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On the Surface

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He stopped by Kid's house after work one evening. They were going to get dinner somewhere, but no real plans had been made. That was generally how the relationship went: nothing solidly set in stone and for once, Law found he preferred things this way. Usually such uncertainty bothered him, leaving him anxious when he didn't know what to expect. But with Kid, the old familiar tensions which characterized Law's previous relationships did not seem to exist.

Perhaps he'd simply been dating the wrong type of men in the past. For all their maturity, they never had much flexibility with schedules or engagements, and exhibited palpable annoyance when things deviated from the script. With Kid however, Law took what came as it arrived and tried not to worry overly much for where things would proceed next. It was a new tactic for him, one he found it surprisingly relaxing. He felt no tension that Kid would grow annoyed or tired of their infrequent meetings. There was an odd certainty that even if he didn't see the man for a week or two at a time, Kid would still be waiting for him.

Perhaps Doflamingo's financial incentives ensured such loyalty, but Law ignored that possibility with the same deliberate self-delusion he'd employed for the past few weeks. It was probably a bad sign, but he ignored that as well. He wanted to believe that Kid's feelings were the genuine article even if they ultimately blew up in his face. Kid made him reckless in all things.

Like usual, there were a handful of people milling about Kid's house. A dilapidated purple school bus was occupying most of the driveway. It belonged to a touring band, whose members were camping in the backyard. Law noticed most of them clustered around a low bonfire, giggling while getting high and cooking marshmallows. Inside, Kid was battling Bonney in a game of Mario Kart - to be honest, he was having his ass kicked but Law was too polite to point out the obvious.

Once the game finished, Kid jumped up to find his boots and Law was left chatting with Heat, one of Kid's roommates. He'd met most of them and they were a friendly, unpretentious lot. Even Bonney had warmed up to him, lowering her prickly exterior once it became clear that his relationship with Kid wasn't just a one-off. With Heat, Law had plenty in common; the man worked as a tattoo artist. It was rare that Law met that many people among his own circles who knew anything about such things.

While Law's place was quieter, Kid's was closer to the hospital and they spent half their evenings there. Law tried not to let the overall filthiness of the house bother him, though it proved a challenge. The kitchen was always a disaster area, leading them to eating out more often than not. A pile of dishes presently occupied the sink with all the attendant smells, and Heat was showing off a recent police report describing how he and a friend had been eighty-sixed from a club for bad behavior. Someone had stuck it to the refrigerator like a child's report card, using block letter magnets that spelled out FUCK PIGS.

"Hey, Trafalgar," Bonney called over from in front of their gaming console. It was the same room that transformed easily depending on their needs. Law had seen it as a stage, a dance floor, a crash pad, and as its normal state, that of three couches arranged in a half-circle around an enormous television. "You gonna go to our show on Friday?"

"I'm not sure, this is the first I've heard of it."

"What! You're dating what's-his-face and he never told you about the show?" Despite her outrage, her attention never wavered from the game.

Law cast a questioning glance between Heat and Killer, who'd just joined them. Killer shrugged, "Beats me why he didn't mention it. Maybe he was going to? Anyway, it's on Friday. We're playing with those guys out back, they're pretty good."

That moment, Eustass bounded out of his room throwing on a scuffed leather jacket.

"You have a show coming up?" Law asked, and Kid's face noticeably fell.

"Goddammit! Who told you?"

"That'd be me!" Bonney volunteered.

"What the fuck's wrong with you?" Kid bellowed. He turned back to Law, "I was gonna tell you about it tonight. I swear."

"Of course, I'll certainly come. Where's it at?"

"Nine pm at the Subterranean. It's on Market Street and 15th." He shifted his feet. "I just didn't think you'd want to go. Not really your kinda music. And I know you're super-busy."

"So what? I still want to see you on stage, it'll be fun." None of the bands Kid played in were particularly to Law's taste, but who was counting? He'd been given a mixtape which held songs from each amongst other things, the recordings being done in-house and with extremely low production values. Most of it was too clashingly abrasive to truly make for enjoyable listening, but Law suspected that was half the point.

He'd gone through his own fleeting hardcore phase when he was younger and found nothing shocking about the music; more he'd mellowed beyond a point where he could truly enjoy it. As contrary as it might seem to his current trappings, he'd been quite the nihilist as a child, with little hope for the future. If anything, Kid's music gave him a minor thrill of nostalgic fondness. "Which band is it?" Kid was in a total of three, though only two practiced with any sort of regularity.

"Thunderpussy."

"That's the name? You're joking." Law looked at Killer and Heat's faces, hoping for confirmation. Despite having a mix-tape of Kid's music, he'd never run into that one before.

"And the what?" Bonney called. "It ain't just Thunderpussy. It's Thunderpussy and the what?"

"Thunderpussy and the Bitches," Killer confirmed with an utterly straight face. "Bonney sings."

"So I assume that makes the rest of you her bitches," Law concluded.

"Damn right!" Bonney affirmed.

"It's some damn bullshit is what it is!" Kid countered. A flush was starting up on his cheekbones, either from annoyance, anger, or embarrassment. "Just call it Thunderpussy, fucking Christ."

"No! Somebody else already took my goddamn name! So it's Thunderpussy and the Bitches, and that way the fucking campus radio station will actually play our demo once in a while."

"Like hell am I going on stage as one of your bitches, Bonney!"

"Hey, jackass." For once, Bonney put down her controller, twisting to face Kid. It was a fairly routine occurrence; they fought like siblings and made up just as quickly. "You already vetoed going on stage as one of the Sissies. I dunno if you can't tell from the fucking name, but bitches are totally replaceable, so if you hate it so bad, just say the word. I'll find someone else who can keep his bitching to a fucking minimum."

"Who the fuck're you gonna find that's willing to put up with your shit?" Kid snarled. His hands bundled into fists at his sides.

"I dunno, probably someone who can keep a goddamn sense of rhythm on anything more complicated than four-four!"

"I am the best fucking guitar player in this house! Y'know, maybe instead of putting up with your bullshit all the time, we'll find someone who can actually show up to practice once in a while." Kid took a few threatening steps towards her, advancing with rage. "Or, god forbid, someone who shows up on time!"

"Oh, sure. Get pissed at me for that, but not when Heat shows up so stoned he can't even keep a steady drumbeat."

Heat looked offended by the implication, "Hey, hey, I don't do that. C'mon, settle down."

"Yeah, leave him outta this!" Kid looked like a dog who'd been teased one too many times, all raised hackles and bared teeth. "Y'know, I am getting real sick of your shit - "

"Oh, really. You're getting sick of my shit, is that right?" Instead of being intimidated, Bonney rose to the occasion. Perhaps it'd been her intent all along to antagonize him, to what seemed a predictable result. "If being called a little bitch hurts so bad, maybe it's 'cause we finally found a name that suits you. And if that's the case, maybe you can cry me some little bitch tears to go with it - "

A jolt of physical anger electrified his spine just as surely as if he'd been struck by lightning, "That's it!" Kid roared. "You really wanna do this four days before a show, then be my fucking guest!"

"Kid," Killer interrupted, his voice a mellow balm over their inferno of an argument. "Time to take a ten minute break."

Kid arrested himself in mid-stride, giving a full-body tremor of fury. His eyes flicked from Killer to Law, a wounded, raw edge having risen to the surface. Law had seen him fight with Bonney, but most of those disagreements were good-natured, the sort of arguments friends had and forgot in quick succession. This felt different. Kid was hot-headed but it never went beyond a ruffling of feathers.

The flush that'd begun on Kid's cheeks colored his ears and the back of his neck, extending to his shoulders. His fingers relaxed and clenched, before he turned abruptly on his heel and stomped up the stairs to his room. There was a muffled slam and Law blinked, feeling stunned by the reaction; he'd never seen Kid get that angry so quickly before. The room was conspicuously quiet in his absence, only the jingle of Bonney's videogame interrupting it.

"And you," Killer continued, nodding in Bonney's direction. "Can you just give him a break once in a while? You can rile him up all you want at practice, but you know how he gets."

"How does he get?" Law asked. It seemed a pertinent question.

"He's always had a bit of a temper." Killer shrugged, "It used to be a lot worse."

"A lot worse," Bonney contributed.

Heat nodded, "It's nothing you need to worry, if that's what you're thinking. But sometimes shit'll really set him off, just stupid stuff that doesn't matter. He just can't let it go and it gets the best of him."

"But he's getting better," Killer said. He shook his head, "Look, I don't want to say too much. It's his business, so you can ask him if you want, but his dad was a real bastard and it really messed him up. That's really where it all comes from." He winced, the expression of a friend who feared he'd already divulged more than was appropriate. "Just give him a little bit to cool down and he'll be fine. He won't ever take it out on you or anything."

Law wasn't particularly worried about that happening, but this was the first he'd ever heard of Kid's allegedly violent temper. He'd never felt afraid or threatened by him...but then again, it was impossible to ignore the potential for harm, given Kid's size. Law knew intimately that if he ever resisted, Kid could take whatever he wanted and there wouldn't be much he could do about it. For whatever reason, Kid had thus far held his anger in careful restraint. A sort of unspoken trust existed between them, and for the first time, Law wondered if it was misplaced.

He left his coat draped across a chair, giving Kid five minutes before following in his footsteps to his room. He knocked twice and received an answer; Kid was seated on his bed, the covers rumpled.

"Hey," he said, his voice sounding jittery.

"Want some company?"

"Yeah." He sighed, "Yeah, I still wanna get dinner too, if you feel like it."

"Of course." Law closed the door behind him before taking a seat on the bed as well. They were quiet for a few moments. Law didn't want to pry into things Kid was not yet ready to share willingly. When he took Kid's hand in his own, the fingers were shaking with nervous, unspent energy.

"Sorry 'bout that," Kid said.

"You don't have to apologize. It didn't bother me."

"You sure?" He wrinkled his forehead, questioning. Perhaps he knew what he looked like when he became angry like that.

"Of course. Bonney certainly seems to know exactly which buttons to push with you."

Kid gave a laugh that was all nerves. "Yeah. Yeah, she really fucking does. She's a bitch. She always manages to find people's buttons and then just - " He made a vicious stabbing motion with his forefinger. "Doesn't know when to fucking quit. It's like that with this stupid band name. I wanted it to be Thunderpussy and the Kittens, but no, she's just gotta make it as obnoxious as possible. She's the one with something to prove, not me."

"The Kittens, really?"

"Pussy, kittens - it makes sense, okay? In a really stupid way." Kid smiled wryly, scratching a hand through his shaggy hair. "Sometimes this seems like a really dumb thing to argue about, but that's how it always starts."

"Mm. Killer mentioned you have a temper. It surprised me because I've never seen it."

"Well, obviously I'm on my good behavior around you," Kid said, giving him a slanted smile that was all flirtatious charm.

"You shouldn't need to be."

"Yeah, maybe. But trust me, you don't really want to see that part of me. It's ugly. I know it is." He shook his head again.

Where Law held his fingers, he could feel them begin to tremble, a fine shiver. Despite his curiosity, Law said nothing. He placed Kid's hand between his own and traced the beds of his black-painted nails, better groomed than one would expect given. There were calluses at the tips from his guitar strings, and then on the inside of his palms, from his work. Law was used to feeling them on his body, the touch rough and unrefined. It suited Kid, and for the first time in a while Law was reminded of how different they were, of how different their respective lives had been. Kid had never volunteered such information about his life and Law was ashamed to realize he'd never asked. Then again, he partly avoided the topic because I didn't want Kid asking such questions himself. He'd never imagined that Kid might have reasons of his own to keep the past a secret.

"I just don't want you to think I'd ever hurt you," Kid said. "'Cause I know I got a temper but it's not like that. And I'm working on it." He ground a knuckled into the corner of his eye, giving a short, humorless laugh. "A lotta things don't even bother me that much anymore. I do meditation and stuff now. It might sound like a lotta hippie bullshit but I'm a lot calmer than I was."

"Has it always been that way?"

"Just about, yeah. One of the reasons I never finished school. I only started working on it this last year." He gave a half-shrug, "There was this guy at work, a foreman. He was a real shithead, y'know? About a lotta of stuff. One of those guys who just goes after a weakness once he finds it.

"We got into it this one time and he called me a stupid dropout faggot, along with a lotta other shit. I can't even remember 'cause I just went nuts. Got fired from that job and I doubt the contractor'll ever use me again. After that, it was either go to anger classes or get kicked out of the steelworkers' union, so I did the classes."

"I'm glad it's helped."

"It's embarrassing. Like I'm some kid having a temper-tantrum, except sometimes it's really this monster inside of me that's tearing itself loose." Kid sighed, sounding bleak. "That's not who I wanna be. I already saw too much of that from my old man."

His voice broke and Law felt something inside tear - the little piece of his heart that'd been claimed by Kid. It ached for him more strongly than Law thought was reasonable, but he'd known enough people who'd grown up with parents like that to know how deeply it could injure a person. Even if Kid was perfect on the outside, inside he was all sharp edges and slowly-healing scars. Law wanted to reach inside and soothe each one, repair him in a way that a surgeon should've been able to.

Law didn't have a thing to say that could make things easier, so he remained silent, resting his face on Kid's shoulder.

After a moment, Kid continued, his voice level and even. "Sometimes Bonney can be mean. We can snipe at each other all day but as soon as she gets mean, I just can't stand it. She knows just how to get under my skin and then I'm mad before I even know it."

"You're doing something about it. I'm proud of you for that. It's harder to admit there's a problem than to pretend there isn't." For the first time, Law was given to wonder about those old scars Kid had across his shoulders and the back of his neck. He'd always attributed them to burns earned on the job, but they'd never looked quite right for that. It had been a few years since he'd learned to diagnose such injuries and while these marks were familiar, for the first time Law was able to place them properly: they were the sort of scars left by cigarette burns.

There was one right on the crest of Kid's shoulder, an old circular pucker. It'd been healed for years but whoever left it had left their mark in other ways as well. Law kissed the scar with a simple press of lips. "I want you to know you can tell me anything, okay?" Law offered. The words sounded hollow and rehearsed, the way a doctor would coax a patient into honesty. It felt terribly misplaced. "It would take a lot more than this for me to leave."

Kid gave a harsh sniff through moist sinuses. Law had not come here prepared for such overt vulnerability. In its wake, his brain was left spinning on its axis with questions: why had Doflamingo chosen Kid, someone so clearly flawed? Wasn't he worried that the man might lose control and put Law in danger? Or was it intentional: someone meant to appeal to Law's sympathetic bleeding heart? It would be that much easier for Kid to slip beneath his defenses if Law lowered them of his own volition.

Law sighed and turned Kid's face until he could kiss him firmly on the lips. Sometimes he really hated the undercurrents to this little charade. So often with Kid, it seemed like the man forgot that they were even playing a game in the first place. Maybe he was never meant to show this part of himself; maybe what'd just happened had all been a genuinely unintentional accident. Or maybe he was smarter than even Law gave him credit for, a wiley sort of intelligence that gave nothing away. But all that didn't erase the scars decorating his skin; even if this was all just a set-up, some things were impossible to fake.

When they parted, Kid skirted closer, nudging his nose against Law's. It was crooked and broken and Law finally knew why.

"I really like you," Kid said. "Sometimes I get real worried that I'm about to fuck this up somehow." His voice trembled when he continued, "It's just...I've had people lookin' down on me my whole life. You know I never finished school, right? Not even high school. Doesn't that bother you?"

"No. Why would it?"

"'Cause you're all smart and shit. How many doctors get stuck with people like me?"

"Darling, I hate to break this to you, but I'm not dating you for your education."

Kid gave a short laugh, as though Law had surprised him. "You're just after me for my body."

"You say that like it's such a bad thing." Law placed a hand just above one of Kid's knees, letting it glide smoothly up the inside of his thigh, "Learn to take a compliment gracefully. Unless you don't believe me?"

"Maybe I just need further convincing."

"Such modesty," Law scolded, before he pushed Kid onto his back and crawled atop of him. Kid lay spread crosswise over his bed, with his legs dangling off the edge at their knees. All things considered, he was very well behaved when Law took the initiative to order him around, lifting his hips obediently when Law pulled his jeans down off his hips. He didn't undress him entirely; it was more for added access.

He hadn't been joking about Kid's body. It really was quite marvelous, much more solidly muscular than the men he usually shared his time with - or at least the men Doflamingo had sent to his doorstep until now. Perhaps after seeing how well Kid went over, his brother would continue with offerings of the same type. It was something to look forward to; a bit of a cushion Law would remember whenever this little dalliance of theirs fell apart.

Beneath his black undershorts, Kid was already noticeably enjoying things. It was encouraging, more familiar territory than the emotional honesty from earlier. Intimacy like that made Law uncomfortable; he knew an ulterior motive was lurking just out of sight. But the flaws Kid had shown thus far…Law didn't like how strongly they appealed to him. A person's imperfections shouldn't be so attractive. At least his body was something Law knew what to do with, and would reorient things back to where they belonged. A comforting distraction for them both.

He straddled across Kid's hips, being met by little resistance. He rucked up Kid's shirt, a faded grey affair with several holes dotting the hemline from where it'd gotten stuck on his riveted belt. Underneath, his abdomen was solid, with the cuts of his muscles standing out in sharp definition. It would've taken most men hours at the gym with a dedicated training regimen to earn such a physique. Law thought such efforts were a waste of time, pure vanity - but with Kid they came naturally, just another surprise hiding under his rough patchwork exterior. Even if he teased Kid about his schooling and intellect, there was much more to him than one would expect from a body like he had - people as beautiful as he was could get by with the bare minimum, and usually did.

"Here," Law said, pushing Kid's shirt up to his chin. "Keep this out of the way for me." As obediently as ever, Kid took the hem in his mouth; beside Law's hand, the man's cock give an enthusiastic throb. Law raised an eyebrow, "Like being ordered around, do you?"

"Can't talk, mouth full," Kid mumbled, a blush splashing across the high points of his cheekbones. It was nearly as brilliant as his hair against such pale features, a similarly crimson trail leading from Kid's navel to disappear into his shorts.

It got Law thinking, and with Kid as he was the only thoughts that fit were filthy. "You know, I've never fucked you. And how long have we been dating?" He shook his head, "That just doesn't seem right."

Even if Kid couldn't speak properly, his body told its own story. Law could see his breathing accelerate, his stomach clenching in anticipation. With his shirt pulled up, his skin was like a marble sculpture whose pallor was interrupted only by rosy nipples. Kid kept his hands to himself even without being asked, his arms stretched above his head and drawing his body out, long and lean. They really would have to revisit this idea one of these days; Law could already tell Kid would look amazing once he was so full of cock he was shaking with it.

It wasn't like there were any real rules between them. Law was typically quite happy with what Kid had to offer, to the point that he'd never suggested they try anything different. Perhaps the man's vulnerability from before had piqued his more predatory interests...but it would be a real shame for someone to interrupt that fun. It was an activity best reserved for the privacy of his own apartment one weekend evening, when Shachi and Penguin would be out of the house. Who knew how loud Kid might get? That is, if Law could do things justice in the first place. He was a bit rusty at present, but it wasn't exactly something one lost through neglect. At the moment, he was more worried about Bonney, Killer, or one of Kid's innumerable guests to curiously wandering in; that really would ruin the mood.

It really would be something for him to fuck Kid right now, with his sounds muffled only by the t-shirt clenched between his teeth. Law wondered how long it would take for Kid to drop that and decided he wanted it to stay in place. He put a hand against Kid's chest, bunching up more of the shirt to fit into his mouth, "Hold it just like that for me, will you?"

The only answer he received came as a nod. Maybe Kid knew just how good he looked like this, on his back and yielding. Then again, most men gifted with a body like his had a healthy appreciation for their own value; the only difference thus far was Kid hadn't yet allowed it to go to his head. What confidence he had was the quiet, secure sort. Only time would tell if it eventually metastasized into an insufferable ego. Law hoped that he would never change.

He mouthed a trail from Kid's collarbone to the base of his ribs, pausing to lick and taste along the way. As before, Kid kept his hands clenched in the bedlinens above his head. By the time Law reached it, the man's cock was eager enough to be leaving a damp patch against the cotton of his shorts. Law breathed across it, musk heavy enough to leave him feeling dizzy, before mouthing through the thin fabric.

Through his gag, Kid gave a low whine. It really was something, seeing him restrain himself so deliberately. Kid usually went into things with an energy and enthusiasm that was infectious, roping Law along for the ride. Before they'd met, Law had credited himself with an enviable stamina - either in the bedroom or beyond; the rigours of his residency program required long hours and for him to be on call around the clock. And Law supposed he did quite well at that...then again, it never required more of him than a professional's dedication to their duties. But having met him, he envied Kid, whose job was even more physically demanding. Somehow, the man always had a store of reserve energy waiting for when they met. All Law could do was keep up.

He supposed that would be the case even now, were Kid not so well-behaved as at present. Law said as much, but all he earned was Kid's gaze as it followed him with interest - the sort of look that lit a fire all its own in Law's belly. He shifted, pulling Kid's shorts down, the hair beneath just as vivid as it was on his head. Maybe being laid bare made Kid impatient, because he gave another whine, this one edging with petulance as his hips thrust forward. It was enough to make Law's mouth water.

God, Kid had a beautiful cock, just as thick and lovely as the rest of him. Law didn't really put much stock in such things - particularly when he'd been done poorly with larger - but unlike some, Kid actually knew what he was doing. Law liked to think the same of himself, and didn't spare further time reflecting before taking Kid in his mouth. He used a progressive bobbing swallow, progressing an inch at a time until his nose was pressed against downy red fur. He murmured, licking with his tongue as he pulled away. Once they'd finally dispensed with the condoms, it'd been such a relief to have the real thing that they'd spent an entire weekend doing little aside from exploring one another and this newly-discovered terrain. The skin of Kid's cock was incredibly soft beneath his tongue. In a strange way, the man felt almost fragile when Law had him like this, like something glass and delicate that would simply break from rough mistreatment.

Ropy muscles in Kid's thighs began to tighten, standing out with the effort to remain steady when he clearly wanted to squirm. One thing Law truly enjoyed was how expressive Kid was with his entire body. It was easy to tell what pleased him and when, his body honest despite all of Law's other doubts. At least the surface painted a pretty picture, which was all he cared about for now. Law adjusted his position, leaning heavier weight across the axis of Kid's hips as they struggled for more, pushing up with greedy hunger. Somehow though, Kid managed to keep his excitement in check, the t-shirt left firmly in place though his jaw tightened with the effort. His exposed chest and stomach shivered, the rhythm of his breathing turning to gasps.

It took less time than Law thought it would. Then again, Kid wasn't the longest-lasting person he'd ever known, but what was lacking in that arena he more than made up for with sheer resilience and stamina. It seemed that as soon as Law settled into a steady pace, Kid was racing ahead quickly to the finish: the stifled murmurs he made increased, the flush on his cheeks spilling down his neck to his collarbones. Law increased his efforts, hollowing his cheeks. He could feel Kid's balls draw up tighter against him, and a moment later the man was shivering beneath an intense orgasm. The pulse of his climax was felt against Law's tongue, its heat unmistakable. He swallowed Kid down one last time before drawing away with reluctance. Above him on the bed, Kid remained where he'd begun, the hem of his shirt wet and with clear indentations left by his teeth. Law crawled up beside him, covering Kid with his body until his face was cradled in the crook of his neck.

He pulled the shirt away - Kid didn't seem to have the presence of mind to do it for himself. His eyes were shut, lashes like a dusting of saffron. Law kissed him on one high-flushed cheek, "That was lovely."

He received a crooked grin in response. "So you do like me after all." He stroked over Law's side, an inquisitive touch. While Law's own erection had gone unanswered, it wasn't a bad thing - the arousal was there, lingering like the pleasant ache received from honest work.

Law pushed his hand away when it went further. This really hadn't been about him. He shook his head, "Ignore me. I'm not so much in the mood."

It wasn't a lie. Law simply knew it would take much longer for himself to finish and he enjoyed things more as they were in this sleepy calm as they both wound down. Fortunately for them both, Kid wasn't a very pushy person when it came to such things - though under the right circumstances, he could be quite persuasive, even when Law didn't fancy himself interested in the first place. It was all about knowing what and knowing when, and their relationship had likely gone so well thus far simply because they were on quite a similar wavelength in that regard.

"'M gonna sleep a li'l bit." Kid's voice was dazed-sounding and subdued. One of his hands stroked circles against the small of Law's back until that ceased as well. Unconsciousness claimed Kid in moments as his breathing went even, a sigh exiting his frame. The man found sleep so easily that it was enough to make Law jealous.

He remained curled up on his side for several long moments before rising with care. Maybe Kid could nap anywhere, but it'd never been one of his own talents. By the time Law returned to the main room, Heat was gone and Bonney and Killer had transitioned to a fighting game.

"Where's Kid?" Killer asked.

"He's having a rest."

Bonney shot him a look and then pulled a face. "Did you just suck his dick?"

"So obvious?" Law took a seat beside them on one of the sagging couches.

"Yup. You got blowjob lips." She cracked a grin; they were rare. "But wow, you must suck dick like a champ if he's gotta take a nap afterwards."

"Are you interested in lessons?" Law inquired.

Bonney laughed, "See, Trafalgar? This is why I like you. You don't get mad, you just get even."

"Maybe you can give Kid lessons in that," Killer said.

"Perhaps. But I don't know..." Law sighed; it would be a shame to ruin such guilelessness by teaching Kid anything different. "I kind of like him the way he is. You always know what you get. He wears it all right on the surface."

"Yeah, that's his fucking problem," Bonney said. "He needs to bottle it up some. Or not bottle it up so much, and just learn to be sassy like a normal person." She shook her head, groaning as Killer decapitated her ninja in a shower of gore. She tossed her controller at the console in defeat, "He needs to not take every goddamn thing so serious, y'know? It all comes in, it all goes out. Like the tide."

"He doesn't take everything seriously." Law flicked a glance at his watch; it was closing in on nine o'clock. Whatever hunger he'd felt earlier had been neglected into submission, but it would still be best to eat something before long. Perhaps Kid's outburst earlier had been partially due to low blood sugar.

Killer turned to him, voice serious. But that in itself was not surprising; out of all Kid's friends, he was the most serious. "Hey, real question for a change, and I'm only asking because he really likes you: you're not just slumming with this, are you?"

"I don't know what you mean by that."

"Oh, come on," Bonney added. "Slumming it up with the little punk weirdo? I figured that had to be your deal the first few times I saw you around here." She shook her head, giving him a coy smile, "I mean, seriously. You're such a goddamn square, Trafalgar."

"I don't provoke quite as easily as Kid does," Law warned. "But no, I'm not...slumming, as you so charmingly put it. I like him. And besides, have you seen him? He's gorgeous."

"Aww, it is love after all!"

Kid bounded down the stairs sounding like a solitary herd of elephants, "Love! What!"

"As in, I would love to get something to eat," Law replied, lolling his head over the back of the sofa.

Kid greeted him with an upside down kiss, "Food, yes!"

"You're so excitable." Law found it hard not to be envious.

"I had a nap, I'm good to go. Where d'you wanna eat?"

"Let's go to the All Blue," Killer suggested. "I like that place. They have late-night happy hour."

"Really?" Law's attention perked up; that was the same diner Shachi had been working at for the last six months. He'd known it was nearby the University, but hadn't stopped by more than once with Penguin, shortly after Shachi had started there. It'd been so long that he'd forgotten how close it was to Kid's place. "A friend of mine works there."

"Oh yeah?" Kid asked. "Who?"

"Shachi, you met him that one time. One of my roommates."

"Then let's definitely go. Maybe he can get us a discount," Bonney said. She slapped Killer's knee, "I want some motherfucking pie. Kicking this bitch's ass worked up an appetite."

Killer refused to take her bait, "I just won that last round."

"One win out of, what? Fifteen? Gimme a break."

As it turned out, the diner was within walking distance. It was as divey as Law remembered, boasting a twenty-four hour kitchen with half the place an all-ages hangout and the other half a bar. Despite appearances, the food was consistently good; the restaurant was owned by a renowned chef who had several eateries in the city, each catering to a different audience. For a place in the University district, it couldn't be more perfect. At the moment, it was dimly lit and sparsely populated; Law followed along behind as Kid and his companions headed towards the bar seating area. There were an array of cracked linoleum booths to choose from, and they slid into a round semicircle.

A stack of food-speckled menus sat behind the table's condiment selection, and Law passed them around, perusing his options. He no longer felt particularly hungry but figured he ought to eat anyway, and quickly settled on a deluxe grilled cheese sandwich. Comfort food sounded just like what he needed.

"Hey, tell Shachi we're here. If he's working, that is," Kid said.

Law imagined that he was, and sent a brief text. They were joined five minutes later by his roommate, clad in a dirty kitchen-worker's apron, "Oh man! You should've told me you were coming, I just took my break."

"It was short notice on my part as well," Law said. He did the necessary introductions before asking Shachi's opinion on what was best.

"If you want real food, go with the chicken sausage burger. It comes with curry fries. But if you want dessert, definitely get the key lime pie, it's amazing. The chef here makes it with kaffir lime leaves and it's out of this world!"

Killer took his advice on the burger, while Kid ordered nachos and Law stuck with his original selection. Shachi took their order himself, having to write down the veritable laundry list of items Bonney decided upon, which included onion rings, fried cheese curds, something called the fireball burger, a strawberry shake, and of course, the key lime pie.

"We should call the band Thunderbelly and the Gluttons," Bonney said, after Shachi took their requests away.

Kid snorted, "But you're the glutton."

"I'm not the only glutton."

"Let's just go back to being the Kittens." There was a note of petulance in Kid's voice, though none of the antagonism from earlier.

Killer shook his head, "No kittens, I'm still sad about Fred wandering off." For Law's benefit, he added, "We had a cat once, but he got lost."

"Just get another one," Bonney offered.

"Not the same. Fred was special."

"Then get a puppy, dogs are better anyway."

That sounded like a recipe for disaster in Law's mind. He wasn't surprised, really - given all the activity in the house, it would've been impossible to keep an animal inside. Plus, he couldn't really see one being that fond of the frequent parties and band practice sessions with all their attendant noise and activity.

Before long, Bonney and Killer got up to queue up songs on the diner's battered old jukebox. The only other patron in the bar was a dark-haired woman who sat chatting with the bartender, who sported a bright blue mohawk.

Law sagged against Kid's side, feeling tired but content, and wondered how he'd managed to become a part of all this after spending the better part of a decade focusing on his education. Of course, the diner's primary customer base was students from the University, but Law had never really gotten into student life when he was in school. Maybe it was his age. He'd never regretted missing out on all this until he started sleeping and spending time with Kid.

Kid made him feel like he was reliving a youth he never had. Perhaps there was some truth in Bonney's accusation of slumming - except there was nothing malicious or derisive about it. After all, Law reminded himself, if motives were called into question in this scenario, his certainly would not be the ones to come up lacking.

The week sped by and they did not see one another until the evening of Kid's show. It was the first major performance for the band, a real venue instead of a jam at someone's house or a sleazy club's open mic night. Law wasn't free from service until half-past eight, and once he reached the Subterranean, it was packed with college students and sweaty gutter punks, several layers deep between himself and the stage.

The club was low-ceilinged and dimly lit, its walls tattooed in graffiti and the tattered remains of posters from shows long gone by. Being near the University, it was all-ages with a segregated area for those over the legal drinking age. Law showed his I.D. and got a stamp before claiming a seat in the elevated bar area. It was directly across from where the band would be playing, with a vast sunken dance floor swarming with kids between them. A cloud of smoke hovered above the crowd like a gathering thunderhead, the venue's pathetic ventilation doing little to disperse the cumulative efforts of dozens of cigarettes and a fair few joints.

Predictably, the show would be starting late, which was fine in Law's book. He ordered a vodka tonic and sent Kid a text to let him know he'd arrived, but doubted they would see each other until after their set was finished. Most of the patrons in the bar were his age or older, though Law felt overtly conspicuous, still dressed in his work clothes and sticking out like a sore thumb amongst all the leather and torn-up denim. At least his tattoos fit in for a change.

The number of people cloistered into such a small space left the club humid and stifling. Law loosened his tie and rolled his sleeves up to his elbows, but it was the most he could reasonably do. It was crawling up on 9:30 when Kid responded to the original text, You made it! We're starting RIGHT NOW!

And then he was strutting on stage, along with Bonney, who wore a halter top paired with thigh-high stockings and shorts that barely covered her ass. Law couldn't repress a flare of giddy excitement; it surprised him. For all their bluster and posturing, they actually looked like the rockstars they wanted to be. Kid himself was dressed only in a pair of tattered jeans and his work boots, his chest left bare and his face full of makeup. He'd done something to his hair to leave it standing on end like a shaggy vermillion lion's mane.

Killer and Heat rounded things out, looking practically normal in comparison, though Killer's face was hidden beneath a patchwork metal mask he'd made from scrap salvaged off various construction jobs. They wasted little time before blowing a lid off the club, to the point that Law's ears were left ringing and he was forced to stuff wadded-up bits of napkin into his ears. He noticed those around him wore earplugs and regretted not thinking ahead similarly. It was probably fairly obvious how out of his element he was, but it wasn't like he needed to impress anyone in the first place.

Like most of Kid's music, it wasn't to Law's taste, though he appreciated the energy they were able to inject into the club. They whipped the crowd into a frenzy, thanks in no small part to Bonney's showmanship. Kid was just as bad, seeming to tower ever greater when on top of a stage, sweat glistening on the cuts of his muscles while he shredded an appropriate complement to Bonney's caustic vocals.

More than anything, Law was struck by how strongly and instantaneously attractive he found Kid like this. It seemed to be his element. The warm bloom of arousal furled open in Law's stomach and refused to abate. He would be as shameless as any star-struck groupie if it ensured Kid's attention never wandered. Sometimes he was left wondering why someone so beautiful and charismatic even bothered giving him the time of day.

A dirty fantasy began cycling in his head, more interesting than the music - that of him finding Kid backstage and dropping to his knees to demonstrate his appreciation. It was probably the same fantasy he would've had as a teenager and was sure many in the audience shared his thoughts - for Kid or Bonney, or one of the others. There was simply something irresistible about their kind of destructive flamboyance, as though by gravitational attraction alone, they could rally the entire club to follow them.

Law recognized this draw; his brother had a streak of that same compelling charisma and had no compunctions against using it for his own means. Whereas Doflamingo's charms left one feeling manipulated, Law was surprisingly sure that Kid would never do the same. A similar power existed in both Kid and Doflamingo: they were both natural leaders, though Kid was still too much of a child to do much with the potential he promised. Law liked it that way; he wanted to keep Kid guileless and unaware of his own gifts, like a happily-smiling pit bull.

Law was probably the only one watching who knew what Kid was really like. It made Law feel special, like he'd seen through some cool facade to the authenticity beneath. By the time the band's set drew to a close, Law was glad he'd chosen to camp out in the relatively mild bar in comparison to the chaos erupting below. A full-fledged mosh pit had broken out early on, continuing unabated for the majority of their performance, which lasted all of thirty minutes. It seemed like hardly anything. But it began and ended like a tornado, with Bonney culminating their set in a screaming finish while Heat all but demolished his drum set.

A ten minute break followed their performance before Kid and the rest started striking the stage for the next band to play. Law ordered another drink and by the time he returned to his seat, someone else had claimed it. He was about to retreat when the man saw him, "Sorry about that! I didn't know you were coming back. Please, join me - there's room enough for two."

Law thanked him and scooted in, the bench narrow. The man was older, probably in his mid-thirties, with carroty-ginger hair. "Never heard of these guys before, but they were pretty good!"

Law gave him a nod of agreement, "They have an infectious energy. The music's not quite my cup of tea but you have to appreciate their style."

"What brings you here if not the music? Waiting for the next band?"

"No - I'm friends with several members of this one."

"Really!" The man said it as though it were hard to believe. Maybe Law really did look that out of place. "So you're here for moral support, is that it?"

"I suppose so." Law's phone vibrated violently as he received a message. It was from Kid, Will find you after the next group plays. While Law had no real interest in seeing the next band, he'd already paid for the privilege. He tapped back a response, indicating that he was in the bar area, and would wait for Kid to find him. He didn't see much point in wading through the seething mass below.

"That your friends now?" the man asked. He positively refused to be ignored.

"Yes - sorry, I don't mean to be rude."

"Nothin' to worry about. Speaking of rude, I never introduced myself - Diez Drake, it's nice to meet you."

"Likewise," Law said, giving his name as well. For the first time since he'd sat down, he gave the man a scrutinizing glance. He was tall, with a few deep crags on his face left by age and weather. Despite a leather motorcycle jacket, he looked far more clean-cut than the majority of the club's patrons. In fact, he looked nearly as out of place as Law himself did….

"Are you here for the music, Mister Diez?"

"Oh yeah, I love checking out new bands." Though he said it with enthusiasm, Law wondered if it was a genuine statement. Something about him seemed oddly calculated, as though his reasons for being in the club had little to do with the music at all. "How d'you know this group, then?"

Law demurred with a vague explanation - friends of friends; he was not particularly fond of being approached in such places, which was clearly Drake's agenda. The man was gunning for a phone number, and made pointed suggestions every time Law's buzzed with a new message. It was hardly subtle, and Law was quickly able to recognize the symptoms for what they were: Drake was working for his brother, and had been given the assignment of seducing or courting him, the same as so many other men he'd had to contend with over recent months. Despite how familiar things were, Law was left questioning why - why had his brother sent another man after him, when Kid was clearly still doing so well? Why this additional competition?

It left him filled with curiosity all through the next band's set. They were less rambunctious than Kid and Bonney's crew, playing a droning, dirgy metal where one song blended into the next. Law felt that his head would explode from the amplified reverb alone.

In comparison, the crowd was revitalized and twice as enthusiastic; Law imagined most of them had shown up for this main act anyway. Conversation was made impossible, though Drake did not leave his side. Law didn't mind especially - he was getting a series of free drinks out of the deal. At least he wasn't left waiting for Kid in boredom.

It seemed a shame; Drake was a nice enough fellow who'd unfortunately been given the unenviable assignment of barking up a tree whose quarry had already been cornered by another. What on earth was Doflamingo thinking with this?

He cast another glance at his companion, considering. He wondered if he would ever be interested in a man like Drake, were Kid removed from the equation. Law didn't have any set preferences when it came to men, but even so, Drake's aesthetic was a little too rugged for his tastes. He seemed like he'd be more at home roping cattle; all he was missing was the right hat. Besides, he just put off a vibe - relaxed on the surface but underneath it all, a total control freak. Law suspected he was ex-military but didn't care enough to ask.

In any other circumstance, he would've dismissed the man immediately to save them both a headache. But Law was curious; this was the first time that Doflamingo had ever sent a second contender after him. That in itself was more interesting than anything Drake had to offer, so Law allowed him to persist, even through the encore performance when the man casually draped an arm around the back of their shared booth. Law didn't have the heart to tell him it'd never work.

Perhaps this added competition was Doflamingo's way of determining how genuine Law's affections for Kid were; it was probably a terrible disappointment to him for this throw-away candidate to do so well after Law had stubbornly rejected so many more properly-mannered offerings. Law knew that nothing in the world infuriated Doflamingo quite like Law choosing what his brother would consider a substandard partner.

Law had never been the true problem child in that regard - but Baby was absolutely terrible, falling for one con artist after another and each of them more enamoured with her family's wealth than anything else. Law was reminded of a meeting they'd shared in the hospital nearly a month prior: of course, there were no such things as chance meetings where Doflamingo's family were concerned, but for once Law believed Baby innocent of any malicious intent. She'd seemed just as horrified to see him, accusing him of following her before giving any sort of greeting.

"Please, you can't accuse me of stalking when you come to my place of business," Law replied, his voice dripping with scorn. They'd never been close, but for some reason, Baby took his leaving like a personal affront, as though he were abandoning her in particular. "What are you even here for? Other than to do a little stalking of your own, I see."

She looked like she'd just come from a formal luncheon, wearing a chic black dress and designer pumps. She had a pinstriped rain jacket draped over her shoulders, though her makeup and hair were flawless as ever. Doflamingo provided only the best for his children, and most were only too happy to take advantage of his generosity. "For your information, I happen to be here as a patient!"

"Ah." Law strove to keep his eyes from rolling out of his head. It was only then that he realized he'd bumped into her while passing through obstetrics and gynecology. He glanced at her left hand; there was no ring. Yet. "Then allow me to offer my congratulations."

"For what?"

"You're expecting, are you not?"

She drew herself up with barely-restrained fury, pulling her coat more tightly to her as though it would cover up any visible evidence. "How dare you go snooping in my medical records! I cannot believe you, what an invasion of privacy. I ought to file a formal complaint!"

To be honest, Law imagined she was likely only a month or so along, and reminded himself that he did not care one way or the other. "I'm no more snooping than making an observation. A fairly obvious one at that, which you yourself have just confirmed. Learn how to lie better."

In fact, that gave him an idea; he withdrew his phone and flipped through until he found a decent photo of Kid. It was a little embarrassing how many he'd managed to accumulate. There was Kid eating lunch, or at home, or sleeping - more often than not, he seemed unaware that his photo was being taken. It was the way Law liked it. "While you're here, perhaps I can trouble you - do you recognize this man?"

Baby took his phone, scowling at the image of Kid's face in profile. "Who is this, should I know them? What is with that hair?"

"So you've never seen him before?"

"What makes you think I would ever associate with someone like that?"

Law felt his jaw twitch. As if she had any room to go judging a person's romantic interests. "Then nevermind, my mistake."

"Who is he?" She demanded, and Law regretted piquing her interests. Now she'd be running off to tell Doffy the news. Law reached for his phone but she clung to it, spinning around quickly and tapping the screen before he could wrestle it back from her.

There was a familiar whoosh from the phone and Law felt his heart sink, "Who did you send that to?"

"I want to know who he is! And if you're not going to tell me, I'll just find out on my own!"

"Baby." Law felt his patience withering.

She looked close to tears from his tone of voice alone. "Don't just dangle that in my face and then refuse to tell me anything! You know how much I hate secrets."

"Then ask Doffy, I'm sure he knows." Law turned on his heel, making for the elevators before she had a chance to chase after him and demand details.

Why had he even shown her that? Now Doffy would know his inside man was compromised; Kid might be pulled from the assignment entirely. That would mean a breakup in his future, Law realized - but the relationship was destined to end eventually. Then again, Baby hadn't shown any recognition at all, and of anyone in Doffy's family, she was the least adept at subterfuge. If she'd known Kid even in passing, Law would've been able to tell. But she hadn't, it was obvious...he wondered what it could possibly mean. Perhaps Kid was so low-level within the family's ranks that they never crossed paths and she simply and truly did not know him.

Regardless of her ignorance, Law was left kicking himself: he'd just volunteered his hand and now Doflamingo would get to make the next move. How stupid could he be, letting Baby get ahold of his phone in the first place?

Despite anticipating the worst, nothing came from that minor interaction. Law practically forgot about it - while keeping firmly in mind how intimately aware Doflamingo was of his activities.

Law didn't know what he expected, but when nothing happened he was left wondering why...until now, with Drake's eager flirtations still ringing in his ears. The man was not particularly subtle and it illustrated the striking contrast of Kid's nearly-seamless approach. Did Doflamingo know something that Law himself thus far did not? What if it were not his own interests that were being tested, but Kid's suitability to the task at hand?

His thoughts worked themselves in circles all the way to the close of the show. Law felt an odd sense of relief once it was over. Maybe he just needed to get some space and quiet for the answers to come to him. Despite his earlier hopes that Drake would drop a few clues or secrets, none were forthcoming, and as Law's energy began to dwindle, so did his attention span. Impatient, he decided to try the direct approach.

"Listen," he broke in, terminating a long story he'd not been paying attention to. "This is a funny question, but I just have to ask. Did my brother put you up to this?"

"Whaaaaa?" Drake's answer was either comically over the top or a poor satire thereof. When Law bothered to ask directly, he found it to be a fairly common response. Despite all the acting required of their position, many of the candidates Doflamingo employed were terrible at it.

At least he had his answer, and following a swift recovery, Drake began attempting to convince Law that his interests were genuine. Maybe they were; it hardly mattered. Law wondered why he didn't bother to hold Kid to such an exacting standard, but he was already pretty sure of the answer. It should've worried him, but instead Law was simply annoyed - annoyed that he had to deal with any of this in the first place.

Fortunately, Drake's protestations were abruptly ended: Kid's shaggy mane poked around a door and Law felt a relief and excitement so palpable that it made his palms sweat. Kid spied him, his long, loping legs galloping up the stairs to the bar. He was the picture of delinquency clad only in torn-up jeans without even shoes on his feet.

Law felt an irrepressible attraction, the urge to touch him and not let go, ignoring the consequences and the audience they'd surely have. With Kid, such things never seemed to matter, existing only in the periphery of Law's consciousness.

Kid was a bit sweaty and out of breath once he arrived, "Hey, sorry. I got held up. Thanks for waiting." The heavy kohl he'd lined his eyes with was getting smudgy. He looked more beautiful in person than he ever could have on stage. Law couldn't stop the grin pulling at his mouth.

Beside him, the interruption went unappreciated. "Hey, hey, buddy," Drake scolded. "No shoes, no shirt and all'a that."

"Yes, don't step on anything. Judging by the floor, we might have to amputate." Law flagged their bartender to pay off his tab.

Kid shrugged, "Yeah, sorry. This drunk chick outside puked on my boots. We helped her get into a cab and then she puked on my front."

"Then let's get you home so I can hose you down. I was wondering what that smell was." Law gathered his things before laying a hand on Drake's arm. Really, he felt a little bad for the guy. It never would've worked out anyway. "Well, thank you for the company, Mr. Diez. I hope you have a nice evening."

He didn't wait for an answer, following after Kid until they were out on the street. The floors had become noticeably tacky beneath his shoes; Law could only imagine what it was like on Kid's feet, though it was likely he would neither notice nor care. A gaggle of patrons from the club milled about outside, passing around skunky marijuana while others popped skateboard tricks off a nearby staircase. The evening was crisp and clean compared to the swelter inside, and Law threw on his jacket, "Aren't you cold?"

"Nah, I was real amped after the show. Still hasn't worn off."

"Well, let me know. We can always get a cab. Did everybody else leave already?"

"I think so. Dunno where Bonney got off to. There's gonna be an after-party at our house with the guys who're visiting. Did you like 'em?"

"It wasn't really my style," Law conceded. "But your set was a lot of fun. Now I know why you put up with Bonney."

"Yeah, just cause she's a good singer makes her think she can get away with anything," Kid grumbled, though it was half-hearted at best.

"Are you going, then? To the after-party. I can't make it; it's late as it is and I'm tired."

"You're such an old man," Kid teased, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

"Go on without me." Those last few drinks he'd shared with Drake were like cotton balls packing his frontal lobe. He could just imagine the scene at Kid's house: a crush of people crowding the main floor, which would be cleared of furniture to provide enough dancing and mingling space, while the grungy thud of dubstep vibrated through the hallways. It was times like these that he couldn't help but feel older, like the septuagenarian Kid teased him of being. Sometimes he didn't mind the accusations; they were true for the most part.

Kid fell in step beside him as Law headed in the direction of the monorail, "I actually don't feel like going so much. Mostly I just wanna shower. Come home with you?"

"Of course." A warmth sprung up quickly at the prospect, filling Law's veins with lazy anticipation. Or perhaps that was just the alcohol talking; it'd been awhile since someone had bought him so many drinks like that. His current tolerance was deplorable. "But don't skip the party on my account."

"Those guys've been staying at our place all week. It's fun and all, but I'm kinda ready to have the house back. I'm not missing all that much."

At the edge of the club's backlot, Kid paused to retrieve a plastic sack from beside a lamp post. It hung heavily and smelled foul.

"Ugh, are those your boots?" Law grimaced. He couldn't believe Kid would even keep them.

"Yeah, and my shirt. It's just puke, I'll run 'em through the washing machine."

"Oh please, can't I at least buy you some new ones? Please?"

"Sure, but these're expensive. They're my work boots."

Law shrugged idly, "I have so much debt right now it'll be like a drop in the ocean."

"What! And here I thought you were some rich hot-shot doctor. I'm really just wasting my time with this, aren't I?"

"This doctor will be paying off loans until he's close to forty, and that's if everything goes well. Besides, being a kept man doesn't really suit you."

"You're only saying that because you can't take care of me like I deserve," Kid countered. "And 'kept man' is so old fashioned. Just call me your house-husband."

"House-husbands are supposed to do things around the house, aren't they? Like cook and clean for starters."

"Hey, I made you cinnamon rolls that one time. They were even heart-shaped. It was a lot more work than you'd think!"

He was right; it was one of Law's fonder memories from when Kid spent the night. Because he rose so early during the week, Kid was used to getting up at the crack of dawn, which was typically when Shachi returned home from work. They'd conspired to make him breakfast in bed, and even if Law walked in on their preparations halfway through, it had been one of the sweetest gestures from any of the suitors he'd entertained that he hardly cared.

Left dopey from substandard sleep, he'd merely camped out at the table drinking coffee while Shachi and Kid ruined the kitchen. At least he'd gotten breakfast out of the deal. "Alright, those were pretty good. I think you even cleaned up afterwards. Points in your favor for that one."

"I also know how to make a killer casserole."

"The Killer Casserole would be a good band name."

"It would!"

"I don't even know why you're looking at me to support you. I'll just be living it easy once you hit the big time and become a rockstar."

"Yeah, like that'll ever happen." It was the most down-to-earth thing Kid had ever said; he practically lived on dreams.

"Such modesty," Law huffed in reply. For some reason, he didn't like it when Kid sold himself short. "You looked like one on stage today."

Kid closed the distance between them before giving him a playful hipcheck, "Yeah, well maybe. I gotta keep myself grounded somehow, though. Especially after I leave you alone for ten minutes, only to turn around and see you flirting with a cop! Man, I thought we had somethin' special but apparently - "

"Oh, come on!" Law laughed. Though he knew it was exaggerated, Kid played aggrieved very well, as though he had practice. "You could hardly even call that flirting."

"And with a cop!" Kid jabbed an accusatory finger into his ribs, making Law yelp. "My natural enemy! It's like I walked in on you boning my nemesis."

"He was very cop-like. I was thinking military, but cop makes more sense. He was very grizzled."

"In a good way?"

"In a way that will look good on you in twenty-five years." Law felt rather proud of himself for that one, and sidled up to weave an arm around Kid's elbow. "Just don't abandon me next time and I won't find any cops to ensnare."

"Well, at least you're admitting to it."

"I admit nothing. You can't blame me for finding entertainment once you've run off to be vomited upon."

"Yeah, don't get too close here. I don't want to ruin your nice clothes. But if I do, blame Bonney, it was one of her messy friends."

"You always blame Bonney - "

"Because it's always her fault!"

"Sometimes I wonder if the two of you aren't siblings separated at birth," Law muttered. The way those two went at it...well, at least they managed to milk something creative out of all that hostility. Law had plenty of people he passionately hated and none of them were even on speaking terms. He was reminded again of his brother, but there were plenty of people in Doflamingo's family whom Law had grown to hate.

He wove his fingers in alongside Kid's, the nails painted black. They were cool. The night held the first stirrings of autumn and Kid was dressed only in a pair of ratty black jeans.

There were only a few scattered passengers at the platform when they arrived at the monorail, even fewer inside the cars. Kid was quiet after they boarded, his leftover kinetic energy spilling out in a bare heel as it rapidly tapped against the car's floorboards.

Law considered their reflections in the glass and tried to imagine what Baby had seen when he'd shown her that photograph - probably just what Kid was: a mangy punk kid who couldn't be any more different from Doflamingo's typical offerings if he'd tried. A very hopeful part of him took this as evidence of Doflamingo's absence in their little romance. But absence of evidence did not equate to evidence of absence; Law would need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Doflamingo was not involved before he believed anything.

If Kid was a plant like so many others Doflamingo had sent his way...Law wondered if he wanted to know about it at all. It might hurt as much as the first time. It might even hurt more; he didn't have the excuse of naive ignorance this time around. He knew exactly who Kid was, what he'd been sent here for. And yet he couldn't seem to quit this bad habit now that he'd started. It was self-delusion, but he didn't want to believe the worst. Law didn't want to admit how bad things had become because once he did, he'd have to end it.

His mind was eager to make excuses where Kid was concerned. If he was one of Doflamingo's boys, why was his brother continuing to send additional suitors? Because Drake had been one without a doubt. Law couldn't remember when he'd been faced with two would-be partners at the same time. Although Drake in and of himself was an odd candidate compared to what Law typically expected...then again, one couldn't get any different than Kid himself.

Law was left puzzling just what on earth his brother was thinking with these two when it struck him, leaving Law blinking stupidly at his own reflection. His eyes flicked to Kid and his red hair - very much a different shade in comparison to Drake's, but that wasn't the only similarity. They were both working class, similarly grounded in a way that none of Doflamingo's chosen suitors had been. In many respects, Drake wasn't a strange addition to the long list of arranged partners: he was a poor imitation of what Kid already provided.

Law felt his palm begin to sweat. He was certain Baby had shown Doflamingo that photo, she had no reason not to. But once she had, why hadn't Kid been pulled from his assigned task? What if Doflamingo had been just as confused by Kid as Baby had been? Was Kid an entirely outside actor in this little drama? Baby's reaction to him was so genuinely ignorant, to a degree that was difficult to fake - especially for her with her abominable acting abilities.

For the first time, Law questioned the assumptions he'd made in the first place: what if Kid was nothing more than he presented himself to be? What if Doflamingo literally had no hand in their little companionship? Maybe he hadn't been pulled from this assignment because there was no one to pull him from it.

But that was impossible - Law had lived in the city for four years and had never been approached by someone who wasn't already in his brother's pocket. Even if he found a partner who was separate from all of that, they wouldn't remain so for long: Doflamingo was an expert in determining a person's price.

His brother would've looked at that photograph and simply seen another example of Law's rebellious nature: after soundly rejecting all of Doflamingo's hand-picked candidates, Law had chosen one of his own, the complete opposite of what his brother sent. Doflamingo would assume that choice had been purposefully made to spite him. After Baby shared Kid's photo, the family was left scrambling to determine where the appeal lay, and so they'd sent their own pitiful copy of what Kid superficially had to offer.

But why not go after Kid himself? The man was poor and could be easily bought. It made more sense to buy him off than send a competing candidate - unless Doflamingo found Kid so exceedingly lacking in all areas that he could not even consider bribing him in the first place.

Or perhaps it was his brother's pride that prevented him from making the offer. Then again, everything Law now questioned hinged on Kid being innocent and uninvolved with any of his family's affairs. Based on his own experiences, Law found this hard to believe. He wanted to believe it...but he also refused to delude himself. He was setting himself up for a terrible fall if he misplaced his faith.

Beside him, Kid gave an expansive yawn; in their reflection, Law saw his eyes squint shut from the effort, like a lion roaring silently. Ever since their first meeting, Law had searched for evidence that their relationship was a sham. But in all that time, he'd been unable to definitively find his proof; he was left guessing and assuming at motivations he suddenly doubted were even there. What if Kid didn't ultimately belong to Doflamingo? What if he was only what he presented himself to be?

As if overhearing his thoughts, Kid squeezed his hand, "What're you thinking about so hard?"

"Hmm? Nothing." Law answered automatically; he hated that question. "Just work."

"You have to go in tomorrow?"

It would be a Sunday, and Law's duties minimal. "Only for a few hours."

"I get you for the morning though, right?" He grinned and Law envied how easily the man showed everything; he wore each emotion right on his face without caring who saw it. Unlike Drake, there was no quiet coldness, no subtle calculation beneath a friendly facade. What Law had initially assumed to be superior acting seemed like anything but - this was simply who Kid was; he was unable to pretend any differently.

Law prayed it was the case. Impulsively, he asked, "Did my brother put you up to this?" It was the same question he'd asked Drake, where the answer was immediately apparent by his response alone.

Kid, in contrast, merely wrinkled his eyebrowless forehead, "Put me up to what?"

The oddness of the question seemed obvious once it was out there. Law shrugged, "Nothing. It doesn't matter."

"This is the brother you don't like, right?"

It was about as much as he'd shared about Doflamingo and the family. Immediately, Law wished he'd never mentioned it. "Forget it; I was just thinking out loud."

Kid made a few more pestering attempts but Law was not forthcoming. The topic was dropped - for the moment, at least. Law felt suddenly weary, his mind too twisted up on itself to tell truth from lies. Perhaps Doflamingo wanted it like this, to keep him deeply and utterly confused….

His apartment was quiet once they arrive, Shachi off working and Penguin's door shut. It was impossible to know if he was around or not. It didn't really matter. As Kid made for the shower, Law took his hand. "Make it quick, okay? I want you to fuck me to sleep, but I won't wait up forever."

It was like Christmas dawning across Kid's face, "Okay."

That sort of excitement was impossible to fake. Or at least Law chose to believe it was. Maybe it didn't matter who Kid was or who he was working for. It was paltry comfort but Law wanted to enjoy things for what they were before they inevitably ended - even if that meant deluding himself in the process.