A/N: I highly recommend checking out my tumblr for this fic as this work was part of the 2015 One Piece Big Bang and I partnered up with the awesome BlackBarBooks who produced art for this chapter and it would be a shame for you to miss it. My tumblr name is undanewneon. My amazing and awe inspiring beta for this fic was FanFicFanGirl
Sanji is used to fighting dirty, he's a pirate after all. People fling things at him, spit at him, shout at him, anything they can do to distract him and tilt the odds in their favour. Their fights aren't regulated sparring matches with a referee after all. Fighting other pirates is worse than fighting marines, pirates fight way dirtier. Even so, when Luffy picked a fight with a group of pirates Sanji hadn't expected the fight to get quite this dirty.
"YOU FUCKER!" Sanji yells as the pirate he's fighting ducks inside the range of his kicks and sinks his teeth right into Sanji's shoulder.
The pair of them grapple, falling to the floor and putting Sanji at a disadvantage. The guy is far bigger than Sanji is, closer to Franky's build with hugely broad shoulders and a mean looking face. Not that Sanji can really see his face from where the guy still has his teeth sunk into him. Sanji slams his knee into the guy's side but it doesn't make him let up, he's got Sanji's arms pinned and that's far too close to hurting his hands for Sanji's liking.
"See how you like it you bastard!" Sanji yells in the guy's ear over the sound of Franky shooting someone nearby. He opens his mouth and clamps his teeth down on the greasy haired guy's shoulder. He tightens his jaw as much as he can and then, in a sudden flood, the guy's skin kind of... pops as it rips open and blood floods Sanji's mouth all sick, thick and copper tasting. The guy yelps and wails, pushing back and clutching at his shoulder as he looks at Sanji in horror.
Sanji grins, it seems that this guy can dish it out but not take it. Well, that's too bad. Sanji grins a blood stained smile and drives his heel right up into the guy's jaw, sending him flying right off of the deck of the Sunny, over their opponent's ship and into the sea on the other side. Sanji wipes his chin off on the sleeve of his black jacket and scissor kicks himself back onto his feet and onto the face of the guy harassing Usopp.
Eventually the attacking pirates gather that the Strawhat crew outclasses them and decide to retreat before they lose any more members to the sea. They have a few people to fish out, assuming they've not drowned by now. Sanji counts at least four, the biter that he punted overboard, some electrocuted guys courtesy of Nami and one or maybe two who fell victim to Luffy's rubber menace. Of course Zoro got thrown overboard in that one too but he climbed back on so he doesn't count.
"You know, I'd like to go just one week without getting in a brawl Luffy." Nami sighs, wringing water out of her hair. The pirates that they'd fought didn't throw either of the girls overboard but they had decided to dunk Robin into the aquarium via the trap door in the deck, it was smart to figure out that it would neutralise her devil fruit power. It'd taken Nami out of the fight to rescue the archaeologist from drowning. Both were tactically smart moves but it was less smart to those kind of things around Sanji. He has absolutely zero regrets about breaking the man's jaw with that kick for hurting his beautiful ladies.
"The captain was hurting one of his nakama." Luffy says, glaring at all of them. His voice is dangerously dark, the same way it was when he first saw the man being whipped on board the deck of the other pirate ship by their captain. Sanji doesn't have the heart to tell him that plenty of crews work that way, marine and pirate alike. Luffy wouldn't hear of such a thing in their crew, not at all, they're family.
Even though Sanji knows that it happens he's pretty sure that the vision of the red blood running freely down that boy's back is going to show up in his dreams. He was just a boy really, about fourteen or so, far too young for such things.
"I am not saying that we shouldn't have fought, Luffy. I'm merely saying that it would be nice to have a week or two of rest and relaxation now and then." Nami sighs wistfully.
"A nice quiet beach, maybe. Being waited on hand and foot in the warm sunshine." Nami says dreamily, her lashes fluttering shut. Sanji's heart thumps, he'd give anything to be the one waiting on her dainty hands and feet in that situation. He could rub suntan lotion into her back...
"Ow yeah, a little R and R. Kick back in the sun, oil up the guns and just chill." Franky exclaims with a wide toothy grin.
"When you say oil up your guns do you mean your biceps or... or your actual guns in your arms?" Usopp asks curiously. That seems to stump Franky for a second, the cyborg blinking in confusion for a moment before declaring 'BOTH!' and laughing raucously. The rest of the crew start comparing vacation ideas, getting more and more extravagant with each addition.
"Oi cook, what happened to your face?" Zoro asks him quietly, tapping his own chin to demonstrate.
Sanji glances at their resident swordsman and notes the small crease of worry in between the moss-head's eyebrows. They don't do this after every fight, but ever since Thriller Bark whenever one of them looks more than a little worse for wear they check in like this, make sure the other is okay.
"It's not my blood. Some guy bit me so I bit him back, it got everywhere." he grimaces, pulling the collar of his shirt away and seeing that they guy's blood is all over that too. Perhaps if he gets it in the wash soon enough he can save it but it's not likely. Another nice shirt in the bin, great.
"Do you know the kinds of things that you can catch from blood?" Chopper scolds him loudly. Zoro starts not so subtly laughing at Sanji's misfortune.
"Oi shit face, I've seen you lick blood off of your swords, so don't you look so smug!" He protests and indignantly points his finger at Zoro.
Chopper takes the bait and reels around to glare at Zoro angrily.
"You're just as bad, both of you are idiots! Blood is one of the strongest vectors for disease transmission-" Chopper starts to lecture them both and Sanji promptly tunes out. Normally he'd at least listen for a little bit but his shoulder is starting to throb painfully. He figures now that the adrenaline is wearing off it's bound to start hurting again. Still, it feels like someone stabbed him. It feels fever hot too, he hopes he's not getting an infection, it would suck if Zoro was right.
"Oi, are you ok?" Zoro asks him again, looking more worried this time.
"Yeah marimo I'm-"
Sanji comes to with a sensation of falling. He tries to yelp but his lungs are empty of air. Before he can suck in a breath his back hits the water and he plunges below the surface. With no air in his body he starts sinking, and fast. Still fuzzy headed from being out of it he kicks in the water and breaches the surface, sucking in a huge breath as he does so.
He shakes his head, splattering water around him back into the sea as he treads water to stay afloat. What the hell happened? Did he faint? But if that was it then why is he overboard? Did Zoro or Chopper drop him on the way to the infirmary?
A ripple spreads through the water as something else hits the sea. Blearily Sanji looks over to see Zoro surface and desperately start swimming towards him. Zoro reaches him and crushes him to his side, his arms wrapped around Sanji's waist and his eyes filled with terror.
"Did you just drop me overboard?" Sanji croaks, his voice sore. God, he must have gotten salt in his eyes because they sting like a motherfucker. Without thinking he rubs them with the heels of his hands and instantly regrets it.
"Yeah." Zoro says unevenly.
Sanji shakes his head, trying to put things back together. He was on deck after the fight and he and Zoro were bickering and bantering and then... falling. He must have passed out. He looks down and sees that he's not dressed the same as he was a moment ago, or however long it's really been. He'd been wearing an orange shirt and khakis, but now he's wearing a full tuxedo. What the hell?
"Why did you drop me overboard and why am I in my best suit? What the hell, marimo?" Sanji demands, looking at Zoro as they both kick to stay afloat. Zoro is still staring at him like he's got two heads or something. His eyes are so wide that his golden irises look teeny tiny in the whites of his eyes. His green hair is plastered to his head and Sanji can even feel the man shivering slightly. His mouth moves a few times before he speaks.
"You... We were burying you at sea. You... you were dead. You died three days ago." Zoro says, his voice disconcertingly quiet and stunned.
"What?" He demands but Zoro doesn't offer anything else, just holds him and stares at him.
"That's a bad joke." Sanji eventually says, pushing away from Zoro and swimming to the side of the ship as the others throw a rope over for them.
"It really is." Zoro mutters and follows him.
The two of them climb up the rope, Sanji in the lead. Not that they have to climb far because Franky just hauls the fucking thing up so fast that Sanji nearly falls back overboard again. He stumbles as he lands on deck and Zoro hits the railing behind him and clambers up.
The crew are silent. They all stare at him, wide eyed and shocked. Sanji looks from one to the other. He starts with Franky who is... actually wearing clothes. He's wearing a suit in fact, a black one, all formal with a white shirt and flat black tie. Usopp and Luffy are dressed the same and even Zoro behind him matches. The ladies are both wearing long black dresses and even Chopper is wearing a little black shirt and has his hat off. Brook too is wearing only black and white, looking far too serious.
His whole crew is missing their usual colour, instead presenting only a monochrome shade, a palette of grief he realises.
He's about to open his mouth and ask a question, any question, he has so many. But before he can say a word Luffy is crushing him into a hug like an anaconda's grip.
"SANJI! Don't ever do that again!" Luffy yells into Sanji's chest as he bursts into tears that are hard enough that they shake Sanji's body too.
"I- I didn't- what happened?" He asks, confused.
"You were dead, you just... you keeled over and died. One moment Zoro was talking to you and the next-" Nami cuts herself off with a choked sob, her hands covering her mouth as she looks at him with wide unblinking eyes. It's almost as if she's afraid that if she looks away for just a second that he'll die and slip away from her again.
"You were dead, you weren't breathing, your heart had stopped, you went through rigor mortis. I don't understand how this is possible. He was definitely dead!" Chopper insists, staring up at him with eyes that beg to be wrong.
"Seeing as he's walking and talking I can only assume that he... got better? Perhaps it's something in the water here." Robin theorises, looking overboard to see if anything down there could explain the mystery.
For his part Sanji just hangs in Luffy's crushing grip, his feet lifted off of the floor with the strength of it whilst Luffy bawls into his chest, utterly messing up his suit. He can't wrap his head around it. Dead? How could he have been dead? He doesn't remember being dead. He certainly doesn't feel dead. But you can't get better from being dead right? That's kind of the definition. Well, except for Brook but he's pretty much the exception to the rule, although he is actually dead himself still.
"Ah, excuse me Luffy-san, but if you could just put Sanji down for a moment. I'd like to look at him." Brook's voice says from behind Sanji. Luffy's arms tighten for a moment but then the rubber arms coil back away from Sanji and the captain lets him go.
Numbly Sanji turns to face Brook. The skeleton regards him for a quiet moment and Sanji's eyes flick over to Zoro who is crouched on the railing of the ship a little to Brook's left. The swordsman is watching him hawkishly, like a puzzle he's trying to figure out. He's seen the expression on Zoro's face hundreds of times before, when he's working through a kata that's not going right, or trying to crack a new technique. Only now he's looking at Sanji with that same focus, trying to work out an answer. Sanji hopes that Zoro tells him it if he works it out.
"I'm afraid people don't really get better from death, I would know. I've seen enough dead people in my time... and of course I'm just bones myself, yo hohohoho!" Brook chuckles, though Sanji senses that the humour is a little forced.
Brook's finger bones touch Sanji's jaw and turn his face this way and that. The crew watches them in tense silence.
"Sanji is still dead." Brook says softly.
"Don't be absurd, he's standing right there. He's been talking and- he's not dead. He was but he can't be now. I don't know how but... he's fine." Nami insists from behind him.
"Well, I'd like Chopper to confirm but I don't think that his heart is beating, he still looks just as pale as he did earlier and since he spoke last he's not breathed once. He's dead." Brook concludes.
Sanji blinks in confusion and focuses. He's... he's not breathing. He deliberately breathes in and out and then stops. He lets his lungs empty completely of air and just stops. His lungs don't burn, there's no reflex to inhale again, nothing. He breathes in again to speak.
"Oh." Is all that he can manage to say.
"Let me." Is all the warning that Sanji gets from Chopper before a cold stethoscope is pressed to his back.
"Oi! You couldn't have made that any colder Chopper?!" Sanji snaps, jolting reflexively away from the cold metal before grumbling and moving back. He settles in place as Chopper moves the device around Sanji's back, asking him to breathe in and out, to hold his breath and so one. After a little while Chopper puffs his cheeks out with a sigh and drops the stethoscope around his own neck and frowns unhappily.
"You're right Brook, his heart isn't beating. Not at all." Chopper says seriously. Sanji turns around to look at the worried little doctor who has resumed desperately pressing his stethoscope to Sanji's chest at the front, then to his neck and his arm as if Sanji's heart might have migrated somewhere else in the last five seconds.
"So he's what... a zombie?" Usopp asks, taking a timid step back.
"I don't... I remember having my shadow stolen but I wasn't dead. I don't remember what my shadow did when Moria cut it off of me so I don't remember what that felt like to compare it. But look, I feel fine." Sanji insists, calmly prying Chopper from him.
"You're dead, that's not fine! That's the opposite of fine!" Chopper wails, trying to press his stethoscope against Sanji again as Sanji holds him off with a foot.
"He seems fine to me. Look." Zoro says, pulling Wado free of his belt and prods him with her in her sheath. The end of the white case pokes Sanji in the ribs until he swats it away with a scowl.
"He is not FINE." The doctor argues back.
"Sanji, are you still going to look for All Blue?" Luffy asks him suddenly. Sanji looks over at his captain, his eyes are serious and his hat is low over his eyes.
"Of course I am, it's my dream." He responds, the answer obvious.
"Are you still our nakama?" Luffy presses again.
"Absolutely." Sanji agrees.
"Then he's fine." Luffy declares happily. He folds his arms and nods as if the whole matter is solved. His face melts back into it's usual happy go lucky expression, almost as if his deadly serious aura hadn't been there just moments before.
"He's not fine he's dead! Why is no one taking this seriously?!" The little reindeer wails miserably.
"We are Chopper, we are." Robin says soothingly, crouching down and wrapping her arms around the blue nosed reindeer who cuddles into her chest with weepy eyes.
"But we wished for him back and here he is, besides, I'm not sure there's a lot that you can do to heal a man who's dead." Robin continues thoughtfully, her blue eyes watching Sanji with unguarded curiosity.
"And being dead doesn't mean that you're not ok, YOHOHOHOHOHOHO!" Brook trills with laughter and slaps Sanji on the back.
"Come on Sanji, let's have lunch, it's been three days since I've eaten your food. You've been laying down on the job!" Luffy laughs, bounding to the kitchen.
A few other members of the crew migrate vaguely towards the kitchen, probably just for somewhere to go and to feel like they're doing something. Usopp looks like he's in shock, though Brook looks perfectly fine with everything.
"Good to have you back Sanji." Franky says quietly, patting him on the back a little too hard before walking off.
Nami stands before Sanji, her eyes tearful. Before Sanji can say anything to her she flings herself at him, her arms around his neck and her face buried in the crook of his neck. Sanji winces, his shoulder hurts.
"You're so cold." Nami shudders in his arms, her delicate form trembling.
"You're so warm." Is all that Sanji can echo back to her.
"Please don't ever leave me like that again Sanji, I couldn't... I don't ever want to feel like that again." She says quietly, her face pressed into his shirt with her dainty hands fisted in the lapels of his tuxedo jacket.
"I'm so sorry, I never intended to do this to you my princess." He apologises, the guilt overwhelming him.
Nami pulls back and gives him a watery smile, rubbing her tears away with a finger.
"I'll forgive you this once Sanji." She sniffles and smiles. She turns and walks off, leaving him and Zoro alone.
Sanji looks at the swordsman warily. He's tucked Wado back into his belt and is still crouched on the railing of the ship like some big dangerous creature.
"What're you staring at asshole? I'm perfectly ok." Sanji barks defensively.
"You were halfway through telling me that you were ok and then you died." Zoro says flatly. He's not accusing as such but Sanji still feels guilty.
"I'm... sorry." Sanji apologises through slightly gritted teeth. It's a pretty weak apology as apologies go. It's not something either of them really do to each other but dying on Zoro and leaving a ship full of grieving nakama might be enough to warrant it. Everyone has clearly been so worried for him, his gut churns guilty at the thought of it.
"Don't ever do that shit again. You didn't have to watch what it did to us, losing you... we can't do that again. None of us can." Zoro says grimly.
For a selfish moment Sanji is glad that he hadn't been alive to see it. He can imagine it all too well though, the tears, the shock, the disbelief. He'd be devastated if any member of the crew died and he put them all through that. But what killed him in the first place though? He thinks he has an idea.
He undoes his bow tie, stuffing it in his pocket and quickly undoes the top buttons to his shirt. He pulls it aside until he reaches the spot that throbbed earlier when Nami hugged him close. Sanji twists his neck to try to look at his own shoulder. He can just see the bite, jagged and cut into his pale skin. God, he's so incredibly pale. He's always been on the fair side but now he looks, well, he looks like a corpse. The bite itself has black spidery lines radiating out from it, they look toxic.
"Chopper said that killed you, but he couldn't work out just how exactly." Zoro fills him in. Sanji grits his teeth, this killed him alright, and if he ever sees that bitey fucker again he'll return the favour and kill him right back.
Sanji sighs and buttons his shirt up again. It's only when he does his jacket up and straightens himself out that he notices it. Inside his breast pocket, where his white pocket square would usually be on his tux, there's something altogether different there. A neatly folded square of fabric, a kind of green black that Sanji knows by heart.
"Zoro..." He starts, but Zoro is already moving.
The swordsman barrels into him and snatches the fabric from his chest and bounces out of Sanji's range as quick as lightning, but it's too slow, Sanji's already seen it.
"That was your bandana." Sanji states, it's not a question.
"Shut up." Zoro says stiffly, his back to Sanji as he stuffs the fabric into his trouser pocket like it personally wronged him.
"You buried me with it in my pocket." Sanji presses a little more.
"I said shut up." Zoro snarls and, yes, Sanji can see Zoro's ears going red. He steps a little to the side to get a better view of the swordsman and he can see that the bridge of his nose and his cheeks are totally scarlet in embarrassment. Sanji grins, this is too good.
"Aw, marimo. That's so sweet." He grins, enjoying the way that Zoro gives a full body flinch at the word. Despite the horrified look that Zoro's wearing at having been told that, and it is hysterical, Sanji finds that he kind of… means it. He never sees this side of Zoro, though he knows full well that it's there. He knows that he's sweet with Chopper and even Usopp and Luffy now and then, but never him.
"It doesn't count, you were dead." Zoro insists furiously, averting his eyes as much as he can with Sanji dancing around trying to get in front of him to make Zoro look at him.
"I think I should have it back, it was a gift right?" He teases, all but laughing his ass off.
"How about I gag you with it and throw you back overboard you curled bastard?" Zoro spits furiously and Sanji doubles up laughing.
"I'll think about it." He says through a laugh after a moment or two of composing himself. He steers Zoro towards the kitchen.
"Come on, I've got to cook, I dread to think what happened to my kitchen whilst I was dead. Tell me you didn't let Luffy eat his way through his grief." Sanji laughs aloud.