Luffy happily chatted to the man next to him, swinging his legs. He'd been ordered by Nami to wait there as she and the rest of the crew gathered supplies to prepare for another long haul over the turbulent seas of the Grand Line. He'd only been sitting there for a couple of minutes (plenty of time to become bored) when the man, who called himself Roy, sat down and struck up a conversation.
Roy ordered a drink for him and Luffy both, and apart from some mild protesting Luffy didn't put up too much of a fight. Nami would be so happy he’d gotten someone else buy something for him!
There was a weird tingle at the back of his head, but he scratched it away and happily accepted his glass from the other man. It was then, as he was just about to pick up his drink to take a sip, that a large shadow enveloped his form. Luffy blinked, before turning around to see who was standing behind him.
A scarred face, partially hidden behind a ragged scarf stared back. Next to him, Roy went as white as a sheet.
"Ah, you're...!" Luffy leapt out of his chair and immediately got into a fighting position, every sense trained on the man in front of him. Then, he paused.
“Wait, what's your name again?” He asked, tilting his head.
“Charlotte Katakuri,” was the reply. Luffy quickly nodded.
“Right, the mochi dude! Why’re you here, to pick a fight!?”
Katakuri said nothing, merely appraising his appearance with a blank expression, then turned a far deadlier look at Roy.
"Straw Hat," Katakuri began, eyes still trained on the now shaking man. "I wasn't expecting you on this island."
Luffy narrowed his eyes, not liking how Katakuri was staring at his new friend and also indignant over the other man's words.
"So what?" he said aggressively. "Am I not allowed here? You can't stop me."
Katakuri seemed unimpressed.
"A highly debatable statement, considering our last fight. But I'm not here for that. If you have any value for your life you’d stop your current actions," he suddenly added with a sharp look towards the bartender, and he choked in fear. Satisfied, Katakuri turned his attention back onto Luffy.
"So you wanna fight, mochi dude?" Luffy raised his arms higher, more defensively.
"The angry kitten look isn't intimidating anyone, Straw Hat. I'm here on Emperor business, it doesn't concern you."
"If it doesn't concern me," Luffy shot back, disregarding the weird cat comment, "then why are you here?"
"Because I couldn’t help but to be curious as to why you'd be spending your time here specifically, in the company of such…” a pause. “People.”
Roy flinched. Luffy frowned, the tingle at the back of his head making itself known to him again, but Katakuri continued speaking before he could properly focus on it.
"Besides, someone like you, I thought you’d perhaps be more interested in an all-you-can-eat buffet.”
Luffy had to quickly catch himself before he started to drool.
No, this was probably just a trap! An Emperor’s Commander, he couldn’t let his guard down for a single second!
"I can't just leave here," Luffy protested, "not even for a buffet! I promised my friends I'd wait for them right here!"
"It's a small island," was the response. "I'm sure they'll figure out where to find you in the end." He took in Luffy's stubborn demeanour and added, "But feel free to leave a message with the bartender. I'm sure he'd be delighted to pass it along."
The bartender hurriedly nodded his agreement. Luffy stared hard at Katakuri but there was nothing to suggest treachery, and, well, a buffet…!
Well, if it was a trap he could just quickly run away (trying to actually fight him could wait until he was a little stronger). Satisfied with this conclusion, Luffy turned to give a still shaking Roy an apologetic look. Luffy wondered what was wrong with him, maybe he'd eaten something bad?
"Sorry Roy," he apologised. "It's been really fun talking to you! Maybe we can meet up some other time?"
"That won't be necessary," Katakuri cut in before Roy had any chance of responding, and grabbed Luffy's wrist before bodily dragging him out of the bar.
"Hey!" Luffy protested the rough treatment, once they were out of the bar. "What are you doing? Stop being so rude, mochi dude! Ah, I didn’t even get a chance to leave a message..."
"Straw Hat. What do you know about this place?" Luffy blinked, thrown off by the non-sequitur.
"That there's an all-you-can-eat-buffet, and that jerks like you go around dragging people wherever they want?"
Katakuri turned to him.
"About the buffet, I lied.”
He sounded completely unrepentant.
"You...what? Why?" He couldn't decide if he felt more disappointed or wary over this. Disappointed because no buffet, and wary because it was a trap after all. He tested Katakuri’s grip on his wrist.
It was unmoving.
“...This island is one of many bases of human trafficking throughout the New World. Mama was worried about them establishing footholds in her territory and your friend Roy happens to be one of the so called ‘big fish’.”
Luffy paused in his subtle struggling. He hadn’t been expecting that. And suddenly, the tingling from before made sense. It had been his Observation Haki trying to gain his attention, trying to tell him that something was wrong. But he’d been so focused on his exultation over a new friend that he’d completely ignored it.
If Katakuri hadn’t come along at that moment, what would’ve happened to him?
“You saved me?” Luffy asked, and Katakuri looked away.
“Only in the sense that Mama would have been upset if she wasn’t able to kill you herself, Straw Hat. Don’t let it get to you.”
"But still," Luffy insisted, "you really saved my butt back there! Even if you did lie about the buffet.” He was still disappointed.
"Were you even aware of the danger?" Was Katakuri's immediate question, and Luffy's response was just as quick.
"Not at all, I thought he was a really nice guy!”
Katakuri eyed him with some exasperation.
"You're far too proud of that."
"There's always someone here that I know I can rely on. So thank you, Katakuri," Luffy said sincerely. "I don't really get know what would’ve happened but I do know that you helped me out a bunch!”
Katakuri blinked, before hurriedly turning away. The heat seemed to be getting to him, a red flush could be seen only slightly through the top of his scarf.
"...You remembered my name." Luffy thought that was a strange statement.
"Is there any reason I wouldn't?" He asked curiously.
"You mean apart from the fact you'd yet to use it once?" said Katakuri dryly.
"It's called a nickname, mochi dude! You need to lighten up!"
"This carefree attitude of yours is why so many shady people gravitate towards you, Straw Hat. But I suppose I'm one of them."
Luffy blinked up at Katakuri.
“What?" Katakuri glanced down at Luffy some indescribable emotion building behind his eyes -and for some reason, Luffy’s stomach clenched- before he let out a sigh. When he blinked, Katakuri’s eyes were back to normal and Luffy wondered if he’d imagined it after all.
"No, nothing. Your crew will be showing up soon." Attention successfully diverted, Luffy brightened up and shot out of Katakuri’s now limp grip, towards where he could hear their presence, leaving Katakuri to casually stroll behind him.
"LUFFFYYYYYY!!!!" A cacophony of voices called out to the small captain, and he let out a laugh.
“Luffy where were you?” Nami yelled, eyes full of equal amounts of anger and worry. “We went to the bar and they told us you left with-” Nami cut herself off, suddenly taking notice of the man standing behind Luffy. Usopp and Chopper both shrieked in terror, and the entire crew prepared their weapons.
“Oi, you shitty Charlotte! Why the fuck are you with Luffy!?” demanded Sanji, looking ready to throw down with Katakuri then and there. Luffy quickly put himself directly into the path of Sanji (and the rest of the crew, all looking equally as dangerous).
“Don’t hurt him! Mochi dude saved me from a trafficker!” He said. The crew gaped.
“He what?” They chorused.
Luffy quickly explained what had happened and despite their exasperation over the fact he’d been too busy making friends to notice any danger (and that he’d been saved from said danger through a promise of a buffet), they were ultimately relieved he was okay and still with them, and were even grateful to the Sweets Commander.
On his part, Katakuri tersely reiterated his words from before, about it being merely coincidence and all for the sake of Big Mom. The crew readily accepted this, all for Jinbe who stared hard at Katakuri but ultimately stayed silent.
“The sheer thought of a Big Mom Pirate helping us out, it’s enough to make my skin crawl, yohohoho! Ah, not that-”
“But you don’t have any skin Brook!”
Luffy just laughed at their antics, and Katakuri stepped forward.
"Straw Hat." He called out, and Luffy blinked turning around to grin at the other man.
"What's up, mochi dude?"
Kneeling on one knee, Katakuri grabbed Luffy's hand before pressing a light kiss onto the back of it. Somewhere behind Luffy choking sounds could be heard but all of his attention was centred on the bumpy, scarred feeling of Katakuri's lips, on the scarf tickling his hand, on the look in Katakuri's eyes. The same look, he suddenly realised with a pleasurable shiver, that Katakuri had held before.
"Until we meet again, Straw Hat Luffy. Maybe next time, I’ll be able to properly take you somewhere to eat," Katakuri murmured. Luffy didn’t think he could’ve stopped the blush from spreading over his face even if he'd tried.
(Later, in the privacy of the Thousand Sunny, Jinbe mentioned that Big Mom had been furious with Katakuri for skipping out on an important mission assigned to him. Luffy frowned, and said Katakuri told him he was there on official business. Jinbe eyed him dubiously and Zoro frowned.
“Nami, you said Katakuri’s mastery over Observation Haki is so strong he can see into the future, yes?” spoke up Robin, eyes bright with amusement.
“Only for, like, a couple of seconds!” Nami protested. “There’s no way he’d have been able to see whatever it is you’re predicting, certainly not long enough to make any sort of trip in time!”
“But say that he was already on the island, and had a vested, emotional interest in the situation,” Robin prompted, and Nami paused, doubting herself in the face of Robin’s insistence. After all, it was Robin.
“...I suppose we still don’t know everything about haki…”
“And haki can sometimes manifest in ways that even the user doesn’t expect…”
“And the business with Big Mom…”
The Straw Hats shared a glance among each other.
“So then, it wasn’t a mission that Katakuri came here for, it was…”
Luffy stared at his food and for one of the first times in his entire life did nothing but quietly eat, hoping no one could see how red his face had become.)