Chapter Three

It's kind of sad how you lost what you had and never going to have it again

And so I said, "Hey, Sergio! You got to get us out of here!"

"Hey Sergio! It's getting kind of hot in here."

-"Dear Sergio", Streetlight Manifesto

~0~

He dreamt.

I can't believe you lied to me.

I didn't lie to you, what the hell are you talking about?

"You lied to me! You said you didn't do that! You said you didn't go here!" The shocked, angry, and reproachful voice of his soon to be ex-girlfriend. Her black eyes glared behind her dorky glasses which he had tried times and times again for her to switch for a pair of modern eye contacts. Not because she would have looked better—though she would undeniably would have—but because they cut into her peripheral vision; a crucial viewpoint in a swordsman's life.

They were standing in the falling rain of some now-forgotten night of some deserted alleyway. There he was, and there beyond her was the unobtrusive door which he would have entered if she had not been standing there, blocking his way.

Zoro knew it had been over the second he got out of the car, said a 'see you later' to the driver, rolled out the three bundled sheathes, walked the short distance down the alleyway and seen her there with her own weapon.

Fuck.

"I didn't lie to you Tashigi! Stop putting words in my mouth," he snapped back, "I just didn't tell you that I went here when you brought the Grand Line up. That's all."

"Refraining from telling me is the same as lying to me!" Tashigi cried back, "You knew how I felt about it! When I heard from my father that there was a three-sword-style swordsman drawing blood every time he fought—do you know how the hell I felt? How many else practice sanntorryu?"

Fuck.

Tashigi's father—a tough, grey-haired veteran who always seemed to be chainsmoking Cuban cigars—stood in a position to be well-informed about what he and Sanji and Luffy and countless others of his friends participated in when the night fell. And his own unique, never before seen fighting style was sure to be mentioned again. It was a wonder that Tashigi hadn't found out before.

"Do you know how I felt Zoro? Betrayed. I couldn't believe it! But I knew Dad wouldn't lie to me so I opened his file cabinets to find the address for this place and I came here the next day. And I find you here you bastard!"

Her voice had been rising in volume and pitch through her entire tirade and by the end she was screaming. However, there was more anger and control in her voice than emotion or sorrow. It was one of the characteristics Zoro had liked and admired about her when they first met. But right now, it was as annoying as hell.

The rain was soaking them, he could it feel it insidiously drenching through the black hoodie and the black sweatpants tucked into pitch-dark combat boots with steel toes. At least the dark green bandana wrapped around his head shaded his eyes from the pelting raindrops. Tashigi was just wearing a flimsy jacket and her straight, dark hair was blacker than the night.

"So what Tashigi?" he retorted, fuming, "It's none of your business what I do. It's not bothering you. You have your principles, I have mine. Deal with it." A hand went to his waist where his three katana were clipped in a holder Usopp had made for them.

The movement caused Tashigi to glance down at his hip, and the whole thing escalated.

"No, I cannot deal with this if plan on competing with Wado Ichimonji!" She yelled, and her own hand went to join the other hand at her side, the hand holding Autumn Rain.

Policeman's daughter. Swordswoman. Clumsy and at times annoying as hell, but pretty all the same. With a face that reminded him of a friend he thought he had lost forever. She had been a dream come true.

But now Zoro could feel the irritation turning into something resembling anger, he tried to keep his voice tight and controlled, "Tashigi. For the last fucking time. You have your own morals and codes and I have mine. I never tried to get you to join Grand Line, so don't pretend to stop me now. Do what the hell you want with Autumn Rain; the moment you even try to take Wado—" He didn't finish, but the threat was apparent.

They had met in the dojo of course. He had been drawn to the introverted¸ at times shy, girl who kicked all the guy's asses in swordsmanship but couldn't walk three feet without tripping and slamming into something hard. She was perhaps the only woman he had met that shared his passion for the sword fight.

There was a feverish light in her eyes that he could see even from feet away, and her lower lip trembled minutely before she said in a harsh, quivering voice, "Zoro Roronoa. You're abusing that sword—

And now he was no longer her boyfriend or her lover or even her friend. He was a fucking criminal.

Lying on his bed, face happy and contented, snuggling into his chest, and pausing to look up at him, "I would never subject my own katana to the prize-fights. That's a dirty business. I can't think—

"—Wado Ichimonji—one of the twenty-one named swords that exist today—an abusive coward like you carrying that sword to kill innocent people—"

-of how many swords are being subjected to such an offense right now. The katana are weeping," Tashigi looked up at him, "I'm glad you keep Wado nicely." He laughed and smoothed her hair affectionately.

"—it shall be confiscated!" The authority of her annoyingly persistent father shone in her voice and in her eyes. He could see Smoker's steel grey eyes in her own black ones. And Zoro knew that he was not going to be able to get away from this without drawing steel.

They met in the middle, slamming hard, the ring of steel screeching harshly as their eyes locked. Zoro had withdrawn one of his swords as soon as Tashigi had dipped and slid out her own sword and lunged at him.

He let out a small grunt as he kept Tashigi's thrust in check. They had sparred for practice before and Tashigi must have been aware of the fact that she was physically weaker than him and less skilled. He had always dueled her, pulling his thrusts back and never using his full strength and he did so know. Annoying or not, he wasn't going to kill her or even nick her if he could. All Zoro wanted to do was disarm her and enter the door at her back before anybody called the police at the ferocious sounds of the blades biting each other in the enclosed alley space.

It was hard at first; Tashigi's assault was fast and fierce, her advantage lying in her flexibility and speed, her harsh panting sounded out, exuding with every breath the effort she was undergoing in her attempt to gut him. And trying to gut him, Tashigi was. Unlike him, she apparently had no qualms with seeing the color of his intestines.

But this was getting old fast. He was soaked to the skin, pissed and bitter that Tashigi, a girl he had thought was going to be maybe the girl he fell in love with, was trying to disembowel him and steal the most treasured possession in his life, and he was late to his competition. He was probably missing Luffy's fight.

The second blade drawn slammed hard on Tashigi's. A few more well placed thrusts with the both swords finally pulled the trick Zoro had been angling for since the duel had started.

And at the same moment, the door in the alleyway opened and Zoro caught a glimpse of Luffy's suspicious face before he was staring back into Tashigi's wide eyes. His sword impaling the plaster wall only a few inches away.

Autumn Rain hit the pavement somewhere behind them and rolled a little with a clatter.

"What the hell are you doing Zoro!" Luffy yelled, "Fights inside only. You want the cops to show up or what?"

"Shitty idiot, you're attacking a woman?" Sanji's horrified, pissed off voice somewhere.

He ignored them. Tashigi hadn't moved an inch, she sagged against the wall unconsciously, her eyes wide and mouth slightly opened and drawing in ragged breaths. He looked at her, trying not to remember that once they had been man and woman, "No one, Tashigi, no one is going to take Wado from me. Not you, not Cabaji in there, not Brahm last week, not Ryumma next week, and not Mihawk someday. And definitely not you. I have a goal and you're not going to get in the way of it."

He stepped back, and with a grunt pulled the interred katana out. Tashigi hadn't said anything but he could see the shiny, unspilled tears.

"I got shit to do," he said, not looking at her, "See you—"

"Why the hell don't you ever fight seriously with me!" she cried out and straightened her back as she glared at him.

"Hey idiot swordsman—" Sanji began, but Luffy shushed the cook.

Tashigi continued, not even glancing at the two, "Why do you hold back? How come you don't fight me like a man! If I was man you would have cut me! Is it because I'm a woman that you don't fight me seriously!"

"Hey, listen you—" And the very faint sound of a car door thumping shut on the street outside caused him to break off. Zoro glanced at the street, and then suddenly realizing, "Hey Luffy, Sanji!"

The pair had already thrown open the door and were gesturing frantically. Zoro threw one last look at Tashigi and said, "Your Dad's here. And before you even think about it, both him and you know that the cops can't do anything to the Grand Line. And he was off, following Luffy and Sanji into the darkness of the Grand Line.

As soon as they were in, they snapped the bolts and the door keeper nodded amiably to them as they headed off down the corridor.

"Jeez. Satori is the worst bouncer ever," Sanji muttered. And Luffy laughed.

"Wasn't that your girlfriend Zoro?" Luffy asked, eyes twinkling in amusement. "Did she want to come in?"

"Hah. Yeah fucking right. She thinks this place is a shit-hole," Zoro muttered, "I'm pretty sure our relationship just ended."

Sanji snorted, "Hmph. Maybe. But if you're lucky, she'll think that shoving that sword into the wall next to her ear was a romantic gesture. What the hell were you two up to? You know club rules say no skirmishing outside whatsoever."

Zoro shrugged morosely, "It's like any police force can fuck with the D's." and paused while Luffy cheered and fistpumped, "She followed me here to see what I was up to!"

Sanji adopted a horrified expression, "She doesn't want you to fight illegally in an underground organization in which the possibilities that you might be killed are 10 to 5? What an insensitive bitch!"

"Shut it cook," Zoro snapped, "This is for my dream, and no one fucks with my dream."

Sanji looked at him and said softly, "Wake up."

"What?" and to Zoro's surprise, Sanji had suddenly grown long hair and was holding a Chanel purse.

"Wake up Zoro," Vivi shook him lightly, "Class is going to end in a couple minutes."

"Hmmph."

Vivi shook him harder

"Ny'up, Ny'up," he yawned and stretched out his legs, "Whoa. That was a good nap." He had gotten used to dreaming now and then about the night in which Tashigi had followed him and discovered his secret. Usopp said it was how his mind coped with the loss, so Zoro wasn't too worried.

Vivi smiled, "Mr. Vegapunk marked you down."

"Vegapunk can mark me down all he wants if that makes him feel more loved," Zoro said, snorting.

He made his way over to where Luffy, Sanji, Usopp, and another kid called Gin where huddled in the corner, conversing. As soon as he approached, Luffy drew him in, happily. "Hey, Zoro. Big night tonight. You in?"

He shrugged lazily, "Sure. I need a stress reliever."

Luffy chuckled happily, "Ace loves you; your fights bring in good money for a C-competitor. He thinks you'll have a good future if you keep at it."

Zoro hissed between his teeth, "I've been there for eight months already and haven't lost once. When the hell do I upgrade to a B?"

Luffy shrugged, "I don't know. It's hard to be a B."

"Idiot-cook's a B," Zoro complained.

"Hey, watch it fucknut."

The strawhat just chuckled, "That's because they're not enough Savate fighters in the Grand Line so his value goes up regardless if he's any good—which he is." Luffy added, catching the smirk on Zoro's face. "But there are at least fifty swordsmen, so you have to gain some cred before you actually rise in the ranks."

"See that swordsman? You're one in many," Sanji jibed.

Gin shrugged, "I don't really care if I rise. I'm making enough money as is—how much do you guys clear up in a week? Two-three hundred?"

Zoro nodded, "Around three-four hundred, but only if I go every fucking weekday, which I can't or my parents will get suspicious. Usually it's two-fifty."

"Five hundred, easy," Sanji put in. "But the fights are intense. I broke the last guy's arm on accident—"

'Nah, he's okay," Luffy said, "Kurobi's cool like that."And hopefully you guys can stick around long enough to bring in some real cash. You guys are barely making anything now." He reached up and slid the strawhat off his hair and let it fall on his back.

Sanji looked at him curiously, "How much do you make Luffy? You never told us ."

Luffy shrugged, "Aw, I never pay attention to that kind of stuff."

"Aw, just fucking tell us Luff, we'll only be pissed and jealous for the first few minutes," Gin laughed.

"Ehhh…" Luffy screwed up his mouth and narrowed his eyes in concentration, "Let's see…I'm an A level, so…um, five-six thousand?"

"Holy shit—in a week?" Sanji breathed.

"A day."

"Holy fucking shit."

Usopp rolled his eyes, he had been silent through the whole discourse so far, "You guys are going to get your asses fried one day and all that cash is going to pay for your hospital bills ya know."

"Hey, not everyone is dating a millionaire's daughter longnose," Gin said, "We poor folk got to make a living somehow."

"It's called normal work Gin," Usopp shot back.

"Yeah, how am I supposed to raise fifty thousand bucks to get my ass to college Usopp?" Zoro asked, rolling his eyes, "You think they pay that kind of dirt in Wal-mart?"

"It's called a scholarship Zoro. Which you could get if you weren't sneaking out at midnight every day to fight in some seedy strip club slash fight club and so falling asleep every day during class, thus barely passing classes."

Zoro didn't know how to answer that.

"Whatever," he said, "At least I'm doing something I enjoy."

They headed out, still chatting about the Grand Line, but now in undertones as they brushed shoulders with other students. Because it was best to tread softly around the subject of the Grand Line. It was best not to speak openly about the murderous joint where morality was drawn to the limits and safety was vouchsafed to none. Grand Line; where the weak perish early and the blood stains the floor crimson.

The Grand Line, that underground, completely illegal, vice-ridden fight club which the notorious mafia-roots D family operated for the thousands of dollars it rolled in every day and to which Luffy had introduced them all into eight months ago.

Zoro had been hesitant at first, unsure if he wanted to risk his life for a couple hundred a week. But the fight called to him. This was no cute wooden sword bonking like he did daily at the local dojo run by the father of his old, now deceased childhood friend. This was no place where, after you had knocked your opponent to the floor, you held out a hand and said, 'you okay?' This was where you knocked your rival to the ground and broke their leg, if necessary, to keep them there.

The adrenaline rush was addictive, and Zoro realized that here he could really ante up the level of his swordsmanship. Swordfighting had always interested him since he was a kid, especially the deadly, streamlined weapons of the Japanese katana (none of that stupid, flimsy rapier shit for him), but it had been almost impossible to train with them. There weren't enough people who wanted to duel using real swords these days. And the ones who accepted usually were high.

But the Grand Line was a completely different world. It was even dirtier and darker than above ground Los Angeles, which was saying something in Zoro's humble opinion. It was all the difference between Earth and hell. Everything that was illegal, had been illegal, and eventually would be illegal went on in the Grand Line. The Devil himself probably crept up from his infernal lair to watch some of the more nastier brawls.

Hell, the horned demon probably bet on some himself.

~0~

Afterschool found him walking back home with the usual gang; luckily they lived relatively close to their high school and could have half an hour or so together to kickback before they got home and to whatever homework they found there. Only Sanji and Kaya were absent; the former saying that his Dad wanted him home early to help with the restaurant they owned and the latter excusing herself because she had a headache.

Luffy was busy explaining the rules of Grand Line to Kohza, who had expressed a keen interest in saddling up, saying something about wanting to send cash to his family in some Eastern European country which was trying to overthrow the local king. Zoro was listening with half and ear to that, and with the other half listening to Usopp and Chopper chitchat about the deeds of the great Usopp.

"—and there's three levels, A, B, and C. Sometimes they cross, but not often," Luffy said, walking along, his straw sandals hitting the ground with each thump, "And you can have a specialized fight, or a non-specialized fight."

"Specialized?" Kohza asked, raising an eyebrow.

Zoro broke in, "He means, you can fight with nothing but your body or you can fight with a certain weapon. Usually I specialize in swords, but sometimes I go plain."

Luffy nodded, "Most of us, except me, don't earn that much and aren't really well-known in the Grand Line, since, obviously, we're just high school students and so the onlookers don't really pay much mind. Zoro, Gin, and Sanji and a couple others are just some of the smaller fights that go on. They don't have set schedules either. "

Nami, who was walking along with her boyfriend, holding his hand, suddenly broke in, "Luffy, how come, you earn thousands a day, Ace wins even more, and your family is freaking rich, you're wearing an outfit which costs five bucks?" Her dark brown eyes suddenly fixated accusingly on Luffy's faded capris, beat up flip flops, and tattered red shirt.

Luffy shrugged, "I usually spend my money on food. Ace too."

"Yo, Nami," Zoro said, "You still talk to Tashigi?" He had been thinking of his dream, and about what Vivi had told him.

Nami snorted, "Hmph. I try not to. Every time I see her I want to kick her in the nuts. Shit, who does she think she is? Ms. All-high-and-mighty-my-vagina-doesn't-stink? I mean, really. She always brings you up when I'm around and tries to get me to admit that she was right in dumping you and trying to steal your nutsack."

"She tried to steal my sword Nami," Zoro remarked.

"Same thing," the redhead replied, rolling her eyes, "You take extreme care of them both. Whatever. I don't know. That black haired bitch just rubs me the wrong way with all her talk about justice."

He laughed, couldn't help it. Nami was just the complete opposite of Tashigi. Whereas his ex-girlfriend had been mortified that he competed in prize-fights, Luffy's girlfriend wore suggestive clothing to the midnight forays to the Grand Line and placed ridiculous amounts of money on her boyfriend's victory.

No wonder they were going out.

Nami laughed too, "Why? You better not be thinking about crawling back to that whiny little good girl."

He shook his head, "Nah. Vivi told me that she still was in love with me and it kind of ticked me off. And by the way, Kohza, happy first something."

"Hundred days, thanks," Kohza grunted and resumed his conversation with Luffy.

Zoro fell in step with Nami and the red-haired girl said, "Well, you shouldn't be feeling guilty no matter what. You did nothing wrong."

He shrugged, "I know. I just wish she was over me."

Nami grinned evilly, "For a fee, I can make her—"

"No." It was a well known fact that Nami Pinwheel could make anyone eat their own shit. She also fought in the competitions. Women's competitions. Nami specialized with the pike-staff. And the fights were said to be ten times as dirty and vicious as the men's. Zoro, who had seen quite a few, had to agree.

She shrugged, tossing her curly orange-red hair back, "Well, you should go out with another girl so that she can get over it."

"Don't feel like it."

"How about the new girl? She's in my fifth and sixth period; and I have to admit, she's quite pretty and doesn't look anywhere in the same country as stupid," Nami asked.

"Robin Nico?" he asked, suddenly realizing that he hadn't thought about her or about her offness which might or might not exist, in quite a while. "She's hot, yeah. But I know nothing about her. And anyway, Sanji already has her name tattooed on his dick."

"Oh, please," Nami rolled her eyes, "Sanji has every girl's named tattooed on his jewels. I believe mine is located on his left nut."

"No, but he loves this girl. And anyway, that's not the point. Even if Sanji didn't like her, I still don't know anything about her. And I think there's something definitely up with the chick."

"So there's interest already?" Nami asked slyly.

"What? No, not that kind of interest," Zoro said, ignoring the look, "Different interest. I just thought—she doesn't look like she's up to anything good, you know that feeling you get when someone's watching you? I get that feeling from her. Except she's not watching just me; she's watching everyone."

Nami gave him an odd look, "Have you been sampling some of Kamakiri's Indian herbs Zoro?"

"Ah, forget it."

Zoro stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered off to where Chopper and Usopp were still going on about Usopp's exploits.

That's the last time I mention Robin Nico to anyone.

~0~

"Thank you for standing up for me," Robin had said, smiling, "That was very chivalrous of you."

Sanji tried not to whirl around in a tornado. Instead, he nodded coolly and said, "Well, I just wanted to show you that not everyone in America is like her. However, you'll have to forgive Kalifa, she was just struck by your rather…incomprehensible beauty."

"You're quite handsome yourself," Robin murmured, and fluttered her eyelashes.

Sanji reached out and traced a light hand and stroked her cheek gently, "But compared to you—"

Robin sighed at his touch and, drooping her eyelids said, "Baby, let's fuck."

"GUH!" Sanji said, pinching his nose to keep the blood in, while replaying the morning's conversation through his head. Though in reality, the conversation had ended at the second line of the fantasized dialogue. Robin Nico had no more said "Baby, let's fuck" then she had said, "Baby, I have three nipples."

Whoa, not going to go there.

Anyway, he truly believed he had found the one. The One woman in the world which he would do anything for. The One for who he would put down his life of promiscuity and mega-pack of Trojans in order to settle down at last.

He smiled sappily as his hands automatically flipped and kneaded the dough in the Baratie's kitchen.

He was in love, damn it.

~0~

To be Continued. You lyke?