She watches her own blood spilling out on the floor in front of her, for the moment unable to rise, still gasping over that huge pain which fills her body, sliced across her back and burning through her, and she wants to raise a hand and say, stop, go back a step, this must be false. It's what she normally does when faced with things that are just too stupid to be acceptable. Smiles. Folds her arms. Flexes her hands, finger against finger, skin against skin, each joint moving as it should, the tension in fingers, the slight clicks as tendons in the wrists stretch and the socket of the hand moves on the ball of the radius and ulna, and fix it, still smiling.

Crocodile's speaking and she should listen, because this is witnessing history in a way, and if she doesn't remember deep inside her what's true and what's false, what happened and what didn't happen, then she betrays herself. Crocodile is talking to Straw Hat Luffy -- where did he come from? She missed that.

Crocodile's voice is very like Crocodile's nature, as cold and dead as sand on stone in the wind, as pitiless as the endless desert. His oases are long dry, his nature scoured and empty, his bright sharp eyes as much a lie as anything else about him. She's always known that. She's known that for four years of serving by his side, she should not be remotely surprised by his whisper of You were a brilliant partner, but the time has come to rid myself of you. She was prepared for it, wasn't she?

One vial of water (to wash your hands) and one small knife (to spill his blood).

But I'm not at all angry with you, Nico Robin. Do you know why?

Crocodile speaks to Straw Hat Luffy. Such an interesting boy -- strong, bright, clear, focused, someone she had actually enjoyed speaking to, interacting with. Crocodile's voice echoes through the collapsing tomb, like the hiss of wind that comes before the sandstorm and threads through it and rips against the skin.

All blows are permitted, Crocodile says. Nothing is forbidden. Nothing is so low that you can be soiled by it.

Which is true. Nothing is forbidden if it brings you to the truth. Baroque Works was something that she had enjoyed establishing and directing, purely for the elegance of it and the pleasure in a smoothly functioning system, but it had never been an aim in itself. Everything had been directed towards the glyphs in this collapsing tomb, just for one more step towards history and truth.

I forgive you everything, Nico Robin . . .

That stupid Marine had got in her way and she had removed her. Due warning, then action. The deep sickening rip of tendons and a scream choked back and it was her own fault anyhow for not moving when she had asked her, warned her. The stupid people of this country busy tearing each other to shreds in the city and in front of the palace and about to die in any case, and who asked them to believe her or her agents? Had she made them stupid?

Her blood mingles with the dust that is drifting down from the ceiling, shaken down by the fragmenting roof, by the fight (boys, boys, why must you fight like this, really, this is too fatiguing, I will walk away and leave you to it) and yet again she is seized by the thought that this is all a complicated dream, because really, this is not supposed to happen.

She wouldn't be so stupid as to go up against Crocodile with only a vial of water and a knife, after all.

She wouldn't be in a position where he was going to kill her. She wouldn't have let it happen. Only stupid people keep on walking down a path where the end is so very brutally obvious, where she knew what he was like, she knew so well, all those times at his table where he would smile and she would smile and the crocodiles below ate what he gave them. Risk is risk, but only stupid people actually choose the doorway marked Certain Death rather than the one marked VIP Lounge.

Only stupid people allow themselves to be killed.

. . . because I never trust anyone.

So what was the truth behind her lying on the floor like this, broken, watching her own blood and listening to the roof falling down upon all of them? There has to be a truth to it somewhere. Historians and archaeologists agree that everything has reasons, that there's a start and an end and factors in between, and that when you put them all together, you get a story, and if you get it right, then that story is true, true history, and if there's any constant in an unstable stupid universe, then that single pin of truth that goes through its heart is that constant.

A vial of water and a knife and the words that told him she was no longer any use to him. Weapons that could not possibly have succeeded (for she knew him if anyone did, she knew his speed and his strength and the cold sandstone of his flesh, as cold as the desert at night, where the wind goes walking alone and the stars are pitiless) and words that would provoke him to action.

What was the truth behind that? That she'd wanted to finish it? That somewhere where she wasn't prepared to look, wasn't prepared to acknowledge, she'd chosen what was coming? That the petty acts of rebellion, the choices to save lives rather than end them, had actually meant something rather than being mere frivolity?

There's no water in here now. Only sand and air and blood.

Was it true that she'd known what would happen when death opened its jaws for her, and had been waiting for it?


That would be stupid.