It had been six months since Zoro had given the little eggplant his new knives, his second custom made set, to replace the ones he got when the brats were just little teenagers. Now they were nineteen, fuck, how did they get so old? Still, Zeff had been worried before that something was going on with his boys, their errant crush seemed to be spiralling out of control, so much so that Zeff had even tried to set something in motion about it. It didn't seem to work though, the two of them weren't together as far as Zeff could tell, he was sure one of their loudmouth friends would have blabbed if they were.
Still, the knives had seemed to smooth over whatever tensions had been building and both boys- well, young men, seemed to be happier. Peace reigned in the Baratie as much as it ever did. Which is to say that the half pint and the little eggplant still fought viciously on occasion over nothing of consequence and usually broke or damaged something, sometimes each other and sometimes furniture.
Zeff is watching a newbie Coby slice carrots, the dumb ass kid is so nervous that he is in danger of amputating a finger. The social still send him kids to keep an eye on but even they know that he can't foster any more, not with Zoro and Sanji as permanent features in his life. He still provides work and a safe environment for kids though, the kid is about fourteen now and starting to shape up nicely in the last three months since he's been with them.
Sanji walks into the Baratie and heads upstairs past Zeff, humming under his breath to go get changed for work, the little eggplant looks happy.
"Shit, I really need to go drinking with Zoro, you think I could convince him?" Patty grumbles, looking at Carne.
"Why would you want to go drinking with Zoro?" Carne asks from behind Zeff where he's stir-frying the carrots that Coby is slowly slicing.
"Well, that's Sanji's 'I got laid' face, he's even humming. He went drinking with Zoro last night, he's like this whenever he goes drinking with Zoro. That guy must be one hell of a wingman to get Sanji laid so often, it's crazy. I need me some of that!" Patty whines pitifully.
Sanji walks back past them all, buttoning up the last few buttons of his chef's whites. He does look happy, suspiciously so. Zeff strains his ears as Sanji unrolls his knives at his station, the eggplant is even humming that song about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens! That's just- it's almost sick how happy he is.
"What's got into you eggplant?" Zeff enquires suspiciously, Sanji looks up with wide eyes as if he's been caught out.
"You mean who's he got into!" Patty cackles at Zeff's side.
"Zoro." Sanji says flatly, turning around to look at them both. Now that stops Zeff short, Patty and Carne too. Was Sanji serious?
Before he can ask though a familiar pair of arms flies into Zeff's peripheral vision and he looks to the side to see Zoro holding Patty in a ruthless choke hold. He ignores Patty's struggle for his life and Zoro's serial killer grin and glances back at Sanji who's smiling with obvious pleasure. Zeff's suspicious mind simmers slowly, this wouldn't be the first time that Sanji's told a truth disguised as something else. Granted he used to do it more when he was an insecure foster kid, afraid to tell any real truths about important things unless he was mocked, but if he played it off like a joke or no big deal then he could say it risk free. Still… Sanji hasn't really done that much for years, not since Zoro moved back to the country. All the same…
Zoro releases Patty from his certain death fate and strolls up to Sanji's workbench, leaning casually on the side.
"Shouldn't you be working?" Zoro asks casually.
Sanji frowns and looks down at his chef's clothes and across the kitchen.
"I am working fuck-face, shouldn't you be working?" the blonde snaps back angrily. Zeff's suspicion levels drop a little more. Nah, his boys were the same as they ever were, hopelessly unrequitedly in love with each other but in practice simply platonic and hostile.
"Did anyone tell you to stop chopping kid?" He prompts Coby who squeaks and goes back to work. Zeff sniffs approvingly, kids in his kitchen quickly learnt to rubberneck and work at the same time.
"Well, I thought I'd deliver your post." Zoro shoots back. Zeff turns to examine Patty's carrots, checking that Zoro's attempt on Patty's life hadn't distracted Carne enough to burn them, he only keeps half an ear on his sons' conversation as he does so.
"Oh, you've finally given up this blacksmith gig and followed your dreams to become a mailman huh? I'm very happy for you." Sanji says mockingly.
"You bastard!" Zoro snarls. Zeff ignores the sound of fighting as he examines the carrots, they're not singed but they need more sesame seeds though. He stares at them pointedly for a few minutes until Carne catches on and adds them. Satisfied he returns to Coby and notes that Zoro and Sanji have stopped fighting, they never fight seriously in the kitchen anyway, he disapproves of it too much.
"Here, it's for you." Zoro grins, holding out the letter.
"I can read, genius. I'm busy, I don't care what kind of weird letter you signed me up for, and obviously you did it because it was delivered to your house instead of here." Sanji retorts and he blitzes through chopping an onion with his superior knives.
"Just open it!" The half pint snarls, smacking Sanji in the side of the head with the envelope.
"Why don't you just tell me what it says? I can see that you steamed it open, read it and then resealed it." Sanji smiles smugly, Zoro's agitated looks tells Zeff that Sanji's accusation is true.
"Just- here!" Zoro says exasperatedly, shoving the envelope into Sanji's chest. The blonde takes it with a huff and opens it, sliding a thick letter out. Zeff watches with growing interest, the paper looks fancy and there are lots of sheets in that little envelope, a leaflet falls out of the bottom and Zeff picks it up when he recognises the logo.
The leaflet reads "what to expect when you start your course", it's in French though with English text below it and the logo at the top is for Le Cordon Bleu, the best French culinary school in the world. A qualification from there frequently sees chefs leap right to the position of head chef in any restaurant they choose. Zeff steps in and reads excitedly over Sanji's shoulder, it's a letter of acceptance into the school!
"Sanji, you didn't tell me you signed up for this!" Zeff says happily.
"I didn't." Sanji snaps out, his voice as deadly as Zoro's steel and his grip on the paper threateningly tight. Before Zeff can question it though Sanji throws the letter to the floor and lunges for Zoro. His other son doesn't react quick enough though and Sanji's shoe catches Zoro right in the jaw at full power. Zoro flies across the room, smashing into a counter top and only missing getting scalding oil on him due to Carne's quick reflexes with his pan.
Zoro spits blood onto the floor and looks up at Sanji with wide startled eyes, he has to move quickly though because Sanji is running at him again with murder in his eyes.
"I'll fucking KILL you!" Sanji screeches, sounding every bit like he means it. Zeff has never heard Sanji threaten Zoro quite like that. Zoro scrambles out of range quickly, clearly seeing just how much Sanji means business.
"Sanji, calm down!" Zoro implores, ducking another kick and only just making it.
"How COULD you?!" Sanji yells and kicks out again, Zoro can't duck that one and it forced to block it painfully with his forearm.
"I'm only trying to help! It'll be good for you!" Zoro yelps, backing up quickly and ducking around a rack that Sanji leaves a huge dent in.
"Is this your way of trying to- to- I'll destroy you for this!" the blonde howls and catches Zoro in the ribs with his shin. Zoro cleverly grabs Sanji's leg and pins it to his side.
"I'm not doing this to hurt you! It'll be good for you!" Zoro insists desperately. Sanji screeches with rage and hauls himself on his trapped leg as he swings a fist into Zoro's jaw, just where he punched him earlier. It's only that show of complete insanity that snaps Zeff out of his shocked state.
"Break up you two!" He shouts, coming between them and hauling Sanji off of Zoro. The blacksmith is clutching at his face in pain. Zeff turns to Sanji, about to ask what the hell is going on when he sees his son's face. Tears are streaming down Sanji's reddened cheeks and with one choked out sob Sanji flees upstairs, slamming the flat door behind him as he goes.
"Sanji, Sanji wait!" Zoro calls after him and sprints past Zeff up the stairs.
"…the fuck just happened?" Patty asks to the resounding horrified silence of the kitchen. Neither of them have ever fought like they were trying to kill each other before, or rather, like Sanji was trying to kill Zoro. Zeff stares around his kitchen in horror as he takes in the damage to equipment that Sanji has wrought, neither of the boys would ever willingly do that normally. And Sanji used his hands to punch Zoro as well! What on earth is going on?
He heads upstairs to find Zoro furiously hammering on Sanji's bedroom door, the bedroom that they boys used to share.
"Sanji please, I've told you it's not like that! I'm just trying to help you!" Zoro shouts through the door.
"You're a fucking liar and I hate you! How could you do this to me?!" Sanji's muffled voice comes back through the door.
"I didn't do it to hurt you, Sanji, please… open the door. Can we talk about this?" Zoro pleads, combing a hand through his hair frustrated.
"No, just leave! It's what you're good at!" Sanji shouts accusingly with an accompanying smash in the room which sounds like the bookcase meeting its end. Zoro hesitates and Zeff doesn't have to strain his ears to hear the sound of Sanji sobbing violently.
Zoro groans unhappily and turns his back on the door, sliding down the wood until he's sitting on the floor.
"What have you done Zoro?" Zeff demands in a growl, Zoro's eyes widen and his back snaps straight, he knows he's in trouble.
"Nothing bad." Zoro insists earnestly.
"Sanji doesn't seem to think so, he's not been that distraught since you cut him out of your life last time for him abandoning you for that girl." He accuses. Though he felt really bad for Zoro when that happened, he saw first-hand just how heartbroken the poor kid was after all, Sanji felt the pain of it too. The little eggplant walked around for so long looking like someone had cut open his soul and taken a piece, he's not cried like this since. He appreciates that Zoro has trust and abandonment issues from his past, he had a pretty fucked up life, but so did Sanji and neither of them deserved the pain that they inflicted on the other. He'd thought that they'd both learned from that but apparently not.
Zoro squirms uncomfortably, he doesn't like people bringing that up so Zeff make sure to do so whenever he's really angry with Zoro.
"It's not like that. Sanji deserves the chance to go to this school, he's got incredible talent and he deserves the chance to really develop it, he needs to learn from more masters than just you Zeff." Zoro insists, looking up at him from the floor.
"I agree, but Sanji doesn't seem to think so, why is he so upset?" he frowns, it just doesn't make sense.
"I… I applied for him. I took pictures of his work under the pretence of photographing the knives in action and sent recommendations in, old menus, that kind of thing. I didn't tell him because I knew he'd say no if I asked him to." The half pint admits uncomfortably.
"So you lied." He concludes.
"Well, yes." Zoro admits sheepishly.
"Why doesn't he want to go? What's so bad about this?" Zeff presses.
"Well, he has stuff… important stuff, that he thinks he'll lose if he leaves." His kid answers, squirming under the scrutiny.
"Such as?" he asks sitting down with a groan that sounds too much like an old man for his liking.
"Well… stuff. This place… you… me." The half pint adds that last one in a quiet voice.
"He's being an idiot, nothing will change!" Zoro says shouting that last part through the door. Zoro winces as a shattering sound emanates from the door, Sanji probably threw his lamp at it.
"What are you not telling me about this?" he asks with a sigh, he's too old for this kind of shit. Zoro deliberately avoids his gaze and puts his hand inside his mouth, he winces and swears around his fist for a second before withdrawing a bloodied hand with a whole molar in it. Sanji must have kicked him pretty fucking hard to knock a tooth out and Zoro's jaw is already starting to swell considerably.
"You don't need all of your adult teeth right?" Zoro asks absently and awkwardly puts it in his pocket before wiping his hand on his trousers, leaving big bloodied streaks.
"Zoro. Stop avoiding the subject." He orders.
"I'm sorry old man, but it's complicated. And I'm not about to risk making this worse by telling you, you'll have to ask Sanji. Just… let me know when he comes out of there please? I'd go in myself but he's pulled the wardrobe across the door and I can't move it." Zoro sighs as he stands up. Zeff doesn't get up but instead glowers at his adopted son, he'll promise nothing until he knows more about this.
"Fine." Zoro mutters, his shoulders dropping in defeat as he turns to leave.
"Go see Chopper about that tooth or your whole jaw might get infected." He says quietly as Zoro reaches the front door.
"I will." Zoro says nodding solemnly. Zeff says nothing else and returns his gaze to the shut door.
"Let me in Sanji, it's just me. Zoro's gone." He adds as an afterthought. Sanji ignores him but he can hear the little eggplant crying quietly within his room.
Zeff goes downstairs and ignores the obvious staring of his staff. He heads to the garage and pulls out the big extending ladder and takes it into the alleyway under Sanji's window and leans it against the wall. Careful on his fake leg he takes the steps one at a time until he's almost at head height with the window. Before he can open it though Sanji appears at the window ready to scream at him- presumably thinking that he's Zoro.
"Old man! You shouldn't be on there with your leg!" Sanji gasps at him.
"Well I can't very well be on it without it, can I?" He snaps back, not wanting to admit that the ladder actually feels a lot less steady than he'd like.
"Shitty old geezer." Sanji grouses and hauls Zeff into his room by his arms. Zeff regains his footing on the floor, glad to be on solid ground again. Sanji throws himself face down on the bed again, leaving Zeff to take in the devastation of the room. Sanji has smashed almost everything except his wardrobe which is indeed dragged across the door his bed and his mirror. Everything else is either broken, dented or strewn across the room.
"Talk, shitty kid." He orders, sitting down on the bed.
"I don't want to, just go away." Sanji sniffs, curling away from him to face the wall.
"I didn't ask what you wanted, I told you to tell me. Zoro refused to, he said it'd make it worse if he told me instead of you. So talk." He snarls, jabbing Sanji in the side.
"Fucking cowardly bastard." Sanji growls quietly with real venom in his tone. Zeff sits in expectant silence. That tactic often works on Sanji, be quiet enough and stare enough and eventually the eggplant will get anxious enough to fill the silence. Never worked on Zoro though, that kid could stay quiet forever.
"It's not about getting accepted, I'm pleased that they want me. I just don't want to go." Sanji says quietly to the wall.
"So turn the place down, what's the problem?" He huffs irritably.
"It's not about the place! It's… it's about Zoro trying to make me go. He wants to go back to Japan, he's talked about it lately, and him doing this… making me leave…" Sanji whines and sniffles.
"So you'll write to each other again, it won't be hard to go back to that, you two were really dedicated to it before." He frowns at Sanji, not getting what the problem is here. Sure they'll miss each other but it wasn't like they couldn't just write or call, hell, they even had video calls now. What was the big deal?
"Things are different now." The eggplant hedges vaguely.
Zeff lets that hang in the silence for a while, letting Sanji look more and more uncomfortable. Eventually the brat rolls onto his back and props himself up on his elbows to face him, though he doesn't make eye contact. He chews his lip and fists his hands in his bedspread as if he's holding on for dear life.
"We- it's… I…" Sanji mumbles nervously and looking everywhere in the room but at him.
"I- I love him. Not as a brother or anything, I mean I really love him. I'm in love with him, we're in love. Or I thought we were, until Zoro decided to break up with me by sending me to France!" Sanji adds with a snarl at the end. Sanji winces and closes his eyes as soon as he's done speaking, as if he expects a slap in the face. Old issues coming to the surface again then.
"I know that, idiot. I've known about you two being in love since you were kids, Zoro's loved you since he met you and you not that long after him. I'm not stupid." Zeff snorts. Sanji looks up at him with wide shocked eyes, his mouth opening and shutting again in shock.
"How long have you two been together?" He asks curiously.
"About six months." Sanji mutters, flushing across his cheeks and looking away embarrassed.
"Ah, the knives." He grins, so his plan did work!
"It wasn't like that!" Sanji squawks indignantly, turning beetroot red in a way that tells Zeff that it was exactly like that.
"I still don't see the problem." He points out with a smirk at Sanji's embarrassment.
"We only just got together, we're still figuring out how this whole thing should work, we've not even told anyone… except you I guess. And now Zoro wants to leave, how else am I supposed to take that?" Sanji sighs, leaning forwards and hugging his knees.
"Zoro's going back to Japan. He promised he was back for good and now he's leaving again, I said that I'd come with this time but he told me that I couldn't come- he said I'd be a distraction and that I'd get bored. It's a chance for him to train under Mihawk, for two years." The little eggplant says bitterly, picking at the hem on his trousers.
Zeff raises his eyebrows, ever since he was a kid Zoro's idolised this foreign swordsman who makes his own samurai swords. As Zoro has insisted many times with eyes filled with wonder, Mihawk is the best in the world. If Zoro was really offered an opportunity to study under a master like that, it'd be huge. Especially since from what Zoro has said before the guy simply doesn't do that kind of thing usually. He frowns at the little eggplant, Sanji should be happy for Zoro.
"I don't mind him studying, I'm happy for him, really proud actually. I just… I don't want to lose him, not after everything. Being away from him before was awful and it'd be even worse now. And he was just so vehemently against me coming with him, he said I couldn't come, that I didn't understand. And worse still… I know that Ace is going to Japan at the same time, they're not going together but I'd be an idiot to think that they're not going to see each other while they're both there." The blonde adds unhappily.
Zeff frowns and tries to remember. He remembers Luffy's big brother Ace, those boys damn near cleaned his cupboards out when they were last here together. He seems to recall Zoro taking quite a shine to Ace too, he'd thought it might be the first steps to Zoro showing interest in someone other than Sanji, something he'd desperately hoped for at the time. He wasn't sure that anything had come from it and Zoro still never looked at anyone quite the way that he looked at Sanji, but he can tell from his son's heartbroken look that Zoro and Ace did have some history.
"You think he's leaving you for that guy and moving halfway across the world to do it? Really?" Zeff snorts in disbelief.
"I don't know! But I know he's lying to me! He swore never to leave me here on my own and now he's done this, if I go to France then he's not technically leaving me here and the way he's keeping this information about Ace from me! I- I hate him!" Sanji wails dramatically and throws himself face down on his bed again.
Zeff massages his aching temples and reminds himself silently of all the reasons that adopting Sanji and Zoro was a good idea, because right now it doesn't seem like it. They're good boys overall, he loves them, he won't kill Sanji for being a moron or Zoro for being an oblivious idiot, or vice versa. He tries to remember that all teenagers are dumb and irrational and usually they grow out of it. Even so he can't remember being this chronically moronic and over dramatic when he was nineteen.
"I think," he says after a moment, "that you're giving Zoro a little too much credit. He's not a master manipulator, eggplant. He's as cunning as a sponge cake. My guess would be that he doesn't want you bored and lonely in a country that you don't speak the language of for two years with only Zoro for your entertainment when he's supposed to be focusing. You probably reacted like this at the idea and he's tried to make it up to you by giving you something he thought you wanted and trying to help out. He's just a tactless idiot about it. No conspiracy, no master plan, just Zoro being Zoro." He sighs wearily.
"And Ace?" Sanji accuses through his pillow.
"Do you even know that Zoro knows about that?" he reasons. Sanji remains suspiciously quiet, that would be a no then. Stupid fucking brats, the pair of them.
"Calm your tits then go talk to Zoro in a couple of hours, he should be back from seeing Chopper by then. You kicked a tooth right out of his head." He says and stands up from Sanji's bed. He crosses Sanji's room and hauls the furniture blocking the door out of the way and pulls the door open.
"And you're paying to replace this shit you know!" He barks out and goes to slam the door behind him, but before he can manage a small voice calls out his name. The same small lost little voice that Sanji had when he first got here.
He looks back at Sanji who is looking at him with big worried eyes.
"Are you… okay with this? With me and Zoro… you know?" Sanji asks in a mumbled voice.
Ah. That. He wonders if this was why Sanji and Zoro hadn't told anyone about their new relationship, how did they think he'd react?
"I've known for years that you two have loved each other, I knew about Zoro long before I knew how you felt. It's… odd. You're both my kids so it's weird." He admits truthfully.
"But… one of the things about being a parent is that you want your kid to be happy and if this makes you both happy, most of the time at least, then I'm happy for you." He says with a sigh. Some tension in Sanji's shoulders seems to release in one go and the boy smiles. He supposes that he should stop thinking of Sanji as a boy, as a kid, but he'll always be a little kid to Zeff.
"I know I don't say it much old man but… you're a great dad, you know that? We're both… we're really lucky that you adopted us." Sanji says quietly, looking up at him with a soft expression.
"You… shitty son. Don't say things like that." He sniffs, turning away and blinking any treacherous moisture out of the way. In all his years with his kids neither of them have ever called him dad, not once. Goddamnit, what's the eggplant trying to do to him talking like that?!
"Aw, what's the matter dad got something in your eye?" Sanji laughs, hopping up off of the bed and poking Zeff in the back, never one to miss an opportunity to piss him right off.
"You'll have my fucking foot in your eye if you don't shut the hell up! And clean this place up! I'm not paying you for tonight either and you're working doubles tomorrow to cover your shift! And go see Zoro and apologise like a man, you little bastard!" He snarls and stomps out of the room, slamming the door behind him, muting Sanji's outrageous laughter behind the door.
Little bastard. Calling him dad of all things.
Sanji in fact does sneak out of the house later and Zeff notices that when Sanji shows up in the kitchen the next morning there's a hickey just visible on his neck above the collar of his chef's whites. Sanji accepts the offer at Le Cordon Bleu and less than a week later he and Zoro are both all packed up and ready to fly separately across the world to their separate destinations.
He drives to the airport with both boys sitting quietly in the back seat, there's silence the whole time but Sanji is frantically checking something on both his and Zoro's phones, ringing one from the other and then the other way around. The phones are pretty expensive things as it happens, equipped with video whatsit and GPS, the poor blonde idiot probably thinks it'll stop Zoro getting lost. Zeff doesn't quite have the heart to point out that giving Zoro a map is not going to stop him getting lost, this is the kid who routinely confuses "north" and "up".
They both check onto their respective flights, Sanji's is an hour before Zoro's so all three of them head to Sanji's part of the airport first and loiter around in the shared waiting area. They talk about entirely inconsequential things like the weather, speculation on how the plane food is going to be (awful of course) and mocking the paltry moustaches of other men in the waiting room. Though that last one might just be him, after all, can you really call something a moustache if you can't braid it? No, you can't. Fools.
They walk Sanji to his gate when he's called, or as far as they can go anyway, in complete silence. Zeff wonders how he's managed to raise two utter idiots, he can feel the weight of all the things the two of them aren't saying. It's like they're playing chicken, see who can hold out the longest before cracking and choking up.
"Well, I've got to go." Sanji says, patting himself down and checking that he's got everything, nodding and turning to go.
"Have a safe flight eggplant." Zeff grunts with a nod.
"Try not to crash the car on your way home shitty-geezer." Sanji grins at him and walks off.
"Hey, cook." Zoro shouts suddenly, taking a few hesitant steps in his direction. Sanji freezes and looks over at Zoro with wide eyes.
"I'll… I'll see you later." The half pint says softly.
Sanji's bottom lip trembles and his whole body seems to shake.
"God-fucking-damnit Zoro! You swore we were gonna do this without crying!" Sanji chokes, clutching at his face with his back to them.
"I'm not crying." Zoro points out smugly.
Sanji turns around and glowers at Zoro for several straight seconds, Zoro however has had an entire lifetime of growing up under that glare and it doesn't seem to affect him much now. Perhaps realising this Sanji takes a different tactic, he grabs Zoro by the back of the neck and smashes their mouths together in a way that actually makes Zeff more than a little uncomfortable to be around. After a dazed second Zoro leaps back like a cat thrown in a bathtub full of water and stares up at Zeff in horror.
Zeff looks from Sanji's smug face to Zoro's terrified one and puts two and two together.
"You didn't tell him that you told me did you?" Zeff asks, looking from one son to the other.
"Gee, did that slip my mind?" Sanji says in faux innocence with a completely sick grin on his face.
"You bastard!" Zoro yells and swings for him. Sanji ducks behind Zeff only for Zoro to follow, leading to a very limited chase around Zeff's perimeter. Zeff didn't like this game when the boys were little and he doesn't like it now, somehow it always ends up with him getting hit somehow. He reaches out a hand and grabs Zoro's face in it and sharply pulls back, cracking Zoro and Sanji's heads together.
"Knock it off brats. Sanji, go get on your plane, Zoro lets go to your gate. Now say goodbye!" He orders them.
Zoro sullenly rubs his sore face, he's still got a black eye from where Sanji kicked him in the cheek and he knows that his jaw is still sore too. Sanji meanwhile is hissing and rubbing his forehead.
"You'll call me, right?" He asks Sanji with a concerned look.
"Every day, like I said dumbass." The blonde agrees with a roll of his eyes as he picks his backpack up off the floor.
"Okay. See you later then." Zoro nods with a small smile.
"See you later." Sanji echoes. Zeff frowns, didn't he tell them to say goodbye? Stupid brats.
Zoro shuffles awkwardly but then evidently things better of it and pulls Sanji in for a considerably tamer kiss. Zeff thinks that he might hear a whispered confession of love go back and forth there, but he's certainly not listening, it's none of his business after all.
Without another look back and a casual wave that very poorly hides how unhappy he is, Sanji walks through security and away from both of them. A forlorn looking Zoro grabs his own bag and follows Zeff to his flight to Japan.
"Right, try not to get lost before you get on the plane, make sure it's the right one. And call me as well sometimes yeah?" He sighs, stopping Zoro before his gate and tucking the label back into his shirt, such a scruffy kid.
"Zeeeeff." Zoro whines, struggling out of his hands like a squirmy little kid. Zoro gives him an unimpressed look and Zeff has to take a step back for a second and accept that his two kids really all grown up. They're both chasing their dreams, finding love (apparently in each other) and travelling the world. Not bad for two social service rejects that barely made it through school for one reason or another. But now they're men, he supposes.
"Right, I'll call. Later old man, thanks for the ride." Zoro calls over his shoulder as he heads towards one of the gates.
"Wrong gate, half pint." Zeff calls after a few seconds, causing Zoro abruptly alter direction and head for the right gate this time.
He laughs to himself and heads back to the car. After paying an extortionate amount to leave the airport in it he drives back to the Baratie and parks. He heads into the restaurant and finds that it's not all gone to hell while he's been away, good. He looks over what Coby is doing now and very quickly realises that all of the other staff are staring at him.
"What?" He demands, looking at Patty. He's been a bad liar his whole life so he's the best bet. He levels his best death glare and he predictably crumbles.
"We just thought that- you know… with Zoro and Sanji having flown the nest that you might be a little… down. Or something." Patty hedges, a murmur of cautious nonspecific agreement ripples through the kitchen.
"Why would I be down? The boys are happy, doing what makes them happy, that's the point of being a parent. Anyway, now no one's going to be borrowing my car, drinking my good booze, stinking my rooms out with smoke, trashing my furniture, getting into debt that I have to fix, it's going to be great. Peaceful even." He grins broadly.
For some reason his staff look sceptical.
"In fact, I'm going to go have a bath that no one else is hogging and drink that nice wine I've got that no one else is stealing." He announces and goes upstairs to do just that.
The first glass of wine is amazing. He's in a peaceful bath with no one hammering on the door about this or that or claiming that they want a soak in the bath, it's great. He gets out of the bath and gets into his comfy dressing down and has a second glass of lovely wine all to himself. No one else is whining for a glass, there's no bickering or mocking of drinking choices, no squabbles over the TV channel. There's no stampeding arguments held in pursuit from room to room, there's no noise of smashing furniture or loud laughter or… or anything.
He slides down into the sofa and stares across the big empty room. Across the wall are pictures. There's a picture of Sanji perfectly tossing a crepe in the air, the photo was timed just right so you can see it turn and the look of utter concentration on his face and in the background the look of sheer awe on Zoro's little face. There's a picture of Zoro and Sanji at the beach with Sanji wearing a massive amount of seaweed on his head pretending to be Zoro with a very pissed off looking ten year old Zoro at his side. Then there is photo finish after photo finish of the boys at various sports days, one would always win but the other would always be just a fraction behind and then work that much harder next time, in fact the pictures cycled as the years went on with one winning one time and the next the other.
He downs the rest of his glass of wine with a sniff, it must be hayfever season early this year, his sinuses are acting up, his eyes are probably even a little red. From the pollen. God it's quiet.
No sooner has the thought crossed his mind than the peace is disturbed by a loud screeching from outside. With an indigent huff he pours himself a third glass of wine and goes outside to investigate. Over by the bins a two young cats, barely out of being kittens, both scrawny enough to make them look like furry xylophones with tails. They're hissing and scrapping with each other, causing one hell of a racket behind the bins. Zeff glances into the bin near him and spies some tuna that Coby foolishly burnt that morning before he left with the boys. He pulls it from the bin and tosses it on the ground between them.
For a moment there's a furry standoff reminiscent of an old Clint Eastwood movie, after that though both felines hungrily hurl themselves at the fish, ripping it apart and inhaling it as fast as possible with no fighting at all. Well, that's that racket solved. Now, back to that peace and quiet that he'd been so looking forward to.
A quiet plaintive mew stops him in his tracks. He looks down to see two pairs of big hopeful eyes looking up at him. The smaller skinnier cat, probably some Siamese thing that would be elegant looking almost if it wasn't so dirtied up, steps towards him with another hopeful mew. The other juvenile cat/kitten thing hangs back a little with big green eyes turned on him, that one's some kind of brown fuzzy cat that he's never seen replicated before. A tortoiseshell maybe? It almost looks like it's got plant life growing on it and- oh no. No no no.
"Beat it kits, I don't do this stray thing anymore. Go fend for yourselves. Shoo." He says quickly, recognising all too well where this is going. Before any huge kitten eyes can sway him further he stomps back inside, slamming the door behind him and heads upstairs to finish his bottle of wine.
He sits to watch masterchef but it's not quite the same without Sanji's scathing criticism of the judges and the contestants, so he changes to some old film, but that's some story about knights and swords and… didn't he want to read his book anyway? Turning off the TV he picks up his book that he'd meant to get around to reading but Sanji kept borrowing whenever he wanted it.
He settles into the story and before long time is passing, the soothing sound of rain beginning outside lulls him into the story. That is of course until a sound snaps him out of it, it's… probably nothing, just a squeaking door or the building shifting, creaking pipes perhaps. He scrunches his brow and gets back into it. The pathetic mewling, and yes, it is mewling, pulls him out of it. With a growl he stomps over to the window and pulls it open. Looking down he can see the two pathetic skinny little kittens huddled together out of the rain in a cardboard box as far as is possible apart from each other whilst still being in the same box.
Knowing a losing battle when he sees one he heads downstairs, upends the box and brings it back up with him. It takes all of about three seconds for the first one to jump out, the Siamese thing, though hot on its tail is the other brown one. His conscience clear Zeff goes back to his book, to the familiar sounds of small feet chasing each other around the house and the occasional smash of a vase or thud of a collision with furniture.