I actually didn't intend to do a sequel/companion piece to "Learning to Cope", didn't want to turn it into a 'how-would-everyone-react-if-Sanji-died' story as Sanji was not the focus of my first fic. Death was.
However, as two people have expressed interest in this theme and piqued my interest as well, I shall. Thanks for the great suggestion.
For mushi-azn and dragonodare.
Because what we have is now
Disclaimer: One Piece and all characters mentioned are created by Eiichiro Oda. The rather dismal plot is, sadly, all mine.
She heard footsteps approaching her door and for a moment, she forgot reality and looked up expectantly. But the footfalls were too heavy, no hint of the usual smooth grace in the step of the person she had thought was coming.
Besides, she thought with a frown at the person standing in the doorway, Sanji would never throw open her door like that without knocking nor enter her room uninvited.
"What do you want?" She snapped.
Zoro stood, one foot past the doorframe, an intrusion upon her private quarters. He watched her, an unreadable expression in his eyes, his tall frame blocking off the glow of the sunset outside. "You should go see him. Chopper already said it's not catching."
Her frown deepened to a scowl. "I'm busy." She dipped her head, making a pretense at gathering the maps and papers scattered all over her desk.
"With what!" He demanded with a scowl of his own. "You're in here all day, every day this past week!"
"Navigation stuff!" Her voice rose, angry. "The weather changes too quickly in the Grandline. I need to constantly check our direction." She flashed him a sneering glare. "Not that your simple mind can understand something as complicated as navigation."
She saw his jawline go taunt as he gritted his teeth. "I may not know much about navigation, but I sure as hell know you didn't have to chart course every single waking moment before Sanji got sick!"
She glared at him, her mouth opened but no words came forth. Zoro cursed, softly, and fell silent too. It was as if his name had been anathema; something forbidden had been uttered, sobering them up in an instant.
In the long uncomfortable silence, they realized they had both been yelling.
Nami let out a soft sigh, her gaze dropped to the scattered documents on her desk once more. "Please, Zoro, just go." She said quietly.
The swordsman raked a frustrated hand through his cropped green hair. Then, his shoulders sagged. Instead of leaving, he leaned back heavily against the doorframe, head tilted back to gaze absently up at the ceiling.
"He's been asking for you, you know." He said matter-of-factly, his voice low.
"He thinks that you're mad with him. For not bringing you treats and stuff lately."
He turned his head to look at her then, his steel gray eyes fixing her with their piercing gaze. She met his eyes composed.
"You can tell him I'm not mad."
His revolted hiss sounded like a small explosion in the tiny room. "You just don't care, do you?"
"And since when did you?" She countered.
"I see." He glared at her, bristling, but ignored her taunt. "That stupid guy works hard doing everything he can to please you. But you don't care enough to even do something so simple to make him happy."
He straightened and flicked a hand towards her, a curt gesture of disgust. "I used to think he was stupid." He growled. "But now, I know for sure." And with that, he slammed the door shut, his angry footsteps on the deck fading away.
She stared at the door for a moment. Then, she closed her eyes and sighed, letting her head fall against the crook of her arm as she slumped miserably over the table.
"You don't understand…" She whispered to the empty room.
She must have fallen asleep because a brief glance at the window showed it was dark outside. A couple of hours past midnight. Yawning, she straightened and stood up, rubbing her eyes blearily. Her stomach growled.
Nami sighed. Missed meals were unheard of on this ship. Things were changing.
Perhaps there'll be leftovers if someone had cooked dinner. She hoped it was Usopp. Robin showed no interest, Chopper wouldn't leave his patient and she didn't trust what the other two turn up. At least the sharpshooter's dishes looked vaguely like food.
She pushed open her door and stepped outside, frowning as she surveyed the scene.
The deck was filthy. Another sure sign that things were changing on this ship. Sanji usually organized the guys to mop the deck.
The moon was high in the sky, bathing the ship in a white ethereal glow. At this late hour, everyone was asleep. Even the crow's nest seemed silent, though she knew Robin was up there on her watch. All was quiet, no wind flapped the sails, even the sea was still, the gentle waves were a distant lapping against the hull far below.
It was so still; it made her sick at heart.
With a sigh, she leaned against the railing for a moment and gazed out across the ocean. The stars blinked prettily against the black velvet skies and she cursed them. Cursed them, for they showed the ship had not progressed as much as she had hoped, as much as they needed to. Nami closed her eyes wearily.
Zoro was wrong. She did care, she really did. But she also knew too much. The winds were weak, the currents were against them. She couldn't make the ship go any faster.
They weren't going to make it.
But she didn't have the heart to tell the others the truth, to dash what hopes they had. How could she? Faced with Chopper's anxious queries, Luffy's staunchly optimistic smile and even Zoro's poorly hidden concern, how could she tell them that they would never make it in time? That no matter what they did, Sanji was still going to die.
As navigator, only she alone knew the truth. Which was why, for the past week, she hadn't dared to visit Sanji. She could smile and assuage the others, but how could she face him and still say that everything was going to be alright?
Nami clutched the railing, her hands balling into tight fists. But it was all so unfair!
She herself had also been gravely ill once but she had gotten help in time, she was saved. Why couldn't it be the same for Sanji? Why was it that he could risk his life to save her yet she couldn't do a single thing to save him now?
She had only been half-conscious back then, slumped against Luffy's back, but even in her fever-induced haze, she knew some of it. She remembered the biting cold, the monsters in the snowy hills, the avalanche…his sacrifice. In their travels together, he was always prepared to die for her. Countless times.
And it wasn't like he did it without thinking.
Sanji was not a rash man by nature, anyone could see that from the patient, meticulous work he does in the kitchen. He was not like Luffy, gleefully charging into danger, because he had no concept of consequences. Nor was he like Zoro, who leapt eagerly into battle as he saw every dangerous situation as an opportunity to test his strength. No, Sanji was a man who thinks before he acts.
But even after he rationalized it, he still went ahead and did it. It was a truly touching act of chivalry.
And now, he just needed to get to a port, get some of that medicine Chopper said he needed, and she couldn't help him. She had failed everyone as their navigator, failed him as a friend. Thinking about that made her feel nauseous with helplessness and guilt.
Nami passed the main cabin on her way to the galley. She paused, hesitating. Chopper had moved Sanji to the main cabin, complaining that the others made too much noise for him to rest properly. She hadn't intended to, but suddenly, she found herself inside, making her way quietly to his bedside. A lamp burned low on the table nearby and Chopper was asleep over a pile of medical books.
In the dim light, she studied his sleeping face. Sanji was paler than usual, though a feverish flush tinted his chiseled cheekbones. He had lost some weight in the short span of a week. Not much, and wouldn't have been obvious if not for how skinny he was in the first place, but it still made her heart ache. One slender hand rested across the open pages of a book by his side, a pen held loosely in his grasp, as if he had fallen asleep while writing.
She leaned over to examine him more closely and caught a whiff of his scent. Sanji had always been a familiar mix of cigarettes, spices and a faint touch of the clean scent of aftershave. Now he only smelled of medicines.
As if sensing her presence, he stirred slightly, opening his eyes. "Nami-san?"
His voice was weak. But the way his eyes lit up, reflecting the pure joy in his smile made her regret not visiting earlier.
She sat down by the bed and watched him struggle to sit up straighter. "What were you doing up so late?" She whispered, not wanting to wake Chopper.
"Making notes." He smiled in the charming way that only Sanji could, and held up the journal for her to see. "I'm writing down everyone's favourite foods and how to make them. It'll be easier when the new cook comes."
Her heart twisted. Not trusting her voice at that moment, she merely nodded dumbly, noting that Luffy's entry had only one word 'meat' while hers had already filled three pages.
"And," He continued, pulling out an envelope from between the pages. "I wanted to finish this." His cheerful smile faltered, but only for a second so she might have imagined it. "I know the captain is usually the one to do this sort of thing, but you know Luffy…" He trailed off with a laugh which ended oddly in a sigh.
When he next spoke, his voice held a note of seriousness he seldom used with her. "If I don't make it, would you help me send this to the Baratie?" He pressed the letter into her hands.
"Sanji-kun, I…" She bit her lip, staring at the letter. Then, she plastered on her fake smile, the same one she used so many times this past week. "Don't worry, we'll get to port in time and Chopper said once we get the medicines, you'll be fine."
He gazed sadly at her for a long moment. "Nami-san," His voice was gently reproachful. "You may feel the need to lie to the others, but you never have to with me."
Sometimes, he really could read her like a book.
Sanji took a deep breath and blew it out slowly like it was smoke as he glanced out of the bedside porthole to the sea. "The weather might turn, or it might not. I may get better, I may not. But that's not important. What's important is that we use the time that we have now to do what we can."
He turned to look at her then, his startlingly blue eyes were luminous in the half-darkness, shining with a light that was not quite due to the fever. "I learnt that from Luffy, you know, back when I first met him. All those considerations about the future, about what might or might not be…they're meaningless."
"Because what we have is now, isn't it?"
She stared at him, her throat caught. "Sanji…" She flung her arms around him and hugged him tight, for once, not having any ulterior motive other than just to hold him. Burying her face in the crook of his neck, she could still smell his scent clinging to his skin underneath the medicines.
"Nami-san?" He stiffened at her embrace. She knew without looking that he was going into his usual heart-eyed fit of ecstasy.
"Nami-san is most beautiful when she is hugging me!"
It made her smile.
The last page. She had finished the journal.
Nami leaned back against the mast as she sat in the crow's nest. A faint light in the east signaled the approaching dawn and the end of her watch. She closed the book in her lap and fingered the cover absently, tracing the neat elegant handwriting of Sanji.
It was amazing the details he had noticed and thought to note down.
Little things like how Usopp hated mushrooms and how she liked coffee in the mornings but tea in the afternoons, except on cold rainy days when she preferred hot chocolate. And that Zoro wasn't picky about food, even though he was 'an irritating bastard in all other aspects'.
She sighed softly. She missed him, of course she did. After that night, she had visited as often as she could, to sit with him, to talk to him. And she was there, right till the very end, holding his hand even as his heartbeat slowed to nothing and his ragged breathing faded to silence. Unlike with Bellemere who had died swiftly and violently, leaving her shocked and lost, she had ample time to mentally prepare for Sanji's death and could treasure every last moment with him.
But losing family was still as painful.
And she could tell the others missed him too. There were times she caught Zoro casting a surreptitious glance at the sink or stove where Sanji usually stood. The ship was quieter without the sounds of their bickering and fights. Luffy even stole less meat.
But they would get over it, get used to it. The ship would return to normalcy someday. As it was, they were already on course for the next island.
Taking a deep breath, she stood up and looked at the brightening sky, determined. She would cook breakfast for them. They had been eating slop for far too long. She may not be a great chef, but at least she knew a thing or two. Then, she would get the guys to clean the deck while she work on her maps.
She smiled, as the sun broke through the horizon, casting its golden rays across the dark waters.
Because what we have is now…
And the sunrise, warm like Sanji's smiles, ushered in the new day.