Chapter 6 - Answers
"I love you."
The words had just popped out of her mouth. She had never intended to reveal her feelings in the middle of a game of Hide and Seek! But seeing Luffy act so classically Luffy had loosened her tongue. She had never known anyone who could be so endearing yet infuriating and utterly clueless all at the same time.
Nami didn't regret her words, but there was a small part of her that wondered if it was too late to take them back or to claim she was kidding. But she knew that wouldn't work. Because while Luffy may have been the densest man alive, he was not a fool. He could be terrifyingly intuitive when it came to figuring out how others were feeling.
And even if he wasn't, she still wouldn't take those words back because while she was filled with an overwhelming anxiety over how Luffy would respond to her declaration of love, she also felt a strong sense of relief from unburdening such a heavy secret. She could tell that her words had a strong impact on Luffy. She could easily make out the confusion and surprise on his face. These were emotions she'd seen him wear at least a hundred times before and could recognize in a glance. But the uncertainty in his eyes was new and harder to discern. She wanted to know what it meant.
So even though she felt like every cell in her body was yelling at her to flee and hide somewhere, anywhere else she forced herself to remain sitting and staring into Luffy's eyes. In doing so, she felt a sudden urge to kiss him. It was as if admitting that she was attracted to Luffy had unleashed the floodgates on her hormones.
But even when she had been lying to herself about her feelings for Luffy, she had often wondered what it would feel like to kiss a man made of rubber. Would it be like kissing a balloon? Then she had started wondering about how he could eat or sweat or do anything at all. So she had asked Chopper, who told her that Luffy's Devil Fruit hadn't turned him into a living rubber doll. It had only given all the cells in his body the elasticity of rubber. His skin was still flesh and his organs were the same as they always were except they could now be manipulated in ways that would kill a normal person.
She had touched his skin before when she had to patch him up or smack him over the head, and it didn't feel weird at all. But that didn't prove anything. It was possible that she would discover some subtle difference in texture if she tasted him...
Nami found herself leaning in toward him. She immediately leaned back. Now was not the time for that! She started to fidget. Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea. She was growing increasingly concerned at his lack of response. She hadn't wanted to put Luffy on the spot like this. Having him say that he loved her too would have been too much to expect, but it was rare for Luffy to be at a complete loss for words. Was he trying to think of a way to let her down gently?
Nami leaned in again to hear his faint words.
The door to the ship's hold burst open and Doctor Chopper bounded into the room with an ear-splitting grin.
"Chopper!" Luffy yelled. He immediately turned away from Nami to greet the reindeer with a ferocious grin. "Who's It? Am I It?"
"You're the last two to be found so you're safe. Anyway, Sanji says it's time for lunch-"
Before Chopper could finish his sentence, Luffy had already vanished out the door with the echoing cry of "FOOD!" trailing behind him.
Nami didn't know whether to be angry or relieved at this development.
"Do you regret telling him?" Robin asked as she watched Nami pace around her bedroom.
"Yes, no, I don't know," Nami replied as she threw herself onto her bed. "This wasn't what I expected."
"What did you expect?"
"I expected him to not understand what the hell I was talking about. Or to give me the 'let's be friends' speech. Or to start kissing me. What I did not expect was for Luffy to pretend like nothing had happened! No, it's worse than that."
Nami grabbed her pillow and hugged it to her chest. She said miserably, "He's avoiding me. And on a ship this big, that's not a hard thing to do."
The last few days since she confessed to Luffy had been very aggravating. She hadn't expected a specific answer from him, just an answer of some kind. She had expected to resolve the situation one way or another by now, and instead, she had been left hanging in suspense. He always found a reason to leave the room when she entered. Even at mealtimes when they were all together, he would barely look at her.
"I know that Usopp said that the important thing was just to tell Luffy how I felt about him, but... I'm human. There's nothing wrong with wanting to know how he feels about me, right?"
"No, there's nothing wrong with that," Robin replied. "But if I had to guess then I'd say that even Luffy doesn't know how he feels."
"I think that you forget that the captain doesn't have any more experience in matters of the heart than you do, probably even less. From what I understand, Luffy has spent most of his life training to go out to sea. It's not surprising then that he doesn't know how to react when faced with a situation that he can't resolve with his fists."
"What should I do then?" Nami asked. "Should I talk to him or wait for him to talk to me?"
"Either option has merit," Robin replied. "But you have to determine whether you're really concerned about giving Luffy the time and space to think or if you're just afraid of what he might say if you confronted him."
Nami swallowed her initial reaction to protest that she wasn't afraid of anything except life-threatening dangers and the possibility of someone stealing her money. Because Robin was right. She was afraid to push Luffy on how he felt about her. She had stuck herself out on an emotional limb once already, and she didn't want to be slapped down again.
But that hesitation wasn't like her. She didn't get to be known as Cat Burglar Nami by cowering in her room. If Luffy needed time to examine his feelings then he could have the courtesy to tell her that himself!
Filled with righteous indignation, Nami was about to march out to track down her cowardly captain when she saw Robin raise her hand. The older woman said, "If you're looking for Luffy, then he's talking to Zoro in the workout room."
"How do you-"
Robin tapped her ear.
Nami sometimes wishes that she had a Devil's Fruit ability. There had been many times in her life that she could have used one. Then something occurred to her. She asked, "Uh, Robin, you don't make a habit of leaving your ears around the ship, do you?"
"Have a nice chat with Luffy, Nami."
"You didn't answer the question!"
Robin just smiled serenely.
Nami rolled her eyes and left the room. As she got closer to the workout room she started hearing voices coming from it. The door was slightly ajar and just as she was about to push it open to get inside she heard Luffy's voice.
"Zoro! Tell me what I should do about Nami!"
"I don't know and I don't care!"
Nami hesitated for a moment before she knelt down and positioned herself so she could peer into the room without being seen. Yes, it was hypocritical to be eavesdropping after she'd just complained to Robin about the same thing, but a decade's worth of thieving hadn't exactly left her with a strong moral fiber.
She saw Luffy jumping around the room like a hyperactive monkey yelling Zoro's name while the swordsman was obviously trying to ignore him as he lifted his weights. But ignoring Luffy when he wanted attention was impossible.
"Zoro! Zoro! Zoro! Zoro!"
Zoro groaned. "Fine! What do you want?"
"What does it feel like to be in love?"
"How the hell should I know?" Zoro snapped. "Talk to Usopp or that damned love cook!"
"I don't want to talk to them. I want to talk to you," Luffy stated matter-of-factly.
Luffy cocked his head and then he said bluntly, "Who's Kuina?"
The weights fell to the floor with a clatter. Zoro whipped his head around and leveled a massive glare at Luffy. "None of your goddamned business! Where did you hear that name?"
Luffy was unfazed by Zoro's attempt to burn him with his eyes. He said, "I heard it back on the Going Merry. Sometimes, when I was up to get a midnight snack, I heard you mumble her name in your sleep. You always sounded... sad. Who was she?"
Zoro gritted his teeth and he looked like he was about to take a swing at Luffy, but he must have seen something in the captain's resolute face because he just gave a heavy grunt and sat down on the weight bench.
"Kuina was the daughter of the sensei I trained under as a kid. Before Mihawk, she was the one person who I couldn't beat. I fought her more than 2000 times and I lost every single match. That was how skilled she was.
"Everybody assumed that I wanted to defeat her because I couldn't stand losing to a girl. That wasn't why. I was drawn to her because of her strength and her passion. She was skilled because she worked harder than anyone else to get to where she was. She didn't let anyone or anything stop her from doing what she loved. We promised each other that one of us would become the greatest swordsman in the world."
Zoro fell silent for a long moment then he continued, "She died shortly after that, but, the way I see it, that promise still stands."
"Did you love her?" Luffy asked.
"What does a kid know about love?" Zoro said with a snort. "But I think that I could have loved her if I'd had more time. I was always thinking about her. I wanted us to travel the same path together. Look, all I know is that I wouldn't be half the swordsman I am now without her. She's the reason..."
Zoro's voice broke off before he repeated, "She's the reason."
Nami put a hand over her mouth to stop the gasp threatening to escape from it. She had never imagined that Zoro of all people could actually have a meaningful relationship with a female. She thought about Zoro's brutal training regimens and the monstrous swordsmen he had fought and defeated. If this was how far he went for someone who he claimed not to love...
"Thank you, Zoro," Luffy said.
"For what? I don't see how anything I've said could have helped you."
"It's helped a lot," Luffy said solemnly. "I think I understand now."
"Then you know what you're going to do?"
"I know what I want to do, but... I promised Genzo that I wouldn't make Nami cry."
Nami felt a chill go down her spine. Why would Luffy be worried about making her cry unless he was going to reject her?
"Don't be saying misleading things like that. It makes women feel insecure... right, Nami?"
Nami's first impulse was to make a run for it, but she knew that was a stupid idea. So she went for the next best option. Acting like she just happened to walk by a moment ago.
"Hey, guys! What's going on?"
Zoro crossed his arms and smirked at her. He said slowly, "I was just finishing up. Was there something you wanted to talk to me about?"
Nami gave him an incredulous look, and Zoro's smirk grew wider. He said, "I guess you're here to talk to Luffy. Is this a private conversation? Should I stay or should I just-"
"Oh, just get out!" Nami said, feeling irritable but also relieved that Zoro didn't seem upset with her for eavesdropping. Now that she thought about it, he had to have known she was there the whole time. She turned to ask him about it, but he had already disappeared.
Feeling a little nervous, she turned to Luffy. She didn't know what to say. She wished she had given this course of action more thought before she'd stormed out of her room. She had been depending on her anger to carry her through, but her irritation had vanished in the face of Zoro's words, so now she was just awkwardly standing around hoping for Luffy to say something first.
But that seemed unlikely to happen as she noticed that Luffy wouldn't even meet her eyes. That wasn't like him. Luffy had always been decisive and bold. Those traits tended to get all of them into major heaps of trouble, but she couldn't imagine him any other way. She didn't like seeing him act so hesitant.
Nami sighed. Then she said, "Luffy, if things are going to be weird between us because of what I said then I'd prefer if we just pretended that I hadn't said-"
Luffy was shaking his head.
"Then what is it?" Nami asked, throwing her hands up in exasperation. Her fuse already short enough to ignite, Nami was prepared to jump down Luffy's throat if he continued to drive her crazy like this. She said, "I'm tired of the silent treatment! Just tell me what's bothering you!"
"I don't know where to start," Luffy said.
"Start with your promise to Genzo," Nami said abruptly.
If Luffy was surprised that she knew about that promise, he didn't show it. He just nodded and said, "It was before we left your island. The old man and I were in front of your mom's grave when he asked me not to take your smile away."
"That's sweet, Luffy, but I've bawled my eyes out at least a dozen times already on this journey."
"But not because of me. Not because I made you sad."
Nami was too thrown by this statement to respond.
Uncharacteristically, Luffy stumbled over his next words and they came out of his mouth in a rush. "I don't know how to act around you, Nami. I don't know anything about this love stuff. I don't know how to make you happy. I don't want to make you so mad that you'll leave."
They had arrived at the crux of the matter. Nami had often compared Luffy to a little boy, but she had never seen him wear such a bashful and shamed expression before. It had never occurred to her that Luffy might share the same concerns and insecurities she did. Perhaps it should have. Neither of them had role models for proper adult relationships. Luffy had never mentioned his mother and all she knew about his father was that he had abandoned his son as a child to become a revolutionary.
It felt extremely odd realizing that even someone like Luffy had things about himself that he lacked confidence in, but it was also strangely reassuring. She felt the knots in her shoulders loosen a bit. His naked honesty had given her the strength she needed.
Nami said, "Luffy, I don't think you get it. Yes, you've made me angry. You've driven me half-insane and caused me to be scared out of my wits more than once. But...you have also made me happy. You've made me laugh.
"And... you've made me sad before. You just didn't know it. But I'm still here. I'm not going to shatter if you hurt my feelings. And I'm not going to leave the ship because of something like that. I'd like to think that you know me better than that."
She could see him wavering, but the uncertainty in his eyes was still there. She drew in closer to him and said in a low voice, "I've never seen you run away from anything before. So I'm going to make this real simple for you, Luffy. Do you like me? Yes or no?"
Nami kissed him.
And Chopper was right. His lips didn't taste rubbery at all.
When she pulled away, she saw that Luffy was wearing a goofy grin. She smiled then said, "The rest we can figure out together later."
To her surprise, Luffy suddenly leaned forward and pressed his forehead against hers.
"Wh-what are you doing?" Nami asked, feeling her cheeks heat up.
"Don't boyfriends do this to their girlfriends?" Luffy asked. "I've seen this."
"My, aren't you confident all of a sudden? Suddenly I'm your girlfriend? You still haven't even told me how you feel about me," Nami teased.
Luffy frowned. "I'm not good with words."
"Then show me."
Nami closed her eyes, hoping that he'd get the message that she wanted him to kiss her this time. There was a long pause, but then she felt him shift his body. But instead of a pair of lips, she felt an object press down lightly on her head. She opened her eyes out of surprise and saw the straw brim.
It was Luffy's hat.
Nami's mind flashed to the times when Luffy had allowed her to wear his precious treasure. The first time was when she had collapsed out of despair because she thought Arlong had won. The second time was when she was panicking at the thought of fighting the lightning god Enel. Both times he had her wear his hat before he went into battle. Both times the feel of dry straw between her fingers had been enough to stop her tears.
In his own way, he had always shown her how much he cared.
"Thank you, Luffy," Nami said quietly. She decided that this was as good a time as any to leave. Because she was not going to break down in tears like some mushy girl just because she had received an incredibly romantic gesture.
Oh, I think we're way past the point of worrying about looking mushy, miss 'I'm going to make this real simple for you.'
Shut up, you, Nami told her inner voice.
"I guess I'll see you at dinner then!" Nami said, trying to sound casual as she started walking toward the door.
"Uh, Nami, you still have my hat," Luffy pointed out.
Nami grinned. "It's actually my hat now. Don't you know that gifts are irrevocable?"
"Wait, what? Nami!"
Nami playfully stuck her tongue out at him and ran off laughing. She figured that she could make it halfway down the hall before Luffy could gather enough of his wits to start pursuing her. And once he caught her, she'd give the hat back. For a price. One she was sure that they'd both be happy with.