WARNING PLEASE READ: It is largely RELIGIOUS themed, and you may be offended if you're a strict Catholic/Christian. I tried not to name any religions in specific but you can gather what I'm talking about here. HOWEVER keep in mind that these are all merely opinions that are not really up for debate, so please don't lecture me in a review about religious views. I've been down the Catholic path and quite frankly, I'm rather tired of it. I know that when I incorporate my own views into something they immediately become open to the public to do what they wish with it, but seriously, people, keep in mind that it never hurts to restrain yourself. If you're going to try to waste my time trying to change my views or argue that that's not what religion is about then you will more than likely be ignored. However, I don't mind hearing your opinion, as long as you don't try to justify it by judging me and my views.
I was up all night typing this so pardon me if it comes out all jumbled and discombobulated.
On our free time our minds tend to wander to things that we normally don't think about in our daily lives, well, depending on the person. Whether or not those thoughts are good or bad usually depend on one's current state of mind. Sometimes, good thoughts tend to lead to less desirable ones that keep us up at night and stressed all week. But even unwanted thoughts can sometimes lead to more positive outlooks. Sometimes.
Such was the dilemma that Sanji found himself currently facing.
With the upcoming holiday just five days away, it wasn't unusual to see so many people bustling about on the streets, darting here and there from store to store, doing their last minute shopping to find that perfect gift. The crew members of the Thousand Sunny were among the crowd of townsfolk searching for their designated gifts. A secret Santa exchange had been proposed by Luffy, and, since he was the captain, they had no choice but to participate. Now, here they all were, shopping for Christmas presents that they could open on Christmas day. Sanji had initially been excited about the idea, specifically about the prospect of drawing either Nami's or Robin's name from the hat. Of course, luck was against him when he realized that he got the last person he wanted to give a gift to; Zoro. Well, he wouldn't really openly give a gift to that man. . .
Believe it or not, shopping for the uncouth bastard was actually not on the top of his priority list at the moment. What was currently on his mind was a topic that could be deemed very unfitting, but he was in a thoughtful mood and felt like exploring outside of the box. The concept of religion, more specifically, the afterlife seemed to have a firm hold on his consciousness lately. He could justify the fact that this was not ergodic to him in the slightest. As pirates, they led a very hazardous lifestyle, and lived in an even more unforgiving environment, death was not uncommon. Disease could strike them at any moment and take them away the next. Being only in his early twenties he could admit that it was a bit early for him to be thinking about such a morbid topic, but one can never prepare them-self too soon for the end. . .
Usopp punched the blond playfully in the shoulder as he and Franky joked about something, obviously making a reference to the cook. Their laughter rang in his ears as they carried on with their conversation and he went on unnoticed. Nami explained to Robin how much she saved on her purchases and even gave the archaeologist a few tips on how she too could get good deals. The raven haired woman merely chuckled and nodded, patiently listening to Nami's advice giving.
Sanji had never made it obvious that he believed in God. Neither had the rest for the crew, save Nami, but that may have been to save herself from divine judgment after Zoro so boldly declared he never prayed to God. Luffy probably never even thought on the idea of such a deity existing up there, looking down upon the world and watching his every move. Sanji honestly couldn't fathom Luffy ever grasping the concept of God. Luffy doesn't need a God anyway. That's what people look for in God, right? A direction in life?
Luffy threw a shoddily crafted snowball at Usopp, smacking him dead on in the face where it exploded into a powdery substance that flecked Sanji's shoulder. Usopp protested vehemently and declared war on the captain. Luffy cheered and called Chopper to be on his team, which Usopp argued to be unfair. Brooke offered his allegiance to the marksman and received a snowball in the eye socket from a giggling captain. The skeleton continued to shout something about being blinded by a white abyss even after stating he had no eyes to blind.
Books are quite valuable sources of information, but in order for him to believe something that vital, one would need more than just a mere book to convince him. In the end, it was all nothing but words written on paper to him. There may be some people out there who can put their faith in a highly flammable source, but he was just not one of them. Yet at the same time, the sheer number of people who do believe that God exists is almost enough to convince others that there is such a deity.
Zoro threatened to slice up the next person that dared to chuck a snowball his way as he brushed the white flakes out of his hair. Sanji watched as his hand grazed against his empty left ear. The swordsman muttered under his breath as Luffy continued to miss landing a single snowball on Brooke's thin frame, before rounding upon Sanji for staring at him. The cook brushed him off.
Another thing Sanji couldn't fathom was his mother's faith in God. No matter how many hardships she experienced she never gave up her faith, even to her bitter end. With all the hard times, her faith only seemed to grow more strong, while Sanji's grew distant. He couldn't help but admire her for her diligence and unyielding theological virtue. No matter what life threw at her she refused to falter, even when it just seemed to get worse. While his admiration for her grew, so did his disdain for religion. He couldn't understand why she put so much hope into something she had no proof of its existence. He also could not understand why someone or something, that is supposedly all-powerful, couldn't help a single life in her time of need. Isn't that what it was supposed to do? Or was it just a selective miracle worker? What made those other people so special then? And what happened to equality? Did they just deserve God's attention more than others? More than his suffering mother who had done nothing but good in her lifetime?
While Sanji could not entirely understand his mother point of view, he did understand this; she needed something to guide her. She needed something to pull her through the difficult obstacles she faced and she chose religion. In way, that was kind of like a miracle, but a tawdry one at that. He didn't need anyone telling him that expecting a little bit more would just be selfish. No. That "miracle" was not performed by God, it was performed by his mother. She was the one who moved on, hoping for something better, not God. She drove herself to strive for a better life. God was not there to give her words of encouragement, she only had the words that people wrote in the name of God. Yet even through all that, what was her reward? An early death and two orphaned children left alone in the cold world. Another reason why Sanji did not want to believe in God was because he refused to believe that a deity who has the power to prevent suffering blatantly chooses to be cruel and ignore it. Because if they're not ignoring those who suffer, then what are they doing? Sure, everyone has to suffer a little in their lives to know what happiness is, but there is a fucking limit.
Usopp had taken to hiding behind trees, putting passers-by in the line of Luffy's rapid fire. Various villagers were struck and people soon began avoiding them out of fear of being pelted with Luffy's abnormally shaped snowballs. Nami said that if they broke a window or damaged anything else that she may have to pay for, then they would not be getting any Christmas present from Santa. This, of course, was responded to with numerous "Awww's".
Heaven and Hell. The deserving go to Heaven and the sinners go to Hell. What classifies someone as "deserving" and what classifies someone as a "sinner"? People are supposed to follow some set of rules to guide them to Heaven, right? In Sanji's eyes; if humans were to follow those strictly, then they would no longer be human, but perfect, thus, deeming them worthy to go to Heaven. Though that is never the case. No one is perfect because everyone is human. So they settle for the less than perfects. What happens to those in the gray area? Certainly there are people out there who follow the morals of religion but do not accept the name of God. What happens to them? Would that automatically ban him from having a happy ending just because he doesn't accept what he has never seen? A disease won't care whether you've done good or bad, therefor it doesn't discriminate. Then why must God discriminate?
Nami was starting to force Zoro to carry some of her bags, much to his displeasure, but he agreed to the task, oddly enough. Chopper was telling stories about how the falling snow reminded him of Drum Island. Luffy briefly plopped down in the street, regardless of the strange looks, and made a rather messy snow angel.
Was there really a paradise at the end of it all anyway? He could recall countless times where he'd hear someone say "At least she's in a better place now." or "He's watching us from above." and "At least he's no longer in any more pain.". What makes them so sure? If Heaven was paradise, and that there were no such things as pain or misery, then what does one feel when looking down upon all your friends and family mourning you? Or do people just tell themselves that there is a paradise in order to feel better about death? What if, in the end, there really is no such thing as a Heaven and Hell? What if, in all reality, people just actually stop existing? It's such a hard concept to grasp, but when he thought about it unbiasedly, it's not so sad at all, because you wouldn't exist to have such feelings. In the end, there's nothing wrong with not existing, to hope for such an afterlife like Heaven would actually be, in a way, selfish. Why live one limited life working towards a second "perfect life" when you can live one to its fullest? What makes paradise so "perfect" anyway? Eternity gets boring after a while, and so does perfection.
The snow crunching beneath his boots with every step he took briefly distracted him briefly from the thoughts that clouded his mind. He heard Luffy and Chopper burst into hysterics as Usopp beaned Franky with a hard-packed snowball to his buttocks, specifically his left cheek.
"YEEOOW! Not supah, bro!" Frank waved his finger. "You messed with the wrong cyborg!"
The three took cover as Franky readied to fire cold projectiles off at an alarming speed as Nami sternly reminded them that if they broke anything that there would be hell to pay.
Torture for all eternity would get boring after a while too. If you were to endure the same thing in Hell over and over again then surely one would grow used to it. Wouldn't they? It's only human nature after all, to adapt. And surely Hell couldn't be hotter than being inside of this damn coat with a scarf choking him.
His breath floated up before his eyes, becoming camouflaged with the gray sky above them. Snow was still lightly falling down upon the now less crowded streets, but the boys were still riled up and full of energy. It was almost as if they were impervious to the cold. Hopefully they would get all of their energy out before dinner came around. Chopper asked if he was alright and Sanji gave him a nod. Nami and Robin chuckled as Usopp slipped and fell on his rear on some ice, in which Luffy decided to slip as well and slide straight into Usopp and then into Brooke, who was unfortunate enough to be standing in the way. Franky showed Chopper how to create a snow angel, though both of theirs looked rather misshapen. Zoro took another swig of his holiday sake and laughed as Luffy swung from a tree branch, chucking yet another snowball at Franky. Sanji almost slipped on an ice patch ice himself. He damn near would have broken his wrist if Franky hadn't caught him. He gave them a reassuring smile to quell their questioning looks and probing questions. He was fine and he hadn't fallen, but he felt a little sick from the jolt.
After blinking a few times, it seemed as if the white world around him had become suddenly even more white. Had the sun come out?
It couldn't be that even in death you are judged forever on what you did in life, could it? Over all, to him, neither Heaven nor Hell sounded appeasing in anyway shape or form, not with the conclusions he had come to. To merely stop existing would be his choice of an "afterlife". No one wants to do the same thing forever, because it loses that quality that makes it special. That's what he believed.
To that, the most he could do was shrug and say was "Oh well", he has his beliefs, and other people have theirs. He didn't need anyone telling him that there is someone out there who can help him, he just has to admit that God exists and then commit himself to this deity to the end of his days. To him, that is not a fair trade. To live one way and then doom yourself for eternity living in a false society that continues to judge as it did during your time with the living. Without pain there is no joy, without misery there is no happiness. What then do you become in a place that has none of these which balance each other and cannot exist without the other?
Sanji didn't notice that his pace had slowed until he began falling a bit behind, he was almost shoulder to shoulder with Zoro, the lagger of the group. His legs just seemed to feel heavier, weighed down by the thoughts racing through his head.
There is no "fairness", there is only a winner and loser and nothing in between. Even limbo is a losing point. It's not Heaven, because Heaven is where everyone wants to go, right? What if you hadn't done enough in life to determine your fate? What then? Purgatory?
"Sanji-san?" Brooke asked, looking back at him.
Zoro's shoulder finally brushed against his. "Oi, you're in the way."
What makes them think that he would want to go through some "purification" just to be deemed "holy" enough to enter the pearly gates to a loathsome future of nothing but repetition? God isn't fair, God is just as judgmental as the rest of us, for he is the one who set the rules upon what we judge others by. It's no different than living in this hell. . .
It hadn't occurred to him that the others were staring at him until he realized that he was having a hard time walking. Strange, when had he fallen behind the others?
"Oi, cook. . ."
His shoes felt so heavy as they dragged through the thin layer of snow on the sidewalk. The ground suddenly rushed up to meet him. . .
Zoro felt his shoulder lightly tap another. He glanced to see Sanji suddenly walking beside him.
That idiot, he wasn't pulling one of those compassion stunts, was he? Zoro didn't need someone to walk next to and he certainly did not want the cook's company.
"Oi, you're in the way." He said without a second thought and passed him by.
Sanji didn't respond to him, he didn't even spare him a look to acknowledge that he even heard Zoro. His eyes were hidden past the fall of blond hair.
It was then that the swordsman took note of Sanji's change in gait. The man was walking as if every step was a tedious task for him and he placed one foot in front of the other like he was unsure of where to step. He could even hear him struggling to lift his legs and pick his feet up off the ground.
"Oi, cook. . ." Zoro said, suddenly a bit frightened.
The thinner man suddenly fell forward.
Zoro darted forward, but hadn't been able to react fast enough to catch him before the other man hit the hard-packed earth like a rag doll. Luffy dropped the snowball he was about to launch at the green haired man as Chopper rushed over, followed by the others.
The swordsman rolled Sanji over and propped the blond head up in the crook of his arm. Sanji lay there limply for a few painstaking moments before he finally stirred. A flushed face looked up at him with unfocused eyes.
"Zoro. . ?"
He could remember when Sanji first started showing signs of being unwell.
"Oi, leave me alone, shit head."
"Who the hell are you kidding? Your face is all red! Either you're really sick or just insanely turned on by me, which is it?"
"Why you son of a-"
Sanji didn't finish as a hand went up to his head, the other gripped the counter to balance himself.
"You really are sick. Have you told Chopper?"
Knees hit the floor as Zoro swooped to catch the falling blond.
"That's it, you're going into the infirmary."
That was two months ago.
"Sanji, what's wrong?" Zoro asked, unable to hide his concern any longer.
"Huh?" The cook blinked. "Are we back at the Sunny already?" He asked, clearly confused. A few snowflakes flecked his eyelashes, if it had been any other time, Zoro would have teased him for how ridiculous he looked.
"No." The swordsman shook his head. "But we will be, Sanji, we will be soon."
"Ah. . ." He let out a soft sigh. "Zoro?"
"What is it?"
His eyes slowly shut before Chopper could start giving out the order to take him back to the Sunny as quickly as possible.
During the next two days Chopper spent with the cook in the infirmary, he could not figure out what was ailing the cook. All the doctor could pin was the recurrent fever and fatigue, and just treated him for those symptoms. For the past two months he had been on and off like this, but never before had it been this serious.
Zoro spent an unusual amount of time with the cook, sitting by his bedside and talking with him while he was awake. Luffy decided to take it upon himself to cook the meals for the crew, Robin helped him and guided him to make sure the food he prepared was still edible. Whenever Sanji apologized for being such a burden and unable to do his job, Luffy merely smiled brightly at him and told him to just worry about getting better soon.
"Do believe that there is such a thing as Heaven?"
The swordsman blinked, not sure where this was coming from unless. . .
"Well, I, uh, personally. . ." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, growing ever more unsettled. "Look, let's not talk about this, okay?"
Sanji's gaze drifted back towards the ceiling. "Is it okay to think that there is no Heaven and Hell?"
Not that Zoro went about thinking between Heaven and Hell, but he had never really thought about it. Not since the day she died. . .
Curious, Zoro allowed himself to get sucked in by that question. "What do you believe in, then?"
"Nothing." Sanji replied in a dull tone.
"Nothing?" Zoro echoed.
"I believe that when you die, you just cease to exist. There is no afterlife. It's just nothing. . ."
That listless tone in his voice unnerved him, and the fact that Sanji wouldn't look at him did it even more so. Why did he have all these questions? It's not like he was going to die anytime soon.
"After all, it's only just." His blue eyes finally rested upon him. "Right?"
Those eyes bored into him but he couldn't bring himself to look away. "Yeah. . . Sounds pretty just to me."
The blue orbs turned back to the ceiling. "If I die, I hope I do cease to exist."
". . . Do you really think now-?"
"At least that way, you can still keep me in your hearts, but I won't be alone waiting for you guys, wherever I end up going, in the case that Heaven and Hell do exist. Because, regardless of what anyone says, there has to be some sort of sorrow in a paradise, otherwise, you have no reason to be happy."
The swordsman frowned slightly. "Never pinned you to be an atheist or such a deep thinker on matter like this."
"I try to be reasonable. . . but I have yet to commit myself to what I believe is the truth. At the moment. . . I just don't know." Sanji sighed. "People get scared easily in the end if you're not strong. . . Views always change."
"Oi, you're strong and you're going to pull through this, because if you don't, so help me-" Zoro bit his lip. "I will drag you back from oblivion and show you what Hell is really like!"
Sanji looked at him with mild surprise and then smiled. "You're so melodramatic sometimes. . ."
"Me? Look who's talking about dying over here when they're just sick with. . . with. . ." Shit, he should have thought about that one before he spoke.
"Chopper doesn't know what it is." The blond shook his head. "Who's to say it isn't going to kill me?"
The swordsman clenched his fists, taking a good look at the man lying on the bed before him. If it had been anyone other than close friend, they would say that he looked as though he was on his death bed. His skin had taken on an odd pallor that almost blended with the white sheets, the only color he had was the flush in his face from the fever and his tousled blond hair. His breathing was no better than a weak but somewhat steady pant.
"It could be just a bad cold. With this weather, who knows! Besides, you're so damn skinny, in my honest opinion you always look sick! So just stop talking like you're dying!" Zoro leaned forward. "You are not going to die, because I have faith in the fact that you will live."
Sanji blinked, this time shocked by Zoro's words, specifically by that one word; Faith.
"I believe that you are going to get through this, just like you make it through everything else, because you are too damn stubborn to die." The swordsman shook his head. "If you don't give up, I won't give up."
"And what if I give up?" Sanji arched a curled brow.
"Then I definitely won't give up." Zoro said with such determination. "I'll have faith for the both of us and when you get better, I'm going to wipe the deck with your sorry ass."
"Hmph, we'll see about that." Sanji sighed as he let his head flop back on the pillow.
Just like his mother. Faithful to the end. His mother's and Zoro's determination of faith was so similar it frightened him. That faith and conviction had betrayed her in the end. Would it also do the same to Zoro? Regardless of his worries, yet once again he was enamored by Zoro's well spring of faith and hie belief that he was going to get better. He envied Zoro for that. He envied that the man could put so much faith in something like that. Just like he envied his mother for being able to put so much trust into a being that may not even exist.
Maybe. . . the chances of a deity actually existing matched the chances of him getting better. . . Was he really willing to bet on that?
By the third day, two days away from Christmas, there was no improvement. The conversations he and Zoro had became less frequent, talking for too long tired the bed ridden man and made him short of breath. And Zoro always got weird when Sanji tried to talk to him about religion again. Later, Luffy tried showing Sanji how he was going to wrap his secret Santa gift to Franky, but that ended up in being a disaster of tape and wasted wrapping paper. Nami decided to come in and help while Brooke played a nice Christmas carol he composed.
"Luffy, you've completely and utterly destroyed this wrapping paper." Nami scolded.
"I'm a big boy! I can do it!" Luffy said, popping a bow on his hat.
"No, I don't really think you can, Luffy-san."
Sanji gave an airy laugh. "You gave it your best shot, Luff."
Luffy instantly perked up. "See? See? At least Sanji appreciates my efforts!"
"Not when he finds out you've destroyed his kitchen-"
"Nami!" Luffy glanced nervously at the cook who merely waved his hand.
"I'll get around to it when I can get up again."
The navigator eyed the cook warily. "I hope you know, Luffy, my services aren't free."
"What services?" Brooke asked with a hope filled tone. "Are you showing off your panties?"
Nami would have certainly caused the skeleton some pain if she had not been ordered to refrain from violent acts around Sanji. "No, Brooke, I meant for wrapping this lovely little package for Luffy here."
"Aww. . . Should have just asked Usopp to do it. . ." The boy mumbled.
"What was that, Luffy dear?" Name leered in on him.
"Ahaha, n-nothing Nami! You're doing a great job, Nami! Keep up the good work!" Luffy laughed nervously.
Luffy bounced out to go find Usopp and Brooke retired to the Aquarium Bar.
Nami carefully set down the package once she was finished, before leaning over to the cook.
"Yes? What is it, Nami-swan?"
Her brown eyes were caught in his, and for a second, she grew worried that he was beginning to expect something from her, until she saw his brow furrow.
"Is something the matter, Nami-swan? You can tell me."
She felt a frown tug at her lips as she threw her arms around his neck and pulled him into a tight embrace. This idiot, he was the one who was sick in bed and yet he still put her welfare before his.
"N-N-Nami-swan?" She heard him stammer.
She squeezed tighter, bordering on choking the man, "Don't you dare give up or I'll never forgive you."
She released him as quickly as she had seized him and left the room as if nothing had happened.
Usopp couldn't believe how much a person could change over the course of a few days. The cook had been a bit ill for a long time running now, but he had never seen such a drastic change such as the one that occurred over the past three days. Sanji looked as though he hadn't slept a wink once in his entire life, and he had little to no color left in his complexion now. His voice was different, instead of the normally robust tone it was quiet and dispirited. Even though the man looked like a ghost, it didn't stop Usopp from entertaining him with his tales of adventure back home. He didn't even get mad when Sanji fell asleep during it. At least he had a smile on his face while he slept.
"You know, there was a girl in my town who got sick often."
"Yeah. . . Kaya-san, was it?"
"That's her." Usopp chuckled. "Whenever she was ill, I'd always climb the tree close to her window and sit in the branches and tell her stories and keep her company until it was time for me to leave."
"Did she believe in any of them?" Sanji asked slyly.
"Of course she did! Because they were all true adventures of the Great Captain Usopp and his pirate crew!"
Sanji humored him with a small laugh. "What happened to Kaya-san? Did she ever get better?"
"She did, her health improved greatly after Luffy and the others saved the village."
"You mean, Luffy, Nami-san, you, and that Marimo saved the village."
Usopp shook his head. "Nah, it was mainly just those guys who did it. I only caused trouble in the end. I used to run through the town shouting "Pirates are coming!" and in the beginning people would believe me, but then they started getting wise to my antics. So the day the pirates actually invaded, no one listened to me except for Luffy."
"Ah, so you were the boy who cried Wolf"?"
"Man, I can't believe you're selling yourself short like that." Sanji snorted. "You, of all people."
The marksman blinked. "What?"
"Luffy doesn't let just anyone join his crew, otherwise we'd be overrun with idiots." Sanji shook his head. "You had to have shown him some sort of potential, something that made him look at you and respect you. Therefor, I believe you did your part to save your village. You deserve just as much credit as Luffy and the others do."
Sanji laughed and went on. "Oddly enough, that reminds me of this book that I used to read when I was child called "The littlest Angel". It's a really good book, that's ironic, coming from me, but, still, I wish I could find it again. . ."
Usopp stared at the cook in awe. This man out of all of the others had a tendency to understand him the most, and Usopp could not figure out how or why. He had concluded long ago that Sanji was smarter and more cunning than he appeared to be, but sometimes the man found new ways to astound Usopp with his way of thinking.
"Usopp, you're giving me a creepy look, you aren't picturing me naked, are you?"
The marksman dead panned. "You, Sanji, are one of the most biggest moment wreckers next to Luffy and Zoro, did you know that?"
"WHADDYA MEAN "YEAH"? DON'T AGREE WITH ME!"
Suppose, faith in religion could be compared to the way he believes in All Blue. There have been clues and other signs that it exists, but not definite proof such as a map or pictures. Just like this God, there was no definite proof and yet people still believe. Just like he believes in All Blue. Sure, he could look at it that way, but he still could not understand why people would want to drive towards such a bleak future for their entire lives. At least he had faith in something that he could possibly obtain in his present life, something that was guaranteed he would find. The afterlife, not so much a guarantee. One would literally be gambling with their life. So, life is just a big gambling game? Was that it?
The next morning came and Chopper was doing a check-up on his patient when a brightly wrapped box was handed to him.
The doctor stared at the gift and then back at Sanji with a questioning look.
For a brief second, the old Sanji appeared through that cheeky grin as he said. "Happy early birthday, Chopper."
The little reindeer almost flung his clipboard away in excitement as he beamed at the cook. "Really, Sanji? How did you know? But it's not even-" His enthusiasm died when Sanji rested back against the pillow looking extremely weary. "Don't over-exert yourself, Sanji. You didn't have to do this for me."
"It's okay. I wanted to give it to you before I got too tired." He spoke in a small voice.
"How did you do this?"
"I got it when I had to get the Santa gift. Nami-san helped me, well, she ended up in doing all of the wrapping since I couldn't-"
Before Chopper knew it, he was hugging the man tightly, sobbing into his shoulder. "You're too nice to me, you idiot!"
"He speaks half the truth you know." Zoro said from the doorway.
"You don't really know how to read a situation, do you, Zoro?" Sanji asked.
Zoro shrugged, too distracted by the lack of life in the other man's voice.
"Asshole, I don't want presents! I don't even want anything for Christmas!" Chopper cried. "All I really want is for you to get better!"
The swordsman couldn't tell if that got any reaction out of the cook or not, his expression was hard to read past the bleak look he had taken on. A thin hand reached up to pat the sobbing reindeer on the back, but came to a rest there.
"I'm not crying, jerk!" Chopper mumbled as he clambered off the cook, wiping away his tears. "And I'm not opening this gift until you can get better!"
"Well, you had better store it somewhere cold and where Luffy can't get to it, otherwise it's going to melt."
"SWEETS?" Chopper looked at the box hesitantly but then shook his head. "No! I'm going to wait until you get well and then we can share it!"
And with that he hurried out of the room to get either Nami or Robin to open the refrigerator for him. Zoro watched him leave before turning back to look at the cook. The man had a shaky hand covering his eyes with his head tilted back.
A flicker of concern picked at Zoro's heart. "Are you alright?"
Sanji took a deep breath before removing his hand. "Yeah. I'm fine. . ."
"You don't sound that way."
For once, Sanji held back his response, not actually having anything to say at all. It wasn't anything he wanted to discuss with the swordsman or anyone else on the crew, for that matter. His business was his own. They may not be able to handle what he's come to, but he certainly could accept it. But, more importantly, what was really tugging at his heartstrings was what that young doctor had said, it was breaking his heart. . .
"I still believe." Zoro said with an emotionless stare.
Sanji didn't meet his gaze.
"You can't tell me that you don't hope-"
"Of course I still want to have hope!" If he had the energy he probably would have punched Zoro out, instead he would just have to settle with kicking him around a bit in his mind. "No one wants to die, especially not me, but. . ."
With all the thinking and pondering he had been doing about the afterlife, he was scared. He wasn't scared of going to Heaven or Hell, or not existing any more. He was scared of the unknown, a natural fear, one that is shared by almost everyone. That's what he hated about life, you live it all the way to the end, unaware of what exactly is on the other side, and you only have these idealistic fantasies that people have built up over the years in order to protect themselves from a seemingly logical yet lonely truth.
"But. . . it's just so fucking hard. . ." Sanji's shoulders tensed. "When everyone's telling me not to give up and yet. . . I'm just so damn tired."
Sanji lifted his head just as a hand brought itself down and brushed through his hair.
"Now you listen to me." Zoro said firmly, forcing Sanji to meet his gaze. "You are not going to die. Do you understand me?"
The swordsman saw the other man flinch visibly at the "d" word. He never did before. What gave him reason to start now?
"Sanji, how terrible do you actually feel?"
The cook cut him a weird glance. "What? I seriously feel like shit. It's probably the worst I have ever felt in a long time."
It seemed so unfair that it should strike him now of all times. Why did it have to be around Christmas? What exactly was out there that was so against him enjoying his life with his friends? Was this some sort of divine retribution for convincing himself that there is no Heaven nor Hell? So many questions and yet so little time to think on them. All that mattered to him now was that this was not fair. One was never supposed to indulge in self-pity, but damn it, it was hard not to at the moment. Would it kill to have some sort of break from this?
An emotion flickered in Sanji's eyes as his voice broke. It was only a tiny break, but Zoro still caught it. Sanji watched as the man slowly raised his hand and placed it on top of his, gripping it firmly.
"Look, I know you're just being honest with me, albeit mingled with pessimism that you rarely ever show, so I'm going to be honest with you." Zoro took a deep breath. "I stand by what I said, I will put all my faith and hope in the fact that you will live, but, even though I want to have my entire being backing that up, I still fear, somewhere deep down inside, that you will not make it. So, don't think I haven't considered the possibility, but I refuse to think it is likely until it becomes a reality."
"You may feel that it is a reality, and I'm. . . I'm sorry." Zoro shook his head. "Only you would know and I'm. . . I'm frustrated that I don't. I don't like guessing and I don't like that I can't feel what you're feeling. I'm frustrated that we can't find out why you're ill, and it's killing me that it's. . . killing you, and I can't do anything to stop it. All I can do is hope, and maybe even pray that this doesn't take you. And if there is a God, then damn him for doing this."
"Zoro. . ."
"What is it?"
"Get. . . Get Chopper. . . Please." The cook mumbled, his head lolling to one side.
Alarmed, Zoro hesitated. "What's wrong?" His mind befuddled by the sudden change of events.
"I'm. . . I think I'm. . . passing out again." Sanji gasped, his voice growing weaker.
Last thing Sanji heard was Zoro's voice shouting an inaudible name at the top his lungs as the warmth from the swordsman's hand left his.
By Christmas eve morning, Chopper was firm on not letting anyone in the infirmary for the time being. Usopp did not like the worried glances that were exchanged between the musician and the shipwright when Chopper said the infirmary was to be closed to anyone who didn't have his permission to enter. He merely wanted Sanji to save his energy and didn't want any distractions.
Sanji heard someone calling his name from somewhere far far away, and a slight pressure squeezing his hand. Exerting most of his willpower, he managed to open his eyes just a bit, allowing light to flood into his dark world. As reality hit him, he felt the same pain that had been with him for the past few weeks intensify. That heavy existence weighed down once again upon his shoulders as his illness made itself known.
A familiar face was leaning over his saying something to him as his vision blurred in and out of focus.
"Zo. . . ro?"
"Finally, you woke up. Chopper and the others have been worried sick."
"Eh? Where am I?"
"In the sick bay still. Where else?" The swordsman scoffed, but it lacked the usual fire behind it, "Still confused? That's not surprising at all, you've been confusing everyone's names today, you even forgot who some of us were. You called me Franky."
Another head popped into view, a fuzzy brown one.
"Oh. . . It's the little talking reindeer." He sighed softly.
"Hey, Sanji, I know you need your rest, but Luffy wanted all of us to be awake at midnight so we can enjoy the moment together when Christmas comes."
"Oh, that's nice. I'll try to stay awake then."
The edges of his vision were becoming lined with black but it quickly faded away as soon as it had come, but he found himself fighting to keep his eyes focused on the person before him.
"I still believe. . ."
Relief swept through him when the cook opened his eyes and finally looked at him after briefly scanning the room. It had taken a few attempts from some of the other crew members to get him to wake up. But he was the one that finally got the man to say something.
He could hear the others in the background singing Christmas carols with Brooke and drinking heartily, almost drowning out Sanji's weak voice.
Zoro sighed. "Finally, you woke up. Chopper and the others have been worried sick."
"Eh? Where am I?"
The cook was still becoming easily confused and couldn't remember things prior to sleeping. His fever had remained mild and refused to go down, only spiking every so often. Zoro pretended to be irritated with him, but couldn't even manage to properly insult him. The still figure was daunting him from being the usual jerk that he was. It was unnatural to see Sanji lie so still. He didn't even look like the same Sanji he was five days ago.
Chopper intervened for a few seconds, Zoro took the time to take in the other man's appearance and how it had changed.
It was obvious in the way he lay there that he had no strength to even sit up. It seemed to take all of his efforts just to keep his eyes open and to talk and breathe at the same time. Eyes fluttered open and closed, sometimes drifting away and then snapping back to Zoro. A fine sheen of sweat covered his slightly reddened face.
"I still believe. . ."
That spark of surprise that briefly lit up the cook's eyes eased the tension in Zoro's heart by just a bit. It was a comforting factor to see that he was still alive in there. However, even now, he could tell that their cook was slowly fading right before them.
Zoro shook his head to get those thoughts out. Now was not the time to think about it. He would not relent in what he believed.
"Zoro." His voice was even quieter than yesterday. His eyes shifted in and out of focus.
"No, I still believe." Zoro held his hand tight. "Because I refuse to believe that if there is a God, that he is this cruel. I can't accept that."
It wasn't fair that an illness could take him out like this. It wasn't fair that it could remain unidentified while it freely took over the cook's immune system and turned it against him. That small doubt that Sanji wouldn't make it had grown bigger, but he refused let it match the size of his hope. He would refuse to let it over-power that feeling. Even if he was let down in the end at least he tried to go against it rather than take it quietly. All this talk of religion that Sanji had been bringing up had gotten to him. Not that he was suddenly considering praying to God, no, there was no need for him to change that. If Sanji was having any thoughts or doubts about the "end" then surely he would carry those to his grave and Zoro wouldn't want that, not if he could help it.
"Zoro. . ."
The swordsman snapped out of his musings. "Hm?"
"I. . ." The cook swallowed. "I want to have faith. . . in you and the others and mostly. . . myself."
"You believe in me. . . so I'll take a chance and have faith in myself for once." Sanji sighed.
Zoro opened his mouth to respond but Luffy decided to burst into the room at that moment, "It's almost midnight guys! Let's not break tradition!"
"Luffy, we just started doing this!"
"Exactly! So let's not break it now!" The boy beamed. "Zoro! Chopper! Sanji! You coming?"
Chopper glanced to Sanji, "Uh, Luffy, I don't think-"
"You guys go ahead." His voice was so soft, Zoro almost didn't hear it over the loud ruckus the others were making. He found that the cook's eyes were closed now.
"Oi, don't go to sleep on us now!" Zoro snapped.
"Where the hell did that come from?" Nami screeched from the Galley.
"Luffy! Luffy, c'mere! C'mere, you won't believe this!" Usopp shouted.
Nami suddenly ran in the infirmary with Usopp behind here. "Look at what stowed away in Usopp's present!" The navigator held out a soft bundle in her arms that squirmed and began to mew.
"A kitten! Can you believe it? Can we keep it? Can we?"
"Yeah, can we? Please?" Luffy begged.
"Luffy, it's really up to you in the end. . ."
"If you guys think it's a good idea, it's not like we have much of a choice to put it else where considering we're not at an island." Zoro sighed, unable to hide the small smile on his lips.
"Heh, Sanji-kun, look!"
Zoro looked back to the cook and shook his shoulder when he didn't respond to his precious "Nami-swan". "Oi, cook."
Sanji squinted and let out a small troubled sigh before opening his eyes once more. It was painfully obvious that the task of opening his eyes was taxing for him.
"We got a new crew member!" Usopp cooed as he scratched behind the tiny kitten's ear. As if in agreement, the kitten mewed.
"Hm, more trouble." Sanji teased with a dim grin.
"Isn't she just adorable?"
"What makes you so sure it's a she?"
Sanji's eyes began drifting again before darting back to the pair arguing over the kitten's gender. His gaze then fell upon Zoro, who was staring intently at him.
"This is probably the best Christmas I've had in years." Sanji said with a satisfied exhale.
Zoro wasn't sure what to make of that statement, but the ice in his heart was protesting the melting process it was being put through.
Sanji didn't know if he was just getting tired or if someone was playing with the lights, but the light in the infirmary suddenly blurred, giving everything a pale haze to it. The voices of the others in the galley began to fade out. Was he just falling asleep or was he. . . slipping?
Focusing his attention on the somewhat familiar jacket hung up on the wall beside him he reached for it with the last of his strength for that night. He dug around in the various pockets until he found the small box he was looking for, and pulled it out. Something soft and furry landed on his chest as Luffy's shout reached his ears "It's midnight everyone! Time to exchange gifts!"
Nami's irritated tone. "I don't understand why he just can't wait until a decent hour like a normal human being."
"You do know Luffy, the point of the secret Santa exchange is to not actually know who bought the present, right?"
"Uh. . . ."
"It's too late now, long-nose, just enjoy the-"
Sanji drowned out the rest as he handed the box to Zoro, more like shoved it in his hands, before Zoro could even hand over the package he held to whoever it belonged to.
"Merry Christmas, Zoro."
A small fur ball curled up on his chest and lay there, purring, obviously content with it's new bed.
That black edges were returning and threatening to take over his vision once more as he watched Zoro cautiously unwrap his present. He said something that Sanji couldn't quite hear as light and dark started to fight, one trying to win over the other. Then something rested on his shoulder as he heard a high pitched voice say his name, too high pitched for it to be anyone but the little doctor. Darkness finally won over and engulfed the light.
Zoro, surprised that it was Sanji who had gotten his name, forgot about the gift he was supposed to give. Coincidentally, he had drawn the cook's name from the hat. Trying to find him some sort of suitable gift had been. . . challenging.
He pulled the lid off the small box and remove the thin layer of tissue paper. Inside were three gold-plated earrings that looked just like the old ones he had lost during a storm a few nights back. The swordsman couldn't believe his eyes. How in the world had the cook even managed to find ones just like his? He had those specially made. . . Did the cook do just the same?
One of those cliché moments clicked inside Zoro's head, where he saw Sanji in a slightly different light. A slightly better light.
"Shit. . ." Zoro muttered under his breath after closing the box. "Sanji, I-"
"Sanji?" The reindeer's voice cut him off. "Sanji? Sanji! Wake up! Please, wake up! Sanji!"
And then the eagle came down and stole the bacon.
I dunno, I guess if enough people like it I will.
This chapter is subject to some changes. I already found and corrected some mistakes and added a few tidbits after the first three reviews. Give me a break, I stayed up two nights in a row to write this. I'm an idiot.
Honestly, regardless of what religion you are, I can honestly say you can learn a bit from what I've said. Things like most people (if not everyone) have outlandish thoughts when they think they're going to die or when life feels unfair to them, it's human nature. It happens and you shouldn't be ashamed of such thoughts. If labeled as taboo then you will never learn from it, because you're not exploring it. Not to be conceited or anything, no, not at all. In fact, I'm sure I've muddled somethings up in there but that's why I need to also listen to others, but depending on how they go about it will determine whether or not I want to listen.