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a little bit odd, a little bit theirs

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Patty has been on the Baratie for about a month now. It’s good work, honest work, but hard – and yet, he finds himself settling in. The place is home now, whether he wants it to be or not, and he finds himself grateful.

(Especially grateful that as a fledging restaurant they are prone to pirate raids, which allows him to exert his more… violent tendencies. It’s nice not to be yelled at for slamming heads together.)

Owner Zeff is a hard man, but a good one. He guides Patty and Carne into making better dishes than they could have ever imagined, gives them a home above the waves, and makes sure they get to eat, every night. There’s no days off save for errand runs, but Patty is a cook of the sea. He never needed those anyway.

But the kid – the fourth member after Carne – he’s… well, as Zeff calls him, he’s an Eggplant. Just nine according to the brat’s determined snarl, he can already cook circles around Patty and Carne when he can reach the counter. He knows what he’s doing, and is quick to correct what he doesn’t know. Patty feels like he should be jealous, but all he can manage to feel is a grudging sort of respect.

The kid is damn small, but he can cook.

Yet… there’s something off about him, that just doesn’t add up, and that alarms Patty more than anything else.

He’s just… weird.

--

Sanji had stuck behind Zeff’s leg when Patty and Carne first crashed into the Baratie’s unfinished deck. They didn’t even notice the brat at first, his white cook’s clothes and small stature blending in with Zeff, and were only alerted to his presence when Zeff nudged him out from behind his leg to introduce him.

“This,” Zeff had said, a twitch in his brow as small hands gripped on to his apron. “Is my sous-chef and co-owner, Sanji. He’s learning, just like you, but he is just as capable.”

“Don’t need you to fight my battles Old Man,” snarled Sanji from his side as one blue eye looked defiantly at Patty and Carne. “They’ll see.”

Zeff barked out a laugh at that, and gestured for Patty and Carne to follow him in, Sanji sticking close like a little duckling. It was cute, in a way, and they had thought that would be the last of that. Just another apprentice chef trying to fit in amongst the big boys.

It wasn’t until Sanji started cooking that they really took notice of him – him and his skill, barely but surely blossoming under Owner Zeff’s steady eye… and eventually Patty’s and Carne’s eyes as well, when Sanji stopped flinching away from them.

(Because, see, the thing is on a ship like this with a crew as small as this is that things get noticed. Carne and Patty don’t miss the way Owner Zeff’s cheeks are sunken despite the hearty meals he serves up, or how Sanji finishes his plate no matter what, not a crumb left behind.

(Every cook of the sea knows the sign of a starving man. Patty just prays he will never see it in a mirror.)

But – more than that – is the way Sanji flinches when Patty raises his arm too fast or comes up behind him suddenly and without warning. The way Zeff is constantly correcting his grip around a knife, so it’s more like a cook would hold it and less of a weapon. The way Sanji wakes up screaming some nights but hides under his bed instead of scurrying to Zeff’s room like he usually does. Patty takes note of it all, and with Carne, makes his steps louder, his motions telegraphed, his words softer when the brat looks like an electrified wire.

He’s small, he’s kind, and none of this suits him at all.)

Sanji accepts their corrections with ease, quickly adjusting when Carne says no, like this brat,  and flips a dish into the air with a flick of the wrist. He nods when Patty says easy motions, seesawing motions, and shows him how to cut.

(They’re extra patient, as much as they can be, when Sanji doesn’t get it right away and starts panicking, hands drifting to his hair and fingers curling around nothing as his shoulders hunch. It’s fine, they will say, next time, and don’t talk about when Sanji moves his stool farther away from them.)

He’s a sweet kid, a kid with a bite and a snarl outside of the kitchen or whenever he’s not handling food, but a kid all the same. Which makes well… the odd things odder.

“Brat!” Patty calls, panic in his voice as he turns off the stove in quick, rushed motions, causing Sanji, all of eleven years old, to flinch and look at him with wide eyes.  “Watch the fire – it was licking your skin, kid!” He reaches for Sanji’s hands, Sanji too bewildered to bat his hands away, and carefully turns the kid’s wrists over.

Sanji had been cooking with the skillet with the flames turn high, but left his arms far too close to the fire, seemingly unaware as the smell of burns reached into the air.

There – along pale skin is a truly horrible burn, second degree, if Patty’s knowledge of common kitchen injuries is worth its salt. He reaches one hand out and puts on the tap, letting cold water pour out, and it takes only a second to lift Sanji up into his arms so he can reach, and shoves the kid’s arm underneath the water.

Sanji is frozen in his arms. A look at his face shows pure confusion, loss, someone who has no clue as to what is going on.

“Kid,” Patty starts softly, “Didn’t you realize you were getting burned?”

Sanji blinks at him, and it’s like the ice that had frozen him cracks away. “What-No! Set me down, you old geezer, it didn’t hurt at all!” He starts kicking in earnest, jamming his heel into Patty’s side and ow ow ow ow ow, his lessons with Zeff sure are paying off aren’t they? But Patty’s mother didn’t raise a quitter so he keeps his grip tight through the hits that will leave bruises in the morning. All the while, Sanji is still screaming. “It didn’t hurt! I’m perfectly fine to keep going, it’s just a little burn! It doesn’t even hurt as bad as – “ Sanji cuts off there, mouth going into a straight line and oh, Zeff is hearing about that one but Patty doesn’t push it.

Because, oddly, worryingly, it seems like to Sanji… the burn didn’t hurt as much as it should. There’s no tears, no holding back pain, no hiding. Just annoyance.

Patty glances back at the dish and grimaces. The heat needed to cook that particular deep-sea fish – that would cause third-degree burns.  And technically, Sanji wasn’t supposed to be cooking that one, due to its danger.

Yet, the kid only had second degree burns that don’t seem to hurt.

Patty is… slightly freaked out. Only slightly. He is a big, strong cook who has seen weird shit and this shit isn’t any weirder than the rest.

Sanji is a kid, and a brat, but he’s hurt whether he feels that way or not so Patty is going to help him.  It’s his duty as a cook after all.

“Kid?” Patty prompts again when it seems that Sanji has given up, acting more like a kitten whose mother has picked it up by the scruff. He’s limp in Patty’s arms, allowing him to continue to hold his arm underwater. 

“What, bastard?” Sanji snaps back, still more docile than before.

“Did you really not notice you were getting burned?”

And here, Sanji shakes his head too honestly to be any attempt at faking it. “It’s not that bad. Why would I?”

Patty wants to tear whatever remains of his hair out. “It’s bad, brat – this is a second degree burn!”

“Really?”

“Yes, brat!”

“I think your eyes are blind, old man.”

“Why you –“ Sanji flinches at Patty’s raised voice, his hand jerking away before he realizes the grip Patty has on it and goes instinctually white with fear. Patty takes a breath and forces his hand to be more gentle. Sanji is… getting better with the expressions of anger around him, a good thing considering his own tendency to lash out but it’s still… rough when it’s directed at him. “Alright, Eggplant. Here’s what we’re going to do. You are going to sit here with your arm under the water until I come back with some bandages. Then I’m going to wrap up the arm and put some burn cream on it, and you can go right back to cooking.”

“But it doesn’t-“

“I don’t care! It’s a burn. It’s not safe to cook with that open around food.” And that more than anything gets to Sanji. The brat agrees with a nod of the head, and Patty carefully places Sanji on the counter, his stepstool still too far away for him to leave easily. “Be good, brat.”

“Tch. Bastard.”

“Oi!”

(He comes back to Sanji doing exactly as ordered, comes back to a Sanji who just sticks out his arm and allows Patty to slather it with cream and bandages till not a speck of the burn is visible. Sanji gives him a little nod of acknowledgement, and doesn’t protest when Patty lifts him up off the counter and onto the ground.

Zeff doesn’t comment on the bandages, and doesn’t comment on the burned food that Sanji is working on saving. He just gives Patty an appraising, approving look and goes back to his work.

(Still – Patty doesn’t miss the way Zeff sits Sanji down and changes his bandages that night, nor the way the bandages are gone by the next morning leaving nearly-healed skin in its wake. ))

---

“Thirty…. Thirty-one… thirty-two….” Zeff is intoning on the water-deck of the Baratie when Patty arrives from the grocery trip. There’s a watch in his hand, his eyes trained on the water, and Patty can’t help but follow his gaze. There’s nothing he can see beneath the murky, overcast waters, but he tries anyway.

“Boss?” He calls out, questioning.

Zeff keeps counting. “Forty… Forty-one… Forty-two…” On and on and on. Eventually Patty ignores it and starts hauling bags of food out of the little ship they use for grocery runs. Zeff keeps counting, starting over once he reaches sixty. Minutes then, he’s timing something?

Patty doesn’t quite care, until splashing, violent splashing, fills the air. Then, he turns around, heel settling quick on the ground, body tense. What –

His heart stops. There’s Sanji, half on the deck half in the water, body limp and barely breathing. He’s soaked, face pale, but Zeff seems unconcerned.

Sanji seems unconcerned, by the way he glares at Zeff.

“Five minutes, twenty seconds brat. Not bad.” Zeff tells him. “Take a minute then go again.”

Sanji nods, and presses his face to the deck, closing his eyes as his breath evens. “Could be better.” He murmurs, which Zeff meets with a noncommittal hum.

Patty wants to scream. He – that – Sanji is twelve years old at most, thin as a rail and just as scrawny and he’s –

He’s slipping back under, Zeff starting back up the count.

He’s holding his breath for that long? How the hell -  

That. That isn’t normal. Not without training Patty knows Sanji doesn’t have, or else Zeff wouldn’t have a tale of diving into the sea to rescue a scrawny eggplant.

Patty shakes his head and backs away.

This is way out of his pay grade, and he is not dealing with brats who have way to much lung capacity for how quiet they are.  He is not.

“Six minutes, seven seconds,” Zeff says when Patty comes out of the loading dock to check on them, and Sanji is tired and smiling and does he have gills? That could be a thing the brat has. It would explain this kind of weirdness at least.

Either way, Patty calls him a fish and flips him off, and the brat dives back in the water with a snarl just to prove him right. Weird kid, Patty thinks, and turns around to head back into the kitchen.

(Three weeks later, Sanji begs Patty to take him on a trip down to Oyster Bay, where Sanji spends the day diving beneath the waves and digging up rare seafood delicacies that only the local divers tend to get. It’s worth traveling an hour by sea with only the brat for company, if only to see the way the old lady divers squeeze the brat’s cheeks while complimenting him, and the way Zeff brightens when he sees his favorite meal prepped for him for dinner, made of Oyster Bay delicacies. It’s worth it, Patty thinks, utterly worth it to see Sanji give that soft smile he so rarely gets.)

-

It’s been four years since Patty joined the staff at the Baratie, and the place is as rough as ever. The crew is getting better though, no longer the brats who took one look at the paying pirate cliental and turned on their heels faster than they turned off the stove (and wasn’t that a whole mess.) Patty has gotten used to them – Scallop, who wields a knife like no one’s business, and Mutton, who should absolutely not be trusted to wait on anyone, Venny, who doesn’t like to speak but always sings on quiet days. It’s a crew of chefs he trusts and have been slowly sculpted under Zeff’s instructions.

They have smoke nights, sometimes, when the customers are away and they lost the last of their waiters. Quiet smoke nights, where they drink the last of their money away and laugh gently into the night. Tonight’s one of those nights. Zeff is off in town, looking for new waiters, and Sanji is supposedly up in bed, sleeping off the harsh training he had gone through earlier in the day. Patty almost thought he was sick, with how exhausted the brat looked.

So its just them – the elder chefs, lurking around a dim lantern on deck, under the night of the stars.

“Eggplant’s asleep, aye?” Carne asks, curiously, taking a swig from his flask. “I didn’t see him at dinner.”

“Yeah,” Patty answers, stealing the flask to take a swig of his own, “Zeff beat him black and blue today. He’ll be up in an hour to eat, I bet.”

“Or he could be up now,” Mutton states, and he raises his hands as everyone turns to him. “What!? It’s true! That kid is damn quiet – he snuck up on me the other day, you know?”

Patty would take a spit take, as Mutton is always on a hair trigger, but – he’s not surprised at this

Scallop is less resigned.

“What?! That brat snuck up on you?” He asks, mustache twitching in his confusion.

Mutton nods quickly, black hair tipping in front of his face.  “Yeah – I was just working on meal prep the other day right? Room was quiet, slow morning, so not a lot of noise. I could hear Venny sweeping the top deck, that’s how quiet it was. And then I’m turning around, knife in hand, to put it back in my kit, when I almost stab the kid.”

“Mutton!”

“Damn!”

“Wait keep it down, the Boss –”

“Isn’t here,” Mutton cuts Venny off. “Why do you think I’m telling this now? The Boss ain’t here to kill me. Anyway – the brat wasn’t even two feet away, wearing his fancy dress shoes too – I didn’t hear anything. He’s like a damn cat I tell ya – a cat.”

“He popped up behind me as I was loading boxes the other day,” Scallops slides in. “Scared me half to death.”

“He needs a bell. So I don’t accidentally push pre-teens into the sea.” Venny states.

“Is that why he was soaking wet last night?!” Patty asks incredulously, eyes wide.

Venny just looks away, as the crowd erupts into boisterous laughter.

As they quiet, Mutton takes the chance and turns to Patty and Carne. “Has he always been like this?”

Patty leans his head to the side, thinking. “Aye. He was always quiet – like Zeff’s little duckling when we first saw him. That was before he opened his mouth and cussed us out but… he’s always been a quiet bugger.”

“Huh,”  Mutton murmurs, and the conversation moves on, blending through the night, jokes about bratty teens and cats offering a quiet laughter. They finish up around midnight, and its Patty’s job to clean up the empty bottles and tables before Zeff comes back, so he’s loitering around the deck –

And sees eyes, flashing in the darkness. Patty bites back a scream, stumbling backwards, smashing his bottle and lifting up the jagged pieces as some sort of make shift weapon, before his mind catches up with his body and shouts Sanji!

“Sanji!” Patty gasps out, lowering his bottle as Sanji looks on with wide, wide eyes, hair falling in front of his face, and loose pajamas swallowing his body. His feet are barefoot out on the open deck, and a plate of food, stacked high with fluffy pancakes and the other food the chefs had left him for dinner. He looks exhausted, but his eyes – they still gleam in the light.

“Patty,” Sanji responds, almost steadily as Patty lowers his bottle. He doesn’t say more than that, only keeps looking at Patty like he’s a puzzle, or a fish that needs to be made into dinner. There’s a tenseness in his shoulders that doesn’t disappear until Patty has entirely lowered the bottle.

“I, uh.. didn’t hear you wake up, brat.” Patty tells him, moving to look for a broom to pick up the shattered glass from his bottle breaking.  

Sanji shrugs. “I woke up an hour ago. You guys were loud.”

They’ve been quietly murmuring since eleven, drink finally catching up to their old bones and making them more sedate. There was no way that Sanji was woken up by that – he was on the top deck, right next to Zeff’s room. How the hell –

Sides… I was hungry.” Sanji continues, and walks right past Patty, right over broken glass.

“EGGPLANT!” Patty yelps, and then picks up Sanji with his hands, lifting him by his waist into the air, and damn, the brat is skinny, they really do gotta put him on taste testing duty more often. “That’s glass, watch your step, you’re barefoot! Remember what we talked about, with injuries?”

Sanji just stares at him, like a deer caught in the headlights, his hands miraculously holding on to the plate still filled with food. At least he’s not kicking Patty this time. “Uh – I – ” He stares at Patty, unable to find the words as Patty shakes him.

“Just because it doesn’t hurt bad doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. So you –“

“Need to be careful, yeah, yeah, I get it,” Sanji brushes off, twisting in Patty’s grasp. “Can you put me down now, you old geezer? There’s no glass over here.”

“How the hell can you tell, brat?” Patty asks, eyebrows raised  as he sweeps his foot around before placing Sanji gently on the ground. “It’s dark as hell in here.”

“I don’t see any?” Sanji shrugs. And before Patty points out that no one could see anything as small as shimmering glass here, in the dim, moonlit deck, Sanji glances over to the glass on the ground and speaks again. “And I could see the glass before so…”

And that’s a whole other problem, kids walking across glass barefoot as if it couldn’t hurt him –

“Besides,” Sanji speaks up again, “It’s not like the glass would hurt me. My skin is tough.”

It’s too late for this. Too. Late. Patty is tipsy and the kid is insane, with ears that can hear too many things and eyes that could see way too well, and invincible skin and hell, this kid is going to put Patty into an early grave out of stress. This is why the boss always has his hat on. To cover the gray hairs this brat gives everyone. Goddamn.

Patty drags a hand down his face, wishing it was day time and that he could take his rage out on unpaying customers, but instead all that’s here is a teenaged brat with too many issues to count. Mother seas he’s tired.

“Just...” Patty finally tells him, grabbing the broom and pan and sweeping the glass away. Just eat your food and go to bed, brat. And remember the injuries rule.”

“Yeah, yeah, bastard. Let me eat in peace now, won’t ya?” Sanji steps away, and goes to sit on the railing, with his feet dangling over the edge.

Patty does nothing more than grunt, and start cleaning up. It’s a steady silence, an almost comfortable one, and even though exhaustion drags at Patty’s eyes, he’s content. As he puts the last of the chairs away, floor cleanly swept and bottles neatly in the recycled bin, he turns to see if Sanji’s there.

He’s not.

Shit, did he – he didn’t drown, right? Patty is going to die if the brat drowned, fuck, fuck, fuck.

He starts taking off his shoes, glancing down into the water, when there’s movement in his peripheral. It’s Sanji, creeping slowly, and silently up the stairs, like he knows every creaking floorboard even though the weekly fights make a new one every time. He’s dead silent, almost like –

A cat, Patty surmises, and starts slipping his shoes back on. Wonder if he’d appreciate a bell for his birthday?

At the very least, it would make everyone else laugh.

With that thought, Patty makes his own way upstairs, and tactfully ignores the way he has to help a tired teenager up the last couple of steps, even though his feet still don’t make a sound.

-

It’s been, what, almost a decade since Patty found his way onto the ship? Whatever it’s been, it’s been too many years to count, and Patty couldn’t care less. The Baratie, now booming with business and brawls, is his home now.

It’s his home, with peg-legged bosses and ex-pirate chefs and little weird bratty eggplants, his home that rocks too much in the winter nights yet still sways with the lullaby of home, that creaks and rattles and stays floating. It’s his home, and he’s learned the ways of it all – he’s a professional, so to speak. He doesn’t get Zeff and Sanji’s insistence to always feed anyone who comes on deck, but it doesn’t surprise him.

Not until now, at least, when a pirate crew with blood still dripping off their swords comes wandering on deck in the early morning hours.

Rusters, they call themselves, and underneath the blood not a single sword is gleaming metal. Just red. Rusters, they call themselves, and they scare every other customer out, and Patty wants them gone. Rusters, they call themselves, and say, give us a meal.

There’s about thirty of them, enough to overwhelm the current eleven-man staff of the Baratie, and they aren’t backing off. Still, Patty could take about two of them down, so they have a chance to take them down. He and Carne are preparing to fight, Venny and Scallop prepping their swords and guns, when Zeff –

Zeff steps forward, and says “Have a seat.”

“What.” Patty bites out, before he can stop himself, because never has Zeff done this before. Never – he’s fed pirates, yes, but never ones like these. Never ones with blood on their swords and malice in their eyes.

“Have a seat,” Zeff repeats, and turns. “Sanji – prep the daily special.”

“Aye,” Sanji says, and blows out smoke rings from the cigarette he’s snuck from some poor fool. “Be ready in ten.”

Zeff gives a nod, and then moves on, delivering his food to the elderly couple still frozen at their table in the corner. When he turns back, Patty is still staring, mouth dropped open. “WELL?” Zeff yells, demands. “GET TO WORK!”

And, without his own brain telling his feet to move, Patty does. These pirates – these Rusters – they aren’t going to pay. Patty can tell, just by looking at them. Their swords are covered in blood and rust. They’re laughing at the other customers. And still – still Zeff demands that they feed them.

Well… Patty admits. Demands that Sanji feeds them.

Sometimes his boss makes no sense. He understands Zeff feeding the poor families that come their way, the hungry, lost sailors who have lost track of land, those… Patty used to be a pirate once, but he isn’t cruel. Not like that.

These pirates though – he burns.

Maybe he’ll trip Sanji up, have him splatter food down the captains coat, and provoke a fight so he can kick them out. That would work – if Sanji actually fell. Kid was like a cat.

Damn.

By the time Patty finishes his musing, Sanji has every bowl of their weekly special – a soup with noodles and good seasoning – stacked on  three trays, on his hands and head, and is kicking open the kitchen door. Patty, in subconscious motions, takes the time to turn off the stove and follow Sanji out.

Zeff is watching closely too. Huh, maybe Patty won’t make Sanji spill the food down the captain’s front. He and Sanji… they had a thing about wasting food. And while Patty could stand to lose a bowl of broth for a prank, Zeff and Sanji… they really couldn’t.

Sanji, Patty could get mad at. Kid was a brat. Zeff? The boss was a whole different story.

So Patty merely watches as Sanji serves the pirates food without incident, even with the snide comments, and displayed weaponry. The restaurant seems to let go of a breath Patty didn’t even know it was holding when the kid is finished.

The pirates eat.

The restaurant watches. Zeff goes back inside, with a nod at Sanji, and the cooks follow suit. Only Patty, curious, and Sanji, faced covered by his hair and cigarette lit, stay outside.

Watching the pirates eat their food.

Patty doesn’t get it. It surprises him, the way Sanji and Zeff are willing to tolerate this shit. It doesn’t – it doesn’t make sense.  

But then the pirates are done. The bowls are licked clean, the glasses empty, faces even wiped. Patty stays his ground, seeing if they will pay.

The pirates don’t.

They get up, drawing swords, and weapons with sneers written into their faces, the captain opening his mouth –

And closing it just as quickly, as Sanji slams a heel into his face in a blur of black.

Patty feels his mouth drop open. The noise in the restaurant stops.

The pirates stare.

“Gentlemen,” Sanji says, relighting his cigarette as his foot taps on the ground. The brat is seventeen and far too lanky – it shouldn’t be as intimidating as it is. “I see you have finished your meal. Kindly return to your boats now.”

“And what, brat,” One pirate snarls, “Are you going to do if we don’t? Ain’t this place supposed to be hospitable or some shit to everyone?

To that, Sanji grins, and leaps into motion. His kicks smash into the face of pirates, legs kicking out in large sweeps, knocking swathes of pirate’s unconscious. Before his eyes, Patty sees Sanji break a sword in half, with one kick – and then break the arm of the pirate behind it. The table breaks. Everything breaks. A pirate launches a small projectile and Sanji just knocks it away.

The kid is superhuman. That’s the only way Patty can describe it. He doesn’t break, other things do. He’s faster and lighter on his feet, fury in his eyes, and he doesn’t even seem to be bruising. Patty knew the kid was training with Zeff just… not like this. He didn’t know the outcome would be this.

In moments, a minute really, the entire crew is downed. There’s a slender cut on Sanji’s cheek, trickling blood, but that’s the only scratch he has on him. The patrons and chefs watch as Sanji slowly taps his foot back on the ground, and puts out his cigarette with his fingers, blowing a final plume of smoke into the air.

(For a few brief seconds, Patty gets why Zeff is always pushing Sanji to leave this place. He’s meant for more than brawls on restaurant decks, and his food is meant to be eaten by more than cruel men. Its only brief seconds, before Sanji comes back down to Earth and is just a lanky teenager again, but… it happens, nonetheless.)

“Hope you enjoyed your last meal,” Sanji says into the air, like an absolute dork,  but then starts dragging the bodies out onto the outer deck in the way a teenager should never know how to do.

“Marine are coming,” Zeff announces. “Venny, Carne, Mutton, go grab the supplies off of our former… guests’ ship. Scallop, Patty – help the Eggplant.”

“Aye…” Patty belated says, not even realizing that the rest of the chefs had made their way out onto the main floor. His sentiment is echoed by those around him.

“Aye.”

His body moves on autopilot, hefting limp, bloody bodies onto his shoulder and carrying them out. They aren’t dead, he doesn’t think, but… they certainly aren’t waking up anytime soon. Last meal, Sanji had said, and Patty almost believes him.

He takes a moment to observe the swords that Sanji had broke, seeing if he could break them himself. They’re like sea-stone in his hands, feeling practically unbreakable. These aren’t normal swords. And yet… and yet Sanji had broken them, with furious kicks, over and over again, without so much a fracture in his own legs. 

Patty wonders if this is another incident like the glass, like the stove, with hidden injuries and stubborn brats, but – Zeff seems unconcerned, and Zeff knows everything about their weird little eggplant.

Sanji’s strength, at seventeen, is really just that great. If Patty were a lesser man, it would have made him nervous about the amount of times Sanji had kicked at him in rage.

But he’s known the Eggplant since the brat was even brattier than he was now.  As much as he criticizes the brat, and wants his spot as Sous Chef – he respects the brat. He’s come along away, even if that way has Patty dumping bodies of grown men onto the deck to be picked up by the marines.

With a sigh, Patty continues on with his duties, and tries not to question how freakishly weird Sanji is, even when compared with Zeff, a New World Pirate. He just… Sanji’s place is here, but he’s getting side eyes from the patrons now, and there’s a fury underneath his veins that’s to big for this little ship on the sea.

The kid is weird, and Patty wouldn’t change him for the world, but – Patty hopes he finds his place someday. He really, really does. 

-

The Baratie has never seen an attack like this – even the Rusters had been nothing compared to the Don Krieg Armada. And yet, Sanji and this brat, walk away, heads standing tall, and Patty realizes that now – this day – it’s the end of it all.

Sanji’s eyes light up in a way they never do at the Baratie, and in this one-day Patty has seen him grow more than he has in the past decade.

He’s weird, he’s strong, he hears too much and heals too fast, feels too little pain, and he’s stubborn – but Patty watches the rubber knock out Krieg with spikes in his hand and not so much of a flinch, sees him and the Swordsman fight just like Sanji fights, full of reckless ambition, and just knows that well –

Sanji’s weird. But maybe only to them, to the people only destined for a life in the East Blue.

Sanji’s… Sanji’s a brat who used to hide behind Zeff and clutch at aprons and glare at chefs while moving carefully away from them until they learned to telegraph their movements. He’s a brat who got woken up by creaks in the night, who yelled at them all for trying to put a bell on him, who’s feet are too quiet in a natural, not-quite-;earned way, and he’s no longer their brat.

He’s a pirate brat now, on a crew of rubber men and crazy swordsmen, and Patty is never going to figure out why he’s so weird.

Just that he is.

And as Sanji kneels down in goodbye, Patty finds he doesn’t quite care. The brat is gone, the brat is happy, and Patty just has to cover up the tears in his eyes and make it through this next hour, and everything will be alright.

(And if a wanted poster comes out in two years, and if Zeff says ah, this explains it, and if Sanji’s weirdness is just as unnatural as the rest of his crew – skeletons? Cyborgs? – well Patty can’t quite find himself to care. Nothing’s changed – the brat is still a brat, and with the shittiest wanted posters this side of the Red line, and he’s just as weird at twenty-one as he was at nine.

That’s, quite frankly, all there is to it, because no matter the weirdness – Sanji was the Baratie’s first, and every other family’s second. Even Patty could attest to that.)