Night watch sucked.
Well, to be honest, it was far from the worst duty to have on the ship. It was fairly distributed among all the crew members every week. And it wasn’t like you had to stay up the whole night. You just had to do your half and then switch off with the next person.
Unfortunately, this night Sanji was said second person. Meaning he had to stay up the rest of the night and then get straight to work preparing breakfast for the crew. But even that wasn’t that bad in the grand scheme of things. He’d done it so often he could probably do it in his sleep.
It was just stupidly cold this night. And, as usual, nothing was going on so Sanji was bored out of his mind.
Better bored than deal with some dumbasses trying to attack Sunny in the middle of the night though. Or be treated to another freak storm. Or attacked by some giant beast hiding beneath the waves. Or whatever the hell else the New World thought fit to come up with.
So, as it currently stood, night watch sucked.
Just as Sanji was considering counting the stars, again, to pass the last few hours of his shift, he heard the faint click of a door from below. Peeking through the window of the crow’s nest, he spotted Chopper walking on the lawn, heading in his direction.
“You’re up early,” Sanji greeted the young doctor once he made it up to the crow’s nest, “Something up?”
“Actually, I couldn’t sleep at all,” Chopper sighed as he hopped up onto the bench.
“Wait, seriously? You’ve been up this whole time???”
“Yeah,” Chopper let out a yawn, “I’m soooo tired but I just can’t sleep! So I thought I could keep you company.”
Sanji didn’t mind the company but he hated the idea of Chopper losing a whole night of sleep. None of them could afford to be caught exhausted at the wrong time, especially not on this half of the Grand Line.
“Maybe something warm will help you doze off,” Sanji suggested as he stood up, “Think you can keep an eye on things for a few minutes while I make you something?”
“Yeah, you can count on me, Sanji!” Chopper sat up straight, saluting the cook.
A large mug of warm milk with a dollop of honey later, Chopper was still seated beside Sanji in the crow’s nest.
“I really thought that would work,” Chopper muttered as he sipped the last few drops of the drink.
“Give it some time to kick in,” Sanji chuckled, pointing at the milk mustache on the reindeer’s snout, which Chopper wiped off with his hoof, “Maybe try walking around a little?”
“I did that before! I also tried reading some books, counting sheep, breathing exercises. Nothing worked!”
“Yeesh,” Sanji grimaced empathetically. He’d had more sleepless nights than he could count, “Anything else you do when you can’t sleep?”
Chopper kicked out his legs as he thought it over.
“Oh!” his eyes shone as he looked up at Sanji, “Back on Drum, if I was having a really hard time sleeping, I’d sometimes sneak into a nearby town. There was this one house near the edge of the forest where this lady sung lullabies to her kids every night.”
“…Lullabies, huh?” Sanji murmured, taking a cigarette out of one pocket and digging through another one for his lighter.
“Uh-huh!” Chopper continued as Sanji lit up the cigarette, scooching over on the bench so as not to bother Chopper with the smoke, “Her lullabies always did the trick! But Doctorine said I wasn’t allowed to go anymore since I always fell asleep in the forest and she got tired of having to pick me up.”
“I think my favorite lullaby was this one about a little girl lost in the mountains during a really bad blizzard,” Chopper went on cheerfully as Sanji stared at the floor, “And she meets this scary bear who turns out to be really nice and helps her find her way back home. Oh! And there’s another about this snow fairy who puts on this pretty light show for a town as thanks for saving her!”
Sanji let out a small hum to let Chopper know he was still listening, slowly blowing a few smoke rings.
“What about you, Sanji?”
“Hmm?” the cook looked over at the sound of his name.
“Do you have any favorite lullabies?” Chopper asked, leaning over with curiosity shining in his eyes.
Thinking about lullabies meant thinking about the early years of his childhood, in the North Blue. And Sanji would rather keep as many memories as possible of the northern sea buried deep down, in the farthest corners of his mind. He’d already had more than enough reminders of that time after the mess that was Whole Cake Island.
Sanji was shaken from his thoughts at the soft apology. Chopper stared down at his empty mug, a troubled expression on his face.
That’s right, Chopper was one of the few who were there at Whole Cake Island. None of the crew who came to rescue Sanji ever got the full picture of his past, but they had all gotten enough of glimpse of the Vinsmoke family to get an idea. Chopper had probably figured that something as gentle and loving as a lullaby was probably a foreign concept for Sanji.
“One,” Sanji said after a moment. He scratched at the back of his head, feeling the faintest trace of a phantom weight on him as anxiety bubbled in his stomach, “There’s one lullaby I liked. The Sea Moon.”
As if “liked” was all he could say about what that song meant to him.
“The Sea Moon,” Chopper repeated, eyes twinkling once more, “That’s such a pretty name! What’s it about?”
“Ah well,” Sanji couldn’t think of any way to put it lightly so the blunt truth would have to do, “It’s about those who died at sea and hoping they can rest in peace.”
Sanji nearly laughed at how quickly poor Chopper’s expression morphed from eagerness to horror.
“It’s about people who died?!” Chopper shrieked so loudly it wouldn’t be a surprise if he woke up everyone else on the ship, “Why would anyone make a lullaby about that?!”
Yeah, compared to helpful mountain bears and friendly snow fairies, The Sea Moon was something else. It was more or less in line with how some of the other lullabies he’d heard about were like. One about a mysterious figure lurking in the window, waiting to see if you fell asleep. Another about beasts who would grab you from your room and steal you into the forest if you didn’t go to bed on time.
Maybe the North Blue was just like that…
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Sanji insisted, scratching the back of his head a little harder as the phantom weight increased ever so slightly before forcing his hand down onto the bench, trying to distract himself with a long drag of his cigarette, “Like I said, it’s a song wishing for their peace. For the moon to look out for their souls and let them rest until the day their loved ones can see them again.”
“Huh…” Chopper settled down a little, “I guess it sounds nice when you put it that way. Do you remember how it goes?”
Did he remember? How could he not?
But he never purposefully sung it where others could hear him, at risk of inviting questions he didn’t want to answer. But then again, perhaps the others would have never asked. It was something he had found as surprising as it was endearing about the Straw Hat Pirates back when he first joined. That whoever you were once upon a time didn’t matter as much as who you were in the present. That none of them talked much about their pasts and no one felt the need to ask. Hell, Zoro really could be a marimo who mysteriously sprouted limbs one day for all that no one knew about that asshole’s background!
The past didn’t matter, and that was more than okay for someone like him, who wanted to remember as little of it as possible. But…
Damn it, he’d gone quiet for too long.
“It’s nothing,” he hoped the smile he directed at Chopper was normal enough, “I was just thinking…”
“You don’t have to sing it,” Chopper placed a hoof on his arm, looking up at his face with a furrowed brow. Chopper’s eyes searched his face for any trace that something was off, probably spotting more than a few signs at this point. Their crew had one hell of a doctor, after all, “I was just curious.”
Maybe it was because night watch still sucked. Maybe it was because he was bored to tears. Maybe it was because it was Chopper asking, because Chopper had been there at Whole Cake Island and it was easier to open up to him than the others who weren’t there. Maybe it was just some stupid whim.
Or maybe it was because it had been a while…
“This stays between us,” Sanji told him after he made sure all the windows were shut and the door to the crow’s nest was closed tight.
The cook couldn’t help but grin at how vigorously Chopper nodded his head, bouncing in place as Sanji took a deep breath and started the song.
Chopper never did tell Sanji if The Sea Moon was scary or not. He fell asleep halfway through, Sanji whispering the last part as he found a spare blanket to place on him.
Sanji should have seen it coming. It was bound to happen eventually, because from the moment he was born fate was determined to always get the last laugh on him.
The entire crew was out on Sunny’s deck, enjoying a rare, gorgeous meteor shower. Countless meteors streaked through the skies, past twinkling stars and the bright full moon. Sanji wasn’t sure how the topic was brought up, but as the meteor shower died down and it got later everyone started talking about the lullabies they’d grown up with.
Luffy, Zoro, and Franky didn’t know much about lullabies, Luffy and Zoro being able to sleep at the drop of a hat while Franky just never had anyone sing one for him and didn’t seem to care one way or the other. Nami laughed fondly as she described how Bell-mère’s take on lullabies was softly singing the energetic training songs from her time in the Marines. Usopp and Chopper excitedly described countless lullabies from their home islands, Chopper describing more tales about helpful creatures while the lullabies Usopp knew were either about heroes or grateful forest animals. Jinbe wasn’t familiar with many lullabies from Fishman Island but managed to recall a few about the dangers of the sea and not swimming too far from home. Most of the lullabies Brook knew were from a time before any of them were born. Robin spent more time smiling softly as she took in the stories than she did participating in the conversation.
Sanji managed to avoid having to contribute, Usopp and Chopper doing most of the talking for the group. He could see the nodding heads and drooping eyes and knew everyone would soon call it a night and they could go back to sleep with Sanji having never said a word.
If anyone asked why he was feeling so reluctant, he wouldn’t be able to say for certain. Maybe it was because he had already spent so much of his life carefully hiding and deflecting that he couldn’t get used to the idea that it wasn’t necessary, that it had stopped being necessary a long time ago. Maybe it was because there were certain things he just wanted to keep to himself, regardless of how much he trusted the crew and would give anything for them.
Or maybe that little boy from the North Blue who learned to fear vulnerability, that all it got you was pain, pain, pain, had a tighter hold on him than he had ever realized, had ever wanted to admit.
But he was confident he could escape this conversation just fine. And then…
“I hear the North Blue is known for interesting lullabies,” Robin said, “Many of them are famous for dark lyrics that threaten the listener with harm if they don’t fall asleep right away.”
Sanji only ever cursed Robin’s beautiful hunger for knowledge a handful of times. This was one of them.
“Seriously???” Nami winced at the mere idea. Sanji carefully checked how much of the cigarette in his mouth was left, patting his pocket to make sure his pack was still there, “How would you fall asleep after being told a monster’s gonna get you? I’d definitely prefer those dumb Marine training songs over a lullaby like that.”
“The most famous lullaby from the North Blue is called The Sea Moon,” Brook added to the conversation as Sanji internally cursed every deity he could think of and made up a couple extras for all the curses he had left, “I only ever heard it once but what a haunting melody it was! From what I recall, it was written to be sung during funerals for those lost at sea.”
“And they turned that into a lullaby for kids?!” Usopp shuddered, “The hell are those North Blue folks made of?!”
The phantom weight was back on Sanji’s head, his stomach churned. He shouldn’t be reacting this bad, it’s just a stupid talk about some stupid lullabies. It wasn’t a big deal. It shouldn’t be a big deal.
“It’s not that strange for some lullabies to be darker in nature,” Jinbe stated, crossing his arms and closing his eyes, “Why, when I was young, one of the most popular lullabies was about a pair of siblings who ran away from home to go on an adventure. They got into an argument about which way to go and were swept away in the confusing currents of the sea.”
“That’s no lullaby, that’s a horror story,” Usopp moaned as he wrapped his arms around himself.
“Wait, that’s a lullaby?” Franky asked before bursting out laughing, “Huh, guess I knew one after all! Tom-san sang that one to me and old Iceberg after we got into a nasty argument. I just thought he was punishing us by giving us nightmares!”
“No fair!!!” Luffy let out a whine, “How come the North Blue and Fishman Island get all the creepy cool songs?”
It’s fine, Sanji just had to play it cool. The others may all know he was from the North Blue but that didn’t mean he would know the lullaby. He could still get away.
“I don’t think The Sea Moon is creepy though,” Chopper piped up, “I think it’s a pretty song!”
“Huh? Where’d you hear it, Chopper?” Nami asked.
“When Sanji sang it!”
“What part of ‘this stays between us’ didn’t you get?!” Sanji groaned into his hands, Chopper letting out a squeak and covering his mouth with his hooves as he looked over at Sanji apologetically.
The way the others all snapped their heads in his direction at once would have been hilarious if Sanji wasn’t too busy wishing for the floor to collapse beneath him.
“I wanna hear the moon song too!” Luffy cried out excitedly, “Sanji, sing it now!”
“Forget it!” Sanji snapped, shoving his hands into his pockets to hold back on scratching his head, “It was a one time only thing, I’m not singing it again.”
“Stingy! How come Chopper gets special treatment?” Luffy frowned and pointed a finger at the cook, “You gotta sing it! Captain’s orders!”
“You can’t keep saying ‘captain’s orders’ to get your way, dumbass!”
“But if it’s as pretty as Chopper says it is, I wanna hear it too!” Nami said, pouting in Sanji’s direction and fluttering her eyelashes.
“You know I’d do anything for you, my darling Nami-san!” Sanji injected the words with so much pep even he wanted to cringe over it, “B-but, really, I don’t think I-”
“It would be wonderful to hear it,” Robin’s voice cut him off, “I’ve heard it’s as beautiful as it is sad, but I’ve never had the chance to hear it before.”
“Robin-chan, my sweet,” Sanji hoped his smile was still passable at this point, it felt like his stomach was burning him. He freed a hand from his pocket to rub at the back of head, “I agree, it’s a beautiful song, and I’d be happy to find a recording of it for you-”
Zoro had been thankfully, blissfully, silent until this point. Sanji had initially been torn between hoping it’d stay that way and wishing the swordsman would say something to give Sanji an excuse to let out some steam. But, with all the eager expressions and pushy words being directed Sanji’s way, maybe it’d be better for him if Zoro kept his mouth shut.
“Curly-brows is probably just tone deaf,” Zoro said as he pointed a thumb over at the cook, “He’s doing us a favor, not making our ears bleed.”
“Who asked for your shitty opinion, moss-for-brains?!” Sanji yelled at Zoro as he kicked at the bastard, who pulled out a blade to block the blow, the pair scowling at each other.
“That’s enough now,” Jinbe called out to them, “If Sanji-kun doesn’t want to sing then we shouldn’t be pushing him.”
“But I wanna hear the creepy moon song,” Luffy replied, cheeks puffed out to show his displeasure.
“It’s not creepy!” Sanji shoved Zoro away with his heel as he turned to face the others, “Maybe those lullabies from the other seas are the real weird ones, ever think about that?!”
His words had more bite to them than he meant, Sanji cursing under his breath at the way the others quieted down at his shout. Fucking hell, they’d all been having a great time before this. He was overreacting to nothing…
But it wasn’t a weird North Blue song, some odd old lullaby. Not for Sanji…
“I may have only heard it once, but I could never forget such a beautiful song,” Brook’s voice cut through the silence as he reached out to grab his violin. He turned towards Sanji, holding up his instrument, “If Sanji-san doesn’t mind, I’d be happy to perform it instead.”
There it was. The out Sanji had been waiting for.
It would be a no-brainer to leave it to Brook. The skeleton was their musician, between his voice and his violin he’d be able to give The Sea Moon everything it deserved. Much more than Sanji’s untrained voice ever could, even if he’d sung that song over and over again for years and years, knew it as well as he knew that worn old book about the All Blue from cover to cover.
The others were clearly backing off, some sending apologetic glances his way as they waited for him to say something. Luffy was the odd one out, as usual. While he no longer looked disappointed, he was just staring at Sanji, not saying a single thing.
You’d think after all these years Sanji would be used to Luffy’s stares, the way they got across so much without the rubbery captain having to say a word…
All he had to was give his permission and Brook would sing the song for them. Sanji could leave and everyone would probably forget this shit tomorrow, or at least most of them would have the decency to pretend.
“…Ugh, alright already!” Sanji ruffled up his hair with both hands before placing them on his hips as he stared down the rest of the crew, “Clean out your ears and listen good! I’m only gonna do this one time, and one time only!!!”
Everyone immediately took a seat on Sunny’s lawn, Brook laughing softly as he put away his violin before joining the others.
Shit, he really was gonna do this, wasn’t he? He put out his cigarette as he glanced up at the sky.
The meteor shower had long since stopped. But the stars shone on and the moon was as beautiful as ever, up in the clear dark sky.
It just had to be the perfect kind of night for this damn lullaby, didn’t it?
Sanji closed his eyes. He remembered gentle hands, a voice soft as feathers, heartfelt promises of love and protection.
For those that sleep on the seas
The lullaby is The Sea Moon
The bedsheet of waves that project the night sky
Make the stars wave about
And twinkle more than the sky
It was a beautiful night. The skies were clear of any clouds, the moon was bright and round, surrounded by hundreds of twinkling stars.
But Sanji paid no attention to any of it, instead concentrating on sneaking through the streets to the building his mother stayed in. He knew there were a couple guards following him ever since he left the palace, but they hadn’t tried to stop him yet. And Sanji didn’t want to risk catching anyone else’s attention while shooing them.
He finally made it to the medical ward and tiptoed through the halls, trying to remember the path he took the last time he came to see his mother. But in the dark every hallway and door looked alike.
Too big, too quiet…
Sanji gasped and nearly crashed into a nearby table in his panic. The glow of a lantern washed over him, revealing one of the nurses who watched over his mother.
“What are you doing here so late?” she asked as she approached him.
“C-can I see Mom?” Sanji whispered, pulling his coat tighter around him.
“Come now, don’t you think it’s too late to bother the queen?” she placed a gentle but firm hand on his shoulder and began to lead him away.
Sanji and Époni turned in the direction of the voice to see Vinsmoke Sora peeking her head out from a nearby room.
“Sanji!” Sora called out in surprise, smiling broadly, “I thought I heard your voice. Did you come to see me?”
Sanji nodded bashfully as he clutched at the edge of his coat. Sora chuckled at the gesture before turning to Époni.
“It’s alright, he can stay for a little bit,” she told the nurse.
“But it’s so late, and-”
“I’ll have a guard escort him back later,” Sora cut off the response, grinning as she put a finger to her lips, “Make sure to keep this a secret, okay?”
Époni sighed as she left the pair to their own devices, Sora squatting down and holding out her arms to her son. Sanji grinned as he ran to her, throwing his arms around her neck and burying his face in her shoulder as she picked him up and walked down the hall towards a small room near the back of the medical ward.
“I think it’s a lovely night for a song, don’t you?”
In this small room bathed in soft moonlight sat a single piano. Something Sora had brought in after she had read through every book in the building twice and wanted something new to occupy her time. Sora took a seat at the bench, Sanji seated on her lap, and she placed her fingers on the keys, not playing just yet.
“Were your brothers bullying you again?” she asked, only to earn a small shake of the head in return.
“I had a nightmare,” Sanji muttered, keeping his gaze down, “So I wanted to see you. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize for coming to see me, sweetheart,” Sora leaned down to kiss the top of Sanji’s head, “I wish I could see you, see all of you, so much more. But enough about that. Can you tell me what your nightmare was about?”
Sanji’s nightmares were about so many things. Oftentimes things he was still too young to fully understand.
Why couldn’t he keep up with his siblings? Why did his father look at him so strangely? Why did his brothers hit him, laugh at him and mock him? Why did Reiju laugh at him sometimes but bandage him up other times? What did it mean to want to hide away from his family? Why was kindness a weakness?
What did it mean to want to disappear, to go somewhere far away? Somewhere beyond Germa Kingdom, beyond the North Blue, beyond the horizon. Far away from here…
“I don’t know,” was all Sanji could respond with.
He knew better than to let his brothers know about his nightmares, it’d just be one more thing for them to bully him over. The last time he had a nightmare Reiju had let him stay in her room, kicking him out the next morning long before anyone else had woken up and swearing she’d never do it again, that she couldn’t believe she risked it even one time. And while he wasn’t sure why yet, he knew not to go to his father over something as childish as bad dreams. He knew his mother was sick, that she needed to sleep, but she was the only one left he could think of.
“That’s alright,” Sora said as she slowly let her fingers dance across the keys of the piano, a familiar melody echoing in the room.
“The pretty song!” he cried as he watched his mother’s fingers.
“Have I never told you what this song is called, Sanji? It’s called The Sea Moon.”
“The Sea Moon?” Sanji repeated, trying to recall where he’d heard that name, “…Mom, isn’t that the creepy lullaby?”
“And where’d you hear that?” Sora asked, trying to tone down the amusement in her voice.
“I heard one of the maids talk about it. She said she hated when her mom sang it to her when she was little because it was about dead people.”
“Well, that’s simplifying things a little,” Sora giggled as she played on, “…You know, the song has lyrics. And I think if you hear them, you’ll see the song is not as scary as you think.”
“Really?” Sanji tilted his head back to stare up at his mother.
“Sure. Shall I teach you?”
“Yeah!” Sanji grinned widely as Sora started the song over and began to sing.
In another three months she would no longer have the strength to pick him up anymore. And a year after that her condition would deteriorate to the point that she could never leave her bed unassisted again. The piano would be left to gather dust, the melody of The Sea Moon never ringing through the halls again.
But for now, Sora could still do something as little as this for the gentle boy on her lap, the sole proof that her sacrifice wouldn’t be meaningless.
For those that sleep on the seas
The lullaby is The Sea Moon
The moon bleeds into each one
To those that they can't meet
And guides them to their smiles
Without a clock, Sanji had to learn other ways to tell what time it was in that windowless cell of his.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner. He was certain it was always the same time every day. Like clockwork.
If Ichiji, Niji, and Yonji came to beat him up, it was early in the evening. When Reiju showed up to treat his wounds, it meant at least half an hour had passed since she didn’t want to be caught.
If he asked the guards who delivered his meals what time it was, they’d probably tell him. But, other than cooking utensils and books, he didn’t want anything from Germa anymore.
Other than his freedom, he supposed. But he wasn’t sure how to seek it out, trapped in a place where the days all bled together. Where he only knew how long he’d been imprisoned because his brothers enjoyed reminding him how unwanted a failure like him was.
He didn’t want to think of his mother during his imprisonment. It only made his heart ache so unbearably he feared he’d die. And yet he still wished desperately. For her hugs and kisses, for her voice, for her comfort.
He couldn’t even see her grave. He didn’t have a picture.
…But he still had The Sea Moon.
He overheard the guards whisper that he must’ve lost his mind, singing that haunting lullaby over and over again on those days he wanted his mother the most. But, if anything, Sanji thought he only didn’t lose his mind over the months in that lonely cell thanks to that song grounding him. He didn’t care what anyone had to say, he didn’t care what they thought of him. He was already worthless in their eyes, what did it matter if they thought he went mad too?
One day his brothers caught him singing and were extra vicious in their beating.
“He really did lose it!” Yonji cackled, kicking Sanji’s stomach one last time before leaving the cell.
“Maybe that’s our fault?” Ichiji suggested, a cruel smirk on his face, “Must’ve hit his head one too many times!”
“Nah, he was already broken to begin with,” Niji snickered.
Sanji was quieter than usual when Reiju came by to wrap him up, but his sister didn’t question it. Just as she was about to leave, Sanji finally spoke.
“Did Mom ever sing The Sea Moon to you?”
“…I told you to stop asking me useless stuff, didn’t I?”
Sea Moon, see you
If I can see you again
Sea Moon, see you
After I make my dream come true
Take those men who do not fear battles
And quietly put them to sleep...
Good night, good night...
Even while he was locked away from people, from light, he never wanted for food. Attention, love, and freedom sure. But never food. Judge wanted nothing to do with him and yet didn’t let him starve.
Sanji wasn’t prepared for life on the seas. He hadn’t learned to value food.
But on that barren rock in the middle of the ocean with dwindling supplies, no one in sight for weeks and weeks, Sanji was taught that precious lesson in the harshest way imaginable.
Sometimes it hurt, sometimes he felt nothing at all. Sometimes he put off eating for the meager hope that the last bits of food would last a little longer.
Sometimes he felt a weight on his head.
After he left the Germa Kingdom behind, it would happen once in a while. Someone asked too many questions, he didn’t know how to do something simple, he messed up, and so on and so forth.
Most of the time it would be the faintest of pressures, gradually building until Sanji couldn’t help but pat his head to make sure there really was nothing there. It was why he started his habit of rubbing his head or ruffling his hair, to try and distract himself, to remind himself that there was nothing, it was all in his head.
On the bad days, he could hear the click of a lock. On the worst days, he couldn’t breathe, his vision was narrowed, as if he was looking through the slot of that damn iron mask again.
On those days he forced his hands to busy themselves with other things, fearing he’d scratch his scalp bloody if he couldn’t control himself. He would spend more time searching for reflections, making sure the mask wasn’t there.
But on the rock, with his stomach growling pitifully, as he heard the click in his ear, he couldn’t find the strength to do anything. For one terrible moment he thought it’d be better if he opened his eyes and that mask was on, and he was surrounded by that cell again.
At least it meant he knew he would eat again.
The moon was bright that night, a welcome change from the series of storms he had to put up with for the past week. But light couldn’t fill his stomach, wasn’t bringing rescue any closer.
But it looked as pretty as it did the night his mother taught him that lullaby.
As he laid down, more than used to the way the rocks dug into his back, he wondered if his mother would be upset if he saw her so soon.
“But you’ve come so far,” he could imagine her saying, “Don’t waste your efforts or Reiju’s.”
But he was tired. No one was coming to this random rock in the middle of nowhere. He wondered if the geezer was still alive.
“…What about the All Blue?”
The All Blue. That magical ocean with fish from around the world.
“Doesn’t it exist?”
Of course it did! So what if no one else had found it yet? So what if people called it a fairytale? None of them searched hard enough, that’s all!
“Yes, you’ll find that ocean one day, won’t you?”
He wanted that more than anything.
“Then you can’t join me yet. You have to find that dream. It’s waiting for you, somewhere on this vast sea. You can’t join me before you find it.”
Was she okay with waiting?
“The longer you take, the happier I’ll be!”
Yeah. Truth be told, as much as he missed her, he didn’t want to see her just yet either.
“Then open your eyes, sweetheart.”
…He hadn’t even realized he closed them. It was still night, so he probably wasn’t out that long. At least the phantom weight on his head was gone. The moon was still there.
His voice was too dry and scratchy, but Sanji still sang The Sea Moon. He remembered people saying it used to be a funeral song, meant to send off those lost at sea.
He thought of the Orbit. He spent two years on the ship. Those cooks loved to tease him and laughed at his dream.
But they took him in. They found him, a ragged stowaway sobbing as he begged for a job, and didn’t drop him off at the nearest orphanage. He had a bed, he had food, he had people who looked out for him.
It was only for a short while, but it was home, wasn’t it?
For the first and only time, Sanji sung the lullaby with its original purpose in mind.
For those that sleep on the seas
The lullaby is The Sea Moon
On those shoulders that don't know peace
A gentle blanket…
Drape it over them…
“The Sea Moon, huh?” Zeff had said a few days after they had been rescued from the rock, while they were recuperating from their ordeal on a merchant ship.
Sanji had frozen in place, mind racing with what he could and should say. He didn’t realize Zeff had heard him that night. It shouldn’t be so surprising that a pirate like the geezer, who’s experienced more than Sanji could ever imagine, would have heard of the song. But did he know where it was from? Would he ask? And if he did, what should Sanji say?
His fingers twitched with a need to sink themselves into his hair.
And yet Zeff dropped the topic just as easily as he brought it up, switching to talking about how the two of them were going to leave the merchant ship before someone recognized Zeff’s face.
Of course it’d be meaningless to him. To Zeff, the song was just some strange lullaby from the north. All it would suggest was that Sanji came from there, and even that didn’t need to be the case. Maybe Sanji had just heard it in passing and taken a liking to it. Anyone else would probably reach the same conclusion. There was no need to overreact.
But Sanji took more care with singing the song from then on, only doing so in the softest of whispers when he was certain no one was around.
Perhaps it would have been easier to stop singing it aloud altogether. No one would ever know then, unless they were a mind reader.
But saying the words out loud helped his memories the most. If he closed his eyes and sung the lyrics, even in the faintest whisper, he was brought back to that small moonlit room. He was back on his mother’s lap, listening to her play the piano, her voice and his own echoing in the night as she taught him the lullaby.
With each passing year, his mother’s voice became fainter, her face became blurrier. He had no pictures of her, unable to take anything with him when he escaped. Reiju had once told him he looked the most like her of all the siblings. But as he grew, his features shifting to be more masculine and angular, it was harder to find his mother when he looked in the mirror.
He didn’t care what else of the North Blue he lost as he grew in the East Blue. His knowledge of the customs and traditions, his accent, it was all nothing. He could lose it all and not think twice, he held no love for the sea he was born in.
But he couldn’t lose The Sea Moon.
And yet, as the years passed, he sung the song less and less…
He was too busy helping Zeff set up the Baratie, then too busy helping him run it. Too busy taking on a bigger workload when the spineless waiters kept jumping ship. Too busy keeping idiotic customers and equally idiotic cooks in line.
Too busy dreaming of a mysterious ocean and thinking “one day” whenever Zeff asked when he planned to leave and find his own future on the seas.
If it was possible, he sung it even less after joining the Straw Hat Pirates.
At first, he rationalized it. The Going Merry was small and there were only a few of them onboard. Sometimes it felt like even the softest whispers could carry across the ship. It would be stupidly easy to figure him out if he sung.
But if he took a moment to think it over, the truth was he didn’t feel the song’s call as strongly as he did before. When he was younger the song would be pulled out of him, almost as if it was second nature. But as he grew up on the Baratie, as he travelled on Merry, those occasions decreased. The song was still irreplaceably precious to him, that was unquestionable, but it was no longer the grounding force in his life.
The lack of dread at that realization, and all the possibilities it posed, terrified Sanji more than he would ever be willing to admit, even to himself.
However, that didn’t mean the call had died down completely. Such as one bitterly cold night on the Grand Line, as the crew were docked in place.
Everyone else slept in Nami’s room, worried over the navigator’s worsening health from some mysterious illness. Sanji wanted to stay as well but someone had to keep watch and it was his turn.
Some cruel voice in the back of his mind reminded him about his mother, about the last few months of her life. How pale she looked, how easily she caught fevers. How she slept and slept for those last few days until a doctor showed up at breakfast one day to inform them she’d passed away.
“Screw that,” Sanji growled to himself, wrapping the blanket tighter around him as he stared out across the ocean.
Nami would be fine. All they had to do was find a doctor, she’d recover, and he’d spoil her extra to make up for the days she was stuck in bed.
But that voice didn’t want to shut the fuck up…And the moon was prettier than usual that night…
A twinge of fear bolted through him when he realized he had forgotten a few lyrics. His cigarette was done and he’d forgotten his pack below deck, so he settled for rhythmically clicking his lighter, trying to remember.
What was the next line? What was it???
How could he forget so easily?!
“Shit!” he hissed as the lighter slipped out of his trembling hand and clattered to the ground.
Thankfully, he didn’t accidentally set fire to the blanket. The blanket…
Ahh…That’s right, that was the next part. Of course he hadn’t forgotten. Of course not.
…It was colder than he realized. He couldn’t stop shaking.
If I am to sacrifice everything to these seas
I'm sure to find everything in these seas...
Arlong Park and Nami. Robin and Enies Lobby. It didn’t matter what lies were told, how viciously he was rejected. Luffy would always come after them. Would keep chasing and chasing until there was no choice but to admit the bitter truth, admit weakness, ask for help.
Sanji was there for all that, he knew Luffy very well. But it was different with him. It had to be different.
Because there was an Emperor at play here. Because there were too many precious people at risk. Because it was his own damn fault that everything spiraled out of his control, the others didn’t deserve to be caught up in his mess.
He’d done the unforgivable and attacked his captain. If he closed his eyes he could still see the blood on Luffy’s face, feel the sting of Nami’s slap. That alone should make them leave him behind. Luffy may have sworn he’d starve himself if Sanji didn’t come back, but surely he’d change his mind. He loved food so much, he didn’t realize how horrifying starvation was, and Nami would be there if things went too far.
And the others had to be disappointed in him. He knew he was one of the Straw Hats’ top fighters. He knew the others relied on him in fights, relied on his strength. And yet here he was, accepting all that was thrown at him, no longer fighting back. How pathetic he must look to them.
“This voyage isn’t over yet!”
But it was for him. Or rather, his was simply on pause. Maybe someday, years from now, he could go back out to sea and search for the All Blue. Or maybe someone else will find it before then. He could be satisfied with fulfilling his dream without the Straw Hats by his side, he could. He could even bring Pudding along to keep him company! He hadn’t told her about his dream but surely such a sweet girl like her wouldn’t laugh at it, would indulge him on something like this.
They were in the New World, filled with the cream of the crop. Luffy could find so many cooks to take his place. Ones that would fill his stomach and never fail him. The idea of being replaceable wasn’t as terrible as it was when he was a child. So long as his friends escaped, as long as Luffy became the King of the Pirates, he could live with these choices.
He had to.
He couldn’t keep thinking about them, he’d go mad sooner or later. The phantom weight on his head and the ghostly click of a lock echoed constantly in his ear, yet there was so much going on, so much to do, that it all became background noise he ignored. Maybe that’s how all of this would go. Shoved into the background of his life, just another part of it, until the day he died.
…Fucking hell, he really was losing it.
To try and distract himself, he remembered that portrait he found back at the Germa castle. The one of his mother. He was sure any and all pictures and portraits of her were gone, and yet there was one in some small old room in a forgotten wing.
…His memories didn’t do her justice.
“You found it,” Reiju had said as she popped in from nowhere as was her habit. Sanji didn’t spare her a glance, focusing on memorizing every detail of the painting, “Do you want it?”
“No,” he had answered promptly. He didn’t want anything from them, not even this, “I’m surprised there’s still one left.”
Reiju had merely shrugged her shoulders at the unspoken question hidden in his words, standing beside him as she too took in the portrait.
“You take after her the most,” she had said after a moment. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, but she kept her gaze on the portrait, “I told you, didn’t I?”
“…So do you.”
She flinched. Briefly, so briefly Sanji almost doubted his eyes.
Finally, a break in her calm and elegant mask. Sanji wasn’t sure if he could ever love Reiju like he loved his mother, but he was at least certain he could never hate her like he did Ichiji, Niji, and Yonji. And definitely not like how much he loathed Judge.
Reiju headed to the door, Sanji turning to watch as she left. She paused at the doorway and glanced back at him, her face the perfect picture of neutrality.
“Do you still sing The Sea Moon?” she had asked.
Not in so long…Not once since he was forced into this family reunion, to his never-ending confusion. If any situation would’ve dragged that lullaby out of him more times than he could count Sanji was so sure it would’ve been this one.
“Sometimes,” he finally admitted.
Something he couldn’t name shifted in her eyes. She briefly closed her eyes and took a breath.
“…She sung it to me too.”
His fingers twitched. A distant memory of a question she avoided long ago came to mind. She smiled in that way that made him question so much as she left him behind in that small room.
She was still as hard to understand as ever.
But maybe that applied to himself too.
Because when those last rays of hope flickered out, he was sure he would be fine dying as Vinsmoke Sanji, gunned down at the altar, a failure to the bitter end. When he brought that mess of a lunch to a starving Luffy, he was sure Luffy would still walk away from him, was sure he could watch him do that and not beg him to do the impossible one more time and save him. When Luffy decked him and yelled at him to tell him the truth, he was sure even Luffy would be baffled to hear that he couldn’t leave the Vinsmokes to die, that he wanted to risk the wrath of an Emperor to save them. There Sanji was, sobbing in the rain about how much he wanted to go home to Sunny, how he wanted to save the people who made his early childhood a living hell, wanting Luffy to understand he needed help and hoping he would give it even after everything Sanji had put him through, had put everyone who were giving everything they had to save him through.
Even Luffy had to have his limits, right?
“Of course!! Because that’s who you are!!!”
One day he wants to tell Luffy how much those simple words meant to him. But maybe Luffy already knew.
He wouldn’t be surprised. That’s his captain.
For those that sleep on the seas
The lullaby is The Sea Moon
Children who do not wake from their dreams
Don’t let them wake…
Don’t let them wake…
Sea Moon, see you
As the last few words left his lips, Sanji opened his eyes and gazed up at the moon.
He didn’t feel the mysterious weight of that old mask on his head, his stomach had long since settled. His heartbeat was slow and steady, his breathing even. Sanji had expected to feel at his wit’s end by the time the song was over. He expected his frayed nerves from finally singing the song to others to send him running to the storage to go over the inventory again and again until exhaustion took over and he fell asleep on a box of lemons or something.
But he was simply at ease…
“And there you have it,” he sighed, waiting for a verdict from the crew, “You happy now?”
Confused at the lack of commentary from his normally noisy friends, Sanji tore his gaze away from the moon to look at them.
…Only to let out a snort at the chorus of snores coming from the bunch.
Luffy, Usopp, and Chopper were laying together in a pile, each seemingly try to out-snore the other. Zoro was on his back beside them, arms crossed under his head and a peaceful look on his face. Robin was leaning against Franky, somehow sleeping soundly despite the monstrous snores coming from the guy, while Nami leaned against Robin, resting her head on the archeologist’s shoulder. Jinbe sat with his back to the ship’s mast, a small smile on his face as he slept on.
“Guess they were more tired than they let on,” Sanji sighed, making a move to wake them so they could all go back to the rooms.
“What a lovely performance, Sanji-san!”
“Gah!” Sanji hated how he jumped at the voice, turning to frown at Brook, who was perfectly awake and seated on the lawn near him, “So you’re the only one who stayed up, Brook?”
“Yohohoho!” Brook made the effort to lower his laugh for the sake of their sleeping friends, “It was a close one! Your voice was much gentler than I expected. I could feel my eyelids growing heavier with each verse. Ah, but I don’t have any eyelids!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sanji sighed.
“I didn’t want to miss a moment of your song,” Brook continued as he stood up, “It’s my duty as a fellow performer to respectfully listen to your performance to the very end.”
“Quit making this sound more important than it is.”
“You enjoy brushing off compliments, don’t you?” Brook chuckled, paying no attention when Sanji fired back that he enjoyed compliments from ladies just fine, “But truly, your rendition of The Sea Moon was lovely, Sanji-san! I’m sure everyone’s eager to hear it again.”
“Well, they won’t get it!” Sanji’s eye twitched at the idea of doing this again, “I said this was the only time!”
“Do you think Luffy-san will be satisfied with that?”
As if on cue, Luffy reached out a hand in his sleep and clutched at Sanji’s pantleg.
“Sanjiii…” he called out, letting out a stupid snore before speaking again, “One more time…”
“Shitty captain,” Sanji said without a trace of bite to it as he shook off Luffy’s grip and turned his attention back to Brook, “Anyways, help me get everyone up.”
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Brook looked up at the clear skies, “Nami-san said the weather would be fine for the rest of the night, and it’s not too cool out. Besides, don’t you think everyone looks comfortable where they are?”
Honestly, he was sure half of them would wake up with sore backs and stiff necks. But hell, why not? It really was a nice night, the first good one they’ve had in weeks.
“Let’s get some blankets and pillows then.”
Sanji and Brook headed to the rooms to grab as many pillows and blankets as they could carry. As they made their way back to the deck, slowed down by the piles in their arms, Brook paused.
“That song is precious to you, isn’t it?”
“What makes you say that?” Sanji asked as he stopped by the door leading to the deck, hoping Brook didn’t notice him nearly trip at the question.
“I find that people treat songs that are important to them with more care than any other,” Brook adjusted his grip on his pile so he could properly look at Sanji, “I’m much the same. I pride myself on my ability as a musician, of course I will put all I have into every song I perform! But I would be lying if I said Binks’ Sake wasn’t more special than others.”
“That song carries my most cherished memories with the Rumbar Pirates,” Brook continued as Sanji managed to shove the door open with his elbow, the pair slowly making their way back to their slumbering crew, “Just as it carries my promise with Laboon. Words alone can’t explain all it means to me.”
…Yeah, Sanji could get that.
“Also, you seemed very defensive over it earlier.”
Oh yeah. He was, wasn’t he?
The two fell into a comfortable silence as they worked together to maneuver their crew members onto the pillows without waking any of them, to varying degrees of success. At least everyone who did wake up thanks to Sanji and Brook’s efforts fell back asleep easily enough.
“…My mom taught it to me,” Sanji said after a moment, so quietly he wasn’t sure Brook even heard him.
“That so?” Brook replied as the pair covered the others with the blankets, “Yohohoho! A truly special song then!”
Damn right it was. And maybe one day Sanji would say more than that. Maybe he could even tell the others too instead of sharing it with Brook alone, knowing the man could be trusted to keep it to himself. But as it stood, just this much was fine, was more than Sanji thought he’d ever be able to say.
“Get some sleep, Brook, I’ll take the first watch,” Sanji told the skeleton as he headed off.
“Are you sure? I don’t mind taking the first shift, Sanji-san!”
He easily waved off the offer and climbed up to the crow’s nest. The stars were still shining, the moon was beautiful. The seas were calm, a gentle breeze flowed. The faint memories of a piano and a pair of gentle arms, of a sweet voice and a gentle laugh, flowed over him.
“I think it’s a lovely night for a song, don’t you?”
…Yeah, a pretty damn good night.