The war against Kaido was over.
They had won.
Half-dead and covered in blood they may be in the aftermath, the fact remained that their side came out as the victor. It wasn't an easy battle, it never was. Granted, that was a given considering a certain someone, rather a group of certain someones sailing under the same flag, couldn't really go by a single day without causing a ruckus chaotic enough to rattle both the seas and the skies. Yet Luffy, with a will too indomitable to comprehend, and a crew with a specific brand of insanity to match their captain, were able to perform yet another miracle.
It was almost enough for Law to forgive them for all the stress and headache he had to endure throughout his alliance with the Straw Hats.
All's well that ends well, as the saying went.
Though Law was convinced that everything would end better if he, exhausted and bleeding twenty ways to next year, could just head back to the Polar Tang and sleep for three days straight, but of course, Luffy had a different idea entirely.
According to the rubbery terror, nothing was truly over unless they end the day with a banquet to celebrate Kaido's defeat. There was also the fact that Jinbei had officially become their helmsman, so Luffy insisted that they absolutely need to have a party with lots of meat — "Because all that fighting made me so hungry, Torao! I need meat!" — and booze — "It's for Zoro and Nami!" — and music — "We're pirates, so we gotta sing!" — and refused to shut up about it until they all agreed to it.
Law couldn't, for the love of all things demonic out in the sea, fathom where Luffy got all his reserved energy from.
"I'm going back to my ship," Law announced and promptly ignored the loud booing of his own crew, which was absurd in itself. Seriously, these idiots were basically dead men walking just an hour ago.
Of course, the rubber fiend wasn't having any of it as he blocked Law's path, lips shaped into a pout. "But you can't leave yet! You're my favorite ally!"
"I don't think I like that title," Law grumbled, feeling an involuntary shudder run through his spine. He didn't exactly know what being Luffy's favorite meant, but he was sure it didn't bode well for him. He could already feel a migraine coming just by the thought of it.
Luffy, as always ignored his grievances — selfish little shit — and placed both of his hands on his arms, shaking him wildly.
"You gotta join the party, Torao. I'm not letting you leave!"
"Let go, Mugiwara-ya."
"No." If possible, Luffy's hold on him tightened, and Law couldn't hide his wince when Luffy's fingers dug against some of his wounds.
Law already knew Luffy was stubborn, but if the other captain thought he would back down that easily, he had another thing coming. Law could be just as stubborn if he wanted to.
Luffy might have the will of the D in his blood, but so did Law.
So the next few minutes were spent with the two of them — Law with his lips turned to a frown and Luffy with his big, pleading eyes — trying their best to out-stubborn the other. It was a contest of wills, one that lasted until a new but familiar voice joined the fray.
"Torao! Come drink with us!"
It was Zoro with lips stretched into a grin, his lone eye shining with a kind of confidence only a man who faced-off against death and won could exude. There was a mug of beer already held on each of his hands as he approached them, and the closer he got to them, the easier it was for Law to see all the bandages covering Zoro's arms and torso.
Zoro looked disheveled.
(Like someone to be kissed.)
Law genuinely thought it was cheating.
See, Law's weaknesses were few and far between, and fortunately or unfortunately, Zoro, wandering and lost he may be most of the time, had successfully found his way on top of that list, beating even the curse of the sea by a mile and three-fourths.
So really, no one could blame Law for saying that the world was unfairly against him at the moment.
"Here." The deep rumble of Zoro's voice brought Law out of his thoughts, one hand stretched towards him, urging him to take the mug of beer.
"Fine," Law huffed, sounding only a fourth annoyed as he gave a resigned sigh, taking the mug of beer Zoro was offering.
It was quite embarrassing how quickly he folded against Zoro's demand, but his action was rewarded by the look of smug delight that overtook Zoro's features, and Law thought that surrendering to Zoro's whims wasn't as bad as he assumed. The results of giving in to the other man were more satisfactory than Law imagined they would be, and Law would have smiled — Zoro's glee was more contagious than expected — if he hadn't noticed Luffy eyeing him strangely.
The other captain wasn't really saying anything, just watching him with a silence that was terrifying in its eariness and serenity. It was the kind of stare that was both blank and calm, the one that felt as if Luffy could see past all his defenses and right through his soul, knowing everything but betraying nothing of the knowledge he had acquired. Law didn't like the feeling of being scrutinized from the inside and outside. He couldn't read Luffy like this either. It was making him bristle, making him feel like a caged animal, cornered and with nowhere to run and hide.
"What?" Law glared at Luffy, sounding more snappy than he intended, but Luffy didn't seem to care as he continued to stare at him, dark eyes never leaving his own for even a drumbeat.
Finally, after a few seconds that felt like hours, Luffy's eyes crinkled to the sides as his lips curved up to form that familiar grin of his. He looked somewhat pleased, and Law really didn't have the time and strength to analyze what the change of aura could possibly mean.
"Next time I want Torao to party with us, I'll just send Zoro to invite him," Luffy announced with his signature laugh, nodding animatedly at both him and Zoro as if he just discovered something interesting.
Law couldn't shake the thought that Luffy somehow found out about his growing attraction towards Zoro. It was not a pleasant feeling, but before Law could say anything to him, Luffy was already rocketing away from them, yelling at his cook to prepare lots of meat.
"Your captain's insane," Law said partly because he could and mostly because he did not want to think about Luffy being aware of his occasional, now turning frequent, urge to kiss Zoro senseless.
"I wouldn't have followed him if he wasn't," Zoro declared with half a laugh. "Makes everything more fun, ne?"
"Of course you'd say that. Your entire crew is just like your captain." Law rolled his eyes, looking unimpressed.
Zoro just snorted. "Careful, Torao. You're an honorary Straw Hat."
"Since when?" Law really wished he could have faked the horror that seeped in his voice when he asked such a question.
"Don't worry about it," Zoro dismissed easily. "Let's just go party, Gloom-man."
Law blinked. "Gloom-man?"
"'cause there's a party, and you're over here being gloomy," Zoro explained with a shrug.
"I'm not being gloomy." Law gritted his teeth in denial.
"Sure you're not."
"Some people need sleep, Zoro-ya," Law grumbled, wondering why he was even bothering explaining all of these to Zoro.
"Later. Right now, we celebrate," Zoro declared with finality as he downed his glass of beer in one gulp.
And if someone would tell Law that his eyes lingered a little too long on Zoro and the way he bared his throat, adam's apple bobbing temptingly as he drank his beer from top to bottom with absolute abandon, Law would deny it with every inch of his life.
It had been nearly an hour since then.
Despite Law's initial reluctance to join the party as well as his insistence to stay away from the center of the celebration, everyone's enthusiasm had infected him just enough to make him stay and actually enjoy the banquet.
Although Law supposed that seeing Eustass Kid losing mightily against Straw Hat's navigator on a drinking contest — the man getting drunk off his behind and making a fool of himself in front of everyone — also helped in tipping his mood into a much happier scale. Who would have thought that the fearsome captain could be so embarrassing? Law thought it would be a good blackmail material in the future. They might have fought together as allies, but Law always preferred to have ammunition against his rivals just in case.
That, and his current companion wasn't such a bad one either.
Actually, his companion was highly preferred, if Law wanted to be honest about it.
Zoro had stayed with him to keep him company and make sure he didn't room himself away from the party. Not that he would, as Law promised him. Still, Zoro didn't leave his side, not even when no conversation was being held between them.
Law would never say it out loud, but he was secretly flattered that Zoro chose his company over his own crew.
But of course, Law had a reputation, and he would like to maintain it as best as he could.
"So, why are you still here? Didn't you want to enjoy the party?" Law inquired just for the sake of asking, raising an elegant brow at Zoro who was sitting next to him, close enough that Law could feel the pleasant heat emanating from his skin.
"I'm enjoying the party just fine," Zoro answered, mouth filled with a large cut of barbecue he just recently shoved in there seconds ago; he had no manners, and he was spraying chunks of meat everywhere. Law was highly mortified when he realized that he found it adorable.
"You'll enjoy it even more if you're over there," Law grumbled, gesturing towards Luffy and Usopp, the two dancing like baboons around the large bonfire they had built, chopsticks shoved up their nostrils.
Zoro was silent for a fraction of a minute, and when Law turned to look at him again, he noticed him looking contemplative, gaze far away. Then, slowly, uncertainly, Zoro returned his stare.
"You want me to leave?" Zoro asked carefully, and although he was smirking, Law could pick up the nervousness at the corner of his lips. He looked like he would really leave if Law told him so. It was strange seeing someone who lives and breathes confidence look so unsure.
"Don't be ridiculous," his response had been too quick for his liking, but Law wouldn't dare take it back. Not when he saw the tenseness that made its way into Zoro's shoulders disappear, the uncertainty behind his eye replaced by poorly hidden relief.
It wasn't like Law was lying about not wanting Zoro to leave either. Even before the way he viewed Zoro changed drastically, Law had always favored the swordsman's company over the rest of the Straw Hats. It was a sentiment that Law was sure wouldn't change any time soon.
"Thought so," Zoro said with a rare smile, one that was full of teeth and gums, the kind of smile that Law was starting to like and adore more than he should.
No word was said between them after that, but Law didn't mind. He quite liked the peace that descended between them, pleasant and companionable.
It made him feel relaxed.
Between the scent of food and alcohol in the air and the loud, off-key singing of pirates and samurai alike, Law's mind began to wander, reminiscing about the important fragments of his life that brought him to where he was now, and he found himself thinking about his lost childhood, of the memories of unnatural two-toned skin and the scent of blood. He thought of fluffy coats and a clumsy guardian comically covered in flames; he thought of love and how he was saved by its silence. He remembered wanting to throw away his life for an act of revenge that wouldn't really bring back the dead and how a certain bouncy idiot and his equally stupid crew helped him realize that being alive was a kind of retribution on its own — perhaps it was all these factors that made him fight as hard and as unforgiving as he did against Kaido and his men in the first place.
Then, his thoughts shifted to the people he met along the way. The people who went from strangers to crew, those that went from rivals to allies, and finally, to friends, and the remaining lot who were just in the way of his dreams.
And then there was Zoro.
The headstrong and directionally-challenged swordsman of the Straw Hat pirates, not to mention the person Law really wanted to hold hands with. In truth, the captain of the Heart Pirates had no idea how Zoro managed to charm him, but somehow, he did, and Law had never been the same ever since.
There had been a time when Zoro was just another strong warrior, an ally whose strength Law needed in order to shake the world from its axis and accomplish the goals he had been aiming for since he set out to the sea. But then, Zoro somehow graduated from the classification of a powerful ally to someone that gives me extra eye bags and if that wasn't enough, Zoro suddenly slid himself into the category of someone I would like to push against a wall in Law's book and had remained to be the only one on that particular list from then onwards. Law couldn't really pinpoint when it happened, but somewhere between their travels from Punk Hazard and Dressrosa, to Zou, and finally, to Wano, amidst the battles they fought together, their random sparring sessions, and late-night talks wherein some secrets were exchanged between them — the secret behind Law's name and a sacrifice that not even Luffy knew — Law began to realize a lot of things about Zoro, and in the process, himself. Namely how Roronoa Zoro was both endearingly stupid and stupidly endearing and that Law was apparently attracted to green-haired, sharp-eyed, and sword-wielding (preferably with swords numbering to three) people with those exact qualities.
"I can hear you thinking," Zoro said, interrupting Law's train of thoughts and bringing him back to the present.
"I like to think," Law countered lamely, feeling a little miffed and disappointed that he allowed himself to be so distracted by his own thoughts.
"Now's not the time for that," Zoro told him, a whiny quality invading his usually rough and stern tone. "Stop thinking for a bit and have fun."
"I am having fun," Law said, and to further emphasize his point, he took a big gulp of alcohol from his mug.
If the stare Zoro gave him was anything to go by, it was obvious that the other swordsman didn't believe him at all.
"I have an idea," Zoro suddenly announced as he stood up, strong features reflecting the determination of ten thousand men ready for war.
Law didn't like the sound of that. He liked Zoro, but based on personal experience, any idea from any member of the Straw Hat Pirates never ended well for anyone involved. Their ideas were either crazy, destructive, or just plain disastrous. Sure he was yet to hear whatever idea Zoro came up with, but he was more than ready to protest against it. However, Zoro seemed to have sensed his intentions because he beat him to the punch, grabbing him by the arm before he could even open his mouth, lone eye glinting with the kind of mischief Law had only ever seen on Luffy.
"Come dance with me, Torao!"
Let it be known that Trafalgar D. Water Law, Surgeon of Death, former Royal Warrior of the Sea, and captain of the Heart Pirates, had long lost the ability to say no to Roronoa Zoro.
It was even harder to tell Zoro no when the man was already dragging him away from the fallen log he had claimed as his seat and towards the center of the party where everyone else was still energetically dancing to whatever song Brook was playing.
That was how Law found himself standing in front of the bonfire, looking down at Zoro who didn't seem the smallest bit intimidated by the glare — it was the one that made the marines wet their pants in fright — he was giving him.
"Well? Aren't we going to dance?" Law finally questioned when he realized that Zoro had no plans of letting him go back to being a willing wallflower.
Zoro's answering grin was proud when he said, "I know shit about dancing."
Law should have expected that. Zoro was that kind of person after all.
"Why did you invite me to dance then?"
"So you can lead the dance," was what Zoro said, but what Law really heard was a resounding duh .
"Uh-huh," Zoro nodded sagely before he let honesty take over his words. "Also because I wanted to."
"Right," Law let out another sigh. He had been sighing a lot lately; he was sure that it was the side effect of being around Luffy's crew.
"Come on then," Zoro urged before he fell into three seconds of contemplative stillness. "Wait. Do you even know how to dance?"
"What do you take me for? Of course, I know how to dance," Law defended with narrowed eyes, mighty offended by the implication of Zoro's words.
"Cool." Zoro nodded, not even the slightest bit deterred by his reaction. "How are we gonna do this?"
"Hands on my shoulders, Zoro-ya," Law ordered with an exasperated roll of his eyes, futilely trying to keep the fondness out of the tone of his voice.
Zoro seemed to pause for a heartbeat, just studying him with the kind of intensity he only ever directed at his opponents. It reminded Law of the way Luffy scrutinized him an hour ago. Zoro stayed like that for a while, and when Law was about to assure him that he didn't have to do anything that he didn't want, he felt the weight of Zoro's hand on his shoulders, the swordsman’s unnatural warmth seeping through his shirt.
Zoro’s touch was grounding, and yet Law felt as if he would float away any second.
It was a scary thought, and Law had to force himself to focus on the task at hand and not on how he wanted to pull Zoro closer, hold him in his arms and never let go. It wasn't easy seeing as the next step would require Law to touch more than he thought he was allowed to, and Law found himself on a standstill.
"Torao?" Zoro raised his eye to meet his, seemingly searching for something Law couldn't grasp.
Not knowing what to say, Law simply tilted his head to the side, showing Zoro that he had heard him and acknowledging his inquiry, whatever it was. Then, with a steadying breath, Law placed both his hands on Zoro's sides.
The jolt, coupled with a suppressed gasp, he received in turn for his actions helped calmed his nerves, and Law shamelessly gawked at Zoro, his brain efficiently putting all the puzzle pieces together. When everything slid into place, Law felt all of his previous apprehension being carried by the wind towards the sea until it completely disappeared.
"You —" Law bit his lower lip in an effort to keep his laughter in.
"Not another word," Zoro hissed, single eye hard and threatening. He would have looked intimidating if Law hadn't just discovered something fascinating about his current dance partner.
Feeling vindictive, Law allowed a teasing smile to slip past his lips. "You're ticklish."
"I'll cut you in half," Zoro warned without heat, cheeks tinted with the color of embarrassment.
Ignoring the threat, Law gave Zoro's sides a playful squeeze if only to see his reaction for the second time.
"We're moving, Zoro-ya," was all the warning he gave his partner before he pulled him along, feet and heart light as he followed the beat of the impromptu drums in the background.
In hindsight, Law really shouldn't have expected anything romantic — this man was his first love, let him dream — to come out of all of this. He should have known that when Zoro said he knew shit about dancing, he really meant that he was a lost cause. Zoro had two left feet, and even then, he didn't exactly know which of his feet was actually left because what they were doing was stumbling and tripping instead of dancing. They looked more drunk than Eustass Kid despite being far more sober, and Law was starting to regret all his decisions up to this point.
"Why did I even agree to this? You're making us look like idiots. This is embarrassing. You're embarrassing," Law groaned, wishing that he could hide behind his hat or just disappear entirely.
"But you like me," Zoro shot back, nonchalant and factual as if he's stating that devil fruit users couldn't swim.
Law froze, opening and closing his mouth like a fish out of water, wanting to ask so many questions —
What did you say?
Why did you know that?
How did you know?
Was I being too obvious?
— but not finding the voice to do so.
He could feel his hands begin to sweat against Zoro's sides, inked fingers trembling in time with the loud beating beneath his ribcage.
And wasn’t that the most terrifying thing ever?
Law faced people stronger than him, had stared death in the face countless of times and fearlessly raised his middle finger to defy it, but none of those things gripped his heart as tightly and as suffocating as Zoro knowing what he felt for him. Everything that Law tried to keep hidden was slowly being laid out in the open, unraveling before him without his control.
“Zoro-ya, I —” Law began, throat dry and feeling like a kid facing the scary monster under his bed for the first time instead of a pirate captain braving the temperamental waters of the Grand Line. He felt the need to fix whatever went wrong, to deny what Zoro already knew and tell him that he was wrong, anything to keep the precious friendship he was only beginning to treasure.
But then, Zoro was hooking his arms around his neck and yanking him forward.
And all of Law's words died in his throat as Zoro kissed him, clumsy and inexperienced but soft and sweet.
"But I like you, too. So don't stress too much about it, Torao," Zoro said when he broke away, self-satisfied but with a splattering of pink across his cheeks.
Just like that, all of Law's worries seemed so insignificant. Suddenly, the hows and whys didn't matter anymore. Now, he just felt like an idiot. There had never been a need for him to hide or deny anything.
Zoro knew, but it was okay.
It had always been okay.
"You're a terrible kisser," Law commented after he accepted the fact that he had been a dumbass. He knew his words were just a useless effort in his part to save face. However, to his satisfaction, the crimson that took over the bridge of Zoro's nose darkened.
"Shut up! I've never kissed anyone before!" Zoro squawked two seconds later, rudely pointing a finger at him. "See if I ever kiss you again!"
Looking at Zoro all red-faced and flustered before him, Law had to admit that he had never seen someone so enticing, and as if that wasn't enough, Law finally took notice of how the glowing orange of the firelight danced across Zoro's skin, illuminating his eye and casting swaying shadows across his face and hair.
At that moment, Zoro looked like a dream.
It filled Law with the desire to kiss him some more until his lips were swollen, until Zoro's mind only remembered his name, but he didn't.
He didn't because his crew, in true Heart Pirates fashion, was elbowing each other while gesturing at him and Zoro, their lips stretched into teasing and suggestive smiles. Law was sure he saw Penguin and Shachi making kissy faces, too, and he swore he heard Ikaku tell Bepo how it was about time the captain got laid at one point as well. Honestly, Law thought he was not getting the respect that he deserved.
"I hate my crew," Law grumbled half-heartedly, slapping a hand over his burning face in surrender.
Zoro, without a single ounce of sympathy for his plight, laughed out loud. His laughter was deep and generous, like he was releasing all the mirth he had kept hidden for a long time.
(It sounded like freedom.)
Law concluded that there was no sound he liked more.
"You're crew's almost as crazy as mine," Zoro asserted, and because Zoro looked openly happy and so full of love, Law opted to ignore his statement and instead using the fact that he was yet to let go of his hold on Zoro's sides to pull the other flush against his chest.
"I like you, Zoro-ya," he murmured against the crown of Zoro's head.
"Took you long enough to say it," Zoro whispered back, further tilting his chin up at him, patient and waiting.
Law figured he'd made Zoro wait long enough and that he had no desire of making him wait a millisecond longer, so as an apology and an answer to Zoro's silent request, he pressed his lips against Zoro's for another kiss, less chaste than the first but equally as tender.
From his peripherals, Law caught a glimpse of the Straw Hats gawking at them, but he gave them no mind. He'd worry about their interrogation and death threats later.
After all, there was salt in his lips and freedom in his arms, and that was all that mattered.