Temporarily posting this without a beta reading, because I need to get it off my desktop and my brain. Started in January, finally finished today. OTL
Title based on Company of Thieves' "Past the Sleep" which I discovered thanks to an anonymous song recommendation/request when I was asking for prompts on tumblr a few months ago.
Sanji's not particularly surprised to find the lawn deck deserted when he and Franky return to the ship, cautiously scanning the surrounding harbor before they board the Sunny, their arms laden with a myriad of bags and boxes containing much-needed food supplies. The cloud-scattered sky's been steadily darkening since they first reached the island, and it's now been raining steadily for well over an hour.
"Who the hell's on watch?" The cook demands, surveying the deserted decks with growing irritation as he fumbles for the dining hall doorknob and succeeds in dropping several packages on his feet. "Oh, shit, I hope that wasn't the-"
The state of eggs, bread and other easily-damaged perishables are momentarily forgotten when Luffy abruptly slams down beside the two men, startling and nearly sending them tumbling - groceries and all - as his sandals skid on the wet Adam wood and he's forced to grab their arms to avoid falling on his rear.
"Damn it, Luffy!" Sanji barks, resisting the urge to seize the younger pirate by the scruff and shake him senseless because doing so means loosening his grip on the bags he's still clutching. "What the hell do you think you're-?"
"Oi, hold up, Curly-bro," Franky cautions the fuming cook, frowning as he takes in their sodden captain's pinched demeanor. "Everything okay? You dropped outta the bloody sky like a seagull with its ass-feathers spittin' fire."
"I was on the crow's nest roof," Luffy explains, raking his wet bangs out of his eyes and ignoring the raised eyebrow that the cook's giving the shipwright for his rather unusual analogy. "Where's Usopp?"
Franky winces. "Uh, well-"
"Long-nose bastard ran off on us," Sanji grumbles, scowling. "Said he had some shit on his list that he couldn't find in the regular marketplace, but he'd meet us back here at the ship. I could've used another pair of arms."
"Damn," the younger pirate mutters, flicking water from his fingertips. "I was hoping- oi, Franky, do we have enough cola to get out of here really fast, if we need to?"
"... sure." Franky shifts the trio of barrels he's supporting on one shoulder, exchanging a worried glance with the cook beside him, because Luffy is entirely too serious and that never bodes well. "Mugiwara-bro, what's-"
"Just get it to the engine room and make sure we're ready go as soon as Usopp gets back."
"Wait a minute- what's going on? Why do we need to-?"
But Luffy's already gone from earshot, having flung himself over the railing with one hand clamped on his hat to keep it from sailing off his head. As they watch, he hits the lawn deck and immediately slips on the grass, whirl-winding his free arm to keep his balance. It should be funny - he looks utterly ridiculous, dripping wet and charging around like a wayward cannonball - but the underlying tension evident in his frame bears no resemblance to anything humorous.
"Looks like he's head for the men's quarters. Maybe something happened while we were gone," Sanji says slowly, feeling disquieted. "Here, hand over the rest of those bags. I'll get this shit put away and find out what the hell's got him so worked up while you take care of the cola."
His initial intention to neatly shelve each of his new purchases in its respective appropriate place doesn't last long because that sense of discord keeps building, and he tosses the last few packages into the refrigerator with an absent-minded promise to deal with them later.
When he steps outside and finds the deck deserted, he can't shake the eerie feeling that he's alone on the ship. But it's a notion that's dispelled the second he reaches the door to the men's quarters, opens it and steps into chaos. Everyone - with the exception of Franky, below decks, and Usopp, still absent - is packed into the men's quarters, all of them agitated and more than a few speaking in raised voices.
Nearly everyone's seated, except for Luffy, who's restlessly pacing the floor with Sabo hoisted against one shoulder. The toddler, howling unhappily at the top of his lungs, has one hand knotted in his father's shirt and the other in his hair, and from the slight grimace on the captain's face and the way his head's being pulled at a nearly unnatural angle, it's a good grip.
"Where's Usopp?" Nami demands immediately on seeing Sanji, rising from the low-lying sofa where she's seated beside Robin. From the opposite side of the table, Brook volunteers a polite nod, bony hands preoccupied with the violin he's tuning.
"Yes, that's correct, Jinbei-san," the historian is telling the tiny portable Den Den Mushi perched in the palm of one slender hand. "Sencho wants the rest of the fleet ready to go at a moment's notice and- no, no one else was injured. I understand. You can expect us as soon as Usopp returns."
"He should be back any-" The cook trails off as his eyes move to the huddle of people on the carpet beside the box hammocks. "Shit! What happened?"
He's tempted to ask Zoro whether he's capable of going ANYWHERE without stirring up trouble but refrains from actually doing so as he drops to his knees beside Chopper, who's busily tending what looks like a soot-ringed gouge or puncture mark in the swordsman's arm. Zoro's unexpectedly cooperating with the doctor for once, his lips mashed together in a straight emotionless line, although his expression of disregard is somewhat marred by the furrows creasing his brow.
"The idiot got himself shot." Nami remarks tightly as she joins them, voice raised to make herself heard over the din. "During a match."
Sanji's sure he misheard her - his brain is insisting that it doesn't make any sense given that their moss-headed nakama is a SWORDSman and wouldn't give two shits or one flying fuck about dueling a GUNman - but sure enough, there's a metal pan resting on the floor by the Chopper's left hoof, containing bloodied linen and medical instruments in addition to what's obviously a small misshapen lump of lead.
Chopper's grumbling under his breath as he works, and when he speaks, it's with badly feigned composure. "I don't think the muscle's too badly damaged, but you'll need to take it easy with that arm for a while."
"Taking it easy is what got me into this mess in the first place," Zoro growls back. "I should've been paying closer attention and-"
The heap of blankets resting against his thigh twitches, and Sanji finally notices that there's a pair of wide, frightened eyes peering out from between the fabric's overlapping folds. Ace is curled up inside, huddled as close to Zoro's lap as possible without actually being sprawled in it.
"Oi, it's okay." The swordsman assures his older son, suddenly looking more tired than irritated.
Ace says something that Sanji can't quite make out, and Chopper shakes his head. "Not yet- I need to finish-"
"Chopper, can't you just- I don't know- work around him?" There's a startlingly pained note in Zoro's tone that goes beyond whatever obvious discomfort his wound is giving him, and Ace doesn't bother waiting for the doctor's reluctant approval, scrambling into the circle of his father's arms and burying his face against the green-haired pirate's chest with a muffled "Daddy" that alarms the cook even more than anything else he's seen. Ever since he turned seven, the boy's been absolutely adamant about not calling either father by that name, insisting that it's far more appropriate for babies like Sabo.
"Zoro, what the hell happened?"
"I..." Zoro trails off, watching Nami reach out to stroke Ace's hair and then glancing up at Luffy, who's now wandering in increasingly erratic figure-eights with their other still-screaming child cradled against him. "Sencho- maybe- try bouncing him some more or something, see if that helps?"
The rubber man drops onto the abandoned blanket beside him, peering helplessly at Sabo's tear and snot-smeared face. "Jeez, calm down- you were already so red, you looked like a tomato, but now you're turning purple!"
"No wonder- he's been like this for almost two hours." Nami flashes Sanji a distressed glance. "He wouldn't even listen to Brook's playing, and he usually loves that…"
"Perhaps I'm a bit off today," the skeleton calls across to them, and that sense of wrongness increases, because the remark isn't immediately followed with a comment about ears and the lack of them.
Clinging to Luffy like a small irate monkey, Sabo sucks in air, falling completely and utterly silent for several moments before belting out another piercing wail. Zoro, who's shifted Ace to one side so Chopper can resume wrapping a lengthy strip of gauze around his right bicep and shoulder, grimaces at the sound. "Ah, I hate when he does that... Luffy, switch with me?"
"Okay. Sabo- Sabo, listen, I'm going to-" The exchange is barely audible over the ten-month-old's increasingly hysterical crying, and when Luffy passes him to Zoro and tries to pull Ace into his own lap, the older child resists and wraps both arms tightly around the swordsman's torso. Another halfhearted attempt to pry him loose results in a shrill squeal of protest, and Sanji finds himself cringing, hoping they're not seconds away from listening to both kids shrieking their lungs out.
"No, it's okay- just leave him alone. He's fine just the way he- I SAID LEAVE HIM ALONE," Zoro snarls, bristling. Ace whimpers in response. Sabo is shocked quiet for approximately five seconds and then starts up again, even louder than before.
Chopper, crouching with his ears flattened completely against his skull and looking as though he'd like nothing more than to bolt from the room, shoots a somewhat desperate glance at their captain. Luffy looks somewhat taken aback as well, but then he visibly steels himself and lays a hand on his first mate's uninjured shoulder, leaning close to murmur something in his ear.
Zoro flinches, then takes a deep breath and buries his nose in Sabo's hair, nodding. Sanji realizes for the first time that their crewmate is shaking. The movement's not violent enough to be immediately obvious, but there's a definite tremble in the hand clasped against the baby's back.
He nudges the red-head beside him. "Nami, what the hell happened while we were gone?"
She hesitates, evidently uncertain, until Luffy - now leaning against Zoro's side and gently rubbing the back of his neck as Chopper ties off the bandage - gives a pointed nod towards the sofa where Robin's still sitting and observing the scene in silence. Once they've seated themselves with Sanji nonchalantly claiming the spot that puts him between the two woman, the navigator combs her fingers nervously through her bangs. "While you guys were-"
He frowns, inclining his head closer to better hear her, and when she continues, she's nearly shouting in his ear. "While you were doing the grocery shopping, Zoro and Brook decided they wanted to stock up on supplies for their maintenance kits, so Luffy and I were watching the boys while they figured out what they needed."
"And some shitty bastard challenged him? But why the hell would he-?"
"He DIDN'T, Sanji- he tried to turn it down. You know he doesn't like accepting those things around Ace and Sabo unless he's sure there's no way they'll get caught in the crossfire."
"Kenshi-san's challenger refused to accept 'no' as an answer," Robin interjects. "I didn't arrive until after the fact, but Brook assures me that Zoro did nothing to encourage such a violent response."
"Oh, shit." Sanji's fingers dig in his shirt pocket, seeking a cigarette which he tucks into the corner of his mouth unlit. "This was bad, wasn't it. No wonder they're such a mess."
"He pulled a gun on us. S-Some kind of revolver." Nami leans her face into her hands, fingertips rubbing either side of the bridge of her nose. "I don't know what the hell made him do it. Maybe he thought he could intimidate Zoro into accepting. I guess it says how little the asshole actually knew about who he was asking for a fight. Anyway, we would have been fine- Luffy was right there, and between the two of them, he and Zoro could have handled everything just fine."
"But the guy was yelling stuff at Zoro, and Ace-" The navigator raises her head, and there are tears glistening in her eyes. "You know how he gets- it's one of the reasons why Zoro's so goddamn careful about taking on challengers. I- Luffy had his hands full with Sabo, so I was supposed to be watching Ace, and- Sanji, I couldn't hang onto him. He just took off, ready to kick ass and take names, and if Zoro hadn't shoved him out of the way..."
"Shit," the cook mutters, sliding an arm around her shoulders and hugging her against him. "Nami, you couldn't have known what he'd-"
She doesn't try to pull away, but her body's stiff as wrought iron in his grasp. "That's not the worst of it, okay? Zoro getting shot was bad enough, but he- he-"
The tendril of unease worming its way through the pit of his stomach unfurls into outright nausea. "Tell me."
"Sanji- Sanji, I'm not even sure he realized he'd been hit." Nami pushes back to regard him with troubled, watery eyes. "If he did, I don't think he cared- one second, he was throwing Ace at me, and the next-"
"The body was being removed when I found them," Robin says calmly. "Although I believe it's likely they were still collecting the pieces for some time after we left the marketplace. Asura is nothing but thorough."
Sanji inhales so sharply that his parted lips produce a faint unintentional whistle, because the historian's morbidly-worded statement explains everything. No wonder he found the tension so stifling the moment he stepped into the room. His gaze darts to the other side of the room, where Chopper's methodically reorganizing his bag and their captain's doing his best to console his overwrought family.
"I heard you telling Jinbei that no one else got hurt...?" He asks cautiously, watching as Luffy and Zoro exchange a few words spoken too quietly to make out before turning their attention back to their offspring. "How many of you guys did it take this time to-?"
"We were fortunate that Luffy was able to calm him rather quickly."
Fortunate, he thinks, is probably the understatement of the century. The last time their first mate lost control and unwitting sent Asura's dark presence rampaging through an unsuspecting Marine regiment, it had taken far too long subdue him in the aftermath, and only Luffy and Robin had been able to get close enough to touch him. Seeing the normally sedate swordsman pinned to the ground by disembodied hands, kicking and screaming and trying to bite their anxious captain as the younger pirate sat on his chest, cradling his face between both palms and assailing him with a torrent of soothing reassurances while the remainder of the crew corralled a confused and distressed small child- well, it hadn't been just unsettling. It'd been fucking heartbreaking.
It's no wonder Ace thought it necessary to come to his father's rescue, although his actions had unfortunately exacerbated the situation rather than aiding it.
"If Zoro killed the guy-" he lowers his voice, hoping both women can hear him without it carrying to the opposite end of the men's quarters. "-do we need to be concerned about…?"
Shit- if the goddamn Marines turn up NOW-
"It appears unlikely. From what I understand, the man had already been making a serious nuisance of himself prior to challenging Kenshi-san," Robin gestures smoothly with the snail nestled in her hand. "-although Luffy requested that I alert the other ships to post extra sentries just in case a… vessel of that nature… ventures into the area."
"Good. Franky's down in the engine room right now, adding cola to the-" He falters, realizing that he's speaking loudly into a suddenly hushed room.
"Like flipping a switch," Nami remarks, sounding bewildered.
Luffy peers down at Sabo, now furiously sucking his thumb and blinking away his remaining tears as he wriggles around until he's resting comfortably against Zoro's chest. "Oi, what happened, huh? You okay?"
"Finally…" The swordsman sighs, his shoulders slumping a bit as he relaxes a bit more. "Maybe he just started getting tired and decided to-"
The door to the men's quarters bangs open suddenly, startling the hell out of everyone, and Usopp staggers inside, soaked to the skin and clutching a small crate and several bags. "Oi, Sanji, it's really coming down out there! You wanna help me get-"
He stops and stares at everyone, water dripping from his nose as he surveys the unexpectedly full room and takes in the women and the group on the floor. "O-Oi- …did I miss some-"
"Fill you in later." Sanji's already rising and headed for the open door. "Nami-san, Robin-san- would you be so kind as to chart a course and let the others know we're on our way? Brook, lend me and Usopp a hand with the sails. C'mon, guys, let's get out of here."
He ignores the sniper's quizzical expression, turning back to address their captain before he's able to do more than gain his feet. "Luffy- stay here, deal with the kids. You too, Marimo. We got this."
Zoro doesn't even notice, too preoccupied with the toddler who's now reaching up to pat his face with one hand, but Luffy opens his mouth to protest. Sanji widens his eyes slightly, inclining his head pointedly towards the swordsman and hoping he'll succeed in getting the point across without speaking. He doesn't want to get in a confrontation with Zoro. Not now.
Stay here. Take care of all three of them.
To his relief, the Pirate King takes the hint and doesn't argue but merely offers him a hesitant nod before dropping his gaze to regard his family with troubled eyes.