Sanji had been holed up in one of the guest quarters for days since the return from Whole Cake Island. He sat slumped against the wall next to the bed, desperate for sleep to take him. Desperate to escape his own mind that tore him a new one every time he so much as dared to think. Seeing the Vinsmokes again. The ravenous ripping open of old wounds still sat raw on chest. He could feel the heavy iron mask on his jaw and cheeks, as if it had never left. It was hard enough seeing his biological family again, but everything else, all of it, had taken its toll on him. He wanted to never leave this room. Never face the crew again. Never admit to the pain he had suffered or the pain he had inflicted on his crew.
Luffy was the most egregious. It had hurt more than anything his family had inflicted upon him in his childhood to look at his captain, who had saved him in more ways than one, and beat him to the edge of death. Now that it was all said and done, now that he was back on the Sunny, with his real family, he couldn’t even look in the mirror, much less face Luffy privately.
But despite how terrible he felt about Luffy, it was Nami's slap he still felt on his cheek. Stinging like a bad bug bite, he couldn’t help but touch it every so often. Just to check if it still burned the way it had the moment it happened. His feelings for and about Nami had always been complicated, but the idea that wormed its way into his brain since the end of the whole ordeal, that there was little he could do to deserve her forgiveness, was eating him from the inside.
Of course he flirted with her all the time. She was a beautiful woman, and it was no secret he was weak to beautiful women, but Nami had always been different. Nami glowed in a way no other woman had to him. She was capable, cheeky, smart and so much more. All the time they had spent together, she had always been his anchor for lack of a better metaphor. No matter how far he strayed, he would always come back to her. But these were things he had never spoken aloud, much less to Nami herself.
His constant womanizing, he had come to find, was a defense mechanism. It was easier to fawn over women in an obnoxious way than it was to be vulnerable with one he cared for. Things were simpler when he would have sex with a random beautiful woman on an island they were only docked at for a day, than when he was faced with intimacy of any kind with a person who knew him beneath the surface. Fear ruled over his personal life. Having never actually been in a serious relationship, he always kept anyone he wanted that intimacy with at arm's length. Nami especially. The idea of rejection, and even more so the idea of baring himself to her in a way that painted him as anything less than capable, was worse than death.
The only thing that jolted him out of his self resigned stupor was a ginger knock at the door. The small crew had more or less left him alone since they started for Wano. He would come out and make dinner but never eat it with them. He could often use his observation haki to hear Luffy complaining to Nami about why Sanji wouldn’t come out of the guest quarters, but for some reason he could never hear Nami’s response. Whatever she would say had obviously worked because Luffy hadn’t bothered him about it.
Sanji sighed heavily. It had been four days since they left Whole Cake Island, and despite never wanting to leave this den of self hatred, he didn’t want to stay alone for so long. It was starting to take a toll on his mental state. “Who is it?” he called.
“It’s Nami. Can I come in?” The muffled voice carried through the door and made Sanji’s heart skip a beat. Not knowing how to politely decline, he sat unmoving and quiet until hopefully she gave up and left. “I’m coming in, whether you like it or not,” she said, followed by the sound of the lock being picked.
Dammit, of course she can pick locks; she’s a fucking thief. Sanji cursed to himself.
The doorknob turned slowly, and it opened only a crack. A mess of orange hair and one single deep brown eye peeked through the crack. She peered at him briefly before opening the door only enough to squeeze her body through. Closing the door lightly enough so that no one without observation haki could know she had entered, Nami stood there for a good minute, just studying him. He averted his gaze, knowing he looked like shit right now. Not having slept or showered or changed his clothing for days.
“Why are you still wearing that?” she said, rather accusatory.
Sanji looked down to the mud stained and blood splattered cream colored tuxedo. He honestly hadn’t thought about it, but it was such a sad sight compounded with the idea of Nami seeing him like this that a dam in his head broke, and he began crying uncontrollably.
All the stress and relieving of long buried trauma welled up inside of him and came out in the form of loud, pained sobs. Unable to control it and more embarrassed than he had ever been, he hid his face in his knees, half expecting Nami to leave the room out of discomfort and pretend this had never happened. Almost immediately though, he felt a warm body at his side and fragile hands began stroking his hair.
Sanji didn’t look up, but he did continue sobbing. Tears staining his cheeks and neck and the knees of the tux. Nami began cooing and hugging his curled form, and it only made him want to cry harder. This was the most overwhelming situation he had ever been in, and as much as he wanted to stop crying, his body wouldn’t let him.
“You’re okay. You’re going to be okay.” Nami’s sweet and melodic voice repeated over and over again until Sanji was just hiccuping and breathing heavily. For a long while, even after he stopped crying, Sanji didn’t move. And neither did Nami. They sat in silence, Nami’s arms around him, hands playing with his hair and nuzzling his neck. This wasn’t at all what Sanji had wanted from this interaction, but somehow the shame had fizzled away and all he could focus on was that Nami was so close to him. Doing the most intimate and nonsexual things he had dreamed about every night since he met her. Finally after what must have been an hour, Sanji shifted his head up and looked at her. Really looked at her.
She looked different from the last time he had seen her on the ship. Older.
Her big, beautiful brown eyes had circles under them, and her hair was frizzy, and still in the bun she had been wearing at the wedding. She was in sweatpants and a tank top that scooped so low he could see the parting of her breasts. There was some acne flaring up around her mouth. But still, she was a vision of beauty in Sanji’s eyes.
Nami spoke first. “You look like crap.”
He laughed gruffly. “You too.”
“No shit, Sherlock. I haven’t showered since Bege’s and you’ve got me so stressed out I’m wearing sweatpants. Sweatpants!” she said, playfulness in her voice to show she wasn’t angry at his remark.
“Now enough about me. What is going on? Everyone’s worried about you...” She trailed off, studying his face. “I’m worried about you.” Sanji was quiet for a moment, trying to think of a way to communicate everything that was swirling around in his headspace like a whirlpool.
“It’s not anything I want to burden you with.” he replied, resting his head on his knees while still looking in her direction.
“Shut up. I’m your crewmate! I know we don’t tell each other everything all the time, but when something’s wrong...we’re there for each other.”
When he didn’t reply, Nami took it upon herself to probe him. “Is it the Vinsmokes? I don’t know the full extent of what they did to you, and you don’t have to tell me, but fuck them. They’re not your family. We are.” She said matter of factly. So much resolution her voice. It made Sanji smile genuinely for the first time in what felt like forever. “There’s that smile, I love so much.” she remarked.
“It’s not just them. I was trying to protect you, and Luffy, and everyone else, but I just fucked things up, and...I’m terrified that it’s never going to be the same.”
Sanji admitted. It felt weird to say something like that to her. It was the vulnerability he had avoided his entire life, and here he was, doing it with the person he loved most in the world.
Nami made a slight exasperated sound before reaching over and raising his chin with her finger. “That’s stupid. No offense.” she said, making that grin she usually wore when there was money to be made. “I know what it’s like. To think you have to protect people, and realizing you didn’t do it right. That you just made everyone’s life worse. But Sanji...you did the best you could at the time. No one’s going to hold it against you.” She began to run her hands through his hair again, and stroked the tip of his ear lightly. “Hell, Usopp literally challenged Luffy to a duel. You don’t see anyone treating him any differently now.”
She was right. He knew she was, though it still didn’t change the heaviness in his heart when he thought about it.
“Nami,” He said her name for the first time in the conversation, and she hummed happily in reply. “I love you.”
“I love you too, silly. You’re my crewmate!” She gave him a light noogie with her fist
“No...not like that.” He couldn’t believe he was saying this. It was everything he had avoided so ardently for so long, but here in her arms, the smell of her skin so close, the kind tone she was using when speaking to him, and the intimate way she was touching him. It seemed okay to say.
“Oh.” Nami replied, seeming more surprised than put off. Looking down, she studied the floorboards, thinking hard. Riding the burst of courage and vulnerability that had overcome him in the previous moment, Sanji decided to continue.
“I know I flirt with anything that moves, but it’s always been different with you. And if I’m being honest...this whole ordeal, it has made me rethink what I want, y’know, after we find the One Piece and Luffy is the Pirate King.” She looked at him, peering into his eyes to try to parse the words he was saying. Trying to study him and see if it was just his usual girl crazy shit, or if there was something more there. “I don’t want anyone else, Nami. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” He took a deep breath, squinting his eyes a bit. “I want to live in Cocoyashi, in Bellemere’s house with you. I want stupid his and her’s armchairs and the smell of tangerines permeating everything around us. I want Nojiko to come over and comment on how disgustingly in love with you I am. I want you, all of you, forever. And I want to look at you sixty years from now, when you’re old and covered in wrinkles and think, ‘she’s as beautiful as the day I met her.’”
Gasping for air after that soliloquy, he stared at Nami breathlessly. She was wearing a look of shock and amusement. “You’re being serious, aren’t you?” She said after a few moments.
“About everything. All of it.”
“You’ve felt this way for awhile?”
“Come here lover boy.” She said, pulling him into a kiss that they would remember as the first kiss of the rest of their lives.