(A/N: I had so many ideas for a birthday oneshot that I started three different stories and ended up not finishing any of them in time! ): Sorry, Luffy! And happy birthday!)
Sanji grabs his captain by the shoulder of his jacket, fisting his hand in the material and dragging Luffy up eye-to-eye.
It was a simple, offhanded remark the rubberboy made, in response to something the store clerk said about Children's Day the day before, and it made Sanji want to scream.
"I should strangle you," the cook hisses, and Luffy blinks wide, uncomprehending eyes at him- really, only making things worse. "You don't even get it. You really don't think we would have liked to know?"
Luffy paws at the hand holding him captive and frowns. "Wait, hey- what are you so mad about?"
The clerk leans over the counter, reaching out like she isn't sure if she should try to stop Sanji or not. He jerks away before she can touch him, a far cry from the gentleman he'd been moments before, and drags Luffy bodily out of the shop without any of the supplies they'd gone in for.
"You're a real piece of work, you know that?" he seethes, not even looking at his captain as he manhandles him down the road toward the harbor. "We've been worried sick about you, looking for any way to cheer you up, and you can't even- "
Luffy stumbles along with him, and if Sanji wasn't one of his dear friends, the blond would have been a smear on the tarmac by now; and he's desperately confused, and interrupts with, "Why have you been worried? I don't understand."
Despite himself, the chef relents slightly. He doesn't release Luffy, doesn't even loosen his grip, but he slows down, and takes a much needed drag of nicotine before plunging right in.
Forcing himself to meet Luffy's eyes, Sanji mutters, "All those new theories they've been reporting in the newspapers, about Marineford." The word tastes like ash on his tongue, and he can't help the quick dart of his eyes down and then back up; it was like cursing in church, and his heart races as he searches Luffy's face for any sign of consequential hurt.
Luffy tilts his head, brow furrowed. "How come they're doing that now? It was a long time ago."
"Search me, captain, news must be slow." He shifts his weight from one foot to the other. "But we all thought you must have seen it when the News Coo stopped by earlier this week, the picture of- "
Much worse than Marineford, Ace's name is one they do not say. Sanji doesn't even try to be smooth, just stops short and blows out a plume of smoke that curls lazily past his head. Luffy relaxes, shoulders sloping down, and smiles.
"I get it. You were trying to look out for me."
Sanji takes the offered escape route and runs with it. "Trying. You don't make it easy."
Luffy's laughter works loose the coil of unease in Sanji's gut. "Sorry, sorry. But I never saw the picture! I only look at the papers when we have new bounties."
The anger was seeping back, like bubbling oil in a hot pan. "No, the reason you've been a little off is because it was your birthday yesterday. Right?"
The smile on his captain's face falters, and it pinches Sanji's heart a little to see it go. "Right."
And Sanji isn't sure what he's feeling now; underneath the surface anger, it's a wounded feeling, but closer to reverse-hurt than anything else. Assisted betrayal.
You let me let you down.
"I would have told you if I knew you wanted to know!"
"How could I not want to know, Luffy? Didn't we celebrate my birthday just a little while ago? Franky and Usopp's, too."
Luffy laughs, rubbing the back of his head. "When I was little, all the other kids got treats and candies on my birthday, too, so I didn't know it was special for me. Ace always said it was, but I thought that was just 'cause he was my big brother. I thought that since it was already a holiday, it didn't count!"
Sanji blinks at him. Thinks of the bashful way Chopper accepted Christmas presents the day after his birthday last year; "Doctorine always just gave me cake on Christmas!" Thinks of Robin, who smiled secretly over candles like they were something much more than color and wax; and poor, cracked Brook, who couldn't remember his birthday or his middle name or what color his eyes used to be. Zoro, who didn't care, and Nami, who really did.
"I had fun celebrating yours! Everyone else's, too!"
He just didn't know, Sanji thought weakly, that his would count.
Birthdays meant something to everyone, even if they didn't mean anything; and they were all celebrated just a little bit differently, even if they weren't at all. Life on the Sunny-Go was proof of that.
But even so... there was no reason for a birthday not to count. Especially his.
"But I guess I was thinking about it a lot cause- well, I won't have my brother to celebrate with ever again. So, it's not special anymore."
He smiles when he says it, and there's no pain or bitterness in his voice, because he's strong, and he's moved on from that loss. But even if it wasn't the newspapers poking the healed wound, it was the looming date itself, and he really must have thought it was just one more thing he lost in that war.
"You know, captain," Sanji says, gently, because he can't help it. "Since we're all grown up now, we don't celebrate Children's Day anymore." When Luffy's eyes go round the way they do right before a story or adventure, Sanji knows he can turn everything around. He lets him go, shoves his hands in his pockets, and nods. "We could have had a party yesterday and we didn't. Doesn't that sound like a waste?"
It's not what Nami or Usopp would say, and if it were Zoro he wouldn't have to say anything for Luffy to understand, but none of them are here and Luffy's head tips to one side.
"I could have made you a huge cake," Sanji continues, stretching out his arms to indicate size; not exaggerating in the slightest, because it's a cake for his captain and he knows he'd outdo himself. Smiling at the expression on Luffy's face, the chef says, "I bet Nami would let you have some of her mikan. And everyone else would have shared their talents with you, too. It would have been great, huh?"
Have you ever had a birthday cake with your name on it, Luffy? Have you ever had a party, with candles and balloons?
Luffy is special, Sanji knew that already; the boy doesn't even take a minute to regret missing out on all that, before he's pumping his fists with stars in his eyes, cheering, "It would have been great! Next year, let's celebrate my birthday!"
That's the spirit, Sanji thinks fondly, and ruffles Luffy's hair before he can help it.
Not that he's going to wait until next year.
We'll get a calendar to hang in the kitchen, the cook thinks, walking hand in hand with Luffy, who swings their joined arms back and forth, and chatters eagerly, and smiles with much more warmth than he has in the past few days. We can help Brook pick a date.
Luffy is a wonder and a miracle, and he easily deserves festivals and parades, maybe a world wide holiday; biased or not, Sanji knows in his heart of hearts that Luffy certainly deserves a birthday.
Back at the ship, Nami raises an eyebrow at their lack of parcels or groceries, and as Luffy tackles a sleeping Zoro, and Chopper and Brook join him in an enthusiastic dogpile, and Usopp and Franky both laugh until they cry, and Robin watches it all from her lawn chair with a fond amusement, Sanji leans over to whisper a grand secret in their navigator's ear.
Her eyes go wide, and Sanji heads for the kitchen without further delay, to start work on a cake fit for a king.