The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack belongs to Thurop Van Orman.


Prologue

"Flapjack, baby, uh…" Bubbie paused, bringing a flipper to her lower lip in thought "Go and see if Dr. Barber has discovered any new diseases."

"But-"

"Go on, Pumpkin."

Flapjack bit his lip, looking from the whale to the blue faced man sat with his back to him on the dock, his legs hanging over the side as he glared downwards at the murky waters, only brightened by the traces of orange reflected in the ripples from the setting sun on the horizon.

His captain was in big trouble with his guardian. Again.

The young boy heaved a deep sigh and lowered his head, turning away and disappearing down the dock and into the town of Stormalong.

Bubbie watched him leave, and then, when he was finally out of ear shot, she turned a stern eye on Captain K'nuckles.

"K'NUCKLES!"

The Captain was not fazed by the deafening bellow of his name, his brow furrowed as he looked up from the half empty bottle of Maple Syrup in his wooden hands. There was a moment where the whale and the adventurer glared at one another, before Bubbie twisted her mouth, her eyes narrowing.

"I've had it with you, Mister," she began, jabbing K'nuckles roughly in the shoulder a couple of times, so he tilted automatically sideways "If I've told you once, I've told you a MILLION times; I don't want my baby getting into any more trouble!"

"He's fine, isn't he?! I got him back in one piece, didn't I?!" The Captain argued, pointing the neck of the bottle of syrup at her, before taking several large gulps of the sweet, sticky liquid. He shuddered and smacked his lips.

"No, K'nuckles, you didn't! I got him back in one piece. You, Mister, were being lugged to safety by him. TIED UP!"

"Argh, details, details!" K'nuckles waved his arms dismissively.

"Yes, DETAILS! He could have been killed!"

"But he wasn't!"

"BUT HE COULD HAVE BEEN!" Bubbie roared, slamming her "hands" down on the dock so it rumbled beneath his grotty old boots "FO' ONE REASON OR ANOTHER, K'NUCKLES, HE LOOKS UP TO YOU! HE THINKS THE SUN SHINES OUTTA THAT WOODEN KEESTER O' YOURS! YET YOU KEEP LEADING HIM INTO TROUBLE!"

"BUILDS CHARACTER!"

"NOT IF IT KILLS HIM, IT DON'T!"

The Captain gritted his teeth for a moment, and then heaved a deep sigh.

"Look, Bubbie, next time, I promise, I'll be more careful."

"Next time?! What makes you think there's gonna BE a next time?"

K'nuckles stared, his mouth agape. His lips then suddenly stretched from a 'O' shape to a wide grin, and he gave a hearty laugh.

"Good one, whale," he wiped a tear from his eye, taking one last gulp of syrup, before looking back at the whale's face. She wasn't smiling with him "Oh, c'mon, Bubbie, you wouldn't seriously bar me from little Flapjack, would ye? He'd be devastated! You don't wanna see his little heart break, do ye?"

"Of course I don't, K'nuckles, but he'd get over it."

"But he needs me!"

"No, K'nuckles. Flapjack don't need you. You need him."

The Captain scowled, turning away and folding his arms.

"Captain K'nuckles don't need nobody," he huffed.

"Captain, he says," Bubbie scoffed, rolling her eyes "Captain K'nuckles. Just what, Captain, are you Captain of, exactly?"

K'nuckles immediately went to reply, his mouth held open and a wooden finger pointed matter-of-factly towards the sky, but when a reply failed to reach his thoughts, his brow furrowed further, and he closed his mouth, looking down at his boots.

"Oh, that's right. You ain't Captain o' nothin', are you? You' just a washed up ole' sailor without a penny to yo' name, feeding lies to the one person who looks up to you the most, and then leadin' him into trouble, with no remorse about the matter so long as you don't get hurt. Humph. Some Captain."

The blue faced adventurer continued to stare down at his boots, his blood boiling in his veins, before a low, dangerous growl rumbled from his throat, and in one sweeping movement of his wooden claws, he lifted the now empty bottle of syrup up into the air and then smashed it against the wooden boards of the dock. His breathing was heavy as he then turned his gaze back to the whale, who stared back with an equally angered glare.

"Get outta here, K'nuckles. And don't think you' comin' back."

K'nuckles stared and then threw the neck of the bottle into the ocean, before turning and clunking angrily down the dock towards the town, the rusty hinges in his knees creaking with every step.

"Hey! Hey, Cap'n!" K'nuckles didn't look at Flapjack as he came running excitedly towards him "You'll never guess what Dr. Barber-"

"Not now, boy," he grumbled, pushing him out of his way.

"W… Where you goin'?"

"Out," he replied, leaving the Cabin boy to stare after him "Don't follow me."

The Captain spent a good two hours or so clunking about the town, with no real thought on a destination, brooding to himself over Bubbie's words before he finally returned to the dock.

The sun had been fully swallowed by the horizon, and the sky had grown dark, bar the stars that twinkled happily overhead. The silhouette of the whale, his home, could be just made out in the light of the moon. He heaved a deep, tired sigh and hobbled along the dock towards the harbour, finally reaching Bubbie, whose eyes were sealed shut with sleep. K'nuckles looked tiredly up at her hidden eyes, before yawning and then slipping his wooden hands between her lips. He pulled, but they remained sealed tightly. He grunted in frustration and then pulled again, but her lips simply wouldn't part and allow him entrance.

He looked up, to see that her eyes were no longer closed, just visible in the dim light of the moon, glaring at him.

The Captain withdrew his hands.

"Just what do you think you' doin'? she asked, her brow furrowing as she folded her flippers.

"I'm going to bed, Bubbie, I'm exhausted."

"Oh, no you don't. Have you forgotten what I said earlier?" K'nuckles said nothing, just stared, confused "I told you to go, and not to come back."

"Oh, c'mon, Bubbie, can't we let bygones be bygones?"

"No, K'nuckles. I've had it with you always leading my baby into trouble."

K'nuckles stared in both horror and disbelief. The whale had kicked him out plenty of times, but had always let him come back after an hour or so, after she had had time to cool down. His brow furrowed, a growl rumbling in his throat.

Suddenly, he jumped up and latched onto her skin, heaving himself up onto her back, clinging tighter as she thrashed about, splashing noisily in the harbour's waters, trying to throw him off as he hoisted himself towards her blowhole. She failed to shake him loose before he had wormed his way through the passage into her mouth, landing heavily on her tongue, where Flapjack slept, but before he could even so much as say anything to the boy, the whale immediately spat him back out onto the dock.

"NO MEANS NO, K'NUCKLES!"

"Cap'n?" K'nuckles looked up to see Flapjack pushing his way up through his guardian's blowhole, and peering tiredly at him "Guys, what's going on?"

"She's not lettin' me in!" the Captain yelled, flailing his arms.

"Flapjack, baby, go back to sleep."

"Just let me in, Bubbie! I promise I'll be more careful!"

The Cabin boy watched as his Captain bickered with the whale about his lack of responsibility, how he had no concept of other people and how he should be more careful with the young boy. Flapjack never saw any flaw in what K'nuckles told him to do. Making mistakes is a part of every great adventure. But Bubbie would always tell him that his Captain used him, making him do anything he himself didn't want to do. Flapjack believed him to be the greatest adventure to have ever existed, so he would gladly do anything for him, even if it endangered his life.

The boy loved him, and the one thing Bubbie simply couldn't stand was that her baby gave this man all this love, like he was his Father and he clearly meant the world to him, yet K'nuckles would use this love to take advantage of him. When she knew, deep down, he loved the Cabin boy in return.

Perhaps denying the Captain access to the young boy would finally knock some sense into him. And if it didn't, at least her little boy would be safe from any further harm.

The bickering continued, and by this point, Flapjack simply couldn't stand it. He clenched his fists and heaved himself out of Bubbie's blowhole, so he was now balanced on her back, taking a long, deep breath.

"QUIET!" he shrieked, and the other two, the whale and the pirate, came to a sudden silence. They stared up at him, watching as the expression of anger carved into his features deteriorated into one of sadness. He hung his head and sighed "K'nuckles… Maybe…"

"What, Flappy?" the Captain asked, hopefully. His Cabin boy bit his lip.

"Maybe… You should just go… I'm… Really tired."

K'nuckles stared upwards towards Flapjack with those tired, sunken-in eyes of his, his heart sinking, before he hung his head miserably down to face his boots. He looked back at the boy.

"Oh…" he murmured, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his favourite coat, worn and caked with grime "Well… What ever you want, boy…"

And then, after a sharing a melancholy stare with the young boy, he turned and clunked and creaked and rattled down the dock, leaving the Cabin boy to stare miserably after him.

"Puddin'? You alright?"

He sniffed.

"No."

Captain K'nuckles heaved a tired, miserable sigh as he pushed open the swing doors of the Candy Barrel and traipsed inside. In all the time he had lived in Stormalong, even from when he was a little boy, even younger than Flapjack, the bar hadn't changed in the slightest. All that had changed was whoever was running it.

The current bartender was a tall, skinny man with neat, mousy brown hair known as Peppermint Larry, whose smile, though wide, and generally welcoming to paying customers, was made somewhat eerie-looking by the ever present sight of his over-sized gums. He had owned the candy-selling bar for a good ten years now, with his Candy Wife, who could be seen sat still, stiff and silent in a corner seat on the left hand side of the room, usually.

To the Captain, there had always been a warm, soothing aura about the building, be it because of the multi-coloured lights, or the large, glass jars of delicious looking sweets, or even Larry's hearty laugh which echoed annoyingly, yet familiarly, through his ears. Or, perhaps, it was the different array of familiar faces. Sailors whom, although he was only really acquainted with them, he had a fairly decent rapport with and could easily have a good chat with about past or present experiences, whether they be the truest of truths or the tallest of tales. And then, one face that generally stood out amongst the collection of tired looking sailors, was that of a busty, young lady, who, really, would have been quite pretty if her face didn't have a dark, bitter scowl carved into it.

K'nuckles surveyed the building from left to right, and then hobbled heavily towards the counter, hopping up onto one of the burgundy, cushioned seats opposite the smiley bartender.

"Good evenin', Cap'n," Larry's smile seemed to falter, slightly, as he spoke to the Captain, which, really, wasn't particularly odd "No Flapjack, tonight?"

"Nope."

"So… What brings you here, this fine evening?"

"Fine. Humph. What's so fine about it?" he scoffed. When the bartender said nothing and simply beamed at him, he sighed "Just gimme the usual."

"As I recall, Captain, the only "usual" I ever get from you is your lack of money," Larry laughed. He always laughed. One had to wonder if perhaps it was a nervous habit, or if he just found everything genuinely hilarious "So, is it the usual?"

K'nuckles grumbled and folded his arms. There wasn't really much point in replying.

The sound of glass running smoothly across the wooden surface could be heard briefly, causing him to look up to see a pretty much full glass of candy as it gently bumped into his elbow. He then turned his gaze from the glass in the direction it had come from.

His eyes landed on the figure that was Ms. Rhubarb N. Custard, who was sat in her usual spot about five or so seats away from him, her back arched forwards and elbows rested on the counter top. She wasn't facing him, but he could see her dark eyes watching him, narrowed and apathetic.

"Is this for me?" he asked, and she gave a short, blunt nod.

"If ye wan'it."

K'nuckles raised his eyebrows "Well, don't you?"

"Larry!" the young woman suddenly barked gruffly to the bartender "Same again!"

"Sure thing, Ms. Rhubarb," came his chortled reply, and the Captain looked at the glass again, and then shrugged, grabbing the handle and taking in a mouthful of candy.

"Uh, thanks, I guess."

She made no reply.

"Here we are, Ms. Rhubarb," Larry chuckled as he placed a new glass on the counter for her, and she nodded in thanks, placing a couple of coins on the counter in return, before picking the glass up and pouring candy into her mouth, crunching on the boiled sweets, her sour face unchanged.

Whenever K'nuckles paid a generally unappreciated visit to the Candy Barrel, this young woman, well-rounded and chocolate-skinned, would always be sat in the same seat, hunched over the counter with a furrowed brow and a large glass of syrup or candy. Day after day. Night after night. He sometimes wondered if she ever went home. If she had a home, that was.

But not only did she waste her life at the quaint little candy bar, there was also something else that labelled her as "different" in comparison to every other young woman in Stormalong. She had been coming for months on end, and every time he saw her, she was never wearing a dress.

Ever.

Every other woman the Captain knew of rarely came into the Candy Barrel at all (well, not without the intention of seducing fellow patrons), let alone dressed like a sailor, in worn, grotty boots and a grimy shirt with loose, wide sleeves. But then, Ms. Custard was hardly normal, it seemed, as she downed the glass of candy Larry had just set on the counter for her.

"So, what troubles you tonight, Ms. Rhubarb?" the bartender asked brightly, refilling her glass without her even asking.

"Dee usual."

K'nuckles looked at her from his now empty glass of candy.

"You've yet to enlighten me on what the "usual" is, young miss."

She said nothing. She looked from her glass back towards the Captain and there eyes locked for a moment.

"Fill 'im up."

She set a few more coins on the counter, and the bartender did as he was told. The Captain raised his eyebrows and shrugged again as his glass was refilled.

"Uh, thanks… Again," he replied, puzzling briefly as to why the young lady was being so generous towards him. They'd never really spoken before. They'd passed comment between each other once or twice in the past, but K'nuckles couldn't recall ever having a proper conversation with her.

He looked about the bar, which, though heart warming in appearance, felt considerably colder without little boy Flapjack sat spinning in the chair beside him. Then he turned his head back to the young lady. The Captain heaved a deep sigh and hopped from his stool, hobbling up to the seat beside her and clambering up.

"Evenin'."

She said nothing, only opened her mouth and took in another mouthful of candy.

They sat in an awkward silence for a minute or so, before Ms. Custard suddenly span in her seat, away from the bar, and got down, heading towards one of the booths, and sliding into a seat, leaving the Captain to sit alone at the bar. Had he offended her or something?

It seemed not, as she looked at him with those dull, black eyes, then nodded towards the seat on the other side of her chosen table. He blinked, then carefully took his glass in both hands, wriggling from his stool and clunking across the room to the booth. He sat down, looking awkwardly from those eyes, to Peppermint Larry, to those dull eyes, to the Candy Wife sat lifeless in the corner, then once again to those hard, sunken-in eyes. He fidgeted uncomfortably.

"… What?" he frowned. She pouted her lips and furrowed her brow, humming in thought.

"So…" her voice was, for once, clear "What trouble' you, tonight, Captain?"

He raised his eyebrows. For one thing, she was actually asking how he was. For a second, there were very few people, past Flapjack, who ever called him "Captain". He shifted in his seat, with the slightest smile of pure arrogance on his face, before he replied "Nothin'."

"I hehte liars," she took a few gulps of candy and wiped her mouth up her sleeve. And stared. He stared back, swallowing loudly and turning his gaze to the floor.

"… Fine. Screwed up with Flapjack, now Bubbie ain't lettin' me see 'im."

The faintest of faint smiles appeared on her lips "Humph… You and Bubbie; you be like a married couple; alway' bickerin' away 'boat dat little blonde boy."

K'nuckles spluttered indignantly "A married couple?! Ms. Custard, she's a WHALE."

"I said LIKE," she frowned at him "I nawt sayin' you be a couple."

"Humph…" he scowled, crossing his arms and sulking for a moment. He then looked back at her "How do you know so much about us, anyway? You never leave the bar."

"Da's what you tink," her eyes were closed as she drew candy into her mouth "I leabe dee bar when it close', at midnight, den come back when it opens, at four. What d'you tink I do when it's shut, here? "

"See, I just assumed they kept you in the cupboard or something," he smiled slightly, a chuckle in his words "A busty little ornament, to sit at the bar. Perhaps a way to attract seedy sailors, eh?"

"It' nice to know you tink so highly ob me, Captain."

"Call me K'nuckles, Ms. Custard."

"Call me Rhubarb, Kuh'nuhckahles. Or Ms. Rhubarb, if you prefer. Dawn't matter tuh me, eeder weh."

"Seems a fair enough deal."

"Agreed."

He tilted his head to the side.

"… Pretty young lady like you, though, Rhubarb… Why waste your life here in the Candy Barrel?"

"World be full o' people who judge and expect tings ob ya," she replied, finishing her glass of candy and setting it down on the table with a clunk and a satisfied sigh "People dawn't judge, 'ere, 'cept dem prissy sticks dat flounce in 'ere and sit in any old sailor' lap."

He shook his head "And you dress so much like a sailor… You'd look nice in one of those posh frocks. And I know you have the money, for one; You've been buyin' me candy, all night."

She glared at him, her eyes considerably darker.

"Frocks bring back old memories. Besides, if I were to wear a dress, I'd probably git scurby dawgs like you, looking up it."

"I would disagree, but you've said already that you hate liars," she kicked him, hard, under the table, but he only sat there looking smug "Don't hurt, darlin'. They're made of wood."

"Attractive."

"Well, I'd like to think so," he grinned at her. She snorted, running her finger around the rim of her glass, and then looked up at him.

"Wha'aapen to ya to git yerself kicked out, anyweh, Kuh'nuhkahles?"

It took K'nuckles a moment to understand her "Oh… I don't really wanna talk about it."

She cocked her head to the side.

"Whatever it be… Did it happen because you be inconsiderate?"

K'nuckles looked up at her indignantly, an insulted scowl on his face "Who says I'm inconsiderate?!"

"Nawbody. Too obvious for anyone to seh."

That was it. The Captain stood up and slammed his hands down on the table, leaning over it and glaring down at her. She only stared back, eyes dull, but ears alert.

"Look here, Missy, I don't know who you think you are, but you've got a lot o' nerve tellin' me I'm inconsiderate when you don't even KNOW me!" he snarled.

"And what do you tink of me, Kuh'nuhckahles?"

He fumed, twisting his mouth "I think you're a sulky, prejudice cow, that's what I think."

"And you' be dee pot, callin' dee kettle black, Captain."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Callin' me prejudice, when YOU don't know ME."

"Well, what can there be to know about you?!" he shouted, glaring at her as she did as he did and stood up, putting her hands on the table and glaring at him "You sit in here, day after day, SULKING. You're the most BORING person I've ever met!"

She smacked him.

Hard.

"Ev'ry one' got a past, Kuh'nuhkahles!" she roared. He stared at her in utter disbelief, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open as he rubbed his cheek. She sat down and crossed her arms as though nothing had happened while he simply blinked at her. Finally, he slumped back down into his chair.

"… You just smacked me…"

She said nothing.

"… Why'd you smack me?!"

"… I dawn't want to be nawticed…"

"Excuse me…?"

"… I dawn't… Want to exist…" she looked at him. So tired. So… Miserable. He could only stare at her "… Nawt anymore… It hurt', too mahch," she patted her chest, where her heart was "Heeuh…"

His brow furrowed as he puzzled. Then blinked again "What's that got to do with you hitting me?"

"… It why I be saw… "borin'"… And… You shouldn't judge me, because of it…"

K'nuckles finally saw through that dark, apathetic stare of hers, that was emitted from those sunken-in eyes. Eyes which were sunken in, not from too many hours lost to too much candy, but from sleepless nights, spent dwelling on… Something. He frowned.

"Right…" she looked away from him "… You've got a bit o' story tellin' to do, I think, Ms. Rhubarb."

She swallowed.

"… What do ya want to knaw…?"

"Well," K'nuckles took a gulp of his own candy "First off, who is he?"

Rhubarb sat up, indignantly, spluttering "Who says there's this is dee fault of a man?"

"Trust me, I KNOW when a woman's got a man on her mind," he slipped his wooden thumbs beneath the lapels of his coat, with a proud, toothy smile on his face "That man usually being me."

She snorted "Dawn't make me laugh."

"Oh, it's true, m'dear," he grinned at her.

"If it's so true, den why 'aven't I fallen victim to dis spell, o' yours?"

"Oh, it'll come," he replied, a smirk on his face. Judging by her expression, K'nuckles could see that, even without words, she was disagreeing with him.

"I wouldn't bet on it, Captain," the slight smile on her face drooped into a sulk "… Dawn't tink dis heart could ebbuh lubb anyone, again…"

"Hmm…" the captain hummed. Then smiled "Well, buy us another round and spin us a yarn, eh, sweetheart? I've got all night."

And Ms. Custard did as she was told.

Voice dripping with an accent which K'nuckles found difficult to understand, the busty young lady began to tell her tale. A tale that gradually lead the smile to fall from the captains face.

"I was… born intuh a… Very rich family… Dawn't knaw whedduh you knaw of a Lord Custard?" he shook his head "Well, he be mi Farduh. An' livin' in a family like dat, a gurl, such a' mi self, 'as to keep up a good reputation, right? Lib up to ebbyone's expectations, eh?"

"Well, to the best o' MY knowledge…"

"I was quite different, den, you knaw… I wore pretty dresses, rosy cheeks… I wa' alway' smilin'… But den… I met Meestuh Cocoa…"

K'nuckles snorted "Mr. Cocoa? What kind of name is Cocoa?"

"What kind o' a nehm is Kuh'nuhkahles?"

"What kind of a name is Custard?!"

They glared at each other.

"… Anyweh, I met Meestuh Cocoa on dee docks, back hawme. I lived by dee harbuh, one not too diffuhehnt from dis one, and Meestuh Cocoa was an ovah-sea syrup runnuh, right? Mahch, mahch belaw dee Custard family standards… Ehnd… I fell in lubb wid 'im…"

"Ooh, that couldn't have gone down well…" K'nuckles mumbled, taking a swig of his candy, his eyes not leaving her face, her eyes miserable, cast downwards to the table.

"Naw… Naw, it di'n't… 'E proposed to me, ehnd when I tawld mi Farduh, 'e went berserk, saw dat was dee end of dat… Or saw he beliebe… We… Planned to elope, me ehnd Meestuh Cocoa… Ge' marrie' ehnd trabel dee seas. Ehdn then he say, "Tuhmorraw," 'e say "Meet me on da docks, ehnd we run aweh, tuggeduh." So, I wen'tuh dee docks…"

By this point K'nuckles face had fallen entirely, his mouth hanging open in disbelief.

"He didn't, did he?"

"If you' tinkin' dat 'e left me wehthin' dere, den yes. He did."

There was an awkward silence.

"… Ehnd… I nebbuh saw 'im again."

"Ouch…" K'nuckles blinked at her "That's pretty rough."

And it was then that Rhubarb stared him dead in the face, and then crumpled into a slumped heap on the table, shoulders shaking violently with heart-wrenching sobs. He watched in absolute horror, having no idea what to do.

He didn't want her to cry… It just didn't seem right…

"Aw… Aw, no, c'mon, Rhubarb…" he looked uneasily from the sobbing heap that was formerly the bitter young lady who would sit at the bar, to Peppermint Larry, was stood behind the counter, cleaning glasses, glaring at him. K'nuckles grinned sheepishly back, with a shrug of his shoulders. He then leaned across the table, awkwardly patting Rhubarb's elbows "C'mon, sweetheart… I… I don't like seein' you c-… Ooh, people are lookin' Rhubarb! You're gonna get me kicked ou-"

"Excuse me, Ms. Rhubarb, but is he giving you trouble?"

"No, no, no trouble," K'nuckles interjected, desperately, waving his arms with an unconvincing grin "We're just havin' a, uh, heart to heart, right, Rhubarb?"

Rhubarb simply wailed.

"Alright, K'nuckles," the Captain was pulled to his feet by his collar, and soon found himself being steered towards the door "I think you've outstayed your welcome. I'm not having you upsetting my best customer."

"But, but, bu-"

"Weht!" by this point, the captain was clinging to the doorway, his face pushed into it as the bartender tried to tug him free, both of them cursing and struggling and grumbling to one another. They stopped, and looked to Ms. Rhubarb who was now on her feet, gripping onto the upholstery of her seat, her brow knitted together "Leave 'im… 'E' fine. I'm fine."

She forced a grin, wide and clown like. Terrifying, actually. Larry frowned, and let K'nuckles go, who immediately stepped backwards away from him, brushing off his coat with his hands.

"Thank you," he replied, eyes closed, nose cast towards the ceiling. He tucked his hands into the pockets of his coat, and walked nonchalantly back to his seat, looking wronged and indignant. Rhubarb grinned sheepishly at Larry as he narrowed his eyes in a "watch him" sort of way, before sitting down herself.

She sighed.

"… Sorry aboat dat…" she was pink in the cheeks from embarrassment.

"Nah, nah… Don't worry about it…" he smiled at her. She looked at him, blinking briefly. Then wrinkled her nose.

"… Why you bein' saw nehce to me…?"

"Ah, well, I know what it's like to love and then lose," he beamed, making her narrow an eye.

"… You just wahnt candy out o' me."

"Hey, now," he frowned. He pushed his half empty glass away from him, as though to prove a point "I'm genuinely concerned, Ms. Rhubarb. You're my friend, right?"

"… Frehnd…?"

She stared at him like he'd just told her he loved her. He stared back, confused.

"… What?"

"We… We' frehnds…?"

"Yeah, yeah, kid, don't have a cow about it…" he replied, blinking at her for a moment, before picking up his glass, again and taking a gulp of the candy. He set it down, empty, staring at it, before looking at Rhubarb "But uh… While we're on the matter of friends…"

"… I dawn't knaw, Kuh'nuhkahles… I tink you meh hab had enough. Dawn't wahnt ya gett'n' too bon-bonned, do we?"

He snorted "I'm fine. Do I look bon-bonned, to you?"

"Naw, but I've seen you crash, before, Captain, and I dawn't want you getting' yourself hurt. 'Specially as you ain't got no where to gaw…"

The Captain waved his hand in a manner which said that she had no idea what she was talking about "Ah, stop talking woman. There's no harm in another glass. You've been here all night, and you look fine to me. And I bet your more of a light weight than I am."

She stared at him. Then smirked.

"Oh, really, now?" he nodded, arrogantly. Her smirk only broadened into one of those clown-grins of hers "Awirght, den Kuh'Nuhkahles, I tink if we are gonna get completely bon-bonned togged, den we need to make a wager about it, eh?"

"I like the sound of this," he tapped his wooden claws together, grinning keenly from ear to ear "Terms?"

"First one to crash is dee loser. If I crash first, den I pay for both yours, and dat Flapjack kid's candy for a month."

"And if I lose?"

"… Den you set yersehlf strehght."

He blinked at her "What do you mean, set myself straight?"

"All dis trouble wid Flapjack. You love 'im dawncha? Dawn't want tuh lose him, right?"

K'nuckles spluttered "Hey, lady, I don't know who you think you are, makin' assumptio-"

"It's nawt an assumption. It' a fact, Kuh'nuhkahles. Me ehnd ev'yudduh lady, kid ehnd sailor knaw dat you love dat boy like 'e' ya' awn son, or someting."

The Captain turned his eyes down to the table, picking at the varnish on the wooden finish with a sharp wooden finger.

"… It's that obvious, huh…?"

He looked at her as she broke into another huge grin. He wasn't sure if he liked this side of her… The one that kept smiling; it was kind of creepy. It was like her smile didn't fit her face… Hollow and forced, with a happiness that was clearly faked. But her eyes glinted with a distant satisfaction behind that usually bitter stare. She wasn't fake.

Maybe she struggled with her emotions and thoughts, just as he did.

"… Stop smilin' so big…" he said, quietly, cocking his head slightly to the side, with the tiniest smile on his lips.

"Why?"

"Here, here, lemme…" he stood up and reached across the table. He gently pushed at her cheeks, creasing her eyes, and then pushed at the corners of her mouth and chin, sticking out his tongue in concentration. He let her go, with a much more genuine smile on her face "There we are…"

She blinked a couple of times.

"… You look almost pretty, now."

She kicked him under the table, again.

"Wooden."

She smirked.

"Larry! Ready yo' self fo' a couple more rounds!"

K'nuckles grinned.


"Alright, you two, it's closing time; I think you two better head off home," Larry sighed as he pushed two of his now intoxicated patrons, who stumbled out of the bar, arm in arm, wobbling about and laughing at the slightest things. The bartender had never seen Ms. Rhubarb this way… She actually looked… Happy. He tried not to grin as he shut the doors with a "Look after yourselves, you two."

They did as best they could at looking after themselves, but despite their efforts, the both them almost fell over a good three times before they were so much as a few metres from the Candy Barrel. It was the fourth pathetic stumble they made when they finally fell heavily onto the docking. They sat on the floor and hooted with laughter, holding their stomachs, leant against one another's shoulders. Ms. Custard was laughing harder than she had in a very long time, it seemed, as she spluttered and convulsed with giggles, unknowing of the Captain's watery eyes now on her as his own chortles slowed to shaky, happy sighs. He sat and simply smiled at her. She looked at him, gradually smiling back. She still hadn't learnt.

He pawed at her face, as he had done, before, making her fidget.

"I dawn't need lessons on how to smile."

"Yeah, but you were fine a minute ago, when you were laughin'. Don't smile if you don't want to; S'like tellin' lies."

"You mean like you do?" a genuine smile. K'nuckles narrowed his eyes briefly, then grinned, pushing himself unsteadily to his feet. He hesitated, then held his hand out to her, pulling her up.

He smiled "Uh… How does that song again…?"

"What song, Kuh'nuhkahles?" there was a giggle in her words.

"The… What-sit of the Pinafore thing… The one you taught me, earlier."

"I am dee Captain of da Pinafore, and a right good captain, too?"

"That's the one. I like that one."

"Mm…"

"How'd you manage to see a fancy-pants opera like the "H.M.S Pinafore" anyway?"

"Tawld ya earliuh. My Daddy is Lord Custard, ain't he?"

"Mm…" the captain hummed. There was a small silence, until Rhubarb hiccupped and the two of the erupted into laughter, again, before finally staggering along the docks, once more, singing "So give three cheers and one cheer more, for the well-bred Captain of the Pinafore."

"You, Kuh'nuhkahles," Ms. Custard slurred, finally "Are a TERRIBLE singer."

"As are you, m'dear."

"Perhaps, but I tink dere is a possibility dat I'm slightly more tuneful, dan you."

"Ah, well, that's why I only sing when I'm completely bon-bonned."

"Ha!" Rhubarb exclaimed, excitedly, wheezing with laughter "I tink I win dis li'l wager ob ours, den, Kuh'nuhkahles."

K'nuckles burst into laughter "YOU? YOU win?! Puh-LEASE, Rhubarb, you're as drunk as a sailor."

"I AM a sailor!"

"You? Ha! You're not a sailor. You said yourself, you just dress like this because no other girl does."

"Pfft," she clutched her side, scrunching her face as she sniggered, staggering along beside the washed-up sailor. They swayed blindly up a random, near by alley, taking a break to hoot and guffaw, leaning against the wall to catch their breath "Per'aps, Captain. But I do like fine, dough, dawn't I?"

"Can't say I disagree with ya, there, Ms. Rhubarb…" there was a small silence where the Captain just looked at her for a reason he didn't know. Her features were just visible in the flickering light of a gas-lit street lamp at the closest end of the alley entrance. And she was… Oddly… Beautiful. She looked at him.

"What…?"

He frowned slightly, then took her by her chin, pulling her forward towards him, tenderly brushing his lips against hers. She blinked at him as he pulled away, blood rushing, unbeknownst to him, to her cheeks. She then swallowed.

"… Dat… Dat wasn't too bad was i-" she interrupted herself, grabbing him by the lapels of his coat and tugging him toward her, lips meeting, crushing, smashing hungrily against one another's. Hands roamed and vocals grunted, eyes clamped shut, every movement made on a whim as they slid down to the floor, knees bent as Rhubarb sat and K'nuckles leaned over her, holding his balance on one arm, and holding the back of her neck with his spare hand.

He didn't know what it was; Perhaps it was the shock of being separated from his cabin boy, the girl's unexpected generosity, the fact that he was quite crashed on sugar, or maybe even the truth that was Rhubarb's dark, exotic allure, made all the more appealing in the yellow light of the streets, that made him all the more hungry for a taste of rhubarb and custard. But, whatever it was, K'nuckles simply couldn't help himself. He didn't want this girl. He needed her. He could feel her hands tugging at his jacket, him only yanking hers from her, in turn, tossing it over his shoulder, and pulling at her waist. He only paused his hungry kisses to let her pull his own jacket from his shoulders.

It was as she pawed at his shirt that he saw just how… Small her hands were.

Small, dainty, young.

He took in a sharp, sudden breath, taking her wrists and holding them still, staring down at her hands, fingers, fingernails. Her ring finger, on which still remained her engagement ring…

He sighed heavily, not believing he was going to do this…

"Ms. Rhubarb…"

"Is dere someting wrong?"

"No, no, it's not that. Not that at all…" he looked up from her hands to her eyes. Brown, like chocolate… God, she was so sweet. Why the hell hadn't he noticed her before…? He sighed again, holding up her ring finger to show her "Look… See that?"

"… I wish I didn't…"

"I know, but you do. It's still there, and will stay there until you move on, right?"

She looked at the ring. Then him. Then the ring. It was cheap; it was all her dear Mr. Cocoa could afford, but to her, it was the most beautiful thing in the world. And also the most heart breaking.

She sniffed.

"Ah, ah, there, see? That's it," he released her hands, gently cupping her cheeks "Ms. Rhubarb… I only realised, tonight, just how… Beautiful you are… Damn, what I wouldn't give for a girl like you on me arm… But…"

"But…?"

"This ring, here, it represents how you feel; And this guy, he's a complete schmuck for leavin' you waitin' at the docks, but, non-the-less, you love him, doncha?"

She looked like she was going to burst into tears as she sadly nodded.

"… And… Flapjack… He's the most… Annoyin' thing on this planet. He really is, but then… Even though he drives me up the wall, I… I love 'im. He's my best friend, my partner in crime… He's… My boy… And… Even if I never see him again, after today, it'll kill me. God of course it will… But you've just gotta make things better for yourself, doncha?"

"… What's dis got to do with you turning me down for sex…?"

K'nuckles laughed "You're so blunt. Most women I know would faint at the mere mention o' that word."

"What? Sex? Would you raddah me say intercourse? Or some udduh toffee-nosed descriptin'?"

"No, no, it's fine… Oh, I forgot what I was gonna say n- Oh! I remember," he took her hands "Right. As it stands, no one has said, for sure, that I'm not allowed to see Flapjack again, right?"

"Right…"

"And like you said, earlier, if I can, then I have to change my ways for him, don't I? Not just for my sake, but for his… But… If I'm not allowed to see him… I need to get on with my life and make things better, as best I can, right?"

"Right…"

"And you know this thing with Mr. Cocoa?"

"… Yeah…?"

"Is sleepin' with me gonna make your life better?"

She said nothing for a moment, before finally replying with a quiet "Dawn't knaw…"

"Well… As far as "morals" and junk are concerned, you should really only have sex with someone, if you love them, right?"

"Right…"

"And do you love me…?"

Rhubarb spluttered, her face flaming red "No! You… I… I just… I just… Wanted SOMEONE to be clawse to…"

"Exactly…" K'nuckles heaved yet another deep sigh "You don't love me. Probably never will. I dunno what it is you want with me, Ms. Rhubarb, but what ever it is, it ain't a good idea. Look… Just… Go home, get some sleep… Some proper sleep. You're eyes are so sunken-in, you look like a skeleton."

"But… B-but…"

"Rhubarb," he frowned at her, taking her shoulders and giving her a slight shake "Listen to me. You're lovely… You really are, and any guy would be lucky to have you… But… You… You're just so young… I don't want you throwing your life away… I've let it happen to myself, and now look at me. I'm sat in an alley, after getting kicked out of my home for driving my boy wrong. Again. If you knew me back to front, if you truly loved me, and I felt the same, damn, I'd have you up against this wall-"

"Kuh'nuhkahles! God sehke, mon," she was bright red as she slapped him harder across the face than he would admit. He could tell. He held his cheek, scowling at her, before continuing.

"But that's NOT the case. You've got your whole life ahead of ya… Use it to find someone who deserves you, eh?" he tickled her under her chin, making her squirm "Understand?"

"Yeah.. Yeah, I understand… So uh…"

They pushed themselves to their feet, standing awkwardly in the dimly lit alley, before they bent and picked up their discarded jackets slowly slipping them on, eyes not leaving the others. Silence.

"Uh…" Rhubarb rubbed the back of her head. Then held out her hand "… Good night, eh?"

"Yeah, I'd like to think so… We should, uh… Do it again, sometime…"

"Mm…" there was a second pause, before Ms. Custard suddenly broke into that clown-like grin "I won."

"No you did not! I did!"

"Naw, I did. You cahn't eben walk streht!"

"I can barely bend my knees! O' COURSE I can't walk straight!"

"Pfft, excusehs, excusehs."

"Well, what about you? Your speech is more slurred than ever,"

"Is'nawt! Stawp tryin' tuh convince me I've lawst!" she slurred. He smirked "… Fine… It's a draw."

"Hey, hey, don't cheat me out of my month's free candy, now!"

"I'm nawt! If I've won, and you've won, den you still get you month's candy, but you' also gotta put yourself right!"

"I was gonna do that, anyway!"

"Den stop complaining, you stupid man!" she cried, grinning. He stared at her. Then burst into laughter, taking her hand and giving it a vigorous shake.

"I like you, kid."

"Likewise. Except for dee "kid" bit. You're too awld to be uh kid."

"Hey, watch it."

They stood in silence and smiled at one another, hands in pockets, unevenly shifting their weight from one foot to another. The wind blew, and the Captain shivered.

"You cawld…?"

"A little… I think it's just the thought o' sleeping in this, though. Again."

Rhubarb pushed at her bottom lip with her tongue as she thought, humming in her throat, before shrugging a shoulder "You can always… Stay at mine, tonight…"

He looked at her.

"Well… Where do you live?"

She pointed to the higher regions of the small town "Upper Stormalong."

"'Splains why no one ever sees ya, outside the Candy Barrel, I guess…" K'nuckles pondered her offer for a moment, taking into consideration the thing which he had, regrettably, prevented. It was tough, it really was; especially as the both of them were quite heavily intoxicated, and the young miss had suddenly gone from the sulky, bitter lump at the bar, to a witty, beautiful woman, skin painted in memory of the sweetest looking chocolate. Chocolate the Captain was dying to taste. He stared at her, then vigorously shook his head "Nah… I… 'preciate it, but I've crashed too hard, and you've become more… Tempting since I saw you in the bar, today."

"Are you attracted to me, den, Kuh'nuhkahles? Have I, as people say… Pulled?"

"Don't get cocky."

"I wawn't," she smiled slightly, looking down to the floor, wringing her hands "Tank you… I… I tink I needed a night, like tonight… I… Haven't been dis cheerful in a while…"

"… Will you be back at the Candy Barrel, tomorrow…?"

"Will you be wehtin' dere, for me?"

He stuffed his hands into his pockets, looking almost bashfully down to the floor "… I might stop by, I guess…"

She grinned, pulling off his hat and kissing his forehead.

"G'night, Captain. Good luck, wid Flapjack."

The young lady then set the hat back on his head, pushing it down over his eyes, and lurching backwards as he grabbed towards her, laughing, before he pushed it out of his eyes, only to see her as nothing but a dark silhouette, slinking off along the docks, leaving him to stare after her.

K'nuckles sighed, then made his way in the other direction, in search of a good place for a washed-up old sailor to sleep, for the night.

Perhaps somewhere that wasn't so cold.


"C'mon, K'nuckles, get up…"

The Captain's chosen sleeping quarters (an empty, discarded barrel, on the dock), shook as a large flipper pushed at it. He stirred inside, emitting a tired moan, yet did not wake. Bubbie frowned, and pushed it again, so the barrel tipped, yet did not capsize.

"Go away, I'm sleepin'!" K'nuckles slurred, sticking one wooden hand up out of the barrel and shaking it. The whale frowned, then tipped it up, so it fell and clunked against the wooden floor, beginning to roll towards the harbour, the Captain "oof"ing and "ow"ing from inside, before his make-shift ship stopped it in its tracks. He poked his head out, and the two shared a glare.

"… What time is it?" K'nuckles asked, breaking his gaze and blinking at the pinking sky, eyes squinting.

"I'm a whale, K'nuckles. I don't wear a watch. But, judgin' by the time o' year, and the positionin' of the sun in the sky, I'd say it's about six o'clock-ish."

He grumbled, wriggling around for a moment, before attempting to pull himself out of the barrel, only to find himself stuck.

"… Aw, crabs…"

"Need some help…?"

"Don't touch me, woman, I don't need your he-" he paused, looking up at the whale as she glared back down at him, only expecting him to finish his no doubt spiteful reply… If life gets difficult, then one has to do something a bit differently, to make it better. He was stuck in a barrel. And he needed help. He sighed "Yeah… P-p… Please…"

Bubbie blinked "… You hung over, or somethin', old man?"

"No…! Well… Yes, but, that's not why I'm asking for help…"

The whale blinked again, then pointed both flippers to the sky, as though trying to shrug, before carefully taking his creaky, wooden wrists and easing him from the barrel. He broke free with a pop, and was then set carefully down on the dock. He sat down, dangling his feet over the sea, his hands in his lap. He didn't look at her as he said, meekly "… Thanks…"

"… No problem, I guess…"

There was an awkward silence.

"… What are you doin' here, anyway…?" the captain asked.

She leant on the dock and smiled, slightly "Ah, well, I've been gainin' a little weight, lately, so I thought I'd start gettin' up a bit earlier, and goin' for mornin' swims. You know, to keep up my girlish figure."

"You do know you're a whale, right?"

"A whale without a man, K'nuckles."

He chuckled "Well… We're in the same boat, then, I guess…"

There was a second silence where the Captain creaked, turning his head, slightly, to look in the direction of the Candy Barrel, and then looking at his knees, playing with his fingers, thinking. Bubbie looked at him for a moment.

"… S'wrong wichu?"

"Nothin'… Just… Thinkin'…"

"… YOU? THINKING?" the whale burst out laughing, making him scowl. He said nothing "What could YOU have to think about?"

"… A lot, since last night…"

"… You really ARE hung over," she giggled, happily, in her throat "Come on. Tell Bubbie what troubles ya."

"Nothin'… I just… I got talkin' to someone, last night… And… One way or another she managed to… Get me to see that… I've really screwed Flapjack around, the time I've known him, huh?"

Bubbie crossed her arms "Mhmm. Well, at least you see that, now."

"I do, I do… Look… What I mean is… I'm…" he paused, gritting his teeth, looking struggled "I-I'm… Sorry…"

Bubbie blinked again "YOU'RE sorry…?"

"Yeah…"

"… What did this girl do to ya?"

"Nothin'! Just… You know how you always go on about how Flapjack's your "baby" and stuff…? Well…" the captain shrugged, looking somewhat embarrassed as he looked at the floor "… He's kinda like… My OWN… Son, y'know…? And… What I did, yesterday… I was wrong, and I need to stop treatin' him the way I do…"

The whale stared at the Captain in complete disbelief. Then swept him up in a huge hug, rocking him madly back and forth "Oh, K'nuckles, that's so SWEET! I KNEW you did, I knew it!"

"Bubbie…! Trouble… Breathing…" he gasped. She paused, and set him back down, grinning from "ear" to "ear". He let out a slight laugh "I can't do right or wrong, without you strangling me, huh?"

Bubbie beamed, shaking her head "Ah, well, life wouldn't be as much fun, another way, would it?"

"I guess not," he said with a smirk, before he looked down at waters, below. Then twisted his neck to the Candy Barrel, again. The smirk faded. He frowned.

"… What, now…?"

"Nothin'."

"There's something, old man…"

He looked up at her, scowling "I'm not that old. What do you mean by "old man" anyway?"

The whale raised her hands defensively "Hey, don't get testy. It's just two simple words."

"Yeah, well, two simple words I don't like," he glared at his knees.

He wasn't old…

Nor was he young.

He couldn't help but wish he was… Maybe about Rhubarb's age…

He blinked.

… Why would he want to be RHUBARB'S age? Why HERS specifically…?

"… Bubbie…?"

"Mm?"

"Uh… You know if I were to bring a girlfriend home, one day… How old would you expect her to be…?"

Bubbie blinked at him. Then smirked.

"Has K'nuckles found himself a girlfriend?"

"No, no, I mean hypothetically?"

"Oh, there ain't no "hypothetically" about it, Hinges; You' got a case of the love bug," she looked ever so pleased with herself, making K'nuckles only harden his glare. The blood in his cheeks didn't go unnoticed "… And she's fairly young, ain't she?"

"I don't have a girlfriend!" he snapped, blushing an even deeper shade of red "She's just this girl I got talkin' to last night… And well…"

"Is she pretty?"

"Yeah…" he smiled ever so slightly. Then frowned again "Pretty young."

"How young…?"

He shrugged "Dunno. Didn't get into that much detail."

"Who is she?"

"Don't suppose you've ever heard of a Ms. Rhubarb?"

Bubbie stared. Then blinked "The same Ms. Rhubarb who sits at the bar, sulking, all the time?"

"Yeah… Her…"

"… How'd you manage to get talking to HER. Flapjack says she doesn't talk to anyone but Peppermint Larry."

He snorted "Hell, if I know. She just randomly started buying me candy. Then she was talkin' to me 'bout Flapjack and how I'm "irresponsible-"

"You ARE irresponsible."

"Then she smacked me. Then she told me this big long story about how her fiancee left her waiting at the docks, when they planned to elope," ("Oh, how awful…") Then she started crying, and by this point, I have no idea what's going on."

"You made her cry? You like her because you made her CRY?"

"No, no…" K'nuckles thought for a moment. DID he even like her…? Past a friend, anyway? He frowned. Yes… He believed it quite likely that he did "She's just… Different. She's so young, but then she's got all this experience goin' on. She's so clever, Bubbie… But… It's a sad kind of clever, you know?"

"What do you mean…?"

"… She kinda… Sucks the life out everything… She looks everythin' over, negatively, and she'll tell you all these miserable philosophies that she's conjured up, and they just… They make sense, y'know…? Expectations lead to disappointment, and stuff like that," he twiddled his thumbs, brow furrowed in thought "… And… I want to help her… Y'know… To be happy 'cos… She's made me see how much I've messed up with Flapjack and… A girl like her… She deserves to be happy, y'know…?"

The whale giggled in her throat "You' so mushy, K'nuckles."

"Yeah, well," he shrugged, flushing "I like women. They're nice."

"When they aren't sneakin' off because you' so ugly?"

"Not cool, Bubbie."

"Yeah, well, you' not cool for sayin' "not cool", old man."

There was a pause. And then the captain laughed "You know, whale, you ain't so bad, when you're not threatening to kill me."

"I know," she beamed.

He smirked.

Bubbie then raised her eyebrows, looking up to the sky "Hmm. I can feel little feet walkin', K'nuckles."

"K'nuckles? K'nuckles is out there?" Flapjack's head almost instantaneously burst out, from the whale's blow hole, eyes locking fast with the washed-up old sailor's. He looked like he was about to burst into tears as he cried "Captain!"

"Hey, there, Flapp-oof!" K'nuckles' sentence was cut short as his Cabin-Boy clambered down, from his guardian's back, and slammed into him, hugging him tightly around his waist.

"My Captain!" he wailed, tightening his grip on him, burying his face in his chest "I didn't think I'd see you again!"

"Yeah, somehow, I didn't think you would, either," the Captain murmured, looking to Bubbie. She stared back, looking expectant, making him heave a deep sigh "Flap…?"

Flapjack looked up at him with those big, blue eyes, bright and teary, and he sighed, wrapping his arms around the small boy and resting his chin on his head "… I love ya, boy…"

He blinked "… Pardon?"

"I said…" he sighed, rubbing that back of his neck uncomfortably "… I said I love ya, Flapjack. Like… Like Bubbie loves ya…"

The boy spluttered, breaking into a huge grin "You mean like a Momma?"

"Ye- NO! Do I look like a Mom to you?!"

"No…" the Cabin-Boy looked up at his Captain, as though analysing him. He then smiled, hugging him tighter still "… You look like a Dad…"

K'nuckles stared down at him, his mouth hanging open, slightly, and then broke into as huge a grin as the little boy wore, pulling him into an even tighter hug, sniffing, slightly. Flapjack wriggled, laughing away, as he then hoisted him up onto his shoulders, beaming from ear to ear.

Bubbie was hiding her face. He narrowed his eyes, smile turning to a smirk.

"What's that? Is Momma cryin'?" he asked. The whale sniffed, peering at him over her flippers.

"Ooh…" she reached forward and grabbed them both, rocking them madly back and forth in her arms "Bubbie never thought she'd see the day when we're a proper family."

K'nuckles fidgeted "Well… We've always been a PROPER family… I just… I've just been too stupid to admit it."

"And you're admitting it, now?" Flapjack asked.

"Yes, Flap," he replied, looking awkwardly down at the floor "Don't milk it, alright? I'm not used to this whole "Happy Families" thing."

"Family!" the boy sang, still smiling as the sailor fidgeted uncomfortably in Bubbie's arms. He hugged him "Y'know, K'nuckles… I've never had a Dad, before."

"… I have."

____________

"Be careful, baby!"

"I will, Bubbie!"

"K'nuckles! Take care o' him!"

"Alright, woman. Just 'cos he's our kid doesn't make you my wife."

The sailor hobbled off along the dock, with as sour a face as ever, his Cabin-Boy in tow. He caught up, quickly, humming as he walked along beside him, a bounce in his step. K'nuckles smiled, tilting his head slightly, as he looked at him.

"Heh… it's good to have ya back, boy."

"It's good to be back, Captain," he replied grinning.

"… You haven't BEEN anywhere."

"That's what you think," the grin on his face simply broadened. K'nuckles frowned slightly.

"… Where you been…?"

"Oh, just, around," Flapjack shrugged his shoulders, as though his supposed whereabouts were of no importance "Just… While you were gone, Bubbie and I found a map to Candied Island."

K'nuckles stopped dead in his tracks.

"You FOUND a map to Candied Island…?"

"Mmmyeah, and we went there, Cap'n, and is was fantastic! But then, on the way back, we were stopped by Eight-Armed Willy, right? And he wanted the map to Candied Island, too, so he and Bubbie had a dance off, and Bubbie would have one, but she doesn't have any legs so-"

"Alright, boy, that's enough," the Captain laughed, grabbing the boy in a head-lock and rubbing his knuckles roughly across his scalp. He wriggled and squirmed in his grasp giggling madly, trying his best to swat his hand from his head "You're full of salt-water, aren't ya, boy?"

"Well, yeah!" he cried, happily, pushing K'nuckles from him, so he stumbled backwards "I've learnt from the best!"

He grinned, grabbing the boy and lifting him up onto his shoulders "Come on, boy. We've got somewhere to be."

"Where we goin', Cap'n?"

"We're gonna pay a visit to the Candy Barrel; You know, last night, I managed to get us free candy and syrup for a month!"

"Wow, really?"

"Sure did, Flappy Boy. If I want something ordered, say… Five rounds of Triple Taffy Sunrises, with EXTRA syrup…" he was very much aware of the small boy now dribbling hungrily down his back "… My new friend would order it for us, and I won't even have to pay them back."

"Never ever?"

"Never ever, ever."

"Wow…" Flapjack hummed in though for a moment, scratching his chin. He hugged the back of the man's head "Who's you're new friend, Cap'n?"

"You wouldn't believe me, if I told ya."

"Try me!"

"Mmm… Nope," he started at a run, holding his Cabin-Boy tightly by his legs "Now c'mon, boy, I'm starvin'."

The swing doors of the Candy Barrel swung open, then close, a good three times as the Captain charged through them, Flapjack still on his back, both of them grinning like idiots as they leapt onto a couple of seats at the bar.

K'nuckles gave a contented sigh "OK, Larry, lets start off with a couple o' glasses o' candy, eh?"

The Bartender looked at them, and blinked, but shrugged his shoulders and did as he was told, filling two glasses full of candy and setting them on the counter "That'll be six gold coins, then, K'nuckles."

He idly pointed to the other end of the bar "Ask Rhubarb, she'll pay ya."

Flapjack blinked "… Rhubarb…? You mean Ms. Custard…? SHE'S your new friend…?"

The Captain looked very pleased with himself, for a moment, until Larry laughed out loud "Friend or not, K'nuckles. She's not here, to pay for you."

"What?!" he looked to the dark young woman's usual seat, blinking in disbelief as he found it empty "… She's not here? B-but she's ALWAYS here!"

"Well, not today, I guess," the bartender said with a shrug and a chuckle in his throat "Which means…"

It wasn't long after Peppermint Larry withdrew the full glasses of Candy from the counter, did the Captain and his Cabin-Boy traipse miserably from the bar, hungry, and disappointed.

"… Did you REALLY make friends with Ms. Custard?"

"Make friends with her? Flap, I made out with her!"

The little boy flushed, laughing "Ew, Captain! You kissed a girl?"

"In my defense, kiddo, we were both bon-bonned beyond belief. But, at least it didn't go much further than that, huh?"

Flapjack blinked at him "… Well… How much further could you possibly GO…?"

"… Uh… You know where babies come from, Flap?"

"Tch, silly… EVERYONE knows that!" he replied, clapping his hands, and smiling "They come from seaweed, of course!"

"Uh…Look, boy, I think we need to have a uh… Talk, yeah?"

"… What about…?"

The Captain fidgeted, getting down on one knee, setting a hand on the boys shoulder "Well… Baby makin'… Babies DON'T come from seaweed, boy… They come from, uh… When a man puts his-"

"Hey, Cap'n! Who's that?!" Flapjack pointed off along the dock, to the shapely figure of woman, slinking along the pier, dressed in a posh-looking frock, with a parasol perched on her shoulder. K'nuckles stared, wide-eyed and slack jawed, making no answer "… Cap'n…?"

"B-buh… B-buh… Beau… Tiful…" there was a pause, where neither did nothing, before he started at a mad run after the woman, a very confused Flapjack calling after him, in tow. The Captain caught up with her, after a few moments, sliding in, in front of her and removing his hat, taking a bow "Excuse, young Miss, but I could help but notice that you're walking along un… a… ccompani- Rhubarb?!"

Ms. Rhubarb looked at him with hooded lids, and a half smile as she shut her parasol and pointed it into the dock, leaning on it. She nodded her head "Captain Kuh'nuhckahles."

"I… You… Wh-when… Wow…"

"Yes…?"

"Just… Wow…" he looked her up and down, then broke into a grin "Take a look at you, eh? Hey, give us a twirl; lemme have a proper look at this phenomenon."

She hit him over the head with her parasol, then did as she was told, giggling "Like what you see, I tehke it?"

"Well, I am but a man, Ms. Rhubarb." he chuckled, tilting his head slightly, looking at her. She sure was beautiful "… You clean up pretty good."

"Yeah… We just need tuh get you into a suit, eh?" she hit his arm, hard, grinning.

"Yeah…" he rubbed his arm, sheepishly, only making her smile broaden "But… How come you're out here, in a DRESS? I mean… I thought you'd be at the Candy Barrel. I was hoping for my first instalment of free candy."

"Were you expecting me to be dere…?"

"Yes…?"

"Den dat's why," she grinned.

"Hey Cap'n!" Flapjack finally caught up with the sailor and clung to his arm "Who's this…?"

"Flapjack, THIS is Ms. Custard."

"Hubba-wha'? But I thought she was always real sulky and never left the Candy Barrel! You said she was a vampire, and couldn't go out in day-light I could have sworn."

"Nice to knaw you tink so highly of me, Kuh'Nuhckahles," Rhubarb said, smirking at the Captain as he spluttered away, trying for a decent defense.

"I'll kill you, boy," Flapjack gave a small cry, clinging tighter onto his arm, pleading with those big, blue eyes.

"Dawn't worry, Kuh'Nuhckahles. I'm not fehzed by dee words of dee ignorant," she paused, smiling at him, lids still hooded. K'nuckles stared back, only praying the blood that was scorching in his cheeks wasn't making itself known to her "… Such a beautiful day…"

"Yeah…" he blinked, shaking his head "Yeah, yeah, it's not too bad…"

"… Would you two care tuh join me for a walk…?"

"Uh… Sure uh… What do you say Fla-"

"Adventuuuuuure!" the boy had already sped off down the dock, leaving the sailor and the sulk in his dust. They looked at each other, smiling slightly.

"Saw, you fixed tings for yourself, den?" Rhubarb asked, as K'nuckles offered her his arm. She linked her own through it, giving it a gentle squeeze which didn't go unnoticed.

"I guess so… Told him what he means to me, and Bubbie let me back in, early this morning."

"Well, I'm glad… You might be happy to knaw dat I'm tryin' tuh fix tings for myself, too," she said, quietly, taking her dress in one hand and rustling it. She then let it fall "Mi best dress."

"Well, it looks good on ya, Rhubarb," he replied, grinning. His smile faltered, however, when he looked to her ring finger, which as still occupied by that cheap engagement ring, it seemed. She was trying, at the very least… The happy turn at the corners of his mouth soon returned as she leant forward, brushing her lips softly against his cheek. He flushed.

"You can be sweeter dan candy, sometimes, Kuh'Nuhkahles."

"Yeah, well… I try."