AN: So I've finally decided to put up one of my multi-chapter PaNa stories. What's important for you to know: This is an AU story, meaning Nami is not a pirate, she's just a thief. Furthermore, I know that in the series she only steals from pirates, however that didn't fit into my scheme so I changed it. :P
Secondly, Both of them will seem a bit out of character at some points, but please keep in mind the context of the situation. I tried to make it obvious and explain why they act the way they do but I'm warning you now. As the story progresses they'll fall back into the pattern I usually write them with, mostly. But for this chapter it might seem kinda touch and go for a bit. I'm aware of that but it's important for the plot so...yeah. xD
Third, Nami is not insane. It's important to note that there is a "second voice" in her head but it doesn't mean she's nuts. It's basically the difference between listening to your head and listening to your heart.
Fourth, This is only a prologue, and yes I know it is really freaking long but I couldn't really cut it in half...There's no place where I felt comfortable ending a chapter with, because you need to know the entire premises of the story before things can progress, (obviously.) So don't worry, I'm pretty sure all other chapters will not be around 9,000 words. xD
Fifth, I don't own any part of One Piece nor it's characters. I'm just messing with them. :P
Nami slid the window open an inch at a time. 'Really,' she thought in aggravation. 'It should be a crime to let windows get this bad.'
She accidentally moved her hand too fast and the annoying window squealed loudly again. The woman glared at it, as if that had any effect, and continued raising it higher and higher until she could slip through.
Inside the darkened room the thief made note of the lock on the door and the position of the furniture. She'd rather leave everything exactly how she found it, minus the valuables of course, so her little visit wouldn't be noticed. Carefully the copper haired woman crept around the desk to the walls, pressing her ear against them and tapping softly. Systematically she checked behind every painting, in every drawer, and even the ceiling fan.
It was absolutely inconceivable that the mayor of such a large city would have nothing of value in his office. The burglar crossed her arms across her chest in annoyance and sat at the desk to think.
Perhaps it was because she was so deep in thought she didn't notice the danger until it was almost too late. The rattling of the door knob broke her from her thoughts and her eyes widened as she realized someone was coming in.
With cat-like agility she slid out of the massive chair and under the desk even as the light was switched on. She held her breath as she counted her heartbeats. One, two, three…Whoever had interrupted her had not seen her. If they had they would have done something already.
Now was the next problem. How to get out from under the desk? If the person was coming to sit down she would be screwed.
She heard a muffled 'thump!' sound and carefully edged her way to the joint where the leg met the front of the desk. Using the smallest movements possible she peaked through the tiny crack.
The person who had interrupted her was a handsome man, probably in his early twenties, with blond hair held back by orange goggles; she smelled the cigar smoke before she saw it in his mouth.
The man had pushed back the heavy rug that lay across most of the office, (that must have made the noise she heard) and was fiddling with something on the floor.
The thief only had seconds to wonder what it was before she heard the telling click of a safe being opened and the small door swung up into her view.
'Clever bastard.' She silently praised the mayor. 'Hiding it in the ground. You're good.'
The blond exhaled a puff of cigar smoke and she noted he was looking tired. That could give her an advantage if things got rough.
But it seemed luck was still with her as the man pulled out a sheaf of papers, closed the safe, and stood. She saw his hands as he leaned down to move the rug back into position and then after barely a few heartbeats the lights went out again and she heard the door shut.
Moving silently Nami crawled back out from under the desk. She slipped over to the spot the man had just been at and moved the rug, careful to not make the same sound as he had. She smiled down at the safe hiding in the office floor.
'Hello, my lovely.'
Then her eyes narrowed. This was a new safe…and it had a damn good lock, she could already tell. This wasn't going to be a quick one to break…Exhaling softly the beautiful woman went to work. She had judged rightly. The safe was a total pain to open, and the treasure inside was disappointing to say the least.
There was another sheaf of papers like the one that guy had taken, several rolled up papers, and two small piles of cash. 'Really?' She thought viscously at the absent mayor. 'This is all you've got?!'
Once again she was pulled away from her dark musings, this time by the sound of steps in the hall. With a string of curses flowing through her head she grabbed the two piles of cash, shut the safe, and hurried to move the heavy rug back into place.
There was no way she could get that bloody rug back into position and still get out. She was going to have to make a choice, and quickly. Furious at the sudden unlucky events she dropped the rug and began moving towards the window.
Her eyes widened in shock.
How had the damn thing slid mostly closed without her noticing?! It should have made some noise!! It was too late to fix the rug and too late to escape, the aggravated thief dove behind the desk, not even able to make it underneath before the door opened a second time.
Once again she held her breath as the lights switched on…this time for a much longer count. If it was that same guy he would know the rug had been moved…her only hope was that, if it was him, he would be so tired he would think he hadn't fixed it correctly.
For nearly a full minute there was no movement in the office, then she heard the foot steps approach, the 'thump!' as the rug was moved, and the clicking of the safe.
Too late she realized her mistake. She stared down at the two nearly insignificant piles of cash in her hands in horror. She had planned to be at least five streets away and drinking in a bar by the time anyone realized they had been robbed. Now here she was, the plundered money in her hands, and she was most definitely screwed!!
No, wait. Maybe…if it wasn't that same guy than maybe the person wouldn't know there had been money in the safe…so if it wasn't him she still had a chance to get out of here alive.
Though it was risky she had to know who was in the office with her. Moving painstakingly slowly she shifted enough to look out from around the desk.
It was him!!
Before she could formulate any kind of plan the safe opened again. The blond carefully placed the papers he had just taken out back in and then picked up the second set.
'If he's tired enough to make a mistake like grabbing the wrong thing than maybe he hasn't noticed the money is gone…'
It was a very feeble hope, but it was all she had, and so far her 'maybes' had been turning out okay. She bit her lip, praying as hard as she could while not letting him out of her sight.
He really did look tired…
The blond shut the safe again, and rubbed a hand across his eyes in exhaustion. She watched him stand and move the rug back into place and then turn towards the door, her heart beating quicker in anticipation. When he stepped towards the door she wanted to cry.
'Thank you God!!' She prayed, her eyes closing in relief.
That was when he made his move.
Faster than she thought was possible the man had turned again, a rope appearing from nowhere, and somehow he was able to control it enough that it caught the lower edge of the window seal and slapped it shut, the panes shrieking in protest.
Then he was up on the desk, looming just above her, and there was no other choice but to fight. With the ease of long practice she snapped her Bo staff together, spilling the money in the process, and swung it at him with all her might. He had already moved again.
'Shit!!' She thought again, feeling frantic. 'He's so fast!'
It really was not very long before she was sitting on the edge of the desk, facing the room, tied securely in his rope. The man was glaring down at her, no trace of his previous exhaustion evident on his face.
Nami took in a deep breath. She was already caught…her only chance at getting a light sentence was to control the conversation. Casually she crossed her legs and allowed the smallest smile to slip onto her face. "Well," She said with feigned calm. "What now?"
She could have guessed his answer. "What the hell are you doing here?" He snapped. His voice was deep and smooth.
"My name is Nami." She felt as surprised as he looked. Yes, she had meant to throw him off topic, but what on earth possessed her to introduce herself to her captor?!
One point for confusion at least.
Then he shook his head and glared at her again. "I asked what you're doing here?!" He knelt and began gathering the stolen money she had spilled earlier. Either he didn't think much of her skill, or he had a lot of confidence in his own, and that of his rope.
'Which…' she admitted silently a moment later, 'he has every right to be.'
No matter how she twisted she couldn't escape, and he must have known that.
"Oh, you know." She said calmly. "It's such a lovely night, makes one want to take a walk you know?"
He glared at her briefly to let her know he was unimpressed with her attempts at frivolity.
Suddenly she was tired. Tired of running, tired of robbing, and so, so tired of being made out to be the bad guy. "Look." She said quietly. "You have the money, why don't you just let me go?"
The man gave her an incredulous look.
"I'll promise not to do it again." She gave a half hearted smile.
"As if I would trust you. You're a thief." He said bluntly, then turned back to gather the rest of the money. Her cheerful demeanor slipped. "What gives you the right to judge me?" She said sharply, and then when he looked up at her, startled, she turned her face away. This was ridiculous. So what if she was tired…that didn't give her any excuse to…She sniffled and forced the tears back…that didn't give her any excuse to cry.
They were both silent for a moment, her because she was trying to put herself back together emotionally, and him because he didn't know what to say. Those words and tears had been genuine. If they weren't than she wouldn't try to hide them….maybe. The blond ran a hand through his hair. She could be just trying to con him.
"Why don't I have that right?" He found himself asking. "You tried to rob Iceburg-san." But the conviction in his voice had faded…it was almost like he was…offering her a chance to explain herself?
'Like I'd believe that.'
But she wanted to. She wanted to believe that there were still people kind enough to listen, even when things looked their worst...
She looked down at the desk so she wouldn't have to look at her captor.
"You said I should let you go…give me a good reason why." His voice was neutral now, no hint of his feelings.
"Are you seriously asking me to explain myself?" She said cautiously.
She felt the desk shift slightly and realized he had leaned against it on the opposite side.
"If you want me to let you go just because you don't want to get punished…" He left his sentence hanging. She understood his meaning though. Hope flared briefly and she tried to squash it down again. Guilty Nami realized she wanted to tell her story. She wanted someone to tell her she was doing the right thing. "We all do what we have to, to survive." She said instead.
He was silent and she cursed herself as a fool. Obviously he didn't really care what she had to say. As far as he was concerned she was guilty without a doubt, and there was no excuse.
"Why don't you tell me about it?"
The thief's eyes widened as she registered what he had said. 'No way.'
"I'm saying if you've got a good reason you should tell me."
Against her will the burglar felt her tears welling up again. It almost didn't even matter if he was serious or not. She hadn't spoken to anyone except Nojiko in so long…
Before she realized it the story was spilling from her lips. The man next to her was silent as he listened, but she no longer felt it was damning. It felt so unbelievably good to talk to someone about it. It had been months since she'd seen her big sister, and months before that when they had last spoken on the subject.
It took the better part of half an hour to finish her tale, and when she was done she snuck a look at the man next to her. He was still leaning against the other side of the desk with his arms crossed, but he didn't look angry. Instead there was a thoughtful look on his face. "Do you have any proof?"
Nami bit her lip. Proof? Well it was natural he would want to verify she was telling the truth, and she felt the question was sincere and not driven by suspicion. What did she have on her to prove herself? The answer was obvious but she couldn't move her arms enough to get to it.
"Take my shirt off." She commanded then watched in amusement as the man choked. "What?!" He finally turned to look at her, his eyes wide, and a blush spread across his cheeks. She couldn't help the amused smile that flitted across her face. "I can't move my arms." She told him patiently. "My proof is on my upper arm so I need to remove my shirt." She indicated the form fitting long sleeved black top she wore.
The poor man looked around a little wildly…'Shy. Very, very shy.' She thought, surprised at how fond she suddenly felt for him. She didn't even know this man! Still…she forced herself not to smile outwardly…he was giving her a chance after all.
"I'm not gonna run away." She said, the slightest hint of teasing in her voice. "So you could untie me…I think we've already established you're faster than I am."
The blond looked at her, an almost panicked look on his face. "Er…"
'Very shy…It's kinda…cute…a little.'
Taking pity on the poor carpenter she lifted her eyebrows. "I'm wearing a tank top underneath."
The relief on his face was almost insulting. She wasn't bad looking by any stretch of the imagination so what was his problem?! Grumbling inwardly she sat very still as he reached around her to loosen the knots. Aware of the dangers of getting to close to the rope with his cigar the blond reluctantly extinguished it and tossed the remains away.
"Don't try anything…" He warned…there was something in his voice that made her think he wasn't quite as unaffected as he seemed. It occurred to her that if she wanted to get away she could simply by flashing him and then running while he had an epileptic seizure on the floor.
But…this shy man, who was obviously devoted to his employer, had given her the chance to explain herself. And he was untying her so she could prove herself. She…Nami felt her own eyes widen in sudden realization.
She didn't want to let him down.
He had done for her something that no one else could or probably would do…and she wanted him to know she was sincere about it. How…strange…
The carpenter, 'Paulie.' She reminded herself, was apparently having slight trouble with one of the knots because she heard him curse under his breath and then he leaned in, his arms still around her, to try and free it.
Still sitting perfectly still the thief couldn't help but take a deep breath…and with it came the smell of cigars, sand wood, and something else…a distinctly masculine smell that was quite appealing. To her own shock she felt a blush rising to her face. 'Geez girl! Get a hold of yourself!'
But that accursed knot was still being stubborn so she wasn't released from his hold yet…trying to distract herself from the scent and the slight tickle on her cheek from his hair she began arguing with herself.
'Okay…so he's freaking hot. So what? Calm down!!'
'Really, really freaking hot.'
'Argh! I know okay! Shut up!!'
'Just thought I'd mention it.'
'Well I already know okay?'The blush was still struggling to reach her cheeks. Unintentionally she squirmed slightly and he turned his head to chastise her. "Don't…uh…"
All it had taken was that small turn of his head and suddenly they were nose to nose. The carpenter swallowed after trailing off and Nami bit down on her lower lip. Geez! This was a bad situation if ever there was one!
'Really? Things are looking pretty good from where I'm sitting.' The annoying part of her mind said smugly. 'S-Shut up!!'
She needed to do something…anything!...to escape the suddenly charged atmosphere she found herself in. "Um…" Her own voice had never sounded so timid. Oh god! His eyes were such an amazing shade of blue!! "Are you going to untie me?" Though she hadn't stuttered her voice shook and she finally lost the fight against her embarrassment. Her cheeks flooded with color and she found herself copying him, swallowing hard while just staring into his eyes.
He was so close his breath mixed with hers as he replied in a soft tone, one she was sure he hadn't meant to make as insanely attractive as it was.
'Damn! That was sexy as hell! Kiss him!!' The other part of her brain commanded.
She was saved as the ropes around her suddenly slid down her arms and she was free. Hastily the blond jerked back away from her and the tense moment was….well not gone, but not as intense as it had just been. If he had waited any longer…
'Gah! Stop it!!!' She shouted in the vault of her mind. 'Stop thinking about what could have happened!'
"T-Thanks." She said quietly looking down at the desk again.
"Yeah…" His voice sounded just as unsure as her own. "Y-You had some proof or something?" He prompted and she nearly sighed with relief. Good, he was keeping her on track.
Then of course the fact that she'd have to take off her shirt, even if she had another one on, in front of him dawned on her. Now, under normal circumstances Nami was not a shy woman. She was clever and knew how to use her body to her advantage, teasing men but never giving in. This was not a normal circumstance…The thief shifted uncomfortably. She had never had a situation where she was genuinely attracted to anybody before…and with the…moment…they had just had…She realized her hands were shaking.
"Yeah, gimme a second." Slipping off the desk to stand in front of him she hesitantly grabbed the bottom of her over shirt. What on Earth was wrong with her?! Why was she suddenly the one who was being so shy?!
'Oh for the love of…Stop being such an idiot, if you drag it out things will only get more awkward!' Agreeing with that part of her head for once the cat burglar slipped her shirt up her torso, over her ample chest, and off her head. As she shook her head to release her hair from the neck of the shirt she caught sight of his face. He was still blushing like crazy but she thought she detected something else in his gaze.
'You are imagining it.' She told herself firmly. 'Get back to the point at hand.'
The point…Leaving the discarded over shirt on the desk she reached up her slim right hand, crossing it over her body, to delicately touch her shoulder and the hated mark that was on it. "This is the mark of the Arlong pirates…" She said quietly. The bitter resentment and hatred she held for the fishman came back to the surface, though she tried not to show it.
Paulie hesitated for a moment, studying her. Uncomfortable, now for more than one reason, she looked down at the floor and didn't meet his eyes. She didn't know if he would know the mark or not…
He stepped back towards her and she repressed a surprised shudder of delight as his work calloused hand pulled hers away so he could look at her tattoo. He didn't drop her hand, though his attention seemed to be focused solely on her shoulder, and Nami realized she was still trembling slightly.
'He must be able to feel that…'
As if in response to her thoughts the shipwright looked back up at her and she shifted her eyes away again.
On his part he studied the thief's mark. He hadn't assumed wrong earlier. The horrible story she had just told him was her life. The question was…what was he going to do about it?
She was right….There was nothing stolen, (that he hadn't gotten back anyway) and for some insane reason Paulie was inclined to trust her when she said she wouldn't try to rob Iceburg-san again. That still left the other people in the city defenseless…she was an admitted thief, if he let her go than other people, citizens of his hometown, would probably be robbed instead.
So that was on one side of the argument he was having internally. The other side….was sympathetic. The hellish life she had been living since she was just a small child…again she was right. She was only doing what she had to, to survive. So there he was. Clearly stuck in a dilemma. Letting her go would be against his moral principles….and taking her in was also against his moral principles. 'Shit…What am I….suppose to do?'
He looked at her but she avoided his eyes again. This woman…, who was obviously as tough as nails, had humbled herself completely in front of him. She had placed not only her life, but her fragile emotional state, into his hands and was now waiting for him to decide what to do with it.
He realized he was still holding her right hand, the small delicate hand he had pulled away from her arm. She had offered up the tattoo as evidence but the way she had held her shoulder before…said more than words that it was a shameful brand that she wished she could hide.
Despite the reason he had even met her was because she was robbing his mentor…Paulie found himself liking her. She had been dealt a shitty hand in life and she was doing the best she could with it…she put herself into dangerous positions on the hope, the smallest chance, that she might be able to get something. She was tough as nails…but still so amazingly breakable. A total contradiction. And…he wanted to help her. 'Shit..!'
It dawned on the shipwright that he had been watching her in silence for several minutes. Her hair had slipped down to cover her face and her petite hand, still engulfed in his own, was trembling. With his other hand he picked up her discarded over shirt and then placed it in her hand, releasing her as he did so. "You can put that back on…" He said quietly.
Wordlessly she complied, still carefully keeping her face hidden from him.
In frustrated indecision he leaned back against Iceburg-san's desk. "Well…" He said out loud, pretending to be speaking to himself but really it was for her benefit. "Now what…?"
The lovely woman next to him relaxed ever so slightly and he realized she must have thought he was going to turn her in.
"You could let me go." She said again, and this time her voice was wistful. "I'll promise not to come back."
Paulie looked down at the floor too. He hated to admit it, even to himself, but he didn't like that idea. "Yeah, but what about the other people in this city?" He made his voice light, hoping she couldn't guess how agonizing he found the decision he was faced with.
She gave a feeble laugh. "I meant leave the city."
'And then what?' He wanted to say. 'What happens if you get caught again?' She had tried to put up a fight when he had first sprung at her but she wasn't very strong. She could be over powered easily and then…
The shipwright didn't realize it as he cursed aloud. He didn't like the picture forming in his mind of what might happen to her…She was young and vulnerable, and he did not want her out there on her own, doing dangerous shit like this again.
"How much do you have left to…?" He asked quietly.
He saw her fingers dig into the edge of the desk but there was no emotion in her voice when she answered him. "Seven million."
Seven million….she was so close and yet still so far away…Paulie ran a hand through his hair in frustration. His feelings churned turbulently inside him, and he felt even worst. If he let her go...and leave Water 7…she was so close…what if she became careless? Or tried to steal something that was too heavily guarded? What if she was caught again?
It kept coming back to that….the idea of her getting caught by some ruthless asshole made him angry. Others wouldn't understand what she had been through, they would lock her up, or hurt her, or…or do something worst. She was absolutely beautiful after all. His brow furrowed angrily at the thought of what could happen.
Though he hadn't meant to speak his thoughts aloud he didn't retract it. He was just going to have to tell her…"There's no way I'm letting you leave this city." He said firmly.
"I see." Her tone made him look over at him again. She had raised her head, looking proud, with her mouth in a hard line and he realized she had misunderstood.
"I'm not turning you in, but I'm not letting you leave." The shipwright tried to explain himself; he wasn't good with shit like this. "You'd get into too much trouble…"
He trailed off as she slowly turned to face him, the impassive mask cracking and anger burning in her eyes. "You won't let me leave?" She said softly, her voice layered with anger. "You won't let me leave?" She said again. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
His own anger began boiling to the surface. "Yeah, I won't let you leave." He pushed off the desk to cross his arms, looking down at the petite woman from his superior height. "The trouble your kind attract-"
"My kind?!" Her voice had gone from anger to fury. "You don't know jack shit about my kind!" She snapped. "What the hell do you know? Safe in your big city, without ever having to worry about-"
He stepped towards her until they were almost touching. "You're the one who doesn't know shit!" His voice matched hers in anger. He just wanted her to be safe for fucks sake! And she was having a freak out at him. "I'm not throwing you in jail Nami, but I can't let you go wandering around on your own! You'll get into too much damn trouble!"
"What trouble?!" She snapped back. "I'm so sorry for how much trouble I must have been. If you were gonna keep me prisoner here in the first place you should have said so!!"
"What makes you-"
"I wouldn't have wasted my time with talk!" She interrupted again. Hastily she swallowed, as if stifling a sob, but continued to glare up into his eyes.
"Wasted your…?" The blond's hands balled into fists. She regret telling him the truth?! What the hell?!
"Yeah!" Her hands had also balled into fists and though she was several inches shorter than him she wasn't intimidated. "There are better things I could have been doing, like rotting in jail!" Then she added very softly, "You don't even give a shit so why did I bother?" Her voice was filled with bitterness.
Finally pushed past his limit at her stubborn refusal to understand he shouted at her. "I don't want anything to happen to you!!" If he had been less angry than he probably would have blushed at his confession. "I don't want you to leave!! I don't want you to keep looking for treasure! I don't want you to ever have to go near that fish bastard again!"
He was breathing heavily when he finished. The beautiful woman's face had lost its anger and was instead looking absolutely shocked. "You…?" She bit down on her lower lip again, still looking up at him, but somehow she had a very fragile look on her face.
"Is it too much to ask that you stay safe?!" His voice was still angry though he was no longer yelling at her. "If you go back out there sooner or later you're gonna get caught again! And you can't be naive about what might happen to you…" He took in a deep breath, trying to regain control of his anger, and then let it back out. "There are terrible people out there Nami, and I don't want them getting their hands on you."
The small thief had been watching him as he ranted, and he started in surprise when tears suddenly spilled over her eyes and onto her cheeks. "You…?" Her voice cracked then she dropped her head into her hands and began sobbing. "No one's….no one's ever cared if I…" Her words dissolved back into tears.
Paulie watched her, wondering what he should do. He wasn't good with this emotional shit…it occurred to him that the only reason he was uncomfortable was because she was crying. He…He didn't care that he had just told her all that…It was very strange and not at all like him but…he wasn't embarrassed that he wanted her to be safe, even though they were practically strangers!
They stayed like that for a few tense moments. Her cries lessened and finally she wiped her face and looked back up him, though she didn't meet his eyes. "I um…"
'Well this is fucking awkward…Good job idiot! How the hell are we supposed to get out of this?'
Nami, for whatever reason, didn't ask about what he said. "I can't just quit…I've got…My village is depending on me, even though they don't know about my deal with Arlong…I can't leave them there like that." She reached up with one hand to push her hair behind her ear and he noticed her hand was trembling again. "I'm…so close to being done…it…"
He watched with interest as her face began getting redder and redder, a fierce blush spreading all over. "It…shouldn't take me very long…" She said in a surprisingly meek voice. "After I finished…I could…"
Still feeling remarkably free of his own embarrassment he watched her struggle, feeling slightly amused. Nami didn't seem like the type of person who had trouble with her words like this often. But despite how cute…'Yes, cute.' She was being she was still saying she wanted to go back out there.
"I could come back…" She finished in a near whisper, her whole face burning so much she looked like she had a fever. Feeling almost dazed the shipwright grinned inside. She wanted to be here…well, she was okay with it at least…And that was something. But…
She finally looked back up at him, a frustrated look on her face that he could relate too. "It's not safe. Even if you could make all the money in one go it's too damn dangerous!" She opened her mouth to protest and he shook his head, leaning down so he could look her in the eye. "No, Nami. I'm not letting you go out there…If you can't leave your village as it is then we'll find a way to make the rest of the money. But you're not going to try stealing it."
The beautiful woman had an interesting reaction to his words. First she looked furious, then she looked embarrassed, but when he had said "we'll find a way" her mouth had dropped open into an "O" of surprise. Well…shock was a closer term.
"We will…?" Her voice was suddenly breathy and weak, like she couldn't believe her ears.
Paulie had always been shy, with everyone but especially women, and especially beautiful woman like her. Though he didn't understand how or why, whatever it was that usually held him back was now the thing driving him forward. And he couldn't help but enjoy the strangely liberating feeling…the freedom to say what he thought without reservation. "Yes." He said quietly, closely watching her face. "We."
For a moment he thought she might faint, but then she did something that took him by surprise. Leaning down as he was to be at eye level he was at the perfect height for the petite woman to suddenly throw her arms around his neck and hug him fiercely. "Why…?" Her voice was cracked and muffled as she had buried her head on his shoulder. "Why would you do this for me…?"
His arms came up automatically to enfold her in his own hug. She was so tiny…so beautiful and delicate….the carpenter found himself burying his nose in her hair, aware of the scent of cherries, as he held her. "Because I can." He whispered next to her ear. "Because I want to…"
Her shoulders shook and he realized she was crying again, silently this time. With his usual uncertainty still absent Paulie didn't have a problem reaching up to pet her hair gently, the silky strands sliding through his fingers. "It's okay." He found himself murmuring quietly to her.
Nami held onto him, trying to control her sobs of gratitude. This night had been a crazy roller coaster of emotions, and the thief felt exhausted. Finally she took a deep breath, aware that she really should let the poor man go. What must he think, having her sob all over him like this?
'He doesn't seem to mind much.'
'What?' She sniffled as she turned her face away to rest on his shoulder. She knew she should probably be feeling horribly embarrassed but she was just so tired…
'How can you not be paying attention to this?' The voice in her head almost sounded exasperated. It finally registered that he was holding her gently and petting her hair.
"Sorry." She said quietly, still facing away from him. "I…guess I'm a little tired…or something…" She felt the heat in her cheeks. It looked like she wasn't tired enough to be embarrassed after all.
"It's okay." He said again quietly. Hesitantly she released her arms from around his neck and he followed her lead, allowing her to slip away from him. Hastily she wiped at her eyes, she must look absolutely horrible.
"I…" Whatever she was going to say was lost as the office door opened again and the mayor himself strode in. "Paulie, what on earth is taking so-"
He cut himself off mid sentence, looking back and forth between the two. Nami swallowed, feeling nervous and self conscious. What was he going to say? This looked really bad, her all in black, the rug still out of place, and most especially the money Paulie had left on the desk.
The president of Galley-La Company raised his eyebrows as he looked at his apprentice, silently asking for an explanation. The carpenter with her cleared his throat and then stunned her completely.
"Sorry Iceburg-san…I met up with a friend of mine and we ended up talking." Though she was looking at the floor she saw him motion towards her, and her breath caught. He had just lied…lied to his boss for her!
"I'm sorry, I forgot all about those papers I was getting for you." He sounded so calm as he reached past the pile of cash and picked up the stack of papers he had originally taken out of the safe.
"…..I see…." The older man said, his voice neutral. She wondered what it was he thought was happening. Still feeling uncomfortable she didn't dare look up, even when she heard the rustle of papers as they changed hands.
"Iceburg-san, can I uh…Can I come back in tomorrow and do this? We've still got a lot to talk about."
She bit her lip again…His willingness to help her…to talk to her…was this for real? The cynical part of her said it was some sort of trap, but she…she wanted to believe him.
'Whether it's a trap or not…what have you got to lose, huh? And do you really think he would trick you? He just lied to the mayor's face to keep you out of trouble…'
'I know, I know…But it's just…Can this really be happening?'
Struggling internally she didn't hear the mayor's reply but she jumped slightly when Paulie suddenly took her hand again. Though she hadn't meant to look up she found herself meeting his gaze again. "Wha…?"
The blond smiled ever so slightly. "I said, are you ready to go?"
She blinked and looked towards the door. Mayor Iceburg was still standing there, watching them carefully, but his face was blank. For some bizarre reason, looking at him, Nami was reminded of Gen-san whenever he would catch her doing wrong. His eyes had an "I know you're guilty" look in them.
She felt the shipwright next to her squeeze her hand gently, bringing her eyes back to him.
"Um…yes?" She said meekly. The poor woman felt totally off balance, combined with her exhaustion she had to choose…whether to believe or not…She made a decision. She'd trust him. Whatever he had in mind, wherever he was taking her, she'd trust him.
"Yeah…" She said again quietly. "I'm ready to go."
"Right. I'll see you later Iceburg-san." Leading her by the hand Paulie passed his mentor without incident. "Of course." Was all the older man said, allowing them to leave the office.
They continued on in silence, down the halls of the large building, out into the fresh night air, and past the gate…The cat burglar shivered, half from the cold and half from the realization that she really was still free. She wasn't going to jail.
"Are you okay?"
He was still holding her hand she noticed. "Yeah…" This, she decided, was the strangest situation she had ever been in. Here she was, walking to who knew where with a man who was practically a stranger, and who was somehow still one of the people she trusted most in the world. Nami had lived most of her life emotionally blocked off from others. She didn't trust people, with her life how could she? But suddenly here she was, trusting this stranger completely, and realizing she wanted to be completely honest with him in return. "I'm…" She tried to think of what to say to explain herself. Finally she settled on her most pressing problem. "I'm really tired…" She admit, reaching up to wipe one hand across her eyes. She certainly had enough reason to be.
"I'll bet." He said. "I'm pretty damn tired myself."
"Long day?" She guessed. He let out a sound that she guessed was affirmative. Still feeling bemused she followed him, amusement rising to the surface as they made "small talk" all the way to a mid-sized apartment complex.
He stopped and looked up at the building, wincing slightly. Before she could ask about it he spoke. "Damn if…I forgot the elevator is broken right now. I fucking hate stairs."
She was surprised by herself as he made her laugh. "How many floors up?" She asked, a genuine smile creeping onto her face, unbeknownst to her. The shipwright with her looked down at her and then back up at the building. "Three floors."
She sighed theatrically. "How will we ever manage that?" Good humor sparkled in her eye she took the initiative to step towards the building. "Smart ass…" She heard him mutter without malice. "Alright, let's go."
Though she didn't want to admit it the walk up the stairs was tiring. She felt ready to drop from exhaustion by the time he lead her to his door. He dropped her hand, which made her instantly feel cold, and began searching through his pockets, cursing quietly until his hands finally found his keys. He let her in, and she took a quick look around.
The door opened into a tiny kitchen that led into an equally small living room. Stepping past the counter and bar and into the living room she continued her examination. To the left there was a short hallway, leading to a room with a closed door, a bathroom just to the right of it, and on the right side of the living room there was another door, this one partially open, enough that she could see the edge of a bed, the blankets half tumbled to the floor.
She really was interested but she was just so tired…It suddenly occurred to her they hadn't actually discussed what they were here for. He had told the mayor they still had things to talk about…
Paulie brushed past her, pulling of his jacket and then flopping onto the couch with a tired grunt. "Have a seat." He gestured to the other end of the worn out piece of furniture and she sank onto it gratefully. Feeling self conscious again the thief watched her companion, who had pulled off his goggles and was unconsciously fiddling with them, frowning thoughtfully.
Waiting for him to speak the petite woman had to stop herself from yawning loudly. It had been late when she had invaded Galley-La HQ, then after all that crying, and the amount of time it had taken to get here from there…Nami guessed it was somewhere around one in the morning and she could feel her body starting to drag.
"How'd you get to Water 7?"
She blinked. It wasn't the question she had expected but she pulled her wits together to answer. "I was in Loguetown in East Blue when I read an article on the Sea Train…They had just finished the tracks and were giving their grand launch, so…"
The shipwright nodded, he probably already knew about the sea train, the article had been where she had first seen Iceburg's name after all.
"When did you get in?"
"Two days ago." She hesitated before adding, "I had to take time to stake out my target." It wasn't that she thought he had forgotten, but his insistence that she would be caught again was because he didn't know how thorough she usually was. Tonight had just been unlucky was all…
'Was it unlucky?' The voice in her mind prompted. 'If he hadn't caught you then you wouldn't be here now would you? And we both know you're glad you are.'
Finding herself blushing again she looked down at her lap, hoping he hadn't noticed. 'Shut up!' She thought angrily. 'I don't know of any such thing! He's just…I'm…'
Unable to think of a phrase to describe how she felt, even in the vault of her own mind, she stopped, squirming slightly as the other voice was smugly silent.
"How long until you have to drop off more money to your hometown?"
Still looking down she frowned. She didn't want to talk more about Kokoyashi Village tonight…in all honesty she just wanted to sleep…
"There's no set time." She said quietly. "I go back whenever I feel like it." She rubbed a hand against her tired eyes, accidentally yawning.
Paulie looked over at her when he heard her yawn. He was damn tired but she looked almost asleep where she sat. Her eye lids were drooping and he could tell she had to force herself to stay awake.
They didn't have to figure everything out tonight, but here was the tricky part. How was he going to keep her from just up and running away in the middle of the night? He rubbed his thumb against his goggles. It seemed that, so far at least, the best way to make her comply was to keep her off balance.
"Good." He murmured quietly. "We'll have time to collect enough then…"
She looked up at him again but he head her off before she could try and argue her way out of the situation. He was going to help her, and she was just going to have to deal with it.
"We don't have to hammer out all the details right now, it's late." He made a show of looking at the clock on the kitchen wall. "There's a second bedroom that's never used down that hall." He pointed to the left. "If I let you go to sleep you still gonna be here when I wake up?" He asked bluntly.
Her gaze had followed his finger when he mentioned a bedroom, but now she pulled her tired eyes back to his. He was looking at her seriously, silently demanding that she comply.
'You want to anyway.'
Whether that was the case or not she found herself nodding slowly, chewing on her lower lip nervously. It would be better if she ran away. She still didn't understand why he wanted to help her, but she shouldn't dump her troubles on other people…the fact that he had listened to her story should be enough for her.
But the other part of her brain was right. She did want to stay. Maybe it was exhaustion, maybe not. But whatever the reason was Nami wanted to be here. She could always leave tomorrow, (she vaguely remembered Paulie promising his boss he'd be back the next day) but maybe…just for tonight…she could let herself rest.
"I'll be here." She promised quietly.
Tension drained out of the blond's shoulders and she briefly wondered what he would have done if she hadn't promised to stay.
'He'd probably stay up all night to watch over you so you couldn't leave.' The voice snickered. 'Or maybe he would've tied you up again.' Nami ignored the suggestive tone the voice had as it laughed at her expense. 'I never realized I was so masochistic.' She thought back. 'But obviously I've gotta be.' The other voice laughed again and then went silent.
Paulie had stood and held down a hand to help her to her feet. "Lemme make sure there are blankets and pillows in there." He muttered. The cat burglar felt the tiniest smile slip onto her face when she realized he was blushing again. Wondering if she dared teasing him she took the offered hand and followed the shipwright down the short hall and into the unused room.
There was a single sized bed, luckily equipped with pillows and blankets, and after making sure she would be okay with them the blond made a hasty retreat, his cheeks still pink.
Nami slipped off her black boots and allowed herself to curl up under the blankets, facing the small window as she tried to think.
She couldn't allow Paulie to help her.
It didn't matter if she wanted help, or if he wanted to help her…she could not drag someone else into the struggle for her village. It was….very sweet that he wanted to help her, and again, listening to her and letting her cry had gone a long way in reversing the cynicism she looked at the world with. But in the end he was just a kind stranger who had helped her when she needed it. To allow him to do more was only being selfish.
Sighing sadly Nami hugged the pillow. But oh how she wanted to let him help her. To have someone else to rely on, someone else who cared what happened to her…Deep in the back of her mind, where she tried not to go; there was still the longing for someone to take care of her. But what happened to Bellemere-san and Gen-san had forever erased the security of that option. Asking others for help only got them hurt and she was unwilling to do that to the shy, gentle, shipwright.
The copper haired woman rolled onto her stomach and let her exhaustion carry her off to sleep, still feeling unhappy.
Paulie lay in his own bed staring up at the ceiling. Tonight had not gone as planned at all. From trying to stop a burglar to hearing her life's story, then lying to Iceburg-san and bringing her into his own home…If anyone else had done such a thing he would think they were crazy. But no matter how he looked at it he had done the right thing…or the closest thing to it.
The right thing to do would be to hunt down the asshole fishman who had caused all the turmoil in that poor girl's life and kill him.
But, since that wasn't really an option, 'Right now.' He was just going to have to try and deal with things as they came. 'First things first though…'
What was he going to do about Nami tomorrow?
She had promised to remain here that night, but the hesitant way in which she agreed made the carpenter think she wasn't planning on this being a permanent arrangement…...He was.
Paulie stopped, his eyes widening as he went over that last thought in his mind. It was true…When he told her he wasn't letting her leave the city he had meant it…he wasn't going to let her go out and have to fight for survival in the world again. Unconsciously he had decided he was going to take care of her on a permanent basis…In whatever way was necessary. And after hearing her break down and confess that no one else cared if she even lived or died, in addition to her reaction at his insistence he would help her, it became obvious that she needed someone to take care of her, someone she could trust, and he was going to do that. 'Whether she likes it or not.' He promised himself silently.
Having lived for years with only herself to depend on she would, undoubtedly, try to convince him she didn't need help. That or take the first opportunity to run. But not tonight. Tonight she was dead tired. Besides, she had promised him and if he couldn't trust her than how was she suppose to trust him?
This brought him back to his first thought. What was he going to do about her tomorrow? He was going to have to go to work, and he was pretty sure she would know that…so how was he going to keep her from running off and disappearing before he got home?
And he couldn't keep a continual struggle with her about it. Eventually she was going to have to accept that he wasn't letting her go, and that she would just have to accept his help. So what could he do to prove he was serious and get her to stay…? Short of tying her up any time he had to leave her alone.
Exhausted he ran a hand through his hair, yawning and stretching. He wasn't going to be able to come up with anything tonight. He'd just have to deal with tomorrow when it came…and try to figure out how to make seven million beri, hopefully before he got home so he would have a plan to present to her.
Paulie yawned again, and then let his mind clear…sleep was the priority right now.
AN: So that's the beginning of that. See what I mean about not being able to cut it into sections? I had to get through the robbery, get them home, and explain their individual points of view before the chapter could end. xD Again, I realize their characters were kinda...out there, but really...if you were in that kind of situation what would you do differently? I tried to keep things flowing together without making them so out of character I'd want to gnaw off my own legs...Don't ask, just don't. x_x
I'd appreciate any comments you're willing to give me. Obviously, I like the story's premises, but I'd really like to know what others think. And if you have any suggestions on what I can do to make it better that would be awesome too. I hope you guys enjoyed it anyway. :D