Dedicated to Doom Candy.
A warm palm slid down his jaw, fingers touching carefully, lightly. He raised his eyes to the man above him. He had such a soft smile, even wrinkles in the corners of his eyes seemed like he was smiling - his whole face was smiling.
Sanji felt the corners of his own mouth rise weakly. Though for some reason he couldn't part his lips to speak, as if they were glued.
The man nuzzled into his shoulder, his slow breath tickling Sanji's skin. He felt peaceful and calm, raising his hand to run his fingers through the man's short green hair, but the man pulled away from his chest. His dark brown eyes locked with Sanji's blue, and his lips quivered, as he whispered:
"Wake up, Sanji."
He threw his eyes open. White ceiling was staring blindly downwards at him, cold blankets wrapped around his trembling body. The bed was empty - half-empty. Sanji's throat started to cover with familiar bitterness, numb lump forming inside it. He shut his eyes tightly, trying to return into his dream. He could feel cold liquid gathering between his eyelids. Sanji clenched his teeth, trying to kill harsh sobs forming in his chest.
It was another morning of unbearable despair, another one since Zoro died two months ago. Sanji burrowed his face into the unfriendly pillow, wrapping his arms around it and feeling only coldness.
He didn't want to get up and go to work again. Why? What was the meaning of all his responsibilities now? He continued going to the restaurant like a zombie, deriving zero satisfaction from the process of cooking he used to enjoy so much. He loved to cook in former times, he loved it a lot.
"Hm, Cook, what's this?" Zoro asked with his mouth full. His face showed curiosity mixed with pleasure from the food Sanji had prepared for him.
"Don't speak while eating, idiot." Sanji rolled his eyes. He was trying to hide a pleased grin with biting his quivering lips. "It's lasagna. Mushrooms, mince, tomatoes." He explained hastily: Zoro wouldn't remember all the ingredients anyway.
"Umm, it's delicious." Zoro chuckled, still chewing the food. Sanji smiled softly and slightly ruffled his hair. A pleased smile was the best award for the chef; especially if it was a smile from his closest person.
Sanji's heart ruptured into small pieces as he realized it was just a memory from the past and he wouldn't have a simple dinner with Zoro ever again. He sat up abruptly, throwing the cold pillow to the wall, tears running down his cheeks. Clenching his teeth tightly, he collected all his will to keep in a roar that was trying to break out of his ribs. The urge was irresistible, and a desperate cry almost escaped his mouth, but he blocked it sharply, sinking his teeth into his wrist.
Small hissings and howls sounded through the bitten flesh, and he couldn't recognize his own voice. He bit himself stronger, and finally the tears stopped flowing, as numb pain pierced his hand. He released his wrist; heavy erratic sighs joggled his lungs. A mark on his skin was a deep white print of his jaw. He wiped his swollen eyes with the back of his hand.
Sanji didn't feel like he was really able to stand up from the bed. His body was almost senseless, numb, as if he lost consciousness yesterday instead of falling asleep.
He glanced at the empty place on the huge bed. He still wasn't used to sleep alone, and every night he cringed on his side, hugging only cold blankets and pillows that of course never could grant him any warmth.
The back pressed to his stomach was shivering, and he could hear clattering of teeth.
"Damn it, why is it so fucking cold today," Zoro growled. Sanji shrugged, but since he was resting behind the man, Zoro couldn't catch his expression.
The central heating was down for today and chill was crawling into their apartment from outside, stealing all warmth from their bodies.
"I can't sleep like this," Zoro raised his head to look at Sanji and then turned completely, clutching the blond in a tight embrace. Sanji chuckled, wrapping his arms around the man's neck. His fingers touched Zoro's earrings, making them chink slightly.
"I can warm you if you want," He whispered eagerly into the man's ear. Zoro grinned and leaned in to give him a kiss.
His thoughts were interrupted by a deafening phone ringing. It cut silence in the air sharply, and irritation distracted Sanji just a little from his bitter slumber.
However, he didn't rush to pick up the phone. The blond got up from the bed reluctantly and headed to the wardrobe. Opening it, he pulled out a shirt and a pair of black trousers. The clothes were wrinkled and needed a wash, but Sanji couldn't care less.
The receiver switched, and a woman's voice sounded around the lonesome apartment.
"Hello Sanji, it's Nami."
He buttoned the shirt and then noticed a cuff of one sleeve was torn.
"I haven't seen you in ages, how are you?" Nami chuckled, but her cheerfulness faded quickly. "Please, pick up the phone. I know you're in there. We're all worried about you."
For a moment a thought that he should stitch up the sleeve or at least change this shirt to another one reached his mind. But then he realized it was the only one remained; one, which didn't stink as hell.
"So, umm, I call you because the guys are going to throw a party today," Nami continued. "Everyone will come to Luffy and Ace's place, I think it will be fun and you definitely should join us!"
Sanji frowned. He definitely didn't want to participate in any events now, especially in ones that were so much crowded and rowdy.
"If you decide to join, you can just call me, or Luffy, or Usopp… And, Ace called doctor Law here as well. Please, come. We'll be waiting for you. Bye." A loud beep cut her voice off.
The scowl on his forehead deepened. He grabbed a pack of cigarettes from the nightstand and slid one out, then placed it between his chapped lips and lit it up.
That doctor Law was a psychotherapist, and Sanji knew perfectly well what they were trying to do, inviting him. Sanji's friends were sure he would help him, though the blond was sure he didn't need this kind of help.
His dreams were his last-ditch since Zoro's unfair death, and he couldn't just throw them away. His life had become a somber existence from one night to another: nights being the only time when he was able to met Zoro again. And Sanji didn't want to lose his only possible opportunity to be with his love. Even if it wasn't real.
He walked automatically to the bathroom. He didn't feel willing enough to shave, though he couldn't go to work without brushing his teeth. He stood up in front of a mirror on the tiled wall, facing his own reflection.
A shell of a man was looking back at him with dull eyes, dark bags below them. He lost so much weight and his facial features sharpened, making him look much older than he actually was. Deep seeming wrinkles were imprinted on his forehead; his neck reminded more of a leather-covered bone, the Adam's apple protruding from it like his neck was broken. His hair was scruffy, and its usual golden glimmer faded into washy-yellow, streaked with gray here and there.
Sanji couldn't recognize the man who was looking at him with empty, muted eyes from the mirror.
"Move over, Cook!" Zoro rolled his eyes. One of his cheeks was still covered with shaving foam. Sanji giggled, glancing at him in the mirror.
"I haven't finished yet, Marimo. Wait a minute," He smoothed his hair with his fingers, covered in sticky gel.
"I'll be late at work, idiot!" The green haired man pushed the blond slightly with his elbow. "Stop primping, you're already hand-"
Zoro cut himself off, staring confusedly in the mirror, where the blond's face was breaking into an amused smile.
"I'm already what?" Sanji wondered playfully, his reflection smirking at the man.
"An idiot." Zoro grabbed a towel to remove the foam and the blond noticed he was smiling.
Sanji finished brushing his teeth, refreshed his dull face and exited the bathroom without extra glances at the mirror. He was sick of his own reflection. He couldn't understand what purpose of his existence was if he had lost everything he loved. Why did he have to continue to live in this world, where only coldness met him in the mornings and sent him to sleep at nights?
He kicked the bathroom door blankly, instantly feeling his toes being pierced with pain and then going numb. He cursed, feeling a wave of bitterness overflowing him again.
The blond slid down the wall, clutching into his hair as if he tried to wrest it. A thought that he didn't really want to come to work now filled his mind, though in reality he didn't want to go anywhere at all. Tears were running down his face with renewed vigor. He made an almost inhuman effort to stand up, trying not to think about anything. Because everything reminded him of Zoro.
Sanji went down to the parking lot, pulling his keys out of his pocket, and automatically inserted one into the lock. He got into the car, started it and drove to the 'Baratie'.
The streets were empty and cold, freeze having wiped out all the people from there. Sanji lit up a cigarette and inhaled, barely having enough strength to hold it between his lips.
"Cook, when will you stop smoking in the car?" Zoro snorted, turning the wheel with an easy movement.
"You don't mind when I'm smoking in the apartment, so why do you complain about the car all the time?" Sanji was already sick of Zoro's never-ending remarks about his habit.
"Who told you I didn't mind?" Despite the fact Zoro was observing the road and didn't turn at Sanji, the blond noticed a deep scowl on his forehead. He sighed exasperatedly, crushing the cigarette over the ashtray.
"Okay, are you happy now?" He asked touchily, crossing his arms on his chest.
"No," Zoro answered quietly, and Sanji realized how bitter his voice was sounding. He was obviously upset.
The blond bit his lower lip. Zoro was always like that – even when he cared about someone, he could never say straight that he was concerned - somehow he found it embarrassing.
"If you're dissatisfied with something, you better say it," Sanji uttered carefully.
The green haired man lowered his gaze for a second, then his eyes returned to peering at the road. He said nothing, though Sanji couldn't help but break into a small smile: Zoro was worried about him.
He stopped at the 'Baratie' parking lot and came out. The air was permeated with freeze, but this was not what made Sanji shiver. He was already cold at the point where neither ice, nor snow were able to make it worse.
If his life had become hell, then his work was pronouncedly its ninth circle. Even if he was able to distract himself a little from the endless stream of despair, he was stuck in a very noisy and overcrowded place. Even if all the chefs had become more careful towards him, and even Patty and Carne stopped their scoffs since they had learned what happened in Sanji's life; the most unbearable thing was his conversations with Zeff.
His step-father tried to act carefully, but he always ended up with pointless inquiries about Sanji's state. In another situation Sanji would probably be grateful for the old man's concern, but since he was trying to distract himself, the geezer's worries were a usual reminder of his tragedy.
This day wasn't an exception. Sanji was cutting ingredients monotonically, trying to block all the rattle and noise that were filling up the kitchen, when a clatter of a wooden leg drew near him.
"Hey, eggplant," The old man addressed.
"Eggplant!" Zeff's roar sounded across the kitchen. "Your damned green eggplant is here!"
Sanji turned at the direction of the kitchen's entrance and among all the chefs' heads noticed the one with green hair. He smiled, put down a knife, wiped his hands and moved to the door. As soon as he approached the two men, he noticed Zoro's annoyed expression. The green haired man stood still with his arms across his chest. Zeff was muttering curses as always.
"How many times do I have to tell you: you-are-not-allowed-in-here, moss-brain!"
"Calm down, geezer," Zoro rolled his eyes. "I'm not touching anything here, I'm not Luffy."
Sanji could barely suppress his giggles: it was always so funny to watch Zeff and Zoro bicker.
"Oi, Cook," Zoro smiled as he noticed Sanji. "Hi."
"Hi, Marimo," He smiled back, ignoring Zeff's still ongoing curses. "Have a lunch break?"
"Yeah. Wanna join me?"
Sanji nodded enthusiastically, then took his apron off and hung it on the hook.
"Where are you going, little idiot, it's still half an hour before your lunch break!" Zeff exclaimed victoriously. Sanji checked his wristwatch: right, it was too early for a break. He turned to Zoro with a slightly disappointed expression and shrugged. But when he was already about to return to the counter, Zoro said to Zeff:
"Okay geezer, but if he isn't going right now, it means I'll wait for him here." He took a chair, making its backrest face the kitchen, and flopped down with his elbows on top of it, smirking. Zeff slapped his palm over his forehead and slid it down, hiding a small smile and pretending he still wasn't persuaded.
"Nah, shitty eggplants," He turned sharply to the counter. Sanji chuckled at his funny behavior and nodded to Zoro, implying they should go now.
"Are you even listening?"
Sanji blinked. Zeff had been speaking for several minutes, and he realized he'd missed all his words while being lost in his thoughts.
The old man sighed heavily and put his palm onto the younger man's shoulder.
"Sanji, did you have a breakfast today?"
"I drank coffee," Sanji uttered huskily. It was the first time that day he had been talking to somebody. He lied without thinking, because he knew Zeff would be pissed off if he knew Sanji hadn't eaten.
"Come here," The old man took him by an elbow and conducted to the stuff's dining table. "Sit," He offered, pointing his finger at one of the chairs.
Sanji obeyed reluctantly. His stomach was clinging to his ribs and aching steadily, though it didn't bother him. He had no appetite for a long time already, all food tasted flavorless to him.
"Here," Zeff took out a plate with some sandwiches from the fridge and placed it in front of the blond.
"It's too early for a lunch break," Sanji whispered. His eyes were slowly filling with scalding liquid.
Zeff poured tea in a cup and handed it to the younger man, sitting down on a chair next to him.
"Eat, Sanji," His tone was filled with pity and concern, and if Sanji had more strength, he would, as before, definitely throw a fight.
He bit a piece of bread, his dry, bitten mouth filling with saliva. It was hard to swallow because of the lump, which stuck in his throat; he chocked and coughed. Zeff clapped his back slightly, looking at him so compassionately, that Sanji felt another keen wave of self-hatred.
"You can return to living in my apartment if you want," Zeff said quietly. Sanji chewed the sandwich, trying not to break into tears in front of him, though he couldn't keep the one that escaped his eye treacherously. He avoided the eye-contact with the old man, silently waiting for him to go back to his work.
The old man sighed.
"At least you should definitely take a vacation," He suggested not as confidently as he apparently wanted. "Go to trip somewhere, maybe."
"It's okay, I don't need it," Sanji uttered without much emotion.
"Think about it again," The chef said, standing up from the chair. Sanji was mentally grateful that the old man finally decided to leave him be. Though when Zeff was already heading to his workplace, he turned to Sanji one last time and added: "It would be better if you took somebody with you."
Sanji had no idea how he managed to survive yet another dull workday that was so similar to all other days of his dismal existence. He drove to his apartment, not really paying attention to the road. He had almost hit other cars a couple of times, and the drivers shouted at him crossly through the windows, gesticulating abusively. Nevertheless, Sanji never reacted to their madness, as the former Sanji would probably do.
He entered the apartment quietly, throwing his boots off to the side.
"I'm home," He mumbled unconfidently, as if somebody could answer him.
"I'm home, Zoro!" Sanji exclaimed loudly. Holding an insane amount of paper bags, he slammed the door shut with his heel and stooped to put them down. It was finally a Friday evening, and he was in anticipation to spend the entire weekend without going outside, curled up on the couch with Zoro and watching some movies.
"Welcome, Curly-brow," Zoro's head popped out from the corner of the kitchen.
"Hey, what are you doing there, idiot? Bring your stupid ass here!" Sanji pouted, pretending to be annoyed.
"Wait a min- Fuck!"
The blond heard a suspicious rattle of utensils. He rolled his eyes: Zoro's clumsiness was as big as his permanent desire to surprise Sanji.
He entered the kitchen, which turned out to be in such a mess that for a moment he even doubted if his plans for the weekend were now feasible. Zoro was standing in the center of this chaos, wearing Sanji's favorite apron. The green haired man, as well as the walls and the floor, was stained with god-knows-what. An inverted pot with some viscid liquid – chocolate, apparently – was a finishing touch to the scene. Sanji was about to open his mouth, ready to shout curses, but Zoro's face with such a lost expression made him burst out laughing instead. It was almost cute how the man was upset with his failure, as if he was an innocent child who had accidentally overturned a bowl.
"Why are you laughing at me, shitty cook?" Zoro scowled, turning away. Still it was obvious how embarrassed he was.
"Oh my poor Marimo," Sanji approached the man from behind and wrapped his arms around Zoro's chest. The cook was still giggling, but he could feel Zoro's tensed body relaxing now, and the green haired man burst out laughing himself.
Sanji entered the kitchen. He spent there most of his time before, but now there was no point in cooking just for himself. His new habit to eat only dinner was unhealthy, he knew it perfectly well, but today his stomach was refusing even this single meal. Then he remembered that he had already eaten at the 'Baratie', so it wouldn't do any harm to skip. Instead of having a dinner, he headed to one of the drawers and found a dark-glass bottle there.
Sanji wasn't used to drink strong alcohol; he had always preferred fine wines or vermouth. This half-empty bottle of rum belonged to Zoro, one heavy drinker. Sanji had always been concerned with the man's bad habit, but since he wasn't so innocent himself, smoking about fifteen cigarettes per day, he never complained about it.
He grabbed the bottle and walked into the living room. He sat down on the couch, placing his shins under himself, and took a gulp of liquor. The rum was rough and warmed his throat instantly. He looked at the switched off TV in front of him and thought maybe it wasn't a bad idea to watch it.
A movie that was being broadcasted there at the moment seemed to be interesting and could probably distract him from his painful thoughts at least for a little while. Sanji rested his arm on the back of the couch, sipping the alcohol slowly.
The movie was about two former lovers, who decided to erase the memories of themselves from each other's minds. There was a pseudo-scientific explanation for the operation of removal: a computer device that was able to spot certain memories while the person who wanted to get rid of them was sleeping. The protagonist never looked like he really wanted to do it, but forced himself to do it, since his lover had deleted her memories about him. Sanji felt really sorrowful, watching how the poor guy began to regret his rushed decision to forget her. The girl was indeed an extraordinary person, considering from all the flashbacks about her in the man's dream. Moreover, she had a habit of dyeing her hair outright crazy colors: red, blue, orange.
The story was getting more and more intensive, and Sanji was involved completely. He lost his breath, watching the two persons, who desperately loved each other, being in such an unfair situation. But then there was a scene about their acquaintance. The blond suddenly felt his gut turning cold: the girl, the protagonist's love, had green hair.
Sanji clicked the control panel harshly. A wave of dread and anguish overflowed him; he noticed his hands were trembling. He slumped down on the floor, falling on his knees, dropping the empty bottle, as yearning weakened his grip.
Utter helplessness possessed his soul. He couldn't even comprehend how he ended up crooked on the floor, his face twitching in pain and his chest emitting first quiet whines, then loud-mouthed sobs. He hit the floor with his fist, feeling steady ache rising in his knuckles, but he didn't care about it at all. Physical pain was nothing compared to what he was experiencing within.
Tears streamed down his face, leaving a disgusting sense of self-pity. He hated himself for being weak. Zoro would never praise him for such pathetic behavior. This thought made Sanji collect himself for a moment. What would Zoro feel if Sanji were the one to die? Would Zoro cry? Would Zoro miss him as bad as Sanji did?
"IT DOESN'T MATTER SINCE HE'S DEAD!"
Sanji didn't expect to shout this, and the sound of his own broken voice made him even angrier. He punched his own forehead with his fist, though he didn't have enough force to bring any significant harm.
"Why the hell, Marimo?!"
He sent a kick so harsh that Zoro barely was able to dodge. The green haired man withdrew his swords, still having that unreadable gaze.
"Calm down, shit-cook," He uttered strictly. "Save your rage outbursts for someone else."
"For whom, you bastard?!" Sanji raised his leg sharply, ready to deal a blow again, but Zoro managed to catch his shin on the fly.
"Listen," He pressed the blond against the wall. His grip was tight, and Sanji was sure if Zoro made it just a bit stronger he would probably break his bone. "It was just an accident. I have to become stronger, and that fight was another step towards my goal."
"Your goal… What if he killed you?!" Sanji roared at the man's face. He felt Zoro's clutch weaken, then he lowered his hand and pressed his forehead to Sanji's shoulder. The blond felt calmer, but he still panted.
"Don't worry about me. I'm sure he knew what he was doing," Zoro whispered. "And this scar would be a reminder that I have to beat him someday."
Sanji felt the wave of anger leaving him. He ran his fingers through the man's green hair and pressed his lips to Zoro's temple. He knew the importance of Zoro's dream, but he couldn't help worrying about him.
A ringing of the cell phone made Sanji flinch: he suddenly realized his consciousness had been slowly fading. He pulled the vibrating phone from his pants pocket. The screen showed Robin's number. For a moment he was ready to throw the phone away, but then decided to pick up: Robin didn't call him often, maybe something had happened.
His voice sounded hoarse because of the previous outburst. He cleared his throat quietly.
"Hello Sanji, where are you?" A velvet voice asked.
"I'm at home, what is it?"
"I thought you were invited to the party. Didn't Nami call you?"
Sanji caught himself on a thought that he absolutely forgot about the invitation. Though he'd never been up to go there anyway.
"She called, but I'm a little busy, so I can't come. Give her my apologies," He tried to sound as soft as it was possible.
"Oh, what's a pity," Robin uttered with sincere regret. "Anyway, I'm driving not far from your apartment now, will you mind if I visit?"
Sanji frowned. From all his friends Robin was the nicest person to talk to, but he didn't want her to see him in such a poor state.
"By the way, Franky asked me to bring you something," She sighed. "Or rather, he asked about it a long time ago, but I was afraid you would… Umm, nevermind."
Sanji's eyes widened. If it was the thing he was thinking about, then he definitely needed to get it.
"Alright, I'm waiting for you, Robin," He tried to sound more cheerful and almost succeeded in doing it.
"Fine, I'll be at your place in fifteen minutes," She chuckled softly and hanged up.
Sanji stood up from the floor. A slight excitement made him feel really better. He knew that it was only a temporary improvement, but for that moment he didn't need more.
He changed his wrinkled formal clothes to a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, and sat down on the couch, knocking his fingers impatiently over his knee.
Robin arrived in fifteen minutes as she promised, no more or less. Sanji opened the door and was greeted with a pleasant smile of the raven haired woman. She stepped inside, removing a snow-covered hood form her head.
"Hello, Sanji," She looked at the man brightly. "May I come in?"
"Sure," The blond smiled at her weakly. "Do you want some coffee?"
She handed her coat to Sanji and headed to the kitchen. The man hanged her clothes on the hook and followed her silently.
Robin was wearing a nice violet dress with V-neck that emphasized her beauty perfectly. Anybody would admire her gracefulness, as she sat down at the chair, crossing her long legs beneath the table.
"How are you?" She asked quietly, with a barely noticeable hint of worry. Her position made her face the living room, where the empty bottle of rum was still lying on the floor.
"I'm alright," Sanji lied without a second thought. He didn't want his friends to worry about him, Nami and Robin being the last ones he would like to be concerned.
He poured two cups of coffee (though he didn't want to drink it, probably made a cup for himself automatically) and placed them on the table. Robin smiled at him and he sat down at the opposite side, his back to the living room.
The raven haired woman took a sip, nodding gratefully. Then she turned to pick up her bag, rummaged inside it and pulled out an envelope. Sanji's heart skipped a beat: it seemed he had guessed right.
"Here," She placed the envelope on the table.
Sanji hesitated for a moment, feeling his hands beginning to shake again. He wasn't sure if it was better to open it now or later, when Robin would leave.
"Do you mind looking at them together?" She asked. Sanji was caught out of the blue with her question.
"Oh, if you want, of course," He answered reluctantly: he couldn't refuse a suggestion from a lady.
Robin moved her chair closer to Sanji. The blond took the envelope with his cold, trembling fingers. He only wished he wouldn't burst out crying in front of her.
Sanji pulled a pile of photos from the envelope. They had been taken on Franky and Robin's wedding a month before Zoro died. Sanji kept all of their joint photos in the album, but never went through them since the accident; he was scared to look at Zoro's face. That's why now his hands were shaking and his gut was flopping: he wasn't sure how he would react to the photos, especially the ones he'd never seen before.
Sanji looked at the first photo. There were he and Robin together, smiling brightly. In the background Luffy and Usopp were dancing – or simply jumping – wearing similar wide smiles. Nami was also there, she was sitting on the chair, sipping wine from a long glass. And next to her – Sanji lost his breath – the back of the certain green haired man was visible. It was hard to guess Zoro's expression since his face wasn't captured. He was turned to Nami and probably talking to her. What were they talking about? Sanji wondered.
"You're so beautiful on this one, Robin," He turned to the woman, trying to distract himself. A familiar tingling was already forming under his eyelids. He blinked several times, smiling.
"Thanks," Robin chuckled. "By the way, I liked this suit you were wearing, such a deep color of blue."
Sanji nodded, barely paying attention to her compliment. He set the photo aside and looked at the second one.
Now Robin wasn't in there. Usopp and Luffy were smiling as widely as on the previous image, their hands on both Nami's shoulders. The red haired girl had a slightly irritated expression – the guys probably managed to annoy her even at the party. Sanji slid his gaze to the side.
Zoro was crossing his arms over his chest, one brow raised. His face conveyed absolute confusion, and a possible reason of it was also guessable. Sanji stood next to him, his arm wrapped around Zoro's shoulders, his head lowered to the green haired man's ear. Judging by Sanji's conspiratorial look, he was probably saying something dirty to catch the man out of guard just in jest.
"You two look so funny here," Robin giggled. "What did you say to him?"
"I don't remember."
It wasn't an actual lie, though Sanji felt somewhat embarrassed, even his ears flushed. He put the photograph on the table, deciding to inspect it more carefully later.
The next image made him freeze. In the foreground Nami was laughing happily, Luffy squeezing her shoulder. Usopp was holding hands with Chopper, both hopping and smiling. Near a tree in the background he and Zoro were kissing. The green haired man's arms were wrapped around Sanji's waist. Sanji was obviously trying to push him away since there was a camera pointed at them, though his face wasn't angry, more like he was ready to burst out laughing. The corner of Zoro's mouth was raised in a small grin.
"What a lovely picture," Robin chuckled. "Everyone is so happy here."
Sanji was lost for a second, thinking what he should reply, but then Robin's cell phone rang.
"Sorry, wait a moment," The woman said shortly, standing and picking up.
The blond looked at the photograph silently. Robin was right: everybody was happy there. He and Zoro were happy. Zoro was happy and alive. A familiar lump took its shape in Sanji's throat, it became hard to breathe. He squeezed his eyes shut.
"Oh, yes, I'll be there soon." One-sided conversation sounded from the hallway. "Yes. Yes. Oh…" Robin's voice became quieter, though Sanji heard it anyway. "Nami, I think it's not the best idea right now. You know, he's still…" Apparently, Nami cut her off. "Alright, I'll ask him, but I doubt he'll agree."
She returned to the kitchen with an uncertain smile on her face and was about to start talking, when Sanji cut her off in advance.
"Sorry, I overheard what you were talking about. As I already said, I won't come."
Robin's smile faded, but she nodded understandingly.
"They just want you to be happy again," She whispered.
"I know. I'm sorry I didn't meet the expectations."
Robin left in the next several minutes, and his apartment became empty again. Sanji felt his throat going dry and returned to the kitchen to drink some water.
The photos were still lying on the table. He threw a short glance at them. No, he wouldn't be able to look at the rest of them now. After drinking a whole glass, he placed the pictures back in the envelope and headed to the bedroom.
Familiar coldness and darkness that became his only friends at lonely nights even met him somewhat affably. He put the envelope on the bookshelf, promising himself that someday he'd certainly look through the pictures.
He lay down on the icy bed without taking his clothes off. He was emotionally broken and exhausted after another long day of painful struggle, and as soon as his head touched the cold pillow, he sunk into restless slumber.
The man was barely breathing. His hands were covered in blood, a large disgusting wound exposing a mess of organs.
Sanji felt a strong hit of nausea, yet it wasn't his prime feeling. He stared at the green – now red – haired man bluntly, his tongue not able to move and process any sounds.
"Sanji…" The man rasped. His pierced lungs were probably filled with blood.
Sanji felt his limbs going numb. He just stared. He couldn't move any of his fingers. A wave of unbearable dread iced his gut. He fell on his knees near the man and only mumbling escaped his throat.
"Hey… why are you so… terrified…" The corners of Zoro's mouth raised weakly, barely visible.
Sanji wished he could cry. Wished he could say something. Wished he could smile back at least, but he never did anything, just continued to stare into Zoro's fading eyes, overwhelmed. He stared, he was silent, he was trembling and frozen in terror.
"Don't worry… about me…" The man whispered. His eyelids lowered slowly.
Sanji's eyes snapped open and he realized he was crying in his sleep. Bitter, heavy, familiar sense overflowed him. His face wet from tears, his own trembling voice – all the things he hated so much, were again the reason of his awakening.
Sometimes his dreams about Zoro were full of nostalgia and pleasant memories, but he had seen nightmares as well. A reminder of Zoro's death that he would never forget woke him up that morning. A reminder that he didn't bid his farewell, didn't assure Zoro he was alright, didn't say anything even when he had a chance – that was the thing he would never forgive himself for.
All the bitterness in his heart was replaced with dull emptiness as soon as his tears dried. He turned to the window, where the gray sky was the only thing he could see.
Another day in hell. He had had to go to work.
Sanji sat up in the bed, feeling his body ache in every corner of it. His muscles were throbbing steadily when he moved. It probably was the effect of yesterday's rum. How could Zoro drink so much without having hangovers?
Sanji glanced at the clock – he still had a lot of time before work. He stood up and walked heavily to the bathroom. At least physical ache could distract him a little.
He undressed, avoiding his own reflection in the mirror, and stepped in the shower. Turning a tap, he instantly felt icy water cover his body. He didn't shiver from cold, but his pale body tingled with horripilation.
"Idiot, we'll be late, get ou- Ah!"
Zoro's tongue warmed his cold skin. Sanji was used to taking cold showers, but Zoro in his turn always wanted to make them hot.
"Make the water hotter, damn it," He whispered, his fingers sliding down the blond's spine.
"You can just wait and take a shower by yourself, dumbass," Sanji tried to show his irritation, though Zoro's hands on his skin didn't allow him to keep cool. The blue eyes rolled up as Zoro pressed himself to Sanji's back and slid his hands down the blond's thighs.
"Do you really want me to get out now?" The green haired man smirked, his lips brushing over Sanji's pale neck. The blond closed his eyes, feeling the other man's warmth.
"I really want you, I'd say," He chuckled playfully. "But we don't have enough time and-"
Zoro's whisper touched Sanji's earlobe at the same time as his fingers touched the blond's length. Sanji gasped quietly.
"And I totally forgot was I was going to say," He murmured, stroking Zoro's jaw. The man's earrings tinkled, their chime mixing with the sound of water.
He suppressed a hopeless shout inside his throat; a constrained sound escaped his trembling chest. His hands were shaking, his trembling legs ready to give out. He slid down the tiled wall, hiding his face in his palms. Cold fingers met his cold face; cold water mixed with cold tears. Heavy anguish lacerated his heart, tearing it into pieces.
The inability to feel the warmth of the body that was no more, so lively and close in former times, was unbearable. The concept of death seemed like total absurd to him. How could a human stop existing? How could all his thoughts, feelings, ideas, heat of his heart, his dreams, his goals disappear just because his body was destroyed? Sanji bit his lower lip desperately, feeling a familiar taste of steel. Where could human's consciousness move after his soul – or whatever contained his mentality – was detached?
Sanji felt his head going dizzy; his eyes perceived reality as if he was lost in the fog. He straightened, holding onto the wall. Blood rushed down from his head, leaving ragged darkness in his vision. He blinked several times, but his head became heavy and his body went numb. Somewhere in his muted mind Sanji managed to comprehend that he was about to faint; with the remains of his consciousness Sanji collected his will and dropped his head to let the blood return.
He panted. His vision was slowly becoming clearer as the blood rushed into his head. He threw his eyes open wide, staring at his own feet. Sanji felt sick.
He straightened carefully, trying to stay still on his feet. As soon as he raised his head, his eyes met a dull reflection of a pale man. Sanji looked at it, feeling strong hate towards the man he became. When did his body turned to be so weak and powerless? He used to be so strong! He could defeat even Zoro in a fight - sometimes he was able to defeat Zoro.
Sanji approached the mirror. The reflection of his body was just a representation of it; nothing more than a simulacrum. A vision of him that other people saw. He stared bluntly at his own face. Why did he have to stay in this condition? What would happen to his shattered soul when his fading body disappeared?
Sanji looked anxiously at the green haired man, who was lying silently in the bed. Zoro's expression was almost unreadable, though the blond noticed an obscure shade in his eyes.
Zoro buried his face into the pillow, but by all appearances he didn't fall asleep.
At days like this Sanji never knew what he should do. Zoro would return home and never talk to him, immediately heading to bed. The blond always had suspicions that maybe he had been defeated and it was better not to touch Zoro; but he wanted to help him somehow.
Sanji set the book he had been reading aside and took off his glasses. Zoro didn't even change his clothes and lay on his stomach in an unnaturally upright position.
Sanji sat near Zoro on the edge of the bed and rested his palm on the man's back carefully. He didn't dare to speak, though the answer came out before his question was voiced.
"I'm so weak," Zoro whispered, barely audible.
Sanji frowned. It had always been the worst when Zoro was devastated.
"What are you talking about, you aren't weak," The blond said quietly, stroking the green haired man's back. Zoro sat up slowly, and his bitter expression finally became visible to Sanji. A deep scowl crossed his forehead, but it wasn't a scowl of irritation, anger or concern. Zoro's eyes were filled with endless self-disappointment.
"Maybe my body isn't weak, but my spirit is," He muttered, avoiding the eye-contact between them.
Sanji never knew how to respond to Zoro's words. Every time he was frustrated with his willpower, Sanji felt useless.
"What can I do for you?" He asked, doubting there had been any possible way to do it.
Zoro hesitated for a long moment, but then looked straight into the blue eyes, his lips quivering. Suddenly he clenched the blond in a firm embrace; Sanji even lost his breath, caught out of the blue.
"Thank you," Zoro whispered into his ear. His arms were shaking.
Sanji pierced his own reflection with a glare. Zoro was weak. Sanji was weak himself. Every human being was weak because it had a time limit. Humans weren't eternal. They had so little time to achieve their dreams, and even if they were not able to do it, their death wasn't merciful.
Sanji wanted to shout. To cry. To roar. To scream. Suddenly his limbs were filled with burning sensation, and he raised his hand. The next moment a deafening sound of broken glass reached his ears. Blood was dripping from his fist, it got everywhere: on the floor, on the tiled wall, on the pieces of destroyed mirror.
Sanji didn't come to work that day. He called Zeff and said he had injured his hand while cooking and asked for a day-off. The old man's tone was concerned like never before, however he agreed. He was almost begging Sanji to take care of himself. He probably guessed his wound wasn't so accidental.
The man was sitting in silence of the empty room, staring at the one spot. His vision became fogged again, almost surreal. He wasn't sure how many hours had passed in intense silence.
He lay in the cold bed, lay on the floor. Coldness, darkness, loneliness were pulsing inside him, never leaving their comfortable dwelling, devouring Sanji's heart ruthlessly.
He fell asleep many times. His eyes just closed, and he wasn't able to separate the real existence from macabre dreams.
He was lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling. His swollen eyes weren't able to make tears anymore. A sudden urge broke him into cold sweat. His body straightened unconsciously and slowly brought him into the training room. Zoro used to train with his swords there, and they often threw fights, which ended in a more passionate way than they expected.
After Zoro's death everybody suggested returning his swords to the dojo against Sanji's will; especially Chopper, who insisted on removing every object that could cause Sanji harm. Some arguing later it was decided to leave the swords rest in his apartment.
Sanji walked to the stand, crossing the large empty room slowly. When Zoro was alive, it was their favorite place to spend time. How many fights were won and lost here, how much love was spread in the air, mingled with their short breaths. Corners of his mouth raised in a small smile as he approached the stand.
"I'm not sure Kitetsu will allow you to hold him."
Sanji raised an eyebrow. He slid his puzzled look from Zoro to the sword he was holding in his left hand.
"But I think Wado may get on with you, she is more collected," The swordsman took the katana out of his mouth and handed it to Sanji. "Try her, but be gentle."
Sanji took the sword carefully, giving it a worshipping glance. The blade was graceful and shined calmly, and Sanji could somewhat sense why Zoro was referring to it as 'she'.
"Wado was her sword, right?" The blond asked, his eyes never leaving the katana.
"Yes, she was one of Kuina's swords," Zoro nodded. He waved Kitetsu in the air, making a sharp sound. "So, let's give it a try?"
When Zoro offered the blond to teach him some basics of swordsmanship, Sanji couldn't believe his ears. Zoro's swords were a key to his longstanding dream, they were like his friends or family he'd never actually had, at the same time rivals in testing his willpower; thus Sanji was wholeheartedly grateful that Zoro suggested teaching him.
"Yes, let's," The blond grinned, clenching Wado with both his hands.
Zoro smirked, raising his katana in the air gracefully.
His fingers ran down Wado's beige scabbard. She obviously was sleeping, and Sanji decided not to disturb her by withdrawing the blade outside. He wondered if she knew her master was gone. What did she feel if she knew? And what did Kitetsu and Shusui feel? Would they miss Zoro? Did they…
An overwhelming idea reached Sanji's mind. He instantly threw it away, placing Wado gently on her stand. Where did a human's soul go after death? He asked himself again and froze. For a second he thought he heard a man's smooth voice calling his name.
His eyes widened. The idea was obviously insane, yet he wasn't completely sure what to make out of it. What if Zoro's soul went to his swords?
"Sanji Roronoa," The voice sounded clearer and louder, and Sanji suddenly realized it was just a receiver of the phone.
"I'm sorry I'm calling you without your permission, Ace gave me your number," An unfamiliar man said. "I'm Doctor Law. Your friends explained me your situation in brief, and I'm willing to help you."
Sanji exited the training room. He headed to the bedroom and grabbed a pack of cigarettes from the nightstand.
"Your friends are really worried, especially since you haven't shown at your work for several weeks."
Sanji frowned, inhaling harsh smoke. Several weeks? What was this man talking about?
"Your father is worried as well, he said he came to your apartment many times and you never opened the door."
He exhaled slowly. When did Zeff come? And why; Sanji just called him this morning when he injured his hand…
He looked down at the hand, which was holding his cigarette. There was no wound. A small scar was visible on his knuckles, as if he hurt it about several weeks ago.
"If you want to ask how I know about it, I'll say: your friends and your father gathered and talked about your state. They are all worried about your life and sanity, Sanji. I suspect you may not remember something, so please be so kind to check your voice mail and missed calls on your cell phone."
Sanji's body obeyed before he was able to comprehend anything. His hand reached the nightstand and grabbed his cell phone.
348 missed calls.
He felt his gut turning cold.
"Listen, Sanji," Law's voice sounded concerned. "I'll come to your place after my shift ends today; all you need to do is just open the door. Everybody is worried. Please, stop ruining your life."
Sanji closed his eyes. Zoro, what should I do? Did I really start to lose my memory… I thought I sat here for a couple of hours, but it appears… Zoro, can you help me?..
Of course you can't.
A bitter lump almost torn his chest apart. Blood stiffened in his veins, and he lost control over his body.
When a soul leaves its home, where does it go?
He walked softly to the window.
When I lost you forever, where can we meet again?
His heart that was beating so fast now slowed down. He didn't even breathe with full lungs.
When your dreams were shattered and I never said my farewells, who could I blame but myself?
Sanji opened the window, looking at the gray sky. The voice from the receiver was muffled by white noise. He slowly stepped onto the windowsill, his feet meeting its cold surface.
I believe somewhere you are waiting for me.