"Chopper," said Sanji, gaping as he stepped into the medical bay, "what the shit is all this?"
Fur bristling, the doctor quickly slapped a cap over the petri dish in front of him. He turned to look at the chef and managed a flustered "Sanji! Don't startle me like that!" before uncapping the dish and spooning some kind of mixture into it.
Sanji's eyebrows raised as he paused to look over the room again—between the text books strewn about the floor and Chopper's desk packed with all varieties of flasks and tubes, the medical bay looked to be more of a hazard zone than anything else. He sighed, fingers knotting up through his bangs in confusion. "Jeez...what a mess."
Chopper simply capped the dish again and reached for his quill to write a few notes. Curious, Sanji stepped over a few upturned books and leaned over the reindeer's shoulder to stare down at the dish. It wasn't particularly exciting. "What's this?"
"A sample of Streptococcus pyogenes I collected from Luffy when he was sick with strep throat," Chopper said, maintaining a mix of professional enthusiasm and polite exasperation. Sanji jerked back a hair from the super-virus that was able to put Luffy down, but the reindeer simply slipped the dish onto a microscope tray and peeked into the eye piece. "He was only hit for a few days, and I can't tell whether it was due to his natural immune system or a mutation in the virus. Either way, Doctorine's never seen anything like this..."
Sanji straightened himself and grunted. "Hold up, Chopper. What's this got to do with that mentor of yours?"
"It's Doctorine's birthday next week. She's going to be 'too young, too young' one hundred and forty-two!"
Even ignoring that Kureha had given Chopper some questionable imprints about age, Sanji found himself shaking his head. "Oi, oi, Chopper. You're telling me you're going to send a lady a tray of mucus you found in Luffy's throat for her birthday?"
"Of course not, Sanji!" Chopper sounded genuinely offended as he looked up from the microscope, nose twitching. "I'm going to mail her the research paper I'm doing on it!"
Sanji shook his head and placed his hand on the doctor's tiny shoulder. "Chopper, your heart is in the right place, but no woman is going to like a present like that."
Chopper looked down at the sample, then doubtfully back up at Sanji. "Really?"
"And no man would even send kind of thing in the first place." Sanji nodded sagely, pitying Chopper. He couldn't have ever learned how to properly treat a lady with the sheltered life he'd lived before the Straw Hats. "What you need is something nice to send her, like sweets and flowers, with a hand-written poem detailing her beauty..."
Chopper glanced dubiously to the side. "Um, I don't really think Doctorine would like any of that..." Then his eyes suddenly lit up, and he turned back to the chef. "Oh, except the sweets! She might like those! Could you help me make some, Sanji?"
Sanji frowned. The sweets and flowers—he shouldn't have mentioned those, really. If he thought about it...there was no way that the average delivery bird would be fast enough to fly all the way to the Sakura Kingdom before the sweets spoiled and the flowers wilted.
But he knew what to make. It clawed its way to the front of his mind the moment he suggested sweets, a recipe hammered into his brain at childhood that could guide his hands like he were a puppet on strings. It wouldn't be so hard to teach Chopper how to make it, have him hand-write the recipe for Doctorine, and then get Usopp to draw a picture of it and send them in a bundle.
They couldn't send the dessert itself. It would go bad.
But Sanji knew what to make.
He grinned, pushing Chopper's hat down over his eyes. "For a beautiful lady, of course."
Sanji sighed and crouched down, dish rag draped over his thumb, and rubbed some stray flour off of Chopper's nose for what seemed like the twentieth time. "Oi, Chopper...I told you, it doesn't need to be measured perfectly."
"But you said two cups!" Chopper huffed. He tried to glare up at Sanji, but it made him go cross-eyed, so he glared at a spot of chocolate on Sanji's apron instead.
"What, you have flour in these, too?" Sanji reached up and flicked the reindeer's ear, causing him to reach up awkwardly around his giant hat and rub at it. "Try listening to everything I say. It's fine if you go a little over or under."
Chopper pulled away with a grunt; Sanji noticed that he'd managed to get a smudge of flour under his left eye, too, but decided to leave it be. Flour was probably an ass to get out of fur anyway. As he went to stand, Chopper had already made his way back to the table and pulled himself up over the edge.
He peered at the strange dessert, sitting in a deep ceramic dish. "What did you call this again?"
"Clafoutis." Sanji wiped his hands on the dish towel. "It's a popular dish in the East Blue; I used to make it all the time back on the Baratie." He checked the batch of cookies in the oven—the reindeer had made eyes at him once they were done with Doctorine's present and asked if they could make something for the crew, and cookies were simple enough for Chopper to help out with—before joining Chopper at the counter. A dish of powdered sugar sat next to the bowl, of which Sanji took a pinch before grinning.
"In every country's body," he began smoothly, gesturing to the thick, flan-like batter resting in the bowl, "there beats the hearts of its people."
He pointed to the cherries—rising up from the batter, they covered most of the dessert's surface area in deep, red circles, at least a dozen of them, drowning out the golden dough. "And, because of the size of the people's hearts..."
He held his hand up over the bowl, and with a flourish of his wrist, sugar began sprinkling down into the bowl in soft clouds of white. "...the kingdom never loses its richness..."
And for the grand finale. The cherries were cooked to bring out their juices. Slowly, the powdered sugar covering the cherries sunk down, seeping—and, as Chopper watched with wide eyes—dusted itself a soft pink.
Sanji smiled, rubbing the powder from his fingers. "...even beneath a veil of snow."
Chopper was silent. His head dipped low, nose nearly brushing the counter top, and Sanji almost swore he could hear his doctor biting back tears.
He picked up the tray as Chopper dropped down to the floor and handed it to him. "Now how about showing this to Usopp and having him draw a picture of it? Shithead's probably playing out on the deck with Luffy." Chopper nodded quietly, eyes fixated on the clafoutis. "Come back in when you're done and I'll have you write down the recipe."
Chopper suddenly looked up at him, and Sanji wasn't surprised at the tears forming along the edge of his eyes. "Thank you, Sanji."
He grunted and turned back to the oven, but he knew that Chopper saw his flicker of a smile before he spun and ran out the door.
"Chopper," Sanji breathed as he stumbled into the infirmary, his stomach growing cold. The reindeer turned in his chair, eyes landing on the mailing log Sanji held up. "What the shit is this?"
Chopper squinted at the log. "It looks like the list Nami keeps of the packages we send and receive," he said slowly. Concern flickered across his small face. "Is something wrong?"
"You mailed it?" Sanji exploded, jabbing his finger into the paper. "I thought you—you and Luffy and Usopp ate it, when you didn't come back with it—but you mailed the actual clafoutis to Dr. Kureha?"
Chopper nodded slowly, looking like a child that had just gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
Sanji grit his teeth. He tried to show Chopper how to treat a lady—how to show respect for her, how to start him down the path of showing every woman in the world that she was beautiful and something to treasure—and he ended up showing Chopper how to send her a piece of disgusting, spoiled food. Wasted food. What would Kureha think of Chopper? What would she think of Sanji? She had to have known that Chopper couldn't have made clafoutis by himself.
What would she think of a chef who allowed her pupil to send her spoiled food?
"Shit, Chopper, do you have any fuckin' idea...that thing would have been rancid by the time it got to her!" Sanji buried a hand in his hair and began pacing. "It's not like she'd actually eat it, but...shit, didn't I tell you to send her the recipe? And what about that picture we had Usopp draw you?"
"I sent those, too!" Chopper protested, standing up in his chair. His fur was bristling. "And Doctorine really liked the present!"
"I—" Sanji froze. He turned to face Chopper, brow furrowed. "What? What the hell are you talking about?"
The reindeer clenched his teeth and spun towards the desk wildly sorting through a stack of papers. Within seconds he'd pulled out a letter and held it out for Sanji to take. "This! Nami just gave it to me this morning!"
Sanji snatched it out of Chopper's hands, feeling sweat beading on the back of his neck. Stealing a glance upward at Chopper's irritated look, he fumbled with the paper until it unfolded and Kureha's scratchy handwriting stared up at him.
"So the big, strong pirate still takes the time to remember me? I'm flattered."
He winced and tried not to mentally add the "Eeeheehee" at the end.
"I see you still know how to kiss up, Chopper. This sample you sent me was full of all kinds of bacteria I've never seen before; they've been interacting and showing some interesting new behaviors. You should thank that mail bird of yours for taking rest stops on all those islands and picking up the microscopic natives.
"Not sure why you used this 'clafoutis' thing, but it did the job well enough. Didn't look as nice as the picture, though. I gave the recipe to Dalton; he seems like he'd enjoy baking, don't you think?
"By the way...thank that little friend of yours. The pretty one with the bad back. I showed that analogy about the cake he wrote to Dalton, and he seemed to like it a lot. Heard it's been spreading through the kingdom. Looks like I'll be treating a lot of toothaches in the near future!"
Sanji exhaled, long and low, reached a hand up to scrub his eye, and laughed.
Chopper was staring up at him defiantly, so Sanji just shook his head and pushed the pink hat down over the reindeer's eyes.
"Send her a damn macaroni heart next time, shithead."
This is edited a bit from the original version, as Night-Mare-Chan noticed a few inconsistencies that could have easily been fixed with more specific writing. I apologize to anyone that was confused with the first draft, and hope that you enjoyed the story regardless!