Author Notes:

I have recently been pulled into a Hetalia craze. I have already started a story for it. BUT!~!~! I WILL NOT STOP WRITING THIS ONE!

Okay, guys, I PROMISE to have this one finished. Okay? I've learned something from my latest NaNoWriMo attempt (failed, if you want to know). I have learned to write something every day. I am working on the habit. My mom has been much more successful than me at the "writing every day" thing, but seeing her successful gives me the inspiration and motivation to stay on track, too.

Back to ze One Piece: This chapter has a scene from one of my dreams in it. Kuina is not dead. It's AU. I'm allowed. And her personality is...something I think makes sense, considering the complete BS I made up to put her in the story. ("What about Tashigi?" you say?) Well, she might have a role to play too, and it would be different from Kuina. So. Yeah. Just accept it! (I know. I ask a lot.)

… … …

Usopp is so much like me it's not funny...and people say he's in character...Hah! That makes me all warm inside and giddy for some reason.

-Note for this chapter: I have never been inside a dojo and I do not care to really research. If that bugs you, sorry, but I'm totally twisting ideas here and making up a bunch of BS. At least I can admit it.

~ THANK YOU FOR ALL THE REVIEWS ~ I HOPE YOU CONTINUE TO ENJOY ~

~ ! ~

This One Time, For Art Class

Chapter 2

~ ! ~

There was a lot to be nervous about.

He had just met someone new in the most unlikeliest of situations. Someone who had rescued him from the meanderings of a bully. Someone who hadn't given his name – and yet had never asked for Usopp's either. Someone he had been forced to trust, whether he wanted to or not.

But that wasn't even the worst of it.

Usopp had missed a class for the first time ever, and now he was going to be missing several. Besides that, he had a feeling this new friend was gay and attempting to do something else, but he had no real proof and didn't want to turn down a new friend. Also, he had been in Zoro's dorm room, met the roommate, and been dragged further away from the "safety in numbers" idea by agreeing to follow Zoro – alone.

Yeah. There was quite a lot to be nervous about.

It was strange, then, that he felt perfectly calm as they took steps away from the college campus, crossing a street located on the south edge of campus. He wasn't fidgeting. He wasn't shuffling his steps. He wasn't even stuttering or talking for the sake of noise.

In fact, it was rather quiet between the two of them. Zoro hadn't said a word since the last "follow," and Usopp hadn't even muttered a string of complaints about missing class like he had originally intended. No, instead, they were completely silent, and it was slightly awkward – and yet not. It should have been awkward. He should have put his foot down and decided against following a stranger into town. It wasn't safe, and it was rather stupid.

For some reason, he didn't care, and he was quiet because he was trying to figure out why he didn't care. He was analyzing himself, attempting to understand why he was doing things against his better judgment. He really wanted to know why he wasn't scared. Seeing as he was a coward at heart, he should have been freaking out by now; at this stage, he should have run away and made an effort to never meet this weird green-haired swordsman again.

But.

He didn't want to run. He actually felt safe. Maybe it was because Zoro had already stepped forward to save him, small-time bully or not. Maybe there was something around the guy's aura, or the look he would give every few seconds. It was more than a simple glance over the shoulder to make sure Usopp was still following; it was like a check-up to make sure there was no danger. Then again, maybe it was just habit. Someone trained in martial arts tended to keep an eye on everything and everyone, keeping as much in sight as possible.

Yeah, Usopp was probably reading too much into it. They were just normal habitual looks, nothing with any meaning. He was known for reading too much into things, jumping to conclusions and causing problems. His brain was always a few steps ahead, which left other people confused, and he could always understand where someone was coming from. Well, usually, most of the time...until he met Zoro.

He really had no idea...

"Why are you walking behind me?" Zoro asked, breaking Usopp's inner thoughts.

He had stopped and turned around, arms crossed, eyes narrowed, like he was annoyed...or disappointed. Not angry, just...maybe sad? Argh! He was so hard to read!

Usopp met the stare for a little while, noticing that the eyes were as green as the hair, a bit too bright to be normal. Were they contacts or real? Surely the hair was dyed, but the eyes could be real at least. He stared back, thinking, immersing himself in the sound of cars on a somewhat busy street as they drowned out the sound of birds that were sitting on the power lines beside the road. And then he had the realization that Zoro was staring straight back at him, waiting.

Color rose in his face and Usopp cleared his throat as he hurriedly moved his gaze to the ground, keeping his head down. He shrugged, "Well, you said to follow, not exactly to walk with you..."

Out of his peripheral he could see Zoro shake his head. "That defeats the purpose of bringing you out here, you know. Not that it matters anymore."

At this, Usopp shot his head up, eyes wide, worried. What did that mean? It didn't matter? Why? Was Zoro going to leave him and forget the friendship? He should have known. Rejection was a common occurrence with him after the first meeting. No one liked him once they learned what he was like.

"Come on, I have to introduce you-"

"Wait, what?"

Zoro blinked and dropped his arms as he turned to the building they were standing next to, a building Usopp had just now noticed. Oh. It didn't matter because they had already reached the destination. His face warmed up again, feeling ridiculous for jumping to conclusions so quickly.

With a slight shake of his head, Usopp turned to the large window on the side of the old building. Pressing his face up against the window, he tried to decipher what was on the other side, seeing as he couldn't actually read the name of the place – since it was in Japanese characters (he was pretty sure it was Japanese, though that may have been his otaku brain insisting).

It seemed to be a rather old place, with wooden walls and floors and a large mat laid out in the center to encompass most of the floor much like a karate dojo or...

Usopp blinked as his brain figured it out. This must be the place where Zoro practiced his sword skills. No wonder he found it to be an interesting place. Not that Usopp felt the same way. He liked swords in anime...sometimes...he wasn't obsessed with the idea like some people were...but then again, he wanted to make a good impression on his new friend.

So...

"Hey, this place looks pretty cool," he muttered, unable to put real excitement into his voice.

He glanced over to Zoro to see what the swordsman would respond with. He was disappointed to see a confused tilt of the head, and then a short spurt of laughter followed by a simple smirk. "You don't have to fake an interest. I'm just here to invite someone else along." He paused and then added something as if an after thought. "It's too much of a tradition between the two of us not to invite her."

"What is?" Usopp asked. "Where are we going?"

To this, Zoro's smirk grew. "You'll see." Usopp opened his mouth to protest, but the green haired man gestured for him to walk. "Come on. We can't go anywhere if you just stand there."

With a slight grumble, Usopp heaved a sigh and gave up. So Zoro wanted to surprise him with something. Fine then. Shifting the position of his shoulder bag, he reluctantly followed the swordsman into the empty dojo. Which must have meant that nothing was scheduled at the moment, probably because it was shortly after lunchtime and during the time periods when most people were either at work or in class (he mumbled something about missing his class again but Zoro either didn't hear or didn't care to respond).

Once they entered, Usopp found himself asked to wait by the door as Zoro moved into another room to search for this other friend of his. Of course Zoro was going to bring another friend. Things would be boring with just Usopp, after all, seeing as he was simply a boring person. Well, boring to a non-nerd. So far, the only common ground they had was the Dragon Ball Z anime. Beyond that, who knew?

Which made Usopp wonder why it mattered that Zoro wanted to bring someone else. It wasn't like they were on a date. No one had said it would be just the two of them. It was just supposed to be a friendly get-together, or something. Of course Usopp had no idea what was in the plan, but he hated the idea of another person because he was pretty sure that would leave him as a third wheel, of sorts. He would be there but the other two would have so many similarities and memories to recall that he would inevitably be left out.

"I should just go home," he said.

"Aw, it didn't take that long, did it?"

The girl's voice brought him up short. Looking up from his musings, Usopp saw a short, skinny female who looked like a young middle-schooler, except for the very adult mannerisms that put him off guard. Her short black hair had bangs that just barely reached her eyes, and next to the tall green haired swordsman who stood slightly behind her, she looked kind of silly, holding a sword in her hand, too. Her eyes were dark, and her clothes were white, a complete contrast from everything about her.

And then she frowned, and the brightness about her aura immediately died. Her serious expression seemed to insist that there was more to this girl than met the eye. It was very...confusing. She wasn't hard to read, not like Zoro, but she was too much of a mix of things for Usopp to really pin anything down.

"Hey, Zoro, introduce me." When she turned back to Zoro with that commanding air, Usopp was once again put off guard. It reminded him of an older sibling ordering a younger one around. And, again, it didn't fit.

Zoro didn't even hesitate. "Kuina this is..."

And then Usopp realized that Zoro still had yet to ask his name. Watching the furrowed eyebrows and the complete shock and realization cross the swordman's face, Usopp found himself laughing out loud. It was hilarious. Apparently, the green haired man hadn't even realized he was missing something important. Most people started out with a name. That was an introduction. But their meeting had been so haphazard, so...different, that there hadn't been an opportunity. Well, no, there had been opportunity. Zoro just hadn't ever taken the chance and Usopp had been preoccupied with other important matters so he hadn't cared to rectify the situation.

As Zoro stood there with his hand outstretched in a gesture toward Usopp, and Usopp laughed uproariously, Kuina must have figured out what had happened and she started to giggle, too. Which, apparently, made Zoro even more uncomfortable, because his eyes closed and his eyebrows started to twitch, his teeth started to grind against each other.

"Shut up! I forgot to ask okay?" He shouted, which made the other two crack up even more, much to Zoro's chagrin.

Eventually, Usopp got control of himself, got his breathing back to normal. He reached out a hand to the girl and smiled, feeling a lot more comfortable, not that there had been much awkwardness before – but everything was definitely less serious. "My name's Usopp. I'm an Art Major."

For a moment, nothing happened. The girl had stopped giggling and was staring at his outstretched hand as if not sure what to do with it. Then she brightened up and with a short "oh!" grasped his hand in hers and shook it. "I'm Kuina. I don't usually meet new people. My father runs this dojo. I've been friends with Zoro here since we were little. We made a promise to each other when we were kids, too, that one of us would be the greatest swordsman in the world." She giggled. "He's the only hope, now."

Usopp blinked. So much information. So fast. That was a bit more than he was used to for an introduction, and some of it had him more confused. "Uh, wait, how old are you?"

At this, she rolled her eyes. "Didn't anyone ever tell you not to ask a woman her age?"

Usopp blinked. Woman? "But..."

"I'm older than him," Kuina said, punching her fist into Zoro's side, having to reach up to do so. At Usopp's wide eyes, she sighed and offered more. "It's a genetic defect. I won't grow anymore. When we found out, I...well..." She shook her head. "That's too depressing for a first meeting. Just know that it sucks to go from beating someone's ass to having them beat yours."

Usopp found himself nodding, surprisingly very interested in this girl – woman – Kuina. But it wasn't so much her tale as her relationship with Zoro. Childhood friends. Of course, that meant it was even more unlikely for Usopp to have anything interesting to add to a conversation. The two seemed to be very close, too, with the way she kept looking up at him and the way he kept avoiding her glances. Just looking at them, imagining Zoro younger, Usopp could have almost called them a couple, and maybe they had been as kids.

Which would completely destroy his gay theory. For some reason, that made Usopp even more depressed. With a sigh, he let his head hang and started to fidget with the strap of his shoulder bag. New friendships were always so complicated. He had been surprised to see this one starting out differently, but now the nervousness had set it. Now he was wishing to be back in his own place, alone, curled up on his bed with his laptop watching anime.

Now he felt trapped. And awkward. And completely everything that was normal.

Now he...

Kuina tapped him on the shoulder, interrupting his thoughts. "Hey, Usopp, do you mind if I have a quick spar with Zoro? He skipped out on our normal morning routine today and I feel a need to beat him up."

Zoro made a "keh" sounding noise. "We can do something later. I -"

"No, it's okay," Usopp quickly replied. "I can wait." He put on a fake smile and prayed it looked real enough. "Besides, I've never seen a real sword fight before; it would be cool to watch."

Kuina cheered and spun around to prepare. Zoro just crossed his arms and stared at Usopp, as if trying to see through the lie. Or maybe he saw through the lie and was trying to understand why Usopp would do it. For whatever reason, it made Usopp feel even more awkward, especially when he attempted to stare back; he quickly found himself looking anywhere but at Zoro, though he could still see that unspoken question as if it were hovering in the air.

"Zoro! Hurry up!"

While his eyes were focused on the far wall, pretending to be reading the characters painted there, a hand touched his shoulder and Zoro made a statement. "Don't run."

Usopp blinked and found himself swerving his eyes immediately to face the green haired swordsman, but Zoro was already turned around to make his way to the sparring mat. So Usopp stared at his back. Most people would have double checked with his decision, asked a typical "are you sure?" Not given a command, especially not one that had predicted Usopp's motives so quickly.

Now he really was trapped. What had he gotten himself into?

~ ! ~

With another sigh, Usopp turned away from the – rather boring, actually – sword fight taking place right in front of him. Not that it was boring to the two sparring. They seemed to be having the time of their lives, wide grins popping up between looks of serious concentration, which would be interspersed among the incredibly fast movements of what Usopp assumed were katas or forms or...something...

But, to be perfectly honest, it was all happening so fast that it got boring quickly. There was no talking going on between them like in films, either; it was just movements and unspoken feelings. As if they let the swings speak, as if they were involved in their own private conversation. Interesting for them. Probably interesting for someone who cared or knew what the movements meant. In that way, it was more of a sport than an art.

Usopp could enjoy watching an occasional sports match, but he wasn't crazy about it. Football could be interesting when someone he knew was playing for the team. So, a school event. Except he didn't know many football players – one year in high school had made it interesting; after that, he stopped caring. Soccer was a lot more interesting – but only on the international level. Because then it became rooting for your country... of course, when your country didn't care about the sport in general, it kind of dampened the thrill. The Olympics were fun to watch, especially the gymnastics or the ice skating. The dance forms. The "sports" that were closer to art.

Which was why Usopp could stand to watch more of a sword battle than any other sport. Because it was more of an art. However, it still wasn't art for the entertainment factor. It wasn't a symphony performance. It wasn't a musical or play. It wasn't a movie.

So it got boring to watch after a while.

To his surprise, when Usopp turned away from the sword fight he found an older man staring at him and smiling lightly. The man looked like he had come out of a Japanese film about samurai, standing beside him thin and tall wearing a dark gray kimono and exuding a presence all his own. Usopp drew the conclusion that this man was Kuina's father and the owner of the dojo; everything just fit in too well.

"She is happy."

With a blink, Usopp tilted his head and stared at the old man. "What?"

"When she fights, she is most happy."

"Uh huh, I get that, but why tell me? Heck, why even mention it?" Usopp was whispering, even though the old man hadn't whispered – but his voice was quiet. Besides, he felt like any loud noise would interrupt the sparring going on between Zoro and Kuina. And he definitely did not want to interrupt.

Without changing his smile, the old man turned to Usopp and gave a polite bow. "I am called Koshiro. You are?"

Weird old Japanese dude is creeping me out...Ah well, better answer.

"Uh, i-it's Usopp, sir."

Still smiling, Koshiro gestured to the door in the back of the room, leading to another place of the dojo. "While they spar, would you like to look at old pictures?"

Yep. Definitely an old dude.

Biting his bottom lip, Usopp glanced over to the two old friends still having a blast of a match – or spar or whatever it was; the sounds of wooden swords smacking against each other was hard to ignore. What else was he supposed to do? Sit here and be bored? Or stare at pictures of people he didn't care about…and be bored? As much as he wanted to just go outside and huddle in his dorm room or draw, he couldn't very well turn down the offer. The owner of the building had asked him to hang out, in a sense. What else could he do? Say no and get kicked out?

Hah. That would be just the reason to leave here…but I don't want anyone mad at me…especially not three people who swordfight for fun…

With a sigh and a shrug, Usopp nodded his head. "Yeah, sure, I suppose it's better than just sitting here doing nothing."

Some may have taken that as an insult, but the old dude just kept smiling. He didn't say anything as he led Usopp to another room of the dojo. Smaller than the last. With a desk and a…chalkboard…at the front?

Okay, this doesn't make any sense. It's like a miniature classroom. Except the students would be sitting on pillows and not having to write anything down.

Sadly, Koshiro wasn't going to comment on what the room was used for. No, he was actually going to do what he said he would do. He took Usopp to the far wall and began pointing out pictures, and telling stories. Of course, Usopp wasn't at all interested because the kids he was talking about were those he had trained throughout the years, none of which Usopp actually knew. The stories would have probably been more interesting to someone who understood the humorous undertones behind each one.

And then Koshiro pointed at a picture of a cute big-headed green-haired kid. Honestly, if his profile picture was anything to go by, Zoro looked like an annoying brat, like someone who would play pranks on you, someone who would be lazy and refuse to do work. Child Zoro was sitting back in the chair he had obviously been forced to sit in for the picture (seeing as every other kid profile picture involved sitting in the chair). With two legs on the ground and his hands behind his head, eyes only open to glare at the camera, Usopp had to wonder if Zoro had managed not to lean the chair back too far and topple over.

The next picture in line answered the question. Kuina, whose childhood picture looked so much like her real self, was caught after the act of tipping over Zoro's chair. It was pretty obvious. She had a smug look on her face and Zoro had turned his glare to her but from his new position on the floor. The small plastic kiddie chair lay somewhat forgotten in the background, tipped over and left as the two kids stayed forever locked in a staring contest.

"Looks like they really liked each other," Usopp mumbled, the thought in the back of his mind wondering again if they could have been childhood lovers, wondering if there was still something there, wondering why he even cared.

Still with that untouchable smile, Koshiro replied. "They were rivals. Kuina was older and even though she was a girl, she was still the best in the dojo – a fact which annoyed Zoro into training ridiculously hard and trying out any strange new technique he could find on his own."

"Huh. So there's quite a connection between them."

"Hm. That much should have been obvious watching them interact."

With a sigh and a nod, Usopp turned his attention to the next photograph of Zoro and Kuina. One of Kuina in a hospital bed and Zoro snoozing on the floor next to her, leaning back against the bed. It was hard to explain the feelings seeing such a picture provoked. It proved that Zoro did have a deep loyalty to the black-haired girl, which was an endearing quality. But at the same time, it made Usopp sad, wondering if he could ever have a friend be so loyal to him.

"So, what happened?"

The question granted him the first frown from the old dojo master. It was kind of scary how quickly the cheerful presence disappeared. (Usopp made a mental note not to cause that again).

"When she found out…that she…wouldn't grow anymore, Kuina tried to take her own life."

Immediately realizing the mistake of asking his question, Usopp held his breath and covered his mouth. Now it all made sense. That's why Zoro wanted to include Kuina in this little trip, especially if it was something they'd always done together. To leave her out…when she was obviously willing to go so far in grief…

His complaints suddenly felt selfish and unimportant, and the picture suddenly held so much more weight and meaning.

"Father, we're done. What did you do with our new friend?" Kuina's voice rang out, loud and happy.

No wonder Zoro had agreed to the sparring match – and even then he had wanted to make sure Usopp was okay with it. Hanging out with Zoro was probably one of the things keeping Kuina going. If the two were such good friends, having him leave and move on would have hurt more than it should have.

Now Usopp really did feel like he was intruding on something.

When the two showed up in the doorway, Usopp turned to them but kept his eyes down, wringing his hands as he spoke. "I-I really should be going."

"What? Why?" Kuina's complaint put him off guard, made him look up and see her confused eyes as they glanced between him and her father.

Shrugging, Usopp gave his best excuse. "I still have a class I should be in…"

But Zoro already had a comeback. "I thought we agreed today was a skip day. You haven't missed before, so it shouldn't matter if you take one day off. Besides, the place we're going to doesn't stay open all day."

Kuina closed her eyes and laughed. "Yeah, that's true. If you want to have the most fun we should leave soon."

Usopp tried to stutter out a response, but nothing came out and he knew nothing would work. Whether or not it would be awkward, whether or not he would actually have fun, he was being allowed to join in on something that was probably reserved for just the two of them, though it did seem like they liked having others.

So, with yet another sigh and shrug, he conceded. "All right. Can you at least tell me where we're going?"

To which Kuina and Zoro both grinned. And as Kuina grabbed his arm and started to tug him along as they left the building, Zoro gave a somewhat of an explanation. "It would lose half the fun if we told you."

Great. Why do I feel like I'm being pranked? I feel more like a lost pledge trying to join a fraternity… I guess I just have to hope they don't have anything too terrible planned. Why did I let myself fall into this mess?

Why me?

~!~

A/N: And, done! Sorry it took so long. School is hectic and time management is one of the concepts I'm in-the-process of learning. As I learn that, I'll do better in my classes AND do better with my practice time AND do better at keeping updates steady. Don't worry. It'll happen. I have finished things before, I can do so again.