Sanji stared disbelievingly out at the horizon before him. Endless blue stretched before him, a mix and mingle of its various shades. The deep blue of the ocean with its rolling sapphire waves kissed the bright blue sky at the horizon. The sky itself was streaked with wisps of clouds that seemed to reflect their surroundings, creating a pale blue of their own. The sun shined against the rolling waters before him, creating sparkling diamonds on the surface.

Sanji was vaguely aware that there was land somewhere behind him; a pristine white beach with vibrant green fronds and a thick deep forest, but Sanji couldn't be bothered with it was the moment. Right now he found the way the cool water lapped at his feet to be far more diverting. He looked down at his own feet, watching the water wash over them, waves breaking against his legs, and creating a playful spray of water that covered him nearly head to toe. He let out a joyful laugh, bending down and cupping the water in his hands and throwing it into the air, watching as it rained back down in the sunlight like precious jewels. It was more perfect than he'd ever imagined.

Sanji didn't know what to do first. He wanted to run through the waves; he wanted to stretch his legs properly and take off so fast he thought he could fly. He wanted to dive beneath the waves of water, completely immersing himself in the world of blue. He want to try swimming; working his body through the water until he found new, foreign lands. He never wanted to leave. He'd waited for this moment for so long, dreamed about it, he was in no hurry to leave his endlessly blue ocean.

No sooner had the thought occurred to him when he felt something tug at his foot. It was a gentle tug, easily ignored, and Sanji was set to do just that before it happened again. It was harder this time, and Sanji couldn't easily brush it off as nothing now. He leaned over, peering into the crystal blue water below him. The water was so clear Sanji could easily see down to his feet, and though they'd sunk a few inches into the soft sand beneath, nothing else seemed amiss.

And then it happened again, another tug, sharper and more demanding this time, and Sanji watched as his left foot disappeared a few more inches into the sandy bottom. The sand was covering his ankle now, and Sanji started to panic. He thrashed wildly, stirring up debris and churning the water, eliminating his ability to see, in an effort to pull his foot back from its captor, to no avail. Aside from muddying the once crystal clear water, Sanji could still feel the slight tug on his foot, pulling harder again and bringing his leg down till the sand surrounded his upper calf.

Sanji kicked at the sand desperately with his free leg, hoping to frighten off whatever was attacking him, but the hold never loosened. He peered desperately into the water again, praying for help all the while. Of course the water was far too murky to see anything now, but Sanji squinted, sure he could see something down there. Whatever it was, it was large and dark, slowly rising towards the surface. The closer it got to the top the most distinct the shape was. Something large and round, with bunches of algae or plant matter growing off of it. Except it wasn't plant was hair; dark and curly and oddly familiar.

Once he made that distinction, the rest wasn't hard to piece together; the dark skin, the long nose, the full lips, all belonging to a face that was easily recognizable to Sanji. Usopp's detached head floated to the surface of the water that had long ago gone from crystal and pristine to murky and dark. Sanji stared at it in disbelief, pain searing into his chest as he realized exactly how wrong this vision was.

Sanji reached out, meaning to place a comforting hand on the familiar face of his friend, when suddenly the eyes snapped open, wide and wild, rolling in their sockets until they found Sanji's. Sanji stared back, horrified. Usopp's detached head was bad enough but now it was moving, somehow still alive despite that being such a horrible impossibility.

When the dark eyes found Sanji's, the full lips parted, dragging in a gurgling breath. The gurgling sound stopped and Sanji watched the eyes carefully, waiting to hear the words his friend would speak. His voice was raspy and dry, as if the ability to speak had been long since lost to him, but he managed the word easily enough, one simple word, spoken coldly and with just a hint of bitterness and blame.


Sanji woke with flailing limbs as he both tried to sit up and fight off the blanket he'd managed to tangle himself in. His breath came in stuttering gasps; he couldn't seem to get enough oxygen into his lungs. It only took another half a minute for him to recognize the feel of something on his foot, tugging it the same way it had in his dream, and that was enough to promptly set off another panic in him, and he kicked out hard.

"Ouch!" A voice cried out. The same one from his dream, though it sounded much more normal now. "Sanji! That hurt!" Usopp complained, rubbing at his now sore hand.

Sanji took another deep breath, trying to calm and steady himself as he blinked back to full consciousness. The first thing that he made note of was that Usopp was standing at the end of his bunk, looking irritated but otherwise unharmed; his head was sitting squarely on his shoulders where it belonged. That alone calmed him considerably, and the fact that it seemed the object Sanji has kicked away from his foot had been Usopp's hand sealed the deal for Sanji. He'd been having a nightmare.

Usopp was still gazing at Sanji scornfully. "I know you don't like being woken up, but we're going to be late if you sleep any longer. You already missed the first bells."

Sanji looked over their barracks. It was emptied for the most part, with only a few stragglers left putting on the final touches on their uniforms and work attire before heading out. He had indeed woken up very late.

Sanji sprung from bed quickly, not bothering to right his blanket beyond tossing it back up onto his own bunk. "Why didn't you wake me sooner?" He asked Usopp as he made for his trunk, haphazardly pulling his own uniform from its contents.

"I tried," Usopp said, his tone was patient but Sanji could hear the hint of irritation in his voice. "But you wouldn't wake up. And when you did, you kicked me. Hard." Usopp added the last part with a sniff.

"I'm sorry," Sanji tried apologizing. He did genuinely feel guilty, he knew he had some serious leg strength, especially when he felt threatened; he wasn't likely to hold back. "I was dreaming," He added by way of explanation.

Usopp sniffed again. "Well I hope it was worth it. I think you may have broken at least three of my fingers! I'll just have to make the most of my other hand," He sighed wistfully. "But of course a true man like me never backs down in the face of pain."

"You shitty little liar," Sanji growled, jerking Usopp's "injured" hand toward himself for examination. There was a small red spot at on the side of his friend's hand, right below his index finger. He must have been fast enough to jerk his hand away before taking the actual hit. It looked like Sanji had barely grazed him. "This might bruise, but you're fine," He rolled his eyes, releasing Usopp's hand and pulling on his last sock.

Usopp made a choked noise that sounded partially indignant and partially humiliated, but Sanji ignored him. Instead he pulled on the coat of his uniform and turned to the younger man. "Ready to go?"

Usopp gave him another scornful look. "Don't forget your hat," He grumbled before turning and leading the way out of their barracks.

Seventeen years ago the world had been at war, countries leaders fighting over money, religion, and power, while their citizens struggled in a world filled with drugs, gangs, and poverty. No one old enough to remember those times speaks very fondly of them; the world had been a dangerous place and many people felt they were better off leaving it in the past.

Not everyone was suffering from the times, however. Weapon makers saw the state of the world as an opportunity to shine, creating increasingly deadly weapons for inexperienced young soldiers to wield and for countries to threaten each other with. One particular mad scientist had his eyes set on developing the most deadly weapon ever to exist. He lovingly named his creation "Shinokuni", a chemical weapon designed to kill masses of people over large areas, and sold it to the highest bidders.

Countries fought over ownership of these new weapons like they had fought over everything else. Each one felt they needed one or more of the destructive missile in order to stand on even ground with the countries they were warring with. Fortunately for them there were plenty of copies of Shinokuni to go around, and it wasn't long before every country could claim to own at least one. Naturally they made their threats, and used their weapons as security against attacks. After all, they feared retaliation from other countries.

Tensions rose, threats becoming more reckless and hostile, until they reached the breaking point. Sanji wasn't sure who had pulled the trigger first; it was never mentioned in their lessons. Not that it mattered really; none of those countries were left standing anymore. Not after the first missile was fired. The first missile set off a chain reaction, a domino effect that spread throughout the world, causing everyone to fire their ammunition as well.

Shinokuni was far more effective than any them had realized.

It was fortunate that small factions of people had had the foresight to start preparing for this inevitable disaster. Using any and all available resources these people set up small underground hideouts; places that would be safe from the effect of Shinokuni and the resulting fallout. When the missiles started flying, these were the people that saved humanity, ushering in anyone and everyone they could to their underground shelters.

Seventeen years later, those small shelters had grown into small underground towns. Sanji's colony held a population of at least five hundred. There were other colonies as well, spread apart but connected by a developed tunnel system. They rarely came into contact with each other, their leaders' only meeting once in a great while to share information and developments as a way of keeping peace between the colonies.

A few attempts had been made to resurface. Small search parties had been sent to the surface to see if it was once again suitable for human habitation. Some of these people came back…and some did not. It all led to the same conclusion though; Shinokuni's gasses still made surface life impossible.

Sanji and Usopp fought their way through the large crowd in the main atrium of their colony. The mess hall was off to the left, and the line was already long. They quickly pushed past another few bodies to claim a place at the end of the queue.

"I swear, Sanji, if we don't get breakfast this morning…" Usopp's threat trailed off and he fidgeted nervously, eyeing the line ahead of them.

It was one of the colony rules. Meals were served during a very strict time slots, and being late for them resulted in your missing a meal. The rule served as both a disciplinary lesson and a way to conserve food. Sanji had been on the wrong end of this rule more than once and knew it wasn't a pleasant experience.

"Don't worry Usopp, I wouldn't let you starve," Sanji muttered a little guiltily. He wasn't lying though. Even if they missed breakfast hour, Sanji would sneak food from the kitchens to tide his friend over until lunch. That was one of the perks to working in the kitchens.

Usopp's distress seemed to melt a little at the assurance, and his fidgeting all but stopped. The change in his friend's behavior put Sanji at ease. A few more people filed into the line behind them and that seemed to make Usopp relax even more. They may be late, but they weren't the only ones.

They moved with the line, inching steadily closer to the doors of the mess hall. The doors that would decide their fates for the morning, they'd swing closed when time was up. Sanji only hoped they'd be inside of them before they did.

It was true he could, and most certainly would, sneak food from the kitchens. He was very fortunate that the kitchen staff were understanding people who turned a blind eye to those kinds of things. Sanji had even seen a few of them do the same, though there was an unspoken rule that no one was ever supposed to mention it. However even if the people he worked with were understanding, others were not so. It was a big risk for Sanji, Usopp, and the other kitchen staff. That was why Sanji tried to limit his food sneaking to a minimum, and would really prefer to make it to breakfast on time.

He let out a relieved sigh when the line inched them through the doors and into the mess hall. Usopp sighed as well and any tension between the two of them melted entirely as they fell into easy conversation.

"So what did you dream about?" Usopp asked, apparently feeling significantly more curious now that he knew his day wasn't going to start off on the wrong foot.

Sanji threw a cautious eye around them. The mess hall was crowded, and they were surrounded by people on all sides. Not exactly an ideal place to talk about taboo subjects, but then everyone seemed busy with their own conversations. Sanji took the chance, leaning closer to speak as quietly as possible.

"The ocean," He muttered softly, so softly he wasn't even sure Usopp would hear him.

However his long nosed friend's eyes widened and Sanji knew he had heard. Usopp threw a cautious glance around as well before replying.

"What was it like?"

Their colony had many rules and laws that were strictly enforced; don't be late to meals, don't miss work, don't pick fights. However there were some things that were not enforced by the rules, but were still highly frowned upon. Talking about the surface world was at the peak of this category. Sanji had even seen people wrongfully punished for doing so. It wasn't an official law, but it may as well have been.

But Sanji couldn't help himself. "Beautiful," He smiled broadly. "Everything was so blue; all different shades of it. And the water so was cool and clear. It was just…"He paused searching for a more appropriate word. Finding none, he settled for his first assessment. "Beautiful."

Usopp looked out into the distance, a dreamy look on his face like he was seeing the same scene Sanji was. Maybe he was, or something close anyway; Usopp had a keen eye and a vivid imagination as well as a flair for the artistic that very well may have let him see the ocean exactly the same as Sanji had seen it in his dream.

Finally Usopp seemed to rein his mind back into reality and looked to Sanji again. "You seemed pretty freaked out when you woke up though," He frowned thoughtfully.

Sanji balked, he'd been hoping Usopp wouldn't piece things together like that. Of course his friend was infuriatingly smart sometimes. "Uh," Sanji fished around his mind for a quick excuse. Usopp probably wouldn't like to know that he made an appearance in Sanji's dream as a decapitated head. "I started drowning. When you tugged on my foot I felt like I was being pulled under water. I panicked," He explained. It was almost true, and Sanji was counting on the 'almost' part of that to pass him by without need for further explanation.

"You were drowning?" Usopp laughed. "Why did you wade out into the water anyway? You know you can't swim!"

Sanji thought about pointing out that this was his dream, and if he had wanted to swim he probably could have, but Usopp seemed to have bought the lie for now. Sanji wisely kept his mouth shut.

Usopp continued to ask him about his dream, wanting more details about the scenery and occasionally still laughing at his inability to swim in his dream. Sanji let those mockeries slide, glad to see his friend laughing rather than being freaked out by the truth of Sanji's dream.

Their hushed conversation ended abruptly as they took their trays and received their food. Whispering to each other in the crowded mess hall was one thing, but here the line was much more organized and the people handing out food were watching them carefully. They let anymore talk about the ocean or anything else related to the surface trail off into nothing to be discussed later under safer circumstances.

Food received, they moved to find a place to sit in the overcrowded room. Some people glared at them threateningly as they passed by, as if daring the two young men to sit at their table. These people had no effect on Sanji, he knew they wouldn't touch him, but Usopp flinched visibly whenever he caught their eye.

They finally managed to find a fairly empty table to sit at. There was only one other occupant already seated there, a large, burly man with an impressively long beard. He gave Usopp and Sanji only a cursory glance as they sat before returning to his own meal. This worked for Sanji, he may have been able to put up with being glared down while he ate, but he knew Usopp wasn't quite so brave. Sanji had seen Usopp skip whole meals because he was too afraid to eat.

There wasn't much time to linger after their meal, partially because of Sanji's lateness and partially because lingering after a meal was seen as being nonproductive and if the guards caught them they'd be scolded. They avoided this by eating slowly, making conversation and plans as they ate.

"Did you want to stop by the library during lunch?" Usopp offered. "We can grab our food and eat on the way. Nami is working today."

Sanji paused mid-bite to beam at his friend. "Of course we can visit my beautiful Nami!" He cried happily.

Usopp rolled his eyes. "I don't think she's your beautiful anything," He muttered, though his words went completely unheard by Sanji. "My real reason in saying that was we can…" He trailed off, pausing to look at their single tablemate. The man was eating, his attention seemingly solely on his food, but Usopp lowered his voice before speaking again. "We can look at those books."

In the library, in a restricted section only accessible by their leaders and those given special dispensation, there was a large collection of books that all pertained to the surface. There were historical texts, maps, encyclopedias, and even books that contained nothing but photographs. Why they were there Sanji had no idea, except that maybe they were kept because of their sentimental value, or perhaps as research for future expeditions to the surface.

He had the sneaking suspicion that not many people knew this section existed. He certainly hadn't known it was there until Nami had begun her job in the library and told him about it. As a librarian she of course had a duty to maintain all of the books in the library, even the ones that were off limits to most people. Nami spent her time pouring over the fascinating books, particularly the maps of the world she'd never seen in person.

Showing anyone else was a big risk, and Sanji was eternally grateful that she was such a generous angel to allow both he and Usopp to look at them. Sanji had never seen anything of the surface before she'd shown them; he'd been too young to remember anything from before the colonies, and it was taboo to talk about the surface now. He poured over the books in that section with much more concentration and care than he ever gave his lessons.

He particularly loved the ocean. There was one book that held nothing but pictures of the ocean, at various times of day in various locations, but it never ceased to amaze him. It was truly breathtaking. So vast, the pictures made him think there was never an end to it (though Nami made sure to show him on her maps that there was).

That was what had started the dreams. Not that they were a nightly occurrence but they happened just often enough to be notable, though not as often as Sanji would have liked. Sanji dreamed of the surface before the books too, it had always been an interest of his, but his dreams before had been less substantial. At the time Sanji had only the vaguest idea of what the surface had been like, and his dreams were abstract, unclear images that surfaces from his unconscious imagination. They were usually strange and probably more closely resembled the tunnel system of their colony than they did anything on the surface.

After reading through the books in the restricted area of the library, Sanji's dreams became much more realistic, vibrant, and mostly ocean themed. Not that he was complaining, he loved the view even in his dreams. He only hoped that one day the surface would be clear enough to return to and he could see it in person.

"What do you think?" Usopp prompted, noticing Sanji's slip into the realm of day dreams.

"I think it sounds great," Sanji beamed again. "What are you going to read about this time?"

"Trees," Usopp replied easily. He'd clearly been planning this for a while. "Trees are so cool! Can you believe how tall they can get?"

Sanji listened to Usopp tell him about the specifications about trees that Sanji had probably heard enough times by now to have memorized. It didn't matter though. Trees to Usopp were like the ocean to Sanji; they caught his interest and Usopp was fascinated.

The mess hall steadily filtered down, people finishing their meals and making for their jobs. Sanji regretfully pointed this out to Usopp, and his younger friend nodded in understanding, standing from their table and picking his tray up to return it for washing. Sanji did the same, following behind.

Usopp always became antsy before work. He didn't always show it overtly and he almost never mentioned it, but Sanji could see it in the tension in his shoulders and the nervous jerk in his legs that betrayed his anxiety. Not that Sanji blamed his friend at all, in fact he felt a similar sort of worry for him.

To keep up productivity and efficiency, everyone was assigned a job at the age of sixteen. The jobs varied and were supposed to be based on aptitude. Once you were assigned a job you stayed in it as an apprentice, learning the ways of your particular craft under a mentor for several years before being considered fully qualified to work in that craft.

Of course this system wasn't flawless, and people didn't always fit right into the job they were assigned. If that was the case you were reevaluated and reassigned to a different job. It wasn't uncommon; Sanji knew plenty of people who hadn't fit into their first jobs. If for whatever reason your second job didn't work out either, you were reevaluated again and reassigned once more.

If your second job was a failure you had only one more chance, one more evaluation and one more reassignment, before you were sent to work in the factories. The factories were where the bulk of building and repairing important equipment like the sunlamps and the water pumps took place. They were where those who couldn't fit into a different job or those who had lost the ability to perform their assigned job were sent. The factories also had an alarmingly high death toll due to the many accidents that happened there.

Usopp's first two jobs hadn't worked out. This was mostly because his mentors were crude, domineering monsters that judged far too harshly and never even gave Usopp a chance to prove himself. The poor guy never did work well under pressure; he was sensitive and intimidation was about the least helpful method in instructing him. Not that those pompous assholes even took that into consideration before declaring him useless. Sanji snarled just at the thought of Usopp's previous mentors.

So Usopp was on job number three, chance number three. His last one before he was sent to the factories. He had every right to be anxious about it. Fortunately, Usopp's third mentor was vastly different than his first two. In fact the man, Franky was his name, was even a little…eccentric. Sanji had met him once, when he and Usopp had bumped into the wild man on the street and Usopp had introduced them. Franky had seemed friendly enough, enthusiastically greeting Sanji like he would an old friend, but something about the vibrant and unnatural blue hair and the smell of gasoline on the man was off putting.

"The hair's a parting gift from Shinokuni," Franky had explained, twisting a hand into his oddly colored locks. "Not that I really mind, I think it makes me look super!" He'd shouted the last word as if doing so would reinforce the fact.

Abnormalities in people caused by Shinokuni weren't uncommon. In fact, Franky's blue hair wasn't one of the stranger things Sanji had heard of, but it certainly was strange to look at. Still, despite his odd appearance and strange personality, Franky seemed nice enough, and he was friendly with Usopp. Likewise, the younger man seemed pretty fond of Franky and seemed to enjoy working for him.

Still, every morning before work there was that flicker of self-doubt in Usopp. It was just a flicker, but it seemed to remind him of his past experience with his mentors, and every morning he practically hummed with the fear that today would be the day Franky rejected him as well.

"So, Usopp," Sanji decided striking up a last minute conversation with him might take his mind off his fears. "What are you and Franky working on?"

Sanji was right, the tension dropped from his friends shoulder and instead Usopp stood a little straighter, looking more self-assured and even a little proud. "You know I can't tell you that Sanji," He replied almost smugly, as if having a big secret to withhold was truly something to be revered. "But expect a big reveal in the future," He chuckled.

Sanji was only mildly curious as to what this 'big reveal' would be. Franky was a mechanic and an engineer, and while his inventions were usually brilliant and useful, mechanical things held very little interest for Sanji. For Usopp's sake though, he feigned an interest.

Usopp was still chuckling over his big secret when he turned to leave. "I'd better get going," He announced. "I'll see you at lunch Sanji!" He seemed to be in a much better mood as he left, and that put Sanji at ease.

Fortunately for him, Sanji's job wasn't far from the mess hall, just through a door as a matter of fact. Meaning he arrived in the kitchen with plenty of time to spare. Not that any of those bastards would give him a break for it.

"You're late, little eggplant," Zeff commented as Sanji pushed through the door.

"I am not!" Sanji protested, adjusting his hat on his head as he took up his spot by Zeff. Zeff was his mentor and the head of the kitchen staff, and although he was a little (okay, a lot) rough around the edges, Sanji truly looked up to him.

"We've been up making breakfast for hours, Sanji! Where have you been?" Carne piped in.

"Don't forget," Patty said to him sagely. "Sanji is just a wee little apprentice. He still has to take it easy and get his proper rest."

Patty and Carne had both worked as apprentices for Zeff before Sanji had, and always saw fit to try his patience at least once a day.

"Shut it, you shitty cooks!" Sanji snapped back at them. It wasn't his fault he wasn't allowed to report to work earlier, it was the shitty rules. Soon Sanji would be sworn in to his job and he'd be here in the early morning with the rest of them and they'd have to eat their own words then.

"Shut it, all of you!" Zeff barked. "You'll make the food taste bad."

Carne made a face while he stirred at some of the left over breakfast porridge. "Like this crap could taste any worse," He muttered, though not quietly enough to avoid earning a kick from Zeff.

If there was one thing to know about working under Zeff it was that his kicks were endlessly painful and to be avoided at all costs. Zeff had suffered a pretty bad wound during the Shinokuni disaster that resulted in his losing one of his legs due to infection. He'd been made a wooden leg to keep him standing, but the wood hurt twice as bad when it came into contact with your shin at full force.

While Carne cursed quietly and nursed his bruised shin, Zeff hobbled back to Sanji. "How was the food?" He asked gruffly.

Sanji blanched. The food was never appetizing, truth be told. Food was a precious enough commodity, but there wasn't much of a variety in what they could eat, and there was absolutely none of the spice things Zeff had spent so much time explaining to him. It was a shame, because Sanji would have loved to have tried the different flavors Zeff described.

"It was edible," Sanji shrugged. They had this conversation every day, and Sanji had long ago learned that honesty was the best policy with Zeff. If Sanji had told him the food was good, the old man would brood and snap at him all day until Sanji fessed up to the truth (though usually by that point he'd be shouting the truth in the most insulting way possible). On the other hand, if Sanji insulted the food he'd be called an ungrateful brat. In the end, the best response was the most honest. The food wasn't good, but it wasn't so bad it couldn't be forced down either.

Zeff scowled at the reply but Sanji knew the look wasn't meant for him. When Zeff had lived on the surface he'd owned a restaurant, serving food to people who would pay him to eat it. Zeff had never outright told them that his food was popular and renowned, but from the few stories Zeff had told him about his life on the surface (a topic they only discussed when the kitchen staff was left alone and the guards were busy elsewhere) Sanji had gathered the old man's restaurant had been something famous, and that was no doubt because of the quality of Zeff's food.

Now however, the former famous chef was forced to comply with a multitude of rules and restrictions, resulting in substantial but bland meals. Still, if there was one lesson Zeff had repeatedly pounded into Sanji's head it was that food was sustenance for energy. Its taste and presentation came only after its nutritional value. Zeff seemed to abide by that law, but it was clear he wished that people would be able to enjoy his food as well.

"Don't worry about it, old man, it wasn't great but it was edible," Sanji griped. Pushing Zeff's buttons probably wasn't the best idea, but Sanji figured it was better than letting the old guy dwell on it.

It seemed to work, Zeff snorted and the almost regretful look in his eyes faded. "You're too young to be insulting my cooking, little eggplant."

Sanji let the stupid and insulting little nickname roll off of him this once. He'd let the shitty old man have one free shot today, since he was feeling so kind and forgiving.

The first half of his work day seemed to pass by quickly. The demands of cooking a meal for hundreds of people actually never got any easier, even if the food was the same almost every day, and the rush of the fast paced kitchen seemed to take the concept of time along with it. Before Sanji knew it Zeff was ushering him out the door for his lunch and Patty and Carne were mocking him in childish voices as he left.

Sanji waited outside the mess hall for Usopp. On the off chance the younger man was late, Sanji would rather miss a meal with him than eat alone while his friend went hungry. Fortunately Franky seemed pretty good with time and it wasn't long before Usopp came into view, pushing his way through the crowd and apologizing profusely when he ran smack into a man nearly twice his size.

Sanji sighed, sidling up to his friend on the off chance Usopp's profuse apologies were not enough for the Neanderthal. Not that Sanji would ever pick a fight, but it wasn't Sanji's fault that some people were just asking to have their asses kicked. It also wasn't Sanji's fault that the men whose asses he'd kicked in the past weren't very bright and had been easily goaded into a fight in the first place. But after all, the guards weren't concerned about who said what first, only with who threw the first punch.

Fortunately for the large man Sanji wasn't the only one who spotted the little altercation. One of the guards had also spied the duo, and had made his way closer. Sanji frowned, watching the guard approach his friend and the large moron who was glaring down at the shorter man. Guards were not exactly Sanji's favorite kind of people. They were the law keepers of the colony; those put in charge of upholding justice. Of course, some of them had a very warped sense of justice that relied more upon who could do them the most favors rather than who was actually in need of their protection. They were a mostly untrustworthy lot of people and Sanji tried to avoid associating with them at all.

Still, not all of them were completely horrible. This particular guard was a favorite of Sanji's…or as much of a favorite as Sanji had in the guards at least. Brook was a tall, skeleton thin man. Sanji would have feared he was suffering malnutrition if he didn't know that the guards ate ridiculously well. They certainly didn't have to suffer through tasteless porridge for breakfast. He had a youthful personality despite his age, a massive bush of hair he dubbed his "most noteworthy feature", and often carried around a violin with him, pausing frequently during his rounds to play it for anyone who asked. He was quite a talented musician, and his music tended to lift people's weary spirits.

He was truly loved by most people, and while Sanji generally liked the tall man he couldn't bring himself to trust anyone that worked for the guard. However if there was any guard he wanted approaching a situation involving any of his friends or himself it was Brook.

"What seems to be the problem, gentleman?" Brook greeted them. He sounded friendly and casual but his arrival was enough to pull the larger man's attention away from Usopp. Sanji used that opportunity to slide up next to his friend.

"Usopp!" Sanji mock whispered, making sure to be loud enough to be clearly heard by both Brook and the man. "Did you apologize for running into this man?"

Usopp squeaked fearfully and nodded. "I did! I swear I did!"

The big idiot clearly wasn't as stupid as Sanji had pegged him to be. He looked once between Sanji and Brook and gave a slight shrug. "Nothing's the matter, sir," The man said to Brook. "Just an accident," He added, sneering at Sanji and Usopp once more before turning and walking away.

They watched him disappear into the crowd. Once he was gone from sight Usopp sagged visibly with relief. Sanji gave him a smile to assure him it was alright now.

"Having a pleasant morning, boys?" Brook chortled.

"I've had better," Usopp mumbled.

Sanji shrugged. He was grateful for Brook's interference, but still wary about holding much of a conversation with the guy. "Working hard of course. May we get our lunch now, sir?" He responded.

Brook looked amused, as if Sanji's word-perfect reply was somehow funny. It was unnerving to Sanji, but he held his ground, waiting politely to be excused. Finally Brook spoke again. "Of course you may, I would hate to keep you. Eat well boys!" He waved, turning on spot and sauntering away. There was a spring in his step as if her were dancing to some inaudible tune.

As soon as he was gone Sanji let out a sigh of relief. Usopp did the same, though his reasoning seemed to be completely different.

"Thank god Brook was there right?" He said, following Sanji's lead into the mess hall.

"Yeah, yeah," Sanji rolled his eyes, though his friend couldn't see. "You know, that guy wouldn't have been a problem Usopp."

Usopp frowned, a disapproving look on his face. It was a look Sanji hated receiving because it meant he was about to get scolded like a child by his usually helpless best friend. "You can't fight, Sanji!" Usopp lectured. "You could get into serious trouble for that and not everything can be solved by fighting!"

Which was a point Sanji disagreed on. Fighting usually got the job done pretty quickly, and if Sanji was being completely honest sometimes he found it pretty enjoyable. Not that he liked the repercussions of fighting, he could do without those, but the fighting itself felt good. It was like rattling the bars loose on a confining cage. There was something freeing about it.

Of course he wasn't going to say that now, not with the look Usopp was still giving him. "I know, I know," He sighed. "But would you rather have had that guy kick your ass or have me kick that guy's ass?"

"Neither," Usopp's frowned deepened. "I'd rather the guards step in and end things before they start, like Brook just did."

Sanji scoffed but didn't bother replying. He could argue that any other guard but Brook probably wouldn't have let either party walk away scot free, but that wouldn't accomplish anything but a roundabout argument that Sanji was not in the mood to have at the moment. Instead he asked Usopp how his job was going and let the subject settle as Usopp regaled him with the entire events (leaving out any and all details of the super-secret project, of course) of his morning. Sanji listened to him with half-hearted attention. His mind had already wandered into the restricted area of the library and was waiting for the rest of him to grab his food and follow along.


Hello again! So this is going to be another longer, multi-chapter fic! Where I attempt to delve into the sorta sci-fi? Mildy sci-fi? I don't know what to call it.

I fear this chapter was probably boring and I'm so, so sorry for that. It's a lot of information without a lot of action but hopefully now that we have this out of the way things will be much more interesting from now on so please bear with me. Your feedback is ALWAYS appreciated though!

HUGE thank you to CookieCake101 for being my beta for this and putting up with my "wtf is that sentence?!" mistakes. She is truly a savior!