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On the Surface

Chapter Text

It was a Monday, which was terrible in its own special way, but this day was doubly so: Kid had arranged to pick up an official copy of his welder's certification and union card first thing in the morning. He'd just neglected to realize that, while the construction site itself was a bustle of activity by five thirty a.m., the head offices didn't open until seven.

And he'd felt so proud of himself for getting to their doors at fifteen minutes after five.

He'd spent the last two hours waiting in a nearby coffee shop, after letting Killer know he'd be late as fuck showing up to work. Until then, there was nothing to be done but seethe quietly over a gooey cinnamon bun. He'd bought it in the hopes that his mood would improve, but thus far it had not worked.

When the clock was nearing seven, Kid took his coffee to go, mood souring further once he discovered the errand itself took all of ten fucking minutes to accomplish. That was typical. Sure, he wasted a morning waiting around only for the task to be finished before he could blink. Why couldn't they just mail these badges to his supervisor? Kid didn't ask questions because he wasn't sure he'd be able to remain civil. He signed the required forms and went on his way, trying not to let his full-on stink of a mood ruin the rest of his day.

What pissed him off most was how he was now stuck in the thick of rush hour, the monorail platform packed with businessmen and women all in matchy-matchy little suits as they migrated en mass to their jobs. Kid hated dealing with this crap. On a good day, he caught the first scheduled ride of the morning and spent his time in the company of just about nobody.

He wedged himself into position, following the herd as a crush of people shuffled onboard. The cars at the very back weren't as packed and he made for a free seat, knocked off-balance at the last minute as the monorail lurched into motion. Kid landed heavily on his ass, a fat droplet of coffee flying from his cup to land with a splat on a pair of expensive-looking slacks.

Kid froze; motherfuck. Shit. He felt his temper flare dangerously. How much fucking worse could this goddamn day even get? Business guys could be real a-holes once their spiffy little outfits got a splotch.

He turned to the passenger beside him and winced, hoping to defuse any anger with genuine regret. "Oh man, that was my fault. I'm real sorry."

"Please, it's nothing." The guy beside him looked up from whatever he was reading -

- and Kid's heart absolutely did skip a beat. This guy was hot. Fuck. He just spilled coffee on a hot guy in expensive clothes. This was not a good way to get a phone number. This was a really good way to start a fight. His brain was short circuiting so his mouth took over, once Kid managed to pull his jaw off the floorboards. "No, I feel real bad. I can't believe that even happened - "

The man waved a hand, his eyes slate gray beneath reading glasses, which he presently removed. Kid's heart skipped another beat, thudding heavily in his chest with the staccato pop of a nail gun, bap-pap. The guy had just done the sexy librarian reveal like it was nothing, because it had been totally natural.

"It's fine, the train was at fault for that one more than anything." The guy shrugged a narrow shoulder, and if Kid's game had been any better, he would've made a comment about how nicely his silk tie brought out his eyes.

But this morning, Kid's game suuucked - probably because he'd just wasted two goddamn hours waiting for a fucking office to open. He'd be in a stink of a mood over that for the rest of the day and would undoubtedly have to stay late to make up for it. Then again, if he was gonna run into hot guys during morning rush, he might just have to reconsider his daily routine.

"Look, this is embarrassing," Kid began, feeling foolish and hoping that he could somehow rescue the situation. "Lemme at least take care of the cost of having them cleaned."

"That's so generous but really, don't worry about it." The man blotted the stain with a handkerchief - of course he had one - and it was already disappearing into the dark cloth. "See? You can hardly see it anymore." He flashed a smile so sympathetic that Kid worried he might pass out. "At least you take your coffee black."

The guy was brushing it off just to be polite, but Kid wasn't having any of that - there was the principle of the matter at stake. Even if he looked like a stray dog sitting next to this guy, he could still pay for his mistakes. He'd been prepared to do so from the very start. He didn't have any cash - and in all honesty, had no idea how much it cost to get a pair of slacks like that professionally done - so he did the next best thing, writing his name and phone number on his cafe receipt from earlier that morning.

He shoved it in hot guy's face, as if daring him to turn down his generosity a third time. "No, seriously. I insist. Just take this, get 'em done and lemme know how much it was."

Fortunately, the man simply smiled, tucking the receipt into his pocket. Maybe he just wanted to defuse the tension by being agreeable; maybe he really would take Kid up on the offer. A guy could dream, after all. "Well, thank you. I'll be sure to let you know the damage."

"Yeah, seriously. Call me. I'm not just doing this for appearances."

The monorail's robotic announcer intoned that they were arriving at Grand Line City Central Hospital. The man tucked his reading material back into a weathered leather briefcase, "This is my stop."

"Oh. Okay." Kid stood attentively along with the man as the railcar shuddered into the station with a squeal of brakes. "But if it turns out those pants are totally ruined, still let me know. I'll pay for it."

Yeah, right - those pants probably cost his week's salary. He sure as shit hoped they weren't ruined. For this guy, though, Kid could see himself happily paying a lot of money just so they could keep talking.

"Of course," the man replied, queuing up with the crowd as it disembarked.

Kid remained where he was, watching the guy go and wondering if it had been possible in the slightest to work a phone number out of that interaction. He figured he ought to just be happy with the fact that he'd gotten his across. The guy's dark hair disappeared into a crush of people; Kid waited for the rest of the passengers to settle out before exiting as well.

This was his stop, too - he'd hung back because he already felt like enough of an absolute shitheel for one day. With better circumstances, he would've taken advantage of the fact that they were getting off at the same station. But not today - he didn't need the guy thinking he was weird and creepy on top of everything else.

The construction site was adjacent to the hospital's main building, a sprawling complex which had expanded upon over time until the whole thing was massive. Several different architectural styles warred with one another, depending on when they'd been built. The new clinic was meant to be a departure from that - an entirely new, fully updated, thirty-story structure that would be GLCC's flagship for the coming decade. So far, they'd only built up to the fourteenth story - a steel and concrete skeleton picked clean by the little orange and yellow ants busily crawling over it.

Kid's work usually started before daybreak but his errands had left him late as fuck. He just hoped he could slip in before his foreman noticed. Then again, that jerkoff was the one who'd insisted on an official copy of his welder's certifications before he'd let Kid glue anything together, so maybe all of this was his fault. The guy was new to the company and painfully by-the-book, which meant they all got to to be. Kid wasn't the only specialist required to provide his up-to-date credentials recently; it was a frequent topic of on-break bitching amongst the work crew.

It was easy enough to pick Killer out of a cluster of guys, and Kid threw on an orange safety vest and hard hat as he meandered over. They looked to be on a coffee and smoke break; Kid blended in like he'd been there the whole time.

Killer nodded in greeting, "Get it all sorted out?"

"Yeah, yeah. Stupid offices don't open 'til late."

"Told you."

"Yeah well, I fucking forgot, okay?" He swallowed the last dregs of his coffee and contemplated the empty cup before discarding it. Maybe it was lucky. It'd given him an excuse to talk to a hot piece of ass on the train, and that was certainly something - even if that guy looked so far outta Kid's league that he was practically dreaming, thinking he even had a chance.

Whatever; it never hurt for a guy to dream. It was something Kid was pretty good at. Despite the salty mood he'd started the day with, just the possibility of having that guy call him back was enough to leave him sailing through the rest of the week and then some.

He didn't even get depressed until a month later, when there was still no call. The rationalizations he'd used to keep his spirits up were beginning to fall apart by that point. Even so, Kid wasn't about to take the silence as a rejection until there was absolutely no hope left. Hot guy or no hot guy, he had plenty to keep himself busy, but not even that could keep his mind from wandering. Daydreaming like a dumbass wasn't the safest thing to do on an active site, but he couldn't help it. In the five minutes of awkward interaction they'd shared, that guy had managed to sink his roots deeply into Kid's brain; it was left absolutely sick just churning through all the possibilities.

It was a habit he was particularly prone to, much to Killer's despair. Why fixate on some mystery dream-guy you'll never run across again in your life? he'd say. Don't you know how many people live in this city?

Granted, this sort of reality check had only become necessary after several weeks of listening to Kid moon pitifully over missed chances. Everyone he lived with was sick of hearing about it. They were right, of course. Kid's head knew it, but the rest of him was still a believer - the dumb parts, like his heart. Chance meetings sucked balls. It wasn't the first time Kid would curse his stupid luck over something like this and it certainly wouldn't be the last.

Regardless of his stymied love life, his work kept him busy: the steel infrastructure kept going up, floors and floors of it, and Kid along with. Two enormous yellow cranes were erected beside the clinic building's site, swinging new pieces of steel and rebar higher and higher until they'd reached the thirtieth floor. After a certain point, the view became less impressive and more nauseating, but Kid had worked on enough tall buildings that he was used to focusing his attention on what was important while ignoring all the rest.

The building was tall enough that it took him almost fifteen minutes to make his way down when it came time for a lunch break. Killer always packed up a few PB&J's for mid-morning snack; getting started so early left them both ravenous by ten o'clock, so neither bothered to break for lunch 'til nearly one. They ate together when they could, but today Killer was off on another floor so Kid took his lunch on his own terms once he came to a stopping point.

Another team of men was quickly completing an industrial elevator to reach the top stories, but in the meantime, Kid was left hoofing it. He always managed to gain a good twenty pounds of lean muscle after actively working on a site like this. He left his yellow vest and t-shirt in his locker, risking a sunburn and going bare-chested. It was the thick of summer and its muggy heat was unavoidable; like most of his coworkers, the only time he got to really breathe without being burdened by safety gear was on his lunch break.

Fortunately for him, the hospital was large enough to attract a slew of food trucks and vendors who eagerly congregated on the surrounding side-streets every day at noon. Kid spent a few minutes perusing his options before settling in line at his favorite place, a fish fry joint called Takoyaki 8. It always had a line but was worth the wait, and as Kid scanned his surroundings, he felt his heart practically jump out of his mouth - there was that guy, the hot guy from the morning train! Even if they'd only crossed paths for five minutes, Kid knew that he'd recognize him anywhere - even by the back of his head. Which, granted, was all Kid could see as the man stood in another line a couple food trucks away. But Kid had just about memorized that guy's back as it'd walked away from him nearly a month ago, and he had no doubts that this was the same person. It was pretty impossible to forget an ass like that.

Kid immediately abandoned his place in line, striding over as though the guy might disappear if he blinked. The man was wearing another pair of sleek trousers, though not the same ones as before. Every piece of clothing he wore was impeccably tailored, designed to accentuate his lean height. He was intently focused on a smartphone he kept pecking at, and there was a beeper clipped to his belt. It didn't get much more doctor than that, but Kid refused to be deterred. There was a principle at stake here; lest he forget, he still owed that guy a laundry bill. He would've made the offer whether or not he wanted to sleep with the guy, but it was fortunate that things worked out the way they had.

He stood beside the man, who sensed looked up immediately. His eyes were gray-blue, just like Kid remembered. He wasn't wearing glasses like the first time they'd met; they must've just been for reading.

Kid gave his best grin and said, "Hey."

The man blinked three times, smiling with an expression of honest confusion. "I'm sorry, can I help you?"

Kid ignored the momentary disappointment that came with not being remembered. The guy probably met a lot of people, and probably for more than five minutes at a time. "This might sound crazy, but I ran into you about a month ago. I spilled coffee on you, remember?"

There was another blink before realization dawned, "I knew you looked familiar. My apologies, I'm doing clinical rotation right now and see so many people. For a moment, I thought you must've been a patient."

"Nah, just an asshole on the train."

"Oh, that." He waved a hand, dismissing the self-deprecation, "It was nothing, that sort of thing happens. Eustass Kid, wasn't it?"

"Whoa, good memory. I'm shit for names." Kid got a little thrill from being remembered, right down to his full name. "You never called me about the laundry bill, by the way."

"I know." The man looked sheepish for a moment, "You shouldn't worry about it. I didn't mention it at the time, but those pants…" He sighed, looking weary. "I have a well-meaning roommate who occasionally does my laundry. It's very thoughtful of him, but he never checks labels and just throws everything into the wash. Those pants had already been ruined, I'm afraid."

"Oh," Kid said, feeling shut down. That'd been his only real in for the guy's attention, and he scrambled to save himself. "That's too bad, you could hardly tell."

"Well, that's something at least. Unfortunately, once they've been through the regular wash it's fairly pointless spending the money to have them dry-cleaned." He shrugged, "It was a very considerate gesture on your part. I appreciate the thought."

"Why don't I buy you lunch anyway?" Kid offered. "I still feel kinda bad about it."

"Please, there's no need - "

"Aw, c'mon. It'll help soothe my guilty conscience." He felt like he was flailing, and badly. The guy probably just wanted to be left alone during his lunch break, the few minutes he had to himself between all his doctorly stuff, but Kid refused to be dissuaded easily. "Besides, I know a really good place. You like takoyaki?"

The man hesitated, glancing at his place in line before stepping away. "Why not? I'd hate to burden your conscience."

"Great!" Kid said, and meant it. A burst of excitement lit up his veins; he felt stupidly victorious, and all he'd done was avoid being given the brush-off. "Hey, I never got your name back then."

"Trafalgar Law."

"Is it Doctor Trafalgar, then?"

"That obvious?" The man, Law, gave a rueful smile. "I'm a doctor, but still in residency. So it won't be completely official for another few years, and that's if everything goes well. Please just call me Law."

"I can do that," Kid replied. He started ambling back to Hachi's stand with the doctor by his side. He felt the hefty pride of associating with such attractive company, like Law was some prize he wanted to show off to the entire world. He doubted most the food truck patrons would even give a crap, but that hardly mattered. They just didn't know what they were missing out on. "I don't know much about all the doctor-stuff. Except it's real complicated and takes forever. Is the residency part where you take the qualifying exams?"

"The licensing exams. And it is complicated, obnoxiously so. I'm actually in my fellowship. It's where you specialize into a specific field." They found a place in line and he massaged the bridge of his nose wearily. "Honestly, I am so ready for it to be finished, you cannot imagine." There were dark circles beneath Law's eyes, his only outward sign of fatigue.

Fortunately, the line was not long. Peak lunch hour was ending and Kid ordered for them both: his favorite, the number two combo of takoyaki balls and a red bean medetai. Hachi was quick as always and they were heading for a shady curb with their meals in no time.

Kid tried not to let it show when he noticed the doctor casting an appraising glance up and down his bare chest. He wasn't much of a peacock when it came to appearances, but the one good thing about his work was that it kept him in pretty good shape. Kid had always been tall and well-muscled, a physique that came naturally without tons of time spent in the gym.

The doctor rolled up the cuffs of his shirt before eating and Kid was very surprised to see some black tattoos showing on his forearms. "Whoa, nice ink!" He couldn't tell what they were but he liked them anyway. Really put a new spin to the otherwise clean-cut image.

"Thank you." Law seemed pleased, and pulled his shirt up further to demonstrate the full design. "I had more, on my hands. Sadly, they had to be removed. The medical profession is fairly discriminating when it comes to such things."

"That's too bad, they look good on you." Feeling bold, Kid took the man's wrist to inspect his hand carefully for remnants. If there'd been extensive tattooing, it'd been pretty well obliterated. A real shame.

Other than that, the man's manicure was impeccable. His skin was several shades darker than Kid's own and when he withdrew, it wasn't with overt haste. "I was sad to see them go. I'm doing my best to keep the rest covered so they won't have to be removed as well."

"Do they mean anything?"

"Of course," Law replied, but didn't immediately volunteer any information. Instead, he tucked into his food with a gusto Kid appreciated. At least the guy wasn't just taking him up on his offer of lunch out of simple politeness.

The takoyaki were salty and chewy, perfectly cooked. Kid could've easily eaten a double-order but didn't want to come off like a glutton. Maybe he was being self-conscious, but he'd built up making a good impression so much over the last month that he was paranoid about fucking it up now that he had his chance. Sitting with the man now and Kid wondered if his worrying was even necessary. For all his refinement, Law was surprisingly unpretentious.

Between bites, Law asked, "Have you got any tattoos of your own?"

"Nah." He laughed, thinking of all the times he'd resolved to hit the parlour where his roommate Heat worked. "I always think of getting some but never when I have the money for it."

"I had most of mine done before I knew I'd be going to medical school. I would have put them more discrete places had I known."

"You're not that old, when did you start? With med school, I mean."

"Oh, fairly young. When I was sixteen."

"Holy shit, you must be smart as fuck." Kid tried not to be discouraged. He hadn't even graduated high school.

"Yes. Not to brag or anything." Law swallowed a few gulps from a bottled water, his adam's apple bobbing in a way that was hypnotizing. He smiled, "I was also highly motivated. It was the quickest and easiest way to escape my family. I won't go into details, but we're not very close. I was eager to be on my own as soon as possible."

"Actually, I feel you on that one. I don't get along with my folks too well either." Kid knew what the guy meant on a number of levels and it was way too early to get into that. He wanted Law to like him, after all. He already felt like a mangy mutt in comparison.

"Never very fair, is it?" Law shook his head. "Sometimes you don't get to pick to whom you're related. But enough about that, do you work at the hospital?"

"Kinda. I'm part of the construction crew for that new clinic over there." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder.

"Really? I don't know why I'm surprised, you certainly have the build for it."

Kid preened at the compliment before munching his way through the medetai. Law only ate a few bites of his before offering him the rest; Kid was kind of stoked about it. Strangers didn't really offer each other food from their own plates, that was something only friends did. Or maybe he was reading too much into it. His hopes were in the stratosphere and refused to be brought back to earth.

Law was easy to talk to, even if he kept their conversation to pretty soft topics - work, mainly; a little about the city. He was a returning native who'd come back a few years ago after being away for schooling. He was specializing as a thoracic surgeon, and was two years away from completing a fellowship program for internal medicine. Kid felt pretty unaccomplished in comparison, but classes and studying had never suited him much - completing his apprenticeship and welding certification had been more than enough.

Beside him, Law's pager trilled sharply; he glanced at the number before sighing with resignation. "Well, it's about time I headed back anyway." He favored Kid with another one of those subtle smiles, "This was nice. Thank you for the meal. And the company."

"Sure," Kid replied. His tongue fumbled for words, too busy tying itself in knots to keep up with his thoughts. "Anytime. Y'know, since we work so close together maybe we can do it again."

"I'd like that," Law said, and Kid restrained himself from dancing out a little victory jig. "I think I have your number somewhere."

"Want it again?"

"No, I'll find it." He stood, stretching with his arms raised above his head. His spine gave a few audible pops and Kid couldn't help but appreciate the doctor's lean height and build. Kid was used to towering over everybody around him, and while Law was tall, there were still a few inches separating them. The doctor wore low-heeled boots that gave him a couple of added inches, evening out the difference even further.

Before leaving, Law turned to him, "Unfortunately, my schedule is rather hectic right now so I cannot make any guarantees. I'll send you a text if it looks like things will work out. Do you usually eat around this time?"

"Yeah, or a little earlier. Whatever works." Kid gathered up their lunch debris, tossing it in a bin.

"Well. I'll see you, then."

"Lookin' forward to it."

And he seriously, seriously was. Kid wasn't even sure if the man was interested in anything beyond the company and conversation; only time would tell on that count. He watched Law's retreating backside as he headed towards the hospital proper, already on his phone and fielding whatever call had come through.

Kid had a good feeling about things, one that persisted for the remainder of the week and carried him through a busy weekend full of shows he either attended or played in. Killer was getting about ready to live up to his namesake for all Kid talked about the sexy rich doctor he'd somehow managed to snag a date with, even if it'd been completely informal and nothing romantic.

Kid had a tendency to fall headlong into relationships, sometimes with people who were worth it but frequently not. Things would sputter out to an unfinished conclusion with no real damage done one way or the other and all Kid could do was try not to get hurt in the process. A lot of his partners were flakey to the core, but in those instances, he had no real illusions that things were anything more than what they seemed. He hadn't bothered to go on a proper date or have a real relationship for a while, primarily because he hadn't met anybody worth the effort.

But Law was definitely worth it. Kid tried not to be too disappointed when another two weeks passed without a peep from the doctor. Maybe he hadn't been kidding about how busy he was. Who knew; it was just as good an excuse for blowing someone off, and Kid once again regretted not being pushier about getting the man's phone number. It hadn't been volunteered, and he tried to be conscious of that fact while he resisted the urge to pine for what could've been. Between work and everything else, Kid had plenty to keep his mind occupied.

Somehow, his two brief meetings with Law managed to persist beyond what was entirely reasonable, and Kid tried not to lament the fact that things between them were basically over before they'd ever begun. Maybe they were just too different. It was a depressing fact, but one he was well-acquainted with: the sad truth of life was that it had a real tendency to suck.

Kid didn't take it personal, though it was hard.

Chapter Text

Law's office was a tiny thing he shared with two others. Fortunately, none of them spent much time in its confines. One paneled wall of windows faced the newly-erected steel infrastructure that would ultimately become GLCC's new clinic building - they were still debating over what to call it. Two of the most monied donors were in a bit of a political dogfight over whose name would show up on the front doors. Law was hoping for the Edward Newgate Clinic of Medicine, because anything with his brother's moniker attached would make working there an exercise in masochism.

Fortunately, his fellowship would be finished around the same time the clinic opened. Maybe Law would move on. It seemed silly to dictate his future on the basis of a building's stupid name, but there was something to be said about maintaining appropriate boundaries, of which his brother had none.

He doubted Doflamingo would've ever become involved had Law's employment by the hospital not factored in. They'd hardly spoken over the years he'd been away, though his brother had made multiple overtures. Law simply wasn't interested. He'd had enough of that family and their business to last a lifetime.

He hadn't planned to return to the city but GLCC was one of the best hospitals in the country. Some things were worth swallowing one's pride for, and a prestige residency position happened to be among them.

Like any construction project, the clinic's was mostly a nuisance, redirecting traffic and creating a shifting zone of chaos that Law did his best to avoid. It wasn't like there was any reason for him to be near it anyway, unless he took an actual lunch break over by the food trucks. His schedule wasn't very permitting and he spent more noon hours parked in front of his computer munching through leftovers than anything else. It was merely coincidence that he'd had the opportunity today - and another such coincidence in running into that same man, Eustass Kid, twice by chance.

Once was acceptable; twice was a pattern, and nothing coincidental at all. Law wasn't surprised, honestly. He knew what was really going on. Apparently, cutting Doflamingo out of his life had not delivered the intended message, and his brother now saw fit to intrude upon it in the most insidious of ways.

There was quite the difference between what Doflamingo was up to and the typical barrage of arranged dates one had to contend with from well-meaning friends and relatives. Those were usually just the product of misplaced but fundamentally good intentions. Penguin was guilty of that sort of thing, but he'd learned not to bother. It was a sweet gesture, which Law resented. He didn't need to be in a relationship to be happy. It was tacitly insulting that everyone else thought differently. Doflamingo was the worst offender in this regard; ever since Law had moved back to the city, the man had sent a succession of suitors after him that left Law shocked by his own popularity. It was only after he caught on to who was behind it all that the shine started to wear off.

Despite knowing who was responsible for the uptick in interest, Law was begrudgingly intrigued by this new candidate, Eustass Kid. He was very unlike all the rest Doflamingo had sent. They tended to come in a certain type, presumably what Doflamingo thought Law would appreciate. In actuality, they were far more like what his brother would approve of more than anything. They were usually of the upper crust, the sort of well-bred peers Doflamingo viewed as appropriate companions. At the very beginning, they'd all been women, which was quite surprising indeed - Law had never made his preferences a secret, and had been certain of his sexuality by the time he was twelve. It had never been a subject of much controversy for him or anyone else in the family; Law knew he was fortunate in such regards. Even if Doflamingo ignored these facts at the outset, over time, he'd gotten the message: the current crop of suitors were all men, and very nice to look at.

Most of them were fairly decent in bed as well. Law had no reservations about taking advantage of these offerings when they showed up on his doorstep. But he also had no illusions: he knew they were bought and paid for; any affection was merely an act. Perhaps they would develop genuine feelings over time, but it was pointless to become invested in a relationship founded on a dishonest basis.

Law had learned that lesson the hard way. Early on in the game, he'd become well and truly enamoured with a man only to discover that he was an underling in Doflamingo's vast underworld organization. His brother managed to spread his tentacles into every facet of Grand Line City life; it was one of the reasons Law had originally left, and the same reason he'd been hesitant to return. His brother had the city in his pocket and everyone had their price. Many of his low-level associates probably jumped at the chance to win their boss' favor - and potentially a place in the inner family itself, through marriage - should they be able to worm their way into Law's heart.

After that first abrupt reality check, Law vowed it would never happen again. He'd been fooled once, and painful lessons had a tendency to last.

More than anything, the entire scenario left Law feeling like a piece of meat to be swapped around until the most politically powerful alliance could be made. He was sure that inevitably would've been his fate if he'd stayed in the family.

As he thought, he found himself staring out the window to the construction site beyond. At least it gave them something to watch now and then. Small figures swarmed across the metal infrastructure like little orange prescription bottles capped by white hardhats. An enormous crane was lifting pendulous stacks of rebar up to one of the upper levels when Law's coworker, Tony, arrived. He was one of the two Law shared the office with, and took the most interest in the proceedings of the new building.

"Ahh, look at that!" He enraptured, dropping a take-out carton on his desk. He balanced a pair of binoculars against his eyes; they were kept specifically so that he could follow the building's progress. "I saw them lifting port-o-potties up with the crane this morning. Almost wanted to see one of them fall, just for what would happen."

"I met one of the workers today at lunch," Law said, thinking aloud.

Tony seemed far more interested than he was. "Really?"

"Yes, over by the food carts. One of the welders - I think that's what he said he did."

"So cool! Was he nice?"

"I suppose so." He was as nice as any of the men Doflamingo sent to woo him.

That being the case, until now, the candidates Law was approached by were quite the opposite of Eustass Kid. They were refined, educated - the sort of people who'd been attracted by Doflamingo's promise of rewards and freedoms they could never hope to achieve on their own through legal means. Just off the top of his head, Law recalled several lawyers and county court employees, the curator of the city's art museum, and two personal assistants, one to the city council president and another to the mayor herself. It was a fair assessment of the overall standards of corruption one could find in the city.

Law wasn't sure if these were simply people had been chosen at random, or if his brother was attempting to show off. Either way, Law was not impressed - status had little meaning to him in the grand scheme of things. He'd all but surrendered his own upon leaving the family.

Tony had the binoculars perched on his nose as he focused in on the twentieth floor. A fiery geyser of sparks was cascading down the building's steel facade. "So should see if you can find him, the one you met."

"I'm sure there're dozens of welders working on that project." It wouldn't surprise Law if Eustass Kid was one of Doflamingo's boys. Construction contractors were notoriously corrupt. It stood to reason that their employees would be the same. Maybe Doflamingo was trying something different after having so many well-pedigreed individuals rejected.

Still though, several weeks after their second meeting, Law found himself pondering another lunch date. What could he say; the man was attractive and Law was weak against such temptations. At the very least, Eustass Kid could deliver on the promise of some mind-blowing casual sex. The man was as tall, broad, and as well-muscled as a professional athlete. Law wasn't too proud to take advantage of what was offered. If Kid failed to deliver on his advertised promises, well...Law had little problem putting an end to things in that case. He'd become quite accomplished at dumping people lately.

Kid's phone number was on a receipt he'd been using as a bookmark. It'd shuffled back and forth across his desk several times. Law knew he should just throw the damn thing in the trash, but the man was surprisingly charming, and despite knowing better, Law was able to rationalize sending an inquiry. By that time, it was a full month after they'd seen each other last. Maybe Kid had already moved on. But if he hadn't, and as long as Law knew the score and kept it firmly in mind, he could enjoy Kid's company for what it was. Breaking ties would be easy once the time finally came.

Around nine o'clock that morning, he tapped out a message, Lunch today? This is Law. He received a response in less than ten minutes, YES! What time?

Kid's enthusiasm was infectious and Law found himself smiling, his pulse quickening with anticipation. The response all but eliminated the last shreds of his doubt as to the nature of the man's interest. After their encounter on the train, Law had wondered if the man was giving him his number as a pick-up, or simply to save face after an awkward embarrassment. Nothing about Kid explicitly struck him as gay. In fact, Law had originally pegged him as a gym rat - or a gym queen, in light of his actual orientation. His physique made sense given that he was a manual laborer. It wasn't really Law's type; men who took a lot of time on appearances tended to have the depth of a puddle at low tide - but who cared, really? He wasn't planning to date Kid for his brains or personality.

They agreed on one in the afternoon, when the typical mad rush would be wrapping up. By the time Law made it to their rendezvous point, he could easily spot Kid by his brilliantly scarlet hair. It was currently pulled off his face by a pair of industrial welding goggles. There was a dusting of soot across his face and he was wearing a loose-fitting white tank-top which was equally dirty. In some areas, he'd prespired enough to spackled the cloth against his well-defined torso; Law was quite appreciative and wished the day was even hotter. Perhaps if this continued through the summer, he'd get to see that - in fact, this could be an enjoyable little summer fling: low on commitments and rich in physical reward.

Law was reminded of the first time he'd set eyes on Eustass Kid, back on the monorail - he'd been immediately struck by the high planes of his cheekbones, the pale cast of his skin. Some people were simply born beautiful, though Law had never had much room to complain over the looks he'd been given. While Kid's height and muscular build made him seem older, Law knew they must be only a few year's difference in age. Just from simple appearances, Kid was radically different from all the other men Law had come to expect. He certainly wasn't complaining.

"Hey!" Kid greeted with a wave. "So glad you texted me. You must be really busy."

"Sadly, yes. I don't take lunches that often."

"Then I feel extra-special because of it."

Kid's perspiration was giving a nice shine to his shoulders and arm muscles, and he smelled thickly of it. It wasn't unpleasant - in fact, it made Law's mouth water far more than any of the food smells being broadcast from the vendors.

Law tried not to be pathetically obvious with his interest; a man built like Kid was probably got used to people fawning all over him. If the attention had given Kid an ego, it didn't show. "What'cha feel like eating? I picked last time so it's your turn if you want it."

"There's a kebab stand down the way if that sounds good to you."

"I'll eat anything that's served on a stick."

Unexpectedly, Law laughed. "I like how you put that."

He led the way to a stand called Alabasta Caravan, and ordered the lamb and chicken combo, which came with a skewer of each and a plate of rice pilaf. Kid selected a three-skewer meal, and bought them each a piece of honey cake with pistachios. They found a seat on a grassy slope, the skewers dripping with juice and minty yogurt sauce.

"This is great!" Kid mumbled around a mouthful of meat. "I feel like I could eat somewhere different every day and still find new places to try."

"You're probably right. I've seen the trucks rotate through, so there's always a variety. Unfortunately, I don't get many chances to make it out here."

"How's the hospital cafeteria food? I guess you probably eat there most the time."

"It looks better than it tastes." Law shrugged; in all honesty, he packed his meals more than he ate out. After setting out on his own, he'd been financially cut off. Doflamingo undoubtedly hoped it would send Law scurrying back to the family and their vast resources, but Law didn't give up that easily. He'd met plenty of people in medical school like Tony, who managed to make things work on loans and scholarships. While Law had received a trust from his brother Cora, it was only enough to pay tuition. He ended up taking out a series of loans to pay for everything else, leaving him with so much debt that it seemed overwhelming. There was nothing to do for it except press on and complete his residency and fellowship, and only after all that would he begin earning enough to start paying it back. The interest statements alone were enough to give him a case of anxiety.

On one level, Law liked the relative normalcy that came with owing an arm and a leg to the government and private lenders. It made him feel like many of his peers, who came from modest backgrounds and simply wanted an education and to practice medicine. If he'd remained loyal to the family, everything would've been paid for, and Law would currently be living in a penthouse suite somewhere downtown. As it was, he shared an apartment in a triplex, and it was located a half-hour train ride from the hospital.

The inconvenience was worth it. The crushing debt, less so - but it was a sacrifice he was willing to make if it earned him total freedom from his family. At least this way Law could choose his own future, instead of being inevitably employed in private practice, catering solely to the upper-class and their diseases of over-indulgence. Perhaps it was naive of him to think he could make a difference this way, but it was a naivete given to him by Cora. Law would've hated to lose it.

Such generosity did not extend to Eustass Kid, regardless of how genuine his advances thus far seemed. Law decided to do a little fishing, under the auspices of small talk, "So tell me, Mister Eustass. What got you started in the construction industry?"

"Whoa, so formal," Kid mumbled around a mouthful of meat. "My dad's Mister Eustass, and I don't like him all that much. Just Kid is fine."

Law agreed, eating his own lunch while he waited for Kid to swallow. When he did, he answered, "I was never that much into school, really. Ended up dropping out midway through." He shrugged, unbothered. "I thought I might go back and get a GED but never did. Once I started working, it didn't really matter."

"Did you do an apprenticeship, then?"

"Yeah, I was doing carpentry for awhile but metalworking is what I'm specialized in now. It's more challenging and the pay's pretty good." He gave a clipped laugh before washing down a few bites with soda. "I dunno, is that a deal-breaker for you?"

"What do you mean?"

"People can get real judgey when they hear you never graduated, so I'm real up-front about it. It's not like it's a secret. I mean, you're a doctor, so obviously you must be a pretty smart guy."

"True. Then again, I've spent the better half of the last decade surrounded by highly-educated people, and it hasn't been the most pleasant experience of my life."

To his surprise, Kid laughed outright, nearly choking on a bite of food. He swallowed thickly, "That's funny. For some reason, I never thought I'd hear a doctor talking smack about other doctors."

"Oh, believe me, medical school attracts some of the most hyper-competitive people you'll ever meet. Half of being a doctor is putting up with difficult patients, and the other half is spent dealing with horrible coworkers." Then again, Law probably wasn't the best one to judge - he'd never been the most personable. He had a low tolerance for fools, particularly ones who were inexplicably several rungs above him in the internal hierarchy of things.

Beside him, Kid was giggling like he'd just learned some big secret. Law gave him a playful elbow in the ribs, "I'm sure you have some supervisors you'd rather see pack their bags than ever take another order from."

"I hear that." He cast a sideways grin in Law's direction, the kind that made him feel like a schoolboy being noticed by the coolest person in class. Kid made it seem effortless and for a moment, all Law wanted was to bask in his attention. "Y'know, you're way more down to earth than I thought you'd be."

"Did you expect me to be a snob or something?"

"Nah. I mean, well." Kid paused, his smile turning self-deprecating. "I don't actually ask people like you out that often. I feel like you're a bit out of my league."

"Really, flattery so early," Law replied, giving a short laugh himself. It was more from surprise than anything. A certain amount of flirtation at this stage came with the territory, and he returned the favor. "Honestly, you ought to look in a mirror now and then. Between the two of us, I'd think it should be obvious who's more out of their league."

Kid gave a snicker, "Y'know, I'm kinda glad to hear that. Not just because I like getting my ego stroked, I mean. I've been trying to figure you out ever since we met, and just didn't want to end up barking up the wrong tree, if you catch my drift."

While Law participated in their conversation, he did so passively, answering questions and offering his own views now and then. He volunteered only the barest of facts; it wasn't like Kid didn't know them already. Law wondered if his brother gave these men some sort of starter packet prior detailing his preferences and personal tastes so that the conversation would never veer into controversial territory.

Law found himself enjoying Kid's company almost against his will. It was unpretentious and good-natured, and despite their differences, they had much to talk about. It was a relief to only discuss casual things. Anytime Law joined his peers for happy hour, the conversation didn't make it far past shop talk. Sometimes he simply got tired of hearing the same old complaints, the same frustrations with patients and annoyances caused by their administration's endless bureaucratic policies.

An hour sped by with Law hardly noticing. He finished his meal but made no effort to escape, lounging back on his elbows and enjoying the summer sun for a change. It'd been ages since he'd had an entire day off to spend how he would've liked. He let Kid eat both shares of dessert, having little taste for sweets himself, particularly cake.

Law felt as though he could fall asleep where he lay, like a cat spread out with the sun on its face. He could sense Kid watching him but his eyes remained closed; he didn't mind the attention. If Law pretended hard enough, he could almost believe this was normal.

"Man, am I gonna have to buy you a coffee or something?" Kid asked.

"Mm, maybe." Law yawned before sitting up. A light sweat had begun beneath his shirt collar and he rubbed one filmy eye. "Ugh, definitely. I'm sorry, I'm usually a little more fun than this."

"No worries. Why don't you stay here and I'll be back in a minute. How d'you take your coffee?"

Law requested it black, a double-shot Americano. While Kid was away, he checked his phone; it was closing up on two thirty. He never took such indulgent lunch breaks and would likely have to stay later because of it. It didn't seem to matter. He wondered if Kid would be in trouble for taking so long himself, and made his way over to where he was ordering.

"Oh, hey," Kid greeted. "I meant to ask, you want it hot or cold?"

"Hot." He waited until their order was placed before continuing. "I hadn't realized the time. I'm afraid I'll have to take this and run."

"Nah, that's cool. I have to get back myself."

"We should do this again sometime," Law said, surprising himself as well as his companion.

Kid had a high forehead with no visible eyebrows, but had they been present they would've shot up to his hairline. Law decided to throw caution to the wind; who cared if Kid was working for his brother? It didn't mean he couldn't enjoy what the man had to offer, and thus far, Law had been quite pleased in that regard. And they'd hardly done more than talk; it boded well for the future. "Maybe we can even make something work on a weekend, if you have those off?"

"Definitely!" Kid's face lit up like a thousand-watt light bulb. It was surprisingly sweet, in an honest, genuine way that Law hadn't expected. If Kid was acting, he was very accomplished at it.

Their coffee was finished momentarily; Law took his black and hot, while Kid spent a good minute perfecting his own with heavy measures of cream and sugar. It looked more like a second dessert than anything, but Law found it all strangely charming. He couldn't remember the last person he'd met who was so clearly at home in his own skin the way Kid was. It was a relief over the obnoxious machismo Law had expected to find.

"Well, you have my phone number now," Law said. "Let me know what days you have off - I might not be able to make anything work in the near future, but I'm certain if we try we can make it happen."

"I like it!" Kid replied. "I live pretty close to the hospital, just a couple stops up the C-line monorail. I got regular weekends off, but that's about it. We can always do something after work if that sounds good."

It sounded extremely good, though Law didn't say as much. He returned to his office, yawning all the while and grateful for the coffee. It wasn't like he'd slept poorly the night before, but all of the responsibilities of his fellowship program gave him little room to even breathe, let alone find more than four or five hours of sleep at one go. It was all a long, slow, wearing-down process until his edges felt as smooth and weathered as river rocks.

Despite the number of suitors Doflamingo sent after him, the honest truth was that Law had little time for relationships in the first place. Even so, it was poor personal health to neglect one's physical needs, and Eustass Kid seemed like an exemplary candidate in addressing those. Maybe this summer fling was really what Law needed after all; despite how well he liked Kid so far, he doubted things would have staying power beyond a few weeks.

A few days after their lunch together, Kid sent him an inquiry about Friday night. Law thought about it briefly before agreeing to dinner; it was a low-stakes commitment and he'd be able to escape easily enough if things took a turn for the worst. But even with such a pessimistic outlook, Law still found himself gripped with nerves the entire day preceding. It felt silly...Law had been on plenty of first dates - this one wasn't even their first if he wanted to get technical about it. He wasn't even worried about impressing or disappointing Kid. It was annoying and juvenile, and Law reminded himself that he had better things to worry about in the first place.

Against his will, the excitement persisted until Law could feel it buzzing through his bones as he headed for their agreed-upon meeting point. It was in front of the hospital's main entrance, and Kid was already there waiting for him. He appeared freshly-showered and was wearing a faded navy t-shirt and jeans.

"You really didn't need to clean up so much," Law said, feeling as though it were conspicuously meant to impress. At least he hadn't shown up in a dress shirt and tie. While that was Law's typical uniform, it would've looked ridiculously out of place on Kid.

"I get real scuzzy on the job," Kid replied, shrugging as though it were no big deal. "It's probably for the best. You saw how I was at lunch the other day."

Perhaps he had a point. Law wondered if he ought to tone down the suspicious paranoia. Forcibly, he decided to relax, though even that proved a challenge. "Well, where do you feel like going? I drove this morning, so I can take us anywhere."

"Oh, nice. I had this idea we could go to the horror movie marathon they're playing at the Cineplex, but that's downtown so parking might be a bitch." He shrugged again, tension not leaving his shoulders.

Law realized with surprise that Kid was just as nervous as he was; it was so reassuring that Law couldn't help but smile. "I've never been a huge fan of horror, to be honest."

"Yeah, I bet you see enough gore on the job, huh?"

"It's more that we haven't known each other long enough for you to see me scream like a girl." That, and Law already suspected he'd go scurrying into Kid's arms as soon as the opportunity presented itself. It would be unwise to tempt fate.

"Now I really wanna go! Maybe another time, huh?"

"Maybe. Actually, I'd like to get something to eat first. I haven't had anything since lunch." It was nearing up on seven o'clock and Law's stomach had been nagging him since five. "This might not be what you have in mind, but I've been wanting to go to the beach ever since I got back to the city. It's been almost four years and I still haven't made it, can you believe that?"

"Yes, in fact that is totally believable." Kid said it with an amiable grin. "I've seen how crazy you work. If you've got the car, then let's go!"

The city bordered the ocean, and was in fact shaped like a semicircle with its flat edge abutting the water. A river cut through the mainland, forming a winding diversion as it bisected the metro area from north to south, separating the affluent downtown districts and their ocean view from more modest quarters further inland, such as where Law lived. The hospital was located precisely between the two, on the near side of the river. The public beaches were all further south, beyond the expensive high-rise condos that monopolized the oceanfront at the heart of the city.

It was a twenty minute drive to make it to the beach and boardwalk. In some instances, such a prolonged period stuck in the car would be intimidating, but Kid was easy to talk to. He could effortlessly fill the space between them once he got started on movies or music. Law was content to listen, offering his opinions now and then once he recognized a familiar name. He was far outclassed in terms of pop-culture knowledge, but this did not surprise him. Unlike some people he'd known, Kid did not make him feel bad for being so clueless - on the contrary, he was simply excited for the opportunity to share his favorite bands, including those he played in.

By the time they rolled up to the beachfront, Kid was already offering to make him mixtapes of all the music Law hadn't had the time to keep up with. Though it was getting late, the evening was still quite warm. The summer sun had attracted a large crowd which was slowly dispersing. The boardwalk vendors remained, hawking food and arcade games, and after discussing their options, they settled on a fish fry stand where Kid ordered the halibut and chips. Law chose clam strips, which came as a peaked mountain piled atop a hill of crinkle fries.

Kid was surprisingly dismayed, "I can't believe you eat those. It's like chewing on a rubber eraser. That tastes like low tide!"

"Well, I'm glad you hate them because I wasn't planning to share," Law replied. He happened to like how unashamedly disgusting they were, particularly once properly slathered in tartar sauce. They reminded him of Cora, who used to bring Law to this very same beach back when he was younger. Though it sometimes seemed like everything else had changed, there was something reassuring about how timeless and static the boardwalk remained. It even continued to host the same arcade games and low-budget thrill rides that he still remembered fondly.

He and Kid found a picnic table, digging into their respective meals while the sun began to droop down against the horizon, staining the sky and clouds a vibrant pink. Kid flicked a thumb at the skyline, "Whoa, dinner and a date at sunset. You really are a romantic at heart, aren't you?"

"Maybe. I wasn't lying about not having been back here in years."

"What d'you wanna do after this? Take a long walk down the beach?"

Law imagined them holding hands and felt a flush run eagerly up his spine. "Why don't I just trounce you at skee ball, hmm?"

"What! Them's fightin' words."

As they ate, it grew darker and the boardwalk's innumerable game stands began flicking on their flashing neon beacons. Another nostalgic sight; Cora had been simply terrible at such things, having appalling hand-eye coordination. Law wondered if it was even fair bringing Kid to a place with so many memories while not sharing them. Law was beginning to feel a little melancholy about this entire affair, what with all his old memories intruding into the present. Doflamingo really did find a way to ruin everything for him in some way or another.

Law found himself regretting even suggesting this in the first place. Why had he picked such a stupid, foolishly sentimental venue? Law typically had better sense than to go picking at old scabs. He decided to put his memories of Cora out of his mind for the remainder of their what if Kid was just an arranged playmate, sent here to sweep him off his feet? Thus far, things were going well; Law was having fun and intended to keep it that way. If things continued in the same vein, he could find himself easily falling into bed with someone like Eustass. It would be pointless ruining such an opportunity by falling into a funk over old things he could not change.

He ate his clams, which were battered in crunchy, deep-fried breading. He offered the fries to Kid, who had a prodigious appetite. He was also possessed of a certain competitive streak that made itself known as soon as they bought tickets for the games, talking smack and jostling Law good-naturedly as they tested their respective skills. In fact, he found and used practically any excuse to barge right into Law's personal space; it was pushy but Law didn't care. There was a certain honesty to Kid, as though he were unable to lie about his interests and intentions. He wore it all on his shirtsleeve.

In the end, they were well-matched at the games they chose: though Law excelled in dexterity, Kid had him beat when it came to strength and brute force. He hammered the hi-striker challenge so hard that it buried the needle, though all he won was a regurgitated fortune.

Even if he was just showing off, Law would willingly admit that it was working. He felt like a drooling idiot, but Kid was built like a brick shithouse - Law had already devoted a good portion of his thoughts to what it would be like to have a man like that bearing down upon him. He might've been intimidated were Kid's attitude or personality any different, but Law couldn't help himself. He felt sucked into the man's gravitational pull like a comet doomed to a fiery and final collision. It would be worth it. The melancholy from earlier was dissipating as Kid took front and center stage; he was the most interesting person Law had met in ages.

Fortunately, despite his bluster, Kid was also a relatively graceful loser - or at least he lost gracefully to Law, who did indeed kick his ass at skee ball. In fact, his score ended up netting him a prize, and Law selected a fuzzy cartoonish polar bear. It was silly, but he felt stupidly proud of himself. Cora, even with all this terribleness at games, was always the one to win him prizes and Law couldn't recall ever getting one of his own.

"I just want you to know that you're a huge dork, okay?" Kid said, as if the teasing would soothe his recent defeat.

"Oh, shut up. I like bears."

"You are dating the wrong guy if you like bears. I'm practically hairless!"

"Not that kind of bear!" Truth be told, he was rather glad Kid was as clean-shaven as he was. Aside from a light dusting of scarlet fur on his arms, Law had seen enough to suspect that Kid was bare everywhere except where it counted. "And you have a nice mane where it matters. That's all I really care about."

"Aw, here you're gonna go and make me blush!" Kid dug through his pockets but came up empty-handed save for his wallet. "I'm all outta tickets. What say we get some ice cream?"

"This really is turning into a nostalgia trip," Law mused, realizing too late what he'd said out loud.

"Oh, yeah? Did you come here as a kid?"

"Yes. I'd come with my brother. He's passed away, I'm afraid. Back when I was fourteen…." Of all the people in Doflamingo's family, Cora was the only one Law had truly cared for. When he'd died, Law found no reason to remain - and it was the precise circumstances of that death that really mattered, the deciding factor which had driven Law to pursue his a life on his own terms. Currently, those terms were rather modest, but there was little he could do until his fellowship was completed. Then he would be licensed, specialized - he would be able to choose any hospital in the country once he began searching for a proper job.

It was all indentured servitude until then. Fortunately, after all the years of schooling combined, Law was used to killing himself for the job. Perhaps one day his workload would alleviate; Law needed something to look forward to.

"That's too bad," Kid commented, returning Law's attention to the present. "I used to come here, too. Sometimes with my old man, but mostly with my best friend. I don't have any real brothers but he was as close as you can get."

"Are you still friends?"

"Yeah, in fact we're living together! I have a bunch of roommates."

It seemed like the boardwalk was a popular destination for kids even now. Anyone who grew up in the city was bound to have childhood memories of this place. "Imagine, we could've crossed paths back then and would never even know it."

"I'm pretty sure I'd remember somebody like you, even if I met you ten years back." Kid gave him a winning, flirtatious smile that lit up Law's veins like a drug.

Kid even paid for the ice cream, buying them each a beer as well. By that time, Law's interest in the arcade was waning. He was ready for a change in scenery, even if all that meant was a return to his own apartment alone. To a certain degree he hoped it wouldn't end that way...but he was cautious to reveal the depths of his interest so early into things. His previous paramours had all followed a much more structured pattern; it had been easy to know when it was time to take things to the next level. With Kid, Law was left flailing and guessing, though he hardly worried about saying the wrong thing at the wrong time - something told him Kid didn't put much stock in the typical pervasive social order surrounding dates and relationships.

In the end, he did not allow his anxiety to rush things. After all, what was the hurry? He and Kid chatted while finishing their beer and ice cream and the conversation was easy. As it turned out, because of his work, Kid needed to be present at the construction project by six in the morning - an ungodly hour when Law was only beginning to shake off sleep. Because of this, Kid ended up sleeping in two shifts every night: the first came directly after work, when he was typically released by three in the afternoon. Then he would return to the house he shared with several others, sleep until seven or eight before heading out to see different bands, or practice or perform with his own. This schedule explained why he'd shown up looking so nice earlier; he'd already been home to nap, shower, and make himself presentable after a long day of physical labor.

It wasn't the ideal arrangement as Kid would quite readily admit, but he somehow made it work. Law blamed it all on youthful stamina, but he had his own rigorous schedule that was nothing to sneeze at in comparison. At least he was typically given longer stretches of sleep in one go - he'd never mastered the art of the power-nap, which Kid seemed to rely upon.

"What do you think?" Law asked, licking the remnants of frozen custard from his spoon. "Can I give you a ride home?"

"That'd be great!"

Kid seemed pleased and self-confident, and as they found their way back to the car, his hand brushed from Law's elbow to his wrist until their fingers were intertwined. A warmth was blossoming in Law's stomach - it'd been there the entire time, simply waiting for Kid to breathe life into it.

Even in the dark without anyone to really see them like this, Law felt strangely special. Something about Kid made him feel beautiful by association, and in the moment, Law didn't care if the man's interest was manufactured. He'd enjoy it for what it was without picking at things too deeply. Strangely, he felt cautious about ruining things, though he'd never experienced such restraint before with suitors. Maybe he'd simply just never had a suitor like Kid before.

It was getting late by the time he drove Kid home. All in all, Law was surprised that things had gone as well as they had - and more than that, he was surprised by how genuinely he truly did like Kid. While he was certain the man was tiptoeing around some of his more significantly flawed details, Law found no need to pry. Like most of his arranged paramours, Kid would remain fun for the meantime; Law would have no problems dropping him entirely once his negative qualities outweighed the good.

Perhaps this was dismissive of him. He considered the romantic notion of seducing Kid away from Doflamingo's service and into his own. It would give him a man on the inside - someone Doflamingo himself would regard as eminently loyal, given their attachment and access to Law. It was far too early to know if Kid could be persuaded. As with most people, arranged dates or not, Kid was sure to have some personality defects that would ultimately become unforgivable. Law knew he was single primarily because of his own picky perfectionism - but by the same token, he saw no compelling reasons to really lower his standards.

Kid lived in a neighborhood cluster adjacent to Grand Line City University and populated mainly by its students and other young people. It wasn't surprising. He'd mentioned ages ago that several of his roommates and many friends were enrolled, though he'd never attended personally. It was an older area of town that had plenty of cheap housing, but due to the large student population, it tended to be rather dilapidated. Most of the homes were converted old Victorians and other large residentials that'd been chopped into smaller apartments - or in some cases, as with Kid's place, the house remained whole and shared between a number of roommates.

Law followed his companion's directions as they looked for a nearby parking spot. Students wandered the area in drunken packs, looking for the next party. Greek Row was directly adjacent to campus and most of the kids seemed to be heading in that direction, though the thud of music and loud chatter of smaller parties filled the immediate vicinity.

"You live in a lively area," Law remarked, trying to keep his annoyance in check. A group of drunken revelers was marching down the middle of the street, sparing little awareness for vehicular traffic.

"Yeah, it's fun. Ooh, here's a spot."

Law breathed a sigh of relief and executed a perfect parallel park. He removed his seatbelt, unsure of what to do next. "Well, here we are."

Kid was giving him a sideways, appraising stare. He'd been looking at Law that same way nearly the entire ride back. "You're really good at parking. Even in a manual."

"Why, thank you." It seemed like an odd thing to say but Law didn't care. "I'm glad someone appreciates the little things."

"It's not just the little things. You're really good at skee ball too."

"Really, skee ball and parking? All these compliments will simply go straight to my head."

"I had a lotta fun tonight. And I really like you." Kid gave a sideways, bashful smile, tilting his head away as though he were hiding a blush. For an odd moment, Law feared that his heart would fail entirely. "Um, my place is just up the street a ways."

"Let me walk you home, then."

"Wow, you really are a gentleman!"

Law was just happy to have an excuse to draw things out further. That, and he wanted to see the house Kid lived in; one could usually tell a lot about a person by their chosen surroundings. Just like before when they'd left the boardwalk, Kid sidled up alongside him and seamlessly found his hand. There were calluses on his palm, probably earned on the job - a distinct contrast to Law's thoughtfully groomed fingers. It was unwise for a surgeon to go neglecting hygiene, and for a moment Law was reminded of precisely how oddly matched the two of them were. Not that it mattered to himself, or Kid - or any of the other rowdy, giggling kids they passed on their way. For a change, Law felt himself blend in as though he belonged there.

"Did you ever go to GLCU?" Kid asked.

"Not really. I completed a few AP courses there and transferred to a private school up north where I did all the rest. I only came back here for residency - GLCC is one of the best hospitals in that regard."

"Think you'll stay? After residency, I mean."

"Well, we'll see - it's still a ways off, I'm afraid. I won't be finished with my fellowship for another two and a half years. Who knows how I'll feel about things by that point."

"Nah, I know what you mean. I always thought I'd get out and move somewhere else for a while just to see what it was like. Just haven't been able to make it work yet, but some day!" Kid squeezed his hand with a gentle press. If he'd wanted to, he probably could've broken it.

"This is my place," Kid said, indicating a three-story Victorian. It had a peaked roof and even in the darkness, Law could tell that it was a few years away from falling apart entirely. A shame. It was located up a low hill with a short concrete stairway leading down to the sidewalk.

Beyond that, it was impossible to miss the percussive thudding that emanated from the place. The windows showed dim, flashing lights and a crush of people. " many roommates do you have?"

"Not, uh, that many," Kid replied. He seemed nervous, as though the activity in his own home was entirely unexpected. "They must be having a party or something. It's Friday, after all."

"Ah, of course." As though that explained everything. Law wasn't sure if he was ready to wade into something like that; perhaps they'd simply say goodbye from here. "Well, this has been a nice evening. I'm glad we were able to make something work."

Before he had time to hesitate further, he stepped onto his tip-toes and kissed the corner of Kid's mouth. It wasn't much more than a brush of lips, awkward and half-placed because the stupid bastard had to go and move at the last second, like he'd been surprised. But then one of Kid's large palms found the center of Law's back, holding him steady so he could follow up that clumsy maneuver with one that held twice the grace and confidence. Maybe Law really was out of practice, but such thoughts disappeared quickly beneath the touch of Kid's tongue as it swept over his mouth, which opened as he silently begged for more. He'd been hoping to get a little attention by the end of this and whatever restraint Kid had shown earlier was quickly forgotten; he held Law's face between two coarse palms as his mouth went to work, leaving him breathless.

Law took a stumbling step back, thrown a little off-balance. His back thumped solidly against the concrete buttress of the low stairway. Now that he had the advantage, Kid simply pressed it to its fullest, trapping Law until the only thing he could do was hold on. Part of Law was still reeling over this happening at all - not that he was complaining; far from it. A little shiver of excitement ratcheted up his spine. He couldn't believe he was doing this in public, like a drunk date who'd lost all inhibitions. And all he'd had was a single beer the entire night!

Then Kid's substantial thigh worked its way in between Law's legs, a subtle press that nearly made him lose his mind. He pulled away with a harsh gasp, threading his fingers through Kid's wild mane to hold his face at a few inches' distance. He felt breathless but didn't want to stop, nudging his nose against Kid's oddly sharp, crooked one before snaking back in to take his mouth again. Kid was not an overbearing kisser, for which he was grateful, though even that left Law's heart skipping in his chest. His skin was eager and sensitive beneath inquisitive fingers once they found their way beneath his collar, loosening his tie and the topmost button. Kid traced his collarbones with cool fingers as though he were learning the braille of Law's body.

For his part, Law was given the opportunity to really see how solidly-made Kid was, and he couldn't help but be amazed. The man's arms were as tightly knotted as cordwood and Law could feel the stark definition of his abdomen when he slid one hand beneath his t-shirt.

Kid was devoting some serious attention to his neck, the sort that made Law's knees turn to jelly and all but guaranteed he'd have a hickey. He was grateful for the support at his back, even if it was hard and unforgiving. He felt like he'd simply fall over if Kid weren't holding him up - or worse, onto his knees. Then he really would be reduced to utter shamelessness because there wasn't a thing in this world that would stop him if he were given the opportunity for more.

It was probably for the best when a gaggle of girls passed them by, whistling encouragingly at their display. One of them shouted, "Yeah, girl! You go get that." This was followed by a gasp as one of them realized their mistake, and the whole group burst into tittering, scandalized giggles.

Kid paused, glaring over Law's shoulder, "Ugh, sorority chicks."

"Maybe we shouldn't be doing this right here," Law said, wiping his mouth.

"Wanna come inside?"

Law's insides gave a little flip that left him feeling half-sick with euphoria. If they went inside, he knew exactly what was going to happen - that is, if he had anything to do with it. Law didn't even pause before answering, "Yes, let's."

Kid seemed surprised by his answer but recovered swiftly, snatching Law's hand and pulling him after as he took the stairs two at a time. "Now, it might be pretty crazy inside, but just keep ahold of me and we'll push right through."

There were a few people smoking on his porch, and once the door opened they were met by a blast of heavy dubstep, the type that left Law's ribs rattling. It was indeed very crazy; a full sensory assault as Law's nose was hit with the combined smell of overcrowding, perspiration, and pot smoke. Kid wasted little time, his palms sweaty with adrenaline as they cleared the mob, racing up a second staircase.

It was less crowded on this level, and Kid selected his room amongst a hallway of closed doors. Or at least Law assumed it was his room; it smelled of him. He turned to Kid now that they were alone. "Take your shirt off."

Kid did so obediently and without question. Then again, it wasn't a very demanding request. Law dropped his jacket on the floor and went to him, his hands wrapping around the tight washboard of his abdomen. His heart was racing from their brief sprint, but Law knew it wasn't all because of that. What the fuck was he even thinking with this?

He could hardly find his voice, "You are just so fucking hot."

He was met by another of Kid's lopsided little smiles that somehow managed to melt Law from the inside out. And then Kid was kissing him and Law felt he was really melting, or at least his knees were giving out. He wrapped his arms around Kid's shoulders, stumbling backwards until he ran into the bed. It gave a sagging creak beneath their combined weight, the sound of it giving rise to a fluttering excitable panic: for a moment he felt trapped and pinned, desperate to yield to whatever Kid wanted from him.

With the bass music thumping through the walls hard enough to make his innards vibrate, Law had the strange fear that he would fly apart at the seams all at once. Really, how embarrassing to be swept away so quickly, like a teenager having their first time all over again! Law's personal scoldings came to an abrupt halt as one of Kid's hands sank into his trousers and Law knew with certainty that this was the sleaziest thing he'd ever done.

It was amazing. Those calloused palms earned themselves newfound appreciation for what they were capable of. To Law's only disappointment, it was sadly short-lasting and over before he had time to properly enjoy things. He blamed the thudding beat for messing up his rhythm.

But if Kid noticed or cared, it was quickly forgotten as Law brought him shuddering to a climax as well. At least they were equally over-excitable, though he doubted Kid had as much of an excuse. By the looks of him, he could've gone home with a new face every night of the week had he wanted to.

He regarded his now-damp fingers and considered smearing it on the bedspread; it wasn't like it would make much of a difference. Against his shoulder, Kid gave a mumbling groan. God, he was heavy, and surprisingly careful despite that bulk. Even if Law felt pinned, he hardly wanted to escape. Maybe Kid was used to restraining himself. He had an understanding of his body that was enviable, as graceful as a thickly-muscled jaguar.

Kid shifted, flicking on a light; its shade was orange and cast the room in a warm glow. He looked heated, his pale skin flushed pink, "I fucked that up. It was too fast!"

"Darling, don't apologize. It was perfect."

"Did you just call me darling? Man, I must've made you come hard."

"It's the afterglow. It's when I get to call you whatever I want." He nosed against Kid's cheek, kissing along his chin. Their legs were still tangled up together and Law had no interest in sorting things out. He felt disheveled and reckless and wonderful. "Besides, there's plenty of time for practice."

"Oh, yeah? Like the sound'a that." Kid's hands found their way beneath his shirt. It was surprising none of the buttons had popped. Law never had sex while still wearing so many clothes. Kid seemed to like the challenge of having them in the way, content to map the warm skin beneath without undressing him further. Nothing he did was ever what Law was expecting.

There were several tangles in his hair that Law set about straightening. God, it was so red - even his eyelashes were red. It'd been impossible to tell from any further distance but once you were right up close, it was unmistakable. Law didn't need to have him undressed to know that his hair would be the same all the way down to his toes. Although he wouldn't mind some visual confirmation of that. And other things. From what he'd felt just using his hands, Kid was impressively made in all respects.

But the hair, though - Law knew instantly that it was what he liked the most. There were a lot of rare colors in Grand Line City, some of them natural and others the result of a good dye job. He could tell without a doubt that Kid fell into the former category. Doflamingo had really taken a risk sending this one after him, and Law wondered if his brother didn't somehow know his tastes better than Law himself did.

"What're you smiling about?" Kid asked.

"I've had an orgasm and I'm happy, why shouldn't I be smiling?"

"I just wanted to make sure you were smiling 'cause of me."

Law kicked him, but was laughing as he did it. Kid was crass and charming in a way that disarmed his defenses completely. He wondered if he ought to be worried about that. But then Kid kissed him, all languid strokes like he was trying to lick Law's mind until it was empty. It worked surprisingly well. He was slipping into a bit of a doze, lulled by Kid's warmth and amazingly thorough touch, when someone started pounding on the door as though they hoped to break it down. Law blinked back to reality; between that and the unrelenting dubstep, he was beginning to develop a headache.

Kid groaned, rising up on his knees. His hair was falling everywhere and Law wanted to drag him back down with just his hands threaded through it. "Sorry, I'll see what that's about."

He made for the door. Whoever was banging on it remain undeterred until it was finally opened. "Do you have a fucking problem, or what?"

"Fucking finally!" It was a female voice; Law curled onto one side to watch the action. "You owe Killer thirty bucks, cough it up."

"What! Since when?"

"You always owe him money."

"The fuck I do! I don't owe him shit right now!"

"Look, just gimme the money and we'll count it towards the next time you inevitably borrow from him." The girl was tall, with bubble-gum pink hair. She seemed entirely unruffled by Kid's menacing air.

"Why don't you get a life, huh? I'm not donating to your pizza fund just so you can eat four pies and beach yourself in front of the Playstation."

"It's not just for me this time, okay?" She regarded her baby-blue fingernail polish with a bored expression. "There're a lot of people to feed here. Why can't you just chip in and be a good friend for a change?"

"Why don't you buy your own fucking pizza for a change! And while you're at it, tell Apoo to play some music people can actually fucking dance to."

"This is what he's really into right now, what am I gonna do about it?"

"Oh, I dunno - maybe quit inviting him to play sets at my goddamn house, ever think of that? I'm just throwing out wild, crazy ideas here."

Law had the impression this could go on forever. He rose, retrieving his wallet and handing the girl two twenty dollar bills. "Keep the change."

She fixed him with a hostile glare, "Who the hell're you?"

"Hey, watch your tone, okay?" Before Kid could continue the argument, Law closed the door between them. He slid his back against it and had to clutch his hands together to keep them from wandering. Kid's voice had a wounded edge, "You didn't have to do that."

"It was nothing. Besides, now you owe me forty dollars. The good news is you can pay me back with your body."

"Oh, is that right?"

"Mhmm. You were doing so well earlier. A shame to end the night where we did." Despite his attempts to keep them contained, Law's hands slid out, against the waistband of Kid's jeans. He couldn't help himself. It wasn't like he got a lot of chances to manhandle such well-defined muscles. Kid had a lean stomach meant for touching.

Below them, the music abruptly changed from a warbling thud to a manic techno beat. Kid cringed, as though the sound were physically painful, "Oh my god, I am so sorry. I swear it's not always like this."

"Oh no?"

"Well, it is a Friday," he conceded. He shook his head, "Now that I know Bonney's here, that explains a lot. You probably don't care, but I can't fucking stand that asshole DJ, and he's friends with her, so I'm sure she invited him over hoping to piss me off."

"Is she one of your roommates?" It was impossible for Law to tell how many people lived in the house.

"No, but we're in a band together. It's really just me and three other guys who're here all the time, but it's a pretty big space so a lot of bands use the basement for practice. Or shows. We get couchsurfers a lot." He shrugged, as though it was normal to live in a twenty four-seven party dome. Law again wondered how old Kid really was. At least he was mature enough to hold down a reasonably skilled trade.

Then again, it didn't matter. This relationship, such as it was, was unlikely to produce long-term dividends. Though while it lasted, Law was happy to enjoy what Kid brought to the table. He slid his thumb into the depression of Kid's navel and felt his mouth begin to water. "Then let's go back to my place."

"What, really?" The man's eyes lit up like a puppy promised a treat. Law found it just as adorable, though that seemed to be the wrong word. "Is that cool?"

"Of course. We'll have to keep it somewhat quiet, I have two roommates but one of them works the nightshift so he won't be around. I don't know what Penguin's up to."

"His name's Penguin? Poor guy. If he's a dude, I mean." Kid pulled his boots back on and then a shirt. Law found his jacket, but they'd hardly taken anything off to begin with so there was little to collect. He waited by the door until Kid was ready.

It was a challenge making it through the crowd a second time, especially when Kid stopped midway through their escape to shout at the DJ, "Play some disco, you fraud!", to which he received a vicious flip of the middle finger. It wasn't like anyone could really hear him over the roar of the music in the first place.

On the stoop, a pair of men were smoking a cigarette and a joint respectively. One had extensive white dreadlocks and nearly as many tattoos as Law himself. He exhaled a gust of blue-grey fumes and nodded at Kid, "Takin' off?"

"Going back to this guy's place."

Law nodded in greeting, though Kid pulled him after without wasting another moment. One of the men called after, "Nice!" and Law felt certain he'd just been put on display.

His car was where they'd left it. Kid hopped in, fingers drumming compulsively with barely-restrained anticipation. Law slid into the driver's seat. "I live up the river, near Cloverleaf Station. It's not far."

"Cool, cool."

It wasn't more than a fifteen minute drive in the minimal, after-hours traffic. Kid kept shooting him sidelong looks ever couple of minutes, between all his other nervous fidgeting. Law didn't blame him; he could hardly contain his own excitement. Strangely enough, he didn't feel the need for conversation, but made the effort anyway. "Are you alright?"

"I'm really awesome, actually."

"That good?" A subtle tension had settled into Law's belly and his imagination was running wild. He was grateful to have the road to concentrate on. He didn't like being quite so obvious about his own desires.

Kid, in contrast, had no such reservations. "I really, really like you," he said, between chewing on a fingernail. "I kinda can't believe this is happening."

And Law couldn't help for laughing, an excitable little chuckle. He hadn't expected such honesty. Even if Kid had merely been hired by his brother for this task, it was impossible to fake such enthusiasm. Or at least Law hoped; he'd be crushed if everything really was all an act. But he was just as stupidly enamored - and none of that was fake. He hoped Kid was the sort to fuck on a first date. He hadn't been planning on going that far when this evening started, but he liked what he'd seen so far. God, he could already tell the man had a beautiful cock, just as big and thick as the rest of him and Law wanted to feel it with his mouth. In retrospect, it was for the best that their earlier coupling was so quick. It got the edge off things.

He parked near his building, an old triple-decker. The street was quiet and sleepy, a stark contrast to Kid's area, which was the prime habitat of GLCU students. There was a strip of bars, nightclubs, and music venues clustered near the river where the university had its campus; Law really wasn't that surprised by all the partying going on in that area on a Friday night. Then again, it was one of the reasons he'd arranged to live a good distance away. Law's priorities had always been much more serious than those of his peers. It never really bothered him until he found himself in their company, suddenly feeling old and with little in common.

Nothing fazed Kid, who bounded out of the car as soon as Law parked, "Nice! I like your place."

"But you've hardly seen it yet." Law led him up three flights of stairs. The door of his apartment was painted burgundy, and Penguin and Shachi had done the rest of the walls in an avocado-green. It reminded Law of the basement levels of the old clinic building. He didn't mention the similarities; anything was better than white.

The apartment was dark, though he could tell Penguin was home from a sliver of light shining beneath his doorframe. Law headed directly for own room, "When was the last time you were tested for STIs?"

"You really don't mess around, do you? Guess that's a doctor thing."

"I'm only curious. We'll use condoms for now either way."

"Yeah, I always do that." He sounded mildly affronted, as though Law were questioning his honor. "But I had the clap about a year ago."

Law laughed, surprised by his honesty. "As long as you took your medication, you should be fine. Unless you're still experiencing symptoms?"

"Well, not to get too gross about it, but it was in my mouth and I thought I had strep throat. So no, I haven't had any symptoms for a while."

"Oh, so you're the little boy they warned us about in sex ed. You know the chances of contracting like that are vanishingly small," Law replied. It wasn't anything he hadn't heard before, but Kid's honesty surprised him. He really didn't need to say anything at all.

"Yeah, I thought that was a load of shit myself, but let's just say I was convinced otherwise." He shrugged, a gesture of surrender. "What can I say? I hate the taste of latex."

"Hmm." Law swallowed back a chuckle of amusement. Sometimes he had no idea what would come out of Kid's mouth next. "We should both get tested; I haven't had mine done in about six months."

"I guess if you want me to get tested, you must wanna see me again after this."

"Really, is that so surprising?" Law shut the door and tossed his jacket onto a chair, leaving Kid to take in his surroundings. It was a little cramped; Law had the smallest room in the apartment but he didn't mind. He wasn't home all that much, anyway.

A full sized bed occupied the majority of the room, with a comfy chair tucked into the corner. Though his room was small, it had a walk-in closet which Law was grateful for. Due to his young age and the number of tattoos he had, it was difficult to gain respect from the higher-ups in his department. They were the only ones to care about such things. To make up for any perceived immaturity on his behalf, Law dressed twice as nicely as his peers. It was an obnoxious bit of social politics. The Chief of Thoracic Surgery was an old man whose expectations dictated a resident's attire more than anyone's personal tastes did.

Kid was quiet as he got his bearings, unlacing his boots and plopping them beside the entrance. For a moment, Law wondered if he'd ruined the mood, but any man put off by a few practical questions wasn't really someone he wanted to be sleeping with anyway. He was still a little surprised that Kid would even admit to having gonorrhea so readily and with so little embarrassment; it was encouraging. And unexpected - it wasn't like he needed to be honest. He was already seeing Law on a dishonest basis.

Law loosened his tie and removed that as well, toeing off his shoes in the process. "Come here." He beckoned Kid closer, kissing him once he was within reach.

"Still not bothered by my groady mouth? You're brave."

"Yes, it sounds like you don't use condoms every time after all."

He didn't mean for the question to provoke, and started when Kid pressed in towards him, suddenly crowding into Law's personal space until he had to stumble back. But it was not an aggressive gesture, more done out of sheer irrepressible excitement: as Kid's hands slid around his hips, they were trembling.

His face nudged in alongside Law's own, lips skimming his jawline. The lazy arousal from earlier bloomed anew with full force, as though Kid had dumped kerosene on the coals. When the man spoke, it was a low purr that made something dark and hungry curl in Law's center. "Hey, that was a learning experience in a lotta ways. I can tell you all the details, but d'you really wanna hear about other guys just now?"

His hips ground purposefully against Law, the bulge of his erection prominent and so hard that Law felt his knees become watery. He groaned a response, all he could really muster under the circumstances. He'd only been being a smartass; it was a habit he fell into in situations like these. It didn't always work out that well for him, but of course Kid would take him up on all that attitude, having plenty of his own to spare.

Kid walked Law backwards, toward his bed. "Wanna pick up where we left off?"

"It's why I invited you back here." Law's breath gave a nervous little hitch as it caught in his throat. God, he could already tell that Kid would fuck like an absolute animal.

Kid favored him with an enormous grin, his excitement a living, infectious thing between them. He pushed Law back until his knees hit the edge of his bed, forcing him to cling onto Kid or fall over. Either way, they ended up in an inelegant sprawl in no time, the pace slower than before. Kid picked the buttons of Law's shirt open, shoving it out of the way so he could mouth his way from navel to sternum. He moved with an assertiveness Law hadn't appreciated the first time around; his mind had been focused on other priorities.

"Whoa, you really do have a lotta ink," Kid said, voice appreciative. He traced black lines across his chest and up to his collarbones, the image of a stylized flaming heart. As with all of his tattoos, Law had them done after Cora's death. Not all of the markings were in remembrance, but a good portion were - they also served as a form of petty revenge against Doflamingo, who hated them. Since he was responsible for Cora's murder, Law was happy to mark himself permanently - a reminder to them both of where his loyalties would always lie.

Even if Kid didn't yet know the meaning behind those marks, he seemed to like them. Law wondered if that would change once he was made aware of whom they represented. Anyone working for Doflamingo would inevitably learn of the brothers' disagreements. Loyalty was of the utmost importance to Doflamingo, to the point that he was willing to destroy his own blood once it crossed him.

Law was never blood-relation to either Doflamingo nor Cora, but that made him no less of a brother in their eyes. He sometimes wondered if Doflamingo hoped to preserve some of Corazon's memory in Law himself; it explained how doggedly persistent the man was in his efforts to win Law back to his side. Once Cora was out of the way, Doflamingo had expected for Law to fall in line with the rest of his siblings, but Law had never been the cooperating type. Instead, he ended up leaving the family entirely - that'd been years ago, when he first left for school. It was the same reason he'd stayed away from the city until now.

Perhaps it wasn't quite the time for such deep reflections, as Kid forewent his tattoos in favor of worrying Law's nipples to tight, peaked nubs. Such dedicated attention left him squirming, arching and gasping once Kid used his teeth. Law's wrists were caught in one hand and loosely pinned above his head, and all he could do was squirm with helpless anticipation. God, he couldn't remember the last time he'd wanted to get fucked so badly, and he'd already come once.

The weight of Kid's body was solid and inescapable. With his wrists already restrained, Law was keenly aware that if the man wanted to, he could take whatever he wanted and there wouldn't be a damn thing to be done for it. Not that Law had a huge problem with that in the first place. Still, it was a bit unnerving. He'd never slept with anyone so physically capable of dominating him and wasn't quite sure if he liked how strongly it was turning him on. Yet it was not an arousal from fear; Law did not feel threatened. Kid's attentions were rough but controlled, the sort of touch that spoke of great deliberate restraint. A man built like he was probably got used to holding back, though part of Law wished Kid would lose control, the prospect terrifying and exhilarating all at once - as though Kid were just another boardwalk thrillride he was hoping to try out.

Maybe that was unfair of him, but he hardly felt like he owed Kid anything, least of which being the benefit of the doubt. A rough hand worked beneath him, grazing up Law's spine. His clothing felt confining and he straightened, pulling off both his shirt and undershirt. It encouraged Kid to do the same, until he was yanking the belt open around Law's waist, stripping him of his trousers and socks until only a pair of black shorts remained.

"Um," Kid began, licking his lower lip. He seemed suddenly nervous, a high pink flush coloring his cheeks. Maybe it'd been too dark at his place to notice that the first time around. Or maybe it'd happened too quickly, before - he looked surprised to have Law like this, as though he'd never expected to get so far. As though he didn't really know what to do next.

It was oddly charming. Truly, Law would've never expected such uncertainty from a man like him. He traced the diameter of Kid's bicep with one finger; it was solid and so thick that it would've taken both of his hands put together if he hoped to surround it entirely. God, he was gorgeous, sitting between Law's legs in nothing but his jeans. Law wanted to tear them off, but couldn't get enough of the rough texture against the backs of his thighs. He would make no arguments if Kid wanted to fuck him like that, though the man remained strangely still.

Law looped both legs up, hooking them around Kid's hips and drawing him closer. If the man was about to get a case of cold feet, Law had a few tricks to melt them, and arched up until his lower back was off the mattress. It brought their bodies together in a rough grind, the promise of more given by the heavy bulge in Kid's jeans. Law had been longing to see what he was hiding ever since that first stumbling, groping encounter they'd had back in Kid's room, and his actions earned him a curse. Kid's hips bucked forward, moving of their own accord in a series of loose, stuttering jerks.

Kid gathered up Law's hands, pinning them against the pillow like before. He buried his face against Law's neck and growled, the sound reverberating along his nerves in a way designed to leave them fluttering and weak. Law could feel the man's teeth against the thin skin of his throat as Kid rutted up against him, using increased control and Law knew that when he wanted to, Kid was going to utterly take him apart. The realization left him helplessly aroused, as though he were trapped in the path of some unstoppable force that could not be escaped.

When Law found his voice, it was croaking from the back of his throat, "Condoms. Condoms, the bedside drawer."


"In there too."

"Oh, thank God." Kid rummaged around until he found what he needed, shirking out of his jeans and tossing them over one shoulder. He wore maroon-red boxer-briefs and for a long, agonizing second Law worried that he would come right then from how stupidly beautiful Kid looked. He really didn't think himself one to be bowled over by attractive people, but maybe he hadn't properly appreciated them in the past.

Kid climbed right back between his legs, sparing a moment of odd, almost reverential calm as one hand drifted to the hem of Law's shorts. "Man, you're really something, y'know that?"

Look in the fucking mirror, Law wanted to reply, but his tongue had been effectively neutralized. His brain was short to follow if Kid kept things up like this. And sure enough, he did nearly lose his mind once Kid stripped him entirely. Law didn't know if he'd ever felt more naked beneath another person's gaze.

Kid scooped him up by the hips, looping Law's long legs around him before leaning in to nuzzle along his cheek and jaw, "Just like this fine?"

"Yes." Law was proud of himself for using an actual word, instead of some grunting, bestial demand.

Even if he had, Kid would've known exactly what he meant; he made quick work with the condom and was slicking himself up before Law could rub his last two remaining brain cells together. And then Kid was pressing in, up against the tight stretch of Law's body, which took him easily and all too quickly. Law felt his insides clench, the sensation too much all at once. Above him, Kid froze as well, his breath hitching in his lungs as his hips stuttered with helpless excitement.

They stilled and remained frozen for a long moment. Law realized he was putting some decent gouges into Kid's shoulders with his fingernails. It was what the bastard deserved, shoving that in all at once - the man should know better, he was huge! Not that Law was exactly complaining, his protestations quieting with every moment that passed. His body acclimated rapidly; he could feel a slow easing in his stomach that traveled down his pelvis to where their bodies joined.

He gave a low whine, tilting his hips to make the angle less acute. Kid adjusted on his end, one broad palm spreading open against Law's lower back, bracing them together. God, his hands were big; he could practically manhandle Law however he saw fit, but that power was treated with remarkable thoughtfulness. It was a restraint Law was beyond actually appreciating, and he nosed impatiently up against Kid's face until his mouth was pressed to one ear.

Law's breath felt raspy and insufficient in his lungs but all he wanted was more. "C'mon, move. I can take it!"

"Hell yeah, you can! Holy shit," Kid said, laughing. Unexpectedly, he turned to kiss Law on the mouth, and eager sweep of his tongue dipping in to meet Law's own. "This is going a lot better than I expected!"

And he really sounded surprised, too, the same surprise Law felt. His comment was so unexpectedly honest that Law couldn't stop himself from giggling, a high, frantic sound. He ground upwards, the last inches of Kid sliding home. Law's entire body gave a near-painful throb, his ass resting solidly against Kid's hips. He made a hungry keening sound, digging one heel into the small of Kid's back, "C'mon, c'mon, Eustass. Please - "

That seemed to do the trick, and Kid rocked back, sliding from Law's body - so much of him that Law wondered if he meant to withdraw entirely. But then he was pressing back inside with the sort of force that left Law breathless. A man like Kid could easily leave him screaming - and might yet, only time would tell - but Law would need to have air in his lungs for that to work.

Kid started up a steady rhythm, one Law could feel with his entire body, even down to his curled toes. Even if they'd rushed things back at Kid's place, and now at the very start, that urgency seemed to fade. It was replaced by a delicious sensitivity through all of Law's nerves - Kid had a knack for finding precisely what he needed before even Law himself had realized it. Someone who could figure that out was worth their weight in gold, and Kid weighed quite a bit as it was. Even if Doflamingo had sent him to do this, Law couldn't believe his luck.

He hadn't expected Kid to spend the night, but didn't complain when he did. By the time they'd finished, Law was in no state to demand the man leave. Besides, Kid was hardly a nuisance - Law was more accustomed to being kicked awake by a restless partner, or never finding sleep at all due to loud snoring. The only thing he could complain about was the man's size, which was far too large for the bed. As Law lay awake in the long moments after, he pondered an upgrade with his remaining brainpower before those thoughts and all the rest were swept away on a chemical rush, the kind that came only from a very good orgasm.

He hadn't had sex for months by that point. It wasn't from lack of desire. He'd simply become jaded - it was pointless getting involved with a colleague, because neither of them had the time. It was unethical to become involved with a patient. That left external candidates only, and he'd dated too many of those who'd ultimately turned out to be working for his brother in some facet or another to really trust strange men who showed an interest in him.

Chance meetings were never really chance anymore; it was why he'd ignored Kid and his generous attempts to pay for laundering his trousers. The act would've been more convincing had Kid managed to spill more than just a drop. He didn't seem to be very good at this sort of thing.

But he was young, and this could likely be his very first assignment as he auditioned for a place in Doflamingo's family. A shame. By this time, Law was used to such disappointments. He honestly wasn't sure if Doflamingo was meddling out of simple parental impulse, or if he'd become possessively fixated upon seeing Law matched with a suitable partner - suitable by his standards, of course. The man had done the same for Baby, after she began bringing home a series of embarrassingly poor choices. Within the family, Doflamingo had arranged a few matches that'd led to marriage and later children. He was quite proud of this, and saw it as justification to continue, even if twice as many of his matches ultimately failed disastrously.

It was just more evidence of the man's shocking lack of boundaries, one of the main reasons Law originally left. The rest of those reasons, well...they went without saying. It was with this, his first and longest-standing grudge, that Law discovered he was a very vengeful person.

He'd rather be alone forever than partnered with someone of Doflamingo's choosing. Though Kid was a strange candidate in that regard - he was so unlike any other partner Law had ever taken that the novelty hadn't yet worn off. It was impossible to say when he'd get tired of their little missmatched romance. But until then, and if Kid continued to sleep without snoring, he was more than welcome provided that he managed to keep up the pace he'd started with last night.

Maybe come the morning, Law would send a thank-you card to his brother for being so thoughtful in arranging things. Nothing managed to aggravate Doflamingo more than being caught in the act of subtle manipulation, and if he thought he could orchestrate Law's love life unawares...he was in for a surprise.

Kid wouldn't be the first one he'd send back, head hanging, once his company had become tiresome. Though by the time Law woke, his commitment to the idea faltered. What was the harm in carrying on a little longer? Provided he could get some more mind-bending sex out of the deal.

Whatever games Doflamingo was playing were inconsequential; Law had far more pressing concerns: there was a departmental retreat on Monday and Law was giving a lecture, and he'd hardly started on the necessary presentation to accompany it. He wasted little time after waking before making his way to the kitchen, careful not to disturb his bedmate. Kid didn't rise until several hours later, and by that point, Law was already fully-caffeinated and a good third of the way into things.

He'd set up shop at the kitchen table, his home office of sorts. Shachi and Penguin had already ceded eighty percent of the table to his needs. They mainly ate on the couch anyway. On family dinner nights, however, Law made an effort to share his space. He was making the effort now as well, as Shachi fried up potatoes and sausage for all three of them.

Shachi was cracking eggs into a bowl when Kid wandered in, wearing nothing but his shorts. He gave Law a jerking nod of greeting, "Hey, can I borrow a towel? I'm gonna take a shower if that's cool."

"Sure," Law managed, though he was pretty sure his tongue was running on autopilot.

Kid remained in place. "So...where're the towels?"

"Check the top shelf in that little built-in dresser right before the bathroom," Penguin supplied, for which Law was grateful.

"Thanks. I'm gonna borrow some toothpaste while I'm at it."

Law hoped he wasn't also going to borrow a toothbrush; that was being a little overly familiar this early on.

Water began running and only then did Penguin give him a hard swat, "What the fuck was that!"

Shachi chimed in with a low whistle, "Somebody's busted."

"So I'm seeing someone now, what of it?" Law snapped crossly. He swallowed coffee and felt his face heat, as much from embarrassment as being caught with his own sordid thoughts. Of course they'd all treat this like some illicit secret. Both Penguin and Shachi knew how quickly Law took and discarded lovers, but they were also familiar with the reasons behind these short-lived flings.

"And how long has this been going on?"

"This is our second date, actually." Law wondered if he ought to be self-conscious about that fact.

"Well, good for you. And for him! But mainly you, because I can't recall you ever bringing home such a specimen like that." Penguin pillowed both arms behind his head. The ghost of a smile haunted his mouth but he knew better than to tease Law outright. "I'm honestly surprised you'd wait for the second date before bagging that thing. Nice catch!"

He made Kid sound like a big game trophy Law had unexpectedly shot and stuffed. Well, at least he'd been mounted; maybe Penguin wasn't so far off the mark after all.

"Yeah," Shachi added. "That guy is built. Who knew you went for those Muscle Mary types?"

"Are you trying to say he's out of my league?" Law asked, daring either of them to say as much. "And it's just his job, he works construction."

"Huh." Shachi looked considering. "I was gonna guess fire fighter."

Penguin nodded in vigorous agreement, "A little bit different from all these cultured, refined types, isn't he?"

"Oh, will you both grow up?" Law focused on his presentation, ignoring them as Shachi and Penguin continued to openly speculate. Who even cared that much? They just wanted something to gossip about, and Law's work kept him too occupied to otherwise be worthy of interest.

Then again, maybe he was just feeling defensive. As time ticked by, he was becoming more comfortable with a very dangerous fact: he liked Kid. He'd liked Kid ever since they first met. It was a shame because Law would be damned before he felt anything genuine for a planted suitor. So he bit his tongue and ignored them both, until the shower's noise ceased and Kid could be heard thumping around as he rediscovered his clothing.

Shachi was beating a large bowl of eggs for scrambles. "Should I throw a few more in? Y'know, for bootycall, if he's staying for breakfast. If you told me we had company I would've made more sausage."

"Oh, I think he's had plenty of that already." Penguin shook his head, giving Law the critical stare of someone striving to tell whether their friend had been replaced by an imposter. "Y'know, all last night, I just thought you were watching porn. You sneaky fuck."

"Oh, come on - we weren't that loud." He scowled in Shachi's direction, seeking confirmation.

"Don't look at me, I only got back here two hours ago." He shrugged, laying a platter of sausages and potatoes on the table. Toast soon followed, with only the eggs remaining.

Law scowled at the food, his appetite souring under this inquisition. He shoveled some potatoes onto his plate but did nothing more than stare balefully at them.

All three of them jumped like startled, guilty rabbits once Kid emerged, his hair a damp, scattered mess that Law felt drawn to. He hastily cleared an extra spot; the table was made to seat six but his work ephemera took up a good third of it, even now at its most condensed.

He forcefully reminded himself that this presentation needed to be finished today; he was going to deliver it on Monday and there would be adjustments to make before then. It was his own fault for putting it off so long. But all of his best intentions slid off the back of his mind as he watched Kid grab a mug of coffee before settling in the seat beside him. "You're working already? Why is this not surprising."

"It's my fault," Law said, voicing his thoughts. "I should've done this last week but couldn't get motivated."

With Kid sitting so close, Law could smell his own bodywash and conditioner. It made him seem instantly familiar in a way that had not been earned. Law didn't care; he felt nauseatingly, deliriously enamored and hoped that it would never stop. He wanted to throw his laptop out the window and call in sick to the retreat; he wanted to take Kid back to bed until they both couldn't move.

But even as he thought such things, Law dearly hoped none of it showed on his face. He wondered if he wasn't leaping into this a little too quickly. And now Kid was joining him for breakfast, with Law's roommates, no less. It was so natural that Law felt like an audience member observing a theatrical play.

There were brief introductions before each of them eagerly dug into the breakfast Shachi had made - he was currently working as a short-order cook in a diner near the University, one of those twenty-four hour a day places that prided itself in being as divey as possible. One would think that after endlessly making breakfast for drunk people he might be tired of of it, but on the contrary, Shachi enjoyed cooking. Especially after preparing food for eight hours without being able to partake himself.

It was an arrangement that worked out for all of them, and Kid's addition to the group was as seamless as everything else thus far. Law wondered if he ought to start worrying. Penguin kept flicking him pointed glances, as though he still could not quite believe this was happening in the first place...Law wasn't sure if he appreciated such an unwelcome but necessary reality check.

Someone had to keep him grounded. He appreciated Penguin's skepticism, particularly when his own felt sorely compromised. They'd lived together for the past four years, and while Law had shared his family's drama, he didn't really think his roommates understood. It was a difficult topic at the best of times. They found Doflamingo's match-making attempts hilarious, albeit creepy and overbearing. For the most part, they were right.

Sometimes it all did seem far more silly than sinister. But it'd really hurt the first time, when Law found his brother's fingerprints all over his relationship. It had been his first real boyfriend, someone who'd lasted beyond the awkwardness of the early dates and who was remarkably patient about Law's hectic schedule. It was his first serious heartbreak when he'd found out it was all a lie - or at least affection purchased purposefully by another. The relationship didn't last much beyond that. Their trust was irrevocably damaged.

Penguin had been with him when they'd made the discovery. Accordingly, he tended to be overly-suspicious of all Law's partners. Perhaps it was justified; Law had sunken into quite the depressive funk after that break up. It'd lasted a good three months and his work performance suffered. He'd been deeply hurt. While the man in question hadn't been perfect by any means, Law cared about him and had been happy for the first time in a long while. It was challenging to find people willing to put up with the demands of residency, particularly people his own age. In the end, despite his boyfriend's protestations to the contrary, Law could tell he was more horrified about being caught than he was about hurting Law's feelings.

Others followed; Law and Penguin became quite adept at sniffing out planted agents. As satisfying as it was to send these dregs back to Doflamingo, the situation had grown thoroughly depressing. Law's education and work dominated all other interests - he'd simply never had the time nor inclination to attempt a relationship.

The thing was - and it made him feel like he was rather missing the point in the first place to admit it - relationships were just so much work. And Law had plenty enough work to keep him very busy already. Volunteering for more made him wonder if he were a glutton for punishment.

The snap of fingers jerked him from his thoughts. Kid was waving in his direction, "Hey, yo. Pass me that ketchup, hot stuff."

Law blinked. That'd been a compliment, but somehow it left him feeling as though he'd been slapped. He forked over the condiments before he had time to overthink it. "Pass you the ketchup, please."

"Law has nice manners," Shachi observed, as though they were witnessing an exotic specimen in its natural habitat.

"I know, where did he come from?" Kid pondered. "What a freak." And then he squirted a jet of ketchup over his eggs.

Penguin pulled a face, "Dude. Sick."

"Don't knock it till you've tried it!"

"Well I don't have to stick my finger in a toaster to know I'll probably not like it that much."

"Kid is a self-admitted uncultured swine," Law said. "Now I hope you can appreciate why I haven't introduced him to you yet."

"Yeah, it's really bringing a question of taste into the equation."

Kid gave him a light kick, "Dude, your friends are mean! What the fuck?"

"Oh, quiet down. I'm sure you can tolerate a little abuse. You're getting free breakfast out of it at any rate."

Kid mumbled something in return through a mouthful of eggs, sounding like, "No breakfast worth this."

But in the end, what was he expecting? A light morning hazing was practically expected for dates who spent the night. A decent sense of humor went a long ways and Law was relieved that Kid bore the teasing well. He took every opportunity to sling an insult Shachi or Penguin's direction, but before long, the topic of video games came up. Law was fairly lost and retreated back to his work.

It was slightly appalling how well they were all getting along. Genuinely, Law had not expected it...he didn't know what he'd even been expecting. The awkwardness that so frequently characterized new relationships seemed totally absent where Kid was concerned. He fit inside Law's life as though he'd been there from the beginning.

Kid even took his dishes and left them in the sink. Law wasn't sure why he was so surprised. Maybe if Kid behaved more like Law's worst expectations it would've been easier. Their relationship was doubtful to last, but at least it could be fun, provided Law did not become attached. Worrying that Kid might do the same was pointless; he was being financially compensated and all he had to do was play a role.

In the end, Law's internal dilemmas were rendered moot as Kid grabbed his things, stuffing shoes onto his feet. "Hey, I can see you're busy so I'm not gonna drag things out."

"Oh, okay." Law was strangely disappointed, but what did he expect? Kid had his own life. He was quite right about Law being busy. "I'll walk you out."

It was promising to be a nice day, which only twisted the knife further. Law knew he'd be stuck in front of his computer for the vast majority of it. Even so, he paused in the doorway against his own better judgement. "Look, I don't want to rush things too quickly - "

"Quicker than last night?"

"I'm impatient. But only because I really like you." Law sighed and drove the heels of his hands into his eyes. He really shouldn't be admitting all this so soon. He really shouldn't already be asking for more. "This might sound crazy, but are you busy later today?"

"What about your presentation?"

Law shrugged; he felt distinctly disinclined to worry about that stupid presentation. "Just give me five or six hours and I can bang something together."

"Yeah? And then?" Kid took a step towards him, catching the baggy sleeve of Law's sweater. "Why don't I go do my laundry and you can gimme a ring if your stuff works out."

"That's a lot of laundry for it to take you all day."

"Well, I've got some other shit to keep me busy." He ruffled a hand through his still-damp hair. "I have this feeling my house is gonna be full of hungover assholes by the time I get there. So I'm gonna concentrate on the laundry for now, because it's the only problem I can reasonably fix without accidentally killing someone."

"You're starting to make my presentation sound appealing."

"Then my work here is done!" Kid darted in quickly to leave a kiss on the side of Law's mouth. "Catch you later? Just lemme know when you're ready for company."

And then he left. Law was surprised one more time by how easily it all went; he was surprised even further when he received a text around seven that evening inquiring about pizza toppings. He'd been finished with the presentation for a while, but couldn't stop meticulously picking things over. He'd likely be at it for a while if not for Kid's interruption.

He texted back, All finished here, just working on the details. Stop by whenever. He hit send and felt a rush of giddy excitement. It was only after a moment that he remembered Kid's original question and wrote back, I like everything except pineapple or olives.

It took a few minutes before he got a response, Opinions on white sauce?

White sauce is good. Thin crust if they have it.

He got a smiley face in return, and tried not to overinterpret it.

Kid showed up thirty minutes later, bearing a pizza box that smelled intensely of garlic. It was perfect, and Law didn't question himself when he greeted Kid with a kiss full on the mouth.

Maybe he should have; it was met with a wide grin. "I missed you too," Kid said. He was wearing a different pair of jeans, of a blue so dark they were almost black, and a teeshirt for some band Law had never heard of. A faded paisley bandana held his hair back from his forehead.

He looked perfect and Law repressed a smile that furled open in his chest, "I'm not sure which I'm more happy to see, you or the food."

"Wow, you really know how to bring a guy back to earth." Kid kicked off his shoes, making himself at home.

Law fetched them both a beer and napkins as they got comfortable on the apartment's weathered leather sofa. It was a relic of Shachi's; most of their furniture was a cobbled-together arrangement of things found, donated, or purchased used.

After their exchange of texts, Law had found an old sci-fi series that was playing as a marathon. All he wanted was something in the background, but Kid seemed pleased. "Hey, I used to love this show! Did you see the new movie they made?"

Law shook his head, teasing out the first slice from the pie. "I keep meaning to. Was it any good?"

"Yeah, it was fun. Good effects and everything. I've got it on my computer, let's watch it sometime."

"I'd like that." Usually such vague proposals for future times together never really came to pass, but Law really hoped that wasn't the case in this instance. He wondered if he ought to worry about that. Kid inspired a reckless effect in him.

"Did you get all your presentation stuff done?"

"Oh, yes. I'm glad you texted me earlier, I probably could work on it until midnight."

"Still got a lot to go?"

"No, that's the problem. I have a hard time putting things down, even once they're finished." Law laughed, chewing pizza. "And you, did you clear out all your intruders?"

He shrugged, "Eh, they were mostly gone by the time I got back. Our house is fun 'cause there's always something happening, but you never get much time to yourself. Usually I don't mind so much."

"Just not when it's people you dislike."

"Yeah, that's just annoying. It's too bad, one of my roommates has a big thing for Bonney so she's over practically every day." He took another slice; Law capped it at two but suspected Kid would finish things off. He didn't mind. "I got my laundry done, though. Oh yeah, and I got my STD testing started."

"Really?" Law was surprised; usually it took a few pestering attempts before people went through with the hassle of it. Law knew for certain that his own tests would be negative, but it was the principle of the matter. During his clinic rounds, he encountered far too many appallingly-neglected cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea that he insisted on testing as a matter of principle. It wasn't something one ought to be embarrassed about in the first place. "Where did you go, if I might ask?"

"University Conception Services."

"The sperm bank? Are you a donor?"

"Hell yeah, there's good money in it! And they test you for free anyway. I just haven't been back there for a while so my records are about a year old."

"Well, if I start seeing lots of little red-haired brats running around, I'll know who to blame." It was encouraging; the fertility clinics were fairly rigorous about who they accepted donations from.

"I don't donate that often, but with my work, sometimes it's really inconsistent. The clinic building's good 'cause it'll probably be a year or more, which is real steady. Sometimes they just want us welders for specific stuff. We're pretty expensive once you get your license and everything."

"I didn't realize you were a tradesman."

"Yeah, I got certified a couple years ago and the pay's a lot better. But the work isn't so frequent, so it's a trade-off. I can do other things too, it all just depends on who the contractor is and where they're trying to save money." He shrugged, giving Law a sideways glance, as though he questioned whether any of this were really that interesting. "Sorry, I dunno how much you want to know. It's just work stuff."

"No, I like learning about it. It's a change from my own boring requirements." He rose, fetching another pair of bottles. When he returned to his seat, he drew his legs up and let them drape across Kid's lap. He felt an odd sort of possessiveness towards him, as though he couldn't keep his hands to himself.

Kid didn't seem to mind, leaving Law's legs where they lay. It was nice. It was uncomplicated, which was the very antithesis of what Law's relationships were normally like. He didn't want to think of how complicated it very much was beneath the surface. For once, Law wanted to be selfish and stupid, to accept things at face value and enjoy them only for what they presented themselves to be.

Kid gave a gusty sigh; a good three quarters of the pie was demolished. "Yay, pizza-coma. Ever since Bonney pestered me for money last night, I've had a craving."

"I'm glad you brought it. Do you have any food allergies? I'm just curious."

"Nope, you?"

"None. But I'm afraid pizza is about the only Italian food I like. I'm not a big fan of pasta, bread, all those heavy carb-based things. It gives me indigestion."

"It's why you're so skinny!" Kid teased, pinching one of Law's toes. "I betcha like foot-rubs though, huh?"

Law was in fact quite partial to them, especially when they were done by someone with incredibly strong hands like the ones Kid had. A low-grade arousal was settling in nicely in the pit of his stomach, but he felt no need to rush things. The excitement from the night before was being replaced by a sense of comfortable familiarity, a rare feeling which Law intended to enjoy. Kid told him a bit about the different bands he played in - there were three, and he played guitar. Law imagined he had quite the stage presence. It turned out that they were only three years separate in age, and Law wondered what his life would've been like had he attended school along with his peers.

While he was proud of his accomplishments, he wasn't the superior sort, which was more what one could expect from his brother. In all honesty, Law doubted he would've gone to school so early had he any other choices. But after learning the truth behind Cora's death - his murder - he'd needed to get away from the family as quickly as possible, lest he kill Doflamingo himself.

He glared at the brown tip of his foot as it poked out of the chokehold Kid currently had it in. The man's skin was so pale - a rarity even in Grand Line City, where you could find practically any man or fishman of any color of the rainbow. He wondered how Kid didn't manage to burn spending all those long days welding in the sun without cover. He'd seen him naked and there hadn't been even the hint of a tan line, which was astonishing. Either Kid didn't darken at all or he used an industrial-strength sunblock and applied it with a garden hose.

"Oh shit! This is a really good episode," Kid said excitedly. Law hadn't even noticed the preceding one was over. Apparently his distraction was obvious. "Dude, you're not falling asleep already, are you?"

"Oh, no. I was just thinking."

"Presentation stuff?"

"Nah…." Law flexed his foot, curling the toes until a few of them popped audibly. "Do you have any plans for tomorrow?"

The question was met by a grin, "I left my schedule wide open."

"Good." Law could envision a future for them both which involved never leaving his room nor the confines of its bed for quite some time. It was a much more favorable future than the one which would inevitably come to pass. An orchestrated sham of a relationship such as theirs could never last indefinitely, but Law would enjoy it while he could. "Let's finish this episode and go to bed."

"Oooh, I like the sound of that. Your roommates home?"

"Not tonight." Shachi was, of course, working; Law wasn't sure where Penguin had gotten off to. On Saturday nights, he never saw much of them one way or the other, unless they had plans together. Fortunately for himself and Kid, that left the apartment in their hands. At least Law wouldn't need to worry about muffling his enthusiasm this time around.

In the end, they didn't even last half the episode. Kid's clever hands wandered away from Law's feet and up his ankles and calves until he was practically squirming from the attention. There was kissing involved as well, and lots of it, to the point that they were forced to retreat to Law's bedroom after the couch proved quite uncomfortable. There were a number of broken springs that went unnoticed until they were stabbing one in the kidney.

Kid had the stamina of a young man. Law wondered why he even put it in those terms, being only slightly older, but sometimes it felt like a world of difference. Or maybe Kid was simply in superior shape, with an eagerness that defied the exhaustion that typically accompanied a brain-obliterating climax. He made a study of cat-napping, which Law found a most agreeable break between rounds.

They slept in brief fragments, their faces close enough to be nearly touching. The dreams Law found were brief and unfulfilling compared to the warmth that they shared, and even when Kid slept without him, he was content to trace the lines of his sharp cheekbones, the crooked bridge of his nose. There were a number of small scars across Kid's shoulders and back, along with a speckling of rosey freckles - the only sign he spent any time in the sun at all. Law wondered if the scars were earned from his job; they looked like burns. It was likely an occupational hazard.

Against his will, Law felt as content as a full-bellied cat basking in the new warmth of the sun. He couldn't remember the last time he spent a two night's company with the same person. It never happened this early into things. Whatever charms Kid had were subtle and managed to dodge beneath his oldest rules like they weren't even there. It left Law feeling loose and untethered, as if a protective shell had cracked around him, leaving him bare and strangely vulnerable. Of course, the only strange thing about that was how little he minded in the first place; it should've unnerved him, but his suspicions were lazy and slow to rouse.

The only significant sleep Law found came early in the morning when the chirping racket of birds woke him. He grunted; he'd fallen asleep sprawled across Kid, who lay on his back, solid frame heavy with lassitude. Law felt distinctly disinclined to rise or even move at all, but his stomach was grumbling loudly. He felt a bone-deep filthiness, the satisfying kind that only came from being thoroughly marked in another's touch, sweat, and come. There were protesting muscles in his abdomen that he'd never even known about, a sore looseness that he hadn't felt before.

Aside from food, he was dying for a shower but remained where he was, dozing again until it was past ten in the morning. Kid was awake by then, greeting him with another lazy round of kisses and hands. The skin on Law's tenderest parts was beginning to chafe by that point, and his orgasm came reluctantly. Kid coaxed it from him with the sort of determination that left Law shaking in its aftermath, some deeply-buried part of himself laid bare for the first time in years. It should've left him feeling exposed and helpless, but Law gave it and everything else up because when he did, Kid swiftly followed.

"'M hungry," Kid mumbled, afterward. His stomach gurgled sourly in affirmation.

"Shower or food first?"

"Oh man. No tough choices so early. What do you think I am, some kind of wizard?"

In the end, they scrounged something from the fridge before sharing a bath. It was climbing past the noon hour by that point, and Law knew they'd need to part ways before long. He had to put the finishing touches on his presentation. On weekdays, Kid rose at some ungodly hour for his job and both of them were too aware that little sleep would come should he stay over a third night. Besides, twice in a row was already reckless enough as it was. Law had already broken numerous personal rules for this sort of thing, and after they'd dried off and dressed, he walked Kid to the monorail station near his apartment.

Despite their earlier snack, both were quite hungry and ate at a ramen joint adjacent to the station. Law felt wonderfully, stupidly enamoured and hardly touched his bowl while Kid slurped down its offering with fervor.

Why did he like this guy so much? It seemed foolish, especially considering his recent rash of arranged playmates. He didn't doubt that Kid was anything different, but it was easy to forget such practical concerns when in his company. Even the things that normally struck Law as obnoxiously forward managed to instead fill him with a delightful warmth, as when Kid snatched the fish cake straight from his bowl.

Law spanked the man's fingers with his chopsticks but it was all for show. "Keep your hands in your own trough, you savage."

"Better eat quicker then," Kid countered, grinning like an imp as he surveyed Law's ramen for additional targets.

When they parted ways, Law leveled a kiss against Kid's mouth at the station entrance. Such public affection was abnormal for him; Kid, of course, took it in stride.

"This was a lotta fun," he said, unwilling to release Law's hand.

"I'm glad you were able to stay over." Law glanced around them for observers, but the sleepy Sunday crowds had their own agenda. "My week is going to be busy. Maybe we can meet on the weekend, if nothing else works out?"

"Sounds good. I'm usually free for lunch if you can make it. Doesn't have to be anything fancy."

"I'll text you if I have the time."

The automated announcer called the arrival of a southbound train; Kid gave him a swift peck on the cheek before heading on his way. Law stood, watching his brilliantly red hair recede into the crowd. He felt hopelessly lovesick, as though such a feeling could cause genuine illness. Maybe it'd be enough to stay home from his conference Monday, but Law knew that was a pipe dream.

He spent the rest of the afternoon perfecting his talk before turning in early. He was exhausted, having gotten little restful sleep the prior evening, for reasons that were obvious and fully enjoyed at the time. He couldn't remember being quite so fond of another person for a very long while.

The week passed, and true to his own predictions, Law was frustratingly busy. It was normal, but with his mind elsewhere, each small obstacle annoyed him. The retreat took up most of Monday and Tuesday, his presentation going off without a hitch though his mind wandered during the rest of the lectures. The remainder of the week was more of the same, though he managed to see Kid on the weekend. It was spent much like the previous one: at his place, in bed for the most part, and only coming up for air when the need for food and other necessities became unbearable.

Before Law knew it, they'd been seeing each other regularly for three weeks straight and he hardly felt it was enough time. The new relationship's shine refused to fade. Whenever Law felt compelled to ask after Kid's motivations in all this, he deferred - to ask such questions would be the same as ending the relationship. Though he deeply suspected Doflamingo's hand in the works, Law refrained from confirming it. He liked Kid too much to end things.

The end would come in due time, and until then, Law would simply enjoy things for what they were: fun, slightly silly, entirely foolish, and stupidly, deliriously wonderful.

Chapter Text

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.


"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.

Chapter Text

Kid was in love. He saw no point in putting things in lesser terms: he was in love and for the first time in his life, he could tell that it was finally the real thing.

Oh sure, he'd made some pretty similar grand announcements in the past with other guys he'd been seeing, but even then there'd been a few rational impulses reigning him in. Or even if it was love, it wasn't the sort that would stand up too strongly with time, not to mention an honest challenge.

But when it came to Law, he had no such doubts: Kid was as sure of how he felt as he was that the sun would keep rising day after day. He knew it was love and a different sort than he'd ever experienced, because he'd never felt quite this strongly for another person - ever. Even though they'd been together for months, sometimes he would still see Law and his breath would just stop in his chest; he felt a feverish need to be as close to Law as possible - as though he'd become strangely addicted and Law was the only fix, the only cure he would ever need. When they were together, Kid felt at peace. It was the first time he'd felt that way in a long while. All of his vague dissatisfactions and longings were simply forgotten.

It was easy for Kid to get swept away on romantic tides. He was well aware of this; it wasn't a dramatic personal failing, though many would call it a flaw. He was also aware that, despite what life had thrown at him over the years, he remained an enduring optimist. It wasn't something that always worked out that well for him, but even when it didn't, he was unfailingly resilient. He considered the possibility that this thing he had with Law might eventually fall apart, but it was just as likely to persevere/ Only time would say one way or the other. Most of the time when they were together, things felt simply so right that Kid had a hard time ever really getting worked up over if and when they might fall apart.

But that remained a possibility, even if it was remote. Law was impossible to read and nothing scared Kid quite as much as imagining what the doc would say should he ever confess how he felt. It seemed like a sure-fire way to ruin something good. So Kid kept his secret close to his chest, a hidden card waiting for the right time to be played. Maybe he'd never show his hand - who knew? Like a lotta things in his life right now, he was strangely at peace with this possibility.

For most of his life, a sense of calmness and serenity had been very challenging for him to find. Now that he had it, he was terrified that he might lose it again if he rushed things too quickly. Kid would admit to being terrible at keeping secrets, but this one seemed too important to risk even telling Killer, a fact that freaked him out even further. He told Killer everything, always had. They were as close as brothers, and practically were.

The secret built up inside 'til Kid felt fit to burst, the sort of excitement that gnawed away at his bones. It was the first time he'd ever been worried about what he felt. He knew that eventually, he'd need to tell someone but the words he needed didn't seem to exist. They were a poor facsimile of what he felt inside and the inarticulateness annoyed him. It was all just more proof that what he felt was indeed the real deal.

The thing was, in the past, Kid hadn't really been looking for something serious. He had a deep and abiding affection for attractive men, particularly tall skinny guys with finely-sculpted features and legs that went on forever. A good personality and sense of humor helped, and he'd been both surprised and thrilled to discover that Law came with all the things he really liked, perfectly wrapped in a dreamy package. Sometimes he wondered what the doctor was getting out of all of this. Things felt mis-matched, though anytime his insecurities got the better of him, Law was quick to soothe his worries. They could spend hours in bed together, saying nothing because words felt inadequate in capturing what lay between them.

Or maybe Kid was just really inarticulate; who knew. He'd never been very good at expressing his thoughts, which was why he held onto them now. If he just stated it plainly he worried that Law might not take him seriously. He had some dumb romantic notions of putting all of what he felt down on paper someday, and though he thought of it quite frequently, he never made the effort. That seemed like it would solidify things into something real, something that could be targeted or injured, something he could lose if he weren't careful.

Kid was the first one to admit that when they'd just started dating, his interest had been primarily physical. His attraction for Law was and remained very simple, because Law was amazing. Over time, though...despite his optimism, Kid was a realist: he'd been prepared for things to fall apart. It was what had happened in each of his past relationships, which never so much ended as disintegrated. He was terrified of that happening now. He'd never even cared that much in the past but when it came to Law, he was petrified that things might one day end.

Kid knew that one day Law could wake up from their fun little daydream and move on with his life. After all, the doctor had a future. Kid was realistic enough to know that there was little room in it for someone like him.

Though he'd met Law's roommates, Kid had never been introduced to a colleague. He was pretty sure he knew why. People had been judging him his entire life and some of the harshest derision came from those who were highly educated. He had to imagine that Law felt the same way on some level. He was probably too embarrassed to ever introduce Kid to professional company. Then again, it wasn't like Law had that many friends amongst his hospital co-workers, so maybe Kid was just making a big deal out of nothing.

And that didn't even touch on the man's weird-ass family life. Kid wasn't nosey; there were a lotta things in his own life he wasn't exactly rearing at the bit to share. If Law ever needed a reason to split, Kid could give him several, so he didn't question the doctor when he guarded his own personal history. There was something lurking in the periphery that Law refused to divulge, and while that hurt sometimes, he understood. Obviously, if Law was keeping secrets it was because he didn't think Kid could be trusted, and after all, could he really be blamed? They hadn't been dating that long in the first place when you really got down to it, just over six months, more or less.

Kid was always surprised and a little thrilled whenever he realized how long it'd really been. It left him giddy, feeling oddly special and somehow privileged to be worthy of Law's company. The doctor was someone who made him feel important merely by association. Law was so fucking hot and perfect that sometimes Kid felt unbelievably lucky to have him in his life.

But his optimism was tempered by rationality. He had no illusions about how oddly-matched he and Law were as a couple. Sometimes he caught Law looking him over when he didn't think Kid could tell, using their reflections in glass or other objects to observe as though he were an outsider. Kid wondered what he was looking for, or what he saw. It was always calculating and shrewd, as though he were searching for something but Kid had no clue as to what - maybe his faults and imperfections, a decent reason to bring things to a conclusive and decisive end. Whenever those fears got the best of him, Kid would turn around to find Law open and welcoming, generous and just as invested as Kid was in what they had.

Maybe this was just how Law was, the scientist trained to observe and analyze. For all his dispassionate scrutiny, the man himself wasn't cold, exactly. But he did maintain a distance between them despite how close they became in every other regard, holding Kid at arm's length and allowing him to proceed no further. It was a final wall which was proving insurmountable. Maybe he'd get lucky and it'd crumble with time, or if he was really lucky, Law would just let him in through a secret door once he'd finally earned the honor - once he'd finally proven himself beyond the shadow of a doubt.

That'd go a helluva lot quicker if he actually knew what he was meant to be proving. All he could say with certainty was that Law still did not trust him. That realization stung, but Law also wasn't dumping him over it. It wasn't exactly a win or a net gain, but where Law was concerned, Kid was simply happy to break even.

Besides, even if Law remained guarded, he was still open enough that Kid rarely became frustrated by it. Their relationship was a good mix of give and take, balanced precariously between their competing - and not exactly accommodating - schedules. The clinic building kept going up. It was walled in on most levels except the very top ones, where the ambitious architect had seen fit to design a partially indoor roof garden. Kid wasn't really sure what was up with that, more adjustments the hospital hoped to make in order to be seen as ecologically conscious. Or maybe it was for patient happiness; who knew.

For the time being, Kid was on mandatory leave as building examiners combed over their progress looking for errors and shoddy workmanship. Given the size of the project, it would take two weeks before things passed inspection entirely. Until that wrapped up, Kid's job was on pause. He was paid a small stipend but nothing compared to what he would make when working full-time. It was a pain in the butt, and he considered looking elsewhere for temporary assignments, but if he was honest about things, the break was really nice. Not because his work was so hard, but because he finally had some free time to really spend on band practice, which was frequently and sorely neglected.

It also gave him plenty of time to spend with Law. That was definitely a perk. Kid didn't mind earning half-wages for two weeks if he got to spend all the time in the world in Law's company. Of course, the doctor's schedule continued as usual, leaving Kid the only one to really enjoy this brief honeymoon - and no, he did not put it in those terms when in Law's company. He was pretty sure the doctor would just roll his eyes, favoring Kid with one of his uninterpretable smiles before ignoring the comment entirely. It was what Law tended to do whenever Kid did anything overtly romantic.

As a result, Kid kept the romanticism to a minimum. It wasn't like he was that great at it in the first place.

Sometimes he got the feeling that Law was testing him, though Kid did not know what for. It wasn't clear to him if this was the type of exam one could pass by saying the correct thing at the right time, or if this was the sort of test which relied upon silence. He didn't want to risk the former at the expense of the latter, which left things uncomfortably ill-defined, as though his only option was to maintain the status quo indefinitely.

Even Kid, in his most romantic moments, knew that things could not last like this forever. Maybe one day he would reach the end of his patience, his ability to contain himself, and then he would tell Law the truth of his feelings. After that, it'd all be a matter of dealing with the fallout, whatever that looked like.

But until then, things would remain as they were: comfortable, if slightly constrained. It was a little bit like his current living situation. As much as Kid liked the house and all its chaos, as his focus centered more and more on Law, he found himself weary of the unending interruptions to their time together. For once, Kid just wanted some peace and quiet, and only Law to share it with. He had the feeling that if everything else just slowed down, maybe they could actually hash some of this shit out for a change.

Another proposal that could go catastrophically wrong. It was hard not being on the same page for things like this - except when it came to Law, it was sometimes hard to tell if they were both reading the same book. Usually, uncertainty didn't bother Kid so much; it was a part of life. He tried to remind himself of this every time he got impatient. At the end of the day, he wasn't unhappy enough to make waves when they stood a very real chance of eroding the foundation he was standing on.

As a result, he simply concentrated on the things he could control and manage. He had a lot of free time all of a sudden, what with the building inspection-related furlough. He attended a number of shows, playing in a few himself. The metal band Wire had put together was finally getting good enough to get some bookings, and Kid was playing lead guitar. Their outfit was called Scabmeat, and one night after a show, Kid returned at three in the morning to find Law sacked out in his bed. The doc was still wearing his typical outfit of slacks and a dress shirt, and he hadn't even managed to take off his tie before passing out.

It was surprising, Law didn't make a habit of showing up unannounced but Kid wasn't really complaining. He didn't see enough of Law to begin with. He liked that Law felt comfortable enough to show up and fall asleep without warning, as though Kid's place were his own. As the doctor's residency program accelerated, so did the demands of his schedule. Even when he spent the night and turned in at a reasonable hour, the morning would still leave him groaning and groggy, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the new day.

Kid couldn't really blame him. Being the first one up most mornings left him intimately acquainted with how hard it was to escape a warm tangle of limbs. Sometimes he wondered if he appreciated those mornings only because he knew he couldn't stay, the lure of the forbidden and all that. Even with his schedule free and clear for the time being, Kid still awoke by six a.m., same as always. A noisy chorus of birds had started up in the grey morning light and beside him, Law slept like the dead, his face serene. Kid remained in place, enjoying the lazy silence. It was always nice to be reminded that even without any reason to get up, Law's unique gravity kept him in place and anchored by his side.

The rest of the house was quiet when Kid rose to use the bathroom. He bumped into Killer, who was shaving his face, the only other person awake so early. Kid contemplated surprising Law with a nice breakfast but was dissuaded by the lumpy cuddle pile he found in the front room, made up of some of Wire's friends who were staying for the weekend. Banging around in the kitchen would definitely wake them up and Kid felt his motivation dwindle. He slid soundlessly back into bed, curling up beside Law with comforting familiarity, the kind that lured him back to dreamland before he knew it.

It was several hours later when he finally woke for good. Law was still enmeshed against him, and a headache from oversleeping was pulsing in Kid's temples. Even so, he felt no real desire to get up and moving. They could spend the entire day in bed if they wanted - and had, on several occasions. Kid was pretty sure he could wrangle some morning sex out of the arrangement, he'd learned over time that it was Law's favorite. They'd made each other late for work more than once because of it.

But that was before the house's normal clatter and activity became impossible to ignore, even by Law, who slept as heavily as a corpse. The drone of sludge metal buzzed up from the basement until one of Kid's baseboards began to rattle, and from the kitchen, the fire alarm gave a piercing screech.

Law whimpered piteously and rolled towards him, and Kid shifted until the doctor's face was tucked beneath his chin. There was a day's rough stubble beginning on the Law's face but Kid didn't mind. For a moment everything felt indescribably perfect, and Kid regretted that they should be interrupted at all. He mumbled, sleepily and without thinking, "We should get a place together."

It took so long for Law to reply that Kid imagined the idea had gone unnoticed. But then Law murmured, his voice thick with sleep, "I'd like that."

The fire alarm gave a squawk of finality as it met a swift, crunching end. Muffled swearing broke out in its place. "Should we go help them?" Law asked.

Kid's thinking brain had been so effectively flatlined by Law's answer that it took him a moment to come up with a coherent response.

"Nnn. There's an extinguisher." One of his knees made it between Law's thighs. "Besides, you couldn't pay me to go get in the middle of all that."

"Were you serious?"

"About what?"

"Finding a place. Moving in together."

Kid gave a short, despairing kind of laugh. "I, um. I didn't actually mean to say that out loud."

"So you don't want to."

"That's not what I meant," Kid said, rising to give him a peeved glare. Of course Law would jump immediately to the worst possible alternative. "I'd just been thinking about it a lot. I wasn't sure if we were, y'know...ready."

"Ready. Really." Law lay back and blinked at the ceiling for a moment. There were deep shadows beneath his eyes, proof of his late night. He always looked like that no matter how much he slept, a characteristic look. He was beautiful with them, not despite them.

"I thought you might say no."

"There's the answer I was waiting for," Law said, sounding impossibly old for his years. Like Kid's idea was that of a child playing house. "If that's the case, why did you say anything before you were sure?"

"I dunno. I was just thinking…." He shrugged, pausing for a moment before he continued. "It would just be really great if we didn't have to deal with all this shit sometimes, y'know?" His hand found one of Law's, their fingers twining together. "It's only a matter of time before one of those dumb shitheads starts beating on my door for one reason or another."

Law gave a clipped laugh, one of surprise. He flopped a hand over his eyes but it was too late; once the first giggle was out it seemed impossible for him to contain the rest. He hiccuped and had to bury his face in a pillow.

"What's so funny?" Kid kept his tone cautious. This really wasn't the response he'd been expecting.

"I don't know." Law shook his head as his giggles wore off. "'s a major decision. Usually people agonize over whether or not to even ask."

"Oh." Kid wondered fleetingly if he should've just waited longer, for appearance's sake.

Law tilted onto one side to look at him. "But since you bring it up...I'd like that."

"Really? You're not just saying that."

"No, it sounds nice. Let's think on it for a while, though. I just...don't want it to ruin things as they are."

Kid didn't really see that happening. He never saw enough of Law in the first place to get tired of him and it seemed like a ridiculous thing to be worried about, if that indeed was Law's problem. The doctor tended to be guarded about certain things and Kid never really knew what they were until he'd crossed the line and Law had his hackles up.

"Are you sure you'd want to leave all your friends?" Law asked, sounding suspiciously like a parent.

"Well, yeah, that's kind of half the point. This is fun and all, but…." He sighed, frowning at the ceiling. "Sometimes I just want some peace, y'know? If I want that now, I have to go to the library. Or your place."

"My place is quiet as a library?"

It typically wasn't - at least, not when Kid was around. Maybe that was what Law was worried about. Since they only had occasional time together, it was usually spent doing something, even if that something was as low-key as vegetating in front of the tv with some take-out containers. Sex typically followed, but not always, and when it did, it wasn't even always the energetic or complicated sort, though sometimes Law surprised him.

Not a lot of Kid's relationships ever made it to this quiet, comfortable stage. He really liked it, and for a moment knew exactly what Law meant about rushing things. There was a strong possibility that more time together could spoil what actually made things work, like too much of a good thing.

"Things wouldn't have to change if we moved in," Kid said, giving voice to his thoughts. "I like the way they are. Between us, I mean."

"If we move in, you'll learn all sorts of things about me that I've kept under wraps."

"Oh yeah? Like what?"

"Like how much of an obsessive neat freak I am about certain things. Like the bathroom, for instance."

The pointed mention was namely because the one at Kid's house was perpetually foul. It happened with so much traffic and no dedicated janitorial staff, and it wasn't like anybody routinely volunteered for that job. "You're only saying that because the shower's growing mushrooms."

"Oh, is it? I haven't used it since the first month we were dating." And even then Law had considered it an appalling mistake.

"Yeah, there's like this hole in the fiberglass and they started coming through about a month ago. I was gonna fix it but Heat thinks they might be edible."

"Seriously, don't let him eat those. And if he does, make sure you have poison control on your speed dial." Law gave a gusty sigh, "This is what I mean. I actually keep a clean house and if you want to live in it, you'd have to do the same. And I'm not about to follow you around and see that you clean up, I don't have the time or the energy for it."

"Jesus, dad. Sorry for being such unwashed filth."

"I never said no - "

"It kinda sounds like a no."

"I just want you to keep your mind open!" Law sat up, looking scowly and frustrated. Maybe Kid should've known better than to ask such a question when they were both uncaffeinated. "It's a big decision and you shouldn't just make it on some spontaneous spur of the moment idea. Besides, won't you miss all of this?"

He gave a sweep of his hand, indicating either Kid's messy room or the house beyond. Realistically, Law probably didn't appreciate either all that much. Like he said, he held certain expectations, which would increase proportionally the more serious things between them got.

For the first time in a while, Kid wondered if the doctor considered their relationship a real one at all, or just some fun they had screwing around - more fuck-buddies than anything else. The dreamy expectations he'd woken up with were crashing back to reality like a satellite falling from orbit and he regretted even asking in the first place. "Just forget about it, okay?"

"We don't have to forget about it," Law persisted. "I just think it should be a decision made thoughtfully. Don't take it personally. I'd be this way with anybody, not just you."

Yeah right, Kid thought, but for once he wisely chose to keep his ideas to himself.

"This is the first time I've ever considered moving in with someone," Law said, a quiet confession. "So I'm sorry if I treat it like the big deal that it is."

Again, Kid remained silent. Why did Law have to make everything sound like a fucking ordeal, when it was supposed to be fun? If there was one thing guaranteed to make Kid even more worked up it was being admonished to not take it personally, or to be more grown-up and serious. He'd never been a real pro at either, and while Law hadn't grated on that particular nerve just yet, it was bound to happen eventually.

Still, Kid refused to get overly mad about it. His stomach was empty and it'd been a shitty idea to even start this discussion first thing in the morning. He rose, finding his clothes and making for the kitchen. He needed to dull the hurt from being rejected - and it was hardly a rejection at that, which was exactly how he knew he needed a snack.

Law was right...he hadn't said no and he'd even said he liked the idea - in theory, at least. Everything with Law tended to be that way, done with more careful thinking than actual acting. Or at least that was the way it felt half the time.

By the time he returned, bearing a cup of coffee for Law - see, he didn't hate him - the doctor was tapping away at his smartphone. He hadn't moved from the bed, though by his expression Kid knew that wouldn't last. "Bad news?"

"The surgery I was involved with last night has developed complications. I need to go in." He looked up and winced. "I'm sorry. I feel like I've ruined this morning."

"It's cool." It really wasn't. But Kid knew that picking at the scap wouldn't help anything. Maybe Law was right and they really did just need to think things over more, and once the doctor was up, dressed, and packed back off to the hospital, all Kid did for the remainder of his day was look at apartment listings online. He tried to imagine what a life with Law would look like: probably a one bedroom somewhere, further from the University and in a quiet area of town that was still on a train line to the hospital. There were several options and Kid did his best to keep the commute down to what Law currently had or less. His own work would send him all over the place so it was pointless to make decisions on that basis.

Despite what his current accommodations might indicate, Kid really could pick up after himself. It was simply a pointless gesture at the moment, when nobody else did the same, and when they had so much company so often that things existed in a perpetual state of fluctuating chaos. In fact, he was vaguely annoyed that Law just assumed he was fine with the status quo. There was a big difference between tolerating a mess and actively causing or liking one. Kid could be real fucking civilized when he wanted to be, and found it just a little unfair that Law doubted his abilities.

Then again, you couldn't build a life off dreams alone no matter how much you wanted to. Maybe that'd been Law's point. Sometimes he could just be downright obnoxious with his sense of responsibility and adherence to rational living.

Kid wondered if he was just wasting his time with this. Who knew where the two of them would be in six months or a year? Law might finish with his program and then get a job offer somewhere across the country; he actually had to worry about that sort of thing. The house's lease would be up for renewal in four months, and that was usually accompanied by a shuffle in who ended up being a permanent resident rather than a constant visitor. Kid had been real happy with the state of things until Law came along. All he'd really wanted by suggesting they move in together was that they spend more time with each other.

He only hoped that the four months between now and when his lease ended would be a long enough time for Law to think things over.

Law was just wrapping up a shift in the OR when his phone rang. It was Kid, which wasn't anything unusual, though they had no plans until the weekend. He was surprised to hear Killer's voice when he answered.

"I don't have your number, so I'm using his phone," he explained. "D'you have time to stop by the house tonight?"

"I suppose." While Law didn't mind, he'd been on his feet for nearly twenty hours and was exhausted. "What's wrong?

"Kid got into a bit of a fight. He's not hurt real bad or anything, but he fucked up his eye pretty good."

"If it's an emergency, you should just take him in."

"Nah, he won't go. And it's not an emergency, he just got a good cut on it and I think it should get stitches."

"Have you stopped the bleeding at least?"

"Yeah, for the most part. It's still oozing a bit."

"What part of his eye?" Law adjusted his phone, balancing it against his ear and one shoulder as he nodded goodbye to a colleague. If Killer was calling him, it was serious enough that Kid should've just gone to the ER, but he wasn't surprised to hear the man was being obstinate.

"It's the eyebrow part. He took a good whack to it, split the skin."

"What kind of a fight was this?"

"Just a fist-fight." As though that explained anything. At least weapons hadn't been involved.

Law sighed, more in weariness than anything else. He could certainly stop by and told Killer as much. It would take him around an hour to get there.

"Sounds cool," Killer said. "He's not going anywhere."

Law wondered if the damage was worse than he was implying, but out of all of Kid's friends, Killer was the most responsible. If things had been bad, he would've forced Kid to the ER even if he resisted.

Law wondered what had set things off. It was no surprise that Kid was fighting; despite his efforts to keep himself in check, he was a hothead, as swift to anger as he was to forgive - or ask for forgiveness. It wasn't a particularly desirable trait. To be fair, Law had only heard of such altercations until now. He was encouraged by Kid's genuine-seeming efforts at improving himself.

Then again, perhaps it was all just talk: were he working for Doflamingo, there would be no reason to put a limit on one's violence in the long term. Kid might just be saying things for Law's benefit and so that their relationship continued.

He wanted to believe Kid had a good reason for whatever scraps he got into, but the truth was he likely didn't. He probably had reason to be angry, less so to fight. It hardly mattered now. Law didn't bother to change into his street clothes, sticking with scrubs while he collected a first-aid kit. It would have antiseptic, sutures, and bandages for dressing the wound. He was in his car and heading to Kid's house within half an hour.

Things at the house were relatively quiet, all said. It was late, edging past midnight, and the only people still up were Killer and Kid, who was parked in front of the video game console. He glanced up, a makeshift bandage strapped to his head with a bungee cord. He looked entirely pathetic and not simply because of the wound, though that contributed quite a lot - there was dried blood crusting down the side of his face, leaving parts of his faded t-shirt black and stiff.

He gave Law a once-over from top to bottom. "Whoa. Scrubs. You really are a doctor."

"I'm glad this is what it's taken to finally convince you."

"Thanks for coming," Killer greeted.

Kid sounded aghast. "You called him?"

"Did you think I was stopping by this late just for my health?" Law asked.

"Maybe." Kid's eyes slanted to one side like a petulant teenager faced with discipline. He ignored Law, returning his attention to his game. He seemed numb around the edges, almost like he had a case of shell-shock.

Law left him to it, feeling his irritation rise. He wasn't in the best of moods on his own, and Kid's teenaged routine was making things worse. Still though, his professionalism intervened; it was unfair for him to take things out on an obnoxious patient, even if that patient was Kid. Instead, Law retreated to the kitchen with Killer, who supplied him with a can of beer to take the edge off. It was straw-yellow but better than nothing, making Law wonder when the last time he'd actually had a substantial meal was.

He leaned against the countertop, "I have this feeling he's not about to be particularly forthcoming with me. So what happened?"

"He can tell you. But the short story is, we played a show and there was a real rowdy crowd. Different audience than we usually play for - mainly frat kids, y'know."

While Kid's friends and their band fit in well at the Subterranean, there were just as many clubs catering to the other subcultures the University managed to attract, not the least of which being their robust Greek system. Law could only imagine how well Bonney's showmanship and abrasive lyrics would go over there.

That it'd all ended badly wasn't really so surprising in retrospect. Law wondered what the hell they were doing in a frat bar in the first place. "Was Kid the only one involved?"

"Well, Bonney was too, but mainly as the instigator. Kid's the one who really mixed it up. If it makes you feel any better, the other guys look twice as bad."

"Other guys?"

"There were three."

"Ah. Of course." Law gave a short, despairing laugh before taking a thick gulp of his beer. He pinched the bridge of his nose. Why was it no surprise that Kid had taken on multiple opponents? He suddenly felt quite angry; Kid behaved as though he were invincible but he very much was not.

From the sound of things, that little scrap could've ended much worse, with Kid in the hospital - or jail. He'd already faced consequences after losing his temper on the job. What was he going to do if someone decided to press charges? What if he himself ended up in the emergency room? He'd been so outnumbered that he could've easily gotten himself seriously injured.

Sometimes he was so childish that Law couldn't help but be irritated. He wondered why he'd even come here tonight. He should've just made Killer take the bastard in to the ER to get patched up along with everybody else. It was where Kid honestly should've been at this very moment, but of course he treated everything like some frivolous game where nothing could ever go wrong.

But talking sense to him seemed like an impossible task, and Law could see why Killer hadn't bothered. He felt the same...sometimes with Kid, it was like his skull was made of rubber and all common sense simply bounced off.

"This idiot," he muttered aloud. He wasn't surprised when Killer echoed his sentiments in a low, mirthless chuckle.

"I've done my best looking out for him ever since he was a kid. Since we were kids, I guess. As well as you two get along, I'm afraid he's already married to trouble."

"How romantic." Law wasn't sure he liked the competition.

"For what it's worth, he's doing a lot better. He was already getting a handle on things, but...ever since you came along, he's really had a reason to improve himself, y'know? Instead of just because he had to."

"Really, this is sweet, but I am so ready to kill him right now that I don't think I can actually appreciate it." Law finished his beer in two thick gulps. Despite his annoyance, he thanked Killer all the same, returning to the living room to collect his battered charge. "C'mon, let's go. I'll get you all patched up in no time."

"'M fine," Kid mumbled.

"Seriously, it's late. You'll have a scar if I don't do something about your face so don't argue with me. I'm too tired right now, so just save your game and grab your shit, okay?"

"We could just do it here."

"I'm not doing it here, that bathroom is disgusting." By the looks of things, what he'd originally assumed was a cotton bandage on Kid's forehead was actually a wadded-up t-shirt. He tried not to be visibly appalled. "My car's parked out front."

It seemed for a moment like he'd be dragging Kid out by his shorthairs, but the man gave a heavy sigh, tossing his controller at the console. "Okay, fine."

He said it like a teenager being called into the principal's office. Law tried not to be too annoyed, but it was hard on so little blood sugar. That beer wasn't exactly helping matters. It wasn't enough to impair him, and a short drive later they were outside his own apartment.

Kid didn't say a word the entire trip. He simply stared out the window, vacant as a mannequin.

Things were quiet in Law's apartment, unsurprising given the late hour. Penguin was probably already asleep and Shachi at work. Law ushered his moody charge into the bathroom and ran some hot water to clean things up before starting: the cut over Kid's eyebrow was jagged, the skin thin enough that it'd torn a good three inches to leave a ragged wound. Kid definitely should've gone in to have it sewn up, but Law refrained from lecturing him. There was something brittle about Kid, like he'd shatter if not handled carefully.

"This will sting just a bit," Law cautioned before daubing over the damage with some cotton gauze soaked in iodine. He let the disinfectant sit for a few moments while he prepared a needle and suture thread. Under the better lighting, he could see a number of new bruises popping up on Kid's jaw and cheekbones.

So he'd taken a few more knocks than just the one on his forehead; that wasn't very reassuring. Law waited for an explanation but was forced to prompt Kid once it seemed nothing would be volunteered. "Aren't you going to tell me what happened?"

"It's no big deal."

"I can hardly imagine a four-person fight being characterized as 'no big deal'."

"Well, it's not." Kid picked at some of the dried blood crusted against his skin and it flaked off beneath black-painted nails. "Those guys were drunk. It's how things started and why they ended so quick."

"Did you put them in the hospital, then?"

"Geeze, don't be so dramatic. Killer and Heat broke things up before they went anywhere. I bet those jackasses are just puking their guts out in some alley off University Way." He flicked his fingers to discharge some of the scuz. "Same as any Thursday night for pricks like those."

"Why don't you just start at the beginning, hmm?" Law adjusted Kid's face before starting in with his curved needle. "You can concentrate on that while I'm patching you up. This really is a nasty cut. Were you hit with something?"

"Yeah, a beer bottle." He winced as Law began, forehead wrinkling. "It's all Bonney's fault. I hope that's not a surprise or nothing."

"So Killer mentioned. And no, I'm not surprised."

"Yeah, well. I can't really be mad at her this time." He laughed abruptly, "Okay, maybe I can - we shouldn't've been playing that club in the first place. It's not our scene - she knows that. Only reason they even put us on the billing was 'cause she told the manager we sounded like Led Zeppelin."

Law was forced to laugh at the sheer contradiction. He doubted Bonney would've gotten any traction at all had she told them what the band really sounded like.

"Anyway, they kicked us off after three songs. Not surprising." Kid shrugged. "Then when we were packing the van up, all these pricks came out to smoke and started hassling us. Buncha bros, y'know? I hate those guys. So does Bonney, but she can't leave well enough alone." He gave another shrug, eyes drifting vacantly to the mirror where he could watch Law at work. "'Course she starts giving attitude, like she's more macho than all of them together. She talks a good game but when it really comes down to it, what's she gonna do?"

He made to shake his head but Law paused him before he could get far. The skin was thin and required careful work, though if Kid found it painful he made no indication. Their eyes met for a moment, giving Law a start: Kid's pupils were as dilated as a junkie high off his drug of choice. The whites seemed too wide, like the startled eyes of a horse before it bolted.

Kid was looking at him with those flighty eyes when he continued, "Then they called her the c-word, and I - I really couldn't just sit back and keep packing the van up, y'know?"

"The c-word," Law repeated, almost scoffing. As though Kid were so much a child he couldn't swear.

"The c-word is serious business. You can call Bonney a bitch all you want but you don't ever call her that, not when I'm around."

"So you started all of this to protect her honor, how noble."

"Don't make fun of me," Kid said, and then his face crumpled like plate glass cracking. Law had to stop what he was doing, taken aback as Kid shook, his frame gripped and trembling as a rawness poured out of him like pus from a septic wound. He tried to speak twice before finding his voice, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to happen. I know I fucked this up."

Law was so unsure of what to do that he found himself panicking, suddenly willing to do whatever was necessary to keep Kid from outright crying. He kissed Kid's forehead, stroking through his hair and soothing his torn edges the only way he knew how. The real injury was left forgotten, a comparatively mild insult to what lay beneath.

"You just don't get to treat people like that and get away with it," Kid continued, his voice a mess that he couldn't control. "And these assholes are so used to doing whatever they want. Nobody talks to Bonney like that."

He took a shaking breath, his voice resolving. "So I got right up in that guy's face - just to show him who he was messing with, y'know? I was like, you tell me what you said to my friend, you better say that one more time, and say it to my face."

"Shh," Law murmured, touching his mouth to one of Kid's temples. He regretted asking how things started now that he could see how awfully it had upset Kid, who only continued. It was like a dam had burst inside him, just like it must've been when he'd first lost control.

"I know how scary I look when I'm like that. It's not who I like to be. And even then it wasn't enough to scare that guy, 'cause he just kept going, calling Bonney all kinds of shit, and me with her. So I just flipped out - " he gave a shuddering breath, one that went deep into his lungs like a gasp of pain. "I didn't mean for that to happen. I just wanted to scare him a bit and shut him up but it didn't work that way."

Before Law even knew what was happening, Kid shook beneath tears, as though they physically hurt. He felt a momentary panic; how the fuck did he fix things now? Sure, he'd been angry and frustrated earlier but none of that even seemed to matter in the face of such frank vulnerability. All he could do was pull Kid's face to him, until it was buried against his ribcage. Trembling hands roped around Law's waist, tight as if Kid were hanging on for dear life.

"I'm sorry," Kid repeated, plaintively. As though he really were begging for Law's forgiveness. "That's the part of me I don't like. It's ugly. My dad was like that and every time I let it take control, I know I'm no better than he is."

"Don't say that," Law said, his throat tight and inflexible. He'd never expected for Kid to show him such deep wounds, the kind that could leave a man crippled from the inside out.

"Sometimes it feels like there's something rabid chained up inside me and one day it'll just tear itself loose. Every time I lose it like that I know it's just that much closer to happening. And then one day I'll turn out just like him." He gave a broken, ragged sound, his whole body lurching. "Like I'm fooling myself that it'll be any different."

And Law had no idea for what he should say. He felt reduced to utter helplessness. For a moment, he felt he could understand where Kid's anger came from though he hardly knew the truth; an ugly secret that Kid had protected for fear of what others would say once they'd seen it. Maybe he expected Law to throw him out, pathetic and half-broken, a damaged shell that'd been repaired poorly and was starting to crack again along its edges. But his fears couldn't be further from reality: Law's heart ached too strongly to ever push Kid away, and certainly not when he was so fragile. All Law wanted was to care for him like something infinitely precious, a three-legged stray mutt who'd earned a place within his heart against all odds.

He stroked a hand through Kid's hair, matted in places from blood. The back of his neck was feverishly hot with emotion. Law felt unable to do anything but hold onto him, as though Kid truly would fall to pieces if he let go. The stitches he'd been working on were left unfinished; they seemed unnecessary. Maybe Kid had had a point about them earlier.

Or maybe all things needed was a little time. Law already felt out of his element. He'd never been very good at coping with the honest feelings of others, and pulled Kid after him as they retreated to the protective confines of his bedroom. It felt like more of a safe haven than it had any right to.

There was still a wild-eyed, panicky feel to Kid, though it was beginning to once again grow numb. Soon he'd be the same as Law had first seen him back at his place. He coaxed them both beneath the sheets, curling against Kid as though his touch itself could heal him.

Kid seemed like an animal, half-tamed by fear and violence, the sort who would flinch from kindness because it was so unexpected. His skin was still strangely heated though he no longer cried; Law drew him in as close as he could, as though they would never be separated.

Of all the things he'd come to dread from Kid and their relationship, this had never even been on his radar. Law had been so certain that any dark secrets would simply trace back to Doflamingo that he'd never looked for any of Kid's own.

Law frowned at his own behavior; was he really so obsessed with thwarting his brother that he'd never bothered to look beneath Kid's surface? Was he so selfish that he fancied himself and his own family's drama more important to Kid than anything in his own life? Law was ashamed to realize how much he'd taken for granted. He was further surprised to learn that, despite the very deep flaws Kid was hiding, Law only felt more devoted to him because of it. He could not stop the way his heart ached in sadness and longing affection, how much he desperately wanted Kid to be his own for as long as Law could have him.

Kid fell asleep before long. Ignoring all else, he was emotionally worn out. For long minutes after, Law's mind buzzed with questions, the need to know all of Kid's hidden secrets. But it'd been ages since he'd last slept and it was pointless to resist once he felt himself slipping. Like Kid's stitches, all of that could wait until the morning, though by the time that came Law felt distinctly disinclined to move. Some time during the night, Kid had shifted beneath the covers until his face was pressed tightly to Law's stomach, leaving them awkwardly positioned yet completely couldn't imagine it was very comfortable, given Kid's injured eyebrow. It was no surprise that he hadn't let it stop him.

In a moment of odd clarity, Law understood that despite Kid's predilections for violence, he would never use it against him. If he ever revealed that side of himself to Law in person, it would be to protect. Law wasn't sure where this conviction came from, but he knew it with certainty.

If he could trust Kid implicitly with that, why not anything else? A little flurry of panic stirred in his stomach, making his toes curl. He was desperate to make excuses where Kid was concerned and it was dangerous.

He dozed, his fingers toying in Kid's shaggy mane until the alarm clock sounded. That was right; it was still a weekday. Fortunately, Kid was still on break while the building passed its inspections. Law couldn't leave him and snuck out to call in a favor from a colleague whom he'd covered for several months back. His shift would be handled, and Law returned to bed, his personal holiday starting off nicely with the warm curl of their bodies finding each other.

"Work?" Kid mumbled.

Law shook his head, "I have today off."

"I love you," Kid said, and Law felt his breath falter.

Kid said it again and each repetition made it more real. For the first time since the previous night, it really seemed like everything would be fine.

They spent a slow, lazy morning in bed. It was filled with unhurried affection, the sort that began and continued without clear direction. Law touched the scars across Kid's shoulders, finally asking about them. His theories were confirmed and despite his contentment, Law felt swift outrage filling his veins. Kid treated things with the sort of matter-of-factness that came from living a harsh reality his entire life.

Law was envious. He longed to be so detached. Kid's father had treated him like an ashtray and Law wanted to track him down and cut his throat. It was the same cold vengeance he'd held onto since Cora's murder; the same tempered rage that left him estranged from his family. Law knew he would never see justice for Cora and the bleak unfairness of it felt like an ulcer chewing through his center.

There would never be any justice for Kid either; he'd been separated from his father since he was fifteen and didn't even know if the man still lived in the city. His mother had abandoned them both when Kid was a child and he had few memories of her.

"I know my dad is a really bad guy - " he flashed Law a wry smile, as if that should've been obvious. "I mean, now I know he is. But when I was a kid, he was cool enough that it kinda made up for all the shitty parts. We used to build stuff together and I don't think I'd be as good at what I'm doing now if it weren't for him.

"After my mom took off, it was just him and me, and it wasn't that bad. He really did treat me right for a while there and it was only bad when he drank."

His eyes looked at something far away for a moment before he continued, "He didn't drink that much back then. And a lotta times he didn't even have to raise his hand because he could just cut me down from the inside. But once he went on disability, all he did was sit at home, watching tv and drinking, and then he was just mean for good.

"I got this big growth spurt in high school and he didn't like that." Kid shook his head in a jittery, nervous manner. "I don't think he liked seeing me bigger than him for a change. After a while, it was just like he spent all day thinking up all the mean shit he wanted to say to me once I got home from school. Cutting me down was like the only thing that made him happy anymore. "

His father had been calling him a faggot and a queer for as long as Kid could remember. As far as he knew, they were simply his favorite insults. It'd taken years for Kid to reconcile that it was the truth.

"Maybe he saw something in me that not even I knew. After a while it didn't even matter. He hates everything and I finally realized there was no point in pretending that being straight would make him like me any better. So one time we were having a big blow-up and I just told him he was right about everything, just 'cause I knew that'd hurt him more than anything...that was the last time I ever saw him. Janet - that's Killer's mom - took me in after that. She's a lot better than anybody I ever had."

Even then, though removed from his father's home, Kid was left living nearby until he turned eighteen. He and Killer had grown up as neighbors; it was how their friendship started and how Killer's mother had known it was time for him to leave his home permanently. She sounded like a tough character, someone used to enforcing boundaries on the rambunctious young men of her own; Kid had become just another one of her sons once he joined the family.

But even then, his anger got the best of him and he was expelled from the public school for fighting. She gave him the choice of alternative schooling, the military, or work, and had found him an apprenticeship when Kid chose the latter option. He began working full-time and never looked back.

In an odd way, Law felt more proud of him than pitying. Perhaps it was because Kid was so clearly a survivor of his experiences. For the first time, Law found himself wanting to share his own history, but still he hesitated. Why did he need to tell Kid what the man undoubtedly already knew? There was no way Doflamingo would give him such an assignment without briefing his agent on the details.

But the impulse remained, beating against the wall of his chest until Law felt fit to burst. He wanted to tell Kid everything until no secrets remained between them. For a moment, Law found it utterly and completely unfair. He wanted Kid to be his own, untainted by his brother's meddling impulses.

Kid shared his darkest secrets with such freedom that Law could not resist emulating his example. He knew it was foolish but his need for a confidant was stronger than his caution. "Did I ever tell you I was adopted?"

He kept things to a general outline, the briefest of facts: his had never been a true adoption; he was fostered into Doflamingo's family after his parents and sister all died of the same leukemia he'd had as a child. It wasn't intended to be a long-term placement because no one expected him to live much longer than a few years, until he succumbed to the disease - the same as everyone else diagnosed with his condition.

He was expected to die. By age twelve, Law's mindset was as poisonous as the cancer consuming his body. If he was to die, he wanted to see the whole world burn with him.

But even that hadn't mattered to Cora. He'd proved them all wrong, seeking out experimental treatments until one finally worked. Of course, it cost Cora his own life in doing so, a detail which Law omitted. He gauged Kid's reactions carefully but could detect nothing out of the ordinary. He'd never told such secrets to any of his suitors save the first, and didn't know what to expect. Kid simply listened with thoughtful silence, his expression surprisingly unreadable.

"I never imagined I would live to be this old," Law confessed. "I was very fatalistic as a child."

"I wanna see baby Law pictures," Kid said. "You have those, right?"

"Yes. I'm not sure where they are right now, probably in storage." Along with all the other remnants of his family that he'd been meaning to dispose of. He doubted Kid would ever see such photos.

"Get 'em out sometime. I bet you were hot."

"Are you implying that I no longer am?"

"Oh, shut up! You know how hot I think you are," Kid said, laughing. He turned, practically pouncing on Law in a sudden lurch of energy. His eyes flicked over Law's face like he was surprised to see him, an expression of relief. "I'm really glad you didn't die back then."

"What a romantic."

"I love you. You know how many people I've said that to and meant it?"

"How should I know you're meaning it now?"

"I probably wouldn't have asked like that if I didn't mean it."

It was a fair point. On Kid's eyebrow, his half-stitched laceration was puffy and red. Law hadn't even had the presence of mind to dress it before they'd gone to bed, how completely unlike him. The circumstances had been rather extreme at the time - or at least as extreme as Law ever really wanted to see them. He felt a strange sort of honor, that Kid trusted him enough to allow him to see his most vulnerable self.

Even with this proof, something deep in Law's center was as wary and cautious as a hunted deer; he could not share his own darkest fears with Kid, at least not yet. Instead, he leaned forward, touching his lips to the wound. "I should finish patching that up."

"It's no big deal. I don't mind the scar."

"Yes, but I'd mind it. I like your face the way it is." He kissed Kid's forehead a second time before swinging his feet onto the floor. "Really, you shouldn't take yourself for granted."

Kid followed after him as Law made for the bathroom, not even bothering to get dressed. He'd heard Shachi arrive home two hours prior; he would likely sleep until four in the afternoon. Penguin had left an hour after that. Law wasn't worried about the two of them being interrupted and they shared a long shower that morphed into sex midway through. After last night, Law worried the damage would be lasting, but Kid bounced back as though it were nothing. Law wondered if that was a developed trait, the product of an unpredictably violent home.

Then again, it could be all an act, but Law felt tired and weary of considering things in such context. He really needed to stop thinking so much, and concentrated on the amazing things Kid was doing to his neck instead. One of Law's nipples was teased until he squirmed, wrapping around Kid's tall body like ivy. Then Kid was between his legs, holding him up as he ground against him shamelessly. All Law could do was hold on. Sweat broke out over his shoulders and across his upper lip, and Kid had him gasping and spent before Law could even get his bearings. He felt swept away, a loss of control which he did not mind.

However, afterwards - when his brain had fully returned to where it belonged - Law was annoyed to find a purpling hickey on his neck. "Just because I have today off doesn't mean I have the entire week, unlike some people."

"And you look extra-hot with a bruise peeking out from your shirt collar."

"I'm sure my colleagues would all agree," Law muttered. He tied a towel around his waist, gesturing for Kid to take a seat. He inspected the damage to his eyebrow: despite the redness and swelling, Law did not suspect any infection this early. It was likely simple tissue trauma, and he abandoned the idea of stitches in favor of some butterfly closures. It was a bit late for stitches, anyway.

The bruises on Kid's face, knuckles, and elsewhere were all darkening to blue and purple, with a nice shiner swelling up on one cheekbone. There wasn't a lot Law could do for those, but he dressed over the stitches with fresh gauze and antibiotic ointment. "Let me know if you have any swelling or pain while this is healing up."

"Sure thing, doc. How much do I owe you?"

"There's a cafe just up the road, you can buy me a nice breakfast." Almost as an afterthought, he smacked the back of Kid's head with an open-handed cuff, "And no getting into fights after this, I mean it. Do you have any idea what I would do if this had been any worse?"

"Jesus, I'm sorry!" Kid flinched out from under his reach. "Who knew you even cared?"

"I care about you a lot." It was as close to a confession of his feeling as Kid would get for now. Law's emotions came to him slowly but were intensely felt. He had a habit of dwelling on them long beyond the patience of others.

It was getting closer to noon by that point, and they both dressed to leave. Law was pretty sure the cafe closed by two in the afternoon, and he really had his heart set on a bacon and cheese omelet. Fortunately, Kid was on much the same wavelength. The day was grey and overcast, and Law wore his coat for the first time all year.

Bonney was waiting for them once they got to the sidewalk, sitting on the hood of Law's car. She was wearing an olive green military parka with a furry hood, smacking her teeth as she ate her way through a bag of candy. A bike was leaned against the car beside her. "'Sup."

"Have you just been waiting for us?" Law asked. She could've at least called or something.

She gave Kid a nod, "Killer said you'd be here."

"Yeah, so you just decided to ruin things for me, is that it?"

"Man, here I thought getting laid would mellow you out some. What's up with your face? You look like shit."

"It needed stitches," Law supplied. "The rest is all superficial."

"Big deal. Stitches and scars just make you look cooler," Bonney said.

"What, you want me to fucking thank you or some shit?"

"I'm just putting a silver lining to things. Your raw materials left vast room for improvement."

"Really? Did you come here just to start another fucking fight with me?" Kid asked.

"Well, we all know who'd win if that ever ended up being the case."

"Bonney, sometimes you really oughta learn how to keep your damn mouth shut. Seems like you could've figured that one out yourself after last night." Kid shoved his hands into his pockets, scuffing one foot along the ground. "Whatever. We're getting breakfast. You're not invited."

"Aww, ain't that cute." She gave them both a fond smile. "Whoever thought you'd turn out all domestic like this?"

"Oh yeah, like getting brunch is gonna kill my image. You're the only one who gives a shit about that, dumbass."

Bonney shoved herself off Law's car, still smiling. "D'you always have to be such a fucking grouch about everything?"

"Only where you're concerned." With Kid's hands stuffed into his pockets, his arms were left crooked at the elbows. Law slid one of his own through the loop, inching close against his side. There was still a rawness about him, as though his skin had been peeled back to reveal the tenderness beneath. All of Kid's bluster was just another effort to cover over it. "Did you come here just to check up on me? How uncool."

"Oh no, Kid thinks I'm uncool. My confidence is shattered."

"Now, now, children," Law admonished. "Don't make me separate you."

"Yeah, yeah," Bonney said. "I just wanted to make sure your head was attached, but since you're still in a pissy-ass mood, I'll hit the road. You guys go have a nice brunch." She hopped onto her bike, throwing them some devil horns before peddling away, "Stay frosty."

Beside him, Kid gave a grumpy huff at her receding figure. "'Stay frosty'. Wow, what a badass."

"She's just checking up on you. She probably feels bad that you got hurt in the first place."

"Then she needs to say that like a fucking normal person, instead of trying to act all cool and shit."

Like Kid was any different. Wisely, Law chose not to comment, pulling him in the direction of the cafe. "C'mon, food. You won't be quite so cranky with something in your stomach."

"Wanna bet?"

Despite his vocal obstinance, Kid was placated and even cheerful once he'd eaten. The cafe near Law's apartment wasn't anything fancy, but they hardly needed anything more than the basic. Law chose an omelet while Kid had something called the farmer's breakfast, an enormous pile of food that included bits and pieces of every animal possible.

Law watched him conquer the mountain long after he'd finished with his own meal. It felt strange, like a brick wall between them had been reduced to rubble and dust. Law wasn't sure what to do with all of Kid's honesty from the night before. He was used to analyzing their relationship through a specific lens, that which Doflamingo had undoubtedly cast things in. He could typically ignore his brother's meddling overtures but something seemed undeniably altered. For the first time, Law wondered if he'd been wrong about all of this from the very beginning - he wondered if Kid really was all he ever presented himself to be, without any outside influences.

If he was really just and only himself...Law wanted to believe it, no matter how reckless that made him.

Across the table, Kid was finally slowing down. "Hey," he said around a mouthful of potatoes. "What d'you wanna do after this?"

Law shrugged with one shoulder, "I don't know, what sounds good to you?"

"It's your day off. You pick."

"In that case..." Law regarded his coffee mug critically. What did he really want to do? If he considered things in their current light, it seemed like the possibilities were endless. "What do you think about looking at apartments together?"

It looked like Kid had been struck by lightning, leaving him dumb and in shock. "What, really?"

"I've been thinking it over. It's not that I don't want to..." he sighed, leaning back in his booth, its vinyl creaking. "I like you a lot, Eustass. I just don't want this to ruin things."

"But it won't! I mean, I won't let it. You think I'd screw something this important up?"

"Something this important?" Law repeated.

"Seriously, ever since I met you, you've been the most important thing in my life."

"Really." Law wasn't quite sure what to say to that. Kid was always so honest, like a child who'd never learned how to lie.

"Jeeze, what did you think?" Playfully, Kid's foot kicked at his own. "I love you, idiot."

A waitress stopped by to clear away their dishes and refill coffee. They remained silent until she was gone; Law was grateful for the interruption. He wasn't sure he knew how to respond. It wasn't the first time Kid had said that. It still seemed so strange that even though he'd heard it twice before, Law still struggled to believe it.

Even worse, though the words on his end remained unsaid, Law could feel them choking up his throat. He knew he loved Kid. He'd known it for a while.

"I mean, I hope that's not a surprise or anything," Kid began once they were again alone. He busied himself doctoring up his coffee with cream and excessive sugar, his eyes focused at the task at hand. "It's just...I never knew how you'd feel about all that stuff. With my dad and everything. It's not a part of me that I like very much."

"Don't say that. It's the last thing I would judge you for."

"I just don't ever want you to feel, y'know." He shifted uncomfortably, his heart bloody and dripping upon his sleeve. "Afraid of me. Like I'd hurt you or something."

"I know. I've never felt threatened by you."

Once upon a time, Law would've excused all of Kid's history as some made-up fiction designed by his brother to appeal to his heartstrings. It seemed obvious now how false that impression had been...there was no way Kid could fake that kind of emotional rawness. As with everything, Kid was honest and straight-forward, without the subterfuge Law had come to expect. He really didn't know how to handle it.

He straightened, popping his knuckles in quick succession. He felt suddenly eager to change the topic. Proactive movement would leave Kid's honest confessions in the rear view mirror, at least temporarily. "Do you want to look at places today? We don't have to actually go anywhere but let's at least make a list of things we definitely want."

"I like you; you're all business about this."

"Well, we have two months before my lease is up. We can afford to be picky."

"I want a dishwasher. And laundry machines, but they don't have to be in the unit. Just in the building is fine."

"I want a decent kitchen. I has to have a double-sink."

"Why?" Kid scoffed, smiling. "You never cook!"

"That's because I live with Shachi. I used to cook."

"Then prove it and make me a nice dinner sometime."

"You're the one who owes me a meal, remember?"

"Yeah, yeah; I got it." Kid put his card on a tray their waitress provided; ten minutes later and they were on their way, taking a circuitous route back to Law's place.

They passed by several apartment buildings and Kid continued to elaborate on what he wanted. For his contribution, Law needed something quiet that was located near a train route direct to the hospital, preferably with a deck or balcony, though he knew that part was probably asking a lot. At some point, Kid took his hand and laced their fingers together. There were tender scrapes on the backs of his knuckles and Law never wanted him to let go. He wondered what he was thinking with this; they'd been dating less than a year and already he was longing for them to never be apart.

If his brother had any role in all of this...Law hoped he never learned of it, even if it was the truth.

While they didn't go apartment shopping that afternoon - to be honest, it was a bit more of a project than Law had in mind for his impromptu day off - they did make a list of all the details. For days after, Kid sent him listings from internet classifieds, scouting out a few places on his own. Finding a place would likely be the easy part, outfitting it the real chore - all Kid owned was a bookcase and his bed, with a few musical instruments that would be staying at his current place even when he moved.

For his part, Law had his bed, a chair, and the dining room table; he had an assortment of crockery and dishes but nothing close to what was needed for a real kitchen. Living with roommates for so long had meant he never needed to buy certain items of his own, but if he ended up moving in with Kid, that would all change.

Part of him was excited for this challenge, giddy with eagerness - and another part was just as terrified by the entire prospect.

Law wondered what he was thinking with all of this. He was setting himself up for the worse case of heartache once things came crashing to back to reality, but after seeing Kid at his most vulnerable, the doubts that had infected Law's mind only continued to spread; a disease of hopefulness. What if Kid wasn't in Doflamingo's pocket at all? Law was going to feel seriously awful were that the case, after having doubted him for so long. It was unfair, and Law had no idea how to fix his lingering doubts.

They plagued him to the point that instead of giving notice of his intent to move, he found himself requesting a three-month extension on his lease simply to prolong the inevitable.

"You are being an idiot," Penguin scolded as he and Shachi signed the lease extension agreement. They'd accepted as a favor, neither having any solid deadlines of their own.

Law was grateful, and fully aware of his own failings. "Shut up. I know."

Penguin continued, "What are you going to tell him when he finds out your move date isn't for three more months?"

"That I was wrong about when the lease ended."

"I don't get it, what's the big deal?" Shachi asked. "Haven't you found the right place yet?"

"Oh no," Penguin interceded. "It's much more dramatic than that. Law has convinced himself that his dearest-darling is, in fact, a plant sent by the enemy to sweep him off his feet and back into their sinister crime family."

"But Kid can't be with those guys!" Shachi sounded shocked. "He's so nice. I see him at the diner all the time since you guys've been dating."

Penguin fixed Law with a withering glare, "Y'know, I am totally with you for any suspicions you have with that weird-ass family of yours. But Kid isn't with them! How much more obvious could it be that he's totally in love with you?"

Law felt his face heat; sometimes he really did feel stupid getting so fixated on all of this. Then again, Penguin ought to know what a serious matter it was; they'd had several long conversations, a few of which directly concerned Kid. Improbably, he'd won Penguin over after their first four months together.

"For your information," he said, addressing Penguin. "I'm plenty aware of how he feels. And so what? If he's in Doflamingo's pocket, it's not like it really matters one way or the other because I'll end things as soon as I find out. Whenever that happens to be."

He turned his attention to Shachi, "And before Pen starts making me sound like I'm delusionally insane, I have good reason to be suspicious. This wouldn't be the first time my brother tried to arrange my life to fit his own needs. The last time this happened it really did hurt."

"Oh yeah…" Shachi let his words trail off; he was undoubtedly remembering the aftermath of that disastrous relationship. It'd been years ago, but they'd all lived together at the time and Law had been quite morose. "I always kinda wondered what happened there."

Law regretted not sharing the details, but it had been too painful. Only Penguin knew, having helped determine what was going on in the first place.

"Doflamingo's tried similar tactics since, so I hope you can understand why my wariness is entirely reasonable." Law fixed Penguin with a glare while biting out those last few words.

For his part, Penguin threw up both hands in a gesture of surrender, though he did not go quietly. "You are sabotaging the one good thing that's happened to you in years."

"Yeah, don't dump Kid, he's awesome," Shachi said, his voice plaintive. Honestly, Law wasn't sure if he liked how invested they both were. Maybe watching him crash and burn over the years had given them a personal stake in things. "I mean, all you need to find out is if he's working for your brother, right?"

"Preferably without asking him, like a normal person," Penguin supplied. He looked as though he were at the end of his tether, "Hasn't he ever asked you about your family? What the hell have you told him?"

"I told him we're not close and that's as far as it's gone! He really isn't that nosey, unlike some people," Law snapped. "And I forbid either of you from bringing this up with him yourselves. This is my business, and it may seem silly but it's really not a laughing matter at all." He paused, feeling his hackles rising defensively. He didn't like being under the microscope for this. Penguin was right, it did sound stupid when laid out bare like that, but Law had suffered his brother's meddling for too long to treat things like a joke.

"Look," he continued after a moment, feeling calmer. "I really do like Kid. A lot. That's why I'm doing things this way. If I jump into this and it turns out to be a lie - " he felt his throat close up, doing a number on his voice. "I'm really going to be hurt. But the only other way out of this is to break up with him, and I don't want to do that either."

"Why not just hire an investigator or something?" Shachi asked.

"Yes! Get a scrappy private dick to crack the case!" Penguin enthused, before changing his tone abruptly, "You know you're only feeding into his crazy with suggestions like that."

"No, no - hear me out! There's this group that always comes to the diner, they're friends with the owner and the bartender. And Miss Robin - she's always at the bar, just reading, so we've gotten to talking now and then when it's slow." He paused to dig out his wallet, flipping through innumerable business cards and coupons before finding what he was looking for. "Anyway, most of them are students but in their off time they work as fixers - they've got the town figured out better than anybody else I know."

He passed Law the card, it was plain white and read simply, Strawhat Crew: We Fix Problems. A local phone number was printed underneath. Law wasn't sure what he was expecting, "Really? Is this a joke?"

"Jesus, grandpa. Quit rattling your cane over there."

"Look, I don't know if I really want to use another gang to undermine my brother's gang. He might take it the wrong way if he found these people tailing one of his operatives."

"That assumes that Kid is one of his operatives - "

"And we'll just assume that that is the case until proven otherwise, thank you," Law said, effectively silencing that old argument before Penguin could breathe life back into it.

"Don't just shoot me down so quick," Shachi said. "C'mon, they hang out at the diner all the time. I'll talk to Robin and see if it sounds like something they're interested in. They charge for their services but I'm sure it won't be tons."

Law wasn't sure what those nebulous services quite entailed, but a week later he was presented with the opportunity to ask. Shachi arranged things and Law spent the intervening days wondering how desperately he really needed to know these hard truths. As it turned out, quite desperately; it was becoming impossible to even look at Kid without feeling a forlorn mix of adoration and distrust.

Law was beginning to feel a bit heartsick over the entire affair, and for different reasons than he'd feared from the start: he was more comfortable considering Kid an enemy agent than not. Law really didn't know what he would do if Kid were innocent. He didn't know if he'd be unable to forgive himself for doubting all this time.

He arrived at the All Blue and was seated with the crew in a large circular booth; they were nothing like he'd expected. For one, they were all quite young. Shachi hadn't been lying about the majority of them being students. A few were older, and not all were present - Law was introduced around before they got down to business.

There was Robin, Shachi's friend who worked as a part-time instructor at the University; Sanji, the owner and lead chef of the All Blue, who remained only for the introductions before heading back to the kitchen; Franky, its bartender; and Zoro, Nami, Usopp and Luffy, who were students, the latter of which being the ragtag little group's leader. Law felt much of the same vibe as he did with Kid's friends, though in comparison the Strawhats were much more varied in age and profession.

He took a few moments to explain his predicament. His brother's name was well-known, which was a relief - it demonstrated how well they knew the city's underbelly, and underscored the significance of the project at hand.

Their treasurer, Nami, was excited by the big name attached to things. "Scary guy like that means things could get dicey," she said. "We charge extra for dangerous assignments."

"But all you have to do is follow someone for a few days," Law said. All he was asking for was some routine surveillance and even that made him feel dirty. He valued his own privacy highly enough that he didn't like intruding upon Kid's like this.

Luffy provided an explanation; he seemed entirely too young to be fronting this organization, but Law said nothing. "Yeah, but what if we have to follow him somewhere on Doffy's turf?"

"I take it your groups are not on particularly good terms with each other."

"That's putting it lightly." This came from Zoro, who from his build and attitude seemed like an enforcer of some variety.

"No need to worry about such details so early! We'll give you an itemized list of expenses once the assignment is complete," Nami said. "There's also a baseline rate. We charge by the week."

"I'm beginning to wonder if this might not be outside of my personal budgetary limitations - "

"Don't be ridiculous! You need to know the truth, don't you?"

"Quit hitting him with expense reports first thing," Zoro replied. "Nobody wants to hear the bad news before the good news."

"Then there is, I assume, good news?" Law ventured. If there weren't, he'd like to know about it now and waste as little of his time as necessary.

"Of course! We'll take your case, Traffy. Shachi told us all about it."

"Besides," interrupted Usopp. "We don't charge for failed investigations. If we get busted on the job, we'll eat the cost. Plus, we never squeal - not even me!"

"I wouldn't count on that," Zoro muttered.

"Well, that's something." Law wasn't sure if that qualified as unequivocally good news, but he'd come this far already. It was pointless to be dissuaded from necessary expenditures. Honestly, if throwing money at this problem would resolve it, Law was quite willing to throw a small student loan in its direction. "And it's Trafalgar. Or call me Law, I really have no preference."

"Like Luffy mentioned, we do have the basics," Robin said, her voice calm and measured. Her maturity seemed radically out of place in present company. Law supposed he wasn't one to judge given the number of times he got roped into one of Kid or Bonney's crazy schemes. "But perhaps you can fill in a few details for us. While this sounds like a fairly standard cheating lover scenario, your primary interest lies in proving or disproving a link between Eustass Kid and your brother's organization, correct?"

Law wasn't sure if he appreciated the conjecture; he liked to think he was a little better than a jealous partner. Still, he nodded, aware that none of them had any reason to believe the convoluted and slightly ridiculous story in the first place.

"I know it sounds unbelievable - maybe even a little juvenile, but that really is my brother to the core. Doflamingo has done this before, on multiple occasions. And he has the resources at his disposal to do so again. Besides," he paused, feeling strangely obligated to justify himself. "If I didn't care for Kid, I wouldn't be involving you at all."

"Oh, don't worry about that, Traffy. I know 'Flamingo, and I know you're not lying," Luffy said, a wide grin splitting his face from ear to ear.

"We do a background check before accepting new clients," Nami added.

"Especially ones coming from such an auspicious family," Robin said, with a smile that he could not read. "That being the case, what information in particular would you like us to investigate?"

She accepted a fancy-looking cocktail from the bartender, Franky, who presently joined them. He lounged against the side of Robin's seat in a way that was casually familiar and left Law feeling envious. She continued, "Typically, we begin with one week's continuous surveillance, in addition to a comprehensive records report. Surveillance can be extended on a per weekly basis if nothing is discovered, and depending on his personal history, our written report may go quite in-depth."

At this last point, Usopp nodded and added, "If there's anything about him in the system, we can find it."

"And we mean it, too!" Luffy said. "Usopp's a genius, there's nothing he can't dig up."

His companion sat up proudly at the vote of confidence, "They don't call me the Great Hacker Usopp for nothing, you know."

"He doesn't even charge or anything! It's his idea of fun," Luffy snickered, much to Usopp's horror.

"Don't go telling people that!" he hissed under his breath before attempting to recover, giving Law a serious, business-like stare. "B-besides! With great power, comes great responsibility. You might not want to know everything I could find! Have you ever considered that?"

Robin nodded, "Indeed. The most difficult thing you must consider at this time is how deep you would like us to go."

Law could see the inherent dilemma, and knew at once that some unsavory parts of Kid's childhood would likely be in the crosshairs if the Strawhats went digging. "Yes...well. This is already a step I did not want to have to take. I know what an invasion of privacy it is."

"Well, how well d'you know the guy?" Zoro asked. "Any red flags we should go after?"

"Or stay away from."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Thing is, your secrets - and his - are safe with us."

"That's part of what you're paying for, after all!" Nami added. "Can you really put a price on confidentiality?"

She had a point. They were already about to find some deeply personal secrets if they went looking into Kid's background. Beyond what he already knew, Law wondered what else they might find...maybe Doflamingo, or maybe simply more of what Law already knew: the damaged history Kid had already tried to escape from and hide. How much was left out when they were confessing their pasts? A man with violent impulses could run from them, but Law was not so naive as to assume they could be erased entirely.

Even thinking that made him feel like the worst person in the universe. He wasn't afraid of Kid; far from it. But how much of his persona was manufactured? If he were a foot soldier in Doflamingo's organization, who knew how his brother had applied those violent inclinations? The family could disappear a person's criminal history using their own vast resources; it was entirely possible that Usopp and the Strawhats were the only ones who could unearth such secrets.

But still, Law paused in responding; should he warn them off any childhood records? Or was that being wilfully naive? Law couldn't blind himself to what they were doing here. Simply hiring these people was a gross violation of Kid's trust. By this point, Law would be giving in to self-delusion if he warned them off Kid's childhood.

Besides...on a very simplistic level, Law was curious. He wanted to know. He wanted to know everything.

He wondered if, worse than anything, this entire affair was an example of his own unfair double-standards at work: Law was allowed to keep whatever secrets he wanted, but Kid was forced to give his up if he wanted to be trusted. Law steeled himself; he was playing a dangerous game, one which was irreversible once it began.

He sighed; in for a penny was in for a pound. With a confidence he hardly felt, he said, "I want everything. There is nothing off-limits."

Chapter Text

Kid waited across the street from the GLCC emergency room, beneath an umbrella and still wearing his bright safety-yellow rain slicker. It was wet as shit. At least he was back on the job to begin with, the site having passed its inspections. Construction was moving on to the next phase as plate glass windows were installed up and down the steel facade. Kid was put to work on the building's interior, fabricating metal reinforcements that would be necessary for seismic safety. Even stationed inside it was impossible to stay completely dry. By a certain point, the weather intervened, making it too damn damp to weld for shit. There wasn't much to be done except call it quits for the day.

The transparent walls of the ER were clouded with condensation, heavy drips beading down the inside glass. Kid would wait out here before stepping into that humidity trap, thank you very much. Especially with the number of sick kids he could see from his vantage point - it was the season for that, and Kid wasn't about to lose out on a paycheck by coming down with some sniffles. He was already hurting in lieu of the lost hours that building inspection cost, and with the ambient humidity stuck near one hundred percent, it was a chore to do even the simplest welding in a timely manner.

The automatic doors swung open and Kid stood. Law was supposed to meet him for dinner, but Kid was early. The doctor was still dressed in a long white coat, clearly not ready to leave. He had company and was speaking heatedly with a tall guy by his side. The man looked like he'd just stepped off a cruise ship from the South, wearing a peach-pink suit and rose-tinted sunglasses. Kid wondered if this was some big donor Law had to lead around and entertain for the day, but if that was the case, why were they arguing?

Law glanced in his direction and Kid waved. It was hard to miss the way Law's expression blanched before freezing into impassivity; he turned back towards the tall guy and said some parting words before returning indoors. What the fuck was that? Kid wondered if Law maybe forgot his coat, vainly hoping that his sneer of barely-concealed contempt was all just about the rain and wet weather.

But not even Kid was stupid enough to believe that.

The tall guy seemed interested in him now that Law was gone. He hadn't missed the look they'd exchanged, and opened his own umbrella before proceeding in Kid's direction. Kid felt more confused than anything, but he'd take confusion with this new guy over the hurt Law had left him with.

"Awful, isn't it?" The tall guy began. "This weather, I mean. Dreadful."

"Sure is," Kid replied. "I'll take it over snow, though. Any day of the week."

"Still rather early for worries like that, I should think." The guy spoke with the same smooth and sophisticated vocabulary that Law had, so he pegged him as loaded. A rich donor, if not a doctor himself. "Are you waiting for your chance inside? I'd get in line if that's the case, it's quite long."

"Nah, I work on the construction crew." Kid jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the building's half-formed shell, shrouded in tarpaulin to keep the rain from causing damage. "Just waiting for somebody."

"A patient?"

Kid shook his head, "Some fancy doctor with bad taste."

"Ah, so you were waiting for Law, is that right?"

"Jeeze, I didn't know his bad taste was so well known."

The tall guy snapped his fingers, as though he'd just had an epiphany. "You're Eustass Kid, aren't you? Law mentioned your name. I'm pleased to finally have the chance to meet you."

He stuck out a perfectly-manicured hand for Kid to shake. "Sorry, I guess I didn't get your name…?"

"Donquixote Doflamingo. You know, Law and I may not look very similar, but we're practically brothers. I just about raised him after he was adopted into our family."

A jolt of familiarity sang across Kid's nerves; of course, the older brother Law refused to say much about. And the family, which always sounded like it was being said with a capital-f. As in, The Family. It was a topic Law was never real forthcoming about.

For the time being, Kid didn't let on that he knew the man's identity. He simply returned the handshake with a friendly grin, though the man's grip was enough to make his joints groan. "Nice to meet ya."

"I've heard that you and Law are quite close."

"Well, we're kind of dating, so yeah."

"Yes. That is what I gather." The man pushed his glasses up his nose. "I'm afraid he's going through a bit of a difficult phase and doesn't tell me very much."

"Yeah, yeah. He kinda described the situation as estranged."

"How diplomatic of him."

"So don't take offense if we don't get too friendly here, right?"

"Oh, certainly not. I'm simply happy to see he's found someone to share his time with. He may not believe me, but I do only want what's best for him."

Kid nodded, "It sounds like you and he differ over what's really best for him."

"In a professional sense, certainly. But I've learned enough to simply stand back and allow him to run his own personal affairs. So I'm pleased that he's choosing wisely in that regard."

Part of Kid told him this was a real elaborate back-handed compliment, but he took it at face value. The thing was, guys this rich only ever saw what would confirm their already-held biases. Maybe it was the reason behind those rose-tinted shades.

Doflamingo turned and gestured for a driver to bring his car around, "I'd love to stay longer but I'm afraid if I do these shoes will be ruined."

"That's cool. Did Law say when he'd be out?"

"I'm afraid he wasn't in a very generous mood when we parted; he did not spare me any details. How long have the two of you been seeing one another?"

"I dunno, eight or nine months?" He thought on it and was surprised that it had been so long. Jeeze, it was almost a year and it'd passed so quick he'd hardly noticed. Like a workday that sped to its close while Kid was in the zone, his days with Law went by effortlessly. He wondered if he should've spent more time enjoying it. Kid shrugged before replying, "Really not that long."

"On the contrary, I don't think Law's ever had a partner last more than four months. At least he never did back when we were on closer terms - I'm afraid I don't keep close tabs on him, much as he imagines I do."

A luxy white towncar pulled up and a uniformed driver ushered Doflamingo inside, taking his umbrella in the process. One tinted window rolled a third of its way down, and Doflamingo peered over the edge, "Even though we don't get along at present, I still hold Law in high regard. Take good care of him for me, won't you?"

"Will do!" Kid gave a wave as the car pulled out, grinning like a fucking dumbass. Or a high school prom date who'd just been threatened into behaving himself. In the aftermath of Doflamingo's tactile levels of casual wealth, Kid was left feeling about as insignificant as dogshit stuck to the man's expensive shoes. What an unpleasant fuck.

Kid wondered if he should've even talked to Doflamingo in the first place. Now Law was gonna be pissed at him for acting chummy with the enemy. What did he expect, for Kid to be rude? Actually...that was probably exactly what he'd expected. Kid hadn't shared any overly-personal details - at least nothing Doflamingo couldn't find out on his own with a little effort.

Kid sighed; in the end, what did it matter? Wasn't like Law looked real happy to see him waiting outside in the first place.

Whatever; if Law didn't want him talking to his brother, he should've said as much. Kid was happy to do whatever the man preferred, but if Law never said what he wanted, he didn't get to go around casting blame on innocent bystanders. Maybe Doflamingo was right - if Kid really was the longest relationship Law ever had, perhaps the doctor had simply never considered his lover and his family ever crossing paths. Accordingly, he'd never planned for it, leaving Kid to handle things on his own. Maybe that just meant Law trusted him, and Kid felt a little better looking at things from that perspective.

His phone chirped and Kid had to spend a good thirty seconds digging it out from a waterproof pocket. It was a text message from Law: Out in 10. Well, that was something. Kid was starting to wonder if he was being stood up. But ten minutes later, Law trundled out in a long waterproof coat and knee-high boots. He always managed to look classy regardless of what the weather threw at him.

"I apologize for the delay. Working an emergency surgery rotation is always like this."

"No problem," Kid answered. "Still feeling like dinner?"

"I'm starving." Law was looking a little peaky around the edges, either from lack of sleep or food, or both. "I want take-out, though. I can't stand to be around other people right now."

"Okay, let's go to your place and I'll order something. Chinese good?"

"Thai sounds better." His arm fit through the crook of Kid's elbow as he nestled in close to take advantage of the umbrella. "Thank you."

They made their way to the monorail station. Even if Law didn't want to be around anybody else for the foreseeable future, he hadn't excluded Kid from that equation. It made him feel stupidly special, the same way he'd felt when Law first agreed to get an apartment together. "I met your brother earlier."

"Yes, I saw. He can be very persistent when he wants something, so I imagine it was inevitable."

"What'd he want? Or did he show up to harass you at work?"

"Partially." Law gave a gusty sigh before glancing in Kid's direction, a certain warmth in his eyes that made Kid forget any of the doubts he'd had earlier. "He found out about the move. I've only told a few people aside from my landlord - had to give him notice that I wouldn't be renewing. Yet somehow, Doflamingo found out."

"So what's he care?"

"I think it's got him curious. He pays attention to things like that, ever since I returned to the city."

"Sounds kinda stalker-y. Like in a low-grade menacing kind of way," Kid said, thinking aloud. "He seems really rich, though. Kind of asshole-rich, y'know? You'd think he could hire people to keep track of you."

"Oh, I'm sure he does." The hint of a smile coaxed Law's mouth upwards. "But yes, he's very rich, and enjoys using his finances to get whatever he wants. It's one of the reasons I want nothing to do with him."

Even if he disliked or disapproved of his brother's wealth, it'd clearly left its mark on Law. He dressed, behaved, and had the manners of someone raised amongst the upper-crust. Probably worked out okay around the rest of the doctors, Kid imagined. He wondered why it'd never really been an issue between the two of them. Kid couldn't have been much further from the upper classes if he'd tried. Maybe that was why Law had agreed to date him those first few times - just a dalliance with some stray mutt, who'd serve the purpose of pissing off one's family more than anything. Kid had been in a few relationships like that, where he was more of a token than a proper partner. He usually didn't realize that was the case until those relationships were over. It was one of the few things he dreaded now: that one day, Law would wake up and realize just how much better he could do.

Because someone like Law could do better. Way, way better.

It was an insecurity Kid didn't let get to him on most days, but maybe the rain was putting him in a downer mood. That, or meeting Law's elder brother had reminded him just how different the two of them really were when you got down to it. Law was never snobby about his smarts or education, which was one of the many reasons Kid loved him - and he didn't have any problems calling it that, at least in the privacy of his own head. Though he'd said as much aloud, he kept the lion's share of his feelings under wraps simply because Law had never said the same; there was a real risk of scaring someone off by coming on too strong. Then again, Law had to feel somewhat the same - he'd agreed to moving in together, after all.

The monorail cars were mostly empty, the oppressive humidity unrelieved even onboard and indoors. Kid felt sticky beneath his rain slicker. "This weather suuucks. Shower when we get home?"

"I'd like that."

"I want pad kee mao. And spring rolls. You know what you want?"

"Papaya salad."

Kid had the Thai joint's number already in his phone and placed the order right there in the monorail; they were home ten minutes later and the food arrived shortly thereafter. Law changed into his home clothes and they watched shitty tv while they ate. Kid hadn't realized how hungry he'd been, but that wasn't saying much. He could eat pretty much whenever food showed up in front of his face.

He noticed Law giving him a sideways look, with more focus than he spared for the television. "What's up?"

"Nothing." Law's attention returned to his salad, which he picked away at with wooden chopsticks. "Did Doflamingo say anything to you?"

Kid shrugged, "Nah, we just talked about you."


"Nothing bad." He laughed shortly, "I guess if anything, he made it pretty clear that I needed to take good care of you."

"Really." Law sounded skeptical.

"Yeah, he sounded more like your dad than your brother."

"Well, he certainly thinks he knows how best to run my life."

"I don't like guys like that much. Why'd he come bother you anyway?"

"Oh, the move, mainly. But he was at the hospital already, he's a donor. Enough money really will get you anything in life."

It seemed like there was a lot that Law wasn't telling him, but Kid knew better than to go around being nosey. They'd only really had a few disagreements while they'd been together, and they'd all been the result of Kid asking too many questions. This sort of ambiguity probably would've driven saner people crazy, but with his own shitty family history, Kid was intimately aware of how hard some topics could be. It was better to wait until Law volunteered the info, but who knew how long it'd be till he was ready?

He wondered what Doflamingo saw looking at the two of them. Probably just another rebellious outburst on Law's behalf, dating someone with none of his prestige or standing. For as close as Kid felt they were, sometimes all it took was the right outsider's perspective to realize how much distance was left.

Kid wondered if he'd be stuck on the sidelines forever, being given only a taste when he wanted to know everything. If his dad and all that shit hadn't sent Law screaming, Kid really wondered how bad it could possibly be.

The first week of the Strawhats’ surveillance came and went without incident.  Robin contacted him to report that while they’d found no connection, Kid and Doflamingo had been observed speaking in person, which was enough to extend the assignment for another two weeks.

Law knew precisely the incident they spoke of; he'd been present for that one himself. It'd given him a minor heart attack. Doflamingo had been at the hospital to interrogate Law, which was bizarre in its own right - the man typically didn't do his own dirty work. He'd neither mentioned nor inquired about Kid, leaving Law even more surprised when he noticed them together shortly after. Was he making a big deal out of a mere coincidence? Law refused to doubt himself; if Doflamingo was pestering him on the job, something was up.

Though even when he asked, Kid treated that meeting like it was nothing special. He was unashamedly curious but not invasively so; Law found it strange. He couldn't imagine not questioning or digging deeper, and the fact that Kid didn't felt sinister - as though he already knew enough that he didn't have to ask for details.

So his silent shadows maintained their duty, unseen, though they reported to Law at the end of each week. Yet beyond that sole interaction at the hospital, they found no evidence of Doflamingo in Kid's weekly routine. A full digital report was forthcoming, the results of Usopp's thorough digging into any sort of paper trail Kid had left. They monitored his cell phone records and email contacts, inspecting each aspect of Kid's life for evidence.

After a month had passed, the Strawhats called a meeting with Law in person. He found himself back at the All Blue, in a different booth but surrounded by familiar company.

"I thought you might like to hear what we've learned so far," Robin said. She was accompanied this time by Usopp, Nami, and Luffy; the others were away with their own commitments, and Zoro was presently tailing Kid wherever he went.

They also presented Law with their first bill, which nearly made him go cross-eyed. "We may need to suspend operations indefinitely if this is what the charges are going to be like."

Nami seemed quite displeased. "What? Why?"

"I feel like you may be under the impression that I have more resources at my disposal, considering who my brother is. But believe me when I say that is not the case."

"Oh, don't worry, we've seen your finances," Usopp said, before biting his tongue. "I - I mean, our rates are entirely reasonable for the amount of expertise required! Surveillance isn't something you want to go budget on, isn't that right?"

"Yes! You're paying for an expensive service, here," Nami concurred. "We charge based on market rates, you won't find anyone capable of doing more for what we ask!"

"But this report - " Law literally felt at a loss for words. "What on earth are all these tertiary expenditures based on?"

"Well, your boy goes to a lot of clubs and shows. Those things cost money, typically a cover fee. We don't foot charges like that." She crossed her arms and gave a huff, "I mean, why should we? You should just be thankful we didn't ask you to cover our food and beverage costs! They really do add up on these continuous stakeouts!"

"Can't you just follow him to places that don't require entrance fees?"

"Oh sure, so you can skip paying the full amount because we haven't done our duty! What part of twenty-four hour observation did you miss the first time around?"

Law wondered if the Strawhats had operatives based outside his or Kid's apartments, and part of him withered at what they might have witnessed. Perhaps he ought to have thought this over more clearly but it was a little too late for such concerns now. "So, given these…charges," he paused, biting back the words ridiculous and outrageous. "I certainly hope you have something to show for it."

"Of course," Robin replied, her voice measured and precise. "Usopp - the file, please."

It was about three inches thick, bound in a manilla folder. On one hand, Law was relieved - at least he was paying for something with this - but it was distressing that they'd been able to unearth this much on Kid. So he really was hiding a few things after all. Law tried not to be outwardly disheartened, "That looks rather comprehensive."

"I do good work!" Usopp's words held an aggrieved tone, as though Law had ever doubted him.

"You're welcome to keep this and read it at your leisure, but perhaps I can provide a brief summation of our findings," Robin offered. "The good news first: despite our best attempts - and Usopp's considerable digging - we were unable to unearth any connection between your companion and your brother."

Law felt his heart veritably stop in his chest, his breath clenching tight. Immediately, he doubted that they'd looked hard enough. "You're joking."

"I am not. We investigated every avenue of Eustass Kid's history. Even considering secondary, tertiary, or even quaternary angles, we have been unable to establish any sort of connection or communication between the Doflamingo crime family and your friend - the only evidence we observed was on the basis of friends twice removed on either side."

"They're friends-of-friends-of-friends," Nami explained. "Not surprising; you can make a connection on that level between most anyone in the city."

"Or outside the city! It's basically background noise at that point," Usopp added.

"So that's the good news," Law repeated, feeling oddly faint. For a moment, he wondered if he might pass out. No was that even possible? If the Strawhats hadn't found anything, Law practically wanted to call their methodology into question. He knew Doflamingo was involved; he'd been so convinced of it. Was he so paranoid and suspicious that he wouldn't even accept good news?

Not for the first time, Law's stomach roiled angrily with guilt. What was he even thinking with this?

The bartender stopped by to deliver hot tea for Robin. He gave Law a once-over, his eyes hidden behind tinted shades. "Whoa, you need a drink or something, buddy?"

"Yes! Let's all do shots," Luffy suggested, before bounding out of his seat and up to the bar.

Law wondered if that kid was even old enough to be drinking, but it was the least of his concerns. Robin began calmly, "We shall start with his childhood. Domestic services had quite the file on him, though it was sealed once he turned eighteen."

"I see you still managed to obtain a copy."

"The government really doesn't protect things as well as you'd think!" Usopp supplied. It was somewhat disconcerting. Law had a few records on file with domestic services himself.

Robin selected a one-page summation of their findings and passed over a copy so Law could follow along. "His mother abandoned the family when Kid was five; we were unable to locate her whereabouts, but it seemed unnecessary. She has not had contact with either Kid or his father since leaving them.

"His father was abusive. There are multiple domestic disturbance reports on file, either from his parents' brief marriage or the years which followed, when Kid was in his father's custody. The man was a mechanic and worked at several shops around the city, though his temper had a habit of getting him fired. Eventually, he was disabled by an on-the-job accident - a spinal compression which went untreated until it caused permanent damage.

"Kid and his father were on state assistance following that. It seemed to make a bad situation worse. We have a few examples of the sorts of complaints their neighbors registered over the years. During this time, Kid was hospitalized for a variety of minor injuries, though according to him, they were all the result of schoolyard fighting. He was expelled twice after getting into brawls.

"While he earned some of his injuries that way, the elder Eustass is responsible for the lion's share. When Kid was fifteen, his father beat him so severely that he earned a week's visit to the hospital. A concerned party familiar with the situation filed a complaint with domestic services, and Kid was subsequently removed from the household."

"Janet," Law said. Part of him felt so hollow and aching that he expected to hear his words echo. "His best friend's mother took him in. He told me a little but I had no idea things were this bad."

But couldn't you guess? part of him asked, scolding in its indictment. Didn't you imagine it was this bad, or worse? He's already told you enough that none of this should be a surprise.

Indeed, it wasn't. Kid had trusted him with such secrets, and he'd neither lied nor embellished them. Seeing everything written up in the precise language of police reports and court documents made it all finally real. At the same time, reading over it made things seem like they'd happened to a different person entirely - as though Law were reading a newspaper article describing a tragedy falling upon a total stranger.

Robin was not finished, and directed his attention to the next in a series of documents. "He enjoyed a period of stability once he was removed from his father's household, though he continued to have altercations at school or off-campus. He was expelled after breaking a classmate's nose, and by that point, he'd missed so much of his sophomore year of high school that he would've had to repeat the grade.

"Instead, he enrolled in a vocational college and began an apprenticeship that lasted two years. He has been steadily employed by a number of contractors across the city since he was seventeen, and on the whole, has received numerous recommendations from his supervisors due to his valuable skills and work ethic."

Luffy returned with a burst of long-limbed energy, bearing a tray of shot glasses which appeared to hold tequila. "Yay, job well done, everybody! Let's drink."

"I'm hardly finished, Luffy," Robin said serenely.

"Break time, then! I think we've all earned it." He gave a snickering giggle before pushing a shot glass in each person's direction. Law was grateful for the distraction and downed his in a single slurp, not bothering with lime or salt. He felt it burn up his throat until his stomach lurched; he couldn't remember the last time he'd done shots. Probably back when he'd passed his preliminary with many things, there was a good reason he didn't make a habit of mainlining tequila.

Even so, it wasn't long before another was nudged in his direction, and by that point Law really was beginning to worry that he looked as shell-shocked as he felt.

Robin ignored the alcohol in favor of her tea, continuing as though nothing had changed, "Moving on from his juvenile accounts, we have a few minor violations and complaints accrued on his adult record. Nothing connected to Doflamingo's organization, as we mentioned before. The most significant is a workplace incident that was reported as assault, but the charges were reduced upon Kid's enrollment in an anger management program. He still attends meetings.

"Besides that, there are a few minor complaints of trespassing, and one misdemeanor charge of vandalism and malicious mischief. He paid a fine and served two hundred hours of community service."

"Dare I ask for doing what?"

"He and two others egged a Maserati dealership."

"Oh. Of course they did." Law gave a bleak laugh, downing his second shot in one go. He was already feeling light-headed. His giggle returned, turning swiftly into a hiccup. "Is that really all there is?"

"You sound disappointed."

"This wasn't what I was expecting," Law confessed. He wasn't sure what to feel, to be happy or disappointed; trusting or suspicious. At least Kid was innocent of colluding with his brother, a fact Law had never realistically hoped would be true. What did it say about him that the prospect was frankly terrifying? All this time he'd never bothered to consider how things between them were really going because on some level, Law expected things to end.

Maybe he'd wanted bad news. Maybe he'd wanted Kid to be like all the others - someone Law would never become invested in, because he'd never last. Because Law had no idea what to do with him if he lasted.

"Aw, c'mon, Traffy! Cheer up! Your boyfriend's a good guy," Luffy said, giving Law an encouraging thump on the back.

Resolutely, Law turned to Usopp. "What chances remain that Kid could be at all involved in Doflamingo's operations?"

"For the present, nonexistent. I really went digging on this one."

Law still couldn't believe it. It was as though his mind, having never considered this possibility, was in abject denial. He'd been waiting for Doflamingo to intrude into their relationship for so long that he did not know how to cope in his brother's absence.

For a stupid moment, Law wondered if he ought to get a second opinion but dismissed the idea outright. He just needed to get a grip, to come to terms with reality...he'd taken a step in doing this that he'd never wanted to. He'd searched Kid's background so completely, only to find nothing….

In the empty void, the only things left were his feelings for Kid.

Without Doflamingo's shadow to temper them, Law wasn't sure he could handle what he felt all at once. He braced his elbows on the tabletop and massaged his closed eyelids; he could feel a headache coming on and it was making him nauseated.

"Man, now you really look like you need a drink," the bartender said.

Law could only shake his head feebly; if he drank much more he was going to be sick, though it wouldn't be the alcohol's doing.

Usopp's voice intruded, "You're not taking this quite the way I expected you would."

"I'm sorry?"

"I were doing this because you needed to know the truth. So I looked really hard at this guy's life. I really tried to see if anything was there." He shrugged, looking like it was his fault for some reason. "I dunno, you seemed like a nice guy and you're paying us so I didn't want you to get hurt. But there's nothing there!"

"Yeah!" Luffy's voice was a burst of furious energy. "He's just normal! Cheer up for a change. This means you don't have to dump him or whatever."

"That is, unless you were wanting to," Nami added. "In which case, we can also help."

"For a price, I'm sure," Law said, his tone glacial. He wondered just how much of these kids' respective educations he'd just voluntarily funded with this little ordeal.

Even with the accompanying charges - which were criminal - Law agreed to another two weeks' worth of surveillance. He needed to be utterly sure, though Usopp warned him he was just wasting his money. Nami, in contrast, was delighted - and in all fairness, she did work out a very reasonable payment plan with minimal interest. He was given all the documents Usopp dug up, to examine at his leisure. Robin had written detailed analyses of what they'd found, but Law wondered if anything had been missed.

Even with this good news, his mind refused to believe. He was unused to considering Kid as an uninvolved bystander to all his family's drama. Fate was never so kind to him like this...

By the time he stepped out of the All Blue, it was dark. The shorter days of autumn always managed to surprise to him. For better or worse, some of the shellshock was beginning to dissipate like fog in the brisk air. Law felt a sense of relief so strong that it was almost euphoric.

Or maybe that was just the booze talking. It was like Usopp said: this was good news. The fact that it was surprising and unexpected just meant it would take longer to get used to. Law would probably be wrapping his brain around this information for some time to come. He couldn't wait to see Kid next.

He paused en route to the monorail station; he was in the University district, after all. Impulsively, he reversed course. Kid was probably home right now and even if he had plans, they could probably get a quick bite to eat or something. Law didn't make a habit of showing up unannounced - perhaps subconsciously, he'd always assumed that if he were to surprise Kid, he would undoubtedly find him and his brother in collusion. He'd not gone digging beyond the surface because he'd been so certain Doflamingo would be lurking there - it was precisely why Kid's history of violence had come as such a shock, back when he'd so dramatically fallen apart.

Law had scolded himself at the time for not being more inquisitive. But his curiosity was tempered by dread: for what he could find, what he'd been certain he would find. With the investigation's results, he found himself just as certain of Kid's innocence; it was like a weight finally removed from his shoulders.

He felt like an idiot for worrying about this for so long - the very idiot Penguin had accused him of being on more than one occasion. Law was not looking forward to the gloating I-told-you-so's that were sure to follow, but they seemed like a minor and appropriate price to pay. Law had no problems admitting when he was wrong, especially in this case - though the truth was still hard to grasp, he was overjoyed to be proven wrong. A smile pulled at the corners of his mouth; it could not be repressed.

He was knocking on the door to Kid's house before he knew it. Killer answered; the place was fairly quiet, all things considered. "He's upstairs having a nap. Probably ready to wake up though, he's been sleeping since four."

"Do you all have plans later?"

"There's a show we've been talking about going to, but I dunno if he's still into it. I'm going with Wire, we'll probably leave in another hour or so."

Law nodded; his arrival was unexpected, after all. He made his way up the stairs, the alcohol from earlier leaving his feet heavy. He felt strangely empty, like a hollowed-out melon. Maybe he should've eaten something at the All Blue. Maybe he and Kid could get dinner before long, but the darkness of Kid's room and the comfort of his bed beckoned Law closer. He could feel his earthly needs fading, replaced by new and more immediate desires.

He ditched his briefcase near the door, toeing out of his shoes and tossing his coat across a chair. Kid was a heavy sleeper most nights but this was just his afternoon nap; he stirred as Law slipped into bed beside him, an inquisitive arm sliding around his waist. Kid's fingers found Law's shirt, untucking it so he could trace the vertebra of his spine with comforting familiarity.

Law sank against him eagerly, his fingers hungry for touch. Kid gave a sleepy murmur, nosing against Law's jawline. There was the wet flick of his tongue before Kid spoke, sounding more awake than was expected, "Hey, you."

"Hey." Law felt an odd giddiness jumping in his limbs and knew it wasn't something he could blame entirely on the drink. He'd learned a secret earlier and it was burning his mouth with how urgently it needed to be shared. Kid was his; only his - he'd never belonged to anyone else. It was almost like meeting him for the first time.

But Law knew if he said anything it would ruin everything. He bit his tongue and enjoyed the silence as Kid tangled their legs together. His voice was slightly bemused, "Are we doing something tonight?"

"No. Nothing planned. I was in the area so I thought I'd stop by."

"Dude, are you drunk?" He could probably smell it coming off of Law in fumes.

"I was at a reception. One of the doctors in my department made research fellow so we were celebrating." The lies came easily; they always had. Law wondered if he ought to be worried about that. Lying to Kid had never bothered him because he'd always assumed the man was doing the same. It wasn't like he could tell Kid the truth now, even with it beating heavily in his throat.

"Tequila at a doctor's reception?"

"Don't be so surprised. Doctors know how to drink better than most."

Kid gave a muffled snicker, his hands unpausing in their lazy exploration. "So you show up drunk at my house looking for a booty call? I see how this is."

"Then you shouldn't complain so much." Law inched closer until there wasn't any distance between them. He wanted to crawl beneath Kid's skin until they were inseparable. All of his paranoia from before seemed as foolish and insubstantial as a nightmare in the daylight.

A sour part of himself was ashamed for doubting Kid all this time. He deserved better. The more things sank in, the more Law realized how entirely unfair he'd been. He shifted, squirming beneath his own self-loathing. Explaining things was pointless, there was no way he could tell Kid about this without sounding delusional. Not to mention the gross violation of his privacy! Law wanted to leave this entire miserable chapter behind them; he would take it and all his poisonous doubts silently to the grave.

Law sighed. The feeling of a future with Kid was foreign and enticing; its possibilities seemed endless. He stroked his hands through Kid's hair, massaging his scalp with the tips of his fingers. "Hey, I love you."

Kid stopped moving entirely before giving a loud, skeptical snort, "What?"

"You heard me." Though the words themselves remained stuck inside Law's chest, demanding to be spoken aloud over and over.

"And you are way more drunk than you let on!"

"I am not."

"Yeah, you are." Kid's wandering hands found his ass, kneading with intent. "Oh man, I'm so glad you stopped by. Even if you're just gonna tease me and give me a hard time."

"I'm not teasing. I've been meaning to say that for a while," Law confessed.

"Really?" Another groan of skepticism. "Anybody ever tell you what a pain in the ass you are to read?"

Someone knocked on Kid's bedroom door and he gave a plaintive whine, unmoving. After a few minutes, the knock repeated. Groaning, he extricated himself from Law's clinging grip and rose; his warmth was missed immediately. Law remained where he was, listening with half an ear as Kid spoke quietly. It was probably Killer, asking after the show they'd been planning to attend. Law was pretty sure Kid wouldn't be going, and was glad. His intoxicated mind felt dopey and thick, as though heavy curtains of gauze were separating him from the rest of the real world. Part of him wanted to stay cocooned in Kid's warmth forever.

He shifted over to the spot Kid had vacated, burying his face in a pillow. It smelled like his shampoo, like his skin beneath. For the first time, Law felt unequivocally safe in in the other man's company - the lingering doubts finally erased to leave only himself and the person he very much loved. It was odd putting things in those terms, but they were the only ones which fit. He couldn't remember the last time he felt like this. He wondered what Doflamingo really was up to, if anything...Law wondered if he'd misjudged his brother as well, looking for sinister intentions where they did not exist.

That was probably being more generous than the situation warranted. Even if Doflamingo had nothing to do with this particular instance, he'd made such a continual nuisance of himself that Law automatically suspected the worst. He could blame his brother for that while still being thankful that the damage was not worse. He and Kid would need to have a conversation about the family one of these days, but it seemed so remote and unimportant that Law simply didn't have the energy to tackle that dilemma at the moment.

Maybe it was the alcohol making him drowsy, but he could feel the pull of sleep tugging him under and made little effort to resist. Kid's conversation ended and Law heard him shut the door, before stumbling over something and cursing. It was little wonder - there was a veritable carpet of discarded clothing and other items covering the floor. A light flicked on and Law could hear shuffling as Kid collected scattered papers -

Law lurched upright, his drunken sleepiness forgotten. Something had clicked into place, an unwanted familiarity: he knew that sound, the thump of whatever Kid had knocked over. It was his briefcase. Law had kicked it over enough times to know what it sounded like.

"Hey, aren't you coming back?" Law said, keeping the fear from his voice. If Kid had knocked that over, spilling papers...Usopp's report was in there.

But Kid remained where he was. "What is this?"

The lighting was bad but Law could see enough to confirm his worst fears. Kid was kneeling with some loose sheets in hand while the remainder lay splayed across the floor beside him, an indictment of Law's guilt. Clearly, he'd been cleaning up the mess when he'd caught wind of things. He likely saw his name plastered across every one of those spilled documents, his curiosity immediate and natural. So of course he'd looked deeper….

"Don't go through my things," Law snapped, feeling cross but mainly with himself. Shit. This was bad; very, very, extremely bad. What had he been thinking, bringing that report here at all? Of course Kid wouldn't go snooping through his belongings but it wasn't like Law could stop him from witnessing what was right in front of his face.

Kid wouldn't go digging but Law could hardly say the same for himself. He was the one who'd gone snooping through Kid's entire life.

"C'mon, is this a joke or something?" Kid's voice was plaintive, as though he sincerely believed Law had a reason for what he was holding. Of course, he did - but it wasn't a good enough reason to explain away that mountain of awful-looking evidence.

Law's heartbeat raced, painfully fast. His guts felt like a nest of snakes, coiling and twisting about one another until he felt sick. "It's nothing you need to worry about."

"Give me a fucking break!" Kid exploded, his anger sudden and frantic. His face was stricken, "What is all this? You did a fucking background check on me? Why?"

Law wanted to answer that question but had no idea where to start. The words died in his mouth. He could feel them cutting him up from the inside, keen little blades that were sharpened on the clear injury in Kid's tone.

"Is this about - all that stuff I told you, with my dad? About the fight I got into?" Kid swallowed; it looked like it hurt. "Were you scared of me or something? I told you everything there was. I - I really wasn't lying - "

The sheet of paper he was holding began to tremble and for a distinct moment, Law worried that Kid would once again be reduced to tears. Except unlike that last scenario, this wasn't some fallout of his own violent impulses; it was all because of things Law had directly done to him.

Panic clawed like an animal against the cage of Law's ribs. He wanted to bolt from the room like a cat frightened by the mess it'd caused. He wanted to run away from this just like he'd run from Doflamingo and the rest of his family.

"I know this looks bad," he ventured, only to be cut off by Kid, who was shaking.

"Yeah! You're right, it looks real fucking bad!"

"I can explain - "

"Explain?" He flapped a loose sheet. "This is from domestic services. About the time my dad smacked me so hard my jaw broke!" And without further ceremony, he started to cry, fat, painful tears that fell down his cheeks like they'd escaped from a ruptured water main. Like he simply could not hold them back.

God, what was there that Law could possibly say? Selfishly, he wished it could all be undone - forgotten like a nightmare upon waking. "You don't have to believe me, but this really wasn't about you - "

"It's not? How the fuck d'you figure that one?" Kid grabbed another document and glanced at its contents, tossing it at Law with disgust. "This is the legal notice - about when I was formally put in Janet's custody. I've never even seen that! What're you even doing with all this?"

And Law simply did not know what to do, nor did he have the words to somehow make things right. There was nothing he could say, nothing he could do - short of turning back time to somehow prevent this catastrophe from occurring. He bit his tongue, his mouth flooding with the taste of adrenaline.

If he was being honest, he never should've started digging in the first place. He never should've hired the Strawhats for his assignment; never should've paid them for information on someone he cared about. Law tried to remember that he'd had his reasons for all of this back at the start - good reasons.

Reasons that were impossible to explain without laying his own history out for Kid to pick over and examine.

He swallowed thickly and knew that in his heart, selfishly, he was unwilling to pay that price - even if it meant that Kid might never understand where he was coming from. Law knew that if he tried, he might fall apart as well - he might be left with tears streaming down his cheeks just the same as Kid.

He was afraid of being that vulnerable. He was afraid to know what Kid would think of him.

Yet he knew that it was the only thing that could fix this mess. But he still could not bring himself to say the truths he should've given at the start. "I should leave."

When Kid answered, his voice had hardened; disbelief swiftly transforming to anger. "Yeah. I think you should get the fuck out."

Realistically, Law knew that if he didn't leave on his own, Kid was liable to throw him out - and be entirely justified in doing so.

Somehow, he found his shoes, jacket, and what remained of his briefcase - the majority of its contents were ejected across the floor; he gathered what he could. A couple of Kid's papers were scrambled in amongst the rest of Law's belongings but the man snatched them away like they were precious artifacts. A terrible silence filled up the space between them. Betrayal was written across Kid's face and Law hated himself for being the cause of it.

He also knew that words were entirely inadequate for explaining what he'd done. Maybe they'd never be enough.

Reality felt distant, like live theater playing around him as he sleepwalked across the stage. It was only until he was standing on the cement stairs leading up to the house that things began to really sink in. He'd never even said goodbye.

He wondered if this was the last time he would ever see Kid. Part of him knew it was all he deserved.

Chapter Text

Some things in life could not be prepared for. While Kid had contemplated what the end of his relationship with Law might look like, he hadn't particularly ever imagined it going down like this.

Kid liked to think he had a healthy imagination. He was being forced to reconsider that fact in light of recent events. What it all really came down to was that he could handle being dumped; he couldn't really handle being dumped like that.

Because he'd been dumped. Kid liked to be realistic about it. There was little point in splitting hairs. Sure, he was the one who told Law to get out - but Law was the one who'd dug up his entire life's history. Even if he'd not been dumped at that point, Kid knew it wasn't a very far-flung prospect. You didn't go digging up someone's life looking for good shit.

Even with realism at his back, he still struggled to come to terms with how everything had shook out. He read all the documents that'd been dredged up - there were seventy-nine pages of dirt. Kid counted. He'd read each one at least twice, once while reeling from his own shock and disbelief, and again, several days later. The second time, he tried to approach things with the same clinical distance that came so easily to Law. Kid read things while imagining he was Law, as though things would somehow make more sense if Kid just looked at the situation from the proper angle. He wanted to somehow excuse Law's behavior, but no matter how he looked at things, it didn't make sense.

He cried a lot the first time he read through it all. He wasn't proud, but that was the truth. It hurt to read and relive everything, and there it all was in stark black and white. Everything he'd worked to put behind him, dropped at his feet like a tumble of ugly secrets, refusing to stay buried. Between that and the break-up, he'd cried so much that he no longer felt bad doing it. Crying was just another part of post-Law life.

After the doctor had split, he'd given Kid a good distance, probably waiting for him to make the first move. Honestly, if that were the case, he was gonna be waiting for a while - Kid decided to bite the bullet and call in sick to work for a week - he was missing a paycheck, but some things were worth it when you really needed to wallow in your sadness. It was less helpful than one would think. Now he was back on the job and things weren't much better, but at least he had something to distract himself.

That wasn't exactly saying much, at the end of the day. Part of him was struggling to cope with the reality of the situation; the rest was struggling to cope with the loss of Law in his life. The doctor maintained his distance and Kid did nothing to bridge the gap. He wasn't sure what he'd do when he saw Law next - probably burst into tears if his newfound emotional incontinence had anything to do with it.

By the end of two weeks, it was apparent he just wasn't moving quickly enough: unannounced, Law showed up outside the clinic building, simply waiting around until someone came over to see what he wanted. Kid wasn't yet ready to see him, but his hand was forced when one of his coworkers hustled over to get his attention. Kid made his way to where Law stood, on the opposite side of the chain-link fence that surrounded the construction site.

It had rained all week, and that day was no exception. Kid flipped his hood up over his hair to keep himself from getting too wet. Law stood beneath the shelter of his umbrella, looking for all the world like a forlorn pet, begging to be brought inside.

Or maybe Kid was just seeing what he wanted to see. It was a failing on his behalf when it came to Law.

"Hey," the doctor said, as Kid approached.

"Hey yourself."

Grey eyes flicked over Kid, settling on his hood-covered head. "Really, darling, that color goes just terribly with your hair."

Kid frowned at the familiar endearment, his expression souring further from the commentary. Law was probably trying to be cute, but Kid really wasn't in the humoring mood. "That's the first thing you got to say to me? 'You look like shit'?"

"I see you're still angry."

"And I see that your eyes are still working, but I should've figured as much after the fashion critique. Guess what? Not everybody can rock safety orange and make it look good."

"I never said you didn't look good." He shifted, his mouth a thin line. "We need to talk."

"What is there to say?"

"Well, I'd like the chance to explain myself."

Something about that request - made so rationally and just so fucking fairly - managed to slam the pedal down on Kid's rage o'meter, cranking it zero to fifty-thousand in a single second. Hey, it was better than crying. "This really ain't something you've got much chance in explaining your way out of!"

"I realize that. But I had my reasons." Law replied, his brow furrowing in welcome annoyance. Kid wasn't sure how much more of Law's calm, detached, understanding routine he could take. But as briefly as they appeared, Law's emotions were just as swiftly neutralized. Fucking typical. "I really never meant for you to get hurt."

"Yeah, from what I can gather, you probably never meant for me to know about any of that in the first place."

"I would've preferred to keep things that way," Law admitted. He shifted his umbrella between hands, eyes downcast.

As satisfying as it had initially been, Kid really didn't like seeing him like this, all sad and remorseful. Then again, that assumed he was remorseful. Kid figured the doc would try to talk his way outta things once the opportunity presented itself; that left the ball in Kid's court for a change. Part of him wanted to stick his heel in the mud and pivot right back around, leaving Law to stand there, all alone. It would be an isolation of his own making. If Kid was a stronger, harder person, he would've walked away and never looked back.

But he wasn't very strong when it came to Law. In fact, he was downright foolish. He'd never been real good at holding a grudge, especially against the one person he wanted more than anybody else. Maybe Law was counting on that being the case; he was a lot better at this sorta thing than Kid ever was.

For a moment, he felt helpless - Law had always been able to disarm him completely with just a look. "Y'know, I really can't do this right now."

"All right. When would be better?"

"I don't know."

"Please let me explain myself, Eustass. I can write a letter, if you prefer."

Kid wasn't sure if he was up to reading whatever letter Law hoped to provide. Finding those documents in the doc's bag had been like seventy-nine knives being sunk into his belly all at once. He couldn't believe Law would spy on him like that, and not just a superficial snooping either. It'd been like having his skin peeled away, every shred of his armor stripped and rendered to dust. He had no secrets that Law didn't already know.

Almost to his relief, his supervisor shouted in his direction, "Oi, Eustass! Personal talk on personal time!"

"I gotta go," Kid said, turning towards the sound. He'd never been more grateful for the distraction of work.

He made it about three steps before Law called after him, "I love you."

Kid stopped in his tracks. He glanced over his shoulder, "Hey, c'mon. Don't do this to me."

"I love you, Eustass."

Emotion struck him so swiftly that Kid had to fight to breathe. He clenched his fists repeatedly, his skin hot and tight. What was he gonna say if his supervisor saw him crying? Law had the superhuman ability to ruin him with just a few choice words and it scared the crap out of him. At least it was raining; if he showed up with wet eyes and streaks on his face, it wouldn't look that strange.

But who was Kid fooling? He'd never been able to cry with any sort of grace. And he'd had lots of practice at it lately. "That's not fair. D'you how long I've been waiting to hear you say that?"

He knew it wasn't the first time Law had ever said it but Kid still wasn't used to hearing it. Especially now, when it seemed like a joke.

"I should've told you awhile ago."

"It's not fair," Kid repeated. "It took me ages to realize that normal people could say that, and it wasn't just another way to get outta all the shitty stuff they'd done. My dad said he loved me a lot, too."

It was gratifying to see Law flinch. "I suppose I deserve that. But It's the truth."

"The truth?" Kid gave a short, hopeless laugh. "Is that supposed to mean something? I've been telling you the truth since the start and look where it's gotten me."

"I'm sorry. I should have trusted you, and - " Law winced, biting his lip. "It's hard to explain. I don't expect you to just forgive everything." He gave a wan smile, one without humor. "I'm not as normal as you seem to think I am."

Law rubbed at his eyes, looking suddenly weary. The perpetual dark circles looked heavier than usual - as if the doctor could sleep any worse than he already did. He sighed, sounding defeated. "I only want you to understand, if that's possible. You don't have to forgive me. I only want to make things right between us."

Kid swallowed around a lump in his throat. It was still way too early for him to be able to think about all of this without it blowing up in his face. The wound was still tender, like a neglected gunshot that was starting to fester. It felt like Law had shown up just so he could poke things with a stick and it left Kid furious. As though any of this would ever make things better.

But still, part of Kid longed to go to him, to reach through the gaps in that chain link fence. He could feel his muscles screaming with the desire to move though his feet remained rooted in place. The muddy ground made for a poor foundation.

"Okay," he said at length. It felt like a resignation, a betrayal of himself. "I'll hear you explain. But that doesn't mean I'm gonna like whatever it is you gotta say."

Law nearly sagged with relief, gripping the fence with delicate fingers. He was so beautiful that it made Kid's heart ache. "Thank you."

"I'll send you a text one of these days." Kid left things vague, because he wasn't sure how long it'd take until he felt able to face Law without freaking out.

His supervisor shouted his name and this time Kid really did go on his way, not turning to say goodbye as he jogged back. Now he felt all stirred up inside, as though Law had jammed an icepick into him and twisted it around until everything was scrambled. The doctor was having that effect on him lately.

It was a feeling that didn't abate for the remainder of the week. He didn't text Law, and according to Bonney, he never should - and when he and Bonney were for some reason in agreement, it was warning enough that Kid should step back and re-evaluate matters. Hell, she might even be right, but she was also a total pro at holding stupid grudges. There were people Bonney still hated over shit that'd happened in middle school, and that sort of petty vindictive refusal to move on had never sat well with him.

She might not like his quick temper, but he felt the same towards her long, extended campaigns of hate. He oughta know - he'd been on the receiving end of one for most of his life.

So he gave it another week. He did some fun shit with Killer and Wire, who both insisted on buying him drinks whenever they went out. It was kinda hard to complain about that, likewise for the weed brownies Heat cooked up. They got baked and played Mario Kart until the room started to spin and Kid had to go lie down. Sometimes getting your heart broken wasn't the worst thing in the world; he couldn't remember the last time so many people were this nice to him all at once.

Maybe they just appreciated the gravity of the situation. Over the past few months, Law had become a regular fixture around the house. Heat and Wire missed his company, and if Killer had anything to say, he kept it to himself. Kid appreciated their efforts to cheer him up, and that none of them were real keen to go digging for what really happened. Bonney had tried, and Kid shut the topic down so quick he figured the rest of them took notice. His failed relationship wasn't exactly something he wanted to talk about, especially not the reasons for its swift demise.

Most of his friends already knew all the secrets Law had dug up, and just thinking of it in those terms made anger jump red hot in his veins. It came accompanied by a flush of embarrassment; why did Law even want to see him again after having read all of that? Kid was used to rumors; when he was growing up, his old man's temper was legendary. Basically everybody knew what caused Kid to show up late some mornings, with fresh bruises popping up all over his face. Kid hadn't appreciated people's nosey curiosity then, and he sure as hell didn't appreciate Law's now - especially when it was coming from someone who kept banging on about how damn much he loved Kid.

That was the salt rubbed into his wounds. Kid would've been able to cut his losses and never look back if Law hadn't said that. If Law didn't continue to say that.

Even if he was mad, at the same time, Kid loved him. It was why everything hurt more than it had any right to. It was just some old papers from his life, some ugly truths. Kid had shared most of them with Law already. Why couldn't he have just left things well enough alone?

Pondering the doctor's motivations was never a very fruitful pastime. Kid had been doing plenty of it lately - probably more than was strictly advisable. If anyone had a reason to go nosing into another person's life, he figured Law deserved it way more than he ever had.

It was the real reason he ended up texting the doctor. Maybe Law really would explain things. He definitely owed Kid that much. If Law were to be believed, his family was even more screwed up than Kid's was, and that was a pretty high bar to clear.

They arranged to meet at a coffee shop near the hospital. Kid had only been there once or twice. It was the sort of neutral territory where neither of them had any sort of advantage - as though advantages could be conferred by a venue in the first place.

Law was waiting for him in a secluded booth at the back of the shop, a foamy latte to one side and a tan folder on the other. Kid gave him a nod before waiting in line like all the rest, ordering a mocha though he already felt like he was gonna puke. He was a little hungry but everything in the pastry case looked as appetizing as sawdust.

He ambled over once his coffee was finished. He'd brought along the folder of personal dirt Law had dug up on him, placing it to one side as he sat down. Kid wanted that proof visible between them, because he was already too quick to forgive people when they fucked up and he didn't want to forget how mad he was at Law.

The doctor's face looked drawn, a tightness around his eyes that Kid didn't remember seeing before. Maybe he really was sorry - maybe he missed Kid after all. It was a comforting thought.

"Hello," Law said, his fingers laced before him on the table. "Thank you for agreeing to meet with me."

"No sweat." Kid nodded and kept his face impassive. Jesus. He had no idea what to say to that. It sounded more like he was showing up for a job interview than anything else.

"You're looking well, Eustass."

Kid spread his hands, a gesture of disbelief. Or surrender; he honestly wasn't sure which. "I try." He sucked at his coffee and tried not to fidgit. "So what'd you wanna talk about, huh?"

Law nodded towards the folder containing Kid's life's history. "I see you brought that. Have you read it?"

"Yeah. Cover to cover. Real engrossing stuff. How 'bout you, find what you were looking for?"

"I actually haven't had the chance to go through it myself. I would have," he admitted. At least he had the decency to look guilty about it. "But I'd only just received it. I read the summary, that's all."

"How the hell did you get your hands on all of this?" Kid was dying to know. It was real distressing to learn that your life wasn't nearly as private as you'd always believed it to be. Some of the records Law had were sealed - Kid was certain they'd been. They were sealed and meant to be forgotten, that was the whole damn point.

"I hired a private investigation team. They've also been shadowing you for the last month."

Kid nearly flew out of his seat, practically dropping his coffee in the process. "Are you fucking joking?"

"Sadly, no."


"Look, I know I owe you an apology. It was wrong of me to...commission that report."

While Kid had been waiting for an apology for a while, the one Law delivered felt rehearsed. Then again, what was he expecting? Law was always so controlled; it pissed him off. "Well, mark me down as surprised to hear you actually owning any of this to begin with."

"Did you think I would attempt to lie my way out of it?" Law's eyes narrowed, as though he'd expected a different response. What did he want, for Kid to fall all over his feet now that he said he was sorry? "Perhaps I can explain myself. I don't assume that anything I say will change your mind, just...please keep it open."

An open mind would've been a lot easier to keep about a month ago, when Kid still respected the doctor enough to believe he'd never do anything this shady. But Kid kept his thoughts to himself, easing back into his seat and giving a jerky nod. For some reason, it was really hard to meet Law's eyes; they were all grey and sad, like the depression Kid had been immersed in for the last three weeks.

"Do you remember when I told you I had cancer as a child?" Law began. Of course Kid remembered; it was one of the very few times Law had ever talked about himself. "It was leukemia, brought on by exposure to the mine pits in Flevance, where I grew up. My entire family died of it, as did everyone else living there - the site was condemned by the government over a decade ago."

Kid had never really been outside Grand Line City; he'd visited the Salt Coast in the South one year to see family but that was it. Of course, that visit had gone pretty terribly, but most trips with his dad followed that pattern. They'd gone to visit the only family they were still on speaking terms with - Kid's uncle and some cousins he'd never met. Predictably, by the end of the trip, everyone's combined short tempers ensured that none of them would ever speak to each other again.

It wasn't much of a loss. In contrast, Law spoke simply about the death of his family like it was a practical matter, a tragedy whose years of distance had lessened the pain until it was a simple fact. Kid kinda wondered if that weren't for the best. Sometimes having living relations was worse than knowing they were dead. At least they couldn't bug you from the grave.

Even if Kid wasn't a world traveler, he'd still heard about the Flevance tragedy. It'd been big news at the time: an accident that flooded the local environment with radioactive ore from the mines. Because the city was still condemned, it remained a hot topic for people interested in conspiracies, cover-ups, and the lingering urban decay that'd slunk over the government-erected walls that held the city hostage. He'd seen some photo documentaries made by people who'd snuck in. The government maintained that there was still an exposure risk, but a lotta people thought that was crap, just another attempt to shirk responsibility for the accident. After all, it was the government who'd been operating those mines - and operating them poorly.

Despite the outcry at the time, nothing much was ever done about the situation. There was some talk about compensating relatives for their loss, but Kid didn't know if that went anywhere. Probably got tied up indefinitely in the courts. With all the people directly affected by the disaster long dead, it was hard to galvanize people into action. Like many things the government was responsible for, Flevance was swept beneath a rug of forgetful silence.

Or it would've been left forgotten, if Law weren't telling him of it now. A while ago, had the doctor mentioned all this shit, Kid would've eaten it up with a spoon. It probably would've messed him up too, imagining Law as a child so sick that everyone had given up on him. A hopeless case who was destined to die. "I thought that disease was incurable," Kid said.

"It was." Law gave a clipped laugh. "To be honest, I don't think the government really tried to address the problem. It was easier to see the city die out - if there were survivors, the lawsuit for negligence might've seen some justice. It doesn't really matter anymore."

He sounded weary, as though recalling a story he'd rather not remember. "But as you can clearly see, there was a cure. I would be dead otherwise. For most of my adolescence, I assumed that I would die - I wasn't a very enjoyable person to be around for a number of reasons.

"Because all of my family had already passed, the government placed me and several other children in foster-type homes. We were the only survivors, though it was temporary at best. We were all afflicted by the disease, and over time, the rest of them succumbed. I would get letters alerting me each time one of my old schoolmates passed.

"To avoid any more bad press, the government went out of their way to ensure we lived the remainder of our short lives in luxury. They assigned us each to wealthy families, who could easily provide for our every need as we slowly faded away. There was a generous government stipend as well, for medical care, though it was mainly palliative.

"I was no different, and it was how I came to live in Grand Line City when I was twelve. By that point, the disease had not progressed very far but my death was a certainty. Nobody lived for more than a year once their leukemia metastasized." He reached for the folder he'd brought, flipping it open to select a glossy photo on the top of the stack. He slid the picture to Kid. "This is my family, the one I was placed into."

It was an older photo, taken when Law was still young. He was in the front row, beside a girl his own age; Law's skin was darker but besides that, they could've been blood relation. There were a few other kids of varying age, and arrayed behind them was a collection of men and women, all dressed in exceptionally classy gear, the kind that just smelled rich. Rich, and dangerous - a particularly revealing combination, one Kid had felt when he'd encountered Doflamingo and all his ostentatious wealth in person.

Despite his illness, Law didn't look all that bad in the photograph. He was a bit drawn, and more pale than normal. What stood out most clearly from the image were his surrounding family members, and Kid could tell without a doubt that this was definitely a family that came with a capital-F, a Family as proper and organized as any corporation or business. Several of the adults held weapons, either in their hands or on their person - within easy reach, the implication obvious.

There was really no questioning what it all meant, and Kid stared from the picture to Law. "What is this? You're from a fucking mafia family or some shit?"

His disbelief was favored by a small smile, "Perhaps you can see why I haven't mentioned it."

"No, seriously. I thought this was just in the movies." He scanned the people, their clothing and heavy, expensive jewelry. The overt display of armaments. "You're not just fucking with me, right? You guys look like you just dressed up for a silly photo or something." Except there were no goofy expressions, no stridently suppressed smiles. Everyone looked deadly serious.

"Oh, believe me. This style's popularity persists to this day. You ought to see the holiday cards I get every year." Law looked at the photo, his expression fond beneath a layer of melancholic nostalgia. "My brother continues to expand his family even now. I suppose it's necessary, when some adopted siblings grow up to be ungrateful little brats."

"Yeah, you said you weren't on such good terms." Kid re-examined the picture, and in the back row, towering taller than all the rest, was Law's brother, Doflamingo. Though he was obviously younger when the photo was snapped, Kid had to wonder why Law called him brother, rather than father, given that he was easily twice Law's age.

Beside Doflamingo stood another man, nearly as tall and with similar coloring - probably Doflamingo's only real sibling out of all these people. The rest of the adults were as varied in appearance as the children were.

While Kid had never run afoul of organized crime, he knew as well as anybody from GLC that the underworld just about ran the place. Some people spent their whole lives trying to break into that society, and while Kid knew one or two who'd tried, he never really saw the appeal himself. At the end of the day, you were still taking orders from somebody, still doing dirty work for the higher ups. Kid wasn't deeply committed to honest living or anything crazy like that, but he felt little attraction to that world. The mafia syndicates had everyone in their pocket, controlling street-level crime and drug dealing all the way up to the upper echelons of city-wide corruption. It all just felt a little sleazy, in his opinion.

While the photograph's subjects neither shocked nor surprised him, Law's placement in their ranks certainly did. Anybody coming from a family like that definitely would've had the world at their feet. It was probably sheer luck that Law had been adopted into a place of power, prestige, and wealth. Then again, if they were assuming he'd die, the placement and all its perks were kind of a moot point.

But he'd left it all behind - or at least Kid gathered as much. It was the estrangement Law spoke of whenever Kid got nosey. While he was obviously much more cultured in his upbringing, Law had never thrown around money like it was in endless supply. Kid had assumed the man was well-off simply based on his education, manners, and dress, but he'd spent enough time in Law's company to know it was just that - an assumption without anything to back it up. It wasn't like they got real nitty-gritty over finances in the first place, but no one coming from wealth would be sharing an apartment the way Law did.

Of course, even knowing who Law's family was didn't exactly explain their current scenario, nor Law's actions. Kid wasn't even sure why the man treated things like a dirty little secret. Most people in the city would be delighted to get accepted into a family like that, one with power and prestige, endless resources and connections. "Okay, so you come from a crime family. What of it?"

"That doesn't bother you?"

"Should it?" Kid kinda wondered if he'd have a target on his back now. He recalled the way Doflamingo had approached him with an almost perceptible distaste, as though Kid were some dog come sniffing 'round the family mansion.

Maybe Doflamingo had furnished all those documents he'd found in Law's bag. Maybe the big man himself was trying to ruin things between them, to show Law exactly whom he'd been sleeping with. If that was the case, he could - and had - unearthed a veritable treasure trove of evidence dismissing Kid's suitability when it came to dating his little brother.

"I suppose I was expecting a stronger reaction." Law favored him with a minor smile, the sort that Kid still wasn't very good at interpreting. Even so, whenever he managed to make Law smile he felt a thrill of minor victory. Usually. It felt like a pretty hollow one just now. "Then again, I typically do not need to share this information. My brother has been quite busy, and quite interfering, when it comes to my personal life. I can't remember the last time a boyfriend of mine didn't turn out to be one of Doflamingo's lackeys."

"Whoa. You just called me your boyfriend."

"I apologize. I guess that title's no longer quite accurate, is it?" Law shook his head, "Your priorities in all of this never seem to be what I would expect."

"That's not my point. You never called me your boyfriend, even though we'd been dating for months."

To his credit, Law looked a little sheepish about it. "It's a silly thing to get worked up about, isn't it? And it sounds so juvenile, like we're still in high school."

"So? It still means something, even if it does sound stupid." Kid swallowed the last of his mocha, which had since grown cold. This was exactly what irritated him about Law, how he never took anything between them seriously, not even the little shit. Not even the stupid shit.

"Well, I've never heard you call me your boyfriend."

"Well, maybe I tell other people and just not you," Kid countered in reply. "Kinda already figured what your attitude about it'd be."

"Really, the title by which I call you has been the least of my concerns." Law bristled; he looked annoyed, like Kid was missing the point and latching onto something entirely unrelated.

"Maybe it's not a big deal to you, but I don't like being treated like just some dirty little secret. I've had relationships like that already and it gets real old before long."

"I'm willing to admit to many things that I've done wrong, but I can assure you that I never considered you or our relationship a joke. It was never something I made any effort to hide."

"Yeah, well you could've fooled me."

"You are being deliberately difficult - "

"Oh, well, sorry." If you asked Kid, he figured Law had earned this response. "I guess having everything about me dug up for all to see kinda put me on the defensive. I'll get right to work on that."

Law's eyes circled in their sockets. Come to think of it, Kid couldn't remember the first or last time they'd ever had a fight - a real fight, over important shit. It was an inevitable storm, and with things the way they were right now, Kid didn't feel a lot of hope that they'd make it through this in one piece.

Across the table, Law was contemplating his coffee, lips set in a thin line. He tapped a couple fingers against the table, "Allow me to start over. I didn't come here to argue with you - "

"Well, hey. Don't mind me. Whatever's most convenient for you." Sure, Kid knew he was being deliberately nasty. But he was angry and didn't care. So far, Law hadn't done an exactly stellar job of making his case sympathetic.

"It's challenging to know where to begin with all of this. I typically do not make the attempt, because I've honestly never had to. Any partner I've had since I returned to the city was already fully aware of my family and their business." He sighed, his annoyance reducing to weariness. "I admit, all this time I felt certain that you already knew all of this."

"How the hell would I know any of this? You never talk about your damn family!"

"For reasons which I would hope are obvious, now that you know who they are!"

"See, this right here? That's the difference between you and me. You never talked about your folks, so I figured you had good reasons not to. I thought you'd tell me about it when you were ready." Kid gestured to the thick folder, all of his history that it contained. "Obviously, you got your own way of going about things, huh? Trust me, it probably would've been a lot easier to just ask."

"And much less expensive as well, I'm sure."

"Seriously? You paid someone to do this? Once you said who your family was, I figured you got them to do it."

"You misunderstand me, Eustass. I did not commission that report looking for flaws in your character. I was looking for my brother."

"Oh, well. Uhh." Kid scrunched his face, feeling befuddled. All of his outrage felt stopped in its tracks, like he'd just smacked up against a brick wall he wasn't expecting. Sometimes it was not only difficult to tell what Law was thinking, but impossible. "You're gonna have to explain that one."

"I would be happy to, provided that you stop interrupting me."

Kid grumbled into his empty cup, "No promises."

But Law hardly paused, reaching towards the photo. He tapped Doflamingo's image, "You've already met Doflamingo. He's the leader of our family." His finger moved to indicate the man standing at his side, the one who looked so similar. "This is his brother, Corazon. When I was adopted, he was the one person who advocated for me and worked to have my illness addressed. Everyone else…" Law gave a flip of his fingers, shrugging. "Like I said before. My fate was a certainty. It was pointless to become invested in a child doomed to die before long, so no one else really bothered. Doflamingo certainly liked me - he often remarked that I reminded him of himself - but there was a limited obligation to his concern.

"The adoption was mainly for political purposes. When the orphans of Flevance were hot topics in the news, it was very politically advantageous to take us in. The obligation was understood to be temporary." He gave a wry smile, remembering. "As you can imagine, with a family like Doflamingo's and the business they did, it was often necessary to invest in charitable gestures. It kept their bad behavior out of the news. Doflamingo adopted a number of children like me, though none of their cases were quite as infamous."

Kid wondered what the rest of the young children in that photo had grown up to be like. Maybe they stayed in Doflamingo's family as full members. If they were orphans, that family was probably the only one they'd ever known. Their loyalty would be certain and absolute.

"So what happened?" Kid asked. Law's mafia connections were only part of the story; the rest all boiled down to the man himself. "I mean, obviously you got better."

For a moment, he wondered if he ought to put things in more diplomatic terms. It was a sad story that he took no pleasure in. Even if Law was royally pissing him off in the present, he hadn't deserved to live through that as a child. But Kid knew that if he let Law in just a little bit, he wouldn't be able to maintain whatever tough facade he was currently wearing. Law had an uncanny ability to focus in on the chinks in Kid's armor, sliding beneath his defenses like they weren't even there.

He wanted to stay mad at Law, but it was really hard. It was part of what scared him with all of this. He'd never been very good at holding others accountable when they fucked up. He'd spent most of his childhood making excuses for his old man under the stupid hopes that things would somehow get better if he just believed hard enough. It was a real wake-up call to eventually realize that that would never happen. Kid was afraid of falling back into that cycle of hope and disappointment with somebody he genuinely did care about. When it came to Law, Kid wanted to forgive him, no matter what he'd done.

"Yes. I was lucky," Law said, continuing with his story. "Within the family, Corazon wielded nearly as much power as Doflamingo, both brothers having inherited the family business after their father passed away - in quite mysterious fashion - when they were nothing more than children.

"Their mother had died of an illness several years prior to their father's passing. While his death was thought to be an assassination from a rival organization, Doflamingo suffered years of rumors that he himself was responsible. Clearly, the accusations did not stick; he took up the family mantle and has been running things ever since. While Corazon ostensibly held an equal share, he was never as ruthless as his brother and assumed a secondary role to maintain the peace. I am certain that, after losing their remaining parent, Cora had little interest in warring with Doflamingo over what remained.

"Before Doflamingo took control, his family was but one of many fighting for their share of the city. Now they are the dominating force amongst the underworld, having neutralized or eliminated any weaker organizations. No one stands in the way of something Doflamingo wants. He's made a legacy of crushing anyone who crosses him, his family, or their business."

"You sound scared," Kid observed. It wasn't a terrified sort of scared, more like a cautious, wary awareness, the sort that made one grow hushed as they tip-toed around a sleeping dragon.

"I am. He has endless power, resources, and people at his command. If he really wanted me to return, I would be unable to stop him."

"So why doesn't he? Just force you to go back to them, I mean."

Law gave a half-smile, "It's probably because he likes me. And he wants me to like him. He also knows that if I were forced, I would resent him until I died."

Whoa, Kid thought, but said nothing. Apparently Bonney wasn't the only person who could hold a grudge. There was something about the way Law said it, something in his tone that made Kid sure he was deadly serious. Law already resented his brother deeply, though the reasons for that spite remained unclear. "Remind me not to get on your bad side."

"Well, you'd have to work rather hard to earn the same level of contempt."

"Oh yeah? So how'd Doflamingo manage to piss you off so bad?"

"He had Cora assassinated. His own brother, and for helping me. As I said, everyone else had given up, but Cora was unfailingly resilient in the face of my diagnosis. Its terminal nature did not deter him. He did everything in his power to find a cure." Law's gaze grew distant, remembering. "He wasn't killed because of that directly. But his efforts attracted the attention of certain members of our family who had a vested interest in seeing him done away with.

"In particular, Doflamingo's closest lieutenant could never tolerate that the brothers shared power. Even if Cora remained in a subordinate role, if he'd wanted more control over things, he could've rightfully challenge Doflamingo. Some of his lackeys were always looking to bring Cora down - he was a liability to the family's long-term stability. Doflamingo himself likely wanted his brother eliminated, but after suffering years of rumors in the wake of their father's death, he didn't dare make a move."

"He needed an excuse," Kid supplied.

"Precisely. For a number of years after they were orphaned, Cora left the family and pursued his own education with the goal of an independent life. Obviously, that didn't work out entirely, and while he returned, it was with an outsider's perspective. Many in the family were deeply suspicious of his motivations and loyalties, but Doflamingo was determined to keep the family together, particularly when it came to his first and only blood brother."

Law gave a fond smile of remembrance, "Cora saw a little bit of himself in me, I think, and was always encouraging my interests. Unlike everyone else, he didn't treat me like a hopeless cause...I was very grateful for that. I don't think people realize how dehumanizing it is to be seen as only an illness, a walking corpse. Cora was the person who inspired me to be a doctor. I wanted the medical establishment to change after the way I was treated."

"It was pretty bad, then?"

He shrugged with one shoulder, a gesture of futility, "Doctors are only people. They can be kind or cruel, but in my experience, they are far more concerned with treating a disease, rather than a patient. When it came to Flevance's leukemia, there was little to be done - it was seen as incurable, and once the source of the contamination was dealt with, it was unlikely to recur. There was no point in developing treatments for an abstract and obsolete cancer."

"Was Cora a doctor or something?" Kid was trying to make sense of Law's close bond with the man, though he knew what it was like to finally find an advocate after being abandoned or mistreated by everyone else. That'd been Janet for him, and Kid was pretty sure he would've either turned out dead or like his old man if he hadn't had her.

"No. In fact, he was a cop. All those years separated from the family had opened his eyes to how life was outside the family. He found out the truth of his father's death - that Doflamingo had personally killed him to seize control - and wanted to bring his brother to account."

"So all those people who wouldn't trust him had good reason for it."

"Well, they had their own assumptions of what Cora was up to, but I'm sure they all simply assumed he'd come back to usurp power. In reality, he was working undercover, doing little more than reporting on the family's activity. With the evidence he was collecting, the government would've been able to dismantle the family and bring justice for all the people Doflamingo had hurt."

"Something tells me it didn't all go that smoothly."

"Obviously not. It is hard for me to be objective, because if Cora had stuck to his assignment, I would've died. But he got involved with me, very personally...he used all of his connections to see that I was enrolled in several experimental trials run by the national health service. The combined treatment finally put my leukemia into a lasting remission that continues to this day." Law sighed; whatever joy he took from that fateful turn of events was clearly tarnished by how things had ended. "If Cora had not done all of that, he never would've been caught...I made him vulnerable, and Doflamingo's lieutenants were able to trace his contacts back to the police and government."

"And that's how helping you got him killed." Kid was starting to feel awfully shitty, not just for how small and damaged Law's recollections made him seem. Even if Kid was pissed, it gave him no pleasure to hear about Law's sad history. In fact, it made him want to forgive everything all the more, to pass things off as just some big mistake, the direct product of Law's fucked-up childhood and family. An invasive investigation conducted because he'd learned the hard way that people couldn't be trusted.

But Kid had had a pretty bad life, too. It had never made him think about digging into Law's past just to satisfy his own curiosity. He was only learning about half of this shit because Law was effectively guilted into being truthful for a change. Besides, Law still hadn't explained why he'd been suspicious of Kid in the first place.

Even if Law's story was a sad one, Kid could manage to be pissed and sympathetic at the same time. It was just a lot harder than being one or the other all at once, and he was annoyed that Law had forced him into this position in the first place. "You shouldn't blame yourself for what happened to him. He knew what he was doing and obviously you were important enough that he was willing to risk it."

"Thank you. That's what I tell myself, after all." Law gave a bleak laugh, as though he'd been purposefully deluding himself with those same hopeful sentiments all his life. "Doing away with Cora was a more delicate operation than when Doflamingo killed his father, and he made things look like a car accident. Several other vehicles were involved, with two additional deaths from the wreck. I suppose he wanted it to be convincing; Cora could not be singled out as the sole victim of this tragedy. With his ties to the police it would automatically look suspect - but the police themselves could do nothing without revealing their hand.

"And so Cora died, so conveniently and so accidentally; he has never had justice of his own. I even believed that story for years after it happened. With a cure, it seemed like I finally had a life ahead of me. Though without Cora to share it with...things seemed pointless. I had few friends beyond him. It was a very hard time in my life, almost worse than when I was sick and dying. Sometimes a cure is worse than the disease itself. I still don't remember very much from when I underwent treatment. The chemotherapy basically made me a zombie."

Kid would believe that. He'd never been that sick, but he'd known a couple guys from his job who'd left because of one incurable illness or another. They'd cross paths months after and it'd be like meeting a stranger: previously healthy, fit guys reduced to walking skeletons as their cancer got worse, or as chemo treatments exacted their payment. It never seemed fair, and Law's story doubly so. There was nothing fair about suffering through that as a kid. Especially in a family where you couldn't trust anybody for fear of getting yourself or others killed.

Kid bet that Law had been blaming himself for his brother's death ever since he found out the truth. "So you did figure it out in the end, though, right?"

"Yes, an accidental finding. By the time I could really process what had happened, my cancer was in remission and I was as healthy as all my other adoptive siblings. Doflamingo even took a greater interest in me, as though I would be a substitute for Corazon. I even might have...but then I discovered that he was responsible, and left the family entirely." Law didn't elaborate on how he'd made that discovery, nor how difficult a process it'd been to leave Doflamingo's organization. "He's been trying to lure me back in ever since. I used to worry that he would have me assassinated as well - I'm certainly a liability. If his lieutenants had their way, I'm sure that would be the case.

"But I don't want anything to do with them anymore...I want my own life. If I had not come back to this city for residency, everything would've been much simpler. But it is what it is; they can do their business and I'll have mine, and somehow we'll manage to coexist without killing each other. It's really the best outcome for everybody."

"I guess Cora won't ever see real justice if you keep quiet about it."

"Perhaps. I've often considered bringing what I know to the authorities, but after seeing how they treated Flevance, I've never had much faith in them. I could mount my own campaign of revenge, but I have neither the resources nor the connections to cause much damage to the family. If I went up against Doflamingo, I'm certain to lose. Although, it is a very tempting prospect…." He gave a thin smile, one devoid of humor, "I've devoted many hours of thought to how that might go. Ultimately, I want the life Cora gave everything for me to have. I want to be a good doctor, to change things - to make patients feel less abandoned when they're tragic, hopeless cases."

Kid kind of wanted to point out that, had Law ever told him any of this, he probably would've flown over the moon. There was just something idealistic about it that Kid couldn't help but feel drawn to. With stark clarity, he realized how very little he really knew about Law, how much Law had kept from him, and not just small stuff. This was the sorta thing that motivated a person and determined what path they'd take in life. It was Relationship 101 type shit, and Law had never mentioned any of it.

Neither of them had really asked many deep questions. Any time Kid put out his feelers and tried to learn more, Law had shut him down just like that. It'd left Kid with the distinct impression that Law didn't want to share such things - or worse, that he didn't trust Kid, nor take him seriously enough to really trust with this sort of information. Maybe Kid was blowing this out of proportion, but after the crap Law had just pulled, he felt justified.

In a way, it was fortunate for him that Law had gone and fucked up in such spectacular fashion. Kid knew that he needed to be mad, and stay that way, if he was going to get any answers at all. Being pissed wasn't something he really liked in the first place, and he resented that Law had forced things this way.

For the moment, Kid kept his mouth shut. Now that Law was talking, he didn't want to bring a stop to things, at least not when there was still so much more he was dying to learn.

In the face of his silence, Law continued, "Maybe that makes me sound like a hopeless dreamer, but at least I have dreams of my own for a change. For most of my life, I never bothered to think about what the future would be like...I'd been told I didn't have one for so many years that I'd stupidly come to believe it."

"It's not stupid," Kid said. He'd spent a good portion of his own life hopefully, pointlessly dreaming about what could be. Maybe he'd never get to see half of what he imagined, but at least he'd gotten his own chance, though it only came through another person's advocacy and persistence. He used to think Janet was so nosey when he and Killer had hung out at her place as kids; she was always asking after his bruises and broken bones. That sorta concern was so obnoxious, like he couldn't handle what his old man could dish out and then some.

Back then, Kid hadn't liked people who got into his business. If everybody found out where all his injuries came from, they'd put him into the system, and there was no way he'd have been fostered into a rich family the way Law had been, even if that had turned out to be a double-edged sword. If Kid got split up from what family he had, it might improve things one way while making everything else twice as shitty. It'd probably mean leaving his neighborhood and school, and all his friends, the only people who really gave a damn about him in the first place.

So Kid had stayed quiet and kept his head down, even when things got really bad. It wasn't until he was a lot older that he realized everybody already knew what was going on, anyway. There wasn't much of a secret left to protect, so by the time he landed in the hospital and Janet went asking tough questions, Kid finally felt ready to talk. He had a feeling Law's experience with Cora was much the same. It was funny, he'd never realized how much the two of them really had in common when it really came down to it. Then again, if Law had his way, he never would've told Kid any of this shit.

Putting things back into perspective helped; it reminded Kid that no matter how sad Law's story was, he was still really pissed off by the man's behavior. "Okay. That all really sucks. And it explains a few things, so thank you for telling me. Maybe now I finally have some idea of where you're coming from."

"But I'm sure it doesn't answer all of your questions."

"Damn right," Kid affirmed. "Why the hell did you think I'd have anything to do with organized crime anyway? 'Cause I don't. I dunno if all this investigating of yours answered that question to your satisfaction."

"It did," Law said. "I really was finally convinced. The team who conducted the investigation assured me that you were an independent agent."

An independent agent, Kid repeated in his mind. Like he was some sorta spy.

Law continued, "But it was necessary, though I realize how inappropriate and invasive it all was. I only commissioned that report because...Eustass, it's been four years since I returned to the city. In all that time, I've never had a man approach me who wasn't ordered to do so by my brother."

"I find that kinda hard to believe."

"Let me assure you that it is the truth. My brother has been very invasive, in ways that I have not appreciated in the slightest - so I completely understand if you no longer trust me for doing the same to you." He shifted in his seat, practically squirming like a kid caught in a lie. Or an uncomfortable truth. "This might sound strange, but Doflamingo has an odd parental impulse, it's the only way I can explain it. It compels him to interfere with my life. The fact that I am single and unmarried is apparently a problem he must rectify. And so he has been arranging partners for me, without informing me of his actions. As with many things in that family, I have discovered the truth for myself through pure chance."

"So he's trying to hook you up with somebody nice, eh? Yeah, I get it - that's annoying." Killer and Heat had liked doing that for a while. They thought it was the best way of being supportive once Kid came out, except they had absolute shit taste in men. "But call me crazy here, I kinda doubt your brother would send somebody like me to sweep you off your feet."

"Oh believe me, I've been baffled by this ever since you first approached me on that train."

Kid smiled; that was a long time ago. He still wondered how they'd managed to actually make anything work after that disastrous first meeting. You didn't usually end up finding your soulmate by spilling coffee on them.

Even if Law was his soulmate, Kid was still ready to strangle him. "Why didn't you just shut me down if you thought I was working for him? I was always kinda surprised you gave me the time of day, to be honest."

"Really, such modesty and even after everything. Don't you know how charming that is?" The corners of Law's mouth turned up, his first real smile, and one that wasn't in sad remembrance or rueful admission. "I almost want to kill you for it."

"You can hire your crazy brother to wax me."

Unexpectedly, Law laughed, "Don't joke about that! Sometimes I worry he might do just that. Or drive us apart some other way - I don't imagine he really approves of the two of us."

Kid wanted to counter that Law shouldn't joke about Doflamingo breaking up their relationship when he'd gone and nearly done so himself. But he didn't say anything, scuffing his foot on the floor beneath their table. It felt weird talking like this, like they were friends - like Law hadn't dredged up every one of Kid's dirty secrets just to fling them in his face. He still didn't know how to deal with that, even in light of everything else. It continued to hurt and nothing Law had said made that go away, or even lessen.

Even if Law had ordered this report with the best of intentions, it didn't make things suddenly better or somehow more noble. And Kid was pissed that somebody'd been following him around without him knowing! What the fuck was that even about? His anger caught fire as swiftly as alcohol, burning a trail through his veins before Kid could stop it. "Y'know, even with all of this, it doesn't mean I'm not still pissed at you. 'Cause I am. You just should've told me this shit and been real honest, right from the start. I feel like that's the way I've been and I still don't think you'd've told me any of this unless you had to."

"That's probably fair," Law conceded. If it was a concession he wanted to make, Kid wasn't able to tell. "I don't expect automatic forgiveness. I don't expect you to forgive me at all."

Saying it like that made Kid feel like he was weirdly obligated to forgive him. He just didn't know what to do with Law being all beaten-down and contrite - it wasn't something that lent itself easily to Kid's end goal of maintaining his outrage. Maybe that was the point. For a split second, Kid wondered if this was all some sorta manipulative mind game that Law was playing. He never would've thought that if Law hadn't done something so stupid in the first place. It felt like he'd poisoned things between them, and now they were limping along on life support.

Kid wondered if he really oughta just pull the plug. It would be easier. He'd already spent the last few weeks crying his eyes out; what were a few more days of that? And at least if they split up, he'd have some closure: the relationship definitely would be over, instead of this weird limbo purgatory it'd been in for nearly a month. Kid hated it, but he also didn't want to make any hasty decisions. If he said they were through, he knew Law would abide by it.

Part of Kid wanted Law to put up more of a stink, to really fight for things to keep working. But they were so damaged by his efforts that Kid doubted the doctor would really make an attempt. Right now, all he could really do was tell the truth and hope Kid believed him. It was a pretty unbelievable story, but if Law were lying or making shit up just to duck the consequences of his actions, this was a pretty crazy way of doing it.

Kid really didn't think that was the case. Which meant that on some level, he believed Law's story and the motivations for what he'd done. Maybe they were both more screwed up than either of them like to let on. Maybe it was why they'd gotten along so well up to this point.

"This has given me a lot to think about," he said, hesitantly. He felt like a dumbass. He'd never liked people who played games. But he'd learned a lot about the doctor, and if that continued and if Law kept being honest and above-board with him, Kid knew he wanted more of that. He didn't want to say goodbye entirely, because he did love Law. A lot, stupidly. His feelings persisted against his own best interests.

In the end, he scooted out from his seat, standing. "I need to think about this for a while. Get some perspective, y'know?"

"That is entirely reasonable."

"I'll drop you a line in a few days, okay?"

"That sounds good." Law smiled, standing as well. He looked relieved. "I'm surprised you aren't dumping me on the spot."

"Don't tempt me," Kid muttered. He turned and gave a wave, "Catch you later, right?"

"Stay frosty."

Kid almost wanted to pivot on one foot to spear Law with a glare. It was bad enough getting that sorta stupid shit from Bonney, did Law really need to pick up on all her bad habits? Kid could only imagine what she and Killer and all the rest would all have to say about this. He wondered if he really ought to tell them at all - it was Law's private life, after all. He'd trusted Kid with it, and only then after having fucked up so badly that he'd been forced into honesty.

Whatever. Kid could keep the gritty details to himself while still explaining the general state of things to those who mattered. He kinda felt like Law's peripheral involvement in organized crime had the potential to cause real trouble down the line. Or could at least bring the kind of trouble Kid would be much happier to avoid.

For the first time, he felt like the normal one in comparison to Law. And all this time he'd worried that it was his own messed-up life that'd mark him as the weirdo. It wasn't like Law's history negated his own. Maybe they were equally-matched weirdos. It was an oddly comforting thought, knowing that he wouldn't be spending the rest of their relationship together fighting the stigma of being the broken one. They could just limp along together - pathetic, but complementary.

That was assuming a pretty sunny outcome at the end of all of this. It hinged on Kid being willing to forgive Law in the first place. He probably would, an admission that was easy to make but foolish at heart. When it came to Law, Kid was all soft-underbelly and eager forgiveness, the kind that could easily be taken advantage of. Some of the guys he'd dated in the past had gotten away with way more shit than was really healthy, and Kid learned from his mistakes. But when it came to Law, all his best intentions went out the window.

It was still pretty up in the air if Law was a mistake or not. Maybe he was just a guy who made lots of mistakes. Maybe Kid had made a mistake in placing him on a pedestal in the first place, but for the longest time, it'd seemed like Law could do no wrong. It still seemed like that on a number of levels. Kid didn't like seeing his faith so clearly misplaced, but maybe only time would tell on that count. Law had forgiven him for a lot already, and Kid's immediate impulses were to do the same.

Then again, when Law was involved, Kid's impulses were all outta whack. Law made him stupid with how bad he wanted to reset everything back to what they'd once been. Things felt so messy between them, like a tornado had ripped through everything they'd built since they'd met, leaving only splinters and debris.

It would be harder to patch all of that back together than to just walk away and start anew. Kid's only problem in doing so was that he didn't want anyone else. He was pretty sure he'd never want anyone else quite the way he wanted Law, and it scared him. That sort of power in the wrong hands could ruin a person, and Kid wasn't naive enough not to realize how closely they'd already come to that.

Chapter Text

Two weeks passed. Law wondered if he'd wasted his time even attempting to explain his side of the story. The resounding silence he'd received since told him that it was likely the case.

It was a depressing realization. Then again, Law reminded himself that it was all he could reasonably expect. Kid didn't owe him anything, least of all forgiveness. Law had made his case, he'd done his best to explain and salvage things. It was all up to Kid now, and what he would ultimately decide. The lack of proactive options left Law feeling restless, like he was wasting time that could be better served in convincing Kid of his honest intentions.

But that wouldn't exactly help matters. Kid had refused the packet of info Law had brought along, the meager proof Law had of his side of the story. It contained newspaper clippings related to the Flevance tragedy, another describing the five-car pile-up that'd claimed Cora's life. A few tokens from his history to hopefully compete with the invasion of Kid's privacy he'd personally funded. Kid had no reason to trust him. After all, Law had never really trusted Kid. How could he, when he'd been convinced that the man was only a pawn of Doflamingo's?

It sounded feeble as an explanation even to himself, in light of the facts. He'd been so thoroughly convinced that Kid was working for his brother all along that Law never imagined he'd have to justify himself in the first place. Worst of all, he knew that if Kid hadn't found the proof, Law never would've come clean about the investigation voluntarily.

And that was the part that made him feel shittiest of all. Had their instances been reversed, he would've left Kid on the spot and never given him a second thought. He found it hard to believe the man could do any different, regardless of the feelings they shared. Some breaches of trust were unforgivable. Part of Law still could not fathom why and how he'd done such a thing. Hopelessly, he wished he could reverse time so that he could go back and slap himself for ever considering the idea in the first place.

He knew that whatever heartbreak he felt, Kid easily had it ten times worse. Because Law never made the effort to trust Kid, he never left himself truly open to what feelings might have developed. He knew by Kid's very reactions that the gulf between them had never been quite so vast. Kid experienced his emotions as though they were a papercut, quick and painful but just as swiftly addressed and forgotten. Law processed his differently; they were deeply buried but intensely felt, and it could take him ages before completely realizing what they were. He didn't have the gift of inward reflection. It required genuine effort on his behalf to really examine what and how he felt for another person.

As a result, he avoided it until the problem could no longer be overlooked. It came as quite a shock to him, to realize that he loved Kid, with an intensity that was frightening - and he arrived at this conclusion only after being deprived of the man's company, after knowing that he'd done something so inappropriately wrong that Kid was likely to leave him entirely over it.

Things had always seemed to exist on some theatrical, fantastical level. As though the relationship itself were nothing but a fairytale they were acting out of their own accord. For the longest time, Law had assumed this to be the case; he'd never put both feet into things because he'd always been certain that Kid was doing the same. Law left an escape strategy open at all times because from the very start, he'd known that he would eventually need to disengage. It was impossible to develop strong feelings when one was already envisioning the end.

Now that things were over, Law found himself longing for all that time back - time to make different choices, a chance to really appreciate what he'd managed to find. It was a futile hope, a daydream he indulged in now that he'd effectively ruined things. A fantasy as impossible to realize as turning back the clock.

Who was he to ask Kid's forgiveness when he'd all but taken a bulldozer to their relationship? Part of him knew it had been intentional to a certain degree, his subconscious' way of undermining things before any real commitments were required. Law didn't think he was afraid of such things, but his own behavior contradicted that. In the past, he'd never had to worry about a relationship actually working out. This was new territory, an unexplored minefield that'd just blown up in his face.

Over the years, Law had had many meaningful friendships. He still kept in contact with a number of his fellow students from medical school, and he'd been close with Penguin and Shachi for years. But romantically...he'd never had much success. Most relationships simply fell apart from neglect, and since returning to the city, Doflamingo had been responsible for the majority of failures.

Law wondered if he could blame Kid's alienation on his brother as well, but that was being cowardly. He knew who was really responsible. He'd actively sabotaged the only relationship that'd shown a glimmer of hope, through his own distrust and paranoia. When Kid first suggested that they live together, some part of Law's subconscious had gone into red alert, flailing in wild panic at the potential that move could represent.

His distrust was the result of growing up in Doflamingo's family. It'd taken many years to understand that Cora's death wasn't his fault, and Law still blamed himself somewhat. It didn't help that no one else had really mourned Cora's passing. In fact, most of them seemed relieved by it, as it resolved the tender issue of succession, a powder keg bound to explode before long. Though that probably would've happened in starkly different terms from what everyone in the family feared. Everyone was so worried that Cora would one day seek to wrest control over the family's finances or resources that none of them suspected he was a mole for the police.

Doflamingo always kept a tight ship and he got away with more than most in his position would have, being a descendant of a noble family whose name still carried some weight with the upper classes. Even the government was deferential to those with some claim to royalty, and if Doflamingo's crown happened to belong to the underworld, so be it. They probably saw it as a preferable option to lower-class riff-raff controlling things. Doflamingo was the devil they knew, and for the most part, he carried out his business in a very traditional manner.

But even when half of the police force was in his pocket, some still took their jobs seriously. They could not abide Doflamingo nor any of the other mafia families who openly flouted the law. They must've been overjoyed when Cora approached them, an officer with roots in poisonous soil. Nobody could accuse Doflamingo's brother of being a double-agent, and by the time of his death, Cora had been undercover for four years. He'd undoubtedly amassed enough insider knowledge to take the entire family down.

His death had come so suddenly and at such an awful time in Law's life that he'd almost wished the treatments themselves would fail. It was as much as he deserved, and he saw little point in living in a world without Cora. But then he remembered how hard his brother had fought to find doctors willing to hear his case, and finally administer a treatment to save him...and Law knew how disrespectful it would be to simply give up. Cora had literally given everything so that he could survive. Instead of giving into despair, Law found a new determination in his life, to make something of it that Cora would be proud of.

He started almost immediately. While he had been sick, he'd neglected his studies, concentrating primarily on fiction, fantasy, and an escape from his reality, which was rapidly diminishing. With a future to look forward to, he applied himself entirely to catching up - no mere task when one had to contend with the effects of multiple combined chemotherapeutics. Law's hair fell out from his crown to his toes and everywhere in between; he'd become grey and ashy from anemia and his energy waned. He studied between hours-long naps, squirreling himself away in Doflamingo's personal library as he stubbornly poured through its contents. He found reams and reams of scientific journals and medical texts among many other topics, and it was these which engrossed him the most.

One day, he'd fallen asleep while reading in an ornate wingback chair. It was large enough to practically swallow his small, wasted figure. One of the house staff had come through and tucked him in with a blanket while also starting a small fire in the library's open soapstone stove. As with most days, Law had a hard time feeling grateful at the kindness. All he felt was numb and brittle, like the skeleton he so closely resembled.

He dozed; the light was too poor to really read by and he was too lethargic to set about fixing that. He watched the flames, not even shifting when a door opened behind him. He could hear Doflamingo talking. Law wondered if he ought to indicate his presence, but instead he simply closed his eyes and assumed sleep. He felt too weak to make any effort and wasn't sure if he was up to a discussion once Doflamingo inevitably took notice of him.

Listening, he could tell it was Vergo who accompanied his brother. At the time, Cora had been dead for nearly six months, though time had passed as such a blur that Law hardly felt it. Undergoing cancer therapy and then having such a tragedy on top of things had left Law with precious little energy to mourn properly. It all felt like a nightmare he might never wake from - or perhaps his cancer would re-emerge; who knew. Law had not yet grown confident in his health. It was a challenge when his body constantly felt like it was falling apart, when he was wracked with nausea more frequently than not.

Vergo was discussing the recent acquisition of some prime real estate along the riverbank. It would be perfect for luxury developments once they managed to chase off the current inhabitants. Doflamingo and all the senior officers spoke freely about the family business in front of Law, Baby, and the rest of the children, normalizing them to such criminal enterprises and rewarding similar thinking once one of them made a suggestion. Law had never really participated, and that, in combination with his close relationship to Cora, had left Vergo deeply suspicious of him.

Law would've easily succumbed to sleep had Doflamingo not mentioned Cora's name. He perked up instantly, but remained quiet and still. Several survivors of the car crash were seeking damages from the city, under the justification that the tunnel where the accident occurred was inherently unsafe. It was the site of frequent accidents and though safety measures had been implemented, the issue remained unresolved.

"Fortunately, the fire marshall is a friend. He won't press for further investigation, and I'm told he'll testify that it was all an unavoidable tragedy," Doflamingo said.

Law wondered why he wouldn't be interested in further investigation...after all, Cora was his brother, the only sibling related to him by blood. Back then, Law still believed that meant something.

Law knew the details of the accident: Cora's driver had lost control of their vehicle, it careened into the tunnel wall and then ricocheted into nearby traffic, causing a chain reaction that claimed three lives. The fire it caused had been challenging to extinguish, and by the time emergency services could access the vehicles involved, many people were beyond help, Cora included. They said he died on impact. Law was grateful for that.

His brother's voice continued, "Still though, I'm putting Monet on retainer. She knows how to handle things."

"Maybe we can reach a settlement with the victims. Pay them off as a gesture of goodwill," Vergo suggested.

Law wondered if the victims were blaming Cora and the family for causing the wreck, which seemed ludicrous. It was an accident.

Doflamingo laughed, "I like that! From one mourning family to another, eh?"

"It would be convincing. I spoke to our driver's wife, she and her children are being properly compensated and won't say a thing."

Law's heart rate began to climb, and beneath his blanket and the warmth of the fire, he was starting to sweat. They must've been referring to Cora's driver, the one who'd lost control. To hear Doflamingo speak of it, that loss of control almost sounded intentional….

"She's a good woman. Her husband - not so much." Doflamingo's voice was flippant, "He owed their house and more in gambling debts so I'm not surprised she's happy with how things worked out. Probably made more off his passing than he ever provided!"

"At least the prick did something noble with his life, worthless as it was."

"More than can be said for my dear little brother," Doflamingo said, tutting with quiet distaste. "You know, I was ready to forgive him for ever leaving. He'd come back and that was what mattered. A shame to see my trust was so misplaced."

"A tragedy, Doffy."

"He was worse than our father. And neither of them with a lick of familial loyalty."

Law remained very, very still, a hunted rabbit cornered by two sniffing hound dogs. He was certain neither Doflamingo nor Vergo knew he was there, though it was common for Law to hide away in the library. If they'd known, they never would've spoken so openly. They never would've ruined the illusion they'd created, that of a family united in mourning one of their dearest members.

As Law listened, they continued to openly sneer at Cora's memory, his life and what a disappointment he'd become. Law learned many things while he sat in terrified silence. It was as though the world had torn open and all of its poisonous truth was gushing out, like sewage vomiting from a drainpipe.

In the moment, Law was too shocked to cry, even after they left. They never did come 'round to the fire, to see him curled in that chair. It was unbelievably lucky and Law did not like considering what might have happened had he been noticed. Doflamingo would likely forgive him for eavesdropping, but Vergo never would. He would've recognized the danger and even if Doflamingo never gave the direct order, Law knew his life would be effectively over.

But even the inherent danger wasn't enough to stop him from investigating the truth; he confirmed what he suspected quickly enough, and in Doflamingo's personal notes he found evidence in spades. Cora was indeed a mole. In the years since he'd left the family, he'd attended school and then the police academy, where his family connections to organized crime led him to a specialized task force devoted to eliminating corruption within the city. Taking down the Doflamingo family would've been hailed as a great victory, and Cora had already agreed to testify against his brother's involvement in their father's death.

Learning Cora's real identity was a blow in itself. Law loathed the government for what they'd done to Flevance, to his family and himself, to everyone he'd ever known. To know that Cora was involved with them, even tangentially, made him question his loyalties, but such suspicions were short lasting. It did not matter who Cora was connected to because his loyalty had always been to Law above all others. He'd used every one of his government connections to see that Law got treatment, and it was pointless to tarnish his memory with the company he'd kept.

It was then that Law resolved to set out on his own, as soon as his health was back in order. It took nearly two years. He was effectively trapped, having few financial resources and little ability to pay the cost of his treatments - not to mention the expenses required once one struck out on their own. Instead, he broke away under the guise of education, and applied to universities as far away from Grand Line City as he could find. He was accepted readily even at his young age, and was awarded a number of scholarships to pay his way. By the time he was sixteen, he was beginning his undergraduate degree, and only then did he start to sever contact with Doflamingo and the rest of the family.

It wasn't an easy process and continued to this day. There were several large blow-ups, and eventually he confronted Doflamingo with what he'd learned. The man denied nothing and instead treated Law with paternalistic condescension, as though he were making a big deal out of nothing. As though he were a child unable to understand how the world really worked.

At the time, his brother's disappointment was palpable, as though Law had failed to really live up to his potential. But that was a potential envisioned by Doflamingo alone, and Law was happy to ruin whatever expectations the man had once held. At one point, they had such a violent argument that neither spoke to the other for a full nine months; after that, Doflamingo cut financial ties and Law was well and truly disowned. It was fitting: he'd been an orphan once before, from a family he'd truly cared for. Losing Doflamingo felt more like the relief which accompanied ridding oneself of dead weight.

Perhaps Doflamingo assumed that Law would mature beyond this rebellious phase. He certainly treated Law with more respect when they saw each other face to face now, though that was a rare occurrence. It was hard to believe the man respected him at all when he was still attempting to run Law's life via his romantic partners. Law still didn't think he was really able to communicate how deeply disrespectful and nearly sinister he found such behavior. Maybe if he'd managed to pull that off, Kid would've understood his actions better.

As impatient as he was for a response, Law hesitated. He wanted to be more respectful of people's boundaries than his brother ever was. And so, he waited for Kid to make the first move, and with every day that stretched out in silence and without contact, Law became a little more convinced that things were already over. It was a sad conclusion, seeing their relationship end with a whimper, a collapse that he alone was responsible for - and no, putting it in those terms did not make things any easier to take.

Law was only becoming resigned to this fact when he returned one evening to find Kid lounging on his couch. Law was still wearing scrubs and his feet were sore and aching from standing for so long during surgery.

The apartment was quiet, save for the soccer match Kid was watching. "Hey," he waved, peering over the shoulder of the sofa. "Pen let me in."

"Hey." Law really wasn't sure what to say. Everything felt so familiar that he almost believed he was dreaming. Or possibly that he'd stepped into a time-warp that'd transported him several weeks into the past.

"You wanna beer?" Kid waggled a half-full amber bottle. "I brought six."

"Yes. That sounds lovely." Law set down his briefcase and jacket before finding a beer and popping off its cap. At a loss for what else to do, he joined Kid on the couch. "Who's playing?"

"Fishies versus Giants. Not like you really care though, right?"

"I was only asking," Law muttered, though all Kid's tone held was the good-natured ribbing they'd once shared. Law wasn't sure if he ought to continue in that vein or remain appropriately contrite, given his recent behavior.

He really didn't like the gulf of distance that separated them now. He longed for the understanding they'd once had - the same understanding he'd taken an axe to of his own volition. He sighed and swallowed a third of his beer.

Kid raised one bare eyebrow, "Rough night, huh?"

"Rough month."

"I hear that." He sighed, "Rough fucking life. A real sob story." He shifted, bringing his bottle up to clink against the one Law held. "Guess we both know what that's like."

"I'm happy you stopped by, Eustass."

"It's been awhile, hasn't it?"

"I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever see you again."

"Nah. I mean, I wouldn't just leave things hanging like that." He scratched fingernails through his hair. They were painted black. Law wondered how the bands and shows were going; he wondered how much Bonney, Killer, and all the rest hated him. It surprised him how much he'd come to miss that part of his life and all the chaos it entailed. Kid continued, "I just needed some time, y'know? Sometimes I pop off on things and just end up ruining them, but with this...with you. I didn't want to mess it up. I had to think about everything."

Everything and what it all meant; Law could sympathize there. It'd been on the forefront of his mind as well, driving him to distraction. The number of times he found himself flicking through the photos on his phone was truly deplorable. It was an easy way to spend an idle five minutes as he traveled in a busy elevator or waited for a new patient to arrive. He'd looked over the same few pictures of Kid innumerable times, until he had the order of them memorized. It wasn't a new practice for him, and he regretted that there were no new additions for the past several weeks. His distractible mind required fresh material to entertain itself, left restless in Kid's absence.

Law knew that he'd be better off quitting this bad habit. But that would require deleting what little remained of Kid in his life, and he wasn't ready for that just yet. More than anything, he longed for closure, but it was a terrifying prospect. If Kid ended things, at least Law would be able to stop thinking about him. It probably wouldn't be that simple, but it would mean an answer, even if it wasn't the one he hoped to hear.

Privately, he'd resolved to obey whatever Kid decided upon. It seemed only fair, seeing as he'd effectively forced the decision in the first place. While Law was willing to fight for the things he cared about, he didn't really think it was his place this time around. It was hard to rationalize putting something on life support when you were the one who'd driven a stake through its heart.

Law simply wasn't ready to say goodbye. This wasn't the sort of breakup where a friendship could be salvaged from the ashes, and that part depressed him the most. In their short time together, their lives had become well and truly inseparable and Law wasn't ready to think of what things would be like on his lonesome again.

Kid broke the silence between them, "How's work going?"

"Oh, the same. I'm doing transplants right now. It's a number of very sick people whom you have to make sicker before they can have any hope of improvement." Law knew a little bit of what that was like. He could feel Kid's eyes on him like a physical touch, but kept his own focused on the soccer players racing back and forth across the field. "And you?"

"Can't complain. At least the weather ain't so rainy right now." He scratched his scalp again, a nervous gesture that Law had come to miss. "Thought about seeing if you wanted to get lunch once or twice. But I guess I never had the balls to really follow through, y'know?"

"You should have. I would've made the time."

"Well, maybe we'll go sometime this week. What d'you say about that?"

"I'd like to." Things felt strange, as though everything and nothing had changed. Law could already feel his beer loosening his tongue and wondered when the last time he'd eaten something was. He turned to Kid with a confidence he hardly felt, "Eustass...can I assume that you're not here to put an end to things?"

"I think that's a safe assumption."

Law gave a clipped laugh, "Safer than most of my recent assumptions, at least?"

"A lot more accurate." One of Kid's hands reached across the space between them. He took Law's wrist, pulling it towards him. They were really only separated by a few inches but it was a distance Law felt hesitant to break. It wasn't his place to intrude on Kid's boundaries. He'd done plenty of that already.

"Hey," Kid said, and gave a tug, "C'mere."

Law set his bottle on the coffee table before sliding closer, against Kid's body, solid as an anchor. Before he knew it, Kid was gathering him up until Law was curled across his lap, one arm pillowing his neck against the end of the couch.

He brought Law's wrist up to his mouth and kissed the knuckles. "You smell like hospital soap."

"It comes with the job, unfortunately."

"Nah, I like it now. Reminds me of you."

Law knew what he meant. He'd come to appreciate the subtle smell of grease and oil that clung to Kid after work, the faint, lingering odor of charred metal. He was freshly showered now but even that was comforting in its familiarity, his aftershave and deodorant a distinctive combination. Law clutched at a thick handful of Kid's t-shirt and never wanted to let go. "I love you, Eustass."

"And how long did it take you to realize that?"

"A while, if you must know," Law replied, frowning. "Not everyone is as naturally intuitive as you."

"Intuitive, I like that. Have to agree, though - your intuition sucks."

"There's no need to be nasty about it," Law muttered. He'd expected a certain amount of scolding, he'd even go so far as to say he deserved it. That didn't mean he had to like it.

"Nah, c'mon. You're a smart guy, but you do a lotta stupid shit. Sometimes I feel like you just think your problems to death, when the answer isn't that hard in the first place."

Law scowled; he didn't like how much of a point Kid had with this. He knew he was inarticulate with his feelings. Often, though he felt things deeply and intensely, it was difficult for him to isolate and identify precisely what he felt for another person. It required a level of self-reflection that did not come naturally, and as a result, he avoided it entirely, which was surprisingly easy to do.

Besides. He had plenty of intuition. The fact that he constantly questioned it was a failing he'd yet to overcome. But that didn't mean he was lacking in that regard. Still, though - Law kept his mouth shut; he wasn't about to start up a pointless argument over stupid things now that he'd finally got Kid back in his life. He was hoping the man would choose to stay and Law really would be self-sabotaging if he decided to pick a fight over minutiae.

He didn't think he'd ever really loved another person - at least, not the way he loved Kid. He'd loved Cora, but that was a different sort of feeling, a fraternal affection experienced when he was still very young. The boyfriends he'd had never seemed to make much of an impact. There was always a feeling of transiency about those relationships, and Law never expected them to go very far. As a result, they never did.

Unlike his own feelings, he had never doubted Kid's. "Well, if I'm so bad at this, then how did you know? When you felt the real thing, I mean."

Kid just shook his head, "Man, you're starting to freak me out, here. When you know, you just know. It's not that complicated!" One of his hands slid beneath Law's loose-fitting scrubs top, fingers cool. "You really need to learn how to trust yourself."

"I trust you." He sighed, realizing how much his recent actions directly contradicted that statement. "Or at least I should have. I wanted to, that's where all this trouble started."

"Well geez, that's almost a compliment."

"It's not as easy for me to go trusting other people! Not everyone is the same as you."

"It's 'cause you've got that shitty intuition. You shouldn't need proof to know who to trust."

Kid said, his tone reflective. "But thanks anyway, I guess. That actually means a lot."

"It's not just you, I have a hard time trusting anybody." Law turned his head, sighing into Kid's clothed stomach. "Because of my brother...the rest of my family. I'm not used to people caring when they're not after something. I never put much stock in words. They're easy to fake."

"Yeah. But I don't make a habit of lying, especially not to you."

"I can see that now. But, Eustass..." Law felt his voice die in his throat. So many things felt unsaid but to give them voice would make them real, capable of injury, or of being injured. Law felt very much like his vulnerable belly were exposed for all to see, but the only one present was Kid, and still he was afraid. "When I realized how strongly I was a while ago, when I still thought you were like all the rest. As much as I wanted you, I didn't want to let Doflamingo win. I just had to know, because if you already belonged to my brother - "

"Hey, c'mon. Let's not talk about other guys right now, okay?" Kid shifted, almost with discomfort. "Haven't you spent long enough worrying about who I might be, instead of paying attention to who I am?"

"This wouldn't be such a problem if I hadn't noticed who you are."

"Oh yeah?"

"You're very amazing, Eustass. How could I have missed it?"

"I dunno." Kid shook his head, a rueful smile trying its best to show. His thumb worked into the divot of Law's navel, surprisingly sensitive. "Most people take one look at me and write me off. I was always waiting for you to do the same, but when it never happened...I guess I got my hopes up."

"And now I've shattered them?"

"Let's just say you brought me back to earth."

"That's a shame." Law remembered what Kid looked like on stage and longed for that larger than life persona. Even if Kid forgave him, he still felt guilty for causing such harm in the first place.

"Yeah, well. Life's full of disappointments."

"Are you doing your best to bring me back to earth now?"

"Fair's fair," Kid laughed. He gave Law's ribs a swift tickle that had him squirming away, until he toppled out of Kid's lap like a sack of potatoes. Kid didn't even make the attempt to catch him, instead laughing a second time, "Wow, you're all grace, aren't you?"

"Oh, fuck off." Law clambered back onto the sofa. At least he hadn't wiped out the coffee table on his way down. What was Kid expecting; he was lucky Law hadn't punched him in the face, and even in that case, it would've been due to pure, flailing chance.

Law reclaimed his beer, nursing it sourly. For some reason, this wasn't going at all the way he'd expected. He wondered what he'd even been anticipating...something with far more drama, where each word would be chosen with careful precision. Kid somehow managed to disarm the tension until Law felt stupid for getting worked up in the first place. Maybe Kid had come to terms with things on his own; maybe Law was expected to do the same.

Beside him, Kid rose, heading for the kitchen. There was a pop as he opened a fresh beer, returning to his seat a moment after. The soccer match, practically forgotten, continued with neither team having scored. It all felt terminally normal. Law wondered how Kid could so easily forgive him. It felt unearned.

Against his better impulses, he asked, "Really, Eustass. Aren't you even mad at me?"

"Truthfully? Yeah, I guess I am. A bit." Kid considered his beer for a long moment. "But I spent a lotta my life being mad. It doesn't get you anywhere. It took me a long time to realize that."

"You're allowed to be mad at me. I do fuck up from time to time."

"Think I don't know that? It's not that I'm so forgiving. I just love you." Kid shook his head, rubbing a finger into one eye. "That's way more important than staying mad, or making sure you pay for doing me wrong."

He sighed, flipping his fingers in a gesture of surrender, "What can I say? It would take a lot more than that to make me stop feeling the way I do. Just don't try to take advantage too much, okay? This has been a really miserable few weeks."

"I'll happily agree with you on that." After losing his copy of Kid's report, Law had alerted the Strawhats - he didn't think Kid would try to track them down, but he felt obligated to tell them nonetheless. Usopp offered him a digital copy of the report, seeing as he'd never read the original, but Law declined. By that point, he'd realized exactly how badly he'd stepped over the line.

He could blame it on Doflamingo and the rest of the family all he wanted, but Law knew in his heart that what he'd done was wrong. He'd known it from the very start, and yet it hadn't been enough to stop him. Kid was a much better person at heart than Law was, and the poor bastard hadn't even realized it.

Law swallowed the remainder of his beer before setting the bottle aside. He considered fetching another, but could already feel the effects of the first and decided against it. He sighed, "I suppose this means the honeymoon is over."

"Yeah, finally. Now I can fart without having to worry that it'll scare you off."

"I hate to break this to you, but you've done that in your sleep plenty of times already."

"Oh, whatever. I do not."

"Trust me on this one, darling. It's really the only thing I have to complain about whenever you've spent the night." Feeling restless, Law stood, stretching until his spine gave a satisfying crack. The strain of standing for so many hours during surgery had settled into his lower back, refusing to budge. "You'll stay over tonight, won't you?"

"You have to ask?"

Probably not, but taking things for granted had caused enough trouble as it was. "Can I ever show myself around your place again after this?"

"Maybe, if you're brave. Killer's in your corner, I think Heat and Wire would like us to make up. They're tired of seeing me cry." He flashed a grin that made Law wonder whether or not he were serious. "I'd watch out for Bonney, I can't tell who she's more pissed off at - you for fucking up, or me for letting it slide."

Law could only imagine. He'd heard of Bonney's legendary skills when it came to harboring a grudge. Fortunately, Kid was not the same. It was more than he deserved. Law had all but reconciled that their relationship would end.

"I really didn't tell 'em all that much," Kid said, reaching to pull Law closer by the loose folds of his scrubs. "Just that we'd broken up 'cause you went snooping. I didn't tell them anything about your folks."

"Oh. It's probably for the best, I don't know if they'd believe you."

"Nah, they probably would, that's the thing. I think Bonney's been primed to hate you from the start, so it's best if I don't give her any more justification for it."

"Good thing I'm not dating her, then."

"Pity the poor bastard who does."

Law drew closer until he was standing before Kid, hesitating and annoyed with his insecurities. He felt restless in his own skin, hungry to touch Kid but low on confidence. He decided to throw caution to the wind and without wasting further time, he straddled his knees over Kid's legs, pressing in close. His advances weren't repelled and Law continued, framing Kid's face with his hands. He was beautiful, amber eyed and pale. Law hadn't risked even dreaming that he'd ever see Kid this way again. There was a fresh, pink scar above his eyebrow, a remnant from the injury Law had patched up so many months ago. He tilted forward and Kid met him halfway, as though they were thinking the same thing, as though they could communicate so much easier without words.

Kid kissed with deliberate intent, as serious as if it were their first and final time. It felt like they'd both been given a second chance and Law was determined not to waste it by taking things for granted. All that time he'd spent longing to return things to what they'd been, all the time he'd wasted doubting Kid's intentions - Law poured it all into their kiss, as though it could apologize with more sincerity than his words had managed thus far.

Law felt Kid's hands trailed up the backs of his spread thighs, from knees to hips and back around, cupping each cheek of his ass and squeezing with intent. Law shivered, anticipation blooming inside him until it was hard to breathe, the room's air becoming thin. He pulled away, his chest tight as he rested his forehead against Kid's with their breath shared in the small space between. Law wanted things to stay like this forever.

Kid's face nudged forward, catching Law's lower lip and sucking. There was the hard worry of his teeth before he drew back, "I'm kinda glad you're not as perfect as I always thought you were. Makes me feel like less of a low-life in comparison."

"I've never really trusted perfect things," Law replied. Maybe that was why he'd had such a hard time taking Kid seriously; the man was exquisite, even if he had no idea. Kid began working on a spot beneath his jaw, prompting an incredible melting sensation that left Law's spine feeling as though it'd turned to fluid. He groaned, sinking into Kid's lap and grinding. It was gratifying to find that he wasn't alone in being so shamelessly turned on, and gave an enthusiastic murmur as Kid began kneading his ass.

A door creaked from the hallway and Law froze; moments later, Penguin's shadowy figure strode in the direction of the bathroom, not even glancing in their direction. Thank god.

Law waited until the door clicked shut before hissing, "Why didn't you tell me Pen was still home?"

"Maybe I wasn't expecting you to climb all over me! I wasn't gonna say something that was sure to make you stop."

"Well, you weren't wrong on that count," Law muttered, and made to dismount. But Kid didn't let him, scooping Law up with firm hands against the backs of his thighs. Abruptly, he stood and Law was left holding on for dear life as his center of gravity swung alarmingly, "Put me down, or I swear - "

"Oh shh, you! Just hold on for half a second."

Kid took loping strides towards Law's room, and good god, he'd forgotten how strong the man really was. He could cart Law around like he weighed nothing. With every step, excitement lurched in Law's veins like a refined drug, potent and overwhelming. He hitched his legs around Kid's hips, squeezing and earning a grunt of effort before his back thumped solidly against his bedroom door and Kid fumbled to open it.

Down the hallway, the toilet flushed and Law could hear water running. "If Penguin catches us like this - "

"Yeah, yeah, you'll dump me for real. Man, this is why I never try anything like this! You don't appreciate shit." Kid's annoyance was interrupted as he all but broke the door down. He stumbled through and kicked it shut in their wake, not pausing until he could dump Law bodily atop his own bed.

Law gave an annoyed wheeze on impact. He struggled upright, his feathers ruffled. "I was only going to say, if Penguin caught us like that we'd really never hear the end of it."

"Oh yeah? What's he got to say about all of this?"

"He thinks I'm being an idiot. He tells me so at every opportunity."

"At least someone around here's got their head on straight." Kid stripped out of his shirt as he kicked off one boot after the other, progressing quickly to his belt. Law felt his jaw slacken and sat numbly as he watched Kid disrobe. It was always an impressive sight. And here he'd never thought himself such a fleshmonger before they met….

Kid must've noticed his distraction, "Are you just gonna sit there and stare?"

"Yes. Is that alright?"

"You'll make me blush."

"Good." With his skin tone, there wasn't a thing Kid could do to hide it. He didn't often flush from embarrassment or teasing, but his cheeks would take on a high color once they were really in the thick of things. It would touch the tips of his ears and the back of his neck, immediate and undisguisable proof that Law looked for every time. He could never accuse Kid of faking; his body was just too honest.

Law toed off his shoes and socks but didn't go further. He stretched out flat with his head against the pillows, the cotton of his scrubs harsh against restless nerves.

He was only left waiting for a moment before Kid joined him, sitting on the edge of the bed as one hand snuck immediately up Law's shirt, which was pushed upwards to his throat and collarbones. Kid gave an impatient tug, "You gonna give me a hand here or what?"

"I thought you might want to do the honors."

"This is some really depressing lingerie for that sorta thing."

Law could feel a pout threatening to show itself, lost quickly beneath his shirt as Kid pulled it over his head. The draw-string pants followed, one of Kid's hands cupping between Law's legs with deliberate intent, making him groan and arch towards the attention. He bit his lip, resisting only so that he didn't appear abjectly shameless. It was probably a pointless attempt; Kid had been able to see through him right from the start.

Kid crawled between his legs and Law had never been so grateful to have someone to rut up against like a desperate teenager. Law could hardly explain himself, though it wasn't like Kid asking any challenging questions, more than happy to meet Law in a rough grind. Kid fumbled their remaining shorts away with shaking fingers, and Law felt giddy and wild, almost as if the strings keeping him together had snapped apart one after the other.

Kid braced a hand beside Law's face, looking him over as though seeing him for the first time. His eyes were so dilated they appeared almost black in the meager light from the bedside lamp, leaving Law stripped and naked beneath his gaze. "You're really something else, y'know that?"

It was hard to say if that was entirely complimentary, particularly given recent events. Law didn't really care one way or the other if it kept Kid by his side. "Come on, Eustass," he said, encouraging, whining. "Make me scream."

"That's kind of a dangerous to go asking for." Kid sank towards him until Law felt nearly smothered, the man's body heavy and solidly thick. Teeth worried at the tender shell of his ear, making him squirm though there was effectively nowhere to go. He felt pinned and captured with escape the furthest thing on his mind.

Kid's erection was full with promise against Law's stomach and he wanted to feel it from the inside, to be powerless and helpless to stop Kid as he took what he wanted. He was encouraged to roll over, onto his stomach and Law pulled his knees up to his chest, baring himself and allowing his hips to be guided up and back until his ass rested snugly with Kid's cock trapped between them. It took only a few minutes of preparation, the motions familiar in and of themselves, to the point that Law could feel his heart racing in anticipation in the last moments before Kid pressed inside him, sliding home.

In the end, Law never really screamed, though he did utilize his pillow quite effectively in muffling what sounds he did make. Penguin was home and all of that. While he might be pleased to learn they'd made up, Law doubted he'd really appreciate listening to the results.

Kid molded his body against Law's back, pinning them together as he worked Law to a ragged completion, the sort that left his mind blank and his limbs trembling. By the time he'd calmed down - which took a good few minutes, his head left spinning in the wake of a powerful climax - his pillowcase was damp and bore the indentations of his teeth. He hadn't even caught his breath by the time Kid followed after, the grip of his fingers on Law's hips sure to leave a mark as well. It was demonstrative proof of their reconciliation, the sort that Law wished he could etch permanently into his bones, as permanent as any of the memorial tattoos he'd carved into his skin.

Kid remained bowed over Law's body for a good moment after before disengaging. He flopped onto his back, breathing labored with well-earned exertion. His sweaty palm found Law's arm, traveling blindly from his elbow to his wrist.

He laced their fingers together, "Know what sounds really good right now?"

"Hm?" Law didn't even bother to open his eyes, loose-limbed and content.

"Chinese food."

"Oh." Law blinked. He focused on a point on the ceiling, ignoring his sleepier impulses. "I was going to say a bath."

"We can do both. Maybe both at once."

Law didn't know how on board he was with that idea, but eating something would be for the best. As if to add its voice to the conversation, his stomach growled sourly. He couldn't remember the last time he had a bite...probably back before his surgical shift had even started, and that'd been hours ago. Kid, of course, was always ready to eat.

Beside him, the man shifted, "Lemme put an order in. Otherwise we're just gonna fall asleep."

"What's wrong with that?"

"Dude, I need to eat something. Otherwise you're gonna wake up with me gnawing on your skinny little bones."

Law groaned in lethargic denial. He had to imagine it was nearing up on midnight, but that proved hardly an obstacle as Kid easily found a place that was open and offering delivery, even considering the hour.

Silently, Law had made up his mind to call in sick for work the following morning - he could blame it on the late-night meal giving him indigestion, or some other bullshit excuse. He never took time off and he'd banked almost three weeks in sick leave. He listened to Kid place his order, rolling over so he could wrap his limbs around Kid's chest and hips, holding him tight as a limpet, like something symbiotic that would die enmeshed around its partner.

"Yay, food in twenty minutes," Kid sighed, flopping back onto his pillow. His hair was damp and sweaty at the temples and Law felt an irrepressible urge to burrow in closer until every inch of his body was marked in his familiar scent.

"You'd better not fall asleep," Law murmured. "I'm not answering the door."

"Yeah, yeah." He made to get up but Law latched on and refused to relinquish his hold. Kid picked at his fingers one by one, loosening their grip. "Dude, let go. I have to pee."

"You're destroying the mood."

"It'll really ruin the mood if I piss on you."

"Ugh, get away, you pig." Law released him, bundling beneath the covers instead. He dozed for several minutes until Kid returned, fighting his way into Law's blanket fortress until he was spooned against his back. One strong arm roped around his stomach and Law could feel sleep calling him with thick, dreamy tones. Inarticulately, he mumbled, "I love you."

"I never get tired of hearing that," Kid answered.

"I love you," Law repeated. He found Kid's hand where it rested against his belly. Every piece and every inch, he loved Kid down to his very bones, the flesh and what connected him together and everything in between.

"Hey." Kid's mouth close to Law's ear, and he could practically feel the man's deep voice reverberating through his chest when he spoke, "Can I borrow thirty bucks?"

Law jerked back to awareness, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"I don't have any cash!"

"Maybe mention that before ordering food next time." Law elbowed him in the ribs but acquiesced, directing Kid to where his wallet was located so that he could fetch it once the time came.

It would serve the stupid bastard right if Law didn't have anything to lend him in the first place. On the other hand, these implicit assumptions on Kid's behalf charmed him. He wasn't used to having another person rely on him like that and while it felt silly, he enjoyed it nonetheless. It left him feeling needed and important, especially when the person needing him was Kid.

To a certain extent, it felt like nothing had changed at all. Law resolved to spend more time paying attention to the smaller things; he hadn't realized how badly they would be missed until he was confronted with their absence. Even stupid things like take-out meals in the middle of the night filled him with an odd fondness. And to think, he used to find it all so worrying. He was due for a neurotic ulcer with all the internal agonizing he'd done over the last six months, and weren't relationships supposed to improve one's health in general? He really wondered how normal people did it.

Some things seemed appropriately foolish in hindsight, and Law was surprisingly at peace with being wrong on this count. As with everything when it came to Kid, Law would eagerly rearrange his life until things fit, until they felt comfortable and right. He'd never accepted things at face value, but for the first time in his life, he felt like he finally could. Perhaps Kid had a point with all that talk of trusting one's intuition. Law had never put much stock in such things but he was ready to reevaluate.

He frowned, annoyed that he was already getting stuck in his head. Critical analysis had little place when it came to his feelings for Kid. They were irrational, and for once, he didn't care.