Author's notes :

First and foremost, a thousand thanks to my wonderful reviewers! Every comment on my other fics was greatly appreciated, and it will still stand for this one, as well.

This fic was difficult to write. I started working on it, then gave up when I didn't feel satisfied enough with what I was writing. And after a few weeks, I decided to give it another try – and that's where the fanfic started writing itself, taking a new direction I totally hadn't expected at first.

Beware of OOC-ness, which I hope is still not too unreasonable. I also decided against removing the honorifics, since both use them when referring to each other. Might as well use them.

Anyway, please R&R! I don't know if I can stress it enough, but really I need constructive criticism about my English skills. I'm not sure how efficiently I am able to convey what I intend to, since English isn't my first language to begin with, so I'm counting on you guys!

I don't own these characters, but I think you're aware of that, by now.

Enjoy~!


Sanji closed his eyes tightly when her lips, soft yet firm, brushed against his neck, letting out a muffled sound when he felt her grinding slightly against his hips. She had slid her arms around his neck, grabbing the chair's back, and he marveled, far back in the turmoil of thoughts that had invaded his mind, at how strong her grip was, despite her frail and delicate build. He had to fight the urge to embrace her with all his might, but already, his hands were sneaking on her hips, willing to bring her closer but not daring to, for he knew if he did that, he wouldn't be able to resist her further. Her arms were now resting in his back, caressing his hair, his neck, while she was kissing, nipping at his right ear, down to his neckline.

He couldn't believe what was happening. He had more than once fantasized that their relationship would progress further, that she would finally accept and return his affection. In his mind, he had always been the one seducing her, bestowing her with sweet talk and irresistible attentions, capturing her lips in a passionate kiss and ravishing her between satin sheets. Of course, she wouldn't object – she would yearn for every touch after he swept her off her feet.

But he had never imagined that she would give into his courtship, and thus, had never gone past the amiable words and devoted attentions.

This, of course, was as far from the current reality as could possibly be.

And it was the direct consequences of his own cowardice.


He had been in the lounge late, that night, preparing dough for next day's breakfast bread. The thing had to be kneaded thoroughly until it didn't stick to fingers anymore, then rest for the night before it got suitable for baking. So, he had decided to stay up late and get done with it before going to bed.

He liked making bread. The way his fingers would dive into the supple dough, stretching, pressing, until its consistency felt smooth, firm yet flexible, retaining some warmth from his own hand's patient kneading. He felt like he literally had to put a little bit of himself in the process, and he liked that, when people ate the final product, they would eat that little bit as well. He knew it was weird, but he felt like he'd stay for a while with whomever had eaten his bread, even if they got separated.

Which is why he liked feeding bread to people important to him.

Preparing bread was an act of love.

He was right in the middle of the kneading step, when he heard the door open. He went on working on the dough, not turning back to check who had just entered the room. He was always in a good mood while preparing bread, and he'd accommodate gladly with anyone entering the kitchen at this time – even a hunger-induced captain, or a marimo looking for booze – as long as they let him finish properly first.

He smiled when he heard Nami's lovely voice.

"Ah, Sanji-kun." She didn't seem surprised. "Are you making bread again?"

"I'm glad I am, for I got to see your radiant face before falling in slumber's arms."

He would always compliment her eloquently, as he knew she deserved better than the best he had to offer her. Nami was a beautiful, delicate young woman, and Sanji envisioned her as nothing less than the goddess she nearly was, if not for her very terrestrial, corporal reality. She had never really acknowledged his courtship with anything more than amused smiles and indifferent shrugs, but she had always accepted his ways, just as she accepted every fancy drink or snack he would serve her daily.

And it was more than enough for him. It made him happy.

He finally turned back, taking the board the dough was resting on, and putting it on the table before resuming his task.

"I'll be done in a minute. Would you like some hot chocolate then?"

"Sure. It's really cold out there." She sounded a little down, which made him raise an interrogative eyebrow, his thumbs pressing the dough in short, circular moves.

She sat at the table, right in front of him, put her elbows on the wooden surface, and rested her chin on her knotted hands. She had worked on her maps late, tonight, but she was starting to feel tired and couldn't concentrate on them anymore. They were approaching a winter island, and the outside cold was seeping through Merry's planks as surely as sand would run between fingers. Her hands were freezing.

She was looking at his hands, pushing, pressing the dough skillfully, his long fingers intertwining with thick strips of flexible buttery paste and then crushing them together again. She loved watching Sanji when he was cooking, his eyes – very blue and very wide – intent on whatever he was making, focused on his task as if the outer world had disappeared, a serious, concentrated look on his face. Yet, there was something more when he prepared bread. Some kind of soft, relaxed, fond feeling to his features as his talented fingers blended with the dough.

He never looked at her like that. When he looked at her, it was generally with a stupid, fawning look of complete adoration on his face. Which might be why she loved looking at him, when he wasn't making a fool of himself, uttering nonsense about her and her supposedly out-of-this-world royalty. She loved him when he was himself, nothing more.

She sometimes wondered if he really liked her. He would always treat her like a glass doll, some sort of goddess on a pedestal, much too great, too fragile to be touched. And surely, he never touched her, not even casually, as friends sometimes touch each other – patting a shoulder, touching an arm to get the other's attention, and the like. Then again, he was like that with any decent-looking woman. She sometimes felt like his demeanor was only a pretence. Sanji liked all women equally, bestowing them with attentions, sweets and flowers, but in turn, this enabled him to keep some distance between himself and the whole fair gender.

And she often wondered why someone claiming his love for women in such an extravagant fashion would put up such a front.

Merely thinking about it usually made her feel lonely, and tonight, it sure did.

She sighed when Sanji finally removed his hands from the dough he had been kneading for the last half hour, rubbing them together to remove any excess flour left, and grabbed a cloth to cover it before putting it back on the counter.

"Your hot chocolate will be ready in a moment, Princess." He glanced at her from behind his golden hair when he heard her sigh again. He had noticed the first one, but he had merely discarded it, thinking she was only tired.

Yet, as he was studying her lovely face, he noticed she was frowning, when she had been perfectly relaxed moments ago. It couldn't be that she was annoyed at his charming volubility. She must have something else on her mind bothering her.

"How's the map-making going lately?" He tried to sound casual, as he turned to the small kitchen and started pouring milk in a tiny saucepan, while she was sitting at the table.

Her eyes widened slightly, as if she had caught herself doing something she wasn't supposed to. She smiled.

"I'm almost done with the last one. It was quick anyway. The island was a small one."

He lit the stove, and as he put the milk-filled container above the short, blue flames, he asked softly : "And why are you awake at this time? I thought you'd gone to bed a while ago."

"I was working on my maps." She paused. "It was freezing, so I thought I'd get something warm to drink."

He added powdered chocolate, then cream to the saucepan, and stirred slowly with a wooden spoon, wondering what it was that had bothered her earlier.

"I thought you'd still be awake," she added after some time.

"So, you were actively seeking my company?" He smiled.

He heard her sigh while he was topping the hot chocolate he had poured in a mug with whipped-cream. Something was definitely off with her, tonight.

"Or did you just need to talk about whatever is bothering you?" He put the treat on the table, and sat in front of her. "Here you are, Princess."

She put her hands around the mug, but made no move to actually drink.

"You should taste it while it's still warm. I made it so it wouldn't burn these perfect lips of yours," he encouraged her, his elbows on the table, resting his head on crossed hands. Watching Nami enjoying anything he had prepared always made his day.

She didn't answer. She was now eying the whipped-cream convolutions, as if they displeased her. She held the cup to her mouth and took a sip, before putting it aside.

"... too sweet."

"Huh? I'm sure I didn't put too much sugar in there..."

"It's you." She was now intently looking at him, their eyes locked, hers filled with what looked like irritation, and his, widened by the surprise he felt at her last words. "You're too nice to me. Too sweet. I don't like it."

She now looked a little more than irritated – she was clearly upset, and surprisingly, she also seemed a little sad.

He cleared his throat and fumbled nervously into his jacket, looking for a cigarette. She didn't like that he was nice to her. It could only mean one thing : she was annoyed at him for being too insistent, too pushy with her, and she wanted him to stop. And she was about to tell him. He felt his heart sink.

He didn't want that.

"Sanji-kun..."

"Yes?"

"Can you..." She stopped. She looked like she was searching for words, her delicate eyebrows twisted in a light frown.

"What is it?" He stuck the cigarette between his lips, and reached inside his pants back pocket for his lighter, waiting for her to say the words that, he was sure, would break his heart.

He was about to light it when Nami raised from her chair, pushing her cup aside, leaned over the table. Supporting herself on her left arm, she raised her other hand and slowly snaked her fingers between his palm and lighter, grabbing the small metallic object and putting it on the table. She then leaned in closer, her face getting closer to his, and, pressing two fingers around his cigarette, gently removed it from the corner of his lips.

Sanji, who expected a strong, irritated rebuff, was startled by the gentleness of her gesture. He was staring at her, his eyes wide from his bewilderment at her actions, as Nami's wrist, the small stick still between her graceful, slender fingers, came to rest on his neck, her thumb softly stroking his cheek, from the corner of his mouth to the base of his left ear. Her face was so close now that her lips were almost touching his. He could feel her breath, hushed, slightly wavering – she smelled of chocolate and milk, of tangerine, of shampoo, and of sea salt.

She stopped moving for a moment, her eyes misty and obscured by her long eyelashes, as if waiting for him to make a move. When he didn't, too dazed and confused at her sudden change of demeanor towards him, she cupped his face, slightly tilted her head, and brushed her lips against his, closing her eyes.

Sanji didn't react, unable to fathom what was happening.

Moments later, she drew back, and he could hear her sighing softly. She sat back in her chair, and much to his surprise, took his lighter from the table, and, sticking the cigarette between her own lips, lit it, closing her eyes as if in bliss while drawing a long drag, then exhaling the smoke through her nose.

When she opened her eyes, he was still staring at her. She looked irritated, and possibly a bit sad. Almost disappointed.

He had been too stunned to even think about returning her kiss, but now the moment was gone, his mind started spinning.

What the hell just happened?

He wanted to say something – ask her why she did that, why she suddenly felt like kissing him after months and months of courtship, of unrequited flirting on his part, but found himself unable to speak.

He needed a cigarette. Again, he reached inside his jacket, taking the pack out, for his hand was shaking, and he didn't trust his fingers to draw one without letting it fall on the floor.

She broke the silence while he was, once again, fumbling with his lighter, trying to light the thin cylinder.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that." She had turned her head towards the wall, facing away from him, and her eyes were set on the floor, curtained by her ginger hair, which looked darker in the galley's dim light. He reckoned that she was beautiful.

"Nami-san, what-" She stopped him, shaking her head tiredly.

"Don't. I'm sorry. I thought..." She paused once again, then asked absentmindedly, lowering her voice : "Why... why didn't you..."

She didn't finish her sentence, but Sanji knew what she wanted to ask : why didn't he kiss her back? After being pursued, lavished with sweet attentions for such a long time, of course, she would expect that he'd be thrilled when she finally seemed to return his feelings.

The problem was that he didn't know how to answer that question. He didn't respond to her kiss because he never expected her to do such a thing, because he'd been stunned, because he couldn't believe it was really happening. He didn't, because despite his courteous behavior towards women, he had never expected that one of them would actually take him seriously. Especially not his clever, beautiful Nami-swan, who never really showed any romantic interest in him, despite taking advantage of his good will on every other occasion.

And now it happened, he felt tremendously scared, because he didn't know what to do anymore. And clearly, he didn't want to tell her, because he didn't want her to think less of him.

"I..." He paused, trying to think of a plausible explanation, but found himself unable to find one. Glancing sideways toward Nami, and confronted with her beautiful, somewhat sad face, he knew he couldn't lie to her anymore than he already had, and finally decided that he might as well drop the pretence.

"I guess I should be the one apologizing. I've... I haven't been very honest with you – or anyone, for that matter. Not even with myself."

She raised her head, her eyebrows gracefully knotted in a slight frown, and shook her head. "I don't think I understand what you're trying to say."

"The truth is, despite everything I said and did since we met, I lack self-confidence with women."

Nami didn't say anything, dragging on her cigarette instead, so he went on.

"And I don't deserve the 'love-cook' title." He smiled bitterly. "Well, I know everything about courtship, but... What's so funny?" He asked suddenly, startled and a tad offended, when Nami chuckled at his last statement.

"Nothing. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to mock you. Go on." She smiled at him in what she hoped was an encouraging fashion. She had to admit, she didn't expected such a turn of events, and found herself quite interested in what he had to say.

"Well, I... I'm only telling you because you deserve to know, but I don't need your pity. Nor do I deserve your trust, because I've been lying to you since the beginning."

He paused, breathing deeply, and scratched his head nervously, as if trying to gather his courage before finally spilling : "I've never been in a relationship before."

She didn't reply. He didn't dare look at her yet. He was pretty sure she'd be upset by this revelation, and maybe even sad that he lied to her.

Silence lingered, and he found himself feeling the surrounding tension. Before he knew it, he was speaking again, saying the first stupid thing crossing his mind.

"I... I kissed a girl once, but I... guess it doesn't really count." Great, he thought. Not only are you a pathetic fool, but you even managed to make things worse, unable to avoid opening your big mouth, dumb-ass.

He gave her an apologetic look and waited for her to tell him off. It wasn't like he could have avoided that – the habit was too deep anchored within him, originated from his early days on the Baratie, when he realized he was the youngest, most attractive staff member – as well as the most inexperienced regarding such matters. Though, he had to admit that his silly demeanor didn't really help his case – still didn't, obviously. He barely hoped Nami would understand how much this confidence had cost him, since he never told any of his nakama about this, believing he'd lose their trust if he admitted he'd been deceiving them ever since they met.

"Ah..."

She dragged a last time on her cigarette, before squeezing it off into the small ashtray on the table.

"To be honest," she said, a faint smile on her lips, "I suspected as much."

He turned to face her, narrowing his eyes "You did?"

Her smile widened. "I don't mean to offend you, Sanji-kun, but... Your whole behavior with girls... It seemed kinda obvious to me that you were inexperienced in that area." Her smile looked somewhat apologetic. "I'm sorry. So, you're a virgin?"

Sanji felt his face heat up at this rather direct question. He didn't want to delve into this matter, but his flushed cheeks were currently betraying him, and there was not much he could do about that. Fuck that fair complexion.

"Thought so." Nami, still smiling, relaxed back into her chair, eying Sanji speculatively. "I trust you don't want me to tell anyone. Especially the other guys." She was grinning now, a peculiar look on her face, and he thought for a moment that she was somewhat scary – but still very beautiful – when she smiled like that.

"You're right." He laughed nervously, and, scratching the back of his hand, muttered, more to himself : "Especially not the damn marimo. He'd never leave me alone if he knew."

Suspicions suddenly took hold of his gut. He glanced at Nami, who was still grinning while looking at him. He knew this smile, he knew what it meant, and this, more than anything, strengthened the feeling that he wouldn't be able to get out of this situation unscathed.

"Nami-san..."

"I'm all ready to help you." She cut him abruptly, never parting from her unsettling smile, which widened even more, if that was even possible. "For a price." Her teeth gleamed in the galley's subdued light.

Sanji sighed. He should have known her silence would cost him. "How much?"

Nami raised from her chair and went around the table to stand before him. "I don't want money." She startled him when she raised her arms to put her hands on his chair's back, straddled him in a swift move, and sat into his lap. "There's something much more precious at stake here, if you didn't notice."

Sanji gulped with difficulty when, her hair brushing his cheek, she rested her head on his shoulder, until her lips were inches from his ear, whispering softly : "What do you think I have in mind?"

He breathed deeply, trying to settle his heart's erratic pace, before answering.

"Nami-san... you don't mean it."

Her body was pressed against his, soft and warm, and before he could prevent it, his hands were resting on her hips lightly, ready to push her away, and yet, unwilling to do so. There was no way he could pretend he was clueless about her intentions.

"Nami-san, listen to me. You don't know what you are asking me for. I..."

He paused, not wanting to sound like he rejected her, nor like he didn't want her – he couldn't find it in himself to lie to her again, especially not about... this. He swallowed nervously.

"You are nice, clever, beautiful, and you obviously have no idea of how much I admire you. You are everything any man could ever want." And all I ever wanted, he thought, but didn't dare saying it out loud. "I'm just the shitty cook. You deserve better than that."

He stopped, his eyes clenched shut, shuddering when she traced a wet trail on his neck.

"Please." He said, his tone almost desperate.

"You are a coward." She placed a kiss on his neck, pinching his skin slightly between her lips, before going on : "This is the perfect answer to your problem. That way, you won't have anything left to hide," she stopped, sucking and nipping on his skin in turn, while he was resisting the temptation to circle her thin body with his arms to bring her closer, "and I'll be able to enjoy your close company. It's awfully cold tonight."

Sanji had to admit she was right, but somehow, he couldn't find it in himself to accept that kind of bargain, for such shallow reasons. He didn't understand what was happening with Nami, all of a sudden, and he needed to know before deciding on what he would do next. He grabbed her shoulders, and gently pushed her back – that gesture requiring his utmost concentration and willpower. He sighed, trying to regain his composure ever so slightly, and open his eyes, locking them with hers – and they were misty, her pupils slightly dilated, and her lips looked very pink and slightly swollen.

"Nami-san, please, listen to me for a moment."

She grabbed his hands and tried to take them away from her shoulders, with added force when she realized she wouldn't be able to remove them gently, but to no avail. She then sighed, frowning slightly, and recoiled a bit, her eyes averted from his.

"Nami," he started again, dropping the honorific, "what do you want from me?"

She sighed again, and he could barely hear her muttered answer.

"Don't make me answer that." She turned to him, slight annoyance, but also worry flowing from her eyes.

He shook his head, sighing softly at her usual tenacity. "I want to know – no, discard that, I need to know."

"Then answer your own question first." Her eyes were gleaming with challenge as she added : "What do you want?"

"I..." He stopped, trying to figure out what it was that he really wanted, what he should answer so this didn't ended up in a disaster, so he didn't ended up offending her, what he should do to ensure that nobody got hurt. He licked his lips nervously, and when Nami's eyes flickered to his mouth when he did so, her intentions written on her face, he had to restrain himself from leaning forward and complying, committing a monumental mistake. She was so desirable at this very moment he wondered how he could even think of resisting her for more than a couple seconds. Yet, there he was, pushing her away, gently, but still refusing whatever it was that she wanted to make of him.

Maybe it was because of his inexperience, he reckoned, and he suddenly started to feel there was nothing to be scared of. There was this girl, perfect in every regard, whom he had always wanted to embrace tightly, to kiss passionately, there she was, sitting in his lap, whispering lustfully into his ear, and he was pushing her away? What kind of idiot would do that only out of fear that the girl of their dreams would witness him, making a fool of himself?

He was a fool. Definitely.

Wait – no. No no no. No. He caught himself before giving into his urges, turned his face away from her and closed his eyes. Nami was more important, more precious to him than that. What he wanted was to make her happy. And he knew perfectly he was unable to do that. He was inexperienced, ignorant. He was a fool who couldn't help but follow every girl crossing his path like a poodle in heat. Despite the daily masquerade he had put up in front of everyone he knew for years – aside from his former mates at the Baratie, who practically raised him and knew better – he was a fool who knew nothing about real love or commitment.

Nami needed a man, who could make her happy. Not a boy who barely knew what life was.

He sighed.

While he was lost I his thoughts, Nami was looking at his face. She watched as his features reflected his emotions – tension, then puzzlement, conflict, and finally, defeat and sadness. When he finally turned back to face her, though, there was a different quality to the way he looked at her. His hair was hanging in front of his usually visible eye, and, his grip on her hands now relaxed, she raised a hand to gently brush it away. He shivered when her fingers grazed his temple.

He looked so vulnerable, all of a sudden.

Maybe this was a stupid idea, after all. She had never wanted to hurt him. She had only wanted to push him, to peel the thick layers of faked self-confidence he showed the world to reveal the real Sanji.

And now that she had done it, rather brutally and selfishly, much to her dismay, she realized that he was far more self-conscious, far more sensitive than she ever imagined. And she started to wonder. What about his usual exuberant displays of affection then? What about his exaggerated tears whenever a girl rebuffed or ignored him? Was there even a tiny bit of truth behind them? She couldn't tell what was real or fake anymore.

She sighed deeply, and in a sudden impulse, she slid her arms around his neck and held him tight against her. He felt stiff between her arms.

"Nami-san...?"

She sighed again, her nose against his neck, noticing his smell – tobacco, the bergamot and jasmine perfume he used to wear ever since she had known him, flour, most likely from the bread he had been making earlier, and sweat, but that last smell wasn't unpleasant, nor was it strong. It smelled very much like Sanji, and she thought it wasn't bad.

She held him closer and sighed again. She had handled this whole thing terribly, right from the start, and she knew she wouldn't have another chance to make amends.

"Sanji-kun, I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry. About all this." She closed her eyes and breathed slowly. He didn't reply, waiting for her to go on, so she obliged. "I won't tell anyone, no matter what. And you won't have to do anything for me in return. Do you understand?"

He relaxed a bit at her words, and to her surprise, raised his arms and hugged her back.

"Yes. Thank you." He had spoken in a hushed, muffled voice, letting out a relieved breath.

I shouldn't be doing that, Sanji thought, knowing he would soon be unable to restrain himself. Nami was lovely, perfect, and at this very moment, she was all he had ever wanted, all he had ever dreamed of. He hugged her closer, his nose buried in her neck, becoming aware of her skin's softness, of her sweet fruit smell, of her body, lithe and warm against his. He was losing himself in her embrace, and it felt so good he couldn't find it in himself to back away. He felt himself shiver, and he didn't know anymore if it was caused by his fears – of failing to provide what she wanted, of falling for her even more than he ever did before, and of being rejected because she wouldn't – couldn't – feel the same toward him – or by the emotions twirling within himself and making his chest ache.

He wondered briefly if he could commit to her, giving up on his constant flirting with other women, for right now, he felt like no other existed, but the sweet, lovely Nami-san, sitting in his lap and hugging him affectionately in a way nobody ever did before. The rational, logical part of his brain, muffled by the moment's intensity, but still present, didn't believe he could. This aspect of his character was anchored too deep within him to disappear overnight.

He found that he didn't really want to know, not for now.

He embraced her closely against his chest, his head on her shoulder, and she pressed him back, and he forgot everything else.

Being in Sanji's arms like that felt so right to Nami – easing the loneliness she had felt earlier – she wondered why she hadn't realized before how fond of him she was. Now she saw him for what he really was – she had, prior to this moment, but she had definitely confirmed what she suspected tonight – past the silly love cook demeanor, she saw a whole lot of quality she had known were there, but never really acknowledged until today. Sanji was... he was sweet. He was clever – not the type of cleverness that came from books and knowledge, but he was never devoid of discerning comments or witty retorts. Endlessly patient – with women, obviously, and, she now realized, with the other guys as well, despite getting easily irritated at his male crew-members – then again, they could be really annoying, and she knew where he was coming from in that regard. Sanji was generous, and would never let anyone starve as long as he was able to feed them.

Sanji was loyal and loved his nakama. Sanji was her friend, she trusted him, and she loved him.

Yes, she thought. I do love him, and whether what I feel is merely friendship or something else doesn't matter.

She drew back and looked at his face, her feelings overflowing with such intensity she feared she'd drown in them. She breathed jerkily, and he must have felt something was different, for he was looking at her intently, as if trying to figure out what she would do next, waiting. In the galley's dim light, she took sight of his very blue eyes, half-curtained by golden-blond hair and appearing darker than in daylight, and he looked so young – after all, he was only one year ahead of her, even if she tended to forget about it because he was so much stronger than she was – he looked so unusually vulnerable that, somehow, she felt like she was the one who had to protect him.

Did she need to protect him from herself? She bit her lower lip nervously, fearing he would, once again, push her away.

"Sanji-kun, I... I never answered your question." He looked slightly puzzled. "You asked me what I wanted." She paused, trying to find words that would express what she was feeling right now, words that wouldn't scare him or make him think she was using him. She knew it wouldn't be easy. "What I want is... I don't want to hurt you, nor make you feel uncomfortable." She paused again, the added : "I'm really sorry for earlier. I... I don't want you to be scared of me."

She released her hold on his shoulder, following his arms, untangling herself from his embrace in the same motion, her hands sliding along his arms until they rested on his wrists. She brought his hands between their bodies, and looked at them, all slender fingers and soft skin, and sighed.

"You know, sometimes I feel really stupid." She smiled a tad bitterly.

"But you're not." He was gently caressing her palm with his thumb, and it felt good. "You're not."

She raised her head and lost herself in his eyes, intent on hers, displaying a gentle expression, and his hands felt so warm against hers, contrasting with the outside cold, her heart was beating so fast and she felt dizzy, and tired, but at the same time, she felt good and more than anything, again, this felt so right...

Before she realized what was happening, she was pressing her lips against his, and if he seemed surprised at first, he was soon kissing her as well, a hand in her hair and another in the small of her back. His mouth was warm, soft, he tasted and smelled of tobacco, and the way he was kissing her was tender, shy, a tad clumsy, which only made it feel most endearing, his tongue brushing lightly against hers, arousing her so tremendously that she had to break away from him again, before she found herself unable to stop.

She took a long, shaky breath, keeping her eyes closed and relishing the delightful sensation in her body, awakened from his touch and tingling from arousal, yet trying to settle her heart's frantic pace. When she opened her eyes and looked at Sanji, she noticed he was doing the same, his eyes shut tight, breathing jerkily, trying to regain control over his body, to clear his mind. She wanted to tell him that he didn't have to do that, that she was ok with what had just happened.

"Nami-san..." He whispered softly, not opening his eyes yet. "Maybe we should... We shouldn't..."

She stopped him from going further, her hand cupping his face, her thumb slowly brushing against his lower lip softly.

"Hush..." She whispered, trying to decide if this was a good idea as well. She wanted to go on that path that had opened between them, and obviously, he wanted the same thing. Yet, she couldn't help but wonder about what would happen after they did – not if, because she was pretty sure none of them wanted to stop there – she even wondered if they could do so. Would they be able to maintain their previous relationship? She reckoned they wouldn't, which could become a problem. They'd be more or less stuck together, no matter hat happened afterward.

When Sanji slightly turned his head to lean into her hand, kissing her palm gently, almost timidly, exposing the appealingly soft-looking skin of his neck, she decided it didn't matter, for now anyway.

Leaning forward, her mouth reached again for the sensitive spot behind his left ear and started trailing kisses there, much more gently than she did previously, occasionally licking or biting the smooth flesh. One of her hands delved deeper in his hair, the other slid under his jacket, softly caressing his hip through his shirt's thinner fabric. She grabbed one of his pants' belt loop and used the gained leverage to bring her body closer to his, all but grinding into his lap. His breath was coming out rough, shaky, and she could feel his arms, slightly tense while he was caressing her back, as if he was restraining himself.

She stopped her ministrations, and whispered into his ear : "Sanji-kun... Please, tell me... Tell me what's wrong. Do you want me to stop?"

She felt his arms close around her, and as he buried his face in her neck again, she could almost grasp with her fingers how helpless he felt.

He sighed, and said : "I want you, but I'm not worthy." He paused, shuddering nervously, then added : "I don't think I can give you what you want."

She smiled against his neck, and planted a soft, affectionate kiss there. "Don't worry. There is nothing you could do that would displease me." She drew back, her eyes intent on his. "I want... I want it. I want you. Do you trust me?"

He looked at her, and replied softly. "I do."

"Then..." She said, getting up and rolling her shoulders, stiff after staying in the same position for so long, then extending her hand towards him, smiling. "Let's go to my room. You don't want your first time to happen on a kitchen chair, or worse, on the diner table, do you?"

He eyed her hand, then looked up at her face, and asked : "Nami-san... Are you sure about this?"

She chuckled. "Let's leave our worries behind and stop thinking for now."

He sighed and scratched the back of his head. "Don't you think this is gonna come back to bite us later?"

She shook her head, still smiling. "Just... Carpe diem."

"Profite du jour présent*."

Sanji had barely whispered these words, which nevertheless reverberated through the silent room.

He stood from the chair, and took Nami's hand.


* "Profite du jour présent" is the French translation for "Carpe diem" - a Latin saying, and roughly means "enjoy the current day", implying one should not worry about consequences too much, especially if doing so would take away all the fun in life.