Five days later Sanji was allowed to leave the infirmary but not do much. He'd hung around on deck for a while, but he hadn't been able to handle the pitying looks of his crewmates after a while, so he'd gone below deck and now he was sitting on the floor in front of the adorable little crib that Franky and Usopp had built.
Looking at it made him feel like crying but he figured they'd want to reuse the wood at some point, since it wasn't being used, so he might as well look at it while he still could.
Besides it wasn't as if he could still cry anymore. He was pretty sure he'd shed all of the tears he had and then cried some more, but now he was just an empty bucket. He'd never really thought of himself as a bucket of tears before, but it was a good summary of the hurt, disappointment, regret and sadness that he consisted of these days.
He felt pathetic. Wasn't he supposed to be a tough guy? Where had the pathetic shadow of a man that started crying at the slightest provocation even come from, and could he please leave?
His nakama had all visited him several times while he was in the infirmary, trying to comfort him, but he kind of wished they hadn't. Because they'd all seen the way his composure just crumbled whenever he was reminded what happened and that was pretty much all the time. He didn't want to be seen sobbing his heart out but everyone had. They'd all been nice about it, but he felt humiliated anyway.
He should've said something when he'd noticed that no one had stayed on the ship. He shouldn't have thought that it wasn't a big deal and that he could take care of himself. I'm pregnant, not an invalid, had been his reasoning because he was a stupid fucking idiot.
Or he could've just let the shitty bounty hunter shoot him in the head because then at least he wouldn't have to deal with all of these feelings now.
Chopper had tried to tell him it wasn't really his fault. That the damage indicated the situation had already been more dangerous than Chopper had thought from the image because those weren't completely accurate. It probably could've happened during an every day activity, too. There wasn't really much of a chance of a different outcome. And he was apparently really lucky that Zoro had gotten back to the ship when he did, because otherwise he probably wouldn't have made it either.
He didn't feel particularly lucky.
He felt like he'd killed her, like it was his mistake alone that made it turn out like that, no matter how much the odds had been against him from the start.
When he'd decided he was going to keep her he'd honestly thought he was giving it a shot. That the important part was trying, even if he might not succeed. He'd hoped for the best, but he'd thought that if it didn't work out he'd be fine, knowing that he'd done the best he could to keep her.
But now he wasn't fine at all. He hadn't expected that losing her would hit him like this, but now he realized how delusional he'd been. Initially the whole pregnancy had just been an idea, a tough decision. But over the course of it it had turned from a tough decision to a person. His initial reluctance to end an innocent life had given way to his love for a little girl that hadn't even been born yet.
Honestly he hadn't even realized how much love he'd already sent her way, how intricately she was already attached to his soul, before losing her had ripped his heart open and all the stitches in the world couldn't stop it from bleeding all over the floor.
He regretted that he hadn't gotten around to giving her a name, because now it was too late and he was stuck thinking of her as 'little monster'. But it had turned from a vaguely insulting moniker to a term of affection, at least for him, and he suspected that was the case for the rest of the crew, too.
But he wasn't sure if anyone else on the crew really understood him right now. All of them were sorry that it hadn't worked out, but it seemed like they were mostly sorry for how it affected him, and not because they were sad about little monster herself.
Which was fine, he was happy that they cared about how he felt and they'd all told him how glad they were that he'd made it, but having it all focused on him, his well being… It made him feel kind of alone, because he wasn't worrying about himself at all, he was missing his little girl. And it seemed like he was the only one.
He wasn't sure what Zoro felt about the whole thing, he'd barely seen him ever since that night when he'd woken up and the swordsman had said these words that had made the cook fall apart. But Zoro had never wanted children, so maybe it was easier for him to distance himself.
Maybe Sanji should've distanced himself, too. Maybe then it wouldn't hurt this much.
Instead he'd been imagining things he could teach her, things he could show her, wondering how she'd look, and how angry she'd be when he scared the bejeezus out of her first boyfriend.
He should've been focussing on staying healthy, doing his best to get through the pregnancy and not gotten ahead of himself. Instead he'd jumped right in, scenarios of a cute little girl playing on the lawn deck, calling him papa, her eyes lighting up when she found her own dream to pursue had filled his head and letting go of all of these was so difficult.
She would've been magnificent. That, at least, he was certain of. No matter what she'd have ended up looking like, no matter which choices she made and where her life would have ended up leading her, she'd have been amazing.
What would her first words have been? Traditionally papa, of course, but growing up on this boat there was nothing to guarantee it wouldn't have been "meat" "super" or "yohohoho". Hell it might've ended up being the Sogeking song…
"Oh, so that's where you are", a gruff voice said and Sanji looked up. He saw the Marimo standing in front of him, gave a sigh, and looked back at the crib. He didn't really have anything to say to the green headed man right now. Nothing that wouldn't make him cry again, at least, but again, he was an empty bucket, so he couldn't.
"What are you down here for?", Zoro asked, sitting down next to the cook.
"Just… I don't know, remembering? I assume Franky's gonna want to reuse the wood at some point, so I thought I'd look at it again", Sanji explained.
"Hm", Zoro grunted noncommittally. "Chopper said he's done with the test."
Sanji looked up briefly at that. Apparently Chopper had guessed that Zoro was the other involved party in little monster's creation and had run a test on whether or not she was really related to either of them.
Chopper had looked really uncomfortable when he'd told him that he'd figured it out and to please not be mad, but Sanji really hadn't minded all that much. A week ago knowing that someone knew about his one time involvement with the marimo would've turned him into a ball of utterly mortified cook, but right now it seemed like such an insignificant concern that he hadn't been able to muster much interest in it.
Chopper had known he'd done it with someone, anyway, and aside from Sanji finding himself some burly man with a thing for blondes on shore leave (the thought alone made Sanji shudder) it had to have been someone on the crew, and from there it had probably been easy to narrow down. Chopper knew it wasn't him, and Sanji didn't know if that was even possible, Brook was definitely impossible, Luffy just… no, not a realistic candidate at all.
Which basically left Usopp, Franky and the Marimo, and taking into account the way Zoro had suddenly offered his help on all the kitchen work it was probably not that difficult a deduction to make. Not to mention that Sanji wasn't even sure that Franky would be fertile what with all the robot enhancements, not to mention that thing Robin-chan had done to him. Which Sanji didn't really want to think about any further.
He didn't really want the rest of the crew knowing, but considering his empty bucket state of mind at the moment he probably wouldn't have been able to muster a big reaction even if the marimo were to shout it over the loud speaker.
Which he wasn't going to do, anyway, so why worry?
"It's done already?", Sanji asked absently. "I thought it would take longer." Chopper had said that the test was complicated, and then he'd tried to explain about restriction enzymes and polymorphisms and genetic markers and the cook had just sort of accepted that as "it's complicated".
"Yeah, he hasn't looked at the results, yet, though, so if you want to change your mind you still can", Zoro said.
"I don't think so", Sanji said. "Knowing she's not mine probably wouldn't make this better, anyway. And I don't know that knowing she was would make it worse. Don't think it can be much worse, so why not be sure?"
Zoro nodded. They stayed like that, quiet, for a while. Sanji wasn't sure why the swordsman was still there if he'd just wanted to tell Sanji about the test, but it didn't matter much. The silence was surprisingly comfortable.
Maybe her first word would've been "lion" or "sunny", he mused as he looked at the crib again. Or maybe "fish".
"How you holding up?", Zoro asked after a while. Sanji looked over at the swordsman, but he was looking at the crib. He considered answering "fine" like normal people did, but he didn't really feel like lying to his crewmate.
"Badly", he admitted. "I just… I can't stop myself from imagining all these things that could've been, and those just make me upset because I'm never going to see them happen in real life but… I just can't help it."
Zoro didn't say anything to that, and for some reason Sanji took that as an invitation to continue.
"She would've been beautiful", he said wistfully.
"Even with green hair?", the marimo asked, a playful tone in his voice. Well, playful was good. Better than the regret in Sanji's own or the pity he'd heard in most everyone else's.
"Green hair doesn't have to look as horrible as it does on you on everyone", Sanji said. "Caimie has green hair, and she's gorgeous, I'm sure little monster could've rocked that look."
"You're really calling her little monster now? After how much you got on everyone's case to stop that all the time?", Zoro asked.
"Well, I didn't give her any other name, and it's too late to slap one on now. So little monster it is, I guess."
"You know I was gonna suggest calling her 'Kuina'", Zoro said, not looking directly at the cook.
"Sounds pretty. But why?"
Zoro took a breath and seemed a bit reluctant to answer, but then finally said, "She was a girl back at my old dojo. We made a promise that one of us was going to become the world's greatest swordsman." He paused a moment before continuing. "But she died."
"I'm sorry", Sanji said. He had a feeling there was more to the story, but he didn't really feel like prying. It was the first time he'd ever really heard Zoro talk about his past other than a few things from his bounty hunter days, mostly told by Johnny and Yosaku. Probably best to let that stand on it's own rather than letting curiosity take him over.
"It was a long time ago. I don't know if I'd really want to call my daughter after her, but I was thinking about it", Zoro said.
Sanji didn't really know what to say to that, so he stayed quiet. For some reason it made him feel a little better that Zoro had thought like that about her.
"She'd have been amazing. You know, growing up here, on this ship around these people. She definitely would have been special", Sanji said after a moment. "There were probably going to be boys falling for her left and right when she got older. And I do not envy the guy who would've been her first boyfriend. I would've been horrible to him. Horrible. She probably would've asked me to be nice, and I would've been horrible anyway… Well maybe if he cared about her enough he would've come back after."
"No. He wouldn't have", Zoro grunted.
"What? You think he wouldn't have cared about little monster enough?", Sanji asked, scandalized. "Little monster definitely would have been worth his affection!"
"Well, maybe, but after you were through with him, I would've given him a stern talking to, and I just don't think guys who shit their pants really would've been her type", Zoro explained with a grin. Sanji let out a laugh, and as he grinned at the swordsman he found himself vaguely wondering when the last time he'd smiled was.
Probably a week ago.
"Don't give yourself too much credit, marimo, he would've shit his pants when I talked to him already."
"Oh come on. I'm way scarier than you", Zoro said.
"No you're not, asshole, where'd you get that idea?"
"Well let's see, you come onto a boat with a lion's head and there's a well dressed blond cook and there's a swordsman with three swords and a missing eye, which one are you more scared of?", Zoro asked.
"It's not all about appearance marimo, my threats would have been very eloquent and horrifying."
"Sure, but if he'd shat himself in your kitchen he wouldn't be coming back at all because you'd kick him to the bottom of the ocean", Zoro said.
Which was a surprisingly good point.
"Maybe", Sanji conceded. But then he reminded himself that this was completely irrelevant because none of that would ever happen.
"You know, I had this idea that when she was old enough she'd go out to sea on her own, to find her own dreams, her own crew, or if she didn't want to be a pirate go to some island find true love or whatever else she was looking for…", Sanji trailed off wistfully.
"Not a pirate? You're kidding, right? You know she would've been such a trouble maker she was gonna have her own bounty before she's two", Zoro protested. Sanji had to chuckle at that.
"Yeah, maybe. But you know, once she went out, to do whatever, she'd sometimes tell people that she grew up on the ship of the pirate king and no one would believe her at first. But then they'd see her in action and see how amazing she was, and realize, that, yes, of course. Growing up on the pirate king's ship is hardly the most incredible thing about her. Kinda like it is with Luffy, when you first meet him no one believes that he's going to be the pirate king and then you see what he does you just know that he will be, come hell or high water."
Zoro let out a little amused snort at that.
"Well, anyway, I mostly came to drop this off", the swordsman said, holding up an envelope that Sanji hadn't noticed before.
"What? Drop off what, where?", Sanji asked, because, well, all the mail they sent out, which wasn't a lot, was collected in the girl's cabin because Nami took care of the newspaper subscription which was also their connection to the mail system.
"Why don't you have a look?", Zoro asked, and stood up. He walked over to the crib, and Sanji could do nothing but stare in puzzlement as he placed the letter inside.
"What are you doing?", Sanji asked, confused. He stood up and followed the marimo.
"It's probably easier for you to see than for me to explain", Zoro said. Sanji came to a stop next to him and saw eight envelopes arranged around the pillow.
"What is that?", he asked, his hand hovering over one, uncertain if he should take it.
"You can read them, if you want to", Zoro said. Sanji raised and eyebrow at him, but did as he was told, picking one of the envelopes at random and opening it to find a letter inside.
"Dear little monster", it read, in Nami's precise handwriting that was trained from writing on maps.
"You know, if you'd been born, I'm probably the one person on the ship who would've been harshest on you, you know, teaching you discipline, not letting you get away with everything.
But you have to know that doesn't mean I'd have loved you any less than the others. I just think it's important for a child to have some boundaries, and I just know your daddy was going to spoil you rotten, so someone had to counterbalance. Let's be honest, most everyone else was going to spoil you rotten, too.
And I know you'd have liked everyone else better, but keep in mind, a successful pirate girl has to know the rules before she can break them. Also there's some secrets I was going to tell you about how to deal with men that I'm sure your daddy wouldn't have liked you knowing, but that would've been our little secret ;)
I'm really sad that I'm not going to meet you now. But just know that even if you didn't get to see us, you made everyone on this boat really excited, and you were loved, no matter how short your time with us was.
"Franky's not gonna be reusing the wood", Zoro said with a slight smirk, but Sanji couldn't even begin to think of a reply. Instead he reached back into the crib and pulled out the next envelope.
That one contained a drawing in crayon, evidently by Luffy, showing Sanji and his daughter, both helpfully labeled, and with swirly eyebrows and a simple caption of "Miss you, little monster :("
The next one turned out to be sheet music. Sanji couldn't quite make out the melody in his head from reading the notes, he wasn't good enough for that, but he realized from the lyrics that it was a song he'd never heard before. It looked like Brook had composed it specifically for little monster. Sanji would have to ask him to play it some time.
It was only when he saw a drop appear on the second page of the epic tale of "Great Captain Usopp and Little Monster Show the Giant Goldfish what's what" that he realized he was crying. Apparently he'd been wrong, he still had some tears left.
But for some reason these didn't hurt like the ones before.
He looked up and saw that Zoro wasn't there anymore, but that didn't matter much. He was alone in the room now, but he felt so much more connected than he had all the days before. He wasn't alone with what he was feeling, the others cared about little monster, too, and knowing that somehow made him hurt less and cry more. He couldn't really explain it.
As he eagerly opened the next envelope he found himself wondering what he'd done to deserve meeting such an absolutely perfect group of people. The whole idea was so perfect and even without seeing them he knew that each crew member's contribution was absolutely spot on.
He'd have to start writing his own letter once he was done reading.
Chopper fidgeted a bit as he looked at his equipment, which looked like his desk had been eaten by chemical factory run by midgets. There was stuff reminding Sanji of test tubes, except that they were tiny, and most of the other stuff he didn't even begin to understand.
But apparently all of that would tell Chopper if little monster was really Sanji's baby or not. And it looked like Chopper was really nervous about finding out.
Sanji himself was feeling on a much more even keel, now. After reading the letters, having a good cry, being found by Franky who proceeded to join him in his good cry (because if there was anyone you could count on to support you in crying it was Franky, who of course just had something in his eye) and then writing his own letter, he felt like he'd found his balance again, somewhat.
He wasn't completely fine, and he suspected he wouldn't be for quite a while, but before he'd felt like he'd been run over by a marine warship and was sinking rapidly and now he knew there were hands grabbing him, pulling him back up. He knew he could count on them to get him back up to the daylight.
"Okay, um, so, you're sure you want to know?", Chopper asked, turning to Sanji who was sitting on the bed, because he wasn't supposed to move around too much with his stitches.
"Yes", Sanji answered evenly. Maybe there was a slight trepidation to his voice, but that didn't change his resolve. Knowing was better than not knowing. The marimo next to him just nodded, and even if the cook would've been loath to admit it, his calming steady presence was helpful.
"Alright. She's yours", Chopper said, looking like he was expecting a bomb to explode. Sanji let out a breath he'd only been half aware of holding and leaned back on the cot. He also hadn't been aware of leaning forward.
"What do you mean?" Zoro asked. "Do you mean she's his, or ours?"
"Both of yours", Chopper said. So Sanji had been right. Right at the beginning when he'd made the case for her, he'd thought of her as his, and it was true. She would've been his no matter whose genetics she stemmed from, but somehow this made it more firm, more clear.
His. And Zoro's, too. Maybe this also meant that this whole mess could've been avoided if he and Zoro hadn't gotten drunk that one night, but there was no way they could've known that in advance so Sanji chose not to worry about it.
Because his imagination was busy conjuring up the image of a little baby girl with ridiculously swirly green eyebrows that looked like to enthusiastic caterpillars chasing each other and green fuzz on her head and a smile like sunshine. And she'd have been gorgeous no matter what.
But she was gone now. She was dead, and maybe that was his fault or maybe she'd never had a chance from the very beginning, but no matter which was true she was banished to the realm of hypotheticals now.
He hadn't really noticed that he'd started crying until Zoro wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him against his chest sort of sideways. He must've been looking really pathetic again, but then he felt like it, too, so who cared.
"You were right", Chopper wailed and suddenly Sanji found himself with a lap full of crying furry doctor.
"You were right and I'm so sorry I couldn't save her, I'm really sorry, for both of you, I'm soooo sorry", he cried and Sanji knew there were tears soaking into his blue hoody, which he wasn't all that worried about.
He just patted Chopper on the head and pulled him a little closer, because he couldn't really think of anything to say. He didn't blame Chopper, he knew he'd done his best, and all the odds had been against them.
And maybe, at some point sooner or later, he'd be able to stop blaming himself, too.
Another few days later Sanji was finally allowed to get back into the kitchen, and standing at the stove he felt much more like himself again.
And one thing that made him even more like himself again was the cigarette in his hands.
Chopper had protested, had told him why not at least quit smoking as a positive result of this whole thing, but Sanji hadn't shared that opinion. He wasn't sure if he'd take anything positive away from this whole thing, maybe the realization that his nakama were awesome, but he'd already known that, and the only other thing he'd gotten was heart broken, and he couldn't find any way to put a positive spin on that.
What he wanted right now was to find a way to get back to normal, to not be a bucket of tears either empty or spilling over, and there was nothing he would consider more normal for himself than smoking.
So he lit up with a flourish even if no one saw him do it. He savored that first drag and then slowly blew the smoke out, watching the little stream rise up.
He felt a little more like himself again already.
He moved over to the fridge to start taking out ingredients. He had something simple but tasty in mind, trying to balance both Chopper's instruction not to overdo it on his first day on the job and his own intention to show his nakama how much he appreciated them.
He'd just loaded himself up with a bunch of stuff and slammed the refrigerator door shut with his elbow when he heard the galley door open and close.
"Food's not ready yet", Sanji said absently, putting his load on the counted.
"I know", Zoro's gruff voice said.
"And there's no sake before lunch, marimo, have some class", Sanji said.
"I wasn't looking for any. You need help?", he asked. Sanji turned to look at him. He stood somewhat awkwardly at the cental island, which was rare for the usually so self assured
"You don't have to do that any more", Sanji said. "I can handle this on my own."
"I know I don't have to", Zoro said. "But maybe I want to." With that he looked off to the side seemingly avoiding eye contact. Which was beyond weird.
"What, you're suddenly into cooking? Trying to threaten my job, Marimo?", Sanji asked playfully. He wasn't sure what sort of odd mood had taken over the swordsman, but maybe acting completely normal would make it go away.
"It's not the cooking", Zoro mumbled.
"Well maybe I just like spending time with you, okay?", Zoro snapped and Sanji's eyes widened both at the sudden loud tone and the content of the statement.
"What?", Sanji said again.
"It's…", Zoro started, but then stopped again. The swordsman looked uncomfortable and close to just bolting out the door, but there was a certain determination there, and Sanji had no idea where this was supposed to go.
"Did you hit your head or something?", Sanji asked, but then he doubted any hit to the head could do much damage to the swordsman's thick skull, but he couldn't come up with any other theory as to what was going on.
"No", the swordsman grumbled as he took a few steps closer. "It's…" he trailed off again.
"If you're not gonna make sense then I'm just gonna focus on doing my job, okay?", Sanji said, turning to the stove and taking a drag from his cigarette.
Only to find a hand on his chin turning him back in the marimo's direction. And before he could make sense of that, he found chapped sun dried lips pressed gently to his own.
It was over before Sanji had any chance to process that, and it left the cook gaping like a fish.
"Wuh…?", he inquired eloquently. The first coherent thought that crossed his mind was that Zoro had been smart to wait for a moment where he didn't have the cigarette between his lips. Which was fairly stupid as far as coherent thoughts went, but it was the first, anyway.
"Look, I know this isn't your thing, I know you were drunk, but I'm just gonna tell you, 'cause you should know, I'm not expecting anything from you, it's just…"
Zoro took a deep breath, and that was probably the sort of pause that would've allowed Sanji to say something but he couldn't come up with anything because he was pretty sure his thoughts were lagging like half a minute behind.
"It wasn't just a one time thing, okay? Well it was, but it didn't have to be. For me, anyway. And with this whole thing, it… it could be more. You and me. But it doesn't have to. But I thought you should know."
It took Sanji more than a moment to untangle what Zoro was really getting at, mostly because his thoughts still hadn't quite caught up, but when he realized what exactly Zoro was saying, what exactly he was offering it hit Sanji like a ton of bricks.
He'd never even considered that Zoro had any other opinion about the whole thing than it being a drunken mistake. Because he himself had tried very hard not to read anything further into it.
He'd assumed that Zoro was, as he'd said, taking responsibility for the mistake he'd made when he'd been helping him around the kitchen, he'd assumed the swordsman was being a stand up guy about a fucked up situation and had taken that without scrutinizing it further.
But he also remembered strong arms pulling him in when he'd felt like the loss of little monster was shattering him into a million little pieces. He remembered how he'd quietly always been there, and how he'd always attributed that to him taking care of little monster.
But then he'd argued against keeping her out of concern for him. He hadn't interpreted any actions the swordsman had taken towards him during the pregnancy as being aimed at him but rather at little monster, but he'd been wrong.
Sure it, had been about little monster, but not exclusively. And according to what he said, whatever the swordsman was feeling towards the cook hadn't even started with the pregnancy.
There was a strange fluttering feeling in Sanji's stomach as he considered that.
The whole idea was crazy, of course. Sanji was a ladies' man, with his heart and soul. Strange fluttering feelings had no business being aimed at burly green moss headed swordsmen. That was just ludicrous. Even if he'd had fun that night. Even if the thought of maybe doing something like that again was sort of exciting.
And even discounting that Zoro was a man, which was a pretty damn big thing to discount, there was the fact that they barely got along most of the time. And they were nakama so should they start something which would inevitably crash and burn, it would undoubtedly have messy consequences and not be good for the atmosphere on the ship.
But against all of his reservations another thought surfaced. Maybe something positive could come from this mess, after all. And that filled him with a sense of optimism he'd been missing for a long time.
Zoro was looking off to the side, seemingly angry with himself, but there was a slight blush on his cheeks and Sanji felt like laughing at that. He didn't, though.
Well he wasn't quite in his right mind right now, was he? He'd just been through something traumatic, he was emotionally vulnerable. And his hormones were all still out of whack from being pregnant, so really, he wasn't in any state to make emotional decisions.
But deep down he knew all of these were excuses. Flimsy ones, at best. And maybe this was a horrible idea, but damn, right this moment it felt like a pretty good one, fears and consequences be damned.
A smile slowly spread across his lips.
And then he leaned in to kiss back.
A/N: There, it's over. I'm honestly sad to see this end, because I loved writing this each week, and seeing your reviews and everything. It was a lot of fun, I hope you enjoyed it, too (and I hope the ending of this chapter helped ease the urge to strangle me some of you had because of previous chapters)
Thanks a lot to everyone who supported this story, you guys really rock and made this so much fun.
I'm definitely going to continue writing One Piece, my goal is to keep to a rhythm of updating something each week, so if you're interested check back, I'd be delighted to hear from you again.
I hope you guys liked this chapter, and the story overall, now that you have the completed picture and I'd love to hear what you think about it all.
Thanks a lot and have a lovely evening :)