Starvation Diary #2
Summary: Sanji's worst nightmare comes true, but this time the Straw Hats won't let their nakama bear it alone. Sanji/Everyone nakamaship. Sanji's POV. Set post-Impel Down, in the New World.
Warnings: Minor SPOILERS for characters mentioned in the latest manga chapter, 581.
Disclaimer: I do not own One Piece, etc.
Chapter 14: Day 33
The dawn light's slanting through the portholes when I first wake, telling me I'm late for my watch, I'm late to start breakfast, and for a moment I sit up in panic before realising that there's no breakfast to cook, and Usopp said last night that he'd double up his watch and take over mine. I had no choice but to agree back then, what with Chopper breathing down my neck, ready to consign me back to the infirmary if I were to refuse.
So I lie back down in my hammock, expecting to feel thoroughly useless, to feel guilty, to feel frightened as hell, but for some reason I don't. Instead, I listen to the steady breathing of my nakama, and remind myself of what the shit geezer once told me. "Nobody's dead yet. Quit worrying so much."
Chopper's the first to show signs of life. His first instinct is to check on his patient, as usual, and I shut my eyes and pretend to be asleep as his hooves squeak towards me. I feel his earnest gaze running over me, checking that I'm all right, and then he heads out to start the day.
Next to wake is Brook, whose first move after dressing is to pick up his violin to play a morning wake-up song, one that I've only heard muffled through the walls of the galley and accompanied by screams to be quiet. But just as bow touches string, he seems to recollect my presence, and he puts away the violin and steals out quietly instead.
Franky's third, leaping straight out of bed into a "super" pose that no one sees except me, and I can barely keep myself from laughing out loud. Observing these morning rituals of my crewmates is more amusing than I thought it would be. After pulling on one of his garish shirts Franky prods Luffy awake. Luffy wakes up with an exclamation of surprise, but he's quickly shushed by Franky, who nods significantly in my direction. Luffy shushes him back, loud enough to wake the dead, and they both exit, Luffy perched on Franky's back.
That leaves me and the lazy-ass marimo alone in the room, and all is silent apart from his snoring for half an hour until he gets up, rolling off the hammock and straight into a hundred push-ups. I can tell from his grunts how much harder the exercise is for him now than a month ago, when he stopped eating. Finally he gets to his feet, grabs his swords and boots, starts pulling them on – then he glances towards me and pads out barefoot instead.
I snuggle into my hammock, appreciating the peace and quiet. It's the first chance I've had in years to sleep in, without a breakfast to prepare or a long-simmering broth to keep an eye on or simply a day's cooking to get organised.
I could get used to this, I think, as sleep claims me a second time.
But I desperately hope I won't get the chance to.
I wake with a start, wondering if the voice I just heard was came from real life or if it was just the tail end of a wishful dream. Just a dream, I tell myself sternly. There's no way we've found a ship the day after running out of food. It would be too huge a coincidence, too great a miracle.
Then I hear the sound of running footsteps, and rejoicing shouts from my crew. Great. I'm going to have to report another hallucination to Chopper. I know he won't be pleased at my relapse.
"Sanji! Come quick!" Usopp bursts into the room. "You've gotta see this!"
"What is it?"
"A ship! No, a whole FLEET of ships! Hundreds of them!"
"You're either lying or you're a hallucination. Go away," I say, curling up into a ball.
"I'm not lying!" Usopp says indignantly. "And I'm not a hallucination either. See?"
"Ow!" I yell, as Usopp helpfully pinches my arm, hard. "Okay, okay, I'll come!"
Energy surges through me as I pull on my clothes and run out after Usopp, to stare at the suddenly very full horizon. He really wasn't lying. Dotting the sea is a whole fleet of ships, headed up by a magnificent battleship flying a huge black and pink flag, and I gasp in recognition.
I know instantly what that Jolly Roger signifies, even though I've never seen it before. "The Pinkbeard Pirates!" I feel a wave of anger swell within me, at the pirates who stole the Marines' food, indirectly condemning us to starvation. At the same time, facing that impressive array of ships, I can't help but feel a twinge of dread. How can we beat so many of them, with Luffy, Zoro and me fighting on empty?
"Don't worry, Sanji-kun. We don't have to fight them," Nami-san says, anticipating my worry.
"But, Nami-san, they stole food!" Even if I know that not every pirate crew follows the shit geezer's rule of not plundering food supplies, I can't help feeling that these must be scoundrels of the highest order.
"But they left just enough food for the Marines to reach their destination, so they can't be so bad," Nami-san reasons. "Besides, the head of that pirate gang isn't just any pirate. It's Lola's mom."
"Remember? The captain of the Rolling Pirates, who had their shadows stolen from them on Thriller Bark?" Nami-san extends her palm towards me, and floating on it I see a small scrap of paper, covered in a scraggly handwriting. It shifts a little against the breeze and I realise it's a Vivrecard, the one the pink-haired lady captain gave her just before we left the island. "Lola wrote us an introduction, saying we're her friends. I'm sure her mother will give us food."
"But...how can Pinkbeard be a lady?"
"Haven't you ever heard of bearded women?" Zoro shrugs. A mental image of Nami-san and Robin-chan with facial hair flashes through my mind, and I shake my head, trying to expel the horrible thought from my mind.
"D'you mean...we've been following this Vivrecard instead of the Log Pose? How did you know she would be anywhere nearby? I thought a Vivrecard only tells you the direction someone's in, not how far away they are," I ask, confused.
"That's true, Sanji-kun," Nami-san nods, "but it is possible for a Vivrecard to tell how far someone is, so long as they're moving." Seeing my bewilderment, she continues, "Suppose you have my Vivrecard, and I'm standing two steps away from you like I am now. If I move a metre to the right, what would you see?"
"The Vivrecard should turn...maybe 30 or 45 degrees," I calculate, my tired brain slowly grasping the concept.
"Now suppose I was on the other side of the ship and I moved the same distance?"
"The angle would change only a couple of degrees, maybe even less."
"That's right," Nami-san says, approvingly. "About a week ago, I noticed that the direction of the Vivrecard was changing pretty rapidly. It was 45 degrees with respect to the Log Pose in the morning, but by midday, it was almost 90. Even if you consider the top speed of Marine ships, the only way it could have changed that fast was if their ship was within a couple of weeks of us, plus or minus."
A week ago...it must have been the day I fell ill. When Franky turned the ship hard right, and I'd wanted us to go left, after the shit geezer and the Baratie. Now I'm glad I didn't manage to stop him. "You're a genius, Nami-san!" I exclaim. I've always known it to be true, but this just proves it ten times over.
Nami-san shakes her head, smiling. "I was reluctant to follow the Vivrecard, actually, because they could have been moving away from us at the same speed we were moving towards them." She shoots a frown at the piece of paper, explaining further, "If it had continued changing its bearing, I'd have felt better, but the movement tapered off after midday."
"They were probably gathering their fleet here," Robin-chan comments, glancing at the mass of ships.
Nami-san acknowledges the point with a nod. "I discussed it with Robin, and we reckoned that a pirate like Lola's mom, who's familiar with the New World, would know the boundaries of Dead Blue and wouldn't spend any more time in it than she could help. So even if we didn't catch up with them, we hoped we could at least cut through Dead Blue, and catch some fish at last."
"You're still a genius, Nami-san! Robin-chan too!" I say, overflowing with gratitude.
"Actually, the credit should go to Luffy," Robin-chan says, with a warm smile. "Our whole case rested on pretty circumstantial evidence, because we hadn't been tracking the Vivrecard's movements very carefully. But Luffy decided that we should try it anyway."
Luffy grins a particularly goofy grin. "So I'm a genius too, right?"
"Wrong," everyone says flatly, but they're all grinning too, and I know what they're all thinking. Luffy is a genius. He's always known who to trust and who not to trust. It's not brains, because he's an idiot, but somehow he just instinctively knows what the right course of action is, always.
Luffy's spirits aren't deflated at all by our declaration. His grin just stretches still wider. "See, Sanji? I told you I wouldn't let us starve to death."
"Yeah, I get it now," I admit grudgingly. "Next time we're short on food, I'm gonna just let you starve from the very beginning."
Luffy just laughs off my threat. "You wouldn't do that, Sanji."
He's right. I wouldn't ever be able to bring myself to do it.
"We're within signalling range. I'll let them know we want to talk," Franky interrupts. He rummages around in one of the storage lockers, pulls out a set of signal flags and waves them in what seems like a defined sequence, and I'm glad we have someone who actually knows marine protocol with us. If we left this to Luffy, he'd probably accidentally declare war on Pinkbeard. Within a couple of minutes, we get a return signal from the flagship, which Franky translates as an agreement to let us on board.
"Yahoo! C'mon, Nami, we'll go on ahead, and the rest of you can come when we give the signal, 'kay?" Luffy says.
"Okay. Franky, would you mind getting out the Mini Mer- eeeeeeeeyaaaaaaaaaa!" Nami-san shrieks as Luffy wraps a hand round her waist and catapults them over to the flagship.
"Don't manhandle Nami-san like that, you rubber freak!" I yell after them, but only half-heartedly, because I know Luffy wouldn't let any harm come to her, or to any of us.
"Watch him," I remember Zeff telling me. "Even with all his weapons, Krieg may not be able to defeat that kid's spear." And he couldn't. Luffy's instinct, and his will to live, overcame everything Don Krieg could throw at him. Everything the World Government's thrown at him. Everything the Grand Line can throw at him, Sea Kings, Dead Blue and all. And I know that will to live extends to us too, wrapped around our crew like a protective mantle. So long as we don't give up, so long as we continue believing in Luffy, he'll carry us all to Raftel, to the completion of our dreams.
I slump down on the deck, exhausted with emotion, prompting Chopper to run over and take my pulse. "Sorry we didn't tell you, Sanji," he says apologetically, "but we weren't 100% sure this would work, and we didn't want to get your hopes up for nothing."
"Luffy also said it was only fair since you didn't tell him about the food running out," Usopp adds. I suppose it's a just punishment. I'm far too relieved to be angry at Luffy, or any of them. I'm just glad that the lawn deck will have a chance to grow back, that Nami-san's mikan trees aren't so far gone they won't grow fruit again, that my larder will be full once more, that everyone's going to live, that their dreams will go back on track, that after a few weeks, this won't be anything more than a distant nightmare, a salutary lesson on the necessity of keeping adequate food stocks.
I immediately start making plans. Much as I hate using preserved foods to cook, we're going to start doing a lot more pickling and salting, and maybe I'll start canning too. I'm sure Franky can build something to help with that. "Say, Franky..."
"I know what you're going to say, cook-bro, and I've already made all the preparations!"
"You have?" I gape, wondering if he's read my mind.
"I've built metal stomachs for all of you! Chopper-bro's was a bit tricky, because he can change size, but I managed to design a work-around for that. Once we get new stocks of cola, we can start installing them..."
We're speechless for a moment, and then the chorus of protests starts.
"Count me out, I sure don't want an artificial stomach," Zoro says.
"Um, I think I'm coming down with I'll-die-if-I-get-a-metal-stomach-itis," Usopp quavers.
"It would be interesting, but I'll keep my original stomach, if you don't mind, Franky," Robin-chan says.
"I know you took special pains over mine, but...I kind of like my own stomach..." Chopper says cautiously, not wanting to hurt Franky's feelings.
"Yohohoho! I don't have a stomach to start with! SKULL JOKE!"
Franky looks rather crestfallen at the unanimous rejections, drawing idle circles on the deck as his bottom lip juts out in a prominent pout.
"Don't worry, Franky. I'm going to keep the crew fed from now on," I promise. "Even if we go months without seeing another fish, or another island, we won't run out of food a second time. Even if we have to sail through Dead Blue ten times, we'll never go hungry again."
"Yahoo!" Luffy's voice says, and we all jump when he see that his head has rejoined us, even though his body's over on Pinkbeard's ship, his stretched neck bridging the two vessels.
"Dammit, Luffy, don't scare us like that," I sigh.
"You guys should come on over! Big Mam's gonna put on a banquet for us, she says!"
"I'll get out the Mini Merry," Franky says, hurriedly and wisely. It would not be pretty if Luffy's strength runs out halfway as he tries to catapult us all over at once.
"I wanna ride the Mini Merry!" Luffy decides, and he lets his body snap over towards us like a rubberband, knocking the marimo over.
"Ow, Luffy..." Zoro groans, setting our troublesome captain back on his feet. I look at him and he grins back at me.
"I mean what I said, you know. I'm not gonna let us starve ever again," I promise once more.
"You don't have to say it, Sanji. You're our cook, aren't you?" Luffy says cheerfully.
"Yeah, but look what a mess I made of things this time," I reply apologetically.
"But you did do a good job, Sanji," Luffy says innocently. At my questioning look, he elaborates, "Y'know, with planning the rations so it would all work out."
His words make my heart swell with pride and gratitude, but more to the point... "So you do know what rationing is, you little -"
"Oh! There's the Mini Merry!" Luffy exclaims, and before I can catch him, he's already cannoned away onto the tiny craft.
Zoro shrugs commiseratingly at my exasperated look. "Luffy," he says, shaking his head, as if that one word means everything, can explain anything. And, between the two of us, it does.
By the time we clamber on board Pinkbeard's ship, the tables have already been set, and Nami-san introduces us to "Big Mam", a huge woman with tiny eyes and a hook nose under a pink shock of curly hair, who clasps each of us to her ample bosom, welcoming us as friends of her daughter, exclaiming about how we must have suffered in Dead Blue and tutting over how skinny we all look. I note with appalled interest her double-chin, which is covered in pink stubble. Much as I regret to speak ill of any lady's appearance, in all honesty I can't describe her as an attractive woman. As if to make up for her lack of beauty, she's bone-crushingly strong, and we all suffer through her hugs in pained silence. All except for Zoro, that is, for he somehow manages to escape to a distant corner of the ship. In any case, our suffering is soon forgotten with the arrival of the food.
I could cry when I see Big Mam's cooks emerge from their galley, bearing dishes piled high with every kind of delicacy. I glance around at the crew and I see they're all as excited as I am. "NI-KU! NI-KU!" Luffy chants, bringing a big grin to my face. It's annoying, but I've missed it. Before long the chant is silenced, replaced by all the usual sounds of a Strawhat meal, Luffy's arms darting all over the table as he shovels plate after plate of food down his throat while the rest protest. Usopp, Franky and Brook are no more dignified, gobbling down their food even as they defend their plates against Luffy. "Remember not to eat too fast, everybody, or you'll get sick!" Chopper squeals, even as he devours a plate of vegetables at record speed. The ladies, of course, eat as daintily as ever, but I can see how much they're enjoying the full meal as they chat with Big Mam, evidently already great friends.
I sit down at the table and pick up my fork and knife, heaving a sigh of pure relief as I watch my nakama eat.
Then I realise that I've only counted seven. One's missing.
I look around for a thatch of marimo hair and finally spot Zoro nestled in a quiet corner, sleeping away. Damn it, can't the man even wake up for his first food in a month?
Somewhat annoyed at being dragged away from my food, I get up and go over to him and nudge him with my foot.
"Oi, marimo, food's ready."
Zoro yawns sleepily. "What makes you think I wanna eat?"
"Zoro, you haven't eaten for twenty-nine days!"
"Twenty-nine, right? I said I wanted to see if I could go a full month without eating. I'll eat tomorrow."
He's impossible. Completely out of his mind.
I have only one weapon against his imbecility.
"If you don't eat...I won't eat."
He opens his eyes and glares up at me. "What? Why?"
"I'm not gonna lose to you," I say, hoping he'll forget the fact that I did have something to eat nine days ago. "If you're not eating till tomorrow, then I'm not eating either."
My stomach apparently disagrees with my threat, because it makes an angry noise of protest.
Zoro smirks. "Suit yourself."
"Zoro! Sanji!" Luffy bounces over, a whole shank of beef in his rubber mouth, his stomach already spilling over his shorts. "What're you two doing here? The food's over there!"
"Trying to persuade this prize idiot to eat," I snap.
"Eh? Zoro, why don't you want to eat?" Luffy goes round-eyed.
"I've got a challenge to meet," Zoro replies.
I get an idea. "Oi, Luffy, order him to eat."
"Huh? Okay. Zoro, you've gotta eat."
Zoro shoots me a dirty look, and explains, "I'll eat tomorrow, Luffy. Just leave me alone, okay?"
"Captain's orders," I prompt.
"Captain's orders!" Luffy parrots.
"You're a bastard, you know that?" Zoro says to me, getting to his feet, but since he doesn't put up any more fuss, I think he's more ready to eat than he'll let on. Luffy happily leads us back to the table, having swallowed his beef whole, and reaches for another.
We settle down in front of a whole turkey, and I wonder whether it's spoils from the Marine ship. Not that I give a damn, as I cut a leg for Zoro and some breast meat for myself. Zoro accepts the drumstick and starts chomping stolidly.
I relax at last. It's over. Everyone's getting fed, we're going to get more supplies, we'll have a full larder again.
Nobody's going to starve.
Nobody's going to die.
I spear myself a slice of turkey. It tastes like heaven.
"You realise what this means," Zoro says conversationally.
"What what means?" I ask through a full mouth.
"I'm gonna have to do this all over again sometime."
The man is certifiably insane. "If you ever try to pull a stunt like that, I swear, I'll get Chopper to put you in a straitjacket and forcefeed you myself!" I say. At least, that's what I plan to say, but the moment I open my mouth, I choke as the turkey slides down the wrong pipe. I cough and splutter for breath.
It would be just my luck to escape starvation, only to choke to death on my first real meal in a month.
A fist bashes into my back twice and the food slips down my windpipe. After a few frantic gasps I realise that I can breathe again.
"Oi, oi, you shouldn't talk while you're eating," Zoro says. Like the lout's any authority on table manners!
I look between him and my plate, debating which turkey to use my knife on.
I cut myself another slice of the latter.
There'll be time enough to kick the shit out of the idiot marimo after lunch.
--- END ---
Author's Note: Couldn't resist throwing in a bit more Zoro+Sanji to round everything off! Well, that's all, folks! I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it. For those of you who were wondering when the angst was going to start, um, sorry?
SPOILER ALERT - I was going to call Lola's mother "Moma", but since Chapter 581 named the last of the four Yonkou "Big Mam", I decided they were probably one and the same person (lots of people have speculated Lola's mother is the last Yonkou) so I used that instead. If she does turn out to be captain of the "Pinkbeard Pirates" in canon, I'm going to laugh so hard. After all, there's already a Whitebeard, Blackbeard and now a Brownbeard...
Now onto acknowledgments! No fanfic author writes in a vacuum, and that's certainly not the case with this fic. Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed, particularly those who've supported and sustained this fic all the way through. Special thanks, too, to all those who gave suggestions, and to other authors whose fanfics inspired particular pieces of this. Hopefully, I managed to acknowledge you adequately in individual chapters. Most of all, thanks to dandy wonderous, who not only inspired the fic in the first place, but who managed to write even more reviews than I have chapters. Thanks dandy! And of course, my #1 debt is to Oda, for creating the wonderful world and characters of One Piece!
Thanks all! Let me know what you think of this chapter, too! Bye!