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The Ex

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A slow exhale came out. Nami stared at her reflection on the mirror as she rinsed her soap washed hands in the bathroom sink, already exhausted from a rough and stressful day she had. She couldn't wait to hit the hay when bedtime comes as she yawned. Night classes weren't her cup of tea, but it'll have to do if she wanted to make more money for her and her family.

I need a break. She turned off the sink water and reached for a hand towel that hung on a hook beside the mirror. Then she clicked the mirror to open and searched for her pills. Her stress level went up too high, so to fix her issue, she had to sleep it off. Her pharmacist informed that she had to consume two pills a night like the instructions say. That's plenty to knock out dead. 

Grabbing the orange tube, she twisted the cap, shook out two pills, and threw them in mouth. They carried that distasteful flavor that would make a little kid spit them right out. Nami made a disgusted look at the awful taste. She won't think she'll ever get over it next time.

Quickly grabbing the plastic cup meant for mouth rinsing, she held it under the faucet until the tap water reached halfway and downed the pills in a large gulp. Another exhale came out her mouth.

"Ugh." Grimacing, she twisted the cap back on and placed the orange tube back in the cabinet, glad that she got it out of the way for tonight. Her hand reached for the mirror door before she waited for a moment. Silence crept up in the bathroom as she stood still. No noise erupted until she pushed the mirror cabinet to a close with a light click. She finger brushed her long hair before stepping out to check on her baby.

She carefully turned the knob and pushed the door ajar for a small peek inside the nursery. The room was dark, so Nami entered for a better look, but slowly as she pushed the door farther back. Yellow wallpaper and ribbons decorated the walls. Stuffed animals and plushed toys lied on the floor next to a treasure chest full of more toys that were gifts from friends and loved ones. A rocking chair in a corner with a children's story sitting on the seat and a tall dresser standing up against one wall that were also gifts from Nami's baby shower. Almost everyone gave her gifts for her and the baby.

Leaning over the crib with both hands on the cage wall, she watched her one-year old daughter snooze. Pleased to see her at peace, a grin appeared on Nami's face. “Good night sweetheart.” She pecked her daughter on the forehead and pulled the soft green blanket over her short body. For one last touch of the night, she rubbed her daughter’s soft head. The melody toy was not needed since her baby was already asleep. She decided to leave her be as she closed the door softly.

Yawning while striding to the master bedroom, she sat on her side of the bed and picked her legs up. Her husband, Sanji, lightly snored as he slept. She paused to look at him.

His short blonde hair laid messily on the left side of his face, which was where he liked to part it as his hair style. His skin had no wrinkles or blemishes due to being smoke free for a few years. Nami was happy that he gave up smoking for her and their daughter. His goatee reminded her of the time she refused to allow him to grow out his beard. She hated the feeling of hair on her face when they kiss, so Sanji decided a goatee was the best feature.

Watching Sanji sleep made Nami feel at ease. Plus, she remembered that he had to wake up even earlier in the morning. He had an important session to attend to at the police station. She can’t quite remember what it was for, but if it’s early, then damn well it’s important. Poor thing, she thought. Must be exhausting saving lives and fighting crimes in the streets.

She smiled and tilted her head to the side.

“You’re so cute when you sleep,” she whispered to him, low enough to not wake him up from his slumber. Sanji inhaled sharply before he groaned. Then his chest moved up and down at a normal pace. She chuckled at that. 

Turning on the bed, her back facing Sanji, she snuggled onto her pillow and pulled the thick comforter up to her stomach. Finally in bed, she released a long, relaxed sigh and closed her eyes. Tomorrow is a new day. But tonight wasn’t over yet.

A crackle of thunder shook Nami awake, bolting her right up from her bedside. She looked out her window and saw lightning and heavy rainfall. The sudden weather change puzzled her as she furrowed her eyebrows. Glancing to the side, she found Sanji still asleep. The thunder and lightning didn’t seem to have woken him up. He must have heard louder things since he’s a cop and all.

Pushing the comforter off her legs, Nami stepped down on the floor and went to check on her daughter again if the storm woke her up too. Nami grabbed hold of the knob to her daughter’s nursery room and turned it open. As she moved inside, expecting a cry or a whimper, she fixed her hair by pushing a strand behind her ear. But then she froze in the room. She scanned the crib more than once, massive confusion across her face, before she darted forward in a heap. She gasped as she ran her hand on the small mattress and yanked the blanket off. The crib was empty. 

Nami dropped the blanket on the floor, her feet taking a few steps backs as her hands shook and lips trembled. “Oh my god…" She trailed off in a state of bewilderment and shock until she realized that her baby disappeared. 

"Sanji!” She bellowed and sprinted back to her bedroom. "Sanji! The baby! The baby's gone! I can't find her!”

She halted next to his side of the bed and shook him forcefully, begging him to get out of his slumber before they waste any more time doing nothing.

“Sanji wake up!" After several hard shakes, he was still lying down without moving an inch. "Sanji! Sanji! Kimi is-” Nami screamed as she jolted away. His neck hung to the side like a loose limb, revealing a long gash on his throat. Dark blook leaked out of the wound, trailing down his neck and staining the top of his shirt and pillow.

Nami had her hands clamped on her gaping mouth. Hot tears streamed down her face as she whimpered silently. She tore her eyes away and sobbed on the spot, bending down and facing the floor. She tried to look up once, but she squeezed her eyes shut, unable to look at her husband. 

“No… No..!” Nami moaned to herself. Her jaws clenched to bite down on her cries as more tears spilled from her mourning eyes. Shakily, she stepped towards him, stumbling on her wobbly feet, and placed both hands on his pale face. His lips were parted and his eyes stayed closed like he was still asleep, unaware of his own death.

She held Sanji by his face, his jaw-length hair brushing on her hands as she looked at him. Her thumb rubbed his cheekbone tenderly before her fingers sunk in. Tears splashed on his face, one by one, and slid down like fallen raindrops. Nami sniffled before she let out a painful wail, pressing her forehead against Sanji’s.

“S-S-Sanji… no...” She cried in agony, her shoulder bumping up and down as she tried to hold back any more tears from falling. She planted long kisses on his lips, cheeks and quick pecks on his left eye. Then she gazed at him softly, wiping away her tears, but her eyes kept welling up. Peering down, she grabbed Sanji’s right hand and locked their fingers together. She loved holding his hand because his touch was so warm, comforting, and pure. Never did she want to let him go, but at that moment, he had already slipped through her fingers.

Her heart was ripped out and crushed, like there was no mercy to let it beat once more. Her beautiful daughter and her beloved husband were out of her reach. She can't feel their warmth anymore, the only thing she could long for more than anything. 

Nami eyebrows furrowed when she felt something wet and warm on their locked hands. She slightly turned them over and almost choked at the sight of smeared fresh blood, his blood on her hands. She buried into Sanji’s chest and whimpered again, shedding more tears. His body was cold and he was beginning to turn white. Nami thought she could warm him up by embracing his body, but what would be the point? She was hugging her husband who can't hug her back, ever. 

“Who did this to you..? Who killed you..?” She whispered, tightening her free arm around his waist and squeezing his hand. Her lips pressed together as they quivered. She tried refusing to cry again, but her emotions were too strong to hold back. “Who took our daughter?”

Suddenly, she heard a footstep behind her. Nami gasped as she snapped her head up. Then another footstep came, and another, and another. Her breath was caught in her throat. She dared not to look back and ask "who's there?" Terrified to move, all she could do was listen.

The door was completely wide open, and behind it was nothing but darkness. The footsteps crawled in closer, heavier, and louder as they entered the room. An intense chill ran down Nami's spine like a ghost exhaled on her skin. This presence… why did it feel so familiar?

The footsteps stopped. Nami felt it. She knew who was standing behind her.

She gulped a huge chunk of saliva and stood up, never leaving her sight off of Sanji.

The large figure behind her was still. His hand was holding onto the hunting knife he slit Sanji's throat with, the blade stained with fresh iron blood. If the room was extremely quiet, a drop of the red substance would echo off the walls. 

Nami was afraid, very afraid, that if she were to make one sound or move a muscle, it would be the last thing she did. 

The man behind her said nothing. His eyes were busy gazing at the woman. The dead silence drove her fear sky high and made more tears fall on her cheeks. Letting out a long sigh, he grinned. “Hello, Nami. Been awhile, hasn't it?”

Nami froze after hearing his voice. She remembered him. But how was he there? How did he even know where she lived?

“Did you miss me?” He asked before he tipped down to her level, next to her ear. “I hope you did as much as I missed you.”

“..!” Nami widened her eyes. Sweat dripped from her forehead and down her nose. She desperately wanted to run and hide, but her body wouldn't move. 

He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and dug into the crook of her neck, breathing in her scent he's been lusting for. Contentedly, he rubbed his head against hers, sighing in satisfaction. “It's been so long since I've felt your warmth. You don't have the slightest idea of how much I've been wanting to embrace you all this time."

“You…” Nami stuttered, frightened to speak up. The man opened one eye. “You killed him…”

He glanced over to the so-called “husband” lying dead on the bed and narrowed his eyes. “Yes, I did.” He looked back to Nami without changing his glaring expression. “Sorry, but I had to. He was in the way.”

“Where's my baby..?” Nami was beginning to cry again, but she pulled her lips in. She never thought that she would miss her daughter sobbing again. At least it would let her know that she was still alive.

“Don't worry, I haven't done anything to her. She's all taken care of, I promise.” He tightened his hold on her and she felt the cold knife on her arm. He noticed the slight trembling from her, indicating that she was beyond scared. “You're upset right now. I don't blame you, but at least we have each other.” He leaned into her ear, and he whispered, “Don't you see? We're finally together after all these years. Now no one will come between us. Not this time. I'll make sure it won't happen again."

Nami's trembling grew intense after he pressed his lips on her left temple. He savored this moment he yearned for by adding another peck, but longer. Then he lowered down to her ear again. She felt his cold smirk, exactly like she remembered from way back. It was the only thing that made her remember him to this day. 

"I love you, Nami...”

Nami screamed with the top of her lungs. All of this was a nightmare; a brutal, hellish, disgusting nightmare. 

How did everything end up like this? Sanji, Nojiko, someone! Help! Please God!

HELP ME! 

Gasping, Nami jumped upright. Her chest heaved in and out as she panted, unable to control her breathing. Sweat drenched her skin and strands of hair stuck to her face and neck. Her eyes, round and wide open, were full of tremendous anxiety. 

Hesitantly, she looked around the room. Everything was in place. She was still in bed. The night was young, no rainfall or thunder outside her bedroom window. And there was no other presence in sight.

Her muscles tensed by the disturbing fear she had. Goosebumps were all over her arms and legs, shaking uncomfortably. Everything felt so real to her; the blood on her hands, the chilling breath on her neck, and his sadistic, manipulating voice. Why, oh why, can't she get that damned voice out of her head?

“...Nami? Wha-what’s wrong?” Still shaken up, she took a cautious glimpse to what she heard beside her on the bed. Sanji sat up on his elbows and rubbed his hand on his face before he glanced over to her, eyes swollen from fatigue.

She sighed in relief, placing one hand on her head. It was all a dream. Thank God.

“Sorry, it's nothing," she said, shaking her head.

“You sure? Was it another nightmare?” He asked. Nami nodded, without sparing him a glance.

“Yeah, I'm fine though.”

Nami sucked in her breath and yanked the comforter off. If Sanji was here, then that must mean...

Surprised, Sanji watched her jump out of bed. “Where are you going?” He tried to ask, but Nami hurried out the door in a flash.

“I have to check on the baby!”

“What?” He said, confused.

Bursting the door open, Nami threw her head in the doorway and scoped out the room. She spotted her daughter, Kimi, sleeping in her crib, still at peace like the last time, before the dream occured. She stepped right next to the crib and sighed in relief again, thanking the heavens for keeping Kimi safe.

“Is everything okay, Nami?” Nami spun around in fright. Sanji stood in the doorframe with his arms crossed, uncertain about Nami’s strange behavior. This wasn't the first time she started acting this way.

“Yeah, everything's fine,” she replied quickly. This wasn't the first lie she said. Sanji uncrossed his arms and walked inside. He too peered down to Kimi. “I just wanted to see how she is.”

Sanji nodded before he switched his attention to his wife. “It's the sixth time this week. Are you sure you're okay? I worry about you, you know.”

“I-I know, but really, I'm fine."

He didn't buy any of it. She was obviously lying to him, and herself.

“Nami, I'm your husband. You can tell me anything. And I'm not gonna judge you.”

“There's nothing for me tell you.” She placed one hand on his arm as a calm gesture. “I'm fine, look at me, I'm fine.” Nami removed her hand and exited out of the nursery. “Let's go back to bed.”

Sanji turned his head over his shoulder, following her as she entered their bedroom. He knew something was bothering her, but he didn't understand why she won't confess what was on her mind this past week. Should he let this go and leave her be?

Sitting on her bedside, Nami grabbed the end of the comforter and pulled the thick blanket over her legs. She paused at the top of her thighs. The things she saw in her dream appeared in her head, causing her hands to crumble the comforter. She sincerely swore that the dream felt so real she thought she lost them for good.

Sanji climbed inside the bed and took a seat right next to her. She crossed her eyes to him as he tugged the comforter over him. Then, Nami looked away. They both sat in complete silence, neither one of them facing the other. Sanji didn't catch her fiddling with the end of the comforter as he breathed out from his nose, his shoulders gradually dropping down. Something had to be explained or else things won't be getting any better. He attempted to say something to her, but she suddenly pounced on him and slammed her mouth on his.

“Mmf…?!” A shocked muffle escaped from his throat. Nami had her hands grasping his face as she moved her lips up and down without stopping. She threw her knees to either side of his waist and sat on his lap to straddle him. Panting, she sucked on his flesh hungrily and moaned after tasting him. 

Squeezing his eyes shut, Sanji was unable to breathe, like his lungs were blocked. He sat there totally stunned, incapable of moving, but being moved. He subconsciously raised his arms to hold her, but he paused midway. His hands clenched to fists, realizing that this didn’t feel right, it felt forced.

“Nami-” When he had the chance to speak from their mouths parting, she darted her tongue in, surprising him again as he released a groan.

Tangling her arms around his neck, Nami pulled him closer. Their bodies pressed against each other, exchanging hot and heavy heat. She tilted her head to kiss him harder, and deeper. Their tongues played like there was no tomorrow, inciting him to moan uncontrollably, which he did. Her hips rocked slightly until she sped up the pace, increasing the heat within them.

Oh God... The arousal drove Sanji insane. He tried to resist this lecherous pleasure, but his body gradually betrayed him as his arms began to raise up, intending to wrap them around his wife and clutch her. His insides started to stir as his heart pounded against his chest. Fighting his desires, he grabbed her by the shoulders. He won't let himself take advantage of this. He'd be no different from the assaulters he threw behind bars. 

“Nami stop!” He finally pried her off him, practically getting his lips ripped off. Nami leaned in to continue, but Sanji clamped her mouth with his hand, still keeping her away at a safe distance. She immediately stopped resisting, which made Sanji relax a little. Their intimate kiss lingered on him. He blew out a pop of breath as he blinked twice, a bit dizzy. His heart was still pounding, but he ignored it. In all honesty, he would've given in if this was a different time. “W-what's going on?” He asked, looking directly into her eyes. Still overwhelmed by that kiss, he cleared his throat.

Loosening her arms around his neck, Nami peered down. Sanji gave her a confused look. “Babe, what is it?”

Her eyes welled up in tears. She slowly whimpered, until it became audible when she buried her face into Sanji's shoulder, her arms bringing him closer in a gentle hug.

“Nami, please talk to me. I’m right here,” he said, hugging her back to calm her down. She lifted her head up and wiped her eyes.

“I’m just… glad you’re still with me, even though I’m a total mess,” she sniffled, forcing a smile. Sanji knitted his eyebrows together.

“I'm confused,” he admitted, completely lost. Nami chuckled before she shook her head.

“Just forget about it.” She removed herself from his lap and moved back to her bedside. Sanji stared at her as she slid underneath the covers. He bumped his eyebrows up as a shrug.

“Alright,” he grumbled before he joined her. He then embraced Nami from behind. She smiled at him as she snuggled into his arms, holding onto one of his hands with hers. “What's really bothering you?” A few seconds of silence swept in when she paused. “And I don't want any more excuses.”

“...” Nami lowered her head. She wanted to get something off her chest, but she didn't know how to. Her hand squeezed Sanji's, which made him glance to them. “I-”

Dropping his eyelids to a close, Sanji pressed his lips on Nami’s head for a long kiss. He sighed in exhaustion. “Never mind. It’s getting late. We can discuss about this in another time. Good night.”

“Good night," she mumbled. She listened to Sanji drift asleep as he let out a light exhale. The moonlight from outside made her eyes wander to the window for some reason. A crescent moon, a possibly a waxing crescent, was high in the sky along with the stars. She found comfort in gazing at them, just floating up there with no worries or troubles. She had always wondered what that kind of life would be like. 

Subsiding her thoughts, she closed her eyes and decided to just go to sleep. The moon was beyond out of her reach. Why would she go there if she already had what she needed right here? Anything here cannot be replaced with whatever is up there.

Chapter Text

Morning came too quickly. Sanji wasn’t fully awake because of his wife’s late night dreams. He had less than two hours to sleep before work. As mentioned before, this has happened more than once. Six times to be exact.

About a week ago, Nami has been getting nightmares every night. She bought sleeping pills from a pharmacy to fix her case, but the results weren’t good. She would wake up and pant like she was out of breath or she would shriek bloody murder. Her condition grew worse each day. Sometimes she would do it twice in one night. And each time, Sanji became more and more worried about her. He tried to assure her that she would feel better if she could talk about her dreams. But she refused to speak to him or anyone about them. She tried to assure him that everything was alright. Still, he couldn’t believe her.

Sanji buttoned up his dark blue shirt and left the top button undone. He attached his radio transmitter on his shoulder, pinned the bronze badge on the left side of his chest, and packed several pieces of equipment on his duty belt; black handgun, ammunition, firearms, cuffs, baton, taser, flashlight and batteries, gloves, pens, pencils, keys, and a window punch.

He skipped shower and breakfast, but he didn’t forget about his dental hygiene. His smoking days left him with yellow teeth and shitty breath. His dentist advised him to brush his teeth twice a day with a special whitening toothpaste, plus flossing and mouthwash. And he had to reduce his consumption of teeth-staining foods and beverages such as coffee and tea, which are unfortunately his favorites. His teeth have whitened ever since Nami and their daughter, Kimi, came.

Father was right about having a woman in your life. They can change you into a whole new person that you never thought you could be. They make you do things you never believed you could do. Nami and Kimi were the ones who made him become a man, and he couldn’t thank them enough.

Checking his police apparel on Nami’s head stand mirror, Sanji fixed his transmitter by seating it up right. He rolled his shoulders and turned his head side to side. Everything seemed to be in place, he thought. Then he narrowed his eyes at the mirror. He noticed a white spot on his shirt before he peered down and pulled a piece to inspect it.

“Fuck..!” He cursed. Today was not going well for him. He aimed towards the bathroom to wipe the new stain off, frowning at the spot. “How?”

A phone’s vibrator went off as it buzzed on a medium-sized makeup table. The second vibrate caught Sanji’s attention. He poked his head out of the bathroom door frame with a wet hand towel in hand.

“Must be her,” he assumed, stepping back inside his bedroom to retrieve his phone. Picking the device up from the table, he pressed the circle button of his iPhone and found two text messages from his partner.

Coming in two minutes, was the first one.

The second text read, Ready yet?

Sanji sighed at the messages, shaking his head. Doesn’t she know better, he thought. He swiped the touchscreen to open up the messaging app and tapped on the reply space.

Don’t text me while you’re driving. You trying to get yourself killed?

“Wait a minute, what am I doing?” He erased his text and slid his phone in his pocket. Texting her back would be bad enough, and that wouldn’t make him any better than her. A car horn honked from outside. Sanji snapped to the front door, before his shoulders dropped. “Well that was fast.”

His phone vibrated again, and it was another text from his partner.

Here! Hurry up and come outside!

Sanji rolled his eyes at her demanding behavior. He texted back to her that he was coming, but before he left, he had to do something first.

Looking up from his phone, he eyed Nami sleeping peacefully. He exhaled out his nose, pleased to see her resting well. He strided to her bedside, bent down and pressed his lips on her temples. “Sleep tight. I'll come back before you know it.”

He also gave a quick peck on Kimi’s forehead, on his way to the front door. After he exited from his house, he trotted down the stairs without looking up. He was on the brink of falling asleep as he reached the final step.

“Took you long enough,” his partner said, in the driver’s seat of the police car, one hand on the wheel. “Had a good night, sleeping beauty?”

“Morning Vi,” he said, moving around the car to the passenger’s seat. Her real name was Viola, but she preferred the shortened name since she was stuck with it for a long time. Sanji shrugged his shoulders in reply. “It was okay.”

“Right,” she said sarcastically. Sanji opened the passenger door open and hopped inside before slamming it shut. She noticed that the dark bags under his eyes were darker, and he avoided making eye contact. “Let me guess, baby problems?”

Sanji pressed his lips together and glanced down before he shook his head.

“Wife?” She said, nervously. He nodded in reply. “Oh… Want to talk about it?”

“No, I don't. Let’s just go to the station and get this damn session over with. I’m not in a good mood today.”

“Okay, whatever you say.” She jerked the lever to drive and spun the wheel to the right. She took a glimpse of her blond partner and caught him dozing off. He propped one elbow on the hand-grip of the car door and rested on his fist. Vi shook her head and pursed her lips. “You know, if the chief catches you sleeping during his important meeting, he might have your head.”

“I couldn't careless what he does,” he grumbled, keeping his eyes closed. The chief falls asleep at other sessions all the time anyway.

“Oh, and how would your wife feel?”

“Can we please not talk about Nami?” he demanded. “I’m tired.”

“Okay, okay, just wondering.”

******

Eggs boiled in a pot of water as three strips of bacon fried in a pan oil. Nami scooped homemade applesauce from an infant sized jar and waved the spoon in the air like an airplane.

“Ohm.” Nami pretended that she ate some of the applesauce as she fed giggling Kimi. Nami chuckled, before she wiped a smudge off of her daughter's plump face. “Good girl.”

Turning to the wall clock in the kitchen, Nami widened her eyes. The time was 8:23am, her first class of the day starts at 9:30am.

“Oh shoot! I'm gonna be late. Alright hon’, last one, okay?” She dug one last scoop of sauce and briefly made an airplane sound until the spoon reached Kimi’s mouth. “There ya go. Now let's get going, you don't want to miss daycare.”

Nami placed the jar and spoon down on the island counter and hoisted Kimi out of the high-chair.

Nami didn't have time to eat breakfast, so she packed the cooked eggs and bacon for a later breakfast. Lucky for her, she didn't sleep too long.  Her missing a class could affect her job dramatically. The staff and administers were strict on their teacher's attendances, arriving late was the last thing she wanted to do.

For today, she wore a grey suit jacket over a white long-sleeve dress shirt. Above the knees, a grey pencil-skirt with zippers on the sides. And black heels to complete the outfit. She decided to let her hair down and use bobby pins to keep loose strands out of her eyes. She had to look professional every day, which was exhausting for her to keep up with. Just in case, she carried scrunchies or large elastics in her purse if the air conditionings fail.

Laying her daughter in the infant car seat and holding two bags, a large pink diaper bag and purse over her shoulder, Nami trudged out of the house. She locked the front door with her keys. Then she pressed the ignition button and her gray Prius car came to life.

Her heels clicked on the pavement as she trotted towards her car, parked in front of the house. She strapped Kimi’s car seat in the back before sliding the diaper bag in the leg area. She slammed the passenger's door and hopped inside the driver's seat. Checking the rearview mirror to get a good glimpse of her daughter, Nami stuck the key in the ignition.

Nami exhaled, hands on the wheel. “All set.” She pulled the lever to drive, switched her right signal, and spun the wheel to the open street.

She dropped Kimi off at nearby daycare center after she kissed her goodbye and sped off to work. Now she can focus on her teachings with her mind all cleared up from her previous nightmare. Each night, they've gotten more vivid and graphic than the last, almost as if she can picture the man in her dreams. His voice and language were flawless. She didn't need a clear view of the man to know who it was.

Class had begun and the students had their notebooks and laptops out. Nami arrived about two minutes late. She apologized to her students and excused herself that she hit traffic along the way. The students didn't seem to care at all. Without further ado, Nami began her lesson as she scribbled the main topic on the chalkboard.

Nami was on a roll. She spoke confidently and passionately. To think that she would change her mind about being a doctor to a psychology teacher. Her new career plan came to her for a specific reason, but she'd rather not say. It was like she wanted to inform people about the phases and stages that other individuals can go through. Her ways of teaching was to warn her students, about the types of mental illnesses that they may or may not come face to face with. How to deal with your own or someone else's. If only she had known a long time ago, she could've done something to prevent certain things from happening. But if they hadn't happened, she wouldn't have become the person she was today.

“Next we have-” the chalk snapped in half and toppled on the floor. Nami kneeled down to pick up the broken piece. “As I was saying- huh?”

Nami stood back up. Her eyes glanced side to side, confused. She didn’t remember class ending so soon, but she also didn’t remember leaving and moving to a new building.

“Wha- where am I?” She spun around frantically in an old, rundown bedroom. The walls were black, chipped and broken. A tall window was cracked and the drapes were dusty. The bed had one cluttered sheet, strangely clean. The fireplace was buried with cremated wood and loose bricks laid on the ground forgotten. The more she moved, the more the floor creaked. Then, she gasped before hovering a hand over mouth. She shook her head as she backed away. “No... this isn’t…”

“Do you remember this room?” A husky voice said, before it chuckled darkly.

“..!” Nami sucked in her breath and froze. She felt the same presence from her dreams,standing behind her again. Her lips parted as they shivered, a shriek for help wouldn’t come out.

He snaked his arm around her waist and pressed his cold face against hers, snuggling into her warmth. “Remember, all the good times we had in this house? This is where it happened. You and I finally became one. I remember our first time… it was really magical. The best night of our lives.” He smirked as his fingers clawed her stomach. “Come on, tell me that you recalled our special night. Let me give you a hint.”

He squeezed her waist, causing a gasp to come out of her mouth. She felt cold lips on her ear. She tried to look sway, but he grabbed her jaw to hold her in place, and then he chuckled again.

“I was inside of you…”

A flashing memory invaded her mind. All she remembered were the sounds she made. The bed creaked and bounced. He panted as he filled her up. God, how could she have been so stupid to let him in?

Nami gritted her teeth. A fist clenched near her thigh. Stupid! Stupid!

“You know,” he started, leaning into her ear. “I'd be more than happy to do it again. Well? What do you say?”

“...” Nami shook, facing the floor. “I… no.”

He scoffed, grinning at her hesitant answer. “Deny it all you want, but you can’t fight it. I know you Nami, both inside and out. Do me a favor and listen, because you’re going to need it. You belong to me, and you will always be mine… forever...”

“STOP IT! LEAVE ME ALONE!” She screamed out loud. The students in the classroom jumped in their seats, several of them shrieked and blinked rapidly at their professor. Nami inhaled heavily and let out a long breath.

That was way too real, she panted. I could’ve sworn… no, it was. That was him.

She put on a fake smile.

“...Sorry, everyone,” she said. “I thought I saw a bug.”

******

“Here ya go. You might need this.”

“Thanks.” Nami grabbed the mug and placed it on the round table she sat by. Then she sighed, upset for nearly giving her students heart attacks. Those dreams were hitting you at daytime. Now they're getting worse.

“I heard what happened in class this morning,” her colleague, Usopp said. He took a seat right next to her as he blew his hot coffee. The teacher’s lounge was where they usually meet after their morning lectures. Luckily, they both start and end class at the exact same time. He taught Biology, specifically cells and molecules. They’ve been good friends ever since they went to college together. “Word on the street is, is that you sure scared the bejesus out of those students. Talk about one hell of scream I bet.”

“It’s all over the school? Great,” she muttered, dropping her head on the table. “I am such an idiot. I can't believe I did that to them. They must think I'm some kind of lunatic now.”

“Oh, don't worry about them, Nami,” Usopp assured her, patting her on the back. “I'm sure it'll all be water under the bridge by tomorrow. They'll just forget about the whole thing and move on from there.”

“I hope you're right, because it was embarrassing for me.”

“Hmm, well I can see that.” Usopp sipped his coffee, before he flinched. Nami shot him a don’t-push-it frown. He raised a hand in defense. “I'm only kidding, sorry!”

Could this day get any worse? Nami pressed her cheek on the table. First home, and now my job. All because of those sick dreams I'm getting, I can’t wake up without feeling scared or petrified. Her fist clenched. She hooded her eyes as she thought about Sanji. And what’s worse, is that I haven’t been letting Sanji in, my own husband.

Their intimate moment from last night came in mind. She buried herself in her arms, ashamed to look at a mirror if she finds one.

I think I'm losing my mind... 

“Uh, Nami? You feeling okay?” Usopp said. His cell phone rung in his pocket with a soft tune as a ringtone. He reached inside and pulled out the noisy phone. He grinned when he read the caller’s name. “Sorry Nami, I have to take this.”

She waved her hand dismissively. “Go right ahead, I don’t mind.”

“Thanks!” He tapped the answer button on the screen and brought the phone to his ear. His goofy smile made Nami realize who the caller was. “Hey there, honeybunch! How was your day? Good! I’m doing great, but not as great without you though!”

“Oh my God,” she mumbled, rolling her eyes. She couldn’t help but chuckle under her hand. It was funny how close and comfortable Usopp and his wife, Kaya, were. Whenever they see each other after work, they hug and kiss like they've been gone for a decade. And their conversations on the phone were too adorable to ignore.

Usopp glanced at his laughing colleague and shot her a frown of his own.

“Alright, honey. I'll see you later at home,” he promised. “Okay, bye. I love you. Tell the kids I love them. Bye.”

After hanging up, Usopp crossed his eyes over to Nami, who was still laughing at their convo. She removed her hand from her mouth and raised an eyebrow.

“Hey there, honeybunch! How was your day?” She imitated playfully, almost laughing when Usopp shook his head as he pursed his lips.

“Hey, don't judge me and my conversation with my wife!” He defended, unable to control his own laughter.

“I’m not judging. It’s just… it was cute. You’re like a totally different person when you talk to your wife.”

“Well of course I am! She’s my wife!”

Nami smiled in delight.

“She deserves to know how much I love her,” he said, using a finger as a gesture. “Even if we have seconds to live, I'll tell her as many times as I can.”

“You sound like a helpless lover boy,” Nami insulted.

“Well, maybe I am.”

Nami giggled at his comeback. She knew that he meant it. They were meant to be together, Usopp and Kaya. Although, she hadn't known them for as long as Sanji has, who introduced them to her, but she was able to sense their chemistry. They had always stuck together like glue. Usopp’s wife never looked away from him, and he never did as well. The bond that they shared was pure and lovely.

She and Sanji enjoyed hanging out with them. They even went on several double dates. Simple ones like bowling, eating out, carnivals, walking on beaches, downing shots at pubs. They've also tried going extreme and unique. Paintballing, cliff jumping, riding on ATVS, and target practicing with real guns, which Usopp had surprising potential with. Sanji asked him why he didn't sign up for the police academy, but Usopp’s response was he didn't plan on dying before marrying Kaya.

The precious memory of Usopp popping the question to Kaya at the gun shop made her grin. It wasn't the best place for a proposal, but it was beautiful. Kaya was glowing with the biggest smile Nami had ever seen, and she immediately said yes. Nami felt proud of both of them. She still believed that Usopp’s bravery inspired Sanji to propose too, which he denied every time.

Those were good times, Nami thought. Then it faltered. She can't seem to stop thinking about Sanji. She knew that he was trying to help her, but she wasn't ready. Not yet.

“What's wrong?” Usopp questioned, watching her look down on the table. “Nami?”

Nami shook her head, keeping her averted away. “It's nothing. It's just… Sanji and I...”

"Did something happen between you two?"

“It's hard to explain."

Nami scratched the top of her head. She didn't feel comfortable with talking about her personal issues with anyone, even with her friends and loved ones. It was her business and hers alone. 

"Did you two have an argument?" He asked softly, tilting his head down. 

"No, it wasn't like that at all." She shook her head before taking another pause, staring hard at the table.

"Then what was it? You're making it hard to understand Nami," Usopp stated, leaning back on his chair and placing his knuckles on his cheek. He actually knew what she was talking about.

Sanji told him the entire story about the nightmares and late-at-night wake-ups. Naturally, he became worried about her too. He did notice that she wasn't acting like herself these past several days in school. Usually in the teacher's lounge, she would make small conversations with her coworkers and peers, but she had been seriously quiet, like she didn't want to speak to anyone. She sat alone in one of the tables with her coffee in hand and left to attend class, just like that 

After he learned about the surprising outburst, he realized that this was serious.

Sanji warned him to keep his mouth zipped about him knowing too. He hoped that Sanji has a plan to fix this because this new behavior of Nami's was scaring him. 

He watched Nami interlock with her own hands as she held them tight. Something was definitely on her mind. He wondered if he can try to help his friend, but by the looks of it, he was in no great position than Sanji. 

“Hey, it's okay.” Usopp reached out to pat her hands. “You don't have to tell me if you don't to."

Nami exhaled, relieved that he was fine with her not telling. 

“Are you going to tell him what happened today in class?" His question made her flick her head right up. He figured that she would react like that. 

"I... I don't..." She mumbled, troubled.

"Listen, I can see that this is something personal to you, but you should trust Sanji with matters like these," he advised, but Nami shook her head.

“Usopp, you don't understand-”

“What is it that I don't undertsand?” He inquired seriously. "Are you afraid of telling him something?" 

“I..." Nami's voice trailed off as she tried to look for the right words to explain without saying too much. "Yes. I'm afraid that... he'll run away from me.”

“Sanji? Running away?” Usopp scoffed, like it was the most bizarre thing he heard. “Why would he do that? There's no way. Do you have any idea how in love that guy was when you moved here?”

Nami blinked, confused as to why he brought that up. “Um, sort of. Why?”

“He was in love with you, I mean in love with you,” he exasperated, rolling his eyes as he recalled the old days. “Head over heels, no doubt about it. Everyday was a story about you, and he wouldn't shut up. He would explain to me how beautiful you looked in your job uniform at his favorite coffee shop, or he would complain to me how much he didn't get to see you at the coffee shop on your days off. I keep telling him, ‘yeah, I know. I get it. You like her, so what? Ask her out or something, you dumb fanboy.’”

Nami snickered at the story. Sanji was a bit lovestruck, but she didn't know about those exact details.

“Don't laugh, it's all true,” Usopp said, but his own chuckle betrayed him. “He was crazy about you. He was also pretty nervous on the day he asked you out for your first date. I got him to do it in case you didn't know.”

“Really?” She said in disbelief. “Is that so?”

“Yep, really,” he confirmed. “I don't know about me being the helpless lover boy, but he certainly fit the definition. Just search him up and you'll find a picture of him with his name and everything.”

“Maybe there is one.”

Usopp nodded in answer.

“Usopp, can I ask you something?” She inquired.

“Sure, what is it?”

Nami felt hesitant at first, but she asked anyway. “How did you know that Kaya was the one?” Usopp blinked. “The one for you, I mean.”

“How did I know?” He held his chin for a moment, before he made a grin. “She laughs at my jokes.”

Nami knitted her eyebrows, somehow interested into this new piece of news.

“Yep, she would laugh at all of them. Most of them were very cliche, but that wasn't the point. She still laughed,” he said, picturing his cheerful wife in his head. Anyone would fall for her smile.

“I wasn't the best looking guy in high school, but Kaya, she was the only woman who saw the beauty in me. Which I thought was completely crazy to be honest,” he admitted. “I asked myself every day, what kind of woman is crazy enough to fall for a goofy dork like me? I mean, look at this honker on my face.” He poked his nose to prove a point.

Nami giggled, understanding him. 

“Just so you know, we're not the perfect couple you think we are. We've got our ups and downs too. In fact, every couple should have them.” He brought his mug to his mouth and sipped, before he set it down. “The biggest one I could think of was the time her parents died in a car accident when we were still in high school.”

He bent his head down, staring at his mug. Nami blinked. She too looked down. Sanji told her the story before. She had no idea that Kaya lost her parents because Kaya was so calm and collected. It scared her how much a smile can hide.

“I never saw her so devastated and heartbroken like that, ever. I was the only person she had, the only person that she can rely on. She wanted me to look after her, to take her of her, to protect her. And she wanted to do the same thing for me.”

Usopp perked his cheek up and smiled softly. A small tear was about to spill out of his eye, but he hummed in question. Nami held both of his hands in hers.

“You're a good man Usopp, and Kaya is a lucky woman,” she said truthfully. “I don't think Kaya could wish for more. You're everything she needs.”

Usopp grinned, glad to hear Nami say that. “Thanks, Nami. You're a good person too. And you better believe that running away is the last thing on Sanji's mind, all right?”

Nami knew that if Usopp was standing up for Sanji, she married the right man.

“You should talk to him,” he said, bringing the topic back into their conversation. “I think it's, better if you do. When he gets home tonight, you bring it up.”

Nami sighed, unsure if she can continue to argue. “Alright, I'll try.”

Usopp smiled. “Good.”

“Thanks, Usopp. I really enjoyed talking to you.”

“No problem, Nami. When there's a friend in need, you know who's coming!” He bumped his chest as a salute. “And plus, if Sanji does decide to run away, I'll be the one to catch him and bring him back.”

Nami blushed, looking down. “Again, thank you.”

“My pleasure.” Usopp’s alarm in his phone went off. “Whoops! Looks like my break is over. Better get back to class. Don't want those kids to slack off on me.”

“Okay, bye Usopp.” She waved at him as he stood up to take his leave.

“See you later!”

Usopp exited out the teacher's lounge to his classroom in the hallway. But he stopped along the way. He looked back to the room.  

“Oh boy,” he sighed. He grabbed for his phone and searched for a familiar contact.

I'm sorry, Nami. I hope you can forgive me.

Chapter Text

Earlier in the day

“Alright you meatheads, here’s what going down in this brief session. I’ve gathered you all here today to discuss about the occurring incidents of robberies and muggings on the streets these past few weeks.”

“Ugh! This isn’t news to us. Right, Sanji?” Vi said. She turned to her partner seated beside her in question. “Sanji?”

Sanji had his eyes narrowed at the table with his hands clasped together. The chief, Monkey D. Garp, described about the past incidents and what they can do to prevent them, but Sanji ignored the speech. He couldn't stop contemplating about his wife. Although, he had told Vi and himself not to bring Nami up in any conversation, but his worries for her didn’t seem to vanish. He wished to know what happened in her dreams and what it was that she was afraid of. Could she be hiding something from him? She wouldn’t have secrets now, would she?

Nami won’t talk to him about her issues, and her refusal sort of hurts him to the point where she probably didn’t trust him. Sanji grimaced at the thought. He needed to know what came over her and why she won't be honest with him. All of these questions bounced inside of his head, giving him a major headache.

Nami… Sanji’s heart felt heavy in his chest. His hand balled into a fist. Vi caught him in the act, concerned for her partner.

“Ah!” Sanji yelped for a split second from a piece of chalk colliding into his left eye. He rubbed his eye as he gritted his teeth “Ow…”

“I'd like to have all eyes on me when I'm talking,” Garp fumed at the grimacing blond in the first table on his left side. “so ya better pay attention to me next time boy, because I don't tolerate slacking off from nobody.”

“Well joke's on you because I happen to be blind in one eye,” Sanji growled, blinking to fix his vision. Several of his colleagues whistled in surprise, and some of them turned away.

“Then use your good eye,” Garp said, waving his hand a gesture. Sanji glared daggers at him.

“I would if you hadn't flung a fucking chalk at me!”

Garp stepped around the podium to Sanji’s and Vi’s table. “Are you arguing with me?”

“Maybe I am.” Sanji shot straight up from his chair and scowled at the chief. Everyone in the room gasped as they jumped on their seats. One of them raised an eyebrow in interest.

“Now this is exciting,” the interested man, Roronoa Zoro, said to his partner, Tashigi. He earned an outraged frown from her as he smirked. Sanji and the chief were directly in each other's faces, twisting their expressions to intimidate the other.

“You better watch your mouth,” Garp warned. “I can get you into a lot of trouble.”

“I've been in trouble every day, risking my life for sorry excuses like you.”

A knock on the door interrupted their face off. A short man, Koby entered the room and paused. He felt uneasy about the atmosphere, until he finally spoke.

“U-um, sir,” he stuttered. “Th-there's a phone call waiting for you in your office.”

“I'll be right there.”

Koby nodded and closed the door. Garp turned back to give Sanji the stink eye, but Sanji merely returned a glance.

“I've got more important things to take care of. Consider this as your luck.” He brushed by Sanji and exited out of room. “You're all dismissed.”

“Prick,” Sanji cursed, seating himself on his chair.

“Well, that clears up the session, let's go.” Zoro slapped his table and rose out of the chair, including everyone else. Some of them expressed that they didn't know if Sanji was brave or stupid for speaking to the chief like a regular. He had his second thoughts right after, finally realizing that what he did was beyond foolish.

Sanji flinched by a smack of a hand. He turned to his partner and she threw her arms up.

“What the hell is wrong with you?!” She shouted. “You can't talk to the chief like that!”

“Yeah, I know, but I-”

“Seriously Sanji, what is going on with you? You haven't been acting like yourself lately, and that's getting me more and more concerned about you,” she confessed, catching Sanji off guard.

“What are you talking about?” He questioned, puzzled. Has he been acting out of character?

“Everyday, when I arrive at your house and as soon as I see you, you look like a mess,” she admitted. Sanji sighed as he slumped in his chair. “You’re exhausted and you haven't been starting up a conversation in the car like you always do. The bags underneath your eyes are getting darker, your face is paler than usual, I can’t remember the last time you smell decent, and you have a stain on your shirt!”

“God damn it..!” Sanji banged his fist on the table, startling Vi. Cooling off, he took a deep breath. Vi placed a hand on his shoulder.

“It's about Nami, you were thinking about her, weren't you?” She said. “Is it that bad?”

“It's bad enough already,” he grumbled.

“What is the problem anyway?” She removed her hand and sat up straight. Sanji held the bridge of his nose. He had already told Usopp about Nami. He trusted Vi just as much.

“She's hasn't been sleeping well,” he said lowly. “She's been getting nightmares, and she won't talk to me about them.”

“That's it? I thought she was ill or something?”

“Vi, you don't understand. It's not that simple.” Sanji shook his head to prove that he wasn’t kidding around. Vi blinked, a bit surprised to say the least. She motioned for him to continue. “I just don’t know why she wouldn’t tell me. She cries in her sleep sometimes, and she also screams every now and then. When I look at her, she’s got terror all over her face. It’s like she saw something in her dreams that scared her to the point she can’t speak to me properly.”

Vi widened her eyes, speechless.

“I’ve tried so many times, but she wouldn’t say a single word. I’m worried that if this keeps up, she might break down…”

“I think I know what’s up,” Vi proclaimed, but mentally, she was unsure. Sanji turned to her attentively. “Here’s something you probably don’t know about women. We go through a lot of battles in our heads, and sometimes we don’t want the people we care about to get involved. We just think it’s better for us to take care of problems on our own. I don’t know exactly what’s going on with your wife, but maybe she just doesn’t want you in her mess.”

“Are you saying that Nami is trying to protect me something I don’t know about?” He asked, appalled.

Vi shrugged her shoulders. “Probably, that's what it seems like.”

“What kind of battles would they be? Can you name some for me?”

“Oh, they could be anything. They could be something bizarre to irrational.” Vi held up her hands to count down the battles. “Family, friends, your job, your school, and things like anxiety, insecurities, a traumatic experience, a mental illness, a-”

“Wait,” he interrupted, halting her with a hand gesture. “Repeat that again.”

“Mental illness?”

“No, before that.”

Vi furrowed her eyebrows. “Traumatic experience?”

“Yeah, that one.” Sanji nodded. Vi tilted her head to the side.

“Why? Could that be it?”

“I don’t know exactly. She’s didn't explain much about her past. All I know is where she was born and raised, and who her family was.” Sanji had a click in mind. “The only traumatic experience I can think of is the death of her mother. She died from lung cancer when Nami was sixteen, and that’s why she’s against smoking.”

“When was the last time you smoked a cigarette,” Vi asked out of nowhere.

“I don't know, I haven’t smoked in years.” Vi crossed her arms. “Okay, less than a year,” he admitted. “I completely stopped when Kimi came. Don’t tell Nami, please.”

“She doesn’t know?” With that question, Sanji rolled his eyes. “Looks like she’s not the only one with secrets.”

“Cut me some slack, I had my reasons. It was difficult to give that habit up. I only started because I didn't like to starve.

Vi peered down as she recalled Sanji telling her the story of his former home in another country. She decided not to bring it up because that would only make Sanji feel even worse than he was.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket. She and Sanji snapped in unison. Vi pulled out her and swiped the screen.

“Ah, shit. We gotta go. Our shift just started, and we didn't have breakfast.” Vi slid her phone back in her pocket and stood up from her seat. “We can finish this in the car and grab some food on the way. Coming?”

“Yeah, I'm coming.”

He and Vi approached the exit and caught the chief sipping a cup of coffee by the door. Vi nodded to him in salute, but Sanji spared a one second glance and followed Vi.

Remembering his foolish mistake, Sanji paused in the middle of the boisterous lobby. He bit the inside of his cheek and craned his neck up, before he sighed. “Shit.”

He spun around and rushed back to where the old chief stood. He couldn't believe that he was doing this.

“Chief,” he called, but the old buff man turned his face away, still sipping his coffee. Sanji rolled his eyes. “Chief.”

He ignored him again, heavily slurping on the mug to mute out Sanji's voice.

“Look, I know you're not type of guy who believes in forgiveness, so I won't be asking for it.” The last part caught the chief's attention as he took a small glimpse at the blond man. “I want to… apologize for my behavior earlier. I was out of line, you didn't deserve it, I was a complete asshole, and-”

“Just stop it, will ya?” The chief groaned, rubbing his head. “Now you're making me feel sorry for ya.”

Sanji knitted his eyebrows together, frowning at the chief's. The chief faced Sanji, before he drank his coffee again.

“I'm not mad at ya, and don't ever apologize to me again,” he demanded. “It was weak.”

“Yes sir.”

“And don't let it happen again, okay?”

Sanji nodded. “Got it.”

“Alright, you take care now.” The chief and Sanji took their leaves, but then the old man called him. “Oh, and Sanji?”

Sanji looked over his shoulder and saw the chief lift his mug in the air.

“Take good care of your wife.”

Sanji widened his eyes. He pressed his lips together and bowed. “Will do, sir.”

******

“I hope I didn't miss anything,” Vi chuckled as Sanji departed from the police station. She was leaning on her car door as if she waited the whole time, but Sanji knew that she heard everything.

He shrugged one shoulder. “Nah, it was nothing.”

“Sure it was.”

Sanji wrenched his neck to another cop car parked behind Vi’s. The one man he despised more than the chief on the force was none other that the green-haired alcoholic, his arch-rival from the police academy, Roronoa Zoro. He stood next his car and dug through a black backpack he always carried around.

Sanji sent an icy look at the man. “You were listening too?”

“I didn't just listen, I saw with my own two eyes,” he said, pointing at his face with two fingers. “Oh, sorry for talking about eyes. Both of mine work thankfully.”

“Shut up! It's your fault that I lost sight in my eye!” Sanji yelled, before Zoro scoffed.

“My fault?! You're the one who started that fight with those morons! If you hadn't gotten riled up so easily by a harmless insult, then maybe you would've kept your eye. Quit whining, you're not the only one who earned scars that night.”

“Whatever, at least you got scars than losing one of your senses. Don't ever listen to my conversations with anyone, you got that?”

“Why the hell do you even care if I listen?”

“Knowing you, I wouldn't hear the end of it.”

“Pfft, you don't know me.” Zoro pulled out a silver flask and removed the lid, before downing the liquid out of it.

Sanji opened his mouth in outrage, and fumed. “Are you serious right now?! You're drinking before your shift?!”

“Spare me the lectures! I'm a free man, and I don't need advice from you, or anyone.”

“That's it, I'm done hearing that damn voice of yours,” Sanji snarled, before he storms towards him. Zoro brought his arms in intimidation, but then a loud, obnoxious voice startled them.

“Roronoa!” Zoro's partner, Tashigi marched out of the police station and glared daggers at him. “Are you drinking whiskey again?!”

“Oh crap,” Zoro sighed, hanging his head back. “Not this again.”

“You were about to violate a crucial law of the state with your irresponsibility of consuming alcohol!” She lectured, before she grabbed his ear. He yelped in response. “I won't tolerate your foolish, mediocre drinking before driving in the city. I'm going to have to send you to the chief, and hear what he has to say about this. Come with me!”

“Ow, ow, jeez! Easy on the ear- Ow!” Zoro hopped on one foot and yelped at the same time as Tashigi tugged on his ear to the station. “Hey! I thought you were my partner!”

“My position as your partner won't justify your actions!” She shouted as she opened the entrance door and pulled Zoro inside. “So I hope you learned a valuable lesson today!”

The door slammed shut behind them. Sanji raised his eyebrows, impressed at Tashigi in handling that drinking fool. He heard Vi whistle, also impressed.

“Serves him right,” she said, grinning. “But, you have to admit, it must be torture having someone like Tashigi as a partner. I can't imagine sitting in a car alone with her.”

“Actually, I feel bad for Tashigi,” Sanji said as a matter of fact. “She's got the muscled-headed bastard to deal with, and he's a lot worse than her.”

“That's you speaking from experience, right?”

“Yep.”

Vi started the car and Sanji hopped inside, before they sped off into the city.

******

They've been on the streets of the city for a few hours. No serious crimes have occurred lately in the morning, but that didn't mean there were no idiots and scumbags to take care of.

Sanji crushed a pervert’s phone for taking an upskirt photo at a food stood. He asked him how would he react if another man took an upskirt of his mother, sister, aunt, niece, or grandmother. The man was silent after that. Sanji advised the man to never pull that sort of crap like the woman is a display for his entertainment, or else he’ll make him wish he had never met the officer.

Vi pulled a car for speeding higher than 35. The driver tried to argue that Vi and Sanji should be doing better things than stopping cars like actually catch real criminals. Vi asked the driver if he had advised his plumber how to fix the pipes, or his mechanic how to work the brakes of the car. The driver had nothing else to say. Vi gave her word of advice to never tell her or her partner how to do their job. Then a speeding ticket was written.

Whenever they decide to take a stroll on the sidewalk for air, most of the citizens would greet friendly hellos to them. Knowing the two cops, they didn't plan on making any trouble. Vi and Sanji knew that they were quite popular in the city, but they brush it off like it was no big deal to them. All they could say was that they were outside to do their job. Sometimes, they'd earn multiple stares and gazes, mostly from the women who had their eyes on Sanji. Vi gave him the nickname as the “Eye Candy” in the pair.

“No, I am not the ‘Eye Candy,’” he emphasized in denial.

“Are you sure about that?” Vi glanced from the road to Sanji and wiggled her eyebrows. “You earned many puppy eyes today, and most of them were from teenage girls and married women. They've asked me before if you were seeing anyone, or if you plan on leaving your wife for someone new.”

“What? That's absurd.”

“I'm not the one saying this,” she defended. “Don't worry, I've told them to back off and that you're a happily married man.”

“Thanks,” he said, looking out the window. “I guess that makes us even now.”

“Why's that?”

“I got rid of guys sniffing you around. It would explain why men on the streets walked away from us with their tails tucked between their legs.”

Vi scoffed and laughed like Sanji told a joke. “You think men have stopped bothering me because of you? You must be out of your damn mind.”

“Let me guess, you knocked some sense into them?”

“Even better.” Vi smirked wildly. “I kicked all of their asses and made them wet themselves.”

Sanji chuckled as he shook his head. “Oh, Vi. You never cease to surprise me.”

Vi shrugged her shoulder. The atmosphere went silent as they drove through the city. But Sanji broke the silence by sighing loudly. Vi noticed his change of attitude and asked.

“Nami, huh?” Sanji nodded.

“Yeah.” He leaned his head on the palm of his hand, his hair brushing through his fingers. “I just want to know what it is that she's hiding and why she doesn't want me to know.”

“Did she leave a clue? I mean, is there anything that she's done or said that was out of the ordinary?”

“Well, from last night, she ran to the nursery's room to check on Kimi, like her life depended on it.”

Vi rolled her eyes. “Okay, I think all mothers would be worried their baby. Anything else?”

“Uh…” Sanji looked up to the roof of the car to think of other clues. Then his face suddenly turned red. He peered down to the chair he sat on.

“What?” Vi asked, curiously. Sanji shook his head.

“I-It’s nothing,” Sanji stuttered, nervous to say any more.

“There is something, what did she do?”

“I'd rather not say it. It's kind of personal.”

Vi sighed in exasperation. “I am trying to help you, and now you're keeping secrets from me? My god, you and Nami with your secrets. You guys need to come clean with each other. There shouldn't be any secrets between you two. No, in any type of relationship. If there are secrets, then there’s no trust. If there’s not trust, then you have nothing. You need to keep that in mind, Sanji.”

“I know, you're right. It's time we finally do that.” Sanji’s phone vibrated in his pocket, catching both of their attentions.

“Who's that?” Vi asked, staring at the bright screen through his pants.

“I don't…” Sanji checked the ID on the screen as he pulled out his phone. “It's Usopp.”

“Your best friend with the big nose?”

“My only friend with the big nose. Hello?” Sanji answered the call and brought the phone to his ear. “Hey Usopp. Yeah, I'm fine, how are you? Good, good, so what's up?” Sanji furrowed his eyebrows. “What happened? Nami?” Vi turned to Sanji's direction. He widened his eyes as he straightened himself on his seat. “She did what?!”

“What's wrong?” Vi asked quickly, but Sanji silenced her with a finger over his lips.

“Where is she? Is she alright? Okay… Yeah, I'm worried about her too. Thanks Usopp, I'm glad you called. Yeah, I know, I'll take care of it. Okay, bye.”

Sanji hung up and pressed his phone on his mouth. Vi attempted to ask what was wrong, but he shook his head as answer to not say anything. A long moment swept in. Then Sanji dropped his phone on his lap and rubbed his eyes.

“It happened again,” he mumbled. “She freaked out. This time, she wasn't asleep.”

Chapter Text

Water boiled in a tall metal pot on a heated stove. Long, lasagna pieces dropped in the pot as steam blew out. A medium sized pan had ground beef sizzling, wafting a heavenly scent. On the island counter, Nami got her hands dirty will the cheese part of the lasagna.

“Hm..?” Her phone on the island buzzed, in alarm of a notification. She pressed the button and read a short text from Sanji.

I'll be home in 45 minutes.

Nami smiled at the text from Sanji. She opened up the app with a swipe and tapped on the keyboard to reply back.

Okay, stay safe out there.

After she hit send, she resumed making the cheese. She left the university on an early schedule due to the classes that she teaches at different times. Today, her last lecture ended at 3:45pm. She had her enough time to pick up Kimi from daycare and prepare dinner. She changed to wear a t-shirt and sweatpants, before she hit the the kitchen to get food started. Sanji usually did the cooking every time he came home first from his earlier shifts. His father was a master chef and an owner of an exquisite restaurant. His high-class cooking skills came from the best of the best.

His father wasn't proud that his son signed up for the police academy. He believed that Sanji working at the family restaurant would've been the better choice. Honestly, Sanji enjoyed cooking, but he believed that his future was to help and protect the weak. Childhood wasn't the greatest due to being a victim of bullying. Lucky for him, his father taught him how to defend himself. Usopp was another victim. Sanji stood up for him, and soon, they became inseparable friends. Nami remembered him telling his back story when they dated. She found it quite painful at first, but then it came out sweet in the end.

Sanji had asked her why she majored in Psychology, but her answer was that she simply adored the subject.

“They look done,” Nami claimed, stirring the boiling pot of water and lasagna pieces. She carefully lifted the pot and emptied out the boiling water into bowl with holes. “Dinner should be ready before Sanji comes home. I hope I can finish it on time.”

The meat came out well done, and the pasta boiled to a soft texture. Nami prepared everything in a glass baking dish by making layers of cheese, meat and tomato sauce. She hummed a tune as she slid the glass into the oven, closed the door and set a timer.

“Alright, that should do it.” Nami wiped her hands together and turned to the living room where her daughter was. Kimi was in a baby walker, playing with the dangling toys while watching kid shows. “What’s my munchkin doing?” Nami cooed, shuffling towards her daughter. “Had fun at daycare?”

Kimi intended to grab a couple of the dangling toys, but they would slip out of her short fingers. Nami chuckled and pecked her daughter’s partially bald head. She could tell that Kimi’s hair will come out red soon, just like hers. She had her father's blue eyes, which Nami adored.  

“Ready to see daddy later?” Nami asked Kimi, even though she knew that the baby can't talk yet. “Huh, you ready to see daddy?”

Kimi merely hummed, and Nami took that as a yes.

“Alright, let's see what's in the fridge for you to eat. You must be hungry now.” Nami tucked her hands in Kimi’s underarms and hoisted her out of the baby walker. “Or do you wanna wait for daddy? No? Didn't think so.”

Nami followed a mango puree recipe that Sanji made specifically for the baby. Side dishes were also prepared to go with the lasagna. She rinsed and cut romaine lettuce for salad, toasted garlic bread, and brought out red wine. She peeled, deseeded, and mashed a mashed a mango fruit until it was smooth and soft for Kimi. The recipe included vanilla yogurt to give that creamy and sweet taste. Her hands were full, but she didn't lose focus.

“How does it taste? Good, right?” Nami asked, feeding Kimi with a tiny spoonful of mango puree. Kimi’s moved her mouth up and down as she slowly swallowed the puree. Nami smiled at how adorable Kimi looked, before she spooned more from a small, red bowl.

The front door suddenly opened. Nami spun her head, startled. Heavy shoes stepped on the floor and came in a tall man in blue.

“Oh, hey hon’!” Nami called her husband as he closed the door and locked it. He glanced over his shoulder as Nami grinned. “Welcome home.”

“Hey,” he mumbled, turning back to the door to unhook the keys. Nami furrowed her eyebrows. She wondered why he didn't sound enthusiastic like he usually did.

Sanji hung the keys on a rack near the front door and walked towards the kitchen with a hand on his eye.

Standing up, Nami asked him, “are you okay?”

“Yeah, I'm fine. Just had a long day at work,” he answered lowly. “Um.., how are you?”

“I'm fine. Thanks for asking.”  

Sanji had a skeptical look on his face, but he nodded it off. “Okay.”

“...Um, can you help me set up the table?” She asked, gesturing to the small table next to the island.

“Yeah, of course,” he replied before he spotted Kimi in her high chair. He pulled on a smile and pecked her on the head. “How's my little girl?”

“...” Nami stared at Sanji being affectionate to their daughter. She peered down shortly and went to the stove. Sanji caught her eye. He slid her way to wrap one arm around her waist and pull her in for a three-second kiss on the lips. “Mm..?” She hummed, blinking a couple of times.

“Don't think I forgot about you,” he said.

The table was set up with plates and glasses for two and the lasagna and side dishes were all done.

“So how was work?” Nami asked the first question, cutting her lasagna to a smaller piece. “Anything new today?”

“No, not really. It was like any other day,” he proclaimed. He bit on a garlic bread. “Actually, the chief at the station threw a piece of chalk in my eye.”

Nami furrowed her eyebrows and chuckled. “Why? What did you do?”

“I wasn't paying attention during the session, so I got him a little mad for that.”

“Were you distracted?”

Sanji tightened his lips as he looked down. Nami noticed his silence. “Uh… You know what, enough about me. How was your day at work?”

Nami blinked and decided to go along. She shrugged her shoulder and cut more pieces. “Oh, you know. The usual. I teach and they listen. Usopp and I were talking in the teacher's lounge and he told me that he was the one who made you ask me out on our first date.”

“Traitor…” He grumbled, frowning at nothing. Nami chuckled. “That's a lie. I did it all on my own.”

“I don't know,” she teased. “The way he explained it sounded more accurate to me.”

“So you're gonna believe the guy with the big nose over me?”

“What does his nose have to do with anything?”

“He’s a liar, that's what it means.”

Nami laughed, shaking her head. Sanji briefly smiled, but as much as he liked to see his wife in a good mood, his face fell. He asked another question. “Anything else happened while you were working?”

“Um, mostly talking to Usopp I would say,” she said, biting on a cut up piece of lasagna. “His wife called and I heard how cute they talked on the phone. You should've seen how Usopp changed his voice and-”

A fork clanged on Sanji's plate abruptly. Nami flinched immediately after. She glanced to Sanji and saw him rub his temples, eyes and nose flaring up.

“Sanji? Something wrong?” She asked, concerned about this sudden act, and why he acted strange when he came home. Judging by his posture, he seemed to be bothered by something. He had his eyes turned away, as in he didn't want show too much of the hard glare on his face. 

“Why aren't you telling me the truth?” He murmured, sounding frustrated by the low tone in his voice.

Her eyebrows drew in as she blinked. “The truth? What are you talking about?”

He spun to face her, catching her off guard. “You know what I'm talking about. Usopp called me today, this afternoon.” Nami became confused as to why he brought up their friend. Sanji continued, “and he told me what really happened. In one of your lectures, you scared all the students because they didn't expect a professor to scream her head off. Was it another one of those dreams you've been getting?”

“Usopp..?” Nami trailed off, looking away from Sanji.

“So you weren’t planning on telling me. Don't put this on Usopp. He did what I told him to do.” Nami widened her eyes and questioned what he meant. “He knows about the nightmares. I made him call me if something happens at work, and it looks to me that those dreams can occur even when you're awake.

“Nami, look at me,” he demanded, but she didn't think that she could, after hearing everything that came out of his mouth. “What's going on, and why do these nightmares keep coming? They're tearing you apart, and I can clearly see the damage. What is it about these dreams that's making you hide them from me, and why won't you tell me? Nami, you gotta talk to me of what's been scaring you, or else you might-”

“WILL YOU STOP, OKAY?! JUST STOP!” Nami yelled, shocking Sanji to the point he finally stopped talking. She took a few deep breaths. “I didn't ask for this, for the dreams and for you to bombard me with all your questions! If you believe that you have a good eye, then can you clearly see that I don't want to talk about my damn dreams?! I can't push myself to do everything you ask! I'm just not ready to say what's been going on in my mind, and why can't you respect that?!” Sanji choked on his own breath. “Just drop it, please! And… shut up!”

The atmosphere became uncomfortably silent for the two of them. Nami had her face in her hands, and Sanji stared at his plate. Realization dawning on her, Nami lifted her head and widened her eyes. She saw Sanji's downcast and cursed herself.

“Sanji, I…” She trailed, having a hard time finding her words. “I'm s- I didn't mean to-”

“No, no. I get it,” he said, without sparing her a glance. “You don't want to talk, and I should be the one understanding that.” Sanji ate the last of his food with one forkful and downed his wine glass. Then he sat up from his seat and brought his plate and glass to the sink, without a word. Nami followed him. He placed both hands down near the sink, and stayed quiet for a moment, until he walked off to the master bedroom. “I'll get out of your hair. Thanks for dinner, it was delicious.”

The door to their bedroom closed behind him, beating Nami before she could say anything to stop him. She scrunched her eyelids in and buried her face in her hands again.

Nami covered the rest of dinner in plastic wrap and placed them in the fridge as leftovers. Kimi fell asleep in her chair, so Nami took her to the nursery room and put her in the crib. Sanji stayed in the room by himself for ten minutes. Nami grew concerned for him. Should she say something, she thought. But what?

Nami cleaned the kitchen to kill time and gave Sanji his space. She regretted raising her voice at her husband. She should've known better than to lash out. 

Another ten minutes flew by. Sanji still didn't come out of the room. That would mean something, like he won't be speaking to her in a long while. Nami took a long inhale, and she grabbed the knob of the bedroom door.

The door creaked silently as Nami pushed it open. She saw Sanji standing next to the bed with his back facing her, removing gear off his clothes. He must have cooled down, before he decided to end the night. Nami held her breath, unsure of what to say.

Sanji glanced over his shoulder, but then he turned back to unbutton his shirt.

Catching that turn away, Nami pressed her lips together. “San-”

“Nami,” he interrupted, causing her to blink. “Do you remember when we shared our vows on our wedding day? We would tell each other everything, no matter how ugly they can be? So why is it that I can't see your honesty?”

Nami gasped. Was her dishonesty hurting him that bad? Now she understood. 

Suddenly, the dream she had the other night flashed in her head. The blood on her hands, the cries that she made, and the agony she felt in her heart. Nami grit her teeth, before she sprinted and embraced him from behind, surprising him.

She dug her face into his upper back and squeezed his waist with her arms wrapped around. Sanji heard an audible muffle on his shirt, as in she was beginning to whimper. Glancing over his shoulder, Sanji felt Nami rub her face on his back and tighten her hold even more.

“Nami..?” He said.

“I'm sorry…” her voice shuddered. “I shouldn't have said those things. I didn't mean to raise my voice, honest to God. I should've known better that all you were trying to do is help me, and I swatted you away like you were a fly. I'm so sorry Sanji… I just…” The dream replayed in Nami’s head again, causing her to tear up. “I just don't want to lose you… or our little girl…”

Sanji blinked before he furrowed his eyebrows. Then he spun in her arms to face her. “Wait, what?” Nami untangled him, leaving her arms on his waist. “What did you say?”

Nami sniffled as she wiped her eyes.

“The other night, in my dream… I watched you die… right there, on the bed.” She gestured to their bed where Sanji slept on. He followed with a curious look. “And Kimi… she vanished into thin air… It felt so realistic... I thought I lost everything in my dream… I don't want my family taken from me..!”

Nami leaped and wrapped her arms around Sanji’s neck. Sanji, surprised again, placed his hands on her back as she wept on his shoulder. Warms tears glided down her cheeks, her eyes scrunched and her lips sucked on her teeth to hold in a loud cry.

“I don't want that… so please, don't leave me…”

Sanji froze. He certainly didn't expect any of this. Why didn't he keep his mouth shut, he asked himself. He didn't want to see her cry this painfully. Why did he have to be so selfish in digging into her dreams for answers? I'm an idiot.

Sanji’s eyes softened, before they closed. He caressed Nami on her back, and he smiled.

“Who said I was going anywhere?” He said. Nami paused. “Me leaving you? That's out of the question a hundred percent. What you saw in your dream is never gonna happen. You and Kimi are the best things that's ever happened to me, and I'll do everything in my power to live for you two. It's a promise I'll keep, I am not going anywhere. You know that, right?”

“..!” Nami clamped a hand on her mouth. She nodded slowly, before laid her head on his shoulder. “I love you so much…”

“I love you too.” Sanji pet Nami’s long red hair. “Don't cry anymore.”

“O-kay.” Nami set her heels down from tiptoeing to Sanji's height. “Sorry, I hate it when I cry.”

As Nami wiped the tears from her eyes, Sanji cupped her face with both hands and pulled her up for a sweet kiss. They lasted about seven to eight seconds. Then they pressed their foreheads together, letting themselves ease down to a calm state. But Sanji couldn't help his curiosity.

“Nami?” He mumbled. “I hope you don't mind me asking, and you can say no if you want, but… how did I die exactly?”

Nami sighed as she took a short step back. He did ask nicely, so might as well be honest. “You were slashed across the throat in your sleep.” Sanji widened his eyes. “It was pointless for me to stop the bleeding because you were already dead when I found you.”

“Oh…” Sanji peered down, unable to make a good reply. “That's... pretty graphic. What about Kimi?”

Nami shook her head. “She disappeared without a trace.” Nami closed her eyes, wishing to erase that dream of losing her family.

“One last question Nami, then I'll stop. Did you see anything else in your dream?”

Nami bit her lip as she remembered. There was definitely something else, someone that she felt was there. She believed that it was someone she knew, but she had tried so many times to erase it all.

“Yeah, I did. Well, I didn't actually see him, but I felt his presence,” she proclaimed. Sanji narrowed his eyes when she said “him.” “I'm positive that I knew who he was, but you're not going to like it. Do you remember that a long time ago you asked me if I was with anyone? And I said, no. I never told you that there was someone before you.”

Before me..? Sanji was taken aback by the fact that Nami was in a relationship before they met. He was curious, but at the same time, he disliked talking about another guy with Nami. Except Usopp.

Nami looked up to the ceiling, picturing a face that she didn't want to remember.

“Someone who I thought was a lifelong dream. I was living in a teenage girl’s fantasy, falling in love and having a connection. He was different, no one I've ever met before. He made me feel like I was the luckiest girl in the world.” Nami scoffed, disgusted with herself for believing such bull. “But then, things went downhill so quickly. I didn't see the man I fell in love with anymore. All I saw was a monster. Whenever I looked into his eyes, I perceived nothing, but insanity, madness, and obsession. It was like something possessed him. And I didn't even tell you the worst part...”

Nami shifted uncomfortably on her feet. She grabbed her arms like they were sensitive and fragile. Her body shook as she faced the floor. The trauma came back to her. That time, that memory, drilled inside her head. No matter what she did, it would never go away.

“He almost killed me…”

Sanji gasped in a tremendous amount of shock. Someone had the audacity to kill her? What in the hell..?

He wanted to ask her who it was, but he promised that he wouldn't make her answer another question. That's enough. No more.

Reaching out to her, Sanji pulled Nami into a reassuring hug. “It's okay Nami. You don't have to feel scared anymore. I won't let anything happen to you.”

Nami hugged him back as she breathed in and out. “Thank you…”

I won't let anything happen to you either.

Chapter Text

Heavy boots stomped through a wide hallway. The echoes repeated one after another. The guard grimaced at the sight of the filthy hall, but the cells on either side had even filthier pieces of crap. The thought of the inmates trapped in the narrow cells made him chuckle. Serves them right for breaking laws, ingrates.

The man groaned as he remembered why he came down, lunch duty. He didn't come for these inmates. The one he had to look for was at the end of the hall, all by himself, under solitary confinement.

“Why do I have to serve food to that freak of nature?” He muttered, holding a tray of plain food. “The world would be better off without him.”

The lights in the hall blinked a few times. The guard strode further down, reaching the hollow end. There was only one cell, the door had a rectangular hole at eye level to deliver meals. Squinting his eyes, the guard saw a figure moving behind the cell door.

“Got nothing else to do, I see,” he said. “Well, better than rotting away doing nothing in this dump.”

As the guard walked closer to the cell of a certain inmate, the figure inside took in a sharp inhale of breath and pulled itself up on a ledge of a wall. He exhaled out slowly while he lowered himself. His legs were tangled to gain momentum on his pull ups and his shirtless upper body was drenched in sweat. Numbness grew on his fingers from clinging onto the ledge, which he was used to. His messy black hair clung to his head as his face dripped, but he ignored the sweat that stung his eyes. Repeating another rep, he groaned as he lifted himself up again.

This was a normal routine for the inmate. Wake up, shower, eat, workout, read, workout again, eat, and sleep. He could go for hours doing bodyweight exercises. He had to get in shape to appear strong in prison. But ninety percent of the prisoners knew that this inmate wasn't a pushover. He could make every one of them cry and scream like they've seen a massacre for the first time. He was already strong to begin with. Actually dangerous than most of the inmates, even though he didn't look like much on his first day. All the men in prison learned that they shouldn't judge a man’s strength by his size, brutally.

Working out didn't seem necessary to him, but if it could kill his time, then by all means he would do it.

Chuffing out a tough breath, he lowered himself. His back muscles stretched, including the huge tattoo of a pair of black wings running down to his tailbone. He flexed his biceps to pull himself up again, but he paused. Loud footsteps echoed near his cell. The familiar voice he heard grumbling outside made him shoot a dark glare over his shoulder.

“God, I hate this shitty job,” he muttered to himself, reaching the destined cell. He pulled out his baton from his belt and banged on the cell door. “Hey, lover boy! Food's here!” No answer came out of the cell. The guard rolled his eyes. “Hey! Didn't you hear me?! I said your-”

He widened his eyes. Somehow the cell was empty. He glanced to each side of the cell, looked up and looked down, no sign of him. “Oh shit…” Panic stunned him hard. He spun around in a heap and searched behind him if anyone noticed the inmate's disappearance. “Damn it…! I just saw him seconds ago! Where did that bastard go-”

“Boo.” The guard yelped as he tripped on his feet, falling on his hind. The tray of food clattered on the floor, but the inmate was too amused at the clumsy man. He chuckled with a smirk on his face, leaning down to the hole on the door. “Too easy.”

“...Asshole,” the guard grumbled, frowning at the sweaty inmate. He composed himself as he picked up the tray and grabbed the fallen pieces of food. A moldy sandwich, a spoiled orange, and an expired milk carton. The inmate did not like the sight of that. “Here's your damn food.” He placed the small tray in the hole of the cell door.

The inmate’s grey eyes bored down on the gross food, before he peered up to the guard.

“I'll have to pass,” he said. “Not hungry.”

The guard laughed at him, shaking his head. “Really? So I guess you don't mind me not feeding you with our one of a kind delicacy. Don't you want to eat to live, lover boy?”

“I've survived far greater things than starvation. And yes, you're right. This shit hole does have a one of a kind delicacy, for the dead. Not even dogs would eat this crap you call food.”

“Complain as much as you want, but it's all on you, lover boy. If you don't want to eat, fine. That can be arranged for you.”

“You know, you should consider keeping your voice down when you’re walking through these hallways. The walls have ears everywhere,” the inmate advised, resting his arms on the cell door. “And by what you said earlier, that the world would better off without me, it wouldn't. This world needs people of both sides, or else it'll be imbalanced. And soon, everything will crumble. How will people understand what's good without bad? And how will they know what's ugly without experiencing something beautiful?”

The guard scoffed. “Keep spouting nonsense. You think I'm scared if you hear what I say? With you under lockdown, I have the right to speak whatever's on my mind and you can't do squat!”

His smart grin faltered to a solid frown. The inmate's right hand balled into a fist as it shook.

“Oh, and let’s not forget, you can't even go back to that cute girl who you claimed to be your soulmate. She might be living her life right now, with you out of the picture. She's likely married, taking care of one or two kids, and having a normal lifestyle.” The guard smirked at the boiling inmate. “I’m sorry, did I hit a nerve, lover boy? Face it, you're never gonna have things your way if you keep this pathetic, lousy, and sad mentality of yours up. Sure, this world would be boring without boisterous crimes and what not, but it is you who needs to be scraped off, so that the world could be in balance. Don't ever give me some life advice. Like I'd ever listen to a criminal's bull shit. Have fun rotting down here.”

The guard was about to turn away from the cell, but then a hand grasped the collar of his shirt and yanked him back. He slammed hard on the cell door in surprise, his breath knocked right out of him.

“You think you know me? Huh?! You think you can walk away without me ripping your throat out?!” The inmate yelled, wrapping his tattooed fingers around the guard's neck. He pulled on the guard, so that he can get close to the ear. “Let me give you another quote, men who bark behind closed doors are the real cowards. You're lucky that this fucking thing is keeping me in here, but not for long. I'm almost there. And you'll be begging for a death wish as soon as I get out of this joint.”

The guard choked on the inmate's hold. He struggled to get his taser from his belt. As soon as he pulled it out, he pressed the button and pelted the inmate.

Gaaaahh!” The inmate screamed as he released the guard’s neck. But he wasn't the only one who felt it. The guard spazzed on the floor, having trouble breathing out of his throat.

“D-didn't think th-that one th-th-through,” he stuttered on his tongue. He carefully stood on his feet and used the door to hold him up. He saw the inmate on the floor, grasping his arm as he groaned in pain. The guard shook his head. “Crazy mother fucker.”

The inmate held his breath, burning red in the face. He sprung up off the floor and leered at the guard who began to walk off. Stomping towards the cell door, he smacked his right hand against it, causing a loud bang to go off. The guard turned around in alarm, before he laughed once.

“Keep trying lover boy! You're never gonna get to me! Go to hell you psychotic bastard!” The guard laughed as he continued walking off in the opposite direction.

“I'm already there!” The inmate shouted across the hall. The guard flipped him off. The inmate pushed himself away from the door and turned to the back wall. “Ah…” He spotted a dark red bruise on his right wrist from the taser.

Sighing it off, he grabbed his towel from the cement floor. As soon as he got up, he caught of glimpse of himself on a cracked mirror on the right wall. He stepped towards the mirror, observing his image. Tattoos displayed over most of his body. A heart with a lock on his left pec. It used to be a broken heart, but he changed it in prison, years back. A bolded word on his sculpted six pack read “forgive” in a gangster font style. Large spider webs on both elbows, two turtle doves on right tricep, praying hands with a crucifix on left arm, the phrase “love is pain” on his fingers, one letter for each, and two cursive quotes on his ribcage. On his left side, it read “beauty can be deceiving, but madness is real." On his right side, “there is always some madness in love. But there is always some reason in madness.”

He remembered the long scar on his neck. He tilted his head for a better view. It started from behind his left ear, down diagonally to his collar bone. The memory of how he received this scar came back to him. He poked his scar like it was delicate.

Shaking the memory away, the inmate turned the faucet on and splashed his face. He grabbed the sink as he took a deep breath. The water seemed to have cooled him down by the second. He looked up to the mirror. Dark bags hung under his cloudy grey eyes. He looked as though he had black eyeliner on his eyelids. His brown skin tone faded and his hair grew longer and messier. The stubble on his face grew faster than he expected and the sideburns were scruffier.

“Mgh..!” His stomach growled in agony. He clawed his abdomen as he cursed. “Crap..!”

His deprivation was kicking in. He bent down as he held in the pain in the pit of his stomach. Why didn't I just eat the damn food?!

He got back up on the sink and exhaled with a large puff. He was getting weaker. The exercises would've all been for naught if he doesn't eat something as refuel. Not only did he get hairier and paler, his face and body were getting slimmer. His cheekbones and collarbones stuck out like sore thumbs. He didn't like how his system was gradually shutting down.

He wished to taste the pastries he had a long time ago, back in high school. A small bake shop in a town he used to live in sold the best orange cakes and pies. He can't remember the flavors anymore, but he did know a girl who worked there. She would give him extras from the shop after closing time. She was friendly and collected.

Sliding his back against the wall, he slumped on the floor and hung his head back. He looked up to the ceiling, somehow in awe of something. Then he closed his eyes, drifting off to his best memory. The one time someone said the words he desperately wanted to hear.

It was morning that day. He swore that it was the most brightest day he saw. He wasn't alone to experience it.

Laying right next to him, she snoozed in peace. Her hair rested on her shoulders, barely covering her naked chest. She snuggled into the pillow of the bed, before she sighed in her sleep. She was beautiful, he thought. He couldn't keep his eyes off of her.

He raised a hand to her face and brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. Then he rubbed his thumb on her cheekbone a couple of times, before he caressed her arm. Leisurely moving his palm on her arm, he glided his fingertips on her back, all the way to her hips.

“Mm..?” Her hum startled him. He cursed himself for waking her up. But then she whispered, “hi…”

His heart raced when her giggle rung in his ears, but it came out audible in his memory. Did he seriously forget her laughter?

Lifting his hand from her back, he planned to cup her cheek, but he paused. She crawled closer to his side and propped herself on one elbow.

He hardly pictured her face. Everything was blurry.

He felt her hand on his shoulder and she pushed him to lie down on his back. Then she leaned down to his mouth and placed her hand on his jaw. It made him upset that he forgot her touch after so many years he spent without seeing or hearing from her. He bet that their kiss was warm and sweet. Then the most affectionate part happened after their long lasting kiss.

Her hand slid across his chest, back and forth. She rose up and peered down, hovering over him. He could almost tear up at the moment he will never, ever forget.

“I love you, Law…”

“..!” Law squeezed his lips together as he opened his crestfallen eyes. He inhaled a huge piece of breath and exhaled heavily. So many precious memories… why can't he recall most of them?

He glanced up to the ceiling once more. His shoulders dropped as he sighed. “...Almost there. I’m almost there.”

Don’t give up yet… You will get your freedom. Just be patient… it’ll come soon enough….

Chapter Text

“I'm home,” Nami said, exhausted as she entered her house. The night classes were definitely not suited for her because she didn't have the energy to teach at the time when everyone wanted to go home. She may have to talk to someone about changing her schedule to an early release from the university. She knew that college can drain you, but as a professor the feelings were different. Rubbing her temples to soothe a massive headache, Nami sighed, “...Man, I'm so tired.”

“Look who's here! Mommy’s back!” She heard Sanji’s beaming voice from the living room on her left side. Out of his police uniform and in casual clothing, Nami found him sitting on the couch with Kimi on his lap. He held her stubby arms in his hands and pretended that she was clapping for Nami’s arrival.

The pleasing act made Nami smile a little. She dropped her purse near the door and approached them. She somehow felt refreshed coming home.

“Hey Nami,” Sanji said, before he and Nami pecked each other on the lips. “How was work?”

“Could’ve been better, I suppose,” she proclaimed, shrugging her shoulders. Her response made Sanji notice the disappointed expression she wore.

“Why? What happened?” He asked, his arm wrapping around Kimi’s midsection to prevent her from falling over as she began to scramble on his lap.

“I caught a couple of my students cheating on a test, and I had to drill a good lesson in their heads,” she answered. “Hopefully, they'll realize what they did was a total dick move once their suspensions end by next week.”

“You got them suspended?” Sanji’s eyebrows rose up impressed. “Whoa…”

“They did it to themselves. They should’ve known better that I don’t fuck around when it comes to tests.”

“Hey, easy. Not in front of the baby.” Sanji covered Kimi’s ears, but she was already aloof during the whole conversation.

“Sorry, I'm just frustrated right now,” she grumbled, crossing her arms. Sanji briefly nodded, but Nami didn’t see it. “I don't want to talk about work, I need to eat. Did you cook something when you arrived?”

“Yeah, there's Rosemary chicken on the table over there, all prepared for you,” Sanji told her, pointing at kitchen.

“Orange-maple glaze?”

“The way you like it.”

Nami squealed in joy and embraced Sanji. “Thank you thank you! You’re the best!” She planted a fat kiss on his cheek, before she jumped into the kitchen. “God! I’m starving!”

“Hear that, Kimi?” Sanji looked down to his daughter with a grin. “She said I’m the best. Okay, we’re the best. Give me some.” He held his palm out and Kimi lightly clapped it.

Things have finally calmed down ever since Nami explained her dreams the other night. Although Sanji regretted after being persistent, he was glad that Nami returned to her normal self. She slept well the night of, which meant that she had no nightmares in her sleep.

Sanji also had a confession to make. He came clean about his smoking habit, and this time he swore that he won't pick up another cancer stick again. Nami was surprisingly lenient, so he didn't pester her why.

Anyway, the person that came up in her dreams was apparently an ex-boyfriend from her teenage years. Sanji was shocked to the core that a man had the audacity to kill Nami. Was he that insane? No more questions were asked afterwards. Nami went through too much by the traumatic look Sanji saw on her face. Just talking about her past made her shiver. He wished he could ask more questions, but that would have to wait for awhile.

Her anger from the cheating incident at school reminded him from what he saw in the afternoon, which made him angry too. Someone dialled a 911 phone call and begged for the police to arrive at her house as soon as possible. Sanji and Vi were the closest ones there. When they showed up to the supposed house, a thirty-year old man opened the door after they knocked, completely drunk and reeked of alcohol. Sanji informed the man that they received a call from the house about domestic abuse, but the man denied everything. Suspicious, Sanji asked him if he had a family. A wife and daughter, he answered. As a request, he asked to see them. The man tried to deny again, but a little girl’s voice called and that was when Sanji caught a large bruise next to the girl's eye. He handcuffed the abusive father after he threw him on the hood of the police car. The mother showed up next to her daughter, and she was also badly bruised on the face.

The beaten girls reminded him of Nami, or what might have happened to her. He questioned himself if the ex-boyfriend had ever done anything physical to her, like a punch to the face. The idea of abuse on women and young girls seriously grinded his gears.

Sanji laid his daughter in the crib for her to nap and entered the kitchen. Nami was busy heating up food in the microwave. His beloved wife had her gorgeous smile, which made him smile. Who in their fucking mind would hit Nami? Just imagining a bruise, a scrape, or even a cut would trigger Sanji.

“Hm?” Nami hummed in question by the sudden embrace from behind. Sanji had his arms securely wrapped around her waist and his chin rested on her shoulder. Crossing her eyes over, she became concerned why he became awfully quiet. “You okay?”

“...” Sanji squeezed her gently and snuggled on her neck. Realization dawned on Nami’s face. She must've known what he was thinking by the downcast look he had on.

Spinning in his arms, Nami removed his hands from her waist and held them. “Listen Sanji, you don't have to worry about me anymore. Everything's fine, I'm okay.” Then she cupped his face with both hands. “Okay?”

He searched her eyes for a moment, before he grabbed one of her wrists and kissed the palm. “I'm keeping my promise,” he mumbled, “I meant every word of it.”

“I know you did.” She brushed his blond hair with her fingers, acknowledging how soft and clean it was. “But try not to get too overprotective. I can take care of myself, in case you've forgotten my signature right hook.”

Sanji grimaced when she mentioned that. “Yeah, I know that all too well.”

“Good.” She grinned with a chuckle. Sanji looked down again as he narrowed his eyes. “What's wrong?”

“It's just… I had no idea,” he admitted, glancing to the side. “I mean, I never thought that you're past was that severe.”

“Let's not dwell on this,” she suggested. She placed her hands on his shoulders as a calm gesture. “It was a long time ago. I can assure you that it's all behind me, and I'd like to keep it there. So why don't you do the same? Pretend that this whole fiasco of nightmares never happened, that way it won't intrude our heads or interfere with our lives. Can you do that for me?”

“Yeah, of course.” He nodded.

They both smiled at one another until the microwave beeped in alarm. Nami turned around to check on the Rosemary chicken, leaving Sanji dissatisfied.

“Whoa, it's definitely ready,” Nami said, waving her hand to ward off the heat steam. Flinching for a second, Nami giggled when Sanji fluttered kisses on her cheek as he held her hips. Expertly, he trailed his lips on her neck, sliding up and down before sucking on her flesh. Nami gasped as her back shivered. “S-Sanji..?”

“Mm..?” He hummed, still focused on her sensitive skin as he encircled his hands on her hips. Then he pulled them back to press her rear against his groin. Holding in another gasp that threatened to escape, Nami gripped the counter, but failed to resist when Sanji sneaked inside her shirt. His rough fingertips traced lines across her stomach, before they glided up to cup one of her breasts. With a small moan, Nami scrunched her eyes shut from feeling her right breast fondled. “Were you gonna say something, Nami? That was a nice sound by the way.”

Nami’s voice staggered as Sanji's added tongue to his kisses. Her skin tingled from his hot breath. She felt a sensation inside, butterflies fluttering or knots twisting. Plus, her womanhood throbbed, pleading to be touched or stroked.

He unbuttoned her white dress shirt at the top, starting on the first button and to the second. Then he tugged the collar to explore more of her neck and seek her shoulder, a combination of long, quick, and slow kisses. He also added hard or soft nips to leave his bite marks.

Sighing out of her nose, Nami grabbed his wrist and practically picked his fingers off of her chest. Then she removed his other hand from pulling on her shirt. She caught Sanji’s confusion as she twisted in his embrace to face him directly.

“Not tonight Sanji,” she said, keeping his hands down to waist level. “I'm just… I'm tired and I need to eat something.”

“I can fix that.” Sanji leaned forward with his lips parted, trapping her with his hands clasped on the counter behind Nami. Widening her eyes, Nami had her lips stolen as he pressed hers with his. He attempted to dart his tongue in by prying her mouth open, but she pushed him back for a good amount of distance. As he tried to reach for her, Nami stopped him with a finger on his mouth.

She shook her head. “No.”

The house phone rung in the kitchen, but it didn't catch either of their attentions. Wandering into her serious brown eyes, Sanji sighed in defeat. He obediently removed his hands from the counter and freed Nami.

Standing up straight, he sighed again. “All right, sorry.”

“It's okay. Thank you,” she said before fixing the buttons of her dress shirt.

Their attentions were finally caught by the phone's umpteenth ring.

“I'll get it,” he said unenthusiastically. Nami gazed at his back as he went. Picking up the wireless telephone, Sanji checked the caller ID. “It's your sister.”

“Oh! Answer it,” she told him. Sanji clicked the answer the button and raised the phone to his ear. “Put her on speaker.” Following her command again, he held the phone in the air as Nami stepped right next to him. “Hello? Nojiko?”

“Hey Nami, how’s it going?” An older woman's voice spoke on the other side of the phone line. Perplexed, Nami wondered why her sister called the house phone number and not hers. They called at least once a week to check up on each other; if Nami was taking care of herself with her job and family and if Nojiko was able to live on her own at home.

“Fine, how are you?” Nami said, smiling in delight, pleased to hear sister's voice. She nearly forgot to call her this weekend.

“Eh, you know, lonely without my lil’ sis, but it’s all going great.” Nami chuckled at her sister’s joke. “I tried calling your cell phone, but you didn't pick up.”

She blinked in realization. “Ah, sorry. My phone lost its battery while I was at work. I should've charged it when I got home.”

“No, that's fine. It wasn't your fault. Wait, did you say you got home now? You work late?”

“Yeah, a few minutes ago. And yes, I do.”

“Hello Nojiko, I'm here too," Sanji mentioned himself, speaking up for her to hear.

“Sanji, I almost forgot about that dumb blond head of yours,” Nojiko teased, which made Sanji roll his eyes playfully.

“Well aren’t you hysterical,” he mumbled. Nami quietly asked him if she can hold the phone. Complying to her request, he kissed her on the cheek and made way to prepare his wife's meal properly.

“Um, so what's up? Is the bake shop still up and running?” Nami asked out of curiosity, propping her elbows on the island counter and standing the phone up.

“Business is going well, nothing to worry about,” she informed, which made Nami feel relieved to hear that. “Come on Nami, who could ever resist Mom’s delicious cakes?”

“I know, my god. I haven't had one of Mom’s famous orange tart cakes in so long.” Nami remembered that the last time she ate some of her mother's cakes was on Kimi’s first birthday, a couple of months ago. Nojiko literally made dozens of cakes and pastries for the party, and she had a little help from their hometown friends to bring them all over. Never again, Nami thought.

“I'll send you some when I get the chance,” Nojiko assured. Nami acknowledged the generosity by thanking her. “Oh, speaking of Mom, I called to remind you about the upcoming date.”

“What upcoming date?” Sanji inquired as he and Nami gave each other a brief look. He placed her entree on the round table before leaning on the island counter next to her.

“Nami, please say that you'll come this time?” Nojiko urged, causing Nami to hum. “It would truly mean a lot if you stop by for a short break. Can't you do that for me and Mom?”

Nami gasped, then she dropped her head in her hands. “Oh shoot…”

“What's wrong Nami?” Sanji asked, wondering what made her upset.

“It’s my Mom. She's talking about her death anniversary, that's what's coming." Nami grabbed her temples as she brought her head back up. This week had already been hectic for her to keep track on the most important date. “I completely forgot until now.”

“Oh yeah,” Sanji recalled, biting his lip. He forgot about the date too, even though he mentioned her in his and Vi’s conversation back at the session.

To be honest, he hardly knew anything about Nami’s mother. All he knew was that Bellemere, the mother's name, was a baker and a tangerine farmer. They had groves in their backyard to harvest only tangerines, which they used for a baking business in town. Unfortunately, an accident happened to the bakery after Bellemere’s decease. Nami didn't appreciate bringing it up in any conversation.

“Sorry, I didn't mean to forget about Mom,” Nami apologized, feeling guilty already. “I had a busy week, but I don't think I can-”

“Nami come on,” Nojiko begged. Nami could tell that her sister was desperate by the tone of her voice. “You haven't visited in a million years. It won't hurt if you stay for a few days, or at least a week?”

“I-” Nami paused when Sanji stared at her. She mouthed “what?” before he pointed at the phone with his head. Then she mouthed “no.”

Sanji snatched the phone away and raised it his ear. Outraged, Nami stretched her arm to grab the phone, but Sanji pushed her back with a hand on her shoulder. “Hey Nojiko, would you uh… excuse us for a minute?” Sanji asked, ignoring Nami’s protests. “We’re gonna have to call you back later.”

Nojiko sighed heavily. “Yeah, sure. One minute, got it?”

“Thanks.” Sanji hung up by pressing the off button, before Nami had the chance to stop him. Crossing his arms, he gave her a stern look.

“Sanji, I can't go,” she emphasized, using her arms as serious gestures. “I have a tight schedule for the end of this month, and I don’t have a few days to go out and visit.”

“Calm down,” he said, grabbing her by shoulders. “Your sister's right, you haven't dropped by for a visit in a long time. Eight years has it been, right? Don't you think it's time to go see her, or at least see your mother's grave? I don't think it's the right choice to miss another year.”

“I-” Nami hesitated, before she looked down to the floor. “I don't know. It's not that I don't want to visit my Mom's grave. I absolutely want to, but it’s just…”

“It’s what?” Sanji said, furrowing his eyebrows.

“You know…”

“But you said that you're over it.”

“Yeah, but… not completely. What if the nightmares never stop once I sleep in my old bed again?”

“You’re overthinking too much.” He gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze, before he held her chin. “Why don't we do this, we take a short break, maybe a vacation. We pack our things and drive all the way to your hometown and see your sister, friends, Mom's grave, whatever, for a few days. We'll go over there together, that way you won't do it alone. How's that sound?”

“I-I,” Nami stuttered, contemplating whether Sanji's idea is good or not. “Well, it'd be nice to go on a vacation for once, away from our jobs.”

“Right, and isn't the next couple weeks spring break for you?” Sanji snapped his fingers, as in another idea came up. “It's the perfect timing. I'll just call my boss and ask him how many hours I have for my break, and we'll be all set."

“Yeah, but still…” Nami became sincerely unsure about this whole vacation thing. What if it didn't go as planned, she thought. Or what if something...

“There's nothing to worry about, Nami,” he assured her. “It'll be just like any normal family vacation, with you, me, and Kimi.”

Nami sighed before shrugging her shoulders. There was no way getting out of this. “You're right, you're right. We could use a vacation.”

“All right,” Sanji said, glad to hear her answer. He picked up the phone from the counter and searched for the recent calls on the list. Nojiko answered and Sanji asked, “So, you still want us there?”

“What do you think?” Nojiko sassed, becoming excited. “Of course I want you guys here and you better bring my only niece."

Sanji chuckled. “We will, don't you worry. We'll be over there in two weeks, so we'll see you then.”

“Great, sounds good to me! Gotta go, love you losers!”

“Bye!” They said at the same time. Sanji pressed the off button and returned the phone back, before he saw Nami having second thoughts.

“I don't know about this, Sanji,” she mumbled. “I have a feeling that this vacation might be-”

“Stop worrying, it'll be fine,” he assured her. “You've already agreed to our decision. Nothing's going to happen, and if something does, we'll take care of it together, okay?”

“Okay…”

******

No..!

S-stop!

Get off! Get off of me!

I HATE YOU!

Law gradually opened his dull eyes, fatigued by a heart-wrenching memory from his past, right before he was sentenced to prison. That last phrase echoed inside his head, repeating itself over and over again. It was the only thing he didn't want to hear from the woman he loved.

For some reason, he can't stop thinking about her. Was it because that he may still be in love with her, after all these years and counting? Who knows. He didn't know how he felt at the moment, nothing related to love, lust, passion, or anything like that. Back then, he felt torn and ripped apart. Never had he felt a heartbreak that tremendous before, more painful than his pathetic piece of shit childhood. Now everything was in deep shit.

Wound up in prison, ate the worst food he had ever eaten, showered in grotesque bathrooms, met people who were almost as demented as he was, but hey? At least he didn't have to waste his time with cocky inmates who thought were hot stuff. He had his own room and alone time, but everyday he had to deal with the abusive guards who preyed on him with their batons. They would beat him till he turned blue, and he couldn't do anything unless he wanted his sentence to increase.

The other day when he tried to strangle the teasing guard who delivered his lunch, three more guards came down to his cell and gave him one hell of a beat down. He survived with a giant bruise next to left eye, a swollen bottom lip and a bloody nose, which almost broke by a straight punch. His back and abdomen were sore with several more bruises and his arm nearly broke. He had a difficult time to stand up on his own, mustering up the pain all over his body. The beat down was considered a warning they said. If he tried to lay his hands on any of the guards again, the sentence will go up and the beatings will get worse than hell itself.

Law turned to lay on his side, careful enough not to press on the bruise he received a while back. Once he closed his eyes to fall asleep again, heavy boots stomped outside of his cell and then a baton banged on the metal door a few times. He reopened them, a malicious glare replacing his calmer expression.

“Wakey wakey, sasquatch! Time for your shower!”

The door jammed open and two guards stood in the doorway while two others stayed back with pistols in their hands. Law reluctantly climbed off the bed. Standing right in front of them, he sent them an icy frown with his chin low. The guards smirked at him. Begrudgingly, he turned around with his hands behind his back and they handcuffed him, including a chain. Law sighed, hanging his head back.

“Don't you think it's time that the handcuffs and chain are deemed unnecessary?” Law glanced over his shoulder, but was met with unreadable expressions. “I mean, where could I possibly run off to since there's so many of you in every corner and all the doors are locked?”

“We’re not taking that chance, inmate,” one guard replied. “Do you think we're stupid enough to trust a criminal of all people to let loose? Then you're outta your God-forsaken mind.”

Law mouthed “blah blah blah” with an eyeroll. The same guard caught Law making fun of him as he cringed his face. “And who said you can talk?!” Law earned a hard club from the baton on the head.

They all walked to the shower room in a square formation with Law in the middle. Shouts and cries rang all around the halls. The confined inmates slammed their cell doors for mercy, but the guards shoved cold shoulders. Law snickered at each and every one of them for being pathetic cowards. Most of them were new in their cells. If they believed this was torture, then a giant storm was coming their way. He grimaced when one of the guards yanked on his chain for laughing.

When they reached the shower room, the guards posted near the entrance, two standing outside and two posted inside. They released him from his cuffs. Law massaged his wrists before stripping the blue prison uniform off in front of them, careless that they had to watch the whole time. Showering with their eyes on him was part of the routine as well, so he grew used to it.

To have his little fun in prison, he would often tease them that they’re unlucky fellows because he didn’t “swing that way.” The guards would take that as an insult to their manhood, so as a resolve, they would beat him senselessly. In certain situations like this one, they’d rather not fight a buck-naked behemoth, which Law would take as his advantage.

The guards handed him his shower kit; a caged holder with a bar of soap, a portable-size vanilla flavored shampoo, a yellow sponge and sandals. Law stood underneath a shower head in the middle of the room, a dozen feet away from the guards. He twisted the faucet attached to it and water finally rained down on his ripped body. A relieved sigh came out as he tilted his head up, soothed and refreshed. Taking a deep breath, he scrubbed his damp hair, practically scratching his scalp. Showering was his favored time of the day. He could rinse off the excessive oils, sweat, and muck, especially the bacteria from inside the cell.

The guards watched, disgusted that they were assigned their least favorite shift.

“My eyes are up here, boys.” Law smirked over his shoulder as he pointed at his face. He earned fuming glares from them, itching to punch the hell out of the inmate. “Hate to break it to you, but I’m not the one you should be seeking out. I'm sure other guys would be more than happy to take you in as their fetish like interest. Go to the other shower rooms and you'll find plenty of them there. They won't say no.”

“Cut the shit inmate!” One of them yelled, not in the mood for childish games. “Hurry up with your damn shower, so we can get the hell outta here.”

“If you want to hit me, go right ahead like you always do.” Law dared the guard, turning his back to them. He lathered his sponge, before washing his chest and neck. “Punch me, kick me, bash me in the head with that little stick of yours. Nothing ever holds you back, right? So why not do it now?” Law faced the guards again. “Would it really hurt your pride as a man to hit a nude guy like me standing here all defenseless? If that’s true, then it’s a sorry excuse to think.”

The same guard’s temper rose to the point he stormed over to Law, eyes and nose flaring as he squeezed the baton in his right hand. “You better watch your damn mouth son! I'm done listening to you talk!”

Law scoffed like it was a joke. “I can't watch my own mouth without a mirror because that would be impossible.”

The sass halted the guard directly in front of Law. Law bumped his eyebrows up, tempting the guard as he towered over him. Six foot four he was.

With one furious glare, the guard took a step back and turned halfway. Then he smirked to himself. The guard swung the baton to Law’s jaw, but Law caught it with his bare hand. The baton shook in their hands. The guard tried to pull it away and the other guard quickly grabbed his gun.

“You never learn, huh? That’s too bad,” Law said lowly, letting go of the baton with a push. The guard stumbled back as the other attempted to brandish his gun. “Try something more effective next time because this shit is already old. You think I can't perceive your every move after all I’ve been through because of you and your colleagues? Then it’s you who’s out of your mind.”  

The guard held the baton and pointed at Law, a gesture saying “you are gonna get it.”

“Before you stand by and watch,” Law called, stopping the guard from returning to his post. “when am I going to get a razor and scissors to remove all this?” He circled a finger at his face, specifically the bushy hair and growing stubble. The guard chuckled.

“We can't give away sharp objects to inmates like you,” the guard informed. “Don’t you know that the only way to get a clean shave and a trim off the ends is permission from the Warden, which you have no access to?”

Law frowned at him, his patience wearing thin. “Then would you please call him on your walkie talkie and see what he says?”

Was this guy kidding? The guard clicked his tongue as he took one step closer to the foolish inmate. Who does this guy think he is?

“You don't tell me what to do, inmate,” he told Law, before pointing at himself with a thumb. “I'm in charge, and my answer to that question is no.”

A fist balled beside his thigh. Law’s nostrils flared up as he scowls at the stubborn man.

“I'm only asking… nicely...”

Ah… So how's my little maniac doing?” The door to the shower room squeaked open and a large man, even taller than Law stepped inside. Law glanced at the newcomer.

“Sir!” The two guards stomped on the ground and stood up straight. The warden, Magellan, waved his hand in dismissal.

“Now now men, no need for that.” The warden looked up and shook at the sight of Law. “My god, crazy looking as ever. He's got insanity written all over him, like it never ceased to disappear.”

“Nice seeing you too, Warden,” Law said sarcastically. “Been quite some time since your last visit.”

“I've had a lot of things on my hands, so you can't blame me for it,” he excused himself. Law shrugged his shoulders and switched his attention to finish up with his shower.

“My apologies, sir.”

The warden took a couple of steps towards him, avoiding the fact that he was speaking to a nude man. “How are you holding up? Enjoying your final days in solitary confinement?”

“Fine as ever. I made so many memories, and I can't wait to tell you all about them,” Law replied, pulling a fake smile on. He gestured to the two guards as he squeezed shampoo out of the tiny bottle. “Especially from your men over there. I have too many to count.”

The warden spotted the bruises on Law’s body, despite them being covered by bits of bubbles. “I see. No harm done, right?”

“Of course not.” Law smirked as he crossed his grey eyes over to the guards again. “They're my friends.”

“We ain't your god damn friends, you freak!” The tempered guard stomped his way, but the warden held his arm out.

“Hold it, I think he's had enough for today.” The guard grumbled as he turned back to his post. “So, Trafalgar, any final requests before your upcoming month of March? You name it.”

Law scrubbed the rest of shampoo off his head, his drenched black hair flowing by the sprinkle of water. He dropped his arms down to his sides and peered to where the warden stood.

“How many do I have is the question...”

******

“Augh!” Law choked as a leather strap tugged his neck back to the headrest of a barber's chair. His wrists and ankles were also strapped to the chair, as safety precaution. He knew this was coming, but at least loosen up the straps.

A haircut and shave were one of the requests that the warden obliged to, but he only gave Law two to use up. A freshly cooked meal that wasn't spoiled or rotten was his other one. He did have a few days left to return to his former cell and walk through the wider halls and breathe fresher air. Also, to finish up where he left off.

“That oughta do it.” The same tempered guard leaned away and pressed his back against the wall.

“This is bullshit,” Law muttered, glaring daggers at the guard without turning his head due to the straps. “Do you really have to tie me down for a simple haircut?”

“Like I told you before, we're not taking chances. When are you gonna get it through that thick skull of yours? Maybe I haven't knocked you out hard enough.”

“Sir, please. I don't think that would be necessary right now,” an old, middle-aged barber with a thick mustache suggested, his nerves shaking by the guard’s hot temper. He placed his hands on the shoulders of the barber chair where Law sat and tried to make a smile, but it came out nervous. “I'll do my job, so I'll be the one taking care of him. If you don't mind...”

The guard leered at the restrained man, who also glared back. “Sure, not a problem.” The barber was pleased as he nodded. Before he headed back to the wall, the guard threw a right hook and connected with Law’s jaw. He grunted as he jolted to the side, saliva spilling out of his mouth.

“Oh god!” The barber cried in surprise.

The guard down bent down to Law’s ear and whispered, “This is your last warning. If you try to talk to me again, I promise you it'll be the last thing you do. You understand me, asshole?”

His chest rumbled in laughter. Law slanted his baggy eyes over to the guard and gave a lopsided smirk, a dark mark imprinted on his left cheek. “If you're that upset, why don't you pull out whatever it is that's up your ass? Then I'll be able to understand you.”

With on furious tug on Law's torso, the guard balled his fist, but the barber stopped him again.

“Please sir! That's enough!” The barber begged. Growling, the guard pushed Law as he released him. Law shook his head once to brush off the dizziness. The barber sighed in relief as the guard walked off to a wall. He cleared his throat. “So, um… what'll it be, Trafalgar? Any certain styles you had in mind?”

“Just cut it all off, and don't forget about my face too,” Law said, frowning at the mirror displayed on the barber’s table. “And while you’re at it, don't give me your pity.”

“Right! I'll keep that in mind.” The barber blanketed Law with a nylon cape and clipped it around his neck. “Would the disheveled modern hairstyle suit your taste?”

"I don't care, just do your job."

Chapter Text

Two weeks later

A dark blue suitcase laid flat in the trunk of a car before a black shoulder bag sat on top. Sanji made space for Nami's suitcase and other separate bags by pushing his luggage to the side. He also had to make some room for the baby’s carriage. They're gonna have to buy a new car, he thought. No way will this one fit anymore stuff for a longer vacation.

Brr…" Sanji shivered when a slow gust of cold air swept up his back. The weather forecast reported that today was supposed to be sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. But in the mornings, the temperature would be ten degrees cooler. What Sanji wore to keep him warm was a military green bomber jacket with a shearling collar, navy jeans, and dark brown chukka shoes. Where they live was where all the seasons kick in. Luckily, snow didn't fall this Christmas. That meant they didn't have to worry about harsh traffics until next winter.

After Sanji finished spacing out the trunk, he trotted back up the stairs to the front door. He walked by Nami feeding their daughter in the kitchen. She wore a rose colored windbreaker with skinny jeans and black high boots. Her luscious red hair stuffed in her jacket and her pockets filled with tissues for the the road. Kimi was sensitive to the cold, and so was Nami. The day might get colder or warmer, but it was good for Nami to prepare herself.

“You all set, Nami?” Sanji asked, watching his two girls.

“Yeah, my stuff is over there.” Nami pointed towards the living room with a head bob, and Sanji followed. A whimper came out of Kimi. Nami shushed her while wiping her baby's mouth and cheeks with a napkin.

Everything was packed and loaded into their car for a five-day vacation they planned. The trip to Nami's hometown would take five to six hours, plus stops for bathroom and lunch breaks. They had to be positively sure that every turn or direction they take was correct. It can be heavily confusing to drive somewhere you’ve never been to or haven’t gone in a long time.

Nami strapped Kimi’s car seat and tucked her with her blanket. She fixed the tiny knit hat on her baby’s head before checking all around the seat if the seat belt was secured. “Okay, she should be all right.”

“Ready?” Sanji said in her ear, startling Nami. “Sorry, didn't mean to scare you.”

“It’s all right. Ah, crap!” Nami cursed. “I left my purse in the house.”

“I’ll wait for you in the car.”

Nami rushed inside and went straight to the master bedroom. Once she found her purse lying on her makeup table, she searched through for a quick check. Her wallet, ID, cash, cell phone, house keys, makeup bag, and a tiny bottle of pepper spray for protection were all there. Sanji suggested her to carry it around every time she goes out, but she thought she wouldn't get mugged. But now, might as well.

Hooking the purse on her arm, Nami stepped out of the bedroom, before she paused at the doorway to the bathroom. She glanced to the mirror where she stashed her sleeping pills. Does she need them? Uncertainty flooded her.

She took a glimpse at the car with Sanji in the driver seat, eyes on Kimi by staring at the rearview mirror. Then she looked back inside the bathroom. Pressing her lips together, she grunted as she moved towards the mirror cabinet. She clicked the door open and reached for the orange tube.

“...” Nami paused, having second thoughts. Do I really need them? Nami shook her head in disagreement. Pulling her hand away, she closed the door halfway before stopping again. The moment she was in brought her back to another nightmare she dreamt the night before. Exactly where she stood in the bathroom.

In her sleep, she dreamt of walking into the bathroom to use the toilet. She was tired from work and Kimi drained the rest of her energy at home. After that, she washed her hands while yawning, done for the day. She opened up the mirror cabinet to grab her toothpaste and she closed the door with a click. She didn’t expect anything until she gasped and screamed at what she saw on the mirror. Cloaked in black, the man in her dreams grabbed her by the hair and smashed her head on the mirror. Nami woke up with a start afterwards.

For a second, she could've sworn she saw his face that time. Dark and serious. Smirks, but never smiles.

This would mean that whether she takes these pills, the nightmares keep coming.

On the same night, she tried to consume the pills, but Sanji stopped her. He told her that she didn't need them, and he'd be the one to help her sleep. He was right. No more nightmares came later that night.

Shutting the front door, Nami speed walked around to the front passenger seat and opened the door to hop in.

“Got everything?” Sanji asked, hands on the wheel. Nami nodded.

“Yeah, let's go.”

Sanji turned the key in the ignition, pulled the lever to drive, and spun the wheel to the right with his signal on. Nami checked her daughter who sat in her seat quietly. Safe and sound, she thought, before she turned back to look out the window.

Nami placed one hand on her cheek. Vehicles, buildings, and civilians passed by as she stared out. She needed something to clear her mind from the stress she was feeling. Has it been eight years since she left home? She did move to go to college, but she never expected herself to stay and live in this part of town.

Her eyes drifted down. She did miss her sister and her friends, but the history there…

She felt a hand grab hers and interlocked with her fingers. Glancing to the driver's side, she saw Sanji giving her a generous smile. He must've noticed the gloomy look she had on, so he tried to comfort her. Nami smiled back for his effort.

He raised their locked hands to his lips and kissed the back of Nami’s hand, sending great warmth on her skin.

“We'll be there soon,” he mumbled, before he looked back on the road, one hand on the steering wheel. He kept his other hand tangled with Nami's.

******

Two hours and a half flew by. Both Nami and Kimi were sound asleep. They left the town's boundaries and drove through the outskirts. Nami was finally able to relax inside the car, which made Sanji feel relieved.

Sanji was used to waking up early and staying awake as a cop, so he had to be the one behind the wheel for the long trip. It had been a while since he last drove a car. Usually his partner, Vi would be the driver. He didn't complain, but he did wish for the feeling of being in control again.

Anyway, while on the road, Sanji had to make a stop at a gas station to fill up the car. He figured that Nami must've forgotten to refuel before the trip. No worries, he thought. He'll just have to remind her not to forget next time.

After the refill, he shook Nami awake to watch the baby and the car. He had to pick something up from the store. When he came back, he brought two medium sized coffee cups with dark brown caps. He also tucked bags of sugar and tiny cups of cream milk in his jacket pockets just in case the beverages were bitter. Nami liked drinking her coffee in the morning, so he wanted to cheer her up some more.

Nami rolled her eyes at the sight of two cups in a strongholder.

“What?” Sanji asked, confused. He sat down and placed the strongholder on the cup area between the stereo and the glove compartment. Nami had her face turned away, chuckling into one of her hands. “What are you laughing at?”

“You can stop being a cop for today, Sanji. I already know how much you and your police friends love your caffeine,” she said, grinning. The joke made Sanji’s jaw drop. Nami's grin grew wider as she chuckled again. “Where are the donuts, officer? I thought you can't go anywhere without your sugary goodness.”

“Why the hell do you have to bring it there?” Sanji groaned as he slouched on his seat, overwhelmed by the dumb joke. Nami snickered under her breath as Sanji rubbed his temples. “I seriously hate that stereotype when it comes to the police force. Especially one that misleads women into thinking I'm a stripper for their bachelorette party.”

Nami cracked up at that last part he said, holding onto her stomach. As she continued with her laughing fit, Sanji shook his head. “So many times. So many times that happened.” He crossed his eye over to his wife. “Oh, was that one hilarious?”

“..I'm sorry Sanji,” Nami apologized, giggling. “To be totally honest with you, you do fit the image of a typical stripper when you wear your uniform. I don’t blame the women though.”

Sanji exasperated. “Why?! I don't understand why everyone believes I’m an exotic dancer when they take one good look at me! ”

“It’s because…” Nami blew her hot coffee before sipping. Her voice trailing off caught Sanji's attention. “...you look hot.”

“What?” He said.

“Women like to see men in uniform, it just makes the man more appealing to the eye. They might have thought you were too good to be a real cop, so they let their imaginations run wild.” Nami turned to him. “Get it now?”

“Really?” Sanji said, intrigued. “Well this stripper is about to get dirty.”

“Wha- Ah!” He jumped over to her side and ran his tongue on her neck before sucking on it. “Sanji wait! The coffee!”

******

They’ve reached the boundary of their destination within another three hours. Several signs or billboards notified that they were two and half miles away. A wave of relief swept through them. But then they felt guilty for never giving much thought about Nojiko driving this long to their home.  

To add more stress, Kimi woke up crying a couple of times. Nami had to sit in the back to feed her the puree Sanji made for the trip and to change her diaper. The third time, Nami tried to calm the baby down by patting the back and tapping her heel. Kimi cried for another reason besides being famished or needing a diaper change. Nami made shushing noises as Kimi gradually dozed in her arms, laying her head on her mother’s chest.

“Good girl,” Nami whispered, sighing out of her nose. Squeaky moans escaped out of Kimi’s mouth as her body went limp. Kissing Kimi’s light red hair, Nami rubbed her cheek against it. She was glad that there was silence again.

“How is she? Has she calmed down?” Sanji asked, glancing at the rearview mirror. Nami nodded in answer, a little drowsy herself.

“Yeah, she’s fine. She was probably irritated of the speed bumps,” she proclaimed. “They were a little rough when we drove over them. We should’ve known better than to speed up for our sake. I guess that makes all three of us who want this trip to be over soon.”

“You can say that again.” Sanji turned his head over his seat and watched the two snuggle to one another. A cleared throat interrupted his train of thought.

“Eyes on the road. You trying to get us in a car accident?” Nami scolded him.

Immediately facing away, Sanji chuckled under his breath. “My bad, I couldn’t help myself. I absolutely love it when you and Kimi are this close to each other. Reminds me of how much of a caring mother you are. Our daughter is lucky to have a great role model as yourself in her life.”

“You think I’m a role model?” she questioned, touched.

“I know you are.”

Nami hid her flushed smile by pretending to smell her daughter's scent.

“Only two miles left,” Sanji announced. “Hang in there guys, we're almost there.”

Those last two miles passed by a lot quicker than they expected. There was hardly any traffic before entering a small town along the way. They drove through a narrow street. The business buildings, landscapes, parks, and the homes were all coming back to Nami. The weather became a bit warmer. The thermostat on the rearview mirror read sixty-seven degrees Fahrenheit. Sanji and Nami peeled off their jackets, including Kimi when they entered.

Gazing out the window, she was beginning to remember the little details from her former life. She ran many errands to the gardening store to buy tools and resources for her mother's orange garden. She was the owner's best customer. The little book store was one of her favorite hangouts. She read all sorts of novels and drank their best espresso coffees. She earned discounts due to popping in and out every week. The nightclub was another hangout she enjoyed. She and her friends hung out almost every Friday and Saturday night to party and dance.

As they pass by, Nami turned to front of the car. Sanji had the GPS on his phone activated the entire time. The map showed that their destination was six hundred feet away in the next left hand turn. Her heart pounded against her chest. She took in a deep breath as they drove closer to her first home.

Sanji took the left hand turn as instructed. Trees on both sidewalks of the street had their leafless branches sprouted overhead. Small houses of different structures were aligned next to each other. A few people were walking their dogs and taking their children out for a stroll. This was it, her street.

Nami felt anxious in coming back here. Was it a big mistake for never visiting or for visiting now? Nami held her arms and squeezed the bareness of her skin.

Calm down. She inhaled and exhaled slowly, stopping herself from clawing her arms. It's okay. It's okay…

“Hey Nami, look. I see Nojiko over there.” Nami woke up out of her thoughts and snapped her attention to where Sanji was pointing.

A tall woman with long, light blue hair and tanned skin waved her arm in the air, outside on the front porch of a house. She wore a yellow apron around her pronounced curves. Underneath was a simple black T-shirt and denim Capri-pants. She rushed to metal fenced gate and waited for them, waving as she smiled from ear to ear.

Blinking at the sight of her sister, Nami couldn't contain her own happiness. She grinned as she waved behind the window.

“Nami! Nami!” Nojiko called excitedly. The car stopped and parked in front of the house. Nami was the first person who bursted out with open arms.

“Hi!” Nami and Nojiko squealed as they embraced each other.

“I missed you so much,” Nojiko said, arms around her younger sister’s neck.

“I missed you too.”

“It feels like it's been forever since the last time I saw your face.” Nojiko unraveled her arms and smiled. “I’m so happy that you actually came. I did wonder if you were having second thoughts about visiting me instead. Well I guess I was wrong.”

I did actually. Nami chuckled under her breath, putting up a crooked grin.

“I’m happy to see you too, Nojiko,” Nami said. They turned around when they heard a whistle.

“Hey Nojiko.” Sanji waved his hand once while carrying Kimi, circling around the car to his wife and sister. Nojiko gasped, spotting her niece. “Hope we didn’t arrive too late. The travel was hectic, so to make up for the long wait, we did promise you that we’d bring her.” Sanji held Kimi with one arm as she slept on his shoulder, snoring silently.

“Oh, she’s so cute. Can I hold her Sanji? Please?” Nojiko asked, unable to contain herself. Complying to her request, Sanji loosened his grip and gently gave Kimi to her aunt. “Why hello there, you miss your auntie?” She rubbed her niece’s soft head as she rocked her in her arms. “I’m so jealous of you two. You guys did a great job. She’s perfect, a beautiful little cupcake.”

“Thank you,” Sanji acknowledged the compliment, before he took a gander at Nami. She looked up to him and they both smiled, but Sanji had something else in mind.

“You two planning another one? I hope you are.” The question immediately caused Nami to pause.

“We haven’t-” “Talked about it yet,” Sanji interrupted his wife. “Yeah, we’re a bit busy with our lives right now, but we’ll think about it and we’ll let you know soon.”

“Well great, sounds like a promise.” Nojiko turned to Nami and handed the baby over to her. “Here Nami, you bring Kimi inside and I’ll take care of your baggage for you.”

“You don’t have to bring the stuff in, I can handle it,” Nami tried to assure, but her sister dismissed it.

“It’s not a problem, I insist. I've already set up the crib inside. It’s the one that you used to sleep in when you were Kimi’s age.”

“You did? Thanks, that’s very thoughtful of you.”

“When it comes to my baby sister, I always think ahead.”

Nami nodded and walked towards the front porch.

“Come on blondie, we've got a job to do.” Nojiko was already at the back of the car and unloaded their suitcases and bags. With an eye roll, Sanji headed over and helped her.

“Nojiko, were you in the middle of baking? It smells really sweet in here,” Nami said across the house. Her sister and husband rolled three suitcases and a few bags inside.

“Yeah, I was. I baked some orange sugar cookies for you guys with Mom’s special recipe,” Nojiko called back. She told Sanji to drop their things in the large space between the kitchen and the living room where they were in. “I also made your favorite, the orange tart cake. Thought you might want some when you came.”

“Thank you! I'll have a piece later.”

“Hey Sanji, do me a favor and grab the rest of your stuff. I'll bring these bags into the room Nami will be staying,” Nojiko informed. Sanji looked at her strangely.

“You mean we're gonna be sleeping in separate rooms?” He asked, puzzled.

“Of course, I'm not gonna let you sleep with my sister in my house. Do you have any idea how uncomfortable that makes me feel?”

“Sorry if it makes you uncomfortable, but we're married.”

Nojiko shrugged one shoulder. “Doesn't matter to me. You're in my house and you follow my rules.” He gave her another eye roll, but then he heard her chuckle to herself. “I'm just pulling your leg. A room is already prepared for you and Nami. Kimi will be staying with me and you two can have your precious time together as a happily married couple. Don't make any funny noises while I'm around, okay?”

Is that what she thinks of me? Great… Sanji sighed in defeat. She sounded like an overprotective father. “Okay, I won't.”

“That's nice to hear. Now go on and get your stuff. I'll put these away.” Nojiko grabbed one suitcase and rolled it down the hall.

Closing the back door, Sanji placed his duffel bag on top of his suitcase and pulled on the metal bar. On his way to the opened gate, something fell off his pants as it clanged a couple of feet away on the sidewalk. His badge caught his eye on the floor.

“Damn.” He stood his suitcase up. It must have been loose on his belt, he thought. He can't go anywhere without it. Stopping near the fallen badge, he kneeled down and picked it up.

“You don't look like you're from around here, are you?”

Sanji snapped his head up in alarm from the voice he suddenly heard. Glancing up even higher, he stared at a tall, lean man before him. He had disheveled black hair, faded light skin, and a thick goatee. His dark circled eyes bored down on Sanji. The gray pigment in them looked like glass, shallow and empty. He wore a red and black flannel shirt with a white v-neck top underneath, boot cut jeans and low top sneakers. He found a letter tattoo on each of his thumbs, the rest of his fingers in his pockets.

Furrowing his eyebrows, Sanji rose up without taking his eye off the man.

“No, I'm not,” he responded, shaking his head once. That was a weird question. Who starts up a conversation like that?

The man nodded with a hum, and Sanji sent a narrowed look. “You look familiar. Have I seen you from somewhere?”

“I don't think so." The man shrugged. “In fact, I wouldn't have asked my previous question if I knew who you were.”

“Right…” Sanji had an odd feeling in the pit of his stomach. He didn't hear him walk towards him and why did this stranger try to talk to him? And why does his face look an awful lot like-

“Sanji! Where's the rest of your stuff? Bring them inside already!” Nojiko bellowed, interrupting the two men.

“Who's that?” The man asked, pointing at the voice. 

“Just someone we're visiting. Sister in-law to be exact.” Sanji raised a hand to his mouth and turned around. “I'll be right there! Coming!”

Suspiciously, the man squinted. “Sister in-law?”

“Yeah, my wife's sister,” Sanji informed, and continued, “we're here for their mother's death anniversary this upcoming week. She died about ten years ago.”

“Sorry to hear that,” he mumbled in understanding. He did remember a certain death in this town, and most certainly lived in that house.

“It's fine, they just don't like to talk about it. So it's best not to mention it. Like you heard, I’m Sanji. Nice to meet you.” Sanji held his hand out. He questioned himself why he was sharing this information to a complete stranger. “And you are?”

“Sanji! What's taking you so long? I already put the bags in your room-” As soon as Nojiko stepped out to scold her brother in-law, she immediately paused on the doorstep and then her eyes widened in shock.

“Sorry. I dropped something on the floor and I was busy talking...” Sanji trailed off when he saw march down stairs and storm over to him and the stranger. “Are you okay?”

“What the hell is this? What do you think you’re doing here?!” She shouted at the Stranger before jabbed a finger to his chest and pushed him back a step. “Who said you can show your ugly face here, huh?!”

“Whoa, whoa, Nojiko. What’s going on?” Sanji asked quickly, bewildered at her change of nature. “You know this man?”

Know him?! This piece of shit almost destroyed our lives!” Nojiko pushed him bacl again and he took it nonchalantly.

Sanji tried to throw his arm in front of her. “Easy! You’re making a scene!”

“I don’t give a shit!” She threw an angry scowl at the stranger. He sucked on his teeth as he returned the look. “You get the hell out of here, right now!”

“I’m sorry, but do I know you?” The stranger asked, looking down on the furious woman.

“Don’t you bullshit me! You know damn well who I am!”

“Okay, can we all calm down already and talk like normal people?” Sanji pleaded, practically stepping between the two.

“Wait, now I remember,” the stranger began. “You were that rebellious tattooed chick who worked at this bakery I knew of. You surprisingly changed. I thought you’d go down in the dumps by now.”

“Fuck you!” Nojiko lunged and threw a punch, but Sanji held her back. He eyed the man over his shoulder, wondering who in the hell was this guy? “Sanji, you’re a cop. Shoot the son of a bitch!”

“Nojiko, I can’t do that if he hasn’t done anything,” he reasoned, trying to calm her down. Why was she riled up by the this man? She said he almost destroyed their lives. Did she mean hers and Nami’s?

“Nojiko! Sanji! What’s all the commotion?” Nami’s voice suddenly called out. Sanji could’ve sworn he saw Nojiko hold her breath for a second, like she was scared of something.

“It’s nothing, just stay inside!” Nojiko turned back to the stranger and gave him another hard glare. “You better leave this instant.”

“What if I don’t want to, huh?” He tested. He stepped up close and peered down on her without changing the glaring expression on his face. “What are you going to do? You going to harass me by calling the police? Don’t I have the right to walk outside and enjoy the fresh air after all these years?”

“Do I look like I give a damn about you?! I don’t care if you live in isolation for the rest of your pathetic life!”

“Okay Nojiko, just take it easy,” Sanji suggested with one hand in front of her.

“Guys.” Footsteps tapped on the wooden floor inside the house. Nami was about to come outside. “What’s going-”

“NAMI DON’T!”

“Don't wh-” Nami halted on the porch, frozen in horror. She heaved a giant gasp as she widened her eyes. A plate of cake that was in her hands dropped to the floor. Jolting two steps back, Nami had trouble breathing. Her body trembled out of control by the sight of that one man she can’t pull her eyes away from.

W-what..?! Why… Her legs were beginning to give in as they shook tremendously. Why is he...

“Hello Nami,” he greeted. His former smirk signature appeared before her. “It’s nice to see you again. Been awhile, right?”

No… Hot tears filled up her brown eyes. Her teeth pressed together as her hands clawed her thighs. No..! Her arms sprung up to embrace herself. She ducked down as her body continued to shake. Memories from her past rushed inside her head, one after another. The cries, the screams, and the darkness she believed she was trapped in.

Forever.

"NOOOOOOOOOOO!"

Chapter Text

“Nami?” Sanji saw her drop a plate on the floor and jump a couple of steps back. Her chest heaved up and down like she was having a panic attack. “Nami, what's wrong?!”

Can she hear me? Sanji wondered in worry. What's going on?

“Hello Nami,” the man with black hair beside him said, catching his attention. “It's nice to see you again. Been awhile, right?”

Sanji narrowed his eye. The way how he addressed Nami so casually made Sanji suspicious about the man. “Wait, you know Na-”

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!” Nami vigorously screamed her heart out, causing Sanji’s heart to leap. This was something he had never seen before, ever. He froze on the spot and stared wide-eyed at his wife.

W-what the hell is going on?!

“GO AWAY!” Nami whipped the fallen plate towards the group, aiming at the man. Sanji and Nojiko quickly dodged out of the way as they cried in shock. The man stepped to the side, unfazed before the plate smashed on the floor. Sanji tried to call her out, but she overpowered him. “GO AWAY! GO AWAY! Go... away...”

Long streams of tears leaked out of her weeping eyes. Nami shoulders bumped up and down as she whimpered. When she opened eyes, she couldn't see anyone else but him. He tilted his head slightly to the side, his stormy grey eyes glaring into hers. She flinched, a shock running down her spine. Sharp and cold tingles were spreading across her arms and legs. With another whimpering shout, she spun around in haste and retreated inside the house. The door slammed shut behind her and a lock twisted by force afterward.

“Nami!” Sanji yelled, bewildered. Several people stopped from their businesses on the sidewalk and front lawns. Some peeked out of their house doors and windows, gawking at the dramatic episode they saw.

Sanji rushed forward, but then he spun back to the man again. Paying no mind to the mixed astonishment and anger from the blond, the man spared Sanji a lazy glance and gave him a lopsided smirk. He had so many questions he wanted to command the man to answer, but his main priority was his wife who needed someone at her side.

“Nami!” He sprinted up the stairs and grabbed the doorknob. “Nami open the door!”

As Sanji pounded on the door, Nami slid her shoulder against the wall of the hallway. She sunk down to the floor, bawling her eyes silently. She pressed her forehead on the wall, letting her hair drape over her red swollen face. Her choking cries blocked her ears from hearing Kimi wailing in Nojiko’s room.

“..!” She punched the wall once, then twice, then three times, until her fist dropped on her lap, defeated.

“Huh, a warm welcome would've been nice, but I guess that was just wishful thinking. Well,” he smirked as he held his chin. “at least I've been recognized.”

Nojiko shook her head, disgusted by the sight of his arrogant smirk. She'd do anything to cut off that sour mouth of his. “You sick bastard,” she spat out. The insult made his chuckle. He had been called worse. “Leave.”

Shrugging one shoulder, he turned his back to her and faced the opposite direction. “I know that you wouldn't take requests from anyone, especially from me, but I'll let you know this for her. It really is good to see her again. She's changed, more ways than one I should say.”

His eyes were hooded, a grin stretching on his mouth. Nami was appealing back then, but now… she was beyond what he expected. Clear skin, long hair, busty, curvy bodice, and those slim thighs. Oh, how we wished he would experience it all again. But then his grin faltered to a dark frown. To confirm what he heard, he saw the gold ring on her left hand, and the blond man had one too. So it's true then.

I'll be taking my leave. I'm obviously not welcome here anymore.” He sent Nojiko another one of his spine-chilling smirks over his shoulders. The one that no one can figure out what he's thinking or scheming about. “Take care now.”

Nojiko screwed her eyebrows together. He strode off as she glared daggers at the back of his head. She should have done it, but why? Why didn't she take him out when she had the chance? Why didn't she pull that trigger?

“Nami, please open the door!” Sanji banged the door a dozen more times, but no sound came out. He didn't want to bring himself to knock it down with his foot, but he was stuck with no other option.

“Wait! I've got a spare key, hold on a sec.” Nojiko pulled out a silver key from her apron pocket. “I never go anywhere without this.”

The door finally unlocked. They found Nami sitting on her knees and leaning on the right wall of the hallway, her back facing them. Kimi was crying in the distance.

“I'll go get Kimi,” Nojiko said before she hurried to her room. Sanji didn't have time to nod. He knelt down to Nami.

“Nami?” When he touched her shoulder, she cried out, jumping from her seat. “Nami, calm down. It's me.”

Once she took a careful look with dried up eyes, she whimpered. She pounced as she tangled her arms around his neck and knocked him down on his rear in surprise. She sat between his legs, sobbing, her face buried in the crook of his neck.

He embraced Nami. His fingers curled into her hair as he held her, one arm wrapped around her waist. Nami's crying simmered down. He rocked her back and forth, repeatedly saying, “I’m here” or “calm down babe.”

Nojiko stepped out of her bedroom with Kimi in her arms, shaking and shushing her. She strode forward and stopped right beside the couple before she peered down at her sister. Looking at her sister's state, she couldn't even imagine what Nami must be feeling. Nojiko was affected too. Her blood boiled and her fists shook. She made a huge promise to Nami that she would protect her from any harm. But it looked like she was all taken care of by Sanji.

Nojiko hated men. She even disliked the idea of ever sharing mutual feelings with another male individual. The idea of Nami forming romantic relationships was also a giant no. She believed that men weren’t good enough for her or Nami. To her, men couldn't fit the definition of the word “husband.” Her father wasn’t even fit to be a “parent.” If a father can't stay in their daughter's life, then no other man can. Nojiko stuck to that ever since he gave her up at a foster home when she was a little girl at age four. And that was where she met one-year-old Nami.

She stuck to her like glue because she wanted to be her guardian angel. She can't quite remember what happened to Nami's parents. They might've been good people, she thought. Then Bellemere picked them up from their foster home a couple of months after. Later, she adopted them. Nojiko was the first choice, but she suggested Nami be Bellemere’s new child. Bellemere perceived that Nojiko didn't want to lose her only friend, so she decided to take them both in.

Nojiko never allowed a single boy into Nami's life. Her sister's protection was her priority. After several to dozens of boys later, Nami and Nojiko argued that the protection was too much. Nojiko took it too far, Nami said. She also said that if Nojiko wanted her to be happy, then let her find it. And that was when a new guy came in out of nowhere.

Never in her entire life had she ever hated someone so greatly, even more than her father deserved. He was the lowest of the low. Unforgivable he was. The trauma he brought to Nami terrorized her to the point she couldn't attend school, leave their house, eat meals, or speak in full sentences for days. Nojiko thought she lost her only sister.

Now that Nami was being held by her loving husband, Nojiko finally realized that there were good men like Sanji out there. She never thought she would say it, but Nami was a lucky woman. Someone had already taken her place to protect and take care of her only sister.

“Nojiko…” Sanji called her name in the lowest voice she ever heard from him. She met his eye as he glanced up at her. “Who the hell was that guy?”

Breathing out of her nose, Nojiko looked down to the ground as she pressed her lips together. “I thought Nami told you herself. Guess that means she didn’t. I don’t blame her for it.” She stared back into Sanji’s eye again. “He’s a terrible lowlife who used to live in our town a long time ago before he was placed behind bars. Since you want to know the truth now, and since Nami can’t seem to get a hold of herself, I’ll tell you. He’s Nami’s ex-boyfriend, Trafalgar Law.”

Sanji didn’t realize that he froze like a statue at that moment. “What..?”

“We never mentioned his name until today. Just saying it makes me want to vomit,” Nojiko hissed, holding a disgusted glare. “He’s bad news. The worst person you should never ever come to close terms with. Once he has you tied around his finger, he will screw you up for good.”

“Trafalgar Law..? That's his full name?” Sanji asked, processing the new information.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I said. So what?”

“I think I know who he is. I read an article about him when I was in the academy. He was one of the most wanted juveniles in the state. No wonder his face looked familiar.” Sanji frowned before he looked back up to Nojiko. He clenched his jaw as he pulled Nami closer to him, secured her in his arms. “And you’re telling me that Nami was in a romantic relationship with him?! How the hell did that even happen?!”

Nojiko sighed. “It's a really long story.” She stared at her sister buried into Sanji's neck in hiding. There was no way for Nami to talk about it, not even think about it. “Let's just settle down with tea and sweets. We're all in a huge mess right now.”

“Alright.” Sanji nodded.

******

The day was close to dusk as the sun slowly lowered down behind the horizon. Restaurants, public stores, and clubs flicked their signs up to capture the people’s attention. Except for one who walked by with his head facing down.

He passed a local bar on his way to his apartment. A drink would've been decent, but he didn't feel the need to spend a penny on alcohol or ingesting it. All he needed was some alone time. He ignored the bar and moved forward.

Entering the apartment building, he took the elevator. He pressed the third-floor button and waited to exit out into the narrow hallway. The door slid open as the bell rang. One light bulb was lit up, barely clearing the semi-dark hall. He stepped to the right and searched for his room, which was all the way at the end.

“Hey cutie,” a woman with long jet black hair in pigtails called Law in the doorway of her apartment. She held a burnt cigarette in her pink manicured fingers. To get him to notice her, she flaunted her skimpy outfit; a tight mini leather skirt and a black bikini top. Her makeup brought out her hazel eyes by the winged eyeliner, smoky eyeshadow, and curled up mascara. She posed in her doorway, arms posted on either side of the doorframe and hip out with added weight on one leg.

Without sparing her any attention, Law brushed by her cringing pose. He grabbed his room key out of his pocket and inserted it in the keyhole.

“Need some company?” The woman offered. Law exhaled out of his nose, irritated by the annoying girl's voice. He glanced over with a scowl. She was leaning on one side of the door frame as she took a drag of her cigarette. She sent him a bubbly smile and giggled, smoke escaping out of her mouth. “I can keep you warm.”

“Piss off,” he remarked, earning another smile that was wider than the last. She shrugged a shoulder and inhaled the cigarette.

“Worth a shot.” She turned her back and leaned on the doorframe, chuckling to herself. She heard him step into his room before closing the door behind him. She chuckled again, this time with arrogance. “He'll come.”

The dark surrounded Law. He didn't bother switching the lights on when he entered. Sighing, he moved to the kitchen area by turning to the right, walking through the living room first. Turns out he did need a drink. He opened the fridge and grabbed his last bottle of beer. There was scarcely enough food for a few days. He didn't buy any of it. He had a friend who took care of his expenses, more like his slave as a matter of fact. Law promised his “friend” that if he can cover him until he got back on his feet, then there will be no more punches.

Twisting the cap off with his bare hands, Law gulped down the distasteful alcohol. He aimed for the living room. The shadows of the window sat on the wooden floor as the sunlight streamed through.

“Shit…” Law tugged the neck of his white shirt. His room had no air conditioning, so it was beginning to get mucky and moist. Placing the bottle on the coffee table, he dropped his flannel shirt on the ground and pulled off his white tee. Then he opened up the windows to let the cool air in. “Much better.” He took another swig of his beer bottle and looked out the window, staring at the street.

Couples were strolling on sidewalks, holding hands. Some of them were sitting on benches as their tongues were tying. He could even hear banging and groaning behind the walls. Clenching his jaw, Law swallowed the last of the beer in one giant gulp. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before he glared at the bottle.

Growling infuriatingly, he threw the bottle at the door as it bursts into pieces. The brown remnants scattered across the floor like marbles. Law rubbed his temples with both hands before clutching handfuls of his hair. He took in a deep breath. His eyes closed as he breathed out, sliding his hands to his thick neck. Watching these couples showing off their love made him want to knock down the walls of his room. He knew that he and Nami had something going for them, but everything went in the wrong direction.

He didn't know what to think when he overheard Nojiko talking to the town sheriff at her bakery about Nami. That was how he learned about her coming here in the next few days. He froze when she mentioned that Nami was coming here with her husband and daughter. Shouldn't be surprising though. He was gone, and she moved on. But still… His heart was beginning to feel strange after seeing the ring on her finger. 

What else did he miss while in prison?

Speaking of prison, he didn't even get to say his goodbyes to some of the prisoners whom they considered to be his gang. He'll admit it. He wouldn't have finished his business with some of the guards without their little help. What were their names? Bepo? Shachi, was it? And Penguin..?

They did their little trick of luring in guards to quiet areas one at a time, and then Law did all the dirty work. The guards who teased him, beat him, laughed at him, humiliated him, and punished him met the devil's door. His favorite was the promise he made to this one guard about begging for a death wish and ripping his throat out. Law never saw anything more pleasing than watching a man beg for air without that pipe in his neck. Then his friends cleared the evidence. They cleaned the floors and walls, and burned their clothes and wore new ones from the laundromat. He asked him what they were going to do with the guards and they said that he didn't have to worry about a single thing. They promised that they would take the blame for it if anyone found out.

On Law's last day, he picked up his belongings in a cardboard box and exited out the prison to wide open space. A couple of guards escorted him when he left. Then a huge roar coming from the prison caused Law to take one final glance at the place. Hundreds of prisoners were yelling and shouting behind the barred windows. He couldn't tell which of them were congratulating him or spitting profanities at him. They all sounded the same.

Law thought of a great farewell to give his fellow inmates something to remember. Not original, but it was something. He dropped his box full of things and stepped over it. Showing off his taunting smirk, he raised both hands in the air and flipped every one of them. He guffawed in a heap of enjoyment as they yelled even louder.

“Sayonara bitches!” He remembered shouting at them as he swiped his arms. The last thing he said to them was, “Have fun while you last because you're gonna need it!” Then he strutted away with his back turned, waving in good riddance. He swore he heard his gang cheering him on by their boisterous screaming.

The guards ordered him to put an end to his childish games and sit in the van waiting for him. He picked up the box again and climbed into the vehicle. As the driver started the engine, Law lowered the passenger seat window down and stuck his left arm out, flipping everyone off again. He couldn't help but smirk the entire way.

Back to the present, Law lost all motivation to keep the enjoyment up. There was nothing here that can make him happy again. He was lucky that he found his “friend” on the street and forced him to lend a hand. Food, water, clothes, money, and a place to stay were all the things he needed to start his life again. He also needed something else. Something that can release his stress besides alcohol. Something that he hasn't had since prison. He was craving for… lust.

Blinking attentively, the woman in the hallway turned to the door that opened. She grinned when the tall man came out. Inhaling the cigarette, she blew out a stream of smoke as he walked by.

“Any second thoughts on my offer-” She squeaked as strong arms pinned her against the wall. She was surprised when his mouth crashed into hers. He then hoisted her up from the floor and stepped between her legs, wrapping them around his waist. Moaning in desire, her arms seized his neck as she pulled him closer.

He devoured her ravenously. He didn't have to pry her mouth open because she already welcomed him by letting him slide his tongue in. His nose flared as the kissing grew intense. They were panting uncontrollably between the heavy lip smacking. His need took over him. Sliding his hands to her butt, he squeezed for the feel and rammed her hard. A yelp was her response. He groaned by the tugging on his hair and the scratching on his back. Once they separated from tongue battle, a string of saliva connected them.

Grumbling, his lips trailed down her long neck as he sucked on her soft flesh. She smelled of smoke from the cigarette, and of reeking perfume. His nose twitched from the stinging scent. He ignored it as he nipped her skin. She chuckled at his tickling lips and bites.

“Well aren't you hungry,” she mumbled, eyes closed to focus on the sensation inside her core. “I knew you'd come for me.”

“Shut up. This isn't about you,” he seethed through his teeth. A couple of short, hot breaths came out of him, his chest rising up and sinking down as he breathed. “It's about me. I'm just filling in my needs, and you're the only one who freely opened your legs.”

She giggled at his reason, playing with his hair. “If that's the case, then let me rock your world. I'll show you how it's done.”

“You better keep your word for it.”

******

Sitting on the couch with her head laying on his shoulder, Nami stared at nothing in particular. Her eyes became glossy from the hot tears she spilled, which left long lines of tear stains on her cheeks. She didn't eat any of Nojiko's baked sweets or drank her tea. She somehow didn't have the stomach for it. All she wanted was silence.

Sanji slanted his eye over to Nami. She hasn't said a single word since she broke down. He was worried about how long she might stay quiet.

Their locked hands rested on their legs. They've been sitting in the living room for almost an hour and a half. The teacups and orange sugar cookies that Nojiko brought stood idly on the coffee table in front of them.

“You sure you don't want to eat anything? I can cook something for you in the kitchen. It might make you feel better,” Sanji said, a concerned look on his face.

“I'm not hungry.” Nami shook her head. “I lost my appetite.”

“Okay.” Sanji raised their hands to his lips and kissed the back of Nami's hand. His affection made her gaze at him.

She had this warm feeling in her heart, the one she’d be given only from Sanji. Her heart began to pound like normal again. She felt comfortable and safe.

He gazed into her eyes as well, earning a blink from her. Purity and hope she saw. Also humanity, intimacy, and most importantly, love. Was this the feeling you would get from the one you cherish most? This reminded her of the time she asked Usopp how he knew his wife was the one. Well, Nami found her reason.

“What is it?” He murmured. Nami didn’t say anything for a moment until she raised her left hand to Sanji’s face, his blond hair brushing against her fingers as she rubbed his cheek.

“Nothing. I just realized how much I really love you.” With that said, Nami earned a loving smile from him, and a light peck on the palm of her hand. “Sanji, you don't have to stay here with me if you don't want to. I know I've been much of a pain, but I don't want to drag you down. I feel like my problem is becoming a huge burden and I'm sorry that it's troubling you.”

“It's fine Nami, I don't mind,” he assures, grabbing her hand from his cheek and gave it another kiss. “Plus, it's not my intention to leave you alone, not like this. And who said that your problem is a burden to me?”

Nami felt warm in her heart again. Resting her head on his shoulder, Nami snuggled closer to him. Sanji smiled at her affection before he pressed his lips to the top of her head.

“Okay guys, Kimi’s all set,” Nojiko interrupted them as she came by the living by the room. “Changed her diaper, fed her, and put her to sleep. You don't have to worry about her for the rest of the night.”

“Thank you, Nojiko. We appreciate it,” Sanji acknowledged.

“Actually, I think I need a nap as well,” Nami proclaimed, one hand rubbing her eye.

“Nami, it's only four o'clock. You just got here and we haven't had din-” Nojiko paused when Sanji shushed her and shook his head.

“Alright, let's go.” Both he and Nami stood up from the couch and walked out of the living room to the hallway. They passed by Nojiko as they head straight to their room on the left side. “Need anything, Nami.”

“No, I'm good. Um, Sanji?” They stopped in front of the door and faced each other. “I think I need to be alone this time.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I'm sure. Thank you.”

Nojiko saw them kiss each other goodnight. Now inside her old bedroom, Nami closed the door behind her with a soft click. Sanji sighed before he ran a hand through his hair.

“Do you need something?” Nojiko called. “I've got beer in the fridge.”

“Yeah, that'd be great.”

Chapter Text

The beer cans snapped open by the push of their tabs. Sanji’s nose wrinkled by the malty aroma, not quite accustomed to drinking alcohol such as beer. He usually had wine at home with his wife, but this time he needed something stronger to relieve the stress he was flooded with, including the minor ache in his chest.

Today felt like time was going by slowly, but the incident with Nami and the outlaw came extremely fast. When he watched her react with sheer anxiety, he swore to God that he had never seen anyone, even his wife, look that horrified before. What he saw was legitimate, and he can’t seem to let this go.  

Nojiko paused with her can near her mouth when she noticed her brother-in-law standing still.

“What? Not much of a drinker?” She said, curving an eyebrow.

He shook his head in reply.

“It's not that. I think I lost my appetite as well.” Alcohol was probably not the answer. Sanji attempted to place the can on the kitchen table, but Nojiko halted him by pushing the can against his chest.

“No way,” her voice lowered to a serious tone. “I am not letting you waste a single can just because your stomach isn't up for it. I paid good money for this, so you better drink the entire thing, got it?”

She sounds an awful lot like me when it comes to food, Sanji sighed out of his nose, and now I'm the one being told. Well isn't this ironic.

“Got it.” Nojiko nodded in approval as he sipped out of the can. They both leaned on the counter in between the stove and refrigerator. Silence crept between them as they stood, until Sanji said, “I should've listened.”

“Huh?” Nojiko questioned before she watched him place one hand on his face, frustrated and upset.

“She didn't even want to be here. She knew this was a terrible idea right from the start.” He slid his hand over his mouth as his eyes hooded. “If I hadn't pressured her and listened, then she wouldn't be…”

“Hey! Don't you dare blame yourself!” Nojiko exclaimed, causing Sanji to jolt by  her sudden outburst. “You didn't see this coming, so there's no need for you to beat yourself up about it! It wasn't you who made Nami cry, alright?!”

Sanji blinked when he caught a tear sliding down her cheek. “Nojiko?”

“It was all me. This is my fault, I should be the one blamed for it,” Nojiko swallowed, facing the floor as her shoulders shook. Then her hands balled into fists. Inevitably, tears slid down her cheeks.  

Gasping, Sanji widened his eyes. “Hey, hey, Nojiko. It's not your fault.”

“Y-yes it is…” Sanji flinched in surprise. Dipping her head lower to the floor, she shook immensely. “I am such a selfish idiot. I shouldn't have begged her into this. Why is it that I can't get things fucking right?!”

Her voice shattered as she wept, appalling Sanji because he didn’t picture her as the kind of person who would break emotionally, especially right in front of him.

Never once in the past several years of knowing his wife’s sister had he watched her shed tears. He thought she would never ever cry for anything. Now it was both of the strongest women he knew. Again, all it took was one look at one man. Sanji narrowed his eyes as he tilted his head down.

This has gone out of line. He sighed again. How could this have happened? How can that man be the cause of this?  

Sniffling, Nojiko wiped the remaining tears from her eyes and cleared her throat. Her nose wiggled to clear up her nostrils. “You didn't see any of that.”

“Right.” The stained streamlines on her face reminded him of Nami. He couldn't stand by any longer. “It's not your fault either, Nojiko. I understand what you're going through, but we're not the ones who are at blame here. This isn't something that we purposely did to hurt Nami. Like you said, we didn't see it coming.”

“Yeah, you have a point there,” she said before her face twisted into a scowl. “I just hate that guy. Why did he even bother coming back?” Nojiko drank out of the can, mockingly smiling. “He probably has nowhere else to go, what a loser.”

She turned to her brother-in-law.

“It bothers you, doesn't it?” She asked, but he shrugged.

“I don't think it bothers me the same way it bothers you,” he proclaimed honestly. “I can't shake the fact that the man Nami explained to me was none other than Law himself. She did say that there was another guy before me, but I never thought that it'd be someone like him. What are the odds, you know?”

“Yeah, what are the odds?” She repeated, nodding in agreement and understanding. A moment of silence swept in again. Sanji recalled the threat of wasting good alcohol as he took a swig. Glancing at him again, Nojiko slowly grinned. “You're a good guy, Sanji.”

“Thanks.” Sanji became quiet after being complimented. Inside, he was actually surprised to hear her say that.

“Hey, about that question you asked earlier. I could try to explain to you about Law and why Nami is-”

“Forget it.”

Nojiko paused in place. “What?”

“I don't care anymore. My family is all I care about now.” Sanji gave off a narrowed look as he thought of his wife and baby. “After witnessing Nami's reaction to that scumbag of a man with my own eye, there's nothing more to explain.”

Nojiko gawked at him in disbelief. Then she chuckled, a smug grin plastered on. “Hmph, you expect me to believe that last part? You're a terrible liar Sanji, and you're gonna have to do better than that.”

Sanji nearly choked on his own breath. Reading between lines was her natural instinct, and she saw right through him like an expert.

“You know what I see, an angry husband who needs a valid reason to kick the guy's ass for wronging his wife. You do want to know about her past, don't you?”

Sighing in defeat, Sanji squeezed the beer can, aluminum crinkling in his hand. “If it does give me a reason, then I'm all ears.”

“I'm beginning to know you a lot better now. ‘The eyes don't lie,’ right?”

He rolled his eye. “I only have one, but it still counts.”

“Oh that's right, I almost forgot that you're half blind,” she said. “How did you lose your sight anyway? I never got the whole story.”

“It doesn't matter. Let's not worry about me now.” He placed the dented can on the table and sat his elbow near the stove, waiting patiently.

“Right, Nami.” Nojiko took her final sip. Looking for the trash barrel, she tossed the empty can in one shot. “So, what do you want to know?”

“Everything, if you don't mind.”

“You sure? We might be standing for a while. It's your call.”

“That's fine. We could move to the living room if our feet get tired.”

“Okay. So by everything, you mean..?”

“Whatever comes first.”

“Alright, they uh-”

“I'M HERE! I FINALLY CAME!” A booming voice erupted the inside of the house. Both Sanji and Nojiko jumped in surprise when the front door busted open with a slam. The newcomer wore an all brown uniform and a cap, resembling the design of a local police officer. He had a bushy mustache over his lips, long scars on his face and arms, but what caught Sanji's eye was the golden badge over the man's heart and a distinct symbol on the left arm sleeve.

He made a puzzled look and said, “uh, have they not arrived yet?”

“Genzo?” Nojiko blinked.

“The sheriff?” Sanji read the title on Genzo’s sleeve. Realization dawned on his face. Then an irritable sigh came out as his impression. Here's the real deal.

“Nojiko!” He spotted her in the kitchen and then slanted to Sanji. Putting the pieces of a familiar vehicle and a blond man together, an excited grin grew from ear to ear. “Ah, so she is here!”

I’m assuming that wasn’t for me. Sanji wasn't surprised at all.

“Alright, where is she? Where’s my little lamb?” He pondered around the hallway for a moment in a hopeful search. Finding no signs, he stepped inside the kitchen, directly to Nojiko. She turned her eyes away by glancing straight down. “W-where’s uh, where’s Nami? You did say that she’d be here.”

“Um, sir? I’m going to need you to lower your voice,” Sanji suggested to the brown-clad sheriff. His formal way of addressing the sheriff took him way back when he and Nami started dating. Apparently to this day, he still hasn’t earned his respect.

Genzo raised his eyebrows at Sanji. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Don’t think for a second that just because you’re wedded to Nami and you’re a cop yourself doesn’t mean you can order me around like-”

“Genzo,” Nojiko spoke up to peel his attention away from Sanji.

“Yes, darling?” He replied, smiling.

“Please shut up.”

“O-oh, sure thing.”

That was easy. Sanji figured that the only people Genzo would listen to are Nami and Nojiko, no one else but them.

“Before you ask again with that hoarse voice of yours, Nami’s in the bedroom sleeping,” she informed, earning a strange look from the sheriff.

“Sleeping? But the sun hasn’t even gone down yet.” He reasoned, astonished that someone as young as Nami would be in bed at this time.

“We know, Genzo,” she said, keeping her face down. “We know.”

Genzo furrowed his eyebrows, staring at each of their postures and expressions. “Why the long faces? Did I miss something?” Neither of them gave an answer, which made Genzo more concerned. “What happened?”

******

Arching his back, Law released a long sigh as he rolled his shoulders. He blinked his gray eyes open to the ceiling where a lamp hung. Old and dirty it was.

His head shook as he groaned, his body sore from his earlier action with the woman he picked up from across the hall. He ended up sleeping in her apartment, laying right next to her nude body in her bed. She was practically naked even before he tore her clothes off, which made things a lot easier for him to get to the point.

Sex was hard-core till they both reached their orgasms, but it wasn't as sensual as the one he could try to remember. There were intimacy and passion, like anyone would want again and again. Addiction would take over, the body drowning in ecstasy. Love was the word he'd define the feeling he had, by the rightful lover.

Shifting to his right where the woman curled up, he eyed at her back carelessly. She had a narrow waist and small hips. A tattoo of an outlined star with tribal curves was on her lower back and a roaring tiger head behind her left shoulder. Another one was above her private area, reading “Eat Me” in cursive font. Law rolled his eyes, turning back to the ceiling.

To remind himself, there was obviously no passion or intimacy, just meaningless sex. Sex can be with anyone, but love is only one person. He learned that a long time ago. A picture of an ecstatic girl with a brightened smile made the hairs on his arms stand up as he imagined her. Nami was the one who taught him that phrase, not vocally, but emotionally.

Now that he had finally seen her in the flesh, he didn't know what to do. He sort of knew she wouldn't give him a great response. Despite that, he wanted to see her right away. He wished he could congratulate her marriage and motherhood, but that wasn't what truly felt, especially to the fact that she was married to a damn cop of all people. Bad history of encountering the men, specifically, in blue reminded him. Never liked them, never will. Law growled at his frustrated past.

He remembered the scowl Nami's husband shot him after her outburst, which made him scoff at the “intimidating” cop. He's got nothing.

Dismissing the thought, Law sat up and rubbed his eyes, the sheets blanketing his legs. He felt movement beside him as he heard a soft moan from the black haired woman. Astounded, she endured as long as he had, which made him wonder how so. But then he realized the answer was already there.

“I need some air,” he said, his voice sounding husky from sleeping for a while. Pulling off the sheets, he leisurely stepped towards a single window in the bedroom and pushed the frame up by force. A cool breeze rolled in as Law inhaled the refreshing air. “Smells like piles of burnt cigarettes in here.”

Without further ado, Law found his pants and boxer briefs on the floor near the bed. There were dozens of lacy underwear, colorful tank tops, and skirts, and high heels littering all over the bedroom, but he didn't have a hard time looking for his own clothes. He recollected kicking off his shoes when he barged into the woman's apartment.

After he pulled on his pants, he dug into his back pocket for his flip phone. The new cellular device didn't intrigue him one bit, so he stuck with what he knew how to use from years back.

8:32 p.m. it was. More than four hours had passed. Ignoring the time he wasted sleeping in a trashed room with a conked out smoker, he stuffed the phone back in his pocket and carefully stepped out to the living room. He felt his mouth seemingly dry. There should be water in the kitchen, he presumed.

As he stood in front of the fridge, Law yanked the door wide open. He scanned the inside discreetly before snatching a sealed water bottle from the top shelf where a whole stack stood. This broad was prepared, wasn't she?

He twisted the cap off and took a deep breath, his parched mouth ready for a hydrating drink. When he finally pressed the top on his lips, he gulped the water down without a break. Cold liquid glided down his throat as he squeezed the bottle. Talking his last gulp, he sighed in pleasure. Oh how much he missed drinking water that didn't come from the sewers. Maybe he should've have taken that breather because his throat felt icy and frozen. He had one more sip till the bottle was finished.

“Had a good time, hon?” A woman's voice spoke up behind him as slender arms snaked around his waist. Nonchalantly, Law took a glimpse at the black haired woman who was in a short, light blue robe. She peered up at him with a sheepish smile, chuckling.

“It was alright, fairly good,” he muttered.

“Well, I hope I did satisfy all your needs,” she purred, imprinting a light and long kiss on his back. Her sneaky hands trailed down his hard stomach and teased above the pants line. “Anything else you need me to do for you?”

Law drained the last sip of water and swung it to the side. “No.”

“You sure?” She managed to spin him around to face her as one of her hands led up to play with his hair tips. The other traced his jawline slowly. Then she tiptoed up to his height and grazed his thick neck with her lips.

Shuddering slightly, Law closed his eyes as he tightened his hands closed, a groan threatened to escape. He could feel her erect nipples protruding through her robe on his chest. Curse her seductive moves.

“I can do a lot more if you want,” she whispered, her warm breath tickling his ear.

Releasing his bed hair, she grabbed his wrist and invited him to cup her ample breast. Her cheeks flushed when his hand made contact. She grinned. “Or, you can do whatever you want to me as long as you'd like. Your choice.”

Law glanced down to her cleavage, a wide valley between her breasts. The robe was barely tied around her waist and it looked as though the loose knot would undo anytime and expose her provocative body. She must have left it loose on purpose, he thought. Not that it bothered him anyway.

Looking back into her succubus eyes, Law removed his hand. “I just remembered I have an errand to run. Excuse me.” He pried her off and nudged her out of the way, trotting to the door.

The woman stood there speechless. Usually, people would take her offer without second thoughts. This guy had better control than anyone she's been with. She sort of felt useless at the moment, until an idea came up.

“There's a show tonight!” She suddenly announced after she spun around. Law gave her a bored look over his shoulder. “Pinky Paradise on 1023 Rose Street, I'll be performing there. My part starts at eleven, that means you'll have plenty of time to come see me. ” She speed walked to him until she invaded his space. “You can have whatever you want there. All the cocktails and meals will be on me, so you don't have to worry about the charges. And here's the best part, there's a separate room in the club where it's meant for private services.” She winked with a flirty smile at the last part.

“Why are you telling me this?” Law questioned, suspicious. “What's the catch?”

“No catch. I just want you to be there, and it would truly mean a lot to me.” She stood on her toes and pursed her lips. “Please.”

Rolling his eyes, he shouldered her off. “I have to go.”

Law wrenched the door open before he stepped out without looking back.

“You won't regret it,” she promised, but she met a slam as his answer.

*****

Four hours earlier

“What?!” Genzo pulled up from his chair as it scraped against the tile floor. “He was here?!”

“Ssh! I said don't shout..!” Nojiko scolded, pressing a finger to her lips as a silent command. It didn't take long for her to explain the situation to Genzo because he already knew about the certain detail; the man he despised.

Sanji had his eye wide open. He was well aware that Nojiko was infuriated with Law’s presence, but he didn't realize until now that Genzo was just as furious as she was. Not more, because there were no other words to describe her rage. He noticed the deep frown on her face as she glowered at the dinner table, displeased with the issue that became everyone's issue, including the sheriff’s.

“I know how you feel. I get it because I'm angry too.” Nojiko blew out an exhale. “We didn't expect any of this to happen until we saw him show up here.”

Grinding his teeth, Genzo growled under his breath. A dark shadow loomed over his eyes from his sheriff hat tilting over them. “And Nami?”

“She's fine, Genzo. She’s just holed up in her room, and I'm afraid she won't be coming out later tonight.”

Nojiko suddenly gasped, somehow in shock, like she reminisced something. Ducking her head in, she began to shake again.

“Nojiko? Hey, are you okay?” Sanji inquired, puzzled.

“Has it really been ten years since that day?” He heard Genzo grumble to himself.

“Yeah, it has,” Nojiko responded. “Looks like he finished his full sentence and we forgot all about it.” Her heard clawed the surface of the table. “What the hell was that judge thinking?! Locking that piece of crap up for only ten years was horseshit!”

“Watch your mouth, Nojiko,” he warned. She had every reason to be mad, but Genzo knew that they both need to cool their heads. “Don't get too worked up about this. You already know that there was nothing neither you nor I could do to change Your Honor’s mind about his choice of punishment. The case was already closed when he struck the gavel the final time.”

“I know, I know. It’s just I feel as though it's happening all over again.” Her voice was shallow and distant. Nojiko thought of Nami as she rubbed her temples. Then she thought of what might happen tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Will she be safe out of Law’s reach? Will he try something to get between everyone? She didn't know. She just didn't know what to do.

“Hey, you guys,” Sanji called them, grabbing their attentions one by one. With them talking to each other, Sanji was lost in listening to their conversations. “I already know that Trafalgar Law is a criminal and all, but I'm assuming that that's not the case in this situation. There's something else, isn't it?”

Genzo and Nojiko looked at each other for one second, before they turned away. Their answer was a yes to him.

“What did he do..?” Sanji demanded, swallowing down as his jaw clenched.

Genzo sighed, shaking his head. “You sure, lad? Do you really want to know what he did?”

“Yes. Tell me everything.”

******

Stubbornly, Nami dangled her legs over the edge, unable to wash out the thoughts clouding her head. Her eyes held the expression of fatigue and weariness, desperate to close and drift into a peaceful slumber. Nami supposed that it won't happen tonight, not after what went down. A good sleep would’ve been helpful, but she seemed too restless to even try to stop thinking.

An exhausted sigh escaped from her throat. She rubbed her eye with the palm of her hand before she placed them both on the comforter. Short bangs covered her eyes as her head bent down. The room was soundless until she winced like something stung her.

Hello, Nami… It's nice to see you again…

Nami blocked her ears by smacking them with her hands, begging to God to rip the voice out of her head. Realizing that begging won’t do anything, her hands slid to her shoulders. Nami's body trembled. She felt as though she was exposed for the world to see her fragile state. No, not fragile, marked.

“Stop it..!” Nami jerked her head side to side, biting her own lip as a form of punishment. “Don’t let it get to you. You’re better than this. Just don’t think about it… don’t think about it.”

Words were easier said than done. Can she ignore this? Not only did she fear for herself, she feared for Sanji, Nojiko, and Kimi a lot more. What if that dream she had could… No! It won’t happen! But why was she having these doubts?! Did she not believe her husband’s promise that night? With so much going on, she can’t think anymore.

With her head in her hands, Nami took a deep breath. “I’m tired.” Her fingers curled and dug into her face. “I’m tired of crying. I will not let him win, not this time.”

Chapter Text

Ten Years Ago

“Nami, can you come outside?” A woman in her early forties called her daughter from the backyard. She wore her used gardening gloves and black rain boots, pausing her work in the backyard. She sighed when she heard no answer.

“She’s probably listening to her CD player on high again," Nojiko muttered. She was picking out half grown tangerines from the bushes in the garden along with her mother. “I told her three times already to lower the volume when she's inside the house.”

“Well if you know so much, will you please go get her?” The woman pointed at the screen door to fetch for Nami. They were going to need more hands to haul the tangerines in the family bakery van for the drop-off.

Hanging her head back, Nojiko rolled her eyes. “Ugh, fine,” she exasperated.

It was Sunday afternoon. The sun gave off a moderate amount of sunlight for the tangerine plants to absorb as their energy source. The clouds crowded the sky as they floated closer to each other. Today’s temperature was presumably warm. It wouldn't last long in the season of winter, which was near to its end next month. Bellemere, the orange farmer, couldn't wait for spring to happen.

The growth of her plants would be much faster and easier in the next season. More tangerines can leave the garden at a better pace. Her customers can order enough of her flavored pastries. She employed her daughters to work at her bake shop as extra hands. But one of them was still in high school and the other wasn't committed enough.

Bobbing her head in tune to a song playing, Nami scribbled in her diary, sitting cross-legged on her bed. She yawned as she looked down at her written pages, related to school.

Her school was holding an annual movie theater night in March. It was a normal get together with the seniors before they graduate. The Student Council decided to set up the movie night outside on campus for the first time ever. As fun as it sounded, the Student Council worked hard on coming up with new ideas to raise money for it. Nami wasn't excited for the event because she and her family had their own stressful problems.

Business wasn't going well in the season of winter, and they were on a tight budget. Nami had to spend all her time working at the bakery along with her sister to pay their bills and expenses. She had to give up her club meetings and hanging out with her friends in the meantime. And if that wasn't enough, Nojiko didn't go to college after graduation.

Not only did they need money for business, food and a roof over their heads, Bellemere had stage 3 lung cancer. Nami and Nojiko had to work even longer and harder because they didn’t have health insurance. They roughly afforded radiotherapy. They were lucky that the local hospital gave them a thirty percent discount. Plus an extra ten percent if they made their payment within fourteen days. The surgeon couldn't perform surgery to remove the tumors. They were too close to her heart. Chemotherapy was another suggestion, which was also expensive. Bellemere blamed herself for bringing everyone down with the costs.

After working several days and nights in a row to pay off the bills, Nami grew exhausted. She was lucky that she used up all her free time for homework and studies.

Without warning, Nojiko yanked her sister's headphone set off. “Hey!” Nami exclaimed.

“Doing homework, I see?” Nojiko crossed her arms.

Nami sighed. “Cut me some slack, Nojiko.”

“Really?”

“Oh, like you should talk.”

Nojiko uncrossed her arms. “Whatever. Mom wants you outside, so come on.”

“Alright.” Nojiko exited out the room as Nami followed her to the back door at the end of the hallway. Stepping out, Nami saw a few half full baskets of tangerines and frowned. “We’re low again, huh?”

“Yep,” her sister answered. Nami couldn't wait for spring too.

“Nami, will you and Nojiko drop these baskets off at the shop for me?”

Remembering her mother's condition by staring at the bald head, Nami obediently nodded. “Sure, mom.”

The baskets were placed in the back of a white van like they were told. Nami and Nojiko jumped into the front seats; Nojiko in the driver’s side and Nami in the passenger side.

“Can we stop by Tree of Knowledge, Nojiko?” Nami asked, earning a raised eyebrow.

“For what?” Inserting the keys in the ignition, Nojiko started the van.

“I have to return my book.” She waved a light novel in her hand. “The due date is today.”

“Okay, sure. We'll go, but be quick when we get there.”

The drive took them no less than five minutes as they reached the bookstore. Nami got out quickly and rushed to the front doors.

“In and out, Nami!” Nojiko reminded her, shouting from the car window.

“I got it!”

The motion detector beeped and the double doors slid open to allow Nami inside. Searching for the desk to bring her book back, she speed walked straight through the store in haste. She noticed that it was under construction from the giant gaps in the ceiling, but she didn't pay them any mind.

The desk finally came to view and Nami walked even faster, but to her dismay, no one was there. “Great.”

Smacking the book on the counter, she tapped her fingers and scanned the store for any employees. A few people were checking out or buying books today, which made the atmosphere awfully quiet.

Then she heard something flip between two of the tall bookcases a few feet away. Furrowing her eyebrows, she stretched her neck to listen. Puzzled, she glanced over her shoulder if anyone heard.

“Huh.” Nami decided to find out what the made the strange noise. She strode to the space between bookcase L and M. If someone was playing games, she was not in the mood. Turning her eyes to her left, she blinked. An opened book lied on the floor, and Nami spotted a slot on a high shelf. She exhaled as she hooded her eyes.

Another thing that caught her attention was a silent figure of a man at the end of the bookcases. He was dressed in a black jacket and dark jeans with a chain hung below his left hip. His back was facing her as he skimmed through a thin booklet in his hands. His height was tremendous; six feet tall, she estimated.

He didn't hear it fall over? Nami curved an eyebrow up, astonished. Must be an interesting book he’s reading.

Shrugging, Nami bent her knees and picked up the book. “Back up you go.” She stood on her tiptoes and reached for the slot. But she didn't realize soon enough that the shelf was too far up.

“Come on,” she grumbled, stretching her arm and placed one hand on the case as a leverage. With a frustrated growl, Nami hopped on her toes, practically touching the edge. “Almost. “ She stuck her tongue at the corner of her lip as she braced for another leap.

Suddenly, when the book in her hand hit the shelf, three more books from a higher shelf slipped out. Nami widened her eyes.

“Aah-” She shielded her head from the falling books, scrunching hers eyes tight. Two of them flopped on the ground, except for one. Opening an eye hesitantly, she saw a large shadow looming over her. “Huh..?”

Slowly, Nami took a glance over her shoulder to see who it was standing behind her. She froze, slightly surprised.

“You alright?” The silent man from the end of the bookcase held the fallen book over her head as he asked. She tilted up to get a good look at him, but then she was lost for words.

His smokey grey eyes peered down to her. Nami gazed into them, acknowledging the color because it suited him so perfectly. His dark hair was short and messy, giving off a street vibe. He had scruffy sideburns, a small patch of facial hair on his chin like he began to grow out a goatee, and thin eyebrows. She also stared at his full lips for a second. 

He had an average build due to the clothes he wore, but he was closer to a slim figure. They were all dark clothes; leather jacket, T-shirt, and pants, plus a pair of gold earrings on each of his ears. He was the spitting image of a rebel or something, but Nami didn't consider that idea. Again, she was lost for words. 

“U-um…” She stuttered, blinking more than once. “Y-yeah, I'm fine. Thank you… for that.” Staring at her, he brought the book to his side and looked up to the shelves. “Oh! I-I was just trying to uh, put this book away.”

“I noticed,” he said before he kneeled down to collect the other books on the floor.

“Wait, you don’t have to do that! Let me get them!” Nami dropped to her knees and immediately reached for one of the books laying on her right side. Then their hands touched at the same time. Her eyes widened as her hand flinched. She wanted to apologize, but she paused, adding a blink. Eyeing their hands, she spotted ink letters written on his fingers.

Tattoos? She shook her head to dismiss what she saw. Turning to the man to apologize, her breath got caught in her throat. She found herself directly face to face with him.

They stayed quiet for a moment, but it felt like an eternity to Nami. The man looked as though he was searching her eyes for some reason. He even made a quick glance to her chest and moved back up to her face. Was he checking her out?

She shrunk back from his overwhelming stare, but she couldn't help herself as well. The man before her was seriously good looking. He didn't seem older than her according to his young features. Two years the most.

“Wh-what?” She asked bashfully. The tension between them was making her want to leave the store as soon as possible.

“Nothing.” He shook his head, but Nami swore to God that she saw the side of his mouth curve up. Removing his gaze from her, he grabbed the book underneath their hands. “Let me do it. Don't want another accident.” He rose up on his long legs, towering over Nami like a giant. She watched him slide the books in their rightful shelves. “Are you going to stay down there, or do you need my help for that too?”

“Uh…” Nami flinched when he asked. Was she so caught up with looking at him that she forgot she was still sitting on the floor? How lost was she?

Pausing in question, Nami made a strange look when the young man held out his hand. She peered up at him, wondering if he actually was being generous to her. Assuring her that there was nothing to have second thoughts about, he pointed at his hand with his eyes. She pressed her lips together, mentally taking a deep breath and took his hand.

His hand was rough, but it was warm. Might've been the heaters in the store, or he might’ve stuck around to warm up. And it was kind of bigger compared to hers. She was pretty short at the height of five foot five and a half, also compared to the guy again.

“Thanks,” she said before dusting off her pants as an excuse to look away. But she can already feel him staring at her again.

“You're welcome.” She heard him reply. Nami pulled a strand of her shoulder-length hair behind her ear. Then she swiveled up to the bookshelves as another excuse.

“Um, thanks for putting the books back. I uh, appreciate it.” She had to say it to him straightly if she meant what she said. She brought her head to face the man, nervous again.

He nodded. “No problem.” With that, his lip curved up again and his eyes hooded. Nami felt flushed by the sight of him staring, so she faced down in case her expression might appear weird. She rubbed her left upper arm, anxious to speak up.

“Um, I-I have to get going,” she said, releasing her arm. “My sister is waiting for me outside, and she’ll kill me if I don’t make it back to her. So uh…” She stepped out of the tight space between her and the guy. She walked backward to the end of the book aisle where she came in. “I’ll be going right now.”

“Okay.” He nodded again as he watched her take her leave, keeping his eyes on her.

“Again uh, thanks for all your help.” She pressed her lips and tried to form a good smile.

“I got it the first time.”

“All right, uh…” Shrugging her shoulders, she glanced down once and looked back up. “I guess...”

She heard him chuckle to himself, probably from the way how she’s acting so strangely. “Bye.”

“Bye.” Realizing that now was a perfect time, Nami took a sharp turn and sped to the entrance doors. She contemplated with her head whether she should look back or not, but her gut was her telling to do it like a command. No, I can’t! Nojiko is waiting for me!

Peeking from behind the bookcase, the guy watched her reach the double doors. He couldn’t help but grin at the girl. Who knew that a fallen book would grab her attention.

“Took you long enough. What were you doing in there?” Nojiko inquired sternly. Nami hopped in the passenger seat of the van before she dropped her shoulders.

“It’s nothing,” she mumbled, her handling atop her legs. Nojiko eyed her sister's hands and gave a suspicious expression.

“Really, nothing?”

“Yeah, nothing. Let’s just go.”

“Okay, jeez.”

******

Back to the present

Nami stood in front of her old makeup table in the bedroom. Her lamp was lit up, so she could look at the photos taped on the oval mirror from her middle school and high school years. Most of them were pictures of her and her best friend Nefertari Vivi. She was the closest person she could ever be friends with.

Nami made a small smile at each of them. Vivi was friendly towards her and their other friends. She remembered that Vivi offered to take Nami on vacations to foreign countries. Nami had to decline every time. It wasn’t right for her to mooch money off of her best friend. Vivi was like the rich girl in school, but she never bragged about it. She didn't care about money because she knew that it would never bring anyone happiness. Well, easy for her to say, Nami thought. Vivi was like another sister to her.

Then she moved on to the pictures she had taken with her favorite high school history teacher, Ms. Nico. Beautiful and intelligent she was, and the most popular in the school. All the boys were drooling over her, especially some of the male teachers. She was kind and soft-hearted, but she had this creepy sense of humor sometimes.

Remembering all the good times she had with them, Nami wanted to keep smiling, but she faltered. Her hand clenched by her thigh, and soon she sighed in defeat. These weren't the only pictures. She kept three white cards with Ms. Nico’s and Vivi’s faces on them. The year they were born and the year they expired also included.

Turning her back to the mirror of photos, Nami walked to her bedside table. She picked up the photo frame of her and her family from the surface. She, Nojiko and Bellemere was smiling, arms wrapped around each other. They stood before the family bakery. The photo was taken when she and Nojiko were children and their mother was cancer free. The opening of Bellemere’s Oranges was an exciting moment for everyone. Nami had this explicit image of the bakery engulfed in red. She never knew why the accident happened to this day.

Nami traced her finger on her mother's face. She tilted her head as she gazed at the one-of-a-kind smile her mother had on. Bellemere was the strongest, craziest woman she knew, but she was also a sweetheart. She fought so long and dared to never give up on anything. Why is it that the purest souls have to suffer the most?

Biting her lip, Nami brought the frame to her chest. She winced like her heart was stabbed. Her arms shook as she dipped her head to face the ground.

“I'm sorry, Mom,” she whispered, having trouble swallowing. “I’m so sorry…”

Chapter Text

Yawn… ” Nami’s mouth gaped wide open. She became weary of waking up early in the morning to set up her mother's bake shop along with her sister. It was a normal routine for them, but Nami fell asleep later than usual due to the piles of late and overdue works she unintentionally pushed aside in the past few weeks.

Her job at the bakery took up most of her spare time to do her schoolwork, but it wasn't her choice to make. Bellemere needed all the help she can get from both her daughters and a couple of other employees. Even though school was her main priority, Nami couldn't find the courage within her to say no to her ill mother.

Anyway, Nami managed to complete most of her homework and slept for less than two hours the night before. Sure it sounded like not enough hours for a high school student, but Nami had to make time to get up, pack supplies in her backpack and drive with Nojiko to the bakery before walking herself to school. She hoped that maybe she can sleep longer the night of, so that she can wake up more briskly to start off another day, better than today.

Rubbing her eyes to wipe off the fatigue in them, Nami moaned under her breath, too tired to even look up ahead. She stuffed her hands in the sweater pockets as she walked down the sidewalk with her head facing her feet. Her eyes crossed to the side, the guy she met at the bookstore played in her thoughts as her face suddenly flushed.

The stare he gave made her heart thump in her chest. She remembered his lips pulling up to a striking grin and his narrowed eyes gazing into hers when they were so close to each other on the floor, face to face.

Who was he anyway, she thought. She regretted not having to ask his name and where he was from and if he was a new resident in town. He could be young enough to be a high school student, but that was wishful thinking. Who knows, maybe he might turn up again. Nami hope sooner than later honestly.

“Nami!” Nami looked up from the floor when a voice called her out of her thoughts. A thin arm waved in the air and above a head of sky-blue flourishing hair in the school yard. Looks like Nami made it on time.

With a brief smile, Nami stepped towards her best friend who waited on the concrete pathway to their school. Vivi’s dark green jacket seemed much warmer than Nami's slim red sweater and her black boots looked much more comfortable than Nami’s sneakers.

“Hey Vivi,” Nami said kindly, receiving Vivi’s friendly smile as they walked through boisterous groups and cliques around them. “How are ya?”

“I'm doing swell, thanks for asking,” Vivi responded. Clearing her throat, she pushed a blue lock of hair behind her ear and took a gander to the right.

“Vivi, can you do me a favor?” Nami stripped off one strap of her backpack to search for a worksheet that was assigned over the weekend. “You're pretty good in literature, so do you mind if you can answer these-” Nami’s shoulders dropped as her friend ignored her.

Vivi waved at a blond man wearing violet shades and casual clothing, her lips curling into an affectionate smile, red tint on her cheeks. The man waved back, delivering his own smile like a gift was sent to her. His friends cracked up laughing as they pointed at how much of dopey romantic he was.

Giggling, Vivi held onto one of her backpack straps as she kept her eyes on the man, her neck twisting till she had to look over her shoulder.

“Okay, Vivi. You can stop drooling over your boyfriend Koza and start walking better.” Nami had her hand gripped on Vivi’s shoulder to keep her from tripping over something or bumping into someone. “I need you to focus on me right now.”

“Huh? Oh sorry, my bad.”

They sat on the bottom steps of the stairs before the entrance doors to wait for the morning bell to ring as Nami pulled out the homework sheet from her backpack. “Anyway, can you help me with the questions about the Scarlet Letter? I didn't have enough time to read chapters three and four last night, so I have no clue what to write down as my answers.”

“Of course, Nami. Anything for you.” Vivi shouldered off her backpack and unzipped it open on her lap. “Let me guess, you were too busy working at your mother's bakery again?”

“Yeah, I was,” Nami sighed, putting a hand on her temple. “It's the same old story like I always tell you. I got out of work a little bit early around four in the afternoon, but I still didn't have enough time to finish homework from all my classes. And I didn't have time to shower this morning.”

“That sounds like a lot of trouble for you, Nami. Are you sure you're going to be all right?” Vivi inquired with certainty.

“I'll be fine, I'm quite used to being this stressed and exhausted, but it wouldn't hurt to get a day off, you know?”

Vivi chuckled. “I don't think I would know.”

“Oh that's right, you're rich,” Nami muttered, causing Vivi to chuckle again, but nervously. “Whatever, let's just work on Scarlet Letter.”

Fifteen minutes later, the school bell rung as a notification for all students to enter the building and begin their assigned classes. Nami thanked Vivi for the last minute help as she gathered her belongings, reluctant to sit up from her seat and start the school day.

Sighing, Nami prayed that maybe today would go easy on her. Why can't I get a break from all this?

As Nami made an attempt to trot up the stairs, her eyes frowned as if she caught something from out of the ordinary. She quickly turned around to the pathway in the middle of the schoolyard, and she froze on the spot. Her lips parted, eyes widened, and her heart beated faster. The expression she made was a reflection of surprise and shock mixed together. She didn't believe she would see this again, but the man from the bookstore was casually striding towards her school with a sling backpack on.

He wore the same leather jacket and the chain on his pants, plus a navy blue tee underneath. His black hair was ruffled like he just woke up, but the style wasn't half bad. The serious look he had on made Nami think that he didn't want to be here as much as she didn't. Perhaps she might be enjoying school this time.

Nami blinked in confusion when Vivi tugged on her sweater, nodding her head to the entrance. Complying to her friend, Nami glanced over shoulder to the approaching man, but the crowd of students blocked her view as they bombarded inside the building.

After putting her sweater away in her locker, Nami rushed into her first period classroom, room 206 on the second floor, and took her seat. She placed a pencil and notebook on the wooden desk before she rummaged inside her backpack to turn in her late, final-draft history essay. First period was her favorite class out of her schedule because she had the nicest, most intelligent and beautiful teacher in the school.

“Alright class, please take your seats and wait for further instructions,” the World History teacher, Nico Robin, but referred to as Ms. Nico, said. She stepped out from her L-shaped desk to the front of the classroom. Her shiny black hair was up in a ponytail and she wore her usual outfit of a white buttoned, long sleeve dress shirt and a light purple pencil skirt and oval-shaped glasses. Her alluring ice-blue eyes can make any man or woman fall his/her knees, and she had a curvaceous body that can stop a monster truck anywhere. “I hope you all had a relaxing weekend because I had a rather enjoyable one. If you want to take guesses for what I've done over the past few days, I'd like to hear them straight from you.”

Several arms frantically raised in the classroom, making Ms. Nico bump her eyebrows in interest. “Ah, that's quite a lot of you.” She chuckled. “Yes, Keimi?”

The girl with the bob of green hair sunk her arm down. “You went on a date with someone, didn't you?”

The students oh’d and ah’d at Keimi’s guess. Ms. Nico playfully rolled her eyes and smiled.

“Yes, I did. But with whom ?”

“Um, Ms. Nico?” Nami quietly asked her teacher as she held her stapled papers. “I don't mean to interrupt, but here's the essay that I owed you.”

“Ah, thank you, Nami. I'll be handing this back to you as soon as I finish grading it.” Ms. Nico collected the essay and headed back her desk. Nami felt relieved that the final draft was done and over with.

Some of the students, mostly boys, behind her were arguing over who went on a date with their beloved teacher. One of them nearly wept for losing his chance, sobbing that he called dibs on her. Nami was too exhausted to even begin to scold the immature boys, but as long as they paid attention to her like they always do, she'd let them go.

Nami almost closed her eyes for a second, but then the classroom door opened on its own, silencing everyone, including Nami. Wide awake, she sat frozen, again, in her chair. No way…

“Why hello there. You must be the new student Principal Sengoku spoke to me about. Please, come in.” Ms. Nico allowed the newcomer to enter. He earned multiple stares from the other students, but he didn't return them a single look when he entered. “You're a little late, but no worries, happens to ever every student when enrolled in a new school and campus. My name is Ms. Nico, it's a pleasure to have you here.”

The man nodded in response.

H-he's in my class? Nami gawked at the man before her, trying to process the happenings going on today.

“Everyone, I'd like to introduce our new student, Trafalgar Law.” The familiar man, known as Law, turned his shoulder to face the class as Ms. Nico continued with the introduction. “He'll be staying with us for the rest of the year, so treat him well and be on your best behavior.

“You may sit anywhere you'd like, Law.” She pointed at an empty desk next to Nami. “You can sit in front of the class along with Nami, and don't you worry, she won't bite.”

“Sure.” He shrugged before he aimed for the desk.

“Oh my God…” Nami shuddered in her seat as she turned her eyes away from looking at the man. Her face went hot and her hands became fidgety. He's right next to me…” She whispered to herself, stunned to the point she can't compose herself properly like a student, or a normal person.

Glancing to his right, he furrowed his eyebrows at the girl beside him. He inclined his head to get a good view of her, but Ms. Nico already began her lecture.

******

“Really? You met him again?” Vivi said, surprised. She was also intrigued to hear the exciting news again about the guy Nami talked to over the weekend.

“Well, I wouldn't say I met him again. I didn't even say a single word to him the entire time.” Nami cringed her face, regretful for ruining her chance of speaking to him.

She and Vivi rounded a long table in the school's cafeteria and sat across from each other at one end.

Nami put her head in her hands. “I could've said something,” Nami moaned, sinking her head lower.

“Calm down, it's not like he's going anywhere, Nami.” Vivi placed a hand on Nami’s arm. “He’s in our school, so I'm sure you'll get your chance again. You make it sound like today was his first and last day of school, so don't be so hard on yourself. Do you think he might have recognized you like you recognized him?”

Nami inhaled as she raised her head up. “I don't know, maybe. If he did, he would have spoken to me first.”

Chuckling, Vivi shook her head once.

“I'm gonna go ahead and grab some napkins, do you need anything, Nami?” She asked, rising out of her seat.

“No, I'm good. Thanks anyway.”

As her friend left, Nami took out a flat-bottom paper bag and set it on the table. An orange flavored muffin lied on its side in the bag before she pulled it out and sat it up. Then she searched for a canteen in her backpack to go with the muffin. She hmm’d in question. Digging further inside while pushing her notebooks and textbooks aside, realization dawned on her face.

“Crap,” she cursed. “Forgot my milk.”

Nami looked back inside her backpack to grab her wallet for any loose change, but unfortunately, they weren't enough for a single milk carton. Pennies and nickels wouldn't fit the price. Nami exhaled out her nose in defeat.

She remembered paying the bills with her hard-earned money. Her mother limited spending to only groceries and house and business bills; school lunches were on the denial list.

“Whatever.” Nami threw her wallet in the backpack and dropped them in front of her feet. Maybe she should have asked Vivi to buy her a carton, but then she would feel guilty for not paying her back soon after. All this crazy thinking for milk made her want to slam her head on the table, hard.

But before she could try to remove any of her frustration, Nami shook in fright when someone placed something on the table before her. A tattooed hand was on top of what appeared to be a carton. She remembered the ink letters as she stared at them.

“Sorry, I didn't mean to give you a start.” A deep voice, somewhat husky, of a young man brought Nami to look up. There he was again. “I overheard you mumbling to herself, so I thought I should give it to you. You probably need this more than me.”

Nami was in total shock, her body stuck in place for the third time today. She gazed wide eyed at the attractive man, wondering if this moment was too good to be true. Was this man truthfully being generous to her, and again?

“I-I, uh…” Nami lost her words as she stuttered like last time she met him. She peered down to the table, pressing her lips together, looking for the right words to say. Then she glanced at the milk carton underneath his hand. “I don't think, I mean I shouldn't…” She sighed, closing her eyes. “I can't take it. You bought it, so you should have it.”

He observed her nervous expression. “I insist, please. It’s not open, I promise you that.”

Giving in, she said, “alright, sure.”

“Nami, is it?” He asked, catching Nami's attention.

“Uh y-yeah, that's me,” she answered, her eyes quickly looked around the cafeteria and stopped on him.

He grinned. “I knew it was you I saw in the bookstore the other day. It's quite a surprise to see you again, wouldn't you agree?”

“I, yeah, I believe so.” She briefly smiled, too shy look at him straight in the eye. “Um, Trafalgar Law, right?”

“That's right.”

A wave washed over her and she said, “I-I wish I could have said this to you before, and I'm really sorry that I didn't, so…” Nami licked her lips. “It's very nice to meet you, Law.”

“Nice to meet you too, Nami.” His lips pulled up the same exact way back at the bookstore. Mysteriously wondering, his lips were resembling a smirk more than a smile. A smile would seem like it would work for him, but a smirk fitted him a lot better, kind of sexy too.

He bent down towards Nami. “I hope you don't mind, but is anyone else sitting here?”

“Oh, no.” Nami jolted by mistake, overexcited. “I mean, it's just me and my friend. You can sit here with us if you want. I don't mind at all, and I'm pretty sure she wouldn't mind either.”

“Thank you.” He nodded.

******

“I must say Nami, he really is a charmer,” Vivi said across the cell phone. “He's probably the hottest guy I've ever seen, and those are quite rare to find. Nice, attractive, and a sweet-talker.”

“I know, isn't he?” Nami said. She hung her head back as she bit her lips. “My god, I can't stop thinking about him,” she sighed heavily.

“Well, now that you guys have introduced yourselves, have you traded numbers?”

“No, I have not.” Nami shook her head and smeared her hand on her face, growling to herself.

“Nami, you have got to climb out of your shell. If you sincerely do like him, then you have to start getting closer to him, pronto.”

“I know, I know. I'm just not used to sort of thing. Dating, relationships, romance, first, second and third bases are not in my dictionary. I've never been in this kind of situation before.”

“Then it's time you have your first experience,” Vivi demanded. “I am one hundred percent positive that you have a chance with this guy named Law.”

“You really think so?” Nami asked, leaning on a wall.

“Of course I do. Haven't you noticed that he couldn't keep his eyes off you the entire time during lunch hour? He's totally interested in you, anyone could have caught that.”

“Hm, I guess you're right, but…” Nami paused for a short moment, “about me having my first experience-”

“Nami! Break time's over, let's go!” Nojiko erupted the break room by yelling out Nami's name and calling her to finish her shift.

Sighing out of her nose, Nami dropped her arm to hang by her side. Her uniform and apron crinkled as she crossed her arms. “I've got one problem.”

“Oh, right, your sister.”

“Yep.” Nami rolled her eyes and muttered, “my sister.”

Chapter Text

Both Nami and Nojiko arrived home at around six in the afternoon, back aching, and legs wobbling. The bakery usually closes at this time on a daily basis, except on Sundays. They couldn't think of anything else but to drop on their beds and ignore everything, but as soon as they entered their home, their mother finished preparing dinner. Bellemere was in the middle of stirring orange-scented stew, one of her special dishes with the important ingredient of tangerines. She leaves home early to make dinner for them and such.

After the girls set the table up, Bellemere poured the stew in their bowls and they all sat down. They ate silently. Bellemere tried to make small talk about work in the bakery and school. Nojiko answered bluntly and Nami replied that school was usual every day, dodging the question intentionally. She wished she could talk about the man she met and saw again, but she already knew how Nojiko would react. Obviously, she would say that men aren't needed in their lives or men are nothing but selfish dogs. Nami heard it all countless times, but Nojiko would go on and on.

Nojiko was the only reason why Nami never experienced what you'd call “love,” like her sister quoted. Nami understood the point, but she didn't believe that it was always true. She had two ridiculously close friends who were boys, Monkey D. Luffy and Portgas D. Ace, the impractical brothers in school. They always pulled pranks and stirred trouble at every place that they can set their feet on. Just two of the brothers were impossible. The third recently graduated and moved on to college, Sabo was his name.

Luffy and Ace weren't the types of guys who were into love. The younger brother, Luffy, was asexual and he was completely blind on the topic. Ace just didn't find it interesting at all. Technically, they were exceptions.

They only had one thing in common with her; an overprotective family.

Their grandfather was overwhelmingly strict with the boys and his type of discipline was the harshest that Nami had ever seen. He'd give them a hard clobber atop their heads, or send them on a “special” trip every time they did something stupid or reckless. She was glad that Bellemere wasn't that type of parent.

Anyway, as explained before on the phone call with Vivi, Nami never experienced romance. Never had a boyfriend, a first kiss, not even a date. She was jealous at the time when Vivi and Koza became a thing. Every day, Vivi would describe how wonderful her boyfriend was and Nami had to feel grateful for her. Sure she was happy that her friend was happy, but in reality, she was envious.

All her life, Nami believed that men were scumbags or deadbeats like how Nojiko described them. She let Nojiko brainwash her with ugly opinions. But now that Nami had her own opinion, she still felt trapped.

Nami sat on her bed after dinner was over, books and papers displayed on her blankets as her workspace. She began to ponder about something that wouldn't let her focus on homework. She knew she shouldn't bring it up to Nojiko, but her mother seemed like the better choice.

Closing her Scarlet Letter novel, Nami exited out of her room and headed to her mother's. Hesitantly, she tapped the bedroom with her knuckles and waited for an answer, almost holding her breath.

“Yes?” She heard her mother respond.

“It's me, Mom. May I come in?” She asked nervously.

“Sure, honey. Come in.”

Nami lightly pushed the door open and found her mother was gazing out of the window towards her tangerine groves. Her face was calm, but Nami could tell she was contemplating about something while staring at the plants outside.

“Um, Mom?” Nami’s voice made Bellemere flinch in her seat. She rubbed her eyes as she lowered her head. Nami briefly took in her mother's bald scalp, reminding her of the condition again.

“Sorry Nami, I was…” Bellemere trailed off, clearing her throat. “Um, what is it? Do you need something?” She inquired, pushing her previous thoughts behind.

She shook her head. “No, I don't need anything. Uh,” Nami scratched her thigh and glanced to the floor, “can I ask you a personal question?”

“What kind of personal question?” Bellemere had her eyebrows drawn together.

“Have you ever been in love, before you took me and Nojiko in?”

Nami’s question definitely brought her mother to a surprise as her eyes rounded.

“What made you ask that particular question?” Nojiko stood up from her seat and replaced the chair with her bed.

“I was just wondering. I thought if anyone knows best, it could be you.” Nami proceeded to where her mother patted on the bed and sat down. “Oh, and I didn't want to ask Nojiko because you know how she is all the time.”

“Yeah, I do.” Bellemere chuckled. “Have I ever been in love before? Hm.”

Nami eyed her mother with a close look, until she leaned back as Bellemere thought of an answer, or so Nami thought.

“Actually, as a matter of fact, no, I haven't,” Bellemere said.

“What? You're serious?” Nami blinked twice after the response.

“Dead serious.” She nodded, before shaking her head. “Never in my entire life.”

“How come? Is there a reason?”

“No, not really. It just never happened. Of course, I did have some fun back in the eighties, you know with the “no strings attached” sort of thing-”

“Mom, no. Do not even go there,” Nami commanded, feeling I'll in the pit of her stomach. Her reaction caused Bellemere to burst into laughter, something that Nami hadn't quite seen in awhile.

“Oh Nami, can't you take a joke? Or was it?” Bellemere gave a wicked grin to her disgusted daughter, which made her laugh even harder.

“Stop it, Mom. That's not funny.”

“Why? Don't the kids at your school do it all the time, or it that just me making assumptions?”

“Yeah, they do it,” Nami said, as a matter of fact, “but I don't like talking about it.”

“Don't knock it till you try it,” Bellemere said, causing Nami to gape at her.

“Mom!”

“Alright, alright. I'll stop.” Chuckling to herself, Bellemere watched her daughter from the corner of her eye. “Are you in love?”

“What? No,” Nami responded quickly, which made her mother raise her eyebrows. “I'm not, Mom. It was just a curious question.”

“Really? It seemed to me that you wanted advice or tips about love, don't you?”

“How can I get advice from you since you've never experienced it yourself?”

“That's because you just learned I haven't.”

“Mom, even if you do give me advice, it'll never happen for me, not when Nojiko's around.”

“Listen, Nami,” Bellemere started scooting closer to her daughter. “Nojiko is acting like any older sister would with their younger sister. She's only looking out for you, and she has her reasons.”

“That's the thing, I'm not little anymore,” Nami stated. “I can look out for myself.”

“Well, if that's how you feel, then you should let her know,” she advised.

“How?” Nami emphasized like the suggestion was impossible to do. “How am I supposed to tell her? She won't listen.”

“Nami, you need to find your courage,” she said to her. “If you don't do something, then you'll be greatly overpowered by anything that stands in your way. You wouldn't like the feeling of letting yourself down that well, would you?”

Staring into her mother's eyes, Nami pressed her lips together. Her mother draped an arm around her shoulders and side-hugged her.

“I remembered how I used to respond to the types of guys that Nojiko tried to keep you away from,” Bellemere began. “It was my way of saying ‘I'm not interested,’ or ‘I just don't like you.’ Or when I'm beating someone in a fight, it works for that one too. You wanna know what I said?” Nami became interested as she answered yes. “Ciao, bitch.”

Nami giggled along with her mother. They laughed for a moment, sharing how silly and righteous that line sounded.

“You're a strong girl, Nami,” she said. “And you're brightly intelligent. For anything, I'm sure you can figure something out. I know you can.”

“Thanks, Mom.” Nami snuggled Bellemere's shoulder and smiled.

“I love you so much, sweetheart.” Bellemere planted a kiss atop Nami's head and pulled her red hair behind her ear.

“I love you too.”

“Also, Nami. Instead of renting books at the store, you can always ask me if you want to buy them yourself.”

“You mean that?” Nami said, her smile brightening.

“Mhmm.” She nodded. “As long as you do well in school, okay?”

“I will, Mom. I promise.”

Listening to their conversation behind the door, Nojiko sunk her head to the ground. Her fist clenched beside her leg and her face cringed. Then, she signed. She returned to her bedroom, quietly.

******

A few days flew by fast. Nami was able to keep close tabs on her schoolwork and to manage her time. Also, she took baby steps into getting to know Law.

One day, during lunch, she offered him a muffin she personally made from the bake shop, but he declined her treat. Strangely, he said that he didn't like bread, which made her want to question his weird dislike. She also had to say no to him giving her any more milk if she forgot to bring her canteen again. He didn't like that too. She had an idea that if he can take one bite of the muffin, he won't stop paying for milk cartons. Without taking no for an answer, she urged Law to taste it. After his bite, he admitted that the muffin was the best he had ever tasted, thanking Nami for the treat and wondering if she had more.

Anyway, she also learned that he resided in this town a few years ago, and he decided to move back here. She asked him where he was before and why, but she never got the answer when Luffy interrupted them and stole the rest of his muffin. And then the lunch bell rang.

He moved a couple of days before they met. He was at the bookstore to buy books because he simply loved to read, which was one thing he and Nami shared in common so far. She didn't picture him as the type of guy who liked literature as much as she did. Probably the guy who rides motorcycles and starts fights, but he was nothing like that. He was kind and gentle.

She noticed that he was kind of a sneaker upper, surprising her every time she wasn't looking. If she turned around, opened a door, or took a hallway, he was there, as if he was waiting for her. She would chuckle and smile at him, but she wanted to let him know that he might need to quit scaring her.

Exciting news happened this week and Nami couldn't be any happier. She was assigned to be partners with Law for a history project in Ms. Nico’s class. The project was to research a country of their choice's most significant history and present in front of the class in any way we want; poster board, skit, poem/song, story, or a documentary video. Nami didn't know which would be the easiest or the most creative. She didn't want to do a poster board because it was too simple for her taste. Writing poems or songs wasn't her talent and storytelling was definitely in denial. The acting was one of her favorites, so she was stuck with skit or documentary video. Unfortunately, she didn't own a camera. Would skit be the best choice for them? She wondered if Law was up for it.

It was Thursday and the last period finally ended. Nami took out her sweater and grabbed a couple of textbooks from her locker. Massive studying was needed for a big test in the following week. The Calculus teacher, Mr. Beckman, was the strictest teacher in school. His teachings were grueling and the homework he assigned were beyond the college level. He would only pass students if they put in the time and effort for Calculus only. Easier said than done, she thought.

Organizing her backpack with the books she'll need, Nami slipped on her sweater and closed her locker door.

“Hi.”

“..!” Nami gasped in fright, almost dropping her backpack. Law had his shoulder leaning on a locker next to hers. He gave her a funny smirk, finding her reaction quite humorous to his liking. “Jeez, you scared me. What's with you sneaking up on me?”

He merely shrugged a shoulder. “I don't know, it's cute how you get frightened so easily.”

“Do you mind, please?” She said. She turned to the hallway and Law followed right after.

“So, have you thought about how we should present the project for history class?” He asked, glancing at Nami.

“Yeah, I have, but I don't which to choose. I'm debating on whether we should try a skit or a documentary video.” Nami cast her eyes down to the floor, holding a sullen look. “I really want to make a video, but unfortunately, I don't have a camera. I can't even afford to buy one for the project.”

“Didn't Ms. Nico say she'd let us borrow one of her cameras if anyone decided to make a video?”

Nami stopped in her tracks, causing Law to stop as well. “Wait, really? She said that?”

“Yes. Weren't you listening when she explained the project?” He gave her a raised eyebrow as she glanced to the side.

“Um, I was half asleep,” she admitted.

“You should be heading back to the teacher's classroom if you still want to make that documentary video. It is a first-come-first-serve by the way,” he informed, pointing at the opposite direction of the hallway with his thumb.

Nami widened her eyes. “Why didn't you tell me that earlier?” She attempted to dart to the classroom, but Law suddenly grasped her shoulder, a little too rough.

“Hold on.” Pulling her back to face him, Law looked into her eyes. “Before you make a run for it, why don't we share numbers in case you and I have any ideas or questions about the project? I would like to talk to you when we're not in school.”

Nami had her eyes rounded to the point she couldn't believe she was hearing. She had been wanting to ask for his number too. Looks like he beat her to it.

She remembered to blink again as her eyelids fluttered and her head nodded. “Y-yes, yeah!” She cleared her throat to control her excitement. “Of course.”

Law handed a ripped piece of paper with his phone number written down. Her fingers trembled as she stared at the numbers in her hands. Then she realized it was her turn to give him her digits.

“Here's my home phone number. I don't have a cell phone, but you can contact me with this.” Nami gave him a sticky note with the number she wrote. “Oh, I almost forgot. Um, call me past six o’clock. I'll be home at that time after work, not before, after .”

“Alright, thanks,” he said, grinning. His grin made Nami smile back, but she dipped her head to hide a blush spreading upon her face. “I'll call you.”

“Okay.” Nami subconsciously swung her heel side to side, keeping her head facing the floor. She heard him chuckle for a second. “Um, I'll be heading back to Ms. Nico’s for the camera, and then we'll talk about the project.” She stepped to the side to the direction of their history teacher's classroom.

“Sounds good,” he said with a nod. Showing off his captivating grin once more, he waved over his shoulder. “See ya.”

“Bye.” Nami spun around. She couldn't help, but look back at Law once more. He must've sensed her eyes on him when he peered over his shoulder as well. Blushing, Nami froze for a short moment. She waved and smiled nervously.

******

“Phew, that was a close call, I made it just in time. Good thing Law told me that Ms. Nico was letting us borrow her camera.” Nami held a recording camera in her hands as she observed the buttons and small screen. “If I hadn’t gone sooner, I would’ve lost my only chance and that would stink.” Nami smiled at the gadget, proud to make her wish come true. “Now we'll be able to make that documentary video I wanted to do. Alright.”

Striding through the hallway again, Nami stashed the camera in her backpack for safe keeping. She didn't see Law where she last saw him. He must’ve gone on home after they said their goodbyes.

Paying no mind to it, Nami reached the bottom of the staircase on the first floor and moved to the school's entrance doors. Her shift started in an hour, so she can't waste any more time in the building. She'll need time to walk to the bakery, put on her work clothes and take orders from customers. Everything seemed to be going fine, until she heard someone in the halls, leading to her.

“Nami!” A childish voice yelled, and then a body lunged onto Nami in surprise. She almost lost her balance in the meantime. She recognized who that voice belonged to. “Good to see ya!”

“Luffy! Get off me!” Struggling in his vice brace, Nami pushed one of her close guy friends away at arm's length. She gave him a disapproving glare as he pouted. “How many times do I have to tell you not to jump on me?! You know I hate it when you do that!”

Her friend, Luffy, had messy black hair, beady eyes, and a scar underneath his left eye from one dare he took when he was a little kid, a moron she would say. He wore the same black T-shirt of a band’s logo from last week and wrinkled jeans with an orange stain on one of his thighs and muddy sneakers. All he brought to school was a bunch of snacks in a black drawstring backpack he carried, but he usually ate it all before lunch started. He was the bigger troublemaker out of the two brothers.

Luffy whined under his breath. “Why you gotta be so down in the dumps, Nami? I was just saying hi, no big deal.”

“Then say it like a normal person, would you?” She scolded, eyes fuming. She finally calmed down with a sigh. “So, what is it? Do you need something from me? You still owe me for that muffin you ate the other day.”

“Come on, Nami! I was hungry! I had to eat something!” He excused his behavior from the day he took the muffin that Nami personally made for Law.

“It’s $8.28 in case you forgot the money you owe. I purposely raised it so that you wouldn't bail yourself out again.”

“That's so cruel!” He cried. Nami found his weeping expression enjoyable to stare at. “I'll pay you back later, but that's not what I was gonna ask you about.”

“Oh, then what was it?” She asked. Then a hand placed itself on her shoulder.

“He wanted to know if you already thought about our invitation to that nightclub we talked to you, Vivi, and Koza about.” Ace, the older brother, smiled to himself. “It would be too bad if you decided not to go with us. It's been awhile since the last time we all hung out like the good ole days.”

“Ace!” Luffy grinned from ear to ear.

“Hey Ace, I didn't see you there,” Nami said, staring at Ace over his shoulder.

His black hair was shaggy and long and he had freckles over his face. He wore a lime-green button up shirt and light jeans and converse shoes. His outfit was cleaner than Luffy’s, but he also didn't know how to pick up after himself.

“Sorry, I haven't thought about it at all this week. Hate to break it to you, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to hang out with you guys,” She admitted to them.

Luffy whined in response before he slid up to her.

“Why not?! It won't be fun without you there!”

“For once, I agree with him,” Ace said. “Listen, you don't work until six on the weekends, right?” When Nami answered yes, he continued. “So why don't we go after you get off? It'll be a perfect time.”

“True, but that's not-”

“Please say you'll do it!” Luffy urgently said. “Please! It'll mean a lot to us!”

“All right, all right!” She said, holding her hands up. “I'll see what I can do. Jeez, you don't have to cry. What are you, a child?”

“Woohoo! You're awesome, Nami!”

“Whoa, save me the bear hug.” Nami's cupped Luffy’s face to keep him away. She heard Ace chuckle beside her as he stepped up to the exit doors.

“C’mon Luffy, we don't want to keep the old man waiting for us,” he said, pushing one of the doors. “We'll keep in touch, Nami. Call us if you made up your mind, alright?”

She nodded, forming a half-smile, unsure about the invite. Luffy was going on how much he can't wait to see what they’ll be having for dinner later as he marched outside. Nami shook his head at him.

“Hey, Ace, last man home is gonna miss all the meat!” He dashed across the stairs and onto the schoolyard. Nami wondered why he didn't sign up for the school's track team with that kind of speed he had.

“That's my cue, later Nami.” Ace made a quick wave to his friend and sprinted after his younger brother, calling him out that he'll be the one winning the race instead of Luffy. Nami shook her head again as they ran off together.

“Idiots.”

Pushing against the heavy doors, she finally stepped out of the school to begin her further errands of the day. She still had time to make it to the bakery with only forty minutes to spare, her shift starting at half past three in the afternoon.

With all the little time she had to walk over to the bakery, she had to think about how she and Law can make the documentary video. She could call him after her shift ended for any suggesting days and time to start the project. He might say that they could come over each other's houses, but Nami knew that that was not possible at all, reminding herself about her sister. The Tree of Knowledge bookstore should be a good place for them to do their research. It would be an even better place to spend some alone time with him, with no interference.

An excited grin appeared on Nami's blushed face, psyched for their research date to come sooner than later. But her sister was the only obstacle she had to get through. How will she hide this from her, knowing full well how Nojiko feels about boys? If only Nojiko could lay off her back for once and let her enjoy her teenage years.

Nami hummed to herself when she heard loud music booming before her. Recognizing the heavy metal music, the singer or singers screaming God-knows-what from the speakers, she ducked her head and tugged her hoodie over. She mentally sighed as she formed a disgusted frown, wishing that she could walk another way instead of going past a blood red sports car parked at end of the walkway, owned by the worst people in town. Apparently, the leader of the gang was infatuated with her. Nami had never felt this uncomfortable to be moving past someone who wanted nothing more than to get in her pants.

“Hey bro, found yer little girlfriend!” The one with long blonde hair, nicknamed Killer if she could remember correctly, called out. He sat on the hood of the car when he called to the driver's seat, catching his leader's utmost attention.

Nami cursed under her breath, her shoulders tensing up. She heard whistling and obnoxious howls from them. The car door on the driver's side opened and a bulky man climbed out, his leather boots stomping on the ground.

“Kill me,” Nami hissed, hands shaking before she took a deep breath. “Just ignore him. Don't look at him in the eye.”

“What's up, gorgeous?” The leader, known by the name Eustass Kid, said. His red-dyed hair stood up like wildfire and his devilish grin coated with blackish-red lipstick stretched across his pale face. He wore a ripped denim jacket that exposed his muscular arms, chest, and abs, and skinny leopard-print pants. His gang wore similar clothes like his, but the leader was Nami's only problem. “How you doing?”

Kid had his chin resting on his arms atop the car door as he watched the redhead speed walk on the grass instead of the school’s walkway, her hand covering the side of her face as she tried to reach the sidewalk.

“Hey, where ya going?” With no answer at all, he pulled up a smirk, telling himself that she was probably playing hard to get. Calling out to her again, he slammed the door to his car and jogged to catch up with her. His friends cheered for him as they fist pumped the air.

“Nami, wait.” He jogged even faster when she speed walked faster. He grabbed her arm and forced her to stop. “Are you deaf or something? I was calling you back there, didn't you hear me?”

“Yeah, I heard,” Nami muttered. She tugged her arm and sent Kid an annoyed glare, “and then I pretended I didn't hear you, so I kept walking. Didn't you see that?”

If Kid had eyebrows, she could tell that he had them raised up at her comeback. She knew this wouldn't stop him, in fact, nothing will.

“Alright. I get it, I get it,” he said, nodding as if he did understand. Nami rolled her eyes at how much of giant liar he was. “In case you change your mind,” he inched himself closer to her as his grin curled up. “you can drop by at my place and we can-”

“Kid, can't you read between the lines or do I have to literally spell it out for you?!” Nami yelled. “It's not happening, and it never will!”

“Come on, Nami. Don't be like that.”

“Don't touch me!” She smacked his hand away and took a step back, preparing to knock some sense into him if she must. “Just leave me alone,” she said firmly.

“Sorry, can't do that.” He chuckled. When he attempted to grab her arm again, he suddenly heard some of his gang members holler at him, but not as cheers. And then a strong grip wrapped around his wrist and halted him inches before Nami, surprising both him and her.

“Aaugh! What the hell-” he snapped over his shoulder and met a pair of furious gray eyes. Nami gasped when she saw Law standing behind Kid, their hands shaking as Law tightens his grip. She swore that she didn't see him come up to them.

“Didn't you hear her?” He said lowly, pulling their hands up to their faces as he glared into Kid’s eyes. Kid winced, shutting one eye, shallow bone cracking from his wrist. “She said to leave her alone, so why are you still here?”

“Who the hell are you?” Kid managed to choke out, shooting daggers similar to Law's. They were nearly the same height. Kid won by a few inches, but Law looked like he was overpowering him. This was something incredibly new to Nami as she gawked at the two men, afraid that they might start a brawl.

“Kid!” His gang drove the car forward and parked near the three. They jumped out with scowls on their faces. Nami gulped as they stormed towards them. “We’re sorry! We didn't think he would cause trouble for you!”

“Never mind that! I got this!” Kid growled before he pulled another one of his arrogant smirks. “Wait, I remember you now. You're that new guy who enrolled into our school recently. So, what brings you to disrupt my sweet conversation, huh? What's your beef with her?” He pointed his head at Nami afterward.

“That's none of your concern, and I couldn't careless of what you'd like to call a simple conversation,” Law said, narrowing his eyes deeper. “To me, this resembled the perfect image of sexual harassment, and you're doing a fine job at it.” Grimacing, Kid clenched his jaw as his bones cracked more, clear as a bell. “I'm going to tell you this once; get the fuck out of here or else you'll be living the rest of your fucking life with a permanently disabled arm. I don't mess around when I make promises. You understand me, asshole?”

“Hey! What are you kids up to?!” A patrolling cop car drove on the street with the sirens going off.

“Shit! We gotta go, Kid! Leave the bastard, c’mon!” The gang ran back to the car in a hurry. Kid tore his arm as Law released him, guarding Nami in case Kid tried to pull something. Shooting one last scowl while soothing his wrist, Kid walked backwards and threw a pointed finger as a warning.

He spun around to his car and jumped into the backseat when one of his gang members opened it for him. They made a quick U-turn and floored it on full max, gas pumping out from the back and tires screeching on the street.

“Nami?!” The police officer, Genzo, rushed out of his car to check on his friend's daughter. “I didn't know that was you! Are you alright? They didn't hurt you, did they?”

Nami didn't seem to have heard Genzo asking questions as she stared at the back of Law’s neck.

“And whom might you be, stranger? You one of them?” Genzo asked Law suspiciously, keeping Nami close to him.

Blinking once, Nami kept staring at him. She didn't know what to think after witnessing everything that happened before her eyes. Her heart stopped during the moment he said those dangerous threats. She felt her skin crawl and the hairs on her arms stand up. She would like to ask the same question Kid said before.

Just who in the world is he?

Chapter Text

“Nami? Nami!” Nojiko's voice pulled Nami out of her thoughts. She blinked more than once and remembered that she was at work. She saw her sister frowning at her for nearly falling asleep on the job. Quickly, she fixed her apron and wiped her eyes and nose.

“You can't be daydreaming now. You can do that when we get home,” Nojiko said.

“Okay, sorry.” Her sister gave her another frown before she left to go to the back room. Nami eyed her with a strange look. “What’s gotten into her? What did I do?”

Looking back down at the counter, Nami's eyebrows furrowed. The encounter she and Law had with Kid and his gang came back to her.

For some reason, she can’t seem to forget what Law almost did to Kid. She thought he was going to snap his wrist like a stick when he stopped him from touching her. She did appreciate his help, but maybe if he had a different approach, no wait, there wouldn't have been a better approach for a situation they were in.

The anger in his gray eyes made her believe that he wasn't as calm as she thought he would be. She felt a raging aura flowing out of him, as in he would've mauled Kid like a vicious beast.

They were lucky that Genzo showed up out of nowhere and stopped the fight from happening. Nami was scared out of her mind. When Kid’s gang drove up to them, she panicked that it was going to be the end for them. Law, on the other hand, didn't have a speck of fear on his face like he couldn't care less how many men there were, which Nami contradicted herself about whether she should feel safe or frightened.

She begged Genzo not to tell her mother because if she found out, things would go from bad to worse. Luckily, he promised that he'll keep his lips sealed, giving Nami much relief.

He brought her to work in his car and left Law on the sidewalk. She had no words to say to him. All she did was give him one look and drove away. Law watched her from the corner of his eye with no expression on his face.

Taking a deep breath, Nami placed her head in her hands. She can't imagine what really could've happened to her. This day should be written as one of the worst days of her life.

“What's up, Nami?” The bell on the entrance door chimed as Vivi came inside the shop and stepped up to the counter. Nami stood on the other side with the baked goods sitting behind the glass, below the counter. “You sounded a little shaky over the phone. Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, about that…” Nami squeezed her hands over the counter while she fiddled with her fingers.

******

“What?” Vivi gasped, aware that she didn't want to cause a loud commotion from listening to her friend's story as she brought her voice to a lower tone. “Are you serious?”

“Does it look like I'm joking?” Nami whispered, also keeping her voice down. “I'm dead serious. I saw it all with my own two eyes!”

“Oh my gosh. So, you're okay, right? You're not hurt anywhere?”

“Yeah, I'm fine. I was scared.” Nami took a bigger deep breath and released it. “I didn't know what was going to happen. You have no idea how freaked out I was.”

“Well, at least Law came to your rescue when you needed someone,” Vivi said reassuringly.

“True, but that's not the point. I didn't want him to start a fight with those jerks. Who knows what could've happened if he did try to fight them.”

“Hm, you're right on that.” Vivi eyed her friend. Nami had her elbows on the counter with her head down. “Nami, it's okay now. There would've been a whole new outcome if Law wasn't there and another one if Genzo wasn't there either. I do believe you that it was scary, but it should all be behind you. Just forget about it, okay?”

Sighing, Nami lifted her from the counter and slowly nodded. “Okay.”

“And listen, this is just me assuming, but maybe those guys will stop bothering you if Law’s at your side,” Vivi said. “I'm sure Kid will finally give it up once you and Law take a step further. It could be one heck of a miracle for you.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Nami shrugged her shoulders.

Vivi wrapped her arms around Nami's shoulders and squeezed her in a bear hug over the counter. She exhaled on the red head’s neck.

“I'm so glad that nothing bad happened to you, Nami,” Vivi murmured, burying herself into Nami’s neck. “I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I heard you were in a terrible incident. I care about you.”

Smiling, Nami also pulled Vivi in closer to their hug. “Thank you, Vivi. I care about you too.”

“Aw, would you look at this. Are you two finally having your first spark after all those years of your ‘friendship?’” Nami pushed Vivi back to undo their embrace when she heard her sister cracking up.

“Nojiko!”

******

“Hey, Mom. We're home,” Nami called to her mother as she and Nojiko entered their household and switched out of their shoes into their slippers.

“Hey, girls. You're home fast,” Bellemere said to them. She was busy in the kitchen, wearing her favorite orange apron with a tangerine print over it and a peach-colored bandana on her head.

“What are you talking about?” Nojiko questioned. “We always come back at this time.”

“Huh, then time really does goes by when you're having fun.”

“Easy for you to say,” Nojiko muttered, before she trotted down the hall to the bathroom, leaving Nami at the front of the door.

“Help me set up the table, Nami?” Bellemere asked.

Nami nodded once. “Sure.” She attempted to head for the kitchen, but the home phone ring in the hall. She stepped up to the phone before Bellemere. “I got it, Mom.”

Reaching for the ringing phone on the wall, Nami picked it up on the third ring. “Hello, you've reached Bellemere’s Oranges, how can I help you?”

“Nami?” The familiar voice made her eyes widen in surprise.

“Law?” She checked over her shoulder to see if her mother caught her. “I-Is that you?” She remembered that he had her number.

“Yeah, it’s me. Can we talk?” He asked. She quietly gulped.

“Um, sure,” she complied. “What is it?” Nami double-checked on her mother again before she listened to the phone. An exhale shuddered across the line.

“You're not afraid of me, are you?”

“..?” Nami paused when he asked that. Her feet stood still and her breath got stuck in her throat. “I…”

“You know I did that to protect you, right?” He said.

“Yes, I know. I know you did, but I…” She tightened her lips, trying to look for the right words that won't set him off. The silence between them brought tension on Nami's shoulders. Closing her eyes, she breathed out slowly. “I just got scared,” she admitted. “I really thought you and Kid were going to... And then when the rest of Kid’s gang came, I thought-”

“Nami,” he interrupted, causing her to freeze. “I did what I had to do. I'm not going to let some asshole lay his hands on you like that. I saw you and you needed help.”

“I appreciate the help Law, but we could've been seriously hurt. If Genzo hadn't been there, you and I could've been goners.”

“Who are you talking to, Nami?” Her mother said behind her. Nami flinched for a second and whipped her head around.

“I-It’s Vivi,” she said quickly. “Uh, she just wanted to ask about homework, that's all”

Bellemere nodded. “Okay, well, tell her I said hi.” She returned to the kitchen to finish up dinner. Nami sighed in relief and placed the phone back to her ear.

“Law, there were five of them. Five men. Don't you think to start a fight with a group was a little too extreme?”

“That didn't bother me one bit,” he said with a lowered voice. “A number is a number, it all depends if they were brave enough to throw the first punch.”

“That’s exactly what I was scared about. I didn't want you to get hurt by them,” she reasoned. Law became silent over the phone for a moment. “I don't like fighting. Please, don't ever scare me like that again.”

“Okay,” he responded.

Nami made a small smile at his answer, pleased to hear it.

“You didn't answer my first question. So, are you afraid of me or what?”

She shook her head as if he could see her. “No, I'm not.”

Her chest thumped. She thought she gave an honest answer, but she felt different in her heart.

The phone light suddenly cut off, disconnecting her from Law at the same time as the lights in the kitchen, hallway and living room went out.

“No, no,” Bellemere groaned, burying her face in her hands.  

“God damn it!” Nojiko cried in the bathroom.

Nami hung her head back and sighed. Not again.

******

It was finally Saturday. Yesterday, Nami called Law if they can start their research project in the Tree of Knowledge bookstore next weekend. She needed this weekend to study for her Calculus test with Ace, who was also taking the same coarse as her.

Apparently, his grade dropped in the first semester because of his lack of studying and turning in homework. Nami got to the bottom of his issue and solved that it wasn't entirely his fault. Ace wasn't the brightest in class, to begin with, but the main problem was Luffy. He kept interrupting Ace’s studies by playing video games in the room, running around their house, and fighting him with pillows every day. And Nami knew how to help him.

She suggested he should come to her house for a study session starting Saturday morning until the day before the test, but without telling his brother. They both knew for sure that Luffy would beg to hang out at her place, just so he could devour any leftover pastries and cakes he finds. Ace had to come up with a lie to keep Luffy at home and away from him, hoping that he would.

Unfortunately, Luffy followed and crashed into the house. To make matters a little easier, Nami commanded him to leave her and Ace alone in the kitchen and stay quiet. She promised him that she would call off his debt and hand him the old baked goods if he listened to her commands.

One hour later, Luffy passed out on the couch with crumbs and frosting on his face, fingers, clothes, snoring like an old man. Lucky for Nami and Ace, they were able to study in peace with a couple of hours to spare before Nami headed off to work. She was especially lucky when Bellemere allowed fewer hours so that she can study for her test.

While they were studying productively, and quietly, so they wouldn't wake up Luffy, Ace reminded Nami about the nightclub party going on next Friday night. She gave him the same answer like before. Her reasons were because her mother didn't accept her daughters going out too late and she didn't have the money.

Ace gave in and understood her reasons, although it wouldn't be the same without the whole group together.

“Sorry, Ace. I really wish I could go out with you guys, but I can't,” Nami said unfortunately.

Ace shrugged his shoulders. “It's fine. You do what you gotta do.”

Nami smiled before she eyed Luffy in the living room. “Let's finish this up before the cake monster wakes up. We don't want him to ruin our session now.” Ace laughed silently at her joke.

“You got it.” They looked back into the scattered papers of written notes, study guides, and practice worksheets with pencils and graphing calculators in hand.

******

Nami and Ace finished their Sunday morning session. Again, Luffy joined to hang out and eat more till he fell asleep. Nami always wondered how Luffy had such a big appetite. Ace joked that maybe he was born with three stomachs or something. She thought it was a good one.

Nami came back home from work with Nojiko as usual, but she had been noticing something off about her sister. She already knew that Nojiko can be a little tough to talk to, but that wasn't it. Nojiko was becoming distant during work and at home, and a little quiet. Her scoldings were a little harsher, like she had to comment on Nami's every move. Also, a bit too loose.

Worried, Nami watched her sister drop on the couch for a little nap. She hoped that maybe Nojiko wasn't overdoing her “stress reliever.” Only Nami knew about it.

She heard her mother call her from the backyard. Giving Nojiko one more look, she rushed to the garden. “Coming Mom.”

Inhaling a deep breath, Nojiko sighed in relaxation as she loosened her neck on the arm rest. She stretched her legs and arms until she laid still. Then the doorbell rang, disrupting Nojiko's shot-eye.

“Get the door, Nojiko,” Bellemere shouted. Groaning, Nojiko reluctantly sat up and scratched her hair before heading to the door.

“I have to do everything.” Nojiko stood before the front door, grabbed the knob,  and turned it to open. Once she fully opened it, she furrowed her eyebrows at the person on the porch, a man she had never seen before.

He was busy staring at the street until he heard the door click open. He also gave her a strange look.

“Uh, hi,” he said, attempting to raise a hand to wave. “again.”

“What?” Nojiko asked, baffled.

He shook his head. “Nevermind. Is Nami here?”

“What do you mean ‘is Nami here?’ Who are you?” She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes.

“I'm her-”

“Law?” They turned to the voice and Nami stepped up to Nojiko’s side with a questioned look. “What are you doing here?”

“You know this guy, Nami?” Nojiko inquired sternly, pointing her thumb at Law.

Nami rolled her eyes. “He's a friend of mine in school. We're in the same history class,” Nami said. “Don't get started with your man-hating judgment because I don't want to hear it.”

Nojiko sent her a frown. Nami ignored her and turned to her friend. “What's up, Law?”

“I need to talk to you,” he said. “It's pretty important.”

“Now wait just a minute, I'd like to have a little word with her too. Excuse us.” Nami was one second too late when Nojiko slammed the door in Law’s face.

“Can you be any ruder than you naturally are?” Nami yelled at her sister, cringing. “You didn't have to do that, you know.”

“So what? You gonna sue me?” Nojiko said. “All I want to know if you're telling me the truth about your so-called friend.”

“For crying out loud, Nojiko.” Nami growled, wanting to rip her hair out. “Do you even hear yourself when you're talking? You can't keep judging people, thinking that they're nothing but scumbags or heartless jerks. Your authority over me has gone way too far.”

“Authority?” Nojiko stepped in close to her sister. “Is that what you think?”

“Yeah, that's right. That’s exactly what I think,” Nami responded, standing her ground. “I'm not a baby anymore, so call it quits, alright? If you really are my big sister, then at least support me for once, and let me go.”

Nami left Nojiko speechless as she reached for the door handle. “Just so you know,” she started, and Nojiko glanced to her. “Law is not your father. In fact, he's nothing like him, and that goes for my other guy friends too. Hope you get it through that thick head of yours.”

Exiting out, Nami closed the door behind her. “Sorry about that,” she apologized to Law.

“It's fine.” Law stared at the door with a raised eyebrow. “She's your sister?”

“Adoptive sister, but never mind her. Um, how did you figure out where I live?” Nami asked, placing her hands on her hips.

“I was at the bakery you work in,” he answered. “I went to buy more of those muffins you gave me before, and I found this card on the counter.” He reached into his pocket and pulled the business card from the shop to show Nami. “It has the owner's name, phone number, address, and zip code.”

“Oh, I forgot we had those.” Nami read the information on the plastic card with everything that Law listed. “Okay, so what do you want to talk about? If it's about the other day, I'm sorry if I came off a bit too harsh. I didn't mean to, but I was being honest about how I really felt and-”

“That's not what I came here for, it's something different,” he said. Nami blinked. They stood on the front porch as the wind picked up outside.

“Then what is it?” She watched Law take a deep breath and exhaled slowly, closing his eyes. Lightly knitting her eyebrows, Nami wondered what he was thinking about. Could it be something personal he wanted to say?

“I thought long and hard about this, and I believe that now I'm ready to open up. So here goes.” He opened his eyes and looked into Nami’s, as if he was gazing longingly. “Nami, I want to be at your side. Even it’s for a short period, a long period, it doesn't matter. I'll be satisfied with any amount of time we spend together.” Nami’s eyes rounded.

“You're the kindest person I know, and I didn't think that anyone as polite as you would ever want to talk to someone like me. When you gave me those muffins and told me that you made them yourself, I thought my heart skipped a beat. And over the phone, I heard it in your voice that you were worried about me. It's been awhile since someone had shown any concern for me. I would fight those guys for you any day, and show them that I will never let any scumbag touch you or go near you because no one deserves to be treated like they're a public display.”

Butterflies fluttered in the pit of her stomach.

“What I'm trying to say is, I really like you,” Law confessed, shocking Nami to the core, “and I want to get to know you more, but not as friends.”

Law…

“Will you go out with me?”

No words came out. She gasped as she widened her eyes till she couldn't stretch them any further. Her face flushed madly. Her chest ached by her rapid heartbeat. Nami became speechless. She wanted to respond, but her mind spiraled like crazy.

“Please say yes,” Law begged for her answer.

Oh my God. Hiding her red face, Nami slowly peered down. She could feel the sweat dripping on her temples. The pressure was killing her. She knew what she wanted to say, but the moment surprised her so hard, she couldn't believe it. Unreal was how she described it.

Law stared at her with a concerned look. He knew his confession was good and confident, but he wondered why Nami became quiet

Their awkward silence settled for another few seconds until Nami smiled to herself and chuckled, puzzling Law. She lifted her head and fixed her posture. Her eyes were closed and new, warm tears sat near them.

She chuckled once more and tangled her arms behind her back. Then the tears streamed down her cheeks like raindrops on glass.

“Yes..!”

******

“Time's up kids. You know what to do,” the Calculus teacher, Mr. Beckmann, announced to the class as the final bell rang. Most of the students whined under their breaths for not finishing the last few questions on their test, wishing they had more time. But, fortunately for Nami, she completed without a sweat, a broad smile on her face. The smile wasn't for the test, though.

She stood up from her chair before everyone and walked to the teacher's desk. Turning in the test paper to Mr. Beckmann, Nami nodded. “I hope my answers suit your taste, Mr. Beckmann.”

“I'll be expecting that, Ms. Nami. Now go have a nice weekend,” he said, trying to form a smile of his own.

She grinned at his effort. “You too.”

Nami exited out of class 119 and aimed for the staircase at the end of the hallway on her right, closest to her as students from other classrooms left as well. Everyone was glad that today was Friday again.

Humming a tune, Nami felt like she was skipping on her toes. She couldn't help but grin joyfully, excitedly, and blushingly. Then Law came in mind, causing her to squeal like a fangirl. She hid her excitement by covering her mouth with one hand. She giggled, pretending that she thought of something funny as students walked by her, giving weird looks.

“You seem happy today,” Ms. Nico’s voice stopped Nami in her tracks. She stood in the doorframe of her classroom with her purse under her arm. Chuckling, she crossed her arms and sent Nami a playful smirk “Actually, you've seemed happy all week. Anything special going on?”

“Hi, Ms. Nico. You're right, I am happy,” Nami said. Her behavior made Ms. Nico raise an eyebrow, interested.

“It’s the new student, Law, I presume?” With that said, Nami froze in place. Ms. Nico laughed. “Don't think I haven't seen it, I'm not blind. You two have been getting a lot closer ever since he came to this school.”

Is it that obvious? Nami flustered, ducking down hide her face.

“Don't feel embarrassed. You have my full support. The two of you make an adorable couple.” Ms. Nico chuckled at the last part.

“Thanks, Ms. Nico,” Nami said, feeling slightly confident in hers and Law's relationship.

A ringtone went off in Ms. Nico’s purse. She searched inside and checked the caller’s name, a charming smile growing upon her face.

“Have a wonderful weekend, Nami. I hope one of these days you and I can share stories about our love lives.” Ms. Nico opened her flip phone and pressed her ear on it.

“Sure,” Nami said, unsure as a matter of fact. As she attempted to walk to the locker, she could hear Ms. Nico change her voice to a seductive one.

“Hello, Franky. Yes, I'm doing well. How are you this evening?”

“The mechanic?” Nami gasped, opening her mouth. “No way.”

Nami stepped away and headed to her locker. Ms. Nico was right, she was happy. She was happy that Law had the same feelings for her. Asking her out was her greatest moment. The man she fell for actually wanted to be with her.

So tomorrow after work, they planned to go out to eat at a decent restaurant in town. Nami said she would eat anywhere because she hasn't eaten in most of the restaurants. Law promised that he would pick somewhere that would suit both of them. She couldn't wait.

Also, for tonight, she asked him if he wanted to go to a nightclub with her and her friends tonight. She called to tell them the exciting news and they were ecstatic to hear that she changed her mind. Thankfully, Law said he'd like to go with her and meet the rest of her friends.

Nami shared the news to Vivi too. As usual, she was proud of her inexperienced best friend for stepping it up. Well, Nami didn't actually do anything, but in the end, she finally had her chance to be with Law.

Throughout this week, Nami saved the money she earned from work and kept them hidden from her mother and Nojiko. She planned to arrive at Vivi’s place after work, prep up, and go to the party. To be safe, she asked Bellemere if she can sleep over her friend's house for one night and she successfully got her to say yes.

“This is going to be the best weekend I've had in ages,” Nami said to herself. She unlocked the combination and opened the door to her locker to leave a few things behind. “I do miss hanging out with those two. They sure know how to party and have a good time.”

Remembering the fun memories she had with Luffy and Ace, she smiled softly. She lost count of how many times they brought her, and Vivi, to nightclubs. They had fake IDs for everyone to enter anywhere that was 18+. They also paid for the food and drinks, which Nami fully appreciates.

They had their moments when Luffy ate too much food and puked till he passed out, Ace fought more than three guys, and Nami and Vivi sat by and watched. They were complete idiots, but at least they weren't boring. She wondered how tonight will play out, probably more hectic than ever.

“Should I be concerned with who's making you smile like that?” Nami whipped her head around in surprise. She found Law behind her with a raised eyebrow and a smirk. “Because I hope it’s me that you're thinking about.”

Nami curved the side of her lip nervously before she chuckled. “Hey, Law.”

“How are you?” He asked politely.

“Excited,” Nami mumbled, gushing. Law made a pleased grin.

“So am I,” he agreed. “Can't wait for our first date.”

Hearing him say those words made Nami blush even more.

“Do you want to walk with me?” Law held his elbow out. She nodded.

“Sure.”

Closing her locker after putting on her red sweater, Nami gently hooked her arm around his and they walked down the hallway.

“So how many people are we going to be with?” Law said.

“It'll be us and four other people,” Nami answered. “Vivi already likes you as a friend, and I'm sure the guys will like you too. Especially Luffy and Ace, they're really open to making new friends. They're like the extremest extroverts you'll ever meet.”

“Extreme extroverts, huh? If that's the case, then they're going drain the life out of me since I'm the complete opposite.”

“Hehe, you'll get used to it.”

Once they reached the first floor by taking the stairs, Law pushed the entrance doors open and let Nami pass through before him. She wrapped her arm around his again as they reached for the stone steps.

Nami flinched when she saw Kid and his gang nearby, standing on the grass of the schoolyard to her right. Her hold on Law tightened as she brought both arms around him, pressing her head on his arm. Law seemed to have noticed Nami’s change of state when she came closer to him.

The conversation that Kid was having with his gang paused in the middle before he caught sight of the couple walking by them. A scowl slowly grew on his face as he followed them with raging eyes.

Law flipped them the bird with his free hand, sending each of them a nasty look of his own.

“That cocky bastard,” Kid growled, eyes twitching. His subordinate, Killer, whistled and said, “damn, that's cold.”

Nami held her breath until she finally exhaled, relieved that none of them came up to her for another harassment. She would have to thank Law this time.

“Genzo?” Both Nami and Law stopped at the end of the pathway, the parked cop car in front of them. Genzo leaned on the driver's side door before he straightened up.

“Afternoon, lamb.” Genzo bent his head as a form of greeting. He stared at the linked arms between the pair, before he looked up to the man next to Nami.

“Um, what are you doing out here?” Nami inquired, puzzled.

“Well, as a safety precaution, I thought I could give you a ride to your mother's bake shop,” he replied. “just in case I find you in another predicament like before.”

“Oh, that's really nice of you, Genzo, but I'm okay with walking over there on my own.”

“Actually, I came down here to speak to you, privately, if you don't mind.”

Nami paused for a second, blinking more than once. His voice had the tone of seriousness and concern, she thought. But what? She hesitantly nodded. “ Um, sure.” She turned to Law to call off walking her to work, but she was taken aback by his expression.

His eyes were rounded as he held his face still like he was shocked. She caught him pulling his lips under his teeth, glaring at something in front of him.

Glancing to where he was looking, she stopped on Genzo confusedly. Then she looked back to him and shook his arm. “Law? Hey, Law.”

After two shakes, he snapped out of his thoughts and blinked repeatedly. He rubbed his temples as if he was in a trance.

“You alright?” Her voice pulled him down. She held a worried expression before she gave a soft smile. “Listen, I'll be going with Genzo and I'll call you later. I'm sorry that I can't walk with you today, but we can try this again some other time, okay?”

She stood on her tiptoes, wrapped her arms around Law’s shoulders, and placed her chin in the crane of his neck. Law held his breath in his throat, tensing his upper body. Lowering his head, he returned the embrace as he placed both hands on her back and pulled her in gently, taking in her warmth he longed for.

Nami untangled her arms, but Law didn't want their moment to end just yet. He tried to tug her back for another hug.

“I have to go, Law. I'm really sorry.” Nami grabbed his hands to peel them off. “I'll see you later, I promise.”

“Promise?” He whispered, desperate hope in his gray orbs.

“Yeah, I promise.” She sent him an assuring smile, which leads him to slightly curve the side of his lips. She was never this close to seeing him smile, even if it wasn't complete. If he did one day, her heart would melt.

Fixing her backpack strap on her shoulder, Nami smiled at him once more and turned towards Genzo. Law’s right hand raised up to waist level and spread his fingers as if he was reaching out for Nami to come back to him. His heart began to beat harder in his chest, hurting him like a wound was there.

“Bye.” Nami waved over her shoulder. The muscles in Law’s jaw clenched. His right hand balled into a fist, fingernails piercing the skin of his palm. But then he sighed, relaxing his shoulders and opening his fist.

He tilted his head to the floor, and mumbled to himself, “Bye…” But in reality, he wanted to say something else.

As Nami rounded the cop car to the passenger seat, Genzo furrowed his eyebrows at the silent boy. He swore he had never seen him before, but he couldn't help but squint his eyes for a better look.

“Genzo? Are we going?” Nami called him. He shook his head to clear it up. Opening the driver's seat door, Genzo glanced back at the boy again.

Nah, I'm sure it's nothing. Genzo started the car and slowly drove out of parking.

Nami felt terrible for leaving Law alone again. She stared at him from the rearview mirror as they moved farther away. Then she took a glimpse over her shoulder and he was still on the sidewalk.

“Who's the lad, your boyfriend?” Genzo suddenly asked.

“Huh?” She made an embarrassed expression before she sat back in her seat. “Well, not really. He just asked me out on a date recently, and I said yeah.”

“Does Bellemere know?” He glanced at her as he raised a brow.

“Yeah, she does. She's fine with him.”

Nami explained that Bellemere was actually pleased to meet him for the first time, on the day he confessed. Nami grew embarrassed when her mother spilled the conversations they had about him, talking about how much Nami couldn't stop mentioning him. Bellemere even urged Law to stay for dinner, which he surprisingly complied to. After dinner, Bellemere gave him permission to visit the house any day and as long as he wants. Progressive, huh.

“Really? Ain't she somethin’,” Genzo commented. Nami nodded in reply. “So his name is Law, right?”

“Yeah, he just moved here,” she said. “We met at Tree of Knowledge, and now we both go to the same school.”

“I see.”

Nami turned to the cop as they sat in silence. “Why did you want to pick me up?”

“To keep you safe, of course.”

“From what?” She inquired before she blinked in realization. “Genzo, I thought we said we should forget about the fight.”

“How could I forget about your life being in danger?” He shot his bloodshot eyes at her. “You could've been hurt, Nami. How would your family react if I had to be the one to tell them that you were in a gang violence?” Nami froze in her seat before she looked down. “I know it's not your fault, but you must be careful next time. There's a lot of crazy people in this world, and they would do anything to get their hands on innocent lambs like yourself.”

“I'm not a lamb, Genzo. You've told me this before. I know there are sick people out there. I can tell just by looking at them.”

Genzo chuckled. “You think it's that obvious? Appearances don't matter anymore. Even the most kind-hearted or immaculate human beings are not who they say they are. You can never tell if there's a criminal right next to you until they make their first move. And that’s why you need to be extra careful when you're by yourself.”

Glancing to Nami, Genzo had his eyes narrowed and his mustache stuck in place.

“Do I make myself clear, Nami?” He demanded, watching her sternly.

Nami closed her eyes and nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Chapter Text

After her shifted ended, Nami rushed out of work and as soon as she made it to Vivi's home, panting out of breath on the fancy porch, she was tugged inside by a fast hand. She found herself inside a familiar sparkling bathroom that was probably five times bigger than her average bedroom when she heard her friend telling her to get in the bathtub. Without hesitating, she removed her clothes, started the water by turning the faucet, and relaxed underneath the sprinkling water pounding on her skin. The stress she had from work finally vanished as she hummed a soft melody to herself, which brought her closer to peace and tranquility.

While Name was busy in the shower, Vivi thoroughly dug through her walk-in closet for the perfect outfit for Nami. Her intention was to find a promising dress that can accentuate the redhead's slim bodice, bringing out her best and alluring parts for the special someone to lay eyes on. She had a few dresses in her hands when Nami entered the "princess' chambers", wrapped in a creamy towel and drenched from head to toe.

Meanwhile, Nami sat on a light pink lace-covered stool as Vivi blow dried her damp red hair. They had a couple of hours to spare till they and the others meet up later at the nightclub the boys chose.

"Thanks for letting me borrow your clothes, Vivi," Nami said with an appreciate smile, facing an attached mirror on a wide makeup table before her. "I can't thank you enough for how much you're helping me out tonight."

"No problem, Nami. Anything for you. You're free to try on any of my clothes as many times as you'd like. My closet is your closet."

Vivi finished drying off Nami's hair and added detangling spray all around her head. The hairstyle she thought of was cute ponytail as she pulled the redhead's short hair up and tied it with a pink elastic. Nami's face grimaced when she felt tight pulls on her scalp, but she soon felt relieved after it was over.

Closing her jewelry box, Vivi put black diamond studs in the redhead's ear lobes and a silver chain necklace around her thin neck. Satisfied with the jewelry she chose, Vivi moved on to makeup.

Breathing in through her nose and spinning around in her chair for Vivi to apply makeup, Nami grew slightly anxious about tonight. Her mother and sister didn't know anything about her plan at a nightclub, so she became uncomfortably worried that they'll find out somehow.

The nightclub they're heading to, Supernova, was among the popular clubs for young adults to enter and enjoy the music. She and her friends have hung out there together before. Unfortunately their days had to come to an end when Nami had responsibilities at the bakery and her home to take care of. They, meaning Luffy and Ace, have begged her multiple times to take a day off from her duties and hang out with them like they used to, but of course she had to say no.

Finally, she was more than excited to have fun with them again. Not only was she happy to be with her friends, she can also hang out with Law for the first time. She didn't quite picture him as the outgoing type, but since he complied to go with her, Nami couldn't wait to see him.

Nami’s lips pulled in as she thought of him, a content grin stretching across her face.

“Alright, finished,” Vivi announced. “You can take a look at the mirror and see what you think. Tell me if I should add any more touch ups or remove anything you don't like.”

Spinning around again, Nami's eyes widened as she took in her reflection. Leaning forward to the mirror, she observed her face in different angles. The makeup indeed made her look completely different with the sparkles around the eyes, the contour on the cheekbones, forehead, and jawline, and the red lipstick on her mouth. Overall, she was speechless at how much makeup can drastically change anyone’s appearance.

“So, what do you think?” Vivi asked, also staring at her friend's reflection on the mirror.

She held an uncertain look before she sat back up. “Um, it looks really good. The contour is fine and the eyeliner is great with the wings, but can we take off most of the eyeshadow off and use lip gloss instead of lipstick? I don't think I want to stand out too much.”

Vivi nodded in understanding. “Sure, not a problem. Oh, shall I take off the mascara as well?”

“No, the mascara is fine. It’s just the ones I said.”

As she went to grab wipes on the table to remove the excessive eye shadow and lipstick, Vivi caught her friend dipping her head down to her lap. Nami fiddled with her fingers for a short moment, before she released a quiet exhale. Something must be on her mind. “Something wrong, Nami?” Vivi questioned curiously.

“Huh? Oh, no. It's nothing.” She obviously tried to ignore the question.

“You sure it's nothing?” She pressed further. “You can tell me anything if you want.”

“No, really. It's nothing.”

Shrugging, Vivi started on removing makeup.

Nami took in a deep breath. To be honest with herself, she was nervous. She was nervous as much as she was happy to see Law. In the back of her mind, she hoped that tonight will be a special night for them. They could wind up alone together and talk about themselves and enjoy each other's company. She wanted so badly to get closer to him.

At school, they hardly had time for each other. They only had World History class, lunch and sometimes after school. She barely knew anything about him besides knowing he didn't like bread until he tried one of her homemade muffins.  

Another thing was that he lived here before. If she can try to remember correctly, he said that it was a few years ago when he left. Maybe she can talk to him about that. She did wonder where he used to be and why he moved in the first place and why he moved back. Luffy was the one to blame when he interrupted them during lunch and they never got back to it.

Besides that, she could ask him what he likes, any more of what he dislikes, his favorite things to do besides reading, if he listened to music and his favorite genres, if he liked to watch movies and what he enjoyed the most, and what he liked about her. There were many questions swirling in her head.

How could she forget, she also wanted to know about his family. Strange how he never brought them up in any conversation they had. Could it be that he lived alone or if he had a family at all? No, that can't be it. Maybe he didn't feel the need to talk about them. Would it be too personal to ask him?

Releasing another exhale, Nami made herself calm again. What was there to be nervous about? She and Law were already comfortable with each other as friends. Wait, would that mean she can call him her partner, like her boyfriend? Just thinking that made her eager to say it.

She just couldn't wait to see him.

******

The time was 8:48pm as soon as Nami and Vivi arrived near the Supernova club by Vivi’s limo. They stepped out of the long vehicle from the very end, one by one, and they met a thick line of party goers at the entrance moving further down on the sidewalk. The title sign on the front wall burned brightly above the tent where the security guards stood underneath, checking out ticket passes and ID's and permitting people inside the club.

Around the area, there were a few groups just standing by having a smoke, chatting amongst themselves or waiting for their friends. The women there wore tiny miniskirts, tight crop tops, strapless dresses, 5-6 inch heels, and pounds of makeup while the men wore unbuttoned collared shirts, leather pants, pointed-toe shoes, and handfuls of hair gel. A few of the men were in casual Polo shirts and slacks and sweaters, signs that they didn't care much about their appearance, more about having a good time with any random person.

Suddenly, Nami watched a bulky man, a security guard, hurl a teenager from his shoulders and onto the sidewalk before calling out his group of friends to leave the building as well. The teenage boy was obviously on something as his voice stuttered and his body wobbled when he tried to shout at the security. Some of his friends were also acting the same way as they left to crash at someplace else. Nami shook her head at the bunch, making a mental note to stay away from creeps like them, also to not push the security guards’ buttons.

Turning her head away from the group, Nami scoped out the entrance and the sidewalk for any sign of Luffy or Ace. They haven't called back to plan on where exactly they should meet and there was no sign of them anywhere. They must be inside enjoying themselves, but did they forget that they were the ones who promised tickets?

Nami sighed at the possible worst case scenario. “Those idiots. They better not have forgotten about us.”

“Hold on, let me call Ace and see where he is.” Vivi pulled out her flip phone and searched for Ace’s cell number. The driver of the limo waved at the girls goodbye as he drove off. They waved in return.

Waiting in front of the entrance, Nami glanced at her friend's outfit. Vivi wore a topaz swing dress with two black stripes coming down from the neck to the bottom hem, like an upside down V, along with high- top leather white heels. She had on gold hoop earrings with a matching necklace and bangles. Her hair was down like a mermaid, which was something Nami hasn't seen for a long time. Vivi always had her hair up, never once letting it down. Admittedly, Nami thought Vivi was an absolute beauty.

“You look really nice with her hair down, Vivi,” Nami complemented, a bit envious of her longer hair. “You should do it more often.”

“Oh, thank you. You really think so?” She pushed a strand of her oceanic blue hair behind her ear. Nami nodded in answer.

Nami's outfit was a petite blouson-style gown with spaghetti straps and a V-neckline. The top was hot pink and the short skirt was black. The dress itself exposed enough skin around her legs, arms, back and chest for Nami's comfort, which made her a little nervous since she hardly wore clothes this revealing before, let alone afford them.

There were a few dresses that Nami immediately denied, making up excuses that she would be look too promiscuous or naked. She knew she'd be embarrassed if she wore the other dresses than the one she had on.

“Anything from the guys?” Nami asked, leaning in close to Vivi’s side.

She shook her head. “No, Ace hasn't picked up at all. I tried twice already and they lead straight to voicemail.”

“I can't believe those two. After all the trouble we went through to get here like they wanted and they can't answer a single-”

“Hey guys!” Nami and Vivi jumped in surprise when two arms tangled around them and pull them together, their faces pressed against whoever was in between them. The person, which they recall, laughed sheepishly. “Sorry we're late. We had to make a quick stop somewhere to get some stuff for us.”

“Luffy!” Nami pinched his arm and twisted his skin until he yelped and let them go. Whirling around, she grumbled at him. “For the hundredth time, don't jump on me!”

Luffy whimpered in pain as he held his arm. “Why did you do that? That hurt!”

“I ought to give you a real reason to cry…” Nami shook her first in the air as she sent him glaring daggers.

Luffy chose to wear a simple blue getaway shirt, short navy blue trousers with cuffs and beaten up sneakers. Nami wasn't surprised that he decided to go casual. He wasn't the type to wear nicer clothes like she was wearing.

“Whoa, calm down Nami. I'm sure he didn't mean to get you mad.” Ace smiled nervously as he raised his arms up in defense. “Like he said, we had to make a stop and it took a lot longer than we thought.”

Compared to his younger brother, Ace dressed a little more decent. He had on a green floral chambray shirt, tan cargo pants, and black low top converse shoes. Would there be dress code for proper clothing on the nightclub? Nami wondered if they would be allowed in.

He dug inside his pockets to fish out something. Both Nami and Vivi held questioned looks.

“We went to get you these.” In his hands, he held out two cards with their faces on them, including their names and other information.

“Fake IDs?” Nami said before she flinched when Luffy and Ace shushed her.

“Not so loud in front of the security,” Ace advised, “unless you want to get our assess handed.” Blinking in realization, Nami nodded. “It wasn't easy producing these since we didn't have a recent picture of you two, so I had a buddy to help us out with that. Hope you like the pictures we made for ya.”

“Ace.” Bringing his attention to the redhead, Ace answered “what's up, Nami.” She glowered at him as she held the fake ID up to his face. “Do I look twenty-eight to you?”

“Yours says twenty-eight? Mine says I'm thirty,” Vivi said, staring at the her ID before she too sent Ace a disapproved frown. “Ace, what's the meaning of this?”

“Hey, don't look at us. We didn't choose the ages for you guys. My buddy Marco selected them at random. You two aren't the only ones with old ages. Look at mine.” His said that he was thirty-nine years old. “If you think that's high, Luffy’s forty-two.” Luffy nodded in agreement with his card in hand. “I know what you guys are thinking, but trust me it'll work. We've done this a bunch of times before.”

“By a ‘bunch of times,’ how many is that?” Nami questioned unsurely. “Look, I don't know how you guys pulled this off or how these IDs work, but I'm not so sure if these can help us get in. It's way too obvious that they're fake. They're not gonna believe us.”

“Nami, relax,” Ace suggested, placing a hand on her shoulder. He held a smug look as he leaned down to her level. “Just trust us, we got this.”

“Yeah Nami, we got this,” Luffy assured her too.

Removing his hand from her shoulder, Ace stepped towards the front entrance with his hands in his pockets, his head held high as he approached one security guard at the door.

Nami quirked an eyebrow. What's he doing? Don't we need to get in line first?

He stopped before the guard and smiled widely. “Jozu, how's it going big guy?”

“Ah, brother Ace. I knew it was you over there,” he kindly said to the chuckling younger man. Nami's mouth dropped. “I'm doing pretty good. What can I do you for?”

“Yeah, my friends and would like to skip this huge line and enter the building if you don't mind.”

Jozu laughed, his giant broad shoulders shaking up and down. “Well that depends if you're on the list, brother.”

“Alright, check the list and see if we're there.” Ace held a knowing smirk as Jozu skimmed through a piece of typed paper on his clipboard.

“Well I'll be, looks like you and your party are on the guest list. Just show me your tickets and you can proceed.”

“What?” Nami couldn't believe that Ace helped them through. Did he plan this all along?

“Hope I'm not too late.”

Nami saw Koza heading towards them and Vivi brightened at her boyfriend. He was in an all-brown clad of a long sleeve button up and pants and purple shaded glasses.

“You're just in time. I'm glad you made it,” Vivi chimed. Nami stared at them embracing one another, a half smile on her face. Then she looked around with a worried look. “Nami, we're heading inside.” She pulled Nami by the arm and aimed to the entrance.

“Wait, we have still have one more,” Nami said, holding herself back. “Law hasn't arrived yet. We should wait for him.”

“I don't see a “Law” as one of your party members on the list,” Jozu said as he skimmed his clipboard.

“Damn, Nami you should've told me you were bringing another friend with us.” Ace turned to the guard. “Can't you just add another member with your pen there?”

“Sorry, but the rules are rules. I can't add anyone once the whole party is here.”

“Aw c’mon Jozu. Help a brother out. Please.”

Jozu sighed, rolling his eyes. “What's the new member's name?”

“Trafalgar Law,” Nami answered before she smiled.

“Fine, I'll just call his name out and let him through.”

“Thanks Jozu! I knew I can count on ya!” Ace said as he fist pumped the man's giant biceps.

Jozu grumbled, “you owe me this time, Ace.”

After Jozu accepted the raffle tickets, Ace gestured to the entrance. “Party's in guys!”

Luffy cheered as he threw his arms in the air and followed his brother inside with Nami, Vivi, and Koza right behind. As they entered, Nami looked over her shoulder for any sight of Law, but her friends pulled her inside.

Loud music boomed from every speaker in the club, blocking Nami's eardrums from hearing anything with massive vibrations. Neon lights flashed from the ceiling to the dancefloor where the party goers were letting loose. Some of the party goers were on the upper floor as they leaned or stood by railings, dancing along too.

Nami's eyes squinted when a few of the lights beamed in her face. She ignored them as she followed her friends to the dancefloor. The heat swarmed her. She received several shoulder bumps, some were minor and rude. Everyone around her was sweating, and she was starting to feel engulfed in pre-sweat.

Chants of encouragement caught her attention as she saw a group of people form a circle. Then she watched Ace extend his arms out to make space for him to step foot. Some of the party goers seemed to know him when they shouted his name and begged him to try something.

Wiping his hands together before blowing into them, Ace waited for the right moment. Then he flopped to the floor when the beat dropped. He bumped up and down along with the beat before he jumped back on his feet to perform hard-to-follow hip-hop footwork.

The chanting grew louder, the party goers became more excited as Ace moved swifter and faster. Flashing white lights started, making Ace look like a wild dancing machine. The music played faster, the lights bounced outrageously, and the man on the dancefloor felt the noise.

Nami had her eyes rounded the whole time. She was ultimately impressed by his dance moves; hip swivels, fast footwork, hair whips, and spins. She could watch him all day, but then something caught her eye.

Ace had all of their eyes on him until Luffy slid on his feet like he was surfboarding and started dancing in the circle. His arms and legs waved around like he was made of rubber before he shook his arms and thrusted his chest out.

Everyone cheered for the younger brother as Ace laughed contagiously. Luffy didn't have any particular dance moves like his brother. He just flails around, jumps up and down, slides on his knees, and thrusts anything in the open. But everyone was loving it.

Nami let out a small laugh in disbelief. She knew how Luffy and Ace enjoy partying, but she forgot how energetic they can be on the dancefloor. Shaking her head, Nami was still amazed.

The next thing she saw was Luffy standing on his hands and swinging his feet back and forth before he spun on his head. Looks like he did know some moves after all.

As he continued to spin, he curled into a ball, spun on his back anf struck a pose in the end. The people threw an uproar. Beside her, Vivi and Koza shouted along with the rest of the people in the circle.

“They're really good, aren't they?” Vivi yelled loud enough for Nami to hear.

“Yeah, I forgot that they know how to dance,” she shouted back, agreeing with her friend.

The song was near to the end. Both Luffy and Ace paced in the circle, giving each other daring smirks. The crowd was going wild. The brothers knew what they were going to and they'll make everyone thirst for more.

They walked backwards to the opposite sides of the circle, directly facing each other. A few women closest to the them squealed like school girls and they were itching to get their hands on them. Sucks to be them because the boys will never be interested.

The time was now. They sprinted from their ends to the center of the circle, lunged in the air, somersaulted a few times and landed on their feet with ease. Nearly ever person in nightclub roared as they ran to them. Nami couldn't help but say “wow” at their performance.

The brothers laughed and smiled as they earned multiple pats on the back and flirty pecks on their cheeks. Thanking the party goers for cheering them in, they jogged back to their friends.

“What’d ya guys think?” Ace asked out of breath, hands on his hips. “Were we good?”

“Good? You two stole the show! You were amazing out there!” Nami’s compliments made the boys chuckle. She had been staring at the red and pink kiss marks on their faces until she pointed at her face and told them. Ace was the first to wipe his face and when he saw the smears on his hands, he cursed. Luffy was confused at what he had on his hands and face, but he brushed it off carelessly.

“Man, all that moving is making me hungry,” Luffy proclaimed, holding onto his stomach.

“What doesn't get you hungry, Luffy?” Nami asked rhetorically with a raised eyebrow. Just breathing makes him hungry.

“Yeah, me too. I could eat something, even though we just had dinner an hour ago,” Ace laughed as he pulled his brother for a side hug.

Good grief. Nami rolled her eyes at them. Those two were really something.

“Well, hopefully you two will find something to dine on. We'll be staying here to dance,” Vivi said.

“Actually, I'll think I'll grab a snack with them. You don't mind, right Vivi?” Koza asked.

“That's fine, Koza. You can go with them.” They shared a quick kiss and Koza joined with the boys. “Just don't get caught in their troubles.”

“If he's smart enough to get himself out of them. Who knows,” Nami said. Her friend caught her attention when Vivi suddenly gasped.

“I love this song! Nami let's dance!” Grabbing Nami's arm, Vivi ran to the dance floor as the party goers began to move with the music.

Lights flashed and the beats blasted. Bodies swayed, arms raised in the air, heels from every shoes stomped as the music amped up. The boys hardcore dancing was only the beginning.

Vivi moved her hips side to side, following the catchy feel-good jams. She had her eyes closed as she let the music consume her inside and out, swinging her head as her gracious hair whipped like wind was blowing her way.

At her side, Nami half-danced by tapping her feet and bobbing her head. Her eyes wandered around the club. She stood on her tiptoes to better view her surroundings, but most of the party goers were too tall to even look past them. Disappointed, she stood back on her heels and continued to look around, hoping that she could find the man she was looking for.

I don't see him anywhere. Did he actually come like he promised? She grew upset after she tried to spin around a few times for any small glimpses. Still, he was nowhere to be seen. She lightened up when she thought she saw Law, but the supposed man turned and had a different face. She mistook a couple more men before she decided to give up. But then her mind told her to not stop and keep looking because he had to be here.

Raising her head up again, she stared over many shoulders and shifted around the entire club. There were too many people here. In such a crowded place, Nami would have a difficult time searching for one man.

“Nami!” Her friend shook her arm and yelled in her ear. “Just enjoy the music! He'll be here!”

Mentally agreeing with her, Nami began to dance a little more. Vivi was right. He will be here. And she won't let herself get distracted from having fun.

After two or three songs, both Nami and Vivi decided to take five. Their clothes stuck to their skin, wet tendrils of hair stuck out, and their feet felt sore from the high heels. They found Luffy and Koza in one of the bar areas as they left the crowded dance floor. Luffy was busy chowing on a plate of chicken wings and Koza had a glass in his head. They called their names out and the girls excused themselves to get to them.

“You two looked like you were enjoying yourselves,” Koza said, letting Vivi into his arm for a side hug.

“Glad you guys are having fun! I knew this party wouldn't be cool without everyone!” Luffy smiled from ear to ear as he stuck a whole wing in his mouth.

“We need water, asap,” Nami panted as if she was pleading for a drink. Koza had a pitcher of iced water served for them. After he poured them two glasses, they downed their drinks without stopping.

“That was refreshing. We needed that,” Nami heavily breathed as she wiped her mouth. She heard Vivi agree as she poured herself another glass. “Luffy, where's Ace?” She furrowed her eyebrows when she noticed that Ace wasn't with them.

“Oh,” Luffy chewed on his food and swallowed, “he's in the bathroom cleaning himself up.” Nami held a strange look, which Luffy dismissed. “It's not what you think. He didn't fight anyone. I spilled some orange soda on his shirt by mistake, so he's in the bathroom trying to clean it up.”

“Okay.” Nami nodded unsurely. Luffy was no liar. Even if he tried, he would have this stupid poker face that can't fool anyone. Nami stared at the plate of chicken wings until she told herself screw it. “Can I have one, Luffy?”

“Sure, there's plenty more where this come from,” he allowed politely, holding onto the plate as he chewed on another wing.

“Of course there is.” As she bit on the appetizing wing, she hummed when Vivi tapped her on the shoulder. Vivi pointed past her with a grin on her face. Frowning, Nami turned to where she was pointing and froze.

“What?” Luffy asked, but none of the girls answered.

As he carefully pushed his way through a group bunched together, a tall man came under the flashing beams of neon colors. He wore a black tee that fitted tightly around his torso, his toned pecs and abdomen protruding out. Also, his strong arms were finally exposed. His shirt was tucked into a pair of bootcut jeans that were held up by a black belt, adorning his long legs and narrow waist. He stepped further in, but he wasn’t looking in Nami’s direction. He peered over people's heads as he turned left and right. He was definitely looking for her.

Nami couldn't help but gaze at him. He suddenly became more gorgeous, even though they were his normal clothes. He could be mistaken as a twenty-year old or maybe older. Her cheeks warmed up by the alluring sight of him. She could feel her heart pump faster in her chest and her skin tingle with goosebumps. The attraction she had for him grew stronger. The heat in her cheeks became hotter. Her body began to sweat underneath her clothes. A strange feeling filled up her head. Her shoulders dropped down and her throat released a yearning sigh.

Somehow, he felt those gazing pair of eyes on him as he slowly turned his gray orbs to the person who was staring. At the same time, Nami shrunk and he blinked like he spotted something beautiful. He looked her up and down before he stopped on her eyes. Then the side of his mouth curved and his eyelids hooded, sending her one of his heart-stopping visages.

“Call him, Nami.” Nami heard Vivi encourage. Shaking her head out of a foggy trance, she put on her best smile and raised her arm.

“Law!” Nami’s voice shouted across to him as she waved. She beckoned him to come where she and her friends were, mouthing ‘come here’. As Law walked to them, squeezing by more party goers, he kept his eyes on her, never daring to look away. “You made it.” She embraced him and pressed her head on his chest. Smirking, he wrapped one arm around her.

“Missed me?” He teased as his smirk grew wider. Chuckling, Nami gave a warm smile as she glanced up.  

“Guys, this is Law. He'll be joining us tonight,” Nami introduced him to her friends, leaving an arm on his back. “You remember Vivi, right Law?” He nodded.

“It's a pleasure to see you again,” Vivi said with a smile.

“Likewise,” said Law.

“That's her boyfriend, Koza.” Nami gestured and he raised his glass. “And that's Luffy.”

“Hey, what's up?” Luffy shot him a toothy grin, mouth stuffed.

“And there's still one more…” Nami looked around if her missing friend, Ace, was somewhere nearby.

“Say, you're pretty tall. Do you play?” Luffy asked curiously as he continued to bite onto more wings.

“No, I'm not into basketball,” Law answered, shaking his head.

“You mean you don't play at all?” Luffy’s mouth almost dropped to the floor. “Why not? I bet you'd be really good at it.”

“Um, Luffy, I don't think you're the right person to be advising him to sign into sports since you're not in any teams yourself,” Vivi reminded him. “And there's a great reason why.” She cupped the side of her mouth and whispered to Law. “He doesn't play by the rules, which is why he's never accepted. In other words, he's a dangerous simpleton.”

“Hey, I heard that!” Luffy shouted, his cheeks turning red.

Koza laughed. “I remember when you tried out for football you injured three people and hassled with the coach. You even popped the football when you caught it with your teeth.”

“Eh, it wasn't fun anyway, not without Ace.” Luffy pouted.

“He was worse than you,” Koza mentioned, grimacing as he recalled what happened that time. “And I don't want to mention how insane his tryouts were.”

“Who's Ace? Another friend?” Law asked.

“He’s my older brother,” Luffy replied with all smiles. “He's a cool guy, and you'll like him. He's still in the bathroom and I don't know what's taking him so long.”

“So you're full name is Trafalgar Law, right?” Koza asked, sipping his water.

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Trafa- what?” Luffy said dubiously.

“Well your name has been flying around the whole school and it made me wonder who that person was until Vivi told me that we had a new kid. You're pretty popular right now, especially when it comes to the female students. They just won't stop talking about you.”

Law kept his face blank. He couldn't careless if people gossiped or spread rumors about him. Wasn't school a place where everyone tried to bring one person down for any reason or no reason at all?

“And I also heard what happened last week on campus.” With that said, Law pressed his jaws together.

“Koza, that's not necessary to talk about,” Vivi said, gently tugging his arm.

“Word on the street is is that you almost got involved with Kid and his goons in a gang fight. And Nami was there too. Lucky for you two, Genzo showed up right on time before the fight even started.”

The muscles in Law's arms suddenly flexed as he clenched his hands even harder. For some reason his blood began to boil and nothing but heated rage consumed his thoughts.

“That's enough,” Vivi commanded. “It must've been scary for them, so it's not a good idea to bring that up. I am thankful that Genzo came to their rescue, but I'm also thankful that Law defended Nami when Kid crossed over her personal boundaries far enough. So thank you Law for stepping in for her.”

“I didn't need any help.”

Both Vivi and Koza made questioned looks.

“Excuse me?” Koza said.

His face darkened as he lowered his chin. “If a cop hadn't showed up, I could've done the job myself.”

They became silent afterwards, like a ghostly chill ran down their spines.

“I've got it!” Luffy broke the silence. “I'll call you Traffy. Your last name is kinda hard to say, so I came up with-”

“It's pronounced Trafalgar, and I prefer to be called Law, not Traffy,” he said lowly, as a demand not a request.

“Hm?” Luffy blinked once. The couple next to him felt uneasy at the moment.

Defeated, Nami came back to the group. “I can't seem to find him-”

“Nami! Listen it's that song we used to play a lot when we were kids. Come on, let's go to the dancefloor.” Without warning, Luffy pulled on Nami's arm and ripped her away from Law's side.

“Luffy you can't just-” She looked over her shoulder to where Law stood. “I'll be right back!” She shouted her promise.

After they've left, with a little trembling in her feet, Vivi sipped on her glass of water and moved closer to Koza, disturbed. 

Nami and Luffy danced until their childhood song ended. She gave out a tired breath and grabbed her knees. All the dancing sure gave her an intense workout. Panting out of breath, Nami hung her head. She'll have to remind herself to change her diet and start exercising since she realized how out of shape she was.

Luffy, other hand, looked as though he was just getting started. He was barely sweating, but not as much as her. Excitement must have won over exhaustion.

“You're tired already?” Luffy scratched his head as he raised an eyebrow.

“Shut up,” Nami growled. She turned away from her snickering friend and looked back to the spot where her friends were. Law wasn't there anymore.

“Nami, where are you going?” Luffy called after her when she ran back to Koza and Vivi.

“Hey Vivi, where's Law?” She asked, concerned for him.

“He went upstairs.” Vivi informed, pointing upwards. “He said he wanted some fresh air, but didn't say why.”

“Okay, I'm gonna go look for him.” Nami found the nearest stairs to the second floor. As she looked around, none of the windows were opened. If he wanted fresh air, where would he go? An idea popped into her head.

******

The wind lightly flourished through the air, released a small hollow as it passed through buildings in the area. Moonlight glowed from way up in the night sky, alongside the numerous stars shining brightly like diamonds. Cars roaring and honking and the lit up street lights didn't distract Law’s focus on the bright moon.

His arms were folded on the railing encircling the roof of the nightclub. His neck was tilted up to face the moon, gray eyes gazing upon it. Then he switched to the town before him. All the late night diners, separate night clubs, bars, souvenir stores and pawnshops had their signs lit up to attract more customers. Cars were busy driving down the c road below and locals everywhere were hanging out on the sidewalks. The street was still as lively as ever.

Lowering his head on his arms, Law exhaled out of his nose. His eyelids almost came to a close and his bangs hung over his forehead. Subconsciously, he scratched his forearm. His eyes grew tense, filling in immense enmity. The streets reminded him of something. As he recalled, there were illuminating headlights and intense shouting. He could picture everything.

His lips curled and his teeth grinded together. His shoulders began to shake. The scratching he inflicted on himself became harmful, he nearly bled. Dipping his head in close to his chest, he closed his eyes. He remembered something piercing going off in the air. It made his voice halt in his throat and his body freeze like ice.

Like everything was in slow motion, he saw a body drop down with a gaping hole in his back and watched it collapse like a sack. Law shuddered when he stared wide eyed at the person who was on the ground. Tears welled in his eye sockets until they finally leaked.

No… he whimpered softly as the broken tears blurred his vision. Then he snapped. His hands clenched, his teeth bared and his voice ripped out in a shrill scream.

I'LL KILL YOU!

Law placed a hand over his face. He didn't want to bring himself back to that incident, but the town where it happened brought him there. If only he could've done something… something that could've prevented that loss… and the empty hole in his chest, more hollow than the one he saw.

“Here it is.” Nami opened that door that led to the roof. Catching a figure leaning on the railing, she said, “Law? There you are, I've been looking all over for you. What're you doing up here? It's chilly.”

He continued to think back to what happened, three years ago. There was no way he could've stopped it. His arms were held down and running wasn't an option.

Lifting up from his hand, Law reopened his empty eyes. The inside of his chest ached where his heart was. He hasn't fully recovered from that incident. He had always asked himself what can possibly fill this infinite black hole and take him away from his misery.

“Law?” Breaking out of his thoughts, Law heard a small voice. It sounded pure and sweet. He felt a soft touch on his shoulder, bringing him to turn to his left and stop on a face full of innocence. “Hey, you alright?” Her hand on his shoulder calmed him down as he silently breathed and gazed at Nami. Smiling shyly, she removed her hand and peered down. She pushed an invisible strand of hair behind her hair. “So um, what are you doing up here all by yourself?”

“I needed some air,” he said, looking back at the town. “It was getting humid and cramped in there, so I came out here for better space and a breeze.”

“Yeah, I do agree with you on that. It does get hot and crowded in a nightclub.”

“Also, I don't do parties like these. They don't interest me at all.”

“Oh,” Nami trailed off. “Sorry.”

“What are you sorry for? You simply just asked me if I wanted to go out with you and your friends. How could I turn down an invitation coming from you?”

Surprised, she dipped her head in to hide her goofy blushes. She stared at him from the corner of her eye before she glanced away. The immediate turn away made Law chuckle. Her presence made it all worthwhile.

“Okay, if you put it that way,” Nami mumbled, unable to control the fiddling between her fingers. They were quiet for a short moment. Thinking of something else to talk about, Nami peered up to the sky. She smiled. “Doesn't the sky look so beautiful at night?”

Her question made Law stare at the sky too and he briefly nodded. “It does, actually.”

“I envy the moon and the stars way up there,” she said.

“Why?”

“They're just floating and hanging out together. They don't have to worry about the things we're worried about; money, school, work.” She took a pause before she pressed her lips together and said, “even incurable diseases.”

Law noticed that she was beginning to tear up as she sniffled. She wiped her nose and left her hand over her mouth. Law figured where this might be going.

“I just think… if we lived like the stars in the sky, we wouldn't be so stressed and overwhelmed and frustrated over everything.”

“So you're saying that you're miserable?” He assumed.

She nodded furiously. “Yeah, actually I am. I am miserable. I have a sick mom who's a workaholic both at home and at the bakery and all she's worried is keeping the business up and running. My bossy sister hardly lets me do things I want to do and I can't even remember the last time she's told that she loved me. I love her, I really do, but there are days that I just can't stand her. I don't have time for myself. It's work, work, work. And for what? What do I get out of it, more work? Why not! Let's add more crap to my schedule! I've got nothing better to do anyway!

“Not only am I miserable, I'm also really scared. I'm scared for my mom... because we won't have the money for another chemotherapy if her condition gets worse.” She dropped her head in her hands, her elbows standing on the railing. “We've always lived like this. We're always financially unstable. Bad luck runs into us left and right. I can hardly believe that I'll have a future of my own. I'll be lucky to graduate high school, but there's no way for me to go to college. I'll wind up like my sister and work at the bakery for the rest of my life.”

Crossing her arms on the railing like Law, she looked up to the moon and stars again, a face full of envy.

“I just wish my family doesn't have to suffer anymore. I want Mom to be cancer-free, Nojiko to treat me like I am her sister, and I want to smile for real this time. I don't want to keep pretending that everything is going to be okay.”

Nami sunk her head low as she stared at nothing in particular. She finally released the feelings she had bottled up inside her for so long. All she needed was someone to listen.

“Sorry.” She wiped her eyes and straightened up.

“It's fine,” he dismissed. “I'm sorry that your mother has cancer.”

“I don't want to dwell on it.” After she finished composing herself, she cleared her throat. “Enough about my family, you probably heard too much. Hey, I never asked about your family. How are they? You have any brothers and sisters?”

Law froze after she asked those questions. His head lowered down, bangs shrouding his eyes, and suddenly he lost his voice.

“Law?” She questioned him with uncertainty. She wondered what made him so quiet. “Law, you okay?” She called for him again. Still no answer, she touched his shoulder. “Hey.”

“Sister,” he murmured faintly low. “Her name was Lami.”

“Really? What a coincidence. I had no idea you have a sister too.” She seriously didn't. She pictured him as maybe an only child or living with one or two younger brothers. “How is she?”

“I don't know,” he mumbled with a head shake. Puzzled, Nami furrowed her eyebrows.

“What do you mean you don't know?” she asked.

“I mean I don't know.”

“Okay, well, what about your parents?”

“I don't know.”

“Law, you can't keep saying that. Can I meet them?”

He shook his head again. “Not possible.”

“What? Why not?” She commanded, getting frustrated with him for not making the conversation easy. “You met my family. Well, it wasn't planned, but still. Why don't you want me to meet them?”

“It's not that I don't want you to meet them, you just can't," he reasoned, but Nami didn't take that as a good answer.

“Wha- you're not making any sense. What do you mean I just can't? Why can't I meet them.”

“Because they're dead,” he finally said. Nami's body went numb, bewildered. “All of them.”

“..!” Nami nearly choked. Did this mean that he was an orphan? “Oh… I'm... I'm so sorry. I had no idea that you were…”

“You don't need to apologize. It's fine. It was a long time ago,” he said, shrugging again. “I don't really like talking about them. Plus, it'd be best not to make a big deal out of it.”

“Okay,” she said obediently. Guilty for her being curious, Nami softly asked, “were you close with them?” Law became quiet again. “Sorry sorry! I know you said that you didn't want to talk about your family, but I just got curious. You don't have to answer if you don't want to. I'll understand, I get it.”

Law glanced at her, studying her face. Shyly, Nami pushed a tendril of hair behind her ear as an excuse to face down. “You remind me of Lami sometimes.”

Looking back up, she raised both eyebrows. “I do?”

“She loved to read books; fantasy literature was her favorite genre.”

“Really? She liked fantasy stories?” Nami smiled as she leaned on the railing. “Can you tell me more about her?”

Law continued. “She would often go to a local library and stay there like it was her sanctuary. We couldn't afford the books she wanted to keep, so it broke her heart. I tried to save up some money to buy her favorite books for her birthday one time, but... then we were robbed and the money was stolen.

“She always read about fairy tales or anything mythical. She said she wanted to be a mermaid, a pixie, a harpy, a centaur, you name it. I asked why she wanted to be those things, and she said, ‘because they're all free. They've got tails to swim, wings to fly, horse-legs to run like the wind.’ And I remember telling her, ‘you will one day. I promise you will.’ Then she asked me, ‘will big brother be there with me?’ And I said to her... ‘big brother will always be there with you, and I'll never leave you alone.’”

Nami had her lips parted. She blinked and tears slowly slid down.

“She wanted to do so many things, and she wanted us to do them together, and I didn't care. All I cared about was keeping her happy, and hopefully, she is today, even though I'm not where she is right now.”

Nami's nose sniffled. More tears leaked from her eyes and she wiped them off before they could slip out.

“Like I said, it was a long time ago. It's not a big deal to me anymore.”

“Thank you for sharing that. It was beautiful.” Nami placed a hand on her cheek and slowly took a deep breath.

"You're the first person I told about my sister," he said. "I've never told anyone about her or my family." 

"Well, you can tell me anything. I won't judge you at all." Her promise made him pause before he fully faced her. Letting out a small laugh, she grinned. “So I remind you of your sister because we share the same hobby?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“Is that why you're into books? Because of your sister?”

“I've always liked to read. I took books as a way to escape from things. They were my safe haven. Lami loved it more than me, and she would brag about the adventures she took in one sitting, claiming that she was a better adventurer than me.”

“I would've loved to meet her,” Nami said sweetly. “She sounds like a wonderful person.”

“She would've liked you too,” he said.

Nami grinned timidly. “Thanks.” Peering down to the town, Nami played with her hands. “I'm kinda jealous of you now.”

“Why's that?” he wondered.

“You had a real bond with your sister. You two had a common interest, you knew how to talk to each other, you got along with her so fluently, and I can see that you loved her and she loved you just as much. You must have been a really good brother to her.” Nami's face faltered to a sad look. “I'm so sorry you lost her. I can never imagine what that must be like, losing someone so close to you. I believe she is happy. When you said that all you cared about was to keep her happy, I bet right now, even if she's not here with you, she wants you to be happy too.”

Law's eyes widened.

Humming in question, Nami felt his hand over hers. He stepped in closer and tilted his head to her level. Shocked by how close they were, she remained still with her eyes rounded and her cheeks beginning to burn up.

He stared deep into her eyes as he tightened her hand in his. It was warm like the last time they've touched hands.

“I am now.”

Nami gasped, internally. Law closed the proximity even more as he leaned towards her and parted his full lips. Nami's heart raced like as it began to panic. Her inner voice told her to calm down and breathe slowly, but now wasn't time for that. She didn't have time to think.

Oh my god… He's going to… Nervously, Nami started to open her lips and shut her eyes. She didn't have to think, in fact she didn't want to. She had been dreaming of this moment ever since she met him, and she wanted to reach to his heart and embrace him. This was her day, and now it'll be their day to remember.

“I FOUND YOU GUYS!” Luffy shouted from the roof’s entrance. Nami recoiled immediately, reddening madly. “What are you guys doing up here? The party is inside.”

“Luffy…” Nami grumbled under her breath, upset that her idiotic friend had to interrupt her perfect moment with Law. They were so close, so freaking close!

Law crossed his eyes over to the loudmouth as a form of glare, but then he sighed in defeat.

“Uh… I guess that's our cue to go back,” she said, reluctant to head back inside.

Shrugging, Law grunted. “Sure.”

“Come on you two!” Luffy shouted even louder.

Law sighed again. “He's still standing there.”

“Yes, yes he is.” Nami nodded.

Chapter Text

Begrudgingly, Nami and Law followed Luffy back inside the building with no other choice but to spend the rest of their night with him and the others instead of hanging out together like they thought they would. Obviously, they didn't plan to meet on the rooftop alone, but their moment came by chance until the idiotic goofball took that away from them. Later tonight, Nami will have her hands around his throat and remind him never to interrupt them again. Hopefully, he'll learn soon enough.

Not only was she irritated at her friend’s interference, but so incredibly awkward that she can't put into words. She avoided eye contact with Law as she trudged alongside him, hoping that he wouldn’t catch how embarrassed she was, but that didn't stop him staring at her state. She could feel his eyes burning on her skin, making her want to hide underneath a blanket like a child.

But that moment they had felt like a dream. Butterflies fluttered in Nami's stomach, and goosebumps crawled on her delicate skin, replacing her in a new state of fluster. Just by fantasizing about it made her grin. It almost became a reality, and she was so close to achieving it. Why couldn't her clueless friend wait a little longer?

Wait, would it be too early to engage in that sort of thing? Nami asked herself curiously. When is the right time? Maybe she should ask Vivi for pointers or tips on moving on to the next level with your partner. Ugh, calling it the next level sounds too big of a step. She hasn't even been on a single date yet.

Another thing she realized was that she finally learned about his family, but it wasn't enough. He probably knew much more about her than what he asked when she ranted. That was uncalled for. She wished she could ask more about his family but judging from how emotional he was about them, he seemed like he didn’t want to touch that topic again.

After a frustrated minute or two of contemplating, Nami brushed off all her thoughts.

As much as she desperately wanted to kiss him, she should hold off until the right time comes, and she hoped that maybe Law could do that too. Plus, there's no rush when it comes to love. But it's so hard being patient when you like someone. She didn't want to screw it up.

Her cheeks blushed as the intimacy of their closeness on the roof came back to her. She just couldn't believe that Law almost kissed her on the mouth, choosing her of all the other girls he could've been with. She wondered what caught his interest back at the library when they first met. What did he see in her, and what is it that he liked about her?

“We'll try again next time,” Law abruptly whispered next to her ear, causing her to freeze up from that suggestive remark. He chuckled at her reaction as she dipped down timidly, bashful to look back at him and reply, so she gave a soft nod as her response.

Surrounded by the deafening vibrations of techno from the loudspeakers and flashed by neon lights in almost every corner, they passed through the tight and lively crowds, seemingly bigger than before, as they searched for the others. As they squeezed and excused themselves in, Nami mentally groaned at the fact that she and Law will never have their quality time together if they stayed down here. It was too packed and suffocating to even stand in one place.

Finally, Luffy found Vivi and Koza in a seating area with just two long couches with no backrests, not too far from the bar. They must've been tired and needed someplace to sit down. Thank god because Nami still didn't have the energy to go back on the dancefloor, her blaming it on Luffy.

“Hey guys, we're back,” Luffy shouted with a wave of his arm as Nami and Law followed behind him.

“Oh!” Vivi beamed at their return but immediately caught her breath when she eyed the man next to Nami, switching a suspicious glance at her friend for a second and back at him. Her hand squeezed the edge of the couch as she recalled the last conversation she and Koda had with him. Pressing her lips together, she put up a fake smile. “I… was wondering where you all went. Nearly got me worried there.”

Luffy chuckled. “I found them on the-”

Nami cleared her throat as she interrupted Luffy, silencing him not to say a single word as she sent a warning glare, causing him to drop his face and swallow a gulp. Vivi blinked twice at the two, curious as to what Luffy was going to say and why Nami shut him up.

“Uh…” he started, rubbing the back of his hand as he quivered a forced grin. “I just brought them back.”

Vivi stared at Nami before she gave a pleased nod. “Okay, well, we saved you seats if you feel the need.”

“Thanks, Vivi, but have you guys seen Ace yet?” Luffy asked.

“No, we haven't,” Vivi answered with a head shake, same as Koza. “He hasn't come back ever since you two and Koza grabbed a bite to eat.”

“Huh, it can't take him that long to clean himself up,” he said to himself, hands on his hips as he stared up in thought.

Nami took a glance at the crowd, scanning nearby faces that could match her childhood friend. She wasn't exactly worried about Ace, knowing full well that he can defend himself, along with his younger brother, but a little concerned. Luffy had no trace of worry on his face when she saw him thinking about the possibilities of his brother's absence.

It didn't take him long to conclude that Ace was probably tussling with old friends of his, and he was pretty casual about it. Nami worried that that may not always be the case, and Vivi and Koza had the same feeling too.

“I'm gonna go look for him,” Luffy decided, turning to leave. “I'll catch up with you guys later.”

“Be careful, Luffy, ” Vivi cautioned.

“Don't worry,” Luffy assured her as he waved a dismissed hand. “If it's the worst case scenario, Ace and I can handle it. We're pretty much used to this.”

“That's not something to be proud of, Luffy,” Nami said with a hooded frown, earning a shrug from him.

“Well, I better go see what Ace’s doing. I'll bring his ass back here, see ya.”

Nami watched Luffy trod into the bustling crowd, admiring the relationship he has with Ace. They always have each other's backs wherever they go. Despite how idiotic and troublesome they can both be, she honestly wished she had siblings like them.

“If Luffy’s certain, then we might as well trust him,” Vivi said.

“It is him and his brother we're talking about,” Koza reminded as a matter of fact, which his girlfriend knowingly nodded in agreement. “Those two are a real piece of work.” Koza looked up to Nami and pointed his head at the extra couch. “Sit down you two. We all need a break from standing around too long.”

Nami complied as she sat on the couch and scooted down for Law to sit next to her as he did. Without her noticing, Vivi stared at her friend as she watched her smile at Law. She was happy that Nami got together with someone, at first, but now she was worried.

She gave one quick look over to the man beside Nami and then back to her.

“Hey, Nami,” Vivi called, touching her arm for her attention. “I’m kind of thirsty. Can you come with me to grab a drink?” Before Nami could fully answer, Vivi wrapped her hand around Nami's bicep and pulled her off the couch and speed walked out of the seating area.

“Vivi-” Nami turned to Law with an apologetic look. What’s with my friends keep yanking me away?

As they moved farther away, Law glowered at the two, his piercing eyes following them till they reached the bar counter.

“Hey, why are we rushing?” Nami questioned, gently pulling her arm away. “By the way, didn't you drink a lot of water not too long ago?” She tilted her head in wonder.

“Alright, I'll cut to the chase,” Vivi admitted, catching Nami off guard. “But let me ask you this first, what exactly happened between you and Law?” Her question put Nami in a sensitive position.

Her mind was still jumbling with thoughts about the close encounter she had with Law, still unsure if it was the right time to share something intimate or not. When she thought about it, she blushed.

“Well, we were on the roof,” she began, fiddling with her fingers. “We started talking for awhile, and then before I knew it, Law... he uh…” She pushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear and said with an elated grin, “he almost kissed me.”

Taken aback, Vivi’s eyebrows shot up. “O-oh,” she stuttered, blinking several times to process. She didn't know how else to react to the unexpected news. “Wow.” She tried her best to express her acknowledgment, but the mixed feelings she had jumped in, a restrained smile forming on her face.

“Yeah,” she breathed, casting a dreamy look. “But Luffy being the idiot he is barged in and ruined everything. God, you have no idea how embarrassing that was.”

Vivi forced a nod as in she agreed with her, one hand rubbing the other. Pulling on her lips, she made another quick look over to where the guys were but focused back on Nami if she caught her.

“I need your advice,” Nami said, somewhat looking desperate.

“Sure. What is it?”

“You obviously had the experience, and I obviously don't know how these things go along the line of relationships since I've never been in one before, but be honest with me.” Nami folded her hands and gently bent them toward her chest. “Do you think it's too early for us to kiss?”

Vivi fell silent after that question. She wanted to be the kind friend and give her the advice she asked. Hell, she wanted to be supportive of her, but the more Nami talked about Law, the more concerned she became.

She asked herself if Law was playing some game with Nami after learning what happened on the rooftop. Was he planning to take advantage of her? They haven't even gone on a date yet, and he already made a move like that? Guys like that shouldn’t be trusted, according to her book. All they think about is their desire and lust for sex, like that red-haired pig, Kid who always made a pass at her whenever he had the chance.

Vivi just hoped that Nami wasn't foolish enough to let any guy manipulate her, even as charming as Law. She’s smart, yet inexperienced.

“You okay?” Nami asked, noticing how long it was taking Vivi to give her a response.

“I'm fine, Nami. I…” Vivi trailed, trying to find the words she was looking for. Her mind dismissed the question she was asked and thought back to what Law said earlier.  

“What?” Nami stared at her friend until she released a sigh. “Vivi, just say it. What's wrong?”

Vivi attempted to give her reply, but she fell silent again. Her eyes shifted down to the floor and her mouth exhaled.

“Okay, I don't know if you were listening, but when Koza and I were talking to Law, he said that he could have finished off Kid and his gang without a cop's help.”

Baffled, Nami leaned back a little, her eyebrows knitting together.

“I know it sounds strange, but he looked serious like he meant what he said.”

“Well,” Nami started, “I get what you mean. Law did seem scary when he stood up to Kid, but...” Sighing out her nose, she shook her head. “Don't mind him. We talked about it, and we cleared it up between us. I guess the incident must have got to him now that you're telling me this. I don't know if he's going to let it go or not.”

Vivi nodded at that.

“Plus, isn't it common for boyfriends to be like that with their girlfriends? All protective and intimidating to scare off jerks like Kid? Doesn't Koza do that for you?”

“It is common,” Vivi agreed. “Koza can be a pain in the neck when he tries to act high and mighty when I’m around boys. I would say it's a boyfriend thing that guys do.”

“So it shouldn't be that surprising right? That Law would stand up for me?”

“No, not really.”

“Well I'm glad you told me. Thanks.”

They share small smiles as they chuckled.

“So you two almost kissed, huh?” Vivi crossed her arms, changing the subject. Right when Nami was going to say something, Vivi cut her off by saying, “too soon, Nami. Way too soon.”

“Wha-” Nami tried to protest, but she already knew that she couldn't win at this. “Yeah, you're right. So when do you think is the right time?” She asked.

“That depends on the person, so I can’t decide that for you,” Vivi answered with a hand gesture to herself. “It’s up to you of when you think is the right time, no one else.”

Nami nodded in understanding.

“And if Law tries to kiss you again and you’re not sure if you’re ready for it, you let him know right away. He doesn’t make the decision.”

“Okay.” Nami nodded again.

“And one other thing, ask yourself this, ‘do I trust him?’” Vivi emphasized, opening her friend’s eyes as she blinked more than once.

Do I trust him..? Nami looked down in thought. “I’ll keep that in mind. I completely lost my control now that I’m thinking about it. It's like something pulled me in.”

“I know what exactly happened. You were captivated by Law's charm."

Nami scoffed. “No. No, I wasn't.” Vivi’s raised eyebrows made Nami drop her shoulders in defeat. “Okay, I was. We were having a great conversation on the roof. He told me a few things about his family, well not really, but he said that I remind him of his sister, who uh, unfortunately, passed away some time ago, and so did his parents.”

Nami saw how taken aback Vivi was at that, to which she nodded as in the feeling was mutual. “Yeah, I felt sorry for him. But then, in the end, he said that he was happy, and I think he meant I'm the one who made him happy.”

Vivi watched her friend smile to herself, catching on that Nami was being captivated again. She looked as though she was falling for Law.

“And that's when he wanted to kiss me,” Nami finished, grinning hard to hold in a giggle she was reluctant to release as she dipped her head down.

Vivi took another glance over her shoulder. Her friend seemed content with how her relationship was going with the man over there in the seating area. Even though they both agreed that boys could be overprotective, speaking from experience, Vivi had this gut feeling that this was different, alarmingly different.

******

“Everything okay?” Law asked as Nami sat down next to him on the couch, smoothing out her skirt.

“Yeah, it's fine. We just talked,” Nami said, assuring him with a smile. “How about you? You enjoying yourself?”

“I've been sitting here the whole time.”

Nami laughed. “You didn't speak to Koza at all?” She playfully frowned as Law answered with a shrug. She shook her head.

A flash caught her attention as she saw Vivi and Koza take a picture together, holding up a digital camera in their hands as they both smiled with their faces close together. She tilted her head at the cute couple before an idea came to mind. She gave Law a curtsy glance as she grinned.

“Hey, Vivi,” she called her. “Can you take a picture of Law and me?”

Glancing at the two, Vivi made a small smile. “Sure.”

As Vivi aimed the camera, Nami straightened herself and leaned closer to Law's side who also moved in as he lowered his head close to Nami's face.

“Okay, now smile.” Vivi clicked the button, and a flash beamed on them. She handed Nami the camera to let her see how the picture looked.

Nami grinned as she stared at the screen. “It’s perfect. Thanks, Vivi. What do you think Law?”

“It’s a good shot, captured everything,” Law said, glancing at Nami with a grin.

Nami nervously smiled before she gave the camera back to Vivi. “Can you develop the picture when you have the chance?”

“Twice,” Law said, holding up two fingers. “I'd like one for myself too.”

“All right, I'll get two pictures for you guys by tomorrow, is that okay?” Vivi asked.

Nami nodded happily. “Yeah, sounds good.”

******

The music and the people were still lively since Nami and her friends entered the nightclub. They can barely make conversations with each other like they had to shout for the other to hear properly.

Nami didn't mind the screaming music. She was comfortable sitting next to Law in silence between them, even he was enjoying it.

He had his arm around her back, hand placed on her hip and she snuggled close, close enough to lay her head on his shoulder and rest, but she decided not to. She imagined that she can still stay like this for the rest of the night, just him and her, alone.

Vivi and Koza were no longer with them in the seating area; they were dancing together, gone after two songs. Nami sneaked a couple of glances behind her to watch them from afar, envying how they looked together and how loving they were, sharing pecks on each other's lips. How much longer will it take for her to be that close to Law?

Nami gave herself a scowl. What was going on with her, she thought. She promised herself to wait when she's ready, but with all the desiring and jealousy thoughts, she can't help it. More than anything, her goal was to get closer to the man she wanted to be with.

Should she ask Law if he wanted to dance? Some of the songs didn't sound fun or matched what he would like. What did she know? Did he even like dancing? What to do.

Subconsciously, she looked back to her best friend on the dancefloor. Vivi was beaming with joy as she laughed with her boyfriend, making up goofy dance moves as they danced.

Law finally took notice of Nami looking behind them as he too glanced over his shoulder, and then noted the expression on her face. “Do you want to be with your friend?”

His question made her focus on him. “...oh, no. She’s enjoying her time with Koza. I don't want to be rude and get in the way.”

He nodded in understanding.

“Want something to drink?” Law asked politely.

“Um, no. I think I'm alright,” Nami said. “I need to run to the bathroom. You mind waiting here?”

“I'll go with you.”

“No, that's okay. I can go on my own.”

“I'd rather not let you do that. Parties like these always have trouble with them.”

Nami wouldn't disagree with him on that fact. There was always that one creepy guy that preyed on young women for their pleasures. Lucky for her, she had Law with her.

She was hesitant at first but realizing his reasoning, she accepted his offer and said, “okay.”

They found the restrooms on the east side of the nightclub, next to another bar and seating area. No lines were outside of the women's restrooms, which made Nami sigh in relief because she had too much water to drink after all the dancing she did with her friends.

Law said he’ll wait for her outside. Nami entered after giving a nod of appreciation.

She took care of her business in one of the stalls and flushed the toilet. She checked her makeup and hair on the large, horizontal mirror before noticing thin strands of hair dangling from her high ponytail.

I knew I should've brought a brush with me. Grabbing the scrunchy holding Nami's hair, she yanked it off as her hair finally released. She shrugged at the new look. “Nothing much I can do.”

She finger-brushed her hair, grimacing from the tightness the scrunchy left on her. She’ll have to remind Vivi to go easy on her head next time.

Her thoughts were later interrupted when she overheard a group of girls talking about something.

“Those boys were so stupid,” one girl said, grouchily. “I can't believe one of them fell on me and made me spill my drink on my new dress.”

“I know, right?” Another girl agreed.

“If they want to go and pick fights, can't they do that outside?”

Nami had her eyebrows raised as she overheard the conversation. Not that she was surprised about fights and all in a nightclub, honestly there was bound to be at least one, but she wondered who was part of this fight.

“I'm so glad the security got a hold of them and threw them all out. Nobody needs those jerks. If I see another fight tonight, I'm never coming back here again.”

“Count me in. I'm not taking the risk of getting injured or arrested if I get caught up with those jerkoffs.”

“Also, I hope they kicked out that metalhead everyone knows about.”

“Yeah, he’s such a dirty horn dog. Ugh!”

Furrowing her eyebrows, Nami paused as her hands became still in the sink.

“No, he wouldn't be allowed in here,” Nami said to herself, finishing up with cleaning her hands and fixing her hair. “If he were, he would've been kicked out the minute he causes trouble.”

Nami ignored the rest of the girl's conversation as she dried her hands under the dryer and exited the bathroom, meeting Law’s back facing her way. Smiling at him, they walk side by side back to the couch on the other side of the club.

“You look very nice with your hair down,” Law suddenly said, grinning at the changed look.

Nami acknowledged the compliment as she pushed a thick strand behind her ear. “Thank you.”

As they reached their spot, Law sat down, but Nami didn't. She stared at her friends again as they danced. With a purse of her lips, she finally made a bold decision.

“Do you want to dance, Law?” She bravely asked. Her question brought him to look up at her as she tried to smile. Please say yes, she begged in her head.

He briefly looked over at the dance floor and back to Nami. “I don't dance, Nami,” he said with a head shake.

She dropped her shoulders in response to his bluntness. “Come on Law. One dance, that's all I'm asking.”

“Nami,” he tried to make a reply, but he sunk into his seat.

“Look,” she took one step closer to him and grabbed for his hands, “I understand that you don't enjoy this sort of thing, but give it a chance. We're here to have a good time together. And maybe we can make some memories. At least try to make this a night for us to remember. I do want to share more memories with you, Law.”

With that said, Law gazed up into her eyes for a moment. Exhaling out, he grinned. “Now that I won't say no to.”

Pleased with his answer, Nami smiled in glee. She pulled him off the couch, him complying by standing up, and dragged him to the dance floor. “Let's go. It'll be fun!”

Once they reached to the vast crowd, Nami squeezed through for any open space for them. She apologized and pardoned as they bumped past several people, her hand still holding onto Law.

The realization of holding his hand came to her. She quickly glanced over at them, and her mind froze. Would this be considered their first time? No, they have touched hands before; the book aisle in the library and the rooftop. Plus they even linked arms back at school.

Nami mentally shook her head, telling herself not to be flooded with sappy thoughts. Those can wait for later.

Nami finally stopped. They were in the middle of the crowd of wild party goers, jumping and cheering as the music blasted. This would be impossible for Nami to talk to Law at this volume, but he seemed to get the message that where they were standing was the spot they'll stay on.

“Is this spot okay?” Nami yelled with a hand to the side of her mouth.

“Yeah, it’s fine,” he replied, leaning down to her level. He wore a frown due to the flashing lights getting into his eyes. “So, how do you..?”

Astonished, Nami asked him, “you mean you don't know how to dance?”

Law shrugged as his answer.

“Okay, um…” Nami trailed off as she wandered. She watched some of the people around her dancing and observed their movements. According to the song now playing, it wasn't as wild as the ones. It played a thick bass and calming guitar. Now the DJ was changing up the music, so were the people in their dancing.

Nami noticed how some of the people, couples mostly, were moving extremely close to one another. Some were face to face and back to front, plus a little grinding and light pelvic thrusts.

Blushing at the couple's, Nami turned back to Law. “You know what, let's start off slow. Here, you put your hands on my waist, and I put mine right-”

Nami held her breath when Law pulled her waist towards him, her body bumping into his. “Like this?”

“Um… yeah,” Nami answered in a murmur, her face heating up from the closeness. Her arms lowered down on top of his, the warmth of his bare skin causing her fingers to tingle from touching him. Closing her eyes and zoning out the music, she focused on his beating heart as she pressed her head to his chest.

“You seem nervous, Nami,” Law mumbled into her ear.

“I've never been this close to anyone before,” she said. “Can't blame me, right?”

“Thanks for inviting me,” he said, resting his chin on her head. “I'm starting to enjoy this. I wish there weren't as many people around.”

A warm smile crept on Nami’s face. “You're welcome. Me too.”

“Nami.” When he called her name, he surprised her by tilting her head up with a hand on her face. He pushed some of her hair back as he looked deep into her eyes. “You look beautiful.”

He attempted to kiss her once more. Nami quickly asked herself if she was ready, or trusted him. He was extremely close, and she didn’t feel like she could say no to him. Could she captivated by his charm again? But she wanted to, so badly.

When their eyelashes nearly touched, he paused. Law caught something familiar behind Nami, two or three persons away. He pulled Nami in for a tight embrace, puzzling her.

“Stay close,” he whispered, confusing her again. She wanted to speak up to him, but she also caught something, making her gasp in shock. Noticing Nami's state, he glanced over his shoulder and narrowed his eyes at the worst possible person.

“Well, well, well,” his cocky voice said with an arrogant smirk. “Looks like I finally found you, new asshole in school. Remember me? You almost broke my wrist the other day; you remember that doncha?”

“What do you want, Kid?” Nami said.

“I just thought of paying this place a visit, but I somehow stumbled upon a birdie that told me about a cute redhead present in the building.” Kid's smirk stretched even wider as he lowered his head. “I was planning to stop by and say my hello, but then something interesting hit me; if the redhead is here, then her friend would be here too. And now that I'm here with you two, my prediction was correct. So to answer your question Nami, I've got something to say to him.”

“And what would that be?” Law asked, standing in front of Nami. He leaned back to her as Kid took a couple of steps forward.

“You and me. Right now. Let's go.”

“Is that a challenge?” Law growled, shooting a glare as his body fueled with intensity. Nami noticed Law’s change of state as he tried to take a step forward, but she pulled him back by his arm.

“Law, don't,” she told him, but he kept his angered expression on his face.

“Yeah, pretty boy,” Kid said slowly, also keeping his smirk in place. “And I've got a reward in mind if one of us stands on both feet. I think you know what that would be.” He glanced to Nami behind the man, tilting his head. She gasped as she held onto Law.

“You leave her out of this,” he warned. “You can take your challenge and shove it right up your ass.”

“Now hold on there. We can do this the easy way,” he said slowly, pushing the front opening of his coat to the side and revealed a black handgun in his pants, shocking Nami, “or the hard way.”

How was he able to bring that in here? Nami thought, bewildered and terrified at their situation. From the corner of her eye, she spotted Kid’s right-hand man with the wild blonde hair behind them. We're trapped..!

Law glanced down at the weapon before he looked back up at the wielder. He felt Nami shaking before he noticed the scared look on her face. He too spotted one of Kid’s gang members over his shoulder, realizing the fear in Nami's eyes. So that was who he saw a moment ago, he thought. Kid planned this.

“So what's it gonna be, pretty boy?” Kid asked, threatening to grab the gun, his hovering his hand over it.

Nami gulped as Law narrowed his eyes. He thought of the idea to knock out Kid and snatch the gun away, but if he were to leave Nami alone for one second, the man behind them would grab her and possibly threaten her with a weapon of his own. Another possibility was that maybe more of Kid’s gang were around, watching them as they surround them. Honestly, Law had no problem with facing more than one man, but if Nami were to stick with him, she'd surely get hurt.

If Law were to do something to start a panic, he might have a chance at taking down both of them with a frenzied crowd. But that could be risky. Hundreds of people could push or trample Nami and Law may have trouble in keeping the men away and protecting her at the same time.

What would be the best solution?

“You're wasting precious time, man.” Kid pulled the gun out and pointed at Law at waist level, hidden. He smirked at the pressured look on Law’s face as Nami clung to him tighter. “It’s just one fair-and-square fight, and the winner takes the reward.”

Law snarled at the choice of word. He could easily give him one hell of a beating, but he didn't trust a single word coming out of Kid's mouth. Fair-and-square his ass.

This isn't happening. Nami wouldn't stop staring at the gun pointed at them. She feared for her life and Law's as she squeezed his arm and fisted the back of his shirt. This can't be happening..!

“I'm going to give you to the count of three, and if you don't make a decision, I'll end you right now. And it'll be an easier win for me.” Kid ended the last part with his arrogant smirk.

Something inside of Law suddenly snapped. His eyes widened, and his heart made a giant pump as if it blocked his sense of hearing. Then his hands balled into mad fists by his sides. His eyebrows pulled in as his teeth ground together, revealing his most furious glare.

“NAMI RUUUUUUUN!” A scream blasted, causing Nami to whip her head in its direction. It sounded a lot like Luffy.

“Who the hell…” Kid’s distraction with his turned away gave Law a chance. He quickly snatched Kid’s wrist and pulled his arm in the air, but then the gun fired several times to the ceiling.

Everyone in the building screamed from the gunshots. They jumped away from the duo and ran to the nearest exits, panic all around.

“Nami!” Nami saw Luffy sprinting to her, and he grabbed by the arm. “You gotta get out of here!”

“Like hell you are.” Kid’s gang member attempted to march towards them, but Luffy threw a fast punch and knocked his lights out.

“Out of the way!” Luffy yelled as the man plummeted to the floor. “Come on!” Luffy pulled her through the crowd and looked for an exit to get out of the mess.

“Wait! What about Law? He's still back there!” Nami shouted, trying to break her arm free, but then Luffy pulled Nami up front and threw her on ahead. “Wha-?!”

“I'll go get him! Go Nami!” Luffy ran back as he pushed people out of the way. Nami saw him disappear as the people bunched together and pushed her farther back. She was unable to move against hundreds of them.

People continued to frantically scream as they spilled out of the exits, the doors of the entrance and the doors on the west side leading to an alley, which was the exit Nami came out of forcefully.

Nearly tripping on her feet, Nami looked back to the doors and watched more scared people run out. She grew worried for both Law and Luffy. Wait, did Vivi come out too?

What the hell… Nami asked herself, grabbing her hand as her lips pressed together. How did it turn out like this?

“Nami!” Nami whipped her head to what sounded like Vivi. She came running to her, sweat dripping down her face and embraced her in a hard hug. Koza was right behind her “Oh my God, are you okay? I heard gunshots. I tried to look for you, but the crowd...” Vivi untangled her arms and observed Nami. “Are you hurt anywhere?”

“I'm fine, Vivi…” Nami trailed off, eyes glancing down at the ground, catching Vivi's attention.

“What? What happened?”

“Law… and Kid were… Kid had a gun and he…” Nami dipped her head lower as her shoulders shook. “He threatened us if we didn't… Vivi, he could've…”

Vivi pulled her in for another hug, and Nami slowly wept on her shoulder.

“He could've killed us…” Nami cried, biting her lips. “I didn't know what to do. And I don't even know where Law is.”

Vivi shushed as she held Nami by the hair, hoping to calm her down. “It's okay. You're okay. You're okay.”

The people around them were scattered all over the alley and the street. Most of them moved away from the nightclub as far as they could. Couples and friends held each other, some of them were sobbing,  shaking, and utterly speechless at the whole incident that nobody expected.

After several minutes, sirens of the police and the ambulance came off as they halted in front of Supernova. Police officers emerged from their vehicles. Some of them entered the building with their hands over their holsters, and the rest of them stayed outside to speak to anyone about the incident. The EMTs pulled out stretchers and medical kits, also entering behind the police to search for anyone injured.

Ten or so minutes later, the police officers came back out with their hands restraining the suspects of the mass shooting. They had their hands cuffed behind them as they were escorted forcefully to the cop cars. Most of them obediently sat inside the vehicles without struggling while the rest tried to resist, jerking themselves to break free, but failed.

They're part of Kid’s gang, Nami thought as she watched the whole thing. But where was he? Nami paused when she saw Kid, hands cuffed, step through the entrance door with two police officers at his sides. His head was facing down as he was escorted to a cop car by himself.

“Hey, easy on my arm,” he growled at the officers.

Nami had never seen Kid look so defeated nor had she seen him inflicted with marks. He had a large bruise on his right temple and blood smeared under his nose. She thought maybe Luffy did that, but the last person she saw with Kid was…  

Did Law do that to him? She wondered nervously. Speaking of Law, where was he? And Luffy and Ace.

“THIS IS BULLSHIT!” An outraged voice yelled from the building, getting louder as the police dragged a person outside. It was Ace. “You're making a mistake! You already caught the guy, so why are you taking me too?!” He tried to jerk his body to the side, but the police officers restrained him even harder as they pulled him to the car.

Nami couldn't believe her eyes.

“Ace!” Luffy leaped out of the nightclub to rescue his brother, but two more police officers ran after him and held him back. He pushed himself towards his brother, a strained look on his face as the police tried to restrain him too. “Let him go!” His determined voice yelled across.

“Luffy! Don't do anything stupid! If you do, we'll both wind up in jail! And that won't be the worst part!” Ace commanded, hoping that his little brother would listen to him for once. If they get arrested, their grandfather will bring something worse than hell on Earth.

Ignoring his brother's command, Luffy still pushed forward, his teeth chewing on his lips. Then he screamed when he swung his head back on one of the cops holding him back before launching a hard kick on the other one. More cops lunged on Luffy. And suddenly, one of them held a stun gun. Without him noticing, Luffy cried from the painful electrocution stabbing him in the neck. The cops tackled him down once his body went limp, slamming him on the ground while handcuffing his wrists on his back.

Nami had her hand over her mouth, shocked to see something this brutal on a young teenager. But the one who was more shocked than her was Ace. He stood frozen with his eyes rounded. Then he growled as his face contorted to fuming rage.

“YOU BASTARDS!” Vociferously, Ace swung his shoulders. Then he immediately threw his cuffed hands to one cop’s face and landed a knee on the same place.

“Stop him!” One cop ordered out loud.

Ace grunted when a cop punched him in the gut before he too was pushed to the ground. “You're in big trouble now,” the officer said.

“They can't be arrested… They've done nothing wrong,” Nami’s voice trailed as she watched the police push Ace and Luffy into the same cop car, shaking her head in bewilderment and disbelief.

Looking back, Nami stared at the crowd on the perimeter. People stayed close with their huddled groups, police officers handled the rest of suspects, and EMTs checked all around for anyone in need.

She couldn't hear Vivi calling out to her because all she heard were the sirens repeatedly beeping and people shouting in every direction, invading her train of thought.

Then someone grabbed her by the shoulder, pulling her back to reality. Her hearing sense also came back to her as she recalled a familiar male voice in her ear. Blinking twice as she looked up, she saw Law before her, both hands on her shoulders.

The sirens around them blocked their voices. Nami began to tear up as she embraced him.

******

Koza’s car finally made it past the bunching crowd around the nightclub and drove down to Vivi’s street. It took longer to get there due to the traffic and people hearing about what could've been a deadly mass shooting. Luckily no one died, but it shocked most people.

Nami and the others stayed silent in the car. She had Vivi’s hand interlocked with hers, her friend hoping to calm her nerves about the whole incident.

Vivi suggested that they should go to their separate homes, but Law pointed out that Nami's family would ask about the dress she was wearing. They might as well stick to their plan of sneaking out and sort of sneak back since Nami told her mother about a sleepover she wasn't going to.

After Vivi asked if their only option was decent for her friend, Nami responded with a quiet yes. They headed down to Vivi’s house to drop off the girls first.

While on the drive, Nami couldn't help but wonder what exactly happened after Luffy pulled away to the exits. She didn't understand why he and his brother Ace got arrested too. Evidently, a fight went on when she first saw Kid severely beaten and bloodied up. Her first guesses were either of her two friends.

Out of curiosity, her eyes wandered to Law next to her on her right. He was also quiet at the time, staring out the window as nothing mattered to him. Then slowly, she glanced to one of his hands that hung loosely on the window sill before she caught her breath.

Law noticed her staring at something, but she turned herself away at that second. He was going to ask her what she was thinking, but she looked as though she didn't feel like speaking to anyone, so he decided to look back out the window.

Nami saw it. He had knick marks on his knuckles, and dark red smears on his wrist.

“Watch your step, Nami,” Vivi cautioned, exiting out of Koza’s car, parked directly across the street from her house.

As soon as Nami scooted to the opened door, Law lightly pulled her back to say something in her ear. When he finished, he let her go, and she stepped outside.

“I can give you a ride to your place, Law,” Koza offered, earning a nod of gratitude. “Alright, stay safe guys.”

“You as well. Thanks for the ride.” Vivi smiled.

With that said and done, Koza did a three-point turn and waved his hand to the girls as he drove back down the road.

Waving her goodbye too until the boys were no longer in sight, Vivi focused on her silent friend. “What did he say to you?”

Nami took a few seconds to answer back. “He said Kid wouldn't bother us again.”

Another moment silence came between them.

“Let's hope that's true,” Vivi mumbled before leading Nami to her house.

******

Work was not easy for Nami. She had zero sleep from last night because her mind wouldn't stop bringing her back to the shootout at the nightclub. She thought that work would help her, but the outcome was terrible.

She burned over fifty cupcakes by leaving them in the oven too long, dropped several pastries on the floor because her hands shook too much, and screwed up a delivery order. The stress level became unbearable for her to go on. Also, to make matters worse, Nojiko snapped at her for all of the mistakes she made and sent her to the back room. She suggested for her to pull herself together before coming back, leaving her discouraged.

Nami has made mistakes at her job, but never this much. She knew she was an excellent, hardworking employee and a good enough baker, but that incident caused her lose her train of thought. How do you come back after having a near-death experience with a gun aimed at your face?

Even though she didn't do so great at work, she couldn't call in for a day off no matter what. She didn't want to raise suspicions from her family. Hiding this secret made her think about her first incident with Kid. How many more does she have to hide?

Then Nami thought of Law because he was another victim in both of those incidents like her. She wondered how he was taking it. Could he also be having trouble focusing?

Nami brought a hand to her head as she remembered what they were supposed to do today, a miserable look on her face. They both planned to go out on a date after she clocks out of work, but now she didn't believe that she could make it. She would have to call to sort this out.

Nojiko decided to send Nami home - much to her surprise - because she knew that a break wouldn't solve her sister’s issue.

After returning home, she took a long nap in her room to ease off her mind from the stress she dealt with. She asked herself if she can go to school and go on her daily life as nothing happened. Can she keep this a secret? For how long? Why did this have to happen to her?

Remembering what she must do, she dialed Law’s number on the wall phone and patiently waited for him to answer.

“Hello?” Nami froze when he picked up after the first two rings. Just by hearing his voice made her feel bad for what she was going to tell him.

“Law… hey,” she said softly, forcing a smile.

“Oh, hi Nami. How are you doing?”

“Fine, sort of…”

“Sort of? What do you mean?”

“Um, anyway I wanted to talk to you about the date tonight. I hate to tell you this, but I don't think I'll make it.”

“Why? What's wrong?”

“It's just… I'm not feeling well today.”

“Are you sick? Did you catch something?”

“No, not like that. I'm not sick or anything. It's just that my head's not in the right place. I already had a rough morning at work, and I don't want to make any more mistakes tonight. It wouldn't be fair for you.”

“I'm sorry you had a rough day at work. You sure you can't make it?”

“Yeah, sorry. Oh, also, let's not forget about our research project. We should get to it on Sunday as we planned.”

“...”

“Law? Hey, you still there?”

“So the project is more important than the date?”

“What? No, that's not what I-” Nami released a heavy sigh as she dropped her head. Scratching her head, she said, “I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it come out like that. I'm not mentally prepared for anything today, but I will tomorrow.”

“Alright. I understand.”

“You do?”

“Yes. I look forward to Sunday then. Or shall I head over to you right now?”

“Oh, no that's fine. You don't have to. I'll see ya tomorrow.”

******

“Aren't they great?” Nami said after she handed Law the developed photos of them together in the nightclub. She reminded her best friend to print them out last night, specifically asking for two copies.

“They are,” he said, sending her a charming grin. Nami returned a shy smile before she shifted back to one of the library's computer screen she claimed for their research.

“I wanted to take more photos that night, but after experiencing what went done, I can't help but only remember the worst part.” Her eyes sunk to the hands on her lap. She sat quietly for a short moment until she mumbled, “at least we had fun while it lasted.”

“I'm sorry you had to go through that, Nami,” he apologized. She brought her head when he placed a hand on her shoulder. “I promise it won't happen again.”

“Thank you.” She smiled, relieving a sigh. “I sure hope jail time teaches Kid a lifelong lesson while he's over there. I can finally walk home peacefully without him on my tail for now.”

“Not finished…” He said under his breath, as low as a growl.

“What?” Nami questioned, eyes rounded curiously.

Clearing his throat, Law gestured at the computer screen in front of her. “The project… we should finish what we can.”

“Oh, right.” Nami chuckled and turned back to a historical article they found online, Law watching her read with his hooded gray eyes before pushing a lock of her short hair from her eye, earning a startle and a shy smile.

They spent the next four hours at the library, collecting textbooks and printing out research articles as their sources for the project. Reading too much made them too exhausted to find any more information. Nami decided for them to take a lunch break at the library's cafe area where they served hot and cold drinks and light meals.

Since Law hated bread or anything made of dough - still much to Nami’s disbelief - she suggested him to try their soups or salad wraps.

When they sat down to eat, Nami noticed that the arrangement they were in looked a lot like a date. She tried to hide a silly grin on her face as she chewed on a chicken caesar wrap.

“What's up?” Law’s voice caught her off guard.

“Uh… nothing. It's nothing,” she assured with a head shake. After a moment of silence, Nami raised her eyes up to him and smiled. “I enjoy spending time with you. We should do this again next time.”

Law stared at her smile before he nodded. “Yeah, we should.”

Chapter Text

"Well, would you look at that? We almost had a shootout.” A group of men switched to the news live on television when they heard about what could have been a horrific tragedy in town from a friend on the phone. Earlier, Bellemere begged the owner of the household she called, Vivi's father Cobra, if her daughter was safe. Of course, he answered that she was fine as ever, but confused as to why she sounded so panicky. That's where he learned about the incident downtown in a nightclub. 

He passed the phone to Nami when her mother asked if she can hear her voice. Nami and Vivi arrived back home not even ten minutes before the phone call. The news spreads like wildfire, she realized. 

As soon as she calmed her mother, Nami pretended to ask her what happened. Genzo reported to her and told her that he might've seen Nami at the scene. Nami denied what he said, claiming that she never left Vivi's house. 

After the call, Nami couldn't sleep that night. Sure she was relieved that her mother believed her lie, but tonight was most definitely the worst day of her life. 

What else can be worse? 

******

“You got yourself lucky that night,” Law commented on the close call from yesterday, earning a soft nod from Nami.

“Yeah, you could say that,” she mumbled as she glanced to the floor. They waited for the pedestrian cross walk light to change to the white-walking figure before a car slowed down in front of them. When the orange hand sign flicked, they strided on the crosswalk, sticking close, and reached the next sidewalk. "Still, I feel bad for lying to her. She doesn't deserve it.”

“It’s for the best, Nami. You wouldn't want to make her worry in the state she's in. Remember?”

She pressed her lips in a thin line. Her hand squeezed her backpack strap until she sighed in defeat. “Yeah, you're right. It's best that she doesn't know.” 

She glanced up to Law and asked, “How about you? How are you holding up?”

“Fine.” He shrugged bluntly, glued to facing forward. “Why do you ask?” 

Nami cocked an eyebrow up at his answer. “Uh… okay. Well, most people are usually scared when they see a gun pointed at them, and you're saying that you don't feel anything from what happened?” 

“No, nothing at all.” 

“Really? Because I was scared out of my mind. Anyone would have wet themselves if they were in our shoes.” Her expression dropped to a frown. “Law, I'm sorry about Kid. I didn't think he would come after us that night. I should've known that he would-”

“Don't apologize,” he said sternly. “He dug his own grave for picking a fight he can't win. He should've given up when I came in. It was his persistence that led him to fall.”

“…” Nami became silent after that. He was right that Kid should've given up and accepted that she would never be with him. Honestly, she didn't understand why he had the hots specifically for her. Maybe it wasn't just that. She was probably another box left unchecked on his list of people to bone. 

Ever since she entered high school, she had to deal with constant harassment at school, every single day. He would catcall her, follow her around in the hallways, smack or pinch her in the rear to have a good laugh, trap her in corners for a kiss, barge in the cafeteria and invite himself to her table with Vivi, and so on. She thought her daily routine of getting picked on by him would finally end after he got expelled from selling and possessing illegal drugs on school grounds. But she was wrong.

She continually faced his harassment when she started working at her mother's bakery, and on the sidewalk when she walked home from school. At the bakery, he and his gang would purposely make a mess for her to clean. He'd tease her with phrases like “you missed a spot sweetheart” while pouring canned drinks or stomping pastries on the floor. He made her days a living hell until he was banned from the store. Even with that, he'd make trips to spray graffiti on the windows and walls. Genzo then had to deal with his mishaps on the street. He promised Nami that he would keep his eyes on him at all times. He had arrested Kid before, but he still hasn't stop harassing her, at least not as bad before. 

If this time getting his butt kicked wasn't enough for him to give up, then maybe nothing will. 

“Sometimes, I wish he were dead,” Nami muttered under her breath, casting a glare at the thought of that punk. She didn't see Law cross his eyes to her, attentively, with a raised eyebrow. “He got himself in jail because of his stupidity, and I hope he stays there to rot.” 

She growled in irritation as she grabbed her head with both hands. “Ugh! I hate him. Just talking about him gets on my nerves.” 

Likewise. 

Sighing, she lowered her head down before lifting it again. “I'm worried about my friends, Luffy and Ace. I don't know if you know this, but they both got arrested that night, and I haven't heard from them since. It doesn't make sense to me why the police would think they're criminals too. And I'm also worried what their grandfather will do to them. I'd run if I see him. He's a brute. I just hope they're all right.”

Nami wondered if she hadn't gone to the nightclub, she wouldn't have put anyone in danger. But from what Law said, it was all Kid who did this. No one's at fault, but for him. 

“You worry a lot, don't you?” he said. 

“Is it bad that I do?” She questioned. 

“I didn't say that. It's just something I noticed about you.” 

She blinked twice before she shrunk her neck. “So… is that a good thing?” Her cheeks blushed as she asked nervously. 

He replied with a shrug and hummed “I don't know.”

“Wha- what was that? What do you mean you don't know?” She playfully bumped him in the arm. “That's not an answer. Is it a good thing or not?” She giggled as she tugged his jacket, almost making him trip as she begged him to tell her. 

“Hey, easy Nami. Please.” 

Her smile played on her face as she rested her head on the edge of his shoulder, her arms entangled around his as they both continued their walk. It had been a while since she held him like this, and it felt so right. The last time they linked arms were after school on Friday, and that was when they walked past Kid and his gang, hours before they showed up at the nightclub when least expected. 

Nami knew that what kind of guy Kid was, but she didn't think he'd be willing to hurt or kill someone just to get her. Maybe he brought the gun to try and scare her and Law, and demand Law for a “rematch,” even though they never actually fought each other in the first place. It was a confrontation to be exact. 

From both of those incidents she had with Kid in one week, Law was there at her side. And he didn't hesitate to stand up for her. Nami started to believe that if Law hadn't been here, Kid would never leave her alone until he got what he wanted. 

Law's eyes wandered down in question when he felt Nami squeeze his arm. She became quiet, but he paid no mind to it. He studied her for a short moment and turned back to the sidewalk. 

She silently inhaled and exhaled out to try and calm her nerves. She didn't want to think about the what-ifs anymore. For now, she wanted to breathe. Her tight brace on his arm loosened as she rested her eyes. She finally felt safe for once. 

They took a turn on the sidewalk and walked below leafless trees with long branches. It took them about fifteen to twenty mins to reach Nami's street, but the whole conversation felt like they've been talking for hours. Nami was disappointed to see her house up ahead, knowing full well that she had to let Law go. She liked the idea of him coming over again, but she knew that she can't keep a third secret from her mother. And her sister to make matters worse. 

Her legs began to make smaller steps on the sidewalk. Nami looked down to the ground as she walked slower. Law noticed that she was dragging her feet, so he walked the same pace as her, but he got on to what she was thinking, which left him with a grin, but only one corner curled up. 

Nami felt her arm pull back, snapping her out of her thoughts that she was in front of the fence of her house.

“Isn't this your house,” Law reminded her. Nami had a big blush on her sunken face, embarrassed that he saw her make a fool of herself. 

Clearing her throat, Nami glanced at her home for a second and looked back to Law, forming a half-smile. “Um, thanks for walking me home, Law.” He answered with “anytime” and a head nod. Nami pressed her lips as she looked down again.

“Something wrong?” Law asked. 

“No, nothing's wrong. It's just that…” She chuckled under her breath, but without the happy tone. “I didn't want today to be over so soon.”

Amused, he bumped an eyebrow and took his hands out of his jacket pockets. “So what do you want to do?” 

“Uh… I don't… I don't know.”

Law saw what she was doing. Her hands fiddled together. Her cheeks reddened madly. And she wore a nervous look. He concluded what the signs meant. She was very easy to read. 

“You know you could've asked me.” 

He placed a hand underneath her chin and tilted her head up look back to him. Nami’s heart panicked like it wanted to jump out of her chest, but she sunk her head far lower her bangs covered her eyes. Law chuckled at that. 

Nami remembered that they were a lot closer than this two days ago, so why was she still nervous around him? If she doesn't get a hold of herself, she might pass out. 

“Don't look away.” She heard him say. She tried to peel her eyes open but immediately shut them when she saw Law leaning down. With one final deep breath, she parted her lips and he closed the gap between them, sealing their lips together.  

******

Nami laid on her side atop the bed and gazed outside of the bedroom window, holding a pillow in her arms. Her face suddenly turned red as she dipped her chin to her chest and hugged the pillow tightly. 

She tried to stop thinking about what happened, but she couldn't help it. She wound up curling up on her bed with her hands up to her face and stayed like that for several minutes. Her mind kept replaying that moment over and over again. Every time she thought about it, her cheeks would burn even hotter than the last. Fingers curling, knees rubbing, and brain going haywire. 

She threw the pillow in her face and muffled a high pitched scream as she kicked her legs back and forth like a madwoman, more like a fangirl. 

Her voice giggled as the corners of her mouth formed a bubbly grin. “Oh my God…” she exhaled, lying on her back to stare at the ceiling. Hugging her pillow again, she made a soft chuckle. She thought of the moment again, and she still can't believe it. It finally happened. 

She touched her lips with the side of her index finger. The feeling was still there and she also felt like he was right there with her. Her heart pounded harder from the thought of him. Her body tingled so strangely. Squeezing the pillow, she dug herself into it and smiled once more. She was glad that she did it. And she was glad that she did it with such an amazing guy. 

******

Next morning, Nami arrived at school and caught up with Vivi before they sat in their usual spot in front of the school entrance. They continued their previous conversation on the phone about the kiss with Law. Vivi was shocked, but Nami didn't pay much mind to her reaction. She wanted to tell someone about the best moment she ever had. 

While she and Vivi were talking, Nami noticed that the atmosphere has not changed. She scoped the whole campus, eyes observing left and right. Everything around her seemed normal. People are casually talking among friends and just hanging about. 

Is nobody talking about what happened over the weekend, she questioned herself with a thoughtful look. She knew that Friday night was a terrifying night for any person who was there, especially when you were one of the people held at gunpoint by the shooter. Nami couldn't sleep well ever since, and she had trouble coping with the near-life death experience. So is it brushed under the rug as nothing happened? It can't be that easy, can it? 

Nami wasn't sure if she was upset or glad that things are the way they were before that night. Maybe she was giving it too much thought, she wondered. At least the fool who brought a gun to a crowded place was behind bars. He'll get a taste of his own medicine there, that's for sure. 

Vivi called her a couple of times over the weekend to check if she was feeling alright. Nami appreciated her concerns, happy that her best friend was looking out for her, but she didn't want to trouble Vivi with her well being, knowing that she wasn't the only one there. She thought it'd be best if they both took care of themselves individually. 

“So how are you feeling today?” Vivi asked yet again, concern in her eyes like her voice. 

“I'm fine, Vivi. There's nothing to worry about,” she assured her with a small smile. “I'm okay. You're starting to sound like you're my therapist or something.”

“Well from what you told me, Kid threatened you with a gun,” she reasoned. “Shouldn't I be worried about how you're doing after what went down?” 

She had a point right there. Nami did break down in tears after they found each other on the street where everyone from the club building poured into. She sighed and then nodded. “Yeah, you're right. I'm sorry,” she said. 

“I still can't believe it,” Vivi admitted as she rested her arms on her knees, earning Nami's attention. “I've never experienced anything like that before. I know what you went through is much worse, but all this felt so insane to me. It's hard to shake it off like everyone else.” 

At the last part, Nami blinked once before she glanced to the side. Her lips pressed together as she formed a hard frown. “Yeah,” she murmured, looking back up to the groups lounging on campus, minding their own business completely. 

Is it really that easy? 

“So uh, any news on the guys, Ace and Luffy?” Nami asked to change the conversation. 

Vivi shook her head. “No, nothing yet. I called Koza and he doesn't seem to know either. I hope nothing bad happened to them. They're good boys. They wouldn't harm anyone, right?” 

“No, but only for a good reason,” Nami said. She hoped sincerely that she was right. She'd known them long enough that they wouldn't start needless fights. 

“Good morning, girls.” They heard someone behind them greet them, the voice belonging to Vivi's boyfriend Koza. Vivi briefly smiled at him as he sat next to her on the stone steps. “How are things going with you, Nami?” 

Nami should've known that whatever she and Vivi talk about, Koza would know too. Maybe they ought to set some boundaries of who to gossip to, but everyone was in the same situation, so she can't argue. “I'm fine, Koza,” she said with an assuring tone. 

“Hey, if you ever need anything, you can come to us,” he offered nicely and Vivi agreed with a nod. 

Wearing an appreciative smile, she said, “okay, I will.”

The school bell rang across campus and everyone knew the signal to head inside the building to start class. As Nami intended to walk with her friends until they part ways, something pulled her back on the stairs by her hand. She turned in question before she brightened with lit-up eyes. 

“Law hey,” she beamed as she wrapped him in a hug, him returning it with one arm around her. 

Overhearing her best friend called the man's name, Vivi saw them embrace each other and Nami looked so overjoyed to see her boyfriend. They broke apart and he brushed his hand on her delicate face and she expressed a warm smile before they locked their lips in a sweet kiss. 

Looks like they did take that next step, Vivi thought, a bit surprised to see Nami this lovingly affectionate for the first time. 

But then a creepy shiver jumped her spine when Law crossed his hooded eyes towards her. She didn't know if he was staring at her directly because it lasted only for a couple of seconds and he focused his attention on Nami. Her eyebrows furrowed at the man as he caressed Nami’s cheek, making her laugh and gush. 

“Vivi, what are you standing around for? We're going to be late,” Koza said as he pulled on her arm. 

That strange gut feeling came back again. 

Koza successfully got her to move and entered the building, behind them followed Nami and Law as their hands held together. 

******

“Hey Ace, you got money left on you? I need to buy some food,” Luffy asked with a desperate look. He jumped when Ace slammed his locker shut and shot him a glare. 

“You blockhead,” Ace growled as Luffy took a nervous step back. “What makes you think I have any money after gramps took it all from me? You're gonna have to suck it up and wait till we get home.”

“But I'm starving!” His young brother whined like a baby. “And what's the point of waiting if Grandpa won't feed us when we get back? He's gonna let us die with empty stomachs.” 

Ace sighed as he straightened his mouth. Their grandfather gave them both hell over the weekend. They're grateful that he bailed them out of their jail cells, but he wasn't going to let them off easy after he heard what happened at the nightclub. Ace tried to explain the whole story, but his adoptive grandfather wouldn't listen and believe him. Living with a stubborn old man like him was hell. They can't win against him. 

He and Luffy earned nasty beat downs at home, with boxing gloves that felt like they were fists of steel. But their grandfather called them fists of “love,” whatever the hell that means. That whole weekend was worse than hell itself. 

“And my body still hurts from grandpa's punches. Urgh.” Luffy groaned as he rubbed his chest sides where their grandfather left bruises on him. “What're we gonna do? If we don't think of something soon, Grandpa's gonna send us to another one of his vacations. I don't wanna go to the North Pole again. It's too cold there.”

“No way, we're not going on vacation. Not this time. I've had it with this stupid, old geezer, and I'm not going to let him beat us like we're chumps. He thinks we're not responsible, huh? We'll show him.” 

Luffy moaned under his breath, not liking the sound of his brother's voice. “I don't wanna do this.” 

“Well, if you want to go to the North Pole by yourself, be my guest." Ace turned away with his arms crossed. "I'm sure you'll like sleeping in a snow bed and eat frozen fish every day when you're there.”

“Okay okay, so what do we do?” 

“I've got an idea, and I think it's worth a shot.”

“What? What is it? Tell me.”

****** 

Nami finished speaking with a classmate about homework before she strolled down the first-floor hallway. Aiming to take the staircase, she paused with a foot in the air and spotted two familiar faces in front of a lit-up snack machine. One of them was on their hands and knees, giving the snacks a tearful look while the other rolled their eyes. 

With a surprised gasp, Nami dropped her bag. “Luffy? Ace?!”

Both of them heard as they turned their faces and shared a mutual surprised look. “Nami!” 

Nami jumped into Luffy's arms, practically squeezing him as she embraced him. "I was so worried about you guys." She grabbed Ace's shirt and pulled him in. But then they both pulled back as they ached in agony. Nami knew what that meant. 

“Oh no, let me guess. Garp?”

“Yeah, but don't worry about it. It's nothing new, " Ace assured with a dismissed hand gesture, but he contorted a pained expression. "We get these a lot. It's just gonna take some time getting used to it.” 

“Yeah, Nami. Don't you worry about us? We're both men, we can take a hit. And up to a hundred,” Luffy groaned, also looking sick and pained.

Nami sighed. “I'm so sorry for what happened.”

“Why are you sorry? You didn't get us arrested and have our asses handed by gramps.” Ace said. 

“I know, it's just…" Nami blamed herself for what happened to her friends. But she knew that if she told them that, they would dismiss it completely. A new thought came in mind, changing the subject. "Oh, that's right. Why did you two get arrested? What happened that night?”

“That night…” Ace held a deep frown full of distaste. 

“That spiky-haired guy is what happened,” Luffy grumbled, placing his hands on his hips.

Nami blinked in shock. “Kid?” 

“Yeah.” Ace nodded. “After Luffy and Koza and I went to grab some grub when we split with you and Vivi, I got jumped by Kid and his goons in the bathroom. He demanded me to tell him where you were, but I didn't budge. You know I don't sell out my friends. So some of his bastard friends tried to gang up on me as he went looking for you. Then this idiot showed up to help me out, even though I didn't need him to.”

Ace pulled on his cheek and released it, his brother rubbing his face with a childish frown.

“I thought it'd be a waste of time for him to stay there with me, so I told him to look for you before Kid did. Then everything turned into chaos when gunshots fired and the cops came in. They saw me beating the last of Kid's friends, and they thought I was one of them. Can you believe that? Like I'd ever been in his gang.” At the last part, Ace acted as though he wanted to beat those cops who mistreated him and Luffy.

“So that's what Kid meant by a little bird,” Nami recalled that moment Kid showed up. 

“How about you, Nami? Did your mom find out about this whole thing?” Ace asked.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Well, she still doesn't know that I was there when it happened. And I don't think she ever will as long as I keep it a secret.” 

“Phew, dodged a major bullet there. Lucky you," he said, patting her on the shoulder. That's what Law said to her yesterday. She believed so that she was indeed lucky. 

“Oh, Nami. We almost forgot." Ace rubbed the back of his hair before he shot his brother a demanding stare to stand next to him. "We've got a huge favor to ask.”

“Favor?” she questioned, both eyebrows raised.

Ace and Luffy looked at each other briefly, took a deep breath and stared straight into her eyes. “We need jobs.” 

“Huh?” 

“Gramps is forcing us to look for work to pay him back for our bail. It's either that or we go on vacation," Ace explained and Nami held a knowing look.

“Please, Nami,” Luffy begged with his hands clasped together. “You have no idea how much these vacations suck, and I don't wanna go anywhere grandpa is taking us. They're never fun.”

“I uh…” 

“Come on, Nami. We're desperate. Can you help us?” 

After enough thought, Nami sighed. “Alright, I'll see if I can get you two working positions at the bakeshop. We do need extra hands for cleanup and garbage disposal, so I'm sure my mom will hire you guys.”

“Ah thanks, Nami. You're the best," Ace said with a relieved smile. 

Luffy wiped a fake tear from his eye. “We knew you had a good heart." 

“But,” her emphasis made the boys pause, “if you two do get hired, no more screwing around. The shop means the world to my Mom, and I expect you guys to behave yourselves. Also, I'm not doing this for your sake, Luffy.” She sent him a frown and he gulped. “You owe me money after all the food you've been eating over the past few years. So you better work your butt off to pay me back.”

“WHAT?” Luffy exclaimed. “You're still hung up on that! Why do you bring that up at a time like this?” 

“Because I'm not telling you this again. You said you'd pay me back over a hundred times. Now I'll make sure you will."

Luffy moaned under his breath and dropped his arms close to the ground. “You're so cold to me, Nami.”

“Hmph, that's what you get for eating food that's not free,” said Ace, earning a pointed finger from his brother.

“Look who's talking. You've eaten pastries there before without asking.” 

“I pay in advance, you idiot.”

Luffy was shocked. 

“At least be as responsible as your brother, Luffy, " Nami advised before she noticed Ace looking deep in thought. “What's wrong, Ace?” She asked. 

He stuffed a hand in his pocket and scratched his cheek. “Um, it's a…"

Luffy noticed his brother strange posture, but he pulled in his lips between his teeth. He thought maybe it was better if Ace told her.

"What's wrong with you two?" She gave them both weird looks.

"Well, you're not gonna believe this when I tell you…” Ace sighed, afraid spilling the news.

“Why?" She furrowed his eyebrows. "Guys, just say it. What's up?" 

******

His last class ended at the sound of the final school bell and he stepped out of the classroom along with other students. He pulled his backpack on his shoulder as he aimed for a water fountain in the middle of the hallway. 

Nami has work today, so he planned to walk her there and maybe get a free pastry from her bakery. He thought of her genuine smile from this morning and the day before when they shared that kiss. It intrigued him, even more, knowing that he was her first. His fingers tensed and curled on the fountain as he swallowed the cold water, quenching his thirst. 

He stood up and wiped his mouth with his sweater's sleeve, staring at nothing in particular as he thought of Nami again. When they kissed again, he knew that she was beginning to want him even more. Her cute blush and giggling smile can't fool anyone. His eyes closed as he sighed out of his nose. She'll drive him crazy one of these days. 

“Hey, did you guys hear what happened?” Someone behind him asked in a whisper to their clueless group of friends. “Somehow, Kid got bailed out last night.” 

Law's eyes shot open, frozen on the spot. He glanced to the side without moving as he overheard the group talking more. 

“You can't be serious. How did he get out?” Another student asked, scared by the sound of his voice. 

“I don't know, but someone must've done it. There can't be any other reason.” 

His hands dropped to his sides before they clenched into tight fists. He drowned out the rest of their conversation, focusing on Kid with a menacing scowl. But then, he released his fists a moment later. His face dropped the scowl before he mysteriously forms a smirk, a dark smirk. 

******

Nami didn't speak much when they walked to her workplace. By the time they reached the front doors, she leaned on the building and she looked as though she wanted to drop and sit on the floor. 

“Nami?” Law touched her shoulder to break her out of her thoughts and she jumped in surprise. 

“Oh sorry.” She shook her head to focus. “Law. I got really, really bad news.” 

“Is it Kid?”

She turned to him sort of in surprise. “Yeah, how did you…” 

“I heard," he answered. "Everyone was talking about him in school. Someone bailed him out, and no one knows who did it.” 

“Damn it.” She kicked the wall before she crossed her arms.

“He's not going to bother you, Nami,” Law assured her, stepping close to her. 

“You don't know him as I do,” Nami murmured. “What makes you so sure he won't?”

Law stared at her for a while before he said, “I promised you, didn't I?” Nami looked up to him, and her eyes turned red. “He won't get close to you, not when I'm here.”

Nami felt a little hope in her heart. She wiped the tears from her eyes and sniffled, head lowered down. She then wrapped her arms around him and when he embraced her, she released an unsteady exhale as more tears dripped down. 

******

“Man, it sure feels fucking good to be home,” Kid sighed, hanging his neck back as he sat his legs on a small table. But before he can make himself uncomfortable, he grunted in pain when someone knocked a punch on his head. He grasped the new ache as he sent glaring daggers at the person who hit him. 

“I was waiting for the right time to knock some sense into you, but then I realized that you're too big of a moron to understand what common sense even means.” A woman with long pink dyed hair sent him a glare of hers as she raised her fist, threatening another punch. 

Bonney and Kid have known each other for a long time, going back to when they were in middle school. But over the years she hadn't stopped being pushy and bitchy with him, even after they broke up in their first years of high school. It's like they're stuck together like an angry married couple. 

She has a criminal record like Kid's, but she had done the best she could to get out of that life and turn over a new leaf. Earned a steady job waiting tables and rented a decent apartment for her well being were all she needed. She wanted Kid to do the same, but knowing him as long as she has, it wouldn't be easy. 

“Why’d you hit me anyway?” Kid groaned, rubbing the spot she hit.  

“Because you deserved it, and I gotta hand it to the guy who did you in. He did me a big favor.” She gestured to the bruises on his face, recovering from the blows he received at the nightclub. Remembering that night made Kid clench his teeth. The bastard got away easily, and if it weren’t for the disruption, Kid would’ve claimed his prize. 

Bonney pulled in a chair and sat with Kid. “Seriously, Kid. You can’t be this dumb, recklessly dumb. You brought a gun to a crowded nightclub and decided to call for a rematch with one guy you don’t even know. And apparently, he’s the guy who ‘stole’ your girl. She wasn’t yours to begin with, Kid. Why would you make a mess out of this?”

“Will you shut up, Bonney,” he growled. “I don’t need a lecture, especially coming from a whoring junkie.”

She was taken aback as her face dropped before she formed a frown. “You know that's not me anymore, and you better watch it.”

“Or what, Bons? What're you gonna do to me,?” He stared at her from top to her cleavage and stretched a snarky grin. “Want to take it in the back? It could work for us.” 

Rolling her eyes, she stood up from her chair. “For fuck’s sake, Kid. I’m trying to help you here.” 

“Well, I don’t fucking need it from you. I can take care of my problems myself.” 

Bonney sighed as she dropped her head. She mumbled to herself why she would even bother while rubbing her face in frustration. Pushing her chair back, she stomped away to the exit doors. “This is the last straw, Kid. If you don’t stop screwing around and causing chaos everywhere you go, I won’t help your sorry ass again. Next time, I’d be more than happy to leave you in jail to rot.”

“Why didn’t you leave me there to rot?” His question made her stop in the open doorway and she glanced over her shoulder. “Aw, well isn’t that sweet of you. Trying to be a good girl now, after all the nasty shit you’ve done. Yeah right.” 

“Asshole…” she growled and she slammed the door closed.

“You still love me.” He chuckled to himself and pulled out his phone. “Now let’s see who wants to party tonight.”

 ******

Opening her door and flashing the lights on, Nami stepped inside her bedroom as she dried her hair with a bath towel. She usually felt relaxed and calm after taking a nice cleansing shower to rinse off the sweat and grease from working at the bakery. But today seemed as though nothing can make her take her mind off of Kid’s bailout. She couldn’t focus well at work due to her stressful and anxious nerves bothering her. Nami had her eyes glued on the entrance doorway of her mother’s bakery, waiting for Kid to come but he never did. She was relieved that she didn’t see his face, but she knew she eventually will. Could be tomorrow, the next day, the day after. Only God knows what he’ll do next. 

Nami threw the towel around her shoulders and sat down on her bed. She sighed as she brought her arms to her knees and stared at the floor. She needed to talk to someone, but neither her mother nor her sister for obvious reasons. After she hung the wet towel on a hook behind her bedroom door, she headed straight to the wall phone and dialed Vivi’s number. She glanced to her mother’s and sister’s bedrooms as the phone rang a couple of times until Vivi finally answered. 

“Hey Vivi, sorry for calling a little late, but do you have a minute right now?” She asked. 

“Sure Nami. What is it?” Vivi listened to her friend sigh across the phone, like a stressful sigh. “You don’t sound well. Are you alright?” 

“No.” She shook her head when she answered. “I’m not actually.” 

Vivi paused at that moment. She knew what Nami meant behind those words. She knew what happened. The whole school knew. Everybody was talking about it. She heard Nami make a sniffle, indicating that she was beginning to lose tears. 

“I just… I don’t even know what to think. I thought I had one less problem to deal with after that night. I thought it’d be gone and my life would be easier…like I can walk on the sidewalk without feeling the need to look over my shoulder. But now that problem is going to come back and bite me even harder than before….” 

Striding inside the kitchen, Nami dumped herself in a chair and wiped a tear that threatened to fall. She tried to swallow a gulp, but her throat felt blocked. Her nose became stuffy as she tried to sniffle again. 

“It’s not going to be safe out there, Vivi,” she murmured. “I’m really scared, and I don’t think I’ll be able to avoid Kid like I used to. He’s not going to stop no matter what happens. And he’s got friends who will do anything for him.”

“Nami, don’t think like this,” Vivi said calmly. “I know it’s terrible, but we can get through this. I’ll stick by your side if you need me there. I can drive you if you need to get off the streets, hell I’ll do anything to help you.” 

“Thanks, Vivi, but I gotta be honest…”

“About what?”

“I’m tired.” Nami leaned on her hand, resting her head as she closed her eyes. “I’m so tired of all of this.” 

Vivi was baffled at first but started to realize what she meant. 

“I just wish I can get away and be free, you know? Is that too much to ask?” 

“I’m sorry that you feel that way, Nami. I truly am, but as I promised before, call me if you need anything. You’ll get through this.” 

Nami folded her fingers and pressed them against her chin as she dipped her head down. As much as she appreciates Vivi’s comfort, she can’t help losing hope. 

She attempted to speak again on the telephone, but she flinched when a strange noise interrupted the quiet space. She eyed a small window cracked open behind the kitchen sink with a narrowed look. She stood up from her chair and stared outside, tilting her head to the side as she looked farther out in the dark. 

“Nami, you there?” Vivi questioned. 

“Hold on.” She set the telephone down and took a step around the kitchen table. She ignored Vivi’s audible calls as she approached the opened window. Hesitant to stand in front of it directly, she balled her hands into fists before opening them. She knew she heard something, but didn’t catch what it was. 

Her hands grasped the counter near the sink as she faced the window up close. She shifted to each side, scanning the bushes planted beside her house to the backyard and then up to the street. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but Nami made an unsure look. She pushed the window down to the frame and stared outside once more, double-checking if what she heard was clear. 

“Sorry about that, Vivi. I thought I heard something outside.” Nami glanced back at the window as she assured her nervous friend. Exiting out the kitchen with the telephone, she missed a silhouette behind the window that she closed. 

Stepping back from the glass, the silhouette moved down the row of bushes and stopped at the next window. He watched Nami enter back in her room, still talking on the phone. His fingers itched to tap on the glass to let her know who was here, but retreated. That noise she heard was a snapped twig he accidentally stepped on, but able to conceal himself in the shadows successfully. 

He wanted to give her a good long look to remind himself what he was fighting for and to never let anyone get between them. Satisfied with what he needed, he pulled his hood over his head and dug his hands in the sweater’s pockets. He could hear a storm coming this way. The clouds covered the night sky and thunder began to erupt. He pushed past the bushes and reached the sidewalk. Lightning flashed in the sky but did not faze him at all. 

This storm was coming. Hard. 

******

“Come back soon, okay?” A young woman purred in Kid’s ear. She made a surprised yelp when he yanked her hair back and smacked a rough kiss on her lips. He swallowed her soft moans as he clutched her body against his, smoothing her bare leg before he pulled it up to his waist. She giggled in their kiss as he gradually broke it. “I missed you.” 

“Missed ya too, dollface.” Chuckling, he sent her a smirk as he rubbed her back. “Almost forgot how comfy your bed was. So comfy.” 

“So you’ll come back, right?” She batted her long eyelashes innocently, looping her arms around his neck. 

“Of course. I’ll come back tomorrow, and we’ll pick up where we left off.” 

They shared another kiss before they departed. The woman waved her goodbye as he hopped into his sports car. Starting his vehicle to life, he waved in return and roared the engine. 

He sped off down the street, smirking to himself. He rolled his shoulders and released a sigh. “I needed that.” 

His eyes flicked down attentively as he heard his phone vibrate in his jacket pocket. He made an annoyed groan, knowing who was calling him for the third time. He ignored his phone until it went straight to voicemail. 

“Can’t the bitch get off my ass for once?” He growled, turning his wheel to the right onto the road that led to the center of town. The night was still young, so he decided to make a drop to a convenience store for new cigarettes and a six-pack of beer. 

He parked his car in front of the store and headed straight to the entrance. With everything he needed for the night, he exited out and opened his cigarette pack out. After placing the filter end between his lips, he lit the tip with his silver lighter and inhaled on the cigarette. He tilted his head and blew out a long stream in the air, a relieving sensation coursing through him as he closed his eyes. But that moment didn’t last long when he heard his phone go off again. 

“For God’s sake, woman,” he groaned as he pulled his phone out and glared at the caller ID. He flipped it open and snapped shut right when he heard Bonney’s voice. “Just shut up, will ya.” 

As he inhaled his cigarette, he leaned his back against a garbage dumpster sitting in an alley between the convenience store and a barbershop. He puffed out a chunk of smoke before he grabbed for a can of beer. He raised the can to his lips, but he hummed in question when he heard a clatter behind him. He narrowed his eyes over the dumpster to the dark alley for a moment before he turned back around and sipped his beer. He figured maybe it was a stray cat bumping into a can or whatever. 

But then something hit him on the head and he early choked on his drink. A crushed can topple on the concrete ground away from him. He wrenched his neck around and stepped foot in the alley. 

“Hey! Who’s out there?” He yelled across, but silence greeted him. He growled as he stomped in the alleyway, searching for whoever threw that can. “Alright, fun’s over asshole. Come out and fight me like a man.” 

He checked beside the other end of the dumpster before he stormed deeper. There were faintly lit lamps above him, barely lighting the alley. He threw garbage cans around and still found nothing, his teeth ground together as his anger boiled. 

“Where are you, you fucking pussy,” he snarled, sending venomous glares to each wall, the far end and up to the lamps. He spun to the other end where his parked car was and growled to himself. “Don’t fuck with me. You’ll be dead when I find you.” He walked into the alley some more before he felt his phone vibrate again. Exasperating, he yanked his phone out of his pocket and flipped it open. “What Bonney?!” 

His eyes rolled as Bonney shouted across the receiver, telling him that she had been trying to call him for almost an hour and spouting several insults at him. 

“Alright, alright. Keep your skirt on, jeez,” he mumbled at the last part, which earned him another one of her naggings. “Look, I’ll be back home later. I was just getting some shut-eye at a friend’s place, and now I got a pack of beer for us… Hey, be grateful that I got your favorite… No, I’m not drunk. If I were, I wouldn't be answering your phone calls.” He sighed in frustration at the sound of her nagging. “Alright, fine. I’m coming home now. Goodnight.” 

He hung up as he shut the flip phone. He shook his head and muttered, “what a bitch.” 

He thought he might as well call it a night and head back home as he said. Would’ve been a lot nicer to stay out and enjoy his own company, but apparently, that won’t do it for Bonney. 

Kid attempted to take a step to the exit of the alley, but a fast swing bashed him in the face. A pained groan hurtled out of him as his body whipped from the strong force. He crashed into a garbage can and fell to the ground face first. His arms shook as he struggled to push himself on his hands and knees, coughing out a ball of blood. The confusion was on his face as his bloodshot eyes rounded. One of his hands trembled after he touched the side of his face that was hit by an unknown force.

What the… He knew his eyes didn’t deceive him as he stared hard at the blood dripping on his hand. The next thought he had was who the fuck hit him. He couldn’t stop his shaking due to anguishing pain on his face as he glanced over his shoulder to his attacker. His vision became blurry, but the first thing he could make out was something thick and shapely rounded, like a baseball bat. And he saw a silhouette holding it behind him. 

He heard footsteps approaching him slowly, step by step until it stopped next to him. The silhouette tilted its head to the side, watching Kid cough out more blood. His shoulders trembled, but Kid was chuckling to himself. 

“Now who is it that has a bone to pick with me?” With lopsided eyes, he glanced to the attacker towering over him, holding the bat stained with his blood. The attacker had a black hood over his head and he was all pitch black. "I'm curious. I can think of many faces..." He pulled up a strained grin, licking his blood-smeared lips. "Show me, tough guy..." 

Kid flicked up by the sound of thunder and flashes of lightning. Then a downpour of rain came down. His eyes blinked when some of the raindrops fell into his sockets. Another noise of thunder erupted near the alley and Kid froze on the spot. He made out what was underneath that hood. And he responded with a guffaw. Throwing his head back, he laughed even louder. 

His attacker stood silently and Kid ceased his laughter. He shook his head as a smirk stretched on his drenched face. "Now this is priceless. Gotta admit it, I wasn't expecting you of all people. Let me guess, unfinished business?"

The familiar man stared down at him. The grip on the bat tightened as if the urge to wipe that sick look on Kid's face boiled inside. The more he looked at him, the urge grew stronger. 

"How's the redhead doing? Does she miss little ol' me?" 

The bat in the attacker's hand shook by the second he hears Kid's arrogant voice, talking to himself about how much he wants Nami. 

"Damn, I want her ass," he groaned, closing his eyes as he thought of the redhead. "You got a taste of that yet? You fucked her? Don't spare me the details, pretty boy." 

"..." Kid received no response from him. 

"Shit, no way. Don't tell me you haven't." Kid shook his head again. "Well if you're not doing shit, I'll be more than happy to rock her fucking world-"

Kid grunted when the attacker swung the bat on his face again. As he dropped to the ground, his attacker stood over him and raised the bat in the air with both hands. The rain and lightning drowned out the sickening noise in the valley as the bat bashed Kid's head in. Blood spattered on the wall and the concrete, and the attacker threw the bat several more times, harder than the last as he grunted with each swing, paying no mind to how much blood he spilled on his clothes.

The adrenaline rushed through him furiously. His mind became blank. The ache in his arms never bothered him to stop. In his eyes, all he saw was red.

With one final swing, he huffed his chest and out of breath, and he yanked his hood off, the adrenaline gradually draining out of his system. His dark eyes stared at the mess below him. He rubbed his sleeve on his face, wiping off the blood smears as he wrinkled his nose in distaste. A pool of blood spilled further away from Kid's cracked open skull and the attacker stepped out of the way. He threw the bat on the ground and heard the eerie clang as it rolled away. 

More lightning flashed above them and the countless raindrops washed the blood down to the end of the alley. Tilting his head up to the storm, he closed his eyes. He inhaled a deep breath, sunk his chest in with his arms raised and released a soft exhale out of his mouth. 

Whew...