The Snake and the Mongoose
Ace awoke to the sounds of pigeons cooing and a small hand flailing in his face. He opened his eyes, lost in thought for a moment. He couldn't remember the last time he had slept that well. When was the last time he even slept on a bed?
A whine brought him out of his thoughts and he sat up on the bed, looking down at the baby staring up at him with large, innocent eyes. Ace smiled down at him and brushed some of the stray strands of his wispy black hair on the top of his head. Small, chubby hands reached up for him and he gently picked up the infant, humming softly. He looked around the room and saw that the red numbers on the clock said it was around eight in the morning. He heard mumbling and looked down to see Sabo opening his eyes blearily.
"Morning, sleepyhead," Ace said with a teasing grin. Sabo sat up, yawning and rubbing the sleepiness from his eyes, before grinning at the older boy.
"Mornin'" The blond disregarded the sleepyhead part of Ace's greeting and crawled over the covers, looking at the baby. "How's Luffy?"
"He seems okay for now, but he's gonna need food soon," Ace said with slight worry. He moved to the edge of the bed and carefully stepped down, glad that it wasn't a large drop. He motioned for Sabo to follow him and moved to the door. Sabo, once he managed to get down from the bed since the drop was larger for him, opened the door for the boy. Ace thanked the younger as they walked down the hall. When he reached the kitchen, he stood in the doorway, unsure if he could enter or not.
Smoker was cooking food on the stove, and to both boys it smelled heavenly. Law was sitting at the table, drinking some black coffee, the whole pot of in front of him and almost empty. He noticed the boys in and motioned for them to enter. Ace gave him Luffy so he could sit on his seat and then took the infant back in his arms. Law picked up a bottle from the table and gave it to Ace. He blinked when he realized it was formula.
"I figured he would be hungry," Law stated as he poured the last of the black coffee into his mug.
"Thanks," Ace mumbled as he took the bottle with one hand and brought it to Luffy's mouth. The baby immediately began to suckle, some of the drink dribbling down the sides of his mouth as he drank the liquid.
Smoker put down a plate in front of each of the three boys. Sabo, while kneeling on his seat to be able to see over the table, blinked curiously at the food. He hadn't seen anything like it before but, as he had learned over the years, don't question food. He picked up the fork and immediately began to shovel the food into his mouth, savoring every bite, his eyes widening with awe at the deliciousness. Ace, though hungry, refused to hand Luffy over until he had finished feeding the infant. And only then did he hand him over because his stomach was growling too much for him to ignore.
It was awkwardly quiet as they ate with Law scrutinizing the two boys, Ace glaring at Law and Smoker, Sabo oblivious, and Luffy gurgling in a frustrated man's arms.
Smoker could deal with kids. He didn't see anything wrong with them – they were small, they could be insightful, they were brats, but they weren't perpetually annoying. Teens were alright…kind of. They were cocky and could annoy the shit out of him, especially his genius nephew who was sometimes too cocky for his own good. How was he supposed to put up with his nephew, a high school freshman and cocky like all freshman, a ten year old who probably knew a lot of shit he wasn't supposed to know and seemed extremely distrusting, a five year old who was just following the ten year old, and an infant who was just a few weeks old, without another adult in the house.
The migraines were already coming on.
Law didn't know what to feel about the kids, but he was annoyed about the whole situation. He really did not want to have to suddenly have to share everything or deal with whiny, crying kids. He liked to observe and conduct experiments, not deal with and not gain knowledge. What's more, if the kids did stay with them, would he have to share a room? This was so unexpected and it made Law silently seethe.
But he was still amused because of how annoyed Smoker was.
Ace was tense. He hated adults, teens, people who had money handed them on a platter. These guys seemed pretty well off. Yeah, they helped them out, but who knew how long they would stay? Just because Smoker was a cop didn't mean he wouldn't hand them off to some strangers. If the three of them faced the threat of separation because of this, Ace would grab the two of them and run. He was not losing them. They had been through so much that losing even one of them would break his heart, Sabo's heart, even young Luffy's heart. Ace and Sabo had cared for him since minute 15, not long after he had been abandoned. He knew no other touch as well as theirs, they knew how to calm him, they fed him. Out of the three, he was the most vulnerable. If Ace let anything happen to Sabo and Luffy, especially the later since he was just a baby – fragile and in need of great care – then Ace would never forgive himself.
It's why he refused to be unwary around these men.
"Ace, I need to pee."
Ace looked over at Sabo, who was tugging on his shirt, squirming in his seat. Ace sighed before finishing the last of his sandwich.
"You know where the bathroom is."
Sabo nodded and quickly scuttled off. Ace watched the two men, seeing if they would reject the boy of his bodily functions like some had before. Even when what he expected did not happen, he did not relax.
He couldn't – wouldn't – let his guard down.
Smoker's phone rang suddenly. He stood and handed the infant carefully over to Ace, who cradled the small form against his chest, before walking out and answering the phone in a hushed whisper. Law's phone buzzed, signaling a text, and he immediately blocked out everything except his phone, typing rapidly once he had absorbed every ounce of information held within the text.
Ace gave a small scoff and a sneer. People and their phones. They wouldn't survive a day in poverty without their phones. The only thing Ace ever got from phones was selling the once he found thrown out for no reason when they were still perfectly useable or the occasional one that he stole. Law tossed him a quick glare which Ace returned before turning his eyes down to the fussing baby.
Luffy began to cry. Ace frowned, holding the infant closer and rocking him, sighing when it didn't work all that well. He probably needed his diaper changed. A hand landed on Ace's shoulder in the middle of his efforts to calm the young one, causing him to flinch. It was Smoker standing behind him.
"I'll handle his diaper. Law, go see if you can find any clothes for them to borrow."
Law grumbled, flipping the man the bird as he walked out grudgingly followed by a highly irritated Ace.
Smoker wished he could smoke around the baby because he was beyond stressed.
He was told he might have to watch them not for a week, but for a few months, all because of the fact that their papers said that Ace was supposed to be dead and Sabo was, at this point, nonexistent according to papers along with Luffy.
This is just not my morning was his only thought as he moved to help the baby.
Ace sat with his arms crossed on Law's bed, staring at the back of the teen. He didn't like him. Law just seemed very cocky, and Ace hated that. Yeah, he could be cocky in fights, but he was strong enough to beat up some adults. He had more of a right to be cocky than what appeared to be a bookish high schooler. Seriously, there were at least fifty books scattered across this room, open, closed, pages yellowed, corners bent, written on…Ace could barely read. He only knew how to read because of…Ace shivered. He didn't want to think of that.
Something landed on his head. Ace grunted in surprise before pulling the fabric from his face. It was a shirt that looked like it was big for him, but it wasn't nearly as big as the one he wore to bed. It was a plain red shirt.
He hated the color red.
Still, he took it. It wasn't like he had a choice in the matter. A pair of shorts, black, and a bag of unopened boxers landed on his lap. They looked big as well, but he could deal with it. It had been a while since he had something decent to wear. Another shirt, blue, and shorts, tan, blue again, landed on his lap.
"Share that with the other kid," Law said as he moved and roughly ushered the other out of his room, slamming the door behind him. Ace glared at the large piece of wood as music began to play loudly behind it.
He really didn't like that guy.
"Ace, what's that?" Sabo asked, running up to the taller boy.
"It's some clothes. Let's go change," Ace said, gently pushing the younger down the hall. Sabo blinked confusedly, keeping his eyes on the door where the loud music came from as he was brought to the room they slept in that night.
Law was right when he said the clothes were too big. Ace was looking at himself in the mirror as he frowned at the clothing. The shirt, though not as large as the one he wore last night, was rather large on him. The short sleeves went past his elbows and the shorts went past his knees and halfway down his shins, looking like capris. He turned around to look at Sabo and sighed when the shirt looked much like a dress on the short boy and the shorts were far too long for his legs.
The door opened without warning, startling the two as they turned their heads to stare up at Smoker, shocked. The man sighed, realizing he had startled them, and gave a mumbled apology before saying something really fast and slightly irritated. Only Ace was able to decipher what he had said, and the boy just stared blankly up at him while Sabo asked what was going on.
"We're staying here?"
Smoker nodded as he handed the infant in his arms, who was fussing and whining, over to the boy as he held his arms out. The baby instantly calmed, making a soft cooing noise as the ten year old cradled him close. Sabo immediately took over talking for Ace.
"Do we really get to stay? Do you mean it?" He asked with childish glee, bouncing up and down from his heels to the balls of his feet, grinning widely. He really liked it in this new place. He was clean for the first time in a long time, it was warm, and they had food. And he got to sleep in a bed! And the adults here weren't mean.
He didn't want to leave.
Ace was more skeptical but said nothing. If they could stay here, it would be better for both Sabo and Luffy. He'd do anything to make sure they wouldn't have to suffer like he had, even if it meant getting along with these people.
"Yes. I don't know how long you will stay here, but it will probably be a while."
Smoker was slightly annoyed. It wasn't for the reasons he was earlier, about having to host a few kids. It was the reasons he had to host the kids. Normally they were just brought right over to the orphanage or the hospital, so why was it so different with these kids? It was probably to have constant watch over them. He had a feeling his boss may be up to no good. Still, he wasn't going to do anything about it yet, not if it meant endangering kids.
So he would, grudgingly, accept three more into his household.
"We have to go shopping," Smoker said to them, a serious look on his face. Sabo cocked his head to the side, confused, since in his world he had ever only heard of stealing. Ace looked annoyed by the look on his face while Luffy was grabbing at his black hair and yanking at it.
"You're coming too Law," Smoker said, reaching out and grabbing the teen who was trying to sneak away from his spying. Law grumbled, arms crossed childishly. Smoker put his fingers on the bridge of his nose, pinching.
He was not looking forward to shopping.
Smoker really wanted a cigarette.
He knew shopping could be stressful, but how the hell could three brats be so damn annoying? They had literally been at the store for twenty minutes – and he wishes the car ride could be forgotten. Law and Ace had started fighting like snakes and mongooses, kicking and punching, shouting and flailing in the small space between front and backseat. Sabo was yelling at them to stop while Luffy had started crying from the commotion. It had taken all of Smoker's might not to punch both of them over the head.
But now this was going to far.
So far, he had gotten a bunch of stuff on a list that Tashigi had emailed to him. It was mainly things needed for the baby. There was clothes, diapers, toys, blankets, a carrier, a crib, bottles, bibs, binkies and so on and so forth and he was really lucky that all of this was being paid for by work. He had chosen out some clothes for the older boys and had to get them some school supplies because apparently Ace had to be sent to school and he needed books and notebooks and pencils and why do they need so much stuff? And the boy had lots of opinions on backpacks, the only school thing they had so far – Smoker couldn't understand why there were so many types of backpacks. Couldn't they just have a few convenient ones, not to small or too big or flashy? And he just realized that kids like toys too, don't they? Would a game system do? He still had to finish getting them clothes. But he couldn't do that if they were running around the store like morons.
"Law! Ace! Get back here right now!" Smoker shouted at them, uncaring for his surroundings because they were chasing each other around with – were those manikin arms? – trying to smack each other, fighting and yelling. Sabo was standing next to the man, only staying because he held Luffy, and Ace told him to stay with Luffy no matter what. Smoker really wished that he could go knock some sense into them but with two carriages and a baby, it probably wasn't the best idea.
Who had told him that boys were easy to raise?
Who told him that Law was mature for his age?
They must've been delusional.
And great, there's a store clerk. Really, he could use more than twenty cigarettes by now, maybe Tashigi to help him with these brats, and the ability to magically do a lot of things at once.
Or maybe he just needed a nap.
That sounded good too.
Three hours later, after getting a store clerk to help them and the two idiot boys to calm down, Smoker had managed to get everything that they needed. They had gone through the whole store, every damn aisle, and bought a lot of stuff – including formula because Ace had informed him of Luffy's insatiable stomach.
Just another thing Smoker needed in his bills.
But the infant was asleep now, sleeping soundly on the large bed with Sabo as Smoker tried to put together the contraption called a crib. Ace and Law were both in the kitchen cooking and Smoker really hoped that they could get along long enough to make a simple three sandwiches, all that they were asked to do.
They then walked into the room, a platter with three sandwiches stacked on top of each other in Law's hand. He sat on the bed, putting the platter between him and the younger boy. Smoker stepped back from the crib and grabbed one of the meaty sandwiches, taking a vicious bite and chewing for a few moments before swallowing and speaking.
"I don't want to see or hear you two arguing while you're both here," Smoker demanded. The two boys glared at him and he glowered right back. "I'm serious. You two are going to be stuck in this house for a while. You have to learn to get along."
He turned back to the crib, sandwich in his mouth, not seeing the glares the boys directed at each other.