The market was busy. As usual. Every shop seemed full, every customer hustling around the place to pick up one of each item before it sold out. Sanji had already finished all his shopping, stowing his groceries in the ship's kitchen so his hands would be free to subdue the women that would come flocking to his side. Yet, that didn't seem to be happening. He looked around. All the women in the market place were either too young or too old, and the ones that were just the right age were accompanied by other men. Oh, what he wouldn't give for one special navigator to cling to his arm as so many of the ladies did in this town (though, not to him).
He passed a little shop that was run down and dilapidated, obviously on the brink of going out of business. The windows were grimy and the sign faded and hanging crookedly. There were cans over flowing with trash and other useless junk in the front. Sanji paid to attention to it as he spotted an exquisite young lady not far off, looking lost and afraid. He was just about to rush off to offer her his services when a voice sounded behind him.
"Do you want crazy passion, hot sex and mind-blowing orgasms?" the voice asked him. He wheeled around at once to see who had spoken, A small figure in a large cloak leaned out of the seemingly abandoned shop towards him.
Sanji saw a glint of a smile from underneath the hood of the thick cloak and the person dashed inside the shop.
"Ah-wait!" He followed the figure, and when he slammed open the shop door, no one greeted him. He looked suspiciously around the store. Aside from a thick layer of gray dust, the inside looked much more taken care of than the outside, not much different from any other shop along the street. The floor was blue and tiled, odd patterns drawn within them with smaller, darker blue stones. The shelves were stacked with a variety of books and dolls and boxes. Closer examination showed him the books were titled in strange languages and the dolls wore no clothes, had no eyes, mouths or hair, and were crudely stitched together with thick leather string. He grimaced, moving on to the next shelf, which held hundreds of oddly shaped jars, each full of fine powders or vibrantly colored liquids or some sort of grass...even small animals suspended in those colored liquids.
More bottles were stacked on lower shelves, and long drapes of fabric hung from the ceiling. There were plants and packaged foods, jewelry, fruits, perfumes and some more exotic looking things Sanji couldn't describe. His gaze swept the entire store, and when his eyes finally found the counter he started in surprise.
A short, lizard like woman sat at the counter, her chin in her hand, a wide smile aimed at him. Her skin was weathered and leathery looking, her fingers topped with dazzlingly white talons. Her hair was the same cocoa color as her skin, and was tied back so tight at first glance she looked bald. Her lips were cracked and her nose was more like a beak. Her eyes were large, round and a golden yellow.
"So, do you?" She asked, her voice a whispery croak.
Sanji growled, "Do I what?"
"Do you want crazy passion, hot sex and mind-blowing orgasms?" Her smile widened and she waved her hand. A bottle appeared from nowhere to sit on her open palm. "Because, with one sniff of this, it could all be yours." She studied him a moment. "Though, I presume with your looks, you don't need help, hmmm?" She stroked her chin with her free hand.
"What are you talking about?" Sanji demanded, turning his body towards the door, ready to leave if need be. He should've been getting back to the ship anyway. Everyone else was probably done with their shopping and heading back to the Merry, and he wasn't one for being late.
The woman hid her "humph" as a cough. "A bit daft, aren't you?" She waved the bottle mystically at him, hushing her voice down to a dramatic whisper he had to strain to hear. "I'm talking about the Lust Potion. Imported straight from the Grand Line, this elusive aphrodisiac is made with the juice of the Ecstasy-Ecstasy fruit. One sniff will make anyone putty in your hands! They will lust after you relentlessly until their desire is quenched."
Sanji swallowed hard. Was he hearing her right? This...potion, made people fall in lust? Did she expect him to believe such crap?
"It is a rare fortune," she continued, "worth several thousand berries, but for a handsome man like you, only a thousand."
Without meaning to, he examined the remainders of his money, already knowing that he had enough to purchase at least two. But then, the gentleman inside him roared with fury, enraged by his own thoughts; he dared seduce an unwilling woman with a potion? And why had his first thought been of Nami, constantly flirting but always refusing? He'd never dreamed of seducing her with the help of a potion, believing that in time his natural charm would win her over. Although, he could imagine himself buying the potion and giving it to one of his unsuspecting nakama. He'd give it to Zoro maybe, tell him it was an expensive cologne or something. The marimo would put it on and (while he and Nami watched with gas-masks) be barraged by a lustfull Luffy or Usopp. The image he formed in his head was almost to tempting enough to make him buy it. But then, why waste the berries for a few minutes worth of entertainment and laughing and a very angry moss-headed swordsman?
"I don't think so," he said in a carefully slow voice, as if he was really thinking about whether or not he'd be buying it. He turned to leave.
"Young man, you cannot be thinking about refusing this offer!" squawked the woman as she flailed her short, cloak-clad arms. Sanji found very hard not to compare her to a bat. "This is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity! There exists only three of these sensual treasures, and there are rumors that the other two have been all used up!"
"Why are you trying so hard to get me to buy it? Its not cursed, is it?"
"Of course not," the old bat snorted, rolling the small vial between her fingers. "I just know you need it more than I do."
"And why's that?" he said, slightly offended despite himself, sure that she would take back her earlier compliment to his good looks. Instead, she passed a hand down herself.
"Well, look at me. Aint gonna see much action in this ugly old body, now am I? Besides, I'm old, I'm frail, I'm one hundred and fourty three," Sanji raised his eyebrow in speculation. "I've found love and then lost it again. But you- you're young, you're handsome, you seek the company of any woman available... I just hate to see such a man go to waste without feeling real love."
Not sure what else to do (and what else would shut the woman up) Sanji fumbled in his pockets and held out the money. She took it with a grateful squeal, passing the flask to him. He gave the bottle the same speculating stare he'd given the woman as he walked out of the strange little was he supposed to do with it now? Maybe he'd just throw it away or give it to a passing stranger. He needn't be troubled with something so fable. And what was that odd little woman spouting near the end of their conversation? "I've found love and lost it again...any woman available...I hate to see such a man go to waste with out feeling real love..." How had she known his unadmitted obsession with women? Maybe she'd guessed. And she's lost love and hated to see Sanji die with out feeling love too? What? Was the potion going to make someone fall in love with him? He didn't see how a lust potion could do that, unless the sex was so good she fell in love with that. Is that what the old bat had meant? He couldn't be sure, and then, he didn't want to be sure.
He was staring at the bottle so intently he didn't notice the tall, muscled figure running towards him.
"There you are, dammit," said a familiar, but panting, voice. Sanji looked up dazedly, took in the urgent features of Zoro and nearly jumped so high he almost dropped the bottle. With as casual a movement he could make, he stuffed the vial in his pocket.
"What's up?" he asked, studying Zoro's rough face now, seeing his brows stitched together and sweat gleaming his forehead.
"No time, c'mon," the marimo grunted, grabbing his wrist and pulling his into a run. "There's a marine base here, they know we're pirates. Luffy and I got most of them, but they're still looking for us."
As Zoro struggled to keep pace next to Sanji, the cook marveled at at the fact marimo still held his wrist quite tightly, with no sign of relinquishing him any time soon. With s sickening jolt in his stomach, he noticed the bottle in his pocket radiate with a seemingly pleased heat, vibrating softly as if purring.
It was some time before Zoro began to slow, but even then he tried to muffle his tired huffs or breath, tried to keep moving. Sanji could see the pain in the swordsman's eyes, though, the veins in his temples standing prominent and white from ignoring the stitch in his side. Without thinking, Sanji stopped. Zoro, still attached to his wrist as if welded there, gave a comical jerk on the end of his leash and proceeded to fall to the ground.
"- the hell?" he demanded as he finally lost his grip on Sanji's arm.
"Where are the others?" Sanji met Zoro's demand with his own. He would never forgive himself if sweet Nami was hurt when he could've been there to protect her.
"On the ship, 'cept Luffy. He's looking for you too," Zoro huffed, anger replaced by fatigue. "Safe, for the most part. We brought down the flag and sail. Had to find you, though, since you missed curfew and probably didn't know about the marines." He let out a long, defeated sigh. "Nami and Usopp wouldn't shut up until we agreed to go look for you, since we're the fastest runners."
"I'm not complaining," he thought to himself. Immediatly afterwards, he inwardly slapped himself in the face.
"Okay, let's get going." Zoro stood, and blood spurted out of a hidden wound; Sanji gasped and Zoro winced, stumbled, and fell back against Sanji's legs. The heat from the potion increased, but Sanji ignored it, too focused on his nakama to care.
"What's wrong, what happened?" He knelt beside the fallen swordsman, gripping his shoulders to keep him up. With growing horror, Sanji realized most of Zoro's right pant leg was drenched in blood. He hadn't seen it before, because of the dark color of Zoro's pants; the blood hadn't immediately stood out against the dark green, red now tainting the majority of it.
"Some bastard," Zoro said weakly, not at all loosening the worried knot that had decided to tie itself up with Sanji's innards as string. "Shot me..." Zoro's hand moved to his hip, where the blood seemed to be gushing. "It was a clean shot. Probably won't leave any major scarring."
Sanji could almost taste his heart in the back of his mouth. It wasn't like this was a new thing; the idiot swordsman almost always attained a fatal wound during more serious battles. But even so, he couldn't not worry about Zoro - or any of his nakama, in fact - when they were injured. Even if it meant worrying about the moss-headed jerk.
He helped Zoro stand, catching him when he stumbled, pulling his arm around his shoulders to keep him on his feet (ignoring the throbbing heat of the Lust Potion). Then they started to the docks, staying in the shadows and moving mostly by allies, on constant alert for any sign of the marines.
"You know," Sanji said after a few minutes. Maybe talking would calm his nerves. "If you keep getting hurt like this, you're going to die."
Zoro laughed darkly. "Yeah. That is a definite possibility."
Okay, so, that didn't help Sanji's freaked-out nerves at all. In fact, it just made them go from freaked-out to agitated. "Thought you wanted to be the world's greatest swordsman?" he asked with more bite than needed.
"I do. And I'm not gonna die until I am, but if I do, then I die. End of story."
And then they were back to being freaked-out. "And this wound...?" he trailed off, not wanting to think that the bullet wound would kill him.
"...isn't fatal," Zoro finished for him. He stumbled and winced. "Still hurts like hell."
Sanji didn't feel it was his place to tell Zoro that if he lost a significant amount of blood, he could still die. And with that happy thought, Sanji's mind began to fill with a thousand different images; the crew gathered around the dying Zoro, crying softly into their hands as they listened to the swordsman's last words; Zoro, late for breakfast, and Sanji, irked that he had the nerve to miss a meal, barging into the men's cabin to yell at him, only to discover Zoro had died in his sleep; Zoro, trying to sleep off the wound, but getting out of bed to yell at Luffy and Usopp for making too much noise, falling down mid-roar; the crew gathered around a grave decorated with three swords... Sanji was so distracted by these miserably vivid images that he hadn't registered the yells of "Oi! Pirates!" until Zoro stepped away from him and drew his swords.
Snapping out of his head trip, he realized men in blue and white uniforms were running towards them, most brandishing swords, the rest barring guns. He recognized the marine's uniform instantly, but the men were just common soldiers, no one of higher rank there to command them. If Sanji could just kick the guns away, he could finish them all by himself, giving Zoro a chance to rest before they set off again.
Charging forward to meet the oncoming group, he caught one in the gut with his right leg and, swinging around, he connected with another, feeling the satisfying collapse of breaking ribs under his foot. The two fell to the ground. A bullet whizzed by his head, inches from hitting him. He turned around, easily dodging another bullet, and flipped onto his hands. Using his out stretched legs as a wind mill,he mowed the marines. With that, half of the men remained.
There was a pause in the fighting while the marines tried to recalculate their odds of beating him. Sanji looked over at Zoro. The marimo was pale, looked half awake, and could hardly stand, yet he'd drawn all his swords, with every intention of fighting. Sanji knew he'd have to finish the fight quickly, risk Zoro getting even more injured.
"Zoro, stay back," he called to the swordsman, seconds before a marine figured he'd have a chance and rushed at him.
"What, and let you have all the fun?" He took a shaky step, steadied himself, and attacked. He cut down five men before they noticed he'd joined the fight.
"You idiot! You're going to die-YAH!" Sanji kicked the sword out of a marine's hands before kicking the man himself. "Just get out of here and wait till I'm done."
"Even if I am hurt, this'll go faster if I help."
Sanji didn't like it, but let Zoro fight. As if treating the marimo's statement like a command, the last marine fell within the span of three minutes. Sanji gazed around at the bodies, pissed that Zoro'd been right. He assessed his wounds; a few scratches, but that was all. Then he turned to Zoro. He hadn't received any more major wounds, but blood dripped from a gash on his arm and cheek, and the bullet wound. He'd lost a lot of blood... He was paler than he'd ever been, his eyes unfocused and clouded with pain, his chest heaving with breath. Sanji had never seen him look so weak. He looked fragile and vulnerable and...
He was never able to finish the thought. Because at that moment, a gun fired, and Zoro fell to the ground.