Tashigi let out a shriek of frustration, startling Zoro next to her.

"I don't believe this! I don't have the key!!"

"You were kidnapped," Zoro said pointedly, not exactly trying to sound sincere, "I think I'd find it a little weird if you remembered to pick up the key on your way out unconcious."

"Shut up," Tashigi snapped, huffing before rapping her knuckles smartly against the door. Zoro watched her slender figure shiver violently beneath his soaked shirt, and saw her eyebrow twitch in irritation when nothing happened. "I don't--" She was interrupted by her own sneeze, and sniffling she continued, "I don't get it! Where did Yuina go?!"

"...Maybe she's at a lecture?" Zoro suggested, and Tashigi let out a groan.

"Of course. Great. Now I have to--" - she sneezed again - "wait for her out here for around an hour. And I'm positively freezing."

"Or, you could wait up at my dorm," Zoro said, looking irritatedly at her, "and maybe get yourself dry. I mean, now there's an idea."

"I'm fine," She said quickly, her surprised eyes turned away from Zoro as she went on, "I'm not really that cold, and besides, it's not really an hour, just exaggerated - probably fifty, forty, perhaps even just thirty mi--" Tashigi let out a tremendous bout of sneezes in succession before continuing with a very nasal voice, "Ann just why are you gedding mad?!"

Because you are being such a stubborn, prideful dork, that's all. "Just." Zoro said, rolling his eyes, and he started walking away from the room. When he noticed she wasn't following, he called over his shoulder, "So are you coming or not?"

She hesitated, then thought, well... Sandy White should be in there. It won't just be me and him alone. "Fine." She trotted to catch up before falling into silent pace behind him, thinking, why am I worried about being alone with this idiot anyway? Like anything would happen. He's nothing but an idiot. She suddenly became painfully aware of the fact he was shirtless, and there was a thin sheen of rainwater lighting the toned muscles at his shoulders... Impure thoughts--impure thoughts-- come on, this is Zoro. A flash of his intense gaze on her at the dinner dance and the sensation of a hesitant brush of callused thumb against her forehead came to mind. He's nothing but an idiot...

Her thoughts faltered as they reached Zoro's dorm, and she watched him stick his cardkey into the door and slide it open. The room was dark; he switched on the lights and she saw, to half her amusement and half her horror, a hazard area of unfolded and rumpled clothes, candy wrappers, empty cans and strewn papers littering the floor.

"Looks like Sanji's not in," Zoro mused, cutting into Tashigi's wonderings of mixed fascination and shock at the fact any human being could live in here. "Well, just go ahead to the bathroom." There was a pause, and Zoro added, "You can lock it from the inside, the lock does work."

She looked at him uncertainly. "Are you sure I can dry off first? I mean... Aren't you cold?"

He smirked as he said smugly, "I'm not a girl." Her eye twitched.

"I can see that for myself," Tashigi said coolly, "but I'm afraid I was asking if you were--" - she sneezed again - "--cold."

That irritating smirk remained on his lips as he said easily, "Guys don't freeze up that quickly."

"And here I thought you had the brains to be something a little less than a sexist pig." She snapped irritably, and he frowned.

"I'm not a sexist."

"Really? You're giving a really good impression of one."

"It's just a fact! Guys don't need as much heat as girls do!! You should see all the clothes Nami had to wear in Drum Island." Of course, she had a fever, but I'm not telling you that. Oh, and just how freaking cold I was after I dived in the icy water is nothing compared to how cold I am now. I'm not telling you that either.

"Fine, so you base everything on your navigator, do you? And you call your findings a fact?! That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard!!"

"I was just-- look, whatever!" Zoro said, shaking his head sharply as though he just wanted to forget about it, "Can't you just take a shower without questioning every little thing I say?! I said I was fine, just accept it and get on with it!!"

"Your lips are blue," Tashigi said smartly, "and your jaw is clenched from not letting your teeth chatter. I only asked if you were cold because I knew you were."

Damn. "My lips are not blue."

"Yes they are."

"They're not. I'm not cold, so why would--" Zoro suddenly gave a rather loud and startling sneeze; as he sniffed, he caught Tashigi's smirk and he scowled at her. "Ha ha, yes, a sneeze means I'm dying of cold. Just go in!!"

Tashigi bristled as she snarled, "Fine, I will! Don't blame me if you catch hypothermia!!"

"Aren't you happy you get the first shower?" He asked exasperatedly, "Why are you getting mad?"

Because you are being such a stubborn, prideful dork, that's all. "Just." She strode as quickly into the bathroom as she could without stamping on any of the clothes and food packets; when she finally reached the door she felt rather like the winner of an obstacle race. She managed to give Zoro a roll of her eyes before shutting the door. He made sure the lock clicking in place sounded before he rolled his own eyes unseen. His teeth clicked together uncontrollably, several shivers running up his arms as he drew up his hands to warm himself. He licked his lips and grimaced. Okay, maybe they are blue.

"Kale! Rendel!"

Both Angels looked up in time to see Rainte waving at them from one end of the pavement, obviously in possession of a human body for the time being.

"Rainte, what are you doing down here?" Kale said in surprise, standing up from the bench, and Rendel followed suit nervously. "Is something up?"

"I'll ignore that sorry excuse of a pun," Rainte said with a roll of his eyes, but then his expression turned serious as he continued, "and say yes. Something really, really bad has happened."

"Is it Valkrief?" Rendel asked worriedly. Both Rainte and Kale stared at her, and she shrugged embarrassedly. "He rubbed off onto me," she muttered as Kale grinned.

"I'm afraid it is. He somehow got hold of a multi-dimensional warp sphere, and he's now accessing all the Banished dimensions he can find. There are Archangels sealing them up as fast as they can, but it won't be long till Kriquelleif has an army of demons large enough to wipe at least a couple of worlds out. Not to mention the fact he can access simulators with that sphere, meaning he can test out any possible future invasions into Heaven... we have to devise a good counter quick."

Kale's grin had long slid off his face, and Rendel was surprised to see him blanch. She said confusedly, "Rainte, how did he even get a hold of a multi-dimensional warp sphere? There aren't any on earth."

Kale was rapidly patting his pockets, and his whispered "Oh no." brought the attention of both Rainte and Rendel immediately to his horrified face.

"It was yours?!"

"I--I must have dropped it!" He said desperately, "I had one on me just for this mission with the whole Oda-dimension thing, when I was running a simulation of their last day and everything-- Oh no, God is going to be furious!! And I just got promoted."

"Like that matters!!" Rendel snapped, "I can't believe you'd just drop that thing anywhere, when Demons were on the loose!"

"Shut up, both of you," Rainte said hastily, "we need to get Upstairs fast and plan out something. Come on."

Kale and Rendel nodded curtly, and Luffy was startled to be shoved back to his mind... alone. Kale?...

I'll be right back. Luffy looked over at the dark-haired girl next to him, who was blinking rather confusedly. Then she saw Luffy, and cocked her head to one side with a searching look in her eyes as she asked,

"Do I know you?"

"You don't remember me?" Luffy said in surprise, and he laughed before outstretching his hand. "It doesn't matter. I'm Luffy."

She shrugged, but appeared to be completely at ease with him as she took his hand and smiled brightly at him. "I'm Yuko. So... does this mean you hear a voice in your head, too?"

If she'd been a little older than ten, she probably would have phrased that better, but Luffy understood all the same.

"Yup," Luffy said cheerfully. He and Yuko took no notice of the rather confused and fearful people walking by them that had happened to hear that last bit.

Tashigi looked at the bathroom with a sigh of relief at how much less of a living hazard it was than the room. Sure, there were a few clothes crumpled up on the floor (and what she thought were a pair of boxers, but she certainly didn't want to think about those) and the mess of toothbrushes and shaving cream and soap at the sink was a little less than amiable. But it was still clear enough for her to walk towards the shower without having to wade through anything. As she peeled off Zoro's shirt, she couldn't help but feel a little self-concious despite the lock. The fact there was only a panel of wood between her naked body and Zoro was not something she was used to feeling...

Oh get a grip. It's a panel of wood, not a pane of glass; unless you're worried about Zoro having X-ray vision you better take a shower quick. Chiding herself all the way, she quickly pulled off the rest of her attire and pulled the curtain shut. The spray of hot water felt so good at first Tashigi didn't think of much else as she used liberal amounts of the liquid soap at the side all over herself. It wasn't until she had been savouring the steamy air as she patted herself dry with a towel from the medicine cabinet that she realised there was nothing to wear. I am a moron.

"Uhm, Roronoa?" She called out, and he let out a grunt in response. "I need something to wear."

A pause, and a somewhat irregular tone of voice responded, "Oh. Uhm, hang on." There was the sound of rummaging about sounded, and she winced as she imagined him ripping the room apart even more than it already was.

Meanwhile, Zoro tried to find something he hadn't worn yet, but was finding it hard to actually find his suitcase. Come on... He pulled out a shirt, sniffed it, and exhaled in relief at the fact it was clean. But he wasn't sure he'd be able to find her a pair of pants she could fit into...


"Give me a minute," He snapped, looking around, and finally spotted the edge of his suitcase amidst a mountain of candy wrappers. "Luffy," He grumbled as he kicked the trunk open, and he stared. I didn't know I wore everything except those pairs of pants. Huh. Not really having much a choice, Zoro tugged out both the jeans and the black trousers, bundled the clean shirt and jeans together before knocking on the bathroom door. The lock clicked before just Tashigi's hands appeared. A gush of steamy air rushed into Zoro's face as he pushed the bundle of clothes into them firmly, and she shut the door again with a mumbled,


There was a long pause, and Zoro suddenly realised something he immediately regretted realising. She has no new underwear. He bit his lip; giving her a pair of his underwear was totally out of the question. Go to Nami or Vivi and ask for a pair? No way, he thought fervently; not if he valued his skull. Nevermind. She'll do something. He really didn't want to be thinking about this, but now that his brain had started it didn't seem to want to let go. Maybe she'll wear her old underwear? But that'd be pretty soaked, not to mention it's kind of gross. Maybe she'll ask for a pair of boxers? What the hell am I thinking, of course not. Then... she'll probably have to live for a moment without wearing any. Oh God, did Zoro wish he hadn't thought of that last one.

He practically jumped when the door opened, and Tashigi stepped out with the towel wrapped around her old clothes; his clothes hung loosely against her frame, and she looked a little flushed and irked.

"I had to fold up these pant legs about a zillion times before I could actually walk in them," She said, shaking her head, "yeesh."

"Uhm, yeah. Yeesh." Zoro said, trying to sound normal and avoiding looking at her. Do not think about it. Do not think about it. Do not-- oh hell, Zoro, just stop thinking at all! "Er, I'll be right back." Tashigi blinked and stared as he grabbed the black pair of trousers and nipped into the bathroom hastily.

Is it just me, or was he being extremely nervous just now? She shrugged it off and cleared off some clothes on the bed so she could sit on it. The sound of water running droned through the door, and Tashigi suddenly realised the situation had spun around. He hadn't locked the door, though. Hmm...

"Gah!!" She yelped, hitting herself on the head, and she thought furiously to herself, get a GRIP you idiot!! Desperate for a distraction, she looked around and found a Mathematics textbook Zoro had apparently been flicking through during her shower. She quickly picked it up and began to look through it, begging herself to become interested enough in mechanics.

Zoro was looking at the bottle of liquid fabric soap Tashigi had just used, and shook his head, trying not to let his laughter out. Probably not a good idea to tell her what she used, or she'll ask why we've got it in the first place... He picked up the shampoo and soap from behind the fabric soap, still shaking with silent laughter.

"You caught Arlong's gang, including his closest members. Some of them were not onsite, but you caught them nearby, acting as backup. That rounds up around twenty of those supposed 'mermen'."


"You also caught the notorious Buggy crew, also hanging around with the backup. There were only sixteen of them, but they were the leaders of the Buggy gang."


"You even caught a hoard of Black cat members, though their leader was uncovered by unnamed individuals - Krow, can you believe it? - you still got about twenty-three of them yourself."


"And Waporu, another respected figure no one had a clue about on his evil doings, was tracked down by the telltale members of his 'secret soldiers'. That's another twenty caught, including Waporu. We have got to do something about that weirdo, by the way; he keeps chewing the bars and gnawing the lock."


"Smoker, that is a hell load of gangsters caught today, from some kind of conspiracy we have yet to uncover - besides Krow's side of the story - so could you please tell me why the hell you're looking so freaking down? You look like you lost your motorcycle."

A flash of alarm flickered in Smoker's eyes at just the thought of that, but he soon started brooding again, puffing on a cigar disgruntledly. "I just have an overwhelming sense of deja vu," he muttered, "because I didn't do anything much, but I'm getting the credit anyway."

"Aw hell," said his companion, rolling her eyes as she sat on his desk, "when I was your position I was ready to do absolutely anything just to get a promotion."

"Well, I'm not like you, am I?" Smoker snapped shortly, and she shrugged. "Anyway... it's more than just that..." The image of a certain skateboarder flashed through his mind before he scowled and repeated darkly, "It's more than just that."

His companion noticed his ears had gone red, a sure sign that his pride was severely damaged.

Zoro popped out of the shower far more quickly than Tashigi had, sporting only his black trousers. He sniffed a bit as he sat on an empty spot on the floor next to Tashigi's legs; he began absent-mindedly toweling his hair.

"Where's your room-mate?" Tashigi asked, and he shrugged.

"He'll be alright. He went off to save Nami, and I'm pretty sure my gut instinct is accurate."

"So you think they're fine from feeling."


Tashigi sighed, shaking her head. "You're not worried about him?"

"I'd never be worried about that dolt," Zoro said disgustedly, "and besides, I trust them. They'll be fine."

Must be nice to have bonds that deep, Tashigi thought as she set down the upside-down textbook. She played with a pencil on the floor with her toes as she mumbled what she'd just been in deep thought about during Zoro's shower. "Have you thought about what's going to happen?"

"...What do you mean?"

"Well... you said yourself how we don't belong here. That means... we're going back, right?"

There was a pause.

"Yeah, obviously."

"...So... how exactly does that work?"

"Not a clue." Zoro said, clearly undisturbed by this, "I guess we'll just figure it out ourselves later. Kale will help us do that. You probably don't have to do anything, since I think it's just our crew that have to deal with this."

Tashigi frowned. "That's not fair! That bastard killed me brutally, too. He killed everyone in the village I was--" She cut herself off with a mental shake, and tried to ignore Zoro's curious glance as she began again, "So I just have to wait?"

"I guess." Zoro looked at her perturbed and rather put-out look, and he sighed. "Do you marines have this idea you absolutely have to get involved with everything?"

"No," Tashigi said haughtily, "we just have the idea that we should do whatever it takes to set things right."

"Even if it's not your role to?" Zoro snapped, and Tashigi didn't say anything. A long pause before Tashigi surprised Zoro by whispering,

"No... I don't know."

As he craned his neck to look at her, he suddenly let out an almighty sneeze. Tashigi raised an eyebrow.

"You're not drying your hair properly, you do realise."

"I am too," He said thickly, and sneezed again. Tashigi shook her head, tutting.

"You've been rubbing at the same spot of hair for ages. And you're shirtless, so that doesn't help much, does it?"

Zoro grumbled as he rubbed at his hair unsuccessfully, sneezing again, and Tashigi stood up suddenly and plopped down in front of him. She stretched her arms towards his hands, commanding, "Hand it over." He wouldn't at first, but she wrestled it out of his fingers and began to scrunch his green hair through the towel forcefully.

"Ow!! Oww!! Stop it-- that-- HURTS!!" His voice came out muffled as she basically attacked his head with the towel, relentlessly rubbing hard at his scalp as she snapped,

"If you'd stay still, maybe it wouldn't hurt as much!!"

"You're burning me!!"


Admitting defeat, Zoro let his hands fall onto his lap as Tashigi assaulted his hair furiously. She eased up once she noticed the lack of resistance, however, and she dried his hair a bit more effectively. Her eyes were trained on the towel, her attention honed to the sensation of water soaking the towel, but his eyes were on hers.

Her eyes, at this close inspection, were a very clear chocolate brown; they were so intensely fixed on his hair at the moment... Zoro's eyes trailed down the pale skin of her cheek, marred wth a few fading scratches from earlier in the day, to her lips. Her lower lip was clutched by her teeth in her concentration, not exactly the image of a luring pair of luscious lips, but that didn't stop Zoro from thinking things he kept wishing he wouldn't.

"There," She said triumphantly, patting about his scalp, "now that's what I call properly dry. Now how does that feel like?"

"You haven't done my fringe properly, that's what it feels like." Zoro said, pointing to his forehead where several strands of wet green hair stuck to his skin. She rolled her eyes.

"Didn't think you were a perfectionist at the state of the room." She remarked crossly as she sat down from her previous kneeling and began to dry his bangs. His eye twitched as he growled,

"The current state of this room was caused by a hyperactive twelve-year-old and a blonde blockhead. I happen to know where all my stuff is!"

"Which explains why you couldn't find your own clothes for a long while, hmm?" Tashigi replied, and Zoro felt his other eye twitch.

"Look, it's not my fault the little dumbass dumped all his candy wrappers on my suitcase!!"

"You haven't even unpacked yet?" Tashigi said in surprise, and Zoro groaned.

"Nevermind. Whatever. Is it dry yet?" Her hands clung onto the towel, but she stopped moving as she said quietly,

"I think so." There was a short silence as Zoro stared at her concentrated face despite her lack of movement. Then she said suddenly, "Zoro, why do you always save my ass?"


"You know... back at the dinner dance. And ... when Jenna fooled me. What made you come and save me?"

Zoro looked as though something had just dawned on him before he asked wearily, "Let me guess. You're worried I thought you were too weak to save yourself?"

She started, looking surprised before her face fell into a frown. "Yes, in fact... that was on my mind. How--?"

"I can read you like a book now," Zoro said irritably, "and I have got to tell you you're getting downright stupid. Okay, yes, I did go because I was worried. You could have been drugged for all I know. But you pulled it off all the same without too much of my help anyway. So everything's alright, and you're-- you're stronger."

"Stronger." Tashigi repeated, her eyes lighting as she said the word. Zoro's eyes were trained on hers as he said quietly,

"You don't have to be stronger than you are. Just... be yourself, I guess."

She started to nod, and opened her mouth to ask just what exactly that was supposed to mean, but the words died halfway up her throat as one of he lifted a hand and pressed his fingers against her temple. She gave a sharp wince, and he muttered, "Did they do that to you?"

"...Yes. But it doesn't matter anymore." Tashigi sounded so sincere Zoro was shocked; he'd never let any ass that left a bruised imprint this bad off the hook.

She swallowed suddenly, giving him a rather awkward look, and Zoro was also struck by the strong sense of deja vu. He swallowed hard too, his eyes fixed on hers in an intense lock. She was breathing a little unevenly, her eyes full of nervousness and-- and... he was pretty sure, as he searched her eyes, that she was reciprocating the feelings churning in his stomach now.

Which was good for him in a way, but rather unfortunate for the both of them in terms of how weird it made him feel. He couldn't tell whether he'd contracted some kind of allergy from Tashigi, or whether he... perhaps... he wasn't sure, but at this moment he thought perhaps he did know -- had known all along... But disastrously enough, he'd never done any crap like this before. Never. His heart began to thump against his throat. What was he supposed to do? Oh, he knew what that stupid cook would say...

I thought this was supposed to happen with my knight in shining armour! Tashigi thought, panic filling her as time dragged on, the tension swelling with every passing second. Or that this sort of thing only happened to sissy girls. Pull yourself together, Tashigi, this is Roronoa we're talking about... His eyes were so unreadable, but were avidly gazing into hers in such a piercing manner she couldn't look away. And the heat from his fingertips were almost burning into her senses.

Roronoa's just an idiot, isn't he? Her fingers were still frozen in grips on the towel. Her heart was starting to bang against her ribs, and she could scarcely breathe; the tension was killing her, and an emotion she wasn't sure she was ready to face was surfacing... Isn't he?

They stared at each other nervously, unsure of what to do next, the tension mounting higher and higher every second. Suddenly at the same time both of them decided to take the plunge.

Just do it!

You can do it!

BANG. They had jutted their heads towards each other simultaneously and collided rather painfully around their foreheads and noses. Unable to speak from the pain, the two simply scrunched up their noses and squeezed their eyes shut in awkward silence for about a minute.

"....That hurt," Tashigi managed to say, peeking out of one eye. Zoro was already peering at her in a very aggravating manner as he said disdainfully,

"You shouldn't have bent your head forward at the same time as me."

"Oh, gee, Roronoa, if only I had put my mind-reading skills to test," She said sarcastically, "I'm ever so sorry."

"I'm sorry too." Zoro said quickly, and Tashigi could tell by the hasty and embarrassed way he said it that he was actually being honest. She shrugged, struggling hard not to show the disappointment she was already horrified at having in the first place. Pretty sure the moment was lost now, Tashigi released her grip from his towel.

She was completely unprepared for him moving forward and very hesitantly and gently pressing his lips upon her own. She forced down a squeak of surprise as his lips began to tentatively move against hers. Slowly, she kissed him back a little nervously at first, and soon they progressed slowly to a deeper, sweeter kiss.

Zoro couldn't believe he'd done it, and now that he had, he had to admit to himself that he'd probably do it again and again if he were given the chance. He gently breathed her scent in as her palms lay resting on his shoulders, and... she smelled just like...

She smelled just like the liquid fabric soap.

Without warning, Zoro broke off the kiss with a snort of laughter. Her eyes fluttered open as he drew back, trembling and trying with all his might not to smile. At the worried and confused look on Tashigi's face, he couldn't stop laughing, and pretty soon started to just howl with laughter and pound the floor before a shocked and bewildered Tashigi. It didn't take her long to react, however; she frowned, blushing deeply as she yelled, "What the hell?! What's wrong?"

"You--" Zoro tried to speak, but he was laughing too hysterically to talk. Tashigi glared at him, and when he continued to laugh, she grabbed his towel and struck him over the head with it. To her great irritation, it didn't stop him laughing.

A/N: Yes, I am aware that this is pretty much a Tashigi and Zoro chapter. I'd planned this scene out from the first day I created 'Reborn'. The whole T/Z moment-with-the-towel thing. I can't believe I finally got it out. Ahhh... Well, I guess I'll try and get some more done this year. I admittedly need to plan a bit more before I even dare to do so, however, so wish me luck.

And thank you so, so much for reading. And reviewing, because that just makes me glad some people actually enjoy this. Cheers.

Oh... and just about that fabric soap. I'm hoping I don't have to explain what it's for. Let's just say if I did have to explain it, I'd been teetering dangerously between PG-13 and R. So please don't make me. :P