Sanji had a nice life.
He lived on a small island and ran a café there with his beautiful wife. During the day he served delicious food and she made delicious drinks for whoever passed through their doors. At night, they slept together in each other's arms, and woke up the next morning, together. Everyone on the island knew them and liked them, and they knew and liked everyone on the island in return. Although they were situated in the middle of the New World, they were just small enough and just out of the way enough that pirates left them alone.
Sometimes Sanji felt like there should be more, that there should be something else, but things were good here. It was peaceful. His life was good. There was no need to rock the boat when everything was going so well.
At night, Sanji dreamed.
Sanji sits in the Calicoach with the Vinsmokes, on his way to Big Mom's Chateau. The coach is stopped, and his heart is pounding in his chest, but he doesn't know why.
"Sanji!" he hears someone shout. He looks around, but the only people in the coach are the Vinsmokes, and none of them are moving.
"'Low Class Pirates?!' I know you were just saying things you didn't want to! Stop lying! Did you think you could send me away that easily?! Screw that!"
That isn't one of the guards. He looks around the coach again. Reiju, Ichiji, and Judge are in the front seat, backs straight, calm as anything. Niji and Yonji are in the backseat with him, faces frozen in mirth.
"No matter how many times you kick me, you're the one who's hurting!"
He's crying now, and he absently wipes away the tears running down his face. His heart is beating even harder now as he leans out of the carriage to look around.
"Our journey isn't over yet!" the voice continues, even louder now, and Sanji's positive it's coming from somewhere outside, but he can't see anyone, "I'll be here waiting! If you don't come back I'll be here starving to death!"
Sanji fumbles with the coach door and tumbles out, but he still can't see anyone. He starts running to the hill on the far-side of the coach as the voice gets louder.
"You're the cook on my ship! I won't eat anything unless you make it! Even if I get hungry or spears rain down on me, I'll stay right here and wait for you!"
He's at the hill now, where the voice is the loudest, but there's still no one there. He walks around the hilltop for a bit and finds a beat up straw hat with a red ribbon wrapped around it. He picks it up and turns it over in his hands.
"Be sure to come back, Sanji!" He looks up and almost sees the outline of someone standing next to him, shouting at the carriage, but the image is gone before he even realizes it's there. His heartbeat picks up again.
"Without you I can't become the Pirate King!"
Sanji woke up with a start, gasping for breath as his heart beat hard in his chest as if it were trying to break free.
"Is everything alright, honey?" Pudding said as she poked her head into their room.
"Yeah," he ran a hand through his hair and smiled at her, "Just a dream."
She smiled back at him, "A good one, I hope."
"I think so," he said as he rubbed absently at his still pounding heart, "I don't really remember it."
Pudding leaned against the doorframe as he blinked himself out of his stupor and got out of bed and into the bathroom.
"It's Sunday, so the café's closed," she said as he brushed his teeth, "What do you want to do today?"
Sanji hummed as he spit his mouthful of toothpaste out. As he picked up his razor, he said, "I need to go to the market today and pick up some things for the café."
"Do you want me to go with you?" she asked as he came out of the bathroom and got dressed, "Shopping by yourself can't be much fun."
He shook his head, "Don't worry about it. You've been working so hard lately, you deserve some time to relax," he faced the mirror and put on his tie, grinning at her reflection as he said, "Besides, how can I surprise you with a treat later if you come with me?"
She giggled and walked over to him, wrapping her arms around his waist as he fixed his hair, "Telling me about a surprise spoils the surprise you know."
"I guess," he turned around and kissed her cheek, "But the gift itself will still be a surprise."
"You sap," she leaned up and pressed their lips together in a soft kiss. Her hands moved up his chest until she was cupping his face gently. His hands rested on her shoulders, rubbing small circles into them until he pulled away.
"I gotta go," he said as he let go and moved out of the bedroom, down the hallway, and into the entryway of their small apartment. He put on his jacket and fished around his pockets until he found his cigarettes and lighter, "I'll be back by the afternoon."
Pudding followed him into the entryway and said, "I suppose I can entertain myself while you're away," she crossed her arms as he flicked his lighter, "Don't smoke inside."
He blushed a little and held the cigarette away from her, "Sorry, my sweet," he brushed back her bangs, revealing her third eye. She closed it as he leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on her eyelid.
She hummed in appreciation. As Sanji pulled away, she opened all three of her eyes and said, "I love you."
He grinned at her as he opened the door, "Love you too."
The market was only a short walk away, and it wasn't long before Sanji was perusing the wares. There wasn't much of a selection, no one on the island dared to brave the New World for mere supplies and they can only grow so much in an unchanging autumn climate, but what was there was good and plentiful.
He was comparing strawberries, they were always Pudding's favorite, and they saw them so rarely, when he heard someone shout, "S-Sanji-senpai!"
He looked up as a man with green hair, a nose piercing, and pointed teeth approached him, "Can I help you?" he asked.
The man looked at him, tears forming in his eyes, "I, I can't believe it! It's really you! We've been looking for you for so long, and here you are!"
Sanji tensed, ready for a fight. If this man was sent by either the Vinsmokes or Big Mom to bring him and Pudding back, this could spell the end for the peaceful life they've cultivated here.
"Oh, first things first," the man dug into his pockets and pulled out a sheet of paper and a pen, "Please, Sanji-senpai, may I have your autograph?"
Sanji blinked and took the pen, "Uh, sure," and hastily scribbled his signature on the paper. The odds of him being sent by either of their families dropped exponentially.
"Thank you!" the man practically vibrated with glee as he clutched the paper, "After all this time I finally have the whole set."
"Right," Sanji scratched the back of his neck, "So, who was it who sent you to find me?"
"Senpai, of course," the man said, star-struck gaze still glued to the paper, "He's been worried about you since you pulled that vanishing act on Whole Cake Island, they all have, so, Senpai sent out the Grand Fleet to find you."
Sanji had no idea who this man's senpai could be, but if he was someone in command of a fleet, that wasn't a good sign, "Sorry, which fleet was that?"
"The, Grand Fleet," the man said, not answering the question at all as he carefully put the autograph into his pocket, "Oh, that's right, you left Dressrosa early so you don't know about it. I guess no one had a chance to fill you in."
"I've never been to Dressrosa," Sanji corrected.
"I'm pretty sure you were there," the man said, "I mean, I didn't see you at all, which sucked, but I think you were there at some point."
Sanji frowned, "I think I would know if I've been to Dressrosa or not."
"Right, sure, I guess," the man rubbed the back of his head, "But man, I'm so glad I found you! Senpai will be so happy when I bring you back, he might even say, 'Thanks, Rooster-Guy!' or even, 'Good Job, Lomeo!'" he gasped, clutching his mouth as a blush formed on his cheeks, "I might just die on the spot if he did."
"Yeah, okay," Sanji backed up a few steps, "But I'm not going anywhere."
"Huh?" the man blinked and frowned, "Why not? Don't you want to return to, Senpai and the others?"
Sanji took a long drag from his cigarette, "I don't know who your Senpai is or why he's after me, but I have a café I need to run and a wife I need to take care of. I have a life here, so I'm not leaving."
"But, Sanji-senpai," his brow furrowed, frown deepening as he took a step towards Sanji, "I don't understand. Why don't you want to go back? After everything, Senpai's done for you-"
"I don't know who that is!" Sanji growled, hands curled in tight fists at his side. The man stared at him, wide-eyed and open mouthed as he took a step back, "Tell your Senpai if he's got a problem with me to come and see me himself."
With that he turned around and stormed away from the market.
"Wait, Sanji-senpai!" he heard the man shout, but he didn't stop, didn't turn around, and the man didn't follow him.
Damn, he realized once he got back home, he forgot the strawberries.
Sanji is running through the air as fast as he can. There's something he needs to get to as quick as he can, something he needs to stop right now.
Suddenly he sees it; a large man in a pink, feather coat is looming over a ship with a grass deck and a figurehead of a sun with a lion's face.
"Hey!" he shouts. The man turns his attention towards him. Good, "Those are my friends crying down there!" His leg is on fire now as he aims a kick at the man, who deftly blocks it, "Leave them alone!"
The man grins, his mouth moves as if he's saying something, but Sanji can't hear him. What he does hear is several people shouting his name from the ship below. When he looks down, there's no one there.
But Sanji knows he has to protect the ship, so he sets his legs on fire and tries again, this time lashing out at the man's side. The man dodges and comes back with a handful of strings, using them to slash up Sanji's chest.
He hears more screaming from the ship now, along with shouts of "Go away!" When he looks down the deck is empty, save for a small dragon, but it's not saying anything.
"Just try to protect those friends of yours," the man says.
Sanji's falling through the air, heading straight for the unforgiving ocean below, but at those words something inside him snaps. He flips in the air, kicks himself up to a desirable position, sets his legs on fire again, and attacks his exposed back with both of his legs repeatedly.
The man is quicker though, turning and catching Sanji's kicks with his coat. Sanji doesn't care, just keeps pelting him with kicks, struck with the desire and blinding need to keep this man away from that ship.
He feels something tug sharply on the back of his neck, and he stops. He tries in vain to move his arms and legs, but nothing's responding, "What the…? I can't move!"
"Sanji-san has stopped in midair!" a panicked voice shouts from the deck shouts.
"Sanji-kun, run away!" another one says.
"Sanji!" a third voice cries out.
Sanji looks down at the ship, but the only one there is the dragon, curled up on itself and trembling.
His arms and legs spread out, moving on their own accord, and he looks up again to see the man hovering over him, a wide grin stretching across his face. He extends his arm behind him, creating a long, thick piece of string miles long.
Shit, this is going to hurt, assuming it doesn't kill him instantly.
He turns his head as much as he can to look at the ship, but still sees no one. It doesn't matter though; he's supposed to be protecting it. There's something on that ship that's so important, the most important thing, and this man cannot get his hands on it, whatever the cost.
"Don't try anything!" he shouts at it, "Fly away with a Coup-de-Burst!"
"We could never!" a voice says.
They need to get out of here now, before the man turns on them, but Sanji is powerless to make them, powerless to stop him. He feels the man's self-made whip come closer and braces for impact.
One second Sanji's face to face with the pink-feathered man, the next he's been replaced by a dark haired man in a white hat, holding and a sword.
"Sorry," this man says, "This was my fault."
The next second they're on the deck of the ship.
"Sanji-kun!" he hears someone shout. He sits up, but there's no one there except for the two of them and the dragon.
The man in the hat is staring at him, "You can't see them at all, can you?"
Sanji grabs his injured shoulder as he looks around again, but the rest of the deck is empty, "There's no one there."
"Damn, she really did a number on you," the man sighs, "You fought so hard, but you can't even remember them?"
He stares at the empty point on the deck where the bulk of the screaming is coming from, "They're important."
The man sneers, "So important that you can't even remember them?"
He winces, and the dragon moves towards him. "What about me?" the dragon says as he changes into a boy, "Can you see me?"
Sanji nods, tightening the grip on his shoulder as he stands up, "I don't understand."
"I bet," the man says as he stands up.
"Doflamingo's coming again!" one of the ownerless voices shouts.
"You said you'd come back," the boy is tugging on his sleeve, "On Zou, don't you remember? You said you'd come back, but you never did."
"I," he doesn't remember, but he knows what the boy is talking about, somehow, "I'm sorry."
"Just try and remember them," the man is saying, "If you remember them, maybe they'll come back."
Sanji was outside locking the café up for the night when a blond man in a top hat approached him.
"Hello," he extended my hand, "I don't believe we've met. My name's Sabo."
He took his hand and shook it, "I'm Sanji." As Sabo pulled away, Sanji noticed a terrible burn scar covering half of his face.
"Do you know who I am?" Sabo asked as he adjusted his hat.
Sanji searched his mind for any recollection of the name Sabo, but came up empty, "No. Should I?"
"Its fine," Sabo said with a smile, "I wondered if, might have mentioned me, but I guess he didn't get a chance. I'm his brother."
Sanji frowned, "Whose brother?"
Sabo smiled, "I'm, brother."
Sanji glared, "Are you trying to fuck with me?"
"No, not at all," the smile fell from Sabo's face as he stepped closer, "I'm just trying to get you home."
"I live right above the café," Sanji said, nodded to the upstairs, "So I can get there just fine on my own, thanks."
"No, your real home, the Sunny," Sabo crossed his arms and tapped his fingers, "You do want to go back, right?"
An image flashed through Sanji's mind of a ship with a grass deck and a sun with a lion's face for a figurehead, but when he tried to focus on it, it vanished, "I don't know what you're talking about. I want you to leave me alone."
Sabo opened his mouth to say something else, but he was cut off by the upstairs window opening. Pudding stuck her head out and shouted, "Sanji, is everything okay? You're taking an awfully long time."
"I'll be up in a minute, my dear," Sanji replied.
Pudding looked down, glancing at Sabo for a brief moment before focusing on Sanji, "Well, don't take too long, you know I get lonely waiting for you."
"Don't worry," he glared at Sabo, "He was just leaving."
Pudding smiled down at him and blew him a kiss before heading back inside.
Sabo frowned up at the now closed window and glanced down at the ring on Sanji's hand, "Your wife I presume?"
"Yes," he replied, putting his hand in his pocket as he continued to glare.
"She has a Devil Fruit power, doesn't she?"
"No," Sanji's hands tightened into fists, "Why are you asking?"
"Just wondering, I'm a curious sort of guy like that," he tapped his fingers against his forearm as he looked back up at the window. After a moment he looked back at Sanji, tipped his hat, said, "I'm sorry to have disturbed your evening," and left.
Sanji watched his retreating back until he was out of sight. When he was sure he wasn't coming back, he gave the café door one last tug to make sure it was locked, went around the side of the building, and climbed the stairs into the apartment above.
"What was up with him?" Pudding asked when he entered the apartment.
"Nothing really," he scratched his cheek as he sat next to her on the couch, "Just asking for directions."
"Oh," Pudding sighed as she leaned against him, taking his arm and wrapping it around her shoulders, "How could anyone get lost on such a small island?"
"I don't know," Sanji said as he pulled her close and kissed the top of her head, "He did seem a little confused."
They sat in silence for a few moments, basking in each other's presence, until Pudding looked up at him and ran a hand through his hair as she asked, "You're happy here, right? With me?"
Sanji smiled at her and leaned down to kiss her soundly on the lips, "Of course, my sweet. With you here how could I be anything else?"
"Good," she shifted and settled herself more comfortably against his chest, "I'm happy too."
He kissed the top of her head and she giggled, "If you're happy, I'm happy."
Sanji is standing in a plaza. At least he thinks it's a plaza; the ground is covered in flat stones, but it's surrounded by cliffs. Faceless, shapeless shadows stand on top of the cliffs peering down at him, at them, he realizes, as he notices he's not alone.
Next to him is a giant, beautiful mermaid, the most beautiful mermaid he's ever seen, and he's in love with her immediately. But she's crying, huge tears run messy down her face, and Sanji wants to do whatever it takes to make them stop. Next to her is an equally giant shark that looks like he's choking on something. Across from them he can see a large shark Fishman holding an older merman with bushy red hair and an equally bushy beard captive.
Is this why the mermaid is crying? Sanji goes to sprint forward, but his legs are frozen, he's unable to move from his spot next to the mermaid. Frustration builds up in him as the Fishman raises his hand threateningly over the merman.
"Watch as I send the former King Neptune's head flying!" the Fishman shouts.
The shadows begin shouting and yelling in protest. The mermaid's tears fall even faster, and he sees her mouth move, she's shouting too, but all that's coming out of her mouth is static. Sanji watches as she shouts again, her mouth forming words, a name, but he can only hear the static, then, "Please save my father!"
The shark starts gagging, and then coughs up something up. It gets picked up by the wind, fluttering through the air until it lands at Sanji's feet.
"The shameless Ryugu Kingdom is finished!" the Fishman shouts as Sanji bends down and picks it up.
It's an old, beat-up straw hat.
The Fishman stops in his assault, reeling back and coughing up blood as something slams into him at full force.
The shadows are buzzing as the Fishman slams against the wall. Sanji can hear mutters of "It's him," and "He's here," in between bursts of static.
"You came out too early," Sanji heard someone nearby mutter, but when he turned to look, no one was there, "Well, I suppose there was no other way," a sigh, and then a shout of, "Hurry up guys!"
"We already are," another voice, a woman's this time, says, "You expected –," a burst of static, "to sit there and wait according to plan? That would have been a miracle."
"Look up at the sky," the shadows shout, and Sanji looks up, "Is that a lion?"
It's a ship, Sanji realizes, a red ship with a lion figurehead, and the figurehead's mouth is open, revealing a canon.
Sanji ducks, but the canon isn't aimed at him. Instead a giant burst of energy hits the platform where the Fishman was standing, the merman king being whisked away by a giant whale.
The ship lands in the plaza hard next to the mermaid, the shockwaves jolting him as he grips the hat in his hands tight. He can almost see a group of people getting off the ship and rally around it, but when the dust settles no one's there but him and the mermaid.
The shadows erupt into a hum of static. The pressure on Sanji's ears is too great, it's giving him a headache, and he tries to tune it out.
"Sanji-sama," he looks up at the mermaid. She stopped crying, but her eyes are still sad, "You have to listen. Please, hear what they're saying."
Never one to refuse a request from a mermaid, Sanji grits his teeth, puts the hat on his head, and listens.
It's mostly static, but through the static he can hear bits and pieces, "Hat – Fy – Pirates – Friends or Foes?"
The humming stops.
"Friends or foes?" a voice from right next to Sanji says, "That's the kind of thing you decide for yourself."
Sanji was wiping down the counter in the café when the bell above the door rang. He looked up and saw cute red head girl with bright blue eyes enter.
"Hey," she said with a smile, "Can I get a drink?"
"Of course!" Sanji smiled back, "What would you like?"
"Hm," she puffed out her cheeks and tapped the counter as she read over the menu, "How about the Alabastian Roast?"
"Coming right up," Sanji spun away and prepared her drink. When he spun back, drink in hand, she was gazing out the windows by the door, "Here you go, a beautiful drink for a beautiful lady."
"Thanks," she picked up the drink and took a sip. Her eyes went wide and she let out a small gasp, "Oh wow! This really is in the Alabastian style!"
"Thank you," he grinned and leaned his elbows on the counter, "I always strive to make my creations as authentic as I can."
"So, you musta been to Alabasta, right?" she said as she took another sip, "How was it?"
"Oh, no," his grin became sheepish as he blushed a little, "I've never been to Alabasta. I would like to, someday maybe, but not right now."
"Oh, so you've met someone from Alabasta and they taught you how to make it?" she asked with a small frown that only served to make her even cuter.
"No," Sanji looked away, "I've never met anyone from Alabasta. I've only studied their cooking."
"Huh," she said, and smiled once more, "Well, whatever you did, it's delicious," she placed the drink down on the counter and held out her hand, "I'm Koala, by the way."
He took her hand and gave her a light shake, "Sanji."
"Nice to meet you," she let go of his hand and picked up her drink again, "So, if you've never been to Alabasta, what fantastic places have you been to?"
Sanji laughed, "Not many, I'm afraid. I'm not much of a traveler."
"Oh, I see," she nodded, "Been here all your life then?"
"Well, no," he drummed his fingers against the counter, "I've only been here a few months. My wife and I relocated after our marriage."
"You're married? Does she help you with the café?"
"Yes," he smiled, "We run it together. She's out on a supply run right now, or I'd introduce you."
"That's so sweet," Koala sighed, "How'd you meet? I bet that story is super romantic."
The grin froze on his face, but he managed to force out a chuckle, "It's not really."
"C'mon, please?" she pouted and touched his arm, "I'd like to hear it."
Sanji blushed and felt his heart race in his chest, "Well, if you insist. We were originally part of an arranged political marriage, meant to unite both our families."
"Oh wow, those are terrible," she frowned and scrunched her nose, "Your families don't mind that you're running a café all the way out here?"
Sanji chuckled, "Well, they don't have much of a say in that. Originally it was just a political marriage, but soon Pudding and I realized we were genuinely in love. So after the wedding, when everything was said and done, we decided to run away together to get away from both of our overbearing families. We've been living in married bliss here ever since."
"Aw," Koala placed a hand over her heart and smiled, "That was super romantic."
Sanji gave her a small smile that didn't quite reach his eyes, "I suppose it is."
Koala took a sip from her drink as they fell into silence. After a few moments she gasped, glanced out the window, and said, "That's right! I was supposed to meet my friends on this island. Have you seen them?"
"Maybe," he said with a frown, "Who are your friends?"
She turned, blinked at him and smiled, but didn't say anything.
He stared at her for a few seconds, making sure to keep the smile on his face, "If you don't tell me your friends' names, my dear, I can't help you."
"Ah," she placed a hand over her mouth, "Right, yes. Their names are, Pedro, and Carrot."
"Unfortunately I've never met anyone named Pedro or Carrot," he said with a frown, but he quickly turned it back into a smile, "But I'm sure they'll turn up here soon."
She smiled back, "I hope so," and took another sip of his drink, "Have you ever met anyone named Cutty Flam?"
"No, I don't think so. Is he another one of your friends?"
"Sorta," she grinned, "But it's not important. Don't worry about it."
She sipped her drink in silence for a bit while he busied himself with cleaning the rest of the counter. Eventually she said, "Do you have a lot of birds on this island?"
"Birds?" he glanced out the window, "Yeah, we have some birds. Nothing super exotic, but they're around, especially in the woods nearby."
"Oh, great," she grinned, "Do you have? They're my favorite."
Sanji moved closer to her and smiled, "Sorry, what was your favorite?"
Koala blinked and smiled at him. As the silence grew, her smile fell, "Oh, do you not know what they are? The little brown birds with the red breast?"
"Oh!" Sanji perked up, "Yes, I know what you're talking about. They are here, the, ah," he frowned and looked away, tapping his fingers on the counter, "What were they called again?" He could picture the little bird clearly in his mind, but when he tried to think of what it was called, the name seemed to escape his grasp, "Sorry, I can't seem to recall, but yes, they are here."
"Great," she grinned and took another sip of her drink, "I'll go look for them. Is there a, nearby? They usually hang out there."
Sanji blinked and looked at her, "A what nearby?"
She smiled at him, but didn't say anything. The silence stretched on until she said, "Or, do you not know what they are either? It's like a little river, but you can step over it."
"Oh, like a creek?"
"Kinda," she teetered her hand, "But smaller."
"Oh, yeah, a," Sanji blinked and frowned. The word had been right there on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn't seem to find it now, "Sorry, I don't quite remember the word, but there's one not far from here in the woods. I'm sure you'll find lots of birds there."
"Good, I can't wait to check it out," she smiled as she finished her coffee, "One last question, and then I'll stop bothering you."
"You're not a bother at all, my dear," he grinned at her and leaned down on the counter, "Ask away."
"Is there somewhere around here that sells any?"
She blinked and smiled at him, "You know, hats made of straw? They're all the rage on Fishman Island these days."
"Hats made of straw?" he hummed and drummed his fingers on the counter, "There's a clothing boutique near the middle of town that sells hats, but I'm not sure about any straw ones."
"I see," she stood up and pulled out her wallet, "Well, thanks a lot Sanji, for both the drink and the conversation. How much do I owe you?"
"Oh no," he shook his head as he cleared away her mug, "It's on the house, I insist."
"Thank you, that's very kind," she said as she pulled a few bills out of her wallet and placed them on the counter, "But it's no way to run a business."
Sanji picked up the money and watched her as she left the café. Outside she started talking to a man in a top hat, and they quickly walked away. Sanji felt a bit uneasy as he stared down at the money in his hand, and tried his best to shrug it off as he put it in the register and went back to his cleaning.
Later that evening, while he and Pudding were talking a walk in the woods, they passed by the little creek that Sanji had told Koala about.
"What would you call this?" he asked her.
Pudding frowned, "What, the brook?"
"Ah, that's it," Sanji grinned as he remembered the word, "A customer was asking about it today, but I couldn't think of the word."
"What customer?" she asked, "One of the regulars?"
"No, she was a traveler," he sighed and scratched his head, "I didn't get her name, but she was asking about birds and brooks like this."
"Hm," Pudding touched his arm and leaned her head on his shoulder, "I'm getting tired, can we head back?"
"Of course, darling," Sanji said as he took her hand and led her away from the brook.
Sanji is sitting on the beach in a dress. He doesn't mind wearing the dress, and rather than worry about that right now, he'll let Awake Sanji deal with it in the morning.
A seagull drops a newspaper at his feet. Curious, he picks it up and gives it a quick glance. Most of it is just nonsense, garbled words and random letters strung together that don't make a lot of sense, but as his eyes scan up the page he sees a picture of a man with black hair and a smattering of freckles. He looks familiar, but Sanji has no idea who he is or where he's seen him before. As he reaches the top of the page, the words in the headline are as bold and clear as his own hands.
FIRE FIST ACE DEAD
Sanji blinks and sets the paper down. He reaches up to wipe away his tears and only then does he realize that he's crying. He stares at the tears on his hand.
"Oh, crying over me are you?"
Sanji looks over and sees that Ace is sitting next to him, grin on his face, "Those are a lot of tears for someone you've never met."
"I know you," Sanji says, glancing between the tears on his hands and the man sitting next to him, "Don't I?"
"Yeah," Ace nods, "You do."
"I'm sorry you're dead," he lowers his hand and rests it in his lap, "I'm sorry I wasn't there to stop it."
"I'm sure you are," Ace says, "But I think you're more sorry about my brother's suffering than my own."
The waves hit their feet, bringing a straw hat to them with the surf. Sanji reaches over and grabs it, studying it as he says, "I think I am too."
"It doesn't make sense, does it?" Sanji glances over at Ace. He's still smiling, but his eyes and voice are pleading, "You're a smart guy, you must have realized it, that parts of your life just don't add up."
Sanji stares at the hat in his hands, running a finger over the red ribbon.
"The memories are there. They're buried deep, but they're there. Your conscious memory has been erased and altered, but the emotions and imprints are still there. Your subconscious is still untouched," Ace leans back on his hands, "It's all still there, if you want it."
Sanji leans forward, resting his forehead against the straw hat, "How do I get them back?"
"You've gotta feel them. They're there, you just gotta feel them."
Sanji puts the hat on his head, leans back on his hands, and looks at Ace, "You're still looking out for him, aren't you?"
Ace holds up his hands, "Hey, I'm just your subconscious manifesting itself as someone you can actually remember. You're the one looking out for him now."
Sanji stares out at the ocean. He reaches up, playing with the straw hat on his head as he says, "I'll try and remember that."
Sanji was on his break, taking smoke on a bench overlooking the ocean while he left the café to Pudding for a bit. While running it between the two of them was a fun and worthwhile endeavor and there was no one in the world he'd rather do it with than his beautiful wife, it barely left him any time for himself. Perhaps they could hire more staff to help out. He should talk to Pudding about that.
"Sanji?" he turned around and saw a young rabbit Mink girl, eyes wide and watery as she stared at him, "Is it really you?"
Not wanting to startle her, Sanji put out his cigarette and put on his best service smile, "Can I help you, Miss?"
The girl broke out in a grin, "It's really you! You're really here!"
She ran around to the other side of the bench and threw herself into Sanji's arms. Sanji was confused, but she was still a lady and he didn't want to offend her, so he hugged her back.
She leaned up and rubbed her cheek against his, "Garchu!"
Sanji blushed and grabbed her shoulders, gently pushing her away, "I'm sorry, do I know you?"
"Oh," she froze, and the smile fell from her face, "You really don't remember me, do you?"
Sanji shook his head. The girl sighed and slipped out of his grip to sit on the bench next to him.
"I'm sorry," she said, "We were told that your memories were stolen so we shouldn't approach you just yet, but I saw you from the ship and got so excited. I had to come and see you."
She looked so sad, and Sanji wasn't the kind of man who could tolerate a lady being sad in his presence, so he said, "I'm glad you came."
"Really?" she perked up, "Even though you don't remember me?"
"Even though I don't remember you," Sanji nodded, "It's always a treat to talk to a beautiful young lady."
She laughed, "You're still the same Sanji, that's good. You missed so much, there's a lot I want to tell you," she bit her lip and looked away, "Oh, but you don't remember anyone, so what's the point."
"I'd still like to hear it," he leaned forward and smiled at her.
"Okay," she grinned, "Well, asked me to join the crew."
"That sounds wonderful," he said, "Who asked you?"
Her smile fell a little, "He's your captain too, oh, but you can't remember him. Koala said you couldn't even hear his name."
"Alright," he leaned back and threw his arm over the back of the bench, "So someone whose name I can't hear asked you to join his crew. Are you going to?"
"Well," she picked at her fingers, "I want to. I really want to, I've always wanted to see the world and go on adventures, but I have duties on Zou. Wanda's expecting me to return."
"If you have responsibilities, then you should attend to them," Sanji said as he lit another cigarette, "But you also have a responsibility to your heart. Don't hold yourself back because you think that's what someone wants. If Wanda cares for you, she'll understand."
"Thank you, Sanji," she said, and her face went somber, "But, I also need to tell everyone about Pedro."
The shift in mood startled him, "What happened to Pedro?"
She clenched her teeth, tears forming in her eyes as she said, "Pedro's dead."
Sanji felt ice spread through his chest. He swallowed, trying to find the words to comfort her, and only came up with, "I'm, I'm sorry to hear that."
She looked up at him, eyes wide as she stared at him, "Do, do you remember Pedro?"
He shook his head, "No, I don't. I'm sorry."
She reached a hand up and brushed his cheek, "Then, why are you crying?"
Sanji reached a hand up to his face and froze when he felt tears there, "I, I don't know."
He stared down at the tears on his hand. He was sure he'd never met a Pedro in his life, but he couldn't deny that her news had hit him like a punch to the gut, and that he was genuinely sad and a little guilty about his death.
"S-sorry," he smiled and wiped away his tears, removing his cigarette from his mouth, "I should be comforting you, but-"
"That's okay," she said, reaching up to pet his head, "You guys were friends."
He sat there for a few more moments and let her comfort him as he continued smoking his cigarette, but eventually he brushed off her hand and stood up, "I, uh, I should get going."
"Oh, right," she stood up too, frown forming on her face, "Okay."
He put out his cigarette and pocketed the butt, "Good luck with, all that. I guess."
"Yeah," she rubbed the back of her head, "Uh, you too?"
Sanji nodded and walked back to the café.
Pudding looked up as soon as he came in, "Hello darling! How was your break?"
"It was fine," he said as he walked behind the counter and put on an apron, "I was thinking it's about time we hired some more staff. Business has been picking up, and while the two of us are doing fine now, it won't be long before we're overrun, especially on the weekends, and-"
He was cut off as Pudding reached up to his face and wiped away a few stray tears with her thumb, "Have you been crying? What's wrong?"
Sanji blinked at her, but forced a smile on his face as he said, "It was just the wind. I'm fine, my sweet. Don't worry about it."
"Alright," she pouted and pulled away, "But you'd tell me if anything was wrong, right?"
His smile was more genuine as he leaned forward and gently kissed her forehead, right over her third eye, "Of course, my dear. You'll be the first to know."
She smiled back and leaned forward to press a soft kiss to his lips, "I'll hold you to that."
Sanji is on what feels like a bubble, a tentative piece of land surrounded by trees, ready to pop at any moment. A mangrove, his mind supplies, the land made of the interconnecting tree roots, but he's not sure how he knows that.
Around him he can hear the sounds of screaming and fighting, of shouts and cries and explosions. When he looks around, he can't see anything, just the setting sun and a world full of bubbles, as calm a setting as can be. The more he focuses on the noises, the more it becomes static in his ears, the pressure of it building and building until he's forced to his knees.
He's had this dream before. No, he's had this nightmare before.
"Don't fight them!" he hears someone shout to his left, "Just run!"
"Sanji-kun," a woman's voice says next to him, "Let's go!"
"But," he glances across the mangrove. There's nothing there, it's as calm as ever, but he knows something terrible is happening, something he needs to stop. He struggles to his feet, the static grows and the pressure increases. He ignores it as he makes his way across the grass.
As he gets closer, a shape starts to appear in the calm, a large man with bear ears and giant hands. The man is looking down near his feet, slowly taking off a glove as he says, "If you wanted to take a vacation, where would you like to go?"
Sanji surges forward, tripping over himself as the static grows, so loud it's overwhelming and pressing into him and all sides. When he's closer to the man he notices someone else collapsed at his feet. If he focuses, he can make out a red and white striped shirt and green hair, but the static in his ears overwhelms him, and the image is gone.
"No!" he grits out, falling to his knees again as he bangs a fist into the sticky ground below him, "I won't lose them again!"
He looks up, and focuses. Next to him he starts to make out features, a long nose, curly hair, a large slingshot clenched in a shaking hand. He reaches a hand out and grabs his shoulder, and the image solidifies into a person, a man, a friend. He's shouting something, but Sanji still can't hear what he's saying.
He glances back to the bear man and sees another man sprawled at his feet, green hair, green haramaki, three swords. The bear man is lowering his hand towards him.
"No!" Sanji shouts, but it's useless. The image pops like a bubble and vanishes from his sight.
The static in his ears reaches a crescendo as it crashes over him. He clutches at his hair, frustration building with each passing moment as he stares at the empty spot where the man just was. Why is this happening? After all this time, why isn't he strong enough to stop it?
"I want to know," he says, as he closes his eyes and focuses on the static, "I want to understand. I want to remember."
He opens his eyes, and through the static he hears a voice shout.
"Mr. Charlotte," their new waitress Melina called as she leaned over the counter, "One of the customers wants to see you."
Sanji poked his head out of the kitchen, "Which one?"
"The one in the corner," she turned and pointed, "The attractive brooding one."
He leaned over the counter and looked where she pointed. There sat a dark haired man with a white spotted hat drinking a coffee. As he put his cup down, he noticed his hands were covered with tattoos with the word DEATH spelled out across his knuckles.
Sanji frowned and took off his apron. The man looked familiar, but he couldn't place where he'd seen him before, "Did he say what he wanted?"
"Just that he wanted to speak to you," she glanced back over at him and sighed, "but if you find out he's looking for a girlfriend, feel free to send me back over. He's my type."
Sanji shook his head and made his way over to the table.
"Hello," he said, putting on his best service smile, "I'm Sanji, one of the owners. You wanted to see me?"
"Yeah," he held out his hand, "Trafalgar Law."
Sanji shook his hand, feeling that vague sense of familiarity once more.
Law kicked out the chair across from him and nodded, "Please have a seat, Black Leg-ya."
He bristled a bit at being told what to do in his own café, but sat down and calmly asked, "What seems to be the problem?"
"No problem. Everything was outstanding," he said, stirring his coffee, eyes focused on Sanji, and having the man's full attention was a little unnerving, "I'm just wondering. What's a chef of your caliber doing all the way out here?"
"Well, I live here," Sanji smiled, tapping his fingers on the table, "Sometimes we can't help where we end up."
Law hummed and took a sip of his coffee, "What about before? Did you work somewhere else before opening this café?"
"Yeah," he leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms in front of him, "What is this, an interview? You looking for a chef?"
"Depends," he placed his cup back on the table, "Are you looking to leave this island?"
"No," he answered easily.
He shrugged, "Then call it simply curiosity."
Sanji frowned, but answered, "Before this, I worked as the Sous Chef at a restaurant in East Blue."
"That's quite a voyage, from East Blue to the New World."
"Yes," Sanji looked away. He could still remember the day Bege and his men showed up to take him away. He hadn't wanted to fight them there and then and risk destroying the Baratie even more, so he had gone willingly, hoping to talk his way out of the wedding and return, but it hadn't worked out like that, "It is."
Law looked like he wanted to ask more about it, but instead his next question was, "Which restaurant?"
Sanji grinned and placed his hands on the table, always happy to promote the old man's dream, even after all this time, "The Baratie, the only seafaring restaurant in the world."
"I've heard of it," Law nodded, eyes never leaving his, "But I thought their Sous Chef left two years ago."
"Yeah," Sanji nodded, "I left the Baratie two years ago."
"But I was told this café was only opened a few months ago, right?"
"Yes, that's right."
Law took a sip of his coffee, still maintaining that unwavering eye contact, "So, what were you doing for two years?"
"I," Sanji stopped and frowned.
He'd worked at the Baratie from when he was ten until two years ago, just after he turned nineteen. He knew that. But he only left the Baratie when Bege showed up to take him to Big Mom and the Vinsmokes, he knew that too. That had only happened a few months ago, days before the wedding. So what had happened in the two years between leaving the Baratie and going to Whole Cake Island?
One day he was nineteen and at the Baratie. The next day he was on his way to Whole Cake Island and he was twenty-one.
He tried to remember what had happened in between. He tried to remember being twenty. He couldn't remember anything.
Sanji looked up, and realized he had his hand buried in his hair. Law was staring at him, and from the tone in his voice he had probably called out to him a few times already.
"Ah, sorry," Sanji said as he placed his hand back on the table, "What was the question?"
Law frowned and stirred his coffee, "You don't remember the past two years, do you?"
His eyes went wide as he shook his head, "How could I just, forget two years? How did I not even notice until now?"
"The mind is an amazing thing," Law said as he rested his elbows on the table and leaned his face on his hands, "When there are gaps in our memories, our brains will fill in the gaps as best they can so we can function and move on. Two years is a long time to fill, but so long as you didn't think about it too hard, you were able to accept it."
"What are you, some kind of doctor?" he growled, "Who sent you?"
"Yes actually, I am a doctor," Law's eyes narrowed, "I was sent by our mutual friends."
"Who I conveniently can't remember, is that it?" he crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, "I just met you, why should I trust you?"
Law shrugged, "You don't have to trust me, but I think the gap in your memory should speak for itself," he picked up his coffee and leaned back, muttering, "Roronoa-ya said you'd be difficult."
Sanji's eyebrow twitched as he went from uneasy to enraged in the span of a second, "Zoro can get fucked."
Law stared at him, eyes going wide as he set his cup back down on the table. He blinked, and Sanji stared back, glowering even more, until Law said, "Roronoa Zoro."
"Yeah?" Sanji scowled, "What about him?"
He shook his head, "The other day you couldn't hear his name at all. Today it's sending you into a fiery rage."
"Because he's an asshole," Sanji glared at nothing in particular.
"Do you even know who he is?"
"No," he glowered, "But he sounds like an asshole."
Law smirked, "I'll be damned," he sighed and looked at the clock on the nearby wall, "I don't have much time, so I'll leave you with this. Your memory loss isn't natural, but I think you've already figured that out. Because of that I didn't think it would be possible for you to recover anything you lost, but you are once again defying my expectations," he tossed some money on the table and stood up, "If you can remember Roronoa-ya you can remember the others."
Sanji tapped his fingers on the table, "What if I don't want to remember the others?"
"Trust me," his gaze bored into him, and Sanji fought off the urge to look away, "You do."
"And again, why should I trust you?"
"Like I said, you don't have to," he reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, sliding it across the table to him, "It's your choice."
Sanji picked up the piece of paper. It was a typical bounty poster, but he was shocked to see his own face on it. The Vinsmokes might have enough pull with the World Government to get a bounty put on him, but three hundred thirty million berries seemed like a very steep first bounty for a simple favor, especially in the grand scheme of things.
His eyes travelled down the page. There, in black and white, was the name ''Black Leg' Vinsmoke Sanji.'
Only then did he realize he hadn't questioned Law's use of the unfamiliar epithet once during their conversation.
He looked up, but Law was already gone.
Sanji wakes up in a clearing full of rubble. It's quiet, unnaturally so as he looks around and finds himself alone, save for a beat up straw hat lying on the ground.
He shouldn't be here, he realizes as he gets up and runs full speed away from the clearing. He needs to be somewhere else.
He stops running when he spots a man standing a ways away, covered in blood and surrounded by even more. Sanji makes his way cautiously over to him, stopping once he's directly behind him, and simply says, "Zoro."
Zoro looks over his shoulder, blood dripping down his face and into his eyes. He blinks it away and says, "Nothing happened."
His legs give out and he starts to fall. Before he can hit the ground Sanji is there, catching him with an arm around his waist.
"Whatever you say," Sanji says as he throws Zoro's arm over his shoulders and begins making his way back to the clearing, "But something did happen, right? To make me forget?"
Zoro hums in response. Sanji rolls his eyes, "If you know what happened, why don't you just fucking tell me?"
"You wouldn't believe me," he says, dragging his feet and forcing Sanji to adjust his grip to support him better, "You'd freak out and forget even more. You gotta figure it out on your own."
"Thanks for nothing, jackass," he mutters, gripping Zoro's arm tighter as he starts to slip again, "How come your dumb ass is the only one I can remember?"
"Dunno," he shrugs his free shoulder.
"You are the least helpful son of a bitch on the entire planet," he grits his teeth and treks on, "Why couldn't I remember the lovely Robin-chan, or Usopp, or hell, even Franky would be a better conversationalist than you."
"How am I supposed to know how your dumb mind works?" Zoro says, his head rolling over to rest on Sanji's shoulder, "But none of us were there, so that's probably why you remembered us first."
"None of who was whe-" he stops as they approach the first clearing again. Now it's full of noise, cheers and shouts and people just generally being loud. Milling around it are three people, a woman with dark hair, a man with a long noise, and another man with huge arms and no pants.
"We weren't there," Zoro repeats, "So it was easier for you to remember us. The others were there, so it'll be more difficult."
Sanji sets Zoro down on a nearby rock and bends down to pick up the straw hat by his feet. He turns it over in his hands a few times before brushing some of the dirt off the ribbon.
"He's the most important," Zoro says, and Sanji looks over at him, "So he's gonna be the most difficult."
Sanji glances around the clearing, at Robin, Usopp, and Franky talking and laughing a few feet away. He hears more voices shouting and if he focuses he can even make out the faint images of a woman with bright orange hair, a skeleton with an afro, and a small reindeer, but the images fade as soon as he recognizes them.
He sighs and puts the hat on his head, "I won't let them down again."
Zoro closes his eyes, "I know you won't."
The rain was coming down hard, stranding him under an awning. Pudding had taken the umbrella and gone on ahead to the market with a promise to come back and fetch him when she was done, so there really wasn't much he could do but sit tight and wait for her to come back.
The soft sound of a violin reached his ears as he lit a cigarette, inhaling the sweet nicotine and exhaling a stream of smoke into the rain.
A young man and his pack mule squeezed under the awning next to him. He took off his hat, an old beat up straw one, and shook out his curly hair, spraying water everywhere, but Sanji couldn't bring himself to mind.
"Man," he said, water dripping off the end of his long nose, "Is it coming down or what?"
"Yeah," Sanji agreed with a sigh. He took a sidelong glance at the man and his pet and was shocked to discover what he originally thought was just a mule was actually a reindeer, with antlers and everything. The reindeer was wearing a hat of his own, a round blue one with a white x in the middle, and he was peeking around the man to look right at Sanji.
"Oh, don't mind him," the man put a hand on the reindeer's head, "He's a little shy."
"Ah." That explained it. A reindeer probably would feel uncomfortable on an unfamiliar autumn island, especially a nervous one like him.
He took a puff from his cigarette as the violin grew louder.
"Doesn't look like there's an end in sight," the man said with a sigh, "Reminds me of the time I single-handedly brought back the rain to a desert kingdom in drought."
Sanji chuckled, exhaling a stream of smoke as he said, "Really?"
"Of course, would I lie to you?" the man grinned as he launched into his epic tale.
Sanji grinned as he leaned back and listened to the man paint a vivid tale of a desert kingdom on the verge of civil war and how one man, a brave and noble warrior of the sea, managed to single-handedly deliver the princess safely to the capital, uncover the deception behind the rebellion for what it was, and somehow bring rain to a drought ridden desert. During the story, he couldn't help but feel the strangest sense of déjà vu, as if this was something he'd known once but had somehow forgotten.
As he was talking, the reindeer snuck behind him and bumped his head against Sanji's leg. Without thinking, he reached down and patted his head.
"And so, with a heavy heart, I left the princess behind to fulfill her duties, and sailed on to my next adventure," the man concluded, "And that, is the completely true story of what actually happened."
Sanji exhaled a stream of smoke, "Liar."
"Oh, how would you know?" he lightly shoved Sanji's shoulder, "You weren't there."
"Of course I wa-" Sanji cut himself off, because of course he hadn't been there. He'd never seen this man before this moment, so how could he have gone on that adventure with him? The words had come out of him on reflex, as if he'd had similar conversations before and that's just what he'd say at this point.
The violin in the background reached a crescendo.
The smile fell from his face as the man and the reindeer stared up at him with their big brown eyes. He blushed under their gaze and looked away, "Sorry, you're right. I wasn't."
The man sighed as the reindeer returned to his side, "Yeah, I guess not."
Sanji chewed on the end of his cigarette and couldn't help but feel like he'd disappointed both of them.
The rain slowed, and the man looked up at the sky, "It's letting up," he said as he shook the excess water off the straw hat and put it back on his head.
Sanji's eyes locked onto the hat, and that feeling of déjà vu welled up inside of him again.
"Let's go," he said to the reindeer, directing him as they walked out of the awning and down the street.
Sanji stared after them for a few moments, wondering if he would see them again, and kind of hoping he would.
"Hey," he shouted before he could stop himself. As the man turned to look at him, Sanji said, "I run a café in town," he slid his hands into his pockets and shrugged, "Stop by sometime."
The man grinned, "Thanks, Sanji. I'd like that."
The violin song ended as they turned back around and walked away.
A new song began, a familiar one, filling his chest with warmth and comfort as Pudding approached.
"Sorry for making you wait," she said, leaning forward and kissing his cheek, "Were you lonely here all by yourself?"
"Without you, my sweet?" he offered her an arm, and she gently took it, "Always."
They walked down the street, and Sanji caught sight of the violinist, who had started singing, "Gather up all of the crew, it's time to ship out Bink's Brew."
"Sea wind blows, to where who knows? The waves will be our guide," Sanji sang the next line as they passed him.
The musician nodded at him, his afro bouncing as his gloved hands fingered the violin. Sanji thought the skull mask was a little weird, but smiled back at him all the same as he continued humming the rest of the song.
"You know this song?" she asked.
"Yes," a fond smile spread across his face, "It's an old pirate song. It kinda reminds me of home."
"Oh," she tapped his arm. As the music slowly faded behind them, she said, "I don't think I like it."
Sanji stopped humming, and the warmth fled his chest, "Oh. Sorry."
"That's alright," she leaned her head on his shoulder, and he adjusted the umbrella, "Let's go home and get out of this rain."
She clung closer to him as he led the way back.
Sanji is standing on top of a gate overlooking a waterfall. He peeks out over the edge and instantly regrets it, because the waterfall pours right into a giant hole in the middle of the ocean. Someone is standing to his left, the image vague and shimmery, but as he focuses the image starts to solidify into a man. A man-reindeer, his mind supplies, and by the time the image is fully solid he comes up with the name Chopper.
On his right is Usopp wearing a mask and cape, and just beyond him he can make out Zoro. Standing next to Zoro is another mirage like image, a woman with bright orange hair this time. Sanji focuses is on her, forcing his fraying memory to pieces her back together until she's solid once more, his precious Nami-san.
There's an empty space next to Usopp, however, a space he instinctively knows should be filled. Not even a vague, semi-faded image is there, just a beat up straw hat.
He sighs and glances across the waterfall at the huge building there, and sees Robin standing by the ledge. There are several shadowy figures standing around her, and she's clearly handcuff and distressed, and it takes all his willpower to stay where he is and let her talk, because he knows it's important.
"Someday it will become too much of a burden," she is shouting at them, "Someday you'll betray me and cast me aside! That's my greatest fear, that's why I didn't want you to come rescue me! If I'm going to die someday anyway, I want to die here!"
Sanji looks away as the guilt wells up in his chest. How can he possibly contradict her when he's thinking the same thing?
"Don't think like that, bro!"
He glances across the gap again and spots Franky next to Robin, "What?"
"We still want you, your still our friend," he gives Sanji a thumbs up, "He came all that way for you before, do you really think he's just gonna let you walk away now?"
"Yeah, but," he glances over at the straw hat, "I still can't remember him."
"Like he cares about that. You're you, and that's all that matters. Besides, look around," Franky gestures at them, and Sanji glances down the line of his friends, "You're remembering the rest of us! You'll get him in time, just keep at it!"
"Yeah," he looks up at Robin, and he tries not to think about it, but he still can't remember him. Why would anyone bother chasing down a crew member this wayward? They'd made mistakes, sure, but no one else straight up forgot him, "But…"
"Sogeking!" a voice shouts, cutting through his negative thoughts, "Shoot down that flag."
"Roger," Usopp responds, lining up his shot and releasing a giant firebird that incinerates the World Government flag.
"He's not the kind of guy who gives up," Franky shouts as Sanji stares at the burning flag, "He definitely hasn't given up on you, so don't you dare give up on him!"
"Robin!" the voice shouts again, "I still haven't heard you say it! Say you want to live!"
He looks back at Robin, at the tears streaming down her face, and he knows that emotion intimately, although the memory attached to it is gone.
"I want to live!" Robin shouts at them, an edge of desperation to her voice, "Take me to sea with you!"
The rest of his crew gets ready to go, and Sanji finds that all of his previous doubts have vanished as he hears the voice speak once more.
There was a Fishman in the market.
They were deep enough in the New World that Fishmen weren't an uncommon sight, but they weren't exactly an everyday occurrence on this island either. Even so, this particular Fishman was rather large, a whale shark, Sanji's mind supplied as he kept glancing at him out of the corner of his eye, and he stood out. Not only that, but he looked awfully familiar, like he'd seen him somewhere before. A bounty poster maybe? Was he a pirate?
If he didn't know any better, Sanji would say that the Fishman kept looking at him too.
He shook his head as he glanced down at the different apples he was supposed to be comparing. He was probably just being paranoid.
A woman came up next to him, long black hair, gorgeous blue eyes, a mysterious smile that seemed to hold all the world's secrets, and a beat up straw hat perched elegantly on her head. Sanji was head over heels for her instantly.
"These look good," she said, attention turning towards him, "What do you think?"
Sanji blushed at being addressed directly by such a divine beauty, but the man standing next to him replied instead, "I don't know, aren't they a little too red?"
He looked over at the lucky bastard who was blessed to be acquainted with such a beauty. He was big, huge shoulders, no pants, and his blue hair was styled similarly to the hat the lady wore.
"You can't have an apple that's too red," he put in his two cents, if not to defend the stall owner who always gave him good deals, then so the beautiful lady could have some decent fruit, "Anyway when selecting the best fruit, color's not the main thing you should be looking at," he picked up one of the apples and squeezed, "Firmness is."
"I see," the woman said, smiling fully at him and making his stomach flip in pure joy, "Thank you for the tip, Cook-san."
"Super advice, thanks," the man slapped a hand on his shoulder, "You're a chef, right?" he said, steering him away from the fruit stall, "Can I get your opinion on something else?"
"Uh, sure?" he let himself be guided over to the fishmonger, but he was a little confused so he asked, "But you came here on a ship, right? Couldn't you just ask your ship's cook?"
"Don't have one," he said, gripping his shoulder tight.
Sanji balked as he looked up at him, "How the hell did you get this far into the New World without a cook on board?"
"We did have one," the woman added, "But he's gone missing recently."
"Oh," for a brief moment Sanji imagined sailing with them, being out on the ocean once again with an unknown adventure to look forward to, and briefly considered offering them his services.
He shook his head of the wayward thought. He couldn't just abandon Pudding and their café like that.
"Yeah," the man sighed, "It's been rough, but we've all been taking turns with the cooking until he comes back."
"Why don't you just get a new chef?" Sanji asked as they stopped in front of the fish stall, "Sailing these waters without someone on board who can prepare a decent meal is tantamount to suicide."
"We don't want a new chef," the woman said with a hint of force in her voice, "We want our chef."
"Yeah," the man nodded, "He'll come back, eventually," he looked over at him, "And we'll be ready and waiting when he does."
"Huh," a ship that put everything else on hold to wait for one crewmate was rare indeed, and he couldn't help but feel jealous of their missing chef, "Must be some chef."
"Oh yeah," the man laughed, "He's the best."
"So, Sanji," the woman said, turning towards the fish, "What would you recommend for trying to feed a crew of ten and a captain that has a bottomless pit for a stomach who only really enjoys meat?"
Sanji stared at the fish and thought it over, "Well, if he's eating everything anyway, then you don't have to worry about food going bad. The main focus should be on quantity," he glanced over the fish for sale. Not a huge selection, but the mackerel was always good, and the salmon today was rather large, "Get salmon and mackerel, if your captain really eats everything in sight then make enough for twenty, that way everyone gets something," he paused, rolling his cigarette between his lips, "And if he's only eating meat, you'll have to put extra nutrients in the sauce. I have a good glaze recipe for salmon that should work."
"Really?" she smiled, already passing him a pen and paper, "What would we need for it?"
He wrote down the ingredients and the recipe, and pointed out where in the market they could go to buy them.
"This has been a most informative outing," the woman said as she pocketed Sanji's note, "Thank you so much for your insight, Cook-san."
"No problem," he said, picking up her hand and bringing it to his lips in a soft kiss, "It is an honor and a privilege to assist a lady such as yourself."
The man laughed, clapping him firmly on the back, "Yeah, good to know you haven't changed."
Before he could ask what that was supposed to mean, he took the woman's arm and said, "See you around, Swirly-bro," before they both disappeared into the crowd.
Sanji frowned after them, a little sad to see them go, but if they were stuck waiting for their crewmate, maybe he would see them again.
As he turned to head back to the fruit stall, he bumped into someone.
"Sorry," he said, rubbing at his shoulder where he'd bumped into him, "My bad."
"That's alright, Sanji-san," the Fishman from before said, "I wasn't watching where I was going."
Sanji stared up at him, and now that he was closer, the feeling that he'd seen his face somewhere before grew, "Silly question, but have we met before?"
He blinked down at him, a little startled by the sudden question, but answered easily, "Yes, we have."
Sanji's eyes widened and his mouth fell open, his cigarette almost falling from his mouth as his heart raced in his chest. Before he could say anything else, the Fishman had stepped around him and walked away.
He stared after him for a bit before making his way back to the fruit stand and buying his apples.
As soon as he was back at the café, Melina approached him and asked, "Mr. Charlotte, did you see the Fishman?"
"Fishman?" he said as he made his way to the back and put the apples down. Pudding was there, working on a pie, and he leaned down to kiss her before turning back to Melina, "What Fishman?"
"Some of the customers were talking about it," Pudding answered as she rolled out the dough, "Apparently there was a Fishman in the market today. Melina wanted to run out and see him, but I told her to just wait until you came back."
"So?" Melina leaned across the counter, practically jumping out of her skin with excitement, "Did you see the Fishman?"
Sanji glanced over at Pudding, who appeared disinterested in the whole discussion, but he could see her third eye focused on him.
"Sorry," he said turning back to Melina, "I didn't notice a Fishman."
She groaned and lay face down on the counter, "I shoulda just went to see him myself."
Pudding chuckled as she leaned up and kissed his cheek, "Go cut up those apples for me."
"Of course, my dear," he said, grabbing an apron and rolling up his sleeves. As he set up his area and started chopping, his mind drifted to the salmon glaze recipe and hoped it would do the trick.
The deck is eerily silent as the sun finishes setting. They're all quiet, staring over the barren wasteland separating the ship from the city. The wind picks up, rustling their clothes.
Chopper sniffles where his standing by the railing and Zoro asks him once more if he wants to wait inside, but he shakes his head, determined to see this to the end like the rest of them. The wind blows again, making Nami shiver and warp her arms round herself, and Sanji's tempted to offer her his warm embrace, but now's not the time for that.
He glances up at Merry's figurehead. He loves the ship too, and hearing she couldn't sail anymore gut him right to his core. The Merry is his home, it's their home, and he knows firsthand what long voyages and the sea can do to ships if they're not properly looked after, but in the back of his mind he has always hoped they'd sail on the Merry forever.
"Robin's still not back," Nami says, voice soft, reminding the four of them just how broken their little family was right now.
"She'll be fine. She can take care of herself," Zoro answers, easy, steady, their one solid point while everything else is turning to shit, "We'll look for her tomorrow if she's still not back by then."
Nami nods and Sanji sucks more smoke down his throat. How did it come to this?
"He's here," Chopper says, and they all look towards the city. Sure enough, Usopp is there, still bandaged from his earlier beating, but slowly making the way to the ship.
Sanji closes his eyes and takes another drag from his cigarette. Why did it come to this? Why does Usopp have to fight –?
He cracks his eyes open and finds himself lying on his back in a grassy field. He can practically feel his body throb in pain, even in the dream, as the bruises form from all the blows he just took.
The sun is bright overhead and it blinds him for a few moments before he adjusts. Around him there's cheering, loud and rambunctious, and it fills him with rage. He needs to get up, he needs to show these assholes exactly what he's made of, he needs to protect the crew and get Chopper back.
"Hey, Cook," Zoro says by his ear, "Lend me a hand for ten seconds."
"Yeah," he replies, slowly moving his body and is glad to find that everything's still working properly, "That should be long enough."
"Zoro! Sanji!" a voice shouts from the sidelines, easily cutting through all the others, and it's a voice he knows well, one he can't possibly ignore, even if he can't remember the face that goes with it, "Get up!"
Sanji turns his head and sees –
Usopp, lying prone on the deck of the giant flying ship, mere feet away from the so-called lightning god, and Sanji is out of time. The lightning is coming for him, and there's no room to dodge.
He rushes forward as fast as he can, getting himself between Usopp and the lightning. If he doesn't make it in time, then he'll take the brunt of the attack anyway, and maybe, just maybe, Usopp can still walk away.
But he does make it, with just enough time to kick him out of the way and towards Nami and the waver.
"Go," he tells them, calm, accepting his fate, as he places one last cigarette in his mouth. Better him then Usopp, always.
Nami's eyes are full of tears, she wants to turn around, but Usopp is there pushing her forward, getting them both to safety, making sure his sacrifice isn't in vain.
He closes his eyes as the lightning engulfs him, catching a glimpse of his friends going over the edge of the ship and a beat up straw hat hanging off Nami's waist. But if she has the hat, then where is –
He opens his eyes, and he's underwater, staring at a picture of a beautiful blonde woman that bears a striking resemblance to his mother. There's a harpoon going through the picture right by her head, and the similarity is enough to make him feel uneasy.
He puts the picture own and explores the rest of the ship. There's not much there, certainly nothing sparkling or valuable that Nami was hoping they'd find. What is there is rotting and falling apart, and it's clear the ship is very old. Robin is probably right; this ship's been untouched for a few centuries by everything except time.
"Hey," Zoro says, and he turns towards him to see him nod towards a chest.
Chests are fun, maybe it's full of treasure and they won't leave the seafloor empty handed. He turns to call out, "Hey, Lu –"
"Is everything alright, Mr. Charlotte?" Sanji looked up from where he was wiping down the counter and saw Melina's worried face staring back, "You seem a bit out of it."
"Oh," he glanced back down and noticed he's been wiping the same spot for a few minutes. He'd been in a daze since he woke up that morning, as if something was just a tad off kilter, or he was expecting something but wasn't sure what.
"No, yeah, I'm fine," he said as he shifted to wipe down another part of the counter, "Just had trouble sleeping last night."
"I see," she leaned in, a playful smirk on her face, "I think its sweet."
His brow furrowed, "What is?"
"That you're so worried about Mrs. Charlotte, even though she's only at the market," she laughed.
Sanji blinked and stared down at his hands. He didn't really worry about Pudding wandering off by herself, this island was so small and peaceful, but maybe today for whatever reason he was?
"Yeah," he said, playing with his ring, "I know it's silly, but I can't help it."
"Don't worry," she smiled, "She worries about you too when you're gone," she sighed, almost wistfully, "I wish I could find I a love like that someday."
He smiled at her, but didn't say anything else.
The bell above the door rang, and in walked two new customers, a man and a woman. The man looked like trouble, green hair, a rough scar sealing shut one of his eyes, three swords strapped to his waist, and a scowl that instantly made Sanji want to kick his lights out. But the woman, she was gorgeous, easily the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. Long orange hair flowing under an old straw hat, a bright easy smile, shining brown eyes, he was in love.
"Welcome!" he twirled out from behind the counter, "What a glorious day it must be for me to lay eyes on such a vision!" he stopped in front of her and grabbed her hand, bringing it to his lips and placing a soft, revenant kiss to the back of it, "If there is anything I can do for you, my dear, please do not hesitate to ask."
"Why thank you," she said, a mischievous grin slowly forming on her face, and he fell even more for her, "What a gentleman," she turned her hand and held his up instead, her knuckle right under his ring, "I hope you treat your wife like this."
"Oh," the mention of his wife snapped him out of a fairly thorough daydream where he and this beauty had run off together and eventually settled down by the coast with three kids, two dogs, and a cat, "Of course."
The man chuckled, and Sanji quickly snapped his attention to him instead, "What's so funny?"
"Nothing but your face," he said. Sanji glared, but he just rolled his eye and continued, "Can we get a table, Dartbrow?"
Sanji rolled his eyes back, "It's a café, Marimo," he gestured at one of the empty tables, "Even a Neanderthal like you should be able to seat himself."
The man smirked, sharp and vicious like he was looking for a fight, and Sanji was more than happy to give him one if it came to it. The woman placed her hand on his arm and guided them to a table, giving Sanji one last smile that sent his heart soaring.
As he made his way back behind the counter, he noticed Melina giving him a judgmental look, "What?"
"Maybe I should wait on them," she said, "Since it's pretty frowned upon to both flirt with and antagonize customers."
Sanji grimaced as he glanced at their table. In the moment his reactions had seemed perfectly natural, and it didn't look like either of them minded, but Melina had a point, "Yeah, I'll just," he gestured behind him, "Be in the kitchen. Let me know if you need help."
She smiled and nodded, "Got it."
After about ten minutes, Melina came back to the kitchen, "Hey, the couple from before is asking for you."
"Alright," he said, taking off his apron as he stepped out of the kitchen.
"And be nice," she whispered as he walked into the dining area.
"I'm always nice."
He walked over to their table, a skip in his step when he noticed how radiant the woman was looking. Framed by the window with the sunlight hitting her just right, she was absolutely glowing as she took a sip from her coffee, "Hello, my dear, how can I be of assistance?"
"Hey, Shit-Cook," the man said, and Sanji growled as he turned to face him instead.
"The fuck do you want?" he asked, his hand instinctively going to his pocket for a cigarette before he stopped himself.
"Tea's alright," he placed his cup back on the table, "But it could use some booze."
Sanji's eyebrow twitched. This guy was too much, "It's still the morning, jackass. You can at least wait until after lunch before you start guzzling your weight in alcohol."
The man snorted as he crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair.
"So," the woman said, thankfully bringing Sanji's attention to her instead, "I'm in the mood for a particular sandwich, but I don't see it on your menu," she leaned on the table, arms framing her perfect breasts, "Do you do special orders?"
"Yes, absolutely," his eyes darted from her cleavage to her grinning face and he felt his heart flutter in his chest, "I can make you whatever your heart desires. Just say the word and it's yours!"
"Idiot," the man mumbled, and before he could think it through, his leg shot out to kick his chest.
He heard Melina gasp somewhere behind him as he froze. Granted he never really warmed up to the male customers, but this wasn't the Baratie. Being a small business owner on a small island was different from being a fighting chef defending his restaurant from wayward pirates. He couldn't just randomly attack customers that pissed him off.
Not that it seemed to matter, since the attack never landed. Despite the speed of the unexpected attack, the man had managed to unsheathe one of his swords and block the kick, holding back the full force of the attack with a grin, as if he'd done it a thousand times before. The weirdest part was Sanji had fully expected him to.
"Anyway," the woman said, completely unperturbed by the whole thing, "About my sandwich?"
"Right, yes," Sanji lowered his foot as the man sheathed his sword, "What would you like?"
He took her order and left them. On his way to the kitchen, he heard Melina approach the table and say, "I'm so sorry about that. I don't what's gotten into him today."
"S'alright, it's nothing I can't handle," the man said, "It's not like he could actually hurt me."
That made Sanji turn back around, "I could beat your ass from here to East Blue you shitty swordsman!"
The man growled as the woman sighed, "Sanji," she said with a little more force, like her patience was starting to thin. She adjusted the hat on her head as she continued, "My sandwich?"
"Right away, my dear!" he crooned as he went back to the kitchen.
He made the sandwich to her specifications, adding on an orange sauce he'd been working on that he knew she would like. He grinned as he thought about how her face would light up when she took a bite, little sounds of delight that would escape as she proclaimed, "Sanji, this is delicious!"
"You know you're married, right?" Melina said from the doorway.
Right, Pudding. The woman's pleased face vanished from his mind and he frowned, "Pudding is the love of my life."
"So what's going on?" she asked as she leaned against the doorframe, "You're bending over backwards to please this girl, even more than you usually do."
"She's a beautiful goddess and deserves special treatment," Sanji shrugged, as if that was obvious, "I treat Pudding well too."
"There's treating her well and there's," she gestured at the plate, where Sanji had just finished arranging extra orange slices into little heart shaped garnishes, "That. Also you keep attacking her date."
"That's because he's a manner-less barbarian," he grumbled, "I don't really care that they're together."
And the thing was he didn't. Sometimes when a beautiful woman brought her oaf of a boyfriend into the café he'd feel, not jealous, because he had Pudding and he loved her, but more frustrated. There was this wonderful lady who deserved the world and then some and the guy she was with couldn't seem to appreciate that. It was absolutely terrible, the worst even.
And even though it was clear that this guy did not appreciate the absolute goddess in his presence, Sanji found he didn't mind. Still, seeing them sparked a longing in his chest that he couldn't quite place.
"Right, sure," Melina said with a placating tone, "If you say so. But maybe stay behind the counter until they leave?"
"Why should I?" he frowned, he really wanted to see if she liked the food he'd prepared just for her, and he was kind of hoping to rile that guy up into an actual physical altercation. He hadn't had a good fight in ages, "I own the café. I can go where I please."
"True, but you've been a little," she waved her hand, "Intense, around both of them."
He blinked. As far as he was aware, all his reactions had been valid, "Have I?"
"Yeah," she nodded, "Granted, those two haven't said anything but it's kind of been freaking out the other customers."
He bit his lip, wanting nothing more than to go talk to them again, but need to keep his customers happy won out.
"Fine," he relented, handing her the sandwich, "But tell me if she likes it."
"Will do, boss," she nodded as she took the sandwich and left the kitchen.
Sanji followed her to the doorway, leaning against it as he peeked out into the dining area. Melina placed the sandwich in front of her and, after sparing them a few words, left to attend other customers. He watched the woman take the first bite out of the sandwich, eyes closing as pure bliss crossed her face, and he smiled wide, his heart fluttering in his chest.
The man took one of the orange slices and dipped it into some of the sauce. His expression barely changed, but Sanji could tell he enjoyed it, and his heart beat a little faster at that too.
He wanted to join them, he realized. He wanted to sit at the table and eat with them. The man said something that caused the woman to laugh, and Sanji desperately wanted to be in on the joke.
He took a step towards them, but caught Melina's eye across the dining area and instead ducked back into the solitude of the kitchen.
There's fighting happening in the city streets all around them, the noise of it almost overbearing at times, but Sanji can't bring himself to care. They'd all promised to meet up with Vivi back at the palace, and that's exactly where he's going to go.
Beside him on the camel, he can hear Usopp sniffling.
"Are you crying?" Sanji asks.
"I'm not crying," he sniffles, "You're crying."
"Whatever," he turns back and focuses on the roads, trying to remember which one lead to the palace again.
"But," Usopp continues, "That mole lady, she said he was dead."
"Is, is it true?" Chopper adds, and now he's looking at Sanji with barely contained tears of his own, as if he somehow had all the answers, "Is he really dead?"
For a pathological liar, Usopp sure is gullible. He looks over at them and grins, "You guys don't really believe that, do you?"
"Of course not!" Usopp shouts, suddenly on the defensive, "Are you stupid?"
"Yeah!" Chopper chimes in, "I don't believe it for a second!"
"Right," he blinks against the rising dust and sand. The sounds of the battle are louder now, so they must be getting close, "As if a mere Warlord could kill –"
He blinks again against the snow, as if that will do him any good. The avalanche has caught up to him, and he's sinking fast.
Suddenly a hand grabs his and yanks him hard, dragging him out of the snow and onto a tree trunk that's riding the avalanche.
"Thanks," he says as he gets his bearings.
"Yeah," a voice says behind him, "But now we're heading back down the mountain!"
"Shit, we were almost there!" He looks around, but the only thing out there is the snow pushing them further and further away from the doctor. If they have to climb all the way up again, he's not sure Nami will make it.
"We've got to stop somehow," he turns to look behind him. There' no one there, but out of the corner of his eye he can almost see a straw hat fluttering. He glances around the landscape and there's nothing besides other fallen trees also being pushed down the mountain, "Those damn rabbits. If I see them again, I'm making them into a stew."
Of course that's when the giant rabbits that caused this stupid avalanche show up, riding down the snow on tree trunks of their own.
When they attack he dodges the blows, and he can hear someone behind him doing the same.
"No punching," he reminds him, "You've still got Nami-san!"
"I know," comes the answer.
He glances ahead and despairs when he sees a rock on their path, coming up fast.
"A rock?" the voice behind him shouts in his ear, "We're gonna crash!"
"You can't!" Sanji shouts back, and he realizes what he has to do.
Before he can second guess himself, he reaches behind and tosses him as far away as he can. That should do it; they'll land on the rock and be safe from the snow.
The tree smacks the rock hard and Sanji sent flying through the air. He's not the only one, the rabbits hit it too, and they're all tumbling towards the unforgiving snow.
"Sanji!" he hears him shout, panicked and desperate, but its fine, that means they're safe, and as long as they're safe everything's fine.
He closes his eyes as he hits the snow. He'll have to leave the rest up to –
There's a ringing, and he opens his eyes. He really needs to go find the others, but the Transponder Snail on the table is ringing, and it's rude to not answer a ringing snail.
"Hello, this is the Shitty Restaurant," he says as he answers it and takes a seat, "Would you like a reservation?"
"Stop fooling around idiot," the voice on the other end says, "You're late with your report."
"Uh," Report? A house like this in the middle of the jungle is a bit suspicious. He hopes the others are okay, "Who is this?"
"It's me, Mr. Zero," and Sanji sits up a little straighter at that.
He's talking with one of the seven Warlords, the guy that's trying to kill Vivi.
"You've been gone for a while," he continues, "Have you accomplished your mission, Mr. 3?"
So Baroque Works is on the island too, great. The others had better be alright; he won't be able to forgive himself if they end up hurt while he fucks around here.
"Why are you hesitating?" he asks, a little sterner, "Did you kill Princess Vivi and the Straw Hats or not?"
He fiddles with the cigarette in his mouth as he thinks of what to say. Choosing his words carefully, he goes with, "Mission accomplished. Everyone who knows your secret has been eliminated. You can call off the hunt now."
"Excellent," he says, "The Unluckies are on their way over right now to give you the Eternal Pose to Alabasta. You and Ms. Goldenweek are to head there next. The time has come to begin the most crucial part of the plan. Go to Alabasta and await further orders."
He only really understands about half of what he's saying, but he knows it's all important, "Right."
Just then an otter and a vulture appear in the window. They look just as surprised to see Sanji as Sanji is to see them.
"Is something wrong?" Mr. Zero says from the phone.
"No, nothing," Sanji says as he slowly stands up. Once he's off the couch, the otter and vulture attack.
After a brief scuffle, both of them are put down, "What's going on?" Mr. Zero asks.
Shit, he'd heard that. He should probably just hang up the phone and go, but then he'll know that Sanji isn't Mr. 3 and will probably send more agents after them. He's got to play this through to the end.
He picks up the receiver and says, "Oh, nothing. One of the Straw Hats was still alive, so I just finished him off."
There's a pause, then, "Didn't you just finish telling me your mission was complete?"
"Well, yeah," he winces, "But they weren't as dead as I thought."
"So you gave me a false report?"
"Well, that sounds bad," he hopes Mr. 3 is a terrible person, because he's probably ruining his life right now, "But I finished them off for good this time, so there's no need to send anyone else."
Silence, then, "Anyway, go straight to Alabasta. That will be all, Mr. 3."
The line goes dead and Sanji exhales a breath he doesn't realize he's holding.
"Shit," he says, scooping up the Eternal Pose that was dropped during the fight. He blinks as he steps out into the sun, "Guess I should go find –"
He wipes the rain out of his eyes. It's coming down hard, but there's a light in the distance, the entrance to the Grand Line. He's so close to his goal, to all their goals, he can almost taste it.
"This calls for a celebration," he says as he drags one of the barrels to the middle of the deck. An old sailor's tradition, but what are pirates if not sailors?
"To find All Blue," he says as he taps his heel against the top of the barrel.
"To become the world's greatest swordsman," Zoro says, his foot joining Sanji's.
"To draw a map of the world," Nami says, tapping her heel on the barrel too.
"To become a brave warrior of the sea," Usopp says, shaking but adding his foot as well.
There's someone else, he knows, he can feel it, and if he focuses just so he can almost see him lift his foot too, but he can certainly hear a voice say, "To become the Pirate King!"
They all smile at each other and lift their feet together, bringing them down with a sharp crack and breaking the barrel.
Sanji looks over at his captain, the man he would follow to hell and back, and can almost see the manic grin on his face as the Grand Line draws even closer, "Lu –"
Sanji's back was turned towards the door as he finished wrapping up the last of the day's coffee beans. The bell above the door rang, and he didn't even turn around before saying, "We're closed, come back tomorrow."
"But Sanji," the intruder whined, "I'm hungry."
He turned around and saw a man sitting at the counter, with short, black hair, a small scar under his eye, and an old, beat-up straw hat perched on his head like it had always been there.
Sanji sighed, a small smile creeping on his face as he asked, "What do you want?"
The man grinned, "Meat!"
Of course he did. He lit a cigarette as he walked back into the kitchen, "Fine, just sit tight and I'll see what we got."
He cheered, and Sanji rolled his eyes as he set about finding something to make. He dug out some leftover pork, chicken, and bacon from the fridge and began grilling it.
"Can you make it barbecue?" the man shouted from his seat, "I love barbecue."
"Do I look set up for a barbecue?" he said, but he did see some extra barbecue sauce in the fridge before, so he took that out as well.
When the meat was done and slathered in the sauce, he arranged it artfully on the plate and brought it out to him.
"I call it, the Meaty Surprise," he said, placing the dish in front of him and pulling out some silverware.
"Yes," he cheered as he eagerly dug into the food. His table manners were atrocious, but Sanji couldn't help but appreciate his enthusiasm, "Thank you!"
"It's why I'm here," he said, taking a hit from his cigarette as the man inhaled half the dish in one bite, "You sure have an appetite."
"Yeah, my chef's gone," he said with a pout, "The others can cook alright, but it's not the same," he laughed and pointed at the food, "But man, I've missed this."
"I'm always happy to oblige," he grinned. The man grinned back as he jumped right back into his food.
"So," Sanji tapped his fingers on the counter as he took a drag from his cigarette, "What brings you here so late?"
He shrugged and swallowed his food, "No reason, really. How're you doing?"
"Me?" he exhaled smoke, surprised by the turn in conversation, "Alright, I guess."
"Just alright?" He asked with a frown, "Are you happy?"
"Yeah," he replied with a frown of his own, "Happy enough."
He was clearly dissatisfied with the answer, "If you're not really happy, why don't you leave?"
"I can't leave," he said with a shake of his head, "I have a business to run and a wife to take care of. Why would I leave?"
He hummed, pushing his food around on his plate before taking a huge bite and saying, "What about All Blue?"
Sanji blinked, startled. Out of all the things to ask him about, "You know about All Blue?"
"Of course," he smiled, "Big, legendary ocean with every fish ever in it. It's amazing, right?"
"Yeah," Was he a traveler? He must be, Sanji had never seen him before, so had he, was it possible, "Have you been there?"
"Nope," he grinned, and Sanji sighed. Of course he hadn't, that would be too easy, "But I'll get there someday."
"Oh yeah?" he took a drag from his cigarette and turned away, "You're pretty sure about that. It might not even exist, you know."
"Of course it exists," he said, with just as much conviction as Sanji himself would have used, "I know it does. And I'm going to be the Pirate King, so that means I'll get to go there."
"Huh," he tried to appear nonchalant, but he knew the grin on his face was huge. It had been a while since he'd met someone who cared about All Blue as much as him, "Well, good luck with that."
"Do you wanna come with me?"
Sanji glanced over to see if he was kidding, but the look in his eyes was genuine, the smile on his face wide, "To All Blue?"
"Yeah," he nodded, "And everywhere in between. C'mon, it'll be fun!"
"I'd like to," he said, knocking the ash off of his cigarette and into a nearby mug, "But I can't. I have responsibilities here, I can't just leave."
"If you say so," he frowned as he finished up his food, "but I'm not giving up on you."
Sanji laughed, "Glad to hear it."
He grinned and leaned onto the counter, "Hey, Sanji-"
The bell above the door rang, and they both turned as Pudding entered with her arms full of groceries.
She froze in the doorway, eyes going wide as she stared at the man at the counter, completely ignoring Sanji, "You…"
The smile slipped from the man's face. Where had just been laughter and joy was now cold anger and barely concealed fury.
Sanji stood up straight, confused by the sudden change in mood. He took another drag from his cigarette as they stared at each other.
"Pudding, my sweet," Sanji said, smile on his face as he hoped to diffuse whatever tension was now in the air. The man's eye twitched as he came out from behind the counter, "Let me get those for you."
She let go of the bags as he took them, but her eyes hadn't left the man's face and she still hadn't moved from her spot by the door, "What are…?"
He lowered the brim of his hat so it shadowed his eyes, "Did you really think I wouldn't come?"
She started shaking, and Sanji narrowed his eyes at him. Just who was this guy?
"Thanks for the food, Sanji," he said as he stood up, "Think about what I said, alright?"
"Uh," he blinked as he walked towards the door, "Sure."
As he passed Pudding he stopped, looked her dead in the eye, and said, "You should know better than to steal from pirates."
She swallowed thickly, and he left.
Once he was gone, she covered her mouth with her hand, still shaking as tears formed in her eyes.
"Hey," he said, as he placed the groceries on a nearby table and quickly wrapped an arm around her, "It's alright, everything's okay."
She shook her head, and he just held her, comforting her as best she could.
After a few moments, she pulled away and said, "You know I don't like it when you smoke inside."
He glanced down at the cigarette still burning between his fingers. He was usually good about that, but something about the man had put him at ease, and it slipped his mind.
"Sorry," he said as he tossed the butt outside and guided Pudding inside the café.
He sat her down at the counter and got her a glass of water. Once she drank it, he asked, "Who was that guy? What did you steal?"
"No one, and nothing," she said, shaking her head, "Forget it."
"He didn't seem like-"
"I said forget it!" she snapped at him.
"Okay," he backed off, "Sorry."
She looked at him, all three eyes narrowing, "What did he say to you?"
"Nothing," he said, gathering the dirty dishes off the counter, "He just came in and asked for some food, so I gave him some."
"He said he said something to you," she grabbed at his sleeve, "What did you talk about?"
"Nothing much," he tried to tug his sleeve away, but she was having none of it, "Just about food and the ocean and stuff. Small talk really."
Her eyes narrowed and she clutched at him harder, "Did he ask you to go with him?"
"No," he said, gently prying her fingers off his arm so he could put the dishes in the sink, "And even if he did, why would I?"
"Right," she said lowering her hand to the counter as he washed the dishes, "We need to go."
"Go?" he frowned, "Go where?"
"Anywhere," she said, eyes darting around the café as if trying to figure out what could be packed up in a hurry, "But we can't stay here."
"Why not?" he turned back around, "We have a life here, a business to run."
"We can go somewhere else and start over," her eyes turned back to him, "We just, we have to go."
"Pudding, what's going on? Who was that guy?"
"He's," her gasped as tears started to fall from her eyes. Sanji was by her side in an instant, rubbing her shoulders and wiping away her tears, "He's, a pirate, a dangerous one. He went up against Big Mom once and lost, and I think," her breath hitched, "I think he's here for revenge."
"We cut all ties to your mother," he pulled her head against his chest and stroked her hair, "Why would he come to us for revenge against her?"
"I don't know!" she shrieked, "He's crazy, he'll do anything to get what he wants," she sobbed and looked up at him with those big, round eyes, "As long as he knows where we are, we're not safe."
"Then, I'll go talk to him," he said as he rubbed her back, "If he hates Big Mom, then we're on the same side. I could explain our situation and-"
"No!" she shouted and clutched tight at his arms, "Whatever you do, don't talk to him!"
He winced as her nails dug into his skin through his shirt sleeve.
"Promise me," she cradled his face in her hands, tears ran down her face as she practically begged, "Please promise me you won't talk to him again."
"I," he covered her hands with his own, rubbing circles into the back of her hands with his thumbs, "Alright, I promise."
"Okay," she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, "Good," she leaned up and gently pressed her lips to his.
Sanji kissed her back, and eventually she pulled away from him and said, "We'll leave tomorrow."
"Okay," he looked down at her. This whole thing had her shaken to her core, and he would do almost anything to get that look off her face, "Whatever you want."
She kissed him again, "I love you."
"I love you too," he replied automatically.
She smiled at him as she stood up and walked back outside, making her way to their apartment.
Sanji frowned as he stared over at the dirty dishes in the sink, more confused than ever.
He blinks as the dust settles from where the desk lands after its tumble from the top floor of the tower like building. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief, "Just a desk…"
Another smash, and this time a bookshelf comes flying through the wall.
"What's going on up there?" the crowd murmurs.
Sanji can't help but stare transfixed as the objects continue to rain down. A table, some maps, a flag, a spear, a pair of handcuffs, an iron mask.
As suddenly as the rain of objects started, it stops, the world descending into an eerie silence. Everyone is tense, waiting to see what will happen next.
Then a foot bursts through the roof of the building, a leg, stretching an almost unbelievable distance before it comes back down and shatters everything in its path.
The building shakes, there's no way it can survive a blow like that. Sanji dives into the water as everyone else moves out of the way of the falling debris.
When the building is done collapsing, he pops his head back out of the water, waiting, for what he doesn't know, except deep down he does. He's waiting for someone. He's waiting for him.
The rubble shakes, and out comes someone, a boy, a man, bloody but victorious. The image of him flickers as if he could fade away at any moment, but Sanji forces himself to keep his eyes open, forces himself to remember.
He looks over the crowd, not focusing on anyone in particular, but his words are intense and pointed as he shouts, "You are, my friend!"
Sanji smiles up at his captain, his friend, "Luffy."
He stood in the doorway to their bedroom. It looked almost the same as it always did, even after Pudding's rushed packing job. She was currently doing one last look through of their living room to see if there was anything else she wanted to take, but Sanji wanted to see their bedroom one last time.
He still didn't understand Pudding's desperate need to flee, but he was her husband, and as her husband it was his job to make her happy. But still, he had liked their life here, and even if they managed to start over again somewhere else, he was going to miss this place.
He noticed the drawer on Pudding's nightstand was open slightly, and a ribbon of some kind was poking out of it. He frowned as he walked over. She had probably gone through it already, but it might be something important. It couldn't hurt to have a second look through.
He opened the drawer, but instead of the ribbon and other hair accessories he thought he'd find he saw film reels, a lot of them, piled on top of and intertwined with each other.
Curious, he pulled on one at random, tugging on it until it was free, and held it up to the light. He was expecting it to be some sort of Charlotte thing, maybe some old family photos, but was surprised to see the man from before, straw hat and all. He was standing on the grassy deck of a ship, smiling wide at the camera. As the camera got closer, someone from behind it handed the man a drink, causing him to leap forward and hug them.
He tugged through the rest of the strip and saw a similar scene play out with different people, a green haired swordsman, an orange haired beauty, a reindeer, a man with a long nose, a skeleton, a woman with her nose in a book, a cyborg. All of them were handed drinks by the person behind the camera and reacted in different ways.
Sanji felt a strange sense of déjà vu as he dropped that strip and picked up another one. This one had some of those same people, but they were in a desert. He picked up another strip and it was the same people again, this time on a different ship, one with a lamb for a figurehead, and they were sailing alongside a giant dolphin. Another strip had them in a city, navigating their way through the canals. Another had them all riding a sea current into the sky. Another had them all on the ship with the grass deck again, this time deep under the ocean.
Looking at all the different scenes, it suddenly clicked for him. This was the gap in his memories that he'd been feeling, those missing pieces that were just out of his reach.
He staggered back until his knees hit the bed and he sat down on it. His fingers traced over the scene currently in his hands, a party on deck with soft pink snow carefully falling around them. The shock and realization hit him as if a bucket of cold water was dumped on his head.
These were his memories.
So what were they doing in Pudding's drawer?
There was a knock on the doorframe, and he looked up to find Pudding standing there.
"Sanji," she said, "are you ready to-"
She froze when she saw what he was looking at, eyes going wide.
"These are my memories," he murmured, still not wanting to believe it, but it was hard when the truth was literally in his hand, "Aren't they?"
She at least had enough sense not to deny it as she entered the room slowly, carefully, as if she might startle him, "Sanji, darling, it's not what you think."
"What am I supposed to think?" he said as he looked back down at the film strip in his hand, "That you took two years of my life from me?" he clutched at the film strip, causing it to crinkle in his hands, "That you've been lying to me this whole time?"
"I did it to protect you," she said as she placed her hands carefully over his, "To protect us."
"Protect us from what?" he asked as he looked up at her. What could possibly necessitate this level of protection?
She bit her lip and looked away, "When you remember them, when you know them, you get sad. You get sad and you do and say such terrible things," she looked back at him, eyes wide and tearful, "You're the one who asked me to erase them."
Sanji snarled, feeling the anger bubbling up inside him, "Bullshit," he yanked his hands away and stood up, "You just didn't want me to leave you!"
"No, you wouldn't leave me," she cried, reaching out to him once more, "You love me, you do. You want to be with me."
"How can I believe that?" he ran a hand through his hair and took another step away from her, "How can I believe anything you say to me?"
"You do," she insisted, more forcefully this time, "You don't want to go with them, you want to stay with me. I know you do."
"I don't, I can't," he glared at her, "You took that choice away from me!"
She looked away at that, at least having the decency to look sheepish, "I'm," she started, taking a deep breath and looking at him, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you."
"You should have thought about that before you stole my memories," he snarled.
"I'm sorry," she said again, tears falling daintily down her cheeks, "What do you want me to do?"
He offered the film strips to her, "Put them back. Put them all back."
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, "Okay," slowly, she opened her eyes and they looked much clearer, a new resolve taking over her face, "Okay. Just, hold still."
Sanji closed his eyes and felt her hand touch the side of his head.
Warning bells went off inside his mind, his Observation Haki screaming 'danger' and 'don't' at him from every possible angle.
Before she could do anything, his hand snapped up and grabbed her wrist, tugging her hand away from his head.
"Sanji," she smiled at him, but it was shaky and wavering, "Darling, I'm trying to put them back."
Sanji's gaze was hard, his mouth a solid line as he said, "I've found them before, haven't I?"
Her three eyes went wide and her mouth fell open, but she said nothing, and that was all the answer he needed.
Slowly, he let her go and removed his ring, placing it on the nightstand. He heard her start crying, but he didn't turn around as he walked out of the apartment.
Sanji finds the pirate out on the Baratie's lower deck, exactly where Patty had left him, bloody, beaten, and starving. He places the food in front of him, "Eat."
The pirate's stomach grumbles once more, and he's pouncing on the food and devouring it like it's the greatest thing he's ever tasted in his life.
"I've never had such delicious food before," he says, turning away from Sanji as tears work their way down his face, "Thank you. I thought I was gonna die…"
He grins, it's always nice to hear his food being praised, and he's glad this guy finally got a good meal in him, "It's damn good, right?"
"You're so lucky! You got some food," someone laughs from one of the upper decks.
Sanji looks up, and there he is, with his too bright smile and the old straw hat perched on his head.
"Hey, Cook," Luffy says, looking down at Sanji, "Join my crew! Become the cook on my pirate ship!"
Sanji grins back at him, "Okay, sure."
Sanji made his way through the town, heading straight for the docks. When he arrived, there were no ships there, and a cold dread spread through him. Did they already leave? Was he too late?
But no, there, he could see the ship a little further down the beach, sunny lion figurehead and all. He ran as fast as he could towards the ship, but when he finally got there he found himself hesitating.
He knew who they were, but he still couldn't remember them. With the way his memories had been deleted, he couldn't really trust anything. Was this really the right choice?
In heart, he knew it was.
"Ahoy!" he shouted towards the deck, "Is anyone there?"
There was some movement, and then Luffy popped up over the railing. He grinned wide, resting his arms on the railing as he shouted back, "Ahoy, Sanji!"
Sanji grinned back, "Permission to come aboard, Captain?"
His smile widened, "Didja get your memories back?"
"No," he said, and Luffy's smile fell a little, "Is that going to be a problem?"
"Nope," his smile came back in full force as he stretched his hand down to him, "We'll just have to make new ones."
Sanji grabbed his hand and let himself be dragged back into his old life.