Floor 24: Robin's Decision
No one spoke a word as they quickly left the floor below them and raced up the dark staircase—Franky leading the way with his nipple lights. These stairs were longer than the others before them, and with every step they took, it felt like there was some sensation of dread growing the higher up they went.
"What if the flood rushes up to catch up with us?" Chopper asked worriedly, looking back as if to make sure he couldn't see the water lapping at their heels. He was still wet from their last dip into the ocean and shook out his fur as Nami glanced back as well—clearly just as nervous.
"I don't know, Chopper," she answered honestly, hoping that the water wouldn't rise fast enough to trap them again. "But I say that we hurry through these floors as fast as we can and get to the top."
No one disagreed with that… the fun having long since faded and everyone, even Luffy, wanted nothing more than to get out of here. But with the walls seemingly unbreakable, they had no choice but to play by whatever rules were in place here and see if they could not escape when they reached the top. If not… then they would have to start getting creative.
"You know, if we can get that so-called dragon to come out and fight us, we may have a better chance at getting out of here," Sanji said, trying to dry out his lighter so that he could light another cigarette to calm his nerves.
Usopp, Franky, and Chopper—some more fearful than others—all cried out in agreement at that… but that was when he realized that both Luffy and MossHead were being surprisingly quiet. In fact, when he looked back, despite the low light, he could see their dour faces. After glancing at the others, who were now listening to Robin as she went over the warning from the front door again, hoping to find some sort of clue, he drew back just slightly so that he could speak with Zoro at the end of the line.
"What else happened down there?" he asked. When he felt Zoro looking at him he sighed and added, "I doubt that it wasn't just almost drowning that's causing Luffy to be so quiet for once. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy breaks from him from time to time, but seriously… what happened?"
Zoro looked at him out of the corner of his eye and sighed, as he told him, "We saw more memories… what happened with me and Kuma."
Sanji's eyes widen and he quickly had to hold back his gasp, stopping dead in his tracks for a moment before he snapped out of it.
"He saw everything?" he croaked back, jumping back up so that he could continue to question him.
"Everything," Zoro answered back, his eyes now clouded over so it was impossible to tell what he was thinking. "There wasn't anything I could do. I tried talking to him about it, but I don't think he's happy."
"Understatement," Sanji said as he looked up to see the back of their captain's red shirt as he climbed with the others a ways ahead of them. "I can't imagine he took the news well."
"Let's just say he took it about as well as can be expected," Zoro muttered darkly. "I know that we're going to be having a long talk with him once we get out of here, and I'm trying to think of something that could help explain it in a way that rubber-brain of his will understand."
"Crap, now he knows about me too?" Sanji asked slowly, dreading the answer.
"Yeah, I should probably warn you that he's going to be pissed with you as well," Zoro informed him.
"Great…" Sanji hissed back. "Right, we are going to have to come up with something. Any ideas?"
He then looked over him and added, "Nah, don't know why I'd ask someone who looks like they have moss growing on their head from lack of use, for ideas."
"You just keep digging your grave, cook," he growled back when he heard another door opening and knew they had to have reached the next floor. "But seriously, I don't think that Luffy is going to let this go."
"And I don't expect him to, but again, we can worry after we all get out of this place," Sanji muttered, "Hopefully, wherever we go next will be enough to distract him for the time being."
They stepped up into the room, finding it as dark as ever, and as soon as they walked in and the doors shut behind them did the memory take shape. Everyone let out sighs of relief to be back in the open air and at sea again—even if it was no different than a dream. But after those darker memories of being stuck on Thriller Bark, some bright sunshine and open waves did much to cheer them up.
But they weren't upon the Thousand Sunny this time. Usopp was the first to gasp when he recognized where they were… or rather, what they were all standing on.
"It's… It's… IT'S MERRY!" he cried out in joy.
And he was right, for to their disbelief, everyone was standing on board the Merry once again. And at the realization, they all let out excited cries of delight and surprise. Luffy, who missed the memories before where they got a chance to ride Merry once again, broke down crying when he saw their battered ship that was just patched together in pieces.
Chopper was also bawling, along with Usopp, as they cried out Merry's name and wanted to run up to hug the mast—which they duly did so despite the fact they couldn't really touch it.
"Oh, I never thought that we would get to ride on Merry again, but to think that twice already we got to do it!" present-day Usopp cried as their memory selves were soon spotted coming out onto the deck as they enjoyed the hot weather.
"I know, I mean, I love Sunny! But I also love the Merry," Chopper sobbed out, wishing that he could be able to really give Merry a hug this time around.
"Oh wow!" Luffy cried out excitedly as he spotted Merry's head—or his old favorite spot—and ran right up to it and jumped on. "Hey look guys! I'm riding on Merry's head again!"
"Wow! Can I ride to?!" Chopper cried.
"No way! This is the captain's spot!" Luffy cried, but Usopp and Chopper ran up to join him anyway. Soon they were all laughing and rolling about—until they ended up rolling right off the edge and to the water below.
"Luffy! Usopp! Chopper!" Nami cried out instinctively before Usopp called up, "We're ok! The water doesn't affect us here, remember?!"
"Right, if only that happened in real life," Sanji muttered and soon they were laughing.
"Seriously, can't you guys stop joking about?" Nami called before she yelled in anger, "You three get up here! Don't make me come down there!"
"Yes, ma'am!" she heard them cry out in fear, as she sighed irritably and looked around. She couldn't deny that she couldn't help but smile at the idea of riding Merry once again, but they had to stay focused. But when she saw her past self enjoying herself a drink on deck as she checked her old Log Pose, she couldn't help but be distracted at how cute her hair used to look back then.
The memories were all memories that they had seen before—at least when they were diving down just Luffy's memories at least. They quickly found out where they stood in the memories when they saw the memory versions of Usopp and Chopper laughing at Luffy as he pretended to be 'frozen' but splashing flour on him and froze in his place.
"Oh! I know this!" present-day Nami gasped out as Usopp pulled the present-day Chopper and Luffy up with him onto the deck. "This was just after we ran into Aokji and before we headed off to Water 7!"
"OWW! Does this mean that I get to see home again?!" Franky cried out excitedly, already striking a pose. "Oh happy day!"
"Y-Yeah… happy…" Usopp gulped as those more painful memories were quickly coming back to him and his happiness faded greatly as he knew what was going to be coming. Soon enough though, memory Zoro spotted and warned the crew of the fact that there was some giant frog doing the front crawl right off the side.
"Yokozuna!" Franky cried out in joy as he was the first to run to the side and peered around. Sure enough, there was the battle-scarred frog doing the front crawl, which got everyone's attention. Luffy, of course, wanted to go out and catch him for dinner and they broke out the paddles.
"Bro, you know that I love you guys, but if I ever found out that you ate one of my old pals, I'd have to kill you," Franky warned him, as present-day Luffy finally grinned again, bringing relief to Zoro and Sanji at the sight of it.
"Good thing he has such a short attention-span," Sanji whispered to Zoro before he spoke up and informed them all in a louder voice, "Too bad, it turns out that if you cook it right, frog tastes just like chicken."
Zoro only nodded back, glad to have some sort of distraction for Luffy. He knew that this discussion was far from over, but he had to stay quiet for the time being, not wanting the others to find out about this if he could help it. He didn't suppose if he hit Luffy hard enough in the head it would cause him to forget, would it?
Soon enough, the memories led up to them arrive at the station, to where they were almost hit by the Puffing Tom—where Franky cried out ecstatically at the sight of it. After they managed to get off the tracks in time, they turned in time to see Yokozuna face off against it—only to lose. After that, they were introduced to old lady Kokoro, Chimney, and Gonbe when they heard the noise outside. Of course, any fear that they had that they were pirates who may be there to rob them was drowned out when Kokoro stumbled out of the station, drunk.
"Is she ever not drunk?" Nami couldn't help but sigh, knowing that this wasn't the best first impression of someone who would end up saving their lives just a few days later.
"Well, she did like a stiff one back when I was a kid," Franky confessed with a grin, "But she started drinking a lot more after… later on."
He couldn't bring himself to mention Tom at the moment. But he always suspected that part of the reason that Kokoro's drinking increased was because of the role he had in Tom's death.
Still, she was sober enough to be able to talk to them and even enjoying some food that Sanji shared with them, as an apology for startling them. That was when they began to make proper introductions and were having a great conversation. As soon as memory Luffy said that he was going to be the future King of the Pirates, Kokoro began to laugh, liking them right away. That was when she explained all about the Sea Train and how the tracks that it traveled on stretched to all the islands in this area.
After learning where their log pose was heading, Kokoro told them of Water 7 and the shipyards there, which got them all excited at the idea of finally getting the repairs that the Merry so desperately needed.
After Kokoro gave them a message to take to Iceburg, she promised that she would be meeting them in Water 7 soon and that she would treat them to a drink to some of her favorite drinking spots.
"Hah! Any spot she can drink is a good drinking spot for her," Franky laughed out as they thanked her and set sail.
The trip there was surprisingly quick, and they all cheered when they saw the beauty of Water 7 once again. Indeed, at the sight of his home, Franky broke down all over again, all too happy to get a good look at where he came from. The rest of the trip was the usual antics of the crew as they ran around, laughing and getting ready for their trip to the shore. After being directed to a small part of the island where pirates like them could dock without causing any trouble, they came across their first sign that Merry wasn't doing so good. As memory Zoro pulled the rope to pull the sails, the ship cracked apart, scaring them all.
"Yeah, you guys should have guessed at this point that she was just barely holding herself together," Franky sighed at the sight as they were all yelling at memory Zoro, who tried to explain that he was just pulling on the rope like he always did.
"Though, knowing how crazy strong you are, is it that hard to think that you could have accidently broke it?" present-day Nami asked.
"Hey, I can control my strength," he countered as the anchor dropped. "Really, that mast was close to snapping anyway. If she was falling apart that easily, we were lucky that we made it there at all."
"You shouldn't have made it there with the shape that she was in," Franky added with a sigh. "But then again, that would be the case if it turned out that she was any other ship."
Once the mast was back in place—at least, as best as they could make it—it was decided that memory Zoro would watch the ship and the rest of them would head to town. Memory Robin and Chopper decided to check out some bookstores, and memory Sanji volunteered to go and gather some supplies since they were running low on food. Which left the memory versions of Luffy, Nami, and Usopp to head in for the shipyards to find Iceburg.
It was a lot of fun to watch themselves—able to pretend not to remember what was going to be coming for them right after it all. From realizing that Merry couldn't be fixed… to everyone that happened at Enies Lobby… they all knew their past selves were in for a rough time. They all knew what was coming—but they were all determined to find something cheerful to think about as they pointed out all the little details about Water 7 that they missed the first time around.
Indeed, Franky was more than happy to take charge as a sort of tour guide and point them around some of the best places to go in Water 7, as well as some of his favorite old haunts.
"I've been meaning to ask, Franky-san," Brook asked suddenly, "Why do they call this place Water 7? What does the 7 stand for?"
"Huh? Oh, that," Franky laughed, "There are 7 different water entries into the city. And the water part is kinda obvious."
"I have to say, out of all the islands that we've been too so far, Water 7 is probably one of the most impressive," Nami said, gazing up at the fountain-like structure at the top.
"Well, we try," Franky said proudly, unable to stop grinning as he stared up at it, now hardly able to wait to see his bros and little sisters again. He supposed that he could stand to be in this freaky tower a little longer just for this.
Nothing really big happened for some time as they walked through the memories, mostly of Usopp, Nami, and Luffy's first look around the city as they prepared to sell their gold from Skypiea. When they arrived at the docks for Galley-La, it was here that they were first introduced to Iceburg, Kalifa, Kaku and Paulie—who tried to make off with the Straw Hats money after a few members of the Franky Family—which caused Franky to break down sobbing at the sight—robbed from them.
When Rob Lucci returned with Paulie and the money, it was with no small amount of loathing. Even though he was dragging Paulie by his ear, and had his pigeon talking for him, they all felt shivers going through their spines as they realized just what a cold-hearted killer this guy truly was. Was he already plotting the death of the man next to them at this moment?
Soon though, they followed the memories as Iceburg sent Kaku off to check the state of the repairs for the Merry before he began to show them around the work sight. Soon enough, when memory Usopp strayed away from them to get a good look at the cannons, did a few other members of the Franky Family appear behind him.
Present-day Usopp couldn't bear to look when they grabbed him from behind, quickly gagging and hauling him away before he could cry out to Luffy and Nami for help.
"Don't look back," Zoro said to their Usopp as tears were already beginning to fall from and he was struggling to hold back his sorrow that this was leading up to the reckless decision to leave the crew. Though he felt he was doing the right thing at the time in staying with Merry, he also knew that it was mostly through his own insecurities and feelings of uselessness that caused him to say those terrible things to Luffy.
It was as if a dark cloud hung over them all as they watched Kaku returning to them and giving them the hard truth that the Merry was too badly damaged to be repaired and they strongly recommended that they get a new ship.
Of course, the memory versions of Luffy and Nami were furious at this and didn't want to accept it. But after a few harsh words from Iceburg, Luffy's stubbornness faded as if he had been slapped.
"It's a hard thing to accept, but when it comes to matters like this, if even the best shipwrights in the world couldn't fix her…?" Sanji sighed.
"But they weren't really shipwrights," Chopper couldn't help but whimper as he rubbed at his eyes. "I mean, they worked with them and everything, but they were spies…?"
"Yeah, but even I have to admit that they knew what they were doing," Franky confirmed with a sigh. "They were some of the best shipwrights that Water 7 and Galley-La had. Whatever else they were, I hate to say it, but they were telling you guys the truth. I can confirm it when I got a look at Merry later on."
"When did you have a look at her?" Nami asked in surprised, but there was no time for Franky to be able to answer her, the memory faded and suddenly they were on the streets of Water 7 once again. Only now, they were the memory versions of Robin and Chopper.
"What's this memory?" Luffy asked curiously, not seeing why this was important. But Chopper and Robin certainly did. This was when they were heading to two to find a bookshop… right before Robin was…?
Chopper turned to them and quickly told them this as present-day Robin watched her past self enjoying talking with memory Chopper. Memory Chopper talked excitedly about the new books he wanted to get for himself and was asking her all about what she was going to get… at least until a Yagara came swimming along with a large barge attached to its back, full of people dressed in fancy cloaks and dresses with rather blank masks on their faces.
This freaked memory Chopper out, at least until memory Robin reassured him that she heard that there was supposed to be some sort of masquerade taking place in one of the nearby islands and that she heard the people talking about it as they walked up here.
"Don't know why anyone would want to wear stuff like that, to be honest," Zoro said, shivering at the idea of wearing such an outfit.
"You know though, it would have been a good time to go and have some fun without worrying about being recognized," Nami offered, thinking of what sort of place that this party was going to take place at.
"You seem tense, Robin-san?" Brook asked their Robin, who blinked, realizing that she had stopped walking for a moment.
"Sorry," she said, gulping slightly. "It's just that… this memory isn't one of my better ones?"
They were now curious to this, even more so when Chopper cried out and jumped into her arms to hug her tightly. She just smiled and rubbed his back as she carried him the rest of the way as she watched their past selves were talking. As soon as memory Chopper praised her skills, telling her how amazing she was to be able to pick up the conversations of the people they passed. But memory Robin just shook her head, not wishing to discuss anything else at the moment.
But then when she pointed out that they reached the bookstore, memory Chopper gasped out in excitement and ran so fast that he was a blur. Nearby people were watching with wide eyes as Chopper stopped in front of the store, crying out that she should hurry up so that they could go in together.
In fact, he looked so eager that it reminded one of a dog who was promised a walk and he was almost drooling at the thought of being able to look through some of the books.
"Wow, Chopper, I didn't think that you would be so eager to look at some books," Luffy said.
"Are you kidding? I love reading!" present-day Chopper said, "And I already read all my medical books on the Merry and I was looking for something new. To be a good doctor, who need to keep up with the rest of the world and always be on the lookout for new breakthroughs and techniques!"
"Besides, reading is a lot of fun," present-day Robin agreed with a smile. "Remind me to plan a trip to the bookstore to make up for what happened here," she added to Chopper, who looked up with bright eyes.
"Really?!" he asked excitedly.
"Whoa, wait, what happened here?" Usopp asked in confusion.
Rather than answer, they both looked on ahead as memory Robin chuckled at Chopper's eagerness and followed. But as she did so, a man, taller than she was, strolled right passed her. At first, he looked like he had just gotten off that ship with all those other people who were heading to their celebration. He wearing a white and orange checkered cloak with necklaces of beads. While on his face, he wore a female mask that was delicately painted, and had a main of fake hair attached so that no one could see any part of him.
Memory Robin didn't pay any attention to him as she walked on… at least, until the second that they passed by each other, she heard him whisper, "CP9."
At that one phrase, memory Robin stopped dead in her tracks. A light wind swept up between them and her hair blew about her face as they watched the shock settling in.
The masked man didn't even pause as he continued on ahead, leaving Robin—who remained frozen I place.
"Robin!" memory Chopper called back, not even noticing her strange behavior, "I'm going in!"
But as he walked in, memory Robin turned her head, observing the masked man leaving her. Then, before he was out of her sights, she began to follow.
"Robin! Why are you following him?" Usopp demanded, "You had to have known that guy was bad news!"
"I did," present-day Robin confirmed as they also began to follow after her memory self. "But the fact is that I knew who they were and I needed to know what they wanted from me. Even if I tried to run away, they only would have given chase, and by that point, they may have been less likely to want to talk then."
Not only that, but she also knew that she wanted to talk with them away from Chopper before they realized her growing attachment to him and the others. If she was going to meet with them, she rather they be under her terms, instead of theirs.
They followed after her memory self as she followed after the CP9 agent, who had turned a corner and then another. Memory Robin only silently followed after him until she caught up and was able to speak with the man as they walked.
"I'm impressed that you understood so quickly," the man said to her quietly, a slight chuckle escaping from his voice.
"Do you know who it is, Franky?" Sanji asked their shipwright, who was trying to make it out.
"Hard to tell with that mask," he grumbled in annoyance, "But since we already saw the other members at the shipyard, I think that it can only be Blueno."
"Blueno? You mean that bull-headed guy?" Luffy asked as he struggled to think back.
"Yeah, it has to be him," Franky confirmed as they continued walking the streets, still outraged that someone he thought he knew so well would have turned out to be some of the worst scum on this earth. And to think that he used to complain to this guy about his problems or even bought some cola from him that he would turn around and share. To think that it could have been laced with poison or something?
"There is no need to get anyone else involved in this," memory Robin replied coolly, not looking amused.
"Now, now," Blueno said calmly, "There is no need to get upset. We just wish a word with you. Nothing else."
"Why should I listen to a word you have to say?" memory Robin whispered softly as Blueno observed her silently for a moment.
"You could always run," he told her seriously. "But know that we would be after you the second you tried. I'm sure that you have a decent chance of escaping, having been running for most of your life… but know that we were charged with the task of bringing you in. so long as you are wanted by the World Government, then we will continue to hunt you to the depths of hell."
Memory Robin glared back coldly, but they could see that her hands were shaking slightly. She knew that she was in a tight situation right now.
"Besides," Blueno added coolly, "Where else would you go?"
Memory Robin's face was as stoic as ever. But they all saw how her eyes narrowed dangerously.
"That rotten bastard," Sanji growled, aching to kick this guy so hard that he'd never be able to walk again. "If only I could have fought him back at Enies Lobby. Who took him out again?"
"Me," Luffy growled, also looking angry as he cracked his knuckles. "I wish I hit him harder."
"Oh, you gave him a firm beating," Nami said in approval. "He won't be so smug for much longer…"
And soon everyone was voicing their hatred for Blueno as well as trying to defend Robin's memory self. The only one who remained silent was the present-day Robin, who watched on as if seeing it from the other end of a long tunnel. She shut her eyes as she remembered how she walked that street… how she heard that one phrase that she dreaded.
He had said it so quietly that she was amazed that her ears even picked up on the noise over the bustle of the street. But she knew that she was stuck… that her past had caught up to her at long last. She stood there rooted to the spot, unable to answer even as Chopper called out to her. When she first joined the Straw Hats, she did so out of necessity… she had nowhere else to go and decided to take her chances with them—use them as she had used countless others in the past to survive. Once it became too difficult, she would run… like she always did.
She knew that day would come, though she wasn't sure why she was surprised that it had come so soon. She understood the reason that they were able to hunt her down so quickly… after failing to find her in Alabasta, they knew that she had to have stowed away on board with the Straw Hats… and all they had to do was follow after them.
She could remember how it felt… how she knew that she was out of options at this point. How her lungs were suddenly starved of air and as if a spiked mace was rammed into her chest… her mind began to race with all of her possible options.
But, to her astonishment, instead of thinking of how best she could escape, all that went through her mind was how she could protect her friends and to ensure that they had nothing to do with her anymore. As soon as she realized that, she realized that she had enough of running. The world may consider her evil and that she had no right to live… and maybe they were correct, but she wasn't going to let that evil destroy the peaceful, wonderful world that she came to cherish.
So, when Chopper hadn't been looking, she turned and began to follow after her soon-to-be captor.
The Straw Hats followed after her memory self, but she had no desire to really focus on their words as they asked her why she was following him. In truth, she didn't know how to answer them. They had roamed over half the city, heading to more of the deserted part.
"Hey, I know this area," Franky said as he looked around. "This is where more of the rougher sorts lurk about. Or at least it was before I came along and pretty much took charge. A perfect place to have a meeting in secret though, not too many people in this part of town, I'll give those bastards that."
"Which is exactly what they wanted," the real Robin answered as they turned down another street, still following the two silent figures in front of them. "He wanted to make sure that we were somewhere else where we wouldn't be overheard by you or anyone."
"What I don't get though is why they wanted you to frame us for killing Iceburg," Nami frowned.
"Because they knew they would be leaving," real Robin answered back. "Remember, their faces were well known throughout the city and it would look suspicious if all five of them disappeared at once without a reasonable explanation."
"So they were hoping to use you guys as some kind of distraction, or even as an excuse," Franky said in understanding. "Maybe even look like you guys killed them in the attempt to escape, if nothing else."
"I don't get it. Why not just grab Robin now while they had her and leave?" Usopp asked in confusion.
"Because they still didn't have the blueprints," Franky answered back. "Remember, the reason they went undercover in the first place was to get close to Iceburg. They thought that he had the blueprints for that ancient weapon—whereas the ones he had were fakes. They never once thought that he would have passed them onto a scoundrel like me. At this point though, they didn't know anything about that, or how to get them. But I guess when you guys came to town and they reported it back to the government, they were ordered to grab them both. You know, kill two birds with one stone."
"I would say that you are right on the mark, Franky," Robin confirmed for him. "I think that they were planning on staying in Water 7, at least for a few more months before they made a move. Iceburg was always on the lookout, it would seem."
"Yeah, I'll give you that," Franky answered as he thought of that stubborn son-of-a-bitch and smirked proudly. As much as he gave the guy grief in the past, he couldn't imagine anyone else in charge of Water 7. He remembered when he discovered that he had built the second Sea Train… the Puffing Ice… well, when he next returned, he would be sure to build a Puffing Franky… or something even cooler. He was already going over in his mind just how badass the thing was going to look when he was done.
Meanwhile, they had followed Blueno and memory Robin all the way down a random alley.
"Okay, this will do," Blueno's voice said and they watched as he raised his hand. "Door-Door…"
And they watched in awe as a large doorway appeared in front of them.
"Come," Blueno said, no hint of a suggestion in his voice and memory Robin followed after silently.
"Robin!" Chopper cried, staring up at her, unable to find anything else to say that they haven't already said before.
"I know it was dangerous," present-day Robin answered as they followed through the door behind them, "But at the time, I felt that I had little choice."
"Damn, if I find out that they hurt you at all here, Robin…" Sanji warned furiously as he glared around. He was a little taken aback—having expected some sort of prison or something similar. Instead, they were in a well-furbished warehouse. There was a table set up with several chairs on either side of it.
And that was when they noticed several shadows watching from around the warehouse—as if they were guards to prevent her from escaping. Memory Robin's eyes narrowed as they quickly gave a sweep of the warehouse before Blueno took a seat at one end of the table. Still calm and cold as ever, memory Robin slowly walked to the second chair and sat down, leaving her back leaning up against the leg of her chair as she leaned back. She folded her hands and crossed her legs as she observed him, as if she had not a fear in the world, and was actually willing to hear what he had to say.
"I must say, Robin-chan," Brook whispered as he watched with silent awe at how completely unruffled that the Robin in the memory was acting, "You truly are something else."
"Well, we all know that!" Chopper said as he, Luffy, Usopp, Sanji, and Nami all cheered at that.
"I only wish that I could have caught up to you guys so that I could have gone with you, my dear Robin," Sanji sighed out, feeling that he failed her by not being here when she needed him.
"Don't be," present-day Robin said softly. "This was my choice, and at the time… I felt that this was for the best."
She then looked back as the two in the memory observed the other—the other members of CP9 all watching from the shadows.
"I must say, I am impressed that you chose to follow me," Blueno said as he removed his mask to reveal his face and his horn-like hair. He set the mask down in front of them as he folded his arms. "I can't tell if it was through pure courage, or through recklessness that drove you to come here."
"I suppose I've had a bad influence when it comes to recklessness as of late," memory Robin said, a hint of a smile tugging at her mouth.
"Huh? What do you mean by a bad influence?" Luffy questioned as the rest of the crew just looked at him, as if unable to believe that he really just said that.
"Either way, you are here and so I hope that you will be willing to hear us out," Blueno said, all business-like. When memory Robin didn't say a word, he went on to explain, "I must say, when we discovered that you had arrived here in the presence of the Straw Hat pirates, it surprised us all. And when we reported it back to our superiors, you should have heard how delighted they were. As such, we all feel that our time in Water 7 will soon be drawing to a close."
Franky spat out furiously at that. "Yeah," he growled, "Spent five years in this city only to leave it now? Damn bastards, makes me wish they left sooner… or better yet, never came at all."
"Here, here," Usopp nodded, still unable to forgive them for what they did to them before.
"And what is it that you want?" memory Robin asked, ice now in her voice.
"What I want is simple," Blueno answered, "You know who we are and just how powerful we can be. All those stories that I am certain you've heard of CP9 during your time in the underworld? All true."
"I'm sure they are," memory Robin answered, and she seemed to be growing agitated that he was dancing around the subject. "But that doesn't explain what you want from me."
"Now you must know that this game of cat and mouse with you and the World Government can go on for as long as necessary," Blueno said lightly. "Which is why I am here now."
"What do you want?" memory Robin cut in, now getting straight to the heart of the matter, no longer wanting to sit here and be explained things like she was a child. The Straw Hats could hear the shortness in her tone and knew that she was close to losing her temper—something that she so rarely ever did.
"To make a long story short… we ask that you turn yourself over to CP9, as well as to aid us in acquiring certain—documents from Iceburg, the major of Water 7," Blueno informed her.
There was nothing but silence from either side as they saw how memory Robin's eyes narrowed dangerously as she asked, "And yet… if I were to refuse?"
Blueno was silent as another voice spoke up… this time speaking from the shadows like a purr. They all knew who it was as the voice of Rob Lucci said, "We met with some of your crew members a short while ago… and we know where they are now."
Memory Robin didn't lose her composure, but it was a narrow thing. They could see how her eyes widened a fraction of an inch and a single bead of sweat fell from her brow.
"Cowards," Nami growled, her hand twitching to give this guy a good smack for how he was treating her best friend like this.
"And to think I used to tip that guy whenever I went to his bar," Franky said, shaking his head in disgust. "I never would have thought he has such a cruel, evil streak in him like this?"
"The best lairs are those who can cover their true selves," Zoro said, glancing over at Usopp and added, "If only all people were as easy to read as you were."
"Yeah, if only they all were… HEY!" Usopp snapped at him, "You jerk! I may not lie as much as I used to, but that's no excuse to be rude!"
"You know better than anyone what the government is capable of doing," Blueno went on calmly, but noticing that he got memory Robin's attention. "And according to assessment of your ship, you should probably know that they are in no way to set sail. They're probably going over the idea of acquiring a new ship right now and their options. So, as of this moment, they had no other reliable way of leaving the island, at least for a few days. It shouldn't be hard in them in acquiring a new ship—either by stealing it or purchasing it before they set sail. However, we can very easily eliminate them all this very evening."
"They're just a small pirate crew who seem to be doing more good for the world than the Navy," memory Robin cut in. "I don't see why you wouldn't want them to keep sailing the sea and doing the marines job for them."
"You know, that is a good point," Nami said as she thought it over. She then gave a slight smirk at the idea of how she was out there having fun and helping to put a stop to some rotten pirates. Just like Bellemere… she was sure that her adopted mother was grinning down at her for that thought.
"Yeah, we should be on the marine's payroll with all the pirates we took out," Sanji laughed at the irony.
"Nah, after seeing the corruption at the top, I think I'll stick to being a pirate hunting pirate. I rather not risk anyone thinking that we work for the World Government," Zoro said and once he stated that fact, they all nodded in agreement.
"They haven't done anything except for sheltering a woman that is wanted by the World Government," Blueno answered back, reminding her of her current situation. "Of course, I doubt that they know too much about your past. You've only been with them for a few weeks at the least. Since, the incident at the Alabasta Kingdom and Crocodile, from what I've gathered. I will give them credit for that. But all the same, the fact that they allow someone like you on their ship makes me think that they don't know what they are dealing with. If they did, they would have thrown you off the second they had the chase."
"Why you… how dare you speak to a lady like that you bastard!" Sanji roared out and soon they were all crying out their support for Robin and what they really thought of CP9.
"You think we're scared of the World Government?!" Usopp cried as his knees trembled, "I say bring it on!"
"Here's what I think of you government dogs!" Franky cried as he held up a middle finger.
"Yeah! Let me at them! I wanna punch him!" Luffy yelled as he threw out a punch, putting some Haki into it like he thought that it would work and allow him to hit Blueno… only to pass through him and let out a few disappointed sighs behind him.
"And you are prepared to involve the Straw Hats if I don't cooperate," memory Robin told them in a way that most would think that she didn't care what happened, but they all knew her well enough to know that her protective streak was rising at the thought of any of them being pulled into danger.
"Robin!" Luffy snapped at their Robin, "Why did you try and solve this on your own? We could have helped you!"
"Yeah, Robin! We never would have allowed them to take you away even if we knew the whole story!" Chopper added, just as fiercely.
"You are right, and I'm sorry," present-day Robin said before looking back at her past self, once again marveling at how different she was now to how she was then. She remembered her own feelings from that terrible time in her life. How her rage grew as they laid out all their conditions. Whether she wanted it or not, she was dragging her friends into this… where their own mistake was to harbor a wanted woman. Still, she knew she had to be careful. So she leaned back in her chair and carefully hid how she felt.
She knew all along that her fate was to continue to run. As much as she cherished her new freedom with the Straw Hats, and the unexpected sense of peace they gave to her, she had to have known that she could never remain with them.
"If you truly do not care what happens to them, then I will have no choice but to have them all eliminated… and you should probably know… we have permission to use it," Blueno said, his voice dropping to a whisper. "We have been given authorization to use it only once… but we have the powers of the Buster Call at our disposal."
All at once, memory Robin's eyes widened in horror and she was trembling as she began to breathe hard.
"Robin-san?" Brook asked softly as they all looked to their Robin, who stared ahead. Though she felt that she could finally leave that painful part of her life behind her… she knew that she could never fully recover from the horror of the Buster Call. In her darkest dreams, her worst memories… that image would forever been engraved into her spirit. That moment where she lost everyone in a matter of hours… when her home, everyone that she knew and loved, all engulfed in flames until she was left all alone.
She didn't answer as she held back the tears—only for them to fall silently. She could feel Nami taking her hand and holding her tightly as Robin could not bear to look at them as Blueno gave his conditions to her memory self.
"Know that if you refuse what we are proposing, we will immediately go out and kill the Straw Hats," he warned her. "We desire that you turn yourself over to the World Government without a fight. Not only that, you will assist us in gaining a set of important blueprints from Iceburg. We believe that they are in his possession. Iceburg is very cautious around the World Government whenever they question him. But with his many contributions to the World Government, we can't risk word getting out that they sent assassins to kill him."
"Right, because they still feel that he was a threat to them," Franky said knowingly.
"But they could have just taken the blueprints from him even if he did have them, couldn't they?" Luffy asked angrily, "They didn't have to try and kill him."
"Well, I guess they didn't want to take any chances," Franky said with a shrug.
"That's half of the reason," present-day Robin said softly. "I think that they planned to remain in Water 7 for as long as possible and hope that Iceburg will grow to trust them to a point that he would try and pass the blueprints down to one of them. Or at least, he would trust them enough to tell them about it. Yet, again, when we came to Water 7, their plans changed. They probably didn't want to risk Iceburg telling anyone who they were. Or perhaps, they felt that it was just easier to finish the job."
"Well, if these guys are even half the killers that they're supposed to be, it wouldn't surprise me," Franky said, glad that he managed to give those guys a piece of his mind to what he really thought of them. He grinned to himself as he remembered the looks on their faces when he burned those blueprints right in front of their faces.
"We are prepared to allow the Straw Hats to leave Water 7 in one piece," Blueno went on explaining. "Their captain may have a hundred million beri bounty on his head, but we are willing to let that slide for the time being. You will help us get what we need from Iceburg and turn yourself over to us. If you agree to our terms, then I swear that when the Straw Hats leave Water 7, we will not touch them. So… what will your choice be?"
But there was no other choice for her. Maybe for the Robin she used to be, it would have been a much harder choice, but here, there was no other option that she wanted. It was the least she could do for them… to know that she did have a place to belong with them, fleeting though it was.
How could she have known that she would have grown to fall in love with this crew?
Unable to bear the thought of the crew she had grown to love so much one day betraying her and throwing her away like so many others before, she decided that if she had to die, she would rather die on her terms… not theirs. So she watched as her memory self had come to the same conclusion and nodded.
"I will do it…"
"Robin…" Nami whispered, tears already falling from her eyes as she watched the memory fade.
"I know," Robin said softly, smiling sadly. "I'm sorry for putting you all through so much… but I truly believed that I was doing the right thing. At the time."
"You better never leave us like that again!" Luffy scolded her, glaring up as she smiled back, this time a true smile.
"I promise," she said, "I won't leave the crew like that ever again."
She was now and forever a Straw Hat pirate. And no matter what anyone else said or did, she would always be proud of that. And she meant every word. History was always a treasure to her… but this small crew meant more to her than the entire world… because they were her entire world. She would have to be crazy to ever think of leaving it again.
Because when she looked around at her friends, seeing the level of love and support they gave her… she realized that despite all the pain and suffering in her life… she was incredibly lucky to find people like them in her life.
In fact, it wasn't until she met them did she feel that her life was truly beginning. Because now she was finally able to live.
(Ok, everyone. First of all, I want to apologize for taking so long to update this story. But I was going through some really tough times and the effort it took to make each chapter was more than I could take during it all. Not only that, but I was suffering through such a deep level of depression, I was beginning to think that I was never going to pull out of it. But now, things are starting to look up for me and I'm feeling a lot better than I've had for the last year or so. I will be starting off getting back to writing this story slowly. I still won't be able to update nearly as much as I used to, but I felt that this was a good place to be able to start. I don't know when I'll be able to put up the next chapter, but it won't be nearly as long as it the last time.)