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


Present:

You’re the one I love…

It had snowed overnight, thick and fast, covering the ground and the slopes of the trees in a thick blanket of white. It piled on the ornate lanterns that stood at intervals along the park’s paved road, the black of the lantern peeking out through the white forming a nice contrast if not for the faint dim buzz of the electric light behind the glass. Some white Christmas lights, strung on a clump of trees edging the park, tried their best to twinkle through and shed some cheer, but it reminded him of tiny stars on a night smothered in clouds. The entire effect was like a haphazard Christmas Card of some confused artist, too much snow, too little cheer, adults instead of children playing in the snow. Though the last part, Sanji didn’t mind so much.

He shifted his weight on the bench, adjusting Luffy on his lap and pulling his head closer to the warm shelter of his neck, and watched two idiots and a Princess goof off; each in their own way. There was Usopp in his red and gold Gryffindor scarf, nose red with cold, earmuffs bright orange as he related some story or another to Vivi. As he spoke he worked on his snow sculpture. No shitty ball and stick snowman for that longnose. Sanji could even see Vivi’s visage forming from it if he squinted and he wondered if Vivi herself had realized what Usopp was doing. The princess herself was just standing serenely, hands in her pockets as she watched, hair vibrant blue against the snow and cloudy gray sky. Meanwhile, Chopper was busy destroying the Christmas Card appeal all together as he continued to roll a single huge snowball, so big now that it left bare strips of mud and bright grass behind it. He was only wearing a sweater against the biting cold, but looked like an overstuffed yeti inside of it.

“Lazy captain, you should get up and join them,” Sanji murmured, absently rubbing a black gloved thumb over the red of Luffy’s mittens. And he should be out there, laughing, wooping, enabling Usopp into some wild chase or snowball fight. He should be climbing trees and shaking the snow loose from those bright hidden stars so that everyone could get the spirit of the season right in the gut. And then they would all go to Raymond’s for exquisite hot chocolate made to order and made from scratch while they tried to save what cookies they could from Luffy’s voracious appetite.

“Hey, Nami!” Chopper called, waving over his giant ball to the orange haired beauty who was making her way back from the coffee vendor, two steaming paper cups in her hands. “Come pose for me!”

“What part of that looks like what part of me?!” Nami snapped and Sanji had to chuckle. Even though he agreed with her, it was hard to go running in Nami’s defense by kicking a swath in Chopper’s ball and showing him how it’s really done when he has a lapful of unconscious captain.

“It’s only a preliminary model,” Chopper said, frowning at her.

“You should give it up, young grasshopper,” Usopp said, putting a palm face up as he shook his head.
“Even if you have the most gorgeous woman in the world to pose for you” Which he would, Sanji thought. “You’d still be a thousand years to late to compete with me.”

“Everyone has their talents, Usopp,” Vivi said, swaying her shoulders a little. “He might not match your artistry but he can probably bury you in that snowball.”

“What? Oi, that’s— Ahhh!” Usopp yelped as Chopper lifted the snowball over his head with a roar, muscles bulging, and began to chase him around. “Traitor!” Usopp called. Vivi giggled. That evil, wonderful, woman. And speaking of wonderful women…

“Idiots,” Nami said, sitting beside him. “They’re just like kids.” But her faint smile belied her harsh words, which was of course why he was devoted to her. She turned that faint smile on him, which deepened and warmed when her gaze shifted to Luffy.

“Here,” she said, holding out the cup.”Need help?”

“I’ve got it, no need to trouble yourself.” He adjusted Luffy again, cursing as the straw hat fell off in the process, sliding onto Luffy’s back and exposing his head to the cold.

“Take it,” Nami said, pressing the coffee cup into his hand and then reaching across him (oh, heavenly day~) to pull Luffy’s hat back on and adjust him against Sanji’s shoulder.

“Thank you,” he murmured, catching the warm orange blossom scent of her as she leaned back, crossing one leg over the other as she held her own coffee cup in both gloved hands. He would raise them and kiss them if he could. Offer his services on bended knee just to make her smile even more-so than she was now, probably not even realizing she was. He could guess what she was watching by the high pitched shrieks in the background but Sanji couldn’t take his eyes off her soft pink lips.

There was a muffled cry, a flomp of snow and silence.

“Don’t kill him, he’s the only horrible liar we’ve got!” Nami called, letting Sanji admire the flash of her teeth and tongue. It had tasted warm. Like chocolate and whiskey. He swallowed and looked away, hoping the cold would be blamed for the heat in his face.

“I heard that!” Usopp roared, bursting out of the mound of snow, sending it spraying in all directions. He pointed a finger at Nami. “Your turn is next!”

“Fine if you think you can pay the surcharge,” Nami said.

Your turn is next!” Usopp said, arm swinging to point at Vivi.

“What? No! No don’t you dare,” she said, backing up, holding up her hands.

“Lieutenant Chopper! Ready the arsenal!”

“Already done, Vice-Captain!”

“No, stop!” Vivi said, her eyes sparkling as she backed against a tree. Usopp turned to gather up some snowballs and Vivi dipped in a graceful movement to pack some in one hand.

“Now!” Usopp said, whirling around. “Prepare to meet your—” and was cut off with a well thrown snowball that impaled itself perfectly on his long nose before smashing him in the face. Sanji laughed with the rest of them as Usopp stood in silence, the snow dropping from his face. Vivi managed to contain herself first.

“Point for me, baby,” she said, blowing a kiss with two fingers. Usopp bowed his head, clenching his fingers around a snowball.

“You’ve won this round,” he said, darkly. “But the next hundred are mine! USOPP GATLINNNG!” And he started emptying the ammunition in his arms, rapidfire. Vivi got two in the shoulder before she managed to duck behind the tree and make a run for it, shrieking and giggling at the same time.

“He stole that one from Luffy,” Nami said.

“Only he used a bigger ball,” Sanji said. Too big. On a slope. And somehow gotten them all caught in it like something out of a cartoon. Sanji had wanted to kick his head in at the time and still did on occasion but—ah, who else could claim that experience? He took another sip of coffee and came to the gradual realization that there was nothing wrong with it. Nami had ordered it made just to his taste. D-damnit, when had she learned that? What was he supposed to do with that information short of flailing at her in a paroxysm of joy? Ah~ So kind. So wonderful. So thoughtful. O his beautiful Nami-swan, mellorine of his heart~~! He was about to express the smallest modicum of the emotion welling like a song in his heart but saw she was on the phone. Ah well, it would keep. Especially as her expression seemed to darken. Bad news?

“Damnit,” she muttered, pressing ‘end’ and cradling the phone in her hands. “Where is he?”

“Zoro,” Sanji said, the faint fluttering anticipation of expressing his undying love for the four hundred thousandth time fleeing on silver wings. Who could concentrate on that kind of thing with that rock faced moron poking his scowling image in Sanji’s memory?

“Isn’t it always?” Nami said with a sigh. Sanji sipped his coffee, debating on whether to ask or not. If Nami didn’t want him to know, and she obviously didn’t, she would hedge and lie and try to change the conversation. But she might tell him the truth, too, if she was a certain mood. It was hard to tell if she were or not just by looking at her. He took a gamble.

“I’m guessing he didn’t make it to Colorado,” he said, watching Vivi and Usopp examine something in the tree while Chopper went to work on his monolith. He caught Nami’s sharp look out of the corner of his eye, but didn’t glance to meet it.

“Colorado? What makes you think he’s going there?” she said, voice hard.

“You said so.”

“Bull. When?”

“A few nights ago.” And when her face clouded, he added. “After Mario Kart.”
She slumped.

“Oh…” Then straightened and sipped her coffee. “Well it’s nothing, don’t worry about it. He’s just doing …Spandam a little favor.”

“I see.” Sanji finished his coffee, and tossed it into the nearby trash before shifting Luffy again. Light as he was, he was still dead weight and he was making Sanji’s leg fall asleep.

“Anyway, Brook called and said he’s gotten on the train so that will take him a few days at least. I don’t know why that man doesn’t just fly.”

“Suppose he just likes to keep his shitty feet on the ground.”

“I guess so. Franky’s on the 20th, but I know you have that catering gig. So I’m going to have Zoro do it provided he gets here sometime before New Years.”

“And Robin?”

“Who knows,” Nami said with a shrug. “Whenever she gets here, I suppose. And probably in the creepiest way possible. Last year I found her sitting on the end of my bed.”

Sanji’s thoughts started to wend in a certain direction and he carefully herded them back to the safer path. Instead he shifted Luffy again to pull out his pocket watch and checked the time, whistling low. Thirty minutes. It been longer than he thought.

“Better get back,” he said.

“Right.” Nami took off a glove to blow a shrill whistle between her fingers. Ah~! So commanding~! The others started to come over—except for Usopp who glanced their way and then pretended to be interested in something on the ground, kicking up a lump of snow. Vivi seemed to notice this and gave them a faint smile and a ‘go on’ gesture, before going back to join him.

“Idiot,” Nami muttered.

“Did you see how big I got that snowball?” Chopper said, trundling over and lifting Luffy easily with his massive arms.

“It looked good,” Sanji said, turning. “What were you trying to make?”

“A giant. Usopp said he saw one once,” Chopper said. As he helped settle Luffy on Sanji’s back.

“Did he?” Sanji hooked his arms under Luffy’s legs, shifting him into a more comfortable position. He’d seen enough weird things by now that he wouldn’t be surprised if a giant did turn up somewhere. But if Usopp had seen one, they all would have known about it in shitty…detail… Sanji’s thoughts trailed off as Nami ducked around in front of him, tying Luffy’s mittens, and effectively his hands together to keep his arms from sliding off. She was beautiful even from this angle, her orange hair, falling in loose waves down her back. Her skilled hands working a loose knot. If he leaned in just a little he could smell her hair and feel the warmth… But he wasn’t going to lean in. He was going to look up and ahead where the shitty longnose was talking to Vivi and seeming happy to continue to avoid the whole damn thing.

“…It was really cool,” Chopper was saying. “Usopp said that one day we’ll…”

“Chopper…” Nami said, reaching into Sanji’s pocket (So bold~!) and pulling out his keys. “Why don’t you go start the van? Get it warmed up okay?”

“Oh, yeah sure!” He took the keys and jogged off, throwing a half hearted snowball at Usopp and Vivi as he passed them.

“He was fine,” Sanji said, shifting Luffy again and starting on the path.

“I know.” She lightly. “I just wanted you all to myself a little longer.”

“Nami-swan can have me any time!” Sanji said, his voice coming out giddy. And who wouldn’t be.

“I know.”

“In any way!”

“I know…”

“For eternit—” He stopped as Nami put her finger to his lips. Got it. Shutting up. But happily so. They walked in quiet. It started to snow again, white peppering the black asphalt and the orange of Nami’s hair. She still had her coffee and was cradling the cup in both hands, rubbing a thumb absently back and forth across the sleeve, deep in thought. He let her be and leaned his head in a little, trying to warm Luffy’s cold cheek with his neck. This was pretty dangerous for Luffy honestly. If he caught even a cold it could be fatal for him but— Sanji knew Luffy would rather risk the cold then to die in the muffled silence of the resident care facility. Nami sighed lightly and chucked her coffee, slipping one hand in her pocket and taking the end of Luffy’s scarf with the other, playing with it.

“You know…” she said softly. “When Bellemere was like this… I couldn’t even be in the same room with her for more than a few hours.” She looked up at him and he tried not to be caught completely in her cinnamon brown eyes. “How do you do it every day?”

He just kept himself from shrugging.

“You get used to it. There are good days and bad days….” The worst ones had been in the beginning. Some days he’d hated Luffy with a passion. For leaving them in the lurch like this even if they’d done the leaving first. Other days he hadn’t even been able to look at him, the guilt pulling at him like a lead weight. “But after a while, there are just days.”

“At least you’re there,” she said, tucking Luffy’s scarf back around his neck. He couldn’t help but notice her expression, no matter how she tried to hide it. She felt guilty, too. That she hadn’t been there, maybe. But she was the reason Luffy had lived this long. All of her hard work. Even when things had looked hopeless as they often did, she’d pulled through. She was the one who pulled them all together every year. Who paid for airfare when they couldn’t and just…kept them all in touch.

“Nami…” he started. “You…” But she wasn’t looking at him. Something off in the trees caught her attention. Sanji tensed, old instincts preparing him for a fight as he looked in that direction and saw…

Zoro…

Standing there among the trees, snow falling on his green hair, looking solemn as usual with his shitty leather jacket and shitty earrings and shitty scars that didn’t make him look tough at all and he’d better not have any new ones to make Nami worry or Sanji was going to kick his ass, Luffy on his back or no.

“You’re late, shitty mosshead,” Sanji snapped, wishing he had the hands free to light a cigarette.
“Did you get lost somewhere in Timbuktu? Should’ve stayed there and improved the local color with your shitty green.”

“Don’t make up place names just to sound smart, Dartboard brow,” Zoro said. Sanji had forgotten how deep his shitty voice was and how freaking annoying.

“Make— Study some geography, asshole!”

“I was waiting at Raymond’s,” Zoro said, looking to Nami.

“Don’t ignore me!” Leave it to Zoro to bring up a tradition they hadn’t done in two years. Not to mention how the last one went. If he upset Nami, Sanji was going to send him flying to Colorado with his own damn foot.

“That’s a good idea…,” Nami said and Sanji blinked at her surprised. Really? Raymond’s? Usopp wasn’t going to like it. No one would. It would be tense and uncomfortable but— Sanji saw the way Nami’s jaw was set and knew that she was going to sail this course as far as she could. She seemed to be thinking about something before finally nodding.

“I’ll go tell the others,” she said. She glanced at Zoro, then back at Sanji. “Make sure he doesn’t get lost on the way,” she said.

“Oi,” Zoro said at the same time Sanji said:

“But Nami…” But she was already charging ahead with determined footsteps. Sanji let out a sharp breath. Fine. If it was for the love of his Nami-swan, he would escort this damn oaf, even if he had to drag him the whole shitty way. He shot a glare at the swordsman only to find himself being ignored again.

Only this time, Zoro was looking at Luffy, his solemn expression softened by something Sanji had to look away from. Shitty mosshead. Why did he have to be the one to put up with this?

“Can I carry him?” Zoro asked. Sanji snorted.

“When did you get so damn sentimental?”

Zoro said nothing and Sanji abruptly felt like an ass. Well fine. If he wanted to carry the lead weight, he could. It would free up Sanji for a smoke anyway.

“Come on. But be careful!”

There was no Chopper to lift Luffy from Sanji’s back, but with Zoro it didn’t matter. He lifted him too damn easily for Sanji’s peace of mind and settled him awkwardly in his arms. Sanji turned just as the hat fell to the ground. Shit—why did he have to be the one to—? Well nevermind.

“Here,” Sanji said. “This hand here. Hold him up on your shoulder like this…” But Sanji knew that wasn’t going to be enough. So be it. He untied Luffy’s mittens, adjusted his limp arms around Zoro’s neck, trying not to touch the tanned skin if he could help it, and retied them after, gently guiding Luffy’s head to press against Zoro’s neck for warmth. The hat was going to fall off more easily then not so Sanji decided to carry it himself, sweeping it up and dusting the snow off its ragged brim. He held it carefully under his arm, long enough to light a cigarette and take a deep draw before shutting the lighter and shoving it back into his pocket.

“So you’ve finally graduated to a lighter,” Zoro said, sounding amused.

“Shut your face. It’s more environmentally friendly, shithead.” Besides which he ran out of matches quicker than he ran out of lighter fluid. He tried to ignore Zoro even as the man was walking beside him. Tried to be annoyed at him just by existing and being effortlessly masculine with his shitty broad shoulders and shitty short hair —even the way he had three gold earrings that dangled— dangled—and not only pulled it off but made it look good. The worst part—the absolute worst— was that whenever he dropped out of the shitty blue to become part of their shitty lives again he made Sanji feel like a damn teenager all over again.

“What’s with the scars anyway, asshole?” he said, glancing at the fresh ones on his jaw and three over his neck like it had been made by giant claws, though even that didn’t look as bad as the one over his eye.

“Nothing,” Zoro said. “Just fights.”

“Yeah, losing fights.” Though Sanji knew that wasn’t true. When Roronoa Zoro lost a fight there was a hell of a lot more blood, splashing everything crimson and still looking badass while he bled to death all over the shitty place. That was with friends around. Without them, a lost fight meant a dead Zoro and it seemed he was coming closer and closer to it each time but Sanji wasn’t going to think about it because he had too much to be concerned about without worrying over a rockheaded lump of moss for brains and was already on his second cigarette.

“Tense?”

“Fuck you.”

“Don’t be.”

“Go die.” If that ass hadn’t been carrying Luffy, Sanji would have kicked him into a tree by now.

“You never change.”

Don’t sound like that! Sanji wanted to rage at him. It was unexpectedly warm and threw him off kilter. Despite everything, despite—well —everything he acknowledged on some very very distant level that they were nakama. They fought together for and with Luffy and had…used to have some pretty badass combo moves. As long as they’d known each other, they could almost—almost be classified as friends. But Zoro wasn’t allowed to sound like that. Like it was okay to say shit like that now that everything was ending. As if this was going to be their last—

Because it was going to be their last— That was why Nami had wanted to go to Raymond’s. After this— after this everything would change. Fall apart and Sanji knew that. He knew it. He didn’t have to have a shitty mosshead guide him to this conclusion! He ground his teeth together, letting Zoro walk ahead of him and ground them even more when that asshole paused.

“Just because I stop doesn’t mean you get to,” he snapped, planting his hands against Zoro’s back and pushing him forward. “Keep moving, dumbass. It’s cold. Straight head. I’ll be here kicking your ass so
you won’t get lost on a straight road, you big dumb fuck.” Snow ran wet cold trails down this face but Sanji kept pushing until his arms ached from it.

By the time they’d reached the others who were waiting for them by the parking lot, the snow had stopped falling.



Raymond’s was dressed to the shitty nines. Sanji had forgotten how this place could be at Christmas. Gingerbread houses of varying degrees of skill lined the shelves that wrapped around the room. The ceiling was strung with green garlands and silver bells and a Christmas tree sat in one corner with an eclectic array of ornaments, topped with a circle in a star that spelled Raymond’s in red cursive. The air was tangled with Christmas music and conversation. Except in their shitty corner of the abyss.

They had it all. Steins full of hot chocolate and/or espresso, each designed to fit the particular drink. Some heaped with whipped cream and chocolate curls while Vivi’s mint jubilee had red and white candy canes hanging off of it. In the center of the table was a plate of specialty s’mores in chocolate and caramel which Chopper only picked at. Everyone else sipped their drinks in silence except for Zoro who only watched them, holding Luffy in his lap. He even made that look good, Sanji thought with a weary sort of irritation. His too big shitty hands resting casually on Luffy’s stomach. Even with the captain’s head turned to the side against Zoro’s shoulder, it only seemed like he was sleeping after a long day.

“Well,” said Vivi brightly, straightening. “We should go see a movie tomorrow.”

“Y…yeah, right!” Usopp said from where he’d been studiously not looking in Zoro’s direction since they’d got there. “A…anything you want to see?”

“Oh…well…not particularly. I don’t…actually have much time for movies.” She laughed a little. “So I’ll have to trust your judgment.”

“Man…I don’t know,” Usopp said, sitting back and scratching the back of his neck. “I haven’t had time for the movies in ages. Uh… so it’s anything you want, Chopper.”

“I’m a med student,” Chopper said flatly, knocking the conversation right on its ass. Sanji tried not to stare at the Santa and Reindeer themed clock over Chopper’s head too much. He had a shift starting in two hours. Two long shitty hours. He wouldn’t bail early. He refused to give in. There had to be something he could do. Something he could say. Shit he needed a cigarette.

“Oh, I know,” Chopper said. “We can have a movie day at Sanji’s place.”

“That sounds great!” Vivi said.

“Can Luffy come?” Zoro said, not only knocking the conversation on it’s ass, but killing it and burying it in a ditch where hopefully no one would find it. The big dumbass. He should have a label slapped on his shitty mouth that read: ‘do not open’.

“Tha-a-at’s really not a good idea,” Usopp said, laughing and flapping his hand. “After all, Sanji’s place is kinda—”

“Kinda what?” Sanji said darkly. No way was that shitty longnose even going there. He’d better not.

“A-anyway it’s not a good idea in any case,” Chopper said. “Today was an exception but he really shouldn’t be out this long.,.”

“Listen to the yeti,” Sanji said, gaze fixed on Usopp. “Kind of what, shithead? What are you trying to say?”

“I’m not trying to say anything,” Usopp said, holding up his hands. “I was just saying it wasn’t, you know, appropriate.”

He was going there. He really was. Sanji should have expected it really.

“Listen, shitty longnose,” he said calmly. “You can use whatever shit excuse you want to hide behind your own shitty cowardice but you leave my old man’s place out of this.”

“I’m not hiding behind anything.”

“The hell you aren’t.”

“The hell I am, and since when is he your ‘old man’ anyway? If you ask me you’re the one that’s hiding.”

“Why don’t you shut your shitty trap?”

“Why don’t you make me?”

“You wanna bring it?” Sanji slapped a hand on the table and leaned in. “Fine, bring it, shitface! Let’s go, you and me!”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

“The fuck is that supposed to mean?!”

“Sit down,” Nami snapped. “Both of you!” They were standing, Sanji realized, practically face to face. Everyone in the restaurant had stopped to watch so they must have been shouting too. He could see the manager’s worried look even from this distance. Sanji sat. Usopp sat. He wanted to get the hell out of here. He could. Say he had to go to work and who would stop him? Why the hell did Usopp get to run away from everything anyway and still be a man? Was it because he had always been that way he got an excuse?

He jerked out a cigarette, shoving it between his lips even though he couldn’t light it here. It didn’t make him feel much better but at least it was something. He wanted to run. He wanted to get the fuck away from here and go do something important. To fight someone. Kick someone’s ass. Feel alive and not watching Luffy’s life slip away as he’d been doing for five shitty years. Five shitty years which Usopp managed to avoid because he had “issues”. Didn’t they fucking all.

Suddenly he hated everyone. Everyone sitting at the table, staring in awkward silence into their cooling wasted drinks. He hated everyone who hadn’t made it yet. He hated Luffy for promising so much and then keeping him trapped under Zeff for five goddamned years because everyone else had fucking excuses and other places they had to be.

“I’m going to work,” he said, shoving away from the table before he kicked it over. Usopp called his name weakly behind him, but Sanji ignored it, pushing out the door and into the biting cold. He didn’t have his jacket or anything but the fuck did he care. He’d survive. He was strong. He lit a cigarette and jammed his hands into his pockets, stalking down the sidewalk, the cold fueling the icy heat that was spilling out from his chest.

He was coming up on a car, he realized, parked on the side of the road, the wrong direction on a one way street. Zoro’s car. That shitty 19whatever impala that he was so fucking proud of. He remembered the back seat. The way it smelled after a long day on the road. Yellow sunlight coming in through the windows. Sanji wanted to kick the tires, dent the doors, break a window, but he kicked the parking meter beside it instead. And again. And again. Feeling the impact ring up his legs as the metal pole shook, bent and finally snapped under his blows, bursting open as it crashed against the sidewalk and sending change flying everywhere.

He felt a sick twisted kind of triumph and then just felt sick. He kicked the crap out of a parking meter. What a man. Gritting his teeth, Sanji folded his arms and lead against the light pole, waiting to be arrested. Maybe he could have a little tete-a-tete with Smoker after all these years. It wasn’t Smoker who came up the sidewalk a few minutes later when Sanji felt he’d freeze to the damn pole, but Zoro. Like he wanted to see his ass. Sanji scowled and looked away, then saw Zoro make a movement as if he was tossing something and snatched what it was out of the air.
His jacket…

Shithead.

Sanji tugged it on, lighting another cigarette, not sure what to expect from Mr. Broods-with-scars, but was having a real problem with him staring.

“Don’t you have anything better to do?” Sanji snapped.

“Yeah,” Zoro said, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Nami found some guy who was connected to the one who did that to Luffy.”

What? Sanji looked at him. Was he serious? Was that what Nami had been hiding? Zoro’s dark eyes were on him.

“After Christmas, I’m going to go kick his ass,” the swordsman said. “Wanna come?” Sanji looked away and pulled on his cigarette, blew out a puff of smoke and finally said:

“So very fucking much.”


Past:

Part of your world…

Sanji presses his back against the wall, waving for the others to do the same. Three Fishmen are around the corner, filling the narrow corridor with their bulk, one mumbling on his walkie talkie, his voice like sandpaper filling the air. He can feel Usopp press beside him, shaking lightly still, and the eyes of some others from Nami’s town who decided to come help clear the way. The rest of the townspeople are still in their cages. There is no point in escaping to be caught again, not at least until they can find something to fight back with. A lot of them are sick. Some of them are dying. All of them are hungry but Sanji tries not to dwell on it.

The most important thing is to get past those damn Fishmen without alerting the whole place. It’s weird that they don’t know all ready since Luffy hardly seems like a subtle guy, but maybe that’s Nami’s doing somehow. Would that he could dwell on that orange haired goddess who would one day deign to shout his name in joy- but right now there are more important matters at hand. Like getting blubber lips to shut up so they can go on with their search for a better exit or ammunition or something. He then gets an idea.

‘Shoot it’, he mouths to Usopp who looks at him with wide eyes and points to himself.

‘Who me?’

‘Yes, you,’ told with a nod.

‘You’re out of you’re freaking mind and as a matter of fact I’m having an out break of can’t-expose-myself-or-I’ll-really-freaking-die-disease’ Told with palms flat in a stop gesture and shaking his head, backing up into one of the townspeople behind him. A huge shadow falls over them and Usopp’s eyes go wide as saucers. Sanji swallows.

“What the hell—?” a Fishman says and Sanji kicks him in the crotch. It’s a low blow and he regrets doing it so he side snaps him in the gut to slam him into a wall to make up for it. He’s in full view of the other Fishmen now. Green gills and Blubber lips, he decides, both goggling him The blubber lipped one nearly drops his walkie talkie, then starts fumbling with it, desperately twisting the knob with his large fingers as if to get the right channel. Shit shit shit. Sanji shoves his hands in his pockets, charging down the hall. He ducks under Green Gill’s fist, heading straight for Blubber lips, whose eyes widen and he presses the talk button.

“We’ve got—”

Sanji kicks the walkie talkie from his hands before he can finish, listening with satisfaction as it smashes against the wall. He lands on his right foot and then roundhouse’s back with his left to catch Blubber Lips in the stomach, chest, throat.

“Bastard!” Green Gills snaps, grabbing him from behind, enveloping his arms in huge rough hands and squeezing. Sanji winces and tries to twist out of his grip without breaking anything.

“Let go, shithead!” he snarls, slamming the heel of his foot into the Green Gill’s arch. The Fishman howls and his grip loosens. Sanji darts away, twisting to slam a foot into the Fishman’s shin, feeling the snap of bone and then catching him across the face as he falls to his knees, sending his head crashing against the stone wall with a sickening thud. He waits until he’s sure they’re all down for the count before hissing between his teeth, sinking into a crouch against the -wall.

He hasn’t fought this hard since he was a kid and his legs sting like a bitch. His arms hurt now, too, it doesn’t help that his stomach is still a little sore from …yesterday? The day before? Shit. He still needs to get Usopp for that one somehow. But…all told it’s kind of exciting, really. A certain kind of heat flaring low through his belly. Kicking ass. Saving the day. Helping to rescue the damsel.

“It’s alright,” he says, realizing Usopp won’t peek his head around that corner until he’s dead sure.
“But hurry up.” He hears their footsteps and forces himself upward as if that had been nothing. He saves a special glare for the longnose as he pokes his head into the dim light, then dismisses him, using the pretty nice zippo he’d looted a few Fishmen back to light a cigarette. How many more guys were there? And where was Nami? Had she made it? Did she need him? Was she calling his name —or wishing she knew it to call it?

He watches as the townspeople filter into the hall, unlocking doors with the keys he’d filched from the first guy. Each room seems to be the same. Black. Windowless. Like a missing tooth. Some of the more enterprising townspeople start dragging the Fishmen into one of those dark rooms, flinching a little as he hears the lock click. They deserve it maybe, but he’ll unlock it as soon as the townspeople leave. If Luffy really does burn this place, they don’t deserve to be burned to death without at least a fighting chance, no matter what they’ve done.

“Are you alright?” Usopp asks.

“Of course I’m alright. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I’m not. This is crazy.” Usopp works on opening a door beside him, his hand trembling faintly. “Adventures shouldn’t be so suicidal.”

“That’s all part of the fun,” Sanji says with a grin and laughs a breath through his nose as Usopp gives him a dry look. It’s not that suicidal. At least, not yet. The Fishmen take a lot to fall, but they’re not impossible.

“Crap,” Usopp says and there is a snip as the key breaks in the lock. Sanji shoulders the longnose aside, and kicks the door hard. He means only to break the lock but the entire door wrenches from its hinges and lands with a ringing crash inside.

“You moron,” Usopp snaps, once the ringing has subsided, slapping him on the shoulder. Sanji takes it with a sheepish grin. It’s exactly the kind of place they’re looking for. Dim light from the hall glints off the line of rifles, nestled against the wall, orange jumpsuits hung against another wall with strange Darth Vaderish orange helmets, and, most importantly, Roronoa’s swords resting on the table. So that lunkhead is here. But probably in need of rescue unless he just got lost somewhere.

“Armory,” he calls over his shoulder to the townspeople before taking a drag from the cigarette and slipping into the room himself. There’s nothing of use to him it seems. Oddly enough all the jumpsuits are human sized, and lightly armored. The weapons are small, too. The Fishmen have nothing but skin and fists and Sanji clicks his tongue as he sorts through the jumpsuits, trying to find something of use. They’re just thugs as far as he can tell. Maybe even used against their will. If he didn’t already hate whoever was behind dear Nami’s suffering, he would after this.

“Hey. Do they wear these inside?” he says, turning to Genzo. The white haired man with the scar seamed face seems to know the most about what’s going on. Besides the fact that he is the one who comforted Nami first, which makes him someone to be respected in Sanji’s book.

“Yes I think so,” Genzo says, cradling a rifle in his too bony hands. Everything about him, about all of them, has the lean underfed look and Sanji tries not to think about it too much, especially since a different kind of hunger gleams in their eyes. He’s seen hunger like that do amazing things.

“You seem like you know what you’re doing, young man,” Genzo says.

“Yeah, I’ve been around,” Sanji says, finding a jumpsuit that looks near his size. He doesn’t really want to wear someone else’s shitty clothes but…

“You have?” Usopp says, sounding surprised. “I didn’t know this. How come I didn’t know this?”

“It’s no big deal.” It was just something he and Zeff did. Used to do. Infiltrate gang hideouts. Kick everyone’s ass. Leave them tied up to be arrested and then leave. Granted it had been a lot easier to sneak around when everyone thought you were just a little kid and underestimated you but it couldn’t be that much different now.

“It is a big deal,” Usopp says. “What are you, like, young James Bond or something?”

“Something like that,” Sanji says with a grin. Now there’s an aspiration. All suit and tux and smooth lines and…women… low cut gowns, low cut bathing suits…low cut bikini bottoms…

“Is he okay?” a townsperson murmurs.

“It’s a Sanji thing,” Usopp says flatly. Then: “Where are you going?”

“To help Nami.” And look for the shitty mosshead, but that was incidental. It isn’t like Sanji’s worried about his well-being. The man could bite through a steel door no problem so this place would be a piece of cake.

“Alone?” Usopp asks.

“Unless you want to come with me.” Which he assumes is a no and it is probably for the best all things considered. Usopp had come this far after all.

“If not, you’re welcome to come with us,” Genzo says. Sanji looks up at them. A row of men and a single gorgeous lady, standing in the dim light with rifles in their hands. It isn’t just a shitty old man and an uppity brat, roughing up a gang for the sake of a contract but a group of people, a family, fighting for each other. Fighting for the sake of love. Who wouldn’t envy a bond like that? He can already see Usopp among them. Fighting. Laughing. Sharing the thrill of victory.

“No I…I’d better go with this guy,” Usopp says, fingering one of the jumpsuits. “He needs someone with common sense after all and I’ve done this sort of thing loads of times.” Shithead. How the hell is he supposed to react to a statement like that? Not that he cares that his best

“Better get ready then, shitty longnose.”

“And take this with you,” Genzo says, holding out the rifle.

“For what,” Usopp says, sliding back a pace as if trying to get away from it. The townspeople look at him, faces shadowed but hard.

“They’re not going to give you a second chance,” Genzo says. This isn’t a game. Live or die. That’s how it always is. Sanji won’t make Usopp take it, though, or prod him into it. He’ll take Usopp with him, rifle or no.

“W-well yeah but that doesn’t mean I’m going to shoot ‘em.”

“You’re too soft,” the woman says and Sanji has to agree. Usopp is. But he kind of likes him that way.

——

The helmets are actually gas masks, filtering air that smells a little like rubberized cat piss. Roronoa’s swords bump against his back, crammed, but not quite disguised, in the bags they’d found with glass dart guns in. It isn’t perfect and other orange suited guys look at them suspiciously through their darkened masks but they are already on edge, probably having something to do with the two jumpsuit guys they’ve already come across, beaten and unconscious on the floor. Sanji hadn’t been able to tell if that was Luffy or Nami’s work but either way, he’d been impressed.

Now he’s pissed and the mask is pissing him off even more and he has the feeling that all the intense fighting is going on without him as he wanders around the labyrinthine halls, trying not to get noticed by the other shitheads in orange.

“We need a shitty map,” he muttered, his voice garbled by the vent of the mask. Usopp slaps a hand against his chest.

“Sshhh. Don’t say anything suspicious!”

If anyone overhears, he’d just kick them in the face. He wants to say this but too many of them are carrying rifles around. Sanji wants to divest the bastards of some but he also doesn’t want to get him or Usopp shot in the face. Still… Still!

“Nami needs me!” How could even have a shot at saving her if he was just moping around here.

“Nami doesn’t even know your name! Shut up!” Usopp hisses.

“Tch” He scratches at his neck under the shitty helmet and glowers at Usopp as he slaps his hand way, not that the longnose can see it.

“Stop that!”

“They’re not going to go ballistic if they don’t recognize my n—” He stopped as two sentries went by, sliding back against the wall as if standing guard, and also trying to hide the shitty katana. Damn Roronoa. Couldn’t he have something a little more collapsible?

“—my neck,” he finishes when the coast is clear.

“You just have to have the last word, don’t you.”

“Damn straight I do. Also your nose is making a tent.”

“Crap!”

He watches mildly amused as Usopp reaches up under his mask to adjust his stupidly long nose. A jumpsuit guy comes out of a door at the cross section of the hall and in the moment before it closes, Sanji sees a man at a desk, his face lit blue by screens. Seems promising. He waits to see if the coast is clear before tapping Usopp’s shoulder and pointing at the door. Usopp nods but stops him before he can twist the knob.

“Let me do the talking,” Usopp says, like Sanji isn’t damn capable of doing it himself. He sighs and pushes open the door. The meaty man at the desk seems to be the only one in the room. There are filing cabinets and, more importantly, video surveillance. Perfect.

“Ah, hello my good sir,” Usopp says, shutting the door.

“Who the hell are you?” the man snaps. “What are your numbers. You don’t belong here.”

“Ah—well see— about that--”

So much for talking. Sanji casually walks to the guy’s side and back kicks his face into the desk. It hits hard and the guy is plastered a moment before he slides off onto the floor.

“I had something going, damnit,” Usopp said.

“We don’t have time for that,” Sanji said, pulling off the helmet and sucking in sweet fresh air. “We need to find Nami.”

“And Zoro.”

“Yeah that shit for brains, too.” He turns to the surveillance videos. Not much going on. He can see a shadow of Genzo and the others heading back to the cells. They’re good at sneaking around and he tries not to think about it too much, letting his gaze wander over the other screens. Lots of empty hallways. Men standing guard. There’s Roronoa, strapped to a bed, asleep or something like it with a shitty IV in his arm. Bastard. Sanji lights a cigarette, feeling like it’s the first one he’s had in hours.

“Liddle helb?” Usopp says. Sanji looks over and sees his friend’s helmet half off, hung up on his nose. This is so ridiculous. Sanji sighs and grabs Usopp’s helmet with both hands, tugging it. He should be out. Fighting. And winning. Her love. He braces his foot against Usopp’s stomach and pulls.

“Ow! Ow! Ow! Helmed nod duh nose.”

“I’m working on it!” He gives a final twisting tug. It comes off with a pop and Usopp’s nose…and hair springs free.

“Nice ‘fro,” he says, dropping the helmet on the desk.

“Shut it,” Usopp says, rubbing his nose before grabbing a nearby chair and shoving it under the doorknob. Sanji turns back to the videos. No sign of his goddess or Luffy for that matter. Had that little bastard already won without Sanji even putting in an appearance. He’d kick his ass.

“Look for a map,” Sanji says, starting to tug at the filing cabinets, cursing as they were all locked. He pulls the meathead back and start searching for keys. Shitty keys. Where the hell was he keeping them? He had to have some.

“Oh my god, Zoro,” Usopp says.

“I saw him.” There some keys were. “Help me out.” He starts rooting through the cabinets. There has to be something here he can use.

“He looks really bad.”

“Focus. We can’t help him if we can’t find a shitty map.” He slips off a key and taps it onto the desk. “Help me look.”

“R-right.”

There doesn’t seem to be anything of much help. Sanji roots through the files quickly, eyes out for anything that might be map like and ignoring the rest until he sees a picture of Roronoa. Hell a file for Rorona. He can’t help but read on at the paper below it. Subject: Roronoa Zoro. Experiment Start Date ?/?/?? Species: Human Expected Result: Protoype. What the hell? Behind that file were other pictures and names. These with experiment start dates labeled and end results. Failed. Failed. Deceased. Further observation required. Rejected. So many files. More probably hidden away somewhere.
There were humans and Fishmen and… a singular mermaid! Sanji’s heart does a little flutter— only to sink when he realizes she’s only thirteen. But her experiment start date is fairly recent. Could it be she’s being held here? He scans the document for any other kind of information and notices what seems to be a room number. Perfect.

“Found one,” Usopp says.

“Great.” He digs out Roronoa’s file, too, setting them both on the table and shouldering Usopp aside from where he is looking at the map. ‘Watch the shitty monitors would you? Tell me if you see any hint of the goddess.”

“Goddess…” Usopp snorts. “You know if you keep putting women on a pedestal it’s going to hurt when they fall off.”

“Not if I’m there to catch them,” Sanji said absently, trying to make sense of the map, commit the paths they were going to take to memory. They can’t exactly run around looking at this thing as they go.

“Oh crap, Hachi is here,” Usopp says in a low voice. “And he has swords. I guess he really was against us.”

“Maybe,” Sanji mutters. If he is, who can blame him? He’s pretty sure that Fishmen don’t sign up to get experimented on. It could be they are being held here because of this girl and maybe others who are trapped here.

“Got it,” he says, finally deciding a route. Usopp comes to huddle next to him, peering at the map. Sanji traces their path with a finger. “We’re here. We’ll make our way here to pick up Sharley and then go back this way for Roronoa.”

“Alright. Wait— who’s Sharley?”

“A mermaid goddess in training.” Just thinking about it~! Usopp disrupts his thoughts by smacking him on the shoulder.

“This isn’t time for you to be a white knight!”

“There’s always time for me to be a shitty white knight. It’s a man’s pride.”

“I don’t care about your pride! Zoro is—”

“I know, Roronoa is in a bad spot.” He grabs Usopp’s shoulders to make the longnose focus on him.
“Listen, you’ve seen the Little Mermaid right?”
Usopp gives him a flat look.

“This isn’t Disney World, stupid.”

“I know that, shithead. But she doesn’t have any legs to get away on her own so of course we have to rescue her. Besides which, she’s only thirteen,” he says as Usopp opens his mouth to protest. Usopp sighs and nods at that. It’s tough, Sanji knows. And he knows he owes Roronoa-- much as he hates to admit it. Still, even the swordsman would agree that she is more important right now. Maybe if she’s freed, the Fishmen will fight with them and help take down this hellish place brick by shitty brick.

Most importantly, she’s thirteen, but that doesn’t mean she’ll be thirteen forever…and when she grows up and remembers the face of the white knight that saved her~~ Of course he expects nothing, not even a hint of gratitude for the rescue…. But she’ll be so overcome by his dramatic entrance, carrying her on his back to the sweet freedom of the sea… She’ll hold up a delicate hand, the color of pearls and say: ‘Come be my prince under the waves. My sisters and I need you.’ Her dark eyes would moisten with tears, fearing rejection! He would smile warmly, going to one knee and putting a fist to his breast in a gesture of eternal service before taking her hand, kissing her delicate knuckles as rose petals sweep around them in a flurry of desire and say: ‘As you wish, my lady I am your humble servant.’ And she would smile in that little secret way women had~ And then~! And then~! Iya~! So bold, sweet mellorine!

“I can never take you seriously when you make faces like that,” Usopp mutters.



Operation Rescue the Gorgeous Princess Mermaid had been going well. They’d gotten into the room via key card, convinced the two Fishmen chained there that they were here to help and to please stop strangling Usopp before Sanji kicked the Fishman’s shitty head in, then had managed to free them and the mermaid princess— Then a yell had blistered over the intercom, a sound so loud and fierce that it still rung in Sanji’s ears, even as they tore through the halls like panicked mice, trying to find an exit. Because shortly after that yell, all hell had broken loose. Orange jumpsuits with rifles swarmed everywhere—shooting at every stranger in sight. He hopes the townspeople managed to make it out before this.

“Get back!” Kuroobi bellows as they come near a corner. Sanji dances back, trying not to trip as Sharley’s tail flips anxiously between his legs, his entire upper body trembling. Gunshots sound and the Fishman lifts his arms, the bullets skidding off the bone but not before tearing bloody rivulets in his flesh.

“Longnose!” Kuroobi says.

“R-right!” Usopp helps Chuu to rest against the wall, the Fishman making a noise between his teeth as he clutches at the gut wound, blood seeping through his webbed fingers, before ducking under Kuroobi’s arms and frantically shooting tobasco stars at the enemy, hopefully getting them in the face plate or eyes. Sanji doesn’t know. He can’t see around Kuroobi’s bulk. He hefts Sharley again, resisting the temptation to lean against the wall as his arms tremble. Thirteen years old she may be, but she’s also a little over six feet tall, packed with muscle in her—lower region—despite her semi starved state, and anxious. Carrying a mermaid princess is still a dream come true, but he wishes she would stop wriggling. Chuu coughs, blood flecking his lips and the princess’s tail bumps against his calf making his leg tremble a little.

“Chuu…” she says, her voice thick with worry.

“Don’t worry, Shar,” the blue Fishman says, his voice grating. “I’ll be fine.” Maybe he will, maybe he won’t, but none of them will be alright if they don’t get out of here. Usopp must have finished blinding everyone because he ducks back and Kuroobi charges forward with a yell, knocking orange jumpsuits aside like rag dolls. Usopp gives Sanji a wide eyed glance and then a wincing smile.

“P-pretty intense, huh? But it’s nothing like the time I— Woah, hey!” Usopp hurries to Chuu’s side. The Fishman had slumped, going an even paler blue. Usopp helps prop him up with a narrow shoulder and brushed his hand away.

“Ah you’re bl-bleeding through I think I— I’m out of bandages.”

“He’s dying,” Sharley said, her soft voice falling like a stone.

“You don’t know that, princess,” Sanji said, adjusting her against his back.

“When I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it, human,” she hisses. He can’t really blame her for it. If humans did this to his poor sweet mermaid princess. Those bastards. He’ll kick every one of their asses.

“N-no I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Usopp says, sliding an arm inside his orange jump suit before handing the limp sleeve to Chuu. “Pull.” The Fishman grabs the sleeve and pulls it off as well as a good part of the upper right side of the tough fabric of the jumpsuit with surprising ease. Sanji whistles low. Tough bastards. Usopp stares at Chuu for a good few seconds before laughing anxiously and taking the sleeve, folding it up and gingerly tucking it into the bandages that wrap around the Fishman’s body. He hisses in pain.

“Don’t hurt him!” Sharley snaps, her nails clawing at Sanji’s shoulder and her tail lashing as if trying to swim through air to meet him. Sanji braces himself so he won’t get knocked over.

“O-oi! Calm down!” Usopp says, face pale. Sanji shakes his head. It’s alright. It’s just the pain of love. He wouldn’t be a man if he couldn’t handle it.

“This is nothing,” Chuu said, standing a little straighter, pulling his shirt down.

“Let’s go!” Kuroobi calls. Sanji bolts ahead so she won’t have to see Usopp helping Chuu. As he dodges through the sea of orange jumpsuits, now stained red, he can’t help but notice that some of them are more redder than others. That’s the price of this kind of thing, he supposes. But at the same time he hopes Usopp doesn’t notice. He trips on an arm he didn’t see and nearly loses his balance, narrowly avoids smashing face first into the wall. Sharley grips at him her nails stinging but thankfully relaxes a bit as he returns to a steady rhythm. He follows the Fishman as he barrels through the hall, wincing only a little as he snaps the neck of an unsuspecting orange jumpsuit before darting around the corner.

There is a window here but maybe this is where Kuroobi is heading anyway because he smashes the glass out with an elbow and then crawls out, landing lightly on the ground. He reaches for Sharley with both hands. Sanji nudges away the splintered edges of the window with his foot or grinds them under his heel before carefully hoisting the mermaid over, trying to keep her tail from touching the ground, just in case. Then he pivots and runs back to help Usopp. Chuu is stumbling, breath rasping, but between the two of them they manage to get him to and out the window, where Kuroobi holds him up with an arm around his neck.

“Leave…leave me…” Chuu gasps.

“No, brother,” Kuroobi says, tightening his grip on Chuu’s hand as Sharley clings to his neck.

“Bu…but the humans… If they see us…”

“Nah, they’re good guys,” Usopp says, panting himself. “They won’t do anything.”

Sanji isn’t sure about that, considering how hard they were fighting the Fishmen before. And the looks these Fishmen are giving them now… Chuu looking away, sweat dripping down his face. Kuroobi’s expression carefully flat. There’s more history than either of them know… and the townspeople have rifles.

Sanji pulls Usopp to the side a little, digging through his bookbag for Roronoa’s file which has the room number and the map.

“Go find the townspeople,” Sanji says as he searches.

“Find them and do what?” Usopp says.

“Distract them. Lead them the opposite way…” No matter what history there is, the girl was being experimented on and whether innocent or not, no one deserved that.

“What about you?” Usopp says. Sanji finds what he’s after and zips Usopp’s bag back up.

“I’ll be fine. Done this kind of thing before, remember?” He gives Usopp a little shove. “Anyway I don’t want a man’s shitty concern.”

“A—alright. Well I’ll lead them away and come back to help you out. So you’re not allowed to get hurt in the meantime,” Usopp says.

“Yeah, yeah. Have more faith in me than that, bastard. Get going.” And he takes Roronoa’s shitty swords from Usopp’s back before lightly kicking his friend in the butt. Usopp stumbles a bit, glowering at him, then slides out of the window and lands in a crouch. The ground must have been further away than Sanji guessed. Usopp looks so small compared to those guys. Kind of fragile. But he’ll be alright.

“I’d take one of the masks,” Kuroobi says. "Ceaser will use gas if he’s cornered. And ” His way of saying thanks, Sanji guesses. It’s good advice, though and he nods, but Kuroobi isn’t done. He seems to be hesitating before saying:

“If you see Arlong, tell him the bird has flown.”

“Right,” Sanji says, a little distracted. Sharley is staring at him, her eyes dark and intense. He wonders if she’s waiting for something. Him to say goodbye or… She lifts a hand from Kuroobi’s neck and points at him.

“The green haired man. You’ll see it soon and you’ll see it again.” Her hand trembles and she slowly wraps it back around Kuroobi’s neck. “Don’t forget.”

“Of course not,” he says. He wants to add. ‘I’ll never forget yooou!’ Just so he’s forever imprinted in her memory, but then hears booted footsteps running down the hall. “Take care,” he tells them all, before turning back into the hall. There are a few doors here and most of the are locked.

Sanji prepares himself for a fight when finally a knob turns under his hands. Lucky!
Though he’s debating his luck when he discovers its a broom closet. There’s barely any room for him against the shelves and the door and he’s pretty sure his foot is half in a bucket but none of that matters right now. God, he needs a smoke. His legs are throbbing and he can feel the exhaustion of the day creeping into his muscles…He can’t let that stop him but at least for now he takes a small break as he leans against the shelves, listening to the sound of the orange jumpsuits milling around.
They’re going to cause a problem but for right now… He nudges the bucket to the side, sets the katana down, pulls out a cigarette and lights it. That’s so good. He needs this, a bottle of red wine, and a view of the bay on a windy night, watching girls in sundresses walk by. Maybe Usopp playing his guitar and moping about Kaya. That was the shitty life…wasn’t it?

“They must have gone outside,” says a jumpsuit. That’s his cue. Sanji shoves open the closet door, hitting one in the face and kicking the other in the chest, knocking him back into a third.

“Hey!” a fourth says, pointing a rifle at him. Sanji kicks it out of his grip, then flips forward onto his hands, spinning into a wheel kick to send the rest of the assholes flying. The rifle is coming down. Sanji jumps to his feet, keeping the momentum of the spin going as he grabs the rifle and smacks the guy who is coming around the door in the nose with the butt of it. The jumpsuit stumbles, crashes into the wall and is done. Sanji holds the rifle out, bracing it against his forearm, then pinches the cigarette out from between his lips, blowing a stream of smoke.

“Your Knight is back in action, Nami-swan,” he says, knowing somewhere, somehow, she hears it and is glad. He will go to her sweeping on a cloud of triumph! But first…to rescue the damn mosshead. The knights shouldn’t have to run around rescuing the shitty bishops, he thinks, as he checks the location on the map. Though maybe Roronoa is more like a queen since even shitty bishops can move in a straight line. He snorts a laugh. Remembering Kuroobi’s advice, he takes one of their shitty masks before tucking the katana under his arm and starts off at a clipped pace.

He’s not even halfway there when someone smashes through a door right in front of him and slams hard into the wall before sliding to the floor, leaving a trail of crimson behind him. Sanji blinks. It takes a moment to register who he’s seeing.

“Luffy?”

The boy looks up at him, blood on his vest and the side of his head, but his eyes are dark and hard as steel. In a second Luffy hops to his feet, slipping a little on his own blood before charging back into the room.

“O-oi wait!” Sanji sets the katana against the wall and jogs to the open doorway, taking it all in. A big room here. Huge saw nosed Fishman standing in the middle of it, breathing hard, his mouth bloodied and one eye swelled shut. There’s a catwalk strung near the top of the room, accessible by a ladder. And on it is his glorious Nami-swan, looking battered herself and behind held in place by a pale dark haired guy who has a gun to her head.

“Let her go, bastard!” Luffy bellows, sprinting toward the ladder. The Fishman snatches out, faster for his size, wrapping a huge blue hand around Luffy’s arm and flinging him into a wall so hard the metal dents.

“Arlong! Stop it! Let him go!” Nami cries.

“Not a chance, girlie,” the Fishman says, wiping the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. Luffy sits up, looking dazed.

“Get out of here, Luffy! It’s not worth it!” Her voice is like a sparrow’s song. The Fishman charges Luffy who hasn’t even gotten to his feet yet, pulling back a huge fist. Shit! Sanji runs to intercept, skidding under Arlong’s guard and throwing a high kick to block it with his shin. The Fishman’s fist crashes into him and Sanji grits his teeth as he feels the bone creak, sending splintering shards of pain through him, but knocking him back only half a step. Fuck.

“I don’t think so,” Sanji says through his teeth. The Fishman bares his own, much more impressive teeth.

“I don’t know who you think you are, vermin,” he snarls, his breath hot and smelling of blood. “But stay the hell out of my way.” He sees the fist the size of a dump truck coming right for his face but has no way to stop it. It hits like a brick wall, his vision sparking black and red before he slams into the wall himself, tasting blood on his tongue. He squints open his good eye only quick enough to curl up and protect himself before the foot catches him hard in the ribs, sending him against the wall again. Pain. Bright and blistering. His throat is raw so he must have cried out but it doesn’t matter. Even if he’s getting the shit beaten out of him, as long as Luffy can get to Nami…

A huge fist closes around his throat, crushing out his air. Sanji claws at it, trying to claw at it with his nails as he’s lifted into the air. He opens an eye, the Fishman’s blue pointed face swimming in front of him and tries to kick at him. Anything so he can breathe. But the bastard’s arm is too long. A grin slices across the bastard’s face and he lifts his head.

“You’ve got more friends than I thought, Nami,” Arlong says, his serrated voice pounding against Sanji’s ears. “Watch me put a hole through this one’s face.”

It’s okay, he wants to say. Don’t look. But black is edging the corners of his vision. The Fishman rears his big ugly head back, his nose a sharp arrow and—
—a hand wraps around it, pulling Arlong’s head back further. Luffy has jumped onto Arlong’s back, pulling the Fishman’s nose to the side, the pointed edges cutting into his palm as the muscles in his arms bulge from the strain. Even if he breaks it won’t be enough.

‘Gills,’ Sanji mouths, trying to catch Luffy’s eye. ‘Gills!’ The Fishman seems to understand but in a flash, Luffy does, too, slamming his heel right in the fleshy part of Arlong’s gills. The Fishman howls and Sanji drops, landing hard in a crouch and sitting back, sucking in sweet air.

“Get Nami!” Luffy says. The boy is hanging on just barely as big hands reach for him and he seems to be trying to break Arlong’s neck, just by pulling on his nose. Maybe it won’t work. But…as long as he can reach Nami… Sanji coughs and lurches to his feet, ignoring the pain, the faint black, as he stumbles toward the ladder.

“I wouldn’t,” says the pale black haired man and Sanji squints up at him. “All I need is someone to control Roronoa with. I don’t mind blowing her brains out and starting with you. Shulolololo” The laugh makes him sound a little like a turkey and that’s what Sanji wants to say, something like I’ll cook you like a shitty turkey or stuff you like a shitty turkey…but he can’t figure out how to get up there quicker than the pale man can pull the trigger.

Shiiit.

Arlong rips Luffy free and is holding him by the throat now, raising him in the air as the boy kicks and struggles. Sanji just has to…push off the wall and kick him, right in the gills.

“What about me?" The Fishman snaps, spreading his arms wide. “I’ve done everything you asked. Let my sister go!”

“You have been pretty useful, my loyal subordinate,” the pale man says. Sanji edges toward the ladder, trying not to notice Luffy’s face turning purple. After he saves Nami, he’ll take care of Luffy. That’s what he’d asked afer all.

“Don’t call me your subordinate, asshole! We had a deal!”
Sister. Wait if this is Arlong… What the Kuroobi guy had said to tell him. Maybe—maybe he could get the guy on their side. What had Kuroobi said? What was it?

The bird has flown,” Sanji says. But his voice is a croak, barely a whisper. He clears his aching throat and tries again. “The bird has flown!”

Arlong looks at him, eyes widening.

“What?”

“You’re right,” says the pale man. “We had a deal. And now it’s over.”

Things happen faster than Sanji can keep up. And strangely, at the same time, it’s in slow motion. The pale man aims for Arlong, squeezing two shots from the barrel. The Fishman stumbles, blood spraying from his head and neck as he falls, the arm holding Luffy moving like a pitcher’s. Lets go. Luffy flies through the air and crashes onto the catwalk. Glances off of it but hangs onto the railing, gasping for breath.

“Luffy!” Sanji hears himself say, running forward to catch him. But stops because he sees Luffy’s grip tighten. The pale man raises the gun again but Nami knocks it out of his hand and slaps him so hard he almost falls off the catwalk. Then she grabs at Luffy, helping him up. The pale man straightens and backs up, flinching as Luffy’s sandaled feet hit the metal, the sound reverberating throughout the room. Sanji catches his expression and even from this angle, he gets a chill as he sees the hardness in Luffy’s eyes. Who is this kid.

“W-wait!” The pale guy says. “I can pay you! I can pa—” Luffy’s fist smashes into his face and the guy flies, smashing into the wall, falling limp in front of the door.

“Nojiko…” Nami says. “We have to…”

“Yeah… I’ll get her.” He wipes blood from his mouth with a fist. “Can you help Sanji?”

Sanji jerks upright as he finds himself under the attention of their twin gazes. One still hard and black, the other brown and gorgeous, framed by soft orange hair. He doesn’t need help, he wants to say, but all he can seem to do is waver on the spot and try not to lean against the wall. She doesn’t look like she wants to. Like she would rather go with Luffy. And he didn’t blame her for it. He would have walked away like a noble knight should for the fair maiden of his heart but he is still trying to process it all.

“You’ll be outnumbered,” Nami says.

“It’s fine. Just send Zoro,” Luffy says. He starts to go.

“Wait a second,” Nami says in a hard voice. Then she sighs and takes the straw hat off, putting it back on his head in a beautiful gesture. Nami…how noble! How classy! His heart is bursting with adoration!

“Do your best, Captain.”

Luffy gives her a wide grin. Big enough to swallow the whole world. And nods. Shitty idiot. Sanji smirks and lights a cigarette. It hurts to smoke but it also hurts to breathe so might as well do both.

“Good luck, Sanji!” Luffy calls and Sanji flicks his hand in a wave only watching out of the corner of his eye enough to see Nami miss the cool gesture entirely. Instead she’s watching Luffy disappear through the door at the end of the catwalk. Beautiful even when she’s flat out ignoring his charm~!
He hears her coming down the ladder and holds out a hand to help her down the three or so feet to the ground…though he doesn’t quite expect her to take it—and the shock of her warm palm on his nearly does him in. Ah she’s as light as a feather, too.

“So you’re Sanji,” she says, and his name sounds like heaven from her lips~! “Thanks for helping out.”

“It’s the least I can do for your illustrious self,” he says, and if it sounds like a coo it’s only because of the room’s acoustics. She deigns to smile at that, though, and if his entire body wasn’t aching he’d fling himself into a tornado of love~~! He’s about to do it anyway, because that’s what she deserves— when he notices her expression. He can’t read it. Doesn’t know enough about her or even what’s going on to understand it. But she’s watching the Fishman, Arlong, sprawled on the floor, his white hair stained red.

“Your enemy.”

She nods.

“For a long time.”

He wonders if the rest of them are, too. It seems it might be that way. He can’t really be sure. But--
“Come on,” she says. “You know where Zoro is?”

“Ah, yes. I think so.”

“Okay.” Her face is hard again. “Let’s hurry.”



Roronoa does look like shit. The orange jumpsuit who had been watching him is now cowering in a corner, conscious only because Sanji doesn’t have the heart to kick someone who is already cringing for their life. Together they’ve undone all the straps that have held him in place, taken the IV out and Nami has slapped his face a few dozen times until its swollen to twice its size, but the damn mosshead won’t wake up.

“Shit,” Sanji mutters, lighting a cigarette. Asshole better not be dead. Better not be unconscious forever. Nami’s suffered enough, hasn’t she? Luffy needs the help! A damsel still needs to be rescued!

“Y-you won’t wake him up th-that way!” says cowering guy. “He-he’s already had the b-base. You n-need the stimulant.”

“So give us the stimulant,” Nami says, her voice hard as steel and Sanji’s hips start swaying without him. The cowering man stands, a sly look slanting over his face.

“What are you going to give me?” he says. Sanji strides to a nearby metal table and breaks it in half with his foot. Cowardly hurries to get the stimulant. Nami graces him with a small smile and his heart does a little flutter flutter, even if he doesn’t think he deserves such a positive response from this orange haired beauty! She starts to say something when a sibilant hiss fills the air from outside. Her smile drops into a frown and she stares at the door. Sanji opens it a little to see and then closes it again as he sees a river of fog start to come from the vents. The little curl that gets in the room smells a little like rotten eggs.

“Gas,” Nami says flatly and Sanji nods. He still has the gas mask helmet and he can see cowardly’s sitting on the desk so that makes two. Someone will have to stay behind.

“Is everyone out?” Nami asks. Oh…shit. Yes there is that…

“I don’t know…” he murmurs. And what of the other people who may be here, experimented on or otherwise. Will they suffocate because of this? Will they be hurt? What about Luffy? The sweet damsel Nojiko? There’s no telling where the gas might or might not go. So…there’s only one thing to do. Sanji takes out the map, eyeing cowardly as he sticks a needle into Roronoa’s tanned arm. The swordsman’s sausage fingers start to twitch, so Sanji supposes it’s okay and holds out the map to Nami.

“If you show me where to turn it off, I’ll go,” he says. She gives him another unreadable look.

“We’re here,” she says, pointing. “It could be a room here, here or here… All pretty far if you don’t have a mask…”

“Ah, sweet Nami is so concerned!” Sanji says. “Your love will give me wings!”

“Who said anything about love?” Nami says flatly. She hands the map back to him. “I hope you can hold your breath.”

“For you I would hold it forever~!” He dances his way back toward the door. Roronoa is starting to open his eyes. Nami glances at the swordsman, then back at Sanji.

“Good luck,” she says. He puts a hand over his heart and gives her a small bow like any gallant knight would, though without overdoing it too much and heads into the hall. The gas clouds around his legs and after a few moments begins to sting his eyes as well. Breathing which already hurts starts to feel like a thousand fire ants are crawling in his lungs. He breaks into a run.

The first location has nothing and Sanji’s vision is starting to edge black again as he runs to the second. This seems to be the spot. Some sort of control room and he manages to croak out what he wants before they refuse to comply and he gives the concussions and tries to stop it himself. In the end, he can’t make it go but at least he can stop it from coming.

That done, he tries to leave but his legs are shaky under him and he has to lean against a wall, pulling out a cigarette before remembering at the last moment he doesn’t want to cause an explosion. He sighs around the unlit cigarette. He can’t move. He can’t breathe. Everything is black around the edges and getting blacker by the minute. The last time it was like this it was the smoke dust from shifting rubble, trapped in blackness, afraid he was going to die. Only Zeff’s voice had called him out of it. Touching his shoulder in the black. Just like that…

Asking if he was okay… Though his voice has changed a lot. It’s familiar but lighter and kind of garbled and stuffy—as he’s trying to speak through a filter with a head cold. Something slips over Sanji’s head, hot and dark but he can suddenly breathe, almost, barely.

“Don’t worry,” says the voice that isn’t Zeff’s…but…Usopp’s. “I’ve got you. Everything’s going to be okay… I hope.”

Idiot, Sanji thinks fondly, and slips into the black.



He wakes to the faint sound of a wind chime and warm sunlight splashing over his closed eyes. He hurts like a bitch. It hurts to move, to breathe, to exist. Every breath sends little splinters of pain through him and he feels like he wants to cough, only he’s not stupid enough to do that. Aside from that incidental shit, he’s alive, which is good, and figures he’s safe wherever he is. The bed is soft and there are sounds of life around him. A tv going somewhere, muffled. Soft breathing in the room with him. Clicking sounds.

Sanji pries his eyes—eye open since the other one seems to want to stay welled shut. At least the good eye is on the same side of his hair part which makes it convenient and avoids really stupid ass questions like ‘what happened to your eyebrow’. Assholes. Sanji looks around. It’s midafternoon and the fairly large room he’s found himself in is flooded with light. Across from him, tucked into the slanting shadow of an alcove, is Roronoa, bandages tugged tight across his chest and arms as he sleeps. Just across from Sanji, sitting cross-legged on a cot, is Luffy playing a Game Boy, the sunlight shining on his dark hair.

There’s no one else in the room. With a jolt, Sanji struggles to sit up, clenching his teeth as his ribs seem to splinter from the inside out. That doesn’t matter. He needs to find—

“He’s okay,” Luffy says. “Everyone’s okay, I think.”

“Oh…” Sanji eases himself back on the bed, trying to relax. He needs a smoke. There are no cigarettes in the strange pjs he’s wearing, and no pockets to put them either. There aren’t any in the nightstand either that sits between his and Luffy’s bed. Though there are lollipops. Cheap lollipops that probably taste like cardboard but it’ll have to do. He notices that Luffy is already sucking on one. Thieving bastard. The kid looks pretty good, though, aside from being bandaged to hell and back. He’s at least chipper enough to sit up and play games.

“So what happened to the shitty mosshead?” Sanji asks, unwrapping the lollipop and taking a taste. Root Beer. Ugh. Why is the mystery flavor always root beer?

“He fought Hachi, six against three.”

“Six against three what?”

“Swords.”

He cranes his head to where Roronoa’s swords are resting against the wall. They all look intact.

“Did he break any?” Sanji asks.

“Don’t think so.”

Sanji doesn’t…really get it. Hachi does have six arms so he can see that but as far as he knows, Roronoa only has two. Where the hell does he stick the third? Well—nevermind. He’d ask Roronoa when he woke up, if he decided he really wanted to know. He waits for Luffy to finish telling the story but he seems more wrapped up in his game. The important thing is Roronoa’s alive… And this was more time spent dwelling on the shitty mosshead than he wanted so it warranted a change of conversation.

“Where are we anyway?”

“Nami’s doctor friend’s hostile.”

“Hostile?” Oh wait. “Hostel.”

“Mm.”

It…didn’t really tell him much in the end. And, really what is there to say? They’d gone on an adventure, rescued a few damsels in distress, and as far as he can tell, come home triumphant. It feels almost too overwhelming now that it’s over. Grandiose in a heavy brick way that’s both exhilarating and suffocating at once. He wonders what Usopp must be feeling right now. Itching to keep going, maybe? Or to get home…

Well whatever Usopp wanted, a promise was a promise and they had to get home after this. After all it isn’t so bad. It’s summer so they have some freedom to goof around when Sanji isn’t working. There are no damsels to save or Fishmen to fight, but who needs them? They’d just go right back to normal life like they are supposed to—with stories no one would believe.

“Do you know how to play Pokemon?” Luffy asks. Sanji blinks at the question.

“Ah, not exactly. I’ve watched Usopp a bit but…”

“Can you help? I keep dying.”

“Sure. I can try.” He pats the bed since he sure as hell isn’t getting up and scoots over as Luffy comes and sits beside him. His face looks young, now, even younger somehow with the big purple-black bruise around his neck. But Sanji remembers how hard his eyes had been, how hard he’d fought, how strong he was—that—strange aura that had surrounded him. Like he really was someone larger than life. It’s hard to believe that it’s this same larger than life kid who is showing him a Game Boy screen and frowning at him. And Sanji…has no idea what the hell he’s looking at. But…

“Try something other than a shitty bug,” he says, which is the best answer to everything as far as he’s concerned.

“I like caterpie,” Luffy says. “He’s determined.”

If he says so. Sanji doesn’t truck with the caterpillar stage of anything. Gorgeous butterflies were one thing, but wiggly soft green things that crawled on too many legs and chewed. He shifts and chews on the spit softened end of the lollipop stick, trying not to think about it.

“You’re pretty determined yourself.” He watches the boy’s face again, the light of the game reflects in his eyes. “What are you planning to do now that the day is saved? The damsels rescued? What will. you do.?” he says in a faux announcer voice. Luffy grins.

“Who knows?”

“You’re supposed to say: ‘I’m going to Disney World.’”

“Haha sure! Let’s go to Disney World!”

“What, really?” Sanji says, sitting up in spite of himself and clutching at the wincing pain in his ribs.

“Sure! Why not?”

Shit! He hasn’t even been to Disney Land. But they’re in Florida, right? It will be close! He wants to try the grilled salmon at the Flying Fish Cafe, try the sundaes at Beaches and Cream or even…even maybe even get a reservation at the chef’s table at Victoria and Alberts. Not to mention the general atmosphere of the park! The decor! The actresses! Maybe even Ariel. Ah… He puts a hand over his heart. He can’t take it. He will die of love on the spot!

“You’re really exited about it, huh?” Luffy asks with a laugh that only lifts Sanji’s spirits further.

“Of course I am, stupid! It’s the most magical place on earth! I’ve wanted to go there since I was a kid.”

“Okay. We’ll go! Where else?”

“Where else?”

“Yeah! It’s a big world and I be there are a lot of magical places.”

“Shit.” He runs a hand over the back of his hair and thinks. Where else? Everywhere else. “New Orleans. New York. Hollywood. Paris. Rome. Hell if I could I’d see the whole world. Taste it all too.” He grins at Luffy, flexing his fingers. “Learn to cook it all. The spice markets of India? Fresh Moroccan Coffee? Man… That is the shitty dream.”

“You’re a cook?!” Luffy seems boggled at this.

“Of course I’m a cook, you idiot. Whose been feeding you all this shitty time?”

“Then you can be my cook,” Luffy says. “And make us all the great things.”

“I’ll make things you can’t even pronounce.”

“Shishishi Sounds fun!”

“Well if I’m the cook, what will you be?” Sanji asks. Luffy’s grin widens and and a spark flares in his eyes.

“Pirate King of the World.”

Sanji laughs. It hurts. God so much. But right now it doesn’t matter.

“Okay, future pirate king, happy to serve.”

“Alright!” Luffy says, pumping both fists into the air and Sanji can only laugh more.

“You guys seem to be having fun,” Nami says, coming into the room. Wait. Nami~ Ah, his angel! And he’s still in these weird shitty pjs with…ducks on them? Who the fuck put him n ducks? He’s going to kill them. He splutters a bit, pulling the blankets further up on his chest, his cheeks flushing.

“Yo, Nami,” Luffy says, moving his feet over so she can sit on the edge of the bed, shifting it with her slight, warm, wonderful weight. Ah she look so real here in the sunlight! On her face! Caressing her neck! Glowing in her orange hair! She is the most vibrant person in existence like a cord of music in glorious flesh and he’s here in shitty duck pjs!

“Sanji’s coming with us,” Luffy says. “He’s going to be our cook.” Nami turns her head to look at him. No! She can’t! He’s not ready for her exquisite attention! Thankfully it’s only a small glance that takes his breath from his lungs…and then she glances at Luffy and then away, tucking a strand of hair over her perfect shell-like ear that he wants to suck on like an orange rind. No…bad thoughts. Very bad thoughts. Especially as her face looks closed and distant.

“I don’t know… We have so much to rebuild… I want to come with you but…”

“We’ll wait ‘til you decide,” Luffy says. ‘Please say yes,’ Sanji thinks. ‘Please say yes’

“I’ll cook the world for you,” he says, trying to make it sound smooth and romantic and not quite so small and whispered. But…but even if it is— Who the hell cares? It’s a man’s pride to be awed in the presence of such magnificent beauty! She smiles, more at Luffy then anything. Maybe she hadn’t heard him. Maybe it didn’t matter. That smile no matter who it is directed at is something to treasure.

“Thanks,” she says, but there’s a weight there, as if she’s thanking him for so much else. Then, as if flipping a switch, the warm heaviness is gone as if she’s tucked it away, and her face brightens—though it seems she’s trying a little too hard.

“Anyway, once you’re better, we should go back to the laboratory.”

“Yeah? What for?”

“To take my money back, of course. I know just where he kept it.”

“Mm. I don’t think you’ll be able to find it,” Luffy says with a frown.

“Of course I will,” Nami says, flexing her arm. Such cute determination! “Even if he hid it somewhere else—”

“Yeah but it probably got burnt up,” Luffy says. Sanji swears he hears the faint shatter of glass.

“Burnt. Up.?”

“Yeah. I said I’d make it burn, remember?”

“Shit…” Sanji grabs Luffy’s arm. “Please tell me you checked all the rooms before you did that.”

“Yeah of course.”

Oh good. He leans back relieved. Nami laughs lightly.

“Luffy.”

“Yeah?”

“STOP BURNING MY MONEY, YOU MORON!” she shrieks, wrapping her hands around his neck and shaking him.

“I’m so-o-r-r-y,” he croaks and Sanji can only hold up his hands and hope she stops before she accidentally kills him. Nami is—even cute when she’s—extremely violent… Finally, though she does stop, resting her forehead against Luffy’s a moment and Sanji looks away, watching the light fall over the palm tree pattern on the walls. There is a knock on the door and it opens to reveal—

A blue haired goddess! Sanji’d offer her the world on a silver platter only he was still in the shitty pjs so it is probably better just to stay in bed. She glances at him only a moment before turning her gaze on Nami.

“It’s that time, Nami…” the woman says. Nami nods and straightens, moving past the other woman out the door but Sanji can see them take hands before the door closes completely. Luffy lies back, putting the hat over his face as if he wants to sleep—or…no something other than that. Something deeper. Sanji wants to ask, but it’s none of his business.

Shit. It’s a lot to take in in though and his head is spinning. He lays down beside Luffy, wanting to peek under his hat and see his expression, but settles for just pressing his shoulder against the boy’s in a manly show of comfort.

“Saying goodbye is hard,” Luffy says after a moment.

“Yeah it is.” He wonders how many people have had to say goodbye today? The Fishmen, definitely. Maybe some of the townspeople. It’s possible even the orange jumpsuits had family’s, waiting for them. For all Sanji knew, that place was just a day job for them. But that’s the price of saving the day. Not everyone got to be saved.

He wonders, though, at the statement. Is Luffy not wanting to say goodbye to Nami? That doesn’t seem right somehow. It has something to do with the gravity of Nami’s expression. The hand holding with the blue haired woman. Nojiko? Sanji wonders. Is Nami having to say goodbye to someone? Is that what Luffy is worried about?

“You’ll just have to be there to say hello to her again, shitty captain,” Sanji says, reaching over Luffy to pull another lollipop from the drawer. That would be enough to make any bad day better… To know that this kid is waiting to pull her on her own adventure. Seeing the world. Living free. Even if she decides that it just stays a dream for her—it is a dream worth having.

“I will,” Luffy says. Sanji nods and picks up the Game Boy from where it’s laying on Luffy’s stomach and tries to figure out how to play. There is still plenty he has to do. Talk to Usopp. Call Zeff and tell him… tell him at least for the summer…he’s going to be occupied. Who knew how the old man would take it, but the least Sanji could do was tell him. For now, though, his captain believed in this shitty Caterpie and it’s up to Sanji to make sure it wins.
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The Remedy

March 2017

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