Chapter 38: Friends Close; Enemies Closer
With a yawn and a stretch, Zoro stood up from the Going Merry's deck and looked around, scratching his head as he took in the surrounding scene.
Sitting in two lounge chairs were Nami and Robin respectively. The two women were being fawned over by Sanji while Usopp was shouting something, staring bug-eyed at Robin and all but shaking out of his skin. Nami didn't look nearly as disturbed as the sniper- though there was a slight widening to her eyes that belayed her shock or fear- which wasn't all that unusual seeing as he was easily frightened, but it still begged the question of what had set him off this time.
A glance to the left showed Luffy sitting cross-legged on the upper decks railing, watching the going ons with a head tilted in confusion- or was it concentration? It was hard to determine. Behind him, Chopper was running back and forth along the upper deck, arms flailing in the air as he shrieked just as loud as Usopp was.
Wondering just what in the world had happened during the span of his nap, Zoro was completely lost.
Just an hour previous, The Going Merry had been continuing on course as normal. For the most part, there was nothing unusual going on. In between checking the log pose, Nami had decided to try and warm up to Robin- or at least get to know as much about the woman as she could. After all, Luffy had cleared her, even after she'd supposedly been a bad person.
And if she was really, truly, going to be a new member of this crew, she couldn't tiptoe around her forever. Better the enemy you know and all that.
So as she set up a lounge chair beside the dark-haired woman, she ignored the glance that was sent her way from the ever-expressionless assassin. The complete lack of expression was one thing Nami was still having trouble getting used to, but after building her resolve up once more, she sat down firmly in her chair, tilting her head back and basking in the warming sunlight above her. She could feel Robins gaze on her for only a moment longer before it shifted back to the book in her hand; which upon closer inspection happened to be the same book that she'd had since first joining them despite Nami having seen her finish it at least once before.
Pushing the thought aside, she lifted her sunglasses away from her eyes and rested them on her head. She turned to look at the woman beside her, putting on her friendliest smile before speaking.
"Robin, I feel like we got off on a bad foot," Nami started, eyes closing as she tilted her head and continued smiling. Internally she couldn't help but think about how that 'bad foot' had been Robin working with their enemy and trying to destroy Vivi's entire kingdom.
Friendly. She was trying to make friends here.
"And I wanted to change that. So, I'm Nami, the navigator here on the Going Merry." She finished, opening her eyes now to gauge Robin's reaction as she held out a hand in greeting. There was a brief second where Robin only looked at the navigator's outstretched hand and Nami thought she was going to have to withdraw it. Thankfully though, Robin grabbed it with one of her own, a small smile of her own forming on her lips.
"It's nice to meet you, Miss Navigator. I'm Robin, an archeologist." She introduced smoothly. It seemed she was unfazed by this turn of events as anything else thrown at her and Nami silently wondered what it was that could actually shock the woman.
"An archeologist, huh? So that means you like searching old ruins and stuff, right?" Nami asked curiously, not having met many- or any at all really- archeologists before. At this Robin closed her book and set it down on her lap, turning her head to better address Nami.
"That's correct. Preserving history is something of a hobby of mine and old ruins can be a vital part of learning that history. Though you can learn a lot when you find remains of the dead as well." Robin says serenely despite the sudden morbidness of her words. Nami turns away, blanching at that before turning back with a nervous smile.
"I guess so. So you must know a lot about history in general then, right? I mean, you would have to to be able to know what the ruins are telling you and all." She asks, trying to move past the remains bit. Thankfully, the archeologist nods at the navigator's words and looks up to the clear sky.
"I try to know as much as I can. I assume it's similar to you and the weather. To read the changes in the sky and the ocean, you need to have as much general knowledge of weather patterns and cloud formations as possible. Without it, you can see all the signs of an incoming storm but not know what they mean until it's too late." Robin equates.
"I think I get it. So if you like archeology, why would you want to become a pirate? I mean, it's not like there are many ruins out here in the ocean." The navigator says as she gestures to the wide expanse of water surrounding them.
"True. However, being a pirate allows me to travel to places I otherwise wouldn't have thought to go. The unexpected nature of which island is next is exciting, is it not?" Nami found she couldn't fault those words and found herself shaking her head.
"No, I guess not. But why would you join Crocodile then? He wasn't exactly traveling anywhere anytime soon." Nami says a bit bitterly at the thought of the ex-warlord. Robin hums softly at that, eyes drifting away from the sky and staring off straight ahead now.
"I wasn't all that interested in Crocodiles plans, but we did happen to have a mutual goal in mind that made his partnership beneficial. Alabsata had quite a few ruins and monuments of its own that I was interested in studying, and Crocodile happened to be interested in one of them as well. Luckily for me, he didn't have any way of understanding the history he was looking at, and so he needed to partner with me if he wanted any chance of knowing it." Robin explained. There was a loud laugh and a slam of the kitchen door hitting the wall as Luffy ran out, Sanji hot on his heels and yelling something about stealing food. Nami pinched her nose at that, shaking her head as the rubber idiot jumped over the upper railing and onto the main deck, completely ignoring Sanji's ire and pestering Usopp to play a game with him.
Trying to tune out her childish captain, Nami turned back to Robin, barely catching the glint of interest in the woman's eyes before it was gone. Instantly, Nami remembered why she was doing this in the first place and cursed herself for letting her guard down.
Because, sure, Robin seemed nice and personable now, but the woman was a known assassin and a possible spy. Nami wouldn't be surprised if she saw this crew as another 'partnership' where they were a means to an end for her. Something to help her further achieve her goals, but not something so important that she wouldn't stab them in the back later on in the future.
Settling comfortably in her chair, Nami put her friendly smile back on.
"Don't mind them, Luffy can be childish at the best of times and Usopp only encourages that." She told the archeologist good-naturedly. Robin blinked, turning her gaze away from Luffy and Usopp and back on Nami. After a second, she smiled as well.
"Actually, I find it quite refreshing. A change of pace if you will." She appeased. There was another shout as Usopp ran away from Luffy, presumably starting some game of tag as Luffy chased after him with a wide smile.
"I think it's tiring if you ask me. Trust me, Luffy can go on for hours. I swear, it's as if he's got endless energy sometimes." The navigator said with a shake of her head. There was a pause in the conversation after that, the two women deciding to relax in the sun rather than continue the conversation. The sounds of Usopp and Luffy- and then eventually Chopper as well- filled the air of the Going Merry, and then eventually the sounds of seagulls did as well.
"Oh, do you think we're near an island?!" Choppers voice asked excitedly. At that, Nami peeked an eye open and gauged their surroundings. Checking her log pose she saw that the needle was pointing behind her, and a quick check over her shoulder confirmed the theory as she spotted an island in the distance.
"Ne, Nami! Are we almost at an island?! Are we?!" Luffy asked as he, Usopp, and Chopper all ran over.
"We are. You can start to see it over there." Nami told him, pointing to where it was off in the distance. This only excited him further as he ran to the railing, leaning dangerously far over it in an attempt at getting a better view.
"Careful you don't fall in Luffy," Nami told him disapprovingly.
"Right. Do you think there'll be meat on this island? And adventures too!" Luffy asked, eyes practically sparkling in excitement.
"Of course there'll be adventure! After all, I, Usopp the Adventurer will be traveling with you! There is not an island I've been to in my 50 years that didn't have an adventure on it!" Usopp boasted proudly, placing a fist to his chest as he puffed it out.
"What?! Really?!" Chopper and Luffy asked simultaneously, flocking over to Usopp. Nami sighed and shook her head at their antics, wondering once more how she'd come around to joining Luffy when he was so much unlike what a captain would normally be.
Then again, maybe that's exactly why she'd joined him at all.
"If sencho-san can detect lies, it's fascinating that he's so easily entranced by Mr. Long Nose-kuns stories," Robin noted, watching as Luffy hung on to Usopps every word, seeming to take his boasts as truth.
"I think he knows he's lying but he's still an idiot and ends up getting caught up in the excitement. At least, from what I've noticed that's the case. You can never really tell will Luffy sometimes." Nami dismisses easily. Robin casts another glance over to Luffy, assessing him silently before turning back to the book she'd gone back to reading earlier.
"In any case," Nami said louder now to grab the attention of the three still gathered near the railing.
"We should get there within a few hours. I'm not sure what island it is so try not to get us into trouble before we've even had a chance to dock." Nami says, directing the last bit to Luffy who seems oblivious to the warning.
"Right." The rubber man says with a determined nod, only to immediately spin back to Usopp and demand more stories. Nami tries not to let that get to her and settles back into her chair, determined to enjoy the next few hours of peace.
Before she even had a chance to fully relax, Sanji came twirling out of the kitchen, a tray in hand as he made his way over to Nami and Robin.
"Nami-san~! Robin-chan~! I've made you two beautiful ladies some refreshing drinks to cool you down!" He calls, lowering the tray between them in a sweeping bow. Smiling gratefully, Nami grabs one.
"Thank you Sanji-san, this is exactly what I needed." She says truthfully, sipping the fruity drink happily.
"Thank you Cook-san." Robin thanks as well as she takes her own drink.
"Anything for you two ladies!" He coos happily in response. Standing once more, he opens his mouth to say something more but is interrupted as Luffy, once again on the upper deck with Usopp and Chopper, leans over the railing at the sight of Sanji.
"Ooh! Did you bring us snacks too?!" He asks eagerly, all but salivating at the thought.
"I only brought refreshments for the ladies. Nothing for you." Sanji denies instantly, glaring at Luffy. At his words, the three on the upper deck deflate.
"But Sanji~!" Luffy whines.
"Yeah, come on Sanji, we're thirsty too!" Usopp whines next. Beside him, Chopper nods in agreement.
"Too bad." The chef dismisses, eliciting a groan from the trio.
"Stingy!" Luffy mutters.
"Meanie!" Chopper cries.
"Jerk!" Usopp adds. Hearing this, a tick mark appears on Sanji's forehead as he spins to face them.
"Oi, what was that?!" He barks angrily to Usopp and Choppers fright as the two run. Luffy only blinks, unfazed by the anger as it becomes overpowered by the two's fear, and then Nami and Robins amusement. It's a weird amalgamation of contradicting emotions and it leaves Luffy unsure of what he's supposed to be feeling at the moment.
Quick to come back to reality, Luffy smiles and laughs, jumping to sit on the upper railing.
"Hey, do you think there'll be meat on the new island Sanji?" He asks instead, throwing the chef off with the sudden change in topic.
"Huh? Well, I would think so. Most islands have at least some type of meat, don't they?" He asks, taking out a cigarette and lighting it.
"Mm. Every island I've been to has had meat. Ah, do you think there's an island somewhere that doesn't have any meat at all?!" Luffy asks, looking horrified at the thought. At this, Sanji shrugs, taking a drag of the cigarette in thought.
"Who knows. It's possible, right?" He asks. Luffy shivers at the thought while behind him, Usopp and Chopper peek out to see if it's safe to come back out.
"Anyway, if there were an island like that you would still have to wait for the log to set before we could leave," Nami says with an evil grin at Luffys clear disapproval of ever going to such an island.
"No way!" Luffy shouts, eyes wide.
"Sorry to say Luffy, but it's true," Nami says with a shrug. Seeing that Sanji wasn't going to attack them, Usopp and Chopper went to stand on the main deck.
"Technically, no island is truly devoid of meat as long as there are people inhabiting it." Robin piped in calmly, eyes still focused on her book. The crew all stopped, wondering where she was going with that as they looked at her. Noticing the attention, the archeologist looked up from her book, smiling politely.
"After all, humans are made of meat too." She tells them, much to the horror of Usopp and Chopper who shriek in terror. The reindeer immediately runs, hooves raised as he continues screaming while Usopp turns to Luffy, pointing at Robin.
"See Luffy! I told you it was a bad idea letting her join!" Usopp cries. Robin only looks back to her book, still smiling as she listens to the chaos she created. Beside her, Nami watches her with wide eyes, unsure on how to react to her statement while Sanji brushes it off entirely in favor of fawning over the woman instead.
Off to the side, where Zoro had been napping that entire morning, the swordsman finally woke up, confused as to what was happening around him.
By the time the Going Merry reached the new island, lunch had come and gone leaving Luffy raring to go.
"Alright everyone, we need to stick together this time," Nami said firmly, eyes narrowed pointedly at Luffy as she remembered him running off at Alabasta the last time.
"Right. Stick together." Luffy agreed, nodding in confirmation that he heard her words. Nami eyed him skeptically for a moment, unsure whether he was really hearing her or not.
"We don't know anything about this island. I think our best plan of action is to do any restocking we may need and I'll ask around to see how long it takes for the log to set. In the meantime, no running off, no causing trouble, and don't do anything that might make the island angry with us before we're able to leave." Nami said, counting the list out with her fingers as she spoke. In front of her, Luffy continued to nod along which only made her more skeptical.
"Ok, so don't do any of that stuff. Can I go now?" He asks, which makes the navigator glare.
"We, Luffy. We will be going, remember? No going alone!" Nami reaffirms as the rest of the crew watches on in varying states of amusement.
"Right. We. Let's go already! I wanna explore!" Seeing that that was the last of Luffys patience Nami let out a heavy sigh.
"Alright, let's get going then." She says in defeat. Luffy cheers at this and they all begin their descent from Merry and on to the dock.
Lucky for them the town hadn't seemed to mind their pirate ship coming and docking so close to their town. Not one of the dockworkers had batted an eyelash at them, and as they quickly entered the town they saw that there was much the same reaction here as there was at the docks.
Nami led them to the market where Sanji immediately got to work on buying enough food to resupply what they used up. While he did that, the rest of the crew spread out to buy things of their own, such as supplies for ammo for Usopp or herbs and medical supplies for Chopper. Luffy, as instructed, stuck by the rest of the crew, bouncing from stall to stall and occasionally nicking something for himself- usually food.
Overall, it was a good time and before they knew it they all were carrying something of their own to bring back to the Merry.
"I guess we were lucky this town was pirate friendly." Chopper said cheerily as he looked over his purchases; double-checking that he had everything he would need.
"And they had a good variety of ingredients," Sanji said, pleased with the selection he'd seen.
"I asked around and they said the log should be set within two days so we should take the time to relax while we can. It's not like we'll be lucky enough to land on such a friendly island again so soon." Nami told them all, glancing back to the town. The sun was beginning to set now and the streets were becoming less busy as people decided to head home for the night. It really was a nice peaceful town and she was happy to have the break after the chaos and stress that had been Alabasta.
"I wanna get more meat tomorrow! There was one stall that had really good ikayaki!" Luffy told them, patting his stomach at the memory.
"You nearly spent as much on snacks then Usopp did on his own supplies! Which, by the way, I expect you both to pay back that loan with interest." Nami said, anger dissolving instantly into greed as she grinned at the two of them. Luffy only laughed at this but Usopp blanched, jaw-dropping.
"Hey, you said that money was a gift!" The sniper accused, to which Nami looked away innocently.
"Did I? I don't recall that." She denied.
"Witch!" Usopp yelled, to which Sanji immediately rebuttled by slamming his heel down on Usopp's head.
"Don't call Nami-san something so vulgar!" He snapped. From where he stood off to the side, Zoro only watched on with a glare in Nami's direction, remembering his own grudges with the money-hungry redhead, and from beside him, Robin watched the entire interaction with her usual lack of emotion. She had gotten a few books for herself, but for the most part, she had trailed along with Chopper and helped him carry supplies when he couldn't do it himself.
"Anyway, I like this town. They all had happy feelings." Luffy said, thinking back to the lack of any negativity within the town. Not one person had had any inkling of anger or sadness or anything similar. There was only peace and calm and happy and relaxed mingling through the streets and stalls.
"It'll be nice to stay here for a couple of days then." Chopper sympathized, knowing from Luffys file and from what Whiskey had told him that sometimes feeling too many negative feelings constantly could start putting a strain on the captain. This island seemed like it would be a nice break for him.
"Mm. I like happy towns. Hey, did I tell you about the one time when I was on Pops' crew and we landed on this island during a festival? Everyone was super happy the entire time we were there and I ate so much food too!" Luffy told the doctor, remembering once more that he was supposed to be opening up more to him and deciding now was as good a time as ever.
Chopper shook his head no at that, asking to know more about it. When Luffy started telling him about it animatedly he unknowingly managed to get the attention of the rest of his crew as well, all of them listening quietly and smiling along.
He didn't miss the spark of interest from Robin earlier though when he'd mentioned the town's happy feelings, but he was also trying to move past that as well. After all, he hadn't really explained his abilities to her yet or how he'd gotten them. He knew Robin was a smart person- probably one of the smartest he'd ever met- so it was inevitable that she would want to know more about his strange abilities.
He would just have to see if she was trustworthy first before he decided whether or not to tell her about them.
The rest of their day was spent relaxing, and in no time they were all settling in for the night. It was Zoros turn for watch, so while he stayed out on deck the rest of the crew went to their respective rooms for the night, all of them excited to go explore the island more tomorrow.
And for the most part, the night passed by as it would normally. The moon rose high in the sky, the stars were shining brightly and the ocean was reflecting them back beautifully.
However, in the middle of the night, there was a sudden loud howl that echoed throughout the island.
Zoro, who had been occupying his time by lifting weights, paused to glance at the island, wondering what kind of animal had made that sound. It sounded like some type of dog or wolf, but at the same time, there was some sort of underlying tone that made it more ominous and haunting than any normal dog's howl.
When he didn't see anything off about the island he shrugged it off and continued lifting weights, though he was sure to keep a sharper eye on the island on the off chance that the animal- if that's what it turned out to be- made its way to the town and started wreaking havoc.
Meanwhile, down in the men's room, Luffy had woken up from his entirely peaceful sleep with his heart racing and adrenaline pounding through his veins. The intensity of it all left him short of breath, and if he didn't know for sure that he'd just been dreaming about jungles and adventures he would have thought he'd had a nightmare.
Except he hadn't just had a nightmare, so why was he suddenly so terrified?
Getting out of his hammock was a small challenge with the adrenaline making him clumsier than normal, but he managed it without too much difficulty and quickly made his way out of the men's room and out onto the Merrys deck, inhaling the fresh air eagerly.
"The howl wake you up?" Zoro's voice surprised him as he closed the hatch to the men's room.
"Howl?" He asked, blinking in confusion and trying to shake off the terror still clinging to him.
"Yeah, there was some really loud howl only a few seconds ago," Zoro told him, setting down his weights once more and pointing a thumb over his shoulder to the island. The rubber teen furrowed his eyebrows at that but shook his head.
"No, I didn't hear that. The town woke me up." He told him truthfully, realizing now just what had happened as he moved to sit on the railing near the swordsman.
"The town?" Now it was Zoro's turn to be confused as he leaned against the railing comfortably, his arms crossed over his chest as he watched his captain.
"Mm. They were really scared and it woke me up. They're still kind of scared." Luffy explained, feeling the faint thrum of terror still hovering throughout the town like a cloud. It was a sharp contrast from the peaceful air from earlier that it made him wonder what had caused such a change in emotion for the town.
"Guess they all heard the howl too then," Zoro suggested, though he was frowning now as he continued eyeing the island suspiciously. Luffy didn't say anything to that, still trying to slow his racing heart as he breathed deeply.
"So how do I do that calming thing?" The sudden turn in conversation surprised Luffy momentarily as he glanced over to Zoro. It took him a minute to realize what he was talking about, and when he did he smiled.
"You're already doing it. You just have to feel calm. That's kind of why I came out here because everyone else is sleeping so they feel all muted and stuff, but you weren't scared at all so it gave me something to focus on." Luffy admitted, looking back at the town and noting that more and more people were muting, which meant the town was going back to sleep.
"Just think about things that make you calm. The calmer you are, the stronger I'll feel it." The rubber man explained, letting Zoro's emotions wash away any lingering terror. The two sat there together in companionable silence for a while longer, and eventually, when the last bit of adrenaline faded and the fatigue settled in again, Luffy realized he should head back to bed to sleep a little longer before morning came.
Seeing as it was time to switch watch anyway, Zoro followed him back to the men's room, waking Sanji up for his watch before settling down in his hammock.
And with that, the howl and the fear were forgotten for the moment in favor of sleeping.
I'm so sorry for missing the last update everyone! You wouldn't believe how crazy things got all of a sudden and I just lost track of the days entirely.
But, we've reached the new island! That's exciting at least! I feel bad, because it's a bit of a cliffhanger of what the howl was, and as I mentioned before, I don't think I'll be able to update anytime throughout November with all of my upcoming tests, but hopefully you all won't be too mad at me for it.
For those who celebrate, I hope everyone has a spooky and happy Halloween filled with good times and candy. As for myself, I'll probably be staying inside studying, but at least I've got some candy stashed away that I can eat while I do. Stay safe everyone, and I'm sorry again for not only the missed update, but the cliffhanger and break that I'm going to be taking.
Trust me, I'd much rather be focusing all of my attention on this story, but sadly adult life makes that impossible.
I love you all! Thank you for the support on this story and sticking with me all this time. I'll see you all again in December!