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On the Other Hand

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When Luffy rejects her offer of an alternate route, crushing the eternal pose she brought for them, Robin merely smiles and says she hopes to see him again, which is true enough, though that hope is faint.

She has mostly given up trying this kind of thing. Inexperienced hot heads rarely heed words of caution. They can never see she is trying to save their lives by keeping them out of Crocodile’s way.

But the princess had caught her interest. If Robin can, she will stop Crocodile from completely destroying Alabasta. Someone will need to help the survivors carry on. She thought maybe the young woman would be strong enough to fill that role.

But it seems that Ms. Wednesday and her friends are going to insist on getting killed by heading to Little Garden, an island almost no one manages to escape from.

Robin lets out a deep breath and tries her best to dismiss the encounter from her mind as Banchi, a tortoise in the Baroque Works employ, carries her away from the rookies’ ship.

She has done all she can afford to do. Probably more than she should have. They are going to be dead soon and there is no point giving it any more thought. Merely another tragedy in a world filled with them.

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So she’s surprised a couple weeks later when the Luffy pops up again to fight Crocodile head on. It’s not surprising that young pirate ends up impaled.

Still, even half dead and buried in sand he hasn’t given up. She has found rumors of ‘The will of D’ as she chases any clue she can find regarding the void century. Maybe he knows something?

He responds to her question with not even the slightest hint of understanding.

She sends the falcon man and the rubber man off together in the hope that they will at least manage to land a blow on the Warlord before being turned to dust. It’s what they wanted after all.

She squashes the part of herself that hopes for a better outcome than that.

Robin has no doubt that her current boss will want to dispose of her as soon as she has served her purpose by translating the poneglyph for him. The warlord has told his followers he will create a paradise for them, but his idea of paradise is an empty wasteland where no one is left to threaten him in any way. Underlings would only be cluttering up the scenery.
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She finally reaches the poneglyph under Alabasta’s palace after decades of searching and surviving in any way she could. She has sacrificed herself and others in the name of finding the truth the scholars of Ohara died for.

But it’s not here.

This stone carries the knowledge of the weapon that Crocodile wants, but she tells him it is a history of the Nefertari royal family. Information that isn’t even secret.

As expected, he tries to kill her.

She watches as her boss is taken down by the rookie instead.

She is too exhausted to be amazed. The tomb where the stone is hidden is collapsing around them, all she needs to do is stay here and the struggle will finally be over.

But no. Luffy drags her out against her wishes, saying he doesn’t have to listen to her ranting.

“Put me down!”

Luffy doesn’t so much let her go as collapse just outside the zone of immediate danger.

The king of Alabasta untangles himself from the heap at the same time Robin staggers to her feet. She looks down at Luffy in irritation and unwilling wonder.

The king looks at her bemused. The fact that she didn’t give Crocodile the information he was seeking seems to have dispelled most of his anger toward her. Like his daughter, he is an overly forgiving person.

He opens his mouth to say something, but she interrupts him, “You should get him treatment, I’m pretty sure he’s lost at least half his blood.”

He hesitates, obviously still wanting to ask questions, but then Luffy groans (possibly due to being surreptitiously prodded) and Cobra turns his attention to their downed savior.

Robin walks off in a random direction, still considering what to do. Although she had been willing to die down in the tomb, now that she has been saved, she needs to act. She may have been willing to die, but she’s not willing to suffer the indignity of being killed, not even by her own hand.

She can only think of one place to go from here.

At the very least it will be interesting.
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Of course the Strawhats are not like crews she has joined in the past. After nearly getting himself killed multiple times for no discernable advantage or material gain, Luffy hadn’t even taken any reward when he left.

Still, she had been first officer to a man who had tried very hard to kill them and destroy the home of one of their friends. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect them to distrust her and even have some contingency for eliminating her.

However, Zoro is the only one who holds onto any strong objection to letting her roam freely around the ship. On top of that, so far as she could tell, his only ‘plan’ was to stab her if she did something to endanger the crew.

This is terribly short sighted of him. While he would almost certainly win in a one on one competition of strength, if she did intend to harm the crew, she would never be so foolish as to confront him directly.

While Robin has never joined a crew with the express purpose of betraying them, she always makes contingencies. So far in her twenty years on the run, more often than not they eventually become necessary.

It’s second nature to watch, evaluate, and plan. So, this is what she does for her first few weeks on the Merry.

She exhausts herself extending her eyes and ears around the ship as much as possible, only to feel irrationally frustrated that they seem to be wasting her time by not doing anything she would consider noteworthy.

Ironically, they still quickly seem to assume that she is spying on them in order to be privy to everything occurring on the Merry. She could point out that it is a very small ship with no sound proofing in the walls and that most of them don’t seem to understand the concept of subtly or even indoor voices, but instead, out of habit, she just gives them one of her well-practiced knowing smiles.

In every previous crew, the belief that she has ways of obtaining all kinds of secret knowledge helped to keep her safe. It made them hesitate, though ultimately not refrain, from plotting against her.

Usopp’s initial interview/interrogation when she had first revealed herself as a stowaway had been interrupted by a ruined galleon falling from the sky and scattering some fascinating human remains across the deck of the ship. Between screaming out about the skeletons and then being drawn into cobbling together makeshift diving suits out of barrels, the sniper seemed to have forgotten that he had already been freaking out about an assassin being on the ship.

But maybe he had remembered again later when things had calmed down a bit.

When she observes him near the figurehead whispering with Luffy and Chopper a week out from Alabasta, she thinks maybe she has finally come across an attempt at conspiracy. Subtly she concentrates her power, while appearing to still lounge causally on the aft deck, reading the tome open on her lap.

“Are you sure you want to do this Chopper? It could be pretty risky. Only the very bravest would dare!” Usopp points his finger at the sky while giving the little doctor his most serious look.

Chopper stands up to his full 2 ½ foot height, ears perked forward and an adorably determined look on his face, “You can count on me Usopp!”

“Yeah!” the ship’s captain throws in, grinning with childish enthusiasm.

Robin continues to listen for a couple minutes before, satisfied, she releases her power and goes back to her reading, a small smile on her face.

The plan soon goes into action. The peace of the ship is broken by a shout of ‘Smoke Star!’ from the galley, followed immediately by a cry of outrage from the ship’s cook, loud laughter from Luffy, and a panicked ‘sorry, sorry!’ from the sniper.

A few seconds later, as colorful threats start to emanate from the galley, Usopp comes scrambling up the stairs, covered in grey dust and dives into the midst of Nami’s mikan trees. A moment after that Luffy comes flying out of the galley door backwards a big grin on his face.

Sanji follows him jumping over the railing, “Dammit Luffy! There’s powder all over everything!”

“Sorry, sorry,” Luffy is still laughing as Sanji grinds his heel into the side of his captain’s head.

Unobserved by the cook, Chopper scrambles out of the kitchen door, a tray of sugar cookies in his forehooves. He also makes it to the top deck and looks around in a wide-eyed panic for a moment before spotting Robin beckoning him closer.

He scrambles over and she gives him a conspiratorial look she would normally reserve for situations far more dire than this, “I’ll hide you…for a price.”

Chopper starts to look even more panicked, but nods his head quickly when she points down at the tray of cookies. She takes her cut and shoos him off to hide in the mikan trees with his coconspirator.

The cook comes twirling up just as the leaves settle, his usual routine undeterred by the fact that he’s currently grey, “Robin-chaan~! Have any morons come crashing through here disturbing your peace?”
“Did something happen, Cook-san?” she asks voice full of concern but, unable to keep a small smile off her face.

Sanji visibly starts to melt at this, almost literally, but then he pulls himself together enough to step back a couple paces and start beating the smoke dust out of his clothes, “Nothing for you to worry about, Robin-chan! Just some idiots who couldn’t wait five minutes for me to frost the cookies I was making. Fortunately, they took the tray of scraps and not the special one I made for you and Nami-san.”

Robin reflected that there always seemed to be enough ‘leftovers’ for the male members of the crew, consequently a much larger share then the ‘intentional’ portion made for the navigator and herself.

“Nobody has bothered me up here, Cook-san.”

He starts to grin at her again, but just as he opens his mouth to gush something at her, there is another crash from the galley and he hesitates for half a second, mouth open, before saying, “Excuse me, Robin-chan.”

He turns around and stalks off in the direction of the galley screaming, “Luffy!!!”

Shortly there is more crashing and Luffy comes flying out the galley door again, this time with face and hands covered in pink, red, and blue frosting. He hits the lower deck face first and tumbles head over heels until he smacks upside down into the mast.

As the galley door slams shut, Luffy happily starts to lick the remains of the frosting off his fingers, unconcerned with the fact that he is still upside down.

She addresses the mikan trees, “He’s gone back to the galley, but I wonder, do you have a plan for when dinner time rolls around?”

The only answer is a bit of rustling and a few whimpers.

Despite all this melodrama, the plot’s master mind only gets a single (relatively) low powered heel to the back of the head when he slinks in at dinner time.

Usopp picks himself up off the floor rubbing the bump on the back of his head. When he opens his mouth Sanji interrupts him, “Dishes for the next week, it took me two hours to clean up the mess you made in the galley.”

Usopp looks sheepish, “The new smoke star turned out to be smokier than I was expecting. New formula.”

When Sanji continues to glare at him, he adds, “Sorry.”

And that’s it. Usopp sits down as the table with everyone else. Sanji serves dinner. Everyone scrambles to get their share. And afterward, when Luffy has licked all the dishes clean, Usopp starts clearing the table without further prompting.

Despite weeks of watching the crew, this is the height of the schemes they hatch against one another: stolen snacks, drawing on the swordsman’s face when he’s asleep, making unwise bets against Nami.

All of them have secrets; some more than others, but at the same time there is very little deceit in their day to day interactions. No matter how much she watches them, their behavior when they are on their own does not contradict their behavior when they are right in front of her.

Robin finds herself bemused by the innocence of it all even as she begins to wonder how they have managed to make it even this far into the Grand Line. Luck seems to be part of it, determination and strength make another part, but even that can’t account for all of it. She has met people stronger than this crew before. Most of them are dead now.

Despite herself, the idea of this group joining them brings a pain to her heart. Can it be helped though? Surely such naivety has no place on this sea.

She is in a strange place those first couple weeks. Balanced between fatalistic acceptance of whatever comes next, now that she has exhausted all her leads, and a fascination with the workings of this crew that has already done the impossible several times within her sight.

When she sees the answer, it takes her a surprisingly long time to realize it. It comes to her when they are celebrating on the island in the sky after having overthrown a self-proclaimed god.

Only yesterday, Zoro, Nami, and she had gone tramping through the mysterious forbidden forest together. The swordsman and she casually saving Nami from falling to her death multiple times even as they chatted with each other and kept a look out for enemies and other dangers.

From there things had only gotten more serious. Zoro had tried to protect her; she in turn had looked after him, carrying him to safety after he was knocked unconscious from a bolt of lightning that would have killed nearly anyone else.

She had watched as the beanstalk finally fell and Nami and Luffy had arched through the sky on a rebuilt waver.

The ringing of the bell had felt like a blessing.

She had watched the crew gather together in the aftermath. Injured and exhausted, but victorious. The tension bleeding out of their frames as the danger finally passed.

Refugees start drifting in from the edge of the formerly forbidden island.

Sanji is driven into a frenzy by the sight so many exhausted and, more importantly, hungry people. Amidst a whirlwind of chopping, fire, and heartfelt declarations of love for all the brave women who survived the battle, he somehow whips up enough food for several hundred people in only a couple of hours.

While he’s busy with that, the rest of the male members of the crew help with the construction of an impressively massive lattice of wood for a celebratory bon fire. They all agree that this is not only appropriate, but necessary. When they try to lecture Nami about a Man’s Romance, she doles out several lumps for their trouble.

The navigator mutters, “At least they won’t get in any trouble…probably,” as she goes off to assess the aftermath of the battle.

As the massive fire is ignited and the drummers start to warm up, Usopp settles down on the edge of the clearing with a couple dozen listeners to tell the story starting with a ship falling out of the sky and going all the way through to how he had saved Nami, then Sanji had saved him, then he’d saved Sanji, then Nami had helped Luffy save everyone. It seems to be mostly true based on the parts she saw. When things get this absurd there must be little need for embellishment.

Chopper comes to sit by her on the ground, leaning on her leg as he works his way through a pile of treats, stars in his eyes as learns of his crewmates’ adventures, gasping at all the danger, even the parts he was there for.

Luffy stakes a claim to about a third of the meat being served at the party and plops down on Choppers other side, exclaiming over Usopp’s story while inhaling meat in multi-pound bites.

When he’s done, he interrupts Usopp to drag him into the dancing and Chopper excitedly jumps up to join them.

Their captain even gets Sanji to join them for a bit before the cook notices Robin watching and uses his foot to pry Luffy lose so he can spin over to her.

He kneels down in front of her with a flourish and stretches out his hand with a grin on his face that makes him look so much younger, like he really is still in his teens. She allows herself to smile back at him and take his hand for a dance.

He is a gracious and skilled dancing partner, but she decides to sit down after a couple rounds. If there is anyone who could actually die of happiness, it’s the Strawhat cook. He sings her praises for her generosity before returning to the dance, spinning around the fire with any girl who will take his hand.

Zoro’s loud laughter occasionally carries over the crowd. He is drinking and sharing stories of past fights with the Shandian warriors.

Nami appears out of the crowd with a couple mugs and sits beside her offering her one. The younger woman is flushed from dancing and drinking.

Robin is glad to see the normally serious navigator’s relaxed and sunny attitude, “And to think, just yesterday we were all trying to kill each other.”

Nami rolls her eyes and then grins in turn and knocks her mug against Robin in a toast, “Nothing cuts through the nonsense like nearly dying.”

Robin smiles in return and drinks to that.

Then Nami spots Zoro and the Shandians on the far side of the fire and her grin grows even wider and decidedly evil, “A drinking contest? I wonder what they’re betting.”

She disappears into the crowd and soon appears near the group of warriors. Robin watches the cat burglar encourage several men twice her size to make what are no doubt unwise bets regarding the outcome of a drinking game.

Between Nami and Zoro, Robin wonders if there is sufficient alcohol available to decide the contest.

She catches herself thinking that it’s a relief to see everyone acting like their normal selves again, after the deadly seriousness of their recent battles.

She feels surprised. And then she has to consider why she is surprised. Of course they would have to be serious under such circumstances. If they were actually incapable of it, they really wouldn’t have made it this far.

…But they aren’t like that around her…

They weren’t behaving in such a laid-back manner around her, failing to hide their weaknesses, because they were too foolish to be serious in the face of danger.

They simply hadn’t seen the need to have their guard up around her.

…So this is what it’s like to have someone really trust you with their back.

She hadn’t experienced anything remotely like this since the scholars were killed along with the rest of Ohara, and even they had kept secrets from her in an attempt to protect her.

Her sense of wonder is crushed a moment later by a spike of fear.

For years she has been able to act decisively because she has only had to look out for herself. She had one goal, to find the truth of the Void Century. She owed the crews she sailed with nothing; they always tried to betray her, only to be the ones to fall because she was far better at deceit then they could ever hope to be.

They usually counted on people ignoring warning signs out of desperation or believing they would not sink beyond a certain level. Robin had learned long ago not to fall into either of those traps.

This crew trusts her, really and truly. Even Zoro had stopped looking at her in his assessing way.

What should she do? She had never had to worry about staying in one place too long before. She never really had to say goodbye to those she traveled with before.

They would always fall, victim to their own greed, foolishly calling the attention of the wolves that hunted her.

And she would move on.

But this crew is willing to let her stay.

But the wolves would still come.

Eventually they always found her again.

This time it would be her fault.

They are all so much younger than her. They have all been through so much and yet none of them have broken. She does not want to be the one to bring the thing that breaks them.

Luffy comes spinning out of the group around the bonfire and grabs her hands, laughing and grinning widely, “Come on, Robin!” He jumps up and down in excitement and she smiles in return and allows him to pull her up and into the wild dance around the bonfire.

She puts off thinking about it. She can’t leave right now; they have to get back to the Blue Sea first.

Maybe when the time comes, she can slip away without hurting them too much.

Maybe they will forgive her.
-
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And later a mansion burns and then a flag burns and then an island burns.

And they haven’t changed.
-
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Robin is enjoying sitting in her favorite place outside in the sun reading a book she took with her when she left the revolutionary army. She’s missed this spot during their two years of separation.

Luffy drops into the sun chair next to her upside down so his feet are propped up by the back rest, “Why aren’t you watching us?”

Robin gives him a small smile, “How do you know I’m not?”

“When we were fighting on Fishman Island, you got all fuzzy, but you didn’t feel that way on the way down and you don’t feel that way now.”

She tilts her head interested, “This has something to do with the new skills you’ve learned?”

“Haki. I can sense where people are. When you use your power,” he waves his arms, “you’re kind of everywhere.”

Luffy suddenly looks excited and props himself up on one elbow and sits part way up in manner that would be extremely awkward for almost anyone else. He grins widely, “That’s good you don’t feel like you have to watch all the time! The Sunny is safe!”

“That is one reason I stopped,” she allows.

Luffy cocks his head to the side, “There’s other reasons?”

Robin notices a thin trail of smoke crossing the deck, headed toward the aquarium room, “Now might be a good time to go visit Zoro up in the crow’s nest or Usopp down in his workshop, before Sanji realizes you ate those fish he’s been saving.”

Luffy looks around quickly, then pouts at her, “How did you know about that!?”

She puts on her secretive smile, “It’s a mystery.”

Luffy nods solemnly in understanding.

Robin nudges him, “I’d say you have about ten seconds.”

“Um, Okay,” her captain scrambles off.

The door to the lower decks slams just as a howl of outrage emanates from the aquarium room, “Luffy!! Those weren’t the kind of fish you can eat raw!”

As Sanji comes storming out onto the deck, Robin can’t help but laugh. (The sound instantly attracts Sanji to her side and thoroughly distracts him from his anger.)

It is a freedom she could not have dreamed of a few years ago, that a few stolen fish are the height of the betrayal she has to worry about from her traveling companions.

Now, when she sits on the deck with a book in her lap, she is just reading.