A LITTLE MISUNDERSTANDING
Luffy was sick. He had a terrible cold. Throughout the day, he had been sniffing back the persistent mucus that crawled out his nostrils. It annoyed him very much.
Since the onset of the cold, he had been eating little. He had no appetite. The rare white squid Sanji had served the night before had had no effect on him. He had casted it aside, settling for pineapple juice.
Now, he was alone in his room. He was trying to sleep, but his clogged nose was a great nuisance. And they had just found land. It was unfair to him. He should be out of bed, frolicking on the beach or searching for a new species of beetle. Instead, he was left alone with his historian Robin he was sure to be spending a quiet time in the library. Everybody else had gone out.
Tired of lying down uselessly, he got up and walked out his room, sniffing every few seconds. The Thousand Sunny was quiet.
His head ached every time he sniffed. However, he dared not to use his vest to wipe his nose. The mucus was now on his upper lip.
"Geez, this sucks," he said.
He went back to his room, went to the kitchen, to Usopp's and Chopper's room—the only ones open—but found not a single towel available. He found in the upper deck the wet laundry and sagged.
"Nice," he murmured.
The wet snot aggravated his irritation in having no appetite. He felt weak and dizzy, hot in the head, but cold in the skin. He wanted to punch someone.
But, as he was about to give up, a red piece of cloth stuck in the gap on the wall caught his eye. This brightened him up.
He inspected the cloth. It had the shape of an hourglass and had strings on its four corners.
"What is this, a mask?" he said. He tried it on his face. There were no holes for the eyes. "Funny. Oh, well." He wiped his upper lip with it. "It feels nice. Why would they throw it away? It smells good, too."
Now, Robin came to get her laundry. She found Luffy dozing off at a corner of the deck, her bikini bottom bunched in his hand on his chest. The scene raised questions in her mind. She tiptoed to his side.
"Luffy-kun. Luffy-kun. Your condition will worsen if you sleep here."
"It smells good," Luffy muttered in his sleep.
She gasped. The hairs on her nape stood up on their roots. A strange but pleasant feeling tickled her womanhood. She was blushing despite her age, the age where girlish feelings should not exist anymore. She found her jaws loose at the joint. It was hard to speak.
"L-Luffy kun. Hey, wake up," she said.
Luffy lifted the piece of cloth to his nose. She hurriedly grabbed his wrist.
"No, Luffy-kun." She looked nervously around. Good. No one was there.
Luffy opened his eyes. "Robin?"
"Give that to onee-chan." She put stress on "onee-chan."
"Onee-chan? Who's onee-chan?"
"How old am I, Luffy-kun?"
"Just answer me."
"Twenty...plus? I'm not sure."
"No. You're seventeen, so give that to me."
"Give what?" He looked at the cloth. "This?"
"Yes. Hurry up before anyone sees us."
Luffy frowned. "I found it. It's mine."
"It's not. It's mine."
"This is yours? This is an unfinished mask. What will you use this for?"
"It's not a mask, Luffy-kun."
"It is." He put it on his face. Robin was shocked. "There are no holes, but it's not finished, yet. Neat, isn't it?"
"Are you trying to make excuses? Listen. I know you're growing up. I understand. I'm not angry with you, and I will not tell anyone if you hand that over."
"No. Finders, keepers." Luffy stood up. He put the cloth on his nose. "This really smells good. It smells like flowers. I'll put it in my treasure box."
Robin was embarrassed, but she struggled to keep her cool. She must get it back. It was a present from a friend in Ohara. She had found it funny having it as a child, but it was very important.
"As a respectable man, you should not be doing these kinds of things," she said.
"You're really getting weirder by the minute, Robin."
"What should I do to get that back?"
"Are you serious?"
"Anything I can."
Luffy looked up, sniffing twice. "If you're serious, then you can do this...or that...or this..."
Robin gaped at him, not knowing that he was thinking of food and beetles.
"This is so embarrassing, Luffy-kun," she said.
"I didn't know you had a dirty side. Okay. If that's what you want, then I allow you to use it to your satisfaction for one day. Just give it back tomorrow and don't tell anyone."
"Is this really yours?"
Luffy looked at the red cloth and back at Robin. "This is a really good discovery. Maybe you read too much manga."
"Luffy-kun, it's not a mask, and will you stop acting as if you don't know?"
"Huh? This is clearly a mask."
Robin sighed in irritation, her calm gone. "Don't make me repeat myself."
"What's wrong with you? You know I don't lie."
"I know honest people who lie to keep their dark secrets from getting revealed. Secrets that will shame them."
"I don't understand you. Here, take it." He was hungry again. But he didn't feel like eating. It made him mad. "If you want it so much, take it."
Robin glared at him, and then turned around. "I have a lot to read. Make sure you wash it before you give it back."
Luffy went in front of her. "What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing. It's just that the man I respect the most...never mind."
"I will not move until you tell me."
"Get out of my way, Luffy-kun."
"You're a pervert."
"Take that back. I'm not a pervert."
"Excuse me." She started to leave.
Luffy took her hand and put the cloth in it. "There's your dumb mask."
Robin felt the wet spot on the cloth. "You already did it? In broad daylight? Have you no shame?"
"It's soft and smells nice. I'm sorry if I used it to wipe my-"
"Stop. That's enough." She stared at the wet spot. He had hit bull's eye. Anger and some kind of pleasure mixed inside her. Why did she feel pleased? Tears sprang up on her eyes. "I can't believe you."
"Oh, yeah, sorry. I'll wash it for you."
"This is awful."
"I'm sorry. I found it in the crack on the wall. I really thought-"
"Will you stop with the alibis?"
Luffy clamped his mouth shut.
"You're the lowest, Luffy-kun," Robin said. She walked away.
Luffy blinked twice, three times, four times, until what she had said sunk in him. Robin was clearly angry all of a sudden, and he wasn't sure what the cause was.
Robin undressed, turned the shower to maximum, and let the sharp drops of water rain down on her beautiful face. She felt she was at fault. Luffy thought like a child, she did not. That kind of natural urge does come, unexpectedly, to anyone, not just to men. But she thought she set up the situation. She didn't want to be mean, but the only man she was doubtful of was Sanji. She believed that he was the only one capable of doing perverted things. Sanji wouldn't be back until evening. The boys wouldn't be back until evening except Chopper, who had promised to buy medicine for Luffy. And Chopper was a child. So, she had confidently hung her underwear in the open. It would dry at noon because it was windy and hot. She trusted Luffy so much she had excluded him from her calculation. Now, this. She felt she had seduced Luffy, and she had actually done it with him. She couldn't accept the idea.
Her imagination kicked in. Luffy pulling her close, kissing her mouth, invading that place no one had ever touched before. She tasted the water, and it was slightly salty. Sensual. The sea filter might not be working well, but she was grateful. Luffy tasted so good.
Her eyes opened sharply. The water stung her eyes a little. Was it that bad an idea? How many times had Luffy made her feel an incomplete woman, a woman who needed to be desired and wanted by a man, who had a gap in her heart someone should fill up?
When no one was around, she watched Luffy and found out later that he was already gone. He could make her imagine, stare off into space, dreaming. It almost felt like a sin. She loved books and mysteries. Luffy was like a book with pages blank at the middle, with a cover so plain, but had contents as unpredictable as the Grandline.
Really, now, was it really a bad idea?
Don't think about love, she thought. The truth is you were glad. You were glad he is starting to realize he is a man and being a man feels good. The truth is you got excited when you saw he was holding your panties in his hand. The truth is he touched you where you are weakest.
She was an adult. A child needs food and comfort. An adult needs food, comfort, and pleasure. She might like being alone much of the time, but she read books. It was different. Books contain everything. Books tell more than a company does. She had read books that told her the wonders of life: love, death, and desire. Desire. A company would never tell that in her face without feeling guilty of being insensitive.
So, she was aware of her desire. She had read its different forms, but the desire that was tugging at her heart now was one of the basics-the desire to be desired back by a man she approved of.
"Oh, my," she muttered. "Am I a hypocrite, then?"
Luffy had saved her from the claws of Crocodile, from terror. In their journeys on the Grandline, he had saved her from boredom. In Sky Island, he had saved her from apathy. In Ennies Lobby, he had saved her from distrust. And there a flower of admiration had sprouted as a bud that she had dismissed as respect. It had never bloomed. However, the small bud continued on living in her, a promise that as long as she lived, nobody would ever make her feel as he had made her feel. It was then that she had been happiest. It was then that she had felt her worth, and that she could have admitted that she loved him.
"Oh, my." This time it had a tangible fear on it. "No."
It started coming back to her. She recalled their private moments together. She, washing his back one time. She, telling him a legend. She, letting her thighs to be his pillow. She, enjoying watching him from a distance as he stared at the sunset. And she, accidentally sharing a kiss with him a time when he had been so drunk; he had lost his balance while she was taking him to his room; the kiss had been pleasant even though it was brief. The images were vivid like she was looking at photographs.
"I'm so angry because I see him as my ideal man," she said. "Oh, my. This is bad. I have more experience in life, but he defeated me completely. What should I do now?"
Challenge yourself, a voice inside her commanded. Make him yours.
She was a very beautiful woman with brains and heaven given grace that could mesmerize every eye. She was the kind of beauty with overwhelming gravity a careless creature would find disarming and dangerously enticing. Luffy, a young adolescent who had a heart bigger than the world, might be pure enough to see evil as evil and good as good, but he was still young, painfully naïve to recognize lust in a glance. He might not realize he was already being seduced. She could make advances safely.
"You're the lowest, Luffy-kun," she recalled saying.
"I'm the lowest," she said, shaking her head.
"Robin!" Luffy's voice came from the door. "Robin, open up! I want to talk to you! It's a Captain's order!"
She hastily got dressed in her black tank top and hiking shorts.
"What is it, Captain?" She looked at him, formally.
"I want to talk with you. In private."
She put a foot out of the door. Luffy pushed his way in, sniffing harshly. He sat at the center of the room.
"You should improve your manners, Captain," she said.
"I don't have time for that."
"You have time to play-"
He was serious and mad. She was seeing the man who had challenged the world, not the fool who liked to have fun. She went to her bed, sat down, crossing her legs, one hand on the cushion, the other across her thighs. She was unaware that her pose would have brought war amongst perverts.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Explain to me why I am the lowest."
"Are you sure you don't know?"
"That's why I'm asking."
"Stop calling me that way!"
She shot him a glance. "Was it your first time doing it?"
She fetched a book from the shelf, leafed to the right section, and put it in front of Luffy. Luffy read. She waited.
"You think I would do something like this?"
She scoffed. "Are you surprised someone caught you?"
"I'll never do something stupid like this."
"Who cares? It's done."
"I never did it."
"You have no proof."
Luffy stared at her. She stared back with frozen determination.
Luffy stood up, put his hat on the floor, started unbuttoning his vest-
"What are you doing?"
-put his vest beside his hat, eyes still on her.
"Stop right this minute, Captain!"
Luffy unbuttoned his shorts, unzipped it, and pulled it down.
He untied his loincloth and stood naked in front of her. The light coming from the window behind her illuminated his finely chiseled body every woman would hope for. His scars told his experience of battles, the mark of a warrior who had defied death numerous times.
He spread his arms like wings. "Search me! Look at me and find proof! I don't know much about these things, but I know you can easily find something that will tell you the truth. Look!"
She couldn't look. "Get dressed."
"No. Until you tell me I'm clean, I won't."
"Get dressed this instant, Luffy!"
The heat was spreading in her body. She knew her cheeks were flushed. Her diaphragm pumped air at a faster rate to supply her racing heart with oxygen. Her palms and soles perspired.
On one side, she was tempted. The man who had disturbed her inborn personality was before her, naked and extremely seductive. His face had the godly expression that would strike arrows to every woman's heart. She was getting weak. Her mouth was flooding inside.
The gulp she had made echoed loudly in her cars. Why hadn't she expected something like this? Why had she been fool enough to confront this boy with something she knew he wouldn't understand? How would she tell him now that masturbation was unlikely to leave any trace after it had been done except for the wet substance that could be wiped with cloth or tissue?
She wished she had been wiser. She wished she had stuck with her first assessment that Luffy was like the Grandline. Now she wasn't sure what to do.
"Why are you averting your eyes? Why can't' you look at me as you did when you were accusing me of doing something I won't ever do?"
Anger was fast in pulling triggers. She slapped him with every muscle in her body. Then she caught his face and pressed her lips against his. She kissed him, as an adult would do, no inhibitions, no pretense. She kissed him with all she was.
She pulled him to the bed and kissed him there. Luffy threw his arms to the air. He was drowning.
"So you want to know about masturbation? I'll teach you something better!"
She savored his taste. He was salty with cold like the water from the shower. He was salty, but clean. He might not look like it, but Luffy was hygienic. His mouth was making her crazy. The fear was gone. The fact that she could have been his mother didn't matter anymore. Desire had her in strings. She unconsciously wished that time would stop.
"My god, Luffy, I love you! With all my heart, I love you!"
She said this in one breath. It was your fault, she thought. It was your fault for being so naïve! Why did you have to be so bold, defying the World Government's power to save a trash like me? Why did you have to make me feel that the reason I was born was to meet you? And now, how could you tempt me?
All her pent-up desire, all her longing, all her wishful thinking brought forth this immense energy. She took off her tank top and threw it beside his hat. She fumbled with the buckle of her belt and succeeded. She took off her skimpy shorts.
Now, only a piece of cloth remained, a small piece of cloth which relative had started this all. She sat on his stomach, leaned down, and kissed him again, mistaking Luffy's hot face as arousal.
Then, as she began pulling down her panties, a hand grabbed her hair. The hand yanked her away. A slap came next.
Nami's eyes had the cold color of unpolished steel. Her mouth was a thin line, her expression blank.
"Let's talk later." Nami went to Luffy. Upon putting her forehead against his, her eyes widened. "Chopper, help me! Gather Luffy's things and let's carry him to his room!"
Chopper, eyes wet with tears and shaking, went in to get Luffy's clothes. He glanced at Robin, glared briefly, and ran to Nami.
Robin was left with tears flowing down her cheeks.
Nami paced back and forth inside Luffy's room, eyes swollen from crying. It was evening already, but she hadn't sat even once.
Chopper entered the room and checked Luffy's temperature and pulse.
"He has stabilized," he said. "He was just exhausted and put to so much stress, but he's okay, now."
"Good. I'll leave him to you then."
Nami marched into Robin's room. She didn't bother to knock. Two bottles of wine at the leg of the lamp table caught her eyes. Robin was packing her clothes in a large suitcase.
"What is this? Are you running away?" Nami asked.
Robin scoffed. "No. I just thought of relocating my clothes into a more convenient place."
"Don't play Ms. Sarcastic with me."
"Isn't it enough that you caught me harassing..." Robin looked at her. "Raping our Captain?"
"Why did you do that?"
"Are all the people here as dumb as a crab?"
Robin stood up and looked at her closely. She reeked of wine. But the thing that bothered Nami was not Robin's intoxication. It was her aura, the coldness in her eyes. It was like seeing a villain in a charming disguise.
"Because I desire him," Robin said. "I want him to be mine. I want to be the only woman that can please his maddening existence."
"I didn't know that you're this kind of woman."
"What kind of woman am I?"
"A woman in league with prostitutes."
Robin turned serious. Nami felt needles on her spine. Then Robin smiled.
"Can you blame me?" Robin said with emphasis on each word. "Like me you were once alone in search of escape from a seemingly dead end. Then this man came, taking you in his wings, doing everything to tell you you were not alone, facing danger, humiliation, and death as if you were the most important thing in his life. Despite your stubbornness and denial, he kept pushing forward to reach your soul, trying his best to show you how wonderful it is to be born and live. Tell me who in the world will not see him as her most important person afterwards. Tell me if a woman will not fall in love with him."
"Luffy is important, but he's not the only one."
"Oh? Then why can't you look at me in the eye."
Nami forced herself. "He's not the only one."
"I could accept that. But isn't it that for you he's taller than the rest?"
"I see my friends equally."
"Hypocrite! You're talking to a woman! You can't fool me."
"I'm telling the truth-"
"Then why were you jealous? What was that anger all about? Why did I feel the hate in your eyes as if I just killed a child?"
Nami couldn't answer.
"I'm disgusted with you."
Robin chuckled. "Don't worry. I'll leave. I don't know what I might do in the future if I stayed beside him."
"No. You'll stay."
"You'll just make unnecessary trouble if you leave. You know Luffy's personality. I'm sure he'll search for you."
Robin's countenance softened. "I see."
"Besides, you're the only one who knows how to cook beside Sanji. The boys will not be back for three days. They have important business in town. Please take care of dinner."
Nami couldn't sleep that night. She had decided to watch over Luffy. Now, she was sitting on a stool beside his bed. The moon was big, and its silver light shone through the window of Luffy's room. The gentle crashing of waves on the hull had the relaxing sound of maracas with an odd rhythm.
She looked at Luffy's sleeping face and remembered the first time they had met. She had planned to rob that day. Her first impression of him was he was fearless. Her mother Bellemere had told her that there were two kinds of bravery. One was the bravery to protect an existence one believed to be important. The second was the bravery when fear did not exist. Bellemere said that a fearless man was like a black pearl, a one in a million existence.
"If you ever found one, Nami," she said. "Don't lose sight of that man. His is an existence favored by the heavens. They say that a fearless man is born one at a time. I only met one. He was the former King of the Seas. He conquered me. Beside him, I felt absolute security. But I lost sight of him and look at me, now. So, if you ever found one, stay beside him, if possible, forever."
"But not everything is good about a fearless man," Bellemere warned. "When people are moths, he is flame. When people are crows, he is silver. When people are bees, he is a nectar-filled flower. Living things are drawn to his purity. He will grab you where you are weakest. I will not be surprised if he brings jealously to everyone around him."
She knew Luffy well. He was an indispensable friend. He was very important. But was her mother right? Could Luffy make her feel jealous? Was it jealousy she had felt earlier when she saw Robin on top of Luffy?
Amongst the thoughts that spun around her head, she never noticed the one that would tell her she was about to cry. The tears flowed and she jerked when a drop fell on her clenched fist that was on her knee. The bitter taste of defeat began to bloom at the back of her tongue. Now, she could not deny it anymore. Bellemere was right. Robin was right. She didn't want to admit it, she hated to, but the part of her that couldn't lie was yelling the undeniable truth.
Of all the Straw Hats, Nami was the most proud. She hated to lose to anyone. Ever since Luffy's victory over Arlong, she had had a stupid crush on him. However, she had pushed it aside because she was the woman. She knew she was cute- a charmer, in her own words-she had a body every man would drool for and women would glare at. Also, he had treated everyone as nakama, as family. She had witnessed a few, like Vivi Nefteratu, shrink away when the word "nakama" went out his mouth.
He was fearless, but in endeavors that brought forth major change in the world. With his gift to enchant anyone, he could be a major source of population if he redirected his fearlessness at fishing women. So, she was grateful he was born with his present personality, and that he was ignorant of females' insinuations.
She had felt that in the end, he would choose her. That when he began to be interested in girls, she, the closest female around him, would be his choice. She had everything a man would have a pilgrimage for: everything from the tip of her hair to the tip of her toes spoke of beauty. That was why she was confident, the reason she felt secured. She had had no reason to show him directly that she liked him.
Robin had defeated her. There was also the possibility that she might lose Luffy, the fearless man Bellemere would have done anything to meet. Her regret glistened from every bead of tear that fell out her eyes. On the other side was Luffy. Robin had already made an advance on the bridge while she still hid behind a tree behind the pretty historian. It was vexing, her childish pride.
She reached out to touch Luffy's forehead. His temperature had lowered. She stood up and kissed him lightly on the lips.
Nami went to Robin's room. In the stillness, she heard sobs. She knew Robin was behind the door. She sat down, looking at the star-filled sky.
"Robin?" Waves briefly tore the silence. "I'm sorry."
"Am I stupid?"
"You are honest."
"Things are different, now, aren't they?"
"Yes. It will never be the same again."
"Am I still your nakama?"
Nami's tears flowed. "You're a bitch, but I guess so."
"I hate hypocrites, too."
"You had better."
"You can't' stop me. I love our Captain."
"Blame Luffy for being a fucking heaven sent."
Robin laughed. "I'm embarrassed for being like this."
"I love him, too."
"Come outside. The sky is beautiful."
"No. It's raining."
Nami looked up. Tears blurred her vision. "Yes. I guess you're right."
Leaning on the wall in the upper deck, Sanji listened to a small denden-mushi. The wind ruffled his hair. He blew out smoke. "I can't really leave you girls alone. What a pain in the ass."
He went to Luffy's room. He lifted Luffy's limp body onto his shoulder, got out the room, and jumped off the ship.
The morning came. Luffy, yawning, caught the aroma of pork chops coming from the kitchen. Drool leaked from the corner of his mouth. Excitedly, he ran to the kitchen.
Upon barging into the kitchen, Luffy saw Robin at the stove, frying. Nami was looking out to the sea with a hot mug of chocolate in her hand. He sensed the tension in the air.
"Good morning!" He went to sit at the table. "Nami, could you make me a cup of chocolate?"
"Sheesh." Nami walked to the table and put down her mug. "Why don't you try learning how to do this simple stuff?"
"It doesn't turn out drinkable when I do it. I tried before, but I wasted so much of the chocolate Sanji beat me into a pulp."
Nami made him a cup of chocolate.
Robin put the pork chops on the table. She brought each a bowl of rice and sat as far as she could from Luffy. Nami returned and sat on the stool at the window.
Luffy ate for a while in silence, but eventually the food tasted bland.
"I can't take this anymore! What's wrong with you guys?" he yelled.
"None of your business," Nami said.
"That's not an answer!" Luffy stretched his arms, curled each around Robin and Nami-
"Luffy!" Nami shouted. "Put me down!"
-placed them at his sides.
"This is better!" Luffy resumed eating.
Nami and Robin pecked glances at each other and at Luffy. They seemed waiting for the one who would talk first.
Suddenly, Luffy seemed to remember something. He stood up.
"What are you doing?" Nami asked.
Luffy made a bow in front of Robin.
"Captain..." Robin muttered.
"Sorry about your panties! I never meant to use it as a towel!"
"Panties?" Nami said.
"Towel?" Robin said.
"I was trying to search for a towel to wipe my nose with because sniffing hurt my head when I found your panties in a crack on the wall at the upper deck. Honest. I didn't know it was yours."
"You scum!" Nami angrily collared him. "You know it was a pair of panties, but you still used it as a towel to wipe your nose?"
"Nami, he thought it was a mask," Robin said.
"A mask? No, I knew it from the start that it was a pair of panties."
"But I thought it didn't belong to anyone."
"You were insisting that it was a mask."
"I'm sure I did not. Anyway, will you forgive me?"
"Wait! Wait! Wait!" Nami interjected. "Will somebody explain what's going on?"
"I'll explain later, Nami," Robin said. She was a little confused, now. "I'm sorry I got angry with you. I misunderstood everything. Sorry for calling you a pervert."
Luffy frowned. "I don't get you. Sanji told me that it was yours. He was the only one I talked to about the panties. And, Robin, I lost it. When I wake up this morning, I couldn't find it in my room. I remember washing it last night."
Now, she knew that something was wrong. "I forgive you, Luffy. Just don't do it, again. Always ask for the owner when you accidentally find things."
"Okay. I'll remember that."
Robin stood up and held Nami's wrist. "Will you excuse us, Luffy-kun?"
"Sure. Can I eat your share?"
"Yes, of course," Robin said. "Come on, Nami."
"Glutton," Nami muttered.
"What's wrong?" Nami asked when they were out of the kitchen. "And what about this 'panties' stuff?"
Robin didn't speak before they got into her room. "Never mind the 'panties' stuff. There is something more important than that."
"I want to know."
Robin sighed. "Let's just say that it was the root of my bold behavior yesterday. I thought Luffy was beginning to realize his manhood, so I thought to take advantage of it and make an advance. Don't look at me like that. You would have done the same thing if you were in my shoes. It was an opportunity. He was holding my bikini bottom and telling me how soft and fragrant it was, and how nice it was to the touch. Will you not be turned on?"
"I'm becoming tired of you, Nami."
"Fine. What about the other one?"
"I think he forgot about what happened between us, and Sanji has something to do with it."
"How can you be sure?"
"Why do you think he did not act awkwardly earlier? I couldn't stand his presence so I was distancing myself from him. If you only knew how hard for me to even look at him. But he acted as if nothing happened between us. He should be, at least, confused."
"So, what's your point? You should be happy he doesn't remember that embarrassing incident."
Robin didn't answer.
"You said that Sanji has something to do with it."
"Luffy mentioned his name. Where do you think he has gone to?"
"I don't know. He never told me."
The denden-mushi on the lamp table rang. Robin and Nami looked at each other. Robin answered.
"Morning, ladies! It's Sanji. Meet me on the beach."
Robin, wearing her khaki vest and cut-off jeans, and Nami, wearing a pink bikini top and mid-thigh skirt, approaches Sanji, who was leaning on the trunk of a coconut tree, smoking his cigarette.
"Hi, ladies!" he said. "Wow! Are you here to talk or seduce me?"
"Quit the bullshit, Sanji," Nami said.
"Why did you call us here?" Robin said.
"And why are you here?" Nami said. "You told me you'd be gone for three days."
"Nah. Amira-san had to leave early."
"So, what is it?"
Sanji blew some smoke. "I heard everything. I know what happened yesterday. It has been my security measure to scatter baby denden-mushis all over Thousand Sunny."
"You mean you like eavesdropping. Pervert," Robin said.
Sanji scratched his forehead. "Both of you. Would you please breathe some air and calm down?"
"You fool around too much," Robin said. "Get to the point."
Sanji slumped on a rock. "Okay. Robin. What you did yesterday is utter foolishness."
"I already knew that."
"Do you know why?"
"Are you here to lecture me?"
"No. I'm hell to tell a story. Fucking yes, I am!"
"Because I love Luffy."
"Okay. Much better. Nami."
"Yes," Nami said.
"You know that you are on the verge of committing the same mistake."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"You, too, love Luffy, right?"
"So, what if I am?"
"Are you jealous, Cook-san?" Robin said.
"Cook-san? Right. You're mad. And you did not answer my question. I was not asking why you did it, but why it was foolishness."
"I know it was wrong. But now that Luffy seems unable to remember it, if we keep it a secret, I think everything is fine."
"Are you forgetting that Nami here has the same feelings as you?"
"So, what is your point?" Nami said.
Sanji exploded. "My point is you two will eventually destroy our group!" He crushed his cigarette under the sole of his shoe. They were silent for a few seconds. "I took Luffy and Chopper to a hypnotist, so they don't have any recollection of that incident anymore. I will go and erase that memory myself. I suggest that you come with me, too."
"A hypnotist," Robin said. "Are you kidding me?"
"What you did is you followed the pattern 'I think, therefore, I feel, therefore, I act, therefore, I regret,' did you know that? You put your feelings before you act. Nothing good will come out of that. You're only satisfying yourself."
"The philosopher cook," Robin said sarcastically. "Great!"
"Am I wrong, historian? Don't you read books?"
"I've heard of that. Isn't its contrary is the pattern 'I feel, I think, I act, I succeed?" Nami said.
"But how can a hypnotist help? It's already done. Besides, I think she can't erase feelings."
"She can't, but she can manipulate thinking. She can put a thought, some kind of warning, so that you can reconsider before you act." He was looking at Robin when he said this. "And she can make you forget. Now that the foundation of our group has a crack, we must do this, because to tell you the truth, I don't feel the same way towards Robin as before."
"Fine, hate me!" Robin said. "I was gonna leave anyhow if the navigator didn't stop me."
"No one's gonna leave. I'm presenting you a solution. All you need to do is come with me."
"I don't trust you, Cook-san. I'll find my own solution."
"What? Isn't it better to forget?" Nami said.
Robin said, "I can't stomach the thought that just because I became honest with myself, everyone would hate me. Hypnotism is not a brain transplant. Whatever thought she puts in our brains, the original is still there. You're just presenting us a cowardly solution. I think it's better to face this problem head-on with what we have instead of pretending nothing has happened." She turned and left.
"Fine! Do what you want! Nami, I hope you're not thinking like her," Sanji said.
"Let me think this over, Sanji."
"You too? What's wrong with you people?"
"Sorry, Sanji-kun." Nami left.
Later, Nami went to Robin's room.
"Robin, can I talk with you?" she said. She was outside the door.
Robin stood up from her bed. She hesitated for a split second before opening the door. Nami entered without looking at her face. No one talked for a while.
"Were you serious about what you said?" Nami said.
"What are you planning to do now?"
Robin leaned on the wall, looking at the window.
"I'm still thinking. This has gotten big."
"Don't you think Sanji has a point?"
"He has a point, but as I've said, his solution is temporary." Robin decided to go to the window and watched the sea outside. "If we ignore this problem and forget about it, what do you think will happen if the same thing occurs in the future? I was going to have my memory of that incident erased by any means if the bitterness was only between us. But when Sanji told us his true feelings about this, I saw the seriousness of this problem." She faced Nami. "Nami, as long as we have these feelings, the danger will remain. It's not as easy as erasing a single incident from our memory. Nevertheless, I'll think of a solution. I don't accept going to a hypnotist will solve anything."
Oblivious of what was currently happening, Luffy looked for Chopper, who he was playing hide-and-seek with. He entered the dark stockroom, inching quietly forward.
"Chopper, I know you're here. I'm gonna find you."
Suddenly, he felt a surge of pain in his head. He fell on his knees, wanting to scream, but no sound was coming out his mouth. He groped for something, found a lever. He pulled it down. As the light came on, he remembered.
He stood up, rushed for the door, and was out. He stopped midway, reconsidering, looking at his bunched fist that quivered at his side.
"What should I do? How will I respond?"
Chopper woke up in the shadows. Luffy had forgotten about him. He decided to go to the kitchen since ice cream came on his mind.
Sanji was not himself as he stood at the sink, looking outside. The long ash left by the ember of his cigarette was about to fall. It fell. He didn't notice it.
An unfinished sliced tuna fish was on the chopping board. The water ran continuously from the faucet. Plates floated on the water, clinking with each other, but the sound didn't reach his ears.
Chopper tugged at the leg of his pants. "Sanji-kun! Sanji-kun! Do we have ice cream?"
Sanji jumped. He hastily turned the faucet off. "Chopper? What is it?"
"Ice cream." Chopper went to the table and sat. "Did Luffy come by? We were playing hide-and-seek, but it seems he has forgotten about me."
"That so? No. He hasn't come in here." Sanji put the gallon of ice cream and a pack of wafer cones on the table. "Enjoy."
Chopper noticed his odd behavior. "Sanji, is there a problem?"
"No. I'm just thinking what ingredient I've forgotten to buy. This has been bugging me for a while now."
Luffy reached Robin's room. He inhaled deeply to calm himself.
"Robin, are you there?"
Robin was drinking on her bed. She was surprised to hear his voice. She threw her long legs at the side of her bed and searched for her sandals. Once she found them, she went to the door, put her hand on the knob, but stopped. She could not face Luffy, yet.
"Robin, do you hear me?"
It was hurting to hear his voice. "Could we talk later, Captain? I'm busy."
"Yesterday, you told me you love me."
Robin was surprised. Hadn't he been hypnotized?
"When? I can't remember."
"Did Sanji take you to the weird lady, too? He took me last night. The weird lady did something to me. I forgot what happened between us yesterday, but it suddenly came back to me a few minutes ago. So, Robin, is it true? Do you really love me?"
"Luffy, you're so mean. Do I really have to tell you?"
"Yes. I want to hear it, again."
"I love you, yes. And I love Nami, Chopper, Sanji...I love the Straw Hats, Luffy. All of you."
"So, that's it?"
"Then why did you kiss me?"
She didn't answer.
"I'm confused. I don't know how to respond. This is my first time feeling like this. But I'm not mad at you. I just don't know what to do. Will you be mad at me?"
"Of course not, Captain, because I love you."
"Well, I love you, too. I'll find out how to respond properly. Will you wait for me?"
Robin knew that his love was a different kind from hers. She heard his footsteps going away.
Inside her room, Nami couldn't concentrate. The drawing paper was still blank. She had planned to draw the island they were anchored at, but she was not motivated. The incident still bothered her.
Finally, she gave up. She went to her bed and lay face down. She embraced her pillow, cursing under her breath.
The door suddenly flew open. Sanji came in.
"Bad news!" he said. "I don't know how, but Luffy remembered everything."
"Can't you knock?"
"Come with me, Nami. Let's go to the hypnotist."
"Hold your horses. Tell me what's happened."
"Earlier, I overheard Robin and Luffy talking. Luffy asked if Robin was truly in love with him. He also told Robin about the hypnotist."
"He asked her if she was truly in love with him."
Nami suddenly got off her bed, hurrying for the door. Sanji grabbed her upper arm.
"Where are you going?" Sanji said. "It's important that we see the hypnotist."
Nami looked at Sanji. Sanji saw a mixture of anxiety and fear on her face.
"I need to know what she said," Nami said. "I need to know, Sanji."
He had bolted before Robin could answer so he couldn't tell her. "It will not help us."
"You don't understand."
Tears flowed out Nami's eyes. Sanji unconsciously let go of her arm, pity on his face. She ran out of the room.
Nami rapped at the door of Robin's room. "Robin, open up! Tell me what you told Luffy! Robin! Please, open up!" Nami tried the knob. It was locked. "Robin! Talk to me!" Weakness conquered her. She slumped on the floor, tears trickling over her thighs. Her hands clutched her skirt, angrily. "Can't you at least tell me? I'm still your nakama, right?"
Sanji saw Nami in that state. An urge to appease her misery pinched his heart. He knocked at the door.
"Robin. It's Sanji. Please open the door. Stand up, Nami. Robin, do you hear me?" A beat. "She's not answering."
"What will I do, Sanji?" Nami said. "What if she has succeeded in taking Luffy?"
"Robin will not do something like that while we're still here. She's not that shallow. Robin, if you don't respond, I'll destroy this door! Robin! Fuck. You asked for it." He kicked the door open.
Robin wasn't inside. Sanji went to the bathroom. "Robin, are you there?" Robin was not. He began to feel anxious. He searched her closet and found no clothes inside. "This is bad." He went back to Nami. "Stand up and dry your tears. Let's find Robin. I'm sure she's still nearby."
Nami, wide-eyed, looked at the room.
"The closet is empty. She's planning not to return."
"I'll tell Luffy."
"Don't make the situation worse. No one should know about this, especially Luffy."
Luffy, while sauntering on the deck, saw Sanji and Nami running on the beach away from Thousand Sunny.
"Hey! Are you two going on a date? Buy me some lamb chops, will you?" Luffy yelled.
Nami stopped, picked up a rock, and hurled it towards Luffy. The rock hit Luffy in the face.
"We're not dating!"
"Why did you throw a rock on me?"
"Because we're not going on a date, idiot!"
"Stop!" Sanji said. "Concentrate! Luffy, I'll bring you a lot!"
"Thanks, Sanji! Nami, we're not finished, yet!"
"Asshole!" Nami yelled.
When Nami and Sanji were out of his sight, he dusted himself. "What's wrong with her?"
Chopper went out of the kitchen with two cones of ice cream in his hands. He saw Luffy.
"Luffy! Here's some ice cream!"
Luffy immediately went to him. "Thanks, Chopper!"
"Hey, we're not playing hide-and-seek anymore, okay. This is time out."
Luffy licked his ice cream. "Sure."
"Sanji gave me the gallon. I could only put it at the lowest level. I couldn't put it in the freezer. Could you help me? It might melt."
"Let's just eat it." Suddenly, he lowered his head so that he was directly facing the short Chopper. "Don't move, Chopper."
Luffy kissed Chopper. There was a long silence. Chopper's eyes welled up.
"What are you doing?" Chopper said.
"Don't you like it?"
"That was my first kiss! Yuck! You're so disgusting."
"What was in your mind? A man should not kiss a man. Are you crazy?"
"What did you say?"
"That's the bad effect of always thinking about fun. A man may only kiss a woman. That's the norm."
"So, that's it. But, why does a man kiss a woman?"
Suddenly, Chopper felt pain in his head. He thought it was toothache, so he endured it. When it passed, he remembered about the incident.
"That's right. Robin kissed you yesterday," Chopper said.
"Yeah. Do you know why a man kisses a woman?"
"You know, Luffy, it's better to forget about it."
"No. I promised Robin I'd find out how to respond to her kiss."
"You said that? You're just creating trouble, you know."
"Trouble? Is a kiss that big of a deal?"
"Then the more I should find an answer."
Chopper sighed. "All right. Come with me."
Chopper took Luffy in his room. He went to get something from the shelf. Luffy sat expectantly on the bed. Chopper came back with a comic book and put it in front of Luffy. It was on the section were a couple was kissing.
"Ooh..." Luffy crooned.
"People kiss when they love each other. This is a gesture to show how much you love someone. This is often done to prove that you have chosen the one to love. It is not done for granted. Read it. For girls, kiss is sacred. They don't give their lips just to anybody."
"What? The girl slapped the boy!"
"In the story the boy kissed the girl without her consent. That will happen to you when you kiss a girl who doesn't like you."
"Then how would you respond when a girl kissed you?"
Chopper flipped to the section where the girl kissed a boy.
"What's this?" Luffy said. "The boy didn't do anything. The girl was crying."
"The girl loved the boy in the scene, but the boy did not love the girl. That is painful for a girl."
"You're amazing, Chopper!"
Chopper twisted his body and shook his hips in pleasure. "Don't think I'm happy with what you said, asshole! I'm not! Don't be like that!"
"If you kissed a girl who loved you, would the girl be happy?"
"Yes, from what I've read."
Luffy grinned. "Now I know! Thank you, Chopper!"
"What are you planning?"
"Robin said she loves me. She will be happy if I kiss her!"
"Stop! Don't do that!"
"Because Robin is our nakama."
"But she said she loves me."
"If you do that, everything will be complicated."
"Just don't do it!"
"I want Robin to be happy. What's wrong about that?"
"It's hard to explain. If you do that, Robin will think you love her."
"But I love Robin. She's my nakama after all."
"It's not that easy. The love you're talking about is different."
"You know, you're confusing me."
"It's...Robin will not be happy if you kiss her not knowing how to kiss properly!"
"Ooh...I didn't think of that!"
Chopper sighed. "See? Robin will be pissed off if you don't know how to kiss."
"Maybe you've read books about kissing, too. Could you teach me?"
"There's a way how to learn the proper way."
In the kitchen, Chopper got a basket of cherries. Luffy was sitting across from him.
"If you can tie the stem of the cherries into a knot, you are a good kisser," Chopper said.
Luffy tried and succeeded. Chopper was surprised.
"I'm not convinced. One more," Chopper said.
Luffy tried again and again until Chopper stopped him.
"How can you do that?"
"It's simple. You just have to..."
"Three! You need to knot three!"
"Huh? Well, okay." Luffy tried. It took longer, but he did it.
Chopper grew frightened of Luffy. "Are you a monster? Ten. Yes! Ten! You have to knot ten cherries before I let you kiss Robin!"
"Ten? It was already difficult to knot three. Now it's ten! You're torturing me!"
"Isn't it that you said you wanted to make Robin happy?"
"Then knot ten."
Luffy drooled all over the table as he tried his best to do Chopper's demand.
"I'll have to leave you here to call someone. Good luck!"
Chopper left Luffy and went to his lab. He talked to a denden-mushi that looked like Usopp.
"Usopp, I need help."
"What happened?" Usopp said over the denden-mushi.
"Luffy is planning to kiss Robin."
"Is that a joke?"
"I'm not kidding. I don't know what's gotten into him. But, anyway, come quickly, okay?"
"I'm deep in the city. I don't know if I can get there early enough."
"I don't care. Just come. I don't know what to do anymore."
"Tell me everything when I get there. Try to explain to Luffy that it's not a good idea."
"I tried. I told him that he had to learn how to kiss first. He's now in the kitchen knotting cherries. He's a monster, Usopp. He got it in his first try. I made him knot ten."
"That's bad. I'll try to get there as fast as I can. Is Robin there? Why don't you tell her?"
"It's complicated. I need you here, Usopp."
"Okay. Call everyone. Nami should be there, right?"
"She was, but she left with Sanji. I heard Luffy calling out and asking for lamb meat."
"I see. Do your best until I get there."
When Chopper returned to the kitchen, he saw Luffy sleeping with seven knotted cherries beside his face.
"Monster," Chopper muttered.
Usopp arrived an hour later with a girl. She was blonde and strikingly beautiful. She was wearing a conservative white dress.
Chopper ran to him. "Usopp! I'm so glad to see you!"
"I took him in his room. He fell asleep while knotting the cherries. Who is she?"
"She's my aunt Neri, my mother's cousin."
"Hello there! I'm Neri!" Neri said.
"My name is Chopper. Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you, too. So, you're the famous straw hat pet! How cute!"
Chopper twisted and hugged himself. "Stop it, you bitch! I'm not happy at all with your praise!"
Neri laughed. "You're so funny!"
"Auntie, can I have a moment with Chopper?"
"You can look around if you like."
"Thank you. Then I'll help myself to this magnificent ship."
"Just don't touch any levers and buttons, okay."
Usopp pulled Chopper aside.
"She's young to be your auntie."
"Yes. I never thought I'd meet her here. I was in her house when you called. Apparently, his family is a powerful entity in this island."
"What happened here?"
"Well, you see, yesterday something happened between Robin and Luffy."
"They had a fight?"
"No. Nami and I caught Robin kissing Luffy inside her room."
Usopp was shocked. Blood trickled down his nose. Then it burst, knocking him backwards.
"Usopp!" Chopper took him to his lab.
"Are you sure Luffy wasn't doing anything?" Usopp said when he came to.
"Yes. He was sick yesterday, remember?"
"You mean Robin tried to rape Luffy?"
"She was half-naked."
"Half..." He gulped. "Half-naked?"
"Usopp, this is a serious matter!"
"Yeah, yeah. Of course! So, you are saying that Robin has feelings for Luffy."
"That's the only conclusion."
"That lucky bastard!"
"I called Brook and Franky. They said they'd be back this evening. I couldn't connect with Zoro. Sanji and Nami weren't picking up."
"Nami and Sanji, too? Oh, I can't stand this atmosphere!"
"Usopp, we should be thinking of what to do! I don't want the situation to become worse."
"Of course. I'm sorry."
After Luffy woke up, he went to the lobby and resumed knotting cherries in front of the aquarium. Neri wandered into the room. Luffy was surprised to see her. He swallowed the cherries in his mouth and pointed at the lovely girl.
"Huh? No! I'm not a burglar! I'm Usopp's aunt! My name is Neri!"
"Yes. I came with Usopp. He's talking with Chopper right now."
"That so? Okay. So, why are you here?"
"Usopp allowed me to look around. Am I intruding too much?"
"No." Luffy stared at her. "You're pretty."
"Huh? Are you...are you praising me?"
"Then why did you say that?"
"Because you're pretty. Are you not?"
"I don't know. I guess so."
"How come you're Usopp's aunt? You're young."
"I'm his mother's cousin."
Luffy brought out cherries from his pocket, counted ten, and then put them in his mouth. Neri lingered around.
"This is a nice aquarium," she said.
"This is the first time I've seen a pirate ship with an aquarium."
"What are you doing?"
Luffy looked at her. "I'm trying to knot ten cherries with my tongue. I'm stuck at seven." He showed her the cherries in his mouth. "See?" Luffy swallowed the cherries.
"Yes. You know, I'm trying to learn how to kiss."
"Two cherries will be enough if you're just trying to learn how to kiss."
"Do you know the right way to kiss?"
"Of course, I do! I'm already twenty-one you know!"
"Really? Amazing! Could you teach me?"
"Chopper told me that if I knot ten cherries in my mouth, I'm already okay. Is that right?"
"Well, if you can knot two, you're already a good kisser."
"I can tie seven."
Neri giggled. "You're a monster."
"I think it's not good enough."
"The girl should tell you that."
"You can tell if a man is a good kisser or not?"
"I think so."
"Can I kiss you?"
Neri was taken aback. "Are you an idiot?"
"Chopper told me that a girl who is not in love with the guy who kissed her will be pissed. You can beat me up, afterwards. I'm used to it."
"The idea is already pissing me off, Luffy-san."
"You should not be light about kissing. It's sacred to us girls."
"You should learn to read the atmosphere."
"Atmosphere? You mean the weather?"
"You're funny. I mean the mood, the ambience, the feel of the surrounding."
"Atmosphere." Luffy suddenly took off his vest. "You mean like this?"
"What are you doing? It's not like that!" Neri was furiously blushing. She could not stare, but she pecked glances at his body. "You...you have a nice body, Luffy-san." She fiddled with her fingers.
"Oh, this? Thanks."
"You have many scars."
"I got them from my fights."
"Can I..." She gulped. "Can I touch them?"
Neri shyly approached. Her breathing was already constricted. "Can I really touch them?"
"Don't be afraid." He took her forefinger and put its tip on a scar in his chest. "See? It's smooth, isn't it?"
"Yes. You had many battles, right?"
"Quite a few."
"You fought with some of the most infamous people in the world, right?"
"You see, I've been an avid fan of yours, Luffy-san. I've been collecting things about you and haven't missed an article about your adventures." She dreamily caressed his stone-hard stomach with her right hand. "When I heard that the Thousand Sunny had docked on our island, I was really happy. I couldn't sleep. I really wanted to see you." She put her hands behind her and looked up at Luffy. She had a wistful look in her eyes. "Kiss me."
Luffy blinked. "What?"
"Kiss me, now."
"I can? You told me-"
"I know. You can kiss me now."
Luffy softly pushed her away. The spell broke. "You told me I can't."
"I said that because you asked me out of the blue while we only just met."
"No. There are two things now: proper way of kissing and atmosphere."
"I thought you wanted to know if you were a good kisser or not?"
"Now, it's second priority. I need to know how to read the atmosphere first."
"Do you know that you're embarrassing me?"
"Because I just told you that you can kiss me, but you are now refusing despite my effort in building up the right atmosphere."
"Will you be happy if I kiss you, now?"
Neri froze. She turned around and walked a few steps away. "I'm sorry. I got carried away."
"That's funny. I read from a comic book that girls want to be kissed only by the man they love. Does that mean you love me?"
"I don't know if I should be mad or be delighted with your frankness. You're a strange man. Of course, girls are like that, but there are also times when the urge comes. Some friends kiss, some girls kiss strangers just because they feel like it."
"What kind of girl are you?"
"Luffy-san! You're not supposed to be asking that!"
"Geez...All right! I love you! Are you happy now?"
"Of course, I am! Now, you're my friend, too."
Neri frowned. "What?"
"People who love me are my nakama."
"No, no! It's not like that!"
"So, Neri, will you teach me about atmospheres and kisses?"
Neri sighed. The rumor she had heard was true. Luffy was like a child. "Okay. I'll try my best. But, I changed my mind. You can't kiss me."
Luffy took Neri to his room.
"You can set up the atmosphere. Did you hear about candle light dinner, petals on the floor, serenades, things like that?" she said. She was sitting on Luffy's bed. He was sitting on a stool.
"Okay. Then you just look for a hint from the girl."
"Yes. Look into her eyes. If the girl is waiting for something, make assumptions. Ask questions that could crack her up. Hold her hands, read her intentions. But don't be too fast. Make it slow. If she doesn't show resistance, you have the right atmosphere. She wants to be kissed."
"Can I just ask her? What you're saying sounds difficult."
"You can if you're confident enough. And remember, this is important, you two should be in a private place, a place where no one can watch."
"Like a room."
"It's the best place."
"So that's it." Luffy was silent for a long time, and then he suddenly stood up and goes to the window. He put his hands in his pockets. "Right atmosphere," he muttered.
Neri was surprised. "Yes?"
"You know that I love you, right?"
"What? What are you saying? What's wrong with you?"
"It doesn't matter. I love you. Isn't that enough?"
Neri felt a chill. She stood up and went to the door. "You're not funny, anymore. I think I should leave."
"You wanted me to kiss you a while ago. What's wrong?"
"It was different. You missed your chance. This is different. You are not like the Luffy a while ago."
"What's wrong? You said you love me. Were you making a fool out of me?"
"What are you talking about?"
Luffy went to her and held her hands. Long. They stared at each other's faces. Luffy moved his face closer.
"I love you," Luffy said.
"Stop it right now, Luffy-san. Do you realize that we are in a room?"
"What's the big deal?"
"Please, Luffy-san." What was happening? Was he really like a child? His eyes were not of a child's.
Luffy moved his face closer. "Then tell me you don't love me."
"Luffy-san..." she whispered.
Luffy lightly kissed her. "Tell me you don't love me."
"No...Oh my god..."
Luffy kissed her. She closed her eyes. Seeing that, Luffy kissed her deeply this time. Neri blushes, overwhelmed by the sensation. Her body shivered, losing her strength. Luffy kissed unbelievably. She unconsciously put her arms around his neck, not refraining now. She kissed him back. The blush was on her long neck now. She lost all her strength, but Luffy supported her with his strong arms. She felt like floating. Tears began to flow out her eyes. Out of joy.
Then the door suddenly opened. Usopp entered and saw the scene. He became angry. He broke Luffy and Neri and punched Luffy in the face.
"You scum! What do you think you're doing to my aunt?"
Luffy blinked, went to the lamp table, and flipped on the pages of a comic book. Usopp realized what he was doing. He grabbed the book, opened the window, and threw it out.
"What are you doing?" Luffy said.
"I can't believe you! Are you really an idiot? You're the most stupid person I've ever met! You're worse than a fucking snail!"
"I'm not stupid."
"You're not? Do you realize what you did?"
"I just kissed Neri. It was the right atmosphere. She did not resist."
"No. You said something from that comic book, didn't you?"
"Yes. I said what the male character was saying to the girl. I said, 'I love you.'"
"You moron! Do you even know what love is?"
"Of course! I love my nakama! I love meat, too!"
"I don't know what to say anymore."
Neri recovered and approached them both. "That's enough, Usopp." She slapped Luffy. "I'm sorry, Luffy-san. I can't help it. I needed to slap you. Usopp, let's go."
Luffy was stunned. His eyes welled up in frustration.
"What are they trying to say? Why can't I understand? Damn it! Why am I so dumb?"
Luffy thought long and hard. Usopp was furious. Neri had slapped him. He might not know what love truly was, but a slap could tell only one thing: he had done something wrong. Maybe he deserved it. The tear tracks on Neri's cheeks were not hard to miss. The tears of the girl in the comic book were of sadness and disappointment. Were they the same? He had proposed that Neri beat him up in exchange for a kiss since that time he did not know she loved him. But, she said she loved him. Why were there tear tracks on her cheeks then? The thought that it might have been because she was happy Usopp's anger and Neri's slap had pulled short, stopping it from reaching Luffy's mind. The only thing now in his mind was they were angry. He had done something wrong.
Harboring the confusion in his mind, he let his feet take him to Robin's room. He inhaled a lungful but stopped shortly when the broken door came into view. He panicked. Someone had kicked the door, and it was so clear the door would have laughed at him if he didn't think so.
He ran inside, searched and searched, but the rooms-the bathroom, the paper storage, and the wine cellar-he found all empty. Then he saw the empty closet. The truth dawned on him or rather he woke up in it while it came like a hurricane.
Panting, he reached Chopper's room and told him his discovery.
"What?" Chopper said.
"She took all her clothes! She took all her clothes, Chopper!"
"What should we do? What should we do?" Chopper ran to the wall, tapped at it, ran to the opposite side, tapped at it, and so on. "Robin is gone!"
"Tell Usopp! I'll search for her!" Luffy was off.
Chopper heard, but ignored it. He went on and on until his eyeballs were rolling like crazy and his body was rolling on the floor. Eventually, dizziness swallowed his panic. He fainted. It would take an hour before the news reached Usopp.
Usopp had cravings of a man. He had tried peeking at the girls if he had the chance even if they were very cautious and he could only see a glimpse of their skin. Contrary to Robin's beliefs, he was equal, if not worse, in perverseness as Sanji. However, seeing her aunt having a love scene with his best friend was different. He had not felt aroused at all. Blood had gushed out his nose when Chopper told him about Robin and Luffy's little skin contact. He had bled after hearing about Robin's half-naked body. However, the hot scene that had involved his aunt was different. It angered him so he had punched Luffy in the face, the second time he had done it with genuine contempt since Going Merry.
"I trusted you that you'd not do something embarrassing here," Usopp said. "What's the meaning of this?"
"Come on. You saw it. He was kissing me. He was!"
"Why were you in his room?"
"He invited me. Then it happened. I didn't know that he's a bad boy." A playful adjective she meant to dislodge the tension in the air.
"He is a dumb boy. He is like a child. You're a fan and you don't know that?"
"Then why did you let him do that to you?"
"Because I wanted him to! Now, are you happy? I wanted him to kiss me!"
"I regret taking you with me. You caused us a lot of trouble."
"What the hell did I do wrong? Are you jealous because no one will do the same to you?"
Bull's eye. Usopp had no retort against that. It was true that he dreamed every night that someday girls would flock around him, too.
"No. You did not do anything wrong. I'm jealous, yes, but you did not do anything wrong."
"Then why are you telling me that I caused you trouble?"
"Because you did. Now, I'm sure as hell Luffy is awfully confused."
"He can shoot those lines, Usopp. Even if those came from a comic book, he told them with sincerity. How can he be confused now if he could have so powerful an emotion while telling me those lines? I heard you, but I don't believe that he doesn't understand what love is."
"Did you see his eyes after you slapped him?"
That was it. The only thing that she had missed.
"Then how?" she said.
"He can mimic. He mimics people he finds interesting. He likes to play pranks. Playing a character from a comic book is a piece of cake."
"That was all an act? I can't believe it." She slumped on the bed and looked at the floor. "He was just fooling around?"
"Anyway, I admit that it's not your fault you're now involved," he said.
Neri looked up. "Involved?"
"You said he invited you to his room. Why?"
"He asked me to teach him how to read the atmosphere before a..."
"Why do you think he wanted to learn how to kiss?"
"Stop dilly-dallying and tell me!"
"There was an incident yesterday. Our Historian Robin made advances on Luffy. Since he doesn't understand anything, he tried to reciprocate her feelings by asking about the meaning of a kiss. Chopper told him what he learned from reading comic books. Luffy misunderstood, thinking that he only needed to kiss Robin back to make her happy. Chopper told him that he should learn how to kiss first."
"He really is a child, but how sweet of him to think about reciprocating Robin's feelings."
"The love he knows is the universal: the care or attachment you feel for someone or something important. He thinks that the love you feel for someone you want beside you all your life is the same. Now, do you understand?"
"Damn that boy!" But she was smiling. "His innocence makes me want him more."
"Don't you see that we have a real problem here?"
"What problem? Is it wrong that we love Luffy?"
Yes, it was true. Nothing was wrong about it. However, something in him nagged him to treating the situation a "real problem." He had felt it before. For her mother, he had run around his old village and announced everyday that pirate ships had docked their shores. He had become suspicious when Kaya did not open her windows for him one day. He had felt wary of everyone because he felt that a friend would betray Going Merry in the future. When something bad was about to happen, he somehow had a feeling about it. And he had done something before it arrived and knocked at his door. Now, what nagged in him was the same voice that had blown into his nose bad air. Like before, he smelled it, but couldn't place where the smell was coming from or what was making it. He only knew that it was there, and like before, he must do something before it came.
It was a while before Usopp took leave and searched for Chopper. When he opened the little doctor's door, he found Chopper sleeping near the foot of his bed. He went and roused him up.
"Why are you sleeping here?"
Chopper's eyes bulged. "That's right! Robin is gone!"
"Robin is gone! Luffy is searching for him! How long was I asleep?"
"I don't know. But is it true, what you said?"
"Luffy came and told it to me. Usopp, what should we do? Will Robin come back?"
To check for himself, Usopp went to Robin's room. He went out with beads of sweat on his forehead and a grim expression on his face. When Chopper looked at him with inquiring eyes, he could not look back.
Neri still could not believe what had happened. Luffy had kissed her. Inside Usopp's room, inside that small world, she was the happiest woman alive. She couldn't help but sing a song her mother had sung for her when she was a child. She had a nice voice, sweet and clear, each word pronounced as it should be. She struck every note accurately and the loudness was precise. Monsters would sleep, villains would stop to listen, and storms might cease for a while when the melody reached them. Soft and moving like the breeze of summer, but chilling in the sense that tears would spring up in your eyes when you listened to it. The song conveyed her joy in a way that was near heart wrenching. It was her heart that sang. It was her heart.
It was a surprise for her to learn that Robin had feelings for Luffy, too. From Brooke, she was the third oldest of the crew, at her late twenties. She never expected that an intelligent woman with so much experience in life would fall for a boy with the youngest way of thinking amongst the Straw Hats. Sure, she knew what Luffy had done for Robin, the eight-year old monster who had capsized ten Marine battleships single-handedly, as rumored. However, she still could not believe that Robin's heart could be easily swayed by those. Robin had seen something in him. That was the only reason she could think of why a sensible woman like Robin would fall for a man like Luffy.
"So that means I'm not sensible?" She giggled.
It did not matter at the moment. The feeling of a thousand tiny needles on her lips was still there. He had really kissed her. She would never experience a kiss as hot, as passionate, and as tender as Luffy's kiss ever again.
Usopp was thinking. Breaking a door was not like Luffy. He was sure that Sanji had done it. Only Sanji, Nami, Chopper, and Luffy were here before he arrived. Only Sanji would have sensed that something was wrong when the door was lock, but no one was answering from the inside. Then that meant that Robin had been gone for quite a while now. Sanji and Nami had left to chase after her without telling Luffy because they knew that Luffy would blame himself, and his confusion would worsen. That was a wise decision. However, they never expected that Luffy would find out the truth before they came back. Now, Luffy was gone, too, to search for Robin. Being second mate, he should be in charge. But what should he do?
Brooke and Frankie came home an hour and a half later. The sun was setting and darkness slowly crept on the sky. When Usopp told them about the incident, they were surprised, but not for long.
"I've been expecting something like this," Frankie said. "I knew it would happen sooner or later. But I thought Nami would be the first to move."
"How?" Usopp said.
"Can tell from their eyes. Can tell from their actions. Can tell from the way they treat Luffy. Old folks know."
Dismissing it for the more pressing issue, Usopp told them about Robin's departure.
"You said that Sanji and Nami ran after her?" Frankie said. "Then we better stay here and wait for them. If they haven't found Robin, yet, they will call, that I'm sure."
"Can I help?" Neri said.
Brooke, Frankie, and Usopp turned on her. Chopper apologized for not being able to stop her from coming. Brooke, being who he was, introduced himself and asked, formally, if he could see Neri's panties, which warranted a palm chop from Usopp.
"I'm Neri Bordercrane. My family is the owner of this island."
"A Bordercrane. Aren't they a relative of your clan, Usopp?" Frankie said.
"I'm his auntie."
"I see. From what I heard, you've kept your neutrality for generations. If you help us, your family will be in a difficult situation."
"There are Bordercranes around the world. We have sheltered many marines and pirates before, even famous figures in our history. They will not dare touch us. We're one of the Twelve Noble Families that maintain balance in this world."
"I see. Then please. The most important thing is not letting Robin get away from the docks. If you could, please stop that from happening."
"I understand," Neri said.
Zoro was lost, believing he had found the right path to take to return to Thousand Sunny. His sense of direction was terrible, indeed, but pride kept that fact hidden, making him unaware of it. Kids that told him so went home crying with lumps on their heads. Women that told him so stayed awake long at night, afraid to have nightmares about his ferocious stare. Men that told him so filled the hospitals of the village. So he kept on believing that he was good enough as a compass in telling east from west, even though he would point at north, with confident assertion, when someone asked him where the sun had risen today.
He was in the forest.
He finished the trail he had taken and stopped. The tall woman coming from his left stopped as well.
"You have a large luggage," he said. "Where are you going?"
Robin had not expected this. She had chosen to cross the forest because she knew that nobody would think that she would choose it. Sensible woman as she was, intelligent woman as she was, scholarly woman as she was. Who would anticipate her decision? But then Zoro came. They met at the same place, at the same time. If there were gods, then this was a play of their whim.
"If you don't want me to ask why, stop with the formality."
"I'm sorry. I just want to cool my head down."
It's none of your business! She sighed. "I don't know. Anywhere my feet take me."
"Let me carry your bag."
"If you don't want me as company, say so. Tell me anytime."
After a moment of hesitation, she gave in. "Okay. Here."
She was silent and Zoro was silent because of that. She was considering if this man, the warrior with the three swords, would understand her situation as simple as he understood the path each of his blade took to wound or kill. He might. Zoro was silent all the time and only spoke when disturbed or challenged. He was not dumb. He could have something for her to get ideas from.
"Zoro-kun, you had anybody you ever loved?"
Zoro cocked an eyebrow. "If the love you're asking of is what I think, I don't know, for I felt it as a child."
"If you felt it for a single person, it is."
"I had, name of Kuina."
"How was it?"
"I am because she was."
"I don't get you."
"I have the goal to be the best swordsman in the world because she made me. She was my goal. She had the best hands that once held a sword."
"If you could have chosen, you wouldn't have left her side, is what you're saying?"
"You wanted her to be the mother of your children."
"I was just a pup back then. I never thought about that."
"You were saying, 'she was.' Where is she?"
"She is with the gods."
"I never told anybody until now. It's not your fault."
"Listen, Zoro-kun, I have to tell you something."
"Don't be obliged just because I told you a part of my history. I can see it's hard for you."
It was more of a command. "Okay. I'm all ears."
"I love Luffy."
"You want him to be the father of your children?"
Robin couldn't help blushing. "You could say that."
"Is that why you're leaving?"
"You're not surprised?"
"I've sensed you have the eye for him ever since Alabasta. You want to kiss him every time."
"You sure are blunt, Swordsman-san." This was with humor.
"I tell what I see. I tell what I saw."
"Yes. It's what I've wanted."
"What I'm reading on you, you finally did."
"I don't know what came into me."
"Don't tell me that. I'm sure you know."
"Do you blame me?"
"Do you blame me for wielding three swords instead of one?"
Robin shook her head.
"What's funny to me," Zoro said, "is how you're like a lost child right now."
"I tilted our boat a few degrees to the left."
"I know, but it will still sail smoothly since Luffy is the Captain."
"I still can't understand why I've fallen for him."
Zoro chuckled. "I was a lone wolf, and I could have fought for my solitude, but I could not leave him. In Alabasta, a princess trusted him the very first hour they met. He was a total stranger and a pirate to boot, but she didn't care. Conice, a native of the isolated Sky Island, for more or less five hundred years had had no new face to see, but she welcomed him and, to me, could have given her whole life to serve him. And who would forget about Nami? For ten years, her life had been in the mercy of a monster's hand, working alone to buy her town back, not letting her heart to trust anyone, then he came and she knelt with tears in her eyes and faith and hope in her words." He paused. "Luffy remains a mystery. He is like his own planet. He can give inspiration to the most depressed creature, or give hope to the most miserable of places, or bent the odds in situations where luck has run out. Don't ask why you can't understand because you'll never understand. I'm only sure of one thing. The heart never lies."
"Zoro-kun, do I still have the right to stay?"
"Even Luffy will not be able to answer that." Zoro caught sight of something to his right. He walked. He walked and was lost. When he turned his head to the front, Robin was gone. "Where did she go?" he asked, even though more correct was where did he go?
Sanji and Nami met at the fountain near the docks, in front of a large Cathedral. Both of them had failed to find tracks of Robin. The men at the docks had never seen Robin. They said that most of the ships that had left in the day were Marine's ships. Since she was a pirate and not a suicide, she wouldn't have boarded on any. Nami, on the other hand, had asked inns that she would have checked in to if she were Robin, those that were possible to reach in a short time from the Thousand Sunny. No Nico Robin had gone in any.
"It's getting dark. We need to call the others. We won't find her ourselves," Nami said.
"Do that. I'll go to the hypnotist's place and ask some bounty hunters over there," Sanji said.
With a nod, they were both off.
Sanji couldn't believe what was happening. He thought the problem would be easy to handle. He thought that both of the girls would cooperate with him. Why did Robin refuse? She had said that they should face the problem head-on with what they had. What they had was a bunch of misunderstandings. How would they use it to solve the problem? They had a crack now. Nothing would be the same unless everyone's brain was cleaned of that unexpected incident. Robin and Nami had a thin forest growing between them now. Trees were starting to sprout. It would grow thick in time. Now, he was an inch farther from Robin instead of being of equal distance from everybody. He knew, in time, after many recollections of that incident, that it would grow wider. Two inch, then a feet, then two feet, then ten, a hundred. In time, the thought would bury itself in them. The crack would split, branch out, and then the group would crumble.
He arrived at the hypnotist's tent, head aching with speculations of a dim future.
"Oh, it's you again," the woman said. The hood over her head only showed her mouth and chin. "What can I do for you?"
"You're a fake!" he said, pointing a finger at her.
"How can you say so?"
"Luffy regained his memory, that's how!"
"Oh, my. That's bad news."
"I'm telling you, woman, you'll be in big trouble if you keep playing dumb!"
The woman stood up. "Never threaten me, rat! Do you want to forget your name?"
"I'm not afraid of you. Make me forget my name, I don't care! I'm on the verge of losing my friends! Why would I care more for my name?"
"I see. I see. Now, I understand. The boy you took last night, is he, by any chance, a Devil Fruit user?"
"Yes, he is."
"And the deer, too?"
"They are, yes."
"You didn't tell me."
"I was in a rush. But it's not the point. Why did Luffy regain his memory?"
"I can only hide memories of Devil Fruit users for twenty hours. They can resist my power."
"Hide? I told you to erase it!"
"You told me to make them forget, you insolent fool! Don't put words in my mouth! What I can do is put something over a memory, like a cover, like a mask. It will never be erased. They will not be able to recall, but it is still there, engraved for eternity. It can be buried like a corpse, or be laid upon like a layer of earth, but once it exists, it will only disappear at death."
"Damn it! Damn it! I shouldn't have come! You're useless!"
"I had enough!" Her voice was thunder. "When you leave the safety of my tent, the place the leather doesn't cast its shadow, the place mundane air is around, you will forget. I don't exist, and the things you did where my existence was involved are only childish illusions that will disappear with the air you will exhale."
And so, when Sanji walked into the night, he did not know why, when, and how he had gone to the place.
Nami ignored the tears flowing out her eyes. She was numb. Why should things turn out like this? First she was hurt because of Robin's betrayal. Now, she was afraid that everything was falling apart. She wished Bellemere was there to tell her that grass grows amidst drought, flood, snow, and chaos. That everything has a solution. That the heart will tell you what to do. She hated Robin, but she was also afraid to lose her. It was painful Robin had taken Luffy's first adult kiss. And the smooch she had given him while he lay sleeping on his bed was incomparable to it. She really had lost to her. She was now holding the ends of two ropes stretched to opposite directions. Her arms were painful with the stress. Should she let go of either, pain would come forth. And she knew it would be so unbearable she would cry until her throat was torn and her brain was seared and parched. She must not let go of either. That was the only solution. Even if her body split in two, she didn't care anymore. She would not lose someone important because of her pride. It was better than not having what she wanted. Way better.
After talking with the dock's administrator, Neri rode home in her coach. The administrator had been surprised at first, seeing her come personally to state her business. The administrator hesitated because the Marines were also in the island, but promised his cooperation anyway.
"Give me a call," she said. "Contact me before anyone else because, otherwise, I promise you, I'll have your head in the guillotine."
"Yes, Madam," the administrator said, wiping his forehead of sweat. "I'll be sure to remember that."
On the way, she accidentally saw Luffy in an alley. She hailed the horseman to stop. She got off the coach and called his name. Luffy raised his head, stared, and smiled. The smile was forced, she could tell. She remembered that she had slapped him and it embarrassed her, too. Flushed and shy, she approached him.
"Luffy-kun," she said. "Come with me. My men are already searching for your friend."
Luffy felt relieved to find someone who cared, but his hesitation was still there. He politely refused her invitation. However, she held his hand, entwined her fingers with his, and pulled him to the coach. They got in. They rode in silence.
Neri had learned about Luffy a year before. She got a wanted poster of him after he had defeated Arlong. At first, he did not affect her until she heard rumors of his adventures. Since the defeat of Crocodile, she had begun to take interest in him. It grew and grew until she found herself spending more and more time researching about the Straw Hats. She found out many things about them, but it did not end there. One day she met a merchant on her way to school. The merchant had with him a red vest that looked very much like the vest Luffy used. It was dirty and torn. There were holes all over the fabric and the edges were tattered.
"Where did you get that?" she asked.
"The red vest?"
"Oh, this? From the desert. Crows took it to me."
Her heart leaped. "What desert?"
She bought the tattered vest for fifty thousand Bellies.
Her hunger escalated. After her purchase of the vest, she began lingering around the market after school to look for something the Straw Hats had once possessed. In just a week, she had collected Zoro's black bandana, Usopp's discarded rubber strings, Sanji's empty lighter, an old dictionary believed to be written by Nico Robin, and Luffy's sandals snatched by a thief in Old Town Ballast. Then the World Government issued an order to arrest anyone that had something to do with the Straw Hats. Of course, many had been taken for questioning, but everyone was released afterwards for lack of evidence. But this incident scared the merchants, and they stopped selling goods that had something to do with the Straw Hats.
She was angry, and, in her room, she cursed the World Government and burned an imitation of its flag. For a week, she locked herself in her room and did not eat.
Her mother knew about her hobby-she didn't want to call it obsession. On the eighth day of her hunger strike, her mother knocked at her door and told her that she had brought someone with some news about the Straw Hats. He was an old fisherman.
The old fisherman told her that her daughter came back to life. She has been sleeping for almost ten years, he said, but a week ago, she woke up. She kept telling him about a rubber boy that she had been forced to fight. They lost to him and to his crew. Then the rubber boy defeated the evil boss and freed the shadows trapped in that evil island boat, including hers. That evil boss was Gecko Moria, the shadow manipulator.
Neri was delighted to hear his story. That night she requested for a feast that the old fisherman and his daughter attended. Hoping for more news, she made it a habit to ask sailors, marines or pirates alike, about the Straw Hats every afternoon before she went home.
One day after school, Tiara, a close friend, had a talk with her.
"Hey, Neri, whom are you asking for in the docks?" Tiara said.
"That pirate? I heard the World Government is hot on his heels after he saved that monster-child."
"Robin is not a monster-child!"
"Relax, girl, I'm sorry. Change of subject. Who will you take to the ball?"
"I won't go."
"Again? This is the second time. Now, I want an explanation."
"I'm not interested in balls."
"You're not interested because you want to take that Luffy, and no other man but him. You know what, you're crazy. He doesn't even know you exist. Have you fallen in love with him?"
That question dwelled in her mind for days, not knowing how to answer it. Then, his father took her to the garden and gave her a present. It was a life-size wax statue of Luffy, grinning, full of life, every inch as she imagined him. Its hair made of synthetic strands waved in the wind.
"The sculptor based it on a picture given to him by his friend in the Marines," her father said. "Hope you like it."
She was speechless. With a big smile and tears of joy, she threw her arms around her father and gave him a loud kiss in the cheek. Afterwards, she requested her father that Luffy's statue be taken inside her room. That night, she stared at the statue's face and asked, "Am I in love with you?" The statue's eyes, made by genius hands, seemed to stare back. She felt her heart thumping fast and her cheeks getting hot. Overwhelmed by sweet discovery, under the silvery light of the moon, she embraced Luffy's statue and made a vow that she would love only him for eternity.
Now, the man she had known only from stories, she had seen only in pictures, and she had embraced as a statue was in front of her, holding hands with her. In all the years she had lived through, this was the only time she felt genuinely contented.
"Neri-san," Luffy said, startling her. "I'm sorry about the kiss."
He is still thinking about the slap, she thought. "No. It's okay."
"You're not mad?"
"No. Was. Didn't I tell you that you couldn't kiss me? But you kissed me. I was mad because of that."
"Is that all? That was the reason you slapped me?"
"I'm sorry I had to slap you. You took advantage of me."
"Luffy, I told you I love you, didn't I?"
"How do you feel about it?"
"I'm happy. I like the feeling that people love me."
"How do you understand love?"
"I only know now that it's different from the one I know about."
"You love that person because he or she is important."
"You want them happy."
Luffy looked at her, lost. "That's all I know."
"Have you ever felt something special about a person, a single person?"
"I think not. They are all my friends."
"No, not like that. For example, you always want to see that person no matter what, even from a distance."
Luffy shook his head.
"You always think about her well-being and, if you can, you don't want her out of your sight. You don't care if everyone hates you as long as she likes you. You'd do anything to have her attention. Those things."
Neri sighed. "You're so cute, you know that." She looked out the window at the stars. "Hey, Luffy, kisses are sacred. When you kiss someone, you should take responsibility."
She looked at him. "Marry me."
"That means you'll be my wife?"
She nodded. "Yes."
Luffy was in deep thought for a long, long time. "Will you be happy if I agree?"
"Yes! Yes, I promise you!"
Luffy just stared. There was something in his eyes that Neri saw. Then she felt a chill running down her spine. Like flesh dropped into a lake of acid, her resolve slowly melted from the edges. Tears welled in her eyes. She bit her lower lip.
"Will you marry me?" she asked. Her lips were trembling. She already knew what he was trying to say.
"I'd love to!" He forced a smile. "Yeah, I'll marry you."
That was it. It was pity. That something she had seen was pity. His answer was worse than if he had said he didn't want to.
"Really?" She was crying now, tears raining on her lap.
"I'd love to," he said without a hint of enthusiasm. "If you will be happy, I'll marry you."
She felt the pain spreading from her chest. It was stifling. It constricted the heart and lungs like a python. She would not be happy like this. In time, I will feel it. It will show. The fact that he only forced himself to marry me because he loves his friends and he will do everything to make them happy. The fact that he could have refused, but he did not because he loves his friends. Because I'm his friend. That's what his love is. Pure and selfless. So pure it hurts. So selfless it reflected back what I am and showed my own selfishness.
"Stop the horses, Alexander! Stop!" The coach stopped and she looked at Luffy. "I think you know the meaning of my tears."
"I wish you have pretended like what you did in your room."
"I know the word wife. I couldn't hide my feelings, Neri. I wanted to make you happy by agreeing, but they showed."
"If I truly accepted, what would you have done?"
"I knew you wouldn't."
"I knew you wouldn't."
"Because you didn't embarrass me."
"I beg your pardon."
"You said I couldn't kiss you, but when I tried to, you didn't push me away, or curse me, or call me an idiot. Even though you did not like what I was doing, you accepted the kiss and did not embarrass me."
"I wanted it, too."
"At first, you did not. I felt it. You were fighting it, but you did not embarrass me. You have a kind heart."
"You're really something, you know that." She leaned on the glass behind Alexander and knocked three times. She waited for a few seconds. Alexander walked away until the coach was out of sight. Neri looked at him in the eyes. "Kiss me."
With a grin, Luffy kissed her. The kiss was more intense, hotter, and more passionate. She felt her temperature rapidly rising. Her fingers dug in his back, her back arched, her legs trembled. She let out moans of pleasure. She couldn't match the energy of his tongue, the seven-cherry knotting monster. She felt she would go crazy. Then she came.
"Stop!" she said, panting. "I'm done. I'm done."
Luffy, his manhood's lid opened, didn't listen and kissed her.
Her back touched every corner of the coach: the leather seat, the door, the carpeted floor. Then she came once more. At last, Luffy stopped.
"Help me up, you idiot!" Neri said, her lips numb from the kiss.
"I hope that I made you happy."
"Geez, this is so embarrassing!" She tucked her wet skirt between her thighs and sat straight. "The forest around here has many caves some pirates used as shelter one hundred years ago. I promise you that Robin will not be able to leave the island. My men won't stop searching for her until they find her, but they will be searching the whole city first. I suggest that you look for her in the forest."
Luffy gave her a warm hug, a friendly embrace that beckoned finality. "Thank you for everything."
"No. Thank you. Don't forget that I won't stop loving you."
"I'll always be here." She gave him a light kiss on the lips. "And Luffy? You're an excellent kisser."
Nami, with a renewed determination, told the crew where she and Sanji had gone to. While Luffy was walking into the forest that night, the gang spread to look in different places on the island.
On the first day, Luffy found a bird couple perched on a branch of a tree. The bigger one flew away, and, when it came back, it had a worm in its mouth. It gave its partner the worm.
Then the answer occurred to him.
After three days of searching the forest, Luffy finally felt hungry. He had been ignoring it for the past two days, but now it was gnawing at his stomach. He tried to ignore it again. He walked, thinking of other things. Eventually, his vision blurred, and he fainted. When he woke up, he did not know how long did he sleep, but the sun had gone behind him now. The dusk was coming.
His hunger had passed, but he felt weak. He had been eating the fruits he could find around. The problem was those fruits were not enough to quench his hunger or to replenish his energy.
As he walked forward, looking up at the trees, he smelled fish being roasted from the distance. He drooled, and, without noticing it, he was running towards it as fast as his weak muscles could permit. He reached a clearing where a makeshift grill made from a scrap air-ventilation cover stood. It was propped up by four stout branches. Dried sticks were burning under the air-vent cover. Two fishes were lying on top of it. He looked up and found a cave nearby. From there Robin emerged. Robin was surprised to see him.
"I finally found you," Luffy said.
Robin did not want to see him, yet. But she could see how hard his Captain had tried to search the forest for her. She invited him to eat with her. They ate in silence, each thinking how to start a conversation. Reluctantly, she invited him inside the cave when the evening came.
Robin made fire inside the cave. Still, for a few moments, each kept quiet.
"I want to quit, Captain-san," Robin said after she gathered courage.
Luffy looked up. "What?"
"I want to quit the crew."
"You know that I won't permit that!"
"Everything has changed because of me! Don't you understand? I want to quit."
"No. Explain to me your reasons. I'll listen. I won't let you quit that easily." Luffy crossed his arms.
"I lied to you," she averted her eyes in embarrassment. "I love you not as a friend. I want you to be the father of my children."
"You don't understand! The love I feel for you is not the love you know. It's something that could hurt you, something more complex, and something that could wear you out in time. If I stay with you, I'll be hurt, the people around me will be hurt...I don't like that to happen, Captain-san."
There was a long silence. Then Luffy said, "Do you know why I want to be the King of Pirates?" He paused. "It's freedom. I want to have the freedom the King of Pirates has."
"If you become King of Pirates, everybody will chase after you."
"A free man is not afraid of anything: threats, hardships, or even death. Being free, as what I believe in, is being fearless to chose what your heart desires."
"I'm not as strong like you-"
"I know you are. And I know everyone that I chose to be my nakama knows about the freedom I speak of."
The reflection of the fire danced in her eyes. As she stared at Luffy, as the fire continued to dance in her eyes, what he was trying to say reached her. "Choose," she muttered. "You want me to choose with my heart."
"Do you really, really want to leave?"
"Even if it'll hurt you? Even everybody will hate you you'll stay?"
"Is that what your heart is saying?"
Luffy grinned. "Then it's settled. Now that you believe in yourself, what remains is to trust your friends."
"They don't trust me anymore."
"That's not what I'm saying. I'm telling you to trust them, not the other way around."
"If you don't trust them, how will they trust you back?"
Robin thought: You really are something, Captain. Yes, it's true. I just don't want to get hurt so I ran away. I don't want being with people who hate me because I know how painful that is.
"I'm sorry," Robin said.
"That's cool," Luffy said. "Among all the Straw Hats, you are the one who knows best what it feels like to be alone. If you don't forgive your past, you'll not hear your heart, that's what Shanks used to tell me. So, let's go back."
"Is it still okay for me to love you?"
"A friend gave me an idea what it is, but I still don't understand it. However, I know that it will come to me in time. If birds know how it works, I guess I'll just need to wait." Luffy grinned. "In my crew, everyone is free to do what they like."
"Funny that you tried to stop me."
"You don't really want to leave."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because you love me, right? And Nami, and Sanji, and Chopper...because you love the Straw Hats."
Robin giggled. "That's right."
At dawn, they decided to go back to the Thousand Sunny.
On the way, they suddenly bumped into Zoro. They greeted each other, Zoro smiling with relief.
Zoro tugged at Robin's sleeve to tell her to slow down. They let Luffy to walk a few steps ahead. When he was out of earshot, Zoro spoke.
"Your head's cool now?"
"You smell like a man."
"Sometime this week, I promise I'll kill you, Swordsman-san. Just wait."
Zoro smiled. "Just kidding."
"Where had you gone?"
"I should be asking that." A beat. "He talked some sense into you, didn't he?"
"What did he tell you?"
Robin smiled at him. "He told me how important I am."
Back on the ship, the group gathered on the deck.
"I can't find her," Nami said.
"I can't find her, either," Chopper said.
"What do you think? It has been three days. Aunt Neri told me that there has been no progress on her search as well. It's possible that Robin had sneaked into a ship in disguise," Usopp said.
"I've been looking out for her at the docks. The security Ms. Bordercrane put in there is really tight. They check every boarding passenger. She couldn't have snuck out. It's impossible," Frankie said.
"Girls don't let me see their panties," Brooke said.
Usopp hand-chopped the skeleton's head. "Get serious!"
"I checked the city's Department of Works," Brooke said. "I found out that there's a big forest here that had been used as shelter in the last World War. There are many caves and tunnels that are still functional. The problem is the forest is very wide. It will take us more or less two days before we cover the whole area."
Nami sighed. "And just as we needed all the help we could get, Sanji got sick."
"What happened to him, anyway?" Frankie asked.
"I found him at the marketplace, staring into space," Chopper said. "The hypnotist got him. He couldn't remember anything."
"I think it's for the best," Nami said.
"What? Hey, Nami, he lost some memories here," Usopp said.
"It was Sanji's idea to ask for the hypnotist's help. He also said some inconsiderate things to Robin. I think it is best he doesn't remember."
"It is best he doesn't remember the incident between Robin and Luffy. But what if he can't remember us, too?"
Nami was taken aback. "God, what is happening to us?"
"Instead of just sitting around here, let's go for another round," Frankie said.
And just as they started to move, Brooke spotted Robin and Zoro, who was carrying Luffy on his back.
"I don't have eyes, but I think I'm currently seeing good news," Brooke said.
"It's Robin! And Zoro too! And Luffy!" Chopper blurted out.
"What?" Nami said. "Where?"
Frankie leaped off from the deck onto the beach. He went to Zoro. "Hey, everybody all right? What happened to Luffy?"
"Food poisoning. He ate some mushroom on the way that I think is lethal," Zoro said.
"Lethal?" Frankie said with alarm. "Chopper! Get down here quick!"
"Zoro-kun is just overrating it," Robin said, giggling.
Chopper jumped from the ship. "What's happened?"
Frankie sighed. "False alarm. Hey, lady, we got some talking to do."
"I know. But first thing is first," Robin said.
They took Luffy into his room. Later, Frankie called for a meeting at the planning room. There was a big conference table inside. The gang sat around it. Only Luffy and Sanji weren't there. There was an awkward silence. Nami couldn't look at Robin. Robin couldn't look at everyone.
Usopp cleared his throat. "First of all..." He inhaled air and made a big sigh. "What the fuck were you thinking running off like that?" he yelled at Robin.
Chopper's eyes welled up. Then, unable to contain his emotions anymore, he lunged at Robin and gave her a hug. "I thought I'd never find you. Don't do that again!"
"Chopper..." Robin said.
"Yeah. I don't give a damn about your reasons, but I think you should have said something to us first," Frankie said.
"I'm sorry," Robin said. "I didn't know what else to do. I thought all of you would hate me."
"A little jealous of our Captain, maybe," Brooke said. "But hate you? Uh-uh. I'll get boring if what I see are only Nami's panties every day."
Nami punched Brooke. "As if I would show you!"
"I'm sorry," Robin said.
"Sanji is not the crew," Nami said, crossing her arms over her chest. "And if he said something, I know he didn't mean it. He was angry that time and very concerned."
"Yes. That was my bad."
"Before anything else, tell us first why did you plan on leaving?" Frankie said.
Robin let out a dry laugh. "Don't you have every reason to kick me out? I mean I harassed our Captain, the most important person on this ship, what right do I have left after that? If one of you did that to me, wouldn't you also think of leaving?"
"I won't leave!" Brooke said.
Nami slammed Brooke's head on the table. "Will you shut up? Penises have no bones, asshole!"
"Are you really that in love with Luffy?" Frankie said, ignoring the commotion.
"You thought that we would not tolerate such feelings in here."
"That is reasonable. That feeling will breed jealousy amongst the crew. But, I think, if you set some limitations on yourself, it'll be fine."
"What are you talking about?" Usopp contended. "Love is not something that is easily controlled! Maybe on the first few months, she could, but there will be a time when her feelings will be out of hand, again. If she did it once, there will be a second time."
Robin clenched her fist, hurt.
"What can you say about that, Robin?" Frankie said.
"I don't know." She was suppressing her tears.
"Will you be able to control your feelings?"
She shook her head. "I don't know."
"She can't! I know she can't!" Usopp said.
Robin bit her lower lip.
"Will you shut up, Usopp?" Zoro said. "You're trying to aggravate the situation with your unfounded remarks."
"As the second-in-command, I shall say what needs to be said!"
"What good will your words do? Robin has already admitted her guilt."
Usopp had no counter. Fuming, he shut up.
"I have an idea," Zoro said. "Why not make it official?" Everyone looked at him. "You know, Robin marries Luffy. I heard about marriage between crew members-"
A chair hit his head. Nami had thrown it.
Everyone looked at Nami.
"I'll never ever accept that!" Nami said. "Never!"
Zoro was bleeding, but he hadn't flinched a millimeter. He looked at Nami.
"Don't look at me like that," Nami said. "I'm in love with that idiot, too!" Off the incredulous look around her, she said, "Are you surprised? Yes, I'm in love with him, so I'll never put up with that stupid idea of yours, Swordsman!"
"I'm not surprised about that," Frankie said. "And however reasonable Zoro-kun's idea is I will have to disagree, too. Luffy is still too young to be a husband."
"Damn." Usopp stood up. "I don't know what's so good about that man. I don't want to hear anymore of this. Excuse me." He left the room.
Robin was crying now. Chopper began to sob.
"This is getting bad," Frankie said. He looked at the edge of the table. "I never expected that this would get this bad."
Later, Zoro went to see Usopp. Usopp was hugging his knees beside his bed when Zoro got inside.
"The door is open," Zoro said.
"I heard your knocks."
Zoro sat on the bed, his back on Usopp. "Are you kind of jealous Luffy has two beautiful girls who want to be his wife?"
"I'm not blind, Zoro. Every girl we've met turn out to like him at first glance. I'm not jealous. I'm just afraid."
"Luffy is my best friend. I respect him a lot, and I already accepted the fact that I'm not that cool to attract girls' attention. I'm just concerned about our group. I'm afraid we have to disband if this problem is not solved soon."
"You're his best friend. What do you think he'll do?"
Usopp hadn't thought about that.
"Don't think hard about it. I'm sure Robin has already thought about what she did. I trust her. She'll never make a mistake like that, anymore. Do you trust her? In our meeting, she was crying."
Usopp turned to him. "She was crying?"
"Yes. She left because she was afraid everyone would act like you did."
Usopp crossed his arms and sat back. "I don't care! It was her fault!" But he seemed to get what Zoro was saying.
"Yes. And she knows it." Zoro stood up. "Whatever happens, she's a part of the crew. She came back even though she's afraid to be hurt because she knows that. Now, it's your turn to do your part. I know you know what you have to do." Zoro left.
"Do my part," Usopp muttered.
Luffy woke up and he was clutching his stomach. "Man, I'm hungry." When he opened the door, he was surprised to see Nami standing there. "Nami? How long have you been here? Why didn't you knock?"
"Luffy!" Suddenly, Nami engaged him in a passionate kiss. She slowly pushed him back until they were inside, all the while kissing him. She closed the door and locked it. However, when she opened her eyes, she was surprised to see him staring at her face. Not backing out, she said, "Luffy, I love you."
He blinked. "Like Robin does?"
"No! I love you more!"
"More that Neri?"
"Yes! Who the fuck is Neri?"
"Usopp's aunt. She told me she loves me, too."
"Anyway, do you want to be happy?"
Now it was Nami's turn to blink. "What? What?"
Luffy reached out with both hands and put them on Nami's neck. "Don't tell this to anyone, Nami, but you're the prettiest girl for me."
Nami was dumbfounded. "What? Is that true?"
"Yes. Now, do you want to be happy?" Without waiting for an answer, Luffy pulled her face. Now, all she could see was his eyes. "So?"
Nami's eyes welled up, she smiled and nodded.
Luffy kissed her. Nami's eyes widened. He was good. Really good. She wondered if some guys would kiss like him. But she pushed that thought aside. She would never kiss anyone other than him. She let out a moan. His tongue was incredible. When did he learn how to kiss like that? Her face had turned pink. She was growing limp. She couldn't even put her arms around him. Her mind was full of thoughts of him, of oranges, of happy times, of hope, of dreams, and of love. A fire grew from inside her. She began to sweat. He pushed her to the wall and pinned her hands against it. Her bosom touched his chest. Her knees were shaking. Her lungs hurt. He didn't stop right there. He put his hands around her and carried her to the bed. She was going crazy. The pleasure she felt was overwhelming. Her mind was getting blank. Getting blank. And then he stopped. She was panting, but he was still cool. He leaned and kissed the side of her mouth. She breathed from her mouth. He leaned and kissed her upper lip. "Luffy," she softly said. He leaned and kissed her lower lip, kissed lightly, and then pushed it deep. It lasted for a while, gentle and sincere. She would never exchange the joy that kiss had given her for a shipful of gold. Now, he pulled her up and embraced her. He kissed her lovingly on the cheek.
"Did that make you happy?" he said.
She hugged him back. "Yes."
He stared at her. "I'll never kiss any girl again until I fully understand what love really is. Kiss seems a big part of it and it would be unfair to just kiss someone when I don't understand the meaning of love."
"That's some deep sentiment."
"Well, you said you love me and I don't know if I am or I'm not feeling the same, but I'm happy. You taste like milk and oranges by the way. And I like your pink face. You're cute."
Nami pinched his cheek. "Didn't you feel anything?"
"I don't know. I was thinking about cherries."
"Cherries" struck her differently. "Why did you stop then? I could have given you what you wanted?"
"You have cherries?"
"I have a cherry."
Now she understood. She giggled. "Never mind."
"I want to know."
"It's also connected to love."
"Really? That's too bad."
"But I'll reserve it just for you."
He grinned innocently. "Your cherry must be delicious."
She smiled mischievously and closed in on him like a cat. "Very. So, grow fast, Captain. You'll not regret it."
Luffy laughed. "I'll do my best."
Nami sat straight. "Luffy, I want to ask about you and Robin. Sanji told me that you asked her if she truly loves you."
"What did she say?"
"She said she loves me."
"How do you feel about it?"
"Happy, of course."
Nami stared at him, waiting for more.
"Hey, she didn't do anything wrong," Luffy said.
"I didn't say anything."
"Are you angry with her?"
"I was jealous."
"But why? I don't favor anyone. You're both very important to me."
"Yes. I guess I don't feel like that anymore. Besides, no take-backs, you told me I'm the prettiest girl for you."
"If I'm prettiest, who is sexier for you?"
"Robin," he said.
Nami was irritated. She pushed Luffy aside and stood up. "I had enough of this."
Luffy grabbed her hand. "Please make up with Robin. I don't want you fighting. You're still friends, right?"
Nami smiled and winked at him. "Of course! Everything is already paid."
"Do you still trust her?"
"Yes. Don't worry. Just be like you've always been and everything will be okay." She went to the door, but before closing it behind her, she said, "Hey, Luffy, I'll come here tonight. Could we, you know, kiss again?"
Luffy grinned. "No. A promise is a promise."
Nami glared and slammed the door shut.
Usopp could hear Robin's sobbing outside the door. He couldn't raise his fist to knock. He stood there for a while. Then, he said, "Robin, I know you can hear me. Listen. I'm sorry. I know you didn't mean what you did. It was just impulse, right? I know I said some words back there, but I only said it because I was confused. I'm sorry. Robin, I want you to know that I still think of you as my nakama. Forgive me for being a jerk."
Suddenly, the door opened and there came Robin. She hugged Usopp, face wet with tears. "Thank you...Thank you, Usopp-kun."
"I've trusted you. It will never change."
As she cried, she couldn't say anything but "Thank you."
Sanji woke up in the afternoon. When Chopper told him about the incident, he cried like a fool, but was not as apprehensive of Robin as he had been the first time he heard about it. He had completely forgotten about the incident. Chopper tried to remind him about the hypnotist. Sanji said to him, "Stop with that hypnotist thing! I'm not the type to believe such crap!" Marching out to Luffy's room, he wore a furious expression on his face.
"You lucky bastard!" he said. "Is it true that my Robin-chwan confessed to you?"
"Yes!" Luffy said, grinning. "She kissed me, too!"
Tears flowed out Sanji's eyes like falls. He bit his collar and talked while it was in his mouth. "Okay. I'll respect her choice! I still have Nami-swan!"
"She said she loves me, too!"
Sanji turned into stone. He turned his head to Luffy with a creaking neck. "What?"
"I kissed her just a while ago," he said with a large grin. "And we did this and that and this." He was playing a prank.
Every "this" and "that" an arrow hit Sanji's heart. He looked as if he had walked the desert for days without eating or drinking. He ran out of the room, went to the deck railing, and, while crying, shouted to the sea, "I'll never give up! Robin-chwaaaan! Nami-swaaaan!"
That night they had a party. They invited Neri, but she declined and said that she was happy Robin was back. Sanji prepared the best recipes he knew. He seemed happy despite the fact that both of the girls loved Luffy. He acted as he had always acted toward the crew. There was no awkwardness.
"Hey, that meat is for Nami-swan! Nami-swan, here, take this...Hey, that's for Robin-chwan! Robin-chwan, here's ice cream for you!"
"Sanji, where's my lamb chops!" Luffy said.
"Wait, you idiot!" He ran to the kitchen. When he came back, he had a large plate of lamb chops in his hand. He put it in front of Luffy. "You'll forget your name once you taste this!"
Luffy dug in. "Wow! This is the best! Thanks, Sanji!"
"Of course! I'll be the best cook in the world!"
They drank wine and got intoxicated. Chopper, Brooke, Usopp, and Frankie slept right on their spots. Zoro climbed the crow's nest with a bottle in his hand. He too was drowsy. Luffy slept leaning on the mast.
Robin sipped her wine in a goblet at the railing, looking at the big moon over the sea. Nami approached from behind. She stood next to Robin.
"I want to tell you that I'm not angry with you anymore," Nami said. "I'm sorry for calling you a bitch."
"I understand. Luffy saved me again. No, both of us."
"Yes. Our hero." Nami sipped from her own goblet. "What are you planning to do, now?"
"Luffy told me to listen to my heart. I think I'll keep on loving him. I'll stay beside him as long as I can."
"What if he found his fated partner and it wasn't you?"
"That would hurt very badly. When that happened, I'd just listen to what my heart would tell me to do."
"What if he told you to leave then?"
"I...Do you think he'd do that?"
"I'd leave but stay nearby to watch over him."
"You'd do that for him? You'd rather play martyr than leave him?"
"I'd do anything for him, Nami. Anything."
Nami smiled. "You know, I'd do that, too."
Robin chuckled. "I can see that you're not jealous anymore. You settled our score, huh."
"Yes. We're on equal grounds now."
Sanji walked towards them. He leaned his elbows on the railing and lit a cigarette. They looked at him.
"I feel that I need to apologize to both of you, especially to Robin," he said. "I don't have any idea what really happened here, but there is something in me that tells me that I have something to apologize for. Whatever I did, I'm sorry. I don't care if you fill this ship with Luffy's puppies-" both the girls blushed furiously here, "-or you treat him better than everyone. It's all right with me and it seems all right with everyone. Only one thing, don't pressure Luffy. Luffy is easily confused and too reckless. Sometimes, he doesn't know the consequences of what he's doing. I know everything have to change. It won't be easy. But I trust everyone to do his or her part. I hope you two understand what I'm saying. We don't want to lose our Sun." He went to gather the last of the dishes on the floor and returned to the kitchen.
Robin and Nami looked at each other and giggled.
"He said Luffy's puppies, can you imagine that?" Nami said.
"The term is cute."
"I'm tempted to do it, you know. We could put sleeping pill on his drink, sleep with him, get pregnant, and have his babies here." Nami chuckled. "Puppies."
"You're crazy," Robin said, shaking her head.
"Is this your first time to fall in love?"
"Same here. I think we're gonna be best friends."
"Rivals and best friends."
"This often happens in manga. Sometimes I think we're characters in a manga."
Robin shook his head. "You had too much wine. Let's go to bed."
They walked side by side. When they saw Luffy, they stopped and hunkered in front of him.
"He looks adorable when asleep," Nami said.
Robin giggled. She looked at Nami and gave her a sign. Both of them kissed Luffy in his cheeks at the same time. They stood up and walked holding each other's hand.
Zoro's lips curled in a knowing smile. He slept amidst the clattering of plates coming from the kitchen.