Water and heat; both are necessary for the cultivation of plants. Too much heat, the flower will wither. Too much water, the flower will drown.

In the right proportion, they will create Eden on Earth.

I was following another tip, another rumor, another story – bouncing from island to island in pursuit of man whose hands were stained with the blood of a fellow crew member; one who, by order of my captain, had lost the right to live.

I saw a large sea tortoise swimming in the distance. I was hungry, so I maneuvered my boat towards it. As I approached I saw that it had a rider.

She regarded me from her perch with amused eyes – something that happens often when people first meet me. The amusement quickly changes to guarded wariness once they have a glimpse of the mark on my back.

I introduced myself and asked her a few questions.

His name intrigued me.

She answered graciously, revealing that she could not help me.

I liked his hat and told him so.

I said that I had to be going. I didn't get very far. Storms blow up quickly on the Grandline. This one was no squall that would pass over in an afternoon. I had an Eternal Pose, but I was days away from my destination.

Tortoises don't need compasses though. I told him to follow me. The waves tossed his small boat like jetsam, but my pet found a small, inhabited island with a safe harbor.

Drenched to the skin, we ran to the closest tavern we could find. The owner provided us with towels and a table by the fire. I ordered something to eat for both of us. She ordered wine; something I would never have ordered for myself.

Considering the ferocity of the weather, the tavern was busy. Other conversations filled the silence between us.

She ate very little, content to play with the stem of her wineglass. A few times, I found myself staring at her hands.

'You don't believe in anonymity,' I said suddenly.

I paused, spoon hovering near my mouth. 'What do you mean?'

'Most everyone has heard of Whitebeard.'

I shrugged and continued eating.

'Why would you choose to wear another man's mark on your back?'

My response was automatic. 'Respect.'

'What an interesting idea – respecting your employer.'

'My captain,' I corrected.

She didn't seem inclined to talk after that. I finished my dinner and hers as well.

We shared another bottle to pass the time.

A comfortable chair by the fire, good wine, and a full stomach – was it any wonder I fell asleep?

When I awoke, the main room was empty. The flicker of the dying embers revealed that she was still in her chair. I had no idea what time it was, but the storm was still raging outside.

After I apologized for falling asleep on her, she told me that the worst of the storm would hit the village sometime this night. She had made arrangements for us to stay upstairs.

And her smile spoke more words than we had exchanged the entire day.

A little rain and gentle heat will cause a flower's petals to yield.

The room was small, clean, and there was already a fire in the fireplace. She pulled the door shut behind her.

'I should know who you are.' She put her fingers to my mouth to stop my question.

It's true what they say about a rose by any name.

The name she gave me had to do because her hands were becoming more insistent…

Hands that were undoing my belt, hands that were throwing my hat across the room, hands that were untying my shoes, fingernails tracing a line down my spine - too many hands for reason.

Venus Fly-Trap – death by goddess…

My mouth was cooled with her lips, cold water to a parched man.

Belladonna – the poison of a beautiful woman; the Poppy – sleep and dream forever…

Her fingers rippled on me like a waterfall, even in the warmth of the room, goosebumps arose at her deft ministration.

Edelweiss – climbers lose their grip trying to reach for its blossom, Bleeding Heart – truth in name…

Whorls and ridges, patterns that never repeated twice; the most sensitive part of the body is the fingertip.

Stem, leaf, calyx, sepal…

Everyday, I burn from the inside out.

Outside in; petals surround…

That night, it was a fire of a different kind.

Stamen; anther and filament.

Searing chills, a man in the grip of a fever.

Pistil.

Desert at night, stars in space; she froze me, I scorched her.

Morning Glory.

By the light of the fireplace, I watched her sleeping. I wondered why this woman traveled the Grandline alone, on the back of a tortoise, and why she would not give me her name. I had ideas and I did not like them.

Even asleep, the half smile never left her lips. I like to think that I had something to do with that.

While he slept, I memorized the way the mark on his back stretched and shrank as he breathed. I envied him; while the rest of us hid behind names and numbers and organizations, he could scream his beliefs so blatantly.

The next day, we parted ways. We did not make promises, did not pretend that we might meet again and begin anew.

This is the Grandline; it's not realistic to promise anything, no matter how much you mean it.

Once my obligation is discharged, once my captain's goal is achieved and he becomes the Pirate King – perhaps then I will seek her out again. Find out her real name for starters.

Once I find what I'm looking for, perhaps…

Until then, her memory is under my skin, my new tattoo.

********************

Author's Note: Nico and Ace: something about these two just screamed to be written. The song 'Fingertips' by Poe inspired Ace's version. 'Datura' by Tori Amos inspired Nico's version.

All the flowers mentioned are poisonous to humans. Edelweiss is included because it's true; every year countless mountain climbers die when they lose their precarious grip while trying to bring a blossom back to base camp.

Thanks to the Cornell Animal Science Poisonous Plants webpage (their advice: don't eat flowers) and the University of Illinois Gardening for Kids webpage.