Title: One to a Thousand
Rating: M for language, adult themes and sexual content
Disclaimer: I do not own One Piece
Spoiler Warning: Takes place after the time skip. There are numerous spoilers including events that occurred during the Thriller Bark arc and Sanji's whereabouts during the two years that the crew was separated.
The temperate weather felt nearly bone-chilling to Sanji as he leaned casually over the rail of the Thousand Sunny, staring darkly at the mass of land in front of him.
Coleherne Island. The crew had only heard a few rumors about it on the way, but he prayed he would never have to set foot in such a place.
It was probably not quite like his hell... Momoiro Island, that nauseatingly pink island, where every last creature seemed oblivious that there was any way to act but exaggeratedly female. Hairy legs, stifling perfume and false eyelashes danced in his mind, and he felt a wave of nausea pass over him.
Coleherne, in contrast, looked much more plain. In fact, in the evening sunlight, it looked completely average. Innocent, almost. The island had a very typical topography, with a town near the shore, and vast wilderness near the island's center. There were no abnormal plants, no giant beasts, and no atrocious-looking buildings. Other than the raucous crowds that seemed to flood the streets, it seemed dreadfully normal.
Still, as seemingly innocent as it appeared, Sanji felt an apprehension toward it that seemed to bore down into his very core. He was beyond grateful that there was no need for him to go there. He felt somewhat uneasy about not accompanying Nami and Robin to offer his protection, but he felt confident that they would be sufficiently guarded if there was trouble, as he recalled their earlier exchange.
"We absolutely have to have the chance to explore this island in peace," Nami said sternly, finger raised, her dark eyes fixed on Sanji as she instructed him.
"Why of course, Nami-swan," Sanji purred.
"It's not just marines we have to be careful of here," she continued.
Robin nodded in agreement. "From the information I've gathered, it seems Coleherne Island has a strict police force in place to deal with unruly visitors."
Nami crossed her arms. "I suppose it's necessary. Even from the water, it looks like one big party." She glared in the direction of the shore, her angry expression so cute, Sanji could barely resist dancing around her while showering her with compliments. She was right, though; even from a distance, they could hear loud music and see people carousing in the streets, despite the early hour. Surely by nightfall, the revelries would increase tenfold. "So let's try not to cause any trouble. It'll make things easier for Robin."
"Thank you," Robin said, smiling faintly. "Whether it's a poneglyph or something else, there is definitely something of interest here."
"I promise I won't let anyone get in your way, Robin-chwan," Sanji said with confidence. He turned in the direction of the lawn deck, where he happened to noticed Zoro was sitting on the ground, leaning against the wall and snoring loudly. "Not a soul will leave this ship."
"Captain-san will accompany us, so it is only the rest of the crew we're concerned about," said Robin.
"Yeah, I just hope we can get Luffy through the town without him getting distracted," Nami muttered darkly. But then her expression brightened, her intelligent gaze filled with confidence. "Don't worry, though; I have a plan!"
"If it's Nami-swan's plan, it's sure to be okay," Sanji gushed, his sickeningly sweet tone oozing hints of hearts and bubbles. "Leave the rest to me, Robin-chwan, Nami-swaaaan!"
"Oiiii, let's go already!" Luffy's piercing shout came from the direction of the dock.
"Alright, they're in your hands now," Nami called back at Sanji, as the two women dashed off after their captain.
The sun began its descent, and Sanji watched the scene on the shore unfold with growing distaste. As the horizon grew darker, nauseatingly bright lights began to flicker on across the island. By the time the last trace of sunlight disappeared, Coleherne was as bright as daylight itself; fluorescent lights adorned all the streets, and there were even some people who were walking around wearing clothing and jewelry that seemed to glow with the same vibrancy as the rest of the town. Random strings of music resounded through the air all the way to the ship, of every type and genre. If the rumors were true, then the island went on like this all night long, each and every night.
A small knot was beginning to form in his stomach. He took a heavy drag from his cigarette, trying to calm the unsettling feeling deep within him.
Since Nami had decided to take Luffy with them—"it'll be easier to take him than try to keep him on the ship," had been her reasoning, which he could not really argue with—Sanji was not particularly worried about the rest of his crew.
Usopp and Chopper were never any concern when it came to getting into trouble; Franky was fixated on a new weapon he was designing, and had barely been seen for the past two days; and Brook had lost all interest to explore the island when he was told it was mainly occupied by men. ("It's not that there aren't women here, but a lot of the women you see are probably really going to be men dressed as women," Nami has explained to him. "But what if I accidentally get one of them to show me their panties?" Brook had cried out in horror.)
Just like hell, Sanji thought, unconsciously clutching the ship's rail tightly. The knot grew slightly tenser. Gazing at the shore, he could make out the shapes of many people who appeared to be female, but there was no way to be sure. Something more bothered him, as well, but he could not quite put his finger on it... Some remnant of trauma left over from his time on Momoiro Island, for certain. With an involuntary shudder, he turned around and peered back at the lawn deck.
He expected to see the only member of the crew he was slightly concerned about, still leaning against the wall with a stupid look on his face as he openly snored. Sanji knew he had to keep an eye on him more than anyone, since the swordsman had an obnoxious habit of wandering off at inconvenient moments. Even if he had no intention of causing trouble, he frequently wandered into fights, like a brawl had some kind of magnetic attraction that only sucked in idiot marimo brains.
The cigarette nearly fell out of his mouth as he stared at the blank spot on the deck of the ship, where the swordsman had been sleeping just a short while before.
How?! I've been here the whole damn time… Dammit, that shitty marimo, Sanji thought angrily, the anxiety in his stomach slowly starting to spread to his chest. Hurriedly, he searched all of the areas of the ship where Zoro was likely to have wandered. As each spot turned up nothing, his concern began to increase exponentially.
Finally, he was forced to come to a difficult conclusion. With a mixture of trepidation and resolve, he turned toward the island. In his eyes, the sparkling lights were more like beacons warning him of imminent danger.
Dammit… I won't forgive you for making me go back to hell, shitty swordsman, Sanji thought savagely. With a tremulous sigh, he lit another cigarette. There was no sense in delaying his departure; no amount of time would ever prepare him to willingly step into this place.
The foreboding feeling in the pit of his stomach was beginning to spread more rapidly to other parts of his body... His heart started to pound a bit too harshly, sweat began to form at his brow, and his body felt tense all throughout, akin to how he felt when at any moment he was likely to be attacked.
To go to this island, that was so similar to place he dreaded most… And for it to be in search of Zoro of all people…
He shuddered. That was a thought he could not finish; instead, he buried it deep within him.
Upon arriving at the town, he suspiciously eyed the crowds, which seemed relatively normal. On closer inspection, most of them were groups of men, many in pairs, but the island inhabitants themselves seemed average. There were still a reasonable number of women, as well—and women who were undoubtedly women. He relaxed marginally, his heart still pumping a little too hard, as he proceeded forward, his gaze sweeping the streets for a hint of mossy green.
The town was even brighter walking up and down the streets that it had appeared from the ship. Each restaurant and bar boasted its own unique, dazzling neon light spectacle, as though each establishment was trying to outdo its neighbor. Sanji was shocked to see that even unexpected places were open late into the night—grocers, supply stores, tailors, boutique shops and more.
"I guess this town really doesn't sleep," he muttered under his breath, taking a heavy drag from a cigarette that looked like it had likely been crushed several times before Sanji finally got around to lighting it. Another surprising point was that the town was surprisingly clean.
Checking each place was going to prove difficult. The irritating thing about Zoro was that Sanji had no idea what the idiot swordsman was thinking when he wandered off in foreign places. It was a repetitive cycle that happened so damn often—Zoro disappeared without telling anyone; by the time the crew noticed, he had been gone for some time; and eventually, they would find him, usually hours later, lost and nonchalant, in a place that seemed inexplicable for him to even try to go to.
He took another long drag. But it hasn't been hours yet... That shitty marimo hadn't had a chance to go far.
"Stupid bastard," he grumbled aloud, flicking his cigarette butt on the ground and stomping on it angrily. The uneasiness at his core was not dissipating. His instincts were telling him to flee before anything unbearable happened.
He decided a good start was to check out the local bars and taverns to see if he was drinking. It was likely that drinking was the only thing the swordsman would do in the settled part of the island, after all; if he had wandered into the wilderness, it was another story.
At first, Sanji was startled by the sheer number of places to drink, but he quickly figured out that many of them—particularly ones with live music or some kind of theatrical show—charged a fee just to get in the doors, so the cook quickly ruled those out. He could not imagine Zoro handling over any beli just for the luxury of sitting down to drink.
As he entered the fourth bar he passed that wasn't charging a fee at the door, the shapely body of a bartender immediately caught his eye. She was quite a beauty, at least from what he could tell from behind... Long curly hair, round hips, and a narrow waist that she kept tightly tied in a black lace corset.
"Excuse me," Sanji called out to her; he could already feel the stir within him that he always felt when he saw an attractive woman, and it was enough to make him momentarily forget his anxiety. Unthinkingly, he slipped into that charming-yet-borderline-lecherous way of speaking he liked to use with women. "I'm sorry to trouble a beautiful woman such as yourself, but I was wondering if you could help me."
"Of course, honey, what it is?" She asked in a surprisingly throaty voice as she turned around. As Sanji gazed on her face, he felt a small part of himself die inside.
Strong, square jaw line. False eyelashes. A hint of dark stubble beginning to grow on an otherwise smooth face. An adam's apple.
Newkama, he barely managed to prevent the word from slipping down from the thought-bubble above his head and escaping out of his mouth. He knew he was supposed to speak, to somehow give a reply, but it was all he could manage to keep himself from choking and falling to his knees.
"Well?" the bartender asked again, batting heavy false eyelashes at him and leaning forward intently, as though very eager to listen to whatever Sanji had to say. "Don't keep me waiting all day, honey."
It took everything Sanji had to reply normally. "H-have you seen a shitty looking man with green hair, three swords, and a stupid expression on his face come through here?"
The bartender laughed flirtatiously; the sound was like nails on a chalkboard to Sanji. With great difficulty, he endured. "My, that's quite a way to describe somebody. I'm afraid not though, someone like that would've definitely stuck out to me."
"I see... Thanks," Sanji blurted out quickly, abruptly turning on his heel and fleeing before he did anything that would give away how shaken he was.
He was indescribably rattled when he got back out of the street. The panic had come back tenfold, and he was already beginning to feel tired and overloaded from being on high alert for so long. He couldn't relax now, though; the second he had let his guard down, he had fallen into a trap.
Nervously, he glanced behind him, a part of him expecting the bartender to be chasing after him, like a wild animal after its prey. He shook his head, trying to bring himself back to his senses. Just because that happened in hell doesn't mean it will happen here.
Even more apprehensive than he had been before, Sanji continued his search. As much as he would have loved to have most of his memories from Momoiro Island wiped from his mind, at the moment, he was using them to keep himself sharp. He knew all the telltale signs, and if he had been paying closer attention, he would have surely noticed the real gender of the bartender before he tried to hit on her.
If anything, the event served as a solemn reminder that he was not here to pick up women; he had to locate an idiot swordsman as soon as possible and hurry back to the ship.
Why do I have to look for that shitty marimo in a place like this, alone… he thought bitterly, unthinkingly skipping back to the train of thought he had managed to derail earlier; he didn't want to think about why Momoiro Island made him hate this place. Realizing his mistake, he once again tried to push out the thought, and will his palpitating heart to slow its dangerous pace.
He continued weaving in and out of every bar he passed, scanning the crowd for green hair and asking around, although with a bit more caution than before.
At the eleventh bar, he finally found his target. Upon seeing Zoro, for a fleeting second, relief surged through him; he could finally get off this island and experience the abatement of his soaring blood pressure. Yet in the next instance, as he observed the situation Zoro was in, dread consumed him.
Three men had accosted Zoro, and from their posture, it was not difficult to read their intentions. The man nearest Zoro, who had perfect teeth and a blindingly bright pink jacket, smiled at him charmingly, reaching out to the swordsman as he spoke with a gesture of practiced allure, leaning closer and closer to him as he continued to speak.
Sanji clapped a hand against his forehead, grimacing. There was no way the socially-retarded swordsman could excuse himself from a situation like this without turning it into a complete debacle.
Although his fingers twitched in the direction of his katana, Sanji knew the other man would not bother drawing his swords for such a thing. (Besides, if the swordsman was hell-bent on getting into a serious fight, even Sanji doubted he could stop him.) However, from the way the vein in Zoro's forehead twitched, Sanji was fearful about what other idiotic thing the marimo might do to get the three men to back off.
At first Sanji broke into a run, but then Nami's voice popped into his head, and he realized he needed to take a different approach.
"If any one of us does something reckless like start fighting, they're going to try to kick us off the island. If that happens, it's going to make it really difficult for Robin."
Nami and he both knew that, if the crew was really not ready to leave, it would probably be unlikely that the island police force—no matter how well-reputed they were—would be able to make the Strawhat pirates go anywhere. However, Nami wanted to be able to search for whatever item Robin was seeking uninterrupted; that's why she was taking every precaution to ensure there was not any trouble this time around. (It was probably likely that Nami hoped to find treasure accompanying whatever Robin was seeking, but that was nothing unusual.)
Sanji did not want to be the one to disappoint either woman. He was angry at Zoro for wandering off, but he was the one Nami had asked to keep the situation under control. If he let a fight break out right now, it would be his fault for not preventing it.
It was unlikely more than a scuffle would ensue, but even that much could be troublesome. He racked his brain to find a solution to diffuse the situation without turning it into a total fiasco. Unfortunately, the cook was not much of an ideas person, and only one idea came to mind that he thought was plausible.
For a moment, his breath caught in his throat. It was too close to the thing he wanted to avoid even thinking about—but as Zoro's posture became noticeably more rigid, he knew there wasn't any more time to brainstorm.
"Seriously?" he growled at himself lowly, truly outraged at his own brain. Even if he feared the basis for the idea was that thing he had kept locked up deep inside, he had to ignore it and move forward. There was no more time: he was only a short distance from Zoro and the three other men, Zoro was starting to open his mouth to say something that was sure to be completely abominable, and if the cook's plan was going to work, he was going to need to focus. Really, really focus.
Taking a deep breath, he sauntered up to Zoro with the most confident, casual walk he could muster. A flicker of surprise crossed the swordsman's face, and whatever presumably awful words he was about to say died on his lips.
It's too late to go back now.
Resolutely, Sanji stepped past the other three men until he was standing directly in front of Zoro, facing the slightly baffled-looking swordsman head-on. Holding his still-lit cigarette slightly away from his body in his right hand, he grabbed Zoro by the jaw with his free hand and leaned inward, until their foreheads just barely touched. He imagined that, to the three men standing behind him, it looked like he was doing something more than just touching foreheads.
"Listen," Sanji growled under his breath. "We can't cause any trouble here. Play along with me for two damn seconds." As he spoke, their lips were so close, he could feel the other man's hot breath on him. Although Zoro did not respond or make any gesture indicating he would play along, he did not protest either. Something about his intensely close gaze made Sanji take in a ragged breath, but there was no time for him to worry about that right now. He had a part to play.
The cook pulled his head away, casually leaning against Zoro's body, and turned to face the other men. He wasn't sure if it was the warmth of the swordsman's body on him, or the onerous situation, or maybe that something else he desperately needed to ignore, but his pounding heart felt like it was about to accidentally burst out of his chest in a bloody mess onto the three men who were staring at him in awe.
As he spoke, Sanji delicately ran his fingers through Zoro's hair, contorting his face into the most charming expression he could muster. "Sorry, but you're going to have to find someone else. You see..." he started, leaning down and smiling coyly as he assertively wrapped an arm around Zoro's neck while he pressed his body against his arm. "... He belongs to me."
"Tch, then he should've said something sooner," one of the men in the background scoffed, a hint of irritation in his voice.
Pink-jacket-man smiled mischievously. "No harm... you can both come play with us, if you want," he mused, lecherously eyeing Sanji up and down. Something that may have been a tremor shuddered through the cook's body; he was sure that Zoro must have felt it, given their close proximity.
There's no time to worry about that, he reminded himself again, forcing himself to carry onward.
Visibly tightening his grip around Zoro, Sanji somehow managed to maintain a calm expression as he casually shook his head from side to side. "Sorry, I've never been very good at sharing my things." He prayed that the swordsman could not feel his pounding heart as he continued to press his chest against him.
Pink-jacket-man nodded. "Mmm, fair enough. Well, I suppose we'll take our leave, then," he waved a hand in farewell and sauntered off, the two other men in tow. To Sanji's chagrin, they did not go far, however; rather, they seated themselves at a table just a short distance from the two pirates.
The silent scream in his head was becoming harder to ignore as he tried his best to casually remove his arm from around Zoro. Worried his knees might fail, he grabbed the bar stool next to Zoro and uneasily took a seat. He could feel eyes on him, and he knew the table of three was undoubtedly observing them.
He turned backward to glare at the trio for a moment, territorially scooting his stool a bit closer to the swordsman.
"Why the hell did you do that?" Zoro asked.
Why the hell do you think, Sanji wanted to scream; or better yet, he wanted to collapse on the floor in a motionless heap until he eventually melted into the ground and ceased to exist in this world. Still, he did his best to put on a tantalizing smile—because although the three men could not hear him, they undoubtedly were still watching—as he responded. "I promised Nami-swan I'd keep you out of trouble."
"I wasn't doing anything that would get me into trouble," Zoro scoffed, taking a swig of his drink.
"Do you remember where we are? Just what the hell were you about to do to men who were just flirting with you?!" he uttered, in a sort of shouting-whisper.
"It's not like I was going to seriously fight them," Zoro replied.
"I know you weren't going to fight them, but I didn't know what the hell else you might do."
"Tch, I was just going to threaten them to leave."
"Did you try asking first?" It was taking every ounce of energy Sanji had to keep the fake smile plastered on his face.
"I said 'no,' but they still kept asking me to come join them."
"Who threatens someone over that?" Sanji barked in a whisper, leaning in closer to the swordsman, still trying to maintain a pleasant expression. It was becoming more difficult. He was starting to feel lightheaded; he wondered just how long it had been since his heart had started beating at such a breakneck pace.
"You're too close," Zoro glared.
"They're still right there," Sanji whispered. "I don't want to be this close to you either. Can we hurry up and go?" He asked, leaning in and lightly touching his arm as he spoke; only for the sake of making the charade more believable, he reminded himself.
Zoro made a move to yank his arm away, but the cook's eyes flashed anger. "Don't do it, shitty marimo," he growled, squeezing Zoro's arm slightly more firmly. "When we get out of here, we can drop this."
"Tch. Let me finish my drink, ero-cook."
"Are you serious? You'd rather sit here with me grabbing on your arm like I'm your damn girlfriend than leave half a glass of beer?"
"It won't take me long to finish it," he replied.
"Shitty swordsman... If you need to have a beer that badly, let's go somewhere else."
Immediately, Sanji regretted his words. Why the hell did I say that? We need to get back to the Sunny. Keeping up his cheerful, couple facade was getting harder by the moment.
Such an uncomfortable situation, such a dreadful place, such awful company… It wasn't hell, but Coleherne Island had just enough elements similar to Momoiro Island to make Sanji's anxiety reach a near-crippling level. It was that similarity, and that something else that seemed to be creeping to the surface. Desperately, Sanji tried to force the feeling back down. He could not let the idea surface; not now, not ever.
And he felt far too conscious about his hand on the swordsman's arm.
Just ignore it, it doesn't matter, he tried to convince himself.
To his chagrin, Zoro was surprisingly agreeable to the suggestion to drink elsewhere. "Alright," he nodded, rising to his feet.
Unexpectedly, Zoro grabbed the hand resting on his arm as he stood up, clutching it tightly. It was Sanji who almost dropped the farce at that moment, paralyzed by the feeling of the strong hand clutching his, barely able to contain his expression of shock and panic. But no matter how hard it was, he had to hold back; they were acting a part, after all.
His hand still interlaced with Sanji's, Zoro used his free hand to grab the half-empty tankard on the table. He downed its contents in one swig.
"Oi, if you're going to finish it, we don't need to go somewhere else."
"Then I'll stay here," Zoro replied, grinning as he leaned in far too close to Sanji's face for comfort. The cook felt far too conscious of the calloused hand tightly holding his. They were both strong, but much of Zoro's power relied on his hands; he wondered if he would actually be able to pull away if he tried.
"Fine, let's go," Sanji muttered, a clenched jaw hidden behind his forced smile. As they passed the table of the three men, Sanji glanced over and saw each man was staring at them. With his last ounce of effort, he possessively tucked his arm in the crook of Zoro's arm. He felt all too aware of the sensation of the excessively muscular bicep, intertwined tightly with his own.