It happens the way it always does. He is lost - as the routine goes - and that's when she stumbles into him. (Actually, what she stumbles into is a bin of mikan. He just breaks her fall.)

Glasses askew, hair in disarray, she stutters an apology while pushing at his chest, trying to get back on her feet. It's only when both of them are upright again that she takes a good look at his face, eyes first widening then narrowing in recognition.

" You ," she hisses, her hand already going for the katana on her side.

He grins sharply, smelling the battle in the air along with the salt of the sea. "Missed me?"

He finds it strangely pleasing when her cheeks flush.

Maybe it's this not entirely uncomfortable warmth that makes him ask; "Hey, you hungry?" on a sudden impulse. And really, that's one hella ridiculous thing to ask the marine who's eager to lock you up and the swordswoman who made it her personal challenge to defeat you. It is ridiculous and there is no way in hell she can't feel that.

So when she blinks and says; "Ugh, sure," it's his turn to do some blushing of his own.


The bar barely passes for third-rate (if that) and he's sure the damn cook would never be caught dead in it. Which makes it just perfect for what he's doing - lord, what is he doing? Fraternizing with the enemy, replies that little voice in the back of his mind. He shrugs it off, who the hell asked you?

She doesn't drink much (he suspects she can't hold her liquor, but that's okay - endearing, even). She has just enough to loosen her tongue - not dangerously so (she doesn't tell him where and for how long are they docked here, if they are looking for the Straw Hat Crew or someone entirely else), but just enough to let her talk to him the way she probably talks to company she wouldn't be expected to arrest upon sighting.

He listens and drinks, and he wonders why he even cares - because he does; cares about all these little facts she shares about herself; how she likes to eat lime without sugar but drink her coffee with lots of it, and that one time last week she almost fell overboard when Smoker-taisa materialized behind her without warning.

He learns she is almost two years his senior. She kicks him under the table when he calls her obasan.


In turn, he kisses her in the dark of the ally just before they part.

Maybe in a different place, under different circumstances, he wouldn't have done it, because he wouldn't have seen her. He would have seen his best friend, his worst rival. He would have seen the girl whose face he had accused her of stealing.

She kisses with her eyes closed and lips parted in invitation. Clumsily, like she's never been kissed before, her cheeks flaming under his palms (with fear or excitement, he doesn't know). She smells of things no other woman he knows does - clean soap and sea-salt and steel, with an underlying softness that's purely her.

A month, a week - hell, just a day - ago, this would have felt wrong. Now it's just the start of another kind of battle between them.

A battle he is looking forward to continue.