Chapter 10: The New Duckling

A/N: I planned to finish this up earlier, but I got this horrible period pain, I could barely get out of my bed. It was hellish! And I ended up getting snappish at everyone. So enjoys!


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Five minutes of non-hurried strolling, the two boys arrived at their usual spot for lunch—under a horse chestnut tree behind the school building. Secretly, Luffy really enjoyed the view and atmosphere since the first time Ace had brought him there. They were in the middle of fall season, so the typical white flowers of the tree was none to be spotted. But with the leaves on the tree that changed color from dark green into shades of yellow, orange and red, the combination of the colors produced a warming effect, almost like benign warmth of the sun.

When they stood underneath the hanged down branches, Ace suddenly looked up instead of taking a seat, much to Luffy's puzzlement.

"Sabo! Down here!" Ace called out before a rustling sound was heard.

Blinking slowly, Luffy too, looked up where the sound came. Perched on the lowest branch, was a boy with his legs dangling over the tree stem. It was hard to determine whether he recognized the boy from that distance but Luffy had a wild guess he was someone he'd never met before.

"Ace!" So the boy exclaimed and seconds later, he stood up from the makeshift bench and jumped down from the ten feet high branch. He landed with ease, landing on the balls of his feet first, and then on the whole foot, followed by his ankles, knees and hip joint flexion while he bent his leg to minimize the impact.

After he pushed himself up and dusted his black shorts, he finally looked up only to reveal himself more. Covering his cropped blond hair was a black peak cap with bright green for the flat surface and to match his black attire, the blond kid wore a light blue pullover hoodie.

The said boy grinned widely, making his way to the duo.

"How's your measles? You said you won't be coming to school until next week." The freckled boy questioned, eyes roaming over to detect any sign of leftover rashes.

"And stay longer with my dad?" The boy shuddered earning himself a guffaw from the raven haired boy. "No way!"

"But you're lucky that you don't have to go school."

"Yeah, well…" The blond paused, his eyes focused at the smaller boy behind Ace. Since there was not even a meep sound, he didn't realize the boy's presence until now.

"Who's this?"

"Oh, I forgot!" Ace moved two steps to the left for Sabo to have a better look at the boy. "This is Luffy. Luffy, this is Sabo. He's from other class."

Under the calculative stare of the blond boy, Luffy felt trepidation started to build up inside him and he held the water bottle close to his tummy.

"This is Luffy? The new kid in your class?" Sabo asked, still eyeing the fidgeting boy intently.

"U-huh. He sent his cat to our place and guess what? He lives near my house and now we're going to school together with his brother." Grinning, Ace placed his hands on his hips, letting the lunchbox to dangle helplessly next to his knee.

"Cool!" The cap wearing blond inched closer to the shrinking boy before offering a wide smile, startling Luffy a bit.

"I'm Sabo. Since you're a friend with Ace, that makes you my friend too, right?"

A friend to a friend is also his friend? Is that even possible? This was his first time hearing such revelation; Luffy had a hard time grasping the thing that just has been said. It wasn't until ten seconds later the blonds' words finally sucked in and processed inside his mind. At once, something in gut fluttered at the blonds' statement.

Was it fear?

No, it was far from that.

That time, Luffy was utterly confused. He'd never felt that particular emotion in his life. In fact, there are quite a lot of emotions the boy was unfamiliar with, like the ones he was experiencing at the moment. It was like seeing a rainbow at the end of shower and also like when the warm, and fuzzy Nami laying across his laps, or like a chocolate peppermint ice cream on a sweltering hot day.

It was a bit of everything, here and there.

More than anything, it wasn't unpleasant at all. Weird but a good weird.

"Well?" Sabo persisted, slightly confused with the raven-haired boy staring-into-nothingness activity. Did he say something weird?

Sabo had to admit. The kid really was a peculiar one. Not the type that talked with their imaginary friends or having weird habits. Just… odd, in an interesting way. Something about Luffy made him drawn to the smaller boy. Like Ace, they both shared the same dislike towards wimpy and crybabies but the boy with the scar underneath his eye was none of that. It was almost like Luffy was a fragile glass and the kid had the stare that Sabo just couldn't understand.

What amazed him the most that Ace acknowledged Luffy, the polar opposite to him, as a friend. Now that was new. So to sum up, the kid was worth to be checked out.

Ever so slowly, Luffy nodded. "Okay…" His voice was all soft and jittery as though Sabo might devour him any time soon.

The blond kid grinned, revealing the missing canine tooth. "Yosh! Let's eat! I'm sooo hungry…"

Just like that, the ice-breaking activity ended and Sabo quickly took a seat under the tree, beckoning Luffy to do the same.

"Come one, Luffy. Sabo always brings good stuffs." Ace said excitedly, his fingers already fiddling with the blonds' lunchbox.

"Watch it! You'll destroy my lunchbox again!" Faster than lightning, Sabo snatched the container from the freckled boy to save it from getting tore into pieces like the one he had previously.

As Luffy slowly sat crossed legs under the branched tree, Ace stuck out his tongue childishly at Sabo in which the blond ignored it and proceeded opening his lunchbox.

"What do you bring today?" The freckled boy eyed the two opened containers. Each containers had around three different dishes inside and it was mouth watering enough just by looking at them.

"I don't know." Sabo shrugged, handing out extra spoons to Luffy and Ace. "I just put everything inside."

Not familiar with the dishes, Luffy could only stare at them with a mystified expression. Everything inside the blonds' lunchbox looked like as if they had just materialized from a hotel menu or from the television. They seemed so… expensive-like.

"Sabo's dad attends a lot of dinner parties. He usually takes home the leftover." Sensing Luffy inner monolog, Ace explained. His hands reached for their own lunchboxes and swiftly placed it on the ground next to Sabo's.

The juicy looking meat. The high class fish topped with sticky sauce. The duck (or chicken?) with crispy, crunchy skin and tender flesh… And the rest of them which he didn't exactly know what they were but still looking and smelled all yummy.

These are leftovers?

Aren't leftovers something that people usually about to throw away? They actually wanted to throw THESE?

If possible, the nut-brown eyes only went bigger.

"Me and Ace always exchanged lunch." Added Sabo as he peered into Luffy's and Ace's lunchboxes. Baby blue eyes scanned the lunched in front before the orbs caught a very interesting sight.

"Is that…" Sabo murmured and leaned closer into Luffy's lunchbox. Stuffed in one of the lunchbox's compartments were green grapes, threaded together using a skewer while on the front grape, there was two dots made with icing in a shape of a circle and chocolate chips were placed inside the circles to create makeshifts eyes.

"… Caterpillars?"

Together, Luffy and Ace peeked at the said items and indeed, sets of green grape caterpillars stared right back at them. Three seconds after the blonds' revelation, both Ace and Sabo laughed while Luffy gaped at the grapes. To say he was surprised was clearly understatement. The boy was baffled at Kidd's creation.

Although he had to confess it was sort of… cute.

"It's cute! A grape caterpillar!" Sabo expressed his food for thought. "You brother made this?"

"Mm-hm." Nodding, Luffy picked one of the caterpillar ad stared animatedly at the chocolate chip eyes.

"And gingerbread biscuits. Neat." In a mid of munching on the Salmon in Lemon and Tarragon (from Sabo's lunchbox), Ace pointed at the said biscuits in Luffy's lunchbox. A gingerbread decorated biscuits using smarties for buttons, dark chocolate bits for mouth and silver cachous for eyes.

"Can I have one?" The blond referred to the smiling biscuits and smiled widely when Luffy nodded.

"Here I come, gingerbread. Raawwwrrr!" As Sabo picked up the biscuit, he made a roaring sound and chomped down the head of the gingerbread.

Still chomping, Sabo hummed excitedly at the sweet, cinnamon taste of the biscuit. "Ish good." He swallowed before continuing. "It's different from the one I always buy from the bakery. Did your brother made this one too?"

"No." Luffy shook his head. "Killer gave the biscuits yesterday."

At once, both Ace and Sabo halted their chewing and slowly turned to look at each other in a snail pace. The gingerbread legs still stuck out from Sabo's mouth.

Killer? As in a dangerous murderer or Killer is actually someone's name? Wait, didn't he say it was Killer who gave the chocolate to Nami?

Oblivious to the boys' flabbergasted expression, Luffy picked up the chicken wrap and started munching on his lunch, savoring the taste of the chicken tenderloin, the lemony dip and the salads, all wrapped inside a pita bread.

Almost chocking on the biscuit, Sabo pushed his lunchbox towards Luffy. "Here, have mine too."

After making his final swallow, Luffy's eyes roamed over the presented dishes. Few seconds later, he finally made his decision and scooped some of the Beef Wallington fillet (although he didn't know the name). The instant the beef invaded his taste buds, the boy almost swooned over. Everything about the dish was perfect, from the tender meat to the rich and complex taste of the sauce. Whatever reason for the creation of the perfect dish, it was delicious beyond explainable.

"Hey, Sabo. What's in that container?" The freckled boy gestured at the unopened container while his other hand was busy digging on the maple mashed sweet potato.

"That one?" Sabo looked over at the said container inside his lunch bag before grinning at the duo. "It's a surprise. I'll show you when we're done eating."

"Really?" Ace was all excited and quickly dumped more food, including his own beef sandwich and pizza wheels into Luffy's lunchbox. "Hurry and eat Luffy! We have to finish everything!"

Wide eyed, Luffy gazed at the piling food inside his container, slightly startled. How in the world—there was no way he could finish all that!

But in the end, Luffy did finish everything after twenty agonizing minutes. Along the way, he was certain he has never seen some of the foods in either Sabo's or Ace's lunchbox, but somehow they managed to materialize all of sudden inside his container. By now, the small boy felt like his tummy was about to burst any minute and once in a while, there was a weird sensation like the food was about to crawl from his belly and catapult itself from his throat.

To make the matter more puzzling than ever, Ace and Sabo looked perfectly normal although they ate at least twice his portion.

Anticipation bubbling inside Ace's tummy as he observed Sabo carefully took out the container from the lunch bag. Unlike the two others, only this one was tucked inside the insulating bag filled with ice pack. That could only mean one thing. Whatever inside the container needed to be chilled.

And yummy too.

"Taadaaa! It's a cake!" At last, Sabo presented the Woodland Fruit Cheesecake. A deliciously creamy cheesecake mouse topped with raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries, all of them on a biscuit base.

"Whooppiiee!" Ace cheered and licked his lips at the scrumptious looking dessert. "What's it called?"

"I don't know. But my dad said it's a sort of cheesecake."

Actually, his dad did tell him the full name of the cake, but last night, he was too sleepy to care whatever the old man was mumbling at eleven o'clock in the night.

On Luffy's side, however, the boy could be more terrified just by looking at the sliced cheesecake. Scrap that, it was a VERY BIG slice of cake. For a second there, he could have sworn he saw scarecrow-like face suddenly appeared on the cake with twiggy limbs growing from the dessert, making a persuasive gesture while letting out a horrendous snicker and said:

'Come on, boy. Don't you want to eat this unusual creamy and delicious body of mine?'

"Don't you want some, Luffy? It's good!" Sabo said through a mouthful and thrust a spoon into Luffy's sweaty hand, unaware of the boy's petrified look.

For the first time in his life, a mere cake managed to make Luffy felt like fainting.

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The chilly gush of wind blew the flaming red hair and Kidd glad he had his bandanna on or else the strands would have poked into his eyes. While he leaned his frame against the gate wall, the mechanic watched the scampering children, every footstep made a crinkling sound as they stepped on fall out leaves. Times like that reminded him of warm, freshly bake apple pie, especially when surrounded by fragranced air, all crisp and cool against his skin.

His train of thought was gently interrupted by smaller fingers curling around his wrist. Even without looking down, Kidd already knew whom those warm fingers belonged to.

"It's kinda cold today. I'll make some hot tea when we get back." Kidd murmured, zipping Luffy's jacket further up to limit the exposure against the cold autumn wind.

"Let's go." The redhead said and started to walk away from the elementary school. While doing so, he reminded himself to pick Nami up from the vet, although he knew that Luffy would still remind him anyway.

Step by step, they walked in silence. It wasn't until the fifteenth steps later Kidd finally noticed something in the picture was definitely out of place. Spinning on his heels, his amber orbs roamed around to identify the misplaced subject.

The trees were fine. So were the road and the electric poles. The ground… uhuh, nothing suspicious so far. Ace… Luffy…?

Kidd blinked. Wait a second…

Ace…

Luffy…

…?

Odd. There seemed to be an addition to the convoy. And thus, the redhead did a double take.

Ace.

Luffy.

…?

"Kidd…?"Puzzled with the man's intense stare, Ace arched one eyebrow. "What's wrong?"

During that moment, Kidd could barely hear Ace's voice because his attention was 100% on the object of his bewilderment. There, stood right next to Ace was another unfamiliar boy, clad in a blue hoodie and navy authentic cargo. His naturally curly blond was cut short enough to keep the curls at bay, but the autumn wind starting to kink out the ends and makes him look a little undone.

"Who are you?" Drat. His voice was gruffer and ruder than Kidd had intended his tone to be, but he just could help it. The boy's presence was too sudden it actually sort of startled the mechanic. Luckily for him, the blond boy only smiled widely back at him, showing his missing tooth, his baby blue eyes shining with excited glint.

"Hi, I'm Sabo! Nice to meet you. You must be Luffy's brother!"

"Yeah, nice to meet—wait, wait, wait! That ain't what I wanted to say." Kidd shook his head. Of all things, he just had to go along, did he? "Who are—wait, that's not it. Do you guys know each other?"

Damn, that's one stupid question. He knew Luffy, doesn't he?

Ace gave a hopeless sigh, shooting you-are-a-retard look at Kidd. "Sabo's from other class. He also lives close to us. We always go to school and walk home together."

Giving an understanding 'o', they resumed walking down the street.

"How come I haven't seen you before?" The redhead asked while glancing at the boy.

"I had measles, so I had to stay home for two weeks."

Kidd nodded. That pretty much explained everything. "Where are you staying at?"

"Dressrosa." Sabo answered shortly.

The mechanic gave a 'wow' look. Everyone with enough brain knows that place. Located at the South Blue Road, Dressrosa was a well known luxury apartments, usually for those of a high class people. But unlike other luxury apartments that usually sat in the heart of busy cities, Dressrosa was lonesome apartments located far away from the noisy and crowded urban life.

Furthermore, it was actually close to theirs. Well, not that close-close, but close enough. So basically their home was in between Sabo's and Ace's.

"And it's on the top." Sabo added, making a small jump as he tried to catch the falling leaves midair.

Oh it's on top—huh?

Kidd frowned. On the top of an apartment building… Isn't that what they call…

"You live in a penthouse?!" It took every ounce of his will not to shout, but Kidd's voice was still loud enough to be heard throughout the street.

Startled with the sudden change of behavior, the three boys glanced at each other before giving Kidd a funny look. In children's way of course.

"Yeah… I-I guess…" Sabo shrugged nonchalantly.

Rich aside, this Sabo kid is filthy rich!

From top to bottom, Kidd started to size the boy up. Nothing about him suggested his status. Normal attire, normal attitude, and even his manner of speech were like a typical boy at his age, it didn't reveal a slightest hint regarding his class.

Safe enough to assume the boy was an odd ball.

"Hey do you guys have math homework today?" Sabo turned to Ace and Luffy.

"Yeah…" Ace answered sourly. "Equivalent fraction. I hate math."

"Same!" The blond referred to his same degree of hatred towards that particular subject and the same math worksheet. "Let's do it together. And oh, we have science too."

The freckled boy snickered. "Heh, our class doesn't have that. Hey Luffy," Ace called for the smaller boy and since he was walking next the mechanic's left side, Luffy had to jut his head a bit to look passed through Kidd's frame. "Wanna do homework together? You're good in math, right?"

From Ace, the small boy looked up at his brother, silently asking for permission.

"That's nice. You can finish up your homework faster then." The redhead voiced out.

As he took that as a 'yes', Sabo did an air-punch. "So whose place?"

"Kidd's house." Ace simply answered.

At once, the said man chocked on his own saliva before asking a double 'WH' questions. "What? Why?"

"If we go to Sabo's place, then I'll have to walk far and if it's my place, then its Sabo's turn to walk far. Yours in the middle, it's perfect. Besides, Sabo's allergic to dogs and we have dogs in our place right now." Ace ended his reasoning with a slight 'duh' look.

Damn, this kid is good in persuading.

No matter how much Kidd wanted to suppress it, a small defeated sigh still managed to escape from his lips.

"Fine, fine. But don't forget to tell your dad. The last thing I want is a pirate-looking vet going all banana and tears the whole town to search for his cub."

Teeth bared, Ace bristled at the smirking adult.

Nevertheless, they still made a pit-stop at the vet a.k.a Ace's house since taking Nami back home was on Kidd's to-do-list. With the familiar orange carrier in his hand, the mechanic finally emerged back with Nami meowing excitedly. Upon his arrival, Kidd noticed the missing member of the little convoy.

"Where's Ace?"

"He went inside to grab some cookies." Sabo murmured, peeking at the kitten through the carrier door. Like any other normal boys, the blond was itching to open the carrier and stroke the soft looking, multicolor fur.

"She's a bit energetic right now, so don't open the carrier. You can play with her back at the house." Kidd warned, sensing the boys urge to play with the kitten. For just a little bit, Sabo was seen pouting but his mood bounced back immediately when Nami pawed through the hole of the carrier and touched Sabo in the nose.

While waiting for Ace, Luffy leaned against his brother. The cool autumn breeze along with his still full tummy was starting to make him drowsy. Seeing the child looking all sleepy, Kidd rubbed his shoulder to stimulate the boy's consciousness in which Luffy responded by nuzzling further into the mechanic's side.

"He sure does take his time." Kidd murmured, referring to the freckled boy. "Is he planning to bring the whole—"

All of sudden, a loud screech echoed throughout the vet, cutting Kidd's next word efficiently.

"SHANKS! YOU ATE THE WHOLE JAR OF THE PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE COOKIES!"

There was a moment of silence where Kidd and Sabo exchanged a questioning glance. Even Luffy was fully awake by now. Seconds later, another shriek followed.

"LIAR! THERE'S CRUMBS ON YOUR CHEEK!"

Uhh ooohh… So the tiger cub finally learned how to roar…

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"Sabo." Kidd called out from the kitchen.

"Hnn…?" The blond kid used a non-verbal way to acknowledge the call since his attention was more on Nami. The kitten however, didn't return the attention as she was too busy chewing on the catnip-filled mouse doll. With their homework done about an hour ago, the boys were finally free with their own devices—Sabo and Luffy playing with the calico while Ace reading his comic on the sofa.

Hands holding two brown, small paper bags, Kidd emerged from the kitchen. "Have you called your dad?"

"Yeah. Like hours ago—whooaa!" Wide eyed, Sabo cheered when the calico managed to catch the mouse in midair. She gnawed on the artificial prey and refused to release it even after Luffy tried to tug the toy away from her.

As Kidd strolled closer to the living room where the children were, Nami instantly changed her target. Those gleaming eyes narrowed in mischievous at the approaching legs.

One…

Two…

Pounce!

"Oww—oww—oww!" Kidd hissed and glared down at the multicolor blob attached to his leg. "Nami, I'm not a scratching post!"

The calico's eyes twinkled with mischief as she clung to the mechanic's calf, her little claws sunk into the skin. Sighing, Kidd scooped the kitten up and held her up so they were nose to nose.

"Bad. Kitty." The redhead gently dropped the calico on top of Luffy's head before the feline scrambled down onto the boy's laps and started kneading the fabric under her paws.

"Here." The man handed the paper bag to both Sabo and Ace where both boys quickly peered into the bag. Half a dozen chocolate cookies were placed inside, all in a shape of mummy—creamy vanilla frosting for bandages, jelly beans for eyes and black gel for pupils—courtesy from Killer.

"Mummy cookies!" Ace exclaimed, still lying on his stomach with the half-read comic in front of him. "I can't show Shanks this! He likes chocolate cookies!"

"Well," Kidd winked at the freckled boy. "You just have to protect them with your life. Bite his hands if you must."

Ace huffed in determination. "Hn, I will."

Oh the thing Kidd would do just to see the eccentric veterinarian getting bitten by his cub.

Sabo cackled at his friend's dilemma. "My dad doesn't like sweet so much. So I'm safe."

Chuckling, Kidd took a sit on the sofa and decided to watch some evening news. That is until the sound of the door bell can be heard from the front hallway.

Odd, he wasn't expecting anyone at the moment. It was five seconds later that Kidd finally stood up and headed to the door with a small weary sigh. If Killer decided to show up at time like this, he would make sure the blond stays away from his cat, five meters minimum. He was the main reason for Nami's little incident after all.

But it wasn't Killer who stood by the doorway. It was the eccentric, red haired veterinarian looking all sparkling like a daisy in crack of dawn.

Dear lord, he really isn't good in dealing with this man. "What are you doing here?"

"To pick up Ace, of course. It's getting late. Who knows what kind of beast dwells at this hour."

That'll be the last thing that you need to worry about. Your son's glower is more than enough to send those beasts scurrying for higher ground.

"It's not even dark yet." Kidd shook his head but his next word died instantly in his throat when his eyes caught another man standing close to Shanks. Amber eyes widened as they took in the extremely tall person who stood casually. This probably his first time Kidd actually had to look up just to see someone in the face. Kidd was 6'4", but compared with this man, he looked like a damn midget.

Hidden by the purple tinted sunglasses, Kidd could have sworn the man was staring back at him with interest, if the widening smirk was any indication. For the next few seconds, the redhead took in the man's appearance. Blond and tanned, the man was clad in bone-white three piece suit and with the three-button closure of his jacket undone; Kidd could clearly see the coordinating vest overtopped the petal-pink dress shirt. The tie was long gone and the top two buttons of the shirt too, unfastened while both his ears were pierced with gold loop earring.

'SLAM!'

Without warning, Kidd slammed the door shut right in front of Shanks' face.

It was merely out of instinct. No, really. It was.

"Err, Kidd? Why did you close the door?" Shanks' voice was muffled by the closed door.

Kidd stared at the door with hesitation. "I'm not sure if you have notice it, but there's someone behind you that looks like a mafia king with a criminal past."

A hysterical laughter followed after and it only ended after a solid minute.

"A mafia?" Shanks tried to stifle his laugh but a snort came instead. "He's Sabo's dad!"

In that instant, Kidd opened the door fast enough it almost collided with his own face.

"You're Sabo's dad?!" Oh wow, he did a lot of screaming today, didn't he?

"In the flesh. Don Quixote Doflamingo at your service." The tall man said in a deep voice.

"Kidd. Eustass Kidd." Out of courtesy, Kidd offered his name. Half of his mind still found it hard to digest the newfound information.

Not waiting for an invitation, the man called Doflamingo proceeded making his way in. "Well nice to meet—oww!"

And hit his forehead against the top of the door frame.

"Damn, your door is small." Doflamingo winced, rubbing his bruised forehead.

"It's the standard size. You're the one who's larger than life." The mechanic huffed, stepping aside to let the visitors in.

The tall blond couldn't stop the grin from splitting his face. Now this is new. There weren't many out there who have enough balls to talk back at him considering his size and appearance, yet the redhead now was glaring at him without batting an eyelid.

"Wha—dad?" Sabo looked a bit taken back at his father's sudden arrival. "I told you I'll walk back home on my own."

"I prefer this." Doflamingo shrugged, slowly advancing to the sofa. "Knock on someone's door and surprise people. Fuffuffuffuffuffu."

If eccentricity can be measured, this guy's was definitely off chart.

Most of the occupants in the house were expecting the man to flop down on the couch or maybe raid the kitchen like he owned the bloody place. What they didn't expect was for him to stand right in front of Luffy before crouching down so he could be in the direct line of the child's vision.

"So you're Sabo's new friend, huh?" Doflamingo said, looming over the child with searching eyes. On instinct, Luffy backed away a little, feeling impose of the man being so close but his journey didn't go far when the tall blond suddenly sneaked his hands under the boy's armpits and stood up straight, holding Luffy midair.

As this was his first time being held up high like this, Luffy had a hard time grasping the situation. And when he did, the raven-haired boy let out a small squeak, his sock-clad legs flailing high above the ground.

"Look Shanks! This boy is so tiny! Like a hamster. You sure you didn't kidnap this kid and claimed him as your brother?" Doflamingo grinned, clearly enjoying the way the small boy squirmed in his hands.

Panic dawned over Eustass Kidd at the taught that the sudden contact by a stranger might trigger something and freaked Luffy out. Quickly, the redhead strode to their direction in hope to retrieve his brother as soon as possible, but he stood dead on his track when the child did something unimaginable. At least for Kidd's standard.

"I'm not… tiny." Luffy disagreed with the Doflamingo's statement, short legs still hopelessly kicking the air.

For a moment or two, Kidd blinked in wonder. His little brother who always held himself back when it comes to expressing thought is now denying the man. Who would have thought that?

Doflamingo cackled at the boy's respond, slowly lowering little Luffy on the armrest of the sofa. "Fuffuffuffuffu. My bad, my bad. Don't worry. You'll grow big like your brother one day, yeah?"

The second he was perched on the armrest, Kidd let out a relief sigh but unfortunately, Luffy lost his balance and ended up tumbling backward onto the soft cushion. The cute performance only made Doflamingo to laugh harder than ever.

Shoulders still shaking from the laughing aftermath, the tall blond inched closer to Sabo and winced slightly when his knee bumped against the edge of the coffee table.

"You got everything packed up?"

Zipping close his bag pack, Sabo nodded and stood up. "Yeah."

While Kidd helped Luffy to sit back, the mechanic glanced at the blond duo. Now that he had a closer look, those two do resemble each other, even by the tiniest. For instant, they both have blond hair with laidback manner and Kidd would bet every penny that the man too, possessed the same blue eyes.

"I'm off first, Red Hair." Doflamingo proclaimed, ruffling Ace's hair a bit and the freckled boy only grumbled under the ministration.

Both Kidd and Shanks looked at each other while the blond duo moved to the door. Just which redhead did the man referred to?

"Bye Luffy, bye Ace! See ya tomorrow!" Sabo waved frantically before exiting the apartment, his father in tow.

"You guys are good friends?" Kidd turned at the animal doctor, referring to Doflamingo as another party.

Shanks shook his head, petting the calico on the floor and winced slightly when Nami sunk her teeth into his skin playfully. "Nah. But we're close enough. We went to same university, different department though."

"Is he…" The redhead paused momentarily; his eyes caught the sight of Ace secretly shoving his precious bag filled cookies into the depth of his bag. "uhh… a single father too?"

Eyes amused, the animal doctor looked up from the floor. "Why do you say that?"

"Curious." Kidd admitted, glaring at the kitten that was ready to leap onto his laps. The feline probably wanted to use his laps as her kneading material again.

"It's just a hunch though. I was raised by my dad, so this Doflamingo guy pretty much had the same impression like him. Creepy? Hell yeah. But the air around him is the same."

"You guess that right. But before you ask about his wife, I'm going to tell you beforehand. He never had one."

Feeling slightly confused, Kidd furrowed his brows. "What? If you tell me his kid was delivered by a stork, I'll start throwing punches."

Then Shanks beckoned for the mechanic to lean closer as though he was about to tell the government's dirty little secret. "Doflamingo's gay."

Alright, now it's getting more confused.

"Huh? Then, the kid…?"

"Oh, the kid is his alright." Shanks waved his hair airily and snorted. "It just came out of nowhere. One day he was dating a man, and the next day he was like 'Oh, I want to have a brat on my own!' and then bam! Just like that, Sabo came to the world. That guy is so random! Dahahahahaha!"

Kidd made a face and whispered back. "I don't want to hear that from you. So what? Surrogate mother?"

"What else? His money can pay dozens of surrogates and he can have children enough to make a football team if he wants to."

Oh, so he was right about that Sabo's family status. They're damn filthy rich!

They finally finished with the top secret conversation, only to find Ace and Luffy were giving a funny look. A look that clearly said you-guys-are-retards-because-we-can-hear-you-from-here.

Feeling a tad flustered, Shanks feigned a cough and slowly stood up, beckoning his son to follow suit. "We better leave now."

Without much thinking, the animal doctor reached out to pick up Ace's bag pack, only to have his hand clawed at by the owner. What worse is, the boy even bristled at him.

Oh no. He still mad with the whole cookies incident, isn't he? He can't help it, alright? It was just one of those moments where you had this sudden urge for something to nibble on and there the cookies were, sitting all content like a cucumber on the kitchen counter top. What else he was supposed to do? Ignore it?

In Shanks' book, that's equivalent to committing a big sin.

Scratching his non-itching head, Shanks let out a defeated sight. Guess he had to buy another jar of cookie to make up for it. Scratch that, make it two big jars.

Kidd only watched in amusement as Shanks left the house with a sulking Ace next to him.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx Night XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

Covered by the comforter, Luffy stared at the ceiling, smacking his lips a few times. The minty aroma from the toothpaste still lingered inside his mouth and honestly, the child enjoyed it. As much as he enjoyed his day, being around Ace and Sabo.

Yet, why did the strange feeling remain as it was?

"Luffy?" Kidd said softly, taking a seat on the bed, the mattress creaked under his weight. He noticed the way his brother was spacing, like something was bothering him. Something new that the child couldn't figure out what it is.

"Something's wrong?"

The said child was voiceless, only chose to answer his brother after a moment or two passed. "Sabo said I'm his friend because I'm a friend of Ace."

It took a while for Kidd to comprehend the boy's dilemma. And when he did, the man's eyes softened. Long before Luffy came into his life, the child's days were filled with nothing but anguish and pain, his night on the other hand engulfed in endless strain where emptiness built a home in him. He wasn't there when all that happened, but somehow Kidd could almost hear just how much pain, how much fear and how much suffering had filled Luffy's cries for help. With that being said, they were so many things in life Luffy was unfamiliar with despite he was already reaching eight. Friendship was one of them.

"You don't like being around them?" The redhead asked softly.

Luffy quickly shook his head in denial. "It feels funny…" With his small finger, the child pointed at where his heart located. "Here."

"When they were around you, it felt warm, right?" Kidd placed his hands on the child's chest, feeling the boy's heart beating strong under his palm. "Like a fluffy blanket."

Slowly, the child nodded and the redhead removed his hand only to have it placed on Luffy's head.

"Look, Luffy. A friend is pretty much everything that makes your life good and happy. It's someone you turn to, who stands by you, makes you smile, encourages you, treasures you and many more. Words can't exactly describe what a friend is, so you need to learn them yourself, 'kay?"

Again, the boy nodded, absorbing every of his brother's words. Then, Luffy stretched out his hands, a silent way to request for a hug in which Kidd gladly complied.

"You'll be alright." Kidd murmured into the boy's cold hair, his hands draped over Luffy's small back.

After detangling himself from the boy, the mechanic readjusted the comforter covering Luffy's body, smoothing down any apparent wrinkles before proceeding to turn off the light. "G'night."

In the solemn darkness, Kidd's words rang inside the child's mind. Without doubt, being around Ace and Sabo was like being wrapped by a soft blanket in the middle of cold winter. It brought peace and relax, almost like a cocoon of warmth, kindness and fun.

It was heartwarming and cozy.

-To be Continued-

A/N: I know, I know. A lot of at the moment must be like 'Doflamingo?! WTF?!'. It's just like I kept on telling you guys, all the characters here are a big surprise. Ngehehehehehe *Evil laugh*