"One of us needs to watch Luffy," Nami declares, and the rest of the crew nods.
Sanji takes a drag from his cigarette and glances over at the boy in question; he and his sniper are leaning out over the railing, clamoring in excitement. They'd just docked at a night island, lit up with neon and lights, and the quick trip around Robin and Franky had made earlier proved it to be the self-proclaimed party central of the New World. The tracks of a roller coaster are visible above a crest of billboards, and even from the bay they can hear music.
"I'll stay with him," Zoro says immediately, and at once Robin shakes her head.
"I think what Nami is saying is that one of us needs to watch Luffy," the historian clarifies. Zoro's brow creases- he doesn't understand, and to be honest neither does Sanji, but everyone else's head swivels to him and he blinks, taken aback.
"Him?" Zoro jabs a finger at him rudely, scowling at Nami with something close to real anger. "Leave Luffy with him on an island like this? As soon as he finds a girl who's even half-interested, he's gonna ditch Luffy in two seconds flat."
Sanji's sort of stung by the casual dismissal of his competence in Luffy-wrangling, but since it's Zoro the slight hurt burns away into anger almost right away. "Listen here, shitty moss-head, I don't need you of all people giving me a progress report."
A single poison green eye regards him sharply, and Nami diffuses the situation with a smile. "So you'll do it!"
"I'll do anything you ask of me, dearest Nami!"
Which is how he gets stuck with the rubber boy, who's bouncing in glee as the crew agrees to meet back at Sunny in five hours. Everyone splits up to go their separate ways in twos and threes, and Zoro strolls with Sanji and Luffy toward the main street, even as Nami calls over her shoulder "you better let Sanji do his job!"
Sanji sighs gustily as they pass a cluster of carnival games on the corner but honestly, he doesn't mind. Luffy's his captain, too, and he doesn't just call him that for his health. Luffy's an overgrown kid, and gets into trouble around every corner, and needs someone around to keep an eye on him; but in the wake of everything Luffy's done for them, everything Luffy's done for him, he really doesn't mind chaperone detail.
But he's still gonna bitch and moan about it. Appearances are important, after all, and Sanji can't have anyone thinking he's gone soft.
Then Luffy stops abruptly and shouts, "Look at that!"
He reaches past Sanji to tug on Zoro's arm and point out the biggest stuffed animal Sanji's ever seen, hanging at the top of a tent with other large prizes. It's a floppy white tiger with green stripes, and, remarkably, a scar over one eye; Luffy is beside himself. "It's Zoro! It's a Zoro-tiger!"
Zoro grins when Luffy laughs, like a knee-jerk reaction, and it's pretty much a sealed deal that the tiger's going to be property of the Straw Hats by the end of the night. Sanji rolls his eyes and shoves Zoro towards the tent, ignoring the resulting snarl. "We'll be at the bar up the street," the cook drawls. "Don't come back till you've won the damn toy."
Luffy whines as they leave, looking back over his shoulder until they're swallowed up by the crowd, and then he turns back to pout. "I wanted to watch."
"Then go back and watch."
"But Nami said to stay with you."
Sanji grins. "You never listen any other time, why start now?" He pushes Luffy ahead of him into the pub, ruffling his hair as they go.
His captain doesn't like the taste of beer, so Sanji orders him something sweet and, after a critical inspection, one of the sandwiches, which perks the kid right up.
There are plenty of pretty girls to look at, but the minutes start to drag on as they wait for Zoro. When they hit the half hour mark, he glances over at Luffy again, who's bored out of his mind, stacking peanuts and lemons in small towers that topple over four high; frowning, Sanji leans over to thump Luffy on the head and say, "Why don't you go try to have some fun or something? If Nami gets mad later, I'll take the heat."
And he sort of thought he was doing Luffy a favor, but Luffy pauses, then straightens and nods after a second too long, hopping off the barstool. "Okay. I think there was a parade down in the square."
Sanji watches him go, trying to pick out what he'd done wrong.
Almost immediately, Luffy's seat is taken by a blonde in a short dress. Sanji buys her a drink, asks her about herself, listens attentively; but in the back of his mind he's wondering if Franky and Usopp are sticking to the rides that won't make Chopper sick; if Brook's having one of his better days, holding doors open and chairs out for Robin, who's patient with him even when the insanity is at its worst; how many suckers Nami's hustled out of their Bellies since he's seen her last; if that idiot swordsman got lost on his way right down the street; and if, wherever Luffy went, he's having a good time.
He taps his fingers on the counter, can't help the way his mouth twists into a frown at the thought of Luffy being anywhere by himself.
"So," his company asks him coyly after awhile, "why are you here?"
He opens his mouth to say something charming and witty, but what comes out is, "I have no idea." She blinks at him, and he slides the bartender some money and is pretty abrupt in his goodbye, but then he's practically flying out the door.
He remembers passing the square on their way up the boulevard, and when he gets there he spots that familiar straw hat almost at once. Luffy's standing on his tiptoes, trying to see around some asshole with a ridiculous hat, and Sanji chuckles, taking the last few steps to join him.
Luffy's surprised he's there, and Sanji doesn't let that get to him the way it wants to; Sanji's priorities aren't so screwed up that he'd choose some pretty face in a bar over his captain, for any length of time, no matter how big a flirt he may be.
Instead he scoops Luffy up and settles him on his shoulders, and Luffy clutches at his head for a minute until he gets his balance, and then he laughs and laughs at his new view.
Their nakama could talk shit about Sanji's "babysitting" skills all they wanted. He knows exactly where he stands.
When they meet back up at the Sunny at the end of the night, Luffy's still laughing, riding piggy-back style now, and Sanji's grinning fit to burst. He schools his expression when Robin, Nami and Franky show up, but he's ninety percent certain judging by the looks on their faces that it's too late.
Zoro's the last to arrive, but he's got the giant stuffed tiger in tow, and even as the rest of the crew responds with something like, "Where the hell did you find that?" Sanji laughs before he can help it and Luffy cheers.
"You won it! You won the Zoro-tiger!" He slips off of Sanji's back, and rushes over to seize the enormous thing in both arms. It's bigger than he is, and Usopp and Chopper both exclaim over it with equal excitement, and Luffy, flushed and pleased, is practically glowing the way he always does after a great day.
"Good job, moss-head," Sanji drawls without heat, meaning it, even if it didn't sound so.
Zoro flicks a glance at him, and Sanji lights a cigarette to hide his smile when Zoro replies, "Not too bad yourself."