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The first time Law activates Room, it is an unintentional gesture. His Devil Fruit powers are still newly unfamiliar and even though he has an idea of how they work, hes yet had the time to test them.

(It is only later, when his thoughts are a fraction less anguished that he will suspect his erratic emotions had triggered the curious space)

After all, they were going to explore his abilities together- supposed to meet up in the next city and escape to some place where strangers wouldn’t cringe at the sight of the scars on his skin, somewhere far beyond Spider Miles and North Blue and the barren soil of his cauterized home.

And an ocean’s breadth away from Joker’s gilded gun.

he promised me

that he would be okay

And as a young Trafalgar Law grieves alone against the fallen form of the man who's redeemed him twice over, a dome of blue energy similar to the other’s encompassing bubbles of silence umbrellas faintly around them both.

Within the conjured space, liquid power flows like electricity through the weeping boy’s veins. There is an accompanying sense of control, of mastery, like each molecule and atom of flesh and feather and earth is merely a single unit in a great pile of building blocks, and that he, the creator, can arrange and rearrange them into anything and everything- limits dictated by nothing but his imagination.

They had researched the Ope Ope no Mi and it's supposed abilities before Corazon had nicked it from the Barrels Pirates. The fruit grants the ability to create a space in which the user has complete control over the placement and orientation of the objects inside, making the individual a Free Modification Human. Many have even called it the ultimate Devil Fruit, so long as it's wielded by one with sufficient knowledge, because with it comes the power to bestow a single person eternal life.

That was, of course, why Joker sought it in the first place.

But what their research failed to mention is that by eating the fruit, Law would begin to see things that did not exist.

There, bright against his white bed of snow, are two lucid red strings tied around Corazon’s smallest finger; their ends cut off short as if they’ve been snipped with shears. 

Law’s attention is misdirected, however- his psyche at the moment much too clouded by unequivocal agony to think about the string’s implications.

He had watched everything he’d ever known burned to the ground once. Had all the people and places he held dear ripped from him like the most merciless kind of torture, but even the pain he felt that day had nothing on this.

Death would be painless. This was crucifixion.

The red thread around Law’s own finger has been cut short to match.

He throws his head back as a harrowing scream tears through his throat, scraping through the surrounding air.

With flurries floating down from the darkened sky above, and the two of them crumpled within Room’s half sphere like some dynamic kind of statue, the very image they create is akin to an ironic, tragic kind of snow globe.

(definitely something joker would love to have on the corner of his desk)

 

-----

 

He drags himself away from that winter island with a roaring, obstinate resolve.

He acquires a ship and sets out to sea, opting for the autonomy that comes with piracy. Travelling from island to island, he begins by collecting medical knowledge from every book he can get his hands on, downloading and backing each one up into his brain like a file to a hard drive, mechanized and efficient.

He devotes his destitute life to relentless studying, and it more than pays off over the years. His technique becomes immaculate, expertise growing and growing as he and the mismatched collection of crewmates he picks up along the way traverse towards the Grand Line.

Law becomes more than just comfortable with his power, he hones and perfects it like he suspects no other previous eaters have. With knowledge of each function and characteristic of every cell and system inside-out, the human body becomes nothing but a blank canvas. And though he can easily remove cancerous cells from someone's liver without having to cut into them, it's just as simple for him to rip out their beating heart and crush it in his palm.

But despite his extensive studies, Law remains evermore perplexed by the mysterious red strings that appear whenever he activates Room.

Young though he is, he knows of the legends. A lifetime ago, he had a mother who told him and his sister stories by their bedside. From beneath the soft glow of lamplight she shared tales of lovers separated by circumstance, even of time, and connecting them always were the resilient crimson threads that hung from their smallest fingers. And the threads- they could tangle and knot, even stretch across the span of the earth tenfold, but only would they snap if a soulmate lost their life.

soulmate, he scoffs at the word now.

While not particularly useful, the ability to see them is nonetheless unexpected. If Law had any interest in romance, perhaps the skill would have been something other than a painful reminder, much less of a stubborn red slash constantly teasing the edges of his peripheral.

He can't even touch or manipulate the strings like he can with all else that enters his Room, even if he tries to grasp them they just disappear though his hands like a rippling mirage.

They're a curious phenomenon, though.

He observes that while some individuals may have a few strings, others can have none at all.

And Law, he's got two.

He didn’t notice them at first, but when he strains his eyes they become as visible as the others, both tied snug around his pinky finger.

He is disheartened, but by no means surprised, that his first thread is only a few inches long- end abrupt and plucked from existence. It doesn't take much to deduce who it was that had been cut away from him.

cora-san

It had to be. Not just because he had felt it- the excruciating pain that had shred through his chest on that day, but because he himself had also seen Corazon’s threads with his own eyes. There was one for him, and one for another, both hanging loosely off of the man's smallest finger.

(But who was at the end of Cora's other string? There must have been someone special. Someone Law had never met in the short, much too short, time that he had known him)

Even more puzzling though, is not Corazon’s but Law’s second string.

Bright, vivid crimson; it stretches far off into the distance, way out of his line of sight. The person on the other end is a mystery to him, and alive evidently, but Law does not allow himself to obsess over it.

Because if he gets close, they’ll just die on him too, certainly.

Even in his ripe age, death follows Law like an old friend. He’s loved and lost enough for several lifetimes. It’s better to steer clear of attachments, give death nothing to take but overplayed memories, and instead focus on achieving his goal.

His goal to carry through the legacy that Corazon had dedicated his life to,

To kill Doflamingo using the very fruit that catalyzed it all.

 

-----

 

A city of polished porcelain, brimming with gardens of dove-roses and daisies, lined by cobblestone streets that glittered like diamonds. As if straight from a fairy tale, it's inhabitants too became white as snow. 

That was until,

it all turned amber.

A ten year old boy knocked on the door of a waste processing plant with a dozen live grenades strapped to his chest, three and half years left to live, and a deep-seated hatred for humanity.

He was told that a merciful hand would always reach out to those who needed it.

That was perhaps the biggest load of bullshit he had ever heard.

Because he thought that he had left hell behind him...

Nobody told him that the Devil had a summer home. 

 

-----

 

When he gets to the Grand Line, Law earns some interesting nicknames as he and his now rather populous crew traipse across it. Surgeon of Death, Supernova, one of the Worst Generation. But Law did not become a pirate for recognition, so the names are nothing but redundant to him. Just meaningless gossip.

He became a pirate to more easily kill Doflamingo.

The beginnings of a plan have begun festering in his mind. Everything must be perfect for success, of that he has always been certain. He requires not just time but circumstance, and thus for now he must be patient and wait for an opportunity. He wouldn't so easily throw away the life that he cheated, not without making good use of it first. 

So he points his submarine in the direction of the New World, docking at Saobody Archipelago along the way for no reason other than for some fresh air.

It is on this island that he first encounters the enigma that is Monkey D. Luffy.

He's heard of him, sure. Who hasn't? He's in every paper, posters of his absurdly cheerful face plastered against every wall in every barren town and bustling city on the sea; whisperings of that Monkey kid and Strawhat Luffy shared amongst civilians like an oncoming conspiracy.

They say he's already taken down two Shichibukai.

Law has often wondered if Doflamingo could be his next.

He is sitting in the audience of an auction house, surrounded by the handful of crewmates he’s grown to trust but nothing more when it happens. Reclining on the cushioned seat, Law watches with interest as the kid wrecks utter havoc in the place as if it all were indeed just a spectacle. Had his eyes never seen the things they have, he would have disbelieved them when they showed the young pirate blatantly punch not a Shichibukai, but a Tenryuubito in the face.

Monkey D. Luffy is reckless, ignorant, and incredibly foolish.

Immediately, Law is intrigued by him.

Later, when they are outside on the battlefield and agree on a brief but engrossing partnership with another of their generation, Law’s interest soars even further- it flies right around his head and up over the mangrove trees.

He activates Room and is completely taken aback.

no way in hell

It’s almost comical- he's never seen so many threads attached to one person. Some people have had a few, but this? It's ludicrous.

Luffy has dozens, if not hundreds of red strings tied to his pinky finger.

It shouldn't make sense, but somehow it does. The laws of physics always were reduced to trite with a power like his. The threads are all there but they're also not, as if undulating in and out of existence.

Some of Luffy's threads, he notices, are connected to the kid's own diverse collection of friends: a reindeer, a cyborg, a skeleton, even the mermaid they just saved- but the rest all stretch out of the bubble of Law’s Room and into infinity, individuals on their ends unknown.  

who are you, strawhat luffy?

And with his silent awe, Law and Luffy (and even that asshole Eustass) easily annihilate some bothersome marines, and then with reverence, head their own separate ways, just like that.

(What Law doesn’t do that day is strain his eyes to look at the string on his own hand, the longer one, and see that despite what he's deluded himself with these past ten years he’s really not special at all. Just another of hundreds)

 

------

 

Months in the future, an entire war later, they meet again.

But no one could ever have predicted the circumstances.

When he hears about the war and how it was set off by Strawhat Luffy's (outright insane) attempt to break his brother out of Impel Down, Law is on his way to Marineford before anyone can even question his intentions.

It's almost as if he's pulled right there, submarine tugged through the sea like a fish on a line.

(and who's to say he wasn't?) 

Sure enough, when he emerges from the cover of the ocean's surface, he finds the inexplicable young captain that had fascinated him so acutely broken by his brother's death, physically and emotionally.

Law brings him inside to his medbay, plunging his nodachi into the surface of his operating table before fixing Strawhat Luffy the only way he knows how- with a needle and thread.

(When he reflects upon it in later days, the entire event is a just a timeless blur in his mind- all of his actions thought free and impulsive. He has no explanation for any of it. No excuses whatsoever)

He stitches the gaping wound in the middle of his acquaintance's body shut with steady, practiced hands. The whole thing proves to be the most dire, crucial surgery he's ever had to perform. 

And though he is always careful and professional with patients when he (very rarely) accepts them, he cannot help but feel incredibly relieved when the operation is completed successfully. Not just relieved, but grateful, like the weight of something large has been removed from its perch on his shoulders. Like he’s just done something substantially important for the universe.

"Shambles." 

He carefully teleports Luffy into the recovery room a door down, and after setting up his vitals, he collapses into the squashy chair by the corner, throwing his head back and letting out a deep sigh.

 

-----

  

He needed something permanent. Bold. Anything other than those accursed scars to remind him.

(Not just of those he had lost, but also of his ambition)

He was nineteen, barely an adult when he decided to tattoo his hands. The rest of the ink on his body followed shortly after.

He had purchased an ancient set of tebori needles and a bottle of black ink from a charity shop on some nameless island, as well as several books on Irezumi which he shoved off to the corner of his shelf after he had memorized each one.

Uncaring about staining the wood and grateful for once of his imbued ambidextrousness, he sat alone at his desk in his private chamber, the filtered light from the porthole above casting rippling reflections on the spaces around him.

Grasping the bamboo handle, he pointed the needle’s blackened tip against his knuckle and began infusing the ink into his skin, letter by letter.

It was strenuous, incredibly painful, but the focus and precision required was not dissimilar to surgery. The careful yet languid process lulled him into a near meditative state.

He shaded the letters on his left hand first, and then his right. When he finished, the skin beneath the needle was raw and bloody, but the result had been rather impressive considering his outright lack of experience.

He splayed his work out in front of his eyes for a final examination, even allowing his strings into his vision.

The black words he created were striking against the snowy spots that covered his skin.

It was actually quite fitting- now his hands were linked to death in more ways than one.  

(He asked himself then, had he always had such a flair for dramatics? Perhaps he did, or perhaps it was yet another flaw in his coding, rewritten by no one other than the demon with the pointed sunglasses and sinister fingers- the most dramatic of them all)

The tattoos certainly wouldn't be the last impulsive thing he ever did.

 

-----

 

When he at last opens his eyes, Strawhat Luffy is predictably delirious- thoroughly consumed by his grief.

("He promised me that he'd never die! He promised!")

Law has come to respect, perhaps even like the young pirate, and for this reason he cannot stay here on this island for the next phase of his recovery.

Because now it is Luffy’s turn to stumble across the treacherous path that is living with heartbreak. It’s a path Law has walked down more times that he can count, yet somehow still gets lost on.

It’s also a place where one’s shadow is the only company that can be kept.

("So where is he? Ace- Where's Ace-?!")

Law leaves Luffy in Silvers Rayleigh and Boa Hancock's sufficient care, knowing he’s done all that he could’ve (and so much more than he should’ve).

He can't help but be grateful for his own crew's patience in regards to all of the madness he's dragged them into- their loyalty is something Law hasn't done a thing to deserve.

It begins to cause him more and more shame when he thinks of what's to come, because Law's going to have to abandon them soon, maybe even sooner than planned. It would have just complicated things if he became truly attached.

Especially now, because in the aftermath of this war, he has found an opening. After all these years of diligence, at last an opportunity has arisen for him to lay down the foundation of his plan. 

Finally, he can dive in and begin.

Descending deep into the ocean’s murky depths, leaving Amazon Lily in his bubbles, he heads in the direction of a place that hosted one of the most intensive battles of the Great Pirate Era.

An island of fire and ice.

 

-----

 

He's twenty-six now, and frankly, he believed he’d be long dead at this age, with Joker’s head on the ground beside his own.

But the New World is an even more unpredictable place than he had assumed, yielding to no one, and governed by nothing other than patience and chance.

(Two years ago, he had left his crew on Bepo's home island [which isn't actually an island at all but a giant elephant. He's seen stranger things] He told them all that they were free to do whatever they wished, that the Heart Pirates were officially disbanded.

And they were flabbergasted of course, reluctant and appalled at letting their captain just leave. 

Desperate, he promised them he'd return one day. The lie was so dirty it rotted his teeth being said- he'll probably never know if they're still there waiting for him)

Right now however, Trafalgar Law's regrets aren't what's weighing him down.

He's been here on this frigid, god forsaken island (barely) tolerating the most obnoxious, psychopathic scientist he's ever had the displeasure of meeting for so long he's beginning to fear for what's left of his sanity. 

Everything had made sense when he first planned it; he'd earn Ceasar Clown's trust, use the SAD against him, hold him hostage while destroying the SMILE factory on Dressrosa, and then let Kaido of the Beasts blame Caesar's overseer Doflamingo. And While Kaido's army took care of Doflamingo's underlings, Law would take the man down himself.

It was all so straightforward, meticulous but efficient. He didn't even need to get the Heart Pirates involved.

But on yet another wintry, nearly intolerable day, the plan that he worked so hard to set into motion gets more than just delayed- it gets ripped up and thrown into the trash when somehow, in this vast erratic sea, he crosses paths with Monkey. D. Luffy yet again (Or more accurately, Luffy all but crashes into the scene and sweeps Law away in a rubber whirlwind, his fastidious plan be damned).

Perhaps unpredictable is an understatement. In the blink of an eye, Law becomes everything he never once considered he’d be at this point in his life: alive, on a rescue mission for a bunch of random orphans, cooperating with a group of rogue marines, and in a mutual pirate alliance, of all ludicrous things?

As with everything pertaining to Strawhat Luffy, Law cannot explain why or how, but what's most troubling is how naturally it fell into place- like there wasn’t even an alliance to make.

Up until now, he had only ever seen Luffy in unyielding battle mode, unconscious on his operating table, or crippled with sorrow.

This however- this is completely overwhelming.

“This is friendship!” Luffy declares instead.

And it must be what’s so thoroughly captivated nearly everyone he’s ever met.

And yeah, Law has (had?) crewmates, subordinates, and enemies, but to have friendship thrust upon him so forcefully leaves him at a loss for what to do.

He’s been hiding behind this aloof, hardy facade for so long now that he can’t quite shake it off. It’s a defense mechanism, it helps keeps others at a distance, and though he has always regarded Luffy highly, he can't just let him in like everyone else so easily does, even if Luffy insists that they are friends.

After all, even with Luffy's help, their next destination is Law’s graveyard- the island of Dressrosa. The place where he will drag its monarch down six feet under the dirt beside him.

Law's knows his end is drawing nearer, Doflamingo getting closer within his reach. He is going to die soon, so there’s no point in anything other than cordial cooperation with Luffy. He only agreed to the alliance as a failsafe, a safety net in case something goes wrong (and oh, will things ever go wrong).

strawhat is not my friend

Law repeats this to himself like a mantra whenever Luffy does something particularly affable, whether it be calling him by his ridiculous nickname (how does one even get Torao from Trafalgar?) to see some absurd fish he caught with Longnose, or spontaneously wrapping his rubbery limbs around Law in an unreciprocated embrace, or even when he sits (never quietly) beside Law on the base of the Thousand Sunny's mast when it's Law's turn to guard Caesar, just because sometimes Law will give in and indulge him in a game of cards to pass the time.

"You guys can trust Torao!" he'll exclaim to his crew when they send their new ally suspicious glances, "He's my saviour!"

strawhat is not my friend

strawhat is not my friend

strawhat is not my friend

It gets harder and harder for Law to convince himself of this when Luffy matches his scowl with a smile that's so bright it could light up a black hole, the gesture incredibly reminiscent of a certain blonde haired memory.

(And it turns out Trafalgar Law is the real fool, because he’s yet to realize that he’s never actually had a say in any of it. Luffy will send his walls tumbling to the ground until they are nothing more than sad piles of rubble, regardless. It’s just what he does, and it’s how he’s made a home for himself in the hearts of so many)

 

-----

 

Law's fingertips traced gently over the ridges of a well-loved straw hat when Bepo had knocked on the door to request entry into the dewy little room.

"Come in." he had said, though he did not move from his seat to greet his guest.

Law had been sitting in that chair trapped in somewhat of a trance for the past few days, stone silent while watching Luffy's chest as it rose and fell in tandem, leaving only for the bare necessities. It had become more and more obvious to all that the submarine would be remaining put at the foot of Amazon Lily until their unlikely patient woke up.

Regardless, the captain's behaviour had seemed to be nothing short of uncharacteristic in the eyes of his crew. They had started coming into the recovery room to check on him one at a time- with Bepo marking all twenty. Shachi had come in yesterday, taking advantage of his captain's trance-like state to babble on about why it would be beneficial to everyone's well being if they installed a jacuzzi in the mess room. Penguin had said the same a day before. For them to finally send in Bepo, the easygoing navigator he had known since sixteen, they must have been getting increasingly restless.

"Captain, we've gone along with your orders so far, but none of us really understand." the mink had said to him in his usual deadpan voice, "This human is just another pirate, isn't he? Why are you even doing all this for him?"

Law let his gaze fall to Luffy's lax arm as it dangled over the edge of his cot.

"Why indeed." he replied simply.

Their concern was understandable, he just couldn't explain to them why it was necessary when he didn't know the answer himself.

The navigator soon realized that his captain had nothing further to say, so after a moment he shook his head and left, complacent as ever.

Alone once again, Law found his eyes gravitating to Luffy's right hand- to his pinky finger. They had been lingering there often during the days spent in here.

Over the surgery, and even during that fight on Saobody, he had blocked out the sight of Luffy’s multitude of strings because the sheer amount of them was distracting.

Then however, with time to spare and the other pirate so obliviously comatose, Law had the opportunity to scrutinize them all up close. So he took it.

"Room"

A single word and there they were, Monkey D. Luffy’s mystifying heartstrings and the connections they represented to an unfathomable amount of people.

What was new since the war was the sight of a single short thread around Luffy’s finger. It hung as lifelessly as a kite on a windless afternoon amongst the plethora of others, which remained as taut and vibrant as ever.

Intrigued, Law singled the oddity out and blocked the rest away for a minute.

It was very easy to deduce who the thread had linked the young pirate to.

his brother

fire-fist ace

Law knew this too- that if it was the same pain he himself had felt on that snowy day a decade ago, then when Luffy woke up, he would want to die.

He mustn't though, not with so many strings- such an incredible amount of people who would be crushed if this peculiar, dauntless boy were to disappear.

how can one person love so much?

be loved by so many?

(Even this early on, since it’s Luffy, he understood why)

And yet with hands that read DEATH across the knuckles, Law had instead given Luffy his life back.

why? he asked himself again, as if the answer to the question everyone had been asking would just materialize on a flashing neon sign before him, or write itself in the sky out of clouds.

(A part of it though, he suspected, is that perhaps the future King of Pirates really would touch the lives of so many.

Maybe even death itself stepped aside as he stormed past)

 

-----

 

It takes a while to get there, (and regrettably, shit does happen and Luffy has to literally carry him most of the way) but eventually Law does make it to Joker's castle. It was presumptuous and careless of him to believe he didn't need the help in the first place.

Nonetheless, after all these years, he is here and ready.

The battlefield is stained with blood, dusty with debris, and Joker stands evil incarnate in the midst of it, more wicked and dangerous than ever in his simmering anger.

And Law can feel it immediately- death waiting behind a closed curtain for him like a doctor for their patient. After all, his appointment is long overdue, but Law is flipping through outdated magazines in the waiting room, next in the queue.

(Somehow though, he finds himself hoping more and more that Luffy won't blame himself when all is said and done).

he's not my friend, Law reminds himself, though his instinct protests louder than ever before.

Still, he pushes Strawhat Luffy out of his head by force, once and for all. He can’t have regrets, and certainly not now when he is exactly where he is supposed to be on his and Joker’s shared deathbed.

Across from him, Joker ruffles his feathers and shoots him a look that says, ‘Well then?’

Everything Law’s ever done and said since that fateful day over a decade ago has lead up to this moment.

He unsheathes his sword and charges forward.

  

-----

 

Joker dances around each of his strikes with fluid ease.

“Do you really think you can cut me with that toy?” he purrs, voice dripping with poison, “Try a little harder.”

Law barely has time to activate Room until Doflamingo is on him again, the fluctuating blue energy encapsulating them. As he is dodging attacks, Law catches a glimpse of his enemy's right hand, and is absolutely floored by what he sees.

joker has a string

It is cut short like his and like Corazon’s (and even like Luffy’s), but it is there nonetheless, dangling limp from his pinky finger.

“How do you...” Law trails off, narrowly avoiding a slash to the head by teleporting to the side.

how could that string exist if cora-san was murdered in cold blood?

“Surprised, are you?” Doflamingo raises his hand, lets the severed thread hang in the air between them, “I wish it would’ve burned right off.”

Law is astounded. “You see them too?”

He hasn't told anyone about them, thought it was just a quirk unique to his Devil Fruit, so there was never a point.

“Of course I can, fool. I’m a String Man.” Joker sneers, creeping closer to Law once again, “The minute you stormed into my house and demanded I take you in as one of my own, I saw right away that you and my darling little brother were connected." he spits the last word like it’s very taste makes him ill.

“Wait, but you-” Law is just so lost, this day is nothing like what he had predicted- his plan, his years of preparation are slipping through his fingers like smoke, “You were connected too! I don't understand how...?”

does joker regret it? Law considers doubtfully, or more...

is there a chance that in some twisted way he was forced to do it?

He bites his lip, and it already tastes like copper.

It doesn’t make sense

for that string to be there...

there had to have been something

Law is distracted by his thoughts, and Doflamingo seizes the opportunity to grab him. They are sent flying into the air, Law rendered immobile, and Joker just simpers at him with a menacing smile worthy of his codename.

“Ne, Law. Shall I tell you something you don’t know before I finally kill you?”

Law just growls, shaking with rage in Doflamingo's relentless hold.

“You see these threads that connect people?" he continues, "The ones that make them think they’re capable of loving someone else- that they’re loved themselves? They don’t always go both ways.”

And suddenly, Law yearns to kill this man more than he’s ever wanted anything in his life.

they don’t always go both ways

If this is true, it means that Corazon really did love his brother, despite all of the heinous shit he said and did. That he cared for Doflamingo to the point where he was willing to betray him completely if it was the only way to save him from himself.

It makes so much sense now, because Corazon was like that. He was endlessly forgiving, infinitely loving, even towards his evil incarnate brother.

After all, he was the same with Law.

'I promise you, I'm not a marine.' he had said, 'I'm not one of the men who burned down your home.'

('I love you, Law!')

But about Doflamingo, Law was right.

He always has been a monster.

“You never deserved him.” he chokes out, absolutely livid.

neither did I

but at least I would have tried

Doflamingo just laughs his haunting, reproachful laugh, and Law thinks he may actually vomit.

“It was too easy cutting off that string on your finger all those years ago.” Doflamingo drawls, then brings up his sandalled foot to rest on the joint of Law’s right arm. “I think it’s time I took the second. Strawhat won’t even notice, he's got so many after all.“

“Strawhat?” Law repeats, confused.

what?

And then Joker brings his foot down, snapping the ligament in half, slicing right through Law's flesh. There is a violent crash, and seconds later, his arm is on the floor beside him, gushing blood and thoroughly detached.

The pain however, is somehow nothing compared to last time.

Doflamingo lands in front of him, a towering ten feet of evil clad in a cape of feathered pink, and aims the very same gun that ended Corazon’s life all those years ago at the broken man's heart.

This is something Law should have predicted.

“I’ll make you a deal.” Doflamingo says, his grip on the trigger firm and unwavering, “Perform the Eternal Life operation on me and I’ll grant you a wish. Anything you like. It's why I allowed you to join my family in the first place, after all.”

And Law, Law wants to laugh in his veiny face.

“Anything I like? Alright then.” he says, and he knows he’s digging his own grave, but he absolutely will not submit to this man. “Bring Cora-san back to life right here and now, then go lick the ass of every person on this island.”

The vein on Doflamingo’s forehead throbs, his grip on the pistol tightens.

"And you know what, go rebuild Flevance from the ground up while you're down there.”

Doflamingo's voice is nothing short of deadly. “I gave you a chance, boy.”

“Fuck you, you demon.” Law spits.

And without hesitation, Joker pulls, and the bullets rip right through Law’s chest.

this is it then

When they exit his body, he’s already released an anguished, guttural scream. His vision grows fuzzy, he’s losing blood. Quickly, quickly.

I had nothing to live for but this anyways

He’s failed in the end. Death is extending his emaciated hand out, beckoning to him. He couldn’t take Joker down, couldn’t fulfill Corazon’s legacy.

But he had tried, at least. It’s not the revenge he wanted, but if there’s a chance he’ll get to see not just Corazon but everyone from Flevance again after death, it’s alright.

what’s even left for me here?

I'm alone

“MINGO!!” a loud voice disrupts his fading thoughts. Someone is approaching.

Luffy, he remembers, and the name is an epiphany.

And suddenly he has to survive for a few moments longer just to see Luffy one last time. Because if what Doflamingo said about him being on the other end of Law’s remaining thread is true, he has to tell Luffy to run. That trash like Doflamingo is not worth it.

“I think I’ll cut off Strawhat’s arm too.” Joker decides, “Just to be sure you feel as much pain as you can before you die.”

It takes everything Law has to not lose consciousness.

And the moment Luffy bursts onto the scene, Law does see something. Room isn’t even activated, he doesn’t have the energy left in him for it, so he’s unsure of how any of this is even possible but there is indeed a red thread connecting his own detached arm with Luffy’s.

He sees just the one, Luffy’s hundreds of others and Law’s severed thread are nowhere in sight. And somehow, even though Law’s arm is separate from his body, the single string on his finger is still very much in tact.

all along...

it was luffy

(of course it was)  

“TORAO!” Luffy cries, but Law can't bide his time any longer. It’s his turn with death, his appointment has begun, he’s halfway through the curtains… but Luffy, Luffy- and his crew, Bepo, Penguin, Shachi, Jean Bart-

“Lu-” Law chokes, but he blacks out before he can get the rest of his name out.

 

-----

  

"I want to show you something." 

Nothing to lose, Law followed his lead to the front of his beloved ship. When they arrived at the bow, the other captain sat himself right atop the Thousand Sunny's figurehead, a spot Law had seen him frequent often during his short stay here.

Luffy extended his hand out and said, "Sit with me." 

The lion's head was a small space, rounded as well. Slipping off of it into the sea would take nothing but a slight loss of balance. It wasn't the smartest place of leisure for a Devil Fruit user (or two). 

But Law took his hand.

He shuffled over, and Law sat himself down carefully beside him, folding up his long limbs against his chest to fit.

"This is my favourite spot." Luffy told him, languidly putting his arms around his head in that carefree way he always does. "I come here to think."

Law looked down below, gauging the drop should he fall into the water. It was quite a way.

"Aren't you worried about slipping off?" he asked.

The other just shrugged. 

"If I do my friends will catch me."

Law didn't know what to say to that, so he kept silent.

Behind them, he could hear people bustling about, laughing, arguing- chattering about trifling nothings.

Ahead, there was just endless blue. It was tantalizing, so easy to get lost in it's vastness. He'd spent so much time hiding beneath the ocean he had forgotten what the horizon looked like.

He supposed he could see the appeal of this special place. It was always facing forward, steadfast, here on the crown of a lion's head (the king of the jungle and the king of the sea). 

Stretching out his legs, he attempted to get a better view. 

Law felt himself slip, but the moment only lasted a heartbeat. Luffy grabbed his shoulder and caught him before he could slide down two inches.

He quipped, "What did I tell you?" 

But Law stiffened at the touch- turned white as a sheet. After all this time, sudden contact still astonished him, even if it was just Luffy.

"Sorry." he said, feeling embarrassed, of all things. 

Luffy let go of his shoulder, but the ghost of his touch remained constant on Law's skin.

"Ne, you should relax a bit." he suggested, not at all offended, "Nami says we still have a couple hours until we get to Dressroba."

Relax? To someone who hadn't slept without nightmares in over a decade, the word was laughable. Even more so precisely because of where they'd be in just a few hours. His fated confrontation with Joker was both much too close and not nearly enough.

"Dressrosa." Law said suddenly, to which his companion shot him a questioning look. "You're saying it wrong."

Luffy stared at him, tongue-in-cheek.

"Alright, Torao." he replied.

Torao- yet another name he had absolutely mutilated. Law should have been annoyed, but something like playfulness danced in Luffy's wide eyes, it was not unlike tenderness, and it baffled him astoundingly (but then again, being baffled by Monkey D. Luffy was a common occurrence, wasn't it?)

A coy grin found home on Law's face, and a certain straw hat wearing captain decided that he liked it. 

Stretching out his legs again, carefully this time, Law cast his gaze off into the distance, toward the horizon. 

 

-----

 

Slowly, his senses return one by one.

First is the dizziness.

His head is swimming, throat itchy, arm burning. He cannot yet discern where exactly he is, but there is comfort in the warmth blossoming at his side. Something is wrapped tightly around him, carrying him perhaps? It’s familiar. They are moving quickly, he is held close against what or whoever it is. If he weren’t so dizzy, it might even feel like an embrace.

Scents return next to him. Gunpowder and smoke, sweat and blood, but also... the sea, and something a little sweeter.

Then his ears begin to ring.

“Torao, he’s…”

“Oh my god, his arm!”

“Please help him, he can't fight anymore. He did his best.”

“Don't worry Lucy, we'll take care of him!”

Fingers runs down the underside of Law's jaw assuringly. The touch is so gentle he can’t be sure he didn’t imagine it.

"Leave the rest to me." says a whisper in his ear.

...luffy?

Law wants to call out to him, muster up the strength to tell him to wait but then suddenly he is dumped out of Luffy's arms, falling right through the air.

Spider Net!

There is no time to brace himself, if not by impact then surely he'll die by shock. But he lands lightly in a net of sorts, though utterly disoriented. 

There are more voices, yelling and frantic, from far away and close by, blending together in chaos. He hears a loud clang, like metal being struck. It rattles through his head, resonating through the rest of his body, and soon enough the voices are back, along with several new sets of different sized hands on his skin.

Things are just happening too fast.

“Leo, can we still save that arm of his?”

“The wound’s a mess, but maybe if we sew it back properly.”

“And then use my powers to heal it after!”

“It's our only chance, hurry!”

The new hands are holding him down, bracing him, and he vaguely registers a needle and thread gliding through where his arm was, sloppy but necessary with time at essence. Then, there's a fluttery feeling, like a tickle really, and somehow when it's gone Law's wound doesn't hurt in the slightest. It's just extremely numb.

"I think it's time we went somewhere safer."

"Agreed."

Suddenly, Law is lifted again, but this embrace isn’t the same as Luffy's. He smells strong perfume, it's nauseating, leaves an acrid taste in his mouth. And worse, he is shivering, freezing. This person is so cold, and everything feels wrong.

His eyes jolt open at last, as if an alarm has gone off.

“W-Wait-” he stammers, voice raw and raspy, “P-Put me down-!”

“Trafalgar? You’re awake?”

His gaze meets that of Cavendish of the White Horse, Luffy's acquaintance. Nico Robin is there too, quite damaged herself but her expression matches Cavendish’s look of concern.

“Hey, relax.” Cavendish chides, “We’re going to bring you somewhere safe. Strawhat’s got this.”

“No!” Law wheezes, grabbing the flamboyant man’s shoulder to steady himself, “Y-You can’t! Now, and for the past thirteen years, all I wanted-” he coughs, “Was to get revenge on Doflamingo. And I couldn't, I wasn't strong enough. But Luffy, he-”

“Uh, what are you talking about?” Cavendish asks.

“I got him involved.” Law explains. “I brought him here.”

But then it hits him.

Maybe he was supposed to all along. Perhaps it was inevitable.

Was it Luffy who was always meant to do it? After all, he’s the one who’s special, not Law. Never Law. Was Law instead meant to just pave Luffy’s way, play a small part in something much bigger than his own petty grudge?

And yet he can't help but think, that even if the thread connecting himself to Luffy is a one way line, if the whole reason he’s been granted life for all these years is just to lift Luffy a little higher...

Then he’d be content to die at any time.

“Torao-kun.” Nico Robin murmurs. “Luffy is not your responsibility. Everything he does is out of his own free will.”

I'd expect nothing less, Law agrees.

“If he wins, I need to see it with my own eyes.” he tells her, certain of his decision, “And if he loses… I want to die beside him.”

what else do I have left now but this?

"He won't." she says, also certain. Law can't help but believe her.  

Cavendish watches the broken man in his arms carefully, and Robin bites her lip, both of them clearly hesitant.

“So then please... leave me here.” Law begs, letting the desperation seep through his words, parade itself on his face. He doesn’t care how pathetic he looks, he squeezes Cavendish’s shoulder with the last of his strength. “Please.”

“You’re not convincing at all.” the man sighs, but lowers him down gently on the ground nonetheless. “Go ahead Nico Robin, Bartolomeo has the staircase ready.”

“Cabbage-kun, are you sure?” she frowns.

And then Cavendish plunges his sword in the ground beside Law, a universal sign of respect, and Law immediately remembers the hole he made in his operating table years ago when he drove his own sword into the wood beside Luffy’s body before he sewed him up and sailed away.

“I can’t say I approve of his suicidal tendencies... but I’ll stay here with him.”

"Alright, then. Good luck."

Robin nods and takes her leave, and Law allows himself to close his eyes for a moment. He tunes the world out except for the sounds of yelling in the distance, of countless explosions and buildings crumbling, of haunting, relentless laughter.

so what now? he thinks, thoroughly perplexed by the turn of events, I'm alive, but...

even if luffy wins, what will I do?

“I realized the moment I saw the underground harbour,” Cavendish says softly from beside him, and Law quiets his musings to listen, “If Strawhat really does take down Doflamingo, something big is gonna happen.”

Law opens his eyes and stares ahead into the fire and scattered dust. He is barely able to follow the two blurs at battle from such a distance, no hint whatsoever at which will stand victorious.

“And you people,” the blonde continues, mascara framed gaze trailed downwards, “you’re the eye of the typhoon.”

“Yeah.” A ghost of a smirk appears on Law’s face, “Our aim exactly.”

  

-----

 

All of her passengers were distracted, half asleep in the early hours. So on a cool, crisp morning aboard the Thousand Sunny, Law dared a peek at the Strawhats' strings once again.

He placed his cup of espresso gently on the floor beside his adopted spot beneath the Sunny's mast. 

"Room" he whispered to himself, and what he saw before him was exactly what he had expected- all of Luffy's crew on deck linked together like some intricate connect-the dots puzzle, a crimson web of fate with their captain at its centre.

Luffy himself had the same immeasurable amount of strings from before- nothing at all had changed in these years away.

Did Law think they would be shorter? Less? More?

He shook his head stubbornly.

why do I care so much anyways?

He still didn't look down at the strings on his own hand, he hadn't in over seven years, in fact. In a few days they would arrive at Dressrosa, so why even bother?

Reclaiming his espresso cup again, Law knocked the bitter liquid back, savouring the burn as it slid down his throat.

"I know what you're up to." an unwelcome voice had declared, it was one that had nearly driven him off the wall during his time on Punk Hazard.

"Do you?" Law didn't spare an imprisoned Ceasar Clown a fraction of a glance.

"Of course, you're just using them to get to Doffy more quickly."

Law said nothing, opting to watch the Strawhats as they all did their own thing to prepare for the day ahead. His eyes found Luffy again, as they often did. He sat on the Thousand Sunny's figurehead licking maple syrup from breakfast off of his fingers. 

"They're all careless idiots," Caesar continued, "I could get you to him faster than they could. I know all of the best ways into the castle too. You just have to release me from these cuffs and-"

"Blackleg-ya!" Law called out to Sanji who had been serving the Strawhat women their morning coffees, "Could you watch Ceasar while I go get a refill?

"HEY! How dare you interru-!"

"Sure," the cook nodded, fishing for his cigarettes in his jacket pocket as he walked over, "You've been guarding him since we set sail, take a break man." 

"Thanks." the surgeon replied, ignoring Caesar's bellows of 'YOU COCKY BASTARD!' and 'YOU'LL NEVER GET THIS CHANCE AGAIN!'

"Oh, by the way, Blackleg-ya" Law added as Sanji placed a cigarette between his lips, lighting it up with a flick of his lighter, "Caesar called you all careless idiots just now."

"All of us?" his acquaintance asked, curly eyebrow twitching ever so subtly. "Even Nami-san and Robin-chan?"

"All of you." Law affirmed, heading back to the galley for his refill.

Sanji turned on his heel to face the stunned scientist, and Law could hear Caesar's screams before he was through the door.

 

-----

 

The war continues on for what feels like hours. Spreading through Law is a disquietness as both he and Cavendish watch from below, the latter making comments here and there.

There is a moment of stillness, and all eyes are suddenly on Luffy when he transforms into some frivolous yet powerful new form.

“He’s going to waste all of his Haki like that.” Law mutters, watching Luffy's formidable body bounce around.

Everyone else disagrees, however, because with one blow Doflamingo is sent plummeting into the ground. There is a silence, and Law and Cavendish can hear the cheering begin, the cries of freedom in the air, but it‘s wrong and Law knows it.

There's no way it was so easy, even for Luffy.

And then he feels a faint tug on his pinky. The sensation has been returning to his hand, it’s very slight but the potential for recovery is there. It's gentle at first, like a tickle, but then the pull becomes so insistent it nearly drags him forward down the grassy hill and towards the battle.

He can’t see the thread but somehow he knows. He needs to be somewhere, it's just like last time at Marineford. Hell, like at Saobody, even.

But then he registers that the cheering has stopped, something has happened. Looking up, he realizes exactly what was off- the birdcage is still there in the sky, as beautiful and dangerous as it was thirteen years ago.

It means that Joker isn’t dead at all.

I have to go to him

“Room” he says without hesitation, and he really has no idea how he has the strength for it (so many impossible things have happened since he met Luffy that he doesn't even bother seeking explanations any more) and before Cavendish can ask him what on earth he’s doing he’s gone, teleporting onto the battlefield above.

He appears in front of the man who is carrying a barely conscious Luffy on his back, the exact place he needs to be. The war continues to rage in the background, and it's obvious to Law that they are running from it.

“T-T-Trafalgar Law!” the man carrying Luffy stutters, mouth agape as he takes in the broken, bleeding pirate who has suddenly teleported before him, “Why are you here?!”

“How long until his Haki returns?” Law asks instead, voice firm despite his ragged appearance.

“Uhhh, he told me ten minutes so... in about three minutes maybe?” He looks dubious, almost distrusting, but when Law says “Leave him with me” he places Luffy gently on the ground and runs away obediently.

how curious, Law notes, the pulling has stopped

He leans his back against the wall of a nearby building, then drinks in the sight of his ally greedily. His tattered clothes, the rubble in his hair, the blood dripping from his multitude of wounds. And despite his big words, there really isn’t anything Law can do for him but quietly sit at his side until time is up.

But it feels right, for once.

The clock ticks and in the last minute the chanting begins, all around them Luffy’s name is called like a prayer, growing louder and louder.

Luffy stirs, then begins to sit up, his strength returning at last. He raises his head, and meets Law’s resolute gaze right away.

“Torao.” he says, disregarding the hundreds of people calling for him from all directions, “You’re here.”

because of you, Law doesn't say, because now isn't the time for sentiment, not when the war is still raging, Joker still standing.

“Time is up, they need you now.” Law opts for instead.

Luffy observes him for a heated moment, then nods in assent.

"Yeah."

“Go!” Law screams, and he does.

 

-----

 

A pair of pointed glasses fall to the floor, shattering into a dozen glittering fragments. After all these years, Donquixote Doflamingo has finally been shot down like a bird from the sky, falling to the floor of his own cage.

When all is over, Law teleports Luffy to his side immediately. He’s battered, but he’s done it. Something constricts in Law’s chest from the relief of seeing Luffy whole and yet...

there is still something missing

The people of Dressrosa are free, and Doflamingo will suffer a fate worse than death- he’ll get to rot away behind bars in Impel Down for the rest of his miserable life, treated not like royalty but like the vermin that he is. It’s what Cora-san had died for, what he’s spent most of his life anticipating with bated breath.

It's justice, the revenge he's thirsted for, but he just feels hollow inside.

Now definitely isn't the time to question it further, though. A wave of exhaustion flows through him, washing away his thoughts, swallowing his consciousness. He pulls Luffy closer to him, pressing him protectively against his chest.

Before he know's it he's passed out, everything black and still once again.

 

-----

 

In the dead of night, on a tiny boat in the middle of North Blue, Donquixote Rosinante had made a call.

He had thought Law was fast asleep, but the boy was a master of deception, honed to perfection by the very best, and so it was by nothing but instinct that caused him to fake it and eavesdrop. The ability to trust had been completely deleted from his system (or so he had thought).

Young Law didn’t even know what he was listening to.

“Hey, it’s me.” Cora-san had whispered even though there wasn't a soul around for miles- just a dark ocean which sparkled with the reflections of the moon and stars, "Sorry, there hasn’t been a safe opportunity for us to talk.”  

“Are you alone?” said a voice from the other end of the den den mushi.

Law felt the urge to hold his breath and hide.

“I’m with that kid I told you about- the one that Doflamingo adopted." Corazon told the receiver, "He’s asleep nearby.”  

“That’s fine then, where are you now?”  

“We're at sea, a few islands down from Spider Miles. I’ve been taking him to hospitals but... they’ve all been rejecting us. He...” the blonde trailed off for a brief moment, “He has Amber Lead Syndrome.”  

“Amber Lead Syndrome?” the voice echoed in shock, “So he’s a survivor from the White City?”

“Yeah. The last, I think.” There was a pause, and Corazon swallowed nervously before saying, “There’s so much hatred in his eyes. When I see him, I feel like- like I’m looking at a younger version of my brother. It scares me.”

A moment of heated silence, but then the voice spoke again.  

“Rosinante, I know you want to save him, but there’s no cure for Amber Lead Syndrome. It’s a shame, but there’s nothing you can do.”

Law dared to open his eyes just a smidge. Cora-san stood by the railing, looking out into the darkness. The moonlight glinted off of his feathered black cloak as he sucked on a cigarette, the smoke billowing up and fading into the air (that he hadn't set himself aflame lighting it was nothing short of a miracle).  

“You need to prioritize your mission.” it continued, “You can’t focus on the kid or you’ll blow your cover.”   

More silence- it stretched on for what seemed like hours, but it was without the calmness Cora-san's Devil Fruit ability made Law feel.

Corazon tossed his cigarette into the ocean below and sighed,  “I know, I’m sorry. My brother is my priority- I won’t let him reach Dressrosa.”

“Good. Report again when you can. Don't jeopardize your mission for a lost cause.”

"I wouldn't, Sengoku."

"I know, son. Good luck."

He heard the 'ga-cha' of the den den mushi ending the call, and Law quickly mashed his eyes shut before the older man could turn around and ever know he was awake.

There was a ruffling noise, the clicking of footsteps, and then a large body took up the spot beside Law, lying close enough that Law could feel the warmth that radiated from him without even touching.

After a while Law really did begin drifting to sleep- the rocking of the boat and crashing of the waves like a gentle lullaby.

Eventually there was a faint glow of energy, a permeating tranquility.

He thought he heard Cora-san whisper his name quietly before he was completely swept away.

 

-----

 

“Sengoku.”

When Bartolomeo the Cannibal says the name he remembers that night immediately.

A lost cause, the man had called him. 

But Law knows, somehow, that he must meet him.

Acquiring an audience with the former Fleet Admiral actually turns out to be easier than he thought it would be. In fact, the now-General deliberately seeks him out too, perhaps even for the same reason.

is he seeking closure as well?

Sengoku is sitting atop a crumbling piece of a building near the Eastern Port when Law approaches him.

Law immediately notes his eyes- they seem kind, compassionate. Nothing like the other Marines he’s had the misfortune of meeting (except Smoker perhaps).

“Trafalgar Law.” Sengoku acknowledges, and Law doesn't know what to do, so he just nods.

”Hello.” he offers.

They observe each other further for a moment. They are enemies but there is no hostility in the air. Somehow Law feels like he can trust this man.

“A soldier died a while back,” Sengoku says to him, his gaze firm behind rounded glasses, “He was special to me. I had met him when he was just a boy. He didn't know this, but I began to think of him as if he were my own son.”

They don’t even need to say his name, Law knows exactly who this man is speaking of. He's spoken more about Corazon this day alone than ever since he left North Blue.

“He was boundlessly loyal, and he believed in justice so much more than today’s marines." Sengoku continues, "However, in all his life, there was still one time that he had lied to me.”

The older man is quiet again, gaze softening as if he were recalling a memory. The space around them is quiet and still. Law can't help but feel as if the two of them are encompassed in a bubble of silence, a curious but welcome sensation he hasn’t felt in half his life.

“He betrayed me, but I’m sure he had a good reason to.”

Their eye contact doesn't sway, but Law balls his hands into fists just to stop them from shaking.

“Four things were lost that day." the marine tells him solemnly, "The Barrels Pirates, the life of my subordinate, the Ope Ope no Mi… and the boy with Amber Lead Syndrome that had been taken in by the Donquixote Family. The one he was trying to save.”

“That was me.” Law finally admits, "He stole the fruit to cure my disease."

“I thought so.” Sengoku nods, looking pensive, “The reason he disappeared for half a year was because he was with you.”

“Yes, during that time... he took me to every hospital he could find.” Law reveals, and it’s strange, because he’s never actually told anyone this part of his story until now. It wasn't anyone else's business. He didn't want sympathy, or worse- pity. 

The older man scrutinizes Law, understanding right away.

“So he gave up his life for yours then, on that day?”

And the emotions Law had been trying to suppress suddenly begin bleeding through his walls, seeping through the cracks. This is why he's never talked about it. 

how can this complete stranger talk about cora-san's death so casually,

as if his sacrifice meant nothing?

“We were supposed to escape together!” Law growls, frustration clouding his senses, “Don't think I don't regret letting him go through with it every minute of my life! He pulled me out of the darkness... taught me how to trust people again! He’s my saviour, why else do you think I made it my goal to take down Doflamingo in his stead? I owe him everything!”

“Taking down Doflamingo was never your job.” Sengoku interrupts, voice stern. “If you want to be worthy of the sacrifice he made for you, then you need to do what he would have wanted you to.”

Law bites his lip, willing the prickling behind his eyelids to stop. He’s needed to hear this his whole life, he knows he has. And yet he’s never allowed himself to listen until now.

There are a lot of things he's never allowed himself.

Sengoku shoots him a tender look, one Law finds intriguingly personal considering they haven't met until today.

“Live the life that Rosinante gave you, Trafalgar Law. Allow love into your life again."

Sure enough, tears spill down his face anyways, and Law can’t help but cower under the rim of his hat, every bone in his body trembling.

“That’s what he would have told you.” Sengoku concludes softly. "Be free, and let us both remember him in our hearts."

he's right

he's absolutely right

all these years...

I just didn't think I deserved it

the second chance that he gave me

When Law has calmed down enough, he looks up from the protective cover of his hat to thank the man sincerely.

Sengoku, however, has gone, leaving Law with nothing but a promise.

 

-----

 

It is odd, the newfound lightness he feels in every step he takes. He feels like he's contagiously alive, brimming with life, and he wants to share it, bask in it. Allow himself to feel all the things that he's withheld from for so long.

And so he deliberately lets himself be swept up into the Strawhat’s whirlwind this time. After a few days of rest, they escape Dressrosa by a hair on Bartolomeo’s ship, right before Luffy can start another fight with an Admiral that he’s nowhere near recovered enough to defeat.

typical, typical luffy, he thinks amicably.

Nevertheless, Joker is on a one-way cruise to Impel Down and that in itself is victory. And with victory comes a party whenever the Strawhats are involved. Except now there are several pirate crews present, and each of their captains are expecting something other than booze and celebration from this night and that is alliance.

Luffy is a wanted man in more ways than one.

He denies their requests right away, following up with a juvenile complaint about crowdedness, but for some reason Law’s heart still sinks like a stone in his chest at the notion.

There are so many people who want something from Luffy, so many red strings interlacing his life with the lives of others. It’s perfectly understandable of course, considering who he is and what he’s done (what he's yet to do and who he's yet to be).

But Law- Law is just another one of them. Painfully insignificant, a single thread in a sea of many quilts- he's accepted it now, and yet...

They are all sharing sake cups like lifelong friends and Law can’t bring himself to watch, let alone join in. It's a weird feeling, sort of like disappointment. Jealousy maybe? These emotions are so foreign and strange. It was all so much safer from behind the walls he had put up.

He eventually decides to creep away to a quiet balcony at the back of Bartolomeo’s massive ship, opting to sit down and lean against the adjacent wall, far away from the festivities.

He takes a breath of cool air, then lets himself get lost in the undulating bounce of the ocean while thinking of the crew that (hopefully) await him on Zou. He decides that he hasn't been a great captain to them and really ought to make up for it, if he's fortunate enough for another chance.

maybe we can all visit sabaody amusement park again or something?

bepo and penguin would certainly like that

i could even install that jacuzzi that shachi kept pestering me about..

if they didn't do it already that is

(they probably did)

His musings are brought to a halt by the clacking of sandals on a deck- footsteps, the noise growing closer and closer to his secluded little spot. He didn't think anyone would venture out this far from the party.

“Torao!” Luffy calls out gleefully when he turns the corner and sees his ally. “There you are, I've been looking for you!”

why? Law wants to ask him, utterly baffled by it all, why are you looking for someone like me when there's an entire army of people over there celebrating you? all fighting for your attention?

“You found me.” he says to him instead, voice soft.

“Yep!”

Luffy plops himself down right beside Law, their sides pressing against each other because personal space be damned with Luffy, and Law can't tell if it's the slight breeze or something else entirely making him shiver.

“Torao.” he hums, then drops his head down onto Law’s shoulder.

Before Law would have pushed him away, but now, the idea seems absurd. Luffy is magnetizing, radiating warmth.

"Strawhat-ya." the surgeon echoes, leaning right back into the other, welcoming his touch, "Luffy-ya" he corrects himself.

(He doesn't see the delighted smile that spreads across Luffy's face, as if Law finally letting him in is something he's waited all this time for).

"What are you thinking about all alone out here?" Luffy asks him curiously, "Your crew?"

how can he so easily tell what's on my mind? Law muses.

"Yeah." he admits, gaze caught in the horizon that stretches before them, "I miss everyone more than I thought I would."

I didn't think I'd ever get to see them again

"They're your friends, of course you'd miss them." Luffy says, like its the most obvious thing in the world. "I bet they miss you too."

that's doubtful, I wasn't the most inspiring captain to serve under, Law thinks, letting his eyes wander over the other's calloused, but unscarred hands, I was nothing like you

"I guess we'll find out soon." he concedes instead.

"Hey, do you still have that polar bear?" Luffy asks him with boyish excitement. "You know, the one that could talk and beat up marines?"

"Of course, Bepo is my first mate."

"Ohhh, so he's like your Zoro then?"

Something about comparing the intimidating, stoic swordsman with the giant teddy bear that is Bepo makes Law fight a smile.

"Well they do both sleep over 20 hours a day."

"That's true!" Luffy chirps, "You know, I wanna thank them all properly for what happened at Marineford." he adds, voice earnest, "Even though it was you who saved me, I still took their captain's time away from them."

He pulls away from Law briefly, just so that they can lock eyes. "Why did you do it anyways?" 

Luffy's dark gaze is firm and focused- it still shocks Law that someone so free spirited can be serious and even insightful when the situation calls for it.  

Law is glad that he finally has an answer to his question; it's the question that has haunted him so incessantly these past two years.

"Because I wanted to." Law replies.

It's simple, so simple really.

Luffy just stares at him, searching for something in Law's own steely irises. And he must find it- whatever he was looking for, because after a moment he nods and settles his head back on the nook of Law's shoulder.

"Thanks again anyways. Though I guess we're kinda even now after Mingo and stuff."

Law leans back into him as well.

"Thank you all the same." he says, and he realizes now that it's all so simple because Luffy saved him for the exact same reason.

Nico Robin even told him that he never did anything he didn't want to.

still, he saved more than just my life

a messy operation done on a whim could never compare.

one day... I'll make it up to him.

I've got all the time in the world, after all.

"It's nowhere near over yet," Law announces, and Luffy looks at him expectantly, "We still have a Yonko or two to take care of."

"Oooh! Yes!" Luffy cheers, "I can't wait to kick their asses!!"

"You're insane." Law mumbles, shaking his head affectionately.

Luffy pokes him in the cheek, "And yet you're still here."

"True, but I'm not the only one." Law reminds him, gesturing in the general direction of the party which is still in full swing.

"Well you're the only one that matters."

"I- Oh."

what is this?  Laws cheeks are burning, prickly but pleasant, oh my god, am I... blushing?

He hides his embarrassing face in the disheveled mess of Luffy's hair, taking the opportunity to breathe the other in deeply. Luffy smells like barbecue, firewood, and the ocean (and of course, faintly like rubber).

It's all very familiar.

"Hey, Torao..." Luffy murmurs, snuggling in a little closer to him, “M’ tired.” he announces, then proceeds to yawn into Law's neck.

me too, Law realizes.

“Rest, then.” he suggests into Luffy's ear, breath tickling skin.

“‘Kay.”

Amidst the echoes of crashing waves and the buzz of the party around them, they fall asleep, hands twined together like threads.

 

-----

 

A while later, they are discovered by a certain misdirected swordsman who was actually just looking for the kitchen to steal some more booze. He notes that the two captains are huddled against each other, holding hands in their sleep, and he is somehow not at all surprised at the sight of it.

He grins down amicably at them, then turns once again in the complete opposite direction of the kitchens to continue his fruitless search.

 

-----

 

Epilogue

 

An island-sized elephant, a tribe of friendly minks, two Yonkos, a family of assassins, and an almost-wedding later, the moment they've been building up to yet dreading finally arrives.

It is time to sail onwards.

Their ships are docked side by side for now, though it won't be long until a storm arrives and rips them right apart. The weather in the New World is as erratic as ever- even in a submarine it would be impossible for Law to follow him.

They find themselves standing across from one another on the Thousand Sunny's deck, both crews watching their captain's farewells with unconcealed interest.

There is anticipation in the air, like a constant buzzing beneath his skin, but all Law feels right now is heavy- like his heart is a stone sinking deep into his chest, grounding him here on the small boat he’s come to regard as his home away from home. He wants to plant himself forever on the Thousand Sunny's deck, ingrain his feet into her grass like roots.

It's all just poetry, though. Law knows this. He has responsibilities to fulfill, a group of misfits like himself to lead.

Because they waited for him, after everything.

(But where will he lead them to, exactly? He never really did have an idea of what he was doing. The past few years alone, all he's done is follow Luffy like a moth to a flame, dragging them all along with his capricious personal agenda).

"So this is it then." he announces, throat tight. 

Will he ever even see him again? He knows Luffy will rule the seas one day, he can feel it in his bones at this point, everyone here can. 

But him? Law's still just another of hundreds- he won't be worth a second thought to the King of the Pirates.

He tries to convince himself that his memories and gratitude will be enough.

(they won't be) 

"Raftel" Luffy says suddenly, he takes Law's hand in his and squeezes it hard, "You'll meet me there, right?"

Law makes a choking sound, and something within him gets set alight, like a wildfire. He hasn't dared to even dream about this.

“Luffy-ya... you... are you sure?" he breathes, almost unable to believe his ears, "Isn't that-"

"I'm sure." Luffy interrupts, chocolate eyes wide and sincere. "I want you to be there."

oh god, here it is again- that ticklish, giddy feeling

He's so thrilled, so grateful to be alive right now. To have something like this to look forward to.

"If you'll have me," Law says, gathering up the remains of his composure. He descends upon one knee and presses his lips briefly to the back of Luffy's hand (the right one) "I'll follow you anywhere."

Gasps and chatter erupt from all around, but all Law sees is Luffy, standing tall and-

wait, is he flustered?!

that actually happens?!

"Torao!" Luffy squeaks, then pulls Law up by the hand he's still holding. "You don't need to do that."

"I wanted to." is the honest answer, “Unless you didn’t like it?”

“No, no. It’s just- that’s not what I want from you.”

Law's mind goes into self-destruct mode. 

“Don’t bow down to me." Luffy clarifies, "We're equals, it’s weird.”

 "... oh." Law replies, dumbstruck, "Alright." 

"Great!" Luffy smiles that beautiful, blinding upturn of lips that could probably bring flowers back to life. "I'll meet you on Raftel, then."

this, Law beams right back, (he didn't even know his face could stretch so wide)

this is so worth living for

“Meet you there, Pirate King.” 

They separate themselves, share one last breath, and then it's over.

Law teleports himself back to his submarine and into the throng of his friends (yes, friends) and leaves the Thousand Sunny in his wake.

Both ships pull up their anchors, all while everyone waves and laughs; the Strawhats and Heart Pirates scream at each other their final goodbyes.

Most of the Heart Pirates then begin filing in through the hatch to prepare to submerge. Law and a few others are the only ones left above deck when his name is called once more.

"LAW!"

He spins on his heel so quickly he nearly keels over.

"YES?!" he calls back.

Even from a distance he can see Luffy leaning dangerously from the banister.

“THAT OTHER THING YOU JUST DID," he screams, "THE ONE WITH YOUR MOUTH!"

Law's heartbeat all but stops in his chest.

"WHEN WE GET TO RAFTEL, TRY IT AGAIN SOMEWHERE ELSE! KING'S ORDERS!"

"Wh-what?" Law splutters, but it's unheard because the few people left on deck have gone wild. Jean Bart slaps him on the back, Penguin and Shachi are wooing and cheering. Even Bepo throws a huge furry bear arm around his shoulders. He vaguely registers Nami yelling something like 'BREAK MY CAPTAIN'S HEART AND YOU'RE DEAD' at him from across the sea.

"They grow up so fast." Penguin says, wiping a nonexistent tear from his eye.

"Someone's gotta give him the talk soon and it ain't gonna be me." Shachi announces, then points at an unsuspecting polar bear, "Bepo's known him the longest, I say he does it!"

"I'm a bear! I don't know what the talk even is!"

"Basically, it's when two people who-"

"GUYS, TAKE IT INSIDE" Law barks at them, then directs his attention back to the person awaiting his answer.

"IT'S A PROMISE!" he yells back at Luffy, mortified but also sure that this one of the best moments of his life. 

He distinctly hears Luffy's raucous laughter, they wave a final goodbye, and the Sunny becomes just a speck in the distance.

When it can no longer be seen, Law looks around him and notices that he's been left alone on deck. 

"Room" he says, because he can.

He raises his hand up in front of his face, straining his eyes, and for once is grateful to see the red thread that stretches across the ocean from his finger to Luffy's.

He realizes that the thread isn't useless at all, it's more than just a painful reminder like he had previously believed.

it's a compass

"Cap!!" Shachi suddenly pops his head out of the hatch behind him, "Is it okay if we put bubble bath in the jacuzzi?"

Law just laughs, the skin by his eyes crinkling when he does.

"Why the fuck not?"