Luffy winced

Luffy winced. Zoro could see the blond's calloused hand viciously pinching the soft skin on the inside of Luffy's elbow as his arm hung down next to the desk. Then Luffy tensed and sat up straight, obviously willing himself to ignore the red mark on his arm. Zoro opened his mouth, then checked himself. If Luffy wanted to deal with it, that was Luffy's problem. Tashigi and Smoker hadn't seen anything, so Zoro would pretend he hadn't either.

Tashigi scowled at him.

"You. Go sit next to Nami-san," she snapped, pointing to an empty seat next to the orange-haired girl from the day before. On Nami's other side, the suit-wearing blond ogled her with adoring eyes. Zoro sighed as he sat down. Trust his luck to get dumped next to these losers.

"Hi, Zoro-kun!" said Nami perkily. "I'm Nami, and this is Sanji. I'm-"

"No talking, Nami-san." Tashigi brushed herself off and straightened her glasses.

Nami blushed prettily. "Sorry, Tashigi-sensei."

"Kiss-ass," Zoro whispered. Nami flashed him a saccharine smile and shoved Sanji back off of her chair.

The door opened, and in came Robin, wearing a short black leather dress and thigh-high black boots that hinted more at 'dominatrix' than 'schoolteacher.' Zoro could almost see the riding crop. Robin picked up a thin silver ruler and said demurely, "Good morning, class. I hope you slept well."

"Good morning, Nico-sensei," the students chorused. Zoro closed his eyes in disgust. He could hear Sanji's heart thumping from three seats away. Fucking princess. Why couldn't they have seated me next to Luffy? Then I'd at least be next to a freak I know. A hum of whispers alerted him that something interesting was happening. He opened his eyes and looked at the front of the room.

Zoro gulped. What the fuck? Slim forearms had sprouted from the floor and a line of them passed pieces of chalkboard out the door like some pale inverted centipede. Robin stood in the corner, arms crossed gracefully and dark-lashed eyes closed. A few ethereal purple petals floated into the air, and the arms dissolved, leaving a clear, if dusty, floor. The students leaned forward in their seats, mouths agape. Robin smiled a little and opened her eyes as her arms dropped and the last of the petals disappeared.

"Thank you for your patience, everyone. Now we shall begin. Who knows the principal grain export of East Blue?"

Sanji's hand was in the air like a shot.

"Yes, Miss Robin! I know!" And so it went. Robin would ask a question, a student would answer it, and Robin would give them a fifteeen-minute lecture on the subject. She was a good lecturer, and Zoro surprised himself by actually listening to much of what she said. They covered scattered topics, as different from each other as coal mining in Fuschia, child prostitution in Loguetown, octagonal barn architecture in West Blue, and the ancient sonnets of Mariejoa.

Zoro jumped in his seat when the thin brass chime on the wall struck eleven. Everyone stood and rushed to the door, hurrying to be the first to lunch. Why is everybody here always in such a goddamn hurry? thought Zoro. There'd be just as much food no matter what. I wonder where Luffy is. Probably at the front of the crowd, ready to eat everything in sight. The room was soon empty, and Zoro stood leisurely, yawning and stretching. He shook his head and walked out the door.

Thump. Somebody was slammed against a wall down the hallway in the opposite direction from the dining hall. Zoro turned to look and saw a pink shirt and a red one. Aw, fuck it. Luffy, you little dumbass. It's your problem. I won't help you. He glanced back down the hallway in time to see the blond's big-knuckled fist smash into Luffy's mouth and see Luffy go flying. He landed on his back and lay there, unmoving. The blond tramped over to him and raised a fist again. Zoro changed his mind. For reasons he couldn't fathom, he felt responsible for the skinny boy. Luffy threw him off balance and made him feel protective. It wasn't comfortable. Shit, Luffy. Fuck you. Don't get hurt again, it'll be such a hassle. Zoro ran down the hallway toward the fight.

He skidded to a halt only a few feet from them. "Asshole, let him go. He's done nothing to you," he said harshly. The blond looked over his shoulder and grinned at Zoro.

"Looks like boyfriend here came to save you, twerp," he said to Luffy, then addressed Zoro. "We've had a difference of opinion. None of your business. Get lost."

"Let him go," Zoro responded roughly. "Unless you'd like a fight? I'm more than happy to oblige, if that's what you're aiming for." He rested a hand on his katana.

"Zoro…" coughed Luffy. Zoro looked down at his roommate as he lay on the gray concrete floor. Luffy's eyes were wide and earnest as he tried to speak, but he was interrupted by a loud fit of coughing. Once the coughing subsided, he said in a small, sure voice, "Don't fight him, Zo. I know you could beat him 'cause you're awesome an' you're my favorite roommate, but don't fight him, please, I'm not fighting him." Zoro narrowed his eyes. Don't fight? What kind of advice is that from somebody who wants to be the pirate king?

"What the hell is up with you two?" sneered Luffy's attacker. A big, hard fist smashed into the side of Zoro's head. He didn't brace for it and flew into the wall before sliding to the floor. "Or maybe you're just too weak, huh? Willing to cut up Sarquiss, but you know when you're up against someone you can't beat. Pathetic. You're disgusting." The blond turned on his heel and walked off down the hall.

"Are you going to be okay, Luffy? Should we go to the infirmary?" asked Zoro. He could feel a bruise in the making, but he'd had worse. Luffy, on the other hand, looked wretched. I can't believe he just took that… even the lamest, weakest amateur could've done something. How the hell did he get accepted into the school? He would've been in huge trouble if I hadn't waited to leave. Sighing to himself, Zoro got to his feet.

"I'm fine. I'm going back to the room." Luffy stood shakily, dusting off his straw hat and carefully bending its tattered brim back into shape. He shoved it over his messy black hair and pulled the brim down low to shadow his face. "Don't come."

Oh no you don't, Luffy. I haven't helped anyone I didn't have to since I can't remember when, and now you're trying to leave? You are going to tell me exactly what is going on here, thought Zoro. Wordlessly, he grabbed Luffy's arm near his shoulder and held on as Luffy started to walk away.

"Zo…" Luffy looked over his shoulder at his hard-faced roommate. He tried to pry Zoro's fingers away with his own, but Zoro wasn't having any.

"You think after saving you from a dipshit like him I'm going to just let you go have an angst session about how you can't fight or something? Luffy. You've been following me around like we're joined at the fucking hip since we met. I know something's up when you start needing alone time," Zoro said in a rush.

Calm down, he told himself. Geez. The kid tries to leave and suddenly you're having a nervous breakdown. It's okay. None of this would have mattered twelve hours ago, so it shouldn't matter now, either. He's just some half-assed kid who thinks he can fight and eats too much. It's okay… He didn't find his arguments very convincing and kept his hand steady on Luffy's shoulder as he started walking in the direction of their room. Or so he thought.

"Zo. It's that way," chirped Luffy. Wow, that was a mood swing, thought Zoro. Is he going to be hyper just like usual now? Luffy certainly looked happier. The enormous, ear-to-ear grin wasn't quite back yet, but it was getting there. Somehow even the bright blood that ran in a rivulet from the corner of his mouth couldn't detract from his miraculously restored bounciness.

Luffy tilted his head coyly and laughed. "What is it, Zoro? Why are you looking at me like that?"

"What? I'm not looking at you, idiot," Zoro grunted, dismayed to have been caught. But I was…

"Zoro?" asked Luffy, peering at Zoro from beneath black bangs. "When I go out to sea, do you wanna be my first mate?" He grinned hugely and spun around on one foot, windmilling his arms. "We'd have lots of great adventures together! We could see everything and beat everyone!"

"Luffy, I'm not a pirate. I'm not going to be a pirate." Not even for you, he added silently.

"Awww, Zo, c'mon, it'll be awesome!" Luffy pleaded, eyes wide.

"No."

"That's fine, you'll change your mind," announced Luffy. "I've decided."

"Luffy! You can't decide that all by yourself!" exclaimed Zoro. Trust this half-wit to think I'm always going to there for him. Sooner or later, he'll meet up with somebody with a bad sense of humor when there's nobody there to protect him and he'll get really messed up. Maybe then he'll stop spouting all this nonsense. "Come on, let's go back to the room."

"'Kay!" said Luffy,

Ahem. Sorry for the delay. A lot has changed since I posted the last chapter, and I'm ashamed to say that this little number has been sitting on my computer for a long time. But I might even write more soon! I've gotten some amazing reviews and loads of support and even a beautiful piece of fanart by Rivermore's Horse, so I'm quite motivated. Summer vacation starts in only a few weeks, so look out for another update!