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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.