If Impel Down is hell, this would be its gate.
Bound with his hands behind his back and chained to the stone walls of the massive brig of the marine ship, no food, and two ten-minutes bathroom break each day (and only if that pathetic excuse of a prison guard isn’t drunk and remembers, that is), this is his personal hell. He doesn’t deserve this. He’s only a small-time member of a small-time pirate crew. His bounty is one million berries, and only because he accidentally tripped a particularly vengeful marine captain during a minor skirmish. He helped his crew pillaged a village, like, once.
It was just his luck that he managed to get into a bar fight with a weak-looking dude who turned out to be a not-so-weak pirate hunter, and two days ago he found himself in this marine ship, en-route to Impel Down.
His pirate dream died before it even began.
He sighs, allowing himself a short moment of self-pity. If he’s lucky, he’ll only have to serve a couple of months on the first level. Scars—physical and what not—seem imminent, but not lethal. A quiet life as a farmer far, far away from large bodies of water suddenly sounds like an interesting career prospect in the future.
If Black Leg doesn’t kill him today, that is.
The marine ship was not designed to keep the prisoners longer than it is necessary to transport them to Impel Down, so its brig is a simple, rectangular, single-room prison. All prisoners are lined up in the same room, chained to the stone wall, and it was impossible to miss the new prisoner coming in this morning.
It is, though, quite possible not to immediately recognize who he is.
Black Leg doesn’t exactly look like his old hand-drawn poster. His bang is covering the wrong side of his face and his goatee is longer than it is on the drawing, though one thing’s accurate—he has to bite down his laughter because, damn, he thought the swirly eyebrow was an exaggeration.
There was a new, updated bounty poster going around a few days before he was captured, though, and the real Black Leg resembles the ridiculous photo on the bounty enough. The “only alive” part of the bounty is unusual, practically unheard of, but the one hundred and seventy-fucking-seven million berries bounty stopped him from asking Black Leg about it.
Not that Black Leg could have answered. He was unconscious when three big, burly marines brought him in, naked from the waist up and nothing covering the countless cuts and bruises covering his body. Whispered commotion spread across the room as he was being chained to the wall like the rest of them, and the cacophony quickly turned into dead, pregnant silence as the marines impaled both of Black Leg’s feet into the prison floor with large, wooden stakes.
When Black Leg regained his consciousness, he was shaking. That was a minute ago. He’s still shaking, and it would’ve been understandable if he was shaking from pain, or fear, or shock.
A quick glance at his expression shows that Black Leg is instead shaking with anger.
A quiet life as a farmer, he prays to the gods he doesn’t believe in, but will, if he survives this in any way.
“Black Leg-san,” someone says, breaking the tense silence, and it takes him a few seconds before realizing that it’s his own voice.
Black Leg whips his head towards him, and he yelps.
“You have ten fucking seconds to tell me who did this,” Black Leg growls, wiggling his bleeding, torn feet as if wooden stakes piercing through your feet hurt as much as a mosquito bite, “or you’ll get a kick to the head. And believe me, my shitty nickname does not mention my legs for nothing.”
His threat carries way too much weight for someone whose feet are literally bolted to the floor.
He gulps and tells Black Leg everything he knows about the marine ship, and then some.
“They really didn’t feed you guys at all?” Black Leg says in concern.
Which is, well, touching, in a sense, but also mostly weird considering he has just told Black Leg the tortures that await them at Impel Down in gory, lurid details, and this is the one fact he latches onto.
He has long learned to stop questioning things about Black Leg. At least out loud.
There’s a unison, no, from the rest of the prisoners, and Black Leg frowns at them, eyebrow knitted in concern. For the first time since he was brought into the cell, he looks human.
He finds the courage to ask, “Black Leg-san, if you don’t mind me asking, why do you seem to be particularly concerned about this? It… shouldn’t be a surprise that they don’t bother to feed criminals like us.”
Black Leg shakes his head, and a dark look passes his expression as he growls, “a hungry criminal is a hungry human first.”
There’s a shiver crawling up his back, even knowing that Black Leg’s anger isn’t directed at him. The look disappears as quickly as it appeared—masked—and Black Leg questions the room with a calm, “do you guys know what I do for my crew?”
To the murmur of, no, Black Leg grins at them like a child and cheerfully says, “I’m the cook! So I’ll make sure to make a huge feast after I come back to save all of you.”
It’s… a nice sentiment, but rings like an empty promise considering their current predicament. He doesn’t miss the way the prisoners share disbelieving looks among themselves.
“All right, then, time to get out of here,” Black Leg says, more to himself this time, oblivious to the crowd’s collective disbelief, and before he can ask, how, Black Leg sits straighter and pulls his feet up through the wooden stakes.
The stakes are pluck out of the ground, thrown across the room and hit the prison bars before clattering uselessly on the floor.
“Fuck, shit, fuck, that hurts,” Black Leg mutters, which is one massive Understatement of the Year because normal people would have screamed and passed out from the pain alone. Black Leg simply crouches, before jumping into a handstand and then bends in a totally inhuman way as he swings his legs and smashes the chains binding his arms.
The entire room stares at him, stunned.
Black Leg walks toward the prison bars, rubbing his wrist nonchalantly as a trail of blood pools around his feet, and all he says is, “I can’t believe those asshats took my lighter too. That marimo head better keep my spare one like I told him to,” before breaking the bars with a single, explosive kick.
He then breaks the door open and casually walks out of the brig.
“He just told us he was the cook, right,” the bearded guy bound beside him whispers at him in disbelief, and, fuck, Beardy is absolutely correct, this guy isn’t the captain. There’s a strong guy with a pain threshold of a god, and the strawhats are making him cook.
Fuck getting saved. He wants absolutely nothing to do with this insane monsters of a pirate crew.
Monsters. Yeah, right.
There’s a loud boom as the center of the ceiling suddenly crashes into the ground, and there’s a hand, a stretched arm, and—before he can register what’s going on—an entire body shooting into the cell as the arm coils back to its original length.
The straw hat perched on the head of its owner tells them everything they need to know about who he is.
“WHERE’S SANJI,” he shouts, and the room stares at him in shock.
There’s silence before someone finally gathers enough of their scrambled brain to muster a weak, “uh, he busted through the bars and walked out.”
Straw Hat turns to see the gaping hole where the prison bars should have been, and panics for all the wrong reasons as he says, “oh no, he’s run away, HEY SANJI, LEAVE SOME GUYS FOR ME TO BEAT UP.”
Not even a minute has passed after Straw Hat ran out of the room, presumably chasing Black Leg, when the door suddenly catches on fire and a massive robot walks in. Uh, cyborg. Cyborg Franky, his short-circuiting brain helpfully supplies.
“Did I hear that right?” Cyborg Franky asks the crowd, completely oblivious to the burning door, the caved in ceiling, and the broken metal bars, “did Eyebrow-Bro really get out and start on the fun before us?”
He doesn’t wait for an answer before running out of the room in an eerie reenactment of Straw Hat’s earlier antics, yelling, “wait for me, Cook-Bro!”
He needs, like, an entire year to process all these confusing events, but the surprises just keep coming, this time in the form of a ragtag group of a guy with a ridiculously long nose, a reindeer, and—for once—a normal, human-looking woman.
The three of them take one look at the state of the prison room before the humans fall onto their hands and knees in despair.
“I should’ve known,” the woman cries, “I really should’ve known Sanji-kun would’ve escaped by himself… why did I even risk myself to go onto a marine ship that doesn’t even have treasures on board…”
“Even if we have said so, Luffy and Zoro would not have wanted to 'miss out on the fun',” the long-nosed guy replies, and he can hear the quotation marks as clearly as the suffering in his voice.
The reindeer turns into a raccoon, and because this is the strawhats, it’s a talking raccoon that starts sputtering, “oh no, that must have been Sanji’s blood, why would he be walking around after losing so much blood, somebody call a doctor!”
“You are the doctor,” long-nosed guy and the woman say in unison.
“Nami,” a feminine voice suddenly says, way too close to his ear for it to be possible, and he loses it all over again when he turns and sees that it’s a mouth, it’s a fucking mouth plastered on a wall as it moves and calmly says, “I believe our dear cook is enquiring about your safety.”
The trio don’t seem to find this alarming, or even anything out of the ordinary. The woman—he finally recognizes her as Cat Burglar Nami now—only holds up a hand and says, “tell him I’m fine and that I’m going to kill him.”
The mouth chuckles. “Sanji would be happy to hear such a lively answer,” it says, amused, before disappearing into the wall.
There’s an explosion in a distance, and the ship shakes.
Long-nosed guy sighs at that, less in a, holy shit there’s an explosion on this ship and I’m going to die way, and more in a, aw shucks, our kid accidentally knocked over a glass of milk way.
Cat Burglar Nami sighs, echoing his sentiment.
“I hope Luffy remembers not to sink the ship before we get out of it first,” the talking raccoon says.
And like whirlwind, the group runs out of the room and is gone in an instant, leaving a confusing mess behind.
The room falls silent.
Monsters, he thinks. Ha.
These guys are beyond monsters.
No matter how you slice it—pun fully intended—Pirate Hunter Zoro is lost, and not even in the metaphorical sense.
Not that anyone dares to point that out, of course.
“What do you mean this isn’t the galley?” Pirate Hunter asks for the third time. He has run into the room, asked for the directions to the galley, run out of the room, and somehow—in a straight, narrow corridor—managed to make a solid 180 degrees turn and run back into the room. Twice.
“This is the brig,” he explains for the third time too, and bites back the sarcastic, I mean, I understand the confusion, it’s not like there’s prisoners being chained onto the walls, oh, wait.
“Ugh, whatever, I just need to go up, right—“ he hisses, but trails off when his eye falls onto the only empty spot on the wall where Black Leg was, noticing it for the first time.
His eye immediately catches the trail of blood smudging the floor all the way towards the door, and it doesn’t take long to put two and two together on what’s happened.
Pirate Hunter’s voice is quiet when he says, “that’s the Cook’s blood.”
It’s a statement, not a question, but he finds himself answering anyway with a, “he seemed, uh, fine when he did that.”
The swordsman shakes his head at that and—in a surprising display of weakness—runs his hand in his hair in frustration as he says, “would it kill him to sit back for once and let us do the saving.”
It takes another minute for Pirate Hunter Zoro to calm himself down, and he watches the swordsman grit his teeth, unsheathe his last sword and school his expression into something resembling his earlier, calmer demeanor.
He looks up at the ceiling as he asks, “did you guys talk about anything else?”
“We, uh, talked about how haven’t eaten in a couple of days?” Beardy says, because it seems like the one topic that stood out the most.
Pirate Hunter Zoro smiles around the hilt of his sword, and it’s almost fond.
“Of course you did,” he says, spins his blade, and creates a makeshift route to the galley through another gaping hole in the ceiling.
Black Leg, as promised, returns.
It’s not as if he ever doubted Black Leg’s words, but hearing a promise and having it fulfilled are two starkly different experiences. A hand sprouts on the wall—courtesy of one Devil Child Nico Robin, he has now learned—and unlocks the cuffs for him, while the reindeer-turned-raccoon—who is, in an interesting twist, the ship's doctor instead of pet—examines the prisoners one by one.
Black Leg Sanji is grinning at them, at him. His terrifying monster of a crew is towering behind Black Leg, one billion and five hundred million berries worth of bounty in all its terrible glory, and he has never felt so safe.
The feast, like everything else about the Straw Hat Pirates, is impressively massive.
He eats for the first time in two days, and it’s the best meal he’s ever had in his life.
He scans the crowd in an attempt to find Black Leg. Sanji, he has told them to drop the titles, but he knows better—Black Leg lives in a world so completely different from the one he’s in, and his mind finds it difficult to wrap around the idea that he’s something softer than his title, that there’s something fragile and human underneath.
He finds Black Leg at the edge of the crowd, not quite apart but not truly in either. An observer. Pirate Hunter Zoro stands beside him.
He walks towards them, waving his hand to catch Black Leg’s attention, but the thank you dies in his lips as he gets closer.
The cook and the swordsman stand close to each other, shoulders and hips touching, and they’re talking to each other in low, hushed voices. It might be subconscious, but their bodies are leaning towards each other, heads curved into one another’s space like closed parentheses, and in the loud, boisterous cacophony of the feast, they have managed to carve up a space for just the two of them.
The sight catches his breath.
They are only talking, nothing out of the ordinary at first glance, but in that moment, he knows this is true: to come between them right now is to intrude on a private moment.
They continue to talk to each other with small smiles tugging on their lips, their exchange obviously familliar—a teasing punch on the shoulder, a friendly kick to the leg—before Pirate Hunter Zoro finally lifts his hand, places it at the back Black Leg’s neck in a practiced sweep, and leans in to kiss him.
In a different place, a different time, there are those who are blind and hateful enough to question the idea of two men embracing each other in such a romantic light. He has known better.
In the world of talking reindeers and devil fruits, falling in love is the most human thing he has seen Sanji do.
(Maybe this pirate life isn't so bad.)
“This separation would have broken my heart,” Brook says, “but I don’t have one anymore because I’m already dead! Yohoho! Skull joke!”
“Uh, Sanji-san,” he says as Nami exasperatedly pushes the musician away from the crowd and into the deck of Thousand Sunny, “he’s…joking about being dead, right.”
Sanji doesn’t even miss a beat as he says, “no, no, he really died once. I mean,” he makes a vague gesture at the man, as if trying to convey how he’s literally a skeleton with an afro.
He blinks, and feels a migraine coming.
A quiet life as a farmer truly is an interesting career prospect.