AN: Long one I know, but it was fun to write. I don't remember how but my sister and I got onto the topic of magazine articles and what it would be like to write one; since I had already started this one I just decided to incorporate it. It proved to be an interesting challenge. :) Also, I enjoyed making Paulie go slightly insane. :P Ah, should probably mention that this one got to be a little steamy. I don't know how, it just happened...I personally blame the characters. They take over my hands and I don't know what the crap is going on until I go back and re-read it later. :P
Paulie was both exhausted and disgusted with himself.
In the last few weeks the blond had found his usual focus drifting, which in turn lowered the quality of his work; he regularly paced his office and he had developed disturbing habits such as fiddling with his cigar, twisting his goggles around one finger, and running nervous hands through his hair.
In short, the master shipwright was a total wreck and it was pissing him off.
And it didn't stop with just his changing habits, oh no…the carpenter frequently found himself bouncing back and forth between fury, embarrassment, happiness, and an annoying kind of soppiness that made him act like a fool. He was completely twisted up in the rapidly cycling emotions; it felt like being turned around in circles until you could no longer tell the difference between left, right, up or down.
He had been losing sleep since the night Aqua Laguna had made its annual sweep of the city, which only made him more dazed and jumpy in turns…he was a complete mess…and he knew exactly what the cause of all his problems was.
The source of his suddenly unbalanced world was a shameless, petite woman with copper hair that shone in the sun and chocolaty brown eyes that could be as soft as a kitten's fur or as hard as a mountain slope. This pirate…this navigator…this woman was at the center of it all.
And what was the worst part about it? She had no fucking clue what she did to him.
The shipwright slammed his hands down against his desk in frustrated anger. She was very slowly killing him; that must be her plan! No other woman in the world got to him like this…she just had to be doing it on purpose!
But she wasn't…Nami was simply the biggest flirt in existence who could manipulate a person as easily as breathing…She was absolutely shameless, but it wasn't done with malicious intent, so he couldn't really hold it against her, could he?
Unthinkingly the blond pulled off his goggles and began running one hand through his hair.
Paulie hadn't ever believed in any kind of Supreme Being before…but the last few weeks had proven how very wrong he was. There had to be some kind of God, because no one else could make someone so irritatingly wonderful. The lovely pirate was sometimes the embodiment of an angel…and sometimes it felt like she was a devil in disguise…but he was convinced she had been created specifically to torment him.
'Whatever I did, I'm sorry already!'
There was no answer of course…God or karma or fate; whichever of them was torturing him like this didn't care enough to respond to his desperate thoughts.
Exhausted from more than a lack of sleep the carpenter allowed himself to drop into the chair behind his desk. His elbows rested against the arms of the chair, and his hands reached up to cover his face as he groaned miserably. The world was unfair…
…And becoming more so…
"Hey, you in here?" The object of his obsession chose that moment to open the door and let herself in. "Ah, so this is where you ran off to hide." She grinned at him adorably, both arms wrapped behind her back to hold each other at the elbow while she leaned forward slightly to rock on her feet. "C'mon already! Quit pouting!"
His emotions flip-flopped again as his body and mind reacted to her presence. First there was the exasperating speeding up of his heart, coupled with the heavier heartbeats that made him feel like it was about to come out of his chest. Then there was the burning flush moving up his neck to tinge his ears and cheeks red; followed by the nervous twitching habit…in this case a hand automatically reached up to mess with the cigar hanging from one side of his mouth.
Emotion wise he was somewhere between embarrassed, (she was wearing a low cut shirt and when she leaned forward…well…she was well aware of what her clothing did!) and a happiness tinged anger…in other words, she was flirting to embarrass him, while simultaneously taunting to make him angry, and yet he was still fucking glad to see her!
He needed help…professional help…professional therapy help…
"Why don't you piss off?" The blond forced the desire to beg in desperation out of his voice, making sure he only sounded exasperated and angry. "I've got work to do!"
Nami laughed a little, taking his gruff words as her own invitation to come in and sit in the chair in front of his desk. "Oh be nice." She chastised cheerfully. "I came to make sure you hadn't gone off and had a heart attack or something." Still smiling unapologetically she stuck her tongue out at him cutely.
When he didn't respond the copper haired woman allowed herself to relax back into her chair; stretching those short but supple legs out while simultaneously reaching her arms above her head she let her grin turn into a slinky smile, looking at him coyly from under her lashes. "Besides," Her voice dropped to become a smokey purr. "I would miss you if you died…"
The carpenter's whole face was burning now and he was having difficulty breathing as he was trying to swallow and choke on his tongue at the same time.
"Admit it Paulie," She leaned forward again, her lips tilting upwards in the most inviting way. "You'd miss me too…"
He couldn't stand it anymore!
"Out!" The blond leapt to his feet, his face livid; one shaking finger pointing at the door. "Get out of my office you…you…!"
Nami actually looked startled; usually she didn't get such a strong reaction. A small frown formed on her delicate face and his eyes couldn't help but watch as she opened her mouth to speak, to ask if he was alright…he absolutely could not spend one minute more in her presence right now!
"You harlot! You jezebel!" Furiously he slammed the other hand on his desk, ignoring the 'crack!' that announced he had actually broken it in half. "Out! Out! Out!"
Her face had hardened into its own mask of fury when he insulted her, but it cracked and then shattered as his ruined desk split down the middle and then fell to the floor with a resounding crash. The chocolaty eyes he spent so much time thinking about lately widened as they focused on the wood pile, her mouth dropping open, her breath escaping in a gasp of shock.
She was so stunned she didn't move from that position.
Ready to howl in stressed frustration, Paulie was prepared to rip into her some more but his own lungs were drained of oxygen when she looked at him. Nami's entire demeanor told him he had upset, maybe even scared her; small delicate hands clenched in her lap as her legs drew together, almost like she was huddling in on herself. Her lips had firmed into a line but it was quivering and her eyes…the glassy film of tears was visible and behind that he could see that he had hurt her deeply.
The navigator didn't try talking to him again; he watched helplessly as she swallowed hard, stood, and then tilted her head up proudly before turning and walking out.
He collapsed back onto his chair; giving into the tortured groan that had been building in his chest as he dropped his head, strong fingers entangling in his hair.
'I can't…take this anymore!'
If there was any fairness in the world the rest of his day would be depressingly quiet, giving him time to try sorting himself out in private; but there was no fairness…at least, not for him.
Barely half an hour later his employer was knocking on his door, giving a grave look around the room when he entered. Paulie was sitting in the same spot, completely ignoring the destroyed desk, and had been staring at the wall with dull eyes.
Even when his mentor walked in the best the carpenter could do was look up at him miserably. He didn't speak…there really was no excuse for his destruction of company property, but that didn't seem to be on the president's mind.
Careful not to step on any splintered pieces of wood Iceburg-san made his way closer and took Nami's vacated seat. "Paulie." His voice was as calm and even as always, but today it didn't bring him any sense of comfort. For a brief moment he wondered if Iceburg was going to fire him…being the jackass that he was he certainly deserved it.
Unthinkingly the blond's head had dropped and he was staring at the floor again. A weary sigh escaped him but he didn't speak.
"I've been concerned over your health the last few weeks." The mayor began when his student continued to brood silently. "You haven't been yourself Paulie."
Grimly the younger man nodded his head. Yeah, he hadn't been himself…he didn't know what he had been but he didn't think he'd ever make it back to being just 'himself' again.
"You haven't been sleeping well have you?"
Mutely he nodded again.
"I'm aware you haven't been eating well either."
Really…? He hadn't even noticed the drop in his appetite…He shrugged.
The mayor's voice was gentler; for some reason it reminded him of the tone trainers used when they approached an injured wild animal. "You've been losing focus; usually you would have organized workers to begin cleaning up the Aqua Laguna…I'm not blaming you, there's a lot on your plate and plenty of time to get the city repaired. I'm not worried about any of that…I'm worried about you."
Paulie sighed heavily again…Iceburg-san was a great man, one of the best in his opinion…but at the moment he didn't feel like he deserved that kind of worry…he couldn't remember a time in his life when he had felt so low.
The master shipwright mimicked his sigh but then paused as if he was trying to sort out the right words…which were completely unexpected.
"I know love can be…confusing at times, but-"
He was so shocked he actually interrupted his teacher. "What? What are you-? What do you..?" The carpenter stared at the older man in opened mouth shock, unknowing of the panic in his features. "I'm not-"
"Yes Paulie, you are, and you do." Iceburg-san gave him a stern look, shutting him up immediately. He swallowed hard, his eyes wild, but didn't interrupt again.
"You've been completely turned around the last few weeks," Unhappily he nodded in agreement, he had been thinking that same thing earlier… "You might not be able to see it as well in yourself…but the rest of us see it perfectly. The sudden disinterest in your work, the ignorance of your own basic needs, the way you've all but abandoned certain forms of entertainment that until now have had you completely hooked."
His goggles were in his hands and he was turning them over and over again as his nervousness mounted. Everyone else had already noticed…? Had…had Nami been able to see it…? The thought was enough to make him reach up to his cigar and inhale deeply for comfort. If she knew…he was pretty sure he was screwed beyond any redemption.
Shaking himself the shipwright realized he had stopped paying attention. Turning guilty eyes towards his mentor he felt worst then ever; Iceburg-san was nodding to himself, a patient but exasperated look on his face.
"Love is sometimes confusing," The older man said again. "But the more you swing back and forth the more you will lose yourself in confusion…" The mayor's voice became even gentler, but his words were still enough to make the blond wince. "The more you will hurt and confuse Nami-san too."
His head dropped again in shame. Obviously Iceburg-san knew about what had happened earlier…looking back on it he had been shouting loudly, it was inevitable that someone would overhear. Nervously he cleared his throat, his mentor let him speak.
"I know I've been…confused…but do I…do I have to tell-" He cut himself off and then switched what he had been about to say. "I won't be…this way forever Iceburg-san…I can promise to stay focused, stay here," Where he was sure Nami wouldn't come anymore. "And get my work done. It'll only be…" He didn't need to say it…the Galley-La president was more then aware of how much time was left until the Strawhat's would leave.
Unconsciously he shuddered at the thought.
"Nma…I can't tell you what to do Paulie." His mentor's voice had gone back to being the calm and reassuring guide he was used to. "But I will say this…" The older man was quiet long enough that the blond had to look up at him. The master shipwright was watching him seriously and only when he was certain he held all of Paulie's attention did he finish his thought. "I believe that if you hide away in here and don't tell her the truth…you will regret it for the rest of your life."
His shoulders hunched as he tried to curl in on himself miserably. He didn't want to hear that, he didn't want to think about it at all…because if he did the horrible truth was that she would be gone in a week and he would probably never see her again…ever.
"I…can't…" Each word felt like another weight being dropped on his chest. "I can't, Iceburg-san…" He stopped himself, swallowing hard. He didn't know how to say what he was afraid of, and he was aware of how much it would hurt just to admit it out loud, so his words came out all in a jumbled rush.
"I can't put myself out there when I know I'll never see her again. And I can't take that chance even if she does plan on coming back some day, because I can't…I-I don't want to…to ruin whatever relationship we have now, which it probably would be if I said anything about it…" Of course there was also the fact that he had already fucked up their on-again-off-again friendship by being a self-centered jackass…
He let out a deep breath, all the anger and fury at himself rising back to the surface; unthinkingly he got up and began pacing, his steps getting faster as his brain tumbled from one thought to the next…the blond didn't even realize when he began talking out loud.
"Even if all the rest of that was irrelevant, there's no actual proof that I love her…I don't know what the hell is wrong with me, but just because I'm a little distracted doesn't mean I'm…" One hand was twirling his cigar between his fingers as he almost frantically continued trying to convincing himself.
"Fuck! I don't even like her sometimes! There are times I'd like to strangle that little…! And even when I don't want to kill her, she's a loud and annoying brat, whose way too obsessed with money and not nearly concerned enough about keeping herself covered!"
The younger shipwright's voice continued to get louder and angrier as he worked himself up naming every fault he could think of in the pirate navigator.
"She's bossy, she manipulates people, and she doesn't give a damn about anyone's safety but her own! She's all the things I dislike in women…I don't love her, I probably hate her!"
…He was full of shit and he knew it…Nami was a lot of things, (a lot of things,) but her personality was more good than bad. His voice dropped again and his misery began leaking into his tone as, slowly, her good qualities began pouring out, almost against his will.
"She's…she's a brat and…and…and she's brilliant, and funny, and so stupidly naïve sometimes. And she loves her crew and would do anything for them, and she doesn't take any shit from anyone…"
Paulie stopped next to the window and slammed his fist against the wooden frame, shaking the glass panels. His voice was even more miserable than before.
"And she's beautiful, and she can be so sweet, and generous, and…and she stupidly throws herself in the way when it comes to people she cares about…!" He hit the frame again; his tone grew to a mix between frustration and adoration. "That little brat! That idiotic little brat who has no sense but is too damn smart and beautiful and…and just so fucking amazing that I want to kill her!"
He wasn't making any sense, but he was almost pathetically used to it…the last three weeks had been the most trying test on his sanity…if she came back here he would eventually snap and either kill her or kiss her, consequences be damned!
"I hate her…" His words were just a mutter of horrible confusion as the young shipwright closed his eyes and let his forehead hit the cool glass gently. "And I hate how much I love her…"
"Could you really remain satisfied with only a friendship?"
Paulie's head jerked back up; he had completely forgotten the other man in the room! Choking on embarrassment the blond looked back at his teacher. Iceburg-san was still sitting in the other chair, his face mild as he fed a small bit of bread to his pet mouse.
Embarrassed or not…the master shipwright had asked him a question and he had to answer…
"I don't see how I have any choice, sir…" Looking down to avoid the older carpenter's eyes his voice was very soft. "If that's what she…well, I'll have to apologize for today, won't I?"
Without looking he could tell the mayor was smiling by the sound of his voice. "That would be a very wise thing to do, I think."
Paulie nodded even though he was pretty sure Iceburg-san wasn't looking at him. "Yeah…I just…lost my temper. I'm sorry, sir."
There was the slightest scuffing sound as his teacher rose from his chair. "That's fine Paulie…I just ask that you not do it too often…there are a number of things you're capable of breaking when you're angry, and some of them are much more expensive than a desk...Such as Water 7." The innocent tone made the younger carpenter chuckle slightly.
"For today…go home and get some rest."
He grimaced…if he went home all he would do is stare at the ceiling and think about her…but if Iceburg-san was determined than he was going to get kicked out of the shipyards sooner or later.
"I'd like to finish what I was working on…ah…earlier." The heat in his face hadn't faded entirely; now that he was coming out of his depression, (at least a little,) he was beginning to feel very embarrassed that he had lost control of himself so easily in the first place.
"I understand." His employer said calmly. "But after that you will be going home."
A tiny smile lifted his lips as the older man left; his last words had not been a request…but at least he'd have a little more time before he was left alone with his thoughts again…
Paulie grimaced at his now junked desk but moved past it without trying to move it…he wouldn't want his teacher to come back and tell him that was enough for the day…
Unbeknownst to the head foreman news of his "fight" with Nami had already gotten around…and while it wasn't unusual that they argued the fact that the pirate navigator had left the main building in tears was unusual enough to generate much speculation among workers, customers, and visitors alike.
The blond shipwright stalked to the workbench that held his latest project in undisturbed silence. But, as the day had already proven, he had no luck so it wasn't long before the square-headed sisters had sauntered closer and began gossiping loudly.
Paulie's eye twitched as the two women began laughing and chatting over a stupid magazine, but he held himself back from saying anything…the last thing he needed was another fit of temper that would get him kicked out of the shipyards early.
So the young carpenter suffered in teeth grinding silence as the two harpies voices drifted over to him.
"Ooo!" One of them was saying. "This is an interesting article, look! 'How to tell if you're in love!'" The second began giggling and there was the rustle of paper as together they flipped through the magazine to the selected article and began reading to each other.
"There are millions of people we share our world with, and out of these millions we here at FAB believe there is only one who you will truly love; your soul mate." The first woman stopped reading as her sister sighed dreamily. "That's so romantic!" They giggled again and the first took up where she had left off.
"But how can a person really know if they've found their one true love? So many people are confused and disappointed to realize that their chosen mate is not the person they're meant to be with…"
The second square sister interrupted again, "That is so true." Which was met with an affirmative from the first. "But, you know, I think there are some people out there who actually find their soul mate…" She sighed as well. "It's just the matter of finding them, you know?"
Without waiting for a reply the first woman began reading aloud again. "The first rush of mutual attraction; whether its intellectual, social, or physical, can often be mistaken as that sought after feeling of "true love." When one or more person experiences this and rushes into a relationship they later become cynical and jaded because their "love wasn't what they expected." This is a tragedy! And as believers in true love it is our duty to tell you how you can tell if you have found that one special person!"
"Eeek!" One of them squealed girlishly. "That's so cool!"
Together they laughed again and made annoying tittering sounds before going back to the magazine.
"We have finally uncovered five things people need to know before they give up on achieving their greatest happiness!
First: You know how when you first meet someone new and there is the initial rush of attraction? Believe it or not this is not an indication of true love! Many couples who are deeply in love have found that it might take them time to warm up to their special somebody…this isn't indicative of a defective ability to love, it all depends on your own unique personality!"
Unknowingly Paulie snorted; what idiot would believe this kind of crap?
"As shocking as it is, it is possible to dislike your soul mate at first! "How can that be?" you think! True love doesn't fall victim to something as mundane as negative feelings!
And you'd be partially right! True love doesn't mean you grow to love someone you hate; it means that such negative feelings were always only on the surface! What you really need to realize is that the alignment of your first impression isn't what's important. What's important is the strength of it!
You've met someone that you hated at first sight? Sit back and ask yourself why…Why would you develop such an intense emotion for someone you have never even met before?
People have often discovered, to their shock, that their initial reaction was one of denial. What causes such a reaction? There is no specific reason, once again it all depends on your own special self; who you are and why you are the way you are."
One of the sisters gasped loudly. "I didn't know that! I always thought you'd fall in love at first sight with your soul mate…"
The second sister made a noise of agreement before adding, "It makes so much sense though, don't you think? Hating someone when you first meet them, but really being secretly in love with them?" Both women sighed dreamily again.
The carpenter's eye twitched more…what a bunch of garbage! Women who were always mooning over this kind of trash really pissed him off. But instead of telling them to bug off he set his mouth in a stubborn line, he didn't want to be forced to leave any earlier than he had to…
"Second: just because you love someone doesn't mean you won't argue!
People aren't perfect; they disagree, have quarrels, and storm off…but that doesn't mean they don't have true love! The biggest reason for fights between soul mates is based in their own insecurities. They're afraid of being mocked for their thoughts or ideas, their afraid of lowering their significant other's opinion of them, or their even afraid of being completely open and honest! These are all signs of insecurities; and how can you combat them? Trust. At some point two soul mates will realize that they have to trust each other completely before they can let go of their own fears!
You've heard it said that 'No man is an island,' right?
All this really means is that a person can't be cut off and alone their entire lives, not if they want to have true happiness…When you have a significant other but don't fully place your trust in them you are basically telling them that you don't love them enough to believe in their ability to except you as you are. Think of that with a reversed role; how would you feel, and how would you act, if someone you loved so completely couldn't bring themselves to believe in your better nature?
Which brings us to the number three; you have to be willing to set aside your own self in whatever way is necessary! It might be hard to tell someone things about yourself. Say you've had a hard past and talking about it hurts…Contrary to most people's fear they will not only feel better after they've talked about it, but they will also feel safer!
We've been discussing trust, but is that all there is to it?
Setting aside your own self is about more than even that! Selfishness, pride and fear are some of the most important things, but it doesn't stop there. Rarely will a person ever be in a position where they have the choice to save either themselves or another from danger, but that is really the biggest indicator of true love, and the world knows it!
In books and media the idea of "giving your life for someone you love" is often portrayed and romanticized; and why is that? Because the ideal that someone loves you enough to die for you is the ultimate form of true love. A mother would die for her child, or a husband for a wife…why should you settle for anything less? The answer is that you shouldn't! Your true soul mate loves you enough, just as much as you love them!
Believe us, if you are really trying to find your soul mate look inside yourself and see if there is anyone you know that you'd be willing to throw away anything and everything for."
"Oh…" One of the two women sniffled. "That's just beautiful!"
His hand was beginning to twitch while trying to hold the blueprints flat. He could not believe some of the stuff those two harpies would accept as true! Inwardly the shipwright raged at the idiocy of people in general and the unfairness of having to put up with it…even if it made an uncomfortable amount of sense in some ways. It was a complete load of rubbish!
"Up until now we've been discussing how you feel to determine if you've found your soul mate or not, but we definitely can't forget your partners feelings!
Keeping the first three steps in mind try to look at yourself through their eyes. As stated above sometimes people can live with a sense of denial; you can't decide someone isn't your soul mate just because it seems they dislike you! Do they seem to unreasonably hate you since the day you've met? When you speak to each other do you always clash in some way? Do they always seem angry at you, no matter what you do?
If you've evaluated yourself and found someone that you think might be your soul mate, but they act like they hate you, what should you do?
Well first you had better evaluate, re-evaluate, and then evaluate yourself again! We're not suggesting that you might secretly be in love with your worst enemy folks! There are people out there who you might have a genuine reason to dislike, or vice versa; before attempting to approach this person you need to be sure of yourself!
But let's say that you are at least 90% positive that you know someone you couldn't possibly live without…but no matter how you try to talk to them things just seem to go wrong!
Dislike isn't the only barrier that could be in your way; since their personality is a factor too you've got to understand a bit about them. What kind of person are they? Are they cheerful to everyone and always happy? Are they socially uncomfortable and treat people rudely? Are they a major flirt that keeps sending you mixed messages?"
The carpenter had just picked up a metal yardstick but hearing the last question made him trip up; his grip tightened unintentionally as his ears burned and he ducked his head to stare at the table top, somehow feeling guilty.
Something about it just made him feel…uncomfortable with his own thoughts the blond loosened his grip on the yardstick and then grimaced down at it when he realized there were the slightest indentations of his fingers in it…Muttering under his breath the head foreman resolved to ignore any distractions and finish his work.
Dropping the ruined tool, (shit, he hoped Iceburg-san wouldn't be angry!) he threw himself into the last stretch of the project he had been working on…he just wanted to get it completed and get away from here!
"Are they shy enough that it's difficult getting to talk to them? Are they kind of distant and cold?
Just as your unique views on life impact your actions towards them, their views can be the same kind of barrier! Every personality has its own driving force, and you need to understand theirs before you can try taking your relationship to the next level. We can't express enough the importance of knowing your sweetheart before trying to make a move!
Which brings us to our last section! By this point we're assuming you have thoroughly explored the first four steps and are still at the very least 90% positive you have found your soul mate. What's the final test, how can you know without a doubt?
This is both the easiest and hardest step to take…going through all those difficult emotional trials has set you up for this one final experiment…which is simply a kiss."
Paulie's neck began burning again and the flush crept up his face when he heard the two women behind him stop to laugh.
"A kiss? That's too easy!" One exclaimed.
The second harpy giggled too. "Keep reading! Keep reading! I want to know why you need a kiss!"
There was the rustle of pages and the clearing of a throat before the square headed dismantler went on. "That's right, a kiss! While "true love" is mostly about having an intimate emotional connection, what kind of love would it be if you weren't physically attracted to each other?
Yes, it's easy to sit back and think, "I can already tell I'm attracted to this person." But that isn't good enough. For those of you who have been kissed before but haven't been kissed by your soul mate this is what we mean: You've had that rush of excitement, when your heart pounds and her stomach flutters; maybe it makes you nervous or maybe it's all just routine now…Kissing your soul mate is like nothing you've experienced before!
It's difficult to describe because it's different for each person…the best way we can say it is that you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt!"
Both women groaned. "What kind of answer is that?" But continued to read.
"You think that's an unfulfilling answer? Up until now we've given you ideas and ways to test if you love someone, which are all open to interpretation and implemented with your own personal touch.
But this is the one step where we can give you the irrefutable promise that you will know! You might be nervous or even afraid that you might be mistaken! But once you kiss them there is no way to misunderstand.
We have to caution you that just because you've gone through all these steps and now have a perfect knowledge that you have indeed found your soul mate doesn't mean they'll be able to recognize it for what it is!
Their reactions vary depending on a million things! (Personality, how well you know them, location, timing, etc. These are just a few things!) If it seems to be negative, don't despair! Time and patience will overcome all objections, whether driven by insecurities or fear, and that's what true love is all about!
We're willing to bet that when you first picked up this article you might have had a vague sense of what it is but you at least believed the idea that "true love conquers all." Our words may have confused you or made you think it is harder than it is, but everything else comes down to this: True love does conquer all! We absolutely grantee it!"
From behind him there was the rustle of paper again as the woman who had been reading spoke. "You know…" She said thoughtfully. "I think I might understand what they mean…"
"Really?" Her sister groused. "I didn't get it at all! What was all that about 'just knowing'? A kiss isn't enough to make a person sure or unsure if they're in love."
Her sibling giggled. "That's because you haven't been kissed by your soul mate yet."
The second dismantler suddenly laughed again. "Hey, who do you think Aniki's soul mate is?"
Paulie continued to grimace as he put the finishing touches on his work…he had started by not wanting to leave but now he couldn't wait to get out of here! Those two damn harpies were so bloody annoying! Why couldn't they just go gossip somewhere else?
Relieved beyond measure the blond rolled up his blueprints, it was safe to escape!
But before he had taken more than five steps away from his workbench the two square headed sisters seemed to notice him for the first time.
"Hey Kiwi!" With mischievous eyes and a wide grin the other raised her voice, intentionally making it so he could hear her. "Who do you think Paulie-san's soul mate is?"
The shipwright's face burned hotter than ever before as he swung around to glare at them fiercely…forget keeping his temper! "Shut the hell up!" He shouted at the smiling women. "You shameless hussies! Get the hell out; people are trying to work around here!"
Neither woman appeared to take offense to his words, and the certainly didn't move. "Aw…don't be like that Paulie-san." Kiwi whined. "We're just concerned about your happiness!"
Mozu didn't even both pretending to care; smirking at him she leaned against the bench her sibling was sitting on, crossing her legs to prove that she wouldn't be intimidated away. "Why so bothered Paulie-san?" She taunted him, trying to get a rise. "Even you have to have a soul mate somewhere."
As the head foreman began sputtering the other woman giggled behind her hand and then added. "Who knows Paulie-san…she might even be in this very city!"
He absolutely hated the fact that Nami's face flashed across his mind. "Get out!" He bellowed furiously. "Why don't you two do the world a favor and drown yourselves?"
They began laughing…laughing!
Unthinkingly he stepped towards them, a snarl of frustrated rage lurking in his throat, but a hand caught hold of his arm. He glared over his shoulder at the dark haired shipwright holding him back.
"It's not worth it Paulie." Lulu counseled quietly. "Let it go."
The blond's head shifted back and forth between his nakama and the two women he wanted to strangle.
"You don't have to listen to what they're saying."
Iceburg-san's request that he keep his temper rose through the cloud of angry thoughts to the surface of his mind…grimacing he nodded at the other carpenter and then resolutely turned his back on the two women.
"I'm going home." He said quietly. "Would you tell Iceburg-san for me?"
If his co-worker thought his sudden request was strange he didn't show it; Lulu nodded as he reached up to try flattening his hair in vain. "Of course. See you tomorrow."
Paulie nodded without speaking. When his arm was released he stuffed both hands into his jacket and began stalking away…the two harpies didn't try calling him back…
Kiwi and Mozu watched the head foreman stomp off angrily; Lulu had already gone back to his own work without giving them so much as a glance.
Wearing matching maniacal grins the two block headed sisters turned towards one another and gave each other a high five.
"Do you think he'll really..?" The dismantler trailed off, her voice sounding hopeful.
"You bet!" Her sibling assured her; her own voice was filled with glee. "Nami-san won't know what hit her!"
Nodding at each other again the two women gathered their weapon of choice, (the newest issue of FAB magazine,) and began the journey home…hopefully by tomorrow everything between the head foreman and the pirate navigator would be fixed.
Outside the shipyards Paulie found himself wandering aimlessly…he still didn't want to go home and try to sleep…the few hours he got each night were already plagued by his copper haired temptress, he didn't want to know why sort of dreams he'd have now.
Frowning heavily the blond meandered down one street and up another…
His head was beginning to pound from the jumble of thoughts that filled it. First there was the problem of Nami and how to apologize…then there was the problem of Nami and how to handle their rocky relationship without blowing up again…and then there was the problem of Nami and being in…
He shook his head quickly, trying to force the last thought out. Iceburg-san was wrong! He didn't…
…well he shouldn't love her…
Or rather, he shouldn't have admit, even to himself, that he loved her…things might have been stressful before but the last few weeks had been a piece of cake compared with today.
Unconsciously he sighed heavily, feeling lower than ever.
Alright so he loved Nami…maybe…no big deal. It wasn't like she hadn't been driving him mad since the day they had met; she was always getting some kind of reaction out of him, no matter what she did…so actually admitting he had strong feelings for her was just being redundant, right?
But there was still the problem of her leaving, and whether or not he would say something to her about it, and…and…and did he really love her? It was such an all-consuming thought. Not that he could tell if that was a good or a bad thing…
But how the hell was he supposed to figure out what he was going to do if he couldn't even be sure that he did love her?
Paulie kicked at a rock absently as he stumbled on…fuck, he was tired! The smart thing to do was to probably go back home and sleep, as his mentor had suggested…but he just couldn't push himself into doing that…he wouldn't be able to sleep until he absolutely knew for sure.
He wandered for almost two hours, inwardly debating how he felt about the frustrating woman…and he probably would have wandered the entire night but…
For some reason he didn't even know the carpenter found himself looking up from the pavement he had been staring at for so long…and there she was.
His immediate reaction was to duck into an alleyway off to the side, and then he thanked whatever fate had decided to give him a break that she hadn't seen him. It would have been the worst if he met her like this and didn't know what to say…
In the safety of concealment the shipwright watched the woman he was mostly sure he was in love with.
Nami was by herself, which was kind of weird, and one bag over her arm suggested she was doing some light shopping…knowing her it was probably because she was bored, even though she had already shopped her way through the giant water metropolis…or possibly because she was depressed.
Feeling even worst than before Paulie guiltily noticed the red rims around her eyes that told him she had been crying. The normally cheerful woman was also ignoring those around her; if anyone got too close she would glare at them so fiercely they would immediately run away. Further evidence of the unhappy state of mind was that the navigator would barely glance at a store before passing it. He watched as she moved closer, staring at the ground and absently kicking a rock in front of her.
With a start he realized she was doing the exact same thing he had been doing for the last few hours. What did that mean? He was more confused then ever…she was acting just as depressed as he felt, but his depression stemmed from his nearly overwhelming and completely inappropriate love…unless something else had happened it seemed like his words had hurt her even more than he had guessed.
The blond groaned as he leaned back against the wall, one hand covering his eyes. If he didn't figure this out soon…he really would go mad! But how the hell was he supposed to tell if he loved her or not?
Against his will his mind brought back the idiotic advice of the square head sister's love magazine…it had guaranteed that a kiss would give you definite proof, whether you loved someone or not…In disgust for even thinking about it the blond dropped his mostly used cigar and ground it into the dirty pavement…that was just too stupid!
…And there was no way in hell Nami would let him near enough to kiss her anyway…
Damn it, he was just so damn tired! He must be in even worst shape than he thought to even be considering it…not that it was an unpleasant thought…
Scrubbing one hand through his hair the shipwright found himself watching her again…in just a few minutes she would be passing him…
What reason could there possibly be that she would allow him to kiss her for…? None, so he really needed to stop thinking about it!
But…she was just so…damn tempting…hypothetically she probably wouldn't kill him for it…although, if he was thinking hypothetically he might as well suppose that she would kiss him back…
In less than a minute she would be at the alley entrance.
Nervously the blond licked his lips…what was he going to do…? What was he going to say…? But he needed to know! His sanity wasn't going to handle the uncertainty of not knowing much longer!
And then she was there and he simply acted without thinking; stepping out in front of her the carpenter literally picked her up and then stepped back into the alley, no one had seen a thing.
Since she had been staring downwards she hadn't noticed him until it was too late, and she must have been so stunned she didn't immediately start screaming for help…When she looked up and realized who it was her eyes had widened momentarily and then they had narrowed as her face reflected her fury.
She might start screaming, or she might walk away…he needed to act first.
"Nami, I'm sorry."
She had taken a deep breath and got as far as opening her mouth but his words made her stop, so she was staring at him with mouth agog…he couldn't blame her; he didn't think he'd ever apologized to her before.
"I'm really sorry…" It seemed easier to say the second time. "Please forgive me."
Her lips snapped shut and her arms folded across her chest but she didn't walk away. She merely glared up at him, but he had to assume she was listening so he went on.
"I've…been under a lot of stress lately and you just…caught me at a really bad time…" The navigator's face remained hard but her eyes seemed to be softening…at least a little.
"I'm sorry you're the one I finally snapped at…" Though he wasn't going to tell her why he had snapped. "But please forgive me."
He waited in nervous silence, looking down from his superior height at the petite woman; she seemed to be thinking it over. Her lips pursed slightly and she was giving him a measuring look. "I suppose…" The pirate finally said slowly. "I suppose I can forgive you…this one time."
He released a relieved breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
But now he was at the worst part…or the best part, depending on how he looked at it.
Ignoring his own thoughts the shipwright nervously ran a hand through his hair as he looked down at her. "Um…What are you doing here?" His voice was weak; it annoyed him.
The navigator was watching him too, her lips slowly curving upwards into a smile. "Nothing much…I had nothing to do." She shifted her hand, bringing attention back to the bag in her hand. "What are you doing here?" One pencil thin eyebrow arched at him when he swallowed nervously.
"Well I…uh…" His voice might have been stronger but his stammering was worst than ever. "That is…um…" He forced himself to grit his teeth and speak clearly. "I need your help."
Nami's demeanor was relaxing completely and her voice had slipped back into the familiar teasing tone. "Oh?" She questioned silkily. "My help? Is that right?"
He felt his eye twitch in annoyance…she was such a little brat!
"Did you apologize just so I would help you Paulie?"
"What? No…!" Hastily his brain scrambled to get back on track. "I need your help to…test a theory…"
A flicker of actual surprise appeared in her eyes. "A theory?" She repeated; he was relieved to notice her voice was normal again.
"Er…" Fighting against the burning feeling moving up his neck the shipwright nervously scratched at the back of his head, his eyes shifting away in embarrassment. "Well…yeah."
To his surprise the copper haired woman chuckled slightly. "Interesting…Okay, what do you need me to do?"
Paulie froze; that was it? She was actually willing to…well, she didn't know she was giving him permission to kiss her but…
When her eyebrows rose again he swallowed and tried to concentrate again. "R-really..? Okay, uh…" His heart had begun racing as his body reacted to her…He was actually going to…
The carpenter closed his eyes briefly, pulling himself together as best as he could. "I'm sorry then…" Looking down at her again he apologized solemnly; ignoring the flash of confusion on her face he couldn't stop himself from muttering, "But I gotta know…"
Her heart shaped face tilted upwards to ask him about it but he took advantage of the movement; grabbing her chin with one hand, the other snaking itself around her waist the shipwright pulled her close.
Leaning down he brushed his lips against hers lightly for a second, and then he kissed her firmly.
It was absolutely heaven…He forgot about finding out the truth of his feelings for her, forgot everything except her! Whatever part of his brain was suppose to be taking note of the world around them completely shut off; as far as he was concerned it was just the two of them and they might as well be standing in complete nothingness.
The little whimper didn't discourage him, in fact it had the opposite effect; the blond's second hand wrapped around her waist too, pulling her petite body even closer until their fronts were flush against each other. He must have lifted her up to achieve that but it was extremely unimportant at the moment.
Had he thought he was in heaven before? He hadn't been close.
Nami had stopped trying to pull away; his little pirate's hands slid up his chest and tentatively wrapped around his neck; this time she pulled him closer.
He wasn't sure who opened their mouth first but it didn't really matter…the blond could hardly even register how inappropriately he was kissing her, he was too caught up in her full, velvety lips, warm, teasing tongue, and sweetness of her inviting mouth.
Nami flicked her tongue against his, sending a shock of electricity through his system, and then pulled back. Not wanting to lose even a little bit of her the shipwright tilted his head slightly so he could kiss her even deeper.
"Mmmmm~!" The copper haired temptress moaned into his mouth, her slender fingers clutching at his hair as she pulled him as close as she could. "Mmmm~!"
He made some kind of noise of assent; he wasn't too focused on that, as he kissed her desperately. They would need air at some point but it didn't seem like such a necessity at the moment.
Unfortunately it was a necessity.
Reluctantly he pulled back, releasing her mouth. "Aah..?" Her eyes fluttered open and she gave him another confused look, her lips drawing down into an adorable pout.
If he kept looking at her he was going to kiss her again, and she still needed to breathe.
Instead the shipwright kissed one corner of her mouth and then the other, smiling slightly when she tried to turn her head to make him kiss her fully again. Breathing deeply he noticed the flowery scent of her shampoo, and under that the clean, pure fragrance of her skin.
Wanting to take in and memorize it he leaned forward more and began kissing a gentle trail down her throat. "Mmm~!" Her whimper was even sexier now, especially since it was accompanied by one arm dropping to wrap around his shoulders, the fingers of her other hand tangling into his hair as she tilted her head back and panted softly.
Reaching the junction of her neck and shoulder he was frustrated in his desire to kiss her skin by her pesky shirt; his tongue reached out to trace the lining of her clothing instead.
Whether it was for the good or the bad her saying his name brought him back to his senses. Breathing heavily the foreman drew back from her neck and found himself staring at her flushed face with longing eyes.
Nami's cheeks were tinged a rosy red, and those amazingly kissable lips were slightly swollen, her eyes had been closed again but they flickered open to stare at him in confusion…they were glazed and he could see the same sort of longing in them that he was experiencing. She sighed softly and then tried to draw him close again. "More." Her voice was barely a whisper but it sent a shiver down his spine.
He needed to let her go but his body was refusing to do so; instead he hugged her tightly, her head fit perfectly under his chin, as he breathed in the soothing scent of her hair. Absently the fingers of one hand reached up to gently pet her head as the blond miserably squeezed his eyes shut…
That stupid magazine had been right at least…he had no doubt that he was completely in love with her now…
"Shit…" The word was a bare whisper above her as he tried to re-adjust his thinking to the reaffirmed information. He definitely loved her…what…was he going to do…? "Why…?"
He cut himself off as the woman in his arms whispered his name uncertainty; only now did he realize that he had no idea how to get out of the unbearably awkward situation he had created. He had to let her go…but he really didn't want to.
Steeling himself the shipwright gently let her down again, forcing his arms to release her as he stepped back…His pirate stumbled slightly when he let her go but then looked up at him with unsure eyes. "Paulie…?"
Swallowing hard the carpenter forced his eyes to drop; not trusting himself to even look at her for fear his body would betray him and drag her back into his arms. "…Thank you." The words wanted to stick in his throat but he forced them out, his voice raw with emotion. "You've…helped me prove my theory…"
His dejected attempt at lessening the tension failed miserably. The copper haired woman was silent briefly and when she spoke again her voice was soft but her tone was filled with fury. "You wanted to kiss me to test a theory? !"
He didn't know what to do…and honestly, he was so far gone in misery the thought of escaping had lost its appeal…she at least deserved the chance to yell at him all she wanted…Shoving his hands back into his jacket pocket where they were less likely to betray him the blond nodded silently.
He heard her breathe deeply; he had never known breathing could sound so angry!
"What the hell kind of theory…No, you know what? ! I don't care!"
Paulie winced, he hadn't wanted to tell her what kind of theory, but he didn't want her to not care either…but his petite navigator wasn't done; her voice was louder and angrier…and her words shocked him!
"I have had it with the way you're either insulting me or ignoring me!" Nami was stepping closer as she yelled at him furiously. "You treat me like I'm some kind of thorn in your side, when you decide to acknowledge me at all! And the rest of the time I apparently don't even exist!"
His head tilted up unconsciously and he stared at her with wide eyes, completely shocked…Where was all this anger coming from?
"Well I'm done with that buddy!" She continued, eyes flashing. One small hand came up to point an accusing finger in his face. "And now…now you have the audacity to kiss me for a theory?"
She was right in front of him now. Hands settled on her narrow hips as she glared up at him, so close their chests were almost brushing…as wildly inappropriate a time as it was…he really, really wanted to kiss her again.
"Well you owe me asshole!" Hoping to get some space the blond stepped back, and then gulped when she followed him; they did this over and over as she continued screaming at him until his back was against the alley wall.
Now panic was beginning to settle in…if he didn't get some room between them, quickly, it was entirely possible that he would go insane and kiss her again…considering this was from one kiss he didn't want to know what she would do to him after a second!
Nami's small, delicate hands left her hips and he assumed she was about to slap him senseless but the pirate shocked him once again.
Grabbing hold of his blue jacket the copper haired woman pulled and he found himself bending to her height. He stared at her, eyes unconsciously wide, shocked more than ever before.
"You owe me!" She snapped again, but she had dropped her voice to an unbearably sexy growl of anger.
Fate, apparently, was finally willing to give him a hand; in that twisted way that only Fate can manage…he didn't need to worry about kissing her on accident because the woman he was in love with did it for him.
Pressed against the wall and caught at her height Paulie had no defense as she simultaneously yanked him towards her and leaned towards him; somehow in spite of her fury he was being rewarded with heaven again.
Confused beyond belief he tried to move back, which caused his feisty little woman to tighten her hold on his jacket and bring him close again. She was kissing him hard, (which he didn't object to,) and he assumed it was the anger she was feeling that fueled her into opening her mouth against his, and demanding he do the same with her tongue.
The shipwright whimpered but did so and found himself trying not to grab her as she slid her tongue past his lips to caress his. Forcefully Paulie shoved his hands behind him to lay flat against the wall, promising himself that he wouldn't grab her, turn her, and press her into it instead.
He groaned as the thought entered his head but his fingers remained glued to the brick behind him.
On her part Nami seemed to be losing anger, but gaining steam. He whimpered again as she pushed up against him, and he could feel every delicious curve. Her hands abandoned their posts on his jacket front; while one crept up to suddenly grip his hair (painfully!) the other slid down his chest to his stomach and then inside the blue coat and around him.
He couldn't stand it! Very slowly and deliberately the little minx was pushing at the small of his back, pressing herself into him intimately at the same time.
Tearing his mouth away he gaped down at her. "Nami..!"
Her eyes had darkened to a chocolate mocha color and they glittered up at him, filled with an indefinable longing. "Yeees?"
Her voice was a husky purr and as she answered she had very deliberately rose on her toes, with their bodies pressed together he felt every second of it.
"Shiiiiit~!" The carpenter tilted his head back to gain some breathing space, accidentally hitting it against the bricks behind him. He had to do something to stop her before she made him so crazy he'd…he'd…well damn it, he didn't know what he'd do! But it would probably get him more than an ass kicking by the Strawhat's cook.
"Do you have any idea what you're doing to me? !" His voice was strangled but he managed to get the question out.
Her own voice was hard and angry again. "Look at me!" She snapped. "You owe me this, dammit!"
Insanity made him look down into her eyes again. "I owe you this? ! What the fuck does this have to do with…with anything else? !"
The shipwright swallowed hard as her pouting lips curved upwards into a smirk; belatedly he realized he must have been staring at her lips to notice.
"This," She purred. "Is what finally pushed me over the edge with how you treat me…"
His face burned hotter than ever as she drew the word 'treat' out. Her eyelids lowered so he couldn't stare into them…and it made her look damn sexy!
"So this," Her smirk grew wider and very suddenly she pushed against his lower back again, bringing their lower bodies together closely. "Is what you owe."
One of his hands seemed to jump off the wall but he stopped it just short of grabbing her; instead it reached over to pound the wall to their side. 'For the love of…!'
Because he kissed her she was molesting him? What the fuck kind of sense did that make?
"Nami…" Her name was barely a hiss of air from his mouth so he tried again. "Nami, I…my theory…"
Oh fuck! Was he really going to tell her? !
Looking down at the enticing woman in front of him he decided; if she was all hot and bothered over him he had no problem with that…but he wasn't willing to go farther than a kiss without her understanding what it meant…She was a giant flirt, but to him this was extremely serious.
Using sheer willpower the carpenter gently wrapped his hands around her upper arms and moved her backwards. Nami looked startled and then there was a flash of hurt across her face before she hid it behind anger. "What are you-? !"
"I love you." It felt like the words were dragged from his throat, and some part of him desperately hoped she hadn't understood.
But she had…he could see it. The navigator's eyes had grown impossibly wide, the lust dowsed right out of them, and her mouth had dropped open.
"I needed to know for sure," He wished the ground would open up and swallow him; anything would be better than her completely shocked face. "To…make sure…I love you."
Her mouth had snapped shut again but her eyes were still staring up at him, looking so very vulnerable. If she had really felt that bad about how he treated her…at least she deserved to know why.
"You drive me crazy, you always have." The words were whispered, almost like he was afraid of saying them too loud. "That's why I…I flipped out earlier…I…You…" His fingers twitched unconsciously against her arms. Damn it, this was harder than he could have imagined! "I can't be near you and I try to ignore you because I love you so much…it hurts…! I just try to drive you away but I'm hopeless because then I miss you so much I end up right back where I started when I go looking for you again."
Nami shuddered and he immediately dropped his hands from her, his face automatically looking to the side so he didn't have to see the disgust or fury in her eyes…this was killing him!
And then the feisty woman he was crazy about stepped forward and dropped her head against his chest. "Thank goodness…" It was a whisper but it was clear. "I thought I was the only one…"
He shivered as his head snapped back to stare down at her copper hair. The shipwright was at a loss; he must have heard her wrong! "E-excuse me…?" He choked on the words again but she must have understood because she looked up so he could see her.
Nami was…she was crying!
Worried that he might have hurt her somehow he opened his mouth to beg for her forgiveness but her petite arms reached up to wrap around his neck and she hugged him.
He wasn't sure what to do with his hands so he very slowly and carefully placed one on her back and one at her hip; not putting any pressure on her, just resting them.
"I love you."
One can't really explain the perfect moment when you hear those words from the person you love most. Your heart hits your throat and then drops back to its normal place, while every nerve ending in your body goes crazy, and your brain, as well as the world around you, just stops.
At least that's what it was like for him.
Paulie stared over her head at the wall opposite them as his brain tried to comprehend it. Nami loved him…
Nami loved him…?
Holy shit! Nami loved him? !
She wasn't bothered by his inarticulate babble. His little minx's shoulders shook and he realized she was laughing at him, quietly. "Idiot…" Her whispered words were right next to his ear so he heard them clearly. "But I love you anyways."
His body finally caught up; she squeaked as his arms suddenly swept her up, his head bending slightly to be just above her shoulder, and his breath exploded from his chest.
He was lucky she didn't knock him in the head as he babbled like an idiot.
Instead her voice told him she was smiling. "Yes Paulie, I love you."
Trembling from more than shock the shipwright pulled back enough that he could kiss her soundly. It was short and left them both breathless but he spoke immediately afterward anyway. "Say it again!"
She laughed openly at his demand and then stuck her tongue out at him. "You first!"
He had no problem with that. "I love you!"
Grinning up at him almost shyly she nodded. "I love you."
Paulie stood at the edge of the scrap island, staring off in the direction the pirate ship Thousand Sunny had flown off in that afternoon.
The others had already gone back, and he was going to have to sometime soon too…but for now at least the head foreman stood in silence and thought about the petite pirate he had let leave earlier.
It had nearly killed him…But this was the only way and they both knew it. Nami was a free spirit, and while she had hinted about settling down sometime in the future there was still the mission she and her nakama had left to accomplish.
So while it had been one of the worst things he could remember the blond had kissed her goodbye in private, and then watched with the rest of Water 7 as they made a narrow escape from the Marines again.
He sighed glumly but finally turned away from the glistening ocean and began trekking back to the city. He had no idea how long it would take for her to come back; but she had promised him she absolutely would, and he believed her.
Cheered by it, (and by the sweet memory of her blowing him a kiss before they had made their escape,) the shipwright stuffed both hands in his pockets and walked back towards his normal life.
He could wait.
AN: I really enjoyed writing this one. It was initially inspired by a one hour challenge but I sorta twisted it around, so I don't feel like I can count it in that category anymore...not to mention it took me more than an hour to write. xD But I hope you guys enjoy, (no, really! This is the last one shot I'll have done for a while...) and I'm always cheered by reviews. I haven't asked in a while so if anybody knows of someone else who writes this couple would you let me know? I'm pining for them and I can only re-read my own stuff so many times. xD Anyways, thanks guys! ^-^