theremedy: (Sanji)
[personal profile] theremedy
Chapter Eleven


Present:

Come what may

Nami took his hand, leading him back through a hall of soft curling clouds.They were going to a place at the end of the hall, where ~things~ were going to happen. Sparked heat tripped through him and he could hear the walls, bouncing his happy ‘mellorine’ back at him. But there was something wrong. Her grip was too tight and desperate. Her orange ponytail whipped raggedly in his face and somewhere in another arm of the hall. Someone was crying. She pulled him down with both soft hands, in a place where he’d never thought to go, her lips soft and warm and insistent against his but still in the background that broken sound.


‘..ix it fix it please fix it please fix it!’
I’m trying, he wanted to say, I’m trying! And he was standing by Luffy’s bedside, looking down at him. All he had to do was pick him up and he would wake up. Open his eyes like one of those dolls. With trembling fingers, Sanji grabbed his shoulders to lift. Luffy shifted, then spilled through his fingers like sand, grain by grain his face and body collapsing into a soft pile of gritty color. Sanji realized with cold horror that some idiot had left the window open and he charged across the slow room to close it before Luffy blew away. A root caught under his foot—


Sanji jerked, snorting, curling his hand into the coverlet. Just…justadream. Shitty dream. Already fading. Made his neck hurt. His cheek was pressed against soft fabric, there was a soft whisper of footsteps out in the hall and warm sunlight on his eyes. And his neck hurt. He sat up, rubbing the back of his neck and opened his eyes, blinking to get the crud off. Vivi was smiling at him from the other side of Luffy’s bed.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Mornin’,” he said. … “Wait! Shit!”

He bolted upright, tangled his legs in one of the tubes and tripped back to prevent himself from taking it out, falling in the chair again. Oh shit. What time was it even? Ten. Fucking hell. He was late and— Vivi— the airport—! He stood, realizing his leg was still tangled in the tube.

“Damnit, Luffy! Get off!” he snapped, unwinding his foot then shooting a desperate look at Vivi. “I’m so sorry, Vivi. I don’t know how to apologize. Please, let me— ah— if there’s anything I can do to make up for so churlishly leaving you there I…”

“Please,” she said, laughing softly as she held up her hands. “Calm down. It’s alright. Your father picked me up right on time.”

“Oh he did?” Sanji flopped back in the chair. Hell he needed a smoke. Couldn’t. And grabbing a lollipop—well not in front of Vivi. She looked as composed as ever, a painting caught in the morning light, her hair bound up in braid and held in place by little pearls. She didn’t look like the CEO of a fashion empire, well she never had, but even today she seemed more understated than normal. A dark blue turtle neck, a silver wire necklace and black jeans. But there was a sense of waiting about it. Like a peacock who could unfurl his tail if he wanted to but was holding back just now.

Sanji realized he was staring at her and rubbed the bridge of his nose, the back of his neck, looking away, looking back and smiling a little.

“It’s good to see you. Ah—have you eaten yet?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” she said, folding her hands in her lap, ring dazzling for a moment in the light.

Ah~ So poised~! So elegant~! And allowing him the honor of inviting her out for a brunch~! Truly a princess in every sense of the word~! Ah, but… He couldn’t go out wearing the same shitty clothes as yesterday. Vivi wouldn’t mind, he knew, but he would and he couldn’t spoil her illustrious presence by wearing clothing that was wrinkled and sweat stained and still smelled like kitchen. She cleared her throat delicately, and gestured behind him.

Sanji turned and saw a large paper bag with the Baratie logo on it that they used sometimes for excessive take home orders. Stapled to it was a sticky note with the single word Eggplant scrawled on it in Zeff’s crabbed handwriting. He peeked in and tried to fight of the sting of red from his cheeks when he saw the clothes there. Shitty old man. The hell was he thinking?

“If you’ll excuse me a moment?” he said.

“Of course. Take your time.”

Sanji practically floated down the hall to the men’s room. It was awkward changing and he would have preferred a shower, but for what it was, Sanji was grateful. Zeff had chosen well, even included a tie and a black vest—and a small pair of scissors. Shitty old man. What the hell was he doing paying that much attention? Sanji was going to kick his ass. He combed his hair, trimmed his goatee, glad he finally had one to trim. He looked presentable, he decided. A little showy for brunch but he was having brunch with a princess, so if anything he was underdressed. Ah well. Vivi would understand.

The day looking brighter than ever, he fairly danced back to the room, stuffing yesterday’s clothes into the bottom drawer of the dresser before rising to face Vivi. He was all set to bow elegantly and invite her out in a whirlwind brunch of platonic love in deference to her married state, when he caught sight of Luffy. There was no one else slated to come in today and probably wouldn’t, since Usopp had promised to take Chopper to go ice skating. Nami would probably go as well and—ah would that he could go see her gliding as a (sometimes ungainly) swan across the frozen whatever it was, but work barred the way. But the point was, no one was coming in and since he was here anyway…

“Ah, forgive me, Miss Vivi. Do you mind…?” and he gestured to his captain’s still quiet form.

“Of course not.”

“You’re so cute when you’re generous!” he said, switching his hips from side to side just to make her giggle. It worked. Oh beautiful sound! Like small silvery bells! That he was able to lift that sound from her lips~ He smiled to himself as he flipped back the coverlet and lifted Luffy’s foot, resting his thumb against the soft turn of his arch as he started to push Luffy through his exercises.

“I’ve seen you do that before,” Vivi said.

“Almost every damn day,” Sanji said, trying to sound annoyed though he was sure the smile didn’t help. He really didn’t mind it. It was routine by now. Work his leg, feel the pull and shift of lax muscles.

“What for?”

“It keeps his muscles stimulated so they won’t be atrophied to shit when he wakes—”

He froze. The world froze. Everything was still as a shitty icicle worked its way through his gut. Five years. Five shitty years. All for— all for—Luffy to look not quite as scrawny as he would be in— in— the last suit— No, fuck if he was wearing that. Fuck if he was wearing anything that wasn’t him to the last shitty fiber.

“He looks good…” Vivi said, softly. “You’ve done a good job.”

“Thanks,” Sanji said, voice rough as he took a deep breath and let Luffy’s leg down to pick up the other one. Kept on going. Just kept on going. Even if it was the only shitty thing he could do. Even if, in the end, it didn’t mean anything. He didn’t have to give up completely even when there wasn’t any hope, did he? No, and he wasn’t going to.

Wake up, shithead! He thought at Luffy’s pallid face, closed eyes. Wake the fuck up!

But there was no miracle. No sudden stirring and opening of sleepy brown eyes, asking for food before he’d even learned if he could move yet. The only thing that changed was a slight flush on his sunken cheeks from the exercise. But—it wasn’t any different then it had been yesterday or the day before or any other day in five years. The future was the future, Sanji reminded himself, slowing down as he continued the routine. Vivi didn’t need to see him upset either. She was going to see enough people trying not to be upset without worrying her gorgeous head over him. If just one of them could give for a goddamn moment, it would do everyone a lot of good but—well they were who they were.

By the time he had finished, he was somewhat calmer, though badly in need of a cigarette. He tucked Luffy in again, muttering: “Sleep tight, shitty captain.” Before rising and giving Vivi the full force of his grin.

“I’m all yours, my lady. Anywhere you want to go, anything you want to do, I’m your humble servant knight for the rest of the afternoon~!” If his voice sounded a little high rather then manly, well it was a man’s pride to swoon with love over a beautiful woman. She gifted him with a smile of returned love and affection.

“I think brunch first,” Vivi said, standing and retrieving her coat from the back of the chair. Sanji moved quickly, but gracefully, to stand behind her and hold up the coat to help her pull it on her delicate yet strong shoulders. “Thank you, Mr. Sanji,” she said with a little amused headshake.

“It’s my pleasure! Where would you like to go? Just name the place!”

“Why don’t you choose?” she said. “You know what’s good around here better than I do.” She pulled on her slim white gloves which made her hands look dainty against the black of the coat. “And it’s my treat.”

“I couldn’t do that, Miss Vivi,” Sanji said. Princesses should never have to pay for the meal for their humble servant knights!

“I insist,” Vivi said. “After all, whats the point of being wealthy if you can’t spend it where you wish?”

“You’re as generous as you are beautiful,” he said, switching his hips a bit as he pulled on his own coat. As long as it made her happy, who was he to say no?



The Guilded Lily was a charming restaurant, tucked on the bottom floor of some otherwise nondescript office building. It specialized in quaint breakfasts and light lunches with a well lit atmosphere to match, all elegant glassware, white linen and a modest spray of fresh flowers in crystal vases on every table. More importantly, the head chef had been a protege of Carne’s and routinely did him proud—which meant that Sanji could enjoy his meal without feeling the need to march into the back and bitch at them about the food. Most importantly, he was welcome to get his meals free of charge.
The waiter recognized him in an instant and lead them to the best table in the house. Sanji politely shouldered in for the task of helping Vivi out of her coat and pulling her chair out for her before settling at his own seat.

“Rose Hip tea as usual, sir?” the waiter asked, turning over their glasses and pouring in fresh water that sparkled in the light.

“Yes, please.”

“And for you, madame? If I may, we’re well known for our Moroccan Coffee.”

“That sounds wonderful, thank you.”

“Very good. I’ll get that right out for you.” And with a somewhat elegant nod, he swanned off. Vivi watched him go for a moment before tilting her head to the side a bit, a smile pulling at one side of her mouth.

“Don’t you look like the cat who swallowed the canary.”

“Do I?” Sanji said with a grin. Vivi rested her chin on the back of her laced fingers and watched him.

“Mr. Sanji…”

“Yes, Miss Vivi?”

“Why do I have the feeling that this brunch will be miraculously free of charge?”

“It’s possible. Who wouldn’t throw themselves at your feet in adoration and offer free food?” They’d better not trip her up while they were doing it, though, or Sanji would kick their asses. Vivi seemed to want to say something, but fell silent as the waiter came back with their drinks, along with a crystal ashtray. Ah, perfect. Sanji reached for his pack and tapped it in a smooth gesture, pushing out a cigarette just far enough so that he could take it with his lips in a debonair gesture.

“O-oh,” Vivi said, and Sanji looked up to see she had a tight smile and the line of worry in her forehead again. “I’m sorry, but um…I’m feeling…a little allergic today… So…if it’s possible…?”

He blinked at her. Then realized.

“Of course.” He was tempted to ask her if he could at least hold it to have something to do with his hands, but that felt pathetic somehow so he tapped the cigarette back into place and slid the pack back in his pocket.

“You’re such a gentleman,” she said, and he felt like he could fly. Before he could proclaim his love and abject devotion to her, however, she spoke again. “So tell me about everyone. Tell me about you.It feels like it’s been ages and I’m horrible about keeping in touch.”

“Everyone’s as good as can be given the circumstances,” Sanji said. This was only the calm before the storm. When it hit, who knew who would be scattered? And where? True they had scattered before this, but Luffy had managed to pull them back together with his existence. But when he was gone… what would be left? He realized he was fiddling with the edge of the linen napkin and stopped himself, picking up his tea instead.

“I’m sure it will work out better than you expect,” Vivi said, lacking conviction but not sentiment. Trying to cheer him up, he realized. What a wonderfully noble heart she had.

“If Miss Vivi says so, how can it dare to be any different?”

The waiter came and took their order and when he was gone, Sanji said:

“Tell me about you. Busy as usual?”

“Moreso than ever, it seems. Especially since we’ve decided to branch out….”

Sanji listened to her talk about her company with growing affection. It was a place more than just the sum of its clothes, made so by the hard work of Vivi’s father and moreso by Vivi herself. They made clothes, opened doors to new and upcoming designers, founded charities, built schools in needy countries across the globe and was involved in plenty stateside community outreach programs. It was obvious she loved her work, from the way she talked about it and the spark in her eyes. Her life was spilling out in all directions, only mildly encumbered, it seemed, by Luffy’s current state. He didn’t resent her for it. Couldn’t and in fact was proud that she was blossoming so well having wrested the control of her business back from Crocodile and cleared the name of her father. They had helped in that. Luffy had helped in that. Somehow the idiot managed to change the lives of everyone he met, just by being his shitty wonderful self.

“Igaram keeps fretting and telling me I should take it easy with a little one on the way but…”

“Little one?” Sanji jerked and blinked up at her. “Miss Vivi, do you mean…?”

“Oh!” She put a hand to her mouth, then bit her lip and looked down at her plate. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry, Mr. Sanji.”

“For what? That’s wonderful news!” Ah~~ He can just imagine a little Vivi running around~! All soft faced and adorable.Holding out her little hands saying: ‘Cookies, Uncle Sanji!’ and of course how could he deny such a sweet request from an even sweeter face?! Vivi’s somber expression distracted him from his cute fantasy. She was biting her lip now. Was it…had he been wrong somehow?

“It is…wonderful news, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s wonderful news. I’m happy but…” She placed a hand on her belly, slightly rounded now, he noticed, under the fabric of her shirt. “It seems— inappropriate right now. Everyone will pretend to be happy— And I know they will be!” She said before Sanji could interrupt. “I know but— right now—it just feels like a…distraction.”

He wanted to say they needed the distraction, but it wasn’t true. Everyone was focused on Luffy right now. Holding their breath and waiting on the knife’s edge for one last miracle …or an end. He couldn’t say how Vivi’s news would be taken though he wished at least he could reassure her.

“Please don’t tell anyone,” she said, reaching across the table as if to touch his hand. “I will when…the time is right but…” she shook her head.

“Whatever you think is best, Princess,” he said, not quite reaching out to touch her hand. She smiled at him and seemed to relax around the shoulders and neck. One elegant hand rested on her stomach while she looked out the window. The view wasn’t very impressive, but Sanji had the feeling she was watching something beyond anything he could see.

“It’s strange how much things change, isn’t it?” she said after a while. “I thought I would die fighting in that arena. Was even prepared for it but— now everything is so bright and beautiful.” She looked at Sanji and her smile dimmed. “Almost everything.”

“Don’t worry about it so much, Miss Vivi,” Sanji said, taking a cigarette from his pocket not to light it but roll it between his fingers, to hold it just so. It irritated him a little that he needed that kind of comfort. Like a shitty security blanket but…maybe everyone had one of those, too. “But do me a favor…”

“Anything,” she said, her smile warming. He slowly thumbed the end of the cigarette, knocking off imaginary ashes before looking back at her.

“Tell Luffy at least.” Maybe some part of him could hear. Maybe somehow he would know. For someone who had done so much for so many, Luffy at least deserved to understand how happy the people he loved were. Vivi’s smile remained warm, even as her eyes seemed to mist over.

“I will, Sanji,” she said, taking his hand in her small soft one. “I promise.”


Past:

Rumor has it

Sanji switches back the yellow paisly curtain to look outside. Florida is an interesting state. Trees dripping with Spanish Moss stand heavy in the park on the other side of the street. Through the swaying fronds he can see glittering green water and a little picnic area with a grill. It’s a shitty looking grill, but it’ll be that much easier to make dinner.

“Can we go yet?” Luffy asks.

“Hold on, I’m almost done,” Usopp says. “But don’t rush me. This is important.”

Sanji lets the curtain fall back and blinks to let his eyes adjust to the gloom. Usopp and Luffy are lying side by side on their stomachs on the dingy carpet. Well ‘lying’ is a relative term because Luffy seems to shift from peering over Usopp’s shoulder as he makes his list, and rolling from Usopp’s side to the wall and back. Sanji lights a cigarette and leans back in the chair, trying to stem the irrational rush of jealousy. So Usopp has another friend now. So what? It’s good for him and anyway it isn’t as if Sanji’s going to get down there on the shitty floor. Sanji doesn’t really need friends. Not the same way Usopp does. He has the shitty crew at the Baratie and some girls who don’t seem to mind if he giggles at them from a distance— so what else does a man need? Nothing, that’s what.

And even if Sanji was the kind of guy to indulge in happy fun power of friendship bondingtimes, it isn’t as if there’s anyone to try with. Definitely not Roronoa who doesn’t speak more than two sentences at a time and seems to sleep the rest of it— like he’s doing now. Though in this case, Sanji can’t completely blame him since he did just drive nearly twenty-three hours straight to get from New Mexico to Florida with two days to spare. It’s a lot of freaking work for a guy who doesn’t even seem to care if they rescue the beautiful goddess Nami or not. Sanji just can’t get him. The point of the story is, he’s perfectly fine and not jealous at all.

“Annd done,” Usopp says, standing and holding out the list to Sanji. Sanji taps out a line of ash before taking the list, whistling low and peering at Usopp over it.

“You need this much?”

“Well I can cut off some of it, but I didn’t really bring any ammunition with me,” Usopp says, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I wanna be well prepared for when we rescue Nami.”

Sanji sighs.

“Alright. We’ll see what we can get. But I think we’re going to have to leave out the shitty grenade launcher.”

“Damn, and that’s my field of expertise, too. This one time I—”

“You sure you don’t need anything, Luffy?” Sanji asks, letting Usopp ramble on. Luffy nods, picking his nose.

“Nothing other than meat.”

“I’ll get your shitty meat already.” He leans back and regards Luffy thoughtfully. “You’re just going to rescue her with your bare fists then?”

“Dunno if I’m gonna.”

“Oi, pay attention will you,” Usopp says. “I’m just getting to the good part and of course you’re gonna. Don’t be stupid.”

Well whether he decides to or not, Sanji’s definitely gonna, and Usopp is probably gonna…hang back in the background and shoot off crappy little pinballs until he freaks out and hides in some bushes. But he’ll come through if Sanji’s in a pinch provided the don’t both die first.

“And Monsieur Mosshead?” Sanji says, pointing at the snoring green log on the other side of the room.

“If he fights he’s just gonna use his swords,” Luffy says. “So I guess he’s okay.” Well if it’s not okay it just means he’ll have to make another shopping trip, which is sort of irritating but Sanji cuts the guy some slack. If the guy still doesn’t want anything, well, it’s the less he’ll owe Zeff afterward.

“Alright, let’s go,” Sanji says and together they move out into the muggy Floridian heat and stand to wait at a rusting old bus stop, slapping at mosquitoes. Zeff really is going to kill him, Sanji knows. Since, aside from Usopp’s ammo and the climbing food bill, Sanji managed to leave all his shit behind with that Smoker guy. Not that Sanji’s going to go crazy on clothes since it’s only going to be a few days— but there’s no way he’s going to try and kick anyone’s ass without splurging on a steel toed something. He doesn’t hold out hope for steel plated. But Sanji will pay him back. Every last red cent of it. It’s not as if he plans on working anywhere else for the next twenty to thirty years after all.

Oh well, he’ll cross that shitty bridge when he comes to it. He smokes idly, listening to Usopp tell Luffy about the time he fought a 50 foot alligator barehanded. Some guys in orange jumpsuits wander by across the road and at first Sanji supposes they must be from some prison—but maybe not because they aren’t chained and there’s no one watching them. In fact they seem to be watching the hotel, as if looking for something.

The bus rumbles into view, hissing to a stop in front of them. Sanji lets Usopp go ahead of him to pay the fare from his manly little coin purse and notices the guys hurrying across the street and meeting two more on the other side. Huh.

“Sanji…” Usopp says. Oh right. Sanji stubs out his cigarette and climbs on the bus, gripping the overhead bar as he watches the guys through the window. They look like a small flock of nervous orange pigeons. Sanji cranes his neck as the bus starts rolling and he sees one of them pull something like a tube out of a long black bag. What…?

“…McDonalds,” Luffy says and Sanji’s attention snaps back to the bus where the strawhatted kid has just said the most insulting thing Sanji can think of. Usopp rolls his eyes, and mutters ‘oh boy’; both of which Sanji, due to years of friendship, decides to magnanimously ignore.

“Say again?” he says to Luffy.

“I’m hungry. We should go to McDonalds.”

“Don’t repeat it, stupid!” Usopp snaps.

“You shut up,” Sanji says. “And you” he jabs a finger in Luffy’s direction. “Listen to me. Do you know what they put in that food?”

“Shit?” Usopp says before Sanji can.

“Exactly,” Sanji says. “And you know what happens when you put shit in your body?”

“It goes to shit?” Usopp says. Sanji decides to ignore him especially since Luffy has gone from blinking to grinning.

“It goes to shit,” Sanji says. “So—”

“If you want to eat shit, do around someone else and don’t insult me by suggesting I watch you eat at some shitty McDonalds, bastard,” Usopp says. Sanji kicks his shin, lightly but enough to make the bastard hop. Luffy laughs.

“You guys are pretty funny! You must have been friends for a long time.”

“Since 7th Grade,” Usopp says, kicking Sanji back and then making a face as if he is trying not to wince. “Some bullies had trapped him in a ditch but I saved him with a patented Usoopp Kick trademark Usopp Pirates incorporated.”

“Woah, it has a trademark?” Luffy says, sounding more impressed than he had any right to be.

“Of course! Not to mention merchandise, cereal boxes, and a Monday morning cartoon.”

“That’s so cool! I want to see an Usopp Kick Cereal Box!”

“Part of a balanced breakfast!” Usopp says and Sanji rolls his eyes. Please.

The bus bumps along for a few more miles until Sanji spots a likely looking shopping center, reaching over Luffy’s head to pull the cord. Luffy’s stomach grumbles loudly as soon as they are back in the muggy pressing heat. It’s almost worse than a kitchen at full tilt.

“I’m hungry,” Luffy whines.

“I know give me a second,” Sanji mutters, squinting in the sunlight for somewhere cheap but at least step above overprocessed oversalted oversaturated shit. He spots a Subway tucked between a Radio Shack and a karate dojo with faded lettering. He’s not really hungry enough to join them, though, and wants to get this shopping over with so they can go back to the hotel and discuss Nami finding. That in mind, he opens his wallet and presses the last of his cash into Usopp’s hand.

“Go get some subway,” he says. “Make sure you have some shitty vegetables,” he calls to them as they start to walk off.

“Yes, mom!” Usopp calls over his shoulder and Sanji has to stop himself from kicking the longnose square in the ass. As long as he’s here they’re going to eat healthy whether they like it or not, damnit. Grumbling to himself, he hits a few stores, gathering a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Then pops outside for a smoke break, leaning against the concrete pillar outside of the Dollar Tree and absently watching the knot of people gather at the bus stop.

A bus rumbles up, the passengers spill out and one of them is his orange haired goddess. Sanji nearly drops his cigarette. Is it really her? Wearing a cute little short sleeved shirt and skirt just for him~? No. If it is really her, what is she doing here? Where is she going? He leans back against the pillar and watches her, it’s not difficult. Ah~ He just wants to melt in a puddle of sweet surrender at the sight of her lovely profile. But that’s not the point. He watches her disappear into a Starbucks and has to take a moment as his heart pangs unbearably. Starbucks~ No. Not his goddess~! That she be relegated to the shitty McDonalds equivalent of the coffee world~!

‘I’ll save you!’ he wants to proclaim to all and sundry. ‘Wait for your knight, sweet Nami!’
He manages to keep it tamped down, since it will be much better to tell her thus face to face. Resting on one knee as he offers her single enchanted flower. And she will take it~ A faint blush staining her demure cheeks as she whispers. ‘Sanji’

‘Yes, my sweet?’ he will say in a soft calm voice. And she will blush more and lean forward and then~~ And after~~ A little of this and a little of that. Sanji giggles to himself, sneezing as he accidentally snorts smoke through his nose in the process. Right. He stubs out the cigarette. White knight to the rescue!

He forms his plan as he makes his way along the sheltered sidewalk. He will go in as if he doesn’t notice her, to not come off as some shitty creepy stalker, then casually order some sadly shitty coffee—then casually look over and their eyes will meet~! Music will swell~! ‘Save me!’ she will cry and he will take her hand as they run in slow motion through a field of flowers, their laughter carrying on the wind~!

Sanji composes himself and straighten his tie—then sighs sadly as he remembers he isn’t wearing one— before striding ever so casually into the Starbucks. He tries not to look at the orange haired beauty who has sadly already ordered her drink. He was too late~~ Forgive him, sweet Nami~! He will make it up to her without fail~!

But for that the plan must continue~! Sanji orders the least shitty drink he can imagine, then casually slides over to the counter to wait for it. In this position he is ideally placed for accidentally catching her eye as he rocks back casually on his heels. He thinks he catches her watching him and his heart thrills as he looks at her but— she’s not watching at all. In fact she’s still looking down at her drink, rubbing a nail against the paper sleeve, her eyes hard and sad like they’d been in the picture. Sanji’s heart sinks.

Nami…

She does meet his gaze then and he feels a quick hard shock, but she looks away just as quickly, face becoming carefully neutral as she sips at her drink. The shitty barista puts his shitty drink on the shitty counter and Sanji mutters his thanks as he considers where to sit. She doesn’t need a white knight now. She needs something else. But how to approach her? For now, he decides, to sit himself facing away from her, but toward a window where he can just see her reflection in the milky light.
He has just about worked the nerve to go up to her when she straightens, as if seeing something out the window. It’s all Sanji can do not to turn around and watch with her. He can’t really see her expression, though, and it bothers him. Is she happy? Sad? The door opens and she starts to stand.

“Johnny…,” she says, her voice even more beautiful than her face even with the worry underlying it.

“It’s just a scratch,” says ‘Johnny’. It had better be, Sanji thinks. Or he’ll kick the guy’s ass for making Nami worry about him. Nami sits back down and two guys join her. One with a bald head who irritatingly blocks most of her face from his view…and who he assumes is Johnny—whose face is wrapped in bandages and has his right arm in a sling. This is something serious.

“Well…?” Nami says after a while, but there’s a question that’s not a question in her voice—as if she already knows the outcome. Johnny and the bald guy look at one another and one of them clears his throat.

“It’s just like you thought,” Johnny says. “The trade off isn’t happening.”

“Damnit.” Nami’s hand jerks into a fist—but she uncurls it and wraps it around her coffee cup as if trying to restrain herself. “Do you think he wants more money? I said 10 but…”

“I don’t think the money’s what he’s after,” says the bald guy. “I think…well from what we’ve gathered…I think he just wants you…”

Well he can’t have her, Sanji thinks, gripping his own cup tightly. She’s not his to have and who dares to lay claim on a goddess anyway? No one! And he’ll kick the ass of anyone who tries!

“Why me?” Nami asks. “Why now?”

“We couldn’t figure that out…” says the bald guy. He takes a breath then: “Nami….”

“Yosaku…” Johnny mutters, nudging him and shaking his head.

“What?” Nami says. “Don’t hold anything back. It’s not helping.”

“Well—er—,” Yosaku fumbles a bit and Sanji has the feeling, through long experience, that he’s trying to come up with a half truth or outright lie to cover whatever they don’t want to tell her. “It’s probably nothing but… We also heard that they had plans to lure in one of your friends.”

“Friends?”

“The circuit guys,” Yosaku says. Oh? Is that right? Sanji shifts his weight a little and slides his hands into his pockets, looking up at the ceiling. Why would whoever want Luffy or Roronoa?

“Why?” Nami says. “What would he want with them?”

“We don’t know,” Johnny says. “We couldn’t get that close.”

“Well they aren’t here so it doesn’t matter,” Nami says, leaning back. Another moment of silence. He wants to say something. Do something. But it isn’t the right time and one wrong word can ruin everything.

“We’ll get her for you,” Johnny finally says in a low voice. “On our pride as men, we will.”

“Even if just by a frog’s hair,” Yosaku adds. And Sanji can’t help but admire them. Bastards.

“No, don’t worry about it,” Nami says and Sanji gets up to amble over to where the straws are, trying to catch her expression out of the corner of his eye. A smile. One that nearly breaks his heart.

“I’ll just get him more money,” she continues, starting to rise herself and Sanji looks away, grabbing a straw and going back to his table.

“It’s alright,” Johnny says. “We want to. After all we owe you.”

“Come on, guys. I couldn’t just let you starve,” Nami says and Sanji knows right from that moment that he’ll love her forever. His orange haired beauty… His goddess…

“Anyway, I have to go,” she says, her voice bright. “I told the barista you’d pick up the tab. See you later!”

“Wait! We don’t have—” Johnny starts. The door shuts. “…money.”

Sanji has to duck his head. Ah~! She’s cute even when she’s cruelly cheap! How can a man resist? He stands, grabbing his shitty drink since it’s nutrition even if it’s shit and pushes Zeff’s card onto the counter.

“I’m buying the drink for the orange haired goddess,” he says. The scrawny barista gawks at him and then snickers a bit but stops under Sanji’s serious expression—as he damn well better, shitty punk.

“O-kay,” the barista says, swiping the card. Sanji takes his card back and the receipt— and makes his way to where Johnny and Yosaku are sitting, turning the chair around and sitting in it backwards.

“Hey,” he says, putting his drink on the table. From this close, he can tell that Johnny has been absolutely trashed, his face a mass of bruises. Yosaku, too, has bandaids plastered to his face and a tight bandage around his neck.

“Thanks for the help, bro” Yosaku says. “We just had enough for bus fare.”

“I didn’t do it for you shitheads,” Sanji says mildly, crossing his arms on the back of the chair.
“Listen, you know that she’s going to go to that place anyway, right? Probably tonight.” He can’t be sure…but he’s seen how hard her eyes can get. And a woman that would roll Roronoa and leave in the middle of the night to go help her sister wasn’t going to waste time bullshitting around.

They blink at him, Johnny going pale.

“What place?” Johnny asks.

“You know her?” Yosaku says. “How do—”

“Shut up,” Sanji says. “You guys want to help her?”

They nod. Sanji’s about to speak and hesitates. “Got a pen?” he asks. After a few moments of patting around, Yosaku is finally able to borrow a pen from the Barista and Sanji writes Hotel Pensacola on a napkin as well as their room number before sliding it over.

“Stop by at six. We’ll have some dinner, make some plans, and go from there.”
They look at the napkin and look at each other before turning their gazes back on him.

“How do we know we can trust you?” Johnny asks.

“You’ll just have to.” Sanji stands, and pulls back the chair enough so he can lightly kick it, spinning it on one leg until it faces the table again. “Six o’clock,” he says, heading for where he left his bags.

“Your coffee~” Yosaku says.

“Keep it,” Sanji says, winding the bags around his wrists. “Have a nice shitty day.” Then he heads out once again in the squinting sunlight to find the others.

——

“We are screwed,” Usopp says from where he is sitting on the edge of the bed, his face buried in his hands. “We are so screwed.”

Sanji leans against the wall and lights a cigarette. The room has been trashed. There are slices in the wall paper and across one of the mattresses, revealing its guts of spring and stuffing. There are tiny little darts everywhere, too, studding the walls and peppering the floor to crunch underfoot.
Sanji had forbid Luffy to come anywhere beyond the tiny hall where the bathroom was for fear of a hidden needle sliding up through the straw of his sandal. He is still standing in that hallway, his hat pulled low over his head, casting his face in shadow. Johnny and Yosaku crowd the far end of the hallway, shoulder to shoulder, backs to the closed door—and Roronoa is gone.

“Maybe he’s okay!” Usopp raises his head, his voice bright with a frantic edge. “Yeah, I mean Zoro’s pretty strong. Really strong. There’s no way he could be taken down that easily so he’ll be coming back any time now provided he doesn’t get lost.” He laughs and flaps a hand. “That dumb Zoro. We should just wait here for him.”

Maybe he is strong. He’s got more upper body strength than anyone has a right to and these cuts look purposeful. …But he was also exhausted from the trip and Sanji doesn’t like the look of these darts. He nudges one with a foot and splinters it. Cheating bastards. He shoves his hands in his pockets and leans his shoulders against the wall. Johnny and Yosaku are blinking at him, uncertain and Sanji shifts his gaze to Luffy.

“What’s our next move, Captain?”

He wants to say his next move is to go rescue the illustrious goddess. They’re probably in the same place, after all—but it’s possible Roronoa’s been taken somewhere different. Or maybe Usopp is right and he did escape so they need to wait for him to return—or go out searching to see if he isn’t lying bloody in a field somewhere. In his heart, Nami will always take priority, but he can’t forget that it was Roronoa who’d taken them this far to begin with. Shitty mosshead. Sanji doesn’t want to owe a debt of gratitude to someone like him!

In any case, Luffy is silent— but there is nothing of despair or fear about him. His shoulders are tense and his arms are folded. It’s a waiting kind of silence.

“We should call the police,” Usopp says, knocking his fist into his palm. “That’s right. And maybe we’ll get into a little trouble but if we’re saving the day then that’s okay. Yeah, haha we’ll probably be heroes!”

Sanji doubts that it will work like that at all.

“That won’t work, little bro,” Yosaku says.

“The police don’t stick their noses into Ceaser Clown's business.”

“Then neither should we!” Usopp says, throwing his hands in the air. “This is crazy. We’re going to get creamed! You’re D rank, Luffy. That’s next to nothing! Maybe if Zoro were here we’d stand a chance but without him we’re going to die!”

Luffy says nothing. Usopp stares at him and Sanji can practically see the gears turning in Usopp’s head as he tries to think of another way to get out of this. Finally Usopp folds his arms and nods sternly.

“No, you’re right, we should go,” he says. “Oh” he snaps his fingers. “We dropped that Hachi guy off by his car about noon right? He should be here any moment. We should definitely wait for him since he’ll have the most useful information and will be happy to help.”

“Unless he's the one that set the shitty trap,” Sanji says, flicking a line of ash into the ashtry. Usopp glances at him.

“Y-you think he did?”

Sanji shrugs. It’s about as possible as anything else and it’s something to consider anyway.

“Well then it’s best to stay here and wait for Zoro to come back,” Usopp says, folding his arms. Luffy raises his head.

“I’m going to go see Nami.”

And just like that Sanji feels a little better, settled, energized. A decision has been made and he’ll get to see his orange haired beauty again!

“Haven’t you been paying attention at all?!” Usopp says, chopping a hand through the air. “We’re not strong enough. We should stay here and wait. Didn’t you understand anything I said?”

“I understood,” Luffy says. “I came to see Nami and I’m going to.”

“And Roronoa?” Sanji says, surging forward to search the bedside drawer for the car keys, glass snapping underfoot. He finds the keys soon enough and curls them into his hand.

“I’ll see him after,” Luffy says.

“Well I’m staying here,” Usopp says. “I’m allergic to suicidal missions.”

“Okay,” Luffy says.

“Okay?” Usopp blinks at him. “What, just, ‘okay’?”

“Yeah.” Luffy shrugs one shoulder. “See you if we get back.” He starts for the doorway. Johnny and Yosaku back out first to let him through. Sanji pulls on a jacket and adjusts his tie. If he’s going to go rescue a goddess, he’s going to look good.

“Come on, Sanji,” Usopp says faintly as Sanji passes him. “This is stupid.”

Sanji wants to remind him that this is something his father (or so Usopp said) would do. That if he wants to be as strong as that guy, he should come. But if he can’t decide something like that on the strength of his own conviction, it just means his conviction isn’t strong enough.

“There’s sandwiches in the fridge if you get hungry,” Sanji tells him before heading out, but leaves the door open behind him. He wants Usopp to stay put and out of danger. This is serious and a bit suicidal— he’d much prefer his friend to live. On the other hand, if he doesn’t stand up now, when it’s most important, when will he?

The night is sultry and overcast. The humidity is oppressive and he can feel the sweat rise under his collar the moment he steps outside. Even the moths seem to fly limply around the street lamps. Johnny, Yosaku and Luffy are waiting by the car, the former two nervous and fidgety but Luffy looking off into some distance as if already preparing himself for what they’re going to do.

“So,” Sanji says, holding up the keys. “Which one of you bastards can drive?”

“Uh…” Johnny says and the two friends look at each other.Before either of them can speak, Sanji hears familiar footsteps clumping behind him.

“Geeze you di-didn’t le-let me finish. I said wa-wait till I get my s-stuff together. I, the Great Captain Usopp, won’t be left behind!”

“Is he okay?” Yosaku says, pointing.

“Oi,” Usopp grumbles, and Sanji hides a smirk behind his fingers as he lifts the cigarette to his lips.

“He’s fine,” Sanji says, then jingles the keys to get their attention back to the question at hand.
“Who’s driving?”

“Well uh…” Johnny says. “Neither of us.”

“We never got around to learning. Mostly we just use the bus,” Yosaku explains. Great. That’s just perfect. There’s no way they can just take a cab to that sort of place. But—well—desperate times…

“I guess it’s up to me,” he says, feeling his palms sweat.

“Are you nuts? You don’t even have a learners!” Usopp says.

“I just have to take the test. It’s fine. Besides it’s not like I haven’t driven before.”

“Really?” Usopp blinks at him.

“Yeah, Zeff lets me drive the catering truck.” Or let him. Once. For a few miles down a deserted dirt road. When he was eight. But he probably still remembers most of it.

“Let’s go!” Luffy says, cutting short any other protest. This is fine. It’s perfect. Sanji can handle this. He gets in the driver’s side, adjust the seat back, turns the mirrors ever so carefully and then…casually peers into the darkness at his feet.

“Now which one’s the break,” he mutters. Usopp moans from somewhere in the back seat.

“We’re all going to die.”



The car judders to a stop in a gravel semi-circle set off from the road. He can see glimpses of the floodlight lit building through the thick clumps of ceder trees. Sanji raises a cigarette to his lips and wastes five matches trying to light it before he curses and uses the built in car lighter.

“Oh god,” Usopp says from the back seat. “Are we alive?”

“Somehow,” Yosaku says weakly from the same. “Th-thanks, bro.”

“Yeah th-thanks,” Johnny wheezes.

Why are we thanking him?!” Usopp squeaks and Sanji wants to kick them all. They got here, didn’t they? In one piece and probably even a lot earlier than they’d thought they would. He wonders why there isn’t any Luffy flavored comment from the backseat driving peanut gallery and looks over. Luffy’s head is lolling on the seat and Sanji’s half afraid he might have broken his neck on the hair-pin turn back there, when he realizes Luffy is snoring.

“HOW COULD YOU SLEEP THROUGH THAT?!” Johnny, Yosaku and Usopp roar from the back seat, chopping their hands in the air.

“SHUT UP AND GET OUT OF THE CAR, ASSHOLES!” Sanji bellows back at them. Geeze. Here he was, driving them—and all they could do was complain. Luffy is still snoring. Sanji sighs and nudges his shoulder.

“Oi… Luffy…”

“Mm?” Luffy sits up, rubbing one eye.

“We’re here.”

“Okay!” Luffy says, jumping out of the car suddenly full of energy. That was a quick damn turn. Shitty strawhatted weirdo. He cuts the engine and tucks the keys in his pocket and slides out, telling himself that he’s going to definitely kick the ass of the next person he sees kissing the ground.

“Oi, hey, wait!” Usopp calls and Sanji looks up to see Luffy already charging across the road. That dumbass! He catches up to him and grabs the back of his vest.

“Idiot, we can’t just go charging in there,” Sanji says. “We made a plan on the way over here. Remember? The plan?”

“Hmmm.” Luffy picks his nose. “No.”

“Pay more attention, you idiot,” he says, giving Luffy a little shake. What is the point of even making plans if he’s not even going to listen to them?

“Good luck, guys,” Johnny says. Sanji looks back at the man, who is standing by the car. Because of his broken arm, it’s his job to guard it. Sanji digs the keys out of his pocket and tosses them to Johnny who catches them neatly.

“If things get really shitty,” Sanji says. “Get out of here. As fast as you can.”

“But make sure it’s really really shitty,” Usopp says. “No getting out of here before then!”

“Thanks, man,” Johnny says, tears streaming out from under his sunglasses.

Sanji pretends he doesn’t see them and joins the other three as they make their slow way through the trees, grabbing onto the back of Luffy’s vest every now and again when it looks like he’s going to go charging off. They come to an area just to the side of the rear entrance of waist high shrubs. Sanji ducks down and pulls Luffy down with them as he peers through the twisted branches. The entrance seems to be deserted. That can’t be right. Shouldn’t they have a sentry or something?

“Rubber band of doom!” Usopp’s shriek makes him jump and there is the snap of something hitting skin. Sanji scrambles over to where the longnose is standing, another rubber band poised. Yosaku, he notices, is halfway up a tree. There is a Fishman on the ground, this one huge and grey with splintery Barracuda teeth. There is also a succession of purpilish blue lumps on his head that were obviously not made by rubber bands. The fact that they are already starting to bruise means that this probably happened at least a short while ago.

“Congratulations, shitty longnose,” Sanji says in a low dry voice. “You killed it.”

“You think so?” Usopp says, arm still trembling. No he doesn’t actually because he can still see the guy breathe, his huge shoulders rising and falling. Someone walloped him damn good though.

“N-Nami’s definitely been here, bro,” Yosaku says, sliding down from the tree and brushing bark from his shirt. “That’s her handiwork.”

“What? Bludgeoning guys to death and dragging their corpses into the bushes?” Usopp says. Then after a pause. “Sounds about right.”

Ah~! Who could not love someone so carelessly brutal! Nami could knock him unconscious with her love at any time and he would gladly accept it as proof of her undying devotion~!

“…Are you okay, bro?” Yosaku asks.

“It’s a Sanji thing,” Usopp says. “By the way, where did Luffy go?”

Sanji whips around, love haze gone as he peers into the gloom that is minus one strawhatted idiot and plus one open back door.

Shit.

He lights a fresh cigarette with his last match and shakes it out.

“Okay, let’s go,” he says.

“We’ll be right behind you,” Yosaku says.

“Way behind you,” Usopp says.

Sanji rolls his eyes. Yosaku is one thing but he’s not going to give Usopp the chance to wuss out again.

“Come on, brave warrior,” he says, grabbing the strap of Usopp’s overalls and pulling him forward. “Get going.” And he gives him a light kick in the butt to get him stumbling forward.

“Alright, alright, okay,” Usopp says. “I was just testing you.”

Sanji says nothing to this, only takes a pull from his cigarette and starts forward. Usopp walks beside him, but falls behind a bit as they approach the open door, but it’s only by a few paces so Sanji lets it go. The inner hall is long and dark, slick white halls with what looks like doors placed sporadically. Luffy could have gone in any one of them— but Sani’s fairly certain he’d have left the door open if he did.

They are coming to a t-section, a dim needle of light spilling onto the floor. He keeps close to the wall, just in case anything is walking or standing down it, peers one way and sees nothing—peers the other way and— there is Luffy, standing at the end of the hall right before it opens into a larger room.

“Oi,” Sanji whispers, coming up behind him. Then stops. It’s a prison. No…that’s too good a word. It’s a large cage. People are inside it. Twenty, thirty maybe, with barely enough room to sit down. Beside it is another large cage and he can see two more on the opposite side of the room. What tugs at him most, though…

Nami…

She’s kneeling in front of the first cage as if her legs have given out, a hand over her mouth, oblivious to them it seems. Who are these people? How is she connected? None of that matters, though, as he sees Nami’s shoulder’s shake, her hand clenching into a fist against her mouth. He is going to kick the ass of whoever made her feel like this. They won’t have an ass left to sit down on. How the fuck dare they? He shoves his hands in his pockets and grinds his teeth to keep from charging forward—since, for one thing, it’s not as if she’d know him. He wishes Luffy would charge forward, do anything but just stand there.

“Nami…” a man says from inside the cage. A gnarled, scarred hand appears between the bars and slips over hers but the man’s shape remains a dim outline.

“It’s all right,” the man says. “Some of us escaped. We’re just scattered right now. You should go, too. Bring everyone together again… Then we’ll all think of a way to—”

“Liar,” she says, her voice harsh and wavering. “I saw the town… Why is he doing this. What does he want?”

“It doesn’t matter,” the man said with a warm sadness. “Get out of here. Go live your life.”
She shakes her head, pressing her knuckles to the back of her mouth.

“I can’t…” She sniffs and then pushes herself to her feet, dragging what seems to be a metal staff along with her, the sound of it scraping the floor filling the whole room. It’s incredible. Even when everything is so heavy… Sanji reminds himself to breathe and doesn’t take his eyes off her a moment, even when she knuckles what must be a tear away from them.

“I’ll just— I’ll— get more money somehow. That’s all. Don’t worry…” Her voice is like granite when she speaks. The prisoners are silent. The man’s hand clenches against the floor. As if they know there is no hope. But there is hope, Sanji wants to say. Your white knight is here! He wants to say. But that proclamation, as sincere as it is, only feels hollow in this room.

Nami turns toward them and stiffens.

“What are you doing here? How did you even get here?” she says, startled. Then her eyes narrow. “Who told you?”

“Bubble-mon,” Luffy says.

“Bubble—? Never mind.” Then she folds her arms, lifting her head and glaring at him like some kind of avenging angel. “Get out.”

“No.”

Of course the first word out of Luffy’s mouth would be no. Her expression falters, but she shores it right back up again. She crosses the distance and knocks off Luffy’s hat to pat his head.

“You’re a dedicated kid, I’ll give you that much. I’ve decided the five thousand dollars you gave me was enough. You guys are free agents now. Go on.”

“No.” He knocks her hand away and Sanji almost kicks his ass for being so damned callous but restrains himself because it’s important. Afterwards though…

“I want to free all these people first,” Luffy says, pulling the the hat back on. Sanji looks for Nami’s expression but is distracted by Usopp tugging at his sleeve. The longnose is gesturing to the hall and Sanji moves around him to hear better, after a moment recognizing the soft thud of footsteps.

“That’s nice, but it’s not that easy. Ceaser's not just going to let them go,” Nami says. Sanji peers around the corner and sees Barracuda man coming down the hall, filling it.

“Then I’ll kick his ass.”

“You’ll have to get through Arlong first!”

“So I’ll kick his ass, too.”

The Fishman spots him, glowers, picks up his pace. Sanji refuses to let him ruin this moment. He darts forward, jerking backward from the club like fist swinging in his direction to snap a side kick to the Fishman’s ribs, sending him thumping against the wall.

“You can’t just kick everyone’s ass!” Nami says.

“Yes I can,” Luffy says.

“Even if you can do all that this place will still be around.”

“So I’ll burn it down.”

The Fishman peels himself off and comes at him again. There’s no room to flip here so Sanji just kicks him rapidfire, belly, chest, throat, face, before switching and pivoting to hammer a hard kick right into his sternum to send him sprawling on the floor.

“Don’t be stupid,” Nami says, her voice hard. “You’ll die!”

“Or become a test subject,” the imprisoned man says unexpectedly. “You both should get out of here while you can.” A chorus of soft agreements follow, sounding like a paper ghosts from some loving past.

‘Help her…’

‘Get her out’

‘It’s okay, Nami.’

‘Please, Nami.’

It’s beautiful in a twisted tragic way and Sanji lights a cigarette, trying not to think about it too much. The Fishman sits up and Sanji plants a foot in his face, feeling the nose crunch under his shoe as he kicks him back down again.

“I’m not leaving you. Shut up,” Nami says. “Just…just leave, Luffy, okay? Get out. Go live your life, okay?”

Hearing this. All the pain. He wants everything to be okay. It feels like it should be somehow but he has to take her at her word that this Ceaser guy is no one to mess with. Who can say about Arlong but Sanji knows if this Fishman weren’t confined to a dark cramped hall it would be a much harder fight. Luffy may leave, but Sanji won’t. Even if it ends badly, there are some things worth dying for.

“No.” Luffy says.

“Why not?!”

“We have to see Venice,” Luffy says, voice soft. “And all those other places…”

There is quiet. Sanji eyes the Fishman, backing up to the corner so he can see what’s going on. Nami is clutching Luffy’s arm so hard that there is blood welling under her nails and running in rivulets down his skin. He remains still under her grip. Usopp, from where he’s pressed against the wall, seems like he wants to say something but Sanji holds up a hand. Not yet.

Come on, Luffy, he thinks at the back of that stupid head. Come on, shithead, you’re the only one left to do this.

“Do you know long I’ve fought them?” Nami says, her voice shaking but with anger as her fingers clench against Luffy’s arm. “Do you know how much I’ve lost? Don’t you understand?” She shakes his arm. Tears well in her hard eyes and begin to run down her face. Luffy is quiet as stone. Nami rasps into the silence.

“If I can’t win, what makes you think you can?”

He takes off his hat and puts it on her head, keeping his hand on the crown. There is a moment that Sanji can’t describe. Tye waiting whisper of a heartbeat. He finds himself leaning forward. When Luffy speaks his voice is still and calm in the quiet.

“I’m not fighting alone.”

Nami stares at him a long moment, then breathes a laugh resting her forehead against his.

“Idiot,” she murmurs. Sanji grins around his cigarette. Win for Luffy. Since the rescue plan is going to be underway, he trots back to the Fishman to see if the guy has anything useful on him. A walkie talkie. That’ll help. Keys. To what, Sanji isn’t sure but why not. And an important looking card. Security maybe? Taking that too. Thank you for your shitty business, he thinks at the guy.

“Yeah…and um…I’m here, too,” Usopp says as Sanji ducks back around the corner. “And I’ve gotten a lot stronger. In fact I’ve trained specifically to help you win. But uh…hey just out of curiosity, how many of those Fishmen are there?”

“About fifty,” Nami says dryly.

“F…fifty,” Usopp repeats.

“Mm. Plus armed guards.”

Usopp makes a tiny squeaky noise and Sanji can’t help but agree with him. Damn. It all sounds…pretty overwhelming. Shitty Fishmen. Sanji puts a cigarette in his mouth and pats around for a match before he realizes he’s out. Damnit. He folds his hands into his pockets and chews on filter.

“Okay! Let’s go kick Ceaserlong’s ass!” Luffy says and starts to charge off. Sanji starts forward to grab him, but Nami beats him to it, twisting a hand in his vest.

“You can’t just run off! Let me show you where to go…”

Nami looks over her shoulder at the cages again and Sanji realizes this is the moment to slide in and make himself known as the white knight of her dreams. It’s what he’s been preparing for all along.

“Don’t worry about your friends, sweet Nami,’ he says, wishing he had a flower to present her. Make do. “Your knight will take care of it all!” And here she is looking at him! Blinking at him! Her delicate eyebrows lifting! Her perfect mouth opening and saying:

“Who the hell are you?”

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The Remedy

March 2017

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