
"That's just live Luffy-ya. People leave, sometimes even against their own will. But if I've learned one thing while traveling with you and your friends, it's that they will stop at nothing to come back to you." He could feel the weak nod against his shoulder.
"What about Torao? Are you going to come back to me too?" He didn't even need to think about his answer.
"Good. I'll always try to find you again too."
Together the two men sat wrapped around in the Crowsnest while the sun moved overhead.
After an hour of this Law started to remove himself from Luffy. With an apologetic look on his face, he started to explain.
"I need to go check in on Black Leg-ya."
"I'll come with you." They stood up and made their way down to the infirmary where Chopper was writing in a notebook. Zoro sat as usual at his Sanji's side, not moving.
"How's the patient doing Dr. Tony?" It always made the reindeer smile when Law treated him with the respect his station deserved and he figured why not. He did have a soft spot for the young doctor.
"No visible changes today Dr. Trafalgar."
"Alright. Zoro-ya, I need you to move so I can check Black Leg-ya’s vital." That was a lie. He didn't need to be directly next to the target of his scan, but he worried about Zoro. He had spent a few days locked up in cramped conditions, after which he had endured two weeks of extreme conditions in search of the other kidnapped man. He needed to exercise his body. Law could already see the reduced muscle mass of him. It would be dangerous for the crew if not only one but two of their most powerful fighters would be down for the count.
Zoro only looked at him with a glare and moved his chair a few inches to the side. Law sighed.
"I meant to say with that: You stink. When was the last time you bathed?"
No response. Law made a decision. He hoped he wouldn't regret it.
"Fine. But remember, you left me no choice." And then he activated his Room and shambled Zoro over the deck of the Sunny right into the ocean. In his place, a large fish appeared on the chair. With a swift motion, he grabbed the fish and presented it to Luffy.
"Here, dinner. Get that to Shachi and Penguin please." With an awestruck expression, Luffy took the fish.
"Zoro is going to kill you." He whispered.
"Maybe so. But that would mean he's getting some exercise, so I'm willing to make that sacrifice for the sake of my patient."
"So cool Torao!" came the double answer from both the captain and the doctor of the Strawhats. Ignoring them he turned back towards Sanji and started his examination.
Zoro was still fuming when he came out of the bath, a towel slung over his hips. He knew Law hadn't done what he did out of maliciousness, at least not completely out of it he was still an asshole after all, but because his behavior worried the others.
He had seen it in the way that Nami had practically dragged him into the bathroom after he had climbed back onto the Sunny.
He knew that it didn't help Saji's recovery that he neglected himself, but he just couldn't help it. After trying to get him back for so long he just couldn't rest easy without seeing him. Even if his pale and unmoving body was almost as unsettling as his bloody and broken one, it did soothe an ache in him when he could reach out and touch and feel and hear the other breathing.
And the talking helped. It wasn't only for Sanji's benefit that he talked. When the two of them were alone he told the cook stories from his childhood, from training with Kuina and his sensei, from all the failures he had collected along the way and that he refused for Sanji to become one of them.
He talked about how seeing Sanji get hurt made him feel, about the desperation in his hunt, about the grief that threatened to take him when they weren't able to find Sanji again and again, and he talked about the joy and hope that Law's arrival had brought him.
He always promised Sanji that he would gladly repeat all of that if he asked, but only under the condition that 'Sanji would finally get his act together and snap out of his beauty sleep already'.
After he got dressed and spend the first time in a long while eating with his friends he returned to his post in the infirmary. Nothing had changed in his absence, but his nerves were still soothed by seeing it for himself.
With a heavy sigh, he took his place next to Sanji's bedside and rubbed a hand over his head. The other reached out and took one of Sanji’s into his own.
"You need to wake up soon. We all can't cook for shit." There was no reaction, as he had half feared and half expected. Only the deep and even breathing of the other occupant filled the room.
Sanji was drifting.
It wasn't like the last time he had the feeling he was floating. This was... different. There was no pain here and no weird hallucinations. Only the cool touch of water and the all-encompassing darkness.
He was tired. He just wanted to let go and sink deeper and deeper into the darkness until he would never have to wake up again. Maybe this what was the All Blue was? The Ocean where everything started and ended. That was a nice thought. Made all of this less scary.
But whenever he tried to do that he heard a voice. It was always a different one, but one was there more than the others. It was a familiar voice and even though he couldn't understand what it was saying it pulled at something deep in his chest. It kept Sanji awake and anchored him in place. He found himself looking forward to the voice and the others. He wanted to know what they were saying. They filled him with such a warmth that it countered the cold feeling around him and made him want to move. Closer to the voices, closer to consciousness.
So slowly he moved his arms and legs and he started swimming. Every stroke was feeling like it was splitting him open, but Sanji knew that he couldn't stop. If he did he would never get out of here and he would never learn what that special voice was saying to him. So he kept on swimming closer to the feeling of home in his chest until he was enveloped in light and warmth.
The next thing he noticed was that he wasn't swimming anymore. He was laying on something soft. A bed? He could hear the waves crashing against something and from somewhere a warm breeze drifted over his face and ruffled his hair.
The next thing he felt was a hand that held his.
It was rough, covered in calluses, and warm. The grip was strong, but not painful, and the thumb was rubbing a calming circle into his hand.
That's when he realized that the voice that he had been following was still speaking.
"... and then I dumped the bucket of seawater on him. That's what he gets for teleporting me into the ocean, that stuck-up asshole. And yes, I know what you're going to say, I do get along with him. But you don't need to tell him that, he's arrogant enough as it is. It's a good thing that Luffy is regularly nerfing his ego, or the guy would get the biggest god complex with his fucked up powers."
There was a beat of silence.
"Well, I can't say anything against his powers. We owe to much to them and him. First Luffy, now you. It's a good thing our captain always attracts the crazy kind of people, huh?"
Sanji desperately wanted to answer, but when he opened his mouth the only thing coming out was a quiet groaning noise.
In a flash, the other person stood up and pressed their other hand against Sanji's forehead.
It felt like his eyes were glued shut, but he managed to pry them open a crack. The things about him were blurry and unfocused. He saw a lot of light browns and white and one startling spot of green.
Suddenly the green vanished together with the warmth of the hands. He let out an involuntary whine in their absence.
"Chopper, Law! He's awake!" The voice shouted before the green blob and the warmth in his hand returned.
"Oi, shitty cook, don't you dare close those eyes again, you hear me? Stay the fuck awake."
Sanji felt his eyebrows draw together in a frown. Who did this shitty green blob think it was?
"What's that look for, huh?"
"... s-shitty blob..."
"Holy shit." Sanji was confused about why the blob sounded so happy about being insulted. "I could kiss you right now, you beautiful bastard." Before Sanji could even try to formulate a response, the door flew open and a tiny brown blob bodychecked the green blob out of the way.
"Sanji! How are you feeling?!" He tried answering again, but his voice had given up on him. He only managed to produce a wheeze of air. He blinked his eyes a few more times and the blob slowly took the form of Chopper. A straw was nudging at his lips and Chopper gave him an encouraging nod.
"Drink a bit of water, you'll feel better after." Obediently Sanji took a few sips and almost wanted to let out a sigh at the relieved it brought to his parched throat.
Next to Chopper Law came into his field of view. He muttered a quiet word and moved his hands in a few complicated gestures.
"You seem to be healing up nicely Black Leg-ya. Dr. Tony, maybe we should try and sit him up." Together they used a few pillows to prop him up in bed. Sanji wasn't able to be of any help, since his arms felt like overcooked noodles. When he was sitting up he saw Zoro hovering in a corner of the tiny room. So that was what the green blob had been. Huh.
Wait a moment. Had Zoro just said he wanted to kiss him?
"So Sanji, how are you feeling?" Chopper asked him and thankfully distracted his mind before it could go down that road.
"Like Luffy flattened me with one of his punches and."
"I can imagine." Chopper winced. "What do you remember?" Sanji thought back. He had been out looking for Zoro, he knew that much. He had bumped into a woman who wanted him to accompany her and then... and then...
Sanji could feel his body tensing as he remembered. Marines numbers 1 and 2. The iron pipe. The punches. The drugs.
Everything after the first few sessions was kind of blurry but they all had the underlying feeling of pain in them.
"How long...?" He managed to croak out before his voice was breaking.
"Roughly three weeks," Law answered his unfinished question. "They were hiding you in a few of their secret bases. I was raiding one of them for information and found you."
"How bad?" He looked Law in the eyes, determined to get an honest answer.
"Pretty bad. Any regular doctor wouldn't have been able to save you. Any exceptional doctor might not have been able to save your bones. But lucky for us I am a supernatural doctor, so you probably make a full recovery. Your movement might be limited a bit, but with the right physical therapy, you should be able to return to fighting form. But that's going to take time." Sanji could feel the tension leave his body and he sank back into the pillows, his eyes already dropping again.
"Get some more rest Sanji. We'll be here when you wake up again." Chopper said and lightly patted Sanji's covered leg in silent support.
He opened his mouth to answer but was already asleep again before he could form the words.
The next time he woke up it was nighttime. His throat felt as dry as a desert and he tried clearing it to no avail. Next to him, something shifted.
"Cook? Need something?"
"Water...," he croaked out. A few seconds later a straw was nudging his lips again and Sanji gulped the water down greedily. The glass was removed again and a hand ran through his hair.
"Go back to sleep. You need it." Sanji wasn't about to protest that and closed his eyes again. He still felt like something had flattened him.
Something warm wrapped around his hand again and gave it a light squeeze.
He drifted off again.
He was awoken by someone tapping lightly against his cheek. His eyes fluttered open and landed on Zoro. Why was he always hovering over him?
"Good, you're awake. I have some soup here, Chopper said you should try to eat it. Don't worry, we kept Luffy, Usopp, and basically everyone out of the kitchen."
Gently Zoro gripped around his shoulders and helped him sit up against the pillows again. He settled on a chair next to the bed and held the bowl in front of him.
"Want to try by yourself?" Wordlessly Sanji stared at Zoro. Was this another hallucination? Had his abused subconsciousness created his rescue? Because the Zoro he knew would never be so kind and gentle with him.
It seemed this Zoro was also a mind-reader because he scowled at Sanji.
"Well?" he asked. "You gone mute now, shitty cook?" That nickname more than anything else reassured Sanji and he made a rude gesture towards Zoro. He couldn't hide his small smile though.
"Give it here shitty moss-head, I'll try by myself first."
With a bright grin, Zoro produced a tray from the floor and placed it on Sanji's legs before putting the soup on top. With a flourish, he produced a spoon and placed it next to the bowl.
"Bon Appetit." With a slight grumble, Sanji lowered his head and hoped his hair would help him hide the blush on his face.
"What's with that stupid look on your face?" He wanted to know as he lifted his shaking hand to wrap around the handle of the spoon.
Zoro just shrugged. "'m just glad to hear that horrible nickname again. Believe it or not, I missed it." It was a good thing he hadn't been able to fill the spoon yet or he would've splattered the sound everywhere with the way his head shot up and the spoon fell from his limp hands.
"Eat," Zoro instructed. "We can talk later. There's a lot I want to tell you. But we have time for that, don't worry."
Feeling shaky with more than just one reason Sanji tried again with the soup.
"So, that's what happened," Nami concluded her retelling of the recent events. "Anything else you want to know?" Still feeling kind of shell shocked Sanji shook his head no. He needed to process this.
So Zoro had been kidnapped with him? How were they able to blindside him badly enough that he would be taken by marines? And Zoro had seen a recording of his torture. When was that? What kind of torture? Had he said anything embarrassing? He could remember a few times when he had talked to someone who he had thought was in the cell.
The thing that was at the same time the most and the least surprising was Zoro hunt to rescue him. Sanji expected nothing less from any of the Strawhats, but the fact that it had been Zoro floored him. That the green-haired swordsman would go to such lengths, would push his limits over the edge, and all of that for him. He felt a weird mix of elation and guilt at that.
Because having the object of his... let's call it affection, chase after him like that made something warm and fuzzy bloom to live in his chest. But at the same time, he couldn't help but feel guilty. He knew, he was probably the cause why they were able to catch Zoro so easily. So he was the cause for all the suffering Zoro had put himself through.
He was ripped out of his thoughts by a well-placed flick against his forehead by Nami.
"Stop thinking like that. It wasn't your fault."
"I can practically read it on your face, Sanji. Don't blame yourself. Blame those fuckwitts of marines for all this bullshit."
Sanji let out a laugh at that. Nami grinned.
"Yes, that's better. We missed you around here, you know? It's just not the same without you or Zoo around." Her grin turned a bit sly. "Zoro agrees with me, you know? He wouldn't leave your side for anything. He even got into a fight with Law when he refused to move. Law had to shamble him overboard."
Sanji was afraid that his face would never recover from all this blushing it had to put off with.
"W-why are you telling me that?"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe because it's about high time you two talk about the rainbow-colored elephant in the room?"
"Is it that obvious?"
"If one is living with you two 24/7? Yeah, pretty much. But don't worry, you're not the only one. I mean, the guy practically camped in front of your sickbed. I don't think you anything to worry about." She had a point there. And Sanji had always respected Nami's intelligence. If she said there was something there, maybe she was right?
The next time Zoro came to bring him food, Sanji was ready. He would face this head-on.
As soon as Zoro had set the soup down and taken a look at his face, his easy-going expression shifted into something guarded.
"So, we're doing this now?"
"Yes," Sanji answered, his hands clutching each other to hide their shaking. Zoro nodded.
"Fine. I'll start." Sanji's mouth was already open in protest before Zoro interrupted him again. "No, I made a promise to myself. So, I don't know what Nami told you, but a lot of your injuries are my fault and I'm sorry. I wouldn't change what I did, because I would never sell out our crew, but I'm still sorry that you had to take the fall for that."
"I would've done the same thing. There's nothing to be sorry about." Sanji interrupted.
"I know you would've. Doesn't change the fact that I'm sorry." Zoro took another deep breath before he continued. "Another thing I realized: This can't happen again. We both need to be better. I almost destroyed myself in finding you, because the thought of living without you terrified me. I don't want to do it. I want to be by your side in every way and for however long you'll let me. Luffy has my loyalty, but you... you have my heart." And then he lowered his head as if waiting for judgment.
Sanji forgot how to breathe. To see a man as powerful and proud lower themself, and even more importantly offer themself, was humbling. His heart was beating like crazy but his hands had stopped shaking. In one moment of clarity, Sanji knew what he wanted, no, what he needed to do. Because what Zoro had said was true.
“You’re right.” Sanji agreed, his voice composed except for a tiny tremble at the end. “This can’t happen again. We have to improve ourselves, the others are counting on us. Luffy is counting on us. It was my weakness that led to this. No,” he said when Zoro moved as if to interrupt him, even though his head was still lowered. “It’s the truth. They used my weakness against me and I need to be more prepared next time. I’m not going to change, but I am going to be better. For myself, for our crew, and most importantly for you. Because I want to become someone that can stand by your side proudly. Because that’s where I want to be, next to you. In any way, I can be.” He repeated Zoro’s words back to him because he wasn’t ready for the weight behind the words he wanted to say. But the swordsman seemed to understand.
Zoro lifted his head and looked at him. Sanji returned the gaze with unwavering certainty. For years they had been at each other's throat, fighting and threatening. It had evolved from fighting each other to fighting by each other's side. They could read the other person almost better than themselves and there was no hesitation between them.
Now their relationship had just taken the next step, but still, there was no hesitation. They understood each other without words.
Zoro leaned in and cupped Sanji’s face in his hands. Sanji wrapped his finger around Zoro’s wrists as if to keep him in place. Slowly, but not nervously, they leaned closer to each other until their lips met in a soft kiss. It wasn’t gentle, but it wasn’t filled with passion either. It was an affirmation of their feelings for each other, of the fact, that the other was here and alive and that from this day forward they would share more than just the bonds between crewmates, between family. They were something else. Not more special, just different.
And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Well, maybe except the torture. They could do without that.