Disclaimer: Me don't own One Piece, k?
Sanji blew out a cloud of smoke, watching the horizon with aloofness. It was nearing late evening now. The sun had set two hours ago, yet the salty air still retained a smoldering scent hot with life. The young chef was currently resting against the balcony. Omatsuri Island was abandoned, and all of its resources now lied in the hands of the Straw Hats. Sanji breathed in his poison and glanced back at the room behind him. Usopp and Zoro were still out—after all, the night was young and perfect for celebrating. The other unknown five inhabitants of the island were especially ecstatic with the defeat of the Baron, and the happenings of the party below Sanji filtered through his ears unobtrusively—like a pleasant tinkling of silver bells. That must have been Usopp fooling around, the cook decided.
But inside the room there lied a slumbering captain—known both for his recklessness and insatiable appetite. Unlike his usual loud snoring, Luffy was quiet. Taken in by deep sleep after suffering from severe injuries—wounds that still had Sanji wondering.
The strange moustache man, Brief, had explained what happened earlier—their capture by the Baron and being fed to an enormous lily—but all Sanji really cared about was why Luffy had been roughed up so badly in the first place. "Well…he was fighting to save you all," the small man had said. Sanji could recall everything up to the point he went out looking for their missing crewmates. Everything afterwards was a blank. When he and the others had woken up along the rocky cliffs, they had been more than a little displeased.
Sanji had been the first to notice the bandages around Luffy's wrists and ankles when they approached the young captain. Nami had begun her usual tirade and everyone else was simply confused.
"What kind of mess did you get yourself into while we were out, huh?"
He had worded it with his usual disdain, but had been stunned when Zoro propped Luffy up—the latter saying he was simply too tired to do it himself. Luffy's entire back and arms had been pierced and the blood was just starting to ooze out slowly when Chopper began his frantic checkup.
All the while, despite the many questions made about the acquiring of his injuries, Luffy merely smiled and laughed. That was when the moustache man had enlightened them. But midway through his explanations, Luffy had slipped unconscious and Chopper was apoplectic.
"We can save the talking for later! We have to go back and get Luffy treated first!"
Sanji had been the one to haul the younger boy over his shoulders while they made their way back to the main resort. He did not know why he had done it then—and he still did not know now. His body had moved of its own accord, and Sanji just accepted it.
The room was dark, but gradually became lighter when the moon appeared behind the clouds. Luffy was still enshrouded by shadows, but Sanji knew where he lied. Knew by the soft breathing in the motionless night that Luffy was all right. The blond turned his gaze back to the infinite sky. The view was spectacular here. Stars littered the inky sky and the island glowed incandescently. It was a sad beauty, though, and one that filled Sanji's heart with uneasiness.
I blamed him for everything.
He had been furious—frustrated and worried—and could not stop the words from slipping. Sanji could remember Luffy's expression after he had spoke. At the time, the blond had been too annoyed to really pay attention. But now everything came back to him with painful clarity. Luffy had been crushed—it was the first time Sanji had ever seen such a look on his captain's face. And he felt the twinges of guilt biting at him afterwards. Especially since Luffy was the one who saved them all from certain death.
Sanji started, turning around in surprise. Luffy was standing some feet from him, sleepily rubbing his eyes as he looked inquiringly at the blond. Sanji recovered his composure quickly and crunched down on his cigarette. "They're at the party downstairs," he replied coolly.
Chopper had been concerned over Luffy's condition and had requested for someone to check up on him. Sanji had volunteered for this duty unfailingly, not even pausing to think how uncustomary it was for him to do so. But Chopper had been entirely grateful. Sanji was supposed to stay only for a few minutes, make sure Luffy had not disturbed the bandages, check his temperature and stats, and then head back downstairs if everything was all right. But it had been exactly an hour and Sanji was still in the room. He had briefly entertained himself with reasons for staying, but eventually surrendered and shrugged it off. Sanji sometimes questioned his instincts, but they had never failed him before and he would be a fool to doubt them now. So he let it be.
"Party? I want to go!"
Sanji narrowed his eyes as Luffy hurried over to the door before his strength left him. He stumbled and fell, whining the entire way. Sanji shook his head and walked over to the shorter boy, kneeling down beside him.
"You're in no condition to walk let alone go to a party," he said condescendingly despite the fact that he was helping Luffy to his feet. The younger boy pouted up at him.
"But I'll miss all the fun," he complained. He lifted his arms for emphasis but only succeeded in straining the muscles too far as he hissed painfully. "Ow, ow, ow…"
"Just go back to bed."
"Don't want to."
The dark-haired boy grinned wolfishly at Sanji, who only stared back at his captain evenly. In between pondering the day's events and worrying for Luffy on a subliminal level, the blond had reached his limits. He reached over and grabbed Luffy's ear in his hand and dragged the loudly protesting boy back to bed. Sanji then all but threw Luffy onto the mattress.
"Sleep," he ordered tersely.
Luffy sat up on the bed. He was not attired in his usual outfit, having discarded the red shirt and cutup jeans for a white tank and pants. His bandages went around his entire torso and arms—Sanji could still see the image of Luffy thrashing around wildly as Chopper wrapped them. The expression on his face now, though, was not of pain. He stared at Sanji with curiosity and perhaps a little fear.
"Are you mad, Sanji?" he asked meekly.
Sanji almost laughed. Instead, he walked back towards the balcony, pausing at the doorway. The cigarette was left hanging loosely between two fingers. "Now why would you think that?" he said, his tone clipped.
"Well…you just don't look happy. And you didn't answer my question," was Luffy's reply, ignorant and carefree yet carrying something deeper underneath the naivety.
"You could have died you know," Sanji said tonelessly. He looked at Luffy, his own face hidden by the darkness. But he could see the other boy perfectly. The moon's rays had finally reached his side of the room. And as expected, Luffy was shrugging carelessly.
"I'm ready for the sacrifice," he said simply.
It was those words that made Sanji mad sometimes. For the most part, he generally agreed with Luffy. To give up your life to the sea, he held the same dream and sentiment. But this time, those words filled Sanji with anger. Perhaps it was because he still felt guilty for yelling at Luffy—and perhaps it was because he knew that Luffy, by normal standards, should have been mad at him but was not. The boy seemed deliriously happy, and Sanji could not fathom it. By nature, Luffy was an optimistic fool, but his cheerfulness now seemed tainted by something darker—something that Brief had failed to explain.
"I'm sorry," Sanji said suddenly, uncrossing his arms and dropping the cigarette. He smashed it under his foot and heard a faint hiss as the light went out. "I shouldn't have blamed you for everything before. It wasn't your fault."
Luffy stared at him blankly. Then he brightened up. "Ooh, that? I completely forgot about it. Don't worry, don't worry," he said, laughing.
Sanji frowned. "You seemed hurt by what I said and I want to apologize. Don't brush it off so easily."
"But it's all right."
"No, it isn't."
"It is, though. I don't even remember half of what happened before," laughed Luffy. He sat cross-legged on the bed, his hands placed in his lap as he tottered side-to-side. "It doesn't matter anyway. Why do you care so much?"
The words fell from Sanji's lips before he even thought of them. "Because I hurt you."
Luffy took his words into consideration for a moment. "Well…I guess you did hurt me—but I don't care as long as you're all right," he said after a short break. He smiled at Sanji. "As long as everyone is here I'm fine!"
Sanji's frown deepened. It was obvious that something more had happened than what Brief had said. He knew they were taken in by the Baron and almost killed by a carnivorous flower and that Luffy had saved them before they were permanently digested—but he could not understand what Luffy meant by his words. Here. Sanji was mystified by its usage.
"Of course everyone's here, Luffy. Where else would we be?" he asked cautiously.
At once Luffy's eyes darkened. "I'll never take you guys for granted. Never," he promised in a tone that was all too serious for someone like their captain. Luffy looked at Sanji once again. "I don't care if you hurt me with words or fists. Nothing is worse than being alone."
Silence ensued. Luffy continued staring at Sanji with that hard look in his eyes—one he usually reserved only for battle. This time he wielded it relentlessly against the blond. Sanji tried to grasp what Luffy was implying. Yet somehow, he still could not—and probably would never—understand what his captain was saying. It was times like these that forced Sanji to look at Luffy in a different light. The boy was headstrong, loud, and completely idiotic most of the times, but then he also possessed a depth that made him appear wiser than all their years combined—a paradox that never ceased to fascinate Sanji.
"You're talking as if we all died or something," murmured Sanji as he lit up a new smoke. While he fumbled with his lighter, he missed the pained look flash across Luffy's face. When Sanji looked up again, the other boy was smiling.
"I'll never let any of you die," he said brightly.
"You're not making any sense, captain," Sanji commented airily, blowing out a smoke.
Luffy grinned. "I'm making perfect sense to me."
Sanji raised an eyebrow. "Still…I'm sorry," he said again. Something in him refused to leave Luffy until he got his point across—but what his point was, Sanji did not know yet.
"Okay, okay, I forgive you! Now can we go downstairs? Is there meat? I want meat!"
As Luffy made room to stand up, Sanji appeared at his side immediately, taking hold of his wrist and keeping him in place. The younger boy looked at him woefully. "Please, please, Sanji? I'm a lot better now—and besides, food will make me heal faster!" he reasoned.
But the way Sanji's eyes bored into him made Luffy stop. His lips drew into a thin line as he regarded the older boy with some confusion. Then Sanji spoke.
He knew that Luffy would understand what he meant by his question. The dark-haired boy was a free spirit, but that did not mean he disregarded everything around him. And Luffy had always been able to read people uncommonly well—Sanji no exception. So the blond only waited for his answer. Luffy could pretend and dodge all he wanted, but Sanji was feeling particularly aggressive right now. He would not let Luffy go. He would get his explanation.
For several minutes all either one of them could do was stare at each other. Sanji still held Luffy's wrist tightly in his hand, and the boy made no motion to free himself. Then finally, the blond released his grip and waited for Luffy to speak. But the latter only allowed his hand to fall back into his lap, head bowed low. Sanji continued to wait. He would wait no matter what.
The quiet admission would have escaped Sanji's ears if he had not been so attentively waiting for such a thing. But when the sentence registered in his mind, his bafflement only increased. But he decided to let Luffy speak again without interference.
And when he did, the words were hollow.
"The Baron said you were all dead. I believed him. And I wanted to die—I would've let him kill me if Brief hadn't come at the last second."
It was then that Sanji realized the impact of the entire experience on Luffy. And everything came together at once. The unadulterated happiness at seeing them, the laughing and smiling even when Nami scolded him before, and the despair that laced his tone now as he confessed. Sanji put out his cigarette.
He had wished for an explanation, and he had received it. But Sanji only felt his guilt double. He pushed his hands into his pockets and tilted his head to the side awkwardly. "Dying from being eaten by a flower, now that's irony for you," he said, shaking his head a little. "I don't know about Marimo, but none of us would die that shamefully, Luffy."
His captain finally raised his head, a silly grin sprawled across his face. "Yeah, I know," he said. However, he promptly became serious again, his eyes growing distant. "But…it was scary. If you were all dead then it would've been my fault. I would've never forgiven myself. It's a good thing you were still alive, though! I don't think I'd ever been that scared or mad in my entire life!" With his last couple of sentences Luffy returned to his normal self. He beamed at Sanji.
"You're such a liar."
Sanji scowled at Luffy. He was disgusted by the boy's selflessness. But most of all he was disgusted with himself for putting all the blame on Luffy in the first place. Sanji knew that his own words had added an unnecessary burden on his captain. To discover your crew was dead was one thing—Luffy would have been crushed, but his fighting spirit would still be intact—but to believe yourself responsible for the death of your crewmates was another thing altogether. Sanji had not realized the repercussions his words would have in the future. Luffy would have died because of the needless guilt placed in his head by Sanji. And they would all be dead now.
Luffy stared wide-eyed at the blond. "I'm not lying."
Sanji did not respond. He walked over to the balcony door again and this time stepped out into the open air. He knew, without hesitation, that Luffy would follow. It was in his nature to abide by curiosity's will. When he heard the soft padding of bare feet against wooden floor, Sanji leaned forward on the edge of the marble scaffold. Luffy appeared by his side, peering over him with intrigue.
"Sanjiiii," he began, "why are you so mad? Look!"
The blond glanced over despite himself and saw Luffy extend his nostrils down to his jaw with two index fingers. A faint smile crossed his face before he smothered it down, frowning at Luffy instead. He took a moment to gather his breath. "If any of us were to ever die… It would never be your fault. So don't go sacrificing your life in vain like that ever again. It would dishonor our memories," he said sullenly.
Luffy stared at him a while longer. Then he sighed deeply and placed his elbows on the balcony's edge. "You're still going on about that? Let's move onto a happier topic. I don't like talking about depressing things," he said, sticking out his chin. He tilted his head back to the sky. "Look, look, Sanji! See those stars over there? They look like you and Zoro fighting!" Luffy began laughing heartily.
"Or Nami-san in a bikini."
"Eh? No way! That's you and Zoro!"
"I see Nami-san."
"You need to get your eyes checked!"
"I'm amazed that you actually see something besides meat for once, captain."
"Oh, oh, there's Robin! See? She's reading a book!"
"Well…I'll agree with you on that one."
Sanji smiled a little as Luffy started pointing out other miscellaneous constellations concocted by his own imagination.
"And there's Smoker chasing me in Loguetown! Remember when we got captured in Arabasta?"
Luffy's laughter filled his ears. Sanji arched an eyebrow. It was astounding how happy one could be. He had never encountered anyone quite like Luffy in his short lifetime—and he probably never would. Luffy belonged in his own category. There were no other people like him. He lived by his own standards, listening to nothing else but his own heart. Sanji envied that about him sometimes. Most people tried to take on a semblance of normalcy—even Sanji himself had adapted somewhat to society's orders, mentioning his dream of All Blue to only a select few—but Luffy paraded his ambitions with thoughtless abandon. Perhaps that was why the rest of the Straw Hats followed him so loyally. Because in Luffy lied the hope and power to believe in the unimaginable—to do the unimaginable—and still get away with it unscathed. Sanji smiled to himself.
"We would never abandon you voluntarily," he said to himself.
Blinking, Sanji turned his head and saw Luffy grinning at him. The blond gazed at him in bewilderment. He had never meant for the other boy to hear him—yet somehow, Luffy had once again managed to catch him off guard. Sanji chided himself gently. He really should have known better. Luffy was Luffy—a hidden figure that emerged from the darkness when he thought it required. Normally, that was in combat. But Luffy had surprised Sanji enough today for him to learn that the younger boy was always there, if not always clear.
Sanji chuckled under his breath and reached over to grab Luffy by the collar of his shirt. When the boy was mere inches away from him, he looked into his eyes.
"I would never abandon you voluntarily," he muttered before catching Luffy's mouth with his own. The younger boy did not even protest or seem surprised. Sanji knew he would not be. He knew, before his own heart even knew, that Luffy had been expecting it. The touch was soft and gentle. Sanji had experienced many women, played around with some men, but never felt anything quite as wonderful as this. He felt Luffy smiling against him and pulled away slowly. "You scoundrel."
Luffy wrapped his arms around him tightly. "I knew you would figure it out eventually."
Sanji then lifted Luffy into his arms. Surprised, the dark-haired boy clung onto his neck in alarm.
"You should be resting. Chopper would never let me hear the end of it if he found out you were standing and walking around," interjected Sanji lightly.
"But I don't hurt anymore—ouch!"
Sanji eyed the boy in his arms with amusement. "You're worse at lying than Usopp. Don't even bother."
"Mean Sanji!" cried Luffy. He then pulled on the blond's tie, unraveled it, and then clutched it in his hand victoriously. "HA!"
The blond merely placed Luffy in his bed and tucked the blankets around him calmly. Luffy watched on with some resentment as Sanji then pulled the tie from his grip. He unbuttoned the top of his shirt and then let the tie hang limply around his neck.
"Thanks. I was beginning to feel a bit stuffy in here."
Luffy stuck out his tongue.
Sanji smiled darkly. "I can think of better things to do with your tongue, Luffy."
The tongue retreated. "Pervert."
A quick thought entered Sanji's mind. He was in love with Nami. And he had just kissed his own captain. What exactly did that make him now? He toyed with the idea for a while. His mind could come up with many excuses—but his heart rejected them all. The true reasons were something Sanji both knew and did not know. And he was not ready to divulge them yet. Maybe later. For now he just wanted to enjoy the moment.
Leaning over Luffy, Sanji placed a soft kiss on his forehead, followed by one on the space below his jaw, one on the corner of his mouth, and then finally one on his lips. The final one lasted longer and was infinitely sweeter than their first kiss. Sanji pulled back a bit and saw Luffy's eyes gleaming in the silver light.
"What was that?" he asked, sufficiently killing the moment with his bluntness.
Sanji laughed quietly to himself. "You're a poor romantic, Luffy."
He stepped away from the bed and lit up his last cigarette. He would have to go around looking for a pack later. An extravagant resort like this was bound to have a fine collection.
As he began to leave, Luffy's voice reached him.
"Save me some food."
A slow smile made its way onto Sanji's face as he read both meanings of the sentence.
"You don't even need to ask."
Sanji could almost feel Luffy's smile as he left the room. Once he was out in the hallway, he allowed himself the small satisfaction of lightly smirking before going his way. Today was a good day. With the drama behind him, Sanji began feeling his normal self again. The inner questions and speculations would be saved for another time. He had enough of that tonight already. At present, he would abandon his logic and fly by the rest of the evening—very much, he thought fondly, like a certain captain he knew who lived without inhibition on a daily basis.
"You were upstairs the entire time, Sanji-kun?"
"Yes, I was, Nami-san! Did you miss me?"
"Oi, oi, why are your clothes all rumpled?"
"You didn't get into a fight with Luffy did you? He's hurt! He needs to rest!"
"Calm down, Chopper. I wasn't fighting him. We merely…reached an understanding."
"Like you're any better, shithead swordsman."
"An understanding? Did you two have an argument?"
"Don't worry, Robin-chan. It's all settled."
"What were you fighting about?"
"Sorry, Chopper. That's between me and that crazy captain of ours. And to be quite honest, I don't even know if 'fighting' is the proper term for what we did."
"EH? What are you implying, Sanji?"
"…Don't think anything nasty!"