Zoro turned around, still dabbing the sweat off his brow with his towel. The first thing he noticed was the bottle of water that was presented to him. The next thing he noticed, as his eyes climbed up from the bottle to the arms holding the bottle to the face of who the arms belonged to, was Usopp.
“Oh, thanks,” he said, offering her a grin. He slung the towel around his neck and took the bottle. After cracking the lid off, he gulped down the refreshing drink. When finished, he wiped his lips with the sleeve of his haori and released a long exhale.
“It’s no problem,” Usopp squeaked, her cheeks pinking. She then cleared her throat and exclaimed, “I was just doing what any good kohai would do, you know? No need to thank me, Senpai!”
“I’ll keep that in mind next time,” he dryly said. He didn’t realize that his gaze had been trained on her cheeks until after he spoke. Zoro shook his head. “What are you doing all the way over here? Last time I checked, the art club isn’t located where the kendo club is.”
“I know that, silly.” Usopp smiled. “Today’s project is to go out and draw whatever we find interesting. As long as it isn’t cliché, we’re free to draw anything we want.”
He smirked at her. “Oh? And am I a target of your interest?”
The pink cheeks graduated to a full facial bloom of tomato red. “Wh-what? Don’t be stupid, Senpai! Of course not! I was—I was just strolling around to see what I could draw and—and—and I just happened to find you,” she sputtered, her hands wildly gesticulating. “It’s nothing what you’re thinking, okay!”
Zoro snorted. “Calm down, Usopp. I was just teasing.”
A hard whack came crashing down on the top of his head. Zoro yelped and dropped to a squat, hands flying to the source of the throbbing pain. Above him, Kuina snarled, “Or maybe you should stop picking on others and wasting their time.”
Zoro strained his neck to shoot his adoptive sister a glare. “Kuina!”
To Usopp, Kuina lowered her shinai and smoothed her piercing expression to a serene one. “I apologize if my idiot brother has been bothering you, Sogeki-san. It was very kind of you to give him water.”
“O-oh, no. It’s fine! Really!” Usopp insisted.
“Would you like to come in? I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. If you want to, you’re more than welcome to stick around and draw.”
Instantly, Usopp’s eyes drifted over to Zoro before darting back to Kuina. Her face wasn’t as red as before, but there was a definite blush staining her cheeks. “Th-thank you! I appreciate it, but not today. I, um, got something to do. But, uh, next time!”
She bowed, her ringlets slipping off her back and shoulders until she pulled herself upright. After bidding them a goodbye, Usopp scurried away. Still on his haunches, Zoro watched the way her hair bounced every step that she took until she disappeared from his sight. His fingers curled as the thought of what it would be like to touch those ringlets crossed his mind for the hundredth time.
“You got it bad,” Kuina sighed. Zoro’s eyebrow twitched.
“Shut up.” He leaned over to pick up the bottle that he had dropped. Thankfully, he had drank most of the contents for there not to be a huge splatter on the floorboards. He retrieved the cap and sealed the bottle, and then stood up to march to the back of the room.
The other club members’ heads swiveled forward, and they resumed swinging their shinai, acting as though they hadn’t been listening in as well. Hmph. At least Kuina was honest about her eavesdropping.
Zoro slid down against the wall until his rear met the floor. He intended on starting his break with a nap, but Kuina, the insufferable older sister that she was, plopped down next to him with a carefully crafted expression of indifference. But Zoro, being the aggravating younger brother that he was, knew that behind that mask was brimming curiosity.
“What?” he asked crankily.
“Do you know?”
“Know what? I’m not a mind reader! Just out with it already.”
“That you have a crush on Usopp?”
He stiffened. Oh, that was too upfront. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play dumb with me, Zoro.” Kuina dropped the façade in favor of rolling her eyes. “It’s so obvious. Hell, I’m sure that Monkey kid knows about it.”
Zoro groaned and rested his forehead on his knees as a sign of resignation. He wrapped his arms around his head. “Luffy, sure. Usopp, not sure.”
“Well, if it’s any consolation, I’m pretty certain that she likes you back.”
It was a good thing that he kept his face hidden; otherwise, his wide grin would be seen by the world. The rapid thumping of his heart was loud in his ears, and he could feel his own face flush in embarrassment and with delight. Of course, he knew that Usopp liked him and he didn’t need the confirmation for it, but it always felt good to hear from someone else that she did.
He couldn’t pinpoint exactly when his feelings for the underclassman had shifted from platonic to romantic, but he had always thought the quirky girl to be cute. The energy of her nervous mannerisms, her tendency to embellish a story to entertain, the way she would easily get caught up in Luffy’s antics—everything about her was cute.
But he had no longer seen her cuteness to be as a friendly endearment, but rather a longing that warmed inside his core. Zoro knew that he had a reputation for being a kendo maniac, a reserved brute, and a scary delinquent (not that he was one—curse that stupid love cook), but he wasn’t so much of a dense idiot to not recognize feelings outside of sports.
He knew the meaning behind his desire to thread his fingers through Usopp’s ringlets, to watch her flustered reactions to his teasing, to be the only guy to stand by her side. It was a balm to his sanity knowing that Usopp felt the same way about him as he did her. The one problem was that he didn’t know if Usopp knew that her affections were requited.
If Usopp didn’t know, that was one thing. But if she did know, then why didn’t she confess to him yet? Or maybe he should confess? If he did confess, then who knew how Usopp would respond? Surely, she would say yes, but the girl’s anxiety just might lead her to say no. Zoro didn’t understand how that made sense, but his intuition told him that something like that could happen. Girls were always complicated that way.
“I can see your ears turning red.”
Promptly, he clapped his hands on the side of his temple.
“Ah! I can’t believe my baby brother likes someone!” Kuina sighed. “I never thought romance could ever happen to such a meathead.”
He jolted upright and snapped, “Hey!”
Zoro admittedly didn’t have a plan as to how he was going to get Usopp to become his girlfriend, but he wasn’t going to tell that to Kuina. The older girl would just become an irritating know-it-all as she would pontificate to him ways of approaching Usopp.
He certainly wasn’t going to confide to Nami. He knew that witch would use the information to blackmail him into doing something rather than assist him. Their classmate Helmeppo had once asked the girl a favor, and the poor guy was still paying her with his allowance.
No, if he was going to do this, he needed to find someone who wasn’t going to be a nag, wasn’t going take advantage of him, and, most importantly, be actually helpful.
Zoro contemplated whether to approach Vivi or Kaya.
On one hand, Vivi was someone who he was friends with since she was one of the many who had been dragged into Luffy’s inane pirate club. Not only was she someone familiar, but she was also sweet and sensible, so he knew that she wouldn’t intentionally make his life difficult. Plus, Vivi most likely knew about what was going on between him and Usopp, meaning that he wouldn’t have to waste time explaining about his feelings.
Being spared of that weird conversation would have led him to go to Vivi if it weren’t for one excruciating fact: Vivi was Nami’s best friend. He didn’t understand the inner workings of female relationships nor did he care to; he was just aware enough to know that if Vivi was informed one something, then Nami would be too. The way the girls would whisper and giggle to one another felt like they were always complicit in machinations that made Zoro’s fingers twitch for his shinai.
Kaya, on the other hand, wasn’t affiliated with Nami, namely because she wasn’t in the pirate club. In fact, the only reason that he knew her name was because she was Usopp’s childhood friend. She was quiet and passive, which was a contrast to the chatterbox that Usopp tended to be. And she, like Usopp, was a member of the art club. Aside from those things, Zoro didn’t know anything else about her.
Kaya was someone who knew Usopp the best and most likely wouldn’t be a pain in the ass, but she was also a stranger. Vivi was familiar. Zoro mused about this. Would Vivi keep this to herself if he asked her to?
Who was he kidding? After the Crocodile incident, Vivi couldn’t keep a secret even if her life depended on it.
With decision made, Zoro made his way to the cultural arts building.
It was to his luck that the art club members hadn’t left yet. Poking his head inside, he could see the students puttering around as they cleaned up the room and idly conversed to one another. Gathering her own materials in the far back was Kaya.
“Senpai?” Usopp took notice of him and bounded towards him, curiosity evident on her face. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I…” Zoro frowned and scratched the back of his head. He cursed inwardly about not thinking ahead. Well, technically, he did: Get Kaya to give him advice and then act on said advice. But he obviously skipped this crucial step. Would it be strange if he requested to just speak Kaya about something?
Deciding that it’d was too much of a drag to dwell on it, he answered, “I’m here to speak to your friend.”
As expected, that got him a look of incredulity. “Who? You mean Kaya?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he told her gruffly. “Just get her here, would ya?”
Usopp’s brows furrowed, but she nodded slowly. Usopp left to approach the blonde. Zoro watched as the girls talked and the way Kaya frowned after Usopp had pointed in his direction. It didn’t take long for Kaya to stand in front of him, albeit hesitantly.
“Um, Roronoa-senpai? Is there something that you would like to speak to me about?”
“Yeah. Let’s go somewhere private, alright?” He motioned with the jerk of his chin and began walking down the hall without waiting for the girl’s response. A second later, he heard light footsteps hurrying after him.
He led Kaya down until they were behind the building. Once they stopped, Zoro turned around and squared his shoulders, preparing himself to say what he had been wanting—needing—to say. Strangely, Kaya had a look of discomfort and nervousness marring her expression, which knocked off Zoro’s pluck and replaced it with confusion.
“Oi, what’s the matter?”
“N-nothing,” Kaya squeaked.
He raised an eyebrow. “No, doesn’t seem like nothing. Why do you look so scared?” And then a thought occurred to him. “Oh no, did you hear rumors about me being a delinquent? Because, just do you know, I’m not one! That bastard love cook told everyone that one day just because he’s a sore loser. The green hair is natural, alright?”
Kaya startled. “No! It’s not that!”
“Yes, I—” She pursed her lips. “Could you just please tell me what you wanted to tell me, Roronoa-senpai?”
The girl didn’t appreciate having her time wasted? Well, he couldn’t really fault her since he was the same way. Zoro got to the point: “I need your help in asking Usopp out.”
Kaya stared at him, slack-jawed. She slowly blinked. “Eeh?”
He frowned. “What?”
“Th-that’s what you wanted to ask me about?”
“Yeah. What did you think I called you over for?”
“I…” She pressed a hand to her chest and sighed out what sounded like relief. “I’m sorry. For a second, I thought that you were going to ask me out!”
Zoro reeled his head back in surprise. “The hell made you think that?”
For a timid girl, she was capable of directing a deadpan stare. “Senpai, you must understand how this looks.”
He took a moment to realize that, yeah, okay, him requesting to speak to Kaya alone might have given the wrong impression. Zoro rubbed the back of his neck. “I see your point.”
“I just hope that Usopp-chan won’t think of it like that. She likes you a lot.”
Automatically, he smirked. “I know.”
“Of course, you do,” Kaya said with a humored smile. “She really is incapable of hiding her feelings.”
“That’s obvious.” Then his smirk fell. “Does she not know that I feel the same way?”
“I’m afraid not.” Well, that settled it. “I am a bit surprised to hear that you’ve come to me for help. And that you like her back. Ah, I mean, it’s only because I don’t know you well, but I’m relieved to hear that you do.”
“I see.” A moment of self-consciousness washed over him, compelling him to avert his gaze and scratch the back of his head, but he shook it off. “So, you gonna help or what?”
Kaya’s smile evolved to a grin. “Of course!”
With that answer, Zoro couldn’t help but grin back.