During the party that was breakfast that morning, Usopp leaned down a little to ask Chopper about Luffy's condition. The little doctor didn't answer him for a whole minute, refusing to meet his eyes.
"Oi, Chopper, did you hear me?" Usopp asked.
"Aye," the reindeer said quietly. He still didn't answer.
"What are you thinking about?"
This question seemed to make him uncomfortable. "N-n-nothing. He's gonna get better, Usopp. It's Luffy."
Usopp was anything but reassured after Chopper finished speaking. It sounded like the doctor was trying to convince himself as much as Usopp.
"I just – You weren't there, Usopp!" Chopper interrupted, staring at his food. The exclamation had drawn the attention of Robin and Franky, who turned their gazes to watch Chopper. "You – you didn't see… and he kept going… and I couldn't know if… if he'd… or if they'd win…"
Sanji and Nami were listening now. "Tell us what happened, Chopper," Nami said with wide eyes.
Chopper took a deep breath that caught only once and told them what he had seen. He told them how Luffy was unable to even touch the bad guys because of the kairouseki. He told them of the commander's annoying laughter, and of Luffy's determination. He told them how helpless he had felt. He described Luffy's power-ups to Gears Second and Third. Second had allowed him to touch the bounty hunters but he still could not fight them. And when he shifted into Gear Third –
"That was when the spear hit him. I didn't see at first." Chopper lost his train of thought, delving into memories he would never tell anyone. Sanji could guess, though – he remembered hearing the long scream on the DenDen Mushi. He bowed his head. Chopper seemed to shake himself a little and continued, "But he lost Gear Third without getting small. And then…" He trailed off. Awe crept into and filled his voice. "He kept fighting. And we won."
"How?" asked Robin, her dark blue eyes inquisitive. "I touched the spear. It was made of kairouseki. How could he…?"
No one answered. Luffy's strengths were often beyond comprehension. His will was monstrously powerful. Was it possible that he had overcome the seastone's powers by sheer effort of will alone? Had anyone ever heard of something so impossible?
Sanji stood. "I'm gonna go check on those two, if that's okay, Chopper."
"Oi, Sanji, don't fight with Zoro in the infirmary," Chopper replied scoldingly.
"Don't fight with Zoro on the ship at all, baka," growled Nami, lightly knocking on Chopper's skull. "I don't care if it's made of Adam wood. That just makes it that much more expensive to replace when you idiots break it."
"Haaii, Nami-san!" Sanji called as he left the galley.
One of the bastard swordsman's eyes opened just a slit when he walked in, and then closed again. Sanji decided to ignore him. The snores quickly returned to the little room, and Sanji dragged a chair over to sit beside his captain.
He didn't say anything. He watched the smoke twine up from the smoldering end of his cigarette. He looked down through half-lidded eyes at the white bandages encasing Luffy's entire torso.
He remembered how the blood had spurted from the rubber man's gut as the spear shaft was pulled through his body. He remembered the shredded skin on the boy's arms and legs. Realizing something, he looked around the infirmary but could not find Luffy's clothes – the blood-spattered and torn vest and shorts. The sleeping captain was wearing only shorts now, but as they were clean, Sanji doubted they were the ones he'd been wearing the night before. His eyes fell upon the snoring first mate and the spotty hat that rested on the man's chest. The spots were no longer shiny red, but crusty brown. Nami-san would have to wash it again.
He remembered Miyoko suddenly, for some reason. Indubitably one of the most beautiful women he'd ever seen, right up there with Nami-san and Robin-chan. He remembered her cruelty. And he remembered what had made it too much.
The shock was powerful. It almost knocked him off his feet. As Chopper's scream from the DenDen Mushi trailed off and the bounty hunter commander – damn, he could hear the laugh in the man's smug voice – began again to speak, announcing their victory, Sanji let the cigarette fall from his lips. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't move. He was aware of the fact that his hands were shaking uncontrollably, but he could do nothing to quell them.
The next thing he was aware of was Zoro's low voice. "Tell me, damn it," he'd said. To him? No. Zoro had never used such a murderous tone with him. Yeah, they got angry at one another, but they never –
But maybe Zoro blamed him too –
But there was Miyoko, talking to the swordsman, her back to the bar. What was she saying? "He is probably already dead. Too bad you weren't there to help him, eh?"
The words slammed into him like that avalanche on Drum Island, the one Luffy had pulled him out of – but that hurt too much. He stopped thinking and listened for Zoro's response. Would he yell at him? Undoubtedly the swordsman would kill him for his incompetence as soon as they were free…
"She's not," he managed. He told Zoro what he'd heard, feeling the man's shocked and burning gaze on his face. He couldn't face him. He kept his eyes averted. Zoro made no sound, but the chef could well imagine the thoughts going through his head – accusations, truths heavy with guilt, that reflected what Sanji was already telling himself.
Luffy was dead, and it was his fault.
But this fact didn't force him to act as he had. This fact held no hope. No matter what he did, Zoro would kill him for killing their captain, and no matter what happened next, their grand adventure was over. He was frozen, waiting for the inevitable slash of the swords. He wanted death.
Luffy's voice filled the room. The sound of it made Sanji lightheaded. He questioned his sanity. He wondered if Zoro had already gotten to him and killed him. Because with a kairouseki spear in him, no Devil Fruit user would be able to use his powers. In fact, none would be alive to even call out the name of a move. So it was impossible that he could have heard Luffy's voice.
Luffy did impossible things. He consumed impossibilities with more avidity than he did Sanji's best desserts. He tore through conventions like they were so many wispy cobwebs in his way. He bent reality like it was rubber instead of him. So maybe there was hope. Maybe…
And that's when he decided to act.
"Bastard," Sanji muttered around his cigarette. Now that Luffy so obviously lived and breathed before him, he felt a little – a little! – regret for what he had done to Miyoko. Not that he would have ever acted differently than he had. While there was hope, he would keep fighting for his captain.
That's what he had decided the moment he heard Luffy's voice. As a man, he could not do any less than that, no matter who his opponent was.
He ruffled the dirty black hair and stood to leave. An apology would have to be made when Luffy awoke, but for now, Sanji was at peace.
Sanji took a drag. "What'd you say?" he asked the swordsman who was no longer pretending to sleep.
Zoro eyed him, then a small grin lit his features. "Tch, you really think he wants to hear it? After what you've done for him?"
Sanji was taken aback. The shitty swordsman couldn't possibly read his mind, could he?
"What do you mean?"
Zoro exhaled. "You've never hit a woman, ever, have you? Baka, when he hears what you've done – given up your principles, however retarded they may be –" he smirked, "because you didn't trust him to live… Do you think he'll want to hear that? That because he got hurt he made his cook do something to hate himself?"
Sanji didn't know what to say. Was the bastard being deep, or something?
"He already forgives you," Zoro said quietly, now watching Luffy sleep. A look he reserved only for his captain – one that spoke of that truest loyalty and unwavering devotion with no small measure of protective affection that he felt for the man – settled onto his face. "He can't hate you for being you. Even if you end up killing him about it."
The rivals were silent for a long moment.
"What can I do?" Sanji asked finally.
Zoro understood his question. He grinned widely. "Make a lot of meat."
Half of Sanji's mouth quirked up in an answering grin, and he left the room.
Zoro's snores woke Luffy in the middle of the night. The boyish captain sat up quickly, forgetting his bandages. He winced but the minor pain told him that he hadn't reopened any wounds. His stomach then told him that he'd been asleep for thirty-five meals (at five meals a day). Time for a midnight snack!
He made as though to leap out of the infirmary bed, but quickly stopped himself. Zoro was not the only snorer in the room.
Usopp and Chopper, fast asleep and dreaming, were sitting with their backs against his bed. Usopp's arms were draped around Chopper, who had forgotten to take off his hat before falling asleep. Zoro was on the floor, leaning against the wall next to Chopper's worktable. Franky was lying on the floor by the door, mumbling in his sleep. Nami, who had laid out a bedroll and was the only one with that or a blanket, slept with her feet beside Franky's head. Sanji was gracefully curled on the floor beside her, his face toward her.
Luffy grinned at his sleeping crew, relief overtaking him. Those stupid bounty hunters could never have caught this awesome crew.
The door suddenly opened. The moonlight shone to reveal Robin, who just finished her watch. Brook had taken her place and was now in the crow's nest.
"Hello, Luffy," she whispered to him, smiling.
"Robin!" he said, and one of her hands clapped over his mouth. She held a finger to her still-smiling lips and gestured to their sleeping crewmates. "Oh, right," he whispered when the hand dissolved in petals. His stomach growled more loudly than he had spoken, and Robin laughed quietly behind her hand. A bedroll was tucked under her arm, and she unrolled it on the floor in the corner beside Nami before standing and crossing her wrists. "Viente Fleurs," she whispered, and Luffy found himself being swung across the room by her hands, over the heads of the snorers. She deposited him outside the infirmary next to her.
"Hungry, Senchou-san?" she asked him.
Together they walked to the kitchen. Luffy ate a lot, but he fell asleep again after only a little while, his face hitting the food on his plate with a mushy thump. Robin wiped his face off and carried him back to the infirmary. She put him to bed, knowing that he needed sleep for a full recovery.
And then she lay down herself. Finally, she thought, the long night has ended.
A/N: Oh my god. It's freaking done.
... Holy cow.
Mmm. Anyway. Three cheers for additional usage of the title. Writing this chapter was funny, because I knew I was nearing the actual end of the bloody story and I was on a roll and Sanji entered the room and I was like, "Wait. What the hell can Sanji say that won't be a repeat of Zoro's beautifully emotional soliloquy in the last chapter????"
My train of thought went soaring off a cliff to crash with fire and explosions in the forest below. I spazzed. I panicked. There was rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth and talking to myself and a hurricane. Just kidding.
So I quit Word and reopened with a blank document. And promptly wrote a plotless oneshot about Zoro. And uploaded it.
All the while, Sanji was nagging me. 'I said in Chapter 8 that I was gonna go see him! I'm suffering from severe mental trauma and guilt, here! You gotta let me go see him! I had the most life-changing experience in your shitty fanfiction and you won't even let me tie up the loose ends? What kind of crap is that?!!'
And so. I wrote the rest just as I was about to fall asleep last night. I personally edited the damn thing, just for you, dear reader, over the past hour and a half.
So I hope you liked it.