"You aren't planning on bringing that boy in with you tomorrow night, are you? Our restaurant has certain standards."
Nami bristled like an angry cat, mouth falling open in something like wounded rage, and Sanji felt his brow furrow in confusion; turned to see who on earth the maitre d' could possibly be-
Luffy, he realized immediately, in his scruffy shorts and worn jacket, sandaled feet swinging from the bench seat by the host station. He was laughing with Zoro, charming the hostess, and glanced up at almost the same moment Sanji glanced back, brown eyes round over a wide smile.
Sanji felt something white-hot and intense push against his breastbone as Nami grit out, "Oh, we'll meet your standards all right," and spun on her heel. It was all Sanji could do to shove shaking hands in his pockets and follow her graceful lead in silence; because he wanted very, very badly to throw decorum to the winds and smash that man's face through a window.
Zoro's gaze was like a razor's edge, and as Sanji watched it flicked from his face, to Nami's, and then finally back over their shoulders to the man they left behind.
"Problem?" he asked quietly.
"Yes, there's a problem," Nami answered, voice tight and soft. It almost sounded like she was going to cry, but her eyes were nearly black with anger, and Zoro's one narrowed still further. "But we have our dinner reservation, and a lot to do before seven o'clock. Round up the others, we're going shopping."
"Ah? Shopping?" Luffy looked up from his game of tic tac toe and frowned. "But what for?"
Nami's eyes gentled almost absurdly as she looked down at him, but her expression didn't really change. She knelt, tucking her skirts in neatly, and looked up at him as seriously as she ever had before.
"Because it's very important we look our best tonight," was all the cartographer said; Sanji met Zoro's look with one that read 'it's exactly what you think,' and watched the man's expression turn thunderous.
"Zoro, too?" Luffy said, reaching out to thread one of his thin arms through one of Zoro's, expressioned turned puppy-like in his pleading; Zoro only canted his elbow out to give him more room, and Sanji thought it was kind of hilarious that anyone else would have been shoved off in a heartbeat. "And Usopp, and Chopper? And- "
"All of us," Nami said, rising to her feet. The hostess gave them a pleasant smile as they left and Sanji didn't think he was imagining it when she added a little star by their reservation.
We'll be getting good seats tonight, at the very least.
Luffy and Zoro were still arm-in-arm, because it was making Luffy giggle as he tried to match the swordsman's steps, and Sanji met Nami's eyes with a solid knock of equally determined gold on blue.
We'll show him our standards.
Luffy wasn't having a good time.
"I don't like wearing this stuff," he muttered as Nami tugged the shirt over his head. He picked at the sleeves as she ruffled his hair back into order, mouth tugged down unhappily. "It's too tight."
"It's not tight, Luffy," Sanji explained for the third time, comparing ties at chest height in the mirror. "It fits you just right, you just aren't used to wearing tailored suits."
He could see it in the mirror when Luffy pouted at his back, and bit down the edge of a smile.
"But why do we have to?" their captain asked, as Robin looped a tie around his neck and knotted it with clever fingers. "If this place we're gonna eat at is so stuffy, why can't we just eat someplace else? I bet we eat tastier food every single day on the Sunny anyway."
Sanji grinned wide at the rubber boy's praise- he couldn't help it- and Nami rolled her eyes at him fondly.
Usopp scooted closer until he could nudge Luffy's shoulder. "It'll be lots of fun," the sniper assured him, "We'll all be together, the whole time! And we'll all match!"
Luffy looked at him sidelong, under his bangs, and after a moment he said, "Even Franky?"
"His BF-37 is being fitted right now," Nami said smugly, digging through a basket for some socks. "The attendant almost had a fit." She was taking a mean sort of glee in the whole expedition, but Sanji couldn't begrudge her for it. The map-maker was out to prove a point.
"And I'll be allowed in the restaurant?" Chopper piped up from Usopp's other side. "If it's a really fancy place- "
"One woman had a cheetah laying beside her chair," Zoro said without looking up, eye closed and arms folded where he reclined against the wall. "In places like that, you flaunt what you've got."
"And that's exactly what we're going to do," Sanji murmured.
Robin gave Luffy's hair a little ruffle, and smiled sweetly when he turned his eyes up to her. "Will you go see how Franky's doing? If he's finished, you can show him the way back."
Luffy seemed delighted to escape, and rushed off with his shirt unbuttoned and his jacket trailing loosely behind him. As they watched, the nearest store clerk only giggled at him as he rushed by, so Robin closed the door without further ado.
"Please tell me what's going on," she said immediately thereafter, blue eyes gone steely. "It isn't like you to spend this much money in one sitting, Nami. And you and Sanji have been on pins and needles this whole afternoon."
Nami ran an agitated hand through her hair, and shoved an armful of clothes back into the basket. "The stupid man at the restaurant," she gritted. "I just. I know it's childish, I know, and I know Luffy wouldn't approve, but- "
"Wait, what happened at the restaurant?" Usopp asked, frowning and sitting forward like he'd move to stand. "When you guys went earlier to get a reservation?"
Sanji nodded once. "He was pretty condescending toward Luffy."
"Downright scathing," Nami put in, pretty face twisting into a sneer. "Told us Luffy didn't meet their standards."
Usopp and Chopper both shouted aloud, and Robin's face went dark with something cold and ugly. Zoro didn't open his eyes or move, but Sanji leaned back against the mirror with a sense of peace.
Because the Straw Hats were in perfect accord.
We're going to prove that man wrong.
They made an entrance. Most people did in places like this, but most people didn't have a five foot reindeer tossing its antlers to make plenty of room for their group in the foyer.
Chopper had firmly denied a fancy suit to fit his Brain Point back at the store.
"If we're going to look impressive," he said with an iron something in his voice that made him sound older than he was, "I need to look big and wild."
Sanji and Brooke led the way into the dining room, with the girls hanging off Luffy's arms, and Chopper trailing at their side like a disgruntled guard dog.
Everyone's head turned. Sanji bit down a wild, manic grin. They looked good.
Nami was in a rosy pink cocktail dress that hugged all her curves; her hair was pinned up to fall in orange cascades over one shoulder. She had absolutely outdone herself this time, and every single one of her dear nakama shone with it, too. Robin, in her long gown of midnight blue, and the boys in their tailored, finely cut suits. Franky, in his specially made jacket, his blue hair combed back neatly, loomed behind them all like some sort of immense, silent bodyguard.
And Luffy, with his hair brushed back out of his face and still free to its unruly curls, in a waistcoat and jacket made specifically to fit those long arms and slim waist, and a red tie that stood out starkly against the blacks and grays and brought out hidden color in his brown eyes-
Luffy looked incredible. He looked like money, and power, and connections. Like a noble's son, a child born into wealth, with all the right friends and all the right names and every reason to be standing in the finest restaurant in town with all the richest people.
He looked miserable.
And he looked back, once, at Zoro; who walked behind him evenly. Zoro shook his head, and Sanji watched Luffy's slim shoulders droop whole inches before their captain turned to face front again with that expression he wore when he was facing down an army.
Chopper lowered his antlers as the maitre d' came scurrying up, almost simpering; when he made to guide Luffy to a chair, Robin put out a hand to stop him, and her pretty face curled delicately in distaste.
He doesn't recognize him, Sanji thought, actually disgusted. He snapped open his lighter with unnecessary force. Of course he doesn't.
"This is where we're eating?" Usopp said suddenly, raising an eyebrow at the finely dressed tables. When he sounded unimpressed, it was actually mostly sincere. "I was expecting something a little more... more."
Nami pressed her fingers to her lips, curling her arm a little tighter around Luffy's elbow; she played the part of the distressed dinner date beautifully. "This isn't what I was expecting at all."
As Luffy blinked at her, Sanji took a drag of his cigarette and exhaled the smoke with a sigh. "We haven't even been seated yet."
The maitre d' hovered for a moment, looking on the very edge of speaking; but something in the pirates' black, heated eyes easily compelled him not to. So he gestured, somewhat helplessly, and they seated themselves. Chopper laid at Luffy's left side, still tall enough that he could easily look over the table, and didn't seem to have any qualms about glaring people into steering a wide berth around their seats.
They were served almost immediately, with bread baskets of warm rolls and dishes of thin soups, and iced bottles of champagne.
In the short window they had before a server came to their table, Sanji looked up to find Luffy and Zoro drawing on a cloth dinner napkin with markers someone- Usopp- had obviously smuggled in. As the chef watched, Chopper leaned up to look and whispered something, and Luffy ruffled his ears with a grin while Usopp dug in his pockets for some different colors. Robin was smiling one of those secret smiles into her champagne glass, Brook was drumming a salad fork and a knife on the tabletop as Franky leaned over him to make an addition to the napkin art, and Nami met Sanji's eyes.
Proving that man wrong- in a display of elegance and wealth and utter condescension- would have been extremely satisfying.
But proving him right, Sanji realized with a slow, warm delight, would be even better.
Nami drained her glass like it was a tankard of rum, and Sanji dipped his spoon into his soup.
"Luffy," he said, and knew he wouldn't have to speak up to be heard; Luffy's head snapped up almost immediately, eyes blown wide like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar. There was a second of stillness, and then Luffy drooped, and his eyes sank to his lap as he curled his arms in.
"Ah. Sorry. I- "
Sanji flicked the spoon, and soup hit Luffy's face with a splat.
Luffy's head jerked back up, mouth hanging open; he darted a quick look at Nami, who winked at him.
The smile that dawned on his face in the next moment was much warmer than wine, and more than worth a lifetime ban.
Franky was quick to grab the bottle of champagne and shake it up with a dangerous glint in his eye, and by the time the waiter arrived, the cyborg was soaking everyone at the table in the exquisite two thousand Belli wine. The waiter gave a startled cry and ducked for cover behind his menus, and every head in the immediate vicinity snapped around to stare.
There was utter pandemonium at their pretty little table, all of them drenched and laughing and flinging crackers as furiously as school children in a cafeteria food fight, and through it all, Luffy laughed.
With his hair flung wildly around his face, and his tie knocked loose and the sleeves of that fine jacket rolled to his elbows, he looked-
"What is all this?" the maitre d' all but screeched, looking like he might faint as he rushed over. "You- you hoodlums! Out! Get out right now, or I'll call the authorities!"
"Call 'em!" Franky sneered, and aimed the half-empty bottle like it was a loaded gun. "You think we give a shit?"
Brooke laughed, high-pitched and chilling, and gestured with his dinner knife like it was a conductor's baton. "Call the authorities! I'm sure they'd be thrilled to see us, thrilled! Call the authorities!"
"I'm not joking!" the pale man blustered, and backed towards the kitchens. "I'm calling them right now."
"Tell them the Straw Hat Pirates said hi!" Usopp called after him, and Zoro grinned like a shark.
"The Straw Hat Pirates? He said- "
"- can't be. Not in a place like- "
"It's them! It's really them!"
"I believe that's our cue," said Robin, folding her dinner napkin delicately. Luffy jumped up, and reached back for his hat where it hung around his neck to cram it on his head.
"Let's get out of here!"
And they cheered and sprang to follow him; and someone's foot got caught in a table cloth, and their exit was made to the sound of breaking china and distraught wails-
And Luffy slammed open the door and led the way into the streets, smiling like it was the time of his life-
And when he glanced back, under the streetlamps and the stars, laughing and pointing ahead to the place he would take them next, he looked perfect.
Others might not understand it, Sanji thought, with a love that felt almost crippling in its intensity as he followed his captain into the dark and towards the sea, but our standards are him.