Thank you to all the people who have reviewed this story; reviews are a true inspiration, and an injunction to get one's tail in gear and actually write! Particular thanks go to Lieju (whose reviews are always thought-provoking), NefertariNami with a review per chapter, and KoloheSanji, lilbishihunter and mihawklover with multiple reviews. You guys are the best!
A quick thank you to my little brother too, who checks my stuff and gives me the confidence to keep writing!
Yeah, disclaimer thing too, if you like.
Chapter 5 – Putting Things Right
Sanji wandered the streets, still slightly dazed. It had been several hours since he had lost to Tashigi, but his mind kept replaying the match over and over again. Yet another replay was interrupted by a woman walking by, who gasped and stepped back as he passed. Glancing down at himself, Sanji was surprised to see that the shirt he was wearing was soaked through in several places with dried blood. So that was why Zolo never complained about being wounded; he never even felt it.
The thought of Zolo threw Sanji into a spasm of guilt, and he began to think of a way to get the swords back. He knew now that he couldn't win against Tashigi, especially not without hurting her, and she wasn't likely to listen if he begged…
Then another thought struck him. It wasn't honourable, and a gentleman like himself should never even consider such a dreadful thing, but if that was the way it had to be…
Zolo sat on the bench outside the newspaper office, furiously puffing away on a cigarette to ease the insistent craving. "It's just like that shitty cook to piss off a woman so much that she chases him right into the Grand Line!" he fumed, conveniently ignoring the true reason he was there. As much as he and Sanji fought, there was still some respect in there. Somewhere. And Sanji had made an effort to protect his reputation against that bounty-hunter earlier; Zolo couldn't just turn around and destroy his.
He stared up at the sky. It was fully dark, and though he was hungry, the thought of food at the moment was… unappealing. Besides, it wasn't that many hours til dawn. He could just nap until then…
The sky was beginning to lighten in the east before Sanji found the right window. He had been prowling the rooftops all night, looking for the right window, though he blamed his lack of success up til now on that shitty swordsman's lousy sense of direction.
Now, he gently lifted the window, thanking whoever was watching over him that it was unlocked, and slipped through. Standing perfectly still as his eyes adjusted to the dimmer light, Sanji breathed a gentle sigh of relief, quashed his guilt, and tiptoed across the bedroom floor to the three swords propped up in a corner. His hands had barely closed on their sheaths when steel pricked his throat.
Zolo jerked awake from a dream of the cook kicking him to death to find that dawn was breaking, and true to her word, Carmen was waltzing up the street towards him, her triumphant cackle ringing off the cobbled street.
Standing slowly, he waited for her to come closer, dreading the meeting. What can I say to stop her? he wondered on a rising tide of sternly suppressed panic. She'd never believe the truth…
"Good morning, Sanji," Carmen purred, coming to a stop in front of him. "Did you enjoy your dreams last night? I certainly did!" She laughed. "I dreamed of the newspaper this morning, and the headline announcing my success!"
An idea suddenly struck Zolo. "Well, I dreamed of Sanji."
"Drop them," she said softly.
Obediently, Sanji dropped his hands away from the swords as his mind raced, trying to find a way out of this. "Ah, good morning, Tashigi," he said awkwardly, turning to face her.
"What are you doing here, thief?" she demanded, never letting the sword she held at his throat waver.
He sighed. "I had hoped to retrieve his swords before I met up with him again," he answered tiredly.
Tashigi's eyes narrowed behind her glasses, and too late, Sanji realised he had made a mistake.
"What do you mean, 'his swords'?" she growled, increasing the pressure on her sword until Sanji felt a thin trickle of blood snake its way down his neck.
He sighed again. This was not going to be his day. "Do you really want to know the truth?" he asked.
"What do you mean, you 'dreamed of Sanji'?" Carmen asked, half-amused, half-confused.
"I dreamed of fighting that shit cook," Zolo said bluntly, neglecting to add that Sanji had been kicking his arse. Literally.
"How can you dream of fighting yourself?" Carmen asked, eyeing him and beginning to wonder if he was feeling all right.
Zolo sighed. "Because I'm not actually Sanji. There was… an accident, and we ended up in each other's bodies."
Carmen stared at him for a moment, then burst out laughing. "Do you really expect me to believe that?" she eventually wheezed, holding her sides.
"I don't care if you believe me or not," Zolo spat. "Just don't… don't humiliate Sanji like you're planning to."
"If you're not Sanji, then who are you?" Carmen asked. If he's not really Sanji, it would explain a lot… she thought, tapping a finger against her lips.
"I'm Zolo, one of his crew-mates."
"And why, 'Zolo', shouldn't I claim Sanji's title, even if it was you I beat? The waiters from last night are willing to bear witness to my victory," Carmen said smugly.
"Because…" Zolo began, then stopped. "Because," he continued hesitantly, "even though we fight, we're nakama, and I'll always protect him."
"'Not Zolo'?" Tashigi asked incredulously.
"No. I'm Sanji," he explained, going to one knee and taking her hand. "Would Zolo ever tell you you're beautiful?"
In the dawn light, Sanji could see Tashigi blush. "Um, l-let go of me!" she stammered, and pushed him away. Sanji stood hurriedly and took a few quick steps backwards, and stumbled over Zolo's swords, still lying on the floor, to land with a thump on Tashigi's bed.
"Suppose I'm willing to believe you're not Zolo," she said warily, still watching him closely. It would explain his lack of skill yesterday, and his strange behaviour when we met and this morning. "Why would you risk sneaking in here to recover his swords?"
Sanji paused, and sighed. "Because even though he pisses me off, we're nakama, and I'll never let him down."
Suddenly, Sanji became incredibly dizzy. "Ooh," he moaned, staggering to his feet and putting hand to his head.
Instantly, Tashigi's wariness transformed into concern. "Are you all right?" she asked.
Sanji opened his mouth to answer her, but before he could reply, Tashigi's face blurred and the world became a swirling mass of colour as Sanji's eyes rolled up into his head and he collapsed.
"Are you all right? Please answer!" said a close-to-frantic female voice.
"I… I think I'm OK, Tashigi," Sanji mumbled, trying to find the will to open his eyes.
"Tashigi?" the woman asked, sounding offended. "Who's she?"
Puzzled, Sanji opened his eyes, and found himself looking into the slightly annoyed face of a flamboyant redhead. "Hello, gorgeous!" he cried, going into love-sick mode.
A frypan in the face soon put an end to that, and began to awaken memories in Sanji's mind. "It's… Carmel, isn't it?" he said hesitantly, not sure.
"That's Carmen," she said with a sniff, and allowed him to sit up. "I'm guessing that you're not the man I was just speaking with."
Sanji's mouth dropped. How could he have missed it? He could only see from one eye, he wanted a cigarette really badly, and looking down, he realised he was clad in his usual black suit. "I'm me!" he yelled in joy, and flipped himself to his feet, rejoicing in the return of his balance and flexibility. "I'm back in my own body again!"
"Kuina?" Zolo asked, looking at the familiar face above him. "Am I dead?"
"Who is Kuina? Are you all right, Sanji?" she asked, worry clear in her eyes.
"What? Sanji?" Suddenly Zolo was wide awake. The fact that the girl above him was wearing glasses sunk in, and he realised that she was Tashigi. Instinctively he tried to roll away, and fell off a bed onto the floor.
"Don't move, Sanji," she said, standing and coming after him. "I'll go get the doctor…"
"No, Tashigi, don't, it's OK," he said in wonder, examining his hands and arms. "I think I'm back to normal." Putting a hand up to his head and finding short hair, the familiar clink as he touched his earrings, and discovering he could use both eyes again… "I am! I've got my body back!"
"I never thought I'd be glad to see your face!" Sanji snorted as Zolo came out of the door of the hotel Tashigi had been staying at, swords sitting at his hip.
"I'm just happy I'm not looking at yours in a mirror anymore!" Zolo retorted, scowling. They turned and fell in step as they began walking back down the street towards the harbour and their crewmates.
"So," Sanji began, "do I want to know why a man in a waiter's uniform came up to Carmen before I left and started to congratulate her on her newly-acquired title? And why he flinched and went green when he saw me?"
"Depends," Zolo growled. "Do I want to know why I'm covered in fresh wounds and why I woke up in Tashigi's bedroom?"
Sanji was silent for a moment. "Probably not," he concluded.
"That's what I thought."
There was silence for a while, then Sanji spoke. "Carmen asked about us switching, and when I told her about it, it turns out that she'd heard the same story Luffy had," he said casually. "But she's not an idiot, so she remembered it. The story was about two men who were supposed to be friends, but were always fighting. Then one day, they were struck by the red light of the 'Walk-A-Mile Moon', which switched them to let them experience life as each other. Walk a mile in the other's shoes. They only managed to switch back when they began fighting for each other instead of against."
He eyed Zolo sideways. "Does that sound about right?"
Zolo grunted. "Don't know what you're talking about, shit cook."
There was a pause. "Thanks."
An even longer pause. "You too."
"I vote we don't tell the others about anything that happened," Sanji said, changing the topic.
"Fine," Zolo agreed just a little too quickly.
"But before we get back…" And Sanji turned on Zolo, eye blazing. "What the fuck made you take Carmen on in a cooking contest?" he yelled.
Zolo met him glare for glare. "Same thing that made you fight Tashigi!" he shouted back.
They stood there for a moment, glaring at each other, until they suddenly snapped and went for each other in the middle of the street.
Watching from her window, Tashigi smiled as the fight started, but quickly wiped the expression away. It was a pity she couldn't have arrested Zolo, but there was no way to hold him until back-up arrived; it was too far off. He'd just escape her again, and she didn't care to be made a fool of twice by the same man. And his blades… well, it wouldn't be right to take them if she hadn't earned them. One day, though, she'd beat him and take them fairly… and him too.
Carmen didn't bother to hide her amusement as she watched them clash. He and his swordsman friend were well matched when it came to fighting, but when it came to cooking… She chuckled, remembering the waiter's face just before he'd dashed for the bathroom. Sanji was obviously superior in that regard, and perhaps in others as well…
To distract her mind from the path it was taking, and to add to her entertainment, she cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted, as if commenting to another, "Oh, doesn't the moon look lovely when's it red?"
"Red?!" the pirates exclaimed, and leapt apart from each other, trying to pretend they hadn't been fighting. Carmen cackled wildly with laughter, and only laughed harder when they turned in her direction to glare at her.
"You'd better behave yourselves, boys," she warned, wagging a finger at them. "You never know when the moonlight will strike…" And with that, she was off, back to her search for the perfect recipe to defeat Sanji with.
They watched her go, silent. After a long uncomfortable pause, Zolo shifted and said reluctantly, "I guess we'd better get back to the ship."
"Yeah," Sanji replied, still watching the way Carmen's hips swayed.
Zolo sighed, and stalked off down the street, leaving the cook to catch up in his own time. Soon enough, the blond was walking next to him again, and elbowed him when he went to turn right.
"The ship's that way," he said smugly, hiking a thumb to their left. Zolo seethed, but followed his direction.
When they got back to the ship, Nami was waiting for them, furious.
"Where have you two been all night?" she screeched.
"I'm sorry, my darling Nami!" Sanji practically wailed, his hands clasped in front of his heart.
"About. What's your problem?" Zolo muttered, already yawning and thinking longingly of a nap.
"Well, at least you two are back to normal. My problem is those two," she snapped, gesturing towards Luffy, sitting on the deck, and Usopp, sitting on the railing above.
Before she could say anymore, Usopp swung himself down and came bounding over to them. "Hey guys!" he chimed. "Did you bring back any meat?"
Sanji and Zolo exchanged glances, and looked at Nami, who sighed. "They were fighting over the last bit of meat from dinner when this red moon comes out from behind a cloud and the next thing I know…"
"And let me tell you about this gigantic fire-breathing bird I once fought!" 'Luffy' bragged, while 'Usopp' sat at his feet and 'oohed'. "I just punched it like this, and… whoa!"
His arm shot straight up into the sky, sending him stumbling backwards over the deck to fall over the railing. Luffy jumped to his feet and ran after him, but only succeeded in tripping and following him over the rail. "Cool, I can swim!" he cried, before sinking beneath the waves.
"We'd better get them," Sanji sighed, and he and Zolo leapt after them.
"I'm not sure I can handle this again…" Nami said, shaking her head.
I was never much good at endings. Or serious moments, for that matter. Bye!