The rights to One Piece belong to Eiichiro Oda, and a list of other producers/publishers/rich people that doesn't include this humble hobby writer.
I've decided to dip my toes into a new fandom, and I'm trying to get into the heart-laden mind of our favorite Love Cook. It contains some vague spoilers through Alabasta, but only when they're Sanji/Nami related. This strange fic (if you can even call this a fic… it's more like stream of consciousness) was induced by Chopper's prescription for a long weekend of chronic lethargy: a marathon of Little Garden into Alabasta. Darn loveable pirates and cheap, accessible fansubs! They'll be the death of my social life. © September 2005
I didn't fall in love with her the moment I met her. At least… no more than I fall in love with any other charming woman I meet.
No, it wasn't so simple.
True, she caught my attention when her laughter reached my ear at the Baratie. And of course, when I turned my head, I was spellbound by a vision of loveliness… a playful nymph with fiery hair and wide, mesmerizing eyes. Oh, that such a creature could grace my humble life with her presence!
I fawned over her, showered her with compliments, and offered her a rose. I've always treasured a beautiful woman, and she was easily that. A free meal? Done, with pleasure! Anything to see that alluring smile again.
But, it was nothing I would not do for any other beauty.
Then, I joined the crew. Not for her, despite my grumbling complaints during her absence. Many enchanting ladies have dined at the Baratie, some of her equal in beauty, yet I never felt compelled to follow them beyond the dock of Zeff's restaurant.
I boarded the Going Merry for my own goals. I was inspired by Luffy's far-off gaze, focused on adventure and the pursuit of the impossible. After conversing with him, and feeling confidence surround him like a physical aura, my dream of finding All Blue transformed into a true, tangible goal.
Of course, I won't deny that being in close quarters with so lovely a lady was a wonderful perk.
I think I fell gradually, beginning in Arlong Park.
At first, I refused to believe she was a traitor. Not because I knew her; a gentleman such as myself need not actually speak to a woman to treat her as a lady. I was more than willing to believe only the best of her. At least, until I was proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, wrong.
(And even if that time had come, I was secretly still willing to be convinced otherwise. A face so beautiful couldn't possibly be wicked.)
My instincts were right… but once I learned the truth, the whole truth, I was stunned. It wasn't merely desperate circumstances that made her send us away. Her story was one of loss, misery, determination, stubborn hope, and heroism that left me speechless. That she was willing to carry so much, with only an eight-year-old's shoulders, made me look at her with new eyes. Not simply enchanted eyes. Worshipful eyes.
She became Nami-san. Not only on my lips, but in my heart.
That's when generic affection snowballed into something… else. And had I been paying attention, I would've noticed. I didn't simply perform the routine feats of gentlemanly labor to win her attentions; I went the extra mile, because she deserved it. A blushing rose or a bottle of fine wine had always been fitting gifts before, but for Nami-san they became trite. Ordinary. Impersonal. Instead of a handful or roses, I planted a tangerine grove. The gift of home.
That was the first great expression of deepening love. Mostly, there were smaller changes in my pattern, too subtle to notice one at a time, but when compiled drew a very obvious picture. The way I took note of her eating habits, for example, and taste for certain foods.
The entrées that won her most earnest compliments feature shellfish; particularly shrimp. Her favorite side dish is rice, and she loves my lobster bisque soup.
She never eats dessert after dinner. Instead, she craves sweets about two hours after lunch, served with coffee as an afternoon pick-me-up. She enjoys pastries and mousses, and most prefers something slightly tart. Lemon meringue ranks highly on her list.
Often, after a trying day of charting maps, studying weather patterns, dealing with Luffy, screaming at Zoro, and the occasional scuffle with the Marines, misfit pirates, or whoever crosses our path, my special recipe of tangerine tea, brewed with select tangerines of her own grove (with permission, of course) helps her relax at bedtime.
None of these preferences were ever spoken out loud. She never said, "Sanji-kun, I would love some lemon cookies this afternoon," or "You know, Sanji-kun, I adore your shrimp scampi." She never gave me such helpful hints. Instead, I observed how quickly she eats at mealtime; how possessive she was of the food. If it were not particularly to her liking, I'd notice Luffy's attempts to swipe a few bites much more successful. There were never any leftovers at our table, but the observant eye could easily see who was doing all the eating.
When she was especially pleased, she'd smile widely at first tasting the dish, and she'd coo, "Sanji-kun, this is wonderful!" She would finish every morsel of her portion herself, smacking Luffy's sneaking hand away. And those compliments, uttered with an honest thrill, gave me a sense of pride I simply didn't feel when anyone else sampled my finest culinary masterpieces.
Her approval was what I started to strive for. I began experimenting with her favorite ingredients, adding variations to the menu tailored especially to her. It became a challenge to me, as I documented in my soul just how wide her smile was as she first sampled the custard, soufflé, or soba. Just how happy could my food make Nami-san?
I've always had a list of recipes designed to impress ladies. I've recommended them at the Baratie, even invited a few to the kitchen to watch the final stages of preparation. It was worth the kick to the head Zeff responded with later, just to see the wonder in those lovely jade/sapphire/chocolate eyes as I presented grilled herb-crusted salmon, stir-fried seafood medley, or the coups de grâce… triple-layered chocolate cake drizzled with raspberry sauce. My personal ode to loveliness in the world, the sinful treat that always makes a lady's eyes sparkle.
With Nami-san, it's different. I never made her my famous triple-layered chocolate cake with raspberry sauce… even to see if she might like it. It's not that I had less than noble intentions when I baked that cake in the past. I showered those ladies with affection and attention, because I am a gentleman that appreciates beauty. But when I create that cake, I imagine a face with indistinct features, a representation of all the lovely ladies that sailed into my life on the ocean waves.
Nami-san is, simply, different. Somewhere along the way, she became so much more to me.
I wanted to try something new with her. I wanted to make her something extraordinary, because she deserves that extra effort.
Extra effort… that is, succinctly, how my feelings for Nami-san are expressed. Eagerly helping her tend the tangerine grove. Willingly carrying her bags while shopping. Joyously keeping her company during her diligent studies of meteorology or cartography, when she finally becomes tired of the lonely silence of her room, or the insanity of the main deck. Enthusiastically obeying her every command, whether it be seriously or jokingly delivered. Zoro can mock me as he pleases, but I am not ashamed to admit I would do anything she asks of me, and anything she might need of me that she would never ask.
From something as simple as a jacket to cover her dignity, to the opposite extreme: a desperate sacrifice to save her from an avalanche. I have offered her any number of gifts for her to take or refuse.
And while I dream of a day she accepts these gifts with all the enthusiasm I put into them, I am happy to see her smile, grin, wink, laugh, roll her eyes… or the dozen other charming reactions I have catalogued.
I don't know what point my adoration became so consuming. When Nami-san became "my one and only Nami-swaaan!" sang with all the love in my soul.
I know when I realized it, though. When I realized how deeply these feelings are rooted. When in Alabasta, fighting that clownish Mr. 2, able to impersonate any man or woman he touched.
He… dared assume the lovely face of my Nami-san. And I was helpless against that face, against that voice… even knowing full well it wasn't real.
It was frustrating, and it was frightening. I am too much the gentleman to strike a lady, but this wasn't a lady. It was a freak that dared debase my darling Nami-san by taking her shape. Seeing him transform, seeing her lovely form in that garish costume should have made me angry at the indignity.
But I couldn't think straight. My sense of reason had failed me completely. I knew the truth, but my body refused to obey. It was a bizarre, visceral reaction I couldn't override. It's hard-wired into my brain… under absolutely no circumstances could I bring any harm to my Nami-san. Even the image of my Nami-san.
It struck me as illogical then, but I was too busy fighting for my life… without actually fighting, to think too hard then. I've always trusted my instincts, and I managed to outsmart the tricky bastard in the end.
After the dust had settled, though, I had the chance to think about it. Any good fighter studies a battle, considers their weaknesses. You don't have to be a psycho swordsman to know there's something to learn from every fight. And this one revealed something I wasn't ready for.
I love Nami-san. I mean really. I don't know when it actually happened, at what moment I slipped passed the point of no return. But it's been food for thought for me, and for days I've pondered this, reviewing our acquaintance, our friendship, trying to figure out what this means.
I've decided it doesn't really matter when it happened. I don't even know if it's possible to define a single moment. Seeing her strength made me love her more, though. Watching her master the insane new navigation techniques required in the Grand Line magnifies my respect. When she fell ill, and was willing to risk death so we could reach Alabasta faster, her loyalty to Vivi-chan was staggering. Living with her, watching her shine day to day, makes me love her more.
I've been falling since the beginning, and I wonder how much further I have left to fall. Will these feelings continue to grow? Will they crowd out everything else? How much will I change? Not just my cooking habits… I wonder if I will become completely blind to all others with time. Nami-san is already the sun in my eyes, blinding out the light of all other beauties when placed side by side. How much brighter can she shine?
Ah, well. These are questions I can't answer. The only question I should think about is: what do I do about all this?
Frowning, I light the cigarette that's been hanging from my lips long enough to be soggy from the ocean air. After a few seconds, the end catches flame, and I take a long drag, letting my drug of choice ease my tension.
It wouldn't bother me, if I knew what she felt for me. I know she cares for me. But I don't know if she thinks of me any differently than she does the others. We've been together a long time, adventuring on the seas, and we've formed a bond of trust and friendship.
I have asked her if she loved me. She always responded to my animated declarations with casual dismissal, or a distracted "Of course, Sanji-kun," as she continued reading, charting, or whatever she was doing.
She doesn't think I'm serious.
I could express myself in a more serious manner. Restrain myself, perhaps; lighten up on the gushing compliments she's so obviously immune to. But, I still feel that I shouldn't have to. Not that I wouldn't; I'd do anything for my Nami-san… but my actions should speak loudly enough. There should be no question. All the gifts I lay at her feet speak for me, great or small. Great as a broken back on a frozen cliff, small as a tray of lime zest wafers on a rainy afternoon.
And I wonder, does she know the truth? Did she know even before I did just how deeply I love her, and is that why she remains distant? To spare my feelings? It's that concern that keeps me in place, clinging to the status quo.
I take the cigarette from my mouth, tapping the ash into the vast ocean below me. And I look up into the sky, my jaw set as I stare directly at the sun.
It only takes a moment before everything else fades away. Clouds, birds, even Alabasta, which has been shrinking steadily as we make way to the next stop on our journey. The sunlight has swallowed everything in my sight.
I flick the cigarette into the ocean as I turn. Though blurred by the afterimage of the sun, my vision can still make out my fire-haired nymph, standing behind me with a book in her arms.
"Nami-san. How lovely you look today!"
Of course, she is lovely every day. Dirty and bruised after a battle, sweaty and flushed from fever, she is still lovely.
And since I always greet her like that, she ignores my compliment as background noise. Her gaze is thoughtful as she looks at me, and I suddenly feel uneasy. Exposed. "Are you alright?"
I open my mouth, but I find myself unable to answer her directly. So instead, I declare with a wide smile, "My Nami-san is especially charming when she is worried about me!"
She rolls her eyes at me. "You're fine." She takes a moment to stare out at the horizon, and I follow her gaze, now resting on the distant desert kingdom.
My Nami-san takes a breath, which lifts her chest just so, and her eyes flutter closed. "And on we go," she sighs, her book held tightly in her arms. "I was trying to get some reading done, but Usopp and Luffy are being complete hyenas today!"
I smirk, tapping my foot against the railing. "I would be happy to 'talk' to them for you."
"No, don't bother." Her hair catches a breeze, and floats lazily in the wind, lifted away from her high cheeks and soft smile.
Those mesmerizing eyes meet mine. "I think I'll read in the galley."
She didn't exactly ask, but she must know by now that she is always welcome. "I'd love the company, Nami-san! And I'll whip up some lemon poppy-seed cake for you to snack on!"
Her smile stretches, and all I can see is her. "Thank you, Sanji-kun."
I grin stupidly as she disappears inside. And I pull another cigarette out of my pocket, light it, and set it between my lips.
And on we go. Like we always have. I will present my offerings to my goddess, and see what she accepts. What she is willing to take from me.
For now, I'm willing to wait and see.