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Welcome to the Heart Pirates, Nami-ya

Chapter Text

If someone had told Nami a week ago that she’d willingly seek out Trafalgar Law, she would have called them an even bigger liar than Usopp. The rest of her crew might have only paid attention to their own bounties, but since entering the Grand Line, the brilliant navigator had kept tabs on who was who in the pirate world. In particular, the Surgeon of Death’s reputation had chilled her to the bone. He was a rockstar in the criminal underworld, especially where the black market organ trade was concerned. Rumors of his cruelty, intelligence, and abilities were whispered in bars and back alleys, all with a tone of reverence and fear. Some of them had to be hyperbole; there was no way that the hearts he sold were still beating, right?

Still, she doubted his reputation was exaggerated to the extent of Luffy’s. Pirates, in general, were still self-serving scum willing to kill, exploit, and pillage. Her captain—that kind-hearted, trusting, ridiculous fool—was the exception, and that was why Nami was willing to confront the Dark Doctor. News of what happened during the War of the Best had reached even Weatheria, and though Haredas had tried to discourage her, she’d demanded he help her track down the Supernova that had saved her captain’s life. Perhaps the old man felt guilty over the tears she’d shed over not being there for Luffy—not all of them had been fake. It had helped that one of the other wizards had spotted the Polar Tang not far from the floating island, so he’d allowed her the use of a Weather Ball to go down for an audience with the Surgeon of Death.

“I saved your captain on a whim. I’m not interested in your thanks.” Leaning against the side of his yellow submarine, Law hardly spared her a glance, seeming more focused on studying the DEATH tattoos across his fingers. Nami knew it was a ruse, though; he wouldn’t have agreed with her demands to meet if he hadn’t been interested in what she had to say.

Stubborn and scowling, she crossed her arms and jutted out her hip. Short, orange hair brushed her cheeks as the soft ocean breeze caressed her. She wore the same tight t-shirt and white shorts she’d donned at Sabaody, and the high heels of her tan sandals gave an echoing tap when she’d landed on the metal deck. Part of her wished she could have dressed a little sexier in case she needed to use her feminine wiles in this meeting, but her options had been limited, and even if she’d had her full wardrobe, it was probably safer not to attract this strange and deadly man’s attention too much; she didn’t have her crew to bail her out if she got in trouble, after all.

As she glared at the bored-looking pirate leaning against the submarine’s steel hull, Nami started to wonder if she’d made a mistake. It was too late to turn back, though, so she took a steadying breath and stated, “Whim or not, I don’t like the idea of Luffy being in anyone’s debt; especially not a rival’s. I want that squared before we head to the New World. So, if you don’t want thanks, what do you want?”

Interest piqued, Trafalgar Law finally graced her with his full attention. Nami had to admit, at first glance, he didn’t fit the image of a pirate captain. His skin was a warm olive tone; she could lay in the sun for hours and never achieve a tan like that. Midnight blue hair, sideburns, and goatee framed his angular face, and the dark circles under his eyes implied he rarely got a decent night’s sleep. His clothing was casual, consisting of spotted jeans, black boots, and a yellow hoodie; hardly the apparel of a feared warrior. Atop his head rested a spotted, furry hat, and she wondered if it had sentimental value like Luffy’s did; she really couldn’t imagine why someone of Law’s reputation would wear such a silly accessory otherwise.

Being a pirate was about more than just looks, however. Up close like this, Nami could tell he was dangerous. Taller than even Zoro, though far leaner, the muscles of Law’s exposed forearms showed he wasn’t some skinny weakling. It was intimidating, to say the least, especially when the nodachi propped on his shoulder was nearly as long as she was tall, and her hand itched to use the Clima-Tact strapped to her thigh to turn herself invisible and run away. She keenly recalled seeing the vivisected pieces of navy soldiers that had littered the battlefield at Sabaody. Even if there hadn’t been any blood, the gruesome scene was like something out of a horror story. The sunny yellow of his sweatshirt seemed too cheerful for a man of his reputation, yet it easily enhanced the intensity of his calculating gold eyes.

Eyes that were locked on her. Assessing. Observing. Appraising.

“That depends on what you’re offering,” he replied, not bothering to hide his lecherous grin as he gave her curvy figure a slow, penetrating once-over.

She shuddered. Of course he’d suggest that; men—especially pirates—were all the same. “Not what you’re thinking, that’s for sure. Look, I know medicine and the like ain’t cheap, and assuming you fed Luffy at some point, that’s a hell of a grocery bill. I’m here to pay you back so you can’t hold anything over his head in the New World.” Squaring her shoulders, she met his gaze unflinchingly. Much as she loved money, she knew the importance of paying one’s debts. More specifically, she knew the power debts could have over a person. “Just name your price. It might take me some time to get it, but I’m not called ‘Cat Thief’ for nothing. You’ll get your belli.”

Pushing away from the wall, Law slowly circled her, studying her like she was a new and unusual specimen he was eager to dissect. “You think I want money?” he asked, a low chuckle rumbling in his chest. “The hearts I sell on the black market are worth ten times your bounty. I can empty a safe of its contents without opening the door. Moreover, I saved your captain’s life, not his wallet. If you want to pay me back, you’re going to have to give me something more valuable than belli, gold, or jewels.”

“And what is that?” she asked, twisting around so she could keep him in her sightline. There was no way she trusted him enough to take her eyes off him. She’d feel more comfortable being stalked by a hungry leopard than the lanky surgeon.

One final circle and he stopped in front of her, looming over and blocking out the sun like the Grim Reaper himself. “Time. Your crew agreed to meet up in Sabaody in two years, right? Then spend one year as a member of the Heart Pirates.”

“Are you crazy?” she shouted, stepping back. “I’m not joining your crew! I need to spend that time training!”

He shrugged. “You can train aboard my ship. There’s no better vessel to study ocean currents with, which will be beneficial for getting to Fishman Island, among others. Besides that, I saw your fight at the Auction House; you desperately need combat training. And I’m sure your captain would hate for your thieving skills to get rusty. Can you do all that on Weatheria?”

It was infuriating how logical his argument was, mainly because his smile was uncomfortably smug. “My combat techniques rely on my knowledge of weather science. I can’t give up the opportunity Heradas is giving me,” she argued.

“You’ll still have a full year to learn from him once your debt is paid, Nami-ya. Surely the weather wizards understand how important your captain is to you; otherwise they never would have brought you here.”

Small fists clenched, nails digging into her palms. She hated how easily Law had backed her into a corner. He was cunning, calculating, and knew exactly how to manipulate the situation in his favor. She’d actually admire him if it weren’t focused on her. There was no way she was giving up without a fight, though. “That sounds like I’m getting the better end of the deal, which doesn’t translate to paying off a debt. What’s in it for you? If your skills are as impressive as you claim, surely you’re not in need of a cat burglar?”

“As my subordinate, you’ll use your numerous skills to aid me and my crew. I know you’re a talented navigator and cartographer on top of your infamous thieving abilities. Perhaps you could even help me run some cons with that incredible beauty and high alcohol tolerance of yours.” He chuckled at her shocked expression. “Mugiwara-ya talked extensively about you all; mostly in his sleep. Anesthesia has a fascinating side effect of acting as a truth serum, and I had to keep him under quite a bit so he wouldn’t rage about and tear open his wounds.”

Damn you, Luffy! Nami screamed mentally. She should have known he’d be an idiotic blabbermouth, even on death’s door.

Still, this needed to be done. It was too great a risk, letting someone like Trafalgar Law, the sadistic Surgeon of Death, hold a life debt over her nakama. He may claim he’d acted on a whim, but Nami knew pirates like him never did things out of the goodness of their hearts. Maybe he’d intended on calling in a favor at a later time, using her good-hearted captain for his own plans. Luffy would agree in a heartbeat, too, since he’d probably assume anyone who had saved his life was his friend. Thinking like that could get him killed.

That’s exactly why he needed someone like her.

The Cat Thief couldn’t fight like Sanji and Zoro, but she could protect her captain from the machinations of a rival. They had the strength, but she had the brains and survival instincts they lacked. She’d promised she’d make Monkey D. Luffy the Pirate King, and if she had to spend a year working for another crew to do it, she would. At the very least, she might be able to discover Trafalgar Law’s weaknesses.

And maybe—just maybe—she’d run into Luffy. She knew he’d fulfill his promise to meet them in Sabaody, but that didn’t mean she didn’t worry about him. He was an idiot, but he was her idiot, and if she had the chance to at least check on him, she’d take it. Law had saved his life; perhaps he knew where the rubber captain had disappeared to.

“So, do we have a deal?” Law asked, gold eyes bright and smile too wide for his narrow face. He could see the gears turning in her mind, grinding and processing until she came to the conclusion he desired.

A small voice in her head whispered that this was a mistake, that this was sounding too much like her deal with Arlong, but she pushed it away. Guilt at not being there for her captain far outweighed her distrust at making pacts with pirates. Swallowing down her fear and doubts, the beautiful navigator stuck out her hand, brown eyes meeting amber with determination. “Deal. I work with your crew for one year; not a day more.”

His calloused, tattooed hand engulfed hers, shaking firmly. Like a leopard that had trapped his prey and was eager to pounce and gobble her up, his expression was triumphant and hungry.

“Welcome to the Heart Pirates, Nami-ya.”

Chapter Text

“I never agreed to this,” Nami insisted, hands on her hips as she stood her ground.

“You agreed the moment you signed onto my crew.”

“I agreed to work with you, not take off my clothes so you could ogle me like a pervert!”

It hadn’t even been a day, and the fiery thief was already regretting her decision. After finalizing plans with Haredas, ensuring the old man knew where and when to retrieve her in a year, Law briefly showed her around the Polar Tang before ushering her into the infirmary. It was nothing like Chopper’s sickbay; steel, sterile equipment gleamed ominously under the bright lights. The aroma of antiseptic and other cleaning materials hung heavily in the air, stinging her nose. Nothing looked warm or comfortable or pleasant, and she suddenly missed her reindeer friend. It was hard to feel nervous when a cute little guy like him was your doctor.

Unfortunately, instead of sweet, caring Chopper, she was under the penetrating scrutiny of the Surgeon of Death.

Slipping on a crisp, white lab coat and placing his hat on the counter, Law looked unimpressed at her defiance. “I’m both your doctor and captain now, Nami-ya; I have to ensure my newest subordinate is healthy, especially since we spend so much time underwater. For that, I need to give you a full examination, and for that, I need you to strip.”

Nami sniffed in disdain, then wrinkled her nose at the overpowering scent of latex and chemicals. Briefly, she wondered if Luffy had been just as disgusted by the smell. “A likely excuse. You just want to see me naked!”

Annoyance crept into his voice at the accusation. “I’m perfectly capable of keeping things professional. Surely this wasn’t a problem with your old doctor?”

“My old doctor was a talking reindeer!”

“…Maybe I should give you a psychological examination instead.”

Pink dusted her cheeks at his comment. It had been a long time since she’d considered just how unusual her crewmates were, but Law’s tone certainly made her feel like an idiot. “Oh, shut up. I’m still not stripping; you can easily check me over fully-dressed.”

Blue, latex surgical gloves encased his tattooed hands with a resounding snap. “I can also easily use my powers to remove your clothes without your consent.”

She blanched at the threat. Maybe he was bluffing, but she didn’t trust Law enough to believe he couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. Most of what she knew about him was through rumors and news articles, and none of them painted a pretty picture. Pirates—with the notable exception of her crew—were unscrupulous bastards, and the ones with Devil Fruits especially so. Besides that, men always seemed to find a way to use those weird powers for perverted purposes, so with how little she knew of Law’s particular abilities, it was better to err on the side of caution.

Teeth sinking into her lip, she hesitantly peeled off her shorts and top before kicking off her sandals, leaving her in nothing but her lacy white bra and panties. The infirmary’s cold air made goosebumps raise across her exposed flesh, or maybe it was the way the Dark Doctor studied her. It was at least comforting that his expression was serious and clinical; had there been even a hint of lust in his gold eyes, she would have slapped him, Supernova or not. “Try to cop a feel and I’ll not only bash your head in, but charge you 1 million belli,” she warned.

“Violent tendencies and delusions. Perhaps I’ve made a mistake recruiting you,” he said blandly, picking up a clipboard and beginning to fill in a chart.

Crossing her arms over her chest, she replied, “Then how about we consider the debt squared and you let me go?”

Lips curling upwards, he stalked forward, long legs invading her personal space in only a few strides. Brown eyes widening, Nami instinctively backed away, but soon found herself trapped against the wall with no choice but to look up at the imposing man before her. This close, there was no escaping his scrutiny, and she held her breath, waiting for him to attack.

“Unlucky for you, your pros far outweigh your cons. Now stand up straight; I’m trying to check your height.”

She blinked, then glanced to her left to find she was indeed next to a height chart. “Oh.”

With an amused chuckle, he backed off, jotting her measurements in his notebook. “You have nothing to fear in my infirmary, Nami-ya; in here, you’re my patient first and foremost. The Pirate Empress herself could be standing naked in front of me and I’d see her as nothing more than a body to examine.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” she challenged, even as she released the air from her strained lungs.

Bruskly and efficiently, the tattooed doctor proceeded to check her vitals, peering into her ears and mouth, observing the dilation of her eyes, and pressing along her throat in search of any irregularities or swelling. Though she tensed every time his hands touched her, they never lingered or strayed anywhere they shouldn’t. It helped that, while she could feel body heat through the material, the latex gloves provided a thin barrier between his fingers and her skin, making everything more impersonal. His expression, too, never changed, remaining stoic and professional. There was no evidence of his hungry stare from earlier, and though trust was still a long way off, Nami slowly started to give him the benefit of the doubt. That didn’t mean she wasn’t on her guard, though; the first inappropriate touch or innuendo, and she’d teach the man why even the Straw Hats’ Monster Trio feared her.

Wrapping the strap of a blood pressure gauge around her bicep, Law asked, “What’s your blood type?”

“X.”

“Good. Mugiwara-ya and Jinbei used up most of my type-F reserves, so if you got injured and needed a transfusion, you’d be shit out of luck until I can restock. Type-X is far more common, but I’ll still ask you to donate a pint of blood as a precaution.”

Orange eyebrows furrowed suspiciously. “You’re not going to do anything weird with it, right?”

“Damn, you’ve caught on to my plan to use your blood to ritualistically summon a hell-beast to help me take over the Grand Line,” he replied sarcastically, not looking up from the little pressure gauge as he steadily pumped.

Her cheeks puffed in indignation. “Hey, I travel with a talking skeleton, room with a woman who can sprout body parts anywhere, and regularly watch my captain’s body defy the laws of physics thanks to Devil Fruit. I may not believe in any of that superstitious crap, but that doesn’t mean your abilities couldn’t somehow use my blood against me.”

Removing the gauge and writing on her chart, he snorted. “I assure you, the Ope-Ope Fruit can’t use your blood like that. At least, not in any way I’ve tried, and I’ve experimented extensively.” Taking out a thermometer, he motioned for her to open her mouth. “Its powers revolve around space manipulation. Once I activate my Room, everything inside it is in my control. For example, say you were pointing a gun at me; I could switch the gun with whatever I had in my hand and shoot you instead. That’s not really my style, though; so anti-climactic. I’d rather remove your organs and replace them with bombs. Or perhaps rearrange your limbs so your legs are on your shoulders and your arms backwards on your hips. And of course, there’s always the old standby; ripping out your still-beating heart.”

She let out a squeak of fear around the thermometer, which coaxed a chuckle from the doctor. A glint of his old sadism had returned to his eyes, though it quickly vanished as he resumed his work. “Lucky for you, I save such things for my enemies, not my crew or patients.” His brow furrowed as her studied her temperature. “You run a little hot, Nami-ya, but you don’t seem to have a fever, so I’ll assume this is your norm.”

Jerking her head back, she mumbled, “You do that.”

Moving the stethoscope to her chest, he sighed. “Your heart’s pounding. I’d hoped you would have calmed down by this point so I could check it properly.”

“Well, maybe you shouldn’t have told me about all the horrible ways you could kill me with your powers!” she snapped. She was seriously second-guessing the doctor’s sanity; of course her heart was racing like a cornered rabbit’s, especially considering she now had terrifying confirmation that those horror stories about gruesome deaths weren’t just hearsay. The images he’d conjured sent a shiver down her spine. She’d always rivaled Usopp in terms of coming up with horrible scenarios, but Law’s sick creativity put even her worst nightmares to shame. She really hoped he was serious about not seeing her as an enemy.

“Please, that’s not even the worst of what I can do. But I suppose you have a point; I’ll endeavor to avoid such topics next time I give you a check-up.” Backing off a few paces, he made another note on his chart. “And now for the personal questions; any hereditary diseases or illness-related deaths in your family history?”

Nami grimaced, rubbing her arms. She really didn’t want to discuss her past with the likes of Trafalgar Law, but she understood the necessity of the question. “I wouldn’t know; I was found as a baby by a Marine in a ruined village. I have no clue who my birth parents are, and I’ve never really cared to find out. My adopted mother and sister were enough.”

That seemed to catch his interest, as amber eyes studied her closely. “Do you at least know what island you were found on?” When she shook her head, he made another note. “I’ll have to take a blood sample to run some tests on, then. It’s possible everyone was wiped out in a war or some natural disaster, I’ve also known of a city or two that the World Government that razed to the ground under the claim that the people carried infectious diseases,” he said, surprising her with the bitterness in his voice.

“You think I might be carrying something?”

“No, I’m just curious if you’re from one of them. If your village had succumbed to plague, I doubt any Marine would have risked relocating you and spreading it, baby or not.”

The scratch of his pen was the only sound between them for a few moments, the air tense—Nami could tell she’d stumbled onto a sensitive topic, and though she was curious, she knew better than to pry. Finally, the deep furrow on his brow smoothed out, professionalism resuming. “Your weather attacks—are those the result of eating a Devil Fruit?”

“No, I’m a normal human. If you don’t believe me, I’m happy to swim a few laps outside.”

“That won’t be necessary. Any notable past illnesses?”

“Nearly died from a Kestia bite.”

He actually paused, looking up from his clipboard. “Those went extinct over a hundred years ago.”

“Not on Little Garden they didn’t. Luckily Dr. Kureha still had some antibiotics for it.”

“Dr. Kureha? From Drum Island?” He sounded genuinely impressed, and Nami had to chuckle at how pleased Chopper would be to know that even the Surgeon of Death admired his old mentor.

“Yeah, she treated me and was the one who trained our ship’s doctor.”

“Well, you’re just getting more intriguing by the minute, Nami-ya,” he said with a small, sly grin, posture relaxing as he crossed his long legs. “A mysterious past, the ability to manipulate the weather in battle without a Devil Fruit, surviving prehistoric diseases, treatment from one of the most acclaimed and infamous doctors on the Grand Line—you’re definitely more than a pretty face.”

Unbidden, a proud smirk lifted the corner of her pink lips. “And don’t you forget it.”

“Oh, trust me, I won’t.” The amusement on his face vanished as he looked at the next page of his chart, his mouth twisting into a grimace. “In the interest of you not slapping me, you should know I’m about to ask some rather…delicate questions.”

“Taking the warnings of asking a lady’s weight seriously?” she joked weakly, rubbing her arms. For the most part, she’d gotten used to the infirmary’s chill, but Law’s gaze somehow continued to raise goosebumps along her arms.

“More like a rundown of your sexual history.” At her aghast expression, he held up his hands placatingly. “I need to know if I should check you for sexually transmitted diseases and what kind of birth control you take. Believe me, I’ve had to have this conversation with everyone on my crew, male and female. Now—and I’m going to need you to be honest—how sexually active are you?”

“I’m not.”

He raised a disbelieving eyebrow at that, making her blush. “I know I flirt and tease, but I’ve never let a guy get past third base!” Somehow, she found herself embarrassed and feeling defensive; there was nothing wrong with being a virgin, and she had plenty of reasons for it, and what right did Law have to judge her? Before she could stop herself, nerves took over, and she continued, “When you’re as good as I am, you don’t need to do more than bat your eyelashes to con a guy, so sex has never been necessary. It’s not exactly easy to have a relationship while travelling the Grand Line, either, and I’m not the kind of girl who likes one-night stands. Most of the guys that come onto me are gross, anyway. You ever have a creep with a lion’s muzzle sewed on his face try to force you to marry him? Stuff like that makes abstinence real appealing.”

“I’m not judging, Nami-ya; just surprised,” he said, interrupting her tirade. A severe frown darkened his face. “Though I now have to ask—”

Her fury cooled at his implication. “Sanji-kun saved me before anything could happen. I even had Chopper do an examination to make sure I wasn’t assaulted while unconscious.” She shuddered at the memory. Absalom might have been soundly trounced by the amorous cook, but that near-miss had been a stark reminder of how dangerous it was being a beautiful woman on the high seas. Not all her admirers were going to be good-natured, relatively harmless perverts like Sanji and Brook. Nor would she always find herself at the mercy of creatures who would never be physically attracted to her, like the Fishman Pirates.

So as proud as she was of her body, and as much as she loved using her looks to her advantage, the danger of attracting the wrong kind of attention was never far from her mind.

Nodding in confirmation, Law scribbled another note on her chart. “Are you on any form of birth control?”

“Chopper always made me some, but I couldn’t tell you exactly what he gave me. I haven’t been able to take it since Sabaody, anyway.”

“I’ve got a few options we can work with but notify me if you find yourself having any side effects or unusual symptoms. Once we know exactly what your body can handle, I can give you an injection that’ll last you at least a year; that way, you won’t have to worry about taking a pill every day or missing doses. You might not be sexually active, but a woman can never be too careful.”

Pleasantly surprised at how professional and forward-thinking he was being, Nami allowed herself to relax just the slightest bit. With his thinly veiled request for sexual favors up on the deck, she’d written him off as another creep, but maybe he’d just been testing her resolve? The Law she was dealing with now was far less intimidating, and while he was certainly cold and sarcastic, if he kept treating her like this, perhaps working for him for the next year wouldn’t be so bad after all.

The Surgeon of Death was dangerous, not just because of his abilities and status as a Supernova, but because he was, in his own way, quite attractive. Questionable fashion choices aside, he was the epitome of tall, dark, and sexy. His irises glittered like treasure, his voice was smooth and deep, and his perfectly groomed sideburns and goatee showed he took pride in his appearance. He was long and lean and walked with a sure, predatory grace. It was his confidence that pulled her in like a magnet, though; it was quiet assurance of his own ability, that easy smirk proclaiming he knew he was far above everyone else’s level as loudly as Luffy would scream about becoming the Pirate King.

Despite his appeal, Nami refused to let herself give in to physical desire. For her, rule number one was not to mix business with pleasure. Thus, she hoped his earlier flirting had just been a test, because spending a year under his command could end up being a test to her iron-clad control. If he managed to get under her skin, earn even a fraction of her trust, it would be so much harder to resist.

Another note was made on her chart before Law ushered her towards the center of the room. “Now that we’ve got that unpleasantness out of the way, turn around and touch your toes; I want to check your back for scoliosis and spinal irregularities.”

Instinct told her he just wanted to check out her ass, but she found it was easier for her rational mind to calm her nerves. Not that she wasn’t immediately put on edge when she felt his gloved fingers run down her spine, though it felt different from her usual fight-or-flight reaction. The shiver that rocked through her she desperately wanted to say was due to the cold, but the heat that lingered on her skin said otherwise.

“Spine looks good, Nami-ya, and I’m impressed at how flexible you are. I’m sure it’s advantageous in a fight or sneaking around.” The muscles of her back jumped as the icy head of the stethoscope pressed against them. “Take a deep breath.”

She did so, forcing her heart to remain steady. If she panicked again they’d be at this all day, and even if she no longer believed Law was looking to jump her the second she gave him an opening, she still had better things to do than stand around in her underwear.

“Glad to hear your heart isn’t about to beat out of your chest anymore. Good lung capacity, too.” Coaxing her to straighten up, she could feel his calculating gaze on her arm. “Who did your tattoo?”

“Dr. Nako of Cocoyashi Village, about a year ago.”

“Was he also the one who sewed up these cuts?” he asked, thumb trailing over one of the pale scars on her shoulder. The heat of his touch was instantly snuffed out as his fingers inadvertently traced the invisible pattern of Arlong’s Jolly Roger, and the Fishman’s cruel laugh echoed in her mind.

Flinching away, Nami grabbed her arm instinctively. “H-he did.”

Sensing they were straying from the comfortable bubble they’d built, Law simply nodded, again going back to his chart. She suspected he wanted to ask how she got such an injury; any decent doctor could tell it was self-inflicted just from the angle, but instead he stated, “I’ll assume the tattoo was done with sterile equipment, then, and I won’t have to check you for tetanus and the like. I’ve seen more than a few back-alley tattoos turn septic. I commend his work; very neat, and you could almost miss the scars if you’re not looking for them.”

“Who does yours?” she asked, eager to change the subject. Thoughts of her past were floating far too close to the surface for her taste. Hoping to banish her former captain’s ghost, cocoa eyes focused on Law’s fingers, easily imagining the bold, black letters beneath the blue latex. “Considering how a surgeon’s hands are his most valuable tool, I’m surprised you even took the risk. Was looking edgy really worth it?”

Leading her over to the table, he helped her hop up, smirking at the verbal jab. “Oh, it was absolutely worth it; the look on people’s faces when they see a doctor with DEATH on his hands is priceless. Ikkaku does all my tattoos. You’ll meet her soon; she’ll be your roommate during your stay. I think she’ll be happy to have another woman aboard.”

Nami sighed in relief. She hadn’t sailed with an all-male crew since entering the Grand Line, and she hadn’t been really looking forward to doing it again. Perhaps this Ikkaku woman would make her miss Robin a little less. “I certainly will be.”

“And here I assumed you’d want a ship full of men you could easily manipulate,” he said, grin widening.

Winking, she replied, “Oh, I do, but that gets boring after a while. I need someone who can talk to me without staring at my breasts.”

“What makes you think she won’t?”

That actually coaxed a small laugh out of her. “Then at least it’s someone I can hopefully borrow clothes from. I’m not looking forward to wearing the same outfit every day, and before you say it—no, I’m not wearing your crew’s uniform. They’re not cute, and bulky jumpsuits like that are terrible for sneaking around.” Secretly, it wasn’t even the ugliness of the suits that repelled her—it was the Heart Pirate’s Jolly Roger she’d seen emblazoned across the front and back. She may have agreed to a partnership, but she refused to wear another crew’s insignia. It made her think too much of Arlong, and how he’d forced her to walk around with that horrible tattoo. He might as well have branded her like cattle, showing how little he thought of humans.

It was one of the reasons she respected Luffy as her captain—he’d never even considered placing such a mark of ownership on his crew.

Nami had expected a fight, but the doctor merely thought it over before nodding. “I suppose I can give you that freedom; with your high internal body temp, I’d be concerned about you overheating. The sub gets pretty hot when we’ve been underwater too long, and Bepo certainly suffers for it. I’ll supply you a uniform for when we’re on islands with colder climates, but otherwise, I won’t hold you to the normal dress code.”

Pleasantly surprised at his leniency, she allowed him to gently push her back so she lay on the table, arms positioned above her head. Again, she blanched at how provocative the position was, but Law completely ignored the way her chest was thrust out, his hands instead poking and prodding at her stomach, carefully checking for any unusual lumps or organ placement. The muscles twitched slightly at his ministrations, and Law gave her a considering look. “Sensitive, Nami-ya?”

“Maybe a little ticklish,” she said, eyebrow raised, daring him to make an off-color comment.

A non-committal hum was her only response. Part of the fiery cartographer wanted to be insulted at how unaffected he seemed to be at having a beautiful woman like herself sprawled out before him clad only in her underwear. He hadn’t even given her a breast exam! She swiftly shoved that feeling down, though. How irrational could she get? Just ten minutes ago she saw him as a threat, and now she actually wanted him to lust after her? Clearly, the stress of the day was getting to her.

Upon finishing his inspection, Law held out a hand, helping her off the table. “Seems I can give you a clean bill of health,” he said, scratching a few more notes on her chart before handing over her clothes.

As she quickly dressed, the Supernova busied himself with filing her information away, giving her a small semblance of privacy.

“Just so you know, the majority of the crew knows basic first aid, but I’ll still expect you to report any injuries or illness to me. We’re in close quarters and sickness spreads quickly, so if you get so much as a cold, you’re quarantined until I give the all-clear. I take my crew’s well-being very seriously, so this is non-negotiable. In fact, most of my rules are. Uniform aside, I’m not in the habit of giving out special privileges without good reason. I want you to be aware that I won’t tolerate reckless defiance or ignoring my orders. As your doctor and captain, it’s in your best interest to do as I say without question. Do you understand?” he asked, turning to frown at her sternly.

“Absolutely,” she agreed, holding up her hands in surrender. She couldn’t guarantee she wouldn’t argue if she found a rule stupid, or try to get around them, but she understood there were limits, and it was best to pick her battles. Once she had a better understanding of the captain and crew, she’d have more wiggle-room and loopholes to work with.

She was momentarily distracted by the sight of the Dark Doctor’s white teeth gripping the edge of one of his surgical gloves, carefully pulling the tight latex off his hand. It was surprisingly arousing, seeing the tattooed, olive skin slowly emerge back into the light, his lips lightly brushing the newly-exposed flesh.

An image of him taking her clothes off like that popped into her mind, and she nearly slapped herself. Keep it together, girl! Nami scolded herself. Remember rule number one!

Not noticing her staring, or possibly just ignoring it, he tossed the gloves into the trash. “Good. I watched Mugiwara-ya nearly undo all my hard work, running around like a madman after I’d spent hours saving his life. I’d like to think you’re a bit more sensible.”

“A rock is more sensible than Luffy,” she said dryly, which earned her a slight smirk. Shrugging off his lab coat, he led her out of the infirmary, chuckling when she took a deep breath of the antiseptic-free air in the hallway.

A large, warm hand rested on the small of her back, and Nami jumped at the contact, turning to look up at the Heart Captain. His grin was lazy but confident, gold eyes once more regarding her with interest. No longer contained by the latex gloves, the heat of his palm radiated through the thin cotton of her shirt, seeping into her flesh.

“Shall I introduce you to the rest of the crew, Nami-ya?” he asked, long fingers curling around her waist when she instinctively attempted to step away. As if she were no more than a misbehaving kitten, he pulled her close, leaving little more than an inch of space between them. “They’d be heartbroken if they thought I was keeping you all to myself.”

Nami swallowed, pulse quickening as she realized something; Law had promised she had nothing to fear while in his infirmary.

He’d never said anything about outside it.

Chapter Text

The submarine’s grey steel walls, despite their immense size, felt claustrophobic and oppressive to Nami as Law led her towards the galley. Each step resulted in an echoing clank, the portholes peered out into the dark ocean, and the bright overhead lights felt artificial and stifling. It was nothing like the Thousand Sunny’s cheery design, with wide windows letting in sunlight, comfortingly creaking wooden floors, and lamps that gave off a warm glow.

Her discomfort wasn’t helped by the fact that Law’s rough hand was still on her back, despite her not-so-subtle attempts to dislodge it. It should have been easy; his palm was simply resting between her shoulder blades, not even gripping her, yet every time she shifted, squirmed, or tried to shake him off, he matched her movements precisely so he never lost contact for more than a second. It was almost irrational how much it bothered her. It was just a hand, but the way he’d gone from touching her no more than was professionally required to lingering physical contact had completely thrown her for a loop, and she didn’t like it. She prided herself for being able to read people and get a handle on anyone’s intentions, but the surgeon’s erratic shifts kept her guessing.

On top of that, his hand was just so warm. The heat seemed to seep into her spine and travel through her nervous system, flooding her with awareness of just how close he was. She was beginning to notice other things, too—the sharp tang of whatever soap he used, the fact that he was a full head taller than her despite her heels, the sharp lines of his profile, the way the gold hoops in his ears caught the light…

It was all very distracting, and Nami had to force herself to face forward so he wouldn’t catch her staring.

Calm and collected as anything, Law strolled through the hall at a leisurely pace, explaining, “My crew is twenty-strong—twenty-one if we include you—and they’ll all be eager to show you the ropes. They’re a lively bunch, and admirably loyal, so I’m sure you’ll feel right at home.”

“Hm,” she replied, tensing further at the number. Twenty men under the command of a dangerous Supernova sounded horrible. Sure, it wasn’t a massive number—Arlong’s crew had been larger than that—but she had no idea what kind of powers they had, their temperament, or what they’d think of sailing with a woman from a rival crew. Words like “lively” and “loyal” weren’t as comforting as he might think, either. Blackbeard was pretty lively, and his crew was certainly loyal to him—that didn’t make them any less a group of vicious monsters responsible for Whitebeard and Ace’s deaths.

Though they probably weren’t as bad as those bastards, the Heart Pirates still willingly followed a sadistic madman with his own list of sins. At Law’s command they killed, raided ships and islands, sold human organs on the black market, and more. For all she knew they would cheer him on if the surgeon decided to slice her to bits for his own amusement. On top of that, twenty men who spent their days at sea, stuck in close quarters with little female company might have…urges.

Swallowing hard, she refused to think like that; she and the Surgeon of Death had agreed to work together, and sexual services were definitely not part of the deal. Still, it was hard not to assume the worst—in the past she’d had the displeasure of witnessing a pirate crew mistreating female prisoners. It had been one of the very few times she’d been grateful to be part of the Fishman Pirates, as none of them even considered using her in such a manner, and Arlong had refused to prostitute her, despite his criminal contacts’ numerous suggestions once she started developing her womanly figure. Nami’s heart quickened as she vividly remembered the way the saw-nosed shark had ripped apart a crime lord who had insinuated she was the crew’s sex slave.

Crimson blood, hot and sticky, dripped from Arlong’s hand as the man’s mangled corpse collapsed at his feet, his skull brutally crushed by the Fishman’s monstrous strength.

“Wh—why did you do that?” she asked, trembling slightly. It wasn’t the worst thing she’d ever seen her captain do, but such a violent explosion of temper was rare. She wasn’t upset that the crime lord was dead; even at fourteen she knew what his leers and innuendos had meant. It was just…startling.

Turning towards his cartographer, Arlong gave her a sharp-toothed grin. “You didn’t think I’d let that scum disrespect you like that, did you?” With a strange gentleness, he patted her head like a kitten, chuckling when her orange hair stuck to the splotches of blood. “You may be part of an inferior species, but you’re my talented cartographer—not some whore to be passed around. I’ve seen the way men look at you, and I can promise, I’ll kill anyone who thinks about touching you.”

She swallowed hard. “Anyone?”

His piercing eyes gleamed as he playfully patted her cheek just hard enough to sting, the stench of blood making Nami’s stomach churn in disgust. “Of course! You’ve got a whole world’s worth of ocean charts to draw. I can’t let you get distracted by a lover. He might get some foolish idea about taking you away, and then who would raise the money to buy your village?” His grin was cruel and cheerful as he spoke, his voice amiable as he insistently led her back to her chart room. “I’m just looking out for your best interests. After all, we’re shipmates.”

Likely feeling just how taut her back muscles had become, Law’s molten palm retreated slightly, fingers instead rubbing small circles against her spine. “I don’t blame you for being distrustful, but you have nothing to fear from my men; for the next year, you’re one of us, remember?”

Fists clenched at her sides at his words, polished nails digging into her palms. “We may be working together, but I’m still a Straw Hat, so don’t get all chummy,” she replied tersely.

“I’ll tolerate that answer for now, Nami-ya, but I’m expecting a change in tone once you’ve settled in. We have a deal—”

Her voice was pure sass as she stated, “Pretty sure my exact words were ‘I work with your crew for one year; not a day more.’ I never said anything about actually joining the Heart Pirates.”

Upon realizing she spoke the truth, he scowled. “Sneaky minx,” he grumbled, halting their progress so he could grab her chin, lifting it so she had no choice but to meet his arctic stare. “Then let’s clarify things; you work with my crew and for me. Even if you don’t call us shipmates, it’s in your best interest to banish any thoughts of betrayal or manipulation. If I think you’re plotting against me and mine, I’ll deliver you to the nearest Marine base in pieces. Your bounty’s not much, and you’re more useful to me as a partner than a prisoner, but I won’t hesitate if you bring any harm to my crew. Are we clear?”

Pulse thundering in her ears, she swallowed harshly. His tone had been even and soft, but those eyes promised unimaginable pain should she cross him. “Crystal.”

Releasing her chin, he resumed leading her down the hall. “Good. That being said, so long as you cooperate, you can count on our protection. We look after our own here, and whether you like it or not, they’ll probably see you as one of us quickly enough.”

But I don’t want to be one of you, she thought sourly. What right did Law even have to call her part of his crew? Luffy’d had to earn that loyalty by defeating the terror of the East Blue and saving her village. Then again, he’d declared her his nakama long before she’d officially joined, despite her protestations. It was startling to think that he and Law had anything in common personality-wise, but perhaps that blind stubbornness was a necessary trait for a Supernova.

Arriving at the galley, Nami knew she had no choice but to put on a brave face and hope she could worm her way out of trouble. Stomach twisting, she could easily imagine a band of gruff, ugly men in identical jumpsuits leering at her like she was a piece of meat ready to be devoured. Her feet itched to run away, but the hand on her back made it clear there was no way to go but forward. Taking a deep breath, the navigator braced herself for whatever monsters she was about to encounter as Law opened the steel door.

The pair froze as they entered the mess hall, gob smacked at the huge, hanging banner proclaiming “Welcome Cat Thief Nami!” in bold, orange letters, cute little cartoon cats drawn in each corner. Sparkly streamers dangled from the ceiling while black and yellow balloons floated about the room. Colorful confetti fluttered through the air as the whole crew struck elaborate poses. Some stood on tables, others were sprawled across the floor, and one was even hanging upside down from a ceiling lamp.

“Welcome to the crew!” they shouted in unison, ecstatic grins splitting their cheerful faces.

Law facepalmed. “They always go overboard,” he muttered, though there was an undertone of begrudging affection in his voice.

“When did they even have time to plan this?” Nami asked, utterly flabbergasted at the joyous, energetic greeting. It felt like something Luffy and Franky would set up, not the murderous followers of the Surgeon of Death. Really, they seemed less like pirates and more like a band of goofy dorks. It was…kind of a relief, if she were honest. She could feel the cold dread from before dissolving, gradually being replaced by mild amusement. “Lively” was definitely an apt word for them.

“I’m guessing during your check-up. Word of you joining traveled fast. Not every day we get a defector from another crew.”

She glared at him. “I’m not—”

Ignoring her anger, he slung a lanky arm around her shoulders. “Everyone, though you clearly already know, I’d like to formally introduce you to Nami-ya. She’ll be sailing with us for the next year, so you should all start keeping a closer eye on your wallets.”

The thief continued to scowl at the captain, who merely glanced down at her with a smug smirk.

All at once, his crew began shouting.

“This is awesome!”

“Why’s she only with us for a year?”

“Thank the gods, we’ve finally got a woman aboard!”

“Oi, what am I, chopped liver?!” an angry, feminine voice responded.

“Man, Captain got the Cat Thief Nami to join our crew! Talk about amazing!”

“That’s Captain Law for you!”

“Think she’ll sign her wanted poster for me?”

“Is she single?!”

Mentally rolling her eyes at that last question, Nami shrugged off Law’s arm and gave them all her most charming grin, clasping her hands together in a way she knew artfully enhanced her cleavage. Their joyful greeting made her feel less wary, and she decided to test the waters with her feminine wiles. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all! Please take care of me,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes demurely.

Instantly, she could see several of the men blush and swoon, a few muttering about how pretty she was. One even had hearts in his eyes, and it reminded her so much of Sanji her chest clenched. Annoying as the cook’s fawning could sometimes be, it was also something she’d come to find comfortably familiar, and she knew the affection was genuine—as it was with every woman he laid eyes on.

Two years, she reminded herself. I’ll see them all again in just two years.

Movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, and she turned to find Law slowly shaking his head. “It’s like Amazon Lily all over again,” he grumbled, rolling his eyes.

Nami cocked her eyebrow at that. Of course she’d heard of Amazon Lily; it was one of the few charted islands in the Calm Belt, the home of the infamous Pirate Empress, and, admittedly, a place she’d once imagined running away to as a little girl. Bellemere had fascinated her and Nojiko with tales of the women-only island, sometimes even joining in their games when they’d pretended to be those fierce and beautiful warriors. After her death, it had seemed like a good place to escape the Fishmen, but the knowledge that Cocoyashi would suffer for the young navigator’s selfishness had quickly halted such thoughts.

The implication that the Heart Pirates had actually been to the island and lived definitely caught her interest, though. From what she’d heard about Boa Handcock, the shichibukai would never allow a man to so much as set foot on the beach. Even the Marines were said to only send female officers to deliver orders and negotiations.

Feeling her gaze, Law’s gold eyes flicked to her face, a lazy, confident grin once again settling on his lips. “Let’s sit you down and get you acclimated, Nami-ya.”

The mess hall was a decent size, with a large, rectangular table in the middle surrounded by four smaller round ones. All the furniture was metal, probably to avoid decay from the damp conditions, but the chairs sported black and yellow vinyl padding. At the head of the main table was a more elaborate seat, clearly the captain’s, the arms, back, and seat upholstered in black, studded leather. In the back was a shiny, chrome kitchen, the oven, refrigerator, and other appliances gleaming. Sitting prominently on the counter was a frankly enormous coffee machine, and Nami got the feeling it was the most-revered appliance in the room.

A large, white bear immediately rushed over to the offer her the spot to the left of the captain’s chair. Despite his intimidating size, his black button eyes, round, twitching ears, and bright orange jumpsuit made him look more like a giant stuffed animal than a dangerous arctic predator. He stuck out a huge, fuzzy paw, giving a shy smile. “My name’s Bepo; I’m the ship’s navigator.”

The orange-haired thief stared in shock. “A talking polar bear?”

“I’m sorry,” he said gloomily, hanging his head.

“Wha—no! I mean, it’s nice to meet you, Bepo!” Quickly, she grabbed his paw, shaking it firmly, careful to avoid scratching herself on his long claws. So easily defeated! Nami thought, a drop of sweat dripping down her brow. “I’m the navigator on my ship, so I’m sure we’ll have lots to talk about!”

He perked up a bit at that, taking the seat next to hers. “I’d like that. If you’re really staying a while, maybe I can show you the equipment we use for underwater surveillance. That is, if the captain is okay with it,” he said, nervously looking at Law as he twiddled his claws.

He waved his hand carelessly as he reclined in his chair. “I promised she’d get to study underwater currents, so consider it an order.”

Thrilled that he had permission, the bear grinned at Nami. “Then I’ll teach you to use it once you’re settled in.”

“Hey, quit hogging her, Bepo!” a man with “Penguin” printed across his hat scolded, sitting across from them. As if the word wasn’t enough, there was even what looked like a little plush penguin sewn on top of the hat, almost like a pom-pom.

“Yeah!” said the guy with ginger hair and a floppy pink and green hat. The sleeves of his jumpsuit were rolled up, revealing some scrollwork on his wrists, plus cross tattoos identical to Law’s. “The rest of us want to meet her, too.”

“I’m sorry.”

The first man grinned brightly at Nami. “I’m Penguin, and this is Shachi. I’m the first mate, so if you need anything, come right to me.”

“And I’m the second mate! I know this ship like the back of my hand, so if you’re looking for something, I’m your man!” said Shachi eagerly.

“She’d ask for my help before yours!”

“Like hell she would!”

The argument was quickly settled when a dark-haired woman marched up behind them, smacking them both upside the head. “Shut up, both of you!” she snapped, glaring down at the pair. “You keep bothering her and I’ll make sure you both wake up with ‘idiot’ tattooed across your foreheads.”

“Sorry, Ikkaku,” they grumbled.

Pleased at their submission, she gave Nami a winning smile. “Knowing the Captain, I’m guessing we’re going to be bunkmates, so it’s nice to meet you, Nami! I’m sure we’re going to get along great!”

Instantly, Nami knew she liked Ikkaku. Aside from being able to appreciate how the curly-haired woman managed to look stunning in that normally ugly boiler suit, so far, she was a kindred spirit; ready, willing, and able to smack some sense into the men around her. “The pleasure’s all mine. It’s good to know there’s an island or two of sanity in this sea of testosterone.”

“Ha! Feel free to join me and Bepo in the Don’t Lose It Over A Pretty Face Club. Captain’s a member, too, so you’re in good company.”

Nami was proud of herself for not wincing at the thought of being in any sort of club with the Surgeon of Death. “Are there regular meetings, or do we just sit in the corner and judge the guys whenever they talk about women?”

Letting out a boisterous laugh, Ikkaku winked. “Mostly judging at bars, but I wouldn’t say no to weekly sessions, especially if a bottle of wine’s involved.”

“Then count me in.”

As they spoke, a few of the crew set about serving the evening’s meal. The savory smell of stew tickled her nose, and her stomach growled loudly, reminding her she hadn’t eaten since mid-morning. Blowing gently on the spoon before taking a tentative sip, she could admit it was good and hearty, but paled in comparison to Sanji’s cooking. It was amazing just how easily she could pick out the differences; he probably would have added more black pepper and gone easier on the garlic, plus added a half-cup of red wine to the broth for extra body.

Memories of the love-sick cook’s specially prepared dishes, full of nutrients and flavor and designed to not let a single scrap of food go to waste, danced across her mind. She suddenly missed the evening meals with her crew, hectic as they were; watching Zoro and Sanji’s offhanded jibes evolve into an all-out fight, guarding her plate from Luffy’s greedy hands, listening to Franky argue with Chopper that Cola was perfectly nutritious while Brooke and Robin quietly observed the chaos with amusement.

“Is it not to your taste?” a man with a bandana around the bottom half of his face asked.

Startled from her thoughts, she realized she’d been frowning at the bowl. Her time in Luffy’s crew really had changed her; she used to be so much harder to read. “Oh! No, it’s fine! Sorry, I was…thinking of something else.” Eyes darting around, her gaze landed on a basket of rolls. “Could you pass me those? Stew’s just not the same without some bread to dip in it,” she said, plastering on a disarming smile.

“Here,” Shachi said, quickly passing her the basket. “Just keep them away from the captain.”

Glancing at him in confusion, she could have laughed at the way Law’s face twisted in disgust. “I hate bread,” he grumbled, glaring at the rolls as if they were personally responsible for every disease, war, and disaster the world had ever faced.

A tiny giggle did escape her lips. Who would have thought the big, bad Supernova could be so childish? Honestly, how could someone hate bread?

Noticing her expression, the captain gave her an annoyed look. “What? Are you saying there aren’t any foods you find absolutely repulsive, Nami-ya?”

She shrugged. “I mean, I’m not a fan of orangettes. If I wanted fruit, I’d just eat plain fruit.”

A devious smirk lifted the corners of his lips. “Good to know.”

“Careful; Captain’s pretty mean when it comes to punishments,” Bepo whispered softly in her ear. “If you piss him off, you might find yourself only eating orangettes for a week.”

Unpleasant as that prospect sounded, she was mostly surprised that he wasn’t more inclined to dismemberment as a form of discipline. Maybe he just didn’t want to risk his crew losing efficiency due to being in pieces. Or maybe it was hard to stay mad at a bunch of goofballs like them.

Amazingly, dinner continued to go smoothly. Not a single person gave her untoward looks or so much as hinted that they planned to harm or mistreat her. Shachi and Penguin made an embarrassing spectacle of themselves with their clumsy attempts to flirt, while Ikkaku loudly mocked them from her own table. Bepo told her more about the ship’s state-of-the-art navigational equipment, Nami listening with rapt attention as she imagined all the charts she’d be able to draw. Around her, the crew chatted and joked and shared stories of their adventures, more than a few of them ending with Law saving the day with one of his brilliant plans and incredible powers. Oddly, the thief didn’t get the impression that they were just trying to talk up their captain—the praise seemed genuine. The Dark Doctor, for his part, ate quietly, adding in the occasional comment or correction, but otherwise was a pillar of calm among his rambunctious crew. A ghost of a smile even tugged at his lips a few times, and she wouldn’t lie and say that the way his features had softened didn’t make him look a little less creepy.

Towards the end of the meal, a ridiculously large man approached, and Nami was honestly surprised anyone could have made a jumpsuit in his size. She was more impressed by the fact that, despite being twice Law’s height and wider than two Frankys, she’d barely even noticed him, as he’d been sitting quietly in the back of the mess hall. “Nami-san, my name’s Jean Bart.”

Recognition dawned on her, the man’s forehead tattoos and wild hair finally lining up in her memory. “Wait, you were one of the Celestial Dragons’ slaves, weren’t you?”

“Yeah. The Captain here freed me and took me on as his helmsman.”

Law gave a shrug as he took another bite of stew, once more indifferent to his subordinates’ praise. “I told you, half the credit goes to Mugiwara-ya.”

“That it does,” he wholeheartedly agreed. “None of it would have happened if Straw Hat hadn’t been gutsy enough to punch Saint Charlos and cause all that chaos at the auction house. I wanted to make sure you knew that you can count on me to keep you safe, Nami-san. It’s the least I can do to repay him,” the big man said with a deep, respectful bow.

The thief had to smile. Once again, that idiot makes a friend in the strangest way, she thought fondly. “I appreciate it, and when I see him, I’ll pass your thanks on to Luffy.” The man might have the face of a thug, but if he owed a debt to her captain, she was willing to put a little bit of faith in Jean Bart’s promise. The pleased smile he gave further reassured her of his good intentions.

Really, Nami had to admit she was beginning to enjoy herself. As much as their energy and enthusiasm threw her off guard and made her miss her nakama, they were clearly doing their best to make her feel welcome. Sure, it could all be some elaborate setup, but what would be the point? If they held ill intentions, she was basically trapped underwater with them, leaving no reason to play nice. Either they were planning some really long con, or they were as sweet and goofy as they appeared.

As dinner started to wind down, the beautiful navigator let out a startled shriek as the room was engulfed in a strange blue light, her empty bowl vanishing before her eyes, a wet cleaning rag falling before her with a splat. The Heart Pirates, particularly the captain, seemed amused by her reaction.

“Damn, Law, you should warn the poor girl before you show off your powers!” Penguin sniggered.

“And you could have put our bowls in the sink, too, while you were at it,” Shachi added jokingly.

The surgeon merely smirked. “What, and deny her the traditional Heart Pirate initiation?”

Bepo turned to the bemused woman between them, who was frantically looking around, trying to figure out what had just happened. “Captain always likes to scare new recruits with his powers. You’re lucky he switching it with a dishrag—the last guy got his coffee switched with a still-moving hand.”

Recalling Law’s explanation in the infirmary, she nodded in understanding, even as she shuddered at the image. “So, is my ‘initiation’ over with, or should I brace myself for worse?” she asked suspiciously.

The Dark Doctor’s grin widened, a mischievous gleam in his amber eyes. “Where’s the fun in telling?” Getting up from his seat, he held a hand out to Nami. “I’ll escort you to your quarters.”

A chorus of disappointed comments filled the room as she waved him off. “I’m sure one of your crew can do it. You’ve spent enough time playing tour guide today.”

“They could, but they’re all going to be a bit busy cleaning up the damn confetti they blasted all over the galley,” he said, giving the group a stern look. “And God help you all if I find even a crumb of bread on my end of the table.”

“Yes, Captain,” they replied sadly.

Realizing she’d get no rescue from her fate, Nami stood up with a sigh, ignoring Law’s extended hand. Admittedly, she was a bit more comfortable with the man after seeing him interact with his crew. Yes, he was certainly still a sadist and undeniably creepy, but his men clearly adored him, and she suspected he returned that affection in his own, more subtle way—kind of like how Zoro treated Luffy.

That didn’t mean she was going to let him have his way so easily. He still wasn’t her captain, and even Luffy knew not to try and boss her around. “Fine, but if you pull anything else in the name of ‘initiation,’ I’m charging you for the emotional distress.”

“Where’s your sense of adventure, Nami-ya?”

“I never needed one—Luffy’s was enough for the whole crew.”

“Fair enough, but out of curiosity, how much would you charge me if I, say, started juggling severed heads in front of you?”

She gave him a saccharine smile. “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

“Hey, Nami, once I’m finished here, we’ll see about getting you some clothes,” Ikkaku called out, looking quite entertained at the way the navigator sassed her captain. “I’ve at least got a nightshirt or two you can borrow.”

Giving a nod of thanks and a wave goodbye to the rest of the crew, she strolled out of the galley, full of food and infinitely more relaxed as the men bid her a good night. They were definitely not what she’d anticipated. Part of her felt she shouldn’t be surprised; nothing had been turning out as expected that day. Why should her assumption that the Heart Pirates were a bunch of vicious psychopaths ready to watch her be raped and mutilated be correct?

Mostly, she was relieved. For the most part, they seemed like decent people, despite being pirates. The upcoming year was beginning to look a bit less daunting.

“Didn’t I say they’d take to you quickly?” Law asked, unable to keep the self-satisfied amusement out of his voice. This time, he didn’t lead her around, hands instead shoved deeply into his jean pockets as he strolled along beside her.

Maybe she was just tired, but his smirk wasn’t as infuriating as it was earlier. “Well, you’d know your crew better than I would,” she conceded with a slight shrug. “They’re certainly as lively and loyal as you promised.”

“It’s exhausting sometimes, but I couldn’t ask for a better team. They’re suckers for a pretty face, so I expect at least half of them are already wrapped around your little finger.”

Nami sniggered. “Only half? I’m out of practice, then.”

“Just do me a favor and let them down easy; some of them get mopey when they’re rejected.”

“Does that include yourself?” she teased. An hour ago, she wouldn’t have even considered making such a joke, but she wanted to get some sort of read on him, especially in regards to her. The man was a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and she needed to know how to navigate the so far unpredictable waters of his personality.

His smirk morphed into a sultry grin, amber eyes nearly glowing in the artificial light. “No, mainly because I don’t rush in like an idiot after every pretty face I see. When I’m truly interested in a woman, I assess the situation, devise a plan, and take my time making her want me.”

The low, husky timbre of his voice mixed with his smoky, hooded gaze made a faint blush rise to her cheeks. Something inside made her absolutely believe the man had the patience and skills to do precisely what he said. A vision of Law caging her against the wall, whispering promises of dark pleasure in her ear while his hands danced across her exposed skin popped into the forefront of her mind. Nami forced it back, though; whether or not he was referring to her, she wouldn’t take the bait. For the next year, this man was supposed to be her ally, and after that, her enemy. Getting involved, physically or emotionally, would only complicate matters.

So instead of acknowledging the spike of heat that shot between her legs or the way her pulse quickened, she replied breezily, “Well, at least I won’t walk in on you sobbing into a tub of ice cream, moaning about a broken heart. By the way, what are my actual duties?”

He seemed more amused at her description than annoyed at her casual brush-off. “Oh, I plan on keeping you busy. Off-ship, I’ll bring you along for the occasional con or burglary. Maybe you can help me negotiate better prices for my wares. While we’re at sea, you’ll have a fair share of chores and help navigate the ship, particularly when we’re above water. I also hear you can sense when a storm or natural calamity is coming, so of course you’ll be our early warning system. Most of all, I want you to help Bepo with his map-making skills. He’s a fine navigator, and his understanding of sea charts is excellent, but he’s not as skilled with more traditional, land-focused maps.”

Rubbing her chin thoughtfully, she nodded. “Fair enough, although first you’re going to have to apologize.”

“For what?”

An orange eyebrow arched high. “Mocking me earlier. A reindeer doctor is crazy, but a polar bear navigator isn’t?”

“Bepo’s more than just a bear—he’s a Mink. Also, I can’t imagine any creature with hooves instead of hands performing a medical examination.”

“Well, Chopper does a damn good job—”

“Chopper? Isn’t that your ship’s pet?”

“The wanted poster’s misleading. He’s a brilliant doctor trained by Dr. Kureha herself.”

“You’re telling me Dr. Kureha trained a Tanuki?”

“He’s a reindeer!” she insisted, hands fisting on her hips.

He snorted in disbelief. “I’m from the North Blue. I’ve seen reindeer. That’s a Tanuki.”

“He’ll tell you himself that he’s a reindeer!”

“A talking Tanuki will tell me he’s a reindeer? Now I know you’re crazy.”

She wanted to scream in frustration, but the gleam in his eye kept her from giving into the urge. That, and the shocking realization that the Surgeon of Death was messing with her. Whether or not he really believed Chopper was a Tanuki, he was only pushing the matter because he thought pissing her off was funny.

Upon arriving at the women’s quarters, he leaned against the doorframe, once more smirking lazily. “So, do you have any other questions for me?”

Several, but none that matter right now, she thought. “Nah, I’m good.”

“Then I’ll leave you to get some rest. If you need anything, Ikkaku should be able to help, and my quarters are just down the hall. Do your best to get a good night’s rest—I plan on making the most of having the Cat Thief on my crew.” He chuckled then, reaching forward to pluck a small piece of sparkly confetti from her mikan locks. A shiver rocked through her when his warm fingertips brushed her sensitive scalp and ear. “Sweet dreams, Nami-ya.”

Uncomfortable with how effortlessly he made her body react, she darted into her room, barely managing to hold herself back from slamming the door in his face.

Forcing her breathing to slow, she scanned the room. It was spartan but not oppressively so. Each side had a bed raised high enough to fit a dresser underneath, a small metal desk set at the foot of each. Between the beds was a small vanity with some basic makeup strewn about, the rectangular mirror simple but large enough for two people to share.

It was easy to tell Ikkaku’s was the left side; engine manuals and sketchbooks were piled on her desk, along with a toolbox that hadn’t been fully closed. The bed was a bit messy, the pale green comforter slightly wrinkled, as if it were thrown together in a hurry for the sake of neatening up for company. Above it was a poster with an assortment of designs and symbols, much like what one would find in a tattoo parlor.

On the right side of the room, someone had taken the time to make up Nami’s bed with a sunny yellow comforter, the white sheets beneath tucked in with sharp hospital corners. On top of the pillow was a little paper card proclaiming “Welcome, Nami!” with the ship’s Jolly Roger stamped on the bottom right corner. The desk and bureau were bare, and it struck her just how little she had to her name right now. Her clothes, books, equipment, maps, and treasure were all on board the Sunny, and she could only hope they weren’t ruined or stolen when she got back.

Hoisting herself onto the cot, Nami pulled her knees to her chest and let out a deep sigh. What should have been a simple settling of a debt had become so much more complicated. She couldn’t get a clear read on Law. The crew was disarmingly friendly. The ship wasn’t home, but it didn’t feel like a prison, either. Most troubling was that, despite her head constantly reminding her that the Dark Doctor was dangerous and shouldn’t be trusted, he still managed to invoke hot, physical reactions with little more than a slight touch.

She was just…confused, and she doubted that was going to change anytime soon.

Chapter Text

“So, tell me about your old captain.”

Nami looked up from the shirt she was altering to pay attention to her roommate. In just a month, she and Ikkaku had bonded splendidly, the engineer offering up her limited wardrobe to the navigator, even if the curly-haired beauty was much taller and not as well-endowed. Luckily, she gave Nami full permission to tailor a few of her old shirts to fit on the promise that they go shopping together after the next job. Law said he had something big planned, and everyone was eager to gain a little extra spending money.

“Old captain?”

Chin resting on her fist, the brunette grinned at her. “Yeah. I didn’t exactly get to talk to him, what with the life-threatening injuries and him grieving for his brother, but we’re all curious about Straw Hat. I mean, I can’t even imagine a guy crazy enough to punch a Celestial Dragon over a Fishman.”

It annoyed her slightly that, despite her repeated insistence that her position as their shipmate was temporary, the Heart Pirates treated her like she was fully part of their crew. They meant well, but it raised her hackles when they acted as if she was no longer a Straw Hat. “Luffy’s an odd one, that’s for sure. I guess the best way to describe him is pure and straightforward.”

Ikkaku wrinkled her nose. “‘Pure?’ Weird description for a pirate.”

“Yeah, it is, but I don’t mean in the sense that he’s all goodness and rainbows. He’s just…his wants and needs are uncomplicated. He loves his nakama, his dream is to be King of the Pirates, and he doesn’t care about your past—just how you act in the present. It’s the reason I choose to sail with him; normally, I hate pirates.”

“Why?”

Pursing her lips, Nami considered just how much to tell her new friend. The tattoo artist was fun and friendly and kind, but she wasn’t nakama. So, she settled on the essential details that hopefully wouldn’t invite more questions. “My mother was murdered by pirates, and they held my town hostage for years.”

Sympathy lined her face, mouth turning down at the corners. “I’m guessing the Marines didn’t do shit to help you.”

“A few tried but got killed for their efforts. Mostly, they were bribed to look the other way.”

“That sucks. I’m really sorry.” The words were simple but sincere, and it brought a small, appreciative smile to the navigator’s face.

“It’s in the past. Thanks to Luffy, everyone on the island is free and happy, and I’m out on the sea fulfilling my dream. He’s reckless and stupid and I’m pretty sure I’m going to get wrinkles before my time because of him, but I couldn’t ask for a better captain. I just have to make the most of these next two years so I’ll be strong enough to guide him through the New World.”

Ikkaku’s mouth twisted like she wanted to argue but held herself back. “Well, I’m glad he helped you out—otherwise, you’d still be stuck in that village, and we never would have met!” she said with a grin.

You have no idea, Nami thought to herself, standing up to slip on the now cropped button-down T-shirt. It was a bit tight at the top, necessitating the top three buttons remain open, but the pink and white plaid was super cute, and with her modifications it nicely accentuated her trim waist and ample bust. “How’d you end up on this ship, anyway?” she asked, hoping to change the subject.

Grabbing her bandana, Ikkaku playfully bumped her hip as they left the room. “Captain found me in a shit port town when the Polar Tang needed repairs. My boss at the time insisted the whole engine was about to fall apart and would need to be completely replaced. It was actually only a few parts, and I told him so. Boss was furious and sacked my ass, but Captain Law told me if I could fix it as easily as I said, he’d hire me on the spot. By the next day, I was officially a pirate.”

“What, so he didn’t just decide ‘she’s my engineer. I found her, so she’s mine’?” Nami asked, head tilted to the side in confusion.

“No, why would he?”

“Eh, Luffy just always seems to recruit people that way. No matter how you try to argue, once he decides you’re part of his crew, you’re done.”

“Not gonna lie, that actually sounds like a pretty pirate-like recruitment system.”

“Right? I think Brooke’s the only one who actually asked to join up—the rest of us were basically shanghaied.”

The two shared a hearty laugh as they parted ways, Ikkaku making her way to the engine room to oversee some maintenance, while Nami headed topside, determined to enjoy some fresh air. Shachi and Penguin had initially been reluctant to surface—they’d switched out the sub’s air earlier in the week and had no real need to do it again so soon—but she’d gone over their heads and appealed to Law, arguing that the last few times they’d done so, the weather had either been miserable, or they had to submerge again prematurely due to sighting a Navy ship. It was driving her bonkers, and Bepo was especially suffering. Luckily, the doctor had easily agreed, apparently considering the navigators’ comfort important enough to excuse the minor inconvenience.

Pushing open the steel door, she breathed in deeply, relishing the familiar scent of the sea and wind. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the crew was taking it as the perfect opportunity to decompress, both literally and figuratively. Bepo was particularly appreciative of the reprieve from the stuffy hull, having taken all the charts and maps onto the deck to work on. Sprawled on his belly, he carefully sketched out an island’s details like Nami had instructed, though it was clear from the way his eyelids kept drifting shut he was close to falling asleep. Meanwhile, Law lounged against him, head tilted back to absorb as much vitamin D as he could, fuzzy hat nowhere to be found. There was just enough of a breeze to keep Bepo’s fur from becoming uncomfortably hot, allowing the captain to fully enjoy this rare moment of relaxation.

The click of her heels against the metal deck woke him from a light doze, and he spared the Cat Thief a grin, nodding to the spot next to him against the bear. “Care to join us, Nami-ya?”

It never failed to surprise her whenever she caught Law using his navigator as a pillow. Though she’d finally accepted that, around his crew at least, there was more to the man than the sadistic monster the World Government made him out to be, it was still weird to see him do something so (dare she say it?) cute.

White teeth sank into her plump bottom lip as she considered his offer. On one hand, she enjoyed Bepo’s company; he was friendly, always grateful for her help, and so incredibly comfy she found herself wishing she could lay on him instead of her bed some nights. On the other hand, she’d have to sit next to Law. When there was work to be done, like plotting courses or planning supply runs, he maintained a respectful distance, treating her in a similar manner to his professionalism in the infirmary. But during downtown like this, she’d feel his sharp eyes lingering on her, his expression calculating before morphing into a lazy smirk once he realized she’d caught him. It put her on edge, not just because he was a dangerous man, but because his gaze never failed to ignite a small fire in her lower belly. She did her best to brush it off, reminding herself that, attractive though he may be, he was Luffy’s rival, his intentions towards her were still unknown, she didn’t mix business with pleasure, and no man was worth risking the safety of her nakama for.

Too bad none of that stopped the warm tingles of lust that sparked at his come-hither smirk or ostensibly innocent touches.

Sensing her reluctance, the surgeon pulled out his trump card; a small basket of ripe mikans. “Care for one? The cook got these on the last island, but said if they’re not eaten soon, they’ll go bad. I’d hate to see them go to waste.”

A sudden burst of homesickness washed over her; not just for Cocoyashi, but for her mikan grove aboard the Sunny. Unconsciously, her feet moved forward, and she soon found herself snuggled up against Bepo, the rough denim of Law’s jeans brushing against her bare leg; he’d moved little more than an inch to grant her room, not even bothering to hide the way his eyes trailed along the pale skin of her thighs exposed by her white shorts. Her own eyes narrowed in annoyance, but it quickly dissipated as he handed her the bright orange fruit.

“Eat up, Nami-ya; an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” Law chuckled before going back to sunning himself, a victorious smirk lifting the corner of his lip.

As much as she wanted to be aggravated at his teasing, the citrus scent tickled her nose enticingly as she instinctively began peeling the mikan. Mouth watering at the deliciously familiar smell, she licked her lips in anticipation before biting into a succulent slice.

She was in heaven the second the juices hit her tongue; the mikan was perfectly ripe, with a fresh tang that balanced out the sweetness beautifully. The cook was absolutely correct when he said they needed to be eaten now. Even a day later and they’d begin going over-ripe and soft, becoming saccharine and not as pleasant to eat. A little moan escaped her as the bits of flesh burst between her teeth, crewing carefully to savor every last moment.

A low laugh in her ear broke her from her mikan nirvana. “Sounds like you’re enjoying that, Nami-ya,” Law whispered suggestively, reaching over to boldly steal a slice.

Hot red spread across her cheeks as she tried to smack his hand away, but he was too quick. Not that it would have really stopped him; another thing she’d learned was that he wasn’t above using his powers for petty, inconsequential reasons, especially when he was in a playful mood. She’d seen him move his crew’s tools around, switch sugar for salt, and a few other things that were surprisingly juvenile. Part of her wanted to roll her eyes, but another part was mildly comforted by it; it was similar to how Luffy would use his Gomu Gomu abilities to steal food from the other side of the table or swing around the ship. Such frivolity painted a slightly lighter picture of the infamous Surgeon of Death.

“Hey Nami!” Shachi called as he practically skipped over, Penguin in tow. Despite the initial reluctance to surface, both seemed more chipper now that they were above water, the beautiful day doing its job. “Enjoying yourself?”

She shrugged, managing to force down her blush and replacing it with a carefree grin. “I’ve got sunshine, mikans, and Bepo as a pillow, so the day’s off to a good start.”

“Hey, I was wondering if you could clear up a rumor for me,” Penguin began, eyeing the fruit. “Do you really have mikan trees on your ship?”

Popping another slice in her mouth, she chirped, “Yup! They’re from my family’s mikan grove. I know it sounds odd, but it’s extremely beneficial; I get to carry a little piece of home with me wherever I go, and the crew has a ready supply of fruit so we’re safe from scurvy, vitamin deficiencies, and colds. It’s a struggle keeping Luffy from eating them all, but Sanji-kun’s developed at least sixteen different mikan dishes for me.” A frown tugged at her lips, both at the memory and a sudden thought. “I wonder if anyone’s caring for them now. They might all be dead by the time I get back.”

Though the sun shone brightly, the men could tell her mood had darkened. Clearing his throat, Shachi said, “I’m sure someone’s looking after them! What about that mermaid and octopus guy? Considering Straw Hat saved them from slavery, it’s the least they can do, right?”

Bepo was quick to chime in behind her, “Sabaody’s weather is consistently tropical, so I’m sure they’ll at least get watered. You’ll probably just have some pruning and stuff to do when you get back.”

The possibility that her trees might survive lifted her spirits a bit, and Penguin added, “Honestly, I’m kind of jealous. Wish we could have an orchard on the sub!”

Even though it was obviously just a ploy to distract her from melancholy thoughts, Nami was grateful. Rubbing her chin, she said, “Well, I doubt you could fit any trees, but maybe you could set up a greenhouse and garden? With how hot and steamy it gets in some of the rooms, you could potentially make a biodome and grow tropical plants.”

“That’s a good idea.” Scratching his muzzle, Bepo continued, “The engineering team has been developing some lights that simulate sunlight. Captain ordered it because when we’re underwater too long, the lack of sun causes some of the crew to get depressed, kind of like Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

Nami hummed thoughtfully. No wonder convincing him to surface had been so easy. “I can imagine. My body’s still adjusting to the lack of discernable day and night down there.”

Penguin nodded in agreement. “It’s easier when you’re from more wintery islands; we’re already used to days with less sunlight. Still, I’m liking the garden idea. Plants would supply more oxygen. We wouldn’t have to come up to switch out the air as often.”

“What?” the Mink said, panicking. “I take it back; it’s a bad idea! I don’t want to be stuck in the stuffy sub for longer!”

“Quit being such a baby!” Shachi scolded as Penguin rolled his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he replied, a dark cloud of gloom surrounding him.

“I’m with Bepo,” Nami defended, reaching behind her to scratch behind his ear comfortingly. “Even with the plants recycling the CO2, your ship gets hot and claustrophobic. You may be used to it, but I sure as hell get stir-crazy after only a few days. You’re lucky I didn’t hijack the helm and bring us topside earlier.”

The two men shuffled their feet, contrite. “Sorry, Nami.”

Pleased to see the duo had been brought to heel, the beautiful navigator bit down on another piece of fruit, sucking at the juices gently. Movement out of the corner of her eye captured her attention; she’d nearly forgotten Law was there, as he’d stayed quiet throughout the conversation, but gold eyes now bore into her. The heat of his stare trailed down to where the sliver of mikan dangled past her lips, and Nami swallowed harshly. He looked…hungry, and not for the tangy fruit.

“I think a garden could be extremely beneficial,” he finally drawled. “I certainly wouldn’t complain about having fresh medicinal herbs at my disposal. We can clear out one of the storage rooms, maybe install some extra windows and sprinklers. It’s a clever idea.” Taking another mikan slice from her unresisting hand, he bit into it, tongue running along his lips to catch the juices. Hearing her breath catch slightly at the action, he smirked, honey eyes hooded and pleased. “I knew I was right to recruit you.”

Scoffing to hide her discomfort, she looked away. “Well, you’ve only got eleven months left to take advantage of my brilliance. After that, you’ll have to figure things out for yourself again.”

“Oh, don’t worry; I’ve got plenty of ideas on how to make the most of our time together.” He turned back to his oldest friends. “Why don’t you two run down and tell the engineering team about Nami-ya’s suggestion? I’m want them to start planning as soon as possible.”

“Yes sir!”

As the pair scurried off, Bepo let out a mighty yawn, and a few minutes later began softly snoring. It was no surprise; the sun had grown much warmer as they’d talked, and napping was the bear’s default method of dealing with the heat. Law chuckled before pulling off his hoodie, revealing a tight, black tank top.

Much as Nami wanted to ignore the sudden excess of skin, her eyes lingered on the scrolling tattoos across his arms and chest. She knew he had more than the ones normally exposed on his hands and forearms, but she hadn’t expected them to take up most of his chest and biceps. Nor had she expected the design; when Ikkaku had said she’d tattooed hearts on him, she’d expected something more anatomically correct, possibly with the individual parts labeled like in a medical textbook. Instead, they were bold, intricate, had an almost primal beauty, and were vaguely familiar.

“See something you like, Nami-ya?” he asked, preening at her rapt attention.

“Your tattoos just…my sister has a similar design.” Remembering the day Nojiko had come home with the swirling, indigo pattern made her smile. She’d been horrified at the time, but it was a touching act of solidarity on her older sister’s part, making her feel slightly better about the horrid Jolly Roger branded on her shoulder.

Law blinked, surprised at the answer. “Is she a pirate, too?”

“No, she’s back home taking care of Bellmere’s mikan grove.”

“And that’s in Cocoyashi, right? In the East Blue?”

“Yeah, so?”

One shoulder lifted in a nonchalant shrug, though his grin had an edge of cruelty. “You should be more careful what you reveal about yourself; you never know what could be used against you. For example, since I know you have a sister and where she is, I could potentially threaten her to ensure your compliance.”

A month ago, she would have completely flipped at the thinly veiled threat, but she’d gotten better at calling his bluffs. “You could, but you won’t—it wouldn’t be beneficial to our working relationship. After all, I’m as protective of my loved ones as you are of your crew. If I really thought you were a threat to my sister, I wouldn’t hesitate to end you.”

“That’s assuming you have the guts to kill me. I doubt you’ve ever taken a life.”

Thoughts of her numerous failed attempts to murder Arlong danced across her mind. “Not for lack of trying. And I don’t have get my hands dirty to take you out; Devil Fruit users risk death just by being at sea. I could potentially shove you overboard or lead the ship into a storm, and you’d be at the bottom of the ocean before anyone even realized.”

His smirk relaxed as he propped his arms on his knees. “That you could. It’s amazing the lengths we’ll go to for the ones we love. Mugiwara-ya was willing to storm Impel Down and take on the Marines for his brother, even if they weren’t blood.”

Secure in the knowledge that Nojiko would not be targeted by the Surgeon of Death, Nami tucked her legs underneath her, leaning against Bepo to get more comfortable. “Someone doesn’t have to be blood to be family,” she stated, idly playing with her bracelet.

“No, they don’t,” he agreed. “Whitebeard was a perfect example. When I heard he called his crew his sons, I spent years believing it was just a tactic to manipulate them into blind loyalty. But the deeper I dug, the more I realized it was legitimate. The man truly gave that much of a shit for the men that followed him.” His expression darkened. “On the other hand, I’ve known plenty of sick bastards that would shoot their own brother without a moment’s hesitation.”

Sensing his train of thought would likely lead them down an unpleasant path, Nami diverted, “I wish I could have met Whitebeard. And spent more time with Ace. Luffy clearly adored his big brother, and he was so incredibly polite. Should have been my first hint they weren’t related.” A sad smile touched her lips. Their brief time with the Fire Fist in Alabasta had been illuminating, and she doubted her captain’s goofy grin could have been any bigger with him around. “You, know, he actually asked Luffy to join the Whitebeard Pirates,” she laughed. “As if Luffy’d ever let someone else be captain!”

The smirk returned to the Dark Doctor’s face, chin resting in his palm. “It’s for the best he didn’t. For all the man’s virtues, Whitebeard had a problem with taking on female crewmembers. You probably wouldn’t be invited to join him.”

“Then Luffy definitely would have refused. After all the trouble he went through to make me his navigator, he wouldn’t just toss me aside.”

A midnight blue eyebrow raised, intrigued. “Now that sounds like a story.”

“Yeah, but it’s one you haven’t earned the right to hear yet,” she huffed, reaching across him to snag another mikan. “At least, not from me. If Luffy was as loose-lipped as you claim, he probably babbled the whole thing.”

“Hmmm, mostly he just talked about how great his crew was, nothing about how he roped you into service. Even if he did, I’d much rather hear it from you—fewer interruptions by agonized screams.”

Delicate fingers paused halfway through peeling the fruit, chest tightening as she remembered that Luffy hadn’t been casually trading stories with Law over a drink—he’d been on death’s door, suffering physically and mentally, and Nami hadn’t been there for him. None of them had. She’d been off with the weather wizards, and yeah, going there hadn’t been her choice, but she should have tried harder to leave Weatheria the second she heard about Ace’s impending execution. She knew how far Luffy’d go for his loved ones, knew where the inevitable battle would be, and instead she’d stayed on the floating island, fooling herself into thinking he would be fine without her.

She’d never been ashamed of her instinct to run away from a fight, but she doubted there’d be a single day in the next two years that she didn’t curse her cowardice.

The mood once more threatened to darken, so Law summoned his Room and switched the discarded mikan peel for a bottle of sunscreen. Breaking her from her guilty thoughts, he nudged her with the tube. “Someone as pale as you is susceptible to sunburn, Nami-ya. Put this on.”

Logical as it was, she bristled at the order. “I doubt I’ll be out here long enough to even tan.”

He shifted away from the still-sleeping Bepo to sit across from her, the heat of the day finally making his favorite spot uncomfortable. “Surfacing was your idea, and we’ll be submerging before dinner, so you’d best enjoy the sunshine while you can.”

“I’ll be fine.”

Scoffing, Law proceeded to squeeze some of the white liquid into his palm before rubbing it onto the back of his neck. His smirk turned mischievous, however, and he reached over to flick a few sticky globs onto her face.

“Yeek! What are you—!”

He laughed at her outrage. “You were being stubborn. I’m sure the last thing you want is to be horribly disfigured by skin cancer, so do as I say and put on the sunblock.” His piercing eyes grew hooded as he studied the white droplets splattered across her chin and cheeks. Leaning closer, he whispered, “At the very least, you should rub that in before someone sees you and gets the wrong idea.”

Heat blossomed across her face that had nothing to do with sunburn. She didn’t need a mirror to know what he was implying. Frantically, she rubbed at her face, fuming at his dirty trick. The orders were bad enough, but the innuendos, combined with that golden gaze, made her uncomfortably aware of how easily he managed to get the best of her. She was a lot more used to blatant perversion, like Brooke’s requests to see her panties, than Law’s more subtle double-entendres. In fact, she was surprised to find them harder to ignore, as they made her pick apart his every word and action, trying to figure out if he was hitting on her or not.

Enough is enough! she thought, a devilish gleam twinkling in her eye. It’s time to teach him that nobody teases like Cat Thief Nami! When her service began, she’d been too scared of the potential consequences to give as good as she got, but after a month of his flirting and touches and teasing, she was at her breaking point. She might not mix business with pleasure, but revenge with pleasure was fair game.

Studying her target, her clever mind began forming a devious plan. Scooting forward so she was directly across from him, she traced the tips of her fingers over the heart on his right arm. “Did Ikkaku do these?” she asked, eyes widened slightly to give the illusion of innocent wonder.

The way his eyebrow raised indicated he didn’t believe her act for a second, but the curve of his lips made it clear he wasn’t worried about a trap and was going to milk the sudden attention for all it was worth. “Yeah. Hiring her was one of my best decisions—I got an engineer and a tattoo artist all in one.”

Light as a butterfly’s wing, she trailed over his shoulder to the swirls across his collarbone. The tip of her index finger slipped beneath the neck of his tank top, tugging gently. “I’d love to see them all. Would you mind taking off your shirt?”

He closed his eyes briefly, amusement painted plainly on his face. “If you want to see them so much, how about you do it for me?” he suggested lowly, sitting up straight and smirking down at her in challenge.

Poking the pink tip of her tongue out playfully, she shifted onto her knees before running her hands down his chest, tugging the bottom of the shirt out of his jeans before slowly pulling upward. Inch by inch smooth skin and hard planes of muscle were revealed, the elaborate heart tattoo trailing elegantly across his pecs and abs. The whistle she let out was genuine—the shirtless man before her really was quite striking.

She sat back on her heels, taking a moment to admire him. He wasn’t quite as ripped as Zoro, but he definitely had a swordsman’s physique. She could easily imagine him doing one-armed pushups, sweat dripping down his sides, muscles rippling like an unsettled pond. Picking up a slice of fruit, she bit into it a little too hard, the citrus juices spilling all over her fingers.

Sharp gold irises honed in on the way the pale orange drops trailed down her palm to her wrist, and his Adam’s apple visibly bobbed. “Are you usually this messy an eater, Nami-ya?”

She gave him an embarrassed smile. “Not usually. I guess the heat’s getting to me.” Looking away, she stroked the tip of her tongue up her forearm, cleaning up the sticky streak. She could feel the intense way his eyes followed the movement, and when she met his gaze, the hunger had returned full force.

“Mind if I have another mikan slice?” he rasped.

Despite knowing he could easily get it himself, she nodded coyly, holding out a particularly fat and ripe piece mere inches from his mouth. When he leaned in to take it between his teeth, she pulled back, instead teasingly biting into it, more juices flowing over her lips and onto her fingertips.

She didn’t expect his arms to shoot out like vipers, hands grasping her hips to pull her onto his lap. She was forced to straddle his thigh to keep her balance, and she still nearly fell over in shock as he leaned down, lips less than a centimeter from touching her own as he stole half the dangling fruit straight from her mouth.

Never before had she imagined someone could chew smugly, but as he pulled away, that was exactly what he was doing. “Don’t play games you’re not prepared to do anything to win, Nami-ya,” he purred.

Idly, she draped her arms over his shoulders, tracing the tips of her wet fingers along his upper back in light, delicate patterns. “Are we playing a game, Law-kun?” she asked breathily.

The gleam in his eyes was answer enough, as was the way his palms trailed across the soft skin of her exposed waist.

Leaning back, she studied his naked torso through half lidded brown eyes, sucking the remaining mikan juices off her fingers. “I really do like your tattoos. Do you want me to put some sunscreen on them? I’d hate for you to get burned and risk the ink getting distorted.”

“That’d be much appreciated, Nami-ya.”

The pink tip of her tongue peeked out to wet her lips as she grabbed the nearby bottle, squeezing the coconut-scented cream onto her hands. Just as her palms made contact with his pectorals, his scorching hands encircled her wrists, pinning them there.

She looked up at him in surprise, to which he easily chuckled. “Just making sure your hands don’t stray anywhere inappropriate. I know how hard it is for you to resist the temptation of getting your hands on a man’s wallet.”

“Don’t you trust me, Law-kun?”

“I trust you to be a scheming little minx,” he replied, tone deceptively affectionate.

Her lower lip stuck out in a pout, though she quickly smoothed out her expression when his molten stare fixated on it, looking for all the world like he wanted to lean down and capture it between his teeth. Pushing away the thought that she wouldn’t exactly mind it, she focused on her task.

Up, down, and across her hands traveled, massaging the sunscreen into Law’s skin as his hands shamelessly guided her. His flesh was tantalizingly hot and deliciously smooth, a few faint scars visible now that she was so close. His muscles rippled as he flexed casually, and Nami was pleased when she felt his heart speed up when her fingers “accidentally” flicked a dusky nipple. Curious, she lightly scraped her nails over the ridges of his abdominal muscles, smirking when they jumped under her ministrations, a low rumble, almost like a purr, echoing through his chest.

“You’re looking a little flushed, Nami-ya,” he whispered in her sensitive ear, steamy breath smelling faintly of mikans. “Is the sun what’s getting you hot and bothered, or me?”

Looking up at him through long, dark lashes, she replied, “Definitely the sun. It takes a lot more than rubbing a guy’s chest to make me weak in the knees.”

“Ah, there’s the Cat Thief I know. You were acting so demure, I was beginning to wonder if your brain got fried.” His devilish grin turned smug. “Or were you hoping to get a little payback with the sunscreen?”

“Maybe I just wanted an excuse to feel you up,” she quipped, giving a cat-like smile.

“If you wanted that, you should have just asked. I’m happy to oblige.”

“Aw, but where’s the fun in that?”

“Good point.” At last, not a speck of white remained on her palms, so Law reluctantly released his hold on her. “Want me to return the favor?” he murmured, letting the tips of his fingers suggestively caress her bare midriff.

Though red still stained her cheeks, Nami managed to maintain her composure as she carefully stood up. One of her legs had started to fall asleep, and she didn’t need the Heart captain thinking he really had made her weak in the knees. “Nah, I think I’m going to go back inside for a bit. I’m feeling a little thirsty.”

With the woman out of his arms, Law rolled his shoulders, working out the stiffness that had started to form. “Fair enough. If you change your mind, the offer still stands.”

Before she could respond, one of the men called out from the lower deck, “Hey Captain! We need your opinion on something!”

Getting up with all the grace of a tiger, he lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Duty calls. Don’t stay inside all day, though; I can’t promise we’ll be surfacing again soon, and I don’t need you suffering from a vitamin D deficiency.” With that, he activated his Room, teleporting himself down onto the lower deck.

As she turned to go inside, motion caught her eye, and she found Bepo watching her, eyebrows raised in surprise.

Giving a catty wink, she pressed her finger to her lips in a shushing motion before gathering up Law’s hoodie, tank top, and the rest of the mikans, leaving one behind for the sleepy Mink to enjoy.

“I’ll just toss these in the laundry for him. I’d hate for them to blow overboard.”

“I guess it’s too hot for him to put them back on,” Bepo agreed hesitantly.

Her smile was sunny and painfully obvious. “Exactly! And fewer clothes means he’ll get exposed to more vitamin D, so I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”

Shrugging as he watched Nami skip away, the polar bear settled back down to resume his nap. Law was his best friend and his captain but considering how shamelessly he’d been teasing the Cat Thief, he was pretty sure the Dark Doctor deserved whatever Nami had in store. Besides, she was the reason the crew even agreed to surface in the first place—Bepo owed her his silence, just this once.

XXX

As the crew sat down to breakfast the next morning, Nami was startled by a large, firm hand gripping her shoulder as a voice whispered harshly in her ear, “That was very clever, Nami-ya.”

Forcing her heart to slow, she glanced up at Law with a smirk. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Somehow, the scowl on his face deepened. “Then the sunburn on my back, despite me clearly remembering putting sunscreen there, wasn’t your fault?”

“Oh dear,” she gasped, “maybe the fruit juices on my fingers washed it away.”

“And maybe someone who grew up in a mikan grove would know that the juice from citrus fruits, when exposed to sunlight and bare skin, can cause sunburn?”

“You know, you’re right!” she said, planting a fist in her palm. Batting her eyelashes innocently, she smiled. “But surely you don’t think I’d do such a thing on purpose?”

“You’re the one who so generously brought my hoodie inside to be laundered. Without asking for payment, I might add. Quite suspicious.”

“I considered the mikans you gave me payment enough. And it’s not like I stole them away—Bepo told you what I did with them, and you easily could have gone inside for another shirt. Instead, you spent the rest of the day outside with insufficient protection. Rather silly of a doctor, wouldn’t you say?”

Law’s glare told her he knew he’d been played and was already planning his revenge. “Just remember payback is a bitch.”

The whole crew had a hard time containing their sniggers as Law stormed out of the galley. Now everyone could see why he was so mad—across his shoulders, just above the neckline of his tank top was the word BREAD in shiny, red, sunburned letters.

Chapter Text

“You are, without a doubt, the most arrogant asshole I’ve ever met!” Nami screamed, her voice echoing down the steel hallway. Most of the crew had taken cover in any room they could find—things had been tense ever since the sunburn incident over a week ago, everyone walking on eggshells waiting for Law’s inevitable revenge. They all knew it wouldn’t be right away; the man liked to take his time, meticulously planning while his victim was lulled into a false sense of security, thinking he had forgiven and forgotten. There was already a large betting pool on what would happen and when, with theories ranging from her waking up to a room full of organs to being forced to wear a skimpy nurse uniform.

Most were silently praying for the latter.

Across from her, Law glared, arms crossed and knuckles white as a small vein popped in his neck out of frustration. They’d been arguing for nearly ten minutes, and for a man who was used to having his orders followed immediately and enthusiastically, it was quickly growing wearisome. “And you’re the most infuriating little witch I’ve ever encountered. I’m not even asking much; it’s completely within your skillset.”

“Like hell it is! You’d have more luck convincing me to wear your crew’s stupid jumpsuits!”

“And deprive my men of seeing you prance around in practically nothing? Morale would tank.”

She crossed her arms, scowling. “Then we agree; I’m not doing it.”

“Our agreement was that you work for me; that means you listen to my orders and carry them out, no arguments.”

“I absolutely never agreed to the ‘no arguments’ part.”

“All I’m asking is for you to pull your weight by using your skills as the Cat Thief to assist me in a little infiltration job. Or do you not know how to act like a lady?” he taunted.

She bristled at the insult but refused to take the bait. “I already pull my weight; I help Bepo with his maps, guide you through storms, and do my share of chores.”

“I’ll concede to the first two, but I know you’ve been conning the men into doing your cleaning.”

She didn’t even try to stop the pleased smirk from curving her lips. “I can’t help it if they feel like being gentlemen by taking on some extra mopping so I can dedicate my time to more important matters.”

“And you thank them by stealing their wallets.”

“It’s no secret I’m a thief; they should know better than to let their guards down around me. Consider it training; you said I shouldn’t let my skills degrade, and a pretty face like mine could be their downfall if they don’t smarten up.”

“That’s the only reason I haven’t removed your hands for it, Nami-ya,” Law replied sourly. “That being said, I’m ordering you to stop stealing from them. It’s not nice to take advantage of your crew.”

Infuriated, she jabbed him in the chest. “They’re not my crew! We’re in a temporary alliance, and I’m fine working with them, but I’m a Straw Hat! Get that through your pig-headed skull!”

A hand shot forward, grabbing her wrist and pulling her close to Law’s tall, imposing form. “For all intents and purposes, until the year is up, you’re a Heart Pirate. I said when you first arrived, I intend on making the most of having you on my crew, and I meant it.” Arguing was getting him nowhere, so he quickly changed tactics. A shiver ran up Nami’s spine as he leaned close, hot breath ghosting over her sensitive ear and neck. “You’re stealthy, clever, beautiful, and one of the best burglars on the Grand Line. I can’t imagine a better partner. With our combined skillsets, a job like this should be both easy and extremely profitable. I just need your help searching the place for some classified documents once the party’s in full swing.”

A hint of pink dusted her cheeks at his flattery. “Documents?”

“Inside the main study is a safe full of Marine codes, reports on the various atrocities they’ve caused in the name of ‘justice,’ names of soldiers infiltrating pirate crews—all things that go for millions of belli on the black market. Besides that, our target is known for having expensive tastes. Bejeweled trinkets, high-end art, gold statuettes; the man’s loaded.”

Nami couldn’t help it; belli signs flashed in her eyes at the thought of getting her hands on that treasure. Law’d said he had a big job planned, and clearly, he wasn’t kidding.

It was clear that he had her attention, so the Dark Doctor pressed on, voice dropping an octave to seductively murmur, “And that’s just the study. Imagine all the rich pockets you could pick at the party. Far more profitable than my crew, and anything you manage to steal on your own is completely yours; I won’t even demand a cut.” Brushing his free hand across the sleeve of her borrowed shirt, he added, “I was even generous enough to buy you a new dress for the occasion, since you’ll need to look the part of a rich doctor’s lover.”

As much as she hated it, she was wavering. When he’d first proposed—or more specifically, ordered—she escort him to a party as his date, she’d refused on principle. But damn, after only a month, he was starting to figure out her weaknesses, and right now, money was a big one. She had very little to her name on the ship; most of her clothes were borrowed from Ikkaku, and while they’ve made port a couple times, she hadn’t been able to get much beyond the essentials. So the idea of having fresh, wealthy victims and an outfit of her own that she didn’t even have to pay for was tempting indeed.

Too bad she knew pirates like him didn’t do anything for free.

Ignoring the overwhelming heat of his proximity and her natural greed, hazelnut eyes met his hooded gaze suspiciously. “What’s your real game here, Law?”

To his credit, his lazy grin didn’t falter. “Maybe I just think it’ll be amusing to watch you force yourself to shower me with love and adoration all night.”

Nami didn’t buy it for a second. Beneath the sharp scent of soap and antiseptic, she could smell a con. “And who, exactly, owns the house we’ll be infiltrating?”

The confident expression finally slid off his face. “Baron Harpin Gerald, former Head of Intelligence for the Navy.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?!”

“He’s over 70 years old—far past his prime.”

“Whitebeard was 72 and still considered the Strongest Man in the World! Garp’s even older and he can throw cannonballs like baseballs! And do you really think a couple of pirates won’t be recognized at a former Marine bigwig’s gala? Especially one of the fucking Supernova?!” she shouted, trying to pull away for the certified madman who’d managed to rope her into service.

Not budging or releasing his hold on the slippery thief, he stated, “Lucky that it’s a masquerade ball, then. A good mask, some temporary hair dye, and no one will suspect a thing. Besides, no pirate would be brazen enough to walk right into the lion’s den.”

“You mean stupid enough.”

“And here I thought you’d enjoy making a little extra cash.”

“I like staying out of jail more. Besides, I’ve seen what your powers can do; you don’t even need to attend the party!”

Gold eyes narrowed in annoyance, though she got the sense it wasn’t fully at her. “On that scale, everyone with eyes will notice a mysterious blue bubble springing up out of nowhere, and someone is sure to raise the alarm,” he countered. “The other problem is that the safe is made out of Seastone—that means my powers are useless, and even touching the damn thing weakens me. So, I need a more traditional thief by my side as back-up.”

Realization hit her like Luffy’s Gum-Gum Bazooka. “You’ve tried to rob him before, haven’t you?”

“Once, about six months ago. Far from a success, though at least the injuries were minimal and he never found out who got past his defenses.”

She frowned. Now it definitely made sense why he wanted to infiltrate the masquerade, but she was still skeptical. “How do you even plan to get us in? If this party’s as fancy as you say, there’ll be a guest list, invitations, at the very list some kind of ID check at the entrance to keep the riffraff out.”

Law reached into his jean pocket, drawing out a shiny, embossed invitation. “Then it’s a good thing Dr. Goodheart Adrian M.D. and his plus-one have already RSVP’d.”

“You really think they’ll fall for a fake invitation?”

“I sent Uni ahead to switch out the guest list with an updated version. Bribed a servant to let him take his place. He sent me a message this morning that he was successful, so we’re in.”

“Like anyone would believe you’re a real doctor.”

“I am a real doctor—I wouldn’t have been able to save Mugiwara’s life if I weren’t,” he said pointedly.

Nami winced. There was that painful reminder of exactly how much she owed this man and that, whether she liked it or not, she was obligated to follow his orders for the sake of their deal. The whole plan sounded absolutely insane, but it was still a plan—far more than she was used to on her own crew.

And she really needed the money. Not just for shopping; being so poor again brought back too many painful memories of her childhood, of being poor and watching Bellemere eat nothing but mikans so her kids would have enough to eat. Of putting aside the majority of her haul after every job, counting down the days until she’d have enough to buy back her village. Of watching those shady Marines destroy the mikan grove, hauling away her stash so Arlong could keep her forever. Treasure was more than just shiny coins and cute outfits to her—it was a safety net, something she clung to as tightly as a child might a security blanket.

Money could keep monsters at bay, and now that she was stuck on a ship with the Surgeon of Death, that fact was more prominent than ever.

So as much as she wanted to refuse and wipe that smug glint from his eye, she knew he had her backed into a corner, where the most she could do was give in gracefully.

At long last, she sighed, “My dress better have pockets.”

XXX

Though she generally preferred casual clothes, Nami appreciated expensive things, and the gown Law had gotten her definitely screamed “money.” The gold satin overdress, embossed with darker gold leopard spots, draped over her curves magnificently, cinching tightly at the waist with a black and gold belt; the bottom had an under layer of stiff interfacing, allowing it to flare out like a ballgown without the need for tulle or petticoats while concealing a daring slit where she could slip her ill-gotten goods into the many hidden interior pockets or expose the pale flesh of her leg as a distraction. The plunging neckline was nearly to her sternum, and the long, billowing sleeves hid her signature tattoo. It was more like an extremely fancy robe in its design, and underneath was a skintight, black, spaghetti-strap bodysuit much better for sneaking around in, her Clima-Tact strapped to her thigh. A string of pearls and matching earrings completed the look—it wasn’t quite as fancy as what she was sure other women would be wearing, but it was what she had, and it was less conspicuous than going unadorned. If she were lucky, maybe she’d have the opportunity to swipe something better off a drunk heiress.

“I can’t believe I agreed to this,” the Cat Thief grumbled as she carefully applied eyeliner. A long, dark purple wig covered her orange hair, the loose, elegant curls pinned away from her face with a few barrettes inlaid with pearls, letting the rest cascade down her back like a midnight waterfall. Ikkaku had given her permission to use as much of her makeup as needed, and with a bit of contouring and highlighter, Nami could hardly recognize herself.

“I can,” the engineer chimed from her bed where she’d been studying the mansion’s blueprints. She and the rest of the crew were tasked with causing a number of diversions throughout the island that would draw away the guards and authorities, giving the pair inside the perfect opportunity to sneak away to the study. “He made you an offer you couldn’t refuse. Honestly, I’m kind of jealous.”

“What, you want to be Law’s girlfriend for the night? Because I’m willing to trade.”

“Hell no—last time we tried that cover, I couldn’t keep a straight face. Nearly tanked the whole plan. But it’s cute how far he’s willing to go to get you on his side. It’s even funnier that you pretend you don’t like it.”

Nami snorted, brushing on some mascara, pleased with how sultry the fanned-out lashes made her almond eyes. “I don’t like it. He’s a creep, and Luffy’s rival, and I’m still waiting for the day I wake up on his operating table, heart and liver and kidneys on display and ready for sale. Or for him to sell me wholesale to the highest bidder.”

Shaking her head, Ikkaku replied matter-of-factly, “He wouldn’t do that to you unless you really tried to fuck us over. Like, there was one guy who joined up not long after me who tried to sell Bepo to some slavers—Minks go for a lot at auctions. Captain’s not usually one for cold-blooded torture, but he made that bastard suffer. Last we saw him, the guy was in pieces being shipped off to separate corners of the four Blues.”

She shuddered at the image, though she couldn’t bring herself to fault his reaction. The more she got to know Bepo, the more she wanted to protect him, too, and from what she’d gathered, the bear was one of Law’s oldest and closest friends. “Now that I believe, but are you seriously not afraid of him? You’ve seen what he can do, and while he’s not as bad as I thought, you can’t tell me all of his reputation’s government propaganda.”

“Why would I be? Even if he was as ruthless as the papers say, Captain Law takes care of his crew. Plus, I’m indispensable around here, and I grew up with four older brothers, so I know a thing or two about how many buttons I can push before I’m in any real trouble.” She smirked, as if she’d just discovered a big secret. “You’re not scared because you think he’ll actually slice you up—otherwise, you wouldn’t backtalk him so much. What you’re really afraid of is the fact that you’re not at the top of the food chain anymore.”

It gutted her that her friend wasn’t wrong. Though Luffy was captain, from the get-go Nami had basically been the one who ran the ship, bending the others to her will with either her feminine wiles or her fists. And while she certainly had most of the Heart Pirates wrapped around her finger, she didn’t like that Law had real power and authority over her while her usual threats and tactics had minimal effect on the cool captain. “It’s far from the only reason, but yeah, it doesn’t help. Don’t get me wrong—you’ve all been super nice and accommodating—but I’m not exactly a trusting person. And Law’s way more…I guess intimidating is the best word to use, than Luffy ever was. So I’m not going to be joining the guy’s fan club anytime soon.”

“Fair, but just give Captain a chance, yeah? He might surprise you.”

Before she could argue that she wanted absolutely no surprises from the Surgeon of Death, there was a knock at the door, the raps against the metal quick and precise.

“Seems someone’s here to pick you up for your date,” Ikkaku sing-songed.

Hazelnut eyes glared at her bunkmate as she got up to answer the door. “It’s not a date, and if you call it that again, you’re gonna find out why exactly why I’m Head Bitch in Charge on the Sunny.”

Steeling herself, Nami smoothed down the stiff fabric of her gown, determined to treat this night with the same level of professionalism Law used in the infirmary. A few hours of acting, looking pretty, and sneaking around, and then she could plan her next shopping spree. And despite his arrogance and innuendos, she was sure Law would take this just as seriously—after all, it was his plan, and the payout affected the whole crew. He knew what he was doing, and with the amount of thought and care he put into crafting this elaborate scheme, there was no way he’d risk it by pushing her buttons. Perhaps the night wouldn’t be a total disaster.

Those reassuring thoughts flew out the window into the ocean depths to probably be eaten by a sea king the moment she opened the door.

“Please tell me that’s not your disguise.”

Looking down at himself, the Dark Doctor’s brow furrowed. “I see nothing wrong with it.” Admittedly, he looked good; midnight blue hair, including his goatee and sideburns, was dyed black, and he’d put in grey contacts to cover the distinctive gold. His suit was sleek black satin, the knee-length, high-collared coat cutting a rather dashing figure. The vest was black and gold brocade, shiny gold buttons and matching watch chain adding a little extra flare. In his hand was a polished mahogany cane with a silver handle shaped like a bird’s skull, and Nami wondered if it was secretly a sword like Brook’s.

Yes, she could admit Law looked very handsome, but it was a shit disguise. For god’s sake, he was still wearing his hat!

“You think some colored contacts and dying your hair is enough to fool people?” she said, exasperated. “You’re a Supernova; your wanted poster’s one of the most recognizable this side of the Grand Line. You didn’t even bother to cover up your tattoos!” she shrieked, pointing at his hands.

He seemed genuinely surprised at her criticism. “You think I should wear gloves, then?”

Nami could have screamed. She’d expect that kind of answer from Zoro or Luffy, not a man who prided himself on his intelligence. Grabbing his arm, she dragged him into the room, pushing him down into the chair by the mirror and snatching off his hat, tossing it onto her pillow. His lanky figure looked almost comical in the too-small seat, long legs sticking out awkwardly. “Stay there. You’re going to wear gloves, but if you need to take them off for some reason, we want those things covered.” Squeezing out some foundation into her palm, she mixed it with some bronzer until the shade matched his skin tone. “Hold out your hands.”

“I don’t care for being ordered around, Nami-ya,” he growled in warning. “Keep it up, and you’ll regret it.”

“Well, I don’t like the idea of getting caught and thrown in jail because you didn’t think the Marines would be suspicious of a guy with DEATH tattooed on his fingers.”

Though he didn’t look happy, he conceded her point, hands steady and still as she applied the makeshift concealer. Definitely the hands of a surgeon, she thought, admiring his natural control. It was comparable to her own when she picked a lock or drew a map; not so much as a tremor, even when under intense scrutiny. Pleased that the black ink was sufficiently covered, she quickly spritzed on some setting spray and finishing powder, hoping the foundation wouldn’t rub off inside the gloves.

Inspecting his face, she then tilted the captain’s chin up, dabbing some concealer under his eyes.

“The fuck are you doing, woman?” he snapped, jerking his head back as if she’d slapped him.

“Covering up those massive bags under your eyes.”

“The hands were one thing, but I’m not letting you put makeup on my face. Besides, I like the world knowing that I’m tired of its shit and ready to kill at any moment.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s totally the mindset of a respectable, non-pirate doctor,” she sassed, jutting out her hip in annoyance. “It’s not like I’m turning you into a drag queen; just covering up some of your more recognizable flaws.”

His brow twitched at the insult. “I’ll be wearing a mask, so why does it matter?”

“You can still see under your eyes, and they might make you take off the mask at check-in. Are you really willing to risk your ‘perfect’ plan because your fragile male ego can’t handle a little cover-up?”

“Oh, just listen to her, Captain,” Ikkaku chimed from her bunk, the Cheshire cat grin on her face declaring to them both that she was mostly getting involved for her own amusement. “Nami’s the infiltration expert here, and you’re the one who insisted she come with you. Just suck it up.”

“You’re fired,” he snapped, pointing at her sternly as he once more dodged Nami’s attempt to dab him with the sponge.

“You’ve fired me six times since I joined, and I’ll tell you the same thing I always do—get rid of me, and Shachi’s the most qualified person to touch up your tattoos. You want that?”

Law shuddered. “Fine, you’re not fired, but you’re on kitchen duty for a month.”

“Eh, fair enough. Now be a good boy and let Nami tart you up.”

His glare could have melted steel, but he stopped resisting as the navigator carefully covered up the proof of his insomnia. Nami had to admit, she was impressed; Ikkaku hadn’t been kidding when she said she had no fear of the Surgeon of Death. It was also nice to see someone else backtalk him, as most of the time the Heart Pirates seemed to worship the very ground he walked on. It made her feel less like the enemy.

As the dark circles disappeared, she had to admit, she kind of missed them. Even though they could make her tired just by looking at them, they were distinctive and a major part of his normal appearance, and he just looked so different without them. Younger, maybe, and less mysterious.

Normal. Boring. Just…not Law.

Sensing her scrutiny, he raised a dark eyebrow. “Something on my face, Nami-ya? I mean, besides the makeup.”

Suppressing a blush at having been caught, she replied, “Just trying to figure out if you need any highlighter or lipstick. I’ve got a lovely flamingo pink—”

“Try it and Mugiwara-ya will have to find a new navigator,” he snarled, the hard look in his eye and the openness of the threat sending a shiver down the spines of both women.

Not willing to risk her life just to embarrass a man, Nami backed away, hands raised in surrender. Relieved that he wouldn’t be subjected to any more of her powders or creams, Law inspected himself in the mirror, lips twisted in a grimace as he studied the difference it made to his face. Nami couldn’t tell if he was more annoyed at the indignity of it all or the fact that she’d clearly been right, but grey eyes flicked to his messy black hair.

“I guess the hat did clash with my outfit, huh?”

“To say the least.”

Without a word, he grabbed her hairbrush and began combing it back into something a bit neater and more respectable, even as Nami groused, “Don’t use my things without asking.”

“Fine. May I use your brush?” he asked, not even glancing at her as he kept brushing.

“No, you may not,” she snapped petulantly.

“Oh, dear. Whatever shall I do, then?” he chuckled, tossing it back on the vanity, smirking at her grinding teeth. His mood was infinitely improved now that he was back in control, and while Nami appreciated not having to worry about being dismembered, a minute part of her wished he’d go back to sulking. “Best get that anger out now, Nami-ya. Once we’re on the island, it’s all smiles.”

“You’re loving this, aren’t you?”

Getting out of the chair, he smirked down at her, pleased to once more have the height advantage so he could both figuratively and literally look down on the Straw Hat thief. “No, I’m enjoying this. What I’ll love is watching you try to keep that cute little temper of yours in check while we’re in public.”

“Asshole.”

“Only for you, sweetheart.”

A small vein throbbed on her temple. “Call me sweetheart again and there won’t be enough makeup on the Grand Line to cover up the bruises I’ll give you.”

“What an abusive girlfriend I have. I hope you at least kiss them better.”

“You wish. And if you’re going to be this much of an absolute prick all night, I’m charging you ten million belli per hour.”

“You want me to pay you to be my date? I wasn’t aware prostitution was part of your repertoire.”

“Congratulations; it’s now fifteen million.”

Ikkaku eagerly watched their back-and-forth like a particularly intense tennis match, grinning the whole time.

She didn’t feel particularly sorry for her captain or her roommate; both knew what they were getting into, provoking the other like that. No, she pitied the poor party guests, who had no idea what kind of unholy terror they were about to face.

Ah, to be a fly on the wall.

XXX

Tokken Island was one of the lushest and most beautiful little islands on the Grand Line, but the majority of the land was owned by Baron Harpin, forcing the port town to desperately cling to a jagged shard of the coastline while his enormous mansion and manicured grounds dominated the rest. Luckily, there were plenty of rocky outcrops and sea caves ideal for hiding the Polar Tang, and after teleporting his crew into position, the well-dressed pair made their way through the town.

“And why couldn’t you have Shambled us there or whatever it is?” Nami groused as she nearly stumbled for the third time. She was an expert at maneuvering in high heels, but that didn’t mean she was immune to the inherent dangers of cobblestone streets, especially ones so torn up.

Law chuckled as she finally accepted his proffered arm for support. The stubborn woman had refused to endure any physical contact with him until absolutely necessary, but it seemed the threat of a broken ankle before they could even get to the mansion had finally won her over. “My abilities take a lot of energy, and I’d rather save it in case we need to make a quick escape. Besides, I don’t want people getting suspicious if we pop up out of nowhere.”

She grumbled under her breath that he was probably doing it just to annoy her, even if, logically, he had a point. Wrapping her arm around his bicep for balance, she was finally able to turn her attention from the uneven road to the state of the town itself. Only about half the lanterns were lit, and what illumination they did give didn’t paint a very pretty picture.

The houses were run-down, roofs thatched haphazardly and some windowpanes packed with paper or rags instead of glass. The shops weren’t much better off, the display windows showing off rough-looking fishing supplies, underripe fruit, and cheap clothing. Only a few people were out, most looking worn-out or underfed, and those that didn’t stare at the pair of well-dressed pirates with envy watched them with hunger.

“If the Baron’s so wealthy, why’s the town in such a sorry state?” she wondered aloud. “I mean, just setting up this gala should have brought plenty of business to the port. Docking fees, restocking supplies, even sailors picking up cheap souvenirs—”

“There’s a private dock on the mansions’ grounds that he uses for deliveries and the like,” Law answered, barely sparing a glance at a skinny woman hoarsely calling out to passersbys, a basket of small trinkets thrust out towards them. “None of his business comes to the town—plus, he owns most of the farmland, so any crops are considered his property. All that’s really left is fishing, and the guy’s notorious for hating seafood, meaning these folks are shit out of luck.”

Biting her lip, Nami looked towards the woman again, freezing as a small child, yellow hair tied in twin pigtails down her shoulders, poked her head out from behind her frayed skirts. The little girl looked marginally less skinny than her mother, and without even thinking, the thief broke away from Law to inspect the woman’s wares. It appeared to be mostly jewelry—nothing particularly fancy but in the warm light of a nearby streetlamp she could tell it had been carefully made with decent materials.

“What are you doing?” Law hissed, looking around to make sure they weren’t drawing too much attention—most of the Baron’s guests wouldn’t lower themselves to pass through the slums like this, but he’d didn’t want to take any chances. That, and he wasn’t entirely sure there weren’t villagers desperate enough to try and mug them. He’d rather avoid a fight this early in the evening, and he didn’t want to get his nice, new suit dirty.

Ignoring him, she picked up a simple gold chain with a pendant made of four gemstones. They were beautifully polished, the marquise-cut purple tourmaline the color of the sky at sunrise. Their arrangement was reminiscent of Polaris, or perhaps the compass on her maps. “This is lovely,” she commented. “Is it locally made, or imported?”

The woman hastily explained, “My husband was once the Baron’s personal jeweler. He made beautiful pieces, but they were too simple for the Baron’s tastes. He wanted to impress lady callers, and demanded gaudier jewelry without providing the proper materials,” she said sourly. “My husband got sacked, and I’ve been trying to sell these off for a while. The necklace is 6000 belli on its own, or you can make me an offer for the set?” she said hopefully, indicating the matching ring and earrings in the worn basket, their delicate star designs winking in the dim light.

Immediately Nami could tell this woman hadn’t had any luck for a long time. The quality of the gems alone showed she was drastically underpricing the pieces. It was doubtful anyone in town could afford luxuries like jewelry, and if the Baron monopolized all the outside business at his own port, she probably never even saw other potential clientele. She was probably only even trying her luck now out of desperation. After all, you can’t eat gold, and with a small child to care for, any amount of belli would do.

“It would look really pretty on you,” the little girl murmured politely, large, purple eyes watching her in wonderment. Nami was certain she was the closest thing to a princess the child had ever seen, dressed in finery and on her way to an exclusive party at the glorious mansion on the hill. A real-life Cinderella, something out of a fairy tale she’d use to comfort herself on cold, hungry nights.

Nami had certainly been in those shoes, long ago, and she’d never been able to turn her back on a child in need. Her eyes were even the same color as the tourmaline in the basket.

Well, damn, she thought with a rueful smile. Poor kid could use a fairy godmother. Or at least a Cat Thief.

Pulling a black leather wallet out of her cleavage, she said, “I’ll take the set. How does 30,000 belli sound?”

Law’s jaw dropped as his eyes widened in recognition, immediately patting his pockets to confirm his suspicions. Coming up empty, he glared bitterly when the saleswoman replied, “Tha-that’d be perfectly fine!”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Law grumbled as Nami pulled out some bills, handing them over with all the care of a woman who was fine spending money that wasn’t hers.

The thief matched his glare, tossing him the wallet. “What kind of boyfriend wouldn’t lavish his lover with jewelry?” she huffed, giving the child staring at her with blatant adoration a conspiratorial wink.

“What kind of girlfriend pickpockets her lover’s wallet?” he countered, checking the contents to make sure he was only out 30,000 belli. Satisfied that the rest of his cash was safely in place, he glanced at the little girl, his scowl faltering as his eyes fell on her awestruck face. Quickly, his gaze darted back up to the woman who wronged him, glaring like a basilisk.

Fluttering her eyelashes, Nami replied, “The kind who knows just how generous her lover is,” she quipped before turning back to the jewelry seller to collect her purchase. For a moment, a pair of gold barrettes inlaid with clear stones—possibly diamonds, again in the marquise cut—caught her eye, but she knew better than to swipe Law’s wallet twice in one night. So, reluctantly, she only took her purchase, patting the little girl on the head in farewell. When the kid bobbed a curtsy in response, Nami couldn’t hold back her giggle, returning the gesture.

That kid’s going to have one hell of a story to tell her friends tomorrow, she thought cheerfully, jogging slightly to catch up with Law, who’d been less than the image of a handsome prince by storming off up the road without her.

Joining her date, she rolled her eyes in exasperation at the dark scowl on his face. Even without his hat, his black bangs cast ominous shadows over his eyes. He was walking even faster now, and she had to work to keep up with his long strides. It was petty, petulant revenge against the woman who had dared to get the better of him. “Are you mad that I took your wallet, or that you didn’t even notice?” she taunted lightly.

Even from the corner of his eye, his hawk-like glare made goosebumps rise across her shoulders. “I’m mad because you wasted our time and my money,” he snapped. “I already bought you your dress, mask, and wig. My ‘generosity,’ as you put it, has its limits.”

“I’ll pay you back,” she ground out, refusing to feel guilty for her actions. That little girl’s smile had been well worth the price of Law’s irritation, but she also knew she had to appease his anger if they were going to pull off their grand scheme. When he scoffed, she added reluctantly, “With interest.”

“Why’d you even bother?” he asked, indicating the jewels in her hand.

Pulling him to a stop under one of the streetlights, Nami switched her original earrings out for the bejeweled ones. “It’s for the cover. I’m supposed to be a rich doctor’s arm-candy, and my boring pearls would have looked way too simple, especially with this dress. With these, I’ll blend in better.”

“You could have just stolen them.”

She frowned at him, genuinely offended. “I steal from pirates and rich idiots who can afford it. Did you see that woman? I’d bet all the treasure on the Sunny that any money she got went to feeding her kid. I’m not going to even haggle with someone in that kind of situation.” A soft, sad smile graced her lips. “My mother did that. Claimed she was on a diet when she really couldn’t afford to feed all three of us.”

There was a moment of silence as she turned away from him, hoping to collect herself before she started bawling at the memory of Bellemere’s sacrifices. Silently, she thanked her adopted mother, willing back the stinging sensation of tears forming behind her eyes. Ruining her makeup before they even arrived at the gala would do them no good. Besides, Law would probably have some kind of smart-ass comment about it.

Invigorated byt the refusal to let her temporary captain see her so weak, she brushed away her sadness to focus on her new jewelry. Slipping on the ring, she admired how it gleamed under the warm lamplight. It was a tad too big, fitting most comfortably on her middle finger, but she found the style suited her. She might even wear the set on a night out sometime; maybe to celebrate tonight’s success. Assuming the plan didn’t go to shit, that is.

She jumped when he finally responded, “I hate to say it, but that does look good on you.” When she turned her head, she couldn’t fight the blush that spread across her cheeks as she discovered Law's face hovering close to her own. Worryingly, she couldn’t tell if it was due to his intimate proximity or the small, appreciative smile lifting his lips. Such an expression seemed too gentle for the famed Supernova, and yet she found she rather liked the way it softened and relaxed his features. “You’re surprisingly soft-hearted for a pirate, though.”

“Shut up,” she grumbled, struggling to maneuver the necklace's tiny clasp through her thick wig. Suddenly having so much hair was a real pain, and she wondered how she’d ever manage if she grew her own out. Short was more practical, after all, and looked cute on her to boot.

“Here, let me help,” his smooth voice whispered in her ear, and she felt her curls carefully gathered to rest over her shoulder. Nimbly, he took the necklace and fastened it securely around her neck. Tingles ran down her spine as the smooth leather of his black gloves brushed her bare skin, and the whole thing felt strangely intimate. Turning her around, Law studied his date. The pendant rested just above the dip of her bountiful cleavage, sparkling invitingly. “I’m pretty sure it’s still too simple for this crowd, but it works better than the pearls.”

Her reply was cut off by the curls she’d pinned up tumbling into her face, only to be swept back into place, secured by his deft fingers. He cupped her chin, appraising his work before nodding. Suspicious, because Trafalgar Law’s approval was never a good thing in her mind, she reached up to touch her hair, russet eyes widening when she felt gemstones instead of pearls. Head snapping back to look at the mother and daughter, her jaw dropped when she saw the little girl holding a wad of bills, beaming even more brilliantly than before while the saleswoman looked close to tears.

Turning to her partner in crime for the night, Law responded with a nonchalant shrug, though she could see his grey eyes soften as they lingered on the child excitedly waving back at them. “The pearl clips didn’t match the rest, and if we’re going to pull this off, we’d best go all-out. Plus, that cash’ll ensure their silence should they be questioned by the authorities later. I’d rather your kindness not get us identified.”

It was all very logical and well-thought-out and total bullshit. Nami had to smile as she once again took his arm, matching his easy gait as they made their way up towards the mansion. “Right. Because I’m the soft-hearted one.”

“You’re paying me back for those, too, by the way,” he quipped, smirking at her annoyed growl.

Before she could argue, he halted; the brilliant lights of the mansion were in sight, and small groups of well-dressed guests were gathering at the ornate front gate. It was time to stop being Cat Thief Nami and the Surgeon of Death Trafalgar Law, bickering pirates, and become a loving couple. Gently as a forest stream, Nami adjusted her body language, leaning comfortably against her partner, hand clutching his bicep possessively, face switching from a seething scowl to the deliriously happy grin of a woman pathetically enamored with her companion.

For his part, Law seemed to morph into his role just as fluidly, posture straightening into something more refined, his smile relaxed and charming; perfectly playing the part of a man who knew he was smart, good-looking, successful, and could easily use all that to get a woman as beautiful as the one on his arm.

Inside, Nami groused that he had the way easier acting job.

As they made their way up the mansion’s long, winding front path, crushing artfully sprinkled rose petals beneath their feet, Law slipped on a raven mask, the sharp beak curving over his nose and the shiny black feathers fanning out like little spikes over his cheeks and forehead. Nami was grateful she’d covered up his dark circles—the eye holes were definitely wide enough where they would have been distinctly visible.

In contrast, her mask was modeled after a cat, the color and leopard spots mimicking her gown perfectly. It flawlessly concealed the upper half of her face, while the large eyeholes showed off her beautiful eyes and wouldn’t block her sightline too badly.

Approaching the doorman, Law handed over their invitation, smirking when the servant checked it against the guest list before nodding, ushering them both inside. Another servant led them down an extravagantly decorated front hallway. The doctor hadn’t been kidding when he’d said the Baron was an art collector with expensive tastes; masterpieces in gold frames hung along the walls, marble statues and painted porcelain vases were displayed on opulent pedestals, and even the crimson rug beneath their feet was luxuriously soft.

Nami had to briefly bury her head against Law’s shoulder to hide the belli signs that sparkled in her eyes.

Eventually, they reached the ballroom, and as they waited to be announced, Law affectionately brushed his lips across her hair. “Ready for some fun?” he murmured, his tone affectionate but the hint of a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips screamed of devilish intentions.

She mirrored his smile and tone, eager to line her pockets and relish in luxury for a while before the real job began. “Absolutely.”

As the ballroom doors opened, the servant next to them announced them to their fellow guests.

“Presenting Dr. Goodheart Adrian and his escort, Ms. Chaton Bellemere!”

Chapter Text

“The Grand Ballroom” was certainly an apt description. The marble dancefloor was inlaid with veins of gold and sparkling quartz, its flat surface so polished it hurt to look at. Plush, wine red carpet lined the perimeter, perfectly matching the cushions of elaborately carved loveseats and couches. Six-foot tall, solid gold candelabras were scattered throughout the room, the flickering flames dancing as gracefully as the guests. Enormous, stained-glass windows depicting hedonistic scenes stretched from floor to ceiling, the colored glass obscuring the view of the outside world. Burgundy velvet drapes trimmed in gold were artfully hung throughout the room, their heavy material casting deep shadows in private nooks perfect for illicit rendezvous.

To the side was a massive buffet, the tables straining under trays of assorted meats, exotic fruits, decadent pastries, tartlets, brie, beef wellingtons, deviled eggs, and more. A literal fountain of wine stood at the center of the smorgasbord, cherubs pouring the intoxicating liquid out of decanters into the guests’ crystal glasses.

The ceiling was the most impressive aspect, though. Above the crowd hung eight massive, golden chandeliers in the shape of octopi, each winding tentacle clutching a light the size of a human head. Multi-faceted crystals dripped off their bulbous bodies like drops of water, making it appear they’d just emerged from the sea and casting shards of light and prismatic rainbows dancing about the walls and floor.

Not to be outdone, the guests that milled about wore their finest costumes, with ballgowns, doublets, tailcoats, hats, capes, masks, and jewelry made from silks, satins, chiffon, precious gems, and exotic furs and feathers. Maids clad in short, tight, copper uniforms wove through the crowd, offering drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and petit fours. A small orchestra was set up in the far corner of the room, filling the air with their slow, elegant music.

It was exactly the kind of party that had Nami salivating. Rich men with thick wallets and wealthy women wearing expensive jewelry were laid out more temptingly than the food.

Still, the décor did bring up a few questions. “If the Baron hates seafood so much, why all the octopi?” she asked curiously, studying the ceiling.

Behind the mask, Law looked thoughtful. “I’d assume it’s a vanity thing; according to my intel, he was touted as ‘The Golden Octopus’ during his time in the Navy.”

“Why?”

“Probably a reference to the number of organizations he was involved in, though there were also rumors about him having an octopus-related Devil Fruit. That seems unlikely, though.”

“What makes you say that?”

“No Devil Fruit user would keep his important files in a Seastone safe. Just touching the damn thing would drain his energy. Besides, don’t you think the World Government would have made that common knowledge to strike fear into pirates? They’ve never exactly been shy about bragging about their officers’ powers.”

Nervously checking her cat mask to ensure it was tightly secured, she said lowly, “You’d better be right; if it turns out he can turn into an octopus or something I’m charging you for shitty intel.”

Casually, the pair meandered through the crowd, giving polite greetings and sizing up potential prey. The Cat Thief had already picked out a few marks; men who’d cast her salacious leers, despite her being on another’s arm. They’d be easily distracted by her cleavage and flattery and wouldn’t even notice their pockets getting progressively lighter. Even better, Law’s presence would also give her the ideal excuse to turn down their inevitable, unwanted advances. Nothing fended off creeps like a jealous boyfriend, after all, and in high society, you never wanted to risk causing a scene. She’d just have to make sure he knew when to step in.

As if he could hear her thoughts, Law murmured in her ear, “I don’t plan on letting you out of my sight, so if you need me, adjust your hairpins and I’ll come to your rescue.”

“‘Rescue’ is a strong word, but I appreciate it,” she responded, tone dripping with false affection as she straightened his lapels, acting as the ever-attentive beau. “Tell me, Adrian, are you the type to tolerate other men flirting with your girlfriend?”

“Of course not. What’s mine is mine, and men challenge that claim at their own peril.” His reply was smooth as polished obsidian, one hand possessively resting on her waist as he steered them over to the side of the dance floor. The thick leather of the black glove shielded her from the heat of his palm, but the weight and press of his fingers into her delicate flesh made up for it.

Teasingly, she tapped the tip of his beak. “That doesn’t sound very doctor-like. Isn’t there a Hippocratic Oath you’re supposed to be following?”

“There are exceptions to every rule.” Long fingers gently lifted her chin so he could gaze deeply into her eyes. “There’s no oath I wouldn’t break to keep my woman at my side.”

Damn, that line should not be so hot,  she thought, the faint blush painting her cheeks visible just beneath the bottom of her mask. It was surprising how easily Law managed to turn on the charm and hide the far creepier meaning of his words. If she were an average woman with no knowledge of his criminal activities or identity as one of the most feared up-and-coming pirates of the current generation, she might swoon a little bit.

Nami really needed more practice dealing with handsome men flirting with her. She was far too used to friendly, harmless perverts like Brook and Sanji, or disgusting lechers like Absalom. Besides being physically attractive, Law’s flirtations were harder to brush off because she completely believed him when he said he was pickier about his women than the rest of his crew. Perhaps that was why he got her so flustered; he didn’t wear his desires on his sleeve, so his attention felt more…focused, like sunlight through a magnifying glass, burning away her defenses.

“And what about you?” he coaxed, lifting her hand to delicately press the tips of her fingers to his lips as his eyes bore into hers. Electric shocks tingled up her hand as heat coiled within her belly. It was way too easy to imagine him giving her that look in a dark bedroom as he slowly stripped off her clothes. “Are you the type to play with a man’s heart? The type to stray? Or are you just so naturally charming you don’t realize the kind of thoughts you put in men’s minds?”

It took her a moment to realize he was asking for the sake of the cover; to establish his reaction when he barged in on her flirtations with other men.

His interest and sensual actions were solely for the sake of the cover. For business, not pleasure. None of it was real, and she grasped that fact like a lifeline. It was so much easier to remain in control if she remembered that it wasn’t Law that was flirting with her, but Dr. Goodheart Adrian, Chaton Bellemere’s surgeon lover. Hell, he was wearing a mask—she could easily pretend that he wasn’t her dangerously attractive temporary captain, but another mark she could tease and deceive with no consequences.

Lips quirking in a saucy, mischievous grin, she leaned in close, breath ghosting across his throat as she replied, “I’d never cheat, but I am the kind of woman who likes to see if she can get her boyfriend jealous. There’s something so arousing about seeing such a normally composed doctor so worked up over little old me.”

Her response made Law pause, blinking owlishly in surprise before his grip on her hand tightened ever-so-slightly, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed. “How jealous do you want?” he rasped, giving the pad of her middle finger a light nip. “I’m happy to break a few jaws before I carry you off.”

A tiny hiss of pleasure escaped between her teeth before she regained control. Pressing a chaste kiss to the corner of his sharp jaw, just below his ear, she murmured, “I’m sure these men don’t want any trouble; just come up with an excuse to lead me away. A little decorum goes a long way, after all.”

She’d planned on flouncing away and getting to work mingling and stealing, but her whole body froze as she caught a familiar scent.

Tobacco smoke, thick and sweet wafted up her nose, and as her heart stuttered in her chest, Nami slowly turned her head to the side, following the grey trail to a large, imposing figure glowering at the crowd as if he’d like to arrest half the people in the room. His formal suit was as white as his hair, his forest green tie and matching domino mask the only pop of color. With the long scar down his face and signature cigar, the mask did nothing to hide his identity.

“What the hell is he doing here?” she squeaked, panicked and already trying to figure out the best way to escape.

“Hina, what the fuck am I doing here?!” Smoker growled, not bothering to keep his voice down.

Beside him, a beautiful woman with long, sakura pink hair and a cigarette dangling from her full, red lips sighed. She was dressed in a stunning, form-fitting silver gown embroidered with fluttering blackbirds, the silk flowing down her figure like mercury. Her mask, also silver but with a black feathered plume, hung absently from her fingers. “Because you owe me. After all the strings I’ve pulled over the years to keep you from getting demoted back down to Chore Boy, this is the least you can do.”

“Look, Hina, I know I owe you, but you could have asked me to do your paperwork for a month or something. Fancy crap with stuffed shirts isn’t my thing, especially when it means playing nice with that bastard. Why couldn’t you take someone Fullbody or Django? They’d be happy to shower you with attention and ask you to waltz and that other gentlemanly shit.”

Shoulders tense as she carefully observed the crowd, she stated, “Precisely because this isn’t your thing. I need you to stand next to me looking grumpy and miserable to keep stupid ass-kissers and perverted old octopi from asking me to dance. Hina hates that old creep.”

Though his teeth ground against his cigar, the corner of his mouth lifted into the barest hint of a smile. “Well, when you put it like that, I guess I am the perfect man for the job.”

“Did you know they were going to be here?” Nami asked under her breath, pressing close to her partner. Smoker was only about fifteen feet away, but the din of the crowd and orchestral music helped mask her voice. Her every instinct screamed for her to run, but she knew any sudden movement around the pirate hunter would capture his undivided attention, like a rabbit trying to escape a wolf. Inwardly, she seethed; if Uni had managed to modify the guest list, surely he would have known a certain Marine was coming, right? Why didn’t anyone warn her? Everybody knew there was nothing Smoker would like better than to capture and imprison the Straw Hats.

Her anger ebbed slightly as Law pulled her a bit closer, doing his best to shield her with his body. Though his poker face was still in place, she could feel the tension coiled in his muscles. “I knew Black Cage was invited, but her RSVP was a ‘no.’ I’d assumed she was cleaning up the mess of the war or helping track down the prisoners Mugiwara released from Impel Down. White Chase was definitely not on the guest list.”

“What do we do?”

“Keep calm. It’s a big party, and it shouldn’t be too hard to avoid them. Even if they notice us, our disguises should allay suspicion, and there’s no way they’d expect the two of us together.”

He was right; even if they did somehow recognize Law, they’d never expect the navigator of a rival crew on his arm, meaning she might be able to make a break for it. She wasn’t too worried about his safety; he was a strong fighter and could teleport himself to the other side of the island in a heartbeat. She was the one who would be screwed if she caught a Marine’s eye.

Surreptitiously, Nami peeked around Law’s chest to watch the pair, hoping for some sign they’d move on to another part of the ballroom, but soon found herself staring at the beautiful captain. Bad as her experiences with the World Government were, she couldn’t help but admire a strong Marine woman. And though the hairstyle was different, the color and cigarette briefly brought visions of her adoptive mother, and she wondered if Hina had heard of Bellemere. There weren’t too many female officers in the Marines; had she been renowned enough for someone like Hina to look up to? Or was her decision to give up military life to raise two orphaned girls treated as a disgrace? The Navy hadn’t offered any financial assistance or seemed to care when she’d been murdered by pirates, so the latter seemed more likely.

Of course, a trained soldier would sense she was being watched, and Hina inclined her head towards the incognito couple. “You’ve been staring at me. Why?” she asked suspiciously, taking a long drag of her cigarette as her dark eyes narrowed.

Luckily, years of swindling, being a member of Arlong’s crew, and generally always needing to get herself out of trouble had made Nami a pretty good actress, even under pressure. “I was just admiring your dress. It’s absolutely gorgeous!” she gushed, making her voice as airheaded and overexcited as she could under the Marine’s scrutiny. “Wherever did you get it?”

Apparently, her ruse worked, as she gave a small but pleased smile. “Thank you. There’s a shop in Alabasta that carries beautiful silks. I stumbled across it while on a mission and decided to treat myself. When I learned I’d be attending this…party, a dressmaker on Sabaody made them into a custom gown for me.”

“Alabasta! How exotic! Oh, darling, can we go there on our next holiday?” she asked, looking up at Law, wide brown eyes begging him to play along. “I simply must have a dress like that!”

Catching on, the doctor once more pulled her close, dropping a kiss to her hair. “If that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. Nothing’s too good for you, sweetheart.”

She gave him a dazzling grin, wrapping her arms around his waist in an enthusiastic hug. “Really?! Oh, thank you, cuddle bear!”

Internally, Nami cheered in victory as his jaw tightened and blue tint came to his cheeks. She might not get to kick his ass, but she could still make his night hell in all the little ways. “You’re…welcome,” he ground out.

“Hina-chan!” a loud, overly cheerful voice called out from the crowd, and an older, obese man strode over. His tuxedo was gold silk and embroidered with scarlet octopi, a long, crimson cape trailing behind him. His grey hair was thin, braided into eight little rattails, and slicked back with so much oil it gleamed like grease on the water. A gold octopus mask hung from his neck, the tentacles a writhing mass and encrusted with rubies for suckers. “How marvelous! You were able to make it after all!”

Both Marines noticeably stiffened at his approach. “Well, after your call, my superiors were convinced that attending your party was more important than attending to my duties,” she said, tone so frosty it made Drum Island seem like a tropical paradise.

“Oh, don’t be that way, Hina-chan,” Baron Harpin chuckled, giving her an appreciative leer. The way the captain tensed further made it clear the feeling wasn’t mutual. “Always so serious, even back when you were a trainee. Really, you should be grateful I pushed so hard to get you a night off—it pains me to think of such a beautiful flower wilting on the battlefield. I swear I’ll never forgive Sengoku for denying my request to have you as my personal secretary.”

“Hina’s too damn good a soldier to waste on some pathetic desk job,” Smoker’s deep, rough voice cut in, muscular arms crossed tightly over his massive chest. “And she ain’t wilting—she thrives out there.”

The Baron regarded him with undisguised disdain. “I don’t recall inviting you.”

“I’m Hina’s plus-one, or did you not notice that on the RSVP? Pretty sloppy for the head of Navy Intelligence. Sorry—ex-head of Navy Intelligence.”

The pirate hunter’s biting comment struck a nerve, as disregard turned into outright hatred. “Careful, Smoker; I may be retired, but I’ve still got plenty of pull with the Admirals, plus several other organizations. One word from me and your career is over.”

A threatening step forward was all Smoker was able to take before Hina held him back. “He’s not worth it,” she murmured before insistently leading him away.

“Just one moment, Hina-chan,” their host sing-songed. When the woman in question acknowledged him over her shoulder, he gave a haughty grin. “I know I permitted you a plus-one, but that’s because I’d assumed you’d bring along someone with more…class. I surround myself with only the finest things, after all. I’m rather inclined to have him escorted out for the sake of my invited guests; trash like him tends to ruin the ambiance.”

Turning fully towards him, though still keeping a restraining hand on Smoker’s bicep, she stated, “What do you want?”

His returning leer was as greasy as his hair. “A smile. Surely such a rare and radiant thing will counteract your…date’s foul appearance.”

“Oh, that fuckin—” Smoker growled, but Hina’s silent glare stopped him. Taking a deep, fortifying breath, the Marine captain plastered on a bland, completely hollow smile for their former superior before dragging her old friend out to the gardens to smoke in peace.

“Be sure to save me a dance, Hina-chan!” he called after them, entirely too gleeful to have the last word. As he beamed at his guests, his black, watery eyes fell on Nami, and she swore she could feel his gaze creep over her like a writhing mass of tentacles.

Not wanting to hang around lest Harpin decided to come over and introduce himself, she gave Law’s elbow a slight tug, and he willingly let her lead him away towards one of the little alcoves. “Well, he seems…yeah, he’s a total creep.”

“I feel like I need a chemical shower just being in his presence,” Law conferred lowly, grabbing them both a glass of champagne before ducking behind the curtains. The drapes mostly hid them from view, but he strategically positioned himself so his shoulder blocked the slight gap in the heavy velvet, yet still allowed him to notice anyone approaching. “Pity Black Cage didn’t deck him in the jaw.”

“I was hoping Smoker would make him eat his own mask.” She swiftly changed the subject, unwilling to risk one of their fellow guests overhearing them badmouth their host. “I was not expecting those two. I mean, not just here—do you think they’re dating?”

Law rubbed his chin in consideration. “I hope not. Any progeny they might produce would be an absolute nightmare to pirates the world over. The tobacco industry would be thrilled, though.”

Unbidden, a giggle escaped her as an image of a tiny Marine with Smoker’s scowl and Hina’s pink hair popped into her head, an oversized cigar comically protruding from the child’s mouth.

“Of course, that’s assuming they don’t both die of lung cancer before then,” he added absently, sipping his drink. Grey eyes swept the room over his shoulder, noting that most of the guests had the tact to look away from the alcoves, especially those occupied by couples engaged in private moments. A long arm wrapped around Nami’s tiny waist, pulling the gorgeous woman against his hip so he could murmur in her ear, “But enough about that. What else should I know about my lovely Bellemere? How did we meet?”

Playing along, she ran the tips of her fingers along his chest beneath his jacket. They should have discussed this earlier, but in the craziness of the mission prep, it had fallen by the wayside. “At an auction, of course,” she supplied easily. “There was a wonderful mermaid piece that I had taken an interest in.”

A low chuckle caressed her as he wound a lock of purple hair around his finger. The easiest lies to keep up were ones based on truth, and there was no hiding his amusement at how she’d spun the debacle at Sabaody. “Of course. You and your companions got separated, and I graciously offered to keep you company until you could be reunited. Not long after, I performed life-saving surgery on your friend, and you’ve been at my side ever since.”

His arrogant tone made her roll her eyes. “Does Dr. Goodheart have any notable achievements to his name? I can’t imagine I’d be interested in a mediocre doctor, and you must have gotten your medical license somewhere.”

“Gotten a what now?”

When she stared at him in open horror, jaw dropping to the floor, he couldn’t stop himself from laughing. “I reattached a girl’s leg during my first year at Serenity Hospital in the North Blue,” he stated with a grin. “I was accepted into med school at fifteen and finished my surgical residency in only three years, and I also have several published papers on the effects of lead poisoning in children.”

“Really?” she replied, skepticism dripping from her lips.

“Of course. I could only learn so much through books and practicing on my friends, so I took on the identity of Goodheart Adrian so I could perfect my skills. ‘Trafalgar Law’ was a name I didn’t want gaining notoriety until I had the power and skills to protect myself.”

Well, that was quite the revelation. Frankly, she’d always figured he was only a doctor in the back-alley sense, since no hospital would be crazy enough to give him an actual license. But to have had a second identity for so long…

“Why?”

Grey eyes narrowed behind his mask at her inquiry. “Focus on questions relevant to our current situation, sweetheart.”

Cheeks puffed out indignantly, she let the topic drop, mostly out of irritation that he was right. Besides, she didn’t want to get to know the real Law, did she? “Fine. Where’d you take me on our first date? I’m sure a doctor’s salary could afford a fancy dinner, at least.”

As if a switch had been flipped, his charming persona returned. She knew it was all for show, especially given how the alcove didn’t completely hide them if someone really felt like being a voyeur, but did he have to rub those distracting little circles against her spine? “Since you have such expensive tastes, we went to the En L’iar Rose restaurant on Chardonnay Island. It’s known for its exquisite wines and decadent foods. You ordered the Pane Caldo while I had the stuffed mushrooms, and we shared a plate of assorted artisan cheeses, fruits, and chocolates for dessert.”

“That’s…an acceptable choice, I suppose.” A small, irrational coil of envy tightened in her belly. She wasn’t mad that Law had probably taken some other woman on such a romantic outing—just that no guy had put that much effort into a date with her.

His smirk was decidedly wicked. “You were such a tease with that fruit, eating it so seductively I nearly lost my mind. It took all my willpower not to pin you down and have my way with you.”

Memories of how she’d teased him with the mikans made her thighs clench, as she was suddenly all too aware that she’d been playing with fire that day. He’d definitely enjoyed her attentions and it so easily could have been turned on her. The tips of her ears turned pink as she instinctively tried to push him away, but his muscular arm kept her anchored to his side. “Too bad I’m a classy lady who doesn’t just give it up to a guy because he bought her a fancy dinner,” she snapped quietly.

“Of course you’re not; I wouldn’t have taken interest in you if you were,” he assured, tilting her face to the right and pressing a kiss to her masked cheek to hide her pissed expression. “I’m a man who likes a challenge—a woman easily seduced would bore me. And it’s intriguing how you’re so flirtatious one moment, yet easily flustered the next; makes me wonder what you’ll be like once I finally do get you in my bed.”

Face flushing to match her ears, Nami wasn’t sure if it was due to anger or embarrassment. She also wasn’t sure if he was speaking as Adrian or Law, and it was playing havoc with her sense of control. “Well, you’ll be wondering for quite some time—at the very least until you’ve gotten me a 300-carat diamond.”

A low chuckle rumbled deep in his chest as he released her. “I think we’ve got enough of the basics down to pass as a new couple. Ready to get to work?”

It took a moment and a few deep breaths to regain her composure. Her heart was beating too quickly for her liking, and she desperately needed some distance. “Hell yes. Time is money, and right now, I don’t have nearly enough of either.”

XXX

Over an hour later, Nami was immensely pleased with her haul. She’d swiped the wallets of six dance partners, along with a gold wristwatch, emerald-studded cufflinks, and some rings. She’d been extremely careful not to steal more than one thing from each target, and plenty of her dance partners had left unscathed; after all, if every man she came in contact with found their wallets missing, she’d be the prime suspect.

Finding dance partners and wealthy marks alike had been easier than getting Sanji to bring her tea. Men had practically swarmed her the moment she’d broken away from Law, and though she could feel his piercing gaze on her back, he stayed out of her way so she could work her magic.

So far, he’d only had to step in once, when a man with a face like a horse and a unicorn mask to match had gotten a little too handsy, swooping in like a bird of prey and sending her victim scurrying off with nothing more than a sharp glare and a couple cutting remarks. Still, the way he’d clutched his cane told her he’d wanted to do a lot more, reminding her that the Surgeon of Death was not a man to be messed with. While a jealous boyfriend was a great creep deterrent, too much could put off her potential marks. For the sake of that evening’s profits, she vowed to only call him in as a last resort.

She would swear until her dying breath it had nothing to do with the thrill she got at hearing Law defend her honor in his deep voice or the way she could feel the muscles beneath his suit flex when he clutched her to him possessively.

It was nearly nine-thirty when a skinny man in an elaborate peacock mask and flamboyant suit to match lead her onto the dancefloor. He’d approached swinging an emerald and sapphire-encrusted pocket watch like a pendulum, strutting about in a way that instantly practically begged her to rob him. Only men with more money than brains walked like that.

“So, Ms. Chaton,” Kujakumaru began as he pulled her close, “what do you do for a living?”

As easily as Zoro drew a sword, she turned on the charm. “Oh, I’ve done a little modeling,” she replied, fluttering her eyelashes. “Mostly swimsuits and the like.”

“Really? You?”

She blinked, brows furrowing behind her mask in confusion and mild annoyance. “Yes. Not in any big magazines, but I’ve only just started, after all.”

“Ah, no wonder I hadn’t heard of you,” he stated, looking her up and down, eyes lingering on the swell of her chest. “I’ve dated quite a few models, actually. I suppose when you surround yourself with the most gorgeous women in the world, you don’t notice those who are less than a perfect ten.”

An annoyed tic formed on her forehead, thankfully hidden by the cat mask. Sure, he couldn’t see her face, but the way his eyes were practically glued to her cleavage proved he didn’t find her hideous. And what right did he have to call her less than a ten? Her bounty poster was ogled by pirates all over the Grand Line! “Well, sorry I’m not up to your usual standards, Mr. Kujakumaru,” she ground out as politely as she could.

At the brief display of temper, he quickly backtracked, “Oh, I never said that! Of course you’re beautiful, but I’d only rank you less than a ten because you’ve still got a few more years to go before you’ve fully bloomed!” he insisted, gaze flickering between her face and breasts pointedly.

Oh, nice save,  she thought sarcastically. It was all too easy to catch onto this idiot’s game; he was trying to bring down her confidence in hopes preying on any insecurities. Women who knew their worth were much harder to lure into bed, after all. “Well, my boyfriend hasn’t had any complaints,” she stated matter-of-factly.

“I’m sure he hasn’t; after all, looks aren’t everything.” When her hazelnut eyes narrowed, he continued, “You misunderstand me; I mean that modeling is just as much about who you know as what you look like. Making friends with the right people and whatnot.”

“Of course.” It was almost funny; the whole night, she’d put up with men looking to get into her pants without so much as blinking, yet this guy was making her lose her cool. Then again, none of the others had tried negging her. People like that deserved a very special place in hell as far as she was concerned. If they’d been in a bar instead of some fancy party, he’d be unconscious on the floor for his comments.

“If you really want to be a model, I have some connections to the West Blue’s top agencies. Of course, I only pass along the names of people I’m personally close to.”

Though she plastered on a smile, inwardly she rolled her eyes. He was the third man that night offering to help her “modeling career” with his “connections,” but they’d at least done their best to stroke her ego first. He hadn’t even waited for her response before slipping his hand off her waist to slide across her rear.

That little grope just cost him eighty million belli,  she thought, using his moment of distraction to carefully undo the chain of his pocket watch from his doublet. To disguise the action, she pushed him back slightly, looking away coyly. “Oh, that’s so sweet of you! Unfortunately, it’s more of a hobby than anything else; if I became some big star, I wouldn’t have as much freedom. I love traveling and shopping too much to waste my time in some studio.”

“Sounds like an expensive lifestyle,” he pressed, undeterred by her refusal, just like she’d anticipated. Nami was plenty familiar with men like him; born with a silver spoon in his mouth, raised to believe that he was entitled to anything he wanted and when a woman rebuffed him, she didn’t really mean it.

He was the kind of guy she would love to have Sanji kick into the sun.

Lacking the chivalrous love-cook, however, Nami settled for her current bodyguard. “It is, but Dr. Goodheart has been an excellent provider. His research takes him to so many interesting places, and he’s been adamant about bringing me along. He gets lonely without me.”

“Then I’m surprised he’s letting you dance with another man.”

A mischievous smirk touched the corner of her lips. “We have an arrangement—he doesn’t like to dance, but I simply can’t get enough of it. So, he lets me have as many partners as I please, so long as I never dance with anyone more than once.” As the last notes of the waltz floated through the air, she knew now was the time to make her getaway. Pushing up onto her tip-toes, she murmured in his ear as she carefully lifted the watch from his pocket, slipping it into the tight cuff of her billowy sleeve, “Otherwise, he gets terribly jealous. Normally, he’s so cool and collected, but he’s got a dark temper. It’s hot, if I’m perfectly honest.”

She felt Kujakumaru shudder against her as her hot breath caressed his skin. “Is dancing the only thing he gets jealous about?” he croaked, staring at her with obvious desire, hands impotently grasping at empty air as she stepped out of his reach. “Perhaps we could find a nice, quiet corner and continue our discussion about your modeling career; a beauty like you deserves to be shared, not hoarded away for one man to enjoy.”

Relieved that she could finally turn around and roll her eyes, she strolled towards the wine fountain, calling back over her shoulder, “I appreciate the thought, but I really must get back to Adrian.”

She halted as a thin, sweaty hand wrapped around her wrist. “At a party like this, a man’s never lonely for long. I’m sure he’s found some pretty young thing to keep him company, so why not do the same for me?”

Lifting up her free arm, she allowed the cold metal of the stolen watch to slide down her sleeve into her bodice, grateful that he’d grabbed her left wrist. It would have been disastrous if he’d stumbled upon the payment she’d taken for putting up with his bullshit. Absently, she played with the shimmering barrettes in her hair, making sure they caught the light like an emergency beacon. Surely Law would be there any moment; this was definitely serious enough to get him involved. “Adrian’s quite adamant that I’m the only woman for him, so I doubt it. And if a man’s not lonely for long, I’m sure you’ll find yourself in pleasant enough company soon enough.”

“I want your company. Your little boyfriend can wait until I’m finished with you.”

“He’s hardly ‘little.’”

“He must be if he can’t satisfy a woman as obsessed with ‘dancing’ as you. In fact, how about I invite a few friends to join us?’ You said he doesn’t care how many ‘dance partners’ you have, right?”

Brown eyes darted about nervously, desperately trying to catch sight of her raven companion. She was certain she’d left him by the window next to the fountain, so he should have been at her side already. What, had he wandered off to take a leak? If he didn’t show himself in the next five seconds, she was going to have to do something drastic, like pluck the peacock’s feathers herself.

“What was that you were saying about him not looking at other women?” Kujakumaru crowed, roughly turning her towards the dancefloor.

Her jaw dropped. His height made him easy to spot on the dancefloor, casually leading Black Cage Hina in a foxtrot.

That absolute bastard!  Nami thought, rage bubbling up inside of her. He abandoned his partner to deal with some clingy creep so he could dance with a Marine? Was he trying to get them caught?!

“Well, since your boyfriend is otherwise occupied,” the man beside her sniggered, pulling her against him, “what say you and I go someplace private—”

The hard point of a cane slammed into his foot, causing him to yelp ungracefully and release Nami from his clutches. Gratefully, she turned to her liberator, hoping Law had abandoned Hina to finally come save her, only to find herself face-to-face with a rotund, yet rather elegant-looking gentleman dressed as a knight, complete with silver shoulder pads, royal blue cape, and plumed helmet. The faceplate was up to reveal piercing black eyes and a disapproving frown made even more exaggerated by his bushy grey mustache.

“I believe this young lady made it quite clear that your time with her is over, nephew,” he said sternly.

Kujakumaru looked like he wanted to argue, but when he reached for Nami again, the knight brandished his cane like a sword. “Oh, please, do try. Beatrix may spoil you rotten, but I’m certainly not above turning you over my knee right here and now.”

That threat was all it took to send the peacock flying off into the crowd, managing nothing more than, “I’m telling mother!” over his shoulder before he disappeared.

Relieved to finally be free of such sweaty clutches, the Cat Thief studied her wrist to ensure no perspiration had leaked into the luxurious fabric of her sleeve. A handkerchief entered her field of vision, and she smiled thankfully.

“So, did you pick your costume intending to go about rescuing young ladies, or was that just a happy accident?” she asked, wiping off her hand.

He savior’s hard frown morphed into a smile as he offered her his arm. “I had hoped such services would be unnecessary, but it never hurts to come prepared, especially with my family is involved. He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

She allowed him to lead her away from the whispering crowd. If she gathered too much attention, it’d be harder for her to sneak away once the plan was in motion, and until Law finished his little dance with Hina, she’d rather not risk being confronted by more creeps who couldn’t take a hint.

Her natural suspicion only briefly entertained the thought that her hero could turn out to be just as bad. Whether it was his protective aura or his mustache, he reminded her of Genzo, and that would always earn a man the benefit of the doubt. “I’m fine. I suppose I should have been clearer that I wasn’t interested.”

“From what I overheard, you made yourself plenty clear,” he huffed. “That boy’s never learned a speck of respect. My sister spoils him, and he takes entirely too much after my brother.”

“Eh, men like him are hardly rare. I appreciate you scaring him off, though.”

“Happy to be of assistance. I hope you don’t mind if I linger a bit? I’d rather avoid the inevitable argument Beatrix and I will have for a little while longer, and I think I should have a talk with your boyfriend about leaving his lady undefended.”

“Oh, no need for that,” she growled, clenching her fist as a murderous flame crackled in her eyes. “I’m happy to do it myself.”

Surprised, the knight let out a full-bellied laugh. “I’m starting to think my rescue was unneeded; you seem plenty capable of handling yourself!”

“Damn right I can!” she snarled before remembering herself. Swiftly plastering on an innocent smile, she amended, “I mean, I wish I could, but a delicate thing like me wouldn’t stand a chance without a big, strong man looking after her.”

Laugh simmering down to a chuckle, he waved off her excuse. “Relax; a lady with spirit is a great thing. You remind me of my granddaughter, actually!” With a deep, proper bow, he introduced himself. “Harpin Reginald, at your service.”

“Harpin?” she asked, suddenly nervous. “Are you related to our host?” If he was, she was in so much trouble. Puzzle pieces began to connect in her head, and the picture they were forming was not pretty.

His massive mustache waggled side-to-side in distaste. “Alas, he’s my elder brother. I don’t particularly like either of my siblings, but our mother asked us on her deathbed to try to get along, so he’s bound to invite me, and I’m obligated to attend. The rest of the time, I put as much of the Grand Line between the three of us as possible.”

“So, was that the Baron’s son?”

“No, my sister’s, though Gerald was the one to teach him such wonderful manners.” He glared disdainfully across the room to where their host was casually groping one of the maids. “I swear, he threw a masked ball simply because he knows how much I detest these things.”

“What, you don’t enjoy the opportunity to dress up as a white knight?” she managed to tease. Her heart was still quaking at the revelation that she’d inadvertently pissed off a former Navy Intelligence officer’s nephew—when she found Law, she’d have to warn him that she’d earned some problematic attention.

After she kicked his ass for abandoning her, of course.

Whether her was ignoring her nervousness or simply failed to pick up on it, Reginald chuckled at her comment. “Well, that I don’t mind, but you’ve seen how outrageous these people get when they have anonymity—Kujakumaru is a perfect example. I doubt you’re the first woman he’s tried to coerce tonight.”

“You have a point, but I’m starting to think every high-class party is a masquerade in its own way.”

A grey eyebrow raised inquisitively. “How so?”

She shrugged, adjusting her cat mask so it rested more securely on her face. “Everyone’s still putting on a disguise; pretending to be more important than they really are, acting like they don’t despise each other with fake smiles and forced politeness, putting up with some creep’s innuendos because if they slap him like they really want to, the illusion’s broken and everyone will hate them for it.”

Reginald rubbed his chin, but a small, approving smile curled his lips. “You sound like you don’t enjoy these kinds of affairs.”

“Honestly, I always thought I would, but I guess I’m a simple girl at heart. I like expensive things, but this,” she pointed at the ballroom, “is disgusting. How much of the buffet is going to go straight in the trash? My friend’s a cook, and he’d have an aneurism over so much food waste.”

“I agree. I wish Gerald would at least send the leftovers to the town; every year, I swear those people look worse and worse. I tell you, I’d much rather be at one of the shindigs my wife’s family throws. Everyone comes for miles to sing and dance and share food, and it doesn’t matter what your status is; you’re welcomed with open arms.”

Nami smiled wistfully. “Yeah. I wish I was back with my friends—Brook’s music is way better than some stuffy orchestra, and Franky would show off some bizarre new move or hairstyle, and Lu—” she caught herself, realizing that she was getting too close to outing her identity as a Straw Hat, “—cy would make up ridiculous games and do stupid impressions, and we’d drink and laugh until dawn.”

“That sounds a hundred times more fun than any affair my siblings have thrown. Perhaps next year I’ll claim to have a prior engagement and seek out your friends’ party,” he joked.

She grinned, elbowing him playfully. “If you can find us, you’re welcome anytime. Heck, you can even say we kidnapped you if you need a better excuse. Consider it my thanks for the daring rescue.”

The playful glint faded from his black eyes. “Speaking of excuses, you’ll probably want to come up with one to leave—even if Kujakumaru doesn’t go crying to his mother, by midnight, this place will be nothing short of an orgy.”

She nearly choked on her own spit. From his dry tone, she doubted he was exaggerating. “Good thing my boyfriend and I already planned to be out by then.”

“See that you do. Why the Navy ever employed a hedonist like my brother, I’ll never know, much less as head of Intelligence.”

From what she’d seen that night, she couldn’t help but wonder the same thing. “Well, you don’t get rich enough to own your own island by not having connections; maybe the Navy felt they were useful enough to excuse his…lifestyle.”

With a huff, he nodded. “Probably, though I also have no doubt that’s why he was eventually convinced to ‘retire.’ He never would have left on his own volition; they would have had to pry it from his sticky, greedy grasp. Gerald’s always hated giving anything up, even if he doesn’t really want it.”

Nami wanted to pry further—this was a goldmine of intel on the man she was about to rob—but she was distracted by a certain man in a raven mask approaching.

Rage once more bubbling up like a geyser, she whirled on Law. “Oh, have you finished dancing already?” she asked sarcastically. “Good thing I didn’t need your help fending off some creep!”

Behind the mask, she could see an array of expressions cross his face; surprise, annoyance, guilt, anger, before finally settling on mildly apologetic. “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he said, reaching out to gently run his fingers across her cheek. When she jerked back, glaring harshly, he sighed, “I saw another lady in need of rescuing and got distracted.”

“Yeah, sure, because Black Cage Hina would ever need to be rescued,” she scoffed.

“Actually,” Reginald said from beside her, “if it’s from my brother, then yes, she would. He’s always had a…thing for her, ever since she was a recruit.”

Law nodded, though he did give the older man a suspicious glance. “I was simply helping her avoid the Baron. But I truly am sorry,” he murmured, hooking Nami’s fingers with his own and carefully drawing her to his side, brushing a kiss across the corner of her mask. “I should have made sure you weren’t in harm’s way, first; you’re always my top priority, and I promise not to leave you alone again.”

Nami really wanted to stay mad at him, but for the sake of both their cover and the job, Bellemere had to forgive her boyfriend’s chivalrous stupidity. The Cat Thief didn’t, though, and she vowed to give him an earful once they were alone. So, she forced herself to wrap her arms around his waist, giving him a tight squeeze as she grumbled into his vest, “Apology accepted, but only because I was lucky enough to have a knight in shining armor to rescue me.”

“I guess so. Care to introduce me?”

Gratefully pulling away from Law’s heated body, she turned to her new friend. “Adrian, this is Harpin Reginald. Reginald, this is Dr. Goodheart Adrian.”

“Goodheart?” the old gentleman asked, eyes lighting up in recognition. “From Serenity Hospital?”

“Yes?” the surgeon replied, immediately on guard. He’d made the connection to their host even more quickly than she had, and the fact that her new friend could identify him didn’t bode well.

“You were the one who reattached my granddaughter’s leg!”

Law blinked in surprise. “Melody-ya was your granddaughter?”

Nami’s eyes widened at both the connection and the way the surgeon’s accent slipped. Even when it was just the two of them, he hadn’t added -ya to anyone’s name since they’d arrived.

Grasping Law’s hand in both of his own, Reginald shook it enthusiastically, tears of joy practically streaming down his face. “Indeed! I honestly can’t thank you enough!” He turned to Nami, smile shining brighter than his armor. “You have no idea how much I owe this man. Melody was involved in a terrible accident that tore off her right leg. The doctors were able to stabilize her, but they said she’d need a prosthetic replacement, and possibly never be able to walk again. But Dr. Goodheart was able to reattach her leg so perfectly, there wasn’t even a scar when they removed her stitches! It was practically a miracle!”

If you count the powers of a Devil Fruit as a “miracle,”  she thought wryly, though she found it hard to stay cynical. As unlikely as it seemed that Law would meet the grandfather of one of his former patients here, she’d learned that fate had a funny way of bringing people together. She’d never expected to meet Brook, Laboon’s long-missing friend, on Thriller Bark, and yet he was now a member of her crew, sailing with them to the end of the Grand Line to fulfill his promise.

“I simply did what I could to the best of my ability with the tools I had at my disposal,” Law insisted, though his lips did lift in a slight smile. It was strange to see him acting humble, and somehow, it felt authentic. “How has she been? Any problems with the leg?”

“She’s well on her way to becoming a marathon runner, I can tell you,” Reginald said proudly. “Quick as the wind and eager to see the world! And it’s all thanks to you!”

“Any surgeon would have done the same in my position. I’m just glad she’s made such an excellent recovery; it’s the greatest reward any doctor could ask for.”

Reginald looked like he wanted to sing “Dr. Goodheart’s” praises further, but there was a sudden screech of “WHERE’S THAT WORTHLESS LITTLE BROTHER OF MINE” from the other side of the room, and the knight went rigid.

“Ah, it seems I can’t delay my argument with Beatrix any longer. Keep your heads down while I try to lead her off. Better yet, hide until some other drama occurs—maybe then you could sneak out more easily.”

Law frowned while Nami gave an appreciative smile. She was more than happy to run rather than get pulled into some family spat. “Thanks again for your help, Reginald. Best of luck with your sister.”

Pulling her partner deep into the crowd, the thief refused to stop until they were safe at the far end of the ballroom, the sound of the orchestra covering up their conversation.

“So, exactly what kind of trouble did you get yourself into while I was gone?” Law asked.

“Long story short—the Baron’s nephew propositioned me and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, so Reginald put him in his place.”

Anger flashed in the Dark Doctor’s gaze before simmering down to annoyance. “Of all the people you had to piss off…”

“Well excuse me for being a loyal girlfriend,” she snapped. “Unlike you! Why were you really dancing with Hina?” she whispered harshly, poking his chest.

He raised a black eyebrow, and Nami blushed as she realized just how jealous she sounded. “You’re the one who thinks acts of kindness are a weakness,” she insisted, “so there’s no way you helped her out for chivalry’s sake. If it affects the plan, I deserve to know!”

“White Chase had to take a piss, and I noticed our beloved host making a bee-line for her. In the interest of the night not suddenly going to hell ahead of schedule, I figured I’d offer her a temporary escape. Entertaining as it would be, my plan doesn’t factor in the Baron getting murdered this early in the evening.”

“What if she had recognized you?”

“Worried about me, sweetheart?” he teased, stroking a gloved finger down the smooth side of her mask. “I’m sure you’d be able to make an easy getaway in the confusion.”

“If anything happened to you, your crew would be heartbroken and I’d be roped into breaking your ass out of Impel Down,” she argued half-heartedly. “And in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not some powerhouse with more luck than brains like Luffy. You shouldn’t have taken such a risk!”

“Then I promise not to dance with another woman for the rest of the night,” he replied, pulling her close, hands resting gently on the small of her back, rubbing those distracting little circles along her spine. Leaning down, he whispered, “Seriously, I was doing it for our sake; Black Cage apparently has a rather unpleasant history with Harpin, so I dropped a few hints that she and White Chase should call it an early night. Things will go much easier with them out of the way.”

It was funny; despite the knowledge that Law was a sadistic, dangerous pirate and potentially one of Luffy’s greatest rivals to become Pirate King, being in his arms was beginning to feel…not comfortable, but almost normal. If anything, she should be more eager to escape his clutches than any of the handsy men she’d endured that night; at least they were weak enough to clobber if they got her alone. But she didn’t feel gross when Law touched her.

It dawned on her that, despite playing the role of her lover, his touches throughout the night had been relatively innocent. His hand went nowhere more inappropriate than her waist. His eyes stayed locked on her own instead of falling to the plunging neckline of her dress. Even though he’d kissed her several times, for the most part it had been to her wig or mask.

Deep down, she’d expected him to take advantage of their situation; to grope and kiss and tease her, using their cover as a couple as an excuse, secure in the knowledge that there was nothing she could do to stop him.

Why the hell did Nami feel so disappointed that he didn’t?

Shaking herself free of such confusing thoughts, she replied, “How much longer until phase two?”

Taking a glance at his pocket watch, he said, “It’s currently 9:40pm. Shachi’s team will act at 10:25pm, Ikkaku’s at 10:31pm, and Penguin’s at 10:37pm. Be ready to move no later than 10:15pm.”

“So we’ll just waltz into Harpin’s study?” She’d been sure to memorize the mansion’s blueprints, so she knew it was three floors above the ballroom. No matter what route they took, getting there would take time, and Law seemed fairly against using his powers unless strictly necessary.

“When we leave the ballroom, head towards the foyer but take the first right; about fifteen feet down that hallway, behind the red drapes between the painting of Dionysus and the statue of Venus is a hidden door the servants use. Those passageways lead all throughout the house, so we should be able to get around more easily. I’m sure there are guards or at least servants positioned to deter guests from wandering into certain parts of the mansion, but once our little distractions hit, it’s unlikely to be a problem.”

Even with his reassurance, Nami couldn’t help but be nervous. So many things could go horribly wrong, and even if Smoker and Hina left, she doubted they’d ignore the “distractions” Law had in mind.

Either he could see the tension in her shoulders or feel it in her spine, because he immediately set to taking her mind off such concerns. “We still have over a half-hour; I bet you can’t steal ten more wallets before showtime.”

Eyes flashing with greed and pride, she replied, “What’s the prize?”

“Me and the crew always have a party to celebrate a successful job, but I also take the time to treat myself to a nice dinner as a personal reward. Since you’ve been so instrumental to my plan, I was thinking about inviting you along.”

Immediately, she knew what he was proposing. “Loser pays for dinner?”

“Damn right.”

“You’re on.”

To the Dark Doctor’s surprise, she didn’t run off to find a new dance partner; instead, they milled about, wandering past small groups of guests, Nami occasionally stopping to apologize for bumping into someone or to compliment a particularly elaborate costume. By the time they reached the other side of the ballroom ten minutes later, she pulled him towards one of the stained-glass windows, turning them away from the party under the pretense of studying the elaborate scene of a satyr ravishing a forest nymph.

Reaching into the slit of her dress, the Cat Thief pulled out her haul, fanning herself haughtily with the wallets. “Seven down; three to go.”

Impressed at how quickly and subtly she worked, he smirked, patting his pocket to be sure she hadn’t added his to the collection. “Saying this now; my wallet doesn’t count.”

She rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. “Fine, but only because I already know how easily I could take it.”

“Careful, Nami-ya, or you’re going to find out how easily I can take everything you’ve stolen tonight.”

A strange, pleasant shiver ran up her spine as his dark baritone caressed each syllable of her name. Had he always said it like that? Or was she just noticing now because he’d been calling her “Bellemere” and “sweetheart” all night?

None of that mattered at the moment, as a shrill, angry shriek from behind them quickly soured the mood.

“You! You’re the wretch who insulted my precious Kujakumaru!”

Nami barely had time to slip the wallets back into her gown before five long, sharp, acrylic nails buried themselves into her clavicle. She let out a yelp of pain as she was aggressively spun around, coming face-to-throat with a tall, thin woman with a severe frown, red cheeks, and the same black, watery eyes as the Baron. She was dressed in a chartreuse silk gown, her hair done up in a tight updo, and she clutched a domino mask adorned with yellow and green sequins. But Nami barely noticed that, as her eye was immediately drawn to her necklace; three rows of small, exquisitely cut white diamonds hung around her neck like a collar, framing a heart-shaped yellow diamond the size of a peach stone.

The sharp sting of yellow-painted talons scratching the skin of her collarbone brought the thief’s attention back up to the woman’s face. “I’m sorry; I don’t think we’ve been introduced,” Nami ground out through the pain.

“That’s because trash like you doesn’t even belong in my presence! You should be honored my perfect son even glanced your way you harlot!” Looking the younger woman up and down, she scoffed. “I mean, look at the way you’re dressed. Kujakumaru, did you ask this girl to dance out of pity? Such cheap, ugly jewelry for a cheap, ugly girl!”

“Yes mother,” the man in the peacock mask sneered, pushing his way to the front of the crowd, a look of righteous glee in his eyes. “It was an act of charity, and when I refused her advances, she made uncle Reggie beat me!”

Furious at both the insult and the blatant lies, Nami struggled to pull away, but that only made the claws sink in deeper. “Your son’s the one who came onto me,” she snapped, “and maybe if you’d bothered to teach him to respect women, he wouldn’t get so butthurt over a girl rejecting him.”

“How dare you?!”

The woman looked as if she might continue to berate her, but she shrieked in surprise as Law wrenched her hand from Nami’s shoulder, his large fist clenched around her scrawny wrist so tightly she could hear the leather creak. Or maybe it was the bones.

“Lady Beatrix, I presume?” the Surgeon of Death asked, voice cold as chipped ice as he glared with murderous intent. “Regardless of however your son was insulted, I’d appreciate it if you kept your damn hands off my woman.”

As the Baron’s sister trembled under Law’s scrutiny, Nami inspected her shoulder, dismayed to find that the psychotic bitch had drawn blood. No wonder he’d stepped in; regardless of whether or not the Cat Thief could handle herself, he’d paid for her dress, and it already stood to get ruined. Bloodstains were not easy to get out of gold satin, after all.

“U-unhand me, you brute!” Beatrix screeched, writhing about like an eel. “My brother—”

“—would only care if I got your blood on his million-belli carpet. If he actually did give a shit about you or your worthless son, he’d be confronting me himself.” With predatory intent, Law’s eyes swept over the small crowd that had gathered, landing squarely on the man in the peacock mask. “Speaking of, I’m not exactly pleased that he propositioned my lover. She did tell you she was already spoken for, right?”

Smug triumph melted off his face like candle wax, and Kujakumaru looked ready to piss himself. “Sh-she said you had an arrangement! That you didn’t mind her having as many partners as she wanted!”

“Dance partners!” Nami insisted, frowning at Law’s raised eyebrow. “I specifically said ‘dance partners;’ he’s the idiot who took it the wrong way!”

Nodding in understanding, he turned back to the trembling man. “Even if I was the type to share, a lady has every right to refuse a man’s advances. Either you don’t know how to handle rejection, or you’re so pathetic that you couldn’t even pay a woman to sleep with you. I’d put my money on the latter.”

Nami shrieked as Beatrix’s claw-like free hand lashed out at him, but Law managed to catch it mere inches from his face, his cane dropping to the floor with a dull thud. The look in his eye turned sadistically amused at the attempted assault, and Nami had the feeling that if she didn’t put an end to this now, their cover would be blown as the Surgeon of Death decided to find out if the mother and son really did have blue blood.

Grabbing his arm, she yanked as hard as she could, forcing him to release Beatrix’s left wrist. “Darling, that’s enough!” she insisted. “It’s not worth it!”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” he replied calmly, thought the dark aura failed to dissipate.

More people were gathering to watch, and Nami knew she needed to do something drastic before they managed to catch the Baron’s, or even Smoker and Hina’s, attention. Grabbing his chin, she yanked his face down to her level, cutting off his protests with a desperate kiss.

Law’s lips were softer than she’d expected. Life on the sea was rough, the salty air and burning sun resulting in chapped lips for almost everyone, but perhaps he was one of the few men smart enough to use lip balm. On top of that, they were dry and warm, the smooth skin pliant beneath her own. The man himself didn’t move for a moment, completely caught off-guard by her actions, but after a few agonizing seconds, he tilted his head to better slant his mouth over hers.

It was clear her plan worked when she felt both his hands cup her shoulders, and the harsh click of Beatrix’s heels as she scurried away, not wasting the opportunity to put some distance between herself and the man who dared threaten her.

Part of Nami was tempted to drag the kiss out, especially when she felt Law’s blunt teeth nibble at her bottom lip, requesting entrance. Heat pooled in her belly as his tongue swept over the seam of her mouth, but the sound of the clock striking ten doused it in ice water as she remembered they didn’t have time to waste.

Drawing on every shred of acting ability in her repertoire, she forced tears to well up in her eyes as she shoved him away. “I thought you were different, Adrian!” she sobbed. “You know how much I hate violence!”

“Wha—”

“I can’t believe you’d even consider harming someone, especially a defenseless old woman! I—I never should have come out tonight. I wish we had just stayed home!”

Tears streaming out of her eyes, she gathered up her skirts and sprinted away, weaving through the crowds, effortlessly dodging the concerned hands that reached out for her. Behind her, she heard another shriek, followed by exclamations of “Fire! Put that curtain out you fools!” and in the chaos, she managed to escape into the hall, guests and servants alike paying her no mind in favor of the ruckus that broke out. Nami chanced a glance over her shoulder, bright eyes widening as she saw not one, but at least four fires of varying sizes had sprung up throughout the ballroom, candelabras apparently having been knocked over by the panicked guests.

Not one to look the gift horse in the mouth, she dashed into to the hallway Law had spoken of, eyes quickly locking onto the curtain hiding the servant’s entrance. Hopefully, she’d be able to hide in there and wait for her companion. Not that she was particularly looking forward to being alone with him now; god, what had she been thinking, pulling him into a kiss? A slap would have been better, or maybe a swift kick to the shin!

Hand trembling with fear and adrenaline, she grabbed the corner of the drape, only to be halted by an arm coming out of nowhere to wrap tightly around her waist. Another hand clamped over her mouth, cutting off her startled scream.

“You didn’t think you’d escape me that easily, did you?” came a dark voice at her ear.

Chapter Text

Instinct kicking in, Nami lifted up her right leg, slamming the stiletto of her high heel down onto her assailant’s foot. The surprised yelp he let out and the loosening of his arm gave her the opening she needed to drive the sharp point of her elbow back into his diaphragm, winding him. As he gasped for air she finally had enough leeway to break from his hold, spinning around as her hand went for the Clima-Tact strapped to her right thigh, ready to fight.

Another scream attempted to crawl up her throat as her mystery attacker was revealed, this time out of irritation. “Law! You creepy bastard; are you trying to get yourself killed?!”

Rubbing the soft, sensitive spot beneath his ribs where her elbow had made contact, he chuckled breathlessly. “Please, like someone like you could kill me.”

“Why did you even do that?”

“I felt like it.”

A frustrated vein popped out of her forehead, but at least her hand fell away from her weapon. If any of her crew had tried a stunt like that, they’d be nursing a concussion and probably some electric shocks. Law was lucky she still feared him enough to keep her temper in check. “If you don’t give me a better reason than that I’m gonna prove I can kill you, you asshole.”

“Fine, it was payback for leaving me behind,” he stated, crossing his arms, an annoyed frown tugging on his lips. “You’re one hell of an actress, Nami-ya, and I applaud your quick thinking, but next time, try to come up with an exit strategy that involves both of us; I had to set a curtain on fire then teleport myself out the window in the confusion.”

Scoffing, she cocked an eyebrow in disbelief. “A curtain? I counted at least four separate fires in there.”

He shrugged. “I only accept blame for one. Harpin really shouldn’t set up candelabras near flammable materials and clumsy, easily riled up guests. It’s just lucky White Chase was on hand to act as a living fire extinguisher.” Piercing eyes softened fractionally as they landed on her injured shoulder, the streaks of dried blood a stark contrast against her ivory skin. “Let me look at that.”

Nami tried to wave him off as he caged her against the wall, insistently tugging down the sleeve of her dress to study the shallow cuts. “I’m fine!” she squeaked, pushing against his chest futilely. What was with this guy and invading her personal space?

“As your doctor and captain, I insist.” The smooth leather of his gloved fingers gently prodded the crescent gashes, his frown lessening when he saw they’d already begun to clot. With a curt nod he said, “I’ll clean these up when we’re back on the ship; she missed the artery, so they’re hardly life-threatening, but if they get infected, I’ll tear that bitch’s head off.”

The violence in his tone should not have sent such a pleasant shiver down her spine. “I think we should just send her your medical invoice and the dry-cleaning bill; heart attacks are less messy.”

His lip curled up into the familiar, cocky smirk. “That is the sexiest thing you’ve ever said to me,” he purred, leaning his forearm against the wall above her head so he could loom over her. It was times like these that she really hated that he always wore boots with heels; what right did a six-foot-three lanky bastard like him have to wear shoes that made him even taller? It practically negated the three extra inches her own heels gave her.

On her post-mission shopping spree she was going to buy the tallest pair of platform heels she could find.

Arching her neck like a swan so she could meet his eyes, she quipped, “Thank you for reminding me just how creepy you are; I was almost starting to forget.”

The heavy stench of burning fabric and the frantic shouts of the party guests were muffled in the little side hallway, but still strong enough to nearly mask the sound of a pair of heavy footsteps tromping in their direction. Had Nami’s senses not been on high alert due to the adrenaline pumping through her veins, she might have missed them along with the tell-tale scent of cigars.

“Shit, Smoker’s coming!” she whispered harshly, eyes wider than a Jolly Roger’s.

He cocked his head to the side, listening. “Sounds like it.”

“What do we do?” The easy answer would be to sneak through the servant’s door behind them, but there was too much of a risk that the Marine could catch the movement of the fluttering curtain or hear the slam of the door and investigate; then they’d look even more suspicious, sneaking into hidden areas like a couple of crooks.

Law seemed to have come to a similar conclusion, as well as developed a plan in the span of two seconds. She just wished he’d taken the time to clue her in before capturing her lips with his and pulling her curvy figure tightly against him in an amorous embrace. At first, Nami stiffened, instinct telling her to slam her knee into his crotch for being stupid enough to make a move on her at a time like this, but as the heavy footsteps stomped closer, she figured it out and gave as good as she got, tilting her head to allow Law better access and wrapping her arms around his neck, only squeaking slightly when he hoisted up one of her long legs to hook over his narrow hip.

The ballroom kiss had been tempting, but this one set her body on fire. Maybe it was the adrenaline from the thrill of being caught, but her flesh seemed oversensitive, the soft fabric of her dress brushing her skin juxtaposed with the harsh feeling of one large hand massaging her thigh while the other fisted her hair sending delightful shocks down her spine. Pressed against the wall, his body heat permeating through their clothes, dirty fantasies began to fill her head. She imagined him slowly sliding down her body, leaving teasing kisses in his wake, before dropping fully to his knees, ripping open her gown, and burying his head between her thighs.

The mental image, combined with Law’s tongue sensually prodding the seam of her mouth, made her thighs clench, the leg around his waist unconsciously drawing him closer. An involuntary moan escaped her throat just as the loud footsteps halted, the sickly-sweet scent of tobacco filling the air.

“The fuck do you two think you’re doing?”

Law was the one to break the kiss, turning his head just enough to glare at Smoker over his shoulder, the raven mask’s stern design making it that much fiercer. “Making up after a fight,” he panted, and the annoyance in his tone didn’t sound fake, as if he was genuinely displeased with the interruption.

If it had been a false alarm and Smoker hadn’t walked in on them, would Law have continued kissing her? Forced his tongue past her plush lips in a quest to discover what she tasted like? Tested his luck and slid his hand higher up her thigh? Would she have even tried to stop him?

White puffs of smoke drifted towards the ceiling as the Marine stared them down with disdain. “Yeah? Well maybe you should save that shit for the bedroom; makes me less likely to arrest you for public indecency.”

Nami’s face went bright red beneath her cat mask; had they really been that bad or was Smoker just a prude? Given how the right shoulder of her dress was hanging dangerously low and her entire left leg was exposed, cradling Law’s pelvis flush to her own, she was inclined to believe the former. “We’re really sorry,” she mumbled shyly, gently pushing Law away. He seemed reluctant to vacate his place in her arms, but after a slightly more insistent shove—along with a light kick to the back of his thigh—he finally dropped her leg, the hand in her wig sliding down to rest between her shoulders so she could safely regain her footing. Forcing tears to her eyes, she sobbed dramatically, “It’s just been such an awful night, and I was upset; that terrible old woman said so many horrid things to me…”

Slipping back into his role as the caring boyfriend, Law cradled her head to his chest. “Shhh. It’s ok, sweetheart. I know you’d never lead a man on, and you’re a hundred times classier than anyone in that room. And I’m sorry I got so angry; it’s just seeing that bitch hurt you—”

“You’re hurt?” Smoker cut in, concerned. “How bad?”

Pulling away, Law indicated the streaks of blood, mouth set in a sour frown. “Lady Beatrix must have knives on her fingers instead of nail extensions.”

“You need medical assistance? We could probably ask a servant if they’ve got any bandages.”

He shook his head. “I’m a doctor, and I’ve got a first aid kit back on the ship. They’re not deep, but I’d rather treat her myself than risk an underpaid servant messing it up.”

“Then I’d be happy to help you press assault charges.”

“Tempting, but I get the feeling the Harpins have enough money and connections to get it swept under the rug, nor do I trust them not to pay off the other guests to say I assaulted her.”

Peeking over her shoulder, Nami could see Smoker’s teeth grinding against the filter of his cigar in agitation. “Unfortunately, you’re right; I’m actually out here because Harpin bitched at me to track down the guy who hit his sister.”

“I swear I did nothing more than restrain her; she was the one who tried to hit me.”

“Oh, I believe you; that crazy bitch has tried to claw my eyes out once or twice.” He chuckled a bit, tapping the ashes of his cigar onto the marble floor. “She claims we’re all common street trash, but the second she gets pissed off, she fights like a gutter rat. So, what do you wanna do, Dr. Goodheart?”

The pair tensed. “You know my name?”

“Hina said you were the guy who helped her avoid Harpin while I was out hittin’ the head.” His eyebrow raised slightly, not missing their reaction. It wasn’t unusual; most people, even good, honest citizens, would be wary of an authority figure so easily identifying them. Still, Nami could see in his eyes that he was sizing them up, trying to place their faces to any of the hundreds of wanted posters he glared at every day.

“Of course,” Law replied, carefully keeping relief from bleeding into his voice. “Well, I’m sure you understand that I’m reluctant to let myself get arrested, especially for something I didn’t even do.”

“Mister Smoker, I know we caused a bit of a scene in there, but please don’t tell anyone you saw us,” Nami pleaded, chestnut eyes wide and frightened. Pulling away from her partner, she clasped her hands together beseechingly. “I promise neither of us meant any harm, and I just want to go home.”

The pirate hunter’s frown deepened. “Yeah, I can relate.” He sighed. “Look, technically, I should still be bringing you in since she wants to press charges but making sure nobody got hurt from that fire is way higher up on my list of priorities. So, since you did Hina a solid and Beatrix is a crazy bitch, I’m gonna pretend that I found a different couple making out in the hallway and head back. If I see Harpin or his shit family coming this way, I’ll try to hold them off. You kids get the hell out of dodge in the meantime.”

“Oh, thank you, Smoker-kun! You really are the hero everyone claims!”

Did she imagine it, or was there a faint splash of pink across his cheeks? It was hard to tell in the dim light. “Yeah, yeah. Just save any further ‘making up’ for when you’re not in public; I’m not covering for your asses a second time because you couldn’t control your damn hormones.”

With that, he spun on his heel and marched down the hall, not even sparing them a glance as he turned to head back to the ballroom. Nami was honestly surprised he’d let them go; maybe it was because he didn’t realize they were pirates, or he just hated Harpin that much. Either way, she was grateful he was willing to turn a blind eye just this once.

The second Smoker was out of sight, a blue aura surrounded them, and in the time it took to blink, they were halfway up a flight of narrow, creaky stairs. Glancing up at Law questioningly, he indicated the door at the bottom. “Took us through the servant’s entrance. Let’s get to the fourth floor; there’s a storage closet near the top where we can stash your dress. I need you light on your feet, not weighed down by wallets.”

“You’d better retrieve it before we get out,” she said firmly, poking his chest, “otherwise I’m charging you for my lost profits, plus 500% interest.”

He rolled his eyes before easily jogging up the stairs, his long legs letting him take the steps two at a time. Carefully gathering up the hem of her gown, Nami followed, scowling at his rudeness; she was shorter than him and wearing high heels, so shouldn’t he be more accommodating to her pace? It was a small but stark reminder that he was a pirate, not the gentleman he’d been pretending to be all evening.

Of course, their interaction in the hall had already done that; even if it was just an act, polite, well-bred gentlemen didn’t kiss like Trafalgar Law.

The door into the mansion’s fourth floor foyer was silent as he carefully nudged it open, the hinges well-oiled to prevent any noise from potentially disturbing the master of the house. Servants were supposed to be practically invisible until called for, able to pop out at a moment’s notice without so much as a sound. The closet was right beside the servant’s entrance, out of the way and easily ignored, perfect for hiding a Cat Thief’s contraband in.

Law quickly checked his watch. “Six minutes before showtime. Once the first distraction hits, make a beeline to the study. We’ll have to be quick; since White Chase and Black Cage didn’t take my advice to leave early, they’ll probably go after the crew. Ikkaku’s team might be able to draw their attention towards the mansion’s docks with their little surprise, but I’d like to avoid as much bloodshed on our side as possible.”

Not liking the idea of her new friends having to take on such dangerous Marines by themselves, Nami didn’t complain about being ordered around, merely slipping inside. A pull to the string hanging from the ceiling cast the closet in a dim glow, revealing an assortment of cleaning supplies, bedding, and a row of neatly pressed, copper maid uniforms, complete with headpiece, apron, and opaque tights. “I’m kind of surprised you didn’t have us sneak in dressed as servants,” she observed, glancing around.

The door closed behind her, and she stiffened as she heard Law’s voice whisper in her ear, “I considered it, but as much as I’d love to see you in a skimpy uniform, I don’t have the best track record with maids.”

Though startled at his closeness, she wasn’t surprised; logically, it was better to hide out with her instead of lingering outside where he might draw attention, and she was beginning to get used to his disregard for her personal space. Turning to face him, she raised a curious eyebrow. “Aw, does someone have a jilted lover?” she asked with a teasing smirk. “Some innocent maid you seduced and left with a broken heart?”

He scoffed, leaning against the door. The storage closet was decent-sized, though with the bedding and clothes taking up most of the space it felt cramped, especially for a man as tall as Law. “Childhood acquaintance at best, and I’m pretty sure she’d try to kill me if we ever saw each other again.”

“Well, I mean, who wouldn’t?”

“Then it’s a good thing my powers can get me out of trouble.”

Realization dawned on her, causing Nami to scowl and smack his shoulder. “Wait, you could have teleported us through the door before Smoker saw us, couldn’t you?”

His too-wide grin returned to his face, the skin around his eyes crinkling. “Possibly.”

“Then why didn’t you?!”

Chuckling, he stepped forward, caging her against the wall. Nami was beginning to think it was his default move for throwing her off-balance, and worst of all, it kept working. “Because I changed my mind; that was my payback for leaving me to figure out my own escape. It works out in our favor, though, since White Chase will have no reason to suspect we were involved when shit goes down,” he stated, hand absently brushing the batons strapped to her right thigh. Automatically, the thief’s hand smacked it away, but her back stiffened as he whispered, “Besides, you could have used your Clima-Tact to hide us—I think you were just looking for an excuse to make out.”

“Like hell I was!” she snapped, embarrassed. God, she hadn’t even thought about using her Mirage Tempo, too overwhelmed to even think straight. As much as she hated to admit it, Law’s quick thinking really had saved their asses, though it didn’t excuse his choice to kiss her instead of using his powers.

A strong hand quickly slapped over her kiss-bruised mouth. “Quiet, Nami-ya,” he murmured. “Or are you hoping to draw attention so I’ll have to kiss you again?”

When all she could do was let out a couple angry grunts in response, he laughed lowly.

I swear, he gets off on being a smug bastard, she thought sourly, russet eyes glaring daggers into his self-satisfied expression. Out of spite, she tried to bite his palm as punishment for manhandling her, but the smooth leather protected the delicate skin.

Despite not managing to hurt him, Law clearly felt her attempt. “Careful, sweetheart; I don’t mind a little biting, but I pay back with interest.”

Nami stiffened when she felt his molten breath against the exposed skin of her uninjured shoulder. His grey eyes homed in on the taut tendons of her neck, like a vampire in one of those raunchy paperbacks she’d secretly bribe Robin to get for her. The color might have been a dramatic change, but the intensity was all too familiar at this point. Before she could so much as try to squirm away, his long arm wrapped around her waist, pinning her arms to her sides. Quick and silent as an owl, he swooped in, latching his mouth onto the exposed flesh right above her thundering pulse.

Any sounds of protest were muffled by his hand, and though she tried to struggle, the close quarters of the closet mixed with his unyielding grasp made it next to impossible to maneuver about. The hand clamped over her mouth bent her head to the side, presenting him the full expanse of her tantalizing skin.

Worst of all, the feeling of his hot mouth against her pale throat was incredibly arousing. The man didn’t settle for just kissing or sucking—he bit, licked, and lavished the spot with a single-minded purpose. It was a perfect storm of sensation; the sharp sting of his teeth was immediately followed by the soothing stroke of his tongue. Firm sucks countered by delicate caresses from his lips. Nami’s sounds of protest gradually trailed off, and she had to bite down on her own lip to keep him from knowing they’d turned into sighs of pleasure. She really hoped he didn’t notice the way her knees started to tremble slightly every time he gave a particularly sharp nip. A low fire burned in her belly and her body cried out for him to bless other parts of her with his delicious attention.

He didn’t let up for at least a full three minutes, taking his time and savoring the way her fading struggles rubbed her soft breasts against his chest. When he finally released the flesh with a slick pop, followed by one last sensual sweep of his tongue, he paused a moment to admire his handywork before dropping his arms.

Pleasure clouding her brain and chest heaving, it took Nami an embarrassingly long time to regain her senses. When she did, though, her glower could have frozen whiskey. “And what the fuck was that for?”

“As always, payback. Your little mikan juice prank left an embarrassing mark on me, so this only seems fair.”

She didn’t need to see her reflection to know there was an unmistakable hickey on the side of her neck, and given how much effort he’d put in, the color likely complimented her tourmaline jewelry. “How the hell am I supposed to cover this?” All her shirts were low-cut, and if it was a bad as she assumed, even caking on her foundation wouldn’t completely do the job.

His expression was completely unsympathetic. “How the hell was I supposed to cover my sunburn? I guess you’ll just have to deal.”

“You are such an asshole!”

He chuckled but didn’t argue, hands straying down to her belt, easily undoing the black jeweled buckle.

She nearly shrieked as she batted his hands away, shoving him back with all her might. “Now what the hell do you think you’re doing?” The kiss and hickey had been one thing, but there was no way in hell she was going to stand by and let him strip her down.

“Helping you out of this dress so we can start the actual mission.”

“I can undress myself!”

“If you insist,” he replied, taking a step back to lean against the wall, watching her intently.

His heady gaze brought a hot flush to her cheeks. “Turn around!”

“You’re hardly naked under that dress, Nami-ya, and I’ve seen you in less. What are you so embarrassed about?”

“I’m not embarrassed; I just don’t need you ogling me like a pervert.”

“You don’t like me looking at you, yet you’ll shamelessly straddle me and use the pretense of putting on sunscreen to feel me up. Such an appalling double-standard.”

“You know I only did that to distract you from the sunburn!”

“So you finally admit you did it on purpose, eh?”

“You—!” she snarled before the house rocked, a deafening explosion echoing down the halls. Her legs shook as the sound made her ears ring, disorienting her briefly and making her nearly miss Law’s nonchalant comment.

“Ah, and there’s Shachi’s distraction,” Law said, glancing at his watch, face morphing into a serious frown. “Playtime’s over, then.” Bird skull cane in hand, he expanded his Room around her, murmuring “Scan” as he swept it to the side. Nami shrieked as her dress, wallets and all, vanished from her body and reappeared in Law’s waiting hand.

Without the billowy fabric of the gown she felt utterly exposed in her black bodysuit; the undergarment was little more than a bathing suit, its spaghetti straps, plunging neckline, and high leg holes designed to be virtually invisible beneath her dress and allow her unencumbered movement once they started sneaking around. Yet despite how incredibly sexy it was, hugging her curves and showing off a tempting amount of skin, Law looked at her with the same stoic, professional expression he’d worn in the infirmary.

After silently securing the gold gown onto an empty hanger, he pushed open the closet door, ushering her outside when he confirmed the coast was clear. “We have no time to waste; that explosion is sure to have attracted White Chase and Black Cage, and I don’t want my men fighting them any longer than necessary.”

Somehow, Nami felt more uncomfortable than if he’d been openly leering at her. How was it that he always seemed the most uninterested when she was wearing the fewest clothes? Was it just situational, or was there something about her naked skin that repulsed him? Perhaps he had some kind of weird fetish for fully dressed people, or he just enjoyed teasing her because he found her reactions amusing and not because he found her particularly attractive?

She knew this wasn’t the time to let insecurity cloud her mind, so she shoved her thoughts to the side, though she was certain they’d crash back down on her when she went to sleep that night. For now, she immersed herself in the burglar mindset, following Law into the hallway and toward the study six doors down.

Though hardly as large or grand as the ballroom, it was definitely the domain of a rich man. Mahogany furniture, Bookshelves that reached the ceiling, gold-framed paintings, crystal lamps, suits of armor, and massive windows dominated the room. What really drew the eye, though, was the solid gold statue of a giant squid even taller than Law, its massive tentacles arched as if waiting to grab its prey.

Mere feet from that, though, in the back-left corner of the room, was the Seastone safe. Lacking ornamentation and hardly larger than a bedside table it was as innocuous as it could get. Which, given the Baron’s tastes and the value of what was inside, meant it was clearly trapped.

Law once more used his Devil Fruit to Scan the room, snorting derisively. “Idiot hasn’t even changed the booby traps since I was here last. There’s a massive Seastone net that’ll fall from the ceiling if you step on the third row of tiles from the entrance. A pressure gage will drop a steel grate in front of the door if the safe is moved.” He pointed to a suit of armor much like Reginald’s costume that was positioned conspicuously close to the safe, a long halberd clutched loosely in its gauntlets. “There’s another pressure tile right in front of the safe; if you stand on it too long, that blade will bisect whoever’s standing there.”

“I’m surprised there aren’t more,” Nami replied, glancing around the room suspiciously.

“Oh, there are, but those are the ones you need to worry about. Your mission is getting that safe opened; I’ll deal with anything else that comes up.”

As much as she wanted to scowl as his brisk orders, she knew this wasn’t the time or place. Later, though, she had every intention of giving him a piece of her mind about how to talk to a thief volunteering her precious time to help steal classified Naval information.

She took special care to follow Law’s lead, watching for any out-of-place movements or tiles, not trusting that he hadn’t forgotten to tell her about another trap. When they were securely across the room, the Cat Thief carefully studied the safe; the main body was definitely made of Seastone, but what concerned her was the dial. It was common stainless steel, but it was a model she’d only seen prototypes for; instead of deciphering three numbers, the combination could be anywhere between four and fifteen numbers long. That meant it would take longer to unlock, and there was no way of knowing how long the sequence was except through trial and error.

“I know it’s Seastone, but can’t you teleport it out of here so we won’t have to worry about getting caught?” she asked nervously.

“I could, but I’m trying to avoid Harpin figuring out who robbed him. There are only so many Devil Fruit users who could avoid his traps and make a whole Seastone safe disappear, my name’s at the top of that list. Should we leave a calling card, too? Maybe ‘Trafalgar Law and Cat Thief Nami were here’ on parchment paper with gold calligraphy?”

“Fine, fine. Just a thought,” she grumbled, unstrapping the collapsible stethoscope she’d borrowed from the sub’s infirmary from her thigh. Without any clue to the combination, there was no other option than to listen to the little gears inside as she turned the dial and hope she got the correct amount of numbers. The trouble was it was slow, delicate work with no room for distractions, and with the pressure tile and potential noise the next explosion would inevitably cause, she was already on two separate timers.

A deep, steadying breath filled her lungs as she prepared to start, only for her eyes to drift over to where Law was studying the little plaque at the base of the squid statue, his face dark and hands clenched so hard she was surprised the leather across his knuckles didn’t split.

Curious, she peeked over his shoulder to read aloud, “‘Thanks for everything, Harp! Love, Doflamingo.’” Her eyes widened in horror and shock. Of course she’d heard that name, along with several blood-curdling stories that ensured she’d never willingly cross his path. “Donquixote Doflamingo? The shichibukai? What’d Harpin do to earn a solid gold statue from that guy?”

“Nothing good, that’s for sure,” he ground out through his teeth, eyes locked on the name as if trying to set it on fire.

“And why’s it a squid?”

“Who the fuck cares?” Law snapped, stalking away from the statue towards the window. “You’re wasting time. The dock will explode in three minutes, and Penguin’s squad will set off their bombs six minutes after; if that safe’s not open by then, I’m going to have to assume your skills are limited to petty pickpocketing instead of real burglary.”

She bristled at the insult but forced herself to let it roll off her back. They were both stressed, nervous about the crew and getting caught and the potential for things going horribly wrong due to forces beyond their influence. Law in particular was a control-freak, used to his powers negating most obstacles he might face, while Nami had always had her nakama watching her back, ready get her out of any trouble she might find herself in. They were both in a situation they weren’t comfortable in, and the only way they were going to get through it was to stop going for each other’s throats and just get the job done.

“Just keep quiet so I can work,” she replied, getting back into position.

Glancing out the window into the mansion’s gardens below, Law’s eyes widened. “Fuck!” he hissed, drawing a thin, hidden sword out of his cane.

“What wrong?” she asked, panicked.

A swirl of energy formed in his hand as he prepared to activate his Room. “White Chase has Shachi’s group cornered. I count at least four injured, and the last three stand no chance against his powers.” He gave her a stern look. “Stay here and focus on cracking that safe. I need to see to my crew.”

“But—!”

Her protests were met only with empty air as blue energy engulfed him, teleporting him outside to aid his men.

“He’s supposed to be a pirate; why does he always seem to run off on me to play hero?” she grumbled, turning back to the safe. Still, if Smoker had already taken down half of Shachi’s team, they needed Law’s help way more than she did. She could only hope Hina was busy protecting the guests instead of hunting down the rest of the Heart Pirates.

Now without her backup and lookout, Nami knew she really had no time to waste. But she also had no one to warn her if Harpin was coming. No one to pull her out of the way if the pressure trap sprang. What she did have was a lock that took potentially five times longer than normal. She started to quake in fear as she realized Law hadn’t specified how long it took before for the pressure trap to activate; just that it was on a timer. Glancing up, the razor-sharp blade of the long axe glinted menacingly in the light, angled just so that it would slice straight through her skull when activated. She had half a mind to remove it, but that might waste even more time.

Tense and terrified, she pressed the stethoscope to the safe door and carefully began turning the dial, anxiously listening for those telltale cues that she’d gotten the right combination.

Eight…seventy-two…forty…ninety-six…fifty-six…twenty-four. On the first attempt the door remained firmly shut. Either the slight tremor in her hands had messed her up just enough, or she hadn’t gotten the full combination.

Ok, let’s try again. Eight…seventy-two…for— The second try, she was distracted by the distant sound of an explosion; Ikkaku’s team had struck. It hadn’t been nearly as loud as the first explosion, but it completely threw her off, jumbling her already whirring mind making her hand jerk the delicate dial too far.

Frustration made her cheeks flush. She knew it wasn’t the crew’s fault—they were just following orders—but did Law have to come up with a plan where bombs would go off during the time she needed to focus the most? And couldn’t he have come up with a better distraction than loud, floor-shaking explosions? As if the blood bounding in her ears wasn’t deafening enough!

Halfway through the third attempt—which was already going badly because her hands were shaking to the point she was certain she’d fucked up the first turn—she scampered away from the safe, certain that she’d seen the halberd’s shadow move and that she’d activated the trap. Looking up fearfully, she realized it was just her mind playing tricks on her, as the blade didn’t so much as twitch.

Nerves on edge, she knew she needed to calm down before she could try again. Standing up and crossing the room, she peeked out into the hallway, hoping that doing so would give the pressure tile a chance to reset while making sure no one would stumble across a sexy thief in a skimpy black bodysuit. The coast was clear, but she didn’t feel any more secure. Part of her even wished someone was coming so she’d have an excuse to give up, or at least hide until she’d fully calmed down. But she knew if Law did come back and found she’d given up, he’d be furious, and his men would have gotten hurt for nothing.

This would be so much easier if I at least knew how long the combination was, she groused, pacing and wringing her hands fretfully. She was halfway tempted to look out the window and check on the battle below, but she knew that if she saw things weren’t going well her panic attack would get even worse.

I should just cut my losses and run. Those books can’t be worth all of this, Nami thought, heart vibrating like a hummingbird against her ribcage. Why’s Law counting on me so much for this? How does he know I won’t screw up and get captured? And if I do get caught, there’s no way he’d risk rescuing me; I’m not even part of his crew! What kind of moron puts such blind faith in someone like me? What do I do?! What do I—

A voice in her heart that sounded oddly like Luffy replied, Quit screaming your head off. You’re a nakama of the future Pirate King. Don’t make that pathetic face.

Unbidden, a smile came to her lips, her terrified, cowardly thoughts dissolving like sugar in hot tea. Luffy was the kind of moron who had blind faith in her. Had since they met, even after she turned him over to Buggy. That plan had put him in a far more dangerous position than she was in with Law’s, and yet he still asked her to be his navigator. In Cocoyashi, he refused to believe her heartless witch act and freed her from Arlong, declaring her his nakama. Back on Skypiea, her captain had told her to quit being a coward and live up to her position as a member of his crew. He’d even entrusted his treasured hat to her. He’d never do that if he didn’t believe in her ability to keep it safe, to still be there when he finished his battle. And she wouldn’t have stayed by his side, risking life and limb, if she didn’t believe in his ability to beat the odds and come out on top.

Luffy would be Pirate King someday because he had faith in both his crew and his own abilities. Shouldn’t she do the same?

Determination swept through her and she watched her hands lose their tremor. She was a scaredy-cat, but she always came through when her crew needed her. How could she be expected to aid her nakama in the New World if she couldn’t rob one little safe for the Heart Pirates? She was the Straw Hat navigator and master thief, and nothing would stop her.

A chance glance at the octopus facade cared into the dark wood of Harpin’s desk nearly made her slap herself even as a laugh bubbled up in her throat. The Baron was obsessed with octopi. The Navy called him “The Golden Octopus.” On her first attempt at cracking the safe, she’d only gone up to six rotations, but now she could see the pattern.

The answer was painfully obvious; the safe’s combination was eight numbers long, all multiples of eight.

Ok, Nami, you know what to do, and you need to make this one count, she thought, cracking her knuckles as she crouched in front of the safe. Once more steady as a surgeon’s, her hand confidently took hold of the dial. Get it open this time and you can get the hell out of here; you can grab your dress, let Law know you’ve got the stupid information, and he can teleport the crew back to the sub before anyone else gets hurt.

Blocking out every sound save the delicate mechanisms inside the safe, the dial glided easily back and forth, each tiny click ringing through her heart like Skypiea’s golden bell.

Eight. Seventy-two. Forty. Ninety-six. Fifty-six. Twenty-four. Sixteen. Eighty-eight.

Upon the eighth turn she halted, gently tugging on the safe’s handle, the door opening as smoothly as Zoro’s sword sliced through the air.

Reverently, she removed her prize, kicking the door shut and shuffling back to the base of the suit of armor as a precaution. In her hands weren’t files like she’d expected, but three black, leather-bound ledgers, each embossed with raised gold letters on the cover.

The first one was titled “Intel,” and curious to know what secrets the Navy might have entrusted to the likes of the Baron, she decided to sneak a little peek. Opening to a random page her eyes widened at what she saw, and she quickly scanned through other sections, growing more and more concerned. Even at a glance, she could tell every page contained sensitive information; coordinates of secret bases, copies of un-redacted mission reports, scientific research signed by Dr. Vegapunk, formulas for chemical weapons, and even a detailed diagram of the Pacifista robot. Most of it was older information that a former Marine Intelligence officer would have easily been able to come by, but some of this stuff was from as recent as last week!

Reginald said Harpin was basically forced to retire, Nami thought as she opened the second ledger, this one more innocently titled “Personal,” but it looks like that hasn’t stopped him from gathering information. Why, though? What could he possibly need it for?

Based on the label, she’d expected it to be full of the Baron’s own information, like finances and family secrets, but instead it was personal information on various World Government officials, Marines, and royal families. There were dossiers on the likes of Smoker, Hina, Kizaru, Akoji, Wapol, King Sterry, King Cobra, and so many others, and it included family trees and notable accomplishments, along with damning photos, eyewitness accounts of indiscretions, reports of war crimes, and notes on potential ways their connections or powers could be used to Harpin’s advantage. In other words, it was pure blackmail.

As damning as the first two books were, it was the third that made her shiver. In simple gold letters, the word “Shichibukai” gleamed up at her. Cracking it open, she cautiously thumbed through the pages, swallowing hard when she realized it was full of dossiers just as detailed as the last ledger’s, only this time solely dedicated to past, present, and even potential Warlords and their crews. Sir Crocodile, Kuma, Boa Hancock, Doflamingo, even Ace and Blackbeard were given extensive profiles that appeared frequently revised and updated.

Her fingers paused on a familiar name, the image of a stern, whale shark Fishman’s face glaring up at her.

“Knight of the Sea” Jinbei.

It was a name she’d heard at Arlong Park.

“Here’s your food, human,” Hatchan sneered, tossing a plate of Takoyaki onto her desk. Plenty of the crew liked to take out their tempers on her when they thought they could get away with it, and though arguably the least aggressive, Nami knew not to mess with the six-armed swordsman when he was in a bad mood. “Too good for the likes of you, but nobody else wanted them and I didn’t feel like wasting time cooking anything else.”

The insult washed over Nami like a gentle wave; after two years trapped in Arlong Park she was used to it, and she was just grateful they deigned to feed her at all. When they’d first set her up in her horrible chart room, they hadn’t cared whether or not she was given proper food until she had passed out from hunger. It was only then that Arlong had decreed she needed to be fed at least once a day, and that job was typically treated as punishment among the Fishmen.

Famished, she popped one of the fried balls into her mouth, eyes widening in surprise at the taste. “Th-these are really good!” she said, eagerly swallowing it down and reaching for another.

Hatchan’s expression was just as stunned. “Really? You like them?” he asked excitedly, two pairs of hands clasped together in joy.

“Yeah, they’re great!” Ordinarily, the very idea of complimenting one of the monsters that had enslaved her would have been sickening, but she was too hungry to care. And they really were delicious. Way better than the cold porridge or burnt meat she usually got.

He seemed unusually pleased, crossing his arms and grinning proudly. “Well, I guess even a human can have good taste. If I hadn’t become a pirate, I’d have opened up my very own Takoyaki stand on the Grand Line.”

“Why didn’t you?” she asked through a mouthful of fish. The young cartographer didn’t really care, but the longer she kept him talking, the more time she had to give her cracked and bleeding hands a break from the hours of mapmaking.

He sighed. “Just about everyone thought an octopus selling Takoyaki was ridiculous. It would have been hard to stay in business back home, and not a lot of other places would accept a Fishman setting up shop. Jinbei always encouraged me to follow my dream, but I’d already promised Captain Arlong I’d help him achieve his.”

Jinbei. She’d heard that name before, usually when Arlong was drunk or in a bad mood, cursing it with more venom than a Man-of-War Jellyfish. Who was he? An old enemy? A bounty hunter? Someone strong enough to defeat the Fishman Pirates and save her village?

The saw-nosed captain was terrifyingly strong, but not invincible. Maybe she could contact this Jinbei person and hire him as an assassin? She’d slowly been saving up money to buy back Cocoyashi, but she’d happily give it all to anyone who could kill her mother’s murder. And Arlong had the highest bounty in the East Blue, so surely she could use that as further incentive; she’d pay what she could, and the government would handle the rest.

Adopting a look of wide-eyed innocence, Nami turned to fully face Hatchan, “I’ve heard Arlong mention someone named Jinbei before. Just in passing, though. Who is he?”

“Oh, he was one of our comrades when we were part of the Sun Pirates. If you think Kuroobi’s Fishman Karate is strong, Jinbei’s blows him out of the water! Even Arlong couldn’t beat him!”

“He sounds strong.” She’d never been particularly religious, but it was beginning to feel like God was finally cutting her a break. Her tearful prayers were being answered, and Jinbei was the savior she’d been waiting for.

“He is!” Hatchan said cheerfully, clearing away her empty plate. “Strong enough that the government made him one of the shichibukai! I’m glad he accepted; otherwise Captain Arlong would still be in Impel Down.”

Her hopeful heart stopped. “What?”

“Yeah, when they recruited Jinbei, his only request was that they release Arlong from prison,” he said as he strolled out the door. Popping his head back in, he gave her a jovial smile. “Sure, they had a bit of a falling out after, but I like to think they’ll make up someday; after all, they’re practically brothers!”

As the door locked behind him, the young girl didn’t even feel the sharp sting of the tip of her pen piercing her palm.

Jinbei. Jinbei the shichibukai. It was his fault. If it weren’t for him, Arlong would still be in Impel Down. He never would have set foot in Cocoyashi. Bellemere wouldn’t have died to save an ungrateful daughter. Nami never would have been taken prisoner, forced to draw maps in this horrible room while the rest of her village lived in fear.

She didn’t have a savior. Just another demon added to her personal Hell.

Blinking away tears, Nami forced herself back to the present. Later she could read up on the man who’d set lose the worst monster the East Blue had seen in decades. Right now, she needed to get out of there. Law and the Heart Pirates were still fighting outside, and she needed to let them know the mission was a success so they could make a break for it.

Her ears perked up as they caught the sound of a faint voice coming down the hall, angry and vaguely familiar.

“I don’t care how far away they are, Tokikake; I need a Navy fleet here right now! Those ungrateful peasants have finally snapped and decided to set up bombs all over my property!”

The Baron was on his way to the study and there was no way she’d be able to get out unnoticed. Wasting no time Nami ducked behind the suit of armor and pulled out her Clima-Tact to quickly cast her Mirage Tempo, rendering herself invisible just as Harpin stormed through the door, mini Den Den Mushi in hand, obese face bright red with rage.

As much as she didn’t want to be in the same room as their slimy host, it was honestly better to sit still and wait for the opportune moment. Even if he’d primarily had a desk job, and even if he was in his seventies, it was safer not to underestimate him. Plus, if he was really calling for backup, she’d rather know what to expect and where they were coming from. Would the Navy send Kizaru or Aokiji? Did they really believe it was the poor, starving villagers attacking the mansion, or were they speaking in code?

The radio snail’s face was unimpressed. Nami didn’t recognize the dark brown fedora and cigarette between its teeth, but she let out a silent sigh of relief when it replied, “Harpin, if the townspeople are revolting against you—which honestly, I wouldn’t blame them—Hina and Smoker should be able to settle things. I’m not risking civilian casualties.”

“My mansion is currently filled with the crème de la crème of society! Their safety is far more important than those filthy peons!”

“All the more reason to not order a Buster Call,” the snail replied, and Nami barely managed to stifle a gasp. Was Harpin insane? He’d risk innocent lives over what he assumed was a rebellion from farmers and fishermen? “So, since that’s out of the question, why don’t you use that big brain of yours and come up with a better solution? Maybe try reasoning with them. Pay them off, even. Isn’t throwing money at the problem your normal go-to?”

Harpin sneered. “I haven’t given those fishmongers a single belli in nearly three years, and I’m not going to start now! They’re lucky I even let them live on my island! Now you get me that fleet—”

Kkkkk—sorry—kkk—breaking up—kkkkkkkk,” the vice-admiral said, faking static.

“Tokikake, don’t you dare hang up on me! If you do, I’ll—”

“In case you’ve forgotten, Gorudotako, I’m not scared of blackmail. The worst you’ve got on me is that time you caught me golfing when I said I was visiting my mother, and I think the higher-ups would be more interested in what you were doing there; wasn’t that the weekend you were supposed to be visiting Impel Down? Considering Straw Hat’s miraculous break in-and-out two years later, I wouldn’t be surprised if Akainu starts assuming you were in on it. That whole mess at Marineford really pissed him off, and he’s been looking to melt anyone who might have been even vaguely involved.”

Speechless, all the Baron could do was make faint protesting noises, rightfully terrified of the Admiral’s fiery wrath. From where she was hiding, Nami could see thick, greasy beads of sweat dribble down the back of his head.

The Vice-Admiral gleefully continued, “On top of that, since your ‘retirement,’ certain information seems to be finding its way to ‘Big News’ Morgans and other underworld types who really have no business knowing. Now, I’m not one to toss out accusations, but leaking classified information, especially for profit, is a serious crime. One certain parties are considering investigating you for.”

“You dare to question my reputation?!” Harpin demanded, slamming his hand down on the desk barely an inch from the Den Den Mushi.

The snail’s grinning face didn’t even flinch. “Buddy, your reputation is a joke. When you left, we got over a hundred reports of sexual harassment by your former female subordinates in the first month. That alone warrants investigation. Hell, we only waited so long because there’s been so much damn paperwork to go through and Tsuru wanted the case against you to be airtight. Then those rumors about certain documents getting leaked came out…”

“You’re not going to find a damn thing!”

“Funny, I would have thought an innocent man would say there’s nothing to find.” Satisfied with getting in the last word, Tokikake hung up, the Den Den Mushi immediately falling asleep.

For a moment, the room was dead silent, Harpin staring blankly at the sleeping snail, mouth gaping open and closed like a fish that had been hooked through the gills. Just as Nami thought she might be able to use his catatonic shock as an opportunity to sneak out, his expression changed into a mask of rage, grabbing the mahogany armchair by the desk and flinging it into the wall beside the knight’s armor with enough force to splinter the tough wood.

Startled, Nami shrieked, dropping the ledgers to shield her face from wayward splinters. Unfortunately, such a distraction caused her illusion to drop, revealing the sneaky thief.

Not expecting company, Harpin whirled towards the woman, anger and suspicion melting away as his gaze swept over her curvy figure wrapped up in a tight, revealing bodysuit in clear appreciation. She suddenly missed Law’s professional, disinterested gaze, insulting as it had been.

It was only when watery eyes reached her leopard mask that they widened in recognition. “Wait…you’re the harlot who insulted my nephew! What are you doing in my study?”

Thinking quickly, Nami decided her best option was to use his obvious love of women to her advantage. Hips swaying sensually, she strolled up to the desk like a runway model, biting the tip of her finger coyly. “I’m really sorry about that; I didn’t mean to hurt his feelings, but he’s just not my type.” Leaning against the desk, she arched her back and thrust out her voluptuous chest, fluttering her long eyelashes for extra measure. “Why would I go for a scrawny little peacock when I could have the strong, sensual arms of an octopus around me?”

Though she nearly gagged just saying them, her words did the trick, Harpin’s temper immediately dropping to be replaced by smug satisfaction. He was definitely related to Kujakumaru, as he spoke directly to her cleavage. “Well, I suppose I can’t fault you for having such high standards. The boy is dear to me, but he does rather pale in comparison, doesn’t he?”

“Like a rock next to a diamond,” she cooed, hooking his chin with her index finger to make sure his eyes stayed on her instead of straying the spot next to safe where she’d been hiding, the black ledgers still conspicuously laying on the floor.

“Oh, I’d say more like coal,” he replied, shuffling closer, his hand boldly landing on her upper thigh, fingers groping the firm flesh. It was almost the exact same spot Law had touched when they kissed, but this wasn’t nearly as pleasant. “He has the potential to become a diamond with the right conditions, but for now he’s best at providing warmth to lucky ladies.”

“You’re so poetic! Smart men are just so sexy.” Unable to come up with another compliment due to the sheer disgust at his touch, she changed the subject. “I’m curious, Baron Harpin; why do you love octopuses so much?” she asked as if she didn’t already know.

“It’s octopi, actually,” he said condescendingly before puffing out his chest with pride. “In the Navy, I was touted as ‘The Golden Octopus.’ Impressive, no?”

“Extremely! How’d you get a name like that? Octopi are so slimy, and you’re anything but!” she giggled, dislodging his hand so she could sit on top of the desk. When he started to frown at the loss of flesh to grope, she distracted him by twirling one of his greasy braids around her finger, even as she gaged whether or not she could distract him long enough to knock him out with an electric shock.

Pleased with her flirting and the fact that her new position brought her cleavage even closer to his gaze, he crowed, “It’s because of my long reach and exceptional brilliance! Octopi are some of the smartest creatures in existence, after all. The World Government specifically made me the head of Intelligence because I could get anything from anywhere at any time. I had dozens of informants in kingdoms across the Grand Line, the underworld, and even in other Navy divisions. There was no rumor or piece of information that didn’t go through me. My mind was the World Government’s greatest asset; no average man could handle keeping track of so many secrets or make use of such extensive contacts.”

“Wow,” she replied, proud of herself for keeping the sarcasm out of her voice. When his hand once more drifted towards her thigh, she instinctively caught it. She could see the annoyance at her small rejection darken his face, so thinking quickly she took the hand in both of hers, fluttering the faintest kiss across his knuckles. Looking deeply into his eyes, she cooed, “You must be one of the smartest men in the world! How could the Navy ever have let you retire? They should have begged you to stay.”

“They should have!” he groused. “Instead my enemies conspired to unseat me, threatened by my revolutionary way of thinking. Did you know it was I who first proposed the shichibukai system?”

“You were?” Now that was a legitimate shocker, though it explained why he had a whole ledger dedicated to them.

“Of course! The World Government might not want to admit it, but there will always be pirates in the world. So long as there are laws, there will be those who seek to break them. So, why not ally with exceptionally strong pirates to cull the herd?” he cooed, free hand trailing a sausage-like finger along her cheek.

“Why, that is clever!” she said breathlessly, even as she seethed. From Jinbei to Crocodile to Blackbeard, the shichibukai system was one that just kept causing trouble. The World Government claimed it controlled them, but really, it just made them even more dangerous. If this guy really was the one who put such a broken system in place, she was going to make sure he got what was coming to him.

“Profitable, too! The best pirate warlords understood that our relationship was a business arrangement; they get immunity, while we get a cut of their treasure. Why, the Doflamingo Pirates even sent me a lovely retirement gift,” he crowed, proudly pointing towards squid statue.

“But that’s not an octopus,” she said, genuinely confused.

He scowled, good mood evaporating. “Ah, yes, Doflamingo did that on purpose; he always loved teasing me for being called ‘Gorudotako’ when I was saddled with the Ika Ika no Mi.”

“…what?”

“Such a cruel trick of fate, to be saddled with the ignoble squid instead of the far superior octopus! The peons below me would mock me in the shadows for it; some even suggested cooking me up like calamari if we ever ran low on food! So I made sure to erase all evidence of my powers from the records and only use them on very special occasions.”

Without warning, Harpin’s arms began to morph into two long tentacles, his hands flattening out into club-like appendages covered in tiny suckers, while the side-seams of his suit split open as six additional, slightly smaller tentacles burst out. Black, watery eyes swelled wider, head stretching back into a hooded point to accommodate, and as his mouth opened, his teeth molded together to form a sharp beak that poked past saggy lips. His skin took on a sickly grey color, the texture smoothing out to something rubbery and inhuman.

The final result was so horrific Nami didn’t want to look directly at him, instead leaping off the desk to dodge the sticky tentacles that tried to grab her. Unlike Hatchan, who was cute in a comical way, the former Marine was more like something out of a horror writer’s seafood-induced nightmare. Each tentacle glistened and writhed as if it had a mind of its own and were lined with wicked-looking suckers.

“Did you really think I wouldn’t know who you are, Cat Thief Nami?” he gurgled, voice distorted as if he were speaking underwater. Honestly, she was surprised he could talk at all with the beak sticking out from between his lips. “I’ve stared at your wanted poster as much as any man; I’d recognize that sexy stare and tattoo!”

Crap, she thought, assembling her Clima-Tact. She needed to think fast if she wanted to get out of that room in one piece. Glancing at the ceiling, she created a small storm cloud, watching it slowly grow above them. “Dark Cloud Tempo!”

It was one of her stronger attacks, but she knew it needed time to properly charge before it would be enough to take down a Devil Fruit user, so she played for time by creating an assortment of copies with her Mirage Tempo.

“Ah, so many lovely visions to choose from; good thing I have an arm for each!” he laughed, sending out six tentacles to sweep across them. The writhing arms were quick and stretchy, almost like Luffy’s when he used his Gomu Gomu powers, though not nearly as versatile. Using her copies as distractions, Nami wove and dodged each strike, calculating russet eyes observing their movements, hoping to find a pattern or weakness she could use to her advantage.

Her copies didn’t last long, dissipating with a single blow, but she was pleased to find his reach was limited to about eight feet for the smaller arms and maybe eleven for the two clubbed primary tentacles. He may have had more arms than Luffy, but he certainly didn’t have the rubber boy’s reach.

The real Nami once more out in the open, Harpin charged forward, tentacles snapping out like javelins, crashing into the floor and breaking off little pieces of tile upon impact. “I was hoping I’d have the pleasure of meeting you, Nami-chan, and here you are! Was it my gold that that enticed you, or me?”

“Ew, don’t touch me, creep!” she cried. Jumping back, she launched a gust of wind, the powerful gust forcing him to keep away from her. So long as she kept her distance, she had an advantage, and she wasn’t going to give it up easily.

“You’re such a tease, Nami-chan. I thought you wanted my big, strong arms wrapped around you,” he cooed lewdly.

“Buddy, I’d rather sleep with an actual fish than you.” Glancing up at the black cloud, she smirked, forming a spark on the end of her batons. “And even if you were my type, I’d have to take a rain check. I’m forecasting thunderstorms this evening. Look out for lightning strikes! Thunder Bolt Tempo!”

Tossing the little ball of electricity up into the dark cloud, she practically cheered as it crackled and popped, a bolt of lightning crashing down onto the squid-man, kicking up smoke and cracking the marble tiles beneath him.

Certain that he was out of the game for at least a few minutes, Nami made a beeline for the door, praying that she could grab her dress before escaping down the servants’ entrance.

Luck was not on her side, though, as Harpin wasn’t incapacitated; just angry. “You bitch!” he snarled, patches of flesh sizzling horrifically, the stench ashy and putrid. Grabbing the mahogany desk, he heaved it against the wall by the door, cutting off Nami’s escape. “How dare you? As if insulting my nephew and threatening my sister weren’t enough, you have the gall to attack me?!

Looking between Harpin and the shattered remains of what had been incredibly sturdy furniture, she desperately tried to think of a new plan. For an old, half-squid freak, he was tougher than he looked and not nearly as stupid as she’d hoped. “Hey, you’re the creep who can’t keep his ugly tentacles to himself! No means no!” she shouted, creating another electric ball.

“As if low-born trash like you has the right to refuse me!” he snapped, leaping into the air and blasting himself forward like a squid projected itself through the water. He cleared the room in a single burst, forcing Nami to launch herself to the side to avoid getting hit and decimating the distance that had kept her safe. Catching the thief off-balance, two of his arms lashed out, knocking her Clima-Tact away and wrapping tightly around her wrists. The blue batons rolled uselessly across the polished floor as their owner shrieked in pain and horror. Each sucker that latched onto her flesh was lined with a sharp, finely serrated ring of chitin. They didn’t cut deeply, but it was enough to make struggling painful. On top of that, they yanked her arms back so hard she was surprised they weren’t jerked out of their sockets.

Beautiful pirate at last in his grasp, Harpin stepped in closer, appreciating the gorgeous body in front of him as she kicked and writhed. “You really are as lovely as they say,” the Baron chuckled, the smooth back of one of his clubs stroking her face. It flipped around to rip the purple wig off her head, revealing her signature orange hair. “Maybe I won’t turn you in right away; I think I’ll have some fun with you, first.” Two more disturbingly clammy arms ran up her bare legs before forcefully pulling them apart, easily overcoming her attempts to fight back. The very tip of another curled just inside the fabric covering her left breast, tugging playfully. Distorted lips smirked around his beak. “I mean, you’re asking for it, running around in an outfit like that.”

Twisting helplessly, she knew there was no way she’d be able to fight him off without help. Before the mess on Sabaody, she’d pin her hopes on Luffy, Zoro, or Sanji rushing in to save her just in the nick of time, but her nakama was scattered across the Grand Line. Crying and begging for mercy was no good, as her best-case scenario involved being turned over to the Marines, while just the thought of the worst-case made bile burn in the back of her throat.

Without her crew, her only choice was to stall until Law came back, assuming Smoker hadn’t captured him. Or worse, that he’d left her behind. “Not a chance in hell! I’m not into weird hentai shit. And even if I were, honestly, ugly old sissies who resort to blackmail are a huge turn-off.”

Her quick thinking worked, as Harpin looked genuinely offended, though it unfortunately made his grip tighten, bladed suckers digging deeper into her skin. “‘Resort to blackmail?’ Stupid little girl, you act as if cunning isn’t its own strength! Knowledge is power, and blackmail is the ultimate type of knowledge. It’s stronger than Devil Fruits and Haki combined! A man can be physically tough but find that dark little secret and threaten to bring it into the light, and you’ll see how he crumbles like a sandcastle against the waves.”

“And you’d do that to your own comrades?!” she asked, teeth clenched against the pain. The elastic tentacles around her legs were crawling higher, squeezing and leaving thin, shallow cuts that stung every time she so much as twitched. Now she understood why the maid uniform included opaque tights; to hide evidence of his horrible touch from visitors.

“Pretty kitty, it’s how I built my career!” The tip of his club slapped her cheek lightly. “By making the right connections and spilling nasty little secrets, I took out irritating rivals, made excellent allies, and put whole governments in my pocket. The Navy may have forced me out, but they still couldn’t keep their secrets from me; my reach is too long, and I have my arms wrapped around too many people,” he said, squeezing tighter for emphasis.

“And I’m supposed to find this attractive?”

“You should be honored I’m even bothering with you! When I was head of Intelligence, queens and Marines alike made their way to my bed!”

“And how many of them came willingly?” came a voice from the entryway.

Turning her head, Nami’s eyes widened behind her mask as Black Cage Hina strolled into the study, mercury gown and regal scowl worthy of a goddess of war.

Chapter Text

Crap crap crap! Nami thought, looking between the two Devil Fruit users. Her night really couldn’t have been going worse. She was disarmed, caught up in the sticky, painful grasp of a perverted old man with way too many arms, one of which was still worming its way inside the deep V of her bodysuit. Then, even if she could somehow escape the tightly wound tentacles, Black Cage Hina herself stood between her and the exit. The woman might not have been a powerhouse, but her abilities were like something out of a Marines’ wet dream, specifically designed to capture wayward pirates like Nami.

Escape couldn’t have looked more unlikely and at this point she was really hoping Law was ok so he could get his ass back inside and rescue her.

“Ah, Hina-chan, perfect timing!” Harpin laughed. Two of his unoccupied arms pointed at Nami, who was trying her best not to show how much the razor-edged suckers digging into her skin had started to hurt. “I caught this pirate lurking around my study. She must be in on the village’s rebellion; I recognize her necklace as one created by my worthless former jeweler. They must have hired her as an assassin. Arrest her at once, my dear!”

The pink-haired Marine jutted out her hip, expression stern and unimpressed. “I’ll gladly put a Straw Hat behind bars, you’ll be going to jail too.”

Black, watery eyes widened. “What?”

Cool as iron in winter, Hina pulled out a cigarette, taking the time to light it before answering, “Didn’t I tell you that my superiors decided my attendance at your party was more important than attending to my duties? That’s because they wanted me to gather evidence that you’ve been selling government secrets and destroy whatever blackmail you have on them; we’re in tumultuous times, and the last thing they need is you churning even more chaos for your own gain.”

“Ah, a honey-trap. Of course,” he chuckled, giving her beautiful, athletic body an open leer. “Not a bad plan, given my fondness for you, but shouldn’t you have been a little nicer to me if you wanted to get your hands on some evidence? Avoiding me all night isn’t a very good seduction technique.”

Hina looked disgusted at the very thought. “I’d rather cut my own face off than allow you to touch me. No, our plan was far more palatable; Smoker had snuck away earlier to mess with the pipes connected to the spa above the ballroom. We were hoping the water damage to the ceiling would catch your attention for a while so we could investigate.”

“And instead, the village’s rebellion, led by Cat Thief Nami, puts all that careful planning to waste,” he said, giving the captive woman a shake for emphasis. Much as the action hurt, Nami was silently grateful, as it dislodged the tentacle still in her cleavage.

A pink eyebrow raised in disbelief. “You really think the villagers are the ones bombing your mansion? How stupid.”

“Stupid? How dare you! It doesn’t matter whether those peasants were in on it or not; it’s the narrative I’ll spin to the papers when they report on tonight’s events. Once word’s gotten out that they sided with pirates over their beloved master, no one will blame me for finally eliminating those slums. I’ve been wanting that eyesore removed for ages, but they simply refuse to leave.”

The Marine captain scowled at his confession. “Then I suppose when I take you in, I can add ‘slander’ and ‘corruption’ to your list of crimes.”

“How are you planning on arresting me, Hina-chan?” he asked with an incredulous laugh. “By force? My rank was comparable to a Vice-Admiral!”

Grey smoke streamed from her cigarette as she replied, “But your strength wasn’t. Powerful as the Ika Ika no Mi is, you rarely ventured onto the battlefield, instead getting fat and lazy behind a desk. And now that you’re past whatever prime you had, I’d say you’re a little closer to my level.” She smirked, cracking her knuckles. “Hina will enjoy this.”

“You should have stayed downstairs with the guests, Hina-chan,” Harpin sneered. “I’d hate to hurt such a pretty face.”

Glancing at Nami, who’d wisely chosen to remain quiet throughout the conversation, Hina frowned in consideration and—surprisingly—a hint of sympathy. “You’re going to jail, Cat Thief, but if you promise to sit tight, I’ll get you out of your sticky situation first. No woman deserves to be manhandled by a creepy squid.”

All things considered, that was probably be the best deal a pirate could get from her, so Nami nodded enthusiastically.

Running forward, Hina extended her arm, clotheslining the two tentacles encasing her wrists. Nami stared in awe as the Marine’s arm went right through them, leaving behind a black shackle locked around each clammy limb. Spinning on her heel, she next kicked her leg through the two binding the pirate’s thighs. The way the rubbery grey flesh immediately began to pucker and swell indicated that the bands were painfully tight, and Nami soon felt their grasp weaken.

“Fuck!” Harpin yelped, though any further curses were cut off as Hina’s fist slammed into his face. The blow knocked him stumbling back, and after another right hook he had no choice but to release his hold on Nami, the shackles on four of his limbs too constricting and the Marine before him too skilled to engage while restraining a thief.

Falling onto her ass with an “oof!” Nami immediately inspected her thighs and wrists, wincing at the angry marks left behind. Perfectly round, thumbprint-sized red rings littered her skin where the suckers had taken hold, the incisions from the chitin little deeper than a papercut but just as painful. A few had even drawn blood, though to be honest, Beatrix’s nails had sunk deeper.

The suckers are designed to capture and restrain, not rend and tear, Nami concluded. Those tentacles are no joke, though. If he’d been trying, he could have pulled me apart like a paper doll!

With a heavy kick to the chest, Hina sent her former superior crashing into his desk, papers and trinkets flying everywhere. Glancing down at the thief, she raised a challenging eyebrow. “I’m not going to waste my time and energy restraining you, but if you try to run, I won’t hesitate.”

“Fine. Wouldn’t want to miss your beatdown of that pervert, anyway,” she ground out, gingerly prodding at her disfigured legs. If she were lucky, Hina would eventually be too distracted with her fight to notice her sneaking off, but she wouldn’t play her hand until the time was right.

Pleased with the compliance, the Marine darted across the room to continue her cathartic thrashing of the ex-head of Navy intelligence, each punch, kick, and slap making her smile wider as she threw him into suits of armor, furniture, and anything else that was in the way.

Meanwhile, Nami took the opportunity to crawl towards her Clima-Tact, hugging the batons to her chest like an old friend. A glimmer from across the room caught her eye as Harpin was knocked into a lamp, and the embossed titles of the black ledgers winked at her as they lay on the floor. After all this trouble, Law would be pissed if she left without them. Quite frankly, now Nami was feeling pretty determined to get them, too. She wanted to read up some more on Jinbei, and that diagram on the Pacifistas could be useful if they ever ran into Kuma again; maybe it even had some information on how his powers worked, and she could use that to track down the others!

On top of that, Hina was right; the world was already in chaos, and people like Harpin shouldn’t be gaining from it.

While the Navy captain was busy repeatedly grinding the heel of her shoe down onto his crotch, Nami took the opportunity to dash across the room, skidding to a halt by the knight’s armor and gathering up the black leather books.

A crash caught her attention, and Nami’s head whipped to the left to watch Hina dodge a fallen chandelier. Haprin’s floppy lips smirked around his beak, hand pressed against a hidden switch on the wall.

Crap, Nami thought. I forgot there were other traps. She froze as Hina tossed her a glare, the thief’s new position not escaping her notice. Double crap!

The Marine didn’t have any time to do anything about the wayward pirate, though, as Harpin decided to go on the attack, using his multiple arms to fling books, debris, and scattered pieces of armor at the women. Nami awkwardly dodged the projectiles, ducking behind the safe. A thought suddenly hit her, and she peeked out from around the corner of her impromptu shield to observe the Golden Octopus.

Despite the beating Hina had given him, he didn’t look all that much worse for wear. No bruises or welts marred his ashen skin, no bones seemed to be broken, and he even seemed to be walking normally despite the testicular trauma Hina must have inflicted. On top of that, the shackles still locked around his tentacles didn’t seem to be slowing him down, either.

Having had more than enough, Hina shouted “Awase Baori!” as iron bars extended from her arms, spanning across the room. The cage smashed into Harpin’s rubbery body, squishing and distorting it as the bars wrapped around him. Maliciously, she raised the bars and the ensnared man as high into the air as she could before slamming him down onto the floor. As he glared at her, she smirked around her cigarette. “Give up. Everything that passes through my body is locked tight.”

The feeling of victory shattered as his scowl morphed into a smug smile around his beak. “Silly Hina-chan,” he sneered, and as if deflating a balloon, his body became thinner and more flexible, squeezing out from between the bars. Even the shackles Hina’d wrapped around his arms fell away, clattering to the floor. Quickly, eight rubbery limbs lashed out, the two powerful clubs slamming into her stomach like bludgeons. “You can’t cage a squid!”

“Gah!” she coughed, the air pushed from her lungs. Six more arms lashed out, striking her across her face, torso, legs, and ass, jerking her about with each surprisingly powerful blow.

Damn it, didn’t Hina even stun him? Nami thought incredulously, doing her best to stay behind the safe and out of sight.

Inflicting more harsh and humiliating lashes against his former subordinate, he cackled. “I’ll admit, your powers are quite the bane of normal men, but they’re useless against me. A giant squid’s body is malleable enough to withstand deep sea pressure, yet powerful enough to fight a sperm whale! It also makes physical blows practically useless. And while squid might not be quite as notorious escape artists as octopi, this flexible body makes your cage and shackles little more than temporary inconveniences. But escape isn’t my plan.”

Before both women’s eyes, Harpin began to transform again, this time growing larger and larger, his whole body becoming that of an enormous squid that took up nearly a third of the room. Each arm was now at least ten feet long and over a foot thick, with the clubbed feeding tentacles extending to nearly fifteen feet. Black, watery eyes swelled to the size of beach balls, and the disturbing beak grew to the point where it could easily crush a melon in its jaws.

Oh, right, Nami thought, cold terror freezing her lungs. Zoan-type Devil Fruit users can fully transform into their animal.

Quick as a whip, one arm wrapped itself around the dazed Hina, the powerful limb pinning down her arms while sharp suckers latched into the skin. The long silk gown allowed her legs some protection, but only from the chitin; the tentacle itself twined about her entire body until she was completely trapped, squeezing so tightly Nami could hear some of the Marine’s bones pop.

“You should have just been a good girl and agreed to be my secretary instead of hiding behind Sengoku,” he said, voice even more distorted now that his mouth was mainly beak. He dragged her close so he could glare at her through one massive, soggy eye. “I would have treated you nicely—given you more than you deserve. All you had to do was look pretty, spread your legs, and know your place!”

Hina bit down on her cries of pain as Harpin gave her another squeeze, laughing at her attempts to remain defiant. “Pity you had to play so hard to get, Hina-chan. At least Smoker won’t have to mourn you long; he’ll join you in Hell once I’ve finished ripping him to pieces!”

“Fuck…you,” she gasped out, glaring down at the hideous creature even as her bones creaked in his powerful grasp.

Looking on, Nami knew Hina was outmatched, and there was little that the Straw Hat navigator could do to help her. It was better to take the chance to run and live, maybe even find Smoker and tell him to help his friend, as unlikely as it would be that he’d get to her in time. Besides, if she didn’t get out now, she’d be next, and if Hina did manage to beat him, all she could count on a one-way trip to Impel Down.

But that pink hair, cigarette, and determination was just far too familiar, and Nami always had a soft spot for female Marines. Plus, she did owe her for the earlier rescue.

“Thunder Ball!” she shouted, launching a barrage of small electric bolts at the giant squid. She knew it wouldn’t do as much damage as a concentrated lightning strike, but it was just enough to distract him, keeping Hina from getting crushed.

Harpin let out what Nami assumed were yelps of pain before he turned his full attention on her. Grey skin sizzled slightly where the shocks had hit—his skin was rubbery, but it wasn’t rubber. Unlike Luffy, Harpin clearly still took damage from electricity. Nami didn’t have time to gloat, though, as one of the clubbed tentacles raised itself high before swinging down, slamming into the floor right in front of the safe, missing the thief as she dodged just in time.

The force of the blow, combined with the time Nami had been standing on the pressure tile, activated the trapped suit of armor, releasing the halberd from the knight’s grasp to fall onto the massive limb. The sharp blade didn’t quite slice all the way through the slimy club, but it did open a deep gash, blue blood gushing out.

“You bitch!” the giant squid cried, pulling the wounded arm back to inspect the cut, shocked that one of his own traps had been used against him.

Cat-like smile stretched across her face, Nami replied, “Oh, that’s nothing. Didn’t I say there would be thunderstorms tonight? Well, it’s not over yet!”

“Are you seriously—” Harpin began, only to be interrupted by a low rumble from above.

As he looked up, a bolt of lightning came down from the forgotten cloud, striking through the center of the arm constricting Hina as it connected to the Clima-Tact. “Thunder Lance Tempo!”

Once more the foul scent of sizzling sea creature filled her nose, and the concentrated electrical blast was just enough to cripple the limb holding Hina, the blackened flesh smoking and oozing blood in places. A horrific scream of agony rang out from the creature, the closest equivalent she could think of being nails on chalkboard. The limb wasn’t severed like Nami’d hoped, but while it still gripped the captive Marine, her face was much more relaxed, the crushing pressure significantly lessened as it flopped on the floor.

However, the Cat Thief now had a new problem; Harpin was hurt, furious, and his enormous, hateful eyes were fixated squarely on her.

Before she could hide herself or cast another lightning strike she was scooped up by a different tentacle, its grip ten times stronger than before, the serrated suckers the size of peach stones and digging deeper into her skin. She didn’t have Hina’s restraint, screaming as he maliciously began crushing her chest, bit by bit squeezing the life out of her.

“You worthless, stupid, wicked twat!” he snarled, bringing her so close Nami could see her pained, terrified reflection in his watery eye. “I’ll make you pay for that! You should have run while you had the chance! Now who’s going to save you, pirate whore?!”

The answer came in the form of Law and Smoker crashing through the windows, the Marine’s thick smoke clouds wrapped around the surgeon’s waist while their weapons locked in a stalemate. Trapped in the smoke were two large barrels of gunpowder. Shattered glass from the windows floated through the air, forcing Smoker to shield his eyes, giving Law an opening to punch him in the jaw, causing him to fling the pirate and the barrels deeper into the room.

Switching his body and the tumbling barrels with debris, Law smirked up at his opponent, patting one of the bombs as it settled next to him. “Gonna have to try harder than that to get these away from me, White Chase-ya.”

“I’m gonna tear your fucking head off, Trafalgar!” Smoker countered still wiping away the glass. His suit was shredded and smoldering faintly in some places while his jitte had a few scorch marks on it. Law must have taken the bombs meant for the third distraction to use against the Marine. Nami had been so caught up dealing with the Baron she hadn’t even noticed they’d never gone off.

Panting lightly, the Heart Captain brandished his cane sword, preparing to strike, only to pause as he took in the state of the room. He’d lost his mask and coat at some point and his lip was bleeding, but at least he was in one piece. More importantly, once he saw what kind of situation Nami had gotten herself into, he used his powers to switch her with one of the barrels.

She barely had time to regain her footing before he ordered, “Nami-ya, a spark to light the fuse, please.”

“Screw the fuse,” she gasped, gulping down air. Her Thunder Lance Tempo crashed through the wooden barrel, quickly setting off the explosive powder, making Harpin bellow as the tentacle was reduced to nothing more than a stump, enormous body flailing backwards to avoid the flames and shrapnel from damaging his face.

At the sound, Law finally gave the creature attached to the tentacle a good look, color draining from his face at the massive sea monster. “Well shit,” he said as he pushed her behind him, ready to fend off further tentacle strikes. “He’s actually a Devil Fruit user.”

“You owe me so much money for this!” Nami practically sobbed in relief, clutching the back of his vest.

“I’ll pay you when we don’t have a fucking squid monster trying to kill us.”

“And who the hell are you?” Harpin snapped, furious that his prey had been snatched from his sticky grasp once again.

“No one,” the captain answered coolly, expanding his Room and slashing at the tentacle whipping towards them. It fell to the ground, wiggling and twitching, and Nami sent another blast of lightning at it for good measure.

“The fuck is Trafalgar Law doing with Cat Thief Nami?” Smoker growled to Hina as he slammed his jitte into the tentacle restraining her, the Seastone tip forcing it to go limp as Harpin howled in pain. Once he’d managed to clear the glass from his eyes, he too had decided aiding his companion was a higher priority than taking out his opponent.

“Are you surprised?” she asked dryly as she peeled the suckers from her skin, wincing at the rings left behind. “Perhaps saving Straw Hats is his new hobby.”

“Well, put them in a cage so we can focus on kicking Harpin’s ass!” he snapped as a shadow fell across him.

“Thunder Lance Tempo!” he heard the female pirate cry out, and he whipped around, ready to defend himself, when he was blinded by a lightning bolt flashing right in front of his face.

When the blotchy spots cleared from his vision, Smoker looked down to find a sizzling lump of squid flesh at his feet, the rest of the tentacle gingerly dragging the mangled tip away.

Hina gave Nami a grateful smile, and an unspoken understanding passed between them. “I only have so much energy and would rather let a few pirates gain a one-day head start if it means taking down a man who’s been leaking government secrets.”

Smoker’s eyes widened in comprehension, then narrowed in annoyance. “Are you shittin’ me?!”

Rather than hear out their argument, Nami urgently tugged Law’s vest. “I think the Navy’s got this covered. They don’t need us getting in their way.”

The way the line of his mouth hardened indicated he wasn’t thrilled with the idea, however, when he noticed the three hardcover ledgers she’d scooped off the floor, he nodded in acceptance. Grabbing her free arm, he turned towards the door, but Harpin was already two steps ahead of them, a massive tentacle batting the safe off its pressure-sensitive tile as easily as a cat would tip over a glass of water. Iron grates shot down over the entrance and windows, cutting off their escape routes.

Before Law could use his Room to bypass the gate, another tentacle whipped forward, smashing into his spine and knocking him into a wall, dragging Nami along with him. It was only sheer instinct that allowed him to turn midair and shield the smaller pirate from the hard impact, but as she reoriented herself, she immediately began to panic.

“Law!” Nami shouted, frantically checking to make sure he was breathing. “Oh, God, please tell me you’re alright!”

“Fuck,” he hissed, cracking an eye open as his teeth grit against the pain.

At least he’s alive, she thought, heart thundering in her chest. “Can you move? Is anything broken?”

Despite the obvious distress he was in, he gave a weak smirk. “And here I thought I was the doctor.”

Behind them, Nami could hear Smoker shout “White Blow!” a sickening, squishy sound filling her ears as the blast made impact with Harpin’s rubbery head. Glancing over her shoulder, she found the Marine standing in front of her, thick white smoke billowing from his arms, the dense clouds wrapping around the flailing tentacles like manacles. “Hina, if we live through this, you’re buying me dinner! All you can eat seafood!”

“Fine, but I’ll skip the calamari,” Hina coughed, slamming her Kimono Sleeve into the open wound of the pinned-down club, smirking slightly when the Baron let out a pained scream. The halberd’s gash hadn’t been deep, but even a creature resilient to physical strikes wouldn’t like a metal pole shoved inside a cut.

Unfortunately, their moment of victory didn’t last long, as Harpin had another trick up his sleeve; flexing his stomach, a spray of inky mist filled the room, blinding the quartet of humans, distracting both Smoker and Hina enough that Harpin was able to wiggle his way out of their traps.

“Hahaha! What are you going to do now?” the giant squid gloated, grunts of pain sounding from the pair of Marines. The floor shook as something repeatedly slammed into it, tiles cracking followed by more groans. “You can’t see me, but you’re all easy enough to find; squid are designed to hunt in virtual darkness!”

“Not much of an advantage when you take up half the room, you freaky bastard,” Law wheezed.

Though she couldn’t see her companion, she could feel him gingerly trying pull himself into a sitting position beneath her. Ok, if he’s snarking, he should be ok, she assured herself as she blindly got to her feet. Muscle memory and familiarity allowed her to assemble her batons properly, and following Harpin’s maniacal laughter, Nami tossed her Clima-Tact in what she hoped was the right direction. “Cyclone Tempo!”

His angry shouts told her she’d hit her mark, and with the ink cleared from the air, she was able to blink away the black film that formed over her eyes. Vision cleared, she was startled to find both Smoker and Hina in his grasp, the serrated rings in his suckers puncturing their skin, the muscular tentacles squeezing them like a pair of toothpaste tubes. Smoker looked far worse for wear, and she understood why as the squid bashed him against the floor like a child trying to break a toy soldier during a tantrum.

Seeing the lone thief before him, Harpin laughed again, taking a break from abusing his former subordinate. “Seems it’s my lucky night; all my problems will be solved in one fell swoop! I can frame Trafalgar Law for Smoker and Hina-chan’s murders and for those little information leaks—the World Government will be happy to pin the blame on him over one of their own, especially if it means I won’t release some rather scandalous information to Big News Morgans. Those charges against me will be dropped in no time!” he cried joyously, a third arm plucking Law from the rubble behind Nami, giving all three of his victims a harsh squeeze. “Add in the arrest of all those pathetic fishermen and their families for ‘aiding’ the Heart Pirates, and I’ll finally have my beautiful island all to myself! No more low-class trash or eyesore shanties—just beautiful women and fancy parties!”

His enormous eyes zeroed in on his final opponent. “That just leaves you, Nami-chan. Since I’m in such a good mood, I’ll give you a choice; be handed over to the Navy with your boyfriend or stay as my pretty plaything. After the trouble you’ve caused me, I can’t promise I’ll be gentle, but I can assure you, it’ll be better than what they’ll have in store for you at Impel Down.”

As Law, Smoker, and Hina cried out in pain from the crushing pressure of Harpin’s grip, Nami ran through her options. The choices he’d offered weren’t even worth considering. She couldn’t run; even if she weren’t trapped, she couldn’t just leave Law and the two Marines to their fates, nor risk Harpin framing the innocent villagers for an attack they weren’t involved in. Bargaining was pointless as the Baron held all the cards. Nami considered pleading for mercy, but she was positive that it would do nothing but stoke the squid’s massive ego and possibly sign herself up for an even worse fate—if Harpin was willing to blackmail his own companions, who was to say he wouldn’t force her to commit any number of depraved acts for the sake of her companions’ lives?

Spying the remaining two barrels of gunpowder, she came to a decision. With a shout of “Cyclone Tempo!” she launched them at him, pleased when he instinctively knocked them aside with his last pair of uninjured tentacles. She had no intention of setting them off; there was too much of a chance that the others would get caught in the explosion.

They did, however, distract Harpin enough to let her dash the twenty feet she needed to reach the entrance.

“Did you forget about the gate, stupid girl?” he called mockingly as he realized where she’d run.

Instead of answering verbally, Nami smirked as she stomped her foot down on one of the tiles in the third row, praying that the mechanisms hadn’t been damaged during the battle.

The result was better than she could have hoped; a Seastone net the size of the room itself plummeted from the ceiling, smashing into the huge, hideous creature, narrowly missing Nami as she sprang back and squeezed her small body against the grate, taking advantage of the narrow shelter provided by the threshold. Loud groans from the four Devil Fruit users rang out, all their strengths sapped but the thick tentacles around the three humans loosening, their rubbery bulk also providing ample protection against the force of the heavy net.

“Cat Thief, I’m not sure if I hate you more or less than your captain right now,” Smoker wheezed. His forehead was bleeding, his nose looked broken, and his beefy body would probably be one big bruise in the morning, but he was still alive.

“Be grateful,” Nami panted, walking out into the room to collect the black ledgers. “Luffy would have punched him through the floor; I at least left the room intact.”

Either the Gods of Dramatic Irony decided such a statement couldn’t be left alone or Luffy had died and his ghost was haunting her, but beneath her feet, thin fissures began to form.

“Smoker,” Hina asked softly, “you memorized the blueprints of the mansion. What’s below us?”

Briefly, Law and Smoker shared a guilty glance. “The art gallery. Which Trafalgar and I might have briefly…tussled in.”

“Tussled?”

“I may have bashed his head into a potentially load-bearing pillar or two.”

“And I may have cut a few more,” Law added weakly.

As the cracks grew wider, Hina sighed. “And of course, below that is the spa, which has surely sustained massive water damage by now due to Smoker breaking the pipes.”

There was no way to deny it—from the battles to the bombs to the sabotage, the structural integrity of the room had been compromised. Comical tears streamed down Nami’s face as she collapsed to her knees. “We’re all gonna die.”

Trapped as they all were, there was no choice but to watch the cracks grow larger and larger before the floor finally broke apart like a jigsaw puzzle. Harpin’s much heavier bulk mixed with the force of gravity caused him to smash through the floors of two more ceilings, finally crashing into the first floor. His squishy body did provide ample cushioning for the Cat Thief, though, as she bounced off his elastic head, landing hard but safely on the floor.

When the smoke cleared, Nami realized that they’d landed at the far end of the ballroom. Most of the guests had chosen to use the room as a shelter instead of evacuating and possibly facing what they believed to be an angry mob of villagers, but Reginald had managed to herd them all into the corner closest to the entrance where it was safest, and conveniently away from the spot Harpin’s hulking form had landed.

Luck was once again briefly on the pirates’ side as the fall had also managed to dislodge Law from both the tentacle and the net, freeing him. Tired, dirty, but not as badly injured as assumed, he unsteadily got to his feet, grinning slightly when Nami immediately rushed to his side, juggling the books under her arm, ready to catch him if he fell.

“Are you ok?”

“Better than I was under the Seastone net,” he assured. “That was quick thinking back there. I’m just sorry you had to face him alone.”

“Is the crew ok?”

“Shachi’s team has some pretty bad injuries, but Penguin’s was able to evacuate them while I took on White Chase.”

She let out a sigh of relief. Of course he hadn’t abandoned her; the others had just been in more immediate danger. He wouldn’t have even left her in the first place if he hadn’t known they needed his help. And once he saw she was in trouble, he’d immediately saved her and was even apologizing for the fact that he hadn’t been there sooner.

He wasn’t Luffy, but she was grateful her temporary captain had her back.

Grey eyes shifted towards the small red circles that littered Nami’s skin, and she could see him taking stock of her various minor injuries. His glare intensified as it landed on the smaller rings wrapped around her upper thighs, his highly intelligent brain easily deducing what she’d gone through while he’d been off fighting Smoker. “Since we’re back in the ballroom, I guess I get to play the part of ‘jealous boyfriend’ again,” he said lowly, dark tone sending a shiver down her spine.

“What?”

Pulling out of her grasp, he nodded to the books under her arm. “Hold onto those while I thank the Baron for his hospitality; I’ve got just enough strength for two more big techniques.”

Bad as their own states were, their host was far worse off, the Seastone net still twisted around his bulbous head, pinning him to the floor as Hina and Smoker lay barely conscious in his limp tentacles. His beachball-sized eyes glared at the two pirates that had ruined his plans before bulging further as his guests began screaming in horror.

“Dear god, what is that thing?!” a woman cried, pointing at their host.

“What kind of monster has Harpin been keeping?”

“Gerald, must you show that form in public?” Beatrix shouted, appalled.

“Miss Bellemere, is that you?” Reginald called out. He must have recognized her mask, or at least Law standing next to her. His eyes widened as he took in her infamous tattoo and mikan hair. “Gracious, you’re a pirate?”

Somehow, despite the giant squid that had crashed through the ceiling, it was the word “pirate” that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

“Pirates are leading the villagers’ rebellion!”

“No, they must have murdered the townspeople and are now here for us!”

“Where are those Marines?”

“They’re trapped under the net with that monster!”

“Don’t worry; I’ll take care of this!” Kujakumaru shouted, grabbing Law’s fallen cane sword and lunging at Nami.

Exhausted though she was, she still had the strength to sidestep the untrained fop, tripping him before smacking him over the head with her Clima-Tact.

“Nice one,” Law chuckled as he staggered over to Harpin’s pinned form, a sadistic grin on his face as he stared down at the trapped former Intelligence Officer. “Weaklings like him are lucky to be left alive.”

“Law?” Nami murmured in concern, hovering slightly.

Glancing over his shoulder at her, Law’s eyes were filled with wicked excitement and pride. “I said I had the energy for two more techniques, didn’t I? Well, I’ve been looking for a decent subject to test this first one on. So good of Harpin to donate his body to science.”

Before Nami could reason with him to use his powers to get them out of there, a small blade of green, crackling energy formed in his hand. Without even a moment of hesitation, he stabbed it into Harpin’s big, watery eye.

“Gamma Knife!”

A violent tremor rocked the giant squid’s rubbery body as Harpin let out a truly inhuman shriek of agony, blue blood exploding from his beak before going completely still, the spark of life visibly fading in his eyes.

When Law started to sway, Nami grabbed him around the waist, looping his arm over her shoulder and letting him lean on her for support. “What was that?” she asked, voice somewhere between horror and awe.

Panting, he replied, “An attack I’ve been working on. Completely destroys the body from the inside. Figured it was the best way to finish that creep, since external damage wasn’t doing the job.”

Inside, she was torn. Harpin had been a monster, a lecherous creep, an asshole, and a very real danger to the world, Navy and Pirates alike, with the information he had. Even with Smoker and Hina’s testimonies and the ledgers as proof, his extensive connections with the World Government and Underworld meant there was no guarantee that, if left alive, he’d really pay for his crimes.

But in her entire time sailing with Luffy, she’d never seen her captain kill anyone. Not Arlong, Enel, or Crocodile. He left them a broken, bloody mess, dreams destroyed and helpless as the Navy sent them off to prison, but alive. The Straw Hat captain was a reckless fool and a pirate, but he wasn’t a murderer.

Law had just killed a man like it was nothing.

A little part of her wondered if he’d always been planning on taking Baron Harpin Gerald’s life, or if seeing the painful and suggestive marks on her skin had sealed his fate.

Conflicted as her feelings were, Nami didn’t allow her hold to loosen as Law slumped a little harder against her. She could feel his body tremble, his breath coming out in short, staggering pants, his heart pounding beneath her hand.

It seemed her unflinching support was appreciated, as Law gave a tired wink as he activated his Room, spreading it so widely she had to look out the window to see the faint blue edge at the far side of the island.

“What’s he doing?”

“Oh my God, he’s the Surgeon of Death!”

“We’re all going to die!”

Taking a deep breath, Law ignored the crowd’s panicked cries, softly murmuring, “Scan. Shambles.”

In a blink, the duo was whisked from the ballroom to the other side of the island, the Polar Tang waiting in the cove, the rest of the Heart Pirates immediately rushing forward to check on their captain. Law waved off their concerned questions, but Nami shrieked as she was dragged down to the sandy ground as he collapsed to his knees in exhaustion. Now she understood why he’d been against using his powers until necessary; doing all that on such a large scale, plus his fights with Smoker and Harpin, was draining.

Her concern only distracted her for so long, though. As she looked around, she realized they were surrounded by solid gold statues, jewelry, the buffet, the ledgers, and blessedly, her dress, leather wallets spilling out of the hidden pockets. Gleeful that not only were they alive but that he’d kept his promise, her grip around him shifted into a grateful hug, her lips unconsciously brushing against his cheek in thanks.

Law opened one exhausted eye. “Everyone start loading up the loot.” The last syllable barely left his lips before his eyes rolled back and he completely passed out in Nami’s arms, head lolling until it was squished against the Cat Thief’s chest.

“Captain!” the crew cried out.

Terrified that she might be holding a corpse, Nami pressed her fingers to his neck, heaving a massive sigh of relief when she felt a steady pulse. “He’s alive,” she assured the hovering pirates, attempting to shift the dead weight of their captain so he didn’t smother himself in her cleavage.

“Holy crap, Nami, you both look like shit!” Ikkaku said as she kneeled down to help, too concerned to even tease her about the fact that she hadn’t even hit Law for using her breasts as a pillow.

“It’s been a long night,” she sighed as they finally managed to maneuver him so he was lying flat on the ground. As if annoyed at the loss of his comfortable headrest, his brow furrowed briefly, but after a moment smoothed out as he fully succumbed to his exhaustion.

There was still work to be done, though, and Nami accepted her roommate’s proffered hand, letting her pull her to her feet. With a quick glance around, she raised an eyebrow. “Hey, there’s no way we can eat everything from the buffet before it goes bad. Load up what you can, but before we go, do you think you can help me get some of these leftovers to the town?”

“The Marines will be swarming the place within an hour.”

“Harpin’s call for backup was already denied and Smoker and Hina were barely conscious when we left. Even if they did wake up, they’re going to have their hands full up at the mansion. I don’t think we have to worry for a while yet.” Despite her stinging cuts, sore muscles, and flagging energy, Nami gave a cat-like grin. “In the meantime, the food’ll make an excellent bribe to convince the townsfolk not to tell them about these caves.”

Shaking her head in amusement, Ikkaku simply replied, “Whatever you say, Nami.”

XXX

Several hours later Nami staggered into her quarters, only pausing to check that all three black-bound ledgers were still on her desk before letting out a sigh of relief and collapsing into the vanity’s plush chair. The work had been non-stop; they’d been short-staffed in terms of loading up the treasure into the cargo hold. Even Nami had been roped into partaking in physical labor, barely even given enough time to drop off her dress and the ledgers and change into more sensible footwear before she’d been put to work.

It couldn’t be helped. The majority of Shachi’s group was recovering in the infirmary, the second mate’s wounds the worst with a broken arm and three cracked ribs. Bepo had seen him try to take on Smoker by himself to protect the others, and according to the bear, he’d be far worse off if Law hadn’t arrived in time to save him.

Speaking of, while Law could have moved all the food and treasure in an instant, it was universally agreed that they weren’t going to wait around for him to regain consciousness just so he could overuse his powers again. Penguin had even insisted on carrying him to his quarters before heading to infirmary to act as interim doctor, the First Mate piggybacking the taller man awkwardly, but refusing any help. It had been kind of sweet, watching him take such a big-brother role, and it confirmed in her mind that the crew cared for each other just as much as the Straw Hats did.

At least her own injuries hadn’t been too debilitating, and once they’d gotten everything they could into the ship Ikkaku had roped Bepo, Jean-Bart, and Clione into helping transport the remaining food into the town. Late as the evening was, the villagers had been absolutely in shock as they stumbled out of their shacks, staring at the massive feast that had been laid out before them. Several had even rubbed their eyes in disbelief, clearly thinking it was some kind of dream. Once they realized what was actually happening, though, the whole town had let out a cheer, and Nami had been blessed with a hug from the little girl from earlier, the child recognizing the thief’s jewelry and mischievous smile.

Nami was a bit sad to have to leave, as the townsfolk had asked the pirates to stay and celebrate the Baron’s downfall, but the navigator wasn’t going to squander that one-day head-start Hina had promised and had immediately ordered Jean-Bart to get them out into the open sea. Once Tokken Island was nothing more than a speck in the distance, she’d handed the reigns over to Bepo; he’d shyly informed her that Law had discussed an escape route and destination before the mission had even started.

Now she was back in her room, finally able to take a moment to herself. Ikkaku would be gone at least a few more hours; she’d insisted on monitoring the engine, making sure the additional weight of the treasure wouldn’t put too much strain on the ship. She’d given the hickey on Nami’s neck a meaningful look, though, and the navigator hadn’t even bothered trying to play it off as one of Harpin’s suction marks. Looking at it in the mirror, she knew that was the right call; only an idiot would assume the plum-colored blemish was in any way related to the bright red rings.

“Pervy jerk,” she grumbled, tearing her eyes from the hickey to focus on wiping off her makeup. “Maybe Ikkaku has a cute scarf I could borrow.”

A brief knock interrupted her musings, so she called out “Come in!” assuming it was Bepo asking for her input on their heading. To her surprise, it was Law who sidled through the door. He was once more in his normal hoodie and spotted jeans, colored contacts gone, dark circles proudly visible under his eyes. The black hair dye was still in, but it would likely be fully washed out and back to its original midnight blue in no more than a week.

“Here for your hat?” Nami asked, indicating the black-spotted accessory on the bed. She’d noticed it when she’d dropped off her things and had planned on returning it in the morning. Even she wasn’t mean enough to disturb an exhausted swordsman just to get his hat out of her room.

Plopping the fuzzy accessory onto his head, Law stood behind the back of her chair, pulling something from his jeans pocket. “Among other things.”

The cool touch of gold made goosebumps rise across her collarbone, and she gasped as she recognized Beatrix’s extravagant, heart-shaped diamond necklace as it settled against her throat.

“Is this—?”

“Let it never be said Dr. Goodheart doesn’t spoil his woman,” he chuckled in her ear as he secured the delicate clasp behind her neck. “Consider it my payment for being my date tonight. I estimate that yellow diamond alone is worth at least ten times the forty-five million belli I accrued for three hours of your company. You can count the other thirty diamonds as reparations for dealing with such a shit host.”

Unbidden, a tiny smile came to her lips. She was good at reading between the lines, and this was definitely Law’s way of begging forgiveness for the absolute shitshow she’d endured because he’d left. To be honest, it wasn’t necessary. After hearing about the state Shachi was in, she couldn’t bring herself to blame him—if that had been Usopp or Sanji or Robin, she’d have done the same.

Not that she was going to let him know that. He might take the necklace back.

“Hmmm, I guess it’s acceptable,” she replied coyly, admiring herself in the mirror. The diamonds sparkled elegantly in the light, the pale yellow heart resting precisely in the divot of her collarbone. “Though with all the chaos, I’m impressed even thought to grab it when we left.”

Behind her, Law’s wide grin was devious and self-satisfied. “Oh, no, I grabbed it when I set the curtain on fire. Even if I came away with nothing else, I was making damn sure I got this after that crazy bitch had the gall to insult you.”

Oddly flattered that he’d put in the effort to get her such a luxurious gift and revenge on the woman who’d dared to call her “cheap,” Nami gave him a soft, genuine smile. She wouldn’t even sell it, since he was being so sweet. “Thank you. It’s gorgeous.”

“You carry it better than she does, anyway,” he replied, thumb idly rubbing little circles on her shoulders. “I think you should wear it to the next party.”

Without the gloves, his hands were deliciously warm against her skin and it was oddly nice to see the tattoos on his fingers again. Like the bags under his eyes, they were such a familiar part of him that she’d unconsciously begun to miss. “Hard pass. Tonight was a clusterfuck, and I think I’ll stick to hitting bars. At least there I can beat the crap out of the horny assholes dumb enough to grope me.”

“Fair.” Carefully turning her chair around, he pulled a small first-aid kit out of his hoodie pocket. From the little white box he removed some gauze, antiseptic, and medical tape. Pouring a bit of the clear alcohol onto a small square of white cotton, he gently dabbed at the scabbed-over cuts on her clavicle. “I promised I’d clean these up when we got back to the ship, and I wanted to get a better look at those suction marks. Did you even bother getting these checked over earlier?” he scolded.

Red crept across her face as she realized she’d completely forgotten about her own injuries. “Shachi’s team needed the medical attention way more than me; I figured I could wait until they were out of the woods.” She winced as the sting of alcohol irritated Beatrix’s claw marks but knew better than to complain.

“Of course. It had nothing to do with you being distracted by piles of treasure.” After carefully taping a wide gauze bandage over the cuts, he turned his attention to the sucker marks. His frown darkened as he got a better look at the rings across her thighs. “In the interest of doing my job as your doctor, I have to ask; were all the injuries you received from Harpin external, or should I scan you for internal trauma?”

Her eyes widened and the blood drained from her cheeks as she registered what he was suggesting. “No I…I’m fine. He didn’t…I mean, he groped me and I’m sure if Hina hadn’t arrived—”

Law held up his hand, halting her uncomfortable stammering. “Again, I’m truly sorry you had to deal with him on your own. I knew he was a creep and a pervert, but I swear I thought he was a normal human—someone you could hold off on your own if necessary.”

“It’s ok,” she assured, anxiously rubbing her arms. She really didn’t want to dwell on what Harpin could have done to her if Hina hadn’t shown up. Given the Marine’s willingness to release her from his lecherous grasp, Nami wondered if she’d been in that position herself, or at least seen comrades treated similarly. After all, he had at least a hundred reported accusations of sexual harassment against him. The Navy really needed to stop giving such monsters seats of power. “I guess I should be flattered that you had faith in me to take out a former Marine officer.”

“I promise to never make that mistake again. Once things have settled down, we’re beginning combat training. Your weather attacks are impressive, but they won’t work in every situation,” he said seriously as he turned his focus to her wrists. Taking a silver tube out of his hoodie’s pocket, he squirted a small amount of thick, grey cream into his palm before massaging it into the thumbprint-sized rings. Cool and slightly minty, Nami could immediately feel it begin to soothe her sore muscles and stinging marks.

“I’m pretty sure the odds are good that we’ll never run into another squid-guy,” she joked weakly.

“True, and I suppose he could have been so much worse.”

“How?”

“Did you know several species of squid are cannibals?”

Stomach churning in disgust, her mind frantically fought against the images that tried to wrestle their way into the forefront of her mind. “Ew ew ew! Oh god, how do you even know that?”

The corner of his mouth quirked upwards in amusement as he worked the cream into the larger circles on her upper arms. “When you spend a lot of time in a submarine, one of the main ways to pass the time is studying the habits of underwater creatures. Clione’s even started writing a book about some of the things we’ve seen.”

“Ugh! Remind me to never read it!”

Squeezing another dollop of cream into his palm, he chuckled. “I make no such promise as his research has been extremely beneficial. Right now, he’s studying a skin and blood sample from one of my own sucker marks to be safe, but he assures me that giant squid aren’t venomous. I am ordering you to report any dizziness, shortness of breath, swelling, or other unusual symptoms, though.”

“Fine,” she sighed as he let go of her arms to crouch between her legs. She jerked violently as his long fingers wrapped around her calf, leg kicking out while her heart hammered against her chest with instinctual panic. With the cream coating his skin, the sensation was far too similar to the texture of Harpin’s tentacles slithering across her flesh. Law must have drawn a similar conclusion, as he mumbled an apology, holding his hands up to show he meant no harm.

Nami immediately felt guilty and mentally berated herself. Sure, Law could be forward, but she knew he was no threat compared to Harpin. Yes, he flirted and stared, but if the disgust he showed towards the mere possibility that she’d been sexually assaulted was anything to go by, he wasn’t that kind of threat. She had no reason to be afraid of him.

Taking a few calming breaths, she met his eyes, nodding down at her leg. “It’s fine. Go ahead, doctor.” 

As if she were a skittish doe, he slowly and cautiously placed his hand on her shin, pleased when she remained completely still, even though he could still feel the tension in her muscles. Slow and gentle, he focused on massaging it into her left calf with both hands, keeping his hands where she could see them.

“So,” he began, glancing up at her from his place on the floor, “where are you taking me for dinner?”

“What are you talking about?” she asked, eyes locked on the way his fingers splayed out and he rubbed careful, broad circles over each contusion. It seemed he was doing everything he could to make his hands feel as different from the invasive tentacles as possible.

“The dinner you owe me for losing the bet.”

“Fucking excuse you?” she snapped, sitting up straight in her chair so she could properly glare down at him.

A dark eyebrow raised in challenge, though only amusement danced in his amber eyes. “You only got seven wallets before escaping the ballroom. That means you’re paying for our victory dinner.”

“Um, no, I grabbed six more as I ran out,” she huffed, crossing her arms.

“Did you really?”

“Yes!”

“Too bad you can’t prove it.”

“My word’s enough!”

“It’s absolutely adorable that you think I’d trust your word when money’s on the line.”

Furious though she was, she knew he had a point and she really couldn’t prove that she which wallets were stolen when, so she switched tactics. “That reminds me; you owe me an extra fifty million belli for your shitty intel, and no, the necklace doesn’t count towards that.”

“Do you accept gold bars?”

She blinked, surprised. “Um, sure.”

A narrow shoulder lifted in a relaxed shrug “Then you’ll get your payment after I get that ugly-ass squid statue melted down on Knox Island.”

“You grabbed that?” She’d noticed a few gold statues being loaded up, but in the excitement of all that treasure, she hadn’t really registered that it was the one from Harpin’s office.

“I decided I deserved a bonus for everything I’ve put up with tonight, though I grabbed just about everything of value I could. Even if we couldn’t fit it all in the cargo hold, stealing and scattering Harpin’s possessions throughout the island will make it harder for the authorities to figure out what we actually took until after we’ve sold it.”

“Good thinking.”

His smug grin made it clear he knew exactly how clever he was. A more liberal dollop of cream filled his palm, and without even asking he began massaging it into her right thigh. It only then registered that throughout their argument, he’d finished treating both her calves without her even noticing, if the cool tingle dancing across her skin was anything to go by. He’d easily managed to distract her from his actions, and she must have unconsciously gotten used to the feeling of his hands on her legs, as she barely twitched when his calloused palms touched her.

Unfortunately, she now had a different problem—he was intimately close, hands thoroughly rubbing the cream into the sensitive flesh of her thighs, and hot blood immediately rushed to her cheeks as she took in the picture the handsome captain made kneeling between her spread legs.

“What is that stuff, anyway?” she asked, trying to keep herself distracted, though this time for very different reasons.

“It’s a special salve I developed. It soothes the pain, plus speeds up the healing process. I’ve found it’s damn good on welts, bruises, contusions, and other unseemly blemishes.”

“How do you make it?”

“It’s plant-based, actually. I found a unique type of aloe on a jungle island, among several other interesting medicinal plants. That’s actually why I’m so invested in your greenhouse idea; I’d like to plant some of the seeds so I can replenish my stores once they run low.”

He may be a pirate, but he definitely takes his medical duties seriously, she thought with a hint of fondness.

Nami noticed then that, despite how suggestive his position was and how risqué the area he was massaging the thick cream into might have been, his actions were cold and clinical. He was in full-on doctor mode, all his focus on treating a patient.

It also didn’t escape her attention that, once more, he didn’t seem to be moved by the amount of skin on display. She was still in her skimpy bodysuit, and considering how many times she’d caught Uni, Clione, and others staring at her and sporting nosebleeds, she knew she looked sexy as hell, even with the sucker marks. She knew he wasn’t as easily impressed by women as the others, but did he find the marks that repulsive? Maybe the others just hadn’t been able to properly see them in the moonlight, or they’d been too fixated on her chest to notice.

Except Law also didn’t seem to be flirting with her as much as she’d expected. Hadn’t even teased her about the kiss, or even seemed aware that he’d passed out on her boobs earlier. Was he too focused to bother? Too tired? Or was he just not interested now that she was practically naked?

Deciding to test the waters as he switched to her other thigh, she quipped, “I don’t suppose that stuff works on hickeys, does it?”

“Oh, there’s not a chance in Hell this stuff’s going anywhere near your neck,” he said, glancing up at her with a tired but devilish smile. “I worked hard on that mark, and you’re going to wear it with pride.”

Ok, that was more like the Law she’d gotten used to, annoying as he was. “No, I’m going to slather it with concealer until it goes away on its own.”

His hands stilled their motions as his voice dropped an octave. “If I think you’ve put even a speck of makeup on that hickey, Nami-ya, I may have to leave something a little more…obvious.”

She swallowed hard, red tinging her cheeks. She wasn’t quite she what he had in mind, but she knew better than to ask when he started to get that hungry glint in his eyes. After all, if the hickey was payback for her sunburn prank, his punishment for covering it up was probably the kind of kinky shit Robin had told her about after a few too many glasses of wine on girls’ night.

Forcing away those kinds of thoughts, she huffed, “Fine, I’ll leave it alone. You’re just lucky I’m in a good mood from all the treasure we got.”

Salve thoroughly worked into her skin, Law finally stood. “Things might not have gone exactly as I planned, but in the end, I’d call tonight a success.” He strolled over to her desk, picking up the black ledger marked “Intel,” casually thumbing through it with a pleased grin. “Especially since we got what we came for. More, even.” He tsked sarcastically, grin stretching wider as he took in the various reports and formulas. “Look at all this classified information. The Navy should really send us a thank-you card for taking this away from an unscrupulous bastard like Harpin. I mean, who knows what kind of chaos could be stirred up if it got leaked to the Underworld?”

The sharp, maniacal gleam in his eyes sent tremors down Nami’s spine. “It…definitely could cause problems.”

“Absolutely. Imagine how people would react if they saw what Vegapunk and his subordinates got up to? Why, there’s a whole chapter here on the experiments performed on Punk Hazard—looks like a scientist named Caesar created a chemical weapon that nearly destroyed the whole island. And look,” he chuckled, turning the book to show Nami a complicated chemical formula, “there’s even a recipe.”

It suddenly dawned on Nami that as dangerous as such intel was with Harpin, Law might not be much better. He wasn’t like Luffy, who was too good-natured and direct to even consider using such backhanded means against the Navy. Nor was he like Arlong, who would have been too stupid to understand the scientific intel and instead focused on selling the blackmail. Robin and Franky were smart enough to understand and potentially use it, but they had the morals not to, especially if their captain was against it.

Law was intelligent, ambitious, connected, and unscrupulous. It was clear he had some sort of plan for what was in those books, and Nami wasn’t sure she liked it. These weren’t just military codes or dossiers on shichibukai.

This was the kind of stuff that could start an arms race.

White teeth sank into her lower lip. “Considering how dangerous that information is, then, I think we should get rid of those ledgers.”

“Excuse me?”

“Look, Hina may have only been specifically ordered to retrieve his blackmail materials, but Harpin was already being investigated for leaking classified intel to the Underworld—if the Navy thinks we took more than just gold, they’ll send every Fleet Admiral after us with extreme prejudice. We’re better off dumping them at a Marine base so they won’t consider us a threat.”

“Are you seriously saying you want me to give them back?” Gold eyes flashed with anger, and after hours of staring at the more muted grey, Nami found them all the more intense. She jumped when he slammed the book down onto the desk. “I did not fight a giant squid and nearly get my crew killed for nothing!”

“Wha—it wasn’t nothing! We got all that treasure—”

So quick she could have sworn he used his powers, Law was back in front of her. Long, tattooed fingers harshly grasped the back of the chair, trapping her in her seat. “I’ve told you before; I don’t give a shit about money. The information in those books is more valuable to me than everything in that mansion combined,” he sneered.

Brown eyes widened at his change of tone as she shrank back, immediately on-guard as his threatening aura surrounded her. “Look, Law, I know it’s been a rough night, but you have to listen to me; we can’t let that intel out into the world. I hate the World Government just like any other pirate, but if the Underworld gets hold of those blueprints and formulas, they’re not going to just be used on Marines—innocent civilians will be caught in the crossfire. There will be massacres across the Grand Line, wars could start—”

Leaning in so close their noses nearly touched, his glaring irises filled her vision. “Innocent civilians also get slaughtered to cover up the World Government’s crimes. I’ve seen genocide carried out because of greedy bastards who would rather kill thousands than admit they’d poisoned an entire city. That’s just the way it is, Nami-ya; the weak don’t get to decide how they die.”

Manicured nails dug into the armrests. For a moment she considered backing down, but all she could imagine was all the inevitable death that would come if she allowed that intel to find its way into the wrong hands. Swallowing hard, she replied, “You…sound like you speak from experience. Are you saying that if someone could have stopped that massacre, you would have told them not to?”

“It might never have happened in the first place if the truth that Amber Lead wasn’t contagious hadn’t been covered up!”

She gasped. She’d heard about Amber Lead and the tragedy of Flevance, but was he saying there was more to it than the world had been told? It wouldn’t surprise her, but…

Wait, he’d said he’d published papers on the effects of lead poisoning in children, she thought with dawning understanding. Had he discovered some government conspiracy, some sanctioned cover-up that had led to the genocide of the White City during his research? Was that why he wanted to out their secrets? Why he became a pirate instead of a doctor?

“There’s a difference between releasing information about a disease and selling weapons, though,” she said quietly, desperately hoping her uncombative tone would calm him down. “If those ledgers have methods for curing a disease, by all means, spread the word, but you know as well as I do that the formula to a weaponized gas in the wrong hands will bring nothing but disaster. And if innocent lives aren’t enough to convince you, think of your crew; aside from the Navy coming after you, how do you know whoever you sell that formula to wouldn’t immediately use it to take you out? After all, you could easily play both sides and sell them out for double the profit. A smart man would see Trafalgar Law and the Heart Pirates as their biggest threat and act accordingly.”

The grip on the chair behind her audibly tightened, and Nami was reminded that this wasn’t Luffy, or Usopp, or even Zoro she was dealing with; Law was a pirate known for his sadism and didn’t have her nakama’s qualms against killing. For a brief, terrifying moment, she feared he might shift his hands to crush her throat, but after a few slow, calming breaths, he dropped his arms and backed away.

His tone was significantly lighter as he stated, “I think there’s been a misunderstanding—I’m not looking to sell any of the intel in those books. Especially not the weapons research. It’s fascinating and will make for great bedtime reading, but at most it’s a passing curiosity. Something to entertain me on sleepless nights.”

“Then why go through all the trouble to get those ledgers?” she asked nervously.

“Because they have information I need to achieve my dream.”

“Information that’s worth the Navy and Underworld coming after you?”

The trademark smug smirk returned to his lips. “Concerned for my safety? I really must be growing on you.”

Pale hands fisted on her knees as she glared up at him. “After tonight, people are going to realize I’m sailing with the Heart Pirates; that means for the next year, your enemies are my enemies.”

“True, and we’re both smart enough to know that it’s better to avoid trouble.” As if sensing her need for more space, he backed up until he was leaning against her desk. “If you’re worried about Black Cage, I’m happy to compromise—we’ll take a photo of you burning the Personal ledger and send it to the nearest Navy base. That’s the one I’m the least interested in, and it should lower our threat level in their eyes.”

It wasn’t a bad plan. Blackmail and personal information on the Admirals was generally easier to sell and distribute than scientific research, as even a dummy could recognize their value. If the Marines saw they’d destroyed that, they’d likely assume they’d done the same with the rest so long as the secrets never got out. “What about the rest of it?”

“Like I said, I’m not looking to release anything dangerous, but I see no reason not to study it myself in case we ever encounter those weapons. If I can understand how a poisonous gas works, it’s easier to develop a cure, and that’s something I could certainly bid off to interested parties in the Underworld, or maybe the Revolutionaries would be willing to make me an offer.”

After the way he’d been acting, he was sounding a little too reasonable, instantly raising alarms in her mind. “How do I know I can trust you?”

“After everything we’ve been through tonight, you still doubt me?”

“Yes.”

He frowned briefly but didn’t seem surprised. Then again, he’d just lashed out at her over a misunderstanding—he’d be an idiot to assume she’d blindly trust his word. “I appreciate your honesty, at least. I suppose I’ll just have to find a way to prove myself.” Picking up the ledgers, he playfully tipped his hat. “Of course, I’m sure you’ll understand if I don’t trust leaving these with you. You might do something stupidly noble like destroy them before I can get what I need.”

“And what exactly is it you need?” she pressed.

As he opened the door, he grinned over his shoulder. “Now I’m not sure you’ve earned that information, Nami-ya, but you have time to change my mind. If you manage to show me I can trust you by the time we reach the Isles of Grimm, I’d be happy to discuss it over dinner. I’ll even concede the bet as a show of good faith.”

Much as she wanted to argue, the navigator knew better than to risk sailing back into a storm. Law had proven that night that he was loyal to those he worked with and wasn’t completely without honor. On the other hand, he was still willing to do whatever it took to get what he wanted, and anyone who got in his way would suffer his wrath. He had his own morals and plans—ones that might not coincide with hers.

Most importantly, he had the book on the shichibukai. It was clear he wouldn’t let her near the ledgers if he thought she might use the opportunity to double-cross him. If she had any hope of getting the information she sought on Jinbei and Kuma, she’d have to play nice and not rock the boat until she had her opening.

“Fine. But you’re going to have to work a little harder at earning my trust too, Trafalgar. I mean it when I say I don’t want any of those weapons specs finding their way to the Black Market.”

“A reasonable enough request. Now get some sleep, Nami-ya. If those marks haven’t faded in the next twenty-four hours, come to the infirmary for more salve.”

On that doctorly order he closed the door, leaving a concerned and confused navigator to stew over the night’s events.

Chapter Text

She was back in her room. Not the comfortable bedroom she shared with Robin, which smelled of mikans, fresh flowers, and old books and was full of colorful, girly furniture and cute clothes. There was no golden glow from the lamps or cups of tea steaming on the coffee table. No calls from Luffy to come play a game or strands of Brook’s latest song floating in through the open window.

This was her room in Arlong Park.

Her prison.

Sea charts covered every available surface—tables, chairs, piled in stacks on the floor, hanging from the walls. All of them meticulously hand-drawn, but not on paper—the parchment was made of skin, the ink blood, the pen in her hand a human bone. Furiously, she mapped out her latest chart on a piece of freshly flayed-and-dried skin, Mr. Genzo’s scarred stretched out flat and lifeless, staring up at her.

Her hands were wet with blood, palms torn apart and fingers so twisted it was miracle she could even hold the pen, but she knew she couldn’t stop. Shackles bound her to the hard metal desk, harshly cutting into her thin wrists. The room was swelteringly hot, like a sauna, and sweat mixed with the blood dripping down her fingers onto the parchment, staining it and smudging the details.

“Still alive in here, Nami?” a cruel, deep voice chuckled, his dark shadow casting over her. “Got everything you need? I’m happy to head to town to pick up more paper.”

“I—I’m fine,” she croaked, hand trembling. “I have everything I need.”

Cold, rough fingertips combed through her hair. “Shahahahaha! Of course you do! I’ll always provide for my cute little navigator.” Without warning, a large, webbed hand grabbed her orange locks, slamming her head down onto the desk, smearing the wet blood across her cheeks.

“Look at what you’ve done, you nasty girl! You messed up your chart!” he sneered. Out of the corner of her eye, Nami could see a long, jagged nose and shark teeth viciously grinning down at her. “Guess you’ll need new parchment after all. Take your pick—the rubber boy, or your sister?”

“No, please!” she screamed, frantically trying to claw at his arm, struggling to get free. Her shoulder burned like it was being pierced by a thousand hellfire needles, the swirling, vicious shark insignia once more being slowly etched into her arm. “Don’t hurt them!”

“You’re one of my most trusted officers, Nami—I’ll do anything to help you achieve your dream,” he laughed mockingly. “You’ll stay in this room and draw your charts forever. That’s your place in the Fishman Pirates!”

“Leave me alone!”

“Leave you alone? I could never do that.” Arlong leaned forward until the tip of his saw nose lightly dented the fragile flesh of her cheek. His eyes were like those of a Sea King’s, full of predatory malice. “After all, you’re mine.”

“Nami? Nami! Nami wake up!”

Brown eyes snapped open as Nami was jerked awake, arms instinctively crossing over her face in defense. She tried to kick her assailant, but her legs were tangled in the blankets.

“Whoa, girl, it’s me!” Ikkaku said worriedly, concern written all over her face as she gently stroked her shoulder, hand gently encircling her wrist to pry it from her eyes. “It’s ok, you’re safe. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Heart racing while sweat dripped down her back, it took her a minute to register the engineer’s voice. “Wha…what happened?” she rasped, throat tight and dry. She gratefully accepted the glass of water Ikkaku offered her, the cool liquid fully waking her up. Rubbing her eyes, she took in the room around her. It was the one she shared with Ikkaku on the Polar Tang. There were no charts drawn on the skin of her friends, no blood, no Fishmen looking to enslave her.

“You tell me. Sounded like you were having one hell of a nightmare.”

With a tired groan Nami tried to push away the image of her former captain by focusing on untangling her feet. She glanced at her left arm, grateful to see the pinwheel and tangerine instead of the primal shark. “Yeah. A nightmare. Barely remember it now, though.”

The older woman frowned, clearly not believing her, but she’d learned in the two months they’d spent together that it was best not to pry into the navigator’s past and thoughts. “If you do remember and want to talk, I’m here for you. Or, Penguin’s kind of an amateur therapist—got his work cut out for him on this ship, but he’s a good listener if you need to get something off your chest.”

“I’m fine,” Nami insisted, running a hand through her damp hair. Though not as bad as the dream, the small bedroom felt stifling. “Really, it’s nothing to worry about. Probably just something I ate last night.”

“Alright. Why don’t you grab a shower and we’ll head to breakfast? I’ll strip your bed and toss them in the hamper for you.”

Looking down at the yellow sheets, she was shocked at how sodden they were. Had she been sweating that much? “Good idea. Thanks, Ikkaku,” she sighed, grabbing a pair of short shorts and a low-cut crop top and heading towards the women’s bathroom across the hall. The ship felt stuffier than usual, even though they’d surfaced just the other day. Nami was pretty sure it was because it had been nearly three weeks since they’d made port—Law had insisted on waiting before selling off their stolen goods, more interested in putting distance between themselves and the Marines first to play it safe. It was a fair point, but the thief had argued that the longer they waited, the more time the Navy had to put out descriptions of the various art pieces they’d stolen, which could also put them in danger.

Eventually, after much quarreling, a compromise was reached—they’d fenced Kujakumaru’s watch and melted down the squid statue at Knox Island, and also faxed a photo of Nami burning the blackmail ledger to the nearby Marine base. This would lead the authorities to assume they were making their way down the most southern path of the Grand Line, but in actuality, the Polar Tang would go north, cutting through two of the routes to instead reach the Isles of Grimm. Such a feat would be impossible to do on a normal ship, but the submarine’s high-tech navigational equipment, paired with an eternal pose, made it child’s play.

At first, the navigator had absolutely loved that Law was smart and cautious enough to avoid trouble, but after nearly three weeks, Nami was getting stir-crazy. As much as she’d complained about Luffy getting the crew into unnecessary danger in the name of adventure, she was starting to miss it. There had been no attacks, no mysterious phenomena, no royals in disguise that needed their help. Deep as they were underwater, even the Grand Line’s sudden storms barely affected them.

Somehow, that made her more anxious. It was like being in an isolation chamber, unable to feel the wind and sea in her bones. Or maybe she’d just gotten so used to Luffy’s mad pace that her body didn’t know what to do with itself now that he life hadn’t been endangered in almost a month.

Standing under the cool spray of the shower, she groaned. Part of her also wondered if her anxiety was because of the new birth control Law had put her on. The last one hadn’t been working as well as she’d liked, so he’d given her a shot of a new, stronger drug he’d developed. It wasn’t unusual for her body to react to new meds with a fever or mild insomnia for the first few days, but she was certain once her hormones adjusted to the new chemicals she’d be back to normal. Until then, she’d just have to endure feeling too hot and the occasional bad dream.

Just don’t dwell on it, she thought as she massaged shampoo into her short, mikan locks. Arlong’s gone. Luffy kicked his ass, and he can’t hurt you anymore. Absently, her hand rubbed her shoulder, fingers lightly tracing the thin scars beneath her new tattoo.

What she needed was a distraction. So long as she had something else to occupy her mind, she could push away the unease tingling beneath her skin.

Clean, cooled down, and wide awake, she threw on her clothes and shoes before joining Ikkaku, making their way towards the galley in companionable silence. She appreciated that she didn’t pry—she was beginning to consider the older woman a friend, much like Robin, but that didn’t mean she was ready to talk about her time with the Fishman Pirates. In fact, she was leery about getting too close in general—once the year was up and Luffy’s life debt was squared, their crews would be rivals at the very least.

What if they ended up clashing over the One Piece? What if their captains fought? Would she be able to stand against Ikkaku and Bepo and the others?

Sitting down at the table and shaking those thoughts from her mind, she decided to instead contemplate how different the Heart Pirates were from the Straw Hats. On an average day, by this time Zoro and Sanji would be well into their early morning squabble, Luffy’d be stuffing himself with meat, Usopp would have awed Chopper with his tall tales, there’d be deafening crashes and clangs from Franky’s workshop, and Nami would have punched at least three of her shipmates for any number of reasons.

In contrast, mornings on the Polar Tang were subdued, mainly due to the captain’s terrible insomnia. The lively crew knew better than to cause a ruckus before Law got his morning coffee, respectfully keeping their voices down until he gave them leave to talk.

In some ways, it was nice to have such a well-behaved crew, but it also made the sting of her nakama’s absence that much stronger. Sure, Luffy was a reckless idiot who was always trying to steal her food, but his carefree smile always made mornings a little brighter. Zoro and Sanji’s bickering and Usopp’s boasts were noisy yet comforting after years of traveling alone. Robin and Brook’s very presence was calming, even if the archeologist’s sense of humor was disturbing and the skeleton’s requests to see her panties drove her insane.

I wonder how they’re all doing? Nami wondered, absently pushing her scrambled eggs around her plate. Are they getting enough vitamin C without my mikans? Who’s keeping Zoro from getting lost? Is Robin ok being alone again? What about Brook? It’s not fair that he spent fifty years alone, just to lose his new crew after just a few days.

Brought out of her melancholy thoughts by Bepo taking his place next to her, she gave the bear a smile. “How’re the plans for the garden coming along?”

He returned the gesture shyly. “Pretty well. We’ve picked out a storage room to convert that should be empty once we’ve cashed in the treasure. Clione and the engineers have made some great progress with the sun lamps. Of course, they need to run some tests to make sure plants can really thrive under the conditions.”

She hummed in agreement. “No sense wasting money on seeds and stuff if everything dies right away.”

Bepo nervously twiddled his claws. “I was actually hoping you could help me figure out what we’ll need and work out the costs, since you’re good with money and have real gardening experience.”

It was funny how she wasn’t even tempted to charge him a consultant fee. Scary as she would have thought traveling with a giant bear would be, Bepo was the one she had developed the biggest soft spot for. Maybe it was because it was nice to finally have a fellow navigator to talk to and the Mink was so shy she couldn’t even imagine him as a threat anymore. Or maybe having a talking animal around just made her miss Chopper slightly less. “Sure thing, though I’m no expert on growing plants indoors.”

“Still have more experience than the rest of us,” Penguin pointed out as he kindly refilled her coffee cup.

“True. It’s why I told Captain Law to put you in charge of the garden,” Clione said from the far end of the table.

She frowned at the science officer. “I’m happy to help, but shouldn’t you be in charge of it? You’re Law’s chief biologist.”

“I specialize in marine biology—my knowledge of land plants and animals isn’t nearly as advanced, and that doesn’t mean I can grow anything. You’re honestly the only one here that can get this whole greenhouse experiment to work.”

Teeth worrying her lip, she felt her stomach twist in a knot. The thought of being given such a big project on her temporary ship didn’t sit well with her. What if it wasn’t finished before the year was up? Would they have to abandon the whole thing, or would they insist on keeping her around until it was done? “I’ll teach you what I can before I leave. Ten months should be enough time for you to develop a green thumb,” she insisted, forcing optimism into her voice.

His brow furrowed beneath his blunt bangs at the mention of her leaving. “We’ll see. Before we do any of that, though, we need to get the actual room set up. Aside from sun lamps and fertilizer, we need to set up a sprinkler system, temperature control, and a ton of other stuff.”

“So, we should wait to decide on what to grow, huh?” the bear asked gloomily.

“Oh, cheer up, Bepo. Law always says it’s never too early to plan. Grimm has that great bookshop, so pick up a guide to plants and see which ones will do best in lower light and damp conditions,” Shachi offered, shoveling scrambled eggs into his mouth. His broken arm was healing nicely, a sling no longer necessary and the cast scheduled to come off tomorrow. Everyone knew he planned on keeping it, though, since Nami had signed it, the little hearts added around her name coaxing a heavy blush from the ginger.

“Assuming we ever make port,” Nami grumbled.

Sympathetic, he patted her hand. “Hey, we’ll get there; we’ve got you and Bepo as our navigators, right? How much longer is it supposed to be?”

“I actually checked this morning,” the Mink said. “If we stay on course, it shouldn’t be more than three days.”

She immediately perked up. “That’s not so bad. New clothes here I come!”

“Shhh!” Ikkaku shushed, peeking through the doorway. “Captain’s coming—chatter ends now.”

Mouths snapped closed and the crew became extremely focused on their breakfast as Law, groggy and sour, meandered into the galley, making a beeline for the full coffee pot. Penguin had prepped a fresh batch only minutes before, and without even hesitating, the captain raised the glass pot to his lips, gulping down the caffeinated elixir, barely taking a breath between swallows or even seeming to notice the brew was scalding hot.

Two months ago, the sight would have astounded and horrified Nami, but now she just rolled her eyes and let him drink without comment.

Instead, she took the chance to observe him out of the corner of her eye. She could tell he’d been getting less sleep than usual; his hoodie hung off him a bit more, the circles under his eyes were darker, and his already angular face looked narrower. The rest of the crew insisted that Law simply went through worse periods of insomnia once in a while, but Nami was certain it was because he was up late studying those ledgers. He’d spent most of the past three weeks locked away in his quarters or mucking about in the lab, and the few times Penguin had managed to drag him to the galley he’d barely paid attention to what he was eating, his amber eyes fixated on his notes. Once, Nami tried to sneak a piece of bread onto his plate to see if he’d notice, but Shachi snatched it away before the captain could accidentally take a bite.

After a few moments Law blinked away the last specks of drowsiness and turned to the crew, holding the half-finished coffee pot like a mug. “I have good news; we should be making port soon, there’s been no sight of Marines, and my contacts on Grimm are eager to take some gold off our hands.”

The pirates cheered while he fetched his morning onigiri from the fridge, strolling over to take his place at the head of the table, right next to Nami. It had become an unspoken agreement among the crew that she sit at Law’s left side during meals, though she wasn’t sure whether it was due to her status as a guest or because they had ulterior motives.

“Just gold?” she asked under her breath.

He smirked at her. “Well, gold, jewelry, paintings, and a few jewel-encrusted trinkets that I can’t actually discern the purpose of, but you get the idea. Far easier to fence than, say, chemical formulas.”

“Like the one you’ve been working on?” she accused lowly. She hadn’t been able to steal many glances at his notes, and what she had seen had been either in code or nigh-indecipherable scribblings, but with how fixated and secretive he’d been, she was suspicious.

“Why, yes, exactly like the formula for hyper-nutritious fertilizer I’ve been working on with Clione,” he replied smoothly, grin widening at her shocked expression. “Turns out Dr. Vegapunk’s work isn’t all weapons of mass destruction. I know how eager you are to set up that garden, so I thought I’d try to get that finished before we made port.”

Nami glanced at the biologist, who gave a nod of agreement, and she instantly felt reassured. Clione had a terrible poker face, so she knew it had to be the truth. “You didn’t have to exhaust yourself over that,” she scolded lightly. Now that she knew he wasn’t trying to start a war, she felt a little guilty about how much he’d pushed himself over such a minor thing.

“I wanted to have it completed so we’d know what to pick up while in Grimm. I assume you’re going clothes shopping?” he asked around a large bite of onigiri. It was kind of funny how such a fierce pirate had a habit of stuffing his cheeks like a chipmunk, but it was more relieving to actually see him properly eat again.

Mood lightened, Nami flashed a wide smile. “Yup! I’ve got belli burning a hole in my pocket and a wardrobe that needs filling. Nothing makes a girl feel better about being attacked by a giant squid like retail therapy!”  

“Speaking of clothes, were you ever supplied a uniform?”

“…yeah, why?”

He shrugged, taking another bite. “Well, considering how Grimm is an archipelago with one of the most dangerous black markets on the Grand Line, you’ll be required to wear it if you plan on leaving the ship.”

“Excuse me?” she asked, eyes narrowing dangerously.

“It’s for your own safety, Nami-ya. The place isn’t as nice as Sabaody—it’s full of brothels, drug dealers, back-alley doctors, pirates, bounty hunters, and slave traders. My uniform basically tells everyone you’re off-limits.”

“Not. Happening,” she sneered through clenched teeth, grip on her fork tightening like she might stab him with it.

There was no way in hell she was going to let Law stick her in one of his gross jumpsuits. Ikkaku might have been able to pull it off, but that was because she had that tomboyish energy; Nami preferred showing off her skin and feminine figure. Plus, she was still leaning on the theory that the Dark Doctor has some kind of weird fetish for fully clothed people, and that uniform basically covered every inch of skin south of her chin.

Most of all, the redhead despised the idea of anyone telling her what to wear. Clothing was more than just a luxury—to her, it was an expression of freedom. Her childhood had been full of hand-me-downs, and then Arlong’s horrible tattoo had further limited her wardrobe, preventing her from wearing certain shirts for fear of people seeing the shameful brand.

That jumpsuit, with the Heart Pirate Jolly Roger plastered all over, was basically a mark of ownership, and Nami would not be another captain’s property.

Law glared down at her, unimpressed at being refused. “I’m giving this order to everyone; if we were heading to a safer island, I wouldn’t care, but the last thing I need is for you to get kidnapped because you’re not recognized as a member of the Heart Pirates.”

Tension simmered in the air as she matched his stare. “I can take care of myself, Trafalgar, and I’m not a member of the Heart Pirates. We agreed nearly two months ago that you weren’t going to subject me to your crew’s dress code, and I’m holding you to that.”

“That was before I realized just how much of a trouble magnet you are. If I left you to your own devices, I’d find you in the grasp of a giant squid monster again. So, if you want to get off the ship, you’re going to wear the damn uniform and stick with at least three of your shipmates.” Taking another swig of coffee, he met her angry eyes unflinchingly. “Otherwise, I’ll have to keep you on my arm the whole trip, and I promise I have no intention of going clothes shopping. So, what’s it gonna be, Nami-ya?”

She glanced around the galley, hoping for anyone to back her up. She knew the guys loved watching her prance around in her skimpy outfits, so surely they wouldn’t want Law to cover her up and make her wear such a conservative, ugly jumpsuit, right? And Ikkaku was always cheering her on when she sassed the captain, so of course she could count on her for backup.

But she found no support among the crew. Everyone was either nodding in agreement or not even paying attention.

“Seriously?” she growled.

“We get it’s not your style, Nami, but he’s right—safety comes over fashion,” Penguin said, voice gentle but expression stern. “You’re a wanted pirate whose face is known all over the Grand Line—of all of us, you’d be the most tempting target for low-life bounty hunters.”

“You’ll appreciate it when you get there,” Ikkaku added. “It’s always damp and cold there, and it’s not like any of my warmer clothes fit you.”

“It’ll just be for a few days,” Jean Bart supplied helpfully. “And maybe if things go well, Captain Law will ease up and let you wear your normal clothes.”

Said captain gave Nami a considering smirk. “Maybe. So long as everyone is on their best behavior.”

With no backup and no alternative, the navigator knew she had no choice but to give in, even as she seethed inside. Part of her argued that she was making a big deal out of nothing, that it was just an outfit, but it just didn’t sit right with her. He’d assured her when they first made their deal that he wouldn’t make her wear the uniform, but here he was going back on his word.

Just like Arlong had.

She shook her head, banishing the thought. For all his faults, Law was a far cry from Arlong, and an ugly uniform was nothing like selling her out to the Marines for the sake of denying her freedom. Hell, she even had three days—more than enough time for him to change his mind. It was such a little thing, after all, so surely if she complained enough he’d give in to her demands to save himself the headache.

XXX

Three days later, the Polar Tang had successfully docked, and Law was leading Nami and half the Heart Pirates through the shady port. Jean Bart, Bepo, Ikkaku, and Uni all carried heavy chests filled with gold bars, artwork, and other goods Law’s contacts could easily fence, while the rest of the group carefully guarded them, keeping an eye out for pickpockets, enemy pirates feeling brave, and undercover Marines.

Appearance-wise, the Isles of Grimm certainly lived up to its name—a thick miasma of fog settled over the port, while narrow streets were lined with buildings made out of dark wood and stone, giving a very claustrophobic feeling. Scantily dressed women called from brothel balconies, and shady figures beckoned unwary travelers into shadowed alleys. Yet despite the atmosphere, it was unquestionably a thriving, bustling port, and the large assortment of shops were to die for. Clothing, books, tools, weapons, cartography equipment, gardening centers, souvenirs, food stalls—the place was practically bursting with places to spend money.

Unfortunately, Nami’s excitement was thoroughly dampened by her outfit. Despite the island’s cool temperature, she felt way too hot in her thick, canvas jumpsuit. Bulky, cumbersome, and unflattering to her gorgeous figure, she was positive it was what she’ll be forced to wear in Hell. It wasn’t even vibrant orange like Bepo’s, but bland off-white like everyone else’s. She was at least able to unbutton the neck and roll up the sleeves show her cleavage and vent the heat, and she’d taken in the waist a bit, but the material still felt coarse and heavy against her overheated skin. Worst of all, there was nothing she could do to hide Law’s Jolly Roger on the back and left breast pocket, branding her a Heart Pirate for all the world to see.

It made her left shoulder sting with a phantom pain, a harsh reminder of her years as one of Arlong’s officers.

“Whoever designed these uniforms should be dragged out into the street and shot,” she grumbled as she pushed down the anxiety her dark memories coaxed to the surface. She didn’t care if Law or anyone else heard her—hell, she’d been plenty vocal of her distaste over the past few days and he still insisted she wear the damn thing!

“At least they have pockets,” Ikkaku pointed out helpfully.

“Literally this thing’s only good point.”

Uni’s quiet voice beside her chimed in, “I know you don’t like it, but trust me, if Captain didn’t feel it was completely necessary, he wouldn’t go through the trouble of making you do it. At the very least, save your complaints until after we’ve cashed in our treasure—we don’t need the extra attention.”

She rolled her eyes but bit her tongue. Uni wasn’t a big talker, but when he did speak, it was usually sound advice. And given how a large group of uniformed pirates carrying goods naturally drew the eye, he definitely had a point.

That didn’t mean she wouldn’t silently pout, though.

As they strolled past the display window of a curiosity shop, Nami saw Law glance at something, then literally walk backwards to get a better look.

“Commemorative coins from the past six Reveries,” he murmured with hushed reverence, nose nearly pressed against the glass. “I’m missing a few of these.” Without even a glance back at the crew he sauntered into the store, Kikoku propped on his shoulder and wallet already in hand.

Surprised, Nami raised a curious eyebrow at Ikkaku, who giggled behind her hand. “Captain’s an avid coin collector,” she said.

Bepo added, “Every time we find treasure, he inspects every single coin in case there’s something he can add to his collection.”

“Seriously?”

“See, you have something in common,” Ikkaku laughed. “You’re both obsessed with money!”

The thief elbowed her in the side, quietly growling that she had “nothing in common with that jerk.”

“Yeah, you do,” Shachi chuckled. “Neither of you like taking orders, either, and you’re both really stubborn and irritable when you don’t get your way.”

“I am not!”

“Then what have the past few days been?” he retorted with a victorious smirk.

She glared but couldn’t quite argue the point. Admittedly, she blamed some of it on the fact that she’d still been feeling hot and anxious, and sleep had continued to be plagued with bad dreams. None so terrible that Ikkaku had to wake her up again, and half of them she honestly couldn’t remember once morning came, but it was at the point that every time she went to sleep, she woke up feeling more exhausted. She had nearly exhausted her supply of concealer covering up the circles that were forming under her eyes. So yeah, she’d been irritable, and maybe the uniform wasn’t the best hill to die on, but their captain was a grump when his insomnia got bad, so maybe they should cut her some slack!

Uni’s blunt tap to her shoulder kept her from bringing this up, as her attention was diverted to the newspaper in his hand. “Thought you might want to take a look at this—seems the world’s caught wind of our connection.”

Russet eyes widened as they landed on the headline, and she felt her heart stop as she quickly read the article.

HAS A STRAW HAT DEFECTED TO THE HEART PIRATES?

As the dust settles on the chilling attack on the Harpin mansion on Tokken Island, many are now claiming that the Heart Pirates did not act alone but were in fact aided by “Cat Thief” Nami.

A member of the Straw Hat Pirates with a bounty of 16 million belli, this elusive burglar was believed to have vanished with the rest of her crew, but several eyewitness reports claim that it was she who assisted “Surgeon of Death” Captain Trafalgar Law, a pirate with a bounty of 200 million belli, in his assassination of former Head of Navy Intelligence Baron “Gorudotako” Harpin Gerald.

“Of course, it was her!” states Inebura Kujakumaru, the late Baron Harpin’s nephew. “She may have struck me down when I valiantly attempted to stop her, but not before I got a good look at her tattoo. Every man’s seen her wanted poster, so I’d recognize it anywhere.”

“I don’t know how those pirates got into my brother’s party, but it had to be her,” confirms Inebura Beatrix, his mother. “Who else could have gotten past Gerald’s security? She and Trafalgar Law are in cahoots, yet the Navy hasn’t done anything about it!”

If such bold claims are true and it is “Cat Thief” Nami, could this be a sign that the Straw Hats are, in fact, dead? Is she the sole survivor and has chosen to defect to a new crew and aid them in their reign of terror?

Despite his family’s statements, Harpin Reginald, who is due to inherit his brother’s estate and become the new governor of Tokken Island, disagrees that the woman seen was really the infamous thief.

“The Straw Hats have been missing for months, but that doesn’t mean they’re dead,” he says. “Moreover, even if they were, why would one of them join a rival crew instead of an ally’s? It seems more likely that it’s an imposter or—excuse the pun—a copy-cat. I would not put it past the Heart Pirates to employ an imitator for the sake of throwing off pursuers and sending the world into an uproar.

“My brother had many enemies, however I doubt the Straw Hats were among them. Her presence makes little sense, and with his abilities, what would Trafalgar Law need a cat burglar for? I believe the young woman is merely an imposter whose presence was designed to send the Marines on a wild goose chase.”

Harpin adds, “However, whether or not the young lady was indeed ‘Cat Thief’ Nami is irrelevant to me. I leave it to the authorities to bring my brother’s killers to justice—my focus is on repairing the damage done to the island, both that caused by the Heart Pirates and Gerald’s gross mismanagement.”

Marine Captains “White Chase” Smoker and “Black Cage” Hina, who were both on the scene and battled the pirates to protect the trapped partygoers, were unavailable for comment, though Navy Headquarters assures the world that they are out hunting the culprits.

“Whether ‘Cat Thief’ Nami has defected to the Heart Pirates or the woman who aided Trafalgar Law is an imposter does not matter,” their formal statement decrees. “She will be caught and stand trial for her crimes of burglary, assault, murder, and piracy. Justice will be served.”

“You know, the biggest surprise in that whole story is that Reginald got the estate instead of the nephew,” came Law’s voice in Nami’s ear, startling her.

“Don’t sneak up on people!” she snapped, hand whipping out to strike him, though he easily dodged.

“But it’s so much fun,” he chuckled.

“You have a twisted idea of ‘fun,’” she growled, cheeks flushing as the stress made her temperature rise further. Part of her knew she couldn’t keep her connection to the Heart Pirates a secret forever, but to see the world speculate on whether she’d switched sides and if Luffy was dead was more painful than she’d imagined.

Her throat tightened as a thought came to her—did the others have access to the news? What would Sanji or Usopp or Robin say if they saw this? Surely they knew her well enough to know she’d never side with another pirate, right?

Taking a deep breath, she told herself to calm down. Of course her nakama wouldn’t believe those lies. Luffy had faith in her.

Her captain had never doubted her loyalty, and he wouldn’t start now.

Calm returned, she gave Law an unimpressed frown. “And seriously, that’s what you’re surprised at? I’m sure the Navy just seized the land and turned it over to Reginald to keep him from telling the world that Harpin had been leaking secrets.”

“Do you really think a man like him would take a bribe?” he asked, eyebrow raised.

“If it’s for the sake of the villagers his brother was willing to frame for terrorism and aiding pirates, then yeah, I do.”

“Hate to interrupt, Boss, but don’t we have an appointment to get to?” Shachi asked, not bothering to hide his amusement at their exchange.

“Yeah. Let’s cash our treasure in, then I think we can go our separate ways.” He tossed Nami a wink. “Hate to delay our Cat Thief’s shopping spree, after all.”

“You are in way too good a mood,” she groused while stomping past him, but she didn’t get far as a long, tattooed arm draped over her shoulder, lanky legs easily keeping pace with her angry strides.

“Cheer up, Nami-ya. Soon you’ll be swimming in cash and clothes,” he said smoothly. He looked much better than he had three days ago—with the fertilizer research done he’d clearly been sleeping better, and he was back to taking regular meals with the crew. The circles under his eyes were still unsettlingly prominent, but he seemed livelier and more alert, which was good considering how they were about to meet with people who regularly did business with pirates. “And personally, I think you look good in my uniform.”

“Of course you would, pervert,” she grumbled under her breath. She didn’t bother trying to shrug off his arm; there was no point, as he always seemed to find some new way to have his hands on her. At least the thick fabric of the jumpsuit dampened his hot, possessive touches.

Either he didn’t hear or simply decided to ignore her as he continued, “If it makes you feel better, you won’t be required to wear it when we go out for dinner tonight. You can wear whatever tiny scraps of clothing you want—just don’t complain when you inevitably get cold.”

“Oh, how generous of you!” she sneered quietly, keeping Uni’s advice in mind but unwilling to stand by and let Law tease her. “Really, it’s so sweet of you to give me permission to choose which of my clothes go on my body!”

Though she refused to look at him, she could feel his disapproving gaze. “Throw all the temper tantrums you want, Nami-ya; I’m not budging on this. It’s for your own safety. Of all of us, you, Bepo, and Ikkaku are the most likely to be targeted by slavers, so I’m making sure they realize that messing with you invokes the wrath of the Surgeon of Death.”

“Then why don’t you just stamp ‘Property of Trafalgar Law’ on our foreheads and be done with it?”

“Keep up your backtalk and I will,” he growled in her ear, leaning in so his hot breath danced across her sensitive skin. “At least for them. You, I’m thinking a collar and leash might be more appropriate, especially if it comes with a muzzle.”

Such a threat should not have made blood rush to her cheeks or her stomach clench, and once again she felt far too hot. “You know, for all Luffy’s flaws, at least he never forced his weird kinks on us,” she sassed, resisting the urge to open up the jumpsuit more so she could fan her flushed chest.

Law scoffed. “That’s because I’m not even sure he knows what sex is. Boa Hancock could throw herself at him wearing nothing but a smile and he wouldn’t even blink.”

“That’s not true,” she insisted. “At the very least, he seemed to appreciate seeing me naked.”

Next to her, the Supernova actually stumbled. “Wait, what? When did he see you naked?”

“Does it matter? Actually, he still owes me money for that.” Numbers adding up in her mind, she nodded to herself. “Add on two years of interest and I’ll be making a tidy profit off him.”

“I’m sorry, you charged him money to see you naked? I thought prostitution wasn’t in your repertoire?”

Craning her neck to glare up at him as she smacked his chest, she snapped, “Watch it, Trafalgar. He and the boys decided to spy on me in the bath, so I charged them 100,000 belli each. If you ask me, I was being nice for such a gross violation of privacy!”

His arm left her shoulder to raise up in surrender. “Ok, that’s fair. Considering what Ikkaku’s done to anyone dumb enough to peek on her, charging them is pretty light. My comment was out of line, and I apologize.”

“Are you sorry enough to let me wear my regular clothes?”

“Hell no, and if you keep trying to wheedle your way out of it, I’m going to make you wear it back on the ship, too.”

By that point, they’d left Grimm’s cramped shopping quarter to arrive at the meeting place—the much more open fields of the warehouse district. Gold eyes scanned the area before leading the crew inside an innocuous grey building that smelled faintly of spoiled vegetables. A few gas lamps allowed just enough light to see the dozen men waiting on the far side of the building, all muscular and rough looking, save one.

“Ah, Captain Law,” the scrawny man in front welcomed nasally. He wore a pinstriped, dark purple suit and silk top hat with a bejeweled buckle, straw-like hair sticking out in haphazard clumps as he gave a yellow-toothed smile. “So good to see you again.”

“Jinzo,” he replied with a curt nod, removing himself from Nami’s side to shake the man’s hand. “Where’s Kimo-ya?”

“Ah, my partner was victim to an unfortunate…accident just a few days ago. No clue whether or not he’ll recover, so I’m here in his stead. Really, it’s for the best; he may be well-versed in the organ trade, but I’m the one who specializes in gold.”

“If you say so,” he replied. He appeared bored, but Nami could see from the way his stance widened slightly that he was prepared for any sudden attacks. He was a smart man, and past black market dealings had taught him to never underestimate a man willing to regularly do business with pirates.

“Speaking of, I heard you amassed quite the haul on Tokken Island, and I see the reports weren’t exaggerated!”

Jerking his head, Law signaled for Jean Bart to open his chest. Even in the dim light, the gold bars gleamed like the sun. Belli signs appeared in Jinzo’s eyes as he eagerly took in the remains of the gold squid statue. After a moment, Jean Bart closed the lid with a snap, bringing the broker’s attention back to the captain.

“You’ve got the amount Kimo-ya and I agreed on?” Law asked.

“Ah, about that—you see, while your wares are certainly impressive, I’m a man of business. Kimo may have had a soft spot for you since you supplied him with so many…fresh goods, but I can’t allow his bias to affect my profits. I’m afraid that with the fees Mr. Giberson will charge me for using his warehouses to store the goods, plus the time and effort I’ll have to go through to fence off the individual pieces, your asking price was a bit high. So, I’ve decided not to give you a belli more than 200 million.”

“Excuse me?” Law snapped at the same Nami exclaimed “What?!” The rest of the Heart Pirates appeared just as outraged, with more than a few hands dropping to their weapons.

“It’s a perfectly fair price!” Jinzo insisted. “I’m even being charitable and including the bribe you’d inevitably have to pay me to keep me from selling you out to the Marines.”

“There’s more than that amount in a single chest,” the Surgeon of Death growled. “Kimo-ya and I agreed on 655 million.”

“I’m under no obligation to honor such a ridiculous price. I have warehouses fees, employees to pay, officials to bribe, and more. 200 million is fair.”

“Yeah? Well I’ve got a crew to pay, provisions to purchase, and a high-tech sub like mine isn’t cheap to maintain—655 million belli was me being generous, and that’s because I had such a good working relationship with your partner.” Gold eyes narrowed dangerously as his grip on Kikoku shifted. “As a businessman, I’m sure you understand that changing the price so drastically tends to sour a deal.”

He scoffed. “From what I heard, this isn’t even your full haul—I’d say I’m the one being cheated. Technically I’m paying 400 million belli, since I’m also giving up the chance to turn you in for your bounty.”

“Are you threatening me?” Law growled, the brim of his hat casting his eyes in menacing shadow.

“Oh no; I’m just saying that you should pick your battles carefully. Now, I have no time to barter like a fishmonger—I have other appointments after you. If you don’t like my offer, go peddle your wares to someone else.”

“That’s a great idea,” Nami chimed in, sauntering up next to Law, eyes narrowed in determination and a Cheshire smile on her lips. She hadn’t originally planned on getting involved, but if there was one thing she hated, it was watching someone try to cheat her and her associates out of their hard-earned money. “We do have other brokers lined up, don’t we, Captain? So, what’s stopping us from turning around right now and selling all this off to them?”

“Nami, what are you doing?” Shachi whispered behind her, but a signal from Law told him to back down.

“My subordinate is right,” Law replied, wrapping a long arm around her waist, squeezing her side gently in a silent show that he understood what she was doing and willing to play along. “We came here first as a favor to Kimo-ya, since he’s always been so good to me. I wanted to keep our working relationship strong, but if you’re taking over and won’t honor his price, we’ll have to take our business elsewhere.”

“You won’t find anyone on this island willing to pay you better,” Jinzo sneered. “I practically own the black market on these isles. Hell, I’ve got enough clout with the Underworld at this point that I could ensure no one this side of the Red Line will so much spit on you if you’re on fire.”

With a nonchalant shrug, he countered, “Then I’ll just head to the New World and open my trade there. If you’ve got so much influence, then my usual customers won’t retaliate when business from their favorite heart stealer suddenly dries up.”

“And your other appointments will have no issue working with a man who would turn a client in to the Marines,” Nami added with a cat-like smile.

Paling, Jinzo’s entire body went tense. Nami didn’t know much about the organ trade, but she’d wager that the type of people who specialized in buying and selling body parts wouldn’t have much problem with recouping their lost profits from the man who drove away their best supplier. Pirates she did know, though, and they definitely wouldn’t stand for government snitches.

“Perhaps…perhaps I could bump my offer up to 400 million,” he stuttered. “As a show of good faith.”

“Mmm, sorry, but that’s just not good enough,” Nami sighed, twirling a strand of hair around her finger. She was in her element—belli and bartering. When money was involved, she barely even noticed the stuffy heat of her jumpsuit, and the tension in her bones practically vanished. For the first time all day, she was calm and in control. “I mean, we went through a lot to get this gold, and you just threw that hard work back in our faces. Months of planning, injured crewmembers, emotional trauma, transportation fees—it all adds up. We won’t part with a single piece of gold for less than 730 million belli.”

“What?!” Jinzo shouted as Law gave her a curious glance.

Smirking, the thief winked at her partner. “Captain Law was giving a generous discount to Mr. Kimo, but as you’ve so astutely pointed out, you and he don’t share such a close relationship. So, your price, Mr. Jinzo, is 730 million.”

“I won’t pay that! Perhaps I could accept 523 million without the bribe, but you’re being simply outrageous! And I’m not haggling with some rookie upstart’s whore!”

“And just for that insult, you’ve upped the price to a cool 750 million,” Law cut in, voice low and dark, sending a shiver down the spine of everyone in the warehouse. His grip on his nodachi had noticeably tightened, and even a man as arrogantly foolish as Jinzo could tell that he was on dangerously thin ice. “That’s my final offer, by the way. Try to talk me down or degrade a valued member of my crew again, and I’ll not only walk away, but I’ll take your heart and a few other major organs for my trouble. Kimo-ya and I got on so well because he respected my abilities and knew not to play games with the Surgeon of Death. So make your choice: belli or body parts?”

Nami could see that while the guards tensed, they looked more ready to run than defend their employer. It wouldn’t surprise her; she doubted Jinzo was paying them enough to risk getting their hearts ripped out, and if they knew anything about Law’s abilities, they’d know even running wouldn’t do them much good.

Seeing he was outgunned and outmaneuvered, the dealer clenched his fists but finally gave a stiff nod. “Fine. Men, hand over the cash.”

Grunting, three men lugged over five large briefcases. Cocking an eyebrow, Law activated his Room, scanning their contents. “You’re 25 million short,” he said, tone belying mild amusement.

“This is all the money I brought for the next three deals I had scheduled for today! Thanks to you, I’m going to have to reschedule so I can get more,” he snapped with a deep scowl. “My next client in particular will not be happy about that, and I won’t hesitate to inform him of exactly whose fault it is,” he sneered, eyes burning holes into Nami’s skull.

“I’m quaking in my boots. Still, since you can’t pay up, we’ll just keep some of the treasure.” Leading Nami over to Ikkaku’s chest, he opened it, the diamond necklaces and gem-encrusted trinkets twinkling in invitation. “Nami-ya, you’ve got a good eye for appraisal—see which of these can be removed to better match Jinzo-ya’s budget.”

Nodding, she carefully studied the contents of the chest, clever brain rapidly crunching numbers before she finally reached in, carefully removing a small, egg-shaped music box, its alabaster surface studded with pinhead-sized sapphires and spiderweb-thin seams of rose gold. Admiring the craftmanship and beauty for a moment, she carefully handed it to Law. “This is easily worth 25 million.”

With a smirk he shoved the music box into his hoodie pocket, snapped the lid of the treasure chest shut, and activated his Room again, switching the chests in his crews arms with the briefcases full of money in the guards’. “Then it seems our business is concluded.” Turning to leave, he flipped Jinzo off over his shoulder. “Bit of advice, Jinzo-ya; don’t try to cheat pirates, especially those of the Heart variety. It’ll get you killed one of these days.”

Eager to escape the off-putting stench and stuffy heat of the warehouse and hateful glare of the underworld broker, Nami didn’t even mind when Law’s hand settled on her lower back, gently but firmly pushing her towards the exit. Though Law had gotten in the last word, it was obvious that Jinzo’s vitriol was focused on the woman who had managed to nearly quadruple what he’d planned to pay with just a few words. It sent a cold shiver down her spine, which would have been a welcome relief if her stomach wasn’t twisting up in anxious knots.

Once outside and making their way down the road, the Dark Doctor grinned proudly down at Nami. “From now on, I’m taking you to all my business meetings. That was a thing of beauty.”

“Damn straight it was!” Ikkaku cheered from behind them, pumping a fist in the air. “Son of a bitch will think twice before trying to screw us again!”

Jean Bart chuckled. “Wish I’d had someone like you on my crew back when I was a captain—could have bought a private island and retired early instead of getting enslaved.”

Nami shrugged but glowed under the praise, mood further improved by a cool breeze fanning across her heated skin. “Oh, it was nothing special. I did all the negotiations on the Sunny, so I’ve had plenty of practice. When Luffy, Usopp, and I traded in our gold from the sky islands, a banker tried to offer us only 100 million belli, but I convinced him to triple the price,” she said with a saucy wink.

“How the hell was Straw Hat not swimming in cash?” Shachi asked, astounded.

She sighed, brow twitching in irritation. “Half the time he’d leave the treasure behind because ‘the villagers needed it more.’ I mean, he was usually right, but it drove me crazy.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about that with us!” he said with a grin. “With you on our crew, the Heart Pirates won’t even need the One Piece!”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” Law said. “The One Piece isn’t just treasure—it’s the only way to become King of the Pirates. I’m not going to settle for riches when the ultimate prize is out there waiting for me.”

Right, he wants to be Pirate King, too, Nami thought, frown deepening in concern as her muscles tensed. It’s one thing to help a guy to square a debt, but I can’t help him steal Luffy’s dream! “I’m kind of surprised you guys are still on this side of the Red Line, then—aren’t you worried someone else will get to it before you?” she asked cautiously.

“Nah. With Whitebeard dead, the New World’s in absolute shambles—hundreds of pirate crews are going to sail to their deaths while the Emperors fight over territory. I’ll let those underprepared idiots take themselves out, then cross over when the time is right.”

A small, relieved puff of air escaped her lips. With luck, he wouldn’t take that leap until she was back on Weatheria, though she was now nervous about what kind of chaos she’d be sailing Luffy into.

The cooling breeze vanished as they once more entered the sheltered streets of the shopping quarter. Ushering them off to the side so they wouldn’t draw too much attention from curious vendors, Law finally removed his hand from Nami’s back to activate his Room. Quickly and quietly, he teleported a few wads of cash into each crewmember’s pockets. Weird as it felt, Nami had to appreciate that it was far safer than handing out wads of money where any onlooker could see and pick out an easy mark.

“Alright, I suppose this is where we all head off to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Jean Bart, Uni and I will head back to the ship to get everyone else their share and lock up the rest of the cash. As for the rest of you, avoid fighting unless necessary, stick to your groups, and don’t make yourself a target.” With a smirk, he took Ikkaku’s briefcase before glancing down at Nami. “Enjoy your shopping, Nami-ya, but no ditching the uniform.”

“Good thing you won’t be around to stop me,” she quipped. Without the breeze, Nami was once more close to sweating in her jumpsuit, and despite no longer being under Jinzo’s penetrating stare, the anxious knot hadn’t quite managed to untwist in her belly. Her body was still on high alert, her senses sharp in anticipation, which just made every brush of heavy fabric more abrasive. Without thinking, she grabbed the collar of her suit to fan herself, only to stop upon realizing she was inadvertently giving Law a better view of her cleavage.

“Good thing Ikkaku, Bepo, and Shachi are under strict orders to make sure you behave yourself,” he shot back, tone laced with amusement as he eyed the flushed mounds of flesh, causing Nami to heat up further with embarrassment.

She cursed under her breath. Not only had she basically flashed Law—which he’d probably assumed was her flirting—but he’d successfully backed her into a corner. If it were just one of them, she might have been able to talk her way into a change of clothes, but with all three she knew she was shit out of luck. One Heart Pirate could be reasoned with, but when they were in a group, the captain’s word was law.

Seeing the despairing expression on her face, Ikkaku wrapped her arm around the younger woman’s shoulders, inadvertently rubbing the uncomfortable fabric against her scars. “Cheer up, Nami—Boss is just worried that two stunning pieces of ass like us will captivate the whole island with our insanely good looks. He doesn’t want anyone carrying away his two hottest subordinates.”

The redhead had to chuckle a bit at that, even if her stomach twisted further at being so earnestly referred to as “Law’s subordinate.” It was unsettling how everyone acted as if this was more than just a temporary alliance.

“I’m happy to carry your bags, Nami,” Shachi offered with a boyish grin, hoping to raise the navigator’s spirits.

Law frowned. “Your cast just came off; don’t over-exert yourself.”

“I’ll be fine, Boss! How heavy can clothes be?”

“Well, if you insist,” Nami cooed sweetly, fluttering her eyelashes. With luck, the time she took to try on clothes would be enough to cool her down, and she would never say no to someone else carrying her things. “Thank you, Shachi-kun.”

His cheeks turned as red as his hair and he rubbed the back of his head bashfully. “A-anytime, Nami.”

Glancing over at Bepo, Law sighed. “Anything goes wrong, find me immediately. Marines, enemy pirates, angry mobs with pitchforks, whatever. And don’t let Nami-ya out of your sights. I’m counting on you.”

“Aye-aye, Captain!” the trio shouted as Nami rolled her eyes.

They’re like a bunch of eager puppies, she thought as they led her away, eagerly chattering about which store they should hit first.

Feeling an intense stare, she turned her head slightly to see Law watching her go, a satisfied smirk creeping to his lips. Realization hit her quickly and her entire body tensed up—he was staring at the Jolly Roger on her back.

His emblem. His trademark. His property.

It was the same way Arlong would stare at her, only hungrier.

Unnoticed by her companions, her muscles remained tense even as they walked away, heart pounding so loud she nearly didn’t hear Ikkaku when she asked, “So, where to first?”

“How about the bookstore?” Bepo offered, poking his long claws together.

“Hey, it should be Nami’s decision!” Shachi scolded, to which the bear offered a weak apology.

“The bookstore’s fine,” she choked out, willing her racing heart to calm down. There was no need to panic—Law was probably just staring at her like that because he was a weird pervert who got turned on by people in baggy clothes. Somehow, his anti-nudity fetish was a lot more comfortable than the idea that he saw her the way the Fishman Pirates had—a tool to be used and kept at any cost.

“Books it is,” Ikkaku declared, looping their arms together and dragging them down the winding roads. Luckily, the further they got from the intense captain, the easier it became to breathe, her heartbeat nearly back to normal by the time they entered the bookshop.

The smell of paper, ink, and leather binding finished the job, as it reminded Nami of the library on the Thousand Sunny, and even more of Robin. Looking around, she had to grin at the tall shelves of books that made the store a veritable maze. Robin and Chopper would spend hours in a place like this, browsing and picking out an enormous stack of medical tomes, novels, historic texts, and more to fill the ship’s library with. The memory brought a smile to her face as her anxiety receded like an ocean wave, and the cool, dry air against her skin allowed Nami to regain her enthusiasm for shopping.

“If anyone needs me, I’ll be over by the ‘How To’ manuals and laughing,” Ikkaku called before disappearing into the stacks.

Shachi shook his head, but there was a hint of an affectionate smile at the corner of his lips. “Someone’s really got to tell her one of these days that those books are supposed to be serious instructions, not comedy.”

“But not you?” Nami joked.

“Not a chance. I’m going to grab the latest issue of Sora, Warrior of the Sea, then check out the fashion magazines. The other day Penguin said my hat’s the ugliest thing in existence, so by the end of today I wanna find something so ridiculous he’ll beg me to change back.”

Down to two, Bepo gave a shy smile. “Want to check out the horticulture section with me?”

It was almost physically painful to deny any request for the bear, but there was something she wanted to grab first, and she didn’t need him finding out her guilty pleasure and potentially spilling it to his captain—that jerk did not need any more ammo to use against her. Patting his arm, Nami replied, “I’ll meet you there later—I realized during the long, boring trip from Knox that I was in desperate need of good literature, and no offense, but your ship’s library just doesn’t have anything to my taste.”

“Not even my navigational books?” he asked sadly.

“Oh, those were fine, but I mean reading for pleasure. You know, a good, exciting novel. Without Luffy around, I’m actually starting to miss the thrill of adventure.”

The bear scratched his snout. “Huh. Personally, I like that Law doesn’t take unnecessary risks, but I guess everyone’s different. I can wait while you pick out your books.”

Waving her hand nervously, she insisted, “Oh, no, it’s ok! You start checking out the books on plants and I’ll join you in a bit!”

“But Law told me not to let you out of my sight.”

Exasperated, she rolled her eyes. “I know, but I’m not going to run off or ditch the uniform—knowing my luck, I’d run into him the second I walked out of the store.”

Cocking his head in thought, Bepo finally nodded. “Ok, but you’d better keep your word—if you disappear, Law’ll be really mad at me,” he said, ears drooping and grey clouds forming over his head at the mere thought.

“I promise I’d never intentionally do anything that would get you in trouble,” she said earnestly, provoking a happy grin from the massive Mink.

“Ok! Just don’t take too long!”

Sighing in relief as Bepo jogged off to the gardening section, the coast was finally clear for Nami to creep to the back corner of the store where she’d spotted her prize.

Romance and Erotic Fiction.

Though most assumed she only read cartography books, fashion magazines, and almanacs, in truth these were her guilty pleasure. Running her fingers down the spines of the paperbacks—many sporting a half-dressed woman wrapped in the passionate embrace of a shirtless, unnaturally chiseled man on the cover—she wracked her brain for the list of novels she’d read and which ones she’d been looking for. Her tastes were fairly specific; the setting had to be interesting, the sexual tension palpable, and the leading lady had to be smart and sassy while the men were sensual and mysterious.

“Aha!” she squealed, eagerly plucking the book she’d been searching for from its place on the shelf: To Catch a Turtle Dove. It was about a beautiful and resourceful thief who decided to rob the royal palace but was caught by the dark and dangerous ruler. She’d bought a copy back in Saboady, the first few chapters having captivated her when she’d read them in the store, and she wasn’t going to wait nearly two years to find out what happened. The thief had just made it to the royal ball, and if the intense eye contact she’d made with the lord from across the room was anything to go by, it was worth buying a second copy.

“What are you doing back here?” a voice from behind asked, making her nearly leap out of her skin.

“Damn it, Ikkaku, don’t scare me like that!” she growled as her heart started palpitating again. What was with Heart Pirates and sneaking up on her, anyway? Did Law order them to do it to mess with her, or was it an unconscious habit they’d picked up from their captain?

The older woman looked at the erotic fiction novels around them, raising a dark eyebrow. “Didn’t think you were into this kind of stuff, Nami,” she teased.

A faint blush warmed her pale cheeks, though the teasing tone did calm her down. Ikkaku really was like Robin in the strangest ways. “Shut up,” she grumbled. “A girl’s got needs, right?”

“Hey, not judging—if anything, it explains how you’re able to hold your own against the captain. Most girls swoon at just a few of his lines, but you’ve probably seen them all before, huh?” she said with a wink.

Nami giggled, glad Ikkaku was laughing with her, not at her. “Something like that. Besides, why bother with real men and all their flaws when you can get the same result from a good book?”

“If all it takes is words on a page to get you off, you’re even more repressed than I thought,” Ikkaku sniggered, easily blocking Nami’s indignant punch. “And trust me, men may be idiots, but a good, hard fuck is worth more than any book.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” she scoffed, turning around to pick out a few more paperbacks.

Casually browsing the titles beside her, Ikkaku said, “You know, it’s pretty obvious that the captain’s into you—”

“Nope!” Nami cut her off, cheeks going crimson. “Don’t even suggest it! Ours is a purely business relationship and there are so many ways getting physical with him could go wrong. I’ve got ten months left with you guys, and I’m not putting myself in an awkward position.”

“Make all the excuses you want, but I know you’re just mad that he’s beating you at your own game.”

“Not true.”

“Please, Bepo told me how you managed to give Law that sunburn, and the hickey you came back from the gala with says he paid you back with interest. What’s awkward is watching you act like such a tsundere about it.”

“I’m not—like you said, I’m just a little pent up. A few steamy novels and it’ll be out of my system, without the messy consequences that come with sleeping with your captain.”

“If you’re not going to indulge, at least consider investing in a decent vibrator,” she sniggered. “Because I can tell you, when Law wants something—or someone—he does whatever it takes to get it. If you think he’s a massive tease now, it’s only going to get worse as time goes on, and I’ve seen stronger pirates than you fall at his feet. If anything, those books’ll just make you hornier.”

“You know what, Ikkaku—” Nami started, annoyance and embarrassment making her temper flare.

“Miss Nami, when you’re done, can I get your opinion, please?” Bepo asked shyly, fuzzy white head poking around the corner.

Reigning in her emotions while quickly hiding her books behind her back, she flashed him a smile. “Sure thing, Bepo! Just give me a minute!”

He returned the smile, disappearing back into the store, surprisingly quiet for a creature his size.

With a grin, Ikkaku shook her head and took the naughty paperbacks from Nami’s hands. “Here—I’ll grab these for you while you help our favorite crewmate. I’m sure you don’t want him asking awkward questions about what you’re reading, right?”

Coughing into her fist, Nami looked away bashfully. “Thanks.”

“We’ll finish this discussion later. I saw a flyer for Ladies’ Night at one of the local bars tomorrow. Wanna join me?”

“Sounds fun, but only if you promise to go five consecutive minutes without talking about your boss while we’re there. I don’t want our whole friendship to be based around your matchmaking schemes.”

“And here I thought teasing you was fair payment for letting you steal my clothes,” she laughed, bumping their hips together. “Remember you owe me an outfit, by the way.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Nami laughed before taking off to find Bepo. Despite her teasing, Ikkaku was a good friend. She just really needed to lay off the insinuations that she and Law needed to get it on.

XXX

Three hours and eight clothing stores later, Nami was completely ready to ditch the boiler suit. The boutiques hadn’t been as pleasantly cool as the bookshop even when she stripped down to try on new outfits, and every time she had to put back on that hot, confining garment had felt like torture. Parts had even started becoming damp with sweat, furthering her discomfort. The heat was exhausting, too, yet she still felt anxious, trapped energy thrumming under her skin like she’d drank too much coffee.

The uniform was ruining her shopping experience in other ways, too. Thanks to its completely unflattering silhouette and drastic lack of sex appeal, flirting her way to better discounts was harder than usual. Sure, her cleavage and fluttering eyelashes had gotten her down to 50% off in the shoe store, but the clerk at the lingerie boutique had barely given her 30%! Plus, every time she caught a glance at herself in a mirror, dressed head-to-toe like a Heart Pirate, Jolly Roger grinning at her from her left breast pocket, she felt her scar throb. No matter how many cute outfits she tried on, all she could see was that damn insignia mocking her, declaring she was once more some sick pirate’s property.

“I hate this thing so much,” she groaned, irritably tugging the zipper down to her sternum, hoping to vent just a little more of the heat trapped beneath the thick canvas. “Please, can’t I take it off now?”

“Sorry, hun, but it’s for your own safety,” Ikkaku replied with a frown. She couldn’t understand why Nami was complaining so much; yeah, it wasn’t the sexiest ensemble, but it kept Grimm’s damp chill and the scumbags at bay. “Just hold on a bit longer, then we’ll head back to the ship and you can change out of it.”

The thought of going back to the ship made her whine pathetically. The submarine would be even hotter—she was wholly starting to sympathize with Bepo. Hell, how was he not dying in his own jumpsuit? He had fur, shouldn’t he be suffering just as much?

“Cheer up, Nami!” Shachi said from behind the mountain of boxes he was carrying. His healed arm was certainly being put to the test, but Nami couldn’t feel too guilty—after all, he’d offered. “I think you look great in the uniform!”

“Yeah,” Bepo added with a smile. He had also been roped into carrying the girls’ purchases, the dozens of shopping bags looped around his arms sticking out like colorful wings. “You really look like one of us.”

She froze in her tracks as her heart stopped. “…excuse me?”

“You look like an official member of the Heart Pirates,” he said, cocking his head in confusion at her tone. Surely, that was a nice compliment, right?

“Soon enough you’ll be sporting a tattoo!” Ikkaku teased, not noticing how pale Nami’d become due to the dark shadows cast by the buildings.

The redhead’s blood went cold. She knew they were kidding. She prayed they were kidding. Her hand unconsciously gripped her shoulder, clutching at the phantom tattoo. The mark she still had nightmares about.

“Hey, that’s a great idea!” Shachi exclaimed, certain he’d found the solution to keep both the pretty navigator and their captain happy. If not, hopefully it would make her appreciate the jumpsuit a bit more. “If you got a tattoo, maybe Law’ll ease up on the dress code. We’ve all got one—it’s how we can show we’re Heart Pirates even out of uniform.”

“I don’t,” Bepo pointed out.

“That’s because you can’t tattoo fur, idiot!”

“Sorry.”

Not wanting to deal with an argument between the two males, Ikkaku cut in, “Sounds good to me. How about it, Nami? I happen to know an artist who’ll give you a great discount,” she added with a wink.

“Of course she wants one! The real question is; where should she get it?” Shachi joked. “Law’s got it on his back, and Penguin’s is on his shin. Don’t ask where mine is—at least, not without buying me dinner, first!”

“Tramp stamp. You’re definitely getting a Heart Pirate tramp stamp,” Ikkaku laughed, deviously rubbing her hands together. “I’ve already got the design sketched out!”

Though it was said in jest, all Nami could hear was cruel cackling as she was overwhelmed by the memory of being helpless and in pain, branded by a sick and possessive monster.

“Hold still, human!” Chew sneered as the needle pierced her skin.

“Stop it! It hurts!” Nami screamed, her tiny fingers desperately clawing at the table Kuroobi pinned her down on. His enormous hands easily spanned her entire back, but she refused to just lay there and let them brand her. Tears rained from her large, childish eyes, lip bleeding from the slap Chew had given her earlier.

“Smek. Who cares if it hurts? Quit wiggling around so I don’t mess up.” The clammy, webbed hand on her arm tightened, cutting off the blood flow and threatening to crack the fragile bone beneath as he continued to ink the design.

“Shahahahaha! You should be honored, Nami! You’re the only human in the world to be graced with my mark,” Arlong laughed from his chair, watching her futile struggles like a shark would an injured baby seal. “Consider it your official welcome to the Fishman Pirates!”

“I don’t want it!” she screamed as another wave of agony wracked her tiny body. In all of her ten years she’d never felt such pain, and she was helpless to do anything about it. “Make it stop!”

Kuroobi’s hands pressed down harder against her back, forcing the air from her lungs. “We don’t take orders from worthless humans,” he sneered, blue-tinged face twisting in a sneer.

“It’s for your own good, girl,” Arlong said with a twisted smile. “Someone with your raw talent is a valuable commodity. Pirates the world over are gonna want you—I’m just making sure they know to keep their hands off.” Getting up, he strolled over to the pinned girl with the casual grace of a barracuda in the water. Course as sandpaper, the tip of his finger stroked across her tear-stained cheek. “I’m keeping you safe—after all, you’re part of my crew.”

“Nami, are you ok?”

Pulled from the horrible memory, the navigator stepped away from her companions, russet eyes wide with fear. “You’re not tattooing me,” she gasped. It felt like Kuroobi’s hand were still crushing her chest, and her nails dug into her left shoulder so hard they threatened to dig through the off-white canvas.

“Hey, it’s just a—”

“I’m not letting you fuckers brand me like cattle!” she shouted, fear replaced by fury as she pulled out her Clima-Tact, brandishing it as threateningly as she could despite her shaking arms. Nami was a wild animal backed into a corner, desperately showing her claws in hopes of scaring off her hunters.

The Heart Pirate trio froze, jaws dropping in shock. “Whoa, Nami, that’s not—”

“Quit acting like I’m one of you! Quit acting like I’ve betrayed Luffy! I’m a Straw Hat, not a Heart Pirate!”

“Hey, no one’s saying you betrayed anybody,” Ikkaku assured, hands raised in hopes of showing she was no threat to the young navigator. “We’re just trying to make you feel welcome.”

“I don’t want your welcome!” she shrieked. Cold sweat ran down her back, her heart was racing, and her body was on fire. She felt trapped, both by the people across from her and by the stifling jumpsuit. “I don’t want your fucking tattoo, or your uniform, or—”

“The uniform’s to keep you safe!” Shachi insisted, silently motioning for Bepo to sneak around and subdue her before she hurt herself. He took in her flushed cheeks, ragged breathing and glazed eyes, and his tone softened with concern. “Look, why don’t we head back to the ship? You don’t look so great, and I’m sure if you talk it out with the captain—”

In her panicked brain, she didn’t register that they meant Law, not Arlong. “I’m not going back! I’m not that monster’s property!” she screamed as she blasted a heavy gust of wind from her staff, knocking the trio back hard into a nearby fruit stand. The tower of clothing and shoe boxes collapsed, falling on top of them, and vendors nearby shouted as their carts were upended.

Using the chaos to her advantage, Nami dashed off, ignoring the worried cries of the Heart Pirates behind her.

Chapter Text

Nami wasn’t sure how long or how far she’d run through the winding backstreets of Grimm, but she didn’t stop until her legs literally gave out from under her, forcing her down onto the hard pavement of a dark alley.

Panic gripped her vital organs like a meaty fist. Her body was on fire, sweat dripped down her spine, and every inhalation was agony as her lungs struggled to draw in the barest amount of oxygen needed to keep up with the blood rushing through her veins. The Heart Pirate jumpsuit was suffocating her, holding in the unbearable heat and chafing her hyper-sensitive skin, but she was too weak and exhausted to take it off, forced to broil alive in the heavy canvas.

For a few minutes she just lay there, her sole thought a silent plea for her heart to stop trying to beating against her ribcage like Luffy’s angry punches. Orange hair darkened with sweat, tears streaked down her face, and the only sounds she could make were ragged sobs.

“Miss? Are you alright?” came a deep, authoritative voice from above her, and she trembled. Was it Arlong? Had he found her? Was he going to beat her for running away? Kill Nojiko and Mr. Genzo? Destroy some innocent villager’s house as a display of his “superior” species’ power?

Please, please don’t hurt them! I’ll be good, I swear! Nami thought, squeezing her eyes closed and drawing her legs against her torso to protect herself. It would hurt, but if she had to choose between getting hit and seeing the people she loved suffer, she’d take the blows every time.

“Miss, speak to me—are you hurt? Were you attacked? Do you need a doctor?”

Did she need a doctor? Dr. Nako had fixed up fevers, scraped knees, and stomach aches since she was a child. But no, Arlong would find out and make an example of him. Nami managed the barest shake of her head, curling even more tightly into a ball, mentally begging the stranger to just leave her alone before he got himself killed. People who tried to help her always died the most horrible deaths. Memories of Bellemere’s final moments, of blood and skull fragments splattering as Arlong shot her point-blank, made Nami start hyperventilating. She couldn’t see that again, not even to a stranger, no no no no nononononononono…

Large, strong hands rested on her back and legs, gently straightening her out. “I know you’re scared, but you need to stop pressing your knees into your stomach—it’s keeping your lungs from expanding fully, so you’re not getting the air you need.”

The voice was steady and knowing, at just the right octave to cut through the heavy pounding of blood in her ears. Unconsciously she obeyed, knees lowering, and her lungs swelled as she took several deep breaths.

“There you go. Just focus on breathing. In. Out. Here.” Nami flinched as she heard fabric rustling, trying to draw into herself again as she imagined her mystery man drawing a weapon, but she immediately relaxed as her nose was greeted by the clean, familiar aroma of oranges and mikans. “Breathe this in. Citrus scents reduce stress and anxiety.”

Like an ocean wave, the thought of Bellemere’s grove washed over her. She remembered the safety of her mother’s arms, how her hands always smelled like mikans no matter how many times she washed them. She remembered Nojiko making mikan shampoo for the first time, giving her a bottle before going off to rob more pirates. She remembered the delicious fruit dishes Sanji would make her, the times she’d find Zoro napping under the trees, the iced tea she’d share with Robin, watching Chopper try a fresh mikan for the first time, and knocking Luffy over the head when she caught him pilfering her fruit.

The smell made her feel safe. Like she was home, with her family and nakama.

After a few minutes her heart rate began to slow, aided by the hand on her back rubbing deliberate, soothing circles between her shoulder blades. “That’s better. Miss, can you sit up? I want to make sure you’re not injured.”

Nodding mutely, she allowed the man to help her sit upright and lean against the hard brick wall. She could breathe again, but she was still miserably hot. Lethargic fingers clumsily tried to unzip the top of her jumpsuit, desperate to vent the heat that had built up inside the thick fabric. Her hands were halted by a larger pair quickly grabbing them, however, as the voice shouted, “Whoa, whoa! Miss! There’s no need to get undressed!”

Her eyes finally opened enough to see a blushing, wide-eyed man around thirty years old staring down at her in shock and embarrassment.

“Please,” she whimpered, struggling weakly against his grip. “I’m burning up.”

His cheeks turned a dangerous shade of scarlet at her needy tone, and he looked away, clearly uncomfortable. “Are you at least wearing something underneath?” he choked out.

A tiny smile lifted the corner of her lips. It seemed her savior was either a gentleman or just incredibly shy. Good thing she’d had the foresight to wear a sports bra and shorts under the jumpsuit. “Uh huh. Please, I just…I need it off.”

“Ok. I’ll…help you undress, then.”

She audibly moaned in relief when the cool air touched her sweaty skin. Invigorated, she managed to peel the whole uniform off, a satisfied smile coming to her face as her temperature finally dropped. It was like jumping into a cool lagoon on the hottest day of the year, banishing the wretched layer of stifling humidity that had trapped her.

No longer panicking or burning up, Nami’s mind at last cleared enough to realize what she’d done. She’d managed to disobey every order Law’d given her—she ran off on her own, ditched her companions, and removed the uniform. She was in so much trouble when he found her.

She didn’t disillusion herself with the idea that he wouldn’t. Law’s abilities could let him scan the whole island and teleport her back to his ship in an instant if he wanted. It’s not like she could escape Grimm, either—she had no boat, no crew, and no real idea where to go, and she was smart enough to know he’d still probably spend his days searching for her, if for no other reason than she’d attacked his crew.

Oh, damn, I hope they’re alright, she thought, burying her face in her hands. Her wind attacks weren’t deadly, but accidents happened, and she really couldn’t remember exactly what she’d done in her panic. What if it had been strong enough to trip Ikkaku and crack her skull open on the street? What if it knocked Shachi over and re-broke his arm? What if it sent Bepo stumbling back into a stray, sharp piece of wood, impaling a vital organ? Nami might have been scared, but she’d never forgive herself if she’d brought any harm to them.

An awkward cough caught her attention, and forcing the dark possibilities that she’d killed her friends from her mind, Nami distracted herself by finally giving her savior a proper look.

Even sitting down, the man was large. About Bepo’s height by her estimate and as muscular as Smoker, he had a hooked nose, X-shaped scar across his chin, and blue eyes that stood out starkly against the black domino mask and the shadow cast by his pointed, plumed hat. His ginger hair was a few shades darker than hers, with thick sideburns framing his chiseled, lantern jaw. Nearly his entire outfit was made of midnight blue leather, from his gloves to his thigh-high boots to his bolero. Clipped to his broad shoulders was a long cape, also blue but lined with burgundy red on the inside. His chest was exposed, showcasing the enormous X tattoo adorning his torso, and at his side were two massive weapons—a saber and what appeared to be the lovechild of a mace and an axe.

That’s “Red Flag” X Drake, Nami realized, the Supernova’s wanted poster instantly popping into her head. He wasn’t quite as notoriously sadistic or infamously violent as Law or Eustass Kid, but it was easy to remember a pirate who’d defected from the Marines. She’d assumed he’d headed off to the New World like the others, but perhaps he was like Law and thought it better to wait things out?

“Are you feeling better?” he asked, deliberately keeping his eyes on her face.

“Y-yeah, I’m fine. Th-thanks for the h-help,” she replied with a stammer, desperately trying to convince her heart there was no need to panic again. Of course, her instincts knew better; X Drake was a pirate on the Grand Line and a Supernova at that. His bounty was even higher than Law’s, and probably for good reason. She was alone with him in a back alley with no crew to back her up, whether Straw Hat or Heart Pirate. A woman with her limited combat prowess stood a snowball’s chance in hell against him in a fight, and he was big enough to crush her throat with one hand if he wanted to.

Yet…he seemed nervous. The redness had faded from his face, but there was still a slight tinge of pink on his cheeks. His posture seemed casual at first glance, but she could see the subtle tension in his neck and shoulders. Most noticeably, he was doing his damnedest not to look anywhere below her chin, even though his greater height gave him an excellent view of her exposed cleavage.

Drake was a rival pirate and former rear-admiral of the Navy, but she got the feeling that if she really needed to, she could easily escape by flashing him.

“Good to hear, though I really don’t think you should be stripping around here, and especially not asking strange men to help you. Most might consider it an…invitation,” he said, awkwardly scratching his jaw as he glanced away, blushing harder at the thought.

A small smile curved her lips. Yup, he was definitely trying not to stare at her half-naked body. Who would have thought a man as infamous as X Drake would be so bashful? “But not you?”

“I prefer my invitations to be enthusiastic and explicit,” was his stiff reply as he leaned against the wall beside her. Nami didn’t miss the brief, almost guilty glances he stole at her from the corner of his eye, though. “And certainly not from a woman in the midst of a panic attack.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said with a wink. She was feeling much more clear-headed and like her normal self now that her brain wasn’t being cooked, and the knowledge that X Drake had such an easily exploited weakness to her body made her relax. “Why do you carry around mikan perfume, anyway?”

The pink tips of his ears deepened. “It’s not perfume; it’s orange extract. During my time in the Marines, I had many comrades who suffered PTSD or panic attacks, and aromatherapy has been proven to be good for reducing anxiety—particularly citrus scents. I rarely experience them myself anymore, but it’s still useful during periods of extreme stress. Seemed to be rather effective on you,” he said with a raised eyebrow before quickly glancing away.

Taking pity on him, Nami drew up her knees and wrapped her arms around them so he wasn’t given such a shameless view of her bountiful chest. “I grew up in a mikan grove. The smell reminds me of home.”

The corner of his mouth lifted, a look of understanding softening his stern features. “Does it? No wonder, then.” He handed her the bottle. “Dab a little under your nose and rub some on your hands—better safe than sorry.”

Gratefully she did so, relishing the refreshing, familiar scent of her favorite fruit. “Thanks. Guess I’m lucky you’re the one who stumbled across me, huh?”

“I’ll say. I was passing by when I saw you running like the Devil himself was after you. Piqued my curiosity, and I suppose not all of my Marine training has left me; simply had to help a damsel in distress.”

She chuckled, though it turned into a soft moan of relief as the bare skin of her back pressed against the cool brick behind her.

Drake’s brow furrowed as he looked her over critically. “You really shouldn’t sit around half-dressed out here, you know.”

“Because of men without invitations?”

“Because it’s far too cold to be walking around in so little, and with the sheen of sweat on your skin, you’re at a high risk of getting hypothermia.”

Nami stubbornly shook her head, though she frowned at the feeling of the damp ends of her hair against her bare shoulders. “Honestly, that damn jumpsuit was so hot, freezing to death sounds like a dream come true right now.”

“Yes, but I’m sure your crew would be quite distraught to find out you’d died in such an ignoble way.”

She stiffened at the mention of her crew. Was he talking about the Heart Pirates or Straw Hats? “Yeah, fair enough. I just really don’t want to get back in that thing,” she replied, toe nudging the boiler suit disdainfully.

Drake scoffed in agreement. “Considering whose emblem is on it, I don’t blame you.” Standing, he hoisted her to her feet as if she weighed nothing. Now Nami could see just how tall he was, completely towering over her. She thought he might get all flustered again as her cleavage was once more on display, but his intense blue eyes were fixed upon the swirling tattoo on her shoulder. “I must say, I’m surprised—I didn’t believe the outlandish rumors that Cat Thief Nami had joined the Heart Pirates, even after Jinzo started babbling about why he didn’t have my money. I figured he was just making excuses. And yet, here you are.”

She stiffened. Well, now she knew who the broker’s next appointment was supposed to have been. “Ah. I’m guessing he was mad?”

A red eyebrow quirked, and his lips twitched upwards in amusement. “He was quite vocal about what he hoped to do to you for costing him so much belli. You’re lucky I found you instead of any of his men. A woman by herself is already taking a great risk wandering around in these back alleys—even more so when she’s made an enemy of the island’s most unscrupulous black market broker.”

She gulped at the implication. Damn, Law really was right, wasn’t he? If someone other than Drake had come across her while she was helpless on the ground…

“Well, I appreciate the rescue,” she squeaked, deciding it was time to head back to the Polar Tang. Glancing up and down the alley, she tried to recall her steps. She’d pretty much run blindly through the alleyways, but she was certain her natural sense of direction could get her back to the docks. Sure, Law would be mad at her for running off, but he was a hell of a lot safer than Jinzo. She shivered at the memory of the man’s hateful stare as Law had led her away, certain she’d be in a hell of a lot of trouble if she ran into him in the grungy alley.

Mistaking her shiver for the cold finally getting to her, Drake unclipped his cape, wrapping it around her shoulders with a flourish, bundling her in tightly. “There. It would be a shame for you to die of exposure before I got you back to the ship.”

A small whine escaped the back of her throat as she was engulfed by the thick fabric, once more feeling stifled and too hot. She struggled to escape the long cloak, but he only wrapped her up tighter.

“Let me go,” so moaned pathetically, face once more flushing as her heart sped up. The material was softer than the boiler suit, but it was still heavy and suffocating, and Drake’s lingering body heat in the fibers made it worse. “It’s too hot!”

“Miss Nami, unless you’ve recently eaten some sort of fire-based Devil Fruit, I can’t imagine how you could be anything but freezing,” he said with a stern frown. “I understand you’re afraid of me, and with good reason, but I won’t hurt you if you come quietly. I’m not in the business of harming hostages unless absolutely necessary.”

“Hostages?”

A hint of a sly smirk tugged at his lips. “I confess, I am a bit miffed at you for causing Jinzo to reschedule on me—he owes me a lot of belli, and I was hoping to be off this damn island by now. Kidnapping you is not only cathartic, but profitable; your bounty’s hardly worth turning you in for, but perhaps Jinzo might make me a better offer. Or I could put your skills to use in exchange for your eventual freedom. After all, your thieving skills are quite notorious, and Trafalgar must have recruited you for a reason.”

Oh no. The last thing she needed was to be the slave of another pirate captain. “Um, how about you ransom me to Law?” she suggested hopefully. “I’m sure he could pay whatever you were going to ask Jinzo, and then some!” Angry as the Surgeon of Death might be about her running off and getting kidnapped, surely he’d be able to rescue her if he knew X Drake had her, right? It’d be easy with his powers, and there’d be no need to buy her back when he could snatch her away with a flick of his fingers.

There was a brief, angry flash of sharp fangs as he growled, “Because the less I have to interact with that smarmy bastard, the happier I’ll be. Don’t think I don’t see through your little scheme; why would he pay when his powers can easily steal you back? Besides that, I’ll be damned if I let that ingrate gain an extra advantage by poaching Straw Hat’s thief.”

“Let me go!” she cried. Drake’s sudden switch from surprisingly helpful to a legitimate threat to her well-being demanded she pull together what little energy she had and escape. The problem was she was running on fumes and in the clutches of an eight-foot-tall former Marine whose bicep was thicker than her waist and could probably crush her skull with one hand like a rotten apple if he desired. Fighting was definitely out, and with the way he’d swaddled her in his cloak, she couldn’t even flash him like she’d planned.

Desperate, Nami attempted to wiggle out of the heavy fabric, but he grabbed the collar and tugged her close, looming over her threateningly.

“Don’t bother trying to run—even if you did somehow get away, you’re covered in both my scent and the citrus oil.” For a moment, his eyes shifted, harsh, reptilian yellow overtaking the blue, and he took a deep breath through his nose. “In a rancid cesspool like this, I’d hunt you down easily. If you come quietly, I promise you will be treated well; perhaps even invited to join my crew, if you play your cards right. If you resist, I’ll have to switch the orange extract for chloroform, and the next time you wake up, you’ll be in Jinzo’s possession.”

Once more, her heart began to race, but thankfully her mind wasn’t overcome yet with memories and panic. “Look, I…I’m sorry if I accidentally caused you trouble, but Jinzo’s a cheapskate who’d rather kill you to get me than actually pay. And if what you’re worried about is my alliance with Law, it’s just a temporary partnership! I don’t even like the guy!”

“Nobody likes Trafalgar; he’s a sadistic asshole.” A massive arm wrapped around her tiny waist and he hoisted her up so her feet dangled above the ground, pressing her against his scorching chest. “And if that’s truly the case, then you have even less reason to resist—think of it as a rescue.”

“From the way things look, the only one she needs to be saved from is you, Drake-ya.”

A blue aura surrounded them, and in an instant Nami was out of Drake’s grasp and firmly in Law’s, one tattooed arm wrapping possessively around her bare midriff while the other leaned Kikoku casually on his shoulder. Hard plains of muscle pressed against her back, and she could feel his sharp chin rest on the top of her head.

Nami’s body was tense, but not as much as it had been with Drake. Some of it had to do with the essential oil keeping her calm and the cool air once more regulating her temperature, but it was mostly because, dangerous as he was, Law was the devil she knew. No matter how pissed he might be at her disobedience, he would protect her; she was his property, right? Arlong had certainly punished her for her misdeeds against him, but he’d never allowed anyone not on his crew lay so much as a hand on her.

Pirates didn’t like other people touching their things, after all.

“Been a while, Drake-ya,” Law’s smooth voice caressed her ears. “Making a move on my Cat Thief, I see. How’s that going so far? Have you told her how many people you’ve killed? I’m sure that always impresses the ladies.”

“Trafalgar,” Drake spat, glaring disdainfully between the empty cape in his hand and the man standing ten feet away. “I’m quite certain the woman belongs to Straw Hat, not you.”

“Hmmm, normally, but since I was nice enough to save his life, I thought it was only fair that he let me borrow her while he trains.” Law chuckled and Nami felt his nose playfully nuzzle her temple as his hand slid up to splay just beneath her breast. “You know I’ve got a thing for feisty gingers.”

The former Marine snorted in response as he donned his cloak. “Well, since she’s apparently the reason Jinzo had to reschedule our appointment, I think it’s only fair that I ‘borrow’ her for a while as recompense.”

“Sorry, she and I have dinner plans tonight. Besides, I did you a favor—he’s not as good as Kimo when it comes to honoring deals. Had the nerve to try and give me less than a third of our agreed-on price. If it hadn’t been for my little kitten here, you’d be trying to negotiate with a corpse.”

Hearing Law call her “kitten” made Nami shudder, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on why. It felt disturbingly familiar somehow and made the hairs on the back of her neck rise as goosebumps rippled across her skin.

Drake crossed his arms, unimpressed. “Jinzo’s unscrupulous scum, but he owes me money. Money that your ‘little kitten’ managed to swindle from him, the way he tells it.”

“If he’d brought the amount Kimo had agreed to pay me, I wouldn’t have needed her uncanny haggling skills.” Law cocked his head to the side. “Out of curiosity, how much does he owe you?”

“600 million belli.”

“He only had 725 million on him for his four scheduled deals, and he only planned to pay me 200 million. So even if his other clients were working for free, he had no intention of paying your asking price.” He let out a wry chuckle. “The man must have a death wish, looking to cheat two Supernovas in one day.”

Drake swore under his breath. “Fine. If he won’t pay me properly, I’ll just have to wring his neck and take the money from him. But considering how you still ruined my plans to leave this wretched place on schedule, I’m ruining your dinner plans. Now hand the Cat Thief over,” he growled, gripping the hilt of his saber. “I have a greater need for her than you.”

The nodachi on Law’s shoulder shifted in response. “Look, not that I’m opposed to you getting laid—anything to get the stick out of your ass—but Nami-ya’s mine.” The woman in question could practically hear Law’s smirk as he continued, “Why don’t you try the brothel the next street over? I’m sure the lovely ladies there will be happy to service your ‘needs’ for the right price.”

Drake gaped for a moment before sputtering, “I’m not looking to sleep with her!”

“Now don’t be bashful, Drake-ya! Sexual urges are completely healthy and natural, and I certainly don’t blame you for wanting a sexy redhead. Hell, maybe she can finally help you ditch your V-card.”

“You know I’m not a virgin!” he snapped, face flushing dark red in humiliation a second later as he realized precisely what he’d said.

Law’s grin widened, more than happy to take advantage of the slip. “Oh yeah—I do, don’t I? Never imagined I’d get to tame a dinosaur, but anything’s possible on the Grand Line, right?”

Nami’s jaw dropped as her cheeks heated. Holy crap, Law and Drake? Together?! She had so many questions.

“You didn’t ‘tame’ me,” Drake growled as he forced himself to calm down, though his ears still burned to match his ginger hair.

“Oh? So you’d let any man ride you? Slut.”

Maybe it was her imagination, but Nami swore she could feel Law’s erection against her lower back. Was he seriously getting turned on by this? She began to feel warm again as her own arousal spiked, much to her irritation. Could anyone blame her, though? Drake was not an unattractive man, and the mental image of him and Law battling for dominance in the bedroom was certainly titillating.

“Trafalgar,” he snarled, eyes morphing into their yellow, reptilian state, “either you hand over the woman right now or—”

“Or what? You’ll take her from me? Sorry, Drake-ya, but you know what a possessive bastard I am. I found her first, so she’s mine.”

“I don’t see your name on her,” he said petulantly.

Law spared the woman in his arms a small glare. “She’s a crafty kitten that likes to slip her leash sometimes, but I’m happy to stake my claim here and now.” A tattooed hand cupped her breast as her rolled his hips against her ass. There was no mistake what he had in mind. “Feel free to watch—you might learn something.”

There he went calling her “kitten” again, and his shameless groping nearly made Nami choke. She’d grown used to his flirting and suggestive touches, but he’d never been this blatant! Hell, compared to this, he’d been downright chaste when they’d made out in the mansion hall and when he’d given her that hickey! Was it his weird form of punishing her for running off? Or was it just to mess with Drake? Law certainly seemed to enjoy riling the other pirate up, but did he need to go so far as to threaten to fuck her in front of him to scare Drake away?

More importantly, would that even work? Law’d basically been putting her scantily clad figure on display for him throughout the entire conversation, but Drake didn’t seem nearly as flustered as he’d been when it had just been the two of them. Maybe Law’s insults and innuendos had distracted him enough to look past Nami’s full breasts and sensual curves before, but the way he was looking at her now…

It was similar to the hungry gaze Law sometimes gave her, only more feral. Animalistic. And she wasn’t fully sure if it was directed at her, the Surgeon of Death, or both.

Whichever it was, Law was playing a dangerous game of chicken, and if Drake snapped, she was the one caught in the middle.

The idea that the argument might morph into a violent, sexual brawl made Nami renew her struggles. “Will you both quit fucking talking about me like I’m some stupid toy you’re fighting over?!” she snapped, twisting and writhing in Law’s arms. “If you want to measure dicks, go ahead; just leave me out of it!”

Both men seemed momentarily taken aback by her outburst, though Law recovered quickly enough to tighten his arm around her waist. The sheathed nodachi pressed threateningly to her bare throat, saying without words that she was dancing on thin ice, and Nami reluctantly stilled. Out of the corner of her eye she saw gold eyes narrow at her defiance before his expression morphed back into a cocky smirk. “See, Drake-ya? This little kitten’s way too feisty for you to handle.”

“I only hope she scratches your eyes out,” he countered, though he did back off slightly, his eyes returning to normal. Ignoring his rival, he addressed the Cat Thief directly, though it was obvious her bare skin distracted him. “Miss Nami, I’m sure with Straw Hat missing you’re only associating yourself with Trafalgar out of desperation. However, I can assure you that you can do far better than this psychopath.”

Before she could answer, the alley was once more engulfed in blue, and Nami groaned as she found herself redressed in the Heart Pirate uniform. Behind her, Law sneered, “Maybe she can, but she’s paying off Straw Hat’s life debt to me, so she’s mine until her contract is up. I might be willing to lend her to you in exchange for a few favors, but that’s something you negotiate with me—not her.”

The jumpsuit was hot, uncomfortably damp with sweat, and combined with Law’s arms wrapped tightly around her, even more suffocating than before. Nami’s heart was once more beginning to race, chest rising and falling hard as she fought to draw breath. It wasn’t as bad as before due to the essential oil still lingering under her nose, but her body was slowly reverting back into fight or flight mode.

Tension rose as the two pirates glared at each other, neither noticing nor caring about the woman’s distress.

Pulling off a leather glove, Drake’s hand shifted into a reptilian claw before their eyes. Flexing his talons menacingly, he growled, “A debt, huh? Well, if I kill you right now, that should clear any debt away and she’ll be free to do as she pleases. How about it, Miss Nami? Agree to help me strip Jinzo of every last belli he’s ever earned, and I’ll be happy to tear Trafalgar’s head off.”

“You threaten that every time, Drake-ya, and yet the only ‘head’ you’ve ever gotten—”

“Law, please, let me go,” Nami cut in, desperate to gain some breathing space and shed the jumpsuit like a snake would its skin. His body heat made it even worse, managing to seep through the dense canvas into her back, and his hot breath at her ear sizzled the damp skin. Despite the lingering smell of citrus, her pulse fluttered, anxiety strumming her veins like guitar strings.

“Stay right there,” the dark doctor rasped, Kikoku dropping to press against her waist while his free hand slid up to wrap threateningly around her throat, “or I really will put a collar on you.” Glancing back up at the former Marine, Law flashed a dangerous smile. “You know, Drake-ya, there’s no reason we can’t all get along. Hell, why don’t you join my crew? The pay’s good, and I wouldn’t mind my very own pet Allosaurus.”

Drake’s mouth twisted in a deep scowl, though Nami didn’t miss the way his eyes briefly dropped to Law’s hand as it trailed down to trace the Heart Pirate logo on her chest. “I’m no one’s pet, least of all yours.”

“You say that now, but I think you’d enjoy it—I know I would. Two sexy, fiery redheads, naked in my bed is pretty much my ultimate fantasy. I’d even let you help me train Nami-ya—she needs to learn obedience, but I know you’ve got no trouble following orders, eh, Navy-boy?”

For a moment, Drake’s eyes lingered on them, and she swore it looked like he was considering it, especially when Law nipped her ear, making her gasp, her chest expanding upwards as her cheeks deepened to an obscene shade of scarlet. She could imagine she looked like a wet dream; sweaty hair tousled, face flushed, cleavage peeking out of the jumpsuit’s opening, lips parted as she panted lightly. Law probably looked just as tempting, with his inviting golden stare, dexterous fingers, and wicked smirk.

Law was absolutely giving an enthusiastic and explicit invitation, and both pirates had shown that Nami’s opinion on the matter was a mere afterthought.

The man behind her shifted, and this time she was positive she could feel the Dark Doctor’s cock straining against her. “Law, please,” she whimpered, sweat breaking out across her brow.

“Mmm, much as I love hearing you beg, Nami-ya, you’re just going to have to be patient. Unless you want to put on a show for Drake-ya?” Long fingers pinched the tab of her zipper, slowly pulling it down to expose more of her cleavage. “Give him a taste of what he could have if he joins us?”

That seemed to snap Drake out of whatever lustful trance Law had lured him into, as his face went bright red and his scowl returned. “Ugh, you’re a disgusting cretin, Trafalgar. I’m not subjecting myself to your presence any longer.” Tipping his plumed hat, he spun on his heel. “If you ever come to your senses and decide to ditch this sadistic bastard, Miss Nami, feel free to seek me out.”

“Damn. I was hoping he’d try to call my bluff,” Law chuckled as the tall redhead disappeared down an alley. “I’d love to show him how I discipline disobedient kittens when they run off.”

“You’ve got the weirdest kinks!” she snapped, struggling desperately in his arms. The moist jumpsuit rubbed unpleasantly against her bare skin like wet sandpaper. The sensation finally brought to light why Law’s new nickname made her so uncomfortable—Arlong had often referred to her as a kitten. Usually as a term of affection, but also a way to further show how little he thought of her species, that he regarded animals typically kept as pets as more worthy of his respect than humans. “Let me go—I’m not your kitten!”

Law released her long enough to spin her around and start walking her backwards with slow, sure strides, gold eyes drilling into hers. “And yet it’s the most accurate description I can think of—you’re a clueless little kitten who has no self-preservation skills likely to get ripped apart by wild dogs!” With a thump her back hit the rough brick wall, but any relief the cool stone might have provided was short-lived as Law pressed his entire body against her front to trap her. “Ditching the uniform was bad enough, but running off on your own? Making a scene in public and attacking your crew? If you were even half as smart as you claim to be, you never would have taken such a stupid risk.”

“I wasn’t thinking—”

“Damn right you weren’t thinking!” he snapped. “I don’t care if you think the uniform’s ugly or uncomfortable, when I give you an order, you obey it!”

“It’s just clothes!”

“If it were just clothes, you wouldn’t have been the one to make it such a huge fucking deal! The fact that you couldn’t follow such a basic order proves you can’t be trusted.” Without breaking eye contact, he reached down, dragging the zipper up to her neck and buttoning the collar so not an inch of flesh south of her chin was exposed. “Now, unless you want me to make good on my threat to discipline you, you’re going to leave that as it is. You managed to punt any leniency I had for your bratty antics right out the window. We’re going back to the ship, where you will be confined for the foreseeable future. If I have to, I’ll chain you to a desk where you’ll spend the rest of the year drawing maps and sea charts for me.”

Her eyes widened at the threat. It was far too much like her dream; like what she’d gone through with Arlong. Panic made her adrenalin spike, and with ever less ventilation than before, the temperature inside the suit rose further. “Please, Law, I’m sorry. I just couldn’t—”

Furious that she was still trying to argue, his voice was as hard and biting as ice as he said, “I’m not interested in excuses, Nami-ya. You disobeyed me, and even more damning, you attacked my crew. I told you when we first met that I’d make you suffer if you brought any harm to them, and I intend to keep that promise.”

“I didn’t mean to! They were threatening me!” she simpered, trying to pull away, but like the man pressed to her front, the wall at her back wasn’t going to relent for the sake of a small, terrified woman.

“Threatening you? Ikkaku, Bepo, and Shachi? If you’re going to lie, at least make it believable,” he snorted, grabbing her left arm in a bruising grip when she tried to unzip the uniform.

“They wanted to tattoo me! To brand me as your property!” Unconsciously she clutched her shoulder, fingers digging into the scars left by her old tattoo. “I couldn’t let them do that to me. Not again.”

“And why would they want to do that?” he asked sarcastically. “Convince me before I cut out your slanderous tongue.”

“So that I couldn’t escape. So that no matter where I went or how I tried to hide, everyone would see that I’m yours,” she whispered, eyes dulling as she recalled the judgmental glares the villagers would give her every time they saw Arlong’s tattoo. Even if it had all been an act, they had cut deeply at the time, and even now she felt overwhelming shame.

Tsking in irritation, he finally gave her a few inches of space. “You make it sound like I’ve enslaved you—you’re the one who came to me, demanding the I let you settle Mugiwara’s debt. What we have is a deal; join my crew until it’s paid off. But it’s pretty hard to do that if Drake-ya or others make off with you, isn’t it? So if I have to make you wear a uniform or even tattoo my mark onto you, so be it.”

Nami’s mind clouded, fear firmly taking hold. She and Arlong had had a deal, too, and he’d used every dirty trick imaginable to deny his cartographer her freedom. What made Law any different? How did she know he’d keep his word and let her leave at the end of the year? What was stopping him from chaining her up and keeping her as a pet, from basically enslaving her even as he called her a valued shipmate?

It was too hot, her flesh felt like it was melting off her bones, blood was pounding in her ears, her scars throbbed, and her vision grew hazy as she began to hyperventilate. In her mind, Law and Arlong shifted and blended together, and trapped and scared against her monstrous captain, panic finally overwhelmed her.

“I’m not your fucking property!” she screeched, slamming her fists against his chest, nails attempting to claw at his face like a caged animal. Unwilling to let her gouge his eyes out, he grabbed her by the wrists, pinning her to the wall with his full body weight. “Get off of me! I’m not your fucking shipmate, or your kitten, or anything! I’d sooner die than let you use me again! I hate you!”

“Will you calm the fuck down?! What is your problem—” Law snapped, but his anger shifted to concern as he felt just how sweltering her skin had become and how erratic her pulse was. The last dregs of irritation vanished as he finally allowed himself to carefully study her, taking in her flushed and sweaty face, unfocused gaze, and shallow wheezes.

His brow furrowed as he stepped back, surrounding her with his Room and quickly Scanning her.

“Fuck,” her bit out under his breath. “So that’s your problem. Nami-ya, close your eyes.”

“Why the fuck should I do that?!” she screamed, attempting to dart to the side, but her escape route was swiftly blocked.

“Because this’ll be a lot less traumatizing if you don’t watch what I’m about to do.” When her eyes widened further, he smacked his forehead, annoyed at himself for his poor wording. “It’s the birth control medication I injected you with—you’re having a bad reaction to it. The chemical imbalance is giving you a massive panic attack, and the stress is causing you to overheat, which is slowly frying your brain. I need to remove the drug from your system, and considering how squeamish you are, I can promise, you’re not going to want to see how.”

“I…”

His expression turned desperate as he beseeched, “Nami-ya, please, I know it goes against your every instinct right now, but I need you to trust me.”

Swallowing hard, she nodded, forcing herself to close her eyes as tightly as possible and hold still despite her legs trembling with the urge to run. He was right; she needed to trust him. Law wasn’t asking as her captain, but as her doctor. He wouldn’t hurt her any more than Chopper would. He was trying to save her, and she needed to have faith that anything he did was for her own good.

“Room. Shambles.”

A strange sensation overcame her. It was almost like she was floating, and while she could still feel her individual body parts, it was…dull and disjointed, almost numbed, like when your foot falls asleep and you wiggle your toes.

Then came another odd feeling. The closest she could compare it to was what she imagined it would feel like to be a sugar cube slowly dissolving in a glass of water, but the heat and adrenaline slowly vanished, and bit by bit, her heart began to slow to a normal pace.

When she opened her eyes, she was sitting on the ground, the sweaty uniform in a neat pile by her leg. Law knelt before her, studying her face and body intently. His mouth was a hard line and his gold eyes cautious as he asked, “How are you feeling?”

“…cold.”

With a relieved chuckle, he pulled off his hoodie and carefully slipped it over her head. “Well, better than heat stroke and cardiac arrest.” He sighed, giving an apologetic frown. “I’m sorry the drug fucked you up so badly. I must have gotten the ratio off. I can’t even remember if I’d informed you of the potential side effects. At the very least, I shouldn’t have administered it when I was functioning on so little sleep—it was irresponsible of me as a doctor.”

Gratefully, Nami slipped her arms into the long sleeves, soaking in the residual body heat in the soft fabric. The sweatshirt was long enough to be a mini-dress on her, and she very nearly tucked her legs inside to block out the chilly air. Her skin was slick with sweat, and the cold air and stone beneath her was leeching the heat from her body. Now she understood why Drake had been so concerned about her lack of clothes. “It’s my own fault. I should have told you I was feeling weird. I just figured it was my body needing time to adapt and me being stressed about…stuff.”

The skin beneath the DEATH tattoos went white as Law gripped Kikoku harder. “No, it isn’t alright—I should have demanded a follow-up appointment to check how you were doing instead of putting my focus on fucking fertilizer. And I definitely should have noticed there was something wrong with you—you were literally having a panic attack in front of me, but I was too stubborn to acknowledge it.”

“Law, I know my body—I should have realized there was something wrong with me. And you were a little…distracted.”

“So, we’re both idiots, then?”

Nami couldn’t help the wry smile that tugged at her lips. “Guess so.” She glanced over at the jumpsuit. Part of her was nearly tempted to put it on due to how cold she suddenly felt, but one touch of the sweat-sodden fabric quickly changed her mind. “Look, I get that I don’t have much of a right to ask, but do I still have to wear this?”

Law frowned at the damp uniform. “Not until it’s been laundered and properly dried, at least. I’m taking you back to the ship regardless—I want to run some tests to be sure the birth control is completely out of your system, and you’re staying in the infirmary overnight for observation.”

“Yeah, makes sense,” she said sadly as the familiar blue aura overtook them. In a blink they were in the Polar Tang’s infirmary, their sudden appearance making Penguin jump from his place at the desk.

“Law! You found her!”

He tossed Kikoku to the first mate before hoisting Nami onto the examination table. “Yeah, but I’m going to need you to run some blood tests for me and fetch some clothes and toiletries from her room—she’s sleeping in here tonight for observation.”

Penguin nodded before rushing out the door, barely giving the navigator’s lack of uniform a second glance. Meanwhile, Law strode over to the cabinets, pulling out blankets, pillows, and towels. “What other symptoms have you been having?”

Rubbing her arms, Nami replied, “Nightmares and trouble sleeping, but that’s it.”

“Do you think you’ll be able to sleep tonight?”

“I should.”

“Good, then I won’t give you a sedative. I’m not risking putting anything else in your bloodstream until I’m 100% sure what caused your reaction.”

“Thank you,” she said softly, “for removing the drug. And…not making me watch how you did it.” Law was sadistic and cruel, but that moment of compassion spoke volumes of how much he cared about a patient’s well-being. It was a fascinating juxtaposition—the doctor and the pirate. One that made her respect for him rise a little.

“You’re welcome. Thank you for trusting me.” He gave a small smirk as he handed her the supplies. “Assuming there are no lingering side effects I should be able to declare you well enough to go to dinner with me tomorrow night.”

Her head shot up in surprise. “You still want to do that? Even after I attacked your crew? After I tried to claw your eyes out?” Good God, she expected Luffy to be that forgiving, not the Surgeon of Death!

“You did it under the effects of a drug that I improperly administered—I have no one to blame but myself. It should be easy enough to move our reservations to tomorrow.” At her disbelieving expression, he shrugged. “Honestly, Ikkaku, Shachi, and Bepo weren’t even mad; they were more scared something would happen to you.”   

“Really?”

“Really. I was the one who was pissed.”

Draping a blanket over her cold legs, she snorted. “Clearly. Would you have really made good on your threat?”

“Which one?”

Unconsciously, her hand fisted the blanket. “Chaining me to a desk and forcing me to make maps for you.”

That’s the one you’re most worried about?” he asked, bewildered.

“Let’s just say it’s something that would have happened to me if Luffy hadn’t intervened.”

Law’s brow furrowed when she didn’t elaborate, and he crossed his arms in irritation. “You’re welcome to your secrets and privacy, Nami-ya, but considering how you very nearly clawed my eyes out over it, you’re going to have to give a better answer than that. I can’t know what will trigger you if you don’t tell me.”

“Maybe I’m not comfortable with someone like you knowing my weaknesses.” She shot him a glare. “You seemed to take a lot of creepy pleasure in threatening to put a collar on me, among other things.”

The brim of his hat cast a shadow across his eyes as he scowled. “I’m a sadistic bastard—I’ve never hidden this. But I was trying to scare you into compliance, not give you a panic attack.”

“Either way, it doesn’t exactly inspire me to trust you.”

He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. In the harsh light of the infirmary, the circles under his eyes seemed even more pronounced. “Nami-ya, I’m sorry I went too far. I was angry and keyed up from dealing with Drake-ya.”

A scoff and a roll of her eyes was Nami’s immediate response. “Yeah, sure, ‘keyed up’. Personally, I would have gone with ‘horny as hell’.” She blushed slightly at the thought. Looking back on it, that moment had felt like something from one of her raunchier novels. And she really needed to not imagine what the two Supernovas would be like together. Who would top? Drake was certainly the larger man, but she had a hard time picturing Law being submissive, control freak that he was….

She shook herself from her musings as Law responded, removing his hat to run a hand through his dark hair, “We have…history. Generally when we meet, we either try to kill each other or fuck. In such close quarters and with you as a liability, I didn’t trust my chances if it came to a fight, so yeah, I fully leaned into the sexual tension.”

After the day she’d had, Nami should have been immune, but she couldn’t help but appreciate how hot he looked when he mussed his hair like that. Her blush deepened as she glanced away. “Well, you should have left me out of it.”

“Drake-ya’s shy with women. I knew he’d turn tail and run if I got you involved.”

Much as she wanted to, she couldn’t quite argue his logic, mostly because it was completely fucked up. “Bullshit; you were totally hoping for a threesome. You are seriously such a freak. Next time, just teleport us out of there.”

“He was talking about kidnapping you,” Law countered, leaning in and resting his hands on either side of her thighs. His breath tickled her face as he continued, “I needed to make sure he knew you were completely off-limits.”

Her eyes narrowed as she leaned back slightly. “I thought we established that I’m not your property?”

“Nami-ya, that’s the way it is—if you’re not strong enough to protect yourself, you’re the property of someone who was strong enough to claim you.” For a brief moment, his eyes softened, getting a faraway look as he lifted his hand to gently brush his knuckles across her jaw. “I know you hate it, but for now, accept that it’s the only way to protect you from the monsters of the world. Because believe me; there are men far worse than me who’d love to get their hands on you. Men who don’t have my limits.”

Her breath caught at his gentle action, and Law seemed to snap out of his reverie, quickly pulling away to grab her chart from the filing cabinet. “Penguin should be back soon to draw some blood and examine you. I need to tell the rest of the crew you’re back, safe and sound. You’re still confined to the ship until dinner tomorrow as punishment for worrying everyone.” Without looking at her, he tossed her chart on the desk and left, all but slamming the door behind him.

Wide, brown eyes stared at the metal barricade in shock. What was that about? Where had that flash of softness come from? Was he seriously running off because of a moment of…what? Kindness? Affection? Concern?

It seemed like every time she thought she had Trafalgar Law figured out, he had to do something to completely throw her.

Her thoughts were disturbed by a brisk knock on the door.

“Come in,” she called hesitantly.

Penguin stuck his head inside, little stuffed bird on his hat bobbing slightly. “You ok?”

Tugging at the black sleeves of Law’s sweatshirt, she sighed. “Fine, I guess. Managed to not get kidnapped by X Drake, thanks to your captain.”

“You ran into Drake? My condolences.”

“He was actually pretty nice up until he decided to take me hostage.”

Penguin chuckled as he tugged on a pair of latex gloves, grabbing her chart and the medical supplies he needed. “No, the condolences are for having to watch him and Law interact. It’s been going on since we were terrorizing the North Blue, back when Drake was tasked with bringing us down. The boss is not subtle when he hits on him, and Drake’s usually a coin flip between trying to kill him and pinning him against a wall. Makes things super uncomfortable for the rest of us.”

His look of exasperation drew an easy laugh from the redhead. “Yeah, you could cut the sexual tension with a knife. Law all but proposed a threesome.”

“Unfortunately, I believe it,” he groused as he rolled up the sleeve of the hoodie to expose Nami’s arm. Swabbing a patch of skin with a sterilized cotton ball, he continued, “I’m not sure if Drake brings out his kinky side or if he just did it to mess with you two. Probably both. Boss has a thing for gingers.”

“Then why doesn’t he hit on Shachi?”

“Oh, he did, briefly, when we were teens, but once he realized Shachi wasn’t into dudes, he backed off.”

“Dare I ask how Law found out Drake was interested?”

Penguin threw her a teasing wink. “You’re gonna have to get me seriously drunk to tell that story; I’ve worked damn hard to repress it.”

Nami had to laugh. Though he could be an awkward flirt and sometimes a bit too hard on his crewmates, Penguin was an easy guy to like. He was definitely the big brother of the ship, bullying Shachi and Bepo during downtime but quickly stepping up and making sure they were alright when things got serious.

His mouth turned down in a reluctant frown. “Look, I hate to bring down the mood, but as first mate, I have to know; why’d you run off?”

Averting her eyes, she nervously twisted the blanket in her hands. “What, Shachi didn’t tell you?”

Carefully inserting the syringe into her vein, he began drawing blood. “Figured I’d hear your side of the story before I made my judgement. Law gave me a quick run-down on how the medication gave you a panic attack, but something had to trigger it.”

“You mean besides nearly being cooked to death in that hideous jumpsuit?”

As he removed the needle and taped some gauze to her arm, he gave her a serious, but not unsympathetic, look. “Heat stroke can certainly cause a person to be unreasonable, but Bepo said you were yelling about not being ‘that monster’s property’. I know Law’s not the nicest guy around, especially when compared to Straw Hat, but he hasn’t done anything that would warrant that kind of reaction from you, has he?” he asked, eyebrows furrowing with genuine concern.

Blunt white teeth worried her lower lip. Part of her wanted to say he had—killing Harpin, threatening her, all the things he’d done to earn his reputation—but in reality, she’d seen much worse from other pirates, and he’d done enough halfway decent things—giving money to the jewelry seller, saving her from the Baron, his kindness towards his crew—that she couldn’t even bring herself to lie. “Well, no…”

“You don’t have to spill your life story, Nami; everybody has baggage and things that set them off. Everyone on board cares about you enough that we want you to feel happy and safe, but you need to trust us enough to tell us if we’ve done something to make you uncomfortable.”

She sighed. She may have been able to avoid this talk with Law, but it was clear Penguin wouldn’t be distracted by snarky jabs or petty fights. It was hard to argue with him, too, when it came from a genuine place of concern. And someone should know, right? At least a little bit? Enough to set some boundaries between her and the rest of the Heart Pirates. “Look, I admit, I was being a brat about the uniform, and Law’s stupid medication made things a hundred times worse, but when they started talking about tattooing your Jolly Roger on me…I snapped, ok?”

“Why?”

“Because I’m not one of you. You guys aren’t bad—better than most pirates, at least—but you’re not my crew.”

“What’s wrong with getting along with your allies?” he asked as he labeled the vial of blood and jotted a few things onto her chart. Most might think he wasn’t really paying attention to her, but Nami knew by now it was his way of giving her a small bit of space; putting her at ease by not making her feel like she was being scrutinized and judged.

Smoothing the blanket over her legs, she replied, “Nothing. The problem is when they refer to Luffy as my ‘old captain’ and act like I defected from the Straw Hats. I’m here for Luffy’s sake, and in two years, I’m going to be his navigator in the New World. Nothing is going to change that.”

“You’re pretty loyal to him, huh?”

She caught his eye, and with a look that left no room for argument, stated, “If it weren’t for him, my entire village would be dead and I’d still be forced to work for my mother’s murderer. I owe him everything, Penguin. He didn’t recruit me—he freed me.”

The first mate nodded in understanding. “Kind of like how Law freed Jean Bart?”

“You could say that.” She rubbed the spot where Arlong’s mark once lay, fingers absently tracing the scars. “Look, I’m sorry I ran off and worried everyone. I’m really sorry I attacked them. But—I was forced to join a pirate crew when I was ten. They pinned me down and branded me with their Jolly Roger so the whole world would know who I belonged to. I can’t…”

He held up his hand to cut her off. “I get it. Even if it was just a joke, they triggered some bad memories. I’ll tell the crew to ease up on calling you a Heart Pirate, and absolutely no talk of tattooing against your will. But it’s still ok to consider you our shipmate, right? At least for now?”

She gave a watery smile, using Law’s sleeve to wipe moisture from her eyes. Funny, she hadn’t even realized tears had formed. “Yeah. I can live with that.”

Jotting a few more things on her chart, he handed her the fresh set of pajamas and one of the towels. “Good. I’ve gotta go run these tests; go grab a shower in the meantime. I’ll be back in an hour with dinner and to take your vitals, and then you’re going to get a good night’s sleep. Those circles under your eyes don’t make you any less hot, but this ship isn’t big enough for two sleep-deprived, stubborn pirates.”

Despite his light tone, Nami frowned. “You’re going to tell everyone about my past, aren’t you?”

A warm, gentle hand rested on her shoulder, covering up Arlong’s scar. “Not if you don’t want me to; it’s not my place. What you went through…I’m not gonna lie and say I don’t want to murder the bastards who did that to you.” Nami could feel the tension in his fingers and heard his teeth grit in anger. It was clear he’d connected the dots between the scars and her story. “I mean, to brand a fucking child…”

“I’m ok,” she said softly, as much to herself as Penguin. “Luffy freed me. It’ll never happen again.”

“Damn right it won’t.” Taking a deep breath, he pulled away, once more composing himself. “I’ll just tell the crew that you’ve been through some shit in your life, and because of it, you wouldn’t leave Straw Hat any more than we’d leave Law, so we should ease up. They’ll understand.”

“Thank you.”

He gave her hand a quick, comforting squeeze. “You really should tell Law all this, though. You’ve seen how intense he gets, but if he knows he’s opening old wounds, he’ll back off. Guy’s got demons even I’m not privy to, so he’ll respect there are certain lines he shouldn’t cross.”

With a smile, Nami returned the gesture. “You’re probably right. You really are everyone’s big brother around here, huh?”

“I’m the first mate; it’s my job to keep things running smoothly and take care of disputes between shipmates.”

“In that case, could you do me a favor?”

XXX

The next morning Nami was rested, physically feeling better than she had all week, but worried about facing the crew. Despite the affirmations that nobody was upset that she had run off, at least not once they learned it was in response to improperly administered medication, she still felt nervous. Penguin had told them to ease up on treating her like she was part of the crew, but was that a good thing? Would they now treat her like an enemy, or hold her at arm’s length? Was the easy camaraderie she’d started to share with them over, sacrificed for the sake of maintaining her status as a Straw Hat?

However, despite her nerves, she had no reason to skip out on breakfast in the galley. Law had stopped by the infirmary long enough to Scan her and give her a clean bill of health (and also steal back his sweatshirt) while Penguin had come through with her request.

“Think these’ll smooth things over?” she asked the first mate, holding up three wrapped gifts.

Penguin shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t think you even needed to go this far—none of them were really angry, and you didn’t injure anybody. But it can’t hurt…though I can’t promise Ikkaku won’t still make you suffer just a little bit; in a way, it shows she cares. It’s when she goes completely cold with a person that you know you’ve fucked up.”

“You know this from experience?”

“When we went to Amazon Lily and most of us went gaga over the women there. I think the fact that we acted like we’d never even seen a woman before really hurt her pride. She’s a tomboy, but she’s still a girl, you know? Probably sucks when every guy on board forgets that. Flat-out wouldn’t talk to anyone but Bepo for a week—hell, the silent treatment ended only a day before you got here!”

The mention of Amazon Lily piqued her interest. Hadn’t Law mentioned they’d been there once? And apparently, it hadn’t been too long before she’d arrived. “Wait, Bepo was the only one she’d talk to? Did Law act like a lovesick idiot, too?” It was hard to imagine, but if the women of the island were as beautiful as stories said, anything was possible.

“No, but he made a pretty stupid comment that rubbed salt in the wound.”

Though Nami was curious as to what Law could have possibly said to piss off Ikkaku, she was forced to push that mystery aside as they’d arrived at the galley.

“Ready?” Penguin asked, watching for any sign of distress from the navigator out of the corner of his eye. Though he honestly felt she had no reason to worry about his crew’s reaction, he wouldn’t force her to confront them if she wasn’t ready.

Taking a deep breath and adjusting the packages in her arms, she nodded. “As I’ll ever be.”

The door opened to reveal the rest of the crew sitting at the various tables, sipping coffee and chatting quietly, a few catching up on what they’d missed over the past few weeks from the pile of newspapers. Several of them looked up and greeted her with sleepy hellos, and Nami nodded in acknowledgement, though her attention was mostly focused on the fact that, though there was bacon and eggs and a few rolls, breakfast seemed to mostly consist of assorted fruits.

From his spot at the table Law glanced over his shoulder at her and chuckled at bemused expression. “Morning, Nami-ya. Care for an apple? Winter melon? Kiwi? Apricot? Pomegranate?”

Her brow furrowed at his casual greeting. After he’d disappeared last night, she’d assumed things would be awkward between them. His brisk visit that morning had only reinforced that belief, but here he was, making cheeky comments with that smug grin of his.

Before she could question him, or the fruit, Penguin lightly nudged her shoulder. “You didn’t hurt anybody, but that gust of yours did upend a few fruit stands, so Ikkaku had to buy it all to keep the vendors from causing a scene. You never know who might be a spy for Jinzo in this town, and from what I heard, you earned yourself a place on his shit list.”

“Which is another reason you’re not to leave the sub until dinner tonight,” Law added as he took a bite of a bright red apple. He met her gaze as he chewed before saying with a smirk, “That’s an order, by the way. One you won’t have a problem following, right?”

Swallowing down her instinct to argue with him, she nodded stiffly. “Right.” Taking a deep breath, she walked over to the table, bowing deeply as she held two of her packages out to Shachi and Bepo. “I’m sorry for all the trouble I caused you yesterday. Please take these as a sign of my sincerity.”

“You didn’t have to, Nami,” the bear said, twiddling his claws. Despite his fur, one could almost see a pink blush on his cheeks. “Penguin explained what we did to set you off, and we weren’t upset at you.”

“Did Law get mad at you for losing me, though?”

His ears drooped. “Well, a little, at least at first—”

“Then I owe you an apology. I promised wouldn’t do anything to get Law mad at you, and I broke that within four hours of making it. You’re getting an apology gift.”

“Well, to be fair, you said you’d never intentionally get me in trouble…”

“Just take it, Bepo,” Law said, taking another bite of his apple. “You managed to get the greediest pirate on the Grand Line to willingly spend money on you; if you keep arguing, she’ll change her mind and charge you double for it.”

Nami glared at him, though it faltered when he threw her a conspiratorial wink.

“Well, ok,” the Mink agreed, taking the parcel at his captain’s encouraging nod. Shachi followed suit, though he appeared more suspicious than apprehensive.

“When exactly did you have time to get these?” he asked, eyes narrowing behind his sunglasses, “Because I sure didn’t see you buy anything that could be for us yesterday.”

Nami pointed at the first mate. “I made Penguin do the actual purchasing, but I told him what to get and it was my money he used to buy them. I never left the ship.”

Mollified, Shachi ripped off the wrapping paper, laughing heartily at the orca-shaped hat. “Oh, this is fucking perfect!”

“She asked me to get the ugliest, dumbest hat I could find,” Penguin said with a snort. “The local hat shop practically paid me take it of their hands. It’s like it was made for you.”

“Yup, and now you have to suffer for it!” he crowed, tossing away the green and pink hat and replacing it with the killer whale.

Meanwhile, Bepo happily tucked into the enormous salmon, fresh from the Grimm fish market. He spared a thumbs-up, declaring his approval of the gift, and Nami giggled. He was like Luffy, in a way; buy him lunch, and you were friends for life.

“Take it easy, Bepo; you’ll choke on a bone,” Ikkaku said from behind her. Nami turned to find the older woman shaking her head. “You really don’t have to do this; we’re all just glad that you’re safe. Honestly, I’d settle for an explanation,” she said with a meaningful frown, “but I also get opening up isn’t easy, especially to people who aren’t your crew.”

“Yeah, but given time, I might be willing to open up to a friend.” With a nervous smile, Nami held out a box. “I kind of owe you this anyway, so you’re taking it whether you like it or not.”

Without a word the engineer opened the box, eyes widening at the slinky, silver dress that glimmered back at her.

“Thanks, Nami,” Ikkaku said with a small smile. “This’ll be perfect for when we go out tonight.”

“You still wanna go?” Nami gave Law a sideways glance. “Assuming I’m even allowed.”

Ikkaku scoffed. “You’re my only female friend on this ship; like hell I’m giving that up over a little freak-out. And of course the captain’ll let you join me for Ladies Night,” she said, raising an eyebrow at the Dark Doctor in challenge. “Right, Boss?”

Law held up his hands in surrender. “So long as she stays with you and you’re both on your best behavior, I’ll allow it. After she has dinner with me.”

Beaming in triumph, Ikkaku bumped her hip into Nami’s. “See? We can do each other’s hair, and you can complain about whatever stupid thing Law says or does tonight over drinks.”

A bright grin lit up the redhead’s face. Penguin had been right—they really weren’t mad. “Sounds perfect. And I’ll pay you back for the fruit, too, since that was my fault.” Whatever the cost had been, it was well worth keeping Ikkaku’s friendship.

“Nah, don’t worry about it. Just meant we got our produce shopping done a little early. But if you’re that worried,” she said as she strolled over to her table, grabbed a plain white box, and sauntered back, handing it over to Nami with a grin, “here. A peace offering of my own.”

Brow furrowing in confusion, Nami peeked in the box, only to immediately slam the lid back down, face a brilliant scarlet.

“You. Bitch,” she ground out. Ikkaku was so lucky she hadn’t really opened it in front of everyone—what was she thinking? Dear God, what if Law had seen what was inside?!

“Just a little something to help you out when those trashy novels can’t get the job done,” Ikkaku cackled, ducking away as the blushing thief attempted to smack her over the head. “And now we’re even!”

“What’s in it, Nami?” Shachi asked, shit-eating grin telling her he already knew. “What’s in the box?”

“A severed head,” she lied, glaring at him, white-knuckled grip crushing the corners of the package.

“Is it one of mine? I think I misplaced one,” Law chuckled from his seat. He reached for the box, grin stretching his face. “Let me check.”

“Hands off!” she snapped, yanking it away. “It’s none of your damn business!”

Room.”

“Fuck you, Trafalgar!” she shrieked as the box vanished and reappeared on Law’s lap, replacing the apple he’d been munching on. Her attempt to retrieve the damning parcel was thwarted by Ikkaku grabbing her around the waist and spinning her around, laughing as she shrieked indignantly.

Opening the box, Law pulled out a pair of fuzzy black handcuffs. “Strangest looking head I’ve ever seen,” he said, twirling them around on one long finger. “Though full marks to whoever sculpted the dildo. Even got the veins right.”

The whole galley cackled as the blushing navigator buried her face in her hands, mortified. Part of her wanted to rip their tongues out, but another part accepted that she deserved this. Penguin hadn’t been kidding when he said she’d suffer, but she could also feel the mood lighten significantly.

“So, still up for Ladies Night after your dinner with the captain?” Ikkaku asked as she set her down, grin wide and unrelentingly smug as she threw an arm around her shoulders, playfully mussing her hair. “Or would Miss Straw Hat rather stay in and play with her new toys?”

Despite her humiliation, Nami felt a smile pull at her lips. “You’re an absolute bitch, Miss Heart Pirate, but yeah, I’m in. And for what you just put me through, you’re buying the first round.”

Chapter Text

As the clock struck seven, Nami critiqued her outfit in the mirror; a strapless little black dress that hugged her curves like a glove, gold stiletto heels, black thigh-high stockings, and the tourmaline jewelry she’d bought from the seller in Tokken. She even used the hairpins Law had gotten her to clip back the left side of her hair. She finished off the look with some dark red lipstick and gold smokey eyeshadow, giving herself an elegant but sensual look.

“Getting all dressed up for the captain?” Ikkaku teased from her bed. The engineer was thumbing through the romance novel she’d caught Nami with, and though it wasn’t her usual thing, had decided to give it a shot. After all, it had managed to entrance the usually energetic navigator for hours, and she had some time to kill before Ladies Night.

Brushing some gold highlighter over her cheekbones, Nami scoffed. “Please, I’m getting dressed up for you. Law’s just a lucky bastard who benefits due to scheduling.”

“I’m flattered,” she said with a wink. “Though I’ll understand if you ditch me to take him back to the nearest inn so he can rock your world. I mean, I won’t be happy, but I’ll understand.”

“Ok, I gotta ask—have you ever slept with Law? Because you’re always vouching for his sexual prowess…”

Ikkaku immediately made fake gagging sounds. “Oh, hell no! That’d be like fucking one of my brothers! But I have talked so some of his past lovers, and they all seemed pretty damn satisfied. Something a girl like you deserves to be.”

Hip jutting out and eyebrow raised in challenge, Nami replied, “How do you know they aren’t lying? Maybe he’s terrible in bed but they’re all too scared to speak ill of the Surgeon of Death, especially to one of his fearsome subordinates.”

The grin said subordinate graced her with was nothing short of salacious. “Because if he were bad, Drake wouldn’t keep coming back for more, even though Law pisses him off so much.”

Nami bit her lip to hide her grin. “Ok, fair point. Also, I want the inside scoop on that relationship.”

“If Law doesn’t give you the dirty details himself, I’ll happily fill you in,” she replied, sniggering. “Bet they’ll give you better fantasies than whatever’s in your books!”

Pink rose to the redhead’s cheeks as her eyes briefly darted to the space under her bed. Nami had shoved Ikkaku’s scandalous box to the very back corner to hopefully never see the light of day again. She dared not throw them out; she doubted Ikkaku would take kindly to it, and knowing her, would probably present her with something even more embarrassing in retaliation. “By the way, as much as I hate your stupid ‘gift’, thanks for not spilling that to everyone. At least, not directly.”

“I thought about it but figured the sex toys would be just as funny without the guys prying into your hobbies. Most of them have enough tact to keep them from teasing you about a dildo, but I doubt they’d show the same restraint if they found out you were into erotic novels.”

“You just want to lord my guilty pleasure over me, don’t you?”

“How’d you know?”

“I have a sister, remember?”

“Ha! Good point. I’m guessing she teases you about this stuff?” she asked, pointing to the book.

Chocolate eyes rolled in exasperated fondness as she played with her bracelet. “All the time. It was annoying, but I guess I appreciated it, in a way. It was one of the more normal things we could talk about, given how screwed up our situation was.”

“Because of the pirates holding your town hostage?”

“Yeah,” she replied, debating on whether she should elaborate. Finally, she added, “I was kind of an outcast among the townsfolk because I made sea charts for the captain. My sister was the only one who knew it was against my will, and that I had made a deal to raise money to buy the village back. Or at least, they all pretended not to know so if I ever decided to give up and run away, I wouldn’t feel guilty.”

“You know, I’m beginning to understand why you have so many trust issues,” Ikkaku quipped, though her eyes were sympathetic.

“Believe me, it was way worse before Luffy came into my life. If we’d met a year ago, I would have already betrayed you and stolen the ship and all the treasure on board.”

“You could try, but the Boss would kill you. He loves this ship and he does not take threats to his crew lightly.”

“I’ve noticed,” Nami deadpanned, adjusting her bodice. It was a sweetheart neckline, which nicely accented her generous bust, and had enough support to keep her from spilling out. Such a thing was extremely necessary, given the low back of the dress. Not long ago, she would have been nervous wearing something so daring around Law, but she was still leaning on the theory that he had a weird fetish for modest clothing. If she was right, showing this much skin would act as a repellant.

“He wasn’t too rough with you, was he?” Ikkaku asked, genuinely concerned. “I mean, he can get intense—”

“Oh, he was absolutely terrifying, and I’m pretty sure he was ready to start removing body parts if I hadn’t been having a panic attack, but honestly? I’d still choose him over Arlong.”

Before Ikkaku could ask any questions, there was a firm knock on the door. Grabbing her new purse and slipping into a leopard print, fur-trimmed coat, Nami nodded at her roommate. “Promise me a 9pm rescue?”

“Hmmm, only if I don’t get too caught up in this book,” she teased, cracking it open. “I mean, you did say there was some pretty intense eye contact to look forward to.”

Blushing, she shot back, “You laugh, but chemistry like that can be more intense than any make-out scene.”

“Says the virgin.”

Choosing to ignore the jab, Nami yanked open the door and was met by Law’s cocky smirk. To her surprise, he wore a tailored white suit with a black dress shirt, which brought out that extra little bit of olive in his skin tone. His polished black dress shoes gleamed as brightly as his earrings and the thick, gold chain around his neck. A heady, musky scent tempted Nami’s nose, and she realized Law’d chosen to wear some kind of cologne. Oddly enough, his white fur hat and tattoos didn’t seem as out of place as when he’d dressed up on Tokken Island; perhaps it was because this wasn’t a disguise, or the color was just far more complimentary to his trademark accessories. He looked slick and dangerous, but also at ease—a criminal on a night off.

Damn it, he looked even better than he had at the gala.

Leaning against the doorframe, Law’s grin widened at her perusal. “Do I pass inspection, Nami-ya?” he purred, giving her his own approving once-over.

Gold eyes locked with hazelnut as Nami cocked her hip. “Considering how you haven’t told me where we’re going, it’s a bit hard to judge. For all I know, you’re underdressed.”

“We’re going to a jazz club I frequent, so even if I showed up in jeans, they’d let me in—especially if I have a beautiful woman on my arm.”

“Flatter all you like, Law—you’re not getting out of footing the bill.”

Never breaking eye contact, he gave a little mock bow. “Of course not. A gentleman always treats on the first date.”

“I don’t know you’re more wrong about; that you think this is a date, that there’ll be more than one, or that you’re anything even close to a gentleman.”

“I think I proved myself at the gala. I was on my best behavior, wasn’t I?”

“Maybe in public, but the second we were alone, you went right back to being a bastard.”

A low whistle interrupted their banter, and Nami turned to see Ikkaku wiggling her eyebrows suggestively as she meaningfully glanced between them. “You know what, Nami? You may have a point with that ‘intense eye contact’ thing.”

Cheeks inflamed, Nami grabbed Law by the arm and dragged him down the hallway before Ikkaku could say anything else. As she felt the captain’s intense gaze burning into the back of her head, she silently wondered if a free dinner was worth it.

XXX

The outside of the jazz club was far from impressive—in fact, the entrance was a nondescript wooden door against a plain brick wall, its only ornamentation a faded bronze knocker and a number “8” nailed at the top. Nami was positive she would have walked straight past if Law hadn’t led her to it, pausing to quickly rap three times with his knuckles, then four with the knocker.

After a moment, the door opened, and they were greeted by a young woman dressed in a short skirt and tailored red vest. “Captain Trafalgar. So glad you could join us tonight.”

Law gave a lazy, familiar grin as he wrapped his arm around Nami’s waist. “Always a pleasure, Akari. Is my usual booth ready?”

“Of course, sir,” she replied, ushering them inside and leading them down a narrow, winding staircase.

As they stepped into the lounge, Nami’s eyes widened in surprise. The bland building façade hid a much more elaborate interior; everything from the bar to the floor to the wall panels were made of mahogany or cherry wood, with ruby red cushions, upholstery, and carpets. Red and gold lamps provided just enough light to see by while giving the place a sensual, mysterious ambiance.

At the far end of the room, low couches formed a semi-circle around the small dance floor in front of the stage, where various instruments and music stands awaited performers. Currently, the stage’s sole occupant was an older gentleman playing a soothing tune on the piano. There were a few larger tables scattered about, but most of the seating appeared to be small booths in the walls, their openings framed by red velvet curtains. Several were occupied by canoodling couples, and it didn’t escape Nami’s notice that a few even had the curtains drawn.

Akrai led them to an empty booth, and Law graciously helped Nami out of her coat, handing it to their hostess to hang up before sliding comfortably into his seat.

“Wow,” Nami said, taking it all in. Their seating arrangement was cozy but not claustrophobic, the velvet cushions that padded the crescent bench wonderfully plush. A gold lamp hung above the round table, allowing her to more easily peruse the embossed menu. Appetizers ranged from shrimp cocktail to deviled quail eggs, while entrees featured grilled seafood, roast duck, and steak. The drink list was extensive with an assortment of sparkling wines, cocktails, hard liquor, and even absinthe.

“I figured you’d approve,” Law replied smugly, lounging back in his seat. “And I told you I wasn’t underdressed.”

“I guess not. How’d you hear about this place?”

“It’s an establishment that first started in the North Blue—Prohibition Island decided it wanted to outlaw alcohol, among other ‘sinful’ things. The club’s owner was an entrepreneur from the West Blue, so she knew a thing or two about setting up businesses under the government’s nose. The original club became successful enough to branch out to other islands, and eventually made its way down the Grand Line.”

“I wouldn’t expect Grimm to ban alcohol,” Nami replied, brow furrowing in confusion. An archipelago that catered to pirates and other scum, which had a thriving black market and a brothel on every corner, but outlawed alcohol? The very idea was baffling.

Head shaking, Law chuckled, “Oh, it doesn’t, but Haiko-ya felt the atmosphere suited the clandestine aesthetic. This just happens to be a place where you can get quality booze and not worry about someone spiking your drink. She’s a criminal, but she has standards far higher than most of the island’s establishments.”

“You sound like you know her personally.”

He shrugged but gave a mysterious smile. “She’s Kimo-ya’s wife, actually. Considering all the business I do with her husband, she was happy to give me a lifetime VIP membership.”

A wave of paranoia sent a shiver down Nami’s spine. “What if she sells us out to Jinzo?”

“She won’t. She hates the man’s guts to an impressive extent. Hell, if she’s here tonight, she’ll probably give you special perks for ending up on his shit list.”

By that point, a young man in a red satin waistcoat appeared, smiling at the pair pleasantly. “Welcome back to Ruby 8, Captain Trafalgar. My name is Hansuke, and it’s my pleasure to serve you tonight. What can I get you to drink?” he asked, flipping open his notepad.

“I’ll have a neat whiskey,” Law said easily.

“A Sour Sunrise for me, please,” Nami said, pleased to find an orange juice-based cocktail. She flashed Law a catlike grin as she added, “And a bottle of your best champagne.”

“One glass or two?” the waiter asked, glancing at Law for confirmation.

“Two,” Law replied, smirking at Nami. “In fact, make sure there’s another bottle ready for when we finish the first one. We’re celebrating, after all, and I intend on giving my woman an unforgettable evening.”

“I’m not your woman,” she growled, but was ignored by both men.

“Of course, Captain Trafalgar,” Hansuke said with an eager nod. Men looking to impress were men who spent a lot of money, and if he did well, he might just earn himself a hefty tip. “Are you ready to order your meals as well, or do you need more time?”

“I know what I want,” said Law, barely glancing at the menu. “I’ll take the grilled salmon with the house salad.”

“I’ll have the orange duck, and can we also get a basket of rolls for the table, please?” Nami asked the waiter sweetly, fluttering her eyelashes for extra measure.

The young man nervously glanced between her and the scowling Supernova, clearly debating which one was better to please.

“I…let me check with the chef—I think he said something about running out,” he squeaked out before sprinting off.

“That was cruel of you, Nami-ya,” Law rumbled, fixing her with an annoyed glare, though sadistic humor twinkled in his eyes. “I told you, I’m a regular here. They know I despise bread and will decapitate anyone stupid enough to bring it to my table.”

With a huff, she crossed her long legs and flipped her hair haughtily. “Killing a waiter isn’t a great way to impress a girl and will definitely get you banned from any self-respecting restaurant—VIP or not.”

“I wouldn’t kill him—you forget, my powers allow me to cut a man to pieces and still keep him alive.”

“You should seriously still be banned.”

“They’ve served far worse patrons than me, and they know I’ll be on my best behavior and fill their pockets with plenty of belli so long as they don’t intentionally piss me off.” Lips turning up in an amused grin, he continued, “I’d say it’s a lesson you could stand to learn, sweetheart, but half the time I find your petty acts of defiance charming.”

“Does that include the sunburn I gave you?”

“No, though I did enjoy everything you did to distract me from it.”

The waiter returned to their booth with their drinks and a small tray of assorted meat and cheeses, smiling at Nami apologetically even as a drop of sweat trickled down his face. “I’m so sorry, miss, but it seems we’re out of bread this evening. Not so much as a crumb can be found. Please accept this complimentary charcuterie board with the house’s sincerest apologies.”

Annoying as it was that Law had the staff wrapped around his finger, she took pity on the poor man and gave an understanding smile. If the Surgeon of Death really was a regular at this place, she couldn’t blame him for not going along with her game. “Oh, this is just lovely! Thank you so much!”

Hansuke’s relief was palatable as he set down the tray and their drinks before running off to fetch the champagne.

“See? It’s things like this that keep me from getting too mad at you,” Law chuckled, popping a cube of cheese into his mouth. “I haven’t gotten a free appetizer since that time a new waiter insisted I’d ordered breadcrumbs on my salmon.”

“So, you tolerate me so long as I get you free stuff?” Nami quipped, taking a dainty bite of a slice of ham. It had a surprising fruity note and practically melted in her mouth. She’d have to tell Sanji about it. Hell, even Luffy might appreciate it, assuming he took the time to chew.

She swallowed a bit more harshly than she’d intended when Law leaned across the table, long fingers lightly stroking her elbow as he murmured, “I put up with your antics so long as you make it worth my while, Nami-ya. Keep that in mind next time you’re tempted to pull one of your little pranks.”

Despite pulling his hand away to pick up his drink, Nami could still feel tingling sparks dance across her skin. It really was ridiculous how a brush of his hand invoked that reaction. She was supposed to be more composed than that—a wily thief that didn’t mix business with pleasure—but while his overt come-ons could be annoying, his subtle touches and inviting glances still managed to tempt her. “Fine, but the fact that you’re willing to literally take someone’s head off over bread is way more childish than my ‘little pranks’,” she grumbled into her cocktail.

Whether Law heard her snarky comment or not, their conversation was briefly interrupted as the waiter appeared with the champagne, popping the cork and carefully pouring the bubbly liquid into a pair of elegant crystal flutes. “The sous chef has received your order and will of course be making it himself, Captain Trafalgar,” he said. “If you need anything else in the meantime, please, don’t hesitate to ask.”

“Thanks,” he said breezily, sipping his whiskey. “What time is the band scheduled to start up?”

“In less than a half-hour, sir. They’re currently on their dinner break, but I can ask—”

He waved him off. “I’m in no rush, and I’d rather they be at peak condition while performing. I don’t need my evening ruined because one of them fainted onstage from hunger.”

“Of course, sir. Regardless, I’ll inform them you’re in the audience. Anything else?”

“Time alone with my date would be ideal,” he replied in a clipped tone, raising an eyebrow meaningfully.

Nami could see the way the young man shivered at Law’s glare, and he skittered like a mouse back to the kitchen, wisely leaving the bottle behind.

“And you call me cruel,” she stated blandly as she savored another piece of ham.

“I’m all for attentive servers, but the constant sucking up was getting old.” Trying some of the meat for himself, he glanced at her appraisingly. “But enough about him. You’re a far more interesting subject.”

She frowned, brow furrowing suspiciously. “Am I?”

Linking his fingers and leaning his elbows on the table, he smirked. “Of course. Despite being on my ship for nearly three months, you’re still a mystery. A puzzle with so many missing pieces that I can’t yet visualize the total picture.”

“I could say the same about you,” she said, remembering the confusion she felt as he ran off the day before. “We’re both complex people who play their cards close to the chest.”

“That we are, but yesterday proved that a lack of communication between us can be detrimental to our working relationship, not to mention your health. I promise not to pry too much, and you don’t need to give me all the details, but I expect honest answers.”

Much as she wanted to argue, Penguin’s advice stopped her. The first mate was right; everyone had baggage, but how were people supposed to know her bugbears if she didn’t tell them? As worried as she was that a man like Law would be willing to exploit her weaknesses, he also had a point regarding how their communication issues had nearly gotten her killed. Even if it drudged up unpleasant memories, this was a necessary talk for the sake of side-stepping further unpleasantness. “Fine. I’ll open up—just a little—if you will.”

Resting his chin on his knuckles, Law took a minute to mull over his first question. “Tell me, Nami-ya, how’d you get the name ‘Cat Thief’, anyway? Rumor has it it’s been your moniker since well before the World Government issued your bounty.”

Taking a deep breath and a steadying swallow of her Sour Sunrise, she replied, “My…first captain was always comparing me to a kitten. Guess it was his way of praising me despite my species, since he saw humans as the lowest of the low.”

“Odd opinion.”

“Not for a Fishman.”

Leaning back against the plush velvet cushions, Law unlinked his fingers and munched on another piece of cheese. “Ah. A backhanded compliment. Better than a human, but still little more than a pet.”

“That about sums it up,” she said, pushing down the image of Arlong’s patronizing smile. God, some days she’d hated his condescending approval more than his disgusting hatred for her species. It made her feel dirty, being someone that a monster like him could admire.

Law rubbed his goatee thoughtfully. “No wonder you had such an extreme reaction to me calling you ‘kitten’. I’ll try to avoid it in the future. Still odd you’d adopt a feline signature, though.”

Shaking off her former captor’s vindictive smile, Nami shrugged, buying time before replying by nibbling on some cheese, even though she barely tasted it. “Guess it was a little out of spite; I wanted to take the word back and feel like I had just a shred of power. Didn’t really work, but it was still a good nickname for a thief.”

Perhaps he sensed her discomfort, but Law gently nudged the topic towards safer waters. “Fair. Shachi was the one who came up with ‘The Surgeon of Death’. Bit over-the-top, but I like it. Iconic, and definitely strikes fear into the hearts of my enemies.”

“Sounds like something from a comic book,” she scoffed as she finished her cocktail, moving on to the champagne. She knew she wouldn’t get drunk, but the bubbles tickling her palette would be a pleasant way to keep her mind from slipping into the past. Even without the meds in her system driving her towards panic attacks, she knew nothing good could come from dwelling too long on what Arlong had put her through.

“Like I said, it was Shachi’s idea. He was worried the Marines would give me something lame, so he and the crew went out of their way to mention it in every port we stopped in until they had no choice but to put it on my wanted poster.”

“I’m sure Drake had his own suggestions on what to call you.”

Law chuckled smugly, looking far too proud of himself. “Oh, I’m sure he did, but those posters are seen by the general public, so anything he’d propose would have to be censored. It’s probably why Eustass’ moniker is just ‘Captain’; either that or it’s a lame form of overcompensation.” His grin grew even more devious as he added, “First time we met, I deliberately acted like Killer was the captain, just to piss him off.”

Despite herself, Nami had to giggle. She’d only met Eustass Kid briefly, but he’d seemed the type to not take an insult lightly. With the highest bounty of the rookies, he was certainly someone she wouldn’t want to mess with. “You’re an asshole with a death wish, aren’t you?”

Law shrugged, knocking back the rest of his whiskey. The humor in his eyes dimmed. “Perhaps I do, just a little bit. I didn’t expect to live past the age of thirteen.”

“Why?” she asked curiously before she could catch herself. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

Face cast in shadow by the brim of his hat, he tersely replied, “I was a sickly child. My father was the best doctor in the providence, but even he couldn’t come up with a cure. Didn’t help that the world believed it was a contagious disease, so we had no outside help. I only survived because of the Ope Ope no Mi.”

“Your father must have been happy about that, at least.”

“He was killed years before I got my hands on it.”

Oh. I’m so sorry.” Her heart clenched at the thought. A dead parent before the age of thirteen. Wasn’t that a painfully familiar story? “Well, I’m sure he’d still be happy you survived.”

He shrugged again, watching the bubbles in his champagne flute pop to avoid meeting her sympathetic gaze. “He’d be disappointed that I became a pirate instead of following in his footsteps.”

“Maybe, but I think he’d accept it so long as you’re alive and happy. Bellemere was a Marine, but while she wouldn’t approve of her daughter becoming a pirate, she’d support my decision because I’m free and working towards my dream of drawing a map of the world.”

As he finally looked at her, Nami caught Law’s lips briefly twitch upwards. “I suppose we’ll never know, but it’s a pleasant fantasy, at least.” He gave a mock toast. “To the parents who wanted better for us.”

With a wry smile, Nami clinked her glass to his, the pair gulping down the sparkling wine just as their food arrived. Digging into her meal, she appreciated both the delicious flavor of the duck and the blessed break in the heavy conversation eating allowed.

Talking to Law about her past was far different from Luffy. Nojiko had informed her before they left Cocoyashi that her stubborn captain had opted out of hearing her backstory when she’d offered to reveal it. At first, Nami’d been offended—what, had he thought her reasons for betraying the crew and faking Usopp’s death didn’t matter? But then she realized that, even without knowing who Arlong was or what he’d done to her and the villagers, Luffy had still gone after him.

All because that bastard had made his navigator cry.

As they’d sailed for Loguetown afterwards, Nami had pulled Luffy aside one night, sat him down, and told him everything. Not because he needed to know, but because a man like that was someone who deserved to know. Deserved to know the awful things she’d endured and done to survive. Why he’d found her mutilating her shoulder, cutting off that awful tattoo. Why she was so grateful he’d destroyed that room and all of the charts she’d toiled over for eight years. Why his refusal to give up on her had meant the world to the distrustful thief.

For his part, Luffy had listened quietly, occasionally nodding his head to show he was paying attention, an unusually patient and serious expression on his face. When she was finished, he’d clapped her shoulder, gave her that carefree, goofy grin, and simply said, “Now I’m really glad I punched that jerk!”

Law wasn’t like that. While he didn’t pry, he did ask questions, clearly seeking those missing puzzle pieces he spoke of and not taking her answers at face-value. Admittedly, they had been pretty bare-boned, but it highlighted the difference between the two captains—Law sought to understand because he didn’t fully trust her. Luffy didn’t need to understand, because he trusted her from the moment she’d refused to fire a cannonball at him.

Looking at Law’s nearly-finished plate, she had to suppress a giggle as another difference between him and Luffy hit her—his chewing habits might have left something to be desired, but at least he knew not to eat the fish’s skeleton.

Noticing his companion’s attention had returned to him, Law took a sip of champagne as he considered her. “You mentioned your ‘first captain’. I’m assuming this wasn’t Mugiwara?”

Nami sighed, setting down her fork to drink from her own glass, hoping the sharp beverage would wash away the foul taste talking more about Arlong would inevitably bring. “No. Before Luffy, I served as the cartographer for another pirate crew for eight years.” She deliberately didn’t mention she was an officer—it was easier for people to accept she was a prisoner when it didn’t sound like she was in a position of authority. Perhaps that was why Arlong had “promoted” her, even though she had no real power among the Fishmen. “He…his crew invaded my village when I was ten and made everyone pay for the right to live. Bellemere only had enough money to save her own life, or mine and Nojiko’s.”

“And, of course, she sacrificed herself to protect her children.” Law shook his head, and for a moment, Nami swore she saw a wince of pain, but the amber light made it hard to tell. “Eight years…I know captains who recruit kids so they can brainwash them into loyal subordinates, but he killed your mother. I doubt you joined him willingly, after something like that?”

“Believe me, I didn’t,” she growled. Hands shaking slightly, she instinctively grabbed her knife, holding it like the dagger she’d used to fake Usopp’s death and destroy her tattoo. “Working for my mother’s murderer was nothing short of torture. Day and night I drew maps for him until my hands bled, barely allowed to sleep or eat. And all the while he acted like he was doing me a favor, since cartography was what I loved most in the world.”

The word DEATH entered her field of vision as Law covered her trembling hand with his own. The warmth was comfortingly familiar at this point, and she felt her white-knuckled grip on the cutlery slacken. “Don’t worry; I do believe you,” he said softly, catching her gaze with his own. His expression was soft and concerned—similar to the way he’d looked at her last night in the infirmary. “You’ve shown yourself to be loyal to those you care about, and we’ve all done awful, painful things for the sake of survival. And I have to say, you may actually have a stronger will than me—I doubt I would have lasted a week serving the captain who murdered someone I held dear.”

“Yeah,” she said, breathing deeply, willing herself to calm down. Law’s thumb rubbing little circles across her knuckles was surprisingly helpful with that. It gave her something to focus on; to ground herself instead of letting the memories take over. Rough as the callouses from his swordsmanship and hard life at sea were, they were still so much smoother than the sandpaper-like skin of a shark Fishman. So blessedly human. “I guess…I guess you were right, though; if you’re not strong enough to protect yourself, you’re the property of someone who was strong enough to claim you.”

“I know I’m right, but I wish I weren’t. I’m assuming this first captain of yours has something to do with your dislike of my uniform?”

“You could say that.” She sighed, jerking her chin towards her left shoulder, the faint scars beneath her swirling tattoo barely visible in the dim light, but neither had to see them to know they were there. “One of the first things he did was have me branded with his Jolly Roger to make sure I couldn’t run off. So the whole world would know I was his property.”

Much like Penguin, Nami could see the dots connecting in Law’s mind. He’d recognized right away that the scars were self-inflicted, but now that he knew what had once been in their place, he could deduct why she’d caused herself such grievous harm. She felt his fingers tighten around her own, first in anger, before easing into a comforting squeeze. With forced calm, he said, “Considering how often Fishmen and Mermaids are sold as slaves, it was probably just as much a petty form of revenge. Still, I guess that explains your objection.” Frowning, he rubbed his forehead beneath his hat with his free hand. “Look, I can’t promise you’ll never have to wear the uniform again. Like it or not, it really is the easiest way to keep you safe.”

Deep down, she appreciated his apology and understanding, even as she inwardly groaned at the thought of wearing the beige jumpsuit. “It also made me a target,” she argued. “Drake wouldn’t have looked twice at me if I’d been in my normal clothes.”

“Please, Drake-ya reads the news and would have gone after you regardless of what you were wearing. He’s smart enough to recognize a dangerous alliance when he sees one, or at least an opportunity to get a leg up. Pitiful as your bounty is, getting his hands on a lone Straw Hat, especially one who was able to rob a former Marine Intelligence officer’s mansion, would be quite tempting.” A wide, predatory grin stretched across his face as he leaned forward, resting his chin on his fist as he leered at her. “Though, personally, I think he was jealous that I’d found a new redhead to play with.”

Nami snorted, the tension in her back loosening. Creepy as he was, Law was smart, steering the conversation away from the past and the world’s speculation on their partnership to something they could casually fight about. “Are you kidding? I think he was relieved; with me around, he doesn’t have to deal with you bothering him anymore.”

“If that were the case, he wouldn’t have tried to abduct you.”

“In case you’ve forgotten, he was trying to ‘rescue’ me; Drake’s a real gentleman, unlike you,” she quipped, taking a condescending sip of her drink.

“Oh, yes, a real gentleman who kidnaps and threatens to sell off unwilling women,” Law replied sarcastically.

“Better than a pervert who makes a girl wear an ugly uniform to indulge his weird sexual fetish.”

“…my what now?”

Confident that she’d just played a winning hand, she leaned forward, bending her chest slightly over the table. “Please, I see right through your little act. Sure, you flirt and tease, but only if I’m fully dressed.” The tip of a manicured finger teasingly traced along the swell of her cleavage. “When I’m wearing next to nothing, you show no interest in my incredibly sexy body. Given your proclivities, I’m surprised you even helped me out of my coat.”

Blinking owlishly, Law replied, “I’m sorry, you think I’m attracted to you…when you’re wearing more clothes?”

“Yeah!” she insisted, not caring for his disbelieving tone.

He covered his face with one large, tattooed hand, but through his splayed fingers Nami could still see yellow eyes light up with amusement. As she glared, they only shone brighter, and his shoulders slowly began to shake. Gradually, low chuckles slipped from his lips, finally morphing into full-on laughter, his palm failing to muffle the sound.

An irritated vein throbbed in Nami’s forehead as Law continued to cackle. “Don’t think you can fool me by treating this like a joke! You have a clothing kink! During my initial check-up, you didn’t give a damn that I was strutting around in my underwear. At the mansion, you were all over me when I was in that gown, but once it’s off, woosh, I’m as attractive as a lamp! Even after the mission, you barely even acknowledged what a hot piece of ass I am. Then you insist I wear that freaking jumpsuit…”

“Nami-ya,” he chortled as his hand dropped back to the table, managing to calm down enough during her rant to formulate a reply, “I don’t have a clothing kink—I’m just good at compartmentalizing and know there’s a time and place. When we were in the infirmary, not only was I acting as your doctor, but it was clear you were too nervous to be receptive to any blatant advances. As for the mansion, yes you looked absolutely delicious in that bodysuit, but we were there to do a job; there was simply no time to indulge myself. And when I treated your wounds,” his smile fell a bit, “you’d just been through a potentially traumatizing event. You were flinching just from me touching your calf. I know I can be an asshole, but did you really expect me to come onto you when you were acting like I was Harpin?”

For a moment, Nami just sat there, jaw hanging uselessly as she realized just how far off her theory had been, and most importantly, just how badly she’d managed to embarrass herself. Her own vanity had blinded her to the obvious answer. She could justify it with the fact that most of the guys she knew were either perverts or barely acknowledged that she was a woman, so she wasn’t used to a man who could both flirt and control himself, but she wouldn’t lie to herself.

“So…the uniform isn’t some weird sexual thing?” she asked, trying to cover her humiliation by finishing her glass of champagne. Times like these made her really wish she could get drunk; it would be the perfect excuse for her ridiculous accusation.

“I mean, I won’t lie and say I don’t like you in it, but it really is just for your own protection.” Law’s returning grin was smoldering and devilish as he purred, “I’m curious, though, about what bothered you more; that I might have a strange fetish for fully-clothed women, or that I wasn’t giving your incredibly sexy body the attention you felt it deserved?”

“I…”

He shuffled closer, sliding across the booth to close the distance between them, resting his right arm across the back of her seat and teasingly trailing the fingers of his left land along the soft skin of her jaw to cup her chin. “Because if it’s the latter, I’m happy to show you just how much I appreciate it when you run around my ship in crop tops and booty shorts.”

Nami blushed, realizing she’d played directly into his hands.

“You know, one of the reasons I like redheads so much is how vibrantly they blush,” he chuckled, leaning down so his breath danced across her sensitive neck and ear. The way she’d pinned her hair meant she had no shield from it, and she shivered at the sensation. “It’s so cute, watching the capillaries that carry your blood widen as adrenaline rushes through you. No matter how good a person’s poker face is, the body doesn’t lie. Lets me know my target’s receptive to my flirting, even when they stubbornly refuse to admit it.”

“You base it all on a blush?” she countered, defiantly poking him in the chest. “People blush in anger and embarrassment. You can’t assume someone wants you just because their face gets a little red.”

Like a leopard sizing up his prey, Law loomed above her, gaze analytical and hungry as he studied her. “No, you’re right; good thing, as a doctor, I know all the other physical indicators of arousal.” Tilting her head up, he stated, “Dilated pupils.”

His hand dropped from her chin to carefully brush along the flesh of her arm. “Goosebumps.”

Long fingers encircled her wrist, thumb resting over her pulse. “Increased heartrate.”

Honey eyes dropped to Nami’s mouth as the tip of her pink tongue peeked out to moisten her suddenly dry lips. “Unconsciously licking one’s lips.”

Releasing her wrist, Law’s touch traveled back up her arm to gently stroke the ends of her mikan hair. “And the fact that you haven’t even tried to move or push me away. In fact, I’d say you’re leaning into my touch.”

Nami’s face warmed further as she realized he was right. Mentally she berated herself, but deep down, she was beginning to accept that, even if she refused to act on it for pride and professionalism’s sake, she was slightly addicted to his attentions. She was never short on male admirers, but Law challenged her, the push-and-pull giving her a thrill the way heart-eyed fools like Sanji failed to. There was something about Law that drew her in like a moth to a flame—she knew it was fatal to get too close, but damn it, she couldn’t help but dance with danger.

Winding a short, orange lock of hair around a long finger, Law declared confidently, “All this says you find me sexually attractive.”

Before she could confirm or deny this claim, an excited voice bellowed, “As I live and breathe, Trafalgar Law graces us with his exalted presence once again!”

Said captain’s seductive grin shifted into his trademark smirk as he turned to greet the newcomer. “Are you living and breathing, Hiroshi-ya?”

The man chuckled, grabbing Law’s hand in a firm shake. Beneath a silver fedora his graying hair was cut close to his scalp. His skin was dark but sported prominent laugh-lines, a pair of oval sunglasses rested on the end of his large nose, and his brilliant grin could have replaced one of the stage’s spotlights. “If I’m not, you’d probably know before I did, doc.”

“Because I’m that good, or because you’d be too focused on performing to realize you’d dropped dead?”

The two shared a laugh before the man turned to introduce himself to Nami. “Hope I wasn’t interrupting a moment, here, darlin’, but I simply had to come over and say hello. The name’s ‘Devil’s Fingers’ Hiroshi, and your boy Law here is one of my favorite patrons. Tips well, and he saved my life.”

“I only fixed your hands.”

“Considerin’ how they’d been crushed beyond recognition and I need those to make a living, I think that counts.”

Nami gaped in shock as Hiroshi held up his hands, showing that while they were clearly in working order, they were littered with tiny surgical scars.

Law shrugged, though he seemed pleased with the praise. “It was a fun operation—not every day you get to remove someone’s finger bones one-by one to rebuild your favorite musician’s hands.”

“You put someone else’s bones into him?” Nami asked the surgeon, astounded.

“Of course,” Law said casually. “His own were absolutely pulverized, so a transplant was necessary if he ever wanted to play the saxophone again.”

Part of her was horrified at the mental image, but beneath that, something niggled at her. This was the second time she’d heard someone sing Law’s praises as a legitimate doctor, and unlike Reginald, Hiroshi seemed perfectly aware of the Surgeon of Death’s criminal activities and sadistic reputation. What reason did Law have for helping this man? Was it just because he liked his music?

“Well, I’d best get ready for the show, and I’m sure you want some more alone time with your girl, eh, Law?” Hiroshi teased, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

“I’d certainly appreciate a little mood music,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a few large bills.

“You got it,” the sax player sniggered, winking at Nami. “Hope you don’t mind, but we’ll be stroking your boy’s ego a bit. After the surgery, I wrote a little ditty about him as thanks, and it’s become pretty popular with the crowd. Plus, it’s the only time Oscar lets me take over as the lead singer.”

“Law strokes his own ego plenty,” Nami groused, eyes rolling heavenward. “And if you want to write about him, go for his flaws; there’s enough of those to fill an opera.”

“Oooo, she’s feisty! Have fun with that, doc!” he chuckled as he strolled off towards the stage.

“I plan to,” Law purred, turning back towards the woman beside him. “I just can’t resist a fiery ginger.”

“Speaking of,” Nami deflected, hoping to keep the conversation from returning to their original topic, “you and Drake, huh?”

He chuckled at her obvious ploy but proceeded to go along with it. “Ah, one of my favorite playmates. What do you want to know?”

“I mean, let’s start with how the hell that happened?”

“You mean, how did the golden boy of the Navy find himself thoroughly seduced by the North Blue’s most notorious rookie pirate?”

“Yeah. Mainly because Drake seems smart enough not to fall for your sleazy tricks. Or at the very least, composed enough to ignore them until you lose interest.”

Refreshing their glasses of champagne, he gave a wolfish smile. “So you’d think, but Drake-ya’s got an instinctual, animalistic side that’s just so much fun to rile up. Besides that, I observed his physical reactions whenever we crossed paths, and wouldn’t you know it? They were damningly similar to yours.”

Picking at the remains of the charcuterie board, she munched on a piece of cheese to keep her body’s natural responses under control. Keep it together, she thought stubbornly. Even if I did mix business with pleasure, there’s no way I’m letting him win. “Pretty sure the heat of battle elicits similar responses. I think you were just looking for clues that weren’t there in a desperate attempt justify a hopeless crush.”

Her sass received a sharp laugh in reply. Handing Nami her glass, Law brushed the tips of his fingers over hers as he stated, “Maybe, but my theory was undeniably proven when Penguin, Ikkaku and I snuck onto his ship and found him moaning my name while jerking off in the shower.”

Nami nearly choked on her drink, the bubbly wine burning as it tried to make its way up her nose. No wonder Penguin wanted to repress that, she thought, mortified for the poor first mate. She’d probably feel the same way if she’d overheard someone masturbating to the thought of Luffy. “Oh my god.”

“You should have heard the things he was saying—fuck, harder Law! Put that dirty mouth to good use, you bastard!” Law moaned in her ear, mimicking his rival’s deep, guttural growl.

“M-maybe he had a hard-on for justice. You know, the actual law,” she argued weakly. She didn’t even really know why she bothered—it was clear he’d been right, considering how he and Drake had fucked at least once, but she just felt a need to try to knock him down a few pegs and keep his ego in check.

“Mmm, do you really believe that?” he hummed, honey eyes regarding her with amusement as he took a sip of his drink. “I think you’re just looking for clues that aren’t there in a desperate attempt to justify your need to be contrary.”

“Oh, shut up,” she grumbled, downing her drink and pouring the last of the bottle into her glass. “Fine, so Drake was utterly repressed from his time in the Navy and you were able to use that to get him into bed.” A thought came to her, and she raised her eyebrow curiously. “Wait, he didn’t leave the Marines because he fell in love with you or something, right?” That…would be kind of tragic, actually. Despite the sexual tension, the two Supernova hadn’t seemed to be on the friendliest of terms, so if Drake had defected for Law only for their relationship to sour…

“God, no,” he laughed, finishing off his own glass of champagne. “Drake-ya was dishonorably discharged not long after he massacred a village rumored to be sheltering pirates. He may seem honorable and composed, and I’ll admit he usually tried to avoid senseless cruelty, but when situations called for violence, he was cold-blooded and bloodthirsty. I think his family history also played a role; his father had defected and turned pirate, so I imagine there was a bit of a glass ceiling Drake-ya knew he’d never overcome.”

“And you know this how?”

“Pillow talk.”

Nami mulled his words over carefully. “Was Drake close to his father?”

“From what he told me while completely shitfaced, Diez Barrels had once been a Marine Drake-ya wanted to emulate, but when he switched sides, he was nothing short of an abusive monster.”

Pity welled up in Nami’s heart at the implications. “Poor guy.”

“You do remember this is the same man who tried to kidnap you, right?”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean it must not have sucked for him; looking up to someone, wanting to be just like them, only to be let down in spectacular fashion.”

For a brief moment, Law tilted his head, the brim of his hat casting a shadow across his face, but his voice was tight as he replied, “Enough about Drake-ya.” Clearing his throat, he turned to catch their waiter’s eye, pointing to the empty bottle of champagne. When his gaze returned to Nami, his tone was back to normal. “I’m getting a little jealous with all this talk about another man.”

She frowned. Nami could tell she’d hit a bit close to home there. Had Law once looked up to someone? Part of her wanted to pry; the man was uncharted waters, and the cartographer in her itched to discover his secrets and map them out.

But more than anyone, she respected wanting to keep a painful history private. “Then what do you want to talk about? Because if you want any more of my past, you’re going to need to buy me more than another bottle of champagne,” she replied before knocking back the final sip.

He raised an eyebrow, impressed. “You drank quite a bit of that, Nami-ya, and yet I’m not noticing any signs of inebriation. It seems Mugiwara wasn’t exaggerating when he bragged about your tolerance.”

“Please, this is nothing—Zoro and I could drink whole taverns dry and still walk a straight line. Hell, it was one of my favorite ways to swindle pirates; get in good with the crew, outdrink them, then swipe their treasure while they were all passed out.”

“Interesting. You may be physically weak, but your liver sounds formidable.”

The lights, dimmed, and Nami glanced around curiously. Law chuckled, drawing her closer and pointing towards the stage. “Looks like the show’s about to start,” he murmured in her ear as he settled in, the arm around her waist telling her that she wasn’t moving for at least the duration of the song.

The band played a low, steady beat as a handsome man in a white silk blazer escorted a curvaceous woman with bold red hair wearing a silver dress onto the stage, the spotlights hitting the sequins in a way that nearly distracted from the daring slit and sexy black garters underneath. Turning her back to the crowd, she swayed her hips to the rhythm as the man took the microphone.

“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen,” he drawled, tossing the crowd a smirk that could give Law’s a run for its money. “We’ve got a great night in store for you. I see a lot of new faces out there—as well as some familiar ones—so I’m not gonna yammer on too long. I want you to sit back, enjoy the service, the scenery, but most of all, enjoy the show.”

As he finished, he signaled to the band, who immediately transitioned into a smooth but lively tune, Hiroshi’s saxophone front-and-center, and the red-haired woman turned around, sensually dancing with the emcee as he began to sing.

It ain't no big thing
to wait for the bell to ring
It ain't no big thing
The toll of the bell

Aggravated, spare for days
I troll downtown the red-light place

Jump up bubble up - what's in store?
Love is the drug and I need to score

Enthralled, Nami watched as the pair performed, the song turning into a duet as they moved, the woman’s low, husky voice sending a thrill down her back. Or perhaps it was Law’s fingers stroking idly along her side—far from his groping in the alley, but the light touch was just as hot. Thighs clenched as the male singer bent the woman over suggestively, and she hoped Law was too focused on the show to notice her aroused blush. She didn’t want to imagine herself and the Supernova next to her in their place, but with the woman’s red hair and the man’s cocky smirk, it was really difficult not to picture the sensual scene the song suggested—her and Law stumbling around a dark room, locked in a passionate embrace, until finally they made it to the bed…

God, she joked about Drake being repressed to give in to an asshole like Law, but clearly, she was just as pent-up.

When the song ended, Nami let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, quickly going for her refilled champagne, gulping it down to wet her suddenly dry mouth. She hadn’t even realized Hansuke had refreshed their drinks as she hadn’t been able to pry her eyes from the stage, too lost in the song and her fantasy.

Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Law smirking in an all-too-knowing manner, but before he could comment, they were once more interrupted, only this time by the gorgeous singer who had left the stage to visit their table.

“Captain Trafalgar,” the red-haired woman purred, voice husky with an edge of a rough accent that somehow made her even more glamourous, “I heard you were back in town.”

“Excellent opening act, Haiko-ya, as usual,” Law replied, standing up to gallantly kiss her hand. “Oscar may be your prized vocalist, but everyone knows you’re the real star up there.”

“You charmer. Still sure you don’t want to quit piracy and come work for me?” she asked with an inviting smile. “I could use a man of your talents.”

“I’m sure you could, but as much as I like this club, staying in one place just doesn’t appeal to me. I like to wander, you know.”

“Pity, but you can’t blame a woman for trying. After all, who wouldn’t want a skilled doctor and enforcer on her payroll? Especially with my husband’s…accident,” she replied, tone suddenly going sour.

“I assume Jinzo’s challenging your claim to Kimo-ya’s share of the business?”

“Oh, he’s doing more than that—he’s trying to compete against my business. Opening his own club and even a few brothels so he can steal my clientele—rumor has it that’s why he’s being so stingy with his black market clients. His recent investments have put him in the red, and he he’s going to have to do something drastic to recoup the cost.”

For a brief moment Law frowned, though his lips soon turned back up into his calculating, sadistic grin. “Until then, his broken promises could earn him quite a few enemies.”

“Oh yes. I hear X Drake in particular was extremely pissed that Jinzo didn’t have his money today.”

“He was even more so when I told him that there’s no way he’d planned on paying his asking price.”

Haiko tsked. “Oh dear. It would be such a shame if some frustrated client were to cross Jinzo’s path before his latest business venture can properly take off.”

Behind them, Nami swallowed audibly, catching onto their intentions. Law glanced at her over his shoulder before returning his attention to Haiko. “Now’s not a great time to talk business, but perhaps we could continue our chat after the show. Jinzo’s trying to screw over a lot of treacherous people, myself included, and while I’m not interested in your job offer, I’d be happy to negotiate a deal that could benefit us both greatly.”

Her blood red lips curled upwards, eyes alight with interest. “Meet me in my office at nine-thirty sharp—it would be a pleasure doing business with you.”

“Before you go, I want to introduce you to my date,” he drawled, gently tugging Nami out of her seat. “Haiko-ya, this is Cat Thief Nami.”

“Ah, the woman who swindled Jinzo out of a lot of money,” the businesswoman replied, pleased smile fixated on the younger woman as she shook her hand.

“Does everybody know about that?” Nami squeaked.

“Oh, darling, it was the best piece of news I’ve heard all day. And not everyone knows—yet. I just happen to have a few eyes and ears stationed close to him so he doesn’t try to do to me what he did to my darling Kimo. I may not be able to prove he was involved, but it never hurts to be ready for anything.”

“Very true,” Law agreed. “So, I’ll see you at nine-thirty?”

Haiko blew him a kiss as she sauntered off. “Absolutely. And as thanks for embarrassing that piece of shit, your drinks are on me tonight. Keep it up, Miss Cat Thief, and you might just earn a VIP membership here, too.”

Nami couldn’t keep herself from staring as the woman left. Beautiful and glamourous though she was, she totally believed Haiko was the sort who would slit a man’s throat with a smile. She had a dangerous aura about her, and given how casually she and Law spoke, Nami was certain an ill wind was blowing.

“You two are going to do something to Jinzo, aren’t you?” she asked, sweat prickling at the back of her neck. She had no sympathy for the man, but she hoped whatever Law was planning didn’t involve her; the last thing she wanted was to get caught in the middle of an underworld power struggle.

“Mmmm, don’t worry your pretty little head over that, sweetheart,” Law purred as he tugged her towards the stage. His eyes were half-lidded and inviting, and Nami’s breath caught in her throat as her heart stuttered. Maybe it was just the aftereffects of Haiko’s performance, but the heat between her legs begged her not to resist him. “Ikkaku’s due to steal you away from me soon, so I’m not wasting another second.”

“What are you doing?” she asked, voice barely more than a whisper.

One hand clasped hers as the other wrapped around her lower back. “It dawned on me that, with how busy you were pick-pocketing rich assholes at the gala, I never got a dance with you. We’re going to remedy that. And wouldn’t you know it?” he rasped, leaning in so close his lips ever-so-slightly brushed her ear. “They’re about to play my song.”

Though initially thrown by his sudden change of tone and forwardness, Nami quickly realized from the feeling of hard wood beneath their feet that he’d led them onto the dancefloor. Before she could protest or break away, Hiroshi noticed them, tossing a wink and pointing them out to the male singer from earlier. Oscar quietly chuckled as he handed over the microphone, even giving a playful bow before stepping over to a xylophone.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are graced with the presence of the man who inspired this next song, the one and only Dr. Heart Stealer!”

As the music began, Law swept her into a dance, easily leading her in time to the lively beat.

Why is everyone so impatient?
Recklessly jumping into things
Crushing backstabbing

To achieve your goal
Sometimes you just need to dive deep, hide yourself
Scan the situation, that's all

Welcome to Trafalgar's ROOM
Look into the mirror and see
Are you who you really are?
Welcome to Trafalgar's ROOM
Shall I steal what's most precious to you?

Dr. Heart Stealer

Once you're addicted, you can never escape...

As Hiroshi crooned the lyrics, Nami forced herself to focus on keeping pace with Law, and not on the surprising suggestiveness of the lyrics or the heat of the doctor’s palm on her exposed back. There were mere inches between them—enough space to properly move, but still so close that their breaths and body heat mingled. He was a surprisingly good dancer, too, gently guiding her across the polished floor in time to the beat, giving the occasional spin and dip, all while those golden, hungry eyes never left hers.

If something's important, hide it away
Once you shout about it out loud
It's just too naive, so sickening

Waiting is not a futile thing
With enough clinical data
You won't make a mistake, there'll be no trouble

Welcome to Trafalgar's ROOM
It'll be over once your space's safety is breached
Welcome to Trafalgar's ROOM
Because I know what's most precious to you

Dr. Heart Stealer

Once I set my target, I'll definitely get it

Don't run away, come join me
Show me how you dance

Welcome to Trafalgar's ROOM
Look into the mirror and see
Are you who you really are?
Welcome to Trafalgar's ROOM
Shall I steal what's most precious to you?

Dr. Heart Stealer

Once you're addicted, you can never escape...

At last the song came to an end, and while Nami wanted to blame her breathlessness on the dancing, she knew at least a little of it had to do with the way Law was looking at her. His intense stare sizzled her skin pleasantly, and she had no choice but to admit that, as much as she wanted to fight it, the song was right.

If she let herself get addicted to him, she’d never escape.