Title: Next Exit, Heart III
Author: Luz Nocturnal
Email: luznocturna[at]yahoo.com
Copyright: One Piece and its characters © Eiichiro Oda. Lyrics © Children of the Monkey Machine, and probably also somehow © Squaresoft. The only copyright I stake is intellectual, meaning that I do not want this story copied/reproduced/reposted anywhere without my permission. Thank you, drive through.
Beta: The obscenely talented Luci of redwaltz.net; thank you muchly, ma'am. Any further errors are my own, but I'll blame run-on-sentences on the elves.
Gratitudes: To everyone for their encouragement, those who've been reading NEH, and especially to my dear Quatrina Raberba, Luci, and neonate, for their kind words. And firedraygon97, for kicking off this whole mess by wanting Sanji/Luffy fic.
Notes/Spoilers: The final installment of NEH, which reads like a PWP, but actually has some substance (I'd like to think so, anyway).
If you're wondering why I credited CotMM/Dani instead of Faye Wong, listen to the lyrics in both versions, and you'll find that the Obsession remix is different. Any possible legalities aside, I highly encourage everyone to hear this song - it's available at the OverClocked ReMix website. It's a stunning, moody piece of musical art.
And, if you're curious as to why NEH wasn't lumped together as three chapters of one story, that's because each is a separate story unto itself; readable together, but not wholly dependent upon being clustered.
There you are, with that look on your face
As if you're never hurt, you're never down
I'm gonna be the one that pinches you softly but sure
And if you frown, then I'll know that I'm not dreaming
...Oh, God. You're still smiling...
-- Children of the Monkey Machine,
featuring Dani, Eyes On Me (Obsession)

He was there, again. Standing in the doorway, his trademarked smile alight on his lips. That clueless and clever smile.

"What?" Sanji asked with a voice meant to warn with subtlety. Go away, it said. I don't want you here.

Luffy shrugged, round shoulders belaying the strength Sanji knew he held. Shaking his head, he crossed his arms, leaning on the doorframe. The message was unspoken, but clear: I just want to watch you.

"I'm busy; go watch Usopp blow things up." Less subtle, now, the smoke curled around his words. The cherry of the battered cigarette crushed between his teeth sparked in the dim light. Sanji presented his back to the audience of one, returning to the cutting board.

"I'd rather watch you make things." I'm not going away.

"I'd rather you didn't." There were times when the only language that Luffy seemed to understand was bluntness. Leave.

Silence followed. Straining to hear Luffy's breathing, Sanji held the knife still above the carrots. Absolute silence.

Sanji dared to turn halfway, a glance to see if Luffy had indeed left.

Luffy smiled, noticing. I'm still here.

Shit! Turning perhaps too quickly to the counter, Sanji sought immediate action, anything to look busy. The carrots were sliced haphazardly, his thumb along with them. "Shit!" he hissed, regretting the outburst as soon as it left his lips.

"What's wrong?" Am I distracting you?

"Nothing." Yes. Rather than bleed across the cutting board, Sanji scanned for any sort of towel or cloth. Turning around, eyes purposely downcast, his uninjured hand found the white and blue terrycloth, which he quickly wrapped around the red-stained thumb.

"Did you cut yourself?"

"What do you think?" What do you want? Even as he concentrated on the show of stopping the bleeding, he couldn't help noticing the movement in the doorway through eyelash-fringed vision; Luffy pushed off from the frame, with a purposeful step forward.

The sandalwood scent made its way across the still air as Luffy drew closer, his sandal-clad feet sounding with familiarity across the floor.

Damn thumb, throbbing as it was, making his mind go blank.

"I seem to remember banning you from the kitchen," Sanji said, turning his back once again to Luffy. "On more than one occasion." Take the hint, take the hint, take the hint.

"I thought you said you'd make me something?" You don't think I'm smart enough to take hints, remember?

"That was before you ruined Nami-san's dessert and made a mess of my jacket," Sanji countered, deciding that the pinstriped shirt covering his back was too flimsy for his current tastes.

"Let me have a look at it, Sanji," Luffy requested.

"A look at what?" Sanji asked, shoulders tensing.

"Your thumb."

No. Sanji held his towel for all it was worth.

"Why not?"

"You only wanted to 'look at' Nami-san's dessert. We both know what happened to that."

"That was food! Besides, it was an accident."

You're too close. Get back, get back. Sanji could feel the radiant presence of Luffy; his breath softly warming the too-exposed place just to the side of his shoulder blade. He repressed a shiver. "How do I know you're not going to have an 'accident' with my thumb? I really would like to keep it. It did come as part of a set," he ground out.

Luffy laughed softly at Sanji's attempt at distraction, the air hitting the skin left bare between hairline and shirt collar. Sanji bit down another shiver, his fingers tightening around the towel unto a death-grip. This was getting out of hand.

"I'm not leaving 'til you let me see it," Luffy said in his usual, stubborn way.

Withholding the string of obscenities he was aching to mutter, Sanji unveiled his hand and rudely jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Here. Knock yourself out." I can be just as stubborn as you, dumbass.

After a moment, fingers gripped Sanji's fist, carefully turning and studying. The cut wasn't deep; most of the blood that had wound its way down his thumb had already dried.

Sanji, for his part, was hovering somewhere near agitated. Luffy was taking his sweet time playing doctor, and there was dinner to fix, damn it, and he just wouldn't leave--

"You really are a great cook, Sanji," Luffy said, still engrossed in studying the chef's hand.

Sanji snorted indelicately. "Not if I leave a thumb in your soup." He caught sight of the cigarette left sitting in the ashtray, just barely out of reach, by his estimation. He cursed himself for releasing it when he went fumbling for the towel. Instead of the nicotine and the habit of having something between his lips that he craved, he settled for the slight tick in his jaw.

"But you really should be more careful," Luffy continued, without missing a beat.

"I told you. I don't like distractions in my kitchen."

Luffy's fingers slackened their grip, but obviously weren't ready to relinquish. "Then you should have gone along with me to start with."

"What the hell are you talking about?" He was reasonably sure he was willing to lose his thumb, in exchange for a drag of the temptation burning away to his left. Almost to the filter, damn it.

"I wouldn't be in here, bothering you," Luffy said lightly, with only the barest extra enunciation on 'bothering', "if you had given me what I wanted earlier." His fingers tightened around Sanji.

"I told you, that was Nami-san's!" Sanji defended, perhaps a bit too exuberantly.

"Is everything Nami's?" Luffy asked, in a tone of voice Sanji didn't recognize. Not out of Luffy's mouth. It set him distinctly off-balance, making him swallow. Hard.

What are you doing? "I..." the thought vanished as a hand came up to cradle his jaw. Long fingers slid slowly, easily across the skin stretched taut over his jawline. A thumb stayed behind to caress the bottom of Sanji's ear, sufficiently squashing further coherent thought from his mind.

What you wanted.

It wasn't until he felt Luffy's other hand snake around his stomach that Sanji realized his own had been released; which he still held, dumbly, over his shoulder. His hand then drifted haltingly downward, unsure of its destination, until, seemingly of its own accord landing atop Luffy's.

Sliding free of Sanji's hand, Luffy slowly wound his way up the pinstriped shirt, resting the tips of his fingers on the flesh exposed above the button and crisp lapels.

Why are you doing this? The question wouldn't leave his mouth; it seemed no words would. Luffy was too, too close, and his hands so damnably warm...

An exhalation across Sanji's neck, accompanied by a feather-light brush of lips on throat. I told you. I'm hungry.

Sanji became aware of his own startled yelp as he bolted upright in bed, eyes wide as saucers, sweat making his night-shirt stick uncomfortably to his skin.

Dark. It was dark and he was still panting, and he was in his room. The tell-tale snoring all around him told him as much.

A dream? He'd dreamt the whole thing, from carrots to cigarette to... Luffy, doing... whatever it was he was doing. He would have laughed at the absurdity of such a dream, had he found it funny. He was still too busy getting his breathing under control, as his eyes adjusted to the darkness.

Zoro's voice was almost a welcome distraction, groggy and annoyed as it was. "Enough with the wet dreams about Nami. Some of us like to sleep at night," he said, muffled by what Sanji guessed was his pillow.

Momentarily ignoring the idiot swordsman, Sanji's eyes scanned the room for Luffy, whom he found to be face-down in bed, mouth hanging open and cheek pushed firmly out of place by his position. An arm dangled over the side of his bed, just for good measure.

Of course it was a dream. No one who looked like that could say or do the things Sanji had dreamt him saying or doing. Of course.

"...Yeah. Whatever," he offered to Zoro, who was likely already asleep.

Sanji eased back under his covers, and laid awake long into the night.