Nami has a way with other people, of sliding in her thumbnail and peeling away their exteriors like an orange, like an eggshell, until she’s exposed the things she needs to pry something out of them. Robin sees her do it on the cook (though he’s left himself wide open, or seemingly so, so perhaps he doesn’t count) and on strangers, getting them to give her money or information when half the crew is distracted and the other half is barging through without bothering to ask. Everyone on this ship is smart, but Nami is the most self-aware about it.
She’s used it as leverage. The thought comes to Robin like a reflex. She’s done it herself; she has to; she’s shown it off, but not too much, caged and cloaked enough to make her seem like less of a threat (though Nami does not have the bounty preceding her). But they work differently, even if they draw strength from the same things; they aren’t the same. There’s no point to the similarity at all.
A fairer wind than usual hits the deck at lunchtime, and suddenly it’s as if the mood of the ship itself shifts, as if the figurehead smiles a little wider. There is more of a jump in Luffy’s and Usopp’s steps; Chopper peers more excitedly out at the sea; Zoro lifts his weight faster. Through a set of eyes sprouted on the kitchen wall, Robin can see Sanji flipping the food a little higher from the pan. And Nami lets the breeze hit her face, flap her hair like bird’s wings as she checks the log pose.
“We’re coming closer,” she says under her breath, to herself, but not self-consciously.
Robin catches herself having tilted her head to listen. She straightens up again as the kitchen door bangs open and Sanji appears with plates full of fried rice and glasses of fresh juice. Nami checks the log pose again before she starts eating hers, and Robin finds herself watching and not eating, though she could do both at once.
It’s strange, and not in the thrilling, macabre way that a haunted house or a severed head or a suddenly-missing knife would be.
Ideas unfold and bloom in Robin’s mind, shapes clarified about the outlines of these pirates, and then filling them in. There are the things they show and wear on their sleeves, the first and second impressions they try to make or do end up making (or both, in some cases). There is their strength and weakness, individually and together. It’s not all of them; one can never know a person fully, perhaps not even one’s self. And certainly, just from a glimpse and then an intrusion, a sliver and a gash of time, she can’t know these people well enough, and she doesn’t need to know them more than she does.
She can’t stop herself from looking longer at Nami (this particular flower in her mind has more intricate petals, curled and folded over and throwing exact shadows in a particular slant of light much like the lamp in their bedroom on the edge of Robin’s blankets). She watches Nami peeling an orange, the peel in a spiral that she hands to Chopper before Usopp outdoes her, Nami balancing the budget, Nami charting out the day’s journey quickly but carefully, Nami reaching over to turn out the light, the collar rumpled on her pajamas, Nami with a cocktail in one hand and the newspaper in the other, scanning the classifieds for sales in ports they’ve long since passed by.
It’s the same old inconvenient lurch tugging Robin from the inside, like being sixteen and noticing a very pretty girl in tight clothing, like being twenty and waiting to lean in close over a book with the woman she’d been studying with at the university who’d tried to turn her in three days later (and it had been a damn good thing she’d kept her guard up), like being twenty-five and letting herself get caught up in a pleasant conversation or a handful of exchanged glances going nowhere, but this is already dredging down deeper, worse maybe since it’s been so long since she’d let herself (or since her feelings had forced their way past the limitations she’d decided they’d have).
Robin leaves, and they bring her back, all of them. When they go to bed on the new ship, filled with the smell of fresh wood, new furniture but the same lamp in their bedroom, it’s a while before they actually fall asleep. Robin has the second watch; she knows she ought to.
“Robin?” Nami says, her voice awake and clear.
“I’m really glad you’re back.”
“Me too,” says Robin, her voice somehow not catching on the sandpaper-roughness in her throat.
She knows, somehow, that if the distance between their beds was closer, Nami would reach out for her hand. She doesn’t know what she’d do if that were the case.
Nami’s smile is easier now; she has more of a practiced ease with her staff; she is more prepared now than ever. She is different, after two years, and so is Robin. It’s only natural for those feelings to have fallen away like withered petals still clinging to the stem when the memory of being together doesn’t match reality.
But there are things Robin had forgotten, things she hadn’t thought about in two years, the furrow of Nami’s brow when she sews a torn seam, the lines of ink staining her hand from writing, the look on her face when she has an idea in the middle of something else. It’s a second wind, a second blossom, a perfect globe like seeds on a dandelion, and yet they won’t leave when she blows them away.
It was easier two years ago to say that the situation was temporary, and then that she shouldn’t have this, shouldn’t want it, or that there were too many other priorities. After such a long time she can’t hide behind that anymore, or maybe Nami’s finally peeled that all the way off her, held on to the edge of the peel over the distance, spinning Robin out of it. If she couldn’t see it before, or had the courtesy not to say anything, that doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant. Nami can sure as hell see it now, but Robin still--out of stubbornness perhaps, or reservation, or habits driven so deep into her that even when dislodged she can’t quite pull them out--does not move.
Robin reads her book as Nami combs her hair, longer now and more often tangled. The sound of the tugging comb, and then Nami’s fingers working a snarl, and then the comb again, fades into the background, but Robin has to read her page over again.
“I can’t figure you out,” Nami says, bringing Robin back into the moment.
Nami sets the comb on the nightstand and begins to braid her hair.
“In what way?”
“Well, do you want to do anything about us or not? Do you want me or not? Sometimes it seems so obvious to me, but then you don’t do anything, and...I don’t know.”
It’s close to the answer Robin was expecting, but she isn’t quite sure how to reply.
“Just because I want to doesn’t mean you do,” says Robin.
“I wouldn’t bring this up if I didn’t,” says Nami, and the way she’s looking at Robin, her face set like she’s staring into a dangerous wind that she knows will bring her to her next goal, makes it hard not to believe her.
Robin doesn’t reply.
“Is this about—” Nami begins, almost snappish, and then stops. “Is this about why you left before?”
Her voice is softer in some ways, but still firm, a metal that will bend, accomodate a little, but not break. And Robin can’t hide behind it, but she can’t get rid of it, molded to her hands in a plaster cast, following around all the new ones she makes. Nami has her own burdens, her own bounty now, but it’s not the same--but that doesn’t mean she’s not strong enough to hold Robin’s, that she hasn’t been holding it in some way or other all along. That she sees everything, more than Robin would have her, and she is asking if Robin is the one who wants her.
“Among other things,” Robin says. “But it’s silly.”
“Yeah, it is,” says Nami. “Come here.”
Nami’s bed is larger and softer than her own, and though Nami only has two arms at most, they’re enough to pull Robin in and keep her there--not that any desire she has to leave now is more than the fleeting residue of long-embedded panic.