Phew, a new update! I recently registered myself as a beta reader, and amongst the betaing I've been doing, I got back some inspiration to write again. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 4 – Friends and Enemies

Two of Krieg's gang members broke the circle as they rushed Luffy, their bats raised. He didn't give them the satisfaction of the first attack. Dropping the bag containing the milk and candy bar, he stepped and made a quick, upward sweeping kick to knock the hand of one thug into the other's. The bats were knocked out of their grip, making a distinct clanking noise as they hit the pavement. Before the bats even had the chance to make their telltale sound, Luffy followed up his kick by rapidly turning his body and crouching, aiming another sweep kick at his opponents' thick legs. They hit the pavement almost at the same time as the bats. From the ground, he used his hands as springs to brutally bury his feet in the nearest opponent's gut. He quickly flattened himself to the ground to avoid a couple of chain swings. A cry was heard as one of them accidentally struck another thug in the face. Staying close to the ground kept Luffy's range of vision severely limited, so he sprung back up to his feet to try to get a better handle on the situation. His straw hat had already fallen off at some point; it now dangled behind him from its string around his neck. Only two of his assailants were out of commission now; the two guys he tripped were back up. He was still surrounded, and the gang members now rushed him simultaneously. He was able to shatter one attacker's nose with his fist and crack another's ribcage with his elbow before the other six were on top of him, knocking him to the ground.

While Luffy's strength was great, he couldn't hope to fight his way out of the pure combined weight of six guys all larger and heavier than he. After a brief and violent struggle on the pavement, four thugs were able to get Luffy standing with both arms pulled behind his back dangerously far. He was very flexible, but he still felt the pain of joints bending in directions they weren't made to. The other two thugs stepped away from him, breathing heavily, one sporting a bleeding scrape on his forehead.

"Jesus.... Definitely a tough guy here. But... you couldn't escape Krieg forever."

"Forever?" Luffy replied, also out of breath. "It's only been four days since I met him. Sheesh, you guys are babies."

The one with the scraped forehead growled and lunged forward to punch Luffy's unguarded gut. He steeled his stomach and took the hit. The force of the punch was enough to lift him off his feet a bit as he was held in place, but he barely felt it... and he saw the attacker give his fist a fleeting glance as if he was surprised.

"Hurt, huh?" Luffy chuckled.

This enraged the attacker, and with a roar, he punched Luffy as hard as he could three times in the face. He stepped back and shook his wrist several times, smirking at the damage he caused. Luffy looked up at him darkly and spat out a little blood. "Bastard," he muttered.

"Watch your mouth," the thug growled in reply. He made another fist and pulled it back.... Suddenly, he stopped and went wide-eyed at the sight of something behind Luffy and his four captors and called "Look out!"

One of the thugs holding Luffy's left arm yelled out in pain and quickly let go to hold the back of his head which apparently had just been struck. He took a step away from his sudden attacker, and the others loosened their grip on Luffy's arms as they turned in surprise. Luffy quickly took his chance and wrested his arms from their grasp. He was just as surprised as the others to see a female brandishing a wooden bo at the gang members, a look of wild fear in her eyes.

"J-Jerks!" she accused them shakily, turning her bo towards each of them one at a time.

Luffy's face took on a look of slightly goofy surprise as he suddenly realized that he recognized her. The bright orange hair that hung down to just below her shoulder blades gave it away. It was Nami, the girlfriend of Zoro.

"Hey…!" he called to her. "Get away, I've got this! You'll get hurt!"

"Got this, huh?" she retorted, still keeping her eyes on the four gang members now approaching her slowly and menacingly. "I could see that!"

One of them lunged at her, only to have her sidestep and knock the wind out of him with a solid swing to the man's unprotected side. The other three rushed her at once. She raised her bo, her eyes widening in hopelessness....

Luffy flew into one of them with his shoulder lowered, knocking them into each other like bowling pins. "You're crazy!" he laughed, giving Nami a quick look before whipping around to face the other two still standing.

"Hey, hey...." the one who punched Luffy said with a smile, brushing dark bangs out of his eyes. "Nami's here! Let us have the girl, Straw Hat, come on. She wants to fight, let her!"

Luffy glanced back at her again and then brought his attention back to the two in front of him, raising his fists and grinning. "Nah, we're having fun here!" he replied. "I can take care of the rest. I'll have to thank her later for saving me, though."

Nami lowered her weapon a bit and looked at him. "It wasn't for you in particular," she said quickly. "I just... don't like seeing gangs get away with whatever they want."

Luffy just smiled without turning back to face her again and suddenly lunged at his opponents. As he did so, he heard Nami shriek, "AH, THEY'RE BACK UP!"

Luffy quickly glanced over his shoulder to see the three guys he knocked over advancing on her slowly as she backed away from them. He muttered a curse before quickly ducking to avoid a punch. He whipped around and countered with a sharp uppercut to the chin. His victim fell back onto the ground hard, dazed. The second guy ran for a bat. Luffy let him go as he turned and dashed yet again at the three trying to attack Nami. He turned one around, punched him hard in the gut, and sharply brought a knee up to greet his face as he bent over in pain. The other two turned toward him, and Nami jumped forward to hit one of them upside the head while he was distracted. He staggered back holding his head while an annoyed Luffy landed a heavy kick in the crotch of the third, causing him to crumple immediately with a tiny high-pitched sound. Nami winced involuntarily, then quickly turned back to the guy she had just hit and forcefully thrust the end of her bo into his gut, turned to gain momentum, and gave him a final blow to the back of the skull.

"Look out!" she suddenly yelled.

Luffy's reaction was thankfully instant. He turned and dodged the bat aimed for his side by an inch. He yanked the bat out of the thug's grip, tossed it away, and threw a punch at his face. He quickly raised his arms to try to block it, but Luffy's fist blasted through the guard. He followed up with a punch from his other hand, and the fight was finally over.

Luffy and Nami just stood there for a bit, both breathing heavily as they looked around at each defeated gang member. They all seemed to be unconscious or at least heavily dazed. Finally, Luffy's gaze fell on his savior and he grinned.

"Well, thanks!" he said simply, holding out his hand to her. "I'm Luffy."

She met his gaze and gave him a somewhat weak smile in return. "And I'm Nami," she responded, allowing him to give her slender hand a quick shake. "Don't worry about it...." She gave the two ends of her bo a sharp twist, separating the weapon into four segments attached by string. She folded it up and tucked it down the front of her shirt. "Besides, now I get the loot."

Luffy watched in amazement as she went over to a couple of the unconscious gang members and took the wallets out of their pockets, emptying their monetary contents into the purse she had dropped onto the sidewalk when she had whipped out her bo to save this random boy she had seen only once at school. As she slipped their wallets back into their pockets, Luffy laughed. "Wow, seriously?" he said incredulously. "You're just gonna KEEP that?"

Nami smirked. "Why not? Most of this money isn't rightfully theirs, anyway. Gangs are scum. Plus-" She was interrupted by the loud, unmistakable wail of police sirens in the distance. "Uh oh," she said in a suddenly hushed voice. She quickly glanced over the carnage once again. "Should we run?"

Luffy shrugged. "I don't think so.... We did nothing wrong, right? You said the money wasn't theirs...."

She glanced at her purse, then back at Luffy and nodded. Besides the wallet plundering, which Nami had to convince herself WAS technically wrong, he was right; if the police saw them running, they would look very suspicious when they had done nothing but defend themselves. As they waited for the cop cars to reach them, the cashier who had warned Luffy came running out of the store and looked around in disbelief.

"Wow... looks like I didn't even need to call the cops, did I?" he murmured.

Luffy smiled. "Told you I'd be okay, ossan," he said cheerfully. "Don't blame you for calling the cops, though.... I looked like I was in real trouble, huh?"

Nami snorted. "You were, until I saved you."

The cashier shook his head. "Yeah, I couldn't take chances. When I looked out, you were being held and punched. This isn't the first time I've seen a fight in front of my store...." He picked up the bag containing Luffy's earlier purchases and handed it to its owner, smiling a bit. "Don't forget this."

Luffy nodded. "Oh yeah, thanks. Makino would've been mad!"

Nami took a closer look at Luffy's face, frowned, and reached into her purse. "You should clean up some of that blood.... Looks like your lip got cut pretty good. And you got one over your eye, too.... It's gonna swell. You'll need ice, but for now... here, don't move...."

As she gently dabbed some of the blood off of Luffy's eye, the cops pulled up. There were only two cars. A nondescript traffic officer came out of one car, and a well-built man with light, bluish-gray hair came out of the other along with a female deputy. Nami raised her eyebrows slightly at the small turnout. Only three officers for a gang attack....?

The female deputy rushed over to the gang members lying about to kneel down and inspect a few of them. She stood and turned toward the traffic officer who was still standing nearby the vehicles. "When's the ambulance coming?" she called, brushing dark bangs away from her eyes.

As the officer consulted his radio, the gray-haired man walked over to Luffy and Nami. Nami had discarded the cloth in a nearby trashcan and now stood beside Luffy. The officer, clearly of higher rank, gave Luffy a once over with cold, squinted eyes. "You okay, kid?" he asked in a low, gruff voice that failed to convey that he actually cared if anyone was okay. Before Luffy could even answer, he swept past him to inspect the fallen hoodlums. Nami turned to watch him and noticed a jitte strapped loosely to his back catch the light coming from the store. Her eyes widened as she suddenly realized something. "Oh damn...." she breathed.

Luffy glanced at her. "What's up?"

"I think that's Captain Smoker," she replied, still watching him as he knelt down beside one of the unconscious thugs and started to awake him rather roughly. "It's gotta be, with that jitte.... He's the top cop in this precinct, and he's known for being ruthless. There've been rumors that he's even beaten the crap out of some juveniles suspected to be gang members, but no one could really prove it.... He'd be in trouble otherwise."

Luffy gave a low whistle as he turned to watch the cop as well. Smoker had finally succeeded in shaking the kid back to his senses. He watched blearily as the police captain jammed two fat cigars into his own mouth and lit them. He exhaled slowly, almost luxuriously, directly into the thug's face. "Krieg's, huh?"

The kid's brutish face suddenly turned frightened. "N-none of your b-" With a cry, he quite suddenly found the point of a sinisterly gleaming jitte pressing lightly into his throat.

"Krieg's, huh?" Smoker repeated in the exact same tone of voice, tilting his head up and exhaling more smoke.

"Shit, yes, okay, yes yes!" he exclaimed very quickly. "But you already knew who it was, and you know you can't do a damn thing-!"

Smoker grabbed him by the face, hand covering the mouth, and lifted him effortlessly off the ground. He looked around at the others while the female deputy stared at him. "You all have the right to remain silent."

Nami sweatdropped as she watched. "Um, isn't a bit too late for that speech...?" she mumbled so only Luffy heard.

Smoker continued. "Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law." He roughly tossed his prisoner back onto the ground and began cuffing him. "You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you." He straightened and placed a foot on the kid he just cuffed. "Got it, punks?"

The deputy took a cautious step forward. "Uh, Captain, sir... they're injured, so I wouldn't treat them so roughly...."

"You're too soft, Kuina," Smoker rumbled in reply. He tossed her a few pairs of handcuffs and gestured at the remaining gang members. "Well, finish the job. I want them ready for the ambulance. The quicker we are, the quicker we can put these jerkoffs where they belong." As he started to walk back over to Luffy and Nami, he barked, "When's that ambulance coming again?"

"They should be only two or three blocks away by now, sir," the traffic officer answered.

He grunted and stopped in front of Luffy again. He peered down at him through the heavy smoke issuing from his two cigars, and Luffy steadily met his gaze with a bemused expression.

"Well, those rights I recited were for your ears, too," said Smoker, turning his gaze to Nami and then back to Luffy. "So are you from a gang or what?"

"Nope," Luffy replied, and Nami shook her head vigorously.

"Who started this fight?"

"They did," Luffy said, scratching his head. He suddenly realized that his straw hat was still dangling behind him, so he reached back and placed it back on his head where it belonged.

Smoker eyed his hat for a few long seconds before returning his gaze to its owner. "Nice hat," he growled. "So you beat these guys up all by yourself?"

"No, she helped," Luffy answered promptly, pointing at Nami. She involuntarily winced. "W-well, he was getting beat pretty bad," she said in an almost defensive tone. "I never wanted to be involved in any gang fights, but this kid isn't in any gang, so...."

"You two know each other then?"

She looked at the boy she saved. "Actually, no...."

Luffy stuck his hand out to Smoker and grinned. "I'm from the town of Fuschia. Just moved here. Name's Luffy, nice to meet you!"

Smoker momentarily eyed his hand with what looked like contempt before giving it a brief, yet very firm shake. "That's nice.... All right, whatever, get out of here. But don't forget..." His eyes narrowed even further as his gaze on Luffy hardened. "I'm watching you."

At this point, the ambulance had arrived and they were helping the more grievously injured get onboard. Smoker sharply turned away from the two high school kids and walked towards his car without a backwards glance. They caught Kuina's gaze for a moment. She gave them an almost apologetic look before returning to her work.

For a few moments, the pair just stood there and watched their attackers get pushed into either the police cars or the ambulance. Nami sighed, shifted her purse's shoulder strap higher up, and started walking away. "Well, see ya."

Luffy watched her for a moment before calling out, "Oh, uh, thanks again!"

She glanced back with a smirk on her face. "Well, just watch yourself. My help's gonna cost ya next time!"

Luffy laughed and waved, not really able to tell if she was actually joking or not. Once she was out of his range of sight and the emergency vehicles started pulling away, he also started his short walk home. He stared at his shadow dancing beneath the streetlights as he walked, thinking back to his original assessment of her when he saw her at school and deciding to revise it a little; still quite pretty, still no goddess, but a very interesting person he wanted to get to know better.

"Luffy, is that you? Come in the kitchen, hun, where have you- LORD, WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?"

Luffy gave Makino his most sheepish grin. "Will it make you happier to know that I won?"

She rushed over with a damp towel and an icepack. "NO, what is wrong with-" She suddenly stopped and gripped him by the shoulders, fixing his eyes with a piercing stare. "Wait, you didn't start it, did you?"

"No, no!" he reassured her quickly. "It wasn't me, I was attacked by-"

"Gangs." Ace finished the sentence for him in an ominous tone. Luffy turned his head away from Makino's towel to look at Ace leaning against the door frame of the kitchen entrance. "Don't tell Gramps, okay?" Luffy pleaded as Makino impatiently turned his head back around to face her.

"I told you, Luffy," Ace continued, ignoring his brother's request. "I told you, don't get mixed up with those losers. Now look."

"Here," Makino said quietly, handing Luffy the icepack. "Hold that on your eye; it's swelling." She turned to get rid of the towel and left the room. Luffy pressed the icepack onto his eye and turned to face Ace. "Just don't tell Gramps," he repeated. "I don't want him to see me like this. His training from hell would increase by a hundred times!"

Ace shook his head grimly, but then he looked at Luffy again and smirked. "Looks like you NEED more training." He walked over and before Luffy could stop him, he put him in a headlock. "H-hey, cut it out!" Luffy exclaimed, struggling to escape. "Not a chance, weakling!" Ace laughed, knocking off his straw hat and giving him a vicious noogie. "Nooo, owowowow!" Luffy cried, trying harder to get out. Ace eventually stopped and the two looked at each other and laughed some more.

After a minute or so, Luffy put on a pout. "Come on, I'm injured! You coulda made it worse."

Ace laughed again and punched him in the shoulder. "Oh please, you puss."

"Hey, let me take a look at ya."

Luffy and Ace both turned to look at the red-haired newcomer. Shanks looked Luffy up and down with a half smile on his face. "Well, I hope you finished it?"

Luffy made a fist and nodded. "I sure did!"

Shanks's smile widened. "You had help, huh?"

The grin slowly faded from Luffy's face. "H-huh? How did you-?"

Shanks laughed. "Oh, come on! How else could someone inflict that kind of damage on you? You were outnumbered and they got you in a hold of some sort. They got a few clean punches in before someone came and saved your ass, isn't that right? What a story for Grandpa!" With that, he waltzed out of the kitchen, still laughing. Luffy stared in disbelief for a few seconds before giving chase. "O-oi! Don't tell him, PLEASE don't! Shaaaanks!"

Ace shook his head, unable to stop grinning. He bent down and picked up the gallon jug of milk Luffy brought home lying forgotten on the floor and placed it in the fridge. 'He may be a headache sometimes,' he thought, 'but there's never a dull moment with him around....' He picked up Luffy's candy bar as well and walked out of the kitchen. "Hey Luffy!" he called as he walked upstairs to their bedroom. "Come eat this chocolate bar before I do!"

The first blessed weekend of the school year came faster than most students gave it credit for. There was still plenty of summer weather to go around in early September, and the clear skies provided it in abundance. There were very few kids found inside their homes on such a glorious weekend. Even fewer had anything school-related on their minds. Luffy, however, soon found himself desperately wishing he was still in school despite the large amount of time he was spending outside in the beautiful weather... in his grandfather's backyard.

The homemade iced tea currently being sipped in said backyard was top notch. Nothing was better than enjoying unsweetened lemon tea while riding around in an open horse carriage pulled only by your grandson sprinting while weighed down by 80lb weights on each arm and 100lb weights on each leg, Garp mused. Luffy, meanwhile, finally decided to attempt a protest at around the 98th lap, only to realize that his throat was way too dry to make any form of audible noise.

"One hundred!" Garp rumbled with feigned pride. "Not bad, m'boy! Halfway there! Let's try to do the second half even faster, hmmm? That is, of course, you'd rather revisit that little accident you had a couple days ago? This time, you won't have any girls to save you." Luffy couldn't remember the last time he had been so close to tears.

Garp's attention was diverted as he heard his backdoor open. He turned his head toward the newcomer and lifted his glass in greeting. "Oh, hey there, Ace! I wasn't expecting you! To what do we owe the pleasure?"

Ace just stood there and stared for a long moment before answering. "Gramps... where did you get that carriage?"

"Irrelevant, m'boy, irrelevant!" the old man replied heartily. He patted the seat beside him. "Care to join me?"

The carriage passed Ace by, marking the beginning of the 102nd lap. Ace kept his gaze on Luffy's face as he ran past. "Ummm, no thanks. I think you should water your steed, though; he might die."

Garp blinked at Ace and then looked back at Luffy. "Well, I guess you have a point...." he conceded, scratching his head. "All right, get out the hose, then. Let him drink when he passes you again."

Ace shook his head and walked over to the green garden hose snaking from its connection to the house's outside faucet. He picked up the front of the hose and made sure the gun-like attachment on the end was tight before turning on the water. He sprayed the grass in front of him for a few seconds to get the hot water out. He positioned himself by the back door as Luffy was coming around the corner for his next lap. Ace saw the look of hopeless torture on his face as he approached his watery fate. Ace met his gaze sadly and raised the hose. He didn't like adding to this torture, but maybe a little overkill would really drill his point home for his little brother. Maybe he would avoid starting anything with gangs ever again.

Ace set the attachment on the end of the hose to "Jet" mode. Luffy's eyes widened into horror the second before he started to pass Ace and the trigger was squeezed....

He knew the question was coming. It was obvious from the moment he was invited to come join the conversation. It was a touchy subject for him at the time, and he really didn't want to talk about it. He wasn't going to be rude, though, when asked. He realized that the only reason they asked him to join them in the first place was because he was looking all mopey while brooding over it. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to get it off his chest. He sat down, sighed, and met the gaze of the smiling girl addressing him.

"Luffy-kun, how was your weekend?"

Luffy looked at Vivi blankly for a moment before answering. "Well... I guess you could say it involved a horse carriage, a garden hose, a wooden fence, and a complete lack of good food."

Vivi's smile faltered as she and the other girls in study hall stared at him, trying to comprehend what he just said. "Oh, I... I see.... So... a bad weekend then? We were just wondering why you looked so glum over there."

Luffy nodded. "Yeahhh, that pretty much sums it up."

There was a bit of an awkward silence as everyone waited to see if he would elaborate before Vivi gently cleared her throat and looked at one of the other girls. "So, uh, what were you saying about the beach again, Caimie-chan?"

Although Luffy was definitely awkward at times, a new trend started from there. He started sitting with the girls in study hall more and more often until it became a daily thing. Kaya and Vivi were nice, Caimie was funny, and Conis was quiet but very intelligent. Shira would sometimes join them as well when she wasn't using her study hall time for the computer lab. The brunette was cute, but not quite in the same league as Kaya or Vivi. She liked spending time on the Internet and, although she didn't like to admit it, her hobby at home was video games. It seemed that she enjoyed having a boy in the group as it gave her reason to discuss games more openly. After a few conversations, though, it was clear to Luffy that her love for games far surpassed his own. One could definitely see the glint in her eyes when she talked about games, especially when first-person shooters was the specific topic at hand. All in all, he found spending time with the girls enjoyable and, at the very least, it made the long, torturous wait for lunch just a little easier.

Shira would be another gamer addition to Luffy's slowly growing pool of friends. After protecting Usopp and Coby from Krieg's gang, he couldn't help but start sitting with them every morning and get to know them a little better. The first few days involved Luffy just sitting down to watch their card game with little talk. It was very hard to follow without understanding the rules. The only thing he knew for sure was that Usopp really did win every single time no matter which deck of his he used. He couldn't help but wonder why Coby even bothered, so he decided to voice this thought one morning.

"Coby... why do you even play? I mean, I don't understand this game, but..." Luffy trailed off with a shrug.

Coby smiled wryly, his eyes still on the cards. "Usopp is the best in the school, so of course I lose. It's good practice, though.... I'm actually one of the best in the Gamers Club, if I may say so."

"Gamers Club?"

"One of the after-school clubs. It's fun, even if a lot of the kids there are kind of weird." He smiled sheepishly at Luffy. "I guess Usopp and I are, too, though, huh? Heh heh."

"Ufufufu," Usopp interrupted with an evil chuckle. "I suggest you pay more attention to the game, Coby.... I attack with all my creatures. Go ahead and defend; I don't have any instants or anything in my hand, so you'll be safe!"

Coby covered his face with his palm. "Usopp... you really don't have to try lying every time, you know. It's always obvious."

"Lying? Who's lying? I wouldn't do that!" Luffy looked at Usopp's gleeful face. He was definitely lying.

Coby sighed and shook his head. "Fine, whatever. It's not like I have a choice." He declared which of his creatures would defend against each of Usopp's attackers. As Usopp whooped in response and threw down the two game-ending cards, Luffy glanced over at the corner Krieg's cronies frequented. They were talking quietly amongst themselves, ignoring the straw hat kid and his two new friends. Krieg himself was absent from the lunch room as he had been every morning since that Friday following the attack on Luffy. Luffy couldn't help but wonder why he didn't come anymore. Was it fear? Was he trying to avoid trouble? Did the staff ban him from coming here in the mornings? Whatever the reason, it was a welcome change for everyone who liked to hang in the lunchroom before classes, and it brought some newcomers as well. His underlings seemed to be much more reserved when he wasn't around. Luffy didn't have to wonder why THAT was; clearly, it was fear. They wouldn't do anything on school grounds without their leader.

The lunchroom was also the site of another growing friendship of sorts. Luffy sat with Franky and some of his gang members everyday. It was amazing to him how very different two gangs and their reputations could be. As opposed to being feared or avoided like Krieg, Franky's gang seemed downright popular in Roguetown High. Everyday, Franky would get many fives, bumps, and shakes from other students passing by their table. Some would give Luffy a nod, too. He was already starting to build a reputation. He was always with pretty girls in study hall, with Franky at lunch, equal with Roronoa Zoro in gym, and there was that crazy rumor about single-handedly defeating around ten "Kriegers", as students started to call them. Luffy wasn't sure how anyone found out about it, but it was clear that Nami was keeping her involvement a complete secret. He wanted to give her credit, too, but it seemed that she didn't want it. It was pretty much a sure thing that none of the attackers were going to mention a girl beating them up, either.

It wasn't long until Franky invited Luffy to join his gang.

"It'd be super!" Franky declared, drawing nods from around the lunch table.

"I don't know anything about cars or fixing them," Luffy protested, but he couldn't help but grin.

"Who cares? Neither does that guy." Franky pointed at Zambai, the informal second-in-command of the gang. Raucous laughter from Franky and the gang nearly drowned out Zambai's indignant "HEY!" Franky shook his head as the laughter died down. "No, but seriously, a lot of our work is in dismantling for parts, too, you know. With a little practice and teaching, you can help out!"

Luffy's grin widened as he shook his head. "Nah, I'm honored, but I can't. I know you guys are cool, but I have no interest in gangs.... Besides, I kinda don't have free time for messing with cars."

There were some groans and protests, but no one pushed the issue. "Well, if you don't mind me askin', what do you do outside school?" Franky inquired.

"Training," Luffy said simply. He returned to his food without further explanation. Franky looked at some of the others and they all shrugged. If he didn't want to explain, whatever. It wasn't that Luffy was keen on keeping it secret; he just didn't feel like elaborating while there was food in front of him. Plus, he tried avoiding thinking of his gramps whenever he could. He wasn't exactly thrilled about being forced to slowly fix the wooden fence that he crashed into when Ace blinded him with the hose.

Time spent after lunch was more or less torture for Luffy. On more than one occasion, he was caught trying to sneakily eat snacks in class. The first time he tried, he found out the hard way that eating was not allowed during class.

"I always like to do poetry nice an' early in the term. It's easy and relaxing." The balding Mr. Ross grinned a gold-speckled grin at the pained looks on several students' faces. "At least for people with some sort of creative brain, eh?" He allowed a wheezy chuckle conveying many years of chain smoking to escape his lips before turning to the blackboard. "So I guess youse need a basic knowledge of this thing before youse start. Let's go over some poetry terminology...."

As he started to write the word "stanza", a loud crunching sound broke the general silence of the room. Almost every head turned towards the source of the noise. Ross stopped in mid-writing and turned. His eyes narrowed as they fell upon the culprit. It was at this point that Luffy realized something was wrong. He stopped chewing while his eyes, wide orbs of innocent confusion, first fell upon the bag of chips he had started to enjoy and then went up to Ross's face.

"Wanna tell us what a stanza is, boy?" Ross asked, sounding almost amused.

Luffy looked around and answered through a full mouth, "Um... I'm chewing?"

Some kids couldn't help but giggle at the answer. Ross walked up, took the bag from his student's desk, and promptly threw it in the garbage. He turned back to the blackboard to continue his lesson, ignoring the flabbergasted look on Luffy's face that was drawing even more quiet laughter from some of the students.

Thankfully, eating was a lot easier to get away with in cooking. Luffy tried to take advantage of this as much as possible to make sure he'd have enough energy for gym two periods later. He always wanted to be at his peak to best Zoro. However, when Luffy turned to his cooking group's ingredients for nourishment, it caused some stress and anger. Sanji in particular would become wrathful.

"Ohhh, this is hard! I hate this." The job cycle had Porche cutting vegetables for their beef stew. It was a rare moment when she wasn't complaining in her high-pitched, whiny voice about what she had to do, but Sanji didn't care. He sidled up next to her, hearts in his eyes.

"Let me take the knife, my sweet!" he pined. "I wouldn't want you to harm your beautiful hands!"

Helmeppo stopped washing dishes for a moment to feign gagging. Sanji gave him a death glare, but he didn't go beyond that.

The other three couldn't help but stare as they watched Sanji finish chopping the vegetable with extreme precision and speed. "You're sooo cool, Sanji-kun," Porche said in a sickeningly sweet voice. "Captain of the soccer team AND the best cook in the world! Wow, you're second best only to Foxy-sama...." She sighed dreamily.

Luffy shook his head. "How do you go that fast? Were you born to do this or something?"

Sanji raised an eyebrow at the odd question. "I don't know, but I HAVE been doing this my whole life.... I was mostly raised in a restaurant."

"So taking this class is like cheating for you," Helmeppo muttered.

"Ohhh, a restaurant nearby?" Luffy asked excitedly. "What's it called?"

"The Baratie; come try us some time," Sanji replied with a grin. "We're at Pier 14. It's a huge ship sitting on the water."

Luffy's jaw dropped. "That's awesome! Yeah, I'll go as soon as I can!" And without warning, he reached for one of the untouched carrots. Sanji, not missing a beat, stuck a knife between two of Luffy's fingers as quick as lightning. The cook's grin instantly turned into a look of death, one that made the hungry Luffy go pale and quickly turn back to the broth he had been carefully stirring.

The gym class to follow was another memorable one. The sky was overcast as Hina led her class outside to the quarter-mile track on the extensive school grounds. She ignored some of the complaints as she declared that they were going to do a test mile run.

"Already?" students complained. "It's so early in the year!"

Hina's gaze was all it took to silence the rebels.

Of course, the test run became a footrace of epic proportions between the two gym class monsters. They sprinted full speed, not bothering to pace themselves as they ran neck-to-neck the entire mile. They occasionally threw quick glances at each other to make sure neither one was falling behind. Some time after the second lap, Zoro gave Luffy an evil grin. Before the smaller runner could guess what the grin was for, he had to deftly avoid his opponent's leg as it attempted to trip him up. At first, his face took on a look of surprise before he turned his head and returned the grin. The race became a high-speed brawl on wheels as each tried their hardest to punch, kick, trip, or shove the other as they ran.

"HEY, STOP IT, YOU TWO!" Hina thundered, but her command fell on deaf ears. As the end of their fourth and final lap approached, Zoro sidestepped Luffy's final attempt at a trip-up and pushed himself with everything he had left....

Hina stared at the stopwatch for a second before announcing the results. "Luffy, 3:54.33.... Zoro, 3:54.12."

Zoro, breathing heavily, glanced at his rival with a smirk. "Heh... nice try."

Luffy grinned. "That's my line. Thought you could catch me by surprise with that first trip, huh?"

Hina came up behind them and grabbed each by the ear. "Owowowow!" Luffy cried.

"I should write you two up for fighting," the teacher hissed. "But I'm not going to." She let go. "Your antics messed up your times, too, you know... even though you still broke the four minute barrier." She turned back to the students now approaching the finish line to record their times as well. Luffy gave Zoro a sheepish grin. The green-haired athlete just shrugged indifferently and walked over to the first row of bleachers to sit and wait for the rest of the class. Luffy sauntered over to join him.

"So..." the black-haired boy said hesitantly after a few moments of silence, "I've heard you're the captain of two different sports teams. Football, and what's the other one?"

"Fencing," was the short grunt of reply.

Luffy raised his eyebrows. "Oh, really? Those are such different sports!"

Zoro nodded slightly. "Yeah, well, I've spent my whole life in a kenjutsu dojo. It's hard for me to be away from swords."

Luffy stared at him in awe. "So you're good?"

Zoro nodded again. "I'm trying to become the best in the world... in as many sword-fighting styles as I can. That would include fencing."

Luffy gave a low whistle as he turned to watch the last of the class finish their run. "That's very cool. So you've been training your whole life like me, huh...."

Zoro gave him a questioning look. "Martial arts?"

Luffy nodded vaguely, his eyes still on their classmates. "Kinda. It was kinda forced on me, though. Not the same for you?"

The sword master shook his head slowly. "No... well, not really. Long story."

They both sat in silence until it was time to go back inside and do some post-run stretching. When everyone went into the locker rooms to change before the final bell, Luffy was once again harassed by the many sports players in the advanced gym class to join their teams or clubs.

"Dude, you sprint like a beast! You gotta play baseball-"

"Baseball? We need that speed in track and field!"

"Where does all that stamina come from? Join cross country...!"

"You're probably one hell of a fighter, the boxing club needs you, man!"

As usual, Luffy avoided or politely refused all the offers and pushed his way out the gym door as the bell rang. A minute or so later, Kohza caught up to him.

"Hey, you and Zoro friends now?" asked Kohza jokingly. "Everyone thought you two wanted to kill each other."

Luffy laughed. "Nah, we don't. I wouldn't say we're friends, but he seems like a good guy."

As the pair approached their lockers, they once again saw Zoro and Nami a little ways down the hall. This time, Nami noticed Luffy and poked her boyfriend in the shoulder before walking over.

"Hey, Luffy," she greeted casually. "Listen, I'm transferring to a different English class and I heard you were in it. Do you have the notes so I can see what you guys have done so far?"

Luffy just blinked at her for a moment before producing a notebook from his bag. "Yeah, sure, just give it back tomorrow."

Nami took it. "Of course. Well, you mean Monday, right? Tomorrow's the weekend." She started walking away. "See ya Monday." She rejoined Zoro and the two walked out of the school hand in hand.

Luffy and Kohza looked at each other and shrugged. "Well..." Kohza said, closing his locker and picking up his bag, "I gotta go find Vivi, so-"

Luffy suddenly received a poke in the ribs. He quickly turned to see Shira's lightly freckled face smiling at him. "Hey, stranger," she greeted. She looked over at his sandy-haired companion. "Hey Kohza, we're waiting for you, come on."

"Yeah sorry, I was just about to go find Vivi.... See ya, Luffy."

He waved as the two started to walk away. Suddenly, Shira stopped. Kohza looked at her questioningly. "What's up?"

She turned and looked at Luffy for a moment, hands on hips. "Hey... you wanna come with us? It'd be fun if you were there!"

Kohza looked a bit surprised. "Oh, uh, you think so? Is... is that alright with Vivi?"

"I'm sure it is! Luffy's getting to be good friends with us in study hall, you know. Besides, the more the merrier, yeah? We gotta enjoy the pool one last time before this nice weather ends! Today's Friday and it's supposed to be crappy this weekend."

Kohza scratched his head. "Well yeah, I guess.... Let's go find Vivi."

This was a bit of a pleasant surprise for Luffy. No one had ever invited him to anything in Fuschia, except maybe the occasional birthday party when he was a kid. He got out his phone. "Thanks guys! Let me call my parents."

He talked to Makino as they walked outside together.

"Friends from school?

"Yeah, they just invited me."

"That's great, Luffy! I hope they're not shady...."

"No! Don't worry about it."

"...Boys or girls?"

"Um, both...."

"What do you guys have planned?"

"I dunno.... I think there's a pool."

"Do you even have your swimming trunks?"

"Oh, haha, no I don't."

"Well, you should probably come get them first...."

When Luffy, Kohza, and Shira found Vivi, she seemed more than happy to have the straw hat boy join them. Conis, Caimie, and a boy Luffy didn't recognize soon joined them, and they were off. Upon Luffy's request, the car stopped at his place so he could pick up his trunks. As he ran inside and up the stairs to his room, he heard Makino call, "So, do I get to meet these friends of yours?"

"Not now, they're waitin' for me! See ya later!"

Makino watched him run back out, dark blue trunks clenched tightly, with a smile on her face. After a few moments, she went back to the living room to continue watching her show. She stopped for a moment and frowned. "I hope that boy has been doing his homework...."

Vivi's home was nothing short of gigantic. It was one of the largest mansions in the world-famous port town. Luffy was shocked to find out that her father was none other than the Governor of East Blue. Luffy looked at Nefertari Vivi appreciatively as they walked up to the front door. "Nice place!" he said simply.

She smiled. "Thanks!"

As they walked through the main foyer, Shira glanced at Luffy's ridiculous gawking face. The brunette giggled. "Yeah, that was pretty much my first reaction, too." She looked over at Caimie's jaw-dropped, eye-popping face and sweatdropped. "Caimie... you've been here a hundred times...."

"I know, but it's so BEAUTIFUL!"

Vivi waved her hand vaguely at the vast amount of expensive art and other forms of fancy decoration. "This is all just passed down from previous generations. It's not like Daddy has the creative mind or attention span for home decor." She glanced at Kohza and the two laughed. Luffy scratched his head. He guessed it was some sort of inside joke.

The group soon found themselves poolside. It was Olympic size with a high dive on the far end, a low dive beside it, and a different water slide on each side. Soon enough, drinks and snacks were served, the radio was on, and all but Conis and her male companion were in the pool.

"Watch this," Vivi said to Luffy, grinning. The two were in the center of the pool. She went under and pressed some sort of button on the wall. A whirring sound was suddenly heard.

"Here, look out," Vivi warned, grabbing Luffy's arm and dragging him away a bit. She laughed at his stunned face as a volleyball net emerged from the water.

"GAME START!" Caimie yelled from atop a nearby water slide, ball held high overhead. She threw the ball high in the air and all in one smooth motion, she slid in on her belly, swam over to the net underwater, and launched herself above the water surface to spike the ball cleanly over the net, her yellow one-piece suit gleaming in the sun. Luffy was hugely impressed.

"And that's why she's known as the Mermaid of the swimming team." Shira smiled and got out of the pool to retrieve the ball that bounced out of the pool. "Okay, teams!"

The "gym class monster" was fully outclassed in the water. It was Luffy, Kaya, Vivi, and Kohza versus Caimie and Shira. Caimie effortlessly dominated the game. It didn't frustrate the black-haired boy, though; he was having a blast. Several one-sided sets later, no one even knew the score. Vivi picked up the ball and prepared to serve.

"Three serving..." She looked over at Conis and the boy. "Um, ref?"

"Ref?" Conis laughed. "Uh, I don't know... three to... twenty-something?"

"We need your help!" Luffy told her and the boy.

Conis sighed. "Sorry, I still have to rest my ankle. I hurt it in cross country not too long ago."

The boy put his arm around her. "And someone's gotta keep her company." She smiled at him and gave him a peck on the cheek.

Luffy scratched his head. "How come no one's told me your name yet?"

The boy chuckled. "Oh, it's Max. Nice to meet you."

"Better keep your eyes on the ball, kid!" Shira shouted, spiking the ball directly at her intended target. Luffy turned just in time to have the ball bounce magnificently dead-center off his face. As everyone laughed, the victim included, the ball rolled over to the door leading back into the mansion. It was picked up by a newcomer.

"I guess I could help.... Not that there's a point against the Mermaid."

Everyone turned toward the voice. Vivi looked surprised. "Oh, Nami! Thought you and Zoro were going somewhere."

Nami smirked. "He was getting boring. You know how he is sometimes. Besides, how often do we get such a beautiful Friday without cheer practice or a game?" The cheerleading captain then tossed the ball back in and threw off her shirt and shorts, revealing an orange bikini with white polka dots... and the beautiful body it so hardly covered. Luffy automatically averted his gaze to keep from staring.

"Show-off," Shira grumbled jokingly.

Nami dove in on the opposite side of Caimie. She surfaced and grinned at Luffy. "Hey there, stranger," she greeted.

Luffy waved. "Yo!"

"LET'S GET ON WITH IT!" Caimie shouted, eyes burning with frenzy.

And so, the one-sided game resumed.

"Haa! This is what you get for that ball to the face!"

"Wha-?! Bah! Lucky shot."

"Not lucky!" Luffy gloated. "Wahaha!"

Shira punched his shoulder playfully. "Hey, bud, don't get cocky. You're still far from the top there."

Luffy pouted. "Not my fault you and Max play this game 24/7."

Luffy, Max, Kohza, and Shira were playing a popular and addicting first-person shooter on Vivi's massive flat screen in the entertainment room. Nami was watching, and Kaya and Vivi were nearby locked in a heated game of air hockey.

Nami grabbed the controller from Luffy. "Nice shootin, Tex, but she's got a point. Plus, I haven't got a turn yet."

"Meh, make it a three-person game." Shira put down her controller. "I'm sick of winning, anyway." She stuck her tongue out at Max. The dark blue-haired boy returned with his own tongue. She poked Luffy. "You're all hot down here, too, right? Hey Vivi, me and Luffy are going back to the pool."

Vivi gave a quick thumbs-up, not taking her eyes off her intense match with Kaya.

Luffy was indeed a little hot. He always got worked up playing video games, just like Shira, apparently. The sun had almost finished setting outside. Luffy welcomed the rush of cool air the twilit evening had to offer as the pair stepped outside. Shira smiled at him and stripped down to her red-and-black-striped bikini once again. "Race ya," she challenged, giving herself a head-start. Luffy, not intending to lose at something again, threw off his shirt and took off at a sprint. He easily passed her, awarding him an indignant "Hey!", but unfortunately for him, the surface by the pool's edge was still wet.... He fell hard on his face and slid awkwardly into the water. He surfaced with a hand held to his nose. "Ouch."

"Oh my god!" She stopped in front of Luffy, bending down to look at his face. "Are you okay?"

Luffy waved nonchalantly with his unoccupied hand. "This is nothing," he assured her. "Anyway... revenge!" He leapt up and grabbed her waist, eliciting a shriek as she was dragged into the water.

She quickly resurfaced, arms wrapped around herself. "Brrrr, it's cold!" she exclaimed. She narrowed her eyes and gave his leg a slow-motion underwater kick. "Don't do that again. Besides, you got your revenge already from that lucky shot."

"Wasn't lucky," he told her, grinning. "Kishishishi."

She looked at his nose, his hand still covering it. "How is that? It's not bleeding a lot, is it?" She unfolded her arms from herself as she moved closer to get a better look. Luffy suddenly found himself needing to keep his eyes carefully trained on her face as he felt a bit of heat rise up to his cheeks. Shira's words weren't the only thing portraying just how cold she was.... She quickly realized the same thing and wrapped her arms around herself once more. "J-jeez, I'm shivering...." she told him, trying to sound casual, but the poor girl's embarrassment was pretty obvious.

A bit of an awkward silence ensued as the two ended up watching the sun finish setting. As the two lazily floated about the pool, the minutes floated by along with them, the sky getting darker and darker without the light of its precious sun. After a while, Luffy sighed. Shira looked over at him.

"You know, it's strange," he said. "The stars here... never come out." He leaned back and allowed himself to float on his back. He pointed up at the sky. "Look, there isn't a single cloud in the sky, but all I can see are a couple of really bright stars."

Shira gazed up as well. "Light pollution.... It's a bitch sometimes, I guess." She looked back at him, smiling. "Must have been a really pretty sky over in Hicksville, huh?"

"Yeah..." he sighed. "...Hey, wait."

She laughed, swimming away from him. "Sorry, I like to tease. Actually, I'd like to go out to a place like that sometime. Fuschia sounds like a very nice place."

Luffy gave chase. "It was kinda boring there, but I kinda miss it, too." He dove under and with surprisingspeed, he caught up to her and grabbed her leg. He pulled her under, but she pushed him further down, placed her feet on his shoulders, and pushed off them to resurface. He joined her a moment later.

"Wow, that was a lot faster than you were before." She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "You weren't going easy on us just cuz we're girls, were you?"

He laughed. "Nah, Caimie is the queen of the water. I could never touch that level of skill!"

As they tread water side by side, they ended up gazing up at the sky again. After a moment, she found herself leaning on him without even thinking about it.

"I'm glad I invited you...." she said softly. "We needed some new blood here."

Luffy grinned. "Glad I came."

Suddenly, they heard a whistle.

"Ooooo!" Nami catcalled. "Didn't mean to interrupt the lovebirds!"

Shira quickly pushed away from Luffy, laughing. "Oh, be quiet, Nami! You're just mad cuz Zoro-woro isn't here with you."

Vivi and Kohza followed Nami out. The blue-haired girl giggled. "All right, guys, time to pack it up. Sorry, Daddy's rules. It's getting late."

Shira gave Luffy a sideways glance and a small smile. The two got out, grabbed towels, and headed back toward the mansion.

Luffy was the last one to be dropped off. He stared out the open window as Vivi drove him home. The cool air blew heartily into his face, ruffling his damp hair. It truly felt great. It was a shame this nice weather was coming to an end... but he always loved the snow of the cold season, too. He glanced at Vivi. He had a feeling this winter would be a lot more fun than previous years. Of course, they still had to get through fall first....

"So, what are you up to this weekend?" Vivi asked, breaking the silence.

"I dunno, nothing too crazy." He shrugged. "Hopefully, my gramps will keep me in one piece."

She grimaced. "Oh yeah, good luck with that...."

He suddenly brightened up. "Oh, yeah! I might be checking out this new restaurant with my family! Well, it's not new, but it's new for me!"

"Oh, which one?"

"The Baratie!"

"Ohhhh, that place is fantastic! I hope you like it there!"

"Hehehe! Any place with food is fantastic, if you ask me."

It didn't take much longer for them to reach their destination. Luffy waved after he got out of the car. "Thanks again, Vivi. I really had fun."

"Come again soon," she replied with a smile, and then she was off.

Makino greeted her son as he walked into the kitchen. He opened the fridge to get a bottle of water. "So... how was it?" she asked.

Luffy turned and gave her his trademark toothy grin. "It was great, really. I hope they invite me again. Good night!"

Makino smiled back. "Good night, hun."

And with that, the exhausted boy went up the stairs to gratefully collapse on his bed. His mind was too preoccupied to allow him much sleep that night, but he still woke up the following morning feeling refreshed and chipper.

His new life in Roguetown had only just begun....

Fun stuff, huh? I didn't get much reviewin' love last chapter, so I'm not sure if this story is getting any better or worse. Please let me know! Thank you, my dear readers!