Summary: Sometimes you just aren’t meant to win.
Fandom: One Piece
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Death fic, blood, violence, cursing, and light mentions of ZoroxSanji
Title, Author and URL of original story: The Strongest by aviss
Usually, Sanji is not in the habit of making excuses for anybody.
He’s even less inclined—usually—to clean up their messes for them.
So he doesn’t know why he does what he does when it happens all things considered; he thinks that maybe today is an off day. Everyone has them once in a while; sometimes they just happen. It’s what he tells his students at the cooking school after a burned batch of biscuits or a fallen soufflé, and what he sometimes tells Zoro’s trainees from the adjoining dojo as well, whenever they lose a particularly vicious sparring session during their daily practice and come sulking into his kitchen afterward, looking for cookies and consolation.
“Sometimes you just aren’t meant to win,” is what the chef always ends up telling the kids simply, matter-of-factly. He gives them milk and cookies then, or milk and meat depending on how badly they got their butts kicked, and finishes with a tough-love style “Suck it up, it’s not the end of the world.”
Everyone has an off day, every once in a while. It happens sometimes. You just have to deal with it and go from there.
Today, Sanji watches when the fight finally ends, the lazily smoking butt of an untouched cigarette clutched—long forgotten—between his fingertips.
Zoro’s body slumps to the ground.
Helplessly, Sanji thinks that today definitely feels like an off day.
And for a moment, he isn’t sure how to suck it up, how to deal with it or figure out what he’s going to do from here.
For a moment, it does feel like the end of the world.
In the meantime, one figure is left standing in the midst of the chaos both on and off the field. He is very nearly bisected, but still standing nonetheless. He’s a broad-shouldered, muscle-headed type of young man—Destroyer of Dojos is what he’d called himself—who emerges victorious once the dust has settled, a barely twenty-something kid who is breathing heavily and bleeding all over the floor in his moment of hard-earned triumph.
At his feet is Roronoa Zoro, the legendary founder of the Santouryuu Style, and the man who, until about a minute ago, also held the title of Strongest Swordsman in the World.
Usually Sanji isn’t in the habit of making excuses for anybody, but part of him— the part that’s keeping his heart frozen in his chest and making it difficult to breathe right now—thinks that the whole thing wasn’t fair, that he wants a do over, a rematch, a postponement on account of prior injury. Zoro was still getting over that stupid Sea King poison from yesterday after all, after the fucking thing had tried to take a chunk out of the marimo when he had very emphatically denied said fucking thing an easy meal in one of his admittedly careless (but still very dear) students.
“We thought we’d take a training break and go for a swim to cool off,” the teary-eyed eight-year-old responsible for the incident had sniffled apologetically into Sanji’s stomach in the hours following, when Dr. Chopper had been fetched and that angry, sickly shade of purple had finally stopped spreading all along Zoro’s skin, somewhere around the edge of his jawline and the very ends of his fingertips. “I almost killed sensei!”
“Something like that wouldn’t kill him,” Sanji remembers saying to the kid quietly, and he’d petted his head a little while wondering to himself when Zoro had gotten so slow that a Sea King could do him any harm. The chef had almost written it off as a side effect of old age, but stopped himself at the thought because he’s never been in the habit of making excuses for anybody.
And yet, in the moments when he watches Zoro fall at the feet of some no-name muscle-head not twenty-four hours later, Sanji finds that his head is full of excuses anyway.
“Shouldn’t fight in your condition, marimo,” he had been saying right before the fight, tying not to look worried while Zoro had been busy wrapping a couple of fresh bandages around his waist and shoulders, methodically replacing the ones with yesterday’s ominous black and purple blood stains on them before going out to meet his latest challenger at the gate. “Chopper said you shouldn’t be moving much at all this week, remember?”
Zoro had only grunted, Sanji remembers, and eyed the cook with a sideways grin. “Worried, sweetheart?”
He thinks he must have bristled. Or flushed a little, maybe both. “No, asshole! It’s just common sense, isn’t it?” he’d railed.
Zoro had laughed to himself then, and Sanji could tell that even when he did something simple like that, it aggravated his injuries, made them sting and ache in ominous patches of swollen-looking purple and black. Zoro didn’t heal as fast as he used to, after all. They weren’t kids anymore; they haven’t been for a good long while. “Fight’s a fight, blondie,” Zoro had breathed eventually, knowing Sanji’s thoughts exactly as the cook thought them but remaining unapologetic anyway. All he’d done was stop to press his lips against Sanji’s briefly, on his way out the door with swords in hand. “We take on all challengers here, and I’m not in the habit of making excuses for myself.”
Sanji had shut up then, because dammit, neither was he.
And even more, he’s never liked cleaning up other people’s messes.
But despite all that, he feels himself step forward anyway, when he can’t look at Zoro anymore, slumped and motionless on the ground.
It’s because, he thinks, today must just be one of those off days.
Everybody has them. Sometimes they just happen. You’ve got to suck it up and deal.
Then you’ve got to move on.
He taps the tip of his shoe on the ground for a moment as he comes to terms with that, testing it, testing himself. He hasn’t done this type of thing in a very long while—not seriously anyway—but it feels familiar all the same. Maybe it’s the rage.
Mr. Dojo Destroyer is still too busy celebrating his victory to notice; Sanji lets him have the moment for a little while longer because in a way he’s earned it, one measly minute of elation in exchange for the rest of his life.
It isn’t until the fucker is grinning and reaching for Wadou Ichimonji as a souvenir that Sanji interrupts. “Hey,” he starts, voice low, and that’s all the warning the guy gets before the chef is pushing off the ground and closing in.
The first kick connects and sends the guy staggering back three steps because desperation and anger make Sanji mean, and when Sanji is mean it means he has no qualms about hitting a guy where he’s already bleeding. He makes a special effort to slam the toe of his shoe into those places Zoro cut open five or ten minutes before.
The newly crowned World’s Strongest Swordsman loses a fantastical spray of blood in the subsequent kicks; he’s not bad for a kid in terms of defense but Sanji is willing to bet money this guy hasn’t ever seen anything like his Kick Course before, and building on the already substantial damage Zoro’s done on the guy makes Sanji feel like this will be over real quick, maybe quicker than he wants.
He very nearly pulls back on his next strike at the thought because maybe he needs this to last a little.
It gives him just enough time to look the guy in the face.
And make Sanji remember how the bastard had looked moments earlier, cutting Zoro down.
The rage comes back full force again and Sanji doesn’t end up pulling back on his next kick after all; usually he makes an effort to be nicer than this when he’s fighting kids so much younger than he is, but he thinks that today is the clear exception.
Today, Sanji is having an off day.
And so his foot ends up connecting full power again instead; it lands with his heel digging hard into the deep, still bleeding gash on the Dojo Destroyer’s middle that Shuusui had left as a parting gift moments ago. The force rips the cut open wider and sends the swordsman spiraling to the floor with a surprised, pained grunt. He can’t get up again.
Sanji knows it and stalks up to him without intending to stop anyway; he raises his foot high above his head and aims for the World’s Strongest Swordsman’s quivering, splintered jaw.
“Not fair,” the kid gasps between wet, bloody gurgles, “I just… doing it like this isn’t f…”
Sanji snaps his neck with the final downward kick and as his body slumps, lifeless on the ground not fifty feet and five minutes from where Zoro’s lays in a similar state, the chef thinks—a little bit darkly—that he agrees, it isn’t fair.
But anyone who wants to be the World’s Strongest Swordsman can’t be in the habit of making excuses.
Because sometimes, you just aren’t meant to win. All you can do is suck it up. Deal. Move on.
Behind him, Zoro’s body lays in quiet, motionless agreement.
Eventually, Sanji manages to light himself a fresh cigarette with shaking hands; he says to no one in particular, “Call it an off day.”
Everybody has them. Sometimes they just happen.