Hello lovelies~

Here is the next chapter! This one is mostly dialogue, so you'll have to let me know what you think of it!

To my guest reviewers:

Anji: Yay! I'm glad it made you smile! I hope this part makes you smile too! :D

triangel: Thank you, love! Here's your update!

Warnings: mentions of contemplated suicide

Disclaimer: Characters=not mine everything else=MINE


~She Took a Step Forward~

"So, you have a plan for today?" Nojiko asked.

"Nope," Ace replied as he snagged another scone, "I've got work this afternoon and Lu has that school thing."

Nojiko looked thoughtful, "So you guys are all busy?"

Ace shrugged. "More or less."

Robin forced herself not to jump when the bright woman suddenly turned to her with a wide grin on her lips.

"So I can take Robin shopping, right?"

"W-what?! You don't – "

"She needs bras," Ace cuts in nonchalantly, as if he weren't discussing woman's underwear.

Robin felt her face flush. "Ace!"

"What? It's a lady problem and Nojiko's a lady!"

Nojiko just sat there and laughed.

"You really don't have to, Nojiko-san," Robin said firmly, "I can manage on my own."

Nojiko just waved a hand at her. "It's fine, really. I can tell you've seen their stash; you're wearing Vivi's clothes. I'm just saying we can get you some of your own."

"I have my own," Robin said, hands clasped tightly in her lap.

"You need new ones," Ace said, "The clothes you came in were pretty threadbare. Whoa, hey, we kept them! No need for the look!" he added when he saw Robin's angry and horrified expression.

"Seriously, there's nothing wrong with going shopping," Nojiko said, "If you're worried about money, don't be. I know a good place. And if it bothers you that much, you can pay me back later."

Robin looked between the two of them, feeling desperation bubbling in her stomach. "But I…" she what? Why couldn't she? Was it because she wouldn't be able to pay them back? No, that wasn't it. She knew why. But how could she explain that buying her clothes would just be a waste of time?

"You wanna ask Luffy?" Ace asked, watching her carefully with knowing eyes.

She couldn't answer, the words lodged in her throat. She felt trapped. She couldn't breathe.

"I got it," Nojiko said before she could reply. She tilted her head back slightly and yelled, "LUFFY! I BROUGHT BREAKFAST!"

There was silence for a long moment before it shattered with a huge crash down the hall. Ace sighed in resigned exasperation while Nojiko just grinned. Approximately five seconds later, Luffy came barreling into the kitchen dressed in a simple red t-shirt and a pair of blue boxers.


Nojiko wordlessly held out a scone already covered in marmalade. It was gone in a flash.

"So goooooood," Luffy groaned before he swallowed, "Oh. Hi, Nojiko!"

He grinned and bounced over to the woman, draping himself over her shoulders and rubbing his cheek against hers.

"Good morning, Luffy," she laughed.

"Hi Robin!" Luffy exclaimed, jumping off Nojiko and bouncing over to her.

To her relief, he didn't try to touch her, just stood near her and smiled. She found herself smiling back. "Good morning, Luffy."

"Nojiko wants to take Robin shopping," Ace said, eating what had to be his tenth scone. At least.

"Oooooh! You should go!" Luffy told her with an excited grin as he bounced in place. "Nojiko knows that best places."

Nojiko smirked. "Not to mention, my baby sister can haggle like you would believe."

"Nami is very scary when it comes to money," Ace informed her seriously, Luffy nodding rapidly as he sat down.

"Watch it, Ace." Nojiko said mock threateningly.

Ace held his hands up in surrender. "Hey, I just call it like I see it."

"Yeah, yeah," Nojiko said, "So. How can we convince you to come shopping?"

Robin blinked as three pairs of eyes suddenly turned to her. "This really isn't necessary, Nojiko-san. I'm fine on my own, really."

"Yeah, no," Nojiko deadpanned, jabbing a thumb at Luffy who was inhaling the scones on the table, "Kiddo here dragged you home. Congrats, you've been adopted. Welcome to the family and all that jazz. Now this is the part where you let us take care of you."

Robin stared. Take care of her? Adopted? They barely knew her! Having her stay the night was one thing. If she thought about it a certain way, staying one night made sense. But…the way they were talking. They made it sound long-term. Very long-term. They were talking like she was going to stay. Like it wasn't even a choice. Like she didn't have a choice.

"Nojiko, dial it down," Ace muttered.

"Hmm? What?"Nojiko blinked looking between Ace and Robin, "I just want to buy her some nice clothes and chat. Is that such a crime? I spend most of the day surrounded by guys, cut a girl some slack!"

"You should go, Robin," Luffy said again, smiling up at her, "It'll be fun, promise. You don't have to come back after if you don't want too."

"Right," Ace nodded, "Let me get your stuff."

Robin stared after him as he got up and walked out of the room.

"Sooooo?" Nojiko prodded, poking her lightly in the arm.

She took a deep breath. "I suppose…if you really don't mind, I...would like to go," she said softly.

"Yes!" Nojiko cheered, throwing her arms up.

Luffy laughed as Ace walked back in with a plastic grocery bag in one hand. He placed it on the table next to her with a wink and a smile before sitting down again. The rest of breakfast passed without a hitch. Robin listened to the other three chat about idle, everyday things and people she didn't know. It was…nice to watch them do something so simple. Every so often, they would ask her something and she would answer. And, amazingly, they would listen. To her. Yes, it was nice.

Eventually though, breakfast ended and it was time to head out. She was nervous, but she had already agreed. So she did her best to calm the storm in her stomach – because that was definitely too violent to be frilly, little butterflies.

Nojiko just gave her an easy smile as she kissed Ace on the cheek and ruffled Luffy's hair and stepped out the door to wait for her.

"Thank you," she said after a moment, "For…everything."

"Don't worry about it," Ace said, waving her thanks away.

Luffy just grinned. "The bed isn't going anywhere," he told her, "It will be there when you wanna come back."

When, he said. Not if. Like she wasn't thinking about heading straight for the bridge as soon as she was done shopping with Nojiko. She looked up and met Ace's knowing eyes. She didn't find any judgment there. No disappointment or anger or even sadness. Just sympathy. Because he knew what it was like. The proof of that was carved into his very flesh. He wouldn't judge her if she never came back. She'd like to think that Sabo wouldn't either.

Luffy she wasn't so sure about. He was a different story entirely. But, she thought quite suddenly, why did she care what he thought? He was just a stranger, after all. She had barely known him a day and here she was wondering if he would be disappointed in her. How had that happened? She didn't know. She wasn't sure she wanted to know. She should stop. She really should. Just walk out the door and go out with Nojiko and then head to the bridge. It would be so simple. So easy.

And yet…

"Okay," she said.

Luffy beamed at her.

It felt like sunshine.

*happy sigh* I love writing this. Lu just makes my day. :)

Until next time,