For about a week now, Robin has been occupied with trying to get Zoro to finish a project - all that's required is a simple drawing of his neighborhood. She suspects he's been struggling with it due to a learning disability. There's a real possibility he has dyspraxia, or a mild form of dyscalculia. It would explain his sense of direction, certainly. She wishes she had the money to get him tested.
For now, she has to devote a good portion of her time to helping him through assignments he finds difficult and preventing him from wandering off to Maine. She's sure she'll have similar problems with Luffy in the future, but luckily the kindergarten curriculum is not particularly grueling. He can manage doodling brightly colored pictures just fine on his own, and as of this moment, Robin hasn't been called in for a parent-teacher meeting despite him having depicted himself holding multiple guns and punching people for touching his hat. She guesses this is due to his teacher being rather... unorthodox. Or perhaps it's because Luffy's drawings are indecipherable without his translation; she fondly remembers his sketch of her which Zoro had insisted was actually a perfect replication of a Christmas tree.
Perhaps that's why she hadn't realized Luffy was feeling down before now.
He'd seemed alright on their walk home today, though she probably hadn't been paying the amount of attention she ought to. Once they where home, she'd rushed Zoro to the sitting room the place least likely to distract him due to its lack of windows and boring furniture. She'd taken breaks to make sure Luffy had a snack and wasn't destroying his room in the name of building a fort, but until dinner time, she hadn't noticed his poor mood.
It's very apparent now, as he pokes morosely at his meal of mash potatoes and tenderloin. Not that he's not eating - the day on which Luffy doesn't eat will be a dark one indeed - but it's not with his usual vigor. He's also sighing on occasion, causing Zoro to glare at him in irritation. In fact, Zoro looks more annoyed by the second.
"I'm sure she's going to be fine, moron. Stop moping about it - it's not gonna change anything."
"But..." Luffy's bottom lips wobbles. "She's probably really sad right now!"
"So?" He scowls. "People have to be sad sometimes. That's just how life is." To Robin's ears, he sounds older than his eleven years.
Luffy's face becomes firmer, and he crosses his little arms over his blue T-shirt. "I don't want her to feel bad, so she shouldn't." It's clear from his expression that he thinks the world should conform to his will.
Zoro rolls his eyes. "You can't expect her to change how she feels in this situation to make you happy. I don't think that's her biggest concern right now."
"No! That's not what I meant." He pauses, biting at his lip, while Robin tries to scope out of whom they're speaking. "I'm gonna make her feel better. That's all I meant."
"I hope you don't mind if I cut into your conversation," Robin says, mildly concerned, "but to whom are you referring?" She thinks she knows, but wants to make sure she understands the entire situation.
"Luffy made friends with this girl in the second grade, named Nami. You know, the one he won't shut up about?" As she'd thought, something must have happened to Luffy's second playmate. She hasn't met her yet, but has been regaled with many stories regarding her, such as helping Luffy with school work and then demanding recompense for her kindness.
"Zoro's friends with her too!" Luffy asserts, and continues to speak over his protests. "But... Today we found out why she missed school all last week." He looks down, his sad expression returning.
"Her mom died," Zoro says, bluntly yet quietly.
"Yeah. She was awesome." Luffy sighs. "And I want Nami to stop looking so sad."
"I keep telling you, she's gonna get through this on her own. You can't force her to feel better!" He turns to Robin for support on this, and she nods.
"Let her grieve in her own way, alright sir?"
"You guys just don't understand! There's something wrong with her!" Luffy exclaims.
Zoro glares at him. "Would you quit being so weird?"
"What do you think is wrong with her then?" Robin asks, confused.
Zoro answers before Luffy can get a chance to. "He's got some crazy idea that her new guardian is evil."
Robin turns to her other charge expectantly. "I don't like that Arlong guy," is all he says in his defense.
"Why?" she says, a little intrigued. Luffy, from what she's seen, has a rather good sense of character.
"He's mean. Nami is scared of him."
"God, how do you know that? We've only ever seen him once!"
"I can tell." Luffy's boyish voice is uncharacteristically hard. "And he took her away from her sister."
Zoro frowns. "I didn't know she had a sister."
"She does. Nami told me Arlong only wanted her. I don't like it."
When she thinks about it, Robin doesn't like the sound of that either, but there's very little she can do. Still, that night, she spends more time than she probably should dwelling on the conversation.
Observation has made it clear that Luffy has terrible concentration on Fridays - well, more than usual. It's probably because he knows he has a weekend full of playing with Zoro or pretending to be an Olympic athlete ahead of him. Her hypothesis seems to be supported by the meat-filled lunch bag lying on the kitchen table. It's lucky for him that the library is having renovation done and thus she doesn't have to go in to work.
She smiles fondly as she picks up the brown paper bag. Really, she should have noticed he hadn't stuffed it in his backpack that morning, but usually his food is the one thing she can trust him to remember.
Well, she ought to go take it to him, if only so he doesn't end up eating one of his class mates. He might get indigestion.
Although she has both boys' schedule memorized, she arrives at the school about fifteen minutes early, mostly to ensure she's able to find the cafeteria before lunch time. A lady asks her to wait outside the office after giving her directions, and so she sits herself in the uncomfortable plastic chair, clutching the bag and taking time to observe the goings on around her. Class is in at the moment, but the occasional student or staff member will pass by, giving Robin something to look at.
She'd noticed the thin orange-haired girl sitting next to her as soon as she'd taken a seat, but hadn't paid much attention to her. However, during a stretch of time when the hallway is empty, she realizes the girl is staring at her, and glances down inquisitively. The girl starts and looks away, biting her lip.
Not wanting to make a child nervous, Robin says in her gentlest tone, "What's your name? I'm Robin Nico."
The girl looks back up, allowing Robin to take note of her wide brown eyes and pleasant circular face. "I'm Nami Apelsin."
Recognition comes to her, and she associates all the stories she'd heard with the face before her, imagining it turning impish and teasing Zoro or darkening with sadness. "What a pretty name. Swedish, is it not?"
Nami nods, her eyes going even wider. "Yeah. My last name, anyway. Belle - I mean, I don't really know where my first name comes from."
Robin smiles in a way she hopes is reassuring. She remembers being a little girl who has just lost her mother. "Sounds very interesting." She ponders whether or not to mention Luffy. She wants to put the child at ease and take her mind away from her problems, but what good would it do for her to get attached when it mostly likely will lead to nothing? Besides, she's never been one to give up information when she doesn't have to -
She stops to wonder what she's even thinking? She isn't an assassin anymore - she doesn't have any reason to be looking at the world this way. "You know, my kids talk about you a lot."
"You know Luffy, yes?"
"Oh, you're Luffy and Zoro's mom! They talk about you too." Nami giggles, a bubbly and light sound. "How do you put up with them? So annoying! 'Nami, I can't figure out how to tie my shoelaces!' 'Nami, Zoro ended up locked in the janitor's closet again!' 'Nami, what's the nutritional value of boogers?' And Zoro's so stubborn he hasn't talked to me since I stole his stupid action figure after he said nothing can get past him." She quits talking, her laughter having turned into a fond smile.
"It sounds like you manage to find a way to put up with them as well."
"Well..." Nami looks down, picking at her fingers. "They're not so bad, all the time."
"I see." She leans back in her seat. She can see what Luffy sees in her.
"But really, Miss... Uh, can I call you Miss Robin?"
"I think it's so cool that you adopted those guys. It's one thing when Moms go out and get pregnant 'cause they wanna look after kids but when someone who just takes care of kids who aren't really theirs, and treats them like family..." Nami clenches her hand. "I think they're special."
Robin looks down at the orange hair, surprised and touched. "What a kind thing of you to say."
"I mean it, though."
"I'm sure you do. Thank you very much, regardless."
After that, the hallway fades into silence, only the distant buzz of teachers lecturing and the murmur of children's voices coming to Robin's ears. It's a companionable silence, she thinks, feeling as she and Nami are kindred spirits.
It's broken in a few moments by the grating sound of the bell, and Robin prepares to say goodbye to the girl so she can bring Luffy his food. She opens her mouth, but a loud "There you are!" cuts her off before she can.
A large man with a hook nose and narrow eyes comes stalking down the hall, and Robin sees Nami sink in her seat. "Got caught stealing again I see! We're going to have to have a talk about this habit of yours when we get home." From a regular parent, those scolding words wouldn't be anything wrong, but Robin doesn't like how they sound coming out of this man's mouth.
Robin looks on in concern as the tall man - Arlong, she guesses - takes a squeezing hold of Nami's arm and yanks her towards the door, only allowing her a few moments to glance back at Robin.
She doesn't like what she sees in those eyes, either.
She tries her best to keep an eye out for Nami during the next few weeks, often asking Luffy about her or, when she gets a chance to see her, making sure she's physically unharmed. It's possible she is being paranoid, but more and more she finds herself agreeing with Luffy - Nami is terrified of Arlong. When his name is brought up in conversation, she flinches or simply walks away from the person she's speaking to. She knows Luffy is still worried, and though he pulls all sorts of ridiculous stunts in attempts to make her smile, he'll often end up moping at the end of the day.
Nami has a lovely smile, a somewhat free and fragile looking expression, one Robin hopes will never be ruined. It's always with an ache in her heart that she watches Nami walk home alone, appearing as if she'd like to disappear into herself. But beyond what she's doing at the moment, Robin isn't sure of what she can do.
Outside of Nami's person, she has more to worry about. There's a strange man with a pinwheel on his hat who Robin has begun to notice frequently hangs around the school. On more than one occasion, she's caught him staring at Nami, or seen the girl herself recognize him and swiftly turn away. It's another layer of mystery, and another problem that's been bothering her.
She prefers to know all that she can before entering any situation, and knows next to nothing about the pinwheel man - the one time she'd asked Nami about him, she'd sealed her lips shut and ignored her. Nevertheless, Robin finds herself approaching the man one day.
The only time she'd ever previously seen him was out of the corner of her eye around the school, which of course was cause for worry. At the moment, he looks rather innocuous, pushing a grocery cart containing a few cartons of orange juice. He's on the tall side, wearing clothes that seem distinctly military to her, and his face looks stern, though his appearance is somewhat belied by the pinwheel spinning away on his hat.
"Hello," Robin says.
The man raises an eyebrow, as she is blocking his way down the aisle. It's a Saturday, and Robin has left the boys at home - at the school, she had to both watch the man and her kids, but here she has time to get some answers.
"I recognize you," the man says. "You're the lady whose son is flirting with my Nami, correct?"
"There are two things wrong with that question," Robin says, coldly. "For one, Luffy does not flirt. For another, I don't think a man who stalks a second grader should be using a possessive pronoun in regard to her. Wouldn't you agree?"
The man looks taken aback for a moment before stepping away from Robin, seemingly a reflexive action. "Lady, I think you have the wrong idea about me. Can I buy you a meal and explain things to you?"
She raises her eyebrows, mimicking his earlier expression. "Alright."
The man, whose name is Gen, explains that he was close friends with Nami's late mother, a woman by the name of Bellemere. He's known both Nami, and her sister Nojiko, since they were very small.
"I can see why you were so suspicious of me. It's a very admirable trait," Gen says over their sandwiches. "It's just that I'm very worried about Nami, and I see it as my duty to look after her in her mother's place."
Robin leans forward. "So you don't think her current guardian is doing a sufficient job?" she presses.
"I was in the national guard for twenty years," Gen says, face growing dark. "Arlong is a dangerous man - my gut tells me so, as does his ongoing police investigation. There's so many strange things about how he came into custody of Nami..." He trails off, looking down into his glass of water. "He comes into town one week, and the next one Bellemere is dead, after her having expressed doubts to me that this 'Arlong' was an upstanding fellow. Then he's Nami's birth father, with documents all drawn up, and I can't do a thing. But he doesn't want Nojiko - they're not blood related, and thus not family." Gen hardens his grip on the glass. "The bright side is that I have custody of Nojiko, but those girls are sisters, no matter what the damn court says. They should get to be together!"
Robin says nothing for a moment, digesting what she's been told. Eventually, she says, "It sounds to me you have some doubts regarding Bellemere's death."
He nods. "She was found shot through the head outside her own home. Neither Nojiko or Nami saw anything. The gun was found nearby the scene of the crime - no prints, no ID. Seems like a hit to me." Gen looks around before continuing to speak. "I think it was Arlong, or at least someone in his gang."
"What does he want with Nami?"
Gen shakes his head. "I don't know. And that's what scares me."
It's a Thursday, and Robin has managed to get Luffy and Zoro to sleep by eight - not too much of an accomplishment, considering that they enjoy their beauty rest much more than most children. Still, it should give her some time to relax before she has to go to work.
She's just settled down with a book when she hears the doorbell to her apartment ring, surprising her. She can't think of who it could be.
She is even more surprised when she opens the door to Nami, who looks very small in the glow of the street lights.
"Can - can I stay here tonight?" she asks, toeing the mat.
"Of course," Robin says, opening the door wider to let her in. "Luffy and Zoro are already asleep," she says quietly, gesturing for Nami to have a seat at the kitchen table. She brings her a cup of water and notes with growing anger the darkening bruise under the girl's left eye.
She doesn't push, not wanting to upset her, and allows her to drink in silence. Nami looks tired, and though she is upright and rigid in her chair, she also looks breakable.
"I'm sorry for coming here," she says.
"No," Robin replies. "You should always have somewhere to go. I hope you don't mind my asking, but how did you find us?"
"I know this city," she says confidently, and Robin is glad she gave her something pleasant to speak about. "You always go down Wisteria Street from the school, and the only apartment complex in that direction is on Going Merry Lane. Luffy told me about you guys's building, and he also told me that he keeps his Captain America shield in the window, so I just kept on the look out for that. It wasn't too hard."
"I'm very impressed," Robin says, standing up. Nami beams. "Would you like anything to eat?" she asks, walking over to the refrigerator.
"Would you mind... I mean, do you have any tangerines?"
"I believe we do," Robin says, reaching into the produce crisper. "Ah." She brings the fruit to the girl and watches her peel it.
Still not wanting to pry to deeply, she sighs, trying to think of an unobtrusive question. "Why did you choose to come here in the first place?"
She looks at her tangerine. "I... don't think I can tell you."
Robin wants to urge Nami to trust her, to ensure her that everything is going to be okay, but she's sat on the other side of the table before. She has to hope that Nami will open up on her own. "If you ever want to tell me anything, I'm here to listen."
She puts a slice of the fruit into her mouth, tear tracks starting to run down her face. "I want to tell you. I'm - I'm scared."
Without thought, she mutters, as any adult would to a distraught child, "It will be okay, Nami. Everything's going to be fine." Only seconds later does she realize her mistake and blatant hypocrisy.
"You can't just say that!" The girl looks up, suddenly angry, even through the tears on her cheeks. "You don't know everything! You just want me to feel better!"
"I'm sorry," she says soothingly. "You're right - I don't know what you're going through. How about this instead: I will do everything in my power to make things better for you."
Nami freezes, not reacting for several moments, before burying her face in her hands. "I'm so tired," she mutters, seemingly to herself. "I want Mom to come and take care of me. I don't want to be alone any more."
"You don't have to be."
Nami looks up, hope flickering in her eyes. "I'm going to tell you," she says quietly. "If you can't do anything, I'll understand. But you have to promise not to tell anyone, if you can't."
Robin doesn't want to make a promise she can't keep, but she nods.
Nami takes a deep breath. "I saw Arlong shoot my mom." Her voice only wavers a little as she says it, though fresh tears have sprung in her eyes. "I know I told the police that I was in the house with Nojiko, but I..." She bites her lip, hard. "I was lying."
Robin lets out a shocked "Why?" and immediately regrets it. She'd planned to let Nami finish her story without interruption.
It seems as though she expected the outburst. "He said if I ever told anyone he'd kill Nojiko. But... I'm telling you." As she'd said earlier, she looks very tired.
"It's okay - I doubt he'll be able to find out."
"You - you're right." She wipes at her eyes, taking a moment to compose herself. "He was going to kill me, I was sure of it, but he found out I was good at stealing things. He said something about how double homicide with one of them being infanticide would just create more suspicion, so he had a friend of his make fake papers saying he was my real dad." She sniffs. "He's not."
"I believe you."
Nami looks up at Robin, and the words begin to pour out. "He wouldn't feed me, because he said a bitch like me should be able to steal food. He makes me stay in a tiny room. I miss Mom, and Nojiko, and Gen." She yawns, completely spent. "I'm really worried he's gonna hurt Nojiko because I ran away after he hit me." She trails on, releasing all of the fear and pain she's been holding on to, Robin listening quietly. Eventually, her eyelids begin to droop, and she nods off at the table. Robin lifts Nami up, frowning at how light she is, and places her on the couch with a blanket drawn over her.
"You don't have to carry this alone anymore."
That night, she doesn't go to her job, knowing she has a large day ahead of her. It does put her off her sleep cycle, though she is more than used to that sort of thing. In the morning, she wakes up early and drags the boys up as well. They're both annoyed with her until she tells them they have the day off of school.
"Keep quiet while Nami sleeps," she instructs, "and don't burn down the house while I'm gone, alright?" They nod along, Luffy barely containing his excitement that he gets another friend in the house.
From there, Robin exits the apartment, ready to do what she has to.
In the past, she would killed him, and taken delight in it. Even now she can feel her fingers twitching for a gun, and anger burning low in her gut. She hates this man for what he's done to a family, and to a small child, and she wants to take revenge.
Things have changed now. Robin has children to think of - she can't bring suspicion down on her head. This is a situation she will have to handle with a little more delicacy, as much as she might enjoy snapping a neck at the moment. If there's something she's learned in the past few months, it's not always a bad thing to need help.
"I know you," Arlong says, smiling cruelly. She's approached him on his home ground, a large, oddly shaped building - a criminal base if she's ever seen one. "One of Nami's little friends, eh? Here on her behalf?" He lounges back on a chair that's reminiscent of a throne, and Robin can see a gun resting against his right leg.
She smiles icily. "Yes, I am."
"Where is the little brat? She go runnin' to you?"
"I'm not sure that's any of your business." Robin steps to the side, noting the position of the windows in this building.
"Ah, but I'm her father, according to the law."
"And according to biology? Was a DNA test ever taken?"
"Oh yes. You see, I have friends in high places."
"Interesting." She's finally found herself in a good spot. "But I'd like to talk about you."
Arlong's eyes narrow. "Oh yes? And about what?"
"You see, I've been led to believe that you were the one who killed a woman by the name of Bellemere." She states this evenly, waiting to see his reaction.
His face turns darker, and he reaches for his gun. "The little bitch talked! I didn't think she had it in her." He sighs, and Robin watches him closely. "What a shame! She would have done well as a criminal - but I guess that comes out in the fact that she's such a good backstabber." Arlong levels the gun at Robin, which she looks at calmly. "I'll just have to kill you, and the brat. Maybe I'll pick off that cute sister of Nami's too, if I have the time." His eyes narrow. "You don't look very scared for a housewife."
Robin smiles. "Oh? Perhaps that's because I am not a housewife at all."
Arlong looks confused, his finger tensing on the trigger, before he notices a red dot of a sniper's gun hovering on his chest. He looks up at Robin, realization and hatred boiling in his eyes, as she takes off the tiny microphone and hearing device from around her neck and head.
She walks away from the man, not bothering to look back as he shouts curses after her. "Was that enough?" she asks.
"Yes ma'am!" cries a voice in reply.
"In a hypothetical situation, there's a young girl of about eight. She saw her mother murdered, but lied to the police about it due to her sister's life being threatened. Would her new testimony be taken seriously in court?"
Smoker frowns, taking a puff of one of his cigars. "It's probably not enough, especially if the guy's got dough to get himself a good lawyer. Besides, it's hard to get kids to speak in court, and if your 'hypothetical man' is part of, let's say, a criminal organization, she'd have to live under a witness protection of the sort for at least a year."
"I see. And if there was an uninvolved woman who's not a known cop willing to go undercover and try to get the man to convict himself, what then?"
"Then I'd say it's worth a try."
Robin is driven home by a van full of starry-eyed young cops, one of whom asks her out to coffee. All she wants to do right now is go home to her children and rest, and gently lets the man down.
All three kids are in the street when she gets home, the sunlight dwindling on the horizon. Luffy's up high climbing a tree, and Zoro, for whatever reason, is kicking a street post. Nami is sitting on the sidewalk watching ants go about their business.
"I'm sorry I was gone so long," she calls out to them, and sees Luffy miss a branch trying to turn to see her. Luckily, he doesn't fall, and immediately starts to climb down, babbling something about Pokemon. Zoro rolls his eyes and says "Typical."
Nami looks up at her, hope in her eyes. Robin smiles. "Arlong won't be bothering you anymore." Zoro lets out a grunt of approval, while Luffy cheers, but her attention is focused on the girl before her. "You might have to talk to the police soon. Is that okay?" Nami nods wordlessly. "Because of how brave you're being, some bad people might try to hurt you, so we're going to have to work together to keep you safe. Would you like to stay here for a while?"
She can see the girl considering. "Can I see Nojiko?"
"Of course. The catch will be we're going to have to call you by a different name, and maybe dye your hair."
"In that case..." She takes a deep breath. "What's my allowance?"
"We'll see." She takes Nami's hand to bring her into the house, looking forward to calling Garp later that night.
AN/ laconic edge, is, yet again, the awesomest person ever, and fixed this chapter up great! Sorry for the delay - I wanted to watch the sixth movie again in my sparse free time over the last week *has terrible excuses*. Anyway, hope you enjoyed the long chapter and hopefully the next one will be sooner rather than later. Thanks again to everyone who followed or faved.