Chapter 8: Still Smiling
"Blood poisoning," Nami repeated the words that Chopper had uttered just moments before, mostly to herself, unable to really grasp it. It didn't feel real. Zoro was invincible, Zoro could overcome anything.
"The medical term is sepsis," Chopper murmured quietly. The crew was crammed into Chopper's tiny office space mulling over the swordsman's prognosis, "with a heavy dose of antibiotics, he should be able to beat it," though the doctor didn't sound so sure.
It was the first time in a long time that the Straw Hat's had all been silent in unison. Even Luffy simply sat there with a frown on his face and his brows furrowed together in concentration. The infection that Zoro had been battling for the past week had been severe enough to poison his blood. Without immediate medical attention the poison had begun to attack his organs and the unconscious Zoro was left to endure the internal war going on between the infection and the antibiotics.
"Fucking shit swordsman can't even fight off an infection," Sanji scoffed, leaning against the door frame and anxiously chewing at an unlit cigarette to the point where it could hardly be called a cigarette anymore. He was upset and unsure how to process the information, though the occasional flicker of his gaze over to the alarmingly still swordsman made it clear that his words were just the cook's way of coping.
"Zoro, I'm going to drink all of the liquor!" Usopp shouted and dramatically flailed his arms beside Zoro in an attempt to both lighten the mood and snap the man out of his comatose state. When it didn't work, he visibly deflated and could only stand there in disbelief. He had never known Zoro to look so vulnerable and it was frightening to think that he might actually die from such a tiny opponent; bacteria.
Robin was perched on the edge of a stool with her hands neatly folded in her lap, simply observing. She appeared completely calm but on the inside, even the archaeologist was worried. Though she hadn't been part of the crew since the beginning of their formation, she had developed a strong bond with each of them but showing emotion had never been one of her strong suits. Her roving eyes landed on Nami who appeared to be in the worst shape. The navigator had been trying to hold back the tears but they silently slipped down her cheeks in stubborn defiance anyway where she sat on the other stool at the end of the swordsman's makeshift bed.
"It's my fault…" Nami finally murmured and angrily wiped at her cheeks, "he got those injuries protecting me…"
"That's enough," Luffy finally spoke up in a rarely used commanding voice, immediately drawing the attention of his loyal crew.
"Luffy…" Nami sniffled.
"We protect each other," the Captain interrupted as he stood, one hand resting against his hat and his head slightly bowed, "Zoro will get better." There was no room for disagreement in his words.
"But, Luffy," Nami was about to argue that Zoro would have been fine if it hadn't been for her but the Captain lifted his hand and instantly silenced her.
"I have seen Zoro tied to a post without food or water for nearly a month," Luffy lifted his head to reveal eyes that held no hint of doubt, "I've seen him drag me and a heavy cage out of the line of fire while severely injured from a stab wound," the crew visibly perked up as their Captain continued to rattle off instances where their swordsman had persevered even when all of the odds were stacked against him, "and I've seen him survive a point blank strike from the blade of the greatest swordsman in the world. Zoro will get better," Luffy smiled and began to move toward the door to leave, placing his hat on Nami's head in the process, effectively shadowing her tear streaked face, "we're nakama… We stick together." The Captain grinned in classic Luffy fashion before he left the room to most likely raid the kitchen.
"He's right," Usopp concluded quickly and left the room with one last glance at his unconscious friend.
"Nami, you should rest," Chopper pushed quietly, eyeing the navigator's bandaged ankles and wrists. Her wounds had not been nearly as severe as Zoro's but they had been impressive nonetheless. The lashes from the witch's whip had been the easiest to treat, but the ankle she had been walking on had actually been fractured in a couple of places and the ligaments had been stretched almost to the snapping point. She had to stay off of it otherwise it wouldn't heal properly and she would be left to walk with a limp for the duration of her life.
"I'm staying," she whispered beneath the brim of Luffy's hat.
"Nami-swan, let me carry you to the kitchen and I'll prepare a feast worthy of your beautiful mouth," Sanji swooned but his jaw fell open in shock when the navigator actually lifted her head to glare at him.
"I'm staying," she repeated firmly and Sanji reminded himself to close his gaping mouth.
"Cook-san, I'm hungry," Robin lied to break the tension and Sanji's attentions immediately fell to the raven-haired beauty.
"Of course, Robin-chwan!" Sanji practically danced and the two departed, Nami flashing Robin a softened expression of gratitude.
"I'll be back to check on you and bring you some food in about an hour," Chopper promised before hesitantly retreating as well. He could sense that the two needed to be alone, even if Zoro wasn't awake. Whatever had happened in the woods had formed a stronger attachment between the swordsman and navigator and all of the Straw Hats could feel it.
The sound of Zoro's even breathing filled the room and Nami's shoulders finally slumped when the need to appear okay for the sake of the crew disappeared. Zoro will get better, Luffy's words bounced around in her head and the navigator held onto them as if her life depended on it. Her body ached from dehydration and the need for sleep blurred the edges of her vision but Nami couldn't bring herself to leave him. The thought of a hot shower and a warm bed was tempting but she knew that had their situations been reversed, Zoro would stay until he was sure that she would be alright.
She had never realized how thankful she should have been for all of the little luxuries that came with the ship and their crew and how thankful she should have been for Zoro. He had been hurt before but this time was different. This time he was on the brink of death after not only protecting her, but he had also taken care of her without complaint when she was at her lowest point and Nami felt the need to return the favor. It wasn't because she was scared of losing him or because the thought of never seeing that irritating smirk of his again was unbearable, no… She was only doing it because she felt obligated to after all that he had done for her.
The navigator frowned down at her trembling hands and attempted to convince herself of that. She couldn't have feelings for Zoro. He was stubborn, arrogant, directionally challenged and frustrating. She couldn't have feelings for the swordsman…. Could she? Exhausted from the emotional battle raging on between her mind and heart, Nami stood from the stool with a shake of her head as if to banish the muddled thoughts and lifted her hand to stifle a yawn. The coarse feel of the bandage gave her pause and she stared at the wrapped limb for a moment, recalling their last moments together on the cliff.
She hadn't missed the rare softening in Zoro's features as they said goodbye or the tender way he had offered up her nickname. Seven days together had proved what Nami had known since the beginning but refused to recognize, that Zoro was a good man and exactly her type. He was fiercely loyal and able to communicate a wide variety of emotion with one word or look. He was the stability and balance of good and irritating that Nami had been missing since Bellemere and even though they were constantly in the face of danger, the swordsman always pulled through. She was always afraid of allowing herself to become romantically attached to anyone only to watch them die in the end and so she kept her walls built and the yearning of her heart shoved into the recesses of her mind.
The soft sound of snoring wretched her from her thoughts and Nami watched the swordsman roll over onto his uninjured side still asleep. After a brief pause he started snoring again and the navigator rolled her eyes with a smile. Zoro would get better; he was too stubborn to allow an infection to claim his life and Nami slumped with both relief and the weight of exhaustion. Without giving much thought to her actions, she carefully climbed into the space on the bed that Zoro had vacated by rolling over after setting Luffy's hat on the table and settled underneath the blankets. She was tired, she didn't want to leave him alone and she had been sleeping next to him for the last week, what was one more night?
Shifting to her side so that her back was facing his front, she kept a modest amount of space between them on the twin size mattress in case their friends came to check on them but a strong arm suddenly wound around her middle and tugged her back into the solid warmth of his chest. Nami felt her cheeks flush when Zoro's arm remained wrapped around her and his breath puffed against her hair in a steady rhythm that indicated he was still asleep. Another smile tugged at the corners of her lips with the realization that the swordsman wanted her close even while unconscious, and his familiar scent and the comforting feel of radiating heat against her back was enough to lull her into a fitful sleep herself.
"Nami," a soft but familiar whisper woke the navigator from her pleasant dreams.
"Chopper?" She responded groggily.
The doctor was in his human form and leaning over the bed with only a lantern to light the otherwise dark room. Nami forgot where she was for a moment until Chopper set a tray of food off to the side and it dawned on her that she must have fallen asleep for a few hours and slept through dinner.
"I need to change his bandages," the reindeer whispered and gestured to the other side of the bed. Zoro was still dead to the world but his firm grip around her waist still had her rooted snuggly against his chest. Nami immediately felt her cheeks burn when she realized how they must have looked but if Chopper noticed anything odd in the arrangement, he said nothing as he rounded the small cot to tend to the swordsman's wounds.
"How long was I out?" She questioned in embarrassment before untangling herself from Zoro's embrace and standing on weak legs, mindful not to put too much weight on her ankle.
"All day yesterday and all night, it's almost morning," he answered easily and began to unwind Zoro's wrapped torso.
"Why didn't you wake me up? I could have gotten us started on heading for the next island," Nami blanched in irritation, eager to put Witch Island far behind them.
"Luffy said to let you sleep, you needed the rest," Chopper murmured in concentration, cleansing Zoro's wounds with skilled precision and steady hands.
"Luffy was in here?" her cheeks burned hotter when she thought of their Captain seeing the navigator and first mate in bed together, but chances were that the rubber man would innocently assume they were having a slumber party or something.
"Eat something," Chopper redirected with an absentminded wave of his hand where just the day before he had been freaking out when Zoro fainted. It was fascinating how the reindeer could go from frightened child to serious doctor in a matter of minutes. Collapsing onto the nearby stool, she obediently chewed the sandwich that Sanji had prepared but the complex flavors were wasted and her appetite lost. Zoro still hadn't woken up yet and it was all that Nami could think about.
"Looks like his fever is breaking," Chopper grinned, "that's a good sign. His body and the antibiotics are winning." The relief in the doctor's face was contagious and Nami finally allowed herself to relax, the knots in her stomach beginning to loosen. They quickly tightened again though when that annoying little question flounced into her mind once more; what now? They were teetering on that fine line between friendship and something more and Nami was terrified to cross it. She was frightened of the way that things might change between them and of the vulnerability that came with a relationship.
If things went south between them the entire crew would have to suffer the consequences and she wasn't even sure if Zoro felt anything in return. The only solution was to put a bit of distance between them until her meaningless little crush wore off, because it had to be a crush… It couldn't be something more. Reassured by the knowledge that the swordsman was recovering, she left him in Chopper's capable hands, or hooves, and left the room, disappearing into the bathroom for a much needed shower.
The hot water was nearly scalding but Nami made no move to change the temperature. The heat dulled the ache in her various wounds and chased away the chill of the morning air. The citrus scent of her shampoo was just as much a comfort as the feeling of being clean but thoughts of Zoro in the river holding her close and playfully chasing after her interrupted her peaceful solitude. What had happened between them in that week had been nothing more than two friends relying on each other more than usual and mistaking their actions for something genuine and romantic. She did not have feelings for him, she couldn't.
Closing her eyes to rinse out the soap from her hair, the vivid memory of Zoro's lips on hers after she had nearly drowned mocked her denial. He had only kissed her because he was relieved to see her alive, and she had only kissed him back because he had saved her. She hammered the excuse into her head in an attempt to make it convincing, but it didn't explain the numerous almost-kisses they had shared since then, or the way her heart still raced when she remembered how perfectly they fit together, the fire that had sparked between them in that brief moment of intimacy.
"You can talk about her… Bellemere," his soft and almost shy words echoed in her already Zoro infested brain. He had been so understanding and surprisingly gentle whenever she had needed him to be but now she needed him to be the man she had thought he was before. She needed him to irritate her and start arguments because she wasn't ready to confront this thing developing between them. It was much easier to pretend it wasn't there, much easier to run away.
Stepping out onto the deck in a pair of clean jeans and a blue t-shirt covered in black dollar signs, Nami padded bare foot into the light of the morning sun and joined the rest of the gathered Straw Hats, minus Zoro, near the edge of the ship that overlooked the island.
"Miss Nami, it seems that you are healing well," Kouta grinned from his place on the deck. After Zoro's wounds had been treated the crew had filled her in on the island's history and she had briefly been introduced to the mayor and discovered that he had been the old beggar from before who had tried to warn them.
"I feel much better, thank you," Nami offered the man a smile before her eyes immediately fell to the large sack at his feet that bulged in such a way that implied treasure.
"You saved our island from a tyrant we could never have defeated alone, please take this as our way of saying thank you," Kouta continued and offered the bag to Luffy which once opened would reveal gold and other priceless trinkets from the capital city.
"We're pirates, we don't need to be paid," Luffy announced proudly but a smack to the back of his head cut him off and the Captain winced, rubbing the new lump.
"What was that for, Nami?" He questioned with a pout like a scolded child and the navigator quickly snatched the bag away from him with a scowl.
"It's rude not to accept a gift," Nami huffed before dumping the treasure onto the deck, "I'm rich," she practically sang, the distinct glisten of money in her chocolate eyes.
"It's not all yours!" Luffy, Usopp and Chopper all snapped before beginning to loudly verbally list everything they were going to buy. Sanji interjected long enough to sweetly ask Nami for a refrigerator that locked while the others rattled off several other items. Kouta laughed at the display before jumping over the railing of the Going Merry and stepping back onto the land. The entire village had gathered to see them off and Nami came out of her gold-lust induced stupor long enough to smile and wave goodbye.
"You are welcome back anytime, Straw Hat Pirates!" Kouta shouted with a wide grin that Luffy echoed.
"Bye, old guy!" The Captain replied enthusiastically.
"Hoist the anchor," Nami ordered and the crew quickly sprang into action like a well oiled machine while she limped up to her spot on the upper deck, "unfurl the sails," she bellowed with a grin. It felt good to be back, "Sanji, turn us starboard!"
"Yes, Nami-Swan," Sanji responded adoringly and paused to coo over her beauty before disappearing to turn the rudder.
The ship turned away from Coppice Island and headed for open water, the salty wind whipping Nami's hair in several different directions. She took a deep breath and smiled, home sweet home. Once they were heading in the right direction she relaxed, tempted to lay out in her deck chair despite the cold but a voice interrupted the idea.
"Zoro you shouldn't be moving, you're still severely injured!" Chopper informed helplessly just before the stubborn swordsman came into view.
"I'm fine, Chopper," Zoro promised while tugging on a clean t-shirt and his freshly washed haramaki, tucking each of his swords into the stomach band, "you did a great job patching me up."
"Don't compliment me, asshole!" The doctor, now in his natural form, wriggled happily but ignored the swordsman's dismissal and fussed over his temperature and bandages anyway, still pressing his goal of getting Zoro back into bed to rest.
Nami felt her heart flip in her chest when Zoro glanced up in her direction and flashed a smirk before he vanished into the bathroom to snag a shower, Chopper still in tow. She spent the rest of the day avoiding him, at least as much as she could on the small ship. She worked on a map of Coppice Island for most of the day and only came out for meals, where she noticed that the spot next to Zoro was the only one available every time, but it was probably just a coincidence.
There was no time to feel awkward about it because Luffy and Usopp begged them for a description of their adventure, in which they purposely left out the intimate details, while Luffy stole food when no one was looking. Only Robin remained quiet while Nami recalled their tale, silently absorbing every detail until the navigator finished speaking.
"It was nearly at freezing temperature every night this week, how did you stay warm, navigator-san?" The archaeologist questioned with a mask of innocence but a glint of mischief in her eyes told Nami that the older woman knew more than she was letting on.
Zoro choked on the food he had just shoved into his mouth and Nami desperately fought the urge to blush.
"We built fires," Zoro's half-lie took her off guard and for a moment the navigator only sat there numbly staring at him. He was not the type of man to feel embarrassment or shame for doing whatever it took to help his friends, so she knew instantly that the lie had been to spare her from it. Ignoring the pang of guilt in her gut, she found the strength to finally nod in agreement.
"Hm," Robin murmured as if in thought, a barely there smile ghosting over her lips, "well it sounds like swordsman-kun took very good care of you."
Sanji scoffed from his place at the sink, taking a drag from his freshly lit cigarette.
"He allowed her to get hurt," the cook disagreed hotly.
"You think you would have done a better job, curly brow?" Zoro bit out in irritation.
"You're damn right I would, she would be left unharmed if it had been me out there with her," Sanji practically roared, unmoving even as Zoro stood angrily from the table and advanced on him.
"No, you would have swooned over her like some love sick moron and allowed your emotions to cloud your judgment, shit cook!" Zoro snarled, his left hang itching to unsheathe one of his swords.
"I would rather die than see Nami-san hurt, you fucking marimo," Sanji glared and blew smoke into the swordsman's face, resisting the urge to kick him across the room since the girls were in the line of fire.
"So would I!" Zoro's angry confession hushed everyone in the room and Sanji's mouth fell open in surprise, the still burning smoke falling from his lips and to the floor, "we're nakama…" Zoro hastily added and stamped down on the heat in his cheeks, "At least she's alive."
Sanji wasn't sure what to say because unlike the other crew members who could only see Zoro's back and easily accepted his nakama excuse, Sanji had seen his face when he said it. The inner torment that came with the knowledge that he had been unable to keep Nami from getting injured had been written in his gaze. Backing away from the cook after giving him one last glare for good measure, Zoro left the galley without a word but no one other than Nami and Sanji seemed to think of it as unusual.
Luffy finished off the food on Zoro's plate and Usopp struck up conversation with an exaggerated tale about how he had rescued a beautiful princess from fifty thousand sea kings at once, Chopper hanging on his every word. Pushing food absently around on her plate, Nami finally stood up and left as well but everyone assumed she was going to work on her maps. Even Sanji didn't think to worry because there was no way that the navigator could possibly return the swordsman's obvious feelings and so he simply continued to dote on Robin and tried to stop Luffy from snatching food.
The sky was dark and blanketed with stars when she stepped outside. The air had already begun to warm as they drifted further away from Coppice Island's climate and Nami found him on the deck doing push-ups with one arm. Frowning, she closed the gap between them in a few limping strides but Zoro remained silent, trying to re-strengthen his injured arm with vigorous exercise.
"You should be resting," she started awkwardly but the swordsman didn't respond. He was already covered in a thin sheen of sweat and some of his bandages had begun to turn pink where he was straining his stitches.
"Zoro…. Stop," Nami frowned and bent down to place a hand on his shoulder.
Pausing, Zoro shoved himself up from the floor but instead of obediently returning to bed he moved to grab an enormous set of weights, causing the orange-haired woman to roll her eyes at his stubbornness.
"You're still hurt, idiot!" Nami pressed angrily but she received no answer as he turned his back on her and continued his routine.
"Damn it, Zoro!" She hissed and smacked the back of his head to get his attention and Zoro finally rounded on her.
"You almost died, Nami!" He nearly shouted, setting the weights aside.
"I'm fine," she protested in weak surprise. He seemed pretty upset and the swordsman usually kept his emotions buried deep beneath the surface.
"You're not fine, you could have been killed!" He was shouting now but otherwise he was the picture of calm and collected; his face a blank mask. It was his eyes that gave him away, full of anger at himself for letting her sustain such injuries even if he had saved her life. It was his job to keep his friends safe and some part of him felt that he had failed. His eyes frightened her because they revealed what she was afraid of… He cared. Things had changed between them and she couldn't deal with it.
"I'm fine," She repeated firmly and a little coldly, desperate for him to drop the subject and allow things to go back to the way they had been before they had gotten caught up in this mess.
"I wasn't strong enough to-" Zoro cut himself off with a frown, running a hand through his hair in frustration. He wasn't used to expressing much emotion and so he struggled to find the correct words, "I just need to get stronger. I need to be stronger to protect the crew…To protect you."
"I don't need you to protect me!" Nami exploded afraid she was letting him get too close fueling her fire, "I don't want you to protect me."
"Well tough shit, sweetheart, because that's my job!" He had moved closer in his irritation and found that they stood only about an inch apart. Zoro hovered over her in a way that would have been threatening had she not known him better. The silence weighed heavy between them before she took a breath to steady her voice.
"I don't need you…" She repeated more to convince herself than him. She saw it clear as day, that flash of hurt in his eyes that tore at her heart and intensified the feeling of guilt in her stomach and she had to get away from him before she gave in.
"Nami…" Zoro started quietly but Nami panicked, sensing that he was going to cross that line that they were already tip toeing on the edge of. Before he could get another word in she turned and limped into the room she shared with Robin as quickly as her body would allow, slamming the door behind her with a shaky sigh. Working on her maps was out of the question. She was too rattled and on edge to draw the lines and so she crawled into bed in hopes of falling asleep. Maybe when she woke up this would all be a dream, and for some reason that thought caused her to ache in corners of her heart that she hadn't even known existed.
The afternoon sun was already high in the sky by the time most of the crew had woken up but Nami had been standing in her spot on the deck since sunrise. Two whole days had passed since she had run away from Zoro and she had not slept at all since. She had tried, several times but sleep just wouldn't come. Her room was too quiet and her bed too empty. Robin barely made a sound other than breathing when she slept and a hollow ache had begun to throb in her chest with each night that passed. Her eyes were slightly blood shot from sleep deprivation and the dark circles marring her pretty face were a testament to the truth that she so desperately tried to shove into the back of her mind. Even before the events on the island, Nami had never slept completely peacefully in her own bed.
The nightmares were easy to hide but this time the evidence was also physical. The truth was staring her in the face but she refused to acknowledge it. She refused to admit that she slept best in Zoro's arms. The lack of rest wasn't even the worst part. Since her little outburst on the deck two nights prior the swordsman had begun to avoid her as well to the point where she rarely even bumped into him at meals. He had taken to eating quickly before she even arrived and leaving for his workout routine before she could take her seat. He didn't try to seek her out and the longer she went without talking to him the more the ache in her heart intensified.
Eventually the crew would notice their odd behavior and relationships would become strained. They were nakama, a team that worked together and if two of their members weren't even talking they would be vulnerable if they were attacked. She couldn't seem to shake this nagging feeling that she was missing something. When she did meet Zoro's eyes there was no anger or hatred in his expression, it was almost as if he was waiting patiently for her to do something, but what?
"You look tired, Nami," Luffy paused in his game of tag on the deck with Chopper to point it out.
"It's rude to comment on those kinds of things, Luffy," Nami grumbled grumpily in response but she knew he was only being honest. She was tired, exhausted actually, and their Captain had never been above telling it like it was.
"Are you having difficulty sleeping? I can mix a sleeping aid if it would help," Chopper joined in worriedly and the navigator smiled. She had missed this, missed having her friends around who genuinely cared for her well being. Few people would ever get to experience such unconditional love and loyalty.
"I'm okay, guys. My bed is probably just a little too soft now that I'm used to sleeping on the ground," she promised and sent them both a grin that seemed to convince them because Luffy went back to running and flinging himself around on the deck and around the sails while Chopper attempted to catch him, laughing like a child all the while.
"Sometimes it's not the bed that makes all the difference but the company," Robin's dark voice said softly once the boys had left and Nami glanced over at her in surprise. The older woman had seated herself on the railing and as usual her nose was buried in a book but the navigator could still see that glisten of knowing in her eyes.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Nami denied with a nervous chuckle and Robin finally lifted her gaze from the worn pages of her book to stare at the navigator and smile.
"You will," she murmured mysteriously before hopping off of the railing and moving to relax in her deck chair and read in the sun, leaving Nami to ponder her words in confusion.
Despite her lack of rest, Nami managed to finish the map of Coppice Island and proceeded to doodle off to the side of a scratch piece of parchment for the majority of the evening. It wasn't until she had finished the doodle that she noticed what she was drawing. A sweet little girl proudly wielding a sword that looked eerily similar to Zoro's Wado Ichimonji and Zoro himself looking over his shoulder to smile at her.
"Her name was Kuina," his words whispered through her mind and she recalled how open he had been with her. Zoro had trusted her with a piece of his past that he had yet to share with any other member of the crew and it had made her happy knowing more about him.
The ache in her heart continued to throb and Nami swallowed thickly. She had feelings for him, she had known it even before they had docked at the island but had refused to dwell on it. Lying to herself was easier than facing an uncertain future but her feelings had not gone away yet. She had thought that if she avoided him and kept some distance between them they would eventually fade but the longer she stayed away the stronger those feelings became. She missed him and it physically hurt not to see his cocky little smirks and smiles or to hear the gruff sound of his voice.
Nami was still afraid though, afraid of what Luffy and the others might say. They were a tight knit family and she didn't want to upset what they had. Rubbing at the beginnings of a migraine, Nami crawled into bed with a weary sigh and willed herself to fall asleep. It didn't work and she spent most of the night tossing and turning in her bed, haunted by the fact that she was being a coward, not the strong woman that Bellemere had wanted her to be.
Morning was a welcome refuge because even though she hadn't slept, she could escape into conversation with her friends and into her duties as the navigator. The weather was clear and the ocean calm and most of the day was spent relaxing in her deck chair with Robin while they chatted about the island they would be nearing in the next few weeks, Water 7.
Dinner was uneventful at first with Luffy stealing potatoes and ham from plates that didn't belong to him and Sanji barking at him in irritation for doing so. Zoro was missing from the table as he had been for the last few days and Nami only picked at her food, too lost in thought to really care that she hadn't eaten properly since their return. It wasn't until the door to the galley swung open that things became marginally more interesting. Zoro stepped into the dining area, wiping at his sweaty brow with the back of his hand before approaching the spot where Luffy was sitting next to Nami.
"You're in my spot, Luffy," he mumbled casually and the Captain grinned in response before scooting over, most likely just happy that he'd have another nearby plate to eat off of.
Taking his seat next to Nami, Zoro accepted the food that was all but slammed down in front of him by Sanji and began to eat without so much as a sideways glance to the woman next to him. Nami had visibly tensed and stopped pushing her food around on her plate. Zoro was sitting so close that their arms and thighs brushed against each other and the familiar feel of his body heat reminded her of just how exhausted she really was. Had there not been others around she probably could have fallen asleep right then and there.
The swordsman ate and left just as quickly as he had come without much conversation and all eyes fell on the navigator when she let out the breath she hadn't even realized she'd been holding as soon as he was gone. A small whimper of disappointment left her without her consent as well and several pairs of eyes gazed at her in concern.
"Are you okay, Nami?" Usopp frowned around a mouth full of food and nearly had to stab Luffy's hand with a fork when the Captain attempted to steal the last piece of ham on his plate. Shoving her food away, Nami allowed her forehead to fall against the table with a quiet thunk in defeat before she sighed.
"I love Zoro," she mumbled quietly and everyone exchanged confused glances at first.
"What was that?" Sanji questioned cautiously, hoping he hadn't heard her correctly.
"I love Zoro," she repeated firmly this time after raising her head, her heart racing in anticipation to see their reactions. She already felt better after saying it out loud, as if some sort of weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
"I love Zoro too," Luffy stated in innocent confusion, unsure as to why the rest of his friends appeared so shocked. He loved all of his nakama so he really didn't understand what the big deal was. Nami laughed when her Captain simply blinked at her and more of the weight she had been carrying seemed to drift away. To Luffy everything was so simple and sometimes she wished she could be like that.
"Nami-Swan, why!?" Sanji wailed dramatically and dropped to his knees in front of her, tears streaming down his face. Robin was only smiling to herself and Chopper looked just as confused as Luffy did. Usopp was the only other person in the room to appear surprised, but there was no hint of disappointment or anger in his expression.
"Sanji," Nami started with a chuckle at her friend's antics but the cook only continued his one man play and took her hand in his.
"I still love you, Nami-Swan," he promised like a dying man, "and when you stop loving that moron, I'll be here."
Nami laughed and patted his hand to reassure the cook that nothing would really change between them. They had both known since the beginning that Sanji's flirting was harmless and that nothing would ever really become of it. That thought was solidified when the cook ceased his crying the moment Robin asked for more juice and the blonde immediately began to fawn over the dark-haired older woman as if his life depended on it.
Eventually the excitement died down and most of the crew filed out of the galley for bed after the dishes had been done, leaving only Nami and Luffy at the table. The Captain seemed deep in thought with his brows knit together but Nami knew that he was probably still just trying to figure out what she had meant earlier. As great as Luffy was, he wasn't known for being the first to catch on most of the time. It seemed that the rest of the crew had accepted her feelings but she was still worried how Luffy would take it.
"You love Zoro," Luffy stated bluntly in that innocent way of his but he was repeating it mostly to himself instead of her.
"Yes but not like you love Zoro… I love him differently," Nami responded awkwardly and allowed the heat in her cheeks to show for once. It felt good getting it off of her chest even though she was still afraid of how the swordsman might respond, afraid of how Luffy would take it.
"Oh, like you love love him," the Captain exclaimed excitedly, proud of himself for understanding and Nami couldn't help laughing again, "I don't get what the big deal is."
"You're not mad?" She started cautiously, staring down at her lap as if it were the most interesting thing she had ever seen.
"Why would I be mad? Are you planning to hurt him?" Luffy asked, completely serious.
"I would never do that on purpose… I just thought that you might be upset because this affects the entire crew," Nami explained with a frown and her eyes widened when Luffy laughed rather loudly.
"You're my friends, not my slaves, Nami," his confident statement caused her eyes to water and she was reminded of when he and the others had rescued her from her life of slavery to Arlong. She would never have to live that way again. These were her friends who only wanted her to be happy.
"What do you think I should do?" Nami whispered before wiping at a stray tear that had escaped. When she met his eyes, Luffy was smiling and his grin caused her to smile in response. This was why she was so close to their Captain. Luffy was innocence and power, kindness and compassion, goodness and justice all wrapped up in one man that she would follow until the day that she died. He was the man that would become the pirate king, and he was her best friend.
"I think you should do whatever makes you smile," Luffy stated seriously, remembering the promise he had made to never let her lose her smile and he watched as his navigator grinned at him in response, obviously relieved at his words, "just don't hurt him or yourself."
Had someone told her one week ago that she would be standing in front of the crow's nest ladder in the middle of the night, she would have laughed at the very idea, before of course knocking some sense into them with a well placed fist to the head. She would have come up with several reasons to raise their imaginary debt had they insisted that she couldn't sleep without his snoring.
Had someone told her that her room would no longer feel like home without the comfort of strong and capable arms around her, and that the one thing she would miss more than even the taste of mikans would be the metallic scent of steel, she would have insisted that they were out of their mind.
But there she was, one slender hand poised to climb and dark circled eyes dull from exhaustion. One week was all it had taken to change everything she thought she knew about their swordsman. One week was all it had taken to realize that she was in love with him. She didn't want to love him. He was the kind of man who put his life on the line in every battle, a man who unsettled and frustrated her with a single look, but unfortunately she had no choice in the matter. The thought of loving him was frightening, but the idea of losing him, of not loving him was even more so.
"Don't be a coward…" She whispered to herself and straightened her shoulders with renewed resolve. Taking the rough rope in hand, she hauled herself up the ladder as quickly as her healing ankle would allow. She found the swordsman sitting in the crow's nest with his back against the wall and his eyes closed, a blanket draped haphazardly around his shoulders and his swords were propped up about a foot away to his left. She knew better than to think he was asleep but she wasn't sure how to approach him either and instead she ended up simply standing there like an idiot, shifting her weight awkwardly.
Allowing herself a steadying breath, she opened her mouth to tell him how she felt but she was cut off when Zoro suddenly moved, opening up the blanket and lifting one arm in invitation much like he had done that first night on the island. The action tugged at her heart and Nami smiled before moving to press herself into the warmth of his side while Zoro proceeded to wrap her up in his arms and cocoon them both in the blanket. A comfortable silence enveloped them and for the first time since she had crawled into his bed while he was unconscious, she felt like she was home. The exhaustion hit her like a ton of bricks and her body relaxed into him without hesitation. His scent surrounded her and Nami realized just how much she had missed this, missed the protection and comfort that he offered to her so freely, missed his scent and snoring and everything that made him Zoro. His actions proved that he had already forgiven her without need for explanation and she had a sneaking suspicion that Zoro had come to terms with his feelings long before she had even noticed she was feeling them. The man really was very complicated.
"This is going to cost you, you know," she murmured quietly, her tone laced with affection. She saw in his eyes when he looked down at her that he knew. It was her way of telling him that she loved him without actually saying the words.
"Put it on my tab," he answered her with a grin that set her heart to racing. She knew immediately that it was his way of telling her he loved her too. They didn't need to say the cliché phrase to understand the depth and meaning behind the words. Zoro and Nami weren't exactly traditional.
"It might take you a long time to pay off what you owe me," she teased with a much lighter heart and a genuine smile. All of the weight she had been carrying was finally gone with the knowledge that Zoro felt the same.
"Well than I guess you're stuck with me, sweetheart," he practically purred and Nami blushed, staring up at him in the darkness with only the sound of their breathing and the ocean waves lapping against the ship to break the silence.
"Brute," she whispered a little breathlessly and wished that her voice had not betrayed just how much he effected her.
"Witch," he smirked before leaning down to capture her lips in a soul searing kiss that took her completely off guard. They both knew exactly what they were doing this time which only made the kiss that much more potent but despite the fact that she wanted nothing more than to sink into him, Nami broke the kiss and blushed.
"You knew," she was still breathless and her lips were kiss swollen but Zoro took her seriously anyway, "how long have you known that I loved you?" She needed to know.
"I didn't know for sure until Witch Island," he answered honestly with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Why didn't you say anything?" Nami was confused but Zoro suddenly smiled at her.
"You had to figure it out for yourself just like I did, all I had to do was wait," he replied and her heart flipped in her chest.
He had waited patiently for her to come to terms with her feelings and even given her space to sort things out. He really was a man to be admired and suddenly all of the torment she had put herself through for the last week didn't matter because he was hers and it was worth it. Without another word she snaked an arm around his neck and pulled him down into another heated kiss. She let her walls down completely and gave in to the fire that sparked at his touch, surrendered everything she had to offer and greedily drank in everything he so freely offered as well. He held nothing back much like he did in battle and it suddenly didn't matter that they were constantly in danger and that they risked their lives striving for their dreams because as long as they did it together it was all worth it. Seven days was all it had taken for her to realize that this moronic, directionally challenged, stubborn and irritating swordsman was exactly her type. One week was all it had taken for her to realize that Zoro was a big part of the reason that she was still smiling.
A/N: It makes me sad to know that this story has come to a close, but the journey was so incredibly worth it! I have been planning this ending for months before I even began to write the story. I just wanted to thank each and every one of my readers and reviewers because you guys are what makes the writing experience an adventure. I hope that you've enjoyed reading this as much as I have loved writing it and hopefully I'll be hearing from you guys again in my upcoming stories, including a one shot I'm attempting to get done in time for Christmas. Thank you as always to my wonderful friend and beta Oceanwind. I could not have done it without you, girl. Until next time, my friends, happy reading!