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金継ぎ

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The lurid moonlight crept into the room through the slit in the thick drapes, illuminating the curvaceous forms of the woman sprawling on the bed. Breathing heavily, with her cheeks flushing and eyelashes fluttering, she was thoughtlessly staring at the ceiling and seizing the sheets with her porcelain fingers.

Even now, she seemed distant and foreign, as if she struggled to maintain the subordination she’d once disrupted: the abyss between them did not magically disappear. Despite the intimacy, she still refused to open up and divulge what she was mulling over. Mistrust, probably, had nothing to do with it: being on the lam for most of her life, avoiding the unfair justice prosecuted by the World Government, she learned what circumspection truly meant. At least, he wanted to believe so.

Gazing at the solid, vigorous figure, Crocodile suddenly realized that he couldn’t take off his eyes of her. Her visage, still slightly angular, no longer tired, remained impassive, but in the depth of her crystal clear sapphire eyes, he could discern the peace and tranquility he had never seen. Significantly paler than he recalled, the woman seemed far more integral, vibrant and robust, as if oceanic waves washed away the sticky tan of Alabasta all along with apathy and lassitude. It might be the only grave change he’d discovered: apart from it, he observed the sober and reserved Nico Robin he knew.

Unabashed by her nakedness and his gaze, she gradually recovered. The raven strands, glued to the high forehead and temples, outlined her face against the murk: her features, backlit by the eerie scintillation, likened her to an apparition, to a supernatural being from the underworld; she resembled a bad omen who boded devastation and derailment, but the heaving chest, the steadying breathing and the warmth of her body convinced the man that he saw a living a woman, not a translucent, elusive phantom that was to vanish into thin air at dawn.

Crocodile’s listless orbs glided across her neck, once adorned with the necklace he gave her. A few inches lower, outlined by the Moon, the collarbones jutted as if carved out in marble. A bead of sweat rolled across the heaving chest, but Robin made no attempt to enshroud her body or crawl away from his gaze – unlike other women he’d encountered, this one felt no embarrassment and didn’t hurry to get wrapped into a blanket. Albeit the tension hadn’t left her just yet, he observed that she was slowly relaxing: her breath returned to a regular pattern, and the optics, focused on an undisclosed point in space, blinked. The locks still stuck to her forehead and streamed across her shoulders – Crocodile suddenly wondered how much time had passed since they first met and decided to spend the night like this. They hesitated to break the silence that day, and now, paralyzed by pleasant torpor and the reminiscences taking hold, Robin, obviously, seesawed again. So did he: since Alabasta, he developed fierce abhorrence towards mirages of all sorts, and he didn’t want this woman to be another quaint hallucination.

The taciturnity ensued for several long minutes. Both were listening to the interminable ticking of the old clock. As before, neither of them insisted on endless, unceasing conversations that would eventually lead nowhere. The woman, stepping into the room, immediately blended into the surroundings. Whenever she went, she brought impregnable equanimity and solid confidence – which now he lacked. She became irreplaceable at Baroque Works – and could become irreplaceable again. Crocodile had never sought her company, but he nonetheless chased an intelligent, devious opponent, who masterfully avoided his booby traps and double-crossed him, finagling the information. Robin, on her part, never pursued danger but constantly faced it with all the audacity and courage she possessed; balancing on the verge of a volcano, she tried to push the rival into the abyss as deftly as she could. However, neither won by a landslide: they were always hard on each other’s heels.

All of a sudden, Robin sat up, and the moonlight defined the gracious contours: the shoulders draped by the pitch-black hair, the smooth lines of the arms, rounds thighs – she could’ve made a great statue, Crocodile thought. This woman morphed into the history she worshipped: she consisted of poise, elegance, and mystery; no one seemed capable enough to pry into her head – only true connoisseurs could understand how invaluable she, in fact, was. She resembled a precious, pristine figurine, smashed by a careless swat of a hand and then revived by an ingenious craftsman, mending the snaking crevices and cracks by gold. In the days of Baroque Works, he compared her to a gem that happened to get to him by a fluke, but now, a more mature idea came to his mind: the wild, primordially violent Ms. All Sunday would rather be an embodiment of ancient beliefs, than a luxurious item. Crocodile was acquainted with her sangfroid, with her cold-blooded, murderous side, with her Amazonian belligerence, but all those qualities were safely disguised by the mask of refined taste and outstanding resourcefulness. The years she spent on board with the Strawhats affected her peculiarly, too: she hadn’t lost any of her innate traits, but she learned to live without atrocity and manipulation. Seeing her now, he couldn’t quite realize that she was indeed the one who signed multiple death warrants to the people of Alabasta – with ease and inherent tact.

“I have to go.”

Her voice sounded coarse as if she were afraid to break the stalling peace, gleaming as motes of dust soaring in the moonbeam. Despite her evident urge to leave, Robin remained still.

“I do not detain you.”

The woman subtly nodded as if confirming her own thoughts. She sighed deeply and brushed her fingers through her hair.

Crocodile, narrowing the faded eyes, scowled: underneath the locks, he’d spotted enormous round bruises encircled in yellow halos.

“Wait.”

He propped himself up on the bed; his calloused digits that had long lost the ability to sense, softly reached for the transfixed silhouette with the defined line of the spine and pulled the strands aside. Robin folded her hands in the lap and straightened up, nervous, feeling the rough fingertips on her skin: Crocodile, with uncharacteristic but sheer curiosity, scrutinized the scars left by the barely healed wounds. Hairline moonlight rivulets inundated the neatly sutured incisions. The pirate’s hand slid from one blemish to another, lingering on the ragged edges, outlining each mark. She grew tensed again but didn’t move away as if showing that she could be a relatively obedient servant. Despite the evident agitation, she didn’t twitch a muscle – the composure she’d been training for years did not betray her.

“Does it hurt?” he asked quietly.

“No. Not at all.”

Crocodile never doubted her bravery, strength, or stamina, but the grisly sight he just observed outmatched nearly everything he himself had faced in the past. Nico Robin had got through hell once more and probably gave no sound. Her doctor’s remedy worked wonders, but even the magic formulae couldn’t completely erase the ugly, round marks replete with the moonlight.

“Where..?”

“Dressrosa.”

“How..?”

Robin did not reply and silently reached for the clothes hanging on the chair.

“Sorry for that.”

Even now, she did not react. Still illuminated by the ominous, omnipresent moonlight contorting her features and movements, she began to put on her clothes. Crocodile realized that he admired her, her feline grace, her alacrity to pounce. Robin never bustled around, never felt ashamed; she didn’t hurry to hide away from him right after the gossamer of passion that besotted them dissipated – stark-naked and languorous as a marble statue, she looked simply natural.

“Robin?”

“Yes?”

“Did you deceive them to come here?”

“No. I was brutally honest, but … they didn’t believe me.”

“I wouldn’t believe it myself.”

“As a sober-minded man?”

“As a man who never gets smitten with women.”

Robin bestowed a meek smile on him, pulling a peachy-colored blouse over her shoulders. Crocodile furrowed his thin eyebrows.

“What’s so funny about that?”

“Nothing. I just think that you might exaggerate a little.”

“And I just think that you were about to leave,” he groused, groping the nightstand for a cigar.

“And you would like me to stay. Isn’t that so?”

An arm grew out of the nightstand and grabbed the cheroot. The woman, with her blouse unbuttoned, sat down on the edge of the bed, examining Crocodile with an intent gaze of the azure eyes. He shifted closer, raised his head arrogantly, and placed his hand onto her neck, slightly squeezing the fingers. The moonlight reflected in the gems of his rings and recoiled into the wall.

“I could strangle you at any given moment,” he hissed, grinning lopsidedly, staring into her indigo-blue eyes.

“But you haven’t yet,” Robin responded calmly, placing her smooth hand over the wrist of the man seizing her neck. The warm fingers glissaded across his rough skin, lingered on a ring, and tenderly relinquished the hold. “Maybe next time..?”

The hand with the cigar tapped at his bare shoulder. Crocodile was about to say something but noticed that the fingers dispersed in a galvanic gust of pink petals – when he turned around, all he could see was a dark cloak sliding out of the room.