"Why come to me?" he asks, and Nami, comfortably settled against his side and considering drifting to sleep for the few hours until dawn, sits up instead and looks down at him. Sometimes Zoro won't look her in the face, but he meets her eyes now, and he's asking what he's never asked before, and for the first time Nami wonders if she's made a mistake.
She's made enough others in her lifetime to recognize her screw-ups, but this never felt like one. Maybe for a moment the first time she approached him, before they had even crossed into the Grand Line. She had tired of waking from nightmares of Arlong Park with her throat raw from shouting; if she was going to cry out, she at least wanted to hear it.
He had been on the quarterdeck, "on watch," which Zoro defined as a long nap, but a good kick in the ribs woke him out of that, and she took advantage of him being supine on the deck boards to straddle him, took his head in her hands and pushed her tongue into his mouth. So there could be no question.
For one brief moment then, she had wondered if he hadn't just been repressing himself all this time, if he honestly wasn't interested--maybe not interested in her entire sex. Or sex at all. Maybe he'd had an accident in his youth that he didn't like to talk about. Swordfighting was a dangerous sport, after all.
But it turned out all right, that night, and all the various nights that have followed. And the mornings after are always the same, no different from any other mornings, the days the same as all days. She always returns to her cabin before sunrise; sometimes she'll sleep in, but sometimes she does that anyway. And Zoro takes an afternoon nap come hell or high water or hurricanes; what he gets up to during the night has nothing to do with it.
She's not sure if the others know or not, except for Chopper, and that's because she's told him. One's doctor should be aware of such things. He had blushed terribly--with his fur, that was far more amusing than it should be, especially as his nose turned downright purple--but kept the confidence absolutely. Robin must guess, given Nami's odd hours of coming and going, but has never pried. Usopp and Luffy probably don't think about things like that, but she honestly isn't sure. The only one who Nami is certain doesn't know is Sanji, because Sanji has never challenged Zoro to a duel to the death about it.
Which is why it never could be Sanji, because after he had dishonored her, or deflowered her, or somesuch, he would be bound to insist on the honorable course of marriage. Naturally she could refuse his hand and he wouldn't bat an eye, but all the same it would break his heart.
Even if it wouldn't be deflowering, obviously. She sailed plenty of seas before joining this crew. Sometimes sex is the best way into the cabins where the most expensive jewels are kept, or the best way out of a marine prison. It hadn't always been because she had to, either; she had learned to like it. Though she enjoys it more now, which might be the dues of experience, or because before she had never had the time to get to know a man's body, or let one get to know hers. Or maybe because before there had never been anything but the sex, no true feelings besides lust.
It does make her curious, what it would be like with Sanji, who is so very attentive, so very, very eager to please her however he can. Except for the problem that he obviously would have no idea what he was doing. Usopp probably would manage a better job of it, the first time, just muddling through; he is the expert at faking it. And Luffy--Luffy is made of rubber. She hardly dares imagine it.
Zoro doesn't just muddle through, not even the first time. She's never figured out if it was his first time, never asked. He'd known what do with his mouth, with his hands, with his hips. Could have just been beginner's luck. Or how much Zoro hates to lose. His hands were rough, calloused from all the hours of daily sword practice, but his touch was gentle, careful as if she were something incredibly fragile, incredibly precious. She'd never really had anyone touch her that way.
No hesitation, but caution all the same. She's never told him to rush it, never told him he doesn't have to take such care, that she won't break, because quite frankly, while all the kicks and punches she aims at him never leave a mark, she could break. Those broad hands could snap her in half like a stick of driftwood. She'd thought once that it might make it more exciting, but really in his arms it never occurs to her. He has too much control to ever hurt her, however easy it would be. The same tight mastery over his body that makes him such a skilled fighter applies elsewhere. His control never has broken, not once, even thrusting into her, even when he comes. He always is fully aware, fully focused, and the most noise that ever escapes him is a grunt.
Not that she feels like she's just another set of exercises; she has more trust in her own body than that. But Zoro never does pass up an opportunity to work out. And she likes it better this way; there's no guilt for maintaining her own restraint. Not that she fakes it, but she has to hold some of herself back. She wouldn't enjoy it as much, not if she gave herself all the way.
Sanji would give everything, and more, a hundred and ten percent of himself, even if it meant he wouldn't have anything left for all the other beautiful women who would invariably capture his heart. It wouldn't be fair for her to accept that and not to return it. And she can't, not now, not with anyone.
Maybe someday. Someday, with the right person, she might be strong enough, brave enough, foolish enough. Insane enough. Nami won't rule out the possibility. Staying on this ship is enough to drive anyone mad.
Besides, there was a time she thought she would never be able to love anyone again, and that's already been proven wrong, seven times over.
Zoro can understand that. He can't give all of himself, either, but it's different for him; it's not because he's protecting himself, but because he's already promised to someone else. Nami doesn't know who, but you can see them in his eyes sometimes. Especially those nights she comes and he pushes her away and won't meet her gaze. She's never asked twice, those nights. She knows if she did look in his eyes that she wouldn't see her own reflection, but that other's. Whoever it is that drives him onward, to become the greatest in the world, to challenge Hawkeye Mihawk's deadly swords and win.
But Zoro's been changed, too. Going mad along with her, on this ship. Every day there's a little more of him living in the present, a little less living in that remote future, that critical duel. Every time he lets Sanji pick a fight with him, or gets trampled by Usopp and Chopper playing catch; every suspicious glare he gives Robin, or night he spends with her, or laugh that Luffy wins from him, he's a little closer to them, a little further from that lethal ambition.
Nami's happy to see it. Happy to be helping, same as he helps her. She's glad she's not the only one, glad that what they do is no more important to him than any of what he shares with the others. Because it does mean something, it is important, but she never wants to be the only thing that matters to someone. To be the one someone depends on more than anyone else--she's not that strong.
Bellemere was, and Nami is amazed to think of her mother now, awed and impressed more than she ever was when growing up, when she was too small to understand the weight of her own love. For all the places she's gone since, all the people she's encountered, she's only met one other strong enough to bear it, strong enough to love and be loved unconditionally and completely, and never falter under it.
Maybe that's why it works out so well between her and Zoro, because they both understand that. They both know there is someone who means more, someone for whom they would give their lives and their dreams and everything--except Luffy would never allow them to do that, is strong enough to stop them, and that's why they can afford to try.
Nami thinks she and Zoro might understand this better than any of them. Except perhaps Robin; she never quite can tell what Robin knows or thinks. She wants to; Robin is possibly the most beautiful person Nami has ever seen, poised and elegant, mature and brilliant and everything Nami would like to be someday, but she's hurt, deep inside. Looking at Robin, Nami can almost see herself in ten years' time, the self she would have become, under Arlong, if Luffy hadn't found her, saved her. But Luffy's found Robin now, and it's not too late, Nami believes.
Zoro doesn't necessarily buy that, but Nami hasn't tried too hard to convince him. He trusts Robin anyway, because Luffy does. That's good enough for now. Talking to Zoro can often be analogous to lecturing a brick wall, with about as much purpose. She's got better things to do during the day. And their nights aren't for discussion, not for that sort of intercourse.
She knows Zoro likes the sex as much as she does, because Zoro doesn't do what he doesn't want to, and there's no other reason for him to do this, except that he wants to. The times he says no, he never apologizes for it.
In all the nights since the first, he's never once come to her, and Nami likes that, that he doesn't ever need her. But some nights when she climbs up on deck he's already awake, watching her with open eyes as she emerges from her cabin in the moonlight, and she likes that, too, to see him waiting.
Maybe it's because Zoro realizes that sex isn't the significant thing between them. That what's there is more important than sex, more important than a stolen kiss or a love letter or some other romantic gesture. Because Zoro doesn't need sex; Zoro doesn't make gestures; Zoro never states his feelings in words, night or day, not to her, or any of them. But he's always right there with his swords if any of them need protection; precious as his own dream is, his life is, he'll risk it in a heartbeat, for any of their sakes.
He owes her quite a bit of money by now; being continuously broke means he continuously racks up debt. He's never once suggested that he's paying her off when she comes to him, not even as a joke. It might never have even crossed his mind.
Maybe it's just because the sex really is that good. There's something to all that napping after all. That she had guessed right from the start. Zoro's stamina in battle is pretty damn incredible. It is elsewhere, too. Maybe she doesn't need any more reason than that.
Maybe it's because he's never asked her, never requested that she think about it, or try to put it into words. But now he has asked, and she doesn't know what answer he wants to hear, doesn't know what answer she wants to give him. Doesn't know what answer is the truth, either.
If it matters to him enough to ask, when Zoro as a rule doesn't question anything, living each day as it comes... Words don't matter much to Zoro, usually. But Nami doesn't know how to use a sword. Her strength is in her mind, in striving to understand what she feels, as she interprets the swell of the waves and the vagaries of the wind. Though this is more difficult navigation, and maybe more important.
If the truth would hurt, or a lie, she doesn't know, but she doesn't want to hurt him. This is what friendship is; this is what love is, when someone else's happiness makes you happy, when someone else's pain hurts you. It's so simple, so obvious, but she didn't think she truly understood it before, not until she was sailing on this ship. And he's part of this ship, part of the crew, part of everything that means something to her now, and maybe she should end this now, but she doesn't want to. She likes it.
"Zoro," she says, quietly, "why do you..."
And then he interrupts her. With a snore loud enough to rattle the mast.
"Why do you ask and THEN NOT WAIT FOR THE ANSWER, JERK!" she yells, and clonks him on the head with her fist, which isn't enough to wake him, though he snuffles irritably in his sleep and rolls over on his side, away from her.
Nami stands up in the crow's nest and pulls on her nightshirt, shaking her head. Now that she thinks about it, she recalls that Usopp had an involved discussion with Zoro yesterday morning. At the time she hadn't thought anything of it; Usopp can engage anything in conversation, even brick walls, and it had been a couple weeks since she had had the time or inclination to keep Zoro company on watch, so she hadn't suspected it could be related. Unless of course Usopp does know, and maybe was wondering if something was wrong, because it had been a while. And maybe he had asked Zoro, and Zoro doesn't bother thinking of answers when he can simply pass the question on...
Well, if Usopp really wants to know, he can ask her himself--she might even answer him. Usopp would enjoy hearing ship's gossip, and he's fun to talk with; he appreciates the strength of words. She's taken the time to chart the course now anyway; maybe it wouldn't hurt to travel it.
Usopp, and Chopper, she might even tell what she wouldn't tell Sanji, because he'd take it all wrong; or Robin, because Nami doesn't know her well enough yet; or Zoro or Luffy, because they never listen anyway. But Nami would like to say it aloud to someone at least once. Just to be sure she can.
Now, though, she's going back to bed. Best to be well rested tomorrow. It'll probably be a busy day. They usually are.
As she puts her second foot on the rungs, Zoro rolls back over. "G'night," he mutters, without opening his eyes.
Technically he's still on watch, but it's a quiet night, and he'll wake up if they need him. Nami smiles, leans over and pecks a kiss into his bristling green hair. "Sweet dreams," she says, and keeps climbing down.