There had been a level of disconnect at first, when Law had rescued Luffy from Marineford and given him his life saving surgery.
Luffy was simply another patient, and while he had done everything within his ability to save him, if Luffy hadn’t made it, well. It would certainly have been disappointing (this boy had the Will of D and he wanted to know more) and a stain on his conscience and reputation as a doctor, but it would not have been something that would have ruined him.
But now. Now it was different. Now he knew Luffy. And seeing him lifeless on the ground in Dressrosa twisted his gut in a way he never expected to feel, not after Cora’s death.
It was a desperate, near panic sort of fear that shot through him, his throat constricting and his mind running a thousand miles an hour, first trying to process the shock of his feelings, the possibility that Luffy was gone , then no, Luffy was alive , and then even greater shock at just how absolutely relieved and happy he felt at that fact.
It was dizzying, to say the least.
After they left Dressrosa, Law thought, still in the euphoria of Doflamingo’s defeat, that he would finally find some modicum of peace. That perhaps the mess and chaos that was his life and mind would somehow just. Slot itself into place. Maybe, just maybe, he’d experience some degree of normalcy, whatever that was.
But that night Law dreamt of holding Luffy's lifeless body in his arms, of his hands in the younger man’s chest trying to massage his heart back to life, of sewing his chest shut in the pattern of an autopsied cadaver and declaring him gone in a cold, clinical tone even though Law felt like he was dying himself.
He woke with tears down his face in the dead of night, which he furiously scrubbed away before anyone could have the chance to see.
Law did his best to forget the nightmare, not wanting to think about what his subconscious was trying to tell him about Luffy’s place in his life. He didn’t want to care anymore about people like that. It was too much and his heart was weary. So he tucked his feelings away into a box and buried it under their mission of defeating the Emperors.
But when Luffy parted ways to rescue his wayward cook, that same fear crept upon Law again, the shadow of it slowly creeping more and more into his thoughts.
He worried, and the feeling frustrated him because it was useless. It wasn’t like he could DO anything to help Luffy, so surely his brain could do him the favor of letting him direct his mental energy to better, more productive trains of thought? But no, instead it insisted upon conjuring scenario upon scenario in which Luffy never made it to Wano. Never reunited with Law.
Law might have gotten more irritable during this point in time, not that he’d ever admit it even when it was as clear as day to his crew. Though what exactly was causing Law to act like this was a mystery to them, even after multiple failed attempts to subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) dig the information out of their captain..
Imagine their surprise, however, when the low simmering frustration that showed itself in the grinding of Law’s teeth and clenched fists suddenly lightened with the reappearance of the young captain with the x-shaped scar across his chest.
They teased, of course, quietly and in good jest. Had their captain developed feelings ? Law snapped back denials, but with no real heat. He frankly didn’t know what his feelings were, but regardless, so long as he didn’t act upon them, there would be no issues of any kind.
But again, when Luffy had been captured after his failed attempt to fight Kaido and sent to Udon, Law worried, the feeling gnawing at his gut persistently even when he himself sat bloodied and tortured in Hawkins’ grasp.
Luffy, despite his childish whimsies and general insanity, was more dependable in times of need than almost anyone else he knew, as loathe as he was to admit, so where did this worry and fear stem from? Even if he, and this word made him want to recoil in disgust, had a crush on the younger man, then surely logic would still dictate that he would have faith that Luffy could take care of himself.
It seemed that logic had no place in the machinations of the heart though, because he just. Could. Not. Stop. THINKING.
He thought of what this strange desire he had for Luffy meant, what it would mean if he were to act on them, and how his life would change if he did. And everything ended in apparent disaster in his fantasies. How could a relationship with Luffy ever work? For one, he couldn’t even picture the younger man interested in romance considering he had spurned Boa Hancock of all people, who pined for Luffy still.
And two, Law knew what he himself was like as a person. He was cold, harsh, and disliked physical affection in general, and he had little patience for people who could not keep up with him. Who would want to be with someone like him? In every iteration of his fantasies, Luffy would realize the folly of being in a relationship with Law and run, and Law could never blame him.
Law wondered if he’d become like Hancock. Lovesick over someone who would never love him the same in return.
Law fumed inside. Such a fate would be too pathetic and he refused to let himself go down that path.
His heart still wanted, aching for something he could not quite put into words.
And so Law thought and thought and thought, because if he truly had one talent, it was overthinking to the point of passing out from exhaustion.
What could he do to solve this want in his bones and be freed of it? It felt like an answer was swimming just under the surface of his mind, so close yet slipping through his grasping hands no matter how doggedly he chased after it.
An answer (or perhaps not quite an answer, more like a plan of action) finally came to him when he rejoined Luffy for the day of reckoning against Kaido and Big Mom. Watching him fight and then falling to the ground after running out of energy, Law thought, “Does he know? Does he know the spikes of worry and fear that pierce my heart every time I see him fall? Does he know how he affects not only me, but others around him when he throws him with reckless abandon into these fights, always so close to death? Does he know how much people would care if he did not get back up?”
As Luffy pulled himself up once more and rushed back into the fight, Law was struck with a deep sudden need to ask Luffy these very questions.
Don’t die, Law thought (pleaded, perhaps). Win, so you can give me the answers I need.
And win Luffy did, delivering the final crushing blow against Kaido while Law and Kid took down Big Mom, and together ending the reigns of two other rulers once thought insurmountable. What else should Law have expected?
Festivities started almost immediately in the wake of their victory despite how haggard and worn they all were from their fights. Luffy, who had cheered initially, was one of the first to pass out from sheer fatigue. Law forced himself to Luffy’s side despite his body screaming for the same sweet release of sleep, and he watched as one of their many allies helped carry Luffy to somewhere where he could rest. Law followed behind, eyes never wavering from Luffy’s small unconscious form.
At some point, Law passed out as well, though he could not recall exactly when, and he awoke in a small dark room where the only light he could see was the moon shining in through the windows.
Several of the beds on the floor lay empty, the occupants gone to join the festivities if the distant cheers were any indication. The only other person left was Luffy, face calm and peaceful in sleep. Law dragged himself over, the battle’s toll on his body making every movement ache. He sat down next to Luffy, and just stared.
His mind was blank, too tired to focus, but still his eyes felt drawn to the younger man. For a long while he sat like this, watching.
Luffy was alive, and it was good.
Just as Law felt himself slipping back into sleep, a sleepy grumble from Luffy jolted him once more into wakefulness.
Luffy’s eyes opened slowly and his unintelligible mumbling cleared into his familiar whine for food. He froze, however, when he finally made eye contact with Law.
“Traffy?” He asked, tone surprised.
For a long, drawn out moment Law said nothing, only stared at Luffy with a blank expression on his face. Luffy stared back expectantly, never breaking eye contact in return.
“You,” Law started, brows beginning to furrow. “Do you know what you’ve done to me?”
Luffy blinked, uncomprehending, and looked first to his right, then to his left, before back at Law and silently pointing a finger at himself.
“Yes, you!” Law snapped, irritation clear in his voice. Luffy frowned, alarmed.
“What did I do?” He exclaimed, his eyes wide.
Law paused. What had Luffy done exactly, he wondered. Yes, he was reckless, idiotic, and selfish, but Law had told him countless times before and Luffy had never cared, only laughing like he’d told some great joke. And honestly that was not what bothered him.
He slowly turned his thoughts around in his head, trying to make sense of them in a way that would be coherent. It felt awkward, the words clumsy as he tried to piece together something that would hold the information he wanted to convey. Law was not used to speaking from his heart, something which he had always guarded very, very closely. But he felt it paramount then that Luffy understood his feelings.
“People care, you know.”
Luffy looked confused, not understanding Law’s abrupt segue.
“About you. A lot. Did you know that?”
Luffy nodded slowly, though clearly unsure of what Law was trying to say.
Law paused again, almost tongue-tied from the effort of trying to distill his whirlpool of feelings into words.
“Watching you fight, and seeing you fall. You make it very hard not to…. Worry. To be scared, for you.”
Luffy opened his mouth to respond but Law continued on, cutting him off before he had a chance to speak.
“I’ve seen how you fight. You throw all of yourself into it, and I’d expect nothing less. We fight for our lives on these seas and stand at all times at death’s door, but. If you died. If you died, I-”
Law choked on his words as he felt his face begin to warm from embarrassment. Being so open with his emotions was agonizing, and at that moment he wished he had some of Luffy’s bold shamelessness.
Luffy took that moment to finally cut in.
“But I won’t die!” His tone held an unshaken belief to it, the kind that inspired others to believe the same and put all their faith into him.
“You don’t know that!” Law growled. “You can’t know that. This world is a messy, ugly place, and survival is never a guarantee.”
Luffy answered with a small pout of disagreement, but Law ignored it and continued on.
“If you…. died, people would care. I think you know what I mean.”
Luffy’s face grew pinched at the reminder while Law himself could not help but be reminded of the same pain of when Cora died. A small part of him, a part which he hated, could never help but blame the man for leaving him all alone, though Law knew logically no fault lay with him.
Still, he did not want the same fate to befall Luffy.
“I can’t stop you from giving your life for what you believe in, but you should know that without you, this world would be emptier. A little more… lonely.”
Luffy stared at Law and then looked upwards towards the ceiling, eyes wide with new understanding. "Oh," was all he said.
A long silence followed as both men stewed in their own thoughts, one digesting the newly learned information and the other anxious for the outcome of this whole discussion.
Luffy spoke first.
“Then you too, Traffy!”
Law blinked. “Huh?”
Luffy stretched one arm towards him, hand reaching out with fingers splayed wide open.
“If you died, I’d be really, really sad too! So you can’t die!” Luffy stared at him with knitted brows, somehow looking both concerned yet fiercely determined.
“Oh,” is all Law can respond with too.
He looked at Luffy’s outstretched hand, and, in a moment of even more uncharacteristic boldness, he reached out in turn and grasped it. Luffy’s face transformed into a blinding smile of delight, joy radiating so apparently it made it hard for Law to look at head on.
Luffy shifted his grip and laced their fingers together, and if Law’s heart skipped a beat then, well, he would tell no one.
“You watch my back, and I’ll watch yours,” Luffy said, “and we can make sure neither of us dies, okay?”
The implication that they would stay together, even after this, was not lost on Law. He smiled.
“Yeah, sure,” and he tightened his hold on Luffy’s hand too.