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Sweet Child O’ Mine

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The little eggplant is being stupid. This isn’t exactly unusual, mind you - the kid’s always been dumb as the proverbial brick when the situation calls for it - but this one takes the cake.

“Yes,” a tired voice says behind him, and when he shifts he finds the Straw Hats’ navigator making a resigned face as she takes in the same tableau as him. “Before you ask, they are always like this.”

Zeff eyes her for several long moments, taking in the slump of her shoulders and the semi-exasperated expression, before turning back to the disaster currently unfolding in front of them.

“Well,” he says finally. “I don’t know why I expected better.”

*****

Sanji’s in love, real love, for once in his life, not the kind that comes and goes on a whim, but rather the kind that once you’ve found it, you need to fight tooth and nail to never let it go. His feelings are readily apparent to anyone who so much as looks at him for longer than twenty seconds.

Unfortunately, it’s equally apparent that he has no idea what to do about it - what with how he’s about to try and outright murder the source of his affections.

“You can’t just sleep there, asshole! This is a place of business!”

The speed with which Roronoa gets a sword up to block Sanji’s descending foot is impressive in and of itself. The fact that he does it without bothering to open his eye is even more so. 

“Damnit, cook!” He snaps, eye still closed but forehead furrowed in obvious annoyance. “I’m napping here!”

“Na - you’re in the middle of the kitchen!” Sanji barks.

He’s not, exactly, having tucked himself away in a corner where no one is likely to trip over him and the swinging doors won’t crack into him if someone goes through them too fast. That doesn’t make his choice of resting spot any less ridiculous, however, a fact that Sanji begins to explain to him at length.

Zeff gives the navigator a beleaguered look, unsurprised when she returns it with one of her own.

“I’m pretty sure this is their idea of flirting,” she says. Zeff can hear eons of exasperation lurking in her voice. “It’s like watching a particularly slow and stupid train wreck.”

Zeff feels the opening strains of a headache coming on. “Has anyone considered, I don’t know, trying to talk to them about ... whatever it is that’s happening here?”

He knows what’s happening, alright? He knows. After all, he raised Sanji and can still read him like an open book. In no way does that means he wants to give voice to the name, though. He wants to live in the happy land of denial for at least a little longer.

Nami rolls her eyes and opens her mouth to respond, pausing briefly as Sanji and Roronoa’s bickering escalates momentarily in volume, before saying, “What good do you think that would do?”

About to respond in kind, Zeff stops to consider the boy he’d known, raised, and - god help him - loved for a decade before sending him off to see what the world had to offer. 

“I see your point,” he says instead, visions of Sanji’s volcanic reaction to that kind of invasion of privacy dancing through his head.

“I thought you might,” she replies with a knowing glint in her eyes.

“This is what they do, though,” she continues on, some of her previous irritation leeching back into her voice. “I guarantee you Zoro parked himself there because he knew it’d get Sanji’s attention, and I can also guarantee you that Sanji’s going to let him stay where he is once the shouting is over. It’s pigtail pulling at its finest.”

Zeff glances back over at Sanji, only to find that he’s abruptly moved on to harassing Patty and Carne for who knows what - existing, possibly. Notably, he has, indeed, not forced Roronoa to give up his napping spot.

Zeff blinks at the swordsman, who’s already asleep again, sprawled on his back and snoring, seemingly without a care or concern in the world. “Yeah,” he says slowly, “this is going to take some getting used to.”

*****

The Straw Hats are only meant to be visiting for a few days, so Zeff needs to decide quickly what, if anything, he wants to do about Sanji. Part of him wants to dive right in and start prodding, but a more rational section of his brain tells him he might want to sit back and observe proceedings first.

Plus, not that he’ll ever admit it, but it’s nice to have the kid around again, even if it is only for a short stint, and he’s not necessarily keen to spoil that at the outset.

Which is what leads them here.

They’re at the tail end of the dinner rush, with Zeff and his people having taken care of the regular paying customers, while Sanji had offered to contribute by taking care of his own crew. Given the amount most of them eat, Zeff had been only too happy to accede to the request.

It’d been busy enough that there hadn’t been much time for chatting, but now they’ve reached a lull that allows Zeff to hand over his station and wander up to where Sanji is putting the finishing touches on a set of desserts. 

He’s gone with ice cream sundaes, no doubt in deference to the ongoing summer heat. From what Zeff can see, he’s used vanilla for the base, but decked them out with all manner of assorted treats. Syrup, sliced strawberries, whipped cream - you name it and the sundaes are coated.

All of them but one that is. It sits separate from the rest, ice cream dished out, but otherwise unaccompanied by anything else. Figuring Sanji hasn’t had a chance to get to it yet, Zeff makes to pull it towards himself to start working.

“Sorry, not that one,” Sanji says, pushing the dish further away from the others, leaving it just out of Zeff’s reach. “That’s Zoro’s,” he explains when Zeff raises a questioning eyebrow. “He’s got fucked up tastebuds. Doesn’t like sweet things.”

“Hmm,” Zeff says, understanding dawning. It’s the mark of a good chef to be able to accommodate for the different palates of his crew, although he can’t help but notice that Sanji had rescued that particular dish much quicker than necessary.

“What do you put on it then?” He asks, and Sanji makes a face.

“Nothing,” he says, clearly despairing. “He gets fussy if I go too elaborate, and then it’s a struggle to get him to eat it.”

A struggle but not an impossible feat, is what Zeff hears. He cocks his head to the side, curious, and decides it’s his god given right as a parent to push. “Will he still eat it either way?”

“Of course he will!” Sanji snaps, the pale skin of his cheeks flushing. “I don’t let food go to waste, remember?”

Those are not even remotely the same thing and they both know it. Intrigued, Zeff suspects he knows exactly what Sanji’s trying very hard not to say. Roronoa is aware of Sanji’s very understandable hang up where wasted food is concerned, and he’ll eat things he doesn’t like because of it.

“Hmm,” Zeff says again. 

Sanji shoots him a suspicious glance, but doesn’t press.

Zeff decides then and there to keep observing matters for the time being.

*****

As it turns out, he doesn’t have to wait very long to see more of Sanji and Roronoa’s interactions, or their crew’s take on them for that matter. The next morning he catches the damned skeleton accompanying an all out brawl on the deck with a romantic serenade.

“Really?” Zeff demands, moustache quivering in indignation as he locks, well, not quite eyes with the other man, but close enough for comfort.

Brook turns to him with a wide grin (by default, admittedly) and one of those ridiculous laughs of his. “Don’t worry,” he says in between chuckles, “I assure you they won’t pick up on anything.”

Probably because they’re too busy trying to smash each other’s faces in, Zeff thinks but doesn’t say aloud. In the distance, a sliced off piece of railing catches fire and goes shooting off into the ocean.

Zeff’s going to bill them for both physical and emotional damages.

“What are they even fighting about?” He groans.

Brook shrugs and raises the bow to his violin again, having temporarily ceased his playing upon Zeff’s approach. “As far as I could tell, Zoro deliberately knocked into Sanji while he was carrying a tray of snacks, and Sanji just as deliberately attacked him for it.”

Zeff makes a confused noise, and Brook shrugs as best as he’s able. “From what I understand it’s an excuse for them to touch each other without eliciting commentary.”

“I’ll elicit them some fuckin’ commentary,” Zeff replies, scowling when Sanji lands a kick that sends Roronoa catapulting into the water. He’d be impressed at the display of strength, but the bastard’s flight path had taken out another railing in the process.

“I’m sure Franky will be happy to repair any damages,” Brook says, following his line of sight.

“Somebody had better,” Zeff warns.

He watches as Sanji casually lights himself a cigarette and then proceeds to stroll over to the side of the deck where Roronoa is hauling his bulk out of the water. It looks like his overcoat might’ve snagged on something, though, because he’s having a bit of trouble.

Still smoking, Sanji crouches down next to him and offers a hand to help him. For his part, Zeff’s not expecting the swordsman to take it, hence his surprise when the younger man does exactly that.

Then of course he uses his grip to tug Sanji forward and send him toppling into the water, which Zeff supposes he should have seen coming a mile off.

Sanji comes up sputtering, spitting out his ruined cigarette as he curses the air blue with some especially damning comments about Roronoa’s parentage. Rather than take offence, Roronoa laughs loudly and splashes water in his face. 

“Ah, young love,” Brook sighs as they begin trying to drown each other. 

At least they’re smiling while they do it, Zeff supposes. 

*****

Zeff likes Sanji’s little sniper friend. He’s a whiny, spineless coward the bulk of the time, but by all accounts he comes through when the chips are down. It’s also clear he has at least some smattering of common sense, which isn’t something all of his crewmates are necessarily blessed with. All told, it makes him more palatable than some of the others.

Nevertheless, Usopp regards him warily when he stumbles across him later that afternoon. “Uh, can I help you?” He asks, glancing around like he’s trying to figure out why Zeff’s anywhere near him.

Zeff sits down on a nearby crate, happy for a chance to rest his aching foot for a moment, and in relative peace and quiet at that. “What are you doing in one of my storage lockers?” He asks, the question only belatedly occurring to him.

Usopp holds up a number of small, finicky looking tools. “I’m working on revamping some of our gear, but Franky’s got a project of his own going on in the Sunny’s workshop and the parts are everywhere. Even when he’s not inside, there’s no room for me.”

Deciding he can see the logic in this, Zeff grunts in acknowledgement.

“So, uh, why are you here?” Usopp asks, apparently not as fond of sitting in silence as Zeff is. “Are you looking for something specific? Oh, am I in your way?”

He starts scrambling to his feet, but Zeff waves him back down before he can manage it. “Just taking a quick breather,” he admits. “Forgot how much busier a kitchen can get when you lot are around.”

“Luffy’s eating you out of house and home, huh?” Usopp nods sagely. “Welcome to Sanji’s world. I don’t know how he does it, but somehow he manages to keep that bottomless pit filled and the rest of us happy at the same time.”

“Kid’s always been ambitious,” Zeff replies, seeing no shame in saying so. “If anyone can keep up with the Pirate King, it’s him.”

Usopp grins a little at that, probably thinking Zeff is being sappy or some shit. Never mind that all he’s doing is speaking the truth. He can be proud and practical at the same time.

They sit in silence for a few minutes before long-nose clears his throat. “Hey, in case nobody’s said it yet, and with this crew it’s a distinct possibility, thanks for hosting us like this. I know we can be a bit much.”

Zeff gives him a look, hoping the kid can read his willingness to house Sanji and his little ragtag posse under any circumstances without him having to actually say it out loud. He has a reputation to maintain after all.

Proving he’s once again smarter than he looks, Usopp flushes faintly and nods, his cheeks tinting as he gazes down at the project he’s still fiddling with. “Right,” he says. “Of course.”

“Still,” he adds, “I hope we haven’t been too much trouble. I wouldn’t want us to wear out our welcome. The food here is great and Sanji - Sanji really loves this place, you know?”

As a matter of fact, Zeff does know. Sanji’s always worn his heart on his sleeve - it’s part of what makes this bizarre thing he has going on with the swordsman so noticeable - and he’d never have dragged these people he so obviously cares for all the way out here if he didn’t feel it was important for them to see it.

“You’ve been fine, even Straw Hat,” Zeff says, willing to offer up a bone. “Hell, pretty sure Eggplant’s done more damage since being here than the rest of you.”

Usopp snickers, for once not flinching when he gets caught in the act. “Him and his one-eyed, green-haired shadow, I think you mean. Yeah,” he adds when Zeff can’t help but make a face, “I know how you feel. Sometimes I wonder if locking them in a room somewhere might help, but it’d probably just up the level of property damage.”

Sounds like he’s another one who’s noticed romance is in the air. “Your entire crew know about this?” Zeff asks, and the kid shrugs.

“It might’ve gone over Chopper’s head,” he admits. “He’s not the best at noticing romantic stuff unless someone brings it up directly. That’s it, though. At this point I’m pretty sure even Luffy can tell.”

Now that’s just goddamned sad, Zeff thinks with a grunt. If this mess has somehow managed to make its way through the routes in Straw Hat’s brain labeled ‘adventure’ and ‘meat’ then it’s shot passed the realm of Ridiculous and landed squarely in that of Pathetic.

“What a pair of idiots,” he says aloud, and the sniper doesn’t disagree.

Instead, he shrugs again. “Idiots, sure,” he notes, “but, well,” he flushes when Zeff gives him a pointed look, palming the back of his neck with one hand. “They do make each other happy. I’m sure of it.”

*****

After a while, Zeff opts to leave Usopp to his own devices and sets off on a new mission. Intent on cornering the Straw Hats’ shipwright and getting him to sort out the repairs he’s been promised, he finds the man already hard at work out on the deck, with Nico Robin sat at a nearby table, a book in one hand and a cup of tea in the other.

Of all Sanji’s crew, she’s the one Zeff’s most inclined to give a wide berth, but she looks up right when he stomps out into the sun, the corners of her mouth curving as she motions him over. Wanting to be polite, he goes.

“Good afternoon,” she says once he’s within earshot. She sets down her book, but keeps a hold of her drink as he approaches. “Should I assume you’re here to check on Franky’s progress?”

Zeff grunts. “Might be,” he admits, ignoring the small laugh she lets out. “How’s it going?”

Her smile shifts into something decidedly more impish. “Well it’s not my area of expertise, but he’s hardly used any profanity so I think it’s safe to assume everything is fine.”

“How reassuring,” Zeff grumbles.

“Indeed,” she replies. “Truly though, Franky is extremely skilled at his craft and he takes his projects seriously. Your bigger concern should be whether or not he builds any unexpected surprises into your ship.”

“You and Sanji both told me I wasn’t allowed to do that,” Franky calls from where he’s hunched over a toolbox. Zeff doesn’t think he’s imagining the slight sulk in his voice. “Even though my ideas were totally super.”

“You and I have very different definitions of that word, dear,” Robin informs him. “And you and Sanji even more so. Need I remind you what’s likely to happen if you irreparably damage The Baratie?”

“He’ll get my foot up his ass, that’s what,” Zeff says seriously. “Don’t think I won’t.”

“Your foot. Sanji’s foot. Zoro’s swords.” Franky heaves a put upon sigh, like he can’t handle the unfairness of it all. “What’s a man gotta do to be allowed to express a little creativity around here?”

“For starters, may I suggest not offering to build explosives into the banisters for reasons I simply cannot fathom?”

“I told you, it was part of a defence system, and it would be amazing.”

“Sanji didn’t think so,” Robin says, “and judging by the look on his face, I don’t think the head chef here does either.”

“Do not blow up my ship,” Zeff says sternly.

“Yeah, yeah,” Franky waves one massive hand dismissively. “I see you and Zoro both went to the same school of looming. Even accounting for the different number of eyes, that’s the same face he made when I tried to press the issue with Sanji.”

Something must show on Zeff’s face despite his best efforts because Robin coughs quietly into her fist. “Zoro is ...” she pauses, obviously searching for the right word, “... dedicated to ensuring that no ill intentions befall Sanji.”

“She means he’s overprotective and bad at hiding it,” Franky translates, as if Zeff needed the help. “Gettin’ on one of their bad sides is the stuff of nightmares because once the first is done kicking your ass, the second is gonna come along for round two. It ain’t worth poking that bear, not for love or money.”

“They seem happy though,” Robin adds. “If a little dense about the whole thing.”

Given that they’re a ready and frequent topic of conversation among their crew, Zeff suspects the phrase ‘a little dense’ is being generous. Still. “You saying you think they’ll sort themselves out then?”

She gives him a serene smile. “Well, it’s either that or they’ll both get their hearts broken and inflict insurmountable damage on each other as a result of their grief. Possibly dooming the rest of us in the process if they get distracted during a battle.”

There’s a groan from over by the toolbox. 

Babe! We have talked about this!”

Robin keeps right on smiling.

*****

The apparent approval of Sanji’s crew goes a long way towards convincing Zeff that the kid isn’t setting himself up for a one way ticket to heartbreak, but it doesn’t erase his fears entirely, or his burgeoning exasperation for that matter. That’s the main reason he decides to have a word with the source of any potential upset.

“What are your intentions towards my idiot child?” Zeff demands, pleased when his question makes Roronoa stumble in the middle of lifting a weight bigger than he is.

“Uh?” He says eloquently, his lone good eye blown wide in surprise.

Zeff starts tapping his sole remaining foot in return, crossing his arms over his chest for added measure. “I asked you a question,” he says impatiently. “You gonna  keep me waiting?”

“How did you even get in here?” Roronoa asks, glancing around the crow’s nest like he’s expecting some kind of trap.

“Wrong answer,” Zeff barks. He has his ways, and no requirement to explain said ways to reprobate swordsman, especially this reprobate swordsman. “Don’t make me ask again.”

“Uhh?” Roronoa says hesitantly. “I ... love him?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?” Zeff wants to know, although inwardly he’s impressed the kid isn’t trying to hide it what with the way he and Sanji seem to be dancing around each other. Grudgingly impressed, admittedly, but impressed all the same.

And it becomes less grudging when Roronoa puts down the weight and straightens to his full height, meeting Zeff’s gaze head on in the process. “Telling,” he says firmly. “Definitely telling.”

Zeff cocks his head to the side and lets his gaze rake the younger man up and down. On the surface, Roronoa Zoro is the last person most folks would expect Sanji to go for. Underneath, though, well - they’re obviously better matched than anticipated.

“Hmm,” he says then. “And if I opt not to bless this potential union? What’re you going to do then?”

Roronoa’s eye narrows momentarily, but instead of lashing out he surprises Zeff with a shrug. “Whatever the cook tells me,” he rumbles. “He’ll make up his mind regardless of what anyone else says. Always does.”

Zeff considers this and finds he doesn’t loathe the idea nearly as much as he should, which is probably a sign he’s going soft in his old age. Still, it won’t do to let the little bastard off entirely scot free.

“He’s a dumb as fuck kid,” he says then, seeing no point in pussyfooting around the issue, “but he’s my dumb as fuck kid. Hurt him and they’ll never find your body.”

And with that he sweeps out of the room, leaving Roronoa suitably cowed in his wake.

*****

Because he can, Zeff waits until his precious brat is mid-gulp from a glass of water before saying, “You are aware you want to screw that lunatic swordsman, aren’t you?”

Sanji’s resulting shriek is gratifying to say the least. “Wh-what?!” He sputters, water now dripping down the front of his previously pristine shirt. “How? What do you -? Why would you phrase it like that of all things, you fucking crazy old coot?!”

“Language,” Zeff says sternly, enjoying the borderline alarming shade of red Sanji’s face takes on. “And you didn’t answer my question, Eggplant. Has the notion breached your thick skull that you have less than noble intentions towards your crew’s first mate?”

And vice versa, he thinks darkly but doesn’t say aloud.

Sanji gapes at him for a few seconds before making a horrified noise and starting to thump his head against the top of the table they’re seated at. “This isn’t happening,” he moans in between hits. “Not like this. I could’ve handled anything but this.”

Zeff crosses his arms over his chest, years of practice telling him how to wait the kid out. “Is that a yes or a no?”

“It’s a ‘please kill me now’,” Sanji replies, stopping his thumping and burying his face in his hands instead. “What have I done to deserve this?”

“Do you want the list numerically or alphabetically?” Zeff wonders, smirking when two of Sanji’s fingers crack open enough for a pale blue eye to shoot him a vicious glare. “Just trying to be helpful.”

“Like hell you are,” Sanji grits out. He does, however, let his hands fall away from his face, so Zeff opts to take it as a win. “And to answer your question, crap geezer, yes, I’m aware I want to scr - ugh, no, I can’t even say that with a straight face with you in the room. Yes, I am aware I have feelings of a romantic nature towards a piece of heavily armed seaweed. I’m told that’s often a requirement to being in a relationship such as ours.”

Zeff blinks, needing a moment to process that line as he turns it over in his brain. He holds up a hand. “Relationship.” He repeats finally, wanting to make sure he’d heard right.

All of a sudden Sanji is very interested in the wooden table top. “Yeah,” he says, not meeting Zeff’s eyes. “For a while now.”

“Huh,” Zeff says, caught off guard. “Didn’t know it’d progressed to that point already. Also didn’t expect you to come out and cop to it like that.”

Sanji does look up at this, his visible eye narrowing even as he can’t quite manage to control the tremble in his hands. “I’m not hiding anything,” he says. “I’m not ashamed.”

And oh Zeff is going to nip this in the bud right now. “You hear me saying you should be?” He demands. “No? Didn’t think so. You pick who you want to be with, brat. So long as they treat you right, I don’t care who it is.”

“O-oh,” Sanji says, clearly taken aback. “Okay,” he adds after a weighted pause. “Thanks.”

Zeff nods stiffly and they sit in awkward silence for a couple of very long minutes before something occurs to him. “I talked to him about you earlier today,” he says, feeling no shame in admitting it. “He neglected to mention you were already a thing.”

“Because I asked him not to before we got here,” Sanji admits, shoulders hunching defensively when Zeff glares at him. “Not like that. Get that look off your face. I wanted to tell you myself is all. I just didn’t know how.”

Zeff snorts. “I figure something like ‘Hey, pop, I’ve been screwing the Demon of the East Blue for an indeterminate amount of time, and we’re thinking of settling down somewhere nice’ probably would have gotten the point across. But maybe that’s just me.”

Sanji’s entire face screws up in disgust and it’s all Zeff can do not to laugh. “Each part of that sentence was more terrible than the last. Please stop talking.”

“If you’re not going to give me any details I’m going to have to come up with them on my own.”

“Ugh - fine, damnit.” Sanji heaves a put upon sigh. “We’ve been together since just after the mess on Whole Cake Island. It turned out he had a number of things to say about me running off to get married. Most of them rude.”

“Can’t say I blame him for that,” Zeff growls. “I’m assuming this goes without saying, but that was some of the stupidest shit you’ve ever pulled. Which is impressive to say the least.”

“Wow, can we not?” Sanji asks. “I’m well aware of the fucking nightmare I caused everybody, but it’s over and done with. The end.”

“Fine,” Zeff agrees, willing to allow him the out just this once. “Then tell me more about this relationship of yours. Like, for one, why the rest of your crew doesn’t seem to know it exists.”

“Oh that,” Sanji says, surprising Zeff by laughing. “Yeah, there’s a very simple explanation for that.”

“Do tell.”

“Easy,” and here Sanji’s expression shifts to one Zeff remembers well from his years as an obnoxious teenager, the one that says ‘I am going to cause trouble deliberately today and I am going to enjoy it’, “because it’s fucking hilarious.”

Zeff stares at him, slowly letting those words sink in. “I have failed you as a parent.”

“Eh, I was a lost cause long before you ever got your hands on me.” Sanji waves an errant hand, unconcerned, and then flashes him a sly grin. “We’ve been taking bets on who ends up cracking first if you want in.”

Zeff considers this. “I’d say best odds fall with your navigator,” he says, remembering the look on her face from the first day. “That one’s about ready to start cracking skulls together if that’s what it takes.”

“Definitely a viable option,” Sanji agrees, “though I often lean towards Usopp caving under pressure. Zoro, for some inexplicable reason, is convinced it’s going to be Robin, but he’s an idiot.”

“An idiot that treats you right though, yeah?” Zeff asks. Their family may be dysfunctional at best, but sue him, this is still his kid they’re talking about here and he wasn’t joking about making Roronoa’s life hell if he fucks this up.

Sanji smiles, though, a real, genuine thing that makes something settle in Zeff’s chest. “Yeah,” he says quietly. “That too.”

*****

Way back when the Straw Hats had first blown into his life and then promptly run away with his only child, Zeff had used the resulting property damage to do a little remodelling on The Baratie. Among the changes had been slightly bigger quarters for himself, including an attached sitting room for times when he felt like relaxing somewhere other than his bedroom.

He didn’t use it much, being someone who didn’t have company all that often, but if ever there was a guest worth entertaining, he supposes it’d be his own son. That’s why he tells Sanji in no uncertain terms that he’s to join him there for supper on the evening before the Straw Hats are set to depart, and he’s to bring his one-eyed behemoth with him.

Sanji eyes him warily when he extends the invitation (read: demand). “Just the two of us?” He asks, and Zeff snorts at his suspicious tone.

“You think I want your whole crew in my private quarters, or can even fit ‘em for that matter? Tch! Use what brains you’ve got, Eggplant, and call it what it is - a quiet family dinner.”

Sanji makes a beleaguered noise around one of his ever present cigarettes, flapping his hands in a way that means he’s trying to come up with an excuse to get himself out of this. Having none of it, Zeff glares.

“...fine.” Sanji huffs, wilting under the pressure of Zeff’s expression. “But I’m warning you now, he’s got the table manners of a drunken ape, and no matter how hard I try I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to train anything better into him.”

Zeff scoffs. He’s been a restaurant owner for well over a decade now and before that he was a pirate. If Sanji thinks his big brute can phase him, he’s got another thing coming.

Plus, in the end it turns out that Roronoa’s manners are just fine. Oh, they’re nothing to write home about, to be sure, what with the way he grunts more words than he speaks and isn’t shy about the amount of booze he knocks back, but all told there’s no issue.

Especially not when Zeff catches him watching Sanji out of the corner of his eye at one point, his mouth turned up in a fond smile that makes him look as young as he is, the hardened shell created by years of blood and battle melting away to leave behind only what should be there - a brat who’s in love with another.

This, Zeff thinks as something loosens in his chest, the last vestiges of worry finally snapping and melting away, he can live with.

They retire to the other side of the room once the meal is done, leaving the table behind so that Zeff can settle in his favorite armchair, while Thing 1 and Thing 2 claim the sofa. He’ll have to deal with the dishes eventually, but for now he wants to spend a little more quality time with his kid.

“Any idea where you lot are heading next?” He asks, accepting the steaming mug of tea Sanji hands him with a tiny nod. Sanji himself is eyeing a tray of small, plated desserts like he’s not sure if he wants one or not. Next to him Roronoa is sagging low in his spot, his eye shuttered like he’s on the verge of a post-meal nap.

He’s also got one heavily scarred hand resting on Sanji’s knee like it belongs there, but Zeff magnanimously decides to tolerate this when Sanji’s sole reaction is to pat the limb gently before finally selecting a cookie.

“Not sure,” he says, after chewing and swallowing a bite. “We’re kind of doing a tour of where everyone came from though, so most likely Syrup Village I’d bet.”

That’s where the long nosed kid hails from if Zeff recalls correctly. He hums thoughtfully to himself. “Should be nice this time of year.”

Sanji makes a similar noise around his second bite and Roronoa’s eyelid droops even closer to being shut. “Yeah, it’ll be nice to meet his lady Kaya too. Those who have only have good things to say about her, of course.” 

Roronoa mumbles something impossible for Zeff to make out, but Sanji translates easily in the wake of a raised eyebrow. “He says they seem well matched to him.”

Zeff considers this for a moment, considers them really. Whether he meant anything by it or not, he has a feeling Roronoa knows a thing or two about well matched pairs these days, having clearly found one of his own. Zeff decides he approves of this.

“So,” he says then, taking a contemplative sip of his tea, “when can I start expecting grandkids?”

He’s not sure which is more satisfying, the way Sanji chokes on the last bite of his biscuit, crumbs spraying everywhere, or the thump Roronoa makes as he flails and falls out of his seat.