theremedy: (Sanji)
[personal profile] theremedy
Chapter Ten



Present:
Waiting for the sun to come to me

It had been a long, shitty, day. But the normal shitty of the Baratie on a weekend at this time of year, slammed from the start of dinner service to the end, cooks, waiters and waitresses drooping with exhaustion by the end of it. Even Patty and Carne, who would work until their faces hit the grill had been finally been kicked out the door. Now all that was left to do was to do the final scrub down of the kitchen. They switched off, he and Zeff, unless there was the rare deep cleaning that needed to be done and then they’d roll up their sleeves and do it together, working toothbrushes between the grout sometimes. The cleaning crew and chore boys were in charge of the dining room, which was inspected thoroughly before every opening shift , but the kitchen was the place a chef’s heart beat the strongest. It was expected they shouldn’t have anyone else do the work. It was a pain in the shitty ass but at least health inspectors came for the food. And at the end of it all, it gave him a sense of accomplishment to see a sparkling kitchen.

It almost didn’t matter that his neck ached, a headache pounded at the base of his temples and he felt ready to collapse in the nearest chair and sleep for the next few hours. That wasn’t happening. After the kitchen was done it was an hour or so with Luffy, and maybe going to the shitty all night coffee shop since he had to pick Vivi up at four and there was no use in waking everyone up by coming in so early. Ah, well— It was only once a year. Sanji straightened from where he was scrubbing the counter top and tried to rub the crick out of his neck. Then he tapped out a cigarette, pulling it from the pack with his lips and lighting it from the burner, blowing a stream of smoke into the air. Almost done. He heard the office door close and the familiar limping gait of Zeff coming up behind him on the linoleum.

“I’m heading out for the night,” Zeff said. “Are you taking the van?”

“Yeah, I’ll gas it up while I’m out.” Though it might just be cheaper to bike places with the shitty gas prices the way they were. Not to mention that the end of this season, the shitty old thing’s transmission had to be checked. It was always something. Sanji grabbed the clipboard from the counter, checking off the things he had done and seeing that all that was left was to wipe down the rear stove and double check the dates for some shit in the pantry— and hell since he was still here he might as well do a little bit of prep for the morning crew. Zeff was staring at him and out of the corner of his eye, Sanji could see him stroking one side of his long stiff mustache.

“Have a problem, crap geezer?” Sanii said mildly, tapping out a long cylinder of ash into an empty soda can.

“Just wondering when I get to stop looking at your ugly mug.”

“There are plenty of other times to pull this shit on me, crap geezer. I’m too damn busy to put up with it right now.” He wanted that old bastard poking at him to be the least of his worries. It was inevitable when the restaurant was open but now he just wanted to clean in some goddamn peace.

“You can shut up and hear it, brat. I’ve put up with your shitty attitude for almost twenty years now.”

Shit. Had it been that long? It always made him feel like an old man when Zeff said it which was probably why he did say it.

“You’re the one with the shitty attitude. I’m trying to work, old man. You have a complaint? Fill out a shitty comment card.” This was not helping his headache. But he knew what Zeff was doing. Trying to hint that he should move on, think about moving out. Maybe when he was younger he’d fall for it and get riled up but he was a man now and a busy man running Zeff’s goddamn restaurant and trying to keep his friends’ heads above the water when it was currently trying to pour in their ears. Zeff chuckled softly and Sanji looked up at him surprised.

“One of us is getting too old for this,” he said, coming to lean beside Sanji. He’d gotten taller than the old bastard somehow. That was surreal..

“It isn’t me, crap cook. I’m in my prime.” He sighed and scratched at his temple with the pen. “I left some of that veal cut in the stove if you want it. Actually better take it since there’s nothing ready for you at home to take your shitty meds with.”

“Who the hell are you to talk to me that way, punk,” Zeff said, but there was no heart in it. Sanji smirked and bumped his shoulder against Zeff’s who bumped him back. He took the time to slowly smoke, looking at the clipboard though there was nothing more to look at. The ice machine rattled loudly against the backdrop of the quiet kitchen noise, refrigerators and freezers, continuing their endless work, the halogen lights buzzing with quiet patience. A restaurant never slept completely.

“You know when I set you off with Smoker that day,” Zeff said, his voice distant and sounding way too damn old for Sanji’s peace of mind. “I didn’t expect to see you back.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” Sanji said. He almost wished he hadn’t. Hindsight was 20-20 they always said and he could see himself refusing the ideas of the others. Going with his gut. Passion versus sensibility. The real world had no place for Kings, pirate ones or otherwise but who gave a shit what the world thought? He should have kept going. Should have kept fighting for that stupid splintering dream of freedom.

“Never have,” Zeff said, though muttered so Sanji barely heard it. “It’ll work out, idiot eggplant. Now stop slacking and get to work.”

“Get out of here, you damn crap cook,” Sanji muttered, turning away and sucking down the cigarette before dropping it into the can. Old bastard. What the hell was he supposed to do with a statement like that? Not worry about it right now. That was what. He had shit to do.

Though Sanji had only had in mind to do a little of the prep-work to give the bastards a head start when they came in, he’d somehow ended up doing it all—only realizing how long he’d been at it when he looked up at the clock and saw it was midnight. Shit. He hurried the rest of the prep-work, locked everything down and headed out into the blustery night, tugging his scarf over his nose against the wind. The van took three tries to get it going and when it did, the heater refused to come with it. Shitty old thing. Sanji grumbled to himself and pulled on his gloves before pulling out into the night.

By speeding, only a little, he reached the Resident Home just as Maple was leaving for the night, pushing in just as she was digging her keys out of her purse. She looked at him, pursing her lips and he grinned sheepishly, shoving his hands in his pockets and leaning back on his heels a bit.

“Ahh—sorry I lost track of time.”

“Well I can tell that,” she said, getting her keys out. “Honey, you just missed the bell.”

“Can I get ten minutes? Just to see him?” and then, because it was true and it wouldn’t hurt. “You look nice tonight. Going somewhere?”

“Home,” she said, sternly. “And if you want to butter someone up, do it to Conis. She could use the pickmeup.”

“Oh, Miss Conis is still here?” Excellent! She was sweet as a cloud and twice as charming.

“In the kitchen. Now out of my way, and lock the doors behind me, would you?”

“You’re the Queen of my soul, Miss Maple, you know that right?” Sanji said opening the door for her. She snorted.

“Damn right I am. Good night, and be careful driving home.”

“You, too.”

He locked the doors behind her per requested and tugged his scarf loose in the warm air as he practically floated his way down the hall and found Conis— leaning in the doorway to Luffy’s room, staring in and drinking coffee—he could smell the blend from here. He cleared his throat gently. She turned and startled, a flush coming across her pale cheeks.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” she said. “I was— well I was just— just looking.”

“Ah, I’m sure he doesn’t mind the company,” Sanji said with a grin. “Want to come in and look at him with me?”

“Yes, please,” she said with a smile that was a balm to his weary soul. How could anyone sleep through even a look from this bright haired angel? He gestured that she should go first and followed in after, shedding his scarf, coat and gloves, setting them on the chair. The slant of light from the doorway caught Luffy’s face and spread in a square across the maroon coverlet. Robin had brought it for him, what, three years ago?

“What was—is he like?” Conis asked. Sanji pretended not to notice her slip. Instead he chuckled.

“What’s Luffy like… Never an easy question to answer.” He pulled the blanket away to gently take one of Luffy’s feet and work his leg through exercises. “He’s sort of like what happens when you take pop rocks and put it in soda.”

“Really?” Conis giggled. Ah, heaven~! That he should be so lucky to hear such a beautiful sound! “I can’t even imagine. He seems…well they all seem so peaceful, I suppose, but him more than others.” She clutches the coffee cup in both hands and looks around the room, the smile still on her faint pink rosepetal soft lips. “I guess it’s this room. It’s just so…full.”

“Isn’t it? I can’t even remember what color that wall was,” he says, gesturing with his chin at the picture wall as he began to work on Luffy’s other leg. He watched her draw closer to it, peering at his life. Their lives. Sanji could remember almost every single one of those pictures.

“So many people,” Conis said softly. “Is he— I mean— what is he? Some kind of dignitary?”

“Hardly,” Sanji said with a snort. “You should see his table manners.” He’d grown proficient both at swatting his hand away from another’s plate and the Heimlich. Well he’d known it for a while, but with Luffy the maneuver had turned from basic first aid to an advanced technique. Grab idiot captain here. Fist here. Hand here. Aim away from table and pull. Usopp had once hit a trashcan halfway across the room with a half chewed piece of pork much to the amusement and disgust of all present.

“Then these people are…?”

“Friends… Family...” Nakama, he wanted to say, but that word—it was hard to explain to people who didn’t already know it—who hadn’t risked their lives together, bled together, laughed together…and cried. He began to work on Luffy’s right arm next, working it back and forth, carefully bending and flexing the barely there muscles.

“Amazing,” Conis murmured. “It’s funny, I owe— I feel like I owe him so much but I’ve never even heard his voice.”

“Feel like you owe him for what?” he asked, wondering how the shitty idiot managed to do things like this even unconscious. He saw the set of Conis’ shoulders stiffen but when she turned to him, she was smiling. Hiding something. Well that was her prerogative and he was no one to pry into a lady’s secrets, even if it was a little worrying.

“It’s just a silly little thought, don’t worry about it,” Conis said, flushing prettily. His heart! He couldn’t take such tender innocent beauty! He was such a lucky bastard to bear witness to the opening of such a perfect flower! Ah, to be able to gaze upon it! Her expression became a bit strained.

“Um…Mr. Sanji?”

“Yes, Miss Conis?” he said, his voice made warm and a little high as her very presence made his hips sway.

“Nothing.” Her smile grew. “You’re a very interesting man.” He may have giggled at that. But even if he did, well at least she would find him amusing! And of course, being the suave sophisticate he was, there was nothing he couldn’t recover from for the sake of a dazzling lady. He straightened his tie and said, in all seriousness.

“Would you like to hear it?”

She blinked at him. “Pardon?”

“His voice.”

“Oh yes, please, if it’s no trouble.”

“It would be my pleasure,” Sanji said with a bow. He pulled the phone from his coat pocket and thumbed through the saved videos until he found a good one and handed the phone to her, moving to peer over her shoulder but at a respectful distance. Conis gave him a brief smile and pressed play with the pad of her soft thumb.

The past came alive. Sanji could almost smell the choppy sunlit water that surrounded the gondola as they made their slow lazy way through Venice. Luffy sat at prow of the boat, Franky beside him and Sanji could see himself, too, sorting through the cooler just out of the frame.

“We should do this forever,” Luffy said, his voice filling the small quiet room. “Hey Franky, build us a boat!”

“A boat, huh?” He stroked his chin. “Never considered that.”

Sanji could see himself shaking his head, beginning to peel an apple for his illustrious Nami who said from behind the camera.

“Don’t be dumb, we can’t afford a boat. What would we do with one? Anyway look over here, I’m making a video.”

Luffy did, giving her a big grin saying: “We’d do whatever we wanted.”

There was more but Sanji thumbed the video to pause it, not wanting to bore Conis—as other’s vacation footage tended to do. Besides which, the sudden attack by the Flying Fish idiots would only confuse the matter and the less Sanji had to think about Duval the better off he’d be.

“He’s adorable,” Conis said.

“That’s one word for him,” Sanji said, exiting out of the video and slipping his phone into his pants pocket. He glanced at Luffy’s still form on the bed and saw that Conis was looking, too. The difference was startling. It always was. He belonged in sunshine and wind and under the glare of arena lights— not the sterile light from some hallway which was only home because no one could take care of him 24/7.

“He’s lucky he has you,” Conis said. Sanji smiled, moving to tuck the blanket back around Luffy’s still quiet form, his face away from Conis as he murmured:

“We’re lucky we had him.”


Past:
Overprotected

It’s been the worst three days of Sanji’s life. Smoker himself is a cool guy, Sanji can’t fault him for that…and they definitely get the attention of the ladies, but that is the only thing that’s been good about this trip so far. Aside from the utter indignity of having to sit behind a man on a motorcycle and keep an arm around his waist so he would fall off the shitty thing, which Sanji still felt frankly unclean about—the detective had horrible taste in food, bringing Sanji into every greasy spoon and shitty waffle house knockoff across three states, or so it felt like. Even if he could eat anything didn’t mean he wanted to and who the fuck could drink the paint stripper those shit places passed for coffee? But that he could deal with. He could drink tea or—hell even water if he was relatively sure there wasn’t rust flakes in it.

It isn’t even that bad being inundated with shitty cop shows for three nights in a row where everyone got what they deserved unless they didn’t and there wasn’t anyone under forty. Sanji could always read a book or scan the newspapers for any sign of the longnose or even try his hand at trying not to tear a hole in the crossword puzzle by scribbling out an answer. The idleness he can stand, barely. Barely. But it’s Smoker’s constant…well…smoking that’s driving Sanji absolutely crazy. It’s so fucking unfair, watching him puff down cigar after cigar from a fucking cigar bandoleer around his jacket. Sanji hasn’t had a shitty cigarette before he set out three days ago and is about to strangle something with his bare hands, starting with Smoker and working his way down.

Smoker’s not here right now, though. Had given him an odd look and said he was going to get breakfast. Sanji would have preferred a restaurant. Even a greasy spoon was preferable to eating hunched up in a hotel room with only a scarred rickety card table, with a crystal ash tray on top. Sanji found himself staring at it, imagining the heat of the filter between his lips, the smell of smoke curling through the air, the satisfying feeling of flicking off ash. There is a squeaking and he realizes that it’s his leg, jiggling against the floor. Shit. She he’s not going to be able to take much more of this. He stands and paces the room restlessly, digging into his pockets before remembering again that there is nothing in them. Not even a lighter. He needs a distraction, that’s what it is. He needs something to do before he goes stir shitty crazy.

The manilla folder is still sitting on the faded dresser where Smoker left it. Sanji eyes it again, then twitches back the curtain to look at the empty pockmarked parking lot before letting the curtain close and staring at the folder. It’d be serious trouble looking at that thing if he is caught. Smoker’s a cop, after all, and Sanji doesn’t have the cleanest shitty reputation to start with but…what can be the harm of a little look? He’ll only be in trouble if he gets caught… Sanji peeks through the curtain again, then crosses over to open the folder.

Inside are pictures paperclipped to documents. The first a blurry profile of the green haired guy. Zoro Roronoa, the paper behind it reads. Sanji gives the flat eyed bastard a glower before carefully turning it over to look at the picture beneath it. The black haired kid. A better picture this time, where he’s grinning and waving at the camera. Monkey D. Luffy. Usopp behind it, file consisting of one sheet, picture an awkward class photo where he was wearing that shitty blue shirt with shitty grease smears because he’d been in shop the period before and hadn’t had the time to change. A gorgeous orange haired girl with a hard expression as she looks away from the camera. Nami…something. Her last name is hidden by the picture. Sanji starts to nudge it aside.

“Take a good look,” Smoker says and Sanji startles. “See if there’s anyone you know.”

The cop is standing at the door. Filling it, and giving him a mild expression. Sanji’s heart feels like it’s trying to climb out of his throat and he slides his hands into his pockets, feeling his face flush. There’s nothing he could say. Usopp would have a good lie handy but even that won’t be enough to save the situation.

“I’m serious,” Smoker says, tossing him a bag which Sanji catches. “I wouldn’t have left it out if I didn’t think you’d be nosy enough to look.”

“Then why didn’t you just show it to me in the first place, you cheap shit?!” Sanji snaps. Then realizes that he’s just taken a flying leap over whatever line had existed there.

“Bag,” Smoker says. Sanji opens the bag with trembling hands and sees an egg salad sandwich and a pack of cheap cigarettes, thank fuck. “I didn’t buy them for you, didn’t see you smoke them and didn’t see you look at classified files.” He sits on the tacky blue chair by the window, throwing a booted foot on the edge of the bed. “Take a look.”

First, a goddamned smoke. Sanji pulls out a cigarette and lights it with a match from the pack that Smoker tosses at him. He gets through that one and then two more, ignoring the cop’s surprised curse. He lights a fourth.

“Slow down, kid, they’re not going anywhere.”

“And I’m making damn sure of it,” Sanji says, biting back an insult. He lets this cigarette linger though, letting it hang off his lips as he sits on the dresser and pulls the folder onto his lap, looking through pictures. A scared looking pink haired boy. A stunning blue haired beauty. A serious looking guy with earrings, glaring at the camera and holding up a tonfa.

“None of them look familiar.” He looks up at Smoker. “Why should I know who they are?”

“Off chance. They’re all about your age.”

“And they’re all…missing?”

“Missing, kidnapped, ran away to join the circuit.” Smoker begins to stack coins on the table, staring at them with a kind of strange but impressive intensity. “That’s what circuits do, get them young and train them up. Phased out the gangs, but it’s just become one kind of criminal ring for another, only now with easier trafficking.”

Does that mean…Usopp could have been sold somewhere? What if Smoker can’t find him? What’s going to happen to that little shit out there on his own? Sanji grits his teeth against the cigarette. He flips through several more faces, none of which he knows and getting increasingly older but never much older than twenty-five. At the end of the file is something entirely different. An old newspaper clipping with a familiar face Sanji remembers seeing in the small yellow ‘Interesting Fax’ corner of his Civics Textbook.

“Bloody Roger…” He smirks. “Isn’t he a little too dead to run in a circuit? Or did someone say his name in the mirror three times?”

“Cute,” Smoker says. “What do you know about him?”

“A history lesson?”

“Indulge me.”

“Only that he was a mass-murdering asshole.” Sanji turns the paper over, expecting an article but there’s just an advertisement for some furniture sale. “Killed people all over the world until he was finally caught and there was a big clusterfuck of where he should be arraigned.” He turns the paper back around and blinks at the caption underneath it. “Gold Roger?” That sounded like the name of some shitty pirate themed fast food restaurant. “Mistype?”

“Real name. Bloody came later.” He seems intent on stacking those coins. Sanji waits for the punchline, but there doesn’t seem to be one.

“What does he have to do with circuits?” Sanji asks. Smoker opens his mouth but is interrupted by a quiet buzz and pulls a pager from his belt, brow furrowing.

“This might take a while, kid. Got somewhere else to be?”

“Oh sure, I’ll just hang out in the lobby with all my shitty friends,” Sanji says giving him a flat look.

“Make it happen,” Smoker says, already heading toward the phone between the beds.

Sanji scowls at him, but takes his cigs and sandwich and heads out anyway. The lobby is cool and dim, but boasts only a few ratty chairs and some fishing magazines. With the pretty receptionist gone, too and a shitty guy in her place (which is just not fair) Sanji decides his best bet is to eat outside. He parks himself under the Best Western sign. It’s a hot day and dry but the faint breeze keeps things from being too miserable. The sandwich is dry but edible and the cigs are cheap but effective and abruptly, Sanji decides this isn’t bad. He hasn’t been on the road since seventh grade and Smoker isn’t much different from Zeff in many ways. He wants to find Usopp, of course, but he wouldn’t mind doing this for a while.

He finishes his sandwich and puts out his smoke, and since it’s only getting hotter, decides to go back inside when he catches a flash of sunlight that pulls his eye—and makes him freeze. There, down the street and across the way at the Day’s Inn, is a green haired guy with the physique of a gorilla, throwing a huge duffel bag into the back of a car. No… It can’t be. No shitty way.

Sanji begins to walk in that direction. Then when he sees the scrawny black haired kid come out of the hotel he breaks into a run. Heat singing through his veins. He sprints across the street, nearly getting creamed by a Mercedes which honks at him angrily as it flashes by and only makes his blood boil. But what really makes his blood boil is that the green haired asshole doesn’t even deign to look his way until Sanji is charging toward him across the parking lot.

“Bastaaaaard!” Sanji snarls, pushing himself off the ground and twisting into a flip so that gravity and his own shitty leg will crush the guy’s head like an eggshell. He connects instead with the man’s forearm, hard as steel under his calf, the momentum of his attack sending the guy sliding back but no more. Sanji curses under his breath and pushes off the guy, back flipping before landing and smelling something like burnt rubber as his sneakers skid across the asphalt.

“The hell is your problem?” the green haired guy snaps as if he doesn’t know.

“I’ll send you home in a shitty body bag if you hurt him, you sick freak!” Sanji snaps, charging forward and snapping off kicks at the guy’s vitals, throat, ribs, stomach, groin, knees, trying to get his legs out from under him. But each block just makes Sanji angrier and he can see the guy’s big stupid hands yanking kids off the street, tying them up, selling them to assholes who wanted to do god knew what~! This bastard better hope he hadn’t done it to Usopp or there would be no force in the world which would stop Sanji from turning him into a bloody smear on the road.

The guy shoves him back comes charging forward himself, ducking under Sanji’s guarding kick. The man’s going to try to punch him in the stomach. Sanji prepares himself to flip back and snap a knee into that asshole’s chin as he goes when:

“Sanji?”

“Us--?” He catches only a glimpse of the longnose before that rock like fist sinks hard into his stomach, crushing the breath out of him. There is black and he can feel himself falling, stars flashing in his eyes when he hits the ground.

He comes to to the sound of voices over him and the feeling of asphalt curling heat around him. He feels like a salmon being slowly baked by wind and sun…and damn does he need a cigarette. No…no he needs to get up… needs to keep fighting that—asshole.

“That’s Sanji,” Usopp is saying, sounding entirely too calm about it all. “He’s my friend…sorta.”

My friend…sorta… On second thought he doesn’t feel like getting up. It’s comfortable to lay here being slowly absorbed into the pavement. He sees if he can move his fingers and, finding he can, works them downward toward his pocket.

“Sort of?” an unfamiliar voice says. Probably the kid.

“It’s…complicated. I wonder how he even got— Oh sh— He must be with the Bannermans. Oi, Luffy! We have to get out of here now before he wakes up!”

“Too late,” says the green haired thug and Sanji immediately hates his annoying baritone while being grudgingly impressed by his powers of shitty observation. He takes out a cigarette, puts it between his lips and, though it takes two matches, manages to light it. He feels someone hovering over him as if checking to see if he’ll open his eyes. He’ll let ‘em wait. Sanji takes a drag, filling his mouth with smoke and then lets it out in a stream, slowly opening his eyes.

It’s not Usopp, but the kid who is frowning lightly down at him, shadowed from the hard sunlight by a ragged straw hat. With his red vest and jean shorts he looks just like a fisherman’s kid, coming in from a day of digging up oysters from the beach. He just needs a pail.

“Nice to meetcha,” Sanji says, staring into his dark eyes.

“Yo,” the kid says. “You’re bleeding.”

“Mm?” Sanji reaches back and touches the back of his head, feeling wet there and lifts his hand in the light, seeing blood on his fingertips. “It’s nothing.” He’s bled more than that falling off his bike.

“Yeah it’s nothing,” Usopp says. “He’s fine. He’s pretty durable you know. He’ll find his way back to the Bannermans all by himself so we can just—”

“Usopp!” the kid snaps, his voice ringing like a steel pipe down Sanji’s spine. Holy shit. “He fought his hardest cuz he thought you were hurt. You don’t get to call him a friend sorta…” He trails off into silence for a moment then says, quietly. “What do you think friends are?”

Damn. Just. Damn. Do people like this really exist? Has he fallen into a fairy tale or did he hit his head just a little too hard? Sanji stares at him, then glances over at Usopp who is looking down at the ground, shoulders hunched, hands shoved in his pockets as he kicks a rock.

“Sorry,” he mutters after a moment. “I know…He really is a friend I just…” Usopp shrugs. Sanji sighs and sits up, twitching as something tickles the back of his neck, but it’s just more blood.

“Ah don’t be so hard on him,” Sanji says. “He’s just scared I’ll make him go back home.” Because if Sanji thought about it, he knew what was going on. Usopp was afraid that, if they thought he was Usopp’s friend, they would make him go with Sanji— and for whatever reason, Usopp really wanted to stay with these freaks. Anyway there was nothing wrong with what Usopp had said. Sanji’s pretty damn durable after all and it will take more than a gorilla suit to bring him down.

He gets to his feet, swaying a bit at the flare of pain in his stomach, before shoving one hand in his pocket and idly smoking with the other. He sends a bland look at the green haired guy. He’s not going to apologize, because he was the one who’d got sucker punched even if he’d started the fight.

“You’re pretty fast for a meathead. Used to being jumped?”

“Yeah something like that,” the green haired guy says, rolling his shoulder. “Anyway we don’t have time for this. We have to get going.”

“I’m coming with you,” Usopp says, starting for the car.

“The hell you are,” Sanji says. “You’re coming home, shithead.”

“You can’t make me!” Usopp snaps at him, the tragic look gone. “You’re not my mother!”

“No, but I know your mothe— guardian,” Sanji corrects when Usopp glowers at him. “And as a man whose dedicated himself to easing the tears of all womankind it’s my solemn duty to get your scrawny ass back where it belongs.”

Which is a wonderful thought, now that he thinks of it. Mrs. Bannerman will be really happy to have Usopp back, and while she’s a woman a bit too mature for Sanji’s tastes (though still incredibly beautiful!), her happiness will definitely net Sanji the admiration of her college aged niece. Ah, college girls~ The ponytails! The short shorts! The dream~! To be invited into that soft lacy world of ice cream parties and sexy pillow fights! What man wouldn’t do~~

“What’s he doing with his hips?” the kid asks.

“It’s a Sanji thing,” Usopp says.

“Leaving this…guy aside,” the gorilla says through gritted teeth. Oi! What was with that hesitation before guy about?! Sanji’s about to ask but Dumbass McMosshead plows on. “If we’re going after her, the longer we wait the further away she’s going to get.”

“She?” Sanji said, attention perking.

“Yeah she took all the money and ran away,” the kid says, which wasn’t exactly what Sanji had been asking but— “I think she’s in a lot of trouble.” —but he just said the magic word. Damsel in distress? Where? He will fight through any ocean he has to to see her sweet smiling thankful face!

“I think she rolled us and ran,” says the tasteless classless mossheaded bore that Sanji wishes he would have kicked a little harder. The man folds his arms looking more impressive than he has any right to. “I still say we should just leave it. Start over. We were doing fine without her.”

“I wanna go see her,” the kid says, folding his arms and managing to look just as fierce despite being two heads shorter and maybe ten pounds soaking wet.

“Yeah, but Luffy, we don’t even know which direction she went in,” Usopp says.

“Maybe someone saw her?” the kid says, digging in his nose with a pinky.

“Not if she left overnight…” Usopp says. Overnight…

“You mean last night?” Sanji says, remembering that flash of color that had made Smoker stop. He’d only seen it himself out of the corner of his eye, but… “I think…I might know where she went. The direction anyway.”

And even if he is wrong, it can’t hurt to look.

“Okay,” the kid says with a nod. “Show us.”

——

Sanji sighs deeply as they pull into the gravel parking lot of the country store. He can’t say that he’s angry anymore, just disappointed. There is silence in the car except for the woosh of the air conditioner and Roronoa shifting his hands against the wheel, staring straight ahead. Eventually he looks at Sanji and says:

“What?”

“I said left. Three times I said left,” Sanji says. “What possessed you to keep making shitty right turns? Did a left turn tease you when you were a kid?”

“They both look the same, damnit,” Roronoa snaps.

“A left turn is a left turn no matter what it looks like!” Sanji snaps back. He needs a cigarette. He’s getting low. He wonders if that store sells any. Might as well go in and ask since they seem to be making excessive use of their shitty parking lot. There are practically grooves from Roronoa’s shitty tires. How did they even manage to get this far? How were they not just making endless loops around New Mexico? Getting mad at the guy won’t produce results so Sanji takes a deep breath and tries again.

“Now you need to go out of here, remember? Take a left…and then take a right.”

“So now you want me to take rights,” Roronoa grumbles, pulling the car into drive.

“You have to take a right if you miss a left,” Sanji says reminding himself he’d probably sprain his hand if he tried to wrap his fingers around that bull neck. Though it’s increasingly difficult as Roronoa once again goes to the edge of the parking lot and puts on the right turning signal. He reaches over and flicks it left.

“Oi! You just said right!”

“I said left, then right! Pay attention, you shitty gorilla!”

“You wanna start something?” Roronoa says, leaning over. Sanji narrows his eyes at the man, getting right back in his face. As if he was going to be intimidated by this lughead.

“You don’t want to start something with me unless you want to finish it.”

“Bring it, Curly-Q. I’ll finish anything you start.”

“Name the time and place, mosshead.”

“Um…are we going or what?” Usopp says from the back seat. Right. Later then. He would make up for getting distracted and show this guy just what he was made of. Roronoa turns left as he should and, struck with an idea, Sanji flicks the turn signal right, earning a dry glare from the man but finally, finally after twenty shitty minutes, the right turn at the right time. It’s almost cathartic.

A straight road opens up before them and Sanji relaxes, though only a little as he doesn’t trust this guy not to get lost in the drop of a fucking hat. He digs out his last cigarette because he damn well deserves it, then glances at the guy.

“You mind?”

“So long as you open a window.”

“’Ppreciate it.” He rolls down the window, leaning out a bit to light it but shielding the flame with his hand, then he takes a drag and lets the wind sweep it away before leaning back in the seat, dangling his hand out the window and looking down the road, hazy with shimmering heat. He can just see Usopp watching him anxiously from one of the side mirrors, and out of the corner of his eye on the other side, the Luffy kid has his face pressed against the window and is fogging up the glass around his nose print. He glances at Roronoa again before settling his gaze on the road. Well this is really fucking surreal. He takes another drag, blows it out and says conversationally:

“So what do you do when you’re not kidnapping minors to fight?”

“Screw you I don’t kidnap anyone. And I fight.”

Sanji waits. Roronoa seems done.

“You fight.”

“Yes.”

“And…what else?”

“Nothing else.”

Well it’s dedicated if nothing else. Sanji enjoys the adrenaline of a good fight, too. But just fighting constantly… He can’t imagine. Maybe he’d gotten all navigational senses beaten out of him somewhere along the line.

“What for?”

“No reason.”

“So you just fight constantly just because it’s something to do?”

Roronoa grunts a yes. That was the most depressing fucking thing he’d ever heard. What the hell is this guy? Why is Usopp so keen on traveling with him? It’s probably just because he thinks the guy is cool or something. Which—he does have a certain—je ne sais quoi—but he’s also kind of an idiot.

“Giant pink bubblegum monster,” Luffy says.

“Mm?” Sanji looks up and jolts back in the seat. “Holy shit!” There’s a giant pink something by the side of the road. Roronoa slams on the breaks, and Sanji grips the door as the car spins into a half donut, tires shrieking as the smell burnt rubber fills the air.

“What the hell is that?!” Usopp squeaks and for once Sanji is right there with him. It’s a big shitty pink monster with six arms and a mouth that kind of reminds him of a sea horse. It’s frozen in the act of half standing, six arms frozen in positions that look almost comical if it was for the fact that it was gigantic pink shitty monster standing on the side of the road.

“Maybe he’s lost,” Luffy says, pushing out the door.

“Oi wait a sec!” Usopp cries.

“Hold on, Luffy,” Sanji says, getting out himself and jogging around the front of the car, but Luffy is already in striking distance of the monster. The monster doesn’t move to strike or even move at all. Sanji comes up close to Luffy’s shoulder just in case, wondering if it’s actually some kind of shitty mannequin when he sees it blink at them, cracked rubbery lips moving but no sound coming out. A line of sweat drips down its—his face.

“Yo,” Luffy says. “I’m Luffy.”

The monster’s eyes roll into the back of his head and he sags.

“O-oi!” Sanji darts forward, hitching his shoulder under the lowest of the monster’s arms to keep it up right. It’s heavy though and while his legs can handle it, it’s hard to keep it upright with his arms. “Roronoa, give me a hand!”

“I’ve got it,” Luffy says, coming up to the monster’s otherside and holding him with surprising strength. “Hey, Octo-monster! Are you okay?”

“Nyuu,” it whispers, slumping forward a dead weight. Sanji can’t hold him and Luffy stumbles.

“Shit!”

But Roronoa is there, bearing the weight and taking Luffy’s place as she shifts an arm over his shoulder.

“Let’s get him in the car,” Sanji wheezes and together they manage to half carry, half drag him to the car where they set him in the front seat.

“Oi! Oi oi oi!” Usopp says. “Why are we letting it inside?!”

“He has heatstroke,” Sanji says. “I think. Do you guys have any water with you?”

“Yeah in the trunk,” Luffy says.

“Get it.”

While Luffy scrambles around the back, Sanji reaches around the monster guy to lower the seat so he’s lying down as much as he can and holds out his hand to Usopp.

“Bandanna.”

“Wh-what? Oh—oh right.”

He wets the bandanna with the water Luffy brings back and drapes it over the creature’s forehead, then carefully tries to get water in his mouth. After a long tense moment, the monster seems to rouse, breath hitching—and his eyelids flutter open, though he flinches when he looks at them, two arms raising slowly as if to shield his face but falling back.

“Do—don’t hurt me,” he murmurs.

“We won’t,” says Luffy, who is watching the monster from the backseat, hanging off the driver’s side chair. “Are you going to be okay?”

“Think…think so…” he stirs again and shifts his head, looking up at Luffy with bleary eyes. “Are…are you guys…” The monster sucks in a breath and his eyelids flutter. It’s obvious he’s not fully recovered but aside from giving him water, Sanji has no idea what to do.

“Relax,” he tells the…monster for now. “Take a shitty breather, okay?” He glances up at the strawhat kid who, for some damn reason, seems to be in charge. “Let’s head back to that grocery store and I’ll make something to eat.”

Luffy nods.

“Oi, but, we don’t have any money…” Usopp says from where he’s standing outside the car. He’s going to get heatstroke, too, if he isn’t careful, and then Sanji will kick his ass. If it’s money they need… Sanji still has Zeff’s credit card. The old man will probably kill him but…

“I’ll handle it,” Sanji says.



These guys are used to camping out. They’d made a grocery run and then found a little patch of small scrubby trees where, in next to no time, Roronoa had set up a tarp, one end pinned to the car by bricks and the other held up by metal rods pounded into the ground. More importantly, they have a little camping stove and a dented, if usable pot and pan. Luffy had even talked about catching some lizards and making up a little fire to roast them on. For complete idiots they were surprisingly resourceful and Sanji couldn’t help be impressed.

Sanji fills the bowl again with the cooled cream of mushroom soup and offers it to Hachi who is sitting under the somewhat cooler shade of the tarp and looking faintly surprised at everything. He is a Fishman, apparently, not a monster. An octopus type, he hadn’t said but it’s obvious and Sanji can even spot his gills now that things aren’t so tense, and the webbing between his fingers. He’s not so much monstrous anymore as fascinating. Sanji wants to pepper him with questions about what his life is like. What it’s like to live under the sea. How he gets food. If he migrates with currents… But it’s obvious Hachi is still somewhat dazed from earlier and seems uncomfortable here. Maybe he’s not used to humans.

“Thanks a lot,” Hachi says. “Sorry to eat so much.”

“Nah, it’s nothing,” Sanji says with a grin. “Eat up. I brought enough shitty cans to last for a while.” Or at least the rest of the day by the way Luffy eats. Usopp, for once, hadn’t been exaggerating about that one.

“You could have brought more hot dogs,” Luffy says, pouting at him. “There’s too many vegetables here.”

“I don’t want to hear that from someone whose on their fourth shitty bowl.”

“I want meat!”

“Bacon’s coming, shithead! If you want more you’re going to have to catch a lizard or two.”

“Oh okay,” Luffy says, slurping back the bowl in one gulp and clambering out into the heat.

“Get a tarantula, too!” Usopp calls after him.

“No tarantulas!” Sanji bellows, giving Usopp an evil look. The shitty longnose just grins and Sanji promises himself swift retribution later. It will happen and Usopp won’t see it coming until it does. He stirs the soup, absently listening to Roronoa snoring as he sleeps against the car door.

“So where do you fish guys come from anyway?” Usopp asks. “I mean I’ve heard of mermaids but not…well um…others.”

Mermaids… If Fishmen existed, did that mean mermaids did, too? The thought is enough to make him sigh happily. To be surrounded by beautiful mermaids with long hair and tastefully placed seashells, reaching out to be part of his world… Could it be? Could that dream be a reality? He could barely stand to imagine it!

“We’ve always been around,” Hachi says. “For hundreds of years, I guess.”

“You guess?” Sanji asks. The soup will be fine for now and he turns the bacon over before sitting back and lighting a cigarette. Hachi slurps the bowl down and rotates it between two huge hands as if thinking of whether to ask for more.

“My grandfather and father were both born in a facility,” he says, going even pinker as Sanji takes the bowl, fills it and hands it back. “They were told that Fishmen were created from science. But Grandfather says that’s not true.”

Sanji has the feeling he’s talking about a different grandfather, though he can’t guess what the Fishman means. He waits for more of an explanation but Hachi flaps three hands in obvious distress while pokes nervously at the dirt underneath them.

“Never mind. I’m not supposed to talk about it. I just came to tell you about Nami.”

Nami? A jolt of recognition goes through him. That orange haired goddess in the photograph. These guys knew her? Is Sanji really that lucky?

“O-oi, you seriously know Nami?” Usopp says, seeming just as startled as Sanji feels. The longnose is leaning forward with a more intense look then Sanji’s ever seen from him.

“Nyuu of course I do,” Hachi replies. “I thought you knew that.”

“Well— I mean, granted Nami has some pretty weird associates,” Usopp says. “Not us of course, but you should see some guys at the arena. But even they aren’t…” Giant pink octopus fishmen, Sanji says, mentally filling the blanks of Usopp’s expression. “…usually so tall.”

“Then what did you help me out for?”

“Sanji decided to,” Luffy says, plopping cross-legged in the shade and watching with interest as a tiny newt climbs over his hand.

“Ah, well, that’s nothing,” Sanji says, trying to push away the embarrassment by focusing on plating the bacon. “Couldn’t leave you to roast like a shitty pig in that heat.”

“Pork sounds really great right now,” Luffy says. “Hey, Sanji—”

“About Nami,” Usopp says, chopping a hand through the air. “What about her? Is she okay?”

“You know Nami, Bubble-mon?” Luffy says. Usopp sighs.

“We’ve already established that. Anyway you can’t just go around naming people after Pokemon.”

“Why not?”

“What do you mean why not?”

“I know her,” Hachi blurts out, saving the two idiots from a kick to the head for drawing the attention away from the damsel in distress again. “She’s our— my friend and she’s going to get herself in trouble so you should really come and talk to her out of it,” Hachi says, gesturing with all three arms, looking very much like an octopus in distress.

“You know where she is?” Luffy says, chewing on something and for one horrified moment Sanji thinks its the newt—then looks down and realizes all the bacon is gone. Why that— How the hell had he even managed to— Sanji was about to kick him upside the head, but the prospect about finding information about the angel Nami is the only thing that stops him. He lights a cigarette instead, reminding himself to keep a better eye on shit from now on.

“Ahh, you don’t have to worry about that,” Usopp says, flapping a hand back and forth. “Nami’s not the kind of person to do anything recklessly.”

“She doesn’t think she has a choice,” Hachi says, clutching the bowl. “But you could come and tell her…” His gaze seems to flicker to Roronoa and then away, so fast that Sanji barely sees it. Sanji’s not sure if he’s the guy Hachi should be looking for shitty sympathy with— but there’s something weird about it. He takes a drag on the cigarette, instead, watching the octo guy who seems to want to look anywhere but there. Something shifty about it all.

“I definitely want to go see her,” Luffy says.

“You’ve got three days,” Hachi says. That’s remarkably shittily specific. It sounds more like the beginning of a ransom note than anything.

“Wh-why, what happens in three days?” Usopp says.

“We’ll go,” Luffy says overtop of him, sipping from the pot of cooled soup. What— How had— Son of a—

“Oi, Luffy,” Usopp says. “Shouldn’t we find out what we’re getting into before we decide if we’re gonna go?”

“I’ve already decided. Nami can tell us what it is if she wants.”

“Yeah but what if it’s bad and she wants her help? You need to know in advance about these things.”

“What do you think we can change in three days?” Roronoa says, his voice low but filling the air with dramatic weight. It’s such a cool shitty line, too. Why does he have to say shit like that after snoring like a log for the past half hour?

“We can call the cops or SWAT or something,” Usopp says.

“No, no, no,” Hachi says, bowl landing spinning on the dirt as he holds up various hands in a ‘stop’ gesture. “That would be a really bad idea! Nami would be in even more trouble if they showed up! Anyway…” He blinks at them owlishly. “You guys would get in trouble, too, wouldn’t you?”

“O…oh right…” Usopp says in a small voice. Sanji’s not so sure if they will. Maybe Roronoa but the worst will happen to Luffy, probably, is to get bagged as a runaway. Anyway, that’s not the shitty point and things are getting serious now. Nami could be in serious shitty trouble and there is probably a lot this Hachi guy isn’t saying. Sanji doesn’t care. Not really. He’s dedicated himself already to rescuing this princess and so he will, but it’s time for some other idiots to get a wake up call.

“I’m going to get more water for the trip,” Sanji says, standing. “Come help me carry it, longnose.”

And he walks away before Usopp can protest, and ignores the protest he does sputter out to get him to stop. After a moment he hears Usopp hurry to catch up.

“I really shouldn’t leave them alone,” Usopp says, grabbing Sanji’s shoulder as if to try and turn him around. “Luffy can come up with some pretty ridiculous things on his own.”

“He seems to come up with them whether you’re there or not,” Sanji says, shaking him off without breaking a stride. “Anyway it’s nothing you have to worry about.”

“What? Why not?”

“You’re not going.”

Usopp stops at that as Sanji knew he would and he pivots to face the longnose, tilting his head to look down at him, trying to appear intimidating as he smokes down the cigarette. Usopp has known him too damn long, though, and just glares at him, looking like a petulant brat in his overalls and the curls that creep out under his bandanna.

“Stop telling me what to do,” Usopp says, his soft hands clenched into fists. “You want to go home so badly,you go. I’m staying here.” He starts to turn but Sanji grabs the shoulder strap of his shitty overalls that no one over ten wears and wrenches Usopp closer, getting nose to shitty long ass Pinocchio nose with him.

“This isn’t some game, idiot!” he says through his teeth. “It’s going to be dangerous. There’s going to be a fight. Do you want to go up against one of those guys?!” Even for him the prospect is a little intimidating. As goofy as Hachi is, he also looks like he has the ability to break a bus in half with little trouble. Usopp doesn’t stand a chance. He’d get shattered to pieces with one hit.

“Maybe!” Usopp says, trying to jerk away but Sanji tightens his grip. “I’ve fought tons of these guys already! Just last week—”

“What did you do? Get them with a shitty rubber band to the eye? This isn’t just throwing eggs at some schoolyard assholes!” He gave Usopp a little jerking shake, trying to rattle the common sense back into his brains. “This is serious shit! This out of your league!”

“I know that!” Usopp’s voice is raw, eyes glassy but his hands are still fists and shaking with anger. “I know that I’m probably going to get hurt if stuff happens! But maybe it won’t! And even if it does, Dad got out of his league all the time! He used to fight the street gangs all by himself, even if he got trashed!”

“You’re not your father, shithead!”

“At least I have a father!”

Sanji punches him right in the jaw, harder than he even know he was going to. Usopp stumbles, then whips back like a snake and his fist crashes against Sanji’s cheek, it’s not enough to make him stumble but it still hurts like a bitch. He snarls and wraps his hands in Usopp’s overall straps, trying to wrestle him to the ground. Usopp’s hands grip his t-shirt, pulling and twisting with surprising strength and he dances around Sanji’s attempts to knock him flat with an ankle.

“Get back here!” Sanji snaps, remembering how good Usopp is at running away, even trapped two inches from him.

“No way! Knock it off!”

“Like hell! If you can’t even beat me how do you think— “

Usopp’s eyes flash and Sanji’s just able to track his fist before it buries into his stomach. Goddamnit not again.

It’s dark. His stomach hurts and feels like it’s about ready to curl up and die on him. There’s a weight on his chest and he can’t breathe. If he’s getting heatstroke on top of everything else he’s going to kill himself an Usopp. Save the fucking Fishmen the trouble. Sanji tries to crawl his fingers through the dirt for a cigarette but his arms are trapped. Shit is he caught already?! Sanji opens his eyes and immediately flinches back.

Usopp is straddling his chest, pinning his arms at his sides, and is pointing a rubber band straight at his right eye, the elastic shivering with tension. At this range it’d hit hard. Sanji forces himself not to swallow and looks past it to where Usopp… Looks freaking miserable. His eyes are bloodshot and tears are sliding unchecked down his cheeks and dripping off the end of his nose. But his teeth are clenched, too.

“You’ve made your shitty point,” Sanji says, his voice a croak. “Let me have a smoke will you?”

The rubberband snaps against the ground near his temple, stirring up a little puff of dust. A cold chill sweeps through him and he gets it. He does. But the most rubberbands are going to do is make the assholes mad. Usopp gets off, though, and sits beside him, holding his knees up to his chest and burying his head against them. He’s shaking a bit and sniffing but Sanji pretends he doesn’t see and somehow manages to light a cigarette even though his arms feel like lead. The sky is so blue today…

“I know I’m not Dad,” Usopp says softly. “But how can I be like him if I don’t try?”

Sanji takes a deep drag off the cigarette and then puffs out the smoke all at once, a whispy little cloud to decorate the clear blue, that dissipates in an instant. It’s been hard on him. Sanji gets that. It’s always been hard on him. Sanji can’t blame him for wanting to get out there and have a big adventure like his dad supposedly did, was still doing, unless the asshole decided to sneak back when no one was looking. It is just like those novels they used to read in middle school in Usopp’s old tree house; the one that he and his mother had made before the new owners decided to take it down. Most of the stories were the same, super cool high school shits would go on a long road trip to find adventure, romance, learn about life and themselves. They usually didn’t go up against big ass pink Fishmen… on the other hand, there was rarely a goddess in distress that needed saving. It’s crazy and dangerous and probably enough to send them both to the hospital but…

The only alternative is to go back. To pretend this never happened. Go to school, go to work, read novels and remember the chance they never took.

Well fuck that.

“Fine,” Sanji says. “Let’s have an adventure.”

“What, really?” Usopp says, looking over at him.

“Yes, really.” He meets Usopp’s gaze. “But when this is done… home. Agreed?” He holds up a fist. Usopp gives him a one-sided smirk.

“Deal.” He knocks his fist against Sanji’s. “Try not to get creamed so easily next time.”

“You little shit,” Sanji says, tempted to show him just how creamed he is, except that he feels pretty damned creamed like now. “If that mossheaded gorilla hadn’t hit me first, you wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

“Good thing I thought about it, then,” Usopp says with a wider grin. It is true in a way. It’s because of Usopp that he got walloped in the first place.

“When this is over” provided they are still alive. “You’re flying back home via my foot in your ass.”

“Sure sure.” Usopp stands and offers him a hand. Sanji takes it and allows the longnose to haul him to his feet, then leans a forearm on his shoulder as a show of brotherly solidarity and not because his stomach hurts like fuck. “…Sanji?”

“Mm?”

“Thanks…”

“Nah.”

Because really, Usopp had set his heart on it—so it wasn’t as if it had been a fight that Sanji was ever going to win.

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The Remedy

March 2017

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