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Law probably should have seen this coming. It wasn't his splintered self-worth that made him avoid things like this — and what business of anyone's was it, anyway, if he lived for Cora-san's memory? He'd been living on borrowed time for over a decade, and every step he'd taken since then had drawn him closer to a confrontation he expected (hoped) he wouldn't survive. But his utter lack of interest in making himself likable because there was nothing much to like certainly helped cut down on complications. Or, it usually did. The standard rules did not seem to apply to Strawhat. Black Leg had warned him. Although, all things considered, that shouldn't have been necessary. Strawhat's entrance into Law's life had been both memorable and quite literally precipitous. The fight after that had been been fun, Kid notwithstanding, but Law should have felt the tides shift at Marineford. It was possible he'd already spent too much time trying to trace this contagion to its source, and maybe Marineford had been it; he remembered the pressure-pop in his ears from the Polar Tang's breakneck ascent, stepping out onto the deck and feeling the heat rise in his blood, adrenaline kick of battle-fever and his heart a hollow drumbeat, quickening, quickening. Whitebeard and Blackbeard had broken open the very sky, the earth, the sea, and Strawhat had charged through a battle with four sides and it hadn't been enough. If there was one thing Law knew, it was not enough.

No, there was nothing foreign about that. The pull, like gravity in his bones, the febrile drag on his veins, like calling to like, or, at least, to the echo of something that rang like a struck bell. These were bodily reactions, anatomical, expected.

What Law had not counted on was Strawhat constantly being in Law's personal space.

"What's that?" Strawhat asked the morning of their second day out of Punk Hazard, his head popping up over Law's shoulder. Strawhat's body was halfway across the deck, which Law, upon reflection, should not have considered a sufficient distance.

"A medical journal." Law paid the bird and took the rolled up publication.

Strawhat leaned, if possible, closer, and blinked at the half-hidden title. "That's not one of the ones Chopper reads."

It hadn't occurred to Law that Strawhat would pay attention to what his ship's doctor read. "This is from North Blue. It's for surgeons."

Dr. Tony Tony, probably attracted by Strawhat's rather loud mention of his name, wandered over. "Oh! Is that the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery?"

Law blinked at him. It was, indeed, the very journal he had consulted on a complication of reconstructing Strawhat's lungs after Marineford. "You're familiar?"

"Doctorine had a subscription." The other doctor regarded him with sunny good cheer, an unnerving echo of the way Strawhat was grinning at their interaction, before his posture changed and he tucked his chin down, flexing his hooves in front of him. The Strawhats' sniper had gone out of his way to tell Law very seriously that they were, indeed, hooves, and he was a reindeer, not a tanuki. The tiny doctor's own protestations to that effect had been rather less convincing. The hooves flexed again, blue nose wrinkling. "I don't really do surgery, though," the other doctor said, somewhat morosely.

"Shishishi," Strawhat laughed. His hand appeared from somewhere to clap Dr. Tony Tony on the back. "Chopper's a good doctor!" His other arm appeared — and really, why could he not just walk his body over here instead of stretching halfway across the ship? — and encircled Law's shoulder, crushing the three of them together. "Torao's a good doctor too!"

Law's hand spasmed around the journal, the crushed paper rough under his fingertips. The reindeer's fur was in Law's mouth. The warm sweep of Strawhat's jaw was pressing into Law's cheekbone.

This was not what he had signed up for.

The cool rush of the room expanding from this free hand clashed distractingly with Strawhat's warmth, but Law had already switched himself with one of the barrels on the deck. Strawhat's overextended body tipped over and collapsed onto the lawn, where he laughed again, coughing up grass and reindeer fur.

Really, it was preposterous, this incongruence. Law knew what Strawhat could do, had seen power articulated in his movements, muscle moving over bone, flex and push, easy as breathing; felt the destiny that hovered over him, the secret will they shared that could shake the world. Before entering the New World, before Marineford, he'd known the rookie to be eccentric. At Sabaody he'd felt comfortable labelling him impulsive; at Marineford— at Marineford, mouth dry, hands hot, fire and ice and light raining down upon them, there hadn't been time to apply words to the man, to himself, to the forces that moved them both. Kindness, he'd called it later; a whim, much later than that. When Strawhat had been merely a face on wanted posters, Law had traced that middle initial with his thumb, inked D echoing inked D. After that Strawhat had been nuisance, then patient; then, much later, in the now that ever slipped between Law's fingers, partner.

What Law had not expected was for Strawhat to be this... ridiculous.

Strawhat seemed to have forgotten him, now rolling around on the lawn with his doctor, bumping into the napping Zoro. Law took his journal and ascended to where Nico Robin was reading by her flowerbed.

Robin looked up. "Torao-kun." Her smile was barely there, but welcoming, uninsistent.

"Nico-ya," Law acknowledged. He pulled up one of the chairs and flattened the abused journal. Robin didn't go back to her own reading, calm eyes watching Law sit.

She leaned forward, chin in her hand. "How morbid," she commented, still smiling, nodding at the meticulous drawing of the inside of the heart that Law had opened the journal to.

"Not really." The stuff of life was not much different than the stuff of death; the two coexisted, balanced on the knife-edge of breath.

"To a doctor, I suppose not," Robin agreed, easy and unruffled. Law got the feeling she did understand; he chose to ignore it.

Behind him, Strawhat's tussle with the reindeer had apparently devolved into some sort of shouting match with the swordsman, with the navigator chiming in to yell at everyone to shut up. Law ignored harder.

The words of the article swam before him, not making any sense. Strawhat's strident voice, rising above all the others, wove around Zoro's deeper bellows, the doctor's high-pitched squeaking.

Law put down the journal.

Across from him, Robin was watching the antics on the lower deck, fond smile half a mystery behind the hand that supported her chin.

"You get used to it, you know," she said, without looking at him. And then she did, clear eyes direct and disconcerting, blue and brown.

"I'm not going to be around that long," Law rebuffed, voice flattening. Truer than she knew. Truer than Strawhat knew, certainly.

Robin hummed neutrally, unoffended. "You might find your plans don't matter much, around Luffy." Her eyes were steady on him, the gravity of direct experience in her gaze. Black Leg had said much the same thing, but Robin's calm delivery raised the hairs on Law's nape in a way that the cook's warning had not.

Those eyes made him wary. It was impossible for her to know. Law went over what he knew of the older woman: survivor of the demons of Ohara; sole survivor. Something else Law knew a lot about. What Robin could do, could know, could learn, didn't bother Law. But what those odd-coloured eyes could see in him, could guess about him— This woman was dangerous. In more ways than one.

It said something about the state of things on the ship — in Law's life — that Law still found her presence most restful of the Strawhat crew.

"I'll keep that in mind," Law replied, and raised the journal again. Robin went back to her book, still smiling.

 

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"Why don't you like sandwiches?" Strawhat asked with his mouth full. He had a sandwich in each hand and a third between his teeth.

Law suppressed a frown and shifted further away; chewed and swallowed his onigiri. "Bread makes me sick."

"Huh." Strawhat chewed in apparent contemplation. "I bet Sanji can still make you loads of good food, though! He's the best."

Law emitted a neutral grunt and focused on the rice in his mouth. It was, at least, cooked to perfection, the salmon inside pleasant on his tongue. He couldn't fault Strawhat's choice of chef. Or any of his crew, really. Law couldn't bring himself to call it competence, precisely, which seemed far too organized a word to describe Strawhat's magnetic ability to attract the extraordinary, but Law felt surprisingly comfortable calling it genius. It was compelling the way Strawhat's casual power was, the fluid grace of his fights.

There was nothing charming about the way Strawhat was getting crumbs all down his front, however.

Law concentrated on finishing his own food in a more dignified manner, but Strawhat was apparently not done with him.

"Why does bread make you sick?" The third sandwich had disappeared; Strawhat was now alternating bites between the first and the second.

"It's like an allergy."

"To what? Can you be allergic to bread? Chopper, can you be allergic to bread?" The reindeer, caught with his own mouth full, froze on the spot. Strawhat's voice barrelled right over him, pitching to carry even further, not that Law considered this necessary. "Sanji, can you be allergic to bread?"

Black Leg called, "It's gluten," from where he was washing his knives, at the same time as the reindeer managed to get "It must be gluten, right?" past his half-chewed sandwich.

Strawhat turned to stare at Law expectantly. It would have made him look younger, but he always looked young; it was more like that intent curiousity made him seem even more alive than usual, vibrant. It grated against Law's senses.

Law closed his eyes. It didn't help. He opened them again. "Yes, it's gluten."

"Huh," Strawhat said "Sanji," he called, "can you make lots of food without that?"

"Yeah, it's fine," the cook called back.

Strawhat clapped Law on the shoulder; the second sandwich had been consumed at some point without Law noticing. Strawhat's hand felt warm and solid through Law's shirt, grip firm. Law looked down at it, frowning, before looking up to see Strawhat's blinding grin.

"See, Torao? You can have lots of good food with us!"

Food is a love language. He'd learned that, somewhere. One among the many tongues he did not speak.

About half the Strawhats laughed, whether at their captain or Law's rather obvious discomfort, he could not tell. Law's eyes fell upon Robin, who smiled her mysterious smile at him, chewing delicately. He looked away, anywhere else, only to find Zoro looking at him, mouth flat. Strawhat squeezed Law closer, and the edge of Zoro's mouth tugged up into something like a smirk; he saluted Law with his bottle and took a drink, head tipping all the way back, throat working. Law looked away again, Strawhat's hand like a brand on his shoulder.

 

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Law kept to himself, settling his back against the strong wood and propping Kikoku against his shoulder. He attempted an afternoon doze. It didn't work. He tried a different spot on the deck for an evening doze. That didn't work either. He eyed Zoro sometimes, the other man's naps far more successful than his own, and sometimes found Zoro watching him back. There was something viscerally direct in the way the other man looked at him, something that made Law's nape itch; half of Law wanted to ignore it as another distraction while the other half hissed pay attention at him. Zoro was Strawhat's right hand man. If Law planned on sticking around longer, Zoro's opinion of him would have been more relevant. As it was, he cautiously decided to steer clear of the other swordsman and his looks.

Dinner was a noisy affair. Law placed himself as far around the table from Strawhat as he could, finding himself between the sniper and the skeleton. Usopp seemed to want to scoot farther away, glancing at Law out of the corners of his eyes. So, it surprised Law when Usopp actually addressed him.

"You saved Luffy, right? After his brother died?" Usopp's hand was tense on his chopsticks.

Law glanced at him in turn, then went back to his food. "Yes."

Usopp was silent for a while, but Law could see the sniper's hands on the table, knuckles grinding under skin, food untouched. Law decided it was not his problem, and reached for the soy sauce substitute Black Leg had placed conspicuously in front of him for his fried rice; something with ginger and beef broth.

"Okay, look," Usopp finally continued. "Thanks for saving our captain. Really! It-it means a lot to us that someone was there for him. But this is weird, okay?"

Law turned his head. Usopp had twisted to face him entirely, hands clenching on his knees and eyes serious. His loose hair was haloed by the soft kitchen light. "What's so strange about it?" Law asked.

"What's strange? What's strange!" Usopp waved his arms suddenly, the fingers of his expressive hands spread wide. "First of all, last time any of us saw you, you were a rival, an enemy."

Law frowned. "I still am. Once we meet our objective, we will part ways."

Usopp slanted a look at him that Law couldn't read. "Right, sure. But then you saved him from a mess that screwed up the entire world. And we're just? Supposed to accept that you did that for no reason?"

"Not for no reason. But yes."

"Yes, what was your reason?" came from behind Law, and he turned to see Brook delicately sipping his green tea. Law spared a thought to wondering where the tea went, exactly, before looking back up at Brook's face. Law supposed Brook was watching him; it was hard to tell from those blank sockets.

Law considered the question, and decided this was not the audience for those thoughts. If there was one. Silvers Rayleigh had spoken with him about it, but that was Silvers Rayleigh. Strawhat had never asked. Law's crew hadn't questioned him.

Law's jaw firmed. "I don't see how that's relevant two years later."

"Relevant?" Usopp's voice rose higher. "That's another thing, Mr. Warlord of the Sea. We—" Usopp paused, took a look around the table, and seemed to brace himself, puffing out his chest. "We," he continued, jabbing a thumb in his own direction, "have to take care of that guy, so yeah, it's relevant who sticks his nose into Luffy's life!" Law felt talk of sticking noses in places was a bit rich, coming from this man. "And, and—" Usopp stammered to a halt, seeming to deflate.

"And it's up to Luffy what's relevant in the end," Brook said from Law's other side.

"Yeah!" Usopp cried, rallying. "I mean, what's the deal here, anyway? Why make this alliance with us?"

There were a number of answers to this question, Law knew. He had thought through all of them, before starting this and after. He considered his audience — Brook much quieter, but no less attentive on Law's other side — and went with, "Our meeting again was coincidence, but from here on out it pays to leave as little as possible to chance. The odds of success increase if we pool our resources."

Usopp blinked at him. "That's it?"

Law frowned again. "That's it."

Brook hummed, and took a sip of tea.

Usopp's gaze slid to where Strawhat was laughing and slapping the cyborg's back. Law's eyes followed. Strawhat looked wholly unintimidating in this setting, young and carefree. Careless.

And then Strawhat's gaze glanced across Law's end of the table: caught and held. He grinned at Law, innocent and uncomplicated, and Law— it wasn't the same smile, not the one etched in his memory, but it made Law look away, frown deepening.

He found himself turned towards the sniper again, the other man's eyes serious on him.

And then Usopp laughed, and smacked Law's shoulder. Law choked on his fried rice.

"Well, okay, all right. Good luck, Mr. Warlord."

Brook set down his teacup, "I agree. Best of luck to you."

Law thought perhaps sitting at this end of the table had been a strategic error after all.

 

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After dinner, the Strawhats set to chores or hobbies or other things that didn't involve interrogating Law. They wove around each other effortlessly, trading off tasks; bickered, drifted in and out of each other's orbits. Law observed this dance silently from beneath the brim of his hat, chin tucked into the ruff around his neck.

He wondered if his crew had made it to Zou yet.

Every once in a while one of the Strawhats would stop and stare at him as they passed near him. He pretended to be asleep, but he was pretty sure half the crew — the older members, the navigator, Zoro — were not particularly impressed by this ruse. Nevertheless, they respected his clear wish to be left alone.

Until he caught the captain's wandering attention again.

"Torao." Strawhat crouched down in front of him. "It's time to sleep."

Law opened his eyes. Strawhat blinked at him. Law closed them again.

Strawhat poked his leg. "It's nice to nap out here but we gotta sleep for real, come on."

Law opened his eyes again. "You don't have enough beds for me." He'd counted, when he'd investigated the ship once they'd set sail, and had spent the previous night out on the deck.

"That's fine! We'll just share! We're friends, right?"

Law tensed. Repressed an urge to draw his legs in, away from the other captain. "No."

Strawhat's face stilled. He regarded Law seriously. "Yeah we are."

"We're allies," Law corrected.

"Yeah! So come on, someone will make room." Strawhat's instantaneous switch from serious to enthusiastic was disorienting.

Law got the distinct impression his correction had not had the intended effect. He tightened his grip on Kikoku. "Strawhat-ya. I'm not sleeping in your quarters."

Strawhat rubbed his chin. "I dunno, I don't think Nami and Robin would like it if you tried to stay with them."

Law pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm sleeping out here."

"Let him sleep where he wants," Nami called from a few yards away. She had charts and a drawing compass out. "If he catches a cold or stays awake the whole time it's his choice. He's a grownup. Anyway," she drawled sarcastically, "you're equals now, so he has just as much say where he sleeps as you do, Luffy."

Strawhat frowned, turning in her direction. "It's my ship." The starlight caught dark glints in his stubborn eyes.

"He lives on a submarine. Let him get some fresh air if he wants," Nami told him.

This idea seemed to penetrate, and Strawhat's attention snapped around to Law once more, suddenly all enthusiasm again. "Hey, yeah! What's it like on a submarine?"

"You've been there," Law reminded him.

"I—" Strawhat stopped. A strange expression crossed his face, lines etching into his features that didn't belong there. It made Law's stomach tighten. Strawhat threaded tense fingers through his hair, eyes casting down. "I don't remember..."

Law found his throat feeling hollow. Strawhat's habitual animation was stilled, not into one of his disconcerting bouts of intensity or seriousness, but folded in on itself into something lost and small. It was the youngest Law had ever seen him look, or maybe the oldest. Ageless, grief was. Law knew that. Law kept his hands still, pressed his fingers flat.

It jerked out of him: "After we take care of our business in Dressrosa, we'll meet my crew at Zou. You'll see it again then."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nami look up from her papers and give Law a long look.

Strawhat blinked, and seemed to come back to himself. "Hey, yeah! With the bear, right?"

Law sighed. "Yes, he'll be there." He smoothed his fingers out, loosening the tense knuckles.

"Shishihi! That's right! We'll kick ass in Dressrosa and go see the bear!" Strawhat rubbed his nose, grinning.

Then he stood up abruptly, palms on his knees. "I hope the stars are great tonight, Torao. I gotta sleep."

Law followed him with his eyes until he disappeared inside the ship. Then he turned to regard Nami, who hadn't stopped eying him for the last minute.

She held his gaze for a few more deliberate seconds, then went back to her charts. She looked frequently at the sky, at the horizon, at her papers. Not at Law.

Making star charts, Law realized.

He closed his eyes. The rest of the crew left the deck in ones and twos, until he and Nami were the only ones left. Finally, he heard the rustle of her rolling up her charts and packing away her instruments. She paused in front of him.

"Thanks for that," she said. "For what you said."

Law opened his eyes and looked up at her. "It's nothing. He knows the plan."

Nami snorted. "You two deserve each other, you know what? In the worst way possible."

Law frowned. Said nothing.

"Really, you're not getting the same things out of this at all, are you." It wasn't a question.

"I don't know what you mean," Law answered.

"Do you know what Luffy means?" she countered.

Law realized he had no answer to that.

Nami snorted again, and prodded his ankle with her foot. "Enjoy the stars." She left.

Law didn't particularly need anything to keep him awake at night — it was more or less a default state — but the evening's exchanges buzzed through his brain, making no more sense than before. Strawhat was unpredictable as ever, Nami's nettling opaque and vaguely hostile. None of it was news, but that didn't make it less... relevant. Being able to guess what his ally was thinking, what he would do... Law's plans didn't precisely hinge on that — he hedged his bets more carefully than that — but it would certainly... ease his mind.

Law got up to see if leaning against the mast was any more restful than leaning against the railing.

 

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Law was not really a morning person — or any time of day person — but he found himself awake and amidst the tangerine trees as Nami pruned them in the sunrise. In his sleepless perambulations of the Thousand Sunny, he had experimented with dozing against the kitchen chimney on the upper deck, to see if it was warmer. It wasn't, not noticeably, but the sounds of Black Leg starting breakfast down below had jolted Law out of his drowse, and Nami had ascended the stairs shortly thereafter.

"Don't you ever sleep?" she'd asked, frowning at him.

Law had rubbed his face. "Sometimes. Not really."

"Well, if you're awake anyway you can help," she'd told him briskly.

Law had frowned at her in turn. "Just because I've made an alliance on your captain doesn't mean I'm part of your crew."

Nami had waved the hand that wasn't holding the pruning shears. "Equals, Emperors, whatever. Taking up space on my deck is 1,000 beli a minute."

Law had not been particularly moved by this.

She had given him a canny look, then, and said, "If you come here I can tell you what Luffy's thinking."

This was an entirely different form of persuasion.

Probably wisely, Nami did not assign him the pruning shears, but the basket. The rising sun painted warm shadows across the green bower of the leaves, the bright skins of the tangerines. Law blinked, bleary.

"I was against this whole thing, you know," Nami told the tree she was working on. "Taking on any of the Emperors is crazy." The shears snipped, tense but precise. Nami's back was a stiff line against the rising light.

"We're not taking Kaidou on directly."

"Oh, sure, you have a whole plan. Caesar Clown, and Doflamingo, and all that." Nami plucked an apparently ripe tangerine off the tree, held it in her hand. "But really," she continued, turning to face Law, "do you think Luffy is going to listen to any of it?"

"I thought you had the answer to that," Law reminded her, annoyed.

She frowned at him for a moment, tapping the fruit against her cheek.

Then she grinned, and tossed the tangerine in the basket.

"You bet I do." She turned to the next tree, hands careful among its leaves. "You're being an idiot, you know. Probably more of an idiot than Luffy."

Law felt this was rather unfair. He'd only met the woman two days ago. "I'm not sure how that's possible."

"Oh, your plan sounds smart. It's a good plan. But I don't think you get it. Luffy's gonna do what he thinks is right."

Law frowned. "There's nothing about the situation we'll be walking into that's right. There's smart and there's dead." Personally, he was betting on dead.

Nami turned back towards him, another tangerine in her hands. "No, see, that's what I mean. You don't get it. Luffy doesn't do smart. He's never once done the smart thing."

Law's hands tensed on the basket, wicker rough against his fingers. "You're undermining your captain a bit, don't you think?"

Her teeth flashed. "Not at all. I'm telling you to be ready. He's not actually stupid, you know. Well, he is, but not that kind of stupid. You, though..." Her eyes narrowed. She stalked closer to him. Leaned over the basket, got up in his face. Law resisted the urge to lean back. "I've seen that look before. I've done that look before. Luffy's not stupid, but I know what someone looks like when they're about to do something stupid. And I'm telling you up front, Luffy's not gonna buy it." She poked him in the chest with the hand holding the tangerine.

Then, she dropped the fruit in the basket, and went to the next tree.

Law brushed off his shirt where she'd poked him. "Is there something you're not telling me? You're not the first one on this ship to tell me something like this."

Nami glanced over her shoulder. "We are telling you. You're just gonna have to trust Luffy. That's all there is."

At this point, Strawhat himself popped his head over the railing, and Law nearly dropped the basket.

"Oi, Nami, Sanji won't let me have breakfast yet. Can I have a tangerine? Oh hi, Torao. What are you doing up here?"

"We were just talking about you," Nami told him baldly. Law's fingers spasmed on the basket.

Strawhat snickered. "I'm gonna be Pirate King! What else is there to say?"

"I was just telling your ally that you're more likely to do whatever you want than listen to the plan," Nami threw over her shoulder, unconcerned.

"Well that's how it works, right? We're friends, so we trust each other and do what feels right!" Strawhat grinned at both of them.

Law wanted to throw the basket at him. "Strawhat-ya! That is not how an alliance works!"

"It is around heeeere," Nami sang from her tangerine tree.

Law swiveled his head, glaring alternately at Nami's back and Strawhat's grinning face. He considered praying for patience. He again considered throwing the basket.

What happened in the end was Strawhat taking the choice from him: Strawhat's face went serious again, and he leaned forward over the railing. "Hey. Torao."

"What," Law ground out.

"Torao. Don't you trust me?" Strawhat's eyes were hard, mouth a firm line.

Law ignored the palpable sense of told you so emanating from Nami.

"We've got a plan. I trust the plan."

Strawhat regarded him silently for a moment, then hiked himself over the railing to sit on it, knees spread, arms crossed.

The moment stretched.

"No," Strawhat finally said, flatly, loudly.

Law's head ticked back. He was absurdly aware that he was still holding the basket of tangerines. "What do you mean, no?"

"That's not how it works," Strawhat told him. "You're with us now, and we gotta trust each other."

Nami's shears snipped.

Law set aside the precise meaning of with us as an argument for another day. Yesterday, maybe. Or tomorrow. Or every day, with Strawhat. Instead, he said, "I told you what the plan is."

"Yeah, and I'm telling you how it is!" Strawhat's voice was strident in the dawn calm. Suddenly, his hand shot out, stretching across the gulf of feet between them to land on Law's shoulder. "You saved my life. You're a good guy, Torao. I trust you."

Law stared at him, dry-mouthed, Strawhat's fingers digging hot into his shoulder. Was Strawhat that simple? Or— Law shied away from the other possibilities Strawhat's declarations led to.

Nami deposited another tangerine in the basket that Law was still, stupidly, clutching.

Strawhat kept staring at him.

Nami interposed herself between them, smacking Strawhat on his outstretched arm. "Luffy, give him some time. He's saved you like twice now."

Law blinked at her. Strawhat did too. Then Strawhat chuckled, sharp "Shishishi" spiraling into the soft pink sky. "I'll show him!" he told Nami, then swiveled back to face Law. "You'll see, Torao!"

"That's right," Nami said, and tossed Strawhat a tangerine.

Strawhat's hand snapped out to catch it, and he grinned. Then he rocketed himself up to the crow's nest.

There were many things Law could blame his disorientation on, not least among them the fact that he had not actually slept. But Nami gave him a look that dared him to blame it on insomnia.

 

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Usopp and the cyborg were making a lot of noise in the middle of the deck. Law was, as usual, not exactly sleeping, and not particularly curious either, but then there was a series of clanks, a few steamy hoots, and finally a sharp revving sound that reminded Law of the Polar Tang's engines. He opened his eyes.

Strawhat appeared beside the contraption, obscured by the cyborg's overly broad back, as if he had teleported there. Dr. Tony Tony abandoned his reading at Robin's table to patter over. Kin'emon and Momonosuke joined him. Even Caesar Clown drifted closer, his handcuffs clanking. Law's mind flickered over Caesar's hidden heart, then focused again on the huddle that had coalesced on the deck.

"Whoooooaaaaaa. I wanna ride it!" Strawhat declared.

Franky laughed. "There's not really enough room here but why not! Try it!"

"Oi, Luffy, you better let me help," Usopp interjected.

Franky moved aside, and Law got a clear enough view to see that it was some kind of two-wheeled vehicle with strange fin-like protrusions at the bottom rear end. Strawhat immediately threw himself astride it, and Usopp clambered up behind him, hands sure and easy on his captain's hips.

Law's heart beat, distracting. Or it was Caesar's heart? Law frowned.

Then Strawhat's body tensed, and the machine roared to life, shredded across the deck, and sailed over the railing.

Law was on his feet, free hand making a room, before he heard Strawhat's whoop of delight followed by Usopp's laughter and a distinctly underwhelming splash.

Robin was watching calmly from her table. Nami leaned on the railing, chin in her hand. Zoro, hands clasped behind his head, opened one eye and closed it again.

Law's hand tensed, loosened, tensed, restless. Strawhat and Usopp were somewhere down below where Law could see, out on the waves.

Franky came over to lean on the railing as well. This put him near Law.

Law rubbed his forehead, and approached the cyborg.

Franky shifted slightly when Law joined him at the railing, acknowledging his approach. Law could see, now, that the two-wheeled contraption was gliding across the sea, leaving a white wake behind. Usopp had one arm entirely around his captain's middle, the other stretched out to guide his hand on what was apparently the thing's control surface.

The wood of the railing was rough under Law's fingertips.

"Robo-ya, what is that thing?" Law asked at length.

"You like it, Tra-bro?" Franky turned to wink at him, sunglasses pushed up into his hair.

Law frowned. "I don't know what it is."

Franky laughed. "I did the motorcycle part and Usopp worked on the waver part. It can go on land or sea. I'm thinking of making it part of the Soldier Dock system."

"Waver? Nose-ya is familiar with the sky islands' dials?"

The cyborg chuckled. "Oh yeah. Way more than me, bro. He made Nami's Clima-Tact, and then made a whole new version with dials."

Law had heard of Nami's fighting style, but hadn't seen much of it himself outside that display before they'd left Punk Hazard. He made a neutral sound, watching instead how Strawhat and Usopp charged a particularly choppy patch of sea. The machine cut the water, sailed over the crest of the highest wave, and landed with a splash on the other side, aft end sinking into the sea for a moment before the engine gave a throaty roar and the thing surfaced easily and was skimming the waves once more.

Strawhat whooped. Usopp cheered, then rose up on his toes to lean over his captain, one arm spread across Strawhat's chest and the other flitting across Strawhat's hands controlling the thing.

Law frowned again. "Aren't wavers hard to control?"

Franky turned to look at him again. "That's right. You been there, bro? I haven't. Anyway, yeah, wavers are a pain in the ass. But Usopp had Nami show him around a bunch, and he talked to me, and we had this whole thing going with making it all-terrain and stabilizing it and we made it super!" Franky laughed, a loud, vigorous, nasal sound, and then clapped Law on the back. Law found his diaphragm making intimate acquaintance with the wood of the railing, his breath punching out of him, and he had to pull hard to keep from going overboard himself.

Franky seemed completely unconcerned by Law's ensuing coughing fit.

The waver-cycle gave another roar, a worrying gurgle, and then a rallying wet rumble. Law blinked his watering eyes, trying to see where it was on the water.

"So," Franky said, deliberately conversational tone putting Law on high alert through his bleary vision, "you planning on sticking around for long?"

Law jerked his gaze away from Strawhat and Usopp. "No," he said frankly.

Franky hummed, the nasal note of it reverberating in Law's sinuses. "Can't say as I blame ya. I was ready to quit after my first round with this bunch."

Law bit back his initial response of There won't be a second round. Chewed on it. He couldn't bring himself to swallow, but he did ask, "What made you change your mind?"

Franky laughed again, a quieter, lower sound. "Eh, you've met Luffy."

Law let this hang in the air unanswered. Until Franky eventually followed it with, "I guess you've met Robin, too!" He barked a laugh, a sharp sound this time.

"I've met your entire crew," Law told him. "There's not that many of you."

Law was not prepared when this caused the cyborg to turn completely away from the waters to face Law. "Yeah, about that," Franky started. Stopped. Pushed his sunglasses deeper into his hair. "There's not a ton of people who've been on this ship. I built it, I know who's been on it."

Caesar Clown chose this moment to object very loudly to something Dr. Tony Tony had said.

Franky rubbed his forehead at that, looking briefly the full decade older he was.

Then he looked back at Law, oversized robotic fingers still pinching his brows. "Actually, yeah. That was your idea. An idea our captain went with. So now there's two more people on my ship I never expected to be on here."

Law met his gaze for a few moments before he said "Thought this was Strawhat-ya's ship."

Franky broke into laughter again. "That's the spirit! You're gonna get the hang of this, I swear."

Law's attempt to respond to this was interrupted by Strawhat yelling "Hey! How do we get back up! Is it like—"

"OI!" Usopp shrieked over him, slapping Strawhat's hand away from the controls. "Luffy, let me—"

"No! I wanna!" Strawhat's petulance was palpable, and it served to distract Franky immediately.

"Bro, no, you gotta—"

"Luffy, seriously—"

The waver-cycle vented a deafening sputter, then the engine's pitch whined into an unnaturally high note and the whole thing shot into the sky.

Law watched it arc away from the Thousand Sunny. Dipped his head with a sigh. Made a room.

The water barrel splashed harmlessly into the ocean in place of the machine, captain, and sniper, who all landed on the lawn in an abrupt heap.

Usopp was frantically smacking Strawhat's midriff where it was pressing him and the waver-cycle into the deck. Strawhat clambered out of the mess, all smiles, and turned to Law.

"You've gotta try that!"

"Absolutely not," Law told him.

 

______________________________

 

 

It had taken a while for the light spilling out onto the grass to register. Law hadn't really been asleep, anyway. He was prepared to ignore the goings-on in the kitchen, but then the door opened and Black Leg was there, silhouetted against the kitchen's warmth. The cook spotted Law where he was sitting with his back against the hull, and made his way toward him, digging in his pockets. The cigarette was in Black Leg's hands and lit, the match strike flaring sharp against the planes of his face, by the time he reached the railing and leaned on it a few feet away from Law.

Black Leg took a few drags, exhaled smoke whipped away by the sea winds. "Can't sleep?"

Law made a noncommittal noise.

The cook's lip curved up. "Captain wanted a midnight snack." Another drag. "You hungry?"

"Not really."

Black Leg made a neutral noise in turn. "So how's the alliance working out? Luffy living up to your expectations?"

In light of what the cook had said at the start of all this, Law regarded this as a not entirely innocent question. "I expect your captain to be strong. Anything else is... largely irrelevant."

The other man chuckled. Took another drag. "With Luffy there's a lot of 'anything else'."

Law was acutely aware of this. He had been prepared to deal with his own baggage concerning the other captain silently and without fuss. Strawhat, however, seemed intent on making his life difficult. Law supposed he could deal even with that. What made the entire endeavour nearly fucking impossible was the way Strawhat's crew seemed to guess or intuit or insinuate or otherwise be entirely too aware of Law's— feelings, plans, difficulties. Was Law that transparent? Or did Strawhat have a particular way, pattern, something? Something his crew was used to and predicted easily? It was hard to think of Strawhat as predictable in any way. Law wasn't sure whether he found that a more ill-fitting thought than the version that painted Law as the predictable one, the known factor. Law was unpredictable on purpose; Strawhat seemed to be unpredictable the same way most people breathed or ate or slept. Well, certainly not the way Law slept.

He realized he had not actually responded to Black Leg. Upon reflection, Law decided that was for the best.

Black Leg seemed about to say something else when the kitchen door slammed open, echoing loud over the night waters. Strawhat's head popped out. "Sanji, I ate both the sandwiches! Can you make me another? Oi, Torao! You're still up? Have a snack!"

Black Leg stubbed out his cigarette and gave Law a companionable prod with his foot. "Captain's orders."

"Not my captain."

"Torao," Strawhat's voice pitched higher, "come on, it's cold out here."

Black Leg regarded him with a raised eyebrow.

Law pinched the bridge of his nose. "Strawhat-ya, I'm not hungry."

This actually drew the other captain out onto the deck. "How can you not be hungry? It's midnight. Come on, Sanji will make you something without glue-stuff."

"Gluten," Law ground out.

"Yeah, that stuff. Come on." And Strawhat reached down for Law's arm and started tugging him up. Law flinched, drew his arm back towards his body. Strawhat didn't even notice. His hand was warm against the night chill, pads of his fingers digging lightly into Law's muscles.

Law calculated the cost of resistance. He was tired, and Strawhat would inevitably argue. The kitchen would be warm, at least. Black Leg's mouth was curled up again. Strawhat wasn't even looking at him, tugging with his face turned towards the open door, heading for the light and warmth.

Law suppressed a sigh, and got up.

Black Leg ambled alongside Law, hands in his pockets, until they made it into the galley. Strawhat threw himself onto a chair, straddling it wrong way around and crossing his arms athwart its back. Law arranged himself less haphazardly on another chair.

"Why weren't you sleeping?" Strawhat asked.

"I don't sleep much." Strawhat blinked at him, eyes wide and alert, looking not at all like someone up in the middle of the night. It was appalling. "Why weren't you?" Law countered.

"Got hungry. Woke up." Strawhat turned to watch Black Leg over his shoulder. The quiet sounds of knives and hands at work filled the kitchen for a moment. The soft light described the curve of Strawhat's jaw, in profile like this.

Law's aesthetic appreciation was interrupted by the sound of bare feet scuffing on wood. Zoro entered the kitchen, rubbing his eyes. "Luffy, you're too loud." He gave vent to a jaw-cracking yawn, met Law's eyes, then threw himself onto the couch against the opposite wall, legs crossed on the arm. For the first time, Law noticed the scars around his ankles, stark in the subdued light. "Get me a drink," Zoro rumbled.

"Get it yourself," Black Leg said over the uninterrupted sound of steady chopping.

Strawhat perked up. "Zoro, you want a snack too?"

"Sure, why not." Zoro did not seem inclined to actually go fetch that drink.

Law watched Black Leg wordlessly get two more slices of bread.

Satisfied that every wakeful crew member would be fed, Strawhat seemed content to wait, if not patiently — his feet were scuffing the floor, back and forth, back and forth — then at least in silence. Zoro appeared to fall into an easy doze, hands behind his head. Black Leg worked quietly.

Law felt distinctly out of place. Getting up and leaving would immediately invite commentary and likely physical intervention from Strawhat. Law curled and uncurled his hands, watching his tattoos shift over the tendons, patches of pale skin warmed by the kitchen's soft light. It wasn't like Strawhat was keeping him up. Or, at least, Strawhat dragging him into the kitchen wasn't interrupting any real sleep. Law had been thinking about the other captain, examining his own reactions. That he found Strawhat attractive was not news — Law knew his own taste for easy power, a less easily explained appetite for forces beyond his control — but that sort of thing was also something Law was used to ignoring. What intruded more persistently upon his consciousness was the pull around Strawhat, like a gravity well. Magnetic was a good term for him; he drew Law in one moment and repelled him the next, and Law was left with the uncomfortable boil of want in his blood, with thoughts of how Strawhat's grin glinted sharp before a fight. Of how Strawhat's less feral smiles reminded Law of Cora-san. His awareness of his own rough-edged desires felt discongruent in this gently lit kitchen.

The floorboards creaked again, and Robin emerged from the depths of the ship. Her gaze swept across the half-occupied kitchen before she settled herself quietly at the table.

Zoro opened one eye. "Captain wake you up too?"

Robin smiled serenely. "I don't mind. Sanji-kun, could I have some tea?"

"Of course, Robin-chan," Black Leg sang, already moving across the kitchen. Zoro closed his eyes again.

Robin turned towards Law. "Welcome to the midnight crowd," she said, tipping a hand around at the kitchen's occupants.

Law raised an eyebrow. "Common occurrence, is it?"

"Sometimes. I like it. It's quiet."

"Torao," Strawhat interrupted, putting the lie to Robin's words. "Don't you guys have midnight snacks?"

"Not really."

Strawhat blinked at him. "Why not? If you don't sleep a lot, you can at least eat."

Zoro made a quiet sound that could have been a chuckle.

"I usually read in my cabin," Law said.

"What do you like to read?" Robin asked politely.

This question felt strangely personal. "Different things," Law evaded.

Robin hummed, letting this go.

Strawhat, on the other hand, latched on. "You read that doctor stuff, right? What else?"

Law looked back towards him. Strawhat was regarding him with disconcerting intensity, as if the issue of Law's reading habits were of vital importance. "Books," Law told him.

"Leave him alone, Luffy," Zoro called, eyes still closed. "You don't like to read anyway." Then he did open one eye, gave Law an edged smirk.

"Shishishi," Strawhat snickered, grin hidden behind his crossed arms, easy and companionable. "So? He's my ally, I should know about him."

Law's attention sharpened on Strawhat. He considered several responses before settling on, "My reading habits are not relevant to our alliance."

"You can learn a lot about someone from what they read," Robin mused, leaning her chin on one hand. "A person's library is like a map of their mind."

Law frowned. "What do you read, then?" he countered.

Robin's smile unfurled. "Horror stories," she said, shaping the words with relish.

Law wasn't sure if this was unexpected or perfectly fitting, but in any case Black Leg interposed himself between Law and Robin, setting a tea tray on the table. "Your tea, Robin-chan." Robin took her cup with a murmur of thanks. Black Leg moved to the couch and dropped a jug on Zoro's stomach. "Here," he said curtly.

Two more cups of tea steamed quietly on the tray. Strawhat grabbed one and gulped with gusto. Robin sipped more delicately. Zoro arranged himself in a less horizontal position and chugged straight from his jug.

The sounds of sipping and swallowing filled the kitchen.

Law looked away from the remaining cup.

Strawhat caught the motion and paused in downing his tea to stare at Law. Strawhat blinked once, then again. Law resisted the urge to put his face in his hands, and reached for the cup.

Strawhat grinned and clapped Law on the back, making him choke on the tea. As Law sputtered, Black Leg came around again, depositing a tray of rye bread sandwiches on the table between Robin and Strawhat. Then he came around to Law's side and put a smaller plate in front of him.

Strawhat was already chewing on a sandwich. "Whazzat?"

"Granola bars," Black Leg told him before retreating to the prep area and starting on his own sandwich. Zoro heaved himself off the couch and wandered up to the table for his, eating it standing up in big, rough bites. Luffy was watching Law as he chewed on his own sandwich.

Law, by now resigned, started on a granola bar. It complemented the tea perfectly, of course.

Zoro wiped his mouth. "I'm going back to bed," he announced. "Try to be quiet when you come back," he told his captain. He gave Law a sardonic salute, and took the jug with him.

Robin finished next, setting her cup down with a soft clink. "I think I'll watch the stars a bit," she murmured, making her way to the door. Black Leg wiped his hands on his apron and silently followed her out, digging for another cigarette.

Strawhat paused in stuffing his face. "Huh," he grunted. Then he snickered and turned to Law. "It's just Torao and me, I guess!"

Law made a noise around his granola bar.

"I wonder how long it's gonna take to get all four Emperors," the other captain mused.

The granola stuck in Law's throat. He choked, and chased it with tea. "Shouldn't we take this one thing at a time?" he managed, hoarsely.

"We'll see!" Strawhat seemed supremely unconcerned. "I already pissed off Big Mom. And you want to go after Kaidou. And Blackbeard's an asshole. Seeing Shanks is gonna be great, though."

Law focused on the item of most interest to him. "It would be very difficult to take down Kaidou directly. It's smarter to let Kaidou and Doflamingo take each other out."

"What's up with you and that Mingo guy anyway?" Strawhat asked, all innocent inquiry.

The tea soured on Law's tongue. "It's a long story," he said, looking away.

Strawhat ducked his head, seeking Law's eyes. His face was suddenly serious, more focused, like Law had seen him before battle. Law felt his gaze pulled up, irresistibly; his pulse picked up at the way Strawhat looked, intent and intense. "He's a bad guy, right?" Strawhat said soberly.

"Yes."

Strawhat stared silently at him for a long moment. Then he unfolded himself from around the chair and walked over to Law. Put both hands on Law's shoulders. Law was distracted by their solid weight, the press of palms against his collarbones, before he found Strawhat's face entirely too close to his. Law's head jerked back, granola bar forgotten in one hand.

"We're gonna kick all their asses," Strawhat told him, fingers firm through Law's shirt.

Cornered, Law took refuge behind a smirk. "That's the idea."

Strawhat laughed and let go of him. "That's right!"

Law breathed. The removal of Strawhat's intent presence from Law's personal space left behind a kind of cold hollowness. Strawhat, completely indifferent to his effect on other people, patted his stomach and stretched. "Those were good sandwiches. I'm gonna sleep great after that." He turned to look at Law. "You should finish your food too. It'll help you sleep."

Law regarded the granola bar still in his hand. "I doubt that."

"Food helps everyone sleep," Strawhat declared, ignoring Law's stated experience entirely. The other captain watched him expectantly, hands on his hips, until Law took another bite of granola. Strawhat grinned, but also didn't leave, waiting until Law finished the whole thing. "Good," Strawhat said with a nod, then headed for the men's quarters.

Law looked around the empty kitchen. He was tired, in no small way exhausted by Strawhat's capriciousness and his own reactions. The couch seemed marginally more inviting than his previous spot out in the cold on the deck. He stretched out on it, hands folded on his stomach. Sleep was, as usual, somewhere beyond his reach, but he managed a hazy doze, through which he was dimly aware of Robin coming back in with Black Leg. The cook turned out the lights, and Law was alone again.

 

______________________________

 

 

"Hey, Torao."

Law looked up from the book Robin had lent him. Strawhat was lying on the grass, hands behind his head, staring at the sky.

"Strawhat-ya," Law acknowledged.

"We're gonna be fighting together, right?"

Law frowned. "That's not really the plan. We're setting up Doflamingo and Kaidou against each other, not against us." Law felt he'd gone over this point before. Repeatedly.

"Shishishi." Strawhat turned towards him, grinning. "But we're allies, right? We should be able to fight together!"

Law processed this for a few moments, unable to find any obvious flaws. "I suppose so," he allowed.

"Good!" Strawhat hopped up, landing effortlessly on his feet, and cracked his knuckles, grin going dangerous. Law, distracted by the glint of teeth, took a moment to understand that Strawhat was saying, "Let's do it!"

Law hauled his attention back into focus. "What, now?"

"Yeah! I wanna see what your Devil Fruit can do!" Strawhat was bouncing on the balls of his feet, fluid tension of a fighter's crouch limning the angles of his elbows, wrists, ribs.

"You've seen it."

Strawhat's grin grew wicked. "Have you seen mine?"

Law ignored the way his mouth went dry and carefully marked his place in the book. Strawhat's utter randomness and worrying inability to remember the fucking plan drove Law to distraction; all that scattered energy suddenly concentrated in one place, highlighted by the white gleam of bared canines, was distracting in a completely different way. Law consented to listen. "Show me."

Strawhat spread his feet in a solid horse stance, planted one fist on the deck, and looked Law in the eye through his messy hair, teeth pale between the strands. Then the muscles on his legs — his entire leg — rippled, bulged and moved upward; his skin flushed like a fevered storm; Strawhat opened his mouth and steam hissed out between his teeth, rose from his entire body, curled in tatters around him. Strawhat stood up, faced the front of the ship, and drew back his arm, palm flat in front of him. Checked over his shoulder to make sure Law was watching. Law was.

Strawhat's palm punched forward almost faster than Law could follow; the shockwave billowed out across the choppy sea, flattening the waters past where Law could see, and the ship rocked, propelled backwards in reciprocal motion. The wave of displaced air hit Law with the force of a hurricane.

It had gotten a lot more impressive, in two years.

Tinnily, Law could hear Nami shouting a protest at this abrupt change in the ship's motion. The words were lost on Law. Strawhat was grinning at him again, breath fast and eyes satisfied. "Gear Second," Strawhat announced.

Law put down the book. "Your body temperature skyrocketed. How did you do that?"

Strawhat stamped one of his legs, showing the rippling motion again. "Since my body's rubber, I can use that to pump blood faster. A lot faster."

Law's hand curled out, medical curiousity overwhelming everything else for a moment before he caught himself. The hand, barely raised, dropped to his jeans again. His palm felt hot. "More oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. Like doping, right?"

"Yeah, that's what the pigeon guy said."

Law ignored the reference as one of Strawhat's endless opaque digressions. "That would tear a normal heart apart."

"Shishishi," Luffy snickered, as if this was funny. "Yeah! But it's fine!"

Law couldn't tell if this bald assurance was recklessness or logic; either way, it was magnetic in the way Strawhat's endless forward momentum always was, when it wasn't profoundly irritating. "Did you think this up yourself?"

"Yep. We had to get Robin back, and there were some strong guys."

This was in no way an actual explanation of how the mechanics of this mode had occurred to Strawhat. "What made you think of it?" Law pressed.

Strawhat frowned. "Well it makes sense, right? I needed to be stronger, and I knew my body needed more energy, so I ate a lot and thought it would be good if I could move that through my body faster and since my muscles and heart and stuff can handle it it's obvious, isn't it?"

Divine inspiration, apparently. Strawhat seemed to arrive at more extraordinary results by accident than even the best tacticians could by cunning or strategy. Or was it an accident? Law felt pulled two ways by the man constantly, exasperated one minute and impressed the next. Strawhat's methods ruined the balance of Law's equations, but the overwhelming consistency of his successes spoke a truth that Law could not ignore. He'd bet on that, when he'd offered Strawhat an alliance.

An alliance the other captain seemed to take seriously, or his version of seriously anyway. It involved pushing more (gluten-free) food on Law than Law felt was entirely necessary; also way too much invasion of his space, touching, endless grinning. The man radiated easy affection like a furnace, and some days Law felt as trapped on the ship as Caesar Clown.

But Strawhat was here, wanting to learn, wanting to teach. Wanting to fight, together. Law had faith in his plan, but he hadn't survived as long as he had by never hedging his bets.

Law smiled. Stood up. "All right. Watch."

Strawhat nodded, face intent.

"Room."

 

______________________________

 

 

It wasn't precisely sparring, and it wasn't precisely teamwork. Half the time Strawhat seemed intent on fighting him, and the adrenaline snap of it could steal Law's breath, sometimes: Strawhat, grin feral, sweating and fierce, muscles tensing and stretching. It was, Law could privately admit, beautiful. It was also a distraction, and Law concentrated instead on finding ways to match Strawhat's raw power, outthink him, surprise him. Sometimes Law didn't know what the point of this was, as far as Dressrosa went. For the purposes of this mission, he and the other captain were allies, and would not be fighting each other. Strawhat had started out as an enemy, and Law supposed this knowledge would be useful after their mission ended, after Dressrosa.

After Dressrosa...

Well. It was good to know what his ally was capable of, anyway.

The other half of the time, when Strawhat was feeling less adversarial, Strawhat spent exclaiming over Law's powers and demanding he perform tricks and teleport things around. Law knew on some level — most levels — that these more collaborative ventures were more useful. But the way Strawhat smiled at him, these times, bothered him, brought back too many memories, raised his hackles.

Neither of Law's responses — either to Strawhat fighting him or to Strawhat trying to work with him — was useful. He alternated hot and cold, getting his blood up and then retreating away from Strawhat's earnestness, his curiousity, his cheer. His charm.

Strawhat noticed. All the Strawhats noticed.

Law knew the Strawhats were watching them test their powers together. None of them were doing it precisely covertly, but some were at least more subtle than others about it. Robin, Law sensed, was always paying attention, even if he rarely caught her at it. Zoro always paid attention too; half the time it was one eye open as he lounged around, pre- or post-nap, but the other half of the time Zoro was on the upper deck, back straight and arms crossed on his chest, as he watched with purpose. Law could sense something brewing there, something that made his hands tense on Kikoku. Zoro had been a Supernova, same as Law; one of the markedly smaller cadre who were not captains themselves. The way Zoro looked at him sometimes made his skin itch, a prickly awareness that only added to the pile of distractions the Strawhats, and their captain in particular, heaped on him.

"Torao," Strawhat said, fiercely calm.

Law's attention swiveled back to him. The other captain's face was smooth and flat, missing the usual inflection and animation. All that pent up energy was instead in his eyes, his stare, the way he held Law's gaze.

Law felt his skin heat. It made him grit his teeth.

"What?" Law said at length.

Strawhat closed the distance between them with decisive steps; came within arm's reach, and then closer, toe to toe with Law, neck tipped back to look him in the face. Law's gut tightened, but he didn't step back; resisted both a frown at this proximity and a defensive smirk, bereft of appropriate coherent reactions.

"We're gonna do this together," Strawhat told him.

Sparring on the deck? Taking down Doflamingo? "What do you mean?" Law asked carefully.

"All of it!" Strawhat said, with force. It wasn't quite a shout, but it spiraled into the noon air. Law was aware of the crew's attention turning towards them, sharpening. Zoro uncrossed his arms and put a hand on his swords.

Law felt his temperature rising. "If you want us to work together then just remember the plan!"

Strawhat didn't move back, didn't retreat, the only space separating them the inches between their heights. "I'm not stupid, Torao," Strawhat said, quieter than before, but Law got the impression that every member of his crew heard him. "I know when people are smarter than me, and I trust them then, right? I'm strong. You know I'm strong."

Law took refuge behind that smirk after all. "So you're saying you're stronger than me?" he challenged.

It was stupid, he knew it was stupid.

Strawhat's grin unfurled, answering Law's ridiculous defensive smirk and meeting it, bolstering it, making it feel real. Law resisted a dry swallow. "We'll see, right?" Strawhat said, easy, confident. "But isn't it better if we try it together now?" and his grin sharpened, grew warmer.

Then Strawhat stepped back, out of Law's abbreviated noonday shadow, and held out a hand.

"For real now, all right? Let's see what we can do!"

Law looked down at Strawhat's extended hand. Listened to the silence, the crew still and watching around the ship.

What of it, then? Law had signed up for this because he respected Strawhat's strength, the string of miracles he left in his wake.

The heavens only knew, Law needed a miracle.

Strawhat was all white teeth and black eyes in the sunshine, slight frame belying the sheer force that lay contained in that body.

Law raised his hand, and Strawhat clasped it, palm dry and warm, grip sure.

Then Strawhat tugged, sudden and sharp, and sent Law across the deck. "I'm gonna come at you!" he shouted. "Come at you strong! So you put me somewhere else, like we're fighting someone!"

And then Strawhat was hurtling at him, arm stretching behind him for a hit that would shatter the ship, and Law made a room without thinking, switched him around so Strawhat's arm shot out to punch the air.

"Yeah!" Strawhat whooped. "Again!"

The crew went back to their tasks, and Strawhat's cries were warm and high in the bright sky.

 

______________________________

 

 

Later, Strawhat was sweaty and panting beside him on the grass, lying down with his arms behind his head. Law sat propped against the wall, winded as well. Strawhat had pushed him, to make bigger rooms, switch him more often, redirect his lunges. The other captain had abandoned his shirt, and Law was finding his own uncomfortably warm, both from their previous exertions and because of the distracting sight before him. He shrugged out of it, let the sea breezes cool him. The tension had melted from between them, for now, and it was just him and Strawhat, and it was almost... restful. A satisfied feeling, almost, of something clicking into place.

Strawhat looked up at the soft rustle of Law taking off his shirt. Law felt the other captain's eyes on him, curious, without heat.

"What are those for?" Strawhat asked.

Law looked down at his tattoos. The sun had lowered in the sky, painting his skin even darker, light patches standing out in dusky contrast.

"They have different meanings," Law replied.

Strawhat rolled over onto his stomach, propping his chin on his hands and crossing his ankles in the air. "Nami has a tattoo. It used to be different, but she hated that one." Strawhat raised one hand and pointed straight at Law's chest. "What's that one? It looks like your flag."

"It is."

"Not really though. That's the one on your back." When had Strawhat seen his back? "Why does that one have a heart?" Strawhat continued.

Law turned to look at him. Strawhat stared back at him, waiting. "It reminds me of someone," he said at length.

Strawhat hummed, apparently accepting this. "Do you have any for your crew? Jinbe does."

"It's common," Law agreed. He hesitated, then indicated his forearm. "This is for them. We all have it."

Strawhat stretched his neck out to look at it, regarding it quietly for a few seconds. Then he looked up at Law, eyes serious. "You'll see them soon," he said.

"... Yeah."

Strawhat let this hang in the air for a moment. Then his grin lit up his face and suddenly he was hauling Law upright, hands on his bare torso, and Law hissed, but Strawhat wasn't paying attention. "Brook!" he yelled. "Brook! Play us something! Torao misses his crew! Let's cheer him up!"

"Yohohoho!" echoed from across the ship, followed by three sweet notes on a violin before smoothing out into a melody, high and energetic.

Franky looked up from where he was tinkering with something and sprang to his feet, striking a pose. "Super! Let's dance!" He held out a hand to Robin.

Robin smiled, put down her book, and went to him. She turned that smile over her shoulder at Law. "Join us, Torao-kun."

Law batted Strawhat's hands off him. "No," he managed.

"Hey, yeah!" Usopp called from the upper deck of the ship. He jumped down onto the lawn right as Black Leg wandered out of the kitchen. He grabbed the cook by the arm and pulled him out onto the middle of the deck, one hand settling on his waist. Sanji rolled his eyes, but consented to hold the sniper's other hand, moving with him in dignified steps.

Strawhat was touching Law again, tugging on his arm. "Come on!" he encouraged.

Law felt he had lost control of things at some point. He wanted badly to put his shirt back on. "No," he repeated, more firmly.

"Not everyone wants to dance, Luffy." Zoro, leaning on the foredeck's railing, smirked down at them. "Not everyone can dance." Law scowled back up at him.

Strawhat blinked at Zoro, then at Law, as if this was an entirely novel thought. "Well then at least listen to the music!" And he picked Law up bodily and deposited him by Brook, rubber arms outstretched. Law emitted a noise in protest he would later deny making, but by then Strawhat's hands were off him again and instead looping around Zoro's waist, pulling the swordsman to him. Zoro laughed, and accepted his captain's hands in his own.

Law watched, dumbfounded, as the dance party coalesced on deck.

It wasn't like his crew at all.

...Not at all.

Nami came to stand by him and Brook, watching the rest of the crew down below. "It's funny, isn't it?" she said. Law couldn't interpret her tone.

On the deck, Dr. Tony Tony toddled up to Robin and Franky, tugging on Robin's skirt. The pair separated with a smile, and the tiny doctor suddenly grew and broadened until he was taller than Robin. She placed her hand on his waist, leading him easily in wide, sweeping circles, and Franky started dancing by himself, spinning and striking poses. It looked ridiculous.

"What's funny?" Law asked. He absently made a room and got his shirt up to him, shrugging it back on. When he emerged from the ruff, Nami was watching him.

"He just does this, you know?" she said.

"Does what?" Law grumped.

Nami laughed. "What he wants, I guess. Or, you know, try to make people happy."

Law frowned at her. "That's not really for him to control." Brook struck an especially high note, sweet and clear in the dusk air.

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" She hummed, looking down at her crewmates again. The captain had abandoned Zoro to caper in a three-man circle with Robin and the reindeer, who had shrunk down again. Franky was ostentatiously dipping Usopp, with Sanji and Zoro left to dance very grudgingly with each other. Law wasn't sure who was leading, there. Kin'emon and Momonosuke hovered on the edges. Caesar Clown had his hands against his ears, grimacing in a corner.

Law observed this silently for a minute before turning to look at her. "Why aren't you down there with them, then? You're leaving them with odd numbers."

She turned to meet his eyes. "Why aren't you?" she returned.

"Does that look like my sort of thing?" He crossed his arms.

"I wouldn't know," she said easily. "But I think Luffy saw something that made him think you needed it."

"Your captain thinks a lot of things."

She grinned. "You're starting to get it, aren't you?"

Law frowned at her.

She winked at him, and vaulted the railing, walking over to break up Sanji and Zoro, then very deliberately choosing to dance with Zoro, the cook drooping in disappointment.

"Don't pass up this chance," came suddenly from above Law. He looked up at Brook, still playing, changing the tempo to something slower, softer. The skeleton wasn't looking at him, facing forward instead, towards the dancers. "It can be a long time, between moments like this. A long time alone."

Law considered several responses, like Nothing wrong with being alone and Your captain was wrong. None of them felt right. Felt true. "I'm not going down there," he said instead.

"That's fine," Brook said. "No skin off my nose. Not that I have skin!" The skeleton laughed, skirling up with the notes of his instrument, then sobered again. "It's all right," he repeated. "I'll be up here all evening."

Law blinked at him. Brook still wasn't looking at Law, playing long, low notes, bones arching white in the twilight.

Law turned to watch Strawhat among his crew, laughing and smiling. Touching. Being touched.

The music went on long past sunset, Brook and Law silent on the deck above.

 

______________________________

 

 

Law had his back against the mast, polishing Kikoku after drilling some teamwork with Strawhat earlier that morning, when Zoro sat down a short way around from him, his own kit in hand. The other swordsman had largely left Law alone to date, though Law had felt Zoro watching him. Watching him and Strawhat. Since Zoro had seemed content to keep his observations to himself, Law was prepared to ignore him and focus on their similar tasks.

"Seen you fighting with the captain," Zoro said, laconic. Apparently he was not quite as content with silence as Law had hoped.

Law considered several responses before going with the simplest. "He wants to see how our powers work together."

Zoro huffed out a breath. "I know. It's smart. He's pretty serious about this."

"Serious as he ever seems."

Zoro put down his sword and turned to look at Law. "Don't underestimate him. Either you're serious about this alliance or you're not. Either you trust him or you don't."

Law turned to face him. "It's that simple, is it?"

Zoro's lips curved up. Law couldn't find it in himself to call it a precisely friendly smile. "Yeah, it is. How do you think we all got here?"

"I have my own crew," Law reminded him.

Zoro chuckled like Law had said something funny. Irritated, Law went back to working on his sword.

Zoro transferred his attention to the blade. "That thing's cursed, you know."

"So's yours," Law snapped.

Zoro rumbled a laugh again, sounding almost pleased. Fond. "This one's tried to kill me more times than I can count." His hands on the sword were careful, familiar. The lines of his knuckles, his fingers, formed a shape Law knew. Law looked at his own hands on Kikoku, echoing Zoro's. He made an effort to lower his hackles.

"Kikoku is an old friend," he found himself saying.

Zoro nodded. "Old friends are hard to find. Shusui is my newest. It's still learning to listen."

Law made a neutral noise.

"The ones that don't listen can be hard to handle. They have a will of their own. But they often cut the sharpest."

Law regarded the swordsman out of the corner of his eye. Made another neutral noise, discouraging.

Zoro didn't take the hint. "He'll come through in the end. You shouldn't worry."

"Do I look like I'm worrying?" Law bit out.

"Yes," Zoro said bluntly. "About half the time. The other half you look like someone's holding your life's ambition just out of reach."

Law's mouth snapped shut. He felt his face heat, with anger or something else.

But before Law could formulate a response, Zoro was getting up, sheathing his sword, collecting his kit. He was halfway across the deck when Law called out, "You didn't finish."

"I'm just getting started," floated over Zoro's shoulder before he disappeared belowdeck.

 

______________________________

 

 

Law jerked out of a doze to find Usopp staring at him over a pad of paper.

"Ah!" the younger man startled. "S-sorry!"

Law rubbed his face. "Nose-ya, what are you doing?"

Usopp eyed him warily for a few moments. When Law provided no more excitement than looking back at him, he uncurled from around the pad, and turned it around to face Law. "Drawing," he said.

On the pad of paper was a surprisingly good image of Law drowsing in the sun, noonday highlights sharp on his hat, his hands, shadows deepening under his eyes. His off-colour skin was sketched in, grey and white in pencil.

Law was not sure how to react to this. "Do you draw sleeping people often?"

Usopp seemed to relax. "Yeah, actually. Mostly Zoro. It's easiest when they hold still." He glanced at Law, sidelong, for a few moments. His hands were careful when he flipped a page in the drawing pad and turned it back around to face Law.

The page had several sleeping Zoros on it. In one, Zoro was shirtless, scar standing out stark against his sketched skin.

Law raised his eyebrow. "You're pretty good," he allowed.

"Haha, thanks. No one else is really easy to draw." He flipped through the pages idly. Law saw Robin wearing a wide white hat, very elegant; a coloured drawing of Nami, bright oranges and blues; a less sure sketch of a machine, details abstracted in, with Franky's hair almost fluorescent behind it.

A page that looked full of motion, so energetic that it took Law a moment to make out the round straw hat. Law's hand reached out, an aborted gesture as the page flicked by.

Usopp caught the movement, and turned back through the pages to see what had piqued Law's interest. He flipped the verso of the drawing pad around, leaving the page full of Strawhat sketches unobscured. They seemed to be done in charcoal, quick dark lines capturing the sense of movement, of kinetic potential.

Usopp watched him look at the page, silent. Hesitated.

"I— I drew this, too. Earlier today." His hands moved the pages around again to the most recent, and he turned the pad to face Law again.

It was a drawing of him and Strawhat this morning, almost stylized: Law was all angles, knees, elbows, Kikoku sharp and glinting in one hand and fingers of the other acute as he made a room, while Strawhat was all curves, rubber limbs extended in arching swoops behind him.

Usopp let him look in silence for a while before he spoke. "You're looking good together lately," he said seriously.

Law looked up to meet his eyes over the drawing pad. He swallowed several responses before coming up with, "You've drawn us completely opposite."

Usopp laughed a nervous laugh, one hand in his loose hair. "Well, it's how you move! I think you'll get there, though."

Get where? Law felt the silence stretch, then decided against breaking it.

"A-anyway, like I said, sleeping people are easier." Usopp gathered up his supplies, and retreated across the deck.

Law watched him go in silence.

 

______________________________

 

 

Law was reading at Robin's table, finishing the horror novel she had given him, when the woman herself joined him, with two steaming cups of tea in hand. Law also noted, in her third hand, a bottle of what looked like cola, which she placed partway around the table from where she sat.

The mystery was resolved when Franky ascended the stairs, wiping his hands on a rag and leaving dark streaks behind, before he sat down as well, looking absurd in the spindly chair.

Law put down the book.

Franky popped the cap off the cola with his metal thumb; it hissed, loud in the silence.

Robin leaned her chin on one hand, and spoke. "So. Tell me about your plans after Dressrosa."

Law had a rehearsed answer for this. "Like I've said, we're meeting my crew in Zou."

Franky perked up. "Oh yeah Tra-bro, you've gotta show me around your ship! It sounds super!"

Robin glanced aside at him, looking half fond and half reprimanding.

Franky straightened his spine, and said, "Well, we gotta get there first."

Law nodded, cautiously. It seemed wisest to say nothing.

Robin turned back to him. "Luffy's pretty excited about it. We wouldn't want to disappoint him."

Her smile was perfectly polite.

Law returned it with one of his own, edged, bordering on a smirk. "We have an agreement."

Franky mused, "Yeah, we've heard all about your plans for Dressrosa, with Caesar Clown and Doflamingo and the factory and all that."

"Not a lot about your plans for after, though" Robin said smoothly after him. Her eyes, brown and blue, were on Law over the rim of her teacup as she took a sip.

Law met her gaze directly. "A lot will depend on how things in Dressrosa turn out."

"Hmm, yes," Robin murmured, and slanted a glance at Franky.

Franky leaned forward on the table, massive hands taking up nearly all the surface area. "Ne, we like your plan, Tra-bro. Doflamingo sounds like an asshole. He's gotta go down. But is that all you've got? Give us some ideas here, buddy."

Law leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, crossed his legs. His smirk curled upwards, facial muscles tightening. "So I'm supposed to provide the plan, and my powers, and ideas for what to do next?"

Robin set down her cup. "Have you considered Luffy's side?" she asked.

Franky ticked a metallic finger against his bottle of cola. "Yeah, bro. He's all in. He's gonna give it his all. Do you get that?"

Law looked from one of them to the other. Franky's face, usually so mobile — considering he was a cyborg — was still. Robin wasn't smiling, chin propped on her hand.

Law considered his options. Considered the crew members before him, older than anyone else except Brook. Abandoned the smirk and leaned forward too, and said seriously, "Why have all of you been saying these things? I'm here, aren't I?"

"Well, yeah, for now," Franky said. "What about later?"

"Why are you all so concerned about it?" he countered. "I have my own crew to go back to."

Robin's gaze on him sharpened. Law eyed her warily, but she picked up her teacup again and took a sip before saying, "Yes, tell us about your crew."

Law wasn't entirely sure this was a safer topic. "You saw some of them at Sabaody. There's twenty-one of us."

Robin looked thoughtful at this. "Why do they wear jumpsuits like the slaves I knew?" she asked, seeming genuinely curious about this.

"You've known slaves?"

Franky took a gulp of his cola.

"Yes," Robin replied. "I spent time in Tequila Wolf, before the Revolutionary Army came."

The Strawhats' whereabouts the last two years were not widely known; Law filed this away as potentially useful information.

When it came to answering Robin's question, he was more certain: it was not his story to tell. Jean Bart was only their most recent addition. "They picked the outfit themselves," he said. "No numbers, though."

Franky nodded. "Jinbe had something like that. The Sun Pirates turned slave marks into their own thing." He ticked his fingers against the bottle again. "Actually Usopp told me Nami did something like that too. And me, of course. But, heh, mine's not a tattoo anymore!" He flexed ostentatiously, showing off the BF-37 emblazoned across his shoulders.

Robin sent him a small smile before turning her eyes back on Law. "They must be really looking forward to seeing you," she... pressed. Law decided that was indeed what she was doing.

"... Bepo's from Zou. He'll get them there. I have a vivre card."

Robin watched him, silent, brown eye and blue. She blinked, slow. When she spoke, it was very deliberate. "When we were apart, it was very hard for Luffy. When Bartholomew Kuma separated us... I was the last one before Luffy." Her eyes seemed to have more shadows than the afternoon light warranted. "I saw what he looked like, then."

Franky put one hand on her shoulder. She was holding her teacup with both hands, but a third sprang out and patted Franky's hand in turn. She smiled up at him, briefly. As if that was a signal, Franky turned to Law, and said, "Yeah, that's not happening again."

Law did not think he could add anything productive to this. He had no card to play, here.

After a long moment of meeting his eyes, Franky grinned, and said, "We've all gotten a long stronger. And we're not gonna let that happen, right?"

Robin turned to look at Law again. “That is correct. Luffy won't let that happen again."

Law crossed his arms again, leaning back in his chair.

He said nothing, some more.

Franky took a chug from his bottle of cola, and slapped Law on the shoulder. Law felt something very nearly go wrong there, inside. "Good talk, buddy," he said.

Robin hummed. "Let me know what you think of the book," she said, taking her teacup and saucer and standing up. Franky picked up his half-finished cola bottle and left with her.

The remaining cup of tea sat in front of Law, no longer steaming, untouched.

 

______________________________

 

 

"How's your wrap?" the cook asked.

Law, mid-chew, threw him an exasperated look.

The wrap itself was exquisite, of course, bright tart notes balancing the calmer vegetable flavours and the fish melting in Law's mouth. Law doubted the cook needed his assurance on this, though. Law's wrap had taken longer to produce than any of the others', which had all included tortillas. By the time Black Leg had delivered Law's serving, everyone else was at least halfway done with theirs. Zoro had lingered over his, exchanging a long look with the cook before getting up to leave, brushing crumbs off his front.

Law had not been surprised, really, to find himself alone with Sanji in the galley.

Black Leg leaned up against the counter and lit a cigarette before looking back up at Law.

"It's sea king lime ceviche with cilantro and avocado, and rice."

Law regarded him, swallowed. "It's good," he said.

Sanji chuckled. "You don't have the gene, then."

Law looked at the wrap in his hands. "What gene?"

"Makes cilantro taste like soap. Not very common. It would be pretty weird if you couldn't do either cilantro or gluten."

Law regarded him for a moment. "I've got enough problems," he said finally.

The cook exhaled a cloud of smoke. "Problems don't come in neat doses. Some things do, doctor," and he bared his teeth at Law in a smile, "but most don't."

Law decided to smile, or at least bare his teeth back. "That's right."

Sanji took another drag. "You got a proper chef on your ship to take care of you? Not everyone can cook what's right for you."

"I manage."

Sanji flicked his cigarette. "You know all about taking care of people, right, doctor?"

Law didn't say anything.

"Well, I take care of everyone here," the cook said. "Me and Chopper," he amended. He laughed, then. "Nami told me they found someone with scurvy right before Luffy ran into me. What idiots."

"Scurvy is a stupid way to die," Law agreed.

Sanji sank a hand into his own hair, pale skin against gold; his eyelashes drifted down, gaze on the floor for a moment. He chuckled again. "Stupid ways to die. Yeah." Then he looked up at Law again. His eyes were very blue. "We don't do those anymore, any of us. Luffy doesn't do those, you know."

"Your captain has a lot of opinions."

Sanji laughed outright. "That's right. How's that working out for you?"

Black Leg had been the first to warn him about this.

Law let the silence hang there as he considered his responses.

"I'll manage," he said in the end, echoing himself.

"That's right," Sanji said again, but this time it was harder, firmer, edging on dangerous. Then he took another drag on his cigarette. "Anyway, I should talk to your cook when we get to Zou."

He left the kitchen, leaving Law alone with his half-finished wrap.

 

______________________________

 

 

The reindeer doctor was reading Law's thoracic surgery journal at the lab bench in the infirmary. Law hadn't expected to actually find him in his proper place on the ship, resigned to dealing with Strawhat's injury himself. Strawhat, following Law in, spotted his doctor and called, "Oi, Chopper! Torao cut me up, I need a bandage."

Dr. Tony Tony's eyes grew wide. "Cut you up!"

Strawhat laughed. "It's fine, it was an accident. Torao, it's fine, right?"

"You're actually bleeding quite a lot," Law felt compelled to point out. It was more than a little embarrassing. Strawhat had changed directions in that unpredictable way he had right as Law was switching himself into place; Kikoku had sliced across Strawhat's arm before Law had managed to reorient himself to Strawhat's abruptly different angle.

They fell in and out of synch, suddenly and completely. One moment it was like a dance, right hand and left, Law redirecting Strawhat's Jet Pistol at orthogonal angles with smooth switches. It was intoxicating, a surety of steps Law had seldom felt before, let alone with a power that, at first glance, should have been unable to match his own. But Strawhat was endlessly creative with his Devil Fruit, his ingenuity challenging Law to step up, think fast, work harder. Teamwork was a concept that pooled half like bile on his tongue, memories of Doflamingo's family lending bitterness to recollections of his own crew. It made him wary, by default, of working too closely together, but Strawhat's sheer forward momentum dragged Law along behind him, until Law found his feet again and pulled ahead, because he had told himself he would never be led again. He felt like an addict, part craving and part revulsion, and smothered the responses of his body with ever-growing annoyance. But when they fought together, when it worked, his blood sang.

And then it stopped working and Strawhat would laugh it off and Law would grind his teeth, pinch the bridge of his nose, squeeze his eyes shut so he didn't have to see the way Strawhat would look at him, as if all they needed was to try again and it would all be fine this time.

This time it was patently not fine. Strawhat's blood was dripping onto the floor. Law was not worried, really, though Strawhat's doctor clearly was, running for the cabinet that held the bandages and liquid stitches. Law had seen Strawhat at his most dire, mind and body broken almost beyond the possibility of repair. It was more that the scarlet evidence of their errant incompatibility goaded Law; it wasn't misgivings about their alliance, precisely, nor quite the same flavour of self-doubt that Law dealt with in the mirror every morning. It was something that whispered In too deep under Law's skin, curling and cruel and scorching.

Law felt ridiculous and extraneous as Strawhat's doctor laid out his supplies and shifted to his bigger form, now-human fingers flexing a moment before he reached for the antiseptic. Strawhat shifted absently as Dr. Tony Tony worked, barely-contained energy spilling out in drumming fingers, tensing muscles. The reindeer's hands were patient on him, careful and precise. Doctor's hands. Healing hands.

Law's own hands curled into fists before Law pressed them flat again, regarded his own articulate fingers. He'd done what the other doctor was doing, once, to Strawhat himself. He remembered the sound of Strawhat on the life support machines, beeps and susurrations, a wet gurgle sometimes that might have been swallowed sobs in his sleep. Law had touched him then, a hand on his forehead, less feeling for fever and more... offering something he wasn't sure of himself, some haptic approximation of comfort. Law had earned his epithet well; the Surgeon of Death had killed more than he'd healed, and there were reasons behind the letters inked on his hands. But Strawhat's desperate need had pulled something out of Law, something older than Corazón's clumsy guidance, than Doflamingo's dark tutelage. Something Law often thought had died in him with the White City.

"Why did you become a doctor?"

Law blinked back to the present. The question had popped out of Strawhat's mouth in an apparent echo of Law's own thoughts. Law shook off a feeling of unease.

The question itself was harder to dismiss. Dr. Tony Tony had paused in his ministrations, eyes attentive on Law.

There were too many answers to that question, too many beginnings, not all of them converging where Law stood now. He settled on the simplest. "My parents were both doctors."

Dr. Tony Tony nodded with a pleased sound. "My father was a doctor."

As far as Law was aware, Dr. Tony Tony's father had been an ordinary reindeer.

"That's right," Strawhat confirmed with a grin. "And the old lady was a doctor, too."

Dr. Tony Tony nodded again, more enthusiastically. "She taught me a lot! Where did you study, Dr. Torao?" he asked, turning towards Law again.

This question was no easier to answer. Law thought of his father leaning over his shoulder as Law pored over medical texts, the way his father had sounded when he said, If you understand how things work, you can save their lives. Thought of Doflamingo looming over Law and Law's books: If you understand how things work, you can destroy them. The school where he'd studied had burned with the rest of his country, and when that flame had been the only light inside him he'd killed small animals and dissected them, emotionless, not even curious. Just wanting to kill, to take apart. To destroy. Those had been long habits to unlearn.

"I learned mostly in North Blue," Law temporized.

Dr. Tony Tony accepted this with all apparent good cheer, going back to bandaging his captain's arm.

Strawhat, on the other hand, was frowning at him.

The furrow between the other captain's brows remained after Dr. Tony Tony declared him taken care of and free to go; Strawhat immediately reached for Law's wrist. Law flinched when Strawhat's fingers closed around his forearm; he jerked in automatic resistance to Strawhat hauling him around again, but Strawhat frowned more fiercely over his shoulder and tugged with greater insistence. Dr. Tony Tony blinked at this byplay, then shrugged and climbed back on his lab stool, ignoring what Law knew by now was normal behaviour for Strawhat.

Law found his feet, following Strawhat into the hallway. As soon as the door to the infirmary closed behind them, Strawhat backed Law against the wall, hands on either side of Law's shoulders, not touching him but crowding him, taking up his space. Law felt his gut tighten, felt it heat, as Strawhat's glower pinned him in place.

"There's a lot you haven't been telling us. Telling me," Strawhat said, looking up at Law. Law was absurdly conscious of their height difference just then; this insignificant fact warred distractingly with Law's awareness of Strawhat's disconcerting ability to read him. It wasn't a surprise, precisely; Strawhat had, after all, assembled that impressive array of allies that Law was now counting on, and an ability to evaluate character was indicated. Considering the crew's hints around the topic, Law should have predicted that that remarkable capacity for insight would be turned on him eventually.

It had been foolish of him, Law now realized, not to expect this. He could never tell if he was under- or overestimating Strawhat.

Strawhat was still staring up at him. "I don't see how it's your business," Law finally said.

"That's not what I mean," Strawhat said, shaking his head before focusing on Law again. "You don't have to explain, you know? I just want you to know that. I know there's a lot you're not saying. That's fine."

Law stared at him in turn. Strawhat's arms by Law's shoulders felt closer than they really were, felt like a cage, and Law did not have the best reaction to cages. It would make sense if he lashed out; that was a reasonable response, all things considered. What made less sense, what made him swallow, dry-tongued, now, was the way he wanted to close his eyes and let the other man surround him.

He forcibly set the feeling aside to focus on what Strawhat had actually said. It took a while for sense to coalesce again. "So you're bringing up something I'm doing just to tell me it's fine?"

Strawhat frowned harder. Then he stopped leaning into Law's space, arms dropping, only for those hands to scoop up Law's own. Law suppressed the habitual flinch — why? he hadn't exactly ever given Strawhat permission for these liberties — but Strawhat pressed his fingertips against Law's knuckles, dug his thumbs into Law's palms.

"I meant what I said," he told Law. "You're a good doctor."

Law was dizzily aware that this was not actually a change of subject. His eyes skipped down to where Strawhat was squeezing his hands, urgency in his face, his touch. And then that touch gentled, and Strawhat dropped Law's left hand and cupped the right, cradling it between his palms. "You're a good doctor," he repeated, with a firm nod, running his fingers over the letters tattooed on Law's knuckles. Law wondered then, with a weird sense of double-vision, if Strawhat was remembering that hand's touch on him, two years ago.

The moment stretched.

When Law's ability to tolerate the heat of Strawhat's hands — the press of him so close to Law, the way Law's pulse leapt against Strawhat's fingers — grew thin, he raised his left hand and used it to remove Strawhat's off his right. Strawhat let go with all apparent goodwill, crossing his arms and leaning, hip cocked, away from Law to look up at him more comfortably.

"Anyway," Strawhat said, "I think it's more important why someone stays a doctor than why you do it in the first place." Then he grinned, and left.

Law was left with his shoulderblades pressed against the wall. He massaged one hand with the other, absently.

He was still there when the infirmary door opened and Dr. Tony Tony toddled out. The reindeer startled, looking up at him. "Oh! Dr. Torao!"

Law unstuck his shoulders from the wall, looking down at the other doctor. "Tony-ya," he acknowledged.

"Is something wrong?" the reindeer asked, face worried.

"...No."

Dr. Tony Tony blinked at him, then smiled uncertainly. "Well, I finished the journal you gave me! It was so interesting! I liked 'Benefits of a deep freeze during distal aortic repair' the best."

"It's a good article," Law agreed. Watched the other doctor for a moment, thinking about what Strawhat had said, had asked him, before he found himself asking in turn, "Why don't you do surgery yourself?"

Dr. Tony Tony scrunched his blue nose. "When I was studying with Doctorine, my hands weren't right for it." He ballooned up suddenly, crowding Law in the hallway. He showed Law his massive hands. Then he laughed, and popped into a different form, with longer, thinner fingers. "I guess that's not a problem anymore!"

Law took a step back, giving himself breathing space. "How old are you?" he asked.

"Seventeen!" the reindeer said proudly, shrinking tiny again, not looking that age at all.

"You could still learn," Law found himself saying. It came out soft.

Dr. Tony Tony gave him a serious look; it sat incongruently on his young, furry features. "I should. If it had been me, after Ace died, I wouldn't have been able to save Luffy." The reindeer's gaze cast down for a moment. When he looked back up at Law, his eyes were determined. "It's my job to take care of everybody! I'm gonna learn! But it's okay that you took care of him too. So— so—" The reindeer swallowed, then burst out with, "If I'm not there again, you take care him then too!"

The reindeer stared up at him, eyes fierce. Law had never seen a less intimidating sight in his life.

He found himself smirking. "Sure. I'll do that."

 

______________________________

 

 

Law kicked Zoro in the ankle.

The swordsman opened his good eye.

"I need to talk to everyone," Law said.

Zoro regarded him silently for a few seconds before he closed his eyes again on a deep breath.

The exhale was not what Law had expected: "Luffy!" Zoro bellowed. "Crew meeting!"

Strawhat had been fishing off the railing; at Zoro's call his head swiveled around, grin lighting up his face. "All right!" he yelled in turn before inflating himself beyond any sensible human proportion. On that mighty gust of air: "Everybody on the deck!"

Heads popped up everywhere. Kin'emon and Momonosuke, on the opposite side of the ship, turned around to look. Caesar Clown put his face in his hands.

The Strawhats jumped down to the lawn in twos and threes, settling themselves on the grass. Zoro watched them gather around, then looked back up at Law. "Everybody?" he asked.

"Everybody."

Zoro heaved himself upright and walked over to Strawhat, who was crouching with his elbows on his knees. Said something to him. The captain grinned up at him and then yelled, "Oi! Wano people! You too!"

Zoro hauled Caesar Clown into the huddle by his handcuffs.

Law regarded the assembled crowd. All in all, it was more people than he'd bargained on, and not enough.

"We're going to reach Dressrosa tomorrow," he began.

Strawhat whooped. The reindeer cheered behind him, followed by Franky. Law put his face in his free hand. Between his fingers, he saw Usopp give an uncertain look around. Caesar Clown whimpered from where Zoro had dragged him.

Law took a steadying breath. "We've got a plan. This is not an adventure. This is serious."

"Yeah!" Strawhat piped up unexpectedly. He stood up, walked over to Law, and clapped him on the shoulder. "We're gonna get serious!" Strawhat declared.

His crew nodded, eyes dark in the sinking light, watching the way their captain stood next to Law.

"I have to find Kanjuro!" Kin'emon said loudly, hands on his sword. Momonosuke nodded determinedly.

"Just get me back to Joker," Caesar Clown moaned.

Law's hand tightened on Kikoku; it was also the shoulder Strawhat was gripping. They were both solid weights, there, grown familiar.

"We have several objectives," Law said, "so we'll have several teams. We have to hand over Caesar, destroy the factory, and secure our escape."

"And get Kanjuro!" Momonosuke piped up.

"That's right!" Luffy confirmed, squeezing Law's shoulder.

Law grimaced over at him before acceding. "That can be one of the teams. Is everyone clear on how this is going to go down?"

He expected the Strawhats to look contemplative, maybe, or at least look at their captain.

Instead, they all looked at Law.

Robin, odd-coloured eyes clear and sharp on his own; Franky beside her, frown stony on his face. Sanji and Zoro, sitting next to each other, regarding him with twin looks that bordered on glares. Dr. Tony Tony, looking at him full of hope. Usopp and Brook, one wide-eyed and the other blank-socketed. Nami, her eyes hard.

"Yeah!" Strawhat shouted. "We got this!" he squeezed Law's shoulder again.

Law regarded the other captain's hand on his shoulder, beside where Kikoku rested, before he looked up at the gathered crowd again. "This won't be easy," he said. "But we have a plan. So let's all be ready for tomorrow."

"That's right! Who knows what's gonna happen tomorrow, so let's party!" Strawhat whooped.

Law's free hand came up in an abortive gesture, but Brook had already sprung up to start on a lively jig.

Law rubbed his forehead, and went to the foredeck, music and laughter skirling up behind him.

 

______________________________

 

 

It was well past sunset, and well past the time Law would have preferred his allies go to sleep, when Strawhat joined him by the figurehead.

"Aren't you usually asleep by now?" Law grumbled.

"Shishishi," Strawhat chuckled. "Can't sleep! This is too exciting."

"'Exciting' isn't the word I would choose."

Strawhat turned to look at him. "We're gonna take down bad guys! We're gonna get an Emperor. That's pretty great, right?"

Law chewed on appropriate responses. "A lot can happen. Doflamingo has ruled the underworld for years. He's got a lot going for him."

"Screw that guy! We got this, right?" Strawhat clapped him on the shoulder again.

Law turned to look at that hand, then up Strawhat's arm to his face. "I think we have a shot," he said in the end.

Strawhat grinned at him; squeezed his shoulder. "I'm strong, you're smart, my crew is strong and smart. It's gonna go great. And then we'll get you back to your crew and take down Kaidou."

Law looked away from that smiling face.

"... Yeah."

"That bear's gonna be there though, right? You said."

Law put his free hand on his face. "Bepo will be there," he said.

"Is he like your pet or what? Chopper was our pet at first. Then Nami told me he was a doctor."

Law gritted his teeth. "Bepo is our navigator."

"A bear that's a navigator! That's so cool! How'd you meet him? I met Nami right before I beat up Buggy."

Buggy the Clown was a Warlord of the Sea, a recent addition, same as Law. Law took his hand off his face and turned to regard the other captain.

"There were two boys picking on him when I met him. I chased them off," he found himself saying.

"That's great! He's really strong now though, right?"

"Yeah. He's strong."

Strawhat nodded, then turned to look forward again, hand still on Law's shoulder. He was silent a few moment before he mused, "What happened to those two guys? Did you beat them up?"

Law felt himself smiling, unbidden. "You've met them. They're Shachi and Penguin."

Strawhat blinked at him. "Who?"

Law found himself chuckling instead of frowning. "They were in the auction house with me on Sabaody."

"Oh, the guys that stayed awake? That's great, then they're strong too!"

"Yeah," Law said.

"Robin started out as an enemy," Strawhat told him. Then he laughed. "I guess Franky did, too! His family beat Usopp up real bad. Real bad," he repeated, sobering for a moment. "But they get along great now! It's not so bad, if you fight your crew before they're with you!"

Strawhat's hand was still on him, warm in the dusk. "I guess not," Law said at length.

"Shishishi," Strawhat snickered. "When you see them again, it'll be great. I remember when I saw my crew again."

Law considered several responses before he settled on, "You didn't see them for two years."

"Doesn't matter. It felt just as bad when I thought I'd see them in three days. It's hard, right?" Strawhat blinked at him, over his hand still on Law's shoulder.

Law blinked back at him. There was too much to say to that.

Strawhat looked at him for a few more moments before his face stilled and grew serious. He used the hand that had been on Law's shoulder to tug him around; Law resisted for a moment before he found Strawhat facing him fully, his other hand on Law's other shoulder.

"You'll see them soon," Strawhat said. "We're gonna do this."

Law regarded him for a moment, not knowing what to say, before he sighed and muttered "Just remember the plan."

Strawhat snickered, "Shishishi." He let go of Law, and clambered up on the figurehead. "Yeah," he said. "It's gonna be great."

Law said nothing, watching as Strawhat put a hand up to hold the eponymous item on his head against the oncoming winds.

A long time passed. Law hadn't known Strawhat could be so quiet and still for so long. Behind them, the party had wound down, the noise of stamping feet gone and only Brook's lonely violin singing long and slow into the night.

"Don't you need to sleep?" Law asked finally.

"I'm gonna stay up here for a while," Strawhat told him.

Law stayed at the railing. It wasn't like he had anything better to do.

Chapter Text

After Dressrosa, everything changes, and too few things do.

Law is alive. Keeping a memory alive, him and Sengoku.

Luffy is alive, his crew splintered, but the remaining members joyful anyway, celebrating their victory and their new companions as soon as they've shaken the dust of Dressrosa off their collective feet. Law feels he's left something behind, still, or taken something with him that he didn't want.

The Grand Fleet pours liquor like it's saltwater, and though Luffy resists at first, he's eventually drawn into the celebrations, laughing and singing and cavorting with everyone else.

Law sips on his flask, in a corner of the deck.

When Zoro finds him, tankard in hand, Law throws a scowl at him.

"Play nice," Zoro says, teeth white against the dusk.

"Why should I?"

Zoro laughs, too loud. Law would scorn his drunkenness if Zoro's eye weren't so sharp and clear. "Come on," Zoro says. "We're alive. Captain's waiting."

"Still not my captain," Law says. He takes a sip of his drink.

"Are you for real?" Zoro says. Then he barks another laugh. "Of course you are." Law watches him. He's so drunk, and completely serious.

Zoro waves at Law, not touching him. "Look, I don't care what your deal is, but we all made it, and Luffy's right there. Get over here."

"He looks fine where he is," Law says. It comes out with more meaning than he meant it to.

Zoro's grin is keen and white in the fading light. "He always does. You'll never know what you're missing."

There's something else, too much, behind this statement. Law is tired. He doesn't like to get drunk, and he doesn't like drunk people.

"He won't miss me," Law says.

Zoro's gaze sharpens on him like a swung blade. Zoro's hand is suddenly on his swords. "You have got to be shitting me," Zoro says.

Law feels his own attention sharpen. There is noise, around them both, so many people, but Law and Zoro are alone in this silence.

Zoro regards him for several moments.

Then, "This is bullshit," Zoro says, and suddenly his grip is rough on Law's good arm.

Law makes some sort of noise, digs in his heels, but Zoro throws a smirk over his shoulder and shoves Law in front of Luffy.

"Torao!" Luffy shouts, and throws his arms around Law, dislodging Law's hat. He's so warm, even though Law knows he hasn't been drinking.

He's just like this. Always.

Luffy's limbs shoot out to grab Robin, who steadies her cocktail and laughs. Another arm loops around Franky, scoops up Usopp from where he was animatedly interrogating the giant. Zoro is already there, but Luffy squeezes him closer, and Law feels his face pressed between Zoro's and Luffy's, no one caring about his clenched teeth. "We kicked that guy's ass so good!" Luffy declares.

Robin laughs again, and Franky shouts, "We were super!" Usopp chuckles into his own hand, squeezed close against his captain. Law feels Zoro grin against Law's jaw.

Luffy gives a belly laugh, everyone pressed against him. "We're gonna get to Zou and find everyone else and tell them what happened!"

Then he separates his face from Law's so he can look at him. "I told you we'd do it," Luffy says, smile wide.

Robin is watching him. So is Zoro.

"You did," Law finally agrees.

Luffy presses him closer. Law wheezes, feeling Zoro's smirk. "This is great for now, but I just want to go!" Luffy says. "There's all these people, but we're just gonna go on."

"I think they know that," Zoro says. It comes out surprisingly clear, pressed against Law's face like that.

"Shishishi," Luffy laughs. "Well, I told them!"

"You did, bro," Franky says, not discommoded at all.

Luffy releases them, abruptly. "So everyone knows, right? I told them, so they know."

"They know," Zoro agrees, rubbing his jaw.

Luffy laughs, deep from his chest. "All right! We can party, but tomorrow we gotta go."

Robin hums. Franky grins. Usopp smacks Luffy on the shoulder. Zoro crosses his arms.

Law doesn't know what to do with his hands.

Luffy stretches an arm out, grabbing a handful of meat. "Great," he says, his mouth full.

The crew disperses as if this was a signal. Law makes to go back to his corner, but Luffy's arm snaps out to catch him.

"This was you, right?" Luffy says.

Luffy's still chewing.

"I don't know what you mean," Law says finally.

"You're done, right?" Luffy says around the meat. "We're gonna meet your crew in Zou."

Law swallows several responses. "We still have to take down Kaidou," he says.

"Oh yeah!" Luffy says. "We're gonna do it. We're gonna get all of them."

Luffy is looking at him with such shining self-assurance that Law finds he can't say anything. He never thought he'd be here, certainly not like this. Definitely not with Luffy's arm around him, warm in the night, Law alive and aching. Luffy's face is like the sun, too blinding for Law. He looks away.

"Kaidou first," Law manages.

"I don't even know him, but screw that guy. He's an Emperor. We're gonna get him." Luffy laughs, loud in the dark air.

His arm is still around Law.

Luffy turns the full force of his grin on Law, and Law swallows. It's too much, after Dressrosa. He doesn't know what to do with this. His blood heats, pulse picking up. Law clenches his hands.

Luffy sobers. "It's okay," he tells Law.

Law has no idea what he means. "I'm fine," he says instead.

Luffy puts his other hand on Law, even though it's still holding the meat. "You're fine," Luffy echoes him. "You know that, right?"

Law swallows. "It's late," he says. As if it matters to Law. As if he sleeps.

Luffy blinks at this. Then he tightens his grip for a moment before releasing Law. "Go find Zoro," Luffy says. "He's great at sleeping." Then Luffy springs into the middle of the party, where the food is.

Law picks up his hat, looks around to see where Zoro is, and heads in the opposite direction.

 

______________________________

 

 

Bartolomeo's ship — Law cannot bring himself to think of it by its given name — breaks off from the Grand Fleet.

Luffy waves goodbye to everyone, then springs to the fore of the ship. "All right," he calls. "Let's do this!"

Bartolomeo melts behind him. "Luffy-senpai is so determined!" he sobs.

Law puts his face in his hands, and goes off to find a quiet corner of the ship.

The Strawhats drift around the deck for the rest of the day. Law hunches his shoulders and ignores them, even when they come close to him. Zoro eyes him the most, but Usopp hovers the closest.

None of them say anything.

Law spends the time hating his own company. His thoughts spiral, chasing themselves in circles.

He wasn't meant to survive. He wasn't meant to survive any of it. His country had been dying. His country had burned. Law escaped among corpses, knowing he had a death sentence hovering over him. It was only a matter of time.

Cora-san had bought him time. Force-fed him time, the Devil Fruit disgusting in Law's mouth.

Law had always thought he was repaying Corazón, sometimes sweet like a smile and sometimes bitter like the fruit. After what Sengoku had said, Law doesn't know what to think.

After Luffy had saved him, Law doesn't know what to think.

He wonders how his crew is doing, on Zou. It wasn't a thing he had wanted to think about, before.

Luffy flits around the ship, investigating, exclaiming, Bartolomeo going into conniptions every time Luffy praises it. Law feels his face tense, and hides his frown in his shirt collar.

The day is long, Law alone in his corner.

 

______________________________

 

 

Law shouldn't be surprised when Luffy deposits himself beside Law, limbs loose, looking up at the cloudy night sky.

"Hey Torao. If you have someone else's heart in your chest and you die, will they die too?"

Law frowns. "Yes."

"Good. Okay." Luffy turns to stare at him. "Take mine."

Law's head ticks back. "What."

"You were all ready to die on Dressrosa. I don't like that. So take my heart. That way, you'll want to stay alive." Luffy's eyes are burning into his, wide and black in the night.

Law wants to blink, or look away. Luffy is frowning at him, all will and seriousness. Law licks his lips before speaking. "Strawhat-ya, I'm not going to do that."

Luffy frowns harder, and suddenly his hands are on Law, on his shoulders, shoving him against the mast, and Luffy is up in his face, breath breaking hot against Law's skin. Law's hands jerk up to land on Luffy's wrists, about to pry Luffy off, but Luffy digs his fingers into Law's shoulders. "No, listen. We're allies. We're partners. You can't do this. I can worry about my crew, because they need me to protect them. But I can't worry about you." Luffy shakes him for emphasis. "I already did this with Robin—" did what? Law can't help thinking "—and now you're doing it and I don't like it. Robin's gonna be with me forever, because she's my crew. But you and I are going to split up one day and I can't be worrying about you all the time."

Law regards him silently, the pads of his fingers feeling hot where they're pressing into Luffy's wrists. He can feel Luffy's pulse there, pounding warm and hard. His heart, beating.

"You don't know what you're asking," Law says. His voice is steady; good.

Luffy shakes his head, shakes Law. "Yes I do," Luffy says, voice low and dangerous. And then Law loses the thread completely as Luffy climbs into his lap, straddling his thighs. Law's legs jerk, half an effort to dislodge the other captain, but Luffy distracts him by unbuttoning the top buttons of Law's shirt.

"Hey—" Law protests, only for Luffy to say, "Shut up. Listen to me." Law's shirt is half unbuttoned, Luffy is on his lap, and this is maybe the least turned on Law has ever been in his life. Luffy takes one of Law's hands, which had spasmed closed around Luffy's wrists, and determinedly pries the fingers apart. "Listen," Luffy repeats. "Look."

Luffy takes Law's hand and presses it against Luffy's chest, firm and insistent, over where Luffy's heart is beating. Luffy's palm is hot against the back of Law's hand, fingers slotting between Law's; Law can see his tattoos spelling D E A T H between Luffy's much lighter knuckles. Then, Luffy raises his other hand, pushes apart Law's unbuttoned shirt and puts his hand over Law's heart, more gently, but still with a determined pressure behind it. Luffy's fingers splay against Law's skin. Law can feel the rough edges of Luffy's scar under his own hand, can feel his own heart beating rapidly against Luffy's palm.

Law pulls his gaze away from Luffy's chest to find that Luffy's eyes are closed, his head down.

"Yes," Luffy says, firm, decision in his voice.

"Strawhat-ya," Law begins, starting to tug his hand out from under Luffy's, but Luffy's head snaps up, eyes open and brows drawn together in a fierce frown. His hand over Law's tightens.

"I don't trust you," Luffy says. It sends something cold spiralling into Law's gut, but Luffy goes on, "I trust you to fight with me. I trust you to die for me. But I don't trust you to live," and Luffy hisses this last, sibilants sliding out and breaking harsh against Law's face. "I don't like that," Luffy says again. "So you're gonna live. For me or not for me, for anything, I don't care, but you're gonna live."

Law stares silently at him for a few moments, choking on his own breath. The air tastes sour in his throat, angry, furious. "Don't I get a say in this?" he snarls in Luffy's face.

"It's my heart. I can give it to you if I want." That heart is beating hard against Law's palm.

Law breathes, carefully, head pushed back against the hard wood of the mast. Anger boils in his chest, making his heart thud against Luffy's palm, because being angry is better than being terrified.

As if reading his mind, Luffy suddenly says, "Don't be scared." Law jerks, caught out. Luffy lets go of Law's hand, moves his other hand off Law's heart, and takes Law's face between his palms. Law is conscious of his stubble and sideburns against Luffy's hands. "Don't be scared. Cause I'm gonna be right there. That's how it's gonna work."

Law's thoughts are spiralling, and he thinks wildly that this is as close to crying as he's been since those desperate hours in Dressrosa. It hurts. He finds his hands clutching Luffy's shirt, to pull him closer or push him away, he can't tell. "Luffy, you can't do this," he scrapes out past gritted teeth.

Luffy stares intently at him. "Yes we can. You can. Do it."

Law had spent a decade planning to die. Luffy has no idea what he's asking.

Or maybe he does. Law blinks. Luffy's eyes are black in the starlight, boring into his own. And Law is abruptly convinced that yes, Luffy knows exactly what he's asking. That thought is far more terrifying than anything else that has happened tonight.

Luffy seems to sense some change in him, because he abruptly lets go of Law's face and gets out of his personal space, sitting back between Law's shins, arms crossed on his own knees. Law heaves in a breath, suddenly aware how long he'd been holding it.

Luffy blinks at him, once, twice, and suddenly grins. "Shishishi," he snickers, the white scimitar-edge of his smile sharp in the moonlight. "Come on," he urges, smiling, like it's that easy.

Come on. Do it for a laugh. Do it for luck. Do it for love. Do it.

Law thinks about what Sengoku had said. Thinks about Zoro's gleaming grin, Robin's gentler smile. Thinks about the way Luffy had pressed him close the night before.

"Will you take mine?" Law finds himself asking.

Luffy blinks again before his eyes are squeezed shut by another grin. "Sure! Of course!"

Is it really that easy, that simple, in Luffy's mind? Law isn't sure if anything is simple with this man, or if everything is.

Law takes a breath, and makes a room.

Luffy's breath punches out in a gasp, and Law grits his teeth as he extracts his own heart.

The two organs sit, beating, cubes in each of Law's hands.

Luffy looks back and forth between Law's hands. "Which one's mine?" Law shifts his right hand closer to Luffy. Luffy uncrosses his arms and pushes it back towards Law, curling Law's fingers around the heart. Luffy's eyes flicker. "Ah! That tickles." He snickers one more time. Then his face turns serious once more and he shoves Law's shirt open again. His fingers drift over the square hole in Law's chest. When he meets Law's eyes again, his gaze is steady, calm. "You have to keep it," Luffy says. He pushes at Law's hand again, urging it closer to Law's chest. "Put it in there. Keep it there."

Luffy is staring at him, unblinking. Law swallows, then tears his gaze away. With a morbid fascination, he finds his fingers turning the heart over until it's the right way around, then aligning it with the hole in his chest. Finds himself looking up into Luffy's eyes again.

Luffy puts his hands over Law's, and pushes.

Law watches as Luffy's eyes widen, feeling his heart slide into place; Law's mouth opens helplessly and his breath hisses out, wet, as he feels that heart beat slow and strong in his chest, out of synch with the rhythm of his blood.

They stare at each other, Luffy's heart ticking the moments by, one, two, three.

"Huh," Luffy grunts.

Luffy's hands go to his own chest, splay over the empty hole there.

"I can feel you," he says slowly.

Law breathes. Breathes.

Then Luffy looks up again, grinning.

"This is good! I can feel Torao!"

Luffy sprawls back, and barks a laugh into the sky, leaning back on his hands over Law's legs.

Law feels his own heart thumping helplessly in his left hand.

Luffy's laugh descends into giggles, then into small snickers interspersed with deep breaths. He springs up again, sprawling forward this time, and grabs Law's left hand. Holds it, palms cupped warm and dry around Law's heart and hand.

"Is this okay?" Luffy asks, eyes intent on Law's own.

Law unsticks his dry tongue from the roof of his mouth. "Yes," he manages.

Luffy takes Law's heart out of his hand, fingers gentle, holding it like it is something fragile, precious. Law feels dizzy. What is he doing? What are you doing?

"What are we doing?" he finds himself asking.

"Whatever we want!" Luffy answers easily. He cups his hands around Law's heart again, covering it completely. "And I want this," he says firmly.

Law's heart skips a beat.

"Oh!" Luffy says, then blinks at the heart in his hands. He grins up at Law. "I felt that," he says around the smile. Law can feel Luffy's heart beating, steady and strong in Law's chest.

Luffy turns the heart around in his hands, a look of concentration on his face. Then he pushes it clumsily against the hole in his chest. Law's entire body spasms, and he finds his hands clutching Luffy's wrists again."Watch it," he snaps. Luffy looks so apologetic at that that Law can't help gentling his tone when he continues, "Anyway, it's upside down."

"Oh," Luffy says again. Blinks at him. "You do it then." He holds out Law's heart.

Law picks up the heart and turns it the right way. Luffy scoots closer, sitting on Law's thighs again. Law feels his eyes pulled up once more, feels himself wanting to see Luffy's face. Luffy is watching Law's heart, but looks up once he senses Law's gaze on him.

"I want this," Luffy repeats firmly, looking him in the eyes.

Law licks his lips. His hand moves, lining his heart up, and then he is sliding it in. Luffy's eyes widen again, lips parting, but he doesn't blink, watching Law watching him. And then Law's hand is flat against Luffy's chest, and Law's heart is beating under his palm.

Luffy's eyes slide closed, then, and he heaves a huge breath out, as if in relief.

"Good," he says, with finality.

And then he's out of Law's lap, off his legs entirely, and settling instead a bit away from Law's side, arms crossed behind his head, staring up at the stars.

Law feels like there is something to say, now. So many things to say. He wants to ask Luffy why he'd done that. Ask himself why he'd done that. Ask what is happening, what Luffy is doing to him. Ask what he'd meant about Nico Robin.

Tell Luffy that Luffy's heart feels better than his own, beating in Law's chest.

Law can just see the edge of a soft smile on Luffy's face, in profile, Luffy's head tipped up to the sky. Law watches as Luffy's eyes slide closed, hears his breath deepen and grow even. Feels Luffy's heart slow in Law's chest.

Luffy falls asleep beside Law, and Law watches him long into the night, silent.

 

______________________________

 

 

Law feels disconcertingly normal, but aware of his own body. He hasn't thought about his own limbs this much since he was a teenager, when Bepo was growing bigger than him and Shachi and Penguin had laughed at Law for shooting up a foot taller than either of them.

He feels as if his tattoos are fresh-inked on his skin, naked and aching.

Luffy flutters about the deck, and Law watches him as if he can't help it. Luffy stretches his arms, rocketing about the ship. His muscles flex, and Law swallows. Luffy's heart speeds up when they encounter a sea king, his whoops loud when he sees it surface. He shouts at Law and Zoro to join him against it, and Law does it, because he doesn't know what else to do.

Luffy grins up at him, the square of odd-coloured tattooed flesh flagrantly visible with his open shirt. The pale patches almost match Luffy's skin, the darker shades a stark contrast.

It's like it doesn't matter, like Luffy doesn't care. But every time Law swallows like there's something stuck in his throat, Luffy's hand comes up to his own chest.

When Law can't watch the way Luffy's muscles move under his skin anymore, the way Law's own skin looks out of place in Luffy's chest, he goes to a distant corner of the ship and leans against the railing, frowning out at the sea. It's been a long day.

He suppresses a sigh when Zoro joins him as the sun nears the horizon.

The swordsman leans on the railing, hand resting easy on his swords. He doesn't say anything. Law doesn't say anything.

The sun touches the sea to their left.

Zoro, still leaning on the railing, isn't looking at him. "So. What are you doing with our captain?"

Law feels his brows draw together. "Maybe you should ask him."

Zoro grins at the parry, then turns to eye Law directly. "Are you fucking?"

Law frowns. "No." He feels his heart stutter strangely, somewhere else on the ship.

Zoro hums neutrally. "Do you want to?"

"He's not like that," Law evades. "It's not like that," he adds too quickly.

Zoro turns to look at him, clearly not buying it. "You're like that, though."

Law scowls at him. "What does it matter? It's not going to happen."

Zoro raises an eyebrow. "Isn't it?"

Law blinks at him. Narrows his eyes. "What are you saying, Zoro-ya?"

Zoro shrugs. "I've seen the way you look at him."

Law hunches his shoulders. "So?"

"So I know how I look at him, too." Law blinks again at this offhand confession, but Zoro is still talking. "But I've never seen him look at anyone the way he looks at you."

Law hunches harder. "I don't know what you mean."

Abruptly, Zoro laughs. Law frowns at him. "Fine, fine," Zoro chuckles. "Have it your way." Zoro pushes off the railing and wanders away.

Law finds his hand drifting up to his chest, palm pressing against where Luffy's heart beats, steady, calm. Law takes a deep breath.

It isn't long before Luffy finds him. "Torao, your heart felt funny."

"Yes," Law agrees.

"What were you and Zoro talking about?"

"Nothing," Law replies quellingly.

Luffy frowns at him.

Then Luffy grabs Law's hand and tugs, turning to the fore of the ship. "Come on," Luffy calls over his shoulder.

Law finds himself following, stumbling a little. "Where are we going?"

"There's a good place on every ship. A best place. We're going there."

Law, bemused, lets Luffy tow him to the front of the ship, where Luffy hops onto the railing and starts up the curve of the figurehead. "Come on," he says again, pulling on Law's hand. Law climbs up after him. At the top of the figurehead Luffy tugs Law in front of him and pushes him down until Law sits. Luffy settles behind him, his legs bent on either side of Law, and hooks his chin over Law's shoulder. Law, intensely aware of being between the younger man's thighs, swallows. Then Luffy loops his arms across Law's shoulders. Law sits stiff and still in the weird hug.

"You don't have to tell me what you were talking about with Zoro." Luffy speaks, not looking at Law but staring ahead into the sunset. "You don't have to tell me what happened with you and Mingo. But you can't just be by yourself and sad all the time, all right?"

Law can't decide what to do with his hands. They lie awkwardly by his sides, slack. "What if I want to be by myself?"

"That's fine," Luffy says. "Just don't be sad."

Law huffs. "It's that easy, is it?"

Luffy snorts, a wet sound right by Law's ear. "Of course not. That's why I'm here."

Law falls silent. He doesn't know what to say to that.

Luffy seems content to let him stew, and starts humming absently when Law's silence stretches on into several minutes. Law recognizes the tune, something Brook played a lot.

What is Luffy trying to do? What had Zoro meant?

Law knows Luffy isn't interested in him the same way, doesn't look at him the way Law looks at Luffy. The way Zoro looks at Luffy. But Luffy is here. Luffy is always there, shoving into Law's space and putting his hands on Law, touching him. Like it's nothing.

Like it means nothing?

No... Law is a fool, but not that big a fool. He's just hiding from things he doesn't want to think about.

Luffy's arms are warm across Law's shoulders, his chest. Luffy's hair is coarse where it's stuck between Luffy's face and Law's own, but Luffy's skin is smooth where their jaws touch.

Luffy's heart is beating steadily in Law's chest.

Carefully, cautiously, Law moves one of his hands. Luffy's ankles are on either side of Law's hips. Law lifts his hand until it hovers over Luffy's foot. Takes a breath. Wraps his fingers loosely around Luffy's ankle.

"Shishishi," Luffy snickers, burrowing his face into Law's neck. Law's own face feels hot. Luffy's ankle is bony and warm under Law's hand. "I can feel your heart," Luffy mumbles into the juncture of Law's neck and shoulder. "It's faster than mine."

Law's other hand drifts up to his chest again. "It is," he agrees. Luffy's heartbeat is slow under Law's palm. Law's fingers are brushing Luffy's arms where they're draped across Law's chest.

What had Zoro meant?

Maybe he meant... that the warmth in Law's veins right now is not wrong. That Luffy wouldn't mind. Doesn't mind.

"Strawhat-ya," Law says, mouth dry. He licks his lips, cautiously tips his head back onto Luffy's shoulder.

"Mm?" Luffy hums. He... nuzzles against Law's jaw, nose against his neck.

"Why are you always touching me?"

"Because I want to," Luffy says against Law's neck. Law feels Luffy's lips move, feels his breath against Law's skin. Law suppresses a shiver. His hand feels hot on Luffy's ankle.

Law closes his eyes. "Why do you want to?"

Luffy raises his head. Law can't see him, but he can imagine Luffy blinking at him. "Because it makes me happy. Doesn't it make you happy?"

Law keeps his eyes closed. "What if... we don't want the same things?" he evades.

Luffy presses his face into Law's neck again. "That's fine," he says, and hugs Law closer.

Is it? Law opens his eyes, stares into the darkening sky.

Zoro seems to think so.

Law's other hand drifts up. Hesitates. Buries itself in Luffy's hair.

"Mm," Luffy hums again, this time an animal sound of simple pleasure. It rushes straight to Law's gut. Law feels his eyes slide closed, his lips part, his hand clench in Luffy's hair. Luffy pulls him closer still, until there is no space left between their bodies, Law's back flush against Luffy's front.

Law breathes.

After a long second, he asks, "You don't mind?"

"No," Luffy says simply.

Law is silent for a few moments. His eyes are open again, staring into the bloodied sky.

"Do you even know what I'm asking?" he finally grinds out.

Luffy laughs against his neck. "I'm not stupid, Torao."

Law frowns. "That's not—"

Luffy bites him, teeth sinking into the tense flesh where Law's shoulder meets his neck.

Law's breath punches out of him; heat shoots from his neck straight to his groin; his back arches and legs spasm.

"Like that, right?" Luffy says against the bite mark.

Law's breath hisses between his teeth. For a bottomless second, he feels alive, painfully alive, hot and panting in Luffy's embrace.

"Luffy—" he starts, and doesn't know where to go from there.

"It's fine," Luffy repeats. "I know we're not the same. But you're allowed to feel good, you know."

Law blinks his eyes open. He'd lost track of when he'd closed them. He stares up into the sky, shaken as much by what Luffy said as by what he'd done.

Luffy hooks his chin over Law's shoulder again. Law draws in a shaky breath, the confused roil in his blood making him dizzy. Luffy's spit on his neck is cooling in the breeze.

The heat that had flooded through him is fading, replaced by a gentler warmth that's less desperate, less dire. More... pleasant.

Law breathes, and thinks about it. Then, slowly, leans his head against Luffy's, relaxes back into him again.

"Shishishi." Luffy shakes gently against him, around him. His laugh fades away, and he starts humming again.

Law lets his eyes slide closed.

 

______________________________

 

 

Luffy has fallen asleep behind him. The night air is cold, but Luffy's chest is warm against Law’s back. Law has no real reason to move — not-sleeping up here is the same as not-sleeping anywhere else — but he can feel Luffy going boneless and loose, arms sliding lower where they're still draped around Law. If Luffy slides off the figurehead Law will have to catch him.

Law moves his hand where he's still clasping Luffy loosely around the ankle. He smacks Luffy's foot lightly. "Strawhat-ya."

No response.

Law tries elbowing him. This brings some tone back to Luffy's muscles, but all the other man does is tighten his arms around Law again. He snores in Law's ear, loudly.

"Strawhat-ya," Law says again. Takes a breath. Then, sliding a hand into the other man's hair: "Luffy."

Law feels Luffy's eyelashes blinking open against his cheek. "Mmph," Luffy mumbles.

"Strawhat-ya, go to bed."

"Yeah," Luffy agrees. His head nods forward again.

Law sighs. His fingers flick up, the room expanding cool and blue in the moonlight.

Law and Luffy land neatly on the deck, Law making sure to put a few inches between Luffy's back and the mast so he won't be sandwiched. Luffy blinks awake again with a snuffling noise, looking around. Law leans to the side so he can see his face. Luffy turns back to him, moonlight liquid in his sleepy eyes.

"Are you going inside?" Law asks him.

Luffy seems to give this serious thought before he leans back against the mast, taking Law with him. "Nah. Torao will keep me warm."

Law feels, appropriately, warm. Warmed. He isn't sure what to do with the feeling.

Luffy unfolds his legs to either side of Law, not seeming to care how Law responds to his statement. This puts Luffy's thighs where Law's hands had been before, but Law doesn't feel right touching him there. He folds his hands on his own stomach instead.

Luffy starts snoring again.

Luffy's heart beats, slow, slow, in Law's chest.

Law drifts, never really in deep sleep but dozing sometimes. He tries to get up once or twice, but every time Luffy wakes up enough to pull him back in, and Law does suppose it would be cold out here, alone.

Dawn breaks to find Law blinking his eyes open at Zoro's legs in front of him. He follows them up to the man's face, in shadow, his back to the rising sun. Then the white glint of a grin flashes at Law. Law frowns, and gives him the finger. Zoro laughs, and leaves them alone.

The sound of Zoro's retreating boots rouses Luffy. He squeezes Law close, seeming to do the opposite of a stretch — does a rubber human need to stretch after sleeping? — and Law suppresses a wheeze as his midriff is compressed. Luffy lets go of him, putting his hands on Law's hips and extending his neck to look Law in the face. "Hn? Torao, didn't you sleep?" Luffy's hands are a steady weight on Law's hips. Law swallows.

"I don't sleep much," he reminds him.

Luffy frowns at him. "That's not right," he declares.

Law sighs. "It doesn't matter if it's right. It's not something you can fix."

Luffy's jaw firms, but he doesn't say anything.

"Oi, Luffy!" Zoro calls. "Breakfast is ready!"

Luffy's head snaps around. He springs up, hand holding his hat on his head. He's halfway across the deck before he realizes Law isn't following him, or at least not quickly enough. "Come on, Torao!" he calls, and stretches a hand out.

Law looks at it for a moment before he takes it in his own.

 

______________________________

 

 

Luffy has wandered off, Bartolomeo following him like a puppy, and Law has found a quiet spot on the deck. It's not a big ship, so Zoro is nearby, pressing weights. Usopp is doing something with his slingshot, brows drawn together. Law ignores this, leafing through a new horror book, something Robin bought in Dressrosa, until Robin herself folds down onto her knees a few feet away from him. He looks up, and sure enough, Franky follows, thumping down more solidly with a cola in his hands.

"Do you like the book?" Robin asks politely.

"I just started it," Law tells her.

Robin smiles. "Beginnings are good," she says. "They can come after endings, sometimes. A lot of the time."

Franky chuckles and takes a swig from his bottle. Zoro lifts his weights, behind them. Usopp stretches the rubber band in his slingshot.

Law thinks for a minute before he says, "Don't you like horror stories?"

"Oh, yes," Robin says with relish, her voice low, her smile curling, subtle. "There's so much potential."

Law considers how much he wants to say. "I thought it was about feeling helpless."

"If that's what speaks to you," Robin says, unoffended. "I think it's about feeling something bigger than yourself and then deciding what to do about it."

Law looks at her for a moment, serene in front of him, acutely aware that she is a member of Luffy's crew.

It takes him a moment.

"What did you do?" he asks, finally.

Robin's eyes meet his, brown and blue. Franky puts down his cola, and leans back against the hull, elbows spread, as-if relaxed. Behind him, Zoro's weights are on the deck, unmoving. Usopp is looking up now, his slingshot loose in his hands.

"I ran," she says. "But before that, I laughed."

Law resists a swallow. "Who made you laugh?"

"Luffy, later," she says. "A giant of D, at first," she follows. "It was the same thing, in the end."

Law turns this around in his mind. The pages of the horror novel are rough against his fingertips.

"The Will of D is strong," he says in the end.

"Oh, yes," Robin agrees. Franky takes a sip of his cola. Zoro lifts a weight, slowly. Usopp plucks at the arm of his slingshot. "I met Jaguar D. Saul when I did not know my mother. He saved me, in the end, him and Kuzan. I wasn't sure what it meant until Luffy saved me again."

Law feels his jaw moving, tense, as if chewing on this. Ohara died a long time ago. Robin is older than he is. "That's a long time to wait."

She smiles at him. "Isn't it?" And then she leans forward, leaning her chin against one hand, her smile curling upwards. "Isn't it worth it?"

Law feels his heart beat, somewhere else on the ship.

"What happened at Enies Lobby?" he asks. None of the reporting told the truth, he knows.

Robin leans back. Franky slants a look at her, but she smiles at him, and he takes another sip of his cola. Usopp frowns. Zoro is lifting his weights in the background, steady.

"I thought I could save them by leaving myself behind," she says. "I thought that would be worth it." She laughs, then, a soft, low sound. "I thought my life was worth so little."

"Luffy would never think that," Franky interjects, loudly. Usopp's frown deepens. Zoro's mouth is flat, watching them.

Robin smiles, serene. "I know." She looks up at Law, odd-coloured eyes meeting his own. "It's not that he wouldn't let me sacrifice myself. It's that he wanted me to say it to his face." Her gaze sharpens. "I couldn't."

This hangs in the air for a minute before Law hears Zoro's voice.

"There's only one person who's died in front of Luffy," Zoro says.

Law's head swivels around to look at him, Zoro's one eye meeting his own.

There is silence, for several moments.

"That was bad," Franky breaks in. "But Luffy's almost lucky. You lose a lot of people, you know?" he says before taking another swallow of his cola.

Law's mouth is dry, but no one is saying anything.

"I know," he says in the end.

Franky laughs, abrupt and sharp and nasal. "Tra-bro," he says, gesturing with his bottle. "We tried to tell you. It was never gonna work."

Law scowls, suddenly aware of his hands on the book, his bent knees, his toes curling in his boots.

Zoro, of all people, rescues him. "Eh, everyone's done it. It's fine," he says.

Robin chuckles, a low sound that shivers up Law's spine. "It's how the best horror stories start and end."

Franky laughs, loud in the sea air. "That's right! And this is just the start, you know?"

Usopp finally smiles, and says, "It's always the start, with Luffy. I've thought it was the end, before. But I was wrong. Even Luffy was wrong."

Robin smiles. Zoro smirks, and flexes against a weight.

Law feels his heart beat. And Luffy's heart, steady in his chest. His own fingers, against the paper of the book.

"Tell me how it ends," Robin says. "I haven't read it."

 

______________________________

 

 

Luffy takes his hand after dinner. Sanji wasn't there, so Law ate a lot of vegetables, assorted meats, none of it harmonizing. He recognizes that he has become irretrievably spoiled by Sanji, but then Luffy is tugging on his arm, leading him through the narrows of the ship.

Bartolomeo had ceded the captain's cabin to his star guest. Luffy tugs Law inside before letting him go, and Law loiters by the door, feeling awkward. He's never felt like this in his scattered encounters, but those had been about fucking. Law has no idea what this is about. Certainly not sex.

And then Luffy strips out of his shirt and shorts, completely unselfconscious; kicks off his sandals and removes his hat, and Law's mouth goes dry, and he is very confused. Luffy fusses with the bed, in his boxers, moonlight striping strong lines across his back, muscles shifting.

Then Luffy settles cross-legged on the bed, looking back up at Law expectantly.

Law considers his options and decides he needs more information. "Strawhat-ya, what are you doing?"

"You can't sleep, right? Come here." He pats the bed.

Law stays by the door. "Are you... propositioning me?"

Luffy blinks at him. "What?"

Law rubs his face. "Are you asking me to have sex with you?" he asks from between his fingers.

"What? No. Come here," Luffy repeats, giving no more illumination to the question.

Law can feel his own heart beating strangely, across the room. Luffy's heart is calm and even. It steadies Law, a little bit.

He approaches the bed, wary. Sits down on the edge, setting Kikoku to the side.

Luffy smiles at him, encouraging. "People don't sleep in their shoes, Torao. Maybe that's why you can never fall asleep, out on the deck in your boots like that." The smile turns into a grin, affectionate, teasing.

Law feels his lips tug up, and he has no idea why. "Maybe," he agrees.

Strawhat shoves him lightly. "Come on, take them off."

Law unfolds his hands, his long fingers, uncomfortably aware of them, their movement. Of Luffy's eyes on him. He bends over and undoes the buckles, slides his right boot off.

Luffy's hand stretches out to tug it out of Law's fingers and toss it across the room.

"The farther away they are, the better you'll sleep," he says, half prim, half sly. Law swallows, not sure what to do with this attitude. He busies himself taking off the other boot instead, then holds it awkwardly in his hands. Luffy nods at him, grinning, encouraging.

Law lobs the shoe over to its mate.

Behind him, Luffy laughs, an easy, warm sound, and he reaches out to tug Law back towards him so he can nuzzle into Law's nape. Law's lips curve up again, uncertain, a bubble of warmth growing in him that he doesn't know what to do with. He feels supremely silly, but... Luffy seems to realize that, and as long as they all know they're being silly it seems... all right.

Then Luffy runs his hands down from Law's shoulders, down Law's back and sides, to settle on his hips. Law shivers, the warmth becoming less soft, melting and pooling low in his gut. Luffy plucks at his shirt. "Is that comfortable enough?" Luffy asks.

Law turns to face him, dislodging his hands. "Strawhat-ya, what are you doing?" he asks again, dry-mouthed.

Luffy's hands slide smoothly off Law's hips to come up and cup his face. "I'm going to stay awake with you," Luffy tells him seriously. "I'm gonna keep you company."

Law is lost. He doesn't know what to do with this, with this warmth, this ease. With Luffy.

Law's hands come up to take Luffy's off his face. "Luffy, I can't— I don't— I'm not like you."

Luffy's hands slide out of his own only to come back and encompass them. "So? I'm not like you either."

Law barks a laugh suddenly, surprising himself. "This can't— this can't work."

Luffy's jaw firms. "Sure it can! If it feels good it's fine, right?"

"It's more complicated than that."

"Why?" Luffy asks. "It's not, not really." He lets go with one hand, and runs his fingers lightly down Law's neck. It's an innocent touch, no heat behind it, but it leaves a shivery trail on Law's skin. "You like that, right?"

"Yes," Law says on an exhale. His hands feel hot in Luffy's.

"So come here. It's okay if you can't sleep. I'll stay up with you."

Law feels this hasn't really answered his... question, concern, reservations. But Luffy's skin looks a dusky silver in the scant starlight leaking into the cabin, and he's smiling at Law again, tugging lightly on his hand.

In the end, Law decides to keep his clothes on, to minimize the getting of ideas. His own, mostly.

Law sets his hat aside. He slides onto the bed.

Luffy's grin widens, and he lies down, back to the bulwark, facing Law; curls his knees up; waits for Law to settle himself. Law decides his socks feel weird, and takes them off. Luffy pokes him with his bare toes. "You read Robin's books, right?"

Law never has any idea what Luffy notices. It might be safest to assume he notices everything his crew does. "Yes," he says.

"Which one was it?" Luffy asks.

Law doesn't know where to begin. "What do you know about her books?"

"I don't really like reading, but she tells me stories sometimes."

Law hesitates. He's never done this before.

Luffy's smile tips into teasing. "Did it have zombies?"

Law feels his own lips tug up. "Yes."

"Great! Funny zombies or scary zombies?" Luffy's face switches to thoughtful. "I dunno, I think all zombies are funny."

Law chuckles. "These are not funny zombies."

Luffy looks at him skeptically. "Well, okay," he allows.

"They're coming for the city. All the people are in the city square. The soldiers are still fighting. There's a child, and he goes up to the mayor."

"I know a mayor!" Luffy interjects. "He has a mouse, it's great."

"I don't think this is that kind of mayor. The kid is trying to tell the mayor he needs to fight, but the mayor says that god sent the zombies, and their king can't save them."

"I punched god in the face," Luffy says. He pauses a moment, then follows this with, "He deserved it."

Law doesn't know what to do with this, but he fears it is true. "This one probably does too. The mayor says the zombies are coming, and this is what god wills, it's fate, and in front of this kid—" Law hesitates, but Luffy blinks at Law, attentive. "He shoots himself in the face," Law says.

"Ice-dude would never do that!" Luffy exclaims, and he clutches Law's shoulders for a moment, as if to convince Law of this.

Law tries to put this together, and connects it to Iceburg, of Water Seven, from right before Luffy's bounty jumped up. "It's not that kind of mayor."

"This is a dumb mayor."

"... Yeah," Law says.

"What happens to the kid?" Luffy asks.

Law takes a breath. "Well. The zombies are still coming. So the kid comes to the window and tells the people in the square that they have to fight."

"Yeah!" Luffy exclaims, taking Law's hands.

Law can't help smiling. "So they go to help fight the zombies, all these women and children and old men."

"That's right!" Luffy says, fierce. "I don't think Vivi would want that, but she'd be proud!"

Nefertari Vivi. The Strawhats' net of miracles.

"You don't always get what you want," Law tells him.

Luffy shakes his head. "You gotta fight for it."

"Sometimes that's not enough," Law says quietly.

Luffy grows still. Law can see him chewing on this.

"I know," Luffy says finally.

Law watches Luffy's immobile face for a moment.

"It's just a story," Law says in the end.

Luffy looks back up at him. "How does the story end?"

Law hesitates. "I'm not sure. The book's unclear."

Luffy frowns. "That's stupid. Tell me how you want it to end."

Law looks at Luffy's face for a second, fierce and dark-shadowed in front of him. The starlight paints glints against his wide pupils. Law hesitates for a long moment.

"I think the boy will be all right. The country recovers. He's not alone. They defeat the zombies."

Luffy watches Law silently for a few moments, as if he has any idea what Law is talking about.

Then Luffy chuckles, snickers, laughs. "That's right!" he says. "They'll be okay!"

Law curls his toes, tangled with Luffy's.

Luffy subsides slowly, taking several moments.

"Has Robin given you any other books?"

Law pauses. "There wasn't time, before."

"It's not before," Luffy tells him. "What about now?"

"... She gave me another one."

Luffy nods, decisive. "Good. Don't tell me about it until you've finished it."

"... Okay," Law says.

Luffy's blinks are getting slower.

"Tell me about the bear again," Luffy demands.

Law isn't sure if he wants to chuckle or scowl. "You've seen him," Law reminds Luffy. "His name is Bepo."

"Yeah," Luffy yawns. "But he's a bear. How do you have a bear? I want a bear."

"You have a reindeer," Law tells him.

"I think Chopper should meet your bear," Luffy mumbles.

Law watches Luffy's eyes flicker, drift closed, flicker open again. His eyelashes look long and dark, in this light. "I think Bepo would like that," Law says.

"We're gonna..." Luffy trails off. Snorts himself awake. "We'll get you there," he says, before his face goes slack again.

Law watches him, for a few minutes.

"I know," Law says.

Luffy starts snoring, his hands slackening against Lawn's own.

Law watches him. Drifts, warm and wakeful. Blinks when the sunrise paints Luffy's skin in warm tones.

Luffy stays asleep, and Law doesn't know what to do.

 

______________________________

 

 

Luffy touches Law a lot, and everyone sees it. Law's face heats constantly until he decides he's done with that, and then it only burns when Zoro gives him that look and Law wants to flip him off again.

Luffy hauls Law around the ship, strong arms hot around Law, showing him all the things Bartolomeo had shown Luffy.

And then he leaves Law alone, as if he knows Law has had enough, or far too little, or doesn't know what to do, as if Luffy knows about the febrile tug inside Law's skin.

Law tries to read Robin's book. Not because Robin will ask him about it. Not because Luffy will ask him about it, Law tells himself. It rings hollow inside his own head.

Law is drowsing, the book open in his lax hands, when Usopp sits down in front of him.

Law blinks himself alert. Usopp's hair is loose again, and Law wonders if he always keeps it like that when the Strawhats aren't on a mission.

"Look, I think you know Luffy is a lot," Usopp begins. Puts his hand in his thick hair. "He's always a lot." Then Usopp laughs, helplessly. "I thought I knew that, before I fought him. But I had no idea. It only gets worse." Usopp thinks a moment, then: "Better," he corrects himself.

Law remembers Usopp's hands, casual and easy on Luffy when they were trying out the waver-cycle.

He decides, very tired, to take a page out of Zoro's book. "Were you fucking?" he asks.

Usopp's eyes snap wide and white. "What?! No!"

Law ponders a moment before he asks, "Do you all always touch each other like that?"

"Well, yeah," Usopp says. "It's just how Luffy is."

Law's stomach turns over, and he isn't sure if this is a relief or not.

Usopp seems to see something happen to Law's face, because he reaches out to grip Law's shoulder. "Oi. Seriously. You're fine. Luffy doesn't do anything he doesn't want to do." He pauses a moment, then says, "Nami would kick your ass if she was here."

Law is not sure if he wants clarification on this.

"Look," Usopp says. "I'm not Zoro and I'm not Robin." He pauses. "I'm not Franky, either, but as long as Luffy's happy, I don't think Franky cares." Usopp's hand goes to his own chin. "What is it, anyway?" he muses. "They're doing their own thing, I guess." He looks up at Law again. "Well, okay, I'm just me, but I gotta tell you. We all said to be careful. We all told you it wasn't gonna work. And now you're here and you know, right?"

Law considers denying this. He thinks of Sengoku's words. Of Luffy's heart, beating calmly in his own chest.

He decides to say nothing.

Usopp rolls his eyes. "Oh my god, I don't know if you two deserve each other or if this a disaster." Nami had said something similar, a long time ago.

Not that long ago, Law realizes. It's a matter of days, maybe a couple of weeks.

Usopp watches Law's face. "It happens real fast, right?" he says.

Law blinks. He shouldn't be surprised that Luffy is not alone in his uncanny ability to read people. It's not like all of the Strawhats hadn't given him hints. Broad hints.

Law considers Usopp a moment, feels Luffy's heart beating in his chest, and then says, "How long?"

Usopp laughs. "Oh, like a day for me. Well, I mean, we had this big fight later. That was rough. Nami left too, though. And Robin. But," Usopp's face grows serious, "Luffy doesn't let go."

Law regards him, wordless. Luffy's heart is so steady. Law doesn't know what his own heart is doing, somewhere else.

Usopp reaches out and pokes Law in the chest, where Luffy's skin is showing around the bandages and Law's half-unbuttoned shirt. "I mean, look at that. He's gonna do this, right? So—" Usopp's face firms, then, eyelids lowering, eyes darkening. "So be careful. Not just about him, I mean. About you. I don't think he expects you to be careful, but we do."

Law thinks anything he could say at this point would be counterproductive. He keeps his hand from drifting up to his chest.

Usopp regards him silently, then unfolds his knees, stands up, brushes them off. "We all tried to warn you," he repeats. And then he smiles, and throws Law a high sign. "I hope it's great," he says, before leaving.

 

______________________________

 

 

Luffy drags him to the captain's cabin again, and Law doesn't resist.

Luffy sits him down on the bed. Puts his hand on Kikoku.

Law looks him in the eyes. Luffy looks back at him, mouth flat.

Law lets Luffy set Kikoku aside.

Luffy takes off Law's boots, Law's hands tense on the edge of the bed. Then Luffy looks up at him, Law's shoes in his hands, and smiles, and tosses the shoes into a corner.

Law feels his knuckles unknot.

He sits on the bed in his socked feet as Luffy strips off his own shirt and shorts. It's not as late in the day as last time, and Luffy's skin is golden in the fading light. Law keeps his hands on the bedframe.

Luffy clambers past him, burrowing into the covers with his back to the bulwark. Law watches him until Luffy's face pops back out of the blankets and he tugs on Law's shirt.

Law sighs, and bends down to get rid of his socks; takes off his hat.

He lies down on the bed facing Luffy again, but Luffy puts his hands on Law, pushes his shoulders and pulls his hips, until Law is facing the other way, Luffy tucked up behind him. Law is over half a foot taller than him, and this is ridiculous. But Luffy sighs against the back of Law's neck and says, "I'm not very good at staying awake."

Law is silent for a moment. "You don't have to," he says.

"I don't have to do anything," Luffy says. "But you should sleep."

Law feels himself smile. "I don't have to do anything either."

Luffy laughs against Law's neck, draws Law closer. "That's right," Luffy agrees.

Law falls silent, and Luffy hums behind him for a moment before asking, "Does anyone keep you company on your ship?"

"...Yeah," Law says. "They try."

Luffy burrows his nose in Law's hair. "Like this?"

"...No," Law replies.

Luffy huffs a laugh into Law's hair, "Shishishi." He curls himself more firmly against Law, tangling their legs together. "You should nap on the bear," Luffy tells him.

Law hesitates a moment before he admits, "I do. Bepo likes it."

"Bepo's a good guy," Luffy mumbles into Law's neck.

Law's eyes flick back at Luffy's use of that name. "He is," Law confirms.

"Zou," Luffy says, smeared and slow.

Luffy's heart slows, in Law's chest.

"Zou," Law agrees into the night.

Luffy is warm behind him, and Law stares straight ahead for a long time.

 

______________________________

 

 

Bartolomeo has caught on to the fact that Law is spending his nights in that cabin, too.

He follows Law around, and it makes Luffy laugh, makes Zoro grin. All the Strawhats on the ship, really. Law grits his teeth, and ignores the ship's captain. Bartolomeo gets distracted, anyway, trying to steer the ship through the New World's various hazards.

It's hailing out on the deck, and Law's shirt is sticky because he's always keeping it on at night.

The shower is small, and the soap smells weird. Law's hands are perfunctory as he washes himself, and he finishes before the hot water runs out. He bundles his used clothes together, slings the towel around his waist, and heads to the cabin.

He finds Luffy napping on the bed, the covers a mess around him, sandals still on his feet. Law realizes, with the weather outside the way it is, that perhaps he should have been prepared for this.

Luffy chooses to snort himself awake as Law is considering his options, dripping on the floor.

Luffy blinks up at him. "Hey Torao," he mumbles. Buries his face back in the pillow.

Law regards him for several moments before putting his dirty clothes down and grabbing a pair of clean underwear.

The good news, at least, is that he has managed to get the underwear on before Luffy's hand stretches out and tugs him over. Law trips over his own feet, landing wrong on the edge of the bed. He hisses, sharp, and Luffy lifts his head. "Oh," Luffy mutters. "Sorry." His hand moves to soothe Law's hip, where the bone juts out past the hem of his boxer-briefs.

Law's skin, warm and damp from the shower, does something confusing, flushing hotter even as his sweat runs suddenly cold.

Luffy, oblivious, firms his hand on Law's hip, maneuvering him closer. "It's gross outside," he complains. "Let's nap."

Law puts his hand on Luffy's arm to get him to hold still. "Strawhat-ya, I'm not wearing anything."

Luffy blinks at him. "Yeah you are."

"Are you—" Law licks his lips. The calluses on his hand, from Kikoku, are rough against the smooth skin of Luffy's arm. "I don't want you to be uncomfortable."

Luffy comes all the way awake and sits up. "Are you okay?" he asks seriously.

"I'm the one asking you that," Law evades.

Luffy doesn't buy it. "I'm fine," he dismisses. "I just want you to be happy."

Law regards him, wordless.

Luffy takes Law's hand off his arm and places his own hands high on Law's bare chest, almost on his shoulders, over his collarbones, where Law's tattoo flares. "Would you like it?" he asks.

Spit is pooling in Law's mouth, too sweet. He swallows.

He wants to lie. He should lie.

Luffy is staring at him, eyes dark, hands hot and dry where they're on Law.

"Yes," Law breathes.

Luffy's fingers squeeze, pressing into his shoulders. "I'm fine," Luffy repeats. "It's okay. Come here."

Luffy's hands slide down Law's arms, touch steady, leaving roils of shivers in their wake, the hairs standing up on Law's skin, until Luffy takes Law's hands in his own. Tugs.

Law breathes.

He gets all the way on the bed. Luffy, assured that Law will cooperate, takes off his sandals and shrugs out of his shirt. Law freezes, watching Luffy's skin in the rippling light, the skies still raging outside. Luffy's facing away from him, the muscles of his back flexing as he undoes his sash.

Law flexes his fingers on his knees, wishing for things he can't have.

Luffy deposits the sash over the edge of the bed and turns back to Law. He sees something in Law's face, because he says, "Hn? What?"

Law swallows. "It's nothing."

Luffy looks at him silently for a few moments. Then he snickers, "Shishishi. Torao, you're really silly."

And he stretches forward towards Law, scoops him up and against himself, presses their bare chests together, loops his arms around Law in a hug and tips them both onto their sides on the bed. Air lodges thick in Law's throat, searing; his hands spasm, freeze, many inches away from Luffy's back.

"It's okay," Luffy tells Law, mouth against his collarbone, temple tipped against Law's jaw. "I'm all right," he says. "You're all right."

Law feels his lungs swell, Luffy's arms still around him. He can feel his heart pounding where Luffy's chest is pressed against his own.

Luffy's heartbeat is slow, deep, a drumbeat, compelling and calm.

Law flexes his fingers.

When he puts his hands on Luffy's back, the skin between the scars is so smooth, muscles strong underneath.

"Yeah," Luffy sighs against him, going boneless.

Law breathes, breathes. He can't get enough air. He can feel Luffy everywhere, his skin, his warmth.

"Luffy," Law says.

"Mm."

"Luffy, I—" Law licks his lips. Keeps his hands motionless on Luffy's back. "I think this— we—" He swallows several more attempts. "Do you understand what I'm getting out of this?"

"Mm," Luffy says again.

"Luffy."

Luffy runs his cheek against Law's jawline. "Torao, I know. It's okay." Law feels him smile against Law's neck. "If I don't like it I'll tell you." The grin widens, and Law feels teeth. "Did you really think you could do something I didn't like?"

It makes Law laugh, a surprised huff of air.

Luffy hums against him again, and then runs his hands up Law's back, cupping his shoulderblades, as if showing him how.

Law inhales, feeling his torso expand against Luffy's chest, against Luffy's hands, encompassed.

When he moves his hands on Luffy's back, mirroring what Luffy had done to him, he can't understand how there can be so much heat, warmth, so much sensation, coursing from Law's fingertips and Law's palms into Law's body, pooling deep inside him, and Luffy hums against him one more time, a lower sound, pleased.

A groan scrapes out of Law; he can't prevent it.

He feels Luffy's toothy grin against his collarbone again. "Shishishi," Luffy snickers.

Law's fingers dig in a little. "Funny, is it?" he says; he doesn't remember putting that smirk on his own face.

"Yep," Luffy says.

Luffy moves his hands to Law's waist and pushes, a little, separating them; Law lets him go immediately, but all Luffy does is put enough inches between them that he can look Law in the face. He's smiling. "I like it too, you know? It's okay if it's different for you."

Law cautiously puts his hands on Luffy's waist. "You enjoy this?"

Luffy gives him a look. "Torao, I just said that."

Law watches his eyes for a moment, then slides his hands around from Luffy's waist to his back again, trails them up his spine. Luffy buries his face in Law's chest and hums, smiling. Law thinks Luffy would purr, if he could.

Luffy puts his arms around Law again, tangles their thighs together, which Law thinks is maybe not the best idea, but he manages to control himself. He runs his hands along Luffy's back, up and down, as Luffy falls asleep. He stops touching him after that.

The light wavers, in the rain, white lines among Luffy's scars.

 

______________________________

 

 

"Luffy," Zoro's voice calls through the closed door. Law cranes his head over his shoulder to look.

Luffy mumbles something incomprehensible against Law's chest.

There is a sharp knock. "Luffy, do you want to fight these pirates? We can handle them if you're busy."

Law feels Luffy's eyes snap open. "Fight?" He blinks against Law's skin. "Zoro!"

This is apparently enough invitation for Zoro to open the door and stand in the doorway, leaning one shoulder against the frame, arms crossed and hip cocked. He's stripped down to his pants, which are soaking wet from being outside. Water is dripping down his broad chest, scar stark. He smirks at Law, who, arms around Luffy, does not have a hand free to direct a rude gesture his way, so instead scowls at him.

Luffy, ignoring this byplay entirely, pops his head over Law's shoulder. "Do they look strong?"

"Sure. It's the New World, and it looks like a pretty big fleet."

Luffy whoops, directly in Law's ear, making him flinch, but Luffy is already not so much disentangling them as propelling both himself and Law off the bed in a big bare-limbed knot. Luffy lands on his feet, somehow arranging for Law to do the same, and snaps one hand out to grab Kikoku, hauling Law along with the other.

Zoro grins at Law as they pass him in the doorway. "Nice," he says. "Black suits you."

Law, still only in his underwear, bares his teeth in a smile. "Same to you."

Zoro laughs, following them out.

Usopp goggles a little when Law strides on deck — no more dressed than before, Kikoku bare in one hand — beside the topless Luffy and equally topless Zoro, but has the wherewithal to immediately go back to shooting at the approaching ships. Luffy grabs Law and Zoro each around the waist, grins at them both, and rockets them to the flagship.

It's not a bad fight. The water runs cool along Law's skin even as the adrenaline kicks his temperature up, Kikoku swinging in wide arcs; Zoro's grin is as sharp as his swords, around the hilt in his mouth; Luffy is laughing even as his arm inflates to gigantic size.

After, they're all on the deck of Bartolomeo's ship, chests heaving, soaked to their skins.

Zoro sheathes his swords. "I'm gonna take a shower," he announces, and disappears belowdeck.

Luffy blinks water out of his eyes, slicks his messy hair back, and turns to grin at Law. "Guess it's warm blankets for us!" he says. Law just looks at him for a moment, in the rain, the way it slides on his skin. But then Luffy is turning towards the cabin again.

Law follows.

By the time Law reaches the cabin, Luffy is pulling up dry boxers, hair fluffed ridiculously from being dried with a towel. It's an arresting sight for several reasons, but Law pauses. Battle-fever lingers on Law's skin, his breath still evening out, and he can feel his heart, across the room, beating fast. His boxer-briefs cling, sodden, to his hips. He's dripping onto the floor for the second time that day.

Luffy looks up and turns around, grins at him, and tosses him a towel.

Law catches it, automatic.

Luffy plops himself down on the edge of the bed, eyes bright and alert, framed by his absurd hair. He watches Law. Law watches him.

Luffy's grin grows toothy.

Law can feel an answering smirk tug on his face.

He steps into the room. Closes the door behind him. Puts his hands on the wet hem of his boxer-briefs. His breathing isn't slowing down.

Luffy keeps his eyes on Law's face as the soaked clothing hits the floor. Law is bending down for a fresh pair when Luffy pipes up.

"You're really hung up on that, you know?"

Luffy is looking up at him from below his lashes, teasing.

"Should I not be?"

"Nope." Luffy grins at him again.

Law looks at him for a long moment, then raises the towel. Luffy stares him in the eye as Law dries himself. Law doesn't make a show of it, though he could. It's not a thing Luffy cares about.

"Come here," Luffy orders.

Law feels himself twitch, against his own thigh; feels his skin flush. It isn't out of embarrassment. Law knows his heart is beating fast, in Luffy's chest.

Luffy scoots back on the bed until his back is against the wall. Law climbs on the bed, and Luffy puts his hands on Law, arranges him between Luffy's boxer-clad thighs with his back to Luffy. In the shocky tracks of adrenaline, heat rises in Law's blood, curling upwards, outwards; pooling low.

Luffy's breath on Law's neck sends shivers of sensation down his arms, skidding across his chest, where he can feel Luffy's heart beating, calm and strong, a steady counter-rhythm to Law's shaking inhalations.

Luffy leans his forehead against the back of Law's head and laughs; the exhale stutters down the bones of Law's spine, counting vertebrae. "Your heart is beating so fast."

Law tips his chin up, neck long and sweating, as his hand wanders to his stiffening cock. "Yes," he breathes.

"Shishishi," Luffy snickers behind him. Luffy's arm comes up to drape lazily across Law's chest, and Luffy presses him uninsistently back, until Law's spine is against Luffy's bare chest. Luffy hooks his chin over Law's shoulder.

Law leans a little to the side, so he can look at Luffy's face. Luffy is regarding Law's bare body with interest. Luffy's other hand comes to rest on Law's right bicep, over the snarl of scar tissue, and Law's hand tightens around himself. Luffy sees him do it. "Does that feel good?" Luffy asks.

"Yes," Law replies steadily. "Have you never tried it?"

"Nah." Luffy closes his eyes and runs his cheek against Law's. The sweep of Luffy's jaw is smooth against Law's stubble, reminding Law of being with women if not for the solidity of Luffy's chest behind him, and Law tips his head back against Luffy's shoulder, letting himself get lost in the pure sybaritic pleasure of it, Luffy warm and bony against his back, around him, Law's hand on his own cock moving in languorous strokes. Luffy hums approval, the noise resonating in his chest, where Law can feel the rough edges of Luffy's scar against his back; the hum melts into Law's bones, a low, pure note that echoes counterpoint to the slow heat building in Law's veins, spreading from where he touches himself, from where Luffy's fingers rest easily on Law's right arm, dry and sure. Luffy's other arm, draped across Law's chest, moves, a lazy sprawl of fingers sliding through the sheen of sweat to trace lightly across Law's collarbones before Luffy flattens his palm there, at Law's suprasternal notch. There's no teasing to it, Luffy's breath calm and steady behind him; only a sort of quiet claiming that Law's body responds to on a level beyond Law's control, breath hitching. And then Luffy's hand drifts upward to Law's neck, palm and fingers a half-circumference, carotid to carotid, continuing his silent exploration with no threat behind the gesture, but Law stops breathing, mouth opening, losing himself to a dark spiral of helpless desire when Luffy pauses with his fingertips just brushing Law's jawline. "Hm?" Luffy's absent hum sharpens into half-articulation; Law can feel Luffy's lashes against his temple, blinking in curiousity. "Your heart..."

Law grips his cock at the root, breathing, breathing. Licks his lips. "Stay there," he manages.

"Why?"

Law just about curses him out loud, but Luffy obligingly keeps his hand at Law's throat, pressure light and steady as before, fingers spreading slightly.

Law licks his lips again. "Because I like it."

"Shishishi." Luffy's shoulders shake under Law's head. It ruins the perilous headiness of the moment, breaks the desperate fantasy of danger, and it is just Law draped against a boxer-clad Luffy, Law's hand on himself and Luffy's hand harmless against Law's neck. Law frowns, feeling abruptly foolish. He feels Luffy's grin against his cheek. "You like a lot of things," Luffy says.

"No I don't."

Luffy's giggles stop, go still, and suddenly Luffy's hand on his throat is not light at all but firm, sure, fingers slotting into the hollows under Law's jawbone and tightening, closing, dancing on the edge of danger, and Law's breath punches out of him, his right hand jerking tight around his cock and the fingers of his left hand digging into Luffy's thigh. "Mm," Luffy hums firmly against his ear. "Yes you do," Luffy tells him, and Law dizzily remembers that his is a will that can move mountains. And through it all Luffy's heart beats in Law's chest: steady, slow. Law swallows, feels his Adam's apple move under Luffy's hand, Law's bones melting with a helpless heat.

Luffy tips his head against Law's temple; Law feels Luffy's lashes sweep closed. Luffy heaves a contented sigh, and the sudden closeness of the air eases, the edge of haki melting away. "I don't mind," Luffy says easily. His hand moves off Law's throat; Law gasps in a shuddering inhale even though Luffy had done nothing to actually hamper his breathing. Luffy's hand comes to rest on the perfect square of off-coloured skin, off-center, where Luffy's heart beats in Law's chest. His palm presses lightly, and Law can feel, against his left shoulderblade, the frantic tattoo of Law's own heart where he rests against Luffy's chest. Law's hands move, unbidden, right hand faster on himself, twisting at the tip; left hand rising to press against Luffy's on his chest, press them closer together, press until Law finds his fingers slotting between Luffy's. Law has seen specimens pinned for display, for study, splayed open; he feels like that, something shaking through him from where he clutches Luffy's hand against Luffy's heart, straight through Law's body to where Law's heart thuds against Law's back.

Luffy's other hand drifts off Law's arm and comes to rest on Law's hip, and even though Law knows Luffy won't do anything, won't take it further, he finds his heels digging hard into the sheets, pressing him back against Luffy, harder, closer, right hand working fast, electricity shooting across his skin with each stroke. And Luffy's breath is calm in Law's hair, Luffy's heart slow in Law's chest, grounding him, a weird disjointed here-and-now awareness of himself, of Luffy, not letting Law lose himself in the sensation but feeling Luffy living this moment with him, closer than blood, closer than breath. Law is panting, head thrown back over Luffy's shoulder, and Luffy rubs his cheek artlessly against Law's sweating face again. "You look nice," Luffy says, too loud, in Law's ear. Law huffs a helpless laugh, unable to muster annoyance at Luffy's utter inability to do anything resembling dirty talk, shying away from the way the comment settles, warm and small, in some part of himself that is dark and hollow, a place he does not like to look. "Here," Luffy continues, disentangling their joined hands, leaving Law suddenly adrift in a sea of sensation before Luffy presses Law's hand back where it had been, against where Luffy's heart still beats, steady and slow and sure.

And then Luffy slots his hand up under Law's jaw again, against where his neck stretches long and vulnerable, and the darkness behind Law's closed eyes thickens, roils, turns inward, Law's back arching off Luffy's chest, muscles tensing helplessly as Law comes.

He loses a few moments, then. He finds himself having slid down significantly, kind of bonelessly pooling in Luffy's lap, stomach and hand a mess. Luffy blinks down at him, hands harmless and innocent on Law's side and shoulder.

Luffy grins. "I told you. You like a lot of things."

Law can't find it in himself to argue.

 

______________________________

 

 

Dinner with the Barto Club has turned out to be maybe an even more chaotic affair than meals with the Strawhats. They all take turns cooking, and they're all terrible at it; there's not enough room for them all in the galley; and they all drink too much.

Luffy is given pride of place at the actual table, and Law finds himself seated next to him. The Strawhats crowd around them. Tonight's chef is particularly unfortunate, and Law stares at the food heaped haphazardly in the middle of the table, buffet style. There's something that looks like couscous (burned), which Law can't have. Apparently realizing the couscous would receive a mixed reception, today's cook also made pasta (with sauce), which Law can't have. The drink is beer, which Law can't have.

Law stares down at his plate.

Zoro, seated on Law's other side, tips his chin against one hand, frowning around at the food. He leans behind Law, looking across at Luffy; catching this, Luffy leans back too, and Law doesn't make out what passes between them, behind Law's back, but when Zoro rights himself, he picks up Law's plate and takes it away from him.

Law starts to say something, but Luffy slings an arm around his shoulder, distracting him, and by the time Law's eyes find his plate again, Zoro has passed it to Robin, who is heaping carefully selected vegetables on it from a haphazard salad Law didn't even see, on the other side of the table. Usopp's chair scapes back, and Law hears him negotiating something with the Barto Club. Franky looks thoughtful for a minute, then gets up too, digging in the refrigerator.

Law stares around.

He hears the sizzle of frying behind him, and then, of all things, Franky sits back down with a tall glass in hand and shoves a bunch of things Law can't see into a compartment in his stomach, which starts buzzing at a high pitch.

Law's head swivels around, trying to follow all the Strawhats, but then they're all sitting down around him again.

Robin passes the plate to Usopp, who deposits a fried egg, sunny side up and looking runny, on the plate next to a decidedly more intentional-looking mix of vegetables. Franky pours something thick, of indeterminate colour, into the glass he'd gotten and puts it in front of Law, who realizes it's a smoothie.

Law stares around at them. They've all gone back to calmly eating, except for Franky, who catches his eye and tosses him a cola. Law catches it automatically.

Zoro leans into the corner of Law's vision, cheek propped against one fist, and smirks at him.

Law wants to say something, but then Luffy squeezes him with the arm that's around Law's shoulder, and Law turns to face him.

Luffy is offering him a cut of the meat Bartolomeo had reserved for him.

Law swallows.

No one says anything.

Law is very aware of his hands when he picks up his utensils.

When he stands back up with the rest of the Strawhats, he is full of mismatched food.

And full of something warm, spreading through him, so much gentler than he knows what to do with.

Luffy takes him to bed.

 

______________________________

 

 

Law finally sleeps.

He has the nightmare again. Doflamingo is controlling him, fingers framing Law's face from behind, and it is Law's hand on the trigger, flintlock flare sharp for an endless second before the bullet hits Corazón in the heart, Corazón staring up at Law.

Law wakes, gasping, to find Luffy's arms wrapped all the way around him and Luffy saying in his ear, "Hey, I'm here, it's okay, it's not real."

Law shudders, sweat cold on his skin; locks his hands against his own mouth, swallowing the noises that want to jerk out of him. He can't stop his shoulders from lurching, almost dislodging Luffy; his knees come up, toes curling, every muscle in his body screaming.

Luffy presses his bare chest against Law's back, scar coarse, boxers rucking up around his waist, and he has the sense not to squeeze Law, loosening his arms instead and running his hand along Law's arm. His callused hands are rough and warm on Law's skin, and Luffy keeps up a litany in his ear, reassurances and nonsense, his breath wet; Law can't understand a word of it.

Until, suddenly, he can: "I'm here, I love you, you're okay," Luffy says, calm, against Law's jaw.

Law's entire body jerks and then he stills, gasping, eyes wide and staring in the night.

Luffy's fingers go still, too. "I do, Torao. I love you."

Law squeezes his eyes shut. "Luffy, you can't," grinds past his gritted teeth.

Luffy puts his left hand on Law's chest, where Luffy's heart is. "Don't tell me what to do."

Law can feel his own heart fluttering against his back, pulse thready and erratic.

"I love you," Luffy repeats. His other hand grips Law's right arm, over the knotted scar. "I want you here. You are good, Torao, and you deserve to be happy and to have good things."

Law can't get any air in past his throat.

"You should feel good. You should be happy. I don't know what's going on in your head, but don't listen to it. Listen to me."

Luffy takes his hand off Law's arm and grips Law's strained hand, brings it up to press against Luffy's lips as he says again, "Listen to me."

Luffy's voice is dead even; Law can feel the press of Luffy's will around them, boundless, encompassing, adamant. Law feels himself falling into it, feels the darkness uncurling from within his chest and reaching up to swallow him. He doesn't want this; he aches for it. He feels so helpless. "Luffy—" he manages. "Luffy— Tell— Tell me what to do."

Luffy is silent for long moments behind him.

Then he presses a kiss, dry, against Law's palm, and places Law's hand against Luffy's left, on Law's chest. Presses their hands together, fingers interlacing, Luffy's heartbeat strong against their joined hands. "Listen to that. Feel that," Luffy says, low in his ear. "That's me. I'm here with you. I want you."

Law shudders. Feels his body react, transmute one kind of helplessness into another. It's alchemic, undeniable. Shame threatens to overwhelm him before Luffy's voice breaks in again: "It's okay. You should feel good. I touch you because I want you. I want you to feel good."

Luffy breathes, steady behind him. Law can't.

"You deserve to feel good."

Law shivers, cold and hot chasing each other across his skin, his right hand a death grip against Luffy's, against where Luffy's heart beats. He can't breathe, caught on the edge, not daring to hope, not daring to move.

"Law," Luffy says in his ear.

Law squeezes his hand.

"Touch yourself," Luffy tells him.

Law gasps air in, searing frost in his lungs, and his left hand is on his cock, and he is so, so hard.

"You shouldn't feel bad. You're all right," Luffy is telling him. "It's okay to feel the way you do. It's okay to be who you are."

Law's left hand spasms, strokes up. He's breathing, breathing, wet gasps and swallows.

Luffy shifts behind him until he gets his right arm around Law, fingers settling on Law's collarbones. "You deserve to be here," Luffy says. "You deserve to be loved," fierce and low in his ear. "You deserve to be alive." Luffy's hand slides up, firm, fingers skidding through sweat. Law squeezes himself. And then Luffy's hand is on Law's neck, pads of his fingers against Law's veins, palm pressed against Law's throat. "Breathe," Luffy orders.

Law heaves in a breath, feels his throat expand under Luffy's hand, jugulars pressing against Luffy's fingertips.

"You are so good. You're going to be amazing," Luffy tells him. Law's left hand moves, twists. "You are strong." Law shakes, heat molten in his veins, his heart fast behind him. "You are not weak. This is not weak." Luffy squeezes him closer, and Law gulps in air, searingly aware of Luffy's hands on him, of his own hand on himself.

"You deserve to have this," Luffy says. And: "I will always love you," Luffy tells him, calm and steady in his ear, and Law comes apart, helpless.

Luffy holds him until Law's skin stops shivering.

Law thinks he should feel dirty. This is not a thing he's let many people see. Definitely nothing like this.

But Luffy's hand slides off his neck, stacks atop Law's hand still squeezing Luffy's against Law's chest. Luffy presses a kiss against Law's shoulder. "It's okay," Luffy tells him. "You're okay." And: "This is real. Right here."

Luffy's heart is so calm, so strong. Law feels his own heartbeat slowing, steadying.

But.

"Luffy," Law says. He is surprised by how even his voice is. "I can't do that for you."

Luffy presses his forehead against Law. "I know," he says.

Law's left hand feels sticky. "Luffy, what are we doing?"

Law can feel Luffy's lips curve against his nape. "I told you. Whatever we want."

Law surprises himself with a chuckle. It turns into a snicker, and then a belly laugh, and he feels so, so helpless again and it is entirely different from before. Luffy nuzzles him, spreads his palm against Law's chest. "I can't," Law gasps, teeth pressed in a manic grin. "Luffy, I can't."

"You don't have to," Luffy tells him. "It's okay." And then Luffy laughs, too, and hugs him, his whole body, knees and elbows and hips and chest. "You get something I don't, I get something you don't. It works out!"

"Strawhat-ya, that makes no sense," Law tells him. He can't stop laughing.

"Who cares?" Luffy says.

Law shakes, warm, encompassed. Known.

He wipes his hand on a distant corner of the sheets. "This is crazy," he says. He takes a breath. "I can do crazy."

"That's right," Luffy says. He puts his nose in Law's hair, which is a sweaty mess. It tickles.

Law feels absurd, and doesn't care. He curls up again, but this time loose, relaxed. Luffy's body follows his, their legs tangling.

"Go to sleep, Torao," Luffy says.

Law does.