Law's brain flopped back to awareness with all the grace of a deep-sea creature, wrenched from its home and splattered, jelly-like, onto the floor of a fisherman's boat. First there was the confusion, where was he…? - but that he placed quickly enough. Hotel room; they were all so similar that they blended together after a while. Unfortunately, even in his foggy, half-aware state, Law knew he wasn't alone.
He was lying on his back, eyes slitted open and staring at the ceiling. The knots in the wood stared back. A low-grade hangover was settling in nicely, right behind his forehead. How long had he even been out? Not enough for it to be morning; it was still dark, the room's only light coming from the streetlamps outside. Law could've very easily just shut his eyes and said fuck-all to the consequences he'd inevitably awake to find in another couple of hours. It was a deeply tempting proposition. He even drifted off, only waking fully when the person beside him shifted and grunted.
Oh no. No, there would be no sleeping after that. It'd only been a grunt, but Law could swear he knew that voice…
He clenched his eyes, squeezing until black static popped against their lids. Think, he commanded. It was challenging. And painful. How did he ever allow himself to drink enough to be this hungover? It was very unlike him, and Law knew he must've had help -
Help, his brain squeaked as the realization struck.
There was only one person who could bring him to such ruin. Eustass.
That was who he'd been out with all night. That was with whom he'd, apparently, crawled all too happily into bed. As disturbing as it was, Law knew his predicament was one of his own making; Eustass never could've taken him in a fight. The man was a brute but a total fool, his tactics having the creativity of two bricks being smashed together until the weaker one crumbled. By their first meeting, it'd been woefully apparent to Law - though clearly not to Eustass - that it would be to the latter's great disadvantage should they ever come to blows. To date, Eustass had done nothing which would change his mind. If the bastard had managed to justify his truly atrocious personality by at least being effective in battle, that would've been one thing. But he wasn't. So not only was he a vapid boor, but a vapid, brutish, useless boor.
A minor, vindictive smile threatened at the corners of Law's mouth; he always felt better when he could find at least a few things about Eustass which were repulsive. It made up for how attractive the stupid bastard was - a surface level appeal, if you wanted to call it anything at all. Law despaired for what his libido saw fit to perk up and notice - it wasn't like it was particularly rambunctious in the first place. Ugh, at least he could place clear blame for this current ordeal on that treacherous impulse. Why couldn't his cock have had the good sense to go after the bartender? Or at least someone, anyone else. Someone Law would have the good fortune to never see again. Someone who didn't make a habit of barging into his life like they owned the place.
Instead of shame, he felt betrayal - that he could have so little self-control, even inebriated. Was he so desperate that he'd jump on the first man who showed an interest? Eustass wasn't the first, but he was the most persistent. He was also the most attractive, a pull that Law felt even through the thick layers of his hangover, like a little tug behind his navel. Whatever Eustass had, Law wanted more of it - even if he couldn't identify what it was he wanted, and even if his desire existed solely on a base level. When it came to Eustass, all he really had was wanting.
Whatever; it made no difference. A man dying of thirst would drink even putrid water. When given the opportunity, Law would drink down Eustass in double-fisted handfuls and demand more. He fought to remember what'd led him to such misery, but his memories were fuzzy and indistinct, as though seen through sugary gauze. His shirt was rumpled up, baring his stomach and chest. The fastening to his pants was undone, but Law could see no mess of any kind staining his trousers.
Thank fuck. He belatedly realized that in his pathetic state, he'd rolled onto one side, facing the architect of his problems. The man continued to sleep, eyelids twitching rapidly as he dreamed. They were very lovely, so pale that the blue veins stood out, dusted beneath scarlet eyelashes. Other than that, Eustass was more serene than ever before. Law was tracing that disheveled mess of red hair with his eyes when he remembered exactly whom he was staring at.
Honestly, he was beginning to wonder if he was still intoxicated to a certain extent. Things never should have gotten this far, and now here he was, mooning over the man like a lovesick teenager. At least neither of them was naked or anything, which begged the question of what they could've possibly gotten up to. Maybe nothing - maybe Law had just needed a room to sleep it off for a couple of hours, and Eustass was accommodating him. Law frowned; what was he thinking, of course Eustass would accommodate that request! He'd probably been waiting his entire life for it.
Law knew he was already giving the bastard too much credit. He fought to remember details, but it was challenging. He remembered...kissing, and being kissed. The door hadn't even been shut and they'd already begun, stumbling together towards the bed before collapsing in a heap upon it. Eustass' hands were surprisingly large, like gangly-legged spiders, and he'd used them to good effect in mapping out all the parts of Law he could find. That was what came through with the most clarity: the smell of the man's skin, the feel of it against his own, the scratch of fingernails and of course, the kissing.
But why hadn't they gone further than that, the practical part of his mind asked. Eustass wasn't exactly known for half-measures or discretion. Already, some minor bruises were blossoming around the man's collarbones and throat; his skin was so pale it gave everything away. And if he had the bruises...Law knew where they'd come from. It was a terrifying thought.
A sudden image flitted into his mind's eye, quick as a hummingbird - Eustass at a strange angle, but strange how...Law frowned, struggling to determine what was out of place until it hit him like a thunderbolt: Eustass seemed very tall in this memory, taller even than he normally was. Well, that made sense; Law had been on his knees after all -
He sat up so quickly that his brain threatened to burst from his temples. What the fuck. What the fuck. A sickly churn twisted in his guts. How the fuck was that even possible -
By his side, the man in question gave a sleepy snuffle, shifting. Law froze, fully prepared for him to rouse completely and bring his world to an abrupt end. But that never came; Eustass simply burrowed deeper into his pillow and resumed even, regular breathing.
Law needed to escape as quickly and quietly as possible. How revolting; sneaking back to his ship like a thief - except in this case, he couldn't help but feel like the one who'd been robbed. Maybe not of his funds, but of his dignity, certainly. He couldn't leave the evening's events behind entirely, but if he could avoid all of the messy implications, so much the better. He wasn't sure if he'd ever be ready to face Eustass after this. At least he could be sober, calm, and collected for when the fallout inevitably dropped.
It was still dark out, the sounds of continued revelry echoing through a crack in one window. While there was no undoing this evening, if Law could hardly remember what'd gone by, his companion was likely to be in a similar state. The man would wake alone and not even remember whom he'd been with the night before. A flimsy hope to count on, but it was the best Law had. He felt an urgent need to flee and hunker down, hiding himself away from this harsh reality.
His shoes were discarded beside the bed, along with a lone sock. He didn't bother searching for its mate, and padded quietly out the door. A slight twinge of guilt haunted his footsteps as he left; but why should he feel badly at all? Eustass was a stranger for all intents and purposes, and hardly the first to share Law's bed under similar circumstances. If there was any shame to this evening, it was that this mistake would undoubtedly plague him for some time to come. There could be no forgetting Eustass, and not through lack of trying. The man was impossible to ignore. If anything, Law felt reasonably certain that this was one mistake the bastard would be rubbing in his face for a long time to come.
Even with time, Law's memories did not reappear. Nor did the fragments leftover from that night solidify into anything of use. It wasn't his first time having difficulties remembering the details after a night of overindulgence...but this time came with a weight of heavy significance. Now when he showered, he felt the water like phantom hands - his mind couldn't remember the touches, but his body did. He didn't like feeling so haunted after an encounter, particularly one that'd hardly gone very far to begin with. He'd woken up still fully-clothed, after all. Distantly, Law wondered if he should be so worried about this little affair to begin with.
The memories that he could remember, though...they were disturbing enough to send him scuttling away whenever he thought hard enough. He could practically taste Eustass against his tongue, the feel of him heavy in his mouth. Had it been forced…? But no. Such questions were asked to avoid acknowledging the painful truths. How would Eustass have forced him without leaving a mark on his body - aside from the hickies Law found doting his neck and rib cage. It all made him despair.
How could he have been so stupid? He'd been stubbornly refusing Eustass ever since they met at Sabaody. Memories of that came easily; Eustass was infamous, his wanted posters heavily distributed even up in North Blue. It sounded silly, but the first time Law had seen one, he'd taken it with him simply because of the picture. Law had known he was in trouble when an aged, tattered portrait was all it took to make an impression. Such immediate, animal curiosity towards another person was a rare thing to have, and he'd followed his fellow captain's trail whenever Eustass made the news - which was rather frequently. Law even had a drawer full of clippings he'd made over the months since his ship hit the Grand Line, a collection which grew by the week simply due to the amount of havoc Eustass brought with him.
Once, Penguin caught him snipping out a news article in the latest bulletin and jumped to some very unfair conclusions. Law insisted at the time and continued to do so - he had a vast collection of important clippings, of which Eustass was but a small part. Keeping apprised of the competition's antics was simply the wise thing to do. He had a file folder on each of his rival pirate captains, from Strawhat Luffy to several of the shichibukai.
"Yeah, but you've known Captain Hawkins for ten years and he's just got the one folder all this time," Penguin said, flipping dismissively through Basil's clippings. "You've got four already for Captain Eustass, and you've met the guy once."
"He's in the news more often," Law explained. Because that was the truth of it. What was Penguin even suggesting? "Don't be nosy, it's terribly unappealing."
"It isn't nosy, it's just an observation."
So what if he had a point. Law wasn't about to own his stupid crushes any more than he was quick to admit them. Besides, that was all it was - a stupid crush. He was a realist and there was no point in dressing things up as anything else. Even if there were possibilities between himself and Eustass, there was no future. The man's personality was intolerable. He had all the depth of a mud puddle while being twice as thick. There was no way Law would start anything with someone so dunder-headedly stupid.
That being said, there was no harm in looking.
And so Law attempted to dissuade his own worst impulses, which in the end, mounted quite the resistance. He wasn't someone who appreciated being pushed around by his desires. For the longest time, it didn't matter one way or the other - Eustass was as distant from him as the Pirate King's treasure. Thusly removed, it was easy to indulge in all the hypotheticals. Where Eustass was concerned, Law simply couldn't help himself. He wanted to wrap himself up in the idea of that man, and if his impressions were misplaced, Law hoped to never be corrected.
In all honesty, Law never expected for the two of them to cross paths, but ultimately, they did. The strange attraction that'd formed so long ago could no longer be shoved aside, because standing in the same room as Eustass made it all so much more real, more possible - possibilities that were appealing beyond what Law cared to admit. Instead of realistically acknowledging that they'd be terrible for one another, Law found his subconscious desperately making excuses - excuses he was only too eager to believe.
Willful delusion of this sort was always so troubling. In hindsight, Law realized that instead of distancing himself from the inevitable disappointment, he'd only begun looking forward to it. He'd found ways to justify making stupid decisions where Eustass was concerned. Excusing his own bad behavior was worse than excusing another's, but he was willing to do so if it meant a chance of really knowing who Eustass was. That was, of course, before the man went and opened his fool mouth, effectively ruining everything in the process. Whatever vapid feelings Law once held dissolved in the face of this disappointing reality - the same reality he'd insisted he not forget nor shy away from. In the end, he'd become as delusional as a child nursing their first lovesick heart. Whatever chances they'd had were over and Law was only too happy to light all of his hopes into a small bonfire if it meant thwarting that arrogant, self-important bastard -
Law realized he was crushing the aged piece of parchment he'd spent all morning looking for. How dare that man still make him so angry? Law was more furious with himself than anything. While he could not recall the specifics that'd led to him sharing a bed with Eustass, he knew he had only himself to blame. No amount of personality defects could dissuade his very eager libido from chasing after what it desired. In the time he'd spent fixating upon the man before meeting him in the flesh, Law's baser impulses had become quite singularly fascinated. Law resented how overpowering this attraction was. It left him weak and vulnerable, positively aching to have his bleeding heart broken.
Sadly, he could not blame Eustass for being attractive. He could, however, blame the man for having an absolutely abhorrent personality. Attractive people often had terrible personalities. It tended to happen when one got by on looks alone. Perhaps it was reassuring that Eustass was no exception to this rule, another living data point to prove Law's theories. He'd known from the very first time Eustass spoke that things would never really work out between them. And he had such a nice voice too, like it was coming from the bottom of an oak barrel - "We'll take care of the mess out front, so don't worry your pretty little heads about it."
Just thinking of it was enough to raise Law's dander. How dare that man take him for granted? Like Law was some pushover from a nameless port who'd somehow lucked his way into the Grand Line...of all the annoying people he'd encountered in his life, none of them managed to enrage him so quickly. And it wasn't just that comment, snide and self-assured, the very picture of the arrogant overconfidence Eustass' reputation boasted. It was the disappointment as all Law's foolish hopes and daydreams collapsing like a house of cards. How could he become so enamored with such a flimsy construct of a person…
Perhaps that was the root of it, and why Law did not like to admit his attraction. He'd fallen for the idea of a person; reality was always so messy in contrast. It was likely to get messier after this latest mistake. He wasn't stupid enough to pretend otherwise. In the past, his one-night stands had the dignity to remain that way - anonymous, discreet, and left behind on some island they'd never again visit. With Eustass, Law was relatively assured that this little indiscretion would come back to bite him in the ass. The man positively refused to be discouraged; it was probably how they'd ended up in bed together in the first place. Law wondered if he could excuse himself given the levels of intoxication that night, but knew that would be a lie. Eustass hadn't taken advantage of him any more than Law had taken advantage of the fact that he'd been drunk, horny, and stupid. Between the two of them, Eustass was already behaving in a more honest manner, which only compounded the aggravation.
Even Penguin thought he was protesting too much. He'd made quite a lark of it at that last island, after seeing Law's expression darken once he realized Eustass' ship was already moored in the harbor. "What's the problem?" he'd asked. "I thought you liked those guys."
Law was agast, "What on earth gave you that impression?"
"I dunno." Penguin shrugged, folding a clipboard beneath one arm. They'd just been divvying up the chores to be completed once they made land. "You seemed to get along on Sabaody."
"Sometimes I am made to despair for your observational skills."
"Well, then this's really all my fault. Killer mentioned they were docked here and said it was nice. We could all use the R & R."
"Conspiring behind my back with the enemy?" Technically, it was a question, though even Law would admit it sounded more like a demand.
His first mate merely shrugged. "I gave him an inter-ship den-den back when we first met. After seeing the way you and Captain Eustass got on, I figured me and him could stand to know each other a little better. After all, someone's gotta look after the two of you."
"Lumping me in with Eustass." Law pursed his mouth. "I don't think that's very fair."
"You're two peas in a pod."
"I am betrayed," Law muttered, crossing his arms. "Since when've you been so forgiving?"
"Forgiving of what?"
"Uugh, his atrocious personality," Law groaned, with grievance. "Never have a met a man so in love with himself. It is revolting."
"Aw, c'mon! Killer said to give him a chance. Said his captain wouldn't shut up for how much he's been talking about you."
"Please tell me you're joking. Although I deeply fear you are not." It hadn't escaped him that Eustass was interested. The bastard likely expected Law to fall all over himself just for a chance with him. Please. What an insult. After treating Law like a lightweight in the auction house, the man had seen fit to order him about like some common dog. Eustass had been so consumed with showing off that he'd hardly even noticed how effective Law was in his own right, and neither needed nor appreciated any help the clod hoped to offer.
Apparently, his dislike had gone unnoticed; not only to the man himself but to Law's closest companions. Penguin seemed baffled by his hostility, "Why do you have such a thing against him? He's totally your type!"
"It doesn't matter if he is my 'type'. His personality is repellent. I will not understand children who insist on shouting orders when they have no business giving them."
"Are you still sore about that?" Penguin sighed, clearly beside himself. Although Law was left wondering why he was so invested in the first place. "Who the fuck cares if he's annoying? You don't have to like him to have a good time."
"I sincerely doubt Eustass is capable of providing a good time."
"Look, so you got off on the wrong foot. What's the harm in giving him a second chance?" Penguin gave him a knowing nudge with an elbow. "Besides, you love red-heads!"
"Only that one time," Law countered. It'd been a long time ago, anyway. "And Barley's hair was more of that carroty-orange color. Completely different."
"Oh you're right, that is totally different." Penguin shook his head, "Well, we're gonna be here for another two days. Don't let this ruin it for you. If you spend the whole time locked in your study because of some bullshit reason, I won't have any sympathy. "
"This is insubordination," Law muttered. Of course Penguin would be the one to pick up on any low-grade attraction that continued to simmer beneath the surface, despite Law's best efforts to squash it.
"And you're being stupid." Penguin gave him a swat with his clipboard. "Get out there and see some fresh faces before you turn all weird. It's a big enough city for the both of you, if you're so worried about running into Captain Eustass."
Law gave a grumble of discontent, feeling his mood darken. He was not worried about running into Eustass; he was worried about Eustass seeking him out.
But there was little to be done for it, and in the end, Penguin was right - as he always was in such matters. Law didn't cross paths with Eustass. He explored the town with his crewmates, helped resupply the ship, and spent an afternoon digging through piles of rare manuscripts for new items to add to his collection. Throughout it all, the only time he ran across any of Eustass' crewmen was when he caught Penguin and Killer having breakfast.
Law was so startled that he could do nothing but stare dumbly until Killer acknowledged him with a jerk of his helmeted head. "Kid's looking for you."
"Oh, is he now," Law said, pointedly. He wasn't particularly surprised.
"We're staying at the Boar's Head Inn. It's the big brick thing down by the waterfront." Killer said everything so casually, like he expected Law to be interested. Law didn't have the heart to tell him otherwise. He was probably only following orders. "There's a bar called the Dirty Swallow not too far down the way. I know he's been spending a lot of time in there with the rest of the guys."
Law attempted mightily to keep his eyes from rolling out of their sockets. "As tempting as that all sounds, you'll have to excuse me. I have a few much more pressing concerns to attend to."
"Such as?" Penguin asked. The betrayer.
"It's none of your business," Law huffed, and left the two of them to their eggs and bacon. He did have better things to do. Practically anything counted as better than wasting his time with a bunch of rowdy drunks. But as evening set in, he found himself parked on a barstool, reading a book while nursing a pint of black beer with a shot of honey whiskey on the side. It wasn't the Dirty Birdy or whatever place Killer had mentioned, but it was located close by.
In case Law changed his mind.
Which he doubted he would.
In the end, he didn't have to; Eustass changed it for him. It appeared that he, along with several members of his crew, were doing a pub-crawl as a way to say farewell to the island - all the details were quickly divulged by the captain himself, after he'd bounded enthusiastically up to the bar. "I knew you couldn't hide from me forever!" he said, giving Law a hearty whack against his shoulder blades.
"Whoever says I was even hiding in the first place?"
"Oh come on, are you fucking kidding me?"
"Eustass, let me assure you. I am not a child. I do not hide from my problems."
"So I'm your problem now, is that it?"
"You're certainly troublesome, if that's what you mean." Law swallowed his shot of whiskey in one go. Fortunately enough for him, Eustass ordered him another and took one for himself. Law considered refusing, but he'd never turned down a drink in his life. Besides, he knew he'd need to be at least slightly drunk to make it through this.
"You make it sound like trouble is the worst thing a person can have," Eustass said, wiping the corner of his mouth after gulping his alcohol all one go. His lips were so dark...back at Sabaody, Law could've sworn the man used cosmetics to make them that way. But upon closer inspection, it appeared to be natural. As with many things about Eustass, it was odd but appropriately so.
Law realized he was staring and frowned. Attractive people were such a nuisance to one's concentration. He wasn't even sure what they'd been talking about. His confusion must've been obvious, because Eustass gave him a slanting smile, "You okay?"
"I'm fine. My mind was elsewhere."
"Or you've had too much already." Eustass' questioning grin turned cocky. "You kinda look like a lightweight, Trafalgar."
"On what basis do you make that assumption?" Law downed his shot of whiskey, feeling defensive. He didn't much appreciate being the butt of jokes but refused to let his annoyance show. Eustass would only pick up on it and continue in the same vein. If the man loved anything more than the sound of his own voice, it was teasing others until he managed to strike a nerve. Eustass was a child through and through.
Perhaps he ought to leave. The wise part of Law's mind certainly cautioned him to do so. But instead, he found himself saying, "This is a pub crawl, isn't it? How long are we planning to sit around in the same place?"
Eustass raised one appraising eyebrow at the inclusion of that 'we'. He smiled and flipped several berri bills onto the bar to cover their drinks. "Finish your beer then, and we'll hit the road."
And that was how it'd all started. Looking back, it seemed so innocent. Besides, if Law had remained on his lonesome and refused to join, Eustass would've called him a wet blanket, or a stick in the mud; a no-fun buzzkill too determined to say no to ever consider saying yes. Regardless of what insults he chose, Law knew the man would irritate him until he followed. And where was the harm, really? Maybe it was the alcohol already setting fire to his veins that made him chase after what he wanted. Law was always a little more flirtatious once his inhibitions were compromised. He liked having an excuse for his behavior, a plausible exit strategy should things get out of hand.
Which was fortunate, because thing did indeed spiral out of hand rather rapidly after that. How embarrassing, to be the life of the party and not remember it. Eustass and his crew's boisterous enthusiasm was infectious, and Law was caught under its spell in no time. He typically hated when a noisy party barged their way into a pub, only to trash the place before leaving just as quickly. But for tonight, what did it matter? Who cared about the looks the locals gave them, the glares the other bar patrons shot their way? All of it would be forgotten after tonight and the town as well, once they set sail.
Before long, Law was well and truly disoriented. He'd not spent much time on the waterfront, with its clusters of taverns, bars, and restaurants. At least if he really needed to leave, he could follow the water's edge back to the pier where his ship was moored. Thus reassured, he accepted another drink once Eustass returned from the bar, loaded down with shots for everybody. Their party had dwindled; only himself, Eustass, and two of the man's crewmates remained.
Their glasses clacked merrily together before disappearing down the hatch. Law felt his stomach rebel with a heaving lurch; perhaps they ought to find food of some sort before long. "I can buy the next round."
"Ooh, then we're gonna get the good stuff in that case." Eustass was an incorrigible flirt after a few drinks, his legs, arms, and feet continually intruding into Law's personal space. Even if it was pushy, Law wasn't about to complain. It gave him the welcome opportunity to see just how solidly made the man was, as sturdy as the alabaster he could've been carved from. A marble statue dusted with an alcoholic flush, at any rate. Law wasn't in a mood to be overly critical; it should've been his first warning.
The second warning was when Eustass' hand slid onto his thigh, and remained there. Law did not push him away. Instead, he practically basked in the feeling, this casual familiarity that Eustass hadn't earned. It could be easily given and after the amount of drinks they'd shared, Law was in a generous mood. Being the recipient of such attention was intoxicating all on its own. Eustass could've had anyone in the bar - hell, he could've had anyone on the entire island - but he'd chosen Law. He'd pursued Law, as though Law was just as obviously desirable as he was.
It made him giddy and strangely weak, as though he was made of blown crystal and would simply shatter if Eustass changed his mind. Luckily enough, that was never a risk - Law was confident enough in himself to know that it wasn't. And his confidence was obviously well placed, if how he'd woken later that night was any indication. He couldn't remember things going any further than that hand upon his thigh, as though it'd been seared indelibly into his flesh. But things must've gone further...it was humiliating, that lone fragment he could recall, himself on his knees -
Oh god, just the memory of it was enough to bring hot shame streaking up Law's spine. Nothing of the drinking beforehand had seemed out of the ordinary. It'd been quite a lot, but it'd been a pub crawl, for goodness' sake. Getting sloshed was the entire point. It wasn't an activity that normally appealed to him, but Law could get drunk and have fun just as well as the next person. Perhaps he'd overestimated his own fortitude, to dire consequence.
He shook his head forcefully; how could Eustass throw him so completely off-balance? If only he'd maintained an icy facade, this never would've gone any further. Having an ardent suitor wasn't a new experience, but typically, even the most thick-headed and stubborn of them managed to take a clue after enough dismissals. Except that was no longer a possibility - Law had ruined his chances of gracefully and forcefully rejecting Eustass when he'd all-too-happily tumbled into bed with him...Law sighed, his future bleak. Instead of a swift surgical excision, Eustass' feelings would need to be crushed like a noxious weed that refused to die. From their previous encounter, his opponent had learned just how easily Law's resolve could be torn down. Instead of taking his rejections seriously, Eustass would think of it as a game. If his initial attempts had been a challenge to dissuade...Law could only imagine what it would be like now.
So Law delayed what was inevitable. His ship spent the better part of two weeks traveling beneath the waves - not only to avoid Eustass, but that played a large part in his decision. Who even knew if the man was after him at all? If Law's hangover was any indication, the man would be lucky to remember whom he'd gone to bed with that night in the first place. Perhaps it spoke to his own insecurity, his lingering guilt for stepping out like that. Law liked to think of himself as a considerate lover, but that only held for members of his choosing.
Instead of dwelling on what could not be changed, he refocused his efforts on topics which mattered, like mapping out their current position in the New World and keeping track of Doflamingo. Law was building his forces and biding his time; information was the key to undermining his former commander and Law would start no war between them until things were entirely in his favor.
It was only at Bepo's insistence that they surfaced at all, the poor bear having become sick of the cramped, stuffy lifestyle that accompanied such surreptitious travel. Oh, well - it was pointless to hide forever, and continuing to do so would only raise conversations that Law preferred not to have. He moved a reading chair out on deck once they surfaced, the weather sunny and hot. Law consumed four novels cover-to-cover, all while basking in the first rays of sunlight they'd seen in a while. He encouraged his nakama to do the same. It was important to replenish one's vitamin D reserves, particularly when their typical mode of transportation left them bereft for long periods of time.
Mid-morning was cresting into noon by the time a delivery gull visited their ship. Its packs were loaded down with tardy messages that'd been undeliverable while the submarine was underwater. This was always such a nuisance. Law just didn't like having to face a big pile of unanswered correspondence. It made him nervous. A majority of the mail went to others and another good portion was composed of news bulletins, wanted notices, and other irrelevant garbage. But amongst them all was a package from Eustass.
Of course. Law sighed, reading through everything else before even touching the parcel. The man's handwriting was awful; Law was surprised the delivery had even arrived at its indicated destination. Inside, he found the ugliest den-den mushi he'd ever seen. Its shell was the red-brown color of dried blood, and had an odd, bumpy texture to it - almost thorny. And covered all over, including the shell, was a thick layer of wiry, black fur. It was hairy. With one look, its owner could be unmistakable.
Law momentarily consider casting the poor beast overboard, but Eustass was not the den-den mushi's fault. And there was little sense in blaming the messenger for its tidings. It'd hardly been removed from its packaging before the little snail burbled into life, a call which Law refused to answer. He threw the den-den back into its box, already considering an immediate return to the depths for both himself and his crew, but as he watched Penguin thoroughly slathering Shachi's shoulders in a thick layer of sunscreen, he knew such measures would prove unpopular. At least he could mediate the damage, and retreated to the privacy of his study before retrieving the den-den a second time.
The snail regarded him with sleepy eyes, unused to activity after so long in transit. No matter. Law woke it fully as he removed the receiver and only had to wait through a single ring before the line was answered.
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Eustass demanded. The conversation was starting out as well as Law expected it to go.
He glared at his receiver, knowing that the expression would be conveyed along to Eustass' end. "Don't you go yelling at me."
"Don't you go acting all innocent!"
"I hardly have!" Law could already feel his feathers ruffling, and hated it.
"Yeah, my ass. Do you always just avoid your problems?"
"At least you've realized that you're a problem. That's a step in the right direction."
"Oh, fuck you."
"Why are you calling, Eustass?" Law asked. He had no interest in continuing this conversation longer than was required. If he had to face facts in order to finish this, he would. See, he wanted to seeth. I don't always go avoiding my problems. Only when the problems are you.
"Why d'you think? You took off and left me cold, alone, and with a shitty hangover! What kind of a asshole does that? And you were so into getting breakfast in the morning, I got my hopes up about it." Eustass' outrage wilted slightly at the memory, of which Law had no recollection. For better or worse. Though he was quite partial to hangover eggs. "And the worst part of it was, I had to foot the goddamn tab you forgot to pay!"
"Then if this is about money, I would only be too happy to compensate you for your troubles."
"Go suck on a dick!" Eustass snapped, and Law felt his indignation leap at the implication. His memories of that night were still too fuzzy to make sense of, and nothing had come back beyond what he'd initially feared. It was only a matter of time before Eustass did something about that. "It's the principle of the matter. It's just fucking rude, y'know that?"
"As if you'd be the one to ever judge what's rude," Law muttered.
"Y'know, Trafalgar. It's funny. When we first met, I didn't think you were a grade-A asshole, but you're doing a helluva job proving my assumptions wrong!"
"That is a shame, because you've done nothing but prove my assumptions to be correct!"
Eustass' tone was an aggrieved squawk, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You are so…" Law began, his voice trailing off as he struggled to find the most apt descriptor for Eustass. Infuriating. Aggravating. Immature. He finally settled, hissing, "Childish."
"Gee, ouch. You've really wounded me." If it had the potential to cut, Eustass didn't see it that way. Perhaps that was the root of their problem. Eustass' colossal ego was practically impervious to insult. "And you're one to talk, skulking out in the middle of the night like that."
"I do not skulk," Law huffed. "Can't you just accept that it was a mistake?"
"Oh, a mistake, is that what you're calling it?"
"One that I realized and rectified before it could grow any larger."
"You have a unique interpretation of events."
"Look, I'm sorry for leading you on if that's indeed what you - "
"Hey! Whoa, no. There was no 'leading on' in this situation. You were all over me."
"I most certainly was not!" Law snapped. He felt a blush flame across his face in an instant. There was lingering damage to his pride, a bruise that'd only darkened and grown more tender with course he had to be the one unable to remember all the details of that night. If Eustass were to find out…he'd probably take great joy in confirming all of Law's worst fears, even if his boasts were false.
"Yeah, you were," Eustass continued unabated. "Actually, come to think of it, you're a lot more fun with a few drinks in you. Makes you a helluva lot more honest, for one."
"If you're meaning to imply that I have...inhibitions, you're not wrong. Most people have them. They're an important part of controlling one's self in civilized society."
"Because being a pirate and all, I really care about what's most civilized!"
"Perhaps that is why your personality is so loathsome!"
"I'd rather be loathsome than a fucking liar!"
"Which I am not!" Law felt rather affronted. He'd very much like to call Eustass the liar - could he recall enough to tell truth from lies.
Unfortunately, Eustass seemed to grasp his predicament before Law could cover it further. "Waitaminute, waitaminute. How much of that do you all remember? Because if you don't believe me, I can provide witnesses."
Law felt his blush darken and was glad he was alone. "That is entirely unnecessary."
"Then maybe you should remind me exactly what happened to get you sneaking out like a whipped dog."
"I - what - no!" Law seethed impotently. Of course the bastard wanted details. Even if Law could remember them he would not repeat them. "How dare you! It is beneath my dignity."
"Hah! You can't remember anything, can you?"
"I can remember plenty!"
"Well, your 'plenty' isn't impressing me plenty-much," Eustass said, his tone having turned gleeful. "I mean, I was drunk, but I wasn't that fucked up. You were though, apparently!"
"And this is why I had no interest in speaking with you after that!"
"Actually, that's still a mystery. You seemed pretty happy at the time. I didn't exactly have to work to get you into bed."
Law felt something small and helpless shrivel inside him. He wanted to retreat, like a snail hiding its tenderest parts away inside a shell. How could he let a brutish idiot like Eustass to see him in such a compromising way? Law was no prude, but he was never so foolish to drink himself into a stupor and then slide into bed with a virtual stranger. Recklessness of that variety went far beyond what he was comfortable with. It felt like a deep, personal betrayal that he'd allowed this to happen; he was even further betrayed by his inability to remember any of it but the most damning details.
His silence did nothing to dissuade Eustass' recounting, "At one point, you said it was a shame you hated me so much, because I'm so goddamn hot."
"I did not!" Law insisted, though it was an empty protest. It was a shame. A shame about Eustass' personality. At least time had not seen fit to soften Law's initial impressions of the man.
"Oh yeah, you did. And then you wrapped your arms around me. You nuzzled up real close, and you whispered in my ear." Eustass sighed, his den-den mushi mimicking a dreamy expression. "'I'm going to pass out'. And then you fucking did!"
Given the alternatives he'd feared, Law could not help but be relieved. "I'm more impressed that you restrained yourself while I was compromised."
"You snore. Loudly! It's a real turn-off," Eustass grumbled. Now all Law needed was to figure out how to be even louder. But his opponent only continued, "Even with you passed-out drunk and snoring like a beast, I'd never seen you more beautiful than in that moment - "
"Hah! So you are attracted to me, you admit it," Law crowed triumphantly, just as his chest exploded into a mess of contained butterflies.
"It's not like it was much of a secret, dumbass! What did you think this was about?"
For some reason, hearing everything so plainly had Law pulled up short. It seemed obvious; on some level, he knew Eustass wanted him. Why else would the man follow him around like a gosling desperate for a parent? And falling into bed like that...Law had been certain the man only did it out of his own base, lustful desires. Perhaps that was part of it. He would've gone to bed with anyone willing. But Law was hard-pressed to rationalize why the man persisted even now, if he'd already gotten what he wanted.
Granted, they'd not gone the full distance; maybe that was why Eustass continued to harass him. But the opportunity had presented itself, and he did not take it. One could almost call such discretion gentlemanly, though the word did not fit Eustass well at all. He hadn't stopped Law from offering him a blow job, after all. He'd probably gotten off on it twice as hard, knowing that Law was too stupidly drunk to even know what he was doing. And yet, Eustass still hadn't brought that up as a weapon, a tool to bludgeon him with...Law would not be the first to mention it. He couldn't remember enough to know what'd even happened and refused to speculate.
Here Eustass had the perfect opportunity to humiliate him, and yet he did not exploit it...Law did not expect to be offended by consideration, but somehow Eustass managed it. It was annoying when the man didn't play into his expectations. Rejecting him completely would've been easier that way, regardless of how physically attractive he was. A lingering fear perked up at Law's new ribbons of doubt: maybe he just wasn't being very fair to Eustass. Maybe Eustass was many of the things Law knew him to be - cocky, arrogant, possessed of a terrible fashion sense and even less self-awareness - but unwilling to take advantage of a drunken partner. Maybe there was a greater depth than Law wanted to give him credit for.
He didn't want to entertain the possibility. Doing so would be tantamount to admitting that his earlier assumptions were wrong. And they weren't wrong; Eustass was, on many levels, just as intolerable today as he was when they'd first met. But there was a hidden dimension that Law had somehow overlooked while he'd been busy focusing on Eustass' bothersome attitudes and behaviors. He'd not wanted to see it nor acknowledge it. If he did, it would be impossible to dismiss his attraction. When it'd been firmly rooted in a physical appreciation for what Eustass had to offer, Law had no problems tamping down his interest. In fact - if he was feeling supremely honest - having Eustass chase after him had been satisfying on a deep level. It was validating in a way that was new and unfamiliar to him.
"Well, I," he began, his mouth feeling dry. "I didn't think you were very serious."
"Believe me, if I weren't serious, I wouldn't be talking to you in the first place. I would've already found your ass and kicked it."
"And that sort of attitude is precisely why I question your motives in the first place!"
"Maybe if you didn't come at me with such a huge chip on your shoulder you'd see that I am serious!" Eustass' voice was tempered by injury. Such things could be faked. But instead of snapping out an insult, Law grit his teeth; maybe the man had a point. Law always searched for the worst where Eustass was concerned. It hardly seemed fair. The man'd had ample opportunity to humiliate him if that'd been his true intent. He could've fucked Law by now, had that been the limit of his interest. But Eustass passed that chance up; he'd been left standing and still came at Law for more.
This sort of undeterred interest was alarming in new and different ways. What if Eustass was serious? What if he was very serious? Law fought for the words to express himself, but Eustass beat him to it, "I like you, dumbass. A lot." There was a defeated sigh on the other end of the line. "Sometimes I wish I didn't. You're a real shit when you wanna be."
"Well. You have a talent for bringing that out in me."
"At least you admit you're being a dick. That's a start."
"I admit nothing!" Law insisted, adjusting his hold on the den-den's receiver. With how tightly he was gripping it, his hand was beginning to ache. He was not prepared to concede defeat, but it wasn't like him to stubbornly ignore evidence out of spite, regardless of how deeply that spite was rooted. "If you indeed have a point, it remains to be proven, one way or the other."
"Wow, how gracious of you."
"You really are a glutton for punishment, aren't you?"
"I'd have to be to put up with your bullshit!"
"What do you want from me, Eustass?" Negotiating with terrorists was not one of Law's favored tactics.
Eustass only sighed, his dreamy tone returning but lacking the mockery from before. "Everything."
"I see that moderation is still something you struggle with."
"Only when it comes to you."
"Asshole." But Eustass' tone was teasing, a sort of affection that Law only now realized had been underscoring their interactions from the very start. He'd never really noticed; how unobservant. For some reason, he had a very difficult time articulating precisely what it was that Eustass made him feel. Perhaps his defensiveness was rooted in the fear that, if Eustass got the chance, he could very well take the everything that he wanted. It was a disturbing prospect.
Even more disturbing was the excitement undeniably bubbling up inside of him. Law knew this feeling had been lurking for a while just beneath the surface. If he allowed it to come out and play...who knew how difficult it would be to put back under wraps. Despite the namesake he'd chosen for his ship and crew, he didn't like wearing his heart on one sleeve. If the wrong person found it just lying out in the open like that…
"Why don't you meet me again? We can make up for last time," Eustass said, interrupting his thoughts.
Law didn't like how eagerly he wanted to agree. A warmth had settled in his stomach, spreading with each of Eustass' suggestions. "Let me think about it."
"Can't you give a straight answer at least once in your life?"
"Don't rush me!" Law's hackles rose at the pressure. "Do you want an answer or not? Be patient."
Eustass gave a long-suffering sigh on the other end of the line, "Fine. But if you leave me hanging again, I will come hunt you down."
"Is that supposed to be a threat?"
"Just call me, Trafalgar. One way or the other." The den-den gave a cocky smile, full of confidence. Law wanted to hate it. "I'll put up with a lot for a chance with you. But you gotta gimme something, okay?"
Law felt a subtle tension settle in his chest, like a nest of merrily buzzing bees. They wouldn't be quite so agreeable if their home was kicked. Against his better judgment, Law agreed to a meeting - or date, as Eustass so helpfully put it. Of course he would call it that. Triumphantly - as though he already had Law back in his bed. Law knew he was never going to live that down, not while Eustass was there to remember it for him.
A solid lump formed in his throat, making it difficult to swallow. What if...of all the things to worry about, and he found himself dreading that everything would go well. Law was more comfortable with the antagonism between them. What would be left in its place if he and Eustass managed to get along? Law knew that once Eustass made it past the thorns guarding his gates, there would be no getting rid of him. The captain was practically infectious, a disease that some deep part of Law would gladly suffer.
He'd met so many people in his travels, even sleeping through his fair share of the pretty ones. Why did Eustass have to be the one who stuck? Some people slid into one's life seamlessly, as though they'd always belonged. Others blew in like a hurricane, leaving wreckage in their wake but exiting as quickly as they'd arrived. Strawhat Luffy had fallen into that category. Still others barged in like they owned the place, causing a mess while stubbornly refusing to be on their way. He'd thought that Eustass belonged to this category, and it was disturbing to realize he almost fit better in the first.
It was with slight horror that Law realized he didn't want Eustass to leave. He upset the natural balance of things, but did so in a way that was exciting. It was childish and foolish and left Law longing for more. Maybe he was bored with his orderly life. A feeling not unlike despair swept over him; the resignation of knowing that some things were impossible to stop or avoid. Maybe he'd been fighting Eustass every step of their way together because he knew this was how things would inevitably end.
Against Law's better judgement, they went forward with a second meeting. Their ships made a rendezvous at a nearby, isolated island. It was the closest port between their two ships after they'd last spoken. Law had no idea what to expect and for a change, went out of his way to refrain from speculating. Maybe that'd been his problem all this time.
He still felt like a fool when he finally came face to face with Eustass. "Well, hello," Law began. He knew he was late beyond their agreed-upon time. For once, it had not been his fault nor intentional.
Eustass already appeared ready to strangle him. He was palpably annoyed, likely from being made to wait. "Yeah, hi. Glad you could finally fucking make it."
Law felt his mood darken instantaneously. "Perhaps we ought to call this off - "
"No, I don't think so. If you're gonna treat getting dinner with me like a punishment, it's gonna be one you suffer the entire way through."
"Well, we're certainly starting this evening off on the right foot with that attitude," Law muttered. "You ought to learn some patience. They say it is a virtue."
Eustass only snorted, beginning down the pier. Law followed; wherever they were going, he didn't question - in fact, he wasn't sure how to make any kind of conversation at all. Law held his tongue until the tension between them was interminable.
"I am patient," Eustass said, at length. "You're just late. Really late."
"My apologies. We were held up by some Marines. I'm certain they were hoping to delay us even further, but were hardly a match."
"Isn't that fortunate."
"You sound skeptical. I don't think that's quite fair - "
"Well, maybe if I didn't have to drag you here in the first place, I might believe you a little more!"
"Look, I'm sorry. It was not my intention to - to jerk you around, or whatever it is you think I'm guilty of." Law sighed, an aggrieved huff. "If I wasn't going to show up, I wouldn't have agreed to meet you in the first place."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Eustass scrubbed a hand across this face vigorously. "I'm not angry or anything."
"You're certainly acting like you're angry - "
"I'm acting cautious, okay? I'm cautiously optimistic."
"So I have to win back your trust and goodwill, is that what you're meaning to say?"
"It'd be a good place to start. Y'know, all this time, you've just treated me like crap."
"I was hoping you would take rejection gracefully." Law sighed. As though Eustass had ever done anything graceful in his entire life.
"It's called dedication, okay? Perseverance. And I'm not a dumbass. If you'd really been so set on shoving me away, I would've gone. But no, you're all about the mixed signals. Do you even know what you want?"
"Of course I do!"
"Yeah, like what?" Eustass pulled up short, and Law though for certain they were going to have it out before a single drink could cushion the ordeal. But instead Eustass side-stepped him, his face lighting up. "Sorry, I had to stop. It's a kitty!"
The man was distractible as ever. There was indeed a black and grey speckled cat lounging on the top of a fisherman's net. It seemed content, but was still quite thin. Eustass scratched long, manicured fingernails over the cat's head and ears and something inside Law melted enviously at the sight. Whatever he was feeling, he didn't allow it to penetrate his stoney exterior. "You like cats?"
"Of course. Don't you?"
"I like all animals." Law took a step forward, touching the cat's belly as it rolled onto its back. A deep rumbling purr could be felt through his fingers. "But cats especially."
"See? We've got something in common after all." The cat perked up, standing to stretch before butting its head against Eustass' hand. "This sucks. He's so cute but Killer hates it when I come home with strays."
Part of Law's brain stalled out on Eustass describing something as 'cute'. "Do you already have cats on your ship, then?"
"I've got two," Eustass said, his expression proud. "They're good for keeping the mice down. Maybe you should take this guy if you don't already have one."
Law shook his head. Vermin had never been too much trouble on the submarine, with or without a cat to control them. "I feel like a fisherman might miss him if he was stolen away."
"You never know," Eustass shrugged. "Maybe I'll keep an eye out, in case he's still lonely when we're ready to leave."
"Is this really what you do whenever you make land? Pet cats and adopt strays when you're not starting barfights?"
"You make my life sound so boring!" Eustass laughed. He gave the cat a final stroke before turning away; it leapt down and began following them as they continued along the pier. "Maybe that's why I can't stay away from you, you're kinda like a cat yourself."
"Careful, Eustass," Law said, warningly. "Careful."
"No, I'm serious! You're all sly and cool, but then whenever someone has an interest in you, you get all prickly and stand-offish."
"Such generalizations," Law muttered, feeling his fur bristle. "I'm sure you've found that cats, much like people, have distinct personalities." He straightened, making a point not to become overly defensive. "Besides, if you want to play that game, I would have to say you resemble a dog more than anything else. The sort of dog that goes running up to a cat only to cry once his snout is scratched."
To his credit, Eustass laughed, "You might be onto something! Lucky for you, I can't hold a grudge - I guess I must be a dog after all." Then he grabbed Law's hand in his own. He smiled, full of self-confidence that Law wanted to hate. "Don't go scratching me now, huh?"
"That remains to be seen," Law muttered, though he didn't withdraw. Like a dog, Eustass was persistent. Like a dog, he pushed as far as he could without fear of the consequences. And like a dog, Law knew that the man's affections were genuine and unconditional. He wasn't sure if he was ready for something quite that sincere. Maybe it was why he'd so stubbornly resisted any advances up to now. "Some cats are friendly, but only after you've earned their trust."
"Huh. How long's that gonna take?"
It was a decent question, one for which Law had no answers. "If I were a cat...I'm sure I would be twice as stubborn. Fortunately for you, I am not." He paused in their walking, a grey feline shadow joining them to give a small jump, marking its scent against Eustass' shins. "A good cat can live its entire life independently."
"A good cat? More like a picky cat."
"Is it a crime to be discriminating?"
"Only when you're doing it for no good reason."
"I have my reasons," Law muttered. "You're not as perfect as you think you are."
"Yeah, yeah, you gotta put up a big show about how horrible it is to be seen with me. Lucky for you, I find that kinda shit irresistible."
"Well, you've admitted to being a glutton for punishment."
"Only when you're the one dishing it out," Eustass laughed. "I've killed men for less than I get with you on a good day. For some reason, I keep coming back." He shook his head. "Kinda wish I knew why sometimes."
"An explanation would benefit us both, so do share once you've figured it out."
"It's really not that complicated. I like you, shithead." He gave a slanted smile, squeezing Law's hand. "Can't do anything for it. Hasn't anyone ever told you you're irresistible?"
"No. And even if you say that to me now, I will not believe you." After all, why should he? Eustass would say anything to wiggle his way back into Law's bed...except there was that troubling part, back. Eustass already had his chance and he'd passed on taking full advantage of it. No matter; it wasn't Law's fault if the man was stupid enough to squander his opportunities.
Even if everything Eustass had to say was an empty, romantic platitude, it still was enough to make Law's heart race. It was troubling; he knew his resolve was weakening. Perhaps this was what it'd been like in that evening together, when his fortitude dwindled and he'd given in to what he'd wanted…maybe it really was so simple, like Eustass said. Law wondered if he was searching for an explanation that didn't exist, the scientific part of his brain insisting there be more to this attraction than just chemistry. Maybe he ought to be as simple-minded as Eustass - not in a stupid way, but in a straight-forward, unquestioning one. There was no nuance when it came to Eustass, yet he stubbornly searched for it, as though that would make things any better.
Eustass gave a pull on his hand, "Hey, let's get something to eat, huh? I'm starving."
"If you insist," Law said, electing to answer before he could chew over all the possible implications. Maybe some of Eustass was wearing off on him after all. He'd have to watch out for that, like tracking sepsis as it threatened to spread. Perhaps that wasn't the kindest comparison, but it was the quickest one which leapt to mind. That alone probably said something.
"Waitaminute," Eustass said, pausing. He was looking off towards the horizon, beyond where their ships were moored to the edge of the harbour. A distinct tension traveled from his arm to their linked hands. "You said you got into some trouble with Marines, right?"
Law glanced in the same direction, and sure enough, a warship was creeping into the bay. It was larger than the one they'd faced off with in a short battle that'd been nothing more than a trifling nuisance. This new ship could be reinforcements; after all, when Law's crew was finished with their opponent, the Marines had been floundering and taking on water. Stupid fools; why did they insist on being so persistent?
"Yes," Law confirmed. "But that can't be the same ship. Who knows if they even followed us here? They could be on routine maneuvers - "
He was disabused of that notion as the rapid crack of gunfire pattered across the pier, leaving holes in the aged wood and throwing up splinters. It wasn't coming from the advancing ship either, but from landside.
Immediately, Eustass put his heavy bulk between Law and their assailants, "Great, they've already landed a scouting party!"
Law valiantly attempted to tamp down on his outrage; how dare Eustass assume to protect him? As if he even needed it at all. Law had foolishly left his nodaichi aboard the sub. That hardly left him helpless, however, and he didn't appreciate being treated like a damsel in need of saving. At least Eustass made an effective shield, through which Law could see several men in white and blue uniforms hidden amongst the waterfront buildings.
Law was certain his nakama would notice the massive ship bearing down on them by now, but it was unlikely for the Marines to fire on a civilian port, even if pirate vessels were moored at its docks. "I must return to my ship."
"No! I'm not gonna let these fuckers ruin our date - "
"It is not a date!" Law felt a brilliant flush burst across his cheeks.
"Oh, will you get over yourself?"
"Only when you stop grossly exaggerating the truth!"
"Just for once in your life, stay out of the way! For your own good!"
Law felt his ire rise, seething between clenched jaws. How dare Eustass order him about like a common subordinate? As far as he was concerned, this 'date', as Eustass insisted upon calling it, was certainly over. There were more important matters to attend to, for the both of them and their crews. If the bastard wanted to show off even more than he already had, let him. Law turned his back, striding away. The bastard couldn't impress anybody if he lacked an audience. Unlike the apparent disdain Eustass held for him, Law had full confidence in the man's capabilities; he would not require assistance when his fruit ability was so effective. It was a waste of time standing around gawking while Eustass repelled every volley the Marines threw at them.
If Law recalled correctly, this harbour was relatively deep. His submarine would have no trouble escaping, and then after that...who knew? A slight disappointment nagged at his center. He hadn't been looking forward to seeing Eustass again. Truly, he hadn't; this evening was merely a punishment to be endured. And yet he couldn't help the ache of defeat which only grew. Perhaps all he'd been looking forward to on this meeting was a resolution to their unfinished business, and now even that was being snatched away.
Reluctantly, he turned back. Eustass was bringing down each of their opponents with a well-placed shot, returned precisely to their source even as the Marines attempted to dodge. Such control over one's fruit abilities was envious; Law could easily see why Eustass had been awarded with such a high bounty. If only such competence wasn't so attractive. The stupid bastard was already gifted enough to begin with. Either way, Law refused to compliment the man; such things would only contribute to his already over-inflated ego.
Eustass took down the last of the landing party in short order, turning with a wide grin. "How 'bout that, then?"
"Am I meant to be impressed?"
"Aw, it just kills you to say anything nice to me, doesn't it?" Eustass didn't seem dissuaded in the slightest, bounding down the pier with a child's enthusiasm. Once again, his resemblance to an excitable dog reared its head. Law refused to grace him with even a smile. Though it was a challenge. Eustass' vast reserves of energy were infectious. Like a disease, Law mentally refrained. One that he was quickly growing eager to die from, but a disease none the less.
Even beneath a critical glare, Eustass remained unaffected, "C'mon, don't let this ruin things. That was fun! Besides, my nakama can handle that big ship, no problem."
"Don't be ridiculous - "
"You're just looking for any excuse to end this early, aren't you?"
"Eustass, as I said before: were I so disinclined to go on this...meeting with you, I would not have agreed to it at all." Law crossed his arms, maintaining an air of bored indifference. They had much more important things to deal with than whatever unresolved tension existed between them. And if resolving such tensions could be delayed indefinitely, Law was not too proud to kick the can down the road until a later date.
Sadly however, his companion was less receptive to such subtle forms of rejection. "Then let's at least get a drink. Nothing works up a thirst quite like a good fight, is what I always say."
"Somehow, that does not surprise me," Law grumbled. He took a reluctant step forward, and it felt like a surrender. Why did giving in to Eustass always feel more satisfying than denying him? Perhaps it was the unbridled joy bursting across the man's grinning face that did it. It was a very new experience to be on the receiving end of that sort of naked affection. Law feared for how addictive it could easily become.
He'd have to worry about such things later, because as he took another step, the pier exploded in a burst of wooden shards, shrapnel, and fire. Law was blown off his feet, the explosion throwing him against a tethered ship's iron facade. He bounced off like a rag doll and nearly rolled into the water, disoriented and deafened. The Marines would never fire on a civilian port...or so he'd thought, but as Law staggered to his feet, he could see thick plumes of smoke billowing up from the warship's broadside, it's cannoneers undoubtedly preparing for another volley. Perhaps their pursuers were some of the more unhinged officers within the Marine ranks to do something this reckless and foolish…
It hardly mattered in the end. Law gained his feet only to find them numbly unresponsive. He was ready to blame in on the head trauma before he noticed the fount of blood gushing from his stomach, so much of it and so shockingly red that Law felt his knees give way.
The last thing he saw was Eustass racing towards him, before his eyes rolled back and his world went dark.
Law came awake in his infirmary. Not the operating room but the post-surgical suite. The convalescence room, as they called it in official quarters. Come to think of it, he'd never actually been a patient in his own convalescence room. It really was quite soothing.
Or perhaps that was simply the drugs talking, because his lingering feeling of well-being began to dissolve not long after. The cheerful, robin's egg blue he'd painted the walls began to bleach into its chalky reality. There was a sharp, searing pain in his abdomen, which pulled when he shifted. Stitches, most likely. A lot of them.
He began to grow cold, and drew his blankets closer to his chin. A shadow quickly approached; it was Eustass.
"I always seem to be waking up in strange places with you," Law murmured, though his voice was an awful rasp. He coughed, and Eustass assisted him with water - it was humiliating, but Law was in too poor of shape to care. By the time he'd swallowed a few mouthfuls, he was feeling much more aware. He sat up, wincing as his stomach screamed. "What happened?"
"Do you remember us getting interrupted by bad guys?"
"Bad guys," Law repeated numbly. It was a terribly general term.
"Penguin thinks they were reinforcements of the Marines you evaded earlier. It's not important. But you took a pretty big piece of shrapnel to the guts."
That sounded about right. Law couldn't remember much after he'd been hit...except for the pain, the sheer terror as he realized the extent of his wound. It'd been gushing blood, the sure sign of a damaged or even severed artery. He'd been certain he was watching his life pour itself from him in a great, thunderous flood.
But he wasn't dead - at least not yet. It was very surprising. "How did you stop the bleeding?"
"Heated the metal up. Then I pulled it right outta you, and it cauterized everything on the way."
Eustass continued, "It was real messy. I knew it would be, and you screamed like a banshee. You passed out...been that way ever since. I should get Penguin, he's the one who sewed you up."
Law nodded; he'd trained each member of his crew in basic field techniques. Those whom he'd known longer had even greater skill sets. It was important that they be able to carry on if, like today, he became incapacitated. This was a first for the lot of them, a good practice run for what challenges the New World would inevitably provide.
Eustass moved to stand but Law put out a hand, catching him and making him sit. There was a catheter inserted into the back of his hand, administering a steady drip of blood, replacing what'd been lost. For some reason, he didn't want to be alone just now. He'd nearly died, coming more closely to the brink than he ever had before. There was a strange pressure behind his eyes - the urge to cry, simply because he was afraid. With all his medical prowess and it'd all happened so quickly, he'd been unable to do a thing.
"You okay?" Eustass asked after a moment.
Law's gaze remained fixed on the man's hand, still caught by his own. Eustass' fingers were perfectly crafted, just like the rest of him, manicured and clean beyond what one would expect. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me, I didn't even know if that would work. But you were bleeding out so quick…" He touched the side of Law's face, tilting it towards him. "I had to do something. I'm just not ready to watch you die yet."
If this was genuine or simply Eustass' continued efforts to court him...Law was ashamed to admit that it was working.
Or maybe he was still high as a kite off whatever mix of morphine and painkillers Penguin had him on. If Eustass had cauterized a wound like that, even if it stopped the bleeding it would leave massive tissue damage. "Since when've you known how to heat up metal?"
"I dunno. For a long while; It's easy."
"But...but that isn't easy. Or it shouldn't be - "
"Trust me, it's easy." Again with that cocky smirk; for once, Law didn't hate it completely. That in and of itself was worrying. He wanted to put his hands on Eustass' face, just to hold onto him a little closer, and balled his fingers into tight fists. Now that had to be the drugs talking.
"I just mean that it requires a greater understanding of the magnetic fields and principles than I thought you had - "
Eustass cut him off with a wave, "Hey, beats me how it all fucking works. I want the metal to heat up, and it does - I couldn't even tell you how it happens any better than that!"
"Maybe you know, but only subconsciously." Law hadn't been exaggerating in the difficulty of what Eustass just pulled off. He wasn't sure, but it sounded like the man had used induction heating. That at least required some understanding of magnetic fields and how to use them. Even if Eustass only understood things on an innate, fundamental level, it spoke to an enormous potential for his powers, one that he'd barely needed to tap.
"Of all the things I've done to impress you, and you can't get over how I could heat up a bit of metal?"
Law shook himself back to reality, "But it really is quite impressive!"
Eustass rubbed one finger in his eye, seeming pained. "Y'know, if I'd known that this is what it takes to impress you, I probably wouldn't have tried so hard all this time."
"What, did you expect that I would find your machismo more appealing? You don't understand me at all, always showing off - "
"Well, how the hell else am I suppose to catch your eye when you're always looking down your damn nose at me!"
"You're not! You're supposed to be discouraged."
"So you're pissed cause you can't get rid of me? Is that really it?"
"Typically, people are more receptive to such subtle signals. But I admit, I'm not surprised to find you utterly impervious to them."
Eustass jumped up, startling them both. "Then why the fuck did you sleep with me!"
"Everyone makes mistakes, Eustass. While it's flattering that you think me above them, I'm just as fallible as anyone else."
"The only mistake was you running away for no reason!"
"Let me assure you, I had plenty of reasons!"
"Oh, yeah? Name one." Eustass crossed his arms across his chest, daring him to continue.
"Alright, I will!" Law rose to the challenge; he'd been accumulating Eustass-related grievances for quite some time. "You're boorish, your sense of fashion is gaudy and atrocious, you're a damn show-off and a braggart, you're too loud, you're rude - "
"Hey! I said name one, not a fucking encyclopedia of my character faults!"
"Well, then you should have been more specific."
"Y'know what? Fine!" Eustass snapped, turning on one heel and stomping away. "You want me gone, I'll leave - I need to get Penguin before I end up accidentally killing you."
"Wait," Law said, and bit his lip. Eustass was nearly to the door, and Law knew that if he made it out there would be no turning back. If he wanted to see Eustass' backside retreating for good - and it really was a nice backside, one that Law couldn't help but admire - at last, he had the opportunity. Finally discouraged, he would be gone, possibly for good - certainly from Law's pool of suitors. Though calling it a pool was being rather generous; in fact, there was only the one fish remaining after he'd gobbled up all the rest. Ever since Eustass Kid had waltzed into his world, deep down Law knew he'd never had eyes for anyone else.
He didn't want Eustass to go. It was the only truth remaining, and it didn't matter how vociferously he protested to the contrary. The admission left him slightly crushed. Law hated confessing that he was wrong, even if the confession was only made to himself. "Eustass, wait. Come back."
The man had frozen, his hands balled into tight fists. Despite their constant fighting, Law had never been the recipient of Eustass' full rage. And it was so easy to kick off, too...no matter what he did to aggravate the man, he was restrained throughout it all. It was oddly touching. Maybe there'd been an exception made for him, the same way Law justified exception after exception in order to make room for Eustass.
Eventually, the man turned, striding stiffly back to Law's bedside. "What?" he demanded.
"Come, come. Closer." Law patted the mattress at his side.
Eustass didn't look amused but he obeyed all the same, sinking down on one knee. The significance was hard to ignore. Law tried not to let his romantic inclinations run away with him. How could he go from being so furious with Eustass to nearly melting over him? It was shameful but Law no longer cared. Maybe he could blame that all on the morphine later; he always liked having a convenient exit strategy.
"What," Eustass repeated. His eyebrowless forehead was scrunched into annoyed folds; despite what they were missing, his eyes were always so expressive.
Law realized he was staring. His heart felt as though it would beat right out of his chest. His first instinct was to run, but instead he sank forward. He brought his mouth to Eustass' in a brief kiss that left him feeling like it was his first. Terribly overrated, first kisses - along with most other first times. Maybe he'd been lucky to miss his first time with Eustass after all. On the other hand, maybe they could start from scratch; a well-deserved do-over.
He pulled away, giving a last wet lick to Eustass' lower lip. The man remained quite still; it was worrying. But his scarlet eyes were closed - always a good sign. Something like that required trust, even if it was only the smallest amount. Finally, Eustass blinked, looking dazed. "What was that for?"
"Well. You saved my life," Law said. He sank forward, kissing the corner of Eustass' mouth with a soft press of lips. "And I wanted to. Despite everything I might say, I really do like you, Eustass."
"You could've fooled me."
"And here I thought you enjoyed a challenge."
"There's challenges, then there's fucking impossibilities. You oughta figure out which one you really wanna be."
"You make this hard for me." Now that honesty was coming to him, Law found that he couldn't stop talking. It was troubling that Eustass was able to catalyze such recklessness, twice now and on separate occasions. "You know I can't really remember," Law paused, swallowing thickly. He willed his lingering feelings of humiliation away. "I can't remember that night very well."
"I'm sorry about that. I didn't want to forget, it - it probably would've made things much easier."
"What, really? D'you fucking think?"
Law felt his mood sour, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means you need to loosen up! Can't you just get drunk for once, and have fun?" Eustass shook his head, "Without turning it into some fucking existential crisis, that is."
That wasn't very fair, and Law was about to say as much when Eustass swooped in to take his mouth a second time. These were the kisses he'd remembered, full of an intensity that Law was not used to being the focus of. But he gave just as good as he got; for the first time since this mess started, Law was fully aware and there was no chance he was about to forget any of this. His tongue snuck into Eustass' mouth, tasting, and it was familiar in a way that made his chest ache. He'd missed this and not realized it. A genuine tragedy, albeit on the small scale.
He remained where he was as Eustass withdrew, backing off just enough so that he could press their faces together. Hot breath was caught between them, and Law held on, fingers sliding into red hair and not letting go. As though Eustass would really try to get away. If the man hadn't been quiet so interested in him from the start, Law wondered how differently this would've played out. He always liked a good challenge, and was less used to being the object of desire that Eustass so clearly saw him as. He'd never imagined that someone else could make him feel so attractive and wanted.
Eustass nudged his ugly, damaged nose up against his own, back and forth. Law blinked; that's right, he'd been asking a question. "I know I must've - I know we did some things that night - "
Eustass snickered, "Oh yeah, like what?"
"Like," Law began, though his mouth dried precipitously. He could feel his cheeks flame and why, he certainly wasn't ashamed of himself. "I know I sucked you off, though in my state I'm sure I wasn't as skilled as I normally am - "
"What are you talking about?" Whatever he was expecting, a full-bellied laugh was not it.
"Well, I did. Didn't I?" Mortification left his spine rigid, hunching his shoulders and leaving him defensive. At this point, it was better to own up to what he didn't know than pretend it hadn't happened. "I remember - "
"Look, why don't I just tell you what I remember, huh? We kissed, we made out, you fell off the bed - that's about as close as your face got to my dick, sorry to say." Eustass shook his head, a wry smile pulling at his lips. "If you'd tried to do anything more than that, you probably would've puked."
"I would not have!" Law protested. Maybe. Possibly not. But falling off the bed, that might explain a thing or two. The strange angle he remembered seeing Eustass from...of all the things to get stuck in his mind, and this had to come back to haunt him. Now he felt like a fool and a moron.
"Yeah, you would. You were so fucked up." Eustass was still grinning, one hand clasped around Law's like it was something precious. "But who cares? You really worry about some stupid shit."
"Thank you so much for your insight."
"Well, if you wanna prove me wrong sometime, I won't stop you."
"Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you," Law huffed. Though if asked, he doubted he would refuse. The man could stand to be knocked back a few pegs, and if Law had to blow his mind to do it, they'd both benefit. The mental image of Eustass, blissed-out and euphoric, popped into his mind and lodged there, refusing to leave. Maybe he'd simply have to compare how well it stood up to the real thing. Recently, he'd learned the hard way not to let his fantasies run away with him.
After all, Eustass in the flesh was hardly a let-down. Quite the contrary, though Law still bristled even as he tried to admit his feelings. He envied how easily they came to Eustass; he was honest and dealt with them as effectively as any other obstacle in his path. Then again, some obstacles weren't meant to be overcome and defeated. Sometimes they weren't obstacles at all. A simple shift in perspective often made all the difference in the world.
Eustass gave his hand a squeeze, darting in to leave a kiss on Law's jawline. "I should still get Penguin, though. Need anything while I'm up?"
"You," Law said, impulsively, and was glad when his comment earned a smile. All Eustass had to do was look at him to get him turning to jelly.
"So you are a romantic somewhere deep down. Just a really repressed one."
"Maybe if you persist, you'll see how warm I can be once I feel like it."
"You make people earn every little inch, dontcha?"
"You'll appreciate it more if you put the hard work in. At least, that's what I've always believed." Even as he said it, Law knew there wasn't much work left to be done. Eustass won him over a long time ago, though it'd been a war of attrition to realize it.
Like a dog, the man's affection was pure and honest; he would be loyal, as devoted as any mutt. The same devotion that existed between nakama, though Law had never shared such a bond with anyone beyond his crew. He had no rules against it but his cautious nature had prevented such friendships from growing closer in the past...with Eustass, it seemed as flimsy as all the other rules he'd seen fit to break. Usually Law did not take so kindly to people bursting into his life with as much chaos as Eustass engendered, but the man was making him rethink all sorts of previously-held beliefs.
As Eustass would likely insist, some rules were meant to be broken. Or at the very least, bent until they fit what you needed most.