Maybe it was the shock. For some reason, Luffy found his nakama all standing around the defeated octopus, staring down at it with varying degrees of puzzlement and awe on their faces, as though inspecting some Mystery Artwork that they didn't get. As far as abstract art went, Luffy couldn't imagine that octopus guts held much appeal.
"Hmm," said Nami, putting a hand on her chin. "Now this is interesting."
"That looks a lot like—" Usopp began.
"Robin," Chopper said, brows furrowed. "And Zoro. Were they in here all along?"
Luffy's head jerked up. His ears twitched; being made of rubber, this made for quite a sight.
"What, so the marimo was useless after all," Sanji sighed. "Turns out all we had to do was kill the octopus."
"ZORO?" Luffy recognized that nickname. He ran over, waving his arms in Sanji's face. "DID YOU SAY ZORO? AND ROBIN?" Sanji ignored him, so Luffy glanced into octopus for his own answer. "ZORO! ROBIN! YOU'RE BACK!"
"They look like they might be hurt. Should I get a doctor?" Chopper paused. "Oh wait, I'm the—"
"WE NEED TO GET MEAT," said Luffy urgently. "WE NEED TO HAVE A PARTY!"
"Uh, no, actually, I don't think that's our first priority," Usopp said.
"Chopper, maybe you should make sure they're all right?" Nami suggested. "They look a little pale."
"Yeah, we probably should," said Chopper, who didn't move.
"THEY'RE OKAY, AREN'T THEY?" Luffy ran over to Chopper, and stretched his neck down until he could look Chopper straight in the face. Chopper glanced at him briefly, then looked back at the ruins of the octopus.
"You know, just when we were about to attack," Nami began. "It seemed like…"
"Yeah, now that you mention it," said Sanji.
"The octopus-woman tried to move out of the way," Chopper agreed.
"But then it suddenly stopped," Usopp finished. "And all our attacks hit."
"WHO CARES?" said Luffy, running up to push his face into Usopp's.
"It's just something to think about," Usopp continued stolidly, ignoring the way Luffy's face was pressed so close it bent his long nose to the side.
"Miss Goldenweek?" Nami asked, turning to the girl in question. "Did you use your Colors Trap on the octopus?"
She shook her head. "I used it on Captain Usopp."
"Oh, did you?" Nami asked. "I think I should be yelling at you for attacking Usopp, but I'm still a little," she waved her hands vaguely at the octopus carcass, "you know."
"It was nothing like that," said Usopp, backing up from Luffy for a bit of breathing space, so to speak. "It was just a little, uh, here." He turned to show Nami his back.
"Colors Trap - Purple of Courage," Miss Goldenweek explained. "Would you like one too?"
"She doesn't need one!" Usopp interjected hurriedly. "Although… do you think there's any way to make mine stay on longer?"
Nami looked at him for a few more seconds, clearly decided that she did not have the mental facilities to deal with him right then, and turned away. "There's also the question of how the octopus got cut so cleanly down the center."
"Yes, there is that," Sanji agreed.
"We used a lot of blunt attacks," Usopp said. "I don't know what could have cut it like that."
"Miss Doublefinger?" Nami asked. "Did you do that?"
Paula shook her head. "I thought it was a better idea to piece it with my spikes."
Nami nodded. "I see."
Sanji nodded. "Yes."
They thought about this too.
"STOP!" Luffy wailed, and began to shake Usopp's shoulders. "WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU GUYS? THEY MADE IT BACK! AREN'T YOU HAPPY??"
"Luffy," Nami explained patiently, "it's different for you, since you weren't worried at all. The rest of us spent a week fearing for the worst. To find that all we had to do all along was kill the stupid octopus? Let's just say that Zoro's debt has been tripled."
Usopp, who was helping Chopper pull Robin's limp form out of the octopus, automatically shied away the sudden growl in Nami's voice, nearly dropping Robin. "She's right though," he agreed, when it seemed Nami wasn't targeting him after all. "We weren't all as confident as you were."
Sanji stopped at that, Zoro's body still slung carelessly over his shoulder, and exchanged a look of understanding with Luffy.
"Either way, let's just get these two to a comfortable spot," Chopper urged, leading the way below-deck, carrying Robin in his human form.
As Luffy watched, his nakama walked across the deck, not smiling, not rejoicing, hardly daring to believe that the worst was over. Sometimes he really didn't understand his companions; here Zoro and Robin had been returned to them from the depths of the ocean, from the pits of death itself—and for some reason they felt they couldn't afford to give a single cheer?
"But, guys?" he asked of their backs, in a forlorn sort of voice, "What about the meat?"
It was Nami who came out to find him, some time later. Luffy was sitting on the deck and playing fetch with the tank-dog. "Chopper's taking care of everything," Nami said, propping one fist on her hip. "They both seem okay, but don't you want to see them? I thought you would've been all over them by now."
"Yeah, I do," said Luffy, "but everyone else is being no fun."
"No fun?" said Nami. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"We finally got Zoro and Robin back, but everyone's just acting like it's no big deal," Luffy whined. "It's a big deal to me. We should be having a huge party. With lots of meat. But you guys aren't laughing or singing or eating meat at all."
Nami sighed. "We just want to make sure they're both okay and—well—real first, you know? We don't want to celebrate too soon and then find out it was all just a dream or something."
"Why?" said Luffy. "They're back. That means we should have a huge party. We can always have another one when they wake up, if that's what you're worried about. Sanji can always make more meat."
"No, no, it's not that." Nami muttered something under her breath, then looked upwards, as though for guidance. "How do I explain this? It's like… we don't want to get our hopes up, not before we know that they're going to be all right. It's too much of a risk."
"Zoro and Robin took a pretty big risk diving into that lake," Luffy pointed out petulantly. "Why can't you take one now and believe in them?"
"Luffy," Nami was clearly reaching the end of her patience, "Getting them back like that just… seemed too easy, okay? We're still worried."
"What do you mean, it seemed too easy? Obviously it was easy for you. Zoro and Robin did all the work."
"In case you hadn't noticed," said Nami, "we all attacked that octopus with everything we had, along with six different Officer Agents from Baroque Works. And one dog. All Zoro and Robin did was lie there, unconscious."
"Zoro and Robin were dead," Luffy insisted, "and they came back! That's a lot of work!"
"Navigator-san is right, Captain," said Robin, stepping out onto the deck. "We really couldn't have done it without all of you."
"Robin!" Luffy jumped up, all excitement again. "You're awake! Where's Zoro?"
"Swordsman-san is still asleep." Robin cast her glance about the deck, noting but tactfully not remarking on the sack of potatoes and the three painted rods leaning by them. "Oh, is that my hat?" she added, walking over to the table, unpinning her hat from the back of the chair and placing it on her head.
"Ah, well the guys were, uh, decorating," Nami stammered, suddenly awkward. "Something was missing, so we thought…"
"Thank you for keeping my things ready for me," Robin said simply, offering a grateful smile, and sat down. She picked her book up from the table, opened it to the first page, and began to read.
With an incomprehensible whoop, Luffy threw his hands up into the air and raced for the door.
"What, now you want to see them?" Nami asked.
"Now that Robin's up, they know it's all okay, right? They can be happy, right?" Luffy grinned widely. "I have to tell Sanji to make the meat now!"
He burst into the room eagerly, taking in the situation at once and deciding that the best thing to do would be to push in between Sanji and Chopper and grin down at Zoro's face, sleeping or not. He gave his swordsman a five-second appraisal before turning around with a grin.
"Okay, guys, he looks fine! Let's go eat!"
"Hang on, Luffy," Usopp protested, "Zoro just spent a week inside that octopus! We have to make sure he's all right!"
"He's fine," Luffy insisted, and beamed when Sanji left without a word to go prepare the food. "Thanks, Sanji! Hey, why's he still holding his sword?"
"Do you want to try to take it from him?" Usopp muttered darkly, "The Great Captain Usopp-sama is far too young to die."
"Oh. Okay. So Chopper," Luffy appealed to the doctor. "Zoro's fine, right?"
"Well, yes. He doesn't seem to be injured at all, except his wrist—"
"So we can have our party now!" said Luffy. "Let's go, let's go!" He herded Usopp and Chopper out of the room, to general complaint, which he of course ignored. As soon as they were out, he closed the door behind them and turned back to the bed. He checked Zoro over personally, inspecting the wrist Chopper had mentioned, lifting Zoro's shirt to make sure his rubber punch hadn't left any bruises, lifting up each eyelid—though that was mostly because he was curious. Once he was satisfied that Zoro was indeed perfectly fine, he felt his entire rubbery body relax. He let himself slide down to the floor with a long sigh and took off his hat. Holding it with both hands, he stared into it as he started to talk.
"Chopper said I killed you," he confided quietly, with words not meant for anyone's hearing, much less Zoro's. "Before he told me, I did think I killed Robin by letting her get taken away right in front of me. I didn't think about you dying at all. It was just like when you took Usopp to go save Kaya, or whenever you jump in to pull me out of the water. You were just helping me make things right again. It's not like I didn't care. I just can't imagine you dying. That's all I wanted to say."
Luffy nodded finally, satisfied, and stood back up. As he reached the door, he turned. "Oh yeah," he added, putting his hat back on his head. "I'm glad you're alive!"
Robin looked up. "Paula-san," she greeted with a smile. "I was surprised to see you all here."
"And you." Paula adjusted her bandana nervously, as though checking for spikes. "Is it true that the Strawhat pirates accepted you as one of their nakama?"
"Yes," Robin said, with a calm smile. She didn't feel the need to justify their decision, and besides, she was pretty sure she couldn't come up with an explanation if she tried. "And you? How have the rest of you fared?"
"Pretty well," said Paula. "We're thinking of re-opening Spider's Café. Once we get off this ship, of course."
"Of course," Robin murmured.
"I'll let you get back to reading then? We're in the middle of a game," she added, with an oddly hopeful gesture over her shoulder. The former secret agents were, indeed, spread out on the deck, some sitting cross-legged, some sprawled on their stomachs. Their attention focused on a single colorful board. Mr. 5 was rolling a wooden die.
Robin hesitated. She had no desire to participate in a board game, nor did she feel any particular affinity for the members of Baroque Works, not as she did for her present nakama. Nevertheless, Paula was looking at her as though she could evoke the response she desired if she simply concentrated hard enough. Robin remembered that, even as Miss All-Sunday, she had sometimes served as a big sister to the agents below her. Some roles were just inborn, she thought, as she reluctantly asked, "What are you playing?"
Paula seemed encouraged by the question. "It's a board game Miss Goldenweek created with that sniper. It has something to do with rescuing a princess from a giant cat. I was thinking of bringing it to the café—with permission, of course. I thought customers might want to play it while they were waiting."
"I see," said Robin carefully. "Interesting though it sounds, I may have to, ah, decline this round. I appreciate the offer, though."
Several pairs of eyes snapped up from the board game. Mere gazes should not be able to plead, she told herself, realizing that this might be a little more difficult than she anticipated. She held her book up like a shield.
When Zoro woke, he was still clutching his sword in his right hand, most likely because his left hand felt like it had been stomped on. He sat up with a groan, checked that his other swords were leaning against the bed, and carefully slid his most precious blade into its white sheath.
With that taken care of, he checked his surroundings. He was back on the Going Merry, which was a relief, and he seemed to remember who he was… as far as he knew, anyway. Picking up his katana, he headed for the door. On the main deck, he came across a bizarre sight. Several Baroque Works agents were crowded around Robin. They didn't look threatening at all, just… slightly glad to see her. It was oddly domestic, and he quickly scanned their ranks for Mr. 1.
So occupied, he didn't notice the sack lying across the floorboards until he accidentally kicked it. He looked down to see what was notably a sack of potatoes with a wide green stripe painted across the middle. Even without close inspection, he could tell that it was meant to be him. His eyes tracked the bag up to the head, where a rather poor likeness had been scrawled—that, at least, was not Usopp's work; he couldn't even tell if that was a cigarette or a tumor on his lip.In addition to the potatoes, three broomstick handles had been propped up against the wall. The attention to detail, the careful brushstrokes, were all distinctively Usopp. "Wadou Ichimonji," he greeted fondly. "Yubashiri. Sandai Kitetsu."
"Everyone gets really mad if you touch that," a small voice warned.
"Aren't you Miss Goldenweek?" Zoro asked, turning. "That mustache isn't fooling anyone."
"It's not a disguise," she protested around a rice cracker. "I'm an artist!"
"Oh yeah." Ignoring the pain, Zoro held up his left wrist, on which was inscribed a familiar pink circle. "Did you do this?"
"Yeah, Captain Usopp asked me to," she explained. "Colors Trap - Pink of Healing."
"This is healing me?" Zoro asked, raising an eyebrow. At the moment he wasn't sure if he was in one of those bizarre, alternate-universe dreams again.
Miss Goldenweek nodded, and bit off another piece of her rice cracker. "You shouldn't wash it off."
"I can just imagine what that crap cook's going to have to say about this," Zoro grumbled, but gave a grudgingly muttered, "thanks," as he walked by. He nodded in acknowledgment as he passed Robin. At least the look in her eyes said she knew what he was going through, even though she looked a little busy for the time being. For a moment, Zoro paused, wondering what all these former Baroque Works agents wanted with her. Then he shrugged and continued.
There seemed to be some sort of party going on. He could make out Sanji sleazing up with a female Baroque Works agent he vaguely remembered, and Usopp showing off some invention to Miss Goldenweek, who look suitably impressed. Zoro considered stopping to ask what the celebration was, or at least to grab some food, but with the massive crush of people, Zoro was feeling oddly claustrophobic. He opted for settling down in a secluded corner, wrapping his arms protectively around his katana, and closing his eyes again.
Zoro cracked open an eye. Most people didn't dare interrupt while he was sleeping. Robin was holding out a book to him, which he took automatically.
"I find reading more effective than pretending to sleep, because you can watch rather than just listen to the people around you." Two more hands appeared, one bearing a plate of food, one a tankard of rum. "You can also eat at the same time," she added with a smile.
"How'd you know I was faking?" Zoro lifted an eyebrow, though he took the offerings.
"You do put on a convincing act," Robin conceded. "But when I saw you today, it was—how should I put this?—recognition. Your sleeping and my reading both serve the same purpose. I really do enjoy my books, but at the same time, it's also a good opportunity to… observe."
"Yeah? Well, that's a point for you." Zoro grinned like a competitor. "But if I suddenly started reading, that would just blow your cover. Besides, it wouldn't suit my image at all." He handed the book back.
"Well, since you mentioned things that don't suit your image…" Robin looked down pointedly at his wrist. Belatedly, Zoro realized that he'd used his left hand. On the bright side, the bright pink paint had been so effective he'd forgotten he was injured. That was about it.
"Takes a man to wear pink," Zoro mumbled vaguely, looking anywhere but at her smiling face. He couldn't even pull his hand back because she hadn't taken the book yet.
"Of course, Swordsman-san," she said, finally relieving him of his burden. It was unfair that such a neat little smile should look so smug. "Well then, enjoy your nap."
It was night by the time Luffy stumbled out of the kitchen, followed by his loyal crew. In the moonlight, they could see Robin reading with a lantern, and Zoro slumped against the mast, snoring.
"Zoro, you shouldn't be up yet!" Chopper cried, rushing forward.
"More like you shouldn't be sleeping again already," Sanji growled. "If you're well enough to be walking around you should be fine to do the dishes."
"Zooorrooo," Luffy whined, walking up to the sleeping swordsman and poking him on the forehead, hard.
"Ow," Zoro grumbled, opening his eyes. "That hurt."
"YOU WERE FAKING, STUPID MARIMO? I'll KICK YOU THROUGH THE DECK!"
"Welcome home, Onee-sama," said Nami, putting a hand on the back of Robin's chair and earning one of those quiet smiles.
"It feels like I never left," said Robin, and turned the next page.
For those who were wondering, I did write the entirety of this story in the past nine days - that is, one chapter per day. It's been a crazy week and a half, and as you can probably tell, I sort of burned out near the end. I posted fully half the chapters at 11:58 PM in order to meet some stupid quota I set for myself. Choppiness, repetition, and general errors abounded as a result - I'm not sure if I should go back and fix them for posterity or leave them as some sort of record.
Suggestions and general commentary are always appreciated.