Sorry this final chapter took so long to come out, especially being a short one and all. I just became really busy with life and things. Nonetheless, with this chapter, the story is complete. I hope you enjoy!
Chapter Ten: Home
He'd been fourteen years old when he'd first noticed her.
The little girl on the freshly-pressed bounty poster was a danger to the world, so the accompanying article had said. The young Franky had looked at the poster only for an instant the first time, briefly wondering about the story behind the girl's sad brown eyes, before hurrying back to his day's work.
He was thirty-six years old when he realised he'd lost count of the number of times he'd laid eyes on her. And the number of times she'd taken his breath away.
The young woman in his arms seemed small and vulnerable, though she'd long since proven she could hold out on her own. Even so, Franky could not help but feel that familiar wave of protectiveness from so long ago as he watched Robin's exhausted slumber. This time was entirely different, however.
There'd been more than a story behind those eyes, so Franky had come to discover. There was a story that was still being written, and he just so happened to be a part of it. Strange, how life could work out in the most unexpected of ways.
The island around them was in ruin. Victorigen's final detonation had levelled nearly everything to the ground, leaving it to smoulder. As such, Franky had moved himself and Robin down to the seaside where the air was clearer, and the body of the other cyborg was out of sight and mind.
There was an ethereal sort of quiet in the air now. Ash had been falling from the sky for the past few hours, and now danced wisp-like in the first streaks of light from the rising sun, giving the land and ocean around them an air of otherworldliness.
Robin stirred in his arms. "Franky…" she muttered softly.
"I'm here," he responded, giving her shoulder a gentle, reassuring squeeze.
She strained her eyes open and smiled, exhaustion apparent in her features. Damn she was beautiful, even in the aftermath of a battle. She slowly reached up with her much smaller hand, her fingers tenderly brushing the side of his face. There was a very slight trace of urgency mingled in her relaxed features, as though there was something she needed to tell him.
"What I said back then…" she began, "Back in the common room… it wasn't true…"
"Of course it wasn't," Franky responded, "I said before that you don't need to explain—"
"What I said was the opposite of true."
"Robin, you'll feel more super if you just rest…"
"Because I do want to be with you."
Franky silenced himself for a moment and Robin's features relaxed.
"In fact… I'd like to be with you, very much."
"The truth is…" she began, "Franky, I…" her words escaped her and she couldn't quite catch them, causing her sentence to trail off into nothing.
Noting that her attention had somehow been diverted to something above them, Franky followed her new line of sight.
There was something red drifting down amongst the ashes from the sky above. It swirled patterns in the slight breeze, floating towards the sand, the sunlight catching on the particles of dust around it, reflecting a slight shimmer. She reached her hand out to catch it, and Franky did the same.
The fine strip of material had been unharmed by the carnage of battle, having been swept high above the furious storm. Only now had it descended to the ground below, and right into their hands.
"The ribbon…" Franky realised.
"It didn't break…" Robin observed. Her eyes lingered for a moment, but then seemed to lose interest in the narrow piece of fabric almost as quickly as they'd gained it. They now fixed their sight on a new subject.
Franky returned her gaze, his hand held with hers and intertwined with the ribbon, like only two nights prior.
Their wordless exchange was all that needed to transpire.
Robin reached up with her free hand, resting it upon his shoulder. She pulled herself upright so that their eyes were level, Franky's hand secured around her waist, holding her in place. And then, slowly, her lips brushed against his own. Softly at first. But then once again, with more intensity.
Just as Franky was thinking that it would last longer, Robin drew back. Her breath was heavy and he briefly wondered if she were crying again.
When she next leaned in a few moments later, instead of continuing, she simply wrapped her arms around him as best she could, her head resting in the curve of his neck.
Her body trembled slightly, but Franky gently kissed the top of her head and rubbed smooth circles into her back. Her hold on him tightened all the more, her grip on the back of his shirt desperate.
Careful not to disturb her injuries, Franky returned the embrace. It didn't matter it she was crying right now or not. He was here for her. And he held her with everything he had.
It must have been close to another hour that passed before anything else occurred.
Franky was beginning to contemplate his next actions, when all immediate problems were solved on the spot. As the sun gained height in the sky, its rays illuminated the sails of his dreamship. It had never been a more welcome sight.
"Well look who's here," he said with a grin.
Robin shifted in his lap, glancing over to see the Thousand Sunny sailing toward them. Franky could almost feel the gladness that filtered through her body, just as it did his own.
"Let's go and meet them," he prompted, "Are you alright to walk?"
Robin nodded, eager to reunite with their Nakama. "I should be."
Franky helped her to her feet gradually, noting by her movements that the potentially-cracked rib must have been causing her pain. But Robin was determined, and he would help her as best he could.
No sooner had the ship anchored in the shallows, the Mini Merry exited the docking system, coming towards the shore at a rapid speed.
Franky helped Robin hobble across the beach, steadying her as they slowly crossed the sand to meet with their crewmates.
"Franky! Robin!" Usopp's voice coasted over to them as they approached the shore. The snipper jumped overboard the Mini Merry before it even reached dry sand and hurriedly waded through the shallows in his hurry to reach his Nakama, "Are you alright? What the hell happened?! We heard you got involved with a bad guy! Are you either of you hurt?"
From the small boat's steering wheel, Nami looked on in concern. Chopper watched from the passenger seat, his hooves clutching his backpack tightly, prepared to use the medical supplies inside if need be. Nearby, the others watched from aboard the Sunny, looking as though they were ready to disembark for battle at any queue.
Usopp intersected with them a moment later, and Robin smiled weakly as she briefly reached out and squeezed his shoulder affectionately. "It's all okay," she assured, "It's over. We won."
She winced and withdrew her hand, her body collapsing against Franky's for support.
Franky lifted her and began for the Mini Merry. "I'll explain what happened later," he said, "She's hurt. She needs Chopper's attention."
"R-right! Let's get you both back to the Sunny."
Franky clambered aboard the Mini Merry, where Chopper began his assessment right away.
Robin's smile didn't fade. "We missed all of you," she said, softly caressing the doctor's fur as he began gently prodding her side with a hoof. She hissed slightly at the touch.
"We missed you too," Nami said as she steered them back in the direction of the Sunny, her relief evident, "Though you both owe us some sort of explanation later."
Franky felt Robin gradually lax against him, the assurance of being so close to the Sunny calming her all the more. The cool morning breeze billowed at her hair as they sped back towards home.
Robin was unsure of how much time had passed since they'd returned to the Sunny. Not that it mattered too much. She'd spent most of the time asleep and had awoken the first time to find Chopper had carefully bandaged her midsection, confirming her suspicion of a broken rib. That aside, the past few days on Oculto had taken a lot out of her, in near every meaning of the phrase.
All in all, the current arrangement wasn't so terrible; there was nothing stopping her from moving about, and under such treatment, Robin expected she'd be back to her normal range of movement in no time. In fact, right now she wasn't even in the infirmary.
She was sitting at the bench in the galley, a steaming mug of her favourite coffee in hand. Tonight had been her first dinner with the others since before Oculto, and she'd enjoyed every moment of it. The crew were as rowdy as always, of course. From what Robin could gather, they had run into a small spot of their own trouble while separated from their shipwright and archaeologist, but it had all cleared up without any additional problems. At any rate, it hadn't worn them down as Robin's encounter had.
Earlier, Brook had played an upbeat tune on violin to call them all to dinner, as Sanji had served up one of her favourite meals, fussing over her all the while. Nami had been quick to seat herself next to Robin, not hiding her gladness in being rejoined by the crew's only other female. Zoro had cracked open a new bottle of sake, of which he offered Robin a glass. She'd politely declined, although Usopp had offered to have the glass for her. Chopper, who'd seated himself at Robin's other side, had taken to leaning against her when he could, and Luffy had been only too happy to finish off whatever food she couldn't eat.
She and Franky did not speak directly to one another over the course of the meal, but the eye contact shared as they laughed along with their Nakama deeper into the night said enough words for the both of them.
And now late in the night, when all the dinner dishes were stacked away, Robin closed her eyes in quiet bliss. This was home. The feel of the timber against her bare feet… the faint smell of Adam's Wood, almost like pine… and, of course, the ongoing buzzing ambience of her crewmates around her. Opening her eyes again, she swivelled around in her seat to observe the unfolding chaos of her friends' various interactions, all still within the galley.
Franky was entertaining Luffy and Usopp with one of his latest inventions. Robin couldn't tell what it was, but the delighted sounds coming from the two younger crewmates suggested something 'super cool'. She'd have to ask Franky to show it to her later. Brook was having a conversation of some sort with Nami. Though the two were of entirely separate intellects, they could easily carry out a thorough discussion, which surprisingly didn't always end with a panty-related question. Just in front of her, Sanji and Zoro argued about something dumb. Robin smiled to herself, knowing that this, like all other exchanges between her Nakama, was just another extension of affection.
Robin decided she would contribute her own extension of affection. She didn't outwardly express it often; there was not usually any need to. But she found it was important to show these feelings on occasion; when it boiled down to it, she really didn't need a reason.
She carefully placed her drink on the bench behind her and stood to her feet. The swordsman, doctor and cook were nearest. Chopper had perched himself on Zoro's shoulder, to which the swordsman seemed rather nonchalant about. As she approached, Zoro and Sanji continued to argue over whatever forgettable dispute they'd most recently gotten themselves into. Once she reached them, she gently placed a hand on each of their shoulders. It was enough to disrupt their banter.
"Robin-chan?" Sanji queried.
Robin smiled openly, and in one gentle movement she pulled them both, and Chopper, tightly into her arms.
Although the swordsman and cook made sounds of discomfort and protest (though Sanji seemed more conflicted than anything else), they made no move to refrain the embrace.
Robin glanced up, noticing the puzzled expressions on some of her other crewmates' faces, before her eyes caught Franky's in a silent exchange.
He understood. Grinning, he already knew what to do. "Super come here, all of you!" he beckoned, his large arms reaching out and engulfing all their remaining crewmates at once, conjoining them with Robin's initial group huddle.
Robin made use of her power to sprout the extra limbs needed to ensure that everyone would be included.
While Luffy had little idea of what was going on, he took care of the rest. His rubber arms reached around and encircled the entire crew, pulling them all in tightly.
Robin found herself squashed in amongst the warmth of her Nakama, and although it may have caused her injuries to ache a small bit, the comforting sensation of being so close to all the people she loved was far stronger.
"You two are so weird!" Nami's voice came from somewhere within the jumble, her voice full of laughter.
Robin's smile widened. Her true Nakama were right here. Saul had been right all those years ago, and although it had been a long twenty years adrift, they had all been worth the wait.
A few days went by and everything returned to normality.
Franky had barely seen Robin one on one since leaving Oculto; with Chopper's frequent checkups and the constant company of the rest of the crew all glad to be rejoined with their archaeologist and shipwright, it was difficult to get time alone with anyone. Not that Franky minded this in the least, of course. He was just as glad to be reunited with the rest of the crew as they were with he and Robin.
It had been Ernest who had alerted the crew of his and Robin's whereabouts. The keeper of the boathouse had focussed all his efforts on contacting the Straw Hat pirates as soon as he'd finished his conversation with Franky. Upon learning the news, the crew had wasted no time in rushing to the assistance of their missing Nakama.
Oculto's occupants had mostly been deceased associates and victims of Victorigen's, and the ones who weren't were now free of his reign. From what Franky had heard through corresponding with Ernest, many had chosen to make a new life on Tanium or continue their journeys on the sea. It was good to know that they'd be doing well, at least. Franky wished them all the best.
It was one afternoon nearly a week after being rescued from the decimated island that Franky discovered Robin sitting on the deck, flicking through the last pages of The Red Thread. Usually, it would have taken her far less time to read through a novel, but he supposed she'd been too preoccupied with other matters over the previous week and a half to be partaking in pleasure reading.
He chose to sit nearby her, and perhaps strike up a conversation once she'd finished.
Just as he was deciding how he would word his opening remark, Robin beat him to it. "Franky…" she began, her eyes not leaving her book.
Franky found himself put almost in the spot, but replied as smoothly as he could. "Yes?"
"The other week, you asked me a question," Robin recounted, "I never got around to answering it."
"What question?" Franky asked.
The corners of Robin's mouth stretched upwards slightly, but her eyes did not leave the book. "Would I ever date a cyborg…" she pondered out loud as she turned to the final page.
"Oh…" He'd completely forgotten about that. Nonetheless, the question was as valid as ever. "Well… uhh, would you?"
"Before I answer, there's something I need to ask you."
"And what's that?"
Robin's lips curled into a more distinct smile and she finally looked up from the book. "Would you ever date an archaeologist?"
Franky paused as he processed the implications of her question, before smiling broadly. "I super would!"
Robin's responding smile was again softer, though her eyes showed a genuine content. "There you go," she said, snapping the book shut, "You have your answer."
Well, that's it! A great big thank you for those of you who've stuck around for the entire story :D A sequel is in the works, but I probably won't get around to actually writing it for a few months yet. I don't always do this, but since this is the final chapter, I would really love it if you could leave a review :) again, thank you for all your support!