AN: Law gets stuck in his own head a lot. When I write I get stuck there too. It's a weird place, lemme tell you.

Hesitant Heart

Portgas D. Ace is dead, and Monkey D. Luffy is not far behind him.

It is here that Trafalgar D. Water Law reaches in with his surgeon hands and holds the latter's heart safe. Four days after that Boa Hancock offers them safe harbor in exchange for his preservation of a rival pirate's life.

This is how Law comes to be sitting beside the bed of one of his fellow supernovas, wondering if he's done the right thing.

Straw Hat's skin is pasty and pale, hair straggly where it peeks out from bandages; the breathing mask fogs every few seconds but his chest seems hesitant to rise and accept the next breath. Law counts as every few minutes the heart monitor hesitates and the puff of respiration against the breathing mask comes a second too late. The blankets cover the details of his body but the thinness of his limbs shows through. He is expressionless, the picture of clinical stillness unless in the midst of that stutter of breath.

Were this a real hospital, as his parents had run, the little clipboard hanging next to the bed would have all the information Law would need. Straw Hat Luffy is a seventeen year old male, measuring five feet and about six inches tall and weighing something like one hundred thirty pounds. Law had performed the surgery in about five hours. Vital signs indicate that the patient is in a coma. Naturally it's more complicated than that.

For the sake of a man he's met exactly once, Law has derailed the plans of his crew for the next few weeks at least and quite possibly the next few months. He's repaired the inner tissues of stretchable organs, applied skin grafts too stiff to really take, and stabilized a rib cage made of rubber. Receiving any monetary reimbursement for any of this is an unlikely event. Law has saved a man who has recently lost every gamble he'd bet.

If this were a real hospital, Straw Hat's loved ones would thank him. They'd crowd around the bed and fill the room with flowers and gifts. There'd be tears shed, wounds healing, and a future waiting.

But this isn't a hospital. They're pirates. Monkey D. Luffy has just lost a war. And Law can only think about the last time he seriously debated if living is worth the trouble.

His current patient doesn't have Amber Lead Syndrome, but the situation isn't as different from Law's as it could be. The Straw Hat captain is wanted for every crime under the sun. He's lost his brother, which is a weight that will never subside. And since there are only so many reasons for a captain to be without a crew, the eclectic cast Law knows from Saoboady is probably lost as well. He's alone against the weight of the world.

Had it been right for Law to decide that Straw Hat Luffy should live to suffer another day?

The monitor blinks with a new set of readings. The graphs begin a gentle upward slope. Law shuts his eyes, reprimanding himself for even thinking it. He may be a doctor, he may be able to choose who has a chance to live, but it is never up to him to decide.

If Straw Hat lived it would be thanks to Law's efforts. But Straw Hat himself would make the choice from the options Law had provided. He wouldn't live or die based solely on what Law did, only on what Luffy himself decided.

Another breath comes a beat too fast and Law relaxes. It's silly of him to think that he is responsible for a thing like that. Straw Hat is too free a man to do anything he doesn't want to.

A week later the bed is empty.

In the waters of the gulf, his crew pulls wrecked equipment out of the new sky light Straw Hat has recently installed in the roof. Law sits on the shore and sweats in his skinny jeans and sweatshirt, playing with the red-ribboned hat in his hands.

His thought process from a week ago has a different facet to it now. Straw Hat's body had pulled through- of course it had. If he was going to die he'd have done it before he ever came onto Law's vessel. At the time offering assistance had seemed more than generous. But now…

Looking at a set of numbers and facts describing a patient made it all about allocated resources and efforts. Watching an anguished teenager rip his sub to shreds and disappear into the jungle made him consider that a life could be made easier to live.

Law still needs to remind himself that life is worth living, even if only for revenge. Maybe Straw Hat would need less reminding if Law had done more.

"You seem deep in thought."

Law doesn't jump. After all, supernovas can't afford to get snuck up on. But he does shift, glancing up with careful nonchalance at 'Dark King' Rayleigh.

"I have a lot to think about."

He thinks about how he has made it a personal challenge to complete surgeries and standard medical procedures without the use of his fruit. He thinks about what that means for his patient's overall health and aftercare.

The older pirate drops down to sit beside him, sinking a beer bottle into the sand and staring at the horizon like it's an old friend.

"I know the feeling. Can an old man help you parse your thoughts?"

I'd rather not. Law thinks and then says- "Maybe. What do you think about Straw Hat-ya?"

"I think he'll go far." Rayleigh says, "If he lives long enough to get there."

Living is the key, isn't it? It's never easy to live with the pain of loss. And what had Law done to make that life the better choice?

Someone shouts and the machinery inside the Tang lets out a reverberating clang. Law closes his eyes and makes a list of all the things he really hopes he doesn't need to replace.

"If he dies it'd be a waste of resources." Law mutters and Rayleigh throws his head back and laughs.

"Certainly. But I think a lot of people will thank you for trying, at least. He seems well liked."

And there's another fact he wishes to ignore. Law likes Luffy, too.

The last time he'd changed Straw Hat's bandages is fresh in Law's mind. The wound on his chest was still raw and gaping, but the gauze came away mostly dry and the yellow residue of threatening infection was a thing of the past. The IV had been draining faster than was typical for a comatose patient and had only recently begun to slow. Luffy's body had finally caught up on nutrients. The dangerously high levels of adrenaline that Law had found in the first blood test had lowered to reasonable levels.

Straw Hat Luffy had been in bad shape, yes, but not beyond a good doctor's ability (alright, not beyond the ability of a better than average surgeon). But with Law's abilities, scar tissue is unnecessary and stitches defunct. Yet years of aftercare await. Hypertrophic scars of that severity don't just look nasty, they cause itching, raise risk of infection and - in not rubber people- can cause constraint of movement.

With the Op Op Fruit, his fellow supernova could have been back on his feet weeks earlier, and there would be as few physical reminders of his struggling and loss as possible.

But he hadn't used it. And his potential ally will always bear the marks of that decision.

With the help of two shichibukai and the first mate of the last pirate king helping him, Monkey D. Luffy has a lot going for him- but success is far from guaranteed. The idea of Law's borderline malpractice being another setback itches him the wrong way. It's a problem he's never encountered before. Patients have died (though rarely due to his mistakes) and patients have walked away with scars. He's never before felt that refraining from the use of his devil fruit could be considered a misdemeanor or a violation of his duties as a doctor.

"Why do you think he can overcome this?" Law asks. Rayleigh pauses mid swig and then rests the bottle on his knee.

"Overcome what? His loss? His injuries? His grief?" He sweeps a hand in the direction of the island, the blockade marked by the symbol of the kuja and parted by Jinbe's sedate pursuit. "Because there are people looking out for him. Looking to support him wherever he can't handle things himself." He rests his hand in the sand behind him and tips the mouth of the bottle towards Law. "Even people who aren't sure if it's worth the effort. Roger was like that too. One second you think he can rule the world and the next you think that he'll need help tying his shoes."

The truth of that statement hits too hard for Law's liking. Sometimes he'd glance at the monitors and charts and resist the urge to look things over, molecule by molecule, just to be sure there was nothing wrong. And sometimes he'd pass the door to the med bay and be all too surprised that his patient was still occupying the space and not off gallivanting into some new danger.

He barely knows Luffy, but already he is too attached. At the start it was just a set of numbers, wasn't it? With some distance maybe he can turn it back into that. A file easily stuffed into a cabinet or ledger somewhere in the cramped halls of the sub.

Law sighs and pushes himself to his feet. Bepo, waiting at the top of the hole to be handed more broken equipment, turns to salute, knowing at once that his captain has orders.

"Find Straw Hat's post treatment plan and get it reprinted!" He calls. "And put together a box with clean dressings, the basic medicated components of the IV, and instructions to use them."

"We're leaving?" Bepo asks, putting together what Law's order means. From within the ship, someone shouts for him to pay attention. Rayleigh watches him but doesn't move from his seat in the sand.

"Straw Hat clearly doesn't care for my treatment methods." Law shrugs. "The Empress and Warrior of the Sea can handle the rest from here."

"Ah, sorry. I don't mean to question you Captain!" Bepo shouts. "I'll get it done right away!"

Law nods and turns to look back at the jungle. It's quieter now than when Straw Hat's rage seemed to make the island shake, but far from still. It's abuzz with life and uncertainty. Risk and chance. The ocean laps at the shore, beckoning him back to its quiet depths.

"You're gonna leave just like that, huh?" Rayleigh asks.

"Why shouldn't I?" Law mutters. He doesn't think about the seamless swatches of skin that keep his own scars invisible. And he certainly doesn't think about how Straw Hat will see his new scars in the mirror every day- both a reminder of his failures and a new part of his body in need of maintenance and aftercare.

There are shouts coming from the Tang as Bepo spreads his orders. People are mad to be leaving the island of women, confused at Law leaving a patient halfway through treatment, and overall they're curious to see what's spurred them forward and where they're headed. Law wishes he had so much enthusiasm about leaving.

"You said it yourself. There are others thinking about his well being." He turns away and trudges through the sand, stuffing his hands into his pockets and aiming himself in the direct opposite direction of Monkey D. Luffy. "That works out. Because I'm not going to."

AN: We are officially on hiatus now! We'll see what happens with the post marineford chapters. Thank you so much for reading and supporting me through this story : ) It's a really important project to me so it's wonderful to hear from others who got something out of it : D