Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
- Dylan Thomas
Sanji’s reflection in the mirror stares back at him. Pale and blank-eyed. He looks stunned: as if someone has delivered a blow that he’s only just felt. Except he does feel it. It keeps washing over him in waves, like heavy seas coming aboard a ship. A great dark weight like water dragging him down, robbing him of his ability to breathe. The wave sweeps past and he surfaces, just for a moment: before the next one comes.
He’s holding a tie in each hand. One is dark blue: the other black. Both silk. They feel soft and insubstantial in his fingers, as though he could let go of them and they would drift away like moths. Like cigarette smoke.
He’s smoked maybe a hundred cigarettes in the last few days. Something he can hold in his hands, light with a bright flame, inhale. Reduce it down to ash, then begin again. The familiar burn and taste in his mouth a tiny comfort. Unlike food, which people have been pressing on him at regular intervals, and he has repeatedly and courteously refused. Eating feels an impossibility: he knows somewhere far back in his mind that eventually he will have to face it, but for now he doesn’t need to. And he’s gone without food before, for a far longer time than this.
Some part of him knows that when he eats, it will connect him to the tidal surge of loss that keeps coming and going: connect him and probably hold him there until he dissolves underneath it. And there are still things he has to do. So for now, cigarettes will suffice.
Black. Or blue?
Sanji looks from one tie to the other. And a feeling of defeat wells up in him; closely followed by fury. There should be some exemption from decision-making, in these circumstances. Or some set of rules to follow, making choices easy.
He’s had to make too many decisions in the last few days. Who should be told of this; and how. Whom he wants at the ceremony itself: very few, and his nakama at the centre around him. What food will be prepared and how much. Who will speak and when.
What he himself will say.
Every time he remembers that he will be doing this his mind goes blank, like white noise. Like surf rushing over him in a storm of noise and light and chaos. And he finds himself looking for the piece of paper he has written down his words on, the things he needs to say. The words he wrote yesterday, in between the dark waves washing over him.
He worries even now that the words are wrong. Not enough. That what he tried to put onto paper, what he will speak in the ceremony very soon, will sound meaningless. Insufficient. Or that when it comes to it he will be unable to speak: that he will stand up there alone with everyone looking back at him and not be able to bring anything past the tightness in his throat and the pain in his chest.
I want to do this right.
Sanji wants this more than anything. He wants to say words that are good enough: wants this next hour to be a fitting memorial. Except how can it be, how can anything he says encompass what he’s lost.
Loss is such a small word. Like grief: it doesn’t go anywhere near containing this. Maybe this is why his mind keeps blanking out. What he’s feeling is so large he keeps getting lost within it.
There is a very soft knock on the door of the room he’s in. And Nami’s voice, gently worried through the wood. “Sanji.”
“Come in.” His voice croaks slightly when he answers. Too many cigarettes: he must drink some water before he goes out and stands before people and reads the words on that piece of paper.
The door opens, and Nami stands there. Looking sombre in a charcoal silk dress, her tangerine-flame hair elegantly tied back off her face. She regards him carefully. “Are you okay? There’s just five minutes...” Her voice tails off.
Sanji smiles at her, and it feels like the muscles of his face have forgotten how that works. “Thank you, my sweet. I’ll be right there.”
She nods once, but stays in the doorway. Watching him. Sanji sees her gaze drop to his hands. To the two ties he is still holding.
Giving her another desperate attempt at a smile, he turns back to the mirror. “Just finishing up. Won’t be a moment.”
In the mirror he sees Nami reflected: her brows pull together just a tiny bit. Then she leaves the doorway and walks towards him. Stands close beside him, so close he can smell the sweet warmth of her perfume, feel her breath graze his cheek.
The two ties hang like rags in his hands. He meets Nami’s gaze in the mirror and tries to smile again, but it starts something catastrophic in his chest so he abandons the attempt. Takes a breath and says unsteadily, “I don’t know which one to wear.”
Nami doesn’t respond, It doesn’t matter. Instead she just regards each tie steadily; before meeting his gaze in the mirror again. Those brown eyes softer than Sanji has ever seen them. “The blue.”
“Thank you.” He is so grateful his voice wavers. Dropping the black tie on the bed beside him, he starts to turn back to the mirror to tie the other on – but Nami steps in front of him, taking the soft dark blue silk from his hand. She faces him and places it round his neck: ties it precisely and slowly, smoothing the knot against his chest when she has finished. He feels the pressure of her hand rest above his heart, just for a moment, before it falls away. Then she gives him a small smile. “Ready?”
No no no, is what screams in his head. Because how can he be ready for this? Even though he knew that one day this could come; that one day he could be standing here. Without him –
It still feels as unreal as a dream. And at the same time it feels more real than anything he has ever experienced. He can hear seagulls keening outside and the waves slapping against the sides of the ship; smell Nami’s perfume and the ghost of the last cigarette he smoked in here; feel the brush of his shirt cuffs against his wrists and the shift of his suit across his shoulders.
Nami’s hand finds his, and gives it a single squeeze. “I’ll be waiting with Luffy and the others.” Then she steps back.
“All right.” Sanji nods, giving her a sign that he will be okay. That he isn’t going to sink under the waves washing over him and drown.
Quietly Nami turns and leaves the room, leaving the door a little ajar. The faint sounds of the people waiting beyond reach Sanji and he closes his eyes.
I can’t do this.
Yet he knows he can. Because it has to be done. Because staying here with his eyes closed won’t make this thing that has happened unhappen.
He’s standing there with his eyes still shut when he feels a presence. Sanji breathes in and loss grips him so hard his throat almost closes entirely. He needs to be strong but he can’t bear this. I will never see you smile, never hear your voice, never be with you again. The wrongness of it pierces him to the core.
It’s the one truth that humanity knows irrevocably. And fights against. To the last breath.
He keeps his eyes closed and lets his breath go. “This isn’t happening.” Like everyone else, he will fight it. Until his strength gives out.
Warmth reaches him before touch. A body steps up close behind his: arms wrap round his shoulders, pulling him back against a chest that feels like the rock Sanji starved on, all those years ago. “Yes, it is.”
Sanji breathes in again and inhales the smell he knows like his own: that tells his body he’s really here. That this is really happening. And that the arms holding him will hold him for as long as he needs.
And that gives him the strength to open his eyes. Reflected in the mirror they stand there: green hair and gold.
That low voice speaks again. “You ready to do this?”
Sanji isn’t. But that’s how this works. You’re never ready. Whenever it comes. So he just says, “Yeah.”
The arms around him tighten for a moment: then release. Sanji turns around, and picks up the piece of paper from the bed, with the words he is going to say. Walks to the door, where Zoro is waiting. The other man holds out his hand and Sanji takes it. And the blankness finally lifts from Sanji’s mind, releasing the words he will soon be uttering, out on the deck of the Baratie.
For Red-Leg Zeff. The old man who really fathered him.
The hand holding his keeps him steady. Keeps him walking. Out to where they will lay Zeff on the blue sea. On the evening tide: letting him go.
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
- John Masefield