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you gotta go the long way 'round

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“What does it say?” Luffy asked Robin, his eyes curious as usual, but also uncharateristically calm.

It is their fifth day at sea, and they are precisely halfway between one island and the next. Robin doesn’t know how to explain the odd, subdued behavior that has taken hold of the crew, however. It was like they had woken up with the sound sucked out of them. It is not an unhappy or a melancholic silence, thankfully. It is just...a silence.

Robin had been sitting on the deck, half focused on her book, half pondering the odd air hanging over the ship, when Luffy had come out of nowhere and sprawled out across the floor in front of her without a word. She would’ve expected for him to be the same despite the atmosphere, but apparently even he has been affected.

And now, his question. If it were any other time, Robin would’ve thought the question was idle, a passing fancy. But he is looking at her so intently, with those wide, cow-brown, curious eyes of his, and she realizes in that second that he is the cause of the odd behavior of the crew. He woke up thoughtful, or calm, or whatever it was--but most of all, he woke up quiet. He is the center of their little crew, and as an unintended result, it is him who decides what mood the ship will be in.

If Zoro were here, and if he had the ability to read minds, he would’ve told her that her realization was obvious. Which may be true for Zoro--after all, he is much more a creature of instinct than a creature of logic. That’s not Robin, however; she may be brilliant, yes, but her brilliance takes time. It needs cultivation, constant and tender care, so that it may grow into something which may be useful to her.

Robin has all of these thoughts in the space between Luffy’s question, what does it say, and the next blink of her eye. She closes the book and checks the cover, because she’s quite forgotten what the title is, and blinks again. “A history of ancient runes.” She smiles, knowing that her small grin affects mystery and cheek. “Why, are you interested in reading it?”

Luffy smiles back, a pale imitation of his normal beam, but no less genuine. When Robin offers the book to him he takes it, clumsily turning it around so he can trace the title with his strong, scarred grip.

She sees something in his eyes, something that he hasn’t yet said. But she doesn’t push, lets him flip through the pages a little bit, looking at the pictures with an oddly serious gaze.

After a second he says, “Ace tried to teach me how to read.”

Robin pauses. She takes that new piece of information and turns it over in her head slowly, taking it apart piece by piece.

First of all--she has an explanation for his odd mood. Ace had been the first word out of his mouth, which means that Ace is the first thing on his mind. It’s obviously not bad enough to throw his mind back to Marineford, but it’s enough to quiet the ship and calm his eyes.

Second of all--he doesn’t know how to read. In retrospect, a lot of things suddenly make sense.

Cautiously, Robin says, “Were you an unwilling student?”

“No,” Luffy responds immediately, like the thought of trying to sit still for more than five seconds isn’t completely at odds with his personality. He holds the book out to her, and she takes it slowly, but is suddenly uncertain as to what she should be doing with it. “Makino says that my brain was wired a little differently, so I can’t read like most people.” He shrugs, like he doesn’t entirely get it, but that’s what Makino told him so it must be right.

Robin mentally corrects her second point--it’s not that he doesn’t know how to read, it’s that he’s dyslexic.

She thinks about that for a bit, while Luffy sits quietly in front of her and waits, patient. She thinks about little boys on islands, whose government’s first priority is not education. She thinks about poverty so deep and draining that food is almost a luxury and clean water certainly is. She thinks about the importance of words, and how books are an escape for people who can’t bear to live in the present.

“You can learn how to read.” Robin says finally, and she feels something burning in her eyes. It’s something harder and more fierce than tears. “I have experience with dyslexia. I could teach you.”

Luffy blinks up at her, and suddenly she remembers that first point--Ace.

She suddenly wonders if she’s overstepped. If he was about to draw away from her, go find some other crew mate to stare at with his big, brown eyes. These moods are new, after all--she hasn’t quite yet learned the dance, where to step and how lightly. Maybe he wanted the silence to descend further, drive like a nail into the foundation of the ship.

She doesn’t know. Not for the first time, she wishes she had Zoro’s uncanny instinct.

But then Luffy is crawling up into the chair next to her where Nami usually sits, shishishi-ing like the madman that he is. He looks at her with eyes suddenly bright and sparkling, with a beam that’s still not quite as large as usual but--still.

Robin adds a third point.

If Luffy had been looking for anyone else, had been expecting anything else, he would’ve gone to someone else.

She has done exactly what she was supposed to.

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Several weeks later, the ship touches down at their intended destination. Robin stretches her legs, preparing for the jarring transition from sea to land.

Luffy comes up behind her unexpectedly, his presence a light pressure at her back. He’s looking at something far away, his expression pinched and twisted into a scowl.

Finally he grins, turns to her, and says, his chest puffed out with pride, “F-an Is-land!”

Robin glances over at the sign welcoming to them to Fan Island, and feels a grin of a different kind, a fierce one, spread across her face.