Twenty-four hours later, Law was staring up at the absolutely enormous leg of Zou, the island that had turned out to be an ancient, monstrous elephant. The dimensions of the beast were mind-boggling. Law was silently glad that he'd resisted the temptation to keep Bepo with him on Punk Hazard. Without the mink, the rest of his crew would probably have faced quite a few difficulties in getting onto the island. Or finding it in the first place come to think of it.
As for their own manner of ascending Zou … well.
Sighing, Law looked over to where one of the samurai was drawing a very wonky version of - was that supposed to be a dragon? Predictably, Luffy was watching with stars in his eyes, as the awful drawing sprung to life thanks to its maker’s devil’s fruit. Law almost groaned out loud when he saw Cora-san just next to the straw-hat wearing menace, an equally impressed look on his face.
But thinking about Luffy …
With another deep sigh, Law strode towards the younger pirate captain and pulled him aside. Not an easy feat since the pirate captain in question was burning to climb onto the drawing-come-to-life to mount the monster island.
"Strawhat-ya," Law began in an urgent, hushed voice once he’d managed to extricate Luffy from the gaggle of Straw Hats and Barto-club members. "I need to talk to you about something."
"Sure, what’s up Torao? Ne - you’re not thinking too much again, are you?"
A small smile threatened to appear on Law’s lips at the younger pirate’s pout. Over the past day, Luffy had promptly attributed any inhibitions that Law harboured regarding their newly-formed relationship - such as his hesitance in calling the Straw Hat captain his boyfriend - down to his tendency to overthink everything. And Law was damned if his boyfriend wasn’t right about it half the time too.
"No, I am not," Law replied evenly. "I simply have a request to make of you. Please continue to refrain from announcing our new … relationship. I would rather we choose the appropriate time … together."
The pout on Luffy’s face grew, but he nodded.
Law gave a sigh of relief. Not that he wasn’t happy about their current situation - he was! Embarrassingly, deliriously so. But the calm, collected, sane part of his brain reminded him that the change in the closeness of their association would entail a hell of a lot of consequences once it became public. Starting with the Straw Hat crew attempting to creatively murder him, probably. But apart from that, Law knew that it wouldn’t be long after their relationship was announced to their respective crews that somehow news would slip out. And the marines would learn that they were now dealing with a pirate alliance of an entirely different sort.
For precisely that reason, he hadn’t even told Cora-san about what had happened on the figurehead. Even though his adoptive father would probably be delirious with joy - he’d been dropping more than enough in that hints in that direction, thank you very much!
Law had asked Luffy not to tell directly after their - very enthusiastic - make-out session. To his immense relief, the younger captain had agreed to keep silent. Bubbly and uninhibited as the Straw Hat nearly always was, Law knew he could keep a secret when it mattered. He hadn’t breathed a word to anyone about who Cora-san really was. And Law hadn’t even had the presence of mind to request silence on that issue. To everyone else onboard the ship, the tall blond man was simply a patient that Law had been extraordinarily worried about.
Still, despite Luffy’s agreement to keep mum, Law hadn’t been able to help feeling somewhat paranoid. He knew that it was just his imagination. Still, Law felt like Cora-san had been looking at him with a new twinkle in his eyes over the past day. He could have sworn that the usual, distrustful glares that Zoro shot at him had taken on a homicidal tint. Robin’s air of knowing something and Usopp’s nervousness around him were nothing out of the ordinary, he’d had to remind himself several times. And damn it - even a random thumbs-up that Franky had sent his way when he’d sat down at breakfast next to Luffy had seemed suggestive to Law.
"Does that mean that I don’t even get to kiss you goodbye before you go off to find your crew?" Luffy asked, pout intensifying even more.
Law viciously pushed down the mushy feeling that reared its ugly head at the sight. Instead, he conjured a suggestive smirk onto his features. Luffy had proved to be very enthusiastic about kissing over the past twenty four hours. "I’m sure we’ll find a moment or two."
If we make it to the top of that blasted elephant alive, the captain of the Heart Pirates added silently as he watched his boyfriend bounce off towards the drawn dragon that was waiting to begin its ascend.
Wandering through Zou’s thicket of trees with Cora-san at his heels was terrifying, Law had to admit.
After Law had fervently kissed Luffy breathless behind some bushes, he and Cora-san had split from the rest of the alliance in search of the Heart Pirates.
The terror that Law was experiencing was not due to the strange creatures lurking in the shadows of the trees (Those Law could feel watching their every step.) Nor was it due to the stench of chemicals in the air. (Those caused unease and a terrible premonition in an entirely different part of his brain.)
No, this particular terror was caused by the imminent meeting of Cora-san and the Heart Pirates.
Of course, Law was looking forward to seeing his crew again. He’d missed them fiercely over the past months, even though he would be loath to admit it to anyone - even Bepo. So often during his stay on Punk Hazard, he had longed for his own ship and the familiar faces of his crew. Even more so during the whirlwind of madness that was his alliance with the Straw Hats. He’d missed Bepo’s soft fur, and Shachi’s terrible jokes. Penguin’s doubtful cooking, and Jean-Bart’s incompetent attempts to cheat at cards. Even the sound of Ikkaku’s tools echoing through the Polar Tang’s corridors when she was tinkering with the engines in the middle of the night. They were his crew .
But they also belonged to an entirely different part of his life than Cora-san.
Cora-san had seen Law at his worst, had met him when he was young and dying and bitter and a deplorable excuse for a human being altogether. He’d known him in despair and hatred and pain and utter helplessness. He’d been his guiding light and saviour. He’d traded his own life for Law’s. And Law had built everything he now had in the older man’s name - the very Jolly Roger he sailed under was testament to that.
But his crew… Despite everything that they’d gone through together - and that was quite a lot! - Law was still their leader. Except for Bepo, who he’d met soon after his flight from Minion Island, Law had begun to assemble his crew later. After the trauma of losing Cora-san had begun to fade from a fresh wound in his soul to an aching scar. He’d found new strength in uniting them, in taking responsibility for them and protecting them.
Staring at Bepo’s vivre card in the palm of his hand, Law reflected that neither his crew nor Cora-san were aware of the origins of the Heart Pirates' symbology. Cora-san suspected, he was sure, but it was still a terrifying thought that in a matter of minutes he’d be introducing his crew to the man under whose banner they had been fighting since the very beginning.
Well - so much for the in a matter of minutes part.
Law’s eyes flew up, only to see Bepo barrelling towards him through the trees. He barely had time to brace himself before his navigator had launched himself forward and into his arms. It was a testament to Law’s recovered strength that he didn’t fold under the sheer weight of the polar bear.
A moment later, the rest of the Heart Pirates was flocking around them, and a cacophony of happy chatter, greetings and an array of questions was enveloping Law. Despite his unease about Cora-san’s presence, Law’s heart brimmed with gladness at the sight of his crew’s faces. Especially since he’d been expecting never to see them again when they’d dropped him off at Punk Hazard.
After several minutes of answering questions and wriggling out of attempted hugs - Wouldn’t those sentimental idiots ever learn?! - Law managed to quiet his crew enough for him to draw their attention to Cora-san. The tall blond man was standing off to the side, looking at the mass of people surrounding Law with slightly teary eyes.
Well, we’re off to a good start.
"Listen, everyone," Law announced. "This is Corazon. He will be sailing with us for a while. He is to be treated as a member of the crew."
Law would have been lying if he’d said he wasn’t proud of the speed with which his crew digested this bit of news. After a few moments’ pause, they collectively turned towards Cora-san and began to welcome him into the midst of the Heart Pirates. It reminded him of when he’d showed up with Jean Beart in tow after the disaster on Sabaody. Law knew his crew consisted of a bunch of mismatched outlaws, and he had never done anything to foster a particular cordiality among them. Still, they cared deeply for each other and their captain. In a way, the Surgeon of Death reflected, they had that in common with their Straw Hat allies.
Heart swelling, Law watched Cora-san become engulfed by the Heart Pirates. Penguin was thumping him on the back warmly, and Shachi was already trying to win him over for a round of cards. Ikkaki was quizzing him about his mechanical skills, always in search of an assistant. (And god, Law had to make a mental side note to prevent that at all costs if he didn’t want them all to drown.) The tall man at the centre of the attention was rubbing the back of his head, smiling brightly, and trying to answer all of his new crewmates at once.
It seemed like it was going to be alright, Law thought in relief, and smiled.
"Captain," a shaky voice piped up beside him. Turning, Law saw Bepo look at him with tearful eyes. He raised an eyebrow, surprised that his navigator had not immediately joined into the fray of welcoming their new temporary crewmate.
"Yes? What is it?"
Instead of answering, however, the Mink’s beady black eyes moved in-between Law’s inquisitive gaze and the figure of Cora-san, surrounded by the crew and currently being measured up for his Heart Pirate one-suit by Shachi. The Heart captain watched in confusion as his navigator’s eyes brimmed with tears, which the polar bear furiously tried to blink back.
"Nothing," Bepo answered eventually, still sounding a little choked. "I’m just really happy for you, captain!"
The party was in full swing that night. Crews had been reunited, the Minks had been saved, and all was well.
Minks, Straw Hats and Heart Pirates were dancing around the fire, eating and drinking to their hearts’ content, singing, playing music and merrymaking. From where he was lying back against a toppled tree, Law could see Jean Bart and Zoro engage in a drinking contest with several unfortunate minks. Ikkaki and Franky were talking engines over by the next bonfire. Usopp, Penguin and Shachi were trading exaggerated battle stories. And, in a more quiet conversation at the edge of the party, Chopper and Bepo were apparently comparing their experiences as non-humans in their respective crews. Cora-san, clad in the new heart-pirates one-suit that Shachi had managed to conjure, was sipping from a mug of beer and conversing with a group of Minks.
"You look happy, Torao!" Luffy laughed, plopping himself down beside Law and promptly beginning to chew on one of the giant slabs of meat he had heaped on his plate. "I likechaw haffy! Chawlook preffy."
"Don’t talk with your mouth full, Straw Hat-ya," Law snapped back, watching with affection as the younger captain enthusiastically chewed his dinner. It was moments like this when Law became painfully aware just how far gone he was for the other man. Here he sat, not even that drunk, watching the idiot messily chew on a sea king steak, and all he could think was adorable. He was well and truly fucked.
But then again, Law reflected, Luffy was right. He was happy. Foreign as the concept might have been to him for years, Law suspected that happiness was precisely what that warm fuzzy feeling in his chest was. The night of the rainbow mist - not even a fortnight ago - he had been a few heartbeats away from diving into the sea. And now -
"We should tell them, I think."
Luffy stared at him with wide eyes, and Law was just as surprised by the words that had just crossed his own lips.
"About us, I mean," he continued in a low voice. "I know I said I wanted to keep the news of our relationship under wraps for a while, but … They’re our crews."
Law tore his eyes away from the slowly growing grin on his boyfriend’s face to watch the celebrations going on around them. He spotted Bepo raising a mug of beer, Shachi and Penguin dancing around the fire with Usopp, and Cora-san gesturing enthusiastically, dangerously close to the flames.
The foreign warmth in his chest flared up again, and he reached for Luffy’s hand without looking. "They deserve to know," he murmured, finally looking at the other man.
Luffy’s grin widened. A second later, he jumped up, meat still dangling from his mouth. A moment too late, the Surgeon of Death realised what the younger captain was about to do.
"No Strawhat-ya, not like tha-" Law whispered urgently, but to no avail.
"EVERYONE LISTEN UP!!! TORAO'S MY BOYFRIEND NOW!" Luffy bellowed at the top of his lungs, drowning out the cacophony of the party.
If he had set off a burst of conqueror’s haki, the effect could not have been more immediate.
All around the campfire, people froze in whatever they were doing, mouths gaping, eyes bulging, the blood draining out of several faces. The musician’s instruments fell silent with a series of pitiful squeaks. Someone dropped a stack of plates. Various people choked on their food and drink, coughing and gasping for air.
Law buried his face in his hands and groaned. Of course! Damn his impulsivity!
Several tense heartbeats passed before the inevitable commotion broke out.
Law’s head snapped towards the Straw Hat crew, where Nami, Chopper and Brook had thrown their flailing arms into the air, letting out a univocal blood-curdling scream of shock. To Law’s enormous surprise, Zoro was merely glowering at him murderously instead of already charging forward with his katanas drawn. Usopp was looking slightly nauseous but steadfastly held on to his mug of beer. Robin’s and Franky’s reactions, however, flat-out floored Law. The Straw Hat archaeologist was smiling warmly, while the robot-man had jumped up and thrown his arms together over his head in his signature Supeeeer!
Had they already known?! Law thought wildly. But there was no way -
"You have to be more careful with such shocking announcements, Mr Trafalgar!" a voice sing-song'd right next to his ear before Law could finish his thought. Brook had apparently recovered from his surprise. "You’ll give me heart attack!" the skeleton declared, then paused for effect. "Even though I have no heart anymore, yohohoh . Nonetheless - I feel inspired to compose a love song in your honour!"
To Law’s infinite horror, the Straw Hat musician was already beginning to experimentally pluck on the strings of his violin. Unable to face that particular train wreck at the moment, Law turned towards his own crew. Utter shock, feelings of betrayal, a maelstrom of questions - he was bracing himself for an assortment of worst-case reactions.
When he saw the Heart Pirates, Law's jaw dropped in shock.
Sitting calmly in a semi-circle around a heap of empty plates and glasses, Law’s crew was busy exchanging money. Several crew members were glumly digging around their pockets, groaning and shooting dirty glances at their captain. Others - Bepo and Penguin included - were grinning triumphantly and accepting coins from their friends. None of them looked particularly shocked or upset at the revelation that Law was now romantically involved with the captain of the Straw Hat pirates.
"I hate that you’re always right," Shachi grumbled as he handed a bag of belis to Bepo.
The polar bear didn’t even apologise as he accepted the money. "Well, I told you it was obvious. It was your idea to start the pool."
At this point, Law did the only logical thing. "WHAT?" he howled, utterly irate.
It was a sign of how well his crew knew him that none of them spared more than a passing glance for their apoplectic captain. Any other person - certain annoying allies excluded - would have turned and ran at the incandescent look on Law’s face.
As it was, Penguin turned towards the Surgeon of Death and shrugged. "Well, captain, you did drag us into a war for him after you’d known him for like ten minutes," he explained in a soothing voice that rubbed Law up the entirely wrong way. "Bepo and I figured there was something there from the beginning. Y’know. Something romantic. Soulmates. Destiny. Whatever. And when Shachi came up with the betting pool, we figured it was an easy way to make an extra beli. Like Bepo said - it was obvious. "
Beside him, Shachi groaned, his face buried in his hands. "But not the first time. Just. Fine I believed you that they’d get together at some point, but I thought the captain would have a little more restraint than that. Betting against them getting together the very next time they ran into each other should have been a sure thing."
Ignoring Law entirely now, Penguin grinned smugly and clapped his friend’s shoulder in fake compassion. "Marineford, mate. Think of Marineford."
Enough! Law had had decidedly enough. With a furious growl, he reached for his nodachi, fully prepared to chop both Shachi and Penguin up into a massive number of pieces and scatter them around the island. That would serve them right!
But before he could withdraw his sword from its sheath, two rubbery arms wrapped around his midriff and a body slammed into him from behind, knocking the wind out of him.
"Shishishi! Sorry Torao!" Luffy laughed, clinging onto the older man while he gasped for breath. "Did you explain everything to your crew? I did to mine. Chopper’s breathing again and Nami said she wants to talk to you later, but they’re happy for us."
Law sincerely doubted that that sentiment was genuinely shared among the members of the Straw Hat crew. And while he would never, ever admit it, the prospect of having a talk with the red-haired navigator terrified him just a little bit. But overall, he supposed, breaking the news to their crews could have gone worse. Well, there was still the business of dismembering people that he had to take care of, but -
"Congratulations!!!" a chorus of voices suddenly exclaimed in unison.
Startled, Law spun to stare at his crew. Gambling debts apparently settled, they had all stood up and were beaming at him and Luffy. And where the fuck had they gotten the confetti and party poppers all of a sudden???
"We’re so happy for you, captain!" Bepo exclaimed, practically radiating with joy. "I’m sure you’ll make a great couple!"
A chorus of congratulations and well-wishes chimed up behind the polar bear and Law had to admit that despite his irritation at his crew’s betting pool, he was feeling touched. His eyes fell on Cora-san, standing at the back of the group, grinning like a fool, and firing a pink glitter party popper.
Luffy laughed loudly in his ear and normally, Law would have snapped at him about rupturing his eardrums. But just now, the dreaded Surgeon of Death was feeling overwhelmed by the blatant display of how much these people cared for him. His crew. Cora-san. And Luffy.
Parting from Luffy was harder than Law had thought it would be.
Samurais had been reunited in the past days, alliances had been formed, and a plan concluded on for their further course of action. Just now, they were standing at the edge of Zou, seeing off the Straw Hat division that was going to recover their chef.
Venturing into the territory of Big Mum. Pissing off another emperor, probably. And still Luffy grinned as if it was just all one awfully big adventure.
Law was standing at the head of the Heart Pirates, shouldering his nodachi, his hat drawn low over his face, while the Straw Hats were saying their goodbyes.
Suddenly, a finger poked him in the back.
"Aren’t you going to kiss him goodbye, Law?" Cora-san whispered, not very quietly.
Law growled and hissed back. "No."
"Oh come on, captain -" Bepo chimed in a hushed voice.
"Yeah, come on -"
But before Law had time to either reflect on how Cora-san’s presence had managed to undermine his status as the feared captain of the Heart Pirates, or dismember anyone, two rubbery arms wrapped around him. His stomach lurched, he was pulled forward with a jolt and pressed up against Luffy.
"Toraaaaooooooo - I’m gonna miss you! Take care of everyone!" the Straw Hat captain exclaimed, and for a moment, the adventure-fuelled spark in his eyes dimmed. Law realised that he really would be missed.
"Don’t worry, Straw Hat-ya. I’ll make sure everyone gets to Zou safely. Just don’t cause any more trouble than necessary on your end." Law grumbled, disentangling himself from the rubbery appendices.
Instead of drawing back, however, he leaned forward and brushed a quick kiss against the smaller man’s lips. To hell with it.
Promptly, a cacophony of whistles and catcalls erupted behind him.
Luffy only smiled widely and took a step back, extending his rubbery arms far to each side.
"See you soon, Torao!" he called, as the appendices snapped back, enveloping everyone who’d be accompanying Luffy and propelling them backwards off the island.
Law barely had time to register the various expressions of shock and horror before Luffy shouted out another message and was gone.
"I love you, Torao!" were the words that echoed through the dusk as Luffy and his friends plummeted off Zou, towards the Sunny, and into a new chapter of their adventure.